Monday, December 19, 2016

Looking Behind - Planning Ahead

When I happened upon John Milton Gregory's book, The Seven Laws of Teaching, I thought that I had discovered a text that others weren't familiar with. But, as I have grown to realize, just because I haven't heard of something before doesn't mean that it isn't well known. This book and it's modern counterpart, Excellence in Teaching with the Seven Laws by Carl Shafer, have become invaluable sources of wisdom and encouragement as I tread and often trudge through the jungle of home schooling. I like to keep them handy.

Five months ago, as I was preparing to direct my first semester of Classical Conversations' Challenge B, I outlined some goals that seemed reasonably achievable for my student/daughter. I combined objectives from the Challenge B Expectations Chart with excerpts from Leigh Bortin's book The Question, another insightful read that I keep close by.

We're now halfway through our school year. I feel the need to reflect and reevaluate in order to recharge and rejuvenate for next semester. This time, I'm using John Milton Gregory's Seven Laws of Teaching to illuminate my personal goals as a teacher along with our revamped student goals for 2nd semester.

Grammar (Latin)

The duty of the teacher is essentially not that of a driver or a taskmaster, but rather that of a counselor and guide. His aim must be to develop secondary passive attention. The best way to do this is to make the stages of advancement gradual, so that while the pupil must put forth effort in grasping each new step in the lesson or in the series of lessons, the completion of each step will also make the effort seem worthwhile. 

Grace is an excellent student of Latin and has has gone above and beyond the goals set for 1st semester. The Henle text has worked well for her. I supplemented it with the Memoria Press quizzes and tests and will continue 2nd semester. 

Logic (Math)

The two chief hindrances to attention are apathy and distraction. The former may be due to a lack of taste for the subject under consideration, or to weariness or some other physical condition. Distraction is the division of the attention among several objects, and is the foe of all learning. 

Grace does not love Math. Even though she came close to completing Algebra 1/2 last school year, we agreed to do it over again. She still does not like it the second time around but she does her lessons diligently and thoroughly. Attacking her math lesson first thing in the morning, when she isn't distracted or tired, seems to work for her.
  • This semester, we'll keep the same goals but concentrate on explaining math problems by way of the Five Common Topics.

Rhetoric (Logic)

Aim to make the pupil an independent investigator - a student of nature and a seeker after truth. Cultivate in him the habit of research. Help him to test his conceptions to see that they reproduce the truth taught, as far as his powers permit. 

Logic has been a surprise to both of us. We came into this strand having no idea what to expect and have enjoyed it more than I could have imagined. Grace has met all the goals of 1st semester. 
  • An additional goal this semester is to relate the Logic to the other strands... make those connections! She already is well on her way to having the Appendices memorized.

Debate (Current Events)

We master truth by expressing it, and are glad when we have clearly expressed our thought. But in order to make talking into thinking, there must be independent and original effort, not a mere parrotlike repetition of the words of other people. The pupil himself must do much of the talking.

Reading, analyzing, and discussing current events was a highlight of 1st semester. Grace went from knowing very little and taking no side on world issues to becoming aware of what's going on around her, having an interest, and forming her own opinion. She made both biblical and secular connections. I'm tickled pink about her accomplishments in this strand. Now we start something new with new goals.

Mock Trial
  • Spend the amount of time needed to understand the case.
  • Complete each assignment with minimal help from me.
  • Be able to explain the case in her own words.
  • Create outlines and timelines.
  • Participate as a team player and in class discussions.
  • Memorize parts - be prepared.

Exposition and Composition (Persuasive Writing)

Knowledge cannot be passed from mind to mind like objects from one receptacle to another, but must in every case be recognized and rethought and relived by the receiving mind. All explanation and exposition are useless except as they serve to excite and direct the pupil in his own thinking. 

As I look over the goals of 1st semester, I have to admit that Grace fell just a little bit short here. Yes, she read the books and wrote the essays, but they were done without the amount of thought and care that I would have liked. She still needs much assistance and I'm glad that I can do that. But this semester...

Short Stories
  • Learn proper mechanics for writing a short story.
  • Read all the assigned stories and be prepared to participate in class discussion.
  • Keep a list of vocabulary words and definitions.
  • Write a short story (minimum of 5 pages) with little help from me.
  • Keep a positive attitude. 
  • (Can you tell this will be our challenge?) 

Research (History of Science)

Each new idea mastered becomes a part of the knowledge of the child, a part of his equipment of race experience, and serves as a starting point for fresh advance. It adds its own light to the knowledge preceded it, and throws increased illumination forward for the next discovery.

Grace will tell you flat out that she hates science. This was by far not her favorite strand but she did meet all the goals. She does like a project (as long as she doesn't have to work on it for very long. The Science Fair project needs to come to a close, the sooner the better.) But moving on to next semester...

Origins and Chemistry
  • Read challenging material on both sides of the issue. Keep an open mind.
  • Learn how to outline a book chapter by chapter.
  • Keep a list of vocabulary words and definitions.
  • Ask informed questions. Refer to the Five CommonTopics.
  • Participate in class discussions.
  • Memorize the first 18 elements in the periodic table.

Are you curious as to what the Seven Laws of Teaching actually are?
1. Know thoroughly and familiarly the lessons you wish to teach - teach from a full mind and a clear understanding.

2. Gain and keep the attention and interest of the pupils upon the lesson. Do not try to teach without attention.

3. Use words understood in the same way by the pupils and yourself - language clear and vivid to both.

4. Begin with what is already well known to the pupil upon the subject and with what he himself has experienced - and proceed to the new material by single, easy, and natural steps, letting the known explain the unknown.

5. Stimulate the pupil's own mind to action. Keep his thoughts as much as possible ahead of your expression, placing him in the attitude of a discoverer, an anticipator.

6. Require the student to reproduce in thought the lesson he is learning - thinking it out in its various phrases and applications till he can express it in his own language.

7. Review, review, review, reproducing the old deepening its impression with a new thought, linking it with added meanings, finding new applications, correcting any false views, and completing the true.

All in all, its been a fantastic semester and I will forever be indebted to Classical Conversations for making our home schooling experience truly memorable.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Dawn to Dusk

... And when I wake in the morning, you are still with me. Psalm 139:18

...They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow faint. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

..."I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life." John 8:12

It is God's privilege to conceal things and the king's privilege to discover them.         Proverbs 25:8

In the same way, wisdom is sweet to your soul. If you find it, you will have a bright future, and your hopes will not be cut short. Proverbs 24:14

The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it. Genesis 2:15

My goal is that they be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have full confidence because they have complete understanding of God's secret plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.                                                                 
 Colossians 2:2-3

Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged... Proverbs 17:6

All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step...                  1 Corinthians 9:25-26

The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8

Through each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. Psalm 42:8


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

In The Room Where it Happens

Hi. I'm Pepper. That's me starring in my first selfie. I live with my family of human folks who always keep pretty busy. They do this thing called homeschooling. It must be some sort of obedience school, but it looks way more fun than that. I used to think that human people had to go somewhere in order to get an education. I was wrong. My humans find things to learn about all over our home - basically, inside and out. 

Today, I decided to follow my youngest human around and pay attention to what she does and where she does it. (Being a dog can get rather boring, so I try to keep things interesting.) 

She started the day pretty early. My momma human is kind of a kook about getting outside first thing in the morning. I love it too. So many bushes to smell and telephone poles to... Well, she rolled out of bed, slipped on her shoes, and away we went.

Our neighborhood classroom is amazing. Lately we've been finding milkweed full of Monarch caterpillars and gorgeous wildflowers including my momma human's favorite, Queen Anne's Lace. My sister humans take this time to reconnect after a night's rest and before any misunderstandings arise. (That actually does happen now and then.) 😉

When we get home, the back porch becomes the school room. This little human has become quite the expert on Monarch butterflies. 

She even has the big sister human playing with the caterpillars. That's quite a feat for this insect phobic youngster. 

Finally it's breakfast time. Aww... bacon. I hang around her chair at every meal. She spills and I clean up. What a team. My momma human loves this about me. I even enjoy listening along to her audio books. Right now we're listening to The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. But my favorite is A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. Now there's a beautiful story. 

Most day she gets busy right after breakfast. The piano usually gets her day rolling. Unfortunately, this is often when mother nature calls me. Breakfast scraps can do that to me. Sorry about that detour...

I've observed that this little humanoid loves to work independently. She started something new to her this year; some type of class outside of our home called Essentials. Charts, charts, and more charts. My paws get tired just watching her.

She has a great work space that fits her perfectly. I can't see what's on the top of the desk, but I know that she has gobs of shelf space to store all kinds of things. Let's see... there's books, string, posters, pens, watercolors, gum, Star Wars stickers, yarn, piggy bank, origami... a little bit of everything exactly like she likes it; messily organized. I think about this part of the house as "The Room Where it Happens" thanks to countless hours listening to Hamilton: The Musical. My humans are nuts about that music.

Sometimes she scoots over to the living room and does a lesson from a self-paced history course. She loves this independence and always has something to teach our momma afterwards.

I make sure to be around when there's a science project going on. Exploding balloons was the theme for this one. Actually, I think she was trying to make a model of the solar system. I'm not too sure how accurate she was, but she had lots of fun. We had balloons scattered on our floors for days.

My tail starts wagging when she bolts outside for what my momma human calls "rope swing therapy". What's the point of staying home if you don't enjoy the benefits of your own backyard? And I'm out there always ready to play. What could be better?

As I said before, she loves to be left alone to her own studies. That works out well since my momma human also studies all day long (and sometimes well into the night.) I don't get it. At her age, what else could she possibly want to learn?

Tomorrow my humans will be gone all day somewhere called CC. I don't know where or what that is but they are all busy getting ready for it and extremely happy and tired when they get home. (Especially my momma human.) Even though I don't like being left alone all day, I do enjoy watching the little human practice her presentation. She has really come a long way since she started doing this thing several years ago. 

My favorite time has come at last. PJ's on, lights out, flashlight on = snuggle time. I love my life as a dog. Everyday is another day to look forward to.

Happy snoring, 
Pepper 🐾
P.S. Be careful where you leave your phone.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

About That Basket...

It's Saturday morning and I'm evaluating our past week. It was good, in fact very good. But one thing keeps nagging me and that is... we don't have a Morning Basket (as I sarcastically stated in a previous blogpost.)

But I feel left out. Am I doing our homeschool a disfavor? I often go back and read about one of my favorite blogger's basket. Sigh... Why can't I get this awesome morning time basket thing together?

Now, after a couple of cups of coffee I realize that I've been comparing again, a debilitating habit of mine that I hate to admit. The real deal is that we do have a Morning Basket; it's just different. It's unique to us; it's what we need and what we treasure. 

I'm a morning freak and a running fanatic. I get up around 5:00 a.m., drink a cup of Joe, read a little, chat with hubby, and then head out the door. I'm plugged into either an audiobook (I recently finished Hamilton by Ron Chernow) or a podcast. My favorites are The Thomas Jefferson Hour and Hardcore History.

I get back home at 7:45 and do it again but differently. This time Grace, Mary, and Pepper tag along. By 8:00 we are all up and out, waking up together as we talk about all sorts of things.

For example, this week we...

  • Discussed Kepler's Three Laws of Planetary Motion.
  • Laughed about how Pepper's tail sticks straight up and looks like an exclamation mark.
  • Listened to Grace practice her monologs for a theater audition that happened on Friday. (FYI. She aced it.)
  • Learned about St. Augustine as Mary shared the knowledge gained from her Veritas Press self-paced history course.
  • Listed all the songs from Alexander Hamilton in their correct order. (We're slightly obsessed.)
  • Talked about ways for us to reach out to and prayed for a struggling family that we know.
  • Took pictures to use for our nature journaling and observed God's amazing creation. 
  • Talked about what Grace heard in Sunday School from her middle school friends about girl fights and how to react to these issues as a child of God.
  • Discussed the fate of the Lakota Indians concerning the North Dakota Pipeline crisis and how badly white America has historically treated our Native Americans. 
  • Pointed out how the use of ambiguous and vague words can lead to verbal disagreements.
  • Teared up (well I did) as I shared my favorite Bible verse: "And when I wake up, You are still with me." Psalm 139:18

We need this time to reconnect before our school day begins and I love taking this time to pull together what we're learning and make it relevant to our lives. 

So our basket may not fit into what would be considered a typical Morning Time routine but it works for us and that's all that matters.

In the words of Dr. Seuss, "Why fit in when you were born to stand out?"


Friday, August 26, 2016

Diving in...

Here we are launching year eight with Classical Conversations. I suppose I should be a pro by now. Yeah... right. Because my habits follow those of most homeschooling moms, I've spent more than the necessary amount of time figuring out the nuts and bolts of teaching our girls this year. In other words, I've been wrestling with the issue of whether I can broaden their minds without losing mine in the process. Hmmm. I think I've probably already crossed over that line. 

Mentioning the desire to keep as much of my sanity intact as possible compels me to chime in about the Morning Basket trend. This is the attractive habit of sharing inspirational readings, gazing upon lovely art, and discussing inspiring thoughts with each other first thing in the morning. Well, I've finally realized that one of us (I won't name her, but she just turned thirteen this summer) is not especially warm and fuzzy upon wakening, so keeping my basket to myself as we begin the day is the safest and the wisest morning ritual at this house. But I digress.

This morning my ten year old daughter christens her seventh year of CC alongside her small, beloved, group of friends as she begins her maiden voyage in the Masters class. Whoopee! One thing I know for sure is that the Foundations and Challenge programs have provided our homeschool with necessary structure and abundant knowledge. I've tried managing the beast called homeschooling without this guidance and community. Talk about losing my mind! I quickly returned with my tail between my legs. 

Now that we're at the halfway mark in our educational journey, I can see that obtaining knowledge at the grammar stage is sort of like riding waves aboard a sailboat. Memorizing the facts the first time around makes for a beautiful and eye opening journey with only the occasional rough water. It's not too difficult to stay pretty dry. Yet at some point the water becomes too tempting to resist. That's where we are now. This girl is longing to jump into the sea and swim. She's ready to get soaked to the bone.

I'm a sucker for books and it shows. Our bookshelves are overflowing with every kind of classical curriculum I can get my hot hands on, always trying to find the next best thing. But seriously... enough is enough. This year I'm forcing myself to employ the resources we already own as I coach my daughter and set some expectations. I have to keep myself coming back to the fact that there's way more information in this world than I could ever expose our children to and that my role is to teach them the skills that they need to navigate this Sea of Knowledge by themselves. But I also know myself. I need a plan to keep me focused on our goals; to keep us headed toward the horizon.

My plan is to use CC's Cycle 2 Sea of Knowledge as the diving board for my daughter's plunge into her own dialectical and rhetorical ocean. Navigating these waters will definitely be daunting at times (maybe more often than I'm prepared for), but with the correct equipment, instruction, and guidance it certainly will be possible. I hope.

I've compiled a list of the skills that I'm expecting my daughter to practice this semester along with the sources she'll use to accomplish this. The CC memory work serves as a means to perfect her grammar skills while the added curriculum provides the substance necessary to develop her dialectic and rhetoric skills. 


  • Complete several math lessons weekly and engage (with me) in conversation about math problems and concepts each day.
  • Play math games.
  • Parse and diagram sentences. LOE/Essentials
  • Explore 1st declension nouns and 1st conjugation verbs. Lively Latin
  • Create key word outlines. IEW
  • Read and narrate living books about the people of Cycle 2's history including various scientists, composers, and artists. AmblesideLiving Books, Local library  
  • Read, listen to, and narrate stories about the Middle Ages. The Story of the World
  • Relate historic people and events to each other by placing them on a timeline. 
  • Connect history to world geography by placing locations on a world map.
  • Study the science of astronomy by way of narration, note taking, and hands-on projects. Guide to Astronomy
  • Listen to the music of great musicians. Classics for Kids


  • Explain several math problems to me each week.
  • Write a structurally sound paragraph from a key word outline.
  • Incorporate various stylistic techniques into the writing assignments.
  • Compose sentences made up of the different sentences structures, patterns, and purposes.
  • Use proper grammar and appropriate parts of speech when speaking and writing.
  • Exhibit some understanding of planetary motion. 
  • Narrate the major events and historic people of the Middle Ages. Veritas Press 
  • Participate in class presentations concentrating on public skills.
  • Create works of art that relate to famous artists
  • Observe nature and keep a nature journal.

I intend to refer to this list often letting it act as her lifejacket and my buoy. Even though I want my daughter to wholeheartedly dive into the water, I certainly will make sure that she doesn't drown. She'll probably need to stick some water wings on here and there but then again so will I! We'll navigate this Sea of Knowledge together one stroke at a time. Somewhere way across that ocean is a beach full of wonderful secrets just waiting for her to unfold. 


And where will I be eight years from now? Ahhh... My crystal ball reveals a sweet scene. Through a dreamy fog, I see my husband and myself relaxing in the sun, reading mindless novels while sipping chilled Chardonnay topped off with those cute little umbrellas. We'll hopefully be basking in the warm thoughts of a job well done. 

Seize each day.