Living Education: Parent Powered! Spring 2018

All about Group Learning with Living Education Journal

Encouraging Self-Directed Learning, One Spoonful at a Time

I’m excited to be a contributor to the spring edition of Living Education Journal. This issue focuses on parent-led group learning. I discuss how I took more responsibility for my learning starting in elementary school. You’ll also find a fantastic article about writing poems as a group via video chat, a fun painting craft, and ways to foster empathy in your children.

To view the spring edition of Living Education, visit:

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

Hillary Harshman at OCEANetwork Conference 2017

What is College Without the Campus?

What do zombie fans, Marvel hero impersonators, and homeschoolers have in common?

They could all be found at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland on the same weekend! My latest Portland adventure took me to the OCEANetwork Christian Home Educators Conference. While this event was going on, there was also the Walker Stalker Con and the Heroes & Villains Fan Fest. The lobbies were filled with a medley of visitors!

At the conference, I vended my book and enjoyed time with my mom and sister who came along and gave me a hand. The thing I loved most was getting to talk with homeschool families about their college concerns. Over the two-day event, three questions about my book were most common:

“Is it a course?”

The most-asked question from people who walked up to my booth was, “Is this a course?” I explained that my booth name was the title of the book I wrote after graduating from college. Though College Without the Campus isn’t a course, it can be used to create a self-directed college course. In fact, the book’s outline follows the stages a student will work through during college and offers first-hand experiences and recommended resources.

“Is it online classes?”

Distance learning can easily be seen as online classes. But learning outside the classroom is far broader: it includes work experience, life skills, previous learning, and travel studies. Outside the classroom, learning takes many forms, both formal and informal. One of my goals in writing a book was to shed light on these alternate learning opportunities. This leads to the next step: how to show a college that what you know is college-level and worthy of credit.

“Is it credit-by-exam, like CLEP?”

For this question, my answer was a happy YES. I get excited to meet others who have heard of CLEP and may have even taken a CLEP exam themselves. CLEP tests are my favorite example of credit-by-exam because the subject matter is doable to learn, and students are often required to study the same material in high school, leading to a dual-credit opportunity. Other tests, such as DSST exams, are also available to earn upper level credits.

This is the essence of College Without the Campus: sharing information about credit-by-exam testing to help students save money and time. Taking the best elements of traditional college courses, online classes and credit-by-exam testing, the book moves readers from aspiration and desire to actualization and completion. And that’s something even zombies and Marvel heroes can get excited about!

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

Book Review: Homeschooling for College Credit by Jennifer Cook-DeRosa

• • • • • • • ► Meet Jennifer Cook-DeRosa

I was doing college research on when I first learned about author Jennifer Cook-DeRosa. Because she was both a parent and someone who had earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences using distance learning techniques, she had experience coaching her teens in earning college credit as well as taking credit-by-exam tests. (Cook-DeRosa has since gone on to earn her master’s degree.) I appreciated her regular posts pertaining to Thomas Edison State University, accreditation, and credit-by-exam tests such as CLEP.

In 2012, Cook-DeRosa published Homeschooling for College Credit. This 200-page book guides parents through implementing courses worth college credit into their high school students’ schedules. She begins the book by encouraging parents that teaching high school is doable and then lists some foundational, but critical, information about college courses.

• • • • • • • ► Transferring College Credits

One of the most memorable stories she shares is how the credits she earned for her AOS (Associate in Occupational Studies) in Culinary Arts did not transfer when she went back to college later in life. Not being able to transfer credits was one of my fears about distance learning, and Cook-DeRosa explains how to avoid this (see chapter 3).

Another helpful tool in Homeschooling for College Credit is her four-year high school planning templates. These are designed to schedule credit earning into your high schooler’s curriculum while meeting the requirements for high school at the same time. Essentially, they’re dual credit plans.

Later in the book Cook-DeRosa covers test resources, test-taking skills, making a high school transcript, paying for college, and taking your credit to a college. Also provided is a list of things she prefers in a college and ten colleges that meet those preferences.

• • • • • • • ► A Valuable Resource

Throughout the book, Cook-DeRosa’s experience as a parent of homeschooled children and as a distance learner give the reader plenty to absorb and put into use. Her love for learning, stretching the family’s dollar, and helping other parents jump-start their teen’s college education make this book a handy resource.

For more information about Homeschooling for College Credit, you can preview the book on and visit the Homeschooling for College Credit Facebook page, which is updated regularly with tips and distance learning news.

This is an unsponsored review to share a book I found helpful.

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

Evergreen trees at Bennington Lake, Washington

Product Review: Writing Courses from the Institute for Excellence in Writing

• • • • • • • ► After writing my book, I’ve been surprised to look back at my schooling and see that I wasn’t explicitly preparing to write a book. In fact, writing wasn’t one of my favorite subjects. But, boy, am I glad it was important to my mom that I learn to write!

I remember doing a unit study on snails. I had chosen the subject myself, and I was very excited to read books about snails, sketch snails, design an essay outline, and finally, write the essay. I even had due dates for various steps of the unit study. This project made me feel very grown-up, and I remember it vividly.

During this timeframe, I remember feeling confused about how to put words down on paper. I didn’t know how to organize my words, how to decide the flow of ideas, or how to add variety to my sentences. This made writing frustrating.

In middle school, my mom started using materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. The course I remember was led by Andrew Pudewa. The taped lectures were held in a live classroom setting with students following along off-camera. Mr. Pudewa had a large wipe-off board to demonstrate his concepts.

I dreaded watching these videos. Why? I dreaded having to write. Though I’m smiling at this now, I was not smiling then. Mr. Pudewa would explain about persuasive essays, the very short sentence, sentence openers, and other writing techniques, and with clipboard and lined paper in hand, I scrawled away at his assignments.

After much practice, I began to see some light. The writing structure and various techniques slowly felt more natural, and I began to find freedom in this structure. Andrew Pudewa’s tips helped me write my essays for the SAT, the ACT, and CLEP’s English Composition with Essay (now replaced by College Composition), as well as other informative and persuasive essays during high school and college.

Ironically, the writing DVDs I wished would disappear have given me some of the most lasting skills from school. I still use Mr. Pudewa’s techniques, as they give me a framework to begin writing with. Do I need to explain a concept? Start with a 5 paragraph essay. For a longer work, simply expand the same essay format to write a 5 paragraph essay for each of three subtopics relating to the concept. Pudewa’s framework has the capacity to be stretched and tailored to fit many writing applications.

He also gives helpful advice for writing the persuasive essay. I know I asked myself, “Why would I need to know how to write a persuasive essay? I’m not on the debate team. When will I need to persuade someone with my writing?” In fact, this is something used all the time. Of course I needed to know how to write a persuasive essay for the SAT and the ACT.  However, we also use persuasive writing to share our opinions, comparing our thoughts to those of others and substantiating those thoughts. We even use persuasive language just to convince someone to read what we have written. For me to learn how versatile the persuasive essay is might be the best reward of using Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and the Advanced Communication Series.

If you are a homeschool parent looking to give your children writing tips that can carry them from school papers to college classes to life beyond formal education, I highly recommend courses from the Institute for Excellence in Writing.

As an experiment, I wrote another review right after finishing the one above. This time I used the techniques I remembered from the writing courses.

• • • • • • • ► It was another afternoon on a school day. We were preparing for our writing session, and I was dreading it. Why did I need to learn these very specific writing methods? I knew how to write a paragraph. And if my assignment was longer than that, I just put several paragraphs together. But something inside of me didn’t agree. I didn’t like the uncertainty I felt when writing. I wanted to know how to make a flowing article, how to grab my reader’s attention, and how to feel confident when I began writing.

Difficulties in writing

As a youngster, I found writing frustrating. I seemed to never quite know how to write. Should I just put down some words until the word count was reached? How did I not make all my sentences sound the same? Where was the fun in writing? I remember my mom firing up the Student Workshop DVD included in the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style course for writing time. My mom, sister, and I, clipboards and lined paper in hand, would sit and follow along with Andrew Pudewa as he demonstrated his writing techniques. I was overwhelmed by some of the ideas he presented. Did I really have to remember to write an outline, vary my sentence openers, and include a very short sentence?

Practice makes writing comfortable, faster

Despite my reservations, I began to get the hang of these techniques. Through repetition, I could see I was building speed and confidence in my writing. It was easier to write! I began honing my persuasive essays for the SAT, ACT and CLEP tests. I no longer felt lost when I was given an assignment: I had a backbone structure that could be adapted to my needs. Did I need to give my opinion? Time for a five-paragraph persuasive essay. Was it time for me to explain something? I would pull out the five-paragraph explanatory essay. If I needed to write in greater detail, I would just create a five-paragraph sandwich, with three subtopics each receiving their own five-paragraph essay to support the main topic.

Lifelong benefits

I finally understood why I had needed to learn writing structure. From this framework, I could explain a topic clearly to my reader and access several trusty techniques to draw on when my writing well ran dry. I had been awakened to the fact that persuasive writing happens all the time! I needed persuasive writing to persuade my reader to take time to read my collection of words. I needed to learn how to organize my research in a comprehensible explanatory essay. In short, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and the Advanced Communication Series taught me that writing is versatile. It is a tool that can be wielded to great results.

Worth the effort and time

I’ve been using these techniques to write this review. I have forgotten some of the rules I learned, but the framework remains. I am able to use writing to express a point of view, to share a review, and to better demonstrate why I feel the way I do. These techniques go far beyond school tests—they help at work and online. With these results, I can highly recommend the Institute for Excellence in Writing to homeschool parents and others who wish to bring a sense of command to the area of writing, either for themselves or their children.

• • • • • • • ► For more information, see the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s website:

This is an unsponsored review to share one of my favorite resources.