Sunday, November 21, 2021

7+ Books to Share in the First Week of Advent

I love Christmas-themed books and have read oodles of them to my children through the years, highlighting a number of them in recent years with our Works of Mercy Wisemen tradition.

As I think ahead to which books I will pull out, purchase, or order from the library this year, I asked each of my children to name a favorite. 

Their shortlist was:

So, I will be making sure to include all of these in our Advent this year. In fact, one of the books will kick off our Works of Mercy Wisemen adventures this year.

On each day of Advent - or the days I manage to help the Wise Men journey - our Wise Men figurines stand in tableau with a book and, sometimes, a prompt and other times for my children to find.

This year, I am trying to decide the books and prompts ahead of time and thought I'd share my fist week's choices in case they inspire you.

I'd love to hear which books will be in your Advent book basket, too!

Today, we begin reading about Jotham and his friends once more as we gather around our Advent wreath and hang our Jesse Tree ornaments. With each ornmanet, let's pray for the living by pasuing to pray for the family that made the ornament for us.

November 29

Sacrifice, hope, determination, and love. All of these qualities are exemplified by the characters in this story. They are also exemplified by Daddy. Today, might we pray for the living and the dead by offering a special prayer for Daddy? Or, might  complete a secret service for him or in some other way encourage or honor him?

Today is the feast of St. Andrew - a fisherman and fisher of men. He was the apostle who let Jesus know about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish before Jesus fed the multitudes through a miracle. In today's story, the lighthouse family receives a miracle of sorts through the Flying Santa. is there a "miracle" you could be a part of today? Perhaps one which would feed the hungry?

December 1

Jonathon Toomey, a lonely man, was transformed through his interaction with the boy and his mom. Is there someone especially lonely that we know?Might we visit the imprisoned (by loneliness) of comfort the afflicted in some way?

December 2

Today is St. Bibiana's feast day. Consider how she lost everything except for her faith. Think about the little matchstick girl. Do we know anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one, job, home, or health? Might we comfort the afflicted by writing an encouraging note? Or, could we clothe the naked by putting such things as hand warmers, gloves, hats, warm socks, etc. together to keep in the car to hand out to homeless people?

December 3

Today is the feast day of St. Francis Xavier, "Apostle of the Indies" and "Apostle of Japan", and this story shows someone giving selflessly without expectation of a return gift. Might we feed the hungry by making a Japanese- or Indian-inspired meal to share with someone who could use a lift?

December 4

Today is the feastday of John of Damascus or Damascene, who, among other things, eloquently defended the practice of venerating Christian images and, therefore, became known as the "Doctor of Christian Art." After browsing the images in today's beautiful book, might we use some beautiful christian artwork in a craft project which can be part of a Work of Mercy? What and how?

We shall see if I am able to keep thinking ahead and shall also see how these prompts go over with my kids. In the meantime, I would love to hear what books are in your Advent book basket.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Combine Picture Study, Paragraph Writing and Saint Stories for St. Clement's Feast Day

November 23rd is the Optional Memorial of St. Clement 1, Pope and Martyr. It can also be a wonderful day for coming together as a family for art appreciation, writing, and saint stories.

We did just that last year.

St. Clement Picture Study and Art History /Appreciation

I gathered my children together and presented them with these two images:


I asked them to
study the images for a full minute without speaking, and, then, hid the images and asked each to share some recalled details.

Then, I showed the images again and asked my children to notice any similarities and differences in them, which, of course, had them noting that the main figure in both paintings is similar.

This led to me explaining that both paintings were created by the same artist - Bernardino Fungai, an Italian painter.

I, then, asked my children if they could guess when the artist lived based on the style of the painting.

We noted that the painting had rather flat figures, lacked naturalistic depth and volume, but had some semblance of a realistic nature and a definite background (rather than, say, gold leaf).

With this in mind, we determined the paintings must have been done after the Medieval art period - when figures were painted quite flat and stiff without much background - and before or just entering into the Renaissance period, when human figures were painted with realism and backgrounds were highly detailed. Thus, the painting must be from the Gothic era, bordering on the Renaissance. (
The painter lived 1460- c.1516.)

I, then, asked my children what purpose they thought they painter had had in creating the paintings.

We decided it was to tell a story.

I asked if anyone could think of another word for telling stories and we got to the word narrations.

Types of Paragraphs Mini-Lesson

I bridged to the idea that storytelling, or narration, is also done with writing, of course, and that one type of paragraph is a narrative paragraph - or one that tells about an event or series of events, usually in chronological order.

I, then, asked the children if they could recall the other three main types of paragraphs:
  • descriptivedescribes a person, an object, or a scene in detail, often using many sensory detail
  • expository - often lists facts, gives directions, or explains ideas; sometimes defines terms, makes comparisons, and/or shows cause and effect and typically uses logical order
  • persuasive - shares an opinion about a particular subject and tries to convince readers to agree with the opinions and to take action; often uses order of importance
We, then, discussed that just as painters rarely arbitrarily select the figures, colors, and more for their artwork, writers often select types of paragraphs with specific purposes in mind.

If writers seek to entertain readers or express themselves, they typically use narration or description.

If they seek to inform, they often use exposition - and sometimes narration.

If they wish to influence people, they use persuasion.

Thus, several paragraphs written about the same subject might be very different, depending on why a writer wrote them.

With this in mind, we chatted about other things we know about paragraphs, including going over the fact that we divide a larger body of writing into paragraphs to give a readers’ eyes a rest and to indicate switches to new main ideas.

We also talked about starting a new paragraph when:
  • expressing a new or different main idea
  • explaining another part of your subject or step in a process
  • providing another kind of support for your opinion 
  • changing the time or location
  • changing speakers

Writing Challenge

All that discussed, I set a timer and challenged each of us to choose ONE type of paragraph and to write something inspired by the paintings in paragraph form.

After that, we shared our paragraph's and guessed what type of writing - narrative, descriptive, expository, or persuasive - each of us was going for. (We had all chosen narrative!)

I then revealed the names of the paintings: St. Clement Striking the Rock and Martyrdom of St. Clement and asked if anyone could recall anything about St. Clement.

St. Clement Study

{Some links which follow may be affiliate links.}

Our own stories shared, I then read the St. Clement story from Once Upon a Time Saints, which we chatted about briefly.

Finally, as a sort of invitation to creativity, I showed my children this St. Clement video from Youtube:

My hope was that the video might inspire my children to learning more about this saint and other saints through questioning and/or perhaps decide to make some videos/film shorts inspired by this one.

That did not happen that day, but the seeds were planted for another...

And the creative writing that came out of the day was entertaining enough to share - which I will do in a moment.

First, though, I would just like to say that the paintings, mini-lesson, writing, and reading became a worthwhile cross-ages, cross-curricula study, and I pray that by sharing about it here, you are inspired to enjoy art, writing, and the saints with your own children.

Stories to Share

In the first narrative piece, the writer married elements of Biblical writing with humor, with his own personal style, combining inspiration from both Fungai paintings - as well as from the characteristic style of Gothic paintings - into the story.
The Bishop hit a rock and said, "Let there be water." And water gushed from the rock. 
Now, there happened to be a dancing lamb on the rock, and he got swept away away into the ocean where he got hit by an anchor that the same bishop that hit the rock threw.  Yes, he can bilocate at any given time. Also, he can grow giant whenever he wants. Shrinking stuff for him is as easy as breathing for us mere humans.
The next story told took inspiration from the Martyrdom of St. Clement, and then began to use ideas from the other painting, Some paragraphs are move narrative and others more descriptive All work to tell a story with strong imagery, vivid verbs, and specific nouns.
It has been six weeks since we set anchor in this foreboding place. 
When we arrived, the land had seemed cheerful and welcoming because land does not roar and pitch poor vessels into the sky only to crash them back down with the snapping of timber. And land does not swallow ships whole in the belly of a wave. 
But, we soon learned and had its issues as well. 
Now, as we travel through this land, I long to hear the trickle of water in this desert.
The third story was only loosely inspired by the paintings, taking the figure in the armor-like head covering and the "gush" as inspiration for a dramatic, action-packed, and gruesome narrative.

The tall man wrenched his weapon from the dead guard and headbutted his next attacker.

Thane had seen enough. He threw himself at the scythe-wielding reaper of men, thrusting forward his spear. The pointed shaft penetrated the muscle of the man and pierced his heart, showering those nearby with blood as it skewered him.

Thane dropped his spear and drew his arming sword. Before him, northern raiders pillages the town, plundering its wealth, setting its building ablaze, and slaughtering or enslaving its people. 

A gaunt prisoner barely covered with threadbare strips of cloth, plodded away from the stone quarry. His throat ached with dryness.

As he paused his weary steps, closing his yes and drawing in a weak breath, heavenly vision of thirst-quenching water played in his mind's eye. 

Drip. Drip, Drop. The prisoner thought he could hear the soothing water in his imagination. Then, the gentle dropping sound turned to a full on splash that taunted him so strongly that his eyes flew open.

"What?" he croaked incredulously.

In front of him stood that crazy Clement who called himself and exiled Christian, and, in front of Clement stood an incredible flow of water - real, sweet water.

I hope you have enjoyed this look into our eclectic study of St. Clement and can enjoy your own inspired lessons with your children.

St. Clement, pray for us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Start Advent with The Giving Manger {A Homeschool Review Crew Review & Giveaway}

  Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Can you believe Advent starts in just a few weeks? Would you like to slow the final days of the year down by living simply with service? Then, take a peak at The Giving Manger from WorthyKids.

I've had the happy opportunity to review t
his beautiful boxed gift set and am so pleased to have it now as it will be a delightful addition to my family's Advent.

I am also excited to share with you about this 
sweet way to focus your family on service as you prepare hearts and home for Jesus and to let you know about a giveway! (See giveaway details at the bottom of the post.)

What Comes with The Giving Manger Set?

The Giving Manger boxed set comes with a heartwarming hardcover picture book written by Allison Hottinger and illustrated by Emily King with simple cut-paper illustrations.

The book presents the tradition of 
The Giving Manger, which is based upon Matthew 25:40b, by telling the story of how two children - Anne and Ben - come to focus on giving gifts of service and discovering the true meaning of Christmas when their father gives them a gift which, at first, they do not appreciate. 

The book also offer Manger Moments (service ideas for children, teens, adults, and families) and Manger Memories (a place to record your service through the years.)

In addition, the gift set includes everything you need to start 
The Giving Manger tradition in your home
  • A simple wooden manger that should be placed in a visible spot in the house to help keep the idea of giving front and center throughout Advent.
  • A bundle of straw that each person in the household will place - one straw at a time  in the manger each time an act of service is performed.

  • A sweet, simple swaddled Baby Jesus that will be placed in the manger on Christmas after the manger is full of straw from all the acts of service offered during the Advent season.
Well-crafted to last years to come, The Giving Manger is definitely something I would recommend!

What a Blessing This Well-Crafted Kit Will Be for Us

The Giving Manger, our family can do away with the old upcycled kids craft that stood in as Jesus' manger for us in the past.

Plus, our Works of Mercy Wisemen will have a lovely new book and set to get into as they encourage my family to move through the "Little Lent" of Advent by making small sacrifices for the Christ Child.

The Giving Manger will, at the same time, help my family focus on our Christkindl tradition, where each of us picks another person's name and secretly does acts of service for that person.

I cannot wait to bring new life to our existing family traditions with this sweet new book-manger- straw-baby Jesus set.

I bet you and yours might like the set to refresh or build your own traditions, too.


Worhty Kids

I so appreciate 
The Giving Manger and am excited to share with you that WorthyKids is graciously giving away 25 sets to lucky families that are residents of the United States or Canada. Winners will be notified on or before November 15, 2021, so click through to enter soon if you want a chance to receive a free kit!

Learn More

Nearly 30 Homeschool Review Crew families have been blessed to reviw The Giving Manger. Some are doing personal giveaways in addition to the main giveaway mentioned above. So, be sure to click through to find links to each review.

Connect with WorthyKids on:

Sunday, November 7, 2021

What a Resource for Vocations Week!

The other day I had the pleasure of meeting ome fantastic young people from Vocations Outreach, an outreach of Franciscan University of Steubenville when they were filming  professional A Day in the Life video for a beautiful small order of sisters not too far from where we live.

When I heard about the Vocations Outreach work, which promotes religious vocations through digital media, I thought, "I have to share about this!"

I just love how the outreach provides college-age intern with an opportuity to travel and film different religious communities and also how the outrech seeks to connect young adults discerning religious life with those communities.

Plus - bonus - we can all benefit from their work!

This week - during National Vocations Weekhop on over to view one of twelve (with more to come) 15 minute or less "A Day in the Life" films about different religious communities. You can also view multiple vocations stories!

What a beautiful resource to share your children and friends as a part of Vocations Week or anytime.

If you appreciate the work Vocations Outreach is doing and have blessings to share, please note that Vocations Outreach gladly accepts support.

They also provide service for parishes, dioceses, young adults, parents, and parishes.

May God bless you and yours and may vocations increase!

8 Favorite Advent Traditions for Tweens and Teens

Advent is nearing and life just rarely seems to slow down. So, I know this will be a year where we don't "do it all" as we prepare hearts and homes for the coming of Christ. 

Rather, we'll pick and choose from our past Advent activities, making sure to keep favorite traditions alive while also accounting for current schedules and the ages and stages my children are in.

To help me discern which Advent traditions and activities we might embrace this year, recently, I asked my 11-15 year-olds to list traditions, customs, and Advent activities that they enjoy and would like to partake in this year if possible.

Among the ideas they shared were the following, which I share forward in case they might inspire your Advent celebrated with tweens and teens.

1. Counting down with our Advent Chain.

This is one of our oldest traditions, and, though it's been tweaked a bit throughout the years, the gist of it has always remained the same.

We brainstorm activities to do during Advent and write them on slips of paper. Then, we staple the strips into a paper chain which we hang in our living room as a visual Christmas countdown calendar. 

Each day, we take off a ring and make the activity happen if we can. 

It's a wonderful way to focus us on Works of Mercy while also serving as our Advent calendar.

2. Doing acts of kindness and putting straw in Baby Jesus' manger.

Preparing the manger for Jesus is such a simple, yet effective tradition for reminding us to prepare both hearts and home for the celebration of Christ's coming.  I am excited to continue this longtime tradition this year with our new The Giving Manger!

Of course, the kids like finding rats in their shoes or boots. One of my children enjoys watching a St. Nicholas animation still, too. All appreciate the opportunity to give to others through making our annual St. Nicholas Basket to gift to a neighbor. I highly recommend this tradition to others!

4. Celebrating the Immaculate Conception (and a birthday.)

Mass, of course, is a must on the eve of day of the Immaculate Conception. Sometimes, we have a special marian meal or dessert, too. Plus, in our home, it's a birthday day. Lots of blessings!

5. Boxing meals at our church.

Sadly, 2020 knocked out our long time tradition of helping to box meals for families in need, and, we just discovered that the volunteer opportunity is not returning to our local church community this year. So, I am hoping to get together an alternative with friends.

6. Serving at My Brother's Keeper.

My children were so sad that this tradition was canceled for the 2020 advent seasons and are so excited to hear it is returning this year. We have put it on our calendar to call the morning we have been told that volunteer sign ups wil begin to be taken, and encourage you to find a local gifting/wrapping/delvering program to partake in if you can, too. 

7. Going caroling to our neighbors and gifting them homemade cookies - and, sometimes, caroling at nursing homes, too.

Trust me, you need not sing well to carol for neighbors and nursing homes- just have a heart for bringing cheer... and perhaps some homemade cookies, too.

8. Getting our tree and decorating it on Christmas Eve.

Dewcorating the tree on Christmas Eve is a tradition I grew up with and have passed down to my children. It warms my heart that it is one they appreciate!

I am discovering that it is sometimes challenging to draw my growing children into living the liturgical year with enthusiasm and am grateful that, despite their differing personalities, interests, and stages, each  of them looks forward to some aspects of Advent still.

I'd love to hear what Advent activities appeal to your teens and tweens.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Progeny Press Showed Me My Kids Are Finally Ready for Some Traditional Academic Studies {A Homeschool Review Crew Review}

 Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Looking for interactive literature guides for your middle and highschoolers?

Having enjoyed fun, flexibility, and a combo of independent and group learning and exploration with a couple Progeny Press guides before, we decided to try out the Redwall Study Guide and the Frankenstein Study Guide when they were offered to us for review.

Like most Progeny Press study guides, these two guides offer a wide variety of information and activities, which includes:

  • a brief author biography
  • background information
  • pre-reading activity ideas
  • exercises to help learn and use vocabulary words
  • focus on moral lessons and character values
  • study of literary techniques
  • a variety of comprehension and "digging deeper" questions
  • writing assignments
  • suggestions for further reading
  • a complete answer key

Wonderful for families with multiple children, these studies can be used over and over again for multiple students in your families. (Just do a "save as" of the file for each child or print out multiple copies.) 

High School Students Can Dig into the Frankenstein Study Guide

The Frankenstein Study Guide is aimed at grades 10-12 and, when done in full, can earn a high student .25 transcript credits.

The classic Frankenstein book itself is not included with the downloadable study guide, but can be easily accessed online or taken from public libraries.

With book and guide on hand, the guide suggests that students do the prewriting activities, then read the book in its entirety, then jump into the guide. However, I chose a different course for my son.

Because my highschooler has a heavy load of studies and commitments right now, I simply asked him to self-pace through the book and guide, selecting activities that interest him or ones that I want him to focus on to deepen specific areas of knowledge or skill, which will include a final essay.

This works for him and for me as it introduces him to the meaty classic of Frankenstein, gives him some guidance and challenge with studying the story and corollary topics, but does not overwhelm him.

This is what he has to say about his work and the study so far:

I took this study, because I need English credits, and I have never read Frankenstein. I thought it would be a good way to earn some of my required credits while reading a classic.

When I first started reading the book, I did not like or dislike it, but, as I went on, the story became more and more gripping, especially the character of Frankenstein himself. I am now invested in the story and am about 1/3 of the way through the book.

Meanwhile, I read the pre-reading ideas in the guide, but decided not to do any of them. Instead, I skipped ahead to the lessons based on the book and started answering the questions onscreen.

In the past, I was not a workbook kid, so whenever we had a study like this my mom and I would chat about the material instead. I have not done many regular academic question-and-answer sort of things before besides multiple choice with online courses, so my progression with the study is slow.

I like how the study highlights many of the words I have read. When I am reading, new vocablary does not always stick out to me since I get so engaged in the story. It's nice to be reading the study guide, then, and learning words I can use in my own writing.

I also like the questions - how they ask you stuff about what the author is thinking. I know my mom has tried to talk about these things with me before, but I don't always pay attention. Doing this study on my own has me thinking more about author opinions.


For example, when I read the question on the author's opinion about poverty, I did not really know what poverty had to do with the story, but, then, as I was rereading sections of the book, I started realizing just how much the main  characters interact with poor people and how their actions might reveal Shelley's own opinions about poverty.


This study is forcing me to look for answers to questions I would have never asked using methods I would have never used. In the past, I would get too engaged in the characters and plot to notice other things.

This study is more "schooly" than most things I have done, because when I have done "schooly" things before, I tended to skip or adapt the "schooly" parts. This time, I have not been doing that because I am desperate for an English credit. The study is not completely my style, but I am learning things.

I would recommend this study guide to people who focus better than I do and those who want to get a typical, well-written study guide the poses interesting questions to the reader. I ould definitely say it is for a skilled ninth grader or above. It has merit, and I am glad I am doing it.

I give my son credit for being so honest and am also well-pleased with how he is willing and able to self-pace through this study, learning things along the way.

Should you and yours choose a different approach to the study - doing the entire study just as written,
you will certainly dive into a lot!

Topics included in the Frankenstein study are information about the early 1800's, the history of science and discoveries, different literary movements and some politics.

The guide suggests activities related to Faust, poetry, mapping, research, and Bible study.

Literary techniques and topics touched upon are many and include context clues, characterization, framing, setting, mood, allusion, parallel foreshadowing, Gothic and  romantic novels, tone, irony, verisimilitude, metaphor, contrivance, theme, etc.

Among moral and character values that are raised are m
otivation, hubris, friendship, death, sin, guilt, human goodness, responsibility for our actions, revenge, man's nature, purpose, responsibility, God and His creation,  and ambition.

Writing assignments and activities include essays, research, and dramatic scenes.

Of course, there is plenty of fodder for pondering and discussion amidst the more traditional vocabulary and comprehension exercises, too.

Late Elementary Students and Older Can Focus on Redwall

The Redwall Study Guide is aimed at students in grades 6-10. Frankly, I think younger students who are good readers might enjoy the popular Redwall book which can be easily ordered online or from your local library to be used along with the study and that students on the older end might find the book less challenging/interesting, but still benefit from the breadth of topics the study guide focuses on.

My eldest, now 15, enthusiastically read the entire Redwall series years ago as a pleasure read. Now, my 11-year-old, is diving into Redwall for the first time with this study. He has the following to say about his experience this far:

The book is good. It is at the right level for my interests and abilities. I finished the first book - or section - of the book and, then, went over to the guide. 
The guide is okay. It is easy to use. I open the document my mom saved for me, read questions, and answer them onscreen. 
The questions make me think about the story and the words used in it. Some of the vocabulary words I don't even remember from the story until I read them in the guide and have had to look up the meanings of them, so I can put them into my own sentences. 
So far, I have learned the most from the vocabulary words and the questions about the story. I really like the vocabulary words. I would not have noticed them just reading and am learning a lot. 

I did have a problem saving my work on my computer and lost a lot of it. My mom then showed me how to fix it and what to do so I don't lose my work again. I don't mind doing the work over, though.
I would recommend this study for people who like reading, Redwall, and fun learning. It can be used as an independent study, which I like, or as a parent-kid study or even a group study. I want my friends to do the same study and then to discuss it after.

I was delighted to hear that my son likes the vocabulary exercises so much!

In the past, my kids did not like nor do well with many workbook/traditional study materials, so I tended to approach learning in other ways. In doing so, formal study of vocabulary took a back seat to learning through natural conversation, reading, etc. Without this study and my son's comments on it, I would not haverealized my son is ready for and enjoys more formal focus on vocab. (Winning!)

Since my son likes the study, I am also delighted that he will willingly self-pace through so much of it, and, in doing so, will be introduced to many new words and ideas while reviewing some he already knows.

Within the study, literary techniques dealt with include
 foreshadowing, dialect, empathy, foils, paraphrasing comic relief, paradox, simile, acrostic, mood, idioms, symbolism, paradox, cliff-hanger, irony,  and more.

Moral lessons and character values include focus on 
leadership, pride, teamwork, cooperation, promises, self-control, wisdom, talents, reaping what we sow, the armor of God, etc.

Activities and writing assignment topics include fantasy, maps, cooking, 
animals, architecture, art, crafting, flags, newspapers,  democracy, and service projects.

Among the extras mentioned in the guide, my son found out there is a
Redwall animated show. That excited him, and now he wants to watch it when he is finished with the book!

Both study gudies are written from a Christian worldview.

Learn More

Progeny Press study guides for elementary, middle, and high school students are are available for instant download with no shipping costs and work on MAC and Windows with a universally compatible PDF format.

The Interactive Study Guides should be opened with a free Adobe Reader program and allow students to enter their answers directly on the computer, saving their work in progress. (You can also print the guides, of course, if you prefer to work offscreen.

Any child in the family may use the guides - just save a copy for each child - and there is a complete, separate answer key for parents.

Not tech savvy? Free technical support is available if you encounter any difficulties using the digital guide!

Progeny Press Literature Study Guides

Homeschool Crew Review families chose from one of four guides recently, so you can read more about the Frankenstein and Redwall guides - as well as learn about the Cricket in Times Square and Wagon Wheels one - by clicking through to find links to everyone's reviews.

Progeny Press

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Progeny Press on:


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