Review: Classically Catholic Memory

We were so excited to bring both Classically Catholic Memory and Catholic School House to the Atlanta Catholic Homeschool Conference this past April. We were able to see the materials of both of these fine programs. And, it is nice to have truly Catholic options instead of “Catholicizing” other programs.

Both programs are set up to either use them as materials for an individual family or for use in a co-op setting. Both programs include Religion, Latin, Science, Geography, Language Arts (poetry memorization) and History. Catholic School House can actually be used as your primary curriculum at least in elementary by using the included supplements. You would need to add a math and phonics section and of course great books to read.

I will focus on Classically Catholic in this article because ultimately it is the program I chose to purchase for a variety of reasons. I already use a curriculum, Mother of Divine Grace so I really needed a supplement, not another entire curriculum. And, a local friend shared with me how she used the program in her home with her family.

As I said, I use MODG for my curriculum, but I have found that as my older children got older and entered high school, that I had less time to do all the memory work required for the little ones. Things like math facts, Baltimore Catechism questions, poetry and geography memorization just weren’t happening. Additionally, we never were successful implementing timelines. I have nine children that range in age from 17 down to 2. This upcoming school year, we will have 8 officially in school. So, I implemented family school several years ago to address these deficits.

The problem I encountered was one of planning … I didn’t. So, each day I kind of winged it. Ultimately, it would fizzle out; no memory work would be accomplished. So, in steps Classically Catholic Memory.

From the website:

Religion:  Each year provides various Catechism questions and answers and passages from Scripture.

Latin:  Each year provides various prayers and hymns.

History:  History sentences from one of four time periods:

  • Alpha Year:  Creation through the Birth of Christ (Ancients)
  • Beta Year:  The Time of Christ through 1500 (Middle Ages)
  • Gamma Year:  1500 through 1800 (Early Modern Times)
  • Delta Year:  1800 through Modern Times (Later Modern Times)

Science:  Science questions and answers from one of four science topics:

  • Alpha Year:  Life Science:  Animal Life
  • Beta Year:  Earth Science and Astronomy
  • Gamma Year:  Chemistry and Physics
  • Delta Year:  Life Science:  Human Anatomy and Physiology and Plant Life

Math:  Skip counting (every year)

  • Alpha and Gamma Years: Geometric Formulas
  • Beta and Delta Years: Conversion Formulas

Timeline:  The same timeline is learned every year.

Geography:  Countries, some capital cities, and physical geography of either one or two continents per year.

  • Alpha Year:  Asia and Australia
  • Beta Year:  Europe
  • Gamma Year:  North America
  • Delta Year:  Africa and South America

Great Words I and II:  Every year provides material that includes poems, historical documents, and speeches.

As you can see, a great amount of material is covered in a systematic manner. The only thing I will probably add is more Baltimore Catechism questions. But this is easily addressed. I plan to copy the questions out I want them to cover, divide them up over 4 years, and paste them onto each of the planner pages.

In particular, I am very pleased with the breadth of the geography and history timelines. I only have Alpha year at this time, but in week 10, they study China and will map Beijing, Kunlun Mountains, the Yangtze River and Gobi Desert among other things. The timeline will cover St. Thomas Aquinas, Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, The Plague in Europe, St. Joan of Arc and St. Catherine of Siena (additional items are covered). Finally, we will be able to work on our timeline as a family.

Latin includes the memorization of various prayers including the Table Blessing, O Come Emmanuel and the Hail Mary. It is not that it is particularly innovative in itself, but that it is included in a package – so no fumbling around for additional resources. Nor are there labor intensive organizational skills required.

Math includes working on the skip counting tables – yes, in a methodical manner. One of the shortcomings of homeschoolers that I have seen mentioned in various places is memorizing math facts. Additionally in this year, various geometric formulas are memorized.

The poetry sections, called Great Words, has two levels. I plan on using this section last so I can have the elementary age children learn the level 1 materials, and the middle and high school students learn the level II materials. Level II includes an excerpt from “Give me liberty, or give me death!” by Patrick Henry.

Finally, a section to not be missed – The Subject Summary at the end of the book. Yes, she in a few pages gives you the summaries for each area by week. So, in a glance you can see what materials are covered in 18 weeks in religion or the timelines. If you wanted to flesh this out even more, you could easily use this to plan for additional books to be read, art projects and music.

One final note, the science section is very well done. Not only is memory work assigned each week, for example memorizing the classification system, but detailed instruction is given in the Teaching Notes section. Generally 2 pages of instructions are included. Activities include for level II  dissection of a perch (note you would need to get a dissection guide). Each week, five different levels of activities are included.

For me, hands on science slips. So, I do hope this will allow me to do more hands on projects this year. She also includes in the back animal cards that you may print and cut apart. But, she does suggest purchasing them. A number of additional items for purchase are suggested. You definitely do not have to purchase them, but information is included. Such items are Micro Mounts that include a cricket, locust, beetle and crab.

In closing, I will update this entry later in the year after using the materials. I am quite optimistic that this will be the puzzle piece I have been looking for.

To order, please actually visit Ingatius Press.




Catholic ABC’s – A Hands-On Preschool Curriculum

I have stumbled upon another resource for preschoolers – from the wonderful blog of CatholicIcing, she has put together a 26 lesson preschool book called “Catholic Abc’s – A Hands-on preschool curriculum”.

Catholic ABC's


I am excited to see another resource for families who have preschool students. The reviews seem to be positive. I am intrigued by the idea of not having to gather lots of materials to make it work. Best of all it is liturgically based and contains over 25 templates, coloring pages,  and more.


Daily Grammar Practice – Review

We have used a number of different grammar resources including Rod and Staff, Seton and most recently Easy Grammar. All do an excellent job of teaching grammar, but my children still do very poorly on end of year assessments. In looking at what all these programs had in common, I discovered that all of them presented one topic in depth and taught it very well but when the topic was completed, they moved on to another topic and there was little review.

I stumbled upon Daily Grammar Practice at a homeschool conference last May. It is not a complete grammar program. It was developed I believe originally to be used in a school setting where the teacher planned to instruct on grammar topics. If you are not strong on grammar or diagramming, you will definitely need another resource. I have found that Warriner’s English 3rd course to have enough information to explain the topics in depth.

So, what does DGP do differently? It uses one sentence a week. On the first day, you identify how each word is used in a sentence – noun, verb, adjective, preposition, adverb, conjuction, etc. If your child does not know what a preposition is, then you as a parent need to teach the concept (using another resource). On Tuesdays, they identify the function of the word – subject, object of a preposition, intransitive verb past tense. On Wednesday’s, you identify clauses and sentence types (declarative, exclamatory, and if te sentence is simple, compound or complex). For older grades, not only do you identify a dependent clause, but how it is used – adverbial or adjectival. On Thursday’s you punctuate the sentence. Finally on Friday’s you diagram the sentence. Again, I have found the Warriner’s English to be a good reference for all of these more advanced topics.

As I stated, you still need to teach grammar, but all the topics are reviewed every week going deeper as you progress. I have found my children need this approach and I am pleased to have found a grammar resource that uses that method. I believe Analytical Grammar uses somewhat the same approach.

Look for an update to this review at the end of the year when we go through year end assessments. But, I can already see progress.

Online Spelling Resources

Just a quick note and 2 links – I am finishing up my Homeschool Tracker lesson plans and added a link for them. They are using Worldly Wise for both vocabulary and spelling. Worldy Wise 3000 offers some very nice resources for both students and teachers. For the students, each lesson has a section where the vocabulary word is pronounced and the student is asked to repeat it. Then, the definition is orally provided. Finally, a sentence is spoken and then the child determines if the word was used correctly. Additionally there are games available for each lesson including Hangman and a crossword puzzle.

My additional link for those not using Worldly Wise, is a site called Spelling City. This free resource allows you to create an account if you wish to save the spelling lists you create. Then, you type the words into the list and your student can then listen to the word being pronounced and spelled and a definition is offered. After the student has studied the words, he can then take a test for that lesson. The student clicks the Say It button and the word is spoken. If necessary, the student can also click Sentence to hear it used in a sentence. A space is provided for the student then to type the word in.

One caveat is that some words may not yet be added to the dictionary. You would need to find an alternate way to teach those to your students.

One additional resource that is not free but has been mentioned as a good resource is Spelling Time.

Shakespeare – Ideas for Homeschoolers


I do not believe I am in some kind of tiny minority. I went to public school and we read and suffered through Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. I was somewhat traumatized by the effort and did my best to avoid all things Shakespeare.

Fast forward some number of years with children in middle school, and I am confronted again with Shakespeare … and the dilemma … how do I introduce them to Shakespeare … and not further perpetuate the trauma?

Margot Davidson, from materetmagistra magazine offers a solution-in fact many solutions. The Spring 2009 edition is filled to the brim with all things Shakespeare. From a meaty, yet accessible article about Shakespeare, to resources, to a cornucopia of ideas, to a pull out section and book list review, you cannot fail to find something that will fit your family, from the youngest members to the oldest… And, it is not too late! I am inspired; included in the issue is a detailed description of “How to Host a Shakespeare Read-Aloud”.

I am not sure when Margot will make the issue available for individual purchase, but you can contact her through the website.

Catholic Children’s Author: Cynthia Reeg

I received two books in the mail last week and found them to be delightful. Cynthia Reeg is a a former Catholic School librarian.

The first book is entitled “Gifts from God”. It is a soft cover, 31 page book that has beautiful photographs for the art work. The book offers:

“a celebration of God’s love as seen through the eyes of children”

On one page is a blurred image of a rainbow with the text from Genesis 9:13:

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

On the opposite page is a picture of a little girl smiling.

Another page depicts a beautiful golf course that is set against mountains with two children on an Easter egg hunt. The Biblical text on the left is from Leviticus 26:12:

I will walk among you and be your God.

And the text on the opposite page says “God walks beside me”.

I enjoyed the pictures and the text. My little guys pointed and talked about the pictures. With the older children, we were able to discuss the Biblical passages and the meaning as tied to the picture.

The second book was loads of fun: “Kitty Kerplunking” – what a wonderful way to discuss prepositions! Cynthia uses her cats to teach about prepositions. Each page features a picture of a cat doing something and a sentence using a preposition (it is in capital bold letters). On one page, you see a picture of a cat under a chair and the sentence says: “Preppy the kitty… chased a mouse UNDER the chair.”

At the beginning of the books, the author gives a brief description of prepositions and then proceeds to show how prepositions are used by depicting the adventures of a kitty. Following the adventures of the cat are several pages of activities including a crossword puzzle, word search, fill in the blank and scrambled prepositions all aimed at giving children another opportunity to work with prepositions. Answer keys to all the exercises are provided at end of the book.

The book is not exactly geared towards older children – but – this is a great way to introduce prepositions to the middle elementary school kids using great visuals. Thank you for a great resource.

Teaching Reading to the Challenging Student

I do not have an official label of dyslexia for any of my children. But, with my first, we spent many hours and went through many programs trying to find one that could teach my son how to read. I finally went through the training to become a certified Reading Reflex tutor and we used the program successfully. But, I had many difficulties – the primary problems included pacing. I never quite knew when to move him along or how fast to push. Fluency was another issue. Reading Reflex was clear that children need to read to develop fluency and strongly encourage picking material a bit below reading level to work on fluency. No other guidelines were offered. Thankfully I stumbled upon a fluency program that was very easy to implement in a homeschool setting and was very affordable compared to school based programs (plus they almost all required an outside trained tutor to administer) and it is called Great Leaps. I will come back to the program in a subsequent post and describe why students need to work on fluency and why Great Leaps does such a good job.

Back to the topic of this post – reading. So, I was able to successfully teach my next three children. In fact, my fourth required very little instruction from me. As a tangent, I believe that most children are hard wired to learn how to read – so whatever program you use, they will make their way through and end up successful readers (perhaps not great spellers though). For a smaller percentage of children, a more detailed program is required to teach phonics. You can go the Orton Gillingham route – it is tried and true and very thorough. But, it is not a program you can just walk into and use. And, it is very expensive. Most parents opt to hire a tutor to implement it with their child.

Programs like Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Alphaphonics, Pathways and all the rest present phonics in a sequential method. The problem is that they do not offer strategies for children that simply cannot blend the sounds together or do not hear the difference in sounds. So, I have another child, my fifth, who when he encountered the word “cat”, deftly produced the sounds “ccccc” “aaaaa” “ttttt” – and never could say the word cat.

Reading Reflex addressed this issue by teaching activities for phonemic awareness. Unfortunately, it was not easy to find a flow through the program. I stumbled back upon AeBeCeDarian a month ago. I had looked into it five years ago, and chose to go with another program that I had sold several years ago believing that somehow I must be a much better teacher :-)

What makes AeBeCeDarian so much more user friendly is that the entire program is basically scripted out for you. It is reasonably priced at around $55 / level (level A does have 2 parts), and the student book is affordable for subsequent students. The company provides a PDF file that has the placement test.

You can use this method to teach all of your readers – the ones that get it will move quickly through the program, the ones that need the extra help will receive it. Fluency and handwriting instructions are included. It is multi sensory using letter tiles to build words. Turtle talk and People talk are used for sounding out words. Phonemic awareness exercises are scripted into the program.

We have only used the program for two weeks and I am quite pleased with how it is laid out. I can see using this with the rest of my children because it is not burdensome or difficult to understand. You do not need to read a manual to start.

The first set of words include sat, top and map. The child has the three letter tiles for sat and a blank page with three lines. The teacher reads from the left page as she moves her finger under each of the blank lines using the script provided. The student moves the tiles to the correct space saying the sound as he moves them. Then the teacher demonstrates the tap and say method where she taps each sound and says the sound, and then says the word in “people talk” as she drags her finger under the word. These are called sound puzzles in Reading Reflex.

The fluency exercises are in the student book. A page of letters that the student has been working on are presented, along with a grid at the bottom to record the date and number correct. Clear goals are given as to when to move on and the student is timed for 20 seconds. Another page has the words and follows the same directions. You do not move on until the child has a sufficient fluency to indicate that automaticity has been achieved. In order to read and actually understand the content, a child needs to be fluent – he needs to not think about what each letter represents. By the time a non-fluent child has finished decoding a passage as opposed to reading a passage, most often he will not remember what he has read. That is why he can encounter the word “cat”, sound it out and say it, and then a sentence later, encounter the same word and again must decode it.

By the end of A1, a child will have word cards for zip, jet, fib, yes, pen, wet, bet and will, spill, flag, drum and fell as well as chin, chop, rich, duck, cash, and black. 79 words all together are presented.

Please visit this post at a later date as I share how my son has progressed.

Writing – the dreaded subject

I have to say as a computer science major in college, that writing was never my favorite subject. Fortunately or perhaps that should read, unfortunately, most of my college level writing was technically oriented. User manual, installation directions, FAQ – yes, I feel comfortable with those styles.

When I began homeschooling, especially as my children got a bit older, I realized that I was not comfortable teaching nor evaluating writing. How could I break the steps down into manageable chunks? Even more importantly, how do I evaluate the finished product? The questions were so difficult for me that I became “paralyzed” and thus taught / required no writing until my oldest children were in fifth grade!

Well, like some other homeschoolers I have spoken too, I am not alone. Thankfully, one year at a local homeschool conference, I stumbled into the Institute for Excellence in Writing booth. After joining the fabulous online yahoo group and a number of questions later, I purchased the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style.

First of all, while the DVD set is very expensive, it is not consumable, and if you find that it is not the program for you, there is a 100% buy back guarantee. The next huge plus for me was that I could fit the program into my existing curriculum. I happen to use Mother of Divine Grace syllabi (I am not enrolled in the program).

I watched most of the DVD’s in the afternoon after school was finished – it was a bit more enjoyable because I invited three other mothers to view them with me. We worked the demonstrations as Andrew Padewa suggested. We were introduced to the concept and reasonings behind the program and to the KWO (key word outline) and then on to the 6 dressups and sentence openers and the various writing models. Finally, I taught a short writing program to the children of these moms using another IEW program, U.S. Based History Lessons, Volume One.

At the time, this volume was quite a bit cheaper, so it was an easy way to introduce the dress ups and sentence openers and KWO concept and writing models to the students using a scripted program. Once we completed about half the program, I felt comfortable simply making our syllabi writing assigments follow the IEW method. If I had to do it again, I would probably skip the U.S. program and just introduce the concepts, one or two at a time per week and work on one writing model a week.

My suggestion with the program is that you focus on it being a “spiral” program. We did not aim for “mastery” (as opposed to my favorite math program, MathUSee). Instead, I wanted to expose my children to the entire program and then come back and refine the various elements.

This program was a true blessing for my oldest child, a writing phobic, poor speller. It provided him a method to separate the gathering of facts (key word outlines) and organization (writing modules including essays, book reports and reports) from the actual writing process (dress ups, sentence openers and avoiding banned words).

For me, the program was a blessing because not only did I find a way to teach writing, I had a more objective manner to evaluate writing. Each assignment comes with a small checksheet and their writing manuals include the models to detail how the assigment should be structured.

I could go on and on about the program, but I’ll end with one other item of note. In an informal poll on a homeschooling list I particpated in several years ago. We came to the conclusion that IEW was especially appealing to more “technical” type mothers. Finally, for additional support, please consider joining the IEWFamilies yahoo email list. While the volume is quite high, all questions are answered and many years of experience are available to guide you.

A program that takes a much different approach to writing, BraveWriter, seemed to appeal to other families. So, IEW is definitely not the solution for everyone. Julia Bogart, from BraveWriter and author of “The Writer’s Jungle” has a beautiful approach to writing that you should definitely look into. In fact, she even offers online writing courses that have received rave reviews. I would love to have someone else offer a post about this program.