Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Easter Story - Some Reflections

I couldn't let this weekend pass by without blogging something about Easter.  I often struggle to find something clever or worthwhile to blog about, but this weekend affords me a great subject.

I took up a challenge at church on Sunday to read the entire New Testament in 30 days.  Yesterday was day four, and the reading for the day included Jesus' death and resurrection in Matthew.  That was fitting seeing as yesterday was Good Friday.

As I read I noticed some things I hadn't noticed before or that stuck out to me.  Some probably have no significance; they are just my observations.

1.  Most people will say that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey that "Palm Sunday."  Did you know that he had the disciples bring a donkey and her colt?

2.  People spread their cloaks on the road for Jesus to walk over.  Others spread branches from the trees.  I guess it's a good thing we don't call it "Cloak Sunday."

3.  I love the passage in Matthew 22.  The Sadducees kept asking questions which Jesus answered beautifully.  Once he had silenced them, the Pharisees figured they could trip him up.  Question after question, Jesus answered.  Finally, in verse 47, it says, "No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions."  Think about asking the smartest person you know or a teacher question after question to try to stump them.  Jesus couldn't be stumped.  I love it!

4.  In the middle of Matthew 26, we read how Peter tells Jesus he would never disown him.  At the end of the chapter, we read that Peter does, in fact, disown Jesus, not just once but three times.  After Jesus is buried and rises from the dead that Sunday morning, we read at the end of the Gospel of John that Jesus "reinstates Peter."  Even though Peter disowned Jesus, he forgave him.  Jesus used this coward to build his church.  Matthew 16:18 states, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."  If God can use this man, who was so weak, so powerfully, what can he do with me?

5.  Think about the sacrifice Christ made.  He predicted his death for at least a week before it happened.  He knew it was coming, yet the night it happened, he was praying in the garden.  If it had been me, I would have been trying to get as far away as possible.  He stayed.  When one of his disciples cut off the ear of the soldier after they tried to take him away, he didn't say, "Serves you right."  He put the ear back on and told his disciples to put their swords away.  He then was taken away and beaten and ripped apart.

While he was on the cross and the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him, he could have done something to take himself off the cross, but he stayed there.  He bled.  He died.

6.  I think about Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" going to the tomb that Sunday morning.  There was a violent earthquake.  I know I've read this passage before, but I don't remember the earthquake.  I think I skip over that and go straight to the angel and the empty tomb.  Think about it, though - a violent earthquake.  It probably wasn't a 4 on the Richter scale.  It was probably around a 7 (of course I'm guessing).  The angel coming from heaven and rolling away the stone caused the earthquake.  That would have been scary and amazing all at the same time.

7.  The angel told the women that Jesus had risen and was going ahead of them to Galilee and they were to go and tell the disciples, but Jesus met them on the way.  I get a picture of Jesus being so excited he had to see them.

8.  Jesus later ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father.  He is coming back again.  I'm pretty sure he isn't going to say, "Greetings," like he said to the two women in Matthew.  He will come back riding on the "clouds with great power and glory."  Another passage talks about the Lord coming with a loud command.  The sun will be darkened; the stars will fall from the sky.  Everybody on earth will know that something is going on.  Will you be ready?

I read a quote the other day that talked about the fact that the winner of the spiritual war has been decided, so it makes no sense that people are still trying to decide what side they want to fight for.  Christ has already won.  What side will you fight for?  The winning side or the losing side?

It doesn't matter what you've done, Christ knew you'd do it when he went to the cross.  That's why he went.  He created a way for you and me to have a relationship with him and be wiped clean.  Ever wish you could just start over with a clean slate?  You can.  That's exactly what Christ does for us when we ask him into our lives and let him be our Lord, the one we live for.

Look at the disciples; they were some of the lowest of the low by society's standards, and Jesus dined with prostitutes and "sinners."  The people who are sick are the one in need of the doctor, as Jesus says.  He healed me.  He can heal you, too!!

Happy Easter!!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Adventus Piano Software Informational Review

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Founded in 1996, Adventus is a leader in interactive music learning.  Their product, MusIQ HomeSchool, is an award-winning piano and music curriculum that enables children to learn how to play at home at their own pace without the added cost of a piano teacher.  There are seven years' worth of lesson plans for beginner to intermediate pianists.  Besides piano instruction, there are activity sheets, quizzes, games, and assessments.

The Early Curriculum is geared towards children ages 4-10 and is broken down into a three-year program.  Each year looks at different topics related to pitch & notation and rhythm.   There are 25 lessons in year one and 35 lessons in both years 2 and 3.  The "teach, practice, apply" method is used in these beginning years.  Students are taught to read music, play with both hands, compose, and improvise.

The Multi-level Curriculum is geared towards people ages 10-adult.  There are four years in the multi-level curriculum.  It uses a program called, Piano Suite, which allows the student to learn songs from many types of musical styles such as rock, classical, and jazz; learn music theory and music history; and compose, print, and play their own music.  Ear Training Coach is also a part of this multi-level curriculum and helps the student develop their musical ear.

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There are several things to consider when deciding which package to purchase.  First, you need to determine the level of your child and/or yourself, beginner or intermediate.  Next, since a MIDI keyboard is required, you need to decide if you are going to purchase this through Adventus or buy one on your own.  Third, do you want to subscribe monthly for $10.95 and have access online to all products or buy the CD-ROM.  

If you choose to forego the monthly subscription for the CD-ROM, the choices for the early curriculum are as follows:

Years 1-3 bundle pack which includes Children's Music Journey 1-3, beginner level 1 lesson plans, and an M-Audio KeyRig 49 MIDI piano keyboard is $309.95.  You save $60 buying it as a bundle.

The year 1 Quick Start bundle includes Children's Music Journey 1, beginner level 1 lesson plans, and the keyboard is $199.95.

Each year sold separately without the MIDI keyboard is only $89.95 and includes the Children's Music Journey and the lesson plans for the year you are buying.

The lesson plans only, which you would need for years 2 and 3 if you purchase the bundle pack are $29.95.

For $489.95, a complete MusIQ HomeSchool Bundle can be purchased.  It includes everything in the bundle pack plus Piano Suite Premier, Ear Training Coach 1 & 2 and 3 & 4, and level 1 lesson plans.

The multi-level Curriculum is available in the following packages:

The Quick Start Bundle includes Piano Suite Premier which is used every year in this curriculum, level 1 lesson plans, and the 49-key MIDI keyboard for $219.95.

Year 1 includes Piano Suite Premier and level 1 lesson plans for $109.95.  It assumes the user already has the keyboard required.

Year 2 includes Ear Training Coach 1 & 2 and level 2 lesson plans for $59.95.

Year 3 includes Ear Training Coach 3 & 4 and level 3 lesson plans for $59.95.

Year 4 includes MusIQ Challenger Game and level 4 lesson plans for $69.95.

free 7-day trial is also available.

The keyboard, sold separately, and several other accessories such as a cable that will transform older MIDI keyboards that aren't USB compatible are available on the Keyboards and Accessories page.

I used to have an 88-key MIDI piano keyboard.  I really wish I still had it after looking at the information about this program.  I always loved playing but was never really great.  I think this program could put me at a level that I would want to reach.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What's Your Legacy?

I learned something very interesting today.  Pearls are created inside oysters because a foreign substance, an irritant, gets under the shell of the oyster.  The oyster then secretes a film to cover the foreign substance; this becomes the pearl.  Something beautiful is formed from an irritant.  This caused me to wonder how do I handle irritants?  Ask yourself, how do you handle irritants?  Do we grow and mature, becoming more beautiful on the inside, or do we allow that irritant to scrape away at our insides, our heart and mind, until we are nothing but a nasty, ugly shell with no tender insides?

A few weeks ago, we received a kids' leadership book to review that asked the question, "What kind of a legacy are you creating?"  This has had me thinking about what I might leave behind for my kids and their kids.  I would like to think that I'm a fairly good person, that I don't have too many hang ups but, if I'm honest and really dig deep (don't have to go to deep), I'd see that I am impatient and selfish.  Probably deep down, we all are.  We all sin.  At the root of sin is satisfying ourselves.

We've (I've) got to get beyond that selfishness.  When I believed in Jesus and accepted his death on the cross for my sin and believed he rose from the dead, I became his child.  God, the Father, had given me a way to him that I would not have had were it not for his son's death.  In that, he made it so I would never have to be alone.  I would never have to go through the hard times of life by myself.  He gave me his Holy Spirit to guide me and convict me when I am doing something wrong.

Why do I still do things wrong?  Because I am not listening to the Holy Spirit.  I hold myself in higher regard than the God of the universe.  Putting that in writing makes it sound so foolish.  Well, that's because it is.  Whenever we do something that is outside of God's will, we think we are better than God.  We have no humility, just arrogant pride.

How, then, can I leave a good legacy for my children?  How can I ever hope for them to turn out to be kind and compassionate, loving and joyful?  I must model that in my life.  I must put God first even if no one around me does.  I need to focus on him and be willing to allow him to change me and make me beautiful inside, like the pearl.  There will be all sorts of things that happen in my life over which I have no control at all, irritants.  The kids fight.  The dog jumps and chews.  I get a large bill from a doctor.  I get sick.  And on and on.  You get the point.  What will I do with those situations?  What choice will I make?  Will I get all bent out of shape and be miserable or will I choose to go to God?  I know what the answer should be. It's as clear as day.  I am a selfish sinner, though, and I forget that God is beside me always wanting to help me and guide me.  Oh, how I wish I could always remember that and turn to him when everything isn't hunky-dory.  Things would be better; that's not to say that everything would turn out perfectly, but I would have a different perspective.  I would be more patient and kind, more peaceful and loving.

That's the legacy I want to leave for my kids, my family, and my friends.  I want them to say when I am gone, "Wow!  She really loved the Lord and trusted in him for everything.  It was great to know someone with such great faith."  I'm not sure at this point that that can be said.  Hopefully, I still have years ahead of me to change so that God can fix what I've broken.

What have you broken?  What is your legacy?  Is it one that needs changed.  Allow God to change you and give you his fruit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Trust in him and see what he can do when you submit and humble yourself before him.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Essentials in Writing

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Is there anyone out there who doesn't want their kids to be confident and enjoy the study of language?  Essentials in Writing is a company devoted to producing "confident writers who enjoy the study of language."  Theirs is a "complete language arts curriculum with emphasis on composition...Grades 7 and 8 weave grammar instruction into the lessons during the drafting and revising stage of the writing process."

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We received the Seventh Grade Program which included 3 lesson DVDs and a CD-ROM with printable worksheets, assignments sheets, and an answer key in PDF format.  (Future orders will contain a link to downloadable PDF files and no CD-ROM.)  The instructor, Matthew Stephens, is shown on the DVD in front of a white board on which he writes things during the lesson, just as if he were in a classroom.

The topics covered in the seventh grade program are:
- Sentence structure
- Compound sentences
- Complex sentences
- Prepositional phrases
 - Appositive phrases
- Formal paragraph structure
- The Writing process
- Mechanics of Dialogue
- Figurative Language
- Using Imagery
- Narrative Writing
- A Business Letter
- Persuasive Writing
- Parts of a Five Paragraph Essay
- Expository Essay
- Writing a Summary
- Compare/contrast essay
- Descriptive Writing
- The Research Paper

It is certainly not the most exciting program for writing I've seen, but the segments are short enough to not be boring.  Nate, my 7th grader, never complained about watching it, although he did complain about doing the worksheets.

I am a worksheet person; Nate is not.  Perhaps he doesn't see any use in them; he'd rather just write.  I have the mindset of needing to have something to fill a portfolio for the school district.  Nate has been writing for a while now and simply needs further instruction which is what the videos offered.  He watched 6 or 7 segments about sentences.  Each new segment begins with the wording related to the segment at the bottom of the screen.  I think he watched 2 segments about paragraphs and 2 lessons related to essay writing.  I simply put the DVDs into my computer, and Nate sat on the couch and watched the lessons.

At the end of each lesson, I gave him a few worksheets to do.  There are plenty of worksheets to last a couple of days depending on how you use them.  A letter is included with the worksheets that explains the suggested process: look at the worksheets for the day's lesson, watch the video lesson, complete the assignment, and look at the next lesson.  A sample lesson plan is also included which is helpful to follow.

Each DVD set for each grade level sells for $40.  A pre-printed workbook is available for $20 for each grade as well if you don't want to use your own ink and paper to print out the worksheets.  

There are so many things we were unable to get through in the short review period, but we will continue to use it because of the wealth of information that there still is to learn.

If you are interested in reading other reviews about Essentials in Writing, please go to the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

ARTistic Pursuits: A Review

ARTistic Pursuits is a company which has put together some amazing art books for kids in preschool through high school.  Jacob, my 9th grader, had the opportunity to use the Book 1 for High School: The Elements of Art and Composition.  He has a lot of courses this year that are more difficult than he is used to, so I was glad to get an art curriculum to review because he loves to draw.  He is especially good at drawing animals, as can be seen by the lizard he drew for an assignment in one of the first two units.  We made it through two whole units and two lessons in the third unit while reviewing this book.  He wants to continue using the book even though the official review period is over.  He said he would gladly keep using it because he really likes it.

There are 16 different units contained in this book and include such things as space, line, texture, form, value, contrast and unity, composition, balance, rhythm, depth by overlapping, one- and two-point perspective, atmospheric perspective, and others.  Jacob worked on space, line, and began working on texture.  This book includes a lot of different items in a lesson.  There is art appreciation.  The student is shown how an existing piece of art, which is displayed in color, exhibits clearly the topic of the lesson, be it balance, texture, or some other element. They are given a brief biography of the artist and an explanation of the history in which the artist lived and how it affected him and his art.  Work by other students is included throughout the book.  Inspirational quotes are also scattered throughout the book.

There are only a few art items needed during the first semester of the course: a drawing pencil set which includes 2H through 4B pencils, a vinyl eraser, a pencil sharpener, and a drawing pad.  The second course requires a few more items like vine charcoal, compressed charcoal, a charcoal paper pad, a kneaded eraser, and a few other items.  The second semester begins at unit 8  and teaches components of composition.  All of the supplies are able to be purchased through ARTistic Pursuits if you would rather not have to go out and find them yourself.  Simply click on the "Art Supply Packs" link and choose the pack that goes with the book you will be using.

I like that this high school course is student-directed.  The book is written to the student.  I don't need to do anything except make sure his assignments are getting done which really isn't a problem when it comes to art.  Every day I see him walking around with his sketch pad finding household items or items outside he can draw.  He had a clay lizard in his room which he drew for an assignment in unit 2.

Each of the high school books is $47.95 and includes 68 lessons on 92 pages. The second high school book is entitled, "Color and Composition," and works more with paint than with pencil and charcoal.  Jacob is a drawer, so this first book works very well for him.

I asked Jacob to give his opinion, and he says, "It is fun.  Some of the lessons give you a little bit too much work, like today's lesson that had you draw 10 things.  Otherwise, it is fun and can help you develop in your artistic skills.  If you wanted to be an artist, then this would probably be the curriculum for you."

If you would like to read more reviews about ARTistic Pursuits' products, you can find them on the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Screwtape Letters Dramatization: A Review

Last night, performing at the Times Union-Moran Theater in Jacksonville was Brent Harris in 

John and I had the opportunity to go downtown and see this production thanks to a friend of his who had purchased tickets but couldn't go.  He graciously gave his tickets to John.  We were just three rows behind the orchestra pit.  They were the best free seats I've ever had.

Photo: Right up front. Not bad for the price... free!

I have never read The Screwtape Letters but had a good idea what it was about from what others have said.  I wish I had read it, though, so I would have been a bit more prepared for what I was going to see.  Brent Harris portrayed "His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape."  He spoke almost continuously for 90 minutes.  Having done some minor acting myself (very minor), I was extremely impressed by his ability to memorize so much and be virtually alone on the stage the whole time.  There was another character, Toadpipe, portrayed by Tamala Bakkensen, but this creature didn't speak.  She simply hopped around the stage, making extremely creepy noises most of the time and even throwing up when they were talking about prayer.  I will remain convinced it was just water she was spewing.  I don't want to know if it wasn't.

In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape dictates letters to his nephew, Wormwood, about how to keep his "patient" from becoming a Christian.  There are various techniques he can employ such as instilling pride, temptations, noise and busyness, apathy, etc.  The setting of the whole play is hell.  There was a wall resembling the Paris catacombs with skulls and bones displayed across it.  There was a ladder that reached up past where one could see.  Halfway up the ladder was a mailbox into which Toadpipe put each of Screwtapes letters and out of which she retrieved Wormwood's letters.  A chair for Screwtape and two tables sat on a slanted piece of stone.  The lighting was dark, sometimes red to resemble the fires of hell.  Twice during the play, bright white light flashed onto the stage to resemble heavenly light.  At times, when Screwtape was very angry, his voice reverberated, adding to the eerie feeling of this production.

When the play was over, I remarked to John that that was one of the weirdest things I had ever seen.  The producer, Max McLean, came out after it was over and invited the audience to stay for a time of discussion.  About half of the audience stayed, John and I with them.  I enjoyed this time more than the play, not to detract from the remarkable performance of Brent Harris.  Being able to learn more about people is something I truly love.  We learned about Max McLean's spiritual journey.  We talked about Christianity in the world of theater.  Mr. McLean and Mr. Harris were able to expound on some of the ideas presented in the play.  I think this allowed me to get past how strange the play was and focus on the message of it and the amazing wisdom and insight of C. S. Lewis.

It left me with questions I can ask myself: How strong is my faith?  How serious am I when I pray to God?  I was convicted by the segment where Toadpipe mimicked a person falling asleep when praying.  How often do I pray when I am too tired and end up falling asleep?  How often do I allow myself to be busy and just forget to read God's Word or pray?  Do I think that I am holier than I am?  Do I have too much pride in my knowledge?

There is no doubt that this play will stick with me for a very long time.  I will probably end up reading The Screwtape Letters so that I can be reminded of the spiritual battle that rages and how any apathy or lukewarmness I may display only serves to please the enemy.  I want to be sure my life is pleasing to the Lord.

I am glad I had the chance to see this dramatization.  If you don't have the opportunity to see it in person, read the book.

Thank you, Daniel, for giving us your tickets!!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A God of Peace

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Romans 15:13

Most of us have hectic lives, things that go on in our lives beyond our own control that can cause us stress.  If our hope is in Christ, we don't need to worry.  Most people have heard the verses in Matthew 6 that tell us not to worry.  Why, then, is it so hard to stop worrying?  Why is it so hard to trust God?  Even when given ample evidence of his provision in our lives during our moving process, I still suffer from anxiety and panic attacks.  I allow myself to be consumed by the here and now and the what ifs and forget to turn to God when I have fear.

I stopped watching the news a while back because I would rather have my reality be what is real (go figure) instead of what the media tells me is real.  Ever heard of sensationalism?  I love the definition - the use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy in order to provoke public interest (as defined on  Before you comment and tell me I need to know what is going on and should be watching the news, know that I read enough headlines on Facebook and hear plenty of news through the Christian radio station that I listen to.  If I listen to the news, even the supposedly conservative news, I get stressed out.  If I read headlines, I can step back and think objectively before reading a biased article.

Worry isn't new to this 21st century.  It is seen in the New Testament which was written 2000 years ago. I'm sure it was in Old Testament times as well.  Can anyone doubt the Hebrew mothers worried and feared for the lives of their firstborn sons when Pharoah ordered they all be executed?  We read in I Kings 19 about how the prophet Elijah, after watching God send fire to burn up an offering, the stones of the altar, the wood, the soil, and even lick up the water that Elijah had poured over it all to prove to the people that God existed, ran for his life because he feared Jezebel who threatened to kill him.

Time and time again we see God working.  He is faithful.  We, however, are sinful people.  We are easily led astray.  I thank God for his mercy.  As a parent myself, I would grow weary if I watched my children making the same mistakes over and over again and forgetting that I am here to help them.  However, God never forsakes his children.  If you are his child, you are richly blessed.

I Corinthians 10:13 tells us "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."  God loves us so much he doesn't leave us alone.  He provides a way out of temptation.  I would say the urge to worry is a temptation.  It takes the focus off of God.  In my own life, I know that when I worry it is because I am trying to figure out what I can do to fix the situation. I don't turn to God first.  When you think about the fact that you can go to the One who created the universe and all that is in it, who made men and women and breathed HIS breath into them to give them life, who chose to give up his own life in the most horrible and painful way so that we are now able to "approach his throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16), why in the world wouldn't I go to him first?  How in the world could I, why do I, forget to go to him first?

I have noticed when I start to have a panic attack because I am thinking of things I can't control if I think about God, pray to him, sing praises to him, my anxiety goes away.  When I focus on him, things are put into perspective.  God will always be in control, and no one can ever change that.  Even if people say God doesn't exist, the fact remains that God does exist.  That fact is evident all around us.  I experienced it today when he saved me from an accident that could have potentially ended my life.  The way it ended I can only attribute to God's grace and mercy.

So, the more I turn to God, the greater my faith will become.  The greater my faith becomes, the more hope I will have, the more joy I will have, and the more peace I will have!!

I will leave you with this verse spoken by Jesus.  I encourage you to read it again and again, soak it in, put it on your fridge, remember it...

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."  John 14:27.  (I added the bold and italics.)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Getting a Jump on College Planning

I haven't given college planning a whole lot of thought even though my oldest, Jacob, is in ninth grade.  When given the opportunity to review the product, Going to College and Paying for It Online Video and Workbook from College Common Sense, I saw it as an opportunity to get a head start on planning for Jake's next step.  I was soon to find out that I'm a bit behind in the game.


This product was put together by a woman, Denise Ames, who has knowledge in this area and who wants to see students and families succeed in getting into college and finding the best financial aid that is available.  The "About Us" page on the website says it well:

"We have inside knowledge about the college admissions and financial aid process from being in the industry for the last 10 years. We have helped thousands of students and families through this process on a one-on-one basis and want to reach more people."

As Jake and I started watching the videos that are a part of this course and reading the PDF files that we were able to download, we learned quickly that we could have, and quite possibly should have, started this process years ago.  This has caused me to think very critically about where we are in the process and how we will handle the next three years of high school homeschooling.

The videos included in this program are entitled, "The Big Picture," "How Financial Aid Works," "All About the Free Money," "The System that Works," "You in the Process," and "Put it All Together."  Each video includes a PDF file, which I like because they are written mostly to the student.  This puts the ball in their court.  This makes them, hopefully, want to learn all they need to learn and do all they need to do in order to secure their future when it comes to higher learning.

PhotobucketThere are also email newsletters that can be sent to you which contain lesson plans each month.  The newsletters are free.  The only thing College Common Sense charges for is the $25 annual membership to view the PDF files and videos for a year.  You also have the option of ordering everything in the form of a workbook and DVDs for $50 (plus $5 shipping).  We have been using the online version and have not experienced any issues with it whatsoever.

This program isn't just for high school students, though.  Parents can begin thinking about college and scholarships with their kids who are elementary-school age.  The things I am learning now while trying to help Jake will definitely come in handy as my 13 year old enters high school in two years and in four years when my youngest enters high school.  Not just that, but there are scholarships available to even young children.  They are out there.  This program helps you find them.  Imagine knowing where to find scholarships for your 8 year old, to win them, and to have the money waiting for them to use once they enter college.  I am excited at the prospect.  I am also less nervous about the whole process now that I have had some help learning what needs done, where to find what I need, and how to obtain scholarships and grants, etc.

This has been one of the most useful products I have reviewed since I started with the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

If you'd like to view other reviews about this product, you can go to the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

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