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Treasure Box Press

North Carolina Moms Find Treasure in Science Boxes – and so can You!<
By Deborah Deggs Cariker
Assistant Editor/Product Reviews Department

Five years ago, Cindy Hullings and Michelle Eichhorn had just met. They had no idea their individual penchant for hands-on science fun for their own children would turn into a real treasure for other homeschoolers. Now, since January, 2001, these women and their husbands and children have collectively dreamed, drawn, written, researched, tested, published, enjoyed, and promoted nearly 30 science kits for their company, Treasure Box Press, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. That number should hit three dozen by the end of this year.

Cindy Hullings, 34, of Jamestown, North Carolina and Michelle Eichhorn, 43, of Summerfield, North Carolina began their friendship and subsequent partnership over a box of Legos.

“We had just finished co-coaching our first season with a FIRST Lego League Team, which consisted of our oldest children and a few other homeschooled students,” Eichhorn said. “The children on the team wanted to continue as a science co-op, as did their parents. Cindy and I led the older group of seven students, and three other moms led the younger group. As we worked hard to develop lessons and activities, we realized that we had enough information and materials to make a great unit study on space, telescopes, the planets, solar power, and Mars! We used our lesson plans to develop our first, large unit study ‘Follow ME to Mars’.”

Cindy is married to Ralph Hullings, and they have four talented children, three dogs, a parakeet, a hamster, and any other stray animals the children find. They began homeschooling in 1995, the same year their identical twin girls were born.

“It wasn't easy, but God has been faithful,” Hullings said adding that she is passionate about the Lord, her family, homeschooling, and writing. She enjoys focusing her research on topics related to life science. She attended college for two years majoring in Elementary Education before she felt lead by the Lord to change career paths; she earned her degree as a registered nurse. She currently teaches 5-to-7-year-olds at the Masters Academy of Fine Arts in Greensboro, North Carolina. Ralph is an electronics specialist with a microchip manufacturer and has helped develop several physical science kits. In addition, he provides logistical support.

Michelle is married to Rick, and they have two beautiful children, two cats, two hermit crabs, and a very loud African Grey parrot that can almost say the alphabet! They have been homeschooling since 1997. Michelle’s passions are her faith in God, her family, and developing fun teaching materials. She enjoys focusing her research on the physical sciences and technology. Michelle has an undergraduate degree in early childhood development and education, and a master’s degree in child development from the University of North Carolina. In her pre-homeschooling years, she taught preschool. Then, completely changed careers and spent 15 years developing computer systems for biotech laboratories. She is currently working as a teaching assistant at the Masters Academy of Fine Arts in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Rick Eichhorn is the graphic artist. He received his art degree at the University of London and has received several awards for his work. He enjoys inserting personality and minute details in all of the illustrations he creates for Treasure Box Press’s Science Adventures.

And those adventures have been very adventuresome!

“We decided to go on the road with the ‘Follow Me to Mars’ kit and did several homeschool shows in the southeastern United States,” Eichhorn recalled. “Well, the drives were quite long, and we had a lot of time to reflect on the shows and the idea itself. During one of our eight-hour brainstorming sessions in the car, we bounced around the idea of smaller kits that were thorough and provided children and parents some fun hands-on learning. We not only wanted lots of hands-on activities but the supplies, a useful book, a student guide, and a teacher’s guide, a kit that could be easily integrated without any additional preparation time (i.e. a trip to the store or library) or a big monetary investment!”

These ladies also wanted a kit that could be used with ANY approach to science and be FUN! They created a character, a co-adventurer, who likes hands-on science and discovering new things as much as your children: S.A.M., or Science Adventure Monkey.

“We have found that with our children, regardless of age and learning style, hands-on is essential to increase creativity, comprehension, and interest,” Hullings and Eichhorn agreed. Eichhorn pointed out that every kit includes a teacher’s manual, a non-reproducible student workbook, topic-related book, and all of the materials required for the recommended activities. If you are using a kit with more than one student, “extra child kits” can be purchased at a less than full kit price to include just the student elements of the unit study.

In 2003, the two-family team met homeschoolers at 22 conventions, from New York to Arizona. The response to their kits has been overwhelming.

“We have had a tremendous amount of positive feedback from our customers,” Hullings said. “They like the fact that everything is included in one box for a very affordable price. We have talked to those who use our kits as a complete unit study and supplement with only math and/or phonics. Other families use our kits as a supplement for their current science curriculum.”

Word of Treasure Box Press’s Science Adventure kits is spreading. Besides national advertising,
conventions, and a mailing list, Eichhorn and Hullings also are now sending out a free biweekly newsletter called “Sam’s Online Adventure”, which is centered on a specific topic and includes some activity ideas and websites links where you can gather additional information about the topic.

Each of the 29 Science Adventure kits is packed in a cardboard box printed to look like a real treasure box that even pirate Jean LaFitte might have thought interesting. The kits, ranging in grade level from Pre-Kindergarten to high school freshmen, cover butterflies, bears, trains, the moon, stars, the planets, horses, Mars, robots, magnets, owls, and more. There are a dozen PreK-2nd grade kits; eleven for 3rd-through-6th grades, and six more for 7th-through-9th grades, but don’t carve those numbers in stone. The ladies are planning more kits.

“Yes, too many to list!! We truly have more ideas than we can possibly get to. We have to pace ourselves,” said Hullings. “(Our goal is) to get through the list by the time we're 80!”

“Our doable goal is at least four to six kits a year,” Eichhorn said. “This means that we do four to six topics and then we may do two to three grade levels in each. In reality, then, it can be anywhere from eight to 18 kits!”

Eichhorn said they’re also specifically trying to increase the selections Science Adventures offers in the high school level.

“We have children in high school and approaching high school,” she began. “We understand the need to keep science hands-on and fun at that age, too. Research has shown that both males and females experience a dramatic drop in their interest level for the sciences from grade 6th to grade 12. This is especially true for females. We want to help keep them interested. God provided a wondrous creation for us; why not have fun while exploring and enjoying it?”

To date, the kit most children like to explore and enjoy is “Shark”, which is available in two levels; one rated for Pre-K through 2nd grade, and the other for 3rd through 6th graders. Children seem to love digging into the North Carolina soil sample for shark’s teeth, an exclusive feature of this kit.

Helping your child with “discovery learning at its best,” Hullings develops kits around topics she’s previously taught and enjoyed with her own children.

“I also use topics that I plan to do with them soon,” she said. “My youngest girls are really into animals. Every unit I do typically involves an animal of some kind. Even with the newest unit on eyesight the children learn about Seeing Eye dogs.”

Eichhorn enjoys topics in which her children show an interest. Her daughter likes anything science and hands-on. Her son and husband enjoy the physical sciences. There are many discussions and impromptu activities in this area going on in their home all the time. These often turn into kit activities or ideas. They also listen to customer requests when thinking about new kits.

“Cindy is currently working on a unit that focuses on Rocks and Minerals,” Eichhorn explained. “We will also be introducing a new series of kits about the human body. Our first release in the series is scheduled for early February, 2005, and will focus on eyesight and hearing.”

Eichhorn is also working on a high school level kit on the electromagnetic spectrum, which will be ready for release in early February, and light and color kits for the younger grades. She is also working on a chemistry kit as her son starts a chemistry component in his science curriculum. She is itching to do one on pond life!

“My favorites include the farm unit because my 4-year-old daughter has really enjoyed doing the activities,” Eichhorn said. “At her age, doing one activity is about all she can handle in one session. There is enough to last us several weeks and really help her learn the information. All of the hands-on activities make her feel like she is doing ‘my school’, as she calls it, while keeping her captivated. I also like the bird and insect kits because both of my children did the kits last spring and summer. It was a fun unit we could do together, even with the 8 ½ year age difference. My daughter ended up doing insects all summer. She did various kit activities, and we interspersed those activities with the hands-on supplements we carry.”

Hullings really enjoyed teaching on bears the best.

“My daughters loved completing their notebook and mapping the habitats of the bears on their maps. Of course the best part was sewing the teddy bear. We all enjoyed that,” she said. “I also loved teaching the unit on owls. I loved watching the kids respond to dissecting the owl pellets. It was really interesting to see 8th & 9th grade boys whining about how nasty they were, while 8-year-old little girls LOVED it! Owl pellets are the regurgitated remains of the undigested parts of the owl’s diet. In other words, owl vomit, and it really is great fun to explore.”

Diverse topics and diverse children blend well together. The kits also have a way of bringing out the best in children.

“They enjoyed the variety of activities and learned a lot,” Hullings said remembering how their Academy students reacted to the Mars kit. “They took a great deal of pride in presenting their research papers and experiments to their peers.”

Eichhorn said she and Hullings feel that children need to develop the skills to find information on their own.

“In all of our kits, with the exception of the preschool through 2nd grade kits, we mix research assignments with the hands-on activities,” she explained. “The team testing our kits liked the challenge of the research presentations, but enjoyed the creativity that came with the hands-on projects. One project involved making a papier-mâché Martian landscape on a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood. The children took great pride in making it accurate and ensuring they didn’t have seven different versions of Valles Marineris. They later painted it red and took great pains to get the color just right! We had a variety of learning styles in the group and each responded well to the mix of activities and hands-on style.”

One of the chief benefits of the Science Adventure kits is that they’re perfect for teaching multi-ages in a homeschool setting.

“We include activities that many ages would enjoy or that could be adjusted up or down, depending on a child’s age,” Hullings explained. “For example, our shark kits are listed up to sixth grade, but everyone enjoys looking for and identifying the teeth. Plus, the research activities can be geared for a third grader or a tenth grader.”

“We also encourage parents to follow their child’s interest, even if it doesn’t go with what is covered in their current science curriculum,” Eichhorn continued. “Find the time to fit in their interest, even if it is for an hour a week. Our kits are perfect for that–—there isn’t additional prep time and the lessons are laid out for mom. They can pick and choose a lesson or two to do a week.”

Because of the many requests during the 2002 conference season, Hullings and Eichhorn started a “Science Adventure of the Month” club. Every 4-5 weeks, a new Science Adventure can be delivered to your mailbox. There are no time commitments or monetary obligations. If you don’t want the next months’ selection, just let them know ahead of time. Additionally, Treasure Box Press has starting offering Science Adventure kits for resale at homeschool supply stores.

“If people would like a store in their area to carry our kits, give us a call and we’ll work hard to establish a relationship with the retail outlet,” Eichhorn said. For more information, call 877.461.9050, or visit Treasure Box Press and “S.A.M.” online at www.treasureboxpress.com. The new 16-page catalog will no doubt fuel a hefty “wish list.”

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