TOS Review: Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels”

Drive Thru HistoryIt has always been a dream of mine to travel to the Middle East and explore the places where Jesus walked. Unfortunately, due to life and budget restraints, that will probably never happen. However, this review offered me and my family a chance to experience those places anyway. The DVD set Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels” from Drive Thru History® will take you on an amazing adventure through Biblical history.

Drive Thru History The GospelsIf you are familiar with the series, you may know the host, Dave Stotts. He is your tour guide as you watch the DVDs, taking you through the country and explaining the importance of each place. The set includes 18 episodes, each 30 minutes long, and they explore about 50 sites mentioned in the Gospels!

Drive Thru History The GospelsWe love history in our family anyway, but even if you aren’t huge fans, I think you will still find this series exciting. Dave’s presentation is very very good. You can sense his enthusiasm for where he is and it makes you feel excited too. My son thought it was really cool to “see” so many of the places he has read about in the Bible. I think it almost made it seem more real to him, less like a collection of stories, and more like a real history book. I mean, my son knows that everything in the Bible is real, but there is something about seeing the actual locations that makes it more so somehow.

I also liked that each episode was only 30 minutes long. This made it easy to work them into our schedule around the other things we were doing. Some days we watched one episode and then picked up watching another later in the week. However, one one day when my son wasn’t feeling well we watched several episodes back to back. I also like the fact that the series has such broad appeal. It is aimed at grades 5 and up, but I easily think you could watch this with the whole family, and with younger kids, use a story Bible to share the stories of what happened in those places with them.

I also think you could easily add this to an existing Bible study or go ahead and just read the Gospels themselves as you watch the series. There is something about making that connection between what you are reading and the images of the actual places that make it seem deeper and more real. The DVD series itself comes with a study guide that includes scripture quotes, a summary of each section, and questions you can use for discussion if you wish.

We would always talk after each episode, sometimes using the study guide as a starting point. Other times we would break out our Bibles and go read the parts of the Gospels that correspond with that particular episode, and I swear, each time we did that it was like we got something new from it, even though we’ve read those same chapters over and over again.

My family really enjoyed the Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels” series. In fact, I’m seriously considering getting some of their other series to watch in the future. We would definitely recommend this if your family wants to know more about the life that Jesus lived.

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TOS Crew: Spiritual Circle Journal

Spiritual Circle Journal

Having a quiet time with the Lord every morning is so important to me, but it took me a long time to figure out exactly how to do it. I never really had anyone explain to me what a “quiet time” was supposed to be and it took a while for me to get comfortable and find a Bible reading plan and journaling system that works for me. I want my son to learn how to enjoy his own quiet time too, but I’m hoping to make it a little easier for him. So, I was really excited to get to check out the Spiritual Circle Journal for Kids & Teens from Spiritual Circle Journal.

Spiritual Circle Journal

The journal is designed for ages eight and up. Liz Lassa, the author, first created a Circle Journal for adults (which I would love to check out!) and got so much positive feedback she decided to create one for kids as well. The journal comes with a colorful cover and 65 journaling pages that you can have your child use on a weekly basis. It also includes a separate section in the back where kids can summarize the things they have learned.

One of the cool things about the journal is that it has a special page where kids can design their own cover if they want to. My son liked “personalizing” his journal and making it his own. After they make their own cover you can tear the regular cover out and use theirs instead. The first few pages include an introduction where the different parts of the journal are explained. Liz makes the connection between writing and how it makes things stick in our minds, which is part of the idea behind the journal. By writing and recording their thoughts it helps kids internalize what they are learning in their quiet time.

We followed the suggestions given in the intro and I did the first few journal entries with my son. The key at the front of the journal is very helpful, because it clearly explains how to fill out each section, and my son referred back to it a lot when he first started journaling. Each page offers a section where kids can record verses or song lyrics that are important to them, what kinds of worries or other things are on their minds at the moment, a summary of messages from their Bible reading or from church, prayers, thank-yous, and more.

My son is 15 and is very into Christian contemporary music. He plays it all the time. He really liked writing down his favorite song lyrics on the page. At first it took him a while to figure out how to fill out each box, and that’s okay. They don’t even have to fill out each section every time. The hardest parts for him were the “God Moving” section and the “action” section. But, I can say that even as an adult, it can be hard to make those connections at first. When he started working on the journal I would try to guide him with questions like “How did your week go, was there any moment you look back on where you feel like God was really working in your life?”. After a while he got better at making connections between events in his life and God’s hand at work.

I think that’s what I like most about the Spiritual Circle Journal, the way it helped my son make connections between the Bible, God and his daily life. While we often talk about how God walks with us every day and does great things for us, I think the overall concept can be hard to grasp for kids. Journaling like this really makes my son think about what he has read in the Word, and what he has seen during the week. I feel like his quiet time is a lot more thoughtful than it was. We use the journal 2-3 days per week, which is plenty for now. I think this is starting him off on the right foot and will develop a great habit he will carry for a lifetime.

The Spiritual Circle Journal for Kids and Teens only costs $15 and you can get a bulk rate for a Co-op. I would definitely check it out if you would like to encourage your child to build a deep and thoughtful quiet time. To learn more about Spiritual Circle Journal, connect with them on social media here:

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TOS Review: Grapevine Studies New Testament Overview

Birth of John to Jesus' Ministry {Grapevine Studies Review}

I am always looking for ways to actively engage my boys in Bible Study. We read the word together, but finding creative ways to get them to dig deeper is challenging. For this review, we got to check out the New Testament Overview Part I Level 4 from Grapevine Studies. Aimed at teens, it is a chronological study that focuses on the time period from the birth of John through Jesus’ baptism and His temptation.

Birth of John to Jesus' Ministry {Grapevine Studies Review}

Grapevine’s studies incorporate fun stick figure drawings that any student can do. They take about 12 weeks to complete, if you do them every day. The teacher’s book includes a convenient 4-day schedule, which gives you one flex day, but you can certainly tweak it if you want to. Resources you need (which we already had on hand) include a dry erase board and markers, colored pencils, and a Bible dictionary and Atlas. The cool thing about the teacher’s guide is that it includes a full script that you can use for teaching if you wish. I think this is especially helpful for new homeschoolers who might need the extra support until they feel comfortable creating their own lessons. You can also use the script as a guide and teach the lesson in more of a discussion format.

Birth of John to Jesus' Ministry {Grapevine Studies Review}

After reading the scripture, students  draw a stick figure their version of it onto the lesson pages. This is helpful because it allows them to interpret the lesson on their own. You can also draw your own interpretation on the whiteboard, but I just allowed my son to do it himself, but with younger children, or if you are working with multiple levels, I think it would be helpful if you drew some stick figures yourself to get them started.

Lessons also include review questions that I mainly used for discussion. You don’t have to follow these exactly, but I like to use them as starting points. For example, if a certain question leads to other questions, or encourages your kids to think about a certain point of the Bible passage, then go ahead and follow that tangent. Perhaps the Lord is leading you on that path for a reason, so follow it.

The final question in each lesson involves some type of application, and this was the part I felt was the most important. This is where the rubber meets the road in Bible study. We can read and discuss all we want to with our children, but if we don’t get them to understand how to actually apply it to their lives then we aren’t really getting that far. Some application questions ask students to take passages and apply them to life today, while others ask them to connect one passage of the Bible to another. I feel like, at this level, the Grapevine study can lead to some very deep discussions.

Birth of John to Jesus' Ministry {Grapevine Studies Review}

The study also includes timeline activities, regular reviews, and final reviews. On the whole, I feel like the studies from Grapevine encourage students to look at the Bible in a different way. For my son in particular, the stick figure drawing technique was engaging and an effective way to get him really involved in thinking deeply about God’s Word. The Level 4 New Testament Overview is available in a variety of forms from eBook to PDF. Grapevine also offers multi-level studies for families who want to teach students of different levels at the same time.

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TOS Review: GrapeVine Studies

Grapevine Studies Review

I consider Bible study to be the heart of our homeschool. We want everything we do to point our children to the Lord, but, especially as they get older, I want to engage my boys in an active study of God’s word. However, the key part of that equation is truly engaging them. So many Bible studies seem to be based on dry recitation of verses and facts. Don’t get me wrong, scripture memorization is important, and we do that, but I think that for any kind of learning to really stick, kids have to be actively engaged in the learning part of it. For this review, we got to check out the Old Testament 1: Level 4 Creation to Jacob  Bible study from GrapeVine Studies. It’s a very different sort of Bible study that still focuses on the important principles, but uses different methods to get student’s attention and get them involved in learning.

Grapevine Studies Review

To complete the level 4 lessons, students will need access to a Bible concordance or dictionary. We have an older version of a concordance given to us by my mother in law that we used, but there are also plenty of online resources you can use to find this information. The study comes with a pretty extensive teacher’s guide that you do need to become familiar with. Of course all homeschoolers like to tweak the programs they use, but this one does have some pretty specific methods that teachers will need to follow. The nice thing is that everything is all laid out in the guide, including the schedule, so it is pretty easy to follow.

Basically, the teacher’s guide walks you through the lesson, complete with a script and detailed images showing you exactly what to draw! I found this to be very handy. Now, keep in mind that you do NOT have to be an artist to use this curriculum. The whole idea is to use stick figuring to complete the pictures, which makes it perfect for parents and students alike. I have very very limited artistic talent. Stick figures are about all I can handle. So, when I was modeling the pictures on the whiteboard, they were almost laughable. However, my 14 year old has inherited quite a bit of artistic talent from his grandmother, and his pictures were much better than mine.

Each lesson starts with the timeline, where teachers introduce the Bible passage and help students map it out. I feel like drawing it out on the timeline really helped to cement the events in my son’s mind. The guide gives you an idea of what each student page should look like when you are done, so you can kind of eyeball if your child got the right idea or not. From there, you move into the formal lesson, taken from other Bible passages and including memory verses and key points all broken down in the guide. Students also have drawing pages where they take visual notes on this part of the lesson as well. Lessons are spread over several days, and at the end of each section there is a review-type page that involves having students use a concordance or dictionary to answer questions related to the lesson.

Now, while we did follow the instructions for all of the drawing pages exactly as they were given, I found this program worked better if I read the teacher’s notes the night before each lesson, and then summarized them rather than reading them verbatim for my son. He’s older, so he doesn’t need word-by-word instruction. For the lesson days, we often read the passage from the Bible for that day, then I summarized the key points from the teacher’s notes again while he did his drawings. In all, we spend anywhere from 15-30 minutes a day working on Bible four days per week. On the fifth day he did Bible reading on his own.

At first, this study seemed a little complicated. However, once we got into a groove, it got pretty easy because you really repeat the same steps the whole time. My son enjoyed drawing his notes, because like I said, he is a natural artist. I would definitely recommend this study for students who like to draw, or for kids who tend to get fidgety during lessons, because it gives them something to do with their hands.

Grapevine Studies Review

Grapevine offers several different levels and types of studies, some of which can be combined. For help deciding where to start, check out this flow chart:
Grapevine Studies Review

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TOS Review: Real Life Press

Real Life Press Review

I am always looking for ways to include more Bible study in our curriculum. However, as my kids get older, this isn’t always easy. So, I was happy to give the Firmly Planted, Gospels, Part 1 curriculum from Real Life Press a try for this review. The curriculum comes with a PDF Family Study Guide and Student Workbook.

Real Life Press Review

This ten-week study focuses on events from the life of Jesus like his birth and his miracles. I like the fact that it is only a ten-week study because it allows you to move onto other topics. When the guide says “family” they mean it. The study guide breaks the lessons down into activities for younger and older children, so you can truly use it to teach all of your kids at once.

Lessons are divided into daily activities, starting with a main passage that is the basis for the lessons. Scripture memorization for both younger and older kids is included. A short passage explaining the significance of the passage promotes discussion. After that, there are short readings from the Bible for each day, with an extra section for older students that invites them to go deeper into the passage, and a section that talks about ways kids can apply the lesson to their lives that day.

For us, the length of these passages was perfect. Reading them out loud took around 10 minutes. I appreciated the digging deeper section because it gave all of us something to think about. In some cases, we were shown connections between the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus and the fulfillment in the New Testament. Other times, we explored other Biblical characters like David and Moses. The life applications sections invited us to pray, think about Christ’s sacrificial love, and how to model that in our daily lives.

In the workbook portion, you get several activities to go along with the lessons. While no official schedule is given for these activities, they are pretty easy to break down into a few for each day. The same types of activities are included for each lesson, and you can certainly pick and choose the ones you want to do. The activities have a nice balance for older and younger students.

There are some basic questions about the passage, that you can print or discuss orally. Copywork for younger kids and a journaling page for older students encourage kids to explore their thoughts about the passage. At first, these were hard for my boys, because journaling about the Bible was new to them, but eventually, they got the hang of it. Mazes and coloring pages are fun activities, and there are two crosswords, one for older kids and one for younger.

Sometimes when I was reading, my kids would work on the word search, and even though he is older, my middle schooler occasionally asked to do the coloring page. But for me, the best part of the workbook was the exploring the Bible section that taught us more about the structure and connections in the Bible itself. I found these to be very interesting and they led to a lot of “A-ha!” moments for all of us.

In addition, there are mapping activities and other puzzles you can use. For the older kids in particular, the Upper Class worksheets invite students to delve deeper into the subject. These papers include further Bible passages for kids to read and interpret, and questions to really get them thinking. I thought these were VERY appropriate for middle and high school students. For example, in the lesson on John the Baptist, the focus was on repentance and sin, and encouraged kids to look at their own lives and identify the areas they need to work on.

I found that the Upper Class section typically gave us our deepest discussions, and that made me very happy. As my boys become teens I know they face so many challenges, and it is important that I find a way to give them as much support as possible. However, tackling these topics isn’t always easy, so being able to use the study as a starting point, and having a Biblical reference for the discussion, was really helpful.

On the whole, I was very happy with this study from Firmly Planted, and I would be interesting in using their other ones (the series is going to take you all the way through the Bible in 10-lesson sets). The workbook portion of the program costs $24.95 for a PDF download, and you can print copies for your own children. The student book that contains the story and daily readings costs $9.95 for the PDF. The only thing I would change about this is to have a physical copy. While I loved all the colored pages, they took a lot of ink to print, and ink is expensive.

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TOS Review: Great Commission Films – IndoctriNation Movie

IndoctriNation DVD Review

For this review, I got to watch the movie IndoctriNation from Great Commission Films. The documentary follows Colin Gunn and his family as they tour the country interviewing teachers, administrators, pastors, and others about the state of Christianity in our public schools. My hubby and I watched this movie together as it is definitely aimed at parents and other adults. Before I begin my review, I want to give you some background on how my family started homeschooling.

I started homeschooling my children mainly because I felt that I was not getting enough time with them when they were in school. Even though I was a teacher, I spent my time with my own students, and I felt like my kids got more quality time with their own teachers than they did with me. Also, towards the end of my 12 year career, I began to feel fed up with the fact that the instruction that happened in my classroom seemed to be mandated more and more by the state and national governments. I was frustrated by the fact that I no longer had the control to give the students what I could see they needed, because I was told to focus on specific standards, with specific curriculum, to prepare for specific tests. However, I have never felt like our schools themselves were “bad” or anything like that, and for the most part, I still believe this to be true.

After watching the film, my hubby and I thought that Gunn definitely brought up some good points. First off all, the documentary touches on our current style of “one-size fits all” education, which many people are aware does not work. He also talks about how originally, control of education was meant to be in the hands of states and local districts, not the federal government. Through his interviews, he touches on other topics, such as how other faiths and ideas are allowed in many curriculums, but Christianity, specifically is ignored. The documentary uses a lot of Bible-based quotations to drive home the point.

In one case, the documentary focuses on a particular young teacher who actually left the profession because she felt she was asked to deny her faith. Well-known authors and critics of the public school system, such as John Taylor Gatto, are also included in the film.

By the end of the movie, my hubby and I felt we had a lot to talk about. While we both agreed the movie brought up some things about our school system that did concern us, we also felt like there wasn’t much balance to the film. Whenever I read/watch/listen to information about a controversial topic, I like to see both sides represented so that I can compare the two and decide for myself which one I agree with. I felt like all of the people featured in the film were basically against public schools.

Nonetheless, the movie focuses on a very important topic for Christian parents. A lot of research cited in the film makes it clear that many students leave the church by the time they are out of high school. Obviously, there is something going on that is causing these young Christians to lose their faith, and it is really important that the Christian community talk about it, and try to find out why. I think this movie would be great for a discussion group at a church or an adult Bible study because the only way to come up with solutions is to have conversations about (sometimes uncomfortable) topics. Indoctrination costs $19.95.

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TOS Review: Purposeful Design

Purposeful Design Review

Good creation resources are a benefit to any homeschool. I am always on the lookout resources that will attract my kids attention and explain things in a way they understand. For this review, we got to check out the book Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation from author Jay Schabacker at Purposeful Design.

This book is suitable for all ages and features seven chapters, each one devoted to a particular day of creation. With over 90 pages, it is chock full of information, plenty to start a unit study if you wanted. What struck me first about the book is the beautiful photographs that accompany the text. From landscapes, to people, to animals, Schabacker brings you the world in vivid color. The book provides easy to understand explanations for scientific topics like the water cycle and the seasons, which make this a perfect resource for moms with littles. However, it also provides a great jumping off point for further study for older children, making it great for use with multiple ages.

Purposeful Design Review

Bible verses are spread out throughout the book and provide an excellent source of memory work. I appreciated how Purposeful Design makes it clear how exact our world is and how radically different it would be if just one thing were out of place. For example, one section talked about how Earth is perfectly tilted on its axis, and discusses the consequences if that tilt were off by even a little bit. To me, that just reaffirms that our world was deliberately created.

In addition to the book, parents can download a free curriculum to go with it at the Purposeful Design website. The PDF file contains questions for each chapter, additional verses to memorize and think about, as well as discussion questions you can use to further make the connection between creation and God. For younger kids, you could do a lot of this orally, but for older children, you could easily print it out and use it as a review for each chapter. I felt like the curriculum was a great addition to the book, especially if you wanted to use it as a starting point for a unit study. When combined with other books about the stars, planets, plants, etc. and maybe a couple of episodes of The Magic School Bus or documentaries, you could definitely create something to last for at least a semester.

Of course, this is also an excellent choice to simply add to your bookshelf. Use it as a read aloud, or put it in your book basket for your kids to explore on their own. It is full of factual information which makes it a great reference. You could also use it to supplement other curriculum you are using if you are studying topics like astronomy, earth science, or life science.

In 2013 Purposeful Design won the Illumination Book Awards bronze medal, and in 2014 it was awarded a bronze medal in the Coffee Table category by the Catholic Press Association. I think it definitely deserves those awards, and is well worth the price of $18.95.

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