Digital Book Apps for Homeschooling

submitted by Stephanie Elms, Annandale

Digital book apps have been one of my favorite discoveries. Not to be confused with ebooks (which are simply the text of the book in electronic format), digital books truly take advantage of all that tablets have to offer. They usually include stunning graphics and animation and sometimes incorporate video, audio and other interactive elements. They can range from non-fiction to educational to literary stories where the animation helps bring the stories to life.

I found that many of the digital books were priced much higher than other apps, closer to the price of a print book. I’ve always found that it is well worth the cost and in some cases the digital book included more information and features than its companion print book. Most of the digital books that I have found have been only available for iOS…if anyone has any recommendations for digital books for androids, please let me know!

Shakespeare in Bits

Shakespeare in Bits is a wonderfully done app that incorporates audio and animation as well as an extensive amount of background information to make Shakespeare’s plays come alive. The main feature is a wonderfully acted, full cast, unabridged audio version of the play, complete with sound effects. This audio version would be enjoyable to listen to on its own, but they also include an animation of the action (which, while not quite as good as a live action production, does add to the overall experience)  on one half of the screen with a scrolling copy of the text of the play on the other half. The text lights up as the words are spoken, making it very easy to follow along. You can also click on unfamiliar words and they change to the more familiar word used today. There are also areas in the text where you can click to receive more background information or clarification about what is going on. The app also includes extensive background information, scene and character summaries as well as a fantastic visual character relationship map (which for some plays come in very handy!)  This is a very information rich app which is also visually appealing and engaging.

Current titles available (with more being planned): Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, MacBeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Available for iOS/Mac/PC – free with in app purchases of $14.99 for each play.

iPoe & iPoe2

Beautifully illustrated versions of some of Edgar Allen Poe’s most well-known stories. The original text really comes alive when paired with the fantastically creepy illustrations and animations.

Available for iOS for $3.99.

The Voyage of Ulysses

You’ll find Ulysses waiting for you under the walls of the city of Troy, ready to launch the last attack together before finally setting sail for Ithaca! Again, beautiful illustrations and animations really help tell the story and engage the reader.

Available for iOS for $3.99.

Isopod: The Roly Poly Science Game

This truly unique app is best described as an integrated synthesis between arcade-quality gameplay and scientific encyclopedia, with the intention of inspiring a fascination with insects and their relationship to a variety of life science subjects.

Available for iOS for $1.99.

Bobo Explores Light

Discover an app that takes fundamental scientific concepts for school-age children and injects them with humor, astonishment and whimsy.

Available for iOS for $4.99

Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night

Explore the natural world of the only flying mammals—bats. Experience the first nonfiction book-app for iPad to use 3D software to create an immersive reading experience. For kids 5 and up.

Available for iOS for $2.99.

Wonders of Geology: An Aerial View of America’s Mountains

Wonders of Geology has all the features of a cool science app: animated diagrams, pinch and zoom, thumbnail navigation, maps, etc. But like a great book it also has an author, a man with a passion for his subject and a desire to share it with others. The app combines audio descriptions with wonderful visuals.

Available for iOS for $12.99.

The Elements: A Visual Exploration

The Elements: A Visual Exploration is not a reference app, it is a rich and engaging love story of the periodic table, told in words and pictures, and allowing you to experience the beauty and fascination of the building blocks of our universe in a way you’ve never seen before.

Available for iOS for $13.99.

The Legend of Momotaro

The famous legend of Momotaro is brought to life with beautiful handcrafted illustrations, animations and narration. Ten panoramic scenes tell the classic Japanese story of an old man and an old woman whose only wish is to have a child.

Available for iOS for $2.99.

Three Little Pigs and Secrets of a Popup Book

This book is bound to please children of all ages – the young ones will love the music and playing peek-a-boo with the characters, the older ones will enjoy the story, and older ones yet will be mesmerized by the intricate mechanical details exposed by cool xRay goggles.

Available for iOS for $2.99.


The Numberlys is a story app celebration of the early fantasy epics King Kong, Metropolis and Flash Gordon with a dollop of the Marx Brothers, a splash of the Fleischer Studios technicolor Superman and a little bit of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Available for iOS for $5.99.

Explore Vincent

Explore Vincent tells the story of Vincent van Gogh, one of the world’s most misunderstood artists.

Available for iOS for $.99.


Read the previous posts in this series: 

Stephanie Elms is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows. Stephanie also volunteers as a member of the VaHomeschoolers Board of Directors.


Science Apps for Homeschooling

Submitted by Stephanie Elms, Annandale

Whether you have a kid who is looking for physics fun or likes to build or is curious about how bodies and cells work, there is an app for that. Check out some of these fun science apps and see where they might lead you.

Monster Physics

Monster Physics™ is a unique building app that lets you play with physics! Build and operate your own car, crane, rocket ship, plane, helicopter, tank and more. Available for iOS for $1.99.

Simple Physics

Simple Physics lets you design complex structures for everything from tree houses to ferris wheels (while staying within a budget) and then simulates your design with a sophisticated physics engine to see how it stands up to real life scenarios. Available for iOS and Android for $1.99.

Bridge Constructor

In Bridge Constructor, you can become an accomplished bridge builder without any formal training. Play 30 different levels, and build bridges over deep valleys, canals, or rivers. Stress tests reveal whether the bridge you build can withstand the daily stress of continual use from cars and trucks. Available for iOS and Android for $1.99.

Dummy Defense

Protect your dummy from explosions, boulders, spiked walls, and other dangers. Need I say more? Available for iOS and Android for $.99.

Frog Dissection

The Frog Dissection app  is an ethical and educative alternative to live animal dissections. It provides not only a visual representation of the dissection process, but also extensive information about frogs and their biological functions. Available for iOS for 3.99.


Molecules is an application for viewing three-dimensional renderings of molecules and manipulating them using your fingers. You can rotate the molecules by moving your finger across the display, zoom in or out by using two-finger pinch gestures, or pan the molecule by moving two fingers across the screen at once. Available for iOS for free.

Cell and Cell Structure

Cell and Cell Structure is a detailed, mini-textbook filled with written details and information about cells, complemented by high quality imagery, video, and interactive content. Available for iOS for $2.99.


Read the previous posts in this series: 

Stephanie Elms is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows. Stephanie also volunteers as a member of the VaHomeschoolers Board of Directors.

Volunteer Spotlight on Cynthia Murrell

Cynthia Murrell

“Should it be it’s or its? There or their?”

Cynthia Murrell of Norfolk is one of those behind-the-scenes volunteers who is so vital to our organization but never seems to get credit. For several years, Cynthia has been working as a copy editor for VaHomeschoolers Voice.

What is a copy editor? She works to improve the formatting, style, and accuracy of text. Copy editing is done before both typesetting and proofreading, the latter of which is the last step in the editorial cycle.

Interesting note:  Cynthia answered our Help Wanted call for a copy editor for Voice even though she was no longer homeschooling. “Actually, I didn’t realize there had been an ad out for editors. My son had indeed graduated, and I was working on building that paid career thing I’d put off for a decade. In an effort to acquire a copy editing resume credit, I contacted Jeanne and offered my services.

“I chose to approach Voice because homeschooling was the area in which I had the most experience, and I had gained a lot of respect for VaHomeschoolers while educating my son. For several years I was the moderator of Tidewater Teen Homeschoolers, and the VaHomeschoolers website was the first link I sent any new or new-to-Virginia families who contacted us looking for answers. I was first drawn in by the non-religious nature of the group, but kept coming back for the terrific information,” tells Cynthia.

Jenny Meyer, who served as managing editor of Voice in 2012-13 has only praise.

“Cynthia is one of the best copy editors I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. Having her on the Voice staff gave me a wonderful sense of security, because I knew that no errors were going to slip into print on her watch! Copy editing is demanding work, and it requires an eagle eye, persistence, discipline, and very high standards. Cynthia has all those things in droves. On the other hand, copy editing is something that happens quietly, behind the scenes, and you are not supposed to notice it. (If it’s missing, though, you’ll notice.) So very few people realize what a critical role Cynthia plays in making Voice a professional-looking publication. She’s one of the unsung heroes of the Voice staff, and a true professional.”

Cynthia’s original managing editor was Jeanne Faulconer, who writes, “Should it be it’s or its? There or their? Is there a dangling modifier or a pronoun in the nominative case when it should in the objective case? These are the kinds of things Cynthia picks out of pages and pages of copy to make sure that VaHomeschoolers Voice is clear and as correct as possible.

”In addition to her straight grammatical catches, I always appreciated Cynthia’s good questions and comments when she was unsure whether a writer had correct information or was expressing things in the best possible way. These kinds of questions go beyond straight copy editing, and they require judgment and knowledge of homeschooling to pick up on.

”Cynthia was always reliable and consistent when I worked with her. She is one of those people who requires little attention and probably sometimes gets too little thanks — but she always comes through. Working on Voice requires attention to deadlines — we can’t just put out a magazine  ‘every once in a while,’ so having a copy editor who stays on track is vital. VaHomeschoolers is fortunate to have Cynthia volunteer for us.”

You may wonder why a former homeschooling parent would volunteer for VaHomeschoolers.

Cynthia explains, “Well, the experience, resume credit, and potential letters of recommendation are the main things. The work also keeps me connected to what is going on in the world of homeschooling, which is still an area of interest for me. And, of course, I’m supporting a terrific organization.

“Though my BFA is in Theatre (and I spent a year in grad school pursuing an MFA in theatrical costume design before I realized that it was taking too much time away from my then-young son), I also have a minor in English. I now write for a website devoted to enterprise search products (very dry), and I have a couple of would-be novels I return to now and then (juicy but daunting).

“However, I realized a few years ago that I actually really enjoy getting wrapped up in finding all those little bitty errors in written works. More even than writing itself. Strange, I know, but I think it is the same impulse that lets me enjoy other things that people consider tedious, like cross stitching and weeding the garden.

“I like repetitive work at that up-close level– improving something sentence by sentence, stitch by stitch, weed by weed, and stepping back to view the result. Then diving back in for more. . . . I could do that all day. I figured that if I can enjoy, and do well, something that other people dread, I should go into that field–hello copy editing! I do credit years of correcting my son’s work for keeping me in practice.”

We need more people like Cynthia Murrell! Do you have a simple skill, something you really enjoy doing? You’d be surprised at how much you can help us out, even by volunteering only an hour here and there. Please email for more information. Also please check our Help Wanted section on our website:

One Family’s Decision to Homeschool

Emma-Marie Dulog

It’s summertime. It’s time for some decisions. We’ve all been there, sitting at the kitchen table, pros and cons list in front of us, making the big decision. Should we continue with our child’s current educational path, or should we do something big, something scary, and head out on that weedy, bramble-covered path called homeschooling? Maybe you’re sitting at your computer right now wondering those same thoughts.

Here’s a cool homeschooling story to help with that decision; I ran into Cheryl Dulog at my son’s Model UN class and was speaking to her about her daughter, Emma-Marie. I had seen that she had recently been featured in Richmond’s Style Weekly magazine as a ‘16 under 16.’ The article featured sixteen kids, under the age of 16, who were already showing great signs of leadership. There was a tiny bit in the article about Emma-Marie being a homeschooler. So I was curious. I wondered how they had come to homeschooling and how it had helped to further Emma-Marie’s passions.

Cheryl told me of her struggles with Emma-Marie’s attendance at public school at a time when Cheryl was undergoing a health crisis. Cheryl had been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Thankfully, she is in remission now, but during this trying time she found herself also grappling with the dilemma of what to do about her children’s educations. Emma-Marie was clearly very gifted and her mom felt the school system was holding her back.

Family life was also suffering. Between the school’s schedule, the large homework loads, and the enriching activities they were trying to pursue, there didn’t seem to be any free time left. One teacher even had the temerity to suggest that they shouldn’t do anything but school. Cheryl dreamed of having more time as a family to take trips and eat dinner together. If these were going to be her last months with her family, then this was going to be their priority. After a lot of soul searching with her husband, Marco,  research and family discussions,  they decided that homeschooling fit their needs.

Pictured here is Emma-Marie (13 yrs) and Sophie (9 yrs). Not pictured is youngest sister, Luci Dulog (7 yrs).

Through homeschooling, Emma-Marie and her sisters, Sophie and Luci, are flourishing. Emma-Marie plays harp in the American Youth Harp Ensemble and recently came back from a trip to New York City where she played at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. Emma-Marie speaks three languages and is trying to learn more. She uses the internet to learn and explore math concepts, watch her favorite TED talks videos, immerse herself in history and even dabble with string theory.

I met Emma-Marie and her mother at Model UN, but as I alluded to above,  that is but one of the many activities that occupy her and her family.  They are also involved in 4-H, Girl Scouts and writer workshops, which help to round out an amazing educational experience. Because they are homeschooling, they have time to do these things and still sit down to a family meal. Cheryl feels that being in public school and trying to follow these passions would make for a chaotic, stress-filled family, the exact opposite of her dream.

When I spoke to Cheryl, she wanted to emphasize how wonderful homeschooling has been for their family. Even though she doesn’t have the cancer to worry about anymore,  they continue to homeschool because she feels homeschooling will help her children to grow up as “whole people” with family at their core. Cheryl and Marco both share in the teaching duties, which gives them both quality time to be with their girls.

So if you are sitting at your kitchen table and making your list of pros and cons, take Cheryl’s advice and put family life at the top of your pro list. A family meal together beats the stress and chaos of juggling school, activities, and homework any day.

 ~Robin Martin enjoys an eclectic style of homeschooling with her youngest, teenage son.  You can read about their homeschooling adventures on her blog, Martinzoo. Robin also volunteers as editor of the VaHomeschoolers blog, VaHomeschoolers Connection.

Math Apps for Homeschooling

Submitted by Stephanie Elms, Annandale VA


DragonBox Algebra

When it comes to math apps and video games, more often  than not, they are not much more than glorified worksheets dressed up to make math drill “more fun” (yes, I am looking at you TimezAttack). While those apps have their place, you will notice very quickly that DragonBox+ is something very different. What makes DragonBox unique is that it truly lets the child discover the rules of algebra through the gameplay (which in the beginning does not even use numbers) rather than “teaching” them the rules and then reinforcing it through the game. Jordan Shapiro explains it this way in his review of the game, Can Video Games Make Your Kid Smarter:

Dragonbox is impressive because, without relying on text, it teaches the rules of algebra step-by-step as if the player is really only learning the laws of the universe particular to the game. This slow and steady way of training players is familiar. It is one of elements that makes other touch screen games, like “Angry Birds,” “Cut the Rope,” “Where’s My Water?” and “Plants vs. Zombies,” so addictive. Each of these games teach players only what they need to know to execute the immediate task at hand. Then, the game stacks one operation atop the next.

My teenage son played DragonBox and enjoyed it (which is high praise, as he is a true gamer type of kid who is not usually impressed with “educational” video game offerings). When he started learning algebra, it became obvious that his having an introduction through DragonBox was incredibly useful. Anytime he started getting confused over what step to do to simplify an equation, I just had to remind him to think of how he did it in DragonBox and he was easily able to remember. DragonBox gave him a visual, intuitive way of understanding what he was doing and did not rely on him memorizing steps and rules.

The developers of DragonBox recently re-vamped their offerings and now offer two apps: DragonBox Algebra 5+ and DragonBox Algebra 12+. They both start with the same basics, but DragonBox 12+ has more levels and gets into more advanced topics. DragonBox 5+ would be appropriate for younger kids (elementary school level) who want to play something fun while being exposed to algebra concepts. DragonBox 12+ serves as a fantastic introduction to algebra for middle and high schoolers.

For a review of how the game works see DragonBox: Algebra beats Angry Birds (ed. note: this review refers to the original version, now called DragonBox5+) and It Only Takes About 42 Minutes to Learn Algebra with Video Games which includes an interview with the game’s developer.

DragonBox is available for iOS, Android, Mac and PC. At $5.99 for DragonBox 5+ and 9.99 for DragonBox 12+, it is one of the more expensive learning apps out there, but in my opinion it is well worth the price. The game does allow multiple accounts so multiple children (and adults!) can each play their own character.

Other Math Apps

Math Evolve

A fun and engaging learning tool for practicing math facts, number sense, and mental math skills. Available for iOS, Android, Mac and PC.


Rogo is completely new and original, a mixture of a maze, word-search and sudoku, with an innovative and intuitive interface. Available for iOS for $2.99.

Motion Math

By playing Motion Math, learners improve their ability to perceive and estimate fractions in multiple forms. Available for iOS for $1.99.

Marble Math/Marble Math Jr.

Solve a variety of math problems by collecting numbers as you roll or drag your marble through a series of fun mazes. Marble Math comes in three versions: Marble Math, for ages 9-12+, Marble Math Junior, for ages 5-8 and the free Marble Math Lite, for ages 6+. Available for iOS for $1.99.

Math Ref

With Math Ref you can browse over 1,400 formulas, figures, and examples to help you with math, physics, chemistry and more. Available for iOS and Android. Has a free lite version in addition to the full version app for $1.99.

Math Ninja

Use your math skills to defend your treehouse against a hungry tomato and his robotic army in this fun action packed game! Available for iOS. Has free lite version in addition to the full version app for $1.99.

Factor Samurai

Play as the samurai whose sacred duty is to cut all the numbers down to their prime factors. Available for iOs and Android for $2.99.

Logic/Puzzle Apps

iSolveIt: Math Scaled

MathScaled is based on a balance-scale format. The goal is to place different shapes with unknown weights on the scale so that it is balanced. Available for iOS for free.

iSolveIt: Math Squared

MathSquared is a series of grid-based puzzles using basic math operations that help develop logical thinking and reasoning strategies. Available for iOS for free.

Doodle Fit

Your task is simple: fit the given set of blocks into given shapes. Available for iOS and Android for free (with optional in-app upgrades).

 Slice It!

“Slice It!” is all about slicing shapes into pieces that are equal in size. Sound easy? It may start out that way, but soon you’ll be cutting shapes that will puzzle you like never before. Available for iOS and Android with free lite version or the full version for $.99.


Read the previous posts in this series: 

Stephanie Elms is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows. Stephanie also volunteers as a member of the VaHomeschoolers Board of Directors and is the VaHomeschoolers website administrator.

Volunteer Spotlight on Jeanne Faulconer

Photo courtesy of Maggie Selph Moore

“She was the spark that ignited the flame.”


Jeanne Faulconer of Stanardsville is widely known as a writer and speaker on homeschooling issues, and she has devoted most of her homeschooling life to VaHomeschoolers.

“Are there enough superlatives to adequately describe her?” asks Theresa Munt, current board member. “VaHomeschoolers is lucky to have many great people working for the advancement of the organization. Jeanne is right up there among the most capable and effective.

“Jeanne’s all about finding solutions. She’s optimistic. She’s a great and conscientious communicator. In the midst of huge projects, pressing deadlines, and being pulled in many directions, Jeanne always manages to have a positive attitude. Jeanne is so generous with her time and her caring–caring about the organization, the issues, and the people she associates with.”

Jeanne has worn many hats during her long years of service with VaHomeschoolers. Besides serving as a board member, she has been the featured speaker at our events, and she drafted a handbook for planning future conferences. For a long time, Jeanne was VaHomeschoolers Voice’s editor-in-chief and helped transition it from a black and white newsletter to a single-tone journal to a full color magazine, as it stands today. One of her greatest contributions has been how well Jeanne represents VaHomeschoolers in the press, giving interviews to journalists of all stripes and even being featured in TIME magazine!

“Jeanne is the top reason I decided to join the VaHomeschoolers Board of Directors several years ago,” writes Karen Phaup. “I still remember the first time I heard her speak at a VaHomeschoolers conference years and years ago. I remember leaving her session feeling so inspired and comforted knowing that my homeschool could be successful even if it didn’t look like a traditional school environment. She was the spark that ignited the flame for me to do schooling differently. I had wanted to do so, but didn’t have the courage until I heard her speak about unschooling. What was so helpful was that she had actual success stories (her older sons) that she could share that gave me the encouragement I  needed. VaHomeschoolers has found a gem in Jeanne and I feel privileged to know her and be able to work beside her.”

Government Affairs Director Amy Wilson agrees: “Jeanne has been an anchor and an inspiration to me since I first began thinking about homeschooling. The first time I heard her speak, she made me feel like I could do this. Jeanne also has a nuanced understanding of the broader homeschooling landscape, politically and socially, that never ceases to amaze me.”

Volunteer Coordinator Ann Clay says, “The first VaHomeschoolers conference I attended featured Jeanne as speaker. I was blown away that this organization could provide such a professional presenter. It was several years before I realized that Jeanne was actually a longtime Virginian and a member of the organization. I had thought she was some professional speaker who had been hired from out of state. She’s one of the main reasons this organization comes off as being so professional, especially in our publications and other communications.”

VaHomeschoolers Vice President Leslie Nathaniel says, “I first read some of Jeanne’s articles in parenting magazines when my older daughter was a tiny infant; those articles brought me much comfort in the those early days as our family began our journey down the less-traveled path of a home-centered life. As that same daughter approached school age, I began to seek out home education resources and was delighted to recognize Jeanne’s name in the VaHomeschoolers magazine (back then, our organization was called VHEA and the magazine was a newsletter). Jeanne’s words helped me have the confidence to begin this homeschooling journey that has so enriched our family.

“Jeanne’s support and work for VaHomeschoolers encouraged me to add my own labor to help support and grow this organization that offers so much to Virginia’s homeschooling families,” Leslie continues. “Jeanne brings her intelligence, good cheer, wisdom, common sense, inclusive spirit, and leadership to everything she does. Her efforts as editor were instrumental in bringing our original newsletter to the high-quality, full-color, full-size magazine it is today. Her sessions at our conferences are among the most sought-out and people leave those sessions feeling inspired and encouraged. Her professional skills have helped shape VaHomeschoolers into an organization that can help to support, empower, and protect the many Virginia families that chose home education. Working with Jeanne is a delight and I always discover I have learned something of value for myself and for the organization.”

VaHomeschoolers president Parrish Mort concludes, “Jeanne is a tremendous asset to VAHomeschoolers. She brings 17 years of experience homeschooling in three states, a passion for homeschooling and supporting others, and an ability to engage and educate everyone from prospective homeschoolers to skeptics to reporters.

“As Voice editor, she took the publication from a black and white newsletter being produced by four people to a full color magazine with a staff of writers, copy editors, associate editors, feature editors and more. It is through her nurturing and ability to inspire others to give that she was able to make such remarkable changes in just a few years. Thanks to Jeanne, VaHomeschoolers can now boast to having one of the best (if not the best) written and designed homeschooling magazines in the country.”

So here’s kudos to you, Jeanne! You’re very much appreciated and loved. VaHomeschoolers would never be today what it is without you.


We need more people like Jeanne (or even just a tiny bit like her)! Do you have a simple skill, something you really enjoy doing? You’d be surprised at how much you can help us out, even by volunteering only an hour here and there. Please email for more information. Please check our volunteers page and scroll down to the Help Wanted listings at

Book Apps for Homeschooling

Submitted by Stephanie Elms, Annandale VA

If you are anything like me, books are central to your homeschooling. Library books, ebooks, audio books, non-fiction, fiction, you name it, we love it. There are several apps related to books that I have found extremely useful.


By far, Goodreads is my most useful and all purpose book app. According to the website, Goodreads “is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Our mission is to help people find and share books they love.” Part social media, part book review extravaganza, part organizational tool, there is something for everyone on Goodreads.

In a nutshell, Goodreads allows you to unleash your inner librarian  You can easily catalog books you own, books you have read and books you want to read and Goodreads gives you multiple tools for finding new books to add to your “to read” pile. You (or your child) can also rate books and write book reviews as well as see what books your friends are reading and read their reviews. You can follow your favorite author’s blogs and connect with other enthusiasts.

I use Goodreads in several different ways. First, I use it to catalog and organize books I own. You can manually search their database for the books you own or, even better for those of us truly geeky types, you can use the Goodreads app on your phone or tablet to scan the bar codes on your books for super easy cataloging. Once logged, you can add books to multiple user-defined “shelves” for easy recall.

My favorite use for Goodreads is tracking books that I want to read. I read a lot of Kid Lit blogs and am always coming across books that I want to check out. Before Goodreads, I had not found a truly workable method for keeping track of them. Now, when I see a book that I want to check out later, I add it to Goodreads and mark it as “To Read”. If I do not already own the book, I also add it to my “Library” shelf.  Now anytime I am looking for a new book to read with the boys or if I am headed to the library (or at the library!), I can quickly scan through the books and be reminded of a book I was interested in.

Many of my friends are on Goodreads as well. I enjoy seeing what they are reading and reading their reviews. I have found many a good book through a friend. Kids can use and enjoy Goodreads as well to track their own reading progress, post reviews and explore the world of books. Scanning the books using the app can also be a fun incentive.

For those who might prefer a less “commercial” product (Goodreads was recently bought by Amazon), similar functionality can be found on LibraryThing. I like a lot about LibraryThing, but found that the social sharing aspects were not as robust and there is no associated app (though you can purchase a bar code scanner to use on your computer). The Goodreads app is available for both iOS (for Apple devices) and Android.

Other Book/Reading Apps

Nook, Kindle, iBooks

Nook, Kindle and iBooks are “e-reader” apps which allow you to read ebooks and pdfs on your tablet or phone (without having to actually own a Nook or a Kindle). Personally, I usually choose to read ebooks on an actual e-reader (in my case a Nook) because I prefer the “e-ink” (more like a traditional book) to reading on a tablet screen (backlit, more like a computer screen). However, using the Kindle app has allowed me to take advantage of good deals on ebooks through Amazon without needing to purchase a second ereader.

I like iBooks for reading independently produced ebooks and pdfs and use this for many homeschool curriculum ebooks such as those from Brave Writer and Math on the Level. With more and more curriculum providers offering their books as downloadable files, I appreciate being able to access these resources on my tablet which unties me from my computer and gives me more freedom.

Nook App: iOS and Android
Kindle App: iOS and Android

Instapaper, Readability and Pocket

Instapaper, Readability and Pocket are similar apps that can be used to clip articles from the web to read later.  Personally I find that I prefer to read articles on my tablet as opposed to my computer and these apps clip the articles and format them in a very reading-friendly way, including only the text and photos of the article (leaving out any ads or other distracting aspects of the particular website). By using these apps, I can save articles for when I have time to read them without having to leave tons of tabs open in my browser or loose track of them in my bookmarks. I have also used them to save articles for my kids to read.

Instapaper App: iOS ($3.99) and Android ($2.99)
Readability App: iOS and Android
Pocket App: iOS and Android


Audible is a subscription service for purchasing and downloading audiobooks at a discount. As an audiobook loving family, we have bought many audiobooks  and use the app to easily download and listen to books where ever we want.

The Audible app is available for both iOS and Android.


Overdrive is the service used by many libraries for managing their audiobook and ebook resources. The Overdrive app is very useful for taking advantage of those services.

The Overdrive app is available for both iOS and Android.


Bookmark is my favorite audiobook apps. It allows you to listen to both audiobooks and podcasts and gives you very easy controls for navigating. I wrote a review of Bookmark on my blog a few years ago and Bookmark is still easily my most utilized audiobook app.

Bookmark is only available for iOS.

I hope this gets you started on your way to finding some of the fantastic apps that are out there. I will be back over the next few months to review some more of my favorites. In the meantime, feel free to share some of your favorite apps in the comment section!


Read the previous post in this series: Resources for Finding Apps for Homeschooling 

Stephanie Elms is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows. Stephanie also volunteers as a member of the VaHomeschoolers Board of Directors and is the VaHomeschoolers website administrator.

Why Homeschooling Hasn’t Driven Me Crazy: The Importance of Friends in the Homeschooling Life

Submitted by Janell E. Robisch


Homeschooling can be demanding for any parent. Maybe if we were only homeschooling and not doing anything else, it wouldn’t feel so overwhelming at times, but most of us aren’t just homeschooling. We are parenting, working, volunteering, nurturing a marriage, raising kids on our own, running a business, and on and on.

I have found that the times in my mothering life where the friend meter was the lowest were the hardest and most lonely. When I first became a mother, we had just moved to a new state, and it took me a while to make friends. It was the decision to attend a La Leche League meeting when my son was 10 months old that made all of the difference. There, I was invited to a playgroup and made friends that have lasted these 12 years. Shortly after, I became part of a tradition so many of us lovingly know as Moms’ Night. (And if you don’t know it, you must become acquainted, really!)

Later, when I moved to the Shenandoah Valley from Northern Virginia, it was homeschool park days and later a co-op that got me networked with other like-minded women and their children. It wasn’t long before I was attending Moms’ Nights with them too. Time out without the kids (when I felt that they were ready to stay with dad for a while) is like recharging my batteries. Even if I miss a little sleep that night, I always feel more refreshed and ready to face the world the next day.

These friends are also important in just the day-to-day activities that I do with my kids. When we are justifying or just explaining our homeschool life to others, we often tell them about how well our kids are socialized (we all know about the ever-present socialization fear!). We take our kids to classes, on play dates, to co-ops, and on field trips. What we don’t usually bring up is that we’re socializing ourselves as well! I look forward to my children’s opportunities as opportunities for me to chat with other moms or perhaps get some advice on a problem, which may or may not be family-related. It’s not to say that I ignore my children, but the best homeschool outings are ones that balance kid time with mom time or allow the kids to learn or interact with their friends in a safe environment while I interact with my own friends.

Whether at a Moms’ Night or just hanging around watching the children play, I cherish the times I can get to know other mothers and share experiences with them. For whatever reason, knowing that someone else is out there going through similar struggles makes going through my own struggles a little less burdensome. I have many friends, and we each share a little something, even if it’s just an open mind or a sense of humor. Also, meeting and hearing from friends with different viewpoints have sometimes changed (or cemented) my own views, usually for the better.

I can’t speak for the dads out there, but as a mom, I have found that my girlfriends have played an especially important role in protecting my sanity, and I hope I have helped them a little as well!


Court Rejects Romeike Asylum Appeal while Explicitly Recognizing U.S. Homeschooling Freedoms


by Amy Wilson, Government Affairs Director

On Tuesday, May 14, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit rendered its opinion in the case of the Romieke family, German homeschoolers seeking asylum in the United States on the grounds that Germany’s compulsory school attendance law persecutes homeschoolers.  The court upheld the prior decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals, which found that the Romiekes’ situation does not qualify them for political asylum under established U.S. law.

This decision is of course bad news for the Romieke family, whose attorneys (affiliated with the Home School Legal Defense Association, HSLDA) have said they plan to appeal it, but it is not bad news for homeschooling freedom in the United States.  In fact, the judges clearly acknowledged and upheld past case law establishing the Constitutional right of U.S. citizens to direct the upbringing and education of their children.  This decision clearly states that Americans have the right to homeschool.

The court explained its reasoning in rejecting the Romeikes’ asylum claim, while upholding the right of Americans to homeschool, as follows:

“That the United States Constitution protects the rights of ‘parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control,’ … does not mean that a contrary law in another country establishes persecution on religious or any other protected ground.  And even if, as the Romeikes claim, several human-rights treaties joined by Germany give parents the right to make decisions about their children’s educations … that by itself does not require the granting of an American asylum application. …

The question is not whether Germany’s policy violates the American Constitution, whether it violates the parameters of an international treaty or whether Germany’s law is a good idea. It is whether the Romeikes have established the prerequisites of an asylum claim—a well-founded fear of persecution on account of a protected ground. … The Romeikes have not met this burden. The German law does not on its face single out any protected group, and the Romeikes have not provided sufficient evidence to show that the law’s application turns on prohibited classifications or animus based on any prohibited ground.” [emphasis added]

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (VaHomeschoolers) encourages homeschoolers who are concerned about this case and what it means for homeschooling in the United States to review the court’s decision for themselves.


Mom’s Weekend Out: My First VaHomeschoolers Conference

Submitted by Janell E. Robisch



Recently, I had the good fortune of attending my first ever statewide homeschooling conference. I’ve been homeschooling for years and always wanted to go to the annual conference of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, but with life as a mom, something always came up to prevent me from going.

This year, I volunteered to help out at the conference at the first available opportunity. When I feel committed, I am much less likely to back out and let the day-to-days of life take over, and sure enough, it worked!

When the day came, I felt a little like I was back in college, with roommates and some time to myself, as I enjoyed good food, good friends, and lots of late-night chatting. My husband stayed at home with our three kids, and I shared a hotel room with a couple of my area homeschooling friends, Adesa and June. We arrived Friday afternoon and headed over to the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center to drop off Adesa, who was the volunteer coordinator for the conference.


June and I took advantage of Friday afternoon to enjoy a couple of the local sites. Our first visit was to the Crossroads Art Center in Richmond, which was a short drive away from the conference center. The gallery, located in a strip mall, was a delightful find. It had a surprisingly large collection of paintings and photographs, with each artist or group allocated a mini-gallery in a cubicle-like space. We enjoyed musing and wandering the collection, but of course, we still thought and talked about our kids (as if it’s possible for a mom not to). I was inside only for a few minutes before I had picked up an art print card of a cute kitten for my cat-loving son.

Next, we drove deeper into Richmond, and June visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum while I took a much-needed break to hang out, read, and touch base with the family via cell phone. The area downtown is chock full of attractions, especially for the history buff, including the Museum of the Confederacy and the Virginia Historical Society. I definitely want to make time to take the kids to the Science Museum of Virginia and maybe the Children’s Museum of Richmond either through a co-op field trip or during next year’s conference.


I did not attend the Friday sessions because I have been homeschooling for years and have not really gotten into the sports debate, but I was happy to see that those sessions on beginning homeschooling and the Sports Access Bill were available. I was happy to take time later on Friday afternoon to visit the vendors and the Used Resource Sale (URS). I picked up a couple of books on CD for our long drives to field trips (we go on so many field trips, we may as well say we are fieldschoolers or maybe tripschoolers!). I also bought a book for me and some choice items from the URS. We do a lot of strewing in our house, and I wanted to get things that I knew would match my kids’ current passions, so a book on cats, an animal coloring book, an art journal, and a few other things were perfect finds! I also picked up loads of informational brochures, which are sitting behind me right now in a tote bag waiting to be sifted through.

Even before I went to the sessions, I found that the conference had been worth the 3-hour trip from Luray, but I’d go just for the sessions as well. As a seasoned homeschooler, I did make the mistake of going to a couple of sessions that I could have presented instead of attended (although I’m almost afraid to write that because someone is going to respond, “Great idea, Janell. We’ll sign you up for next year!”). My husband and I have been working and homeschooling together for years, and I’ve also started a homeschool co-op in my area; those sessions ended up being geared more toward beginners. While I was happy to learn how others were handling these situations, I guess I was looking for more meat on the nitty-gritty problems and details that arise when you are deep in the muck! However, I felt that the sessions were well done, and I was glad to share what I could in the hope that it might help a fellow homeschooler or two get through the growing pains of learning to make it work.

The remaining three of the five sessions that I attended were quite useful to me, and I don’t feel like I could have gotten the same information in such a short period of time anywhere else.

First was Sherene Silverberg’s session on “Homeschooling Your Gifted Child.” Boy, I really wished I had attended this session about 9 years ago when my 3 1/2 year old was reading fluently! There was still a wealth of information in her session as well as common sense and some really valuable advice. Sometimes you know that your child (whether gifted, special needs, or both) is different, but you continue to look for solutions in all of the “regular” places. Having Sherene point out some places to go for children like mine was immensely helpful, and I’m looking forward to exploring those resources.

Next was Jeanne Faulconer’s session on “Unschooling Unzipped.” What a terrific session! I would probably consider myself an eclectic homeschooler, but I’ve definitely always had elements of unschooling in the mix; sometimes, it’s been full-on unschooling (unschooling and its flexibility can be the perfect solution when both parents work full time). It was great to hear about the ways that Jeanne and others have used unschooling to nurture their kids’ interests and give them the kind of education that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional school or with traditional curricula. She also acknowledged that unschooling is a spectrum, just like so many other endeavors. I think my favorite quote of the session was the definition of unschooling attributed to Patrick Farenga: “allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.”

In common with Sherene, Jeanne also introduced the concept of finding mentors for children to teach them beyond the levels that are possible for parents. As my oldest child nears the teen years, this is definitely something that I want to consider in a more conscious way. I realize that he already has mentors in our community, who have sort of become his mentors by accident, but having attended these sessions, I will be keeping my ears perked for other opportunities to help him and my daughters grow through official and unofficial mentorship opportunities.

The last session that I want to mention is “Real World Math: Making Sense of Algebra and Middle School Math” by Karim Kai Ani. Ani is a charismatic speaker and teacher, and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one in the room wishing that he’d been my math teacher in school (although I’m sure that he is younger than I am!). I also liked the way that Ani targeted the tweens and teens in the room before the adults and that he was not afraid to concede when they got one up on him. His approach to middle school and high school math problems was not only concrete, with real-world applications, but also fun. As my son moves from middle school level math to algebra, I will be taking advantage of this approach (and Ani’s web site, Mathalicious, I’m sure) to first introduce the concepts as real-world applications instead of just abstract formulas and variables in a way that I hope my kids will find fun and engaging. All learning should be this awesome!

And those were only the sessions I was able to attend! I’m sure that I missed many more great ones. I hope that at some point VaHomeschoolers will be able to record and sell the session audios, but for now, I am happy to have gotten a copy of Stephanie Elms’s handout for her session “There’s an App for That?” and to have a great homeschooling community here in the Shenandoah Valley and in Virginia in general. We’re a lucky bunch of homeschoolers.

See you at next year’s conference! I’ll be back.