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Disney and NASA announces Buzz Lightyear Mission Patch Design Challenge

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 6:34 pm

In September, a 12-inch Buzz Lightyear action figure, of the famous Disney movie “Toy Story”, returned to Earth after a 15 month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS). He was flown back on the Space Shuttle Discover (mission STS-128). After each mission, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronauts design patches to symbolize the mission they just completed. In keeping with this tradition, NASA and Disney have teamed up and created the “Buzz Lightyear Mission Patch Design Challenge”.

The “mission”, if you choose to accept it, is to design the commemorative patch utilizing templates and art work inspired by previous NASA badges as well as NASA and Disney creative elements and add-ons. A website has been set up to assist in this mission at

In addition to the actual design, children must submit a brief essay (up to 100 words) describing their design. The entries can be submitted via email or by snail mail.

This purpose of this challenge is not only to commemorate Buzz Lightyear’s achievement but also to build on NASA’s educational goals of encouraging students to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As part of this challenge, children will also learn about the requirements of space flight and the science involved in NASA programs.

What is the award? A trip for the family (up to four) to the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida AND a VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The deadline is NOVEMBER 6, 2009, so please hurry if you are interested in this unique and creative challenge. For information and to start work on the patch, go to

For a discussion on this topic and others, please go to our discussion forums at

Teaching Social Skills to Unique Learners Part 2

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 8:26 pm

As a reminder, the first thing you need to address when teaching social skills is communication. If a child cannot effectively, even in a limited capacity, communicate feelings, needs, and desires, they cannot be expected to progress and utilize appropriate behavior in a social gathering.

So, once you have a basic form of communication established, where do you start next? Should you join in on the offerings and opportunities available to homeschoolers? Well, that depends. Would I recommend you start off with a homeschool support group that may contain 30 or more families, where they meet in a large building or church, as a starting place? NO!!!!!

Let me explain why. Our unique children bring in information differently than the average individual. For most, there are sensory issues involved. It is extremely easy for these children to become over stimulated very quickly. They hear things others do not or things others don’t pay attention to. The visual stimulation, of new surroundings, people in motion, and the variety of colors can assault these children’s visual input. Smells, that others don’t notice, can over-stimulate the nose. Just the idea of going into a new place may not only excite but often overwhelms these children and leads them to experience great anxiety. This anxiety can also be transferred to the parent, who may be on edge to see if her little one “behaves”, and it may even extend to others if something negative does occur.

The best place to start working on social skills is within the home. You can start teaching the child that it is not okay to hit to get someone’s attention nor when they are upset. You can have a “play store” to teach them how to buy things and interact with a cashier. You can create a “play library” and teach them how to find a book or ask the librarian for help. During meals, you can teach them appropriate table talk and utensil use. You can have siblings play with each other. Remember social skills involve how one interacts in any given situation, so the home and running errand are a fantastic place to learn the basics.

After you start within your home, you then select one or two children for child play dates. When you start off, do ONLY one child at a time. I would recommend that you initially do it at your house, since you can control the environment much easier. When you start this, do not walk away in another room. You need to be nearby so if your child has a melt down or there is inappropriate interaction you can quickly and easily intervene. You let the child calm down, if able, and then restart. You may have to end the play date. It is okay. There is always another day. Remember on these early play dates to keep them short. Don’t expect your unique little one to be able to interact for several hours the first go around.

After you have success with one on one play time and interaction at your house, then try to go to one of those friends house for a play date. Again, you need to be nearby in case you need to take action. From there, you can move onto a small group. For example, you may want to go to a park with a few individuals for them to play or you may wish to have a small group over to play a game. Again, you are always nearby in case there is a need.

As you can see in this process, you start small and in a very controlled manner. Then as you have success you move SLOWLY out, adding more individuals and into less controlled environments. Now, there will be times that you may have to take a step back and “regress” a little. You have to progress at the child’s speed but at the same time carefully introduce him to more and more things.

Please be patient; this process can take several years. Remember to celebrate your successes! Even if it isn’t a huge event for a different family, it is for yours. Celebrate them. Announce the success to others. Who knows you may even give hope to others out there. Just a reminder, I welcome success stories ([email protected]).

Oh, and when you finally think they have it all figured out, puberty hits and new rules come into play. This is followed by dating.

For a discussion on this topic and others, please go to our discussion forums at

Written by: Susan Harris News Editor

Teaching Social Skills to unique learners Part 1

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 7:18 pm

Over the last two days, I have written about social skills. On Monday, I compared socialization to social skills. Tuesday, I addressed how children learn social skills and gave some ideas on activities homeschoolers can do to assist in teaching those skills. Today, I wish to start tackling the topic of social skills and those children that have a more difficult time learning those skills.

These children are often on the autism spectrum or have some other unique learning challenge. Many have communication and/or sensory issues. Homeschooling these children not only help them academically but help in the realm of social skills.

Many people over look the need to be able to communicate when they think about teaching social skills. However, how can one interact with others in any format, if they are unable to communicate at all? So, a good starting point when thinking about social skills is for you to find a way to help your child learn how to communicate, even if it is in a limited capacity.

Of course, the first idea to help with communication is speech and language therapy. One does need to determine if your child just needs articulation assistance or if the child also needs to address things like pragmatics. If your child only has articulation problems, then speech therapy alone may help them. However, if your child has problems with pragmatics along with articulation, then you will require speech and language therapy. Either of these therapies can prove quite helpful.

Along with speech and language therapy, or in lieu of, you could pursue the use of PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) cards with your child. This system has you buy or make common pictures so your child can ask for food, drink, state he is happy, needs to go to the bathroom, he is having fun, etc. This is a highly effective means of communication until the child can become more vocal. More on this system can be found at

Another option a parent could utilize is sign language or cued speech. In both scenarios, you and your child would utilize your hands to communicate needs, desires, and emotions. They are not, however, the same thing nor are they related. Sign language is actually considered its own language where as cued speech is considered an extension of the language spoken by the family. (

A form of communication is the basis in order to learn and teach social skills. Without a viable way to communicate, inappropriate and even aggressive behaviors can occur. If a child does not know how to say “Let’s play”, they may hit another child to get their attention and to try and communicate that desire. So, if a parent can assist the child to find a form of communication, even if it is just temporary until they can effectively verbally communicate, then they are so much further on the path of teaching appropriate social skills than they will be without it.

Since this topic could fill an entire book, I am going to spread this out over several days. I will break each section down into small bits for you to digest before I present another aspect. So, come back tomorrow and I will address the first few steps in getting our unique learners to “play nice” with other children.

For a discussion on this topic and others, please go to our discussion forums at

Written by: Susan Harris News Editor

Homeschooling and teaching Social Skills

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 5:40 pm

Yesterday, we discussed the difference between socialization and social skills. As parents, we are concerned about and aim to have our children learn appropriate social skills. The question becomes how do we do that, especially within the realm of homeschooling?

The first thing to consider is how do children learn social skills? Let’s take a scenario involving a preschooler. A preschooler watches his dad hit his thumb with a hammer and he sees his dad say some colorful choice words out of frustration. The next time the preschooler stubs his toe or smashes his hand, often the child will “repeat” what the father said when he was hurt. The preschooler is imitating what he saw. It is the same with all social skills, it is a skill learned by first observing, then imitating. As they are exposed to more and more situations, while either observing or by demonstrating, their repertoire grows in appropriate (or inappropriate) behavior.

So, as homeschoolers, how can we demonstrate and then promote these skills? First, take the children with you when you do errands. Let them see how you handle interacting with a variety of individuals in different situations and surroundings. Show your children the appropriate way to ask for help at the library, buy stamps at the post office, and order food at McDonalds. After they have observed you for a few times, you can even have them order food at McDonalds while you stand beside them and “assist” where needed.

Some other activities that homeschool parents can do to help teach these skills:

1. You can get together with other homeschoolers: Many homeschool families participate in homeschool group activities such as field trips, park days, co-op or enrichment classes.

2. Your child can participate in sports programs: Students can participate in city sports, homeschool sports programs, and some public schools homeschool friendly states open up their sports programs to homeschooled students.

3. Your child can participate in youth groups: Many homeschool students join clubs and programs like 4-H, scouts, youth groups at their church, etc.

4. Your child can play with their friends: Play dates are often arranged with friends, during the day with fellow homeschoolers or after school for public/private school friends.

5. You and your child can do volunteer work: Some homeschool families volunteer at nursing homes, a soup kitchen and other community opportunities. Other opportunities to volunteer include museums, aquariums and zoos. The best part is you and your child can volunteer during the hours children are at school, when they have less helpers. As the years go on, your child can volunteer in an area of interest to them. An added benefit of volunteering, is it looks very good on an application for college, even work.

As you can see, our children have ample opportunity to see, learn, and practice social skills, not only with same aged peers but with all ages. This is a far better example of what it is like in real life as an adult and in the end, are we not preparing them for life as an adult without us around?

Tomorrow, I will continue with social skills by addressing how to help those children that do not seem to catch onto them very easily. In particular, will be our unique learners like those on the Autism Spectrum.

For a discussion on this topic and others, please go to our discussion forums at

Written by: Susan Harris News Editor

Socialization or Social Skills

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 8:00 pm

Although it is not as common as in the past, homeschoolers still face the question about socialization. It seems that many non-homeschoolers believe that we hide behind our door within our house every day all day long. They feel we are isolated and our children could never obtain proper social skills. Which leads us to the question of what do people mean when they ask if we are concerned about socialization?

If we look at the definition of socialization, we find a couple of different meanings. Per, the medical definition of socialize (the verb form of socialization) means 1) to make social; adjust to or make fit for co-operate group living, 2) to make adapt or conform to the common needs of a social group, 3) to subject to government ownership and control; nationalize, and/or 4) to cause to become socialist.

Now, if the goal of socialization is to teach children to think as a government entity (public school for example) wishes them to think, to “fit” within a predetermined set of guidelines (even if the parents do not agree), perform the way that entity wishes them to without question, and be under total government control, then yes, homeschoolers would probably have a much more difficult time succeeding in that type of socialization.

If however, the question stems from the concern about children behaving properly within a given social situation, thus really meaning are you concerned about your child having good social skills, than homeschooling actually presents a better forum to promote and teach this skill. Homeschoolers are involved in a variety of activities throughout the school year that gives them the opportunity to observe and then imitate those skills they had observed. They are allowed to interact with all levels of age groups, which is how it is in the “real world”, instead of being restricted to their same aged peers, who may or may not have social skills mastered.

So, it really comes down to who you wish to teach proper social skills to your child: 1) other children who may have inappropriate social skills and a government agency who has their own agendas OR 2) the parent, who can demonstrate social skills and then choose situations (safe environments) to allow the child to practice.

For a discussion on this topic and others, please go to our discussion forums at

Written by: Susan Harris News Editor

Gardening during the winter?

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 7:18 pm

During the spring, for school we often have our students sprout seeds. Sometimes this is in cups or pots and we stick them in the window sill, while others start their flower and/or vegetable gardens outside. We teach our children how to grow food by our own hands, tend the field, pick the produce and enjoy the bounty. It is a complete educational program in its own rite. However, have you ever heard of starting seeds in the middle of winter? What about starting those seeds during winter and setting them in “greenhouses” outside for the entire winter? This includes leaving them there if it snows or rains.

Until recently, I had not heard of this either nor had I even thought that such a thing was possible. I was completely surprised to find a website ( that not only told me how it can be done, but explained the process.

It seems that seeds know when the weather is right for them to begin to sprout. So, you can plant your seeds, leave them all winter, they will sprout well, and they actually will be heartier plants. You can then transplant them into your garden with confidence they will survive any late frosts that may occur.

Another great aspect that I loved about this site is the writer of also involves recycling into the process. She utilizes left over soda bottles, large water bottles and Chinese take-out containers (the aluminum kind) to create “greenhouses”. So, you don’t have a big expense that would prevent you from using this method AND you can help re-enforce lessons you are doing on recycling. not only tells you about the process, but provides step by step instructions on how she set this up. She goes further to give you ideas of what seeds would work well in this process. The website has full of helpful hints and ideas.

There are so many lessons you can create out of this project. A few are the benefits of recycling, frugality, how seeds grow, solar power, why/how greenhouses work, companion planting, square foot gardening, vocabulary (sowing, reaping, germination, pollination, etc), helpful bugs, preserving the bounty, cooking (recipes, prep), and the list continues.

My family did a garden this past year, but I can’t wait to add this to our homeschooling experience.

For a discussion on this topic and others, please go to our discussion forums at

Written by: Susan Harris News Editor

Swine Flu and Homeschooling

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 3:48 pm

The scare of the swine flu, or at least the threat of the swine flu, has gotten many people concerned, from parents and health care personnel to government officials, including those who work within the public school systems. So, are there any benefits to homeschooling when dealing with this “epidemic”? Yes!

All flues are viruses and can spread rapidly from one person to another, if proper care is not given. When one is in an area that holds many individuals on a daily basis, your chances of contracting a virus (illness) greatly increases. What better place to spread germs than a school building. In my area, our smallest school holds 600 students. This is a specialized school and is the oddity not the norm. Most of our schools hold over 1000 students. With numbers that high, it is highly unlikely that if a virus, any form, comes into it that it would not spread rapidly through the system. On the other hand, with homeschooling, we have a much smaller pool of individuals. Even if you have a large family, such as the Duggars, you still have a lot less chance of catching a bug than someone who is exposed to 1000 individuals on a daily basis. No, as homeschoolers we are not isolated, but we have a much better control over our exposure to anything harmful or potentially harmful.

There is further good news. We have the ability to do a few common sense and inexpensive things to prevent the catch of not only the swine flu but other viruses as well.

1. Frequent hand-washing! This is by far the most effective way to prevent the spread of germs. It is far easier to wash hands frequently when you have access to sinks without having to obtain a hall pass.
2. Have a “hands off the face approach”. Only put your hands to your face to eat and to bathe. Otherwise, keep them off. This keeps you from spreading an illness that is on your hand and letting it get into your system via your mouth, nose or eyes. It is easier to remind your young ones of this when they are insight of you.
3. Gargle twice a day with warm salt water or Listerine. This actually helps with stopping the swine flu virus (H1N1) from proliferating. Here you just have more freedom to choose when and also to choose to do it more often in a homeschool setting.
4. Drink lots of warm liquids as possible. This has the same effect as gargling. This is a HUGE advantage to homeschoolers. You cannot drink inside of classrooms, but only during breaks while going to another classroom. In addition, warm drinks would be most difficult to come by in such a short time span. While homeschooling, a child can sip on hot chocolate, hot tea, or even warm broth.
5. Clean your nostrils at least once everyday with warm salt water. Blow your nose hard each day and follow by swabbing both of your nostrils with a q-tip dipped in warm salt water. This will cut down the viral population drastically.
6. Give a boost to your immune system by consuming foods rich in Vitamin C. If you take a Vitamin C supplement, make sure it has Zinc in it to help with the absorption. It is far easier to eat a variety of vitamin rich foods when you are home and not relying on food given by the school system or from packing (since packing foods limit the type you may take with you).

Many of the above can still be done by public school students, however it is far easier for homeschoolers to do this when the children are with us and we are not in a rush getting them ready for school, out the door, back home for dinner, homework, and bed time routines.

The swine flu, as with any virus, if you get it must run its course. There is not any medication that actually cures any virus known to man. Tamiflu does not cure but prevents the proliferation of the virus further, thus shortening the life span of the virus. The same can be accomplished by the above six items. If you do come down with a virus, stay home from all outside activities. Your body needs time to fight the virus and others, although they love you, really do not wish to share your germs.

For a discussion on this topic and others, please go to our discussion forums at

The above recommendations come from Dr. Ashutosh Mundkur.

Written by: Susan Harris News Editor

Co-ops versus Enrichment programs-are they the same or different?

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 6:28 pm

As the numbers of homeschoolers grow every year, new opportunities arise to assist in educating homeschooled children. Two great options are co-ops and enrichment programs. What most people do not realize is there is a HUGE difference between the two. So, what are the differences?

Co-ops were created by mothers who needed to teach a subject they were uncomfortable teaching and they wished to have someone else teach it, in exchange for teaching a subject that they enjoyed. The word co-op was shortened from co-operation, as it is truly a co-operation between the families involved. In a true co-op, each parent is responsible for teaching a subject. So, maybe parent A would teach math, parent B would teach science, parent C would teach history, and so forth. Sometimes parents would get together for “unit studies” like KONOs and they would rotate the teaching responsibility. So, in this set up, parent A would teach week 1, parent B would teach week 2, parent C would teach week 3, and so forth. Then they would just do the rotation all over again. In either scenario, the parents do not typically pay registration or monthly teaching fees. Families tend to either pay for the supplies (like copying fees) for each of the classes they teach (any books would be the responsibility of each family). Co-ops often meet once a week, with kids doing the rest of the work at home under their parent’s guidance. The curriculum utilized is typically chosen by all families involved during a planning session.

Enrichment programs, although often called co-ops, even by their creators, are very different. In an enrichment program, the parent is not necessarily involved in any of the classes. Each family must pay an enrollment fee, typically a supply fee, sometimes a monthly maintenance fee, AND they must pay for their classes. A few enrichment programs charge a flat fee for ½ a day and a different fee for an entire day of classes. Most charge a fee per class with the fee set by the class teacher. The teacher may charge a supply fee as well. In the enrichment programs, the parents have the option of just dropping their children off for classes (school) and return to pick them up when they are done. For some this is an entire day of “school”. Enrichment programs tend to meet at least twice a week and sometimes three times per week. The parents would then be responsible for insuring the children complete any assignments given between classes. Each teacher chooses the curriculum for their classes. The parent is NOT involved in the decision in any aspect. Now, some parents do teach in enrichment programs, but it is not required.

So, is one better than the other? No. It really comes down to what is best for your family. Just remember in either choice, ultimately it is the responsibility of the parents to insure their children receive a proper education. They will be responsible for meeting all state laws governing homeschooling. It will not fall back onto the co-op or enrichment program.

For a discussion on this topic and others, please go to our discussion forums at

Written by: Susan Harris News Editor

Nobel Prize for Physics goes to a man that was homeschooled

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 5:55 pm

The Nobel Prize Winners for 2009 were announced this past week. One of the winners of the Noble Prize for Physics was a man who was homeschooled in his younger years, Dr. Willard S. Boyle.

Dr. Boyle was raised in the logging community of Chaudiere (Canada), where his father was the resident doctor. His mother homeschooled him up through the 8th grade; after which he attended Lower Canada College in Montreal through graduation. He credits his success in the high school to his mother and for the books she chose for him to read. After high school, he continued on in his studies and received a BS, MS, and a PhD in Physics.

Dr. Boyle was awarded the 2009 Noble Prize in Physics, along with his college George E. Smith, for creating the charged couple device (CCD) which is an imaging semiconductor circuit. He has also worked on lasers and assisted NASA in determining where astronauts should land on the moon.

Dr. Boyle provides the following words of answers, “Know how to judge when to persevere and when to quit. If you’re going to do something, do it well. You don’t have to be better than everyone else, but you ought to do your personal best.”

To read more about this, go here:

To find a list of all the Nobel Prize winners, check out this website:

To discuss this further, please join us in our discussion forum at

To find more success stories, please contact [email protected]

Written by: Susan Harris News Editor

“Virtual Schools”-Homeschooling or Not?

Filed under: Daily News — dailynews @ 1:04 pm

As the numbers of homeschoolers grow every year, the public school system has been trying to come up with new ways to retain those students they would lose to this form of education. The current trend to entice would-be homeschoolers to remain with the public school system is a new entity called “Virtual School”, but is it homeschooling?

First, what is a “Virtual School”? The public school system often tells parents that they would be “homeschooling” their child but that the school system would provide all of the materials for the child’s education. They would provide the books, decide the curriculum, offer “help”, and may even provide a computer. The parent would still oversee the child and insure that they complete the assignments, access any difficulties that arise, and then insure all is turned into the correct person. If there are difficulties noted, a “certified teacher” assigned to the family would help modify the program for the child’s needs. She would also access the progress of the child, how the program is working, and if the child is meeting the state and local school district guidelines for public school students.

What they do not tell parents right away is that they are NOT homeschoolers. They do not file a Notice of Intent stating they will follow the laws that govern homeschoolers. They are not responsible for choosing the program for the child. They do not have complete freedom to modify or even change programs, if it was needed in the interest of what is best for the child. If this method is utilized through graduation, the parent is not responsible for issuing the diploma nor do they set what is required for graduation.

Where does that leave us? A child in this situation is a “Virtual Public School Student”. They are like a homebound student of the public school system. However, instead of a teacher coming to the house with the assignments, the child is given them via the internet, with a teacher reviewing the process every few weeks. They are enrolled in the public school system that is offering this “Virtual School”. They ARE doing public school at home.

Does that mean this is not a viable option for education? No. I can see this being a very helpful form of education. Perhaps a parent loves the education available in the public school system but they have a child with severe health issues. This would be a great option for them.

Remember, it is ultimately the parent who chooses what is best for their family and their child. If that is “Virtual School”, that is fine, as long as there is an understanding what it actually is and not describing it as something it is not. It is not homeschooling.

For a discussion on this topic and others, please go to our discussion forums at

Written by: Susan Harris News Editor

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