Taking a Break and Organizing Bookshelves

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We don’t have Classical Conversations this week, so we are taking a break from our regular homeschooling schedule. We aren’t taking a complete break, but we are taking it easy.

Today we spent several hours organizing all the bookshelves in the house. We have so many books and bookshelves all over the house, upstairs and down, this is no small task.  The bookshelves in the photo are only some of the bookshelves we have.

The girls helped me gather and then redeposit books all over the house.  Even the baby helped. The youngest ones made games of it.  “Make way! Make way! Books coming through!”

We put red labels on all the history, geography, and social studies books.

We put green labels on all the science and nature books.

We put blue labels on all the poetry, mythology, art, and music books.

The colored labels help the kids know where to put the books back without having to think too hard about what category the books go in. Even my non-readers can help put the books back as long as the books have colored labels.

We took some time to gather collections together: picture books, Magic Tree House, American Girl, easy readers, mysteries, juvenile novels, preschool and baby books, etc.

I have found that once books have an official place that I decide upon, it is much easier to keep all the books well sorted and train and remind the kids where to put them back.  And that, of course, keeps the house cleaner, and makes the books easier to find when you want or need them.

Of course, the shelves won’t stay perfect, because we use these books all the time. But most of our books are still only ever touched by me or my oldest, so most of them will stay in relatively good order. And we do chores everyday, always taking time to put random books back at that point.

As we worked, the girls kept rediscovering books they had forgotten about. That’s another benefit to reorganizing your bookshelves. Now the house is unusually peaceful because the two oldest girls are ready to settle down after all that hard work and eager to reunite with old favorites they found.

Drawing With Kids by Mona Brookes


While my oldest was away at tutoring, I spent some at-elbow time, that is what I call time spent together at the table, one on one, with my middle child today, doing a simple drawing exercise using the five elements of shape from Mona Brookes’ Drawing With Children.  I did some of the same drawing exercises with my oldest daughter years and years ago. I bet you and I can find them on this blog if you go back far enough. Those drawings are still hanging up downstairs.  It will be nice to add another child’s drawings to our walls. It is very satisfying to be going through everything a second time with my middle child: drawing, writing, counting, phonics.  And I noticed again today how much more laid back and confident I feel this time ’round.  Hindsight is twenty-twenty indeed.

Classical Conversations Weekly Presentations- I Help My Kids Prepare and Practice


Every week at Classical Conversations my kids do a presentation for their group of peers. I help them prepare these presentations at home and then we practice their presentations at least once before going to Classical Conversations.

So I help my kids, but I try not to help too much.  It’s a delicate balance, one that I am still perfecting with practice every week and adjusting as they become more and more capable.

Experience is the best teacher.

I have tried to send my kids into the next room to prepare their presentations on their own without any guidance from me…  Psh!  That created frustration and serious drama and in the end, tears.

There were other times when I helped them prepare at home, but I didn’t make them practice their presentations at least once at home.  That also ended badly with growing anxiety in class as the time for presentations approached and tears welling up in their eyes as they stood in front of their peers feeling unprepared.

So I find I have to help them prepare or at the very least, guide their preparation, and we have to practice, at least once, but after that, I relax and so do they and presentations are more of a joy and less of a stress.

Teaching Place Value

I am using Math-U-See’s Primer with my five year old. We are on lesson 9, place value through 100.  We have been on lesson 9 for months, actually.

She has to master place value before we move on to the next lesson.  So much depends on her understanding how the numerals 0-9 are used to represent numbers of all sizes.  She has to know that a two followed by a nine is two tens and nine units, not two units and nine units, or nine tens and two units, etc. etc.



We ran out of lessons in the book a long time ago, so to practice place value, I created this sheet of numbers 1-100 and put it in a clear sheet protector.  We use the sheet to point to the numbers and count 1-100.

I will also circle a number with a dry erase marker and she will say the number, build it with her Math-U-See blocks, and say it again.

The dry erase marker wipes right off with a paper towel, so we’ve been able to use this same sheet for months.


I used Math-U-See’s Primer with my oldest daughter when she was the same age.  She’s ten now and doing well in math.  She also got a little stuck on place value when we came to this lesson in the Primer, but we stayed on for as many months as she needed, until she really understood place value. We’ll get there.  In the meantime, I wanted to share one way we’ve found to practice without the the book.



Two Things Copy Max Can Do For Homeschooling Moms

Every homeschooling mom should know that Copy Max (or Staples) can do two things particular things to make your job easier.

First, they can bind your old books. 

We love this Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature and we’ve had it for years and years, but the binding was wearing out and pages were falling out.

We took it to Copy Max and for a little more than $4, they put on a spiral binding and clear covers.

It’s like new!

I love spiral bound books anyway because they stay open, lay flat, and you can keep them open to the page you were on last instead of using book marks, etc.

And it’s probably always cheaper to get a book like this rebound than to buy a new one.


The second thing Copy Max can do for you is take the binding off your workbooks.

This will create a stack of crisp worksheets, ready to use.


I love Kumon workbooks, but they don’t come with perforated pages and that makes it difficult to tear the pages out of the books neatly without leaving behind too much of the page.

So I asked Copy Max to take the bindings off.  They charged me a little more than a dollar for each workbook.  To me, that’s worth it.

I keep my stack of worksheets neat and tidy with some adorable paper binders my sister bought me. (Thanks, Loretta.)  And I just put these stacks on the shelf with the other books and things I am using for Kindergarten.


How I Teach the Classical Conversations Bible Memory Verse and Timeline

This year I am teaching the Bible memory verse and timeline facts during our Classical Conversations groups’ assembly time.

Note: I don’t think every single CC group teaches the memory verse or timeline during the assembly time, but ours does.

I’ve come up with a system, of sorts, that works for me. Maybe it will help other CC moms who are responsible for the same job.

First, let’s talk about tools.  Every job, however little, needs the right tools.

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I use:

  • a very basic 2 foot by 3 foot white board with an oak frame and trey (the trey is very important because that’s where I prop up the timeline cards)
  • a black and blue dry erase marker (I use these colors for specific reasons that I will explain below)
  • a white-board eraser (so I won’t have to use my fingers- I hate that- if I need to erase something)
  • timeline cards (available through CC’s catalog/ website)
  • a small binder clip (to hold the seven timeline cards I need each week)
  • a photo copy of page 135 of my Foundations guide in a sheet protector (so I can review the verses without pulling out my Foundations guide)
  • a tote bag (to carry everything but the white board)

I pack all this up the night before and bring it with me to CC.

Note: I may ask to keep the white board in a closet at the church where we do CC, since after only three weeks, the oak frame is already getting loose. I am very careful with it, but the white board is still beginning to show signs of wear since it is not made to travel.

When I get to CC, I prop the white board against a little desk on the stage. That puts it at eye level for most of the audience.

Then I write out the verse in black. That’s always the easiest color to see.

Then I underline the words in the verse that have motions to them in blue. This helps me remember at a glance which words have motions and which motions to teach.

I have been using the hand motions on Andrea Jordan’s You Tube videos.

Note: I chose to start with the English translation of John 1:1-7 first, even though CC says to start with the Latin.  I thought the English would be more meaningful to a group of people who don’t speak or understand Latin yet. And when we learn the Latin translation of John 1:1-7 the second part of the year, the kids and parents will know the motions, so that way, they will better understand what the Latin means as they say it.

After I say the verse out loud for everyone, everyone repeats the verse at least once, maybe twice, and then I teach motions one at a time, and then we do the motions as we say the verse.

After that, I pull out my timeline cards and I say them in order, loudly, as I line them up on the trey. The seven cards fit perfectly across the trey on the 2 foot by 3 foot white board I have.

Then I quickly teach the motions to each timeline fact/ timeline card.  I try to use the same motions that Classical Conversations uses in the official timeline video on their website for consistency. When I don’t understand the motions or when I can’t tell what they are exactly, I watch CCRockStarz You Tube videos to get a better idea.

I usually practice going through all the new material the night before.  It takes me about twenty minutes to watch the videos and then rehearse everything once.



A Mom’s Review of PreScripts- American History Edition


My nine almost ten year old is using the American History Prescripts book this year.


Each week, she will copy a history sentence twice and then complete an art lesson/ drawing activity to illustrate and go along with that sentence.

This first week of Classical Conversations, she copied a sentence about Columbus and completed a drawing of a sailing vessel at sea.


This book is a good fit for my particular daughter for three, particular reasons:

  • She is enrolled in Classical Conversations
  • She already knows how to write in cursive and
  • She likes to draw

The history sentences in this book are the same history sentences my daughter is learning and memorizing through Classical Conversations each week. If she were not a part of a Classical Conversations group, the sentences might not be meaningful to her and they probably would not be timed with what we were doing in history, so I probably would not choose to use this book if we were not a part of Classical Conversations.  I would just find another source for copy work ideas.

My daughter has already completed Zanier Bloser Handwriting workbooks K, 1, 2, and is almost done with workbook 3, so she knows how to write in cursive well enough and does not need much instruction, review, or practice in forming each letter and then putting those letters together to make words. This book provides only one page of review for cursive letters a-z, so it is a more advanced book and kids really should have a firm grasp on forming their cursive letters and making words before using this book.

My daughter also loves to draw and is very confident when given a pencil, pen, paper, paints, etc.  She can copy and even customize just about any image. When she chose peregrine falcons for her presentation this week, she was able to draw a peregrine falcon from a image I found on the computer. That is something she does with regularity and enthusiasm. If she were not that confident of an artist, I might hesitate to give her this book because the drawings students are asked to reproduce are complicated.

There is a good reason for this.  The drawings in the book are based on real artwork done by real artists.  For instance, a drawing lesson on Point of View that my daughter will do in two weeks shows Native Americans watching colonists build a fort from where they are standing in the woods.

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Apparently, this drawing is based on a real piece of artwork by Sidney E. King.  I did a quick search on Google and I found a painting that is almost identical to the drawing.

I like this because it follows the classical model: teach kids how to draw by letting them model great drawings.  Don’t expect them to just know how to make a good piece of artwork innately.  Teach kids to write by letting them model great pieces of writing. Don’t expect small children to be capable of writing amazing stories innately.

But if my daughter were less confident and more apt to stress because she could not reproduce the drawings in this book, I might choose something else or tell her to skip the drawing exercises all together. I sit next to her and tutor her at elbow for many, many subjects that often stress her out like math and spelling and writing, etc. so drawing is not another subject I, personally, would want to have to sit and walk her through step by step.  I like the fact that this copy work book provides her with meaningful, yet independent practice. But if my daughter couldn’t do this book independently, I am not sure it would be worth the trouble of adding it to our home school day.

That said, as it is, it is a perfect fit for my daughter, so this book is a blessing to us.  It provides some review of the history sentences we want to memorize, it provides practice in cursive handwriting, and it models lessons in drawing from real works of art- all good things that work for us.

Preserving Spider Webs and Arachne


We discovered a magnificent spider web on our deck railing this morning.

We sprayed it with multipurpose spray adhesive, available at craft stores, and pressed a piece of black construction paper against it to preserve it.

The spider responsible is already building a new web in place of the old one, so we are going outside periodically to admire her work.

Earlier this week, we read about Arachne in Classic Myths to Read Aloud by William F. Russell, so finding a spider busy spinning her webs on our deck comes in good time.



Our Second Year in Essentials- How We Are Scaling Up


My daughter (and I) are beginning our second year in Essentials.  Since this is our second year, we are going to be scaling up our work in a few ways that I will share with you below.

First, my daughter will be doing more handwriting.

As you can see from the picture above, I made my daughter hand write her first assignment this year, a short paragraph about Columbus. Handwriting the first assignment was one way we have already scaled up from last year. I never even attempted to make my daughter hand write any of her writing assignments last year.

Our first year through Essentials was difficult enough without adding that kind of stress. She’d hand write the keywords into her keyword outlines last year, but when it came to the writing assignment, I just had her use the keyword outlines to speak what she wanted to write and I would type everything into the proper format.

But her tutor asked us to do have our kids hand write the first paragraph this year, if possible, so that we will have at least one sample of our child’s handwriting to cherish. My daughter’s handwriting skills have improved so much since last year that I felt comfortable doing what the teacher asked. Having to write it by hand herself, my daughter got practice with arranging, spelling, grammar, and capitalization. She took even more ownership of her work than usual, so I will probably continue having her write at least the first draft of her assignments for the rest of the year.

I am pretty sure her teacher wants the rest of her assignments after this one to be typed, so I will still have to type the final drafts because my daughter can’t use the keyboard yet.  But I think I will have my daughter start keyboarding this year so she can be ready to type her own papers by the beginning of her third year in Essentials. It will be glorious when she can write her own papers from start to finish and all I have to do is proofread and facilitate. Oh to dream.

As a second year student this year, my daughter will be doing even more writing.

The tutor gave us a copy of the suggested writing schedule that comes with our US History Based Writing book. If you read the photo, second year students are assigned two paragraphs the first week.  We are going to attempt to follow the schedule for second year students, so doing more writing will be another way we scale up this year.


I knew that doing two paragraphs this week meant we needed start right away. One year in Essentials taught me that much.  We have Classical Conversations on Thursday, so on Friday, I had my daughter read the first source paragraph on Christopher Columbus and fill in her own keyword outline. Again, that’s something she got used to doing herself last year, so that was easy enough for her to do on her own.  Then I made her use her keyword outline to tell me out loud what she wanted to say about Columbus in her paragraph.


After that, she thought we were done for the day, but then I asked her to write her paragraph onto loose leaf paper, skipping lines, etc. She gave me a little push back since that was more than she ever had to do in one day and she never had to hand write an assignment before, but told her, “You’re a second year Essentials student now.” And since she has heard her tutor talking about the expectations for second year students and since her tutor honors the work they do, she got right to work.

The next day, yesterday, I proofread her paper, circling the words that were misspelled, etc. After I was finished proofreading, I had her make the corrections.  She is not a natural speller and we are only on the third level of All About Spelling, so most of the mistakes were spelling errors. She had a lot of practice using the dictionary Saturday night. I gave her the correct spelling for some of the words, but most of them, I made her find herself.


This morning, Sunday morning, I asked her to add vocabulary words to her rough draft and add one -ly word. We are following the checklist in the USHBW book for the first assignment. Then I had her write her final draft in her neatest handwriting and put it in her folder.

Tomorrow is Monday, so we will begin the second assignment on Europe Meets America in the morning and that will give us three days to complete that assignment, too, before we have to go to Classical Conversations again.


As a second year student, my daughter will also be copying all the charts.

Last year, my daughter and I always reviewed the assigned charts together out loud, but I only made my daughter copy some of the charts. And, when she did copy a chart, I always gave her a blank copy of the chart to fill in. She never had to copy a chart onto a blank sheet of paper.

But she is ready to do more this year with charts, so my plan is to have her copy every chart she is assigned this year onto blank paper or onto a blank copy of the chart, depending on how complicated the chart is.

This week, our Essentials guide says we are supposed to focus on Charts A and B. I already made her copy Chart A on a blank sheet of paper this week because that’s one of the easier charts, so she didn’t need a blank chart to fill in. We are also supposed to review Chart B, but that chart is a lot more complicated, so I don’t think I will make her copy that one onto blank paper. I will probably give her a blank copy of Chart B to fill. But this is her second year, so she will have to copy all 112 model sentences before this week is over.  That is much more work than she ever had to do on any chart last year. Being diligent to copy charts so we can memorize them for use in future years is another way we are scaling up this year.

Are you an Essentials mom with an Essentials student?  How many years have you been in the program?  How are you scaling back/ scaling up?