This week’s discussion question…

This week’s discussion: Would you allow your high schooler to play an M rated video game that is history based (like Assassins Creed III)? Click the link if you aren’t familiar with the game. It’s set during the American Revolution and is fairly well-researched history-wise.

Our family had policies that varied over the years with different children. We had games we would not allow in the house and others we didn’t mind (example: our daughter enjoyed playing Age of Empires). We never forbid games outright (unless one of our kids “needed” a break from technology *cough* or was grounded, lol). I enjoy gaming and sometimes would play with the kids (or would hog a game on my own PC, lol).

This conversation isn’t to judge anyone, but to get a discussion going. 😉 What is your family’s policy about video games? What exceptions do you make (if any)?

This post is also cross-posted on the Guest Hollow Facebook page, the Guest Hollow High School Curriculum group and the Guest Hollow High School History Group. 🙂 Feel free to comment here (via the comments) or one the above linked FB pages.

A Chemistry in the Kitchen “Testimonial”

Guest Hollow Homeschool Curriculum

Homeschooling mom L.S. shared this recently about her kids’ experience with our Chemistry in the Kitchen curriculum (shared with permission):

“I went to public high school and took Chemistry 1 & 2, but nothing in those classes would have actually helped me to pursue a science related career. My kids are learning so much more than I ever did in those classes and have retained it all! I memorized formulas, vocabulary words, methods, and all the other traditional chemistry concepts, but it meant nothing because it was all for a test and a grade. The things my kids are learning with this program are being learned organically and the concepts are coming up in everyday situations. They know their stuff!!!

Both my kids have issues, my son has mild cognitive issues (epilepsy) and my daughter deals with ADHD although she is ahead cognitively. For BOTH of them to grasp the same material and for it all to make sense is HUGE!!! ”

Her comment is exactly what I hoped for when I created this curriculum (and the other Guest Hollow programs as well)! I get so many comments about kids who are learning, retaining, and enjoying the material in our curricula – whether it’s chemistry or grammar or one of our other programs!! 

Please share with others about your experience(s) with Guest Hollow and consider leaving a comment below and/or a review in our store ( We need everyone to spread the word so that other students can benefit from the Guest Hollow style of learning! Share the love for GH! 

A mom shares her experience with Chemistry in the Kitchen

homeschool chemistry curriculum review
A mom recently shared her teens’ experiences with Chemistry in the Kitchen. I’m sharing what she wrote here, with her permission! I get a lot of emails that describe this type of transformation of a student’s attitude toward science. These stories highlight what my goal for Guest Hollow curriculum is: to engage students, get them thinking, teach them practical things they will actually use in their lives, and spark an interest in learning by using a creative approach. If you have a story to share how Guest Hollow has changed your school day or your child’s view of a particular subject, please feel free to share in the comments! Your sharing will help other families better decide if Guest Hollow is a fit for them or not! 🙂
The excerpt from the email I received:
I’ve always been intrigued with a more literature learning style but my boys were reluctant. They say they prefer one textbook for the whole course. What I’ve found is when it comes to science a textbook can be hard because they tend to just give the facts and you memorize. There is no practical application (aside from experiments.) When I chose this course I didn’t know if it would be a good fit. It was so different than anything we’ve done before. They liked that they only had one small book at a time, it didn’t feel so overwhelming. If they didn’t like a book they knew it would be over in a week and they would jump into something new. My oldest who is the pickiest loved all the practical learning. He would often pull me into a discussion about what he read that day. Sometimes it would be comments like, “I’m never eating that again” and sometimes it would be, “What do you think about vaccines, my book says this.” Both teens willing do their science daily – that to me is the biggest blessing because with Biology, I had a wonderful and solid course for them but they fought me all year. We ended up doing just the reading part and the microscope sat in the box unopened. I think this course is perfect for the non-traditional learner because it is more interest-led. My boys have already decided that we will be doing Guest Hollow Physics next year.

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.


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      


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!



Otter’s Christian High School Biology is Posted

I’ve finally finished posting the homeschool biology curriculum I put together for my son! I’m still working on a few things like:

  • Making more workbook pages for the later chapters
  • Creating some lab printables
  • Continuing to edit the textbook
  • Working on Greek & Latin root vocabulary

Even though I will be tweaking the program over the 2013-2014 school year while we use it as well as creating additional components, it’s completely usable “as is”.

I hope it helps some of you out there! Feel free to snag the graphic from this post if you want to spread the word.