Oct 18, 2016
Favorite Fall Themed Picture Books
* My Basket of Blessings by Mary Manz Simon. This cute board book is engaging to look at and reinforces the important concept of counting the blessings God gives us. The book is die cut to look like a basket, and each page has die cut images of items inside the basket, giving a fun layered look. Each item is fall-related, including juicy apples that "will never match the sweetness of God's love for me," a scarecrow to remind that God made us, and a pumpkin pie, with it's wafting scent, to remind us God's gifts are everywhere.
God's Oak Tree by Allia Zobel Nolan.This board book is beautiful to behold. The cover features a die-cut hole through which you can see a smiling acorn. Open up the book, and you'll find the pages are of different shapes, starting narrow and growing wider. Each time you turn a page, the image of an acorn hanging from a tree shifts, and on the opposite side the image of a fully grown oak tree gradually appears. Each page is beautifully illustrated, with rich nature colors, lots of wild animals, and plenty of detail. Best of all, this book explains science (how an acorn turns into a tree) from a Christian standpoint.
* Give Thanks to the Lord by Karma Wilson. Based on Psalm 92, this book celebrates the glory of nature during fall, giving God thanks for providing it. I especially love that this book makes it easy to memorize a simple Bible verse.
* My Happy Pumpkin by Crystal Bowman. This cheery board book tells the story of a pumpkin turned jack-o-lantern and how it symbolizes the way God washes away our sin and shines through us. It's sure to become a
seasonal favorite, perfect for reading while your children decorate pumpkins.
* The Pumpkin Patch Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs. Very similar to My Happy Pumpkin, but targeting a slightly older age group (say, 5 - 8). A classic! (In fact, check out all the parable books in this series, each focused on a different time of year. They are excellent.)
Favorite Thanksgiving Themed Picture Books
Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas. If you read your children only one fall or Thanksgiving themed book this year, make it this one. Here's a part of history few people know - how Squanto's life was shaped by God at least in part to help the Pilgrims. An amazing story!
* Mary's First Thanksgiving by Kathy-Jo Wargin. A story that helps instill thankfulness, while teaching the legend of the five kernels.
Samuel Eaton's Day & Sarah Morton's Day by Kate Waters. Filled with full color photos of reenactors from Plymouth Plantation, which do an excellent job of showing what everyday life was like for Pilgrim children. These books don't specifically mention Thanksgiving, mind you, but are still a great tie in with that holiday. (Also check out the companion book about a Native American boy of the same time period: Tapenum's Day.)
* Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness. My kids adore the illustrations in this book, and often spend days studying them. They are detailed and rich, and the story itself does a good job of showing why the Pilgrims came to the New World, how they suffered, and how they trusted God.
Aug 17, 2015
UPDATE 8/17/2015: Some of our favorite educational shows are no longer on Netflix streaming. (Wah! No more Beakman's World!) I've included the names of these shows at the end of this post, so you can keep an eye out for them if they become available, if you want to try to rent them on DVD, or you want to try to find them from another source. In the meantime, I've completely updated the list. As of 8/17/2015, all the following shows are available on Netflix streaming.
The Magic School Bus (ages 5 - 9)
Wild Kratts (ages 5 - 10)
David Attenborough: Wildlife Specials (ages 6 and up)
Word World (4 - 6)
Amazing Word Explorers (4 - 7)
Sesame Street Classics and Numbers and Letters
The Amazing Alphabet Amusement Park
Sesame Street and Sesame Street Classics
Cat in the Hat (ages 2 - 7)
Veggies Tales (the new series; ages 2 - 7)
Little Einsteins (ages 2 - 6)
Mighty Machines (ages 2 - 5)
Various documentaries (These change rapidly, so I suggest browsing the documentaries section regularly. Note that you can expect all nature related documentaries to mention evolution.)
BONUS: If you use a Roku device for streaming Netflix, there are many other educational channels you can watch for FREE. These channels include:
The Smithsonian Channel
The History Channel
National Geographic Kids
The list grows monthly. (Note that some stations, like The History Channel and National Geographic Kids, allows Roku users to see only some episodes.)
Currently Unavailable on Netflix Streaming:
Beakman's World (ages 5 - 10)
How Stuff Works (ages 5 - adult)
How Do They Do It (ages 5 - adult)
Reading Rainbow Ocean Life (ages 3 - 5)
God of Wonders (creation science; ages 5 - adult)
Dragons or Dinosaurs (creation science; ages 6 - adult)
Wonders of God's Creation (creation science; ages 6 - adult)
Dear America (ages 5 - 13)
Storybook Treasures: Amazing America (ages 5 - 9)
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (ages 4 - 12)
WordGirl (ages 5 - 9; look for this on Roku's PBS Kids station)
Busytown Mysteries (ages 2 - 5)
The All About series (All about Astronauts, All About Cars, etc.; misc.; ages 3 - 6)
* Please note that Nextflix streaming offerings change periodically.
Jul 22, 2015
Lately, I've been spending a lot of time at LibriVox, where there are currently 473 children's fiction audio books...and more are added regularly. Best of all, they are classics. There's non-fiction for kids, too. And did I mention all the audio books are free?
Sometimes I download the audio books onto my computer and the kids listen to them from there, but more often, I burn the files onto a CD and the kids listen to them at bedtime, on the road, or while doing quiet activities like coloring.
Some of our favorites include:
This Country of Ours (an awesome way to learn American history!)
The Railway Children
The Story of the Treasure Seekers
You'll also find more familiar books like:
Pinocchio (much different from the Disney classic!)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Anne of Green Gables
The Children's Shakespeare
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
and much, much more.
There are also hundreds (maybe thousands) of free audio books for adults, too.
Check it out!
Jul 13, 2015
When my then-8 year old daughter asked for her own portable CD player and headphones for Christmas, I wasn't sure how to respond. Yes, my children have most definitely benefited from listening to Adventures in Odyssey, Jonathan Park, and miscellaneous Christian music CDs - but would giving her headphones damage her hearing?
Why You Should Be Concerned
In 2010, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one in every five teens has at least slight hearing loss; for one in every 20, the hearing loss is more severe. An Australian study found that kids who listen to music through earbuds or headphones had a 70% increased risk of hearing loss. And according to The Journal of Pediatrics, hearing loss from earbuds or headphones isn't just a problem for teens; in their study, kids as young as 6 showed hearing loss.
As someone who has genetic hearing loss, let me stress that even a slight decrease in hearing loss is a big deal. It dramatically decreases a person's ability to communicate and learn - and can be a cause for embarrassment and lower self esteem. So for many reasons - some obvious, some less so - I was concerned about my daughter using headphones.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss in Children and Teens
But according to audiologists and other experts, completely banning earbuds and headphones isn't necessary...as long as you can ensure your kids listen to media at a lower volume. According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), listening to anything above 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours can permanently damage hearing. The louder the sounds, the quicker hearing loss occurs.
Unfortunately, almost all listening devices, earbuds, and headphones allow kids to listen to music at levels much higher than 85 dB...and most kids do.
That's why I'm loving the audiologist recommended headphones KidzSafe sent for me to try out. Because, let's face it, even when we give our kids strict rules about volume level, they are forgetful, tend to think turning it up "just a little" is no problem...and we're not always around to turn down the volume. But KidzSafe headphones never go over 85 dB. In other words, they could literally save your child's hearing.
That by itself is fantastic, but I wanted to know whether the sound quality was decent, too - and whether the headphones were comfortable and durable. (My children, now 9 and 6, aren't exactly gentle with things.)
I began by having my husband, an audiophile who used to be a professional sound man, try out the headphones. Initially, he was concerned the volume would be so low the listener wouldn't hear a broad spectrum of sounds through them. But once he tried listening through them, he was really impressed. "The sound through these things is as good as other headphones I have costing in excess of $50," he said. (KidzSafe headphone cost considerably less.) He also liked the fact that the cord plugs and unplugs from the headphones themselves. "That's usually something only higher end headphones feature," he said. "The fact that it has a replaceable cord offers further value, as the cord is often the failure point in a pair of headphones."
Next, I tried the headphones. I agree the sound is excellent - much better quality than your average children's headphones or earbuds - and definitely the quality of a good pair of adult headphones. They are also covered with some type of faux leather that is super soft and attractive. I also like that the headphones come with a matching drawstring bag for storage and safe keeping.
Next, I had my daughter try out the headphones. She loved that they were comfortable, easy to adjust to her head, and that she could put on contrasting ear pads and wires, if she wanted. Oh, and did I mention the headphones come with stickers? I chose not to have her put them on (frankly, the headphones just seem too nice for that), but she was happy to have them for other things. And my son? Well, he's the least picky of all of us, but he loved them, too.
None of us could find anything we disliked about these headphones.
So if you're looking for safe, attractive, comfy, and durable headphones for your children or teens, I highly recommend this product. At $29.95, the headphones are well worth the cost. They are available in pink, blue, grey, and purple. Each adjustable pair comes with 50 removable stickers, two tangle-free cords, two sets of snap-on ear pads,
and a drawstring bag for storage. The headphones are made with 3.5mm gold plated connectors
and custom 40mm drivers.
KidzSafe also offers other hearing-safe products, including wireless speakers and a speaker case. You can learn more about KidzSafe products at their website: www.kidzsafeaudio.com, on Facebook, or at Twitter.
FTC Disclosure: I received a KidzSafe Audio Gear product for the purpose of this review. This post was made possible by Mom Spark Media. Thoughts are my own.
Dec 1, 2014
1. Pick some Christmas carols. Choose them out of your head, or do an Internet search for a list of favorite carols to come up with ideas on what tunes you want to learn more about. Be sure you're picking carols (hymns, or spiritual folk songs) or songs focusing on Christ, not just popular Christmas songs that have nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas.
2. Do an Internet search for lyrics - the more verses you can find for each song, the better. There are tons of websites designed just for song lyrics. Any one of them will probably work; here's one that has a nice list of Christmas carols.
3. Do another internet search looking for the story behind the song. This is an optional, but a really interesting addition to this project. We are actually using some books - Ace Collins' Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas and More Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. Another wonderful resource is Christmas Hymns for a Kids' Heart, which includes a beautifully illustrated book with stories behind Christmas carols, lyrics and vocal lines for the songs, and a CD of the songs. If you want Internet sources, I recommend beginning with "Stories of Famous Christmas Carols and Hymns" or "30 Favorite Christmas Carols - their Origins and History."
4. Now pick one Christmas song, read the story of it's origins to your kids, and read through all the lyrics. Sing the Christmas song at least once a day until everyone knows it well. It's up to you how many verses you memorize. For younger kids, I recommend memorizing one verse, but reading them all the verses and discussing what the words mean.
5. As soon as you know one song well, move on to another!
Aug 8, 2014
* Back to School Breakfast Ideas - Quick, healthy ways to get your kids off to a great start each day.
* Back to School = I Love My Crockpot - Make school time easier by making good use of your slow cooker.
* Why Homeschool Preschool? - Why I, and so many others, choose to homeschool during the preschool years.
* Homeschool Preschool: Thoughts on Readiness - How do you know when your child is ready to learn?
* 5 Safety Rules for Every Kid - School time means more time away from mom and dad. Be sure your kids know these important safety tips.
* Keeping Toddlers Busy While Homeschooling - Tips from a mom who's been there!
* Sleep Deprivation: The Childhood "Epidemic" - Poor sleep means poor learning; here's how to help your child sleep better.
* Our Favorite Kids Education Programs Streaming on Netflix - Why not let TV time be education time?
Aug 4, 2014
Princess with a Purpose by Kelly Chapman
8 year old Caroline, who loves everything princess, attends Princess Prep School at church. But classes get off to a rocky start when Prissy Crissy tells Caroline: "Don't you know that you need a king as your father and a queen as your mother to be a real princess?" Caroline doesn't have a father - so she concludes she can never be a princess. That night, she dreams she's at Princess Prep School where she learns "a real princess has a heart full of love for her King and others. That's what makes her truly beautiful." Not only that, but she learns our heavenly Father is the one who makes us real princesses. A touching and well told story. Age appeal: about 5 and up.
Good Manners for a Little Princess by Kelly Chapman
This is a spinoff of Princess with a Purpose, and features the same characters - but this time, Caroline learns a different lesson: How to have princess-like manners. The Golden Rule features prominently here, and how it applies even to the "small things" in life. Grace, courtesy, and and kindness are emphasized. Age appeal: about 5 and up.
There are also other materials that tie in with with Chapman's Princess with a Purpose, including curriculum, an activity book, and a DVD.
His Little Princess by Sheri Rose Shepherd
I'd Be Your Princess by Kathryn O'Brien
This is the story of a little girl and her father, who imagine what life would be like if he were a king and she was his princess. The little girl dreams of castles, fancy clothes, adventure, and fun, and her father, for each of these dreams, highlights opportunities for godly character. He speaks of bravery, manners, kindness, generosity, and more. Every character trait is supported with quotes from the Bible. Age appeal: about 2 and up.
The Princess and the Three Knights by Karen Kingsbury
In this beautiful book about what the true meaning of love is, the King holds a contest to see who will marry his lovely princess. But in the end, one knight admits he won't perform the last of the King's tests because he won't put the princess in harm's way. The author concludes: "The knight was brave and strong, loyal and kind. But most of all, his faith in God had taught him that true love always protects..." And so the princess - and the King - choose him. Age appeal: about 4 and up.
Princess Parables by Jeanna Young
This is a series of books that retell parables from the Bible. As an example, I'll highlight Princess Joy's Birthday Blessings, which reflects Luke 14:12-14. The king has five daughters - Grace, Faith, Hope, Charity, and Joy. The sisters are having a surprise birthday party for Joy, but the princesses and princes of the land all give excuses about why they can't come.When Joy and her father learn of this, Joy decides to ask peasant children to come. In the end, Joy feels the party is the best she's ever been to. Age appeal: about 4 and up.
The Princess Twins by Mona Hodgson
This is a set of level 1 reading books. As an example, I'll talk about The Princess Twins and Play in the Garden. Emma is a prissy princess who focuses too much on being beautiful and clean. When a peasant girls accidentally kicks a muddy ball into Emma's dress, Emma is at first upset. But when girl apologizes with tears in her eyes, Emma hugs her and decides to join the game the girl was playing. When the peasant girls' mother comes to fetch her children, she calls Emma and Abby "lovely girls." Just then, a ladybug lands on Emma's dress...and she smiles. "Thank you, God, for a lovely day," Emma says. Age appeal: about 3 and up.
New Life Bible for Girls
This is a New Life Version Bible, which is a good choice for children who are ready for a real Bible, but need an easy to understand translation. Throughout are modest "princesses," including Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Ruth, Esther, Mary Magdalene, Lydia, and others. There are also trivia pages, sidebars, and other interesting additions. Visually, it's very attractive, and all the additional text focuses on inner beauty and being a person of faith and character. Age appeal: about 6 and up.
Jun 23, 2014
The Tortchlighters series of DVDs. Not only do they teach children about "heroes of the faith" (Christians who were persecuted for their beliefs), but they are actually well done!
The Corrie ten Boom Story. My kids were riveted - and so was I. (If you're unfamiliar with ten Boom, she protected Jews during WWII in Holland, and went to a prison camp because of it. She suffered much, but when the war was over, she set to work to heal everyone who was lost because of the war, even Nazis.) The DVD features an animated version of her story, half an hour long, and very appropriate for children about 5 or 6 and up. It also includes a documentary about ten Boom, with interviews with those who knew her; my children (5 and 8) found this less interesting, but it holds great appeal for teens and adults. Finally, the DVD includes a study guide. We printed this out and discovered something for everyone: coloring pages, simple and more complex puzzles, questions and answers, and so on. Even after all this, my children couldn't wait to have me read the book version of ten Boom's story, from the same publishing company. (For my full review of this book, click here.)
I was so impressed with the DVD, we got a few more: The William Tyndale Story, The Samuel Morris Story, and The Perpetua Story. I knew something about Tyndale, but Morris and Perpetua were new to me. As it turns out, Morris was a 19th century boy/young man from Africa and Perpetua was a young mother who lived in the 3rd century. Each of these DVDs also includes a documentary and study guide. After watching them, I asked my children which DVD they liked best. My daughter replied, "It seems like each one is better than the last one we watched!" My 5 year old said, "Please - can we watch more Torchlighters?"
There is much to like about the series. For example, it takes what could be a difficult subject (Christian persecution) and makes it kid-friendly. Although the publisher's recommended age group is 8 - 12, and even though one of their employees thought some of the DVDs I chose would be inappropriate for my 5 year old, I found we could watch all of them without any problem. Yes, in Perpetua all the main character's die - but they also go to God in a miraculous way. And as my 5 year old said, "If they at least as inspired by the stories as my kids were. I actually cried tears of joy at the end of Perpetua.)
I also love the documentaries that comes with each DVD; they really make the stories a whole-family affair. And the study guides are quite flexible. But for me, the real greatness of these DVDs is that they are teaching history - and history the Bible promises will repeat itself. Indeed, as we see the rise of Christian persecution throughout the world, and as we read the book of Revelation, we can be sure future generations will need to stand strong in the Lord, despite Christian persecution. Will our children be among those generations? No one can say. But the Torchlighters series is a great way for kids to begin thinking about those who are persecuted for their faith - and how they might react if put in a similar position. I will be buying the rest of the series.
Click here to see the complete list of Torchlighter DVDs. The movies may also be watched via Amazon Instant Video and some are available through Netflix. The publisher's website also includes the study guides, ministry ideas, and games.
Nov 27, 2013
If you're thinking of some new games for your children - or someone else's - here are some we particularly enjoy. All of these games are rated as an A by both my children and myself.
Games for Little People
this game, and we've been playing it for about a year now. As far as first board games goes, this one is tough to beat. This game features a very large (6 foot) and sturdy game board with a classic Richard Scarry Busytown scene. Just looking at the board is fun for kids, as they see downtown Busytown, the countryside, and even the shore, with all of Scarry's cute animal characters working and playing. The goal of the game is for each player to meet up at a certain spot so they can ride the ferry together and get to the picnic before Pig Will and Pig Won't eat all the food. Along the way, Goldbug may come along and ask players to find as many things (like balloons or fire hydrants) as they can. The more everyone finds, the more everyone can movie forward to the ferry.
Skills required: Simple counting of squares on a game board. I often helped my son with this when he was younger, but if your kids can count well and follow a path along a game board, they can play this game independently. Also, if you have young kids, you know that sometimes competitive games can be a challenge. Busytown is a good introduction to board games in part because players work together toward a common goal.
Age recommendation: 3 (with help) to 8.
Uncle Wiggly. This game was created around that same time, but doesn't require that your children know the original character or stories.* The game board is heavy and beautifully printed. It shows a winding path along lovely scenes - with some unhelpful creatures (like an alligator and a fox) along the way. Each player moves his piece along the board, following directions on a card he's just drawn. The goal is to be the first to make it to Dr. Possum's house for tea.
Skills required: Counting of squares on a board game. Reading isn't absolutely required, although the cards do offer cute little rhymes on them. If your child can read the numbers of the cards and count spaces on her own, she can play this game independantly.
Age recommendation: 4 to 7.
classic game every child should own. The goal is to travel along a winding path in Candyland (a place with such fun things as a rainbow bridge and a licorice forest) and be the first to make it to the candy castle. Players draw a card with either one or two board squares of a certain color and move to the nearest square of that color.
Skills required: Children must know their colors and be able to follow a game board path. Children must also be able to count to 2. For players who are new to board games, parental help is required. Otherwise, kids with these skills can easily play this game independantly.
Age recommendation: 3 to 7.
I don't think there's a better first card game than Go Fish. Each player begins with a small number of cards (which most kids can hold in one hand without much trouble). Each player then tries to find as many matches as she can, asking each player: "Do you have a [type of fish]?" Other players either answer "Yes" and give their opponent the appropriate card, or they say "Go fish," and the player asking the question must draw a card from the pile. The player who puts all her cards down as matches first wins.
Skills required: Being able to match alike cards. If children can't read the names of the fish, they can just describe the type of fish, or (when not playing the game) memorize their names. Kids can easily play this game on their own.
Age recommendation: 3 to 8.
Games for Slightly Older Kids (starting at about about age 6 or 7)
This is a card game everyone in our house enjoys. The goal is to be the first to get rid of all your cards. The game begins with one card facing up in the middle of the players. Each player must then try to remove one or more cards from their hand and put them on top of that card by matching color, number, or function. Things that make this game fun include cards that skip other players, reverse the direction of play, make players draw additional cards, or change the color to any the player desires. There are several variations on this game, so be sure you're just buying the classic card set, as seen above.
Skills required: Children should be able to hold a number of cards in their hands. (Although I have sometimes given my daughter a large egg carton to hold her cards in.) Players must also be able to recognize all colors and numbers. If they can do this, independant play is quite do-able.
Age recommendation: 7 to adult.
The goal of this two person game is simple: Be the first to get four of the same-colored discs in a row. Rows can run horizontally, vertically, or at an angle. Players take turns inserting discs into the plastic game piece to either create their own row or block their opponent's. This is a great game for teaching children to think about other players' strategies. And once your children master playing the game this way, there are directions for making the game different and more difficult.
Skills required: Children must be able to count to four and recognize rows going horizontally, vertically, and at an angle. (If they can play Tic-Tac-Toe, they can play Connect 4.) Once they master these skills, kids can play this game without parental help.
Age recommendation: 6 to adult.
game of jacks teaches kids motor skills and strategy. There are many ways to play this game, but the most basic is this: A player tosses the jacks on the floor. She bounces the small rubber ball once, catching it while simultaneously picking up one jack. The next time, she tries to pick up two jacks. The next time, three, and so on. This game may be played alone or with 2 players.
Skills required: Counting and motor skills.
Age recommendation: 7 to 10.
this game is to get all your pawns "home" before anyone else. Each player moves forward by drawing a card and moving their pawn the presented number of spaces. Sounds simple - but other players can send you back home, trade places with you, and so on. May be played with 2 - 4 players.
Skills required: Counting. Also, it's important to be able to read some of the cards, because they may actually tell you to move backward so many spaces, instead of forward.
Age recommendation: 7 to adult.
This game board is made with indentations for marbles to fit into. Each player has his own color of marbles and tries to move them forward to their opponant's part of the board. Marbles can only be moved one space at a time, unless your own or other player's marbles can be jumped over. The first person to move all his marbles into his opponant's position wins. For 2 - 4 players.
Skills required: This game tests your child's spacial understanding. Children must learn to stategize their positions to get where they want to go as quickly as possible.
Age recommendation: 7 to adult.
No game makes my children laugh as hard as Twister. Technically, it is neither a card or board game - unless you can count a large plastic "rug" as a "board." The "rug" has dots of several colors on it. One player uses a spinner to tell the other players to put a particular limb (hand or leg) on a particular color. This continues, with players unable to move a limb from it's former location unless the spinner tells them to. The results are hilarious as kids bend into all kinds of strange positions and get twisted into each other. The winner is the person who is last to fall.
Skills required: Color recogniation and knowing the right from the left.
Age recommendation: about 6 to adult (Younger kids can play, too, but it's much more difficult for little people to stretch across the "rug" to reach the appropriate colors.)
Technically, this isn't a board game either - but Yahtsee is too fun not to include on this list. Each player rolls a set of dice and tries to get either as many of one number as she can, or combination of numbers. Each play earns a particular number of points and the person who finishes getting all the combinations and gets the highest score wins. Like Uno, there are a lot of variations on this game, so be sure to get "Classic Yahtsee."
Skills required: Basic adding skills, plus an ability to read dice. Parents can help with the adding.
Age recommendation: about 7 to adult.
Be sure to also check out this post about what toys my kids play with year after year after year.
Aug 23, 2013
Moms have a unique viewpoint when it comes to media. When my children have been watching secular television shows, for example, their behavior and attitude usually leaves much to be desired. But if we fill our home with Christian music, movies, and other media, I always notice their actions and words are much more Christ-like.
With that in mind, I asked blogger Tanya Dennis for her recommendations on great Christian media for children. (Her kids are a bit older than mine, and I felt she had more experience in this area than me.) Her list is terrific; I think you'll find it just as helpful as I do.
Media surrounds us. Parents, especially those in the church, often bemoan the effects of the media on younger generations. Movies, music, video games…they all influence our children. Sometimes the impact goes almost unnoticed. Other times it’s quite obvious.
I remember our first day of public school. My then first-grader came home and insisted that she have shorter skirts. “My friends said the boys won’t like me if I don’t wear short skirts.” She said this pointing to a girl wearing a “Future Mrs. Beiber” t-shirt. I was horrified.
There is good news. The media can also to influence our children for good. Christian music and movies have long been criticized for inferior quality. This certainly is warranted in some cases, but we’ve come a long way, now offering highly competitive entertainment with a faith-based education. VeggieTales and Adventures in Odyssey are great, but sometimes you want something different.
As you strive to train your children consistent with your faith, consider these alternative resources. They have proven favorites in our home.
Read and Share DVD Bible [SERIES]: Based on the Read and Share Bible by Gwen Ellis (illustrated by Steve Smallman), this series offers animated vignettes of Bible stories. Most volumes include several pieces from both the Old and New Testaments. A few volumes focus only on certain holidays or stories, such as Christmas. I like this series because they’re peaceful, simple, and biblically accurate. They include a large cross-reference of stories, not just the over-done Sunday School ones.
Age Appeal: 5 and under
Total running time is 60 minutes per DVD.
On the Farm with Farmer Bob [SERIES]: Featuring the voice talents of Amy Grant and Vince Gill,
these videos use farm characters to teach and re-tell parables from Scripture. Many of these are also available in a “Literacy Edition.” These offer interactive bonus features that encourage and teach fundamental phonics and beginning reading skills, each focusing on specific letters or letter blends. My kids loved the quirky talking animals. I liked the applicable lessons taught.
Age Appeal: 4-8
Videos run 40-60 minutes in length, depending on the episode.
3-2-1-Penguins! [SERIES]: The creators of VeggieTales also produced this sci-fi series that teaches moral lessons based on faith. As twins Jason and Michelle travel throughout the galaxy with their new penguin friends they learn a lot about the fruits of the spirit, about friendship and how to live lives that honor God. Their grandmother always comes in at the end to share a memory verse and wrap up the lesson.
This is very, very similar in style to VeggieTales, but it appeals more to boys, specifically, and to older kids, generally. Only seven videos were made in this series, the last in 2008. My kids still think they’re hilarious, and I’ve caught them applying the lessons to their own situations.
Age Appeal: 5-10
Total running time is 30 minutes per video.
What’s in the Bible with Buck Denver [SERIES]: This is by far my favorite Christian video series for
kids. It was created by Phil Vischer, but has very little in common with VeggieTales. Instead of teaching morals or simple Bible stories, this series dives into theology and deeper questions about faith. It’s not just what we believe, but why we believe it, how we can know that it’s true, and what is its relevance to us today. These are crucial questions and I am so grateful to this series for helping me teach my children. As I’ve lent these out to friends and all have confessed how much the kids – and adults! – learn by watching them. Truly a fantastic series, complete with catchy songs, storytelling, animation, puppets and live characters. This series is also available as church curriculum.
The only criticism for this series relates to its interpretation of Creation. Phil Vischer mentions the “Big Bang” twice in the first episode. He does not discuss evolution or the age of the earth. Rather, he emphasizes that Christians believe differently about how long a “day” is and that the most important point about Creation is not “how” but “Who.” He acknowledges the dispute, but re-focuses the discussion on God as Creator rather than the specific way He created. Even with this, I cannot recommend the series highly enough.
Age Appeal: 6 and up
Total running time is 60 minutes. This includes two 30-minute episodes per DVD.
I do not like children’s choirs or CDs. My kids listen to what my husband and I listen to. Their favorite songs come from Third Day, Jeremy Camp, and Jamie Grace. However, there are a few CDs we have purchased with them in mind.
The Go Fish Guys: Their tagline is “music for kids that won’t drive parents bonkers.” Well, I can get my fill, but as far as kids’ music goes, they’re definitely at the top. With pop sounds and intricate harmonies, they teach kids through songs like “Bible Book Bop” and “The Ten Commandment Boogie.” They even have an entire VBS program based on their albums.
Seeds Family Worship: These CDs include 12 songs per disk, each one based on Scripture. It’s a perfect way to get God’s Word in their heads and hearts.
Note from Kristina: I'd also add the Hide 'Em In Your Heart CDs by Steve Green. They feature simple but pleasant songs that really get Bible verses into our heads. Green does a nice job of targeting verses that are especially helpful to children (like "children obey your parents in the Lord" and "when I am afraid I will trust in you")
In addition, if you're looking for audiobook CDs that aren't are Adventures in Odyssey, I recommend the Jonathan Park series, which focuses on Creation science.
I’ve not found a ton of apps that I like. Honestly, most are pretty cheesy and not worth the money. Many that are really good – like Jesus Calling – are the same, both in content and price, as bound book versions. If given a choice between a traditional book and a tablet, I’ll always prefer the book for my kids. Here are a few tablet apps that we do like.
SuperBook by CBN: (Available from the Apple Store)This offers a number of educational activities for
kids. They can read the Bible (New Living Translation), view Bible profiles, take quizzes, play games or watch videos. Age Appeal: 7-10
Granny’s Bible Dojo: (Available from the Apple Store) Something like Fruit Ninja, this game features a karate-kicking grandmother who uses her dojo to teach the books of the Bible. Players must break the board in the right order to earn prizes. Mistakes will lead to bruised and eventually broken hands. My kids and I have fun with this one! Age Appeal: 5 and up.
The American Bible Challenge Game: (available for Kindle) This app provides a fun, fast-paced Bible trivia. Any questions that are missed get added to a Bible study section that users access at the end of each level. Not only does it challenge users’ knowledge, but it also teaches and helps fill the gaps with solid Bible training. Age Appeal: 8 and up.
The Bible App: (formerly called YouVersion; available for Kindle or Apple products) This app was not created for kids, but our kids use it. It offers Bible reading plans, several versions of the Bible and daily devotional encouragements. Age Appeal: 8 and up.
Your Turn: Tell me. What are your favorite multi-media tools for your kids?
Tanya Dennis invites readers to pursue God in the dailies, even those seemingly mundane details of parenting and suburban life. She is a former contributor to Christian Children's Book Review and the author of Big Word Bible Studies, a series of in-depth explorations through the Old Testament. Learn more at her website: www.TanyaDennisBooks.com.
Dec 3, 2012
The Christmas Troll: A boy is angry with his parents for not letting him open one of his Christmas presents early and takes his little sister and runs off into a nearby forest. There, they meet a troll - a wonderful, sweet troll. He is a fantastic, unexpected gift - one they hadn't deserved, yet received all the same - and now the boy can't wait to tell everyone about it. This is a well layered story that will lead to discussions such as: Do people put God in a box? Is God more unexpected and wonderful than we think? Are God's greatest gifts the surprising ones?
Tiny Baby Jesus: "Tiny, tiny fingers touch a piece of hay./Tiny baby Jesus born in Bethlehem today. Now those very fingers,/grown so sure and strong-/Jesus is a carpenter,/working all day long." So this book goes, highlighting some aspect of Jesus at birth, then some aspect of the rest of his life - up until the miracle of his resurrection.
The Christmas List: Everyone keeps asking Emily to make a Christmas list of things she wants - but she's uncomfortable with the idea and not very excited about the holiday. Then she learns that God's love - and the action it requires - is the most important thing to put on a Christmas list.
The Three Trees: Three trees have great aspirations, but when they are cut down, they think there's no chance they will do anything great. However, the first is turned into a feeding trough that later holds baby Jesus. The second is turned into a boat from which Jesus later calms the water. The third becomes Jesus' cross. This beautiful story highlights the idea that God often uses us in ways we don't expect.
Berenstain Bears Get Ready for Christmas: This simple lift the flap book shows the bear family preparing the nativity scene for their home. They find various parts (baby Jesus, Mary, the shepherds, etc.) throughout the house (and under the flaps) and each one is explained.
My First Countdown to Christmas: Actually an advent devotional, suitable for toddlers through perhaps first grade. In addition to the devotionals, some crafts are suggested, as well as prayers.
Touch and Feel Christmas: A great first Christmas book, it tells the basic story of Jesus' birth with highly attractive collage illustrations that have touch and feel elements.
Away in a Manger: In this simple book are the lyrics to the song "Away in a Manger," accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. It's a great way to both cement the reason why we celebrate Christmas and teach your child a simple Christmas song.
When Mother Was 11 Foot 4: A beautifully written story of a boy whose mother love Christmas. But one year, Mother, now single, is working but not making much money. There may be no huge Christmas tree and abundance of gifts. Mother is defeated, but her children work to raise enough to buy a meager tree. They decorate it (including a little Sunday School project of Jesus in the manger) and when Mother walks in and sees it, the little woman suddenly feels 11 ft. 4. The children have learned the power of giving.
Pine Tree Parable: A farmer and his wife plant Christmas trees. Years pass and finally the trees are ready for selling. But one tree, the farmer's wife just can't part with; she puts a not for sale sign on it. Then a very needy family visits the tree farm. The only tree they can afford is pathetic. The little girl in the family hopefully asks for the beautiful, not for sale tree instead; the farmer's wife cannot say no. As the tree falls, she thinks, "Yes, it was a great sacrifice. but it brought even greater joy. Isn't that just like Christmas?"
Saint Nicholas: This attractive book explains the man behind the Santa legend, telling the most famous parts of his story. A man has daughters who cannot marry because they can't afford a dowry. Nicholas secretly drops the needed cash into their shoes, set before the fireplace at night. The legend of St. Nicholas - a man who serves God - begins.
Josie's Gift: Josie wants a gorgeous blue sweater for Christmas. But it's the Depression and Josie's father just died. Christmas, she thinks, is about everything she doesn't have. On Christmas Eve, Josie spots a package under the tree and secretly opens it; it's her sweater! Yet moments later, she feels just as empty as she was before opening the box. She walks outside, asking God for answers. She discovers a man and his wife huddled in the barn, with an infant in their arms. They need a warm place to sleep for the night. Josie tucks her blue sweater around the baby. “Christmas is not about what we want. It’s about what we have.” Josie heartfully thanks God for Jesus and for Christmas. Because Christmas, the author concludes, is about “what she had, deep down in her soul that only God could give.”
Legend of the Christmas Stocking: There are a number of books out there explaining Christmas symbols with a Christian slant, but The Legend of the Christmas Stocking is by far the best-written. It's the story of a boy who longs for a beautiful model ship for Christmas - but there isn't much money for presents. Then the boy hears a sermon explaining why we use Christmas stockings - and the he decides to sacrifice his own desires so he can give gifts to his mother and sisters.
Gift of the Christmas Cookie: It is the 1930s, in the heart of the Depression. To one boy, Christmas doesn't seem very appealing without his father (who is far away, working) or presents. His mother makes some Christmas cookies for the poor, explaining such cookies were originally used to tell the story of Jesus' birth. Still, the boy is not happy the cookies will go to others, instead of him. Yet when his mother offers him the biggest of the cookies, the boy gives it to a vagrant man...then tells him the story of Jesus' birth.
Waiting for Christmas: Is a story about waiting patiently for Christmas. In it, a young German boy learns Jesus had to wait two or three years for his gifts from the wise men. To help the waiting, his mother gives him a daily advent cookie. “Christmas would come, he knew. For now, he would just have to wait. But that was all right. Some things are worth waiting for.”
The Tale of Baboushka: Baboushka ("grandmother" in Russian) keeps a very tidy house, and when three visitors come to her door, she makes sure they have exactly the food, drink, and shelter they need. When they tell her they are traveling to meet a new king (Jesus) and ask her to join them, Baboushka says she will follow - but first she will tidy her home. By the time she gets around to Jesus, the star guiding the way to him is gone, so she travels around giving gifts to children around the world, ever in search of the king.