Memorize the Christmas Story–Begin Now

Despite all the books and blogs and plans to keep Christ in Christmas, it makes the most sense to me to get back to the original story and engrave that in our children’s hearts.

I was in fifth grade when I memorized the Christmas story, and I can still recite it today. My recitation ability is not a free pass into heaven (Jesus did that.), but it does keep the truth of Christmas close to my heart throughout the year and the years.

If you help your children learn the Christmas story, they will remember it almost word for word for the rest of their lives. It will be a reminder in their middle years and a comfort in their golden years, and chances are strong that they will teach it to your grandchildren.

Here’s where to find the Christmas story. Open your Bible…or your Bible app.

The birth story is in Luke 2.
The magi story is in Matthew 2.

Select which of the following sections of the story you want your family to memorize, or tackle them all:

Matthew 1:18-25; Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20.

Here are a few tips to help memorize as easily as possible.

10 Tips for Memorizing the Christmas Story

  1. Break it down into sections or even verses.
  2. Start early to avoid stressing over Scripture.
  3. Set it to music. Here’s an example in English Standard Version.
  4. Make it part of your routine. Read it over before bed, in the morning, after lunch and before naps if you’re lucky enough to get one…I mean if your children still take one.
  5. Involve the youngest children with a verse or two, if that’s all they can handle. A great one for the littles is “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”
  6. If it seems too overwhelming, give each child a few verses to memorize instead of the whole story, and switch it up next year.
  7. Have your kids copy the verses down by hand to engage more senses in the memorization process.
  8. Have family members read the verses into a recording device or find a recorded version and play it back several times a day, reciting along as they can.
  9. Set a weekly goal with a weekly recitation day.
  10. Set an ultimate goal of reciting on Christmas Eve or day or reciting for relatives, if that will motivate your child. If that will terrorize them, never mind.

Homeschool Helps:

We made this Scripture Memory Box for our memorization. Check it out on our family’s YouTube channel, (I know it’s confusing. I’m The Simple Homemaker, my husband is Stephen Bautista Music, our second daughter is The Art of Marissa Renee, and together we’re The Travel Bags. There is no quiz.)

Memorization, recitation, and copywork are all effective educational tools. Even spelling lists (which don’t exist in my family) can be swapped out in favor of the Christmas story. Focus those subjects on Luke 2 and Matthew 2 for the next few weeks of school leading up to Christmas.

It’s one of the greatest Christmas gifts you can give to your children.

How do you help your family memorize Scripture?

The Lonely Path of Homeschooling Older Kids

While immersed in the world of homeschooling preschoolers and kindergarteners, it’s hard to imagine (because you have to go through it to accept it as reality) that kids really do grow up eventually. It’s true! At some point between when your kids stop taking daily naps and you start the habit, you become the homeschooler of an older child, a high schooler even, and that’s a different sort of life. It can even be a lonely sort of life some days.

I know there are some of you simultaneously nursing a baby, rocking a toddler, reading a book to a preschooler, and saying “sound it out” to a second grader for the 752nd time in an hour. I have eight kids—I get it. So some of you think that lonely sort of life sounds almost…appealing! You’re thinking it’s like a weekend alone in a hotel with room service.

It’s not.

Here are ten realities homeschool parents of younger children don’t understand about the loneliness that comes with homeschooling older kids.

First of all, the slew of doubt and prophetic disaster which relatives and random strangers hurled at you when you began homeschooling preschool (which I call raising kids) is multiplied about a thousand-fold when your kids reach high school. Regardless of the success and character your children have (hopefully) proven by this point, people often still think it’s a silly game. They think that when the stakes are high (as in high school, with college scholarship opportunities looming) you’ll stop playing school and do the right thing—send your kids to a “real” school. It’s even worse if your kids aren’t on the college track. If you want to face a world of incredulity and scoffers, homeschool your kids through high school. Bam—you’re a target!

Read the rest over at The Olde Schoolhouse.

Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope {Book Review}

I just finished reading the newest book by a remarkable couple, Hal and Melanie Young of Great Waters Press. (If their names ring a bell, you likely know of them through their book Raising Real Men or from their speaking on the homeschool circuit.) Their brand new book is called No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope.

There are books a’plenty (and even a few good ones) for parenting the early years and “surviving” the “turbulent” teen years. (I use quotes because our teen years have been wonderful!) There’s little out there to cover the in-between years, however. No Longer Little fills the gap and helps parents graciously smooth the ruts and avoid the potholes on the road from little kid to young adult without destroying the relationship in the process.

Before I delve into a way-too-long chapter-by-chapter discussion of No Longer Little, I want to share my two favorite aspects of this book:

  1. Every couple of pages I found myself laughing out loud and saying, “Listen to this! This is totally he-or-she-who-shall-remain-nameless! It’s totally normal!
  2. Using intelligent humor and encouragement, the Youngs frequently say, “Don’t freak out. There is hope.”

There is hope! And the Youngs know. They have eight children and they wrote this book from a knowledgeable place. I don’t like reading parenting books by a PhD with two young kids telling you how to raise your teens. Those books are riddled with philosophical cooties. The Youngs speak from the trenches with a clear view ahead and behind them. They have watched several of their children emerge from their tween years into Godly, mature adults. They also are still guiding a couple of their children through their in-between years, so they aren’t looking back from thirty years out remembering things with rose-colored or black-colored glasses.

I was going to simply share my notes about the book, but I made so many underlines and stars that I would have been retyping the entire book and landing myself a hefty plagiarism fine. I’ll have to pick and choose, which is hard, you know, like opening a box of chocolates and seeing quite a bit of caramels in there. To keep myself out of jail, I’m sharing just a few quotes and thoughts below.

Please note: This book is for parents of boys and girls, unlike the Young’s first book Raising Real Men. Don’t let their RRM label confuse you. ‘Kay? ‘Kay. 

No Longer Little by Hal and Melanie Young

Chapter 1: Getting Bigger

Our kids are not little anymore. I’ll wait while you sob for a few minutes. It’s okay. I understand. This chapter explains the immense changes that are going on in our sweet little monsters who aren’t so little anymore (even if they look like it on the outside). They are having trouble being sweet and don’t understand why. Here are a few highlights:

As and before a boy’s outward body changes, he goes through hormonal changes that affect him similarly to how a female cycle affects girls…only it lasts a couple years. The Youngs call it the Pre-Manhood Syndrome. So if your boy gets irrationally angry or, yes, weepy, that is normal! (Are you sighing in relief? I am!) Meanwhile, their bodies are changing, sometimes in ways that they don’t appreciate.

Girls go through changes also, and even earlier than boys. To make it worse, few if any girls look like the photoshopped images society shouts are what a “worthy” woman should look like. Boo to you, image-destroying society! The Young’s emphasize the importance of celebrating how the girl’s body meets God’s standard of beauty and, despite the difficulty of her bodily changes, the incredible miracle of her body’s ability to nurture new life.

Meanwhile, this is happening:

Both sexes have hormonal surges exceeding fifty times the normal, stable levels they have in adulthood. (p. 7)

That quote alone makes me fifty times more compassionate and patient toward my tweens. I mean, I sobbed my head off during Akeelah and the Bee yesterday, just because someone asked her to spell  a word and she got it right. Really?! Fifty times worse than that?! Poor kids.

Chapter 2: The Rollercoaster

Physical changes are just one side of the story. The inner turmoil is where the real fun begins. Some highlights:

The Youngs describe dealing with the emotional insanity (they may have not said that word) of the pre-teen years as living with “a flaming porcupine” (their words exactly). I laughed my head off.

Life with your flaming porcupine is a roller coaster of emotion, and the kids “invite” you to join in. The Young’s advice: “Don’t get on this ride.”

If you want to preserve your relationship with your child, you will need to keep your own feet (and heart and mind) on solid ground, in order to give them a point of stability they can cling to. (p. 16)

How? One way is to truly listen. Even though they are illogical and irrational and often lash out inappropriately and cause real harm, it’s important to know what’s on their mind. (Personally, I’ve seen a tremendous similarity between talking with my two-year-old and my twelve-year-old at times, but I want them both to feel heard.) There are still consequences to actions, but when they know they’re heard and loved, you’ll enter the teen years with a stronger bond.

(There’s so much great stuff in this chapter, I want to sleep with it under my pillow…like with my textbooks in college. Osmosis. It’s a thing.)

Chapter 3: Brains Turn to Mush

Can I just say that the title to this chapter made me feel infinitely better about some brain mushiness around here. Thank you, Youngs! Here’s a bit more you’ll want to hear:

Neurologists say that the hormones of puberty literally “unravel” and reshape the brain. So your child really is coming unravelled! I mean, literally! I love this laugh-out-loud, relatable quote:

During puberty, the part of the brain changing the most is the area that controls executive functions. There are tasks like problem solving, priority setting, short term memory, attention, and focus. This is the center of common sense and good judgment, the part which decides, “This thing–Good idea? Bad idea?” It’s the part which is plainly dormant when your twelve-year-old shouts, “Hey, Mom! Watch this!” (p. 30-31)

Where’s my great big laughing crying emoji?!

And the advice the Youngs give? Patience.

Because the lack of cognitive function takes a huge toll on their success in school, the Youngs also recommend you do what you can to “preserve their love of learning,” emphasizing what I’ve always said, that “learning is not the same as ‘school'” (p. 34). This chapter gives valuable advice for guiding your unraveled porcupine through these years without their labeling themselves a failure and giving up on their goals and education before emerging as butterfly-ish on the other side. (Particularly intriguing to me is the reason not to let your kids move too quickly through math–fascinating!) This is a valuable chapter indeed on many levels!

Chapter 4 Many a Conflict, Many a Doubt

Many of us parents have experienced that time when a child starts questioning his or her faith. Personally, I am happy to see this as I know they are making their faith their own and not just parroting my beliefs. The Youngs espouse the same view. At the same time, it’s a bit unnerving, especially if, as in the case of the Youngs, your nine-year-old decides he’s an atheist. (Spoiler alert: happy ending!) I have lots of notes in this chapter, but I’m only going to share some thoughts (jail, remember):

Doubts are normal, and they begin usually in the middle school years. If you, Mom and Dad, don’t answer those doubts without freaking out or telling them to “just trust Jesus,” they will seek their answers elsewhere. Google? The kid next door? Your weird atheist Uncle Larry living in a van down by the river (sorry to all you Larries out there, and I can talk like that, because we’re weird and live in a trailer in parking lots).

A quote to bank your parenting on:

We have a reasonable faith that can stand up to examination. We don’t need to be afraid of our chidlren’s honest questions. Instead, we should welcome them as an opportunity to help ground them in the truth. … [O]ur inability or unwillingness to deal with contrary ideas may cause more trouble than the original question. (p. 50-51)

This chapter offers encouragement, guidance, outside resources (many of which we already use and highly recommend), and ways to deal with the non-questioner as well. Valuable stuff, this! (Nasty little grammar habit I picked up in England, that.)

Chapter 5: The Awakening

If you read my review over at The Travel Bags about the Young’s 2017 release, Love, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward Sexuality, this section will sound a bit redundant. Good. It’s important enough to be redundant! Here’s why:

Can I scare you a little? Over 90% of boys are exposed to porn by age 19. Girls? Nearly 60%. That’s a sucker-punch to the gut, isn’t it? What’s worse, a third of all children are first exposed by age ten. Ten! My world was Strawberry Shortcake and Cabbage Patch Kids at that age! The worst thing I was exposed to was watching some circus folks riding their horses standing up and trying it on my own horse when nobody was looking. The world you grew up in is not the world your kids live in. Sorry.

I know we all feel our children are too young to have their innocence “shattered” by hearing us talk about sex and the dangers of porn. Think about this:

The very good and powerful gift of sex has been stolen, abused, and sullied by sinful mankind. Our challenge is to protect our children from the misuse of sexuality and from sin, while preparing them for a healthy, joyful, marital relationship. (p. 60)

Our other challenge is to remain “the place to go” with all their awkward questions, so here again the Youngs give their valuable advice, “Don’t freak out!”

One thing that really struck me was that, while boys are drawn in by the visual sin of porn, girls are often lured into dark worlds and thought-sin (which leads down the road toward physical sin) through the written world of fan fiction. Fan fiction?! Fans often launch books based on a perfectly (or at least relatively) innocent book such as, say, Pride and Prejudice, using characters the readers already love, and add lurid scenes and inappropriately graphic details that play out in the reader’s head. I had no idea, because I’m not a fan of fan fiction simply due to the poor writing. I guess my literary snobbery saved me. No idea! What a world. Insert sad face.

This section is super important. Please don’t skip it or the advice just because you’re uncomfortable. Giving birth is uncomfortable and you didn’t skip that. Do the next right thing and prepare your kids for the attacks the world is waging against their purity.

Chapter 6: Social Struggles

My boys are outgoing and sociable, especially my first boy. That’s no small feat when you’re in a different place with different kids every few days for seven years! Yeah, he’s incredible! So when he started standing off from the other kids, I lost a little sleep. (Can you hear the Youngs: Don’t freak out!) This chapter was helpful:

First of all, social anxiety is normal! Hooray! My incredible boy is a normal mildly socially anxious flaming porcupine! (He approved this post, by the way.)

As their brains expand (unravel and reform), they start to think more abstractly, but their limited experience leaves everything looking a little Picasso-esque. Their version of reality is clouded by hormones and inexperience. To top it off, they haven’t moved past their egocentric adolescence (like many adults we know, sadly), and it’s your job to help them see reality and that others have feelings, too, all the while trying to understand them. I know–you need a raise.

The chapter addresses bullying (as the victim and the bully), the hormones running the body, the general socially uncouth nature of this age group, social media (and the importance of learning to use it–shocker, eh?), and the girl-boy friendship issue, including crushes. Good stuff in here!

Here’s some great advice that makes me chuckle and groan at the same time:

Love them even when they’re trying to be funny; relationship is important even when they’re making intestinal noises with their hands. (p. 81)

Yeah, I have to print that up and plaster it on every wall in my home. There are, after all, five teen and adult girls living with a twelve-year-old boy. (Love you, Kid!)

Oh, especially valuable in this chapter is the Young’s list for a Biblically balanced view of relationships.

Chapter 7: Media, Gaming, and Discernment

I wish the chapter on sexual immorality didn’t have to exist, and I also wish this one didn’t have to exist, despite my love of literature, black and white movies, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. The entertainment industry is a huge, potentially dangerous world that we can’t completely control for our children. The Youngs, of course, have some words of wisdom:

I know many of us are tempted to remove ourselves from the modern world of technology entirely. The peace we have when dry camping out west with no electricity and watching our kids play cards and my husband read a real living book–I love it! But that’s not the real world we live in, and it’s definitely not the world your children will be entering as adults.

[B]y the time they are adults, they will need to be able to discern good and bad media for themselves. We’ve got to teach them how to do that. We have to teach them discernment. (p. 95)

This chapter touches on movies, art, literature, and gaming. Some interesting thoughts arise in all of these. One I hear from parents time and time again is the mentally and physically addictive nature of gaming, followed by the child’s kickback when the issue is addressed; that reinforced my commitment to keep it at a mega-low level in our home.

Oh, I totally marked up this chapter! I want to share several other interesting thoughts about teaching our children to discern by viewing these things through God’s eyes, but you just have to read the book! Read the book!

Chapter 8: Conflict at Home

This is (another) favorite chapter! I think there are a couple paragraphs I didn’t mark up. Let’s jump in:

The lack of filters in children this age reminds me of the lack of filters in the very young and very old; yet, we don’t, for some reason, offer the same grace-due-to-age to this middle group, do we? In fact, it’s difficult, when the accusations are flying and the irrationality is at a high, to maintain a loving, patient attitude, but that’s our job as the adult in the situation–to act like an adult.

I can’t share all my thoughts here, because it would be a book all its own, so let’s ultra-summarize. The Youngs share guidance for maintaining and strengthening your relationship with your young ‘uns during this time period when they seem to be intentionally trying to destroy your relationships. They also offer advice for sibling squabbles that will help strengthen sibling relationships for the long term. Some advice about making time for the family to be together, despite busy schedules with older kids, is also valuable.

I love how they differentiate between the training of the early years (obey Mom and Dad) versus the middle years (let’s talk this through with Scripture and reason). It makes sense! It acknowledges the difference in development and reason and the necessity of parents to discipline accordingly–much different than modern books are preaching!

A highly useful tool in the fight-fair arsenal is the Young’s Rules of Engagement. Especially relevant to my life is “Have one fight at a time.” I starred that section several times.

Finally, a great reminder from the Youngs who, I might add, have become great friends with their Godly, responsible, mature adult children:

This is so hard! We’ve been there. (p. 124)

Chapter 9: Transitioning

This chapter is filled with evidence of young people who have filled their lives with purpose, contrary to today’s view of teens and pre-teens as drifting purposeless shadows of potential adults. How refreshing! (Especially when we’re often being told we need to lighten up and let our kids “be kids.” Rest assured, they get plenty of time to be kids while they’re practicing being adults.)

Teenagers, and maybe even pre-teens, are capable of taking on serious roles if they’re properly trained, properly supported, and properly supervised. … [V]ery young adults need to start somewhere–and now is the time to begin. (p. 132)

Chapter 10: Celebrating Growth

As our children grow older (sniff sniff for losing those chubby little snuggly years but hooray for the joy and delight of their teen and young adult years), we celebrate certain stages with simple remembrances. At ten, each child receives a necklace to celebrate their reaching the double digits. Sometimes we choose it for them, and sometimes we take them and choose together. At thirteen, they receive a camera of their own as a symbol that they are responsible enough to take care of that camera and to use it appropriately. Some of them even contribute some of the photography for the music mission at this point. The Youngs take it several steps further.

At thirteen for their boys and twelve for their girls (ages gleaned from the Jewish traditions of acknowledging the transition to adulthood), the Youngs hold a very meaningful and memorable ceremony involving several important and respected people in their children’s lives. This chapter elaborates on ceremony as a way of welcoming the young person to the adult world and calling them to the higher standard they are capable of.

I want to leave you with this quote from this chapter, which is really sad and scary and, dare I say, pathetic:

The time of adolescence now continues in to the early thirties, and “Twenty-five is the new fifteen.” Sadly, the level of maturity we used to see in teenagers is all that is expected of twenty-somethings today. That’s not what we want for our children. (p. 134)

Yeah, same here. No thanks.

Chapter 11: Producers and Consumers 

In this spend-it-because-you’ve-got-it or spend-it-before-you’ve-got-it economy, it’s important for kids to learn to be producers, and not just consumers. Let’s start this section off with a quote that I feel is crucial to our relationship with money and consumerism:

If all the wealth in the world is God’s, then the wealth we control is not by ownership, but by stewardship. … A faithful steward might have great liberty with the things in his care … but he always knows that he’s accountable to the true owner. (p. 152-153)

There is an infinite (okay, maybe not infinite) amount of valuable information in this chapter. I totally vandalized it with all my markings! One thing I want to share with you is this statistic that blew my kids out of the water!

Although 82% of parents did chores when they were growing up, only 28% require them of their own children.

My kids were appalled that other children aren’t learning to take care of themselves and their homes on a regular basis, because when they are out on their own in the real world, they will be struggling to do what our ten-year-old does without even thinking twice. (At least, she did before her brain started unraveling (see chapter 3).) If your young teens can’t manage a home, they’ve got some learning to do.

Teaching your kids to be good stewards of their time, efforts, talents, generosity, and money can be as simple as discussing it on a daily basis and including them as valuable assets in your family’s home, business, or mission. (Take a peek at the Young’s mission or our mission and you’ll see the kids front and center, or in the background keeping things humming, as valuable team members!) What a smooth transition to adult life they’ll have because they were given supervised adult responsibilities as soon as they were capable!

This chapter is well worth the read, even just for the story of Almanzo Wilder and the lemonade, and the story of the Young’s son’s ice cream. Sorry–no spoilers here! You have to, you guessed it, read the book.

Chapter 12: The Next Big Thing

After the turbulent tween years come the triumphant teen years. These years can be wonderful if you follow this advice from Hal and Melanie:

Protect your relationship with your tweens. (p. 186)

Be the patient, loving, truthful, stable, Godly, (sometimes superhuman) voice of reason when your socially anxious flaming porcupine’s brain is unraveled and he naturally sees it as all your fault. Yeah, during the time when you want them to move into the garage for two years, protect your relationship!

Then you can serve as a trusted guide in the high school years as you work together to determine the path that God has in mind for that child’s gifts and interests.

To offer a little more hope, the Young’s previously flaming porcupines turned out wonderfully!


I like that the Youngs immediately destroy the perception that they are the perfect family that doesn’t have problems with their children. Thank you, Youngs! They approach the issue of parenting tweens with grace and hope, yes, but also with reality, humor, and sometimes harsh truth directed lovingly at either the kids or the parents.

They speak in a humble manner, but with confident wisdom. And best of all, everything is based on Scripture with no man-made laws thrown in to confuse the issue. I would feel 100% confident handing this book to any parent on any side of today’s broad parenting spectrums, because who doesn’t need truth, grace, hope, encouragement, and guidance from Godly parents who have been there!

Thank you, Hal and Melanie, for being trusted advisors on this journey.

Hey, readers, if you want to read my much, much shorter review on the the Young’s 2017 release, Love, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward Sexuality, click right here. Also, if you’d like some shorter reviews on No Longer Little, check out these reviews from other members of the Crew or click on the banner below:

Love, Honor, and Virtue AND No Longer Little {Great Waters Press Reviews}

I really enjoy following the Youngs on social media. Here are your options:

Now go read the book!


Memoria Press Classical Composition {Review}

Memoria Press has done it again. You know that, even though we’re primarily Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, we like to incorporate classical products from Memoria Press. Currently our 12-year-old son is working through the first two levels of Memoria Press Classical Composition by James A. Selby, namely Classical Composition I: Fable Set and Classical Composition II: Narrative Set.

I am going to try to make this review humor-free. Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.

Who is Memoria Press?

Memoria Press is one of the big names in classical curriculum. They offer complete studies that your students can follow from little onward that will encompass their entire education. They also provide “piecemeal” products if you want to add one or two topics to your current studies. (We have some of their literature products as well as their First and Second Form Latin.)

They also have several wonderful special needs products by a mother of adopted special needs twins who have done remarkably well and are now adults.

Talk about the Classical Composition.


Author James Selby’s goal in producing the Classical Composition line is to raise excellent, thoughtful writers in the same manner that many of the greats (thin Benjamin Franklin) were trained for over a thousand years. He puts it into an easy-to-use format that will not strain the brain of the parent-teacher who may have not been trained to write well.

The purpose is to teach children not only to write, but to reason well, two skills that academia has found lacking in college freshmen. Combining logic with imagination is another goal. Who wants boring reason? Not us! By the end of the program, a student will hopefully be able to communicate logically in an engaging style.

The 14-step path to . mastering writing is intended to begin in the fifth grade, but that is not necessary. If your students start later, (my son began in sixth grade), they simply move faster. As a sixth grader, my son began with Classical Composition I: Fables, and works through five lessons a week to finish a lesson a week. He will then advance to Classical Composition II: Narratives, and progress at the same speed. Next year he will slow to the regular pace. (See the tweak section below for some personal information on how we do this.)

Classical Composition I: Fable Set

The fable stage contains 20 lessons that each follow a similar structure. Each lesson is based on one of Aesop’s fables, engaging stories my kids are highly familiar with anyway, which makes the experience more comfortable and enjoyable.

Each lesson has the student reading the fable several times, recognizing various aspects of the story, writing variations, narrating, outlining, inverting sentences, writing more variations, and producing a final draft. Ultimately, the students are reading the fables and imitating them, imitation being one of the greatest ways to learn to write well.

The narrative stage works in a similar way. There are 20 lessons that each follow a pattern, this time based on a narrative. Students orally narrate the story. They then learn to identify components of writing evident in each narrative they read. Then, similar to the previous level, they outline, narrate, paraphrase, and work on variations and tweaks until they eventually present you with a polished final draft.

The narratives are interesting and brief, so your student can focus on developing skills rather than wading through a mire of confusion.

Classical Composition II: Narrative Set

Classical Composition is a Christian series. While it will work with anyone, there are Scriptural references. You also will not find questionable behaviors or concepts promoted in any way.

Looking at some of these pictures, you might find some of the concepts to be quite advanced. It’s true. You will definitely be learning alongside your children. That’s why I recommend watching the videos with your kids and being involved, at least at the beginning. It doesn’t need to be entirely hands-on with the parent, although being available and knowledgeable enough to help will be an asset. The teacher’s guide will help you with that.

Personally, I am not highly involved, but I do read up a bit on what my boy is learning, so that I can assist him as needed. So far, I’ve only helped him about three times. The rest he does on his own after watching the videos.

You tweak everything! What did you tweak here?

We don’t generally use formal writing curricula around here in the early years, and sometimes not at all. We’ve used curricula in the past that have made my word-lovers hate writing. That’s not where I wanted to go!

I know the importance of quality writing skills, and I know how rare they are. When I was a college writing tutor, every college freshman had to come through the Writing Center to be evaluated. There were three students (only one of them came straight out of high school–the other two were non-traditional) in my share of freshman class who had a solid grasp on writing…and I married one of them. (See how important good writing skills are?!) I couldn’t believe the junk I was reading! It was horrible!

I knew I wanted my kids to be “among the three,” but I didn’t want to destroy their love of writing with tedium, over-analysis, boredom, or the corniness that is so often part of courses for children. Oh my kids hate that! There is no corn in anything we’ve seen from Memoria so far, so we were good there, but what about tedium and over-analysis? A strictly classical education is an intensive study. That’s one of the reasons we switched to Charlotte Mason’s more gentle approach.

No problem! While I did find many of the questions and answers in the curriculum to be fairly subjective, learning to deal with “no right answer” is part of the writing and thinking process. It isn’t math…which is why some of us like writing so much. (Whoa, that was almost a joke.) IT’s difficult for the younger crowd to try and gasp what the author is getting at sometimes, and also to accept that there may not be one right answer. Learning that concept is crucial learning, but it takes a while to accept. I don’t want frustration to take over and be applied to the writing process while that learning is taking place.

So our tweaks? For the period of the review, we tried to stick with the advanced schedule as outlined by Memoria. Now that the review is over, however, we are going to slow down to maybe 3-4 lessons per week. We can do this in part because we school year round. Also, I don’t have any problem with Elijah doing 1.5 books in sixth grade and 1.5 in seventh and landing right back on track by eighth grade. Any time spent in these books will be beneficial.

Since Elijah currently wants to be a pastor, I want him to have solid writing skills. We’ve all sat through sermons which take you…nowhere. You arrive at the end wondering what on earth that story had to do with the point of the sermon, why he started randomly talking about women in the Bible when the focus was Moses, why there was all that fluff and no actual meaning, or what the whole sermon was even about! It’s a waste of time. I don’t want some of my son’s congregants bringing friends to church for the first time and having them walk out with fluff between their ears because my boy can’t write a decent sermon!

We’re going to continue on the Memoria Composition path until he at least finishes the first two levels. We’ll see where we go after that. But currently we are doing it at a slightly slower pace when necessary.

What does Elijah think?

“I think it’s fun, but challenging. I can still do it, though.”

He’s a pretty wordy guy, but not when I ask him for quotes.

Some technical details.

The sets sell for $85, currently two levels for $120, although I don’t know how long that special will last. For subsequent students, you will only need to replace the consumable student workbook, which is $19.95 as of this writing.

The set includes a teacher’s guide which includes answers (helpful for ideas, because some of the answers are very subjective), teacher helps, rubrics, and additional information throughout. It also includes a DVD teaching each lesson. Finally, there is the consumable student workbook.

If you want more information, you’re in the right place!

The Memoria Press products the Homeschool Review Crew has been using and writing about are listed below, so take a look at any of them that interest you. Memoria has numerous other products we like and have used (particularly their literature and Latin products in our house), so explore! Also, consider signing up for their magazine/catalog combo, which is an education in itself! Check out some of these other products:

New American Cursive:

Traditional Logic:

Classical Composition:

To read reviews on the above products from the Review Crew, click right here or on the image below.

If real life catalogs aren’t your thing, you can also follow Memoria on social media. They are everywhere! See:

Did I successfully publish an entire review without a single joke? Weird!

Arson, Counterfeit, Murder–Just Another Homeschool Day {Review}

I love it when people ask my son what he’s been doing in school, and he says something like, “I’m doing detective work. Something’s Fishy at Lake Iwannafisha,” and they think maybe their kids missed something in their regular school…or they think we’re nuts.

While both conclusions may or may not be true, Something’s Fishy at Lake Iwannafisha is a detective curriculum supplement from The Critical Thinking Co.™ that my 12-year-old son has been working through. He loves it! (If knowing that I can’t drag my 12-year-old boy away from his studies is enough for you, go look at Something’s Fishy at Lake Iwannafisha right here and skip this review!)

The Critical Thinking Co.™

Who is The Critical Thinking Co.™ ?

First of all, let’s call them CT, shall we? CT is exactly what their real name implies, a curriculum company which teaches your kids to do what about 3/4 of adults don’t do these days–think critically. (Wow, that was an intense social commentary I slipped in there, wasn’t it? Well…think about it…if you can.)

CT provides anything from a full grade-level curriculum to supplements to what gives every impression of being a game but turns out instead to be a “brain builder.” Some of their products are as simple as what my brothers and I did for fun as kids (brain teasers and logic puzzles), which made my college logic class a total joke to me–eeeeaaaasssssyyyyy! Others involves a semester- or year-long study in a certain subject (editing, algebra, etc.) or an in-depth course intended for the sole purpose of building thinking skills.

That’s my long-winded way of saying they have loads of goodies on all levels and in all subjects that will help strengthen your child’s critical thinking ability. We’ve been using their resources for well over a decade…and we thinks good. Wink.

I have a secret for you, but you can’t tell. I’ll put it in parenthesis to make it super secret. (I use their workbooks as Christmas presents. Shhhhh.)

The Critical Thinking Co.™

Why is critical thinking important?

I remember being in late grade school and high school and even college and beyond, wishing I could think these things through for myself instead of guessing or wondering what “They” said about a topic. I’ve since developed critical thinking skills, but I see all around me those who don’t. You do, too, if you think about.

Consider Facebook:

The President Trump haters (the Trump-Dumpers) will say something negative about him and his decisions no matter how much they actually agree with his policies. And they only realize they agree if President Trump is removed from the picture and they are presented with the information “Trump-free.” (This goes for any bias, but this is the openly obvious one at this point.) I’m not talking about just teens here; I’m talking about people in their 20s, 30s, 50s who are passing their non-thinking outbursts on to their children. Scariness!

Critical thinking involves moving past bias, past emotion, and past personal preferences to get to the nuts and bolts of a situation and assess the viability, logic, and reality of a decision or scenario.

In other words, you clear out the muck and assess the big picture. It’s a beautiful thing, and something our kids need to be able to do well. Of course, critical thinkers aren’t always super popular. My husband is a critical thinker, and sometimes when I want someone to support me in my momentary emotional irrationality, yeah, he’s not the guy. Wink wink. And ultimately I’m glad!

Something's Fishy at Lake Iwannafisha

So what’s going on at Lake Iwannafisha?

There has been a murder, and it is the detective’s job to solve it. Your child is the detective or your children are a team of detectives. You are the sergeant.

As the sergeant, you give your detective(s) a detective training guide (sort of a refresher for all those years of training they underwent). You also give them the police report from the murder. As the investigation progresses, the detectives will come to you with requests for further information, like the ballistics report or forensics report. They can also request to interview a witness.

Of course, they can’t actually interview a witness. Other detectives have already interviewed witnesses and have their interviews on file. If your detective asks to interview someone whose interview isn’t “on file” (in the book), you as the sergeant simply inform them that that person wasn’t considered a suspect, so there is no interview on file.

You are an active part of providing them with the information (hand them a photocopied or printed sheet of paper with the information, and another piece of paper where they can record their discoveries.) Apart from providing them with information (pieces of paper), you are not involved. You don’t offer hints. You don’t help. You let them use what should be their greatest tool–the brain.

They have to infer conclusions from the information they request from the sergeant. Beware: there will be loose ends…you know, like in real life.

If, of course, you don’t want your kids working with forensics, ballistics, arson, theft, counterfeiting, etc., you won’t be interested in this course. I mean, there are a couple of murders. My son has been enthralled! He just bemoaned to me yesterday that the suspect has probably escaped the country by now since I haven’t given him his ballistics report yet.

This product can last for two days, two weeks, even a month or two if you’re taking 15 minutes or so out of class every few days to work on it. Personally, I enjoyed my son’s enthusiastic immersion in the course for two days before the death of the copier. He could leave his papers spread out (because we’re visiting Grandma and she has a room where he holed up and investigated) and pinned to the wall…like a real investigation, he said.

It’s recommended for grades 5-12+. My detective is in 6th grade, and was quite capable while working on this project.

Apart from passing out papers after they are copied or printed, there is really little to no parental involvement. There is a section where you can pause and have a discussion. I…ahem…didn’t formally follow through with this section. I was in the middle of a war with a copy machine (see the next section below). Also, I tend to discuss things informally. However, this is great for those who like things more scripted and are more hands-on than I am. Also, it’s excellent for groups! If you use this in a classroom, oh my cows-on-a-stick (aka corn dogs), your students will love you forever! 

The best part was how my detective read the information and determined for himself what further information he needed to progress in his knowledge. There was no, “Now, detectives, what was the murder weapon? How do we know this? What should we do with that information? We should…investigate the…class…class…what should we investigate? It’s called…b-…b-…baaaa-…balistics.” Gagarociousness. My kids hate that! They come out of a Sunday school class and are like, “Ugh. We’re not two.”

Something’s Fishy totally acknowledges that they are totally not two. Awesomeness.

An interview with Detective Bagasao:

What did you think of Something Fishy at Lake Iwannafisha?

I thought it was awesome.

What did you like about it?


Can you be more specific?

No. I liked everything.

Like…did you like having to use your brain and figure things out for yourself?


Ugh. Did you like that it was independent?


Ugh. You’re not giving me any good quotes.

What?! I liked the detective work–it was fun.

Ugh. Thanks. Go away.

There you have it. Straight from the mouth of he-who-will-not-be-an-interviewee-for-a-career. (Is that even a career option?)

And yes, I tell my kids to go away. Bad mom.

I wish Steve was eating donuts in that picture. I could make a great cliche joke.

Here’s my beef!

I usually have a beef, don’t I, and it’s often the same beef, isn’t it? This one is kind of a big deal…for me. (But there’s an ultra-positive, so if you read the beef, make sure you also read the prime rib below.)

I did not know when my son asked for this course that I would have to print or copy more than 2/3 of the book. When I found out that I would have to do this, I was pretty much the equivalent of a pouting two-year-old sitting in the corner not sharing his Scooby Doo toy and hiding his sister’s sippy cup. No, no, NO, NO, NOOOO!

I hate printing. And it costs money I don’t have. And our printer does, like a little bit at a time before essentially spitting in my face. So, you know, two pages, okay. Three pages, I’m going to whine. Anything more than that–that’s a deal breaker.

But the book was already in my hands when I learned this. But hallelujah! We were at my mom’s and she has this stellar copy machine, and so I copied pages straight from that as they were needed, and it was really great, and then it died! Halfway through the book, the copy machine just pppbbbbtttthhhhh…whirrrrrrrr…clink clank clunk…dead.

My detective wasn’t happy, as he was anxiously awaiting his ballistics report. So I thought of an alternative. If you have an honest kid, you can paperclip back the pages he can’t see yet, and let him access the pages he can have. Then he can write his conclusions in a notebook–simple-ish. But my detective preferred having pages he could spread out like on Perry Mason and Sherlock Holmes BBC edition with Jeremy Brett–classic! So, after two days of waiting for me to miraculously fix the copy machine (as if), he gave up.

So…the mystery remains unsolved. At the rate he was going, however, it would have been a two-day project at best. He was thoroughly engrossed and powering through it. And honestly, if he does his chores, math, and Bible every day, he can scrap everything else and immerse himself in one subject for two days if he wants to. Life is kind of like that around here anyway.

Here’s my…prime rib?

If you have a beef, which is a negative, there’s usually a positive side, too, right? And here it is. When I first received the book, I thought I handed it to him and he worked through it and done. No no! It is not a consumable book, as my beef already explained. So what does that mean?

It means this:

  1. His siblings can solve the mystery as well…and at their own paces.
  2. He can’t get hints and tips from looking at other pages in the book. He has to figure out for himself what information he needs to solve the mystery. That is brilliant! It’s so brilliant, that I don’t even mind copying.
  3. If you have a lot of kids and you want them all to do this, cut the binding and make friends at Kinkos. Or maybe your church will copy it for you? There is no Kinkos where we are right now. (If I could think of any job that would make me die every day, it would be working at a copying/printing place. Instant death.)

All in all, if you don’t mind running off copies or printing PDFs (which you can access through a link CT gives you), this program is absolutely brilliant! I am super happy with it and I would have gone through it again even knowing about the printing/copying. You know that really saying something for me. Oh technology, why do you hate me so? What have I ever done to you…I mean, besides breaking or temporarily disabling pretty much every tech device I’ve ever touched.

Summary: this program is more than worth the effort of copying and printing. And if you use the PDFs instead of copying, it’s not that difficult…unless your printer is possessed by the soul of Elvis, like ours is. Don’t even ask.

Speaking of tech issues, this picture would not rotate or crop. Evil picture.

A few technical details.

The book sells currently for $14.95. There is also a digital edition for the same price, but it only works on a Windows operating platform. Both give you access to printables, or you can use the book to copy what you need for your students. This is not a consumable workbook.

You want more information, don’t you?

The Critical Thinking Co.™ isone of those great companies that it really pays to follow. We follow them online, but most of our interaction is through their email list. They send weekly critical thinking puzzles for the kids (and the mom), plus there’s often a stellar sale or a clearance item that is perfect to occupy and grow minds while we travel or for screen-free weeks or for fun or, hey, for school as they’re intended. I mean, that’s probably a good use for their curricula also–school. I’m a thinker! Anyway, sign up for their emails online and give them a shot for a while. Make sure to subscribe to the free puzzles for your age groups. And you can also check out on social media below:

Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew reviewed the following items from The Critical Thinking Co.:

If you want to read other Crew reviews (less talk about copying, most likely) about the above or about Lake Iwannafisha, click right here on this little ol’ link or on the lovely banner below:












Instilling Independence in Homeschooled (or Any) Children

As homeschool parents, we carry our children’s education primarily, or in many cases entirely, in our own hands. That’s a school bus full of responsibility that most of us take very seriously. (Let’s not talk about the days when we toss it all and make chocolate chip cookies and call it dinner, math, and home ec.)

Despite the numerous blessings of homeschooling, there is a potential downside—we well-meaning parents can be over-involved in our children’s education and handicap our future young adults.

What?! What could possibly be wrong with being involved in every aspect of our child’s education?

At the risk of getting kicked out of the cookie line at the next homeschool convention, I want to point out two big problems with parental over-involvement.

1.) The child loses respect for the parent as a person as parental needs are repeatedly placed second to the demands of the child’s needs and education, to an extreme; this pattern is then repeated toward others throughout the child’s life. (The me-first mentality.)

2.) The child’s potential to be resourceful, to persevere, and to become a responsible, self-motivated, independent adult is, at best, hindered, if not handicapped.

Read the rest over at The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew Blog. (That’s a mouthful.)

Manners Matter: Teaching Please, Thank You, and Excuse Me

Welcome to 10 Simple Manners to Teaching Your Children, Day 2!

Saying please, thank you, and excuse me is perhaps the easiest manner to teach, but similarly the easiest to gradually neglect over time. So how do we instill it and keep it there?

Let’s jump right in…please.

The best way.

The absolute best way to teach the basics of please, thank, and excuse me is to use them every day, even with a baby. It should be second nature to everyone in your family, but it has to start somewhere, and that’s usually with Mom.

Say it first.

From the time they’re little, say the words first. With a pleasant (not annoying) smile, you say, “Thank you for dinner, Mommy.” They repeat it if they’re old enough. You say, “May I please have a cookie?” They repeat and get a cookie. You say, “Excuse me, please” when someone is trying to squeeze into that infinitesimal space on the couch beside Mommy. They repeat it, and you scoot over.

I also do this with my babies, even though they can’t repeat it back to me. I also use signs for them, and will sign and say, “please,” and then give them their whatcha-ma-wannit.

Teach it.

Explain when and how to use the words, but then take it to the next step. Make it fun. Bump each other with your bums and say, “Oooo my, excuse me.” Put on fancy hats and say in elaborate accents, “Please, Dahhhhling,” and “Thank you, Sir.”

Discern between stubbornness and a need.

When my little guy is exhausted and is melting into a puddle of boyness and has morphed into a being well beyond reason (because that happens) and he cries, “I want you Mommy” with his arms up, I’m not going to demand a please. (I will usually still say, “Up please, Mommy” and pick him up, but I usually can tell when he has real needs to be met and when training will be counterproductive.)

When my little guy is rested, fed, and asking for a cookie and is stubbornly refusing his “please,” he’s not getting a cookie. (I know–big fat meanie.)

See the difference?

Correct gently and respectfully.

I’ve heard it a thousand times. Yes, rudeness is rude, but attacking it with rudeness is almost never effective. Here’s the scenario:

A child asks Grandma to read a book. Grandma says, “Please?” Nothing wrong with that. But when Grandma sounds affronted and offers a sarcastic, degrading pleeaaase instead of a gentle, pleasant reminder, the effect will be lost.

A child pushes through a crowd and an offended adult says, “Well, excuuuuuuse me!” That child is not  going to learn manners that way. Wouldn’t a simple, polite, “excuse me” with a hand on the shoulder be a kinder, more effective reminder?

Explain the importance.

If your children are old enough to understand (four and above), explain how people feel when you respect them with the words please, thank you, and excuse me. Simple.

Demonstrate the opposite.

Have a dinner or a family night where you remove manners. Instead of “Please pass the salt,” you say, “Hey! Salt over here.” Instead of “Thank you for making the popcorn,” try “It’s about time!” Instead of “Excuse me please,” it’s “Scoot, Kid, or I’ll sit on you.” It’s all in good clean fun, but if your family wouldn’t find this fun or would get carried away, take it down a notch and try the next approach.

A simpler demonstration can consist of asking which makes the child feel better and more respected: “Excuse me, please” or “Move over.”

These simple phrases are the basics of good manners, but, like common sense, darned socks, and homemade chocolate chip cookies, they seem to be growing increasingly more rare. Let’s turn it around.

How do you instill these basic manners in your kids?

This post is part of the Five Days of Homeschool Blog Hop from Homeschool Review Crew.