Write your Best with Write with the Best

As eclectic Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, we appreciate reading and studying good pieces of literature and writing, keeping our lessons shorter for each subject area, and using a more whole language approach to our learning.

Photobucket       Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services has a writing program called Write with the Best. There are two volumes; one for grades 3-12, and the other for grades 6-12. This program fits the needs of eclectic and Charlotte Mason homeschoolers quite well. If you like using a piece of quality literature to examine good writing, identify effective uses of parts of speech and word choice, and analyze literary meaning, this program supplies you with all of these learning opportunities in one book.

One of the most effective writing classes I ever took was a creative writing class in high school. It was a class that focused on specific pieces of literature which we analyzed and used as a model for our own writing. Before that, I never really looked at what made a good opening paragraph, effective details in the body, or a solid closing. By looking at and copying the sentence structure and the kinds of words used to develop a piece of writing, you can develop your own written masterpiece.

We received Write with the Best Volumes 1 and 2. My younger son has been using Volume I for grades 3-12, and my older son has been using Volume 2 for grades 6-12.

Write with the Best Volume 1

Volume I emphasizes analyzing and writing excellent descriptive paragraphs, and includes writing dialogue, a short story, a fable, a friendly letter, and poetry. The pieces of writing used for modeling include

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • The Gift of the Magi
  • The Ants and the Grasshopper
  • The Shepherd’s Boy and the Wolf
  • Treasure Island
  • The Daffodils
  • Paul Revere’s Ride

Also included in this volume are

  • an explanation of characteristics of what makes writing the best
  • proofreading checklist
  • grading criteria for the parent to use of the student’s writing
  • learning style suggestions
  • additional literary passages for modeling writing
  • a How to Write Guide
    Descriptive Paragraph
    Short Story
    Friendly Letter
    Rhyming Verse
    Ballad or Narrative Poem
  • answer key to the volume units

The volume is divided into units with numbered daily exercises to complete. Each unit begins with a piece of writing to read. Each day focuses on the completion of identified objectives, each one, a different type of skill to note in the literary sample piece or for your child to practice, using the model. Some of the types of skills or activities include

  • reviewing the parts of speech, and finding them and looking at how they are used in the sample.
  • discuss the piece of writing and the effectiveness of the use of specific nouns, verbs, adjectives.
  • paragraph development.
  • steps in writing your own paragraph.
  • proofreading and editing your own paragraph.
  • writing a final copy of your paragraph.
  • analyze the piece of writing for meaning, mood, imagery.
  • character development.
  • use of thesaurus for better word choice.
  • a dictation exercise to practice good listening skills and writing habits.

We followed the suggested daily exercise objectives, alternating its use with the Easy Grammar series we already use for further grammar practice. Sometimes, my sons would want to go ahead and complete the next day’s exercise if they were on a roll and they wanted to complete the next step in developing a piece of writing while their creative juices were flowing.

My younger son’s favorite thing about using this volume was reading and listening to the literary passages and trying to imagine in his mind what each piece was describing. He also enjoyed the descriptive paragraph assignment that he completed for describing his favorite object. He had start with a topic sentence, add descriptive details, and write an effective closing sentence. I asked him for permission to share it with you.


I love pizza. It tastes like heaven with its crunchy crust and melted gooey cheese. Its hot steamy tomato sauce makes it irresistable. When I feel pizza, my fingers tingle with excitement. That’s why pizza is the best food ever.

I enjoyed using this program very much. All the preparation work is done for me. (As a former English teacher), I think it has a great mix of a large variety of elements of language arts. As recommended by the author, Jill Dixon, I would still supplement with a grammar program to teach punctuation, capitalization, word usage, and more specific parts of speech. I love the Charlotte Mason elements of using good literature to read and use as a model of good writing and dictation. Using your child’s own writing for editing and proofreading practice to reiterate grammar rules is the right way to go.

Write with the Best Volume 1 can be purchased in ebook format right now for the special price of $14.95, regularly $19.95, Pages only hardcopy with no binder for $22.45, and Hardcopy Pages in a binder for $24.95.

Write with the Best Volume 2

Write with the Best Volume 2 for grades 6-12 builds on top of Volume 1 in the respect that the student has learned how to develop a good paragraph and has examined and practiced the art of strong descriptive writing. Volume 2 emphasizes developing the skills involved in writing expository essays such as persuasive and informative paragraphs. It also includes writing poetry, business letters, literary criticism, book reviews, newspaper articles, speeches, and monologues. As you can see, it covers a broad spectrum of writing. The pieces of literary excerpts included in this volume are

  • The Railyway Train, Emily Dickinson
  • A business letter written by Helen Keller
  • Common Sense, Thomas Paine
  • Of Studies, Francis Bacon
  • Literary Critique of Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe
  • Book review of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, William Dean Howells
  • Newspaper article entitled “Would ‘Treat ‘Em Rough'”, Ernest Hemingway
  • A speech “In Defense of Rabirius – Before the Senate”, Marcus Tullius Cicero
  • A monologue spoken by Mark Antony in Julius Caesar

Also included are additional features to assist you and your child in practicing these more complex writing skills:

  • Learning Styles suggestions
  • Additional literary passages for modeling writing
  • How To Write Guide
    Poem in Free Verse
    Business Letter
    Taking Notes
    Write an outline
    Write a summary
    Persuasive Essay
    Expository Essay
    Literary Critique
    Book review
    Newspaper article
    Dramatic monologue
  • Grading criteria for the parents to use with their child’s writing
  • Proofreading checklists for each form of writing
  • Answer key for the volume

Again, just like Volume 1, this volume has a wide variety of skills used in each unit from grammar skills to literary analysis and appreciation to practical application in expository writing. I found that it is operating on a more complex level than Volume1 and uses higher order thinking skills in just the literary analysis alone. To be able to write these more complex essays your child should really use Volume 1 or another writing program before using Volume 2. This volume moves on from the premise that your child can write a good developed essay with smart word choices.

This volume has your child practicing a large variety of language arts skills including

  • literary elements and imagery, including more subtle elements like tone and allusion
  • parts of speech
  • poetry analysis
  • outline notes
  • paragraph summaries
  • thesis statement
  • types of supporting details
  • transition words
  • author’s intent
  • clarity in writing
  • using attention grabbers and clinchers

My son enjoyed this program very much. He liked the variety of skills being taught and used each day. He also enjoyed the format, where each day had a set of written objectives spelled out. His favorite assignment was writing the free verse poetry assignment after reading and analyzing one by Emily Dickinson. He also gave me permission to share his favorite writing assignment with you.

The Journey

Cold like the stillness of death,
Light like the lamp in a dark room,
Always attempting to break through the shadow.
Sometimes weak, sometimes strong.
You need to add oil to keep the flame burning.
It may take time and energy to do it, but,
Doesn’t all of life?
This is life, cold, bitter, cruel, unfair, that is,
If you wish to see it this way.
Or, you could see that light of hope and faith burning.
This light is the faith in the promise we are given for the end of life, but,
Many abuse it, or neglect it.
Will you?

Write with the Best Volume 2 can be purchased in ebook form at a special price right now for $18.65, regularly $24.95, Pages only with no binder for $27.45, and Hardcopy Pages with a binder for $29.95.

To read more reviews about these products and others from Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services visit TOS Homeschool Crew reviews.

Katie’s Homeschool Cottage Now on Currclick!

(The following is a press release of a special announcement)

The era of digital delivery is here and Katie’s Homeschool Cottage is at the forefront.  You can now easily download our education  material 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at CurrClick.com

We are happy to announce that we’ve teamed up with CurrClick.com and can now offer you, our customers, homeschool and educational products as secure eBooks on this exciting, new site.  Check out our eBook educational products right now by visiting http://www.currclick.com.

CurrClick.com is the only eBook and audio book site specializing in Homeschool curriculum.  This dynamic and user friendly site employs the latest Adobe server technology, allowing us to make our full line of products available to you easily, instantly, cheaply and completely free of shipping costs. Currclick.com takes extra books off your bookshelf and puts them on your computer or CD-Rom, saving you much needed space. No longer will you be plagued by broken or missing audio cassettes and CD’s, or drink-stained workbook pages! Your books will now be effortlessly stored, as small, easy-to-use files on computer or disc, to be viewed or printed at your convenience.

Don’t miss this exciting opportunity: Katie’s Homeschool Cottage and Currclick.com will be offering Summer Nature Study and More for download absolutely free during the week of October 26th. Be sure to download this and check out our other great products at CurrClick.com where you get Curriculum in a Click!

Of course, you can always purchase our items from our website as well. However, if for some reason my shopping cart is not working, Currclick is always available as well. The free download will only be available from Currclick during the week of October 26th.

I thing you’re going to love that Summer nature study; so please don’t let this freebie get away!

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A Journey Through Learning Lapbooks


Lapbooking is one of those homeschool activities that we have discussed here before. If you have read my post on this, you will remember that cutting and pasting booklets into a file folder does not hold alot of appeal to my boys for some reason. For another odd reason, when cutting and pasting them onto sheets of cardstock and three hole punching them into our notebooks with our notebooking pages, they enjoy it.

And, that’s what we did with our lapbooks we received from A Journey Through Learning. My younger son completed the Reptiles Lapbook with Study Guide for grades 2 – 7. My other son completed The Parables of the King Lapbook with Study Guide for grades 2 – 8 from their “Let’s Study the Bible Series”. Both boys incorporated these lapbooks into their notebooks. 

A Journey Through Learning offers a wide variety of lapbooks and other items covering a wide variety of subject areas and topics. However, for this review, we received lapbooks from which to choose to review.

I’d like to give you an idea of what to expect from these lapbooks by using these two as an example.

Reptiles    Reptiles Lapbook

This lapbook, like the others, begins with notes on some of the folds and dotted lines used to make the booklets, using the study guide, and lapbook assembly instructions. This lapbook includes the following topics to study and write about:

  • What are characteristics of reptiles?
  • How do reptiles defend themselves against predators?
  • What are the different classes of reptiles?
  • Eggs, eggs,and more eggs?
  • What do reptiles eat when they get hungry?
  • What is a food chain?
  • Chameleons are very strange creatures?
  • Tell me about crocodiles
  • Tell me about lizards
  • Tell me about turtles
  • Tell me about snakes
  • Scales! And not the one in your bathroom
  • Beware!Venemous Snakes Ahead!
  • Snake Bite Rescue!

This lapbook is simple and interesting for all grade levels to use because of its variety of easy to use features:

  • variety of mini-booklets and folds
  • study guide with all of the information you need to complete the booklets
  • simplicity of the folds
  • directions and format children can follow
  • not too much information or too many booklets to complete, nor too few
  • report writing component using a form to be placed in pocket holder
  • good solid information covering a valuable spectrum of information

The last section of the lapbook contains suggested additional reading and forms you can use – possibly to put into your notebook (maybe alongside your lapbook pages if you put them on single pages of cardstock like we do), such as

  • a book log for additional reading
  • a simple notes page with three columns for Notes, Information and Comments, and Keywords
  • a higher-level outline notes format page
  • two different narration pages, one for younger children, one for older children

My son in fifth grade really enjoyed this project and found the information in the study guide pages interesting and the booklets fun to complete. His favorite topic to read and write about was the crocodiles.

If you are familiar with the way we do lapbooking, you will see by looking at the pictures below that we place them in a different format than making a lapbook. Here, we ran out of cardstock and used the file folders as sheets of cardstock and hole-punched them to fit into our notebooks. We kind of cheated; but if this works for my boys, that’s what we’ll do.

These pictures give you an idea of the variety of information and the different kinds of booklets included in the Reptiles lapbook.

The cover my son used as a title page, decorated with stickers of assorted reptiles found in this lapbook.

The cover my son used as a title page, decorated with stickers of assorted reptiles found in this lapbook.

First couple of pages of booklets

First couple of pages of booklets

This lapbook is available from A Journey Through Learning in the following formats:

Instant Download for $13.00

CD for $14.00

Printed $21.00

For all you Charlotte Mason fans, there is copywork available to correspond with this lapbook as well.


parables of a kingThe Parables of the King Lapbook

 My older son completed The Parables of the King Lapbook with Study Guide. This lapbook also begins as the other one does with introductory information about using the study guide, making the booklets and folds, and the layout of the lapbook.

The format of the study guides is a bit different with this lapbook from the Reptiles one. Each parable comes with two different kinds of study guide pages. One study guide page contains the scriptural passages of the parable from the Bible. The other page retells the parable in a story format using today’s common language. My son read both.
The booklets with this lapbook asks a variety of questions that you might ask when studying literature. There are comprehension and detail questions to check understanding and identification of key characters, plot, and symbolism. But, of course, when dealing with scripture passages and especially parables, questions also have you analyze the meaning and lesson behind the story. My son and I think the questions are very good, thought provoking and pertinent to the material and for the age levels of this lapbook.
The parables included in this lapbook are
  • What is a Parable?
  • The Fishing Net
  • The Lost Sheep
  • The Ten Virgins
  • The Lost Coin
  • The Sower
  • The Wise and Foolish Builders
  • The Fruitless Fig Tree
  • The Talents
  • The Seed that Grows by Itself
  • The Good Samaritan
  • Jesus is the Vine
  • The Two Sons
  • The Wedding Feast
  • The Leaven
  • The Rich Man
  • The Prodigal Son
  • The Ungrateful Servant
  • The Flowers and the Birds

My son’s favorite parable was The Fruitless Fig Tree. (Which I think is great! Isn’t it comforting to know, that if we aren’t “getting it right” we can ask for forgiveness and go another direction?)

This lapbook is simple and interesting for all grade levels to use because of the same reasons mentioned in the Reptiles Lapbook review, its variety of easy to use features:

  • variety of mini-booklets and folds
  • study guide with all of the information you need to complete the booklets
  • simplicity of the folds
  • directions and format children can follow
  • not too much information or too many booklets to complete, nor too few
  • good variety of parables to study with a spectrum of lessons

I think what I would have liked to have seen to make this lapbook even better and more meaningful because of its content and subject matter would be personal reflection and application. For instance, offer the opportunity to pick a parable or selected parables where you see you can apply the lesson from that parable in your own life, why, and what action you can take to apply that lesson in your daily life. Fill out a booklet with that information and include it in the lapbook in that parable’s section. I think this would be a worthwhile feature for the older children who can think at a higher level and make this learning opportunity more personal.

My son and I are going to go over some of the parables and discuss how we think they apply to our lives at this moment. I’m looking forward to hearing his perceptions and his point of view, especially now in these early teen years when really is starting to look at this on a whole new level!

Just like the Reptiles lapbook, this lapbook also includes items in the last section of the book:

  • a book log for additional reading
  • a simple notes page with three columns for Notes, Information and Comments, and Keywords
  • a higher-level outline notes format page
  • two different narration pages, one for younger children, one for older children

I like the added notebook pages to use alongside these lapbooking elements. You can put together a comprehensive notebook and include those Charlotte Mason methods we love! They also have copywork available for this lapbook too!

Below is a picture of my older son’s lapbook. 

There is a large variety of booklets.

There is a large variety of booklets.

 This lapbook is available from A Journey Through Learning in the following formats:

Instant Download for $13.00
CD for $14.00
Printed for $21.00
For more reviews of these lapbooks and others, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Reviews.

What is a StudyPod?

What is a StudyPod? Well, as part of the Homeschool Crew, my family received and has been using a nifty gizmo that holds books and papers so that you may read them at a comfortable angle and still have your hands free! These handy study devices come in three colors: black, blue, and pink. They hold books and papers up to 2.25″ thick. The StudyPod is about the size of a hardcover book when closed: 6.75″ x 9″ x 1.33″.


To use this study friend, you open it like a book, slide a small locking bar in place, and move the back leg behind it to support it into a standing position. When open, each side has a thin bar to hold papers or a book open. This allows you to view your material with free hands and without hunching over a table.

We have used our StudyPod to hold papers for copywork and spelling words, reading or referring to ebooks as we do our studies (those can be really bulky and awkward), and our workbooks when we want to write our answers on a separate sheet of paper instead of in the book. We have also propped our new study buddy on the kitchen counter as we followed recipes to prepare items for a 4-h bakeoff in our local fair. Using this device has also come in handy for one son when looking at directions for learning to play his guitar and for my older son to use to hold a textbook when taking outline notes.

The possibilities are limitless! The inside on one side of the StudyPod has a cargo pocket to hold some school supplies: bookmarks, pencils, pens, index cards. It’s big enough to hold a glue stick or a small pair of scissors too.


You can purchase the StudyPod for $19.95 or two or more for $16.95. As a reader of Homeschool Crew reviews, you can receive a discount by entering TOSBLOG5 when you place your order.

Read other Homeschool Crew reviews to look at more uses of this student’s new best friend.

Hands On Homeschool Blog Carnival

Along with our Charlotte Mason methods that we use in our studies, we love to do hands-on activities that tie into our topics. That’s why we really are more of an eclectic Charlotte Mason homeschool. We usually do activities that tie into a historical period that results in us coordinating our history with our science and the scientists of the time period with science experiments that were performed during those times. We also end up doing art projects or crafts that recreate items used or made during that time as well, so we study the artists and their artwork too.

I think you get the picture. Anyway, I am always checking out books from the library, purchasing activity books, or scanning the web for hands on activities to bring our studies alive! It’s so exciting to see my guys’ eyes light up as they are recreating items that people from hundreds of years ago created. It gets them into the spirit of the learning adventure – to the point where they start exchanging ideas of how they should dress up like people of those times, which leads to a piece of literature from that time period that they want to re-enact.

Why am I sharing this with you? Well, I encourage you to try to include at least one simple hands-on activity per week into your studies; even though it may be a simple science experiment to start out with. Or a bigger project you can break down into steps and work on over a few weeks. Your kids will be begging you to know when they will be able to perform the next step.

To give you an idea of what we have done, I’d like to share a list of somethings from the past couple of years:

  • science experiments at least weekly to demonstrate key scientific points or recreate a famous experiment or scientific concept from a scientist during our history studies.
  • paper mache masks similar to ones used in Greek comedies and tragedies as we studied ancient Greece.
  • papyrus from a kit from a science museum when studying ancient Egypt. (it was fun soaking the reeds and pounding them again and again til we got mush.)
  • mummifying an apple. (this was cheaper, quicker, and wasted fewer supplies to do this – and easier to compare the end results vs. a fresh apple set out on the counter turning brown. More obvious results than chicken bones)
  • the old salt dough relief map of the United States to show the physical characteristics and geography.
  • salt dough scarab and a replica of the Rosetta Stone complete with hieroglyphics etched with our own made stylus.
  • a life size teepee in our  backyard complete with long tree limbs found in the woods with an old sheet stained with tea bags in the washer. The kids then looked at symbols the native americans used in their writing and drew a story on the sides of the teepee with paint (after we discussed what the native americans would have used from nature to make their teepee and their paint.)
  • lots and lots of recipes from historical periods and feasts and more feasts with costumes and plays
  • a Lincoln’s log cabin made from craft sticks and painted.
  • our own Medieval alphabet books illuminated and sewn just like the monks would have done it.

Those are just some of the fun things we have done to bring our studies to life. What have you done? Please share your ideas with us! To help you get started in the new school year with more hands-on ideas check out the latest Hands-on Homeschool Blog carnival at Science of Relations. You are sure to find something you will like!

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Thank you to those who placed a comment about my blog in the contest!

Well, it’s late and I have to get up early to walk the dog in the morning – but I wanted to be sure to thank all of you who took the time and made the effort to go to http://homeschoolent.com/2009/09/the-readers-choice-award-2009/ to make a comment about my blog. Because of you and your gracious comments, I won the Reader’s Choice Award for the Homeschool Entrepeneur’s Summer blogging contest.

I feel grateful and blessed with the positive comments people left about this blog. I hope that my written meanderings have helped some people in their homeschool journey and hopefully will continue to do so. I know that the comments and feedback people leave for me in response to these blog posts have always given me a lift to my day!

Thanks again for your time and gracious words.

New Autumn Nature Study and More

Well, some of you asked for smaller units for nature studies and we did it! This is not just a nature study though. Just like our Nature Study Through the Year book, this nature study uses nature to introduce more formal scientific study topics and areas. So to use an old saying, “You can have your cake (Charlotte Mason style nature study) and eat it too (study more traditional science topics).

If you’re like me, you like the idea of bringing your kids out into nature, enjoying the current season and appreciating the little things in your surroundings. However, you might be concerned about covering science as an academic subject.

The new Autumn Nature Study and More has been taken out of our year long study and made into its own ebook for those of you who want to pick and choose which season you want to study at a time and wish to purchase something at a lower cost to you than our Nature Study Through the Year ebook.

This nature study has you observing the autumn season during the months of September, October, and November. There are several suggested topics to observe each month. Just like our larger ebook, this ebook includes:

  • suggested nature study books to use alongside our practical nature study suggestions
  • poetry about the topics of nature study
  • living book lists for each topic for each month
  • suggested activities to do during your nature walk or after the walk
  • questions to ask during the walk to help your child focus or discuss their observations about a topic you want to  study on your walk
  • scientific connections: topics of formal science subject areas – includes living book lists and activity or experiment ideas to extend your scientific study
  • nature journal pages to print and use to keep a nature journal
  • suggested book list for keeping nature journals and drawing from nature

For example, this nature study will ask you to observe, read about, discuss, and explore migration habits of birds and animals. That is your nature study topic for one month. (There are others to choose from as well, if you wish to do something different or do more than one topic for each month.) From the idea of migrating birds and animals, you extend your nature study into a formal scientific study into physical science with a study of the earth’s magnetic fields, then magnets and magnetism.

This nature study supplies you with what you need if you want to use the poetry for copywork (you can use the included nature journal pages and include the copywork in your nature journal), read about topics in nature, bunny trail ideas into formal scientific study, and links and suggestions for more research, activities, and experiments into topics in the fields of biology, physical science, and chemistry.

autumn nature study cover

Autumn Nature Study and More

Purchase now for $6.50

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We hope you will enjoy this nature and science study as much as we do! I am enjoying the crisp feel to the air and can’t wait for the rest of the fall season.

We have other nature studies that we have taken out of our year long study for the Winter season and the Spring season if you wish to purchase either of those now as well in our Cottage Store. They have everything the Autumn season nature study has, but different topics appropriate to each season.

Please let us know what you think! We are eager for feedback and want to hear what you would find helpful!

Happy Fall! 

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Charlotte Mason Homeschool Blog Carnival and Homeschool Blog Carnival

Sorry this is so late – getting back into full time school mode. You all know how that is. I encourage everyone to visit the following homeschool blogs for some great ideas from other homeschoolers to get your new school year off to a fun-filled start with new ideas. Here are the links: Jimmie’s Collage and The Homespun Life. Enjoy!

Getting You Ready – College Prep Genius

Do you find the idea of helping your child prepare for testing for college intimidating? Are you confused about the content on the newly revised SAT or whether or not your child should take an “educated guess” for those questions he might be unsure of the answer? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, join my club.

My family and I have been lucky enough to receive the College Prep Genius textbook and workbook set including the “Master the SAT Class” DVD set. If you have a teen and are wondering when and how you should begin preparing your child to take the SAT or PSAT, you may find this set is your solution.


I am introducing College Prep Genius here to give you an idea of what the program is about. A few weeks from now, I will relate to you how we used it as my son begins to cross the threshold into high school.

This program encourages parents to begin the SAT study and preparation process as early as ninth grade. It includes test taking strategies, acronyms for these strategies, checklists, and practice situations for all three areas of the SAT – critical reading, math, and writing.  There is even a section on scholarship searches and college interviews. The four DVD’s provide a 10 hour course to provide your child with the skills need to master the SAT or PSAT.

I look forward to delving into this program with my son and trying it first hand in order to share our experiences and thoughts. Until then, I thought I would share with you an article by the author of the program, Jean Burk. This article gives you an idea of the philosophy behind the program and I thought you would enjoy reading it.

“How Soon Should SAT Prep Start?”

Most students wait until they are in their junior or senior year before they start preparing for the SAT. After all, graduation and college are around the corner. Unfortunately, this can actually be a BIG mistake! The longer students wait to start preparing, the less time they have to improve. The SAT is too important to put off.  Scoring high on this test could mean both acceptance into the perfect college and the scholarships to pay for it.

The key to doing well on the SAT is learning the recurring patterns, hidden strategies and the test-taking techniques that are universally effective on every test. Then PRACTICING is the key. It’s one thing to have a toolbox, and another to know how to use the tools. As students continue to make practicing a priority, they will be able to answer questions faster and solve problems more accurately.

The SAT and PSAT/NMSQT are tests of logic and critical thinking. They are not IQ tests. This means they are not fact-based, content-intensive exams that require students to regurgitate what they learned in school. These tests must be approached with a logical foundation; otherwise when students attempt to tackle them like normal tests, they fail.  Even really smart students with high GPAs who take AP and honors classes bomb these tests! Test-makers design these tests to trick the “Average Joe” and reward the student with a critical eye. It’s all the more reason students need extra time to start preparing.

Ideally, ALL 9th graders should learn how to take the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT (7th grade if they are doing the DUKE TIP Letter or other talent searches). The PSAT/NMSQT qualifies students for scholarships during their junior year. It is created by the ETS (The same division of The College Board that writes the SAT). The two tests are almost identical, so as students study for the PSAT/NMSQT, in turn they will be preparing for the SAT.

Don’t worry if your student doesn’t have “all” the math down.  The mere fact that they are learning how to take the test is the most important factor. The math will eventually come, so in the meantime they can be working on the others sections: Critical Reading and Writing. It is like a marathon– no one starts out running 26 miles the first day. Runners start out slow and build up to the entire distance. In the same manner, students need only spend about 30 minutes to an hour a week as a ninth grader on these tests. Eventually they will build up to more hours and then full-length tests.

Keep in mind there is a wrong way and a right way to practice for the SAT and PSAT/NMSQT. Start by learning to find the recurring patterns on the test, and then continue by practicing using only materials from the test-makers themselves (The College Board).  Then, as students practice, it is imperative that they go back over the questions they miss and identify their weaknesses and common mistakes so they can avoid these bad habits in the future.

Any coach will tell you that concentrated energy and numerous hours of practice is the only way to improve at a sport. The same approach applies to the SAT. Incorporating quality study patterns on a daily basis can give students the skills they need to succeed.

By making the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT a priority in the early high school years, students can  avoid cramming at the last minute on a test that has very little to do with content. Learning the logical approach to test-taking as soon as possible is the key to doing well. An early start to test preparation will lessen text anxiety and put time back on the side of the student.

This article is the work of author, Jean Burk. It is the property of Maven of Memory Publishing, and may be reproduced according to the following terms.

If you would like to read more of Ms. Burk’s articles, you can find them here.

Stay tuned for next month’s review of our experiences with College Prep Genius.

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Homeschooling Teens and the Socialization Factor

I’m hoping to write this post so that others will post comments and ideas about helping to fill your teens’ needs for socialization while homeschooling them. They (not quite sure who “they” really are) say that the teen years are when they start to really crave and need more socialization and search for independence so that when it is time to leave the nest they are ready. I know I have one son who is more extroverted than the other and is happiest when he has had the opportunity to be out and about. That child feels the need to be verbalizing and interacting and do it with fresh faces (as the family members can wilt sometimes if they are the ones mostly interacting with the extroverted child.) The parents and the child do need a break, where the parents can have some time alone and the child can interact with fresh faces.

I want my children to grow to be well-rounded, independent thinkers, self-sufficient and confident. I homeschool them to raise them to walk with the Lord, offer the best education I can, and to raise a loving close-knit family focused on more intangible priorities you won’t see advertised most times in the media.

I feel homeschooling offers parents the opportunity to get to know the kids and families your teen socializes with. But, at the same time, depending on where you live, it can be challenging finding situations, other teens, and activities where your teens can meet and socialize with others. What I want to accomplish with this post is an exchange of ideas and thoughts that may benefit those of us who are embarking, in the midst, or ending homeschooling teens.

Things that I am working on doing in the rural area in which I live are making connections with groups within my area to find out what is already up and running to help teens meet and greet others. Not easy if you live in an area with a small population and alot of homeschoolers complete their education going to a local public or private high school. I want to bring my son to activities and events with other teens that meet rather consistently so that he can spend time with and get to know the same people and develop friendships without me having to drive over an hour each way once a week for each activity. Then, there is the issue of whether younger siblings are allowed to accompany you to the event because you have to stay while your teen mixes and mingles. If your husband or a sitter is not available to stay home with the younger sibling, you have a problem.

Another type of event to get your teen out, socializing, and yet pull in character building is to consider some kind of volunteer work. Is there a local food bank where your teen can stock shelves or fill boxes with other volunteers? A local senior activity center or a soup kitchen? Here’s an opportunity that gives teens an opportunity to do some good, learn skills, and focus outward toward others (instead of teens’ tendencies to worry about their world).

Some suggested teen opportunities that we’ve experienced are boyscouts, 4-h, church youth-group, monthly teen night activity group, teen night at a local planetarium, a monthly book discussion group or classes. Some areas maybe lucky enough to have debate clubs, organized sports teams, bands, theatre or dance groups. We have tried assorted sports and other groups where there were teens, but no other homeschoolers and the environments were mixed results. For us, it was easier to meld into groups where there were other homeschoolers that understood more about homeschooling and we held similar house rules. There have been a number of times where my kids got tired of explaining why they were not allowed to do different things or watch or play certain games and then were looked down on or told they were being sheltered.

It was a good learning experience and reaffirming to know that my kids can tell others, “This is the way we do things. I respect you following your family’s way of doing things, I expect you to show the same respect.” When this didn’t work and the kids persist in arguing with my children that there is nothing wrong with doing “so and so” and you need to convince your parents that you are old enough now to make these decisions on your own and you can handle it – my children have decided that perhaps this friendship may have too many differences that make it beneficial for everyone.

So, mingling with others can be a character building experience toward independence by strenghtening their ability to stand up to peer pressure. Do I want them to do this in the environment for 7-9 hours a day at the local public school where it would probably be an onslaught? Probably not. But in manageable doses without the constant pressure, it can be positive. I feel like I’m still giving my child the time, opportunities, and space to figure out who he is without negative pressure from other children who are still figuring out who they are.

What about one of the latest trends that wasn’t around when I was a teen? Sure, we had the phone and my parents always gave me a 15 minute limit (which in my eyes was ridiculous, because how can you possibly have a conversation about anything in just 15 minutes). Nowadays, we have the internet. That brings a whole new avenue to socializing. There is email, chat groups, online games, and classes. How much time is too much time developing friendships in this manner? Is it good at all? Does it take away from a teen’s ability to develop social skills you need when spending time with others face to face? Does it give teens the feeling that they can say things or act in a way that they would find uncomfortable or even wrong if they were physically present with the person?

Share your thoughts about this latest trend, please. I would enjoy hearing from others how you’ve used the latest technology to benefit your teens. Also please share any ideas of teen social opportunities that have worked for you. Have you started a group so that your teen can socialize or share a particular interest with others?

Thanks for your input!

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