Start honing critical thinking skills early with a philosophy curriculum designed for elementary-age kids.
A free history program that covers 13.8 billion years of history — from the Big Bang to the present day.
With elections finally behind us, many will shift their attention toward the next Supreme Court nomination. It is the perfect time to expand our families’ understanding of this important institution. I’ve got two great resources to help get you started—Our Supreme Court, A History with 14 Activities by Richard Panchyk, written for grade levels 5 and up and Jeffry D. Stock’s Supreme Court Decision: Scenarios, Simulations and Activities for Understanding and Evaluating 14 Landmark Court Cases, written for grades 7 to 12.
Our Supreme Court is part of the fabulous “For Kids” series published by the Chicago Review Press. Divided into eight chapters, author Richard Panchyk introduces readers to such topics as the founding of the courts, free speech and freedom of religion, civil rights, criminal justice, and regulation of business and property rights. Presenting Supreme Court cases chronologically, Panchyk demonstrates the ways that U.S. court opinions have evolved over time.
An especially interesting feature of this book is its interviews with 35 individuals, each involved in landmark court decisions. These include talks with former Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury James Baker as well as David Boies, lead counsel for Vice President Al Gore in Bush v. Gore (2000). Fourteen unique activity ideas, including making a Supreme Court scrapbook, being a courtroom artist, role playing, and creating a neighborhood zoning map are also included in this book.
The text in Our Supreme Court is substantive and full of detail. This is a resource most suited for students intrinsically motivated to learn more about this subject matter. Panchyk’s book is not another dry text book. Well placed text boxes, interesting photography, engaging writing, and opportunities for student engagement make this an appealing, informative guide.
Written for children 10 to 17, Our Supreme Court could be easily adapted to teach multi-aged learners and would work equally well at home or in a larger group setting. Pancyk’s book retails for $16.95 and is available online and in bookstores.
In the opening pages of Jeffrey Stock’s Supreme Court Decisions: Scenarios, Simulations and Activities for Understanding and Evaluating 14 Landmark Cases, the author writes that his intention is “to teach students about important Supreme Court cases and to help them to think critically about the major historical decisions that have shaped the development of the United States.” Supreme Court Decisions is lets students interact with specific landmark cases in order to understand the imprint they have left on the evolution of our legal system.
Stock does not expect his book to be used as a stand-alone text. For a deeper understanding of the complex legal issues referenced in Supreme Court Decisions, he recommends exploring additional resources. Our Supreme Court would complement Stock’s work nicely.
As in Our Supreme Court, cases in Stock’s book are presented in chronological order. Each of the 14 cases is presented in a single chapter. At the start of each section helpful notes under the headings “Quick Reference” and “Background” are provided for instructors. “Quick Reference” succinctly identifies the issue, the players, the ruling, and the significance of the specific case. The “Background” section provides the instructor with historical context and additional information about the case. Both sections are brief and do not require extensive time for preparation.
The student section is divided into two parts. Section one provides a fictional vignette or scenario depicting the circumstances surrounding a specific case. Thoughtful discussion questions follow each vignette. Students are asked to identify what major issues need to be settled, discuss the facts as they’ve been presented, and to anticipate the court’s response.
In Section two of the student section the actual case is presented followed by a write-up of the court’s actual ruling and the aftermath of the decision. Lastly, readers are asked to consider how the particular ruling is still relevant today.
Ideas for 15 follow-up activities, which can be used with any of the 14 cases presented, are also provided. These include writing a letter to the editor in response to a specific verdict, creating a flow chart that shows how a case wound up in the Supreme Court, making a political cartoon, and creating a television news report that describes a Supreme Court ruling.
Stock’s writing is lean. Adroitly condensing multifaceted concepts and details, he delivers information with a straightforward style that most students will appreciate. Supreme Court Decisions is an extremely flexible resource that suits a variety of learning styles. Depending on your child’s level of interest, you may choose to study all 14 cases and attempt all of the activities. On the other hand, you may simply wish to familiarize your child with a more basic understanding of how the Supreme Court functions. It may be enough to review a small sampling of the cases Stock presents here.
Supreme Court Decision is 98 pages. It retails for $19.95 and is available online at Prufrock Press and in bookstores.
Homeschooling provides families the chance to explore whatever issues seem most significant at a particular point in time. An extra special bonus is discovering great resources, like the ones I’ve described here, which address these interests and also help our children to better understand the complicated world in which they live.
As the mom of three budding young scientists, each time I open one of Ellen McHenry’s popular books for homeschoolers, I grow more excited. Writing for children ages 8 to 14, McHenry introduces areas of science often deemed too advanced for young students—chemistry, botany, and neurology to name just a few. McHenry recognizes what many homeschoolers quickly come to realize—this science stuff is too much fun to put off till high school!
The Brain, An Introduction to Neurology is one of McHenry’s earlier texts. Although it lacks the colorful content of her more recent works, this is not a resource that you will want to miss. The author is also an illustrator and her black and white sketches are as detailed and informative as the text that they accompany. The result is a superbly balanced layout that succeeds in providing detailed information for older learners, and avoids overwhelming younger readers with text-heavy material.
A reproducible student booklet, a teacher guide and answer key, and a CD rom are the cornerstones of this resource. They come packaged together.
The student booklet is 10 chapters. Topics include a history of brain research, brain anatomy, brain cells, learning and memory, and a look at various brain disorders. Each chapter is divided into two sections. The first section introduces a new topic and is followed by several activities that reinforce new concepts. Wide-ranging activities include viewing videos online, reading additional materials, cross word puzzles, mapping parts of the brain, word searches and more.
The second section of each chapter was developed for more advanced learners or for anyone wishing to delve a little deeper. Additional activities, similar to those found in section 1, follow. Your family may choose to do all of these advanced sections, or you may pick and choose those that most appeal to your child. An answer key for both sections is also included.
The student booklet is followed by the teacher’s section, which opens with a list of recommendations for additional neurology books and websites. From here, McHenry provides unique activity suggestions to accompany each chapter. As one who is forever perusing Pinterest and homeschooling blogs for innovative science projects, I’m certain that McHenry has among the most original ideas out there. Do an MRI of an orange, make a hemisphere hat, memory games and neuron art are just some of the project ideas she includes in the teacher’s section of this book. These activities require minimal materials and prep time. Many of the activities, such as making a human neuronal network, would lend themselves nicely to a co-op setting.
The accompanying CD contains a vocal and instrumental version of “The Brain Song,” to cement the brain’s different functions in the minds of your students. This disc also provides a copy of the student booklet making it easy to produce copies for multiple siblings or co-op students.
McHenry’s books are an ideal resource for groups containing multi-age learners. The Brain contains interesting readings and informative diagrams that are paired with hands-on interactive projects. McHenry’s work is likely to appeal both to academic, bookish learners as well as to active, kinesthetic learners. There is plenty of room for flexibility with this program, however it is realistic to assume one could work their way through all of the material in 10 weeks’ time.
The Brain is available for sale on McHenry’s website. The paperback version is $17.95, and the digital download is $14.95. While you are there, check out all of the free resources McHenry shares with her readers. It is an informative website with lots of great ideas to make your lesson planning tons more fun. The Brain is available at other online bookstores as well.
McHenry’s writing is succinct, engaging, and easy to follow. She has a gift for providing substantive information with a comprehensible delivery. Potentially daunting subject matter, in McHenry’s hands, quickly becomes accessible, relevant and loads of fun.
For more information about Ellen McHenry’s work, see the spring issue 2016 of home/school/life magazine for my review of her book, The Elements: Ingredients of the Universe.
Another school year is about to begin. I can’t wait! For the first time, all three of my children will be homeschooling together. Like many of you, I’m contemplating how to best address my kids’ individual learning styles and interests without breaking the bank buying curriculum. I also know that the lessons and projects we enjoy most tend to be those that we work on together as a family. Both of these factors point to unit studies as an option worth considering.
Unit studies are a series of activities organized around one theme. Homeschoolers can design their own unit studies or save time by choosing from the enormous range of options that can be purchased.
For those buying unit studies, the Layers of Learning program may be just what you are looking for. Authors Michelle Copher and Karen Loutzenhiser have created a series of unit studies focusing on history, geography, science, and the arts. Their program is designed for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Year One begins in Mesopotamia and ends with a look at the Roman Empire. Year Two continues from the Medieval Period (400 AD) to the Renaissance. Throughout Year Three, students focus on the Age of Exploration and the Colonial period. Year Four, still in development, will focus specifically on the past 200 years. According to the website, it will be completed this year.
Here’s how it works. Regardless of age, students begin with Year 1 Unit 1. Each unit takes approximately two weeks to complete and contains a wide range of activities and suggested book titles. Students simple pursue the topics, projects, and readings that are of greatest interest. It takes four years to cycle through these materials once. Upon completing the cycle, students return to Year 1 Unit 1 moving on to some of the more challenging materials included in the unit. In other words, students who begin Layers of Learning as first graders would go on to cycle through the full program 2 more times.
For this review, I looked at the year two-unit one Layers of Learning guide, which focuses on Byzantines, Turkey, Climate and Seasons, and Byzantine Art. Jam packed with maps, art, and other eye catching visuals, the unit’s pages are not overly text heavy. Throughout the program, additional information is provided in a series of sidebars with headings like “Fabulous Facts” and “Additional Layer.” The “Teacher Tips” provided in the margins are relevant and helpful. “Writing Workshop" boxes contain writing prompts that will appeal to a wide range of age.
A booklist with recommended readings connected to the unit’s theme is also included. These book suggestions are grouped for readers in grades 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12.
Layers of Learning has something for everyone. Each unit includes hands-on activities, creative writing projects, science experiments, and art projects that can be adapted to suit a variety of ages and learning styles.
In the unit that I reviewed, in order to better organize and assimilate information, students are encouraged to reference a Byzantine timeline. Thoughtful points for discussion are provided and include questions such as “Do you think there should be a state church or state religion? What are the pros and cons of religion mingled with government?” There is an opportunity to play a traditional Byzantine board game, make Byzantine clothing, and to work on Venn diagrams while exploring the similarities and differences between the Romans and Byzantines.
The geography section of this unit features hands-on map work, a look at Turkish sports, and the opportunity to prepare a Turkish feast, as well as sections on the Turkish flag.
Opportunities to make a sundial, keep a weather log, and examine the greenhouse effect are just a sampling of the concepts explored in the science section of this unit. Many of the projects are hands-on and will especially appeal to younger learners.
A study of Byzantine era art is the perfect launch for a study of mosaics, gold leafing, and embroidery. The authors provide innovative project ideas to cultivate appreciation and understanding of these traditional arts.
Layers of Learning is a fun and flexible program that can simplify the process of teaching multiple ages. It would work equally well with one child. Families may find working through each of the four-year cycles works best for their situation. However, single units, which can be purchased separately, could also be used as a standalone unit or to supplement another curriculum.
Visit Layers of Learning’s website to purchase PDF downloads of all available units. These downloads can be ordered separately for $4.99 or in bundles for $78.80. Hardcopy versions are also available from selected retailers listed on the website.
With the new school year comes inevitable change. Whether you are introducing your new kindergartener to the wonderful world of homeschooling, watching your homeschool grow smaller as older children leave the nest, or find yourself somewhere in between, best wishes for the year ahead. I hope you find curriculum that sparks wonder and curiosity, makes your workload lighter, and most of all brings joy.
Editor's Note: Rebecca's review focuses on the medieval year, which includes secular science, but we've discovered that some of the Layers of Learning curricula include problematic "neutral science." Because of this, we do not recommend using Layers of Learning for your science curriculum. —Amy
Julie Bogart’s popular Brave Writer resources are favorites among homeschooling families. One enthusiastic mom told me, “Brave Writer is more than a curriculum; it’s also a guide to maximizing all of the joys and rewards that come with the homeschooling lifestyle.”
I finally had the opportunity to check out Brave Writer for myself, and I’m absolutely hooked! We’ll be using this program in our homeschool this fall, and I can’t wait to get started.
Brave Writer products include both home-based and online learning resources ranging from kindergarten through to high school. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing Jot It Down!, a year-long language arts and writing program for children ages 5 to 8.
Bogart encourages parents to cultivate learning environments in which young writers feel comfortable taking creative risks. By establishing a cozy, supportive space to practice reading and writing, she explains, creativity blossoms and an organic love of language evolves.
Jot It Down! opens with fun ideas to help readers create just the right learning atmosphere—light candles while reading poetry, bake brownies, sing, play, and dance. Bogart’s writing is warm and inviting; it is a celebration of the magic moments made possible through homeschooling.
Before the age of five, writes Bogart, children acquire and develop language skills simply by engaging with others. Family and friends listen appreciatively to toddlers offering them gentle feedback and modeling correct grammar patterns. Throughout this stage of learning, instincts guide us as we help our children master verbal communication.
Writing skills, the author points out, can be developed using the very same painless methods. We enjoy watching young children experiment freely with vocalization and sentence structure. Rarely do we feel a need to edit their words. We recognize this is a valid part of the learning process. Bogart believes that young writers should be encouraged in the same ways. Resist the temptation to pull out a red pen, she urges. Let kids experiment and play with the written word.
Jot It Down! is divided into three areas of learning: Language Arts, Oral Language, and Writing Projects. Although Bogart offers scheduling suggestions, parents are encouraged to work through the program in a manner that best suits their child.
Handwriting, reading skills, and basic punctuation are introduced in the language arts section. To teach these mechanics, Bogart relies heavily on copy work and dictation. Here it is important to note that parent’s must provide all copy work materials as none are included in this resource. For those unfamiliar with copy work and dictation methods, additional research will be required—a guide to these approaches is not provided in Jot It Down! For information about copy work and dictation, the author suggests referring to Brave Writer publications The Wand or A Quiver of Arrows, which are sold separately and as part of a Jot It Down! bundle.
Oral language development is an important feature of the Jot It Down! curriculum. Narrating ideas aloud facilitates vocabulary development and helps children develop their “internal writing voice.” Bogart playfully exchanges the term “narration” with “Big Juicy Conversation.” She refers to parents’ transcription as “catching your child in the act of thinking.” Jot It Down! provides ideas to encourage impromptu storytelling as well as worthwhile extension activities that maximize the value of narration activities.
Ten writing projects are featured in this final section. These projects can be easily simplified or expanded depending on the needs of the child. One writing project per month is recommended, with each project taking four weeks to complete. These hands-on projects are creative and include appealing project themes such as fairy tales, animals, and art appreciation. Activities include topic selection, research, content development, transcribing, revision, assembling, and sharing projects with friends and family.
Jot It Down! is a 79-page digital download that is visually appealing and printer friendly. It is available to purchase online and retails for $39.95.
Jot It Down! is the sort of resource that appeals to all kinds of families. It can be easily modified to suit a variety of learning styles and can be used with multi-aged siblings. Bogart’s writing is full of reassurance and warmth that parents will appreciate. Kids will love the program’s emphasis on joyful learning and creative self-expression.
The Heroines Club is both an innovative history curriculum and a how-to guide for creating and nurturing a mother-daughter circle.
Spring has sprung. My young sons wake up earlier now, anxious to get outside for great big adventures. This time of year dandelion hunting, playtime in the mud, bike riding, and tree climbing fill our days. I am in awe of all of the learning opportunities nature conjures up for us.
The chance to accommodate and encourage our children’s love of nature is one of the many perks of homeschooling. Nature books are a much loved keystone on many homeschoolers bookshelves, and so I’m pleased to have stumbled upon Lynn Seddon’s treasure Exploring Nature with Children.
Exploring Nature with Children is a curriculum chock-full of ideas to take thoughtful learners through a full year of nature studies. Well organized and comprehensive, Seddon’s program takes the work out of lesson planning, ensuring that families have time to get outdoors and play in the dirt.
Seddon opens with tips for making nature studies a homeschooling focal point. Making and maintaining nature journals and keeping a nature display table indoors are two rewarding activities kids (and grownup) of all ages can enjoy. Seddon provides helpful ideas to make these ideas come to life.
Exploring Nature with Children provides 48 weeks of themed and guided nature study. Seddon’s program will help to develop your family’s appreciation of nature a well as to provide a scientific context for your child’s observations.
Although Exploring Nature with Children is designed to work well as a stand-alone resource, Seddon encourages using it in conjunction with one of my all-time favorites, Anna Botsford Comstack’s Handbook of Nature Study. This would be a particularly worthwhile choice for those using the curriculum with older children.
Each section of Exploring Nature with Children is designed to take students through one week of nature study. Seddon opens each section with a theme. Our family worked through a March unit on birds. The section opens with an informative paragraph about the behavior of nesting birds in early springtime.
Next up is a guided nature walk. Here Seddon suggests details to be on the lookout for during a walk in the wild. My sons and I loved the challenge of watching for birds at work building nests. We also kept an eye open for nesting materials. To find nests off the beaten path, Seddon suggests looking at tree tops with binoculars, carefully examining the woodland floor, and observing holes in the trunks of trees. Seddon encourages readers to spend time afterwards sketching and jotting down observations in their nature journal.
For those wishing to learn more, Seddon suggests readings in The Handbook of Nature Study as well as correlating page numbers to provide more in-depth information about the week’s theme. A themed book list also accompanies each weekly lesson. Whether you choose to use these books or not is optional. Recommended non-fiction, fiction, and biography titles are provided for a range of ages. Even in my rural library, most of the recommended titles were easy to locate. My family enjoyed starting out the day reading books from this list.
A poem and a piece of art relating to the theme of the week are included in each unit as well. Families can incorporate these features into a learning plan however they like. Keep in mind that the suggested artwork itself is not included in Seddon’s book. Rather, she provides the name of the artist and of the painting. A simple internet search will provide prints of all of these works.
Innovative extension activities to help delve deeper into the week’s theme follow next. As my family worked through March activities we enjoyed gifting the birds with small piles of nest-making materials such as twigs and grass. We left these near our bird feeders. Using a field guide we located local birds and researched their nesting patterns. Seddon also suggests creating a map of the nests in your area to put inside of nature journals. The extension activities throughout the book are wonderfully varied, original, hands-on, and substantive.
Living waaaaay up north means we need to tweak the book’s calendar schedule for our uses. In April, for instance, we worked through the March sections of the book. It may take readers a little time to sync up with the author’s schedule; however, once this adjustment is made there should not be any difficulty.
Exploring Nature with Children will work best for those living in regions with somewhat dramatic seasonal changes. Also, the author assumes readers have access to landscapes that provide opportunities to observe, touch, and interact with nature.
Exploring Nature With Children is only available as a PDF. The PDF download costs $15 and can be purchased from the author’s website.
Nature is the perfect classroom. Kids of all ages can find inspiration, information, joy, and satisfaction from time spent learning outdoors. Happy spring!
Math has never been my thing. In school I went to ridiculous lengths to avoid the subject and since then my attitude hasn’t much improved. Six years ago, when I began homeschooling my oldest son, I vowed he would never feel that same dread for any subject that he studied—especially math!
From the start I was stunned by my little boy’s enthusiasm and desire to go deeper into the world of numbers, tables, formulas, and graphs. Finding a math curriculum to satisfy his curiosity was difficult. Frankly, the first few years were a disaster, and, despite my best intentions, my son began to share my dread of math. Thankfully, I discovered Beast Academy—a curriculum that could both excite and satiate my math-loving son.
The moment we opened up the new math books we knew that we’d stumbled onto something special. Full of colorful comic book-style pages, the Beast Academy Guides tell the story of four lovable “beasts”—Lizzie, Alex, Grogg, and Winnie. Loaded with appealing kid-humor, the Guides follow the four young beasts as they attend math classes and attempt to solve challenging equations, puzzles, and games.
Replacing the textbooks found in most traditional math curriculums, the soft-cover Guides are divided into three long chapters, with each chapter further divided into shorter sections. The Guides rely on lots of visual representation to explore concepts and to inspire analytical thinking.
Corresponding black-and-white Practice books accompany the Guides. Though not nearly as colorful as the Guides, the beasts make plenty of appearances here as well, and the text is pleasing and easy to follow. These Practice books contain more than one hundred problems to solve. Each page presents questions ranging from easier to double-starred and triple-starred problems requiring multiple steps.
My son enjoyed the fact that each practice page contained far fewer problems than he was accustomed to in his old math workbooks. Rather than repetitive drills, Beast Academy provides fewer but more complex problems requiring the application of the newly acquired skills. “Mathy” kids are likely to view these exercises as games and will find them far more rewarding than repetitive drills.
Beast Academy’s curriculum does not come with a teacher’s guide, but I was (very) relieved to find that both the Guide and the Practice books provide some support for parents. At the front of each Practice book appears a recommended sequence briefly explaining how to use the Guides and the Practice books intermittently. The Practice books include an answer key at the back of the book and I won’t lie—I refer to it constantly! Hints are also provided at the back of Practice books to help get kids started on the trickier starred and double-starred challenge problems.
Beast Academy’s materials are eye-catching and fun, but this is also an accelerated, ambitious math program. Among the things my son has appreciated most about this curriculum is that he is learning to approach math in new ways. “I have more tools now, mom,” he told me the other day. “I have more ways to think about numbers and more ways to solve problems.”
Subject matter is covered earlier here than in other math programs. While working through a different curriculum, my son was using a program several years ahead of his actual grade level and was quite bored. When it came time to take the free assessment test provided on Beast Academy’s website, he came out at grade level. Although he did wind up reviewing skills he’d already acquired, we were both pleased to see all of the new ways that he learned to approach these familiar concepts.
Beast Academy is a comprehensive program and does not require any supplementation. The company accurately states that “Beast Academy is loosely based on the Common Core standards. However, it covers the key grade-level standards but in greater depth and with more opportunities for problem-solving and logical thinking than other curricula.”
Beast Academy is for enthusiastic math students. It is for children who are sailing through traditional math courses and yearn to go deeper. It will reengage students who have grown frustrated and bored with repetitive drills.
Aside from being familiar with the concepts being studied, very little preparation is required from parents. Just be aware that the problems on the bottom of the workbook pages are far more complex than those at the beginning. I find that sitting beside my son helps him to stay focused and to maintain patience as the problems grow more difficult.
If I had one suggestion for Beast Academy’s publishers, it would be to develop a teacher’s guide. I am fortunate in that my oldest son prefers working independently on math and, for the most part, is able to do so. If my son needed more help from me, a teacher’s guide would be very handy and almost essential as the teaching methods used by Beast Academy are so different than those most of us grew up with.
A fairly new curriculum, Beast Academy is not yet completed. Eventually the program will cover grades 2 to 5 with four guides and four practice books per level. For now grades three and four are available and a portion of the fifth grade set is completed as well. The rest of the fifth grade books should be available by the winter of 2016/17 and the full curriculum will be available by fall of 2018. A complete year-long curriculum containing four guide books and four practice books sells for $108. Each book can be purchased separately as well.
I highly recommend the Beast Academy program for children with a fondness for math and the antics of funny furry beasts. I can tell you from personal experience that even the most math-phobic parents among us will find much to enjoy in this unique resource.
Over steaming pots of tea, my oldest son and I have had great fun working through David A. White’s book Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything. (See my review in the winter issue of home/school/life.). So much fun, in fact, that I just had to check out the author’s sequel, The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kids.
Anyone lucky enough to spend their days among children knows that young people are inquisitive and imaginative bold thinkers. Kids are natural born philosophers. For this reason, experts encourage the practice of exposing students to philosophy early on. Even an introductory understanding of the subject helps cultivate important skills used in developing critical thinking, appreciating cultural differences, considering other viewpoints, and growing one’s self-awareness.
White, a professor of philosophy with loads of teaching experience, breathes life into the ideas of some of history’s greatest thinkers. If you are already familiar with White’s popular work, Philosophy for Kids, you’ll notice the format in The Examined Life differs dramatically. This is a teacher’s guide. It is written for educators and is not intended to be used by students independently. Prior experience with Philosophy for Kids, while complementary, is certainly not necessary.
In this follow-up work, the author digs deeper encouraging readers to consider some of life’s most meaningful, as well as abstract, questions. Feminism, social justice, technology, freedom, and society are among the topics he explores.
The Examined Life is divided into three parts. “Kids and Philosophy,” the book’s first section, contains a collection of 10 readings—a series of passages from primary source selections, which are followed by questions, discussion, commentary, and analysis. Based on his own experience teaching this material, White anticipates and shares the questions students are most likely to raise as they delve deep into discussion. In most cases, links are provided so that those motivated to do so can read the philosophers’ complete texts online. An especially useful feature of this section is its suggestions for integrating the presented topics with lessons in science, social studies, and language arts courses.
“Education as Applied Philosophy,” part two of the book, is where this resource sparkles most. This portion of White’s book is likely to appeal to homeschoolers who have an inherent love of hands-on engagement and real life application of information.
Four discussions intended to enhance student’ abilities in critical thinking, drawing, language acquisition, and music are accompanied by innovative, sophisticated project ideas that bring the book’s material to life.
Part three, “A Philosophical Postlude” is a series of theoretical discussions that are presented in order to understand the relationship between educational theory and instruction. Here, special emphasis is placed on teaching gifted learners.
Although not specifically written for homeschoolers, The Examined Life could be easily adapted to suit the needs of one student or many and would also work well with older children in a co-op setting. To fully utilize this resource, advanced preparation on the part of the parent is necessary. The Examined Life is intended for Grades 6 to 12 and was written with gifted learners in mind. However, this is not a book exclusively for gifted children. Success using this material will rely largely on a student’s level of interest in the subject matter along with their ability to handle abstract materials.
If you used Philosophy for Kids with a younger child and it went well, you will want to get your hands on a copy of The Examined Life at some point too. However, as there is a significant difference in approach and style in this second book, it may be helpful to let some time pass to ensure that your younger child is ready for the level of materials found in The Examined Life.
The Examined Life is a unique resource designed to develop students’ critical thinking. The lessons it contains are likely to ignite curiosity and lead to lively discussions in your homeschool. I can’t wait to get started on this with my son!
Moms, we know how hard you work all year long. Your efforts truly make the world a better place. So, with the holiday season upon us, I’ve decided to do something different this month. Instead of bringing you my latest, greatest curriculum discoveries, I went digging for resources intended especially for you—and I think I’ve found just the thing!
Amy Bowers blogs beautifully about “creative family living” at mamascouts.blogspot.com. She is also the host of periodic online learning labs. This month, for the fourth year in a row, Amy looks forward to helping folks gear up for the season with her online resource, Holiday Lab. The primary aim of this lab is to inspire a calm, restorative holiday season and help readers find ways to be truly present to the beauty of the season.
In a letter to subscribers Amy explains, “Holiday Lab is a process (your process). A yearly reflection and meditation about tradition, creation and the shadow and light in our lives. This is not a to do list, a manifesto, or a guide book. It is an invitation and permission to carve out a tiny bit of quiet and to reclaim ownership of a season whose success and magic is often borne on the shoulders of moms and women.”
Sound good? I thought so, too! Here’s how it works. As a subscriber, you receive a lab in your inbox ten days in a row—weekdays only. As each lab is yours to keep, you can work at your own pace throughout the season.Each lab opens with an inspiring quote followed by a lovely essay written by Amy. In past years these pieces have been reflections on such themes as maintaining health, making space—both physical and mental, the value of simplifying the holidays as well as her thoughts on family traditions.
Do you journal? Is this a practice you’ve been meaning to establish forever? Get started by using Holiday Lab’s thoughtful journal prompts. Each prompt is a question inspired by Amy’s essays and will get you thinking about the way that you approach the holiday season.
The creative projects portion of each lab is great fun. Here Amy provides ideas to try with your family or, if you prefer, to do all on your own. Previous project ideas include vision boards, making ornaments and surprising someone in your community with a special handcrafted treat. Each idea nicely complements featured essays and journal prompts.
I love the recipe ideas that Amy provides in a section she calls “Soul Food.” Each looks nourishing and delicious, but also simple and straightforward—just what we need this time of the year.
A very special Holiday Lab feature is the private Facebook group Amy moderates for participants. Here members offer one another additional support and ideas to infuse the holidays with meaning and mindfulness.
Holiday Lab celebrates Christmas as a cultural tradition and is secular in its approach. Amy notes that everyone is welcome; the themes explored are “broad enough to serve any religion or ideological framework.”
In the upcoming months of homeschooling, holiday magic-making for family and friends, pause for a second and give yourself a gift. Holiday Lab starts November 30th. The cost for the lab is $30. To register, go here.
In the festive days ahead, you’ll probably find your days are especially full. Throughout this time, give yourself extra self-care. Make time for creativity, reflection and good food. Dance and laugh with friends. Drink cocoa! Make many moments to pause with your little ones and just absorb the simple beauty of the season. Happy holidays, everyone.
I talk with a lot of homeschooling families – it’s one of my favorite pastimes! A reoccurring concern among many is a shortage of comprehensive history curricula.
More than many other subjects, history typically requires home educators to scramble unaided to scour libraries, bookstores, yard sales, and the internet for engaging works. Piecemeal-ing a course of study only to find selected titles that are cost-prohibitive, out of print, subjective, or, worst of all, boring is a time-consuming disappointment.
If you can relate to the scenario described above, I’ve got some good news for you; it is Pandia Press, a producer of secular history curricula created with home educators in mind.
The History Odyssey series combines a classical approach to teaching with a thoughtful reading list and hands-on activities for grades 1 through 12. The classical method expects that students will cycle through a study of historical periods three times throughout their education. With this in mind, Pandia’s curriculum provides three levels: Level One, for grades 1-4, Level Two, for grades 5-8, and Level Three, for grades 9-12. Each level provides four programs lasting one year apiece; they are Ancients, Middle Ages, Early Modern, and Modern Times. If a student were to start with this program in grade one, completing the entire twelve-year program employing the classical method, she would revisit each history section three times.
For this review I looked at the ebook version of History Odyssey Ancients, Level One, which is a look at world history from 6000 BCE to 500 CE. A hard copy edition of this work is also available; however it is not a bound book; rather, it’s a set of loose leaf papers, which for some might be disappointing.
History Odyssey is not a textbook but rather a guide. Think of it like this—your closest homeschooler friend, the organized, well-read mother you so admire, mentions what a great year of history studies her family has enjoyed. She tells you this is thanks to all of the great resources she managed to glean from hours of exhaustive research. She happens to have recorded all of the details in a digestible, comprehensive format and over of cup of coffee she offers to share it all with you—this is what it’s like to thumb through the pages of this guide.
Each chapter of this guide is a complete week-long lesson plan organized and presented in a straightforward fashion that harried home educators will appreciate. An instructor’s prep list, a lesson plan chock-full of readings, map work, writing assignments and project ideas, and animpressive reading list are all provided.
Elementary level guides are for use with children 6 to 10 years old. Understanding that the range of skill sets in this age range varies dramatically, the author provides lesson ideas that can be easily adapted to suit the needs of individual students.
As there may be more suggested readings and project ideas than a family could complete comfortably in a year’s time, there is no need to acquire all of the suggested resources in advance. Take time to gauge your child’s level of interest and select the resources that will be most appealing. The author acknowledges that families will choose to approach these materials in number of different ways; for this reason she has designed flexible lesson plans that can be modified accordingly.
History Odyssey is not a canned curriculum, and parental involvement is required; however, I’m pretty certain you’ll enjoy the process. Along with overseeing lessons, time enough to locate all of the books and project materials referenced is also required. The good news here is that these titles are generally easy to come by at libraries and online. This guide also eliminates countless hours one might spend trying to identify history’s most important themes and organizes them in a linear, practical manner.
Secular and religious homeschoolers are likely to feel equally at home with History Odyssey’s respectful approach to world religions.
Kinesthetic learners who learn best through movement and hands-on activities may not find this curriculum is a fit. Although there are opportunities for projects and map activities, History Odyssey is primarily a book-focused curriculum that entails a great deal of reading and listening.
History Odyssey is bit pricey. At $46 for a loose leaf series of pages and $37.99 for the e-Book, you’ll want to be certain your library can provide the bulk of required reading materials.
A unique program, History Odyssey makes wearisome, lifeless textbooks a thing of the past. Children for whom this program is suited will enjoy tremendously the compelling stories of people, places and customs of the long ago past. Parents who know the labor involved in compiling resource lists such as these, will be deeply appreciative of the time they’ll save using this guide; they’ll be equally impressed with the quality of resources explored.
One of the many joys of exploring science in our homeschools is the regular opportunity for hands-on learning. When it comes to picking a good science kit that supports a particular theme, you’ll find there are many to choose from. Too many! In fact, if you’ve spent any time at all seeking out such resources, you’ve probably had a mix of both good experiences and some so frustrating they’ve bordered on comic. I’m still a bit scarred from a recent robot making kit I tried assembling with my kids. If you have experience with kits of this kind, you recognize that the quality of materials, instructions’ clarity, and scientific explanations provided can vary dramatically from kit to kit, and so many times the process proves frustrating to both the child and the parent.
Since these kits are not exactly free, I play it safe in my homeschool. For the times when we can’t make do with resources already in the house, I often pull out the Thames and Kosmos’ catalog and go shopping. Currently, there are more than 120 science and experiment kits available from this company. Each falls under one of thirteen categories: Chemistry, Physics, Alternative Energy andEnvironmental Science, Technology andElectronics, Biology, Earth Science andNatural History, Fun andFundamentals, Astronomy, Classic Science, Little Labs, Ignition Series, Sophisticated Science, and Construction Series. We have not hit home runs with 100-percent of the kits we’ve tried, but for the most part, I find Thames and Kosmos’ product line consistent in terms of ease of use, quality of materials, and most importantly, ability to engage my kids’ interest and keep learning fun.
I had a chance recently to spend time looking over Thames and Kosmos’ Hydropower Renewable Energy kit (ages 8+). The set features 12 experiments and building projects designed to illustrate methods of harnessing mechanical energy from water in order to perform physical work. Projects include making a water mill, building a sawmill, and generating enough energy from the waterwheel to light an LED.
A slim but informative booklet introduces readers to the concepts of hydropower. This material is a good launching point for discussions with children about earth’s most precious resource. They may be surprised to learn of the ways civilizations have harnessed energy from water throughout history. You may wish to further supplement the information found in this booklet, but it is also an adequate standalone resource.
The materials included are made of plastic and of the same average quality found in most kits of this kind today. They will hold up well enough for the purpose of each experiment and most likely for future experimentation as well. However, they are not toys and will not withstand rough handling. This kit is unlikely to hold up well enough to be used with younger siblings later on.
Instructions are provided with clear and easy-to-follow illustrations. With only minimal assistance, my children were able to use the guide themselves and felt enormous satisfaction from doing so. Perhaps now we can put the wretched robot debacle behind us!
Each experiment is placed into context using real world examples most students will find interesting. Children are able to understand the relevancy of each experiment they perform as well as the application of the scientific principles that this kit teaches.
If you are looking for a standalone kit to teach the basic concepts of hydropower or searching for an efficient, cost-effective way to make models that illustrate your own lesson plans, Thames and Kosmos has put together a solid resource to assist to you in your efforts. Enjoy!
OK folks, I am really excited about this one! Joy Hakim’s work, The Story of Science, is truly a treasure. Whether you’re seeking out curriculum for a science-loving learner who can’t get enough of the subject or navigating a path with a humanities kid who’d rather be reading and writing, Joy Hakim’s series has much to offer.
Hakim’s approach to the study of science is to discontinue the practice of isolating this subject from other disciplines such as world history, critical thinking, and language arts. Hakim advocates a multidisciplinary approach, which she masterfully brings to life for readers in her compelling three-volume series. The Story of Science meets the requirements of the National Science Education Standards and Common Core. However, these books are also rich with compelling language and ideas that ignite desire to delve deeper into the stories of scientists and their discoveries. Each volume ($24.95) can be supported with a student work book ($12.95) and a teacher’s guide ($39.95).
Suggested reading level is 5th grade through high school.
Volume I Aristotle Leads the Way:
This first book introduces students to ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, India, and the Arab world. The lives and work of Pythagoras, Archimedes, Brahmagupta, Al Khwarizmi, Fibonacci, Ptolemy, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas are presented in a lively style of narrative that is often absent in more traditional textbooks. Hakim’s selected topics for this volume explore the very questions that led the great thinkers to concepts of modern science as we understand them today.
Volume II, Newton at the Center:
The second, longer volume in this series features the work of important thinkers such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Descartes. This text demonstrates how the genius work of Isaac Newton made possible what is recognized today as modern physics, astronomy, mathematics, and chemistry.
Volume III, Einstein Adds a New Dimension:
Readers have a front seat ride with Albert Einstein as he and other great minds make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of physics. The history of physics is explored in amazing breadth in an engaging and literary manner. Hakim presents a wide range of concepts from electromagnetism to quantum mechanics, black holes, quarks, and more.
For those who view traditional textbooks with a healthy degree of skepticism, these exceptional volumes will be a pleasant surprise. Throughout each book, substantive text is peppered with colorful photographs, informative sidebars, useful charts and maps, and original excerpts from the scientists’ writings, as well as suggested further readings. The scientists themselves are brought to life like characters in a novel, presented as compelling individuals who are oftentimes as interesting as the discoveries for which they are famous.
The workbooks accompanying this series are well organized, and their layout is simple and straightforward. Each unit opens with a thoughtful quote from a featured scientist in order to establish the theme of the particular chapter. These quotes are a lovely springboard for some fascinating conversations with kids. Before students begin reading the text independently, they can refer to the who, what, where portion of the workbook, which succinctly presents important key details and vocabulary to guide their reading. “The Quest Sheet” appears at the end of each unit and is generally a series of questions and suggested hands-on activities. These exercises, though science-based, also offer opportunities to work on mathematical concepts, language arts, and historical interpretation. “Scientists Speak” is a fun page found in each unit on which an illustration of a scientist appears next to a speech balloon. Here the student is invited to write down a phrase or concept associated with that particular great thinker.
The Story of Science is not intended as a self-teaching course to be done independently by students; the teacher’s guides are essential. These well-organized guides contain original plans that utilize engaging methods. Many of its pages may seem formal or a bit stiff to homeschooling families as its format is geared toward classroom teachers. However, there is much to be gleaned from this resource. Each section provides a supplies list for getting started. Ideas for using the text and student guides are presented as are answer keys and activity ideas. Hakim’s commitment to a multidisciplinary approach is most apparent through enrichment activities, referred to in the guide as curriculum links. Through these, the author provides a means to engage students with projects that link science with math, art, geography, history, music, and language arts.
The Story of Science is not the right resource for every family. This is a secular science curriculum. Religion is presented in a historical and literary context. Those seeking a program that students can work at independently should look elsewhere. Although lesson preparation is minimal, parent involvement is required. The numerous maps, charts, and sidebars located throughout the text are well done and relevant, but could easily prove distracting to some learners. Students looking for a general overview of the sciences may find this work too analytical and expansive. This is a series for academically inclined students with a strong interest in science and history, who are able to make abstract connections.
The volumes reviewed here are part of a larger six-part series still in the works. Hakim is reported to be at work currently on a biology text focusing “especially on the story of how our knowledge of life has emerged.” For those who find this curriculum a good fit, this is very good news indeed.
Rebecca Pickens is home/school/life’s Curriculum Junkie in the magazine and online. (Subscribe to read her smart, thoughtful, secular curriculum reviews in every issue.) She writes for several publications and also blogs at steampoweredclassroom.com. This column originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of home/school/life. We're reprinting it here as part of our web relaunch celebration.
Whether or not you are familiar with the wonderful, wacky world of young Fred Gauss, made famous in the unique Life of Fred series, I’m beyond excited to share with you details of Schmidt’s newest work, Life of Fred Eden Series for Beginning Readers. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading other Life of Fred books, please be sure to check out my review of Stanley Schmidt’s curriculum in the summer issue of home/school/life magazine.
The Eden series is an eighteen-book collection of reading primers, which takes you through one continuous story. This review looks at the first six books in the series (with a guarantee I’ll be purchasing the rest of the books this afternoon!).
When your littlest learners get their hands on these primers, you’ll likely be delighted by their enthusiasm as well as their immediate desire to connect with these offbeat stories. At last, just like their older brothers and sisters, beginning readers can finally enjoy Fred’s offbeat world first hand.
The 32-page books do not teach phonics or specific concepts. Instead, this fun-filled romp takes readers on an absurd trip with Fred and his doll Kingie to Fall River Lake, where the two intend to enjoy some R-and-R. If you are familiar with Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggie books, you’ll be struck by the similarity of tone and style of the two series. Simple text scattered on uncluttered pages is mixed with illustrations that provide meaningful context clues to help readers puzzle out new words. Both sight and phonemic words are repeated throughout the texts. The stories are engaging and full of quirky fun.
I tested this series out with my 4-year-old. When his 6- and 9-year-old brothers (both die-hard Fred fans) joined us on the couch to read along, my youngest guy beamed with pride to find the “big boys” sitting in on his learning time with Fred. The text is easy enough to keep early readers challenged, but will generally not be frustrating. The stories are colorful and will entertain older children (and their parents) as well. This versatile series is appropriate both for early readers and older struggling readers. Another nice feature of the Eden series is that in between the laughs, Schmidt succeeds in unobtrusively including lessons about time, counting, nature, and basic shapes, among other things. An emerging trend of intelligent, effective readers is a genre I’m eager to see expanded.
These volumes manage the same high quality and affordability as the rest of the Life of Fred series and retail at about $6 per book.
Greetings! I am the Curriculum Junkie at home/school/life magazine, where I have the privilege of reviewing the absolute best of homeschool materials. I am also mom to 3 young homeschooling boys and a writer at www.steampoweredclassroom.com. I love my jobs; there is truly never a dull moment! It is a great joy to write about resources that help enrich the time we spend learning with our kids. There are so many treasures out there that I can’t possibly present them all in the magazine, so I’ve jumped on board at HSL’s blog for some more fun and sharing.It’s my hope you’ll glean information from this feature that truly enriches your homeschool experience. If there are particular subjects or themes related to curriculum that you would like to read about, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more in-depth looks at curriculum, check out my column in home/school/life’s magazine. Now on to the review!
The homeschooling lifestyle is ripe with potential for learners endowed with an entrepreneurial spirit. Hands-on opportunities to learn the basics of developing and operating a business can be made abundant. However, for those children wishing to deepen their understanding of the subject, it is helpful to have a guide that provides financial and business vocabulary, terms and concepts and that also guides the development and implementation of strategic thinking.
If your child is asking for such a resource, you might consider Y.M.B.A’s series of business workbooks designed for students ages 9 and above. The 5-volume set includes the titles, Marketing, Finance, Business Law, Business Math and Accounting.
The workbooks, which are approximately 70 pages, contain easy-to-read text with good-sized font and are made all the more user friendly by their many graphs, cartoons, and illustrations explaining key concepts. A motivated child could easily enjoy and work through this program independently, if they wished.
Each concise lesson begins with a one-page introduction to new concepts such as the history of money, how to write a check, loans and invoices and investment strategy to name just a few. The page that follows each lesson is called the “Drawing Room.” These worksheets provide readers a chance to engage with the new terms and concepts presented on the previous page. In completing each of these lessons, a wide use of skills are practiced; computation, creative and strategic thinking, exploration and application of ideas. Examples of Drawing Board exercises found in Marketing and Finance include writing a check, creating an organizational chart, word searches, making a comic strip, identifying the features of a saving bond, pricing a series of items for a shop, identifying a target market, and designing an eye-catching box for a specific sales item. A complete answer key follows at the end of the books. Each workbook is $9.95 and can be ordered on Y.M.B.A.’s website at www.YMBAgroup.com.
In the end, there is no better teacher than experience itself. This series is a comprehensive accompaniment that will reinforce the many concepts and skills a child encounters as they work to establish their own exciting business venture.
Rebecca is home / school / life magazine’s Curriculum Junkie columnist, and you'll be reading her first column in our Fall 2014 issue. Her writing appears in various national publications as well on her blog steampoweredclassroom.com. She is a community herbalist and interested in all aspects of sustainable, intentional living. She lives, laughs and learns on a small farm near the Adirondacks with her husband and three boys and a bunch of sheep, chickens and goats as well as their cat, dog and an unassuming pet shrimp named Weaver.
How I started homeschooling: When my oldest son turned three he announced his plans to become a scientist. He asked to begin school “immediately.” Seeing our farm as a perfect laboratory, we took on a hearty curriculum of worm hunting, puddle splashing, cloud gazing and dandelion picking. Our days were such glorious fun it never crossed our minds to stop!
My homeschool style: Learning at our place is usually messy and all-consuming. I do my best to adhere to a child-centered approach. The key detail is that my sons are driving their learning process. They are empowered and encouraged to help decide what themes we will explore together. This means lots of art, hands-on science, hours of reading, creative writing, walks to grandma’s and ample opportunity to seize inspiration from life, as it happens, all around us on our farm.
What a typical day looks like in my homeschool life: We generally start out over breakfast discussing the day ahead. Each of us shares our goals. Some of these are practical—math, using the microscope, bike riding. Many are big—find dinosaur bones, practice wizard skills, construct a robot. My oldest son and his dad do barn chores while the little boys and I clean up and prepare the homeschool room for the morning. The boys play till around 9, giving me time to do chores, think about dinner and do some writing. When we begin homeschooling, we usually start with whatever major theme we are working on. For example, right now the boys are interested in Ancient China. We’ll start off with a lesson that involves all three boys; this includes a family read, craft, travel video or some other hands-on project. Mid-morning everyone is able to enjoy some free time while I work one-on- one with each boy on math, handwriting and other age-specific tasks. We reconvene for lunch, which we make together and try to eat outside. Afternoon is spent doing science/nature studies. We take a walk most days and I usually go out with some specific goals in mind: find 3 signs of spring, hunt for monarch caterpillar eggs or tell me what you smell in the air. These walks ignite our imaginations; the formal science studies we do when we return home are fueled by these walks. Free time to play, read and run follows and takes us on into nighttime when dad is finally home. Stories of the day are shared with him and we eventually fall asleep tired.
Favorite readaloud: This is easy! Absolutely anything from Andy Stanton’s series of Mr. Gum books. These books are hilarious, imaginative, well written and full of zany creative fun. My whole family loves these books. The humor will appeal both to children and adults and they are perfect for reading aloud.
Favorite driving music: Like most moms,I can barely remember the last time I had a turn at the radio! I think, way back when, my first choice would be anything by the Dave Mathews Band. These days we listen to a lot of They Might Be Giants’ awesome tunes for kids. Our family’s favorite is Here Comes Science. My middle son is also a fan of Woody and Arlo Guthrie. I consider this fact my crowning achievement as a parent.
Things I like: Road trips and coffee, walking in the woods, Christmas time and wood fires. I love dirt roads in New England and any time spent with my family. I really like my chickens too.
Guilty pleasure: Expensive wool socks. They really are the only thing I splurge on for myself. I have only two pairs, but how I do revel in this secret little luxury.
What I love about homeschooling: All hours of the day our house buzzes with creativity: storytelling, picture drawing and science experimentation. I love the generous stretches of time homeschooling provides to explore whatever most lights up the eyes of my kids. I’m grateful that my middle son is home to feed his dog and that my youngest, not yet school-aged, is home with his big brothers learning from them all of the time. I’m so very thankful that there is time in the morning to read stories together while we are still in our pajamas. Picnic lunches in the middle of the week are awesome fun. I really could go on and on!
What I love about home/school/life magazine: The homeschooling movement is rich with people from all kinds of backgrounds; we all homeschool for a range of different reasons. I love that home/school/life magazine brings each of us to the same table. This really is a magazine for all kinds of homeschoolers, which provides for a fun, fresh exchange of worthwhile ideas and resources.