Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Picturing the Past- A wonderful Charlotte Mason inspired Artist Study Resource

As I tread on in my (very fledgling) homeschool journey, I am continuously in awe at both the great weight and the immense joy it is to be the Curator and Instructor for my boy's' education. There is truly so much that I want them to know and even more than that, so many beautiful things I want them to be able to experience and take pleasure in. I secretly have always purposed to raise little Renaissance Men- I really hope for my boys to be able to have a wide appreciation for the vast amounts of Goodness, Truth and Beauty  that are found, literally, everywhere. There are so many pursuits and pastimes that been dismissed by our generation as antiquated and particularly not "manly". This is depressing considering that most of the geniuses in the creative fields for years have been men and being "cultured" has traditionally been a sign of an accomplished man. Honestly, my boys live on a farm and are surrounded by very amazing, hard working, masculine men and I really couldn't be more grateful for that! They learn so much from these grounded and wise men, but the "cultured" part is up to their Mama! ;) And since I am on a vulnerable streak here, I'll also add that I am not always very reliable at providing them the opportunities to be exposed to the Arts and other sources of enrichment. They are a rough and tumble bunch who are always chomping at the bit to get to some "war game" or head out the door. Many days between (what feels like constantly) feeding them, cleaning up after all the "fun" they've had and trying to fit in a few quiet moments for myself, it seems that we are lucky to get the very basics of school in each day. All the amazing and beautiful "extras" I so wish to have woven thru our days usually get left in "a dream" status. 

Though I have found a very effective way to add enrichment subjects to our days is Morning Time- an hour or so each morning that we tackle little bites of various topics such as catechism, poetry, etc.-I am really striving to add Artist and Composer study to this Feast on a more regular basis. This is an area that I don't have a lot of natural resources and storehouses to access in my own accord. I have book lists galore archived in my head but paintings and pieces of classical music- not so much. I grew up doing a lot of reading, especially since I have a natural affinity for it, but I didn't have a lot of attraction or exposure to artists and composers. So this is really a whole new game for both my boys and I. I'm really okay with that though, because one of my favorite benefits of homeschooling is that I get to learn right beside my kids. There is always something new to discover in this life!

 I decided to just jump in and do something for an artist study, even if I didn't have a ton of personal knowledge to impart or the perfect approach to use. In all honesty, we have studied one artist this year. Not exactly impressive, but we have fit in a lot of fun coordinating projects and books because we weren't on a tight time frame. My boys are really young and we have many years left to fill with new artists and their paintings. We choose Van Gogh this fall, partly because we had an abundance of sunflowers blooming and Vanf Gogh's sunflower paintings seemed like a perfect fit to introduce art study. We of course looked at a couple of his renditions of his favorite flower and the style in which he painted. We made some of our own sunflower masterpieces, which the boys really enjoyed. I found a couple of picture books about Van Gogh and his life and those fit in really nicely with our study. 

I was really excited to find out that the met museum has an extensive collection of classic art pieces archived online for free personal download and use. I printed out 4x6s of a few of our favorite Van Gogh pieces and have them displayed on our "school wall." But nothing beats having art in larger format, high quality prints to study. A wonderful resource I have found for providing a wide collection of famous artists pictures in one book and also a neat format for documenting your students artist study is Sarah Brown's Picturing the Past: Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Study of Art and History. In true Funschooling fashion, this is a large format, high quality (and thick!) workbook. It is designed to be a year long study that covers 15 well known artists-as well as a fun collection of pictures by unknown artists at the end- that are dated from 1700-1930. The Artists included are Pierre Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassett, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Charles Burton Barber, Harry Brooker, Albert Anker, George Dunlop Leslie, Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, John William Waterhouse, Grant Wood, and Lois Wain. Each artist has an average of five pictures featured and a dedicated work page accompanying each picture for recording impressions and notes from the student. The worksheet asks students to look at the piece of art for a few minutes and then answer two of the four questions on a given day. The questions are "What can you learn from this picture?", "What do you think the artist is trying to communicate?", "Make up a short story about this picture:", and "How does this picture make you feel?" I think these questions tie into the Charlotte Mason method of artist study pretty neatly. Mason advocated a pretty simple, straight forward approach of repeatedly showing an art print to a student over a period of time and asking them to observe the painting and remember what details they could to tell back. These repetitive, open ended questions will give the child a idea of what to be "looking" for in the painting and what will be expected of him later on in the study time.

My boys are all technically under the recommended age range for this workbook, but they caught on to the concept pretty quickly. I plan to stretch this study book well over the year long period it is designed for and use it as an awesome art study supplement to record the artists we've studied over our school career. 

We finished out our study of Van Gogh by "celebrating" his birthday on March 30th! The boys had fun filling out a interactive, little booklet about Van Gogh's approach to painting and some of his most famous pieces. My oldest received a high quality, paint by number of "The Starry Night" and enjoyed working on that. My Preschooler is super creative and did a great job on making his own rendition of "The Starry Night" with paints and construction paper!

Artist study has been a grand, new adventure for our little schoolroom and I am so thankful to have the Picturing the Past: picture study journal to provide me with some direction and actual prints to use. I think we'll dive into Monet next!

I am very grateful to The Thinking Tree LLC. for providing me with this great resource for my family and to be able to share a thorough review with you all.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Family Life of a Christian Leader- good advice for any christian home

I feel it's a little presumptuous of me to have decided a book written to christian leaders would be "for me" as I am not a man/leader in the church nor is my husband in a prominent leadership position. But, I have a curious appetite for self improvement/christian interest books and figured advice on home life given to church leaders has to be pretty potent stuff. Some of the best philosophies/concepts about marriage and family life I have adopted have come from well written, christian books. So knowing this to be a tried and true strategy I jumped into The Family Life of a Christian Leader by Ajith Fernando. Ajith is a director of the Youth for Christ program in Sri Lanka and has been in leadership for 35 years. He is a well respected voice in the christian counseling and ministry world and seems to have the real life witness to qualify him as an excellent author for this genre of book.

I found the perspectives and stories from Ajith's differing culture very interesting and yet still extremely pertinent to any family situation. He does a great job of striking a very challenging, yet applicable balance between scripture and real life strategies to apply. He also does a wonderful job of painting a very true to life yet inspiring picture of both the struggles of family life, especially with a ministry career, and also inspiring readers to see what a witness and blessing a harmonious home could be. Each chapter that addresses a "hard" issue has a corresponding encouraging one. I really appreciate Ajith's diligence to help build up Christian leaders to the biblical qualifications of church leadership while also strongly exhorting them to cherish and care for their wife and children. My family has been involved in part time ministries through the years and also have been close to families in full time ministry and know the great burden and challenge that lifestyle can be for a family. I feel this book does a great job of exhorting the importance of this grand calling while also offering very compassionate advice on lightening the load for a ministry family. 

I received this book in exchange for my honest review thanks to Crossway Publishing. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Magic of Motherhood: A Beautifully Curated Gift of a Book

Motherhood is SO much. So much of who I am, so much harder than I imagined, so much better than I had dreamed, so much more draining than I had prepared for, so much more fulfilling than I could have banked on. It has clearly shown me my limits in devastatingly obvious ways and brought to the surface my selfishness, insecurities and sinful proclivities  more than any other role or realm of my life ever has. Pretty much all I ever wanted to be was a mom and because I embraced that so willingly, so excitedly I truly thought I would naturally thrive; of course, this was not the case. Acceptance, preparation and gusto only take you so far in this race- there is so much you can in no way, shape or form expect or foretell your reaction to. There are so many little, tiny details of the days with my kids that bring me so much more joy than I could have ever imagined and there are huge, right in my face blessings about my children that I so easily take for granted and brush off. It really is amazing the new level of awareness and fierce emotions that Motherhood brings and at yet the same time the amount of multitasking and self sacrifice that it requires that on some days, makes me feel like some sort of a robot. I didn't see so much of this coming and one sure thing that has kept me grounded and encouraged in this role is my fellow Mamas who I have been able to vulnerably share with and who honestly tell me back, "Oh, me too." C.S. Lewis was surely right with quoting "Me too" as the basis for a true friendship. 

I am thankful to have a real life community of other moms who I can walk this road alongside and share the burdens and the joys along the way with. But I have also over the years appreciated the safe haven of "Mommy Bloggers" I have found on the internet for the days when home is where I have to be but encouragement is needed badly. I really respect those women with a gift for words and a vulnerable enough spirit to not only share the beautiful things (which is easy enough online) but the hard and not so pretty things as well. A newer to me site that offers just such a comfort is Coffee + Crumbs. Ashlee Gadd began this beautiful, little corner of the internet to encourage and inspire fellow moms and she has done such a good job with that it has morphed into an even more gorgeous book!

The Magic of Motherhood: The good stuff, the hard stuff and everything in between is really a work of art- both in the text and the visual department. This is a gift worthy, luxe hardback book with a velvety matte cover and exceptionally sturdy pages. I loved the corresponding photography with each essay and full page photo/quote spreads sprinkled through out the book as well. It really feels like you took a beautifully curated and well written blog and wrapped it up into an even better book to hold in your hands. 

All the writers that Ashlee teamed up with on this project offer a unified front in celebrating and uplifting the calling of motherhood but offer varying perspectives with humor, grace and truth. I was instantly sucked in with one of the first essays about the "mom jeans"- a true to life reminiscing of our overly confident pre-mom selves and in the ways we have to stretch and adapt and yet still, we are ourselves. No "mom jeans" needed, we just bring whatever "cut" we are/have and it becomes what a mom needs to embodied as. 

The stories come from moms of varying forms and lifestyles- some unexpectedly becoming mothers, others thru many trials, and still others receiving children from the heart and not the womb. The essays touch on the heart aching joys and the heart breaking griefs that Motherhood can bring. This book would make an amazing Mother's day gift and I will be slowly relishing it in the lead up to that annual shout out of a day to this intense profession. I will let myself be reminded of all the gifts I already have received for being a mom.

Thanks to Book Look Bloggers for providing me with a copy of this title to review.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A picture book to remind a child of their God given, unique identity

We all want our children to know they are truly special, one of a kind; As a christian parent, we want to take it a step further and also teach them that they are designed, down to the smallest detail, by a loving Creator. Of course, mainly that means loving them well and telling them on a regular basis who much you and God love and appreciate who they are; but every once in awhile an extra fun way comes a long- a treat like a new picture book written as just such a reminder! When God Made You is just such a book- a real gift for every child to have a loving parent read aloud to them. 

This book is bright, lyrical and very engaging. The text is in rhyming format, sort of a riff off of Dr. Seuss. The word choices trip you up a bit at times, especially for little ones to follow along with; but at the same time, I am never one to fault a kid's book for writing with an upper level vocabulary. I thought the continuous repetition of "You" through out much of the narrative kept kids on track with exactly what the book was about, even if they got a little lost in some of the descriptives. 

The illustrations are so colorful and lively- definitely a great draw for little eyes. The pictures follow the little girl through her morning at home and then on a trip to the park. She meets an artist who seems to be lacking some inspiration and the little girl joins in the creative process with her own unique style, which leads to some really fun and imaginative drawings. I appreciated in this section the emphasis on God truly enjoying each of us as individuals just for the pleasure of the little things we do, create and are.

The story is summed up with "You being you is God's dream come true." That's an encouraging thought I want to share with my boys and I'm glad to have this book to help remind us all.

 I received this book from the Blogging for Books program

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Story Travelers Bible: A timely children's bible with a unique twist

I think it's safe to say there is a literally a bible translation, version and edition for everyone. Of course, the bible-the gospel- is already enough for absolutely every single person on earth already stand alone. On top of that, there has definitely proven to be a market for "customized"  bibles for different groups ( children, teen, woman, mom, firefighter, etc, etc.) with add-on devotional readings and other details to interest the chosen reader type. I will admit to owning several different versions and translations of bibles in my home and am always up for adding another, if the addition proves unique from what we already own. My husband and I both have our own preferred study bibles and we have quite the stack of children's bibles around! I just recently bought my oldest a full text "kid's" bible for 6th birthday to start following along in during bible reading time, church and awana. I seem to be slowing down in "need" for bibles for our household for this season. But then recently I ran across an intriguing, new illustrated bible "story book".

 The Story Travelers Bible is a packed full of 85 fully illustrated bible stories and lots of neat extras! It is marketed towards 4-8 year olds- an extremely ideal age range for my house and an "transitional" age I feel like falls between toddler/young child story condensed bibles and the full text older kids' bibles. I am excited to use the Story Travelers Bible with my boys during our daily Morning Time bible reading time for school. We have been going through a "Bible Road Trip" reading plan from start to finish and think this will be the perfect edition read our bible stories out of. I think it is a great fit for a "school time" bible because of the extras added through out. There are some really neat "pop up" sections that give kid's further details regarding the geography, time period's culture and other educational topics; as well as prompts to think about how to apply the text to building their own faith. 

This bible has an introduction story that invites us to meet the our Story Traveler partners- Lana, Munch and Griffin-who are starting off a week of vacation bible school. This year's theme is "Getting to know God" and the children start to timidly confess to each other that they all try to read their bible but none of them really feel like they know God well or can relate to the stories of the bible as actual real events. Next thing you know, the children are exploring an intriguing, yet abandoned minibus outside of the church. They climb in to check it out when suddenly, the bus comes to life and they are all whisked away in a whirlwind..

I think that should do a proper job of getting my boys excited for the "adventures" to come! The lively and engaging, yet not overly cheesy illustrations really help each story to jump off of the pages as well. Our friends in the story get to blast to the past and visit each bible story and find out how real the bible characters and God's love and involvement in their lives truly was. The ongoing narrative of the kids' adventures woven around the actual bible stories doesn't "get in the way" or add any unnecessary perspectives or opinions, but actually does an impressive job of helping kids understand more of the timeline and geography of what's taking place as the Story Travelers make sense of maps and their surroundings. I also really appreciate that while obviously this book is a bible paraphrase of sorts (as most kids bibles are) after each story there is a note about where to find the corresponding full bible passage in a full text bible. 

With Easter coming up soon, I plan to read thru the events of Jesus's life leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection with my boys over a couple weeks. I am looking forward to using The Story Travelers Bible to take that journey with us. 

Thanks to Tyndale Publishing for providing me with this bible to share with my boys and my readers!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Everybody can help Somebody: A good lesson for all ages

I remember being newly an adult- newly married and pregnant with my first child when Ron Hall and Denver Moore's Same Kind of Different as Me came out and it really affected me. It's described as the story of a modern-day slave, an international art dealer and the unlikely woman who bound them together- an intriguing story line, to be sure! I was really excited to see the authors had recently came out with a children's picture book version of their story.

 I love the simplistic illustrations and engaging, yet accessible text used to share this inspiring story with kids. I so enjoyed cuddling up with my boys and introducing them to a man who lived such a very different life than any that they are familiar with. Denver truly lived a life that most of us assume was a burdened lifestyle of the past. What an eye opening account for my kids to hear of the childhood he lived, especially to their "privileged" one in comparison. 

Then to read of how the love of God tracked him down and transformed his life and touched his heart through some unlikely friends. This is the kind of story I want to engrain in my kids' hearts: that God can use them to share his love in ways and with people they could never even imagine.

Thanks to Book Look Bloggers for providing me with a copy of this title to review.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

An Amazingly Thorough, yet Whimsical Theology Course wrapped up in a Children's Book

Consistency is not my strongest suit but I have more than learned the value of good habits and routines. One practice that has started to "stick" fairly well in my boys and my daily rhythm is "Morning Time"-this happens after breakfast and chores and before I do any individual school subjects with the boys separately. We all gather at the dining room table and enjoy a "broad feast"-not of food, but ideas. We start with a quick prayer, go over our AWANA verses and read a section of the bible for our Bible Road Trip. We focus on learning a new song from Songs for Saplings each week, they offer some great catechisms set to catchy tunes. We also cover some fun, out of the ordinary ways to learn math, church history, and the boys love our time for nursery rhymes and a silly poem. The point of Morning Time is not academic but to connect as a family and focus on things that are good, true and beautiful. 

A book that I had on my wishlist for some time and was so excited to incorporate into our Feast was The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New by Marty Machowski. This book is incredible, really. When I think of the good, true and beautiful, I picture this book. Machowski offers a dense and rich spread of theological truth written towards kids, but just as nourishing for adults and wraps it up in a gorgeous, heirloom quality format of a book. One of the tag lines from the publishers is "A beginner s book of systematic theology in the form of a beautifully illustrated storybook." I think this is really the perfect way to sum up what this book is. It truly is a very comprehensively laid out theology course in the form of an engaging children's story. 

It begins by introducing us to our main characters- Carla and Timothy who are exploring their church building when they discover not only a secret underground stairway but also a mysterious package that beckons them to "Open and Read". Within is a letter explaining that they have in their hands a last of it's kind historic children's book that teaches the Theology, the study of God. And so begins our journey with Carla and Timothy thru The Ology. 

The book is very systematic about it's teaching approach and I think that's perfect to make sure even the youngest child can begin but also make sure the more advanced student has a through and solid foundation. It starts with The Ology of God, which covers the attributes of who God is. Then, we move to The Ology of People where we're reminded of our creation and first parents. Next, we have to face the hard facts in The Ology of Sin which does a great job of clearly explaining to children what sin and it's consequences are, both at the first instance in the Garden and in their lives now. The Ology of the Promise and the Law explains God's "rescue plan" and how the law was first introduced and what it's purpose is.

 The hope comes with The Ology of Christ when children are told of Jesus' divine and human aspects and what all he did for us. Things go a little deeper still when we get to The Ology of the Holy Spirit and learn of the introduction of the Holy Spirit to the first believers and how it is with us now. The Ology of Adoption into God's Family gives us many reminders of our truest identity. The Ology of Change I think is where things start transitioning to being a great challenge and lesson to older children, past the basics of what God has done for us and focused in on how we can live for him. This section deals with how we can grow and have victory in Christ and I'm thinking my oldest who just turned 6 would really get a lot out of these lessons at his stage in understanding the faith. The Ology of the Church does a wonderful job of explaining what the purpose of the Church is and why we need to be a part of it. A much helpful to teaching parents section on The Ology of the End Times gives some great insight into the tricky subject of "things to come". And the whole book is tied up nicely with the last chapter The Ology of God's Word where we are reminded of the importance and power of this book we're studying so in depth. 

Each "lesson" is short and concise with coordinating scripture and a whimsical illustration to engage kids. There is so much packed into this volume that I don't foresee us getting through it any time too soon and I am totally ok with that. Like any delightful thing you want to draw it out, soak it up and savor it. That's most importantly, how we should feel about God's word and I think Marty Machowski has doing a wonderful job of invoking a similar feeling about the complementary study of Theology with this outstanding title. As only the best kid's books can do, I feel like this is a gift not only for them, but for me as the lucky parent who gets to read it to them. This book will be treasured by my family for many years of growth and spiritual formation to come and recommended to all my  dearest Mama friends. 

Thanks so much to New Growth Press for providing me with this title to enjoy with my children and wholeheartedly recommend to my readers.