Embracing Essentials (& 4 questions for finding yours)

essentials | finding essentials | feeling overwhelmed | feeling stressed | back to basics

“Deadful,” that’s my four year old’s word. “When you feel dead but you’re not,” he says as he sprawls out on our floor.

While I’m not sure what his realm of experience is with feeling “deadful,” it’s a great word. I can relate. Maybe you can, too. When you are pulled in a thousand directions, when today’s trouble and tasks and to-do’s spill over into tomorrow—not an empty tomorrow, mind you, but a brimming full no-room-to-breathe tomorrow—when you dread going to sleep because it means you’ll have to wake up to the mess and do it all over again, when you dread everything on your calendar and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no margin for error, no end in sight, no time or space or opportunity for a nervous breakdown (but you know it’s coming), you feel— “deadful.”

But that’s not the life God has given us to live. God has called us to thrive, to be fruitful, to have abundant life—not to go around feeling “deadful.” So how do you find and live a life that doesn’t feel like it’s unraveling at the seams?

Concentrate on the ESSENTIALS. Find those things that are the “essence” of who we are, not just what is urgent or screaming for our attention.

What is essential to who I am? What is my essence?

4 questions to help you find your essentials:

  • what is the single goal of my life?
  • what kinds of things help me to keep this goal in mind?
  • what kinds of things energize and “feed my soul’ so that I am ready to meet my goal?
  • what helps me to remember that my daily tasks are not obstacles but part of my goal?

In many ways, determining our essentials is a matter of perspective as much as it is a matter of priority. For me, this year began with asking myself what my single, central goal is for my life. My answer: I want my life to be kingdom-focused. I want to seek Him first in all that I do. I want to make every act an act of worship. Does making meals and vacuuming and grocery shopping feel like kingdom-work? Rarely. But can it be? Absolutely!

Rather than feeling as though each task was pulling me in a separate direction, I began seeing each task as pointing me in the same direction. Every task, every responsibility was an opportunity to seek Him first and to live for His kingdom.

Next, I looked for those activities that helped me to refuel for that work, for that goal. I considered my extra-curriculars as it were, those commitments that were not daily tasks or responsibilities but things I could potentially say “no” to. I’m an introvert. And I have to be aware of where my energy is going and how to refuel, or I easily get overwhelmed and burnt out. I spent sometime defining for myself what those key things were for me. An afternoon of shopping is not restful for me (though it might be for you). Exercising puts me in a foul mood. Going to a party or “game night” is often draining and stressful. But painting, calligraphy, writing, a long nap, sitting in silence (in a dimly lit room)—these are life-giving to me. I need to say “yes” to these more often without the guilt of all that I’m not getting accomplished. And sometimes it also may mean silencing the little voices that think they need me; teaching my kids to honor my needs is just as important as meeting theirs. Asking others for help so that I can have that space is not selfish; it’s essential.

Beautiful, life-giving, kingdom-focused: those were my essentials for this year. As I approached each task, each opportunity, each commitment, I filtered it through those three criteria. Some things didn’t make the cut. And the things that did were exactly what I needed to do and exactly where I needed to be.

Ladies, we can’t do it all. And we have to stop putting that expectation on ourselves. It’s literally draining the life out of us. Instead, we need to choose what is essential, and that’s different for each of us. It means somethings will be left undone, and other things will not be done in instagram-worthy fashion. For some of us, it may mean we leave that sink full of dishes for a bit and focus on journaling the Word. For others, it may mean you say “yes” to that shopping trip with friends even though it means asking someone else to watch the kids for a bit. For all of us, it means focusing our lives on seeking Him first, worshipping the Author of Life instead of serving our to-do list. It means nurturing relationships and taking opportunity for conversation. It means sending the kids to play so that we can sit in silence with the Lord and have our spirits revived and our perspective realigned.

It means choosing life instead of settling for “deadful.” It means finding those essentials.

Stepping into Grammar

Being a former English and writing instructor, I have had a difficult time finding a grammar program that fits my expectations, especially for introductory (i.e. 2nd grade) grammar. I have very definite opinions about how I want to teach it and what I think it should include.

After an exhaustive search this summer, I feel like I’ve found the perfect blend of activities for our grammar intro.

Logic of English Essentials

Essentials is the program I am using with Oldest for his phonics and spelling, and it also integrates grammar into the lessons. The grammar is taught from his spelling words, which I love! He learns parts of speech, uses his spelling words to form dictation or copywork exercises, and labels those phrases with the parts of speech. Essentials is not the most colorful program I’ve seen, but I love its thoroughness.


I happen to have this program because my mom saved it from the days when my sister and I were homeschooled. While I am not using this program in its entirety right now, I have loved using some elements of it as we learn grammar in our Essentials. For instance, the parts of speech cards are a fun kinesthetic way to label the parts of speech. (Don’t own Winston Grammar cards? You could always make your own.)

Hands-on Grammar

Tapestry of Grace

This is our core curriculum for the humanities. It incorporates some basic grammar and progressive writing activities that tie in with our history studies. Though I wasn’t comfortable using the Tapestry “Writing Aids” as our only grammar, I have loved using the ideas to supplement what we are doing. One of the activities, for instance, is to make a word bank. Each part of speech has a card it’s own color, but Oldest gets to choose the word to write on that part of speech card. For example, Oldest is working on nouns for his word bank right now. We are using red index cards, and he gets to think of the nouns to write on each card. Most of these nouns are coming from our history or his own reading: knights, dragons, King Arthur, sword, hero, rain, dog, etc.

Tapestry of Grace Writing Aids

I’ve been excited not only about what he is learning but how much fun he’s having learning it. He’s not just filling out a worksheet; he’s finding grammar in his everyday. What could be better than that!



Logic of English Essentials review

Logic of EnglishI’ve grown up with phonics all my life—learned it, used it, taught it, explored variations of it. And yet, I have absolutely been blown away by the Logic of English phonics.

I received the Essentials Teacher Manual, one Essentials cursive student workbook, and one set of Basic Phonograms flashcards to review with my children. And every time I open the book I have a new epiphany. This program is hands-down amazing.

  Logic of English Essentials curriculum

“The Logic of English Essentials curriculum includes 40 lessons, introducing 74 Basic Phonograms and 30 Spelling Rules. While the spelling list includes 480 of the most frequently used words, students learn thousands of additional words with the lessons as they learn how to write compound words and add prefixes and suffixes to form derivatives.”~ from the website

In other words, this program is very comprehensive and thorough while breaking the concepts down into easy-to-handle lessons. It’s phonics, spelling, and grammar all in one.

Logic of English
The Teacher’s Manual provides detailed scripted lessons that require minimal teacher prep and are easy to teach from. Plus, it’s a beautiful, high quality hard cover book.
The student workbook, available in cursive or manuscript, is a soft cover book with perforated pages.
The student workbook, available in cursive or manuscript, is a soft cover book with perforated pages.

The lessons are not intended to be completed all in one day. Rather, you can take as much or as little time as your student needs to master the material. Each lesson is divided into three parts: phonics, spelling, and grammar. While the program is intended for older students and adults, there are plenty of helps and suggestions for younger students.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working through the Essentials program in two different ways. Middlest is working on the material through the Intro of the book before Lesson 1. We’ve been working on phonemic awareness activities and phonograms. Oldest has been working through the complete program, taking roughly 10 days to finish a lesson (working 15-20 minutes a day).

Unique features of curriculum:

  • The most obvious is that it really explains and makes sense of the language. The curriculum claims that 98% of all the English “exceptions” can be explained with phonics; and I’m now convinced that’s true. Her approach to phonics is very logical and progresses steadily, eliminating nearly all of the traditional “sight words.”
  • This program has suggested activities that appeal to all modes of learning. A lot of curriculums claim that, but this particular curriculum makes it easy to see and choose the activities that fit your child. Even the layout of this curriculum makes sense! Activities are coded for each learning style.
  • The program blends phonics, spelling, and grammar into each lesson. The phonograms are incorporated into the spelling list, the spelling words are incorporated into the grammar lesson, and the spelling and grammar is solidified with simple dictation and composition activities at the end of the lesson.
  • This program is intended to be user-friendly for any age, young to adult. There are plenty of kid-friendly activities, but the curriculum and the material would not be insulting to an older student or adult. The author has provided sample schedules for dividing the lessons into daily assignments based on the age of your student.

The author Denise Eide, in her video presentations, describes readers as either intuitive or logical. Intuitive readers have a feel for language, and usually do not struggle when presented with an exception or variation on a rule. Logical readers, however, need all the information up front and struggle considerably when a word does not follow a memorized rule.

I am learning this first-hand. My son was definitely an intuitive reader; he could easily read words and phonograms we hadn’t even covered yet. He had a “feel” for language. My daughter, on the other hand, is apparently a logical learner. She struggles with exceptions, and  I long gave up trying to teach her any sight words.

How has this curriculum worked for both of my learners? My son’s spelling frustrations have turned to absolute delight as he explores and understands the language, and my daughter has absolutely flourished.

Logic of English Essentials curriculum

Here’s a break-down of a daily lesson in Essentials.


The phonograms lessons are a mix of drill and experiencing the sounds. In other words, the student is allowed to really understand what the sound is doing and why. Vowels are the sounds we can sing or sustain, the sounds that can be made louder and softer. For instance, I asked my daughter if she would be able to yell /b/ or /m/ from across the yard and have me hear her inside the house. No, of course not. But if she yelled /a/, I would definitely hear her (and often do, I might add).

This experiencing the sounds has been phenomenal with both of the kids. We talk about what part of our mouth is actually making the sound (tip of the tongue, back of the tongue, teeth, or lips) and whether the sound is voiced or unvoiced (s and z; b and p, for instance). We’ve even gotten a mirror and looked to see what our mouths are doing. It has really helped her with some of the tough-to-tell-apart sounds like e and i.

There is also a terrific emphasis on phonemic awareness, a concept I really knew very little about before we began this program. I always thought that phonemic awareness had to do with “reading readiness” and whether your child was interested in reading. But these exercises really help a child to understand how to break a word into its individual sounds and how to “glue” those sounds back together. Game ideas include variations on “I Spy” and “Charades” and more.

Doing these exercises has solved a lot of the reading issues I was having with Middlest, like random guessing at words rather than sounding them out. What I thought was a personality conflict between the two of us was actually a gap in her learning! And she has loved our time together with these game and activity ideas.

Logic of English

In addition to drilling the flashcards (or we often used their Phonics with Phonograms app), the student is given several suggested kinesthetic and auditory activities to reinforce those sounds.

Phonograms Bingo
Phonograms Bingo is a favorite that we play often.


Here’s where I could park for a long time. The method for teaching spelling is like nothing I’ve ever seen. I love it!

The spelling words provided, about 15 for each lesson, follow both the phonograms and the spelling rules introduced within the lesson. In other words, not only are the phonograms taught to help the student read the sounds, but spelling rules are also taught in the same lesson to help the child know when to use those sounds in writing and spelling.

The student is taught how to think through the sounds in a word before he attempts to spell it. “How many syllables?” “Let’s sound out each syllable.” You then coach your student through the phonograms and the letters that make those sounds, having him mark the word as he spells it.

The student book provides a place for the words to be written, a page that is similar to his own dictionary page. The student writes the word by syllables on the blanks provided. Then, throughout the lessons, he refers back to this page to add more information: the part of speech, the plural spelling, and the past tense spelling of the word.

There are also suggested activities for making spelling cards on 3×5 cards that can be used in the grammar lesson. We did both of these activities on different days during the week. As my son becomes more comfortable with the process, I could easily assign him to do his spelling cards independently after we have done the list together.

As in the phonics approach, the spelling rules are both drilled and explored. In other words, there is a flashcard for the rule that you will review and require the student to learn. However, the exercises are geared toward exploring the rule and learning how and why it works. For instance, several similar words will be shown, and as the student studies the words, you help him to see the similarities in those words. (Deck, duck, stick, lick—”CK is used only after a single vowel which says its short sound.”) Then, several suggested games and activities allow him to think of his own words that follow the rule.

One area where my son has really struggled this year is understanding when and how to add suffixes. A terrific feature of this program is that in addition to learned rules, there is also a flowchart that allows a student to ask questions and logically follow a process for deciding how the word should change.

The rules are very thorough and can, in some instances, tend to be complicated. But the combination of both memorizing and exploring the rules through a variety of activities helps to make even the more complicated ideas memorable.

There are both spelling rule and grammar rule flashcards available for purchase. However, we made our own to fit our 3×5 card system.

The spelling words are further taught within the grammar lesson, so I will continue explaining that process below.


Within each lesson, one or more grammar concepts are introduced. For instance, in Lesson 1 the concept of both nouns and singular/plural were introduced. Again, I loved how the spelling words were the foundation for this lesson.

The student is asked to find the words in his list that are nouns, label them on his spelling list, and/or draw a red box around them on the spelling cards. Another suggested activity was to allow the student to illustrate the nouns in his list. Then, an exercise in the student workbook had him spell both the singular and plural form of the spelling words using the grammar rule that had been given.

To me this was priceless. The student is not simply memorizing a list of words but actively using those words in their different variations.

Other activities include creating phrases by combining words from the spelling list, either by dictation or by copying phrases made with the spelling cards, providing opportunity for both copywork and dictation depending on the your child’s level of ability.

Oldest is arranging his spelling cards into his own phrases and copying them into his student workbook as a "composition" activity.
Oldest is arranging his spelling cards into his own phrases and copying them into his student workbook as a “composition” activity.

The grammar rules introduced in the next lessons not only apply to the current list for that lesson but also refer back to previous lessons. For example, in Lesson Two, adjectives are introduced. The student labels adjectives in both List 2 and List 1. Everything in this program builds logically and smoothly.


The program does not come with tests and quizzes per se, but assessments are worked into the curriculum every fifth lesson. Even this, however, really reflected the teacher’s heart that the author has. Her assessments require the student to show not just that he can repeat a drilled list of words but that he can use those words in various forms; and built within the assessments are lots of additional activities to reinforce trouble spots.

You are not simply drilling and testing. You are teaching and assessing and teaching some more.

On the Logic of English blog, Denise has also provided alternate lessons, either to add more challenging words or to help a student who might need a little more practice with a particular rule. Again, to me this really reflects her heart for those using her material. She has a passion for helping students understand the language.


Logic of English Essentials curriculum makes sense, in every way! From the phonograms and rules to the layout and teaching methods. Your child will never again complain that English is a language that doesn’t follow the rules.

Is there anything I didn’t like? Not really, but there are a few points that might be an issue for some.


  • There is not an easy way to go back to lesson material for reference. There is no index, and the table of contents provides only the lesson number. When trying to find information, I instead went to the website to the teacher training video which provided page numbers for the teacher manual.
  • There are no readers that accompany the Essentials curriculum. This would be one reason why I would hesitate to recommend this for younger beginning readers; reading practice is limited. For those first-time readers and pre-readers, I would recommend investigating the Foundations curriculum that Logic of English is currently working on.
  • This is a curriculum that will require teacher involvement, particularly with younger students. That said, the lessons are well scripted for the teacher; and as the teacher and student become familiar with the process, there are opportunities for the student to work independently. The lessons also allow the teacher to customize how long the lesson will last each day and over how many days the lesson will continue.

Bottom line, I love this program. I was impressed by the website and videos and have been equally impressed by the curriculum. I have learned a ton, and I’ve been surrounded by phonics my whole life!

In fact, I love this program so much that I am discontinuing our current program (phonics, language, and spelling) with Oldest and switching him to this next fall. And I’m seriously considering switching Middlest to the Foundations curriculum, geared for the younger students, when it prints. (That’s saying a lot, folks, since I have a very long-standing relationship with our current program.)

Want to see more? The Logic of English website provides great samples of both the teacher manual and the student workbook (available in cursive or manuscript) as well as a video tour of the lessons. Also, the teacher training videos available for free on her website give you a very comprehensive look at the program’s approach to both phonics and spelling.

Whether you are looking for a spelling/language program for your young reader, a remedial program for your older reader, or a literacy program for adults, Essentials is a fantastic solution. And if you are needing a curriculum for your beginning or emerging reader, be sure to investigate the Logic of English’s new Foundations program.

Disclaimer: I received these materials for free for the purpose of review. I was not paid or compensated for a positive review, and all the opinions in this post are my own.