Wednesday, May 25

Why We Choose Quality Literature from the TGTB Library

Since as far back as we can remember (which is to say, since the first kid was born), we've started our days with a little bit of reading together time. Now that they're teens, I see no reason to stop this tradition. We just change the book selections!

Seriously though, your teen might grumble that it's not cool to read together with his little siblings and his mom, but inside, he's truly loving it. Here lately, I've been reading aloud while the boys eat breakfast.  They're teens, and they're sleeping in later than usual, so this is a gentle way to start the day.  

And can we just step back for a moment and reflect on the blessing that homeschool affords us with that flexibility to sleep in?  So many teens have to stumble through their early morning classes before their brains, biologically, are even capable of fully functioning.  I like knowing that that extra hour or two gets them good sleep, boosting their immunity and helping them to start the day off right!

Once this time is done (usually a couple of chapters), we have a quick rundown of the day. Sometimes this is a quick once-over of their daily assignments. Other times, it's a reminder that we have appointments or a field trip or something special going on.

One of the main tenets of TGTB is the use of "good books," both within the curriculum and in extracurricular reading.  Much of modern literature is flooded with negative messages about education, family, and moral character, but these books are entertaining and appealing to youth.  These are not good books.  They don't inspire or teach good values, and many don't even challenge the reader to grow their vocabulary.

Good books will provide students:

  • A varied & rich vocabulary
  • Increased focus, concentration and memory
  • Longer attention span
  • Stronger analytical thinking skills
  • Greater empathy for others
  • Improved writing skills
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased knowledge of history people place cultures
  • More depth of character 

There is a fabulous and FREE book list available to download for you to get started on the journey to filling your shelves with good books!  They also have a searchable database, where you can filter by reading level, author, and genre.  Many of the books feature parent reviews, as well as commentary about the moral, literary, and educational value.  You do NOT have to use the curriculum to use their book list.  It is just a guide of vetted, 'good' books.  

Download the Good & the Beautiful book list here.

Here are the books we're incorporating into this school year, including a couple of lower level ones I'll be using to teach a young niece to read!  Have I mentioned that I can't wait to become a homeschooling abuela yet??  We'll read them throughout the breakfast, after lunch, and in the evenings.  They might be teens, but I'm still a big proponent of reading together as a family.  In the summertime, too, we've been known to spend lazy afternoons all stretched out over each other in the family hammock reading aloud together.  And now that they're older, if mom gets tired, she can pass the book on for someone else to read!!

Pushback & Lowering the Level

One point of note...we don't always read 'at level' books either.  As an adult, don't you sometimes appreciate stepping back and reading something not at a collegiate level or beyond?  Our kids do, too.  There's so much merit to be found in these books, and sometimes we like being able to zip through a book in a day or we often fill in the spaces between longer books with lower level reads.

If you have kids who aren't really into these types of books -- which is a real possibility, especially if they have been reading popular books for any length of time -- you can expect a bit of pushback.  Choosing these shorter books, and talking about them, will continue to expose your children to the good things without diving in headfirst.  Think of it as repeating putting one piece of broccoli on their plate until they begin to eat it.  Just one wouldn't start by asking them to eat the entire heap!  (Substitute with your child's least favorite food, if they happen to like broccoli.)  Families new to this type of literature may want to check out How to Get Kids Interested in Good & Beautiful Books.

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Tuesday, May 24

Fuzzy Mud & Microbiology

In 'Fuzzy Mud,' the kids find an abandoned science experiment that initially causes a rash and blindness.  While this helps a group of students learn to get along, the mud ultimately results in quarantines and lockdowns, leading to a change around the world...

Interested in more books about outbreaks and quarantines?  Check out the Fever 1793 unit study.

The study of microbiology looks at living organisms that are too small to be visible with the naked eye. These 'microbes' include bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, prions, protozoa and algae. Micro-organisms and their activities are vitally important to virtually all processes on Earth.

Though they are teeny and rarely considered, microbes are found everywhere in, on, and around us! They are very important because they play a key role in nutrient cycling, biodegradation/biodeterioration, climate change, food spoilage, the cause and control of disease, and biotechnology.

Microbiologists are scientists who study microbes. Two important discoveries from this field include the smallpox vaccine and the discovery of penicillin. Microbes can be used to make life-saving drugs, manufacture biofuels, clean up pollution, and produce food and drink.

Did you know that we couldn’t live without microbes, but they could live without us? In nature, decomposers break down dead plants and animals and their waste products into simpler substances, called nutrients. These nutrients are returned to the environment so that other living things, including microbes, can use them!

Our spine read for this unit is Fuzzy Mud (Louis Sachar)

Snag the full unit in the Literature-Based Science Bundle!

Includes nine unit studies covering a variety of science topics presented in literature selections.
  • Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.
  • There are photographs and illustrations, and we have also included primary documents when available.
  • After this text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students.
  • You will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, places, and people to identify.
  • Reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments are included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.
Our family has used unit studies as curriculum for many years, and we hope that your family will enjoy these, too!

Units include:
  • Misty of Chincoteague & Horses
  • Hugo Cabret & Clocks / Time
  • Caroline’s Comet & Astronomy
  • Fuzzy Mud & Microbiology
  • Hatchet & Outdoor Skills
  • Airplanes & Flight
  • Marine Biology
  • Human Anatomy
  • Plant Dissection

Wednesday, May 18

God Bless the USA!

Travel is my favorite way to learn geography! In God Bless the USA Exploring States & Territories, we explore each state as if we are on a trip exploring the exciting spots...

Want to travel across the USA to visit all 50 states and 5 territories?  We used to do this very thing during our roadschooling life, but (thank you, 'rona) life is a little more virtual these days.  In God Bless the USA, we get to visit beautiful parks, historic landmarks, bustling cities, and quaint towns as we discover our vast country....

This geography adventure introduces students to rivers, oceans, lakes, forests, mountains, caves, and other landforms.  They discover cities, highways, companies, churches, museums, as they map, research, draw, and travel from state to state.

God Bless the USA - Exploring States & Territories

This is the spine text to the curriculum -- the one you will definitely need!  After an introduction to the entire country, the spine text breaks the states down by region.  Some curricula studying the states alphabetically, but I find that it helps the kids to better internalize the geographic concepts when they are studied by region.

Each state regional section includes:
  • Overview of Region
  • List of States (or territories) in Region
  • Map of USA—student colors in region
  • Regional Resources
  • Regional Climate
  • Regional Culture/Food
  • Regional Blank Outline Map
Each individual state includes:
  • Mapping geographic concepts
  • State Facts
  • Highlights from Each State
  • Climate & Physical Geography
  • Business & Farming
  • Manufacturing
  • Research Project
  • Drawing

God Bless the USA State Capitals & Abbreviations

This isn't just a dry book of facts, but contains an explanation of capitals, capitols, and the difference between them, as well as why we use state abbreviations.  From there, the book is divided up into the following sections: Southern states, Mid-Atlantic states, New England states, Southwest states, Western states, Pacific states, and Territories.

Each section includes:
  • Map with states and capital
  • Chart with states, abbreviations, capitals, statehood date, and population
  • Quick intro to each state capital and state capitol
  • Printable practice pages for mapping and state facts
  • Color in States

God Bless the USA State Flags & Seals

With a specific focus on flags and seals, this is another hands-on addition to the spine curriculum.  It includes an interesting and easy-to-understand explanation of flags and why each state has a flag.  Each state includes:
  • State Flag
  • State Seal
  • Family Crests, Flags, & Seals
  • State Flag/Seal/Map Games
  • Discussion Questions

God Bless the USA State Stamps & Coins

This additional hands-on booklet opens up with an easy-to-understand explanation of stamps and why the US Postal Service issued a stamp for each state and territory.  There is also a section on state coins opens up with an easy-to-understand explanation of the US Mint’s special state quarters.  From there, the book is divided up into the following sections: Southern states, Mid-Atlantic states, New England states, Southwest states, Western states, Pacific states, and Territories.  
Each section includes:
  • State Stamps
  • State Coins
  • State Stamp/Coin/Map Games
  • Make a Family Stamp
  • Printables

God Bless the USA State Sorting Mats

For the littles in your life, these sorting mats are a great way to practice cutting and pasting.  Fifty-five sorting mats are included, each covering state flag, seal, stamp, quarter, abbreviation, and the state name.  Print on cardstock and laminate for extended life!  As an aside, you can use these in a game format with older kids, too...just mix up all the pieces and let them sort and match.

Who would like this?

This curriculum would be great in a family-style homeschool setting.  The spine text can be read aloud by the parent, while each student gets their own copy of the workbooks to write in or cut and paste, based on age appropriate levels.  Older kids have research options to beef it up to their level, too.  For the family who wants to do a USA geography study together, this provides several options for tailoring to each student's level.  That's not to say it MUST be completed family-style, however, as older kids could easily work through the spine text and workbooks alone with minimal supervision.  The books come with a sample schedule to help you break down the lessons and complete the work.  Do this over a fun summer, or spread it out for an entire semester of geography!

Tuesday, May 17

Five People You Meet in Heaven + Human Impact

From the author of "Tuesdays with Morrie," this is a story about the last thoughts of your life and what comes afterward.  But it's not a story about death.  It's a story about appreciating life, and living life to the fullest while enhancing the lives of those around you.  After all, you never know what kind of ripple effect your actions may have...

Have you ever considered the impact that you make on those around you?  Most people think about the life they want to build for themselves, but by creating a better life for those around you, you are actually building a legacy of living and a better world.  

A celebrity example of this is Stephen Hawking, who had an incredible handicap, but he didn't let this stop him.  He worked tirelessly to impart his knowledge and make a difference in the world.  People from all walks of life have the choice to do this everyday.  Even you!  You can share your gifts with the world - whether it be through an influencer's wide reach or just your corner.  This can be through simple acts of kindness or by sharing your talents to enrich other people's lives.

Maybe you don't know what your talents are or what you are passionate about.  Look for common themes in the books you read, movies you watch, art and topics you are drawn toward, and even the things you purchase -- you will find some common threads that show your passion.  Or maybe you've overcome something difficult in your life -- this is a place where you could share your knowledge and insight with others who are facing the same challenges.  

Remember, you don't have to be an influencer to reach out.  It doesn't matter how many people you help, but how you help people.  Leaving a lasting, positive imprint on one person is more impactful than glancing over millions.  Also, change doesn't happen overnight, so do not be discouraged.  Small changes can have a big impact, and positively influencing one person's life is a great achievement and something of which to be profoundly proud.

Here are a few ways you can impact others, as a teen, within your community:
  • Help fundraise for a local cause.  You can help with publicizing, social media, physically helping out during the event, or being on the clean up crew.
  • Pick up the trash.  Again, it's the little things that add up to a big difference.  Picking up a few pieces of trash everyday will help with the environment and keeping the community cleaner.
  • Remember the forgotten.  Pop into a nursing home or hospital and spend some time bringing cheer to the sick and elderly.  Listen to their stories, sing songs, and offer up smiles.
  • Get dirty.  Community gardens provide food for neighborhoods and sometimes the needy as well.  The flowers and plants create a beautiful space, but these need hands for weeding and tending.
  • Give it away.  Go through clothing, books, toys, and belongings, and clear out those things you no longer use.  If they still have plenty of life in them, donate to another family to love.
  • Write on the walls.  This one will require a permit, or at least permission.  Create a mural that depicts a historic moment in your town, a beautiful abstract, or other work of art that will bring joy to passers-by.

Our spine read for this unit is The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Access the full unit in the Advanced High School Literature bundle!

Includes six unit studies covering a variety of topics presented in more mature literature selections.
  • Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.
  • There are photographs and illustrations, and we have also included primary documents when available.
  • After this text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students.
  • You will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, places, and people to identify.
  • Reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments are included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.
Our family has used unit studies as curriculum for many years, and we hope that your family will enjoy these, too!
Units include:
· Oliver Twist & the Industrial Revolution
· Things Fall Apart & the Colonization of Africa
· The Chosen & the Zionist Movement
· Five People You Meet in Heaven & Human Impact
· The Things they Carried & the Vietnam War
· Crime and Punishment & Free Will vs Determinism

Thursday, May 12

High School Help with SchoolhouseTeachers

Looking for high school help?  As the homeschooling community continues to grow, one of the biggest concerns we hear from parents is that they don’t know what to do for high school. It’s not the academics that are nerve-wracking so much as it is all of those ‘special things,’ like testing, applications, and deadlines that must be met for a smooth transition into college.

At SchoolhouseTeachers, there are several targeted learning centers designed to help parents with specific seasons of homeschooling life.  One of these centers is High School Help for the Homeschooler.  ALL of the resources included in this parent center are included with your family membership...  

What is SchoolhouseTeachers?

For those of you who are new to the program, is the homeschooler's one-stop site, with complete curriculum, aids such as printables, daily lessons, lapbooks, free e-books, and conference recordings on various homeschool topics prepared by recognized homeschool leaders.  You have access to daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly lesson plans by some of the best from within the homeschooling community.  The Ultimate PreK-12 Annual Membership covers grades Pre-K through 12th grade...every subject!  It even includes post-graduation and parent helpers.  (Meal planning, anyone?)

High School Help

I see a lot of folks who are intimidated by the thought of homeschooling in the high school years, but these can be some of the richest, most rewarding days a homeschooling parent and student can experience!  The teen years are challenging, and by homeschooling you have the opportunity to have those hard conversations as they arise, to help navigate your child, and to guide them through murky waters.

In the high school help center, you'll find information and worksheets for taking standardized tests, finding colleges and scholarships, creating transcripts, and more.  (As always, be sure you are familiar with your own state laws and requirements, and keep good records.)

The center includes downloadable eBooks on various topics, including:

  • College Success Begins at Home
  • Homeschooling the High Schooler
  • The Things I Learned When My Kid Went to College
  • Transcripts, CLEPs, and Other Ways to Get Into College
  • Career Training, Mentorship, and Parenthood
  • Help, Lord, I’m Getting Ready to Start Homeschooling My High Schooler

The Preparation Worksheet Collection includes:

  • High School Transcript
  • Test Prep
  • High School Plan
  • Course of Study
  • GPA Calculation
  • Hours / Tracking Log
  • Individualized High School Plan
  • College Planning Checklist
  • College Study Plan
  • Checklist for College
  • Credit Your Own Course

Additionally, they host an online College Directory.  It seems to only include religious-based institutions, but that may be exactly what your child is seeking.

One-on-One Consultations

Maybe you still want a little bit of assistance.  After all, there are a lot of moving parts to high school, especially if your student is college-bound.  At Sparks Academy, a nationally board-certified school counselor will help you with transcripts, scholarships, and making the transition!

Every consultation includes:

  • Two ebooks: Through the Door + A Genius in Every Seat
  • Consultation meeting – typically runs 45-60 minutes – an opportunity to gain insight into current needs, provide an outside perspective/accountability, and assign relevant modules and activities.
  • Evaluation of student academic and extracurricular background
  • Course planning (for 6th-10th graders) - OR - Writing consultation / feedback for one scholarship or application essay (for 11th & 12th graders)
  • Reading list recommendations
  • Prior to the meeting, the student/parents are sent a short form to complete to evaluate progress on the established plan and to help set goals for the meeting. Meetings are conducted via telephone or Zoom
  • Follow-up email with meeting summary and action points

Just want to do it yourself?

While the transition itself, for the homeschooled student, is not so different from the traditionally-schooled student, the homeschool parent must take on the roles of teacher, counselor, and school administrator during this time. In ‘Through the Door,’ you’ll learn the tips & tricks most counselors use to give their students a jump start on their bright futures!

The book’s accompanying work text features reproducible planning and organization pages, essay practice and guidance, life skills exercises, career planning surveys, request forms, and more to help guide you through this hectic time and keep track of everything in one place!

Detailed Helps for SchoolhouseTeachers


Tuesday, May 10

The Phantom Tollbooth & Creating a World

Fantasy stories are speculative fiction, asking the question, 'What it?'  They have elements of magic, fantastical creatures, unnatural events; with events that take place in a different world.  An allegory is a story that has a hidden meaning, usually having something to do with politics, religion, or morality; uses symbolism where most things stand for something else. The Phantom Tollbooth is both fantasy and allegory...

Writing a story is a lot like building a house — even if you have all the right ideas, materials, and tools, your house won't stand without a strong foundation.  When it comes to writing fantasy fiction, world building is that foundation.

It involves more than just the setting though; it can be as complex as a unique setting with exotic creatures, rich political histories, and even new religions, or it can be as simple as tweaking the history of the world we live in today.  

There are two types of fantasy worlds:

  1. Real-World Fantasy - where you set your story in the world we live in, but your plot is either based on a real event (as in Outlander) or is one in which historical events occur differently (as in Man in the High Castle).
  2. Second-World Fantasy - where you create new lands, species, and government. You also invent a world rich in its own history, geography, and purpose.

The key in creating a believable fantasy world is keeping in mind that ‘fantasy’ does not mean ‘anything goes.'  Maintaining consistency throughout your world building and writing is crucial.  Whether you are basing your fantasy world on real history or inventing it entirely out of your own head, every aspect must be consistent with the world you’ve created.

You can create any kind of magical system that you like, but the key here is that it does need to be some kind of system. Whether it is based on numbers, plants, words or something else, whether characters study for years to become proficient in it or are born with the ability, it needs to be consistent. Characters cannot suddenly develop new abilities or go outside that system.

Whatever world you decide upon, be sure to create a world in which readers can lose themselves!  We experience everyday life through our senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Your world will come to life for readers when you let them do the same in your fictional world.

If your character wanders through a market, what spices and herbs might mingle in the air? These kinds of details within a world can help to make it feel more multidimensional and real. A lot of writers fall into the trap of relying on just a few of the senses, like sight and touch. But as you revise your manuscript, look for opportunities to round out these details with the other senses, too. 

Our spine read for this unit is The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster)

Access the entire unit in the Literary Elements Novel Study Bundle!!

Five unit studies covering literary styles and elements. Each unit addresses a new topic and includes introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.
  • After this text, you will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.

  • Literary Elements with Dragonwatch (product sample)
  • Creating a World with the Phantom Tollbooth
  • Writing Dystopia with the Giver
  • Writing Fantasy with the Hobbit
  • Writing Surrealism with Tuck Everlasting

Tuesday, May 3

Using the Good & the Beautiful US Constitution Curriculum in High School

Like many families, we love the relaxed yet comprehensive fit of The Good & the Beautiful curriculum, and we plan to keep using it through the high school years.  To that end, along with the assistance of a few other moms, we've created a suggested plan for using the US Constitution & Government course for high school students...

What is the course?

The US Constitution & Government course covers both the text and context of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and all 27 Amendments.  It immerses students in the lives of the Founding Fathers and Mothers as well as the important events and documents that formed America’s government.  Additionally, History Case Files are included in the course book to walk students through how to critically think about bias, truth, facts, and primary sources.  Included audio biographies provide inspirational accounts of the lives of important men and women during the framing of the Constitution.

If teaching family-style, there is an optional activity book for grades K–3 which allows for younger students to learn along with their older siblings. The Activity Book is not integrated into the course, nor does it follow the scope and sequence of the course.  It simply has fun activities about colonial times and Founding Fathers for younger children to enjoy.

The company has taken a lot of flak for this course, but it does a great job of walking through the Constitution and the complicated issues the Founding Fathers faced in setting up our nation.  I truly appreciate the care they took in presenting a positive viewpoint while not downplaying the challenges and controversial issues.  They also took care to present diverse viewpoints, including those of women and people of color.

This plan beefs up this course to high school standards, and includes:

  • Additional readings
  • Videos & film
  • Independent research
  • 100-question test
  • Documentation log

It is our hope that these printable plans with supplements will help you to continue family-style learning with your elementary and upper grades children.

For families wanting to add Economics at home, we recommend the Uncle Eric - Bluestocking series Featuring a real-world, history-based approach to government and economics, this makes a perfect elective for our high schooler.  (You can opt just to use the economics books.)

Writing Assignments
  • Write a 2-page research on a founding father or mother.  Include their history and contributions.
  • Write a 5-paragraph compare / contrast paper on the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.  Address all three documents.
  • Write a persuasive essay regarding why slavery should or should not have been included in the Constitution.  Address both sides, then persuade the reader to your argument.
  • Write a process essay on the amendment process.

Access the Good & Beautiful Extensions Page  (lots of extras for every subject!)

Co-op Classes

Sparks Academy offers two versions of the US Constitution & Government class as part of their online courses.  One is a single-semester government course, while the other is a year-long course that also includes a semester of economics and entrepreneurship.  

For a peer group setting and /or more structured needs (available for language arts, science, and history)Sparks Academy provides blended classes. These are classes hosted online that include textbook and video elements, discussion feeds with peers, and live, virtual meetings.  Each week, the students are interacting through facilitated discussion in a private forum.  Classes “meet” weekly via shared assignments and moderated discussion during the school year (August 15,2022 – May 5, 2023 for the ’22-’23 school year).

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