Tuesday, December 16, 2014

7 Reasons Why We Choose to Homeschool with Classical Conversations

This is our fourth year as a homeschooling family and a lot has changed since those early days. During my first year, I was really figuring things out as I went. I had no idea what I was doing, but I read all the books, loved my kids, and we survived in one piece. The second year was a little easier and a lot more organized. We joined up with a homeschool group in Southport and that offered friendships for both myself and the children. Things were coming together, but still something was missing.

During our third year, we had just moved to our current city and I was really missing the homeschool connections we had made at the coast. But I took a leap of faith and joined the Classical Conversations community in our area and everything changed. Suddenly, it all clicked. Now in our fourth year, homeschooling is something we all enjoy and the process is so much easier thanks to CC. That's why I wanted to share with you why we have chosen Classical Conversations for our family.

1. A Clear Track 

Classical Conversations lays out a clear, concise way to educate my children from the elementary years all the way through graduation. It takes the guesswork out of homeschooling because I always know what we are working towards and the goals are always clear. In our current elementary school season, my kids are the Foundations program, where they are learning hundreds of important facts and memorizing the "foundational" materials they will need to carry them through deeper learning in later grades.

2. Developmentally Appropriate

CC works because it is based on a child's development. In the younger years, kids are sponges! They soak up information right and left and can memorize anything! We use this to their advantage by taking this ability and filling their minds full of knowledge that they will need to continue their education later. This is the called the Grammar Stage. They are learning all of those terms associated with math, science, English, Latin, history, and more.

Next comes the Dialectic Stage. This is the time when kids start asking a lot of questions. They don't necessarily take everything at face value anymore and as a mom, I will have to adjust the way I teach to enter a more conversational learning environment. CC gives me the materials to do that. The Essential Program for 4th through 6th graders lays the groundwork and then they continue in Challenge A and B during the middle school years. They start taking all of the terms they have learned and begin putting the pieces together to form a picture of the world.

Finally, we hit the Rhetoric Stage, also known as the high school years. CC offers a four-year Challenge program that will help them take all those things they learned and apply them to life. Kids go from memorization to understanding to using that knowledge to solve problems and debate key issues in our world.

3. No More Curriculum Shuffle

One of the most challenging things for me as a homeschool mom is finding curriculum that will work for my kids. They both have very different learning styles, but CC works for both of them. In the foundations program, they get everything they need through our CC program and we only add an age appropriate language arts and math curriculum. Now that Ally has started Essentials, she only needs Math because she is getting the rest through CC. It just makes life so much easier!

4. Learning With Peers

I love, love, love that CC gives my kids the opportunity to spend one day of the week learning next to their peers. They are learning to sit in a classroom, to follow directions, to walk on the right side of the hall for crying out loud! These are skills that a lot of homeschoolers miss out on. With CC, we are getting the best of both worlds. They are getting the best education based at home, but they still get to interact with their peers on a regular basis and learn how to share, get along, and function as part of a larger group.

5. Community, Community, Community

I have friends. I have real, true friends that I can call if I ever need an emergency babysitter in the middle of the night. I enjoy mom's night out events where I can sip coffee, talk about motherhood, and even show up in yoga pants without feeling judged. We are doing life together and that encouragement means the world to me. When I have questions about how to handle situations with my kids, I know I have a group of older, wiser moms to guide me and give me sound advice. I have friends that will pray for me and I will pray for them. It's community at its finest.

6. My Kids Are Geniuses

Okay, maybe not literally, but I like to think so. I'm amazed at how much they are learning. The grandparents love to have the kids show off their CC success by reciting a historical timeline of events, sharing Latin vocabulary, or pointing out dozens of locations on the map. It's more than a cool party trick - my kids are really truly learning. And if that isn't enough, they are both placing WELL above grade level on end of year tests. CC works.

7. It's All About Jesus.

Classical Conversations is not just a classical approach to education - it's also a Christian approach. I love that my kids are learning church history as a built in part of their history studies. I love that when we learned about the constellations last year, we learned how each of the astrological signs can actually paint a picture of the gospel. I love that they are memorizing huge chunks of scripture. I love that it's all about Jesus. There are families in our CC group that are not Christians and that's okay too. They still love CC because it works. And I love that they are there because it gives us a chance to share our faith. The motto of Classical Conversations is simple: "To know God and to make Him known". If that doesn't give me a clear track and goal for my homeschooling journey, then what else is there?

In case you can't tell, I'm a big fan of CC. If you are homeschooling and you want to find out more about how this incredible model of education works, I'd love to tell you more! If you are a mom that is tired of the curriculum shuffle and you are frustrated with trying to keep your kids on track, consider CC. I can tell you from experience that it works. It really, really works.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Blessing

It has been 18 months since we loaded up the moving van. A year and a half since we waved good-bye to our friends and crossed the bridge off the island. So much time has passed since I walked into this old house stuffed full of childhood memories, determined to bring my grandmother back to her home, now my own. Soon after that, I held her hand as she left this world to go to her eternal home. Moments before she left me, I scribbled "I love you" onto the palm of her hand just as she had done to me so many times over the years… our own little secret game to communicate private messages.

After she was gone, I grieved. I wept over losing her. I wept over living in her house, full of memories yet so empty in her wake.

"How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God."

Over the past year, my grief has often threatened to swallow me. Stirring cookie batter in my kitchen using her old spoon, I would feel the tears pooling in my eyes. Sitting in her spot on the rusty old porch swing with peeling paint, I would choke back the regret of never bringing her home to me.

"Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may have her young - a place near your altar, 
Lord Almighty, my King and my God."

But gradually, the tears were replaced by joy. The old yearning for my island was replaced with a new determination to make this house a home again. And in the midst of that, I worshipped. Sometimes it happened reluctantly, sometimes it felt even forced, but still I couldn't escape the draw to sit at His feet and to let Him whisper truth over my own grief.

"Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs;
The autumn rains also cover it with pools."

During this season of my life, I have prayed in circles. Sometimes praying one way and then going another, unsure even how to approach the Holy Throne room for our journey. So many times I silently wondered what God was doing, if we had made an error that was far too grave to be redeemed.

"They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion."

But while I felt we were wonderers in a desert of uncertainly, we were really just on another leg of the journey. Pieces started coming together, slowly at first and then a steady stream. In our weakness, we found His divine strength. When all was stripped away, I found that only one thing remained. It was in the emptiness that I found that rock solid foundation that I had always known was there.

Through so much toil in my lifetime - infertility, miscarriages, hysterectomy, a horrible diagnosis for the man I love most, fear for my children's future health - at the bottom of it all, we were not walking from one pit to the next. We were moving "from strength to strength". Like a runner, constantly stretching our muscles to make us stronger for the next task at hand.

"Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
Listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield, O God;
Look with favor on your anointed one."

Suddenly, it didn't matter where we would live. Stay or go. Put down roots or pack another moving truck. All that mattered was living, breathing, existing in HIS presence. He goes with us anywhere. There is freedom there.

"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God 
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor."

As He aligned my heart with His ways, the old desires remained. I still miss my grandmother dreadfully when I sit on the porch swing. I still long for the island, our people, our ministry dream. But there is hope because no matter where we are, He is here. No matter how we arrange the ins and outs of daily living, He steers our path in the direction of His Sovereign will. It's bigger than us. It's not about us. It's about Jesus.

"No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in You."
(Psalm 84)

The blessing is in the trust. The joy comes when I let go, lean back in His arms, and fall into the soft lap of His grace that is big enough to swallow all of my own shortcomings. There is nothing too big for my God. Nothing can separate me from His love.

If you are swimming in "What If?" or "What Now?", can I just encourage you to let go? Move from strength to strength, just as our Father intended. Let His gentle hand guide you through the grief and the joy. Sit in His presence and watch as He puts the pieces together, just as He intended.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Learn About the Nervous System in CC Cycle 3 Week 4 Science

I'm dusting off the blog and coming back to share some of our latest adventures! Last year, we began a new journey with Classical Conversations as our basic homeschooling curriculum. It was much different than anything we had tried in the past, but we simply fell in love with the method. It works and even better… it's fun!

So this year, I gathered my courage and accepted an invitation to become a CC Tutor. That means that I spend one day each week with a class of extremely energetic homeschool kids. I am tutoring my son's group so most of the kids are 1st and 2nd graders. As a tutor, I send out a list of resources to parents each week to continue learning concepts at home after they are introduced in class.

As I was typing this week's super long list of resources, I realized that it might be simpler to just place them on this blog! Then the parents and my other homeschooling friends could access them without me sending a gazillion emails each week.

This week, we'll start out with Science. In week 4, we are learning about the Central Nervous System. Here are some ideas to try at home with your kids!

Make a cute brain puzzle with this printable template from The Crafty Classroom.

Build a spinal cord using an old egg carton! We have been doing a lot of spinal cord and vertebrae models lately and it has really helped my kids get a better understanding of how these body parts work and why they are so crucial!

Here is a fun printable game to help kids learn how the nervous system works and how it impacts the various parts of the body!

Build a brain hat! Plus there is even a song that goes along with it.

Leave it to Martha Stewart to come up with these adorable brain cupcakes! I'm thinking I might make them as mini meatloaves and use mashed potatoes to shape my brains on top!

I also highly recommend this Brain jello mold. I bought one from Amazon and I am already thinking of lots of fun ways to use this for both science and Halloween! 

If you want a video to round things out, your kids might like this one

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Monday, October 14, 2013

A Reminder to Get You Through Monday

Sit down in His presence, making time for more than a passing prayer. Take time to just BE with the Lord today. Let Him work it out within you, even when you don't see it working out around you. He has plans for you this week, this month, and this year. But you have to be still and listen to His still, small voice if you want to understand what those plans will look like for you.

Laundry can wait. Your children can amuse themselves for a few minutes. Find a quiet corner and spend time with Him. Your week will suddenly look a whole lot different.
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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Homeschool Science: First Month of School

Science is another favorite subject for my kids. Each week at our CC meeting, they get to do an experiment with their friends and we follow up at home with science memory work and more hands on activities. Here is a quick look at what we covered in science during the first four weeks of school.

Week 1 - Biomes

During the first week, we looked at all the different kinds of Biomes. We found some great videos on YouTube and we've also made good use of Netflix for watching old episodes of "Magic School Bus" that corresponded with the biomes. I also used Classical Conversation's file sharing membership to find some great resources.

Week 2 - Carnivores, Herbivores, and Omnivores

Next up, we learned about different types of consumers. The kids each made a chart for their notebooks with different shaped teeth and they put animals in the appropriate category. Here is a picture of Walker's chart.

Next, they cut out pictures of food from the supermarket flyers. 

Then they glued them down onto three separate plates: one for carnivores, one for omnivores, and one for herbivores.

Then we rounded up all the animals we could find and invited them to come have lunch. Of course, they had to figure out which plate would be right for each animal. We let them eat and then put them in a pile and had a speed challenge to see how fast we could put them on the right plate again.

And just FYI, that My Little Pony is definitely an herbivore.

Week 3 - Food Chain

Our third week was all about the food chain. I didn't take a lot of photos of our science lessons in week 3, but here are a couple shots of the kids working on their notebooks. They colored pictures of producers, consumers, and decomposers. Then we glued them in the notebooks.

They also spent some time outside trying to find decomposers. So basically, I had earthworms EVERYWHERE for a week or so. Fun times, but it was all for the sake of science. ;)

Week 4 - Natural Cycles

During the fourth week, we looked at the natural cycles. Our favorite one was definitely the water cycle. We did a couple of experiments to watch the water cycle in action. 

For our first experiment, we put boiling water in a glass jar, then placed a baggie of ice on top. Then we waited and watched to see condensation form. We also saw evaporation when we lifted the bag of ice because the steam would quickly rise to the top.

Our next experiment was to find out how God creates rain. We learned how water evaporates and then the clouds become heavy with condensation until BAM - precipitation! So we started out by creating a little atmosphere with a glass of water. We added shaving cream on top to be our clouds.

Then I mixed some blue food coloring in a glass of water and we slowly dropped the water onto our clouds, one little drop at a time. At first, nothing happened. But as the drops continued to collect in our clouds, they eventually got too heavy and it started to "rain" in our glass.

So that's what we covered in our first month of science. What kind of projects have you been doing?
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Homeschool History: The Middle Ages

During the first mont of school, we studied the Middle Ages during our history time. This is definitely one of our favorite subjects! Each week as part of our Classical Conversations memory work, we have a history fact to memorize and then throughout the year, they are working on learning a timeline that goes from Creation to Modern History. 

To form our actual lessons, we take the history sentence for the week and we just expound on it and they learn the story behind it, the people involved, and why it matters. Here is a look at our first 6 weeks of history studies.

Week 1 - Charlemagne

For the first week, we learned all about how Charlemagne was crowned holy Roman emperor of Europe. We read about Charlemagne in our Story of the World book, we colored pictures of him wearing his crown, and we acted out the story about 8 gazillion times. Then I sent the kids outside to collect some big sticks, which we wrapped in foil and duct taped together to make swords. We also made crowns out of construction paper.

Here they are acting out the story with their meanest "ready for battle" faces. And I think Walker is holding his sword upside down. Ha!

Week 2 - William the Conqueror 

During the second week, we studied William the Conquerer and the English invasion of 1066. We also talked a lot about feudalism during this week. We watched some YouTube videos that showed real castles in England so the kids could actually see what they were like. Then we made a card game where we could play "war" and "memory" using different members of the feudal society. 

My favorite activity we did during the second week of school involved cardboard... a lot of cardboard. I saw this idea on Pinterest a few weeks before school started so I asked grandparents to help me collect toilet paper tubes and paper towel tubes. I also saved some random boxes and empty pringles cans. We took all this trash and made huge castles!

Basically, we just duct taped it all together, cut out windows and doors, and then spray painted the whole thing with "oil rubbed bronze" paint (that's what I happened to have in the garage). We even added some yarn to make draw bridges on the doors and a pringles can made the perfect lookout window. As you can see, our kitten Penelope claimed one of the castles as her new home.

After the castles were complete, they gathered up all the barbies and action figures and created their own little feudal societies and played and played and played. At one point, I walked out on the porch and they had recruited some of the neighbor kids to come play "peasants" and "barons" with their castles.

You can really see how each of their castles is different in this photo. I had a lot of fun just watching them get creative and make up different designs.

Week 3 - The Crusades

During the third week, we studied the Crusades and we read the stories of Elanor of Aquitaine and her son, Richard the Lionhearted. This particular week's story peeked our interest in the Benge family heritage. We knew that the family line went back to England, but we decided to trace it. Ally and I spent hours working on building a family tree and digging and digging and digging on Ancestry.com. But we did manage to trace it back to England around the time of William the Conqueror, which is when they first began using surnames. Pretty cool!

Week 3 was a BIG project week. Since we were learning about the crusades, we started out by making shields for battle. These were made out of cardboard and covered in tin foil. Then they decorated their shields with glitter and glue.

They turned out pretty cute and they played with them a lot along with their swords. :)

Next up, it was time to get dressed for the Crusades! So we headed out to the garage to make Crusader vests. I took some old white t-shirts and cut off the sides. Then they painted the red cross symbol of Crusaders on their vests.

 But we didn't stop there. No, I had an idea that turned way bigger than I initially planned, but it ended up being something we will all remember for a long time. We had a Medieval Feast! :)

On that Friday, we spent the whole day transforming our dining room into a middle ages setting and we made an authentic medieval meal. We invited "Mammaw and Pappy" to come over for our feast that night. The kids worked hard all day to get everything ready.  Here you can see Ally kneading the dough for our bread. And thankfully, it wasn't the actual Medieval period and I had my kitchenaid mixer to help me out. :)

Here is a picture of the dining room when they finished decorating. They made pendant banners with different crests on them. Then we found a white sheet to be our tablecloth and added all the candles I could find. The placemats and table runner are from the dollar section of our supermarket. They looked like paper doilies, but the gold was a perfect touch! We also used plastic goblets for our drinks. The kids made a crown for each guest to wear and they put a menu at each seat.

Here is a picture of our menu. We had four courses and the kids were the "peasants" and they served their grandparents and their daddy dinner. I just supervised, but they did the work. As you can see, we named our dishes with a lot of creativity. ;)

Here is a closer look at the banner they made. They each decorated half of the flags and then we strung them up with yarn.

Here is a picture of our "peasants" with the dinner guests. They wore their Crusader vests because they planned to leave for the war after they finished serving the food. ;)

Speaking of the food, they were BIG fans. They even enjoyed the "Trotter Stew" which involved boiling pig's feet for 6 hours. Yes, I actually bought pig's feet and we cooked them all day. We didn't tell Mammaw and Pappy what the meat was in our stew until after they ate it. Evil, right? The funny thing is that they LOVED it and Pappy had two bowls. You should have seen their faces when the kids told them what our "secret recipe" actually included.

We started out with no silverware, but ended up breaking out the spoons for dessert. Walker had dessert going with one hand and another chicken leg going in the other.

At the end of our feast, Walker put on his homemade "joker" hat and came in and did some magic tricks. He told a few jokes and did a very good job of keeping us entertained.

A few minutes later, we had a surprise visit from the Pope! Our Pope gave a rather impassioned speech about why we needed to take back Jerusalem and invited us all to join the Crusades.

We made her hat out of construction paper. Cute, huh?

The evening ended as the kids marched away to battle with their swords and shields.

Of course, Mom was the true peasant... I got to do the dishes. ;)

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Start of A Brand New Homeschool Year

Our 2013-2014 homeschool year started in August, but I'm just now getting around to uploading photos. This is our third year of homeschooling and we are doing things a little different this year. For one thing, we've joined Classical Conversations! I did a lot of reading about this program and then we prayerfully decided to pursue it. God provided financially to make it happen for our children and we are all loving it. Classical Conversations has transformed our homeschool, but I will share more about that in a later post.

For now, I wanted to post an overview of our 2013-2014 curriculum along with a picture and their first day of school "interview". These are mostly for my own record keeping, but I figured some of our far away friends might enjoy seeing the updated photos too.

Allyson - 3rd Grade

This year, the majority of Ally's curriculum is coming from Classical Conversations. We added in Houghton Miffin math and we're reading our way through lots of literary classics this year (adapted for young readers).  Here was her first day of school interview answers:

Age - 8
Favorite Color - yellow, pink, purple, and green
Favorite Animal - cat and dog
Favorite Food - Daddy's hamburgers and Nutella
When I Grow Up - I want to be an artist, singer, and sell lemonade at festivals.
Best Friend - Lily and Sarah. We have a club called BFFCB.
Favorite Toy - HopHop my bunny, Snuggles, and my pogo stick
Favorite Book - The Babysitter's Club series
What do you want to learn this year? Lots of art!

Walker - 1st Grade

Walker's first grade is my first ever "repeat" in homeschooling. We started homeschooling when Ally was in first grade. Where has the time gone?! I started the year in hopes of basically reusing the same curriculum I had from Ally's first grade year. However, after just a month, I'm quickly seeing that their learning styles are just too different and that might not work. He is also doing Classical Conversations (and loving it!), but we are supplementing that with math and language arts curriculums.

For Math, we are using Math Made Easy as our workbook, but the majority of his math work is on the floor with blocks and manipulatives. Walker is my "sizzler" and he likes to move, move, move! For reading, we started with the Scholastic Early Reader's program and it was a major FAIL. It worked beautifully for Ally, but not for Walker. Too many bright colors, too many distracting pictures, and too many words crammed on a little page. So we've changed direction and now we are using some very old reading primers and it is working beautifully! Here are the answers from Walker's first day of school interview:

Age - 6
Favorite Color - I have several. Blue, orange, green, and sometimes I like brown.
Favorite Animal - Cows, but I don't know about milking one.
Favorite Food - Watermelon
When I Grow Up - I want to be a carpenter and a baseball player and a Daddy.
Best Friend - Lily and Sarah and Riley 
Favorite Toy - Remote Control Motorcycle
Favorite Book - The Foot Book (Dr. Seuss)
What do you want to learn this year? Where do clouds come from? Where do boogers come from?

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