Homeschool Curriculum Series: Social Studies Pt. 2

So as promised, I will give some recommendations for social studies resources, things that really facilitated learning for us. As tomorrow marks the 126th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, I will begin with American history and government resources. I used several things available from the National Center for Constitutional Studies, namely the I Love America parts 1 and 2 for young children, and the American Government and Constitution Study Course. I have only good things to say about both of them. They were some of my favorite resources in all of our homeschool and were more memorable to my kids, (in a good way!) than other things. We also kept on hand The Declaration of Independence and Other Great Documents of American History. It’s always good to have the primary sources close by to refer to.

I mentioned in my last post the value of eyewitness accounts to history. Two outstanding books we read were When the Banks Closed, We Opened Our Hearts about the Great Depression, and We Pulled Together…and Won about World War II, both filled with fascinating short stories and anecdotes from the people who lived through those times.

You Decide! Applying the Bill of Rights to Real Cases provided a good study of court cases involving the Bill of Rights. The student is placed in the role of judge and they have to take the facts given, study the amendment involved in the case, and make their own decision and back it up with argument. Then they get to find out what the court really decided.

For economics, Whatever Happened to Penny Candy by Richard Maybury and the accompanying Bluestocking Guide provided a good, clear, understandable study of that subject.

We wanted to study our own state during seventh grade, and most states require such a study. For this, I designed a study myself using websites, books, DVDs, field trips, and several hands-on experiments and art projects. The kids had a booklet in which they could check off assignments and projects and earn treats, with the final reward being a field trip to the state Capitol building when the legislature was in session.

Historical Wall TimelineOne of the most valuable things we ever did and of which I’m most proud, all through their years of schooling, 1st through 12th grades, was to maintain historical timelines. They are indispensable to a good study of history. For instance, Mozart was composing music at the same time the American Revolutionary War was happening, but you never study those two things together, so timelines give you a sense of the world as a whole at any given time. I keep up a large timeline covering an entire wall, running from 5000 B.C. to the present, and color coded according to different types of history, such as political, religious, exploration, scientific discovery, inventions, and cultural events. Then each of the boys had their own sketchbook in which they put the events as they studied them, and including a small quarter-sized picture drawn in colored pencil to go with each entry.Historical Timelines Book

Some favorite geography resources: Children Just Like Mea fun look into the lives of ordinary children all over the world, and Trail Guide to World Geography which includes a most enjoyable study of the Jules Verne classic Around the World in 80 Days. So fun to make an adventure part of your learning.

And speaking of adventure, we are often armchair travelers and have enjoyed some very inspiring documentaries and films to supplement our studies. Some of the most impressionable to us were History Channel’s The Story of Us, the Ken Burns’ documentaries Lewis & Clark and the Journey of the Corps of Discovery, and Baseball. Others that bear mentioning are the old James Stewart film The Spirit of St. Lewis, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, which we never tire of watching, and Steven Spielberg’s recent film Lincoln.

Have fun doing your own exploring. It can be fun for adults and kids alike!



Homeschool Curriculum Series: Language Arts

Antique booksNow we come to one of my favorite subjects, the written word. As with all subjects, there are too many excellent choices, but here’s what’s worked well for us. The first books my boys used was a series called Explode the Code, which includes three primers and then eight workbooks, all consumable, teaching all the letters and phonics. A great start for reading.

In third grade I started them on Learning Language Arts Through Literature. The company makes the course for first through eighth grades, and then two courses for high school, one each covering American and English literature. We only used it for third through eighth grades. It uses good children’s classics, both complete books and excerpts, to teach grammar, spelling, vocabulary, reading, and writing. There are sections on poetry, research, reports, and study skills in each course as well.

We supplemented LLATL with Easy Grammar, which makes grammar easy by teaching students to identify and eliminate prepositional phrases, which then helps them to easily find and identify all the other parts of the sentence. Very thorough. An intense grammar drill of only about 10 minutes a day gave them a good command of grammar.

The boys learned their Latin and Greek roots by using…card games! Rummy Roots and More Roots each teach a lengthy list of roots and their meanings through four levels of play. When all four levels have been mastered, players know enough to decipher 2000 words without using a dictionary.

In high school we used a couple of A Beka’s literature books, but also just studied classic books on our own for both American and English literature studies. Two writing books I particularly thought were good are the Train of Thought Writing Method and Wordsmith Craftsman. The latter provides a good basis for college essay writing. I also insisted on a read-through of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.

I made a couple of my own supplements. One was Daily Diagrams, 180 sentences from classic literature for them to diagram, one each day. And to help them get practice in library research, I made a library treasure hunt that used riddles, codes, and puzzle pieces. They did some of it each week at the library, and when finished, earned a new book of their choice. The material is specific to our family and our local library, so it’s not something others can use, but maybe it can give you ideas to do something similar on your own.

And don’t forget read-alouds for all ages! You can never hear too many good stories.



Homeschool Curriculum Series: Science/Health

Science has been an interesting subject to my boys. Our main books we use throughout most of the grades is A Beka books. In junior high we used their Science in Action book to guide us through a complete science fair project, including a research report, experiment, and display which was entered into a science fair.

The boys kept Nature Notebooks in which they wrote about various plants, animals, rocks, astronomy, copied quotes, pasted photographs and small specimens, and drew and painted pictures.

We’ve done many labs using a borrowed microscope and buying dissection specimens and supplies from Home Science Tools, and watching more labs via YouTube.

In high school we switched to Apologia for chemistry and physics. They are written especially for homeschoolers in an easy conversational style. Mom doesn’t have to know everything about science to teach it.

For an especially fun supplement, we use the Holt Anthology of Science Fiction, which includes short stories categorized by the field of science they involve. There are discussion questions and activities at the end of each story.

For health, we again used many of A Beka’s books. They have books for every grade, but we only did health every other year. For little kids, Proper Manners and Health Habits, written by Mennonites was helpful for teaching manners. And for older kids Growing Up: Gospel Answers About Maturation and Sex is a most complete and respectful book in teaching that subject.  We believe it’s the parents’ job to teach about the subject of sex, and I appreciated having such a valuable resource for that.

Science can be a fun subject for homeschoolers. We enjoyed using a weather kit from Real Science Made Easy during the summer. They make several kits for different types of science. And for old time’s sake, we got some DVDs of 1950s school films from the Bell Laboratory Science Series. Good times right there!

By the way, I do NOT buy all these things new. I have saved hundreds of dollars over the years by finding deals on good, used copies of curriculum. I’ve always been happy with what I’ve found.




Homeschool Curriculum Series: Math

We’ve had the privilege of learning from some very good resources in our homeschool, and I thought I’d like to share some ofSchool books them. As new homeschoolers soon discover, there is so much to choose from that finding resources is never a problem, but trying to choose something can be downright intimidating. I would not attempt to say that our choices are the best; there are just too many excellent choices out there to use them all, but here’s some that have worked well for us.

First up, math. Our main curriculum throughout the kids’ school years has been Saxon Math. We skipped the kindergarten set and started them on the first grade course when they were four, which worked great. We followed Saxon’s books all the way through, except skipping Saxon 87 and going straight to Algebra 1/2. (I heard 87 was sort of just repetition, and we didn’t have any problem going straight to Algebra.) My oldest got through Algebra 1 and 2, Advanced Mathematics, and Calculus by partway into 11th grade. The youngest starts Advanced Mathematics this year in ninth grade. I like Saxon because, early on, I learned some good mental math skills I’d never known before and they’ve helped me ever since, and I feel like my kids got a good command of math.

I saw a book once called Grocery Cart Math, and while we didn’t use it, it gave me an idea and I put together a few of my own math investigations which the boys had to do during trips to the grocery store, just practical things like comparing prices and amounts, determining which thing is a better buy, hidden costs, sales and coupons.

Geometric Constructions from Castle Heights Press was a fun math supplement in that it used stories and riddles to teach constructions. Paper and pencil, a protractor, and a compass were all that were needed. I don’t find it readily available now, but I’m sure many similar books exist.

One thing Saxon didn’t have was a consumer math text. We used A Beka’s Consumer Mathematics, which taught some good, practical things about credit, banking, insurance, budgeting, taxes, financial planning, etc.

In your search for curriculum, you may want to refer to Cathy Duffy Reviews, a comprehensive breakdown of curriculum choices. She’ll tell you everything you need to know to make good choices.



Homeschool Recommendation Series: Websites

School books

Here is a list of websites that have been helpful for our homeschool. So many good resources, so little time!

Home Science Tools – A place to find all your science curriculum and laboratory needs. They sell books, kits, microscopes, dissection tools and specimens, and all kinds of tools for exploring the world around us and above. There are also lots of experiments on their site, with all the necessary ingredients and directions.

National Center for Constitutional Studies – Get all your American history and government education books and videos, and copies of America’s founding documents. Resources available for young children through adults wanting to learn more about their country.

Lissa Explains It All – HTML help for kids. Step-by-step help in making your own web pages.

BBC Dance Mat Typing – Kid-friendly free online keyboarding (formerly known as typing) courses and practice. You can be timed and monitor your improvement.

Khan Academy – A library of over 3000 online educational videos on a massive range of subjects. Most are about 5-8 minutes long. You can just watch, or sign up and acquire points and badges for progress. – An online store of 10-20-minute DVDs on current events, and social and economical issues. Teachers (including homeschool teachers) can get one free DVD mailed to you per school year.

Classical Christian Education Support Loop – Lots of helps and resources, and very, I mean very extensive book lists of classics for every age group.

Teach With Movies – Whatever you’re studying, there’s been a movie made to go with it. Many you’ve heard of, many you haven’t. This site lists movies divided by school subjects, and there are even lesson plans to use if you need them.

Paula’s Archives – Just a little of everything: homeschool articles, tips and advice, curriculum recommendations, book lists. Go wild!

Cathy Duffy Reviews – The premier site for homeschool curriculum reviews. She reviews hundreds of books on all subjects, telling you how lessons are laid out, what’s helpful, what’s not, how much teacher preparation is needed, cost, etc. – Not just for homeschoolers. Look up any book you want and this site will find where copies are for sale online, giving you cost including shipping, condition of the book if used, and links to the online stores for each copy listed. Because of this site, I have found a 60 dollar advanced math book for 4 dollars, and an 80 dollar junior high art history book for 10. This is the first site I check when looking for a specific book.

YouTube – Probably too obvious, but keep in mind you can view any high school science lab on here, as well as view historic news footage.  

A Historic Meeting of Great Minds

Eagle eye

Welcome to July 4th week on the Eagle’s Quill. This is my other favorite holiday (the other being jingle bells and all that), and it is a time for me to reflect on the amazing history of our country. In our homeschool, we talk a lot about the “world stage”, using our historical timelines to see when certain important figures entered the stage (were born) and exited the stage (died) in the grand live performance of world history. For us, this points out God’s hand in history in bringing certain discoveries, explorations, inventions, and accomplishments to the earth with carefully calculated precision.

Nowhere is this more evident to me than in the miraculous placement of the American Founding Fathers during the beginnings of our country. Benjamin Franklin was one of the first to enter the stage, being born in 1706, followed by George Wythe in 1726. Wythe was not only a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the Constitutional Convention, but served as a teacher and mentor for many other leaders, including Thomas Jefferson. George Washington, John Adams, and Patrick Henry were born in 1732, 1735, and 1736 respectively. In 1743 Thomas Jefferson took his place on the stage, with James Madison following in 1751 and Alexander Hamilton in 1755. These are just a few of the many who worked hard to form a new nation.

It’s no mistake that these infants were born at the time and in the place they were, or that they were brought together at the appropriate time to fulfill their destiny. Having accomplished their noble task, they began exiting the stage in the late 1700s. And here’s a bit of remarkable trivia for you. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both passed away on the same day–July 4, 1826, the 50th birthday of the United States of America. Shakespeare could not have written a better play.

Said John Adams in a letter to his wife Abigail, May 12, 1780, “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

They certainly knew and played well their parts on the world stage.




Educational Summer Fun with Theme Studies

They say that over the summer children forget a third of what they learned during the school year. That’s why the first third of school books are review of previously learned material. They also say (sorry, I’m not taking time to look up resources for you, but this is pretty much common sense anyway) that children who do some steady reading through the summer do not lose that third of what they learned, even though the summer reading they do doesn’t pertain to the subjects they learned. Reading is just good mental exercise and helps keep the brain in tip-top shape.

So as homeschoolers, we try to keep some learning going year-round, but in summertime our learning takes on a more shortened, informal, and fun form. One of our traditions that has proven to be super fun for both me and my kids is something we call ‘theme studies’ where I become the student and the kids teach me. They each take a turn teaching for a week at a time.  They pick any subject they want, and for five days they present lectures, demonstrations, storytelling, audiovisual materials, games, crafts, assignments, field trips, etc. pertaining to the subject. They can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour to present their daily lesson.

Of course, they pick subjects they’re passionate about. We’ve had it on dinosaurs, international flags, dolphins, national parks, magic tricks, Lego stop motion filming, movie special effects, cartoon drawing, and origami, just to name a few. We visited a fascinating flag store, watched selected parts of movies; I’ve been assigned to write stories, draw cartoons, and been challenged to memorize all the titles of Star Wars: The Clone Wars episodes (sure, why not?) This has proven to be so exciting at our house that the boys have argued about who gets to go first in the summer, and me, shoot, this is one of my most favoritest things EVER! I just sit back, enjoy the show, and let knowledge happen to me. Sometimes I learn interesting things I never knew before, but most of all, I get to see their passion about something, which is always contagious.

So now I challenge you, introduce this to your kids and watch them run with it.




Read-aloud Recommendations for 15-17-year-olds

And now, to conclude my read-aloud recommendation series, we get to 15-17-year-olds. Yes, reading aloud can still be fun at that age. We’re disconnecting from technology for a few minutes, connecting as a family, enjoying time as our ancestors did. Get with the program!

Whatever you choose to read will be great if your family enjoys it. Personally, I like to stick with what I consider the classics for read-aloud, simply because they, and we for that matter, may miss out on some good stuff otherwise. Classics are largely being pushed out of the schools these days in favor of newer, sometimes unwholesome, sometimes dumbed-down books. I think that’s terribly sad. Said Robert M. Hutchins: “To destroy the Western tradition of independent thought it is not necessary to burn the books. All we have to do is leave them unread for a couple of generations.” I want my children to be familiar with literary masterpieces from all time periods. I want them to hear and be familiar with how good language sounds. I want them to be acquainted with wise and uplifting thought, as well as just enjoy a timeless story. They can and do read whatever they want to on their own time, so read-aloud time is when I try to make sure we feed our minds more healthy things.

We have not read all of these. This list includes ones I’d like to get to eventually. Please feel free to comment with recommendations of your own.

Mathematicians Are People, Too:  Stories of the Lives of Great

Mathematicians, (2 volumes) by Luetta and Wilbert Reimer

Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

He Walked the Americas by L. Taylor Hansen

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Frankenstein:  Or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

Emma by Jane Austen

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Abigail Adams:  Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober

Ordeal by Hunger by George Stewart

Anne Frank:  The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

Galileo’s Daughter:  A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith

and Love by Dava Sobel

Marie Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie

The Spirit of St. Louis by Charles A. Lindbergh

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth

Animal Farm by George Orwell

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Contact by Carl Sagan

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson


Read-aloud Recommendations for 12-14-year-olds

Old library chair

Advancing in age now in the recommended read-aloud series, here are my recommendations for 12-14-year-olds. Refer to the lists for earlier ages here and here.

Some may think, as I once did, that read-aloud is only for young children. But as I thought of what families reading aloud meant in pioneer times, my perspective completely changed. In the days of yesteryear, before TV and internet fought for our eye-glazing attention, families remained close and enjoyed marvelous adventures together during evenings spent reading aloud in front of the fireplace or in dim rooms lit by candle or lantern light. Lifelong memories were made in those cabins on the frontier, or Victorian homes on city streets, wherever they called home. It’s a beautiful scene that I wanted to re-create with my own children. I hope you’ll try it too. Your children will treasure it in future years far more than other activities.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle

Tenggren’s Golden Tales From the Arabian Nights

by Gustaf Tenggren

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Born Free by Joy Adamson

I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric Kelly

Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Helen Keller:  The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Call of the Wild by Jack London

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker

The Cat of Bubastes by G.A. Henty

Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick

The Captain’s Dog:  My Journey With the Lewis & Clark Tribe

by Roland Smith

The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter

The Bulletproof George Washington by David Barton

Amistad:  A Long Road to Freedom by Walter Dean Myers

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Lost Moon:  The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13

by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Vern

Notes on LDStorymakers Conference-Part 2

To continue yesterday’s report on classes at the 10th annual LDStorymakers Conference, I attended two good classes regarding the industry. In the class on small vs. Big 6 publishers, taught by bestselling authors James Dashner and J. Scott Savage, we learned that the often-feared phrase “right of first refusal” that is in nearly all contracts regarding future books the author will write, is not all bad. You don’t have to accept the deal they offer you on future books, if you don’t want to be tied to that publisher. However, it is always a good idea to have an attorney go over your contract before you sign, to be sure what you are getting into.

Big 6 publishers have much more capability in their editing departments. All authors, no matter how experienced and successful they are, will receive many pages of edits and revisions to work on. And with much bigger promotion budgets, big publishers can do a lot more advertising for you. That doesn’t mean they will, just that they can if they so decide. Still, though, word-of-mouth is the very best advertising you can get, no matter who your publisher is. So yeah, that’s why you learn, practice, and work hard, so you can be the best you can be and earn that word-of-mouth advertising. And the presenters assured us, you can expect to be able to quit your day job, if that’s what you want, but it will take a long time, and you do not quit until you have to.

Silver Pages to Silver Screen was taught by Bob Conder, who has over 30 years in the film industry. According to him, here’s what you need to make your book appealing to Hollywood: A great logline, great title, great characters, great dialogue, great concept, and a three-act structure. Every story should end where it begins (in situation, not necessarily location). Write visually because remember, movies are visual. You want the gatekeepers to be able to visualize it on the big screen. And here’s a good one I’ve always believed in—write for yourself first. If your heart is fully into the project, that’s going to show on the page.

Thanks, LDStorymakers, for a good conference. I look forward to next year.