Thursday, January 31, 2013

Funny Memories and Size-17 Cleats

Dear friends,

Happy birthday, Jackie Robinson! While raising three great kids, my husband and I spent more than our share of time at baseball and softball diamonds. Looking back over the years, I can’t believe how quickly time has flown and how much fun we had along the way. It all began with our very first unit study on baseball and softball. (We had two boys and a girl, so we had to cover both sports.) During this study, we learned all about American history, the sport, and many of its greatest champions. Jackie Robinson was among their heroes, and today would mark his 94th birthday! We all learned so much, the children’s fascination with the sport kept us involved in it, and we made some wonderful family memories. Here are a few of our favorite funny moments . . .

The first time one of the local moms in the bleachers learned that our son had to wash his own uniform, she was so upset with me. She and the other moms all washed their kids’ uniforms, and they were stunned that I was so hard on my kids! I explained that it was one of his responsibilities, and he was learning plenty along the way! I had to laugh when I heard her mutter that homeschool moms sure are tough. :) Not tough—we just have great expectations!

Then there was the time that baseball scouts were at a big high school tournament, and our son stood at the front of the dugout and entertained the entire dugout as he showed off his juggling skills. Everyone in the stadium could see the show, and I'm pretty sure that it was quite impressive to the scouts! :) He didn't have a clue that the whole stadium was watching. I have to say, we were laughing with all of the other folks there and enjoyed the show!

And there was the time our homeschool high school baseball team went to Texas to play in the regional tournament, and I received a frantic call about our son's cleats. They had torn open during a game, and he and his dad didn't know what to do. Realize that I was over a thousand miles away, speaking at a homeschool convention, and of course the call came right before I went on stage. My recommendation was for them to go find some duct tape, since it can fix anything. Why they didn't just go buy another pair of cleats? Because size-17 cleats have to be special ordered—you can't pick them up at Wal-Mart. The duct tape worked! 

So many great memories for our family, and to think that fifteen years ago, we knew NOTHING about baseball! We were a football kind of crew, but God had other things in mind, thank goodness.

Enjoy these days of football, baseball, soccer, or whatever sports or passions your children find to follow! The lessons learned and sweet memories made along the way are priceless and will last a lifetime.

Amanda B.

P.S. In honor of Jackie Robinson's birthday, we are offering Baseball for $5 when you use the code: PlayBall5. Get it now, this deal is for today only!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Get In On the Treasure Hunt!

Ahoy Matey!

I've a secret to tell ye 'bout a treasure so grand;
The clues are in Twitter and Facebook land.

Each day find a letter and store ‘em close by;
At the end of the hunt, ye’ll unscramble ‘em, aye!

When ye make the right codeword,
a big discount ye’ll score;
But that ain’t the end of the story—there’s more!

For three of the mateys who enter the code;
There's a prize of sweet treasure—a real mother lode! 

All of yer names will be thrown in a hat
Three names’ll be drawn, and they’ll win,
just like that!

The prize is amazin’! Ye'll be seein’ stars!
Fer ye’ll get the loot—36 Hershey bars!

So don’t miss the clues! Be watchin’ each day;
The winnin' is easy, so join in the play!

Contest begins on 2/4/2013 and ends on 2/16/2013 at 12:00 am EST.
For complete contest rules, visit

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Dad, the Quarterback

How many girls ever want to be able to throw a perfect spiral? At a very young age, I learned how to do this from my dad, the quarterback, and the neighborhood kids were all so very jealous. As the second daughter, I was the one that was always following him around, wanting to learn more about football. :) He played the sport through college, and it was one of his great passions. He loved the strategy, the challenge, and the teamwork that it took to win games. With four children in our family, we learned quite a bit via his lessons in football. It was my first exposure to learning without academic categories and textbooks – learning life lessons that still inspire me to share today.

Whether sitting on the bleachers at a local high school game on a Friday night, or watching a Sunday afternoon NFL game on television, he was always teaching. He explained the whole concept of facing what looked like “impossible situations.” He explained the importance of never giving up—never. He loved my mother and considered her a true treasure in his life, and she was right by his side as we all watched and cheered for various football teams. We did everything as a family.

He taught us to ride bicycles, build tree forts, tackle spelling lists, and work diligently on our Scripture memorization for school with the same “give it your all” approach. The principle was always the same: do your best; do not quit; think and pray your way through any trial or barrier. He was our quarterback, our father, our leader, and the best listener that you could ever have met. Cancer shortened his life when we were all quite young, but he left a legacy of compassion, competitiveness, and faith in his children and his grandchildren. Football opened the door, and love and compassion helped him teach us all of that and so much more.

Amanda B.

P.S. To celebrate the Super Bowl, we are offering  Football Frenzy and Athletes in the Bible at a special price when you use the code SuperBowl. Get Football Frenzy for only $3.95 or Athletes in the Bible for only $6. $9.95 will get you both! Head over there now - this 'super' deal is just for today!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What’s the Story on Download N Go?

Three years ago, the development of Download N Go began. After praying for direction for several years, the answer to my prayers came with the concept of a new series of studies—one that was very interactive, visually appealing, and included an integral lapbook. The time had come to step out in a new direction with unit studies, and Download N Go was exactly that! I knew the studies had to capture a child’s interest to be effective. They needed to be instantly downloadable, easy to use, and child captivating. And so it began. :)

Now, 50 titles later, the series continues to grow. Thanks for making these first years exceptional, and please know that we are working hard to keep new titles coming your way!

Amanda B. 

P.S. Today ONLY get 50% off the Download N Go Teacher's Guide when you use thecode: 50OffGuide

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Italy: A Feast for the Whole Family

Stunned by the richness of the art, history, geography, and people of Italy, I learned so much as we developed Passport Italy. From the art of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to amazing structures like the Sistine Chapel and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, plus saffron farming and olive groves—there is much to be explored. This title puts Italy within reach from the comfort of home as part of this new series of virtual, you-are-there breakthrough unit studies.

Stradivarius violins, the volcanoes and Pompeii, the waterways of Venice, and so much more are all part of this rich learning adventure. Italy is a beautiful place, and this study provides a perfect way to study geography along with some science, art, and history—not to mention the Italian food that can be tried out along the way!


Amanda B.

P.S. Today we are offering $4 off Passport Italy (any level) when you use the code: 4OffItaly!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jump into January!

You are a treasured customer! It’s families like yours that allow me to do what I love—write and create fun unit studies to help you make learning a joy for your children. I love to hear about the amazing discoveries you make, see the photos of projects your children have created, and get a sense of the excitement you are creating in your homeschool—that’s why I do what I do!

Because you are part of the USAB family, I wanted to give you a heads-up about the fantastic January Jump Sale coming up in the last two weeks of this month. Each weekday will have a different special deal—but it will only be available for one day, so don’t miss it. There is sure to be something that captivates your crew. Jump right into the excitement! 

And thanks again for sharing your homeschooling journey with me.

Amanda B.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Simply Fun Start with Art

Every now and then, I come across a learning tool that catches my attention and takes my breath away. A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels is one of those, and it is a great way to bring art to the table when using our unit studies—a perfect and oh-so-easy fit to so many of our titles. I've included a list at the end of this post to give you an idea of how well this new book meshes with our products!

I’m not particularly artistic or craft-oriented, and I always look for easy crafts and projects that will help kids of all ages learn more about the topic at hand AND enjoy using their creativity in the process. This book does all of that and much more, allowing imagination and ideas to come into play. And that’s GREAT!

Tricia Hodges, the author, has worked with her mom—Nana, an artist—to create this collection of art adventures. She has also included several chapters for those that need help: “How to Start Art with Little Ones,” “Nan’s Advice on Art with Young Children,” and more. Tricia makes things so doable! I just had to try these for myself, so I put on the tea kettle and had my mom come over so that we could try them out together. We had such a good time that we are going to be trying another lesson this week! It was easy to see just how fascinating this would be for kids of all ages, even for family gatherings.

Go ahead and give it a try, and jump right in with them. Tricia is generously offering a special discount to our readers—use discount code USAB to receive a $5 discount when you buy the E-book here. While I am not the most artistic person, these are so easy to use and pure fun. There are so many lessons in this treasure that would work well with our study titles!

            Path to the Beach (Oceans Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            At the Beach (Oceans Unit Study and Sunny Seashells)
            Beach Umbrellas (Oceans Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            Sandpiper Shore Bird (Oceans Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            Sailboat at Sunset (Sailing Ships)
            Harvest Moon Nocturn (Magnificent Moon)
            Lily Pad (Monet – Gardens Unit Study and Passport France)
            Tornado (Twisting Tornadoes)
            To the Woods (Tremendous Trees)
            Tree Silhouette (Tremendous Trees and Autumn Treasures)
            Tree Reflection (Tremendous Trees and Autumn Treasures)
            Leaf (Tremendous Trees and Autumn Treasures)
            Dogwood Blossom (Spring Surprises)
            Bird’s Nest (Spring Surprises and Tremendous Trees)
            Winter Fun (Winter Wonders)
            Sunflowers (Gardens Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            Hydrangeas (Gardens Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            Queen Anne’s Lace (Gardens Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            Butterfly (Incredible Insects and Gardens Unit Study)
            Tomato (Gardens Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            Fruit Bowl (Gardens Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            Blueberries (Gardens Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            Watermelon (Gardens Unit Study and Summer Sensations)
            Mug of Chocolate (Winter Wonders and Chocolate Challenge)
            Fireplace (Winter Wonders)
            Sparklers (Patriotic Holidays and IndependenceDay)
The chalk pastels are so simple to use, making art easy for everyone. Once you begin using this book, it is easy to take what you’ve learned and apply it to other fun study topics like volcanoes! I can just imagine how that one will turn out—I love all of the color possibilities! Inexpensive and wildly successful art adventures are easy with this collection. A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels is one that the kids will keep asking you to use again and again—learning at its best. Thanks, Tricia, for bringing easy and beautiful art to the kitchen table!


Amanda B.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels

Little did we know what would result on that February day we were snowed in here in the South. The children and I didn't realize until then what we had been missing—the joy of art.

“Life is a great big canvas. Throw all the paint on it you can!” ~Danny Kaye

My mother, also known as Nana, pulled out her box of soft chalk pastels. She opened the box on our kitchen table. The colors were amazing—a delight! She then showed us how to turn a chalk stick on its side and spread the sand. We learned to make clouds heavy with moisture with just a touch of purple underneath. That day we created a path to the beach, warm and sunny, on our kitchen table while snow piled up outside the back door.

There was Nana, a master artist, teaching five children of different ages and abilities. From that start, our art times with Nana became fairly regular. We asked her, “What about a tree?” Later, in the fall, we made pumpkins and apples in rich color. And we learned to add just a touch of white to show the direction of the light. The next summer we made full and beautiful hydrangeas.

I realized something recently that helped me understand why we love chalk pastels so much. Didn't we all start with chalk? Maybe a nice, thick piece of chalk helped you make big circles on the driveway. It's a familiar medium. What's especially wonderful is how forgiving chalk pastels are. If you make a mark you don't like, simply smudge it away or layer over it with more color.

I do have to warn you that this is a messy medium. But as we say, pastels are blessedly messy. We just don a smock and keep the baby wipes close. I assure you, clean-up is easy.

If it's not messy, it's not fun!

There are really no age requirements for chalk pastels. A child just has to be able to hold a chalk stick. No special skills are needed. Supplies are simple and inexpensive: just paper and a set of soft chalk pastels. Chalks can be found at your local craft store for around 5 to 10 dollars.

All the times my mother taught the children, we shared on my blog in tutorial form. And that's how it all started—how we discovered a love of art and made it a priority in our homeschool. That love has grown and spread into more learning in so many other areas.

Now, nearly three years later, we share those art times with you in E-book form. Nana, the children, and I have a whole year of chalk art for you to enjoy. Do one a week. There are 45 tutorials to enjoy, 10–15 minutes a lesson.

In the past years of enjoying art, my ears have been tuned to many comments from others. They would love to do some art but the prospect seems overwhelming. We hope that our tutorials will solve a problem and meet a need like it did for us.

Soft chalk pastels offered us a simple start, a jumping off place for more art in other media. Then our art times led to art appreciation. Chalk pastels slowly swung the door open for us. They showed me how we could do it, and showed us all what sheer joy art can be.

Won't you join us? Brush, smudge, sketch that love of art into your homeschool?

Homeschooling for over a dozen years now, Tricia faces a daily dose of chaos with five children. She shares a mixture of art lessons, frugal and allergy-friendly recipes, and all things practical at Hodgepodge. She and her husband, Steve, are also owners at Curriculum Choice and Habits for a Happy Home.

Our Nana and her family have always been artistic folks. Her given name is Lucia, and she was awarded a wonderful art scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation in her sophomore year of college. But love intervened and she married, had babies, and left the scholarship behind. For years she and one of her sisters painted murals in schools and for the children’s ward in our local hospital. She started pastel lessons three years ago, finally finding what she calls “her art.” She is on a mission to share just how satisfying, cost effective, and easy pastel painting is.

P.S. Tricia is generously offering a special discount on her new book, A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels, to our readers—use discount code USAB to receive a $5 discount when you buy the E-book here!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Beat the Winter Meltdown!

It’s that time of year—the holidays are over, the novelty of snow is gone, and cabin fever is setting in. It’s obvious the children need an outlet, but what can you do? Now is the perfect time to open the doors of imagination in your home and get the creative juices flowing!

Even though you might not be particularly artistic or creative, your children are. I can tell you from experience that marker masterpieces don’t easily wash off walls (or siblings). Take this opportunity to focus their creativity as they explore the things that hold their interest.

From scrapbooking to photography to learning about how cartoons are made, every child can benefit from taking some time to be creative. Who knew that flip books could be made so easily and on almost any topic? Try something new and fun in your homeschool—you may be raising the next Beatrix Potter or Monet!


Amanda B.

P.S. Don't miss our big Winter Family Fun Giveaway! Click HERE to enter!

Get the following studies on sale this week: 
Have fun with the art of cartooning, check out different types of cartoons and animation, hands on fun flip books and more, & meet some famous cartoonists like Walt Disney!

$5 Through 1/19/13
Take a ride on a double-decker bus, ride the London Eye Ferris wheel, get to know the peregrine falcon and other native UK animals, take time for tea, scones, bubbles and squeak, & meet Beatrix Potter & Queen Victoria!

$5 Each Level, Through 1/19/13
Take a virtual stroll through Paris, learn the history of the Eiffel Tower, investigate the art of the Louvre, meet famous Frenchmen like Claude Monet and Louis Braille, & enjoy some authentic French food, like crepes and cheese!

$5 Each Level, Through 1/19/13
Learn about the history of scrapbooking, basics of color theory and more, how to scrapbook family history, & meet famous scrapbookers like Mark Twain, Lucy M. Montgomery, and Thomas Jefferson!
$6 Through 1/19/13
Discover the science of light and lenses, history of photography, camera basics, meet some famous photographers, photo composition, and more!

$6 Through 1/19/13
Meet some of the early inventors that shaped science and innovation: Archimedes, Gutenberg, James Watt, The Montgolfier Brothers,and many more!

$6 Through 1/19/13

Save even more when you purchase the entire Artistic Adventures set!

$25 Through 1/19/13

Visit for more information.

Each Winter Family Fun Prize Package ($42.21 value) consists of:
1 - A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels e-Book ($19.99 value)
1 - 48 Soft Drawing Pastels in Brilliant Assorted Colors($14.99 value)
1 - Strathmore Pastel Pad 9 in. x 12 in. sheets, pad of 24 ($7.23 value)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, January 11, 2013

Freedom to Fly

When I was a teenager, my mom taught my three siblings and me a very important lesson about following your dreams. One Saturday, we woke up and Mom was gone for the day—off to take flying lessons! We knew that she had always wanted to learn to fly, and we’d finally driven her to extremes! The day she soloed was one for the record books!

She had always wanted to learn to fly, and she’d been a flight attendant when she first met my dad. My mom raised us to follow our dreams, and along the way she had shared her own dream of wanting to fly an airplane. When she actually scrimped and saved enough to go pursue her dream (at a place where teenagers couldn’t reach her), we learned so much. She was teaching us about the freedom to fly after your dreams by DOING it!

I grew up loving books, chasing down the bookmobile when it came through our part of town, and Mom set me on the path of reading biographies about people who followed their dreams. People like Amelia Earhart, the Wright brothers, John Glenn, and many others were among my favorites. Even though I am afraid of heights and not too thrilled with flying, I learned from Mom and from the people in books about character, perseverance, goals, and much more.

And Mom is still teaching us! When she turned 70, she was off visiting family and friends in a different part of the country. I received one of the most amazing emails of my life—a picture of my mom SKYDIVING for her birthday! :)

She is still teaching by example. What a way to learn!

Amanda B.

P.S. If you have a child who dreams of flying one day, we have a special treat for you!  Amelia Earhart Download N Go is on sale now for $3!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Keep it Simple

It’s a new year full of opportunity! Now is a great time to consider where your homeschool is heading, taking an honest look at areas that might need a bit of adjusting. A few changes can make such a big difference in everyone’s outlook and attitude!

If you are

  • looking for some help with science, geography, or history;
  • tailoring your curriculum to your child’s interests;
  • injecting some excitement into your homeschool; or
  • searching for captivating resources to use with the Classical model;

I’ve got a set of resources that can help, and they are on sale this week! Our Classic Resource Libraries cover topics from geography and American history to life science, earth science, and astronomy. Each Library includes seven Download N Go studies that are completely interactive and have an integrated lapbook. All the prep work is done—simple for you and thrilling for the children. Give them a try and watch your school days go from drudgery to delight!

Amanda B.

Get the following Classic Resource Libraries for just $25 each!

Go on a virtual visit to Africa, Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, Israel, and Mexico!

Take in the prairies, discover the beginnings of liberty, and meet some courageous explorers!

Capture curiosity with Komodo dragons, sea turtles, beetles, bees, butterflies, snowy owls, and tree frogs!

Explore caves, tornadoes, volcanoes, snowflakes, chambered nautilus, giant clams, and much more!

Sale prices valid through January 12, 2013.
Visit for more information.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Instant Replay!

Did you miss one of the great savings opportunities during the 12 Days of Christmas sale?

Don't worry . . . we're not done yet.

During the
12 Days of Christmas sale and Instant Replay,
purchase any 7 studies and
get a single study of your choice

Don't miss your chance to win the IPad Mini - Register to win now!

Friday, January 4, 2013

When it's Time for a Change: Believe in Them

The time to believe in children and their dreams is now—when they are just being formed. I have always loved this quote:

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person;
he believed in me.”

—Jim Valvano

If I have done nothing else for our children, I have worked hard to help them understand our faith, and given them every opportunity to dream big dreams. They knew they could always run ideas by me, test a concept, or simply see if I understood what they were considering, whether with building blocks, a robot concept, or an idea for an art project. I learned to listen first, and then ask questions that encouraged and helped them frame the steps they would need to take. “That will never work” was a phrase I avoided.

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

—Albert Einstein

Believing in them and showing it on a daily basis—these are among the many benefits of homeschooling. Relationships are strengthened, trust develops, and their self-confidence grows in knowing that you believe in them. No matter what, they need to know that you are with them as they follow their dreams.
It’s never too late to change your approach, and there’s no time like the present. There are no do-overs in life, and this is not a dress rehearsal. God gives them gifts and talents, and we help them by teaching and nurturing them, getting them ready to have the faith and confidence to follow the path He has in mind.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Time for a Change: Focus on the Big Picture

When working on a jigsaw puzzle over the holidays, I realized that homeschooling was a lot like assembling a puzzle. What is the easiest way to tackle the job of assembly? The pieces are dumped on the table, turned right-side up, and the border pieces are pulled out and used to build the framework around the puzzle. Then, the big picture on the box is THE guide that is used for completing the puzzle.

Most of us begin homeschooling by focusing like a laser on each of the 1,000 tiny pieces. We get so zoomed in on the many small pieces—science, history, geography, reading, writing, and math—that we lose sight of the big picture. We gather a wide collection of curriculum in each of these areas, never looking to see how they fit in the big picture.

Can you imagine trying to complete a 1,000-piece puzzle without keeping an eye on the big picture? Every piece would be a hit-or-miss fit with the other 999. But the big picture gives us something to measure against, something to help guide the placement of the pieces, so we keep our eyes on the finished product instead of on the individual pieces.

Our big picture was to raise children who were eager to learn, self-motivated, and grounded in faith. Unit studies provided the means to do just that, and they “fit” in with the big picture that we had in mind. What is YOUR big picture?


Amanda B.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Time for a Change: Gifts from God

Before I began homeschooling, I didn’t really understand the meaning of “God-given gifts and talents.” We had children, someone else taught them, and we both worked. But when their needs weren’t being met at school, we prayed about it and brought them home. It wasn’t until those first days of homeschooling that I began to realize I didn’t know much about our children, particularly about their unique gifts.

When we all quickly tired of textbooks and I began looking into unit studies, I asked the children what they wanted to learn about. Our oldest chimed right in, “Sewing!”

Ugh—really? I knew nothing about sewing and couldn’t have cared less about it. However, she was so determined that I finally gave in. I was the encourager and van driver as we explored fabric stores and learned about all kinds of stitching and piecing. She even taught herself how to quilt. She kept quilting and sewing all the way through college and on through veterinary school. She is now a gifted emergency surgeon who sutures up animals in a way that had her professors bragging about her abilities. Just imagine—I tried to talk her out of her fascination with sewing at a very young age. All because it wasn’t one of MY gifts or areas of interest.

We get so tied up in knots about meeting standards and conforming to everyone else’s ideas and goals, but no one else knows what God has carefully put in place in your children. YOU are charged with the task of helping them discover and use their gifts, and there’s no time like NOW to accept the challenge.

It might be sewing lessons or baseball practice, botany experiments or computer programming. Who knows? God knows, and He’s right there, ready to help you make the changes that need to be made to help unwrap the gifts and talents in your kids. Hang on . . . it’s an amazing ride!


Amanda B.