Archive for the ‘Homeschool Books’ Category

April is National Poetry Month. There are lots of great poetry books written especially for kids. Some are humorous while others are spooky. Some are about nature, and some focus on a particular poetry form, like haiku or limerick. But, did you know there is an entire novel written in rhyming verse?

Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston, is one of the most unique books I have ever read! Best when read aloud, this novel tells the story of Katrina Katrell and a whole lot of fantastical creatures. Adventurous and whimsical, this story has it all.

As kids grow up, many love to listen to rhyming-verse stories told by Dr. Seuss or Bill Peet. They love the characters as well as the beautiful language. When they get older they have to choose – a good story with complex characters, or poems with lyrical language? Zorgamazoo is a rare find that lets kids choose both.

Weston admit in the acknowledgments at the back of the book that the venture in writing this poetic novel was “outright madness,” but we readers are thankful he was brave enough to try. The book is also blessed with gorgeous illustrations by Victor Rivas Villa, and creative type-fonts used throughout the text, making it as pleasing to the eye as to the ear.

Check out the author’s website at: www.robertpaulweston.com Or, visit the Zorgamazoo website.  Click on the teacher’s link at the bottom of the page for an extensive list of fun (and educational) activities to do after reading the book!

Read Full Post »

With snow melting and flowers blooming and birds returning, Spring has sprung! If you’re anything like me, the hibernation of winter comes to an end right about now and our family suddenly has the urge to go. An essential on the packing list for my road trips – besides music, snacks, and a gigantic dose of patience – is Diane Flynn Keith’s book, Carschooling.


I don’t own one copy of this book. I own two. One stays in my car at all times; it is dog-eared and stained, with crumpled cover and crumbs permanently embedded between its pages. The other stays in my house. Why two copies? I’ll explain in a minute.


As Diane writes in her introduction, she spent countless hours in her car during her kids’ homeschool years, driving them to various classes, libraries, park days and field trips. These activities, coupled with longer road trips, translated to thousands of hours in transit – travel time that Diane turned into learning time. Carschooling is her comprehensive compilation of activities every homeschool can do to make the most of those travel hours.


The book is divided into academic subjects because, as Diane believes, “Carschooling families can cover all the subjects typically required by national curriculum standards…(pg. 6).” Some families may choose to do this – and Diane provides sample curricula to get you started – whereas others may simply use it to supplement and enrich their travel time.


After a very helpful Getting Organized chapter, Diane dives right in with unique and fun learning opportunities that appeal to all ages. In the Carschooling Math section, my family’s personal favorite is Play 21 (pg. 84). Players scan license plates to find ones whose numbers will add up to 21. We usually set a goal – the first player to find five of them wins! This is a great way to sneak in addition and, more often than not, my kids will play well after the official “game” is over.


Another favorite license plate game is Crack the License Plate Code (pg. 152). The challenge is to have kids look at license plates to find abbreviations common in texting. For example, “BTW” translates to By The Way. With tweens and pre-tweens in my car, this game is all the rage. We have the most fun with coming up with our own unique text abbreviations or, on some days, coming up with full sentences based on the letter combinations on the license plates. DW2Y6W could translate to “Do what you want” or “Danny wants your watermelon.” Giggles always ensue…and time flies.


For young and old alike, we like Silver Sculptures (pg. 222). Packing a roll of aluminum foil provides a carschool art class as kids are invited to tear and twist the foil into works of art. We often issue challenges – sculpt an animal! – and everyone sets to work on their artistic endeavor. And Rest Stop Olympics (pg. 267) is another one the kids look forward to. When stopping for bathroom breaks or gas or snacks, everyone hops out of the car and I announce the event, my phone’s stopwatch feature at the ready. “Who can do the most jumping jacks in thirty seconds?” or “Who can hop on one foot for the longest?” Getting wiggles out has never been so much fun.


So….why does my homeschool household have two copies of this book? The one in my car has been essential to have on hand for looking up impromptu activities and games while our trip is in progress. The second one – the one that sits on my bookshelf – is the one I consult for longer trips, for those days when I know we’ll be traveling for a long while, when I need the opportunity to plan and prepare and bring special items along. Both copies have been indispensable and have truly transformed our travel time into learning time.


Happy reading!

this review first appeared on Parent At the Helm.

Read Full Post »

Reviewed by Beth Balmanno

Zenschooling, the newest offering by homeschool veteran and author Tammy Takahaski, is a gentle, affirming book filled with sage advice. The focus of the book is simple: by embracing the Zen principle of being present in each moment, of being mindful of where we are and what we are doing in our homeschooling, families can create a more peaceful, positive place…not just for learning but for living.

Incorporating Zen ideas and beliefs is easy, according to Tammy. After all, “The simple act of just being there with the children is mindfulness practice. We teach the best when we are fully present. We show our love for them the best when we are fully present. (pg. 9).” With this in mind, Tammy shares with us a variety of situations and how we can adapt to them to better serve ourselves and our children in our pursuit of a peaceful, meaningful life without school.

In the chapter Homeschool Hang-Ups, Tammy touches on the fears and concerns many homeschoolers harbor, whether it’s the fear of not being a good enough teacher or the fear of readying our children for the “real world.” Her advice: these hang-ups are attached to judgement; all we need do is detach from this. For example, some parents worry that they don’t measure up as educators or, conversely, they fear being judged by other teachers (homeschool or otherwise). Tammy reminds us, “Without an attachment to judgement, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. (pg. 58)”

In the chapter Cultivating Patience, Tammy tackles what may be a universal issue in most homeschool families: impatience. So many of us are impatient with learning – Johnny isn’t reading and he’s 9 or Susie is behind in math – and yet we only need one thing to help us overcome this obstacle: be mindfully present. We must realize that, “…Being impatient does not do any good in making things happen faster…being mindful can make the passage of time almost invisible (pgs.202-03).”

There are nuggets of practical goodness scattered plentifully throughout but perhaps the best section of the book is tucked in the last few pages, where Tammy describes her ideal image of a “Zen teacher.” A Zen teacher is patient…has unfailing belief in her student…focuses on the process rather than the result…treats failure not as a crisis but as an opportunity. It is everything parent strive to be in the home learning environment. It was the section I read and nodded my head, thinking, “Yes. This is the parent I want to be. The parent I wish I could be.”

However, in true form, Tammy tells us, “But, then, a Zen teacher is none of these things, is he (pg. 248)?” Because to have these beliefs – to attach judgement or fear to how we perceive ourselves as teachers – goes against the very principles of Zen. If we release ourselves from our expectations and remind ourselves to be mindfully present – to our children, our families, and society as a whole – we will find that, “…when we look close, what we are doing is just fine (pg. 249).” And what homeschool parent doesn’t need to hear that?

this review was originally published at www.parentatthehelm.com

Read Full Post »