Sunday, May 31, 2015

When Children Play...

Last week, after Nina received her First Holy Communion, she was beaming. The boys were excited for her, too.  So, once Mass had concluded, our family party had ended, and night was falling - with me ready for bed - sleep was nowhere in sight for my little ones.  They were just too wound up from the day!

Thus it was that, as I rested on the couch, Luke decided to begin training Jack as an altar boy.  Together, the kids took their children's broom and unscrewed the brush.  Then, they fetched an old cross and some yarn to rig a cross for Jack to carry into "the church"...

They also took stools, parts of our mini-Mass kit, candles and other bits and pieces to set up an altar in the living room.  Beneath it, Luke placed some toys and books, which I later discovered were to be props for his family-friendly homily.


As the boys began their procession to the altar, Nina welcomed the parishioners (me, on the couch "pew") and sang the opening hymn.

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Jack and Luke bowed and, then, began Mass, with Luke doing the readings since they had no lector.  Because Luke knew Pentecost was coming up, he self-selected some related readings from his copy of the
The Action Bible.


Nina sang the Psalms with joy and, then, Luke read the gospel from the book that Nina had been given at choir practice earlier this year so she could practice reading at home with it. 

While Luke proclaimed the Word, his altar server Jack remained rapt and his cantor Nina was so prayerful.  Just beautiful!


After the gospel, Luke gave a homily in which he used books and toys as props to keep his "family Mass audience" (me) interested.  (Our pastor has done this on occasion and, obviously, it  has captured Luke's attention!) 

Then, Nina collected offerings in a basket and double-timed it back to the altar area to sing while Jack brought up the gifts.



"Priest" Luke then consecrated the gifts while Jack eagerly rang the "altar bells" (keys).  While leading the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Luke prompted Jack to come over so Luke could wash his hands and also asked Jack to bring water over so Luke could mix it with the "wine" (juice).

Of course, then came the apex of Mass: communion with the "Body of Christ" (crackers and, um, hot dog slices)...

... and the "Blood" (juice mixed with water in one cup and chocolate Silk mixed with water in another)...

Nina sang hymns after "receiving communion".


Then, Luke drew "Mass" to a close and made announcements, which included reminding folks of blood pressure checks in the St. Joseph Center, thanking people who had helped at the recent First Communions, announcing upcoming events and more...

Finally, as Luke charged everyone to "Go and make disciples of all nations!" and Nina began the closing hymn, Jack eagerly began a premature bow to lead the final procession.

At this point, Luke, realized there was no organist and paused from "priesthood" to accompany Nina as she sang the closing hymn.

Once "Mass" concluded, Jack did his final altar server duty.  He, took the snuffer that Nina had previously rigged out of a paper cup, tape and a long toothpick, to snuff out the altar candles while leaving the sanctuary candle burning.

Children play what they know and what they are interested in.  For mine, that includes playing Mass.

What play have your children been developing on their own?

Sunday, May 24, 2015


For a year or so now, whenever Nina has accompanied me in the Communion line, our pastor has blessed her and said, "Soon and very soon," as Nina eagerly looked up at him. 

So often, afterward, Nina has asked me, "How soon? How much longer until I can receive Communion?" 

This past week, she counted down the days...

Nina beamed when she woke up yesterday.  She beamed when she donned her dress and veil...

She beamed when she got to the church...

She beamed when she picked up the hosts she was going to later bring up to the altar...

She beamed when she sat in her pew...

She beamed as she waited the final moments for Mass to begin...

Then, she squeezed my hand throughout Mass, telling me she was clenching it so that she would not simply jump out of the pew with her eagerness.

Finally, the moment Nina had been preparing for for so long arrived: Nina received Jesus for the first time ever!At that moment, Nina beamed - glowing with gratitude, excitement and love.  Filled, yet hungry for more.  For the next steps on her faith journey.

As for me, I was warmed by the radiance of it all! 

We were gifted such such a glorious day to celebrate Nina's First Holy Communion. 

Nina had waited so long, prepared so well and been so ready to receive Jesus. 

The beauty of it all was made even more special for me since Nina wore the dress my mother had made some 40 years ago for my big sister. 

It was worn by my two sisters and I when we first received Jesus, as well as by two of my nieces before Nina.  My hope is that future generations of sweet souls will wear it, too, as we pass down the tradition of faith that is far more than dresses and celebratory days.  It is truth.  It is love.  It is there waiting for you.

Seven days a week on all seven continents, it is there.  Won't you join us at the table?  Won't you be nourished? 

And, please, will you also join me in praying for for all communicants?  May each of us be fortified forever as we continue our journeys with Jesus with joy!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Flexible, Fun Unit Studies with Fabulous Book Lists {A Westward Ho Unit Study Review}

Around here, we tend to immerse ourselves in child-led topics of interest, so when I saw that we had an opportunity to review Westward Ho I  and Westward Ho II by Homeschool Legacy, I took it!  My kiddoes have been lit up this year explorers, olden days, survival, etc., which made these unit studies an ideal addition to our homeschool endeavors.

Little did I know that once we dove into the unit studies, I was going to find a new interest for myself as well.  The fact is, I was so impressed with the Homeschool Legacy Once-a-Week Studies that we received that I am definitely planning to finish them with my children and, then, hope to dive into others. In fact, because I like the studies so much, I have become an affiliate for Homeschool Legacy

What is Homeschool Legacy?

I am always delighted to find and support businesses that have been created by homeschoolers for homeschoolers and that is just what Homeschool Legacy is.  

Sharon Gibson is a 16-year homeschool veteran of two sons.  As she sought the best approach for homeschooling her own boys, she landed on unit studies and found that they were a perfect fit.  Not only did unit studies help Sharon's boys learn, but they also became a wonderful tool for for building spiritual and relational strength as well as family memories.

Sharon's success with her own family's learning endeavors led her to sharing an incredible array of Unit Studies with other homeschoolers.  And, thus, was born Homeschool Legacy -- a business with a little something for everyone who wants to learn using a unit study approach!

Nature, science, history...  You name the topic, Homeschool Legacy likely has a Once-a-Week study on it!  They even have a Christmas one that I am considering for the end of the year.


What Are Westward Ho I and II?

So, what exactly is a Once-a-Week Unit Study? 

In a nutshell, it is a complete, yet flexible way to enjoy learning as a family without becoming overburdened.  The founder of Homeschool Legacy describes them in further detail:

Like all Once-a-Week Unit Studies, Westward Ho I and Westward Ho II are:

  • low prep.  They are written in simple, easy-to-follow language with a step-by-step approach that lends itself to flexibility.  Superb library lists are included, listed by library call letters, which may differ from those used at your local library, but are still quite handy!
Handy tips likes this one Westward Ho I, p. 24, make preparing for crafts - in this case making tin lanterns - easier!

  • flexible and easy-to-incorporateThe unit studies are designed to be  woven into your homeschool endeavors once-a-week in order to complement and energize your existing curriculum.  However, they can also become the spine of your curriculum for a number of weeks with the addition of a little math and language arts.  Or, they can become an extra you take bite-sized pieces of daily.  (That's what we did.)

  • family-friendly.  The book lists and lesson materials are tiered so the entire family, regardless of age, can study the same topic at the same time.  Westward Ho I and Westward Ho II are geared for children in grades 2-12, but even my preschooler enjoyed learning as we progressed through the units. 
As this sample from Westward Ho I, p. 13 shows, book lists are listed by call number with a key to denote age groups.

  • hands-on.  The units use a multi-sensory approach with wonderful living books (not textbooks!), crafts, activities, cooking, movie recommendations, field trip suggestions and more.   Of course, they are cross-curricula and include everything from the obvious (history) to the less obvious (life skills and art, for example.) 

  • biblically-centered with devotional included.  (Non-Catholic Christian readers, you'll love these, of course!  Fellow Catholic readers, please be aware that the devotionals are written from a Christian, not Catholic viewpoint.  I simply center on common truths and supplement with Catholic Catechism.  Secular readers, know that there is plenty of other meat in each study, so you could just opt to disclude the devotionals or to use them as a "culture" study instead of a religious one.)

    • accommodating of Boy Scouts and American Heritage GirlsBoys Scouts will complete the merit badges for Journalism while doing these two unit studies, and American Heritage Girls will complete Our Heritage.  

    Homeschool Legacy Review 

    The units also are chock full of fabulous specifics about westward expansion and cover the following topics:

    • Frontiersman
    • Pioneer life
    • the Lone Star Republic
    • the Life and Times of James K. Polk
    • the Oregon Trail
    • the Gold Rush
    • Prairie Life
    • the Great American Railroad Race
    • Cowboys and Cattle Drivers

    Homeschool Legacy Review

      Each unit can stand alone, or, together, they can offer a comprehensive look at westward expansion.

      Our Experience

      Used as suggested, Westward Ho I is a five-week unit study and Westward Ho II is a four-week one.  However, because we had less then nine weeks between when we received our e-files for the studies and when this review was due, I decided to dip into both studies lightly with my children in order to see which one to focus on first.  As things turned out, the kids wanted to explore both concurrently, thus, we found ourselves meandering through each at our own pace, proving just how flexible the units can be!

      This is just ONE of our unit study book shelves!

      Among our westward expansion learning trail, perhaps our favorite thing to do was simply to share shelf loads of great books that were listed in the plans!  We admittedly maxed out our library card holds more than once as we ordered these delightful read togethers and "read-alones" about pioneer life, the gold rush, tall tales, etc.

      Trying to decide what to listen to after finishing The Sign of the BeaverThe Long Winter won, since we were already reading Farmer Boy aloud!

      Further, since we had a long roadtrip trip to see ailing family during our review period, we got some of the suggested read alouds on tape.  Boy were Farmer Boy, The Sign of the Beaver and The Long Winter hits!  (Oddly, I had introduced the Little House series on CD to my children on a former trip, but they had not been as enthused by it.  This time around, in conjunction with Westward Ho studies, they just could not get enough of the audios or accompanying books.  In fact, I just discovered my son and daughter's library card hold features are maxed out again with Little House materials that they have ordered on their own!)

      I promised I'd read another chapter in the morning and I guess they wanted to be sure none of us forgot.

      While at my in-law's, where TV is prevalent, the Little House television series and a movie special that just happened to be on about the Gold Rush tied in nicely to the unit!

      This may look like sand and straws to you, but it is really the work of one proud and happy girl who decided to make her own play bin about what a gold rush mining contraption might look like. (Note the gold piece to the right of Nina's legs above the purple straws.  She had so much fund digging for it!)

      Back home, Nina created her own supplements to study, making a sensory play bin that she told me was about the Gold Rush.

      Guided by the units studies, we also read and dove into other related topics, of course.  Among them, were tall tales.

      I admit, I have never been a big fan of tall tales.  So, without having done the Westward Ho unit study, I might have only given my children a cursory introduction to them.  However, in order to check out the quality of books listed in the studies, I ordered a variety of tall tales both on the lists and not on them from our library.  I found the ones on the list were definitely the better ones and also found my children loved them.  As we read through the recommended tall tales, I was rewarded with giggles, grins, and "read it again"s from my kids.  Later, they regaled me with their own tall tale renditions

      During a class about wilderness emergencies, all three kids tied in learning from Westward Ho.  Even Jack was eagerly raising his hand to share ideas!

      We also found connections between the unit studies and a homeschool wilderness survival class we took.   The kids remembered Morse as we talked about signaling with flashlights and shared tips on how to survive gleaned from recommended read alouds and audio cd's.

      There was a connection between this excerpt from Westward Ho I, p. 52 and the "I need help" flashlight signal the kids were taught in a recent outdoor survival class.

      Plus, we all enjoyed an adventure to the awesome living history site, Coggeshall Farm, which made our learning come alive even more!

      While Westward Ho I offers a recipe for making Johny Cakes, my crew was blessed with making Johny Cakes and more at a living history farm field trip!

      Without hesitation, I can attest that the rich studies and suggestions included in Westward Ho I and Westward Ho II have effectively inspired learning fun in our home and have also easily connected to learning out and about with others.  That makes these unit studies a win for us!  Flexible, enjoyable and replete with a favorite of ours (superb book lists!)  these studies are ones I would highly recommend.

      Learn More

      Homeschool Legacy Review

      • Each Westward Ho unit sells for $15.95 to $19.95, depending on the format you get it in.  Pricing for other units is similar, with current sale discounts for series packs.  Check out all the fabulous offerings for sale at Homeschool Legacy.

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