Home Schooling

A few little home schooling links.
I’m hoping it’s all fast-loading. Sorry, as time goes on, the FRILLS seem to be multiplying.

Homeschooling RAQ (Rarely Asked Questions)

A few years back I worked on a homeschooling forum. I ended up answering a lot of questions. That forum is now a thing of the past, with those questions and answers having been removed from the internet. I’ve resurrected a few of them that I thought might be helpful to someone.

Below you’ll find a list of the questions. Just click on the question and you’ll be taken to a new page where the question is answered or a few comments are offered up for consideration.

Please take it all with a grain of salt. That’s how all the answers are intended. There’s no one right way to homeschool. There’s no “best” curriculum. There are few hard and fast answers because there are so many different students, teachers, learning styles, curricula, etc. Another thing to remember is that I’m only providing my personal answer; other forum members replied, but I’m not including their answers, which often shedded more light on the subject.

How can I incorporate the classical style into our homeschool?

Question : I am looking into trying to incorporate the classical style of education into our homeschool education. Has anyone here tried/accomplished this and how did you find it?

Thanks in advance.

Answer: Which classical?
Bauer’s version (The Well-Trained Mind=WTM)?
Veritas Press?
Trivium Pursuit (see book) style?
Calvert (which is called classical, but doesn’t use the trivium-based formula introduced by Dorothy Sayers)

We did some of Bauer’s version, though, some of it we were doing prior to her book coming out. If you’ve got her book handy, this will make sense. You can buy it from bookstores or Amazon. We do (have done) some history notebooking. Instead of the outlines as suggested in the WTM, we’ve done condensing of a world history book. We do (have done) some outlining workbooks. We have done some of the Logic Stage science stuff with the Reader’s Digest books. It was the fifth grade book we worked in for a while–How Nature Works. It’s a good system, imo.

Most classical programs incorporate “real books” into history and literature studies. We’ve done that for over 10 years and have enjoyed it.

I think what concerns many folks about this type of study is the chance of “holes” in an education. Since I earned reasonably good grades up through university and still emerged with “holes” in my education, the possibility of “holes” doesn’t bother me. “Holes” are inevitable.

If classical appeals/excites you, do try it out. When a parent is excited, often (not always) it is translated to the student who also becomes excited.

When I decided to switch, I just dropped the science we were doing and started with the system in the WTM book. There’s not much more to it than that. I think it’s easiest to start with one subject at a time, giving maybe 2-4 weeks to adjust before adding another subject. But not all families need to get into a groove like we seem to. We never did use traditional curriculum ala buy-it-all-from A Beka or Alpha Omega, so your switch might be a different switch from ours.

There’s no real, simple equation to switching over a few subjects; it takes a bit of trial and error with a plodding doggedness and gentle perseverance, with a heavy portion of consistent work. Also, just using the classical model for history or adding Latin may be all that really works for your family.

If you’ve not seen Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind, here’s a link to a review I wrote of it a number of years ago.

How do I choose a curriculum?

Question posted by Amelia

Hello to all, This is going to by my first year homeschooling my 4th and 8th grader. I am so overwhelmed with all of the curriculums out there and was wondering if anyone had an advice on how to choose. I would really appreciate it!

Thanks for your time.


It is hard to choose which curriculum to use. Despite your best efforts at choosing the right one, be prepared to spend some time tweaking whatever it is you end up with.

  1. Try to see the items. Do you have a local support group that is having a curriculum fair? Are there examples online? Amazon has views of some items.

  2. Ask your kids how they picture learning. What choice looks good to them. Sometimes when they choose from a list of acceptable choices, they work harder to make their choice “work.” Maybe find a fun elective just for fun or enrichment or even something academic in their field of interest.

  1. Try to figure out their learning style and find curriculum products to match that, but don’t worry if you can’t tell. I truly don’t know what types of learners my children are–even after 10+ years–and when something isn’t clicking, then I turn to other methods or ways of presenting the material without getting rid of our curriculum. Besides, you can’t present everything according to their learning style. Learners need to be able to adapt and learn from all types of instruction, especially as they get older.

  2. Look for what type of support the company provides. Online forums, a hot line, etc. You’re going to have questions. They don’t end when you’ve chosen the curriculum; they seem to multiply.

  3. Which curriculum appeals to you as the teacher? Which one gets you excited? This is a factor that shouldn’t be forgotten. You do have to teach it or work with it on a certain level. If you hate the format, your lack of excitement will likely spill over and affect your children’s level of excitement and vice versa.

  4. Read the user reviews. I tend to not be too receptive to reviews in magazines or “testimonials” on publishers’ web sites. The magazines are usually running ads for the company whose product they’re reviewing. And testimonials on a publisher’s web site show only one side of the story because they’re “in effect” ads themselves. And you can learn a lot from reading the “cons.” I think some folks forget that. Sometimes reading a “con” about something lets you know that it’s the exact curriculum that you want. “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.”

  5. Give the curriculum time to work. If it doesn’t work right away, give it time. Some folks give up too easily. I hesitate to say give it a semester; hard and fast rules aren’t always necessary because there are times when you’ll buy something and know immediately that you goofed on selection. Jumping from curriculum to curriculum wastes time and energy. The students don’t learn much when they’re jumping around. Don’t be afraid to chuck the lot, but don’t chuck it before giving it a fair chance. Sometimes your next choice will be worse than what you’ve got. So supplementing or modifying is usually what should be tried before chucking it.

  6. Beware of anyone who tells you that this is the “best” curriculum. LOL! Someone’s love of a certain curriculum will not necessarily mean that it will work for you. Don’t let someone foist their “pet” curriculum on you. People are not doing this on purpose. They’re really just trying to help you. But beware! :-) My story: A lady with about 6-8 kids told me that a certain curriculum product worked with every one of her very different children. She loved that curriculum product and recommended it highly; she was certain it would work for us. So we bought the curriculum product and it did not work with my student. No matter what we did, it was a miserable failure.

It is a bit unnerving to have so many choices. But it’s also good to be homeschooling where you have the latitude to be able to change when things aren’t working. Teachers in classrooms are usually stuck.

Anyway, I guess that’s about it. There are many decent curricula with proven track records. They all have their supporters and detractors. Do your best at figuring out which looks like the best fit and then step out and make your choice work. :-)

Learning Style Books

Discover Your Child’s Learning Style: Children Learn in Unique Ways

In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences

100 Top Picks For Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing The Right Curriculum And Approach For Your Child’s Learning Style

So Each May Learn: Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

Well-Known Curriculum Programs

A Beka (religious)
Rod & Staff (religious)
Alpha Omega Publications (religious)
Oak Meadow
Sonlight Curriculum (religious)
KONOS (religious)
Mott Media (religious)

Eclectic Resources
(for those who pick and choose separate publishers for each subject)

Singapore Math and Science
Saxon Math
Educator’s Publishing Service
Classical Education Press
Curriculum Associates
Key Curriculum Press

What works? What is the most important consideration when selecting a program?

Question posted by Jean

I will have a 5th and an 8th grader next fall. I have never homeschooled! I am looking at Covenant Home but want input. How about a program like KONOS? What works? What is most important consider when selecting the program to use? I am overwhelmed right now.

Answer: Yes, I understand that overwhelmed feeling. I still get it every now and then.

I went and looked at Covenant Home Curriculum. I was thinking it was Carden (I’m not even sure Carden is still around). It would probably be a fine program to use–especially if it appeals to you. Sometimes we forget that the program needs to appeal to us (the teachers), too, if we’re going to teach it. :-)

It appears that Covenant Home draws a fair bit of its curricular items from other suppliers and puts them all together in a package for you with schedules.

If you’re wanting to get a closer look at some of the curricular items you can view the science products at the Bob Jones homeschooling site.

Vocabulary from Classical Roots (8th grade Covenant Home) comes from Educators Publishing Service–a reliable source. We use their Wordly Wise (vocab) and Analogies workbooks.

Exploring Creation with Physical Science (8th grade Covenant Home) is part of the Apologia series.

Saxon Math is also an option with Covenant Home, and you can see sample pages at cbd.com.

Famous Men of Rome (5th grade Covenant Home) is a Greenleaf Guide which you can view at the Greenleaf site. Greenleaf has guides for the Old Testament, Rome, Greece, and Egypt if I’m remembering correctly.

Sometimes homeschoolers like to start out with a package deal (as with Covenant Home) because it gives them a framework within which to work. They know the bases are covered, and a sense of security is there–especially with the schedules and tests. The work is pretty much done for you.

But one downside is that you are bound by their parameters. What if your student would rather study more than just Rome in 5th grade? Why Rome? Why not some other historical period? You asked, “What works?” For history, many things can work. Many, many. Some folks like to go through it chronologically using various sources. Some folks take a “real books” path by reading biographies, good literature, and other interesting non-fiction and fiction books for history. Some take a unit study approach (as in KONOS) with a few more projects added in. And there are plenty of folks that take the textbook path. There really are a lot of choices. The same can be said of the literature choices that are made for you by Covenant Home Curriculum. What if there are other great books that you’d like to see your children read before they leave home? Why not weave them into the curriculum? Possibly Robinson Crusoe doesn’t appeal to your 5th grader? There are plenty of other great books and guides to go with them available to homeschoolers. The same can be said of the choice of Huckleberry Finn for the 8th grader. Many homeschoolers are eclectic and pick and choose–using a vocabulary program from one publisher and a math program from another and a science program from another.

Granted, sometimes it is much, much easier to just go with what a package deal provides. Both Huck Finn and Crusoe are excellent pieces of literature. Going with what’s provided may be just the way to go for the first year. You can then use this first year to put your feelers out to think about other options. Plus, you’ll get a feel for how Covenant Home Curriculum works for you and your children.

As for KONOS, we used it years ago. It was fun. I found it helpful. But I wouldn’t want to go back to it because it was too activity-driven for me. Having to do too many projects wears me out. It works for lots of people, though. I think it might be difficult with an 8th grader who is preparing for high school. It is, however, quite handy to have both students studying the same period in history. And your reading and literature can be based on the history period you’re covering. You don’t need KONOS, though, to do that.

You asked, “What is most important [to] consider when selecting the program to use?”

Off the top of my head:

  1. Does it appeal to the students and teacher?
  2. Does it look like it will be easy to implement?
  3. Does it cover the basics: math, language arts, history, science? What about Phys. Ed., Music, Health, Foreign Languages, others? Is it academically sound?
  4. Is there a less expensive way to obtain the same results? Is there a more interesting way to obtain the same results?
  5. At the end of the year, will we be able to take the next steps on our educational trip? (example: Will this math program prepare my 8th grader for Algebra next year?)
  6. Can’t forget: Does it fulfill any legal obligations we may need to fulfill?

Other issues: Know that you’ll make mistakes in your selection of curricular items. Know that you can either return them or sell them as partially used on eBay and receive about 1/2 of what you paid for them. Making mistakes in choosing materials is just part of homeschooling, imo. It’s something I’ve come of accept (I think), though I try to avoid it by reading reviews and trying to see the items before I purchase them if possible.

Make sure you order early enough so that you have time to familiarize yourself with them before school starts. Also, be aware that your students might see them and want to start right away with some of the stuff. Some curriculum providers get very backed up. Watch for companies that want to backorder your items. Sometimes they won’t arrive in time. You can sometimes go directly to the publisher to get the item instead.

Well, I don’t know if that’s really much help, but I gave it the old college try. :-)

Horrid math woes … What should we do?

Question posted by Nan

OK people. I am a fairly long time homeschooler who has run out of patience with Saxon Math. I am not the only one who has seen/is having this problem, and I want to know how others dealt with it.

I personally know of several parents whose kids are dealing with this at this moment, including my youngest- and I have HAD ENOUGH!! So HELP! LOL

The problem: TOO LONG!!! It takes about 4 hrs a day to do one Saxon math lesson. And I am not talking about Algebra either, but 3rd - 6th grades. Almost everyone I know has this happening.

Some moms have resorted to doing 1/2 lesson per day, finishing the rest the next day, so the child can actually do something other than math for the entire school day. BUT then it takes twice as long to get through school. They would be 20 before they graduate! Ridiculous!!

These are all bright kids, several outstanding in science, all read well above ‘grade level’, and all are actually at least a grade ahead of where they would be in govt school, etc., just NONE of them can do one lesson in an hour - or in any reasonable time frame! We are all spending the whole stupid, wasted, day on JUST math! Nothing else.

Curiously, some of the govt schools use Saxon where we live and those kids also take home the book every night to do lessons that could not be finished in the one hour class time each day, and that leaves no time for other subjects at home, either, because Saxon takes up the whole evening.

SO … Many of us are considering ditching our Saxon math for another math curriculum.

Anyone have any good ones to suggest?

Since I have been homeschooling a long time, I have already used quite a few.

I have used MCP and it was horrid. A big joke of a ‘math’ program. Abeka is fairly advanced, and gives unnecessary review (more than needed) due to classroom busy work time design for private schools. But I guess I could mark many review problems out; I used to do that. Key To books are not enough, either in my opinion. I won’t use Bob Jones, so that leaves us what?

What else is there?

HELP! Anyone have some ideas for us? I have several people wanting immediate help on this, not just me. We all homeschool through summer, so this is going on right now! LOL! PLEASE help!!


Nan received a number of replies from board members. Replies included these math curricula options:

Switched-On Schoolhouse
Singapore Math
University of Chicago Math
Developmental Math
Mastering Mathematics
Miquon Math

My answer: I have been hesitant to mention this possibility, but I’ll mention it on the off chance that it may help someone.

I’m not sure that switching to a new curriculum is always the answer to every trouble. Saxon is a solid system. It’s a known quantity. And your students are used to it if they’ve been using it for a few years. Switching can cause unnecessary upheaval, especially if you switch to something else that ends up not working because then you’re back to square one and have possibly wasted a couple of months. I know it’s easy to look at the curriculum and blame it for the problems we’re experiencing, but it can be good to rule out all other possible causes for the troubles before jumping ship. Tweaking the current program, since it’s a solid one, might be an answer.

I am definitely not trying to insult anyone, but some will be insulted. Sorry.

It’s just our experience, but I have a student (gender of child is being hidden) who can dawdle. This student can look like they’re working when if fact they’re dawdling. It’s not intentional dawdling, though. But it would be better for the student to develop a habit of getting work–of any sort–finished quickly and efficiently, etc.

This was a problem a while back and was cleared up in a way I can’t remember. It was by some method of no __________ until the math is finished. You have 2 hours (or however long is a reasonable amount plus a few more minutes – w/o disclosing that to the student) and that’s it. My student was suddenly getting the work done within the allotted time and with time to spare.

However, this student can still dawdle. If I sit down and do the lesson along with the student, they speed up to try to finish before me. Racing seemed to help and didn’t result in lower grades. So this is another possible way to speed things along–or at least figure out if the work could be finished in less that 4 hours. Of course, the goal is to encourage the student, so if you’re a math whiz, you wouldn’t go full speed during the race because that could discourage the student.

Also necessary for speed in math is a really good foundation in the basics of +, -, x, /. A student really does need to have their tables memorized so that they can have instant recall of the basic math facts. Flash cards, speed drills (Calculadders Set 1, Calculadders Set 2, etc.) or even free software downloadable online can be used to get recall up to speed. Just 15 minutes a day for a few months can make a huge difference.

FYI, we use A Beka for math.

Oh, and I did have a homeschooling (public teacher) friend who only had had her sons do every other problem in Saxon. I know that Saxon says in the introduction (or note to teacher) that you’re not supposed to skip even one problem, but she recommended this to all of us mentees (what do you call someone who is being mentored?) and it worked for her. Do all the evens and then start the next lesson on the next day. I’m not recommending this, just mentioning what she did.

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Online math games:
Math Magician
Kids Games
Yahtzee Online
BBC Math

Reply by Nan:

Thanks for all the advice, everyone.

Our other kids did not have this problem at all so it is like running into a brick wall.
One of my children cannot memorize things well. It is almost overwhelming for them to try to memorize things. This is the one that is struggling so hard. This child has struggled their whole life to learn.

We have thought of that dawdling issue, too. That has been a problem often, but I have seen that when curbed, it only cut into the time about 1/2 or so. So it would still be taking more than 2 hrs to do a lesson without dawdling. ;-) still too long.

We have tried what you did (can’t do ___ until math is done)- and it did not help. Sulking, crying, etc ensued and still no hurrying. SO we have been at a loss for what to do about it.

The only thing we have found that works, is if we sit right there and actually do the writing- they do the work, we lead with writing it all- can we get done in a reasonable time frame. But we can’t do that day in and day out forever!

As for my friends’ kids, I don’t know if they have tried your idea. I’ll have to ask them.

And meanwhile we’ll look into skipping every other one while we look into other curriculums.

Thanks so much!

My reply:

One tiny comment. This may not even be a part of the issue, but …
You said:
“The only thing we have found that works, is if we sit right there and actually do the writing- they do the work, we lead with writing it all- can we get done in a reasonable time frame. But we can’t do that day in and day out forever!”

When one of my kids was learning long division, they saw the problem as a totally unsurmountable thing.

So, I would baby step the child through it. Day after day, day after day, day after day–the whole time thinking to myself, they will never be able to do this alone? (The student did do the writing, in this case.) I despaired, but persevered (with a smile and joy) and never let the student know I feared that they would never be able to do a problem alone.

The student knew how to do the problem alone and could do it alone, but it took forever. I could have just left the student alone and said, “Do it.” But then math would have taken all day.

After a few weeks of hand holding, the student started to do a few of the steps on their own–slowly getting to the point where my help with the baby steps was annoying because they knew the problem was doable.

I have no idea if that even applies to the situation you’re experiencing.

I hope a method or a curriculum product that finally clicks. It’s can be a frustrating process.

I know some folks get done with their math really quickly each day, but with A Beka, it started taking at least an hour around grade 5 and by grade 7 was taking around 2 hours. I don’t think that’s really out of the ordinary, especially when you consider that many school kids have homework. But then that’s only our experience.

So much depends on the student, their temperment, and how they interact with the curriculum product.

Reply by Nan:

You know what? I think I will try that daily for a week or two and see if that helps build confidence that they can do it, and know the material. That is a wise suggestion, to use patience, and sit and help them! ;-) Thank you.

I just get frustrated thinking that this is nearly insurmountable. When it probably isn’t but I am so close in that situation, I can’t see out of it.

Homeschooling Math Programs
Saxon Math
Switched-On Schoolhouse
Singapore Math
University of Chicago Math
Key To Math Series
Developmental Math
Mastering Mathematics
Miquon Math

Help! Where do I start?

Question posted by Elise
I don’t know where to start. What is the best home school program? I just know we have to do something, my son has home work from the time he walks in until 9:00 pm. He is in the 6th grade. What are they doing in school that he has that much homework? Please help. Elise

Answer: Homework until 9pm is too much, imo. What ever happened to family life?

First off, find out the laws of your state so that you make sure you go about it right. You know, number of days a year or hours per day, etc. Also some states require a certified teacher to be over you or require a portfolio review, etc., etc. All states are different and have their own homeschooling laws. Some just require that you send a letter of intent and keep immunization records. It all depends. You can probably find your state homeschooling laws online by using search terms like “your state” and “homeschooling law” (of course) or your library will likely have a copy of the state law books if you want to read the actual law rather than a synopsis. Also, in some states the homeschooling option is available only if you become a private school.

Beware of any company that promises to send you all the forms you need for your state. There are no quick fixes. There is work involved in setting up your homeschool; it isn’t a walk in the park. But once you get over the hump, things will settle into a new groove and even out. It is a lifestyle change, though.

You know, if you ask five homeschool parents what the “best” curriculum is and you’ll get at least 15 answers. ;-) So, it’s more a matter of will the curriculum cover what it should and will it mesh with the way my student learns, the way I teach, and our homeschooling style and schedule?

We haven’t used a “complete” curriculum in its entirety (Alpha Omega, BJUP, Calvert, A Beka) in our home, choosing instead to find the best (or what seems to be the best for us) curricula item for each subject.

So, I figure that out each year by writing down all the subjects that should be covered and figure out what our goals are and then buying a product that seems like it will help us attain the goal.

Writing (Lang Arts-LA)
Vocabulary (LA)
Literature (LA)
Grammar/Usage (LA)
Spelling (LA)


Phys Ed.


whatever else you deem important or your state’s laws dictate (some states tell you what subjects must be covered)

Once you know which subjects you’re going to cover for the year, then you can go shopping. I think that cbd.com (easy to shop online) sends out catalogs as soon as you ask, but Rainbow Resource catalog doesn’t. And it’s not easy to shop online with Rainbow Resource. Request the Rainbow Resource catalog now for next year. Timberdoodle also has a good catalog available. These catalogs have a myriad of choices of stand alone curricula items. While buying complete curricula (where one company publishes all subjects: math, language arts, science, etc.) can seem easy, small publishers that specialize (for instance in Language Arts) can have excellent products. Great Source books comes to mind. Wanda Phillips also comes to mind. Educators Publishers Service (of Wordly Wise fame) comes to mind.

You’ll find that many catalogs are religious. I can’t think of any comprehensive catalogs that are non-religious in nature–these Christian catalogs, though, do carry a lot of non-religious curricula. You didn’t mention religion, but if you’re wanting non-religious curricula, it is out there. But quite a few catalogs won’t make a distinction between Christian and non-religious in their descriptions, though many are switching their format to help make it clear which products are religious and which aren’t.

You need to be careful not to overdo it, you know, by requiring too much in one year. Spelling is usually done every year until 8th. Grammar isn’t always done in high school.

Some elementary classes will do grammar one semester and then writing the next semester, with literature, vocabulary and spelling all year long. But you’d think that about an hour a day on this subject might be enough or have an extra 1/2 hour of reading in the afternoon/evening that your student completes.

Anyway, if you take one subject at a time and research the available choices, it doesn’t seem like a large job. For me it’s easier because I get easily upset at busywork for students. Maybe I’m way off, but a lot of the complete curricula publishers seem to have a little trouble with too much busywork at times–especially since they’ve been written for the classroom where they need to make sure that speedy students have plenty of work to keep them busy and in their seats. I like the choice of being able to cut out work that is unnecessary without feeling like I’ve wasted my money. Maybe I’m a little delusional … but I’m happier in the long run.

Let’s take Math as a subject to start with in your planning. 6th grade math. Placement will be an issue. Placement into Singapore at 6th grade is difficult because its system of learning math is very different from the US system, so Singapore Math can be crossed off the list of possibilities. Horizons Math only goes to 6th grade and then you have to switch to something else, so you can toss that out also. You’ll want a program that at least takes your student past pre-algebra. Religion isn’t usually too much of an issue with math unless you just don’t want to support a religious company, so we can keep our options open in that respect. It’s pretty difficult to put too much religion into a bunch of numbers.

Anyway, you can expect a little trouble with placement. Saxon Math (used by public schools) curriculum is for grades K-12 and has an online placement test. At least you can get close to the right grade level that way.

Or you can just order a 6th grade math book from a publisher that provides math through high school, and if your son happens to be a little behind, then you can do some intensive or light catch-up work to get him up to speed. And then he can continue on in the book. If he’s ahead, skip him through the book by just doing the chapter tests until he hits a spot where he starts to miss a lot and then put him a couple of chapters back and have him start there. Believe me, you’ll be thankful he’s a little ahead when it comes to vacation time or moving time when you have to stop schooling for a short time.

Math drills, if necessary, can be found at aaamath.com.

For Language Arts you have a number of choices: Reading. Let him read classics/modern classics of his choice. I think a post below explains how we and others have approached reading.

For vocabulary, you can start with a Latin/Greek roots program or use Wordly Wise or another.

For writing you can use one of the Wordsmith books or journaling or Write with the Best or Imitation in Writing. All reasonable programs.

Anyway, make your best choices, order them, use them, and expect to find a few duds (stuff that others like, but doesn’t work well for you or your son).

To help avoid curriculum-buying errors, you can take your son’s opinion into consideration. And if the program is appealing to you as the teacher, you’ll be more apt to enjoy teaching/working with the products. If there’s a program I don’t like, it doesn’t excite me to think about even correcting the pages, so I try to find programs that appeal to me, too.

A few books that cover just about every homeschooling issue there is are:

The Everything Homeschooling Book
Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles
Homeschooling for Dummies

And there’s also one for homeschooling the middle years called Homeschooling: The Middle Years.

Which timeline figures should we use for our timeline?

Question posted by: Belinda
My son is going to be making a timeline Book of the Centuries but some of the timeline figure sets are a little on the expensive side. Besides that he doesn’t like to color and most of them require coloring to look okay. Any suggestions? Any ideas? :-)

Answer: Whether making a timeline notebook or a timeline on the wall, this book contains lots of great pictures to cut out.

It’s at Barnes and Noble, brick and mortar, for about $10. Title: World History Encyclopdia. Hardcover. Cover: white, King Tut’s head is in the mid-lower center of the cover, a border around the cover has small pics of pottery, mummy, astronaut, Mayan, astrolabe, Polynesians on a boat, Alexander the Great. If you don’t see it on one of the bargain tables, ask at the help desk for ISBN: 1405417021. I did find it used online at Amazon for about the same price (inc. s&h) with a different cover.

Of course, we cut up books. Yes! Books are tools and if a book serves us best as a learning tool by cutting it up, then so be it. Buying two of these for about $10 each is the cheapest way to get quality timeline figures that I know of. And I can actually see before I buy, unlike some of the other timeline figures sets currently on the market. Plus, these are full-color!

Two books can be bought. Label one book as the RIGHT book and cut pictures from the right hand pages only. The other book is labeled LEFT. That way you get at least one of every picture in the book.

If you want, buy another book for reading. It’s a fairly good overview of world history for about grades 4-7. But the pictures are good for students of any grade level that are making a timeline or timeline notebook.

Reply: I bought some very old TimeLife science books in a thrift store for just that purpose. The covers were shot, the print was microscopic, the information was outdate among other things. Do you think I can stand to cut them up? NOOOOOOOOOOO. My friend buys old National Geographics to cut up…I can’t do that either. What is my problem? I can’t refinish antiques either. It would spoil them. Can you talk me into cutting up these useless books? ;-) We will never read them and who would want them in the condition they are in? (I’m talking myself into it.) I still don’t think I could cut up a new book no matter how bad the book is.

What kinds of books do you look for to cut up? For those who can’t bear to cut up books out there, you can find great images on the internet doing an images search. That is what I am using this year.

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Online timelines:
Galileo Timeline
Ancient Egypt Timeline
British History timeline
Ancient Roman Timeline
English Language Timeline
Web Chron Project
Science Timeline
Timeline of Innovation
Timeline of Concrete
Tolkien Timeline
Timeline of India
1000 Years of Science
Timeline of China
Alterna Time

Reply: It is SO difficult to cut up books.

I really have to talk myself into it with a pep talk. “The book is a tool. You have other books with this information in it. You CAN cut this book up. It will serve your kids better if you let them cut it up. Otherwise, it will just sit on the shelf.”

But at $10 each, those B&N books are a steal, imo. Perfect for timelines, especially if the student is reading an intact copy for history and they have their own timeline book or wall time line. Or even make a collage or short timeline on a piece of posterboard.

Don’t forget to take some proof of homeschooling so that you can the 20% Educator’s Discount at Barnes & Noble. The book is actually published by B&N so you can only buy it from them.

Yes, searching online for images on is a good idea. But when I do that sometimes I spend so much time looking for just the right pic that it’s better for me to just stick to the books. Plus, the kids take forever and get distracted too easily.

I go to thrift shops about once every 3 weeks and scout out history books and art books.

I cut up the art books, too. Cut out the name, artist, etc. and the title of the work and put it in a c-line page protector on the fridge. Then I mention it every now and then to the kids.

If I’d been smart, then I would have taken the page protector out and put it in a thick 3-ring binder every 2 weeks. Then we would have a really neat book for the coffee table(?) that we could review whenever we felt like it (if it were handy). But I just kept putting a new picture in the same page protector in front of the old picture until it was full and then I took them out and put them back in the book. Yeah, the 3-ring binder is a much better way to do it.

Books that can be used for timeline figures:

Encyclopedia of World History (mentioned above)
Timelines of World History
Usborne Book of World History Dates (or Scholastic reprint)

Timeline Figures You Can Buy (need to be colored)

Creation to Christ Set
Resurrection to Revolution Set
Napoleon to Now
America’s History
Record of Time, Timeline Book
Creation to Present Set on CD to print your own timeline figures

Miscellaneous Timeline Resources

Ultimate Geography And Timeline Guide
Easy Timeline Creator
Pics and Bios of Historic Figures
Sonlight’s Book of Time
Record of Time, Timeline Book
Hold That Thought Timelines
Review of Parthenon Graphics Timelines

What is the point of an English curriculum?

Question posted by: Betsy
Forgive me everyone but I’m going to make a bold statement here: I think English or Language arts is a stupid subject!! There I said it. Let me clarify what I mean though. We have to indeed teach them to spell correctly, punctuate correctly, research and compose good writing. Why do we need to have them circle and underline nouns, verbs, helping verbs, prepositions. I’ve never been asked in my adult life to circle a noun or complete subject. Kids aren’t stupid they know when their sentences sound bad. They never, I dare say, point out that they used the wrong helping verb or the like.

Is there any English teacher out there among you that can clarify for me what it is we are trying to accomplish with year after year of “circle the nouns” and “underline the prepositional phrase”. If there is something beyond what I stated above that should be accomplished, I’d love to hear it. I know why we teach math and reading, history and science, but beyond intelligent writing… what is the purpose of all the other stuff in english textbooks?

Sorry I sound so frustrated. I’ve been wanting to ask this all summer. At the end of every school year, we’ve finished the curriculum but what was it all about…the english part that is. I always feel like we’ve been made to jump through hoops and I’m not sure of why we are doing it. I like LLATL as it uses real literature to show the concepts at work but there still is things required like circle the verbs and underline the complete predicate. Does that really help in composition or later in life? I know if they don’t know this stuff the standardized testing will go bad but what else is it for? Can anyone shed some light for me? :-)

Answer: Not being an English teacher, I hope you don’t mind me answering anyway. After all, not many public school teachers hang out here and they all don’t agree anyway.

I “believe” that the underlying goals of Language Arts are:

l. To be able to make sense of what one is reading.

  1. To be able to make one’s own writings clear to others.

I’m not sure why a 6 year old needs to be learning about nouns. I know plenty of curricula start out this way, but I think it’s unnecessary at this age. It can be taught later.

Does it need to be taught? Most assuredly. For more reasons that I can think up off the top of my head. One is to help punctuate sentences. A person cannot punctuate correctly unless they know what constitutes a sentence. Punctuation makes the written word clear.

Without knowing parts of a sentence, longer passages of text can be difficult to decipher. I found that my few years of sentence diagramming came in handy when in college (and even still). A really long (compound complex) sentence will melt away into simplicity when all the prepositional phrases and subordinate clauses are deleted–you know, once it’s down to Noun/Verb/DO format or whatever its simplest terms are.

The amount of drilling is up to you and what your student needs to understand the concepts. I can’t imagine that it should take 30 minutes a day from grade 1 - grade 12 for a student to be able to identify which words/phrases are acting as adjectives. How long does it take? That’s the question.

Reading and writing clarity is the goal, imo.

Spelling and vocabulary also fall into the mix. And I’ve had my children doing the MCP Word Study workbooks to get more experience with words, etc.

Ruth Beechick has an interesting view of learning/teaching. Her book You Can Teach Your Child Successfully: Grades 4-8 is full of common sense. She taught school for years. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it would be worth checking to see if your library has a copy or can interlibrary loan it in for you to look over. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that LLATL is an outgrowth of Beechick’s views on language arts–at least that was the word on the street back around 94/95. I didn’t think LLATL followed her views closely enough, but I had the older versions.

But you raise an excellent question. A lot of homeschooling books tell you how to homeschool, but not why certain things need or don’t need to be learned. The same for curricula products–or their reasons are just more of the same: because it’s always been done this way or because the curriculum standards state blah blah blah. That’s not a lot of help.

Any ideas for supplementing high school science?

Question posted by: Heather

Any ideas for supplementing high school science? We’re probably going to go with Apologia Biology this year. It sounds really good, but what should I do to supplement it? Also, what about using the Sonlight study guide along with it?

Reply: I can’t imagine that Apologia isn’t rigorous “as is.” But what exactly do you mean by “supplementing?”

If you mean reading an extra book or two, then I can tell you that my student had one class in high school where he read a number of real books for the year. I called it living science, but the official name of the class was “Science Survey,” and I awarded credit for it. The reasoning behind this is that I think that high school science done with a textbook ends up being too far removed from the real world. With these books, he could get a feel for how real scientists work in the real world. I think it helps to make science relevant to a person … more of a possibility instead of an abstraction. In the end, a class like this can help a student to see why textbook science can be of value.

So, anyway, picking one of these books or another book that fits in with your student’s interests might be a profitable way to supplement a textbook-only science program. Of course, you could always just pick a book that looks good and read it aloud to all your students.

Here’s the reading list:

Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem
by Simon Singh
When Andrew Wiles of Princeton University announced a solution of Fermat’s last theorem in 1993, it electrified the world of mathematics. After a flaw was discovered in the proof, Wiles had to work for another year–he had already labored in solitude for seven years–to establish that he had solved the 350-year-old problem. Simon Singh’s book is a lively, comprehensible explanation of Wiles’s work and of the star-, trauma-, and wacko-studded history of Fermat’s last theorem. Fermat’s Enigma contains some problems that offer a taste of the math, but it also includes limericks to give a feeling for the goofy side of mathematicians.


Leonardo: The First Scientist
by Michael White
Science topics: geology, earth science
“This story deals almost exclusively with Leonardo the man and Leonardo the scientist,” admits British science writer Michael White, who touches only lightly on da Vinci’s more famous achievements as a painter. Providing an extensive analysis of Leonardo’s notebooks, White argues persuasively that da Vinci (1752-1519) made important discoveries in the fields of optics and anatomy, particularly the anatomy of the eye, and “worked methodically and with scientific precision centuries ahead of his time in the areas of geology and geography.” Only the notebooks’ dispersal in pieces across Europe after Leonardo’s death, White believes, kept him from being properly acknowledged as “the first scientist.”

Tesla: Man Out of Time
by Margaret Cheney
Science topics: electricity, magnetism, radio waves, AC current
Note: Tesla was the inventor of the radio.
In Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney explores the brilliant mind of one of the twentieth century’s greatest scientists and inventors. Called a madman by his enemies, a genius by others, and an enigma by nearly everyone, Nikola Tesla was, without a doubt, a trailblazing inventor who created astonishing, sometimes world-transforming devices that were virtually without theoretical precedent. Tesla not only discovered the rotating magnetic field–the basis of most alternating-current machinery–but also introduced us to the fundamentals of robotics, computers, and missile science. Almost supernaturally gifted, he was also a popular man-about-town, admired by men as diverse as Mark Twain and George Westinghouse, and adored by scores of society beauties. From Tesla’s childhood in Yugoslavia to his death in New York in the 1940s, Cheney paints a compelling human portrait and chronicles a lifetime of discoveries that radically altered–and continue to alter–the world in which we live. Tesla: Man Out of Time is an in-depth look at the seminal accomplishments of a scientific wizard and a thoughtful examination of the obsessions and eccentricities of the man behind the science.

The Fly in the Cathedral: How a Group of Cambridge Scientists Won the International Race to Split the Atom
by Brian Cathcart
If you want to understand how something works, you can dismantle it and study its pieces. But what if the thing you’re curious about is too small to see, even with the most powerful microscope? Brian Cathcart’s The Fly in the Cathedral tells the intriguing story of how scientists were able to take atoms apart to reveal the secrets of their structures. To keep the story gripping, Cathcart focuses on a time (1932, the annus mirabilis of British physics), a place (Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory), and a few main characters (Ernest Rutherford, the “father of nuclear physics,” and his protégés, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton). Rutherford and his team knew that the long-accepted atomic model was held together by nothing more than trumped-up math and hope. They hoped to find out what held oppositely charged protons and electrons together, and what strange particles shared the nucleus with protons. In a series of remarkable experiments done on homemade apparatus, these Cambridge scientists moved atomic science to within an inch of its ultimate goal. Finally, Cockcroft and Walton–competing furiously with their American and German peers–put together the machine that would forever change history by splitting an atom. The Fly in the Cathedral combines all the right elements for a great science history: historical context, gritty detail, wrenching failure, and of course, glorious victory. Although the miracles that occurred at Cambridge in 1932 were to result in the fearful, looming threat of atomic warfare, Cathcart allows readers to find unfiltered joy in the accomplishments of a few brilliant, ingenious scientists.

The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number (selections)
by Mario Livio
Throughout history, thinkers from mathematicians to theologians have pondered the mysterious relationship between numbers and the nature of reality. In this fascinating book, Mario Livio tells the tale of a number at the heart of that mystery: phi, or 1.6180339887… This curious mathematical relationship, widely known as “The Golden Ratio,” was discovered by Euclid more than two thousand years ago because of its crucial role in the construction of the pentagram, to which magical properties had been attributed. Since then it has shown a propensity to appear in the most astonishing variety of places, from mollusk shells, sunflower florets, and rose petals to the shape of the galaxy. Psychological studies have investigated whether the Golden Ratio is the most aesthetically pleasing proportion extant, and it has been asserted that the creators of the Pyramids and the Parthenon employed it. It is believed to feature in works of art from Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Salvador Dali’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper, and poets and composers have used it in their works. It has even been found to be connected to the behavior of the stock market! The Golden Ratio is a captivating journey through art and architecture, botany and biology, physics and mathematics. It tells the human story of numerous phi-fixated individuals, including the followers of Pythagoras who believed that this proportion revealed the hand of God; astronomer Johannes Kepler, who saw phi as the greatest treasure of geometry; such Renaissance thinkers as mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa; and such masters of the modern world as Goethe, Cezanne, Bartok, and physicist Roger Penrose. Wherever his quest for the meaning of phi takes him, Mario Livio reveals the world as a place where order, beauty, and eternal mystery will always coexist.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
by Dava Sobel
Science topics: geography, mapmaking, clocks, navigation, astronomy
Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that “the logitude problem” was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day–and had been for centuries. This was no obscure, curious difficulty–without longitude, ships often found themselves so far off course that sailors would starve or die of scurvy before they could reach port. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution. When a nationally-sponsored contest offered a hefty cash prize to the person who could develop a method to accurately determine longitude, the race was on. The scientific establishment of Europe–from Galileo to Sir Issac Newton–had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution–a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. In the end, the battle of accuracy–and wills–fought between Harrison and arch-rival Maskelyne was ruthless and dramatic, worthy of a Hollywood feature film. Longitude’s story is surprising and fascinating, offering a window into the past, before Global Positioning Satellites made it look easy. Longitude is a dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and Harrison’s forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking, and opens a new window on our world.
Illustrated version of Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Albert Einstein and the Theory of Relativity
by Robert Cwiklik
Einstein’s astonishing theory of relativity transformed every aspect of physics–from the study of atoms to the study of stars. Relativity is described here in simple, accurate language. Traces the life and work of the physicist whose theory of relativity revolutionized scientific thinking. This book provides a good biography of Albert Einstein, a good introduction to the world of physics at the beginning of the 20th century, and how Einstein’s theory of relativity changed it. The book traces Einstein’s life from birth in Germany, his move to Switzerland where he made a name for himself while moonlighting as a patent office clerk, and his move to the USA to escape the Nazis. The book balances both Einstein’s scientific achievements and his political ones too. The latter include his letter to the US president on the possibilities of nuclear weapons and his later stance of pacifism and nuclear disarmament.

Richard Feynman: A Life in Science (selections)
Science topics: physics
by John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin
Richard Feynman was something of a rarity: a science superstar. Like another superstar who preceded him, Albert Einstein, Feynman’s science was ahead of his time, but it was his qualities as a human being that caught the imaginations of ordinary people. A whole body of legend has grown up around the man–much of it promulgated by Feynman himself–and nearly 10 years after his death he remains a popular subject of memoirs, biographies, and even films. In Richard Feynman, respected science writers John and Mary Gribbin combine biography with popular science in this absorbing look at the great man’s life and work. Though there’s little new information about Feynman’s personal life and interests here–everything from his passion for bongo drums to his fascination with the country of Tuva has been documented many times and in many places before now–the Gribbins do an exemplary job of explaining just why Feynman was such a giant among physicists. Quantum theory is the kind of subject that could give the average reader a raging headache, yet the Gribbins explain it so well that by the end of Richard Feynman even the most non-scientific among us will be able to appreciate just what a singular contribution to our world this science superstar made.

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character
by Richard P. Feynman
A series of anecdotes shouldn’t by rights add up to an autobiography, but that’s just one of the many pieces of received wisdom that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) cheerfully ignores in his engagingly eccentric book, a bestseller ever since its initial publication in 1985. Fiercely independent (read the chapter entitled “Judging Books by Their Covers”), intolerant of stupidity even when it comes packaged as high intellectualism (check out “Is Electricity Fire?”), unafraid to offend (see “You Just Ask Them?”), Feynman informs by entertaining. It’s possible to enjoy Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman simply as a bunch of hilarious yarns with the smart-alecky author as know-it-all hero. At some point, however, attentive readers realize that underneath all the merriment simmers a running commentary on what constitutes authentic knowledge: learning by understanding, not by rote; refusal to give up on seemingly insoluble problems; and total disrespect for fancy ideas that have no grounding in the real world. Feynman himself had all these qualities in spades, and they come through with vigor and verve in his no-bull prose. No wonder his students–and readers around the world–adored him.

The Physics of Star Trek
by Lawrence M. Krauss
Sure, we all know Star Trek is fiction, but warp drives and transporters and holodecks don’t seem altogether implausible. Are any of these futuristic inventions fundamentally outlawed by physics as we understand it today? The Physics of Star Trek takes a lighthearted look at this subject, speculating on how the wonders of Star Trek technology might actually work–and, in some cases, revealing why the inventions are impossible or impractical even for an advanced civilization. (Example: “dematerializing” a person for transport would require about as much energy as is released by a 100-megaton hydrogen bomb). The Physics of Star Trek deserves merit for providing a refresher course on topics such as relativity and antimatter, but let’s face it: the reason most people will want to read this book is simply that it’s fun to poke holes in the premises of their favorite science fiction shows!

The Mystery of the Periodic Table
by Benjamin D. Wiker
When we look at these nice, neat, and straight rows of elements on the Periodic Table of the Elements we might think that it was a nice, neat, and straight road to their discovery. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was a long and difficult journey much like the perilous wanderings of Odysseus in Homer’s great epic tale, The Odyssey. Of course the wanderings made it an adventure, and an adventure is always an exciting thing to retell." Author Benjamin Wiker leads the reader on a delightful and absorbing journey through the ages, on the trail of the elements of the Periodic Table as we know them today. He introduces the young reader to people like Von Helmont, Boyle, Stahl, Priestly, Cavendish, Lavoisier, and many others, all incredibly diverse in personality and approach, who have laid the groundwork for a search that is still unfolding to this day. The first part of Wiker’s witty and solidly instructive presentation is most suitable to middle school age, while the later chapters are designed for ages 12-13 and up, with a final chapter somewhat more advanced.

A Brief History of Time (selections)
by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history, wrote the modern classic A Brief History of Time to help nonscientists understand the questions being asked by scientists today: Where did the universe come from? How and why did it begin? Will it come to an end, and if so, how? Hawking attempts to reveal these questions (and where we’re looking for answers) using a minimum of technical jargon. Among the topics gracefully covered are gravity, black holes, the Big Bang, the nature of time, and physicists’ search for a grand unifying theory. This is deep science; these concepts are so vast (or so tiny) as to cause vertigo while reading, and one can’t help but marvel at Hawking’s ability to synthesize this difficult subject for people not used to thinking about things like alternate dimensions. The journey is certainly worth taking, for, as Hawking says, the reward of understanding the universe may be a glimpse of “the mind of God.”

A Briefer History of Time
by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Stephen Hawking’s worldwide bestseller, A Brief History of Time, has been a landmark volume in scientific writing. Its author’s engaging voice is one reason, and the compelling subjects he addresses is another: the nature of space and time, the role of God in creation, the history and future of the universe. But it is also true that in the years since its publication, readers have repeatedly told Professor Hawking of their great difficulty in understanding some of the book’s most important concepts. This is the origin of and the reason for A Briefer History of Time: its author’s wish to make its content more accessible to readers-–as well as to bring it up-to-date with the latest scientific observations and findings. Although this book is literally somewhat “briefer,” it actually expands on the great subjects of the original. Purely technical concepts, such as the mathematics of chaotic boundary conditions, are gone. Conversely, subjects of wide interest that were difficult to follow because they were interspersed throughout the book have now been given entire chapters of their own, including relativity, curved space, and quantum theory. This reorganization has allowed the authors to expand areas of special interest and recent progress, from the latest developments in string theory to exciting developments in the search for a complete unified theory of all the forces of physics. Like prior editions of the book–-but even more so–-A Briefer History of Time will guide nonscientists everywhere in the ongoing search for the tantalizing secrets at the heart of time and space.

Riddle of the Compass: The Invention that Changed the World
by Amir D. Aczel
The story of the compass is shrouded in mystery and myth, yet most will agree it begins around the time of the birth of Christ in ancient China. A mysterious lodestone whose powers affected metal was known to the Chinese emperor. When this piece of metal was suspended in water, it always pointed north. This unexplainable occurrence led to the stone’s use in feng shui, the Chinese art of finding the right location. However, it was the Italians, more than a thousand years later, who discovered the ultimate destiny of the lodestone and unleashed its formidable powers. In Amalfi sometime in the twelfth century, the compass was born, crowning the Italians as the new rulers of the seas and heralding the onset of the modern world. Retracing the roots of the compass and sharing the fascinating story of navigation through the ages, The Riddle of the Compass is Aczel at his most entertaining and insightful.

Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor
by Ken Silverstein
Growing up in suburban Detroit, David Hahn was fascinated by science. While he was working on his Atomic Energy badge for the Boy Scouts, David’s obsessive attention turned to nuclear energy. Throwing caution to the wind, he plunged into a new project: building a model nuclear reactor in his backyard garden shed. Posing as a physics professor, David solicited information on reactor design from the U.S. government and from industry experts. Following blueprints he found in an outdated physics textbook, David cobbled together a crude device that threw off toxic levels of radiation. His wholly unsupervised project finally sparked an environmental emergency that put his town’s forty thousand suburbanites at risk. The EPA ended up burying his lab at a radioactive dumpsite in Utah. This offbeat account of ambition and, ultimately, hubris has the narrative energy of a first-rate thriller.

Along Came Galileo
by Jeanne Bendick
One of the most important figures to come out of the awakening world of the Renaissance was Galileo Galelei. Often referred to as the “Archimedes of his time” Galileo was forever asking questions. Is it possible to measure heat? Is it possible to weigh air? Does the earth stand still or does it move? How fast do objects fall to the earth? His questions led to some of the most important answers of the scientific world—-and to his contributions to astronomy, physics, and mathematics. Galileo also advanced the astronomical telescope and invented the compound microscope. He measured the rotation of the sun, invented the thermometer, a geometrical compass and the pendulum clock. He was a man of faith, a lover of art and an accomplished artist. He played the lute and enjoyed working in his garden. He was the first to see, through the lens of the telescope, the wonders of our galaxy—sights that moved him to profound gratitude to God. He was so ahead of his time that his discoveries caused him to be the object of persecution and injustice. Through her whimsical illustrations and her bright engaging text Bendick has provided the middle reader with Galileo’s inspiring story.

The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth’s Antiquity
by Jack Repcheck
Science topics: flight, human anatomy, optics
There are four men whose contributions helped free science from the straightjacket of theology. Three of the four—-Nicholaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Charles Darwin—-are widely known and heralded for their breakthroughs. The fourth, James Hutton, has never received the same recognition, yet he profoundly changed our understanding of the earth and its dynamic forces. Hutton proved that the earth was likely millions of years old rather than the biblically determined six thousand, and that it was continuously being shaped and re-shaped by myriad everyday forces rather than one cataclysmic event. In this expertly crafted narrative, Jack Repcheck tells the remarkable story of this Scottish gentleman farmer, and how his simple observations on a small tract of land led him to a controversial theory. Yet it was Hutton’s work that ultimately made Darwin’s theory of evolution possible. The Man Who Found Time is also a story of Scotland the Scottish Enlightenment, which brought together some of the greatest thinkers of the age-—from David Hume and Adam Smith to James Watt and Erasmus Darwin. Repcheck argues that Hutton’s work was lost to history because he could not describe his findings in graceful and readable prose.

As for how I came up with this list … well, it wasn’t exactly all by myself … it was basically like this: I went through our home library book by book to see which ones were real books about science. I put them in a box. Then I searched the library electronic card catalog using keywords like: biography and science. I checked out the ones that looked like they might be interesting to my student and brought them home. Then he chose from that group. Before he could get all the library books read, I had to take the library books back. I kept the check-out list and re-checked out the ones he was interested in later. At that point, I also perused the 500s area of the library and looked through the biography section for scientific-sounding titles and biographies. I think my student ended up with a pretty good grouping. But it took me a number of hours searching. I would have preferred the student to do the leg work because I think it would be more beneficial, but he had some other projects going and this saved some time.

Have you seen those Cartoon Guide to … books? We tried The Cartoon Guide to Physics, but it didn’t click with us. There are a few of them:

The Cartoon Guide to Physics
The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry
The Cartoon Guide to the Environment
The Cartoon Guide to Genetics
There’s also Joy Hakim’s science series. I think they are finished with the first one, but there’s supposed to be a whole series. (Ed. note: Three are now currently finished.)
Aristotle Leads the Way
Newton at the Center
Einstein Adds a New Dimension
As for using one of the Sonlight Teacher Guides, sure, they can be useful. I haven’t used one myself, but I looked the chemistry one over fairly closely one afternoon. It would make using Apologia a whole lot easier–especially when they so helpfully list the needed materials for the experiments each week.

I suspect that I’m not quite understanding what you mean by “supplementing” though. For that, I apologize. But to go on … :-) … my son did make a fuel cell car. That was pretty cool. It was for Chemistry.

Is silent reading important?

Question posted by: Trisha
We are using BJU 1st gr and we’re on lesson 57. My son also completed HOP level 2. He has no trouble reading the HOP books or his textbook aloud. He is very auditory and gets extremely frustrated attempting to read silently. He really cannot do it. He has to “hear” himself read the words. When he reads aloud, his comprehension is superb.

BJU emphasizes silent reading as the most important reading skill. I have stopped making my son read silently and I allow him to read everything aloud. Am I missing something? I’m assuming that as his reading level improves that he’ll “pick up” silent reading later. Any opinions?

Answer: Of course, silent reading is extremely important. Probably the issue is something like: “When should a student have mastered silent reading?”

There was a great disparity between my two students, but both read quite well silently now as teens.

While I’m surely not an expert, I do have an opinion which I’m more than happy to share. HA! ;-)

Giving him a total break from silent reading might be going too far. I’m all for gentle schooling, leading, guiding, so as to not frustrate or turn off our children. Facilitate is a great word. So, yes, I would give him extra time (more time that Bob Jones seems to be giving) to mature to the point where silent reading is doable for him. The Bob Jones (nor any curriculum’s) reading schedule can’t meet the needs of every student nor can it fit the timetable in your son’s head. If your son is going a little slower than Bob Jones thinks is appropriate on the reading silently skill, then, of course, you give him the time. (You know this, so I probably shouldn’t be mentioning it, but I’ll leave it for others who might not.)

Anyway, I would continue to have him silently read a little each day because giving him a total break, I think, will slow his learning of the skill.

Of course, you can look for creative ways to have him read silently. A little quote or ditty or saying each week on the fridge or bathroom mirror will give that bit of reading a familiarity that may have him reading it silently by the end of the week. Nothing longer than a sentence–something simple and worth looking at daily for a week.

There’s bound to be other tricks that you as a parent know will work for your student. By tricks, I mean, non-traditional ways of learning or supporting the learning of a skill. Another possibility would be Simon Says with flash cards where your son can’t speak. And you have him touch different items around the house or on his person that he can read (eyes, nose, hat, lips, arm, sink, rug, etc. or even, sit, jump, smile, turn, hop, skip, 1 step, tap lip, tap chin) I guess there might be some non-phonetic words in there, but you know what your son is capable of. That could be fun!

And it’s not just silently, it’s reading without moving the lips, too. I had quite the time encouraging one of my students to stop moving the lips! But reading silently is the first step–worry about the moving lips later!

Okay, this is funny/interesting. It’s an article entitled, “The Sin of Silent Reading.”

I’m still looking for another site on “silent reading,” but I’m coming up empty handed. Maybe I’ll have time later.

Our phonics program has too much busy work. Any opinions on Alphaphonics?

Question posted by: Mandy
Any opinion on Alpha phonics? My ds is not doing well with the phonics program we are currently using it has lots of “fluff” and is not advancing him like he desires to be advancing (he wants to be reading NOW). Any advice, etc., would be appreciated.

Answer: I’m not so sure that the curriculum is the problem, though it could be.

Possibly he just needs to be patient with himself. Some things take time and learning to read could be one of these things.

It would be nice if implementing a new curriculum could be the solution for every learning struggle or hurdle, but it’s not always best to throw out what we’ve got and expect a new program to solve the problem.

But, on the other hand, sometimes the curriculum product is the problem and a switch can facilitate things.

It’s very difficult to tell, esp. from the angle I’m viewing from. :-)

We used the beta-type version of Alpha-Phonics found in the back of The New Illiterates. It worked well for one of my children and not the other. It’s definitely no frills and straightforward.

It’s much like Phonics Pathways, and I think if I were to teach another child to read, that’s what I would pick instead of Alpha-phonics. If you’re going to choose one of them, please don’t forget to consider which one appeals to you. Of course, ask your son which one he’d like to try by showing him the interior of the book (if possible), but if one really doesn’t appeal to you, don’t use it.

Our library has Phonics Pathways in circulation. You may want to check there to see if you can evaluate either or both books prior to puchasing one of them (if you do decide to switch programs).

I recently wrote a review of Phonics Pathways, and a few years back I wrote a review of Alpha-phonics. Both programs get the student reading fairly quickly if the student already knows the sounds of the consonants.

What should we do when my daughter finishes 1st grade in January?

Question posted by: SuzyQ
Hi! This is my first year homeschooling and my 6 yr old dd is doing great. She was enrolled in an ACE christian pre-school and we are now doing A/O Lifepacs which she loves. My “problem” is that she will be completely done with 1st grade by January (she completed her SS textbook in 9 weeks)and half- way through 2nd grade math. So. Do I move her into 2nd grade -which we really can’t afford another curriculum, or should we just work on handwriting, spelling and maybe a foreign language? Also, when she does start 2nd grade should it be a more challenging curriculum? Sorry this is so long.
Thank you for any input!


Answer: Maintaining the skills she’s already learned will be the challenge.


These are the two critical subjects where skills can be easily forgotten over the summer–that’s why public schools spend so much time reviewing at the beginning of the school year. Since this will be about a 7 or 8 month break ('til Sept.), the effect is magnified. You may find it easier in the long run to just go ahead and buy the next level of math when it can be afforded and also the next level of Language Arts–that is, if you would like to continue with Alpha Omega.

In the meantime, you can buy el-cheapo workbooks from the grocery store/Costco/Target. The most expensive would probably be $10 but $6 is also a possibility

Alternatively, there are many free worksheets online that you can print out.

aaamath.com provides some online drill.

History/Geography and Science can easily be done with library books or you can spend time with other subjects as you mentioned, like a foreign language. Even simple sewing, crocheting, etc., might be just the ticket. When little, my kids enjoyed painting; they even made bookmarks out of watercolor paper and watercolors and then covered them with clear contact paper. It might be a good time to introduce a few good biographies from the library. As Kathy mentioned, reading aloud each day is an excellent way to pass the time–answering your daughter’s questions about the readings as you go.

You asked:
“Also, when she does start 2nd grade should it be a more challenging curriculum?”

Ummm. Maybe. Horizons is a bit more challenging than Lifepacs, imo. A Beka is, too. They both have a nice workbook format. Many folks like Singapore Math, so you may want to research that to see if it’s something your daughter could benefit from.

Is a separate literature course important?

Question posted by Eileen

How important is it to have a separate literature course for high school? I’ve been rolling this around a bit and would like some input. If I need to teach “literature” as a separate course than just copious reading (both aloud and by the student), where do I go, what do I get? Most of all–why, to what purpose?

Answer: I’ve been waiting for someone to come along and answer in the affirmative, that, of course, it’s highly important to have a separate literature course for high school. I’ve not ever been convinced, but haven’t closed my mind and could be persuaded otherwise–I think. I, too, wonder what is the purpose of literature study.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it. I love getting a book and discussing it in a class or reading folks’ views on this or that aspect of a character’s quirkiness or whatever in books. If the book isn’t good, though, that’s another story. I remember high school. Of Mice and Men. Lord of the Flies. Brave New World. That’s when I don’t like analyzing literature. And that’s when I wonder “… why, to what purpose?” And I do wonder to what purpose? I have wondered for a long time and have had to come to my own conclusions because I think most people teach literature because “that’s what’s done.”

Now this is just my opinion, but I think a lot of high school novels are full of bad problems. Sure, it can be good to address them (be aware of them, look at solutions, etc.), but many of them just focus on the dark side of life in general. Depressing. Who needs that? Heart of Darkness comes to mind. Actually, a lot of books come to mind. I do wish that there were some books on reading lists that were full of happy issues or were at least barely troublesome.

Also, many novels for high school were written by adults and recommended by adults. I think these books are often better read by adults. Not teens. I’m not sure that teens can always see or apprehend/grasp the gravity of the issues addressed in these books. Cry, the Beloved Country would be an example of this in my family. I read this aloud last year. I really loved it. True, I had to take a break about half way through because it’s so sad. But the story is rich. It’s replete with lessons on dozens of things. However, as a parent, I could see things the way the main character did. I could feel his disappointment. But there’s absolutely no way that my kids could. None.

My children could only understand that book on a shallow level. The Cliffs Notes helped, but they were almost inconsequential because my children just don’t have enough experience in life behind them to fully appreciate Cry, the Beloved Country.

And here’s the kicker, I think: They won’t ever pick that book up and read it again. They’ve read it. They’re done with it. They won’t pick it up when they’re 45 and read it again. They’re done. Been there. Done that.

Sure they know the basics of the story, but that’s not knowing the story. Paton didn’t write it so that we knew the facts of the story. He wanted us to be touched and affected by the story.

Many of the books are for mature people. Why push something too soon?

This leads right into my next point. A lot of books that high schoolers and college students are supposed to read are books about social issues. They have an agenda. I guess I don’t care so much what the agenda is as much as I do the fact that there is an agenda. Can’t there just be good stories that don’t try to be political or based on controversial social issues of the day? And do our students even realize that these books are often written to influence them? Or do they blithely read them without asking the difficult questions? (This was me and still is all too often.) Why are these books used for English class? Why aren’t they covered in Social Studies class? Even Oliver Twist, which we are enjoying right now, was a book about the new poor laws in Britain that Dickens didn’t like. Oliver Twist is partially a social treatise.

Don’t you just wish someone would jump in now and give the other side. I do. It would give me some balance, and I could reply with something like, “Oh, you’re right; I hadn’t considered that. I know this is a touchy issue with more than one side to it.” I’m sure I probably sound much more emphatic than I really am and much more strident than I am. Perception is a funny thing.

Anyway, I’ll continue.

I’m not convinced that reading and analyzing all these special books of great literary note is really a skill that everyone needs. I think analyzing literature should be more of an optional exercise in life. If you stumble onto a good book, then fine, analyze it. Discuss it with your friends. Write a paper on what the author really meant by using the word “bark” 10 times each chapter. Read all the books by the same author. But why make kids hate literature by having them write paper upon paper about certain books? Or by making them dream up an opinion about something that they care nothing about?

Oh. I took a break to homeschool just now and can’t remember some of the points I was on my way to make. So if this sounds disjointed, you know why. :-)

Sonlight has a a survey of British Literature. I’ve not seen it, but it’s a separate class. Learning Language Arts Through Literature has a couple of literature courses. BJUP and A Beka all have courses, too. Non-religious texts can be found through fes.follett.com, but they’re used. One book that I think looks fun is Using Picture Storybooks to Teach Literary Devices: Recommended Books for Children and Young Adults Volume 3. There are 3 volumes in the series, and the most recent is 2001 so the books in it are probably still available at the library. The older volumes use more difficult to find picture books. If you use the “look inside” feature at Amazon, there’s a list of all the literary devices that are taught.

Frankly, I’m not sure that students remember all of that stuff too well. I can barely remember much about Homer’s dactylic hexameter. That is what he used, right? I can’t remember for sure. When I’m reading a novel for pleasure, I sure don’t remember much about literary devices. Now if you’re going to write novels, knowing all the literary devices like the back of your hand would be wonderful!

We’re not going to use a text for literature … at least I have no plans of that sort. (We have them for reference, though.) We study about two or three novels a year with Cliffs Notes. We haven’t covered all of the literary devices yet. I’d like to buy the book mentioned above, but I know we can find something cheaper at the library. Maybe we can even get that book through interlibrary loan. I just don’t feel like spending $35 on that when I can spend $35 on something my children will have fonder memories of … well, something like snowboarding with their friends next month.

For us, high school English classes are English I, English II, English III, English IV. They consist of light literature study, reading, writing instruction and practice, vocabulary, and grammar (maybe more, but I can’t remember). I have a tendency to try to get more writing in because it’s so easy to read good literature only. And I really think that literature study shouldn’t squeeze out writing instruction and practice because the ability to write well seems to be a much more practical skill than the ability to analyze literature. You know, not too many professions require the ability to analyze literature well. Writing well is a more pressing need, imo.

When I first (a few years back) was grappling with the same question you asked, I read somewhere that literature analysis and interpretation squeezed rhetoric (of which writing is a part) out of the syllabus. But I can’t remember where I read it. I read it way last century, you know. LOL! And I can’t find any corroboration on the internet either.

So for us, we do a little literary analysis so that the kids have idea of what it’s all about. And I do want them to be aware of certain authors and their writings. But for me, I don’t see the point of spending a whole lot of time “responding to the text” in a two-page essay unless someone wants to and really enjoys doing that type of thing. It remains to be seen if my daughter will want to do that or not. Just today she finished a book, and she was rather upset by the lack of a good ending. She said that she liked books that contained epilogues. I told her to write a paper on it. She wasn’t interested and went and got another book. :-)

Just yesterday my children got impatient with me because they’re just not interested in the fact that Dickens has a plethora of corpulent figures in Oliver Twist to illuminate the fact that Oliver is starving. They just want to hear the story. And truly, did Dickens state that he had fat characters on purpose? Or was that just because some people truly are round and others are straight? Cliffs Notes thinks it was his intent to be symbolic. Oliver Twist is one of the books we’re reading for “literary analysis.”

Possibly I am not putting enough emphasis on literature study, but I’ve still not been convinced that it’s necessary.

What should we use for Geography if we use SOTW?

Question posted by Jewel

If someone used SOTW (Story of the World**) for elementary grades what would one use for Geography?

Answer: We used a book similar to SOTW for History, plus we read real books. We used our wall map and a laser pointer and a globe and an inflatable globe and atlases. We also did a couple of salt dough maps.

Usually as we read the books (history and real books), we use the globe or wall map to look the places up. We sometimes have to use historical atlases if it’s a historical place. (Oh, that reminds me. We need to look up Flanders. We’re reading about “Bad” King John and he had an alliance with Flanders against France. My daughter and I were both drinking hot chocolate and didn’t want to set our cups down.)

Anyway, after years of doing this, I think the kids have a decent idea of where places are and how to read maps. Of course, this isn’t the method to produce a geography genius, but they’re fairly proficient.

If you don’t feel comfortable with this hit or miss method to learning geography, then you could pick up a book like The Complete Book of Maps & Geography for grades 3-6. It would fill in any gaps. But depending on how your children learn and retain information, it may not be the best choice.

Oh, we’ve also used Torpedo Software’s geography game. And we’ve also used World Discovery Deluxe by Great Wave Software. Geography drill games.

I think, though, and I could be wrong, that linking geographical locations and customs to characters in stories or history is an easier way to learn geography. I know we learned a lot about Thailand from reading Anna and the King of Siam. While I’m not a huge Henty fan, the children learned about Mexico City by reading one of his books (read my review).

And puzzles are great, too, if the actual pieces are shaped like each country or state. It helps students to be able to identify the state or country just by its shape. We got two copies of a US map, and we race each other in putting it together. As long as it’s kept fun and you refrain from discouraging your student, racing is an excellent learning method.

We also used some ideas from Geography Wizardry for Kids. Amazon currently has a used copy for around $2.00 plus s&h.

And most of our atlases we got used from library sales or thrift stores. A good world almanac can be found this way, too. No, all of our globes and atlases aren’t all up to date, though we do have up-to-date maps and I tell the kids of some of the changes (Yugoslavia area, for instance) and we discuss that political lines move frequently.

The world maps in these cheap atlases can be used to chart the course of Magellan with magic markers or highlighters. Yes! Mark up the map. Why not? Then take that map of a trip around the world and laminate it and your student can have his/her own place mat for the breakfast table, to look at day after day. You can also do the routes taken by other travelers such as Phileas Fogg and Nathaniel Bowditch and Captain Cook. You could even do this with printable world maps off the internet.

Have you ever watched Sense & Sensibility? The youngest sister is portrayed as playing with her atlas at the beginning of the show. Just plotting fun trips or finding all the Springfields in America can be a lot of fun (for some people). Just playing the game where you spin the globe, put your finger on it and call out the name of the country and locate its capital, taking turns, can be fun. You know, have a contest to see whose finger lands on the country farthest from home or who lands on the biggest country or calling out its latitude and longitude or calling out if it’s earlier or later in the day compared to your location or calling out the hemisphere–all these are good ways to gain geographical knowledge.

Another really cool book is The Sierra Club Wayfinding Book. There are a ton of used copies at Amazon.com for around a $1.00 plus s&h. The geographical sections in Paul Tawrell’s Wilderness Survival book would also be a great addition to geography instruction/learning in the homeschool. We love our copy.

Don’t depend on the maps in SOTW. I think they are a little limiting. A good atlas, globe, or wall-size world map will serve you better, imo, as long as you make a point of using them.

A comment about the laser pointer (alternate): My kids loved to point to the wall map with the laser pointer when they were aged six to eleven. It was one of the best things we had to encourage learning geography in a painless manner. Of course, laser pointers are more prevalent now and a child who has used one extensively will not enjoy using it to point to places on a map as much as children who are not familiar with laser pointers. (Don’t forget safety issues.)

What’s your pro/con list of Reading Reflex for reading?

A little background: Anya asked how students’ spelling skills progressed while using Reading Reflex (RR) and The Writing Road to Reading. I replied that we had used Reading Reflex to teach reading, but didn’t pay attention to spelling skills progress. Then a forum visitor posed the next question to me.

Question posted by Kimmy

I’d love to hear your pro/con list of Reading Reflex for reading. I’m interested in using this with my 5yo ds who is reading short vowel 3-letter words at the moment. Would it also help my almost 7yo dd who is reading ok but not as well as I had hoped at this time? She has gone through about 3/4 of Phonics Pathways but can’t stand it.
yo=year old, dd=dear daughter, ds=dear son

Answer: Okay. Let’s see. ::gathering thoughts:: (We used it quite a few years ago.)

Just observations. You decide if they’re pros or cons. :-)

You have to cut the book up or copy quite a few pages. (For me it would have been easier to buy two copies since we didn’t have a big copier at the time. I had to cut the page out before I could run it through my single sheet fax-copier. I could have just taken the whole book to Kinko’s and copied the necessary pages without cutting the pages out.)

All the little pieces of paper with the letters on them kept in 70 envelopes in a shoe box was obnoxious. It took forever to get all set up to use the program.

Using the little pieces of paper with the letters on them was great fun for my student! No doubt about. It was worth it, in the end, to use the system. I think that it would likely be easier to just buy about 3 sets of lowercase letter tiles or magnetic lowercase letters (could also be used on fridge for self-directed review for younger student while you wipe up in the kitchen) instead of all the little pieces of paper. To make them last, you could glue each sheet to some poster board before cutting–that would at least keep them from blowing away if you have a tendency to sigh or sneeze very often. :-)

My student thoroughly enjoyed the letter bingo. You’ll need tokens. We used pennies. If both students play, that will be extra fun unless competition doesn’t work well in your family.

The stories in the book are less than exciting and there weren’t enough stories included. Some of the Bob Books or clones should fit the bill since your youngest will need some stories.

There is a placement test, so it’s easy to place your older student.

Don’t be surprised if you or one of your students doesn’t like it. Kids are funny that way. It can be a perfectly good program, but the whole personality thing comes into play, plus how their brains process info, plus what they’re used to … Phonics Pathways, which you mentioned you’re using, is a good program, too. But with reading, you so don’t want them to hate reading or get discouraged about it, that you really do need to find one that the student can enjoy–or make it enjoyable somehow, which the teacher can sometimes do.

RR skips learning blends like fr, gr, bl, st. They claim there’s no point in trying to remember the /f/ /r/ and /fr/. Just learn 2; the third is obvious. (This made a lot of sense to me.)

RR makes it sound like only their way will work. Not true. (I just overlooked this, while shaking my head and chuckling.)

The book suggests that you read the entire book before starting.

The introductory pages are quite good. Much of it is necessary.

RR teaches that when referring to the letter “t” that we should say that this picture shape (t) stands for the sound /t/. You don’t use the actual names of the letter “tee.” Does that make sense? I’ll try again. A student learning the name of the letter g (gee) and the sound … well, that is duplicating our efforts and sometimes confusing the student. Just call the letters by their sounds because you don’t need to know the alphabet to learn to read. You just need to know the sounds.

Writing is necessary at some point. I can’t remember when they introduce it. For some younger students too much writing is a hindrance.

I think Reading Reflex is a pretty good system. It’s not as fun as something like Sing, Spell, Read & Write. However, it does approach learning to read in a unique way. It’s not like Alpha-phonics, SSRW, Phonics Pathways, Writing Road to Reading, Play 'n Talk. I can’t think of one program that it’s like (not like I’ve seen them all).

I’d say it made a real difference with my student. We moved and never got back into it, so we didn’t use it all the way to the end of the book.

It’s designed for remedial work. So it would be appropriate for your older student. I’ve also heard of it being used with new students, too. It’s just a matter of seeing if it works with your students. I think it’s reasonably priced.

Any specific questions? I don’t want to “sell” you on something though, so I hope I don’t sound like that. It truly may not work for your students. I think it’s a good system, though. But, still, it’s just one of many good programs.

The fine print: All information at this web site is for your entertainment only. I am not a professional anything and don’t claim to be. I am as much an expert as the next homeschooler. Beware of homeschoolers who claim to be experts because (among other reasons) what worked for them will likely not work for you. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes because chances are that you will make a few. There’s no secret formula to homeschooling.