Welcome to Highhill Education

This is an ironic welcome post, because it is also serving as my final post on Highhill Education. After homeschooling for 14 years I have one child in college, and two in high school. I'm still homeschooling, but have really said all I have to say. With out a doubt homeschooling has been a huge success for our family. Although there have been ups and downs along the way, we (and I'm including myself) have learned so much and are continuing to learn. Each of my children has developed a love of learning, a fantastic work ethic, and many skills they will use throughout their lives.

My oldest graduated from Highhill Education, and is in her second year of college studying mechanical and biomedical engineering. She has a internship job lined up for this summer where she will be working in an injection molding group and a co-op job lined up for Jan-Aug of the following year where she will be working for a company that designs orthodontic devices. My younger two are still finishing up high school and following in her footsteps of success.

While homeschooling my husband and I created two products which are still available through this blog. Speed! is a skip-counting card game that helps children learn to multiply. Johnny's Jelly Bean Tacos is a book my husband wrote and my girls and I illustrated.

I hope you find this blog a source of inspiration, free unit studies and activity ideas, and a resource for answering homeschooling questions. Links to some of the most popular posts can be found from the tabs above, but there many more posts embedded in the blog if you feel like browsing.

College Credit Through CLEP Exams

Homeschooled kids often get a head start by earning college credits while still in high school. Since my oldest is 14 and very advanced in math I've spent several months researching this topic. Today many options are available for earning college credit thereby greatly reducing the cost of a college degree.

Here are three main ways to earn credit.

AP, CLEP and DSST are three different types of tests which can be taken and are accepted by universities. AP, or advanced placement exams are commonly offered by high schools which teach advanced classes such as calculus, English and history. CLEP exams cover many subjects typically taught during the first year of college such as American Literature, Foreign Language, Economics, Chemistry, Humanities, and Calculus. DSST exams tend to cover topics more typically gained through on the job experience such as business and computing.

Most undergraduate programs accept around one years worth of credits, or 32 credits total. They pick and choose which credits from exams they will accept. Sometimes they change their policies, and not all universities accept the same exams. That being said, passing a foreign language exam can earn potential undergraduates a whopping 12 credits. Passing most other exams result in 3 to 6 credits depending on the exam and score. Many universities like to limit the amount of credits accepted by testing to ensure students are capable of learning through more traditional classroom methods. So the bottom line is, testing can be an efficient way to skip ahead, but if the end university is known, it's best to double check with them in advance to see what credits they will accept.

2. Community College
Many undergraduate university programs will accept up to 64 transfer credits, or credits earned at another accredited institution. That means students could either take two years worth of classes at a community college, or one year of classes combined with 32 testing credits to begin an undergraduate program as a junior. Since community colleges tend to be cheaper than universities and testing cheaper than community college, this combination is an excellent way to save money on education.

Accreditation is key. There are many colleges offering classes, but not all are accredited. Again, if the university or final degree program is known, then it's best to check with that institution as to whether or not the credits earned at the community college will be accepted. If the final degree program is still being decided, checking the regional accreditation is a good idea. Here's a web link to help verify accreditation.

3. On-line College
Now that the internet has grown by leaps and bounds, many students are obtaining on-line degrees. Thomas Edison State College, Excelsior College and Charter Oaks State College are three big on-line degree institutions. What's really neat about several of the on-line programs is that students can earn a degree almost entirely through testing. They tend to accept most testing credits and even offer tests similar to course final exams which if passed, are another route for earning credit.

Students can learn at home, take AP, CLEP and DSST exams, then select an on-line school and degree program. From there, the students can study the material required by the degree program, enroll, take several tests  and wind up with a degree, or enroll and take the courses on-line to complete the program.

Accredited degrees are normally accepted by universities. Therefore, if the student were to earn an on-line degree and then begin a second degree at a university, depending on the similarity of the degrees, as much as three years worth of classes could be eliminated.

Just like the numerous options for educating elementary, junior high and high school level children there are many options for college level as well. The ideal scenario would be to know the final destination university and degree program and then select a testing/community college/on-line option to feed into it. Without knowing the final goal, much progress can still be made. Just remember, each university sets its own rules. The important thing is to look for accreditation.

Check out these blog hops for more educational activity ideas.

Homeschooling - How to Teach High School Chemistry

When it comes to highschool level science classes, many homeschool parents begin to doubt their teaching abilities. Fortunately there are resources available to help teach upper level science classes.

There are two main issues to consider when it comes to teaching chemistry. One is finding the necessary resources, and the second is tackling the material. In addition to finding a textbook and lab kit, building an understanding of chemistry application and the history of chemistry can make the study of chemistry much more interesting. Fortunately it is possible to teach high school chemistry at home, and first year college chemistry as well.

Read the book Mystery of the Periodic Table as a starting point for studying chemistry. It is a story book that explains the history of chemistry and can easily be read by middle school age children and up.

While reading the book The Mystery of the Periodic Table, memorize the periodic table, or at least the beginning of the periodic table. This can be done by listening to and learning the song below. Watch a few seconds each day reviewing and adding on a little more until you know the first few lines of the periodic table.

Life of Fred Chemistry is a high school chemistry textbook with problems. The book follows Fred, a six year old math professor, as he encounters chemistry and teaches chemistry during his daily life. It is entertaining and helps kids to develop a good understanding of the application of chemistry. This is a great quote from the book.... "Johnny was a student, but Johnny is no more, what Johnny thought was H2O was H2SO4."

Life of Fred is one textbook option for studying chemistry at home, but there are several other options. Khan Academy offers free video high school and college level chemistry courses. In addition consider textbooks used by colleges and high schools which can easily be purchased through the internet. Many high schools and college students resell their chemistry textbooks. Since chemistry is a subject where the basic principles don't change, purchasing a second-hand chemistry text book can be an economical option.

For lab work purchase the CK01A Chemistry Laboratory Kit from The Home Scientist, LLC. It comes with just about everything required: tons of small bottles of chemicals, beakers, test tubes and goggles. Also included is a lab manual of high school level experiments.

Chemistry by Raymond Chang is an extensive college-level chemistry textbook. It covers at least two full semesters of chemistry and begins covering organic chemistry at the end of the book. It is intense, but older students can work independently. If your student can get through this textbook, they should be able to pass the CLEP Chemistry or AP Chemistry exam and earn college credit.

How to Homeschool for Free

Homeschooling doesn't have to be expensive to be effective. Often those new to homeschooling believe they need to purchase a full accredited curriculum for their children to get a quality education. Fortunately, this is not the case. It is however, necessary for the parents to have a vested interest and invest time into their child. Parents need to support and encourage the education process by helping their child locate resources to facilitate learning whether expensive, low cost or free. As children become more independent, parents will need to invest fewer hours into education. Children who have learned how to locate information on their own can be extremely independent and educated learners.

The internet and the library are the two best free homeschooling resources. These are followed by the outdoor classroom of nature, and time friends and family are willing to spend when sharing their knowledge, skills and hobbies with children. The internet is loaded with free resources to support education. Libraries are full of physical books, but also offer audio books, on-line books, documentaries and educational seminars. Nature centers routinely offer free programs and have small museums that welcome visitors. Just being outside facilitates learning. Kids can observe nature, but can also learn math outdoors for free. Do they really need counting objects when learning to add and subtract, or would acorns, berries and leaves work the same way?

Reading, writing and math are foundational educational skills. Everything else requires a knowledge of the three R's and can be learned in a flexible order based on skills, interests and opportunities. It takes time to locate the resources that will work for your family, but here are a few to help get you started.

Youtube - History and Science Documentaries, Skills of Every Kind

Of course everybody has heard of Youtube. There are tons of historical and scientific documentaries on Youtube. Plus, it can be used to look up information on musicians, artists and how-to crafting instructions.

Courses and Curriculum

Khan Academy - Free online video courses - upper level

Computer Programming

Scratch is a tool for teaching children how to write computer programs.

Foreign Language

Salsa Spanish is a website with many videos designed to teach Spanish to children in a fun way. The videos are completely in Spanish and are entertaining. One episode is a play on Red Riding Hood. They are excellent for elementary aged children.

Duolingo is a free language learning website available on the internet.

Audio Books and Written Books

Librivox and The Baldwin Project are two websites which contain books who's copyright has run out. Librivox contains audio files which can be downloaded and The Baldwin Project contains written files.

Starfall is a website for children learning to read. It uses a combination of phonics and fun games to motivate children.

Storynory is for listening to children’s stories. There are both classic and delightful new stories which can be downloaded.


Seterra is a free geography quiz tool. After downloading the game kids (and adults) can practice worldwide geography including, rivers, countries and capital cities.



My Book About Me. Please feel free to print it out for personal or classroom use. Kids ages K-3rd.

Postcrossing is a web group for exchanging postcards. After signing up members request an address for sending a postcard. A code is written on the card and after the card is received and the code recorded the sending member becomes eligible to receive cards. This is a great activity for kids to learn geography and improve writing skills. Young children can help by putting periods at the end of sentences and signing their name. Older children can write the cards and even manage the web site interaction. This is free except for the cards and postage.


History - Free Blank Timelines

Timelines are an essential tool for helping children understand the order in which past events have happened.

Blank Timeline 1000 AD - 2000 AD
Blank Timeline 0 - 1000 AD
Blank Timeline 1000 BC - 0
Blank Timeline 2000 BC - 2000 AD

Learning Through Stamps

The Postal History Foundation offers stamp packets for educators - (home school, private school, public school and other educators). On the website there are spaces to indicate how the stamps will be used and how many students are involved. The stamps are free, but they accept donations and appreciate money for shipping expenses.

"Mr. Johan Sebastian Bach came from a very musical family. Over 70 of his relatives made their livings as musicians. He was a German composer and during his life he made extra money by repairing organs. One time he worked for a prince until he felt the prince was getting too bossy and decided to leave. When the prince found his plans out, he had Bach thrown into jail until he finally ....."  

Free Photo Editing Unit Study

Computer skills are essential to success in our modern world. One way to build computer skills is to focus on a hobby or interest which incorporates computers as a tool. Kids who are interested in photography can increase their photography knowledge and computer skills by learning to edit photos.

gIMP is a free downloadable photo editing software package. It contains common photo editing capabilities such as altering brightness and colors of photos, as well as cropping and rotating. In addition photos can be meshed together, silhouettes can be created and so much more.

Download gIMP, open the software and begin playing around with it. Then watch and read on-line tutorials - gIMP-Tutorials and gIMPpology.

Here are some examples of photo edits that can be done with gIMP.

Custom Photo Album

Once you have edited a number of photos assemble a photo album.

iPhoto or the Walgreens online site are only two of numerous options available to create a photo album.

Free Animal Study Starter

In this unit study kids will have the chance to learn about birds and animal tracks. It designed to spark an interest in animals and get kids outdoors observing. Because many kids seem to be naturally fascinated with animals there are not many lessons in this study. Please expand on these simple ideas to study any plants or animals your child is interested in. Visit the library to discover new books and feel free to create animal art and spend time in nature. Homeschooling does not need to be highly structured to be effective. Rather kids need to be given opportunities and encouragement to discover. The learning will be natural.

Week 1: Birds

A bird banding station is a place where scientists trap birds and place a small metal ring around one leg to track migration. The data is used to learn more about birds, and help to protect them and their habitats.

There is one near Denver, CO that can be found through the Audubon Society. Banding is done twice per year (May and September) when the birds are migrating. It happens in the morning from about 7:00-11:00 when the birds are most active. After the birds are trapped they are weighed, measured, banded and then set free. Banding sessions are open to the public for observation.  Check with your local Audubon Society for learning opportunities.

Read The Burgess Bird Book for Children. It is free on-line. Then create a lapbook. Spend several weeks learning about birds. Each week focus on researching a different characteristic such as feathers, nests, types of birds, diet, and flight. Then summarize your observations in a little booklet that can be glued into a folder to make an interesting book.

Week 2: What type of seed do birds like best?

Create four different types of seeded peanut butter pine cones to find what type of seed the birds prefer.

 After gathering pine cones,  generously slather them with peanut butter.

Roll them in different seeds such as sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds and millet seeds. Watch the pinecones and birds over the course of several days to discover their tastes.

Week 3: Animal Tracks

Winter is the best time to see animal tracks and Snow Tracks is the perfect book to go with the activity. The story contains several animals and their adventures. As they go about their day they leave tracks and many things can be learned from the tracks.

After reading the book, go outside in the winter or near a pond or stream and search for animal tracks.

Deer Tracks

Dog Tracks

Bird Tracks

Rabbit Tracks

Not Quite Sure Tracks - Maybe Marten Tracks

What were all these animals doing?

Another book great for nature hikes is In the Snow. In this book the kids see clues like berries in the snow and balls of fur and bone, and wonder who has been there.

Free Simple Machine Unit Study

This is a five week free simple machine unit study perfect for kids in grades 3rd-5th which can be adapted to work for older or younger children. Each lesson connects an application of simple machines  to a period of history. This combined study is designed to spark interest that will lead to further study of history and simple machines based on the interests of the student. Don't be afraid to do research and take the learning in a new direction.

The lever, inclined plane, screw, wedge, wheel and axle and pulley are commonly thought of as the six or seven types of simple machines, when in reality there are only really three different types of simple machines. The wheel and axle, lever and inclined plane. The pulley is an extension of a wheel and axle and the screw and wedge are an extension of an inclined plane.

Here are the three different types of simple machines.

  • Lever
  • Inclined Plane, Screw, Wedge
  • Wheel and Axle, Pulley

Week 1: Stonehenge - Wheel

Week 2: Hanging Gardens of Babylon - Pulley

Week 3: Hanging Gardens of Babylon - Archimedes Screw

Week 4: Snowman - Inclined Plane

Week 5: Assyrians - Wheel and Lever

Week 1: Stonehenge - Wheel

Learn about Stonehenge and make a simple machine similar to the type which may have been used to move the enormous blocks to Stonehenge.

Although the exact purpose of Stonehenge and how it was built remains a mystery, there is much that is known. Read chapter 11 of Our Island Story (a narrative book for children on the history of England). Watch the documentary Secrets of Stonehenge.

Built around the year 3000 BC by stone age people living in Brittan, Stonehenge is aligned with the sun during the winter and summer solstices. In ancient times, stone was a symbol of the dead and wood was a symbol of life. Henges (circular structures) were built of both. While nothing but the post holes remain of the wooden henges, the remains of many stone henges can still be seen in the British Isles today. It's likely that the henges were locations where special religious ceremonies took place.

Coincidentally, hundreds of carved stone balls which date to the same time period in which Stonehenge was constructed have been discovered in Scotland. Historians have puzzled for years over the function of the balls. Recently, one researcher noticed that nearly all of the balls were constructed to a precise diameter of 2.75 inches and proposed a theory that they functioned as bearings in simple machines.

Based upon this theory, historians constructed a replica system which could have been used to move the large stones at Stonehenge. Make a much simpler version of the simple machine using tennis balls, and pieces of wood.

Since the carved stone balls are similar in size to tennis balls, place several tennis balls between two channels of narrow wooden beams.

Next place a folded up table or sheet of plywood on top of the tennis balls for a platform. Test the system to see if the table plywood can be easily moved.
Add weight to the table and move your materials along the track.

Try testing heavier objects. Can a small person move a large load?

Week 2: Hanging Gardens of Babylon - Pulleys

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Built during the second Babylonian Empire, the legend says that the gardens were a gift from Nebuchadnezzar II to his wife.

There are several mysteries about this ancient wonder, but one has to do with water. One theory says that the gardens were watered using a system of pulleys. Create a pulley system like one that may have been used to water the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Set-up a goal for your pulley system such as using the pulleys and materials on the left to lift light-weight balls from the base of the stairs to the blue Ishtar Gate.

Work on solving problems such as how will the portion of the string with the cup attached pass through the pulley?
How will the pulleys stay in place. Tape?

Try different solutions before deciding on a finished system. One solution may be introducing new materials with wheels instead of the provided pulleys.

Spend time working out a solution. Don't be afraid to try different materials and suggestions from all team members.

Week 3: Hanging Gardens of Babylon - Archimedes Screw

 Last week a pulley system was created like one that may have been used to water the hanging gardens of Babylon. Another theory says that the gardens were watered using Archimedes Screws several hundred years before Archimedes, the Greek inventor of the Archimedes screw lived. An Archimedes screw is a simple machine used to lift material from a low point to a high point by increasing the distance thereby lessening the steepness.

This Archimedes screw is located at the Playmobil Fun Park in Germany. Kids can spend hours moving material around in this play pit.

Create an Archimedes screw.

Begin by cutting a hole and the end off an empty water bottle.

Cut six circles out of stiff paper to fit inside the water bottle.

Cut a slot in the circles and put them onto a skewer.

Tape them together to form a spiral.

Stretch the spiral out and tape to the skewer to be held in place.

Test the screw with cereal. Modify it to get it working. You may have some of these issues.
The cereal gets caught in the tape joints of the disks.
The disks are not spread out far enough.
Many disks are too small so the cereal falls back to the bottom before it can be raised to the top.

Fix the issues so that each screw can successfully lift at least one piece of cereal.
Budget about two and a half hours for reworking the screws to get them to work. This is a challenging project and a true lesson in engineering, science, history, and patience.

Week 4: Snowman - Inclined Plane

How would you get the middle snowball in position on the tall snowman? This is an awesome winter kid challenge. How do you raise a large snowball three feet off the ground?

Here is one solution. Before the bases of the first two snowmen become snowmen, use those structures  as a ramp. Roll the snowball up the ramp into place on the tall snowman. This is an inclined plane simple machine.

Week 5: Assyrians - Wheel and Lever

The Assyrians were masters of war. Sargon II paid his army and supplied them with armor, food and horses. Horses were so valuable that killing them was highly discouraged. Instead they were captured. Sennacherib lead the Assyrians to destroy the city of Babylon and enslave the Jews using his highly trained horsemen, siege towers, chariots and battering rams. Chariots, battering rams and siege towers all make use of simple machines. Study the Assyrians and build a battering ram, chariot and a siege tower.

Chariots contain wheels and axles. During the time of the Assyrians the wheels of the chariot were moved from the rear of the vehicle to the center. This great advancement allowed the Assyrians to place an additional man in their chariots which gave them a significant battle advantage.

Battering rams also contain wheels and the ram mechanism is a lever. A lever helps people do work through the use of a pivot point. In this case the load is hung from two ropes to enable the operator to move it more easily.

Siege towers sometimes contained battering rams and wheels. This one does not. They were used to breech city walls.

There are many different versions of siege towers, battering rams and chariots which were used in the numerous battles between the Assyrians, Hittites and Babylonians. Combine history and science as you explore these weapons of ancient warfare.
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