November 1 , 2006

Dear Oklahoma Homeschool Subscribers,

This has been an extremely busy and exciting month. First, I had the privilege of teaching three seminars in Edmond, Oklahoma, for Ellen Latimer's OKHSMOMS-Info network. Ellen did a terrific job of sponsoring this seminar - Thanks Ellen! The food was great, the helpers were wonderful, and I enjoyed meeting all of you who attended!

Then, I went on my 36-year-delayed honeymoon with my wonderful hubbie, Bill. We took a 16-day, photo tour of the west including Amarillo, Albuquerque, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyons, Capitol Reef, Moab, and Arches National Park. The Utah portion of our trip was through Elderhostel. (If you are 55 and up, you must check out this wonderful travel resource.) We had a wonderful time and took over 1,000 photos! Here's a photo of Bill in the Grand Canyons (He's the tiny blue speck in the middle!):

On the trip home, we stopped in Vail, Colorado, and Dodge City, Kansas, where we took a few pictures also. So now, I'm back home trying to catch up on housework, volunteer work, and my writing projects. I hope you enjoy this issue of the OKHS e-newsletter.

Have a great November!

Cindy Downes

Oklahoma Homeschool Newsletter, November 2006


What's New on the Oklahoma Homeschool Website?

1. Updated! Civil War Unit. I added more resources to this unit. Includes general information, photos, lesson plans, crafts, recipes, music, art, books to read, videos to watch and more!

2. Added a few more composition projects also - listed below.

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Book Review:

1. Beyond Numbers by Katherine A. Loop. If you want to know what homeschool graduates are doing, just look at the number of books being published by them! Beyond Numbers, written by homeschool graduate Katherine Loop, is another one that I recommend.

Several years ago, I read a book called, Mathematics: Is God Silent? by James Nickel. It was so inspiring and informative that I began recommending it to everyone I could. However, it's not an easy read and most people just couldn't take the time to digest it. When I learned that Katherine had written a book which included a simplified version of a portion of Nickel's book, I was extremely anxious to read it.

She didn't disappoint me! Katherine's excellent book is easy to read. It will not only help you understand God's purpose for math and how math testifies of God, but it will also give you some practical suggestions for implementing what you learn into your homeschool program. In addition, she rates current math curriculums as to how well they present math in the context of God's Word and includes a sample idea notebook for using math in your daily lives. Congratulations, Katherine, on a job well done! For more information or to order, check her website at:

2. Ancient History Portfolio & Timeline by Barbara Shukin. When I first received this book, I looked at the blank pages and thought, "OK, so now what do I do with it?" Although there are some suggestions at the beginning of the book, my complaint was that for someone with no imagination or very little planning and research time, it is not enough. Thankfully, Barbara has now answered that question with a teacher's guide. The Ancient Portfolio & Timeline is a portfolio guide for history studies (Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance are now available. Modern History is coming.) Each page includes a place for maps, reports, drawings, and more. There is also a removeable timeline in the back of the book to keep track of what's going on in history, when.

Now, with the teacher's manual, Barbara supplies the "pictures" to put in the boxes and more detailed suggestions of what to write in the report boxes. This will definitely make the book more attractive to busy moms. I can now give this resource 5 stars! Barabara's portfolio & timeline books are recommended resources for those of you who like to do unit studies, especially for those of you with Visual/Read-Write learners. For more information or to order, check her website at:

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Teaching Without Textbooks - Teaching Composition

College admission officers from around the country unanimously agree that composition is one of the weakest areas for most college freshman. This includes homeschoolers as well. Why is this happening? The reasons are many but can include:

1. Composition is harder to teach. It’s much easier to teach grammar skills using workbooks.

2. Many teachers became English teachers because of their love of literature, not their love of writing.

3. Composition ability is difficult to assess. Grading papers is difficult and time consuming.

4. Composition is usually taught in isolation from other subjects; however, it takes too much time away from other subjects when taught as a separate course. Therefore it is neglected.

5. Composition, when taught, is usually taught in high school as practice for college writing only - usually expository essays and how to answer in examinations.

6. Little real world writing is taught - letters, resumes, creative, editorials, business writing, journalism, etc. because of lack of time.

The first thing I recommend homeschool parents to do is to establish goals for composition instruction, such as:

1. Acquire the writing skills to be able to communicate effectively in school, business, and personal applications.

2. Learn to give and take constructive criticism.

3. Learn how authors write and get published.

4. Seek God as to whether or not He has given the student a calling to write.

Next, plan a schedule that will give you time to focus on composition instruction. Many traditional English curriculums spend too much time on grammar (probably because it's much easier to correct thirty fill-in-the blank, multiple-choice worksheets than it is to correct thirty handwritten compositions) resulting in students who know everything about diagramming sentences, but develop very few skills in composition. As a homeschool parent; however, you can focus two or three days per week on composition lessons, using the compositions to reinforce grammar skills, and the other one or two days working on specific grammar instruction. The result will be that your child will not only learn proper grammar, but he will also develop excellent composition skills.

Here are some General Guidelines for Writing Instruction:

1. Prepare a list of writing projects the student will undertake and set deadlines. These are your short-term writing goals.

2. Have a purpose for each writing assignment. For example: if they need practice in transitions, have them spend a week or two just practicing using transitions in their writing.

3. Focus on only one or two new techniques per assignment (topic sentences, vivid verbs, idea starters, descriptive paragraph…) Don’t overwhelm them.

4. Have an audience for the writing assignment: portfolio, friend or relative, letter to editor, newspaper to family, publication, or contests.

5. Let them write about what they know or about what interests them.

6. Don’t punish kids for grammar skill deficiencies in composition class. Make composition lesson be composition lesson, grammar lesson be grammar lesson.

7. Allow them time to write - put it into your schedule. Spend more time in writing instruction than in grammar workbooks. You can teach grammar using their writing assignments and a good handbook. Have him write frequently by keeping a daily journal and integrate composition practice into other subjects.

8. Read books to them that are above their grade level to help them increase their vocabulary.

For more information on teaching composition, download my Composition Mini Workshop and see my website at: and

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FREE Forms:

1. Geology Composition Paper. In keeping with my vacation theme, here are two versions of composition paper with a geology theme. Thick lined paper (pdf document). Thin lined paper (pdf document).

2. Composition: Adding Detail Worksheet. Use this form to teach your children to write more detail in their sentences. I got this idea from Any Child Can Write by Harvey Weiner.

3. Dinosaur Composition Paper. Thick Lined Paper (pdf document) and Thin Lined Paper (pdf document)

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The Checklist & Multi-Level Teaching:

1. Geology Unit: Also in keeping with my vacation theme, try my free geology unit, recently updated with new materials and refreshed links.

2. Be sure to add what your children did for the geology unit to your copy of The Checklist!

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Internet Resources:

1. Zoo Guide. As a Christian, I get really tired of taking my granddaughter to the zoo and seeing all the evolution propaganda on everything we see. Well, I've found an answer! Answers in Genesis has published a Zoo Guide that you can take to the zoo with you as your very own "creation zoo tour guide!" Check it out at:

2. Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner. HSLDA has just added a new section to their website to help families with children having special needs ranging from attention deficit disorder to severe multiple handicaps. Lots of good information.

3. Learn a foreign language online for free! This BBC Language site offers a free language tutor to learn conversational Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portugese, Greek, and more. A fun way to learn a second language and very helpful if you plan to visit! Check it out at:

4. Do you want to know how to use primary sources? Included on this site is information for teachers as well as activities for students which includes information on what are primary sources, the different types of primary sources, how to analyze them, and a sample set for practice. The Historian's Sources:

5. The Biography Maker. I've put this in my newsletter before, but it's such a great resource, I wanted to put it in again for the newbies. This website teaches your student, step-by-step, how to write an excellent biography. Why not try it for Winston Churchill or someone else you are studying for a composition lesson this week?

6. In keeping with my vacation theme, here's a website on the geology of the Grand Canyon: . For a Christian perspective, check out this lesson plan from Answer from Creation: A great book on the subject is The Geology Book by John D. Morris.

7. Click and Learn. Submitted by Debbie Smith: "They have a special in the summer for homeschool families to sign up (I think its $50 a year). They have pre-build games lots of categories, plus you can build your own games and also make tests or quizzes, print off maps, etc. I have used it for over a year and it’s great. The creator of the site is very helpful when making games, questions, etc." (Note from Cindy: Homeschoolers are not required to teach according to Oklahoma PASS requirements so don't be alarmed to the references listed at this site.)

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"Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb." — Sir Winston Churchill

(for more info on Churchill, see:

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Oklahoma Resources:
cowboy with rope

1. New resources for Oklahoma History. I've added several new books to my recommended book list for Oklahoma history including Color Oklahoma Characters, Cherokee Rose (thanks to Debbie Smith for these two suggestions), Oklahoma Slave Narratives, Field Guide to Oklahoma's Historical Markers, If We Must Die: A Novel of Tulsa's 1921 Greenwood Race Riot, The Great Land Rush, Soft Rain: A Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, Nellie the Brave (Sisters in Time series), The Journal of Jesse Smoke, Dust to Eat, and more. Check them out at:

2. Oklahoma History requirements. Oklahoma History is usually taught in traditional schools at 4th, 8th, and 10th grades for 1/2 year each for 1 credit or 1/2 unit. As a homeschooler, you don't have to follow that schedule. Instead of spending 1/2 year three times, why not do a whole year once and 1/2 year once. I recommend that you teach it twice as a multi-level unit: once during the primary years and again during the secondary years. Don't forget to check out my Oklahoma History Online curriculum when you're ready to teach it.

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Have a great day!


Cindy Downes
Oklahoma Blog:

Have you seen The Checklist? It's an assessment tool, lesson planner and K-12 Recordkeeper created for Christian Home Educators:

Oklahoma History Online is now available! Check it out at:

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Copyright © 2004 - by Cindy Downes