Thursday, October 6, 2016

Writing prompt: What if?

Have you ever stopped to wonder how the world would be different if you altered the life of one person in history?

On October 6, 1723, Benjamin Franklin arrived in Philadelphia at the age of 17, after spending his early life in Boston, where he was born.

Writing assignment: What if Benjamin Franklin had never been born?

Would someone else have made his scientific discoveries and improvements instead? Would the lightning rod or the bifocal glasses have taken the same successful roads if invented and improved somewhere else? 

Who would have taken his place on the Committee of Five which drafted the Declaration of Independence. History credits Franklin with some of the changes that went into that document. What would be different if he hadn't been there?

What would have changed if Franklin had not been the first Postmaster General of the United States?

If someone else had been America's ambassador to France during the Revolution would France's  policy have been the same?

Would Philadelphia's first fire department and the University of Pennsylvania look any different?

We'll never know the answers to these questions because Benjamin Franklin did, in fact, follow the path he followed. Yet it makes for a very interesting writing prompt, particularly for students familiar with Franklin's place in early U.S. history.

As a side note, this writing assignment is easily adapted to fit any particular time in history. What if Hitler had become an artist? What if Pasteur hadn't been encouraged by personal experiences to study infectious diseases?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Parent of an eighth-grader: What's on my mind?

My kids are growing up very quickly. I know we all say it, but I feel it to be true. Having an eighth-grader this year I am also feeling that the end of the tunnel isn't too far away.

This knowledge brings many questions along with it. Will we successfully complete all the classes we need to complete before time runs out? Will my student be self-motivated enough to continue through the next phase of his life without the structure that our schooling has provided? Will we get all the tests and paperwork done in time for college admission?

Many of my thoughts will be common feelings which both parents of children in traditional school as well as parents of homeschooled children can probably relate to.

Though none of us know what paths our kids will take after high school, we have decided as a family to prepare for the future as if college were the goal. Our reasoning is simple: if a different opportunity comes along, we will still reap the benefits of a rigorous education. But if we didn't prepare for college along the way, it's a bit more challenging to make up for missing classes and tests later on.

The largest items looming in my mind currently include:

*Getting our life-after-high-school antennae on: This simply means being more inclined to notice conversations other people have about what they or their students have experienced in the transition from high school to whatever comes next.

*Forming and honing good study habits: Setting goals, managing time, finding out the best times for you personally to work on certain types of tasks...Work ethic, self-motivation, and perseverance...Many of these skills are steps to success whether kids go to college or straight to a job.

*Forming and honing life skills: Everyone needs to know how to do their own laundry, basic cooking, healthy habits and  eating, money management...You need these, too, no matter what your future holds!

*Encouraging them to find their strengths, weaknesses, and interests: Knowing these might be very helpful when deciding what type of career path to follow. As a parent, I might need to give a listening ear when my students think out loud through these issues. I will also need to find time and energy to shuffle kids to extra activities or clubs if they think they might like to pursue some of these interests.

Other considerations in my mind:

*Money for college


*SATs, ACTs, the Common App...

These last three aren't quite as pressing yet, and I'm trying not to dwell on them too much right now. One thing at a time. We just keep doing our research, making connections with people who have been down this road before, and teaching and learning one day at a time.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Free catalog with articles about classical education

Do you love free stuff? Do you enjoy reading about learning and education?

Memoria Press publishes a catalog/magazine which always includes several informative articles about teaching and learning. Some recent articles have tackled the "how" and "why" of such subjects as Latin, Logic, and Literature. The web address to sign up for the free catalog/magazine is:

Incidentally, we have successfully used several Memoria Press publications over the years: Prima Latina, Latina Christiana I and II, and several of the literature study guides. I also highly recommend the title "Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child". This book, by Cheryl Swope, offers encouragement to anyone involved in educating children. In addition, it gives practical advice for teachers of special needs children. It is written from a Christian perspective.

If you're interested in learning more about the classical method of education, or would just like to learn new ideas to use in your teaching, definitely get your hands on Memoria Press's free Classical Teacher catalog!


Sunday, October 2, 2016

What would your five-year old do with your computer? Part 2

Yesterday I posted  here about some of the great benefits of giving kids access to word processing programs in order to write their thoughts and stories. It's a great way to help beginning writers get their thoughts down more quickly than they'd often be able to accomplish with pencil and paper.

We love looking back at these writings so much, I couldn't help sharing a couple more.

The first shows the five-year old's understanding that things are done in an order and that writing serves a purpose to instruct other people. If you're wondering how "useful" such writing is for kids, consider that the majority of elementary-level grammar books seem to assign this type of writing yearly.

"List of my 5th year old treat"

1. mix red up with green
2. mix for 1 min
3. put 2 eggs in
4. mix again for 3 min
5. put on a BIG plate
6. put it in the oven for 3 min
7. put cherries on it
8. enjoy girls ONLY

Though the above example would be rather unsettling to find on your dinner plate, I love the writing. I laugh that it's for "girls ONLY"--count yourself lucky, boys! Also, it shows a beginner's culinary understanding of how long it takes to stir and cook things.

The second example gives a glimpse into the child's thoughts on the day before her fifth birthday. Just so you know, all of these writing examples were used with the student's permission--she loves looking back now six years later and reading them. She's happy to share them with you.

    I can't wait for my birthday! I will make everyone giggle and laugh at my birthday! The whole world will celebrate me and my birthday! i will be 5 years old and sooooooooo supriesed! i canot wait any longer until my birthday!

A couple things are worth noting in this example. I shared an example here yesterday in which this same child spelled out "evrybody". A couple months later she seems to have gotten the hang of spelling "everyone". In the same two months, she came to an understanding that sentences start with capital letters (none of the sentences were capitalized the first time yet several were in this example).  And, of course, I smile that the whole world will celebrate this sweet child.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What would your five-year old do with your computer?

Perhaps the five-year old would write this:

Title: as i went on not being sick and i hit my nea when i was running arowned homarny park and i was me and 73 cophse

as i went on not being sick i hit my nea when i was running arowned homarny park and i was me! i decided i could tomarow be a dragon to christopher!
Key: homarny park=harmony park
        cophse= coughs

Sure, your first reaction might be to see all of the spelling errors or the jumps from one plot point to another. 

That's not what I see. I see a five-year old who already knows how to spell many common words and can sound out spellings for the rest of the words well enough so that you can actually follow what she's writing. (And she realizes that 'coughs' is irregular in some way.) She uses end marks correctly some of the time. She has heard enough stories so that she knows that great ones have a "problem". She's even left you in suspense--that's classic serial writing right there!

We made it a point to allow our kids to use word-processing programs at this age and to save and print their work. I'm so glad we did! Not only do we have some excellent material for the family scrapbook. We also gave them a chance to really stretch their wings when it came to writing for fun. The time they spent writing improved their spelling. For instance, in the example above, the child invented spellings for the other words she couldn't spell, but I believe she asked for the spelling of "decided". By using the word for her own purposes, it helped cement the word into her memory so that she would be less likely to need help spelling it the next time.

For one of my children, this time writing stories also helped her become someone who loves to write. Now six years later, you can often find her sitting with her computer in the early mornings on days-off, typing away at her computer. (As a side note, having a computer of her own was so important to her that she saved up her own money to buy one--she got tired of waiting to have a turn on the shared computers in the household!)

I'll close by sharing another story this same five-year old wrote two days prior to the story above. Fans of Kung Fu Panda will especially enjoy her antagonist:

    emma almost hit her pony shaped pinyata at the one night! she was hitting it softly so she could not make it do a boom to it when the treats would fall out and she would awake mommy and daddy and christopher! at the meantime emma hit the pinyata with 100 score! it was the time she went trikertreating outside! i did not know a little girl came with her prinsess and angels came and they marry a dog and the angels grin even dose the girl and her prinsess played with her! TRIKERTREAT! evrywon said! at the meantime at noon evrybody went to sleep! at the meantime at the morning emma woke up and saw evrybody gathered arowned her! she saw somebody! it was ti lung! GOT SOMETHING FOR YA! i said squishing to ti lung! MENCI! i said getting a new voice! DON'T YOU GET MY DRAGON POWER! I'M THE DRAGON WORYOR! SQUINCHY! NO! YOU WILL PINCH PIE NAILS! SQUINCHY! we raced form to form, day to day, and the queschin is who will win? ti lung just frowned! NOBODY CAN GET AWAY MY DRAGON POWER OR I'LL GIVE YOU A DRAGON SHOWER! i sended my mini ninjas to come distroy ti lung! they did as i pleasd! now after the fight all of us went home to my house! now you can think of us and do what we did and think how you can remember ti lung by making a snack that looks like ti lung to you when he died! think of that as hard as you can! think of it!

Friday, August 26, 2016


I wrote a while back about some of the money-related topics we've been covering this summer for our personal finance/economics discussion. You can read the initial post here

One topic we've introduced is the idea of budgeting. Budgeting is something that adults use both in their homes as well as in various career fields. It's not just adults that need to know this, though, it is applicable for pretty much any kid who is old enough to go shopping.

Let me share with you what budgeting means to my 13 year-old:
  *Number One Answer: Budgeting is useful "so you can have money". (This is interesting, because it shows a positive attitude toward budgeting, versus something that's a dreadful chore.)
  *Budgeting is a plan for "knowing what to spend and what not to spend".
  *It includes "keeping things in reserve".
  *You need to "spend less than you bring in".
  *"If you don't budget you have negative money." (Debt)

As today's title suggests, we had a real-life experiment with budgeting a few weeks ago, when we took a six-day field trip. Two days of driving were followed by two days of touring and another two days of driving.

The logistics, discussed the week before the trip:
  *Each child had a certain amount of money that they were given to spend.
  *Each could add some of their own money to that amount if they wished.
  *They planned out how much money they would want to have for driving days as well as days at the actual destination (six days total).
  *They added up the amounts and found that they either would go over their amount or they could actually add more money to their budgets on some days.
  *They took this information and made their final plans for how much money they could spend per day.
  *Each time they spent some of their money on the trip, it would be logged so they knew how much money they had left for that day as well as whether they were running over- or under-budget.
  *Each child came in under-budget. Since the money was theirs to spend, they kept it for something that they might want in the future.

This planning only took about ten minutes before the trip, and about a minute each time someone spent money. 

One great thing about this method is that it really prevents arguments about money during the course of what is supposed to be a nice trip. We all know what we have and we can make decisions along the way about the things that are really important to us, versus things that are less important. Another positive thing is that knowing how to set limits for ourselves is not just for kids. If they can determine needs versus wants now when the stakes are small, maybe it will help them make decisions when they are adults and the stakes are a little bigger.

We have also explored ways to introduce the concept of budgeting (planning, making choices, evaluating along the way) with non-money opportunities. The kids have explained that you can budget tickets at a carnival, the number of hours you have on your day off, and the set amount of electronics time you're given. It's also similar to making plans to finish a book by a certain date, choosing x number of your favorite hot lunches for the month ahead of time, and making those cookies last all week. I love the idea that budgeting can be a positive experience. It doesn't have to be about restrictions and disappointment. Instead, it's about figuring out what's really important to you both for today and tomorrow.

Is budgeting part of your personal finance discussions with your children? What has worked and what has been less succesful for you? This is one area that sharing ideas can really be useful to others!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Top 10 Quotes to Spark Discussion: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

 Discussing books can truly be one of the great joys of time spent with others! Sometimes, though, it's difficult to know where to begin. The following quotes from Jane Eyre are not only some of the "gold nuggets" of the book, still applicable today. They also provide a window into the plot and characters.  For instance, after reading the quote you can discuss the circumstances surrounding the encounter, as well as how the quote backs up or contradicts the character's usual manner. This can be an extremely enlightening exercise in delving into the literature.

#1 In Chapter 4, Mr. Brocklehurst visits the house. Mrs. Reed says some pretty negative things about Jane. Jane feels that Mrs. Reed is "sowing aversion and unkindness along her future path".

#2 In Chapter 10, the typhus outbreak has shed light on the harsh conditions at the school. The author encourages a balance in extremes: "combine reason with strictness, comfort with economy, compassion with uprightness".

#3, #4, #5 In Chapter 14, Mr. Rochester alludes to the fact that he made some wrong turns in life when he was about Jane's age. Mr. Rochester warns Jane against such folly, saying that "Remorse is the poison of life." Jane counters by reminding him that "Repentance is said to be the cure." He argues that "It is not..." though "Reformation may be..." (Note: these three quotes really say more when considered separately, and have been divided for this reason.)

#6 Chapter 21 includes this quote, upon Jane's return to visit the ailing Mrs. Reed: "Feeling without judgment is a washy draught indeed; but judgment untempered by feeling is too bitter and husky a morsel for human deglutition." Who said this quote and what does it show about their character? (And what is "deglutition"?)

#7 Chapter 23 includes a purposeful scene between Jane and Mr. Rochester in which he states, "I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you...especially when you are near me, as now. It is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous (English) Channel, and 200 miles or so of land came broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion would be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly..."

#8 Chapter 24 continues on a similar subject when Jane says, "I am not an angel...Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me-for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you; which I do not at all anticipate." 

#9 Chapter 27 includes something of  a climactic moment in which Jane must reason with herself in order to decide her next move. "Who in the world cares for you?" (Jane asks herself). "Or who will be injured by what you do?"..."I care for myself" (she decides) "Law and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour..."

#10 In Chapter 34 Jane contemplates a very different offer of marriage from a very different man. She realizes, "He asks me to be his wife, and has no more of a husband's heart for me than that frowning giant of a rock, down which the stream is foaming in yonder gorge." 

Bonus: So much is said at the end of the book between Jane and Mr. Rochester, a conclusion of so many belated thoughts and words. Each reader might find that they have a favorite quote from the final chapters which would be really great to share.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


Reading a book with someone else can be very rewarding! When discussing the book, though, sometimes it's difficult to know where to begin. Here are some things to consider about Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. The story is set in America during the Civil War and follows the struggles of one Illinois family.
(I've included some thoughts on the questions at the end of the post.)

1. What gave the author, Irene Hunt, the inspiration for writing the book?

2. Briefly describe the main event(s) of the "five Aprils".

3. Is anything left "up in the air" at the end of the book.

4. Is any character untouched by the war? Back it up with details from the story.

5. Pick one (or two) characters and explain how they are forever changed or touched by the Civil War.

6. The book mentions numerous important battles in the war. Plot them on a map. Re-create Shadrach's "line of x's" in which he sets up the geography behind the strategy.
Look into some of the the battles that are mentioned. Especially keep an eye out for first-hand accounts (especially letters) from people living at the time.

7. In the book, Jethro writes a letter to President Lincoln. Why? Choose a current issue that you are familiar with. Write a letter to the current president about this issue.

8. Do you see anything of yourself in the main character, Jethro? In what ways are you similar and different? Is there another character that you connect with?

9. Toward the end of the book, Jethro is contemplating what post-war "peace" will look like. Briefly research Reconstruction. Did it achieve the long-awaited peace?

10. Many of the characters and people mentioned in the book must grapple with the idea of right and wrong. (Wilse debating Jethro's family, Lincoln and the deserters, Jethro helping Eb are just a few). In several cases, a back-and-forth debate is given. Choose an issue which you are familiar with. Can you set up the back-and-forth arguments of both sides of the issue?

Bonus: The act of "writing" is so central to this book. Letters are used to help characters communicate with one another, newspapers bring news from the war, and the editor's English grammar book educates young Jethro. Has writing always been this important in people's lives? Is it still as important today? In a time when we can receive instantaneous text and e-mail, can we appreciate the agony of waiting weeks for news of our loved ones? When was the last time you wrote an old-fashioned letter to someone?

#1-The author's note in my copy explains how her Jethro's family was modeled after her grandfather.
#2-A sample answer: The First April-Fort Sumter and the beginning of the war, preceded by much talk, debate, and anticipation/The Second April-Jethro had just "left his childhood behind him" the week before, when his father became ill/The Third April-Jethro received his letter from Lincoln just recently which explained his April 1 plan regarding the deserters/The Fourth April-Much talk of the presidential election of 1864/The Fifth April-End of the Civil War and assassination of Lincoln
 #3-A few things left uncertain by the end of the book include Bill's final fate, the '49er son, and the state of the United States. Many readers will have their own questions which they are curious to know, which are not stated in the book.
#4-I would like to hear other people's answers to this one. Most, if not all, characters seem quite affected by the war. Even the ostracized Burdow family sees something of a change because of all this war has brought with it.
#9-The success or failure of Reconstruction is somewhat "up in the air" itself. Since it depends upon who you ask, be sure to seek more than one source of information on this topic.
#10-I find with many students that it's the process that's important here, even if we disagree on the right answer. "Can you back up your case?" "Can you do it respectfully?" "Can you do it without an ad hominem?" Knowing what the "other side" argues is also helpful in honing your own case. 

Monday, July 4, 2016


America's 4th of July is a great celebration! But why? Here are some of the Who, What, Where, When, and Whys that will help lay a foundation for understanding this national holiday.

For many families, the learning really begins in the excitement of the fireworks, in the parades and the candy, in the waving of flags.Then the kids ask, "What's so special about the Fourth of July anyway?"

1. What: The Declaration of Independence was ratified on this day in 1776. Older students can delve into the actual words of this document and discover its purpose as stated in the words of the very Founders of the United States. Younger students can be told why the 4th of July is considered the "birthday" of the United States. Students of a variety of ages can memorize the introduction and/or the preamble, or read them out loud with some patriotic music playing in the background.

2. Who: Thomas Jefferson gets a lot of attention regarding the Declaration of Independence, and very rightfully so. BUT students can also hear about John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and their roles in the creation of this document. Students can make sense of Benjamin Franklin's feelings at this time that the colonists must "hang together" or surely "hang separately". Very often overlooked in the study of the Declaration is also the person of King George, but in some ways, there would have been no Declaration had it not been for the choices of King George. (You've got to love the rather lengthy list of grievances the Founders had against the King, as listed directly in the text of the Declaration.)

3. When: Though July 4th is the date celebrated as the birthday of the United States, the work of writing took many days during that summer of 1776. Also, investigate why John Adams predicted that the 2nd of July would be a day of "pomp", "parade" and "illuminations". 

4. Where: Though Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is an obvious choice of locations to mention, it is the perfect chance to point out all 13 of the original colonies and also the location of England.

5. Why: The very best way to see the answer to this question is to read the text of the declaration itself, which explains right at the outset what the reasons were for the 13 colonies to declare their independence from England. Older students can contemplate the questions of whether the decision was justified and imagine whether or not such a document would ever be needed in the future.

6. Effects: What different reactions did colonists have when this document was read aloud throughout the colonies? What was King George's reaction? Also important to note here is that in some ways, the United States Declaration of Independence became the groundwork for many other countries in the years following. See, for instance, France a decade later.

7. Where does it fit? Some people mistakenly remember the Declaration of Independence as the beginning of the American Revolution, but studying the events ten years before and after 1776 help put the Declaration in perspective.

8. Visualize the Declaration: John Trumbull, for example, painted "The Declaration of Independence" in which he paid attention to detail as to the location and appearance of people's faces. Look, also at a copy of the original document. Some students may wish to copy a small part of the Declaration onto some parchment or "aged" paper.

9. Other resources: There are so many great books written for children about the Declaration of Independence, the Fourth of July, and the people who had a hand in making the history of this date. There are also videos that might be appropriate for your children (as always, you may choose to preview these first yourself). Liberty's Kids has an episode about the Declaration of Independence, and the History Channel made an "American Revolution" series which more advanced students might find useful.

10. Other ideas: Of course, finding ways to celebrate the 4th of July as the birthday of the United States leaves plenty of room for fun! Red, white, and blue food and crafts, local parades and fireworks, and patriotic music set the stage for creating a feeling that "There's something special about the 4th of July!" 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Money 101:Talking to kids about money

This summer, the family has embarked on an adventure we're calling "Money 101".

Why "Money 101"?

  • We're talking about the "basics" of money: needs/wants, saving/spending, getting/keeping money, and lots more!
  • It sounds so official (though really, a lot of what we're doing is just chatting about something the kids LOVE to talk about anyway).
  • It's really about developing knowledge and skills regarding money that prepare us for life.    

So far, "Money 101" has provided some neat and practical discussion in our household.

I started out by asking what my 11-year old and 13-year old know about money. They shared things like: 
                             -Money is valuable
                             -It's important to know how much you have
                             -Don't spend too much/Don't waste it
                             -Government controls many things about money (what it looks like and how much it's worth)
I then asked about what they'd like to know more about regarding money. This will help guide where we go from here.

How do you get your kids thinking and talking about money? 

How often do you talk about it together? 

How do your kids feel about money?