Summary of our 2016-7 curriculum


This year, our kids were in 3rd, 7th, 8th and 11th grades. Our curriculum isn’t determined by those grade levels, but I list them here so you have a rough idea of who the audience is. We have 4 days/week at home, and one day in class at a homeschool school sponsored by a local charter school. My kids take mostly enrichment classes there (think Art, Music, Drama) with a few academic exceptions, but I don’t rely on it for our core subjects (reading, writing, math, history, science).




  • Genevieve Foster: The World of Columbus and Sons
  • Genevieve Foster: The World of Captain John Smith

This is the first year we’ve made it through two entire Foster books in one school year. I chalk that up to age (the children’s, not mine) and consistency. It’s amazing how much more we can get through at 16, 14, 12 and 9 than we could at 8, 6, 4 and 2. That said, I wish I had emphasized regular narrations (written) for retention.

Additional history read-alouds:

  • Castle (Macauley)
  • Who Was Ferdinand Magellan? (Kramer)
  • Mansa Musa (Burns)
  • Longitude (Sobel)- (this one was a hit with 8th and 11th grades and NOT a hit with 3rd and 7th grades)
  • The Queen’s Promise: An Elizabethan Alphabet (Davidson Mannis)
  • The Pirate Meets the Queen: an Illustrated Tale (Faulkner)
  • Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press (Koscielniak)
  • Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama (Bass)

3rd, 7th and 8th also did two biographies on historical persons of their choice. (3rd: Aaron Burr and Hillary Clinton, 7th: Isabella of Castille and Mozart, 8th: Einstein and Abraham Lincoln). 11th grade participated in National History Day through his school.

The election

2016 was a fascinating year to learn about our electoral system. We used CNN10 (formerly CNN Student News) and Syd Sobel’s Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts, and we mapped the electoral college on election night.


We study and color maps and talk about historical changes between political boundaries in the history we study vs. how countries are now.


Areas we studied: England, UK, Europe, North Africa, Central America and the Caribbean

We also kept a globe in the living room and hung a world map in the kitchen. We referred to them all the time, which was a vast improvement over our geography study in previous years.



  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)- we assigned parts and read this aloud together
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)
  • Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome)
  • Greenglass House (Kate Mitford)
  • Raymie Nightengale (diCamillo)
  • daVinci and Michaelangelo (Mike Venezia)
  • Flush (Hiaasen)
  • Kira-Kira (Kadohata)
  • Echo (Munoz Ryan)
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Robinson)
  • Unfinished Angel (Creech)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)- we read this in parts, and each of us memorized a speech made by a character we read.
  • lots of older picture books (think Bill Peet, Dr. Seuss, Margaret Wise Brown, Mary Ann Hoberman, Cynthia Rylant and others) and new picture books we enjoyed, including the Zorro series by Goodrich

Everyone read other books independently every day. I’ll post on some of their favorites in a separate post.


Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Maggie Dietz’s Pluto, Lewis Carrol’s Jaberwocky, GK Chesterton’s The Donkey, Rachel Field’s Something Told the Wild Geese, Carl Sandberg’s Fog

I feel like we started strong with poetry and then fell off the wagon in the second semester (with a slight boost during April, National Poetry Month.)


1 Timothy, James, 1 Peter, Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree (now available as Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas), The Gospel of Mark.

Picture Study:

Picture Study is a Charlotte Mason subject. In the past we’ve been more thorough in our study, but this year we looked at the paintings 1-2 days a week, we played I Spy with them, and we reproduced a few of them. I saw it mostly as a way to familiarize the children with styles of art, and to enjoy the individual painting themselves. We didn’t put a lot of effort on this subject, but we got a big bang for our buck. I bought our post-cards from Memoria Press. We have their Kindergarten, First and Second Grade sets of postcards. I pulled these paintings from all three sets.

Titus as a Monk (Rembrandt), Five o’clock Tea (Mary Cassatt), The Stone Breakers (Courbet), Paris Street: Rainy Day (Caillebotte), Still Life with Apples and Oranges (Cezanne), Three Musicians (Picasso), The Goldfish (Matisse), A Girl with a Watering Can (Renoir), The Fighting Temeraire (Turner), Rain, Steel and Speed: The Great Western Railway (Turner), Golden Eagle (Audubon), Starry Night over Rhone (Van Gogh), God Creates Adam from the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel (Michelangelo), The Last Supper (da Vinci), View of Paris from Montmartre (Dufy), The Thinker (Rodin), The Peaceable Kingdom (Hicks), Tree of Life (Tiffany), Umbrellas in the Rain (Prendergast), The Little Owl and (Durer).

A special day of Picture Study was when we visited the Masterworks Exhibit at the medical school- a collection of amazing paintings and sculptures collected by some physicians on the faculty. It was a great exhibit in a very intimate setting.

Field Trips:

Reykjavik, Iceland

London: The British Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court, The Tower of London, Greenwich including the Cutty Sark museum, Harry Potter’s World.


Concerts and Plays- In the Heights, Wicked, The Proms (Mozart and Bruckner).

Other field trips: skiing, the DAM (The Art of Venice, and Star Wars Costumes), Denver Museum of Nature and Science.



  • Nature’s The World Without Amphibians
  • CNN10 (10 minutes of non-partisan middle-school appropriate news)
  • This Day in History
  • Crash Course History with John Green


  • 3rd grade: Singapore Primary 3A/3B
  • 7th Grade: Singapore NEM 1
  • 8th Grade: Singapore NEM 2
  • 11th grade: AP Calculus BC through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers

Foreign Language:

  • 7th grade French:
  • 7th/8th grades: Spanish through our once a week school
  • 11th grade: Latin: translating Julius Caesar through Memoria Press’s Online Academy, and the National Latin Exam
  • 11th Grade: Biblical Greek 1 through Memoria Press’s Online Academy


  • 7th and 11th grades: Environmental Science through our once a week school
  • 7th and 8th grades: Focus on Middle School Physics (Keller)
  • 3rd Grade: Real Science-4-Kids Physics (Keller)

Additional classes for our 11th grader:

US Government (fall semester): de Toqueville: Democracy in America; Hamilton, Madison and Jay: The Federalist Papers. Various: The U.S. Constitution, readings drawn from The Washington Post and The Economist, satire from Stephen Colbert, SNL, Trevor Noah and Seth Meyers.

This class focused on the set-up of the US government and the checks and balances put in place. Additionally, we spent a lot of time talking about the tensions between states’ rights and a strong federal government.

AP Comparative Governments and Politics (spring semester):

For this class, I combined several of the online class syllabi available at the College Board. His spine was Introduction to Comparative Politics: Political Challenges and Changing Agendas (Kesselman, Krieger and Joseph). (They’re changing the class for 2018, so make sure to check in before you design your curriculum.)

Other readings included:

  • Baer: The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower
  • Schell: Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the 21st Century
  • Fukuyama: Women and the Evolution of World Politics
  • Friedman: The Lexus and the Olive Tree
  • Marx: The Communist Manifesto
  • Machiavelli: The Prince
  • Dahl: On Democracy
  • Economist special editions on Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, China, UK, Brexit, and Iran
  • Preston and Dillon: Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy
  • Breaking the Cycle of Electoral Violence in Nigeria (pdf)
  • Special Hearing on instability in Nigeria (pdf)
  • Zakaria: The Rise of Illiberal Democracy (from Foreign Affairs, pdf)
  • Lots of news online (esp. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, and the BBC)

I think this was his favorite class, despite (or because of?) the heavy reading load. The readings (I got all of them from the AP site and my amazing dad) were excellent, and with the unfortunate instability in many parts of the world, it made for a fascinating class.

Coloring in the Electoral College Map on November 8, 2016.

Introduction to Grant Writing

He had an opportunity to be work on writing grants for a non-profit run by friends of ours. We used two books as introductory spines:

  • O’Neal-McElrath: Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing and Writing Successful Proposals
  • Karsh: The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need

We also reviewed other grant applications from a variety of sources.

This class was a huge stretch for him and not an unqualified success. By no means did his drafts of the grant proposals go in without major editing, but it was a great opportunity for him to have to think about writing within very specific constraints.

His (and my) favorite part of the class with the non-profit he worked with, Foster Source, which provides support, practical help, and education for local foster families. He had an opportunity to provide child care, meet amazing foster families, and learn about the incredible (and often invisible) needs right in front of us. We will continue to be involved with this great organization even after his class is done.

Other writing for him this year included a major paper for National History Day, and completing NaNoWriMo in November.

All right, that’s all for this year. For previous years’ curricula, please see my pages (links by year, at the top of the blog.)

Daybook: April

Outside my window: Spring.  [Sigh.]  I love spring.  I love the birds’ return and the tulips (both the ones in the garden and the ones I brought inside) and all the trees. I love our hens’ fresh eggs and the neighbors’ wind chimes.

This is my neighbor’s crabapple tree, but this year it appears to be half-apple (on the bottom) and half-crabapple (on the top).

In the kitchen: Last night we had a Sabbath feast with friends visiting from far away. This week (for Holy Week) we’re planning a lot of soups- butternut squash, black bean with lime, white bean chili, rosemary potato.  Do you eat differently during Holy Week?



In the school room: We finished our standardized testing last week, so this week we return you to our regular programming.  The younger kids are working on reports, Jonah is finishing up his AP content and working on review, and I’m studying for my Boards (on Friday).  I’m also hoping we can make it to this art exhibit at the medical school this week.

On my reading table: I’m deep in Girl in Translation (Jean Kwok). So good.


In my shoes: I’m starting to run a little more.  And my runs are starting to feel like runs-with-a-little-walking, instead of walks-with-a-little-running.  I’m sure I’d go faster if I weren’t stopping to taking photos of blooming trees every ten feet.

Grateful: For Holy Week.  For a great Children’s Church yesterday, despite confusion about when we were excused from the service and who was supposed to be helping me (and for KC, who stepped in).

For Phoebe’s yoga classes she’s been teaching in my room at night: very relaxing. (She’s using these Yoga Pretzel cards to prepare her class.)

For friends who have visited us these past ten days and blessed us with their humor, their wisdom, their courage and their tears.

For Facetime with Fiji.


Praying for: Egypt.  Syria. Refugees, and those who minister among them. The Neals and Simons.  Mandy, Judy, Anne, Dave, Christine, Lori, Ruth, Gill, Betsy.  My patients.  Those wondering when ICE will knock on their doors.  Patience and grace at home.  Courage to stand with the hurting.

May you have a holy week of walking with the Lord.  I’ll be back in this space after Easter.

7QT: STEM at home


Alas… those were the days, when all I had to do was grow bacteria in the kitchen…

One: It began like any other home science experiment: we had almost all the pieces needed, and I figured I could use the substitutions in the teacher’s manual without a problem. (That might have been my first mistake.)

We started with a 9-V battery and some wire. And a metal Allen wrench.

The goal: build an electromagnet.

Two: We followed the directions, taping the wire to both ends of the 9-V battery and coiling it around the wrench. But it wouldn’t magnetize.

Three: I’m so tired of science experiments that don’t work. It’s happened so many times that the kids were ready to give up, as one does, but I was having nothing of that.

I knew the battery was working, because once we connected the circuit, the battery got hot. But the Allen wrench wouldn’t pick up any of the paper clips. So I pushed the kids a little harder: what could the problem be?

We came up with a list:

  1. maybe the paper clips aren’t the right kind of metal
  2. the Allen wrench was too big
  3. the Allen wrench was the wrong metal
  4. perhaps we need more coils of wire around the wrench
  5. the battery wasn’t powerful enough

Four: We substituted out the wire. No change.

Five: We tested a different magnet on the paperclips. The fridge magnet picked up paper clips like… well, as it does.

Which left the battery.

Six: I happened to have this 12-V battery lying around.


I believe this is the key to having successful science and engineering experiences at home: have a bunch of stuff lying around. It’s impossible to have a clutter-free house and a successful home science environment. The battery may or may not have been part of our old security system, we aren’t sure. But anyway, there it was, just sitting on top of the freezer. So I connected it.

The first time I tried to wrap the wire around the battery terminals, it blew sparks and I felt the charge from my fingers all the way down to my ankle. Whoa. Okay, the battery worked.

The kids were all for stopping at that point, but I was going to show them how science requires perseverance! And as Thomas Edison said, ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” We were going to keep trying.

Seven: The second time, I used alligator clips to connect the wire to the battery. When I clipped the wire to the negative terminal, there was a small fire, the alligator clip melted, and all the children screamed.

If I’d been a good homeschool mom, I would have taken a picture.  Instead, I unclipped it and smothered the fire.  We went back to the 9-V battery and a smaller screwdriver for the Allen wrench.

Success! Not only did we pick up a bunch of paperclips (this is meaningful work here!), my children developed a healthy fear of perseverance. When Sam asked them what they learned that day, they said, “We learned it’s not safe to do science experiments with Mommy.”

I’m counting this one as a win. And because the battery can’t be thrown away in the regular trash, it will still be hanging around my house until I need it the next time.

How’s STEM education going at your house?

Be sure to check out Kelly’s site for more Quick Takes!

School Update: Beginning of October

It’s officially fall.  I know this because Pinterest keeps sending me pins of cute outfits with tall boots and scarves, and recipes for pumpkin spice lattes.

In past years, I would be saying we’re just getting started on school, but this year (for various reasons including early May AP exams and a September trip to London) we started in mid-August.  So we’ve done 7 full weeks of school.  The kids keep asking if this means we’re going to finish in April.  Unlikely. 

New rhythms: Friday poetry teas.
I don’t think we have any budding Tennysons or Dickinsons in the family, but I sure like reading poetry and drinking tea.

Also new to us are Jonah’s online classes. We’ve had classes online before, but this year he has set class times and virtual online classrooms with attendance as part of his grade. He’s being very faithful about it, but a 90-min online class Friday afternoon is kind of a drag.


New resources: for the first time, I’m using some materials from Teachers Pay Teachers. This lesson, from Mme R, was to create a menu for a French restaurant. Moriah had a blast with it.


I’m upping my geography game. So far it’s working, thanks to a globe I’m keeping in the living room, and a huge world map I hung in the dining room. Now, I throw out 1-2 geography questions every day (“Name three countries in the EU,” or “What are the countries laying claim to the South China Sea?”). We’re all learning.


Not working yet: third grade.  She just hasn’t found a rhythm yet.  Each of my kids have taken years to learn the lesson that getting the work goes better when you do it first (before Legos and cartwheels and bike rides and playing.) I can’t tell if it feels like it’s taking her forever to settle down to a routine is because I’ve already taught (and learned) this lesson multiple times, or because it really is.

Certainly when the older kids were figuring this out, I wasn’t driving anyone to swim team or dance in the afternoon, so I was available for helping/teaching in the late afternoon.  This year: not so much.  Right now, it’s hard.

How’s your rhythm this fall?

First Day of School 2016-7

Happy  late summer!  We started school today.  I thought I’d get a little push-back (“it’s only August!”) but I think everyone was ready.  And even if they weren’t, I’ve been dropping hints over the past few weeks (think handing out school supplies and squeezing in a “few last summer activities”) that it was time.  And then this morning came, and everyone was ready.

My daughter’s reading lately has featured lots of contemporary teenage girls (and their angst, sigh).  And because of that, two weeks ago she asked me for a locker.

Excuse me?

“You know, a locker.  To keep my books in.”

Well.  So much for that.  I was convinced the year was blown before it had even started.  Was this just a ploy for her to demand to go to a public middle school, since there was no way I could possibly fulfill her needs?

Just as I was spiraling into a swirl of doom, she found one in our study.

A locker.


This is an Ikea bookcase.  We’ve had it for years (note the footprints on the lower door, and then tell me why there should be footprints there. Go ahead, I dare you) and I was even feeling like it needed to find a new home… until she saw it with new eyes.  It was a locker! So she engineered a lock mechanism and added a lock.

Detail of lock:


She put a hook on the inside wall, attached a rubber band to it and the knob, and voila, all her dreams for the school year were complete.

Or not.

In other news, we also started learning things.  Here are the read-alouds we’re beginning with.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be a group read (it’s so fun that we can all read now!), and the others I will read aloud.  We’re focusing on English history before we head to London in September.

Todays readings:


And, probably because this is not my first rodeo, I held our reading time to an hour instead of letting my excitement carry us away.  Everyone groaned when I stopped the MBS and begged me to keep reading.  (I said no.)  All four kids finished their work long before they thought they would and concluded they were amazingly smart.  In reality, they finished early because I planned it that way, so that we could play board games and play with the neighbor kids when they got home from summer camp.

It was my own little back-to-school engineering project to start us out on the right foot.  (Don’t tell.)

Have you started yet?  Are you engineering any changes to your school structure?

Daybook: Beginning of May

Outside my window: we had snow for three days this weekend, but the sun is back.  Lots of little birds are singing, and the grass is all uneven and needing a cut. Kind-of like my boys’ hair.

In the kitchen: I have this Cooks’ Illustrated Almost-No-Knead Bread in the oven.  I haven’t decided yet what we’ll eat with it… but it should have some kind of yummy sauce we can sop up with the bread.


In the garden: Everything is very green.  My spinach and lettuce are coming up and are almost big enough to attract the attention of the vicious predators in my yard.

In my shoes: Between the bad weather and our 30 hour famine, last week’s mileage was low.  I’ve penciled my runs for the week and am hoping I can make them happen.  With Sam and Jonah in China next week, it may be harder then. I did have one lovely morning run where cranes unidentified water birds were still dipping in the creek when I went by.

The lilacs will be blooming though, so that should make it easier. Can you tell I plan my runs entirely based on the flora and fauna in season?

Good thing I’m not shooting for pace.  All my photo-taking would surely throw that off!

In the school room: Jonah’s in full exam-mode.  The rest of us are focusing on geography and reading. What about you?

Grateful: For this energetic group who joined our 30 hour famine this weekend. (More details to come.)  The church gave us a weekend away (where/when TBD) as a thank-you for our service with the children, but more than that I’m grateful for our new children’s church coordinator (that might not be the right title) who’s coming on board.  For lilacs and bird song and meaningful work.

Praying for: So many marriages.  Youth making decisions about college or not, and how to pay for it.  Campus ministers. Foster parents. Those who grieve. Faithful servants around the world and at home. Mandy, Heather, Danielle, Justine, and Becky. Gabby and Joshua. Refugees. The hungry.

Daybook: Sunday afternoon in April

Outside my window: the tulips are blooming!!  And the crab apple trees.
On Friday:


In the kitchen: pizza dough is rising, and Moriah is making banana-zucchini bread. It smells great in here.

What I’m hearing: Phoebe is having a tea party under the kitchen table and listening to Ramona and Her Father on her CD player.  In the living room, Owen & Moriah are playing quiz up together.  It’s a rare minute that the two of them are enjoying something together without someone acting as a buffer, but I am loving the moment.

Quiz up!

In the school room: (I say that, even though we no longer have a “school room.” You know what I mean, right?)  Anyway, we survived our Iowa tests last week, and I’m hoping for a more normal rhythm this week.  We are wrapping up biographies and starting new math books.  Fun all around.  Jonah is studying hard for his AP exams.


In my shoes: I took two great hikes last week, one with Phoebe and one with a friend who drove up to spend Saturday with us.  What a treat.  Spending time in the mountains was good for my soul.


What I’m reading: I started another Inspector Gamache, which has yet to grip me. But I just read a book I loved- more on that on Friday!  I’m also reading Sofia Cavalletti’s The Religious Potential of the Child, and I’m inspired.

I’m grateful for: Hiking, a date with Sam this weekend, sunshine, and tulips.

I’m praying for: Mandy, Judy, Heather,  Justine. Our friends serving in Fiji and the Philippines.  Energy to spend at home on the ordinary means of grace for our family: dinners together, attentive listening, bedtime routines, and laughter.