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Author Archives: Carolyn McKalips

About Carolyn McKalips

Carolyn has a B.S. in secondary education and English from Millersville University, and thinks teamwork is one of the hardest things worth doing.

Homeschool Convention Stories: (Mis)Adventures


When you go to a homeschool convention, you see booths that are pristine and put together. You don't usually see their struggles…

When you go to a homeschool convention, you see vendors and their booths, all put together and looking pristine. They’re amiable and helpful, and surrounded by products arranged to look their best. You usually don’t see the struggles the vendors go through.

As a collective at Demme Learning, we have so many stories from homeschool conventions, this is just the tiniest sampling. If you want more, we make for excellent dinner party guests!

Was there a situation this year where you found yourself having to improvise?

Sandra: I hope nothing will ever beat last year, when our booth shipment didn’t arrive on time. I went to Oregon, and Sue and her sister Kelly discovered that our fair kit was not at the hotel, and not at the fair venue.

We went to dinner and came back, and still no fair kit. So we asked the guy at the hotel, and when it didn’t arrive the next morning, when it was time to open the fair, what did we have? We had tables, the sign that the venue put up that said “Demme Learning,” and we had our laptops. That’s it. We were sitting there with our Demme Learning shirts on, and we were able to take orders. Sue even did her workshop with nothing but a whiteboard and markers, and she said it was the best workshop that she ever had. It was clear that drawing the blocks is not nearly as effective as having the physical blocks, and it was a testimony of our quality products.

When the fair kit did arrive, the hotel did not let us know, so for the whole first day we had nothing at all. But we met our sales goals. With nothing, we met the sales goals. They were calling us “Math and Spelling You DON’T See” on the first day.

Melissa: At CHAP in Pennsylvania, we are breaking down the booth and packing everything up. Since it’s a local fair, we bring a lot of product to sell on site. As we’re getting all this stuff into the vans, there’s a giant storm coming. The sky was black! You could feel the tension growing among the vendors, because everyone was trying to get loaded as quickly as possible without damaging their product. And we almost beat the storm. But not quite. We were getting the book racks loaded, and most of us ended up pretty soaked and chilly.

People shopping at the Spelling You See booth.

What word can you use to describe the year as a whole?

Melissa: Complicated. There’s so much involved in each fair. It takes a lot to make sure the people have a good time, and make sure it’s a pleasant experience for both customers and employees.

Amanda: Inspiring. Because I have a background in learning struggles (vision-related learning issues, and things like that: my husband, one of my children), I connect with parents who are still in the place of feeling isolated and frustrated. I try to provide resources for them, and I can see their hope grow.

Linda: Is there a word called fantabulous? I love seeing people in person, hearing their stories, helping them, hearing of their struggles and their successes. They come back year after year with tears and smiles and explain the success they have had using our curriculum.

Mike: Craziness. You can do as much planning as you want, but when you actually get there, that’s when things get real.

Is there a customer story that stands out in your mind?

Linda: At a quieter time in the booth, a woman wanted to sit down with me and talk candidly. She said she had a 16-year-old daughter who just could not spell, and she bought Spelling You See from us last year. Her daughter was nearing the end of school, and this was seriously affecting her confidence; she had given up hope of learning to spell. The mother started to cry. Spelling You See had been the mother’s last hope. She put her arm around me and said through her tears, “My 16-year-old can now spell. She can spell! Do you know what that’s done for her?” She went on to thank me and our whole company.

Until you’ve hit that wall in learning, you don’t feel the relief. I was thoroughly taken into their joy. It changed her life. I hear the same stories about math, too. It’s what keeps me loving my job.

What event do you still chuckle about?

Seth: There was a young kid who didn’t think Steve Demme was Steve Demme. He said, “You look like Mr. Demme.” Steve said, “I am Mr. Demme.” And the boy said, “No, you’re not, but you sound like him.” Steve eventually pulled out his driver’s license to prove who he was!

Steve Demme recording a short video for a Math-U-See student at a convention.

Melissa: Carolyn and I were cashiers at a table together, and Phil was using the point of sale at a different table. We would occasionally “run the tape” to see how many transactions each person had. We noticed that one person had quite a bit more than the others. So it turned into a competition between the three of us to see who would get the most customers. It was extremely frustrating, because Phil, the super tall guy, would get a line of customers, and the two of us were standing there, having to call customers to us. He totally won the competition: he beat us two to one.

But we still provided the ultimate in customer service, because we didn’t rush people at all to try to win!

What was the most fun part of the year?

Amanda: Before the fair, my husband and I took all day Wednesday in Portland. We rented a car and drove up to Astoria, so my husband got to see the house from The Goonies. And then we went down to Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, where the pirate ship comes out of the cave in the movie. So we got the whole Goonies experience. Not to mention that it was just stunningly beautiful.

Mike: I spend a lot of the day cold-calling people. But when I get to the convention, these are people who actually want to talk to you. The nice thing about the conventions is when someone comes up, and another customer is explaining the curriculum to the new person. I say, “keep doing what you’re doing! You telling this customer is a hundred times more valuable than me telling her. You have the experience, and you’re not getting paid to explain it.”

Sandra For me, I love being with the other Demme Learning workers. I still look at them as family.

Thanks for listening to our stories! You can read more in part 1.

At the Demme Learning booth, you will receive personalized, individual attention by someone who really knows and is passionate about the material, not just someone hired for the day. We’ll see you there!


Homeschool Convention Stories: Memorable Faces & Places


We spend months preparing for and attending homeschool conventions. Each convention is different, and so are our stories.

It can take days and weeks for you to get ready to attend a homeschool convention. You are making lists and getting childcare, or thinking through how you will feed your three little people while browsing different curricula. And what curricula is out there, anyway? So you research and ask lots of questions to your homeschool friends for days beforehand.

Or maybe you just show up and hope for the best. We know a little something about both methods: we spend months preparing, but we also just show up—ready for the adventure.

What we call “Fair Season” begins in February and ends in July, peaking in April and May, when our whole sales team is on the road and in hotels, setting up booths at conventions, and talking with lots of you; then tearing down, and traveling again all in one weekend.

Each convention is so different, we find ourselves telling stories about them for years. All kinds of stories, the good, the sad, and the lovely. Here is our convention season in review.

What face do you remember best?

Melissa: One woman I talked to had an essential oil infuser around her neck. She said that she had been into essential oils, and her husband took the initiative and got this perfect gift. She was stressed about coming to a convention, and so she put a relaxing blend of oils in the infuser.

Mike: In Texas, there was a security guy who looked like Steve Demme. Attendees asked him over and over if he was Steve Demme. Steve wasn’t even at that convention. The security guard was really gracious. He walked by our cashier person occasionally and held up numbers of how many people mistook him for Steve.

Walking around with Steve Demme at a homeschool convention is like walking around with Bono anywhere else.

Steve Demme teaches math concepts at the Math-U-See booth.

Is there a customer story that stands out in your mind?

Seth: There were two ladies in Cincinnati who came to the booth, and said, “Word on the street is that Math-U-See doesn’t work for Algebra.” Steve Demme was sitting there, and he gave me the nod. So I broke out the Algebra Decimal Inserts and factored a polynomial. They were like, “What!? You’re saying you can use Math-U-See for Algebra!” Then they bought Math-U-See’s Algebra 1 level.

Melissa: There was one customer who bought $400 worth of stuff. She looked so put together, her hair was nicely done, her outfit was gorgeous and matchy-matchy. But she had forgotten to bring a rolling suitcase. She had some hefty bags, and so we kept them in the back for her until the end of the show. Then she almost left the convention without them! I had to chase her down, and she was really grateful.

Was there a situation this year where you found yourself having to improvise?

Amanda: In St. Louis, we had just gotten everything unloaded, and then realized we didn’t have this essential piece, the price sheets. My husband was at this show, working as a cashier. I knew all of our prices had recently changed, and my husband hadn’t had exposure to that. But I had just happened to grab a price sheet from the last show, and took it with me for his reference.

So we took it to an office store and got copies made. We were all so grateful that I had that along!

What event do you still chuckle about?

Linda: We visited a memorable diner in Denver. When we got our food, it didn’t look… great. My husband and I had ordered fish, so we got tartar sauce. When we ate it, we knew something was just off with the tartar sauce. I was afraid to complain, but I did tell the server, because I was afraid I might get sick. She said, “Yeah, we were out of tartar sauce, so we just added some stuff to it to make it stretch further.”

Then, looking around, we started to see bottles that had no caps on them. It was just not a very clean place. It became a joke to us.

A few weeks later, I was telling my son about the experience. He and his friend had just been to Colorado, so we were comparing our dining. They had just been to that same diner! They saw a rat run across the floor at this same place! They paid and left right away. You don’t always know the places to eat when you’re new in town, and I have since read that this diner has cleaned up its act.

What was your favorite venue of all the fairs you attended this year?

Seth: I attended six fairs, and Greenville, South Carolina was my favorite. The nicest people are from the Carolinas. And they have really good food down there.

Amanda: Portland was amazing. It was an area we’d never been to before. What impressed me most was the number of second generation homeschoolers! I’m a second gen homeschooler, and I don’t find that very often.

Mike: CSTHEA, in Chattanooga. They provided packed lunches and a dinner that they brought to the booth–tea, coffee, goldfish, granola bars, fruit. We could go into the vendor lounge any time to eat.

Ethan Demme teaches math concepts at the Math-U-See booth.

What travel tips have you developed?

Mike: Last weekend was my 35th convention, so I’ve developed some tricks. I text myself my room number. I barely remember what state I’m in when I wake up at a hotel. I think to myself, “where am I? What convention am I doing? What time do I need to be there by?”

If your hotel has a pool or hot tub, go there the first and second nights. I have sold our product from almost every hot tub where I’ve been, because attendees are staying there, too, and of course we end up talking about it.

Sandra: I have a different circumstance than most people, because Atlanta traffic is just awful. So I have to check if any of my routes are blocked. One morning this year, every route I had to get there was blocked with a wreck.

Thanks for listening to our stories! Part 2 is coming soon.

At the Demme Learning booth, you will receive personalized, individual attention by someone who really knows and is passionate about the material, not just someone hired for the day. We’ll see you there!


How Math-U-See Got to Ghana and Ghana Got to Us


When Judy Griffin emailed a video and a few photos of herself and two of her boys using the Math-U-See manipulative blocks in Ghana, we were intrigued.

When Judy Griffin emailed a video and a few photos of herself and two of her boys using the Math-U-See manipulative blocks in Ghana, we were intrigued.

They were a lovely sight: differing skin colors and more than a generation apart, with heads bent together working diligently toward a shared goal. The little boys in the video were so dear—funny, fidgety, and determined as they built their problems and recorded their answers under the benevolent tutelage of their grandmother-tutor. She had written to thank us at Demme Learning for the Math-U-See curriculum.

Two years ago, at age 76, Grandma Judy relocated from her home in Washington State to Ghana, moved by compassion for four orphaned brothers who lived there. I had to know what her life looked like now, parenting, teaching, and caring for so many kids so far from my familiar settings. I perused Grandma Judy’s blog and her website, and slowly things fell into place. The place to begin and end this story is with compassion and love. It’s no more and no less spectacular than that. The same love that leads you to answer your daughter’s whiny voice with patience, the same love that would compel a father to sleep under the crib of his newborn in the hospital for days—that same love is what brought Grandma Judy to a new country to look after some kids who didn’t have anyone.

Grandma Judy agreed to FaceTime with me. With me in my air-conditioned office and her in a schoolroom one ocean away, we talked a little about her life in Ghana, her life before Ghana, and the day-to-day joys of parenting at The Kids’ Shelter, part of the Alafya Foundation out of Holland.

Me: Where did you first learn compassion?

Grandma Judy: My parents spent much of their time doing volunteer work… church, PTA for our schools, scouts, 4-H, Little League, Community Club, Ladies in White (volunteer first-aiders). As a child, I took care of my younger brother and sister, and I nursed our sick family pets. Later in life, I worked in the school system with children with disabilities; they were a great blessing to me.

Grandma Judy’s vision started with her three Ghanaian-American grandchildren and extended visits to Ghana. Her connections in Ghana grew to include four brothers whose parents had died. They were in need of many kinds of assistance, naturally, but most of all they needed a loving parent. When the third brother, Joseph, was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, Grandma Judy arranged to stay at the Kids’ Shelter as a long-term volunteer and rear John, Peter, Joseph, and Christopher. (You might want to stop here and watch these videos or bookmark them because these young men are so precious, sharing their dreams and thanking their supporters, most of whom they have never met.)

When Grandma Judy moved to the Kids’ Shelter as a long-term volunteer, she quickly discovered the deficiencies in education that result from inconsistent schooling and unreliable or non-existent parenting. She works hard during school vacations to fill in the gaps for her boys and the others at The Kids’ Shelter.

Me: What do you teach?

Grandma Judy: I assist the children here with whatever subject is troubling them at the time. They all need help with math, so when I knew I would be coming to stay in 2014, I brought the Math-U-See curriculum with me. We watch the video lessons and do the practice sheets with the blocks to gain understanding of concepts; then we bridge the gap to how it is taught in the schools here and what their teachers expect of them.

Me: What’s your favorite part of teaching?

Grandma Judy: Seeing the light of understanding suddenly come on in the eyes of a child is delightful. Whether it is in understanding a math concept or how to make a computer mouse move; successfully jumping rope or realizing how to use a new English word correctly; making a clever move in chess or reading a new book, it is wonderful. By the way, I love your program. Their eyes light up and they get it, and it’s because of your curriculum.

Me: How do you approach teaching students with severe emotional needs or those who have suffered trauma?

Grandma Judy: Although we try to make our environment as near to a traditional home as possible, still the fact remains that each of our children lacks a nurturing family of their own. I wouldn’t say our children have severe emotional needs, but each of them in their own way cries out for attention and the love of a mother and father. They respond well to hugs, to words of praise, even to discipline, as that gives them a sense of safety. When they must be disciplined, we tell them that we cannot tolerate the action they did, but we love the child, just as most American parents do.

Me: What do you particularly bring to The Kids’ Shelter?

Grandma Judy: Languages are not my gift, but being in a culture and being with new people, really living in a place. Providing nurturing and the stability of parenting.

Me: Where do you consider to be your home?

Grandma Judy: Legally, my home is in Sequim, Washington. When I am there or in other areas of the west coast of America, I am happy with family and friends. However, right now my heart is here in Ghana. I am needed here and will remain here as long as the good Lord keeps me healthy enough to do so.

Me: Who is on your team? Who is the “we” you refer to on your site?

Grandma Judy: There is the American “we” in the several churches and many individuals who support by prayer, encouragement, and financial donations the work that “we” are doing here in Ghana.

There is also the Ghanaian “we” in the directors of The Kids’ Shelter where I live: Gerdy and Moses Osei. There are staff members and sometimes other volunteers. Part of this “we” is the church we attend, the school, Ghanaian friends, and those who occasionally bring donations of food or funds to help in the operation of this nonprofit children’s home.

Lastly, but really firstly, there is the Lord who has opened all the doors and windows to allow us to be a part of this great journey.

Me: What is your dream for the people you live with now?

Grandma Judy: My dream for each of the children is that they continue to receive nurture and education to reach their own goals. Some have a goal in mind, such as being a pastor, nurse, soccer player, or banker. Others are too young yet to have an idea. My hope is that there is continued financial support to see them through the level of education necessary for them to become self-sufficient, productive members of their country and culture. For some this will mean finishing junior or senior secondary. For others, this will mean finishing university level training or apprenticeships.

Me: What are the children’s dreams?

Grandma Judy: As for their dreams, they range from wishing they could have a soccer ball of their own or a dish of ice cream to wishing that I (or one of my friends) could adopt them so they would have a family of their own. They all want so very much to be loved.

Me: What cultural changes have you had to get used to in Ghana?

Grandma Judy: Food is spicy here. You can’t easily get fresh milk; it must be reconstituted. Cheese is hard to come by this remotely. And, of course, I miss going to church services in my native language.

People are friendly. They ask, “How are you?”, and they are interested in the answer.

The people around me are very protective of me, especially in the instance of an especially aggressive beggar. They may see a white person and think I have a lot of money, so I give little economics lessons and explain that, by American standards, I am “low income.”

I have been conned before, but the majority of the people I meet are honest and caring.

Grandma Judy wrote in to thank us at Demme Learning. While we receive that, we also thank you, Grandma Judy. We want all your precious students to have such good lives. Thank you for letting us be part of the love you show them.

And good luck, grandchildren of Grandma Judy!

Me: How can readers get involved?

Grandma Judy: I started the Helping Ghana Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is now sponsoring 24 children (including the boys mentioned), widows, and medical situations here in Ghana. So if people are interested in receiving our newsletter, giving support, or sending their thoughts, they can contact me here: HelpingGhanaKids@gmail.com. There’s also a place on the website to make contact.



Tales from Customer Service: When Your Child Has Learning Differences


"I am a mom who has walked that road. My husband has dyslexia. My daughter has dyslexia." Read the rest of Amanda's story in the blog post.

Welcome to the fourth part of the Customer Service interviews at Demme Learning. Amanda, Linda, Mary, Patti, Sandra, and Sindy tell about their favorite parts of their jobs: talking to you.

What’s the funniest reason a person has had to hang up the phone?

Sandra: It was like three different things happened [at once]. One of them had to do with the UPS guy, and the other had to do with the fact that the woman lived by the graveyard. It was somebody looking for a graveyard or a funeral or something. And there was dog barking. I found out all these details when she called back.

Linda: Because of my 22 years of homeschooling with six kids, I think the chaos that happens when you get on the phone as a mom, it just became so normal for me. There will be a sudden, noisy spat with siblings, or a fussy baby, all while we’re helping a customer place an order or are helping them with a problem. That is what is funny; it’s so normal! In those sudden chaotic times we make sure and let the moms know, no worries at all, we completely understand, we’ve been there ourselves. Sometimes they need to just hang up to take care of the problem and then call us back and sometimes we wait until the problem gets resolved right while we are on the phone together, and after the resolution, we continue on.. It’s all so normal.

What do you tell parents of students with special needs and learning differences?

Amanda: I am a mom who has walked that road. My husband has dyslexia. My daughter has dyslexia. Usually, parents are so glad that I can understand where they’ve come from. All I do is try to come at it from my own personal experience. I just say, “this is what worked for us. You may wanna look into this or that book.” Everybody’s journey is different, so as long as you keep that at the forefront, and you’re not just giving advice to give advice.

I tell parents of students with processing disorders that maybe they’re moving slowly, but they’re moving forward! Because of the multi-sensory approach of Math-U-See, they can still be successful. Even if it feels like a struggle, it is nothing compared to the frustration they would experience with a traditional spiral approach.

A student using the Math-U-See blocks.

What part of the job is most fulfilling to you?

Linda: The most fulfilling part is making a difference for our customers. I love it when a customer tells me they are so glad they called. I love hearing,“I’m glad I called because… if I hadn’t I would have put my students in the wrong level.” Or, “I am so glad I called because now I feel encouraged, and I can keep on keeping on—I was ready to give up!”

Sindy: I’m there as a resource for all the other Customer Service agents, so if they’re stuck or have a difficult scenario, they can bounce an idea off me.

Is there a customer who stands out in your mind right now?

Sandra: A family had received an incomplete order, and I was trying to get through to them to correct it. But it was some time before they called in again. It turned out the mom wasn’t getting back to me because she had miscarried. I gave her a scripture in an email, and said a few things. And she emailed me back and said, “I think there was a reason why that item was left out of that package.” That meant a lot to me.

Tales from Customer Service Series:

Funny Hangups
We Were Students
Word Problem Tips
When Your Child Has Learning Differences (You’re here!)



Tales from Customer Service: Word Problem Tips


Patti, Sandra, Mary, Sindy, Amanda, and Linda explain how to deal with word problems, and give some asked-for advice on how to deal with homeschooling.

Patti, Sandra, Mary, Sindy, Amanda, and Linda explain how to deal with word problems.

Word Problem Tips

Word problems? Help.

Amanda: I get asked about word problem practice A LOT. The point of Math-U-See is learning word problems and understanding how to apply that to real-life situations.

I found a great series of books called Verbal Math Lessons [by Charan Langton and Michael Levin] that dovetails well with different levels of our curriculum. I recommend these to anyone who is struggling with word problems.

Linda: When we get to a word problem, we need to change our expectations. One of the expectations that either the student or parent might have is to read through the problem once, and think they’re going to get the answer. That might happen, but generally not. Expect that you’re going to need to read the word problem more than once. Draw a picture. Act it out. Put friends’ names in the problem. Whatever you need to do to make it concrete.

Patti: Read it through first. Decide what you’re looking for. Don’t just look for the numbers, and guess what you’re supposed to do. The front of the manual is also about word problems.

Math-U-See Tips

What do you wish customers knew about Math-U-See?

Mary: A lot of times the response we get from customers is that Math-U-See must not be very thorough, because it’s too easy for my child. But math doesn’t have to be difficult to be deep.

For some parents, the way they learned math was really hard. And now they see their student just eating it up, and they wonder if something’s wrong. If my student isn’t struggling, then it must be too easy. Well, no, it’s not too easy.

Patti: In the back of their instruction manual is a list of where each topic is located within the entire curriculum, not just that level. And you have to use all the parts: You need the instruction manual. You need the DVD. Not just one or the other; it takes everything. It takes the manipulatives.

Homeschooling Tips

If you could put your arm around each homeschool parent’s shoulders for a moment, and say, “Here’s what you need to know…”

Sindy: It all comes together. You’re afraid you’re going to miss a concept, or something will tragically ruin your child forever if you don’t cover it. But they’ll learn what they need as they’re going through it. Explore the individual student’s passions. Build a lifelong learner. [When did you compromise your original plans for class?] This one time we were watching Zoom, and they got so excited about creating a structure with cardboard boxes and taking a picture to send it off. I was like, great! Geometry. Art. Okay!

There was one time when we went to the grocery store, and there were games where you could win a goldfish. We got a goldfish. They were all about goldfish that week. We learned all about goldfish. [How long did the goldfish live?] Too long. We had to get new containers and the whole nine yards.

Mary: Sometimes, when you get a phone call, they need some help with math, but what they’re really looking for is encouragement. “I’m starting to question whether I’m doing a good job homeschooling my child.” One, they need someone to listen to them. And two, I just encourage them.

Even though I didn’t homeschool my children, I know it’s a difficult thing to do. And I do know that when your child is not succeeding, that reflects on you so strongly that you feel like a failure also, that you’re failing that child. So you need someone to be there to say, “It’s not you, it just takes time and you’re doing a good job. You’ll get through this. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

What do you tell parents of students with special needs and learning differences?

Linda: We do a lot of work with special needs students. We have all kinds of helps for all kinds of students! And that might be one of the more exciting moments I get to be a part of: to see how well Math-U-See and Spelling You See work for a student with dyslexia, or someone who’s on the Autism Spectrum, or anyone with something that’s wonderfully quirky about the brain. I so love hearing of the great success they are having with our curriculum—success that they haven’t found with anything else they have tried.

I think it’s amazing to hear of all the learning differences that students have. There are some pretty cool-wired brains out there. And we are thrilled to let them know that we have just the curriculum they can succeed with!

Tales from Customer Service Series:

Funny Hangups
We Were Students
Word Problem Tips (You’re here!)
When Your Child Has Learning Differences (7/12)


Tales from Customer Service: We Were Students


Because of your positive response to our last post about what our Customer Service representatives think about their work, we present Part 2. Patti, Sandra, Mary, Sindy, Amanda, and Linda are back. And if you still can’t get enough, give them a call at 1-888-854-6284, and look out for a few more posts.

"I just want people to know it’s normal to have days when it’s not together. They’re doing great. But they don’t know it, because they’re hard on themselves." Learn more about what our customer service team thinks by reading the blog post.

Questions for Customer Service

What kind of a student were you?

Amanda: I was your average student, As, Bs, never had to study terribly hard, even though I struggled at times with tests.

Patti: I was a student who struggled majorly: a “C” or “D” student. When I went to college to become a teacher (I was 41 when I went to college), it was a surprise to my mom, because I hated school. Especially math.

Sandra: I was a nerd. I graduated salutatorian of my class. I was shy, and I put it all into studying. I’m much more outgoing now, and I credit a lot of that to Math-U-See, because it’s put me out there with people. I love people. I love to encourage them.

Linda: I loved school. I played hard and worked hard and as much as possible I wanted to do everything right. In my young mind at the time, it was all about getting those A’s, and having a happy life.

And did it work? Do you have a happy life?

I do have a happy life. When I take the time to count my blessings, I just realize it more and more. It’s easy to count troubles but so much better to count blessings!. When we all get together at Christmas or numerous times throughout the year … I think, oh wow. This is wonderful. Our kids and grandkids, they love each other, get along so well, and love to be together! I know it’s more than I deserve, but I am so grateful for it. I oftentimes credit homeschooling for that closeness.

What part of the job is most fulfilling to You?

Amanda: The James 1:27 discount we have. There have been times when I have personally connected with parents who have been widowed, men or women. I lost my first husband when I was 24, and had two small girls. I felt like my world was upside-down. When those people call in, and they’re struggling with the burden of school and grief. One, I’ve been there. And two, we offer a discount. They are so thankful, so blessed. I’ve even stayed in touch with some of those people over the years, and it’s amazing.

Patti: Just talking to regular moms. And letting them talk. They’ll say, “Now that I’ve said that out loud, it makes more sense to me!” Having been a mom, I’m able to understand.

If you could put your arm around each homeschool parent’s shoulders for a moment and say, “Here’s what you need to know…”

Linda: I wish I could see them in person, but I try to reach out over the phone. It is so important that our customers know that they can call us, and we’ll be there for them. We’re about math and spelling, and that’s huge. We will do everything we can to help their students be successful in both those areas. However, that call opens up other doors, as well.

We also help equip parents to have stamina, to encourage them.. They can go back to teaching, and move forward in a whole new light. It’s just the best job ever.

Amanda: You can do this. You. Can. Do. This. You can. It’s okay to want to be around your kids. You’re not crazy or abnormal to want to spend time with these little people. The ability to mold them, be part of their lives, engaged in their learning, not passing that off to somebody else, is worth every early morning, every long day, every day of the year.

What about parents who look like they have everything together?

Linda: There are parents who have it all together, but I’m not sure there are many of them. I just want people to know it’s normal to have days when it’s not together. They’re doing great. But they don’t know it, because they’re hard on themselves.

When I was homeschooling there were some days, that little yellow school bus went right by my front door, and I thought, “boy, that looks really good today…” Homeschooling is worth it in the end. It’s hard and and at the same time so fulfilling. When in the midst of the hard days, we want our customers to know it really is all worth it!

Tales from Customer Service Series:

Funny Hangups
We Were Students (You’re here!)
Word Problem Tips (6/10)
When Your Child Has Learning Differences (7/12)



Who Puts the Blocks Together for the First Time?


When you get your Integer Block Kit in the mail, we hope you’re impressed by how brightly and beautifully it’s packaged.

When you get your Math-U-See blocks in the mail, we hope you’re impressed by how brightly and beautifully the packaging is. You open it up, and see each piece laid just right (probably for the last time, but still…), each color in its own compartment, counted out to the requirements specified on the back of the box. And maybe you don’t give it much more thought, because why would you? But there’s something important about each kit that you need to know: each box is put together by paid adults with special needs or developmental disabilities. Right now, Demme Learning sends work to two locations for adults with special needs to complete the Integer Block Kits, the Algebra Decimal Inserts, and the Fraction Overlays. Ephrata Area Rehabilitation Services (EARS) is one of those locations, and I recently toured their new facility, a renovated warehouse with beautiful wooden floors, in the downtown of Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

Demme Learning and EARS have had a partnership spanning four years.

Demme Learning and EARS have had a partnership spanning four years, and Eric MacKay, Demme Learning’s fulfillment manager, and I have come with a new project to explain. Our new Fraction Overlay kit!

Karen Hummel, Director of Operations, and Beth Weaver, Production Manager, leave their projects to make us feel welcome, and to learn about the new project. Beth eyes the new overlay folder with a trained eye: she will be the one to train clients on how to put this together, and she is already planning out what types of assistive devices, or “jigs,” she’ll need to invent to do the work efficiently.

As they discuss the new project, my attention moves throughout the main room. The main workshop, or, “the floor,” has high ceilings and exposed rafters, with skylights illuminating the whole room. On the walls are professional photos of some of the clients: scenes from work or play, indoors and out, all smiles. It’s clear to me as I walk throughout the room that each client is in his or her own safe space. The smiles from this brief visit warm my heart even now, weeks later, and as I write I smile, too. EARS is a sheltered workshop, a place where adults with special needs can go to earn money, and receive other kinds of care during the week.

EARS and Other Sheltered Workshops

The National Council on Disability has recently updated laws regarding sheltered workshops to ensure that such places are empowering for individuals with disabilities. You can read here about those studies, and the place that sheltered workshops still have in today’s workforce for folks with certain parameters of need.

A sheltered workshop, which is part of EARS, is a safe, supervised place for adults with disabilities to work to earn money. EARS has several different levels of service, depending on the individual’s needs. For the most severely disabled, they have an adult day care, where the ratio is 1:3, caregiver to client. But the supervision for each program is spaced incrementally at a 1:6 ratio, 1:10, and 1:20 in the main workshop.

“In Lancaster County there are many workshops like this,” says Karen Hummel, Director of Operations at EARS. “We have people who work five days a week, maybe five or six hours a day. Some of them depend on that income.”

I ask her what her title means, and she laughs, “I do everything from grant-writing, to cleaning bathrooms. We’re a team here. You never know what the day will require of you.”

Meeting the Individual’s Needs at EARS

We walk into the workshop to the left, where the mid-morning light of late fall filters through a wall of windows. Christmas music is playing, and Timmy walks over, wearing an elf hat and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, “Santa Claus is comin’!” he exclaims to Karen, and gives her a slow high-five. He giggles as though he has a secret, and picks up a box of plastic screw-coverings, delivering them to a table working on that project.

“We run the gamut from really severely disabled folks, to people who live independently,” says Karen. The facility has several sections, based on the needs of the individuals. Karen goes on to explain that there is no typical client. Each person comes with their own needs, and their own gifts: “We’re just a little more aware of those things. And we take our time. We have employed six of our clients as staff members, and they have all done extremely well. And I think it’s because we know their abilities, and we know their stressors.”

EARS has been in existence for 45 years, and retains three of their original clients. They have moved between different levels of supervision as they have aged; beginning by working in the workshop, they eventually moved to the Vocational Unit, then to the Specialized Services Unit, where they are today. “And that’s really nice for the families of the clients, too,” says Karen, “they become part of the EARS family, and the staff get very attached, too.”

EARS bills clients, or their caregivers, by the hours the clients are present; then, if the client is in one of the workshop areas, completing work, they get paid by piece. This system can be a way to defray the costs of supervision merely, or it may be quite lucrative for a person who would otherwise not be employed, or, for many, it may be only a short-term scenario, enough to give an individual confidence to move into the competitive workforce.

Who Needs Whom?

“At EARS,” Karen says, “They’re happy. They’re productive. Some other states have already closed down sheltered workshops, because they think everybody is competitively employable. So the county has given us funding to do a study and figure out what we’re going to look like when this law [Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act] passes. So, it’ll be a challenging couple of years for us, I think. But, if you look around here, these people are not taken advantage of. Our staff is respectful. We love them as much as our families.”

We walk over to the section of the workshop dedicated to building the Integer Block Boxes. Five clients are seated in a row, with boxes and blocks in front of them, each client has different colored blocks to count out and place into the box. They agree to a few pictures. At one end, counting out the unit blocks, Deborah introduces herself to me. She is wearing a red Santa hat, dressed in a pink sweater, with a matching watch. Pink is her favorite color, she tells me, and she bought the watch herself, with her own money. Her smile is bright and moving.

Demme Learning and EARS have had a partnership spanning four years.

In the middle of the row, counting out six- and seven-blocks is Eric. He is wearing a Star Wars® hat, and shyly agrees to a picture. When I show it to him, his face breaks into a smile. I can tell we are going to be friends. “I like working with these blocks,” he says, “It’s like Legos®.” This, of course, prompts a brief discussion between us about Lego Star Wars®. Beth says that for many of the clients, their favorite job is doing up the Integer Block Kits. It’s a little more of a challenge because of the counting and fitting-together aspects.

I stand in the middle of the workshop, and see at least ten different projects happening at once, and it is a remarkable feat, each individual chatting or concentrating, the room is filled with a festiveness that indicates a deeper contentment than the holiday. I ask Karen and Beth about pricing and productivity.

Beth explains, “When we don’t have work, there are a lot more behavior problems.” The staff have to come up with activities to do that may not be helping anyone or earning the clients money. “I’d so much rather be overwhelmed with work projects than without them!” When a new shipment of supplies arrives at the workshop, the clients get very excited. They always prefer to be employed with their time. The bottom line, Karen adds, is that “we provide a quality product at a decent cost. We work with 40 companies now, and we’re providing services to them.”

You’re Part of Something Beautiful

The law and the staff at EARS make sure that the clients are fairly compensated for the work they do. Beth and Karen smile as they think about pay day for the clients, “It almost doesn’t matter [to them] what the amount on their check is, they’re so excited, ‘Look! Look!’ they’ll say.” They’re proud of what they do.

And we’re proud of what they do, too.


Tales from Customer Service: Funny Hangups


We conducted short interviews with the customer service team to hear about their experiences from their own homeschooling and from taking your calls.

We conducted short interviews with the customer service team to hear about their experiences from their own homeschooling and from taking your calls.

If you’ve never called in to our Customer Service team, you may not know what kind of help and encouragement you’re missing. (Go ahead! Say hi! Call 1-888-854-6284.) The summary from the interviews? They love talking with you. They love encouraging you. Meet Patti, Sandra, Mary, Sindy, Amanda, and Linda.

What’s the funniest reason a person has had to hang up the phone?

Patti: I had a customer on the phone who said she had to hurry to place her order. She was yelling at her kids to get in the car. The siren was going off for a tornado, and she said she really needed to go to the store to get milk and bread. I was thinking, do you really need to order math right now, with a tornado on its way? Of course, the computer only works so fast, but I got her order in. We got that done!

Amanda: I was on the phone with a mom. Her boys had been doing some chores. I guess there was some burning of trash or brush. I wasn’t able to get a lot of background, obviously, when she shouted, “Oh, my goodness! It’s on fire! I’ve gotta go! I’ve got to call the fire department right now!” Of course, I never got connected with that customer again, so I have no idea what happened.

What do you wish customers knew about Math-U-See?

Sandra: It is for everyone. There are a lot of misconceptions about Math-U-See, like that it’s only for special needs students, or that it’s not for a “good” math student. In reality, it’s a great program for everybody.

Linda: I remember. I was there. There was never enough time in homeschool, but going through each of the four elements is going to SAVE you time. I think most of us try to cut corners, so we don’t use the program right.

Call us. We’ll help you. That’s the exciting thing. So many times, a mom will call and be honest and say, “This doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand the manipulatives, and I think it’s a time waster.”

I’ll say, “Get out your blocks, and I’ll help you.” They experience building it, writing it, saying it, and teaching it as we go through the lesson together.

It’s better to call and work through the problem instead of not telling anybody. Sometimes we get this picture of how everybody else is, and think we must be doing a terrible job in comparison. Naturally, we don’t want to tell anyone, but if customers could know that they can call and have a non-judgmental, safe place to talk, we’ll help them with those basics.

What do you wish customers knew about Spelling You See?

Patti: You definitely need the Instruction Manual. It’s going to give you your answer key, so it saves you time. It also gives you instructions on how to teach the material, and it’s only $16.

Sandra: [With Spelling You See,] you are building neural pathways. With repetition, you are giving the brain something to hold onto long enough to get it from the short-term memory to the long-term memory. You take the test, you throw the list away, like a grocery list. It is the repetition that is developing making the neural pathway.

Is there a customer who stands out in your mind right now?

Patti: One mom who called had a husband who was disabled, and she was trying to homeschool her daughter while they were having financial problems. I explained the James 1:27 discount, which can be up to 50%. I told her that if she had a hardship, she could send us a letter, and she was so excited that we could help her.

Sindy: Sometimes moms just want to talk. I remember talking to a mom, and she was just trying to figure out homeschooling and needed an ear to listen, to affirm that she’s not perfect, that she’s just doing the best she could do. She didn’t need to know more about the product. She just needed to know that she wasn’t alone.

Tales from Customer Service Series:

Funny Hangups (You’re here!)
We Were Students (5/17)
Word Problem Tips (6/10)
When Your Child Has Learning Differences (7/12)



Is Poetry Worth the Time?


As a rule, when teaching, I never ignore the “what’s-the-point?” question, but when it comes to poetry, I have to answer with a bigger question, the question of much of education: what’s the point of art? And that question must be answered by more questions: What’s the point of building a house when you could rent an apartment? What’s the point of fixing up a Porsche when you could buy a used Ford Fiesta? What’s the point of writing your own program when there’s one that might do the job just fine?

Writing poetry is construction. You are building something with words.

You do it because you wonder if you can. You do it because you find hard work rewarding, and you do it because you’ve got a style that’s waiting inside you to be mined and polished. When you’re beginning to make art, whether with words, brushes and paint, or HTML code, you’re doing it because you want to try. It’s not unusual, however, to want to give up somewhere along the line, and many people do. Exploration is the way to discover your passions and talents. If you’re venturing into the world of poetry, wondering if you might enjoy it, wondering if you might be good at it, where do you begin?

Writing poetry is construction. You are building something with words. You need raw material, tools, and plans, probably in that order. I suggest that you begin with working on raw material and, if you like it, move on by finding tools and making plans. For raw material, start here:

1. Relax Your Environment

Change your lighting or your perspective. Sit on the floor instead of in a chair; open the window; give a shout. In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams gets up on his desk, shouts, whispers, anything to awaken his students to the world around and within them in an otherwise antiseptic environment.

2. Tell Yourself You’ll Write Something

Calm yourself by saying it doesn’t have to be good. Tell yourself it should not be good. It should be the most terrible drivel ever spewed onto a page by human hand, but you will write, and you will write for a given amount of time. Do it.

3. Focus

Beautiful or terrible or sad or ordinary—focus on something, and focus hard. Anything can become extraordinary if you keep thinking about it. You might even start your poetry session by attempting to write everything you’re thinking about: use your own mind as the observable object and record the thought flow (your stream of consciousness) without passing judgment on yourself. I sometimes set a time limit on myself for this, but if that adds undue stress for you, forget it. The point is to see what you would not normally see.

4. Read Other People’s Poetry

Start with popular names. Here are some of my favorites:

• Ogden Nash. His “I Do, I Will, I Have” uses no discernible meter but makes rhyming into a kind of game.
• Jane Kenyon. Her poem “Happiness” imagines happiness to be a person, an eccentric and rich uncle who will stop at nothing to find you in your despair.
• Billy Collins. “Passengers” has a tone of panicky self-consciousness, but its relatability makes it somehow delightful, like most of his poetry.

After you have a few “bricks” to build with (or sticks, or logs, or whatever analogy you are using) for your raw materials, you will need to develop some tools. The Poetry Foundation is a great place to do this. Some of the tools of the poetry trade are alliteration, meter (rhythm or beat), rhyme, stanzas (spacing), metaphor, as well as punctuation and grammar.

You don’t have to be proficient with all of these tools to write some poetry. It depends on what you’re interested in building (your plans). You’ll find that you wield some tools better than others, and those tools will become your style. Maybe you’re interested in building a castle with a moat and a giant drawbridge, complex like Spenser’s Faerie Queene and or Milton’s Paradise Lost. Maybe you’re interested in building a swing set in the middle of a giant clover field, small, intense, and curious, like William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow.” You need different materials, tools, and plans for each of these edifices. All structures, lengths, and subjects have their place in the world of poetry.

As a final thought, until I read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “God’s Grandeur,” I was pretty sure poetry consisted mainly of rhymed words at the ends of sentences. However, Hopkins’ words are so packed with energy (sprung rhythm), each phrase is so full of meaning on its own, and there is such deeper meaning within the whole of the poem, it is like a labyrinth made of roses: beautiful even without understanding it, but discoverable if one has the time. Reading this poem made me understand how poetry has the power to electrify.

Perhaps you have this power, too, but don’t know it yet. How can you find out? The only course of action is to try.


What to Expect at the Demme Learning Booth


At the Demme Learning booth, you will receive personalized, individual attention by someone who really knows and is passionate about the material.

Demme Learning plans to attend over 45 homeschooling and curriculum fairs between February and July of 2017! Here’s what you can expect from us:

Demme Learning Demonstrations

We don’t have scheduled presentation times in our booth, so you can stop by when it’s most convenient for you and ask for a personalized demonstration. Though Mr. Demme may or may not make an appearance at your fair, you’ll still get to interact with the Math-U-See curriculum and knowledgeable staff. If you don’t have the time to stay for a demonstration, you can watch demonstration videos for Math-U-See and Spelling You See on their websites.

Blocks and Books

We aim to be interactive, so at our booth, play around a little! Build a polynomial with our blocks. Fill up Decimal Street™ with units, tens, and hundreds. Page through our Spelling You See curriculum.

Free Shipping & Discount on Fair Orders

Orders placed at the booth get a 7% discount, as well as free shipping!

#DemmeSeesYou Photo Contest

You could win a $10 Demme Learning coupon code! In fact, here’s how: STOP EVERYTHING and sport your duckface next to one of our booth staffers and then post it publicly on Instagram with #DemmeSeesYou and tag @demmelearning.

This photo contest is open only to legal residents of the United States (excluding Puerto Rico) who are over the ages of 13. There is no entry fee.

Read the complete rules here.

Ready to go #DemmeSeesYou @demmelearning #greathomeschoolconventions

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Sales Reps Who Like (Maybe Even Love) You

I don’t know if I can possibly say enough about how kind and hard-working our sales reps are. We recently gathered all of our sales reps at headquarters, and I heard one say, “I just love our customers. I really do.”

Not only is she adorable, but she is also being completely sincere. All of our sales reps want to help you–really help you–to get the curriculum and level that is right for your student. They will listen first, then suggest solutions that embrace the needs of the individual. When it comes to math, we offer colorful manipulatives that promote conceptual understanding, a digital app that supplements the physical blocks, and online co-op classes for upper-level math. Our approach to spelling is just as unique: we integrate copywork, dictation, chunking, colored pencils, and contextualization.

“TLDR”? Just Read This Part

At the Demme Learning booth, you will receive personalized, individual attention by someone who really knows and is passionate about the material, not just someone hired for the day. We’ll see you there!

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At the Demme Learning booth, you will receive personalized, individual attention by someone who really knows and is passionate about the material, not just someone hired for the day. We’ll see you there!