Books and Resources Part 1: Budget Hacks for Incorrigible Victims of Abibliophobia (Homeschooling Mom’s Edition)

We’ve nearly reached the end of the school year! Many of us will be (or already are) taking some sort of a summer break (including this Mama!). And it’s early on (sometimes even before our break begins) that I start searching for and purchasing next year’s curriculum. In this two-part series I’m compiling a list of tips and resources for purchasing, borrowing, or even finding free curriculum/books/resources!

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Ahhh, books. Anyone else relate? And for me, having children has only made the “bug” worse. Fortunately there are a vast amount of both free and affordable resources out there. (In this first post I’m focusing on purchasing curriculum/books; the second post will give links to a vast amount of completely free resources.) So whether you’re looking for a new novel or trying to find a specific, elementary academic textbook, here are some ideas, tips, and sites for finding great deals. 🙂

When to Order

It probably goes without saying, but if you know what you want before you start shopping, you can save yourself a lot of money. I often do my research on the specific curriculum I want months before I actually start shopping. I make my list, then familiarize myself on what the typical “going price” is for each book/item so that I can objectively compare prices and know whether I’m really getting a good deal. I note this price next to each item.

Then I start looking early, searching for one item at a time. This way I have time to find things, compare prices, make bids (on ebay for instance), etc. (If I visit my favorite sites and can’t find what I’m looking for, I have to time to wait a month or two and come back to look again.) Screenshot_20180507-161551

What to Order

Should you buy the item new or used? Sometimes you’ll be better off buying the item new, and other times it really doesn’t matter if it’s used. As a general rule of thumb, I would categorize it this way:

Best things to buy used:

Teacher’s manuals

Non-consumable books/textbooks

Living books, classics, other novels and miscellaneous books

Best things to buy new:

Consumable workbooks

DVDs/CDs/CD-ROMs

Games (educational board games, logic puzzles, etc.)

If you purchase used consumable workbooks, they may be partially used. This isn’t always the case and I have been able to buy “used” consumable workbooks that had never been written in, or perhaps only had a handful of lessons completed. Check descriptions carefully and when in doubt ask the seller, if possible. When purchasing used media (DVDs, etc.) it’s hard to tell what shape it may be in. Even slight scratches on the discs may cause problems. I ordered a used set of history CDs last year, and while most of them played well, several lessons had to be skipped because the discs were scratched.Screenshot_20180507-161338  

A tip for using consumable workbooks: tear the pages out and slip them into plastic sheet protectors; keep these in a 3-ring binder. Now they can be used repeatedly with an unlimited number of children by using dry erase markers and an erasor. Alternatively, take a sheet protector, cut a slit down the side and slip it over a new page each day. If you feel you need documentation that your child completed the workbook, simply snap a photo of each page before it is erased and keep these pictures in a file on your phone or computer. Now you will never need to buy more than one workbook, regardless of the number of children who will use it! Even if you only have one child, you will be able to resell the book in “like new” condition when you are finished with it (provided you use the second option of slipping a protector over the page each day rather than tearing the pages out).

Before you finalize your list, see if any of the books you need could be borrowed or found for free online (I’ll list resources that can be checked for this in Part 2). Screenshot_20180507-161302 

Where to Order

When you have your list, you know what each item costs new, and you’ve decided what things you can buy used and what you want to purchase new, it’s time to start comparing prices! If you’re looking for…

New and/or used:

Amazon and Ebay. I’ve been able to find some really good deals on both these sites. (And of course another reason I like to start shopping early is because I may or may not win bids I place on items on ebay. I don’t want to shop two weeks before I need the curriculum, lose the bid, and then not have the book or resource when it’s time to start school. This way if I lose I still have time to find it later or somewhere else.) Screenshot_20180508-144138

Homeschool conferences. The conference I attended in Wichita last year included a number of vendors selling used curriculum as well as new. I was able to find some unusually good deals.

(Mostly) used:

While there may be a few new items here and there, most of the items purchased from these sources will be used.

Local homeschool swap n’ sales. Many local homeschool groups will hold these once a year. Many of these used items are greatly marked down; some are often even free.

Library book sales. Two weeks ago I purchased almost $300 worth of health and medical textbooks in like new condition (original prices still marked on them)…for $3.50. A few days later I visited another library’s book sale and came away with a whole box of books for $3.30. It pays to stop and take a look. Screenshot_20180507-161806  

Facebook groups. There are a number of pages on which to buy or sell used curriculum and books. Homeschool Curriculum Sale or Trade is my favorite. With over 6,600 members, there’s plenty of good pickin’s here. I’ve found some awesome deals and been able to save a lot of money. Homeschool Curriculum Marketplace is another site with over 11,000 members.

Used Curriculum WebsitesHomeschool Classifieds: this site won’t win the prize for clearest design and friendliest user experience, but they’re still worth checking out as they have a lot of good deals.  Homeschool Trader: this site doesn’t have the same number of offerings as Homeschool Classifieds, but it has a much friendlier user interface.  Homeschool Books for Less: to shop on this site, choose a grade, then a subject, then a publisher; what is available will then be shown to you. Screenshot_20180508-144346

Used book sites (these will not necessarily carry many textbooks—though they’ll have some; but for filling in with classics, novels, living books, etc., these are great places to shop). Thriftbooks is probably one of my favorites. The prices are amazing (many books are under $4!), plus a purchase of $10 or more will snag you free shipping. AbeBooks and Goodwill Books are two more good sites. Better World Books carries an array of new and used books–with free shipping!

 Book Finder. This site simply helps you find the book you want at the best price—new or used—by searching a number of different sites for you. Save yourself some time!

What if you don’t have extra cash on hand but do happen to have some old paperbacks you don’t want? You can trade them for books you do want on Paperback Swap! Swap your book out for your choice of over 1,600,000 books. Screenshot_20180508-144414

…New:

Finally, when I have crossed everything off my list that I can possibly buy used (or new at a bargain price), I shop for my remaining educational “ingredients” at Christian Book Distributors and/or Rainbow Resource. The latter usually offers the most competitive prices, free shipping with orders over $49, and the largest collection of curriculum to be found anywhere (over 40,000 homeschooling and educational products!). For (new) purchases they have been my go-to over the past few years.

…And if you can’t make up your mind:

So what if you’re not sure you actually want to invest in a certain curriculum or textbook because you don’t know if you’ll like it or if it will be a good fit for your kids? Screenshot_20180508-144532

Have no fear, Yellow House Book Rental is here! Yes, this actually gives you the option of renting the curriculum for a semester or a year, for perhaps half the cost of purchasing it new.

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I have used many—though not all—of these sites in my own shopping. Over time they have saved me hundreds of dollars on books and various curricula (each year I add up the cost of the books new, and then compare it to the total I actually paid for them).

So if you’re planning out next year’s curriculum, or just have an abibliophobia and happen to be on a budget  😉 , you might check some of these websites out. Have fun! 

School Curriculum Part (2+3=) 5: Patterns and Principles of Numbers

Math. Every kid’s favorite subject.

Or not.

Well I guess there are a few cases out there of children who have a math-loving disorder (that is, they actually love math), but my kids do not happen to be afflicted with any such thing.

Unfortunately. ;p

But hey for the record, I won’t say they hate it either—at least not most of it. Honestly I think some of that is because of the tactile, hands-on way math is introduced in the program we use, and the many games it relies on to teach the facts.

 RightStart Math definitely has its draw-backs. It’s time-consuming, teacher-intensive, and sometimes introduces concepts at a faster pace than kids are ready for. But I haven’t sacked it for another curriculum yet and there’s a good reason for that. 20180416_131548

This program really helps kids understand math. It encourages them to think outside the box and to see the patterns in numbers. It does not rely on rote memory or a list of steps. Instead, different ways of finding answers are explored so that a child is stretched to see the patterns and principles—not just memorize a list of rules.

We spent a year and a half in Level B (which is the equivalent of a 1st grade program), and I plan to spread Level C out over a year and a half as well (2 levels in 3 years). Now while I mentioned that Level B would rate as a 1st grade program, you should know that this is not a traditional math program, and it’s actually quite ambitious. At this level children are taught to add double-digit numbers in their head and four-digit numbers (or more) on paper. They make a cotter tens fractal, learn to use an abacus, construct shapes on a geoboard, and practice symmetry mirroring, as well as the traditional stuff like learning to count change and tell time.

I have not seen a program do a better job at teaching math concepts in a way that’s very relatable and easy to understand. Initially, everything is modeled with hands-on manipulatives, which the program relies on heavily. The core manipulative is the abacus. Students are taught numbers based on patterns of 5 and 10. Until a child is comfortable adding or subtracting without the abacus, it can be used as a sort of calculator to imprint a visual number picture in the child’s mind. I think I rushed Bri through this stage a little bit, which I regret. I think she needed more time with the abacus before we tried not using it, but I was trying to “keep up” with the program.

My mistake.

If you move at your own child’s pace you will get much more out of this program. I’ve had another mom, who was presenting this curriculum at a homeschool conference, tell me the same thing: she wished she hadn’t tried to stick to the program schedule but had moved at her own children’s pace. I decided it was worth spending a little extra time with the curriculum instead of trying to rush Bri through at the (sometimes) mad pace the program pushes. The curriculum itself is so good it’s worth taking extra time to get through (and sometimes skipping over a few things they may not be ready for to revisit them later) instead of switching to an “easier” program.

Bri finished Level B and started Level C shortly before Christmas. So here’s a sample lesson plan, and how we do it each day:

(This is Lesson 94 in the teacher’s manual from Level B, which has 106 lessons)

We start with a warm-up: today she counts by 10’s backwards from 100, counts by 2’s backwards from 20, finds “how much more” (how much more is needed with 65 to make 70? with 39 to make 41?, etc.), and mentally adds some numbers (24 + 24, 37 + 37, etc., but in this case I give them to her as 24 + 20, etc. because we are still trying to sort value places of numbers and sometimes when mentally adding them she confuses the ones and tens places).

Now we move into the actual lesson part. This is where new concepts and problems are introduced and/or new techniques practiced. Many times various manipulatives will be used in the presentation of the lesson (items needed are listed at the beginning of the lesson). Today we only use the abacus and a part-whole circle set to help us understand subtraction by finding the missing addend. 20180416_131818 

The first problem is given: “Little Bo Peep started out with 9 sheep in the morning on the day she lost her sheep. Five of her missing sheep arrived home at 2:00. How many more sheep must still come home?”

We write the 9 in the large circle and the 5 in one of the smaller circles: we know the “whole” amount of sheep Little Bo Peep started with was 9, and we know the “part” that she found was 5. We write the equation as a missing addend equation together: 5 + ? = 9. Now we have to discover what the other “part” is.

We can do this by starting with 5 on our abacus and adding on from 5 to reach 9. So she enters 5: 20180416_131829

Now she enters the remaining beads needed to make 9, leaving a gap between them: 20180416_131838

So now we can visually see that the parts 5 and 4 make 9. She writes this equation down both ways as we stress which is the whole and which are the parts: 5 + 4 = 9/9 – 5 = 4.

After several similar problems are given, a worksheet follows for practice (note that the worksheets are purchased separately from the teacher’s manual). With the book of worksheets, I tore the individual pages out and slid them into slipcovers and kept them in a three-ring binder so they could be written on with dry erase markers and erased. This way I was able to have her revisit and practice old worksheets and practice sheets as we went (and I won’t have to buy a new workbook for Marcus). If you feel you need some proof/documentation that the work was done, just snap a shot of each worksheet as it’s completed and save these photos in a file on your phone or computer.

The warm-up, lesson, and worksheet usually take us 20-30 minutes. If it looks like it’s going to take longer than that I split the lesson up and we do part of it the next day: keeping lesson time short and sweet—especially for young ones—is a good idea. We split our math time up into 2 to 3 short study periods each day. The warm-up/lesson/worksheet is our morning study; during afternoon quiet time I send Bri up to her room with an old worksheet or a simple facts practice sheet for her to complete on her own; then in the evening we will sometimes play a math game.

This math program relies heavily on games…and Bri loves them! We play addition war (we each lay 2 cards down and the person whose cards equate to the higher number takes all 4).

We play addition coin war (when adding two coins became too easy, we added 3 and 4 coins at a time, etc.). 

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When she was learning addition to 10 we played Go to the Dump. It’s played similar to Go Fish, except you are trying to match numbers that add up to 10 (if you have a 7 you ask for a 3, etc.). She would laugh hysterically whenever she was told to “Go to the Dump.” I guess that was funny, lol.

One of the games we’ve played the most is Corners: when you lay a card down on your turn, the two numbers that touch each other must add up to 5, 10, 15, or 20; you then add this to your total score. Throughout the game as the score is kept Bri has to mentally add the numbers in her head. We usually play to 100 points. 

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I laid these out hastily just for the picture.  When I was looking at it later, I realized I’d put a black 4 and 3 together.  Don’t even know what happened.  Oops.  😉

 

As for Marcus, instead of buying Level A for kindergarten I’m using Level B—and just introducing him to the first few lessons which deal with learning numbers and addition facts to ten (the first part of Level B is simply a review of what was taught in Level A). He’s five. So we keep it short and simple—probably 10-15 minutes/day.

So there’s a glimpse into our math curriculum. What program are you using? What have you found that works for your family?

Around the World in…Four Semesters: School Curriculum Part 2

My son is obsessed with all things maps. If you didn’t think someone could actually love geography, well…

He collects maps the way some kids collect coins or stamps. Family, friends, and acquaintances have supplied him with maps galore, and I’ve bought him a National Geographic book of our National Parks—just because the thing is filled with maps. When a friend sent me a homemade apron made from atlas print material, Marcus went bananas over it.

“Hey! It’s got a map, Mom!”

We’re not doing a formal geography curriculum this year. It’s more like a little bit of this and a little bit of that. To me, geography is a subject that would be incredibly boring in a vacuum, divorced from its bigger (and much more interesting) brother, History. So I tacked some of it on to our history lesson: after listening to our lesson, we simply find the place the events took place in on a globe and/or map, and we might look up pictures of the country on the internet.

Then we fill the cracks in with bits and pieces here and there.

My favorite discovery in this department for this year has been the Draw ____ series. Each book focuses on a different country or continent, teaching you to draw and label it in its entirety, step-by-step. 20180127_130916

I intend to slowly collect the series over time. This year I bought Draw the World and Draw Europe. Bri was able to follow the simple directions on her own to complete both maps. She’s already drawn Europe a couple of times, and I plan on having her periodically get the books back out and draw through each one multiple times as she gets older to help her memorize the layout in her mind.

While I originally only planned to assign a few steps a day, she ended up enjoying it so much she finished a map in one day of her own accord the first time I gave her the book!

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This was her drawing of Europe.  🙂

 

Puzzles are another great way to help kids learn geography painlessly. While we have various geography puzzles, my favorite set would be the Geo Puzzles. What makes these different is the fact that each piece is cut out in the shape of a country, state, or continent.  

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Finally, there’s media/internet. In my history post I mentioned we watch “Are We There Yet?” videos from the National Geographic Kids channel on YouTube.  (Another article I linked to in the history post also lists various other history and geography YouTube channels for kids.)

A couple of websites we use for learning and games include National Geographic Kids, and Ducksters. I also found a closed Facebook group called Learn Around the World which I joined. Members post a potpourri of neat ideas, games, projects, books, etc. related to geography. It’s a fun group to follow, so if you’re looking for ideas in this department join up and check the group out. 🙂

When I was a kid one of my favorite computer games was DK’s World Explorer. Having fond memories of this, I looked it up to see if I could find an updated version for my kids. Sure enough. With few changes, it’s exactly how I remember it. There’s a LOT of geographic information packed into this colorful game. To this day I still remember facts I first learned from it. Good memories!  Screenshot_20180312-151337

How about you, Mamas? What are you using this year for geography?

Dashing Knights and Fair Damsels: School Curriculum 2017-2018 Part 1

20180120_121541Viking raiders, daring knights, and damsels in distress—it’s the stuff of medieval legends. Making our way through a four-year tour of chronological world history, we’ve found ourselves in the Middle Ages this year. From St. Patrick to John Huss, King Alfred the Great to Joan of Arc, this time period holds many captivating stories.

We’re using The Mystery of History series by Linda Lacour Hobar. This year we’re in Volume II: The Early Church and the Middle Ages.

I enjoy this series because it covers much more than western history. This year we get to learn about the Maori in New Zealand, famous emperors and empresses of China, the great Zimbabwe of Africa, the Samurai of Japan, etc., right alongside classic western history. It’s fascinating to learn that about the same time as Leif Ericsson was discovering America, a great civilization was arising in Zimbabwe. Did you know that about the same time the Inkan empire was emerging in South America, the Turks were engaged in the conquests that would establish the Ottoman empire?

It’s captivating to watch all the pieces fit into the story together. And through it all, Hobar points to God’s sovereign plan through history in the lives and events of man and time.

Volume II contains 84 lessons, and begins in the year A.D. 33 with the disciples at Pentecost, ending in 1456 with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. The text for each lesson is usually 2-3 full textbook pages in length. This year I bought the set on CD so that we could listen to the lessons while we’re eating breakfast. (I love this option and wish I had taken advantage of it the first year!)

Hobar provides the teacher with lots and lots of extras. She stresses that there is no reason to try to do everything she suggests. Pick and choose. (Volumes I and II both contain the text and all the extra resources and activities in one book. Volumes III and IV each include a set of books which can be purchased separately or together.) I didn’t actually make a lot of use of the “extras” this year, but I’ll run through them so that you have some idea what the program offers.

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She suggests doing a timeline and explains how to make the figures for it. The first year we made a timeline, but I bought pre-made figures to save time. It still felt like a good bit of work and with the kids being quite young I wasn’t sure that it was worth the extra effort. So we didn’t do a timeline this year, although when the kids get older I want to have them do something at least similar.

Then there are the memory cards. Each week, a few sentences summing up people and events from the lessons are written on a card and periodically reviewed. Again, I did this the first year, and got lazy on the second. I’ll wait till the kids can write out the cards for themselves. ;p

A student notebook, divided into sections by continent, is kept so that work pertaining to the lessons can be filed under the appropriate geographical sections. 20180120_120740

Her lessons include map work (all maps and templates for projects are included in the back), and we did a little bit the first year, but I decided to wait on that this year until they’re a little older. For now, I toss them an inflatable globe and we find the country we’re studying on the globe and/or map each morning.

For activities, each lesson is followed by one or more suggestions under three different categories corresponding with different age groups: younger, middle, and older students (this program can be adapted for use for 1st grade through 12th grade).

For example, after reading about the great Zimbabwe of Africa, younger students might go on a gold hunt or play gongs; middle students might visit a local craft shop, buy glass beads and string them together in honor of this ancient African tradition, or find and photocopy of picture of Victoria Falls and file them in the student notebook; and older students might research African countries and write about their basic facts (type of government, capital city, population, language, religion,). etc.). 20180120_121726

Then there are plenty of tests, quizzes, crossword puzzles—you name it. This woman has thought of everything. It would be overwhelming to try to use all of it, so you customize the program for your own family’s use.  20180120_121643

After listening to the lesson in the morning I usually try to find a brief documentary clip (or on rare occasion a full one), or even a cartoon short that sums up the story again. Just by doing a search on YouTube I can usually find something—I’ll put in the name of the person or event followed by “for kids” (you’ll see as I do this series of posts that YouTube is my best homeschooling friend, lol). You can find plenty of History Channel videos and other similar documentaries. 20171213_091806

One channel I like is Extra History (from Extra Credits): bright, peppy summaries of historical events in a sort of fast-paced, comic-book style. The overviews are really pretty good. These aren’t necessarily geared toward children, but my kids really liked the videos. 20171213_091706If we’re studying a particular country, I turn to the National Geographic Kids channel “Are We There Yet?” series: seven-minute overviews of the land and culture of a country from the perspective of kids.

When we were studying ancient history last school year and going through Bible history, a really good channel I stumbled onto was The Bible Project, which gives very solid and succinct outlines of books of the Bible, summarizing their message with personal application in 5-12 minutes’ time.

Here’s an article listing geography and history channels for elementary students on YouTube.

With the exception of The Bible Project, I can’t vouch for the appropriateness of the content of all the videos of these channels, so view with your kids at your own discretion. 😉

For a hands-on activity we’ve been using the Famous Figures series by Cathy Diez-Luckie. Each book contains 10 to 19 historical figures to cut out and put together. At the front of the book there is a short biographical section for each character, and then there are two sets of each figure printed on heavy cardstock: one in full color, and one in black and white which the student can color (we’ve just been using the colorized version). The costumes are carefully researched and historically accurate, so this is a very nice addition to a history program. 20180120_12132920180120_121254

After cutting out the pieces you attach them together with brads so that you now have a moveable figure. The kids play with them like puppets. The Famous Figures of Medieval Times include Justinian I, Theodora, Charlemagne, Leif Eriksson, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart, Genghis Khan, Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo, and Joan of Arc.

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We couldn’t study medieval times without making a castle, so I bought Easy-to-Make Castle by A. G. Smith and we cut out, folded, and glued the pieces to make our own cardstock castle (or rather, we all cut them out and I folded and glued them together). 🙂 20180120_121203

Dover Publications makes some very accurate, detailed, and informative historical coloring books. I bought Medieval Jousts and Tournaments and Life in Celtic Times, thinking the kids could color in them while they listened to the lessons. But we ended up listening to the CDs during breakfast so I had to find other times to use the books here and there. (Note: in Life in Celtic Times there was a page depicting gruesome religious practices that I chose to remove.)  20180120_121039

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Okay, that all sounds very time-consuming, but really I’ve just kept it pretty simple this year. This is what our basic history time looks like Monday through Wednesday:

We listen to the lesson during breakfast.

We find the country the story is about or takes place in on a globe and/or map.

We watch a brief video (if I can find one; also, last year we would briefly “re-enact” a scene together).

Throughout the week during our reading time (when we read storybooks, poems, etc.) I will sometimes include a book from the library on something that corresponds with our history subject.

And that’s pretty much it.

I don’t really do anything for history on Thursdays, but on Fridays we may cut out a character from Famous Figures. Haven’t done any full documentaries in awhile, but I try to schedule these for Fridays if we’re going to watch one.

And—oh, did I forget to mention History Day?

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Every once in awhile we do a themed “History Day” just for fun. We drop our other subjects for the day and do activities, read books, make projects, and even watch movies that have to do with our theme. Last year we had a history day with an ancient Egyptian theme: the kids dressed up and had a “feast” on the floor with some traditional Egyptian foods, reclining on cushions while listening to ancient Egyptian music (thank you, YouTube), etc.

This year we had a medieval-themed day. The kids dressed up, we read/looked through lots of books of castles and knights (from the library), cut out and made our castle, listened to medieval-style music (again, thank you, YouTube), had an archery contest with homemade bows that Cliff had made for the kids, read the story of Robin Hood, and to top it off they got to watch a cheesy old medieval movie: Prince Valiant.20170929_161446 20170929_160221

More for fun than for historical accuracy or academic value, History Day is still a hit in our family.

But as some say, “Play is the highest form of research.” 😉