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Top-Tier College Prep, AlphaPhonics, Ten Gift Ideas!

By Heather Idoni

Added Monday, November 27, 2006

The Homeschooler's Notebook
Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
Vol. 7 No 55 November 27, 2006
ISSN: 1536-2035
Copyright (c) 2006 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

Welcome to the Homeschooler's Notebook!

If you like this newsletter, please recommend it to a friend!




Notes from Heather
-- Ten Gift Ideas!
Helpful Tips
-- Letterboxing
Resource Reviews
-- AlphaPhonics
Reader Question
-- Top-Tier Colleges
Additional Notes
-- Sponsorship Info
-- Reprint Info
-- Subscriber Info

Notes from Heather

10 Creative and/or Useful Gift Ideas

If you are like me and DIDN'T camp-out in line for 3 days for
a Playstation III (not mentioning any names, but I do have some
crazy friends who did!), you may still be thinking about creative
and useful things you could give your children for Christmas.

Here are some ideas I thought of... something for every budget! :-)


1. LeapFrog Super Saver Teaching Bank - Oh, to be a kid again!
This would have been on my list. :-) From the product info: "Kids
set a personal saving goal and with every coin they drop into the
bank they hear the coin name, value, a fun fact and the total savings
amount. The goal meter on the animated LCD screen lights up as
they save their way toward their goal. They learn valuable lessons
about math, money and even early addition and subtraction." Here
is a link to the page where LeapFrog.com has it for sale for $17.99:


2. Design your own Lego set! -- If you have a creative and inventive
child, Lego now offers a customized set based on your OWN design!
Maybe Dad can design something special to surprise a son... or get
a 'design your own' gift certificate! Use this link to find out more:


3. Letterboxing -- How about putting together a starter kit for
letterboxing? All you need is a waterproof container, wood for hand-
carving a stamp, ink pad, some cardstock paper for making a logbook,
instructions printed from the internet, and maybe even some local
clues to get started! (See the links in this issue's 'Helpful Tip'
from a reader to learn all about letterboxing!)

4. Music! -- Season tickets to the local symphony orchestra make
GREAT gifts! My boys and I enjoyed attending the Flint Symphony
Orchestra all last year. If you have a group, you can usually get a
decent discount... and it's fun to sit with friends, so share the idea!

5. Knit or Crochet? Here is what I would include in this kit:
Lesson coupons from mom, grandma, or a friend, colorful yarns,
crochet hook or knitting needles, and patterns or instructions
printed off the internet.

6. Got snow? How about new sleds!! Each year our children get
big, colorful new sleds. We go for the cheap $10 version and give
them away to a thrift store or just throw them out in the spring.
It makes a nice, fairly cheap, BIG present and gets the boys out of
the house to play faster!

7. Feed the Birds -- What about a bird feeder kit? You can put
together a big box of peanut butter, seeds, fruit, nuts, popped
popcorn, etc. and some jars and string. They can build their own

8. Family Recipes -- This would be a delight for an older son or
daughter. Type up all your family recipes (invite grandparents and
other family members to contribute too!) and put them in a laminated
homemade album. If possible, include photos of the finished dishes!
You could have space for future photos and blank pages to add more
as time goes on, too.

9. Do you enjoy writing? Write and illustrate a story with your child
as the main character! This is especially fun for young children and
much better than the 'canned' type of personalized story you can
order because YOU created it especially for them. They will want
you to read it over and over! For more inspiration and ideas about
family writing, visit Jill Novak's wonderful "Gift of Family Writing"
site. Her book would make a very THOUGHTFUL gift for your favorite
homeschooling friend, too! http://www.giftoffamilywriting.com

10. Audio Stories -- When asked by the grandparents what to get
the kids for Christmas, why not suggest audio stories? If they want
to add a personal touch, they could even record stories themselves!

For some really great audio stories, you can visit BelovedBooks.com!
Audio books make great gifts because the whole family can listen,
enjoy, and share the story together... and I've gathered some of the
best-of-the-best together in my online store. :-)

For readers of the Homeschool Notebook *exclusively*, I have created
a very special coupon code. When completing your order, just
type in "NOTEBOOK" and you will receive 15% off your purchase
of Sugar Creek Gang audio stories or ANY product on my website!
Just go to: http://www.BelovedBooks.com

Thanks for reading!


One of our sponsors for this issue, HelpMe2Teach.com, just
wrote and let me know about a holiday special for you! Here is
how it works -- anyone who buys a one-year subscription between
now and and December 31st will get an additional 3 months free!
(This one may not be on your children's wish list... but how
about a treat for you?) http://www.HelpMe2Teach.com


Do you have comments to share? Please do!

Send your emails to: heather@familyclassroom.net



Helpful Tip


"I just found a neat new hobby that has some huge potential in
homeschooling. It can meet art, gym, reading, writing, poetry,
problem solving, creative thinking, research, people skills, math,
orienteering or compass skills and many more subjects I am
sure. It is called letterboxing. It involves following clues to a
location where you will find a waterproof box containing a log or
guest book and a hand carved or store bought stamp. Upon finding
the box you record being there with a short note and your signature
stamp and use the stamp that is there to record your visit in your
own log-book. The adventures can be short or long, straight forward
clues to mystery clues, drive by boxes and even extreme adventure
boxes. We only learned about this in late August and have been
having a ball with it! Our 'trail name' is Six Stars. To learn more
you can go to the sites below." -- Ruth in NH



Do you have an idea, experience, or tip to share? Please write!
Send to: HN-ideas@familyclassroom.net

Resource Review


To purchase visit: www.homeschoolingfromtheheart.com

"AlphaPhonics is a straight forward, no frills phonics program with
a no-frills price to match! This classic, proven method utilizes
short, easy-to-understand lessons that require very little teacher
preparation. The pages are designed to help the child focus on the
words and so provide no pictures to distract.

This is a step-by-step, intensive program consisting of 128 lessons.
A short teacher’s manual is included in the back of the book which
explains the program and gives tips for presenting the material in each
lesson. One of the things I like about this program is how quickly
reading confidence is built! The linguistic, word-family approach has
the child reading words from Lesson 1 and simple sentences by the
third lesson. Lessons typically take approximately 20 minutes. Some
of the word families contain 'nonsense' words, which at first I didn’t
like. As we continued to progress, I came to understand why those
words were included. Many of those 'nonsense' words will most likely be
encountered as syllables in longer words that the child will need to
decode as his reading progresses.

AlphaPhonics provides extensive word lists and practice sentences to
reinforce basic skills. The word lists and sentences can be used for
spelling and handwriting practice, so separate spelling or handwriting
programs are not necessary. Many children are ready to read before
they are ready to write. Writing is not required for the child to
progress with this program.

As with any phonics program, you should be sensitive to your child’s
readiness and take it slow and easy. Take time to review as needed
before moving on to the next lesson. If your child seems to reach a
plateau where he/she is just not 'getting it', then set the book aside
and take a break. Many children need time to assimilate what they’re
learning. For some, a few weeks off allows them time to mature and
for the proverbial 'light' to come on. :-)

This is a slightly abbreviated version of my original review. To read
the complete review go to the link below." -- Cindy Prechtel


[A note from Heather: A few years ago I had a copy of AlphaPhonics
in the house and one son picked it up and taught himself to read in
just 3 days! He only consulted his brother once in awhile for the
sound of each new letter. He learned to read basically on his own
-- he was about 7 1/2 years old at the time. Nothing fancy here, just
straightforward phonics -- and he was ready!]

Last Issue's Reader Question

"Is anyone aiming to send their child to an Ivy League school or
top-tier University? What are your thoughts on the best ways to
prepare? What do you think needs to be included in my curriculum?
Do you know of any resources that would be helpful? I wish I
could find 'Getting into Harvard for Dummies'. -- Monica

Our Readers' Responses

"My oldest son is a senior this year, and he has applied to Ivy
League and other top-tiered colleges (too soon to know though
whether he will be accepted). It was entirely his decision to
apply to these schools. We also just returned from visiting several.
He has actually received very positive feedback from many of these
schools. Here's what we've learned about the process.

Maintain a balance through the high school years between allowing
your child to do the things they love and doing college prep classes;
check a few college websites for their recommendations for 'required'
classes but then use that only as a guideline rather than locking into
it. The classes are important, but don't forgo doing something that
is important for your child for the sake of the colleges' recommended
class list. The same with grades; don't choose 'easy' classes for
good grades over challenging classes that interest your child but are
riskier grade-wise. The admissions offices are really quite astute,
can tell the difference, and you have ample opportunity on applications
and in essays to 'explain yourself' if needed.

Schools are interested in kids with a 'passion' rather than the well-
rounded kid who does everything (a change from when I applied to
college). This is actually an ideal fit for homeschoolers. Encourage
your child to explore and go in-depth with individual subjects, extra-
curriculars, or volunteer service. Avoid doing things just to look good
on the application; as mentioned above, the admissions offices can
really 'sniff' this out and it hurts rather than helps. They do want to
see some kind of community service, however. Even if this isn't a
'natural' for your child, find something that fits. For instance, for
my son, it is DJing at our small public radio station that depends upon
volunteer DJ's in order to stay on the air. He is not a 'go work at the
shelter' type kid, but this has grown into his favorite activity. So go
for the passion!

My son also attended summer programs and took some classes at
the local college and community college during his junior and senior
years, and these seemed to be very reassuring to admissions offices.
Once again, he did not take these for the sake of getting into college,
but because he wanted to and because they were of interest to him.
Check out the Duke Univeristy TiP program for some great summer
ones, and they also publish a book of summer opportunities. Many
of these programs offer financial assistance but you must apply early.

If your child does well with testing, certainly take the SAT or ACT (if
he or she does poorly on one of those, try the other; there are differ-
ences and some kids do better with one than the other). Take it at
least twice.

Take two to three of the subject tests. If the expense is an issue,
call your local high school guidance counselor and ask for a fee
waiver. Several top-tier schools have moved to not requiring these
tests, but even with those, it still gives an 'objective' bench mark for
them to look at. While using one of the test prep books (you can
check them out at most public libraries) in a rather relaxed manner
(take a practice test, look over the sections of your weak areas, get
a feel for the set-up of the questions and how they are scored) is
helpful, I would not recommend the test prep classes or a tutor.
Several colleges have begun the ask if you have done this, and I
believe it hurts an application (they know that if you prep enough,
you can achieve a 'false' high score). If your child is a horrid test
taker, seek out the schools that are 'test optional', and apply to
them instead and/or explain your case to the admissions counselor.

Take the PSAT in October of junior year (the only time it's offered),
and the others beginning in spring of the junior year. If you live in
a rural area, you may even need to take a subject test or two in the
fall of junior year since they are scheduled with less frequency.

If you live in a rural or impoverished area, make sure this is in the
application. These schools try to build a well-rounded class each
year, and they have fewer good students apply from these areas.
If your income is below $80K, look into Questbridge.org; they act
as a scholarship clearninghouse for many of these schools.

You will occasionally run into a school that is not 'interested' in
homeschooled students (one of which is my husband's alma mater,
much to our surprise). You must decide then whether to fight that
battle or figure it is their loss. Do not get discouraged by it. Most
colleges recognize the advantages that homeschoolers bring to
their classes and student body and are quite open and encouraging.

If you are at all able to visit the colleges of interest, I highly
encourage it. I was a bit skeptical of the value but my son really
wanted to do so. We did, and it made a huge difference in his ranking
the schools he was interested in. You are looking for schools that are
a 'good fit' with your child, not the school with the best stats,
status, or whatever. Actually being on campus, talking with the student
tour guides and with professors, eating in the dining hall, looking at
the bulletin boards -- it all adds up to a feeling of 'fit' or not. It
doesn't matter how good the school is if your child is out of place
somehow and is not happy there. In our visit we found several schools
that were extremely good fits (not the ones we expected though) and even
one that was horrid! But all were excellent schools.

You must emphasize over and over to yourself and your child, 'Do
your best'. That is *all* that you can do. The books and admissions
offices that are honest will tell you that for these top-tier schools,
if you meet their minimum requirements, that after that, it is all a
'crap shoot'. Everyone who is applying is 'just as good'. There simply
is no way to guarantee admission to any of these schools, no 'magic
bullet' or secret recipe. It either happens or it doesn't. Remember
this over and over, and don't spoil your child's entire high school
education and experience over simply trying to get into one of these
schools; the sacrifice is not worth it. Remember, once you've done
your best, there's nothing more that can be done. The process is a
good one though for learning to not 'second guess' yourself! Keeping
the crap shoot in mind, though, prepare a list of mid-tier colleges to
apply to as well, at least 2-3 of them, and even 1-2 'sure bets'. Apply
to these as well.

Finally a brief story. My son made a point of meeting with professors
in his area of interest to find out more about their programs. Over
the course of talking with one, he had mentioned several things he had
done over the years -- DJing, traveling to Turkey on an ancient history
tour (that he designed), taking archaeology classes with the state
historical society, studying computers at the community college,
summers taking debate or Greek or the science of science fiction,
playing in a church band. At one point he said she interrupted him
and asked, '*Where* do you go to school?!'

Think about it. Public and private school kids just do not have the
time and flexibility to do the things that our children do. Work with
that strength for applying to these colleges (or any college for that
matter), don't get caught up in the hype surrounding college admis-
sions, and your child's chances of attending a college of 'good fit'
will be very high." -- Babette R.


"First, read 'What About College' by Cafi Cohen and 'Homeschooling
for Excellence'. When that makes you feel like a totally inept home-
schooling parent (really!), contact the admissions office of any
school(s) that interest you and find out what their objective and sub-
jective admissions criteria are. Don't know how old your kids are,
but over the long haul, more schools will become friendlier to home-
schoolers. If your kids are involved in extracurriculars, test well,
and are accomplished learners, their odds are as good as anyone's at
getting into such schools. However, I question the necessity of such
education. If your motivation is purely educational, there are many
other schools where your children will excel. If you are looking for
'reputation', it might be a very expensive way to gain that. Also, be
sure to stay on track with your SAT and ACT testing." -- J.D. in MO


"My oldest is a yearling (sophomore) at the United States Military
Academy, West Point, NY. While both sides of the family have a
history in serving in the military, we had not realized how 'top tier'
the military academies were as far as educational excellence until
pursuing that option with our son.

Anyway, I have several suggestions based on both our experience
with our son's admission as well as how he has done academically
since admission. (Of course, this is most pertinent if your child is
pursuing maths/sciences studies but can apply to any liberal arts

-- Make sure this is the child's desire/calling and not the parents'.
I've been shocked by the passion of the parents and the corres-
ponding passivity of the student in several instances.

-- Extensive reading of classic literature with an ability to both
discuss orally as well as write fluently needs to be developed.
This only comes with practice. If you do not feel comfortable
in these areas, I'd recommend Teaching the Classics and
Institute for Excellence in Writing as curricula.

-- Thinking skills as well as formal logic have been extremely helpful.

-- Speech and debate skills have been helpful.

-- Solid math skills as far as calculus, not just pre-calc, have stood
him in good stead.

-- Science, preferably AP level in fields related to future study. I'll
step on a sacred cow here but Apologia was poor preparation for
the level of sciences that my son stepped into at West Point. We
have chosen to go a different direction with subsequent children
as a result, but I don't have a good recommendation at this time.

-- Keyboarding speed, computer programming knowledge have both
been extremely helpful.

Have the entrance requirements for several of your choices in univer-
sities laid out in front of you as early as possible to guide your

If your child need extra help in a subject area, get help right away.

Have your child attempt both the ACT and SAT tests; whichever test-
ing format 'suits' him better is the test to focus on since both tests
are pretty much accepted by almost all universities.

Do a web search on college entrance coaches. Several have web-
sites from which you can glean helpful information for free.

Above all, don't fret. The right doors will open at the right time in
the right place." -- Elise in MS


"I think the best place to start would be the college(s) you are
interested in. Find out what their admission requirements are and
if there are specific guidelines for homeschoolers. I found a 'College
Bound Reading Lists' book at a library used book sale and am using
it as a 'jumping off point' for my 9th-grade son's high school reading
materials. We've also looked into general requirements and home-
school-specific requirements for one of the schools he's interested
in." -- Sherry A.

Answer our NEW Question

"I don't know if any of you have experienced this, but over the last
few years my husband and I have experienced some financial set-
backs. We have also been very blessed, too. We live off one income,
and though we have about $20K in debt outside our mortgage, we
never lack for anything. My husband and I feel very committed to
homeschooling, and so far, it has worked very, very well for our family
in many different aspects. My question is, has anyone ever felt
tempted to quit homeschooling for financial reasons, despite it
working well? At what point, from a purely financial practicality
standpoint, do we decide that homeschooling is over? Sometimes
I feel like I'm being selfish wanting to keep homeschooling, when the
financial pressure gets hot, and yet my husband is more committed
than I am to it! I'd love to hear some perspective!" -- Jill


Do you have some perspective for Sue?

Please send your answer to: HN-answers@familyclassroom.net


Do you have a question you would like our readers to answer?

Send it to HN-questions@familyclassroom.net and we'll see
if we can help you out in a future issue!


There are opportunities for you to be a sponsor of this
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as the subject. We'll send you some information on how to
become a part of this ministry!


All contributed articles are printed with the author's prior
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