Friday, May 31, 2013

Free and Very Cheap United States History Kindle E-Books for Homeschooling

I am poking around on Amazon looking for primary source documents for my Nook so I thought I would post the free and super cheap deals I have found. This is by no means comprehensive but I am linking anything I find that might be helpful. THERE ARE AFFILIATE LINKS IN THIS POST:


The Mayflower Compact

William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation

Declaration of Independence

The United States Constitution

Bill of Rights


All 5 Volumes of The Life of George Washington by John Marshall

Democracy in America Volumes 1 and 2 by Alexis De Tocqueville

Anti-Federalist Papers

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Apologia Ultimate Planner Flash Give Away!

We are giving away an Ultimate Planner by Apologia over on our Facebook page!! 
Go there, like our page, and leave a comment under the giveaway post - super simple!
The winner will be chosen at random. 

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K12 - Monster or Miracle? My Review of Virtual Public Schooling

Some of you may remember that I have a child with ADHD. She doesn't have your run of the mill pansy ADHD, she has *the* ADHD where you as a parent are made to feel you have a nuclear reactor in your house that is constantly leaking radioactive material or is threatening to leak and you are having to go into hazardous situations every minute of the day and praying that nothing too terribly bad happens. I lie not. Thankfully, medication has plugged a few holes and keeps everything running sorta smoothly.

Except her schoolwork.  I had great curricula picked out for her.  She was using History's Masterminds, Math U See, Easy Grammar, IEW, and Real Science 4 Kids.  It is all amazing curricula. Except she wouldn't do it. Getting her to complete her schoolwork with any accuracy or at all was a battle I was not winning.  I needed help.

Enter K-12 in the form of our state's virtual public school, Tennessee Virtual Academy.

The enrollment process is fairly easy.  You have to send in all the same information as you would a normal brick and mortar public school.  I had to get her physical updated and things like that. No big deal for us.

After enrollment, she was assigned most all her classes, except for English and Math, and we did the initial class, Introduction to Online Learning, together.  Well, I mostly did it as not a lot of it pertained to her. But, that was also fairly painless.  During that first week, I got several emails.  I have to say I ignored some, forgot about some, and then did not really understand the rest.

K-12 tells you that your child needs to complete an initial assessment so they can put your child in the proper Math and English. They tell you that your teacher will tell you what your log in information is.  I waited for several days before I finally emailed her teacher and asked for it.  She was also assigned subjects to complete and I had to start putting in her attendance but we had not yet received her books.  I just had her continue to do the homeschooling materials that we already had on hand.  Her books arrived about a week after enrollment.  Not too awful long considering the process, but still a bit frustrating.

The curriculum is really challenging, too challenging for my struggling learner!

My kid hated it.  She hated being accountable to actually get her work done.  She hated that she is getting actual grades. She hated having to work the entire school day on school work.  All I have to say to that is, "Welcome to reality, kid."

My kid loved it.  She loved the class connect sessions she has where she can interact with the teacher and other students. She loved the art program that I was too lazy to actually do at home. She loved that she can email her teacher with questions and get an answer via email or an impromptu live class connect session.

I hated it. I hated it for all the reasons I knew that I would.  It is public schooling at home with all the intrusion public school can be and typically is. It took my time, energy, and a lot of the freedom I enjoyed as a homeschool parent.  I was on their schedule where my daughter is concerned.  If they need a conference, they get a conference.  I did have some room to ask them to reschedule if something truly doesn't work for me. But they get their conference.

I loved it.  I loved that it is so scheduled.  I loved that I can get help from her teachers if I need help. Sometimes explaining things to her can be maddening. Her teacher was extraordinarily helpful in giving me real and practical ways to help her learn what she is being taught.  I can not say enough good things about her teacher. She was amazing.  I love that all the guesswork about curriculum had been removed.

In the end, this did not work for us. My child simply has too many learning issues for K-12 to have been successful.  She needed more time that she simply did not have and could not be given. So, we took her out of K-12 and got a private tutor (yay for bartering!) instead.  That has been magical for us!

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer Fun!

I think one of the biggest challenges for parents during the summer months, regardless of your schooling status, it trying to keep the kids occupied.  Some homeschoolers school year round and don't have this problem, but I would say that would not be true for the majority.

So, I thought I would share some of the things that we are doing and some tips to help you brave the summer months :)

1. Keep the summer a bit structured.  You don't have to go all out here.  After all, one of the biggest advantages to taking a summer break is that you don't have to watch any kind of clock.  But, you would do well to loosely schedule your days at home.   We do not sleep in all summer.  I know that works for some people, but I don't like sleeping (I know, I'm weird) so I just try to get the sleep I need to function well and then I get up.
Our summer routine looks a bit like this:
  • Wake up at 6:30 (me) and 7:30 (kids) - these times are flexible and not set in stone
  • Eat breakfast by 9 and clean up kitchen
  • Go outside and check on garden, feed fish, and feed dogs
  • Morning chores - the kids have certain rooms they are assigned to
  • Play outside while it is cool enough to (their other choice is to come inside and clean more)
  • Eat lunch by 12:30 or so and then clean kitchen
  • Do chores again, because they have an amazing ability to mess things up
  • Do a reading lesson and a math lesson (we will do this all summer to stay fresh)
  • Go back outside and play in the sprinkler, play with toys in the house
  • Prepare for dinner and do chores again
  • Eat supper around 5:30 and clean up kitchen
  • Watch TV 
  • Bedtime at 9:00 to 9:30
2.  Buy a zoo membership if your zoo offers one or if your zoo is free then make use of it.
3. Check museums within an hour or two of you and see if they offer free days or free summer passes.
4. Picnic at local parks - ours has a grill and everything!
5. Check in with your local homeschool group to see what gatherings they are offering, if they don't have any, schedule one!
6. Arts and Crafts - I used to scrapbook, but then I had more than one kid. But, I have all this scrapbook stuff that the kids love to play with!
7. Do a unit study on or about things related to the summer time - here are some interesting links from Homeschool Share:

Obstacles to fun:

Money:  Some things cost money, and I know that a lot of people, myself included, do not have a lot of this particular resource. But, I took a good hard look at my budget and I found money that we were spending on fast trips to McDonalds and the like. By not spending $25 a trip on fast food, I saved enough money to get the zoo membership ($100) and now we can go to the zoo whenever we like. In reality, nothing is really 100% free and some sacrifices have to be made in order to fully participate in life.

Time:  It is summer, if you take care of things promptly instead of putting them off for later in the summer, then you will have time to drive places.  Our zoo is a little over an hour away.  It is a little bit daunting to think of dragging the kids out and drive a total of 3 hours with them, but if I pack a cooler with luncheon mean, bread, and water bottles, then it seems a bit less overwhelming because I can just spend the day in the city.

Location: You are one that lives in the backside of nowhere, where they are piping in daylight - That can make things more difficult. But if you live that far out, my guess is that you are on some kind of farm and have plenty to do anyway.  :)  But, if you find yourself bored, then I would check out places around you to take a long nature walk with a rolling cooler and explore your countryside.  I would also plan a couple days a month that I was going into town and take advantage of the local city parks and other offerings.

Now it is your turn! How do you plan on keeping the little ones occupied this summer?

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Busting the Homeschool Myth #4 - Homeschoolers are not socialized

I think this is the myth that everyone, public schoolers and home schoolers alike, enjoy fighting talking about.  It is the one where you can run rampant in either direction, with nary a thought about the thoughts coming from between your lips.

What about socialization?

Okay, what about it?  The first time I was confronted with this question I had to take great pains to not look at the asker (spell check is telling me "asker" is not a real word, but it works for me and I like it) like they were an alien that had 6 eyes and 3 noses.  I simply did not understand what they were asking.  To ask about socialization implies that they honestly think we are shut up in the house 24/7, not even barely cracking the window in an effort to shield our children from the outside world.  It made no sense to me that this was an honest concern, so of course my answer was, "You're kidding? Right?"

They were not kidding.  They even got all huffy about me thinking they were kidding.

That is when I got it.  They were not asking if my kids ever saw the light of day and the whites of the eyes of other people.  They were really asking, "How are they going to fit into the real world?" and "How are they going to know social niceties."

I just really find it interesting that people really believe that public schools teach our children these things.  I have heard it said and I will repeat it here, putting kids with a bunch of other kids that are their same age and much of their same level of learning, doesn't do anything to further the "fitting in to the real world" agenda.  Seriously, I am 37 - my friends are not all 37.  I have friends from 21 to 78.  I appreciate people and what they have to share of their lives.  I did not learn this in public school.  In public school I learned that being yourself could possibly be detrimental to your popularity.  I learned that you had to be like everyone else in order to be liked by everyone else.  I learned how to be fake.

Why would I want my kids to learn that?  Why would I want them to be socialized in a box like public school when I can allow them to be social with the world?

They are going to fit in with the "real world" because they will have spent so much time in it!

How will they learn social niceties?  Well, because they have to be nice here at home for starters!  I do not, and can not think of any homeschoolers that want their children to treat each barbarically.  I can't think of any public schoolers either!

Children will learn to act in ways that are socially acceptable simply by being social with others, regardless of where those others are found.  They will also learn this because I will teach them.  I try very hard to not act like a neanderthal, and will attempt to pass those traits on, without the help of the public school system.

So far, so good.  :)

I like my house. If I had my choice, I would be a hermit and stay in my house. It is comfortable, it has all the things I like, and I can make a phone call or text someone if I feel like being social.  My kids, however, like the outside world.  They want to be around other people, adults and children.  They want to share ideas and make friends. They like to be away from home.  So, I put my public schooled caboose into the van, and I take them places.  They make friends easily.

They know that the best way to present themselves is to be themselves - and frankly - that is a lesson many adults need to learn.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Facebook Saves My Sanity

There have been a plethora of posts by fellow homeschooling moms about the dangers of Facebook. Great posts, posts with great truths of how Facebook can suck up our time, distract us from our children, cause drama, and sometimes even marital problems.

But Facebook can be good too. For me, Facebook is a window to the world outside of my home. It allows me to have regular adult conversation, share joys and frustrations and relieve stress. You see, I am extremely extroverted. I crave and require regular interaction with adults. I use that interaction to recharge. In the same way that an introvert NEEDS to be alone sometimes, I NEED to be with people. Since my choice to homeschool keeps me at home most of the time, or hoping from kids activity to kids activity, Facebook gives me that outlet.

The truth is that sometimes homeschooling, especially out in the country, can be lonely. As much as I enjoy the company of my children, it does not fill the need for grown up conversation and company.

So, yes, Facebook can become an idol. It can come between you and what you should be doing, but managed correctly, it can also be a wonderful way to interact with others. So homeschooling moms, don't feel guilty about spending a bit of time on the internet if that is what keeps you charged!

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The Waterproof Bible: A Mosaics Review

When I got home from Australia I carried the Bible that I took with me. It held sentimental value and beyond just being the Bible, I loved this particular Bible. And then I dropped it, in the rain, in a puddle. The pages stuck together, my notes and underlining smeared and the Bible was ruined.
This was several years ago, but now I have children and we have lost at least 2 Bibles to being dropped or accidentally stepped on.

Both of these situations have now been virtually eliminated!

Basic Information:

Product: The Waterproof Bible

Price: $25-$45

Bibles are available in various colors and translations as well as in a full version or New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs version.

The Waterproof Bible is made out of synthetic materials that make it 100% waterproof and virtually impossible to tear. As awkward as it was, we put this Bible to the test and left it in the rain, soaking in a puddle, in the bathroom where it is constantly humid as well as subjecting it to various real life scenarios in our house. While it sometimes took a day or two to dry, it always dried and was always in great condition afterwards! I simply could not "ruin" this Bible! We were also given some bookmarks made of the same materials as the Bible and though it did lose some shape after I spent some time twisting and trying to rip it, I could not get even the smallest rip.

The practical use of this Bible is undeniable. Whether it is going on a camping trip, being sent to the mission field in the rainforest or a gift overseas to your relative in the services, this Bible will hold up. Even kids can't beat this Bible up!

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Because These Moments are Few

 We moved from our first home because of the school district we were in. I had planned, even insisted, that my children would go to a good public school. However, as my oldest approached her 5th birthday I found myself gripped with anxiety. My heart ached over the idea of sending my precious baby, who I had fought so hard for (we struggled with infertility and then a life threatening pregnancy which culminated in a pre-term delivery and a NICU stay) off to strangers for several hours a day made my insides turn.

My initial reason for homeschooling was that I could not bear the thought of being apart from her. I did not wish to share her first day of school, her first time reading, the cute mis-spoken phrases and stories. I did not want to hear second hand of how she finally mastered addition, or had so much fun chasing frogs, or dancing in the rain that surprised everyone at recess. I shuddered to think of all of the extraordinary moments I have witnessed that would have seemed too ordinary for any one to bother to report to me. I did not want to share her heart with teachers or friends. I did not want to be replaced by peers.

Some may tell me that is selfish, but can it be selfish to want something that should be mine?

God gifted me with a little girl. He commanded me to raise her, love her and teach her. She is only mine for a moment, and sometimes the days are long and hard, but He rewards my faithfulness by allowing me to witness the unimaginable gift of her childhood. I do not exaggerate when I say that it brings a pang to my heart to even think of not having been with her as she has grown.

Diapers to tea parties, Lego to high school prom, and one day I will find myself watching my baby, Lord willing, walk down the aisle where she will make a promise to become someone else's.

And then there is time. Time that one way or another will soon be over. Time that passes so quickly we hardly notice until we are staring into the eyes of a little girl that no longer has to stand on her tippy-toes to wrap her arms around your neck. Or as according to God's will our child who just yesterday was running through the grass, is now resting in Jesus' arms.

No matter how it happens, one day I will have to give her up and I chose to hold her as closely and tightly as I can, until that moment comes, because these moments are few.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Ooka Island: A Homeschool Mosaics Review

You ever think to yourself, boy it would be nice if my 4 year old could actually operate this really cool online game without me having to control the mouse? I do. All.the.time. I don't have time to sit for hours at a time and play games. The point of me setting him up on the game in the first place was to give me some time to work with his sisters! Well, let me introduce you to the first pre-reader learning site that is actually easy enough for my son to use without my help!

Ooka Island is a web based game that uses game to teach phonics and reading. Students as young as 3 can navigate through the guided games and earn independent time to explore other areas of the map. Students are encouraged to practice blends and other reading skills as they build on a solid foundation of pre-reading and early reading skills.

The Basics:

Format: Downloaded from the internet onto your computer.

Price: $19.95 per month or $149.95 per year but just for you here is a 30% off link!

Ages: 4-7 or pre-reader through emergent reader

You can also order copies of the Ooka Island Books.


I loved the parent portal that give an online progress report for you child! I also get an email every time he reads a book. The phonics was sound and my son really did start learning his blends pretty quickly. The graphics moved beyond some of the cheesier ones that you can get with online pre-school games and were colorful and fun. The map was easy to navigate and my son had no problem playing most of the games with little to no help at all. The best thing though was that he loved it. He, being a 4 year old boy, doesn't usually get involved in anything for longer than a few minutes, but I had to make him turn Ooka Island off every single time. Even better though was that I didn't feel like it was wasted time by letting him play for a few hours at a time and we are a strict family when it comes to screen time.


Could possibly be one of those things I use a "babysitting" device while I cook dinner and would feel no guilt doing so. Oops, I probably shouldn't have admitted that.

Seriously, we loved Ooka Island. I do a lot of reviews so when something really stands out it is an exciting moment for me. Ooka Island is one of those exciting moments.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

To all my mom friends:

You are amazing.  You children see this and know. I don't make any promises about your husband or your mother in law.  :)

I actually have a great mother in law. She is a very nice lady.  But, this was really funny!

You are enough. I know you feel ill equipped and inadequate. But you have been given your children by a God who loves you enough to make you exactly who and what your kids need.

Your kids think you are awesome!

You are doing a fine job. All you can do is the best you know how to do with the circumstances and resources you have been given. Don't sweat it what you can't do.

You are not going to ruin them for life. I used to say that eventually I would find myself on Oprah, defending myself and my kids were going to have expensive therapy bills.  Now I am not so worried, after all, Oprah is no longer on the air. So now, I just make sure they know to get a job with good mental health insurance. :)

I breathed a sigh of relief when you canceled your show.

Good mental health insurance may be a good thing!

You will eventually have a clean house again, the laundry will be caught up, and you will have nice, unbroken things.  You will look back on these moments and smile and wonder where the time went.

This house is so clean and shiny - it also looks a little lonely!

Last but not least - a thought from Gretchen Rubin:

Happy Mother's Day!

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Etiquette Factory: A Mosaics Review

Elbows off the table! Look people in the eye when you speak to them! Say hello when you answer the phone please!

If your kids are anything like mine then you have probably heard yourself say these and many other phrases asking your kids to display some manners. I had been on the look out for a locally hosted etiquette class so I really was very excited when this product came up for review!

The Etiquette Factory is a 3 phase etiquette course appropriate for pre-school all the way through high school. I was given a copy of the three phase kit available for $99.95.

This set include:
  • Etiquette for Beginners Teachers Manual
  • Etiquette for Beginners DVD set
  • Etiquette Jukebox CD
  • Etiquette Intermediate
  • Etiquette Masters
  • 4 Etiquette “Set Right” Placemats
You can also purchase the phases individually or any of the optional extras by visiting here. Optional extras include posters, accountability charts, Kid's Budget, and even a manners game!

Since my kids were young I decided to go ahead and start with phase one. When I first watched the DVD I was sure my kids were going to think it was a little too young for them. I was wrong! They loved watching the story and listening to the songs. We are moving through it a bit faster than suggested, but if I had just pre-schoolers the pace would have been just right.

We are still working our way through the first book so I will focus my review there. The teacher's manual is very well laid out. At the beginning you get a very nice review of how the program is meant to be paced, what day to view DVD's, learn the jingles and so on. Each week has plenty of review and the stories and songs are fun and engaging for the littles. The manual also gives you fun activities to reinforce what you have been learnning. Some of these are more geared towards a classroom but can be adjusted to homeschooling. There are even colored photos in the back to give you examples of the activities. One of my favorite supplemental items is the Set Right Placemat, a fun and colorful way to teach your children how to properly set a table.

Book 1 covers:

What is Etiquette?
Saying Hello
Magic Words
Cleaning Up
Table Manners
Good Hygiene
The "No" Word
Sincere Apologies
Being a Guest
A Clean Mouth is a Cherished Gift

The book is secular/non-religious so can be easily adapted if you want to add in Bible verses to go with the skill being learned.

This program is great. The price point is fantastic when you consider that $100 would cover you all the way from starting school to finishing and there is are few gifts you could give your child worth more than manners.

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Alpha-Phonics Reading Program Review Pt1

Samuel Blumenfeld graduated from the prestigious City College of New York in 1950 and spent the next decade as an editor of the University Library at Grosset & Dunlap. Sometime during that experience--and I have worked reading over-the-transom slush-piles, so I have an inkling what happened--Mr. Blumenfeld noticed something funny about American literacy. Or it would have been funny, if it were not so shocking and sad. In short, Mr. Blumenfeld jumped on the crazy-train that so many of us home-schooling parents ride and he's been coming around that mountain ever since.
A man with an amazingly active and energetic intellect, he poured himself into trying to understand the question posed by the seminal _Why Johnny Can't Read?_, and even more importantly, what to do about it. Not just what to do regarding school reform, though he has much to say on that--but really, how do you teach Johnny, an actual, living, breathing human being, how to read? Because at the end of the day, that's what matters most, and that is the genesis of the Alphaphonics program.

I'm going to begin this review with restricting my comments to what is the heart of the program, the original _Alphaphonics_ and then address the supplementary materials in a second review. So, first, what you want to know: Does it work? How does it work? Is it for me and my child? How much does it cost?

It costs a little under $30 on Amazon:
Is it for you and your child? I have no idea. It certainly works very well for me and my child and I completely adore the program. But every teacher and every student interact in unique ways.
How does it work? There are something like 109 lessons. The lessons are really just lists of words. You write the word, the student sounds out the word. Next word. Voila. Phonetic rules are introduced, along with words that don't play nicely. Along with the lessons, a teacher's guide provides lesson-by-lesson direction and advice on what to emphasize and talk about. You start with very straightforward words and progress. From "cat" to "gymnasium". Look, you get the point. Lesson 1 is very basic, by lesson 109 you have a fully functional reader.

The great thing for me, as the "teacher" is that I don't have to do any planning or preparation. The teacher-guide material is very concise. We work through the lists, some days we may do only three words, some days we may read 30. My student is not yet 4, so 30 words is quite an achievement. I expect it will take us about 9 months to a year to work through the program and she will be reading proficiently before she is 5. An older child or adult could work through the program in a few months if they were motivated. I *love* the fact that you can pace it however you like. I am a *very lazy* homeschooling mom/teacher-type. Easy pacing, no planning or effort? I'm interested.

The baby is waking up. I think this review will have to be in three parts instead of two. So we'll call this the introduction.

-Christina O.