Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Music - a worthwhile investment!

I love hearing music being made in my home, don't you?

 I have been taking my kiddos to orchestra concerts since they were babies, now - they are the ones making beautiful music!

Little Bit really did like this... just was having a "moment" about the picture taking process :-)


 Playing in their first concert - a flute, violin and cello.  Lots of practice around this place!

Let me encourage you to find creative ways to expose them to great music, early.  Then, they'll develop a taste for it...

The oldest started violin, after being taken to a orchestra concert, when he was 7 years old.  Now, he's the one giving concerts!

San Antonio Symphony offers great "Young Peoples Concerts" geared specifically toward the children.  Minnesota and Arkansas had these opportunities as well.  If you can't find them in your area... YouTube and CD's can fill in for a live performance. 

Although, nothing captures their hearts faster than hearing a full orchestra fill a gigantic hall like Tobin Center...

Motivate Your Child Action Plan by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller : Book Review

Motivate Your Child Action Plan  by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller 

 Many times I read a great parenting resource, feel encouraged - maybe even convicted to make changes, but... I stall out at this point.   I bet some of you can relate?   All that theory seems to get left on the shelf because I'm not quite sure where to get started with my unique children. This book takes the principles of  Motivate Your Child (read my review here)  and turns them into a step by step process to help you reach the heart of your child. 

By using an "outline of firmness, visioning, teaching, prayer, and coaching to flesh out a strategy to move your child from where he is today, to where he needs to go."

This is exactly what I need!  Someone who can take the concepts I need and walk me step-by-step through the implementation of the principles in my very own situation!   Motivate Your Child Action Plan is just that.  It's a 165 page, interactive plan that  includes checklists and spaces to write out ideas, insights, and results.  In addition, the book includes access to 12 audio sessions—one per chapter that will help you create a customized approach for your family.

You can use this resource alone, or suggestions to correlating Motivate Your Child chapters to read for additional support and information are included.  I recommend getting both books right away!

Tip:  The book is on sale right now ($29.95 or $36.99 for the original Motivate Your Child plus the Action Plan.) Use the coupon code, AP5BGT for an additional $5 off


Chapters Cover:

  1. Change in Forty Days
  2. Where Do You Want to Go?
  3. The Map to Get There
  4. Working Together
  5. A Place for Firmness
  6. Visioning Moves You Forward
  7. Teaching Shows the Way
  8. Spiritual Energy Provides Strength
  9. Coaching Sets the Attitude
  10. Building Motivation from Within
  11. Growing Together
  12. Good Theology Makes it Work

The Motivate Your Child ACTION PLAN will give you the tools to address sibling conflict, poor school performance, disrespect, laziness, procrastination, sloppy work, emotional outbursts, self-centeredness, and so much more.

I really appreciate the author's approach.  I feel like they are mentors who want to help, not experts that make me feel like a failure.  This book gently guides you through identifying the problems, making a strategic plan and making sure you make the changes you need to make (in yourself and your child!)

This quote stopped me in my tracks...  I'm guilty of this at times- adding harshness to show I mean business.  And we think parenting issues are all about "them" :-)   This book offers Biblical help for the entire family.

I appreciate that the focus is on the heart of the issues, and not just changing the outward behaviors.  I want to help transform the hearts of my children.  Weekly meetings, prayer, and scripture are all power tools that the authors teach you how to use effectively to make lasting changes. This is a book that has already been used over and over. 

If you're ready to tackle some of your parenting challenges but, want some guidance, this may be just what you are looking for.  

Learn about Scott Turansky here:

Learn about Joanne Miller here:

Info about NCBP can be found here:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story from FishFlix: A TOS Crew Review Review Review

 Meet John Wesley, founder of the Mehodists, in this action-packed episode of the Torchlighters!  Just - $9.99  is an online, Christian movie retailer.  Their mission: "We believe that media and entertainment are gifts from God that help us spread his message with creativity and excellence."
With everything from apologetics to music videos,  you will want to check them out!
We were delighted to get the newest episode Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story.  We first discovered the Torchlighters series years ago. 
There are 13 DVDs in this animated series designed for ages 8-12 (with more in production!)  The Torchlighters hope to inspire children to carry the "torch of faith" as lights in a dark world by showing them real-life examples of people that God has used to carry out his will and purposes. My children have grown up watching great Christian heroes like Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, Eric Liddell, Corrie Ten Boom, Gladys Aylward and more. 

Torchlighter: One who commits to serving God
 and passing on the light of the Gospel,
 even if the going gets tough.


Torchlighters: The John Wesley Story will introduce your children to John Wesley.  His mother called him a "brand picked from the burning",  spared by God for a special purpose.  He was miraculously saved from being burned in house fire as a young child.
John struggles to find his own way, but feels only frustration and failure.  His own efforts to earn God's love and acceptance leave him feeling dejected.   After years,  John Welsey embaces God's grace and a new chapter of his life begins.  Finding resistance to his message of God's grace from the eighteenth century church in England, eventually leads him to found the Methodist movement which flourishes in both England and America.  
Children need heroes... but, true heroes worth emulating can be hard to find in today's society!  My children love these 30 minute long, professionally produced programs.  I love that they are meeting people worthy of admiration, with faults just like the rest of us.  The messages of God's love and redemption are woven into these lives.
Each Torchlighters DVD comes with PDF Leader and Student Guides.    The Leader Guide is 23 pages of suggestions for using this video in a 4 week teaching plan with focused lessons, scripture, hands on activities and games to explore the themes from the DVD further. 
  • Session 1 - Faith That Works: Saved By Grace  - Faith that works knows that only Jesus saves us from our sins.
  • Session 2 - Faith That Works: Growing in Righteousness - Faith that works requires a changed heart that becomes more like Jesus.
  • Session 3 - Faith That Works: Walking the TalkFaith that works does what God commands.
  • Session 4 - Faith That Works: Galloping with the Gospel - Faith that works shares the good news of the Gospel with others in both our words AND our actions.

 In addition, supplemental resources are included to explore the life and times of John Wesley further  including: information about the people in John Wesley's life, a timeline, and historical information about the time period he lived in.  These are an excellent resource for your Sunday school class or Coop group.  I've used many of them with our Bible Bee study groups as well.
The Student Guide is a 25 page treasure chest! I love that it is a PDF that I can pick and choose what and how many to print.
  • A scripture memorization chart
  • The Gospel Trail - a visual chart of  the path to salvation
  • Word find
  • Comprehension Questions
  • "Holy Club" service project suggestions
  • Designing your own Coat of Arms
  • Coloring pages
  • 4 In-depth devotionals to explore themes from the DVD
Another bonus feature is the 55 minute documentary included on the DVD.  This is geared more to parents and older children.  It's a great way to learn more about the real life hero yourself.
English and Spanish languages and subtitles are included on each DVD too. 
Be sure to take a peek at some of the other titles Crew members reviewed from

Friday, May 15, 2015

Westward Ho I & II from Homeschool Legacy: A TOS Crew Review

Homeschool Legacy Review
Homeschool Legacy ReviewHomeschool Legacy Review
We LOVE unit studies!  The Bentz Test Laboratory was super excited to get to check out two unit studies - Westward Ho I (5 week) & Westward Ho II (4 week) from Homeschool Legacy .
These studies are part of their Once-a-Week Unit Study approach.  They are all Biblically centered, no-prep (can I hear an amen?), easy to incorporate into your current study,  cross curricular studies that you spend one day a week with. They also accommodate Boy Scouts and American Heritage Girls programming. We don't have any of those at Bentz Test Laboratory...but, it's a nice feature!  These studies are very affordable, around $20 each and can be used with the entire family (grades 2-12).  It's easy to accommodate your younger kiddos too.

Watch this short video to hear the author explain her approach:


We are fans of this approach because - we can take any subject and unleash the learning! Unit studies really cement what they are learning so much better than the textbook approach.  They also create wonderful family memories!  These studies are filled with hand's-on projects that truly accommodate all learning styles.  I love that my entire family can be learning together, without extensive prep work.  Each study incorporates all these subjects:
 and our personal favorite:
We were blessed to get to check out 2 studies that perfectly complement our American History study.
Westward Ho I – This 5-week study (grades 2-12)  covers:
  • Frontiersmen
  • Pioneer Life
  • Lone Star Republic
  • The Life and Times of James K. Polk
  • The Oregon Trail

It's a simple concept, just eliminate other subjects from your schedule for ONE day of the week.  Replace those with suggestions from this study.  These studies are flexible enough to be added to your current curriculum, but comprehensive enough to BE your current history or science curriculum!

Plenty of great read aloud selections are included for you to pick from.  Field trips too!  We are currently smack dab in the middle of this time period of American History and were delighted with all the activities, and even added some unforgettable field trips unique to living in Texas. 

Frontiersmen - Davy Crockett is a prominent figure... this was DELIGHT driven learning for my 8 year old tester.  We took some suggestions from the study and went on an unforgettable field trip to the Alamo to meet "Davy Crockett" himself, and he even got to hold the "gun"!

Pioneer Life - can you hear the squeals coming from my girls?  Yes,  Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie...and it's "school?!  We love all the movie night suggestions - a great way to build in family time, and you don't have to go searching for appropriate suggestions.  The study has done all the hard work.

Lone Star Republic - Our favorite week - in fact, we are continuing this for many weeks to come, since we just moved to Texas. Each week offers suggestions for crafts and hand's on activities - here are two of our Texas theme creations.  Mapping and geography lessons are woven into each week.  Of course, we wanted to "Remember the Alamo" with a memorable field trip at dawn!

The Life and Times of James K. Polk - we focused on the expansion of the US.  Each week introduces new and notable characters and includes a Bible study.  These are very well done.   My boys are now tapping out Morse code messages to each other after "lights out". 

The Oregon Trail - what a fun week!  "You have died of dysentery".  Yep - introduce your kiddos to the Oregon Trail computer game, available online now.  We are still reading a great read aloud about 7 children that loose their parents, but continue on to Oregon.  So many valuable life lessons are embedded in these studies.

Westward Ho II – This study (4-weeks) continues the adventure westward.  Topics explored:
  • Gold Rush - learn about Sutter's Mill, California and Levi Strauss while making your very own business plan.

  • Life on the Prairie - we simply cannot get enough of Laura Ingalls Wilder around here.  But, there's more to explore in this week like: Abraham Lincoln and the effects of freedom for the newly freed slaves, creating your "vitual soddie"  on  line and learning about the ecosystems of the American Prairie .  They did ask to make one in the backyard but, since our grass is dead... it was a no go ;-(  These studies are filled with links that help you find all the goodies online!  One reason that I prefer the digital PDF option over a print book.

  • The Great American Railroad Race - A memorable Bible devotion on "visionaries"  -
    "So the next time you find yourself thinking you can’t do something or are told by the
    naysayers it is impossible, remember the visionaries who have gone before you who said,
    It can be done.”  Wonderful discussion points for the entire family!

  • Cowboys and Cattle Drives - Longhorns, cowboys - YEE HA!  This is a fun week. Can't believe I said this... "While you may design your own brand children, you MAY not actually brand anyone or the pets."  Yes, you will create family memories doing these studies!!  One of our favorite sections is the "Stump Your Dad" trivia questions at the end of each week.

    ! Stump Your Dad Trivia:

    Q: When and where did the term “cowboy” originate?  
    Dad thought he knew..."Texas, of course."   Followed by squeals of laughter as he is corrected:    "No dad!"

    A: In New York during the Revolutionary War

    It was common for colonists of the 1700s to allow their cows to roam free, so they
    dangled a bell from the cows’ necks. The bell jingled as the cow grazed making it easier
    for them to be found.

    Young men in New York who were loyal to the King of England took advantage of this
    fact. They knew hungry soldiers would grab any food they could get their hands on, so
    they pretended to be a cow caught in the brush by hiding and jingling a cow bell. Fooled,
    the patriot was captured by the cowboy. It was not until many years later that the term
    was used for cowhands on the western frontier.

    Of course, we went to the Rodeo...We do live in the heart of Cowboy country!
 If you are ready to breathe some LIFE into your learning, I highly recommend adding some unit study to your plan.  Homeschool Legacy and their Once-A-Week studies make it easy for you. With many titles to choose from, you will find the perfect adventure for your family.

Try one- I dare you!  You won't be content to just "read about it" any more...
 Check out some of the other titles:
Homeschool Legacy Review
See what other members of the Crew thought here
Homeschool Legacy Review
Crew Disclaimer

S is for Smiling Sunrise from WordsBright: A TOS Crew Review

Smiling Sunrise Review
Smiling Sunrise Review
Written for children from Pre-K though 3rd grade, this 30 page hardback book is filled with colorful pictures and rhymes teach the alphabet and help with vocabulary development.  A song can also be downloaded as an MP3 to accompany the book.   Free Teacher’s Guide for ages Kindergarten above and another Parent’s Guide for children PreK and younger, both in downloadable PDF form to help in the discussion of the book are available too.  Want to take a  ‘look inside’  ?
Public Service Announcement:  The Bentz Test Laboratory does not have a preschool student any longer!  sniff, sniff, sniff....  But, we still have a K and 1st grade tester that were delighted to take a peek at S is for Smiling Sunrise from WordsBright
Each page is dedicated to a letter of the alphabet.  The quality of this book is nice, heavy pages, hard cover - designed to be read by little ones with less than careful hands.  The uppercase and lowercase letters are big and proud at the top of each page.  The pictures are colorful, and there is a rhyme to go with each one. 
The song on the MP3 will "sing" the rhymes so that you and your child can sing along.  Ummm... some people love this, my testers really preferred to read it to themselves.  This book would be a bigger hit with the PreK crowd. You can decide for yourself. 

The Teacher and Parent's Guides give short suggestions for discussions you can use pre- or post-reading, vocabulary words to introduce and activities to complete. 
My youngest tester reports,  "I like this book.  However, you can't really hug your heart mom, that's just silly, it's INSIDE you!"  More sniffles,  when did she get so grown up and logical?  I want the mystery back ;-)

One of my older testers remarked that this may be a great addition to her babysitting kit, and asked if she could nab this book.  Great idea!
Overall, we thought this was a cute, well-done book for young kids.  I really enjoyed reading about the author - Vick Wadhwa. He created this book for his young daughter - to teach her the ABC's and to recognize the beauty of nature, art and virtue.  Now, he is using it to help others as well.  This quote impressed me: "We are sensitive to the fact that there are immense challenges to be overcome at all levels of human society, and we believe in caring and sharing. Therefore, an important part of our mission is to contribute at least 10% of our net earnings towards education and/or health projects for disadvantaged children, through selected charitable organizations with outstanding track records."
It's refreshing to see people using their God-given talents to encourage and inspire us!
See what other members of the Crew thought here
Wordsbright Review
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

FREEDOM or Fear....

I've been hearing a lot of fear revolving around standardized testing.  It seems like this is the hot seat topic in education right now...  there's always "something" sitting in that seat, don't you think?

I admire all you amazing public school teachers (many whom I call friends!) for what you put up with to try to teach precious children with the gifts and talents you are blessed with while being constrained by the confines of these silly tests.

All that being said, I'm really not "anti" standardized test.  I actually test my children starting in KINDERGARTEN - shhh...don't tell the Coop, they might take away my volunteer position ;-)

Learning to take a standardized test is just another skill we need to teach them, just like reading, writing and arithmetic.  These tests don't even test for the most important things: Can they share?  Do they help others?  Are they kind?  Do they love GOD?

What I am opposed to is making taking a test into a high-stakes, high-stress activity that actually kills learning!  Children should get to have fun taking tests, not be filled with fear.  Here's how we do it at Bentz Academy:

  • No big build up to "test day" - when the box comes, we open it and go!

  • Test with friends, when possible...  this year we were on our own (Yeehaw for TX Freedom!)

  • Pray before we start - that we can use this as a means to help mom make wise curriculum choices and for us to love God with all our minds.

  • Mandatory jelly bean breaks after each section

Once we get the scores - we celebrate and call Grandma (who still thinks that tests tell us if they are learning...) I'm happy to report, all my children usually rock these tests and have fun doing them!

Little Bit taking her first test... she was begging for more!!

So... let me encourage you to choose FREEDOM to test, or not to test! 

Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Course from Successful Homeschooling Made Easy : A TOS Crew Review

Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review
Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review
Author, Stephanie Walmsley  began her homeschooling journey back in 1985.  Now, she has created an easy to follow plan for you to follow in her footsteps, the  Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Course .  This is a 26-week-long online course for homeschooling parents. Each week the course member gets an email with a PDF lesson attachment. It's $10.00 a month (for 5 months) or a one time payment of $48.50.
At the Bentz Test Laboratory, we have been at this homeschooling journey for the past 13 years - *gasp, breathe, gasp*   Even after all these years, and now 8 students strong... I never feel completely confident that I am doing this "right".  Can anyone relate? The Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Course from Successful Homeschooling Made Easy is a wonderful resource both for brand new homeschoolers and veterans alike.
Every week -you will get an email with a PDF lesson that you can download.  The author recommends printing them out and saving them in a binder.  You will have assignments throughout the course that want you to write things down, and spend time contemplating.  I don't know about you, but - I can sometimes "contemplate" at the computer, and sometimes I need a quiet corner and a cup of coffee!  For the digital mommys out there- you can read this on your device while you're hanging out at ballet or soccer practice too.
Each of the 9 lessons I got a chance to work through, move baby step-by- baby step in a very systematic way.  Each week's PDF leaves you with an assignment to work on until the next week's arrives.  Stephanie offers many additional book suggestions for you to read and learn more. 
  • Start Homeschooling Today
  • Math Made Easy
  • Welcome Home
  • Fireproof your Homeschool
  • Three Key Ingredients for Success
  • Fulfill Your Dreams
  • Why Curriculum Doesn’t Matter
  • Let Go of the Good Things
  • Housework and Homeschool

Lesson 1 - "Start Homeschooling Today" -  She encourages you to create a schedule that fits YOU and your family, not just a one-size fits all approach. Stephanie gently walks you through creating a 8 week schedule by taking a look at your family's lifestyle.  I loved that she suggested an afternoon tea break!  (we "used" to do that,  I needed a reminder of how good this is!)

Lesson 2 - "Math Made Easy" - adding math to your schedule.  I love how she focuses on the basics and gradually builds your confidence.

Lesson 3 - "Welcome Home" - you get a chance to hear from many different moms how their homeschool journey looks.  You will be encouraged to see that everyone is different, and that is part of the beauty of the homeschool journey.
Lesson 4 -  "Fireproof your Homeschool" - she encourages you to add FUN activities to your schedule!  OH NO,  I realized that we have not been having a much fun as we used to...  We've been too busy tackling assignments, completing work that I had forgotten that FUN is the best part of homeschooling!!  Don't miss this one.
Lesson 5 - "Three Key Ingredients for Success" will help you thoughtfully plan out some goals for your homeschool.  What do you want to achieve for this child?  How about in 10 years?  She links you to a great recommended book list as well.
Lesson 6 - "Fulfill Your Dreams" OUCH!  This one got way too close to home...but, the author approaches you in a very loving way.  This one needs to be tattooed on my arm.  Maybe I could just print it out and post it on the mirror :-)
It is not admirable to be mean to yourself. To give to others at the expense of your own well-being. It’s not holy and it’s not spiritual. It’s foolish. If you are not in top form, feeling rested each morning, feeling confident about each day, how can you give your best to your family and homeschool in the way that you want to do it? Be a wise mother and take time to care for yourself.

And it’s never too late to start doing this.
Lesson 7 - "Why Curriculum Doesn't Matter" will help you make sense of the multitude of teaching approaches and homeschooling methods.  Once again, the author leaves you informed and encouraged to find the one that fits YOUR family best.
Lesson 8 - "Let Go of the Good Things" was the most valuable lesson for me personally.  Taking a hard, honest look at the outside activities that we provide our children with.  Are we doing this for them, or for us?  Yikes!!  Are all these good things really the BEST thing for us or our children.  This is one that I'm going to be chewing on for quite awhile. 
Lesson 9 - "Housework and Homeschool" will give you plenty of suggestions for actually keeping a home and!   It can be done... there's always HOPE :-)
Overall,  I find that I am enjoying reading these quick PDF files each week.  I have picked up some new things, and been reminded of great things.  The author is truly giving us the gift of her real-life experiences.  Recommend this one to your friends!

Successful Homeschooling Made Easy Review
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Busy Homeschool Mom's Guide to Daylight from Real Life Press: A TOS Crew Review

Real Life Press Review

The Busy Homeschool Mom's Guide to Daylight  from Real Life Press
Real Life Press Review

Do you need some real life help and encouragement for these crazy homeschool days?  The Busy Homeschool Mom's Guide to Daylight  from Real Life Press is a fabulous resource from a fellow busy homeschool mom of seven, wife and author, Heidi St. John.

This is one that I got to test!  Yippee - I got to settle down with my favorite coffee cup, and a good book.  What a treat! Right off, I really liked Heidi St. John's style.  I felt like she had stopped over to join me, and have a good old heart-to-heart, girl time chat.  I needed one :-)

This easy-to-read, 8 chapter book has been written to help you "manage your daylight".  Ever feel like the clock is ticking, but you are standing still with the mountain of tasks and responsibilities you have as a homeschool mom and wife towering in front of you?  Chapter topics include:

  • Being intentional with your relationships with your spouse & children.
  • Getting organized by controlling clutter and reclaiming your life.
  • Schedules, both the delights and the dangers.
  • Meal planning, feeding your family without losing your mind.
  • Dealing with discouragement.  If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!
  • Multi-level teaching.  How to streamline teaching multiple students.
  • Taking control of time wasters (ouch, this one may hurt...)
  • Surrendering to God and finding His heart for your homeschool.

One concept that grabbed me right away about being intentional was "white space".  That space on your calendar that has "Nada.Zero.Zippo. Nothin'"...for at least two days in a row, per week...What?!   I couldn't find blank spots on my calendar,' - no wonder I feel like I hanging on for dear life, we have been doing just that!    Being reminded of this "not-so-new", but being "completely-ignored-by-me" principle would have been enough to buy the book. This is my biggest take-away, we need "white space" on our calendar and we have to PLAN to put it there.  It won't just happen.

One of the most convicting chapters was "Wasting Daylight".  Taking a hard, but honest look at how lack of self-control is wasting precious time was an eye-opener. Email, Facebook, media - all are battling for our attention.  It's really much more about exercising self-control than managing time.  Ouch...some of this chapter hit awfully close to reality!  Heidi offers  practical suggestions along the way and gives action steps you can take to implement the changes you are ready to make. 

Heidi shares from her own experiences - often humorous and always transparent. The tone of the book is encouraging, featuring scripture woven throughout.

This is just the type of book that usually leaves me feeling like I better get busy and change EVERYTHING we are doing... BUT, not this book!  Heidi made me laugh, sympathized with me (and she knows how I live...) and encouraged me with GRACE that I don't have to be perfect because my heavenly Father is, and he's got EVERYTHING I need to get this homeschooling task done well.

I'm sure EVERY woman would enjoy this read,  not just homeschool moms!  It's witty, honest and offers plenty of grace filled advice and practical tips. 

Thanks for the girl time, Heidi - I needed it!

Be sure to check out some of the other goodies from Real Life Press

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Real Life Press Review

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