Preparing for Challenge B Second Semester: The Good, the Bad, and the Murder

Everything was moving along so smoothly this year in our Classical Conversations Challenge B.

Community day had found its groove. Start the day with Logic, then Latin. Celebrate that our two most difficult subjects were completed! Move on to Expo/Comp and work through the newest elements of persuasive writing, then discuss the novel we were currently reading. Math presentations. Lunch. Math games. Research presentations and discussion of the astronomer of the week. End the day with the most fun element–debate. Discuss the current events topic, then split into two groups and create a presentation based on the side of the topic you were assigned. Present the topics. Go home.

And at home, things were moving along just fine. In some ways, Challenge B is so much easier than A because there isn’t nearly as much to memorize. Most of Latin is review from Challenge A. Nearly all of Lost Tools of Writing is review. Math is the same as always in class and at home is moving at the pace appropriate for your student, so it’s not a big deal. Research and Debate are FUN and not a one of my students complained about the workload involved. Logic was our rough spot but we found a way to even make Logic more enjoyable–we have movie nights and get together to watch the DVDs. There is junk food, laughter, and friendship and when you toss a logic video into that environment, somehow logic doesn’t seem so bad after all.

One of our logic nights.

But then came Christmas break and my preparations for second semester began. And I hit a wall. I guess I really did not see this coming even though I knew that things would change gears for second semester. I didn’t realize how completely they would. Our groove? It’s gone.

The thing you really need to know about Challenge B is that second semester is a fresh start in nearly every strand. This can be very, very good. Or it can be very, very bad. Challenge B is more like college, with the new semester being nearly completely different classes than the previous semester.

If you student struggled through first semester, this fresh start is very, very good. I’ve sat done and encouraged students that they get to put first semester behind them and give it another try. It’s fantastic news!

But if your student was sailing along with barely a bump in the road, the big changes that come along with beginning second semester of Challenge B can really throw them for a loop. And if you as a parent or director felt that you had a good groove going, be prepared to have it completely shaken up.

Here’s a run down of how each strand changes for second semester and some tips and thoughts on how to schedule your days at home:

Latin: Put away Workspace A, and move on to Workspace B. The best news in second semester is that now that we’ve moved to Workspace B, you can actually use the assignments listed at the top of each page of the workspace to break up your week. Celebrate! We missed this feature during first semester. As for the work itself, nothing changes, but everything gets a little harder. We are stepping out into the unknown, new topics that were never touched in Challenge A. We are facing new concepts like passive verbs. To me it feels like there are overall less exercises assigned in second semester. If your student struggles with English grammar, this is a great time to spend some of your Grammar strand time on English grammar review–a book like Our Mother Tongue or whip out the good ole Essentials charts and write some of them out. It is not time wasted to do so. Latin should still be done every day four one hour–no more, no less. Students should never be spending six hours a day on Latin. Set a timer for an hour, get as much done as possible, and then walk away.

Irregular adjectives are a new topic this semester.

Logic: Goodbye, Introductory Logic, hello Intermediate Logic! Did your students struggle with Intro? Good news, we are moving on to an entirely different area of Logic. Did your students LOVE Intro? Good news, Intermediate is taking that to a new level, in a new way. Does your student hate Logic but love math?!? This semester is basically applying math to words. We get to put away the Intro book completely and move on to Intermediate. And that begins with the seemingly torturous assignment of copying all of the Appendices 25 times each. Ouch. But trust me, mommas, this is not busy work. This is the classical model at work before our eyes. We are asking our students (and ourselves, if we do it with them) to memorize without understanding. We are asking them to tuck these things away in their brains so that when it’s time to understand, we do not have to waste time memorizing. It’s already there and the process will move along so much smoother from memorization to understanding. Trust the process. Do the appendices. Logic at home should look the same as it always did. Spend an hour per day. Read the chapter. Review the vocabulary. Take the quizzes and tests.

Truth tables are fun… for me, anyway.

Math: Obviously math doesn’t change. Keep on doing what you’ve been doing. Although, if what you have been doing doesn’t seem to be working, this is a great time to try out a new curriculum because so much is changing anyway.

Math review games.

Those three strands should be covered each of the four days at home for about an hour each. They need the repetition and review. The other three strands, not so much. They can each be knocked out a little more quickly and don’t require daily attention.

Research: Here comes our first major change. Goodbye, astronomers. You shall be missed. I loved the astronomy unit. I loved coming in on community day and hearing nine different papers on these amazing people. My students had a healthy competition going to see who could come up with the strangest fact about each astronomer and we learned all kinds of weird things. We are moving on to reading Defeating Darwinism and then Discovering Atomos. And the thing about this that needs to be really stressed is that we are not reading these books just to read them. We are reading these books to learn how to RESEARCH. Each week as they read the chapter, they should create an outline. They should make a list of vocabulary they don’t know (and then look it up), a list of people mentioned, and then summarize each section of the chapter, listing a few facts they found interesting. It should be no more than 1-2 pages of notes. This is the skill they are learning. This is the entire point. Do not let that slip by and let them just read the chapter. They will be missing out on the research element of the research strand! The good news is, the chapters are short. You can spend one day at home on research and then put it away until community day. When the time comes for Discovering Atomos, it may require a little bit of vocabulary review each day, but probably not a full hour.

Exposition: Goodbye, Lost Tools of Writing! I mean, not FOREVER. We’ll see it again in Challenge I. But for this semester, you can tuck that book away and say see ya later! This semester we need Words Aptly Spoken Short Stories. We’ll be reading short stories each week and the kids are working on writing their own short stories. At the end of the semester, most directors will publish all of the short stories into a book for them all to have a copy. I would suggest that they spend one day reading the short stories, and the rest of the week working on the writing assignment for the week. Some weeks this may be half an hour, other weeks it may actually require an hour per day. When they get really into their stories, you may find them even working on the weekends, who knows!

Debate: Current events is over. I loved this strand so much more than I anticipated and I’m sad to see it go. And that is forever–beginning in Fall 2019, current events is being replaced by American History. I do not know all the details yet. But anyway, Debate changes gears second semester regardless of what first semester looks like. Because, dear mommas, it is time for Mock Trial. It is time to dive deep into the murder of John Barrett and wrestle with whether or not Barbara Barrett is guilty. Is Lee Porter lying? Is Chaney an incompetent officer? Who was Tootsie? Does it matter? We shall soon find out! I would suggest that students spend two days per week on their mock trial assignments. At the beginning of the semester when they are re-writing the witness statements in their own words, they should spend one day bringing the statement down to a key word outline. Then they should put it away for at least 24 hours before taking the keyword outline and rewriting it in their own words. Most likely, your director is going to collect each student’s rewritten statement. Eventually, whoever becomes that witness will get all those copies to help them develop their character and memorize their part. Keep on encouraging your student that they CAN do this.

Brainstorming everything that comes to mind when we hear the word trial.

I’ve yet to find a new groove in class. Research doesn’t take very long when we no longer have nine papers to hear presented each week. Math is getting really dull with the same old presentations week after week after week. Logic is hard and the kids sometimes check out. Short stories is going well, at least. I am hoping to have some grand advice sometime soon on how to make it all work out. But so far, I’m still wading through it and struggling. If you are a Challenge B director reading this, share what’s going well for you in the second semester!

Home Schooling and the Marie Kondo Method

Boy, oh boy, is Marie Kondo and her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up a hot topic these days. Some people love her, some people hate her. But overall? Most people really misunderstand the heart of her method. There are memes, memes, everywhere making fun of the “spark joy” concept or the idea of only owning thirty books (Marie never actually enforces this, friends). And people are upset at the concept that she thanks the items before she donates them. And to all those people, I just want to say, “READ THE BOOK.” Marie Kondo’s method has completely changed our home–and our home school. But it required reading the book, not just reading a few memes or watching an episode on Netflix.

My fireplace, post-KonMari method is a reminder that my home is now a peaceful, calm place that I enjoy.

It’s easy to make fun of or disregard something that you don’t actually understand. For example, her Netflix special is very good but I feel like the editors never read the book because they completely missed her method in most of what they did. I have been sad for all the people who are decluttering their homes based on the Netflix show because they are going to attempt it completely wrong and it’s not going to work.

Another reminder to enjoy my home–and my home school.

Because the heart of Marie Kondo’s method is not actually about throwing out things that don’t spark joy (like the electric bill and your treadmill, as the memes say) and it’s not about talking to inanimate objects. And it is FOR SURE not about getting your book collection down to thirty books.

Our bookshelf after the KonMari method. The only books not up there are the ones we are using for school this year. Those get kept in our school supplies instead. The basket on the bottom shelf holds our current library books.

The KonMari method is about two things: dealing with your emotions and how they affect your house, and decluttering by category instead of by location.

Every other decluttering method on the planet tells you to clean out a bathroom or clean out a closet, and work from location to location. But that doesn’t work and that’s why your house ends up a cluttered mess again.

Instead, Marie has you work by category so that you have to face how much you really have. You see ALL your shoes and can assess whether or not you really need that many. You gather all your office supplies in one place and realize you have 500 pens and maybe you should stop buying them. You put all your books together and work through them. And when you put your stuff away, you keep those categories together from then on. So instead of having six piles of pens around the house, they are all together, always. Then you can SEE when you really need more

My pile when I was KonMari’ing all of our toiletries.

. And if you keep all your swim towels together, all your travel toiletries, all your extra blankets, etc, each in it’s own space, you can tell when you have too many or too much because the space becomes too crowded and you can thin it out a little bit. This means your entire house never again gets out of control because when you keep everything put away by category, you can quickly declutter a spot when you need to. You just have to put in the energy ONCE to get it done right and then the rest of your life, your house can stay organized.

Our living room during the very long KonMari process–it took us about four months from start to finish. It is a commitment to a marathon, it is not a weekend sprint.

It sounds crazy but it’s true. We KonMari’d our home three years ago and it’s still in working order, with three children running around. Of course, we have to resort through different categories as the kids grow and interests change. By now that we did the one BIG declutter, we can touch up small categories on an as-needed basis. And now every item in our home has a place. Guess what? The kids know those places as well and they all know how to clean up and put everything away. No matter how messy our house gets, it never, EVER, takes more than 45 minutes to have it completely put back together. Thank you, Marie Kondo. I have so much more time to myself, which is how I manage to write this blog, run an Etsy shop, home school my kids, AND direct Challenge B. I could not have done that before KonMari, plain and simple.

My Etsy shop office. It used to be a closet, overstuff with all kinds of junk. Now it’s a functioning office!

The other aspect of the KonMari method that seems to get tossed aside is the part where you deal with your emotions about items in your house. It’s not easy, friends. It’s not easy to pick up something that was a gift that was given to you by someone you aren’t friends with anymore and realize that every time you look at it, you feel sad and it’s time to let it go. It’s not easy to hold a book that you always meant to read and admit that you WISH you were the kind of person who was going to read that book but you just aren’t. And let that book go. It’s painful. It’s hard to give up clothes that you know are never going to fit again and admit that. It’s hard to hold things in your hand that bring back bad memories and say it’s time to kick those memories out of your home.

After finishing the process, we laid new floors in the ENTIRE house by ourselves. We couldn’t have done that when we were overrun by clutter. But it was possible after! We also were able to discover, by getting rid of so many things, what we really liked. And that made choosing a new couch fairly painless. We knew exactly the kind of furniture that sparked joy for us.

I’ll give you my biggest example from my KonMari journey. Someone gave us a free piano. Of course I said yes! We are home schoolers! Home schoolers are supposed to have a piano in the house. It’s like a RULE. But having that piano in our house made me feel guilty. Because we didn’t use it. There is nothing in life I hate more than listening to children play instruments poorly. Maybe that makes me a horrible person. Maybe that means I have to hand in my home school card. But it’s the truth. My kids do not take music lessons because I am not emotionally strong enough to listen to them practice. I’m just not.

And having that piano in the house made me feel like a failure. It whispered to me daily, a reminder that I wasn’t a perfect home school mom. That I wasn’t good enough. That I was failing. That I was an absolute, and total failure. But then I read Marie Kondo’s book and she taught me that what I needed to do was accept this part of myself and admit it freely! So, here I am telling you all, “I AM NOT THE KIND OF MOM WHO CARES IF MY KIDS TAKE MUSIC LESSONS!” What a weight off my shoulders! And that piano? It left my house, along with my insecurities and doubts and feelings of being a failure in that respect. Goodbye, piano, goodbye.

My kitchen cabinets had been dark wood and there was ugly apple wallpaper on the walls. But I didn’t have time to care or change things when all I did was fight our clutter. After the KonMari method, I was freed up to finally peel the wallpaper and paint the walls and cabinets to be something that makes me truly happy.

Marie asks you to work through those emotions with every item in your house. And obviously not every item in your home is going to draw out THAT kind of reaction. But you may be surprised by how many DO. I sure was. I let go of books on home schooling theory that left me feeling like I was not doing it right. I let go of stacks of books that “good classical educators MUST read”. I let go of supplies for science projects that I knew in my heart we were never going to get around to doing. But in that process, I also found some science supplies that I forgot we had that I really WANTED to dig into–so we did. And clearing out the piles upon piles of books that I “should have been reading” to my kids, I came out with a smaller pile of books that I loved and WANTED to read to my kids. We now only own books we LOVE. We get so many books from our amazing public library every week, we get to find out what we love and what is worth owning. And about once a year we go through our book collection and see if we’ve outgrown any of them and want to pass them along to someone else.

Working through the KonMari process helped me find focus, purpose, and peace in our homeschool. And you know what? The summer that we worked through the process (this is not a weekend project, expect it to take 3-6 months!), we discovered Classical Conversations. And I realized as I was finally truly discovering my goals and my purpose in home schooling, my shortcomings, and my strengths, that Classical Conversations was the perfect complement. It matched my goals and my purpose and made up for my shortcomings (the kids do art, science, and music at CC so I don’t have to feel any guilt when we don’t do those things at home!). And for me personally, Classical Conversations has really changed my life and given me so many opportunities for personal growth. So when Marie Kondo calls it “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” she’s not kidding. When you narrow down the items in your house to match what really matters to you, you end up finding out who you really are and where you belong.

Our CC wall. Before the KonMari process, I never would have been able to find a whole blank wall to create this and it is something I absolutely love.

(Not Quite) Ten Tips & Tricks for Visiting Kennedy Space Center

We recently had the opportunity to visit Kennedy Space Center. We had been wanting to go for quite some time. That desire became more urgent after completing cycle 3 of Classical Conversations and first semester of Challenge B–both of which have a focus on astronauts and astronomers. But our last few trips to Florida had been by plane, and without a car, we had to stay on Disney property and use Disney transportation. This Thanksgiving, we drove down to Florida and with a car, we finally were able to head over to the Space Coast.

It was worth the wait!

We had such a great time at Kennedy Space Center. And what I really found impressive was that we ALL had a great time. The adults, the teen, the pre-teen, and the five year old. The entire place is so well thought out to have options available for absolutely everyone to enjoy each area together. We visit a lot of museums. It’s an important part of our family time. But no other museum has come close to what Kennedy Space Center offers. It is organized, has great crowd control, and plenty of fun mixed in. We learned a few things along the way and I’m passing my tips and tricks on to you to make your visit as smooth as possible

  1. Look for coupons. Sometimes there are coupons on their website. For example, when we visited, there was a coupon for fifth graders to get in free. And for home schoolers, it was all children born in 2007 and 2008–so my middle child got in free. That was a savings of $50, so it’s definitely worthwhile to check in on their special offers page now and then as your trip approaches.

2. Bring your own food if you’d like. Soft sided coolers are allowed, so you can bring your own bottled water and snacks. This is especially good news if you have a kid with food allergies or a picky eater. It’s also good news because you can save some money this way! We ended up eating lunch at Little Caesar’s. It was fine because it’s familiar and I knew the kids would eat it. But seriously, we paid something like $7 each for personal pan pizzas that were half the size that a personal pan is at an actual Little Caesar’s–and there you pay $5 including a drink! So it wasn’t super cheap but at least the kids would eat it. We did bring our own snacks and bottled water to save money, though.

Little Caesar’s for lunch

3. Plan your day, beginning with an understanding of what is and is not included in your admission. A general admission ticket includes all the museum exhibits and a bus tour of the grounds and entry to the Saturn V building (part of the bus tour). But there are special tours and meals available as add-ons to your base ticket. My advice is to just do a regular ticket on your fist visit. There is more to see than you can possibly see in a day without adding extras on to your day. We were there from open until close and felt like we barely scratched the surface.

4. Take the bus tour first. As soon as you enter KSC, head to the line for the buses. If you do the bus tour first, you will end up ahead of the crowds at the Saturn V center and then when you return to the main area, you will have the rest of the day to walk around without waiting on a bus. Note: they will stop you to take a family picture before you get on the bus. More on that later.

Little guy thought he was hot stuff using a seat belt instead of being in a car seat!

5. Dedicate 1.5-2 hours to the Saturn V building. There is so much to see in there. There is a place to grab a snack or lunch if you get hungry, so there’s no real rush to leave. We were able to touch a moon rock, dress up like astronauts, and see two shows. Don’t rush back to the bus–take time to see all this building has to offer.

Green Screen fun! You have to buy the photo package to keep the images. I’ll talk about that later.
Touching the moon!

6. Enjoy the Atlantis building. When your bus tour is over, your next stop will be the Atlantis building. The entire building is incredible. There is a fabulous introductory show about Atlantis, plus an exhibit where you can be up close and personal with Atlantis. Seeing it so close is really a moving experience. I am not a big space nerd or anything but I felt very emotional getting to be so close to the shuttle that traveled back and forth to space successfully so many times. Incredible. The Atlantis building also has the Shuttle Launch Experience, which is a ride that rivals Star Tours at Disney. You can’t have ANY loose items on this ride but you are able to rent a locker for free. We even had to take our little guy’s heart monitor off, but it was just for a few minutes and we were able to lock it securely in a locker, so we were comfortable with doing so. The Atlantis Building also has a play area for kids and a GIANT slide. The kids could’ve just played on the slide all day and been happy!


7. Don’t wear green. Friends, hear these words. Do. Not. Wear. Green. If you want a lovely family photo to remember your time at Kennedy Space Center, don’t wear green. But if you are up for a most hilarious memento of your day, well, wear what you what.

When you wear green at Kennedy Space Center, beware…

8. Buy the photo package. We were extremely pleased with it. It was far better than what we got from Legoland and we made tons of Christmas gifts for family members from the photos. We did the digital package, which gave us a code to enter on an app and all our pictures were available. I could even download them directly to my phone to share on social media. Particularly if you spend time doing the green screen photos in the Saturn V building, you will want the photo package. Those pictures are included plus you get any other pictures you took all day.

9. Plan to spend two days. My list is incomplete for all of you because we did NOT plan to spend two days and therefore we missed so many of the available shows, exhibits, and features. I intended to have ten tips for you but there are only eight. Why? Because we ran out of time and I did not actually see all the things I wanted to write about! Learn from my mistake, and spend two days. Legoland we did in a day and it was fine. Kennedy Space Center, not so much. And we didn’t even do any of the add-ons!

Kindergarten: Our Super Simple Approach

A few months ago, I shared about my frustrations with Kindergarten. You can read all about it here but in summary, it wasn’t going well. I was feeling like a failure and my kindergartener was less than pleased with how we were approaching things. School should not be a negative thing when you are five years old. It shouldn’t even be a negative thing when you are fifteen, or twenty-five, or fifty-five. Learning should always be a source of joy.

But it wasn’t. Kindergarten was feeling like a disaster. It felt that way for the entire first semester. But thank God for Christmas break because my brain was able to get some true rest and reset and think clearly instead of feeling so defeated that I couldn’t even come up with a plan.

I remembered the number one rule of Classical Conversations: KEEP IT STICK IN THE SAND. What does that mean? Keep it simple, Momma. Keep it simple. Kindergarten (and pretty much every other grade) goes a lot more smoothly with less props, less fancy manipulatives, less expensive curriculum. Kindergarten should be about learning to use those little fingers, identifying letters and numbers, and basic math skills. He also listens to the Foundations memory work with the rest of us and participates in our morning basket time that we do as a family–we cover everything from art to math drills to microscope usage during that short time each morning.

So I took it back to basics. We are continuing with Math U See Primer because he is absolutely rocking it and it is a great fit for him. Not all math curriculum fits all math students, so I am feeling lucky that we got it right on the first try with this kid.

We also use Addition Facts That Stick to review the math facts that he is learning in Math U See. Again, we hit math hard because he truly enjoys it. Using an additional math book may not be appropriate for some kids but for him, it works. We really like the penny flip game that practices adding 1 and 2 to numbers. We play it multiple times a day! All you need to play is a drawing of two rows of ten squares, two buttons and a penny. That’s pretty “stick in the sand”!

The only other official curriculum that we are working with is A Reason for Handwriting. I like that every other page is a coloring page and I like that the method they use for teaching handwriting. He seems to like it, although he doesn’t really enjoy letters at all.

Past that, I’ve got some super simple tools that we are using for letter recognition. My kindergarten is having a lot of trouble with letter recognition. I really believe it has to do with all his medical trauma, all the tests, all the doctors, all the appointments. For whatever reason, all that anxiety bubbles up when it’s time to learn letters. So we are taking a very, very simple route to learning letters. It’s slow going and we aren’t getting there as quickly as I’d like. But he is making progress and I can’t ask for much more than that.

First, I found these alphabet blocks at the dollar store. They are super lightweight, and they were only a dollar. There’s plenty of better quality blocks out there but what I like about these is that there are only 9 but that’s enough space to have every letter and 0-9 printed on a side. Actually, there are also math symbols and punctuation marks so I think I must be missing one of the blocks. Ha! Anyway, for a dollar, these can’t be beat. We roll them like dice and whichever letter shows up on top, he has to try to remember the name of. If he can’t, we roll that block again. It only has six sides so eventually, he either rolls something he knows, or he repeats one he had before and remembers this time. He likes it, it only takes a few minutes, and he doesn’t complain about it. Win. Win. Win.

Our other stick in the sand letter recognition game is made with a stack of 3×5 cards and a pencil. Cards = sand and pencil = stick. We’ve got this. So I cute the cards in half, and I wrote a letter on each one. We started with 4 letters and I think I did each one twice, in upper and lowercase, so 4 cards total per letter. And then I added 4 cards with silly faces on them. I punched a hole in the corner and put them on a ring to keep them together (you could also just use a sandwich bag, I happened to have rings in my supplies).

How to play? I flip a card over and he says which letter it is. Then he flips one over and I say what letter it is–this way he’s also hearing me say correct answers, which gives him more exposure. And those silly faces? When we flip a silly face card, we meow! You could make whatever sound you want. You could roar like a dinosaur, bark like a dog, fake sneeze, whatever makes your kid giggle. My boy likes cats, so we meow. So he is always hoping to get a silly face card instead of a letter, and that keeps him engaged in the game. It’s so simple and it’s working! I add two new letters every few weeks, as he gets bored and seems to be mastering what he already has.

Finally, we are working on using those fingers. I read an article about how there is an impending shortage of surgeons in this country because kids are so used to swiping a screen instead of using their hands that there will be no kids left who have the dexterity to operate! How crazy and sad is that?!?

I hit the Kumon offerings pretty hard for this. We did this maze book, which he finished quickly and is begging for the next one. The mazes get increasingly difficult and require more focus and hand control as you go through the book. We are also working on cutting and gluing with this book. And then we are working on folding skills with this workbook. And the great thing is that the paper is nice and thick and easy to hold while you work. You could definitely just print your own things, but I do like the quality of the paper and the way it slowly builds to more difficult skills throughout the book. It isn’t as stick in the sand as drawing a shape on a scrap of paper and having them cut it out, but it’s also not super expensive and the books make him smile. And learning should make kids smile, right?!?

And then, I tuck it all inside a simple 12×12 scrapbooking case I bought at Michaels’ when it was on sale. Normally they are $10 each, but they often go on sale for 3/$10 and that is when I buy them! You can see what they look like on Amazon, but they are far cheaper at the craft store. The only thing I can’t fit in the box is his Math U See blocks, but they have their own carrying case, so it’s fine. I also keep a whiteboard, dry erase marker, pencils, scissors, and a glue stick in the box so everything we need is right there waiting.

We sit down on my bed and open up the box and take everything out. We do one activity from each thing in the box (one page of each workbook, one round of each game). We put each thing back in the box as we finish and when everything is back in the box, he is DONE with school for the day. Or so he thinks. Playing is learning and so he’s really still doing school when he plays with his toys. He just doesn’t know it.

Please don’t tell him.

Latin for Children: The Perfect Prep for Classical Conversations Challenge A

This is my second year as a Classical Conversations Challenge Director. I directed Challenge A last year, and this year I am halfway through Challenge B. I absolutely love this program and everything that it offers middle and high school students. And, for the most part, the students love it too.

Except for Latin.

They all hate Latin. And that really breaks my heart because I think there is just so much to be gained from learning Latin. I spend a lot of time purposely pointing out integrations between Latin and EVERYTHING ELSE that we learn and I’ve at least convinced my class that Latin is important. But fun? Enjoyable? No.

Latin is, in their opinion, hard, scary, terrifying, boring, overwhelming, confusing, and horrible.


And I really think it’s because for most Challenge kids, their first real introduction to Latin comes from the Henle Latin books. BORING! They are dry, they are black and white, and they are set up in a way that is a little bit confusing. You have to jump back and forth between two books and have your notebook out and have the declension charts accessible. It’s really a headache, particularly if this is the first encounter a student ever has with Latin. It’s negative right off the bat.

I have a sixth grader this year who has one and a half years until he begins Challenge A (his birthday is suppppperrrr close to the cutoff date so we are going to hang out in Foundations and Essentials an extra year. No harm in that!). After seeing how terrible Latin is for my Challenge kids, I decided I needed to get him of on the right foot with Latin.

I settled on Classical Academic Press and their curriculum, Latin For Children. You can read my review of the program and check out my complete Primer A checklist here. We are in Primer A right now and my hope is to get through B as well before he begins Challenge.

Why choose Latin for Children for future Challenge A students? Most importantly, it’s FUN!

The pages are bright and colorful

The video lessons are upbeat–and bonus, they are an incredible review of everything learned in Essentials. My son often remarks, “Hey I thought this was Latin class, but all of this is from Essentials!” Yes! It is! Because studying Latin helps us better understand English and my sixth grader is already making that connection. He finds the lessons to be hilariously funny. I find them to be informative. I watch every lesson with him and quite honestly, it’s helped me up my game when tutoring my class. You can purchase DVDs or choose the streaming option–that’s what we do.

Streaming video of the vocabulary chants.
Grammar lesson on the streaming option from the website.

There’s an activity book with word searches, crosswords, and other fun worksheets. You won’t find that in Henle.

There is a reader, a small history book, that walks students through the first steps of translating Latin to English.

There’s also an optional subscription service to something called Headventureland. I recommend it completely. There are cartoons and computer games that reinforce the vocabulary being learned. There are printable lap books available to get crafty while also reviewing Latin.

Vocabulary game on Headventure Land
Latin Hangman on Headventure Land

I really, really find that making Latin bright, colorful, silly, and entertaining is changing his mindset. He is not going to go into Challenge A thinking Latin is the WORST. He’ll know better.

And of course, on top of giving him a positive mindset about Latin, it’s also giving him a strong foundation in what he will need to know for Challenge A. I suspect that by getting through Primers A and B, he will be able to consider most of what he covers in Challenge A Henle to be review. Which is the point of Classical Education, right? To repeat, repeat, repeat, so it all eventually sticks?

One more note on adding Latin curriculum to your upper elementary student’s workload: Leigh Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations, says you should. In almost everything else the mantra is “the memory work is enough.” And for the most part it is. But obviously, everyone does a math curriculum of their choice because the memory work is not enough for math. And also, she strongly recommends beginning a Latin curriculum in the fourth grade–at the same time they begin Essentials.

I am convinced that Latin for Children is a fantastic way to set your students up for success in Classical Conversations Challenge A. Check it out here:

Latin for Children Primer A Text (New! Revised Edition)
By Classical Academic Press

I am not being paid or receiving free product of any kind in exchange for this review. I just truly love the curriculum and am pleased with our decision to use it.

Latin for Children by Classical Academic Press: Overview and Complete Primer A Lesson Planner Checklist!

I had been looking for the right Latin program for my upper elementary student for awhile and then a friend recommend Latin for Children. I looked into and realized it was exactly what I wanted and what I was looking for. It is bright, colorful, and fun. It’s interactive. It has streaming options for the chants and video. And it gives an incredibly strong foundation in Latin for children who will be continuing their Latin studies in middle and high school.

I ordered it as a bundle directly from Classical Academic Press because I wanted the streaming option. You can also buy it with DVDs and CDs, and the bundle is even available on Amazon.

Out of the box, the bundle includes quite a few items.

First you have the DVDs and CDs (or a website for streaming both of these.)

Grammar lesson on the streaming option from the website.

Is Early Morning Magic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Worth It?

Early Morning Magic, not to be confused with Extra Magic Hours, is a relatively new offering at the Walt Disney World Parks. It allows guests to enter the park very early in the morning and experience some of the more popular rides with virtually no wait. You also get breakfast as part of the package. The cost is not low–$79 for ages 10 and up, and $69 for ages 3-9. Children under 3, as always at Disney, are free. This early morning add-on also requires a regular park ticket which you must scan to enter in the morning.

For such a large additional cost, is it worth it?

Review: Read With Me Kids Custom Books (and a Cool App, Too!)

I recently had the chance to check out a new app called Read With Me Kids. The app allows you to make personalized books for your child.

I found the app easy to use. You fill out a form and add pictures from your phone’s photo album. The app walks you through instructions on what pictures to add. There are quite a few options for story templates to fill in and customize. Some are free, some cost a couple dollars to create a digital book–I found the personalization to be good enough to be worth the money.

When completed, you are able to view a digital copy of your book and edit it further. I used the Space Adventure template and was able to add in my own images from our recent trip to Kennedy Space Center, making it both a story book and a memory book all at once. I was able to completely delete several of the template images to use my own, which was awesome!

Sample page from the digital version of the book.

I found the app to be very user friendly and it does have two sections of instructions on the home screen, listed with the sample books, called Hints for Parents and Welcome Parents. You can find a lot of information there.

Eleven Tips for Visiting Legoland Florida

We just returned home from a fun trip all over Florida. We were in Pensacola, Zephyrhills, Orlando, and the Space Coast. One of our stops along the way was Legoland.

Before our trip, I searched and searched for information on Legoland. I found very little. There were some YouTube videos and each travel book about central Florida from the library had a paragraph or so about the theme park. Very few blogs had any information and the big Disney bloggers all answered my questions with, “It’s a small park, you’ll be fine.” Thanks. Sigh.

Now that I’ve experienced Legoland, I have plenty of advice to offer and I hope that it is helpful to many people who are planning to go!

  1. Buy at least one refillable mug. They are $15 each and we thought there seemed to be plenty of locations for refilling them. The refill stations were separated from the busy restaurants and we never encountered a line–and we were there on the weekend of a holiday week.  Separate drinks are about $5 each so if you fill it more than three times in a day, you are ahead of the game. And it’s a Coca-Cola freestyle machine so you have lots of options for filling it– including caffeine-free, diet, Powerade, etc. We bought three of the mugs for five people and felt like it was a good value.
  2. Pack your own snacks. You are allowed to bring in a soft sided cooler of food and I strongly recommend that you bring some bottled water and other snacks with you. It’s nice to be able to just hand your kids a granola bar that you know they will eat and not have to shell out six bucks for a snack they may decide they don’t like. Take advantage of the fact that this is allowed and save yourself some money!
  3. Skip the Digipass for photos. I thought it seemed like a great value, at $45 for a single day photo pass. You get all of your ride photos and any character meet and greet photos as well. But honestly, we ended up with only four photos from the entire day and the process is a huge pain in the butt. First, I prepaid online but I still had to go check in and get a physical pass when the park opened. Which meant waiting in line and missing the opportunity to run to the first ride of our choice. Why bother pre-paying when the in park process is the same? Also, all you get is a piece of thick paper that says you purchased the photo pass. All day long you have to stop at each photo kiosk after each ride and ask for the photos to be added to your account. And how do they do that? They print you a receipt and staple it to your paper that says you purchased it. And I had two separate times where they gave me a hard time about getting two ride photos because my whole family didn’t show up in the same photo. “One receipt per ride!” and I had to really put my foot down and insist on getting all of our photos. By the end of the day you end up with a ton of receipts stapled to your original paper. And THEN, each receipt has a long code on it and you have to go home and enter each individual one on the website. It takes forever and it’s a headache and completely inefficient in every possible way. Also, we never came across photographers taking group photos with characters or just nice backgrounds–and we were there from open until close. This is not anything like Disney’s PhotoPass service and is not even remotely worth the money. Skip it.
  4.  Arrive about an hour before the park opens to get a close parking spot and get through security quickly. They do a cute little opening show and then you will have a head start on getting into the park ahead of the crowd.
  5. No matter how tempted you are to stop and look around, head straight to the back of the park first. DO NOT STOP. Just go to the back of the park. Why? Two reasons. First of all, no one else does. We rode Flying School twice in a row with no one else on it but our family and then moved on to other rides that also had no line. Second, if you start at the back and work your way forward, when the park closes for the day, you will find yourself at the front of the park and ready to head back to your car. If you start at the front and work backwards, not only will you have crowds around you all day, you will be at the back of the park at the end of the day when you are exhausted and ready to go home. Then you will have to walk all the way back to the front of the park and it’s just not fun at that point in the day.  
  6. Be aware of where the bathrooms are as you tour the Legoland Florida. We had the most difficult time finding them throughout the day.  When we were all the way back at Flying School, we were told the nearest bathroom was all the way up at the Imagination Zone. And then we got confused trying to follow the signs and got separated and ended up having to do a lost child announcement. Good grief! Bathrooms are not EVERYWHERE. Just be aware and pay attention to your surroundings.

    There’s a bathroom in the building behind Einstein but it isn’t easy to find.
  7. Eat the Apple Fries. Oh my word! They were so delicious. They are slices of apple cut to be the shape of french fries, rolled in cinnamon and sugar and deep fried. And then you are given whipped cream to dip them in. They were such a nice and pleasant change from the typical fast food snack options at a theme park.
  8. Spend time in the Imagination Zone. It’s air conditioned, there are places for adults to sit quietly, and the kids will have a blast. Honestly, I felt like we were wasting time not being on rides but looking back on it, we were getting some rest in the middle of the day and that was probably needed. There were all kinds of lego building projects to do in the Imagination Zone and I think my kids could very well have stayed there all day and been happy.

    Imagination Zone!
  9. Ride the smaller rides. One pleasant surprise to us at Legoland Florida was the unique twist they had on all of the smaller rides. Instead of a Dumbo Style ride that just lifts you up and goes in a circle, you have to physically pedal to stay up. Instead of a ride that raises you up high and then drops you, you have to pull on the ropes yourself to get up there and then let go when you are ready to drop back down (don’t worry, it’s kid-sized and not scary). The “it’s a small world” style boat ride is not on a track–you actually control your boat and drive it through the water. My five year old was just terrible at this and we spun in circles. But it was FUN because it wasn’t a cookie cutter, every experience is the same kind of ride.
  10. Read up on ride restrictions before you arrive at Legoland Florida. This goes for all theme parks but Legoland in particular had some weird rules that you should consider before you attend. The Lego Racers ride, which is their newest and coolest, will let kids ride if they are 42″ but they can’t have VR glasses unless they are 48″ OR six years old. And without the VR glasses, there is literally no point in riding it. And if your child can’t have VR glasses, guess what? YOU CAN’T EITHER. Surprise! We were none too pleased to learn this AFTER waiting in line for over an hour.  They also made a big stink about my son’s heart monitor not being allowed on rides (Disney let him ride EVERYTHING with it).  Also at Driving School, you have to be six to participate regardless of your height but they sometimes tell five year olds it’s fine. But sometimes they don’t. So you never know what to expect. There was no consistency whatsoever and it made our day a terrible headache.
  11. Don’t expect to ride everything, even on a low crowd day. It wasn’t super busy when we were there (despite being a holiday week), but we still couldn’t do everything. We stayed from open until close and still didn’t get to two whole areas of the park and barely got to enjoy the lego creations section of the park. I was told “it’s a small park, you’ll be fine” so many times that I really didn’t see it coming that we wouldn’t be able to do every single thing we wanted to do. We missed a couple big rides, all of the shows, and quite a few of the smaller things.

    In the Lego World there are areas of different cities and countries. San Francisco was the coolest one, in my opinion.

We don’t regret visiting Legoland Florida although it was not quite what we expected it to be. There were some bumps in the road that disappointed us but overall it is a cute park with a lot to offer and it doesn’t appear to ever be uncomfortably crowded. These eleven tips will help you make the most of your time at the park!

We stayed at Legoland from open to close!

La Salette Shrine and the Nativity Set Museum

La Salette Shrine is located in Attleboro, Massachusetts. As a kid, it was a favorite holiday tradition. It would be so cold that we’d  feel like our faces would freeze right off, and we’d get out of the car and walk through all of the lights. It was the most magical thing at Christmas. Sadly, I never really had the chance to take my kids. But this year the opportunity presented itself and we jumped on it.

First of all, arrive early. I mean, if the lights are going to turn on at 6pm, you should be finding a parking spot by 4:30 the latest. We stopped and picked up dinner on the way and ate in the car. Plus, it wasn’t frigidly cold since we went Thanksgiving week, so we got out of the car early and walked around waiting for the lights to flip on.  Make that time in the car together fun. With the wrong mindset it can seem like you are just fighting crowds to get the best spot. Make it an in-the-car picnic and put on some Christmas music and suddenly being so early to get a spot is just another part of the adventure!


There are paths to walk through all the lights on both sides of the parking lot. To the left we walked around a large pond. To the right of the parking lot there were more lights, and a “live” nativity scene, although it was not as live as it had been when I was a kid. As a kid, I recall lots of farm animals and real people. This year, we found only a live donkey. It was a bit of a let down but the overall experience was very positive. Oh well. Nothing ever lives up to the magic in your childhood memories.

After walking through all the outdoor displays, we headed towards the cafeteria for some hot chocolate. But on the way, we discovered something so completely amazing, I felt like we hit the museum jackpot! I had no idea this was there and there was no cost to go in. It was an international nativity set museum. Nativities from all over the world, in all different styles of art. It was completely amazing. I walked around with the kids and they pointed out their favorites and we talked about which continent each country was on and compared the differences in style a little, but mostly we just took it in because it was really amazing. It’s not often you get to see the exact same concept worked in completely different styles, with different cultures playing a role in the interpretation. I really think it was one of the coolest exhibits we’ve ever encountered.


This was my favorite by far. I’m a minimalist at heart and I loved the simplicity of this version. Gorgeous.


But I’m also a sucker for Coca-Cola so this one caught my eye as well!


But my kids loved the Lego version best. Of course! How much fun is that?!?


I am not sure if the exhibit is only open during the Christmas season or if it’s always there. It is attached to the gift shop, which is open year round, so it may be open regularly.

At any rate, if you should found yourself in southern New England during the Christmas Season, don’t miss this!