All green, nature, and sustainability posts have been moved to Loving Nature's Garden

Saturday, December 26, 2009

SmartDraw 2009 Homeschool

Homeschool Buyers Co-op have announced that they are offering SmartDraw 2009 Homeschool for the last time, ending December 31st, 2009, early morning. Discount is 60% and the price is $59. You must have been a member for 3 days to take advantage of this offer.

You can find more information about what SmartDraw does and download a free trial at the SmartDraw site. It looks really powerful and useful for all kinds of graphical creations, including slideshows, timelines, family trees, flowcharts, and mind maps. Documents can be exported in a large variety of formats, including .jpg .pdf and to Excel and PowerPoint.

This offer is for an academic license for non-commercial use. Let me know if you've used this - it looks like a great offer.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bravewriter Black Friday Coupon

Bravewriter are offering a $25-50 rebate on their materials today, as detailed below.

The way it works: You order at full price, send Julie the code in email, and they rebate/refund your purchase within 24 hours.

If you need help with product selection, call Julie: (513) 307-1405, or email:

Here's how it works:

The Black Friday Rebate Coupon is good for any Brave Writer product. That means you can use it for The Writer's Jungle, or Help for High School, or any of The Writer's Jungle packages; the Gold package which includes the Arrow and Slingshot Evaluation and Planning Tools, or the Platinum package which includes year-long Language Arts Subscriptions (Arrow and Boomerang). You can apply the coupon to Already Published issues of the Arrow, Boomerang or Slingshot. You can use it for any of the writing aids: Fairy Tales, Poetry, Myths and Legends, and so on. You may even apply this coupon to a semester order of the Boomerang Complete (whose price will go up in January). If you purchase the semester now, you lock in the current price.

For a limited time (until January) they're offering The Writer's Jungle and Help for High School together for $124.99 in a package they call the BW Home Study Package. Don't miss this chance to get them for the lowest price possible.

The coupon is not applicable to online classes (registration for those is on Tuesday, December 1, 2009).

The coupon has two possible rebate amounts.

Spend $120.00 or more - $25.00 rebate.

Spend $200.00 or more - $50.00 rebate.

Simply place your order and put the following code on your Paypal order (if a note option is provided) or send it in an email: If you send the code in an email, please include the name and email address of your Paypal order.

The code is: BLKFRIBW09

The coupon only works with online orders. They will not accept the coupon for check orders. If you have difficulties with Paypal, contact Julie at:

You may share the Black Friday Rebate Coupon code on homeschooling forums, email lists and with your friends. When a friend uses it, they'll be added to the email list in order to activate the code. If you share the code with a friend who makes a purchase, send an email with her name and order and Julie will send you a FREE issue of the Arrow or Boomerang as a thank you.

Black Friday orders are not refundable so be sure you know what you want when you make your order.

P.S. Check out the new class schedule. Registration opens Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at noon EST

Use the Black Friday Rebate Coupon to order Brave Writer Products on Friday, November 27 and Saturday November 28 for $25.00 or $50.00 off of your total purchase! See above for details.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thinkwell Announces Classhive for Homeschool Students

On Friday the folks at Thinkwell announced a new feature in their computer-based, online math and science programs specifically for homeschool students called Classhive.

Within the next week Classhive will be released. It will enable interaction with other students taking the same Thinkwell math or science course. Things you'll be able to do include:
  • ask questions
  • upload notes
  • connect with other students
  • post web links
  • create exam reviews
  • organize study groups
It's no secret that I already like Thinkwell courses. This seems like a great addition.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thinkwell Math Online

In my Inbox today was a 30% discount notice from Thinkwell for their online math courses. It seems they would like to increase their take-up amongst the homeschool community.

First let me say that Homeschool Buyers Co-op has the best price for Thinkwell Online Math products.

Both offers expire Monday, October 26th, 2009. You can save 30% direct through Thinkwell and 39-48% through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Most of the courses at the co-op are currenly just 2 subscriptions short of getting a 44% discount.

Do you like cake? I've been using the Thinkwell Algebra I online course this term and for me it's the most enjoyable Algebra course I've seen. Professor Burger is a really high-thinking mathematician who makes the course fun and just covers math at a deeper level than other courses I've seen. His fun props such a cake and bologne also get his points across.

I don't recommend Thinkwell Online Math courses for every student though. There are a couple of other online math courses I recommend. Take a look at Thinkwell if your kid/student:
  • Likes variety - there is a fair bit going on within the multi-screen format.
  • Wants to work excusively online.
  • Asks questions and wants to understand math in its wider context.
  • Doesn't need things broken down to tiny steps with lots of repetition.
And if you're already using Thinkwell, or decide to, you might be interested in:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Homeschool Parent Teacher Conference?

Schools in my area are doing parent teacher conferences next week. As a homeschooler do you to a parent teacher conference?

This might sound a rather stupid question, but when you think about it, conference is not just about a teacher communicating with a parent what a child is doing in school, it's about taking the time to review progress and a child's strengths.

For a homeschooler, conference is a time to look at what you've been doing together. Reviewing can bring back some of the joy of things you've been learning. It can highlight things you want to do more of and things to do differently.

You've been working hard. Acknowledge that, praise yourself, praise your kid/s. Share some more of what you've been doing with a parent who is not working with your child/children every day.

Celebrate and eat a cookie, or a pizza. You'll enjoy the change of pace. All teachers and children need the reward of thinking about good things.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Halloween Costume Ideas with Books

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Dressing up is so much fun. It's a time for imagination, creativity and just a bit of scaring. Candy is good too, but not too much of it! My kids have always used the candy they gather at Halloween to supply them with a weekly treat for much of the year. We also give excess candy to a food pantry collection every year.

My kids have always loved homemade Halloween costumes. Sometimes it's a challenge to come up with a good costume idea and a plan to implement it. The Usborne Book of Fancy Dress contains some quality classic costume ideas and is great for kids 8 years and up. For the younger group What Shall I Be has simpler ideas which will end up as favorites in your dressing up box. Or, for the princess who needs all the right accessories, there's the Princess Jewelry Kid Kit.

Face painting can really set off a good costume, or make a simple, uncomplicated costume appear professional. A muskeeter with a mustache is so much more believable, tiger face painting looks better and is more comfortable than a plastic mask, and a clown can't be a clown without face paint. Quality face paints are also easy to use if you have any skill at all with a brush and paint. I've bought paints from both Michael's and from a local costume shop. They lasted for many Halloweens and really made a difference to how great a costume looked.

You might take advantage of the excitement with Halloween to get kids reading. Who doesn't love a scary story - so much better under a blanket now that the weather is cooling! A set of Halloween themed readers is ideal for 2nd and 3rd graders just re-establishing their reading after the summer. Or pick out a Princess item or something for a pirate - better than a big pile of candy because a book lasts all year and brings learning too!

If you choose to click through and order I thank you for supporting this blog and the education of my children. Otherwise, purchasing from your local Usborne consultant or borrowing from the library are great options.

What are your Halloween traditions?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Virtual Field Trips - Meet Me At the Corner

Looking for virtual field trips? Meet Me At the Corner is a fun website which focuses on sharing short, educational videos which get kids thinking about a wide variety of topics.

I've been receiving the Meet Me At the Corner virtual field trips newsletter for several months now and I've been really impressed with the range of topics. Recent topics include:
These all sound great to me. It's too bad that my computer is not letting me view the videos - hopefully you'll have better luck. Upcoming topics sound great too and include: Cable Cars; The History of Chemistry; and Wolf Rescue.

As well as the videos, Meet Me At the Corner provides related websites, quizzes, and reading suggestions to accompany the virtual field trips. You can also submit your own field trips to share with other homeschooling families and there are lessons on how to make a podcast.

Do you have another virtual field trip site to share? What do you think about virtual field trips compared to live field trips?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Free Online Math, Science, Finance

Khan Academy is a non-profit website site where you can access free online math, science and finance lectures. When you visit you'll see subjects under group headings like Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, SAT Preparation, and Arithmetic.

Under each subject, such as Arithmetic, are listed all the topics, such as Dividing Decimal Numbers. Click on the link and you'll be taken to a YouTube video, such as this one here.

Khan Academy looks like a really amazing resource. Not only are there all the video lectures, but there is also a curriculum, with exercises to work, for some of the math topics, including Arithmetic and Algebra 1. Here is the link to the Khan adaptive math program. I didn't go in and look to see how the exercises are presented because you have to register for that part, but I recommend you check it out if you're looking for a new way to do math.

Now I'm wondering if I could have avoided some of the $$$ I've spent on math curricula over the last 6 years of homeschooling...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Costco September Offers

Here are my education picks from the Costco September magazine. Just out of curiosity I've compared the prices at Costco with the same item at
  • The Human Body Book and The Human Brain Book. These are hardback books which come with an interactive DVD. Price at is below the price at, but then you'd have to pay shipping if you order online from Costco. If you're already making a trip to the Costco warehouse buy there. You can look inside at If I were ordering online I'd probably go with
  • Alera Wire Shelving. Shelving really is an essential item for homeschooling. Sturdy, pantry type shelving is great for storing totes with craft, math, and science supplies. Again the Alera Shelving at is a very similar price.
  • Oceanology, Dragonology, Pirateology - these fun books were very popular with my kids when they were aged about 10-12 years. They are high quality and interactive with great little flaps and things. Again prices are very similar between Costco and Pick them up at the Costco warehouse, or take a look at the Ology books at
  • Magic Tree House books are a classic chapter book series. Costco will have them at the warehouse in September. They don't appear to be selling them at so I don't know the price. Here is the link to see them and check the prices at Magic Tree House Books.
  • Big Blue Book of Beginner Books and Big Green Book of Beginner Books are bind-ups each with six of the Dr Seuss early readers. I love the Dr Seuss books for early reading because they are so wacky. If you want to see the contents of these they are also available at
  • Sibley Guide to Birds and Sibley Guide to Trees are going to be in the Costco warehouse mid-September. Books at the warehouse are going to be hardbacks. I imagine they'll be a pretty good deal. If you want to know more and see inside the bird book here is the Sibley Guide to Birds in paperback at
  • ECR4Kids is child-sized activity furniture, or kid-sized tables and chairs of the sort you'd find in schools. These are not going to be available at the warehouse, only at Table prices range from $100-200 and chairs come in packs of 6 or 10. I looked around online and the price on these looks really good. Be sure to check the shipping charge though because these are large items. don't have anything similar. Here is the link for ECR4Kids tables and chairs. If you are in the Kansas City area though check out Constructive Playthings because they have something similar and you can pick up and avoid the shipping.
I hope your school year is off to a good start. Let me know if you need help with something.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Homeschool Math Examination

I've spent the last couple of days absorbed in an examination of homeschool math options for the middle school and high school years. This is most certainly not a new area of research for me, but each time I take a look at homeschool math options I learn something new. Rather than let this research go to waste, here are a few things I've discovered. Today I'll cover online instruction options.

Computer Based Math Instruction
There are several math instruction methods suitable for middle school, high school, and college level math which are entirely computer based. I'm going to write a few notes on things that seem to me unique about each different program.
  • iPASS - designed to catch up a student who may have gaps in their learning. Covers math through pre-Algebra - math taught in grades 4-8 in most states. This is a comprehensive program which breaks down math into all it's component parts. The student is not aware of which grade level they are working - levels are simply labeled with letters from A-V and moving from one grade to the next is seamless. For each topic the student completes a timed assessment and they can test out of a lesson if they reach the pass rate. Questions are not multiple choice so a student must actually know how to calculate the answer to get it right. Once a student has mastered the topic they pass on to the next topic. If needed the student will be given more questions from a large pool of questions to provide adequate practice. Students who need additional time for tests can be accomodated. Review is incorporated throughout the program so that the student continues to practice concepts they've mastered. iPASS does not have a free trial - I was quoted a cost of $20 per month and you can sign up for one month and see if it works for you. Find out more about iPASS. You need to talk with a sales representative to sign up. The person I spoke with was Kim and she is very helpful.
  • Thinkwell Math begins with their Pre-Algebra course. Their courses cover Algebra from Pre-Algebra to College Algebra, Pre-Calculus and Calculus, and Trigonometry. They don't list a Geometry course - I'm not aware of whether geometry is integrated into their other courses perhaps. Each course must be purchased separately. You can save 39-48% by purchasing through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. The current offering ends on August 21st. I've looked at this course before and I really like the way the teacher covers the work. The software workspace is divided up with the teacher on one side explaining the concept and working the problem, a place to show the math problem being worked on and a key ideas area. It does make for quite a busy screen. You can see the demos at Thinkwell's site and take a look at what the Thinkwell Homeschool Buyers Co-op offering. There is no free trial, but watching the demos should give you and your children a pretty good feel for this program.
  • PLATO Learning Math has courses covering everything from Pre-Algebra to Geometry, Calculus 2 and Trigonometry. They do not appear to cover Statistics. This year is the first time these courses have been available to homeschoolers. Homeschool Buyers Co-op is able to make them available through the Kentucky Virtual Campus. While I am not familiar with the PLATO math options I've used some of their science courses in homeschooling my teens and we've liked them a lot. The offering for these courses involves signing up to get access to a very wide range of middle school and high school level courses. At a cost of $299 for the year it would be a really good deal if you can take advantage of several of the courses. The courses cover math, science, social studies, language arts, and job and life skills. The Homeschool Buyers Co-op deal ends on the morning of August 23rd. If you're interested take a look at PLATO demos and Kentucky Virtual Campus then sign up through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. There is no trial period for this software.
  • ALEKS Math cover everything from Grade 3 math to college math courses in Algebra, Trigonometry, AP Calculus and Statistics, and Business Math. I'm not very familiar with ALEKS but I've heard good things and they do have a free trial. At the ALEKS site you can see all of their offerings, take a tour and sign up for a free trial. One thing I like about what they are offering is that you have access to all their courses for the one subscription of $19.95 per student.
  • Indian Math Online is an online math program I just discovered. It is based on the teaching method used in India. Given that India is now producing some of the leading math and science majors I think it's worth a look. You can sign up for a free trial and then the subscription costs $15-20 per month. Indian Math Online covers grades 1-10 math.
If you are looking for a math curriculum I hope these comments will be of help to you. I also have plenty to say about textbook math, but I'll save that for another day.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Juggling Homeschooling

I am not a very good juggler. In fact I can't even keep two objects in the air at a time. I don't even multitask very well. You might be excused for thinking this is not a good recipe for homeschool success. I mean, isn't homeschooling all about juggling time, juggling the needs of one child against another, and juggling the housework against homeschooling and the time to be an adult? All I can say is that I drop the balls over and over, but I just pick them up and keep going. I believe that if I can do it, anyone who really wants to can homeschool too. You, for instance, can do it!

The good thing about juggling homeschool is that things never stay the same for long. I mean, I might be getting frustrated that one child has no current interest in writing. The strange thing is that letting that sit for a while, and mindfully exploring options, seems to lead to some kind of spontanteous solution. It's like the watched kettle never boiling. A watched child never seems to be ready for the next step. It's like when you are juggling, or trying to catch a ball - when you are tense and worried there's little chance you'll catch it. The more anxious you are for your child to do something, the less likely it seems they'll be able to satisfy you.

Parents who are thinking of homeschooling the elementary years seem to come in two sorts.
  1. A parent who thinks that, no matter what, they're bound to do better than the schools would. This is usually the big picture thinking parent.
  2. A parent who knows that kids in school are kept busy all day and wonders how they can possibly learn and do enough to provide all that to their child. This is usually the detail oriented parent.
Whichever side you approach homeschooling from doesn't really matter. The truth is that parents can make mistakes, but children benefit from consistency, love, and personal attention during homeschooling in a way that no school can provide. At the same time, kids don't need to be fully occupied at home the same way they need to be when placed in an environment with a class load of same-age peers. You really don't need your kids completing a stack of worksheets to find out what they know. If they don't learn to read until they are 8 or 9 years old it actually may not indicate they have a reading problem. They can learn to count with pebbles outside just as readily as in a classroom with shelves full of bright primary colored mathematically designed doo-dads. Maybe the pebbles even work better.

So, give yourself a pat on the back. You can do it! As I enter the 7th year of homeschooling with my kids there's one thing I have learned. Kids are not eggs. If you haven't mastered homeschool juggling and you drop something a time or two (or even over and over again) they really won't crack and be irreparably broken. Go for it. You'll learn something in the process, and they will learn a ton, even if you NEVER master juggling.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Happy Birthday Homeschooler's Guide to the Galaxy!

It's hard to believe it, but today, August 13th, 2009, is the 1st birthday of The Homeschooler's Guide to the Galaxy. In honor of this august occasion, I think a little reflection is in order. Herewith, some things I have learned, some posts others have enjoyed, some writing which still makes me glad I did it, and some great homeschooling (and not) friends I've made through my little blog.

Most Frequently Visited
I used to think it was somewhat possible to figure out how to get Google to send traffic here. The more I learn though, the more it seems to me a mystery. The following posts are the ones most visited, largely due to Google picking up on them for some inexplicable reason.
Most Popular With You
You are more important to me than a casual visitor who happens here while searching for a lesson plan. I love your comments, but you keep me guessing as to what you'll enjoy reading and benefit from. Here are the posts which have attracted the most conversation in the form of comments. This time I'm excluding any posts on green/nature/gardening.
  • In the clear lead with 15 reader comments is Santa = Books. This post was entered in a carnival and brought many new visitors over who appreciated what I said enough to comment. It is one of my favorites too.
  • With 8 reader comments, My Family and Other Animals. I think we all love our pets. They are such an important part of our lives.
  • And in joint third place with 6 reader comments each are Why Homebaked Bread is a Necessity and A Voting Story.
My Favorites
At this point I seem to have forgotten many of the posts I've written. Looking back through is giving me a nice little dose of nostalgia. Sometimes I even think, "Did I write that? It's not half bad!"
And My Friends
You, dear reader and friend, are the reason I write a blog. I could write a diary, but for me this is about sharing. Who wants anyone to read their diary - a diary is only relevant to the author. I hope that during the last year I've brought you something good. I enjoy the conversation with you and I'm sure we'll continue to develop our friendship. Since you are reading this, you are on my list of people I'm thankful for and who's friendship I enjoy :-)

It's hard to believe it's been a whole year since I started this journey. I've learned many lessons here, made mistakes, moved ahead, shared in your world. I'm sure my kids have learned a ton second-hand through my journey. It's a great journey and I look forward to the future and to our continued connection.

I'll leave you with my first ever post which I hope conveys some of the joy I feel in exploring on the learning journey: I Love to Go A-Wandering.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Horse Therapy for Kids

I just have to share this video from a local, Kansas City, horse therapy for kids camp. I've seen this therapy in action and it's amazing what they do for kids on the autism spectrum.

The horses are used to help children on the autism spectrum to recognize first the feelings of the horse and then their own feelings. The children also learn to follow directions so that they can do the things they want to do on the horse. All of the riding is done without stirrups and the children learn balance and co-ordination too. They are actually taught how to fall off safely.

Places like this need volunteers to help - often they need 2-3 adults working with each child at a time. It's a great learning opportunity for a teen who might be interested either in working with horses or with special needs kids.

Bravewriter Online Classes

Remember that sign-up for Bravewriter's online classes opened today. Some of the classes have very limited space - the one I signed my daughter up for takes just 20 kids. If you're thinking of signing up and haven't yet you'll need to make a decision today to ensure a place.

Here is the list of Fall Bravewriter Classes.
Here is more information about Bravewriter Online Classes.

Everyone I know who's taken these classes praises them. See my previous article for more about Bravewriter including a conference audio presentation by Julie who started Bravewriter. Back to School Back to School includes a variety of offers. I'm going to give you the general links here then write about a few things, my picks, which I think are particularly worth checking out, and may not be so obvious, below that.
Many of the promotions make me cringe - they are suggesting new bedding, computers, scanners, and a whole host of expensive items which seem to me to have no connection to back-to-school. I do recognize that you mileage may vary. For all I know you may want to buy ahead for the holidays or you may be waiting for just the kind of deals they have. Anyway, here are my picks.
Happy browsing. I'll have more links later on savings.
Purchases made through the above links support The Homeschooler's Guide to the Galaxy.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

10 Books for $15

Until August 10th you can sign up to start an Usborne Books and More home business for just $15 (plus tax). Amazingly, there are no monthly minimums.

You will get an effective lifetime homeschooling discount on Usborne and Kane/Miller books of 25% and upwards. If you want to earn money by being a book seller you can do that too. All the training you need to make this a business is FREE.

For more information:
What are you waiting for? These are some of the best educational books on the planet and this is the best deal I've ever seen for getting started with Usborne.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Locker Stories

As soon as August approaches I see all these ads related to lockers. There's locker magnets, locker wallpaper, locker whiteboards, locker shelves...

I don't get it! You're going to have to help me out here. What is this whole thing about lockers? I never had a locker in school in Scotland.

So, tell me your locker stories, good or bad. Do you have fond memories of school lockers, or bad locker stories to share? Fill me in. I need educated!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Costco Back to School

Below are my picks from the Costco back to school offers, taken from the Costco Connections magazine August 2009 edition. Interestingly Costco this time dedicated one page to homeschooling with articles highlighting two homeschooling moms and their families.

Back to School Books
Books on sale at Costco in August which my family has enjoyed:
  • Ripley's Believe It or Not: Seeing is Believing - I can't think of a book more suitable for intriguing and entertaining a preteen boy. Ripley's is a firm favorite in my home. What a great conversation starter! It's not just parent-grossing - it gets kids thinking about science and human behavior and it's the kind of book grasped by many a reluctant reader.
  • Dorling Kindersley Hardback Titles - every home with school age kids needs a collection of fact-filled encyclopedia style books and Dorling Kindersley make some of the best. Pictured in Costco Connections are the titles Bird, Flight, Earth, Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life, Encyclopedia of Space, and Encyclopedia of Animals. I'm not familiar with any of these specific titles. What I can say is I remember a whole host of library trips where I carted home DK titles for my son to pore over. DK make great books - they're perhaps Usborne's biggest rival in non-fiction children's books.
Worth a Look
  • Inkheart, Inkspell and Inkdeath by Cornelia Funk - a great trilogy collection recommended for read-aloud dad and daughter time.
  • Casio fx-300ES Scientific Calculator and Texas Instruments TI Plus 84 Silver Edition Graphing Calculator - Costco price and quality can't usually be beaten so if you have a teen who needs to move up in calculators this year check these ones out and compare to what you can get from and office supply stores like Staples.
  • The Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook - slow cooking can be such a help when you have a busy home schedule, whether you homeschool or not. Costco describe the Fix it and Forget It Cookbook as follows "offers more than 800 tried-and-true slow cooker recipes for any occasion." There is also the Fix It and Forget It: 5-Ingredient Favorites cookbook. Sounds to me like recipes a homeschooler would want to have to hand to 1) keep the day on-track and 2) teach the kids simple, everyday cooking.
  • Olympus VN-5200 PC audio recording device. Writing can be hard work for kids, especially so when they have dysgraphia. A recording device could really have a lot of uses in homeschooling - think interviews, recording personal thoughts, taking lecture notes in co-op or in community colllege classes. I don't know how the Olympus VN-5200 PC compares but it's worth a look if this a need you have.
If You Like It
The two homeschool moms interviewed for Costco Connection talked about using the craft supplies, office supplies, workbooks, CDs, and computers available from Costco in their homeschooling. I'm not a personal fan of most of these items but your mileage may vary. If you have needs in these areas do check out Costco's offerings.

Two Costco office supply offerings which have stood the test of time in my home are: the multi-packs of white view ring binders and the Avery sheet protectors. I purchased these years ago and they circulate around my home finding new uses and lasting really well.

Where do you like to shop for your homeschool books, materials and supplies? Have you seen any great deals?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Animal School

Animal School - it's what happens to the wonderful, unique children in our lives all too often. I hope that as a reader of my blog you are already working to help your child thrive. A reminder is good for all of us though :-)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Brave Writer Writing Classes

Today Julie at Brave Writer announced release of her first online FREE workshop audio session. If you are searching for either an online writing class for your homeschooler or a full language arts curriculum I highly recommend that you take a look at the offerings from Brave Writer. The audio session should be a good way to introduce yourself to what is on offer. Every single person I've heard of who has worked with one of the Brave Writer programs has loved them.

What you can expect from Brave Writer
Brave Writer instructors are top notch. When you sign up for an online writing class with them you can expect help in finding your own natural writing voice. These are not classes where you are taught to write to a formula. Instead they help you find the writer within you. How they do that I don't really know, but I can tell you that the results are good, even for reluctant writers.

The range of writing products
I don't have personal experience of the full range of products from, but they have offering which go right up to college prep. Here's a quick guide to what they have:
  • Online Classes - Kidswrite Basic is the foundation class which is suitable for ages 9-18 years and actually involves training you, the homeschool mom, on how to develop writing abilities in your children. If you'd rather your child work directly with the instructors take a look at Just So Stories for 9-12 year olds or Kidswrite Intermediate for 12-17 year olds. Kids and teens who've not taken an online class before will likely need some support on the home side of scheduling to get their assignments done. If they are familiar with forums they'll likely be able to handle the other aspects independently.
  • Home Study Courses - while I highly recommend the online classes, they are pricey and need the commitment of a fairly intense 4-6 week period of work. This fall I will be trying out one of the home study courses from Home study courses come in the form of a printed manual and access to an online support forum. They are designed to allow the homeschooling parent to learn and apply the skills to nurture writing in their kids. You can read all about the main home study course The Writer's Jungle at
  • Full Language Arts Program - if you need a full language arts program which includes spelling, dictation, copywork, grammar and punctuation take a look at Language Arts Programs. I have no experience of these particular products, but I can only imagine that they are top notch like the other offerings from
Do you have a stack of discarded language arts and writing curricula? Have you found one you'd love to share about? Leave me a comment, pretty please :-)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Homeschool Buyers Co-op Picks

Here are my picks from the current Homeschool Buyers Co-op offerings. Most of these deals run out at the end of July or in early August so go on over there and check them out NOW!

Thinkwell Online Video Courses
After 6 years of homeschooling I've been through evaluating a large number or products. Thinkwell products are some of the ones that have impressed me the most. If I were to choose math or high school science for myself I'd go with the Thinkwell online video courses. I love the format, the teachers are engaging, and the price through Homeschool Buyers Co-op is very reasonable. My own kids chose to go with CyberEd instead because they found it distracting to watch the teacher - for me that's half the fun! If you need a high school math, science, or social studies program check out Thinkwell at Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

PLATO Learning Online Science (formerly CyberEd)
After evaluating a variety of science courses last year my kids chose to go with learning online science through PLATO learning (CyberEd). I was pleased with how thorough the PLATO courses are. They are just plain learning with no unnecessary frills or games. I particularly recommend them for kids who get easily distracted. PLATO courses make good use of your homeschool efforts and leave plenty of time to supplement with experiments, field trips, and supplementary reading. Check out PLATO Learning online science at Homeschool Buyer's Co-op for Middle School Science and High School Science.

For Kids who need to know how stuff works
Here are a couple of cool homeschool things my son would have loved when he was younger.
  • BrainPop is just full of fun learning stuff about how things work. It's a bit pricey, but just remember that kids learn when they're having fun. Maybe you'd rather they had fun on BrainPop than on video games or in front of the TV. Check out what Homeschool Buyers Co-op is offering then sign up for the trial at BrainPop. Basically you can get a CyberEd course for free when you register at Homeschool Buyers Co-op before signing up for BrainPop.
  • Lego Education Kits - again these are pricey. If you just happen to have a little lego maniac on your hands this looks like a great way to do some math and science learning at home. I'm guessing these would have good resale value, if only you can keep the parts from disappearing off into the big lego black hole, otherwise known as the disorganized lego collection in the child's bedroom!
Even if you don't see something of interest right now it's worth signing up for the Homeschool Buyers Co-op mailing list so that you can be kept informed.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Free E-Books at the World E-Book Fair

Between now and August 4th you can download a selection of free E-books at the World E-Book Fair. Here are some links to check out:
  • World E-Book Fair - the whole list of books.
  • Children's Literature Collection - includes A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain, A History of Animals published in 1843, A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, and Abducted to Oz by Chris Dulabone.
  • Classic Literature Collection - includes Heidi, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dracula, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Beowulf, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Art of War, Robin Hood and Hamlet Prince of Denmark.
There's nothing beats a good read, unless it's a good read for FREE! I just read A History of Animals. What is particularly interesting is the definition of TOYS - take a look at the back page of this book to see what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

LEARN - Kansas City Homeschool Support

For those of us homeschooling in the Kansas City area there's some excitement in the air. The LEARN homeschool support group is once again offering memberships and is planning an Unprom.

When I first started homeschooling, several years back now, the group known as LEARN was the most active secular homeschool support group in the area. Now there is a much wider variety of groups meeting needs all across the Kansas City metro, but LEARN was the first. It's the group through which many of us made friends, found people of like-mind, and got involved in activities. I'll never forget the homeschool conference I attended through LEARN.

So, if you're new to homeschooling in the Kansas City metro and need information on how to get started, were involved in LEARN before and want to know about reunions, like the idea of a great big homeschooling Unprom party for the whole family, or need to belong to a group to get teacher discounts, check out the LEARN website.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Google the Galaxy

There may not be internet service out in space yet, but at least you can Google the galaxy.

In honor of the 4oth anniversary of the first moon walk Google is taking us out from the Earth, into the Galaxy, and onto the moon. With Google Earth on your computer you can go right in and check out the moon stuff. Otherwise, you can view the promotional Moon in Google earth video and see what it's all about.

Another couple of things to check out:
  • Mythbusters debunk the moon conspiracy theory myth.
  • Buzz Aldrin didn't just hit a conspiracy theorist with words, he packed a punch and was taken to court. I'm not one to condone violence, but where do these conspiracy theorists get their crazy ideas and the nerve to pursue them?
Did you do something yesterday to commemorate the moon landing? Got some more links to recommend? Please share.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Staples Back to School

Staples back to school promotions include several items for Free this week. In my area there are discounts on laptops, monitors, graphing calculators, USB flash drives and scientific calculators. I'm not sure how much the offers vary from store to store.

Here is the Staples back to school ad for my local store: Staples Back to School. Since I'm pretty sure you don't live close to my store be sure to enter your own location to get the relevant ad.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

17 Year Old Sails Solo

I just read about a 17 year old homeschooler from California who is returning from his solo sail around the world!

Here is his blog:

A Few Fun and Useful Learning Links

An interview with a children's author and illustrator who loves nature: Jennifer Thermes at The Grass Stain Guru.

Get out and do World Water Monitoring Day: a great homeschool, school or club project.

School supplies for a penny at Staples: here is the ad - the sale ends today.

For the Kansas City metro folks: enter a local art exhibition (scroll down) in Merriam, Kansas.

Open House tonight to learn about Currclick's new online classes coming this fall.

International Youth Camp - your homeschool teen might like to learn about this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bonnie and Clyde by Paul Schneider

I first heard of Bonnie and Clyde back in the 1960's when I was too young to have any clue who they were and what they did. Their names really stuck with me.

Bonnie is of course the Scottish word for beautiful and the Clyde is the big river which flows out through the city of Glasgow which I grew up practically on the banks of. It took until a couple of weeks ago when I picked up Bonnie and Clyde - the lives behind the legend by Paul Schneider for me to really learn what they were all about.

If you're looking for a cheerful read, this book is not for you. However as an interesting journey into the human condition and America in the 1920's I'd recommend it. I really found myself absorbed by the downhill slippery slope these two people were on. Of course I already knew the ending, but the twists, turns and agonies which led them there were in a way compelling.

I think this book would make a good college-level, or upper high school read. There's plenty of blood, violence and law breaking of course, so bear that in mind. There is even one really bad photo. The author doesn't turn it into a circus act though - I found myself enlightened about their story without much emotional attachment, either good or bad.

It would also be great for a homeschooling parent who just wants a change of pace and to be reminded that life in the 2000's is overall pleasant and safe, at least for most of us in America.

You can see inside Bonnie and Clyde, the lives behind the legend at

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Lobster Chronicles by Linda Greenlaw

If you've ever wondered what it's like to live on a small island, off the coast of America, I'd recommend you read The Lobster Chronicles. I picked this book up at my local library earlier this week and read it in about 4 days. Given the viewing figures for The Deadliest Catch, fishing is apparently fascinating to quite a few Americans these days.

Linda Greenlaw is a female lobster fisherman. She is 40 years old and lives on a small island off the coast of Maine, the same island which is home to Acadia National Park. Linda has already written one bestselling book, which I've not read, yet, The Hungry Ocean.

Personally I have a kind of fascination with the way other people live. What does a female lobster fisherman who lives at home with her mom and dad get up to all day? What are her thoughts, challenges and joys? And will she find a husband and get to raise the island family she longs for?

I liked this book because Linda writes well, shares an interesting story with sufficiently detailed and slightly weird characters, and communicates some of the rawness and challenge of life, without being either objectionable or depressing.

Check it out. Let me know what you think.

Read more about The Lobster Chronicles at

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Homeschooler's Guide to the Galaxy

The Homeschooler's Guide to the Galaxy is changing over to occasional postings of learning links and book reviews. Learning links will be anything useful I come across for online reading and learning which isn't related to nature, gardening etc. Book reviews will mostly be adult reading level and of interest to folks who are lifelong learners.

My green posts, stuff about gardening etc are up at Loving Nature's Garden. Please take a moment to visit, leave a comment, and let me know what you think. I'll be clearing out The Homeschoolers's Guide to the Galaxy of everything nature and sustainability related within the next week.

I'm still looking for more regular readers to join my Ranger Rick give away. It's my way to thank you for reading here. Just page down to the next post for details.

By the way, my visitor numbers at Loving Nature's Garden are already matching those here after less than 10 days of posting and without Google indexing. It's a testament to the reception of a self-hosted Wordpress blog within the online community compared to one on Blogger.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Loving Nature's Garden

Today over at Loving Nature's Garden- Sick Grapes and Bad Tomatoes. Oops, what happened to those beautiful, green, grapes?

Also, here is the post which tells you how to subscribe to my new spot on the web: How Did Wednesday Get Here?

And, for my regular readers, enter the drawing for a Ranger Rick packet - there are 5 packets and only 2 entered so far!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ranger Rick Magazine

Have you heard of Ranger Rick magazine? It's a really awesome magazine to subscribe to when you love nature and want to share that with your kids. I'm going to say more about it in a minute. But first, I'm breaking with my Wednesday give away day today to bring you an extra special give away.

I have 5 fun packets, each of which includes Ranger Rick and more, to give away to my loyal, long-time readers - I know who you are, and so do you! I want to say thank you for following me. I'm reserving these packets to go to those whom I already know support me. On Wednesday I'm launching my new blog. There will be more exciting give aways at my new spot on the web, including 5 further Ranger Rick packets, for those who are new or who don't win this time around. This is your heads up and your chance to receive a token of my appreciation before all the confusion of subscribing to my new feed and setting up new bookmarks ensues.

So here is what you get with Ranger Rick:
  • 44 page full-color magazine on FSC certified paper - 30% recycled - produced by a lovely editor (I know because she sent me the magazines) at the National Wildlife Federation.
  • 7 page feature on box turtles with stunning photos and really interesting facts.
  • Reader submitted photos, letters and questions.
  • 6 pages of activities, including a page of jokes.
  • Comic book style Ranger Rick story.
  • 8 page feature on birds and how they use their wings.
  • A campfire story and tips on telling campfire tales.
  • 6 page feature on coyotes with great action pics and lots of cubs.
  • 2 pages of funny, captioned dog surfing photos.
There will be additional items in your Ranger Rick packet if you're one of the winners, but I'm not saying what. You'll have to wait and see.

Here's what you do to be entered in the drawing (only open to mainland USA). Send an e-mail to me at the e-mail for my new blog (pictured below). Tell me something that will allow me to identify you as a long-time or subscribed reader - I need a memory jog. Here are some ideas:
  • a link to your blog
  • something related to how you first found my blog or how long you've been reading
  • or remind me that I've e-mailed you before and what it was about
Here is the e-mail address

At the same time I will subscribe you to my future newsletter (not the same as my RSS feed). Don't expect to see my newsletter for a month or two - it will contain extra great stuff though and I think you'll love it. Thanks and good luck :-)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

* Tuesday Tidbits

This post has been relocated and can be found at Loving Nature's Garden.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

5 Ideas for Reading Camp

Below are 5 ideas for reading camp which you can do at home. When some moms are spending half the day in their car driving kids to and fro to summer camps and shelling out $$$, I'm usually at home, making up my own entertainment to share with my kids. After all, I had kids so that they could be part of my life, not so that I could pay others to take care of them. YMMV.

5 Ideas for Reading Camp
Sometimes we descend into thinking that books are only about stories and learning to read. With these reading camp ideas you can expand your horizons and do a wide variety of activities.

#1 - Book treasure hunt
- find the tallest, thickest, thinnest, smallest, longest and shortest book in your house. You can also search for specific words in the book titles. Or look for red books, green books, hardback books, and paperbacks. Do you have any spiral bound books - are they on a specific topic, like cookery?

#2 - Book I-Spy
- you don't need I-Spy books to do Book I-Spy. Simply set a challenge, like counting the number of times a word is used on a page, finding a word your child can recognize, or looking for the page in the book that has a certain illustration. I'm sure you get the idea.

#3 - Lap Books, Scrap Books, and Journals
- lap books, scrap books, and journals are very popular with many homeschoolers, but there's no reason they can't be great for all parents and kids. If you know of a good link to one of these topics, or if this is something you've written about, let me know. I'd like to add some links.

#4 - Library Raid and Reading Challenge
- descend on your local public library and find books of as many different types as you can. What about a fun book on exercise, an I-Spy book, a pop-up book, a photo book, a field guide, a book on tape, an old-fashioned book, a brand new book, and a book which shows you how to build something. Remember to take the books home and use as many as you can! While you are there, most public libraries have summer reading programs where your kids can earn a free book or two. If your kid is not a reader yet, no worries, go ahead and read to him or her to earn the book.

#5 - Strange Reading
How many different places can you think of to read? What about in the bathroom? On the deck? Under a tree? In a tent pitched in your family room? Under the bedcovers? How about reading while upside down - many kids enjoy this one! Or you could go to the mall, take a bath book to the beach, or read in the shower. You could sit under the table, or under your desk, or maybe in the dog bed? Does it feel different reading there?

What other ideas do you have for a reading camp? How would you incorporate nature in your reading camp? Do you have any great links to share?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Happy Mother

..I've twa bonny bairns the fairest of a',
They cheer up my heart when their daddie's awa';
I've ane at my foot, and I've ane on my knee,
An' fondly they look, an' say, "Mammy" to me..

Alexander Laing, The Ballads of Bairnhood, 1913 (first published 1894)

Do you need a translation?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Perfect Mother's Day Gift

What is your idea of the perfect Mother's Day gift? Which of these would you love to receive?
  1. a lazy morning in bed with a cup of tea and a book
  2. a handmade item with a sweet message from a child
  3. a large bouquet of store-bought flowers
  4. a bouquet of flowers hand-picked and brought to you by hand
  5. some plants or seeds for your garden
  6. a gift certificate to a bookstore or garden center
  7. a shopping spree to a store you love
  8. lunch or dinner made for you by a loved one
  9. a picnic in the park surrounded by your family
  10. total harmony in the house for just one day - we can dream, right?
  11. a trip out to visit a place you love
  12. a visit with your own mom
  13. something shiny or colorful - think jewelry, or a pretty item
  14. something entirely practical for the kitchen or garden
Does your family know what your perfect Mother's Day gift would be? How well do they know you? Can they guess? Which of these would they choose for you?

If you liked this you might enjoy:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Winner - Kids Book Give Away

The winner of last week's Kids Book Give Away is commenter number

I used Excel to generate a random number - let's round the number to get entrant number 8, which is Amy! Congratulations Amy. I'll be e-mailing you in just a moment to get your details for sending the two books off to you.

For those of you who did not win this time, I usually have my give aways on the last Wednesday of the month. Subscribe to my feed and you'll be sure to hear about the next one. If you liked this you might enjoy:

This give away was sponsored by my Usborne Books and More business. You can see the full range of books, with online specials every day and recommendations for Children's Book Week at my book store.

* Going on a Treasure Hunt

This article has been relocated to Loving Nature's Garden.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kids Book Give Away

I have a double kids book give away for you this week, sponsored by my Usborne Books and More book business Pictured here are two books which will start conversations with your kids about where your electricity and food come from. These are also great books to keep in the car for trips.

Pictured on the left is Where Does Electricity Come From. It's ideal for a 6-9 year old, or for a younger child who is already asking questions about this kind of thing. It covers information such as how electricity is made, what we use it for, and how it is transported. There are a couple of basic experiments included. There is also brief information on how batteries, turbines, and televisions work.

Pictured on the right is The Runaway Tractor. This is a cute mini book, which comes with a Rusty the Dog soft animal keychain. The Runaway Tractor is a story in the Usborne Farmyard Tales series. It's a simple story with a little duck to find on every page. It's ideal for reading to 2-5 year olds and is perfect for a beginning reader to manage by themself. The keychain is not suitable for kids under 3 years old.

Great Inspiration for a Summer Camp or Field Trip
If you are thinking of summer camps, what to do with your kids when school or preschool gets out, or for something new to inspire your homeschooling, you could plan a field trip around these books. Take the time to visit a local farm, or to just look for a tractor working in a field. Stop and watch for a while. Research where your electricity comes from and look up the location on a map. Explore your neighborhood and find your local transformer. Look for above ground electricity pylons or cables and draw a map of where they are, or just have fun spotting them when you are out and about. Find more tractor and farming books at your library and read together about how things work. Older kids can watch a video about the Hoover Dam. Look for food labels in the grocery store and talk about where your food comes from. Find out what kind of food is grown in your local area. Talk with a farmer.

Entering the Give Away
Just leave a comment by midnight on Tuesday, May 5th, 2009. Sorry, this give away is only open to those in the continental United States. If you live elsewhere and really want to enter, please leave a comment with your location - if your name is drawn I will look into the cost of mailing to you and if it's less than $5 they're yours!

If you liked this post you might like:
To see the full range of Usborne Books visit Usborne Books & More.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

* Green Product Reviews/Give Aways?

For green product reviews and give aways please visit Green Reviews.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

3 Classic Reads for Animal Lovers

I find myself coming back again and again to read classic books, books I read many years ago. Below are three books I highly recommend for the animal-lover in you, or the animal-lover in your life.

#1 - My Family and Other Animals
Reading Gerald Durrell's classic book as a teen had me longing for a life far from school with the freedom to explore island nature. Gerald's family are hilarious eccentrics who leave a dreary life in England to escape to Corfu. The descriptions of all the characters in this book and the events brought on by the animals in Gerald's little zoo never fail to make me smile. I'm pretty fond of The Maggenpies, the puppies called Widdle and Puke, and the mother scorpion who one day escapes onto the lunch table to cause mayhem amongst family and dinner guests. It's a great read for anyone with a love of animals and a taste for human eccentricities.
Find My Family and Other Animals at

#2 - All Creatures Great and Small
James Herriot was a young, unsuspecting and inexperienced vet who arrived one day in Yorkshire, England ready to be interviewed for his first position, only to discover that his eccentric future-boss Siegfried wasn't even at home. Despite the hardships of being a farm vet in the Yorkshire Dales, James finds that there are many compensations, including the wonderful people and the fresh open aired countryside. As in the previous book, you really feel like you are visiting the author's place and seeing things through his eyes. Look out though, the Yorkshire Dales might capture your heart, like they did mine!
Find All Creatures Great and Small at

#3 - Your Recommendation
Try as I might, I couldn't think of just one more book to recommend. I have memories of many more wonderful reads, but the above two are the only animal books which have remained in my book collection for several decades. I'm always open to discover a new favorite book. What is your favorite nature or animal read? Which book do you come back to?

If you liked this you might like:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Easy No Bake Recipe

This easy no bake recipe is one of my all time favorites. I've been making variations of it since I was a kid. If your kids like chocolate, they'll love these cute chocolate bird nests with mini Easter eggs.

It's a quick and easy recipe with no baking and minimal clean-up. I'm giving you both my original easy no bake recipe and an adapted vegan/dairy-free alternative. Both are equally easy. Just watch out if your kids get a caffeine high from cocoa; don't give them these to eat after dinner!

Easy No Bake Chocolate Easter Bird Nests

With this recipe your kids can learn measuring, mixing, spooning, and safe use of the microwave or stove.

2oz of butter or margarine
1/2 cup of hot cocoa mix (the kind that contains powdered milk)
1/2 cup of sweetened condensed milk
3 cups of cereal flakes - cornflakes or other
24-36 mini sugar-coated chocolate eggs or jelly beans

Dairy-free Alternative Ingredients
2oz of dairy-free margarine
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (the kind without milk)
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup of honey
3 cups of cereal flakes
24-36 mini sugar-coated chocolate eggs or jelly beans - make sure these are OK for your diet - if you can't find dairy-free/vegan use pieces of colored paper to decorate instead

12 paper cup-cake cases, or a muffin pan, or ramekin bowls
small heat-proof bowl, cup, or mug (for the microwave) or a small pan
dessert spoon
1/2 cup measure
tablespoon measure (if making the dairy-free option)
mixing bowl

  1. Gather all ingredients and equipment.
  2. Measure all ingredients, apart from the butter/margarine and cereal flakes, and place in mixing bowl.
  3. Cut off 20z of butter or margarine (half a stick) and place in the heat-proof cup or bowl or the pan.
  4. Microwave the butter or margarine until melted (about 30 seconds) or heat in the pan on the stove until melted.
  5. Pour the hot, melted butter or margarine into the other ingredients - do this for your child if you are not ready to trust them to do it safely.
  6. Mix with the spoon.
  7. Measure and add the cereal flakes then mix until all the flakes are coated.
  8. Spoon mixture into cupcake cases, muffin pan cups, or ramekins.
  9. Press down the center to make an indentation for the mini Easter eggs or jelly beans.
  10. Arrange 2-3 Easter eggs or jelly beans in the center of each chocolate nest.
  11. Allow to cool and set, which will take at least 60 minutes. You can speed this up by putting them in the fridge.
  12. Enjoy!
Did you enjoy working in the kitchen when you were a kid? Do your kids enjoy working with you to make food, or are there frustrations?

Related posts:
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