Wednesday, August 28, 2019

What Book Swept My Children Up in Adventure & Mystery? {A Britfield Review}

Britfield.  Ever heard of it? 

I had not until I was offered a chance to review Britfield & the Lost Crown by C.R. Stewart - the first book in a series of five adventure novels that transport readers into the action-packed and suspense-filled world of orphans Tom and Sarah.

I certainly am glad I know about the series now, though, because I thoroughly enjoyed reading it to two of my children, and my third child has been curled up with the book for the past several days. 

A 9-Year-Old Loves the Adventure

My youngest child quickly became enamored with Britfield & the Lost Crown and asked me to read it every night at bedtime. He had this to say about the books:
Britfield & the Lost Crown is about two orphans who escape from an evil orphanage and have to go through London, Canterbury, and other places in England in a hot air balloon to run away from a person named Gowerstone who is a detective that they think is going to send them back to the orphanage. 
Along the way, they meet a professor who helps them escape and travels with them. They also find an evil person who tries to kill them, because one of the orphans might the be the son of a Britfield, a person in the royal line.
The book was exciting! I liked the part where all the orphans went crazy before the escape. I also liked the chase.
I think people who are awesome should read the book because the book is cool. Kids from 9-12 and their parents would enjoy it. My mom did!

My son is correct. I did enjoy the book and was as curious about how it would develop as my children were while reading it to them.

A 12-Year-Old Liked Asking for "Just One Chapter"

The only thing I did not relish about Britfield & the Lost Crown was the length of its chapters. As a mom who reads aloud to her children, I often "cave" into "just one more chapter" even as bedtimes get late. I learned early on that I could not do that with Britfield & the Lost Crown because some chapters were over 30 pages long!

Luckily, though, the chapters have breaks in them that make good stopping points for tired moms whose children are begging for more and more and more...

Laughably, the chapters also can become a family joke when on a night when Mom is busy the children ask Dad to read, "just one chapter" and keep hi to his promise and, later, Dad comments on how the book was good, but the length of the chapters... (cue laughter!)

Chapter length, then, became both a fun joke as we happily read 
Britfield & the Lost Crown the sometimes a chapter at a time, sometimes more than a chapter at a time and sometimes, I admit - much to my 12-year-old's chagrin - only a portion of a chapter at a time.

She had this to say about the book:

In the beginning, Tom and Sarah are in a terrible orphanage that has child labor. They end up escaping and an intense chase begins as the orphans are tracked down by the most famous detective in Great Britain. 
The orphans find a hot air balloon - and Sarah is afraid of heights. 
They meet a professor that helps them on their journey, and Tom figures out that he might be of royal blood. The detective Gowerstone and queen's butler figure it out, too, and the queen's butler and his followers try to kill the orphans. 
The story gets exciting and my mom sometimes managed to read the 30+ page chapters in one sitting which I loved. (I also tricked my Dad into reading to us for a long time by saying, "Hey, Dad, will you read us a chapter?) 
Overall, I liked the story, because it was exciting, it made you have a strong dislike for the people who ran the orphanage and it had a twist. I won't tell you what that was.  You'll just have to find out about it on your own. It would be too much of a spoiler for me to tell you. 
I think this story is good for kids ages 6-13 and moms who read to their kids (because 30-page chapters can be overwhelming for some kids.) 
I cannot wait to read the next book in the series!

A 13-Year-Old that Has a Hard Time Putting the Book Down

For our review, we were given a choice of a physical or digital copy of the book and also offered a free 83-page e-book study guide.  Since it has been summer time, and we are often out during the day and have our reading time at bedtime when I like screens off, we took the softcover option.

Good thing we did, because on a no-screens day for my oldest son, he picked the book up and has barely put it down since and is already.  (He did not want to listen to it as a bedtime story with his younger siblings, because he doesn't like to wait to hear the rest of a story when I pause reading until the next night, and he had not picked the book up previously as he was immersed in other things and was not sure he'd like the story.)

My oldest is already on page 306 of 383 pages after just a couple days! He had this to say about the book:

Although I am not yet finished with
Britfield & the Lost Crown, so far the tale of Tom and Sarah has been exhilarating. 
I have found the tale interesting. Although not as good as some other books I have read (Sci-fi and Fantasy are my favorites!), it is still interesting and well written.
It is interesting how all the people's lives are mixed in and how they play into the story, but the mystery is just - ugh! I don't really like mysteries. They make me scratch my head. I prefer when an author lets you know the mystery through one character, but does not tell the other characters, so you can scream at the other characters when they make stupid decisions.  This book does this somewhat, but mostly keeps me guessing, and I don't like to be left in the dark. 
Still, the book is well-written.

The plot is complex, which in the case of the story, makes sense. Basically, some kids tried to escape an orphanage called Weatherly, stole a poor guy's hot air balloon, and are now being chased by three different entities at once: the villainous Weatherly orphanage group, the British police force, and royal fanatics who want to kill anyone who has the last name of Britfield for some reason. It is exciting. Nobody has died yet.
The characters are not as developed as some characters I have seen, but are realistic, because they are not perfect, nor completely stupid, nor completely defenseless. They all have thought, emotions, and quirks. Patrick - an orphan from the beginning of the book- is my favorite character, because he is funny when he steals a car and is wise, but not obnoxious. 
The setting is real world.  As a fellow author, I know it is extremely hard to place a story in the real world, so I think the author wrote a fictional story in the real world well. He takes you all around Britain. 
I would suggest that people who have lots of time on their hands and don't want to sleep at night read this book, because the chapters start off short, but then become long and you want to keep reading to solve the mystery. It's killing me. I want to find out what happens. 
I think children and adults would like this book, but mostly 10+.

I just love that my son, who lately prefers to read only Sci-Fi and Fantasy books and has not cared for Mysteries for a few years has been enjoying Britfield & the Lost Crown. He can get rigid in his thinking and choices, so it is wonderful to see him broadening his fiction reading again.

A Study Guide Could Make Britfield a Comprehensive Unit Study

Although I chose to use 
Britfield & the Lost Crown as a fun read and for gentle, natural learning (as in getting a flavor of Britain, reading a well-told tale, chatting about virtues and vocabulary as conversations flowed, etc.), I could have easily turned the experience into a full unit study with the free 83-page e-book study guide that is available.

The study guide has a synopsis and some information about the author.

Then, it is broken down by chapters, with chapters 1 and 2, together, 3 and 4 together, 5 and 6 together, and then 7-17 as sand alones.

Each section of the guide contains:

  • vocabulary from the story presented as multiple choice, matching, crossword puzzle, and fill-in-the-blank activities
  • comprehension questions related to the chapters of the book, which can be answered orally or in writing
  • a going deeper section that encourages you to think beyond the book and to discuss it orally or in wring
  • a learn more with technology section that invites you to look up information on topics given as a prompt and covers such topics as British Authors, locations in Britain, the British Monarchy, the history of orphanages, maps,etc.

At the end of the book, there is also an answer key for the vocabulary and comprehension questions.

A Wonderful Website

Not every book is paired with a great website, but 
Britfield & the Lost Crown sure is.  It contains information about places mentioned in the book, some beautiful photographs, and more.  It is truly worth a look!

Connect with Britfield & the Lost Crown on Social Media

Learn More

Seventy-five Homeschool Review Crew families had a chance to follow the adventures of orphans Tom and Sarah.  Read all the reviews!
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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Enjoy a St. Teresa of Calcutta Potluck-n-Play with Kids

Are you wondering how you might observe Saint Teresa of Calcutta's feast day on September 5th?

How about through a Potluck-n-Play time with with your children and some friends?

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We enjoyed one last year with friends and found it so easy, fun, and meaningful for St. Teresa of Calcutta's feast day.

What is a Potluck-n-Play?

In a nutshell, a Potluck-n-Play is a simple way to enjoy a feast day with friends. You simple pick a day, time, and location for celebrating...

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... ask everyone to bring a feast-related dish to share, leaving the details of the meal up to whatever the Holy Spirit inspires each family to bring...

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... decorate a feast table with some candles and images...

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...share some stories, prayers, or teaching about the day's saint... 

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...perhaps play a planned game, do a service craft, or introduce some planned activities....

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... then, dig in and enjoy the food before further fun, free play, and fellowship.

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Easy, peasy, and oh-so-blessed!

A Pleasing (and Simple!) Potluck-n-Play for St. Teresa of Calcutta's Feast Day

For our first St. Teresa of Calcutta Potluck-n-Play, everyone was asked to bring themselves and Indian-inspired dish, drink, or snack to share on our feast table.

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Upon arrival, children played, while some moms did last minute food prep or offered materials and decorations for our feast table, which I began to set up.

Then, we all gathered together and chatted about St. Teresa using a poem in Saintly Rhymes for Modern Times to get us started.

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We talked bit about the three stripes on Mother Teresa's sari (and our candles), how the Missionaries of Charity live their calling, and how we can model some of our choices after theirs.

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We also prayed 
Mother Teresa’s Nazareth Prayer for the Family as found on Catholic prayers Online.
Heavenly Father,
you have given us the model of life
in the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Help us, O Loving Father,
to make our family another Nazareth
where love, peace and joy reign.
May it be deeply contemplative,
intensely Eucharistic,
revived with joy.

Help us to stay together in joy
and sorrow in family prayer.
Teach us to see Jesus in the members of our families,
especially in their distressing disguise.
May the Eucharistic heart of Jesus
make our hearts humble like his
and help us to carry out our family duties
in a holy way.

May we love one another
as God loves each one of us,
more and more each day,
and forgive each other’s faults
as you forgive our sins.

Help us, O Loving Father,
to take whatever you give
and give whatever you take with a big smile.

Immaculate Heart of Mary,
cause of our joy, pray for us.

St. Joseph, pray for us.
Holy Guardian Angels,
be always with us,
guide and protect us.

We discussed briefly how we have our immediate family, but also "families" that extend beyond - our family of friends and neighbors - which we are called to love.

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Using parts of Living Faith Kids: Meet Mother Teresa we chatted a bit more about how St. Teresa went from living with her immediate family, to her family of religious sisters in another country, to her mission in India.  We also traced where St. Teresa of Calcutta was born, studied, and began her "call within a call" on a globe.

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Then, I challenged the children to think of ways they could be pencils in God's hands...

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...writing love letters to family and friends...

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... coloring inspiring sayings to give to others...

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...creating get well cards...
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... and decorating and filling a "blessing box" for friends.

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As I read a biography about St. Teresa of Calcutta from the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes, the children worked on this project.

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In fact, it was a joy to see how all of of the children were happy to help prepare this simple gift for a family we know whose little brother was in the hospital with a heart defect.

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They each took a part in decorating the box, filling it with messages and cards, or packing the easy eats, grab-n-go treats, coloring books, soothing teas, gift cards, and more that friends donated for it.

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After that, there was more play time as we finally laid out our potluck lunch feast and gathered to pray grace.

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Of course, the children were eager to taste test different dishes - including the delicious "tasters" from 
Amy's Indian frozen meals line.

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And, there was just so much yumminess!  

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Seriously! How can you go wrong with Indian-inspired eats!

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Thus, we all dug in, then, enjoyed more free time and fellowship together, all the while remembering St. Teresa of Calcutta's reminder to "do small things with great love."

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It was a truly lovely feast day celebration filled with faith, food, friends, and filling the blessing box. I pray that yours is as delight-filled.

More Ideas

For additional ideas for celebrating St. Teresa of Calcutta with children at home as a family or elsewhere, click on over:
More here.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.

Monday, August 19, 2019

We Found Our Math Resource for This Year! {A CTCMath Review}

I like to have multiple ways for my children to learn and practice math all year, so when an opportunity to review CTCMath’s 12-month family membership came up, I asked my children if they would be interested in trying it and all three said, "Yes." I as pleased with their response, since CTCMath has an excellent reputation and I was curious how it would work for my children.

In short order, I discovered, 
CTCMath works wonderfully for our family. All summer, it has proven itself to be an easy-to-use, helpful, and quick way for my children to progress with math studies.

What is CTCMath?

Maths Online

CTCMath is an online, subscription-based math program for grades K-12 that is used by over 200,000 students worldwide. Created by Pat Murray, a math teacher and homeschool Dad of 10, the program aims to help students progress easily through math with short, interactive lessons that speak to a variety of learning styles. 

Grade levels and courses within the program include:

  • Kindergarten
  • 1st grade
  • 2nd grade
  • 3rd grade
  • 4th grade
  • 5th grade
  • 6th grade
  • Basic Math and Pre-Algebra
  • Elementary Measurement
  • Elementary Geometry
  • Algebra I
  • Geometry
  • Algebra II
  • Triginometry
  • Pre-Calculus
  • Calculus
The courses are delivered through video tutorials, interactive questions, worksheets and solutions, diagnostic tests, and reports of progress.

There are separate student and teacher pages, both easy to navigate.

The teacher pages gives access to tracking information, scores, tasks to be assigned, tools, and more.  It also allows you to easily switch to student view pages, which is quite handy

Student pages allow students to easily jump back and forth between grade levels and skills as they need to or to progress on a more linear track.

I appreciate how all this comes together so that students can work independently with some freedom as to what they wish to work on, but that parent teachers can also assign specific tasks.

You can learn more about the program by watching this video:

To use the program, all you need is an internet connection and a device with a web browser.  If you like printed material, a printer, ink, paper, and pencil are good, too, since there are optional printable portions to lessons.

What Do My Children Have to Say About CTCMath

More often than not, when my children sit down for their daily independent math time, my children choose CTCMath over other resources we have available, and each is progressing well with it.

My 13-year-old, who is intent on starting high school one year early, has decided CTCMath will be his main math program for the year.

He said:

CTCMath is an online math program that covers grades K-12. I decided to try this program, because I am entering high school and need a math program.
While not as engaging as some other math programs I have tried, CTCMath is extremely simple to use. You just log in, go to your grade level and whatever math subject you are working on and click on a lesson in the section you are working on.


Each lesson consists of a video and questions along with a printable worksheet if you are not one who likes computers.

One of the most annoying features is that it allows teachers or parents to set a passing grade, which is really aggravating when your Mom sets it to 85% or better and you only have 6-10 questions, meaning you cannot have any mistakes. But, when Mom lowers it, it becomes easier.

The videos are clear, but, for me, not necessary because the subject is pretty easy to learn so far.
I intend to use this for the rest of this year. I am doing well with it and it makes math quick and easy for me.

I hope my oldest son sticks with his plan to use CTCMath all year as it has been such a no-fuss way for him to progress with math skills since we started using it.

My 12-year-old, who does not always like online math programs and who has math skill gaps due to challenges with dyslexia and other things, also has found 
CTCMath helpful. 

She had this to say: 

When I first started CTCMath, I thought it was dumb. I didn't like it, because I did not know how to use it well. Once I clicked around more, failed a few things, asked my mom for some help, that kind of stuff... I found out that it's actually really easy to use, and it makes math simple! 
Once I figured CTCMath out, I got a little bit - just a teeny bit - addicted. I ended up doing over two hours of math in one day during my free choice time. I was determined to finish over half the tasks under one topic in a day, which I did. 

CTCMath is really simple to maneuver. All you have to do is sign in. Then, you see your profile with your average.

When you actually open as yourself, there is a lot of white space, which I really like and there are not a ton of tasks that they show at once. So, for me, there are only 12 tasks to do right now and I have passed five of them and started another five of them. This keeps me motivated and not overwhelmed. I am also interested to see what the next level will look like.

With each section, you can take a diagnostic test - a 16 question, a 32 question, etc. There is also a search.

Also, at the top, there are tabs for lessons tasks, results, settings, and history.

When you hit on results, it shows you results on everything you have worked on - your first grade and your highest grade.

It also has places on the bottom to click for speed skills, times tables, and swapping pieces.  These are games to make things more fun in my perspective.

I actually enjoy CTCMath and want to keep using it. It's easy, I'm learning, and I like it.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to see my daughter's success and confidence grow with CTCMath! It has been such an unexpected blessing.

More than once during my daughter's free time, I have found her on my bed with our laptop reaching to meet a self-set 
CTCMath goal. I have also found her printing out worksheets to use for practice when she doesn't feel like being online.  Hoorah!

My 9-year-old also likes 
CTCMath, although not with the same enthusiasm as his siblings.  He had this to say:

CTCMath is good. I like the time tables and speeds skills games. They help me enjoy practicing, and I think I am getting faster.

The regular lessons are okay. I don't like how long some of the tests are, but it's easy to use. I'd like to keep using it as a supplement.

Indeed, he will do just that. 

Learn More

I have a child who "gets" math easily but lacks focus, one who does not "get" math as easily but seeks independent success, and one who is pretty typical for his age.  All three are doing well with 
CTCMath, so I would say CTCMath can help a variety of children succeed! 

I would recommend  CTCMath’s 12-month family membership to any family that seeks a straightforward, clear, easy-to-use independent math resource that can be used by all their children with Mom or Dad checking in on progress easily.

In the weeks we've been using the program, I have witnessed:

  • positive changes in one child's confidence and attitude when it comes to math.
  • one child appreciating the short, to-the-point lessons as a way to quickly progress with necessary math skills.
  • all three of my children learning at their own pace, some with the video tutorials and one without.
  • little to no frustrations or issues during math time.
  • stress-free math learning and easy check-ins on progress.

I so appreciate the ease and effectiveness of CTCMath and think you may like it, too.

The only thing I would like to see added to the program is a way for questions to be read to students so that children that have reading challenges can tackle text based questions with no troubles.

Find the reviews.

To see how all 60 families that reviewed CTCMath felt about the program, click through to the reviews.

You can also connect on social media: 

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Plan a Queenship of Mary Feast Day Party

If you enjoy living the liturgical year like we do, you might want to remember that August 22 is the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary - a wonderful day for celebrating faith through food, fellowship, and fun!

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Right now, I am putting together plans to do just that with our local Catholic homeschool network, so I thought I would share some of what we have planned in case you'd like to plan your own relatively last-minute Queenship of Mary feast day party.

No Fuss Food Ideas

Marian feast days are so easy to plan! 

Any blue, red, and white foods can be symbolic of Mary, since blue is a traditional color of royalty and also symbolic of heaven and the sky; red symbolizes Mary's love passion, devotion, and sacrifice; and white symbolizes Mama Mary's purity. So, since, it is summer time, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and/or raspberries with whipped cream, yogurt, nice cream, or ice cream, are a wonderful idea! Cherry tomatoes - also in season - can be an easy addition to your feast table, too.

(You can read more about Marian colors at the University of Dayton Mary Pages, Artsy, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.)

Then, you've got the queen theme - which opens up so many more easy eats ideas:

Just about any food can be made into a crown as was proven when our family had an impromptu Mary Queen of Heaven liturgical tea years ago.

Catholic Cuisine is filled with such ideas - from cheese and watermelon, cookie crowns, peach parfaits, sandwiches, crown jewel berries, and cakes.

They also share an idea for "little queen" pasta.

Golden juices and ice teas can also work well.

Since I like to encourage plant-based eating, I plan to bring watermelon crowns, blueberry and strawberry crown jewels, and ice cream to our gathering and to be happily surprised with what others bring to the liturgical table, which will, of course, be covered in a blue or white table cloth, with a Marian blue candle, a statue of Mary, and whatever else people choose to add.

Then, as we usually do before eating, I will ask the children present if they can guess why we have any of the foods we do out on the table and add to any of the ideas and insights they come up with.

When doing so, I also plan to to place a bunch of red "crown jewel" grapes out and to show this short video clip reminding the children that as members of Christ's body we, along with Mary, share in Christ's dignity, before suggesting that the grapes - as a connected bunch - remind us how we are connected to Christ.

I also plan, of course, to pray grace with the children, and to encourage us to pray a The Coronation with the Complete Illustrated Rosary (previously reviewed here) and the Prayer in Honor of the Queenship of Mary.

Leave Fellowship to the Holy Spirit

If there is one thing I have come to realize when planning feast day meet ups for Catholic homeschool friends, it is to trust that the Holy Spirit will ensure that just the right group of people shows up.  So, I simply plan to facilitate the party and ask a friend to host (which ensures at least two families in attendance), and then, put up a Facebook invitation, leaving the rest to the Holy Spirit, who always seems to prompt just the right mix of people to show up at any given feast day.

Enjoy Some Themed Fun

For the little in our group I will print out a free coloring page of the Cornonation and lead them in a fun little Marian Queenship song and game to the tune of Ring Around the Rosary from a cute little book called Joyful Noises.

The older children will get to enjoy having a water balloon fight with the Marian color Bunch O Balloons I have been saving since the Queenship of Mary is also my daughter's baptism anniversary and since it is summer, so water balloon fights are fun.

We may also a version of Queenie, Queenie, Whose Got the Ball, but with an adapted rhyme:

Queenie, Queenie, who has the ball?
Someone big or someone small?
We know Jesus loves us all.

We will also probably play chain tag, remembering we all seek to a share in the glory of Heaven one day as Mary does.  (See how to play below.)

Additional Resources to Read Yourself or to Share

There are some wonderful resources online that dive into the reasoning and meaning of the Queenship of Meaning, including:

Mary, Queen of Heaven, pray for us.


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