Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bring the Civil War Period to Life with A Favorite New Audiodrama CD-Set! {A With Lee in Virginia Review}

"Whoo hoo!" my children cheered when I surprised them with the fact that we would be reviewing another Heirloom Audio Productions audio, With Lee in VirginiaAs regular readers here know, our family loved both of Heirloom Audio Productions' earlier releases, Under Drake's Flag and In Freedom's Cause.

A Compelling Story of the Civil War

Heirloom Productions take classic G.A. Henty stories and adapt them to come to life in a radio drama style that keeps listeners thoroughly engaged while also imparting examples of Christian values -- and it does so with a top-of-the-line cast, composer and sound effects.
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In With Lee in Virginia, the story of the Civil War unfolds as seen through the experiences of a spirited teenager from the south, Vincent, and his slave and friend, Dan.  From the beginning of the story, Vincent staunchly supports kindness to slavesYet, as many of his generation did, he joins Lee's cavalry to fight for the Confederacy and, henceforth, the drama and adventure truly begins.

As Vincent and Dan face death, betrayal, imprisonment, and, ultimately, loss of the war they are fighting for, they also
develop in their relationship to one another and to their understanding of essential life truths.  Growing in faith and fortitude, these boys become men, who though losers on the battlefield, are winners in the bigger picture of life 

Thus, With Lee in Virginia becomes a living history tale as well as a testimony to virtue
With realistic sound effects, a fabulous score, and a well-written script performed by acclaimed talent like Chris Anthony (Adventures in Odyssey), Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings), Kirk Cameron (Fireproof), Kelsey Lansdowne (Curious George), and  Jim Weiss (Greathall Productions), With Lee in Virginia is high-quality entertainment.  As my family does with all the Heirloom Audio Productions that we have been introduced to, we have found ourselves listening to this one over and over again!

More Than Just an Audio Theater Production

Folks can purchase different packages of With Lee in Virginia, which each contain their own bonuses.  In the package I received for review, there was a 2-CD set of the audio drama which brought 2 1/2 hours of riveting adventure to our CD player, which, as I already said, we listened to over and over again. 

There were also seven awesome bonuses.

Let me tell you a bit about each part of the package:

  • The physical CD-set, recommended for ages six and up, but enjoyed by our five-year-old, too, arrived packaged well and included information about how to download all of the extras that came with our review package.  The CD copy of With lee in Virginia features a tri-fold case with one blue and one gray disc.  (How clever.  My children noticed these colors, which reinforced the typical "blue vs. grey" colors of uniforms from the Civil War.)  Betwixt the CD's was a popular quote from  Robert E. Lee and an insert about Heirloom Audio Productions and the amazing talent that lent their voices to the audio theater production.

  •  The MP3 version of the audio drama was among the digital downloads I had access to.  It is the same as the audio CD and is something I am grateful for in case my children scratch the physical CD's when listening to them over and over again!

  • The With Lee in Virginia Study Guide is a 52 page pdf that contains: short bios of G.A. Henty, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson; reproductions of historical photographs and images;  a map of the famous battlefields and cities contained within the story; suggestions for additional readings; a Bible study on Duty and another on Loving Your Enemy; and 30-pages of discussion questions based on each track of the CD.  These questions follow the pattern of Listening Well (basic comprehension questions), Thinking Further (questions that help listeners apply lessons within the story in various ways, encouraging critical thinking), and Defining Words (vocabulary pulled from the tracks).  It is designed for ease of use, whether used formally or informally. 

  •  The With Lee in Virginia e-book is a full-color, 386 page pdf of G.A. Henty's original story, which I will likely read with the children, or offer them to read by themselves, when they are a bit older.

  • An MP3 soundtrack contains all the original score by the Emmy-winning composer John Campbell.  It is about 1 1/2 hours long and contains38 tracks of various lengths that are filled with drama and emotion. These are fantastic to play in the background while doing other things.  (In fact, I listened to them while writing this review!) 

  • A printable inspirational quote from Robert E. Lee can drive home one of the messages of the story.  Simply print and hang!

  • A movie poster that is a professionally designed and 24 x 36 inch printable may thrill collectors.

  • Unlimited access to the Live The Adventure Letter E-Newsletter allows you to bring Christian history to life thorugh news, articles, and lessons aimed at both adults and children.

Another Fast Favorite!

No sooner did my children learn that we had received With Lee in Virginia than did they pop it into our CD player at home and listen to it in its entirety while doing laundry and playing with manipulatives, pausing to ask a few questions or offer comments.

Then, the CD-set found its way into our mini-van, where it stayed, being repeated until a belly bug hit our home and the kids asked me to bring it and their other Heirloom Audio Productions CD's back inside to listen to while resting.


This feverish child may look like he is sleeping.  He was not.  He was laying, miserably sick, yet happily listening to In Virginia with Lee - again!

Yep.  You could say With Lee in Virginia was a hit from the start with my kids (with the exception of my girl, who was a little offput by the intense scene where a slavemaster is mistreating a slave towards the beginning.  She, though, simply began to cover her ears or leave the room during this part and several of the more disturbing war scenes, and stayed riveted to the rest like her brothers!)
As my children have with past Heirloom Audio Productions, they often retold parts of the story, acted them out, asked about new words they heard in the audio drama and began using these words themselves.  Thus, I did not find a need to use the study guide formally.  However, I was impressed by how thorough and well-ordered the discussion questions in it were and  also found that my children were interested in the images in it when I pulled it up to read through.  I also liked the included map!


I appreciate the guide's design, which draws the attention of visual learners, allows parents and older children to access vocabulary lists and discussion questions with ease, and is flexible enough to use in both formal and informal studies.


Dramatic Living History for Auditory Learners  

Would I recommend, With Lee in Virginia?  You bet!  In fact, I'd recommend all three of the Heirloom Audio Productions CD-sets that have come out so far Honestly, we have loved, loved, LOVED each of them and continue to listen to them again and again.  The quality of the CD's and their study guides is exceptional and the fact that each not only emphasizes history, but also faith and character make them even better!  

In With Lee in Virginia, in particular, I was quite pleased to experience how the main characters face defeat in war, but not in life.  Their virtues of courage, faith, goodness and humility shine forth.  Even as they fall to defeat in battle, they stand as admirable men of honor -- men who this Christian parent is happy to introduce her children to.

As you can see from the questions in this study guide excerpt, faith concepts and the Bible play a significant role in the story.

Of course, that happiness would be curtailed if my children could not handle the jarring truths of the period in which the main characters of With Lee in Virginia lived in.  Due to the slavery and civil war contemporary to the main characters, their story inevitably contains some graphic scenesAs I already mentioned, these were not relished by my daughter, but, in my opinion, they were tastefully presented and more than balanced out by the adventure, history and values inherent in the script overall.  
Truly, Heirloom Audio Production's With Lee in Virginia transforms the quality literature of G.A. Henty into an exciting audio theater adventure that is worthy of listening to again and again My family did just that, and, in doing so, found that we learned and discussed a bit more about:

  • slavery
  • the Civil War
  • Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson
  • states rights
  • the idea that "good guys" and "bad guys" can be "from either team"
  • the charge that you should always "do your duty in all things.  You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less," as Robert E. Lee said.

...and more. 

Of course, my opinion is not the only one in my household. 

When I asked Jack, five, what he would like to share about With Lee in Virginia, he said:

It was great, because of the war.  I like when a cannon shell blasted right beside Vincent Wingfield.  I was glad he was safe. Everybody in the whole wide world should listen to it, because it is about history.

Nina, eight, liked:

that it was about black's rights.  I also liked the name of the horse, Wildfire.  (Picture her racing down the hallway like a soldier on the horse now.)... It was scary sometimes, but good at other times.  People who do not like death should not listen to this CD.  People who like war, history, or adventures should listen to it.

Luke, nine,  said:

It was awesome.  I liked how, in the end, even though Vincent lost the war, he didn't seem to mind.  He gave his slaves jobs as free men.  But, I did not like how almost all his friend's seemed to die.  It made me realize it was a really bad war. 

I used to think war was all fun and games when I was five.  Now, I think war is a horrible thing and that if there is a peaceful way, you should use that instead.  But I still like playing war games. 

(I think this story was trying to tell you) to do your duty and to do it well.  Everyone should listen to it, because it is a really good story -- really exciting.  I also like how they show a confederate point of view.
My husband was not available for comment as I wrote this review, however, I can attest, that, like the rest of us, he was swept up in the drama of With Lee in Virginia each time it played in our minivan.  More than once, we all sat in the minivan to hear the rest of an audio track out.  With cheers, gasps, biting lips, tears (from me), and occasional laughs, we came alive as listeners as With Lee in Virginia brought history alive in our CD player.

Learn More

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review

Without question, Heirloom Audio Productions if one of our favorite vendors!  We are always wowed by the history, virtue, emotion and characterization included in their professional audio theater adventures.  We cannot wait for their next audio theater production The Dragon and the Raven to come out and will be checking out to stay abreast of all Heirloom Audio Productions happenings.  You might want to do the same.

What resources have your discovered that bring the Civil War to life?  Might In Lee with Virginia be a perfect complement to them?

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

The 5-Finger Daily Examen

This coming week, our local Catholic homeschool group will be enjoying at St. Ignatius of Loyola celebration together.  As I have been planning for it, I have been reading and thinking a lot about Daily Examens and about how best to introduce them to the children that will be at our celebration.  What might we make or do with the children -- who will likely range in age from toddlers to preteens -- in order to help them go home and make a practice or praying a Daily Examen.

What I finally decided on was a Five-Finger Daily Examen.

After explaining a bit about St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Daily Examen, I intend to have each child trace their hand on cardstock and cut it out.  Then, on each finger, the children will draw images or write words to remind them to breathe, be grateful, feel, pray and look ahead.  On the back side of the hand, they might also glue a pre-printed image of St. Ignatius and the words of the Suscipe or the Prayer of Generosity.

Of course, we will let the Spirit lead us in actually explaining the Examen to the children and guiding them as to what, specifically, they might draw or write on each finger of their hand cut-outs.  The detail and depth of what we will go into will be largely based on the ages and abilities of the children present.  However, I imagine it will be something drawn from these notes:

Draw an image of wind or breath, write the word "breathe", or write a sentence or two to remind yourself to breathe in God's love and, then, breathe out, filling the space around you with that love.  Center yourself and know that God is present.  Ask for clarity and understanding.

Draw a smiley face or write the word "gratitude".  Or, write a few phrases or sentences to remind yourself to think about the specific joys and delights of the day, the moments you are most grateful for.  Ask yourself, what am I most grateful for today?  Or, if I could relive one moment, what would it be?  Or, which moment made me most able to offer or receive love?  Or, what little things did I see/say/hear/feel/experience that made today so good? 

3.  FEEL

Draw several faces that express positive and negative emotions or write the word "feel".  Or, write a few sentences or questions to help you look back at the day and think about what you felt at specific moments -- joy, frustration, boredom, anger, compassion, etc. -- and what God might be saying through those feelings.  Ask yourself what moment in the day you are least grateful for, a moment when you were least able to give and receive love.  Then, ask what was done or said in that moment to make it so difficult and how God might be asking you to respond.  Might you feel prompted to be forgiven for a wrongdoing or for the ability to forgive someone else?  How might you learn and grow based on the experiences of the day, deepening your knowledge of yourself and your relationships with God? 

4.  PRAY

Draw two hands together in prayer or write the word "pray".  Or write phrases or sentences to remind you to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to pray about whatever it is that God thinks is particularly important.  You might simply choose one feature of the day and to pray from.  You might talk to Jesus about your actions, attitudes, feelings and interactions and feel spontaneously called to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express thanksgiving, etc.  You might discover a particular feeling, person or moment during the day, that at the time seemed insignificant, now leads you to prayers of adoration, repentance, thanksgiving or petition. 


Draw a sunrise or write the words "look ahead" or "tomorrow".  Or, write a series of sentences or questions, such as: When I think about tomorrow, what joys or challenges come to mind?  Am I nervous?  Excited?  Worried?  Why?  How might I ask God for help and hope?  Might I ask for the forgiveness, protection, wisdom and gratitude necessary to grow closer to God in thought and deed, being free to choose to follow him?

Hopefully, the Five-Finger Examen will become a concrete tool that the children can use to make a Daily Examen a meaningful part of their prayer lives.

Daily Examen Inspiration 

Of course, there are many other variations of the Daily Examen that are simpler, more complex or just a bit different.  Some of the sources I drew inspiration from when praying about what to plan for our St. Ignatius of Loyola gathering were:

I'd love to hear about your experiences helping children pray a Daily Examen.

What are your favorite prayers, activities, stories, and resources for sharing about St. Ignatius or the Daily Examen with children?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Expand Math and Strategy Skills With This Great Board Game {A Review and Discount Code!}

I love a good game, especially one that is easy to pick up on, plays in short rounds, and offers enjoyable practice of basic skills.  That is why I happily accepted the opportunity to review Expanders by SimplyFun, a game that works reverse addition, critical thinking skills and spatial reasoning.

A Well-Thought Design

Simply Fun Review

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover but I think sometimes you can judge a game by its package design.  When we opened our Expanders package, I was delighted to see that the game came in a sturdy box with a molded plastic inset that makes pulling pieces out and putting them away so easy.

The pieces include:

  • 1 Mainframe, which is a durable cardboard frame that unfolds with orange, purple, blue and magenta sides and an empty space in the center.  (The colors of the sides determine the color tokens each person plays the game with.

  • 6 Numbered Double-Sided Circuit Boards, which are sturdy cardboard strips with two rows of numerals printed on each side.  These are used to fill the Mainframe, allowing each game of Expanders you play to have a unique board design rather than always have the same numerals in the same places.

  • 2 Circuit Board Fillers, which are blank and can be used to make the game board of play smaller when you are playing the game with only two people.

  • 1 Expander Token Storage Bag made of cloth with a drawstring, for easy storage

  • 128 Plastic Expander Tokens which came 32 per color in small plastic storage bags which fit inside the larger fabric bag. 

And each place has a "home" when not in play.

Don't you just love a sturdy game box with a place for everything and everything in its place? I do!  (I pulled the plastic baggies our of the cloth bag so you could see how nicely everything comes to make set up and clean up a breeze!)

When you set the board up for play, you realize how smart the design of the game is.  The two blank Circuit Board Fillers allow you to adjust the size of the game board for the number of people playing, and the Double-Sided circuit boards are numbered 1-8 on one side and 1-12 on the other, so the level of difficulty for each game can change based on which sides are used.  Such design allows the game to adapt making it a different, ideally-leveled game each time it is played.  Perfect!

Or, almost perfect.  If there were a new version of the game, I would ask for two things to be considered:

(1)  My children and I thought it was odd that the Circuit Boards contained no zeros nor nines.  Since 9's are one of the more challenging "tables" for one of my children and may before other kids, too, I wish they were included on the board.

One child thinks the design of the numbers and "circuit connector" lines looks cool.  Another thinks the lines make the numbers look fuzzy.

(2)  The board is designed to look like a circuit board and has large font, bold, black numerals with small gray connecting lines between them.  One of my children thought this looked cool.  However, another child and I felt the connector lines made the actual numbers appear a little fuzzy.  Although this did not affect our play at all, I wonder if children with visual impairments or processing issues might be distracted by the slight fuzziness of the numbers and would like to see future editions of the game contain improved "sharpness" of print.  I would like to stress, however, that the lack of sharpness appears to be a distinct graphic design choice, not a lack of quality in the game materials. 

All of the materials included in the game are quite well-made and sturdy, and the overall design is spot-on!

Let the Game Begin!
Set up is super simple and quick!

To set the game up for play, you simply fill the Mainframe with the Circuit Boards.   Then, depending on the side of the board you are playing on, you take 32 Plastic Expander Tokens.  Your goal is to be the first to use all your tokens. 

On the first turn in any game, you start using your tokens by placing ONE token down on a number in the row of the game board closest to you -- the one that matches your color of tokens.

On the second turn of play in the game, a player can then do the same thing -- place a single token down on a single number in the row nearest you.  Or, you can place two tokens down on matching numbers, say on a pair of two's.

This shows the first turns of play.  The pink token on the four was the first turn.  The second turn was the orange token on the one.  The third turn were the three blue tokens, expanding 7 to 4 and 3.
SimplyFun is a company that produces educational and fun family games. The games be purchased through home parties with a SimplyFun consultant or directly through the website. They offer a large variety of games that address many different academic skills. They also offer a homeschooling membership which gives a discount on every purchase and two free games for a $19 yearly fee.

From the third turn of play forward, you can choose to either place single or paired tokens as above, or you can place three, four or more tokens down by expanding a number.  For example,you could place three tokens down on a 5, a 2, and a 3, saying, "5=3+ 2", or "5 expands to 3 plus 2".  Or, you could place four tokens down on a 5, a 2, a 2, and a 1, saying ""5=2 + 2 + 1."  Of course, the more numbers you can expand a numeral with, the more tokens you can use and the more quickly you can win the game!  Thus, critical thinking and strategizing come into play as well as addition!

Another way strategy comes into play is by watching your opponent.  When placing tokens down, you can only place them in the row of the circuit board closest to you or elsewhere on the board connected vertically, horizontally, or diagonally to a token you have already placed.  That means, if you are not careful, a crafty opponent can actually box you in from further play.  My children loved trying to do this!

With options for differentiating the game board with each round of the game depending on how we set up the Circuit Boards, and with the math and strategies involved, we found this game flexible, fun and so worthwhile to play!
A Hit in Our Home
On the day our youngest turned five, he woke earlier than his siblings and asked Daddy if he could teach him to play Expanders.  It was so cute!

When I asked my five-year-old what he thinks about
Expanders, he said:

I like everything!

Truly, he enjoyed playing it (with some help) against Daddy, Brother, Sister, or me despite the fact that the game is recommended for children ages 7 and up.

My eight-year-old said: 
It's awesome.  Four people can play, and it's fun.  I like the strategy and the addition. I like that we can play a short round or play for a long time.
When I asked her if there is anything she doesn't like about the game, she smiled and shook her head emphatically "no".

My nine-year-old said:
Expanders is a good game -- very good for learning backwards addition, but they forgot the nines.  I loved how on the third or fourth turn you got to choose which move you used instead of having to use a certain one.  I did not like having to use certain moves on the first turns. I'd recommend it to people who do not know their addition or math that well, so that they can learn math.  You can use it just for fun, too.  I like using it for fun.  I like that it's a strategy game... Once, when we were playing, my brother could not move, because my sister and I had blocked him all the way in.  I like to play defense and offense.
Without question, Expanders has been a hit in our home.  I loved that:
  • It went from box to play quite quickly.
  • It's smart design allowed the game board to be different each time, adapting to the number and skill levels of players.
  • Players who need practice with addition, expansion or subtraction of numbers up to twelve can get it while having fun!
  • Strategy elements keep games interesting.
  • Single games last only 10-20 minutes, but the game can quickly be reset with a "new" board configuration so rounds of the game can be played for as long as folks like.

  • Even though the game is meant for ages 7 and up, children even younger can play (as our youngest proved!)

    Sometimes, we got silly while playing.  My daughter thought it was awfully fun to peak through the transparent playing pieces.
    Moreover, I appreciated how the game lived up to the SimplyFun logo tagline:  "Learning & Connecting Through Play"  The children certainly did learn as we connected through play with this game!  Expanders is definitely a board game for kids (and parents!) that offers learning through play and is as much for connected fun as it is for building skills.   I love it!

    Learn More

    Simply Fun Review

    • As a special deal: Purchase Expanders ($34) or any SimplyFun game, at SimplyFun using the coupon code SHREVIEW by July 31, 2015 and get 15%.  Or, take advantage of their homeschoolers deal anytime. To do so, join for $19, save 15% on every purchase for a year, and receive access to other benefits and specials as well as two free games. 

    Simply Fun Review


      Simply Fun Review

      Have you enjoyed other SimplyFun games?  What board games do you most enjoy connecting, having fun and learning with?
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