Wednesday, August 31, 2011


History. In first grade we explored our way through pieces of American History by way of literature. Hannah also participated in a program called Artios where kids come together to learn about the arts in a classically designed historical context. Last year they studied Modern History by way of digging WWI trenches, participating in their own fireside chats and eating hard tack.

While part of me wanted to remain in that little house on the prairie, I've opted to leave what's comfortable and head back to the Ancients. The bulk of her studies will take place each Monday at Artios where her teachers will bring this time-period to life in all sorts of messy, art-intensive, experiential ways. Thank you teachers! Meanwhile, Hailey and I will make the most of these mornings doing all things toddler.

I've gathered a few additional resources to supplement. My aim at this age is exposure. I want to provide our girls with the greater context of our world and help them to identify their relatively small albeit not insignificant place within it. 

Story of the World  Volume 1: Ancient Times
We have the audio version as well as the book. I envision us listening to this together once or twice a week and using the book for reference.

Wallchart of World History
This is a great reference resource. It's the type of thing you pull out on a rainy afternoon (when the toddler is sound asleep) and follow the lines across the pages - beginning to connect the dots of all mankind.

The Getty Villa
We're fortunate to live within range of these amazing museums. I plan to take Hannah to the Villa midyear - once she has enough of a context to appreciate it. 

I've found with this sort of museum (paired with this age) that less is more. For instance, last year we visited the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Prior to our field trip we learned about Claude Monet in fun and hands-on ways. Obviously there was much more to see at the Getty (which we did) than a single artist's work. Still, when she spotted one of Monet's original haystacks, she was amazed! She was so taken in fact that she crossed the invisible line that prompted security to let us know we'd gone too far. We will try to temper our exuberance a bit more this time around. 

"The goal of the classical curriculum is multicultural in the true sense of the word: the student learns the proper place of his community, his state, and his country by seeing the broad sweep of history from its beginning and then fitting his own time and place into that great landscape."                                 

Susan Wise Bauer, The Well Trained Mind

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Read-Aloud Books

Read-Aloud books are a highlight in many homes; ours in no exception. We've slowed our pace over the past couple of months, only reading two summer stories together. Hannah and I are both ready to pick things up once school begins next week. 

Typically, we close out our school day with this activity. Once we've worked through our other studies (the littlest sleeps through the whole thing most days) we make a snack, grab our surf blanket and head outside to read. For other families bedtime proves the most opportune time. Still others utilize some weekend space for this.    

Regardless of when we read to our kids, I think you'd agree that these moments are often memorable ones. The stories awaken our hearts. Our children ask questions that just wouldn't surface in other settings. Together, we travel with orphans and animals, knights and slaves, precocious girls and brave young boys through the ups and downs of their lives on these pages and beyond. 

Not everyday is compelling. If the truth be told, I nodded off a time or two while reading aloud to Hannah last year. I also came to understand that a child who wiggles her way through this time is in fact listening. My hair was braided, mud pies were formed and grass was picked with each turning page. 

When we slow down long enough to enter into a story with our children we're giving them a gift. We're helping to ignite their young imaginations - to foster ideas, values and characteristics that are often better caught through literature than taught. And we're giving them our time. 

Here are some of the books we're planning on reading this year:

The Moffats by, Eleanor Estes
Along Came A Dog by, Meindert DeJong
The Wind and the Willows by, Kenneth Grahame
Strawberry Girl by, Lois Lenski
The Trumpet of the Swan by, E.B. White
The Railway Children by, E. Nesbit
Thee Hannah by, Marguerite de Angeli
The Secret Garden by, Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Hundred Dresses by, Eleanor Estes 

What are your favorite stories? Let's keep the list going!


Monday, August 29, 2011

Language Arts

To share your passion with your child is an incredible gift to you both. To become a more proficient speller while doing so exceeds all expectation.

The challenge of Language Arts in this schoolhouse is not overdoing it. I'm naturally drawn to this realm, which helps in the confidence department. Still, there's my real-live child to take into consideration. How do I motivate, instruct, encourage and not overwhelm her along the way? 

Hannah is a strong reader and speller. One might naturally conclude that this would translate into proficient writing skills as well. What I've found thus far is that writing has been a more treacherous path. Competency is central to her being. The discrepancy between the language she reads and what she's able to create with pen and paper has at moments sent both tools flying with red-faced frustration and tears. 

Through trial and error I've landed on a set of tools that builds on her love for reading while also gently moving her down the path of creating original work. Throw in some critical building blocks like grammar, handwriting and spelling instruction and here's where we landed for second grade.

Writing With Ease Workbook 2
I purchased Workbook 1 half way through first grade (in response to those flying pens I mentioned earlier). For my kiddo, I've found this program to be brilliant. Drawing on passages from classic children's literature, students walk through exercises that help them absorb the building blocks of fine writing. Each passage left Hannah wanting more; we went on to read several of these titles in their entirety. I'm looking forward to more of the same this coming year.

First Language Lessons and Primary Language Lessons 
Grammar will never be the most enticing of subjects in our household. Nonetheless, it still feels critical to master. Both of these books have solid lessons. We worked solely with FLL last year. I was generally satisfied but also found it to be redundant at times. Therefore, this year I will be selecting the best from both in hopes of spicing things up just a bit.

A Reason for Handwriting
This is a straight-forward program and it has worked for us. Hannah would really like to try cursive this year. The transition book we purchased will begin introducing it half way through the year. Each week they practice their penmanship through writing out a Bible verse. The last lesson has them transfer this onto a coloring sheet. These finished products made their way to grandparents, friends and our own refrigerator. 

Spelling Power
Here's what I love about this program. Students are placed (through a thorough front-end assessment) at their present spelling level. They only study words that they miss. The ways in which they work with these words cross lots of learning styles. The total time commitment for each day is 15 minutes. This resource provides spelling instruction through high school (i.e. I will never have to buy another spelling book again). I have never been a strong speller. I'm optimistic that I'll be learning right alongside her for years to come. 

From Heart to Page
We'll be using these journal prompts each morning as part of her independent work. I know this will be stretching but I am optimistic that she'll do well and enjoy drawing from her own heart and mind. 

A Child's Introduction to Poetry
I came upon this book over the summer. It seemed like a fun way to get our feet wet in the area of poetry. I plan on reading through this book with Hannah on Fridays this year. I'm looking forward to it!

Blackbird & Company
Late in the planning game for this year, I was introduced to this language arts program. I really love it and plan to at least work through a poetry unit linked to the book Love that Dog. I'm eager to add more of their materials in coming years and am already plotting for Hailey's intro into this realm.


Sunday, August 28, 2011


Math. It wasn't until middle school that this became a four letter word in my mind. I'd always done well in this subject. Ironically, that's what landed me in Algebra class and under the tutelage of the extremely stout and balding Mr. Liddy. 

Unfortunately for me, he'd had the opportunity to teach my brother David two years prior. To put it mildly, David left an impression. Understandably, the combination of him showing up to his class not entirely sober and egging his house on the weekend didn't go over so well.

Enter, the awkward eighth-grade me (imagine braces, blue eye makeup and far too much hairspray). I inhaled deeply as I entered Mr. Liddy's classroom in my preppy outfit and training bra fastened to my not yet fully developed self. As he hollered his way through roll call, his voice literally sunk when landing on my name. Cari Stone. The ensuing pause was painful - face burning up, heart beating out of your chest painful. 

The wheels were turning in Mr. Liddy's mind and within moments he went on to ask about any possible relationship between myself and his pupil of years past. I sheepishly admitted that David and I were in fact siblings - an act with social implications all their own in the junior high economy. He dropped his roll card, slid his glasses down his nose and declared, 

"Well, Miss Stone, I have the perfect seat for you. Why don't you come right up here in the front where I can keep a close eye on you."   

To say I was mortified doesn't quite cover it. To blame Mr. Liddy for my demise in the math kingdom would be equally unfair. This was and will forever be an inciting incident in my story about numbers. Self confidence in this subject waned that year - it still does, really.

Yet as I've been preparing to teach Hannah second grade math, I'm discovering an incredible truth within teaching. We have the opportunity to reeducate ourselves along the way. While it is slightly embarrassing to admit that I have felt overwhelmed by the thought of leading her through math studies this year, it's true! Early on I found myself looking at programs that could teach for me. I rationalized that a computer based program was the route to go. It was only a matter of time before I'd be completely out of my league. 

Please hear me. I'm all for outsourcing subjects at times (stay tuned for my post on art education). Still, what I came to realize was that in this particular situation changing her curriculum to ease my anxiety would not have been in Hannah's best interest. Her math program suits her. She's challenged daily in the right sort of ways (as am I). This method sets a strong foundation for the world of Algebra and beyond. 

That said, I've collected tools and am giving myself frequent pep talks - believing that in combination the two will carry us through. Who knows, at the end of this whole experiment I may even drop the math phobic label. We'll see.

Second Grade Math

Our plan is to work through these two texts and workbooks on Tues/Wed/Thur

Hannah will work with these twice a week. What I love about this tool is that she can put down her pencil, flop on the couch, work (and correct) at her own pace and ultimately master her math facts.

Fridays will work a bit differently in our house. I envision a big glass jar. Inside there will be 38 pieces of paper folded in half (each with an activity from below written on the paper). This will take us in varying directions and hopefully add an element of fun. 

Math Board Games 

*For those moments when I'm truly stumped or just need another opinion...
The Khan Academy
This free online resource has over 2400 videos explaining every imaginable facet of math - it is pretty amazing. They happen to really like Singapore Math and are building a library of online explanations to go along with this curriculum.


Friday, August 26, 2011

One Week

One week. 
The neighborhood kids have returned to school. I've heard the word bored at least three times since then. I know our time is coming, yet there's still so much to do. 

I had the chance to sit with a dozen or so women yesterday evening and drink in the wisdom of Kimberly Bredberg. Part of me felt like I should have spent that time at the office supply store gathering those last few things. In some ways that's exactly why I went. My tendencies towards order, towards all things structured and obtainable in real terms can ultimately stifle the very essence of what I'm working so hard to foster in my daughters. 

Bredberg reminded me of that. She did it with grace and inspiration and with so much room for translation into our own space in which we educate. She explored how diligence and creativity are entirely compatible - how imagination must ultimately move beyond itself in order to bloom. I marvel at how brilliance and simplicity delicately dance their way through childhood. Their movements are precarious. It is both daunting and exhilarating to realize this for parents and educators alike.  

She introduced us to Sir Ken Robinson. He's a man I'm sure will both challenge and inspire my thinking; but this will have to wait until later this fall.

For now, I plan to take this coming week to share the path we're traveling this year - the specifics and the dreams. Stay tuned! 

"Learning is an unruly algorithm, a one-step-at-a-time journey with unexpected side strolls. Excellence is achieved as the student is taught to respond to the creative impulse and is provided opportunities to respond to that impulse by exerting a balance of effort and attitude." 

- Habits of Being, Kimberly Bredberg


Monday, August 22, 2011

An Ordered Vision

I'm about a week behind the rest of the world in turning my attention to school; at least that's how it feels right now. Rationally I know I'm already in decent shape - especially considering the freedom and flexibility attached to the homeschooling environment. Still, I'm a planner at heart. I operate best with my ducks in a row; if my ducks include an ordered back porch and streamlined coat closet, all the better.  

And so, between now and Labor Day my margins are dedicated to creating both vision and order for the coming year. Our classroom will include a second grader and a two year-old. At first (and second, and even third) glance, these two stages seem to lack cohesion. In some ways they do which is why we'll continue to do much of our academic work in the afternoons while the two year-old retires to her crib. 

Still, I'm equally inclined to begin integrating the girls in this context - understanding that Play dough and Bach, natural trails and botany, picture books and reading aloud all have the capacity to enrich two little lives at once. This will take patience and grace and flexibility to pull off (if only I could pick these up in capsule form at Whole Foods).

In his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years Donald Miller explores the idea of living your best story - how life provides us this opportunity if we so choose. I suppose that teaching my girls from home is part of my story - theirs too, really. As I stare at my overflowing inbox and blank lesson planner today, I couldn't help but remember this quote. 

"Here's the truth about telling stories with your life. It's going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you're not going to want to do it. It's like that with writing books, and it's like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain."   



Sunday, August 7, 2011


Every time we arrive on Wahsatch Avenue a part of me feels like I'm home. My friendship with Janna spans decades and while that can at times make me feel old, more often it leaves me feeling grateful. 

Our lives have morphed dramatically from our cinder block walled beginnings. We have husbands, kids, dogs and mortgages. Our concerns over boyfriends and midterms have been replaced with matters all together more important. As she and I peer toward the midlife corridor I think we find ourselves facing it with more questions than answers. But for now,  long summer days outweigh the angst over what comes next. 

To be able to show up for eight straight days at someone's house - with all sorts of dietary weirdness and general quirks right alongside your luggage - and to then find yourselves welcomed is a gift that few can offer. The Joneses did just that. This family defines hospitality in ways that Merriam Webster cannot. Here are just a few highlights from our time in the Rockies.

        Time in the garden - as Mary and Laura Ingalls - or just plain Phil. 

Watching the littlest inch her way into the big kid crowd 

Getting really dirty most days

The Little Dipper pool left Hailey feeling entirely different about the world of aquatics in all the right ways 

One very hot morning of fishing, exploring and picnicking at Manitou Lake

Harvesting Crab Apples for hours with Baxter and Bailey 

Experiencing life on the farm at Rock Ledge Ranch

On one afternoon, thunderstorms = a kids yoga session

 ...and one unfortunate encounter between Baxter and a skunk. In the end, the Joneses prevailed with only slight traces of Mr. Le Pew by the week's end.