Home Learning Year by Year

In December we added my 13-year-old nephew to our homeschool. This sudden, yet positive change left me in a bit of a quandary. I had absolutely no idea what I needed to teach in seventh grade, and other than what I could get from the library, I had no appropriate seventh grade curriculum. So, here I have 30 days to write and submit his IHIP to the school superintendent (required in New York State) and I am clueless. After panicking just a little, ok, panicking a lot, I quickly calmed when I turned to a fantastic resource book, Home Learning Year by Year by Dr. Rubecca Rupp.

This comprehensive manual is a must have for every homeschool family. Dr. Rupp spells out exactly what your child should be learning from preschool through grade 12. Not sure what curriculum to use? She’ll give you a few suggestions as well. In addition, she includes a helpful list of book lists and internet resources. This handy guide to designing your homeschool curriculum will answer all your questions on what to cover in all your subject areas, and when to cover it. She will give you the confidence you need to successfully design and implement an outstanding, customized homeschool curriculum to meet all your children’s educational needs. If you are new to homeschooling, or even if you have a few years under your belt, This is one book that will prove invaluable to you year after year and will be the best addition you’ve made to your homeschool library.

Oh, and I am happy to say my IHIP was approved, and my nephew is thoroughly enjoying his first year of homeschool. He’s already asking if he can continue it next school year. We’ll see how it goes, but I know one thing is for sure, if we do, Home Learning Year by Year will be right by my side!

Other books by Dr Rupp:

The Complete Home learning Sourcebook

Getting Started on Home Learning

Committed to Memory: How We Remember and Why we Forget

Heir Apparent

After radical demonstrators cause damage to a gaming center, 14-year-old Giannine becomes trapped in a virtual reality game called “Heir Apparent.”

The owner of the gaming center (Nigel Rasmussen) enters the game and warns her she is in physical danger, and her only way out is to win.

Its undisputed kids dig this book. The copy I got from the library had dog-eared pages, warn out binding, and even water damage (poolside reading anyone?) I understand why kids like it; the story is fun. The role-playing fantasy as “king in waiting”, complete with assassins, sword fights, peasant uprising and medieval politics, is exciting. And, the author’s writing is engaging, often witty. BUT (I can always find at least one but), the author’s sarcasm is ‘ere apparent. She dedicates the book “with affection for but no patience with those who would protect our children through humorless moralizing and paranoia about fantasy.” Evidently there are those who have a problem with her books. Isn’t it only natural some parents will shy away from titles such as “Being Dead”, “Magic can be Murder”, “Witch’s Wishes” or “Never Trust a Dead Man”?

Besides the sarcasm, there are a few swear words, some game violence, stereotypical picketers quoting bible verses, and a teenage girl with an attitude.

I thought the story was good, only marred by the cynicism.

Vivian Vande Velde is a local author, and my son recently took one of her writing workshops at our library. He thought she was very nice. Her website follows.

Related website: http://vivianvandevelde.com/

Heir Apparent

Heir Apparent

Hand that Rocks the Cradle: Good Books to Read Aloud to Children

Hand that Rocks the Cradle is a comprehensive list of over 400 outstanding classic books, some well known, others less, but all excellent choices for entertaining, inspiring and stimulating young hearts and minds. This handy booklet will help you choose exceptional literature for your family read-alouds as well as your children’s individual reading time. Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Door in the Wall, Old Yeller, and Men of Iron are but a small sample of books the Bluedorn family has read together and recommends to others. Sorted into three reading levels (easy, difficult, and advanced), the reading suggestions are categorized according to author as well as subject. (Mr. Bluedorn does point out however: level of difficulty was never an issue during his homeschool years-his mother had read aloud some of the more difficult classics when he was young, and vice-versa.)

Wonderful things happen when you read aloud to your children. Time seems to stop as you are all transported to far-away lands, while echoes of past heroes, real and imaginary, bring smiles and tears, excitement and adventure. Just like Mr. Bluedorn, these will be memories your children will hold dear to their hearts when in the not so distant future, you find they are grown and on their own.

One of the aspirations of Homeschoolbuzz.com is to help you pick quality books for your precious children. By bringing you book reviews, and recommendations from others we hope we can help you find the few good books amidst a glut of marginally good or morally questionable reads. I consider this a very thorough and well-researched reading list; it will serve you well for many years to come.

Hand That Rocks The Cradle: Good Books To Read Aloud To Children

Hand That Rocks The Cradle: Good Books To Read Aloud To Children

    Half Magic

    In Half Magic four siblings stumble upon a magic charm that grants only half wishes. The children discover this strange feature after a few mishaps, so they “double” their wishes to get what they want. Of course their wishes don’t always produce what they envisioned, and they deduce that a charm-free life though boring, is a much more pleasant and safe one.

    This enchanting tale is just plain fun. I thought some parts of the story boring, but then again I’m also known to fall fast asleep while watching any movie that’s in black and white. My kids enjoyed the author’s sense of humor, his silliness, and they especially liked the old-fashioned nature of the story.

    Half Magic (Edward Eager's Tales of Magic)

    Half Magic (Edward Eager's Tales of Magic)

    Gregor The Overlander

    Eleven-year-old Gregor falls through a wall grate in his apartment complex into an unknown underworld where humans fly on bats, and life-size talking roaches, rats and spiders live in their own complex communities. He learns there is no way out, and the creatures believe he is their long awaited warrior from the Overland (NYC), prophesied to save the underworld from the wicked rats. This “Alice in Wonderland meets The Chronicles of Narnia” adventure story has its share of villains, battles, betrayers and unlikely heroes.

    There are some gruesome scenes in the book that may be disturbing to some squeamish readers (a friendly spider is killed and then eaten, another sliced in half, and another group of rats and a human fall to their death), but overall the book was good.

    The narrative is “kid friendly”, but on the down side don’t expect any challenging vocabulary.

    If your kids like adventuring through strange, imaginative worlds, they should be pleased with Gregor the Overlander.

    The Chronicles continue with Book 2 Gregor and The Prophecy of Bane, Book 3 Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Book 4 Gregor And The Marks Of Secret.

    The Final book in the series, Code of Claw, is finally out.

    Gregor the Overlander

    Gregor the Overlander

    Gregor and the Marks of Secret

    Gregor and the Marks of Secret

    Gregor and the Code of Claw

    Gregor and the Code of Claw


    Ursula Le Guin creates a compelling world in this haunting story of a father and son’s struggle to accept and understand one another. The “Uplanders” are poor, hard working farmers who possess supernatural powers (gifts) such as the ability to kill with no weapons, make people blind, brainless, speechless, or deformed. Not exactly the kind of people you want on your bad side. The story follows Uplander Canoc, his wife Melle, and their 12-year old son Orrec, as they face difficult times and life changing events.

    Orrec’s mother has no powers (she’s a lowlander) but his father does, and although Orrec’s has not yet fully surfaced, circumstances indicate his gift is wild. He chooses to wear a blindfold to keep his family and innocent bystanders safe from the unwilled and dangerous use of his powers.

    From The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968 Newbery Medal winner)

    When I was 8 years old I wanted to run away from home.

    I’m sure it was partly fueled by not getting my own way or because I wasn’t getting enough attention. My dreams of adventure and excitement were extinguished when I got to the end of the driveway and got a sudden pang of homesickness (or was it hunger?) In “From The Mixed up Files…” 12 year old Claudia decides she’s not appreciated by her family so she devices her own runaway plan, except she gets a whole lot farther than the end of the driveway, she runs all the way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Equipped with determination, smarts and her tightwad younger brother Jamie, Claudia embarks on a one-week escape to “discover” herself. The brother/sister team have a great time-they spend their days mingling in the crowds, viewing exhibits and exploring all the nooks and crannies of the museum. They hide after hours and sleep in an authentic French canopy bed. They bathe in the glorious fountain (where they help themselves to wish-seekers thrown change) and they dine on everything from cheese sandwiches to pineapple juice. While being “guests” of the museum they learn to appreciate art history and become obsessed with a recently acquired museum piece- a sculpture entitled “Angel” thought to be the work of Michelangelo. Their journey takes them to the home of Mrs. Frankweiler, an eccentric art collector and historian, and seller of the mysterious art piece.

    They finally learn the truth about the piece, and a whole lot more about themselves from their time spent with Mrs. Frankweiler.

    I doubt present day kids would choose to run away to an art museum, more likely the mall, or an amusement park, but still the book gives us an interesting perspective on what it might be like. Unfortunately, these characters aren’t the best role models for our children. They lie a little, mooch a little, and their motivations for running away were foolish to begin with. It would have been easier to swallow had they run away from an abusive environment, not a loving family who simply didn’t recognize their kids had some issues.

    No doubt this classic has pleased the masses with its creative story, unique voice and artsy setting, but considering homeschoolers’ family-centered lives, they might have trouble (like I did) with accepting the motivations and actions of these characters.


    Frindle is a clever story that will inspire your creative thinkers. 5th grader Nick has an inventive mind, and after doing a report on where words come from, his wheels start spinning. He questions where our names for things come from, and exactly how do words get chosen and agreed upon?

    I appreciate Nick’s curiosity; the origin of English words has kept me up many a night. Who hasn’t wondered why a dog is called a dog. Why not call it a kib, or a rewpy? Or in Nick’s case, why is a pen is called a pen..why not call it a Frindle? Despite objection from his language arts teacher, the kids at school eagerly adopt his new word for a long thin instrument used for writing or drawing with ink. Soon, frindlemania explodes throughout the nation and Nick becomes a celebrity.

    Kids will enjoy reading about Nick, and are sure to be coming up with their own unusual words for common objects.

    Creative, quirky, and harmless, Frindle is a fun, easy read.

    For additional information including author biography, history of the pen, the dictionary and interactive quiz and word games related to the book, see this site.

    Related website: http://www.frindle.com/index.html



    Everyday Graces: A Child’s Book of Good Manners

    Good manners don’t come naturally to most children. Especially mine.

    I’ve discovered it is no easy task to transform innately frolicsome, and potty-talking boys to proper and well-behaved young gentleman. Everyday Graces, a fantastic resource for teaching virtuous behavior, has been a “saving grace” for me.

    This anthology of classic stories, poems, and commentaries is impressive, and your children will enjoy it. Karen Santorum uses writers such as Dickens, Montgomery, Sandburg and even Pope John Paul II to teach things like good manners at home, appreciating people with disabilities, kindness towards animals, and washing and dressing. No, this book is not a substitute for role-modeling; every day my words and actions must remind my boys such things as to say “excuse me”, and “thank-you”, to hold doors open for others, to chew gum quietly, and to show good sportsmanship. But something about hearing a story helps a moral “sink” deep down into their hearts. Next time they think about telling a lie they’ll remember Pinocchio, or if saying a hurtful word crosses their mind they’ll think back to the story of “Joseph’s Coat.”

    Your personal examples combined with Everyday Graces are a great way to teach your children good manners. Give this book a look-you’ll be glad you did.

    Everyday Graces: A Child's Book of Good Manners

    Everyday Graces: A Child's Book of Good Manners

    Ender’s Game (Ender Wiggin Saga) Parental Advisory!

    This book was originally written for adults, but middle and high school students, and their teachers have embraced it nonetheless. I checked it out from the young adult required reading shelf at my local library. Some reviewers claim Ender’s Game is the best sci-fi book ever written.

    The author has indeed created a complex book-unpredictable, chilling, and mind blowing. It’s also vulgar and disturbing. 6-year-old child genius Ender Wiggin is Earth’s only hope to destroy an army of “Bugger” aliens that are believed to have plans to destroy humankind. The government goes to hideous, sadistic lengths to train Ender for the sole purpose of destroying the Buggers.

    I enjoy science fiction, as does my oldest son. He saw the cover for this book and thought it was about video games. The book jacket is so obviously marketed to boys his age, and based on that alone most parents would surmise Ender’s Game looks harmless and fun. What the cover doesn’t tell you is that the story is overflowing with profanities and horrific descriptions that include the torture and deaths of animals, as well as several of the book’s characters.

    What parent really wants their child reading books that will certainly generate troubling images and thoughts? It’s been several days since I finished reading Ender’s Game and I still can’t get it out of my head. Publishers and reviewers might say that makes the book great. I say it makes it dangerous. Ender’s Game is not appropriate for children of any age.

    Currently in production, Ender’s Game is projected to be released as a motion picture in 2007.

    Dude, Where’s my Spaceship: Weird Planet book one

    While traveling through the galaxy, alien siblings Klatu, Lek and Ploo crash land into the Nevada Desert, and Army officials capture Ploo. Brothers Klatu and Lek use hilarious methods to try and rescue their sister.

    If you’re just looking for an amusing book for your kids to pass the time, this will fit the bill. With exception of titles that start with Captain Underpants, I’m all for the occasional “fun and goofy no-brainer” read. But, I have no idea if these particular alien kids are good role models for yours or not, as I have never met an extra-terrestrial to compare them to. My guess is they are your typical alien children from a typical alien family; they use words like “varna”, they eat cardboard pizza boxes, they communicate using ESP, and they morph into different shapes.

    Kids who like zany characters and humor will get a kick out of this new series by the creator of the “Zack files“. Young readers will whip through this silly book in no time, which makes it perfect for all those summer library-reading programs.

    The Weirdness continues with book 2 Lost in Los Vegas, and book 3 (October 2006) Chilling with the Great Ones.

    Author biography

    Dude, Where's My Spaceship? (Weird Planet, No. 1)

    Dude, Where's My Spaceship? (Weird Planet, No. 1)


    Imaginative world, adventurous quest, unusual characters, and dangerous foes do make a reliable recipe for a good fantasy read. In Dragonspell, the author has all these ingredients, and delivers it as a Christian allegory. Former slave-girl Kale has a gift for finding and caring for dragons. When she’s called upon to retrieve a stolen rare dragon egg, Kale must face doubts, trials, and peril as she discovers the true purpose of her gift.

    The book is fresh, and contains nothing objectionable. It’s not a perfectly crafted novel-the plot meanders at times and the metaphors are obvious. Still, I have no hesitation in recommending this book; it’s nice to find a story that helps kids with their faith. Anyone who craves fantasy will enjoy Dragonspell, and will be looking forward to reading the sequel, DragonQuest.

    Author’s official website:

    Related website: http://donitakpaul.com/

    Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles)

    Sixteen-year-old Cimorene is a stubborn and unconventional princess. She’d rather fence, cook, and study Latin than pursue more traditional princess pastimes like dancing, embroidery, drawing, and etiquette. When her parents arrange her marriage to the boring Prince Therandil, she escapes the castle walls, and becomes the princess of a Dragon.

    This fairy tale is a humorous, unique read that most kids (especially girls) will enjoy. The author works everything one would associate with the traditional fairy tale into the story-talking frogs, fire breathing dragons, wizards, potions, spells, princes rescuing princess, etc, and puts a spin on it by poking a little fun at it all. Cimorene is a strong, independent character. She knows what she wants, and goes for it. I didn’t see her as rebellious, only driven.

    If your kids like stories such as Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty and recently enjoyed the Shrek movies, they will enjoy this read too. Double the entertainment by combining the read with the unabridged audio book – it’s acted out with a full supporting cast.

    The four books in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles are Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons.

    Related website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Wrede

    Dealing With Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles)

    Dealing With Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles)
    • $4.99 List Price

    Cul-de-Sac Kids -The Midnight Mystery

    This is the 24th and final installation to the Cul-de-Sac Kids series.

    Geared to your younger readers, this series follows the lives of nine boys and girls who live on Blossom Hill Lane. In this story the kids work together to unravel a missing pet mystery, and in doing so make a new friend. Though this series is not new (the first Cul-De-Sac book was published in 1993), we’ve just recently discovered them.

    These books are wholesome, and encourage virtuous living. The reading is easy, the characters likeable, and the plots kid-friendly.

    The Midnight Mystery (The Cul-de-Sac Kids #24)

    The Midnight Mystery (The Cul-de-Sac Kids #24)

    Criss Cross (2006 Newbery winner)

    I never did finish reading Criss Cross – it had this weird hypnotic effect on me. Every time I tried to read it, I was fast asleep within 10 minutes. I’d imagine readers who enjoy poetry, dancing in the rain, or plotless books will enjoy it. But for those of us who like lively characters, suspense, or action, we’ll need to look elsewhere.

    Here you’ll find a complete list of Newbery winners, with some corresponding teacher guides and author biographies.

    Related website: http://teacher.scholastic.com/reading/litconnections/awardwinningbooks03/newbery/

    Criss Cross

    Criss Cross

    Crispin: The Cross of Lead (2003 Newbery winner)

    This historical fiction novel set in 14th century England, tells the story of 13-year old orphaned Crispin-falsely accused, and on the run for his life.

    I was initially drawn to this book simply by the cover illustration-a terrified boy clutches a cross of lead, as an angry mob of armed men appear to be pursuing him. Once I started book, I could not put Crispin down, the story is very well told with plenty of action, plot twists and satisfying characters. Boys will especially enjoy this story.

    Avi does not sanitize the horrors, corruption, or violence of this time period. I do think the difficult passages are well done, and will certainly pave the way for discussion regarding life in the Middle- Ages.

    Related website: http://www.avi-writer.com/

    Christian Hot Spot Movie Reviews (website)

    If you are looking for some honest evaluations of what’s playing at the movies, or are looking for some good film recommendations, then check this site out. I wish I had found this website before my husband and I forked over $12 to see King Kong. We would have saved some money! Their review of the giant-ape was right on. Next time I entertain the notion of going to a movie at a first run theater, I’m checking with christianhotspot.com before I go.

    Related website: http://christianhotspot.com/Pages/MovieReviews.html

    Call it Courage

    This 1941 Newbery winner tells the story of Mafatu, a Polynesian Chief’s son who is afraid of the sea. He spends his days making spears and nets as his fear prevents him from hunting and fishing with the other young men his age. His unacceptable behavior invites taunts from the other tribesmen and brings dishonor to his father. Unable to live up to the meaning of his name (Stout Heart), Mafatu flees the island by sea. Forcing himself to confront all that he fears, he grows from boy to man and learns courage in the process. Readers of all ages will be inspired by Mafatu’s determination and resilient spirit. Sperry’s simple writing style is sprinkled with Polynesian phrases and lush descriptions, giving this story depth and believability. The story of Mafatu is based on Polynesian legend and takes place before the arrival of traders and missionaries to the islands. The culture, including paganistic beliefs and customs of the day, are all part of the story.

    See the link below for discussion questions and suggestions for using the book as part of a mini unit study.

    Related website: http://www.easyfunschool.com/article1931.html

    Call it Courage

    Call it Courage

    Chasing Vermeer

    Chasing Vermeer is a mystery/adventure story revolving around a stolen Vermeer painting. Two 6th graders, Petra and Calder cross paths and become entangled in the center of this international art scandal. The new friends work together to solve the mystery using pentominoes, patterns, and intuition as their tools.

    Though the two kids mean well (locate the painting and safely return it) they resort to lying, sneaking, and other levels of deception to accomplish their goal. Sometimes they discuss the implications of their potential actions. Petra is talking to Calder on page 178 and says, “This is probably how people turn into criminals. They just do something a little bit wrong, and then something a little bit worse-“ Probably one of the only redeeming conversations I came across in the whole book, but to me it was too little, too late.

    The idea for the book is great, and kids will be attracted to the story line as well as the clever illustrations by Brett Helquist (Series of Unfortunate Events). However, the story telling is choppy in parts and a little too “freaky” for my tastes. The plot relies on unexplainable coincidence and bizarre circumstances, to the point where it finally became ridiculous. I often had to go back to re-read pages just to sort things out. Your kids also will read phrases and vocabulary like “I hate you all”, “dummy” and “that rat is dead meat”. Their role models will be two 12-year-old kids with no parental supervision, snooping around schools, lying, and contemplating criminal acts. There is even some sort of paranormal activity going on in the plot (the stolen painting communicating with Petra through her dreams).

    Though the book may encourage kids to think “outside the box” and take a different approach towards art, I think most homeschool kids already do that and they don’t need a mediocre book to teach them what they already know.

    Chasing Vermeer (Scholastic Gold)

    Chasing Vermeer (Scholastic Gold)

    Bud, Not Buddy (2000 Newbery Medal Winner)

    Bud Caldwell becomes orphaned at age 6 (mom dies) and by age 10 he’s had enough of the foster care homes and orphanages, and ventures out on his own to search of his long-lost father. Set in Depression-era Michigan, the author presents this perilous time through a child’s eyes, and shows what it might be like to be homeless, penniless, and on your own at a tender age.

    The book was very funny, but would have been better without one scene where Bud gets a pencil shoved up his nose, is beaten, and decides to return the evil for evil (I skipped over it when we read it together). You won’t be able to just give this book to your kids without reading it with them and discussing Bud’s reaction to the bad things that happen to him; like the “life lessons” he shares throughout the book called “Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.” For the most part, Bud’s rules are funny and harmless, but rule number 3 is “If you got to tell a lie, make sure it’s simple and easy to remember.” Cringe! I don’t like any book that endorses lying, but in Bud’s case, he doesn’t have parents to reinforce right from wrong. His lying habits keep him alive. My boys clearly understood Bud’s advice was not to be taken to heart.

    Except for his street-smart lying habits, Bud surprisingly had a good sense of right and wrong, and was a likeable character. I can see the book as an interesting way to introduce the great depression. Kids will be rooting for Bud, and will come away from the story appreciating all they have.

    Teacher’s guide

    Bud, Not Buddy

    Bud, Not Buddy