Category Archives for Homeschooling

Choosing the Right Atlas

There are so many types of atlases that it can be hard knowing what it the right choice for your homeschool library. Here are things to consider plus some of my top picks.


1. The Age of the Atlas

Please don’t use a grossly out-of-date atlas for your studies. If you bought one at a yard sale for 50 cents, but it was printed in 1985, well, you got what you paid for. Country names and borders change frequently. Digital atlases usually update frequently enough that this isn’t a problem, but paper atlases either need to be replaced, or you can draw in new borders or write in changed names yourself.

2. Atlases and Age of Student

It is important to match, as best as possible, the right atlas for the student’s age. The level of detail in an atlas is usually a good indicator of its usability. The older the student, the more information can be put on a map and still be useable. The younger the student, the more important it is to keep the maps clean and simple for easy readability. Too many place names will be unreadable for younger kids, while insufficient detail will frustrate older students who can’t find what they need.

Also consider the use of color, if it includes any almanac-esque information, if it includes topography or just political information, and if it’s visually appealing for your student.

3. Atlases: Modern Versus Historical and/or Biblical

I believe a good home library will have all three! Why? Current or modern atlases show you the world today. Historical and Biblical atlases show you the world yesterday. Need to find Thebes, the extent of the Holy Roman Empire, or where Paul’s Missionary Journeys took place? Then you would look in a historical or Biblical atlases.

Most mainstream historical atlases will have few, if any, maps showing biblical history. That’s why we also recommend having a good Bible Atlas on hand as well—especially when studying ancient civilizations. Bible Atlases are great for both history class and Bible study, although they’re a bit too specialized to be your only historical atlas. You won’t find the Inca Empire or the Han Dynasty in a Bible atlas. So the reality is that all types of atlases are important when studying history.


Top Picks:


[Shameless Plug:] I designed WonderMaps with all three of these considerations in mind.

  1. I do my best to stay on top of changes to political geography and periodically updates the WonderMaps software. Free updates are included in your purchase so that you always have up-to-date maps.
  2. WonderMaps allows you to select what features to show on your printable maps, whether you want bare outlines or the whole kitchen sink.
  3. With WonderMaps, you get modern, historical, and Biblical maps in a single product. You can easily search for what you want and print out the maps you need.
[/Shameless Plug]

Besides WonderMaps, I suggest these excellent print resources. Links will take you to the Bright Ideas Press store:

The Student Bible Atlas

This book is our favorite, inexpensive Bible atlas. We find it easy for younger students to use while being compelling enough for adults.

Then and Now Bible Atlas

This atlas adds a wow! factor with cool overlays showing modern borders over ancient sites.

Rand McNally Atlas of World Geography

This modern atlas is for secondary students from grades 6-12.

Rand McNally Historical Atlas of the World

This historical atlas is for secondary students from grades 6-12.

Schoolhouse Illustrated U.S.A Atlas

This modern USA atlas is for grades K-6.

Schoolhouse Illustrated World Atlas

This modern world atlas is for grades K-6.

Homeschool Scheduling: Tips and Triage

Homeschool Scheduling—Tips, Freebies, and Triage

A schedule can make or break a family’s success with homeschooling. Over plan and you will feel stressed and constantly behind. But under plan and you may look back to realize you accomplished very little with your precious days and weeks. Where do you fall on that continuum?

Evaluate Your Schedule

Here are some questions to use to decide if your schedule works for you or not.

  1. Do you have clear goals?
  2. Are you accomplishing your goals?
  3. Is your routine killing you, or do you feel good about your progress?
  4. Are you flexible enough to adapt to curve balls and opportunities?
  5. Is your schedule meeting your kids needs for structure/freedom?
  6. Is your schedule preparing your kids for adulthood?

After reading those questions, maybe you realize that you need a schedule. But you don’t know where to start. Here are my suggestions.

1. Start by identifying your goals for the year.

What books or curriculum do you want to use, and do you want or need to finish it by the end of the year?

2. Then, look at the curriculum.

Don’t forget to read the teacher’s guides because they almost always have great advice on how to schedule.

3. Map out your plan on a calendar.

Divide the material you want to cover over the course of the year, one week at a time, on your calendar.

For example, if you have a 32-lesson program, what lesson will you work on each week? Leave room for holidays, travel, family events, sick days, etc. I like to schedule a week off at least every 8 weeks or so. If you don’t need the week off, that’s fine, but it is better to factor in buffer days than to feel behind.

4. Make a template for your weekly schedule.

You don’t need to be super detailed, but fill in the regular, repeating tasks like these examples.

  • We do science Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Wednesday afternoons are for co-op.
  • We do history 5-days a week. Monday–Wednesday we read and do activities, Thursdays are for maps and timelines, and Friday we have a quiz.

Post your template on your fridge, schoolroom wall, or planner. Make it visible. Maybe even laminate it or use a whiteboard so you can add specifics each week.

Free Printable Homeschool Schedule Triage Form

My Homeschool Schedule Triage form is a quick survey that guides you to write down your goals and to start thinking about what you can do to get from A to B.

Free Printable Homeschool Schedule Triage Form by Tyler Hogan

For more information about schedules, take a look at our live panel about Homeschool Schedules.

Get Personalized Help

If you’re interested in talking with me about your schedule, I’d be happy to consult with you. Send an email, and we can discuss rates and get a phone or Skype call on the calendar. I’ll definitely want to see your finished copy of the Homeschool Schedule Triage form.

Groundhog Day

Every year on February 2, millions of people ask themselves “What does the groundhog say?” as Punxsutawney Phil tries to forecast the weather for the next six weeks. Why do we trust a rodent to predict the weather? How accurate is he? What’s so special about February 2? And why does he have such a funky name?

(Photo by Aaron Silvers)

First, where did this bizarre tradition come from? The short answer is Germany, where local legend indicated that if February 2 was cloudy, spring was imminent, but if the skies were clear, you could expect a long winter. Somehow this merged with other local traditions involving badgers and morphed. Sunny skies resulted in the badger casting a shadow; cloudy days meant no shadow. When some Germans emigrated to Pennsylvania, they brought the legend with them—but due to a badger shortage, they substituted groundhogs. Frankly, there is no meteorological basis for the legend. Phil’s predictions over the years are right about 30% of the time—no better than guessing. February 2 sits right between the winter solstice (midwinter, the shortest day of the year) and the vernal equinox (a day with equal lengths of day and night). So, by February 2, daylight has started to make significant gains against the long nights of winter. It’s also the date of Candlemas—a celebration of Jesus’ presentation at the temple 40 days after his birth.

(Image from

These days, the “official” groundhog is a rodent named Punxsutawney Phil, named after Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania Punxsutawney Phil has been making official predictions from a hill called Gobbler’s Knob since 1887. He lives under the care of the Inner Circle of the Groundhog Club, who, in addition to interpreting his annual prediction from “groundhogese” to English, gives him a swig of the “Groundhog Elixir” which keeps him alive for yet another year. (I can’t think of a better reason why the same groundhog has supposedly been alive for over 100 years.) He is also said to be named after King Philip—and though it’s not clear which King Philip, my best guess is King Philip II, who was the husband of Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) and later attempted to attack the English with his ill-fated Spanish Armada. Perhaps they named him after this king due to the role adverse weather played in the Armada’s defeat. If you want to celebrate, you can:

  • Visit Punxsutawney for the official prediction.
  • Have the prediction emailedto you on February 2.
  • Find your own groundhog and . . . on second thought, never mind. Leave your local rodents alone.
  • You can also find some fun printables, games, and lesson plan ideas at

How To Travel The World (From The Comfort Of Your Home)

I love to travel. Aside from the derailment of my schedule, the expense, the hassle of airport security with three kids, the planning, the food (or rather, my gut’s reactions to it), not speaking the native language, getting a house sitter, and all that other stuff that travel often involves, it’s great. Visiting historical sites, exploring museums, soaking up local culture, and buying souvenirs are all awesome. However, I am here to tell you that you can have all the awesomeness and none of the headaches using one simple tool: the Internet.

How to Take a Virtual Vacation

Prep Work:

    • Decide where you want to visit. You can pick anywhere in the world, but realize that some places are going to have a lot more information available online. For example, Venice or Paris might be easier than, say, Mongolia or Kyrgyzstan.
    • Plan the sights you want to see. Travel guides and blogs would be great places to begin looking for ideas. Museums, monuments, and famous landmarks are good places to start. Once you have a list, look for websites that have good information and lots of pictures! You might even start a Pinterest board for your trip to help keep track of your links. And don’t forget to check your local library for any good books they might have on hand. If you’re looking for some good websites to start gathering information for a virtual trip, you might try:
    • Ask good questions. “Why is this famous?” “When was this built?” “Who is this named after?” etc. Write down your questions—you don’t have to know the answers (yet).

Taking the Trip:

      • Introduce your kids to the location. Tell them about it, and give them some initial reading (online or in a book).
      • Read, look, talk, and play. Show your kids the websites, your Pinterest board, books you checked out, etc. Discuss them, point out great pictures, and have fun.
      • Have an information scavenger hunt. Bring out your list of questions, and let your kids add to them. Answer as many as you can. You might even make a little competition to see how answers many each kid can find!

Relive It:

        • Make a notebook. Treat it like a vacation scrapbook. Include things like a map of your (imagined) travel route; homemade “tickets” for your plane, train, or bus trip; printed photos of the locations you visit; notes, quotes, trivia, and stories; coins, stamps, and collectibles from the country; anything else you think would be fun or interesting. Bonus points if you send a Flat Stanley or find a pen pal in your chosen location.
        • Slideshow time! OK, you don’t have to invite people over to look at slides of your vacation for an hour and a half, but do give your kids a chance to share what they’ve learned. A informal oral report will do the trick. Grab Dad after dinner and show off their notebook, laugh at the funny Photoshopped picture of Kris climbing the Eiffel Tower, and talk about the cool things they discovered along the way.

Happy Travels!

5 Ways To Read To Your Kids (So They’ll Actually Listen)

Bedtime stories at my house are a zoo. The pre-schooler tries to delay bedtime by asking a bazillion repetitive questions. The toddler does not want to sit still and read. The baby is ready to nurse. My wife has a bad case of end-of-the-day frazzles. Inwardly, I’m bemoaning the fact that our kids have yet to fall in love with books (because, they’re supposed to be reading before age 2, right?). We’re all a bit cranky.

So you know what we’re doing?

We’re giving up.

That’s right. Bedtime stories, that beloved childhood staple, are going to disappear from our home.

Instead, we’re replacing them with the following story-times that totally work for us:

1) Breakfast Stories. The kids are captive and are too busy eating to interrupt unnecessarily.

2) Bath-Time Stories. The older two love playing in the tub, will listen quietly so as to prolong the fun.

3) Wake-Up Stories. It takes the kids a while for their hyperness to kick in, so we can squeeze in a story while they’re still rubbing the sleeps out of their eyes. Plus, they’re extra snuggly when they wake up 🙂

4) Grandparents’ House Stories. Me-Ma and Grandad could sort socks with the them and the kids would be thrilled. No chance they’ll turn down a chance to read a book with them.

5) In-The-Car Stories. While we don’t spend a lot of time in the car, the kids love to listen to audiobooks anyway, so this is a no-brainer.

We probably won’t get rid of bedtime stories altogether. Some nights it works out really well. But at the least we’ll stop making it the most important reading time of the day, knowing that there’s plenty of other times and ways to read to the kiddos.

How about you: when do you find reading to your kids works best?

5 tips for better book browsing

Being at conventions and watching thousands of people flip through books trying to determine if they need them or not has its ups and downs. Sometimes people just look at the title and *know* they need that book. They’re often right and are shortly proud owners of useful and enjoyable reads. On the other hand, I’ve seen people spend five seconds glancing at something that they *should* buy and put it back on the shelf without a second thought. Sometimes their friends will talk them out of a good purchase and into a mistake. It’s hard for us vendors, knowing what is in our books and having heard about your life and homeschool — we don’t want to be pushy, but we also don’t want you to miss out on something wonderful.

I have come to the conclusion that the single least effective way to determine if you should buy a book is also the most common. Please, please, please do not do this simple thing – it does not help you. I have caught myself doing it lately and was ashamed.

PLEASE DO NOT hold the book in your dominant hand THUMBING BACKWARDS through the book in hope that something will FLY OFF THE PAGES screaming “YES! I’M THE BOOK YOU’RE LOOKING FOR!” You inevitably miss the most important features of the book and wind up judging it based on the amount of white space and the quality of the illustrations.

Instead, I’d like to share with you 5 tips for better book browsing.

1) What’s on the front and back cover?

        Does it sound like it addresses your question or meets your need? The back cover description may be more helpful then the title. Blue Like Jazz is not about color theory or music, but you wouldn’t know that without reading the back, or at least the subtitle. Try not to be put off by bad cover art – sometimes the best books just aren’t pretty.

2) What’s in the Table of Contents (TOC)?

        The TOC should tell you exactly what topics are addressed, as well as which ones are given priority and which ones are glossed over. If the book is on a topic that interests you, or one that you’ve read much about elsewhere, the TOC will tell you if what you’re holding is new material or old hat. Obviously, a work of fiction’s TOC will be less telling then non-fiction, but otherwise you should be able to get a good outline of the material in a few pages.

3) Who wrote it?

        Check the author’s credentials. Lots of letters after a name is good, but look for practical experience and wisdom in their subject area. I tend not to trust parenting books by people who’s eldest is not yet 12. (Come back and write to me when you have several well-adjusted grown-ups under your belt.) However “twenty-five years on the missions field,” “professor of (subject) at (respectable institution),” “mother of 7,” etc. mean a lot.

4) Who recommends it?

        Check to see if there are reviews, praise, or a forward from anyone you know. Sometimes, just knowing that someone you trust likes the book is enough. Sometimes, knowing that someone I mistrust likes the book tells me everything I need to know.

5) What does chapter 3 look like?

        Often I like to pick a single chapter and quickly scan it to see if the writing style, lesson set-up, or even (and I know this is silly) the font is appealing. If there’s a “Letter to the teacher,” “Introduction,” or “How to use this book” always read that first, then pick a random chapter to peruse. The “flavor” of the book makes a big difference.

We all judge books by their covers, but we’ll make better judgement if we ask better questions while we browse.

Have you ever *almost* missed out on a great book because of its cover?