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Celebrate Fall!


Now that fall is officially here (although you wouldn’t know it from the weather we had this past weekend!), it’s a great time to celebrate the arrival of a new season. There are a number of creative ways you can do it, so let your imagination run wild. We found ways to incorporate music, art, cooking, and crafts into any celebration. Share with us your ideas to celebrate fall!


Is there a song that automatically conjures up fall images for you? The Mamas and the Papas “California Dreamin,” which begins, “All the leaves are brown / and the sky is gray,” came to mind for us, but that’s a little depressing! So we went in search of happier tunes and found a great list on NME’s (New Musical Express, a British weekly music journalism publication) web site. Our favorites from the list include Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September,” Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” and Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.” And for the little ones, we happened upon this fun little ditty on YouTube, which had visuals we really enjoyed: “That’s How a Pumpkin Grows” by Brian Vogan.


Just as music can bring about autumn feelings and memories, art can transport us into fall with images that evoke the sounds, smells, and feelings of fall: The crunch of leaves under our feet, the heady smell of decaying vegetation, and the crisp, chilly air. The Guardian, one of the best-known British daily newspapers, lists their favorite fall art pieces in the article entitled “From Monet to Constable: famous paintings of autumn - in pictures.” We also found a few works that, while they may not be the work of the classic Masters, bring fall to us in beautiful ways…

FALL MARATHON by Leonid Afremov


2011 FALL BIRCHES by Anonymous


If you have a free week, you can search all over Pinterest for literally thousands of great fall craft ideas. We also like the web site from DLTK, which has a more manageable list of 10 easy autumn crafts. We especially like the Autumn Tree Craft and the Autumn Squirrel Wreath.


We saved the best for last! We all love to eat, and fall brings along with it an exciting variety of flavors like pumpkin, cinnamon, and squash.

We got a real kick out of this Fall Scene Plate, which seems to combine food and art! And these Fallen Leaves Cookies are too adorable to forget. The web site Milk and Cuddles gives us delightful recipes for Candy Corn Cupcakes and Orange Pumpkins, too.

To make use of everyone’s favorite fall vegetable, the pumpkin, has a list of “25 Awesome Pumpkin Recipe Ideas.” We agree that they all sound pretty awesome, but we especially like the Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix (originally from the, because it would be an easy one to make with kids. And if you want to take the “squash game” up a notch and try another variety with your children, has a nice list of kid-friendly butternut squash recipes that is sure to have at least one idea to tempt you!

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Posted on: September 29, 2014 by Andie Markijohn in

Quick Tips in Education


Kids and Sports

sports-camp-1As fall gets into full swing, many families find themselves knee-deep in sports practices, games, and piles of dirty uniforms in the laundry. With all of the effort it takes to have kids participate in sports, it can be easy to wonder if it’s all worth it. While not all researchers agree on all points, many researchers do concur that sports have advantages for kids far beyond fitness. If you’re considering signing your child up for a sport, it might be helpful to consider some of the following benefits of sports. states, “Organized sports can help kids grow in many ways. From soccer to fencing, sports offer chances for kids to learn and master skills, work with their peers and coaches, and challenge themselves in a safe environment. They learn the value of practice and the challenge of competition.” (

Sports have even been shown to have a positive effect on grades. In a study highlighted in TIME magazine, researchers in the UK Researchers examined 5,000 11-year-olds, measuring the length and intensity of physical activity they participated in over 3 to 7 days. When they compared their activity levels with their scholastic performance in English, math, and science, they found that the “more moderate to vigorous physical activity a child had, the higher they scored on their tests” (Sifferlin, Alexandra, “Study: More Active Teens Get Higher Test Scores,” TIME, Oct. 22, 2013)

When Should My Child Start to Play Sports?

Mary L. Gavin, MD, Senior Medical Editor of KidsHealth, presents a great review of topics surrounding kids and sports on She recommends that “As you think about signing kids up for sports, consider how emotionally and physically ready they are to participate. Signing up too early can end up being frustrating for everyone, and can turn kids off from sports for good.” (

While there are sports programs for younger children, Gavin believes that “it's not until about age 6 or 7 that most kids develop the appropriate physical skills or the attention span needed to listen to directions and grasp the rules of the game.”

What Sport Should We Choose?

“If kids show an interest in a sport, try to let them do it,” Gavin writes. “Even if the sport doesn't turn out to be a good fit, your child will learn much from the experience.”

Some things to consider when choosing:

  • Your child’s temperament—some kids do well in team sports, while others prefer to focus on individual effort.
  • Schedule—how will practices and games affect the daily life of your child and the family?
  • Your involvement—how involved do you want to be in your child’s sport? Do you want to coach, bring snacks, carpool with other families, etc? Being involved can be a great way to spend time with your kids and show them you're interested in what they do.
  • Your child’s health—be sure to have a physical exam before beginning any sports program, to catch any health concerns before they become problematic. Some sports can be managed with adaptations for health conditions, while others may not be so easy to adapt.
  • Don’t force it—Sharing your interests with your children is wonderful, but don’t force them into a sport just because you used to be good at it. And if your child simply isn’t having fun at their sport, it doesn’t benefit them or you.

For ideas on what sport might be of interest to your child, check out the articles and lists on and There may be a few on there that you’ve never heard of before, or may not have considered for your child. Along with the more traditional sports of baseball, basketball, tennis, and soccer, these lists include some of the following more unique ideas:

sports camp photo

  • Archery
  • Fencing
  • Field hockey
  • Jump roping
  • Lacrosse
  • Quidditch
  • Rowing
  • Rugby
  • Sailing
  • Skating
  • Table tennis
  • Tap Dancing
  • Tennis
  • Ultimate(Ultimate Frisbee)
  • Water polo

Whichever sport you and your family choose, don’t forget to take up a sport of your own to encourage your budding athlete: Cheerleading!

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Posted on: September 25, 2014 by Andie Markijohn in

Did You Know?


Current Topics in Education:

Do Kids Need Art?

a_painter_with_a_paint_brush_and_palette_0521-1001-2913-4818_SMUThe web site We Are Teachers has a great section addressing the timely topic of Art in Education. The site aptly captures the current conundrum in its introductory paragraph:

“Teachers instinctually know that art, music and drama add value to kids’ lives. But in the era of high-stakes exams, the arts often fall to the bottom of the list, whether we intend them to or not.” (

The web page created by the site’s editors and authors houses a host of links to great resources and topics, including:

Do you think art is important in a child’s education? Share with us one of your favorite ways art was used in a classroom for you or your child below.

Additional resources

Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who's Doing It Best,

11 Facts About Arts in Education,

The Importance of Art in Child Development,

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Posted on: September 22, 2014 by Andie Markijohn in

Quick Tips in Education


Chores: What’s Appropriate?

A dilemma most parents face—whether cyber schooling or not—is if and when to begin assigning chores to their children, and what chores are suitable for what ages. If the internet is any indication, the belief that chores are an appropriate and important part of growing up, as the prevalence of sites, blogs, and articles on the benefits of and suggestions for chores greatly outweigh those speaking out against

Most experts (and non-experts, too) seem to agree that doing chores teaches kids responsibility (and gives you some help around the house!). Rabbi Shmuley, perhaps best known for his television show Shalom in the Home, argues that if children don't help out with chores when they are younger, it can set the stage for their behavior as an adult. He explains, “Children get used to having things done for them. The result is that children feel entitled and parents are demoted to being a cleaning person.” Children need to play a role in the family, and chores are a way of giving children a role in the household, he says. "Kids can—and should—start doing chores from a very young age," Rabbi Shmuley says. Links to his  suggestions for chores at every age and guidelines for assigning them to your children can be found here.

Parenting expert Jim Fay, co-founder of the Love and Logic website, agrees that chores are important, for yet another reason. He argues that each of us needs to feel needed and know we're making a contribution—even kids. "But they can't feel that way if they don't have chores and make contributions to the family," Fay says. (Divide and Conquer Household Chores,

Chores, Life Skills, and Maturity

When considering what chores to assign your children, be sure you recognize the difference between a chore and a life skill. The Focus on the Family web site helpfully defines these two terms: while a chore is an ongoing task that benefits the household, a life skill is an activity that children should know how to do before living on their own, such as managing a checking account. When creating chores, be sure not to confuse the two.

Also keep in mind that every child matures at a different pace. Make sure that you create and adjust the chore list based on what you know about your child’s skills and talents.

How To

WebMD’s article has great advice on how to begin assigning chores for your child. For example, avoid these pitfalls:

  • Don't insist on perfection.
  • Don't delay.
  • Don't be stingy with praise.
  • Don't be inconsistent.

The article also advises making a Chores Chart and discusses allowances for chores. There are literally hundreds of Chores Charts available on the internet. Take some time to research and find the one that works best for you.

Lastly, to get you started, here are some common chores for each age. This is by no means an exhaustive list, as your family may have needs not mentioned here. Make sure to customize the chores for the way your family operates and the skills your children have.

2-4 Years

"Help" is the important word at this age. Many of the chores will be done as a helper and slowly kids can graduate to doing them independently!

  • Help dust
  • Help put away toys
  • Put laundry in hamper
  • Help feed pet

4-7 Years

"Help" is still important at this age, too.

  • Help make bed
  • Help put dishes in dishwasher
  • Help wipe up messes
  • Help with yard work (rake with child's rake or plant flowers, etc.)
  • Help clear table
  • Help put away groceries
  • Empty wastebaskets
  • Bring in mail or newspaper

8-10 Years

  • Make bed
  • Clean room with direction
  • Vacuum
  • Help make dinner
  • Help wash dishes
  • Help load/empty dishwasher
  • Rake leaves
  • Take pet for a walk
  • Take out the trash

11 Years and Older

  • Clean the bathroom with direction
  • Clean the kitchen
  • Fold laundry
  • Mow lawn
  • Help with laundry and eventually start doing own laundry
  • Help make dinner/make small meals on own
  • Shovel snow

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Posted on: September 18, 2014 by Andie Markijohn in

Quick Tips in Education


Tips and Advice from a Learning Coach

DSC07461Are you new to PA Virtual and wondering what your life as a Learning Coach is going to be like? Or have you been with us for a while and wondering if your experience is the same or different than other Learning Coaches?

Staff member and Learning Coach Cindy Dingledein shares her persepctive in this week's blog. Cindy is a Regional Coordinator in Central PA and this is her family's 11th year in the school. Cindy and her husband pastor a church together and Cindy serves on the board of a local non-profit. In her free time, she loves to read, do photography, cook & garden, and "use every sense I've been given at the ocean."

Ah, the days of kindergarten when books were simple and cuddle time was plentiful. Compare that to high school where literature is "discussed" with the teacher and other students in breakout rooms and the learning coach may have a glimpse into the conversation by listening in on the class or when the student deems it appropriate.

For me the greatest goal in the life of the Learning Coach is to foster a love of learning in your student(s). Not only K12 learning—which has been a good fit for our family—but learning in general. Character building skills; the how to’s of life, (such as car repair—or in my case the lawnmower), attending to your home, reading for enjoyment, cooking, riding horses, swimming how to play and a myriad of other pleasures can be experienced through that lifetime love. What is it that you love and dream of?

The Learning Coach is vital in the elementary years. Being there...both as mom and LC, or teacher, or assistant to the teacher, however you say it. I remember the "teacher" apron that I donned every morning when mommy time ended and our relationship changed a little. As the LC, you not only are involved in the ABC’s of curriculum, you teach respect, listening, and other communication skills; habits like cleaning up at the end of the day; and life lessons like how to walk away from one part of life to fully live the rest of it.

The Online School (OLS) gets easier to maneuver as the days go by. You will learn that every listed exercise is not required, but your student(s) needs to “get” the goal of the lesson. Some of the lessons will take longer than others to comprehend. Along with the PA Virtual teacher invited into your home each day, the LC is the backbone of consistency in the student’s life.

In the upper elementary grades when writing may seem overwhelming, aim for one good writing experience a day. Keep a history or science notebook for your student to write a few sentences for each lesson in the unit. A notebook can be used as a review for tests as well as a teaching tool for the future.

As your student(s) becomes a more independent learner, it is going to be more difficult for you than it may be for them. Yet they still need you...they need your presence and  a familiar voice that says everything is going to be okay after a difficult day. They need you for inspection and writing tips, and for being a cheerleader and their own personal proofreader.

To be successful, bear in mind how important the communication is between yourself and the others involved in your student’s life. The teacher, guidance counselor, principals, Family Support Coordinator, and even the Pupil Health staff all are available for direction. Read and respond to emails in your parent account and monitor your student(s) account as well.

Being a Learning Coach involves a great deal of trial and error. There is no perfect system for your home: it depends on personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and styles of learning for everyone involved. Especially with younger children, starting as a LC can require a large sacrifice of your time and require you to place some activities on hold for a few years to benefit your student’s future. Your meals may become simpler, TV time limited, and a schedule the savior of the day!

If you have a difficult day, walk away for a few moments, breathe deep and start again at another time or move on to a different subject. And on the days that fly by and you know you’ve got this, enjoy!

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Posted on: September 15, 2014 by Andie Markijohn in

Quick Tips in Education


Is Cursive Writing Still Useful?

cartoon_picture_of_girl_writingOne of the current debates in education is regarding cursive writing. With so much of our "writing" being done electronically, the debate over cursive writing's usefulness has been seen across the internet and even in such prestigious publications as TIME magazine.

One of our own educators, Learning Support High School Teacher Diane Eversmeyer, weighs in with her thoughts on the subject.

I look at the above question and think to myself of days of old, lined paper and pencil. We were taught the nice curly q’s that have now somehow come down to chicken scratch for some of us (especially if you are a physician it seems) but to me the answer to the above question is a resounding yes.

Cursive writing gave us an identity all of our own. We were the only ones who had that style. No one could take away how we wrote the letters the way we did. The way we wrote the letters gave different feeling to the meaning of the text: scribbly could mean you were angry or in a rush; neat and flowing could mean you were trying hard to impress.

We still need cursive today  to sign checks or to sign our name for a loan or mortgage. It makes people feel important when they can sign their name to something that they have worked for and they can finally claim as theirs. The pride that we take to sign our name shows that as long as we have that no one can ever take that away from us. People can take a lot of things from us, but they can’t take our pride and our name as long as we have learned how to write it and are proud of it.

When we are type our names electronically, everyone has the same generic image. The letters all look the same and no real feeling can be sensed in that particular name. Feelings through writing can be expressed both in type and in cursive, but when writing a name or a card, there is nothing like getting an old fashioned handwritten card with a scrolled name that means someone took the time to write it. It also means someone took the time to teach it, learn it, understand it, value it, and reuse it enough to pass it on to the next generation. Cursive is not antiquated; it is still a 21st century tool.


Diane Eversmeyer is a Learning Support High School History Teacher who also co-teaches Algebra 1 and Tutors at the Middle School Level. She has been with PA Virtual for nearly 10 years and has also co-taught English during her time here. Dianes's undergraduate degree is in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Special Education and a minor in Reading. Her Master's Degree is in Curriculum and Technology.   In her spare time, she likes to go kayaking, read, and do genealogy work. The last time Diane penned a handwritten note was just one week before this posting.


To read more about the value of cursive writing, check out these resources:

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Posted on: September 11, 2014 by Andie Markijohn in

Did You Know?


Pets And Children

Has your family been considering an expansion? We're not talking about another child; we're talking pets!

Pets can be a wonderful addition to a home. Studies have shown numerous benefits of pet ownership for both adults and children. For example, according to WebMD, "for nearly 25 years, research has shown that living with pets provides certain health benefits. Pets help lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety. They boost our immunity. They can even help you get dates."

Family enjoyment of mothers with children and pets.

Whether its dates or comfort your family is looking for, the addition of a pet requires some preparation and thought, but ultimately can end up being a wonderful choice. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's web site has a great article on children and pets, highlighting choosing a pet, caring for a pet, and the specific ways in which pets can help children.

Another great resource for pet-related information is your local animal shelter. Many shelters allow children to volunteer with their parents, providing the chance to interact with animals before committing to ownership. If your family is interested in including this topic as part of your educational plan, the Humane Society of the United States has resources available online, including a kids' magazine, lesson plans, and more.

There is plenty of information out there on the benefits of pet ownership and advice on making a choice. Here are a few more articles that you may find helpful:

The Therapeutic & Health Benefits of Pets,

The Benefits of Pets,

10 Reasons Pets Are Good for Kids,

How Pets Benefit Child Development,

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Posted on: September 08, 2014 by Andie Markijohn in

Did You Know?


Setting Up A Home Learning Environment



For families that have just begun cyber schooling with their children, it can be a little intimidating to figure out how to “do this virtual school thing.” One of the pieces of advice we hear most often from experienced families is that it helps to set up a specific area where school “happens.” While some students may work just as well in a more relaxed environment, setting up a dedicated school area can be a great tactic for helping new families get into the swing of things.

By setting up a designated school area, not only does the student have sensory cues (lighting, touch, sound, visual elements) that signal “schooltime,” but family members also know that when the student is in the school area, they are working and should not be disturbed.

Here are 6 easy steps for setting up your school area at home (adapted from

  1. Choose the location. It can be a whole room, or just a particular space in a selected room. Consider how much traffic the space gets, and whether your child works best when they have peace and quiet, or if they prefer to feel connected to others while they work.
  2. Eliminate distractions. No matter where you set up, remove distractions, such as décor and photos, and put up pictures and objects related to school (like maps, times tables, etc.)
  3. Provide a table to desktop to work on. Make sure it’s clear of other items, so your student can spread out his or her work. Provide a comfortable chair for your child (but not too comfortable!) and keep one handy for yourself, too, for times when you need to provide coaching.
  4. Create a supply closet. If you have the room to create an actual supply closet, that’s great, but bins and plastic tubs can also work for corralling supplies and keeping them close by. Don’t forget to label everything so that your student knows not only where to find items when needed but also where to return them when finished.
  5. Organize your area according to subject, grade level, or child. For example:
    • Dedicate an area for textbooks and organize by subject.
    • Organize all writing materials together—pens, pencils, erasers, and crayons all in one bin.
    • Keep craft items—such as paint, stamps, glue, and colored paper—together, and put them on a top shelf so younger children can’t get into them!
    • If you have more than 1 student at home, give each student shelves or bins for their materials, labeled with their name.  Remind other children that those areas are for that student only!
  6. Set up a “sideline” activity area. If you have the space and have small children who are not yet in school, it can be helpful to create an area where the little ones can read books, do puzzles, or color while you coach your student.

For some fun and helpful instruction on “classroom construction” and more,  click here to see PA Virtual staff member Cindy Willits’ videos!

What advice do you have for new families regarding setting up the school area? What have you found successful? Or unsuccessful? Comment below and let us know!

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Posted on: September 04, 2014 by Andie Markijohn in

Quick Tips in Education