Raising Teens While Saving Your Sanity: 12 Must Read Books for Parents

When my children were toddlers, I recall our pediatrician giving me his sage advice, “You have one child of each sex. When they are young, your son will cause you the most frustration. When they reach their teen years, things will change. Raising teens is different. Parenting your son will become remarkably easier than your daughter. Your daughter will cause you the most concern and frustration when she is a teen.” These words have swirled about my head often since then.

When my son was climbing up the shelves to reach the garage door opener, I recalled his words.

When I found my son atop the kitchen counter digging into the used coffee grounds and observed a dozen raw eggs smashed on the floor below him, I recalled his words.

When we found him inside the dryer, I recalled his words. When our babysitter found him inside their dog carrier and she later shared her revelation, I recalled his words.

When I found him atop the rubbermaid tubs playing with the baby powder, I recalled his words.


Struggles of Raising Teens

Now that they are both teens (or nearly so – my son will be twelve next month and my daughter is fourteen), I expected things to change. To be sure, I am no longer finding him in precarious places. Yet, the tides have not yet turned.

My daughter dutifully does her lessons without a lot of nagging from me. She keeps her room organized and tidy. She helps around the house, often doing the laundry or putting away the dishes without prompting.

She helps keep me on my toes, reminding me of appointments and lessons outside the house. She rarely ever complains about having to go to swim team (when she does, red flags go up as I realize she is coming down with some bug).

My son, on the other hand, is a different creature all together. His life motto is, “If it isn’t my idea and also fabulously fun, I want no part.”

We constantly butt heads over accountability. I have become a nagger. But don’t take my word for it …

I came across a great post on Facebook recently, encouraging us to sit down with our child, ask certain questions without any prompting, and then to repost the questions and answers along with our child’s name and age. My friend posted her 12-year-old son’s answers. They were so funny and endearing that I decided to do the exercise with my children.

Here’s an excerpt from my interview with my 11-year-old son:

What is something I say all the time?
“Go do your schoolwork”

What makes me happy?
“When I do my schoolwork”

What makes me sad?
“When I don’t do my schoolwork. No. Actually, when Prince died.”

Do you think you could live without me?
“No, because I’d never get my schoolwork done.”

What did I tell you? I am a nagger. I must admit I am at my wits end. I am frustrated and perplexed. I have begun to question if homeschooling is the right path for him. Would he be more successful being accountable to others?

 Raising Teens While Saving Your Sanity: 12 Must Read Books for Parents @EvaVarga.net

12 Must Read Books for Parents Raising Teens

I have thereby been doing a lot of reading lately. Here’s my top 12 list of must read books for parenting teens while maintaining your sanity. Admittedly, I have not yet read all of them. I have provided a little snippet for those I have, while the others came highly recommended to me by a dear friend. (Thank you, Aubrey!)

Parenting Teens with Love & Logic by Foster Cline & Jim Fay ~ I have had a lot of success with the Love & Logic techniques, especially when the kids were toddlers. As they’ve gotten older, however, we have not been as consistent, evidenced by the attitude and behaviors that are now magnified. This is one of the books I own and revisiting these strategies every now and again has been really helpful.

Queen Bees and Wannabes, 3rd Edition: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of Girl World by Rosalind Wiseman ~ I first read this book when my daughter was about five years old. She wasn’t dealing with cliques or gossip at that age but it really helped me to better understand my own experience as a teen. I want to read this one again.

Odd Girl Out by Rachael Simmons ~ Similarly, I also read this one years ago. It was actually a book club selection and it provided a great opportunity to reflect on and share our own experiences.

Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World by Rosalind Wiseman ~ Having read her previous title (noted above), I was very eager to read this one. I found myself constantly taking pictures with my cell phone of passages I wanted to remember and/or discuss with my spouse. Ultimately, I made the decision to purchase this book along with Queen Bees and Wannabes.

The New Strong-Willed Child by James C. Dobson ~ My son is indeed strong-willed and is skilled at wearing us down to get his way. I look forward to reading Dobson’s advice for creating a home filled with love and how to discipline a difficult child while making it evident to the child that they are loved, special, and cared for.

In Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, Lisa Damour outlines seven transition phases that girls experience as they progress from childhood to adulthood. The phases are relatively self-explanatory. They are 1) parting with childhood, 2) joining a new tribe, 3) harnessing emotions, 4) contending with adult authority, 5) planning for the future, 6) entering the romantic world, and 7) caring for herself. These phases aren’t necessarily experienced at specific ages in one specific order, but Damour offers a general guide for how most girls mature. I recommend it for parents who have a preteen daughter so they can be prepared in advance to handle situations as they arise.

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon & Michael Thompson ~ This title was actually recommended to me by our pediatrician years ago and I recall enjoying it. Now that my son is nearly a teen, it warrants another read. As children age, they undergo many changes – both physically and emotionally. What I gleaned from this book when my son was a toddler will not serve me well now that I am raising teens.

Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker ~ I have not yet read this title but from the synopsis, I am very intrigued. The author explores the secrets to boyhood, including why rules and boundaries are crucial–and why boys feel lost without them as well as the pitfalls parents face when talking to their sons.

Meg Meeker has authored two additional titles that strongly interest me. The first, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men, acknowledges that raising sons presents a challenge that raising daughters does not. After all, I as a woman can remember being a girl and young woman; I can never fully understand what it is like to be male. We still have a very important role to play in our son’s development, however. We “lay the foundation for how he will relate to women for the rest of his life.” 

The second, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know, is a powerful book for fathers. As one reviewer on Amazon stated,  “If you want her to grow up emotionally healthy and able to face the pressures that our parents never knew and therefore didn’t know how to equip *us* to deal with, read this book, it will tell you how.”

The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively by Gary D. Chapman has been all over social media this past year. Though I haven’t read the book, I have read numerous blog posts and even asked each of my family members to take an online quiz to determine our individual love languages. This one is definitely on my “books to read list”.

This last title is more for your teen, than for you as a parent. Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens: … Helping You Manage Mood Swings, Control Angry Outbursts, and Get Along with Others by Sheri Van Dijk will help teens find new ways of managing their feelings. Based on dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a type of therapy designed to help people who have a hard time handling their intense emotions, this workbook helps teens learn the skills necessary to ride the ups and downs of life with grace and confidence.

You’ll find more lists of Must Read Books at the iHomeschool Network linkup.

Travel Around the World with a Back to School Giveaway

Like many homeschool families and educators, I have spent a fair amount of time browsing the internet and making wish lists of books and curriculum I would like to have for the new school year. There are so great products and resources available that adhering to a budget can be troublesome if not near impossible.

“If only we could get curriculum for free!” I have often heard my friends proclaim. I am delighted to take part once again in the annual Back to School Toolkit Giveaway.

This post contains affiliate links for resources we absolutely love and truly depend on. 

Travel Around the World with a Back to School Giveaway @EvaVarga.net

Back to School Giveaway

This year, I am giving away a geography themed basket loaded with resources that will provide you and your children with activities and lesson plans to keep you busy all year long.

wondermapsBright Ideas Press has donated their popular WonderMaps CD. Designed with easy-to-use layers that allow you to enjoy great customizable features with just a click, WonderMaps is the perfect addition to your geography resource library. WonderMaps was created not only with hundreds of world maps but also a large selection of historical maps that cover everything you need for The Mystery of History vols. I–III and All American History vols. I & II.

Also included in the Travel Around the World basket are the following resources:

Discovering China (Multicultural Education Series), by Dianna J. Sullivan, was written for grades 4-8. This paperback guide provides a great start to a unit study on the culture of China. It includes many printables and activities to learn a few Chinese phrases and to explore the Chinese calendar, holidays, folktales, and cultural traditions. It even includes recipes for popular stir fry! 48 page paperback

Australia: An Interdisciplinary Unit by Merle Davenport was developed for grades 6-8. It covers the physical geography of Australia as well as the cultural geography. Some of the activities include making your own Boomerang, creating a timeline of historical events, graphing natural resource exports, making a star projector to learn about the constellations to compare how navigation differs in the southern hemisphere, and learning the strike (slang) of Oz (Australia). 48 page paperback

galapagos unit

The Galápagos islands were originally called the “Enchanted Isles” because the capricious meandering of the Humboldt Current had the effect of making the islands disappear and reappear to passing ships. The Galápagos Across the Curriculum is a fun, hands-on life science unit study that provides ample opportunity for kids to explore the diversity and remarkable history of the islands.  This unit study is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans that can be easily integrated into a larger life science curriculum. 12 page eBook (PDF)

The perfect accompaniment to your Galápagos unit, Galapagos Bedtime Stories by Paula Tagle Saad is charming book with many watercolor depictions of the animals in the archipelago. As the protagonists of the tales, most of the tales are told from the perspective of the featured animal. Factual information about life cycle, habitat, feeding, etc. are woven throughout. It also includes a glossary of terms in the appendix.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Find more giveaway baskets at the iHomeschool Network’s annual Back to School Toolkit Giveaway – Giveaways Galore! There are over 34 baskets!!


There are so many wonderful products in these baskets, I encourage you to enter them all.

You won’t want to miss Barb’s Handbook of Nature Study basket or Brenda’s Essential STEM Supplies.


Build Your Homeschool Library & Used Curriculum Sale

Build Your Homeschool Library @EvaVarga.netAs the kids jump in the pool and you have your feet kicked up with an ice cold glass of lemonade in your hand, your mind likely wanders to the upcoming school year. You are likely asking yourself, What curriculum do I need? What living books should I invest in to complement our unit studies?

I know I am! My daughter will be entering 8th grade, my son 6th, and I want to assure that they are challenged as well as provided with ample time to pursue their interests.

Summer is often the time educators plan out the next school year and begin to build (or build upon) our classroom or homeschool library. We reach out to seasoned homeschoolers to inquire about what worked for them. We scour the online sales of our favorite curriculum vendors. It can get a little overwhelming however – especially if you are just getting started.

You can find a lot of helpful reviews and suggestions across the web. A few posts that compile the wisdom of experienced homeschool moms include Our Homeschool Curriculum Choices and Our Favorite Children’s Books (by age or grade).

I love non-fiction books and my home library is overflowing with Living Books for Science Education.

Build Your Homeschool Library: Book Sale @EvaVarga.netMy Used Curriculum Sale

With our upcoming move, I have purged our shelves and would love to offer these books to you for minimal cost. Consider it a Homeschool Used Curriculum Sale from the comfort of your home

I’ve photographed all the books I have available for sale and have uploaded the images to the album, Eva’s Books Sale, at Flickr. Take a few minutes to browse – perhaps you’ll find a title or two of interest. Prices and conditions are noted in the item description. In addition to the cost of each title, I do charge for shipping (media rate). Just let me know which title(s) you are interested in purchasing. Shipping is $3.00 for 1-2 items in the same envelope and $6.00 for a box of three or more items.

Most everything has sold. The few that remained have been donated as we are moving and I needed to downsize.

I’m not the only one selling used curriculum. The bloggers at iHomeschool Network are collaborating this week to provide you with used curriculum for all ages. Hop over to see what else may be available. If you have curriculum you’d like to share – link up!

Build Your Homeschool Library: Book Sale @EvaVarga.netMy Favorite Places for Books

There are many online resources and vendors to help you build your homeschool library without breaking the piggy bank. I have summarized below just a few of the ones of which I am the most familiar.

Paperback Swap – I have been taking part in this online book exchange for longer than I have been homeschooling. It’s super easy -simply list the books you’d like to swap and browse the titles available. When a book is requested, mail it to the club member. The books you receive come to you postage-paid. You pay for postage for the books you send out.

Amazon – I’m sure you are already familiar with Amazon. I always go to Amazon to check the price on a book. Often, I am able to find a used copy for significantly less.

Heritage History – I love this company because they take all of the classical children’s historical books and they offer them on CDs with amazingly useful study guides, maps, and timelines. All of the books in their collections are G-rated and were written before 1923, during an era when virtually all children’s books were respectful of Christianity.

Library and Educational Services – I’ve only recently discovered this company – it is a true hidden gem. Their prices are unbelievable. You won’t regret signing up for their newsletter. A wholesale distributor, they sell to libraries, schools (including homeschools), and more.

Homeschool Buyers Co-op – you have probably heard of this, but just in case…this company is exactly what the name implies, it is a buyer’s co-op. If a certain number of buyers agree to purchase a product through the co-op, the publisher will greatly discount the price. We have purchased products like Mapping the World by Heart at 30% off, Cover Story at 30% off, and ??? at up to 40% off.

Networks and Facebook groups – two of my favorites are: Homeschool Swap USA/Canada and Homeschool Buy Sell Trade. It is a really fast and easy way to purchase used books. Plus, through browsing, you often come across books that you never knew you needed.


Old Books & Antiques

We’ve always enjoyed exploring antique stores and generally visit one every three months or so. Two weeks ago, Sweetie asked to buy a piece of Vaseline glass for her project on Marie Curie. We found the perfect piece … a small owl figurine that complements her owl collection perfectly. She was ecstatic when the following day we stumbled upon a black light in a local hardware store.

When the coordinator of the leadership conference in which my husband would be participating learned that we would be accompanying him, she sent a brief email informing us that, “[Georgia’s] Rome is a fairly small town. There are quite a few antique stores on Broad St. and movie theatres. Other than that, there [isn’t much to see outside of Atlanta].”

I read her email aloud to the kids and they responded with gleeful remarks, “Cool!”. “Can we go?” She had made no mention of the Civil War or Cherokee / Chieftans Trail museums and national historic sites in the area which were already on our ‘must-do’ list.

As we wandered about, we came upon a used  book store. We must have spent an hour in there enjoying the many, many old books. There was a large section on the Civil War and local history. We were also impressed with the children’s selections which features a large collection of school books including readers and spellers.

Buddy picked up a book and opened it to a poem by Clinton Scollard. “Mom, that name sounds familiar. Who was it?”

“He wrote the poem you both memorized a while ago called The Archer. Do you remember?”

“Oh yeah! Can I get this book?”  We walked back to the hotel and he opened it up immediately and began reading the first story, a non-fiction selection about Balto. He hasn’t yet been bitten by the reading bug like his sister, but it won’t be long.

The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh :: Book Sharing Monday

The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh is a lovely book written by Frederick Lipp and illustrated by Ronald Himler.  The story takes place outside the city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.  Evocative watercolors and poetic words create a book that is a treasure to behold and to read together. 

Ary, a young Cambodian girl living with her family, dreams of a better life beyond the busy, smog filled city. She sells flowers to the tourists, giving her earnings to her family and setting a bit aside for her dream of tomorrow. Each morning, she visits the bird lady in the market as she saves her hard earned money to buy the brightly feathered bird who will carry her dreams. 

What touched us was Ary’s indomitable spirit.  Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia that borders Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.  It is mainly a farming nation that consists of flatlands, water, and a warm tropical climate ideal for successful rice farming (the main agricultural product).  Though Ary has spent all her life in Phnom Penh, she has heard stories of the green countryside where rice grows and birds fly free.  She dreams of escaping the polluted city where she and her family live in poverty.  But how will she chose the one her grandfather calls the ‘blessed bird’ who has the love of freedom in its heart?

For more information about Cambodia, check out the Culture Keys at Teaching Life Lessons through Literature website.  

Butterfly Tree :: Book Sharing Monday

We enjoyed a remarkable weekend in Santa Cruz this past weekend (I’ll post more soon).  One of the things we most looked forward to seeing were the Monarch butterflies at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary.  From our research, we learned that the butterflies begin arriving here in October and stay through the winter, generally departing around March.  We envisioned trees awash in orange and black, concealing the leaves beneath.  Sadly, this was not to be.  We’ve had such a mild winter this past year that the butterflies have departed much sooner than usual.

An enchanting story, Butterfly Tree written by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Leslie Wu came to mind while we were there.  In the story, a young girl named Jilly is walking on the beach with her dog when she looks up in the sky and sees a wispy mist that turns into something orange.  What could it be – a fallout from a distant volcano, smoke from a faraway fire?  She teams up with her mother to follow the orange cloud overhead into the woods.  All along, I have the feeling the mother knows but plays along and adds to her daughter’s curiosity.  At last they come upon a tree covered by thousands of Monarch butterflies.   Through words and pictures, this book demonstrates the importance of children experiencing the many mysteries of the planet.  We didn’t share quite this same experience, however, it was memorable nonetheless.  

One of the pleasures of parenting is being able to create such memories with our children.  We look forward to visiting this area again as well as to a new film documentary, The Butterfly Trees