Books part of parent learning curve

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A new publishing company is specializing in children’s books that teach while providing enjoyable stories. It was started by a couple who home-schooled their three children and is reaching out to home-schooling families.

Sylvan Dell Publishing in Mount Pleasant, S.C., is the brainchild of Lee and Donna German, who started it after Mr. German retired from the U.S. Navy. The couple decided to explore the country by van and camper, home-schooling their children along the way. They purchased a National Park Pass, allowing them to visit 67 U.S. national parks, plus a family membership at all zoos and science museums.

According to Mrs. German, “Every visit turned into a science, history or math class.”

Their three daughters especially loved the national parks’ junior ranger programs, which had a number of fun and educational activities for children to learn about each park.

“Young children are sponges for knowledge,” Mrs. German says.

The combination of their learning discoveries and Mrs. German’s success as an author of best-selling cookbooks became the genesis of Sylvan Dell.

“I have no formal education training,” Mrs. German says. “All of my comments and thoughts come from pure observation.” Her passion for the process of instilling a love of learning in children is obvious nonetheless.

On a shopping trip for birthday presents, she drove to a store for teachers, but her shopping buddy, another mom, refused to go in, saying, “We can’t go in there; we are not teachers.” Mrs. German says she was deeply shocked, asking herself, “If parents aren’t the very first teachers in their children’s lives, then who is?”

A passion for good children’s literature and empowering families is carried out through the entire line of Sylvan Dell products. Each book has a “For Creative Minds” section designed to be photocopied or downloaded and used at home or in a family environment. Online home pages are available for each book, with learning links, screened for safety, for additional information about the subject matter.

Most recently, Sylvan Dell sponsored a picture-book-writing competition for home-schooled students. The 2007 competition was won by Anthony Conroy, of Tulsa, Okla., for a book called “Jumping Bugs,” described by Mrs. German as “a clever, rhythmic way to introduce basic math skills.”

“Anthony’s writing style flows with a maturity beyond his years,” Mrs. German says. “It’s a really impressive work.”

Sylvan Dell is considering publishing the book for 2008 and also the two runners-up — “Our Walk in the Forest” by Michaela Gneco of Michigan and “Albert’s Elements” by Daniel Morin of Connecticut. Five other entrants received honorable mention, including Abigail Shaffer of Maryland for her work, “The Life of Leroy Leaf.”

Sylvan Dell hopes to encourage writing among home-schoolers and to promote literature that introduces science and math to children. For more information on the picture-book-writing competition, visit Sylvan Dell’s Web site www.sylvandellpublishing.com.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.

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