Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favorite Homeschool Resources Picked by Homeschoolers

{This post contains affiliate links}

What a year it has been! As I reflect on our homeschool year, I am very proud of all my 3rd grader has accomplished since July {we homeschool year-round}. My son has really improved in writing, and I think his daily journal writing has helped him to gain confidence and to take risks. His favorite subjects continue to be math and science. Since I encourage student-led learning, I will continue to integrate science with math and reading. As well, I will be including more science labs this semester in preparation for his homeschool science fair in March.  

Educents has such a diverse inventory of educational resources for all teachers, whether you teach in a public or private school or whether you homeschool.  My favorite product is the Magic School Bus Science Club that my son has had his eye on since the summer. I am planning to purchase this for him for his birthday!

Magic School Bus Science Club Kit

Check out other favorites of homeschoolers below.  What will you be teaching in the new year?  I'm sure you can find something on Educents to augment learning and the fun factor!

  top picks homeschoolers 

No matter what may be on your lesson plan for 2016, consider the resources below. Members within the Educents community put a list together of their favorite homeschool resources. If you'd like to learn more about the resource, just click the link! If you want to get more involved in the Educents community to learn more about homeschooling and the curriculum offered on Educents, join the Educents Facebook group!


Emily of Smith Squad recommends the Life of Fred books.

“As a child, I always hated math, even though I was good at it because it was soon boring. When I heard about Fred, I knew he had to be a part of our homeschool. My kids absolutely LOVE when it’s math time, and they are learning a ton about how to apply math to every day practical situations.”

Life of Fred Buyer's Guide


Lisa Marie of The Canadian Homeschooler uses the Writecraft and Mathcraft Units.

"The writing portion of this resource was the first time EVER that my oldest son ever willing wrote anything! He was excited to write instead of hating it."


Allison of Just Add Coffee loves the Magic School Bus Science Experiments.

Magic School Bus on Educents“I absolutely love Magic School bus and all it has to offer. Each month you get a different science kit to take a Magic School Bus adventure. If you search really hard, online you can even find curriculum to go with each science kit and the episode from the television series.”


Lisa of Chickens and Bunnies Homeschool loves the Life of Fred Elementary Books.

“My favorite resource at Educents at the moment is Life of Fred. There are so many to choose from I picked the Elementary Series. My kids love these books; we have them up to high school now. My most recent order was Life of Fred Chemistry. My kids will do these without arguing and love Fred and Kingie!”


Celena of The Traveling Sisterhood recommends the Times Tales Multiplication videos.

"I love Times Tales because it's made this year's math lessons so much easier! My kiddos quickly mastered their multiplication tables in one sitting with the movie. It's been such a blessing--instead of drills everyday, we can take more time to learn the actual concepts behind the facts!" Times Tales Review  


Kelly of Raising Samuels loves the Magic School Bus Science Club.

“The Magic School Bus Science Club is something your child gets in the mail each month, for a year! It includes numerous experiments per month, along with most of the materials required. (except household items such as scissors and tape). It is an incredible hands-on learning experience that helps children love science and have fun! My sons who are 4 and 6 absolutely love it!”

Amy of Busy Boys Brigade recommends the Life of Fred Beginning Readers.

Fred Readers tips“Life of Fred Early Readers series has been a game changer in our homeschool! Both my 6 & 4-year-old b
oys beg me to do their reading lessons now that we have added Life of Fred. I have noticed an increase in their fluency and comprehension.


Jenn of Chaotic Bliss Homeschooling also loves Times Tales.

"All three of my girls, ages 8 down to 4 loved watching this DVD and learning the stories. In 1 hour, both of my older girls had memorized their upper times tables! And the real kicker is I was only trying to teach one!"


Amy of Teaching in Blue Jeans uses Learn to Mod Minecraft with her son.

Kids Learn to Code - Educents Graphic"Learn to Mod Minecraft is an amazing program that teaches my son, a Minecraft lover, important computer programming skills through a game he loves to play. The lessons are easy to use, fun and engaging. I love that he is a learning a skill that I am not able to teach him."


Tabitha of Life Learning Homeschool uses the King Tut Mini Unit.

“My son loves history (he gets it from me), and I love to throw in “extras” to feed the need for more than what our curriculum calls for. Mini-units are great for that, and this was one of our favorites because we both love Ancient Egypt!”


Amy from Not Your Average Homeschool Mom loves Minecraft Mod Design.

“I love that you can be totally creative, and these are all hands-on. Helps to build critical thinking skills too.”

YouthDigital Educents1

Kayla of The Arrowood Zoo loves using Magformers for lessons at home.

"I love that you can be totally creative and these are all hands-on. Helps to build critical thinking skills too." Magformers_fine-motor-practice-copy-copy

Shelly of Free Homeschooling 101 recommends the Violin Starter Set.

"The violin starter set includes everything a budding violinist needs to begin their studies. The instrument is well made and economical. The lessons that are included are a huge money saver!"

Rebecca of Hip Homeschooling likes Magformers.

“We LOVE Magformers in our homeschool! They are a high-quality toy that provide hours of creative play. They are a great way to bring the fun back into your homeschool; your kids won’t even realize they are learning all about structures and geometric shapes and architecture (bonus!).”

Teri of Mommy Wife Life recommends the Spectacular Space Unit Study.

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 2.09.22 PM“A great resource for young astronomers is the Spectacular Space Unit Study. From writing, reading, math, and crafts, this complete unit, with its simple terms, will spark the interest of even your preschoolers!” 

Jamie of Simple Homeschool loves Life of Fred too!

“I love the way the math is naturally integrated into Fred’s life, showing the importance of it in day-to-day life. The chapters are laugh-out-loud funny, and I often get asked to read “just one more.” I’ve never been a huge fan of math workbooks and worksheets, so the combination of math and story is a major win in my books!”

Gabriella, Homeschooling Consultant, recommends the Number Formation Poems.

“We have these cards laminated because we know they’ll be used for years to come. My son, who learns best through rhyme and tactile input, is learning to write digits using these easy-to-remember number formation poems! I have reduced the size of the cards, added a ring binder, and now have a portable number set. We also use the cards for matching games and learning about quantity. Such a great price for all of the value provided by this set.” Hands_on-learning-with-worksheets  

What homeschool resource did you use this year that you would recommend? Leave your recommendation in the comments!!

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Learning About Christmas Traditions: A QR Code Project

christmas symbols

Once a month, I like to feature a new resource in my Teachers Pay Teachers store that I think other educators could use. My latest product was, like many others, born out of necessity. As I was planning for December, I wanted my 3rd grader to learn about Christmas celebrations in other countries, but I also wanted him to learn a little about the holiday traditions in our family.  My son has been asking me to create an activity with QR codes, so my latest endeavor makes us both happy!

Print out the booklet and just add a device to read QR codes like an iPad or a Kindle, and you are ready to go!

I printed the cover in color and also in black and white to save ink.  Either way, the booklet looks great!


A sample page from the booklet.  It is designed so that there is a different topic/tradition with a QR code on one page and a note-taking page beside it. All codes lead to different pages of the same website.  I chose this site {cited in the resource} because it was created just for teachers and kids!

There are a total of (6) traditions to research.  If you are short on time, have small groups of students complete one topic to read about.  Have them read together, decide on the most important facts, and work together to put the information into their own words to complete the note-taking page.  Then, have groups present their learning while the audience (rest of the students) take notes and complete that page of their booklet.  It's kind if like a Jigsaw activity.

The remaining two pages have reflection questions for students to compare the information to their traditions. This could be completed individually and used as an assessment; make sure to emphasize that students need to include factual information from their research in their responses.

 But wait!  There is more... There is also a writing prompt to extend students' learning and connect to their own experiences:

This writing activity also includes a brainstorming page, an editing and revising checklist as well as stationery sheets for the rough draft and final copy.

And all of this for just $3.50!  See the video below for a little glimpse into how I used this at home!

If you're interested in seeing the listing, just click the pic at the top of this article.

Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Snowzilla for Book Talk Thursday!

Today I am joining Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars for her Book Talk Thursday with this book review that I wrote a few years ago.  It's perfect for a #TBT!  Enjoy and see Andrea's blog to link up if you have a Christmas/winter book to share!

While searching for picture books to download on my sons' Kindles, I ran across an adorable picture book that is perfect for winter!  Snowzilla  by Janet Lawler and illustrated by Amanda Haley was just published in October 2012. This cute book is sure to become a winter classic and is brimming with literacy possibilities.  Both my boys, ages 6 and 7, gave it *5* stars!

So, what did my boys like about the book?  They loved the rhyme, the fun, appealing illustrations, and the giant snowman, of course!  My boys love snow, love to play outside, and can only dream of building a snowman like Snowzilla!

What did mom like about this picture book?  Everything!!! The author begins the story in a Seuss-like style that immediately grabs the reader's attention:

It snowed without stopping
for week after week.
When it ended at last,
Cami Lou took a peek.

Not only is the story entertaining, but there are snow (sorry, couldn't help it!) many teaching points you can do with the story! Here are just a few:

  • The vocabulary is challenging and rigorous.  Words like bundled, scavenged, hoisted not only teach new words, but the context clues and picture clues encourage critical thinking.
  • Rhyme!  The entire story is told in predictable rhyme and creates a smooth rhythm that makes this a great choice for a read-aloud.
  • Similes~  A few comparisons are used ("as tall as a tree"). Using this figurative language along with the rhyme makes this a good anchor text for older kids involved in a poetry study.
  • Verbs~ They are everywhere!  Lots of action words!
  • A defined problem that kids can relate to (Snowzilla must come down) . No child would like to be told that his/her snowman creation would have to be destroyed! Good for text-self connections!
  • Persuasive/Opinion techniques~  The town's judge orders that Snowzilla must come down because too many citizens are complaining (one says it scares her pooches!).  The main character uses creative thinking, emailing, texting, and blogging, to call for assistance from her friends. I won't tell you what the solution is, but it is very clever and involves teamwork!
I adore this book so much, that I think I just may need to buy a hard copy to add to my winter picture book collection. Click the picture above to see the listing on Amazon.  I purchased it for the Kindle Fire for about $5.
I would recommend the book for ages 4-7, maybe older if used as an anchor text. Reading level is approximately second grade.  My first grade son (reads at about level M/N) read it at an instructional level.
I created two printables for the story that you can grab for FREE.  Just click on the picture below.  


This picture book is definitely a keeper. Check it out and let me know what you think!    

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Motivating Reluctant Readers: What Works!

how to motivate readers

Perhaps my title for this blog article is misleading- now that I think about it- because I did not start out the school year challenging my son to read 25 books.  When we started our school year at the end of July (I homeschool year round), my goal was to ignite a spark in him so that he would enjoy reading again. I wanted him to choose to read, not read because he had to. In short, I wanted to help him develop into a passionate, life-long reader, much like is described in Donalyn Miller's brilliant masterpiece, The Book Whisperer.

So, what I was really trying to do is to foster a positive reading attitude.  After teaching for 24 years, I had a pretty good idea of what I needed to do and what I shouldn't do to help nurture a love for reading and to help my son view himself as a reader.

One thing that I should note is that I am not suggesting that teachers or parents focus on quantity over quality.  However, I also know that we kill the reader (commit Readicide, if you will) if we require students to analyze every little detail of a book or story, if we spend too much time on a book or story with a plethora of work to be done, or if we over-emphasize Close Reading. The way I was trained as a reading teacher 20 years ago is that it is not best practice to spend weeks and weeks on a book. That obviously applies to chapter books and novels for the more experienced readers, but also applies to primary and intermediate students and picture books.

 Instead, one must strike is a delicate balance between spending just the right amount of time analyzing and rereading a book/text for instructional purposes and reading for the pure sake of enjoyment. The 25 books (chapter books of varying length) my son has read were for independent reading. However, I carefully crafted my lessons for read-aloud and instructional books so that I was working as hard on reading motivation as I was on comprehension.  And just like in the classroom, what I discovered is that if you start with a heavy emphasis on reading tasks (e.g., vocabulary, "answer these questions after reading"), students will not be motivated. We send the message that reading is something you do to answer questions correctly or to complete written activities. Reading=written work is not the message that I want to send. The message I want to send is that Reading=Fun and that Reading=Thinking

OK, so what did I do?  Here are some of the things that I did:

  • I set the expectation from the beginning that he would be expected to read independently for at least 20 minutes. He got to choose which books to read, when to read, and where to read.  He could read in the kitchen, in the playroom, or in bed at night.  I really emphasized the latter part and even gave him a flashlight to read and told him he could stay up past bedtime as long as he was in bed reading.  And not "pretend" reading either. I didn't set a timer.  I told him I trusted him to keep track of the time.  He is after all 8 years old, in the third grade, and ready for such responsibility.  He liked that.  I saw him smile! Sometimes he used my phone to keep track of the time.

  • I let him select his books, without much input from me and no strings attached.  Maybe it's just me, but it seems when "Mom" makes a suggestion, he just isn't that interested. This was the case with all three of my boys.  Because of this, I learned to be sneaky.  I'd select books from my classroom library or even books I ordered from Amazon that I thought they would like and leave them scattered on the coffee table or place them in the book holder that is in the dining room.  My boys, unlike my husband, notice anything new! I also made sure that they saw me reading!  I only read children's and YA literature (because I want to stay on top of the latest books to make recommendations), so they are naturally attracted to the books I am reading.

  • Later, when I saw that he was gravitating toward a certain genre, I would casually make a suggestion.  I took a "take it or leave it" and "it doesn't really matter to me" kind of attitude. Like with selecting books , this was my way of using reverse psychology. At this time, I was also feeling him out, trying to get him to find a series that he liked. I knew if I could find one book from a series that he liked, then he would be hooked and would keep reading.  He actually found such a book last year as a second grader with a remarkable teacher. But, it took until the summer for him to really dive in and become almost obsessed with the Humphrey books by Betty G. Birney.

  • I gave books as gifts. For example, instead of giving him allowance for a week, I gave the option of selecting a new book that I would buy.

  • We went to the library at least once a week.  This past summer he really got into the summer reading program held at our local library.  This was the first year that he would and could read on his own with confidence.  He associated the library with fun (mostly because of the weekly prizes he could earn) and it has carried over ever since.  

  • I left him alone.  As hard and as tempting as it was, I didn't hover over him, I refrained from asking too many questions, and I didn't badger him as to when he would be finished. And when he was finished, I'd give him a high-five and have him tell me what he thought of the book and if I or his older brother should read it.  That's it.  No reader's log, no after reading questions on a worksheet, and no diorama. The only thing I'd do is give him subtle praise (he gets embarrassed if I make too big a deal out of anything) and tell him what a book worm he was becoming.

What I Didn't Do
  • I didn't let him see me "sweat" when he was balking at reading last year and showed no interest besides reading for his teacher. Reverse psychology seems to work so well with my boys.  I didn't make a big deal about it, but instead analyzed the situation and came up with a game plan, which includes many of the things on the above list.  And I made sure that he saw my passion for reading both in my teaching and in my conversations with his two older brothers.

  • I did not burden him with having to complete a reader's log after reading a book or any text for that matter.  Many kids find that cumbersome and laborious.  I detest reader's logs (you can read a blog article I wrote about that here).  I keep a simple log that I have in my planning binder.  I keep track of what he reads independently as well as the read[ alouds and instructional books I use.  I would show him how much he read at the end of each month.  Eventually he'll take responsibility for what he reads,but that will come later.

  • I didn't make him complete after reading activities for every book he read. I emphasized that independent reading was read to self time to enjoy the books. Once a marking period, he gets to choose one book to share with me in a project/form of his choice.

  • I didn't make him finish a book that he didn't like.  We talked about how readers can abandon a book and that it's OK to do so.

  • I did not isolate reading instruction into a neat little box titled "ELA block". I made it a point to show him how he reads all day long, not just in all subject areas, but in "real life" too like when he is learning a new video game or reading a recipe.

  • I didn't tell him he had to read a certain number of books. The expectation was that he would read daily. I helped him set goals for all of his academics, and I helped him with thinking about how he would reach that goal.

  • I didn't micromanage his book selection.  There were times that I knew (from assessments and working with him daily) that the book he had chosen were more at his hard/frustration level.  But, I bit my tongue because he wanted to read these books and because he was proud that he was reading them.  He was developing a sense of self that he was a reader! And easy books?  Books that he already read?  There was no way I would interfere with him reading books at his easy level or rereading a book.  He was reading them for pure enjoyment and along the way was working on fluency and comprehension skills.

These suggestions really do work with kids of almost all ages. I used the past tense in my lists, but I am still doing these things and will for a long, long time. When your first priority is to share your authentic, sincere passion for reading, you can't help but motivate students.  When you put students' reading attitude and motivation first and "teaching" about the books second, you are more likely to hook them. 

As for the 25 books:  honestly, I would have been just as thrilled if it were 5 books because that would have shown growth.  And considering that the books he chooses to read are long chapter books, it is quite a feat.

Even though I homeschool now, I have used just about all of these techniques with students in elementary and middle school. Focusing on reading attitude and striving to develop life-long readers really does transform your teaching and your students!

How do you motivate kids to read? Share your ideas and successes in comments!

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Homeschooling an Only Child: Pros and Cons


The decision to homeschool is a very personal decision that affects the entire family. Families choose to homeschool for many different reasons, and most times it is a combination of reasons and/or circumstances.  As for me, well, it is an "it's complicated" reason as to why we homeschool.  The bottom line is that it is what is best for my child at this time. 

 Since his older brothers are not homeschooled (the oldest is away at college and the middle son attends public school) that means that my son is the only child that I homeschool.  I'll be honest in sharing that this was one reason why I was hesitant to homeschool in the first place.  Learning is such a social experience, and as a former teacher, I know how beneficial cooperative learning is.

And then there is the socialization issue that is brought up to most homeschool families whether or not they have an only child.  I considered this aspect as well. Would teaching my son at home at the "expense" of  not having peer interaction be beneficial?

If you are considering homeschooling an only child, please read on as I share our experiences.

Obviously there are numerous advantages to homeschooling an only child. These are just a few of the ones that I have chosen to highlight.

1. The home environment is conducive to my son's introverted tendencies and to his preference for a quiet atmosphere.  As a side note, my son was diagnosed with Selective Mutism at the age of three.  I have written extensively about this anxiety disorder here on my blog.  Many experts in the field do not encourage homeschooling a child with S.M. for the simple fact that it does not teach the child to deal with and cope with their fear of and inability to talk in school.  We tried school for four years  both in public and private schools. While my son had outstanding teachers, school was difficult for my child emotionally. At home, he can work at his own pace and really focus and concentrate on his learning without the anxiety and fear that affected him while in a more traditional school atmosphere. I am helping him over this little speed bump. And in the future, if he wants to return to public school, then he will.  I am blessed that I can do this for my son, for I remember so well when my oldest son was in elementary school and I could not financially afford to homeschool as a single mother.

2.  I can provide the 1-1 instruction that he needs, especially in his weak areas.  Spelling and writing are difficult for my son, and I noticed that the traditional weekly spelling list and Friday test were not effective {as is the case with most kids!}. He also had some gaps in other areas that his teachers were not able to observe because of his inability to talk at school and not because of poor teaching. I chose a spelling program that could provide him intervention at his level. We went to the basics- all the way back to the sounds of each letter- in third grade!  In turn, he is progressing with spelling and it is evident in his writing, which after all is the ultimate goal of learning to spell. And because he is able to talk at home, I provide him many opportunities to talk and discuss his learning throughout the day. Just the simple act of talking about his reading is something that he has never done at school.

3.  Because he is a more confident learner and can speak during the day, he is not exhausted at the end of the day.  When he was attending school, he would often come home mentally and emotionally exhausted from the anxiety that plagued him all day long.  He was not able to express many emotions, rarely if ever would use the bathroom, and did not speak out loud all day long. As a result, he would often have melt downs and crying spells as he was processing the days events and anticipated returning to school the next day.

As with your child, I have some pretty specific reasons as to why the home environment is best for my son. And those reasons trump any advantages to placing him in a traditional school and classroom setting- at this time.

As I mentioned in my opening, I knew that homeschooling an only child could possibly create some obstacles like not having peers to learn from.  As a teacher, I see the incredible value of learning alongside one's peers and in cooperative and collaborative settings. One example of this is with writing instruction.  I use a Writer' Workshop model for part of our ELA block.  One of the many advantages to using this model is the peer interaction and sharing that takes place among the writers. For instance, when as a class you are brainstorming a list of writing topics or effective and interesting ways to begin a piece of writing, listening to your peers share ideas and their writing is very motivating and instructional.  For, sometimes, maybe oftentimes, students can do a better job of explaining and modeling than I can!

Although I am a homeschool supporter, I am also an advocate of the public and private school systems. This sets me apart from many homeschooling families I know, for I take each child's unqiue set of circumstances into consideration. The example I cited in the previous paragraph brings up another thing to think about.  If you have a child that is very extroverted and who craves and needs daily peer socialization and interaction when learning, then perhaps being homeschooled as an only child would not be in their best interest.  My middle son attends public school because he thrives there.  Even bringing him home to school alongside his brother {who is younger by a mere 14 months!}would not be enough for him. My oldest son attended a boarding school for his last 2 years of high school.  This is what was best for him at that time and he had the financial opportunity to do so.

The bottom line with any disadvantage that I can cite is that it needs to be weighed against the advantages and disadvantages of sending your child to a public or private school.  What is best for your child(ren) at this time? What can you do at this time considering your unique circumstances?

I have been able to get creative to problem solve some of the concerns I had about my son receiving an individualized education. His older brother is home each day by 2 p.m. and we often work together to practice multiplication drills, conduct a science experiment, or complete a project.  I have been fortunate enough to find a co-op in our area that has social activities and even some seasonal classes that are taught by some of the moms.  Add in group music lessons, sports, and church on Wednesday nights, and he has a pretty full schedule of opportunities, both at home and with extra curriculars.

As we started the second marking period in early November, I was able to reflect on his learning.  We talked, I asked him reflective questions, and he selected some of his "best" pieces from all subject areas to place in a portfolio.  The end result?  I am confident that he is learning and thriving, not only in academics, but in his social skills and emotional/mental health.  He seems to also think that he is doing well.  I have pushed him just a bit past his comfort level to try new things (e.g., take group music lessons), and he did it and did it well even though he was reluctant at the beginning.

But the biggest accomplishment so far is that he enjoys reading. Last school year, I was pleased that he was reading on grade level, but my heart broke that he did not enjoy it, did not view himself as a reader, and did not choose to read on his own.  I worked very hard over the summer and at the beginning of this school year to motivate him.  What did I do?  Well, that's a post in and of itself for another time.  But now, he reads on his own!  Often, he is up until 10 or 11 p.m. reading!  Why?  Because he loves it now!

So, I leave you with hope and inspiration if you are at all considering homeschooling  and most certainly if you will be working with an only child!

What can you add to this discussion about homeschooling an only child?  Please leave a comment below!

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