Category Archives: 2013

The Thirteenth Week

The good news is that the moment you decide that what you know is more important than what you have been taught to believe, you will have shifted gears in your quest for abundance. Success comes from within, not from without.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I really appreciate this quote by Emerson, as it truly embodies my experience of homeschooling, and parenting in general. There will always be web sites to consult, books to read, and advice from well-meaning friends and relatives, but I find that the true key to my success as a teacher and mother comes from listening to my intuition. A book is never going to know my own children as well as I do, and though there is value in seeking guidance and wisdom, it is dangerous to rely too heavily on the opinion of others. The harder I try to hear what others have to say, the more difficult it is to hear my voice and then I risk losing my ability to see what my children really need.

So…what am I trying to say here? Last week I posted about my search for a language arts curriculum for Lillia, and my decision to buy a random selection of titles that looked promising, in the hopes that they would be a better match than the packaged curriculum I had tried to use. Well, my intuition was spot on, and things have vastly improved for us on the homeschool front. Here’s a roundup of our adventures this week:

For language arts, we started the week with Jacob’s Ladder. Lillia read “The Ant and the Dove” and then did the accompanying “ladder.” She learned about consequences and implications, cause and effect, and sequencing. She had to create a new generalization for the story (she came up with “The early bird saves the ant.”) She also had to draw some pictures of details from the story, and then use phrases from the text to support her drawings. On Wednesday she did her first “Word Ladder,” which was challenging for her but we worked through it. Thursday we started a writing project from Don’t Forget to Write that involves crafting a tragic tale. I find that it’s more fruitful to have her dictate stories for me to type, rather than to force her to write it all out by hand. I read that gifted children have difficulties with manual composition — why should we get bogged down by penmanship when we can use technology to emancipate her imagination? On Friday we did our first lesson from Giggly Grammar and Lillia loved it. Have you ever heard of a “bloat of hippos” or a “nuisance of housecats”? Me neither, but now I know a lot more (silly) collective nouns!

9780735814134-lWe’re still reading Lisbeth Zwerger’s Stories from the Bible, which is a beautifully illustrated selection of stories from the King James Bible. We are not using it for religious purposes, but we are studying the ancient Near East so we are reading it as a primary source for our history lessons. We’ve been discussing the parallels between the stories in the Old Testament and what we read in Bernarda Bryson’s Gilgamesh. We talked a bit about why so many ancient stories deal with very destructive floods. There may be some connection between the old tales and the collective memory of the civilizations that emerged at the end of the last Ice Age. We already learned about the flooding of Doggerland, but that kind of inundation probably happened in many places around the globe as the Earth warmed and the glaciers melted. Some scientists, namely William Ryan and Walter Pitman, have speculated that a catastrophic flood is responsible for the creation of the Black Sea, which is relatively near to Mesopotamia and the Levant, from which some of our earliest stories originate. This theory has been refuted several times by other groups. I’m hoping to find a documentary or article that will shed more light on this topic.

Moving on to other subjects, we’re still loving Life of Fred, and we’re just about done with the fourth book in the elementary series (there are 10 total). I just read this week that Stanley Schmidt has finished his intermediate series and it is now available for purchase. I am excited about that, because I know we will finish the elementary books before she starts 5th grade, which is the age recommended by Schmidt for starting Life of Fred: Fractions. We started a new science unit that I found on the Mensa for Kids web site. We will be learning to classify animals scientifically, and I think Lillia is going to have a great time doing this. I see lots of opportunities for enrichment with this unit, too. And, finally, after struggling with our cursive handwriting program, we are now picking up speed. My only guess is that now that Lillia has been freed from the tyranny of uninspiring language arts worksheets she can more easily accommodate a few humdrum penmanship exercises.

I don’t want to give the impression that everything is perfect, but things are definitely improving. And, I will further add that not all success can be measured in academic terms. She gets so much out of homeschooling that cannot be quantified or verified on paper. In fact, the changes I have seen in her so far this year have almost nothing to do with schoolwork, and everything to do with being emotionally secure. That’s no small achievement, and I will try to remember to consider our progress in its entirety as we struggle to find our way, academically.

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The Twelfth Week

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. — Henry Ford

Last week was a lesson in accepting defeat, and waiting to see what sort of phoenix would rise from the ashes of my failed plans. What is one to do when everything is all wrong? Why, fix it, of course!

My plan of attack was twofold:

Part 1 – repair the damage from last week’s fighting.
Part 2 – do some serious research!

This week we took it easy. We meandered through some Life of Fred, some history, and some literature (we started reading the Old Testament this week, as part of our Ancient Near East unit). One afternoon we all baked chocolate chip cookies together. The kids bonded, and Lillia learned some things about baking (measuring, how to read recipes, etc). So, when in doubt, make cookies!


In terms of research, I checked Hoagie’s Gifted for language arts recommendations. Then, I spent quite a while surfing for books on Amazon (something I do on a regular basis, anyway). I found lots of great language arts books that are not a “curriculum,” per say, but could work well together, and ordered them. Don’t let anyone tell you that homeschooling saves you money.

Here’s what I ordered:

From The Jacob’s Ladder Reading Comprehension Program targets reading comprehension skills in high-ability learners by moving students through an inquiry process from basic understanding to critical analyses of texts using a field-tested method developed by the Center for Gifted Education at The College of William and Mary. Students in grades K–9 will be able to comprehend and analyze any reading passage after completing the activities in these books.

Using skill ladders connected to individual readings in poetry, short stories, and nonfiction, students move from lower order, concrete thinking skills to higher order, critical thinking skills. All of the books, geared to increasing grade levels, include high-interest readings, ladders to increase reading skill development, and easy-to-implement instructions. The ladders include multiple skills necessary for academic success, covering language arts standards such as sequencing, cause and effect, classification, making generalizations, inference, and recognizing themes and concepts.

This sounds like just what we need, and since Lillia’s major academic strength is language arts, I think that a gifted program will be challenging enough to keep her interested.

From It’s Shel Silverstein meets Strunk and White and the results are both hilarious and instructive. With over 120 illustrations and gobs of delightfully goofy examples and exercises, this book provides a lighthearted and ludicrous guide to the essential elements of language and grammar…not to mention a few writing tips thrown into the mix.

Grammar has often been taught as joyless process of memorizing rules and diagramming phony sentences, but most writers will tell you that grammar actually promotes a love of language. Not only can the study of grammar be fun and joyful, this unique primer can also be used by adults everywhere who simply need a single volume at the ready to keep them on the straight and narrow…and laughing all the way!

I have high hopes for this book. I hope it’s not too silly, because there is a fine line between treating a subject with humor and deliberately dumbing it down.

From Kids climb to new heights in reading and writing with these engaging, reproducible word building games! Kids read clues on each rung, then change and rearrange letters to create words until they reach the top. All the while, they’re boosting decoding and spelling skills, broadening vocabulary, and becoming better, more fluent readers.

I bought this book mostly because it looked like a lot of fun. You start with one word (for example “vegetable”) and you either add or subtract letters as you go up the ladder to create new words. We’re not doing a formal spelling program, but I think if we did one word ladder a week, Lillia’s spelling would definitely improve. You have to spell the words right, or they don’t work in the puzzle.

From If you believe that teaching creative writing should be done creatively, you’ve picked up the right book. Don’t Forget to Write for the Elementary Grades offers elementary teachers 50 creative writing lesson plans developed by the imaginative and highly acclaimed 826 National writing centers. The book is designed to be a handy teacher’s aide that can help reach and inspire all students ages 5 to 12 (even those most resistant to creative writing). The lessons range from silly (“Brains! or, Writing with Zombies”) to practical (“How to Write a How To”), from sports to science, music to mysteries, and everything in between (yes, there is an academic purpose to having Harry Potter and Spiderman battle some evil ninjas). Each lesson is written by educators, 826 volunteers, celebrated authors, actors, and writers, and all are linked to rigorous writing standards.

The book’s activities are based on proven pedagogy that can help students develop the skills to organize their ideas, craft their arguments, revise their work, state their points of view, and peer-edit, all while having a blast and learning an awful lot about the joy and hard work of writing.

Since none of the writing programs I have tried so far have even remotely interested Lillia, I figured we’d go with an entirely different approach. This book is endorsed by Daniel Handler (a.k.a Lemony Snicket), and it looks really, really good. Here’s a nice video about it:


So, that’s the roundup. I will certainly be sure to write about our progress with the books as we use them.

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The Eleventh Week

This week’s post is more of a confession than an update. Homeschooling is hard. I mean really hard. At least 60% of the time, I feel like a complete failure. The other 40% of the time I think Lillia might be learning something, but it’s hard to tell.

Mostly, I think Lillia is bored. I can’t seem to find a Language Arts curriculum that really engages her. Everything is either too easy, or too hard, or not applicable to life. When I think about what I want for her, in terms of this subject, all I really hope is the following: that she will learn to love her native language; that she will be be able to use it effectively and creatively; and that she will gain confidence in her ability to express herself in speech and writing. Right now, we are not meeting these goals.

But, I can’t just give up because I know what the alternative looks like, too. A few nights ago, Lillia entertained us with a description of the reading book she used last year in second grade. She said it was called “My Time to Shine!” and had a picture of a chipmunk singing on the cover. She told us that, even though she was in the highest reading group, the book was ridiculously easy for her.

Today, I broke down in tears, after a morning of fighting with her over her Language Arts worksheet. My poor parentified child then had to console me, which actually made me feel worse. Despite our difficulties, she was adamant in her desire to continue homeschooling. She knows as well as I do that she needs something more challenging than singing chipmunks.

In my life, I have been nothing if not tenacious. I am not afraid of doing things differently. Challenges really do make me stronger.

Still, I would like to put it out there that I am struggling, and I am willing to admit it. I am standing at the “Gate of Great Doubt” and I know that the only way is through. I just wish I had a map or a guide. I feel a little lost.

image via.

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The Tenth Week

I apologize for the pathetic Weeks 8 & 9 post, but it was the best way I could describe our progress, which was virtually non-existent. This week, we’re back on the wagon!

Mathematics: We started Life of Fred: Dogs, and so far we have been learned a lot about doubling (including what happens when you divide a piece of spaghetti in half 100 times…it’s a BIG number). Lillia learned how to do double-digit addition in school last year, but she seemed confused when it came to three(+)-digit addition. Although not in the book, we went over how to add multiple digits to multiple digits and she was pretty proud of herself for figuring out how to add 87,654,321 to 87,654,321. It’s always fun to watch her gears turn.

Language Arts: We are making progress in the Classical Writing Primer. This week our passage was a poem by Emily Dickinson. Lillia also drew a picture of the view to the South of our house (she has previously drawn a North view, and an East view) and worked on doubling consonants when adding -er to a word.

by Emily Dickinson

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

History & Geography: We started a new unit on the Ancient Near East, and have been learning about various Mesopotamian civilizations. I am hoping to do some map work with her next week.

Literature: We are reading Gilgamesh by Bernarda Bryson. This is a great version of the Gilgamesh story that is very much appropriate for children. The violence and sexuality of the original story are very, very subdued. I would say Bryson’s version is appropriate for just about any age child. We will also be reading the Geraldine McCaughrean version, Gilgamesh the Hero. I downloaded a nice literature study for the McCaughrean version from Beautiful Feet.

Miscellaneous: We’re still plodding our way through the cursive alphabet. We’re now on the letter F. Also, we have finally finished all of the Latin letters and diphthongs, and will hopefully be moving on to some vocabularly. These are the two hardest subjects for Lillia because, well, honestly, they’re not very fun. But, some things just have to be practiced.

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The Eighth & Ninth Weeks

Weeks 8 & 9: Kind of a slog.

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The Seventh Week

This week we wrapped up our study of Prehistory. It feels good to move on to the next unit!

Here’s a glimpse of what our week looked like:

— We finished up our Latin alphabet review, covering P, Q, R, S, T, Ū, U, V, X, Ȳ, Y, & Z.

— We watched two documentaries about the Ice Age. The first was from our local library, called “America’s Stone Age Explorers.” Lillia really enjoyed watching this film, and it was a nice supplement to the material that covered in Mammoth Bones and Broken Stones, which we read last week. Later in the week, she watched “Stone Age Atlantis,” about a lost part of the European continent that has been given the name “Doggerland” by modern researchers. This is a fascinating topic, and one that is of great interest to me, personally. I think that the end of the last Ice Age must have been a very interesting time to be alive. The climate was changing dramatically, and some land areas, like Doggerland, disappeared in the course of one human lifetime. Nothing gives me chills like the thought of a drowned forest at the bottom of the North Sea. It’s no wonder, really, that so many of our earliest stories and myths are about floods! Click here to watch “Stone Age Atlantis” on YouTube.

— We worked on pluralizing with the -es suffix.

— We reviewed cursive letters A, B, & C, and learned D.

— We learned a lot from Life of Fred: Cats this week, including how the Pacific Ocean got its name, the nature of obligate carnivores, pattern recognition, germs, and determining the cardinality of various sets. This week Life of Fred also included “A Row of Practice” at the end of several chapters, which is great for reviewing the addition and subtraction skills we’ve learned in these first three books.

— We learned about three new birds this week from The Burgess Bird Book: the Song Sparrow, the White-Throated Sparrow, and the Fox Sparrow. I’m so fond of Thornton Burgess’s writing. He manages to include a lot of accurate information about the animals in his stories, while still making the tales compelling and endearing.

Some photos from the week:

Lillia working hard (not hardly working).

Why not do your work in rainbow order?

Keep the baby happily distracted with snacks.

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The Sixth Week

Wow! We’ve completed six weeks of homeschooling! This was supposed to be our last week studying Prehistory, but there are still some materials I want to share with Lillia, so we’re going to extend it for another week. I had originally planned to have six units, lasting six weeks each, for a total of 36 weeks (or 180 days) because that is the number of “regular school” days. But, what difference does it make if we go longer? None. We are the captains of this ship.

Some highlights from our week:

— We started Life of Fred: Cats, in which we learned that the Big Dipper is an asterism (a pattern of stars that is not an official constellation), and that addition is commutative but subtraction is not.

— We read some library books about Prehistory, including An Ice Age Hunter by Lucilla Watson, The First Dog by Jan Brett, and Discovering the Iceman by Shelley Tanaka. This last book, about Ötzi (a 5,300 year old frozen mummy found in the Alps in 1991), gave us the opportunity to see how theories about the past change as new evidence comes to light. We have learned a lot more about Ötzi since Tanaka wrote her book in 1996, but I still feel the book gives a lot of valuable information about Ötzi’s life, and about life in general during the late Stone Age. We also read Mammoth Bones and Broken Stones, by David L. Harrison, about human migration to North America. I also have a library video about the major theories regarding the peopling of the Western Hemisphere that I hope we can watch next week.

— We learned cursive “B” and “b” (again), and are still having great success with the New American Cursive program.

— We learned the Latin letters H, Ī, I, K, L, M, N, Ō, and O. We’re looking forward to moving beyond the alphabet and learning some new vocabulary words next week.

— We finished the first week of our new language arts program. Two days this week Lillia had to read Aesop’s fables aloud and then draw a picture to go along with the story. This is a different, slower approach to doing narrations, an activity she has resisted in the past. But, being able to paraphrase something that you read or hear is an important skill to learn, so I am pleased that this program will help her to do it with more confidence.

And, what does the baby do all day? It occurred to me that this is a blog about our little one, too, because he is also learning. He is a very busy boy, and his play is his work. During a typical day, and besides climbing on every piece of furniture we own, he…

…has sensory experiences,

…makes works of art,

…and, plays.


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The Fifth Week

I may be almost a week late in writing this post, but better late than never (or so they say). Because I am pressed for time, I will be brief.

Here’s what we covered this week:

Reading: We’ve worked through the first six chapters of Anooka’s Answer. Because I couldn’t find a study guide for this book, at least not one that I liked, I made my own. I based my study guide on the the ones offered by Memoria Press, because I thought they were very comprehensive, including sections for learning new vocabulary and questions to aid retention, as well as opportunities for discussion and enrichment.

Click here to see my study guide —> Anooka’s Answer Study Guide Ch 1-6

Writing: I decided to use a combination of two writing programs that are similar in nature. Classical Writing Primer has quite a bit of religious content, which is fine, but we are taking a more secular approach to homeschooling. So, for weeks that are focused on Bible passages, we will be substituting work from Primary Language Lessons. I think the two programs are very compatible, in terms of their approach to the material and their overall style.

Latin: We started Latin’s Not So Tough! this week. I purchased Level 2 because Level 1 is devoted almost entirely to learning the Latin alphabet, including quite a bit of emphasis on pronunciation. It seemed like overkill to me, especially since Latin isn’t really a spoken language anymore. Level 2 has a nice review of the alphabet, and flash cards for each lesson. So far, I’m pleased with the program, and hoping to learn Latin right alongside my daughter.

Handwriting: We began using New American Cursive. It seems to be working really well for Lillia. There have been no tears, and she really enjoys the Mr. Meerkat character. A friend of mine suggested that we have her circle her best letter, and I think that has really helped her to feel more positive about her efforts. Not all of the letters come out perfectly, but there is always at least one that makes her proud. Thanks for the tip, Marc!

Mathematics: We finished up Life of Fred: Butterflies. The author of this math program is kind of a quirky guy! But, he seems to have such a sincere desire to pass on his knowledge. He made a series of videos for public access TV about a decade ago. In these videos he talks about many things, but mostly they are centered on what it means to be a “Well-Educated Person.” I feel a little uncomfortable watching them, but I am really fascinated at the same time. He has many interesting things to say about life and learning.

I’m sure I missed some things but I need to be brief. It’s almost time to write this week’s update already! Probably the coolest thing Lillia did in “school” last week was to sew a pillowcase! She has been having sewing lessons with my mother on Tuesdays while I am in class. Lillia seems to be a quick learner — I was always a terrible sewing student.

Here she is with her finished work:

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The Fourth Week

It’s the end of the fourth week, and now we’re really finding our groove! After lamenting to a friend (and former homeschooler) about my daughter’s lack of internal motivation I was told that, if I was patient, Lillia would become the student I want her to be. I think my friend was on to something, because this week Lillia really stepped it up, in terms of cooperativeness, quality of work, and enthusiasm. I don’t think we had a single meltdown all week.

Even though she struggled to master cursive “b” she persisted until she got it right (there was a bit of resistance, but nothing like a temper tantrum). She seems to think that my criticizing her work is a reflection of how I feel about her, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth! However, when I made her erase the ones that came out poorly, then showed her what was wrong, she was able to do a much better job (and, I think, was secretly proud of herself).

As her teacher, I have to be objective, and be willing to point out her mistakes, even while the mom in me wants to coddle her and tell her that her work is perfect every time. How do you deal with the parent/teacher dichotomy?

Highlights from this week:

Reading: We’re still working on Anooka’s Answer, by Marjorie Cowley. This is a story about a girl living in Europe during the last glacial maximum (ice age). She discovers a hidden talent for creating figurines from clay, but this practice is prohibited for women in her tribe. Lillia seems to like it.

Writing: We didn’t do any formal writing this week, as I am still trying to choose which program to use. I have four to choose from, and they are all very different. I plan to decide over the weekend, and start a formal writing program on Monday. We are still doing our drop-down webs for history.

Spelling: We have been working our way through McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book. I will have her do little sections daily until we get to a point where she gets a certain number wrong (maybe 3 or 4?), and then we will actually do a formal study session. So far, the words are so easy that she hasn’t gotten any wrong, but the words do get harder. My husband and I had a great time quizzing each other on the later lessons.

History: We just finished our first history “spine,” Voyages Through Time: The Beginning, by Peter Ackroyd. Overall, I liked this book. It did a nice job of covering the Earth’s history from the Big Bang through the Ice Age. There were moments when the writing was almost poetic, but then times where it was quite dry. I wish he had written more consistently in the “narrative” voice, instead of trying to be so scientific. Also, the illustrations were TERRIBLE! Now, this is purely based on my opinion, and what I look for in an illustrated children’s book. What I really want is beautifully rendered watercolor illustrations. I detest computer generated graphics, which is what was used for this book. I actually didn’t really show the pictures to Lillia because they are so uninspiring. Would I use it again? Maybe. But, I would probably just use Jennifer Morgan’s series, which cover roughly the same material, but are so eloquently written and beautifully illustrated. The only reason why I didn’t use them is because Lillia has already read them many times.

Mathematics: We’re still in Life of Fred: Butterflies, but I have ordered the next book since we are almost done with this one already! I cannot praise this series enough. Lillia loves it, and even I have learned a lot from it. This week, we covered the concepts of ordinal and cardinal numbers, and orthogonal (ex: perpendicular) lines. I love that she is learning all of these concepts in such an organic way, through Fred’s life and adventures. All of the math that she learns makes complete sense in the context of the story. It’s never arbitrary. Seriously, this is an amazing math curriculum.

Science: I decided to switch gears and just spend this year doing a combination of life science and astronomy. We are reading the Burgess Bird Book for Children and recording what we learn about each bird in our science journal. This week we learned about the wren and the English sparrow. I just received my astronomy curriculum from Memoria Press this afternoon. I haven’t had a chance to really look it over, but I will certainly write more about it in the future.

On a side note, Lillia is thrilled because she has been cast as an angel in this year’s Nutcracker performance at Moco. She’s going to be busy with two dance classes plus the Nutracker repertory class, but she seems to be having fun. And, unlike last year, she isn’t exhausted in the afternoon when it’s time for practice. Getting the amount of sleep she needs, eating when she is hungry, and having time to relax during the day allow Lillia to be successful in ways she couldn’t be before (when she was sleep deprived, starving, and overstimulated at school).

Hope you all had a great week, too!

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The Third Week

Well, this was a week where we didn’t get much done. And, I’m okay with that.

Monday, Lillia climbed Mt. Monadnock with my mom (lots of pics at the end of this post).

Tuesday, she woke up with a terrible sore throat, so we shelved school for the day, and she rested.

Wednesday, same deal.

Finally, on Thursday she was feeling better, so we took up our history, math, and independent reading work. She tried to learn the cursive letter “D,” but that ended in tears.

Friday was mostly normal. The baby is now sick (poor thing!), so that is taking up a lot of my time, but we were able to do some really good work in our history book. Lillia is now illustrating her drop-down webs without my even suggesting it (we were printing out pictures from the internet). I am so impressed with her initiative. We also did our math work (we’re now on Life of Fred: Butterflies, and still loving it!), and then she watched a one hour NOVA documentary called “Evolution: Great Transformations.” (I found it on YouTube.) She really enjoyed it.

I love our cursive curriculum, but I think we need to do a lot more practice with each letter. I purchased New American Cursive from Memoria Press, to see if it might be useful as a supplement (also, I love the meerkat!). We haven’t been working much on science because I am trying to figure out what I want to do — we may do the Thornton Burgess books, and an astronomy book I ordered from Memoria. I will write about that more later, after my thoughts have had a chance to coalesce.

I’d love to hear from other homeschoolers regarding how you deal with “sick days.” Obviously, she could have done her work in bed, but it seemed cruel. I know when I’m sick my head is all foggy, so probably not much good would come of trying to think about anything, but maybe that’s just a lame excuse…

Pictures from the hike (she was pretending to be a wolf the whole time — check out the “paws”):

Mt Monadnock 011

Mt Monadnock 014

Mt Monadnock 017

Mt Monadnock 021

Mt Monadnock 025

Mt Monadnock 041

Mt Monadnock 056

Mt Monadnock 059

Mt Monadnock 064

Mt Monadnock 069

Mt Monadnock 063

So proud of her for making it to the summit! I wish I could have been there.


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