Top Homeschool Picks from Cathy Duffy

I remember when my oldest daughter was little and I let her “choose” her clothes. Oh my! It could take HOURS! I love having choices, and giving my kids choices, but when it comes to homeschool curriculum I want input! I want to hear from the “experts” and those who’ve already used what I’m looking at. It can be confusing with all the options out there. I’d like to encourage you to ask questions of other homeschoolers when you’re looking for that right choice. And if you need a great go-to guide – check out Cathy Duffy’s 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

Cathy Duffy is the know-all when it comes to homeschool curriculum. She has reviewed hundreds of homeschool curricula to help educators like me make an educated decision when shopping for homeschool curriculum. So as soon as I see a product has been approved by Cathy Duffy, I am more likely to trust it. Here’s a handful of Cathy-approved educational picks available at I hope these double-recommended educational resources will relieve you from endless hours of shopping around for the best (and most cost-effective) homeschool resources.

Elementary Math & Science

Life of Fred Elementary Math

math books

If you haven’t heard of Life of Fred, you’re in for a real treat. Dr. Stanley F Schmitt is a math teacher who developed story-based math learning series that has taken homeschooling by storm! Forget rote learning that doesn’t resonate: learners follow the Fred and his pals through life and learn math concepts along the way. Kids sometimes don’t even know they’re learning math until they’re told!

Each book has a topic, like Apples, Butterflies, and Cats. I recommend supplementing math learning with science of social studies of the same topic!



Giant Butterly Gardengiant-butterfly-garden-lr2295-1460412033.0649.1481

This ties in with the second Life of Fred book so well! With the set little ones can learn about (and experience!) the miracles of metamorphosis. Available at Educents for $35.99.


Elementary Reading & Writing



I can’t say enough for story-based learning. It’s one of the oldest ways we’ve learned from each other – starting with fables that teach us to be good to one another.

Grammaropolis is a great tool for K-3rd grade learners on their quest for perfect English grammar, which isn’t always straight forward! This set comes with animated shorts, music videos, books and quizzes, so you’ve got a lot of learning styles covered.

Price: $40, down from $50



Middle School Math

Life of Fred Intro to Algebra


I really can’t say enough about the Life of Fred series! Kids learning algebra and beyond will enjoy the stories and learn the concepts through holistic learning. If your learner is new to Fred but at a more advanced level, it has been recommended that they start from the beginning. That said, re-learning a few known concepts in the Life of Fred framework will help them get up to speed with story and succeed with the series.

Price: $34.08 down from $38 at Educents.


Life of Fred Financial Choices


As your kiddos get older you may also like to instill strong financial decision making. The Life of Fred Financial Choices book is a great intro. And if we’re being honest, there’s never a bad time time for parents to brush up on this!

Price: $15.99 down from $19.99


Middle School Social Studies

myWorld Social Studies


Comprehensive comprehension: this world history and social studies packet is an excellent kick off to middle school studies. Created for 6th graders, this set lays the groundwork for students to become active citizens by learning about US history and politics, and encouraging learners to understand real ways they can participate, and how it matters.

The package also includes a teacher’s guide for every chapter, lesson plans, audio podcasts on each subject, and editable tests with answer keys: it really sets everyone up for success!

Price: $72.47


Science for the Family

Magic School Bus Nature Bundle


Summer is a great time to get the whole family involved with experiments to foster learning and family bonding!

This set comes with four science kits at $16 (a $35 savings) with topics covered:

  • Weather – learn about rainbows, tornadoes, the greenhouse effect and more.
  • Going Green – learn about recycling, compost, and making new paper out of old!
  • Solar Energy – watch solar energy inflate balloons and spin a top
  • Wonders of Nature – build and ant hill, dissolve an egg shell, do an animal tracks exercise

Price: $63 down from $100

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Top 5 Summer Learning Picks!

My Top 5 Summer Learning Picks from Educents!

(plus a few ideas for Father’s Day)

This is the perfect time to start your kids’ summer learning! And, this weekend Educents is hosting a Summer Stock Up Sale with Free Shipping on orders over $25 with code SUNSHINE. Read on for my Top 5 Picks – including Magic School Bus and Hooked on Phonics – to make the most of the sale and summer. You can make summer learning fun!

Magic School Bus


This is a 12-month subscription to science experiments delivered by Ms. Frizzle – I approve! It’s such a great way to get the kiddos excited about learning and the monthly delivery is a great surprise!

Since the whole family can enjoy this, and it lasts the whole year, it’s my first pick as a Father’s Day gift. Who wants a tie when you can do science together?!

Price: $119 down from $240 plus Free Shipping with code SUNSHINE through Monday


Hooked on Phonics


This award winning series has taught thousands of little ones to read because it breaks learning to read down to a manageable undertaking while engaging your little one. In the words of American author, Mark Twain:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”

The Hooked on Phonics Pre-K-2 program does just that so your kiddos can get ahead and learn the wonders of literature!

Great for beginners.

Price: $129 down from $299 plus Free Shipping with code SUNSHINE through Monday


eMedia Play Piano Pack Deluxe

Did you ever play piano? I never made it to rock stardom but am so glad that I started learning the foundation of music with the piano. It has such a full range, and has been part of myriad musical traditions, from Beethoven to Diana Krall.

This award winning package is a great starter kit for your kiddo’s summer learning. Let’s face it: they’re going to need some variety, and what better a way to add music to their lives than with this complete kit and instruction from renowned Juliard teachers?

It comes with a bunch of multimedia tools, and a song list that includes writers like Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, and Elton John. Perfect for summer and beyond!

Great for learners age 8+

Price: $199 down from $299 plus Free Shipping with code SUNSHINE through Monday


Zone Cleaning

zone cleaning 2

Here’s another pick for Father’s Day!

But in all seriousness, this is a great tool to empower kids to learn to clean and clean well, so nobody needs to swoop in afterward. During summer, my mother always said if we were bored, we had two options: math work books, or CLEANING. Both are important! Since summer has less structured time, this is a great tool to get started on the spick-and-span house we’ve all been dreaming of. And the kiddos actually like it!

Excellent for ALL ages.

Price: $19.95 down from $24.95 plus Free Shipping with code SUNSHINE through Monday (orders over $25)


Learn to Code with Minecraft


Coding certainly seems to be a buzzword these days, but it’s definitely more than that. As our world becomes more digitized, understanding the principals of writing computer scripts is becoming more and more important (and a touch more in our kiddos’ generation!). Learning to code with Minecraft makes learning this hard skill fin! Once complete, your kids will have a sense of accomplishment – what they create is completely unique, and shareable. I really like this tool – it creates an opportunity to build a foundational confidence with computing that will serve a lifetime.

Since this is a year long course that builds a longterm confidence, it’s worth an investment.

Great for ages 8-14

Price: $149.99 down from $249.99 plus Free Shipping with code SUNSHINE through Monday

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How to Throw an Awesome Summer Party!

Summer Party

Any great summer party needs 3 things: food, fun, and friends! I’ve rounded up some awesome ideas for food and fun – you just supply the friends!

Summer Party Drinks & Food


Non-alcoholic Pineapple Mojito (What WhatU Eat) are a yummy start to a party. Light, refreshing, and family friendly!


Watermelon Lemonade (DrinkedIn) is a sweeter drink, and maybe a touch less “puckery” than the Pineapple Mojito! Kids and adults will enjoy this non-alcoholic beverage.

sweet tea

My daughter recently found this amazing sweet tea recipe – you add baking soda to cut the bitterness! Perfect Southern Sweet Ice Tea (Love Bakes Good Cakes).

flag dessert

This Easy Flag Fruit Dessert (Family Fresh Meals) is patriotic, sweet, and good for you!

buffalo chicken

Buffalo Chicken Tortilla Pinwheels (Home Cooking Memories) make great finger food!


Every celebration needs smokies! Bacon Wrapped Smokies (Clarks Condensed)!

Summer Party Fun

bbq invites

Free, printable BBQ Invites (Confetti & Bliss).

sponge bombs

Learn to Make Sponge Bombs (Inner Child Fun) and have a sponge bomb bucket toss!

tic tac toe

Tic Tac Toe Frisbee (U Create Crafts) and other life-sized outdoor games!

summer songs

You’ll need a great playlist! 12 Songs for a Carefree Summer (The (Reformed) Idealist Mom).



Shaving Cream Slide Fun (Growing a Jeweled Rose) looks like so much fun!!

Check out my Pinterest board Summer Fun for more party ideas, food, games, and decorations!

This post was linked-up at This is How We Roll, Coffee and Conversation, Oh My Heartsie Girl Friday Feature, Bloggers Spotlight, Pretty Pintastic Party, and Wonderful Wednesday Blog Hop. And, it was featured on Coffee & Conversation!



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What I Forgot to Remember

What I Forgot to Remember

Child #4 has graduated high school. Her graduation was last week. She’s an infant, she’s a toddler, she’s a preschooler, she’s in middle school, she’s in high school, she’s a senior, she’s graduated.

Then she leaves.

What I forgot to remember is how little she was, how she liked to be swaddled tightly and tucked up by my side for a nap, how she would play with her older brothers and sister, how she giggled and crinkled her nose, how she loved, how she learned.

She’s grown up now.

Well, not totally. I know that. But she’s old enough that when I say, “Be careful,” or “Be good,” she gives me ‘the look.’ The look that says, “I know mom, I’m not stupid.” No, she’s not stupid. She’s smarter than I’ve ever been, more beautiful inside and out than I could have imagined, kind, funny, silly, serious, gentle, loving.

I’ll miss her.

I’ve done this four times now. One more to go. Does it get easier? No. Do I still forget to remember? Every day.

What I forgot to remember is that when they’re little, they seem like they’ll never grow up. Those endless days of chalk and bubbles and books and story time and baths and sunscreen and shopping and giggles and squeals. Those non-stop days of bedtimes and bug bites and chickenpox and strep throat and dirty diapers and dirty clothes. Those, what seemed then, mind-numbing days of sameness and repetition.

But they grow up. And fast.

And I turn around and she buys her own clothes, has her own style, likes her own books and movies, giggles over what she thinks is funny, drives her own car, makes her bed, she even vacuums and puts dishes away.

It’s amazing that I forgot to remember – remember those little things, the things that don’t change and the things that do. As much as I loved my kids as babies, I adore them as adults. I’m proud of this girl/young woman, and so very thankful for the person she’s become.

My friend.

‘As soon as I saw you, I knew

an adventure was going to happen.’    ~ Winnie the Pooh

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Summer Learning Made Easy!

Summertime is awesome, but how about throwing some summer learning in the mix?! Keep the kids from “summer brain drain” and have fun too!

summer learning

Summer learning made easy!

Beginning Architecture

Mini Frank Lloyd Wrights of the world unite! This interactive, 3-part series provides the early fundamentals of structures, home design and even zoo design! The sky is the limit, and this series provides a strong foundation, putting the FUN in fundamentals with a truly engaging program. Summer is a perfect time to give this comprehensive online course a try – you’ll be grabbing marshmallows for camping, anyway. Why not do s’mores after you complete a project?


Zone Cleaning


Every season is a great time to teach your little ones, but the summertime is a special opportunity to learn about cleaning! Kids often have a little more time on their hands – and do a little more outdoor activity that brings in the dirt! Zone Cleaning comes with a DVD that explains cleaning step-by-step by room using visuals, and includes a dry erase flipbook with checkboxes for each task to be completed. Kids learn from professionals, and get a sense of accomplishment when they cross off their tasks.

Best of all, it teaches a more thorough approach to cleaning each zone, so the area doesn’t need extra attention afterward! Time well spent – and time saved for years to come!

Check out this blogger review for more insights: Zone Cleaning is What Every Mom Needs! Right now it’s 20% off. Stock up for summer!


Tegu On-The-Go Magnetic Blocks


These are the coolest! Remember geometric blocks from your own early school days? I used to have Haba brand and they’re no longer being made. But fear not! The Tegu blocks take the concept and run with it. These handcrafted geometric blocks have a beautiful color palette and more importantly – magnets! The possibilities are endless with hands-on play-learning about magnetic fields and chemistry while creating something unique. It comes with a handy carry pouch, too – perfect for road trips and easy-to-pack-up activities when you reach your destination to keep that summer learning going!

Right now they’re 20% off at Educents.


Peel, Play & Learn Solar System Wall Play Set

solar system

Summer star gazing has always been a favorite activity. With clear skies and warmer nights, kids can simply look up and discover the universe! This reusable wall decal set brings it all back to learning (and hands-on fun) – in turn making the sky a boundless source for wonder and education. I love that these are made of non-toxic, reusable fabric that can be easily cleaned. A discussion about constellations during the day leads to discovery in the evening and vice versa, creating a fun, virtuous cycle of activity and learning. The solar system mini-set is perfect for summer trips, and you can expand the knowledge at home with the larger set.

Both are on sale at Educents now.

Mini version is $13.99 down from $22.99.

The larger version is $19.99, down from $28.99



Peel & PlayMini USA


Summer time often means time on the road visiting relatives. I love the idea of incorporating learning about the states with all of this travel! This mini-set of non-toxic, BPA free decals of the United States is a great way to avoid brain drain and boredom with relevant learning. And since it’s small, you can pack it up during a road trip and prepare for a 4th of July Quiz! How about a timely treat for those who can name all the states? The beauty of this set is that it’s great for many aged learners.

The set can also be used as a tool to keep track of the states you and your little ones have visited so far, and learn about what’s to come with visual and hands-on activities.

On sale now at Educents, for $14.99 down from $21.99.



eMedia Guitar Beginner Pack for Kids

guitar for kids

Time to face the music – but in a good way! SUMMER is coming and kids tend to want to flex their creative muscles a bit more than the rest of the year. This quarter-sized guitar is a great fit to kick-off a lifelong love of music.

Designed to keep kids engaged and learning, the comprehensive set includes software with 60 guitar sessions that use videos, songs, and specialized interactive music games. Maybe my favorite part is that you don’t need to know guitar for your learner become a rock star – instead, animated Gary the Guitar will lead the way, and guitarist and instructor (with a PhD!) demonstrates the skills your little one will learn. Music to my ears.

The set is on sale now at Educents for $79.95 down from $119.95.


Summer Worksheets


Stave off summer brain drain with worksheets! This tried-and-true method is more creative with the Evan Moor set. There are tons of worksheets to choose from, with age-appropriate challenges in subjects ranging from math to creative writing. How about a summertime creative writing challenge? Or working up to a sought after summer toy with math sheets? These are great for summer learning during road trips and making sure that your little ones are building on learnings from previous months. I really like the “How to Write a Story” for grades 1-3. Step-by-step guidance and writing prompts like “retell a fairytale” make learning doable and inspired.

Worksheets range from $9.99 to $29.99. Check them out!

I’d love to hear what you do for summer learning! Structured or relaxed, what are your ideas and goals for this summer?

This post was shared on Titus 2 Tuesday, Hip Homeschool Hop, & Coffee and Conversation!


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Get Started Homeschooling!

Get Started Homeschooling

I don’t know why you’re thinking about homeschooling, or if you’ve already made the choice, but there are several important things you need to know. There are actually two sides to it – the “how to” (learning style/choosing curriculum and scope/sequence), and the “what to” (as in what you legally can and need to do). I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned in the eight years we’ve been homeschooling.

We didn’t start homeschooling until our 3rd son started middle school. I knew a little but not much. My sister had homeschooled for a number of years, and, at the time, we lived in the same town as HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association), so there were a lot of homeschoolers in our area.

Homeschooling How To’s:

Learning styles & choosing curriculum

Knowing your student’s learning style definitely helps in choosing curriculum. In Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum she explains learning style categories – Wiggly Willy, Perfect Paula, Competent Carl, and Sociable Sue. Each category has certain characteristics and their corresponding preferred methods of learning. My son was a Competent Carl (likes to be in control, logical/analytical, prefers to work alone) with a bit of Perfect Paula thrown in (likes structure and organization, wants to be “correct”). You know your child best, and you will recognize his unique traits as you read through the different categories. Your student will likely have several category traits, but usually one is more dominant.

Homeschooling Learning Styles

Copyright 2009 Cathy Duffy

Scope and Sequence

Scope and sequence are what your student will learn and when. For example, 7th grade math typically covers prime/composite numbers, square root, order of operations, absolute value, inequalities, numeration, rational numbers, etc. There are boxed curriculums that tell you exactly what to teach at each grade and specifics of what each course covers. Some examples include Bob Jones (, Abeka (, and Sonlight ( I use a variety of materials for different subjects, so I use their website or catalog for guidance.

Suggested sequences for middle school are:

Courses 6th grade 7th grade 8th grade
History World history Ancient history US History
Math Math 6 Math 7 or Pre-Algebra Pre-Algebra or Algebra 1
Science 6th grade science General Science Physical Science


English courses should include vocabulary, grammar, composition, and literature. Other possible courses are foreign language, art, computer application/keyboarding, health, PE, and other electives. As the parent/teacher, you can increase, or decrease, the difficulty level of the courses your student takes. Following a typical sequence, especially in math and science, will help keep your child on track for high school.

For more information on scope and sequence check out HSLDA’s webpage “Where do you start?” They have lots of information and links to books and other websites. I’m only familiar with the middle and high school track and wouldn’t want to give you incorrect information! A terrific guide to homeschool planning for late middle school through high school can be found on the HSLDA website:

Homeschooling What To’s:

According to HSLDA, you need to follow the state’s homeschooling laws of the state you live in (even if you’re a legal resident of another state). Homeschooling IS legal in all 50 states, but you must check with your state guidelines to find out what you need to do. Many states have different options. For example, in Tennessee, we use an “umbrella” school, but you can also register through the school board or use a Category III distance-learning school. See the HSLDA webpage about State Laws and click on your state for more information.

Knowing what is required by your state, and also what you need for your child, will give you the power to do what’s best for your family. Do you have any tips or suggestions about homeschooling? I’d love to hear them!

For more homeschooling information, click on my posts Why We Switched to a 4-Day Homeschool Week and 6 Best Places to Get Your Homeschool Curriculum.

And check out my Pinterest board Homeschooling Info & Ideas for more tips and information!

This post was linked-up at The Homeschool Nook, Hip Homeschool Hop, This is How We Roll Thursday, and Sitting Among Friends!



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Connect the Dots (Skin Cancer Awareness)

Skin Cancer Awareness

My step mom has had numerous bouts of skin cancer. In the last couple of years, she’s had her entire upper lip and end of her nose redone – removed and remade. She visits her dermatologist regularly and still has different things on her skin that have to be burned, biopsied, or removed. She is fair-skinned and red-haired and grew up in an age where sunscreen wasn’t considered, but baby oil and baking in the hot sun were the “in” thing. She’s the outdoorsy-type – always has been. But skin cancer has affected her life in huge ways.

Skin cancer awareness

Not only is May “Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month,” May 2nd is also Melanoma Monday.

There are 3 basic types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. Basal and squamous are non-melanoma skin cancers that usually respond to treatment and rarely spread. Melanoma is more aggressive and although only 2% of skin cancers are diagnosed as melanoma, it causes the most deaths from skin cancer.

Unexpected news

On Valentine’s Day, my daughter and son-in-law told us they were pregnant with our 2nd grandbaby. Yay! A few days later, my daughter saw her OB doctor who spotted an “odd” mole on her thigh. She was at the dermatologist the next day and within a week was told the biopsy came back as malignant melanoma. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I felt when I heard those words. I was speechless and in shock. She said, “Mom, they can remove it all tomorrow or in a few weeks.” I was getting ready to leave for a long weekend, but I told her, “Tell them you’ll be there tomorrow.”

Thank God her friend went with her; I was an emotional basket case at that point. Technically I understood it was stage one, but it was cancer. My baby had cancer. Not something any parent ever wants to hear.

The dermatologist got it all, and my daughter has quite the scar on her thigh, but it’s gone. All gone. Thank God! She will get regular checks from the dermatologist and has had a couple other places biopsied, all with no problems.

My decision

What I realized in all this was I needed to get myself in to get checked. Time to quite putting things off! The doctor visually scanned for anything strange looking, biopsied one mole (all clear!), and told me to check back yearly. We’re a “moley” family and sometimes those little spots need a second opinion to keep you healthy.

One thing that was really hard for me, and surprised me, was getting that head-to-toe check. I’m not particularly modest, but for some reason this was tough. Plus, my bra and panties were both black and polka dotted. Not matching, mind you, oh no! Totally different patterns. <sigh>

A, B, C, D of moles

Here are some things to look for when you’re checking moles (from Cancer Treatment Centers of America)

  • A is for Asymmetry: A mole that has an irregular shape, or two different looking halves.
  • B is for Border: Irregular, blurred, rough or notched edges may be signs of skin cancer.
  • C is for Color: Most moles are an even color – brown, black, tan or even pink – but changes in the shade or distribution of color throughout the mole can signal melanoma.
  • D is for Diameter: Moles larger than ¼ inch (6 mm, the size of a pencil eraser) across may be suspect, although some melanomas may be smaller than this.

Prevent sun damage

The Skin Cancer Foundation lists 9 specific skin cancer prevention guidelines:

  1. Seek the shade between 10am-4pm
  2. Do not burn
  3. Avoid tanning beds
  4. Cover up – long sleeves, broad-brimmed hat, and sunglasses
  5. Use sunscreen – broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen SPF 15 or higher. Use water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30+ for extended outdoor time
  6. Apply 1 ounce (2 TBSP) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before you go outside. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming/excessive sweating
  7. Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreen on babies over 6 months
  8. Examine your own skin every month – all over
  9. See your doctor yearly for a professional skin exam.

The National Cancer Institute has a great article, “How to Check Your Skin for Skin Cancer” that instructs you on how to do an all-over body check.

My advice

Anytime you have a sore that won’t heal, pigment or redness that spreads outside its border, itchiness or tenderness, or changes in texture (including oozing and bleeding) from a mole, get it checked. Questions or concerns? Get them checked. It’s easy and fast and so much better to find out sooner rather than later.

My last tip – A sense of humor helps when you get your yearly exam. So does matching underwear!

This post was linked up on Coffee and Conversation, Sitting Among Friends, This is How We Roll Thursday, Hip Homeschool Hop, and Titus 2 Tuesday!

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