Review: Writing and Rhetoric by Classical Academic Press

by Lynne

There’s always one subject that is difficult for a homeschool family to accomplish. That subject varies from family to family and from child to child. Sometimes, the parent doesn’t feel completely confident in her ability to convey mastery of the subject. Sometimes, it’s just a subject that a particular student does not find interesting. In our house, the whole subject of writing has been the most challenging aspect of our curriculum.

Both of my boys struggle with the physical act of handwriting. My focus up until now has been maneuvering them through learning how to hold their pencils correctly and how to form letters in both manuscript and cursive. We’ve also learned about sentence structure and the mechanics of writing, such as capitalization and punctuation rules. Quite frankly, it felt like drudgery to all of us.

I do try not to compare my children with other kids, but I must admit that it was difficult for me to see homeschool blog posts with gorgeous handwriting and young children writing beautiful poetry and short stories. My kids have trouble writing a five sentence paragraph. I never had expectations for them to be doing a whole lot of writing in elementary school, and I’m of the opinion that current educational trends push students toward writing before they have the necessary skills. However, since my boys are approaching middle school age, I felt I really needed to do something about their writing skills.

I’ve been to the homeschool conventions. I’ve looked at many writing programs. I’ve gathered thoughts and opinions from my homeschool community, both in real life and online. I never found a program that just resonated with me. I liked pieces and parts from many different programs. For some programs, I just opened up one page of the book and knew that it wouldn’t work for my kids. I was very discouraged about writing and was planning to piece together a writing curriculum on my own.

Then, I discovered a new product from our 2014 sponsor’s website. Classical Academic Press has a program called Writing and Rhetoric. It is based on the ancient Greek progymnasmata exercises, through which a student learned to gradually increase his communication and writing skills. By the end of progymnasmata study, the student was able to start producing his own erudite speeches. So far, Classical Academic Press has available the first two books in the series. I purchased the first book, Fable, which is geared toward third and fourth graders. My sons are fourth and fifth graders this year, but with their writing difficulties this level is perfect for them. A younger student who has a good grasp of language and who is already writing independently might even enjoy this program.

The first phase of this program is all about learning to retell a fable. So far, we’ve completed four chapters in the first book. I take each chapter slowly and have the boys work through it in three to four days. They take turns reading each fable out loud to me. Some of them we’ve already encountered, so this gives them a new way to look at a familiar fable. The amount of writing they have to do at one time is minimal, but gradually builds up. They have learned about summarizing and amplifying stories. For each fable, they answer questions that are designed to illuminate the moral of the story, or to emphasize the purpose of the lesson. The questions are simple and not overwhelming. There are very nice illustrations for each story as well. All in all, each chapter is well thought out and easy to follow. You can see sample pages of the books on the Classical Academic Press website.

The only thing that didn’t work for us was the binding. I left my teacher’s manual as is, but since the boys needed to write in their books, I had their workbooks spiral bound at the local copy store. My boys have sensory issues, and trying to hold a workbook flat while writing is just too difficult for them. The spiral binding is easier for them to manipulate. Maybe in the future, the books will be offered with a different binding.

I like that my kids are learning skills one at a time and have those skills modeled for them in an easy and interesting way. For the first time in our homeschool career, we are all actually enjoying writing time. Now, I won’t say that my boys love writing just yet, but they no longer give me a hard time when I tell them it’s time for writing lessons. And that is a beautiful thing. I’m looking forward to continuing with this series.

Lynlynnene–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.

Homeschool Rite of Passage: The Chicken Mummy, by Lynne

You’ve all heard of the Mommy Wars.

Get ready for the Mummy Wars.

There is some debate as to whether one can call oneself a homeschooler if one has never mummified a chicken during the study of ancient Egypt. The faint of heart try to pass off mummifying an apple or even a Barbie doll, but it’s just not the same. A shriveled-up apple simply does not compare to the slowly evaporating chicken carcass that must remain for weeks on the kitchen counter. Mummifying a Barbie doll does not give you the satisfaction of watching the muscles harden and contract.

All kidding aside, mummifying a chicken is quite an educational experience for parents and kids alike. Vegetarian and vegan families may choose to mummify another object and still benefit from learning about the process. Hands-on activities like this are wonderful ways to cement in kids’ minds the lessons learned from books and museums. It’s one thing to learn that pharaohs were mummified to preserve their bodies for their next lives, but it’s another thing entirely to see what that actually meant for the physical body.

Our family embarked upon the mummification journey almost four years ago. I documented the whole experience in photos. There are instructions for mummifying chickens on the internet and in several curricula, so I’m only going to give you an overview here. Take my advice and start with a small chicken or a capon. Ours was pretty big and took quite a while to dry out.

We prepared our chicken by washing it thoroughly, rinsing it in wine, and drying it completely. We chose not to preserve the innards in canopic jars like they did with real Egyptians mummies, but that would certainly be a good accompanying project. I was a little skeptical that this would actually work, so it was with trepidation that I watched the boys cover the chicken in its first salt bath. Here’s how it looked after the first salt bath:   12182643523_cd7e5a659d_z

We were all amazed that the chicken didn’t smell as horrible as we thought it would. I was beginning to think this might actually work. The chicken did smell a little bit, so we added some spices to the next salt bath. We repeated this procedure for several weeks. Each time we took the chicken out of the salt bath, my boys were excited to see that he was a little skinnier, and that his color and odor had changed as well. The boys dubbed him King Akhenaten.

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Eventually, King Akhenaten was ready to be entombed, so we read about how the body was prepared for wrapping in the long strips of linen. We anointed King Akhenaten with oils and made amulets to wrap up in the linens with him. Wrapping was a messy step, but once finished, the chicken looked like a real mummy.

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The boys made a sarcophagus for King Akhenaten, as well as a pyramid in which to entomb the sarcophagus. We had a funeral procession and burial service. King Akhenaten remained in his pyramid, which was placed in my boys’ room, for three and a half years. Not once did any odor emanate from that pyramid. I stuck my nose up to that pyramid every so often, just to check. I think that was probably the most important lesson we all learned from this whole thing– the ancient Egyptians were pretty clever to figure out what it took to preserve a human body for eternity.

Unfortunately, King Akhenaten was purged from my boys’ room in the last great clean-out.  His pyramid did not withstand the test of time as well as the real Egyptian pyramids have. Despite protests from my sons, I made the decision that it was time for King Akhenaten to find another final resting place. He has been in the next world for about six months now, and I find that I actually miss that chicken.

After giving public school a brief try, Lynne and her two sons have decided they are really more of a homeschooling family.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism, who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon to be revitalized blog at http://www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com .

A Year-Long Approach to Lesson Plans, by Lynne

 

I have been told that my lesson plans are intimidating.  At first glance, it might appear that way! If you take a peek into my lesson plan binder, you will see that I have every subject planned out down to the page numbers of the books we are using that day.  I have learned not to show my lesson plan binder to folks who are considering homeschooling, since it has sent a few of them into a panic about how they are possibly going to take on this gargantuan task.

At that point, I have had to backpedal and tell people that this is MY way of doing things.  I need to have a detailed and highly organized lesson plan to follow, or I won’t be satisfied that we are covering all the things we need to cover.  This is my way of keeping tabs on all the interesting curricula I have chosen for the kids, and my way of making sure we use all those cool extras I found to incorporate into the lessons. The beautiful thing about homeschooling is that each parent gets to choose what he or she deems to be the best method of organization and planning.

In some cases, parents choose not to have any lesson plans at all.  They choose quality materials, and let the children investigate the materials at their own pace.  Parents can encourage children to move on, slow down, dig deeper, etc.  This is a great way for self-motivated kids to really get into the nitty-gritty of a subject that fascinates them.

There are also programs that are referred to as “open and go.” These curricula provide  built-in lesson plans, which means that you just do each lesson in the program sequentially. Once you’ve completed that day’s lesson, just continue on to the next lesson on your next school day.  This is an extremely uncomplicated way of going about homeschooling.  This method works for many busy homeschooling families.

A homeschooling parent can find a variety of planners, both online and in print, that can help with daily, weekly, or even monthly lesson planning.  Many homeschoolers have created their own planners and have shared them with other parents.  Just glancing through some of these planners can often help you to figure out how you should break down the work. I queried some of the homeschooling moms who participate in this blog, and along with just your basic lined paper and pencil, here are some of their favorite homeschool planners:

Google Drive (An example of one mom’s schedule)

The Well Planned Day

Donna Young Planner Pages

Homeschoolskedtrack.com

7 Step Curriculum Planner

Scholaric

Evernote

Homeschool Helper App

Urthemom.com

As you can see, there are many options to help you with lesson plans.

I am one of those parents who has created her own planning system.  I will outline for you exactly how I go about doing lesson plans.

First of all, I carve out a significant amount of time during which to work on my lesson plans.  This usually involves the cooperation of the household.  Personally, I require peace and quiet to concentrate on the planning.  I cannot be constantly interrupted by boys jumping off furniture, demanding to be fed, or otherwise disrupting my homeschool planning zen.  I am fortunate to have lots of family members who can help me out with this.  However you can manage to work it, I recommend setting aside a time to plan.  That’s not always possible, I know, so just do the best you can.

My primary objective is to plan out the entire year all at once.  This is NOT a common way of doing things.  This is my way.  Take what you will from it, and leave the rest.  I just want to reiterate that this is what I have found to be helpful to my style of teaching, my children’s style of learning, and our homeschool atmosphere.  I hope that it may provide insights and guidance for others that may have a similar working style.

To start my planning, I assemble all the materials I have acquired and make stacks for each subject.  If I have online resources, I print out a list of those resources for each subject and put it on top of the stack.  I have some sort of anxiety that I will forget to include something vital or really interesting, so it helps me to have everything all together in one place. I also use three-hole punched paper and a large three ring binder for my yearly plans.

I work on each individual subject separately.  I begin by spreading out all the materials on the table (or couch or floor) around me.  Using the table of contents, any plans that came with the materials, and just my own skimming of each item, I break the entire subject down into daily chunks.  I write each day out by hand on a sheet of lined paper.  For example, a week’s worth of science would look like this:

Day 17: Read Biology text pp.  200-211.

Day 18:  Complete worksheet on p. 212 and read Library book about life cycles

Day 19:  Do color by number p. 33

Day 20:  Read Biology text pp. 213-220.

Day 21:  Visit life cycle exhibit at the Natural History Museum and draw in notebook

Math might look like this:

Day 52:  Watch Video of Lesson 24 and do workbook p. 56.

Day 53:  Do workbook pp. 57-58

Day 54:  Practice Math facts with Mom

Day 55:  Lesson 24 Quiz

Day 56:  Math games workbook p. 19

I try to break each subject down into 180 days of material, since that would correspond to our public school system’s schedule.  Some subjects are only one semester, or unit studies, so those are just broken down into manageable chunks.  Once I have each subject broken down into the daily chunks, I put those sheets into my large binder that is separated with tabs for each subject.

This large three-ring binder becomes my go-to book for the entire year.  Obviously, I cannot foresee what is going to happen over the course of an entire school year, so I need to be flexible and willing to change my lesson plans.  But, having this gargantuan year-long plan helps to keep me on track and not lose sight of our goals for the year.

My next step in lesson planning is to put the subject plans onto my weekly planner.  I normally do four weeks at a time, because by then, I usually know what our schedule looks like, and I can plan around field trips, outside classes, holidays, and the like.

Quite simply, I have created a table on my word processing software for weekly lesson plans.  For each day of the week, I have a two column table. The left hand column lists the subjects and the right hand column is where I fill in the assignments from my big yearly planning binder.

Monday
Language Arts Read poetry book pp. 98-102.Write poem using alliteration.Read book club book for 20 minutes. Copy spelling words 3x
Math Workbook pp. 33-34
Science Read library book about butterflies
History Listen to SOTW ch. 7 and do Map on SP 45.
Latin Workbook pp. 20 -21
Music Practice three songs on your recorder
Other Swim & Gym today at CSU

I have a table like this for each day of the week.  I can add things to the tables or take them out as necessary.  Once I have added an item from the big, yearly planning book, I make a red check mark through it so that I know it is already accounted for in my weekly plans. I usually print off the weeks in four- week segments and keep them in another binder of weekly lesson plans. I’m old-fashioned, and I like to be able to cross things off of a paper list when we finish them.  You could just as easily leave the plans in digital form, and cross them off on the computer screen.

Below is a week from my actual lesson plans from last year:

Monday: NEED TO PREPARE FOR JANICE VAN CLEAVE EXPERIMENTS
Opening Ceremonies Pledge, review poems, review science vocab, review Latin, Latin & French flash cards, grammar lists
Language Arts Read CE pp. 65-70 Go over spelling words. Write spelling words 2x
Reading Book Club Book or Non fiction Bin Book
Math Watch MUS Lesson 21 and Do 21 A&B
History Listen to Ch. 19 The Vietnamese Restoration Society. Complete the Outline SP 75Map SP 77
Science Janice Van Cleave #182 Toothy-Gears. Write about it.
Latin Grasp the Grammar p. 36
Health Read Nutrition 101 pp. 97-108. Do questions p. 18
Logic Connections p. 17
Extra
Tuesday:
Co-Op Day
Wednesday:
Opening Ceremonies Pledge, review poems, review science vocab, review Latin, Latin & French flash cards, grammar lists
Language Arts Read CE pp. 71-76Do Word Search & Parts of Speech analysis pp. 71 & 72
Reading Book Club Book or Non fiction Bin Book
Math Do 21 C&D and E&F
History Listen to The Mexican Revolution Ch. 20. Complete the Outline SP 80Map SP 81
French Simon Says game with body parts
Science Janice Van Cleave #183 WedgesWrite about it
Extra
Thursday:
Opening Ceremonies Pledge, review poems, review science vocab, review Latin, Latin & French flash cards, grammar lists
Language Arts Read CE pp. 78-83Play 3 different Spelling City games online. Cursive book pp. 68-69
Reading Book Club Book or Non fiction Bin Book
Math Test 21
History Listen to Ch. 20 World War I. Complete the Outline SP 80Map SP 82
Science Janice Van Cleave #183 Lifter- Incline Planes. Write about it
Latin Vocab Review
Extra
Friday:
Opening Ceremonies Pledge, review poems, review science vocab, review Latin, Latin & French flash cards, grammar lists
Language Arts Spelling Test CE4. Read Building Poems p. 104. Write a poem with near rhyme or slant rhyme. Start working on All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters
Reading BOOK CLUB
Math Measurement p. 54
History Do Spanish Flu Maze Timeline AG 87, SP 85 & 86
Logic Unlocking Analogies p. 9
French Do p. 36 Vocab., Grammaire, Dialogue
Science Janice Van Cleave #185 Ramps. Write about it
Extra

As you can see, I make notes for myself in red so that I can see in the beginning of the week if I need to gather any materials or otherwise prepare for any of the lessons.

There is a second portion to my lesson planning which, to me, is just as important as filling in the binder and tables.  Once I have my four weeks of lessons printed out and put in my weekly binder, I insert pocket folders for each child behind each week of lessons.  In those pockets, I place the actual worksheets they will be doing, and any papers or maps we will need.  Basically, I get as many of the materials prepared ahead of time as I can.  We are ready to go with lessons as soon as the breakfast dishes are cleared.  We rarely waste time looking for materials.

This system has worked very well for us.  We all work well when there is a routine and a schedule. I homeschool my two sons, and they are only sixteen months apart in age, so I am fortunate that they can both do the same work.  If I had children working on different levels, I would probably do something similar to this, but have separate printouts for each child.

Doing the bulk of the planning up front has been quite a boon to me.  Last year, I was struck with a very unexpected illness, which kept me bedridden for a couple of months.  Fortunately, I didn’t feel too panicked about our homeschooling situation, because I had already done most of the work.  All I had to do was plug the daily chunks into my weekly tables and make sure all the materials were ready to go.  I’m a fairly decisive person.  I deliberate over curricula, then choose one and stick with it through the duration of the school year.  I re-evaluate after giving something a full shot.  I’m at peace with my lesson plans.  I know not everyone will want or be able to do things the way I do, but I don’t think I could homeschool any other way.

This quote sums up my philosophy of lesson planning:

“Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882);
Philosopher, Poet, Author, Essayist

Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism, who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon to be revitalized blog at http://www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com

Liberal Arts Light, by Lynne

 

When my oldest child was a toddler, my sister handed me a book and told me to read it. “I think you’ll really like it,” said she. This book was The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. My sister, you see, had already decided to leave her job as a school teacher and become a homeschooling parent to her two children. She had read The Well-Trained Mind and it had influenced her thinking on how exactly she wanted to approach the education process for her children.

I had never given a thought to homeschooling my kids. We moved into a community with top rated schools. My intention was to send my kids to the public school and work outside the home.

Nonetheless, I thought I’d give this book a look. ‘A Guide to Classical Education at Home,’ it said on the cover. Classical Education. Hmmm. Frankly, it sounded a little boring. I began reading the introduction, blissfully unaware of how this book would change the course of my life. By the time I had finished the introduction, my world was turned upside down. Where had this book been all my life? I had been so bored at school. I was so unprepared for the small liberal arts college I attended. I would have killed for an education like one described in this book. I felt truly and deeply cheated.

At my small, private liberal arts college, I immediately discovered that I didn’t know anything about anything. I soaked up my college experience, because I had a desire to learn and be part of the world’s knowledge base. My professors stirred up a passion for learning and discovery. I later attended a large state university for my graduate degree, and came to appreciate my liberal arts background. It made me into a whole person, a thinking person, an integrated person. Until I read The Well-Trained Mind, it didn’t dawn on me that this process could be started much earlier in a child’s education. Why wait for college to learn how to learn?

I was so excited to share with my husband my discovery of this incredible way to teach our kids at home. The ensuing arguments are definitely a topic for another article. The bottom line is that he did not agree with me that homeschooling in a classical manner was the best idea for our kids. Many frustrating arguments later, we enrolled the children in the local public school. I was determined to afterschool them in the best way I could, using advice offered in the book and with support from the Well-Trained Mind online forums. After two years of mostly negative school experiences, my husband agreed that we couldn’t leave them there, and grudgingly agreed to let me try homeschooling for a year.

We spent the next three years learning at home. When I say we, I mean that I learned right along with them. We grabbed the grammar stage by the horns and did memory work, narrations and dictations, and lots and lots of reading of literature, history and science books. My older son has some challenges that were not handled effectively at school, and this new method of schooling was a definite advantage for him. Family and friends could see him calming and blossoming before their eyes. My younger son stepped up to the challenge of doing the same work as his older brother. They both made tremendous strides and accomplished fantastic things. Their enthusiasm and curiosity continue to amaze me.

We’ve had some changes in our family life, so my kids returned to public school this fall. It only took us a month and a half to recognize that it wasn’t going to work out for our older son at all. We brought him home. We will be bringing our other son home, soon, because we don’t want to completely lose the momentum we had built with our classical education at home. My boys have such a solid base. In my opinion, it would be a shame not to continue to cement that base into their hearts and minds even further by progressing into the Logic Stage. My younger son would survive and do fairly well if we left him in the public school, but I really think he could do so much more by being at home and persevering in the classical education model.

I am so excited for both of my kids to go to college and not be at the huge disadvantage that my husband and I were, because on that my husband did agree. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Our children will already be a part of the “Great Conversation” and beyond. They will get so much more out of their college experience by being completely prepared for it. That’s what a classical education means to me- liberal arts learning as a lifetime endeavor.