Thursday, October 7, 2010

Educator Appreciation Week at Borders 10/6 - 10/10

It's Educator Appreciation Week at Borders stores!  That means 25% off nearly all your purchases.  While they do give an educator discount throughout the year, during EAW the discount applies not only to educational/classroom items but anything for personal use as well (and Borders has really good chocolate).

There are some exclusions... Rosetta Stone, electronics, and a few other items.  See the Borders Teaching and Learning page for full details.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Textbook rentals aren't just for college kids anymore!

I typically don't review books or services that I haven't personally used (or at least perused) but I'm so excited about this one that I'm going out on a limb. is a site I stumbled on while book shopping online.   I knew these sites were becoming popular for college texts, but had no idea such a service was available for homeschoolers.  I spent a while poking around the site, and was amazed at the number of books available for rental.  The rental contract is a flat fee for 9 months, and the price is generally 1/2 the cover price of the book.  For example, The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease: Instructor Text by Susan Wise Bauer (list price $29.95/Amazon price $19.77) is just $11.98. 

While some categories are not as well populated (Math has only 2 publishers: Saxon and Math in Focus) some are quite well-stocked (science and language arts, especially).  There are selections from both secular and Christian publishers. looks to be a great option for those of us with little shelf space to keep books we're finished with, as well as a great way to try new books without worrying about being stuck with things that don't work for us.  No more lugging boxes to used curriculum sales!  We will be trying this service very soon.

If you've used, it post a review!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More free stuff

I like free stuff... and even more than I like free stuff, I like instant stuff.  You know, those things where you say, "I wish I had a ____", and then in less than 5 minutes you have one.  I like that.

Well, thank you to my Facebook friend Angela for pointing me in the direction of this site: .  On the Printable Paper site, you get more than lined paper and graph paper... there are budgets, calendars, story boards, and "Teacher Resources" galore.  My favorite category?  Game score sheets!  Everything from Bunco and Basketball to Whist and Yahtzee, all in free, printable PDF format.  I am one happy girl.

I didn't even know there was such a thing as a Scrabble score sheet... yet, here it is!

So, if you need a Rounded Doorknob Template, or a Knitting Graph (portrait or landscape!) you know where to go.

Check it out!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We're pretty excited about Mockingjay around here

It's here!  It's August 24, the day the Hunger Games trilogy comes to completion.  When, oh when, will the Guy In The Brown Truck arrive?

Here are a couple of reviews: one from the LA Times and one from USA Today.

Suzanne Collins will also be doing a Mockingjay book tour, mostly in the Northeast but with several other stops as well.  Click here for dates.

Happy reading!  (Let me know what you think of the book!)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Little House on the Prairie: another look

I haven't thought about this one in a while... since Library School days, actually.  In one of my Children's Lit classes, we discussed some of the classics, and how the books of our childhood, however endearing, actually act to perpetuate stereotypes and racial discrimination.  You might recognize a few of these titles: The Five Chinese Brothers,  The Indian in the Cupboard,  Little Black Sambo, The Matchlock Gun, The Courage of Sarah Noble... the the list goes on and on.  But the Little House on the Prairie series, because it is so adored, tends to get a free pass regardless of the racist remarks present throughout several of the books.  Most people are willing to overlook the descriptions of the "savages" because they feel it is a historically accurate representation of life on the frontier (actually it is a very one-sided representation), and simply a portrayal of the fear the Ingalls family lived with.  But when we hand those books over to our kids today, what are we telling them? 

While there are many in my field who are staunchly anti-Little House, I'd like to take the middle path.  Truly, these books are a slice of Americana.  They are certainly a part of the American social lexicon, and an excellent introduction to chapter books for budding elementary readers.  Girls, especially, get hooked on the series and before they know it, they've read 8 chapter books and are building fluency to boot.  They take us back to a simpler time and place, where a piece of candy in a Christmas stocking was a marvel, and a hand-sewn doll was treasured and adored.  That's nice.

So, what's my recommendation for taking this middle path?  Read the Little House books, but talk about them with your kids.  Talk about racism.  Talk about westward expansion, and what that meant to the native peoples that were displaced.  And while you're at it, read some books from the Native American perspective.   My favorite?  The Birchbark House, by Louise Erdrich.

In The Birchbark House, we get to see the same slice of time (1840's) through the eyes of a 7-year old Ojibwa girl named Omakayas.  Many of the same themes are present: family life, living off the land, harsh winters, and a brave little girl facing it all.  The Porcupine Year is the follow-up. 

Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Planning ahead: finding the perfect calendar

It's that time of year... time to start planning out the new school year and getting all of our ducks in a row.  Here are a few calendar/planner choices for those that haven't settled on a system yet:

The Well-Planned Day

The Well-Planned Day is a classic spiral-bound organizer, designed especially for homeschooling moms.   It allows planning for up to four different students, and contains progress reports, report cards, and other items you might need for school district reporting.  In addition to academics, The Well-Planned Day also has a meal planning and shopping list section. 

$24.95 for spiral bound and $19.95 for PDF download
Christian content:  daily Bible readings and a place for prayer requests.

The publishers of The Well-Planned Day also offer The Well Grounded Middle Schooler, a student 12-month assignment planner, as well as The Well Guided High Schooler, which is especially convenient as a 4-year planner.  Both are available spiral bound or as a PDF download.

Family Time

dotmine Day Planners are another great option for a spiral bound planner.  The family_time.mine planners were created for all moms - not just home schoolers - so there are no specific fields for school related items.  But there are plenty of fields for kids schedules and activities, and household information galore, including babysitter info, shopping lists, quarterly pull-out schedules, and more.  I used this planner last year and loved it.  It comes in two sizes,  an 8.5x11 full sized, and a 6x9 purse sized.  I used the smaller one last year and have upgraded to the larger size for this year.  All the dot.mine planners are 17-months, so you can plan from August 2010-December 2011.

The time.mine planners are student editions, with master schedule sheets, assignment pages and plenty of note pages.  All the planners, both for mom and student, come with fun and funky printed covers that are a durable plastic rather than cardboard.

dotmine day planners are available exclusively at Borders, and are about $17.99 (prices vary)
Don't forget that you can use your 25% off educators discount for this item!
Christian Content:  none


If you're a do-it-yourself kinda gal, or you really like keeping all your planning information on your computer, take a look at the free academic calendars offered by Vertex42.  Whether you prefer an Excel format, or just a PDF hard copy, you can create and print to your heart's delight on their site.  Choose from portrait or landscape, Monday or Sunday start, and academic years all the way through 2013.

Happy Planning!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Quick! It's a sale!

Westvon Publishing, who I have raved about before here as the publishers of GeoScribe and History Scribe, are having a sale that ends today, July 4th.  25% off any and everything!  You will see the discount when you add an item to your shopping cart.  No discount code needed.

Click here to shop.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hiatus will end soon!

Our mammoth move is almost over... I anticipate being back in the game by the middle of July!  If you have any books or curriculum you'd like me to review, drop me a line!


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Deal of the Week

Notebooking is one activity that I have loved the idea of, but we just didn't do enough.  My kids balked at a blank page set in front of them (I don't blame them!) and felt overwhelmed.  But last year I found the History Scribe website during their annual sale and it has changed the way we do history.  All of the downloadable Westvon Scribe products are 50% off this week (beginning 3/28/10).

From timeline pages, to essay questions, to maps, all the Scribe products give some structure to the notebooking experience.  The pages are not blank, they have a format - with a place for illustration, text, title, etc.  The pages have prompts to help jog the memory.  But they are not busy, with drawings all over them like some other notebooking pages out there.  Here's an example:
The History Scholar pages are a bit more complex, and will hold a lot more writing.  Each entry is also two pages long, with the second page having a timeline and an essay prompt.  The GeoScribe set contains maps of all the U.S. states and each continent, plus notebooking pages on every state and country (over 500 pages - for just $5!).  Unfortunately because of their sale, they have removed the links to sample pages for the History Scholar and GeoScribe sets for the time being, so I can't share them here.

The History Scribe Full Set, which includes the bonus History Scholar (high school level) set is on sale this week for just $8.  The price will adjust when you place it in your shopping cart.

You can also buy single sets of Scribe products (i.e. History Scribe - Ancient Egypt) and Happy Scribe copywork books at a huge discount this week from Currclick.

Happy writing!

Monday, March 15, 2010

handwriting... do it yourself!

My days of buying copywork books are officially over!  Not because we're done with handwriting (I actually cannot even picture that day in my head) but because I have found a way to make my own sheets.  Finally!  And for free.

I'd been searching for a software program that had connected cursive fonts in the style of Getty-Dubay Italic and Modern Cursive/Zaner-Bloser (of course my two children couldn't possibly like writing in the same style... that would be way too easy).  I found a few programs, each about $40 - $50 that would allow me to type in the connected cursive style, but when I did a trial run with one, I wasn't impressed.  The pages could only be typed in that particular program, and nothing could be copied or pasted out of it.  It was a hassle and not very user-friendly.  The two I looked at were Educational Fontware, Inc. and StartWrite

I gave up and started scouring the internet for free fonts that could be downloaded and used in my existing word processing programs.  I found Fontspace, and was able to download several different styles of connected cursive, all for free.  On the Fontspace site, there's a category list on the left.  Click on the tag "connected" and you'll get all the connected scripts.  Some are a bit flowery, but here were my favorites:  discipuli britannica, ecolier, cursif, farewell, VA-Pe2, and LA-El 2.

One advantage that StartWrite has over the freebies is that you can add starting dots and/or arrows to letters.  That would be particularly helpful for teaching early writers.  Another plus with StartWrite was that you could easily insert blank lines at the end or in between lines for copying.

Educational Fontware sells a CD of traditional fonts, including Handwriting Without Tears, D'Nealian, Zaner-Bloser, Getty Dubay, and many others.  When the fonts are installed, you can type within your word processor, but the letters are not connected.  When you are done typing, you highlight your text, and run a program called LinkLetter, which then connects your script for you.

I've already made a few sheets with spring poems for the kids... and a couple of goofy ones, including this one called My Hamster Has a Skateboard.

Happy writing!

Friday, March 12, 2010

I love a good storyteller

We love audiobooks around here.  We play them in the car, listen to them over breakfast, and everybody has them on their iPods.  I do like reading aloud to the kids, but there's only so much reading aloud one mom can do.  Audiobooks to the rescue.

Our very, very favorite lately is Jim Weiss.  We started out listening to his retelling of the Greek myths, and couldn't get enough.  He's taken us through the middle ages with Robin Hood and King Arthur and Archimedes, and now through the Renaissance with Galileo, Shakespeare, The Three Musketeers and Queen Elizabeth.  The kids can't get enough, and these are the quietest car rides we've ever had.  I can't recommend his stories enough.

If you do a classical 4-year history cycle in your homeschool, Jim Weiss also narrates the Story of the World books by Susan Wise Bauer.  The kids read the books at home, but the audio versions make for a great refresher and a chance for us to talk about the stories as a family.

Happy listening!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

more music: classics for kids!

I found a great site last week that goes along with the composer study/music history theme, but this one is geared toward younger ears.  Classics for Kids is a website dedicated to introducing children to classical music.  I love the way it is arranged!  You can easily listen by composer, by period, or just chronologically work your way through the list.  There's even a handy dandy timeline if you're into that sort of thing (we are).

There's much more to explore there, too, with printable activities, online games, and info on all the orchestral instruments.  You can even learn about musical careers or consult the musical dictionary, and it's all in a kid-friendly environment.

Aside from their own collection, Classics for Kids has a link to, a web radio environment where you can search content and play your selections.  At Naxos, you can listen to 20% of any piece without paying for the subscription, however, an annual subscription is a bargain at $9.95 for FM quality or $19.95 for CD quality.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Music Appreciation

I've been aware of Harmony Fine Arts for a while, but I really took a good look at it last week.  If you're looking for a chronological survey of art and Western music, this is a great place to start, especially for the upper grades. 

There are 3 levels of instruction, based on the classical trivium.  Grammar stage for grades 1-4, Logic for grades 5-8, and Rhetoric for high school.  Within each stage is a full year program for each grade level.  The lesson plan for each grade level includes a weekly schedule, resource list, and supplies needed.  Within each lesson, there are 3 levels of depth with which to study, from picture study to a full-on art course (using Artistic Pursuits).  Click here to see a sample page for each grade level.

The best thing I discovered this week is that the high school level music appreciation courses are FREE!  The 4-year course is broken down into 36 weeks for each grade (9-12), and surveys major composers from Palestrina (renaissance) to Bernstein.  The schedule includes a listening schedule, reading assignments, and writing assignments for each section, and would probably lend itself to at least 1/2 credit in music history or music appreciation per year.  Click here to download the PDF files for the courses.

The 12th grade Art Appreciation course is also a free PDF download, but grades 9-11 must be purchased.  They are $9.95 for the print version or $8.95 for the e-book.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Great Backyard Bird Count starts today!

It's my favorite part of winter... time for the Great Backyard Bird Count!

We did this for the first time two years ago.  We'd spent the previous five years living overseas in very urban locations, and the kids knew next to nothing about nature.  We had recently moved to a place with lots of birds... a completely new experience!  When we heard about the Backyard Bird Count it sounded like a great way to get to know our backyard neighbors, so we got out our binoculars and started taking notes.

My younger daughter was 6 at the time, and soon she could identify those little creatures better than any of us.  We had heated discussions about whether a certain bird was a song sparrow or a house sparrow... when we got out the guide books and compared notes, by gosh, she was right!  It was so much fun for her - she loved showing off her new identification skills, drawing pictures of new birds, and taking pictures of our crowded feeders.  An interest in nature photography was sparked in a 6 year old!

So, the Great Backyard Bird Count has a special place in our hearts.  It takes as little as 15 minutes per day over 4 days.  You can mail in your results or enter them online (that's the job of my older daughter!) and see what kinds of birds your neighbors are counting. 

The GBBC website has tons of fun activities for kids to get to know the birds they're counting, from puzzles to quizzes to guides.  There are even directions on how to make your own homemade feeders to attract more birds.

Here are the directions from the GBBC site:

How to do the Great Backyard Bird Count

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

tallboy.jpg1. Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. You can count each day or just some of the days and you can count in different places. Just be sure to keep a separate list of birds for each day and each location.
2. For each type of bird you see, count the most you see at any one time. For example, maybe you see two chickadees when you start watching, then five chickadees a few minutes later. The number you put on your list for chickadees is five. Do not add two plus five. (This way way you don't accidentally count the same bird twice.)
3. Enter your results on the Great Backyard Bird Count website .  Then watch the maps as more and more people enter their reports.
That's it! Now get ready to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count because when it comes to watching birds, kids count!

Monday, January 18, 2010

And the winners are...

Newbery Medal

"When You Reach Me," written by Rebecca Stead, published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books

Newbery Honor Books

"Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice" written by Phillip Hoose, published by Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
"The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" written by Jacqueline Kelly, published by Henry Holt and Company
"Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" written by Grace Lin, published by Little Brown and Company Books for Young Readers
"The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg" written by Rodman Philbrick, published by The Blue Sky Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Caldecott Medal

"The Lion and the Mouse" illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney, published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers

Caldecott Honor Books

"All the World" illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, published by Beach Lane Books
"Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors" illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman, puslished by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Printz Award

"Going Bovine" by Libba Bray

Printz Honor

So, I was 1 for 3.  Going Bovine came out of nowhere for me.  I read the first 2 pages and put it down... now I'm going to have to give it another shot, since I typically like Libba Bray (Great and Terrible Beauty).

Happy reading!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

ALA Awards Announced Tomorrow!

I think that I will not be able to sleep tonight in anticipation... you can keep the Golden Globes.  I'm on the edge of my seat for the book awards on Monday morning!  Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz awards, among others, will be named at 7:45 am.  If you want to watch the webcast, click here.

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney- my pick for the Caldecott Medal

I stand by my personal pick for Newbery, The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo (even though she probably won't be chosen since she's a previous winner).  But I would be pleased as punch to see Grace Lin get a nod, since she's written some wonderful books that have been overlooked.

The Printz Award for young adults has me a bit perplexed.  When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead has been getting all the buzz.  Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is a solid choice, too, but has limited appeal since it's a "girl" story.  My choice:  Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Elementary Geography

Coming off the holiday break, I'm getting my plan together for our "geography club" (for lack of a better term) that meets here once a week.  It's a small group of 8-10 year olds, and we're focusing on culture with a little bit of mapping thrown in for good measure.  The plan is to hop around the world in one year.  Here are some of the resources I've found to be particularly helpful:

Scholastic Atlas of the World
This is our go-to book for basic info on every country we study.  It's very detailed and could easily be used for much older students.  We use it mostly for detailed maps and to fill out our country fact sheets that I print from Enchanted Learning.

My First Picture Atlas
It looks like this particular one may be out of print, but there are two things about it that I love, and that you could find in another similar book.  First, it's huge.  It's about 11'x14", which makes it great for group work.  The maps inside are large, bright, and cartoony, which makes it very easy to see borders, capitals, and other important landmarks.  When the kids are doing their map work, this is the one I prop up for them to use as a reference because it is so bold and easy to follow.  The National Geographic Picture World Atlas looks just as good and is available from Amazon and other retailers.  I wouldn't use either of these beginner atlases as my only map source since they are very basic, but they are a very nice addition to use along side a more detailed book.                            
                                  Usborne Stories from Around the World
While the kids are working on their maps, I often read to them a traditional story from the country we are studying.  This Usborne title is a nice collection of 22 stories, each 5 to 6 pages long.  It's nicely illustrated, and the print is large, which makes it nice for read-alouds.  The text is written so that most 3rd to 5th graders could read it independently (similar to other Usborne story collections such as their Greek myths or fairy tales).

Kids Multicultural Craft Book by Roberta Gould

This book contains 35 craft projects from around the world. Each entry also contains a good amount of cultural information about the author's experiences in that country (and even includes some photographs from her travels). The craft ideas are very good, have detailed instructions and are not babyish (no paper plate masks, etc.). The only downside for our class is that a good number of them require several steps or long drying/setting times between steps, but for most families this would not be a hindrance.

Unicef's Children Just Like Me  Meet the families of about 40 children from around the world and discover what their daily lives are like!  The kids absolutely love this book, as it brings to life the similarities and differences between cultures in sweet and simple ways.

Another similar book is Children from Australia to Zimbabwe: A Photographic Journey around the World by Maya Ajmera & Anna Rhesa Versola.  This book has more information about the geography and the larger culture in each of the countries, including favorite foods, sports, past times and holidays.
My group likes to cook, so we've used two different books for our recipes.  First is Eat Your Way Around the World by Jamie Aramini.  This one includes a full meal for each country, so we usually choose one or two pieces to make (usually dessert!).  There are also great cultural references included such as how food is served and what traditional foods signify in that country.  And the recipes are delicious, which doesn't hurt.
Kids Around the World Cook! is the other one I find myself grabbing.  The recipes are simple and traditional, and the recipes are arranged not regionally but by course.  So, all the drinks are together, all the desserts are together, etc.  This makes it easy to prepare just a side dish or a beverage to sample the country's flavors without pulling out all the stops for a full meal.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunders

Okay, so I'm in a bit of a rut with the Greek myths, I know, but this one was too fun to pass up.  It releases January 7, but I got an early look at it and it's a keeper.

Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunders by Mike Townsend is an irreverent spin on the Greek myths - think Captain Underpants meets Homer.  The stories, though, are unchanged.  Any fan of The Lightening Thief series or Diary of a Wimpy Kid will be drawn to the humor and whimsy of this story collection.  The publisher's recommendation is ages 9-12, but I think the book would interest the younger set (boys!) as well with it's bright glossy pages and excellent illustrations.

Check it out.