Wednesday, August 20, 2014

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday: Because it might not be said for another 10 years....

Yes, I do sometimes know what I'm talking about.  There are many times I'm wrong (I've always tried to do my best to admit my mistake and apologize), but every once in a while, I know what I'm talking about.

This was one of those times. 

Ben is 15.  Yep. Ten to 20 is about the right number of years until I hear these words from my sweet boy young man.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Putting yourself out there: the fruit of Classical Conversations

One of the great things I've noticed about Levi this summer is that my little boy has made huge improvements in his soccer game!  He has  improved so much and is actually out on the field seeking after the ball, getting involved in trying to steal it away from the opposing team, and volunteering to be a goalie.  Truly, this is a different child than the one who played soccer last summer;  in fact, he is SO excited to play fall travel soccer and cannot be talked out of it.

This past year, Levi had to give a weekly 3-minute presentation in his Classical Conversations program.  Yes, weekly!  Twenty-four times, my shy-guy had to stand in front of a (safe) (encouraging) group of his playmates and peers and talk about something -- a place in the world, an event in history, a favorite toy or picture. He practiced making eye contact, answering questions, speaking loud enough to be heard.  Then he practiced being a good listener when his classmates had their opportunity to speak.

What a blessing this past year was!  I am grateful and thankful for the wonderful mama/ tutors who sat in his class last year and encourage Levi and all his classmates in their public speaking.  I know that it was a great opportunity for him to put himself out there -- make himself vulnerable -- and I think it is paying off in other areas of his life.

God is good!

{And, yes, I'm a bad mom!  I always forgot my good camera when I went to soccer practice}

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Grammar of Poetry {Crew Review}


We are usually pretty ‘light’ on poetry in this house – it has always been a genre of literature with which that I’ve felt uncomfortable as a teacher or learner.  But when Roman Roads Media offered to me the opportunity to review their The Grammar of Poetry Bundle ($100), I was happy to give it a try.

Written by Matt Whitling, The Grammar of Poetry Bundle includes the following items (prices are listed as if the items were purchased individually): 

  • Student text/ workbook ($22.00)
  • Teacher edition ($24.00)
  • 4-disc DVD set ($85.00)



The purpose of this video-based curriculum is to help middle-school aged students (roughly 6th – 9th grade, but older students who have little experience with poetry would benefit from the program as well) understand the basic elements of this genre.  In 30 lessons (plus a final exam), students will cover the following topics:

How to Read Poetry
Iambic foot
Trochaic foot
Anapestic foot
Dactylic foot

Spacial Poetry
Rhetorical Question

The program is written to be used 3 times per week (in 30-minute sessions), therefore this entire course could take 10 or so weeks. In the classical model, students are using the technique of imitating excellent and worthy models, such as Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Land of Nod, Robert Browning’s The Laboratory, and Beowulf.  (Since it is summer, we definitely broke the course into smaller chunks;  the teacher guide does give allowances to home educators who want to spread this course over a semester or longer period of time).


What is included:

The Student textbook /workbook has a softcover, 157-page book with a glossary and appendix of poems grouped by type (epic poems, historical poems, poems about God, etc.)

The Teacher’s edition is an exact reproduction of the student book (with answers to excercises).  Also included are instructions for teaching (the appendix D has suggestions for home educators which supplement the instructions in the forward of the book).  This edition also includes the student final exam (and answers) as well as a section with suggestions on how to properly grade poetry.  I do which there was more of a graphical rubric for grading the imitation assignments, however, it is something that I will pull together on my own prior to school starting this fall.

With the purchase of the DVDs, you will actually have Mr. Whitling walking your student through the text of their workbook.  Each DVD lesson (30 in all) is about 15-___  long.  This gives you enough time to work through the exercises in the student book in easily 30-40 minutes (I guess it depends on how much you need to drag your student through the information!)  Here is a sampling of the lectures:

Now, here is where Mr. Whitling had me:  Lesson 2.  In this lesson, he begins with the concept of “Thankfulness in Poetry.”  As I alluded to earlier, my boys were kickin’ and screamin’ with this review (..and whinin’…and complainin’…), but I absolutely LOVE Mr. Whitlings calm, logical and godly attitude adjustment that he gives to students (especially boys) who are not coming into this course of their own free will.  He really speaks to the prejudices that boys often bring to the study of poetry (the touchy-feely, “girliness” of poetry’s topics) and winsomely asks them to come with an open mind.

The course progresses through standard concepts of poetry – meter, rhyme, foot, etc., but of course you’ll also come across some common ground it shares with prose – literary elements that all writers use.  I really appreciated that Mr. Whitling’s course reached back to literature to show students that literary tools (tropes) of simile, metaphor, and personification are elements that my boys have already learned about, but are now playing with in this new form of writing. Helping to show students common elements in prose writing and poetry makes poetry a little less fearful.

He walked us through each of the exercises’ directions and did a great job explaining the task;  then, we stopped the DVD and worked through the tasks ourselves.  I totally agree with the suggestion that home educators work through the exercises alongside their students to model learning this subject; it will bless poem 2your children to see you learning and will give you an opportunity to assess their comprehension and mastery of the material.

Each lesson has a few easy exercises to help students learn the grammar (or basic) concepts of poetry.  In the 3rd or 4th week of the course (if you are completing 3 lessons/ week), students begin having imitation exercises. In lesson 11, students will have their first opportunity to write a poem, modeled after “The Land of Story-Books” by Robert Lewis Stevenson.  Mr. Whitling uses the structure of this poem (the meter/ rhyme scheme) to help students create their own work.  After helping students to see these patterns (and giving lots of great tips!), he provides a student example which really helped to show that writing a narrative poem isn’t so hard!

My recommendations & thoughts:  Levi, who is a little young for this review, is a trooper and sat through some of it – I suspect I’ll work through it again when he is in 6th grade or so. Luke did great with the beginning of the course (considering it is poetry).  The clear cut nature of the teaching style – and the emphasis on imitation in creation of original works provides a child-friendly (need I say boy-friendly?) systematic approach to a topic.  As a mom of boys, I appreciate that the poems used throughout the text were not overly feminine (as Mr. Whitling says, “butterflies and rainbows.”) but represented classical poetry with a little testosterone for good measure.  Truly, this is as boy-friendly a poetry course as I can think of!

Roman Road Media was generous to the Review Crew in providing a variety of their curriculum to try out (I cannot wait to read about the US History course!).  Please click the Schoolhouse Review Crew link below to read about Latin, US History, Ancient Western Culture and more.

Connect with Roman Roads Media:

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

My Summer Projects - Part One


I had three goals this summer:  re-organize the school room; have fun and build memories; get ready for next school year as a Classical Conversations Challenge II director + parent/ teacher of my own kids.

I  purged 3 boxes of curriculum to give away/ sell at our used curriculum sale in June, and managed to only have one box return to me unsold.  I made $93 (enough to purchase a second microscope for the biology class I tutor), and started my de-cluttering of the schoolroom. 

Dave helped me to put up another bookshelf in the schoolroom – a wall-mounted shelf so I could reclaim some floor space.  

2014-06-19 21.07.04

It is very nice having a strong young man in the house!

2014-06-19 21.58.53

Here is the new L-shaped wall shelf. It is 4 ft. unit, which can provide 12 linear feet of storage.

love. love. love!

2014-06-22 13.48.42-2

Purging, sorting and storing, oh my!

With 10+ years of homeschooling behind us, we have acquired a wonderful library of books and materials.  I’ve always used the “library” system in our office – which to me means that we keep all of our books and materials handy, categorized by subject or history cycle (Ancients, Middle Ages to 1600, Early American/ 1800s, 20th Century/ Modern).  My darling husband suggested that I store books we will not be using this year – so I put our history books from creation through the Renaissance/ Reformation away. I also stored curriculum sets and instructor’s guides in the basement as well.  My schoolroom closet and shelves are so much better!

2014-07-27 20.24.51This is the command center;  printer, paper supplies, the boys’ binders, workbooks, and curriculum; slots to turn in their papers.  The hooks and clips hanging on the wall were used last year for our CC timeline;  this year, I’m planning on using them to display art projects, hang our memory work flashcards, and generally serve as a catch-all for head phones and ear buds (those things turn up everywhere!)
2014-07-27 20.25.51There used to be two white bookshelves side-by-side on this wall.  It made the window area cramped.  I really like having three locations for the couch – under either windows or under the suspended L-bookshelf.
2014-07-27 20.26.31

I’m obviously not one of those people who posts perfectly designed and organized pictures of our rooms!  There is still a big pile of Ben’s freshman year schoolwork that needs to be stored in the basement.  I’m planning on purchasing a few more 4” binders so that I can keep our required 3-years of portfolio (for state law) organized and not have to keep swapping papers out. These will be stored in the basement.

(And, yes, at certain points in the day, our schoolroom looks like a yellow highlights.  I don’t care for it, but this is a hard room to paint.  Plus, the yellow is more than cheery to help me through the long winters.)


I still want to replace the particle-board bookshelves (in white), and plan to do that over the next few months as I set aside some money for it.

Reorganizing the bookshelves has allowed me to finish the boys’ portfolios for the year, and I’ve been working on a template to create course descriptions for Ben’s high school level work.  I’ve only completed 3 of them – I think I have 4 more to go.  The resources over at The Home Scholar have been inspiring and so helpful as I create Ben’s transcript and course descriptions.

The reorganizing has also allowed me the opportunity to clear out other homeschool materials that had started to clutter spaces in the living room and dining room.  I brought a nightstand down to the living room, and one of the drawers if for teacher guides and read alouds that I use with the boys. The other drawer is for my Bible study tools. 

We also acquired a  futon/ bunk bed for Ben’s room.  What teen wouldn’t want a couch in their room?  I thought the bunk/ futon combo would be good for him and if he has a friend sleep over, they can crash on it. I’m trying not to nag him about cleaning his room (as Dave has reminded me, we’ve taught him what to do, the rest is up to him).  He did have to do a major clean in order to get the new bed and mattresses into his room;  and I admit, I did nag him to finish cleaning it once the bed was in place.  Now it is time to let him be in charge of his stuff.

I’m hopeful that with the extra room we have in the schoolroom + Ben’s new acquisition, we can keep at bay the curriculum scatter that seems to happen over the course of the year.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Memoria Press Literature Guides {A Review}


memoria press

One of the things I’ve grown to realize over the past year is that I need “guard rails”  to help me stay on track with different components of our homeschooling.  When our Classical Conversations year ended and my youngest two were finishing up math, spelling and reading, I began looking for literature guides that would keep me focused on engaging Luke and Levi in good discussions about good books.

I really wanted to try something new, and after looking around, decided that Memoria Press’ literature guides might be what I needed.

3rd grade

After contacting Memoria Press, I was sent both the Third Grade Literature Set ($69.00) of teacher and student guides and the Fifth Grade Literature Set ($95.00) of the same. For a little more, you can purchase the teacher and student guides with the literature books themselves. I also received PDF downloads of both literature set Individual lesson plans ($8.00).  We had several of the books on hand here, so we used our own copies of the literature books, however you can purchase the guides + books as a set at the Memoria Press Website.  Additionally, each of the student and teacher’s guides can be purchased individually.

5th grade_thumb[1]

How We Used This: 

The 3rd grade Literature Lesson Plan schedules out reading and literature guide assignments for 33 weeks.  It also includes some additional readings (The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and some poetry selections from Poetry for the Grammar School).  The 5th grade Literature Lesson Plan offers 34 weeks of lesson plans.  Quizzes and Tests are included in both grade levels.

3rd Grade Literature

Farmer Boy
The Moffatts
Charlotte’s Web
5th Grade Literature

Adam of the Road
The Door in the Wall
Robin Hood
King Arthur

The Lesson Plan also provides some teaching suggestions.  One thing that I noticed is that the lesson plans are primarily written for classroom teachers.  However, I did not feel that the suggestions were impossible to adapt to our one-room schoolhouse.  The guide even suggests spending a day reading the week’s chapters silently, then re-reading them aloud (presumably with the class) while working through the guide.  We adapted to spend one day reading the chapter, then working through the guide orally and in writing the next day.  I know this definitely slowed down our progress through the book, but it was workable for late in the school year/ early summer.  After our first couple weeks of trying to follow the lesson plan pacing, Levi and I abandoned it; it just didn’t mesh with our style.   He was much more comfortable alternating reading and study guide materials compared with the pacing in the Lesson Plan.  I am glad I have them, as it helped me to understand how the book and guides are designed to work together, however, I can see that they are really not necessary for the future.

The Teacher’s Guide includes instructions on how to help students be smart readers for each of the book – encouraging note taking while reading the books, pre-reading comprehension questions for focused reading, etc.   The guide has answers printed on each of the full-sized reproductions of the student workbooks pages, as well as quizzes, tests, and answers for discussion questions. 

The Student Workbooks all have a similar structure for each chapter and each book.  Each chapter’s study guide has the following sections:

lit guide

  • Reading Notes – This section provides some additional information about characters introduced in the chapter, settings, and other contextual information to increase comprehension. 
  • Vocabulary – Several words are provided in the context of a phrase.  Students are asked to write down brief definitions.  These words are reviewed again in quizzes and on tests.  The boys and I used this as an opportunity to hone dictionary skills (both with a hard copy and e-copy) and thesaurus skills.  I usually asked the boys to try to define the word for me (sometimes I’d search out the word in the text of the book for additional contextual information) and then we’d seek out a concise definition or look up a synonym for the word. 
  • Comprehension Questions – These questions deal with the factual events that occur in the story.  Students are encouraged to write complete sentences.  This section worked much better for Levi (who is more willing to sit and complete a workbook page) than for Luke.  Luke’s pages are mostly empty, because I found that it was better to work on verbal discussion with him compared to physical writing.  However, Levi and I would often discuss the answers to the questions, then I would leave him to write out answers to help with penmanship, sentence formulation, and punctuation/ capitalization.  When we return to the guides in the fall, both boys will be held accountable for more written work than in our pre-summer days.
  • Discussion Questions – These questions begin with a quote from the chapter and then turn to several questions that turn to less concrete discussions of character motive, plot development, etc. Answers and information for each of these questions are in the Teacher’s Guide.
  • Enrichment- A variety of tasks are incorporated into this section.  Copy work, composition, map work, and even some additional research (especially into historically significant details of the stories) are incorporated into this section.  We certainly did not do every activity from this section – again, with Luke, we often just discussed the material. 

Extra practice sections, which come periodically throughout the guide (and vary by book) help students focus on literary elements such as characters, setting, and plot. 

Reviews, quizzes and final book tests are included in each of the teacher’s guides. I haven’t yet focused on these (we’ve done some quizzing orally at this point), but I plan to introduce them more formally to Luke especially as he advances through his 6th grade year.

Memoria Press Lit Guide Review_thumb

The Student Guides often have additional information in the appendices of each book, such as poems, a glossary, recipes or drawings of items important to the book.  If you are a person who likes arts and crafts that go along with literature, these guides do have some material, but you will probably want to search online for additional crafts, games, and recipes to supplement what is included in the guide.

My Thoughts and Recommendations: I think that these can be useful guides and are certainly easily adapted to meet the needs of a variety of students.  Written workbooks do not have to be always filled in completely, and I know it stresses Luke out to see an entire workbook with blank lines in it! Therefore, I’ve had to adapt our use and be a bit non-traditional by working through the guide orally.  I do think it is important for Luke to be able to do written work, and I plan to introduce it gradually to him as our fall begins.

Levi, on the other hand, loves workbook pages;  as a matter of fact he whined when I told him we would do some of the comprehension questions orally. 

For both my learner types (Type A and hands-on, auditory), these books can serve the purpose of helping students with reading comprehension and beginning literature skills.  I’m looking forward to re-starting school and being able to walk through these books with my sons. (I hate to admit that I’ve never read Robin Hood before!) 

I’m not convinced that I would need to purchase the individual lesson plans in the future;  There is enough flexibility in the program that you can easily work with the guides and mold them to fit yours and your child’s reading style.  I personally think they work best by alternating book reading with guide work.  That way, information is fresh for discussion. 

Small Dandelion_thumb[1]FCC Disclaimer:  I received free copies of these guides and lesson plans from the vendor in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.  This disclaimer is written in compliance with FCC regulations.