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Writers Circle

The Writers Circle team is made up of the best of classical educators, provides information to help us grasp and expand our understanding of the ideas behind what we do and why we do it.

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Writers Circle

Writers Circle

The Writers Circle team is made up of the best of classical educators, provides information to help us grasp and expand our understanding of the ideas behind what we do and why we do it.

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    In an age when many are telling parents who they aren't... Leigh Bortins remin
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    Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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    Kate was born overseas, attending International Baccalaureate schools in Iran, I
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    Tiffany Redwine serves as a help-meet to husband Paul of 17 years, as a mother
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    Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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    Ruth and Robbo, her husband of 25 years, live in a house they built in Vermont.
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    David Bailey
    David Bailey is the founding pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Stokesdale
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    Tobin Duby graduated Patrick Henry College with a B.A. in Classical Liberal Arts
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  • Christina Champe
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    Christina educates her three children at their [semi] rural home in Northern Cal
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    Kathy Sheppard
    Kathy Sheppard has a B.A. in Latin from the College of William and Mary and a M.
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    Stacy is a Foundations tutor and mother of four.
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Time to Reflect, Renew, Refresh

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Friday, 06 May 2011
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If your family is like mine, you are looking forward to a season of rest. Everything seems to be winding down . . . piano lessons, dance recitals, Memory Master testing, and on and on. . . Now, it’s time to reflect on what we have learned and accomplished this year—to count our blessings, so to speak. Then, we will renew our vision for homeschooling by attending homeschool conferences and practicums. Finally, we hope to rest a bit and refresh ourselves for the year to come.


I had the distinct privilege of proofing Memory Master candidates this year in my community. This always causes me to reflect on the way we are equipping the next generation. Once again, I sat in awe of eight- to twelve- year- olds reciting such a huge quantity of information.


In order to get them to relax, I always ask them which subject they want to finish first. Some of them choose to get the “hard stuff” done and choose to recite the timeline of history. Others decide to start with the “really easy part” which is the history songs.


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Instead of – A Homeschool Mother’s Day Poem

Posted by Robert
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on Friday, 06 May 2011
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On this beautiful Mother’s Day

Boy writing

I can’t quite find the words to say

How I appreciate all you gave up

So in wisdom and virtue I would grow up

 

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

Posted by Tobin
Tobin
Tobin Duby graduated Patrick Henry College with a B.A. in Classical Liberal Arts
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on Wednesday, 04 May 2011
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Matt Bianco, my colleague on this blog, has argued that beauty is absolute and objective - that it is not in the eye of the beholder, but, in the eye of God.  This perspective is much needed in our age: Darwinist thinkers do not accept a standard of beauty (or, indeed, of anything) that originates outside of man’s own mind, and they have very effectively taught Christians the heresy that human response to beauty is nothing more than social conditioning, or a convenient evolutionary trait - that, for example, a man is attracted to a woman only through a system of chemicals engineered so that the species can continue, and not because of any transcendent truth reflected in her nature.  Darwinists succeed when Christians are gulled into believing that beauty is a matter of opinion.  


I think a good place to continue Mr. Bianco’s discussion is by asking the question: if beauty is not a matter of opinion, why are there so many different opinions about art? Do these differing opinions mean that beauty is subjective? Following up his article about the origin of beauty, I wish to write about the effect that transcendent beauty has on the beholder’s eye, which is the receiver - not arbiter - of beauty.



Some Christians favor films or paintings that others find to be tiresome, and every individual favors some pieces of art over others. This wide spectrum of taste is not at odds with the objectivity of beauty.  The answer can be found in the very nature of beauty; beauty reflects truth. 

As a side note, this is why a man unacquainted with truth will be attracted to bad art: chaotic postmodern art and pornography are both examples - both reflect falsehood.  Artists who portray ugliness and call it beauty do so because the truth is not in them.  Conversely, the story of the crucifixion will be seen by the unregenerate reader as ugly, while the Christian will see it as beautiful: the story does not change, the beholder does.  The greater the beholder’s acquaintance with truth, the more places he can see it reflected, and the more dazzled his eyes will be. 

Does this mean that stronger Christians are able to enjoy more and broader kinds of art?  Yes and no.  Surely, the closer we become to God the more we see of Him, and the more places we see Him in.  It should always be our goal to make our eyes sensitive to more kinds of art, because in doing so we discover new ways of meeting Him (more on this later).  Mature Christians will be attracted to good art (art which reflects the truth) rather than bad art.  However, even among these, there are still vast differences of taste; taste cannot be accounted for in terms of maturity alone.

Back to the main question: differences in taste exist because just as beauty in general reflects truth in general, each particular beautiful thing reflects some particular facet of truth.  Christians (and the unbaptized too) inherently favor works of art which reflect the truths they themselves know best - and these are drawn from their experiences: a story about the struggles of a single parent will be most beautiful to someone who has experience in the area.  More often, art can also resonate with us based not on things we have experienced, but simply on the way we view the world: someone who thinks about man as warrior will favor a movie about war and wilderness, while someone who thinks about him as lover will favor a romance.  It is in this way that individuals can favor one movie over another (or even hate one of them), without changing the fact that both are good art (note that this does not mean, as the postmodernists say, that all things are true or that all movies are equally good). 

There are certain “boring,” “bleak,” or even “disgusting” movies which I perceive to be very beautiful - because the truths they communicate are ones that deeply touch my soul.  Thus beauty is not up to the individual - but every individual’s faculty for perceiving and enjoying beauty is unique, and shaped by his experiences and his outlook.

However, this is not to imply that beauty communicates truth to us only within the bounds of our own maturity and experiences.  Beyond this, beauty acquaints us with truth.  Most of us have had the experience of finding something beautiful without being able to explain why, rather like Solomon, who, because he was the wisest man alive, was able to see intense beauty in simple things - an eagle in the air, a serpent on a rock, and a ship on the sea - without attempting to explain them.  We can no more explain them ourselves because we, like Solomon, are being taught by the beauty we are seeing.  Beauty lifts us closer to Truth.

It should always be our desire to grow closer to God so we can see more of His beauty - and this is not done only through factual knowledge of God (though this indeed opens our eyes to more and better kinds of art), but by exposure to beauty.  Understanding of beauty births understanding of truth, births understanding of beauty, forever - just as an inexperienced taster may not enjoy coffee or wine the first time he meets it, but learns to desire it more and more as he comes to understand.  The more we understand, the more we are able to understand.  Let us be like Solomon, surrender to beauty, and by it be conformed to Truth.

Bio:

Tobin Duby graduated Patrick Henry College with a B.A. in Classical Liberal Arts after being homeschooled through high school. He currently works at Classical Conversations, producing videos and managing media. His one wish would be go to back in time and convert Ayn Rand.  In his leisure time he writes essays about theology and postmodernism. He fancies himself a film critic and short story writer. He likes the high church; he likes home-brewing beer, camping and bicycling. He also likes semicolons.

Homeschoolers Wanted: The College Search

Posted by Robert
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on Wednesday, 27 April 2011
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Growing up in the 90’s, homeschooling through high school was not as popular as it is today. One of the biggest detractors at the time was the unique challenge of college admissions. Recruiting faculty was unfamiliar with homeschooling in general and ill prepared to process home-educated students’ applications. As a result, additional paperwork and entrance exams were required. Fortunately, the number of schools with more stringent requirements for homeschoolers is dwindling. In fact, many colleges today actively seek to recruit homeschoolers and have even added web pages designed specifically to attract them.  

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Beauty is in the Eye of God

Posted by Matt
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Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Tuesday, 26 April 2011
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Among Christians, there is general agreement on the objective nature of truth:  a truth is true, whether you believe it or not. We like to hear our postmodern friends (who deny the existence of absolute truth) say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth,” because when they do, we get to ask, “Is it absolutely true that there is no such thing as absolute truth?” Of course, they cannot answer, because a yes affirms that there is absolute truth, while a no affirms the same thing.

What is not so obvious among Christians is whether or not beauty is objective and absolute. We are all likely to affirm beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It seems an indisputable point when you consider the differences in taste from one person to another when determining the beauty of another person, a song, a book, a meal, or a painting. Our differences in taste surely appear to prove the subjective nature of beauty.

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Refinement of Mathematics

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International Perspectives and the Refinement of Mathematics Instruction in the American Home
By Andrew Elizalde

www.neoclassicalthinktank.org

In addition to focused studies on Christian and classical education, my recent studies have also included a consideration of the curriculum and methods of leading international ministries of education. I believe that every public, private, and home educator would do well to contemplate the findings of recent international research. In this article, I offer, first, a characterization of the strengths and weaknesses of mathematics instruction in the United States and second, possible refinements of our instructional methods in the home.

Tags: Math
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Homeschooling High School

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on Thursday, 21 April 2011
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Many parents happily take on the task of homeschooling their children in the early years, but when it comes to high school, they simply lose heart and send their children off to school. Several years ago, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine conducted a survey of our readers and discovered that 81% planned to homeschool through high school, yet at the time only 26% were actually homeschooling in the upper grades. And the figure was only slightly higher (31%) for junior high. Why is there such a big drop-off rate when it comes to homeschooling through high school? Far too many parents fear they just don’t have adequate skills to homeschool through high school. They worry that they cannot properly prepare their children for college and a career by educating them at home. But the facts show that homeschoolers do quite well in academics and in adulthood.

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Contextual Learning

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on Wednesday, 20 April 2011
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“I have vigorously defended contextual learning in my book because I believe that it is the key to how we learn as well as to the delight we find in learning. Children learn to speak by hearing words used in context, not by memorizing their definitions or studying their etymologies.”

David Hicks, Norms and Nobility


Contextual learning, called by some synthetic learning, is the learning that comes out of the whole to engage the part and it asserts that the context of a thing about which one is learning is what makes learning interesting, delightful, and profitable.

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Understanding Conflict

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on Tuesday, 19 April 2011
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“Write me a story,” I said to the girls in my junior high composition class.  “It is due next Wednesday.”


That was the extent of the assignment I gave them.  No limits, no rules, no guidance – nothing.  Admittedly, I was new – as a first year teacher, I had no way of knowing what I was in for, or how grave an error I had just made.  If I had been more experienced, I would have been alarmed by the eager light coming on in the students’ eyes.  These were aspiring writers, after all.  They had always wanted to change the world with the great American novel, and I had just promised to edit it for them.  

Each of them.  


When Wednesday finally came, the students marched proudly to the front of the room and placed their stories on my desk.  As the stack mounted, my heart sank into my shoes.   The overwhelming mass of paper in front of me would take three weeks to read.  Then and there, I firmly resolved never to make such a foolish assignment again.

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Memory Work: A Personal Journey

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Monday, 18 April 2011
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For the last six years, I have encountered some of the same questions over and over again from families who are wondering about memory work.  Why should I introduce difficult concepts to a young child?  Why should I teach my children to memorize and recite things that they cannot understand?  Isn't it a waste of time to memorize things that they will just forget?  My family started the Classical Conversations Foundations program in 2005 when my oldest child was 6.  He has now completed each of the three cycles of memory work twice and has just been awarded the honor of Memory Master for the fourth time.  Reflecting on our journey, I realized some truths about memory work that I did not understand in the beginning.

The first truth is shockingly simple-the repetition of difficult concepts produces long-term results.  In the early years, I questioned the wisdom of having my six-year-old repeat the associative law.  It seemed unreasonable to ask him to chant "a plus opening parenthesis b plus c closing parenthesis equals opening parenthesis a plus b closing parenthesis plus c."  It would have been easy to dismiss this particular item as something that he simply was not ready for.  However, we persevered in chanting this math law every year for six years.

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More Than Enough

Posted by David Bailey
David Bailey
David Bailey is the founding pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Stokesdale
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on Tuesday, 12 April 2011
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Life comes at you fast, they say. For me, it’s not just the speed, it’s the volume. My mind has to be engaged almost all the time. There is always something else to do. There is always something else to know, something else to use, something else to obey. At any given moment, I can be sure that I’m missing something.


There is too much to know. The internet has assured us that we cannot know it all. There is an unlimited amount of information on virtually any topic. It is impossible to be well informed anymore. I try to keep up with the news, but often miss something I consider very important. How could that happen? Then there is entertainment news, an important topic for anyone who wants to keep up with culture. However, there are so many TV channels now, so many shows. Who could know them all? Movies come and go, and are nominated for Academy Awards, and I have never heard of them.

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How to get unstuck with Latin

Posted by Kathy Sheppard
Kathy Sheppard
Kathy Sheppard has a B.A. in Latin from the College of William and Mary and a M.
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on Monday, 11 April 2011
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It is essential in order to get the most of your classical education to undertake the study of Latin. It is even more essential that you* and your student understand Latin! What happens, though, when you get stuck? Thankfully, for most of us reading this, we belong to communities that have other parents who are doing the same thing we are. We can discuss anything and usually help each other through when we get stuck. Once in a while, though, we need a bit more help. Here are some resources I have found to be useful in helping people get unstuck:

1) QUIA -- This website has games students can play concerning many subjects. There are quite a few shared games involving Henle Latin and Latin declensions. Any student can do the games without logging into Quia. Students can do flashcards, games, quizzes, memory, et cetera.

Tags: Latin
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Protocol Elegance

Posted by Linda Tomkinson
Linda Tomkinson
Linda Tomkinson homeschooled her three children from grades K-12. Linda not only
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on Friday, 08 April 2011
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The March 25th "HMS Pinafore" performance at the Piedmont Opera marked my eleventh year of Protocol in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Although times, faces, and performances have changed over the years, the basic idea has not. Protocol is just that, "the customs and regulations dealing with diplomatic formality, precedence, and etiquette" (dictionary.com).

I first eased into the event as a chaperone and then a few years later Leigh Bortins passed the hostess duties on to me. Leigh was a member of a local country club so our formal dinners started there with her comfort of familiarity. Later, I found a fine restaurant near the theatre for our four course meals. What I appreciate about the restaurant is the public atmosphere of elegance for our evening that will be translated for the future: Today, the focus may be the student's struggle with how to eat bruschetta gracefully while having a pleasant conversation at the same time; at some future tomorrow, the focus may move to a conversation of greater import, perhaps a prelude to a marriage proposal.

With the development of Protocol, the event moved beyond an experience of gathering for an evening in formal dress. Leigh added the pleasant and informative Protocol Matters by Sandra Boswell to the Classical Conversations Bookstore. It was very inspiring to be reminded that manners are purposeful kindnesses that are not necessarily intuitive, not needing to be stuffy, and can easily be demonstrated and practiced. My role grew to be more supportive and friendly, not only as a kind greeter but also as a guide for the evening's event from first contact by email, to delivering information, to the arrival on the doorstep, to gentle instruction during both the dinner and performance.

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Read Alouds Part 2

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Thursday, 07 April 2011
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When I first began to homeschool, I had visions of my children sitting at my feet, hanging on my every word, and basking in the warm glow of knowledge.  We’ve never had a day like that, but there is one time of day when they are sitting at my feet and hanging on my every word.  It happens when we read great books together.  The experience of families reading aloud together was quite common before the days of radio and television (and texting and Facebook).  Time spent with great stories and characters gave families common references and sparked meaningful conversation.

 

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Things Homeschooling is good at

Posted by Tobin
Tobin
Tobin Duby graduated Patrick Henry College with a B.A. in Classical Liberal Arts
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on Tuesday, 05 April 2011
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I was homeschooled until college. As some of my friends reached high school, their parents put them into the State establishment, but not mine.  

My freshman year of high school we studied the War Between the States. Sophomore year, the twentieth century, and World War II. Junior year I studied literature, and wrote creatively every day. My high school years were everything I needed, and I even took the luxury of an extra one before leaving for college.

Many parents feel a pressure to place children in State schools when they near high school age. I think it has something to do with the accessibility of sports, or programs, or even socialization. I can’t speak to this decision or to the pressures that drive it because I’m not a parent of high-school age children. I can say that I turned out fine.

Here are some things that twelve years at home (with eight more hours there per day) provided me.

Getting Started Homeschooling: Scheduling

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Monday, 04 April 2011
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In previous articles, we have looked at choosing your curriculum and methodology and organizing your school room.  Now we can consider how to organize your day.  As a state manager and practicum speaker for Classical Conversations, I have been repeatedly asked to provide a schedule and to address the issue of organizing a typical day at home.  Like all homeschooling families, I have tried a number of schedules and routines.  This year, with a two-year-old running around the house, we have adjusted yet again.   Here are the things which make the day-to-day easier.


    Planning for the year ahead. Each summer, my husband gives me a precious gift.  He takes the children somewhere fun like the zoo or the science museum and leaves me alone in a quiet house to plan for the school year ahead.  During my “planning retreat,” I organize each child’s books and supplies into their file box for the year (for more details, see my article on organizing the schoolroom). 

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Homeschoolers and College

Posted by Matt
Matt
Matt Bianco is married to his altogether lovely high school sweetheart, Patty. T
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on Friday, 01 April 2011
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On the first day, God created light and it was good. On the second day, God created the heavens between the separated waters, and together the light and the heavens were good. He continued with each day’s creation being deemed good until the sixth day. On the sixth day, God created the land animals and then man, male and female, in His image, to rule over all of it, and together all of His creation was very good.

 

Being created in the image of our creating God, it is inherent in us to desire to make good things into more good things, and more good things into very good things. This is why no parents will ever raise up their children with the goal of making them worse than they were themselves. If our life is good, then we want our children’s lives to be very good. We work hard to provide a very good life for them; we make decisions about their education that will empower them to provide very good lives for themselves as they reach adulthood.

 

When our children were young, we made the hard decision to move from good to very good and homeschool them following the classical, Christian model—and for many of us, using Classical Conversations. Now, as they mature, we have to make another hard decision. How do we choose what is very good for our child at the high school level? Do we continue with Classical Conversations, or do we join the status quo and enroll our homeschooled children into government schools because they appear to offer more opportunities such as sports, extracurricular activities, and accredited academic records? We face this decision because we know college looms ahead. How will my homeschooler get accepted into a very good college without sports, accredited academic records, and a resume replete with extracurricular activities and clubs?

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Getting Started Homeschooling: Organizing

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Monday, 28 March 2011
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If you are new to homeschooling, you may be asking yourself:  What do I need? Where am I going to put it?  Should we study at the kitchen table?  Or should we sit in a row at child-size desks?  Do I need a separate room?   

Over the last seven years, I have tried varieties of all of these and have learned much.  First, let me say that I am not one of those naturally gifted organizers who can sweep into your home and make order out of chaos.  I have clutter, especially when it comes to books.  However, I have developed a few strategies that keep our school day organized.
My primary goal is to wake up each morning with instant access to everything we need for the school day.   In addition, I am working each day to train my children to be more and more independent and self-sufficient.  Below, I describe my file box system for each child which allows even very young ones to start their own school day.

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Portable Walls

Posted by Kim Walsh
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on Thursday, 24 March 2011
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We are all busy homeschool moms and dads. Trying to juggle life with school, music, sports, dinner and, not to mention, house cleaning can really take a toll. How do we do it all? Some of us excel at multitasking; while others struggle to make it through the day and at 5pm just begin to think about dinner. I don’t know about you, but I was barely getting it all done and not very well at that -especially with writing. Writing was driving me to insanity.

Thanks to Classical Conversations’ Essentials Writing Program, there were no more tears on my son’s part or mine. My sanity returned! We understood dress-ups, and sentence openers. Key word outlining helped us stay on track. In fact, the writing program in Challenge A led me to become a Foundations director. My son had such a noticeable improvement in his attitude and writing skills, that he volunteered to write a skit for his Lego League team and did an excellent job.  

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Memorizing Multiplication Facts through an Experience that Promotes Understanding

Posted by Admin
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Young minds are capable of memorizing answers to questions presented in predictable forms. Certainly this capacity to memorize is something to take advantage of at the earliest stages of a child’s cognitive development but rote memorization need not be the first and only step in acquiring the ability to quickly determine the product of two numbers. 


Memorization happens through experience and over intervals of time. Limiting this experience to fact recitation or card flipping will produce students who know answers to questions they recognize but do not understand. Knowing that “thirty” follows the prompt “five times six equals” and knowing that 30 is the number that appears below the 5 and 6 on a flash card is no more meaningful than knowing that “hooray” follows “hip-hip” and that you will see a “yawning yellow yak” on the next page of the children’s book you have read one hundred times before. It is very possible for a child to answer “thirty” and have no idea that they have just counted the number of objects in five rows of six, determined the sum 6 + 6 + 6 + 6 + 6, or calculated the area of a 5 by 6 unit rectangle.

Tags: Math
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