I remember!

Years ago when I was in junior high school, Frau Cooley, my German teacher, spent two years of her life teaching us to speak German.  This task obviously included tons of memorization!  It was such fun!  How did she do this?  With patience and a grin.  I can still see her at the front of the classroom with her tiny frame, long brown pony tail, and a twinkle in her eye, encouraging us to go through the vocabulary yet again!  We also memorized short quotes or excerpts in German.  These were the first things I remember memorizing without music as a help-and I did it!  Now when I want to memorize something (or help others to do so) I think of Frau Cooley, and do it her way.  Start at the end and finish at the beginning.

It makes perfect sense.  Generally when you memorize something you are strongest where you started.  If you start at the beginning, you become more uncertain as you go.  If you learn the final few lines or sentences first, your confidence increases as you continue reciting.  Let’s use Robert Frost’s poem, Fire and Ice, as an example:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.     


While I haven’t retained most of the German vocabulary I drilled in that classroom decades back, I am regularly grateful for the skills I learned.  They have been used in my own life, and taught to others as I teach.  Frau Cooley, thank you!








Home and Family, Homeschooling

Let’s read!

Every child ought to know the pleasure of words so well chosen that they awaken sensibility, great emotions and understanding of truth.  This is the magic of words- a touch of the supernatural, communication that minister to the spirit, a true gift.                                  

                                                       Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart

Summer is almost here.  The season for gardening, outdoor activities, and (my personal favorite) time to read just for the sheer pleasure of it. As you head off to the library or book store, remember to choose literature which feeds the mind and heart of each family member.  One of my favorite Charlotte Mason quotes reads, “We owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books.”  Not all available reading material is created equal. Much is inspirational, educational, and worthy of emulation; some is depressing, dark and without morals or direction.  Some uses the intricacies of the English language will skill and precision; some caters to a desire to read quickly, think minimally, and finish hurriedly.  Don’t give in to desire to feed on junk food for the mind!

Mom, be aware of those books that introduce twaddle to you and your family. Twaddle encourages the habits of limited attention to reading, small vocabulary development and a need for short sentence structure; these habits will be very difficult to supplant and precious learning time can be lost.  (Not sure what twaddle is?  If the language talks down to your children, feels more like mental drivel than food for the soul, or is just dull, it is most likely twaddle.) My eldest became hooked on twaddle as a child.  She read voraciously, and I thought she was fine as long as she was reading.  WRONG!  Weaning her off twaddle as a tween, and introducing better choices was painful!  She got there, but the transition was so hard.  Now she watches her own children like a hawk!

Allowing questionable content in the name of a child’s freedom of choice can come back to haunt you later.  As parents, we have the opportunity to teach and protect.  Sometimes that means we are the bad guy.  Look for those books which encourage belief in a higher law, individualism, logical thinking, hard work, optimism; loyalty to family, God and country; respect for life.  Books that contain relativism, negativity, false principles, or focus on dark topics are generally to be avoided.

It is also good to keep in mind no book is loved by everyone. There is no magic list of MUST reads, simply lists of good places to begin. If you are reading something as a family and no one is enjoying it, put it away.  The timing may be wrong or it may simply be a book in which your family is not going to take pleasure.  That’s alright.  There is more wonderful literature in this world than any of us could read in our lifetime.  Move on; try something else.

This summer read something you always meant to get around to reading.  Or read a favorite piece again and joy in the pleasure of familiar language and images.  Introduce your children to those “friends” you loved as a child.  Go find some new ones.  See you at the library!


Don’t forget poetry!

Most parents understand the importance of ensuring their children are proficient in the three R’s.  There can be some other studies which get neglected is pursuit of that proficiency.  Poetry is often one of them.  While I would agree to the idea that reading classic literature and learning algebra are important to a basic education, I would also like to suggest that we owe it to our children to give them to opportunity hear the magic of language in poetic form.

It can begin as simply as hearing Mother Goose read or recited.   Meter and rhyme are easily internalized as they have fun with finger plays.  Some rhyme schemes work as great memory aids (Red at night- sailor’s delight.  Red in the morning- sailors take warning, etc.)   There are beautiful pieces written to commemorate historical events such as O Captain, My Captain and Paul Revere’s Ride.  Poets such as Shel Silverstein and Edward Lear delight us with nonsense poetry.  And the classic poets such as Wordsworth and Frost give us images about which to ponder and lessons to learn.

Each day read a poem or two with your children.  Memorize some.  As they get older, try and find a message in them.  If you are uncertain how to interpret poetry, it can be easier to find meaning if you keep the following in mind.

  • Poetry generally fits into one or more of the following categories- deity, life/death, joy/depression, love, humor.
  • Poets often use symbols and/or allusions to well-known cultural themes.  Save this kind of poetry for when your children have enough literary exposure to understand the references.
  • Poetry can be a great opportunity to learn new vocabulary.  Don’t shy away from unfamiliar words.  Look them up.  Find ways to incorporate them into your own communications.

As you study poetry more seriously in the high school years, take time to write some.  Explore the various forms, meters, rhyme schemes, and purposes of poetry.  Have fun with limericks.  Tell a story in a ballad.  Paint a picture through haiku or another different visual form.  Study the lives of famous poets.  (Where they lived.  Why they wrote .  Was it a source of income, or a way to process life around them?)  Not all poetry rhymes; some takes a different, but still planned form.

Poetry cannot be paraphrased.  It cannot be abridged.  It must be experienced in it’s entirety.  It can serve as a voice for the deepest feelings of the heart.

Some of my favorite books of poetry are:

Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

The World of Christopher Robin by A.A. Milne

The Best Loved Poems of the American People selected by Hazel Felleman

A Family Book of Verse selected by Lewis Gannett

Complete poems of Robert Frost

Walking the Bridge of Your Nose selected by Michael Rosen

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Uncategorized

I cannot live without my books!

I live in the land of the American pioneer.  Those hearty souls who loaded up all their worldly goods and took themselves and their families westward to establish a new home.  I often think of them driving the oxen or pushing their handcart across the plains and mountain ranges of this great land.  The fortitude required to press on in the face of all opposition is fascinating to me.  Some came as adventurers.  Some wanted a new life and something to call their own.  Many came for religious reasons to settle in a land of their own choosing to live their beliefs.

In the city where we live, there are museums and displays recounting the trails and trials of their journeys.  Many have reproductions of the wagons and handcarts they used for transporting all they brought to begin a new life.  I sometimes think I could simplify my life enough to fit in a wagon until I look at my books.  I would need a box car on a train! In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without my books!”

I love the public library.  I really love a good book store (new or used).  I can lose myself in them for hours.  One of my greatest joys, though, is to pull a stack of books off the shelves in our home and be transported to another time and place, or to simply find what I need to research the latest idea or challenge.  Yes, the internet has some good information, but I relish the feel of the pages in my hand.  I am definitely hard copy girl!  We currently own over 3,500 volumes, both fiction and non-fiction.  My academic texts are organized by subject. They range from the three R’s to pedagogy tomes.  We have classic literature, comic books, household and gardening reference, books dealing with health and wellness, religious commentaries, and a copy of The Oxford Unabridged Dictionary that has over a dozen volumes and makes me smile when I see it on my shelf.  My kitchen has over 70 cook books. There are books in every room.  You will even find a volume or two on the back of the commode in my bathroom.  (And my amazon wish list has a good dozen or two on it at any given time.)  Can we possibly use them all?  Yes!

Just yesterday, one of my daughters came home with a question about writing goals and curriculum for young children.  Within minutes we had a pile of around  half a dozen books to look through for ideas and inspiration.  I was reminded yet again how much joy and empowerment there is between the covers of a good book.

What books did we use?  Here is a list of what I found (and I am still making a longer mental list for her next visit):

The Educated Mind by William Bennett

The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick

Catherine Levison’s books A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education

Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn

Teaching Children by Diane Lopez

She is currently reading The Core by Leigh Bortins.  During her next visit I may hand her Unit Studies Make Easy by Valerie Berndt, Homeschooling by Samuel Blumenfeldt, or books from E. D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Series.

While I don’t swear by any one of those books, I reference them regularly.  They are all written by articulate, inspiring authors with their own ideas that worked for children who are not the same as my own, but I find great ideas in each, and encouragement in all.  My job, as I see it, is to glean the best from the various methods and texts and create something for my own family which meets our needs and interests.  Without books, I would have a very limited access to these and other minds.  So much would be missed!

So I could probably pare down my clothes, furniture, and even my kitchen equipment to fit into a wagon, but my books?  I don’t think so.

Homeschooling, Parenting

Our favorite read-aloud books

Once upon a time, there was a Dad who was working full-time and going to school full-time.  His wife was a stay-at-home mom who had four young children, a house to keep, a garden to tend, and a fuse that was getting shorter and shorter.

One day after a long day at work and class, Dad came home to find Mom trying to bury herself in the nine loads of unfolded laundry.  The remains of the evening meal were still on the table; the paper piles were taking over the computer table, the coffee table, and every other flat surface in the living room; and the children were slowly preparing themselves for bed.

“How do I help?  Where do I start?”, asked the bewildered and worried father.

“Can you take over story time this evening?   I’ll work in the kitchen while you read.”  was the reply.

Thus began a family tradition that lasted for a number of years…and definitely helped with living happily ever after.

Over the years, Richard (Becca’s husband) read dozens of books with the children.  The rule was: everyone had to be in dressed for bed, prayers were said, and the children had to stay in bed.  He would position himself with a large pillow in the hall where everyone could hear him read and he would read from a chapter book for about 15-30 minutes-always stopping just before some exciting moment in the story. When the boys were small (2 and 4 years old) he would read a picture book to them and then ensconce himself in the hallway to read to the older girls.  While he read, Becca would clean the kitchen, do laundry, tidy up, take a bubble bath or play Solitaire on the computer…whatever she needed  to do so that she could take over again while he did homework and life asserted itself again.

This list is what we read for fun!  These are not the books we read for literature (or any other) study during our academic day.  We worked to avoid “twaddle” and choose moral takes or books that would simply expand their horizons.

In no particular order, what follows is a list of most of the books he read.  (The list is as complete as we could get it working from memory.)  Some books  he read more than once.  Others (not listed) were started but never finished.  (If both the parents and children were bored beyond the third chapter, we moved on to something else!)  No one was allowed to sneak a preview or read ahead in the current book.  They could, however, reread books that had been finished!  It might also be interesting to note that many of the titles on this list were requested by my children for their personal libraries!

Nightly stories with Dad continued until our 16 year-olds got jobs, and it was too hard to keep everyone up to speed in the current book.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Rudolf Wyss

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Indian Captive by Lois Lenski

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis  (All but the last.  He wanted them to read that one privately.  Good move.)

The Arabian Nights  Reader’s Digest Edition

The Prydian Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander (All but the last.)

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

The Cricket in Times Square series by George Seldon

The Great Brain Series

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

The Hobbit by J. R.R. Tolkien

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Black Arrow by  Robert Louis Stevenson

TheWestmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander

Pippi Longstocking series by Astrid Lindgren

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander

The Fighting Prince of Donegal by Robert T. Reilly

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens