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!









Handcart list- Mom’s box

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners.  Here is my list for Mom’s supplies.  (A portion of this list will be posted each Friday until it is complete.)

  • The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer- A fascinating look at implementing classical education in your home.  While I do not teach in the same way, the book offers reliable resource lists, and is a great opportunity to think about how your home school is going to function.   (Do not allow the size to overwhelm you.  Read it in snippets, and use whatever works for you!)
  • A library card -You do not have to own every book you intend to use.  Many wonderful books, cds, dvds, etc. are available at your local library.  Also under-appreciated, and under-utilized are the librarians that work there.   Our experience has been that if you are a regular face at the library, and your children are well-behaved and respectful, if you ask, most librarians are more than happy to assist you in finding resources, and looking into options.
  • The Core  by Leigh Bortins- A fun read that outlines the “whys” of classical and home education.  Her “how-tos” are thought-provoking, and easy to follow.  I loved reading this book!
  • The Children’s Story  by James Clavell- One of the most haunting books I have ever read.  Ever.  A most effective read-aloud.  I first heard it as a third-grader in Mrs. Sehr’s  class.  (What was she thinking?)  It stayed with me for decades, so that when I heard it again in a class, I recognized it immediately.  If anyone asks why it mattered so much that I teach my own children, and why I spent so much time on critical thinking and the ability to express their thoughts, I read it to them.  (I would not read this book with anyone under the age of 10-12.  A great read for youth when you follow it with discussion!)
  • Scriptures and other religious literature- The most important education you can give your children is an understanding of Christ, and laws of God.  Knowing how much He loves them will serve them well throughout their lives!  Discuss them.  Teach from them.  Live them.  Help your children learn to love them!
  • Critical thinking materials- Teaching your children to think clearly and logically will help them as they grow, and throughout adulthood.  Leaving home without this ability leaves them open to the whims and vagaries of life.  I would rather my children assist those around them than be led by others.
  • American flag-Teach them to respect the flag.  Learn its history, symbolism, and the place it holds in our Nation’s history.  Pledge the flag in your home.
  • A dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus- Find books that are user-friendly, and detailed enough to have the information you actually have to look up.  I have owned a myriad of thesaurus’; Roget’s is head-and-shoulders above the others in my experience.  I also have both a contemporary dictionary, and an 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.  Research on the internet is possible, but nothing takes the place of learning how to open the books and search.
  • One or two good quote books- We used them for penmanship as my children grew older.  They could choose what they wanted to write; it just needed to be in their best hand.  (The one stipulation I made was that if they were repeatedly choosing markedly short quotes, that was adjusted.)  Reviewing them gave me an opportunity to see what they found interesting and often mirrored their mood.
  • One or more good poetry anthologies (or a shelf of poetry books)- Poetry study should not be a stress.  Just open up a book or two, and read a bit each day.  Mix humor, and non-sense with more serious, themed poetry.
  • A plan- I never found a schedule to be effective, but it was vital that we had a routine and stuck to it.  Chores, breakfast, group time, individual studies- that is what worked for us.  I wasn’t too concerned about being dressed for the day before we started, but beds were made and everyone was fed.  (Some of my best work is done on the days I get showered and dressed around 3 p.m.)  Other families get up, dress, and clean up first.  Some start with academics, and do chores later.  Whatever you choose, consistency will serve you well!
  • A curriculum plan- Know where you want to go.  Academics require a plan, and the ability to guide your students.  The thought that goes into creating goals, and sifting through resources helps to focus you and your students.  It can also assist you in making the best use of your school budget.

In addition to the previous items, I would stock:

  • Arts and craft supplies i.e. paper of various weights and usage, crayons, colored pencils, chalk, scissors, watercolors; clay, and clay-working tools; glitter, glue, glue sticks, pipe cleaners- some art activities can be free play; some guided.  It can make a mess, but helping your children see the world through different mediums is such a gift.
  • Science gadgets i.e. magnets, binoculars, string, a magnifying glass;  shovels and buckets for playing and planting;  a balancing scale and weights-look for these at school supply shops, dollar stores, yard sales, or anywhere else you find yourself.  I have found great working binoculars in the toy section, a scale with weights at a second-hand store, and magnets in a variety of places.
  • Puzzles- large, small, floor or table-sized; four pieces or hundreds. Puzzles assist in visual acuity and spatial awareness.  Encouraging our children to slow down, and study things carefully is a good thing.
  • Board games-some are just time wasters; some are great learning tools.  Look for games built around a theme or academic subject.  Many games focus on strategy, critical thinking, or problems-solving skills.   Remember-fun is still important.   Not sure where to start?  Ask around.  Try a game night where everyone brings a favorite or two.
  • A set of geoboards with rubber bands, pegboard, tangrams and pentominoes,  soma cubes, etc.-whether 2-D, or3-d, these can teach many of the same skills as puzzles, as well as basic mathematical concepts.
  • Building materials i.e. Legos/Duplos, Lincoln Logs, K’nex/Kid K’nex, Erector sets, etc.-fun for creating or keeping little fingers busy as you read aloud.  You can also recreate famous architecture, build a fantasy house, or use them to role play.  They are great!
  • Music CDs- listen to a variety of genres, artists, and ethnic groups.  Familiarize yourself with the music of America, other countries, and cultures.  Learn some pop, country, Broadway, and comedic pieces.  Classical music, and it’s history often parallels interesting changes in that history.
  • Musical instruments and recordings to play, experiment with, and enjoy.  Be sure the instruments are age appropriate, but allow your children to discover the difference between strings, percussion, and wind instruments.  Can you pick out different tunes?  Recreate specific rhythms?  As your children grow, have them learn to play an instrument.  Music reading, tempo, and rhythm, the act of creating the correct sound-all of these help with brain development, and attention span.  It can also open an entirely new world of friends, experiences, and boost self-esteem.

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