Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How Do I Start to Homeschool? (Part III) Following Pennsylvania Law

To homeschool in Pennsylvania, parents are supposed to file an affidavit by August 1 for any child from ages eight to seventeen at the beginning of the school year or for a younger child if he/she has already been in public school. Philadelphia residents need to file a notice of intent when a child is six.

You can find an affidavit form at the CHAP site: Affadavit Form 

Step One: Fill out the form and gather the following things you need to submit with the affidavit.

  1. Your High School Diploma or GED Certificate
  2. Immunization records for each child. (Getting the immunization records if you don’t already  have them can take some time. If you are running out of time, submit the other things and tell the school district that you will get the immunization record to them as soon as you can.)
  3. List of subjects you plan to teach with objectives for each.

          Here are suggestions for writing objectives:

             You can use a paragraph or a list format.
             How to figure out what to write:
·         Use the Table of Contents in each textbook, or
·         Use the Scope and Sequence of the textbook company you plan to use, or
·         Write broad objectives. For example. In math this year, I plan to teach computation skills, word problems, and the multiplication tables. In reading, I want to increase reading speed, comprehension skills, and word attack skills.

Step Two: Take your gathered information to either a notary or the Prothonotary Office at your local courthouse and ask them to notarize your affidavit. The notary will charge you. I’ve heard that the Prothonotary Office won’t.

Step Three: Take the packet to your local school district office. Ask for a receipt for proof of submission.

Next time, I will talk about record keeping during the school year. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pennsylvania Wildlife: Quail

She talked with her own special sound every time we walked in the door and learned to mimic Cuddles, the cat. Having a quail in the house has become a dear and precious memory.

Melissa, our quail, became a house pet after we had released two batches of hatched and grown-to- maturity quail. The man who gave us the eggs to incubate recommended that we just get rid of the lame quail. We couldn't do that. 

In the morning, Melissa had a special sound to greet the first one up. She cooed when she was contented and scolded when she was displeased. The worse verbal reprimand we received was when we returned from a week-long vacation. One of our friends had fed her every day, but Melissa still had to tell us what she thought about our absence.

Our quail, like those in the wild, liked to take mud baths. Suzanne, our daughter, provided Melissa with a box half filled with dirt. Melissa moved the dirt around by flapping her wings. Then she would throw dirt all over herself. She ended her session by using her beak to clean and oil her feathers.

When Suzanne was working on schoolwork, she let Melissa flutter around on the floor right beside her. In fact, this particular pet began to travel with us at times, to family reunions where all the children got to hold her and to grandparents’ houses just because Suzanne wanted to take her. Actually, I found the quail less trouble than our cats or what a dog would have entailed.

Melissa even became a model. Suzanne, our photographer, arranged many scenes with props. One of them included a miniature hay bale, pumpkins, and mums. Suzanne placed Melissa in the center and took her picture.

We found a book called That Quail, Robert by Margaret A. Stanger.  Robert also lived with his family and seemed amazingly smart. Robert perched on their table and ate with his family at meal time. He liked the color red and played “Chase Me.” We learned that quail are fairly popular pets.


Having a pet like Melissa gave our daughter something to love which       loved her back and helped make our daughter a more responsible 
person.  The rest of us enjoyed Melissa, too!

Friday, July 25, 2014

How Do I Start to Homeschool? (Part II)

Homeschooling Independently Without an Umbrella school


The best thing to do is to go ahead and choose a curriculum. You have many options and chances are you may want to switch after trying one this year. Most of them will provide what you need and get you up and running your school program. In talking to other homeschoolers, that is a question you should discuss. Ask them what they use and take notes.

Cathy Duffy has an Internet site that talks about curriculum. She has been in the business of reviewing curriculum since I started 20 years ago. You can trust what she says. Some major companies that I would recommend you look at are Abeka, Bob Jones, Alpha Omega, School of Tomorrow, and Sonlight.

Here are two major factors you should consider.

1. How much do you have to spend?

Much: If you have unlimited resources, your options are unlimited. You can buy a complete curriculum with all the bells and whistles and be on your way. Just remember that spending money does not guarantee a good education. If you do more of the planning and choosing, you can take advantage of your areas of expertise and your children’s interests and abilities.

Little: My solution for this is useful even if you have lots of money. I homeschooled for very little. I could have homeschooled for even less, but I liked curriculum and loved to shop for it. One of my friends was very frugal and schooled on a shoestring. She did what I did but limited her purchases more.

First, make a list of subjects you plan to teach and some of your options. Then:

a. Look for used curriculum. Check thrift stores. Ask your local support group for ideas of where to find it. Check out E bay and major homeschool sites. For subjects like math and reading, accompanying workbooks are valuable. For other subjects, workbooks are helpful but not necessary. Check publication dates and make sure you can still get a workbook for that date if you feel you need workbooks.

b. Look for unit studies that give you multi-grades in one book. They are often on one topic and the various subjects are incorporated. You can use free library and online sources with unit studies.

c. Look for ungraded curriculum. I used Spelling Power by Beverly L. Adams-Gordon and Mastering Mathematics by Lez Farmer’s which are ungraded programs for many grades. With these types, a child can work at their own level. Most involve testing and starting them where the tests show to start them. School of Tomorrow curriculum is graded but works this way.

c. Set up an exchange program. I found a woman who had the in between grades of my children. We shared reading books from year to year.

d. Remember that you don’t have to do workbooks and tests. You also can make your own worksheets and/or tests. Be creative. Let them put on plays about what they read or do art to show what they learned. Review and test orally. Make up games for review or better yet have your children make up games.

e. Free stuff. Look for free samples of curriculum. Use the Internet’s free stuff. I found that a neighboring county library offered Spanish online for free. Organizations like the Cornell Bird Watch Program will send oodles of information about birds if you agree to keep track of what you see. I signed up for the post office’s free kits about history for teachers. Use the library!  

2. How much time will you have to devote to homeschooling?

One more thing to consider when choosing curriculum is how much time you have to devote to this. When you have limited time, you need to choose a little differently. Here are a few of my suggestions for those of you with limited time because of a part time job or other commitments that also need attention.

a. A full planned out curriculum is better for those with limited time.

b. Pick easier books that children can work with on their own. Grade level is not as important in homeschool as it is in public except to our pride. School of Tomorrow and Alpha Omega are easier for children to do on their own.  

c. Consider asking grandparents or Dad to help even just for one subject. In that case, you need to let them help choose a textbook that they feel comfortable with.

In summary, expensive curriculums generally take less preparation time. Inexpensive usually takes more preparation time. Spending money does not mean a better education. You can get a student more involved and liking it better when you do more of the planning. Consider used, unit, ungraded, exchanging, no workbooks, and free stuff. Going down a grade level can allow students to work on their own easier. Consider asking for advice from seasoned homeschoolers and for help from your husband and parents. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

PA Memories: Stephen Foster by Mishael Witty

From the ages of 4 to 8 years old, I lived in Bardstown, KY. You don’t live in Bardstown without hearing about Stephen Collins Foster, who was born in Lawrenceville (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, on the Fourth of July, 1826. In fact, you don’t live in Louisville (where we moved when I was 8, and where I still live today) without hearing about Stephen Foster. Why? Because he wrote our state song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” which is still sung every year before the Kentucky Derby…even though they’ve changed the lyrics slightly to make it more “PC.”

As a child in Bardstown, though, I sort of fell in love with Stephen Foster. My father was the stage manager for The Stephen Foster Story, and my mother was the house manager, so I was there for pretty much all the rehearsals. Many a day, I went around singing Stephen Foster songs that I’d learned as other people rehearsed them over and over in front of me—“Beautiful Dreamer,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Old Dog Tray”… and there even WAS an “Old Dog Tray” on the set that I got to pet fairly often. To my young mind, it was almost as if I were there watching the events play out in real life.

I guess you could say I was a bit obsessed with this composer, to the point where my favorite book was a light blue hardbound biography of Stephen Foster that I frequently checked out of my school library. I don’t remember the title or the author, but I remember what that old book looked like, and I remember reading it at least five times. So, it was only natural that, when writing a Civil War novel set in Kentucky, I decided to include some Stephen Foster lyrics in the book…and I even included some in the title, SUN’S PARTING RAY. 

When I was a teenager, I visited Pittsburgh, but I don’t think I went to the Stephen Foster Memorial Museum at the University of Pittsburgh. I’m pretty sure I would have remembered that. The only thing I remember from that particular visit is the penguins at the Pittsburgh Zoo. I remember those especially because, at that time, the Louisville Zoo didn’t have penguins (they do now). I hope that, someday, I will be able to go back to Pittsburgh, and when I do, I’m definitely planning a trip to that museum!
Stephen Foster

Mishael Austin Witty is a professional editor and the internationally bestselling author of SHADOWS OF THINGS TO COME, a Christian thriller/suspense novel, BELIEVE IN ME, a sweet contemporary romance/women’s fiction novella, and SUN’S PARTING RAY, a historical novel set during the Civil War era. In addition to these books, she has newly released a zombie fairy tale, CAMPANULA, which marks a departure from the usual for her, but it was great fun to write, and she already has plans for another.

She has, to date, published three short stories with Helping Hands Press: PROTECTING ZOE (Kathi Macias’s Twelve Days of Christmas, Volume Eleven) and THE SAN FRANCISCO WEDDING PLANNER, VOLUME 1: The Initial Consultation (a story that was written with the series’ five other authors) and VOLUME 5: Old Friends, New Dreams, and Cucumber Sandwiches.

She lives in Louisville, KY (where most of the action of CAMPANULA takes place), with her husband, two cats, and two daughters. Connect with her online in the following places:

Facebook: MishaelAustinWitty
Twitter:  woweditor12

Links to her books:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Allegheny Portage Canal

When Pennsylvania began to attract settlers from Europe, most lived in the southeastern corner, now Philadelphia. As these settlers moved west across the state, first, they traveled by canoe or horseback, later with wagons. They eventually had to travel over a high mountain chain, the Allegheny Mountains. Getting over that mountain wasn’t easy. Most of you have seen on television the trouble of traveling over the Rockies by covered wagon. Did you realize that in the beginning the same trouble happened in the Allegheny Mountains but in a lesser degree?

In the early 1800s, a new way to transport people and goods became popular, the canal boat. Canals were hand-dug channels filled with water for the boats. Mules or horse walking on a path beside the canal pulled these boats.

The southern part of the state, specifically, York County, first used a canal in 1797 for transporting goods. The large Erie Canal in New York state appeared on the transportation scene in 1817. After that, canals began to appear in Pennsylvania from one end to the other. One problem with this source of transportation was a mountain. Canals worked well on flat ground. How do you get a canal boat up a mountain?

First, ingenious men found a way to get the supplies from the canal boats over the Allegheny Mountains. The device called the Portage Canal revolutionized the canal boat industry. The newly improved steam engine, only just becoming possible for moving boats and not yet able to move a locomotive up a hill, became a means for pulling cargo up a hill.

What they did was place a steam engine at the top of the steep grade. A heavy rope passed through a large pulley that ran with the help of the engine. One end of the rope pulled up one car on a track while the other end let down a car on another track. That way gravity and the steam power worked together. Canal boats brought their loads to the bottom of the hill. The contents had to be unloaded into the Portage Canal car, pulled to the top of the hill, unloaded into wagons that took the shipment over a lesser grade to the next portage canal that lifted it again. When the transport got to the top of the mountain, the goods went down the other side the same way.

Later, men found a way to get the boats themselves over the mountains. They made sectional canal boats that could be taken apart, put on the Portage cars, carried over the mountain, and put together on the other side.

Western Pennsylvania has preserved this bit of history at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historical Site in Gallitzin. They have rebuilt one of the engine rooms at the top of some remaining track to show visitors how this process once worked. A nearby museum contains drawings, photos, and models of the canal boat operation. Following are some pictures I took at this site.

Reproduction of an Engine House

Inside the Engine House

Model of a Sectional Canal Boat on a Portage Canal Car

Thursday, July 17, 2014

PA Memories: Ricketts Glen State Park by Marsha Hubler

As a life-time resident of Pennsylvania, I could mention any of numerous tourist attractions, museums, and nature spots in our beautiful state, which I’ve visited over the years. One of my favorite places in the whole world is Ricketts Glen State Park on Route 487 near Benton. I have fond memories of my parents taking me there when I was a child and walking the three-mile hike up the falls trail. We also swam in Lake Jean at the top of the mountain and had picnics in the beautiful woods adjoining the lake. Years later, my hubby and I took five foster girls and teen students in our Christian school there on different occasions to hike the falls and enjoy picnics as well.

I love that little part of God’s creation so much that I wrote a scene in SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE, book four in THE KEYSTONE STABLES SERIES, with Ricketts Glen as the background. Although I didn’t use the same name, I used the description of the highest falls (94 feet) at the state park.

          Ricketts Glen State Park is truly a beautiful chunk of nature that everyone should enjoy at least once.

            Marsha Hubler, author of the best-selling Keystone Stables Series from Zonderkidz, lives in central PA with her husband and two dogs. She has a master’s degree in education, over 40 years experience with children of all ages, and presently works with homeschoolers in her home office.

            Her latest published works, THE LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY SERIES and THE SNYDER COUNTY QUILTING BEE SERIES 2 SHORT STORIES, Amish/Mennonite fiction romance by Helping Hands Press, was created out of Marsha’s friendship with many Plain Folk who live in Snyder County.

            On the side, Marsha serves as acquisitions editor for Helping Hands Press. She’s always looking for excellent writing in fiction for tweens and older, Easter stories, and curriculum on all grade levels for the Helping Hands Supplemental Educational Division.

           A frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, she has a passion to help beginning writers get their work primed for publication.

            Visit Marsha at her website, and her blog that features writers’ tips for all genres and Amish and Mennonite traditions:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Do I Start to Homeschool? (Part I)

Connect: The best thing to do is to meet with a local person who has already homeschooled for at least a year. I had an undergraduate education degree plus a master’s degree, but I couldn’t have done it without the help I got from another homeschool mother. She invited me to her county’s homeschool support group because my county did not have one at the time. I listened to the mothers talk, borrowed books from their library of homeschool resources, and asked lots of questions.

How do you find a person to help you? Sometimes it isn’t easy. Ask other parents while you watch your children play at the local ball field. Your pastor may know someone in your congregation. Look for a state organization. Pennsylvania has two: Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP) and Pennsylvania Homeschoolers. Check out their website for local organizations. Call and ask for someone to help you. The school district may also be able to direct you to someone. In Pennsylvania, they have lists of evaluators and can at least give you those names.

Investigate: Consider your options. School at home comes in two basic forms today. Cyber school and independent homeschooling. Cyber schools may be private organizations or funded by taxes. Some cyber schools demand that a child be online at certain times or a certain amount of time a day. They choose the curriculum. They also have time limits for completing work. For example, one asks for a test a month. Another asks for a certain amount of work to be completed each semester. The public cyber schools provide materials free of charge. They charge your school district for you to take their schooling. You are required to do whatever testing that public school children have to do. Private cyber schools charge for their books and help.

Independent homeschooling can be under an umbrella school who will pick your curriculum, do record keeping, and keep you accountable. They usually require testing at the end of each chapter or unit. Independent homeschool lets you choose your curriculum, keep your own records, and doesn’t require unit testing.*

Be Aware: Rules for homeschooling vary from state to state. One place to find out the rules is the Home School Legal Defense Association at Most experienced homeschool parents know the rules for their state. The school district can be consulted, but sometimes they don’t keep up with the requirements as personnel come and go. They can, though, let you know if the school district itself has special requirements. Compare their requirements with the law. School districts sometimes ask for more than is really required. 

Choice of Curriculum
Require Unit testing

Umbrella School
School keeps
School choice
Parent choice
Own Making
Parent keeps
Parent choice
Parent choice

School keeps
School choice
Depends on school
School keeps
School choice
Depends on school

* Check out the book, You've Decided to Homeschool by Marsha Hubler

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Drake Oil Well Museum & Park

Imagine a hillside dotted with oil rigs. Texas? No, in the late 1800s, parts of Pennsylvania!

Drake Well Museum and Park tells the story. Walking around the grounds, I learned some of the history of oil drilling and the machines used. Inside a replica of the first building was a steam engine used  for drilling. A tour host explained about Edwin Drake and Billy Smith. Drake, a former railroad conductor, had moved to Titusville and began to search for oil. He traveled to Pittsburgh, watched salt well drilling, hired an experienced driller Billy Smith, and bought equipment. Returning to Titusville, they began to drill. At one point, the hole began to cave in around the drill. Drake pounded in a cast iron pipe and drilled inside it. When they finally struck oil, other people got oil fever and began to drill nearby. Soon oil drilling rigs dotted the landscape. This became the birth of the modern petroleum industry in 1859.

In the Drake Well Park is a fascinating building of oil related transportation. When I visited, I saw a 1880 oil tank wagon, a 1912 Hatfield truck, a 1917 Sanderson drilling rig, a 1924 Fordson tractor with Myers Winch, a 1927 GMC Big Brute truck, a 1934 Ford V-8 Truck with tank, a 1937 Cletrac Crawler Tractor, and a 1947 Dodge Power wagon.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the museum part of the exhibit during my visit in May of 2012. The museum had closed most of its building for renovation. In September of that year they reopened it.

Here are a few photos of the park part of the historical site. 

Above is a replica of the first building which housed a steam engine and drilling rig. The museum personnel put up the brick wall for the safety of its visitors.

1880 Tank Wagon which was pulled by horses 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

PA Memories: Pennsylvania Dutch Country by Patti Smith

In the mid-eighties, I was on a six month temporary assignment 
with the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.  Being from Seattle, this part of the country was foreign to me as it was with a fellow assignee from Denver.  We decided to take advantage of our free weekends by taking road trips.

One of places we toured was the Pennsylvania Dutch Country and I was awestruck by the beauty of lush green fields, quaint farmhouses and covered bridges.  Proprietors of businesses were warm, friendly and patient; contrary to their pushy counterparts in metropolitan areas and it was at one of the shops I began my love affair with hand-made quilts.  The quilting displayed remarkable intricacy; evidence of many hours of painstaking labor.  That type of workmanship is something absent from quilts manufactured in factory assembly lines and shipped to department stores.

The simplicity of the region had a calming effect, coming from the hectic atmosphere of Washington, D.C. and I hope someday to have the opportunity to return.

Patti J. Smith was born in Wimpole Park, England. She lived in England and Morocco as well as several state-side Air Force Bases and considers her father's last assignment, Moses Lake, Washington, her hometown. She audited for the Dept. of Labor and Veteran's Administration Offices of Inspector General, served in the U.S. Army Reserve (Transit Control Unit and Criminal Investigation Division) and recently retired as a background investigator.

Patti lives in Vista, CA with her husband and has three granddaughters. She serves as a Regional Coordinator for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, Co-leads Rachel's Hope After-Abortion Healing Retreats and sings in her parish choir.

Her writing includes devotionals, light romance and suspense, and her strong faith is reflected in each genre. She is a prolific blogger and reader, and proudly admits to being a diehard Seattle Seahawks fan and Fantasy Football fanatic. Her travel adventures include Spain, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Fiji, South Korea and almost all states - including Hawaii and Alaska.

Follow her blog:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Why Homeschool? (Part III)

8. Academic Achievement: Homeschooled students do well academically by scoring on the average of the 80th percentile on achievement tests. You know what that means? Half of homeschooled students score above the 80th percentile! Colleges recognize that home educated students are a good thing. Homeschooled teens already know how to study on their own and the majority excel in college.

9. Safety: With the rise in school shootings, many parents feel that their children will be safer at home. Public schools themselves are acknowledging the psychological abuse that can happen in classrooms with their anti-bullying programs. Then there is also the increased peer pressure for drugs, drink, and sex within school walls.

10. Special Needs Children: There are many wonderful people in this world who work wonders with special needs children, but often classes have too many kids to handle or one child causes so much trouble that the others end up with less attention. Sometimes homeschooling is best for a special needs child. Parents who have already dealt with their child’s problem for five years know him and may be wiser about what he/she needs.

11. Extra Bright Children:  I have seen excellent results from very intelligent children being homeschooled. They are allowed to progress at their own rate. There is no waiting for others to finish. They have time to do lots of reading. They develop lifetime interests and get a head start on their future career. Many take AP Courses. AP stands for Advanced Placement which are college level courses offered to high school students.

12. Schedule Conflicts:  Men who work shift work may not be home in the the evenings with their children. Young children especially need time with daddies. Homeschooling can give them that time since school can be shifted to a different time of the day or different days of the week. 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Happy Fourth of July!

 by Joseph Max Lewis

           Imagine how the signers of The Declaration of Independence feel while looking down from heaven and listening to their critics. The thought never occurred to me until my publisher asked me to write a fictional short story relating how John Hancock experienced the 4th of July. Before starting, I read Herbert S. Allan’s even-handed biography of Hancock. Yes, the Founders were all human - Hancock was vain and a clothes horse, for example. But when you study the founding of America from the perspective of a Founder, the greatness of these men staggers you.

            “But they didn’t free the slaves and women and blacks couldn’t vote!”

            Guess what?  No one could meaningfully vote and everyone, everywhere, was in some form of bondage. The English themselves were “subjects.” Except for royalty and a small number of men in a handful of tiny Greek city states, no one had ever controlled their destiny. 

            Writing in the first person forces you to see things through the eyes of the character or historic figure, to imagine what they felt, wanted and thought. The Founders were operating in uncharted waters, laying the foundation to free all mankind and making things up as they went. They were doing it while at war with the most powerful Empire on the face of the planet. On January 1, 1776, George Washington discovered he had only 8,000 enlistments instead of the 20,000 planned. Georgia and South Carolina announced they would not sign if slavery were denounced, let alone outlawed.

            As I imagine Hancock saying, “The hard truth is we will not free the Negro slaves . . . not because we don’t want to, but because we can’t. The southerners would revolt . . . freeing the black man will require a war and the forces of liberty are barely able to fight one war, let alone two.”

            On July 4, 1776, the Founders were almost to a man well educated, affluent and doing quite well as subjects of Britain. In the 18th century, traitors were hung from a gibbet with their hands tied behind their back. Rather than breaking their necks, the traitor took about ten minutes to strangle to death. Traitors’ property was forfeit, so their families were left impoverished. While the Founders were signing their own death warrant, Benedict Arnold was trying to keep his army from disintegrating as he retreated from the disastrous Canadian campaign. "I have often thought how much happier I would have been," said Washington, "if, instead of accepting a command under such circumstances, I had taken up musket on my shoulder and entered the ranks.”  

            They were great men, yet consider the petulance with which they are treated. While reviewing “The Price they Paid” email about the Founders, the left wing site “Snopes” called it part true, part false. Why? Here’s an example: “Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.” Snopes - “yeah, well . . . she was already sick.” Seriously. I paraphrase, so check it out for yourselves. Part of the disdain appears to be petty racism, sexism and anti-Christianity - the Founders were white male Christians - but there may be something deeper. Writing about an attack on the Framers, Professor Walter Williams wrote, “If I believed in conspiracies, I'd say (Time’s) article is part of a leftist agenda to undermine respect for the founding values of our nation.” 

            Hancock might have said, “No doubt, those who hate liberty and embrace hate amongst the races will use this against us not only now, but far into the future. We can only trust this and future generations will be wise enough to detect the charlatan, understand his aim and reject his deception. That battle is for another time, and will be fought by other men. We must fight the one in front of us now.”

This is a column of opinion and satire. The author knows of no undisclosed facts.  Contact Lewis, the author of John Hancock, in Remington Colt's Revolutionary War Series, visit him at and click on Rimersburg Rules.  © Joseph M.  Lewis

To link to listen in on the blogtalk radio show with Joseph Max Lewis discussing “The Declaration of Independence”:

To stop by Mr. Lewis’ website and connect with him: