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Life of Fred

life of fred


I’m starting a new category called “Favorite Things,” and as I promised a post some time back about the Life of Fred math books, I’ll start there.

I kept hearing mention of this strangely titled set of math books by Dr. Stanley Schmidt on the fantastic, wisdom-filled Well-Trained Mind forum.  One poster there said she couldn’t image her child putting Life of Fred on an MIT college application, but I actually think if anyone at MIT ever heard of Life of Fred, he’d love it and laugh outloud with the rest of us.

Back to Fred.  I kept hearing mention of Fred, but I found it hard to take a math book called Life of Fred very seriously.  Yet we gave it a try, and it is an all-time favorite for two of my boys, and my next oldest daughter can’t wait until she is old enough for Fred too.  Why are my children so excited about a bunch of math books, you may ask?  It’s funnyReally, really funny in a Far-side meets Monte Python sort of way.  I will say that the humor is sometimes dark in a way that wouldn’t appeal to some, but it never seems to be impure or violent.  A lot of it makes you say “poor Fred” as you laugh at his capers.

Poor little Fred is  a brilliant 5-year-old mathematician who teaches at a university, and along with the ongoing story of his life are problems where Fred (and the math student) solve problems that come up in his life using mathematics.  And this isn’t just 30-problems-of-the-same-type kind of math.  There are fewer problems than other math books we used, but each one is different and impossible to solve without understanding the concepts that were being taught in that chapter while continuing to use concepts from prior chapters.

The author, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, is a retired math professor who “invented” Fred while teaching university math.  I believe the calculus book was the first one he wrote.  What amazes me is that he is actually available to answer questions by email.  My oldest son has taken him up on this offer several times and has always received a prompt and courteous reply.  I would have to say that these books are single-handedly (if books had hands) responsible for the fact that this son wants to pursue a career in math.

The books now include a full series from kindergarten or first grade through calculus and beyond to statistics and linear algebra.  His website can be found at

At least one person in our family has used each of the following books:  Apples, Butterfies, Fractions, Decimals and Percentages, Prealgebra 1 with Biology, Prealgebra 2 with Economics, Beginning Algebra, Advanced Algebra, and Geometry.  Trigonometry is on order right now.

I have two downsides that I want to mention.  First of all, although my little guys liked Apples and Butterflies, I personally could not see using the elementary series alone without a more typical arithmetic curriculum.  They made a fun supplement, and I get why he created them, but we decided not to continue through the elementary series for the time being.

Before writing those, he said that a child was ready to start the Fractions book as soon as he had mastered adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, and he makes it very clear that he thinks math should be studied with joy and not dread.  I don’t think that he really saw arithmetic books as necessary means to those ends, and I suspect that he wrote the elementary books to save a generation or two of children from dreading math through the use of long, rote arithmetic lessons.  I agree, and I think that for my children, the thought of 50 problems in Saxon would be dreadful indeed (not for some, I realize).  Still, I think there is a happy medium to be had there.  If I had to pick only Saxon or Life of Fred, though, for grammar-aged students, I would probably go for Fred.  Nonetheless, I would tend to recommend either Horizons or, better still, Math Mammoth for elementary arithmetic because they offer enough practice and very clear, step-by-step teaching.  As I mentioned above, we stopped using the elementary books after the first tw0 just because time was short.  We liked them, but I didn’t think they could stand alone.

The other downside is this:  Fred would not be a good fit for a young person who thinks very literally because sometimes Dr. Schmidt makes small leaps from point to point without really making the way clear.  This works well and may even be a good challenge for a some, but for a student who really needs math to be laid out in a very clear, stepwise fashion, this may not be the series to choose.  If you aren’t sure, you might try getting the book for your child’s level during the summer or as a supplement and see if it works for him or her.  My 2nd oldest son did the prealgebra books as his bedtime reading by his own choice, so if you think there’s no way you could get your child to do yet another mathematical task, you might be surprised!

Oh–one other great feature–the books are actually priced reasonably.  As I write this, they range between $16 for the elementary books and $39 for Calculus and Statistics.

If you are searching for a way to help develop students who are both highly capable in math and actually love it, Fred just might be the ticket.


In my last post, I mentioned that my mom recently sent me an article from The Wall Street Journal reviewing a book called Our Year of Learning Dangerously.  What I didn’t mention was what my mom wrote at the bottom corner of the article–“You should write a book.”  I don’t know if I really could or not, but it sure was nice of my mom to suggest. 

You see, when we started this homeschooling adventure 12 years ago (or 17 years ago given that we planned to do it from the time our eldest daughter was a baby), our parents thought we were nuts.  They never said it outloud to us, and for that I am grateful, but nonetheless it’s true.  Now, I don’t know if we have the full support of 100% of our respective families, but I can say this at least.  After keeping up with the news and keeping up with her grandkids, my mom is now our biggest supporter.

So if your parents or other relatives think you’re nuts for homeschooling your kids, that’s okay.  They probably already think you’re nuts for trying to live your faith or trying to eat nourishing foods or wanting a farm or whatever else may be true about you.  Give them a few years to get used to the idea without making a big deal out of it.  And give them a chance to watch your kids grow up without using the word “like” 3 times in every sentence or idolizing Hannah Montana (or is that out of date already?).  Give them a chance to see children who have interests related to who God made them to be, not just the latest craze of their peers.  Give them a chance to get to know your children who, more than likely, actually enjoy reading good books.  Give them a chance to to know your children who actually want to do what is virtuous because it is pleasing to God.

They’ll come around.

Lately, I have been following a few blogs that bring up homeschooling from a “been there, done that” perspective.  These are great Catholic Moms who tried homeschooling for a while and decided it wasn’t for them, and that’s fine.  My mother also sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal about a book called The Year of Learning Dangerously written by a mom who homeschooled her daughter for a year, that it was a good year, and that she’d never do it again.

That brings me to my topic.  Homeschooling is hard, especially if you have a big family or babies or preschoolers or you’re taking children out of school after a few years of being used to having a few hours of peace and quiet or you’re going from 2 incomes to 1 in order to do it.  So when is it not hard, you may ask?  But then, almost everything worth doing is challenging, isn’t it?

I am not saying that homeschooling is the only way to provide a good education for your children.  Not at all.  It is the way my husband and I (and the older kids too at this point) have chosen, but there are lots of other reasonable options out there.  Of course, I wouldn’t have this website if I weren’t biased toward homeschooling as a very good option and, at least some of the time, the best option.

Lots of really great people out there talk about making the decision to homeschool a year at a time, and I think that’s a good idea overall.  However, what I really want to point out is that the first year of homeschooling is the hardest by far.  Here’s why:

  1. You have to get used to having your children around you 24/7.
  2. You lose a lot of time that used to be available for other things.
  3. You discover that you often have to decide which is more important at the moment–spelling or doing a load of laundry.  The answer varies day by day.
  4. The kids never leave (except for the 15 or so outside activities each week), so their toys/books/art supplies/science experiments are always there.
  5. If your kids were in school before you started homeschooling and unless you have already won their respect at a level far beyond the average parent in today’s society, you may find they don’t take you very seriously as a teacher.  After all, you’re Mom (or Dad), and in our society that carries less weight than the real teacher in a real school.

These are real problems, but it does get easier, or maybe–and better still–we get stronger.  We as parents grow in virtue and organization and die to self as we go about this homeschooling adventure.  We have to, and that’s good.  Look back at your own life and ask if you could have handled whatever your toughest challenge is now when you were 10 years younger.  I bet most people who read this will say that there are things they do or put up with now that, while not easy, are possible now through God’s grace and their own efforts as well.

For that reason, I suggest that instead of giving it a year the first year you homeschool, commit to homeschooling for two years instead and then revisit the decision every year after that.  This is, of course, assuming no enormous change happens in your life in the intervening time.  I think you will find that the second year of homeschooling is so much easier than the first.

If you’re just starting out, you may find this hard to believe, but by the 2nd year, you will probably find that:

  1. You have to get used to having your children around you 24/7. You are enjoying your children’s company, and they are enjoying yours at least a lot of the time.
  2. You lose a lot of time that used to be available for other things.  That other stuff you used to have time to do (like write something for your homeschool website regularly–ha, ha) doesn’t seem as important as it used to.
  3. You discover that you often have to decide which is more important at the moment–spelling or doing a load of laundry.  The answer varies day by day.  The children are capable of helping a lot more than you knew before, and that it’s good for them, and also that the house really doesn’t have to be perfect.
  4. The kids never leave, so their toys/books/art supplies/science experiments are always there.  Yep, but see #3.
  5. If your kids were in school before you started homeschooling and unless you have already won their respect at a level far beyond the average parent in today’s society, you may find they don’t take you very seriously as a teacher.  After all, you’re Mom (or Dad), and in our society that carries less weight than the real teacher in a real school.   By halfway through the second year, your 7-year-old will probably stop saying, “But Mom, Mrs. Johnson said….”  Also, you will have figured out that obedience is actually a really important virtue for them to learn, and they will have started learning that Mom (or Dad) really means what she says even when she isn’t yelling.

May your homeschooling adventure be full of the peace that surpasses understanding.  Really.

This year, we are making our way through ancient history with a focus on Egyptian, Greek, and Roman history along with a few forays into other parts of the world.

We’re using the audio version of Story of the World for everyone. Now, if I had only young children, I would use this for history and add a combination of read-alouds books and books they could read themselves for history, historical fiction, and some science as well.

As it is, though, since we have a broad age range at this point, I decided to use several different “spines.” Even though the first volume of Story of the World is definitely too simple for the older children, since we’re using it for the younger children, it still provides a nice jumping-off point, so we listen to a chapter every Monday morning.  Because I am lousy at crafts and my 16-year-old is very good at them, she is in charge of planning a craft for the younger children to go with the  chapter.  She is mostly using the Story of the World Activity Book for inspiration.

In addition to Story of the World, my 16-year-old daughter is using Light to the Nations, put out by the Catholic Textbook Project.  My 14-year-old son and 12-year-old son are both using the first part of The Old World and America. The very complicated part for us was this: I wanted to have everyone studying the same parts of history at the same time so that it would match their literature and philosophy. Therefore, I kept the order of Story of the World but changed the order of Light to the Nations and The Old World and America to match.  That means that some weeks, the older children don’t have a history assignment.  This happens occasionally with Light to the Nations and more frequently with The Old World and America.  Of note, I have heard a lot of positive comments about Connecting with History, but I have not used it yet.

After choosing the history spines, I made a list of what I wanted each child to read as well as a number of read-alouds that we would enjoy together. This year, they had a little say in the matter but not all that much. For many of the read-alouds, I tried to aim toward the middle so that everyone could enjoy them, but I did make some exceptions to that. For example, I think plays are best done aloud, so we all took parts in the three Theban Plays by Sophocles and will be doing so again starting quite soon for Julius Caesar. With Sophocles, I had intended for just the older three children, but my 9-year-old daughter wanted a part too and did a formidable job as Ismene, Antigone’s sister.

Here is a list of the books we used for the various children:


  • The Children’s Homer
  • The Cat of Bubastes (we downloaded this from
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh    (children’s version)
  • Pythagorus and the Proportions
  • Pythagorus and the Ratios
  • Archimedes and the Door to Science
  • The Forgotten Daughter (we really liked this one and are looking for more of her books)
  • The Young Carthaginian by Henty (we downloaded Jim Weiss’ audio for this through the Well-Trained Mind website)
  • Julius Caesar
  • The Eagle of the Ninth (we’ll be reading this during the summer)

E and JP (teenagers)

  • The Golden Goblet
  • Mara, Daughter of the Nile
  • Sophocles the King
  • Sophocles at Colonnus
  • Antigone
  • The Iliad (they actually just watched Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver’s lectures for this)
  • The Odyssey (they read this and watched her awesome lectures)
  • Julius Caesar

A – 12-year-old son

  • The Golden Goblet
  • Mara, Daughter of the Nile
  • Sophocles the King
  • Sophocles at Colonnus
  • Antigone
  • Herodotus and the Door to History
  • D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths
  • The Wanderings of Odysseus
  • Several selections from Heroes and Heroines (an old book that might be hard to find)
  • Galen and the Gateway to Medicine
  • Pompeii and Herculaneum
  • City

M – Age 9

  • Mara, Daughter of the Nile
  • Sophocles the King (see above as to why my 9-year-old was reading this)
  • Sophocles at Colonnus
  • Antigone
  • A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls
  • Selections from Heroes and Heroines
  • Herodotus and the Door to History
  • The Traveler’s Guide to Ancient Rome
  • City
  • Pompeii and Herculaneum

I just don’t have it in me to include links to all of these right now, but if you have any questions about the books I’m referring to, feel free to ask.

So that was literature for the year. At the same time, my 14-year-old son has been listening to a podcast called History of Philosophy without any Gaps by Professor Peter Adamson at King’s College inLondon. It’s quite wonderful but definitely not something you want to send an innocent youngster off to listen to by himself as he definitely goes into issues of homosexuality as mentioned in Plato. It isn’t terribly explicit, but it is there.  Some of its fine, but we skipped the lecture of the Symposium. 

All in all, this has been a great year for us.  The children have enjoyed some books more than others, which is to be expected.  I tried to give my teens a good introduction to classical ancient literature, but you can’t do everything.  I think it is better to read a few great works with enough time to mull them over than it is to zip through more titles.  Nonetheless, I must say that for my two teens (soon to be three), time seems very short!

Next year, we’ll be doing medieval history, which is probably my very favorite.  I know my teens will be reading Beowulf, Sir Gawain, Tristan and Iseult, The Song of Roland, Romeo and Juliet, and probably another Shakespeare play as well.  I also know that I want to focus a lot on scholasticism and medieval saints, and there are some great children’s books like Adam of the Road that we’ll be reading for sure.  Beyond that, well, I have summer to figure it out.

In my last post, I talked about the nuts and bolts of planning a whole year in advance.  Here that is.  Now, I’d like to talk about the actual process of planning–the thinking part.

Some subjects are pretty straightforward.  As I mentioned in the last post, planning for math basically involves each child doing a lesson each day.  I don’t try to make science match up with history.  Susan Wise Bauer recommends doing so in The Well-Trained Mind, but it just doesn’t seem worth doing to me.  Planning for piano or another instrument is just a matter of practice time.  For this and other subjects like art, typing, computer programming, and the like that involve a given amount of time rather than a specific goal per day, the children each have a timer that they use.

The humanities are where it gets more complicated.  We plan everything around history.  I think it would be possible to plan everything around a different subject, but, well, I can’t think of one that makes as much sense to me.

This year, we have come back around to ancient history.  In case you’re looking for inspiration for some possibilities for ancient history with a wide range of ages, I’ll make that part III.

Meanwhile, here’s what I did.  First, I took the history textbooks we would be using.  Then I chose literature that was either:

  • written in the time period and country we would be studying
  • or written about that time period and country we would be studying

For my teens, I focused on the classics.  In the case of plays, I made those read-alouds that we all take parts in because I think plays are meant to be performed rather than read in isolation.  I definitely go for quality rather than quantity here.  Also, I have discovered some wonderful college-style lectures from The Teaching Company that we have used this year, specifically Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver’s lectures on The Iliad and The Odyssey.  You can find these used on Amazon for much less than new, but they are still a bit of an investment.  Here’s a link to her video lectures on The Iliad This sort of thing provides much greater insights into these classics than I could provide, give a feel for college lectures, and provide a great opportunity to learn notetaking skills.

For my younger children, I chose a combination of children’s versions of classics and good children’s literature written about the time period.  I would rather the latter than the former where possible.  Some books really are both though, like Nathaniel Hawthorn’s A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls.  That one can be downloaded for free as an ebook.  Also, where I could find them, I included a few books on inventions of the time or other scientific accomplishments.

The trick has been figuring out how long to allow for any given book.  Rather than risk having more than they could read, I made sure to leave ample time and then let them read books of their choosing in between.  In our household, The Lord of the Rings is almost always being read by someone in between other books.

In addition to the literature they are reading on their own, I chose several read-alouds that I would read to everyone over the course of the year.  This allows the younger children to be exposed to something beyond their reading level and makes it possible to effectively “double up” on literature.  I read these as bedtime stories and also during the day whenever possible.  As I mentioned above, when it comes to plays, everyone takes parts, and we read these aloud as well.

Other subjects can certainly be combined with history and literature.  It would make a great deal of sense to combine writing with literature, assigning reports and essays to go with them.  In our case, however, we’re using the DVDs from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, so writing remains separate from literature.  This is definitely a compromise for us because I would prefer them to be combined, but Andrew Pudewa teaches writing in such an entertaining and effective manner that it has been a worthwhile compromise for us.

What else fits in with literature?  Well, theology does.  Since we’re doing ancient history this year and my teens are using the Didache series for theology, my 16-year-old is doing the Scripture book this year.  Next year, she’ll do the church history book, which should go along nicely with medieval history.

Also, studying the art and music of the period is a great idea.  Here’s a list of some famous composers by era.  Another great resource once you get to the Renaissance and beyond is, which has audio versions as well as scores for gobs of wonderful music that is in the public domain.  And here’s a great website for art beginning with the Renissance as well:

Philosophy can also be studied alongside of history–at least history of philosophy can be for teens.  More about that in the upcoming post on what we’ve done for ancient history this year.

I suspect some of you might be wondering where I came up with the books we chose.  There are lots of sources for that.  I recommend The Well-Trained Mind and Designing Your Own Classical CurriculumAlso, I’m willing to bet that a majority of homeschool moms and dads were avid readers in their youths.  What were your favorite books?  There’s also the wonderful Well-Trained Mind forum where you can find suggestions on great books for any time period and age of children.  Another great source for historical fiction is Bethlehem Books.

Let me know if this post is of help to you.  The next one will include some specifics on ancient history from what we did this year.

This has been one of the more chaotic years of our lives.  I have been juggling working as a medical transcriptionist with homeschooling as well as a lot of uncertainty for the immediate future.  In spite of that, it has also been one of the best–perhaps the best–year we have had as a homeschooling family.  What made the difference?  Planning!  Now, this is totally against my natural tendencies, but we have gotten so much more accomplished this way.

Until this year, I have always planned our years fairly loosely.  In some subjects, I continued that method this year.  Math, for example, is planned like this:  Do the next lesson.  Repeat.  On the other hand, when we were doing modern history and literature last year, I planned as we went along, choosing the next work of literature with each child as they finished the last one.  It worked fairly well, but this year has been better.

Now, if you are using a planned curriculum provider, you probably don’t need to do much of this.  In fact, that’s probably the major advantage of using a planned curriculum provider.  If, however, you’re doing what I do (the reinvent-the-wheel-and-hope-it-doesn’t-turn-out-octagonal method), as the children get older, planning substantial periods in advance becomes more important and just makes things run more smoothly.  The major improvement for us has been this:  It keeps me from just calling off homeschooling on a beautiful or crazy-busy day.  It’s just too much hassle to rework the schedule to make up for the missed day.  Also, since I work from home and homeschool (a combination that is not for the faint of heart but can be done), it makes it possible for the kids to keep going even on days when I am only minimally available.

Basically, I spent a large chunk of time over the course of a couple weeks last summer planning the whole year for every child and every subject using an Excel spreadsheet.  Until I did that, I didn’t know it was possible to run out of columns in Excel, but it is!  In case you’re wondering, I started to use Homeschool Tracker.  In fact, I spent many, many hours getting it all set up.  In the end, though, I just didn’t like the layout compared to a good old Excel spreadsheet.  I think it is a very strong program with excellent customer service (they were Johnny-on-the-spot anytime I had a question); however, it just wasn’t for me.  I also considered using some other neat resources like Donna Young’s forms.  These too are great, and I highly recommend her articles on planning.  I’ve used some of her forms in the past as well, and I gained inspiration from her forms for this year’s mega-planning spreadsheet, but these still didn’t quite do what I wanted.  What I did want was one huge color-coded spreadsheet (with a color for each child) with the ability to print the week’s work for each child and the ability to make changes as needed (in case I had wrongly estimated how long it would take my 14-year-old son to read The Odyssey, for example).

Here’s how I did it:

Starting with a blank Excel spreadsheet, I entered each week (i.e. week 1, week 2, etc.) at the top of the page.  I used the “merge and center” tool for this.

Next I pulled out a calendar and planned out the days and weeks we would be taking off.  Since my husband is a school teacher, we planned our vacations to line up with his.  I then entered the dates across the top.  This can be automated fairly easily by entering one date and the using “=that cell+1” and then copying and pasting groups of date.  Excel automatically enters the next date.  I did not include the dates for weeks we would be taking a holiday.

The first page going down was my page.  I used this for subjects that don’t happen without my direct involvement.  For my 6-year-old, that’s pretty much every subject.  For my 16-year-old, it only includes a couple things.  This page also includes the subjects that several or all of the children do together so I could easily make sure they were getting done.  Down the left column of each week’s page for me is the subject and the child with whom I do it.  Some things were done daily.  Here is an example of one of my pages:

Week   27
03/12/2011 03/13/2011 03/14/2011 03/15/2011 03/16/2011 03/17/2011 03/18/2011
Start/Subject Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Leave for Mass/Italian; Laundry
Leave for Mass/Italian
Bathrooms Co-op   Mass & Party
8:15 Joy of Science Watch   DVD
Ch   28 Empire Gladiators
Read Aloud
Finish The Forgotten Daughter
J – 100 Easy Lessons Half   a lesson Half   a lesson Half   a lesson Half   a lesson
M – Spelling One-third   of a step One-third   of a step One-third   of a step One-third   of a step
A – Grammar One   worksheet One   worksheet One   worksheet One   worksheet
JP – Spelling One-half   of a step One-half   of a step One-half   of a step One-half   of a step
E – Latin Roots Next Next Next Next
J – Math One   Lesson One   Lesson One   Lesson One   Lesson
A – Spelling One-half   of a step One-half   of a step One-half   of a step One-half   of a step
J – Spelling Next Next Next Next
M – Mult review Next Next Next Next
M & J – Bible Next Next Next
Theology A   – Faith & Life Narration M   – Faith & Life Narration
Check Work


Each of the children then had a page going down after that, going from oldest to youngest.  One thing that I found helpful was to fill in the oldest child’s first.  After that, I was able to copy several subjects to the younger children.  Here is a sample week for each of the children:

Week   24
02/20/2012 02/21/2012 02/22/2012 02/23/2012 02/24/2012 02/25/2012 02/26/2012
Start/Subject Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Writing Work   on assignment Finish   assignment 8:15
Start   assignment
Biology Parts   of a Cell (second 6)
Piano 30 minutes 30 minutes 30 minutes 30 minutes
Latin   Roots & Spelling Next Next Next Next
Algebra 1 Lesson 1 Lesson 1 Lesson 1 Lesson
Computer Typing
30 minutes
30 minutes
30 minutes
30 minutes
History Ch 11, The Consequences of Alexander’s   Conquests.  Enter dates in timeline and answer checkpoint questions.
Arts & Crafts 3:00
Story of the World Craft
Illustrator Plan   Story of the World Craft Paint,   Scupt, or Draw
Theology pp.   207-209 pp.   210-213 pp.   214-216 pp.   217-218
Literature Watch   Odyssey Lecture 3 Read Odyssey Book   8 Read Odyssey Book   9 Watch Odyssey   Lecture 4
Week   24
02/20/2012 02/21/2012 02/22/2012 02/23/2012 02/24/2012 02/25/2012 02/26/2012
Start/Subject Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Writing Work   on assignment Finish   assignment 8:15
Start   assignment
Piano 30   minutes 30   minutes 30   minutes 30   minutes
Biology Parts of a Cell   (second 6)
All about   Spelling Half a lesson Half a lesson Half a lesson Half a lesson
Geometry 1 Lesson 1 Lesson 1 Lesson 1 Lesson
Computer Python
1 hour
30 minutes
1 hour
30 minutes
History: Old World and America Unit III, chapter 1
Microsoft   Tutorial Microsoft   Tutorial Microsoft   Tutorial History   of Philosophy
1 Lecture
Theology: Introduction to Catholicism Prepare ch 22 questions.  Read chapter and answer circled questions   in complete sentences.
Literature Watch   Odyssey Lecture 3 Read Odyssey Book   8 Read Odyssey Book   9 Watch Odyssey   Lecture 4
Week   24
02/20/2012 02/21/2012 02/22/2012 02/23/2012 02/24/2012 02/25/2012 02/26/2012
Start/Subject Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Writing Work   on assignment Finish   assignment 8:15
Start   assignment
Piano 30   minutes 30   minutes 30   minutes 30   minutes
Analytical   Grammar Next Next Next Next
All about   Spelling Half a lesson Half a lesson Half a lesson Half a lesson
Math 1 Lesson 1 Lesson 1 Lesson 1 Lesson
Religion & Logic Thinking   Toolbox Chapter 23 Bible
Computer Typing Gamemaker Typing Gamemaker
Literature Read third quarter of The Wanderings of   Odysseus
Science: Astronomy Astronomy Lesson 8
History: Old World and America Unit III, chapter 1
Week   24
02/20/2012 02/21/2012 02/22/2012 02/23/2012 02/24/2012 02/25/2012 02/26/2012
Start/Subject Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Writing Start   assignment Work   on assignment Finish   assignment 8:15   Watch SICC-A
Piano 30   minutes 30   minutes 30   minutes 30   minutes
Mult.   Facts Next Next Next Next
All about   Spelling Next Next Next Next
Science Astronomy Astronomy Astronomy Astronomy
Religion Faith & Life   1 Lesson Children’s Bible   with Joseph Children’s Bible   with Joseph Children’s Bible   with Joseph
Math Mammoth Next Next Next Next
Map Skills/Fred Map Fred   Butterflies Map Fred   Butterflies
Literature Explore
Arts & Crafts/Typing 3   PM Story of the World Craft with Elizabeth Typing
30 minutes
Art Typing
30 minutes
Week 24
02/20/2012 02/21/2012 02/22/2012 02/23/2012 02/24/2012 02/25/2012 02/26/2012
Start/Subject Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
All about Spelling Next Next Next Next
Math Mammoth Next Next Next Next
Reading: 100 Easy Lessons Next Next Next Next
Handwriting Next Next Next Next
Explode   the Code 3 Butterflies 3 Butterflies 3 Butterflies 3 Butterflies
Flex Math   Fact Children’s   Bible with Mary Children’s   Bible with Mary Children’s   Bible with Mary
Flex 3   PM Story of the World Craft Fred   Butterflies Math   Facts Fred   Butterflies

Unfortunately, all the pretty colors aren’ts showing up in the post, but each child’s page is a different color.  Also, just in case you’re wondering, on Fridays, we have a co-op for part of the year.  When that’s not going on, Fridays are considered a catch-up day.

That’s about it for the nuts and bolts.  Next, I’ll talk about how I went about planning the various subjects.

Books as visitors…

A book is a visitor that you invite into your heart.  The thing about this visitor, this book, is that once you invite it to visit, it never really leaves.  The same is true of films and music because these things, all of them, are based in stories, and we think in stories.  Every culture passes down stories from one generation to the next as a means of creating and retaining culture.  Because stories in every form are so native to our nature as human beings and because they are not (nor should they be) merely a matter of simple black and white morals, I think they have the ability to bypass the safety valves of the intellect and go straight to the heart. 

This matters because books, films, and music all make up the white noise of our personalities.  A good story is vitally important because it has the power to subtly change who we are.  A bad story–one that does not speak the truth about human nature–has the power to do that as well.  This matters for us, and it matters for our children as well perhaps even more.  We are all in the process of becoming more and more who God wants us to be, but they are changing more quickly.

Some would say that as long as a child is reading, that’s a good thing, and what they read doesn’t matter all that much.  I vehemently disagree.  Reading itself is a morally neutral act.  Reading good books is an act of virtue.  Reading bad books is an act of vice. 

Today, we find what I would consider to be a rather horrific widespread acceptance of darkness in books young people are reading.  It cannot but fail to increase the acceptance of that same darkness in life, making those who read it less capable of recognizing good from evil. 

If you are a homeschooling parent or any parent at all, you have the right and the authority to have a say in what your children are reading.  Please make sure that it tends toward what is good and true and beautiful.

Let’s talk about Arithmetic

Math is not my strong suit, and I have to admit that we have made several switches of curriculum over the years, which has definitely cost my kids time.  This is especially true for my oldest.  With her, we started with Math-U-See, but when she started complaining about it, we switched to Horizons.  Because Math-U-See at that time anyway did things in such a different order from other programs, she had to go back about a year when she started Horizons.  I guess all I can say in that regard is that this is an area where it is really good if you can find something that works well for your child or children early on and stick with it through arithmetic.  Of course, if something is a dismal failure or causes floods of tears every day, it’s time to switch no matter what.

When it comes to arithmetic, I have a couple favorites at this point.  For those who like the spiral approach where a new topic is introduced a little at a time along with constant review of older topics, Horizons is great.  The only problem I have with it is that I think their expectations for kindergarten and first grade are awfully high–unreasonably so for most of my kiddos.  Another spiral program that I hear good things about is CLE, but I haven’t actually seen it.

My new-found favorite is a mastery-based program where the focus is on one topic at a time.  Regarding the question of spiral versus mastery, if you google it, you’re sure to find lots of strong opinions.  I’ll leave that to someone else.  My new favorite, though, is Math Mammoth.  We started using it about this time last year.  I originally got it for my then 5-year-old, but I ended up switching my 8- and 11-year-old children to it as well because I was so impressed (in spite of what I just finished saying at the beginning this post, LOL).

I was looking for something with more of an Asian math technique, but Singapore Math (apparently the gold standard in that regard) was just too foreign for me to get it.  I have come to think that, as important as it is for a curriculum material to be a good match for the student, it also has to be a good match for the mom or dad who is doing the teaching.  Math Mammoth looks like “normal” math, but the author, Maria Miller, places a great deal of emphasis on mental math.  She also explains everything right there in the text.  If I could ask for one thing, it would be for a slightly more elegant layout.  From the standpoint of good solid mathematical learning though, I am very impressed.

She offers all of 1st through 6th grade math (her light blue series) on one disc or download.  Of course, I have to pay to print them out, but her price makes that still quite a good deal compared to some other programs.  Of note, she also has quite a few Youtube videos about the teaching and learning of math.

I’m using it with my 3 youngest children now.  With the oldest of those three, he just needed some review before heading into algebra.  He had already gotten through 5th grade Horizons and then had gone through Life of Fred Fractions, Decimals and Percentages, and the 2 prealgebra books, but I noticed some gaps that I wanted to make sure were rock solid before he started algebra.  Per Maria’s suggestion, I give him the test first, and if he gets less than a 90%, he does the chapter.  If not, he skips it and goes on to the next test..  I couldn’t do that with a spiral program that covers lots of different concepts in one lesson, but I can with Math Mammoth.

I also like the fact that the expectations are right on for my kids with plenty of practice but not too much.  There are extra worksheets if a child needs extra practice, and unlike a certain math publisher I know of, there’s no need to feel guilty if you decide your child has the idea and is ready to move on even if there are some pages left in the lesson.  Math Mammoth is just a google away, and she also has sales through that make a good deal even better.  I really wish we had found this years ago.

I’ll try to post about Life of Fred in the near future.  It deserves a post of its own.

What is a classical education?

I’ve seen a lot of debate lately about what exactly is a classical education.  I saw one person eviscerate Dorothy Sayers and claim that her idea of a classical education was erroneous.  I’ve seen other people say that a classical education is largely about learning classical languages–Latin and ancient Greek, specifically.  I have heard other people say that it means reading the great books.

I really like Dorothy Sayers, and my ideas of what a classical education is largely came from her brief essay.  I think her method of describing a hopeful new future based on young people using the method of the trivium is brilliant and clear.  It’s easy to keep in mind:  Young children learn lots of “stuff” in the grammar stage (letter sounds, names of animals, continents, etc.), adolescents in the logic/dialetic stage learn to argue logically.  They tend to argue naturally.  This is the opportunity to help them do so logically and respectfully.  The rhetoric stage begins somewhere around high school.  This is the opportunity for young people to learn to speak and write eloquently.  It is also an opportunity to become involved in political issues and impassioned for the good.  I find that I can see the transition from logic to rhetoric.  It isn’t instant but gradual.

Nonetheless, I guess after so many years of homeschooling, I think there is a lot of room for variation in the definition of a classical education and even more room regarding how it is lived out in the daily lives of homeschooling families.  We homeschoolers really are quite the opposite of homogeneous.

For us, classical education is two things together really:

1. It is a method that takes into consideration a child’s natural stage of learning and orients the content and method of learning to that stage as mentioned above.

2. It involves choosing content from the good, the true, and the beautiful.  That means delving into great books and ideas.  At a young age, it means children’s classics like the Narnia books, the Little House books, Tolkien, mythology, fables.  Later, it includes the books that have formed the minds of men and women for many centuries.

So how do you define classical education?

My very favorite part of homeschooling is helping one of my children learn to read.  It’s so amazing to see a young child go from preliterate to literate–to watch the world of words and their meaning open up to a child.  Right now, I’m watching and helping this happen with our youngest child so far.  He is nearing the end of 100 Easy Lessons.  We’re also using Explode the Code Online and All about Spelling.  I like 100 Easy Lessons because it helps with blending so well, but I have found that one whole lesson is too much for one day–or has been for most of my children.  His goal for the day for Explode the Code Online is 3 butterflies, and with All about Spelling, we do about 1 lesson per week.

One thing I have found over the years is that it’s best to stop just when you notice that the child is losing attention.  Catherine Levenson said the same in her book on Charlotte Mason.  That way, they learn to use their full attention rather than doing what I do all the time–trying to divide it unsuccessfully.  Also, it makes for a more joyful learning attitude.  This is one of those things I wish I had known when I was first homeschooling my “guinea pigs.”

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