Big Bag of Science Kit Review

Big Bag of Science Kit


The Big Bag Of Science gets 5 stars!

My teaching philosophy when it comes to science is to make topics as hands-on and engaging as possible. When Otter was younger I invested in TONS of science kits and have always kept a closet stocked with hundreds of different science related items (as well as a bookshelf stuffed full of colorful books on all types of science topics).

Science books

A tiny sliver of our science books…

I still endeavour to make science something like the dessert of our day. Yes, science is harder now, but after working years on building a strong foundation, Otter finds many of the topics we are studying for highschool more like an in depth review of things he’s covered years before. He loves science and I feel like my approach was a big part of kindling that.

Now that I’m helping my friend teach her daughter some homeschool subjects, I get to play some more and watch a new set of eyes light up during “science time”.

Today, Rabbit got to try out the Big Bag Of Science kit. She’s learning about animals from her main science program, but we are breaking things up with kits and extras, as I always did for Otter and my other kids.

The Big Bag of Science is actually a pretty decent sized plastic bag with a woven handle and zipper top filled with most of the supplies you need to do around 70 science activities (some of which are dependent on others, so in reality they are stretching it quite a bit to say it has 70 things to do).

The first thing we did was unpack the bag. Everything was laid out neatly in zip-loc style plastic pouches and a plastic case with indentations to keep things from shifting around. Once it was unpacked it looked like this:

Big Bag of Science Kit Review by Guesthollow!


Here’s the “official” photograph of the contents, which is quite a bit nicer than the picture I took:

bigbagofscience2The nice big sheet of color changing paper as shown in the official picture is, in reality, just little yellow strips in our kit.

Some of the items you get in the kit are:

  • Color changing strips
  • Gravity Goo Powder (Linear Polyacrylamide)
  • Insta-Snow Power (Sodium Polyacrylate)
  • Water Gel (Poly homopolymer or sodium salt of polyacrylic acid)
  • Quicksand Powder (cornstarch)
  • Super-absorbent crystals (Sodium Polyacrylamide)
  • Fizzing color tablets
  • Worm Goo Activator (Calcium Chloride)
  • P.T.C. paper (Phenylthiourea-Phenylthiocarbamide)
  • UV beads
  • Garbled marbles (Cross-linked polyacrylamide Polymer gel)
  • Iron filings
  • Worm goo (Sodium Alginate)
  • Assorted equipment like “baby soda bottles”, plastic test tubes, geyser tube, magnet, magnifying glass, plastic wells, petri dish, plastic cups, balloon, metal nut, twister tube, cardboard color wheel, etc.
  • A 30 page instruction guide (feels like it’s printed on something similar to heavy newspaper print and is all text with no pictures) with various activities and experiments outlined step-by-step as well as “How does it work?” information that explains the “why” behind the science

Most of the items are of pretty decent quality. The test tubes and test tube holders are TOUGH and could probably be dropped on the floor multiple times. A few things are a little chintzy, like the cheap plastic pipette, but everything is certainly serviceable. Overall, I think the kit is worth the money. I don’t think you could buy all of the items individually for less (plus it would be a huge hassle rounding it all up, if you tried).

The included items do NOT have enough materials though to do some of the cooler experiments more than once. However, if your budding scientist turns out to really want to do something again, most of the experiments can be purchased in single kits that have enough materials for multiple uses via the Steve Spangler Science website.

The instruction manual gives you a list of materials you will need to obtain yourself like water, paper towels, red cabbage, vinegar, soda pop, D battery and so on. Most of the items are things you would normally have laying around the house with maybe a few exceptions like a 1/2 cup of potting soil and fast growing seeds (radish or similar), Mentos candies, a bottle of diet soda, iron fortified cereal (like Total), and sunscreen.

Little kids won’t be able to do the experiments on their own, but I think the kit would be appropriate for ages 6-12. The package says it’s recommended for ages 8-9 with adult supervision. Having said that though, Otter, my 9th grader, has repeatedly expressed how he wants to use the kit himself and how it looks like so much fun. I guess you are never too old to play science!

Younger kids will need a lot of help, especially with reading through the activity steps, and older kids might need a bit of assistance or instruction, especially if you want to expand on the activities and teach additional concepts or explain the “whys” behind the experiments in greater detail. I would feel comfortable turning an 8 year old loose with it, IF I could trust said 8 year old to read through the instructions and not just start experimenting willy-nilly. At the very least, make sure young scientists are in an area where it’s O.K. to make a big mess and keep things away from little ones who might put things in their mouths, as there are a lot of chemical powders and things like iron filings.

The Big Bag Of Science kit covers a variety of things like physical science, chemistry and biology with even a small smattering of earth science and others.  The kit is what I’d call mostly science PLAY (unless you add to it, as I’ve done), so you couldn’t use this as a curriculum. However, you could use it as a spring-board for introducing various science concepts and as something to pull out to add a bit of fun during your school week.

Big Bag Of Science in Action

Today we tried out the first 3 activities. Some of the activities rely on materials created in a previous activity, so you’ll want to skim ahead in the instructions to see if you should combine some of the activities in one session, as we did today.

Today’s activities / experiments:

Activity 1: Fizzing colors - Rabbit learned what a solution is, what it means for something to dissolve, a little bit about chemical reactions, gases, carbon dioxide and experiment safety. We added in information about exhaling carbon dioxide and how plants give off oxygen too.

Color tablets releasing carbon dioxide and fizzing

Activity 2: Cross-eyed Colors: Rabbit held up the capped tubes with the colored water to the light, crossed them and saw that you can make new colors. Um, yeah, not much of an activity. See what I was saying about “stretching it” to say there are 70 activities in the kit?!

Activity 3: Color Chemistry: Now Rabbit used the colored water from the tubes to mix new colors in some shallow plastic wells. She learned about primary colors, secondary colors & tertiary colors. I also added in some additional information and activities so she learned how light is made up of colors, how our eyes perceive colors, how and why scientists record their experiments and so on.

Rabbit mixing colors:bigbagofscience7


Learning to record results:bigbagofscience6


Max thinks science is boring…



After Rabbit mixed colors, we looked at a prism (not included in the kit) to see how light is composed of different colors and made rainbows all over my craft room:



A rainbow on the wall:



Rabbit spent over an hour experimenting and learning and we covered quite a few different science concepts just from 3 simple, yet fun activities!

Final Thoughts:

The Big Bag Of Science gets 5 stars. It has plenty of activities to spark student interest and nourish a love for science that will hopefully continue through high school and beyond! This type of kit is perfect for helping to set that kind of permanent foundation – one where kids think science is FUN and not a chore. It’s also makes a great supplement or concept starter and a parent who is well-versed in science topics will have no trouble using it as a springboard for all sorts of teaching. It’s also something that will keep kids busy for hours over the life of the kit, even if parents are totally hands-off.


  • You get a lot of different materials for a pretty decent price (considering how much it would cost to buy the items individually) in a fairly impressive package.
  • It will probably appeal to a multitude of ages due to the fun factor.
  • There are lots of gooey, messy experiments that will appeal to kids.


  • Kids who’ve been doing a lot of science over the years (like Otter) probably won’t learn much from the kit, even though they are likely to have fun.
  • The kit exaggerates how many experiments there are by adding in activities like “Put flowers in water in one of the test tubes” and tries to call that life science.
  • Many of the more fun experiments don’t have enough materials to do them repeatedly and the instructions don’t tell you when you need to save items from one experiment to use in another (so you have to skim ahead).

All-in-all, I think this is a worthwhile kit, especially to brighten up a dull day in your homeschool or to help spark an avid interest in science that gets you out of a textbook and over to the table to learn and have fun!


English from the Roots Up

I ordered English from the Roots Up years ago and my big kids dabbled in it. Now Rabbit is using it on a regular basis.

English from the Roots up


English from the Roots Up is a vocabulary program that teaches students in grades 2 to 12 Greek and Latin roots as well as a variety of derivatives and their definitions. 100 roots are covered (63 Latin roots and 37 Greek roots) with an average of 6 to 8 derivatives per root. That’s at least 600 definitions that are so much easier to learn and retain because students are learning the roots the words are made from! It’s also easier to figure out unknown words. If you know a word’s root, you can have a much better idea of what it might mean, even if you don’t know the full definition.

The program is really easy to use. Each page looks something like this:

english from the roots up page example


Greek roots are lined in green and Latin roots are lined in red (red for the Romans?). The pictures of the cards represent the flashcards your students are supposed to create. However, many homeschoolers just use free notebooking pages and worksheets from online to accomplish the same thing. Rabbit fills out notebook pages and I create cards for her to study from. For kids who are really averse to writing or too little to write much, you can even purchase pre-made flashcards.

I really like this vocabulary program because it’s inexpensive, pretty open-ended and you can practice learning the words in a number of different ways by playing games, using flashcards, writing, reading and basically whatever works.

Here’s a game I played with Rabbit today to practice her root cards. Mr. Frog was trying to make it across the derivative cards to the root cards. If Rabbit got a word wrong, he fell off the card into the “water” and she had to start the line of cards over. If he made it all the way to the root card, Mr. Frog shared a few of his chocolate chips with her. Nothing like a little chocolate with your vocabulary!




English from the Roots Up is perfect for families with a variety of ages. It says it’s for grades 2-12 and I think that’s an accurate statement, although I’d recommend using a much slower pace for littles. Even I’ve learned a thing or two and Otter plans to make his own set of cards from the book sometime in the near future to supplement his other vocabulary studies. wink I  LOVE the fact that the kids are learning the tools to understanding & unlocking many of the “big” and more complicated words in the English language.

After using the first volume, we plan on starting volume 2!


It covers a large assortment of Greek and Latin roots.
Learning vocabulary via roots engenders retention of word meanings.
It’s great practice for the SAT and other similar tests.
You can use it with almost any age.
It’s a very flexible program without any “busywork”.
It can be used over any time period – 1 year or so for big kids, 2 or more for younger students.
The program isn’t dumbed down for kids. It assumes they are smart enough to learn all of this, and they are!!


It requires a fair amount of writing (copying), unless you purchase the flashcards which would take away some of the efficacy of the program because writing helps you learn the material.
Very young students may not be able to read all of the big words (Rabbit needs a lot of help as many of the words are beyond her reading level).
It requires teacher participation, except for older students who can manage on their own. You can’t just sit your child down with a workbook and go do something else.

If you are looking for a change in your vocabulary lessons and something different from the usual fill in the blank boring workbook, English from the Roots Up might be worth looking into!

Here are some free resources / printables to use the program. We are using the notebooking pages & tests and I plan on using the flashcards (for the games) as soon as a get a big package of cardstock to print them out on!

Cyncesplace has several terrific printables:

Notebooking Pages
Flashcards and Games

Here are some other freebies & printables to use with the program from other sources:

Greek root word study notebook page
Latin root word study notebook page

Printable flashcards (just features the root word – you still have to fill them out)

Quizlet flashcards

Happy Homeschooling!

Eating Mochi for the New Year

We’ve always felt it important to expose Otter to many different cultures and their customs.

Mark 16:15 - And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world…
Matthew 28:10 - Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…

In the past we’ve attended all types of festivals & events for the Basque, Portuguese, Sikhs, Mexicans, Italians, and others. I think the fact that we’ve focused on appreciating other cultures/people is what gave our daughter such a heart for the Japanese people and led her to a career path that may involve a future job in Tokyo! I know that Otter has had a lot of fun too, over the years, especially sampling cuisines from around the world.

Right before the new year, we got a taste (literally!) of the old-fashioned Japanese custom of making homemade mochi (pronounced mo-chee)!


Picture of mochi balls- Image credit: Wikipedia

Mochi is a rice “cake” that is formed from a short-grained rice and an important part of the Japanese New Year. It’s made from cooked rice pounded into a paste and then molded into balls. Sometimes the balls are filled with sweet azuki bean paste. We tried raw pieces sprinkled with sugar and topped with soy sauce and indulged in the pieces of “ahn” – mochi stuffed with chocolate-colored azuki. Yum!

In the nearby town of Livingston there is a group of people descended from the Yamoto Colony – Japanese who moved to California in the early 1900′s to farm the land. Their traditions still live on to this day during the annual mochi making day that’s been celebrated for decades.

We had a great time hanging out in the frosty morning air, watching and participating in the mochi-making. After a couple of hours, we took a bag of mochi home to celebrate the New Year!

Otter helping to pound the sticky rice paste into a smooth dough with a mallet:pounding mochi

Click here to see pictures my husband took for the Merced Sun-Star, as well as a video the Sun-Star posted of the event.

We are so fortunate to live in an area where there are so many traditions and cultures to share in and learn about first-hand!

I just had to pick my son up from the police station…


Yeah, I know…but don’t worry. It wasn’t like THAT.  It’s become a regular thing around here. While other kids are trying to sneak their parent’s alcohol to “celebrate” the holiday season, Otter is out participating in busting drunks and D.U.I.’s. Last night he was helping at a D.U.I. checkpoint and he’s scheduled to go out this month on saturation patrols. Oh, and he turned in the neighbor girl when she and her friends were playing drinking games in the backyard while “Daddy” was at work.

Otter knows the dangers of inappropriate alcohol consumption and he’s seen first hand the damage it can do to families. He’s witnessed the car accidents and arrests and heard the excuses of perpetrators of domestic violence under the influence as they try to justify what they did in the back of a patrol car. As a parent, it’s nice to know my son isn’t out participating in what some consider a “normal” thing for some teens – one of those “unavoidable” parenting trials that comes around for many, especially during a season of parties and holiday “merriment”. Some parents are staying up late because their teen is out past curfew with friends. We stay up late to welcome our son home from a ride-along with his friends, like Officer B. wink We don’t worry when he’s out around midnight. We KNOW where he is, lol, and don’t mind a bit when a patrol car comes up to our home and police officers end up in our house.

I like picking my son up from the police station. Never thought I’d say that!

Otter has learned SO much through the Police Explorer programs and has been enjoying every minute of being out in our community.  I highly recommend looking into it, even for teens who may not want a career in police work! The officers are there helping kids make right choices a habit and teaching good lessons that will be deeply ingrained. It’s a great environment that really focuses on character and meeting tough standards.

While he spends a great deal of time focusing on law enforcement activities, that’s not all he’s been up to!

Otter wrapped up this year’s concerts by playing piano for a candlelight vigil for victims of violence. I’m so happy he was able to participate in this event. My big grown-up-girl Emily was also there to sing “O Holy Night”. They both did a fantastic job.

When my kids were little I used to wonder how they would turn out. I love watching this part of their lives unfold and seeing the adults they are becoming. Otter still has a little ways to go, but he is getting very close. Just a bit more and he will officially be “grown up”. I am seeing the glimmers of the man he will become and think that every sacrifice we have made and are making will be worth it. I am so thankful that God provided us with the ability to homeschool our children and that He led us to a community where Otter can be involved in so many different activities, like Explorers, Scouts, our wonderful church & numerous community events. He knew the paths our children would take before we ever did and put things in place years before they would ever happen!

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

I look to that promise for all my children and praise God for every right and good decision they make.

I pray that you all have a safe and happy Christmas!

Science at our house…

It seems that I haven’t had much time to post anything lately! I thought I’d take a few minutes and post some of Otter’s biology activities.

Early on in the semester he made hot ice to demonstrate an exothermic reaction.

Gathering the ingredients:

Making hot ice for science

Adding in baking soda (OOPS – too fast!):


He also made homemade ice cream which demonstrated both exothermic AND endothermic reactions:


Mixing all the ingredients together in inner bags with ice and salt in the outer bags:


Shake-shake-shake (until your arm wants to fall off, LOL):


Getting ready to taste the experiment while discussing the scientific “whys”. He’ll never forget the concepts of exothermic and endothermic!


Another lab Otter did was testing to see if yeast is alive:

The test tube with yeast and sugar in it created gas which inflated the balloon over the top. It wasn’t a dramatic reaction because the yeast was old, but it did work. The other tubes were either controls or had less sugar.

Next is the model Otter built out of marshmallows to understand the fluid nature of a cell membrane. Each cell membrane has phospholipid molecules that can move around, sort of like ping-pong balls crowded together, floating in a bathtub. The marshmallows in this activity represented the heads of those phospholipid molecules and the chunks of apple represented proteins and lipid rafts. When Otter moved the apples pieces around, he could see how membrane-bound proteins can move in and among the phospholipids. As he moved the apple chunks, the marshmallows floated to close the empty space the apples left. This awesome activity is from Ellen McHenry’s Cells curriculum, something we used to supplement a portion of Otter’s Biology.marshmallows

Otter isn’t the only one doing science at our house! I’m helping another homeschool mom/friend teach her daughter in several subjects. I’ll call our new, occasional and much younger student “Rabbit” because I’ve always thought rabbits are so cute and sweet and that describes her to a T. wink Rabbit is a lover of science just like Otter and he enjoys participating in some of her experiments during his free time.

Here’s one that sat on our counter for a full day before the colors finally mixed and made a uniform purple. The top glass has HOT water colored with blue food coloring and the bottom is COLD water colored with red.



Rabbit learned about the movement of atoms, how cold water (and air) sink to the bottom while hot air (and water) rises and lots of other fun concepts.

Rabbit also got to use the microscope the other day to look at this butterfly we found in the backyard:


She was amazed to see that the wings are made of tiny scales. I just had fun watching her face light up as an entirely new world was opened up to her for the first time.

It’s been busy at Guesthollow!!


State Test Results Show Otter’s Curriculum Works

…for us anyway! ;-) star test


I recently received Otter’s results from the California state STAR test he took last spring and I’m very happy with the results. Otter did quite well in all the tested subjects, but he scored ADVANCED in science and would have also scored advanced in history except for one category of history on the test we hadn’t studied yet. That one category brought his history score down a little bit, just below the advanced cut-off.

A sample of Otter’s science scores (chemistry and a variety of other science topics):





Despite not reaching the advanced score for history, Otter got top results in the other history categories we’ve covered in our homeschool (like Ancient Civilizations, Middle Ages, Renaissance & Reformation, etc.), even in history topics we haven’t studied for years!

I don’t like the STAR tests, but they do allow me to see how Otter compares to other students in the state. To see he’s scoring advanced in the areas where *I* designed his curriculum is really a payoff for all the untold hours of hard work creating Otter’s science and history programs.

The bottom line is that I know what works for my son. It’s so encouraging to see him scoring so well despite some learning struggles we are working very hard to overcome. I can’t guarantee these kinds of results from my curriculum for anyone else, but it’s satisfying to see it’s working for Otter, since he’s who I designed it for, after all! :-)

If you are teaching a student who is struggling, DON’T get discouraged. Keep on going and hang in there. It’s taken us years to get to where Otter is currently in regards to academics and there is still a lot of hard work to be done before he graduates and heads off for college. Some students are slow to blossom, but when they do…the reward is somehow so much sweeter for all the trying.

One more quick post about Otter’s Biology

For those of you using the online version of the textbook, please update your bookmarks to this url:

Also, a new version of the workbook answer key has been posted as some of the answers for specific sections were missing. You can download it here:

NEW, updated answer key

Thanks to all of you who are alerting me to missing things, broken links or other similar issues!! Your help is making Otter’s Biology better and better!


If you’ve had trouble accessing Otter’s Biology textbook via CK-12

In the last couple days, I and others have had trouble accessing Otter’s Biology on the CK-12 website. If you’ve had issues and are receiving an error, here is a quick fix:

Clear your Browser’s cookies and cache for the domain

Here’s an article on managing cookies for your reference -

Here’s an article on managing the cache for your reference -

I tried the above fixes and now am able to access the textbook with no problems!

9th Grade Curriculum and High School Plans & Otter the Cop-in-Training

High school is one of those things that strikes fear in many homeschooling parent’s hearts. Having been a parent of two high schoolers already, I feel pretty confident this time around. I’ve already posted about how homeschoolers tend to worry about college too much (a series of posts I need to get around to finishing one of these days!!). I’ve been able to see first hand how God takes care of the details when you pursue him wholeheartedly. Knowing that, I’m not so worried about everything this time around but instead am keeping in mind a bigger picture as we head into the next four years.

My biggest goal is to continue to support Otter in his development as a decent Christian young man.

Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…

I think the first step to his success is this:

Proverbs 3:5-6 -

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

My second goal is to help prepare him for and support him concerning his future career choice as either a CHP (California Highway Patrol) officer or a local police officer. I know a lot of kids aren’t really settled on what they want to be, but Otter is pretty firm in wanting to be a member of law enforcement and I don’t think that’s going to change. He LOVES his experiences and training in the CHP Explorers program and the local Police Explorers program (click on the link to see my previous post about the program). I’m really proud that he made 100% on the CHP Explorer’s test and that he’s recently obtained the rank of sergeant in Police Explorers!

Otter’s been on many ride-alongs already (approx. 184 hours worth as of this writing) and has participated in hours and hours of classroom training (sometimes up to 4-5 hours a week) and other related activities like helping to “man” D.U.I. checkpoints, etc.  He’s decided he wants to specialize in going after D.U.I. and drug violations as well as handling domestic violence incidents.

One of his favorite activities is hanging out with his law enforcement mentors who he confides just about everything to (glad we don’t have family problems going on in our house or half the department would know about it, LOL), or going on multi-day overnight trips where the explorers do things like direct traffic for huge events or attend jr. academies.

He also enjoys walking around the neighborhood or riding in the car looking for and pointing out various violations. I get to hear things all the time like (when seeing someone weaving while driving), “Hey mom, VC Section 23152.” Or someone didn’t park right. That’s a XYZ3e64 violation (he knows the numbers – I don’t, lol).  Someone is burning wood on a no burn day, that’s a $50 fine. One had better not speed with this boy in the car or do anything else that violates the law! He’s a bloodhound, lol! Besides that, he’s really picked up the skill of spotting (and pointing out) someone who’s even just a little drunk or high from working at D.U.I. checkpoints on a regular basis as well as the hours of explorer classroom time spent learning about alcohol, narcotics and other drugs or behavior he’s witnessed on ride-alongs. He’s put his knowledge to use to regularly call the PD when he’s seen things like others smoking pot, drinking underage, etc. and isn’t afraid to stand up for what is right, no matter what the personal cost.

Besides buying him a fat copy of the California Penal Code (which, yes, he actually does sit down and read as well as quotes on a regular basis), we’ve also allowed him to devote a great deal of time, study and effort towards law enforcement related subjects.  He’s also devoted hours of time to community service through a variety of police related activities & events.

Otter on a ride-along. I promise he doesn’t really look like that. 

While it’s important to keep options open and to build a firm foundation in the basics, I believe high school is the perfect time to allow a teen to really pursue the wholesome things they love. Otter’s love is all things law enforcement related and so that’s what we’ve incorporated into his high school plan. For others it might be dance, music, writing, science, cooking, sewing or something else. Whatever it is, I believe time should be set aside in a busy homeschooling schedule to allow these interests and talents to blossom. You never know when and how God may use them (as I’ve seen over and over in our daughter’s life!).

Knowing what Otter wants to be makes planning his high school years a little easier. He’s talked about going into the local jr. college’s criminal justice program and then either applying to the CHP Academy or going through a regular police academy program. That doesn’t mean he’s gets it easy during the next four years though. He still has to learn things like Latin whether he wants to or not! Being a well-rounded and well-educated individual is another important goal we’re working on achieving. Still, having a career goal in mind allows me to tweak some of his subjects to reflect and incorporate his interests. Some future things I’ll be adding to our curriculum:

  • Criminal Justice Report Writing – There is no reason why this can’t be incorporated into our English program! When I think Otter is a strong writer, we’ll focus in on this style of writing and perfect it BEFORE he goes to college and/or the police academy.
  • Forensics – After finishing biology and chemistry, we’ll probably spend a good deal of time learning forensics for science.
  • Critical Thinking, Reasoning & Logic – These are important skills for interpersonal interactions, investigations and so on. We’ll spend time working on this important subject and helping Otter’s mind learn how to grapple with all sorts of problems and situations.
  • Much of law enforcement centers around criminal law which is constitutionally based. This fits perfectly with our history studies as we are focusing part of our studies on our country’s beginning, the constitution, etc.
  • Police Officer Exam Practice – Some students practice for the SAT and ACT. We’ll spend some time practicing for officer exams with the same style of test prep books.
  • Firearms training – Otter already spends a lot of time shooting with Grandpa at the range. He’s also started training with “dummy” weapons during his CHP classes. We’ll treat shooting as a sport and elective.

Those are just some of the ways I plan to “tweak” other subjects or add in electives to support Otter’s career goals. I love how homeschooling allows us to adjust and personalize things. We still have regular school to do though too! With that in mind, here are some of the things we’re using for 9th grade. I don’t use any one particular curriculum because I’ve highly customized everything to reflect Otter’s needs. He struggles in some areas and excels in others. The important thing is that I understand how he best learns and take the time to use the materials and methods that help his learning stick. I want him to not only be successful in his future, but to also kindle a lifelong love for learning.

English -

Jensen's Punctuation: A Complete Guide to All Your Punctuation Needs

Jensen’s Punctuation: A Complete Guide to All Your Punctuation Needs - If you have a student who still needs to work on punctuation, Jensen’s is a no frills workbook that has sequential, spaced repetition and will help cement punctuation rules for older students. Exercises are taken from historical and classical texts which adds to the educational value.

Paragraphs for High School: A Sentence-Composing Approach

Paragraphs for High School: A Sentence-Composing Approach - gives students new tools to write mature and varied sentences through imitating models by authors like John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Maya Angelou, J.D. Salinger, and many others. With recognizable authors as their mentors, students build confidence as their writing becomes more meaningful and masterful.

The Complete Writer: Writing With Skill

The Complete Writer: Writing With Skill - This is just one tool in my arsenal for teaching writing. Writing is NOT Otter’s strong suit so I’m actually using a variety of items to help shore this area up. We are taking it slow and using materials that help lay things out step-by-step. One curriculum I HIGHLY recommend for struggling or reluctant writers is The Paragraph Book series. This series made the most amazing difference in Otter’s writing!!

Spelling Simplified

Spelling Simplified - Yes, we are continuing to work on spelling in high school. Some kids just get it (like my daughter) and some kids just don’t (like Otter). This inexpensive book was designed to be used by older students and even adults who still aren’t strong in spelling.

“Chapters devoted to syllables and stress, patterns in the language, consonant clusters, and vowel-consonant combinations are included, each complete with its own set of examples and exercises. From the simplest root words through longer words derived from foreign languages, Spelling Simplified guides you through basic techniques for learning how to “hear” a word, how to master irregularities, and how to form large words from smaller ones.”

A big plus for us is that it’s available on Kindle. Otter prefers reading from the Kindle, when possible. For whatever reason, he finds it easier and less intimidating.

We’re also using several different items for grammar (although Otter is pretty good at this by now we’re still covering some things) & vocabulary. Vocabulary is focused around Greek & Latin root study with a few other resources thrown in for variety like Marie’s Words.

Otter is also reading a variety of literature and short stories as well as doing a unit on some of the works of Shakespeare. A lot of his literature choices are tied to history and science this year like the book John Adams by David Mc Cullough.

Otter will be reading a variety of books this year - many tied to history and science.

Otter will be reading a variety of books this year – many tied to history and science.

We’re also learning about literary terms and other English related tidbits using things like this:

Figuratively Speaking - Even though this says it’s for grades 5-8, I think it’s a great workbook that covers most literary terms in an easy to understand manner.

Bible & Character - Here are some of the things we’ll be reading this year for our Bible and character studies (besides our daily Bible readings):

The New Answers Book The New Answers Book 2 Evolution Exposed The Lie: Evolution      

Math -

Keys to Algebra - I’ve used this series in the past and like the fact that it takes things step-by-step and starts students out with concrete examples of abstract ideas. The amount of work per page is not in the least bit overwhelming and the lessons are easy enough to be self-teaching. If you have a student who has to learn algebra but needs something a little less daunting than traditional algebra programs, Keys to Algebra is a perfect homeschool solution.  Otter is also using some other materials as time permits as seen in a previous post. After finishing the Keys to Algebra books, we may use Teaching Textbooks to reinforce algebra before moving on to geometry.

Foreign Language – We’re still studying Spanish and Latin. :-) For Spanish we’re moving through the Learnables program. I’ve also ordered a bunch of “little kid” books in Spanish to practice our skills and build fluency in reading Spanish and retaining vocabulary. Otter is really sentimental about a lot of these titles. Even if he’s a big strapping 9th grader, it’s a fun excuse to visit some old favorites (here are just a few):


I also found out our library has a huge section of Spanish children’s books so we’ll be taking advantage of that too. The online library search term I use to find them is: Hora de acostarse — Novela juvenil. which basically translates to something like bedtime stories/fiction (for kids).

I did the same thing for Latin and ordered some fun books to practice Latin with:


Another Spanish learning favorite:

Getting Started with Spanish: Beginning Spanish for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age  - We loved the Getting Started with Latin book so much, I had to get this one for Spanish.


We’re continuing to move through the Awesome History Timeline for both U.S. and world history through a living books approach.


This year we’re studying biology and using Otter’s Christian High School Biology program. So far, so good. Otter likes the textbook so much that he read ahead by several chapters just for the fun of it yesterday. Before we started biology he was adamant that he wasn’t going to like it. That attitude was abandoned in about 2 seconds after he started diving into all the fun activities, books and videos. Yesterday he asked me if we could just spend all day doing science. Success! Of course then I had to be a mean mom and say “no”. ;-) Still! He loves it.


Police & CHP Explorers – As mentioned previously, this is an important part of Otter’s homeschool.

Piano – Otter would practice all day long if we’d let him! He currently working on learning Debussy’s Arabesque no 2, among other things.

His official transcript looks something like this and he is taking the maximum amount of credits:

  • English 9
  • Career Exploration (Police Explorers, etc.)
  • World Studies (as we are studying a mix of world and U.S. history)
  • Algebra (half credit as we’ll be taking it slower than a normal algebra class)
  • Biology
  • Health (incorporated in our biology studies and supplemented by several additional items)
  • Latin Enrichment (half credit as it will take a backseat to Spanish)
  • Music Instruction
  • Spanish

So…those are some of the things we’re using this year as well as some of the ideas for future planning! I’m looking forward to these last four years homeschooling!



Biology Workbook Update for Chapter 1

We started school (9th grade!!) this week, which means we’ve started using Otter’s Christian High School Biology. I’m making corrections, additions and changes to the materials as we use them. Today I’ve made some changes to chapter 1.1 of the text as well as the chapter 1 workbook pages and the answer key. I’m posting a notice here on my blog for those of you who may have downloaded these items. You may want to get the updates!

UPDATED chapter 1 workbook packet

UPDATED workbook answer key

Happy homeschooling to all of you who’ve started up school again!