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The Use of the Library in Homeschooling

by Gayla Thoresen

1) A group of runaway slaves whose guide to freedom can only be seen at night.
2) A young girl foils the plot of the rebels.
3) A boy shows up at his own funeral.

Themes from the latest movies? No, all these are found at your local library!

The first one is “Follow the Drinking Gourd” by Jeanette Winter. The slaves are following the North star to freedom and the North star is part of the Big Dipper which looks like a drinking gourd.

In number two, the young girl, Felicity, is growing up during the Boston tea party time period and is part of the American Girls series of historical fiction published by Pleasant Company.

“Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain is number three.

Is the library just full of interesting books? Perhaps in days gone by, but let’s take another look at what the library offers.

No matter how you conduct your homeschooling, you’ll find something useful at the library. Compare notes with me as I take you on a trip to some libraries in my state.

“It’s a giraffe!”, my five year old exclaimed. We are in the middle of the children’s section at the Ellsworth, Maine, Library, looking at a life-sized giraffe. In one adjoining room sits a real boat with cushions and toys scattered in the bottom. A young mother feeds her baby in the rocking chair while her toddler examines the bead toy.

Next door is a love seat, a fireplace with framed artwork above, and a table and chairs set with recent chapter books on display. On a bottom shelf by the window, are puzzles, puppets and maps.

In an alcove surrounded by windows with two comfortable sofas at each end are two computer terminals. One boy is ‘reading’ the interactive “Arthur” book. My son is playing a 3-D dinosaur game on the second computer. He races against time to save as many dinosaurs as he can.

Inviting? We stayed for over two hours and went back the following day to participate in the craft/story hour.

Another library we visited near Bangor also had a children’s section that excited the little ones. The main attraction was a glass aquarium with a family of hamsters. Talk about a lesson in action! We spent quite awhile poring over hamster books. The library had a box of toys, puzzles and puppets to entertain the children.

Our next stop is a university library. It is best to go in the mornings when most of the college students are in class. The one we visit locally uses a computer to catalog their books and materials. The program is called URSUS. Here’s a learning lesson on computers. The title page offers you several selections in finding a book: author, title or subject. Some books can be obtained through interlibrary loan. A form is required that you fill out and attach to your printed out selection. The librarian takes it from there.

Care for a movie? In a stack of drawers on the main floor you will find videos and DVDs to borrow for up to three days. We have seen many of the National Geographic animal shows to supplement our studies in science. Documentaries, Shakespeare, and classics are some other choices.

On occasion, the library displays art work from local talent in the community. I check the local paper for dates and time and take the children for a free art appreciation tour.

Do you need lesson plans, ideas or educational resources? This university library stocks a large selection of teacher’s magazines. (Yes, this is a teacher’s college, among other courses offered). You can look over the journals – possibly Mailbox Teacher, Instructor, Teaching K-8, Creative Classroom, and others on science, art and math education. Many of these magazines offer free educational kits and resources to send for. There are free drawings for books. Yes, even homeschoolers can be included in these drawings.

We get free educational resources from the Newspapers in Education program. Check locally for a program in your area.

So, now that we’ve seen what is available at the library, here are some ideas you can implement once you get home.

We found information on Karen Hesse, who wrote. “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and “Out of the Dust.” We obtained these books at the library and then compared the different styles of writing and tried them in our own stories.

We also compare a book and its movie counterpart by writing a report or making a poster on the differences and similarities. Besides “Island of the Blue Dolphins”, a few to choose from are “Charlotte’s Web”, “Old Yeller”, “Mary Poppins” and “The Indian in the Cupboard.”

Are you using the unit studies approach? The library is a gold mine for this. For example, your child wants to study oceans. You will cover geography of oceans, science, history, art, and so forth. There will be ocean explorers, animals of the ocean, plants, coral reefs, ocean careers, paintings of the ocean, fishing, recreational use of the ocean, and the list goes on. All the children can study oceans at the same time. There are books, magazines and videos all available at the library, and new ones are being published every year! The possibilities are endless.

Make your local library a resource center and you and your children will spend hours of quiet fun and learning!G.T.


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The Unit Study

By Jessica Hulcy, co-creator of Konos Unit Study

Ingredients of a DELICIOUS Unit

I do not know of anyone who enjoys a piece of cake one ingredient at a time…..first, the raw eggs… then the baking powder… followed by sugar… then the butter… and, finally, the flour!  Even if you follow the recipe, eating separate ingredients does not give you a delicious whole cake taste!  Likewise, traditional learning subject by subject is not a whole learning approach but a fragmented, unrelated, unconnected group of subjects.  Even though we were taught using the subject-by-subject approach, it is not natural and was designed for public school classrooms so each teacher would know what the other teacher was teaching. In contrast, unit studies provide the whole topic approach, weaving individual subjects like literature, activities, art, research, music, writing, history, biographies and even science, into the topic; providing a cohesive, natural approach for homeschool learning.  But what are the ingredients of a DELICIOUS unit?


Units can be built around any theme; however, some themes have a deeper, dual purpose.  Character trait themes with topics under the character trait establish the deeper purpose of focusing on and training kids with their eyes on worthy character to emulate. The topics under the character trait are the vehicles for imparting academic knowledge PLUS the character trait.  While studying the character trait of Obedience, a topic of Kings and Queens leads to studying feudalism.  Historically, feudalism was based on the character trait of obedience, for when a king wanted an army of vassals, he had vassals kneel before him and place their hands between his hands pledging their allegiance, and their men, to the king whenever he called.  The king, in turn, gave each vassal a clod of dirt which represented land or a fief he gave as payment for the vassal’s service and obedience.  Knights jousting, parts of the castle, Arthur and the round table, Greensleeves, biographies of Henry VIII, constructing catapults out of plastic soda bottles, lady-in-waiting costumes and medieval feasts, all become part of the unit.  Obedience is the focus, but memories have been created causing academics to be remembered along with the character trait focus.


It is a fact: We remember 80% of what we DO and 20% of what we READ, hence the recipe for a GREAT unit is not a stack of books to read on the topic.  Research by Dr. Marian Diamond in 1960-80’s at UC Berkeley proved brain size physically increased in groups of rats that had “combination of social conditions and frequent exposure to new stimulus objects.”  Out of three groups of rats, the group of rats that had new stimuli introduced into their cage several times a week (wheels, ladders, mazes, etc,) AND had companion rats to explore and experience with, HAD BIGGER BRAINS.  Science is telling us through research there are better ways to teach than Pete and Repeat and Tell and Regurgitate that even increase the size of the brain!  The setting up of an electric circuit instead of just reading about electricity is worth the effort and time, because it nets retention AND increases brain size.  Having kids make a crawl-through model ear under the dining table with common household objects is not only a fun activity, but nets retention AND increases brain size.


“Oh…I get it!” are the words a child utters when he has had a light bulb moment.  The child understands something, it clicks in his brain, and because he discovered the answer, he will never forget it.  All teachers love discover moments; good teachers create them; great teachers get into a child’s brain and figure out a hands-on activity that will yield a light bulb moment.  The best way to foster discovery learning is to make an assignment like… build a light house model that lights… giving no further instructions. Much curriculum instructs children to death, never allowing for any creativity on the child’s part.  Homeschooling moms do not need a college course on how to teach discovery; they just need a gag and a pair of handcuffs to allow kids to discover on their own.

Draw your own map of the US, sew your own baker’s hat, figure out what birds eat, from the shape of their beaks, are all good discovery activities.  But the summa of the summa is getting children to understand a completely abstract idea like communism while studying Russia. Reading Marx will not get you there, but having a communist lunch will.  Pack the ultimate lunch for each child with everything they love including Hostess Ding Dongs.  When lunch time comes, pin the flag of Russia on your shirt and inform the kids you are Mother Russia.  Then ask the children to pass the state’s lunches to you, because in Russia there is no private ownership, only state ownership.  If a child objects, banish him to Siberia (the bathroom) and explain there are no differing opinions in Russia, BUT…..explain how Mother Russia takes care of her people by following a tenant of communism called redistribution of wealth.  Give each child one potato chip, while you eat the sandwiches and the Hostess Ding Dongs in front of them.  Light bulb goes on, they never forget it, and they all become staunch capitalists!!!

All units are not created equal.  But look for units that incorporate hands-on doing activities with plenty of discovery learning focusing on worthy themes to grow you child’s brain size and his heart’s character. JH


Jessica Hulcy, co-author of KONOS Curriculum… the first curriculum written for homeschool… is educator, author, and formerly very popular national homeschool speaker, prior to a near fatal wreck in 2009. This pioneer homeschooler, graduate of the University of Texas, mom to four grown sons, and Grandear to three grandchildren, lives with husband, Wade, on 75 acres in Anna, TX.  Recently Wade and Jessica started the ultimate online help for homeschooling moms.  On a split screen, Jessica tells moms weekly lessons, while the printable lesson plans appear on the other screen. Visit and  to see a master teacher FREE!


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Standardized Tests & the College Admissions Process: Seeing Beyond the SAT & ACT

When it comes to the college admissions process, students and parents today recognize the importance of good SAT and/or ACT scores, particularly for those students applying to prestigious universities or hoping to receive scholarship funds. Parents shell out thousands of dollars for prep classes and private tutoring for the SAT/ACT, while students devote anywhere from six weeks to two years preparing for the “big” test—the test upon which they believe all their hopes and dreams of attending a particular school rests. Unfortunately, for many students and parents, the SAT/ACT takes on exaggerated importance, which can negatively impact students’ performance not only on the SAT/ACT, but also the other (often overlooked and undervalued) standardized tests that play a role in college admissions decisions. For homeschooled candidates in particular, the significance of standardized tests like the SAT Subject Tests (SAT IIs) and AP Exams should not be underestimated: These tests provide colleges with objective evidence that the homeschooled applicant has mastered a given subject area and possesses the critical thinking skills needed to succeed in college.

According to Sue Feldman, Ph.D., President of Peak Performance Test Prep, “Many students and parents over-focus on the SAT/ACT at the expense of the other test scores which have been and/or are becoming increasingly important factors in the admissions process.” Feldman explains that parents and students who approach the Subject Tests as an afterthought to the SAT generally end up paying for it: “The forums of College Confidential and similar sites are filled with parents’ and students’ regrets about the SAT IIs.” While only around 100 of the 3,000 colleges and universities across the country use SAT Subject Tests in their admissions decisions, the 100 that do, tend to be the most selective and prestigious schools. For schools like Stanford and Harvard, which accept only 7-10% of the 30,000+ highly-qualified students seeking admission each year, Subject Test scores are often as important as SAT or ACT scores. Given grade inflation and uneven standards, these colleges look to SAT Subject Test scores as another critical indicator of a student’s preparedness for, and ability to succeed in, college.

Aside from underestimating the importance of SAT Subject Tests, Feldman claims students and parents often don’t recognize the importance of not only taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, but also excelling on AP exams. Students applying to elite or competitive universities are expected to have taken at least some AP courses, as these courses are recognized to be more rigorous and academically challenging. While in the past only the most elite universities used candidates’ self-reported AP scores as an admission factor, Feldman notes that more and more colleges are now asking to see students’ AP exam scores during the admissions process. The recent addition of spaces for students to self-report their AP exam scores on the Common Application means that college admissions offices are now looking at thousands of applications that include students’ AP scores. Colleges recognize that a student’s performance on the AP exam provides an objective and reliable indicator of whether a student has truly mastered a subject and possesses the critical thinking skills needed to succeed in college.

In order to help students improve their performance on AP exams and SAT Subject Tests, Peak Performance Test Prep conducts 6-week courses at Pierce College and Cal State Northridge (CSUN) for several of the more popular tests. Peak Performance is currently accepting enrollments for its AP Exam Review Courses in AP Calculus AB, AP U.S. History, and AP Literature and Composition. These courses, which are taught by a certified AP teacher, begin March 10 and run through April 28. Enrollments are also being accepted for 6-week SAT Subject Test Prep courses in Literature, U.S. History, and Math Level II; the courses begin April 21 and run through May 26. In addition to its AP Exam Review courses and SAT Subject Test Prep courses, Peak Performance Test Prep offers several courses for the SAT Reasoning Test and a variety of private tutoring packages. For more information on Peak Performance Test Prep, you can visit the company’s website at or call (855) 234-PEAK. ♦


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Learning With Unit Studies

by Patricia Carnabuci

That’s that buzz about unit studies, and how can you integrate them into your family’s learning? Why might you want to? Let’s explore!

Back when I was in school, unit studies were called “themes” – bulletin boards would be full of projects about the Revolutionary War, Whales, or Winter – and there was a warm, settled feeling in knowing what I’d be learning about that week. As a child, I didn’t know what cross-curricular learning was, or what its benefits were, but I felt the comfort of the focus it brought to my day.

The unit studies approach is designed to give both in-depth and broad understanding of subjects revolving around a theme that interests the child. This integrated approach includes science, math, geography, art, music, history, language, literature, drama, and creative movement. It is often referred to as a multi-disciplinary or a thematic approach.

As an example, let’s take a look at “Whales” as a particular theme or unit study. Many themes have an inclination towards one particular subject – in this case, science. So, you may introduce whales at first from that perspective. What is their role in the ocean ecosystem? How many different species are there? What are their migration patterns? After studying whales through the eyes of science, you may go on to study whales in literature – the most famous example in fiction is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Then, perhaps, you will ask your children to do a research project on whaling history, or draw a full size whale on your driveway in chalk. How about studying Dutch whaling paintings, or studying whale population statistics? What an exhilarating way to learn!

The Unit Study approach is an experiential, hands-on approach to learning. When children go into such depth and spend a generous amount of time on each theme, their retention of the subject can be much higher than in traditional methods.

When the central focus is on one theme and all core subjects are integrated together based on that particular theme, the primary advantage, of course, is that the subjects are blended together and not learned separately. A child’s focus and awe is not split among many subjects, but can be channeled to create a learning experience that will be remembered for a lifetime!

There are many other advantages with the unit study approach:

1. Children of all ages and different levels can learn together.

2. Unit studies are relatively low in cost, especially if you create your own unit.

3. Because the studies are learner-generated, the child gets an in-depth understanding of each topic, and in turn, develops mastery and retention of the material.

4. Since there are no time restraints, the child is given ample time to think, experiment and discover each topic through his own natural way of learning.

5. Since unit studies are multi-aged, the younger child learns immeasurably from and through the older child.

6. The creative hands-on projects and activities are great fun!

7. Anything can spark an interest: Television, radio, books, and common conversations. This makes unit planning fairly easy.

How do you find the resources that you need to complete your unit studies?

Libraries are always a great source of various types of materials – make sure to look for both non-fiction and fiction books, as well as periodicals, encyclopedias, and even videos! Your local used bookstore or video rental store are also great sources for information.

Lastly, with the advent of the Internet, a whole new world of resources to support unit studies is available to you. It can not only help in your planning, but children (under supervision) can get a technology lesson along the way as well!

Virtually any topic can be researched online. If we take our example of “whales” again, there are many simple searches that can be done on your favorite search engine. Here are some fruitful keywords that you may use to help develop your whales unit study:

Whales Unit Study, Whales WebQuest, Whales Science, Whales Literature, Whales Math, … and the list goes on – let creativity be your guide!

Are you hooked yet? Unit Studies can be thrilling not only for your child, but for you as well. There is no one “right” way to complete a unit study – the possibilities are limitless, just like your child’s learning potential! Now it is time for you to dive in and create your own…

If you are new to homeschooling, or planning on using the unit study approach, there are many Websites, books and pre-planned units available free or for purchase.


Patricia Carnabuci is founder and CEO of the Home School Learning Network, (see ad on p. 50), and founder of Education World,

Copyright, 2010 by Modern Media. All rights reserved.


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Alaska Unit Study – Prescription for Adventure: Bush Pilot Doctor

One Semester, suitable for Grades 6-12

Prescription for Adventure book: 247 pp, paperback by Naomi Gaede-Penner
with Elmer Gaede

Unit Study Guide: by Naomi Gaede-Penner & Ruth Gaede Rupp
By Emerson Sandow

With Alaska in the news so much the past two years, a Unit Study based upon a real family’s life in the 49th state seems very apropos. The book the Unit Study is based upon also happens to be an excellent one, detailing the adventures of Dr. Elmer “Doc” Gaede, a colorful, unusual man who caught “Frontier Fever” even before Alaska became a state.

Dr. Gaede left Kansas with his wife and two small daughters (Naomi & Ruth) in 1955 and struck out on the Alcan (Alaska-Canada) Highway for the wilds of what, four years later, would become the largest state. He was lured by the doctoring opportunities to serve the people there – especially the indigenous ones, but he was soon caught up in the entire adventure mystique of this incredible land, including the animals as well as its people. “Doc” flew a baby from the hospital to his waiting family far out in the tundra, as a passenger in a small bush plane. Later, he learned to fly one himself – with skis, floats and wheels — and spent 30 years “carving the skies” of his beloved Alaska. With his planes, he flew with friends to hunt bear and moose, bringing back meat and trophies almost too heavy to carry in his small planes! Of course, he flew on emergency “ambulance” runs to aid sick or injured patients and flew just for fun as well.

The Unit Study booklet contains a complete Teacher’s Guide for a variety of activities and work centered upon the book and Alaska. Since Doc Gaede and Alaska are the main characters, it makes the Unit Study very personal and memorable. Since the author grew up in Alaska, her first-hand knowledge makes for a very different – and effective — approach than if she were preparing the material from various “third-party” sources.

Each chapter of the book is studied with such assignments as Journaling, to provide creative writing practice; Economics, where applicable; Science, where applicable; Vocabulary development; Writing – discussing the author’s style or other technical points and other study topics as they apply to each chapter. The Unit Study is well-planned, interesting and valuable for its breadth.

If you want your 12 to 17 year-old to experience the wonders of one man’s adventure of life in America’s Final Frontier, please visit the website, and consider using this Unit Study as a valuable and memorable part of your homeschooling adventure. E.S.


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