Don't you love it when you find a tool that you can use for more than one purpose, or a purchase that you use over and over and really get your money's worth? Here are a few items that I believe have (or definitely will) be worth the money I spent on them because of the usefulness or enjoyment that we get from them.
1. Audible is the number-one purchase I have made for homeschooling. My kids and I love literature, and while I read out loud to them a lot, they read to themselves, there is always more to cover. We all absolutely love Audible. We can find almost any book we want to read, read by a fabulous narrator, and we get to enjoy it together. Maybe I'm just a big kid, but I still love listening to a story. I would much rather do that than watch t.v. I have also used audible for myself on a number of occasions and have "read" some of my favorite books this way. For instance, I read The Help and loved that book so much that I wanted to read it again, but took a different slant and listened to it on Audible instead. The performances by the readers of this book were phenomenal! I enjoyed it even more than I did reading it myself. Another book I couldn't stop listening to was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. My family couldn't talk to me for a few days and my ears hurt from the ear buds, but my house was very clean that week.
The kids and I look forward to lunch time every day because that is our literature hour. I prepare lunch and they turn on the iPod (stationed at a dock in the kitchen) and we listen. so far we have covered Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Tom Sawyer, Around the World in 80 days, The Swiss Family Robinson, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, all of Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby series and the Henry Huggins series (fun for the summer!) and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
My next favorite thing involves my favorite thing to do--write! Writing is one of those disciplines that I believe people THINK they
understand, but in actuality, they don't. Most of us who were raised in
the '80s were deprived of excellent writing instruction, and many just
fell through the cracks, and this crisis persists even now. I remember thinking that I had aced English in
high school, and was shocked and horrified to have my first freshman
level composition returned to me, covered in red, with a recommendation
that I seek assistance at the writing center. While I believe that I have overcome these initial shortcomings in my ability to write, somewhere down the line my writing instruction fell short. Therefore, I willingly submit to the expertise of someone who is a proven student, writer, teacher, and home educator to avoid the formation of those holes in the education of my children.
2. Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer and her lectures entitled A Plan for Teaching Writing: Taken alone, Writing With Ease (WWE) is one of the best writing curricula out there. Combined with the lectures she has given, it is phenomenal. I have listened to the lectures numerous times--at least two or three times per school year. Bauer is a professor at William and Mary, she has multiple degrees to her name, she was classically homeschooled in an era when this was unheard of, and she herself has homeschooled her four children. There is an excellence about everything that she writes and every lecture she gives. If I understand "The Plan" and am willing to admit that this lady has some sense, I truly believe that my children will turn out to be competent, and perhaps even excellent writers.
5. If we're on the subject of Susan Wise Bauer, then my next favorite thing (which should probably be listed as my #1 favorite homeschooling tool--ever!) is her book The Well-Trained Mind. Don't use it as a formula, but as a guide book, road map, general reference, sanity-finder, talk-me-down-off-that-ledgerator. Quite simply, don't leave home school without it.
4. Map Trek : There are two things for which I am constantly in search. One is the perfect vacuum cleaner, and the other is the perfect collection of maps. I have not found the perfect vacuum, but Map Trek maps are the closest thing I have found to the perfect collection of maps. They are relevant, clear, and can be printed out on 8 1/2 x 11 paper. There are maps for just about every topic in history that one could cover, and there is a student's version and a teacher's version. Perfect! The one shortcoming that they have is that the tiny details that may be found on some maps may not be present on these, so if you are looking to study physical features or mountain ranges in detail this would not be the right choice. These are intended to go along with the study of history. For example, when we were studying how the plague ravaged Europe in the middle ages, there was a map showing what areas were most affected and in what years. There are many other maps illustrating various other concepts. It is an ideal companion to the study of history, and can be dowloaded in a minute! For $47.00, you can own every map you would need to study history from Ancient times right up to the current war in Afghanistan.
5. Notebooks for Apologia Science: I'm finding that I really don't have to do things the hard way in order to be a good teacher. I don't have to create every worksheet and lap book from scratch! I have wondered for a while if the notebook companions to the Apologia textbooks were worth the money, and finally this year I purchased them to accompany our Anatomy and Physiology book. We have only worked on the first lesson of the book, but in so doing I am figuratively smacking myself on the forehead saying, "This is GREAT! WHY didn't I use these before!?" There are two levels, one for my younger student and one for my older. The notebooks include diagram exercises, study questions, vocabulary exercises, writing exercises, and copy work. You could choose to do all of it or just the pages that benefit your child most.
6. Sticky backed 8 1/2 x 11 sheets: I am so glad we discovered this! My kids love to print photos off from the internet to illustrate notebooks, timelines and lap books. Sticky-back paper means all we have to do is cut out the picture, peel and stick. While I don't mind glue sticks or glue to do this same job, there is a certain "cool" factor that this holds for the kids, since they have made their own stickers. They save time too, and that holds a certain "cool" factor for me.
So far this school year these are my favorite things. I'm sure I'll add to the list as time goes on, but it's early yet! Happy learning!