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Monday, June 19, 2017

Miacademy Review


For those of you who remember, quiet a while ago, I reviewed one of their other learning site-Always Icecream for girls and and have a lifetime membership to that and to Clever Dragons for boys because we enjoy their safe, moderated content so much.  Now, the same parent company has created another learning site where all kids can find a "safe, wholesome, and fun place to learn online".    That site is called Miacademy.

Beyond being open to both boys and girls, what makes Miacademy so very different from many other sites out there is the emphasis on meeting your child where they are at, meaning this site is great for "normal" kids, but also perfect for those that need a little extra help.  It begins when you first sign your kids up.

In this box above, parents configure learning levels and social features.  You can set difficulty generally, by only adjusting the top bar across any range you want-as wide or narrow as you wish.  Or, you can choose to go subject by subject...or a combination of both.  Here, I left most of it set to the upper range, but keyed in on the foreign language setting and made that one lower, knowing that my child's exposure to ASL was probably not going to help them much with French or Spanish games.  Socially, you can choose to have them be able to interact with others in the community or not, so they can just be there to learn, or they can take place in the group games.

Parents' accounts have two levels- free and premium.  With the free membership, you can assign your student(s)' s learning and social levels, choose whether learning and enrichment videos are accessible to them, receive weekly emails with your student(s)'s progress, and give them bonus site based currency for chores or schoolwork done at home.  Here is what you get for the premium membership:

Premium Parent Membership Benefits 
  • Assign practice from any learning area on Miacademy.

  • Preview and assign assessments. You'll receive statistics on your child's scores when your child completes the test.

  • See a detailed list of incorrect answers. (You can use this to help focus your teaching where it's most needed.)

  • Require an assignment to be completed before your child explores other site areas.

  • Receive detailed reports about your child's assessment progress as part of our weekly update.

  • Track study time and see how much time your children spend in each learning area.

  • Print customizable report cards for independent study portfolios or school.

  • One Premium Parent membership covers all paid child accounts.
The parent premium membership is $199 for a lifetime, or $99 for one year.

Here's a sample of the letter portion of the weekly email you receive letting you know what your student has been working on:

When your student first logs into the site, they create a "mini me".  that figure is initially customizable  in a somewhat limited fashion, but as they play more, they can design clothes of their own for their figure to wear.  Then, they can even sell the clothes (and other items) they design to others in the site, and the site tracks how well their item sells and shop does overall allowing them to learn about business as well.

The map helps them explore their world, and as you can guess, in the design studio is where they can do all their creating, whereas the shops for the items are on the right hand side.


I have to say, this creative area is one of my daughter's favorite parts of Miacademy.  She loves being able to design clothing and furniture items, or just works of art, and then offer them for sale to others.  And she loves seeing all the creative things others have designed!  That apple doesn't fall far from the tree though, because her sister typically has one of the top selling shops on Always Icecream, and I really credit that with planting the seed for her digital design aspirations.

The above circle explains the Miacademy model best, as it's not all designing clothing or fun and games, it's about smart learning.  Kids have the opportunity to learn across the curriculum through multi-level educational quizzes and videos.  There is lots of appreciation for accomplishment like achievement medals earned in game, praise and incentives awarded by parents, and peer support.  And then there is plenty of incentive with the earning of "in game" currency.  "Gold" earned from doing learning games or watching learning videos can be used to purchase decorations for your castle, expansions to your castle, pets, new clothes, play creative games, or, if you allow it, watch entertaining videos (which are still approved by the moderators).

 Here's an example of a science game.  During the initial assessment process, the games begin somewhat simple and allow students to skip 5 levels once they have shown some competency.  They can always go back a level as well.


 Here's an example of earning a medal in a a game.


This is the video screen.  The ones with coins on them will earn the students coins to watch them, and the ones without cost them coins to watch them.  Again, all videos have to be approved before they are allowed on the site, but you can also chose to not allow your child access to videos if you'd like.

OBM says:  I have 4 kids, but really only one that falls within this age range anymore.  I have to say though, that even though my 17 year old daughter has "aged out" of Always Icecream, she loves to go on there and create new things from time to time because she's artistic and with AI she found a community and an outlet for her artistry she really enjoyed.  She also learned SO much through the videos about geography and other subjects.  But every child is different, and for whatever reason, even thought she enjoys AI, my youngest child has LOVED Miacademy even more.  She is truly my Ferdinand...preferring to smell the flowers in the field over doing the schoolwork in front of her...but she will willingly do Miacademy all day long.  NOT that it is a replacement for a full day of school.  But it is a welcome change to fighting over everything, for sure.  I like it because it has solid educational material that she will watch and do without fighting with me about.  And I like it because, unlike YouTube and a lot of other video sources out there, once she's done watching one video, I don't have to worry about the content of the NEXT one that is going to pop up.  She likes it because she can work on her own.  I can use the parent's premium membership to assign her work if I want to, but so far I've just let her wander as the mood suits her and kept track of it with the weekly emails.  We'll see how that changes as time passes...I can tell you the parent company behind Miacademy is very responsive and really listens to any concerns you might have, which in my mind's eye is another huge plus in today's day and age.  The biggest "con" I would have is that the artificial intelligence voice that speaks through most of the games can be hard to understand sometimes for critical things like phonics games where you are trying to distinguish between very similar sounding words or phonemes, which sometimes results in erroneous "incorrect" answers.  But that doesn't happen too often, so it's something I can get past given the other positives.

To sign up for a free trial of Miacademy, just click the link.  Pricing is $9,95 a month ($4,95 for your first month), $89 a year, or $189 for a lifetime.  If you have multiple kids and many, many years ahead of you, then the family lifetime might be your best bet.  It's $389 for up to 4 children.  My friend Susan had multiple students using Miacademy, so you can see the benefits of that if you read her review here: Homeschooling Hearts and Minds.




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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Open Hands-Laura Story's Newest CD {A Flyby Review}



When the "call" came out to review this new album by Laura Story, I was eager to say "yes"!  Her song Blessings was a real blessing to me, as I'm sure it was to so many people out there based on its popularity. For those of you not familiar with Laura, here's a bit of her bio:

GRAMMY® award winning artist, speaker, songwriter, author and worship leader Laura Story has a gift for penning songs that connect with people all around the world. Among her successes as a solo artist with her smash hits “Mighty to Save” and “Blessings,” Laura has also penned hit songs for other renowned artists including Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable.” Her solo artist music debut in 2008 with Great God Who Saves led to four Dove nominations and the award for “Inspirational Album of the Year.”


I loved this backstory that we were given about the inspiration for this album:

Throughout the Bible, there are countless stories of ordinary people whole-heartedly attempting to live a life fully surrendered to God’s unique calling on their lives. More than once, God asks people of faith to relinquish control and simply trust Him. These days, singer/songwriter Laura Story is discovering the beauty found in letting go. It’s this posture of surrender that she’s striving for on her fifth studio album, Open Hands (Fair Trade Services).
“We have this picture all the way through the Scriptures of all these great leaders in this process of surrendering everything. What the Lord is asking them is not, ‘You need to hold on tighter. You need to manage this better.’ What the Lord asks us is to surrender,” she offers, “It’s about learning to live with open hands, learning to live life in this constant state of saying, ‘Lord, my life is Yours. My time is Yours. My resources are Yours. All of this is Yours. Do what You will.’”

I found this to be such a true sentiment.  Having just finished a study of Ezekiel, I was struck by all the odd (to the observer), difficult things God asked Ezekiel to do, and he lived a life fully surrendered.  Time and time again in the Bible, ordinary people do extraordinary things when they let go and let God.


And this quote was so insightful:

 “Worship at the very core of what it is is ‘worth-ship.’ It’s the easiest definition I’ve ever heard of worship. It’s giving God worth, and sometimes that means verbal adoration and praise. Sometimes that’s showing Him worth with our calendars and our checking accounts. No matter what it is, it always begins with open hands. It always begins with a willingness to say, ‘You are worth whatever cost you call me to give,’” she maintains. “Worship in its very core begins with surrender. That’s how we really show God that He’s worth it all.”

OBM says: Open Hands does a wonderful job of taking you to the throne of grace.   From the title song, which features guest vocals from Mac Powell of Third Day fame, to my personal favorite For the Love of My King- a beautiful updated version of My Jesus I Love Thee, each of these songs definitely speaks of God's worth-ship.  The last song, Grace Abounds, is simplistic, but lovely, and such a great reminder on days when everything seems to be going wrong.  Overall, Open Hands is truly a worshipful CD that would make a wonderful addition to any collection.

To purchase the album or any of the songs individually, you can go to iTunes.

To follow Laura Story and her music, you can use any of the links below:



I have great news for one reader!  I have a copy of Open Hands to give away this week.  Just enter the raffle below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Returning by Rachelle Dekker {A Tyndale Review}

***I want to start by saying I was meant to post this on the 17th for the book's launch, but my computer has been misbehaving terribly, and I have not been able to get it working, even with a “tech guy” for a husband.  I feel terrible, and I am ever so appreciative to Tyndale and Ms. Dekker for the opportunity to review this book.***


I was SO excited to be chosen to review this final book in Rachelle Dekker’s The Seer series.  I’ve had the chance to review each of the other books in the series and was very much looking forward to reading The Returning and seeing how the story concluded.  Before I get too much into my thoughts, here’s a little background on the book and the author.



 The oldest daughter of New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker, Rachelle Dekker was inspired early on to discover truth through the avenue of storytelling. She graduated with a degree in communications and spent several years in marketing and corporate recruiting before making the transition to write full-time. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Daniel, and their diva cat, Blair.

Tyndale provided some Q&A about the book directly from the author, which is so insightful.

Set the scene for The Returning. What has happened since The Calling ended? Well, it’s been nearly 20 years, and the world has changed. I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t read the first two, so I’ll just say the world is very different and much more dangerous than it once was. But something is brewing under the surface. Change is coming, and people know it. 

What themes are explored in this book? Identity is something I am always exploring, so that’s no different in The Returning. But in this novel I took a really hard look at forgiveness and how that relates to our journey of discovering who we really are.

The theme of identity is explored in all three Seer books. How does forgiveness relate to identity? For me, forgiveness is more about the one who feels wronged than the one who committed the wrong. What if, for a moment, you believed that nothing could harm you? That you, as a believer, are seated at the Father’s table and standing with him? Can anything harm the Father? If you believe no, then can anything harm you—the true you, the true spirited self? So then, forgiveness becomes more about letting go of false belief and stepping into the true identity that the Father gave to you. I know it’s radical, but belief like that could change the world, don’t you think? 

How do you hope this book will resonate with your readers? I hope, as with both of the other books, that the reader sees themselves in the characters and that the story causes them to look inward. To ask hard questions like, Who am I? What am I capable of? Do I see myself the way the Father does? Can I? I hope it challenges their idea of identity and then gives them hope to see themselves and others more clearly. Because that’s how these stories have impacted me, and we are all really just the same. 

OBM says:  I read this book over the course of a day.  It sucked me in, the wanting to know the end of all the characters’ stories.  I personally enjoyed this book so much more than the second one and felt that it came back around to the original feel of the first book, The Choosing.  I love that there are discussion questions at the end, not because I am in a book club, or because I have anyone to discuss the book with, but because they make me think a bit more about the story.  It’s an odd genre- this post-apocalyptic/dystopian but decidedly Christian one-since that possibility doesn’t really line up with how I understand end-times to work, but it does give YA readers who enjoy the post-apocalyptic genre a faith filled series to enjoy.  And reading Ms. Dekker's Q&A made me look at the themes beyond the possibility of whether the scenario was plausible or not belief-wise in my mind's eye.  I did thoroughly enjoy the entire series-it's very readable, and definitely draws you into the story that she is telling.  The one character I struggled with a lot was Aaron, as I wasn't sure what he was exactly supposed to represent, and so I'll share Ms. Dekker's words on him from her Q&A:  What is he supposed to represent and what kind of spiritual leader is he? I like to leave this one open, which I know isn’t really the answer you want. I want the reader to decide who he is to them. For me he’s a guiding light, an angel maybe, a representation of the spirit who communicates with us and leads us. He can be many things—mostly, though, he’s a great way to hear truth.  I'd wholeheartedly agree that he was the character through which the greatest amount of Biblical truth was spoken.

The Seer series in general, and The Returning specifically, is available on Tyndale.com and in bookstores everywhere.
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