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Castles, knights, dragons, chivalry, and all the elements of a fantasy attract children of all ages. Many of these elements are harmless entertainment, but there are some elements which many parents wish to keep from their children. Young readers are attracted to the good examples of the genre, but some are lured to the few that might be attempts to lead them into things much worse. The few Christian books in the genre have not always been on the mark of good reading. In attempting to eliminate the negative, they often ruined the positives of action and the thrill of being part of something bigger than yourself. Author Ed Dunlop has created a world that brings all the positives to life in a very real way and includes no magic or witchcraft. Through this world though, Mr. Dunlop weaves biblical truths and life lessons that can affect a young person’s heart, soul, and mind in an enriching way seldom found elsewhere.

Terrestria is a place filled with evil battling to control its citizens and lure them away from King Emmanuel. Two books from the series Tales from Terrestria came my way recently for me to write this review. The first was called The Quest for Thunder Mountain. This story reminds me a little of Pilgrim’s Progress in the sense that the character embarks on a journey and learns a lot about himself, life, and God along the way. This is a fresh story though with the quest being to find King Emanuel’s will for the character’s life. The struggle along the way is to find out if he really wants to know and if he will believe King Emanuel’s Word against all others that it will be the greatest joy to know and do the King’s will.

The Tales of the second book I read, fourth in the series though the books are more of a stand-alone tale where order doesn’t matter, The Tale of the Dragons ventures into other life lessons such as respecting your parents and staying away from temptations. The young character is this story is lured to an island not far from home by the need to fit in and have friends, but the friends are not true friends and only wish him harm. The young man learns to heed his father’s words too late and finds himself a slave in a foreign land far from the safety of home. His father sells everything precious to him and risks his life more than once to find the wayward son and bring him home.

These lessons are brought to life so vividly and the stories were so captivating that it was hard to put down. Several children and I went through these two together. I think the lessons made an impact on us all including me. Ed Dunlop’s heart is truly seen when he states that, “If just one young person reads this book and realizes the wisdom of bonding with his or her parents and avoiding the deadly dragons of our treacherous society, it will have been worth every hour I spent in the writing of this book”. I wish I had found this kind of book when I was young. I think at least some of the bad I got into might have been avoided.

Mr. Dunlop has not made any versions of his books accessible for special needs except possibly a few groups by the use of e-books for a select number of his free works. That would allow some learning disabled students and hearing blind to use the Adobe Reader text to speech option. However, I hope to encourage him here to consider using http://www.bookshare.org and/or the National Braille Press to offer his wonderful books to various special needs populations. Either or both of these organizations will respect his rights as author, but allow special needs students including deaf, blind, and deafblind as well as learning disabled and other special needs populations to benefit from his skills of bringing faith lessons to all.

To learn more about this series and the companion series, Terrestria Chronicles, go to http://www.talesofcastles.com. Each of the books is available for $7.99 which is a great price for a quality paperback book. Ed Dunlop also has some free e-books he wrote available for download on the web site.

I received two books free in order to write this review, but I was not compensated in any other way. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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Piano instruction can be very beneficial to any child. It can also be fun and rewarding for all. One of the best times to begin instruction is the Pre-school years. Students are naturally curious and love to move their bodies to music. Capture those moments to begin teaching skills that are fun, but transferrable to many other things in life. One of the best of the few programs available at this age is Kinderbach. I received a free three month subscription both last year and this year to review this product. You can find my post from January 6, 2009 here at https://wynfield.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/piano-instruction-for-preschoolers/  to get a full review of what I thought then. As I was requested to take another look at the program, I decided to do two things: first, check with my parents who had chosen to use the product after reading my blog last year to get their first hand experiences, and secondly, try to program with another DeafBlind student who loves the feel of music. You may be wondering why I would want to bother working with music with a child who can’t see and hear. Well, this child can see a little, and with special systems can hear a little, but regardless of the degree of vision and hearing loss, this child is able to feel music. With fun activities, I wanted to see if he could get any benefit with the program.

 First, I checked with the several families that I know who are using Kinderbach with their families. The students range from two to eight with various ability levels. One has an older child of nine who is autistic. The mother found that her daughter enjoyed joining in with the preschooler in the family. The mother was delighted because it was the only time the autistic child would interact with other members of the family except mother and occasionally, father. Another parent noted that an older child of twelve who took formal piano lessons outside of the home who was often nearby when she worked with the six year old in the family with Kinderbach would be tapping his foot or pencil in time with the beat bugs. The mother asked if he like the Kinderbach DVD to which he responded, “Nah, that’s baby stuff.” However, the piano teacher asked a few weeks later about the beat bugs and what did it mean because the son’s understanding of notes and rhythm seemed to have improved and was showing in his performances of music he had previously struggled with. The mother chuckled, and said, “Why, Kinderbach!” All of the parents seemed to enjoy the program. A few were pleasantly surprised that their young children were actually playing music on their own. One parent stated that it was the easiest part of her day. “We began with doing music just one day a week, but it is now done every day. We have so much fun.”

With all the glowing reports from the other parents, you wonder just what would happen with a DeafBlind child. You can’t help, but be realistically pessimistic. There are obvious problems with the program in regards to a deaf or deafblind child. The child has to be able to access the program in some way to get any benefit, of course. In this case, we plug the child’s FM system (a device that sends the sound source directly to the child’s hearing aids through radio transmission) which allows him to get some amount of speech, music, and/or noise from the monitor. The parent also sits the child very close to the monitor allowing the child to see better with his telescope glasses. The parent also has to sign in the child’s hands the dialogue for the program and the songs. I provided a stuffed donkey to represent Dodi who is the primary character for representing the keyboard in the program. We make the Dodi’s house cutout for him too and sign “Dodi’s House” to the child. It is important for us to introduce the props and basic idea of “we are going to find out where Dodi, the donkey, lives today.” As we present the program, we allow the child to indicate if and when we continue. Of course, it is the actual music that gets this child interested. He bounces whenever music is played, and often touches the speakers to see if he can feel even more of the vibrations. In time with lots of patient signing, we were able to get the child to understand that he could play the white key outside of Dodi’s home and make music that sounded like the DVD. We played the DVD initial lessons just a few times over a few days. After a weekend, the child continued his daily routine without coming to see me. We weren’t sure if there had been any impact until the child the next week began signing “Dodi Music” over and over. The parent had to come borrow my DVD and small keyboard. He asks for “Dodi Music” every day now. The two haven’t gotten very far in the lessons, but the child is fascinated with making his own music. Fortunately, we can plug the keyboard into his FM system, too, but he still likes to touch the keyboard to feel even more vibrations from the keyboard itself. Kinderbach is not designed for the deaf or deafblind, nor should they be expected to be. It was just nice to have this type of program available that we could work with, since neither I nor the parent are necessarily music inclined. Using Kinderbach, we have been able to expose this child to something not necessarily within his realm of possibilities. For a deafblind child, the mere exposure is the ability to mark a milestone for understanding of the world around him.

 The vendor may be surprised with this review using such a unique tactic, but I feel it shows that Kinderbach is a good quality program for delivering music foundations in a delightful way to the young child at a time when learning those skills can also be beneficial in other aspects of the child’s developmental growth. There are now six levels to the program at a maximum cost of $40.95 per DVD level with combination packages of DVD and CD of activity pages increasing savings, and an online version for as low as $7.99 per month with annual prepaid subscription of $95.88 or $19.99 per month. You can try the online version for $5.95 for one day to see if it is a good fit for your family. Check out http://www.kinderbach.com to bring a little music into your family’s life.

 The vendor did provide a free product subscription for a specified time in return for a review, but the opinion expressed in this view is entirely my own.

Two things I hate more than anything are math and exercise. No, I am not 500 lbs. I just don’t like exercise that is boring. I prefer to backpack and rock climb. Yes, I am a teacher, and I teach math and do a very good job at it. I have always struggled with math because I am dyslexic and learning disabled. I taught myself how to do math, and now God uses me to help children who need it. I don’t have to like math or exercise to know it is good for me. Being honest with my students helps them to learn that, too. I am also honest when I say that I groaned when I found out that the product I received free to review for the TOS Crew was an exercise DVD that incorporated math. And no, the vendor doesn’t control what I say about their product. However, I am fair, as well as, honest. This isn’t about me, but about helping my parents find products suitable for their students. If you read my blog regularly, you will know that once again I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.

The DVD, Gymathtics, created by Carrie Scheiner and her family through Suncheine World, LLC. Is well-produced and developed. Ms. Scheiner uses the premise that learning is enhanced by making as many connections in the brain as possible. Information from even seemingly different topics can be joined together and taught through activities to increase the connections leading to even stronger learning connections. In this case, math concepts are connected with physical exercise movements. Many students will find this odd, but this odd difference lends to its interest and fun. The program provides a warm-up section that has your body making lines, circles, and polygons that stretch your muscles preparing them for the more strenuous exercises to come. Your student will practice various ways to count as they do aerobic exercises, and then the intensity increases with pattern power as your student will do various pattern movement activities that strengthen the muscles and heart. On the screen there are diagrams with math information about polygons, circles, different kinds of visual patterns, and skip counting methods. Most are self-explanatory. During her exercise instruction, Ms. Scheiner also gives more math information verbally. The DVD finishes with the “Well-being Wind Down” section where she leads in relaxing stretches cooling down the body from the aerobic activity while explaining healthy lifestyle choices. These choices are placed on the screen as text at the end of the exercise program. The multisensory concept of math and exercise together is unique, but many students will find it delightful.

Being multisensory, many special needs students will be able to access it and benefit from its information such as those with autism, learning disabilities, dyslexia, attention deficit and attention deficit with hyperactivity, especially. Deaf students will be able to get a lot of detail from the math concepts as well as being able to follow the exercise steps pretty well visually. Ms. Scheiner often demonstrates the moves before the exercise begins. She could do this every time to be more beneficial. A Deaf student might benefit more from the math concepts if more of what Ms. Scheiner relates verbally is added to the diagrams on the screen or more diagrams were used during the exercise segments. Blind students will be able to access the music and dialogue of the DVD. Ms. Scheiner, trying not to overdo the verbal content for probably time purposes and interest of the student, may at times not give enough instruction of the movement of the exercise for a totally blind or mostly blind student to easily do the exercise. A little more specific instruction could probably be done to allow for more accessibility by a blind student. Math concepts could really use more verbal information added to allow for more benefit of the blind student, as well. Ms. Scheiner does a good job without probably even trying to provide accessibility. I am pretty certain that she could do an excellent job when aware that her DVD’s could be used by an even wider audience with just a little more thought and planning of verbal script and diagramming. You may think that there is no hope for the DeafBlind student. Well, I participated right along with my student helpers for this review. I, of course, could not get any information directly being DeafBlind. My students tactually explained to me the moves and the math concepts. I didn’t always do them perfectly, but it allowed us to giggle a lot. My readers know that I like lots of giggling during my lessons. Giggling equals fun, and fun equals better learning and longer remembering.

Gymathtics is a unique, but great way to get your students moving and possibly learning some math. They may not even realize they are” doing math”. This is their first DVD, $24.99,  but more are available and others being developed. Their website at http://www.exploramania.com has these DVD’s and other products like exercise mats and balls using math.  Check them out, and you may soon be giggling over doing polygons and parallelograms.

History, by the definition of http://www.dictionary.com, is the branch of knowledge dealing with past events. An old history text I had in school and can’t remember defined history as the story of man. There should only be one story, but that isn’t the way it is. As a Christian, I know that man’s story is only possible because of God, so really history should be defined as His story. Secular historians as guided by the great deceiver, Satan, have sought to remove the creator of history from the story. Church history took God’s story and corrupted it over and over again for the power derived for one group or another. There are as many church histories as there are denominations and religions.  How do we know what is truth and what is not? The answer is simple. The truth is the Bible. God has filled His word with His spirit and keeps it from corruption through His spirit stirring in Man’s heart. How can we teach our children the Truth and guard their hearts from the corruption of the world? We can try to teach them only the Word of God and keep them away from all dissenting forces while they are with us. When they leave, we can only pray that their hearts and faith are strong enough to withstand any attempt to sway. Often, we know that plan fails. To me, a better way is to teach our children the Truth, but expose them gently and carefully along the way to what the world teaches as we lay it beside the Bible for comparison. When viewed by the light and truth of the Bible, all other things will either confirm or deny God, the creator and Jesus, the son and Savior, and the Spirit who acts upon the hearts of man throughout time.

The Amazing Bible Timeline that I was given free to review here is a tool that seeks to give parents the ability to instill not only the Truth in their children, but also that strength of heart and faith to withstand the attempts to sway and corrupt. The originators of this timeline researched all the many histories of our time and past and placed all those together side by side in the chronological order of time along with the history as present by God through the Bible. They have made it as thorough and accurate as humanly possible. The company continues to update it as more is learned about history and as God and man continue to write history. The material is presented simply as an expanded time line incorporating the many time lines of the Bible and other world histories without emphasis to one religion, denomination, or secular historian. This gives the parent the full control to use the tool to teach their child how the Bible teaches and what man has sought to confirm or deny of that truth. Using the method of presentation given for the use of the chart, it is easy to see how God has influenced the world as His creation despite men and Satan’s efforts to purge the evidence of Divine influence.

The 37” X 45” chart is multicolor-coded and lay out is circular and wide to be as useful as possible despite the overwhelming amount of information provided. The print is small and difficult to read at times, but a magnifier helps. In addition, the company provides Adobe Reader .pdf format files on their web site free after purchase for download. With those files, it is easy to zoom into one particular area to study the contents more closely. Use the chart on the wall or a table along with the computer files either on the computer or printed out for particulars areas you wish to highlight at a particular time to see the specific events within the bigger picture of history as a whole. In this way, it is easy to see how the control of the Romans and culture of Roman society affected the Jews as they rejected the Messiah because they were hoping at the moment for an earthly king to rid them of their captors. Or, you can see how God influenced man as He worked to purge our country from the sin of slavery, and directed the forces that prevented Hitler from ruling the world.

As far as accessibility goes, the company providing .pdf files is a great help for the Learning Disabled and low vision students who might want to use the time line. The blind and deafblind will not get any true use of the product due to lack of braille access. The company must use graphic files, and there is no way to present graphic information in braille except as a verbal or written description which may or may not facilitate comprehension. Parents and teachers will have to find other ways to present the material to them.  One suggestion would be to take the information and provide it in small chunks of time with a tactile and braille-labeled timeline. If you provide all the material across the circular bands for a time period of a 1000 years or smaller increments, the students could gain the knowledge the same way by seeing the variations of history for just that period for comparison and study. Even though accessibility is an issue for some here, this product should not be discounted. The knowledge gained by students or parents in preparation to teach students can be invaluable.

In addition, the company, Bible Charts and Maps, LLC provides a document presenting tips for using the timeline for Bible Study and history teaching. They also have interactive maps for the Holy Land and a genealogy of Jesus Christ in various file formats to use, as well. The Amazing Bible Timeline chart is $29.97 plus shipping and handling including the digital version and the interactive Holy Land maps for free. Go to http://www.BibleTimeline.net for more information and to purchase. Use this tool wisely and as intended, and you have a resource to help build your child’s faith on the truth of Jesus Christ.

 

The Old School House Magazine has been producing an excellent print magazine for many years. It is a beautiful, full-color magazine filled with great product reviews, timeless homeschooling and life tips, and curriculum information. Now the staff of The Old School House has brought that same magazine into the digital world, so you have the choice.

The magazine opens on your desktop with a tutorial page that explains the various navigation symbols and how to use them. There are several ways to “flip” through your magazine or search to find a specific topic. The navigation bar at the top of the screen gives you a logo for The Old School House that you can click on to go straight to their web site. Next to that logo are tape recorder or VCR type navigational buttons for previous page, next page, first page, and last page for simple flipping page to page or jumping to the front or to the end. To the right of those buttons, you will find a menu bar similar to the one on your web browser where you click on the word to bring up a list of options. The menu items available are contents, pages, search, links, and settings. The menu boxes stay viewable and usable until you click the “X” for close in the top right corner. The menu boxes can be moved around the screen as well, so you can see the magazine pages when you need to access the information for use in choosing the option or typing in search information. In addition, the box is slightly transparent to allow you to see the page under the box enough to be of help, but not enough to affect the readability of the menu options. This is a really neat feature to have. The only menu item that differs from this is the “pages” item. Clicking on the “pages” menu gives you a page of fairly large thumbnail pictures of each page in the magazine. You can scan the thumbnails to find the page you want and click on it. You then automatically “flip” to that page. The “contents” menu gives you the Table of Contents listing articles or sections of the magazine. You click on the section to turn to that area of the magazine. The “search” is a simple search feature for items in the magazine. You can customize it some. The “links” menu is a great feature. You click “links” to bring up a box that lists the various links on the current page to readily click and access that link’s web site, or you can check the “show all links” box to see all of the magazine’s links. You can also use this “links” menu when on the thumbnail pages to quickly choose a page that has the links you are looking for on it. Click a page and the menu box automatically updates for the links on that page. In this fashion, you don’t have to change the view to allow for easier reading of the page to scan for the link. Finally, the “settings” menu item gives you a page to choose settings for the e-book such as one or two page viewing, standard and magnified text size, page turning speeds, etc. Check this page out quickly after opening the digital magazine to customize your viewing. Another cute feature is the page turning. It really looks like you are turning the pages of a print magazine. In fact, the wonderful color and eye-catching design and format are identical to The Old School House’s print magazine almost giving you that feeling of curling up in a comfy chair with a magazine to read.

Well, you can’t quite curl up with this magazine, but if you aren’t familiar with The Old School House, this is a good way to introduce yourself. The magazine is jam-packed with good information and uplifting articles to help beginning and experienced homeschoolers with their journey of educating children.

 For more information, go to http://www.thehomeschoolmagazine.com.

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