As a parent, we all want to focus on the education of our children. However, it seems that tutors can be expensive, and private schools can easily cost you an arm, a leg, and possibly your first-born! What can those of us who wants to nurture our kid’s education, but do not have the extra expenses to pay for such luxuries do? Chris Mason, author of Tutor-in-a-Box may have a solution we have all been waiting for.
Michael Pang: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Chris Mason: My name is Chris Mason and for the last 20 years I have been a house husband raising three kids with special needs. During this time I received my Bachelors in Psychology and a Master’s in Education
MP: Interesting. Wow, so I have two kids myself. How did you find time to get a bachelors and masters degree?
CM: Going to school at nights, drinking enough coffee to give me a “usual’ at Starbucks, and truly understanding what the words sleep deprived meant. It also helped having a supportive wife.
MP: Where and when did your writing journey begin?
CM: Due to the fact that all my children went to an online charter school, I had to find ways to save money and found many free resources through the Internet. In fact, I still think it is funny when I first asked my daughter’s teachers for resources that could help her when she first entered the world of online schooling. I only received three websites. I thought three websites from six teachers was a sad state of affairs, so Tutor in a Box was born. That was years ago now. My eldest daughter was in sixth grade then, now she is a sophomore in college.
My other books were born out of two things that happened at the same time. First, my family had to give up cable to save money, but my kids still wanted to see the then popular That’s so Raven. Second, my mother came up with Mason Day to teach my kids that they did not need a lot of money to give someone a nice gift. Mason Day was when a person was assigned a family member and had to make them something, spending only 20 dollars. My thought was, Oh my God! I had no artistic skills like my daughters and could not build things like my son, but I did have impressive research skills. So the In the Box series of books was born.
MP: I love how your book series had stemmed from a tradition you started as a family. So, you have amazing research skill, that’s very different when you have to then compile all that researched knowledge into writing. Who are your favorite authors and how have they influenced your writing?
CM: My favorite authors are Jennifer cruise, Janet Evanovich, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Philip José Farmer and Steve Berry and no they have not influenced my writing.
MP: Ah, I see. You favor fictional works. Have you ever thought about writing fiction one day?
CM: Yes, I have, but I am completing all the “In the Box” books first.
MP: What does a typical day in your life look like? And how does your writing routine fit into your day?
CM: I currently live on an 18-wheeler that goes cross-country, so I write when I can. This depends on things like how bumpy the roads are, whether I have Internet, and if I am in the mood.
MP: Wow, that really doesn’t really leave you much time does it? So, it seems like you’re a busy guy with driving across the country and three kids with special needs. How much time did it take you to find all the resources in your book, and how did you choose which ones to include?
CM: Let me clarify my wife is a truck driver and I am a passenger and my kids are grown. Tutor took about 6 years to complete. I used the following criteria for website inclusion:
- The 30 second rule – Could I figure out the website in 30 seconds? If the answer was no it was discarded if the answer was yes the website moved on to step B.
- Was the website and its educational content geared towards students? As before a no answer got a website dropped from consideration and a yes moved it forward.
- What was the grade level of the website and what was it teaching? For example 6th grade California mission history.
- What was the website’s focus? Skill instruction, skill reinforcement, enrichment, or reference.
- Was the website unique?
- Did I enjoy the website or did it help me?
If a website passed the above tests it was included in Tutor in a Box.
I also tried to make sure to include websites for all modalities of learning. For example in math if reading something is the best way a student learns then Purple Math is for them. If however, the student is an audio-visual learner then Khan Academy is the best fit. Also there are some websites that are in the books that have a not rated as a rating. This is due to one simple fact. Some websites I did not feel comfortable rating due to lack of experience such as “Airtime” a cheap intuitive software that allows anyone to start a radio station. This website is in the upcoming Production Studio in a Box. The other reason a website may have received a not rated designation is I don’t like the content. For example I hate Massive Multiplayer Online Games that require the user to set up an account. So those type of games all received a not rated with the stated reason. Also as it relates to Tutor in a Box the book was designed to help kids but it was designed with parents as the main user in mind. That is why there are websites like Mathway that will give the user the answer to any math problems. Mathway is meant as a homework checker. Some websites in Tutor were meant as tools parents could use to help them help their kids.
MP: Wow, you really put a lot of thought into which resources to include in your book. And six is a long time! There seems to be quite a lot of blogs and websites out there with links to online educational resources out there. What makes your eBook stand out from the rest of them?
CM: Well I am a parent with special needs who raised three kids with special needs so my perspective is different than say a reviewer who hasn’t actually used the resource with real students in the academic trenches so to speak.
MP: Gotcha, so the resources in your book are all tried and true. Your book was first released in 2014. How many editions have you released since and how do you maintain the content of your book?
CM: I do a clean out of dead websites about once a year or when a customer emails me. All books have had at least two editions but since I publish through Smashwords the concept of an edition is moot.
MP: That’s great to hear. That would put a lot readers at ease to know that although your book was released last year, you are keeping it up to date. So, why do you have such a passion for such free resources guides?
CM: Long story short I am seriously broke with a big B. However I try to make a game of things and see if I can find the best deal.
MP: In this economy, there’s nothing wrong with saving where you could and using your money wisely. Would you tell us a little bit about some of your other “in a box” projects?
CM: The “In the Box” series of books are a set of reference guides to the best free resources on the internet in a particular area. The series currently includes:
- Tutor in a Box – A guide to free educational resources.
- Book Store in a Box – A guide to free print and audio books.
- Arcade in a Box – A guide to free video games.
- Video store in a Box – A guide to free Television and Movies.
- Record Store – A guide to free music
- Entrepreneur in a Box – A guide to the best ways to make money on the internet.
- App Store in a Box – A guide to the best free applications for mobile devices.
MP: Wow, looks like you’ve really collected a huge body of resources. Where can our readers find your book?
CM: My books are in eBook format and are available at Smashwords, ITunes, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and anywhere else eBooks are sold.
MP: Excellent! What do you have planned next for your “In-A-Box” series?
CM: I am currently writing “Production Studio in a Box: The Guide to making DVDs, CDs, Websites and other Media at Low or No Cost”.
MP: Sounds great! I’m sure that would be very useful book! Since, our biggest passion here is supporting the Indie Author Industry, what’s your advice to other authors with a unique idea but who haven’t explored self-publishing before?
CM: This is a multipart answer.
- Write what you love and are passionate about, if you care about it others will because your passion will leap off the page.
- Don’t write about what’s popular on Amazon. Stand out and be different.
- Have your audience in mind as you write it helps keep you focused.
- Match your subject matter to your deliver system. Not every book is good for every format. For example the “In the Box” series would not be good for the audio format due to its online nature.
- Don’t be afraid to outsource parts of the writing process that are outside your skill set. For example I outsource my cover creation and formatting. This way I can just focus on the writing. This includes marketing as well.
- Lastly as corny as it sounds believe in yourself. In the immortal words of Ed Wood “just write, if it is bad it will get better and if it is good it will become great just keep writing”.
MP: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us. If you are interested in Chris’s wealth of resources, please check out his Smashwords page below.
Are you one of the 1.5 Million children being educated in an alternative school setting (Virtual School Home School or Independent Study)?
Are you one of the thousands of parents who spends their Saturdays at the local coffee shop with other parents trying to figure out their kid’s homework so you can help?
Are you tired of educators telling you there are resources on the internet but not where they are?
Would you like to put fun back into your child’s education?
If you answered yes to any of the questions then Tutor in the Box is for you. This resource rich book will show you where the best education resources are on the internet, The book is set up like a fictional school day with the following sections:
Recess (Education games)
Art and Music
Virtual Field Trips
Continuing Education (Free how to videos and college lectures)
Free Clipart and Sound Effects
So if educational resources are what you’re looking for there is a tutor in the box you call a computer just waiting to help a person in need.