Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Top Three for CC

If you've been reading here recently you know that I'm loving Classical Conversations.  There are numerous reasons for that, from simplifying our homeschooling schedule, to the free training and encouragement CC provides, to the quality of the academics, etc. etc. etc.

However, there are 3 reasons that I'm especially thankful for this program this year....3 reasons why our school year looks so very different from last year.


The definition of retention is "An ability to recall or recognize what has been learned or experienced; memory."

My CC Director told me that after just a few weeks of doing the work I would feel like I have a new brain.  It's true!  Our brains crave order and "pegs" to hold information.  Without those pegs, new information enters and exits our brains rapidly, but when we have a memory peg, that information has a place to a lost hoodie on a coat hook.

As a child/teen I had an incredible memory like my dad.  My classmates called me The Living Dictionary.  I have often wondered how big of a part memory plays in IQ scores, good grades, and success in life.  Is it actual smarts, or just recall of information?  Can someone have a photographic memory, but not be very intelligent or can someone who is extremely smart be forgetful?  Ahhh, that's another question for another day! 

For those with an excellent memory, it is easy to saunter through the school years, getting straight A's without working very hard.  Growing older and having kids (I think each child kidnaps more of Mom's brain cells when they are born) has made my brain a lot fuzzier, and I have to work harder to memorize these days.  So, while I did learn and memorize a lot of information growing up, I could have been learning soooooo much more, and could have been challenged to not just learn it short-term, but also to retain it for life.  A great short-term memory gets you 100% on tests and then the information is quickly dumped.  At the end of the year, one is only able to recall the things that were practiced again and again.

A huge difference between My Father's World and Classical Conversations is that there is retention with CC.  I've talked in other recent posts about learning less and learning it well as opposed to learning more and not retaining it.  I loved the content of My Father's World.  We read tons of stuff in the Bible, made adorable crafts, learned a lot of character qualities, and read loads and loads of excellent, living books that engaged the kids and drew us in.  We read about every state in the USA and made foods from each of the states and learned about things in God's world that corresponded with each letter of the alphabet.  Yet, just 5 months after finishing last year's curriculum, I am hard-pressed to remember anything we learned!  The things that I can recall are the things that we reviewed constantly, like "The letter A stands for apple,....If I stay in Jesus, I will bear much fruit" or "S stands for sun....Jesus is the light of the world."  All of those neat facts about the states and things we learned about pioneers are gone!  I'm thankful for the beautiful States Notebook we have as a memento that we can re-read to remember things about each state and for the fun books we read together that we can go back and re-read, but there isn't a whole lot in the noggin to show for last year. 

Though I went through the Kindergarten curriculum TWO YEARS in a row, loving it and delighting in my little ones' excitement over the animals they were studying and the crafts we were making, I recall very little of the facts we learned.  There were just too many!  Every day we were moving on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing.  At one point, my mind, which I now realize was desperate for some memory pegs, was crying out to find a list or something in the curriculum guide that we could memorize to review the info from the year and try to retain it.  I was even thinking of making my own list, but I didn't know where to start because the information was so vast.  My brain was begging me to figure out a way to retain....I was frustrated. 

There is no doubt in my mind that CC is the best homeschool curriculum there is on the market today in regards to retention.  I've looked at it all, and I've chatted with kids from scads of different homeschooling backgrounds and I've seen and heard the evidence.  In Junior High, CC kids can draw a map of the entire world, with countries, capitals, rivers, mountains, etc. from MEMORY.  Our 4 and 5 year olds can recite a Timeline from creation to 9/11 with over 160 key historical facts.  Skip counting up to 15, as well as other math facts and equations are reviewed yearly.  They drill together, drill at home, listen to CDs with their grammar on it, learn songs to remember facts, and do memory work tutorials on the computer.  Memory masters must recite over 500 pieces of information perfectly at the end of the year...remembering everything they learned over the entire year.  The retention is INCREDIBLE!  What's also great is knowing that my little ones may not catch everything this time, but they will review each of the 3 cycles at least once before they get to Junior High.  Katrielle will review it 3 times!  If you want to remember something for the rest of your life (like your alphabet, multiplication tables, Scripture passages) you must review it again and again until it is in the long-term memory bank.


Homeschooling is hard.  There are days when you just don't feel like giving it your all.  Even for an extremely-driven person like me, it can be tempting to cut corners in some areas.  The homeschooling mom needs accountability, and so do the kids.  In all honesty, I have to admit that if I wasn't doing CC we would have skipped a lot of the science projects that require time and effort.  "Let's imagine how big the universe is and look at a book about planets instead of building the scale model."  It's easy to let your homeschooled kids off the hook because we're weary and they can be persistent.  "I suppose you can write that report tomorrow and go bike with your friends."  Knowing that you have to show up to community weekly with your work done, your grammar memorized, and your presentation ready is an excellent motivator!  It provides accountability for the parents as they are teaching their kids to not slack off, and also inspires the kids, who want to be on the winning team and get a prize during review games.  They want to keep up with the pace of their peers.


In addition to accountability, it's important just to share life with a community of friends who are "in the same boat."  Before we were involved in CC, our family did have some fellowship.  My kids wanted to do playdates with friends, I had a weekly fondue date with my buddy, I helped lead Pray and Play, and we attended church and AWANA faithfully.  Yet, due to busyness, circumstances, illnesses, etc. often playdates would be cancelled or rescheduled, Girl's Nights were rare treats, and weeks would go by before I'd see this or that friend as they'd have to stay home from church with a sick kid.  My homeschooler friends were the hardest ones to connect with, understandably so, because they were all so busy working at home teaching their children.  So, there was a definite lack of unity and consistency amongst most of my friendships with other homeschoolers.  As I've written about before, investing in CC is a commitment.  Because you are paying for your child to be in the community, you have a financially-backed drive to be there every week unless you have a very good reason not to be.  Tuesday mornings are set aside to be with our community, and we're not just wasting time that we could be using to do school because we're doing school together!  This consistent, united, fellowship with other homeschoolers is such a blessing.  We swap ideas, encourage one another, rejoice over each other's children and their growth and successes, eat together, and share laughs.  Some folks in bigger cities have excellent homeschool co-ops where they meet weekly for this kind of fellowship, so this is not limited to Classical Conversations, but in our area, being a part of CC is the only option we have for this kind of consistent homeschool fellowship.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How Does One Prepare to Homeschool Down The Road?

My college roomie, who just had a precious new baby girl, and who has a little girl who is almost three, and who also happens to be having a birthday in a couple of hours, asked me this question the other day: 

It's 11 am, I have successfully baked a loaf of bread, made my bed, hung some clothes on the line, walked to the mailbox to get the paper, and washed the dishes, and this does not include pathetic potty training attempts and breastfeeding.  Before you homeschooled did you look at your time and wonder how you would be able to add homeschooling to your day? I was just thinking of you as I was contemplating my hopeful future in homeschooling.

Here is my loooong answer, friend.  I would say that in some ways, as your kids get older, it gets easier in some areas and harder in some areas. 

Babies and tiny kids = simple schedule, basic needs (food, clean diapers, naps), physical exhaustion from around-the-clock care

Older kids = busier schedule (school, no matter what form you choose), emotional exhaustion from the constant teaching and talking and interacting, less dealing with basic needs (they can help with food prep, feed themselves snacks, go to the bathroom on their own, no need for naps, etc.)

I look back on my years with tiny kids and think that my schedule was so simple.  I could plan playdates whenever I wanted, go on daily walks with friends, sew baby blankets and leather baby shoes during nap time, and had the time to experiment in the kitchen and blog often.  I look back and think it must have been sooo easy back when I had only 1, or only 2, or only 3 kids.

But when I start to reminisce, I remember the lack of sleep, the crying, the teething, the diaper blowouts, the inability to have any time away from the baby because I was breastfeeding, the horrific pregnancy nausea, lugging the babies around in carriers, toddlers shoving their friends at playdates or shoving books off the library shelves, etc. etc. and I'm so, so, so, so, so, so thankful to have those things behind me.

Life as a parent will always be challenging.  There are no "easy" years.  Your kids go from keeping you up all night, to throwing ear-shattering tantrums, to arguing defiantly with you, to whining or complaining, to beading and playing with legos and making incredible messes, to jumping off bike ramps, to wanting to explore the neighborhood, to discovering the opposite sex (so I've heard).......and on....and on.  However, as someone who has been getting great sleep for over 2 years and who no longer has to buy diapers or pull-ups (HOORAY!!!  IT'S ABOUT TIME!!!), and whose kids are all graduated from the church nursery, I can say that physically this stage really feels easier than the tiny kid years felt.  Homeschooling is a LOT of work, and it is a challenge to be around your offspring all day, every day, but it is worth it and I am thankful to be in the elementary school years stage as opposed to the infant/toddler stage. 

So, as your kids get older and are more independent, you will find some things to be easier.  Let's face it, getting sleep makes a huge difference in your quality of life!  However, other things will be harder.  If you want to give your children a great education you will have to sacrifice some of the things you like to do.  You can't do as many playdates or answer the phone during school hours. I personally had to give up sewing and crafts, and rarely find time to blog anymore.  I love doing photography, but I don't try to promote my business or take photography classes because right now my focus is on schooling my kids.  I don't usually make our bread from scratch anymore, and we use paper plates a LOT to cut my dishes down from 3 dishwasher loads a day to 2.  I don't have the energy/motivation to do as many volunteer activities or ministries at church.  With my 4th kid, I gave up on cloth diapering and I struggle just to keep up with the laundry my family of 6 produces.

The good news is, we learn as we go.  Just as a body builder gradually increases the weight he is lifting, so also, most of us get to start small in this parenting thing and gradually add more weight.  Though some are exceptions (parents of multiples, foster parents, folks who adopt several kids at once), we get to have one baby at a time, and adjust to their personality and routine, before adding another, and another, and as they grow, we grow with them and adjust to the new life stage before us.  This is why most moms of one look at me and say, "Four kids!  I just couldn't do it!  How do you stay sane?"  I ask moms of 8 the same thing!  The reality is that I took it one day at a time, one step at a time.  You may be looking at me wondering how I am teaching my kids to memorize their multiplication tables and I am looking at the mom of teens who is teaching her kids to translate the Aeneid from Latin and helping her kids through Chemistry and Calculus and wondering how she does it, but I know, by God's grace, I will get there someday as my "homeschooling muscles" grow!  For our family, the sacrifices made to homeschool our children are worth it. 

What are the BEST things you can do to prepare for homeschooling down the road?

I've blogged before about how trusting God and having personal discipline are the keys to successful homeschooling.  You cannot do this in your own strength.  It is hard!  The battle for our children is a spiritual one and we need faith in God more than anything else. 

Also, if you are going to homeschool, you need to be growing in the area of personal discipline so that you can be a consistent homeschooler. 

Considering how much you got done by 11am, my friend, I'd say you already have some great habits down!  Wow!  It's great that you have found a way to juggle the household tasks and the needs of your little ones.  When Ali was 3, I began thinking about ways I could prepare for the homeschooling lifestyle.  My parents had paid for Ali to attend preschool for a year, two mornings a week, and so we did that, and it helped her to get into more of a "school mode."  The next year, I did home-preschool with her and we would do little craft projects, work in an Explode the Code book, work on the alphabet, etc. for an hour just a few mornings a week.  The following year we did a little more, and the next year a little more.  Her Kindergarten homeschooling year only required about an hour of work each day, thankfully, since I had a demanding newborn on top of all the other kids!  First grade was a little more demanding, and second grade was a LOT more demanding.  Homeschooling one child wasn't too bad, but last year, when I was juggling two kids in two different grades, plus a curious toddler, and an active 4 year-old who wanted to do preschool activities and wanted CONSTANT attention, I was on the brink of burn-out!  I was so discouraged and weary with homeschooling.  I realized I needed a change, and thankfully God brought Classical Conversations into our lives at exactly the right time so that we could stream-line and simplify our homeschooling without sacrificing an excellent education.

So, my advice for you to build up your homeschooling muscles would be:


Begin having school time each morning for 30 minutes-1 hour.  Read stories, learn letters, count, or do fingerpainting or other preschool crafts.  If you want a book I recommend Mommy, Teach Me, which has tons of fun ideas, or Slow and Steady Get Me Ready.


Read a TON on the subject of homeschooling.  When your kids are in full-blown homeschooling mode, your reading time will be more rare, so take advantage of the before-school years to read up on all of the homeschooling methods and styles.  Talk to friends who homeschool and ask them to share favorite resources and ideas (hey, you are already doing that...hence, this blog post!)

The Well-Trained Mind

Mary Pride's Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling

Educating the Whole-Hearted Child

Called Home

Simply Homeschool:  Having Less Clutter and More Joy in Your Homeschool

Echo in Celebration:  A Call to Home-Centered Education

Homeschooling posts here at Faithful Homemaking.

Holy Experience

Simply Living for Him

*Personal Discipline

Get into some good habits.  Challenge yourself to work on one new habit at a time.  Whether it's rising before your kids, having a daily devotional time, exercising for a little bit each day, making your bed, reading an intellectually challenging book, or whatever, start developing more personal discipline wherever you lack it.  You may wonder how a small thing like making your bed each day would help you homeschool, but it does!  Building great habits into our lives, one small step at a time, helps us to be more disciplined in other areas, and then in even more areas...growing like a snowball rolling down a hill.  If you are disciplined in your morning routine, it will be much easier to add homeschooling into your family's routine than if you are the type to get up at 10 am every day and stay in your pajamas until dinner time.  It sounds like you are already doing really well in this area!  Kudos!


I love minimalizing and I think it is crucial for a homeschool mom!  The less you have, the less you have to manage, clean, care for, put away, store, keep track of, protect, and fix.  Before you start homeschooling, get into a habit of living simply, having fewer things, fewer commitments, and fewer distractions.  I promise you that this will help you be a more-effective homeschooler!

*Master Basic Homemaking Skills

This doesn't mean you need to become a Pinterest Project Queen or a Martha Stewart to homeschool!  What it does mean, is that if you get into the habit of frugal shopping, menu-planning, once-a-week or once-a-month shopping, bulk or freezer cooking, and setting up a home-keeping routine (example: FlyLady), you will find it easier to homeschool.  I could not homeschool without a menu plan and cupboards loaded with ingredients to make meals for the whole week.  I. Just. Couldn't. Do. It.  When you are homeschooling more than one child, or older kids, it is like having a part-time, or even full-time job outside of the home.  You have to get into "working mom" mode.  In order to make dinner happen, you need to have a plan ahead of time.  After a day of teaching, you then have to face the household chores, and if there isn't a plan for dinner, you will feel like crashing and burning.  Moms who work outside the home do one of the following:  start dinner before work in the crockpot, heat up a freezer meal when they get home, grab take-out or pizza, or make something very simple and quick at dinnertime.  And you will too.  A homeschooling mom is a working mom.  You will find that you cannot perfectly keep house and have incredible school days simultaneously.  Yes, the kids will do chores and help you clean.  Yes, they will do some of their schoolwork on their own.  No, I have never met any woman who is able to keep a perfectly clean home and still homeschool well.  It just cannot be done.  You only have 24 hours in a day and there is not enough time to keep up with all of the messes they create from being home all day as well as giving them all of the spiritual training, guidance, discipline, character, academic experiences  and assistance with schooling that they need.  You will learn to juggle the best you can and sacrifice the lesser for the greater.  I don't fold clothes, they go straight from the dryer into the kids' clean laundry bins.  I've cut them down to 3 outfits each to make laundry simpler and they have few toys.  Dirty dishes often clutter the counters during the school year.  During the summer, I could keep up with dishes and laundry, but in the school year...forget it!  You have to learn to be okay with it, or homeschooling isn't the right option for you.  When the school day is done you can work to catch up on household chores but there will be always be more to get done than you can do, especially if you are homeschooling multiple children or have babies and toddlers at the same time that you are schooling older children.

*Train Your Children

During the little years, your kids are figuring out that they aren't the center of the universe.  Even if you aren't doing math equations and spelling words at this age, your children are "learning at home."  They are learning to respect authority, obey, pick up toys, help set the table, pray, worship the Lord through song, be kind to siblings, share their teddy bears, etc.  Kids who have not been trained/disciplined are extremely difficult to teach in school (ask any public school teacher you know!)  So, during these younger years, focus on training them to obey well and enforce the rules of the home.  Help them to practice kindness with friends and siblings.  This is a continual growth process (as anyone who knows my 5 year-old Justus can attest) but the important thing is that you are working on it during these little kid years.

I hope this lengthy post answered some of your questions and gave you something to think about!  Because I know you well, I have full confidence that you, in God's strength, can do this, and will do an excellent job schooling your gorgeous little girls (and any future kiddoes that may come along) at home!  Happy Birthday Roomie!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Classical Conversations Conference Part 7

Home-Centered, not Home-Bound
Homeschooling doesn't have to mean holing up at home and hiding from the outside world.  It doesn't have to mean you never leave the kitchen table or have adult conversation.
Leigh Bortins describes "home-centered education" in her book, Echo in Celebration. 
The family unit is strong, and home is the base where we launch learning from,
but other people and instructors can be a big part of our children's lives too.
For the CC family, the weekly community is a huge part of the home-centered education.  Having positive peer-pressure among their peers in class and reinforcement from other parents about school expectations is delightful.
Going to weekly worship and church activities is a vital part of our children's lives and therefore, a part of their education.
Children benefit from music lessons, and/or sports teams, dance, hobbies, clubs, and extra-curriculars. 
We are blessed to have a local library that puts on all kinds of fun events, like Lego Club, Reader's Theatre classes, Creative Writing groups for kids, Origami Club, and plays. 
The Missoula Children's Theater comes to town each year and puts on an amazing show; Ali enjoyed being a part of it last year and hopes to do it again
The sky is the limit when it comes to extra learning opportunities for our children.  One of my friends has a child who is a die-hard historian.  He volunteers weekly at the local Pioneer museum and cleans the Trapper's Cabin.  Another friend's son is obsessed with mushrooms.  I didn't know anything about mushrooms until I met him and now I take notice of them when I see them.  He would love to intern on a mushroom farm 40 minutes away from here and he collects them wherever he goes.  Other kids are in orchestra, 4-H clubs, or Nature camps.
Leigh talks about how important it is to find quality friends for your kids and also wonderful mentors.  She says when she finds a godly person that she wants her children to emulate, she would be willing to pay that person just to have her children haul dirt for them if it meant they could hang around that person and learn from their wisdom.  As children grow older, they begin to search knowledge outside of their relationship with their parents and it's important that there are excellent people in their lives to enrich them.  I firmly believe this, as my mentors in Child Evangelism Fellowship were some of the biggest influences in my life and people I have utmost respect for and still want to emulate.  I hope my own children join the CEF team when they are teens and travel around the state teaching 5-Day Clubs!
Don't ever think that because you are homeschooling your kids that you have to be all things for them.  If there is an area where they are struggling, it is wise to seek outside help.  I am so thankful that my mom is not teaching school this year.  It is so nice to see her more often and have her emotional support.  Once a week, the two older kids ride their bikes to her house for handwriting lessons.  It is amazing how much that one hour helps us out and boosts my own teaching in that area with them, as handwriting has always been something I intensely dislike teaching!  If you have the ability to hire a tutor to help your children with a certain skill that is difficult for you, then by all means, do it!  If you'd like to but don't have the funds, consider a bartering arrangement.  Maybe your "Math whiz" friend would give your children lessons in exchange for you teaching her children to sew/bake/garden/write/play piano, etc.
Some school districts allow homeschoolers to participate in part-time classes and also to join in public school sports.  Many homeschooled high schoolers take community college courses.  Internships and apprenticeships are valuable learning experiences for teens that could help jump-start their career goals.  Having your teen get a paper route, a job, or start their own business are also opportunities for them to mature and build character.
In previous posts I've talked about simplifying homeschooling and maintaining consistency.  I realize that taking on too many activities sabotages these efforts.  Activities and learning outside of the home can be great things so long as they are done in moderation, taking into account the child's age, abilities, your own "busy-ness threshold" and finances.  The challenge is to keep the "home" in home-centered, without making it home-bound!

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