Back to (home)School

As I prepare for to homeschool my 5, 7, and 9 year old, I am compiling free/reasonably priced resources and supplements. 

Here’s my list for reading. 

Book it:

Description: BOOK IT! motivates children to read by rewarding their reading accomplishments with praise, recognition and pizza. The program is simple, flexible, fun and free to use in your classroom! BOOK IT! was created in 1984 and currently reaches more than 14 million students and 37,000 PreK-6 grade schools annually.- Book It site

Cost: Free! 

Benefits: Rewards students to tracking reading over sustained periods of time. (and free pizza!)

Scholastic Magazines

Description: Captivate students with personal copies of every magazine issue, packed with authentic texts that build knowledge, skills and engagement all school year.

Cost: Costs will vary based on the magazines you select for your child. There are homeschool prices available- to find these you have to call customer service @ 1800-724-6527. I spent $65 on a total of 8 magazine subscriptions for my three homeschool children. That’s less than $10 on average for a year-long subscription! 

Benefits: A subscription offers monthly news that is written at a level intended for your child. In addition, you can purchase Science Spin for only $1. 

EPIC Books 

Description: EPIC is a digital library, and with the free version, your children can read one book a day. If your child wants access to more books, you can subscribe to EPIC Unlimited. 

Cost: EPIC’s basic plan is free. This is the plan I use, and my children have been happy with the selection offered. We pair this digital library with e-book offerings from our local library (also free), so my kids have lots of digital content at their fingertips. 

Benefits: I love that my kids can access texts that they choose. Since all books are digital, we don’t have to store them. This service provides e-books, but my girls read from EPIC using their Chromebooks, since they are formatted differently from a traditional e-book (like those found on Amazon or from your library). 

Snap Circuits Code Journey: Unboxing and Project One

I don’t think I have met a kid (old or young) that doesn’t love a robot. The thing is, robots and electronics projects can be intimidating- especially if your child has more expertise in this area than you do. Luckily, Snap Circuits come with a very comprehensive manual and easily decodable diagrams to build the circuits. 

We recently received a Snap Circuits Code Journey to try out as part of a promotion. This product is much like other Snap Circuits products since the pieces of the circuit easily snap together on a plastic grid.

One difference between Code Journey and other Snap Circuits is that the plastic grid, which usually stands alone as a place to mount the circuits, is attached to a rover. Another key difference is that Code Journey uses a bluetooth coding module, which connects to the free app on a phone or tablet (Android or Apple) and allows the user to control the rover from the app. Additionally, this product clearly translates code from the computer to the physical world through movement, lights, and sound. 

My kids snapped project one together in less than forty minutes, with a bit of parent help. The trickiest part of the diagram is that there are two numbers listed by some of the parts. The white number indicates how long the chosen part needs to be to fit the circuit. The black number indicates the order that the parts should be placed onto the board. In other words, if the part has a black 1 next to it, it should be mounted directly onto the board. Parts that have a black 2 next to them are part of the second layer of the circuit. This may sound complex, but the snapping feature demands a snap on the bottom and the top for the parts to click together, so it becomes self-evident when handling the parts. 

There are three ways to drive the rover: real-time control, BOT-code (TM), and BLOCKLY coding. The kids wanted to try driving the car first, using the drive modes to zip around our living room. Next, we  tried the BOT-code (TM). This interface allowed my son to drag and drop directions from the menu, and then delete, re-order, and add to them as he wished. He is only four, and figured out that changing the numbers changed the output, or how the rover behaved. He kept trying numbers, big and small, to see what would happen. 

We also took the time to label D1, D2, D3, D4 which control and correspond to the circuits on the board and move the rover. This allowed my son to decide which one he wanted to drag and drop based on where the rover was in the room. 

Labels D1, D2, D3, and D4 using sticky notes. 

Choice Boards

Choice boards are a motivating and engaging way to extend student learning. Students choose activities from a list of options generated by the teacher. When planned well, these choices can be done independently with little teacher guidance- which is great when the teacher is not accessible all the time (i.e. remote learning or homeschooling more than one child). 

I made a Choice Board Template for your use, which is available as a free download by following the link. 

Homeschool Reading Resources: Scholastic Magazines

Did you know that for about $13 a year, you can get your child a weekly* news magazine AND a monthly science magazine delivered to your home? 

Scholastic offers tons of magazine choices at

At first glance, it appears that these magazines must be purchased in 10 subscriptions or more. However, if you call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC and register as a homeschool family, you no longer have to meet the minimum subscription amount and can purchase the magazines by child. 

*Some grade level magazines come less frequently. 

Homeschooling in the Face of Remote Learning

Many are looking at homeschool options for their children and wondering if they can go it alone.

The purpose of this post is to move you from “I am not sure…” to “I think I can!” through a description of carefully chosen curricular materials that are relatively cheap, easy to follow, and the highest quality. 


Most homeschoolers proclaim the curriculum they’ve chosen is the best all around- for good reason- they chose it based on criteria they established: faith based, easy to follow, equipped with ready-to-use materials, etc.  As an instructional coach (who helps teachers learn about best teaching practices), a reading specialist, and a certified math teacher, the criteria I used to choose the curricula for my kids is different. I have chosen resources that effectively teach students how to meet learning standards in a classroom setting, and then modified these for at home use. 

Math: (K-8)


Description: Engage NY is the same curriculum as Eureka Math, which meets standards in Alignment and Usability according to EdReport’s metrics. These highly scripted lessons are complete with student and teacher resources that you can access as a PDF or in Word (in case you’d like to make modifications to suit your learner). 

See more here:

Cost: Free

Notes: Teacher and Student Resources are both available for free. Although the lesson plans are lengthy and scripted, they are mostly engaging (particularly K-5), and very rigorous. The largest cost here will be printing costs if you choose to print all resource items at home. 

Writing: (K-8)

Lucy Calkins and TCRWP Colleagues Units of Study

Description: Lucy Calkin’s is the writing guru in the world of Writer’s Workshop. These resources are completely scripted, so you don’t have to worry about what to say or how to plan a lesson. Additionally, all the mini-lessons are intended to be only 10-15 minutes, with lots of time to write. 

Cost: $200-$310 (per grade level)

I was able to find parts of these units online and buy them USED for a cost of about $100 for a whole year of learning. 

Notes: Lucy Calkin’s Units of Study take some time to prepare.  I recommend reading the lessons in their entirety and then making the anchor charts and copies to go with each lesson. I do my weekly planning on Sunday and then make the anchor chart for the day in the morning while my kids have breakfast and “get ready for school.” 

Reading: (K-8)

Lucy Calkins and TCRWP Colleagues Units of Study

Description and Full Disclosure: Lucy Calkin’s Units of Study: a workshop curriculum for reading, allows students to engage in lots of reading practice. This scripted program is much like the writing Units of Study, which is why it’s my choice for this list. Once the teacher learns to use and teach from one of the resources, the other becomes easier to use. Full Disclosure: I have only taught sample lessons from these units, as the School Districts I taught in did not utilize the curriculum when I was teaching. However, some of the highest performing districts in our area use the Units of Study with great results. 

Cost: $230-310 (per grade level) 

Notes: The Units of Study for Reading are newer, and less available for “Pre-owned” purchasing. More than anything, when teaching a child to read, you want the child to practice reading as much as possible. 

Other Notes: 

We used tons of other resources this Spring and Summer as we continue on our Homeschool Journey. I have purchased LOTS of books that my kids choose online and downloaded many resources for science and social science. I will continue to link to resources as we move forward and learn together. 

my mask making journey

Like many, I started making masks before they were suggested by the CDC. I provided these to home healthcare workers and others who needed to cover their allotted mask at work. 

The pattern I found was free and was made by a nurse for nurses. It can be found here:

I wanted to make high quality masks that could endure washing and sanitation, since they will be needed for the foreseeable future. The problem was that sewing the pattern took a…loooong time. 

So I invested some MORE time to make tools to make the job easier. These tools are worth sharing since they expedite the process and make life a little easier.

Although all the videos I made are helpful, this is the most popular, since you can take a 8.5 x 11″ piece of cardstock, a Cricut or Silhouette machine, and create a super useful tool that makes pleating masks super easy.

Visit here for the PDF version of the jig to print on cardstock and score to make folds.

Visit here for the svg file to use with a vinyl cutter. Be sure to scale the mask so it is 10 inches across the width of the mask.

Visit here to download a Silhouette Studio file to print right from your Silhouette.

Other videos about tools I’ve used can be seen below. Visit the youtube version to see links and comments.

Let me know if you have comments or feedback. Back to sewing. 

Compliments that Teach

This is one of my favorite things to write about because everyone loves a compliment! 

Teachers love their students. Students love compliments. So teachers should love compliments, right? 

I am not sure how many people use them to teach, but I have found them to be a powerful teaching tool. 

When I was reading How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, I found their work on giving compliments eye-opening. The authors explain that parents should describe the child’s work rather than assign value. So instead of, “Wow- that is really good!” a parent might say, “I see that you really included a lot of detail in your project.” 

They also suggest that one should highlight new learning with the compliment. For instance, when I read my 4 year olds writing, which is a string of non-related letters, I try to notice new letters in her work and tell her that I notice her new additions. 

In education, a teacher can notice what a student has done well and name it for them. 

“I saw you included dialogue in your story. Wow! That is just what writers do when they tell a story.” 


“You really took time to use all different colors on your project. Artists use colors in different ways, so I appreciate that you are trying different combinations in your work!” 

Effort is valued- effort and approximations are what take people to the next levels of learning. Learning involves compliments, but it doesn’t always have to include a perfect product. 

TPT- Makerspace Lesson 1

My first item is on Teachers Pay Teachers! I am super excited to help support teachers, so these resources will continue to be created and shared. 

Here is the link

Please let me know what you think! 

Improve your STEAM teaching with these 3 easy steps

Teachers need at least a little part of their day to be easy. Believe it or not, these three easy steps will not only make teaching a bit easier, but it will also increase student learning. 

  1. Be real: Too often, teachers decrease the work students have to do in an effort to save class time. But all that extra preparation takes time, often planning time. When students are responsible for all parts of making and learning, they learn important skills like project management, organization, and planning. Most importantly, the time saved could be used to do this next easy step. 
  2. Plan to teach skills: Teachers teach skills all the time: reading strategies, math processes, mnemonics. By teaching skills in a makerspace or STEAM classroom, teachers use their instructional time wisely, because most skills can be transferred to other content areas. I am not talking about cutting cardboard or applying glue. I am referring to skills like questioning, testing, iterating, clarifying, and empathizing. This list is a great place to start, and could be the focus of lessons for extended periods of time. Imagine teaching kids how to clarify wants, needs, project aims, and success criteria. All opportunities for refining the skill of clarifying. 
  3. Fail forward and in front: People learn through imitation. Ever watched a child learn at home? They do exactly what mom, dad, or big sis does- almost to a fault. When teachers admit they don’t know answers, or have never done something before, they demonstrate these brave learning behaviors for kids. When the teacher openly tries something new, kids watch and practice doing new, uncomfortable things too. 

Anchor Charts for Examining Systems

I wanted to share my adventures teaching K-2 grade students about systems at a homeschool cooperative.

Last week, students had the chance to look at simple systems: a pencil, marker, and crayon. We recorded observations to make the anchor chart you see below.

Each time students shared ideas with their partner, they laid down a poker chip to ensure equal participation. Then, I called on students at random to share what had been said in their duo.

Students really liked noticing patterns, which happened spontaneously and without prompting. I think maybe because all three drawings were crammed onto one poster board. 

Here is the design challenge I issued: Students took apart a pen and to make a new casing using design elements they observed on the pencil, marker, and pen.

The second anchor chart is for next week, to review the steps we took when examining systems.

Please leave your comments below.