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I thought it might be helpful to hear how another homeschooling family “does Shakespeare.”  Whenever I have the kids read plays of any sort, I don’t actually just hand them the play.  Instead, everyone who is sufficiently literate takes a part (or several) in the play, and we more or less act out the parts while sitting comfortably on our family room sofas.  If I had more ambition and/or ability, we might add costumes and staging, but, well, I don’t.  More power to you if you have the energy and ingenuity to do just that.  We usually also include watching some production of the play as well.  I have gone back and forth in the case of Shakespeare as to whether it is better to do our reading first or see a good production first, but we usually read first and then see a movie or (if possible) stage production after doing our reading.  The reason to do it that way is so that the children’s interpretation of the play isn’t skewed by the director’s.  On the other hand, seeing it first would probably make the whole thing a little easier to understand, so I can see it both ways.

We recently read Romeo and Juliet out loud together.  Now, while most of the kids really enjoy doing this, one of them would prefer to have his teeth pulled.  I still have him take parts, but I tend to give him fewer and smaller parts.  One of my daughters, on the other hand, would take every major part if I would let her.  In fact, the tragedy became quite comical at times when she played both Lady Capulet and Juliet’s nurse having conversations together.  At other times, we discovered we had to do some quick rearranging of parts so as to avoid exactly that, which also became comedic at times as we each tried to remember which parts we were supposed to be playing.

After we read it together, we watched the Zeffirelli production in movie form.  Be forewarned that it does have one quite explicit scene the morning after their wedding.  If I had watched it ahead of time, I would have fast-forwarded through that bit or had the kids close their eyes and just listen to the dialogue for that bit.  That reminds me that it is a very good idea to do just that–watch it ahead of time.  After we went through Hamlet a couple years ago, I made the mistake of watching the Kenneth Branagh version with everyone without watching it in advance.  It made the scene I just referred to in Romeo and Juliet look like nothing at all in comparison!  I was horrified.  We ended up turning it off.  I frequently remind the children that one can’t “unsee” something.  In that case, it was definitely all my fault.

If you have a smaller family, you might consider getting together with some other families to do this so that each person can take fewer parts.  We kept a list of each person’s parts in the books with us, but even with 5 readers (yours truly plus four of the children), it was sometimes difficult to remember who was who.

We usually allow a week for each act of a Shakespeare play, but it could certainly be done in a lot less time if needed–an act each day, for example, would have the whole play done in a week.  Don’t forget to include time for explaining what’s going on as well as the undercurrents and themes.  I tend to do this as it comes up rather than trying to make sense of everything ahead of time, but a good plot summary can easily be found on the internet to help with this.  If you don’t know what a word or concept means, don’t be afraid of saying you don’t know and finding out together.  I think it’s really good for our children to see that we don’t know everything, that there is always more to learn, and that it’s possible to find the answer.  Regarding reading plot summaries, I would say don’t spoil the ending by reading the whole plot ahead of time if your children don’t know it when you start, but going over the last act that you read after reading it might be good as a means of summarizing what just happened.

At what age might you consider beginning to read Shakespeare this way?  I would say by the time your oldest is in high school at the very latest, and about age 10-12 at the very youngest.  In the case of the younger set, choose your plays carefully as some of the innuendos are really pretty dreadful in fact, but (happily) much of that may go over their heads.

Why do it at all?  Shakespeare’s understanding of the human person is pretty much unsurpassed even 500 years later, and these plays remain iconic in our culture as well they should.  It is both an opportunity to have your children enter into our culture and an opportunity to help them pass it on to the next generation.  Both are extremely important, especially in a world where timeless culture is so often superseded by the momentary diversions of what is new and different.

I recently discovered that the state universities where we live now require physics and a math course beyond algebra II as admission requirements, so we’re scrambling to make that happen for our oldest daughter in case that is the route she ends up taking. On the other hand, they only require one course of American History and one course of something else vaguely resembling history (i.e. world history, sociology, economics, etc.). They do require 4 years of English, but it seems like a lot of English “literature” at the high school level is far from the classics that engage the mind and heart and often downright vile.

The added math and science requirements in the last few years are, I suppose, intended to help with the fact that America has been and continues to be so far behind so many other countries in math and science. The term, “American ingenuity” has disappeared from the world’s vocabulary. Therefore, in order to help with that, colleges now require more math and science. Makes sense, right?

I don’t think it does. I am reminded of the old professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when C. S. Lewis has him demand, “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?” I believe the reason we are behind other countries in math and science is not so much because of a lack of math and science but because schools do not teach children how to think.

Moreover, severely reducing the amount of history taught in high school is certainly not going to help. In fact, a widespread and in-depth knowledge of history may be the single most important factor in remaining a free country. History, studied as it should be after grammar school, should include not just the “whats” and “whos” but the “whys” and “hows,” the connections, the ideas that led to the actions that make up that “whats” of history. Studying the classics in literature provides an understanding into the nature of man that no amount of psychology or sociology can equal. Studying logic directly is also enormously helpful in learning to think.

The trouble, I think, is that while a teacher of physics reasonably has no problem in a secular society stating the rate at which objects fall, the teacher of literature has a terrible time saying what the nature of man is, the teacher of history can make no judgments as to the morality of a given act, and the teacher of logic…oh, wait a minute, there’s no such thing in most schools.

So forgive me while I rant and rave about the problems with education in America today. I do not think they are likely to be solved by adding the requirement of physics to every student (and thus dumbing down physics to a level accessible to every student in America) or by adding the requirement of calculus to every college-bound student because truly, the perennial question that students often ask, “When are we going to use this stuff?”, does not seem at all unreasonable to me in this case.

The solution is the same as it has been for several thousand years: a liberal arts education that teaches one to think, to understand, to ponder, and to love. The founders of our nation were fairly universally products of a liberal arts education, and their ideas created something almost totally unique–a truly free nation (although even their ideas sadly took almost 200 years to include everyone). The answer to the problem of American education is not universal physics and calculus as a requirement for getting into college (with the obvious exception for those who will be obtaining degrees that require physics and calculus). Rather, the answer to the problem of the general mediocrity of American education is to provide the type of education that makes a free man–the education that teaches one to think. Once that is learned, future mathematicians and scientists in America will soar, and the words “American” and “ingenuity” will once again be linked throughout the world.


child writingAndrew Pudewa, the founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (which is awesome, by the way), divides all homeschool subjects into content subjects and skill subjects.  It’s a convenient way to think about the different things you help you children learn.

I have focused most of my attention on content subjects on this blog, such as discussing how to combine history with literature, art history, music history, etc.  Today, though, I thought I would write a little bit about skill subjects.

If you think about it, most of the grammar-stage subjects tend to be more skill subjects with a gradual transition toward more and more content subjects and fewer skill subjects during the logic stage and the rhetoric stage, and for the most part that makes sense.  There are a few skill subjects that most children aren’t ready for until a little later in their education, however.  Here’s a list (you know how I love lists) of skill subjects that, while they have very little to do with a classical education per se, are still important for the children to learn:

  1. Handwriting – This one is obvious.  Some people start with cursive, and I think there are some good arguments for that, but we start with print using Handwriting without Tears and then move to their cursive program.  Apparently, most schools have stopped teaching cursive.  For years, I too thought it wasn’t really important.  The main reason I decided to teach the children cursive was so they could read Grandma’s letters, LOL.  For one of my sons, however, it had the added benefit of giving him a fresh start with his previously very messy printing.  I did find that it didn’t really stick until I presented the cursive in the form of a class, complete with dictating using the book.  I chose this program because it’s easy to use and straight forward.  It’s not the Palmer method–just a nice, clean, easy-to-read script.
  2. Typing – I think that learning to type quickly and accurately is really essential in today’s world.  After trying a few different computer programs as well as the old-fashioned typewriter books, we settled on a program called Typing Master Platinum.  It combines old-fashioned exercises with some rather entertaining typing games.  The kids start out using it in for 30 minutes a day in 3rd or 4th grade and keep going until they can type 60 words per minute.  It has worked well for us.
  3. Repair skills – Another thing that is really important in my opinion is being able to learn some basic carpentry, plumbing, wiring. and basic auto-repair skills.  We are very blessed by the fact that my husband learned all of these and many more skills from his grandfather.  The downside is that he doesn’t have as much time as he would like to pass the skills on.  However, he does when he can.  A really fun way to do this is to build a fort together.  I actually think it’s a good idea for both genders to learn how to do these things.  I don’t know of any way to learn in this case other than by being taught by someone who knows how, and I think like so many other things, skills build on each other such that eventually one is able to figure out how to do things based on what one already knows.
  4. Sewing – There’s something wonderfully satisfying about making one’s own clothes.  At the very least, everyone should know how to fix a hem and sew on buttons.
  5. Computer skills – I recently read that, while we think of teens today as being very computer savvy, many of them only know how to do the things they always do, but they lack the ability to figure out new things on the computer.  From installing new programs to learning some programming to knowing all the different programs in MS Office and Adobe Creative Suite, these are skills that are both practical and useful for future jobs.
  6. Running a household – It’s quite easy to overlook the skills required to run a household when we’re so busy teaching them math and science and literature and history and theology.  I confess that I had so little interest in this as a child that I really didn’t have a clue how to do it when I got married.  It still doesn’t come easily (which is why you never see pictures of my house in this blog :-)).  I will try (no promises though) to post something soon about some different ways to divide up chores.  The bigger your family, the more essential it is for everyone’s sanity that the children help out.  However, even if you have a small family, it’s just as important for the children that they learn both the responsibility of chores and the knowledge of how to keep house from doing them.  Their future spouses will thank you!
  7. Last but certainly not least is the ability to cook.  For the last couple years, we have made one of the chores related to dinner being the “dinner helper.”  That involves things like setting the table, but more importantly, it is a one-on-one lesson on how to cook.  Unfortunately, only one of our 5 children is really enthusiastic about cooking, but my goal is for all of them to at least be able to feed themselves before they leave home.
  8. I’m updating this list to add a course in handling money as one reader suggested. We used Dave Ramsey’s video course for homeschoolers a couple years ago, and I think everyone gained from it–especially from the discussions that the video brought up in our home.

I don’t know about you, but for us time is always short, and it’s easy to lose track of some of these skills as well as others.  What are some other skills that you think it’s important for your children to learn?

Save Aquinas and More!

I’m posting a day earlier than planned on this, the feast of the glorious Saint Joseph, as St. Teresa of Avila would say.  This is the last day of a campaign to save Aquinas and More Catholic Bookstore.  This beautiful, faithful online store is owned by good friends of ours, Ian and Paula Rutherford and their 10 children.  What I love most of all about their store are two things:

1.  Their “good faith guarantee”–if it isn’t in line with the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, it isn’t found in their store, so you can go to the site and relax and enjoy, not having to worry about whether a book you’re interested in will be faithful.  It will!

2.  They don’t buy anything made in China.  I just found that out, and it is something we as a family try to do as well, though we don’t always succeed.  I’m quite positive that making that decision has meant financial sacrifice for the Rutherfords, but they are living out their belief (and mine) that we shouldn’t send our dollars to a government that imprisons and tortures Christians and others who speak out against the oppressive communist government there.

They were going to close the business down and then decided to give it one last try if it’s God’s will to keep it open.  They are trying to raise $250K, and this is the last day, so if you read this, please do what you can here:

If you pledge to support them, the money will only be used if they actually reach the $250K.  As of right now, they’ve only raised $57K, which is pretty huge actually, but not nearly enough.  Pray for sure and help financially if you can.

God bless,




Just last weekend, I determined that I had neglected this blog long enough.  I planned to post something new each week on Wednesday.  Well, here we are, and I’m keeping my promise, but I’m not blogging about homeschooling today.

Today, I am full of joy over the election of our new pope, Pope Francis I, formerly, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio.  I had the privilege of sharing the excitement of the crowds at Saint Peter’s Square via the internet and listening to the first address of our new pope, Pope Francis, along with my children who got to see it live because they’re homeschooled (okay–I did talk about homeschooling).

I never heard of him before today.  Here is what I have learned today and why, as always, I am so confident that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church:

  1. He is from Argentina, the son of an Italian immigrant father who was a railroad worker, and one of 5 children–humble beginnings, but speaks Italian very well.
  2. He has taught literature, psychology, and philosophy–a Renaissance man.
  3. He is a Jesuit who sought to moderate the Marxist leanings of his fellow Jesuits.
  4. As bishop of Buenos Aires, he has forgone the bishop’s residence in favor of a small apartment and the limo and chauffeur in favor of using public transportation–like the saint whose name he took as pope, he is in love with Lady Poverty.
  5. He has in fact preached the value of simplicity and love for the poor with his life.
  6. He has spoken publicly to defend life and marriage.
  7. He began his papacy with prayer for his wonderful predecessor and with great humility asked everyone present to pray for him in silence.  He bowed while the whole crowd was really silent (and hopefully praying).
  8. There is a peacefulness and gentleness about him that showed even in his first appearance as our new holy father.
  9. He is from a third-world country, cares for the poor, and lives a life of simplicity, all of which will make him a little harder for the secular media to ignore, both because they can’t accuse him of being part of the “good-old-boy club” (not that I think that would be a serious accusation in any case) and because they can’t accuse him of ignoring the needs of the poor when he speaks of the horror of abortion, euthanasia, and the many sins that have become accepted as normal in our society.
  10. He has spoken with fervor God’s mercy and love.  He lambasted priests in his diocese for refusing to baptize children born out of wedlock.  He went to an AIDS hospice and kissed and washed the feet of those suffering there.
  11. He is known to be a man of prayer.  First and foremost, we need a man of prayer to lead us ever closer to Christ in these turbulent times.
  12. The more I read, the more he reminds me of the saintly bishop in Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables.  A pope like him could bring many back to the Church.

Bedtime stories

A few years ago, I got to know a lot of moms with young children who were just starting out as homeschoolers through the wonderful Catholic homeschool co-op we were a part of.  Now, I was there once too, and I certainly don’t mean to poke fun at all, but sometimes those of us with older children would just kind of look at each other while we listened to the young moms talk about all the activities their children were involved in and all the “extras” they were learning.  I think there is a tendency in our society to want to make sure our children don’t miss out on any opportunity, but sometimes I think the greatest opportunity we have as homeschoolers is time.

My advice?  Relax.  If your oldest child is under about 8 years old, keep in mind that you are running a marathon here, not a 50-yard sprint.  I think one of the reasons that so many people stop homeschooling after a year or two is because they are trying to sprint, and they get exhausted and burned out because they think they have to keep going at a pace that is simply not sustainable year after year.  Now, like everything, virtue is the happy medium.  I’m not suggesting you do none of those things–just that, like a runner, you pace yourself.  You decide which subjects are necessary every day, which would be a nice addition once a week, which devotions, activities, lessons, and sports can fit in with your life and not leave you feeling exhausted and always in a rush.

Here are a few thoughts on what’s important for the under 8 set:

  1. Time to play.
  2. Time to learn the responsibility of chores.
  3. Time to learn to read.
  4. Time to be read to (this shouldn’t stop at age 8, though).
  5. Time to learn to write neatly (this is one I wish I had spent more time on).
  6. Time to learn numbers and then adding and then subtracting.
  7. Time to learn to share with siblings and friends.
  8. Time to learn about God’s love for them.

So, when is it a good time to start some of these outside activities and more formal subjects?  You may not agree with what I think, but here is what I have found works well:

  1. Formal sports:  Around age 7 or 8 at the earliest.
  2. Dance lessons: About age 5 at the earliest just so they stay stretchy.  Otherwise about age 8.
  3. Singing lessons:  High school at the earliest.
  4. Formal science curricula:  About age 8 or 9 (by all means have fun with experiments and trips to the zoo before this).
  5. Formal history curricula: About age 8.
  6. Instrumental music lessons: When they are good readers–unless maybe it’s Suzuki violin and they actually enjoy it.
  7. Choirs:  Anytime with good instruction that is age-appropriate.

What do you think?  Do you agree?  Disagree?  What do you wish you had done earlier?  What do you wish you hadn’t wasted your time on?

I mentioned in my about page that one of the things I enjoy doing is spinning. I love working with soft merino wool and alpaca and silk. For the past couple years, in between homeschooling and my job, I have been selling handspun yarn, handwoven scarves, and most recently fiber art batts in my Etsy shop. I just changed the shop name to PurpleLamb.

What do you do for fun and/or money (or hopefully both) when you aren’t busy educationing your bunchkins? Feel free to post links to your online activities in the comments section!

Based on the last couple posts, you might think all we do around here is take vacations.  It’s not true–really it’s not; yet, here I am blogging about vacations again.

Every February, the kids and I all get a little grumpy, and education seems to be far more of a chore than it does the rest of year.  I think it’s because winter has…just…gone…on…so…long.  So last year, I finally decided that sometime in February would be the first annual (doesn’t that term make you laugh?) wish-it-were-spring break. 

Last year, it was a complete break, and honestly, just knowing that a break is coming up in a few weeks does wonders to refresh one’s spirits.  In fact, I think that having something to look forward to is always a pretty huge motivator.  It really did help, and the weeks following it were easier even if spring still hadn’t come.

This year, we were falling a bit behind on literature, so I used my best marketing abilities and the relatively short memories of my children to announce that 3 weeks hence, we would have “literature week” where the only assignments would be the literature the kids were reading individually plus the literature I was reading to everyone aloud.  It worked, and the children were excited.  Fortunately no one remembered that last year at about the same time, they got the week off entirely.

Anyway, one of the many joys of homeschooling is that you get to set your own schedule.  If you have some kids in school and some you are homeschooling or (like us for many years) your spouse is a teacher, it makes sense to plan your scheduling according to the school’s for the most part, but if that isn’t the case, take advantage of the freedom of homeschooling to plan breaks when they are most needed.  For us, that need definitely comes in February!

When do you and your kids need a break most?



Doing Triage


Once in a while for some reason or another, homeschooling has to take a backseat to other parts of life. Now, this definitely shouldn’t happen often because, well, the children keep growing up faster than humanly possible whether you are teaching them or leaving them to their own devices. Nonetheless, some days, the laundry really is more important than spelling.

In my life, the issue is not so much laundry but my job. I work from home as a medical transcriptionist, and most of the time I am able to balance work and homeschooling fairly well. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. Every once in a while though, one of my clients catches up with a lot of work all at once–or several clients do–and I am swamped with work.

For others of you, it may be work or it might be laundry or it might be a sick baby or, best of all, it might be the perfect day to go fly the new kite on a breezy spring day. On days like that, in my family, we do what we call triage. The children bring me their homeschool lists, and I start crossing things off. I cross off the things that are not imperative, the subjects where missing a day now and then really isn’t going to change the world, the subjects where catching up later won’t be a big deal or won’t be necessary at all because the children can just pick up where they left off on another day without a problem.

What those subjects are vary by child. Older children should be able to do a lot more of their subjects independently. Younger children who are just learning to read may not be able to do much independently. There are 2 kinds of triage days: The ones where I am busy with other things, and the ones where we all have other things to do. On triage days when I am not very available, I cross off nonessential subjects that require me and leave the subjects that can be done independently or with the help of an older sibling. On triage days that involve kites or field trips or minor illness among the children, I cross off everything that wouldn’t cause one of the children to fall behind in a subject with deadlines.

This too depends on the child. Since I started planning the whole year at a time, I am loathe to cross off a chapter of history because if I do, I’ll have to rework the spreadsheet for the rest of the year, which is a time-consuming bother. For the child who is learning to read, daily reading practice is really important, so I avoid crossing that off. For my 2 teenagers who are taking a science class at the local community college, obviously I can’t triage their college homework. I can’t really go to the professor and tell him the kids couldn’t do their homework because we decided to go fly a kite, now can I?

On the other hand, skill subjects like handwriting, typing, computer skills of various sorts, and occasionally phonics or spelling are all ripe for the triage list depending on the day.

I don’t do this more often than I have to, but this is one area where homeschooling is different than school. School is a separate world from family life–one where you leave your kids for the day and go about the rest of your life until the end of the school day. Homeschooling means the kids are with you and a part of your larger life. Hopefully, homeschooling is very high on the list of priorities for that life, but flexibility is just one more life skill homeschoolers have the opportunity to learn, and the occasional “triage day” can certainly be part of that.

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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