Archive | homeschool

Our Last Days in England // Europe with Kids // Part 7

For the start of this blog series, begin here!

Hello again! Back with more photos… you knew they were coming eventually. :) Elliott took the older kids to gymnastics this morning and told me to stay home and write a blog post. So I did!

When I left off, we’d just visited London, which was great, but we were ready to slow down again and enjoy our time in southeastern England.

Ironically, if you look at guidebooks like Rick Steve’s England, they don’t have much to say about this little corner of the country. We, however, found so much to love and enjoy. Not touristy stuff, necessarily, but beautiful, rural England was enough without any major landmarks. Here are photos from our last few days there:

Eggs for breakfast, as usual, but this time they’re from a roadside stand and an “honesty” cash box. I loved that pale blue one especially!

The day after we visited London, we stayed home most of the day and then visited Sheffield Park and Garden for an afternoon picnic. It was quiet and cool and so so beautiful!

So hard to get pictures of this guy, but I got one!

We love him so.

Back at home that evening, I took this picture of the spring blossoms outside the upstairs window, and this blurry photo of my three babies in the bathtub:

The next day we decided to visit Brighton, mostly because of the place it plays in Pride & Prejudice, and because it was within a 30-minute drive. Our first stop was a children’s museum, but the place was pretty funky (with a weird movie playing in this little theater — Lena and Elliott’s faces are indicative of the 60 seconds we spent in there). The cafe and play space downstairs were lovely, though:

Gil is an amazing reader, and he can read at what we estimate is a First or possibly Second Grade level. He picked it up pretty much on his own after his 4th birthday, after asking us lots of questions as we read to him. “Where does it say, ‘God,’ Mama?” “Where does it say, ‘school,’ Daddy?”

Lena, meanwhile, is learning at a more traditional pace. In this photo, she was working very hard to sound out a book while Gil quickly and easily read this book to Forest. I love this photo because it captures so much of life right now, and its challenges and frustrations, in this very brief and sweet stage of life.

On to a seaside playground in Brighton!

This beautiful carousel and these carnival rides along the boardwalk were a highlight of our time in Brighton. The town itself, we discovered, is pretty seedy and not at all a tourist destination. I later learned an American friend of mine lived about 30 minutes from Brighton for two years and never visited it because of its less-than-stellar reputation. So… whoops.

Another photo that captures a brief slice of life. Each morning in the place we were pet/housesitting, I served breakfast, put Forest down for a nap, and then sat down with the older children to do some schoolwork while Elliott got in a couple of hours of work upstairs. During that time I often worked on laundry, cleaning, or some editing for my copyediting job. Once Forest woke up, we’d pack a picnic and head off on an adventure for the day, usually exploring another National Trust site nearby.

Forest is up and playing with one of the two cats we were petsitting through And now it’s time to head off to… Scotney Castle!

We signed up to do an Easter egg scavenger hunt, and a little children’s nature observatory room was the first stop. When it was time to move on, Forest was so crushed when I took these cool binoculars away!

But I gave him a plum — first one he’d ever seen — in the kids’ playground on the property, and he was happy again. Love his little pose!

Like most of the National Trust historical sites, this one had a well-preserved old home to tour. I love the kids and Elliott here, with Elliott playing with Lena’s hair as he explains something about the room to them.

Afternoon tea break in the cafe! The marshmallow negotiations are going down…

My baby loves scones with jam and clotted cream too! He made this smiling face all the time at this age (11 months).

By the ruins of Scotney Castle. The owner of the property and the big house we toured apparently deliberately ruined this castle to make his garden more whimsical! Only in Europe would you have such a luxury.

We have so many beautiful photos from this day, especially of Elliott and his children — and I am sorry for the photo dump! I love all of these pictures so much, with the flowers and joy that fill them, and the memories that come along, too.

Off to church the next morning in our matching “jumpers”!

We went to a local evangelical church in Haywards Heath, the town we were staying in. We met a couple of people there who were friends of friends, and one girl who is from the States but married an Englishman. I had forgotten the joy that comes from connecting with Christians from another culture. The connection between us — random visitors from California and these Christians from Sussex, England — was amazing and beautiful because of the fellowship we share in Christ. We have such a gift on this earth to enjoy community with other Christians and to worship together around the world, and what a greater gift to know that we will spend all of eternity with these very same believers, too!

And that’s it for England. Next up… France! Coming soon. ;)

4 :: in family, homeschool, travel

What Classical Conversations Looks Like In Our Home

img_8283 My children starting school on a recent morning!

If you came into my house right now and asked Lena, “Hey Lena, can you tell me about the Hundred Years War?” she would sing:

“Yes! During the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc and King Charles VII led the French to defeat England at the Battle of Orleans. In the late 1340s, fleas on rats carried the Plague, which killed one out of three Europeans.”

“Can you tell me about how animals react to environmental change?”

“In reaction to environmental change, animals will adapt, migrate, or hibernate.”

“What about skip counting by 2s?”

And she would sing a clever little ditty to the ABC tune that ends with, “Would you like to hear some more?”

And at that point you might or you might not like to hear some more, but she can go on for a long time!

All of this information comes from different things Lena has learned in Classical Conversations. In my last post, I discussed our kindergarten curriculum, and I mentioned that we joined Classical Conversations as well. Deciding to join was a big decision for us this year, and I think we’re still adjusting. There is a lot to get used to!

For those who are unfamiliar, Classical Conversations (CC) is a homeschooling support organization. Communities or campuses are everywhere, including overseas. Last year, as we were considering homeschooling,  I learned a lot of my friends were attending the weekly “schoolhouse” meeting and loving it. Since the closest CC community meets just four blocks from our house, and because we already knew half the group, it seemed a shame not to join! We have enjoyed it a lot, but it has also been challenging. (More about this at the end of my post.)

Every Tuesday we meet with the other homeschoolers at CC for three hours. Lena is in a class with other 5- and 6-year-olds, Gil is in a nursery/preschool room, and Forest hangs out with me — which is challenging because I am required to be with Lena the whole time and help in her class. This ain’t no drop-off program! Parents are involved in every aspect.

img_6310 Some of our CC Timeline Cards on display in our dining/school room.

During those three hours, Lena and the eight other kids in her class are taught by a fellow mom, called a tutor. Lena learns the new “grammar” for the week (one item from history, math, English, science, Latin, and geography, and seven new points on the timeline), participates in an art project and a science experiment, does a 3-minute presentation on an assigned topic that she has prepared, and spends 30 minutes reviewing information she learned previously in the year.

It’s like drinking from a fire hose. A fire hose that never turns off!

That said, I have found a lot to appreciate about CC. I love that she is learning history and geography, that she is learning alongside other kids (they have so much fun!), that I am not her only teacher, and that she already is learning good public speaking skills.

And now — how do we “do” Classical Conversations in our home? I think there are about four main ways:

  • Displaying the “memory work” for the week
  • Review games and questions
  • Timeline cards with the song
  • Dry-erase maps
  • Songs from CC Connected and the CC cds

img_8558 Displaying the “memory work” for the week: This is a pretty basic thing that I think every CC mom does, but I am actually not very faithful at doing this! I am learning.

If it’s a good week, on Monday morning I will print (or write/make, but that doesn’t happen as easily) the history, geography, math, science, and English facts for the week and display them in our dining/school room alongside the seven timeline cards for the week. (CC moms, I mostly find these on CC Connected under “File Sharing” and by searching for “Tri-Fold” downloads for the week we’re on.)

A lot of moms have tri-fold or bulletin boards that they tape everything to, but in our current house I don’t have a good space to display one, so I just use painter’s tape to attach things to the wall.

img_6318 becca-garber-classical-conversations-homeschool-review-book-jpg Review games and questions: This little photo album of the weekly CC information has been so helpful for me. I made it at the beginning of the year by using downloads I found on the CC Connected file sharing. (CC moms, I searched for username “barledge” and “4×6 Flipbook,” printed all the files as photos at Walgreens, and put them in a 48-photo album I found on Amazon.)

Lena and I use this review book when we knit together on the couch, or when we play Candyland. If Lena lands on a red square in Candyland, she has to answer a science question because the science questions are red in the review book. If I land on a blue square, I answer an English question, and so on.

If Gil wants to play… well, we don’t get very far in our review!

fullsizerender-3 Timeline cards with the song: Each week we learn seven new points on the timeline, which starts with “Age of Ancient Empires” and ends with current events. Each point on the timeline has a laminated card (see above), and I keep all of them in 5.5 x 8.5 binders with page protectors.

There is also a timeline song that we use to memorize all the points on the timeline. We even learn hand motions for each point! (Well, we try… those are hard for five-year-olds.) The video above includes the entire song if you’d like to hear it. Lena and I sing the song as we flip through the timeline cards, stopping to ask questions about different ones.

fullsizerender-2 Dry-erase maps: Another thing we do is use these laminated maps to review geography. I’ll ask her to find Portugal or the Aral Sea or the Scandinavian Peninsula, and Lena will check each location with a dry erase marker. We also occasionally use our globe instead, which I purchased with charter school money.

Songs from CC Connected and the CC cds: CC has put a lot of the material children need to learn to song, such as the timeline song above. This is so helpful with memorization! The kids and I listen to songs I’ve downloaded from the CC Connected file sharing. Today they were singing about pints, quarts, liquids, and plasma with me in the kitchen as we made cookies.

We also listen to the CC cds when we drive in the car. We spend very little time in our car, though — maybe 30 minutes total every week — so this isn’t a great way for us to memorize and learn material. This is the “disadvantage” of living in a walkable community!

One question you might be asking is, “Does Lena get it? Is all this memorization worth it?”

I think the answer is NO, she doesn’t get it, but YES, she is learning, and by the end of the year she will have grown exponentially in her knowledge of history and geography. (The English, some of the science, and a lot of the math facts will be over her head for a while yet.)

If we stick with CC, Lena will learn almost all new information each year for three years. (The timeline and some of the other information stays the same every year.) Each year, the tutor in her class will introduce the material at her level and expect more of her, as will I at home. After three years, she’ll repeat all three years. This way she’ll get this information twice over the course of six years from Kindergarten-Fifth Grade. It takes some of the pressure off of this year for sure.

Is all this memorization worth it? I think so, at least to some degree. She will not remember everything she learns this year, but it’s ok. There are no tests. She might remember it in three years when she repeats all this information, but in the meantime she is exercising her memory muscles, learning so much about the world and her place in it, and gets a sense of pride and accomplishment from working hard and learning the information. These skills are worth a very great deal.

Do I love CC? Will we stick with this for all of elementary school, or all of our homeschooling years? I have nooooooo idea. I do think one of the greatest gifts of CC is community. It is hugely encouraging to hang out with other families each week, to eat a picnic lunch at the park together after class (every week because this is Southern California and the weather is always gorgeous!), and to talk and be inspired and be refreshed every Tuesday.

However, if I were presented with another homeschooling co-op with awesome classes and friendships, I am not so sure I’d do CC. I think this is because I am more excited about the community than about CC itself. I like the approach CC takes a lot, but I was also homeschooled K-12 myself and then went to a public university and had an incredible experience with like-minded believers there, so I know there are many, many ways to do homeschooling and do education in general.

I think our bottom line is: we’ll just take each year at a time, evaluating thoughtfully how each of our kids are doing, how we are doing, and what educational approach would fit our family and our kids best. We’ll stay humble, we’ll stay flexible, we’ll all keep learning together.

What do you think? Would you ever do CC? Why or why not?






19 :: in homeschool, Lena

Our Homeschool Kindergarten Curriculum


A lot of you have asked, and here it is! A complete write-up of Lena’s homeschool curriculum choices, including some information about Classical Conversations. I wish I had found a blog post out there like this when I was looking at curriculum, so I’m excited to summarize this for those who are a year or two behind me.

First of all, this year our goal was to ease into formal education and to have a lot of fun along the way. Children learn best at this age through listening to stories, playing, and living life in a loving, structured environment. So we don’t necessarily do school every weekday (although we do try), and we don’t spend more than about two hours total on school each day (including reading aloud). It’s just kindergarten! In California, it’s not even required.

Knowing myself, though, I wanted some accountability. I am much more likely to look at a free morning and say, “Yay! Let’s go to the zoo!” rather than sit down with schoolbooks and science experiments. So we signed up to be a part of two programs to enhance our homeschooling experience.

img_6422 The first was to sign up with a homeschool charter school. These, I think, are unique to California. By signing up for FREE, you are given at least $500 per semester to spend on educational materials and classes, you are assigned a California state-certified teacher who will meet up with you monthly to check on your work and give you guidance, and you can sign up for optional weekly enrichment classes, field trips, and activities. There are multiple charter schools in southern California; Julian, Dehesa, The Learning Choice, and Inspire are some.

We signed up for Inspire Charter School, and I have been very happy with this choice. With Inspire we received $1600 in the fall and $1000 in the spring to spend on curriculum and classes — with the only stipulation that they not be affiliated with religion in any way. (Hence our secular kindergarten curriculum. The texts themselves do not mention God or faith, but of course our worldview and beliefs influence our approach and teaching.) With this money we have purchased almost all the materials listed below, and Lena has taken Monart classes, piano lessons, and gymnastics lessons so far.

Our teacher meets us once a month at our local library, and she always goes over the “I Can” statements that address what California kindergartners are learning each quarter. I can write numbers 1 to 10. I can recognize food as a source of energy. I can retell a story. This way I can also teach Lena these things and make sure she’s not behind in or missing any area. We are always ahead of what the state expects, but it’s helpful to have anyway.

The other thing we signed up for is Classical Conversations, a homeschooling support community that is distinctly Christian. I’ll write more about this another day, but for now we are very happy with and grateful for this support, inspiration, and group of friends.

Last but not least: I read reviews of all curriculum on Cathy Duffy Reviews, a website that I highly recommend for all homeschool curriculum.

And now, our curriculum choices!

With Inspire, we were required to teach four subjects: Math, Language Arts, Science, and History. Here is what I chose for each one:


img_6326 img_6327 img_8543 For Math I chose Math-U-See after comparing it to many programs including Saxon, Life of Fred, and Singapore Math.

Math-U-See is a complete program that includes a fun and simple workbook as well as manipulatives (those snap-together blocks pictured above), a teacher’s manual, and even a songbook and CD. Truthfully, I have barely used anything except the workbook, which is very straightforward. Lena really likes it, too.

I bought both the Kindergarten (Primer) and First Grade (Alpha) programs together, and I anticipate that we’ll start the First Grade one before the end of the year. For First Grade I’d also like to try Christian Light Education Mathematics which looks engaging and interesting with a lot of shorter workbooks. The program is written by Mennonites, so the word problems are all about farm chores with cute, simple illustrations.


img_6307 fullsizerender For Language Arts we needed to cover reading and handwriting.

For handwriting, we are using Handwriting Without Tears, and I really like it. We bought a kindergarten workbook for Lena and a preschooler’s workbook for Gil, and they finished them in a few months. I just ordered the First Grade workbook for Lena for more printing practice. She’ll do a cursive workbook in a couple more years.

I also bought handwriting practice paper, a whiteboard to use like an old-fashioned slate, Dixon Ticonderoga pencils (the best!), and a Staedtler pencil sharpener.

For reading, we have only been using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This book is taking us quiiiiiite a while. Our experience definitely not been ‘just 100 days and your kid is reading,’ as I think we’ve been plugging through it for about a year and a half now and we are on Lesson 75 (of 100, obvi). I like the commonsense way that new sounds and words are introduced, and how each lesson reviews and then builds upon previous lessons.

For beginning readers, we’ve used the Bob Books, which are fun and quick reads. I’ve been loving books by Margaret Hillert from the library, too, which are simple, colorful, and repetitive. They were published in the 1970s and our library has about 50 of them. We also have a collection of Dick and Jane stories, which is what my dad used when he was learning to read. Gil loves them just as much as his grandfather did 50 years ago!


img_6315 I didn’t want to go overboard on science because there is a lot to cover in the Classical Conversations curriculum. So I bought just one science kit and one book. The Magic School Bus is about the level of a kindergartner, and it’s colorful and fun.

I have also purchased a few other kits: Glow-and-Grow Terrarium, Crystal Growing Kit, and Mind-Blowing Science Kit. We actually gave these to the kids for Christmas gifts! (Nerds.) I also bought this fun book of science experiments. Mostly I just want to make science fun and cool and accessible — for all of us.

As a busy mom, science kits are great. Everything I need + instructions arrive in one box, and voilà… science! I’ve also looked into signing up for a monthly craft/science subscription like Kiwi Crate or Little Passports, but I haven’t bitten the bullet yet.


fullsizerender-1 I heard a lot of good things about The Story of the World history curriculum, which includes a read-aloud history book, an activity manual with all kinds of coloring pages and craft ideas, and a CD on which Jim Weiss (our favorite book narrator) reads the history book out loud. There are four volumes: Ancient Times, The Middle Ages, Early Modern Times, and The Modern Age. For our first year with a kindergartner, one volume (just The Middle Ages) has been enough. I like the curriculum enough to want to invest in all four volumes, though, which potentially will last us through middle school because the activity manual includes assignments for kids of all ages, from coloring pages for Lena to writing assignments for older children.

This is not a Christian curriculum, so the charter school is fine with us using it. However, it is told from a classical education worldview and is very sympathetic to Christianity. In addition, the author is a well-known Christian homeschool educator.

Of course, as anyone who does Classical Conversations knows, there is a LOT of history to learn for that program alone! But there is so much to say about Classical Conversations that I will save it for another day.


img_6314 I invested in a few art materials, but we haven’t used these too much. Lena got a lot of art education from her Monart class, and she gets a weekly art lesson at Classical Conversations as well. She has, however, really enjoyed these colored pencils! We’ll use the other two books in the photo more in future years, I think.


puf11-puffin-complete-front-1200 Last but not least, we read a lot together. I used charter school money to buy this pretty set of books and this rainbow-colored collection of Puffin Children’s Classics, too. Lots of reading ahead of us! Right now I am reading Wind in the Willows aloud to Lena from this gorgeously-illustrated volume we bought at a used book sale years ago, anticipating days just like these.

And there you have it! What do you think? Do any of these books look familiar to you? Any recommendations for other things I should consider for First Grade?

I’m not sure yet if we’ll be homeschoolers forever, but for now… this is our life, it is challenging, but it has also been wonderful so far. I love our slower pace of life in which our whole family works and learns together. Are you homeschooling? Have you found the same thing?










Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
16 :: in homeschool, Lena

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes