Elemental Fun with the Sassafras Twins

A Sassafras Science Adventure Series Review
by Krystal McDonald 

elemental science


My now 9 year old son and I discovered Paige Hudson’s and Johnny Congo’s “Sassafras Science Adventures” series last year at the VaHomeschoolers Conference. Hudson had a booth featuring her curriculum and Sassafras Science Adventure Books.

What a great find!  My son loves to hear about the Sassafras Twins Adventures.  This growing set of stories centers on a twin brother-sister pair, Blaine and Tracey, as they travel the globe using their Uncle Cecil’s invisible zip lines while they are simultaneously introduced to various areas of science.  The first Adventure is Zoology.  We started with this installment last summer for leisure family reading and as a great way to emphasize many of the things we learned in an unrelated biomes class we had already completed.  My son was hooked within the first chapter.  Every day he begged me to read more so he could see where the zip lines would next transport the twins and to learn about the new animals they would encounter.

Diego, my son, told everyone about the series. When prompted to give a review, he proudly stepped into the role of Sassafras advocate and emulated his best critic voice, “It is fun to read the book and write down facts you learn. Everything you do is based on a story line.  You get to study different subjects.  The only thing I don’t like much is the writing but that is because I don’t like to write.”

This past fall, we decided to make anatomy the focus of our at home science.  We decided to purchase the entire set: the book, logbook, activity guide and science kit for a quick and easy science curriculum.  We have enjoyed the continued travel around the globe and how Paige and Johnny have been able to weave anatomy into the story line. My son has been able to review anatomy, geography, writing and reading practice all through this curriculum.

But the fun isn’t over yet.  Up next for us: Botany!


Don’t miss Paige Hudson’s sessions at this year’s VaHomeschoolers Conference and Resource Fair

    • S1.5     Confessions of a Classical Educator in Science
    • S2.5     Inspiring Your Student to Love Science Through Living Books


 Click here to register: 



  2015 VaHomeschoolers Conference & Resource Fair





Volunteer Spotlight on Theresa Munt

A Quiet Voice behind VOICE

by DeeDee Sauter

Most stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.

The story of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers bi-monthly published magazine, VaHomeschoolers Voice, began with Theresa Munt and Jeanne Faulconer.


Theresa Munt... with Theresa Munt!

Theresa Munt… with Theresa Munt!


This bi-monthly magazine is now a staple of communication and information for the Organization not only in Virginia, but across the nation due its professional look and expertise in this educational option. According to Parrish Mort, VaHomeschoolers Executive Director,  “Theresa is a quiet voice behind the scenes and deserves more credit than most for our image.”

Jeanne Faulconer, previous editor, credits Theresa with the success of VaHomeschoolers Voice even before it was a magazine. The project began as a black and white newsletter intended to initiate statewide correspondence and a sense of belonging. After all, homeschoolers are not alone and need a medium in which to connect with one another.

It was with her dedication, vision and artistic skill as a graphic designer that Theresa was able to write the beginning of the VaHomeschoolers Voice story. First, it grew as a two-color print magazine and then expanded into the gorgeous full four-color print publication that we see in our mailboxes every two months.

Jeanne explained, “Since I was editor at the time, Theresa and I worked closely in developing the new publication and its updated full color version a few years later. Theresa’s design opened our eyes to what a homeschooling magazine could be – inviting, creatively designed, professional, up-to-date, and warm – in addition to being well written and informative.”

Theresa had initiative and was able to either enhance the editor’s vision or fill in and complete the task at hand if family obligations affected anyone else on the team. She worked with almost everyone and understood how to incorporate corrections, doctored photos and other art while communicating with the photographers, writers, editors, the publisher and the printer to ensure no issue was published below standard.

Theresa’s skill and dedication are only two characteristics that describe her, but they simply cannot encompass who she is and what she has accomplished for both the Organization and homeschoolers statewide.

An all-volunteer job, Theresa none-the-less treated her position as Voice designer “as though it were a professional job – on time, on budget, on mission, on spec, and on target,” said Jeanne.

Parrish Mort talked both of Theresa’s dedication to the magazine’s success by donating over $50,000 worth of services annually and her infectious positive attitude. Parrish noted, “Theresa is one of the easiest people I have ever worked with. She is committed, flexible, full of ideas, willing to pitch in when extra work is needed and always so pleasant and positive. Working on Voice, often understaffed and under a deadline, can be very stressful but she never faltered in her upbeat attitude. When she joined the board, those same principles shown through in all her projects. I truly believe that VaHomeschoolers would not be as great today if it were not for Theresa and her many contributions.”

Jeanne echoed the sentiments, “She worked with me cheerfully and diligently, and if she ever felt exasperated with the process of pulling a boatload of volunteers through a publication design process, she never complained to me.”

“Instead, she offered suggestions to make things smoother. She offered innovations to make the magazine better. She offered ways she could be flexible — while setting an example of keeping homeschooling her daughter a priority.”

The story of the magazine, VaHomeschoolers Voice, would not have had a middle without Theresa Munt and her expertise. Next time you flip though the magazine, feel free to look at the quality of the publication and know that without volunteers like Theresa, VaHomeschoolers would be never be able to enjoy the story so richly.


The beautiful September/October issue of Voice is the last one designed by Theresa.  Take special note of all the beautiful design elements inside that make Voice so special.

The beautiful September/October issue of Voice is the last one designed by Theresa. Take special note of all the beautiful design elements inside that make Voice so special.


Theresa has now resigned as graphic editor for Voice but lucky for us the story does not end.  She has passed the reins on so that what she helped create can continue to support homeschoolers for years to come.

We thank Theresa for all she has given and for her continued support of VaHomeschoolers as a Regional Coordinator.

Parker Gondella: Guitarist, Mandolinist, and Luthier Extraordinaire


Academic studies, whether facilitated by parents in the homeschool environment or in a more public forum, are time consuming, often leaving little room for more artistic endeavors. Yet passion combined with dedication can overcome even the tightest of schedules.

Born to a musical family, Parker McGuinn Gondella, now 15, has matured into an amazing guitarist, mandolinist and luthier.

Although Parker’s first instrument was the piano, he was taking guitar lessons with a concentration in country and rock by the time he was 7. Parker’s homeschooling schedule provides him with the versatility to practice for the hours necessary to reach the level of mastery he currently enjoys. Thankfully, his mom, Pamela, who is an accomplished pianist, and his guitarist father, Rick, encourage and embrace time spent on musical accomplishments as important as traditional academic studies.

By the time he turned 11, Parker was able to purchase his first “good” guitar, a Seafoam Green Fender Squire Telecaster, with the money he had earned from chores and saved from gifts. For many children, interests in the arts or sports fade as they mature, but Parker’s continued to develop, driven from within.

He and his father started to attend monthly “jam” sessions which solidified an interest in bluegrass and included playing non-amplified instruments typical in songs of Appalachian America. Soon, he was taking lessons from well renowned Loudoun County instrumentalist, musicologist, mandolinist, recording artist and teacher Tara Lindhardt. His continued love of music and a challenge soon led to adding mandolin playing to his already long list of accomplishments.

It was during the Third Annual Loudoun Bluegrass Festival that Parker, then 13, met Buddy Dunlap, vocalist, guitartist, songwriter and rising Bluegrass star. Dunlap records and tours extensively with his bands Bud’s Collective and Lonesome Highway. Although Dunlap lives in West Virginia, the chance to study with him was an opportunity that Parker was not going to pass up. So once a week, his dad drives the 2 ½ hour round-trip to accommodate the private lessons he knows are necessary to reach his dreams.

In 2013, Parker added a new dimension to his musical skill by starting to build his first guitar with the help of local luthier, Scott Schooling. Named PMG 1, it was completed just before he turned 15 and it is now his primary performing guitar. An acoustic guitar is significantly more difficult to build than an electric one, and PMG 1 has been praised by professional guitarists for its tone and playability. Not surprisingly, Parker has already started constructing his second guitar, thereby further cementing his skills as a luthier.

Parker playing, for the FIRST time,  the guitar he built.

Parker playing, for the FIRST time, the guitar he built.

Parker’s passion, dedication and skill have combined to help him become a “go-to” soloist in jam sessions featuring professional and award-winning Bluegrass artists such as Linda Lay, Marshall Wilborn and Gaven Largent. He has started composing original songs and performed his “Cabin Fever” at the most recent VaHomeschoolers conference to rave reviews.

Parker’s musical pursuits and skills have just begun. Not yet a high school graduate, he currently participates in instrumentalist competitions in guitar and mandolin.  He has competed in the  nationally-known Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention, which is the world’s oldest and largest convention featuring country and mountain music, the Watermelon Park Fest Bluegrass Festival, the Loudoun Bluegrass Festival and the Maury River Bluegrass Festival.

Parker jamming at the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention, in southern Virginia.

Parker jamming at the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention, in southern Virginia.

Remember the name Parker Gondella, because in the world of traditional and Bluegrass music, his star has not yet reached its peak.

Hacking the Game Closet

by Kendra Niehaus


Sometimes the box a gift comes in is more fun to play with and sometimes the best games  are the ones kids make up themselves.

Over the years, my kids have taken store-bought games and puzzles and twisted them to play by their own rules.  For instance, what homeschool parent hasn’t purchased Mad Libs in the hopes that their child would become a grammar genius?  Fortunately for me, the kids took the Mad Libs books off to enjoy them on their own– and last week I discovered they’d altered the game for more enjoyment.  Sometimes they play “Sad Libs” where every word chosen has to rhyme (or have a rhyming root).  Other times they play “Angry Libs” where all the words have a theme or are synonyms of each other.  Once, it involved only words from what they knew of Ancient China.

mad libs


Rather than play one of the 10 Days games (10 Days in Africa, 10 Days in Europe, etc) as a standalone game, they line up two or three of the boards and make their own rules for how to get from continent to continent and from country to country.

10 Days Around the World

All the dice in the house have been gathered for a simple contest of “Who Can Get The Higher Roll.”

dice collection

The marbles and board from Chinese checkers are employed as medium and canvas to create freestyle movable art.

Chinese Checker Art


Three 1000-piece Harry Potter puzzles with similar coloring, previously completed, have been combined to create an epic jigsaw challenge.

HP Puzzles

Ping pong balls are used for sofa pillow-baseball and you can picture the hilarity they produce if you use them to play Foosball.  Exercise balls, jump ropes, buckets and the garden hose have been set up in the yard for a Wipeout-style obstacle course.


And it’s not just pre-made games they hack.  Any household item can be used in a contest.  A bag full of empty ribbon rolls became a match to see who could roll one down the stairs and get it to go the farthest at the bottom.  A variety of bottle caps collected over the years have become the pawns in a type of kitchen floor-shuffleboard.


The weekly recycled cans and plastic bottles morph into enemies that must be crushed under bike and scooter tires.   Sometimes the kids even like to include *me* in their games– like when they pile up all their stuffed animals and test my knowledge of names, gender and to whom they belong.

So this summer when the same old games start to get boring, ask the kids to find a NEW way to play.  Chances are it will be more creative– and definitely more rewarding– than following the rules!

1 Homeschool Life: Tyler Phaup



Welcome to VaHomeschoolers’ new blog series One Homeschool Life!  Each edition will highlight an inspiring homeschooler (or former homeschooler) we think you should hear about.  This month we shine the spotlight on Tyler Phaup; a former homeschooler from Beaverdam, VA.

Tyler, 19, has always had a fascination with building things– a love he inherited from his dad.  At 4 years old, he received his first Lego kit and found that building with them was a way for him to express his creativity.  That one kit was the beginning of a Lego stash that his friends thought must be the biggest in the world!  (And it just may be since that’s all he asked for every Christmas and birthday.)

When Tyler and his brother Ryan began homeschooling in 2004, their mom Karen wanted to ease the transition from public school to homeschool. One of the ideas she implemented was to coach a Lego Robotics team which included some of their public school friends. The team went on to become the Richmond area regional champions by earning the Director’s Award, the Robot Performance Award and a position to compete at the state championships at VA Tech.

Tyler and Austin building an FFL mission

Over the years, Tyler’s interests expanded, but Legos continued to be one of his passions.  In 2013, when Tyler began looking for summer employment, he heard about a robotics class conducted by a newly-created local franchise called Engineering for Kids. (Engineering for Kids introduces STEM subjects to kids between 4 and 14 using hands-on techniques.)  As luck would have it, they were in need of instructors and Tyler landed the job. For a teen who has built with Legos since age 4, learned robotics and computer programming by participating in two years of the First Lego League program, and enjoys working with children, the job was like a dream come true.  He’s been teaching computer programming and game design using Legos for just under a year now.  In addition, he’s also teaching aerospace, chemical, electrical, & mechanical engineering.

Tyler fully appreciates his good fortune.  “If you’d have told me when I was 12 years old that I’d one day be paid to play with Legos, I would have thought you were joking.”

Tyler still playing with Legos 800X600

By combining his favorite childhood past times with his desire to inspire the next generation of engineers, we think Tyler is a young man to watch!

If you know a homeschooler who you think other families would love to hear about, send us an email to let us know.  And if you have your own budding Lego engineer at home, don’t miss our current Facebook contest.  You could win a 4-pack of tickets to the 2014 Brickfair being held August 2nd & 3rd in Northern Virginia!







You Oughta Be In Pictures

Photo by Parrish Mort

Photo by Parrish Mort

Have you ever dreamed of seeing your photos in a published magazine or on the web?  VaHomeschoolers could make it happen! 

You’ve probably already seen our bi-monthly, full color, homeschool magazine VaHomeschoolers Voice (and if you haven’t, you should join VaHomeschoolers so you can get a free subscription).  Almost all the beautiful pictures are taken by photographers just like YOU. 

We are currently accepting photos for possible publication in our magazine or email announcements.  Our Voice Photo Editor, Michele Kendzie, has simplified the process to make photo submission easier.  Just click the link below that will take you to our photo archive site and walk you through the process.  Photos should be submitted full-size (full resolution) so they can be adjusted to fit to articles and announcements.

Our goal is to build an archive of homeschool-related photos, so even if we don’t use your picture(s) right away, keep watching for it in the future.  Any work we use will, of course, be credited. 

Don’t know what type of thing we’re looking for?  Here’s just a short list of pictures we’d love to see, but we’ll take anything homeschool-related you’d like to share.  (And while we love pictures of students, not all the photos need to include them.)

  • Seasonal photos with kids (especially for the magazine cover)
  • Field trips
  • Museums/landmarks/monuments
  • Toys & Games (classic or new)
  • Animals (Pets/Zoo/Farm/Wild)
  • Science/computer/technology items
  • Nature
  • Kids playing sports/exercising
  • Food/cooking
  • Art/Dance/Music
  • Holidays/Traditions
  • Camping
  • Kids doing anything homeschool-y!

Click HERE to see our photo guidelines and submit your pictures.  And before you go, enjoy a few examples of some great photos we’ve received in the past.

Cracking Open a New School Year at the Childrens Museum in Richmond.
Photo by Michele Kendzie

Marine Science Camp Photo by Aynsley Kealiher

Marine Science Camp
Photo by Aynsley Kealiher

Making their own “thinking caps”
Photo by Amy Wilson

Rearing back for a shot on goal. Photo by Rob Vietmeyer

Rearing back for a shot on goal.
Photo by Rob Vietmeyer

Photo by Stephanie Elms

Photo by Stephanie Elms
Homeschoolers Climbing at Ginter Gardens Photo by Heather Smithson

Homeschoolers Climbing at Ginter Gardens
Photo by Heather Smithson

Learning to paddle a solo kayak
Photo by Rachel Roberts



Volunteer Spotlight on Duane Nathaniel

By DeeDee Sauter

“Bottom line– No excuses, just do it!”

Duane Nathaniel

Duane Nathaniel

Volunteers are the backbone to countless organizations. Without the steady influx of the energy and time of those dedicated to their cause, many of these groups, who exist to serve, would not be able to function. Every one of these volunteers is valuable, but some consistently shine, year after year, making them indispensable to the team.

Duane Nathaniel is one of those hard-working people whose yearly efforts contribute to the success of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers annual conference. With the support of his company, Kalani Consulting, Inc. (KCI), Duane has provided all of the signs that guide us throughout the conference venue since 2010. He facilitates not only the creation of the signs but their strategic placement around the venue, guaranteeing attendees can find their way to sessions, exhibit halls and family programming.

Well before his integral assistance with the behind-the-scenes conference activities, he started as an onlooker in his daughters’ home education, which was initiated by his wife’s vision. His involvement was slow, but he is now fully vested in their success. “For my children, homeschooling and the associated activities such as conference have been a vital component of their life experience.” As Duane’s family continues in the homeschool environment, he has “grown to become more involved and more of an advocate than just an observer.”

It has been a natural progression for the family who schools together to volunteer together. In addition to being the “Signs Guy”, he has facilitated the procurement of projectors for presentations, and his company provided scholarships specifically for homeschool students in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Since the conference has been held at Glen Allen, KCI has also provided small gifts for the participants in both the Talent Show and the Arts display for many years.

Between his involvement with The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, supporting his children with their academic goals and his business, there is little time for anything else. When he does find a few spare minutes in which he can use his of creative energy, he “loves to cook interesting meals.” He is a strong combination of academic skills and extracurricular activities.

Duane has advice for those who are looking for opportunities to give back to the homeschooling community.

”Just contact the Organization and let them know you are interested. They will get back in touch and can help you work out the details of what you may want to do and try to match that to what they need. Bottom line – No Excuses, Just Do It!

His energy and support is infectious.

And for those who have an interest in signage, he has the perfect position for you. Because of Duane’s vision, dedication and support of homeschooling, he has been able to take one aspect of the annual conference and improve it to a professional level.  Duane is ”interested in working with someone to take over the role as The Sign Guy (or Guyette?) and allow him to do something else to support the Conference.”

“We have moved many of the signs from foam core, which was more fragile and showed signs of wear more quickly, to plastic corrugated material which stands up to re-use better. We also upped the level of the quality of the signs in terms of professionalism by using materials which make the signage look crisper. We have also added many more directional signs which aids in the traffic flow through the Center.”

As with any homeschool parent, Duane Nathaniel has multiple roles. Supporting his daughters’ educational needs by assisting the organization that consistently supports the rights of all homeschoolers is just one way of efficiently multi-tasking.

Fathers may usually be quietly supportive in the background, but Duane Nathaniel is an example of a dad who has been able to combine his skills and passion to help other families across the Commonwealth.


Model United Nations

By Joyce Rodgers, VaHomeschoolers Conference Speaker

Recently a friend asked me to share my experience with Model United Nations with the homeschooling community.  I have begun to write this so many times and constantly find myself at a loss, unable to encapsulate it all in a few paragraphs.  As a high schooler Model United Nations (MUN) wasn’t available at my school until we moved my senior year, but I eagerly joined the team that fall.  It is not an overstatement to say it changed my life.  In the midst of a battle with clinical depression in college, Model United Nations was an activity I opted for despite my inability to do little else.  So, when my middle school son was yearning for something to be a part of … something that was bigger than himself … I offered a Model United Nations class to him and his friends.  There were five of us that first year.  Six years later there are about 20 middle and high school students participating.  While my oldest has gone on to college to study international relations and education, two of my younger children have since also become Model United Nations enthusiasts, or as I call them MUNsters.  Model United Nations continues to impact my world, and has greatly enriched the lives of my children and students as well.


As homeschoolers, we are blessed with a plethora of opportunities for our students.  Academic oriented clubs and teams abound.  Model United Nations is one of these fabulous choices.  While it is impossible for me to label the “one thing” I love about Model United Nations for students, I can say that something that amazes me each year is how it seems to be able to meet so many students where they are and take them further than they knew they could go.  MUN offers a unique combination of communication/language, social studies/geography and interpersonal skills.  Students will sign up feeling confident in their ability to research or their geography skills, but nervous and uncertain about writing or speaking.  Sometimes we have students join who are academic whiz-kids who struggle to speak or lack confidence socially.  We’ve had athletes, dancers, “bookworms”, musicians, rebels, missionary kids, prodigies, struggling learners, spectrum kids, lonely kids, loud kids – we’ve had so many kids walk in the door.  All of them arrived feeling “different”, but at the end of the year they were a part of the team in every way any member of any team would be.  They leave feeling validated in their strengths and more confident in their previous weaknesses.

Jeannie MASUN

No matter where the kids begin, by the end of their first year they have had their eyes opened and become substantially aware of the world around them.  Many of the students have studied world cultures and religions.  They often can run off a list identifying government types, continents, and international capitals.  However, it isn’t until they participate in an activity like MUN that they have an understanding of the complex issues facing the world – facing kids their age in other countries.  Through participation in a program like MUN, students truly become global citizens and find it hard to ignore life beyond the walls of the US.  Many, if not all, of the kids who have come through Model United Nations have considered or are pursuing international studies/missions or travel as a result of their experiences.  The added bonus is that parents by connection gain a new awareness and knowledge of the world.



In addition to all of the impressive transcript ready skills they gain in writing, speaking, world cultures and current affairs, kids learn skills that they can use wherever they end up in life.  They will gain the ability to understand the needs and hopes of others they work with, and how they can work cooperatively to best meet their own goals as well as those of others.  That is a skill that will make them a better neighbor, friend, spouse, employee/employer – or diplomat.

UVA 2013


Model United Nations isn’t the right option for every kids, but it is a good fit for more kids than most realize.  It fuels my passion to see kids laugh, bond and build lasting friendships while arguing opposing views on topics that curl the hair of most adults.

2011 MUN Team GSMUN


Joyce Rodgers, Executive Director of the Athenian Academy, has had the opportunity to work with children from a variety of backgrounds and abilities. She also homeschools four children who are both gifted and struggle with their own learning obstacles. In 2008, she founded the Richmond Enrichment Studio Model United Nations Team, now the Athenian AcademyModel United Nations Team, with five ninth grade homeschoolers. This team has grown to about 22 middle and high school students and has attended Model United Nations conferences at esteemed universities as well as at the United Nations in New York City. The team most recently won the 2013 George Mason University Secretary-General’s Award. Working with so many different students in a variety of subjects, Joyce is convinced that their capabilities consistently exceed what they anticipate they can achieve. It is her goal is to engage students in such a way they realize their potential so that they can chase whatever dreams their hearts yearn for.  Don’t miss Joyce’s conference session S1.2 Holistic Learning Through Model United Nations.  See the VaHomeschoolers website for more information.

My New Year Wish for You

Parrish Mort, Cartersville

parrish crop

My hopes for you in 2014  -

dos and donts


do 1  see the appreciation in your child’s eyes for your willingness to support them where they are – even when they are angry at you for the extra math problems.

dont 1  doubt that it matters.


do 1  delight in and value your child’s gifts.  Every child has them; they just look different on each one.

dont 1  compare your child to others.


do 1   have faith in yourself.  No one is perfect; no one has all the answers.  Every day is not a great day, but you love your child, and by homeschooling you have committed to doing what you think is best for them even when it is hard.

dont 1  sell yourself short.


do 1  recognize that questioning homeschooling, and how you homeschool, is healthy. The questioning helps you to refocus thus making your decisions and actions stronger, more effective, and more loving.

dont 1  overthink it.


do 1  have faith in your child.  Believe that if you provide the guidance, they will eventually do the rest.  Trust they will read and figure out long division.  Know they will be good citizens and independent thinkers. It just may be on their timetable, their way.

dont 1  rush the timetable or force the method.


do 1   take the time to celebrate each teachable moment.  Remember to stop and observe the lizard sunning on the stoop, marvel at the magic of yeast dough rising and look up the answers to the question your child posed.  Throughout the day we are offered chances to grow personally, intellectually and in our relationships

dont 1  miss the chance.


do 1  recognize the floors will always need vacuuming, there will always be laundry and getting dressed is overrated.  Take the time to live in the moment with your children.  They will move on to other passions before you know it.

dont 1  miss the moment.


do 1  remember how fortunate you are to be able to home school your child – that it is legal and that it is an option for your family financially.

dont 1  judge others who are not as lucky.


do 1  support VaHomeschoolers this year with your time, talent and treasure.  We need all three.

dont 1 think it doesn’t matter or it can wait.  Give your support today.



Best Card Trick Ever, or Algebra Without Tears

From the blog:   

Poached in Salsa

Appreciating the usual, embracing the new

by Louisa, a link to her December 4, 2013 blogpost.

I am not, and have never been, pop culture’s idea of the homeschool mom: sit the kids at the table to work through lessons, have them do chores to keep the house spotless, make three healthy meals a day to support mental and physical stamina. I mean, I try, but let’s talk reality. And how far I have fallen. These days, I have farmed out both math and French lessons to the girls’ favorite teacher. Want to guess who it is?
Hello, iPad…..