Thursday, July 26, 2012

Adventures in Speech Therapy, Part 3: Graduation Time

If you have missed the other parts of this series, you can click the links below.

I have nothing but good things to say about our experience with the private firm we are using in our town. My daughter's speech therapist, Claire, says my daughter has shown some of the fastest improvement she's ever seen. As far as the speech and enunciation part of the sessions, my daughter has graduated and no longer needs that therapy. I almost take hearing her speak correctly for granted now. I can't remember the last time she "slipped up" and said an "r" sound incorrectly. A couple of weeks ago, she suggested because of a vocabulary game they were playing that we start a new focus with our sessions--communication and comprehension skills.

I knew the trouble Claire was seeing in her session with my daughter is part of the Auditory Processing delay my child was diagnosed with a few years ago. Sometimes, my daughter has a different way of describing than the way most people would typically verbalize. As an English teacher and writer, I see it as both a blessing and a curse. I choose to look at the blessing side. Writers are applauded for originality and being unique. The curse comes in when people try to conform you to a prescribed way of descriptions and vocabulary. My daughter sometimes sees the world through a set of tinted glasses that I believe would make the world a better place if more people saw the world the way she does.

I am completely in favor of increasing my daughter's vocabulary. Claire had some great suggestions about what to do to work on it. Games like Taboo and other word association games are helpful, along with analogies and "Which word doesn't belong?" exercises are great for increasing them. All these are skills we can work on at home, though, and I am grateful that I have resources at home which allow us to work on improving these skills.


Ultimately, I arrived at this conclusion: we will be completing our final week of private therapy this week. It has been wonderful, and though I am grateful our insurance has paid for a large chunk of it, our weekly charge can be used at home to purchase skills books to work on the same things she is working on with her therapist. I will be sad that we won't see Claire and her bright personality each week, but I know that my daughter has graduated from her speech needs. I anticipate that we may be visiting Claire again with my son, so our paths may cross again in the future.

Do you have any questions about our experience? Please leave them in the comments below.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe, by Todd Wilson

After a recommendation from my cousin and friend several months ago to read this humorous and encouraging book by Todd Wilson, I finally picked up the Kindle version on Amazon. It’s a bargain at just $4.99, and I was able to use some of the Amazon credit I’d earned on Swagbucks. I only wish I’d read it sooner!

This book is laced with cartoons that both new and seasoned homeschoolers will appreciate. Wilson’s main message spoke to me loud and clear–God gave YOU your kids. Don’t compare them or your family to Suzy Homeschooler and her clan down the street. Don’t fall into the “keeping up with the Joneses” trap when it comes to shepherding your children.

God doesn’t make mistakes. You know best about your children–their likes, bends, and abilities, as well as their struggles and weaknesses. Just because “little Alice” down the street is a master on the piano and violin (and six other instruments by the age of 10) doesn’t mean your children are failures because they can’t play one. Your children have bends and abilities that those children do not. The idea of “training up a child in the way he should go” can be interpreted as being a way to help your child enhance the inclinations he/she already possesses.

God’s timing really is perfect. After reading this book, my husband and I were discussing our kids, and he said to me, “God chose our kids for us.” I was moved to tears, because the night before, I had read this in Wilson’s book. Not only does Wilson dispel the lies that homeschool moms buy, he replaces them with truths that we can adopt.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
"Your children will become exactly what God has created them to be, NOT because of your efforts, but IN SPITE off your efforts."

"...teaching your own children is nothing like teaching someone else's children."

"You are God's 'Plan A' for your children."

"Sometimes the reason your children don't 'get it' is because they weren't created to get it...easily."

"God gave your children exactly the mother they needed."

While I am an advocate for doing your best and striving to do better, we must remember as loving parents to know what expectations are reasonable for our children. Wilson’s book embraces this idea. I highly recommend this read for all homeschool moms who feel stressed and overwhelmed.

Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe is available at Amazon right now for $4.99 for the Kindle version.  It's worth every penny!

If you read and enjoy this book, I also highly recommend another book: Nurture by Nature: Understand Your Child's Personality Type - And Become a Better Parent. (Watch my blog for a review of this book as well.

Here's a list of the books I recommend for any beginning homeschooler's bookshelf:

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Adventures in Speech Therapy, Part 2 (Or, Life Lessons in Speech Therapy)

As you may have read in my previous post, I am taking my 8-year-old to speech therapy at a private firm in my town. It has been a great experience so far, and my husband and I can see not only changes in her articulation, but as a result, we’re also seeing some of her shyness disappear, as she is more likely to speak up. The fear of being picked on about her speech by those who don’t know her is starting to disappear.

Here are some lessons that I’ve learned as she is going through speech therapy. Some of these lessons can be applied to life in general.

1. Proper speech and articulation involve forming a habit. This can be applied to not only how you say something, but also what you say (and with what attitude). When my daughter gets upset or overly excited, the poor articulation has a way of sneaking back in. Using proper language helps you keep your cool, and think about what you say before the words escape your mouth.

2. Have your child tested by a professional whose opinion you value. Trust your instincts when you think something doesn’t seem right about an evaluation. After all, you are your child’s only advocate if you are a homeschooler. Remember, free (i.e., public school services) is not always better.

3. Trying to help your child on your own doesn’t always work if there is a physical problem. Sometimes, the problem is bigger than you are. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

4. Finally, if you use private speech services, make sure your therapist knows how to work with your insurance company. Because my daughter was tongue-tied and needed a frenectomy (a condition that was present at birth), our insurance covers part of her therapy. It’s greatly reduced our cost.

Read Part 1 of this post to see why we chose private speech therapy services instead of using the public school system.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Adventures in Speech Therapy (Or, Why Private Sessions are Better than Free Public School Services)

My 8-year-old has always had trouble saying her Rs properly.  I had read helpful books from the library and watched YouTube videos by speech therapists to try to help her on my own.  Still, she couldn't get the sound out right.  I felt a little like a failure, and I didn't like the idea of my daughter growing up with a stigma (as she was becoming more conscience of her problem).

I took her to the local school district for testing and services just over a year ago.  When I took her, she was still 7, and the therapists there said she did not qualify for needing their services.  It seems that the R sound, in their book of standards, is not a required milestone until you are 8.  So, with limited funds and not a lot of options in the area where we lived at the time, I resolved I'd take her back in a year to be tested again. 

Fast forward one year, and now we've moved to a different area.  I knew it was time to get professional help.  I called the local school system and was told that there was a two month waiting list for testing. That would put us well into summer, after schools are out, so speech classes likely wouldn't be available until the fall.

I called a local private speech therapist who had good online ratings.  She was able to test her within a week.  She said after her testing that my daughter was ready for immediate assistance.

She didn't just listen to her speak and test her hearing, though.  She did a thorough inspection of tongue movements, and she recommended a frenectomy based on her findings.  She had me get another referral from our orthodontist.  He looked at her as well and came to the same conclusion.  My daughter needed the frenectomy.  She had lived her 8 years on this earth being somewhat tongue-tied.  Now, there was a medical reason (ankyloglossia) for her inability to properly articulate her Rs.

An oral surgeon removed the extra tissue underneath her tongue, and within minutes, I could already tell a difference in her speech.  She can even now roll her tongue (something only she and my husband can do so far in our family).  No, the frenectomy didn't solve all her problems.  However, without the procedure, any speech therapy would have been ineffective in treating her problem. 

So far, we've now been to 4 private speech sessions, and I can tell a noticable difference in her speech. She hasn't "graduated" yet, and there is still work to be done, but we are well on our way to solving the "R" problem.

As a summary, here's my conclusion of why private services are better than government services (and this probably applies to more areas than just speech therapy):

1. Testing: The testing in the private practice was more inclusive than what the school district had provided.  Not only was her speech tested in the private firm, but her hearing was evaluated (twice), and her eating/drinking habits were observed.  I got a detailed 5-page report from the private firm, explaining her test and her mastery levels on the tasks.  The school district gave me a one page report saying she didn't qualify and could come back in a year to be tested (and some verbal advice to not let my daughter use drinking straws).

2.  Therapy: I can only speak for the private side of the actual therapy, but our experience so far has been stellar.  After each 30-45 minute private 1-on-1 session my daughter has with her therapist, I also get to speak 1-on-1 with her to get a recap of the session, as well as homework for the next week and tips to help my daughter reach mastery of the next goal/task.  (If I were using services inside a public school, I am not sure my daughter would get as much 1-on-1 time, and the time the parent gets with the therapist I am assuming would be minimal.)

I know not all school districts are the same, but I can say as for our experience, free is not always better.  Private speech therapy is money well-spent.

Check my blog tomorrow for Part 2 to our "Adventures in Speech Therapy," where I'll share with you the lessons I've learned as a parent.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How to Survive (and Thrive) without Cable

Our family room may look a little like it's in the Stone Age, but it's fine with me!  We've had the same TV for 10+ years--a heavy 27-inch flatscreen that is still serving us well.  We also have a nice little bunny-ear antenna that sits on top of the TV, along with a digital receiver, reflecting the major change we've made in the past 3 years--we ditched our cable/satellite provider entirely.  We cut the cord and have never looked back.

More families every year are doing the same thing and enjoying the same quality of programming they did before (but at a much lower cost).  Here's how we went cable-free (and so can you).

Steps to get rid of your cable bill:

Step 1:  Cancel your service with your cable provider.  When your contract is up with your satellite provider (and with most companies, you'll notice that your bill will jump in size, sometimes nearly doubling), call the provider and cancel the service.  If your contract is not up, you may pay an early cancellation fee.  Do the math and count the costs before cancelling early.  You may need to place a note on your phone or calendar to alert you again about when your contract is up, should you decide to wait.

You must be adamant about your cancellation with the customer service rep over the phone.  It's the service rep's job to keep you as a customer, and they will try every trick in the book to get you to stay.  Don't fall for their offers--you'll end up in the same boat again with a monthly bill you don't need.  Resolve to be free of the company's contract and overpriced service!

Cost: $0.  This is if your contract is already up.  Otherwise, it will vary with the amount of time you still have on your service contract.

Step 2:  Buy a digital antenna.  Newer TVs are equipped to handle the antenna only, but if you have an older TV like we do, you may have to get a digital receiver box as well (it's a small box that connects with a cable to the antenna and your TV).  The antenna is for your local stations and major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX).  Local stations are necessary in my opinion for emergency communications and instructions (though many may argue that the internet, through proper connections and feeds, can provide the same info).

Cost: less than $100 for the entire setup, which is about 3 months' worth of cable bills from most providers... which means it will pay for itself in less than 3 months.

Step 3:  Get high-speed internet.  Most people already have this. (If you still have dial-up and can't get high-speed, the rest of the steps won't apply to you.)  DSL lite isn't going to get it done for the rest of the steps in this process.  This cost is usually not an issue with most people since they already have it.

Cost: varies according to speed and service.  Our current cost is $38/month.  I don't count it because I had internet even when we had satellite TV.

Step 4:  Sign up with Netflix (or similar service).  You have many options with this service: streaming, DVD, and a combination of the two.  We have the streaming-only service, and it has worked great.  Netflix has a great search feature, and has wonderful educational documentaries, family shows, and more. 

You must have a device which will stream Netflix if you choose this: a Wii, computer, xBox, or Apple device (iPad, iPod, iPhone), though I understand more devices besides these are Netflix-ready.

Cost: $7.99 (+tax)/month.  (Way better than $30/month we were paying before---and probably even a greater savings for many people!)

Other options (do your research): (online and free)
Hulu Plus (the fee-based version of Hulu with more options and titles)
Apple TV
Google TV

(Since Netflix is not the first to get new releases, we use Redbox for movies we really want to see on DVD, or just wait until they come out on the streaming.  You can watch the Redbox blog for special codes to get free rentals as a treat.)

Step 5:  Check (and bookmark) your favorite channels' websites for content and apps to watch latest shows.  This has been a dream for us, as Disney has left off some of its shows from Netflix.  I found the Disney Jr. app the other day, and my son can now watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse again.

Cost: $0.

Benefits of Ditching Cable

As a result of our weaning from cable, our family has discovered many benefits, including these:

**There is no need for TIVO or DVR. Netflix is always ready on cue.  We can watch many episodes of the same series.  We can have a Phineas and Ferb marathon any day at my house.

** Our exposure to commercials and online advertising has been greatly reduced.  We are literally bombarded with advertising already embedded into programming, not to mention internet ads.  But without some of those kids' networks toy commercials advertising overpriced goodies like "Bendaroos" or "Pillow Pets," my kids now think about what they really want for birthdays and Christmas. They don't have a network deciding for them. 

Last year, my kids had a hard time knowing what to ask for, because they recognized that they had no real needs, and wants were seriously considered, not chosen from the latest bombardment of commercials.

** We are more discretionary with our program viewing.  We don't just watch something on TV  because it's all that is on.  We are pickier now (and don't miss the larger amount of poor quality programs on cable now).

** We watch less TV. We read more now and find other things to do with our time.

**  Freedom from one less bill.  Yes, we traded satellite for Netflix, but the difference is huge.  Netflix is automatically billed every month, and it is such a small amount that we barely notice it.  It's refreshing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Top Places to Save on Curriculum (Bonus Pricebook Spreadsheet)

It's curriculum-shopping time again!  I am all ready for the upcoming year. I even purchased one course for the following year because I was able to save so much money. It helps to have a good list of resources to shop and compare prices for the items you need each year.

I am often asked from friend where I find the best homeschooling deals.  I generally try to keep my yearly curriculum budget under $200.  I am a huge comparison shopper. This week, I purchased all the books I'll need for the upcoming year, and I spent around $90.  Today, I'm going to list my top ten places to buy curriculum for my homeschool, listed in order of where I look first to last.  As a bonus, I'm sharing a fully-customizable curriculum pricebook spreadsheet to keep track of where to find your best deals for the upcoming school year!

1. Homeschool Classifieds  This board is ultra-organized and simple to navigate.  It has been around for several years now. I discovered it around 2006, and it's been one of the first places I go to get curriculum for each school year.  Homeschooling families from all over the country use this board, which has a search form and is organized in multiple ways. It's much easier to search than many of the swap boards of forums I've encountered (compared to swap boards/forums like VegSource offers, Homeschool Classifieds is a dream to use). It is also my first place to go to sell my own used curriculum. When I list an item, if it's a popular item and I have a fair price, it usually sells within a day or two.

2. Amazon I look on Amazon to get comparative prices for both new and used curriculum.  If Amazon beats anything other place on the list, I usually buy here first. I am careful to note the condition and description of any of the used curriculum I buy.

3.  I dub this site as "eBay's forgotten cousin." It's still a great place to buy used books. I don't like to buy on eBay because the pricing is usually too high, but does not involve bidding, if you aren't familiar with it.  One feature on is that it will list current auctions from eBay of the same item you are looking to purchase on at the bottom of the screen, so you may also snag a deal on eBay instead if the timing (and your bid) is right.

4. Rainbow Resource  Rainbow Resource is a wonderful place to explore new curriculum. You can sign up on their website to get a free catalog, and each year you  will be sent a MASSIVE telephone-book sized catalog to peruse and mark for reference.  Sometimes, because of discount sales and the time of year I am purchasing curriculum, this company is the cheapest place to buy. Not to mention, their customer service staff is TOP NOTCH, no matter which way you contact them--live chat online, telephone, or email. These people are experienced and helpful on every level.

5.  Learning Things Learning Things is similar to Rainbow Resource in regards to their discounts and the customer service they offer.  Their website is organized and clean.  They often offer discounts for homeschool groups, along with selected curriculum (as I am writing this, there is a huge sale on Apologia curriculum).

Great deals on School & Homeschool Curriculum Books and Software

9. The Homeschool Lounge  This is one of the largest online homeschooling support communities.  It has groups for just about any area of interest you can think of! One of the groups is the Used Curriculum Shop. It's a very active board. Tiany Davis has done such a tremendous job here to meet just about any homeschooling need you could imagine. Check out my link (and add me as a friend while you are there!).

6.  Your Local Support Group   My local homeschool support group has a wonderful classifieds board on its online site.  I have bought and sold items here, and I don't have to pay shipping. Usually I can meet someone somewhere if I am going to be out, or we'll meet at our support groups monthly meeting.  If your homeschool group doesn't have a classifieds feature on your group board, talk with or email the administrators and moderators and see if the feature could be added.  If not, consider organizing a curriculum sale/swap at a local church or park.

7.  Used Book Sales  This is the first year I've not visited a used book sale. Usually they are put on by a local homeschooling group.  One year I came out with an armload of books for under $20.  Some people even give away heavily worn curriculum. A big advantage of used book sales is the opportunity to talk with actual users of the curriculum for tips and advice.

8.  Christian Book Distributers  I often compare Amazon's prices to the ones here. It's a great place to find Bible curriculum, and they have a section for homeschooling books as well.

9.  Curriculum-Specific Sale/Swap Boards  Search Yahoo Groups for the publisher of the curriculum you want to purchase.  If it's a popular one, it may have a Yahoo group with the sole purpose of selling/purchasing used curriculum from that publisher alone.  I've only used this method a couple of times, but it's saved me more than 50% off of retail.

Honorable Mentions:

CurrClick  I go here mostly for the free items they offer, but they also have some popular curriculum you can download.  For instance, you can download Writing Strands curriculum in an ebook format so you can use it for more than one child. You can also purchase curriculum and guides from homeschooling families who have developed great resources.

Hip Homeschool Moms Their Free Classifieds board is newer, so I've not used it yet, but it looks promising. The amount of volume is lower than other sites, but it looks promising, as it seems to be growing. 

The Well-Trained Mind  The Sale and Swap Board is not as organized, but the quality and amount of curriculum in demand is worth taking a look.

McKay's  I am sad I don't live near a McKay's Used Book Warehouse anymore, but when I lived less than an hour from one, I found so many great finds. The amount of school curriculum there is astounding.  I even found a Shurley English workbook there for free (in a box labeled "free" outside).  McKay's in Nashville, TN has a new, larger location which I've not had the opportunity to visit yet. (Usually time in TN is spent with visiting family now. I don't find as much time to shop for school books.) The great thing about McKay's is that you can sell them your used books for store credit or cash. Warehouse locations are also in Knoxville, TN, and Chattanooga, TN.


I developed a pricebook featuring these favorite places to purchase curriculum into a spreadsheet to help you maximize your savings.  It's available in .xls format (which also works for OpenOffice and Google Docs users). I also converted it to a .pdf for those who are terrified of spreadsheets (I was once one of those people).  However, the spaces are small, so the spreadsheet is much easier to use in my opinion. It allows you to compare prices for up to 4 sources from each website, such as from the Amazon marketplace, different sellers on HomeschoolClassifieds and, and a source of your choice (i.e., your local support group).

***If you prefer a larger space for writing, Gricefully Homeschooling has a less-detailed pdf comparison sheet that has more space for writing (scroll down to the bottom of her page for the free sheet).

(Important note:  For the .xls format file, you MUST click on the link first to be directed to my Dropbox file, where you can download the file from that page.  Right-clicking will NOT work for that file.)

Curriculum Pricebook
.xls format
.pdf format

Happy shopping!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Must-Have" Homeschooling Items

I've been reading a lot of blog posts on moms' "Top Ten Must-Have Homeschool Items."  Well, I'd like to revise that. I didn't read the posts until the week of that "blog hop" had passed, but I'd already started making my list.  Then, when I looked again at my list, I realized how dependent I am on so many things, and if I look closely enough, I could probably do without most of my Top Ten Items.  To be honest, I could do without all but one, which is listed last below (even though it is the most important).  The rest of them make our lives easier.  The truth is, families have homeschooled without any of the items on my list (yes, even my MUST-HAVE list).  Really, you only NEED books, paper, and pencils/pens, and even that is debatable (just ask unschoolers).  Most of my list, while unnecessary, sure makes homeschooling a LOT easier, so I categorized them into two groups

My Eight "Makes Everything Easier" Homeschooling Items

1.  Laser Printer.  I have Brother multifunction printer that prints, scans, copies, and faxes. It has a duplex function (a must-have feature to save paper and time).  It's about six years old and still works great.  I am extremely frugal when it comes to printing, so I opted for a black-and-white printer with no color option (the color toner prices are not worth the extra cost to me).  We do enough printing from free worksheet sites that a regular inkjet printer will not suffice.  A toner is as cheap as an inkjet cartridge now ($20 on Amazon for my brand), with a much larger output.  Your upfront cost for a laser printer may be slightly higher, but if you do a lot of printing, you'll easily make up that expense in less than a year.

2.  Laminator.  As I mentioned, I try to be frugal with paper and printing.  There are some sheets that I'd rather not have to reprint over and over again.  My laminator (a gift from my aunt who was cleaning out her office), has been a huge blessing to us.  We have so many different things we laminate, but my three favorite uses are artwork, our handwriting worksheets, and graphing paper.  Artwork is preserved from rips, spills, and extra (unwanted) marks from my youngest artist on his sisters' work. My youngest will start using the handwirting worksheets to practice his letters on a smaller scale this year.  My oldest slips the reusable graphing paper in her math notebook to work on problems that require coordinates, and the back is blank, providing a great scratch paper that is reusable, making math work much neater.

3.  Dry erase Materials.  For me, this includes whiteboards, dry erase markers, and page protectors.  We have one standard whiteboard that lost its frame a couple of moves ago, and I plan to get more shower board from Home Depot to use as an extra whiteboard soon... since my budding young artist loves to take over the one we have during school hours.  We use the chisel tip large dry erase markers for the board, and fine-tipped dry erase markers for our page protectors and laminated sheets.  I use the page protectors in our Easy Grammar workbooks (they are the teacher guides with full copy release, so I don't worry that I'm abusing a copyright).  My kids slip the page protector over the student side of the lesson and cover up the teacher/answer side with a piece of cardstock.  When they are finished with the sheet, they remove the cardstock and check their answers.  They count the number of problems, the number they got wrong, and place it on a handy sheet I give them to record their progress for the week.  I'll feature that sheet on another post, but it has saved me so much time (and it only took me SEVEN YEARS to figure it out, haha).

4.  Startwrite Software.  I've used this software for several years.  I have Version 5, but Version 6 is packed with great new features.  I can customize handwriting lessons to meet the needs of my children as they practice their penmanship. I don't buy the elementary tablets with dotted lines. Startwrite does it all for me, and I can make the letters as large or small as I want. Take a look... they offer a FREE 30-day demo trial.  It's saved me literally hundreds of dollars in handwriting curriculum, and my kids can learn whichever style fits our needs and preferences.  (These are the sheets I customize and laminate to use with dry-erase markers.)  Click the link below and try it for 30 days. I highly recommend it.  It will save you money year after year, and is even effective for improving adults' handwriting.

5.  Gradebook+ Spreadsheet.  Joy over at has developed an outstanding Gradebook for Excel and OpenOffice that covers just about every grading dilemma I could think of.  Take a look--you will be wowed by the features, the versatility, and the price (did I mention it's FREE?)!  Click here to go directly to the download page for the software, and while you are there, take a look at the rest of Joy's website.  She has more great (free) tools that I'm using as well.

6.  iPod Touch.  I could devote this entire blog to how we use the iPod Touch for our classroom. I have written about how we've used them. I'm sure I'll be adding more to this topic. The educational apps are so vast that all three of my kids, from preteen to toddler, all use the iPod and LEARN something from them. I love it for the Kindle app and the free books that are offered daily on Kindle. I can also have my Bible in my pocket at all times, not to mention my favorite Pandora station with all my favorite music on it.  My four-year-old uses mine as much as I do. It's been great for memorization, fine motor skills, vocabulary, and more.

7. Kindle Fire. After several years of resisting, we've become more accustomed to the screen size of the Kindle Fire. It's more like a book in page size, and the amount of free books on the Kindle store is ASTOUNDING. I've become a huge fan of our Amazon Prime membership over the years as well, which allows us to listen to music, read books, watch educational shows, and order supplies right from our Kindles seamlessly. All for a great price... it's cable TV, shopping, and the bookstore, all wrapped in one.

7.  Composition Books.  Each year around late summer, these handy notebooks go on sale at large retailers for around forty cents each.  We use them as much as possible (and prefer them over loose leaf notebook paper).  It keeps my kids' work in one place easily, and we enjoy decorating and personalizing the covers.  After years of spiral notebooks, composition books have become my choice. I even use one for my daily journal. Take a look at these from Aesthetic Nest to see one easy way to decorate them.

8.  Electric Pencil Sharpener. Since we moved a few months ago, I've had trouble finding my electric pencil sharpener. I realize now how much I really, REALLY need it around. I'm adding it to my must-have list.

My Three "Essential" Homeschooling Items

9.  Internet.  You aren't reading this without it.  Without the Internet, I would spend a LOT more money on curriculum than I do.  It allows me to find great deals on used homeschool books ( and Amazon are my top two sites), not to mention the ideas and support I get from homeschooling sites (including blogs by other homeschooling moms).

10.  Library Card.  What homeschooling mom is worth her weight in salt without a library card?  That's a given. My kids love the library, and it's one of the first places we search when we move to a new place. It's also our  go-to place for new books we want to read (and possibly buy in the future).  I was able to preview Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer at our library before making the decision to purchase it.  Many libraries have homeschooling materials in their reference section or available for checkout.  Even if your library is too far from your home, check into the ebook and audiobook services your library offers online for its patrons.

ABSOLUTE MUST-HAVE. Bible.  Without the Bible, everything on this list is worthless. As I've stated previously on this blog, homeschooling is a lifestyle choice.  Christianity is no different.  I need to be open to receive the gift of God's grace through His Word every day.  No matter what homeschooling guides I have (The Well-Trained Mind, A Charlotte Mason Companion, Home Learning Year by Year)... I have no greater need for any written word than I do for His Word.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, but at no additional cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What Parents Need to Know: Teens Are Flocking to Twitter

I love Twitter.  I love the articles and the clutter-free usability the app provides.  I love that I can follow people who share similar interests to me, and I can learn something useful.  Scanning tweets takes a fraction of the time it takes to peruse Facebook. Still, some people will abuse it for purposes which are less than commendable.

I remembered seeing a tweet last week from an author who posted an article. I should have saved the link when I saw it.  Twitter has an amazing system for apps like Pocket (formerly Read It Later), Instapaper, and the like.  For whatever reason, I didn't save the link, so I tried a search using keywords from what I remembered about the article.

Then the artillery started.  The search uncovered some not-so-nice tweets.  After seeing the profile pictures, I'd say the owners of said tweets were mostly under 20 (maybe a few 20-somethings were mixed in).  I shook my head at the pure loss of self-respect (and blatant abuse of the English language).

One could assume from the language and nature of the tweets that many of these kids have parents who fall into at least one of these categories:  (1) they don't know anything about Twitter, (2) the parents aren't aware their kids have a Twitter account, and (3) the parents aren't monitoring their kids as well as they think they are.

Parents, be warned: there is another potential danger on the Internet besides Facebook, and it's name is Twitter.

It's no longer enough to be your child's "friend" on Facebook.  According to this LA Times article, studies have begun to show the trend that teens are ditching their Facebook accounts for Twitter.  Some of the reasons why kids prefer Twitter over Facebook (i.e., the parents aren't monitoring them there) can be alarming to parents.

Before I go too far, I will admit: I don't have a child who uses Twitter.  My tween is counting down the days until she can get on Facebook to connect with friends and Sunday school teachers she dearly misses from Louisiana.  Twitter is an enigma to her (which is fine with me).  She likes the visual, interactive part of Facebook that I find distracting at times.  Still, we are on the same page when it comes to Facebook.  She finds foul language offensive and is very sensitive to it.  She started to read a book by a bestselling author and had to stop because the language was to offensive to her (which made me a proud mama for her standing her ground).  She knows that when she joins Facebook, she will befriend me.  And if she gets on Twitter, she will be followed by me. But I digress...

My simple, innocent Twitter search revealed this:  Twitter is a largely unmonitored playground for teens.  Not only are many teens using foul language, they are often belligerent and bullying.  Ambiguous statements run rampant (many kids don't use mentions in their Tweets), which could potentially lead to altercations later.

Whether or not kids know how to use mentions (@username) or hashtags (#trendingtopic), many do know how to use private, direct messages (DM) on Twitter, which parents can't see just by "following" or looking on a child's Twitter page.  Twitter allows you to use pseudonyms, which makes finding your child there a little more difficult.  Also, teens may or may not have location services turned on with their messaging device (phone, iPod, iPad, laptop).  This can be a blessing for parents who want to keep up with a child's location, but it can also spell disaster for kids who can become victims of child predators or other criminals.

Part of the poor language and attitudes displayed on Twitter by teens boils down to the desire to rebel and finding an outlet for that rebellion. Still, parents need to be aware that Twitter is a public forum and what your kids do online is broadcast in a wider arena than a passed note in class (or even a text message) would be.

No matter what the forum, public or not, or how well you monitor your kids, it comes down to one thing:  Know your child's heart.  Pray for them, their relationship with you and with Jesus, and pray that they will have the discernment to behave according to what they want for their future.  Just like Facebook, Twitter could easily ruin a future employment opportunity.  Remind your kids that what they write and say online are reflections of themselves. Make sure their images are positive and shining.

Here's a resource for learning the basics of Twitter: The Parent's Guide to Twitter.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Homeschool Try-outs Over the Summer?

Summer is here, and we are still homeschooling. We've been a year-round homeschooling family for a few years. It allows us to take more breaks, and while my youngest is not formally being homeschooled, our days can be shortened or stretched out as we need them to be. It's one of the great advantages of homeschooling--flexibility. My oldest daughter is finishing her core subjects this week and will concentrate on other subjects for the next two months. My younger daughter works less independently, so we take a slower pace with all subjects. Summer school is always in session at my house for my kids.

This week someone asked about a different kind of summer school. Recently, a member of my local homeschool group asked on behalf of a family to borrow curriculum.  The family wanted to use it over the summer so that the mom and kids can "try-out" homeschooling over the summer break. The post got no response online, but it sent my own mind to reeling.

There are lots of ways to homeschool your child. No one method is right, and all children are inherently different. My opinions here are not based on that notion. But the idea to give homeschooling a "try-out" irritated me.

First, and most importantly, homeschooling is a choice--a lifestyle choice. It's not a "we'll give it a shot and see if we like it" option for me. It takes a such level of commitment that three months may not reveal or allow you to develop a true understanding of how homeschooling can work for you. You must have the mindset that you are now the sole educational decision-maker for your children. You are no longer letting the village decide for you. When you are committed to homeschooling your children, public school is usually a last-resort option. Many parents do not think outside the box when it comes to income and alternatives in homeschooling their children. Recent years have allowed online options that give a wide range of styles and income-friendly options to homeschool.

Second, what if this family is given curriculum that doesn't work for them at all? Perhaps it doesn't follow their worldview, or its implementation doesn't make sense to them? My friend Joanne attests that curriculum is really not the issue, but rather, attitude. Attitude is instrumental in the parent-student relationship and how it applies to teaching. Will the new homeschooling family recognize that? Is the family going to understand the learning style of a child in just a summer, and be able to adapt a curriculum to meet that need?

Third, the mother is going to teach over the summer to children who have been in the public system for the past nine (plus) months, (not to mention previous years and habits that have been established), and the decision will be based on under three months where children will want to be outside, sleep, play video games, and otherwise want to do anything but school work. That is going to be a tough transition for those kids, if parents are wanting to see what homeschooling will look like. I don't speak from experience, but many parents who bring children out of public schools to homeschool are given the advice to allow kids to take a breather. It takes time to find the proper pacing and routines at home because it can be so vastly different from a classroom setting. I don't know if three months will give this family enough time to find a "groove."

Finally--much like my first reason, the entire idea of homeschooling over the summer as a try-out gives me the idea that the family is approaching the idea halfheartedly. If you decide to homeschool, I think you should give it an entire year. We've homeschooled for 7 years now, and I can't say how many times I have changed teaching styles and curriculum. I've learned more about myself and my children, their learning styles and personalities, as well as my own attitude.

Many of my opinions have changed, but my commitment has not. If you are truly committed to homeschooling, your first year is much like what it's like to bring your newborn home as a first-time parent. You fear you will ruin your kids if something doesn't go as you envisioned. If your kids don't get a perfect score on everything, you may scratch your head and wonder what you did wrong or if the curriculum isn't right for you (because all homeschoolers make straight As, right?). Homeschoolers who are committed will find ways to get their children the proper avenues for studying subjects with which the parents have little confidence in teaching. The fact is, many parents miss the boat on what homeschooling allows and encourages. It allows mastery of material (many times not at the pace you expect). That's been a lesson that has taken me years to grasp, especially with one of my children.

So, what is your opinion about this "try-out"? Am I being too picky about how this family is approaching it? Perhaps they have the right approach, so that they don't commit to a year of heartache if they are only half-committed in the beginning.  I thought my opinions may be too one-sided, having only homeschooled my children from the beginning of their scholastic careers.  A little research online showed me that I'm not the only one who thinks a trial summer is not a good idea.  A few weeks ago, the helpful moms over at The Well-Trained Mind had already discussed whether trying homeschooling over the summer is a fair trial.  A vote there shows the majority consensus is "No."  In fact, one mom said three families who have tried this method gave up before the new school year started.

If you're so unsure about homeschooling that you are only willing to give it a trial run over the summer, don't be surprised when you are ready for your kids to be back in school in the fall.  If you are thinking about homeschooling, give tour kids the summer break and spend the time prayerfully considering your decision. If you decide to take the plunge to homeschool, be devoted and resolve to give it a full year. Your family deserves it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Facebook Users Beware

A lot of changes have happened since my last post which I'll leave for another day, but this post has been building for a couple of months, and I've been itching to say it. It has been over a year since I've posted to my blog, but there are some posts worth ending my hiatus (though this one has been in my notebook waiting for two days as I debated whether I should publish it).

Facebook users, beware. Facebook is exploiting you for their own advertising and promotions when you may not even be aware of it. Your online reputation may be at stake.  I may lose friends over this, or people may sneer and tell me to get the proverbial stick out of my own eye. But you need to be aware of what information Facebook is revealing about you, and what you can do to stop it.
I admit it. I am in a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love how I can read news stories and ignore a nightly newscast. I love keeping in touch with friends and family and seeing pictures from their children and families. On the other hand, I have learned some things about people I wish I hadn't seen, and as a result, I have learned to hide or unfriend people who are vitriolic in their spews and rants of hatred and complaining.

Lately, however, my eyebrows have raised over even more people, and it's through no fault of their own--whom Facebook has placed in a questionable light. It's all because of their online viewing activity which Facebook publishes (along with items people don't intend to publish). I admit it's also because of my all too often dour judgmental attitude, but there are some statuses, pictures, activities, articles, and videos people view online in which I'd rather not know friends held an interest.  

I know, sometimes curiosity gets the better of you, and you are tempted to click on a link. Unless you are okay with your social media world knowing your every move, be careful what links you click on inside your Facebook news feed. Google what news you see, and click on that link OUTSIDE of your Facebook feed.

If you read my rant about "liking" things in Facebook, you realize some people may think you condone foul language of a questionable poster or the content by liking a status or picture. A friend of mine once "shared" a photo from a person/page which had bad language (not in the photo, but in "who" posted the photo).  This was displayed at the bottom of the funny picture, and as a result, it showed up on my friend's timeline--picture, foul language, and all. I am sure she didn't know the language would show up on her feed, if she even saw the words herself. But I know this friend would NOT have shared or liked said photo if she had known the foul language at the bottom would be displayed on her behalf.

Not clicking the "Like" (or it’s big brother “Share”) button used to keep you out of trouble on Facebook. But now, you don't have to "Like" something for the world to see you viewed something. One of the biggest culprits to such exposing activity of late is the app/website "Socialcam." I get multiple messages daily showing how people have watched videos on Socialcam, and quite frankly, some of those videos I'd be ashamed to admit I'd ever seen based on the caption and image shown on the news feed. I refuse to add such an app to my Facebook account, so if there ever is a decent video Socialcam has available, I search for the title on Google and watch it elsewhere.

Another tricky area on Facebook is the newest "Trending Articles" feature. I really don't want to know if you are interested enough to read about Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, or Jessica Simpson... or any other celebrity fodder or outlandish or cruel news story on the Internet. If you click on those articles on Facebook, then be prepared for Facebook to throw you under the bus and tell your social world you've read it. No, it doesn’t label you as a fan or freak, but it may reveal how you value your time. Washington Post and Yahoo News both post what stories you've read on their websites now if you happen to click on those articles through Facebook. A Google search will get the same articles, but without you displaying those activities to Facebook.

I certainly don't intend to come across as though I am self-righteous or holier than thou. Come on over to my house and you will see I'm far from perfect (or even good) as a homemaker or mom, and I'm no perfect Christian (no one is). I’ve made my own Facebook gaffes, and I'm sure I'll make some more in the future. The key is, be cafeful. In a world where professional careers can so often teeter on the activities displayed with one’s online presence, and more importantly, what one’s activity may say about personal life and faith, why submerse to the baseness of some of the petty displays online which Facebook has become so good at promoting? The image we display online is as important now as what we display in person. Displaying a poor image online may be a deciding factor in some real life activity later on, whether it's from what you read/view, or what you display of yourself (i.e., an over-the-top party girl/guy image may cause someone to lose a potential job offer).  A poor image online may be the equivalent of a punked-out, overly tattooed and pierced rock star wannabe trying to get a job as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  

Appearance DOES still mean something, whether you are trying to get a job (outside of a night club) or whether you are trying to show the world the love of Jesus through ourselves.

I know appearances should not matter. We’ve all been bombarded with the saying “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But why give anyone the opportunity to even think anything other than the image we’d like to project of ourselves? We allow our outward appearance--whether it is our personal appearance or our online persona--certain liberties we have chosen for ourselves, and like it or not, it gives other people an impression of us. Don't let Facebook give any wrong impression of you.

There are so many ideas and promotions which are better to advertise online.  Encouraging quotes, and Biblical teaching are two which come to mind. Take a look at what my friend Toni Birdsong and her friend Tami are doing over at @stickyJesus. They have great tips about evangelizing online. They have even co-authored a book about the subject. What better way to use social media than to spread the Good News?

So how do you solve the "Big Brother" eye of Facebook from following your every move? If you value your privacy online, perhaps this post (and comments) by the folks over at Lifehacker can give you some idea of how to stop Facebook from following your every move. I read this morning Twitter is now falling into the same practice as Facebook. The easiest way is to stop using as many Facebook social apps as possible (at least the ones you don't want posting on your behalf). I still have three I use regularly, but I revoke those apps posting for me without my actively sharing any activity with them.

As my husband (who looks for an easy fix) would say, maybe I should shun Facebook entirely. Yes, I've been known to take a hiatus and hang out primarily on Twitter for my social networking fix. Some good things come from Facebook, though, which I can't ignore, and it does have its place on the Internet. We should make sure we allow Facebook to reveal what is good and true about ourselves, and not allow it to brand us in a negative way.

Be vigilant, my friends. Facebook will not get any better. It was offered in an IPO on the NASDAQ today, which means now a board of directors and shareholders will expect profits, which means more advertising and more exposure, meaning more exploitation of its users. The next time you click on an item on Facebook, whether it’s a “Like” or a link, make sure Facebook will promote the image YOU want.

UPDATE (6/12/12):  Today I was searching on how to remove Socialcam posts from other friends' activity showing up on your timeline? This very helpful article shows you how to block any posts by other apps on your Facebook feed. Note, it must be done on a laptop or desktop. I checked my iPhone app, and the ability to manage which apps are blocked is not possible with the mobile app. Now I finally don't have to think less of anyone be exposed to other friend's weird curiosities.

As always concerning Facebook, be on your guard:  Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, is quoted in this CNN article as saying, "Imagine a world where we share everything--what we eat, what we read, how far we run, and what music we listen to." There are apps that already do all of these things.  Keep this question in mind before using such apps:  How much do you want the rest of the world to know about your entire life?

I still stand by my original resolve. Run from Socialcam. This article from The Washington Post underlines the real truth of the matter. Monica Hesse reminds us of the "garbage in, garbage out" idea, and that these apps expose to the world what you thought you were doing in private. That does allow for some self-reflection. Even if you are able to hide any articles or videos you read from the rest of the Facebook world, remember that there is One who knows. Keep Jesus as your center of focus, and the evils of this world seem less tempting.
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