Sunday, April 13, 2014

Saving Money and Adding Variety with Used Curriculum

Saving Money and Adding Variety with Used Curriculum

Home schooling in the elementary years doesn’t have to break the bank!  I’m not for being “cheap” and skimping on quality when it comes to education, but you can build or enhance a terrific home library by acquiring some of your collection in the form of used books.  We have hundreds of children’s books and curriculum items in our home, and only a fraction of them were purchased new.

As I started planning out what my youngest daughter will do for home school next year, I realized I only need to buy a math workbook and a grammar workbook for her.  After over 20 years of home schooling 10 kids, we already have everything else right on our own shelves, and a lot of it was used when we got it.

Our favorite sources? 

Chairs in the Brightlight 
children's section
painted by Amy Huber
Used bookstores: We have a wonderful one a mile from our house with an amazing children’s literature section.  You can also order from their web site, Brightlight.  That store is my first stop when I’m looking for a great novel or biography for my kids – and these are the core of our history and literature program since we use the Charlotte Mason approach.  Our public library also has a used bookstore in it, again with a lovely children’s collection.  All of the kids’ books are a dollar or less there.

CFHE used curriculum sale
Annual used curriculum sales:  Here in the Orlando area, there are several annual used curriculum sales hosted by home school support groups.  In some cases, two or more groups will collaborate to pull off a huge, well-organized sale with thousands of books arranged by subject and grade.  Here is the web site for the Central Florida Home Educators Used Curriculum Sale. This sale is where we look for text books and work books, as well as more reading selections.

Family: Many of our books were given to us by family and friends.  I have a substantial vintage collection and many more contemporary titles from my parents and my in-laws.  Some of them were my childhood favorites that I wanted my own kids to enjoy.  In that spirit, I also pass along books to my own adult daughters for their children, too. My sister gave me a few huge boxes of books that her children had outgrown. 

Friends:  We've gotten a lot of great stuff from friends who were cleaning off their shelves and wanted to share with others. At times, I have put out a request on Facebook asking if someone has a particular title to loan and pass along for free.  That has been a huge blessing.  At our old home school co-op, moms would bring in boxes of books they weren’t using any more and leave them in the entry hallway for others to comb through.  Of course, I give away a lot of books to friends, too!

On-line:  Amazon and eBay are the two places I most commonly order used books on-line.  I also visit home school used curriculum sites such as Home School Classifieds and The Swap.  There are a ton of other sites that you can Google, but those are just the ones I have used.

Yard sales:  Looking for a really inexpensive way to supplement your curriculum? I’ve found children’s fiction, biographies, hands-on manipulatives, work books, and so much more at yard sales.  Yesterday, I picked up a a write-on/wipe-off math facts practice board for my youngest daughter, a lady bug paper model kit for my youngest son, and phonics flip book, a quiz deck, a construction vehicles puzzle, and some fun picture books for my oldest grandson.  I also saw a lot of educational software, good quality children’s dictionaries, and workbooks. Sure, yard sale finds aren’t the core of my curriculum.  I like to be a little more intentional than that.  But yard sale finds sure can spice up the mix for just pennies! 

My own shelves:  What?  Yeah, sometimes what I need is already right there.  I bought it for an older child, and forgot I had it.  Why not take a peek at what you have and see how you can used it in the future?

Public library:  I’m not talking about buying, but borrowing. I know you are raising your eyebrows.  Of course the books have been used – over and over again by hundreds of patrons!  And you don’t have to allocate long term storage on your own shelves.  All the variety, none of the hassle, and available in your own community. Perfect.

Where do you get your used books?  We want to know!  Leave a comment!

Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Duck and Friends: Dinosaur Bones by Donna McFarland (Early Reader Review)

"I originally ordered this book for my youngest daughter, an emerging reader. However, I laughed all the way through it myself, so I decided to bring it into my classroom and read it aloud to my 5th and 6th grade students. They all agreed that is is hilarious, and they profusely thanked me for sharing it with them. I agree with the other reviewer: this is not your typical dull early reader book. The content is fresh and imaginative, and adds spark and sparkle to a child's life. As a mom and as a teacher, that's just what I want to see in a book. We also loved Ms. McFarland's book for slightly older readers, The Purple Elephant."

That was my review on Amazon.  Here is a little more for my blog readers...

Truly, though this book is written at the 1st-2nd grade reading level, is not your typical basal primer reader with "See Dick run!  Puff, come down from the tree!"  Instead, you have the quirky duck pleading with the cows (who have been frightened by his T-Rex skeleton) to come down from the walnut tree.  He promised them cookies, "To go with your milk."  Then you have the chickens who, while attempting to paint Duck's new dinosaur museum, fall into paint cans, get sprayed clean with fire hoses so hard that their feathers fall off, and then wear sweaters knitted by the kindly alpacas who live on Duck's farm.

I loved this book, and I'm even more delighted because it was written by my childhood friend Donna (Gielow) McFarland, who is also the author of the just-as-delightful Purple Elephant.  You can read that review and interview here: The Purple Elephant and an Interview with Donna McFarland


Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Home School Day in the Life (2nd, 6th, 8th & 10th Grades)


My name is Virginia Knowles, and welcome to my Home School Day in the Life!   I'm linking up to Simple Home School's blog party on Friday. That's my big family in the picture above, including sons-in-law and grandsons, but I'm only home schooling four kids this year.

While you're here, take a peek at my free e-books on home schooling: The Real Life Home School Mom: It's a Life in ReVision <and> Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade (newly updated).  I also have five other blogs,,, (middle school), (high school and beyond) and  If you would like to subscribe to my monthly-ish e-magazine, you can send any e-mail to

This year, we are home schooling sons in 10th and 8th grades and daughters in 6th and 2nd grades.  We also have a 4th grade son in public school, a 12th grade daughter who is dual enrolling in a two year college as well as taking Florida Virtual School courses on-line, two other adult daughters who are university students but living at home, and two adult daughters who are married.  One of them has two young sons, and we're glad they live nearby.  We have been home schooling for over 20 years.  I say "we" instead of "I" because my husband has been an integral part of the educational process, especially in the upper grades and with paper work.  That paternal participation will have to be adjusted starting next week as he starts a full-time office job across town after working from home for over 10 years.

Our typical schedule varies by day of the week.  

On Mondays, we are in co-op classes from 9 AM until 3:45 PM.  The students have 90 minute classes in math, history, science, and English.  I assist in a 4th-6th grade history class and teach 5th-6th grade English.  I have to set aside several hours a week for lesson planning for the English class, where I cover grammar, literature, creative writing, and vocabulary/spelling.  While I use a variety of materials, our core resource this year is The Book of Virtues, which is a virtual virtuous treasury of stories and poems. I try to integrate many of the literature lessons with the time period and geographical region they are studying in The Mystery of History Volume 2 (Creation to Middle Ages) text they are using in history.   After our regular classes, we stay for Yearbook (10th grade) and Drama Club (6th grade), up to an extra 45 minutes.  We have been in this co-op with about 25 other families since 2006, with one year off.   

On Tuesdays - Fridays, our morning schedule for the five younger school age kids and I looks like this:

Around 7:30, I get up, eat breakfast, take a shower, and putter around, usually either reading or writing blogs. Our son who attends public school leaves before 8 and eats breakfast at school.  Sometimes I am up earlier if I can't sleep.

At 8:30, the other kids get up, eat breakfast, and get dressed while I continue to putter.

At 9:00, I spend an hour with my 2nd grader doing her co-op assignments (which are not that time-consuming) and reading good books to her.  Right now we are working our way through the Paddington Bear series.  She's great for a cuddle on the couch.

At 10:00, I spend an hour with my 6th grader doing history and literature.  It goes faster if we read it out loud and discuss it.  She writes out summaries of the history lessons every day, but we do the literature questions orally.  She does the writing assignments, language arts workbooks, science (Apologia Flying Creatures), and math on her own time with minimal help from me.  She's pretty spunky, and always a delight.

At 11:00, I spend more than an hour with my 10th grader doing history (Notgrass World History) and literature (just finished The Hobbit and now starting poetry).  He usually reads the chapters aloud to me, we discuss them, and he answers the comprehension questions orally or on the computer.  I have learned so much world history and classic literature this year!  I am so thankful for the opportunity to study along this way with my son, and I know he appreciates it, too.  My husband is in charge of his Algebra 2 and Apologia Chemistry assignments.

You may notice that I didn't schedule an hour for my 8th grade son.  He is a reliable independent learner and doesn't often need my help, though he asks for it when he does.  He's also really creative, so even most of his free time is spent learning, whether it is special effects video editing or nature study or whatever. My husband helps him with Pre-Algebra and Apologia Biology.

Around noon or so we eat lunch.  Usually everyone fixes their own, but my 12 year old daughter will sometimes fix something like macaroni and cheese for all of us.

Our afternoon/evening schedule is a bit more loose.  Yes, we work on academic school assignments until around 3 or so.  They also spend a lot of time on our computers and some watching TV. However, we are trying to get into a routine of going to the YMCA on Tuesday and Friday right after lunch, especially since they have home school PE on Tuesday.  We have to be home by the time my 4th grader gets back from school. I try to schedule all appointments for Thursday afternoons.  

Somewhere along the way the laundry and dishes get done (or not!) by some combination of adults and kids. Each of the five younger kids does an afternoon dish load during the week, and there is always a second or even third load in the evening.  Though we have basic organization for each room, we do tend to leave it a bit cluttered, especially with school books and papers.  Then, too, our big family has this funny little habit of eating lots of food, so it seems I'm at the grocery store two or three times a week refueling milk and such.

Speaking of food, I now interrupt this blog post because my 8th grade son just brought me a big bowl of fresh fruit salad with vanilla yogurt.  Yum.

Dinner is usually around 6:30, and after that we have free time, clean up, or more school work if not enough of that got finished earlier.  (I often help kids with school work in the evening and on weekends.)   The kids go to bed sometime between 9 PM and midnight, depending on their age and if something exciting is happening or not. 

So that's how we supposedly spend our days.  It rarely works out just like that, but you get the gist of it anyway.

You might also like a related post I wrote this morning: 

Who is the Proverbs 31 Woman? Not Me Yet!

What is your home school day like?

Virginia Knowles

P.S. This post will be linked at these other blog parties:

P.P.S. In case you missed my e-book, e-magazine and blog links at the top of this post, here's the rehash...



Saturday, December 15, 2012

SeaWorld for the Holidays! (Florida Field Trips #7)

Welcome back to my Florida Field Trips series!

Our family had a marvelous time at SeaWorld Orlando yesterday during their Christmas celebration.  My husband and I took our five younger kids, ages 7-15.

Just one of many photo ops...
The park is decorated for the holidays, and best of all, many of the shows are themed for Christmas.  Live musicians all around the park added to the holiday spirit.  I wasn't having very good luck with my camera yesterday so pardon the lack of good show and night pictures here.
Christmas toy king

Saxophone quartet

In the snow globe
Of course, they have all the regular year round attractions as well, like the Shark Experience, the Turtle Trek, and the Blue Horizons dolphin show.  The only attraction that is closed right now is the Penguin Encounter, since they are building a new Antarctica Empire of the Penguins exhibit to open in the spring. 

Exhibits and shows aside, the older kids (of the five we brought) would have been quite content to just ride Manta, Kraken and Journey to Atlantis all day long. 

Kraken roller coaster

Manta picture from summer trip

My youngest daughter loves Shamu's Happy Harbor with all the kiddie rides and splash pad, so we had "Mommy and Me" time yesterday while the others went with Dad.

The Sky Tower is also now included in admission.  The view from 300 foot up as the rotating room ascends is quite something to behold.  

We attended three of the Christmas shows and my husband and I loved them.  (Most of the kids enjoyed them, too, but like I said, they go more for the rides.)  Some of the Christmas shows only run in the evening, you need to get to them 45 minutes ahead of time to get a decent seat, especially on the nights that the park closes at 9 and there are fewer shows.  Other nights, the park closes at 11 and there are more shows, but that may be too late for families with young children.  Check Park Hours and Show Schedules and click on the calendar for the day you wish to attend.  Most of the shows run for about 20-30 minutes.

I was especially touched by the "O Wondrous Night" show, which is a musical living nativity.  The singers are amazing, and though there were plenty of comedic moments, it was very reverently done, incorporating contemporary adaptations and medleys of religious carols.  While we waited for the show to begin, a spirited guitar and fiddle duet entertained us for a Christmas carol sing-along. 

(This picture is from a summer visit.)
The next show we attended was "Shamu Christmas Miracles" in the whale stadium.  I always enjoy seeing the whales (magnificent creatures!) and loved hearing the carols as background music to their performance, but I'd have to say my favorite thing here was the awesome saxophonist who played carols before the show!  

We bustled out of the whale show to make it to the "Winter Wonderland on Ice" skating show in the Bayside Stadium.  We sat up in the balcony, which gave us a great overall view from above, but I found it hard to take decent pictures without a telephoto lens.   

The other drawback of balcony seating during Winter Wonderland is that when the Reflections Fireworks and Fountain Finale fireworks go off at the end of the very last show of the night, you can't see the ones way up high in the sky.  

The 100 Christmas trees in the "Sea of Trees" out in the water also change colors to the music at various times during the day.  The Wild Arctic ride has been transformed into Polar Express Experience for the holidays, but we didn't go to it this time.  The two other Christmas shows are "A Sesame Street Christmas" and "Clyde and Seamore's Countdown to Christmas" (sea lions).  I'm hoping to see them next time we go. We want to tuck in one last trip before our 2012 tickets expire! (My mom bought ours for us this summer and we've certainly gotten our use out of them!)

The cool thing is that if you buy a ticket now, they will give you a Fun Pass good for admission all the way through the end of 2013!   Yep, Florida residents can buy one day and get more than a year of park admission!  Adult Fun Pass tickets are $89 plus tax, and kids are $81 plus tax.   (If you really only want one day, you can pay $10 less per ticket on-line only.)  Or you can purchase an annual pass and get free parking and other perks.  A SeaWorld annual pass is $149, but you can pay extra to extend the admission to the Aquatica water park and Busch Gardens amusement park.  Check for the best ticket options for your family.

A word about food:  SeaWorld has great restaurants, but for a large family on a budget, you can bring your own food and eat in the picnic area just outside the entrance gates.  You can bring snack portions of food into the park, but not big coolers or full lunches.  

Enjoy SeaWorld!

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven" by Jack Prelutzky

"The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven"
by Jack Prelutzky
The turkey shot out of the oven
And rocketed into the air;
It knocked every plate off the table,
And partly demolished a chair.
It ricocheted into a corner,
And burst with a deafening boom;
Then splattered all over the kitchen,
Completely obscuring the room.
It stuck to the walls and the windows,
It totally coated the floor;
There was turkey attached to the ceiling,
Where there'd never been turkey before.
It blanketed every appliance,
It smeared every saucer and bowl;
There wasn't a way I could stop it,
That turkey was out of control.
I scraped and I scrubbed with displeasure,
And thought with chagrin as I mopped,
That I'd never again stuff a turkey,
With popcorn that hadn't been popped!
~ Jack Prelutsky ~

I'm putting this poem in the homework packet for my 5th-6th grade home school co-op English class this next week, and I thought you'd enjoy it, too!

Kids and cooking

Thanksgiving food

Friday, October 26, 2012

Golden Rain Tree with Autumn Seed Pods (Nature Study in the Neighborhood)

If you live in Florida,
you might see these trees a lot in the autumn.
They seem to be everywhere!
That's good, since we don't have too many autumn leaf colors.
This will do, I try to convince myself.

I wondered what they were, so I googled
"trees with red or pink seed pods"
and came up with the golden rain tree.

One golden rain tree in our neighborhood,
with bushes at the base

Pod in the hand, from the stem end

Pod in the hand from the open end
The seeds pods fascinate me,
especially their geometric construction.
I had to pull some apart,
just to satisfy my curiosity.
Two of my kids did, too,
as an impromptu science lesson:
kitchen table botany.

Golden rain tree
pods opened up to reveal seeds inside

You can read more about the golden rain tree.

Look for yellow flowers in the summer!

 God is so creative!

What are you doing for nature study this year?
Leave a comment!

Post will be linked at:

P52 with Kent Weakley
P52 Photo Project 

This week's photo theme: leaves (but my focus is on pods...)

Raising Homemakers 
Whole-Hearted Home

Friday, October 5, 2012

Stuff I Never Taught Them

Stuff I never taught them, but they know anyway....

  • Nursing
  • Copy editing (beyond the basics, anyway)
  • Wedding photography
  • Video special effects and other tech savvy stuff
  • Magic tricks
  • Drawing birds in detail
  • Skate board riding and repair
  • Country cooking
  • AP Chemistry
  • Knitting
  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • French
  • Italian
  • Spanish

So much more....

My ten children -- ranging in age from 7 to 25 -- have learned so much and taught me so much.   Just today, I listened to my oldest daughter intelligently discuss Nicomachean ethics with my sister.  I had absolutely no clue what they were talking about.

Ladies, if you're just getting started in home schooling, don't blow a gasket thinking of teaching them everything they will ever need to know.  You can't.  They can learn jolly well without you if they are interested enough.

Just give them the basic skills.  Read. Write. Speak in public.  Do math. Draw. Science and history too, of course!

Give them the tools for what interests them - butterfly nets, cookbooks, computer software, a camera.  

Let them take time to tinker, explore, take things apart. Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Classes, clubs and mentors can help in areas where you don't know as much as they want to know.

Have fun learning new skills from your kids!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, August 24, 2012

What We're Doing for Elementary School This Year

Dear friends,

Blue orchids!

We're just finishing up our second week of "back to school" at our house.  This year, two of our children are in the elementary grades -- one in public school and the other at home.  We also have two in middle school at home, two in high school (one of them dual enrolling in college, the other at home) and two others in college.

First Day!
My 4th grade son has returned to our neighborhood public school, where he went most of last year, and we're all pretty happy with that choice.  He says his teacher (who just graduated from college) is strict but he likes her.  He has homework every night, so I still get to be involved in his education.  They are doing Florida History this year, so I know he'll be going on a field trip to St. Augustine this year. (See Florida Field Trips #1: Historic St. Augustine)

He is supposed to read from a book of his choice for 20 minutes each evening, so he  was thrilled with the National Geographic Reptiles and Amphibians and the Exploring Your Solar System books my sister (who home schooled two of her kids for several years) just sent after cleaning off her shelves.  He had a choice of what to do with his spelling words yesterday, so he wrote them in graffiti style. :-)

My youngest daughter just turned seven.  She is technically in 2nd grade, but it's more like 1st/2nd since she has an August birthday and is a bit of a "late bloomer" anyway when it comes to academics.  She was in public school for a few months last year but didn't thrive there; they push hard in the early grades and she wasn't quite emotionally ready for that. Even though she learned a lot, she was still behind the other students.  She is, however, very bright, observant and curious, which makes it a lot of fun for me to teach her.  She struggled with reading last year, but really took off in the late springtime and over the summer.  She's my 10th child, and I'd say she's in the normal spectrum of reading skills.  Some of my kids learned to read at age four, and some more toward seven.  They are all strong readers now.  In fact, the child who learned to read at the latest age made top scores on AP tests in high school and starts college dual enrollment next week at age 17.  Some kids just need a little extra time to come into their own. (See my article: Learning to Read.)

Math is the weak link in the chain at the moment, but I'm guessing that will click soon, too.  Her brother was math-resistant in second grade (I could hardly get him to do any!) but shot to the top of his class when he started public school partway through third grade -- again a matter of readiness.  I didn't sign her up for the math class in the home school co-op, so I'm doing a variety of things at home, including ideas from Saxon 1st grade teacher manual, a workbook from a teacher's store, A Beka number pages, hands on stuff like poker chips and penguin shaped crackers (from Aldi), and most of all a free math drill app -- Instant Interactive Math Drills Lite -- on my iPod.  In the photo at left, she matched up two sets of the A Beka number pages on the living room floor (numerals to pictures -- the cards are reversible) and then counted out the poker chips for each one.  This morning we took a pile of six similar science books, counted them, divided them into groups of twos and threes, classified them by topic and cover style, compared the the quantities in the classified groups, etc.  Yes, a lot of our math is impromptu.  If you would like to see more of what I have written about math, read here: Math Skills Checklist from Preschool to 2nd Grade, Math Skills Checklist 3rd-5th Grades and My Own Batch of Cookies (math through measurement). If you want to find out my favorite math resources, read to the bottom of the page here: Math.

Daily Language Review Grade 2   -     
        By: Jo Ellen Moore
Many of the classes in our co-op are multi-grade.  She's in 1st-3rd grade for history and science and 1st/2nd for English.  The teachers chose BJU Press for both history and science.  The English teacher is using First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind as her teaching guide.  She sends home worksheets and then the kids do several lessons from the appropriate grade level of Daily Language Review.

We are supplementing all of the co-op classes with additional reading in those subjects at home.  Sometimes I read to her, sometimes she reads to me, and sometimes we take turns reading page by page.  As I mentioned, my sister just sent two big boxes of books, so we should be set for quite a while with Usborne Starting Point Science, Little House early readers, dolphin books, math drill pages, Bible stories, etc.  

Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor
We also take frequent trips to the library, where we recently discovered the Fancy Nancy readers. (See here for review.) 

Plus we already have hundreds of children's books at home!  One of our almost daily picks is The Jesus Storybook Bible, which is a bit more poetic and artsy than most kiddy Bible story books.  See my review here: The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.

I keep her current books and workbooks, school supplies, and a notebook for storing in-process and completed papers, in a clear plastic bin I bought for $5 at Walmart.  It has a spot on a shelf in the dining room, but I usually leave it in the living room where we use it most. See my post: "Bin There, Done That" (Or How to Keep School Clutter from Turning You Into a Basketcase)

I also try to extend the co-op themes with outings and activities.  They have been learning about the library and the post office in history class, so off we go.  They are studying plants in science class, so we went to Lowe's, looked at a lot of different kinds of flowers, and bought some marigolds.  (I blush to say we still haven't planted them and they are shriveling up.  Bad mommy!)  We also have a Fun Pass to Sea World, thanks to some help from my mom.  If you pay for one day, the rest of the year is free!

Another area we're trying to work on is basic life skills.  Each of my five younger children (2nd-10th grades) has the same chores, rotated daily.  I help our youngest with hers so she can get trained well enough to do them independently.  Messy bedrooms are still an issue here, so I checked out Making My Room Special: Creative Ways to Decorate Your Room by Emilie Barnes.  The book uses an engaging story and lots of sidebars to teach elementary age girls how to keep their bedrooms clean, well-organized, and decorated, as well as how to successfully share a room. 

That's mostly what we are doing this year for the elementary grades!

If you would like some more inspiration, check out one of my favorite blogs about home schooling,  I susbscribed via Google Reader.  Two of my recent favorite "don't miss" posts are: Bloom’s Taxonomy: A simple roadmap to learning and Designing big plans to work with your every day.

Thanks for reading!  

What are you doing for elementary school this year?  What are your favorite resources?  Leave a comment and share!

Virginia Knowles

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