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Thursday, December 1, 2016

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Small Business Saturday for Catholic Homeschoolers

By Maureen Wittmann

Nearly 40 years ago, economist EF Schumacher published Small is Beautiful. It criticized gigantism. It criticized big. In short, Schumacher suggested we need to downsize and reorganize how we make products and how we live.

I like to support small businesses whenever possible. My vocation as a Catholic homeschooler has been largely supported (and blessed) by small businesses. Businesses that created quality products and curricula I couldn't find elsewhere.

Small Business Saturday is today, the day following Black Friday. It's a great day to get outside and visit small, family-owned companies in your town. It's also a great day to see what's online. The internet has been a boon for many small businesses. Entrepreneurs who can't afford a physical location, can reach customers in innovative ways. You can create a website, get on Etsy, build a marketing email list. Some people are even using Facebook as a storefront.

Below are just a few small businesses online to check out. I've included craft shops, book sellers, publishers, and more. These are just some of my favorites. Please share your favorites in the comments.

Harp and Shamrock Croft
If you need a skirt for your Christmas tree yet, head to this Etsy Shop pronto. You'll also find other hand sewn items such as aprons (I like the mother-daughter ones!) and table runners, as well as handcrafted goats milk soap.

My Little Felt Friends
You'll have to save this Etsy Shop to your Favorites to visit after Christmas since, due to it's popularity, it's all sold out right now. I've stocked up on the little handmade felt dolls for my grandchildren. They're perfect for gifts for littles.

Laney Bell Designs
I love the hand painted wood signs. Laney also designs beautiful stationary. Just for Christmas, she recently added hand lettered Christmas ornaments. Everything is very reasonably priced.

Punch and Judy Pegs
Wooden peg dolls are all the rage right now. They're small for a child's hand and fairly indestructible. However, these are works of art and so don't come cheap. You can place custom orders. In fact, I recently place my own custom order for a set with St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Sweet Oak Gallery
Have you ever seen an abacus style rosary? Me neither! Go check these out - such a fun, original idea for praying the rosary. Another neat idea at Sweet Oak is the Novena Reminder (something I need!!). Lauren also has watercolor and beautiful hand-lettered prints.

Robin's Soap Shoppe
This is where I buy all my bars of soap. Yes, $5 for a bar of soap sounds pricey compared to a bar of Dove. However, these handmade soaps last incredibly longer. So, in the long run, they're money savers. And they are heavenly to boot.

Hair Bows for Life
If you have a little girl in your life, don't waste a second and head over to Hair Bows for Life. Cute, cute, cute! And really well made to boot. The best part is that Ceci donates part of the profits to pro-life organizations.

Loreto Rosaries and Catholic Jewelry
This is my go-to place for heirloom rosaries and religious jewelry. It is expensive, but that's because Ruth only uses the best materials and meticulously handcrafts every piece. I'd rather own one quality piece that I can hand down to my children than a drawer full of cheap items. When I need a special gift, I call on Ruth as she is terrific about doing custom orders.

Cajun Cottage Press
From Catholic homeschool author and speaker Cay Gibson comes the Season Book of Days: "a redefined almanac. It's a organizer...a journal...a plotter...a menu chart...a meditative accountability coach...a tutorial...a drawing board...a reflection...a blend of mindful intention in essays."

Banners By Chris
These are custom banners, hand-crafted from high-quality card stocks and fabrics for your next celebration. This is an example of the new trend of small business selling through Facebook.

New to You Books
Here is another business that operates out of Facebook. Join the group to get updates on great used books. Perfect for the homeschool mom who is always on the search for her home library.

Catholic Daily Planner by Michele Quigley
These are not only functional but pretty. I know this is picky, but I like my planner to start the weeks on Sunday. I love that these planners are also filled with inspirational quotes, feast days, and Mass readings.

RC History
This small business is especially known for publishing Connecting with History. Sonya's latest publication is Knights of Art: Stories of the Italian Painters, which is a collection of biographical stories with beautiful illustrations. It's on sale right now if you purchase two, so head on over and stock up for Christmas.

Hillside Education
Margot has been dedicated to helping Catholic families homeschool for a long, long time. Here you will find literature guides, homeschooling and liturgical books, and language arts curricula.

Chesterton Press
This is Regina Doman's publishing house where you'll find loads of fun Catholic fiction. You can even purchase a gift certificate if the reader on your Christmas list would like the joy of choosing his or her own book.

True North Reading
Erin Brown Conroy, Homeschool Connections' Master Writing Instructor, is also the creator of an innovative, online, reading program. Get face-to-face, video lessons for your child. This is a good resource too if your child struggles with learning disabilities.

Veils by Lily
You can find a wide selection of beautifully handmade (and to-order) veils at Veils by Lily. They can only be described as lovely!

Rosary Bench
Beautiful rosaries, tenners, and chaplets. Jennifer also provides repair services for broken rosaries (if you have all the parts, it's almost free).

Rugged Rosaries
These are for the man in your life. Made from paracord, these are definitely "rugged rosaries". Military receive a nice discount. 

Arx Publishing
This small publishing house is run by Catholic homeschool dad Tony Schiavo. I love his selection of historical fiction, especially the Paolo Belzoni books.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. I'll be skipping the lines at Walmart, do most of my shopping online, and make sure to order from many of these small businesses for Christmas this year.

Again, please let us know about your favorite small business in the comments.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

To Copy or Not to Copy: That is the Question

By Maureen Wittmann

Note: This article was originally published fifteen years ago, yet it is relevant more than ever today. It deals with photocopying. Today, we don't even need a copy machine. All we need is a laptop and a mouse. With this ability to freely share other people's intellectual property (photography, art, ebooks, curriculum, etc.), we need to take time to consider whether or not we have the moral right to do so. I hope to update this article to include new copyright issues created by the arrival of social media. In the meantime, I hope the following article is helpful to you and your homeschool. PS I did eventually purchase the full set of Lyrical Science for carschooling ... 

“Oh my, you’ve got the new Lyrical Science tapes. I’d love to have those myself!” I said to my friend.

“I’ll dub a copy for you,” she answered.

“That would be great,” I said, as I began to salivate over my soon-to-be new acquisition.

“Don’t worry about the copyright, teachers do this all the time. No reason we shouldn’t either,” my friend replied without any prompting from me. “They buy one original and then make copies for all the kids in their classroom. Our homeschool group is no different from a classroom. Besides it’s so expensive to homeschool, we shouldn’t be expected to have to buy all our materials.”

The more my friend justified making the copy for me, the more I realized that it was wrong. When I got home, I threw the dubbed tape away. To buy the original tape would’ve put too much strain on my budget, so I made the decision to simply live without it. Lyrical Science is something that surely would’ve added to my homeschool, but it was not an absolute need. I found other, less expensive, sources for science enrichment.

There was a time when I didn’t think twice about photocopying workbook pages, dubbing videotapes or audiotapes, or even pirating computer software. However, on that day I did think twice and I realized how wrong it is to do so.

First, it is illegal to steal intellectual property and as Catholics we are obliged to follow the law. (Unless, of course, it is an immoral law.) Though we may save ourselves a few dollars in copying, others are forced to pay for our “savings.” Much in the same way that shoplifters “save” themselves money but the rest of us pay more for our products to make up for the loss caused by the shoplifter.

For the purpose of this column, I’d like to focus on copying consumable workbooks. A consumable is designed to be used just once, unlike a textbook that can be reused and even resold (though not copied). It should be noted that it is not always illegal to copy consumables for multiple uses. Look at the inside cover of the workbook and read the copyright notice. Some educational publishers will grant permission there for you to make copies for your classroom. For homeschoolers, a classroom would be defined as our homeschooled children or the children in our homeschool co-op. It does not mean that we can photocopy and then sell or return.

If the copyright page does not grant permission to make copies and you truly cannot afford to buy multiple workbooks, then contact the publisher and ask permission. If the answer is “yes” that is wonderful, if the answer is “no” then you need to find another solution. At that point you should ask yourself if this particular workbook is a “need” or a “want.”

You should also consider the cost of photocopying, which isn’t always cheaper. For example, Beverly Gordon Adams grants permission to purchasers of her Spelling Power program to copy the consumable worksheets. However, it is cheaper to buy the Spelling Power workbook than to make copies at Kinko’s or Staples. (If your husband is photocopying at work, make sure that he has permission from his employer and has offered to pay for the service, ink, and paper.)

It is estimated that as much as 50% of Catholic homeschooling materials in circulation are being illicitly copied. Quite frankly, this estimate shocks me. An author recently shared with me stories of Catholic homeschool support groups who have purchased one copy of a consumable curriculum series and then passed it throughout the entire group for collective copies. She also told me of families who purchased a single workbook to photocopy for their whole family and then resold as new.

A publisher of a virtues based program told me once of how she had books returned for a refund, only to find photocopied pages still stuck inside the books. This is a program that teaches virtues! Being thrifty means being prudent, which is a virtue. It doesn’t mean taking undue advantage of writers and publishers in order to save a few dollars.

Illicit copying not only hurts writers and publishers, but also ultimately affects the cost of materials to the consumer. Catholic homeschooling publishers are already working on very thin margins. If materials are purchased instead of photocopied, then publishers can print in larger quantities, which in turn lowers the per-unit cost and results in a savings for all Catholic homeschooling families.

Most copyright and trademark violations are done out of ignorance. Just as I thought at first it was okay to accept a dubbed copy of Lyrical Science from my friend. If we choose to educate ourselves in this area and then follow the law, we will be better Christians in the end. We will be practicing the very virtues that we strive to teach our children.

Scripture tells us, “The worker is worth his wage.” The only way that an author can gain his wage is through the sale of his intellectual property. (This also applies to authors of music and software.) If we copy works without permission, we are literally stealing wages from the worker. On the other hand, if we take the time and make the effort to either seek permission to copy, or adjust our budget so that we can make the purchase, or even make the decision to utilize the library or Internet instead, we are growing in virtue.

If you are ever unsure of whether or not you can make copies of something, the solution is very simple – contact the publisher.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

New Report: Homeschooling in the United States

The National Center for Education Statistics has released a new report: Homeschooling in the United States: 2012.  The full report can be found at  Although statistics on Catholic homeschoolers may be different, this is a good primer on the nation as a whole.

Some highlights from the report:
  • The percentage of students ages 5–17 with a grade equivalent of kindergarten through grade 12 who are homeschooled—the homeschooling rate—has increased over time. The homeschooling rate increased from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 3.4 percent in 2012.
  • In 2012, there were an estimated 1.8 million homeschooled students in the United States, which is an increase from 850,000 in 1999, when estimates were first reported.
  • Most homeschooled students were White (83 percent) and nonpoor (89 percent), lived in cities or suburban areas and rural areas. Homeschooled students spanned all grade equivalents.
  • Nine in 10 homeschooled students’ parents reported that concern about schools’ environments was an important reason for their decision to homeschool.
  • Websites, homeschooling catalogs, public libraries, and bookstores were the more frequently cited sources of curriculum for homeschooled students in 2012. Curricula from public and private schools were among the least cited. 
  • About a quarter of homeschooled students had parents who took a course to prepare for their child’s home instruction.
  • About a third of middle school-level homeschooled students (35 percent) and a third of high school level (34 percent) homeschooled students took online courses.
  • Most high-school level homeschooled students had home instruction that included basic algebra (88 percent), earth sciences or geology and biology (69 percent each).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why Should I Learn Spanish

This article is an excerpt from the book Why Should I Learn This. To order click here:

Why Should I Learn Spanish? 
Irma Luz Schmitt 

As our world has increasingly become interdependent, we can no longer afford to remain monolingual. Success depends in large part on the ability of an individual to function as a member of a global place whose members speak a variety of languages. Today, there are tremendous changes in the way the current generation of students interact with the world. Such changes give the study of languages (and the cultural learning that comes with it) a new dimension and importance. 
 Spanish in the global community 
More and more businesses and organizations value employees with oral and written fluency in Spanish—a language giving access to one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. Consider these statistics: 
  • Spanish is the world's third most spoken language, after Mandarin Chinese and English, and ranks second in terms of native speakers; today, almost 500 million people worldwide speak Spanish.1, 2 
  • Spanish is the mother tongue of approximately 388 million people in 21 countries (Mexico: 102 million, USA: 45 million, Spain: 44 million, Colombia: 44 million, Argentina: 39 million, Venezuela: 28 million, Peru: 28 million).3 It is also widely spoken in many more where it is not an official language.4 
  • Close to 53 million people living in the U.S. are Hispanic; the Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2012, making people of Hispanic origin the nation's largest ethnic or racial minority. Hispanics constituted 17 percent of the nation's total population.5 
  • Thirty-seven million Americans are Spanish speakers.6 In the past, learning Spanish used to be a way to open doors, but soon it will be a necessity, because Hispanic consumers are the fastest-growing market segment in North America.7 
 Spanish in the Liberal Arts Tradition 
Not only is learning Spanish becoming increasingly important in terms of the global economy, but it can also play a major role in your own personal development. Whether you decide to study business, political science, or some other major area, a good command of Spanish may very well make the difference in getting a job. 
In the tradition of a liberal arts education, learning a second language helps to expand your view of the world and appreciate differences among peoples.8 The study of foreign languages is an integral and indispensable part of higher education. In the traditional view, a person may be trained to competence in an occupation or profession, but to be educated in a liberal way, he or she must move beyond the limitations of one's native tongue. 
Through study of another language, students develop personality and sharpen intellect—acquiring a greater capacity for memorization and learning. Did you know that studying a second language can improve your skills and grades in math and English, and can improve entrance exam scores—SATs, ACTs, GREs, MCATs, and LSATs?9 Research has shown that math and verbal SAT scores climb higher with each additional year of foreign language study,10 which means that the longer you study a foreign language, the stronger your ability becomes to succeed in school.11 Studying a foreign language can improve your analytic and interpretive capacities.12 And three years of language study on your record will catch the eye of anyone reading your job, college, or graduate school application.13 
 The Spanish-English connection 
Studying a second language helps you gain a new perspective and understanding of the English language as well. Much of the vocabulary of English has Latin origins, and since Spanish is also a Latin language, you will find as you study Spanish that you have a better understanding of your native vocabulary.14 Similarly, both Spanish and English share Indo-European roots, so their grammars are similar. There is perhaps no more effective way to learn English grammar than to study the grammar of another language.15 Doing so forces you to think about how your language is structured. It's not unusual, for example, to gain an understanding of English verbs' tenses and moods by learning how those verbs are used in Spanish. And if you can learn Spanish, you'll have a head start in learning the other Latin-based languages such as French and Italian.16 
Spanish is one of the easiest foreign languages to learn.17 Much of its vocabulary is similar to English's, and written Spanish is almost completely phonetic: Look at almost any Spanish word and you can tell how it is pronounced. And while mastering Spanish grammar can be a challenge, basic grammar is straightforward. 
 Foreign language requirement for college 
Competitive colleges generally require at least two years of foreign language classes in high school. Some colleges would like to see three or more years, and Harvard suggest applicants to take four years.18 These classes should be in the same language—colleges would much prefer to see proficiency in one language than a superficial knowledge of several languages. 
When a college recommends two or more years of a language, they are clearly signaling that language study beyond two years would strengthen your application. Indeed, no matter where you apply for college, a demonstrated proficiency in a second language will strengthen your application. Life in college and after college is becoming increasingly globalized, so strength in a second language carries a lot of weight with admissions counselors.19 
Learning foreign languages is no longer a pastime—it is a necessity that can yield remarkable personal and professional satisfaction. 

About the Author 
Irma Luz Schmitt was born in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, MéxicoShe graduated from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (Monterrey Institute of Technology) in Monterrey, México, with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting in 1986 and a Master’s Degree in Education in 1999. In 2005, she earned a certification from Cambridge University in England to teach English as a second language. 
Irma Luz Schmitt offers online Spanish courses for middle and high school students with Homeschool Connections as both live, interactive courses and recorded, independent-study courses. She and her husband live and homeschool in Delaware.