When history comes to life: reflecting on the classical education and learning in community

when history comes to life... our day at Medieval Times We've had an amazing first semester with our history co-op-- it's a group of about seven or eight families that go to our same public charter school and homeschool like us three days a week. On Wednesdays, we've been meeting together to study the middle ages together following A History Odyssey. I've posted quite a bit on Instagram along the way, showcasing some of the neat projects Gigi has gotten to do.

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The History Odyssey curriculum is an outline with a timeline, maps, activities, and readings that refers to Story of the World, Children's History of the World, and various picture encyclopedias (like Kingfisher and Usborne). Together, we've been able to tackle projects that, let's be honest, I never would have done alone at home with Gigi.

The other moms have been amazing... and really gracious with me, as I haven't had much to offer since I have Brody and Hallee to chase around, too (we've been doing our own little preschool co-op with another amazingly creative mama, but that's another story).

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Learning in community has been so much fun. We've had the freedom to delve deep into some of the chapters and the kids inspire each other in their work and their projects.

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And the deeper I go into a classical education, the more I love it. These kids are having a foundation of history laid for them at a young age that will make their later learning years so much easier. Gigi won't be exposed to feudalism for the first time in high school like I was, instead, she has already acted it out, and studied it in several different ways as a second grader.

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Of course, now, the first time through, she is learning at a very elementary level because she is in the Grammar stage-- she's soaking up knowledge though so that later the foundation will be there to provide for more complex understanding. She doesn't have a thorough grasp of the concepts, but she knows names of people and people groups and has a basic idea of the progression of history.

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Last week, we were able to go on an awesome field trip where the knights of the realm were literally before their very eyes to give them a visual of what we had just been learning. We drove up to Medieval Times for a lunchtime show. The kids loved it (especially the part where we ate with our hands), and actually, so did I.

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Hallee got to have her own special grandparents day and Gigi, Brody and I met up with our co-op friends to cheer on the Blue Knight (we all dressed in blue!), and see the Medieval weaponry we studied live in action.

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Afterwards, the kids got to meet the knights, and the princess. It was a great homeschool day.

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Three cheers for seeing history come to life!

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A little 2nd grade homeschool update

2nd grade homeschool We've been plugging along for a few months now with second grade and my two little preschoolers, so I thought it would be fun to do a bit of a homeschool/curriculum update.

As most of you know, we homeschool part-time, through a hybrid charter school. Gigi goes to school for enrichment 1-2 days a week. If you don't homeschool, maybe some of the resources we use might be helpful for your kids for afterschooling or keeping fresh over school breaks.

This year, we've made some schedule and curriculum changes and they've been really good for us. We feel more connected with our schooling community than ever and we've tried, and liked, some new things.

2nd grade in a part-time homeschooling family

Language Arts

Grammar~ We are still on Level 1 of First Language Lessons, working our way through, and I love this book. It works great for my mostly-auditory learner and isn't stressful at all, but also gives us concrete proof of what we've learned with its copywork. {We do this 2-3 times a week.}

Spelling~ We liked All About Spelling a lot, but honestly, Volume 1 was really too easy for Gigi and it was a bit too complicated for us with all its steps and components with how chaotic our family can be. We've moved to a simple workbook that we really like. It even includes some scripture in it (but I have non-Christian who also use it, too). {2-3 times/week.}

Handwriting~ Gigi has moved on to Handwriting Without Tears' cursive and loves it. She still does all her other work in print though at this point. She's almost done with Kick-Start Cursive and will start the first full cursive book next. {2-3 times/week.}

Writing~ We don't use a writing curriculum yet but Gigi is doing  more of her own journal entries, and also does lots of writing in her other subjects.

Extras: Gigi is a pretty voracious reader already and is plugging away on age/grade-appropriate chapter books, and we are still reading to the kids of course (right now it's Little House with mom, and Lemony Snicket with dad). She still dabbles at Starfall just for fun, and has a project going on Storybird. She was progressing nicely in Rosetta Stone Spanish but we've taken a break from that partly to simplify and partly due to computer issues.


Singapore workbooks weren't really doing it for us. For two years I've fought Gigi and her math, and when we ended first grade I felt like she was behind, and not mastering her math facts.

After some research and talking to some other parents and our E.F., we decided to make a change. We switched to Math-U-See and essentially started over (!!).

We're now over halfway through the "Alpha" level, and it's been a great fit for us. It incorporates a DVD lesson with Mr. Steve as we refer to him (I think he wrote the textbook), manipulative blocks, and the workbook. I also bought the Math U See iPad app so she can virtually manipulate the blocks while on the road or just to mix things up.

She might be "behind" compared to other second graders, but she's really learning and progressing, and I think in no time she'll be caught up and maybe even ahead eventually. The most important thing for me was to find something she gelled with where we wouldn't have to fight over it and she could learn to appreciate numbers more than I ever did. She still protests sometimes but now it's more a general not-wanting-to-do-school which feels normal, rather than a specific math fight. {We do new DVD lessons 1-2 times a week, and try to do math worksheets 3-5 days/week.}


We go to a weekly Bible study called CBS where Gigi gets to hang out with other homeschoolers in the Primary/Jr. class and do a kid version of the Bible study that the adults do. This year we are studying Daniel and Revelation.

She loves it, and I love that she is in the Word and getting loved on by the sweet ladies who teach her class, and in another community with other homeschool kids who love Jesus. {We try to work on Gigi's lesson 4-5 days/week.}

2nd grade PE


We started off the year with swimming lessons and now Gigi is taking skateboarding lessons, which is pretty darn cool. We live near a world-class skate park (at our YMCA) where she is taking lessons. In the spring, she's going to play softball for the first time.

Science & History

We do these subjects with a co-op, which I'll share about later. :)

Thanks for stepping into our homeschool! I'd love to know what your kids are up to.

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Great chapter books for 2nd-5th grade: Gigi's 7-year old summer reading challenge

summer reading challenge-1 We're about a month into summer, and since school got out, boy has reading clicked on a deeper level for Gigi.

I don't think it's a coincidence that right around the end of the school year we found out Gigi was farsighted, and needed glasses. She's been reading and writing fine, but all this time she actually had a hard time seeing up close.

So maybe it's the glasses that helped her really dive into reading chapter books, or maybe it was also the challenge I presented her with as summer began.

(We're still using our summer learning plan as a guide but we're not totally adhering to it every day.)

At the end of first grade, Gigi was able to read chapter books but also a little lazy and unfocused with them. Giving her a specific challenge helped her have some motivation to start a book... and finish it. Now, she's been devouring books-- staying up late to finish with a flashlight and reading in the car.

She's been so excited to start new books that she has still had a hard time sticking to one at a time (where on earth could she get that from??). I keep telling her that when she's older like me, she can read lots of books at once. But I'm trying to encourage her to stick to one at a time to help her comprehension.

I still have to remind her to actually pick up a book and read because she's easily distracted (by Legos, her desire to play with friends, etc), but she's not longer putting up a fight most of the time.

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The challenge

I told Gigi if she read fifteen chapter books, she would earn a $15 gift card to Barnes and Noble. Lucky for her, her two grandmas said they would each match that. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

Gigi's summer reading challenge

I'm now certain that she will surpass my challenge, no problem (and I'm excited to see how many books she ends up finishing this summer). I originally planned to print out and hang up the list, but I think she enjoys going on my computer to type the books into the Word document as much as she enjoys finishing a book. ;)

Finding books at the right reading level

Since Gigi is mostly homeschooled, I didn't have an exact reading level given by the school to go off. I emailed her reading teacher from the learning center and got a few recommendations based on what they had read in class. The first books she was interested in reading on her own were the American Girl books, so I did a little research and found that they were about a 5th grade reading level.

From there, I researched other books that were about the same reading level, but were a subject matter that a 2nd-grade girl would be interested in. The trick I'm learning, from other moms of advanced readers, is that sometimes it's hard to match reading level with content appropriateness. We're not really there yet but that's something I want to be aware of-- so that I don't end up with her reading Flowers in the Attic in 5th grade like I did (seriously? That's supposed to be an appropriate kids' book??).

And I'm trying to steer her towards more classics than fluff (like those rainbow fairy books she always gravitates toward at the library-- those are off-limits for now, until she's ingested some of the good stuff).

great chapter books for grades 2-5

Here are the books I ended up setting up as valid for the challenge. I'm sure there are lots more great ones to add to this list (I'd love to hear 'em if you have 'em!).

I'm so proud of what she's already accomplished. The more I get to know how God made Gigi, the more I see that likes to rise to a challenge... and she also loves earning rewards.

How do you encourage summer reading? What books would you add to my list?

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On food, community, and kids

alice waters on education  

Sometimes raising a child can seem so complicated.

There are different styles, and priorities, and methods, and... sometimes it's nice to just stop and take a simpler look.

When we look at life skills we want our kids to learn by the time they leave the house, I think this quote by Alice Waters really sums things up pretty succinctly: “Teaching kids how to feed themselves and how to live in a community responsibly is the center of an education.”

Even Jesus lived out these two priorities; just look John 6: 1-15 when He feeds the five thousand. Feeding Himself (and His disciples) and serving (and feeding) the community are at the center of this story.

kids in the kitchen

If we can give our kids the skills to feed themselves, and instill in them a sense of community, then they will be generously equipped to serve and love others as they live out their lives. 

I have to remind myself of the value of these moments when I'm in the kitchen and my littlest one drags in a chair, as she always does. It's easy to get caught up in the tasks, and shoo her away, but then what am I teaching her?

Welcoming my kids into my cramped, cluttered kitchen so they can observe, learn and soak in the skills and the kitchen culture is one of the best ways I can prepare them for the rest of their lives.

And letting them help me feed others-- whether it's cookies for the local firefighters, a meal for a new mom, or friends joining us for dinner-- is one of our family's favorite way to live out this education.

What are ways that you teach your kids to be able to "feed themselves" and "live in a community responsibility?'"

Keeping creativity & learning fresh over the summer

keeping creativity and learning fresh

"Frequency makes starting easier. Getting started is always a challenge. It's hard to start a project from scratch, and it's also hard each time you re-enter a project after a break. By working every day, you keep your momentum going. You never have time to feel detached from the process." ~Gretchen Rubin

The essay by Gretchen Rubin in Manage Your Day-to-Day, Harnessing the Power of Frequency, was a little beacon of truth for me. In it, I was encouraged to really try to do something creative or writing-related every day to keep my momentum going.

I often come to place, after days off due to scheduling, getting sick, or traveling, where I feel so overwhelmed with the things I want to do, that I am paralyzed and unable to start. And this from someone who's naturally a good starter (and less of a finisher).

what I do every day matters more

I was sensing this about myself, and then upon reading Gretchen's essay, I was convinced. The wonderful thing about summer for me is that our laid-back days seem to provide me more time to work than I had during the school year. So I'm trying to be intentional about creating more than consuming (although I'm reading a ton, too, so maybe it's just less online consumption).

Here are the main ways frequency helps us, according to Gretchen Rubin:

  • keeps ideas fresh
  • keeps the pressure off
  • sparks creativity
  • nurtures frequency
  • fosters productivity
  • is a realistic approach

I can't recommend this book enough for practical ways to be more intentional with our creative work, and really, so many aspects of our lives... even educating our children!

gigi making fake money

I distinctly remember that when Gigi started first grade last year, she had definitely lost some of what she had learned in kindergarten, simply due to "summer atrophy."

So this year I determined that I wasn't going to let learning slide as much over our summer break. I knew if she did a little each day it also would make the transition into fall easier, too.

I've only had a school-age kid for two years now, so I'm new to all this, but it turns out this is a pretty common practice. My friend Tsh calls what they do over the summer "homeschool light," and I know my friend Jessica is "doing school" somewhat this summer, too.

I actually first saw this in action with a friend whose kids (older than mine) go to public school. She's always had them do some kind of light homeschool work during the summer to keep things fresh.

I already shared our summer rhythm with you. Well, here's what our {flexible} weekly schedule for learning looks like. We're also hoping to add in some math, with dad, or on the computer, this summer. Some days we simply don't get to this, but when we do, I don't have to rack my brain for something- it's already laid out for us.

Summer learning schedule

She's reading a ton (more on the challenge I created for her soon), and I might get her going with some writing eventually, with Tsh's summer writing guide.

Summer's all about fun, right? I didn't want Gigi's learning activities to be a drag, so I created a little reward system for her. Some days I might give her an extra media ticket for doing her lesson/learning activity without complaining. But she also learns a "smart star" every day she completes that assignment.

smart stars for summer learning sessions

When she reaches twenty stars, she'll earn a reward -- this time we decided on getting a "professional manicure" (her term) with mom-- something we've never done.


As for me, I'm thinking some kind of schedule or rhythm would help me with my creative pursuits as well this summer. Maybe I work on blog posts one day and bigger writing projects another day?

Right now I'm sort of writing and blogging and social-media-ing on the fly. And it's working, because our days our more relaxed as it is, but I want to make the most of my productivity, so I'm definitely going to fiddle with this.

I'd love to hear from you. How do you keep learning and creativity-- both yours and your kids'-- fresh over the summer?

Why classical education appeals to me

{Quick note: My new newsletter will be launching soon (this week, I hope!). Have you signed up yet? Ok, carry on!} truth-fishing

Last April, I went to a seminar with Andrew Kern from the CiRCE Institute.

It was an inspiring, eye-opening day where I learned, on a deeper level, what classical Christian education is and entails, what its benefits are and how it differs from conventional schooling.

That seminar strongly confirmed that this is not only the path I want to take our family's "school" down, but also that it's the education that I would love to have myself (can I tell you how excited I am to learn Latin with Gigi in a few years?! #nerdalert). I'm not saying I won't incorporate other philosophies into our schooling, but I see the classical model as my foundation.

For several months now I've wanted to write up a few of the main takeaways from the seminar that really spoke to me in case they might inspire you as well.

If you don't homeschool, I hope you'll bear with me as my hope is that you might glean something valuable from this series as well.

So first, what is a classical education?

From the CiRCE website,

First, one way or another, classical schools and educators are committed to cultivating wisdom and virtue in their students.

Second, classical education believes in and pursues a logos, or a unifying principle, for all knowledge and action.

In essence, then, it seems fair to say that classical education is the logo-centric quest for the ideals of wisdom and virtue.

Other common features of classical education include:

~~the use of classical books and art, ~~a general preference for great art, music, and literature, ~~an integrated curriculum, ~~and idea-focused teaching.

Rather than give a description of the components, I want to share the list compiled by the seminar attendees of why classical education draws those of us who are so intrigued by it. I hope it will in turn also give a glimpse of its attributes as an educational philosophy and pedagogical method. I'll also share some principles that Andrew shared with us.

Classical Education appeals to me because it:

~ educates the whole person to full development ~ gives students the freedom to know what to do ~ seeks and points out truth, light, beauty & goodness ~ fosters discussion and questions ~ promotes "soulishness" ~ focuses on wisdom, virtue, a nurturing environment ~ keeps a historical perspective ~ creates a life-long learner ~ creates opportunities and preparation ~ is Biblical, promotes confidence and dependence on God ~ is outside the (conventional) box ~ teaches students to dig deeper & find core beliefs

Classical Christian Education Principles:

1. Truth is. 2. Truth can be known. 3. Known Truth can be communicated from one soul to another.

Practical application: The essence of education is to equip/teach/train the human being to perceive truth. 

"Much worse than uselessly he leaves the shore

More full of error than he was before

Who fishes for truth but lacks the art."

~ Dante's Divine Comedy

Classical Education teaches the art of truth-fishing, and as a mom and educator, I can't think of a much loftier goal.

If you want to better understand or learn about the actual components of a classical education, I recommend my friend Mandi's explanatory post and for a deeper and even more practical understanding, be sure to read The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (it's currently my own personal guidebook/handbook for homeschooling).

It's fascinating how many ways there are to educate a child and I'm always wanting to learn more. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the classical model if you have experience with it, or what other methods you use in your schooling.