Unwrapping the Greatest Gift Review

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas is a day-by-day family devotional that goes through each day of December leading up until Christmas.  If you’re familiar with the concept of the Jesse Tree, Ann Voskamp’s approach will not surprise you.  Throughout each day, she traces person-by-person, line by line through the important people in Jesus’ geneology leading up to our celebration of a birth of a savior.

Each day has scripture readings to do with your family, a beautiful story and explanation to go along with that day, thoughts to discuss as family devotional time, activities to do as a family, and as you go you’ll be hanging up ornaments as a reminder on your own Jesse tree.  The ornaments themselves are not included, but Voskamp’s book gives you instructions for downloading free paper ornaments off her blog for adding the ornaments to your tree.

As always, Voskamp’s writing is a pleasure to read.  The book is an oversized hardcover and is illustrated with beautiful full color scenes from the Bible.  This book has the feel of a of an heirloom.  It’s a book that children are going to want to touch and feel and listen to the stories, and because of the ornaments and activity suggestions it’s also a book that the children can enter into and find themselves changed by the family celebration of Christmas.

This is the devotional we’ll be using as a family this year, and I can’t wait to get started!  I know that we’re going to love it, and enjoy it for many years to come.

Disclaimer:  Tyndale House Provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Making a Teepee

Every time we watch a Native American movie or read a Native American book, my children want to make teepees.  Never mind that many Indians didn’t even live in teepees.  Because of movies and our own general impressions, we tend to always associate Native Americans with teepees.  Luckily, paper teepees are easy to make.

making a teepee

First, you need construction paper.  It doesn’t really matter what the size or color is.  We usually use 8.5″ x 11″ or 12″ x 18″ sheets of paper.  The bigger the paper, the bigger the teepee.  First, you find something to trace for a circle shape.  For our purposes, we chose a child’s size dinner plate…You know the circle  shaped sectioned ones that you can find in Target or Wal-Mart.


Then, you will cut each circle in half.  One semi circle will fold into each teepee.

041This is a great time to let your kids decorate them.  They’re much easier to decorate before they are folded up! (These pictures were some I took when we made teepees last winter, and it’s so sweet to see my smaller Owlet sucking on her passy :-) )


All you have to do is bring the two edges of the semi circle up to meet each other and tape into place.  Don’t forget to bend up the fold at the bottom to give it that teepee look.  Once you’ve folded one or two, your kids will probably go crazy and make themselves whole villages of teepees.


Also, on the flip side, if you don’t fold up the edges, you can use this very same easy pattern to make party hats for all your children’s dolls!!


Inseparable Review


Inseparable:  Who I Am, Was and Will Be in Christ is part of the new inscribed collection of Bible studies for women.  In this Bible study, author Ashley Linne will give you an overview of what your identity is in Christ.  Linne will base these thoughts in the book of Romans and use guided Bible study sections to lead you to discover the truths in the scripture for yourself, and Linne’s warm text will guide you into applying these truths into your everyday thought processes and choices.  Her goal is to encourage you to look to Christ for approval, identity and significance instead of looking to yourself or the world around you.

This is truly a lovely book.  The way Linne has set up the book, she uses a portion of Romans 8 in each chapter as a lead-in to tell you one more thing about your identity in Christ.  These things include, I am:

  • made right
  • alive
  • commissioned
  • free
  • a victorious peacemaker
  • a part of a family
  • God’s dwelling place
  • fulfilled
  • avenged
  • an heir

I love the way Linne works through her ideas.  She begins each chapter by telling you who you are in Christ using Romans eight.  Then, she adds commentary and other scriptures to help elaborate and back up her points.  Finally, she points you to other chapters in Romans where more support for her thesis is found.  This book works beautifully.  It’s also an inspiration for any woman who has struggled with self-esteem or feeling “less than.”  She has calm, uplifting and embracing advice to remind you that when you became a part of God’s family, you became all these things if only you’ll walk in them.

Disclosure:  I received a complimentary copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers program.  However, my opinions are my own.

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Video learning and online interactive learning is my son’s favorite way to learn.  If we read something in a book, I always try to find a video or game to bring him to a higher level of understanding.  So, when we received an opportunity to do a review for Standard Deviants Accelerate, I was pretty excited.

 Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Standard Deviants Accelerate is a website that offers supplementary online courses for middle and high school students.  Their goal is to help you increase your child’s learning of a subject by offering in-depth video instruction and interactive quizzes, diagrams and other assignments.  I was given a full year’s access to the Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses, and allowed to pick out the courses that Firecracker and I wanted to use.  They have classes starting at third grade for arithmetic and and at sixth grade and up for other subjects, so I would say ages 8 to adult on these.

You can purchase access to each class for your student at $99 for one year’s access or $24.95 per month.  If you have a student taking an AP class, these are priced monthly at $14.95 per month.

Firecracker is only nine, which makes him a fourth grader, so we chose to use the Arithmetic and Earth Science courses.

We started with Arithmetic.  In quick fashion, the Arithmetic course covers:

  • Whole Numbers and the Number Line
  • Addition and Subtraction
  • Multiplying Whole Numbers and Word Problems
  • Dividing Whole Numbers
  • Understanding Decimals
  • Understanding Fractions
  • Lines, Shapes and Sizes
  • Measurement
  • Patterns and Graphs

Each of this topics has two or three videos where you are taught (or review) the basics for the chapter.  After each video, you have the opportunity to do a little problem solving, take a quiz and submit an answer to a big idea question that is proposed for each chapter.


These are quick and easy reviews of the subject.  Most of the time, Firecracker would listen to the video, do the quiz and the problem solving and then be done.  He was uninterested in pondering the bigger idea questions, and I did not require him to do so.  As a teacher, I could have him do it independently, and then later, I could log into my teacher account and look at his progress report (under the grading section) to see how he was doing on these quizzes.

I think that the arithmetic class is great for those who have covered the topics and are needing just a little review before they go on to the next level of math.  Watching Firecracker take these quizzes and seeing what he has difficulty with shows me the areas that we need to pinpoint before we go on to higher forms of math.  This would not have been the type of class that would have been appropriate for my daughter, Rose, who is still being introduced to many of these basics.  This class is more of a let’s make sure we understand everything in the basic math operations before we move on type of class, as opposed to in-depth instruction.

The other class that we tried was the Earth Science class.  This class is meant for sixth grade and up, but Firecracker has always enjoyed science, so we knew that the level on this class would not be problematic for him.  The topics this class covers are:

  • Earth’s Place in the Universe
  • Investigating the Earth’s Past
  • Restless Earth (Covers plate tectonics, etc.)
  • Mountains, Volcanoes and Earthquakes
  • Earth’s Changing Surface
  • Energetic Earth
  • Atmosphere and Oceans
  • Earth Systems

Each topic is broken into 3-5 videos on various aspects of the topic.  There are also sections with each video for learning vocabulary, labeling diagrams, answering quiz questions and writing about a big idea topic.  Although Firecracker often labelled the diagrams and answered the quiz questions, many times we just watched the video.  Some of the videos, like the one on the Life and Death of Stars got watched many, many times.

These videos are interesting.  They’re funny.  They add so many layers to a student’s understanding of the topics that they cover.  I found myself often stepping back and thinking, “Wouldn’t these make a great spine for a course of study?”  Then, as a teacher, you could go more in depth, based on the interest of your students.  We would sit and watch these videos together because we enjoyed them, and there were a couple of videos that we even had to share with my Hubby when he came in from work because we liked the videos so much.


I think this is an awesome way to do science.  As a parent, I think that the courses move very quickly, so you are going to want to use them as supplements, just as Standard Deviants Accelerate suggests.  It would be an awesome thing to use them as weekly videos and quizzes to review a week in your curriculum.  However, it would be just as awesome to use them to introduce a topic then go to the library and explore the concepts that really stood out in depth.

As a teacher, I was really excited about the possibilities of different forms of usage of these courses and how great they were for building understanding on the part of your students.  These are an awesome resource!!

As a Christian, I do have to put in a small note, because I know that some of my readers are looking for young earth creationist science materials, and these are not that.  They are evolutionary and old earth based, and the first unit in the earth science video does discuss the big bang theory.  As many of my readers know, we use both evolutionary and creationist perceptive science in our household because we want our children to understand the differing science perspectives.  If you’re looking for just young earth materials, the earth science and biology courses from this company will probably not be for your family.  However, I would encourage you to check out the other courses, because these classes are very well done, and your children will enjoy these classes.

Of course, as always, don’t just take my word for it, go check out some of the other reviews.  You’ll be able to see what the other families on the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of the classes they took from Standard Deviants Accelerate.

Click to read Crew Reviews 

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God Made Your Family!

Bear Hug number #5 in Honeycomb is called “God Made Your Family!”  This lesson focuses on all the great things that our parents do for us and the two things that the Bible tells our young children that they need to do.  As stated in the lesson, these are:

  1. Obey Your Parents. (Eph. 6:1)
  2. Be Kind to Their Brothers and Sisters (based on Eph. 4:32)

Although I am not sure that I’m happy with AWANAs purposing of Ephesians 4:32 as one calling for sibling love, oftentimes our close proximity to our brothers and sisters can make kindness towards them exceedingly difficult.  Kindness has to start somewhere, right?

The memory verse for this bear hug is Ephesians 6:1:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.

Although there are several great activities listed in the AWANA book, including paper dolls and paper bag puppets, because our Cubbies only meets for an hour I picked a couple out and used them.

The first thing we did was to use brown playdough and gingerbread man and lady cookie cutters to make gingerbread man families.

God made my family

If you’ve ever tried to buy brown playdough, you’ll know that you have to buy a big and expensive amount of playdough to get just brown for all the kids to play with.  If you want a large quantity of brown playdough, it’s much more cost effective to make it yourself.

So, I thought I’d share my favorite recipe for gingerbread playdough with you guys today.  I also use this playdough at home for Christmas and Winter gingerbread man making.  You’ll need:

  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

Whisk this all together in a medium saucepan.  Cook the mixture of medium-low heat until the dough thickens.  Turn out onto parchment paper or a floured surface and knead until smooth.  Sometimes I start with 1 1/2 cups of flour and add the other half cup in as I knead.  This gives you a very nice light-ish brown playdough for making gingerbread or people families with.  If you wanted to darken the playdough a little bit, you could add additional darker spices like cloves and nutmeg.

We also did a little bit of a review activity.  We took some time this week to review our “C” verse from our “C is for Christ” lesson.  We used the dot marker/bingo marker page off the resource CD for that lesson and covered it with circle stickers.

review work

We also had rice krispies treats for snack.  The book listing was for heart shaped rice krispie treats, but we had the fall colored Little Debbies bars, and then we tried to get everyone to see if they could bend theirs into hearts.

Afterwards, we went out onto the playground again instead of having a game time.  We much prefer the playground in the warm weather.  After all, they’ll only be another week or two of that before it’s gone for a while!!

This Week: Field Tripping

This was an unusual week in our house.  I tend to let us have a good bit of “at home” time so that we can read, game and watch television together because those outlets tend to be big sources for us to turn to for inspiration as we answer the question, “What are we going to do today?”  However, some weeks, you need to get out and get some of that inspiration and bring it home with you.  That was our week this week.

We started at Allatoona Pass, a local hiking site and former site of a Civil War battle.  As it happens, last weekend was the 150th anniversary of the battle, so there were re-enactors, cannons and all types of fun and special things to do.  I’m going to write a little of the history of the battle and show off more pictures (eventually) in a separate post, so I’m giving you a glimpse here.  We got to see a demonstration of cannon fire three times, which meant Firecracker said it was the “best day ever.”  Monkey was scare of the sound of the cannon, so he said it was “the worst day ever.”

allatoona pass

Our local history museum was doing a program this week called “Museum of Mysteries.”  We went and spent some time learning about fingerprints, and using our observation skills to uncover what “mystery” objects were that they gave us to figure out.  The children really enjoyed it!  It was perfect for my little girl who wants to learn more about mysteries and Sherlock Holmes.

mysteries at the museum

We also paid a visit to a local dairy farm.  It was great because we got to go on a hayride and feed the cows.

feeding the cows

Then, we got to go through and figure our ways through a corn maze.

corn maze

They even had a playground we could play on!!


When the children got home, we even spent some time decorating the pumpkins that we received from the farm with our admission.  That was a pretty happy day :-)

decorating pumpkins

We also had a great picnic and playtime with our friends from Community Bible Study after Bible study on Wednesday.  We did end up with a little emergency room visit at the end because Monkey had a big fall onto a concrete cross-tie, and I just wanted to err on the side of caution.  The sound of the thud, the swelling, and his screaming had completely overwhelmed me.  It really set my mind at ease to go, so I’m glad we did.

emergency room

And, of course, we did AWANAs, just like we do every week.  (Well, next week AWANA is actually on fall break…so maybe not every week!)


We added a new page to our circle books this week.  As you can see, we water color painted circles that we had stamped with tempera paint.  I really liked the results of that.  I’m trying to suggest one new activity to add to the circle book  each week.  Sometimes it’s for the big kids and sometimes it’s for the little kids.  This week’s was for everyone.

circle painting

We’ve been continuing on with history this week.  We’re studying the Reconstruction this week.  We’ve also finally gotten to the literature guide I bought from Progeny Press last month for The Drinking Gourd.  We began by reading Follow the Drinking Gourd, drawing our own pictures from the story, watching the reading rainbow and listening to some of the old slave music.


Since we only been using our history notebooks two or three weeks, we finally put the War Between the States on our notebook as a timeline point.  I’m trying not to overwhelm them with points because sometimes their drawings and things get a little busy on the notebook.

history notebook

After being away from home so much this week, the children (and the mom!) were tired and grumpy on the one day we spent completely at home this week.  So, we dressed up in costumes.  Costumes make everything better.

costume play

The children decided to go back to their HomeSchoolPiano lessons this week.  So, they watched a video and have been practicing the skills introduced.  Rose is excited to finally be done with Core Piano and moving on to Level 1 this week.  The little kids have also been playing around on the piano and imitating the bigger kids.


We introduced a new virtue this week.  Attentive is one that everyone needs focus on, from the little kids with their interruption to Hubby and me with our distraction from cell phones and other devices.  This is one where I’m able to be open with the kids that this is a problem area for me too.  Ironically, it makes everyone more aware of when they’re having a problem with the virtue and need to get back on track.


Firecracker’s been spending some time playing Super Smash Bros. for the Wii this week.  We’ve had it for a while, but he’s just really been showing interest in it.  So, of course, we’ve been watching him play.  We used some artwork from the new game on Wikipedia to create our own stick puppets to act the battles out.

super smash bros art

In this collage, I have pictures of where Rose took some of the extra fake fur that we used to make tribbles and started making a cat doll of her own design.  Unlike Firecracker, she’s attempting to sew together her doll rather than hot glue it.  We also have been using our “Battles of the Civil War” card deck and playing War together.  We’ve been attempting to teach War to Monkey and Owlet too, so they can join in the fun.  And, of course, Rose has been taking pictures of her cat.


It seems like you can’t turn on the news lately (or anytime I guess) without hearing about something awful.  Lately, it’s been Ebola, and my Rose has been very fearful upon listening to the news.  So, to help her fears this week, we took the suggestion of one of my friends and made Rose a prayer jar.  When she has a worry that she needs to pray over, we’re writing it on a slip of paper and putting it in the jar.  She’s really working on it, and she’s worrying much less.  It’s sweet to watch her try not to worry, and I’m hoping that this physical reminder of putting her worries in God’s hands helps her to worry less.

worry and fear

I guess that about does it for our week.  I think our trips were all pretty cool, but I’m ready to just have a few days at home.  So, how are you guys doing?  Are you celebrating fall or in a regular rhythm with your schoolwork?

Apologia’s iWitness Series (Review)

I believe in giving our children a strong Biblical education.  I believe in letting them see where Christians differ in perspectives and allowing them to see what the skeptics who argue against Christianity say.  I don’t want my children to ever be blindsided by an incorrect argument and have their whole faith come crashing down because they don’t have a response to that argument.  So, when I received the chance to review some new apologetics material from Apologia Educational Ministries, I jumped at the opportunity have these materials on hand for my own Biblical education and to share with my children.

Apologia Review

I received the three newest books in Apologia’s iWitness series.  These were: iWitness Biblical Archaeology, New Testament iWitness, and Old Testament iWitness.  Apologia sells each book for $14.  These are great books to use with children of many different ages, but for independent reading, the reading level on these books are going to be 11 and up.  I read the Biblical Archaeology book to my older two children, who are nine and seven, but I have not shared the New Testament and Old Testament books with them yet.  Instead, I’ve read them just for myself.

 Apologia Review

iWitness Biblical Archaeology  is a quick run through archaeological studies and evidence surrounding events in the Bible all the way from Noah’s Flood through Jesus’s lifetime.  The volume is a standard-sized paperback with this pages and full color interiors.  There are many pictures and large boxes of text, so the pages are busy, but they flow easily and are very easy to read.

This is meant to be an overview of the field of Biblical archaeology because you could write a volume about each topic that is covered in the book.  There’s just enough contained within the book to whet your appetite and to provide some basic information that you can use in support of the Bible.  As we read together, my mind often spun through how I could take this book and make it a unit study spine on Biblical archaeology, and how wonderful it would be to read more and study different finds that especially interested us.  There’s also a nice list of references at the back of the book to help with that as well.


I read iWitness Biblical Archaeology aloud to the children, and they expressed varied interest, depending on how familiar they were with the Biblical stories.  We’re currently studying Daniel, so the things in the book about Babylon were the most interesting to them.  I felt this was a good way to take Biblical history and bring it into the “real world.”  Sometimes we’re guilty of reading the Bible so much, and the stories becoming so familiar, that we forget to look for their place out in the world, and I think that reading through this book has provided a corrective and a reminder that this is true history that we’re reading.

Because of the age of my children, we’ve meandered slowly through the Biblical Archaeology book and have just finished it.  The next book in the series that we’re just beginning is Old Testament iWitness.

Apologia Review


Old Testament iWitness is similar in layout to iWitness Biblical Archaeology.  However, instead of looking for archaeological evidence to support the contents of the Old Testament, Doug Powell turns his lens to how the Old Testament was written and why we have it in the format we have it today.  As he travels through these topics, the reader gets a glimpse at how Jewish people pass down the Torah scrolls, who the Jews traditionally believed wrote the books of the Old Testament, and how scholars have historically viewed the writing of the Old Testament.  He also writes some fascinating pieces on how and why the apocrypha is included in the Catholic and Orthodox Old Testaments and not in the Protestant Old Testament.

I really loved this book, and as it happened, I took the children on a trip to a Jewish temple during the time that I was reading these books and found out that the Jewish people still copy and pass down their beloved scriptures in much the same manner today as the historic manner that Powell describes in this book.  I also loved the explanation for why the books in the Jewish scriptures are arranged in a different order than the books in my Protestant Bible.  This is all great stuff to introduce you and your children to the textual history of the Old Testament.

Apologia Review

New Testament iWitness is the New Testament version of the history of the formation of our canon.  It explains the criteria for how the books of the New Testament were chosen, the history of how different church fathers included different books into the New Testament canon and why certain books that were often quoted by the church fathers were excluded.  Along the way, Powell also discusses the different copying methods for the New Testament, the textual differences and text families of different New Testament.  He also considers hymns and creeds, the synoptic gospels and textual criticism.

This book is also fascinating and illuminating as it considers many of the different areas that are hot beds of scholarly debate in a way that always feels fair and balanced.  Of the three volumes, I feel that my children are the least ready for this one because we haven’t studied very much church history yet, so I’m going to hold off on sharing this one with them for now.

I really enjoyed all three of these books.  They are beautiful and highly informative.  They speak to children and adults both who are looking to be educated on Biblical archaeology and the formation of the canon, and they speak to many of the areas that skeptics will raise as questions or arguments against the Bible being true.  They get my highest approval, and I was so excited to read in the back of the books that there are two new volumes to the series to be released in 2015.  They (and the already existing Resurrection and Jesus iWitness books) are now on my to-buy list!


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