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9 Fun Extras (Under $25) That Will Give Your Spring Homeschool a Boost

Everyday Homeschoolingamy sharonyComment
9 Fun Extras (Under $25) That Will Give Your Spring Homeschool a Boost

If you’re like me, this time of year is a weird combination of slow, dragging days and too much to do. (I’m not sure how that’s possible, but that’s definitely how it feels!) I keep a Terrible Day box for moments like this—when we all need a little injection of homeschool fun to keep things going. I thought it would be fun to highlight a few of our favorite extras in case your homeschool has a case of the springtime doldrums, too.

(FYI: These were all in the right price range when I put this story together in April 2017, but prices change, so double-check before you click to buy. I rounded all the prices up to the nearest dollar.)

The Story of the Orchestra ($17)

Spring is the perfect time for a quick course in music appreciation. Though this book-CD combo is more of an introduction than a comprehensive guide, it is a great way to start to understand the basics of classical music and how an orchestra works. Half focused on big-name composers and half on the structure of an orchestra, it’s a useful and fun guide to music appreciation. If your community orchestra has a free or cheap spring concert series—be sure to check local colleges’ spring concerts—it makes a great add-on.


Choosing Your Way history books ($16-20)

Think of this series as a historically accurate version of the Choose Your Own Adventure books we all loved as kids. Each book has five stories to work through: In the first volume of Choosing Your Way Through America’s Past, you have to decide, among other things, whether to stick it out with Washington’s army at Valley Forge or give up on military life and whether life as an indentured servant in the new world would be better in the north or in the south. These books are a nice supplement for middle or even early high school history studies.


Everything's Coming Up Fractions ($20)

It may seem weird to think of math as a fun break, but this guide to fractions is surprisingly enjoyable—and somehow, focusing on one particular piece of math seems more pleasant than plodding through your usual program. You will need your Cuisenaire rods to work through the book. You can whip this out any time you think a little fractions intensive might benefit your student.



Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit ($21)

Build a musical doorbell, a voice-controlled lamp, a two-speed fan, and more as you work your way through the hands-on projects in this kit. It’s designed for kids age 7 and older, but even high school physics students might enjoy the chance to do some hands-on electronics work, and younger kids can work on projects with your help.



The Allowance Game
Lakeshore Learning Materials

The Allowance Game ($17)

Shift your focus to financial responsibility with the Allowance Game, which teaches kids how to save and spend money, make change, and think about balancing their budget. If your kids get into it, consider setting up a homeschool economics system like the one Rafe Esquith describes in



Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything! ($21)

Rebecca reviewed this program in the magazine a year ago, and I think it’s a perfect let’s-put-our-critical-thinking-skills-to-work addition to your spring homeschool. It’s designed for elementary school students, but I think it could easily stretch to accommodate any new-to-philosophy student. Dig into fascinating questions like “Can computers think?” and “Can something be logical and not make sense?”




The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms ($11)

If you’re like us, you’re ready to seize any excuse to play outside once spring weather comes rolling in. I love this workbook because it offers lots of open-ended, easy-to-do nature activities that work for pretty much every age from elementary through adult. (If nature is already a big part of your curriculum and you don’t have trouble thinking of nature activities, you probably don’t need this book—but if, like me, you want your kids to have more nature know-how than you did growing up but you sometimes wonder “but what do we actually do out here?,” this book is for you.) It’s divided into monthly sections, but it’s easy to pick and choose activities based on the weather or what you want to do on a particular day, too.


Darwin and Evolution Unit Study ($10)

A unit study is always a good way to give your homeschool a little lift, and this one is good for a wide range of ages. Evolution is fascinating, and this unit covers the history of Earth from the Big Bang to the present day, with a nice little rabbit trail focused on the life and work of Charles Darwin. It’s designed to cover eight weeks, but like any unit study, it can stretch or compress to suit your needs.




How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum ($12)

Our awesome Art Start columnist Amy Hood turned me on to this book, which is pure creative inspiration (even for people who swear up and down that they are not creative). This is an open-ended book with so many fun ideas for looking at and making art with the world around you—I bet no one in your house will use it the same way. Don’t be surprised if it inspires lots of creative projects at your house.



What about you? What's your favorite almost-the-end-of-the-school-year pick-me-up?

Book Nerd: Library Chicken Weekly Scoreboard (4.25.17)

Reading ListSuzanne Rezelman2 Comments
Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken.

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that due to our Tuesday publication date, this “week” was actually closer to 10 days—because we pride ourselves on ACCURACY here at Library Chicken HQ.


Fanny Kemble was a celebrated British actress—part of the famed Kemble/Siddons theater family—who came to America on tour and fell in love with a wealthy American, Pierce Butler. What she didn’t know when she married Butler was that his family’s wealth came from large plantation holdings on and around St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. (For my Hamilton fans out there: the Butlers were friends of Aaron Burr and it was to their plantation that he fled to hide out after The Duel, when New York charged him with murder.) As Fanny was an ardent abolitionist, this caused a problem or two. Her husband, an absentee landlord most of the time, really didn’t want her anywhere near his plantation or his slaves, but he did allow her to spend one year down there, during which she wrote her Journal. The marriage eventually fell apart in dramatic fashion (detailed in Clinton’s biography) and Fanny, who had become known as a memoirist, eventually published the Journal. It’s a fascinating if grim read about life on an isolated plantation in the Deep South, where the authority usually rests in the hands of a hired overseer, often the only white man present, whose only concern is to provide a good-looking balance sheet for the absentee owner. Fanny was especially interested in the lives of enslaved women, recording details of their lives that other (male) witnesses may never have seen or heard about. I read these as part of ongoing prep for the Georgia history class (and let me tell you, Fanny was not a fan of the Peach State).
(LC Score: +2)


Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

SPACE OPERA. Leckie, as you may have heard me say, is my new hero. A stay-at-home-mom, she was in her mid-40s when she published her first novel, Ancillary Justice, which then went on to win just about every award in the science fiction genre. I made Amy read it with me for the podcast and we’re due to talk about it next time around (as soon as the stars and our schedules align). SPOILER: I thought it was pretty darn good. Leckie explores gender and personhood in wonderful and original ways, plus people get to shoot at each other with ray guns! So of course I had to pick up books two and three in the trilogy and finish them off. If you’re already a SF fan: c’mon, read Ancillary Justice already. I know you’ve heard of it. What are you waiting for? If you’re most emphatically NOT a SF fan: well, this is definitely very science-fiction-y science fiction, so maybe give it a miss as it’s probably chock-full of all the things that annoy you about the genre. If you don’t know if you’re a SF fan or not: this series is a great example of some of the exciting things that are happening in modern SF right now—pick up the first book and give it a try!
(LC Score: +2)


Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White

Nothing With Strings by Bailey White

I am on record as not loving the sort of Southern fiction where everyone is always hot, sweaty, and barefoot, and every attic room houses an insane cousin/brother/uncle (looking at you, Faulkner), but I do love Bailey White and her stories of Southern small towns (primarily in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida), where eccentric elders spend their time fussing over the younger generation and vice versa. As part of my quest to immerse myself in everything Georgian, I’ve been treating myself to a reread of her work.
(LC Score: +2)







The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken’s YA/children’s novels are a bit hit or miss for me. I find them to be an unpredictable mixture of entertainingly gothic and unpleasantly grim. I’ve had this one on my shelves forever (for Atlantans: it had an Oxford Too stamp inside, so you know I bought it a while ago) but I was excited to pick it up and find a promising beginning, with a young boy sent to Oxford, England to live with his aunt in a house not entirely ghost-free (reminiscent of the Green Knowe series). Ultimately, however, it came down on the grim side for me.
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)


Mr. Midshipman Easy by Frederick Marryat

My dad insisted that I stop everything and read this book, a mostly forgotten classic set during the Napoleonic Wars and written by a friend of Charles Dickens. The title character is raised by an philosopher father, whose eccentric beliefs include the idea that everyone is equal. Friends of the family conspire to get the son into the navy, in the hopes that he will rid himself of these patently ridiculous ideas passed down from his father, but it takes a while, as young Easy has been trained to argue every point and will happily do so all day. My dad <ahem> may have said that the character reminded him just a teensy bit of my younger son.
(LC Score: +1)


Observatory Mansion by Edward Carey

GUYS, I LOVE Edward Carey. Have I told you how much I love Edward Carey? Have I told y’all to run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore and buy his Iremonger trilogy (beginning with Heap House) for your favorite middle/high schooler, though of course you should really read it first before passing it along? The trilogy that Carey wrote after moving to Austin, Texas from England because, as he says, he missed feeling cold and gloomy? Have I told you how delightfully bizarre and weirdly Dickensian his books are? My only complaint about Carey is that he doesn’t write fast enough. Aside from the Iremonger trilogy, he’s written two books for adults: Alva & Irva: The Twins Who Saved a City (very very strange—read it immediately) and this one, his first novel, with a narrator who works as a living statue, collects (i.e., steals) important objects from the people around him for his private collection, and never ever takes off his white gloves. Carey is interested in what happens when you objectify people and personify objects and really I have no idea what’s happening, but I LOVE him SO MUCH, GUYS.
(LC Score: 0, because my library didn’t have it and I had to buy my own copy, darn)


Victoria the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled An Empire by Julia Baird

After catching a few episodes of Victoria on Masterpiece Theater I thought this would be a fun read—but apparently so did everyone else. RETURNED UNREAD (because it was due and had holds and I’m in the middle of this whole Georgia thing right now anyway).
(LC Score: -1)


Library Chicken Score for 4/24/17: 6
Running Score: 11 1⁄2


On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

Georgia: A Brief History by Christopher Meyers and David Williams (like I said...)

After O’Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia edited by Hugh Ruppersburg (hopefully not too many sweaty barefoot insane cousins)

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit (because Solnit is wonderful and I’m obsessed with disasters)

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (because I will read anything with “Library” in the title!)

52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 29: Make Your Beds in the Morning

52-Week Challengeamy sharonyComment
52 Weeks of Happier Homeschooling Week 29: Make Your Beds in the Morning

OK, bear with me here. I promise I am not trying to sell you on the idea that your life will magically be a happier place if you get on top of the housework. I mean quite simply that making your bed in the morning—and asking your kids to make their beds—will make you a little happier every single day, even if it is the only housecleaning that gets done that day.

Making your bed is just one little thing—it only takes a few minutes to do, but it makes a big difference in the way your bedroom looks, not to mention the way it feels at the end of the day when you retreat back into your bedroom to relax. When your kids make the bed, their rooms look less messy, and they’re less likely to lose their shoes and whatever books or electronics they took to bed with them the night before. Because it’s so easy and you do it before your day kicks into high gear, it also feels totally doable—making your bed doesn't require a lot of extra energy or brain power.

Even more than the easy neatness factor, though, is the way that making your bed gives you a feeling of accomplishment—hey, look, I did this!—every morning that you do it. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says that morning bed-making is consistently one of the biggest happiness boosters for people who do it for this very reason: It lets you start every day feeling like you’re an organized, productive, efficient person.

Your mission this week: Give morning bed-making a try. Ideally, start with fresh clean sheets and blankets, but it’s also fine to just start where you are. How does making the bed change your morning routine? How does it change your bedtime routine? Do you feel any different about your homeschool life after a week of everyday bed making?

New Books: The Star Thief

Reading Listamy sharonyComment
The Star Thief
By Lindsey Becker

Honorine can’t remember anything from the time before Lord Vidalia brought her home with him to his country estate, but she knows that she’s fortunate to have found a home. Not all orphans are so lucky. Sure, the starching, dusting, and cleaning duties that fill her days as a maid aren’t intellectually stimulating, but she has Lord Vidalia’s library of curious books, and she has her mechanical inventions, and—until he left for boarding school after his father disappeared—she had her best friend Francis, heir to the Vidalia estate. It’s a perfectly fine life—that comes crashing to a halt one night when the mansion is invaded, and Honorine flees into the grounds to escape and plunges into an adventure she could never have imagined.

The constellations we know—Orion, Andromeda, Canis Major—are alive, and they’re being hunted by a mysterious Mapmaker in a fantastic, steampunk flying ship. The constellations have their own fantastic, steampunk flying ship, and Honorine’s torn between the constellations—with whom she seems to have a real connection—and their hunters, who include her old friend Francis. As she’s pulled into the adventure, she realizes that the constellations may also be able to help her solve the mystery of her parents.

The Star Thief is a middle grades fantasy novel with a premise that any star-gazer would love, and it’s full of complicated alliances and even more complicated machinery. It’s a totally fun, action-packed adventure story—it’s so fun that it may not even bother you that the characters get short shrift in this story. (Even Honorine feels one-dimensional most of the time.) The constellations’ living ship sometimes feels like it has more personality than any of the creatures inhabiting it. (The ship is pretty amazing and imaginative, so that’s maybe less of an insult than it sounds like.) If you can coast along on the plot and fantastic descriptions, you’ll definitely enjoy the ride, but if you’re looking for something deeper from a book, this one is likely to disappoint. I like a fun read now and then and I enjoyed The Star Thief, but I couldn’t help wishing for the book it might have been. I think it would be fun to do as a readaloud when you’re studying constellations or as a pool or park readaloud on a lazy summer day when you just want something with lots of action to entertain everyone.

Stuff We Like :: 4.21.17

Stuff We Likeamy sharonyComment
home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources. 

Hello, weekend! 

around the web

People used to call me a grammar vigilante because I’d pull over while driving to complain to someone about a pluralizing apostrophe (what is up with that, though?), but this guy totally puts me to shame.

Who’s up for an HSL field trip?

Why do women’s dystopias seem so prescient right now?

I love this: What famous authors’ most used words say about them


at home/school/life

on the blog: Celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with some of our favorite film adaptations

one year ago: 4 ways to get your homeschool mornings off to a great start

two years ago: Inside Shelli’s project-based homeschool


reading list

I loved The Lost City of Z (which is the kind of twisty, nerdy historical mystery I can’t resist, and which you should definitely read if you’re also into that), so I was excited to pick up David Grann’s new book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.

Continuing my “women writers I’d never heard of” run, I read Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, about a successful career woman who retires from the world to join a community of Benedictine nuns just in time to help solve the financial crisis caused by the death of the order’s charismatic Abbess. It's one of those books that you want to go back and read again right away just so that you don’t have to leave the world and people it’s created.

It’s funny to be reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with my son so soon after rereading Huckleberry Finn because I am still full of post-Huck Tom hatred. (Seriously, let’s go drink too much wine and complain about how terrible Tom Sawyer is, can we?) I’m trying to embrace the lighthearted spirit especially because my son is kind of digging it, but I AM NOT A FAN.


in the kitchen

I am in the restocking the freezer phase of cooking right now, and I was happy to discover this recipe that uses leftover brisket because I may have gone a little overboard with the brisket this year.

Nobody else in my family will eat this, but that’s okay because I want it all for myself anyway.

Cookie of the week: glazed lemon cookies


at home

I am a sucker for time travel and Victoriana, so obviously it was only a matter of time before I watched Time After Time. (If it sounds familiar, it’s because the television series is based on the 1979 movie and has the same premise: Jack the Ripper steals H.G. Wells’ time machine and travels to the present day; Wells follows him to bring him back to face justice for his crimes.) It’s just OK, but it’s fun enough for those collapsed-on-the-couch evenings.

Am I being totally superficial if I say that I have finally found my perfect everyday lipstick?

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but everything always feels so hectic! I’m looking forward to the winding-down phase of all our school-year activities and the slower-paced summer school days. Though I am not looking forward to the crowds at the library!