Category Archives: Homeschooling

Blessed Feast of the Cross!

Today we celebrate The Exaltation of the Cross.

We harvested our basil plant this morning. Ethan was thrilled to discover and capture two grasshoppers. All the holes in the leaves were not so thrilling, but we managed to get enough nice ones to fill the basket.

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During Lent, Jilly’s godfather came down to deliver some of his beautifully crafted liturgical furniture to another priest. The kids all loved the simple wall crosses he brought down too.

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He told them he would send some “kits” so they could make their own. I saved our share of them because I knew they’d be the perfect activity to go with our Garden of the Theotokos curriculum for this day. Jillian and Ethan had fun gluing their crosses and painting them gold while Henry napped.

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It was nice to have some festal things to do as a family even though I was still confined mostly to bed to continue recovering from Peter’s birth.

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How we made Garden of the Theotokos work for us

One week ago we finished all of the school work I hoped to accomplish for the year.

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One of my goals for the year was to get a better feel for the Liturgical year and incorporate more of the saints and feasts into our family and school life. Despite mixed reviews from friends and other Orthodox homeschoolers I decided to give Children’s Garden of the Theotokos a try for the year anyway.

Like most things I’ve tried with homeschooling so far, I found myself not necessarily in love with or using everything laid out in the curriculum. However, I loved the overall concept of the curriculum and found myself using it as a springboard for incorporating other saints and feasts that we were interested in. After sharing some of my experience with a few friends, I decided to write and show pictures of what we did here in case any other Orthodox homeschoolers out there are looking for ideas.

I really liked the artwork and the stories of saints written for children in particular. We did not incorporate the music, circle time, or role playing into our school. I also thought the work during Holy Week was a little on the heavy side, but it was the only thing we did that week and as such was doable for us. I thought the Nativity vowel poems and the Christmas Feast projects were a little redundant. I liked the idea of keeping the artwork together in the Waldorf notebooks. There were only a couple problems with these: not enough pages in the Lent to Pentecost book and there were several projects (like the Nativity vowel poems) and feast days that did not have have a notebook or a place to be. We wound up starting a liturgical year journal in a composition notebook for these. This is also where we started putting some of the additional feasts that I decided we should cover.

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So, with the included Waldorf books (three), the Book of Days, and the liturgical year journal we wound up having five books for the whole year that covered our Garden of the Theotokos stuff. This year, I have already decided I just want it all in one place. I found some spiral bound sketch books (unlined medium weight paper) at Target and spent some time on the computer designing a cover for it that I just glued over the existing cover. I liked this idea of stuff contained in a book so much that we’re using it for science and history next year too.

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When I was doing my lesson planning last summer, I had looked at the liturgical year calendar to line up this curriculum, but I also looked for Saints or Feasts I thought were significant such as names I was slightly familiar with, that I thought we should at least talk a little bit about or do more. For some of these I was able to find children’s books from various Orthodox publishers or if they were well known enough (like St. Patrick) there were lots crafts or activities to be found on Pinterest. Some were also from our classic Old and New Testament Bible stories so I could always go to our copy of The Child’s Story Bible for those. If there was not necessarily a craft or artwork I could think of, I would look on the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Education Line Drawing Resources for a coloring page or find an icon of the person or the event and print it out and along with the words to one of the hymns about it so we could copy a line of it for handwriting practice.

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For some feasts we did something for it, but it didn’t necessarily work to put it in the book, like St. Sebastian which was one of our Kindness Kids activities during Nativity:

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St. Basil and the Vasilopita:

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Theophany when we went to Santa Maria and the beach:

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Overall, I really liked this curriculum with my adjustments for what I knew would work and didn’t feel awkward to me and we’ll be using it again in much the same way this year. I’ll probably start having Jillian do copy work instead of tracing for handwriting practice and some more advanced artwork. Ethan will do what Jillian did this year.

Edited to add: I have some Pinterest boards going that have craft and art ideas for various feasts and saints:

Let the little children come to me

Days to feast and fast

Martinmas

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Things I take pictures of and forget to blog

One day my nephew’s grandpa brought some watermelons over. My kids were super anxious for me to cut them up, but we did not have time before ballet. They took matters into their own hands:

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When the world is crashing in on me I go to the beach or the monastery. This particular crash the sweet abbess spent a lot of time talking to me and getting things sorted out. Then she gave me a book, a home censer, charcoal and incense. We followed this up with the beach and gluten-free pizza at our favorite spot on the harbor.

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Henry and I love food:

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We’re starting a mission parish for the Orthodox Church in America in our house. We’re so excited to have like minded families, an archdiocese that cares so much about us to send us a priest, and to be able to have the beginnings of an American Orthodox Church as a light to the lower San Joaquin Valley. We’ve celebrated a name day, had Vespers and begun the logistics and planning stages. I also had to reorganize quite a bit of our things to make room. It wasn’t too difficult after having lived in much smaller places for the past three years and so many cabinets and other places around here that were just empty. I kind of like the way we have things now way better, so much so that when we can move to a public location (hopefully soon!) I’m not sure what we’ll do with the space instead.

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Cake, party horns and Vespers for the feast of St. Aidan

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The best goat’s milk ice cream from our friends’ goats we had one night after Vespers

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Very un-Orthodox, but Stephen needed his guitar to help him figure out pitch on Church music one afternoon.

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Homeschool stuff moved and reorganized.

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Empty cabinets are so fun to play in.

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A bedroom and a playroom. The kids love it so much and so do I.

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The very beginning.

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Venerating.

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Our first Typika.

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Gluten-free pancake breakfast.

We’ve been heading up to Bear Valley to play softball with my sister’s family at their community’s family softball games. The kids get dirty. The boys pee a million times.

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We love school work around here. I already mentioned this, but I especially love the Garden of the Theotokos curriculum. Jillian begs to do that first every day.

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Saddest book ever. I burst into tears three times.

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We took on the county fair for the food and animals only:

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We celebrated 10 years of marriage. That night my friend since 4th(me)/5th(her) grade had an art show in town. It seemed pretty appropriate to go. 12 years ago before we even started dating she told us we’d be good together and 10 years ago she was one of my bridesmaids.

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Less messy bird feeder craft for kids

We are loving homeschooling right now! There have been some tricky parts like when H climbs on the table and sits on J’s work (so we started doing most of our schooling during his nap) and working through her perfectionism is always a challenge too. It’s magical to watch her brain put things together though.

She’s reading some three letter words now with the “short” sounds for a, i, and o. Last night we read books together, me pausing to let her sound out words she can read now in some of her favorite stories. It is very exciting stuff.

I am also really loving the Garden of the Theotokos curriculum we decided to do this year. I’ve always loved doing art projects and crafts with the kids and this lends itself really well to that. Much like Five in a Row, I am doing a bit of picking over, but I love that it it is all laid out for me, matching up with the Liturgical year for when I do want to do it.

We are currently in the “Book of Creation” section of that curriculum. We learned about the birds and the fish for the fifth day of creation. One of the extra activities is to make a bird feeder. Just about every bird feeder craft I know of has some sort of nut butter mess involved (including the one in the book). Not only did I not want to deal with that, but we were also pretty much out of ours. So I started thinking up an alternative.

Less messy bird feeder craft for kids

Materials
-toilet paper roll
-markers/crayons/paint for decorating
-hole punch
-scissors
-about 12″ or so of yarn
-bird seed (we used raw sunflower kernels from our pantry)

Step 1: Fold end of toilet paper roll as shown below:

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Step 2: Do the same thing to the other end. The folds should be on the same side of the roll. This creates a little tray for the seeds.

Step 3. Cut out a rectangle/square/oval above the “tray” in the middle of the TP roll as shown below:

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Step 4: Punch holes in either end of the roll as shown below:

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Step 5: Decorate!

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Step 6: Tie yarn on to each end using the punched holes.

Step 7: Fill with seeds.

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Step 8: Take them outside and hang them.

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2013-2014 school year firsts

First field trip with our homeschool play group to Station 65:

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First day of Classical Conversations play camp and parent/tutor practicum:
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Henry’s first attachment to a toy:
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First clothing phase:
“I only want to wear black. No other colors. Just black.” (It lasted all of four days)

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First day of ballet:
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First day of Classical Conversations:
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First beach trip:
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First day of the new liturgical year:
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Naming our homeschool

Awhile back, someone shared either on Facebook or Pinterest this piece about homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective. It was right around the time that one of our local veteran Orthodox friends had several of us Orthodox families either considering homeschooling or doing it already, up to her house to discuss homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective and had said much of the same things.

It finally helped me to articulate some of what I was thinking and feeling at the time about school and what our goals overall would be. While I had initially wanted to homeschool for purely academic reasons, I began to see my goals as much bigger than just a good education as our paramount concern.

The quote in that article from St. Anthony, really articulated some of the problems I see with just valuing academic instruction above all else.

I’ve known for quite some time now that we plan to use the private school exemption rather than teaming up with one of the local private or charter schools that I do not see eye-to-eye on matters of education or faith. In doing so we have to come up with a name for our school among other things. I knew I wanted to name our school for one of the saints.

With that quote as a guide, many of the traditional scholarly saints one might think of just were not clicking with me. So I asked our good friend that has been with us on our entire journey to Orthodoxy, first as a seminarian and now as a priest, if he had any suggestions for saints to consider since he had been so helpful in suggestions for each of our family members’ individual saints.

Of course the answer was obvious: St. Anthony the Great.

I kind of felt a little stupid even for asking him.

And that, dear friends, is how St. Anthony’s Academy got a name.

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People are generally called intelligent through a wrong use of this word. The intelligent are not those who have studied the sayings and writings of the wise men of old, but those whose soul is intelligent, who can judge what is good and what evil; they avoid what is evil and harms the soul and intelligently care for and practice what is good and profits the soul, greatly thanking God. It is these alone who should properly be called intelligent. — Saint Anthony the Great Early Fathers from the Philokalia, Faber & Faber, 1973, page 21

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Gearing up for the 2013-2014 school year

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A couple months ago the moderator of our homeschool social group announced she was stepping down from that role because she would be starting a Classical Conversations (CC) community here. Since my overall long term plan has been to do a classical approach to homeschooling, I was intrigued. I soon found myself connected to a few other locals of the same mindset and plans for this community were racing forward. I looked over a few things like the CC website and catalog and read some snippets in there from the founder and others that have used CC. What I read seemed to fit with my overall plan, but I admit that at the time with everything going on, I did not have the brain space to devote to a really thorough investigation.

From what I saw it seemed close enough to my goals that I thought it would be good to do for at least a year, for the motivation and accountability alone. Because I’m crazy, and a people pleaser to the core, I also agreed to be the tutor for the 4/5 class that Bean will be in.

This last year, in part to my evolving philosophy on schooling and education in the younger years, has kind of been more on the unschooling side of homeschool spectrum than I want to be. If I don’t have a structure laid out for me, chances are I won’t do it depending on the season of my life. This past year (or more) season has been one that lends itself to other preoccupations. Which, honestly, at my kids’ age is TOTALLY fine. Spend an afternoon with one of my kids, you will see that their learning capabilities have in no way been harmed because tough stuff has happened around here that deserved priority.

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Anyway, starting last week and progressing forward until the beginning of August, our family is getting somewhat of a break from the busy season. It was the first week that aside from one ballet class (that we are LOVING at our new studio), I’d had zero commitments, classes, play dates, or big weekend plans in AGES.

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Naturally, the reading bug hit me. I devoured The Well Trained Mind in just a few days. I tried reading The Well Trained Mind (TWTM) once before and I think because I was pregnant my brain was complete mush (pregnancy brain is VERY real) and could not comprehend the material. I tried to read some of my favorite Jane Austen novels at the same time and encountered the same problem. I found TWTM to be completely overwhelming. Of course I had nothing to worry about as this step-by-step curriculum plan and model begins very gradually in Kindergarten with basic skills and then REALLY starts in first grade. There was no rush.

Still even without TWTM in my brain, my eventual plan was a Classical education and every time I panicked or felt overwhelmed I’d call up my sister-in-law and discuss curriculum options with her. This time my feeling upon reading TWTM was one of relief and freedom. It really is laid out step by step and so easily and clearly. I actually felt the need to apologize for all those panic conversations with my sister-in-law in the past because it was almost like this “Doh!” moment for me as everything we had talked about before was laid out so clearly in the book.

This last week or more Stephen says I’ve gone beast mode on homeschooling. I bought a stack of (pretty) composition notebooks and started laying out all of our curriculum for the year (more on that later). I read some articles about homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective, picked a saint and a guiding quote for our school. I Blurb booked pictures from our last two years of school and then balked at the $50/book price tag (I guess my year books were around that price back in the day and if I think of it like that it is not so bad).

I also started trying to “get” Classical Conversations (I still don’t know that I completely get it), bought some art and science books for it, and started reading The Core by the CC founder. I’ve spent a couple days now reading reviews of the program on blogs and message boards to try and help me put into words how I was feeling, but having trouble expressing.

My initial impression that I got from the Classical Conversations website and catalog was that it was more of a complete program. However, once my Foundations guide (the main text of the program) arrived, I felt very confused and wondered if I was missing something because it all looked like a bunch of outlines to me. After reading the founder’s book, reading reviews and talking to my sister-in-law, I don’t think my initial impression was a correct one (though some families believe and promote that view of CC).

An analogy in my own life I have come up with best expresses how I feel about The Well Trained Mind and Classical Conversations. We have nearly converted to Orthodoxy at this point and I have had friends of various faith persuasions throughout my life. Many of these groups use the name Christian, but believe sometimes wildly different things. Many use similar or the same words that actually mean very different things to each group’s adherents. That’s how I feel about TWTM vs CC. I will add one more thought and that is, I believe there is a difference between learning something and memorizing. I still feel pretty confused by the seemingly random groupings of memory work laid out for each week with no context. My child is a “why” kind of child (like her mother) and I can see myself needing to explain A LOT of stuff to her with this program, some of which may or may not line up with our other curriculum. In this, I’m glad I did decide to tutor because I will be prepared to answer those whys.

Many other people have fleshed this out in more detail (just Google “Classical Conversations versus Well Trained Mind” or look up the posts tagged Classical Conversations on TWTM forums if you want a fuller picture). As someone that has yet to attend a practicum I am not sure my assessment is completely accurate or fair. It’s just how I feel from the outside looking in.

That said, from what I’ve read and what I was already planning to do this year anyway, I still think CC can compliment our goals. Memorization is good training for the brain even if we don’t completely know the context of what we are memorizing. So, I’m planning to look at the memory work as another subject we are tackling this year. Further, I think the fine arts and science will be great fun. I love the idea of doing these messy things in a group setting and having specific time carved out for them because I am sometimes reluctant to do messy projects at home (I did bust out the Playdoh for the first time in months this week and it wasn’t quite as messy as I often work it up to be in my anxious head). Lastly, this may seem a little absurd from a “classical” education standpoint, but I think the social aspect of the program will be a really valuable aspect for our kids especially in a season where we are kind of in limbo as far as a church community, have grown slightly apart from friends at our last community we had in this city prior to our move four years ago and obviously not as close knit with those from our previous city due to the distance.

Well, that was quite a lengthy tangent on classical education styles that I did not intend when I sat down to write tonight, but it was good to work through those thoughts in writing after trying to grapple with them the last week or so. So, on to this year’s plans!

I said I would talk about my notebooks later. So I guess I will start there. Prior to having kids when I was an editor of two community newspapers, I fell in love with a planner/agenda that was intended for moms. It gave full pages to every day of the week, had spaces for grocery lists, meal plans and all these other things I was trying to juggle at the time. It also did not have time slots for the days so you could list out things that needed to be accomplished each day in addition to actual appointments. As an editor, this was perfect because most days were not necessarily filled up with constant appointments and meetings, but rather lists of stories I needed to proof, pictures I might need to capture and people I needed to call. After awhile though, I started to feel like it was maybe just a little ridiculous to spend THAT much on a planner, even if it did come in cute covers. There were also a lot of wasted pages and sections that were for things I did not find useful. By the time I figured this out, I was pregnant with Bean, quitting my job and not really needing a planner anymore.

I’ve had an iPhone4 for a couple years now, but I’ve increasingly found that even if “there’s an app for that” for everything from menu planning to grocery lists, note taking, daily planning and to-do lists, I still prefer to at least initially write it out with pen and paper. So when I found my motivation this week and sat down with our curriculum I decided to use composition notebooks to map out our school year keeping some of the elements I loved from my old favorite planners, ditching the ones I did not find useful and incorporating things I need that would not be on one of those agendas like important days on the church calendar.

So today looks like this for example:
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And a day from our first week of school looks like this:
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Since we are still new (and unofficial) to Orthodoxy, I knew that this year one of the things I wanted to make a priority was learning about important days in the life of the Church as well as the traditions that are typical to those days so that we could begin to incorporate some of that into our family life. I tried to do that a little bit this last year from a hodge podge of Orthodox education sources, but I wanted something more coherent.

At one point I was even trying to find some sort of Orthodox encompassing curriculum (there isn’t one, but Protestant ones abound) and stumbled on the Children’s Garden of the Theotokos. I got some mixed reviews (dare I say negative?) from Orthodox homeschool friends, but having experience with picking and choosing already with Five in a Row, I decided I would go ahead with it anyway because it was the only thing geared toward children with resources conveniently in one package. At some point far down the road, I would love to come up (or be involved) with something comprehensive for Orthodox homeschoolers of a variety of age groups (bucket list).

One of the things I did during “homeschool beast mode,” was to look over this curriculum. I love all the art projects and many of the explanations and stories. I will not likely be using her ideas for circle time and other things that seem more suited to a corporate atmosphere such as a Sunday School class. Overall I think it will be a good and gentle way to begin creatively setting aside time to honor the heroes of the faith and important feast days in the church. I’m excited to learn and create together on this one.

Since all of the Garden of the Theotokos curriculum is tied to the church calendar, one of my first tasks after laying out the year in my composition books, was to figure out the important dates on the calendar like the beginning if the Nativity Fast, Lent, Pascha and others. Then I was able to write in lesson titles from the two Garden of the Theotokos project books: Seasons of Grace and Treasury of Feasts. They had to have two because there is no way for them to put them in a chronological order that would be correct every year since some important dates like Pascha move every year and others, like Christmas, are fixed every year.

I am still planning to finish out Five in a Row (vol. 2 & 3) next year, though as I said above, I tend to pick and choose on the discussion topics and activities we do to correspond with each book. I think we have loved every book on this list and I think it is still worth it. So my next task in my notebooks was to lay out for myself the order of the books and deciding which days it would be best to read them and do a discussion or activity from the curriculum.

I had a hard time with math, in part due to some pretty lousy teachers (just because you love math does not mean you love teaching) and because I had a hard time thinking more abstractly in my head. So based on that I thought a more hands on approach to math would be more helpful. Initially I was leaning towards the Right Start curriculum, but people in my local homeschool group kept raving about Math•U•See. I had a chance to head over to their website a few months ago and it seemed very similar and hands-on like the other program. It was also much less expensive. Based on that I decided to go with it and after reading The Well Trained Mind, I am even more satisfied with my decision as it is discussed thoroughly in there and recommended. Initially, since I normally do errands on Mondays and Tuesdays will be our CC Community day, I though we would just do it three days a week. However, everything I’ve read says a little math every day is best for retention and learning so we will plan to do one worksheet a day in the fall to start out with and see how it goes.

My original plan for handwriting curriculum was Handwriting Without Tears, but after reading The Well Trained Mind and checking out their other recommendations, I decided to go with the Zaner-Bloser curriculum instead. Cost was my main factor and Bean is already practicing some handwriting in various preschool workbooks she begs me to do all the time. Handwriting Without Tears seems especially geared towards kids having trouble picking up the skill and I don’t think that will be her. I may consider it in the future especially since our youngest is looking to be a lefty.

One of the main goals of the Kindergarten level is learning to read. I’ve had All About Reading Level 1 since sometime last year when Bean really wanted to start learning how to read. We made it through a few lessons, but it became clear to me at that point she was not ready, not retaining the information and having a huge problem connecting and blending the sounds together. We have tried to pick up All About Reading a couple times since our initial foray, but have tabled it again for the same reasons. She desperately wants to read now and has several books memorized which she says she is reading and I’ve had a hard time explaining the difference between reciting and reading to her (sounds like a theme from above). I’m planning to try it again this fall and in the meantime we are pointing out the phonetic sounds to her whenever we can.

So that about covers it for next year. The boys, including my nephew, will be able to sit in on any of it that they want to or their attention span allows. Sprout is so used to doing everything big sister does that he begs to do school too and he’s already mastered some letter and phonic associations, more than her, so we will see. I just really don’t want to push him, but I don’t want him to feel left out either.

Summary
Religious Studies: Children’s Garden of the Theotokos
Literature: Five in a Row
Math: Math•U•See
Handwriting: Zaner-Bloser
Reading: All About Reading
Science: Classical Conversations
Art: Classical Conversations
Memory Work: Classical Conversations

And since I have not shared much in the way of new/old abode, here are some pictures of and from our school and playroom (which used to be our living room before we moved):

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