This time of year in the homeschooling world is known as “Convention Season.” All throughout the country, conferences attract thousands of homeschoolers looking for inspiration and direction from a myriad of speakers and fellow moms and dads in the trenches. One of the biggest perks of these events, though, is rummaging through the Vendor Hall.
Yes. The Vendor Hall – where curriculum junkies get their fix as they visit the many stands featuring the latest books and resources designed to simplify your homeschool and make geniuses of your children. You’ll even find magical oils promising to smooth over the hardest of days and the toughest of students. The Vendor Hall at the Florida Homeschool Convention was HUGE with over 200 exhibitors, and while it was nice to see some of the more well-known companies, I really enjoyed meeting the smaller and lesser known ones offering unique products. In case you didn’t get a chance to go to a local convention near you, here’s a list of 10 of the most interesting ones I found last week. Check them out below and let me know what you think in the comments.
1. Blaze New Trails: Adventure Curriculum. Now, you might be wondering what exactly is an “adventure” curriculum. It took me a bit to wrap my head around it. Is it English? Is it Math? Science? Well, it’s all of those and more. Essentially, Holly Giles takes you through a year of adventurous activities aimed at getting you to reconnect and explore the outdoors, and experience the many lessons you can learn in your community and your own backyard.
2. Kapla Blocks and Toys. These blocks are the epitome of simplicity, and can fool you into thinking that there’s not much you can do with hundreds of identically-sized wooden blocks. A quick look through their website or Instagram account, though, and you’ll see that truly you’re only limited by your imagination.
3. Kingstone Comics. With three boys, I was naturally attracted to this booth. Tons of Bible and inspirational stories, devotionals, and even apologetics, all in graphic comic-book style.
4. Science Made Simple Lab Books. Some of the best people to learn from are those who are passionate about what they do. Mike McKee is one of those guys, and his passion is science. He’s put together a set of very affordable Science Labs designed to fill the gap he finds in most science curriculum – the failure to instill an inquiry-based approach to learning. Mike, or I guess I should say Professor McKee, is currently the Associate Director for the Undergraduate Program in Photonic Science and Engineering at the University of Central Florida, and has been the director of the Florida Science Olympiad for the past 17 years, growing the competition from a mere 8 teams in 1998, to over 160 elementary, middle and high school teams.
5. Jim Hodges Audiobooks. Here’s another guy who’s passionate about what he does – recording historical stories into audio books, something he began after retiring from a career in the Navy. Chatting with him at his booth, I learned that he’s a history buff and likes to make sure the stories he records are historically accurate, which is a great because you’d be amazed how much history kids pick up by just listening to an exciting story.
Side Note on Audio Books: Audio books are like a little kept secret of the homeschooling world, and my pre-homeschooler self would never have thought of using them, especially to listen to classic literature. But I’m letting this cat out of the bag! Do yourself a favor and invest in audio books (or check them out at the library). There’s nothing like driving around all day in a quiet car full of kids, not because they’re napping but because they’re listening intently to a story. You’ll arrive at your destination, and they’ll say things like, “Mami, can we stay in the car and listen some more, please?!?” And all will be right with the world.
6. Skrafty: Homeschool Minecraft. If your kids have begged to use Minecraft, like mine have, but you’ve been apprehensive, like I have, then this might be a solution for you. Skrafty is a family friendly community that offers games and survival and creative Minecraft worlds. They also offer classes that players can take in History, Science, Math, Language Arts, and Bible. They have strict community rules and filters meant to maintain a family friendly environment even for the youngest of players.
7. Homeschool Spanish Academy. There are probably thousands of companies out there that sell resources and curriculum to help your kids learn a second language. I know, because I’ve been looking. However, the best way to learn (and retain) a new language is immersion, which can be difficult if it’s not your native tongue. With Homeschool Spanish Academy, you get one-on-one instruction from certified Spanish teachers, who are native speakers based in Guatemala, via Skype. Lessons can be as often as you’d like, and you can sign up at whichever time is most convenient for you.
8. ShatterPoint Entertainment. What began as an assignment for their child’s homeschool class, sparked a love for storytelling, and almost 10 years later has resulted in two Lego stop-animation movies (Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled and Wars of Humanity) and a series of Lego brick accessories. Of course, I had to buy some of the Lego accessories for the boys – a roman soldier, a philistine, an angel and a dragon.
9. Mutasia. Discover this fun little world of mutated and mixed-up animals. The illustrator, Ryan McCulloch, was at the booth and his energy for their books was contagious. They have story books and chapter books, and even stuffed animals of the different characters.
10. The Picture-Smart Bible. What I liked about this Bible curriculum is that kids learn the Bible not by reading lessons, answering a series of questions and doing a related craft, which seems to be standard for many others out there. Instead, kids draw their way through the Bible. Each page has simple drawings they trace and color in as you teach the lesson, highlighting the main points of the story or Bible book. When finished with the whole curriculum, the student has their own Bible made of each of their drawings.
Do you have a favorite curriculum or resource from a smaller or lesser-known company that you’ve found useful in your home education journey? Please share below!