Why Classical? and our 2012/2013 curriculum

There are many fine ways of educating children. I was homeschooled using largely A Beka and Alpha Omega, a graduate of the traditional schooling method. My husband graduated from public school. And we’ve both done well in life by God’s grace.

When I began homeschooling my children, I really had little idea of all of the different approaches and styles. I began on a traditional road, and quickly fell into a lot of potholes. We could have trudged on I’m sure, but none of us enjoyed those first weeks of by-the-book schooling. Disillusioned, I took a break and re-evaluated everything. I searched blogs and checked out books from the library, one of which was the Well-Trained Mind. It was my first introduction to the idea of classical education, and every part of it appealed to me.

I began researching more about this approach. The more I discovered, the more my husband and I were convinced that this was the path for us. Classical is more than the study of ancient cultures and ancient languages; it’s about a framework and an ordering of information.

In a recent article I read by Martin Cochran, published in The Classical Teacher, Cochran sites an illustration given by Neil Postman in a speech. Postman referred to a new deck of cards which is arranged in a fashion that gives sense to the whole deck. Once that  deck is shuffled, however, the order is lost. There is no means of knowing which card will follow the next. Classical education gives order to the vast amount of information in our world. History is studied in chronological fashion; science is studied from the framework of history; modern languages and English are learned from the foundation of the classical languages from which they were derived. Classically educating is laying a foundation and constructing a framework for the facts our children must learn.

Another appealing aspect to this style is the trivium, the three stages of training through which a child progresses: grammar, logic or dialectic, and rhetoric. First, a child learns facts without fully understanding all of the relationships between those facts. Next, as the child nears adolescence, he begins to explore the logic, the relationships of ideas, and the reasons behind those relationships. It’s the stage when a child naturally starts questioning everything. In the final stage, the rhetoric stage, the high school student is now developing an understanding of what he believes and is now learning how to articulate and defend those beliefs. I love this video clip where Michael Horton explains the advantages of the trivium for the Christian faith.

And, thus, we embark on this adventure, fully embracing the classical model for the first time.

2012/2013 Curriculum

Tapestry of Grace, lower grammarHistory and Bible Curriculum: Tapestry of Grace (history, geography, Bible, art, literature, and beginning grammar)

Anatomy and Nutrition: Anatomy notebooking pages; Usborne’s See Inside Your Body; God’s Design for Life: the human body (borrowed from a friend); Little D’s Nutrition Expedition (free curriculum); My Plate (free printables)

letters and sounds 1 A Beka

1st grade Core:

A Beka 1st grade phonics/spelling

A Beka 1st grade math, supplemented with Math Mammoth as needed

K4/K5: (Middlest will be doing a blend of K4/K5 this year.)

A Beka K4/K5 phonics

A Beka K4 math (ABC-123)—she’s nearly finished this already; Professor B math and Math Mammoth

She’ll also be participating in our anatomy activities and our Tapestry read-alouds and crafts.


Tapestry of Grace read-alouds


Now, to get my house and my school room as organized as my lesson plans!


Disclaimer: This post contains my Tapestry of Grace affiliate link and my Usborne consultant link. If you purchase your Tapestry materials through my link, I get a discount on the materials that I purchase from them. If you purchase your Usborne books through my consultant page, my 25% commission will be used to help provide funds for down-syndrome orphans awaiting adoption (read more here).

Place Value with Cuisenaire Rods

We’re still taking our time through A Beka’s kindergarten math, rabbit trailing into other things when I feel the need to go more in depth with a concept. Place value was one of those concepts, and my rabbit trail took us to back to Math Mammoth (big surprise, right?) and our cuisenaire rods.

Because place value is such a foundational concept, I really wanted to ensure that my oldest knew this well, especially as we begin to head into more complicated addition, multiplication, etc. And Math Mammoth had some great game ideas. Though her plans call for household manipulatives (straws, beans, etc.), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pull out our colored rods.

For our first game, I set out a handful of white “one” rods and had him group them by tens. Each set of ten he took to the “bank” and exchanged for an orange “ten” rod. Then, he would say the number of tens and the number of ones left: “1 ten and 5”; “2 tens and 3”; “3 tens and nine”; etc.

place value | cuisenaire rods | supplementing A Beka

After we’d played this game for awhile, I had him count to 100 using the tens and ones method. Each time he got to the next “ten,” I’d hand him another orange rod, and he’d begin again: “1 ten and 8, 1 ten and 9, 2 tens…2 tens and 7, 2 tens and 8, 2 tens and 9, 3 tens…”

place value | cuisenaire rods | supplementing A Beka

It was a great visual lesson, and I really think the c-rods were perfect for the games. Besides, it’s always so much fun to bring a little color to math. Next up, a few lessons with the abacus! I can’t wait.

A Living Math…Worksheet?

I love Math Mammoth. Have I mentioned that before? Maybe once or twice? It has been the perfect in between for A Beka math and has really helped my oldest to work through the concepts that are sometimes rushed into the A Beka plans. Besides, Math Mammoth is just plain fun. Here is a perfect example.

A Beka has the teacher introduce measuring within the lesson plans, but I just couldn’t pass up this awesome worksheet in the Math Mammoth (MM) download. In MM, the teaching is often placed right into the worksheet, and this time the living math illustrating the concept was worked in as well. After explaining the different instances where we would need to measure, the worksheet has a few different problems to solve.

First, we took two different shoe sizes and measured our table. We used my son’s shoes and the shoes from a cabbage-patch doll. He wrote the two different measurements into the two different blanks provided. Then, we measured water in a pot using a coffee cup the first time and a large jar the next, and he wrote in those answers.

The last problem was a critical thinking question, and I definitely needed to talk him through the question. A scale was provided along with a word problem; but while the scale showed only four paper clips next to two crayons, the question asked for crayons equivalent to 10 paper clips. A very tough question, but an awesome lesson to think through. Of course, the point of each of these illustrations was to show how, in each case, we needed a standard measurement.

On the back of the worksheet was an introduction to inches and some items to measure. Measuring all by itself is super fun for a kindergartener/first grader, but measuring with shoes and coffee cups made it even more fun—and so practical!

Can I say it just one more time? I love Math Mammoth!

Supplementing Math

For those of you who have been following for any length of time, you are familiar with the trouble we’ve had in math. I must say, sometimes I do get discouraged, thinking to myself, “After all, this is kindergarten. How hard can it really be?”

But to be honest, it’s not the material itself as much as the curriculum and the pace of the material presented. I love A Beka for a number of reasons, and their math is a year ahead of nearly every curriculum I’ve looked at recently (which provided some peace of mind to my struggles). For my son, who is an early kindergartener (he turns five in just a few weeks), the new material moves too quickly. Before he has a handle on one thing, he has three more concepts to learn.

So this year has been a series of using and not using A Beka. I get stuck, pull it out, and follow it to the letter for awhile. We’ll slowly make some progress only to be land-blasted by a million new things before we’re ready. So, I’ll shelve it again. We’ve done this in a continual cycle all year, loosely following the scope and sequence all the way.

Where are we right now? A Beka is back on the shelf.

What are we doing for math? Supplemental worksheets, games, and creative drill. I’m loving it, and so is my son.

In my search for a new curriculum or a supplement, I stumbled upon Math Mammoth, and I really love her style and ideas. But what I have appreciated most are her sample worksheets. Visit her site, sign up for either of her email subscription options, and she sends you files that include 300 worksheets and samples from 1st-6th grade. (Her first grade is equivalent to A Beka’s K5.) Because her pace is slower, her worksheets provide a lot of drill and plenty of time to grasp new concepts. Plus, she opens each segment with game ideas and websites for even more reinforcement. I’ve used a lot of her ideas and been inspired with a few of my own.

The result? He’s finally getting some of his addition concepts down! Slow but steady progress.



Number bonds have been key: discovering different ways to put two numbers together to produce the same sum. Taking her ideas, I’ve had him copy combinations down from his Dot Cards. For instance, from this card he tells me and then writes 4+3 and 3+4. We’ve also played this with our counting bears. I’ll hand him five or six bears, and he writes down all the combinations he can make by grouping the bears into different stacks. He loves the hands-on; I love the subtle drill. And best of all, he’s getting it!

The other night at supper, he was telling me all of the different combinations he could make from the four pineapple chunks on his plate. I couldn’t have been happier!


Another fun Math Mammoth game idea that I’ve played with both kids (with great success) suggests that you select a certain number of manipulatives (we played with six counting bears). Then, players cover their eyes while one player takes some bears (or other manipulative) and hides what he has taken. We each took turns taking away. Then, the rest of the players uncover their eyes and try to guess how many were taken.

Am I going to purchase Math Mammoth in the future? Absolutely! She has her material split up in two ways: by grade level and by topic. I can easily purchase the worksheets for the topics that I need to supplement, and the supplements are really cheap (starting at $2.oo for a download).

Though I wouldn’t have chosen the difficulties of this year, I must say that I have loved all of the ways I’ve learned to make math fun! It’s been a very rewarding supplement to the necessary drills.



Our School Journal: Entry 31

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week…

I’m still checking off on my pregnancy project list, trying to get things in some kind of order before the baby comes. Eight more weeks, folks! This week, my project was to get started on updating (or at least cleaning out) my household notebook. And I found some great new planner forms that I am really enjoying using.

I’ve also been scouting the internet for our curriculum choices for next year (I think I was doing that last week, too).

Oh, and don’t forget to check out my review of iPlanLessons homeschool lesson planning app for the iPod/iPad.

In our homeschool this week…

We’ve had such a great week overall. I can’t tell you the difference it has made to let my preschooler choose a lot of her activities. I think it has taken a huge burden off all of us.

Her favorite monkey made it into her pockets this week. I just had to get a picture.

I’ve tried a different approach with my son’s math this week, having him do more writing. Since he just isn’t getting a lot of the combinations down with the flashcards, I thought perhaps that writing them out would help. Still in the experimental stage on that, so I cannot yet report success or failure. But he loves doing it. I either have him write what he has missed on the chalkboard, or I’ll give him some manipulatives and will have him write on the whiteboard all the combinations he can make (for instance, how many different groups can you make with 5 counting bears?).

I also started looking at Math Mammoth curriculum. I love the approach, the style, and the price. But it is about a year behind A Beka it seems. The first grade material would be a great reinforcement to all he has learned in K5. (But, of course, a slower pace might be just what we need). I am thinking of perhaps using it this summer. Hmmm. The website has a huge selection of samples to print off and try, so I have been doing that with my son, too. But, of course, without all of the lessons it’s hard to know for sure if the progression of ideas will work with him. But I am really intrigued by the system, which is based on mastering (with drill and review worked in) rather than spiraling. I’ve read that it is a lot like Singapore math, only with a lot more worksheets per concept.

I’m wondering if “spiraling” in math is just not for me, the teacher. Covering so many topics at the same time (coins, time, addition, skip counting, etc. all in one lesson!) is tough! Maybe I’m a unit-style teacher—one thing at at time, please!

Anyhow, I’m doing a lot of pondering and self-evaluating this week.

My favorite thing this week was…

By far the highlight of the week was a trip to a homeschool consignment store!

Because we live in a rural area, our consignment store is about an hour and a half drive—quite a journey. And we went in true homeschool style. A friend of mine came with me, so we had two 4 year olds, two 3 year olds, and a 4 month old infant between us (and me with my huge baby belly). That’s five car seats in one vehicle! (I was glad to know that was possible.) We had an absolute blast!

And I found a great deal on some cuisenaire rods. (Thanks for all the feedback last week!) They had a set of 155 wooden rods with the Mathematics Made Meaningful book/cards for only $15! Brand new the set would have cost about $40 (see the new set).  I also picked up a cuisenaire workbook (Prek-8th grade concepts) for $5. So, I felt like I really scored, especially when I absolutely could not get my kids’ little hands out of the box while I was checking to make sure all the pieces were there.

I’m sure a review will be in order after playing around with them for awhile. I can’t wait!

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…

I’m running a giveaway for an Usborne Encyclopedia this week, along with a series of posts on all of the ways we love to use Usborne in our homeschool.
The giveaway is for an Usborne Encyclopedia of World History or an Usborne Encyclopedia of the Ancient World—your choice!
So, please stop in and enter while you’re here!