Missing out on our Facebook Posts?


by Ann Clay

Are you a Facebook fan? VaHomeschoolers has been managing its own page since March 2009. Now well into our fifth year, we are posting a lot more!

Due to the growth of our organization and the interest in homeschooling, we now post several times a day! In addition to this blog, we tell you about upcoming events and classes, and share quotes and thoughts about parenting and homeschooling. Members can contribute photos and stories about their experiences.

Some of our followers are having trouble getting our updates. That is, they have ‘liked’ our Facebook page but are not seeing our daily posts in their News Feeds.  We’re here to help you with your settings so that you don’t miss any or all of VaHomeschoolers’ information.

First, go to our Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/VaHomeschoolers

Now move your cursor to the right center part of the heading, just under our ‘cover’ photo (the big photo we put at the top of our page). There is a box that says either “Like” or “Liked.” If it says “Like” you have not yet liked our page, and you will not see any of our updates. If it says “Liked,” that means you have already liked us. However, liking us is not enough!

Either way, go ahead and click on that Like (Liked) box. If you just let your cursor hover over it, you will see a drop down menu. You will see this list:

  • Get Notifications

  • Show in News Feed

  • Settings….

  • Add to Interest lists…

  • Unlike

Go to the second item on the list, ‘Show in News Feed.’  Click on that phrase so that it shows a black checkmark to the left of it. This means that every time you open your own news feed and scroll down,  whatever we post on the VaHomeschoolers Facebook page will be in your list, or feed.

Now, go back again to the Like (Liked) box and go to the third item on the list, ‘Settings…’ You will get another drop down menu. Your choices are:

  • All Updates

  • Most Updates

  • Only Important

Unless you click on ‘All Updates,’ you are not going to see all of our posts.  Make sure that there is a black checkmark to the left of ‘All Updates.’

Finally, go  back to that Like (Liked) menu one last time and click on ‘Get Notifications.’ You may see a black checkmark to the left of it. If you don’t see that black checkmark, click on ‘Get Notifications.’ That means that you are asking Facebook to send you a notification whenever we post something on Facebook. You can see your notifications on your own News Feed in the blue bar at the top. There is a little world icon. If it has a red box with white numbers in it, that means you have new notifications.  Click on that icon and you will see a list of all the notifications from your friends and other pages you have liked.

You’re still not done! Even though completing these steps will increase the possibility that you will see our posts in your feed, the best way to ensure this is to actually visit our  Facebook page and post on it a couple of times a week. When you ‘Like’ one of our posts or comment on one, Facebook’s algorithm will learn that VaHomeschoolers is very important to you, so it will send you more updates.

There’s another really good reason to actually visit our Facebook page.  We are not the only ones who post to our page. Anyone who is on Facebook can post there. Subscribers ask questions, suggest field trips and classes, and share blog posts and articles. Sometimes we re-post these items under our own name, but it’s not always possible. You will not see any of these posts unless you visit our Facebook page.

Seems like an awful lot of trouble, doesn’t it? Just remember that Facebook is a business, and although free to all users they do have options which encourage us to purchase  advertising to boost the visibility of our posts. Although this would make it easier for you to receive all of our posts on your News Feed, VaHomeschoolers would like to use that money in ways that more directly help you, our members, so we don’t want to pay Facebook if at all possible. By going through the steps above, you won’t miss anything, and you’ll get all of our updates , at least 5 per weekday.

When you have set your settings the way you like them, please share this information with your other homeschooling friends who use Facebook. Thanks for taking the time to do this. You won’t be disappointed.


Nature Apps for Homeschooling

submitted by Stephanie Elms, Annandale

What could be better or more convenient than having access to multiple field guides or star maps when you are out and about? Digital nature apps allow you to carry a variety of field guides with you at all times. The digital aspects of these guides make them extremely interactive, providing not only the traditional text and photos, but also audio and video. Add to that, robust search capabilities and even social sharing options and you will quickly see what great educational resources these can be.

Audubon Guides

The National Audubon Society offers 23 nature apps covering birds, mammals, butterflies, fish, insects, spiders, reptiles, amphibians, owls, mushrooms, wildflowers, and trees as well as regional guides. These guides are extremely extensive and are wonderful tools for exploring the world around us.

From the website:

The Audubon Guide apps use updated and expanded content from the authoritative National Audubon Society Field Guides to cover thousands of plants and animals. The apps include more than 8,000 professional color photographs, over 2,300 bird songs and calls, thousands of range maps, in-depth species descriptions with updated information about behavior, habitat, the natural history of plant and animal families and species, extensive reference material and much more.

Available for iOS/Android/Nook/Kindle for $4.99-$9.99 (keep a lookout for frequent sales)


The iBird series of apps provides you access to a wealth of app options to enhance your birding experience. The apps provide photos, illustrations, audio bird calls as well as a huge amount of information about the birds and their habitats.

Available for iOS/Android/PC/Kindle for free – $19.99.


Leafsnap is an app developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution that uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. Containing beautiful high-resolution images of leaves, flowers, fruit, petiole, seeds, and bark, Leafsnap currently includes the trees of the Northeast and will soon grow to include the trees of the entire continental United States.

Available for iOS for free.

The Night Sky

The Night Sky app allows you to point your device into the night sky and identify the stars, planets and satellites overhead.

Available for iOS/Android/PC/Mac  for free or $.99

Star Walk

The 360-degree, touch control star map displays constellations, stars, planets, satellites, and galaxies currently overhead from anywhere on Earth.

Available for iOS for $2.99

Google Earth

Google Earth lets you fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, from galaxies in outer space to the canyons of the ocean. My kids love seeing other parts of the world through Google Earth.

Available for IOS/Android/Mac/PC for free.


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.



Finding Your Tribe: Fitting in and Finding Your Place as a Homeschooling Family

Submitted By Janell E. Robisch

The challenge of fitting in is a global one. Whether young or old, most people naturally seek out a group of like-minded folks with whom they can talk and share their lives and experiences. Even in a pre-made social structure like school, children and school staff can face a lot of difficulty finding a group of individuals with whom they feel comfortable. Homeschoolers are no different, and they face the difficulty of being physically spread out and initially disconnected. No one plops every homeschooler in a region together in one room or building and says, “Here are the other homeschoolers. Go find a friend.”

New homeschooling parents may find this a particularly vexing problem as they try to establish a community for their children, who are often fresh out of school, while simultaneously trying to figure out which style of homeschooling is best for them and which materials and curricula work best for their children.

Where Is Everybody??? Finding a Community

Your first and hopefully easiest option is to see what’s already out there. The Internet, while not a perfect solution, is a lifesaver in this regard. Through places like The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, Yahoo! Groups, and Facebook, you can connect with other homeschoolers in your area and maybe even get a feel for them before you attend your first playdate, park day, or class. I’m sure it was much harder to connect with other homeschoolers before the Internet unless you already shared another community, such as church. Religion, by the way, definitely plays a part in finding your homeschooling community. There are distinct groups of religious, secular, and inclusive homeschoolers out there, and ending up in the wrong group, even temporarily, can be uncomfortable at the least and a downright bad experience in other cases.

Toni Popoki Reed, a homeschooler from San Diego, California, told me that as an atheist/agnostic family, they had trouble fitting among religious homeschoolers in their area; they were sometimes asked not to come back to park days, and sometimes they “just got tired of being asked to various churches.” On the other hand, those who homeschool for religious reasons might feel persecuted or out of place among a more secular crowd and might prefer to seek out other homeschoolers who make religion and worship a core part of their study. Finally, there are inclusive groups where everyone is welcomed and hopefully respected whatever their viewpoint. These groups try to find a happy medium where anyone can join and hopefully find children and parents that mesh well with their own families.

If the Mountain Will Not Come to Muhammad…Creating Your Own Community

Unfortunately, the world is not a perfect place, and finding a community can be a challenge. Religious issues, homeschooling philosophy, and family issues can all be barriers in finding the right fit.  Sometimes, geography also stands in the way. In my small town in the Shenandoah Valley, the homeschool population has been small but steadily growing over the nine years that I have lived here. I have found myself driving at least 45 minutes the majority of the times we meet with other homeschoolers. For us, it has been worth it, but a lack of time and money and kids who get carsick are many factors that make this a less attractive option.  The “over-flexibility” of some homeschoolers can also cause problems for those seeking out a new community. Who hasn’t shown up to a homeschool park day or field trip—or several—just to find out that no one else showed up? Repeated instances of this can sour anyone’s attitude.

Gleamer Sullivan, a homeschooling mom from Grottoes, found herself in a similar situation when her children were young and her oldest was just reaching schooling age. Despite joining a co-op and going to every park day and swimming day she could find, Gleamer found that it was not enough to meet the needs of her very social and outgoing daughter.

At some point, Toni, and Gleamer and I all came up with the same solution: We started our own communities.  I started a homeschool co-op, which struggled on for about a year. I can’t say it was completely successful. I found that my small town community still wasn’t large enough to support it, and geography proved too large a barrier to many of the out-of-towners that were driving in. Also, meeting the needs of the various age groups and different needs of the children was somewhat of a challenge. However, I know many who have formed and maintained successful co-ops. Toni and a friend of hers started their own all-inclusive homeschool park day.  They have earned a reputation for being open and respectful among other homeschoolers and their group draws in families of all faiths and those with no faith.  Gleamer took it one step further and, with her husband, started Raw Learning, a private democratic school and homeschool resource center. It allowed her to give life to her learning philosophies while providing her children (and others) with a consistent community of children and parents who could grow and learn together over the years. For her, it has been a successful endeavor that is now starting its fifth year.

Climbing Out of the Box: Expanding Your Community

You may at some point, especially as your children get older, find it necessary to take the word homeschooling out of the whole community equation at least some of the time. Your friends and your kids’ friends obviously do not all need to be homeschoolers. My children and I have made many friends (even some who are homeschoolers!) through the dance, gymnastics, and martial arts classes offered at our local gym. Scouting, 4-H, and other “after school” clubs remain another option. According to Toni, “While we continue our exploration of our world through unschooling more and more, we have found less time for the homeschooling community and more for the world in general. In a sense, our community went from a limited amount of a subgroup within a group that is already an alternative way of living to a bigger group of just regular people who happen to value education as a way of life.”

Go Online or Get Out of Town

Finally, when all else fails, at least we have the Internet. In those periods when it seems like it’s impossible to find a group or even just a few like-minded homeschoolers, your virtual community can keep you sane, offering a place to vent your homeschooling difficulties and to find ideas for learning.  Also, consider alternate ways of socializing, such as finding your child (and maybe yourself) a pen pal whether online or through snail mail. Having a pen pal in another region or country can be an enriching experience for all involved and can broaden the horizons of any family.

As far as our family goes, we are still working on finding a permanent community, but fortunately, we have many tethers and many friends in our area, even if they are spread out a bit!

 How did you find a place for you and your children? Leave a comment and let us know!

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 Volunteers@VaHomeschoolers.org for more information. Also please check our Help Wanted section on our website: http://vahomeschoolers.org/volunteer/

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 Volunteers@VaHomeschoolers.org for more information. Please check our volunteers page and scroll down to the Help Wanted listings at http://vahomeschoolers.org/volunteer/.

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.

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