Saturday, August 16, 2014

Remembering why we chose to homeschool

I have to admit it, this year we actually did consider putting all 3 kids into public school. You see, we graduated from our 2 year missionary training program in May and were planning to go to Peru to serve.  However, the Lord has HIS own plans and timing for our lives and instead of going overseas, the door to Peru closed but the Lord opened a door of opportunity for us to stay here at the TX-Mex border and make this our mission field for the next few years.  David is going to serve as the Student Minister (for Kindergarten - 12th grades) at our church here in South Texas.  We live just 12 miles from the Mexico border.  Since we were going to stay "stateside" for the next few years, we considered public school.  We talked about it a lot, we researched the school system here, we talked to teachers and administration at the schools here, we discussed it with our kids and we did lots and I mean LOTS of praying over this. We discussed the opportunities the kids would have to make new friends here in our community through school, being able to invite new friends and their families into our home,  opportunities to share Christ,  the extra-curricular activities like band, chorus, sports, etc. they could be involved in and the extra help they would get with their learning issues. However, after several weeks of discussion, deliberation and prayer we made the decision to continue homeschooling.    
When it all boiled down, we remembered why we had chosen to homeschool in the first place.  We didn't choose homeschool because we had to....we chose it because we felt called to it, we felt it was the best decision for our children, and we wanted to do it.  In fact, our 2 daughters both went to public school for several years and I was heavily involved in the public school (PTA, homeroom Mom, etc) and David attended every event and activity he could as well.  They had some great experiences and some that I wish they could forget!  Our oldest daughter was clinically diagnosed with moderate Dyslexia and Dysgraphia not long after she started 3rd grade.  She was getting some intervention in school but we were watching her get further and further behind, not retaining necessary information and watching her self-confidence and self-esteem diminish too quickly.  We also wanted them to have a more Biblical education.  We wanted them to grow up with a Bible knowledge that was equal to (if not greater) than their academic knowledge.  We could not afford a private, Christian school for all 3 kids and after much research, talking to friends/family who already homeschooled, and praying about this big decision, we decided that homeschooling was the best choice for our family.   Our son has never gone to public school and has always been homeschooled.  He was clinically diagnosed with severe Dyslexia at age 7.  

Homeschooling is not easy!  There have been many days I've shed tears out of frustration, tears of fear (that I'm not good enough in teaching them), tears of sadness as I watch them struggle due to learning issues, etc. Then the first year of homeschooling I think I simply tried to replicate public school at home.  We had "desks", curriculum that would rival any public school curriculum, we had set "times" for each subject, I had a grade/attendance book, etc. and I was so frustrated when our day didn't go like my schedule said it should!  The 2nd year was a little less "structured" but still pretty much the same.  Last year, I had a "light bulb" moment:  homeschooling means we can do it our way...the way that works best for our family and our schedule...the way the kids learn best....work at their own paces....using whatever methods they need to both understand and retain what they need to be learning!  So, we ditched the schedule, we ditched the curriculum that looked like public school books, we lost the desks and we schooled in such a way that our kids actually enjoyed learning and I enjoyed homeschooling!   I also realized that our kids can "learn" in simple everyday life activities and sometimes the greatest lessons they learn are outside of our "homeschool time" in the mornings.  We still used some curriculum but it wasn't so formal, textbook-daunting type materials.  

You see, 
* I want to be our children's biggest cheerleader academically.  I want to be the one who is encouraging them as they learn and lifting them up when they are struggling with concepts and not rushing them or pushing them to go on ahead even though I know they aren't ready to move forward just because the education system says I should.  
* I want to be there beside our son listening when he finally catches on to reading and can read with confidence and a smile.  Until then, I want to be the one smiling at him (even though he is struggling to read) and encouraging him with each little word he utters as he tries his best to read while we sit on the couch together or while he is in my lap "reading" to me.   
* I want our children who have learning issues to learn that they will not be defined by them.  That yes, they may have struggles and they may learn a little differently than others, but they can still be awesome in whatever God calls them to in life despite these issues.  I want to be the one teaching them to have self-esteem and confidence despite the "labels" the world wants to so quickly place upon them because of their learning issues.  
* I want to be the one who gets to see them excited as they learn new concepts, who see their eyes sparkle when they finally "get" it and to be their biggest encourager when they've tried something hard and failed. 
* I want our middle daughter (who has no learning issues) to be able to work at her own pace and move forward when she is ready and not be held back by "grade levels" or having to keep pace with a classroom full of students who all work at varying levels.  Homeschooling gives her that freedom!   
*  I want to be the one they ask questions to every day (even though sometimes I consider giving them 3 popsicles a day to use to ask questions).  I love some of the questions they can come up with as they study and learn though and sometimes we have great laughs together over them or deep, serious conversations as they grasp to understand what their little minds don't understand.   And sometimes I wonder how in the world they derived their question and where it came from!   
*  Sometimes I just want to sit at the table before we open up any homeschool book and pick up a crayon or marker and draw pictures with them, spend time talking to each other and sharing stories and then plaster our refrigerator with the artwork we created together.  
*  I want our kids to know that having a relationship with Jesus Christ is the single most important decision they will make in their lives.  Thankfully, all 3 of our children have now accepted Christ and we begin the process of discipleship and teaching them to share the gospel with their friends.  
*  I want to teach them to be good wives/husband one day and this comes through Biblical teaching as well as teaching them household skills now.  It's not always easy and they don't always do chores the way I want but this is how they learn and I constantly have to remind myself of that as we do chores together each day.  It isn't about doing it my way.  It's simply about them learning how to do it.  
* I simply want to homeschool our children...........and there are a million more reasons why!  
We know everyone doesn't agree with that decision.  Given that we have 2 children with learning issues, we get a lot of "advice" and "pressure" to put them in public school where they could get additional, specialized help but we truly believe we can give them just what they need at home.  We don't have any hard feelings or judge those who go to public school. We used to be one of those families.  In fact, my sister is an amazing elementary school teacher who teaches in a Title 1 school and I am constantly in awe of her teaching skills, the way she handles her class, her unique teaching styles, and the impact she is having on those kids lives.  However, the Lord has led us to homeschool and He has given us the opportunity to do it and we are so very, very thankful for it.  Our children are blessed with great friends at church and in the community and we are joining a homeschool co-op in our area this year also. 

My prayer, as a new school year begins, is that whether you homeschool your children or they go to public/private school, that the following prayer cover your children and mine.  I'm not sure where this prayer came from but I read it recently in a back to school article and loved it.  It reads as follows:  

Dear Lord, 
Please guide our children's hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  
Help them focus and learn this year. 
Give them favor with their teachers and peers. 
Help them make Godly friends and be a Godly friend.

In Jesus name,
AMEN





Friday, August 15, 2014

Wherever the River Runs book GIVEAWAY

Being someone who loves to read, it is still a rare treasure to find a book that captivates me to the point that I literally don't want to put it down because I want to keep turning the next page to see what happens.  However, Kelly Minter has written one of those "treasures" in Wherever the River Runs.  
About the Book:
In Wherever the River Runs, Kelly Minter invites us on a journey down a river teeming with piranhas and caimans, as well as machete-wielding mothers, heroic jungle pastors, faith-filled children, and miracles too seldom experienced in our part of the world. Kelly's honest and engaging narrative pulls back the curtain on one of the most captivating places on earth as well as on parts of the gospel we may be able to recite but have never fully believed.

On this beautiful adventure through the jungles of Brazil and the tangles of the soul, Kelly rediscovers Jesus among a forgotten people living well beyond the corners of her previously defined faith--a people who draw her back to their country, their pain, and their hope in Him, again and again.

My Thoughts:
I should confess, I am a huge fan of Kelly Minter's books and Bible studies and I have a huge heart for missions so those may be reasons I so dearly loved this book.  It was based upon missions and a mission trip and written by someone I already enjoy reading.  So, yes, my review may be biased based upon those facts.  However, I truly believe that even if you don't have a heart for missions and you aren't familiar with Kelly's works, this book will be a fantastic read for you simply because of the personal, real, heartfelt story Kelly shares through it.  She writes with such humor, wit, honesty and simplicity yet you are drawn into her story making it feel real and personal to you.  One of my favorite parts was where she shared that because of this trip she realized that there was a missions need right where she lived and in her own community.  You see, too often, we as Christians have this mentality that missions means going overseas or serving in a foreign land yet we miss the missions need right in our community, under our own noses, with people we interact and share life with on a day-to-day basis.  There is a huge missions need both in the world and right in our communities!  I do have to admit though, there were parts of her book that bothered me with superficial (shallow) thinking but I'm sure she was just writing from the heart and "being real" with her thinking at the time.  To be honest, if those parts weren't in there, I would probably think it was too "doctored" and not "real" enough!  Overall, this book was amazing.  It was something I looked forward to reading more of each night and any spare moment I could find during the day.  I discovered I actually read the entire book in 2 days because the story was so captivating and so good.  
Wherever the River Runs is a book I would challenge you to read with an open mind and an open heart. Let God speak to you as you read it and see what He is leading you to do through Kelly's own experiences.  You can check out the book trailer here or purchase the book.   

I am also blessed to be able to give one of my readers their very own copy of this great book!  For your chance to win, simply fill out the form below!  
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Disclaimer: "Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Immaculate Baking Mixes (#PlateFullCoOp)

As a Platefull CoOp blogger, I received a package of Immaculate's new dry mixes that are now available at Target.  We were already familiar with the Immaculate Baking company because my husband had a gluten sensitivity and for several years we cooked primarily gluten-free foods.  Now Immaculate offers some great new dry mixes and one of those was even gluten-free!  
Brownie Scratch Baking Mix
Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Cookie Mix
Yellow Cake Scratch Baking Mix
Chocolate Cake Scratch Baking Mix

The beauty of Immaculate is that they offer naturally delicious, natural foods.  You won't find crazy ingredients that you can't pronounce or spell, no harsh food dyes/coloring, and no preservatives. These are mixes you can feel good about feeding your family.  Both the yellow and chocolate cake mixes were delicious.  Oddly enough, they do not require oil (which is found in almost all boxed cake mixes).  I made the Yellow Cake and frosted it with chocolate icing and made the Chocolate Cake and frosted it with chocolate icing.  Can you tell we like chocolate?!   They were both good cakes and baked up well.  However, the kids weren't that big of fans of them.  They all said the taste was different than what they were used to and one of them said the cake was too dry and hard to swallow.  However, my husband & I both really enjoyed the texture and the flavor of both the cake mixes.  It was a refreshing difference compared to other boxed cake mixes and it did have a different, more natural flavor.  

The Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Cookie Mix was a big hit with our entire family.  The kids loved helping me make the cookies and found that they were easy to make by following the directions on the box.  Like most gluten-free foods, this mix had the typical "sticky batter" of most gluten-free mixes but having experience with working with gluten-free foods I was prepared for it.  So the kids & I knew what to do to help them not to stick to our hands as we were rolling them into little balls to bake.  These tasted really, really good and the chocolate flavor was not too overpowering either. To be honest, if you didn't know ahead of time that the mix was gluten-free, you would probably not be able to tell just by eating them!  
The mix that got a 2-thumbs up from everyone in the family was the Immaculate Brownie Mix.  I honestly think these are my new favorite brownies!   Not only were they super simply to whip up and bake but the taste and texture were absolutely amazing.  They cooked so perfectly and were moist yet not gooey and the chocolate flavor was superb.  The kids said they wished these made a 13x9 pan size instead of an 8x8 though!  
Plateful CoOp also sent me a $10.00 Target gift card which came just at the right time.  Our daughter turned 11 years old last week so we made her birthday cake using an Immaculate cake mix and we bought the birthday plates, napkins, candles and icing for her cake with the Target gift card.  

Will we use Immaculate mixes again? ABSOLUTELY!!   If you need gluten-free foods, I highly recommend Immaculate's line of gluten-free foods and mixes as well.  You can find Immaculate on the baking aisle in your local store and they are also now available at Target.  

Disclaimer:  I received the above mentioned products as a blogger with Platefull CoOp and General Mills. The opinions expressed here are my own and reflect my own personal results and feelings.  Your results and thoughts may vary from mine.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Enough:10 Things We Should be Telling Teenage Girls book GIVEAWAY

When the opportunity came along for me to review Kate Connor's new book, Enough:  10 Things We Should Be Telling Teenage Girls, I jumped at the chance.  First, I am a Mom to a teenager and a pre-teen so that's my target audience everyday. Second, my husband just became the new Student Minister at our church which means I will be with teenage girls a lot more and have many opportunities (Lord willing) to speak into their lives over the next few years.

The book was inspired by a blog post Kate wrote called "10 Things I Want to Tell Teenage Girls" that received over 2 million hits in just over two weeks.  Growing up I was a bookworm so my parents gave me plenty of Christian based books to read on the teenage years and how to be a successful Christian teenager and survive those crazy years.  I can remember all the things I went through in my teenage years too and let me just assure you, it was only the grace of God and lots of prayers from my parents that got me through those years.  Kate's book is not your run-of-the-mill book geared for teenagers.  Her book is modern, deals with issues facing teenage girls today and is written in a way that doesn't feel condemning or harsh but is filled with wit while speaking truth.
To give you an overview of what she discusses in her book, here are the 10 points she covers:
  1. If you choose to wear shirts that show off your breasts, you will attract boys.  To be more specific, you will attract the kind of boys that like to look down girl's shirts.
  2. Don't go to the tanning bed.  
  3. When you talk about your friends "anonymously" on Facebook, we know exactly who you're talking about.  People are smarter than you think they are.
  4. Newsflash:  the number of times you say "I hate drama" is a pretty good indicator of how much you love drama.  
  5. "Follow your heart" is probably the worst advice ever.
  6. Never let a man make you feel weak or inferior because you are an emotional being.   Emotion is good - it is nothing to be ashamed of.
  7. Smoking is not cool.
  8. Stop saying things like "I don't care what anyone thinks about me".  First of all, that's not true and second, if it is true, you need a new perspective.
  9. Don't play coy or stupid or helpless to get attention.  There are no damsals in distress managing corporations, running countries, or managing households.  The minute you start batting eyelashes, eyelashes is all you got!
  10. You are beautiful.  You are enough.  You were created for a purpose, exactly so. 
Ok, let me tell you....I read this book in 2 days!  I couldn't put it down. I highlighted, made scripture references beside her writings, my mind was reeling with how to make this a Bible study for our girls in the youth group, etc.  All I could think was "every teenage girl needs to read this book and know this stuff" because Kate writes it in such a way that there is no confusion, no wondering what she really means, and the point is clearly defined and explained.  She has some great ideas on how to teach them these things too and presents them in ways that teenage girls will "get".  
If you have a teenager, if you work with teenagers, if you know a teenager, I strongly encourage you to read this book and then find a way to share the concepts she writes about with them.  Beginning in Sept, our student ministry will have a once a month gathering for girls ages 6th-12th grade to come together for 2 hours and do a Bible study and some type of activity afterwards.  I have decided I am going to be teaching from this book for the first 10 weeks.  The material in this book is too valuable for our girls not to know and the timing of receiving this book and our student ministry kicking off for the new school year aligned perfectly!  

I'm super excited that FlyByPromotions, is giving one of my readers their very own copy of this book too!  Y'all are going to be SO blessed if you win this book!  For your chance to win, simply enter on the form below.  
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising): Many thanks to FlyByPromotions for providing this prize for the giveaway. I received a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.  Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

The Perfect Summer DVD review

About the Movie:
“In The Perfect Summer, fatherless teenager Jake (Adam Horner) is happy living in Chicago, until his mother (Sydney Penny) decides to uproot them to a small surfing town where her estranged father (Eric Roberts), Jake’s grandfather, lives. The transition isn’t easy for anyone and it seems everywhere he goes, Jake manages to make enemies, including the town bully, Tyler (JD Banks), who doesn’t like the new interloper or his interest in young surfing prodigy, Kayla (Katie Garfield). Stuck in the beach town with no friends and no knowledge of surfing, Jake has nowhere to turn until Cody (Jason Castro), the local surf shop owner, reveals that Jake’s grandfather is a surf legend. Tired of feeling like an outcast, Jake asks Lou to teach him about surfing. Jake learns to face his fears, push through inhibitions and realizes that winning the respect of his new peers – and Katie’s heart – might mean facing the biggest challenge of his life.”

Our Thoughts:
We watched this DVD during one of our "family movie nights" with the kids.  I have to admit, there were parts of this movie we really enjoyed and then a few parts we didn't care for so much.  First, let me express the areas we didn't care for.  While we are not "surfers", we do know a little about surfing and some of the things the movie portrayed about surfing, learning to surf, surfing competitions, etc. were not accurate.  Since our kids have had a couple of lessons in surfing, they quickly pointed out a few mistakes in the movie and the one they drove them the craziest was that the grandpa never teaching him to "pop up" on the board as one of the steps to learning to surf.  I think if you are going to make surfing a major part of the movie, it should have been a lot more accurate when it came to the details of surfing and surfing competitions.  It was almost hard to watch because there were so many mistakes in the movie regarding these 2 areas.  As a parent, I wasn't too keen on how the movie portrayed relationships/dating.  The Mom seems to "hook up" with her boss rather quickly and the son meets a girl and is in a relationship with her in just 3 weeks.  Personally, we are teaching our children (who are not yet old enough to date yet mind you) that you don't just meet someone and instantly start dating exclusively.  This movie seems to all be focused on a poor job of portraying surfing and fast relationships.

There were some things we liked about the movie despite the 2 issues mentioned above.  There are quite a few lessons to be learned from this movie (bullying, how not to date/start a relationship, family ties, etc).  One of the biggest lessons our kids got from the movie was that you can't give up just because something is hard. Also, this movie showed Jake going through some really tough times but coming out stronger because of them.

While this wasn't one of our family's favorite movies, it is a decent film.  Being Christian based, there is modesty, no foul language, and is one that is family friendly.

You can watch the trailer here or purchase the DVD here.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the above DVD for free from Edify Media in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Veil of Tears DVD GIVEAWAY

India holds a special place in our hearts.  It is one of the countries we heavily considered pursuing in full-time mission work.  We checked into it, read much literature about, spent much time praying for those in India, for the gospel to advance in India to the unreached places, had several friends that took an exploratory trip there and some of them will be moving there within the next year or so to do mission work there.  While India did not seem to be the Lord's will for us to serve, it is a place in the 10/40 window that we continue to pray for.
About the Movie:
This gripping new documentary film tells the untold story of millions of women in India who are culturally oppressed for no other reason than the fact that they are women. However, despite the centuries of oppression, there are those who are reaching out and trying to change the culture towards women, from the inside out.
These are the faces of true survivors. Those who have withstood a lifetime of adversity in the face of a culture stacked against them. Take a heartfelt journey through the eyes of these women, and others, who unveil their personal stories of persecution, rejection, abandonment, tragedy and even triumph. Get a glimpse of the true resilience of the human spirit and the hope that has changed the lives of millions like these and is helping change millions more.
Narrated by Grammy-Nominated Recording Artist Natalie Grant, this film was shot on-location across the stunning nation of India in some of the most remote tribal villages in the world today. This is a journey where few outsiders have gone before. Approx. 90 minutes.
Our Thoughts:
This documentary was incredibly moving and educational.  It is somewhat hard to watch as you see women degraded, children unwanted, women who seem without hope and children who aren't loved but it is a much needed eye-opener to what goes on in the world around us.  In fact, we let all 3 of our kids watch it and they were fascinated by it and all 3 told us things they had learned from watching it.  My husband said he loved how it showed how the gospel is already being spread in India and but also shows the huge need for more missionaries to India.  The sad part is though that it also shows how inhumane women and children are treated in India.  The high suicide rate from the lifestyles the women are subjected to was alarmingly high.  The statistic that sticks with me the most is the abortion rate in India (a country where girl babies are not valued or wanted).  Basically, women in India are culturally oppressed for simply being a woman.  This DVD is one that will change you and impact you just from watching it.  It will make you begin praying for India (if you aren't already), it will challenge you to get involved in some way to make a difference in the lives of these women and children and it will open your eyes to the cultural differences throughout the world.  This is also a great DVD to show to promote the need for worldwide missions or missions in the 10/40 window.  We highly recommend you watch this DVD!  
You can watch the trailer here or purchase the movie here.  100% of the proceeds from the sale of this documentary go to a ministry that is dedicated to helping the women in India.  Edify Media has graciously offered one of my readers their very own copy of "Veil of Tears" DVD!  For your chance to win, simply fill out the form below.  
“Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one of the products mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

SightWords.com

Having 2 children with Dyslexia, we have had many reading challenges in our home.  We homeschool our children and chose to do that because we felt the Lord leading us in that calling and we knew that we could teach them at a pace they could both comprehend and retain and we could also teach them using methods they could understand the material being presented.  Our 9 year old has severe Dyslexia and he is not yet reading.  We have completed 2 complete reading curriculums and work on it daily but he is just not there yet.  While I am trying to be patient and know that one day (hopefully soon), it will just "click" and he will take off with his reading and confidence in reading, we are still working daily on reading.

I was really excited to be introduced to SightWords.com website.  It is a new resource sponsored by the Georgia Preschool Association and it is designed to help children learn to read.  There are 4 aspects available to use on the website.

There is a History section which teaches what sight words are, the types of sight words, gives you sight word lists, helps you learn to teach sight words and answers your questions about sight words.

The Lessons section helps you learn research-validated and classroom-proven ways to introduce words, reinforce learning, and correct mistakes.  Each sight words lesson is approximately 30 minutes and is divided into 2 sections:  a lesson portion (10 minutes) and a game portion (20 minutes).
The Games section offers 10 fantastic games that will help children practice their sight words and build toward mastery. My son loved the Sight Words Fishing game and he wants to play Snakes and Ladders tomorrow.  As a parent, I love how I can customize these games so I can meet my child at whatever level he is learning at and he can enjoy these games as his vocabulary continues to grow too.

The Flash Cards section is probably my favorite of them all.  One of the key components to helping our son learn to read is repetition and we do flash cards every day.  I love the different sizes of flash cards this sight offers and I like how they may be the same words but they will have a new look compared to his other flash cards. I typically print quarter page flashcards, laminate them, and then punch a hole in the corner and put them on a ring so we can carry them anywhere we go and practice them often whether we are at home on the couch, in a waiting room, in the car, etc.

If you have a child who is learning to read or even a child who is struggling with reading, I highly recommend you check out SightWords.com and spend some time trying some of their techniques, games or flashcards.  This site is designed for Pre-K to 4th grade learners and best of all, all the material on their website is FREE!