Entries from January 2009 ↓

CPSC issues temporary testing stay

abacusThe Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has just issued a temporary stay on the stringent testing and certification requirements for lead content in children’s products.

Temporary Relief 

“The stay of enforcement provides some temporary, limited relief to the crafters, children’s garment manufacturers and toy makers who had been subject to the testing and certification required under the CPSIA. These businesses will not need to issue certificates based on testing of their products until additional decisions are issued by the Commission. However, all businesses, including, but not limited to, handmade toy and apparel makers, crafters and home-based small businesses, must still be sure that their products conform to all safety standards and similar requirements, including the lead and phthalates provisions of the CPSIA. ”


Stringent Testing on Hold 

Under this stay, publishers and manufacturers won’t need to test any products or components that are certain not to contain lead. This is great news for publishers who print in the U.S., since lead-based inks are banned anyway. There is no need to test or certify.

If you’re a crafter, or if you sell garments, toys or kits containing components, you’ll only need to test those components that fall into the category of “questionable”—fake jewels, buttons, certain trims, metal zipper pulls, etc. Even so, simple XRF screening for lead will suffice for now. No need for the expensive, CPSC-authorized lab testing.

As my friend Kate pointed out, we’ve all been given a bit more time “to test, to lobby, to enact change, to appeal.” This isn’t a cure-all, but it sure does give some breathing room!

Roman coinsFor some crafters, most of the proposed amendments to the CPSIA won’t completely cover kits containing unique or one-of-a-kind items. Kate’s kits contain items like authentic ancient Roman coins. These “can’t be tested by the manufacturer . . . and each discrete unit is its own batch.”

Manufacturers also get a reprieve from ridiculous testing requirements. Take ordinary books, which don’t contain lead. At least for a year, a publisher won’t have to retest every time he prints more. And for products that aren’t quite so cut and dried, XRF testing will satisfy the need to know for the time being.

Penalties Still Apply

But we’d better know for sure, because even though CPSC put a stay on testing, “Manufacturers and importers – large and small – of children’s products . . . will need to meet the lead and phthalates limits, mandatory toy standards and other requirements.” So even though we don’t have to test, we remain responsible and accountable. The fines and other penalties still apply.

Small manufacturers and publishers are breathing a collective sigh of relief right now. Though there’s still work ahead of us, it’s gratifying to see that all the protesting, lobbying, and outcry over the CPSIA has not fallen on deaf ears. I, for one, am thankful that we’ve been given some time to keep the momentum going as we continue pushing for re-evaluation of the CPSIA.

Update: A few more reads on the subject

Stay, CPSIA! Stay! Good CPSIA.

Children’s Books Get One-Year Stay from Anti-Lead Law

Children’s product sellers get 1-year reprieve on lead testing

Lead rule shelved; Oklahoma libraries relieved


More tips for stronger papers

Notebook and pens

With a few focused efforts, your teen’s essays and research papers will rise to the challenge.

Use transition words.

Transition words help papers read more smoothly by providing logical organization. They also connect important thoughts or provide transitions between opposing ideas. Students often get into trouble moving from idea to idea. Without transitions, they’ll lose their reader, who will have trouble following the writer’s line of thought.

Transition words act as signals to alert the reader. Words like in addition and furthermore tell the reader that a point is about to be expanded or explained. On the other hand and conversely suggest that the writer will explore an opposite idea. Therefore and finally signal that a train of thought is coming to an end.

Reading through the paper paragraph-by-paragraph makes a good test of fluency. If each paragraph makes sense on its own, the writer probably made wise use of transitions. If not, she can look for ways to add a transition word or sentence to introduce new ideas.

Transitional words and phrases

Don’t plagiarize.

Plagiarism, copying another person’s written work and calling it your own, is the same as stealing. What has been stolen is the author’s unique way of formulating ideas into his own words. Teach your student the proper way to credit the sources she uses in her research paper or essay.


Focus on clarity and simplicity.

It’s not uncommon for young writers to try to impress their instructors by overwriting. This can take the form of using too many big words, piling on too much (or unnecessary) detail, or taking rabbit trails. The content of a research paper or essay must always, always point back to and support the thesis statement. If it fails to do so, eliminate it.

Word Choice

For more essay and term paper tips, also see 4 tips for stronger papers.

Just for the pun of it

Happy faces

pun (n.)  A clever play on words that brings about a double meaning or a comedic effect. “I do it for the pun of it.”

I confess. I’m a punster (much to my family’s dismay). I don’t do it on purpose, really. As a matter of fact, if you put me on the spot, I’m hard pressed to think of one! But when I come across a great pun or other word twist, I love to share it. Guess it’s just a part of my love of words.

Lucky for you, a friend with a wacky sense of humor (thanks, Susan!) sent me a whole list. Not all are true puns; some are just amusing word plays. But they’re all good for a chuckle, and I hope they brighten your day!

Fun with Puns

  • If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?
  • Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?
  • If I put a leafy green vegetable on the barbecue, will it be chard?
  • Why is a person who plays the piano called a pianist but a person who drives a racing car not called a racist?
  • Why are a wise man and a wise guy opposites?
  • Why do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?
  • If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn’t it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?
  • Ever wonder about those people who spend $2.00 apiece on those little bottles of Evian water? Try spelling Evian backwards: NAIVE
  • Why is it that if you send something by road it is called a shipment, but when you send it by sea it is called cargo?

Got a clean pun you’d like to share? Add it in a comment!

Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

4 tips for stronger papers

girl with penEssays and research papers are often the bane of a high schooler’s existence. But a few simple tips to set them off on the right foot will save hours of red-penciling later on!

Write a clear thesis statement.

Your thesis statement provides focus, both for the reader and the writer. It should state the research paper’s main message in one or two sentences.

Why should your essay contain a thesis statement?

Stay on track.

As you write your paper, continually support your thesis statement with facts, details, and examples. Avoid irrelevant information that can distract your reader from the main points. By staying on track and avoiding information that doesn’t directly support your thesis, you’ll produce a much stronger essay.

Don’t rehash ideas.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying the same thing over and over in different ways. Instead, do a little more research so that you can support your claims with fresh facts and examples. Your readers will thank you!

Term paper research: Getting started

Make a plan and stick to it.

Essays and research papers need structure—an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Without structure, your paper will fall apart. Avoid diving into your paper without thinking your argument through and organizing your thoughts into an outline. Instead of trying to rope scattered ideas, herd them into formation before you begin to write.

Outline the paper from beginning to end. As you outline the body of the paper, list your key points and hit the major supporting details. It’s a relief to know where you’re going, and it will make your paper much more focused and easier to write.

How to make and use an essay outline

TOS sponsors writing contest for homeschoolers

Writers of all ages need an audience. And what better way to gain one than to enter a writing contest with a chance at getting published in a prominent magazine? I’ve got info on a story contest for homeschoolers that both adults and children can enter! How fun is that? And what a great way to model writing for your children as you make story-telling time a family event.

Storytime Writing Contest

The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine is very excited to host their second Storytime Writing Contest! They have two creative fiction categories: adults (16 and up, 2,500 words or less) and children (15 and under, 1,500 words or less). They’re accepting submissions through midnight, March 16, 2009.

Selecting the Finalists

This will be my second year as one of the contest judges, and it was so much fun last year reading all the wonderful entries! The Old Schoolhous reviews each entry and selects fifty finalists in each category. Those finalists will be listed on the TOS website by title, author, and city. From there, a panel of judges (including me!) who are “experts in the field” will select the Grand Prize Winners!


Oh, and the prizes are so fabulous!

The Grand Prize Winners (one adult and one child) will receive:
• $100 gift certificate to the Schoolhouse Store
• Grand Prize Package valued at more than $1,000 from our sponsors! (See list of prizes here.)
• Publication in the Summer 2009 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine
• Publication on www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com
• Certificate of Achievement

The top two winners, as well as eleven finalists in each category, will have their stories published in an E-Book, which will be available for sale at the Schoolhouse Store!

For Adults 16 and Up

They’re looking for stirring fiction, in 2,500 words or less, that will encourage and inspire homeschooling families. “Escaping the Homeschool Matrix” by Steve Walden is an excellent example of the type of story TOS is looking for. You can read Steve Walden’s story here.

For Kids 15 and under

Tell all about your characters and their zany adventures in 1,500 words or less. Think about something that you like, add some interesting characters, and set sail on your own adventure! Perhaps you could write about a mysterious map found in a dusty attic, or you could write about what you would do if you traded places with your parents for a day. Get creative! The sky is the limit!

Finding Story Ideas

For help with story ideas, check out WriteShop‘s fabulous StoryBuilders—printable card decks that make great writing prompts for silly, whimsical, humorous, or serious stories. By picking one card from each category—character, character trait, setting, and plot—you’ll have the foundation for your winning story in no time! Look for StoryBuilders under E-books in the WriteShop store. They’re only $3.95-$7.95, and they come with either 96 or 192 writing prompt cards. (You can read reviews of StoryBuilders here and here.)

How to Enter

Read the Official Rules. Then click here to submit a story, or to mail an entry, please enclose a check or money order in the amount of $7.95 along with your story, and send it to The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine at this address:

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
Storytime Writing Contest
P.O. Box 8426
Gray, TN 37615


Sentence variations add interest and variety to a piece of writing, improve rhythm, or help you trim wordy sentences. One sentence variation, the appositive, can even help you combine two sentences:

    Bertram is a master chef.
    Bertram works at La Petite Restaurant.

into one sentence:

    Bertram, a master chef, works at La Petite Restaurant.

What’s an Appositive?

Mutt in streetAn appositive is a noun or noun phrase that immediately follows another noun. An appositive explains or defines the noun it follows and is usually set off by commas.
In these examples, the noun or pronoun is red and the appositive is tan.

  • Mike’s dog, a mutt, sat down in the street.
  • Mike’s dog, a scrawny mutt, sat down in the street.
  • Mike’s dog, a scrawny mutt with scruffy coat, sat down in the street.
  • Mike’s dog, a scrawny, scruffy-coated mutt with no common sense, sat down in the street.

A few more examples:

  • My neighbor Augustus grew a 100-pound pumpkin last summer.
  • Flipper, Melvin’s pet goldfish, lives in a glass bowl on the bookshelf.
  • Grandpa’s ancient Buick, a behemoth of a car, still drives like a charm.
  • The garage, a danger zone, is filled with tools, bags of used clothing, boxes of papers, stacks of old magazines, and countless other piles of junk.

Punctuating the Appositive

Some appositives require commas and others don’t.

Commas Needed. You’ll need to use commas if the sentence would still be complete and clear without the appositive. Put one comma before the appositive and one after when it provides non-essential information.

  • Dilbert Dithers, one of the town’s junk dealers, collects vintage radios. (The sentence makes sense without the appositive. Since the appositive adds non-essential information, commas are necessary.)

Commas Not Needed. If the appositive gives meaning to the sentence, you will not need to put commas around the appositive. One-word appositives do not need commas.

  • The American author Ernest Hemingway spent many years abroad. (Since there are many American authors, Ernest Hemingway makes the sentence meaningful. Therefore, no commas are needed.)
  • Her brother Roscoe lives in Walla Walla. (In order to explain which of her brothers she’s referring to, Roscoe becomes essential information. It’s also a one-word appositive. Therefore, no commas are needed.)

Choosing Where to Place an Appositive

An appositive can BEGIN a sentence.

  • A prize-winning baker, Mrs. Patchett loves to make pies, cakes, and cookies.

An appositive can BREAK UP a sentence.

  • Mrs. Patchett, a prize-winning baker, loves to make pies, cakes, and cookies.

And an appositive can END a sentence.

  • Needing donations for the church bake sale, the committee called Mrs. Patchett, a prize-winning baker who loves to make pies, cakes, and cookies.

Don’t leave till you get here!

Arrive before your departure

*Translation: Don’t leave without yourself.

. . . . .

Stop by every 1st and 3rd Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

Practice with free writing: A rant against CPSIA

Last week, our guest blogger Kelly suggested free writing as a way to get ideas out onto paper. I found myself free writing yesterday as my frustration level with CPSIA mounted. After I posted my little rant on a publishers’ discussion forum, their enthusiastic response prompted me to share it with you too.

A Rant against CPSIA

After all is said and done, no one seems to know anything. The issues are as muddy or muddier than they were even two weeks ago.

Who is supposed to do what?
And by when?
What counts?
What doesn’t?
All of this?
Some of that?
This is exempt?
That isn’t?
Yes it is.
No, it’s not.
Test for lead.
Test for phthalates.
February 10.
August 12.
Expert X says blue.
Expert Y says Cincinnati.
Expert Z says yesterday.
No, mail letters.
No, send emails.
Here’s a petition.
Books don’t need to be tested.
Books need to be tested.
What’s a book?
It’ll blow over.
Manufacturers don’t know.
Retailers don’t know.
Resellers don’t know.
They amended the law.
The law was changed.
It can’t be enforced.
They’re not looking for the little guy.
They’re hiring more manpower to look for the little guy.
Never heard of this law.
Doesn’t apply to me.
No need to test.
Test new products.
Test old inventory.
Test all products.
If it was manufactured before November 2008, it’s exempt.
I don’t have to comply.
Do I have to comply?
How do I comply?
I’m compliant.
I’m exempt.

I’m tired!

Copyright © 2009 by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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In the middle of this crazy whirlwind, I’m so grateful I can rest in the shadow of the Almighty, the author of order and peace. Praying you can too!

7 ways to curb perfectionism

Do you have a little perfectionist at your house? I know this child! Even if he prints well, has great ideas, can spell decently for his age, and reads on his own, he balks when it comes to actually writing stories on paper.

The Root of Writer’s Block

perfectionism, perfectionist, writing, reluctant writerPerfectionism is the number one root of writer’s block. It makes kids write shorter words and sentences so that they’re less likely to make mistakes. It incites them to wad up perfectly good ideas and throw them across the table. It drags out writing time so that it becomes painful for everyone in the room—student, parent, siblings—even the dog.

If your child (or young teen) struggles with writing stories by himself; using short, choppy sentences; or becoming upset by his mistakes, there are some things you can do to help.

Warding Off Perfectionism

  1. Establish limits. It’s OK if his story is only six or seven sentences long. Writing or recopying a long story can be overwhelming.
  2. Let him dictate his story to you rather than write the rough draft by himself. Later, you can read it back to him as he writes it from dictation.
  3. Better yet, as he narrates his story to you, write it on lined paper, skipping every other line. (Alternately, type it on the computer using a large, clean font.) Then, let him copy his words rather than write as you dictate. As an additional aid, place a wide strip of construction paper beneath the line he’s copying from so he’s not distracted by other text. As he copies, he can slide the strip down line-by-line.
  4. Find the positive. Before he begins copying, sit down together and talk about his story. Ask him to underline his favorite sentence, circle his three most descriptive words, and place an X over three great action verbs (or other favorite words). Ask him why he made these choices. He’ll be less likely to shorten his writing if he has already identified its positive features.
  5. Praise his best word choices and most interesting sentence. He surely won’t want to shorten a sentence Mom has fussed over!
  6. Set a time limit for copying his narration—roughly one minute per year (7 minutes for a 7-year-old). When the timer goes off, he can stop, even mid-sentence. Let him do this once or twice a day, picking it up again the next day if need be.
  7. If spelling is an issue, you can create a word wall at eye level from a sheet of butcher paper or poster board. If a word is giving him trouble, write it on a rectangle of paper and tape it to the word wall. When he recopies his story, it may be easier for him to look at the larger words on the word wall than to copy from your smaller printing on the paper. (When the wall gets full, remove the words he knows to make room for new ones.)

While these tips may not solve all your perfectionist’s dilemmas, they’ll go a long way toward smoothing away some of the roughness from the path.

Copyright © 2009 by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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Looking for a more structured program to help you teach a reluctant writer? WriteShop Primary is perfect for your K-3 grader, WriteShop Junior is ideal for upper elementary, and WriteShop I lessons can help a reluctant teen learn important writing skills. Visit our website at writeshop.com to learn more!

Photo: © 2009 by Kim Kautzer

Congress bans kids from libraries?

Empty library shelvesThe spirit of the law and the letter of the law continue to clash as the February 10 date looms for the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The law, as it is now written, prohibits even the distribution of any product designed for children 12 and under.

Congress and/or the Consumer Product Safety Commission have to clarify—and soon—whether lending of books falls under the jurisdiction of the CPSIA.

The article quotes Emily Sheketoff of the American Library Association: “We are very busy trying to come up with a way to make it not apply to libraries,” said Sheketoff. But unless she succeeds in lobbying Capitol Hill for an exemption, she believes libraries have two choices under the CPSIA: “Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she says, “or they ban children from the library.”

This begs the question: In addition to books, does the retroactive nature of the law mean that other items currently in classrooms, such as crayons, scissors—even photocopied worksheets—must be tested before they can be passed out to the children? The fuzzy language of the law is making this very difficult for anyone to clarify, and you’ll see from the article that, really, no one knows what to do.

Congress Bans Kids from Libraries?


Update 1/23/09: ALA: Consumer Product Safety Commission Still Dragging Its Feet On Book Ruling

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