Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Christmas Ever!

The kids have officially declared this "the best Christmas ever!"  That's mainly due to the fact that each of our children received a pretty intense gift from us this year...they all got tablets!  Holden (5) and Haylee (8) each got the Nabi 2.  Hayden got a Maylong T-100CP.  Now to do this, I had to give up my dream of upgrading to the iPad Mini.  Sigh.  The things we do for our children.  Enough said.

I waited in line on Thanksgiving night at Walmart to get the first Nabi 2 for $129.  Little did I realize that we'd end up wanting another one so they wouldn't have to share.  Getting the second one turned into a real fiasco, including a bum ebay purchase that resulted in a Buyer Protection Case being filed to get my money back, not to mention about 8 failed attempts at ordering it from because of a fraudulent purchase that was made on my account a couple of months ago.  This entailed a couple of lengthy calls to Walmart's customer service (not recommended), which still didn't solve my problem.  I ended up having to open a whole new account with a different email address and a different credit card before I could get the order to go through.  I sure hope the kids appreciate the lengths I went to in order to complete this purchase!  I ended up paying $199 for the second one.  Not so good, but mission accomplished, and I'm glad that we were able to give them each their own.

Now for Hayden's tablet, I stumbled upon a one-day cyber sale at Best Buy's website, and I got his Maylong tablet with keyboard, case, and earbuds for half price...a mere $79!  Wish I could have been so lucky with the others, but I don't regret purchasing the Nabi 2's for them...they rock!  I did lots of research on tablets made for kids, and it is by far a superior product with top-notch customer service.

All 3 of the tablets have the same operating system...the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.  I love the parental controls on the Nabi 2's, and I love that we can get apps from the Amazon Android App Store instead of being limited to some obscure third party app site with limited app availability.  So far, I've been able to get the kids 99% of their favorite apps from iTunes in an Android version.  They are thrilled!

I also love the built-in chore lists that enable the kids to earn Nabi coins for completing their chores.  The Nabi coins add up and earn them the ability to purchase a game app from the Nabi Store.  The Nabi 2's came with a good variety of well-known game apps, as well as the Nabi University section with lots of age-appropriate educational apps.  They also got 30 free e-books from MeeGenius included.  What's more, I signed up for a school account as a homeschool teacher with MeeGenius and got our account upgraded to 75 free e-books.

I told the kids to remember this Christmas forever, because they aren't likely to have such a generous haul again in the future.  The only reason we were able to swing these major purchases (they also got a Wii U) is because we re-financed our house this summer and got a couple of large, unexpected refunds from excess real estate taxes and escrow paid on the previous mortgage.  Now we're back to squeaking by, but we're so happy to have been able to give the kids the tablets, especially. 

The tablets are a great tool for our homeschool, too.  We set up Google Calendars on each of the tablets, and now I can enter their assignments for each day onto Google Calendar from my computer and have each assignment pop up as a reminder on their tablets throughout the day at the designated times.  This helps them stay on task as the hours roll by, and it also enables Steve to view their work progress at any point in the day while he is at work.  If he sees they are getting behind schedule, he can email them directly on their tablets and prod them a bit to get back on track.  I love the reinforcements so I don't have to yell! 

With the house less cluttered, I didn't feel as rushed to pack up the Christmas tree and decorations this year.  I actually waited until the evening of December 26th, which has to be a record!  LOL.  My friends enjoy teasing me about how I stand up as soon as the presents are opened and declare Christmas is over...pack it up!  :)  The funny thing is that this description is not far from the truth!  ha, ha.

I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas as much as we did.  I'll remember this Christmas the most because all of the kids were old enough not to squabble or whine or complain about something right in the middle of the festivities.  Everybody was happy and appreciative, and Holden was old enough to get *really* excited about each and every gift.  I loved seeing his face light up like that.  His joy was contagious.  :)

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year to come!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Doggy Story, Part 2

There was much sadness after the loss of Suzie, and Holden was taking it especially hard.  He kept asking days later why Suzie didn't "just come back already."  His little 4-year old mind just couldn't wrap itself around the concept that she wasn't ever coming back.  My heart broke just a little more that this was breaking his, too.  He was sniffly and sad out of the blue and kept telling me how much he missed her.  He started wetting the bed a couple of times a week.  His pediatrician said this was a totally typical grief response in a child his age and that I should talk to him about our belief system and what happens when a loved one dies.  The trouble was that I couldn't talk about it without sobbing myself, so I kept trying to avoid the conversation because he is really sensitive to my feelings, and I didn't want to upset him more by showing him how upset I was myself.

Finally, after a few weeks, I was able to sit down and talk to him without sobbing hysterically.  I told him that hopefully, Suzie will be in heaven waiting for us as part of our own reward in heaven.  He seemed okay with that. 

Steve and I talked and decided maybe it would be good to get another dog, not only to help fill the void we all felt without Suzie, but also so Lilly, our yellow lab, would have a companion, too.  So the kids and I started looking around, both in local pet stores and shelters and online.  We were preparing to go on vacation at the end of October, and we thought it would be best to get the new dog after we came back.

Well, it just so happened that I stumbled upon an ebay local ad for a beautiful little dog that was located at the Eastern Shore SPCA shelter.  Once I saw her picture and read her little story, I couldn't get her face out of my mind.  I dreamed about her!  The kids really liked her, too.  I wrote back and forth to the shelter and got more information about her, and the more I learned, the more I was sure that she was *the* dog for our family. 

Her name is Teenie Tiny, and she was about 8 months old.  She had been at the shelter for 2 months already.  Her owner had turned her in along with her brother and another dog because the owner was working 12-hour shifts and had no time for her animals.  The shelter said that sadly, Teenie had spent most of her life in a crate.  So sad!  Teenie is a mix of beagle and labrador, our two favorite breeds, and her designer breed is known as Beagador, Labeagle, or Labbe.  I researched about the breed and found the personality and common traits to be a good fit for us and in line with what we're accustomed to having in a dog.  I also thought that with her being half labrador, she would be more likely to get along well with Lilly, being more hyper and playful than Suzie had been in her old age.

So the kids and I laid out a plan to convince Steve that we should get this dog right away before she was gone and before she had to spend another day in that shelter.  I made up a flyer with her photos on it blown up really big.  It had her name at the top and a message to please save her at the bottom.  We put it on the fridge and didn't say a word.  Within a couple of days, he totally caved and said we could get her! 



Won’t you bring me home?

Please save me!

I ordered a kennel for her that could fold up for travel, and we made arrangements with the shelter to come up that Tuesday to see her.  I had to bring Lilly and all of the kids to make sure everyone got along before they would allow us to adopt her. 

The big day came, and it was rainy outside.  We all eagerly piled into the van with our breakfast and headed up to the Eastern Shore to Onley.  This was about healthy drive of about 1.5 hours each way with a big toll at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel along the way.  We were nervous that Lilly would be aggressive with her, but they actually did okay!  When they first brought Teenie out, she was shivering and shaking and just a nervous wreck.  She starting tinkling on the floor involuntarily...something she does when there are strangers around and she feels nervous...and was just a ball of nerves!  But she got right up in my lap and was so friendly and sweet, despite her being scared.  She even peed on my lap!  LOL.  When we moved on to introduce Lilly, we knew everything hinged on that.  But it went pretty well. 

Finally, they decided we could adopt her and agreed to waive the 24-hour waiting period since we lived so far away.  They gave her a bath and microchipped her for life, and off we went!  Amazingly, about 30 minutes into the drive home, she calmed right down and stopped whining.  She laid down and rested on her new comfy bed.  About an hour into the drive, she got carsick...something we later learned would always happen to her...but other than that, it was an uneventful trip.  When we got home with her, she made herself right at home!  Lilly kept guarding her...trying to confine her in small spaces so she couldn't go explore.  But eventually, Teenie claimed a particular sofa and wouldn't let Lilly even come into the room without growling at her!  It was so funny that Teenie Tiny became the agressive alpha dog...who would have guessed that?!?

Now that they've been together for just over 2 months, they are truly the best of friends.  They play together every day.  They both sleep in our bedroom and share their toys.  Their favorite activity is to play tug-of-war with a fake animal pelt.  They could play and nap together all day long.  We only have to separate them for meal time (they get aggressive around food), but they've both fallen into a routine of going to their kennels in the morning when it's time for food and water to be distributed.  They are so cute!

Now it feels as though Teenie has always been a part of our lives.  She has such a sweet personality, and she's a great little lap dog that loves to cuddle.  She greets me with kisses every morning when my alarm clock goes off and she sees me start to stir.  We love her to pieces!

So while we still miss Suzie and shed a tear now and again when we think of her, having Teenie around has helped to ease the pain a bit.  Holden has stopped wetting the bed again.  All is well in the House of Burgesses.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Doggy Story, Part 1

In September, my beloved dog, Suzie, finally passed away.  This was so emotional for my family.  She was 18 years old!  She was a beautiful little 18-lb. Beagle/Black & Tan Coondog mix.  I remember the day Steve and I bought her from a pet store inside the mall in Newport News.  We were going to see my parents for lunch after church and stopped to walk through the mall on the way.  We were planning our wedding at the time and had no intentions of getting a pet.  But when we saw her shivering in the back of her cage, we just had to rescue her!  The other dogs from the litter were chewing and pawing on her and biting her ear, and she was just whining and shaking like a leaf!  We took her out and played with her, and we immediately fell in love.  When we showed up at my mom's with her in tow, she instantly fell in love with her, too.  I walked her around the block in my arms, and she slept there like a baby.  She was the cutest thing ever!  As she got older, we discovered she was lightning fast and loved to explore, nose to the ground.  She got out of our fence so many times and ended up at the pound.  She even ran away on the eve of our wedding!  We took a short honeymoon in town so we could look for her, and we found her at the pound just in time!

She was really spoiled and treated like our child.  She slept in the foot of our bed under the covers.  I sewed a Santa suit for her and had a professional pet portrait made for our Christmas cards.  She wore costumes for Halloween and helped us pass our candy to the neighborhood kids.  When we started looking to buy a house instead of our townhouse, I took her with me every evening after work as we drove past this house and daydreamed about all the space she'd have to run around if we bought it. 

When our actual children came along, one at a time over a period of 8 years, she was already 5 when that process began.  She protested from day one, soiling in the house wherever the baby was.  She bit 2 of my 3 children at some point along the way.  I considered getting rid of her but decided instead that she would have to live outside.  It was hard having her become an outside dog, but my babies had to come first.  She went with the flow, and the kids grew to love her.  She eventually figured out they weren't so bad, but she never became housetrained again, so she continued to spend most of her time outside.  We did, though, get another dog to keep her company.  In her very long lifetime, she outlived 2 labs who were her best friends and then lived with a 3rd one who was her arch-enemy!  When Lilly came along and they got along so horribly, Suzie again became an inside dog.  In her old age, she returned to the comforts of our home, complete with kennel, fashion doggy diapers and Depends pads, and Martha Stewart dresses.  I'm so thankful that we pampered her so much for her last stretch of life.  We were able to again spend lots of time with her and show her how much she mattered to us.

I loved her so much.  I loved her.  Real, honest-to-goodness love.  She was my companion and a part of my family for so many years.  She had always been a part of "us."  On her last night in this world, my oldest son and I cried and hugged and developed a plan to wrap her in a blanket and hold her in our arms, taking turns, through the night, so she would not be alone and would know that we loved her always.  She'd been losing a lot of weight, and we knew the end was near.  She cried that night until we held her.  Then she was comforted enough to go to sleep in our arms.  Her breathing was labored.  My son laid her down beside him, and that is where she left this world at the break of dawn.  We were so sad that she had finally gone, but as I saw her fighting that last night, I told her it was okay to let go and let the peace wash over her.  It was okay.  She had so much trouble just getting through the day to day those last few months.  She could no longer get up on her own.  Her eyes were frosted over with cataracts.  She could barely hear.  Even still, she wanted to fight like the spunky girl she had always been.  But I told her it was okay this time...just relax and let go.  And she did.  May God bless her and keep her always.  I pray she is in doggy heaven waiting for me to join her someday.  I hope she is part of my reward, and I hope I earn a place to be with her again.

Rest in peace, Suzie girl!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Trash to Treasure in 10 Days!!!

Steve and I moved to this house in 1997 from a 1200 sq. ft. townhouse.  This house has 2418 sq. ft., and we barely had enough belongings to fill half the rooms here.  For years, there were empty rooms.  Then the dogs and the children came along, one at a time, over a period of 15 years.  Flash forward to this year, 3 kids and 5 dogs later, and we had a house full of "stuff."  And I mean full.  Like, if you looked in a thesaurus the word clutter, it would say Clutter: The Burgess House.  Ugh!

I've been trying to get rid of stuff every week, but was always limited to however much our city trash can could hold, and then I had to stop.  Trouble is, 15 years of accumulated junk can't fit in one city trash can, no matter how many weeks you fill it up.

So we decided to take the plunge and rented a 30-yard household debris dumpster.  Day and night, right through Thanksgiving week and the week leading up to it, we worked every waking moment from dawn until about 1 AM filling that thing up.  And fill it, we did!  I mean, we filled it to the top in just about 10 days.  And here we are, two weeks later, with a house that's gone from trash to treasure!

We can now relax without a million to-dos of housework to be done.  We've organized every nook and cranny in this house and have literally touched everything we own in the last 2 weeks.  I finally have a real pantry closet!  All my cans are sorted and organized, and all my baking supplies are in tubs with labels, neatly aligned on a shelf.  It's amazing the transformation we've achieved! 

Short of removing everything from the house onto the street and literally moving back in and hauling away what remained outdoors, we couldn't have done any better for ourselves.  It was a lot of hard, exhausting, back-breaking work for the whole family.  The kids had to let go of their stuff and keep only their most treasured belongings.  And we're finding that in doing so, those few remaining things truly are more treasured.  We assigned one cabinet downstairs with deep shelves in it to house the kids' toys that aren't neatly contained in their rooms, and they were designated just one shelf each in that cabinet.  They could only keep it if it fit on their shelf.

I went through tons of bookshelves and sent 4 big Rubbermaid tubs of books down to my neighbor's house.  We freecycled some really great excess clothing and sent a pile of quality winter coats to a homeless clothing drive.  We pulled up our dilapidated decks and put them in the dumpster.  We removed excess furniture.  We consolidated things and organized them neatly so there is a place for everything, and everything in its place.

Picking up in the evening is now a simple task that requires only a few minutes.  The vacuum could be run at any given time of day, and the floor would be ready to receive it.  I can grab a mop at a moment's notice to take care of the dogs' footprints as they come in the back door after a rain.

I've switched to doing all the laundry EVERY day, so there's only ever one day's worth of laundry to be done.  I sort it into tiny baskets assigned to each person, and in the evening after dinner when everyone is ready for their baths, they grab their basket and go put away their own clothes...for just that one day.  Easy peasy!  The dishwasher gets filled and run every night and emptied every morning. 

Aaaahhh.  The sweet peace of a tidy household.  Now, when there is free time, we can truly sit and relax and really enjoy our house that is now, finally, a home.  We love it!

This week, as we got back to our normal homeschool routine, the kids showed me that they could finish school in about 2.5 hours instead of dragging it out until bedtime.  That's because they wanted to race each other to see how fast they could get done so they could go play in their new spaces with whatever things they kept. 

Now that the dumpster is gone, we're kind of considering renting another smaller one to finish things up.  We never made it into the shed before the dumpster was full.  I never got into Haylee's bedroom closet.  I never made it through my overstuffed closet full of clothes I no longer wear.  The posts from the old deck still have to be removed and disposed of.  And I still have two more large bookshelves to clear out.  We clearly underestimated the amount of "stuff" that was in the house.

All I know is that it feels good to have it gone. 

Bye, bye, stuff!!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

REVIEW: Teaching Kids to Sing by Vocal Coach

I had the opportunity to review Teaching Kids to Sing by Vocal Coach with my 8-year old daughter, Haylee.

Teaching Kids to Sing 2-DVD/1-CD Set is the perfect way to teach your children and their leaders about the child's voice. All the foundations from Posture, Breathing, Tone, Rhythm, Diction and much, much more is explored and demonstrated. The cast includes Chris & Carole Beatty and a group of children ages 5 to 13.

The CD contains all the music used on the two DVD's in two versions: With vocals and track only. This allows your young singers to learn, then perform the songs.  

Set Contains:
  1. Building Foundations That Last DVD
  2. Essential Skills For Growing Voices DVD
  3. Accompaniment Tracks CD
Cost:  $44.99

Using Teaching Kids To Sing (TKS) In The Homeschool Environment

There are a number of different ways to apply this material to a Home School setting. Some, prefer to take one topic a week and dig deep. That would mean scheduling two or three sessions to view (DVD) or listen to (CD) that topic. Then, begin using the Accompaniment CD to reinforce what is being learned. Using this method you could space it out over 8 or more weeks. Doing review sessions could expand it to 10–12 weeks.      

What is the goal and objectives of the Teaching Kids To Sing series?

Teaching Kids To Sing is a systematic, interactive and fun tool for teaching the young singers in your life about their voices using either our DVD or CDs. The Teaching Kids To Sing series presents principles and exercises in a way that can be easily understood and implemented by children from age 5 through 6th grade.
Which Is Better:  The TKS DVD/CD Set Or The TKS CD Bundle?
Both the DVD and CD sets are thorough and effective. The 2-DVD/1-CD package has the advantage of letting you see as well as hear what Chris, Carole and the Vocal Coach Kids are doing. It also includes a CD of Accompaniment Tracks so you can conveniently get to any of the songs or warm-up exercises. As a bonus, each song & exercise is offered both with Chris and the Vocal Coach Kids singing and without them. This gives you actual performance accompaniment tracks your kids can use to perform the songs.
The 3-CD set goes into more detail explanations since you can see what is going on. There is also a special section just for parents/teachers to help get them up to speed on what is going to be taught.

This is a nice program for teaching kids the elements of their voices and proper speech as well as ways to warm up use the voice properly, and keep it healthy and strong.

Discs one and two are instructional in nature. Haylee and I watched these DVD’s together.

The first disc is called Building Foundations That Last. It covers the importance of good posture and how bad posture affects the quality of the voice. It talks about proper breathing and the ways your body expan ds in various parts when you breathe in. This is related to posture, because bad posture limits the amount of air you can breathe in. It discusses tone and compares it to the sounds on the piano. Then it takes you through the steps in a good warm-up routine and talks about how you must warm up your voice to maximize performance, just as an athlete warms up his muscles so he can play better. It has children sing along with a number of different warm-up exercises. This disc is approximately 42 minutes.

The second disc is called Essential Skills for Growing Voices. It covers diction and has children practice properly annunciating their sounds through the use of some fun tongue twisters. Haylee really enjoyed those and laughed a lot as she tried to repeat them over and over again. It discusses dynamics and gives the children examples of loud and soft sounds in the environment. Then it talks about tempo and goes through different speeds of music. Then it shows them the difference between staccato and legato and has them practice identifying the two when different instruments are played. Then it goes through rhythm and accents, and finally moves on to vocal health. Vocal health talks about maintaining a proper diet, hydration, proper use of the voice (no yelling, screaming, or excessive use of the voice), and the importance of protecting your hearing, as well. This disc is approximately 30 minutes.

The third disc puts all of the warm-up and diction exercises that were covered in the instructional portions into one place for easy access. Once Haylee and I had watched the first two discs together and understood the different elements of caring for and exercising the voice and using it properly, then the third disc was all that we needed to continue our practice. The third disc has roughly 40-45 minutes of content and is presented in two ways: with and without accompanying vocals. So you have a choice of practicing the warm-ups and vocal exercises over the vocals, or singing them independently with just the music.

We both enjoyed this set and felt we learned a lot about the way our voices function and how to best utilize their sound. I thought the instruction was given very much at a child’s level of understanding and in a way that was made it easy for them to relate. There was lots of real-life application used so that children could more easily comprehend each concept and put the concepts to use in their everyday lives, not just for singing, but for speaking, as well.

If you’re looking for a fun and easy way to teach your children to use their voices more effectively and improve their sound, then this set has what you need. You can’t turn a bad singer into a good one if they don’t have a beautiful voice to start with, but you can teach them to improve how they use the voice they have to sound the best that they can.

The cost of this set seems a bit steep for my family, given that once you’ve watched the instructional discs, there’s no longer a need for them. Only the third disc continues to have lasting value, since that would be used regularly to warm up and exercise the vocal cords properly.

Check out what other Crew members had to say about this and other products from Vocal Coach by clicking the banner below.


I received this product free of charge for review purposes, however all opinions are mine and reflect my family’s honest use of the product.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Craziness at the Burgess Household

I have so much going on at the moment. 

First of all, the kids spilled water on my digital camera while I was at the store.  I came back to finish taking shots for a review I was finishing up and discovered it sitting in a pool of water on the counter!  It worked briefly, then the screen got fuzzy, then it flickered, and then it went off.  I could no longer get it to stay on.  Bummer.  I looked it up on the internet, and it basically said when you damage the electronic parts of the camera with water, it's toast.  Blech!  I had to finish up my review photos using my cell phone and email the pics to myself.  That worked out okay, but obviously, my cell phone doesn't take as quality photos as my digital camera.  A further complication is that I also do mystery shopping, and I had to borrow my neighbor friend's camera to take the photos for that (can't use cell phone for that). 

So obviously, replacing my camera ASAP was a must-do.  The upside was that I had been wanting to upgrade to more megapixels anyway, but couldn't justify it when my camera was working just fine, so this was my chance.  I wanted to stick with a Fuji Finepix, my favorite.  Low and behold, I got an email from 1SaleADay and saw they had a Fuji Finepix JX580 for a mere $65!  That was $20 cheaper than Amazon's price, and it included free shipping.  In addition, it was 16 MP, and my older Fuji was just 10 MP, so that was a major improvement in picture quality.  Hooray!  I ordered it right away.  There was a delay in delivery because of the Veteran's Day holiday (insert crying), but it is set for delivery today (keeping fingers crossed).  It'll be just in time, too, because I have another mystery shop tonight that requires photos!  UPS turned it over to USPS, so I hope there are no further delays.  I'll have to get it charged right away so I can use it tonight.  I can't wait!

I have spent more time learning the basics of Adobe Photoshop Elements recently, and I used it extensively on my recent review of Activity Bags in order to create photo collages of the experiments we did.  It turned out pretty cool!  I definitely intend to use it more.  I really like adding personal photos in my reviews.  I think it helps sell the products by giving a clearer picture (pun intended) of just what the product is and how we've used it.

Secondly, I now have a giant 30-yard dumpster sitting in my driveway.  It was delivered yesterday morning.  We should have it for about a month.  Our plan is to methodically work our way through the house and rid ourselves of excess furniture, toys, and general junk.  We're also going to clean out the attic, shed, and pull up our dilapidated decks out back.  Our back doors are in bad disrepair, so we're chucking those and replacing them with nice French doors, as well.  I'm so excited!  This house is so cluttered, and the house is in need of some repairs, for sure.  Having the dumpster is inspiring...seeing the rooms begin to clear out creates a real motivation to keep tossing more and more!  The kids simply have too much stuff, and it's impossible to keep the house neat and orderly. 

Last night, hubby started on the recreation room.  We tossed the sofa, chair, side table, and coffee table, plus the corner entertainment center.  The point of that was to open up the room more and make it less of a place for the kids to sit and leave their junk laying around.  It's a huge room (540 sq. ft.) that is a converted 2-car garage.  It will be much more useable as a place to engage in lots of activities with more open space.  We're making our giant craft table a center focal point so you can sit there and work on just about anything with clear table space and still watch tv.  But with no comfy furniture to lounge on, it won't just be a place to congregate and lay around making a mess.  It will be a great place to exercise and that sort of thing.  We already have a treadmill back there, and now we can put it against the wall out of the way but where it can be used at any time.  Last night, we decided we'll also move the Wii into that room so we can get all that stuff out of the living room.  The kids are always hogging the main tv to play on the Wii, so that arrangement will work out better.

It was raining yesterday, but that did not deter my husband from clearning that stuff out.  He says he has a plan for each day to make the progress he wants to make in that room.  Honestly, tha rec room is so full of junk that we could spend a couple of weeks just going through that one room!

I told some friends I'm shooting for the "just moved in" look.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

REVIEW: Growing Up Wild DVD’s Volumes 1 and 4 by Growing Up Wild

We had the pleasure of reviewing Growing Up Wild Volume 1 and Volume 4 by Growing Up Wild.


What is Growing Up Wild?

Growing Up Wild is a collection of educational DVDs that takes you into the remote jungles of Indonesia and shows you the day to day life of the four Wild brothers.

Each episode will share an aspect of missionary life and offer activity ideas that will cause your children to explore their world and connect with ours.

Purpose & Vision

The "Growing Up Wild" DVD series was developed for the purpose of introducing children to the work going on in foreign mission field. Our hope is that "Growing Up Wild" will educate and challenge your children, and be used by the Lord to play a part in raising up the next generation of missionaries!

"Growing Up Wild" was developed to compliment a Home school or Sunday school curricula. It can be used by elementary age students (ages 5-12) but is entertaining and educational for all ages. It can also be useful for summer programs, youth groups, extra semester study, private or Christian schools, or anyone wanting to learn about the "in's and out's" of modern day foreign missionary work. 

We hope and pray that "Growing Up Wild" will bless and challenge your children to see what part they can play in being obedient to God's word in seeing the nations reached with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ!

Take a look at some video clips here

There are currently 5 volumes available, and each volume is $18.99 plus tax and shipping costs.  Each volume is approximately 45 minutes long and consists of 3 roughly 15-minute episodes that give insight to another aspect of life in Papua New Guinea with the Wilds.  Each volume includes the DVD and another disc that contains the printable activity guide.

You can buy all 5 volumes in a bundle for $80.99 + shipping and tax and save 15%.

My children, ages 13, 8, and 4, really enjoyed watching these 6 episodes.  I had printed out the activity guides from the included DVD’s, and we discussed the activities orally at the end of each episode.  There is still more material we can explore later…some suggested videos to watch on the internet and some interesting research we can do.  I liked that there were opportunities to expand the experience after watching the episodes. 

In Volume 1, we saw the first 3 episodes in the series. 
    • In Home Sweet Hut, we were able to learn about how the Wild family designed and built their hut.  They made it round to blend in with the native huts in the village, but the inside was very different.  It included partitioned rooms and multi-levels, including a 2nd story Lego room!  That was definitely not what we were expecting.  In addition, they had solar powered conveniences and running water.  They even had a shower!
    • In Supply Trip, we learned about how they kept active lists of how many packages and boxes of foods they used throughout the month, and then used that list to determine what they needed to buy on their next trip to purchase supplies.  We saw how they transported their stuff by plane up to a certain point, and then the villagers came and happily assisted them in transporting it the rest of the way to their hut.  We saw how they had to weigh everything and were limited by weight how much they could load onto the plane, including their own weights!  They said this became a challenge to them as the Wild boys grew older and larger, as it limited their supply weight more and more with time.  My kids were awed at how the boys enjoyed delicacies on their trip like the eyeball of a fish and the tentacle of a squid!
    • In Sun &Water, we got to see how they used the natural resources of the sun and water to provide for their needs.  We saw how they harnassed the sun’s energy to give them solar power inside their hut.  We saw how they used hoses run from a riverbed at a higher elevation to channel water to tanks nearby where the water was filtered for their use of running water inside their hut.  Very creative, indeed!
In Volume 4, we saw 3 more episodes in the series.
    • In Amazing World Around Us, the kids and I got to see lots of surprising creatures like the giant stick bug and these huge, ugly spiders that hide themselves all over their hut, in their rafters and even in their beds!  Ugh!  We saw the Wild boys spearing the spiders to kill them after driving them out of their hiding places.  They certainly seemed very accustomed to their surroundings!  I know my own kids would be screaming and running for their lives! 
    • In Adventures in Culture, we got to see many of the differences between the culture of the native peoples in Papua New Guinea and what we know of our own culture.  There are some vast differences indeed, and the Wild boys seemed to fit right in.  One of the physical cultural differences was the huge piercings that the people often receive in their noses.  It was very different from the small piercings people might receive in this country.
    • In Tribal Calling, the Wilds explain how their family originally came to be called by God to work with tribal peoples.  There was a particularly touching interview with the boys’ uncle, where he explained why he felt compelled by God’s word to do missionary work.  I felt this was explained so well that even a young child of God could understand the stirring in one’s heart that comes from hearing God call us to spread the word of the good news to those who have not heard.
Overall, the kids and I really enjoyed this series, and I’d love to see the remaining episodes on the other 3 volumes.  It was fascinating to see the way the Wild family has knitted themselves into life in the jungle.  I think the price of $18.99 is a bit steep for under 45 minutes of viewing time, but I’m a pretty frugal homeschooler. 

If you’re looking for an entertaining show about adapting to life in a remote place, this might fit the bill.  But if you’re looking for a visual of the life and experience of missionaries, I think this misses the mark. 

After years of study and reading detailed accounts of great missionaries such as William Carey and Gladys Aylward, we’ve learned of the trials and disappointments that accompany their daily lives.  We’ve gained insight into the dedicated long-term commitment needed to fit in with the culture, gain the trust of the native people, learn their language (which is often unwritten), and spend years translating the bible into that language.  We’ve seen how the missionaries endure attacks and brushes with death, conflicts of all kinds amongst the native peoples, and all the while, try to embed the word of God into the hearts of those who have never heard it.  That’s the true life of a missionary.  It involves immeasurable personal sacrifice, patience, and perseverance to reach the hearts of strangers.

These Growing Up Wild videos lack that element of sacrifice that most missionaries endure.  And the episodes we saw showed nothing of the disappointments in attempting to reach the hearts of the native peoples whose way of life and thinking are so different from our own, largely because they do lack knowledge and understanding of the ways of God.

While these are great videos, and I could definitely recommend them, I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed that they are filled with the lighter side of missionary work and not a complete picture of what it’s really like over the long-term.  However, they are definitely worthwhile for their ability to inspire a child to think in terms of spreading God’s word to those who do not know it.

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about the Growing Up Wild series by clicking the banner below.


I received Growing Up Wild Volumes 1 and 4 free of charge for review purposes, but all opinions are mine and reflect my family’s honest use of the products.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

REVIEW: Science Activity Bags eBooks 1-3 and Travel Activities in a Binder from Activity Bags

My family was blessed to receive a variety of eBook products to review from Activity Bags, including Science Activity Bags eBook 1, Science Activity Bags eBook 2, Science Activity Bags eBook 3, and Travel Activities in a Binder eBook.

The Science Activities in a Bag e-Books give an introduction to the wealth of material in many other books available in libraries and bookstores. They engage young children with experiments they can see, touch, manipulate, and modify; situations that allow them to figure out what happens. All of the experiments have been tested by a group of moms, and they work great! Kids of all ages are observing, asking questions, learning science, and loving it! And science experiments are not a hassle anymore, because it’s all in the bag!  These science e-books are recommended for grades K-6.


Science Experiments in a Bag E-Book 1:  This book provides examples of 25 simple experiments in biology, general science, and nature that you can do with your children.  $15.00

Science Experiments in a Bag E-Book 2:  This book provides examples of 25 MORE simple experiments in chemistry, human body, science, and general science that you can do with your children.  $15.00
You can purchase Science Experiments in a Bag E-Books 1 & 2 as a bundle to save a few dollars.  $27.00
Science Experiments in a Bag E-Book 3:  This book provides examples of 25 MORE simple experiments in chemistry that you can do with your children.  $15.00
Together, with this book, parents and children can:
  • learn how fires are put out
  • learn how to make glue from vinegar and milk
  • learn how much iron is in different juices
  • learn how to make invisible ink
  • learn how to grow crystals in the sun
  • learn how to make your own perfume from common garden plants and spices
You can purchase all 3 Science Experiments in a Bag E-Books 1-3 as a bundle to save even more. $39.00
Travel Activities in a Binder provide a whole host of activities that a child can complete inside a binder using only a dry erase marker and a piece of fabric to be used as an eraser.  These are great for times when you might be waiting at a doctor’s office or other appointment, or when traveling in your vehicle.  The travel activities e-book is recommended for use with elementary aged students.  $15.00 

If you’d like to try out a variety of the activities included in many of the eBook products, register here and complete a quick survey to receive a free sampler by email.
In order to give these a fair try and give you an accurate assessment of these products, we assembled and completed 4 science experiment bags from each Science Activities eBook, plus I prepared the whole Travel Activities Binder.  I took a photo before we started showing all of the required supplies.  Then I took a photo midway through, and a final photo to show the results.  Haylee is a 3rd grader, and I her dictating everyone’s predictions and responses to the questions on the activity sheets for each experiment.  Then we read the answer aloud together after concluding the experiment.

In Science Activities in a Bag eBook 1, we chose:
    1. CAN CRUSHER:  This one may have been the coolest of all of the expScience 1 - Can Crushereriments we tried!  All 3 kids participated in this one, but my 13 year old son, Hayden, did the handling.  He enjoyed this one so much that he immediately did it a second time!  The first time, the noise generated by the instantaneous implosion of the can startled him and made him jump backwards, abandoning the can in the pan of cold water.  I had to laugh at that!  The second time through, he knew what to expect, and he totally got a thrill out of it.  This was good stuff!  It was an excellent way to demonstrate the power of air pressure.

    2. EARTH MAScience 1 - Earth MagnetGNET:  We struggled with this one a little bit, and I think it was because the bowl we used initially was too small and kept drawing the styrofoam to the edge where it would get stuck, kind of like the way static electricity would draw something in.  So halfway through this experiment, we switched to a much larger bowl, and then the needle was able to spin about more freely.  My 8 year old daughter, Haylee, had no idea what to expect, so she thought it was neat that it kept turning the same way.

    3. EARTHWORMS:  The kids really enjoyed watching the earthworms crawl down intoScience 1 - Earthworms the soil and disappear right before their eyes.  However, our glitch with this one was that we were terrified of drowning the worms when we poured the water in!  We kept seeing air bubbles emerge, but we couldn’t get the worms to come up for air.  I think we probably just didn’t wait long enough for all of the air in their tunnels to surface, but the kids were getting emotional thinking I had killed the worms, so I relented and poured out the water and then fished out the worms with a plastic fork.  They were indeed still alive, much to the kids’ relief!  This was our least successful experiment because of our early abandonment of that step, but the kids did enjoy watching the worms and handling them.

    4. THIRSTY PLANTS:  The kids and even my husband enjoyed this one.  One adult Science 1 - Thirsty Plantsand at least one kid predicted that the dual-color carnation would come out purple, so you can imagine their surprise when that one ended up half red and half blue!  That was a great illustration of how the tubes in the stems draw water up to a specific part of the flower without any crossover amongst the tubes. We’ll continue watching these for at least another week to see how intense the colors become.  Very cool experiment!

In Science Activities in a Bag eBook 2, we chose:
    1. ANTIFREEZE:  Haylee was really surprised to see that the saltwater never froScience 2 - Antifreezeze.  After 4 hours, the saltwater was completely unfrozen, and the plain water was frozen solid.  Even the following day when 24 hours had passed, the saltwater only had some slush on top.

    2. BLOB:  Both Hayden and Haylee were pretty grossed out at the squishy, slimy Science 2 - Blobtexture of the blob they created!  We were all surprised at how quickly the chemical reaction created a completely different texture.  We added green food coloring to make it look even more cool.  Hayden tried to blow bubbles in it with a straw, but it was so slimy that it wouldn’t stay on the straw!  LOL.

      Science 2 - Color Confusion
    3. COLOR CONFUSION:  This experiment was a LOT of fun!  It was not what we expected, and it was a surprise for all of us to see how our brains were confused into slowing when reading one thing and seeing another.  The timer doesn’t lie, so this was very, very cool!  Hayden and Haylee both tried this one, and they both had conclusive results.  Neat!

    4. FINGER THE CULPRIT:  The kids had SO much fun with this one!  This was the Science 2 - Finger the Culpritone they were all dying to do.  We began by taking a set of fingerprints from everyone in the house on the printable fingerprint form.  Then we went around trying to lift prints from all over the house, stick them to clear tape, and save them on black paper so they could be examined with a magnifying glass and compare them with the known prints we had taken from everyone.  Personally, I found it difficult to dust the baby powder off the prints and still see a visible image!  I guess this probably takes some practice.  The kids are certainly willing to keep trying!  I’m sure they’ll continue using this kit until it runs out of baby powder!  (ha, ha.)

In Science Activities in a Bag eBook 3, we chose:
    1. GET GLUEY:  This was an interesting process.  The kids got to see howScience 3 - Get Gluey quickly the milk began to curdle when we added the vinegar.  They were grossed out by the separation of the curds and whey!  When we added the baking soda and water to the curds, we were really surprised at how it bubbled and expanded very quickly into a foamy sort of blob!  It was pretty cool to watch.  It turned into a nice spreadable paste.  Voila!  Hayden built a picture frame with it using popsicle sticks, and the homemade glue worked very well!

    2. GREEN COPPER:  This experiment was really simple.  We just had to fold over a Science 3 - Green Copperpaper towel and press it into the bottom of a glass bowl.  Then we poured just enough vinegar in it to saturate the paper towel.  Then we simply had to lay 5 pennies in the bottom of the bowl and wait overnight for the results.  Of course, we couldn’t resist looking at their progress after the first couple of hours had passed, and all of the pennies had already begun turning green!  The kids had never seen pennies turn green before, so that was another new concept for them.

    3. MICROBES:  This experiment worked so fast!  It really surprised us hoScience 3 - Microbesw quickly the chunk of carrot in the saltwater solution shriveled up and shrank!  It had dark lines on the outside of it, and it was visibly smaller than the chunk in the fresh water after only a few hours.  We allowed it to continue overnight and observed it again the next morning.  Pretty cool!  You can certainly see how efficient it was for people to preserve foods with salt.

    4. SECRET MESSAGE:  Haylee really enjoyed this one.  She wrote several messages Science 3 - Secret Messageusing white vinegar and a paint brush on white paper.  We let them dry for a bit, and then we carefully waved them over the candle flame and watched as the vinegar turned brown from the heat and revealed her secret messages!  It case you can’t quite make out the message in the photo, it says “this is secret.”  I’ll bet she’d have fun doing this one again and again with friends. 

For Travel Activities in a Binder, I printed out all of the pages and slipped them into clear page protectors, fastened them into a 3-ring binder, added a pencil pouch with a dry erase marker and eraser, and voila!  It was all ready to go.  This took no time at all to put together, and Haylee began using it the very next day while waiting between games at soccer.  We also took it on vacation with us.  These activities are great to use on-the-go for anywhere you might have time to kill and need something to help pass the time.  It’s always ready to pick up and use, anytime, anywhere.  It got her seal of approval!

All of the products at Activity Bags can be used as part of a group swap, where one person assembles one activity for each of the participants in a swap, with each participant preparing a different activity for the whole group.  Then a coordinator can collect them and create complete sets of activities which are then redistributed to every participant.  I can definitely see where that could be cost effective and time efficient, depending upon which activity you’re assigned to duplicate.

I did spend a lot of time assembling the science activities, but I was using them just for my own family and not as part of a swap. Overall, I can say that we enjoyed these products very much!  I didn’t have to buy any elaborate supplies…just mostly simple things I could pick up at the dollar store for what I didn’t already have on hand.  The experiments were fun, and we all enjoyed them.  The explanations in the activity sheet answers were pretty straight forward and easy enough to understand, and I think the kids really learned some things from using them.  I think they make great rainy day activities and boredom busters, and they are a great way to get the kids doing something productive in their down time, as well as sparking an active interest in science. 

The travel activities were fun.  My daughter says she hasn’t even made it through all of the activities yet, but that she enjoys doing them even if she has done them before.  Despite that, I can see where some of the activities (like mazes) could get old after doing them over and over again, so I’d only want to pull the binder out periodically in order to keep the activities fresh and new.  Some of the activities are timeless, though, such as hangman and some Mad Lib types of games. 

As for the science books, with so many experiments included in each book, there’s plenty to keep your children interested and busy over a long period of time.  I could definitely picture myself assembling more of them and setting them aside in a box to bring out for fun periodically when their regular school assignments have become too monotonous.  I think they’d also be great fun for group projects such as a co-op or with a group of friends to share and observe together.

These are definitely unique products that make learning fun and doable, even for parents like me who never seem to be able to make the time to actually conduct all of those science experiments that should be part of their regular studies!  I think the key is having all of the materials and instructions in one place, ready to use whenever an opportune moment arises!

Check out what other Crew members had to say about this and many other “in a bag” eBook products from Activity Bags by clicking the banner below.


I received these eBooks free of charge for review purposes, however all opinions are mine and reflect my family’s honest use of the products.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween 2012

This was the first year that Hayden (13) was too old to trick-or-treat!  It was so strange going house to house without him, but he dressed up as Darth Vader anyway and stayed home to pass out goodie bags of candy.  When we ran out near the end of the night, he caught up to us on our walk home and did one house on our street with the other 2 we missed on the way out.  He got two pieces of chocolate from our neighbor!  LOL.

The other 2 still did pretty good in terms of candy, although there weren't that many kids out, and far fewer houses were passing out candy this year.  It seems to lessen every year.  They had fun, though, and now that I'm fit and trim from doing PINK Method since last December, I breezed through the neighborhood in record time and wasn't even tired when we got home.  Last year and all the years before that, I had to take Tylenol for my aching legs and soak in a hot bath.  I give PINK all the credit for my new, healthier, fitter self.  :)  It's made such a difference to my overall good health (and I dropped my cholesterol 54 points in 7 weeks) that I thought it was worth mentioning!

Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 (Win/Mac) [OLD VERSION]Anyway, I wanted to make photo collages for a review I'm working on (Activity Bags...coming in the next couple of days, hopefully), and I was using Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, which I got for my birthday in January of last year.  Trouble is, I hadn't used it in so long that I'd forgotten the shortcut for making photos fit neatly into a collage template window.  I did some research on the internet and found this site which reminded me it was Control G (or Alt Ctrl G) for Create Clipping Mask.  Yay!  I started whipping out photo collage templates for my review in short order, and once I got the hang of it yesterday, I sat down today to make a cool page to showcase the Halloween photos of the kids to post on Facebook.  Piece of cake!

Here they are:  Hayden (13 - Darth Vader), Haylee (8 - Spider Countess), and Holden (4 - Mater).  The kids really loved their costumes this year.

Monday, October 22, 2012

REVIEW: Samson’s Classroom Family Subscription by Samson’s Classroom

Haylee (age 8) and Holden (age 4.75) have been playing with a family subscription to Samson’s Classroom.  Holden is a little younger than the recommended age, so I’m going to focus on Haylee’s use of the site for review purposes.

Perfect for grades K-5, Samson's Classroom is an online series that helps students become better readers. Students can play engaging games that focus on 3 core building blocks; sight words, spelling, and reading comprehension.
Sight Words, Spelling, Reading

About Samson's Classroom

Samson’s Classroom is a revolutionary new approach to educational software. It is an "umbrella" product that is really many products rolled into one. The purchase of any product under that umbrella automatically gives you access to every other product. Even better, new product releases and upgrades are added to your package at no additional cost. Instead of purchasing a software package that is out of date as soon as you install it, Samson’s Classroom provides you with access to an expanding suite of products and a dynamic learning community that is growing by leaps and bounds every day.  Sight Words with Samson

Sight Words with Samson
Sight Words with Samson is an absolute must for all beginning readers. This software product is the complete package for teachers and administrators looking to give their students the necessary foundation they need to become successful readers. This engaging product is proven to help early readers master the 224 most commonly used words in the English language.

Spelling with SamsonSpelling with Samson
With more than 5,000 words and counting, Spelling with Samson is the most comprehensive spelling product on the market. This amazing software package captivates students and provides educators with all the tools they need to improve the spelling ability of their students. Join the thousands of teachers from across the country that have already made Spelling with Samson a part of their classroom.

Reading with SamsonReading with Samson
Reading with Samson combines everything you have come to expect from the Samson product line with a new patented user feedback system. The end result is a cutting edge software product that helps students analyze reading material and learn how to draw conclusions and answer questions based on that material.

Watch a video here.  The quickest way to learn about Samson's Classroom is to watch the demo video. It's about 3 minutes long and shows the software in action.

Try out a free demo here.

Give Samson's Classroom a try. We won't force you to set up an account to try it, that's so annoying.

You can order here.

You can sign up for a subscription using your credit card or pay using a school purchase order.


Small School
Large School


As the parent/teacher, you can log in to your account and set up the user(s) with their own individual login id’s and passwords.  You can use the dashboard for a quick view of the number of games played and the top performers in your class.  You can use the scoreboard to view progress reports in each area of the site and each content area within those sections.  You can see what exercises have been attempted and how they performed.  You can also set up custom spelling lists or just use the default lists provided.  I found that oftentimes when adding custom lists, many of the words were not in the site’s database.  It has the option to request that those words be added, but I have no idea how long it takes them to actually add the words you’ve requested.  In the meantime, those words are not included in the spelling games.  As a teacher, I really wish I had the authority to override this and manually add the words.  I hope they add this feature down the road.  With Haylee’s spelling word lists changing every week, she’s not getting to practice all of her words before I have to go and change the list for the next week.
In the Reading with Samson section, children read a passage and then answer questions about what they have read.  This is excellent reading comprehension practice!  Normally, Haylee really dislikes reading comprehension exercises, and this tends to be one of my kids’ weakest areas in the elementary years.  However, this was actually her favorite part of Samson!  I asked her what the attraction was…what it was that made it so enjoyable for her.  She said if she got it wrong, it took her to the pertinent section and highlighted it in red to help her find the correct answer, as displayed in the picture at right.  But the real motivation was earning the “hammer points.” 
Earning hammer points allowed her to go and play “Hammer Time,” shown at left.  In Hammer Time, she watches a strength meter and attempts to press the space bar to swing the sledge hammer when the strength is at its highest point.  The higher the meter when she swings, the more points she earns.  I really wish the point collection earned her some sort of further reward, like playing special games.  But instead, it just compares her points to a high score board.  Despite this, the Hammer Time game alone is still enough motivation to make her want to keep playing in the Reading with Samson section.
In the Sight Words with Samson section, children are taken through various lists and levels of sight word practice.  Each list contains five steps, and each step provides a different sort of game to practice sight words. 

In the first list, the games include:
  • Study Words – Each sight word is spelled out slowly and then used in the context of a sentence.  Children simply listen and watch and click to move on to the next word in the list until the list is completed.

  • Missing Letters – A set of letter tiles is displayed at the top of the screen.  A sight word is read aloud and then spelled orally.  Then the child is asked to click the correct letters in the correct order to spell the word themselves.

  • Letter Scramble – A set of word tiles is displayed on the screen.  A sight word is read aloud and used in a sentence.  The child is asked to click on the correct word tile.  Then the tile is creatively swept from the screen in various ways, making it fun to watch.  The child continues until all of the letter tiles have been removed.  Haylee told me that this is her favorite of all of the Sight Word games.  She likes watching the different ways that Samson removes the correct answer from the screen.

  • Spell Words – A sight word is read aloud and used in the context of a sentence.  Blank tiles are displayed indicating the number of letters in the word, alphabet tiles are displayed underneath, and the child must click on the letter tiles to spell the word correctly.

  • Missing Words – An ocean scene is displayed, as seen at left.  The child sees a sentence with a missing sight word, hears the sentence read aloud with the sight word included, and then must click on the missing sight word they heard, thereby opening the lid of the treasure chest and revealing the jewel which Samson pops up to remove from the chest.  If an incorrect answer is given, bubbles come out of the chest instead, and play continues with the next word.
As the child continues these 5 games with all of the lists, a chart is displayed indicating whether or not the child mastered each step of each list or whether the child needs improvement.  Needs improvement indicates that a perfect score in that step was not achieved for the given word list.  At any time, the child can choose to play any step of any list again if they would like additional practice.  When the child has achieved a perfect score in all 5 steps of a given word list, they earn a star.  The total number of stars earned is displayed on the achievement chart, along with which karate belt color has been earned.  The goal of these games is to continue earning higher levels of karate belts.

In the Spelling with Samson section, the child can choose to practice their spelling words in one of four games:
  • Study Zone – Here, the student is shown their entire spelling list and given the option to print the list on paper, as well.  The student can click on each word on the list to see it spelled and used in a sentence.  They can also click to hear it spelled, read, and used in a sentence orally.

  • Missing Letters – The spelling word is displayed at the top of the screen with a portion of the letters missing from the word.  The narrator says the word and uses it in the context of a sentence, and the child must choose from 3 combinations of possible answers for the missing letters at the bottom of the screen.  Each answer has a karate chopping board pictured above it.  If the child selects the correct answer, Samson, dressed in his karate robe and belt, successfully chops the board in half.  Points are awarded for correct answers, and if the child achieves the high score in their class for the given spelling list, they are awarded a championship belt and warned that classmates can try to steal the belt by scoring higher on that spelling list.

  • Spelling Scramble – The child must direct Samson around the screen using only the left and right arrows in order to collect all of the letters, all the while trying to avoid being caught by the spider that is chasing them.  The letters are collected into scrambled spelling words at the bottom right of the screen.  After all of the letters are collected, the child is shown one scrambled spelling word at a time and is asked to click the letters in the correct order to spell the word correctly.  This game could be so much fun, but Haylee found it very frustrating and was highly disappointed as a result.  The reason is because Samson’s direction is based on his perspective, which means that the left arrow, for instance, could be to the left or right of the screen, depending upon the direction Samson is facing at the time.  Personally, I found it easy to get used to, but my daughter did not.  She was very upset because she always got caught by the spider, and it took her forever to collect the letters because she couldn’t seem to overcome the perspective issue.  Getting caught by the spider only delays you briefly, thereby affecting your score, but it still upset her.  I think perhaps for a young child’s game, it would make more sense developmentally to let left be left and right be right instead of using the perspective aspect for controls.  I think unscrambling their spelling words is great practice to learn the words, so it’s too bad that getting to that portion of the game requires being frustrated first in what should be the portion that is the most fun.

  • Crunch Time – Samson is shown standing on an iceberg in the ocean.  The narrator says a spelling word and uses it in a sentence.  The child must type out the correct spelling of the word in a timely manner.  The longer it takes, the more bites that Wally the Walrus takes out of the iceberg on which Samson is standing.  If Wally eats away the whole iceberg or if the child spells the word incorrectly, Samson falls into the water and emerges  frozen into an ice cube!  This is pretty funny to see.  Then the child tried again until the word is spelled correctly.  As each word is correctly spelled in time, Samson jumps along to the next iceberg, and the process repeats until the word list is completed.  Then he jumps ashore and safely crawls into an igloo.  Again, the child has the opportunity to achieve a championship belt for having the high score in the class for this game.  This game is a lot of fun and has the added challenge of a time limit to spell each word.  Haylee liked this game best of all of the spelling games, and she thought it was so funny every time Samson fell into the water and turned into an ice cube!
Overall, I think the site is a lot of fun and has a lot of potential.  However, I think it could be better with a few changes.  Aside from the minor changes I’ve suggested above, I think the biggest thing for me as a teacher was the fact that all of my students had to work on the same content at the same time.  What this site lacks is the ability to assign the level or list to each individual child.  Every user begins in the same place and works their way through every level and list.  I suppose that’s fine, but when using custom spelling lists, each child has access to all of the custom spelling lists at once.  My kids are almost 5, 8, and 13.  They are obviously at varying levels of ability and would at no time be working at the same level.  So I think a major improvement would be to allow the teacher to assign levels or word lists to students individually.  Then each child would be able to log in and only access their own grade-appropriate content.  I overcame this with the custom spelling lists by naming the lists with the child’s name rather than the actual name for the list so they would know which list to select for practice.  But this would become cumbersome if I entered multiple lists for each child.  For now, I’m just editing the list each week so there is only one list available with each child’s name.  But that takes away my ability to leave on previous lists for additional practice.

In any case, I would encourage you to give this site a try.  It definitely has a lot of learning value in terms of spelling, sight word, and reading comprehension practice through fun and engaging activities.  The bottom line is that we will definitely continue to use it.  And don’t forget that you can try it for free without even signing up for an account, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try and seeing for yourself if it’s a good fit for your children.

Check out what other Crew members had to say about this site by clicking the banner below.
I received a free family membership to Samson’s Classroom for review purposes, but all opinions are mine and reflect my family’s honest use of the product.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

REVIEW: Deep Blue Kids’ Bible by Abingdon Press

My 8-year old daughter, Haylee, has been doing her bible study using the Deep Blue Kids’ Bible by Abingdon Press.

Kids will dive deep into God’s word with the CEB Deep Blue Kids Bible. This engaging, interactive Bible offers four-color icons and illustrations throughout with a wealth of notes, devotionals, Bible trivia, and other interactive elements to capture inquisitive young minds. Plus the CEB Deep Blue Kids Bible will encourage a thirst for God’s timeless message as young readers join three life-like kids in discovering the Bible and what it means to their lives. Available in printed ImageFlex, hardcover, imitation leather, and DecoTone bindings. 5 3/8” x 8 3/8”. Ages 8–12.  


Discover It book introductions include things you’ll discover, people you’ll meet, places you’ll go, and word’s a who’s who guide, main theme, key verse, and basic timelines that connect the events they learn in school to the biblical text.  

Bet You Can! reading challenges denote specific portions to read within suggested timeframes enable kids to experience a rewarding sense of accomplishment while developing a foundation of Bible reading.  

In-text notes cover four key developmental areas: Sailboat notes highlight positive character traits and emotions; Umbrella notes address challenging character traits and emotions; Lighthouse notes discuss age-appropriate theological concepts; and Life Preserver notes give context to passages that are confusing or hard to understand.  

God Thoughts / My Thoughts life application feature brings out major Bible themes and encourages age-appropriate response and reflection.  

Did You Know? callouts focus on fascinating Bible trivia while explaining biblical customs and practices.  

Navigation Point foundational verses to memorize are highlighted within the Bible text.


5 3/8” x 8 3/8”

8 point type

1536 pages

4-color throughout

Presentation page

In-text subject headings

Translation footnotes

 8 full-color maps exclusively from National Geographic

Haylee, age 8, is the one using this bible.  She has been using it for her daily bible readings, and I also began using it for her parent read-aloud bible readings.  We’ve been sure to include the use of all the extra features this bible contains.

You can watch a great little video that introduces you to all of the wonderful features of the Deep Blue Kids’ Bible here.  It will give you a good perspective on just what sets this children’s bible apart from the many others on the market today.

In the front of this bible, kids are introduced to the characters who are shown throughout the book.  Their images are really cute and look like everyday kids you might know.  Then it explains each of the special features that are unique to the Deep Blue Kid’s bible.  It lists the books of the bible, explains how to use the bible to look up scripture, and then lists key verses kids should read and check off.  Then it has a brief introduction for adults, a list of abbreviations and terms, and a list of measures and what they equate to by today’s standards.  Then it gives some notes on the Common English Bible translation itself and how it came about. 

I had initial reservations about trying out a new translation but was willing to give it a shot.  I’ve always been partial to the NIV myself and have provided my children with NIrV translations for the school-related bible study.  But I have to say that after using this one with Haylee for a number of weeks, I have not yet found any specific translations that troubled me.  In fact, we both found the word choices easy to read and understand, and it flowed quite nicely.  So for now, I would say that I like this translation so far and have found it to make the bible more accessible for a child’s level of understanding and use of language.

Now let’s discuss the special features of this particular bible.  Each book contains an introduction.  It summarizes the purpose of the book, who will be mentioned and how they may be related, places you’ll hear about and what those places are called today, and memorable scripture from the book.  Haylee found these introductions helpful whenever we started studying a new book.  It gave her an idea of what it would be about and what to expect in our daily reading. 

Throughout each book, there are lots of explanations that are highlighted.  The “Life Preserver” sections are particularly useful in helping kids to ponder further and understand the symbolism and parallels they can find in everyday life.  I think it makes scripture less of a puzzle for them and helps it to be more real and accessible to them.  The “God’s Thoughts/My Thoughts” sections are like little mini-bible studies for kids to engage in some self-examination and personal application of scripture.  Haylee is a bit immature yet, but I’m hoping these will help her start to piece together how the bible can help her in her everyday life.

The “Did You Know” sections are very helpful in understanding the customs and beliefs of people in bible times.  Sometimes it’s hard to understand the significance of things that have different meanings in our own culture and times.  It also gives little-known facts and trivia that I have to admit were often even new to me! 

The “Sailboat” sections highlight positive character traits that kids can see demonstrated in scripture, while the “Umbrella” sections do a great job of helping kids learn how to deal with negative feelings and emotions and difficult situations. 

The “Lighthouse” sections cover cornerstones of faith and dedication to God.  They help kids to understand how our faith in God plays out in our daily lives.  It talks about things like how, when, and why we pray and how that brings us closer to God.

The “Navigation Points” suggest key verses that kids might want to memorize, while the “Bet You Can” notations challenge children to read a section in a given amount of time.  We didn’t find these as particularly helpful as some of the other sections.  I can see how the time challenges might motivate some kids, but when it comes to the bible, I don’t generally encourage speeding through, but rather slowing down and thinking about what you’re reading!

In the back of the Deep Blue Kids’ Bible, there are a lot of additional resources such as a dictionary, a subject guide to emotions kids may feel and what scriptures can help them deal with that, a topical guide, devotions, reading challenges, and full color maps.  These are all very helpful tools that will have lasting value as Haylee continues to study and learn how to apply the bible’s teachings to her everyday life.

DSCF2129Overall, I’m very impressed with the Deep Blue Kids’ Bible!  My impression is that it’s a very well-designed study bible for kids that gives them useful tools and insights that make scripture more meaningful for even elementary aged children.  Personally, I think it’s appropriate even for adolescents and teens, and even adults who maybe have never used a study bible before and could benefit from the sidebar discussions included.  I guess you could refer to it as a family bible because it can help prompt further discussion amongst members of the whole family of all ages.  I would definitely recommend it to those looking for a truly accessible bible for their children.

Haylee has enjoyed it very much and is not struggling as much with her daily readings.  She enjoys reading the little extras that are included and has decided to continue using this as her primary study bible.

Abingdon Press provides links to online booksellers who carry this product on this page.  Prices vary based upon which cover style you choose.  My review copy has the soft ImageFlex cover, which Amazon carries for $17.81 at this time.  That’s a very reasonable price for an excellent children’s study bible.

You can read what other Crew members had to say about the Deep Blue Kids’ Bible by clicking the banner below.


I received a free copy of the Deep Blue Kids’ Bible for review purposes, but all opinions are mine and reflect my family’s honest use of the product.