Author Archives: LB

Classical Conversations Cycle 1 Week 8

Skip Counting

Our Classical Conversation Cycle 1 year is well underway! We’ve had Fall Break and are now back at it. I keep telling folks that our past experience is that we can have a great routine going right up until Fall Break and then after that we’re all out of sorts until February. I’m working diligently to prove that past experience is NOT a prediction of future performance by getting back in the groove before November. Wish me luck.


Skip Counting 14'sA couple of years ago, I created a little skip counting “booklet” that I used in class. You are welcome to download it by clicking on the image to the right. The idea is that the child works their way from the “1” block, which has the most information to the “7” block, which they must complete from memory. After completing 1-4 on the back side of the sheet, fold the sheet to make a booklet.


This also means that the child has been able to see plenty of “hints” as they go, but by the time they flip the booklet over to complete the “7” block, they’re really just going entirely from memory. 7 is also the number of times that CC recommends you repeat information in order to store it in your child’s short-term memory, so this works out well in that regard, too!

We’ll also be adding the 14s to our stairs at home. This has worked very well for us in years past. If you’re already a compulsive stair-counter (surely I’m not the only one!), this is a great way to use that particular OCD quality to your advantage. My son, in particular, loves it when we do this with the 14s. He even tries to skip count backwards on his way down!


Hands down, the most effective thing for memorizing the prepositions in my house this year has been printing out a list of them and taping them to the wall. We watch the talented CC family that put this CC Prepositions video together and attempt (key word: “attempt”) to do the motions with them. Be assured, we look exactly nothing like these three in the video, except for there being a mom, older daughter, and younger son in our house, too. Really, just for kicks, our family should do a video and put it right beside this one. It would be like our own personal pinterest-type “Fail” . . . and you’d all get your belly laugh in for the week.

Once we’ve perfected botched the choreography sufficiently (two or three times), we move over to our list on the wall and do the song from memory while looking at the words. This has really helped my kiddos distinguish between a few that they naturally want to run together (“Of, Off” for example). Choreography at this point is, thankfully, optional. We can ALL successfully do the “without” move to wrap up the song, which makes us all feel cool enough.

Anyway, this has been super simple and both my kiddos can now whiz through their prepositions like nobody’s business.

You all have probably already seen both of these books, but we enjoyed them our last time through this cycle to expand our understanding of prepositions.


Science Grammar

Very interesting (and quick!) video about Monocots vs. Dicots below. It briefly discusses plant evolution at the end of the video (starting at 2:24). It’s actually the only really boring part of the video, so don’t worry if you want to just stop it there, you won’t miss much.


We’ve really been enjoying the Kid’s Animated History with Pipo on Ancient History with Pipo on Hulu this year. There are videos that match many weeks of our history grammar and so far, I’ve found them to contain a ton of appropriate, useful information and it’s presented in a way that my kids have found entertaining. Each video is about 11 minutes long. There are two on India that compliment CC Cycle 1 Week 8 very nicely.

Great compliment to Classical Conversations Cycle 1!!

Kid’s Animated History with Pipo

Tin Whistle (Music Theory)

Here is an adorable video that is an ode to the treble clef:

The group that did the video above has put out a whole series of videos that are wonderful tie-ins with our Tin Whistle study.  If you want to see more of them, they’re pinned on my Pinterest Board for Tin Whistle.

There are also a couple of apps that are handy to reinforce the names of the notes:

One is called Note Brainer. It’s free. Free is good.

This is a cute game called “Note Squish.” Think “Whackamole” for music theory.

Another one is called Piano Monkey. We’ve had it for a year or so because our piano teacher recommended it. It’s a pretty basic app, but it is great for teaching note recognition on the staff and on the piano.


I always love hearing what other CC families are up to! Feel free to leave a comment below. I read every one of them!

A little background: This is our family’s sixth year to participate in a Classical Conversations (CC) community. We participate in the Foundations portion of the program, which is designed for children ages 4 to about 11 and the Essentials portion of the program, which is designed for children in grades 4-6. Both programs lasts for 24 weeks each year. In Foundations each week the children cover 7 different grammar subjects (Timeline, History, Math, Science, English, Latin, and Geography), do a short (2-3 minutes) presentation, participate in one or more Science experiments and cover some area of Fine Arts.  It’s a VERY busy (and fun!) morning! In the afternoons, the Essentials program spends about 45 minutes on English grammar, 30 minutes on mental math, and 45 minutes on writing. It’s a VERY busy (and fun!) afternoon!

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The (not always so) Sweet Life

Took the kids to the Lego store last night for the monthly build. We haven’t gone to one in forever (who am I kidding? I’ve never been to one. My sweet husband, who took them last time, hasn’t been in months and probably only went last time because I suggested it). Surprise! The builds are not on Monday nights, they’re on Tuesday.

Tried again this evening (the mall, twice in one week. That was probably my first mistake). My kids were concerned about missing it tonight after missing it yesterday, but they also 1) didn’t get their school work done very quickly and 2) didn’t want to forego playing with friends this evening if they didn’t have to. So, after telling the kids multiple times this afternoon that the build starts at 5:00 and goes until they run out of supplies or the mall closes, we arrive about 7:45. Wrong. The Lego build, which is on the first Tuesday of the month, has very specific hours: 5:00-7:00. Kids cope with having missed it. Not too big a deal.

(Side note: Lego store rocks. Even though the kids were handling the disappointment both times REALLY well, the Lego employees seemed to realize what a loser mom my kids are stuck with. So, they gave us last month’s Lego build set when we arrived yesterday and discovered we were off by a day. Tonight, a totally different employee snuck back and secretly bagged up this month’s build set, tracked my kids down in the store separately and handed them each a bag on the down low. Bless them. They can’t make up for a life time of living with me, but they sure did try).

The kids brought their own money to the mall to buy Sweet CeCe’s frozen yogurt, since I wasn’t willing to spring for it when we were at the mall yesterday. We head there. We debate cup sizes – the “Sweet” size for a flat price or the “Sweeter” size for a price per ounce. My daughter chooses the flat rate and heads off. My son (who thinks ice cream and frozen yogurt are a food group unto themselves) chooses the per ounce cup. This is not surprising. I’m expecting him to gorge himself. It’s his money, so I leave it up to him. I help my daughter get her yogurt and she goes off to add toppings. My son tells me “not too much” as I start filling his. I am shocked. Apparently, he’s really watching his spending.

The problem is, he isn’t actually tall enough to SEE the yogurt being dispensed. So he’s jumping up and down trying to keep tabs on it. During one of his jumps, he reaches out and attempts to give himself a little boost using the tray of the yogurt machine. 10 seconds later, I am COVERED from hip to toe in some combination of Cheerful Chocolate and Vanilla Bean. The trays from the machine are on the ground. I am not cheerful. I have frozen yogurt in my sandals. I am standing in pond of frozen melted yogurt. My daughter has discovered that the toppings bar has exactly her favorite topping and is excitedly trying to tell me about it from across the way. I am dripping and trying to apologize to the sweet girl running the store. Bless her heart. I nearly beg her to let me help her clean it up. I mean, it is a disaster. And 1 hour before closing time. I’d have hated us. Instead, she is incredibly sweet. My son finishes putting the toppings on his yogurt. He is much more selective than usual. His frugal side is showing. He’s trying to keep the cost low since he knows he’s got to pay for it. Just a few things, and one single piece of cookie dough. We check out. His is actually cheaper than hers. We make a run for it before they kick us out of the mall.

We needed to go by the grocery store on our way home.I’d have skipped it, but we really did need just a couple of things. So, we make our way through Publix, me with one pants leg soaked through-and-through from top-to-bottom with chocolate yogurt and yogurt squishing in the bottom of my sandals, the kids carrying their Sweet CeCe’s so they can finish it up (and head straight to bed when we get home, it’s getting late). We’re nearly done shopping, and rounding the corner to head to a register when my son somehow manages to flip his yogurt cup, with remaining yogurt and toppings, upside down and into the middle of the aisle. Seriously, two chocolate puddles in one evening? My son looks sheepish, but torn. He doesn’t really want to write-off the yogurt and toppings. Head in hands, I send the kids together to the restroom, which is within sight, to clean themselves up and bring me back some paper towels. While they’re gone, I remember there are some wipes in my purse and manage to get it cleaned up. I go to meet the kids at the restroom, holding a chocolate puddle and a mess in my hands, where my daughter is emerging with a handful of paper towels. I explain that I got it cleaned up. She is relieved. He begins to slowly, quietly melt. He glues himself to my side and buries his face. He is quietly crying. Then, not so quietly. Then, full on sobbing. “You’re tired,” I say, “we need to get you home.”

“I’m not tired,” he says, “I’m sad.”  “I really wanted that piece of cookie dough.”

We check out, sandals still squishing, and head home.


Photo Credit: Flickr 

Classical Conversations Cycle 3 Week 21 Events

Classical Conversations Cycle 3 Week 21
I've posted my lab sheet for this lab on CC Connected (user name lb_oliver). My thoughts here will dovetail with that approach. You can also see my suggestions for ways to expand on this topic in my post here.

This post is going to be short and sweet, but don’t panic, because the concepts in this lab are largely a review of the concepts from Week 19. So, if you need a quick refresher on those, go here for my first post about probability.

This week, here’s my take on the point of the lab for our Classical Conversations Foundations students:

  1. Grammar: Reinforce the grammar terms that they’ve heard in weeks past (Probability, Outcome, Combination), and introduce a new term – Event. Then, they get to see the terms Probability, Outcome and Event applied (Combination we’re leaving behind in the dust with week 20).
  2. Dialectic: Much like Week 19, this is an opportunity to teach our children about the “probability” that something (anything) could occur. The only real difference is that in this lab, we’re teaching children that sometimes when looking at a series of outcomes, we might be more interested in one group of outcomes than another. A group of outcomes that is of interest is referred to as an Event.

Classical Conversations Cycle 3 Week 21I wanted to do something fun to make this lab a little more interesting, so we used paper muffin cups, marked 1 through 6 to represent our pancakes. Children worked in teams to roll the dice and they distributed dried blueberries (I bought a big bag at Costco) according to the rolls of their dice. The most confusing thing about this lab for most folks is understanding that you need to roll the die, then place one blueberry for each roll. The blueberry goes to the pancake whose number you rolled.

I’m going to be honest with ya’ here. I’m a little scared of super-healthy-minded-homeschooling-moms. Sometimes, I join their ranks, so I get where they’re coming from. I don’t like to reward my kids with junk food all the time. And, I’m often thrilled that because we homeschool my children are much less exposed to all the junk food that seems to show up in most traditional school classrooms. So . . . I used dried blueberries.

On the other hand . . . this lab would be whole lot more fun with chocolate chips. I’m just saying.

I’m chicken. It doesn’t mean you have to be. And really, 30 chocolate chips split between two kiddos . . . it’s not much chocolate. Next time we do Cycle 3 . . . . maybe I’ll be braver.

I am updating my lab sheet out on CC Connected, so if you’re using those, go and look for the REVISED version. Even though this is my second time through this cycle and these labs, I’m still mastering the grammar myself! After more research and thinking through this blog post, I decided to make a couple of changes to make sure I was using the term Event properly.

For ADULTS/PARENTS– here’s an example of an event that’s of interest from a science-of-origins perspective:

There are 500 known naturally-occurring amino acids.* These acids are considered left-handed or right-handed depending on how their atoms are joined together. Of those 500, 20 bond together into proteins that are used by ALL living things on Earth.** ALL 20 of these amino acids used by living things are considered to be left-handed. No one knows why. To try and figure this out, scientist create amino acids in laboratories. When doing this, the “Event” that might interest us is the occurrence of left-handed aminos. If these were generated more often, or most often, it might be an indication of how ALL life on Earth “evolved” to rely on the same 20 left-handed amino acids. Instead, when scientists make amino acids in their laboratories, left-handed and right-handed outcomes are equally likely to occur.***

In Challenge A, Classical Conversations students read and discuss “It Couldn’t Just Happen.” According to this book (p.70) there is no chance at all that even one protein with all left-handed amino acids could ever have “just happened” to come into existence.





Menu Plan Monday 3/2/15

Weekly Menu Plan


While NO week ever goes exactly as planned, last week set some sort of record in our going “off plan.” So, you’re going to see some repeats here since we never ate them in the first place. We’re still in “eat what we’ve got” mode in our efforts to clear out the overabundance in our freezer and our pantry. My husband had the audacity to suggest that I post a picture here of one or both of those things, and while I’m all for “keeping it real” there is no way that I want to memorialize either one of those disasters for ME to have to be reminded of them. So . . . not gonna’ happen. At least not this week. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

Here’s hoping we stay kinda’ sorta’ more on plan this week:


Breakfast: Cereal

Lunch: Sandwiches – PB&J or Turkey

Dinner: Potato Soup


Breakfast: Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins

Lunch: Salmon Patties

Dinner: Potato Soup

Wednesday (CC Community Day)

Breakfast: Leftover Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins

Lunch: PB&J (for DS), Hummus and Carrot Chips (for DD), Quinoa and Brown rice with Garlic (for Me!)

Dinner: Beans and Gluten Free Cornbread


Gluten Free Pancakes, Breakfast TableBreakfast: Gluten Free Pancakes

Lunch: Leftover Potato Soup or Beans and Cornbread

Dinner: Tenderloin (from the freezer), Butternut Squash, Green Beans


Breakfast: Leftover Gluten Free Pancakes

Lunch: Boiled eggs, Salad

Dinner: Gluten Free Pizza


Breakfast: Baked Oatmeal

Lunch: Whatever you can find.

Dinner: Black Bean Soup


Breakfast: Baked Oatmeal

Lunch: Fruit and/or Veggies Tray for our Home Church group, Beef Stew

Dinner: Breakfast for Dinner


Snacks for the week

Homemade: Super Swim Bars (Granola Bars), Popped Amaranth and Bananas, Almonds and Chocolate Chips, Smoothies, Popcorn, Apples/PB/Granola Sandwiches

Storebought: Fruit PouchesFreeze-dried FruitGluten Free Pretzels


If you’re looking for a menu plan template, you are welcome to download one by visiting the Printables page.

This post linked to:

Classical Conversations Week 20 Combinations

Yay! Some thoughts on teaching about CC Cycle 3 Week 20 Combinations
I've posted my lab sheet for this lab on CC Connected (user name lb_oliver). My thoughts here will dovetail with that approach. You can also see my suggestions for ways to expand on this topic in my post here.

Welcome back to week 2 of CC’s statistics-based labs! Here are my thoughts about presenting these topics in class (for what it’s worth!) . . .

Remember to spend a minute or two reviewing last week’s lab and last week’s grammar (probability, outcome). Revisiting those terms and definitions will just help them stick in the kids’ minds. Plus, this week we’re setting aside those topics and picking up a new one, but we’ll be coming back to probability and outcome in future weeks, so it’s to everyone’s benefit to work on getting really comfortable with those terms.

Like last week, let’s begin with the end in mind. What’s the point of this particular lab? In my opinion, for our Classical Conversations Foundations students, it’s twofold:

  1. Grammar: To teach some basic statistics grammar (Combination) and to see that term in action.
  2. Dialectic: To begin teaching children to think about how adding “just one more” option exponentially changes the number of combinations that are possible. In other words, adding ONE additional option does NOT result in just ONE more possible combination. How many more combinations are possible? Well, it would depend on how that new option could be used.

Yay! Some thoughts on teaching about CC Cycle 3 Week 20 CombinationsIn my mind, we’ve got to set a couple of ground rules in this particular lab – We’ll assume that every pizza has to have a crust, sauce (they’ll all have it, so we won’t make it an option), and at least one topping (no plain pizzas here!).

So, if you’re teaching a group of YOUNGER STUDENTS, you’ll want to focus on the grammar and you may need to keep the options more limited. Work up slowly! One crust option and two possible pizza toppings results in how may combinations? Three. Show them how this works, either by drawing it on the board or by using some sort of manipulative – paper, paper plates, or felt. Personally, I like felt and it’s pretty cheap. It’s fun for kids to see and handle something different, and since a parent could easily create something similar at home, I believe this is in keeping with CC’s simple approach.

Once you’ve shown them how it works with two toppings, let them try three. Ask them to think first about how many combinations that would result in. Will one more topping mean only one more possible combination? No. It will mean four additional possible combinations! Wow!

Like last week, I’d suggest that children do this lab in pairs with a parent assigned to each pair to be the record-keeper (if necessary) and auditor (someone to keep up with “have we already recorded that combination?”).

If you’re teaching a group of OLDER STUDENTS, you’ll move through the warm-up quickly, and then you can let them have a turn at one crust and three toppings on their own or in teams of two. Even students of this age will enjoy working in teams usually, and it gives them someone to bounce ideas off of. If they’re still at an age where having a visual will help (or you just want to liven up the lab), you can print out these pizza toppings to match the toppings on my Lab Sheets on CC Connected. You can cut out circles from two different colors of brown construction paper. I bought a pack like this and cut out circles the size of a mason jar lid, but you could just as easily use paper plates. Write “Thick” and “Thin” on them. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Once they’ve worked through that set of options, they’ll be ready to move to the next step – adding another pizza crust option! What happens then? At this point, they’ll probably be able to guess that it means a lot more than just one more possible combination. But will any of them guess that it actually DOUBLES the possible combinations? (That’s 14 in total) Wow!

And if that is something they can work through, then try adding “just one more” option and going for 4 toppings. What do you end up with? 22 possible combinations, by my calculation! Amazing!

What should you emphasize? For every additional option we add, the combinations grow much larger than “just one more” and that would continue to happen as long as we added more possible options.

For ADULTS/PARENTS– I gave an overview in my post last week of why we do these labs in general. But, why did we do THIS lab? What was the point?

This lab, like all of the others during this 6 weeks is related to the science of origins. One way the math of combinations relates to the science of origins is through DNA. I’m not a scientist nor am I a mathematician, but a scientist would tell you that your DNA contains 23 chromosomes. Scientists are still investigating how many genes make up those chromosomes, but the current ballpark number is 20,000. Based on what I’ve read, the possible combinations of children resulting from a single couple’s DNA is 70,368,744,177,664. This is fascinating and goes a long way toward explaining how all human beings (black-skinned, white-skinned, blue-eyed, brown-eyed, etc.) could have descended from a single original couple created by an amazing (and very creative!) God.

Again, just as I said last week, gathering data, analyzing data and drawing conclusions are very much a part of many explanations of the origins of the universe. Eventually, our children will need to be able to draw their own conclusions from data that is presented to them. These labs are a great introduction to early critical thinking skills.

Menu Plan Monday 2/23/15

Menu Plan

We’re in “eat what we’ve got” mode around here in an effort to use up the things we have stored in the freezer and the pantry! Consequently, this Menu Plan Monday may consist of some odd combinations! I expect us to stay in this mode for another week or so, so it’s likely to get even more bizarre. Oh well, I’ll be glad to be able to open the freezer without having things tumble out at me. Opening the freezer shouldn’t be hazardous. Plus, I hate when I discover things in the pantry that have expired before we’ve gotten to them. This is our effort to keep that from happening!

With no further adieu, here’s the menu plan for feeding people this week:


BreakfastGluten Free Pumpkin MuffinsGluten Free Pumpkin Muffins

Lunch: Kids: Banana Dog & PB&J, Adults: Leftovers from Sunday

DinnerMahi Mahi, Sweet Potatoes, Spinach Salad

(We’re also responsible for the snack at Girl Scouts this day, and my daughter has requested her favorite treat – Blueberry Muffins!)


Breakfast: Leftover Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins

Lunch: Salmon Patties

Dinner: Potato Soup

Wednesday (CC Community Day)

Breakfast: Cereal and Smoothies

Lunch: PB&J (for DS), Hummus and Carrot Chips (for DD), Quinoa and Brown rice with Garlic (for Me! These have been my favorite grab and go lunch discovery this year! Heat them in the pouch. Then, I like to dump them in aEasy lunch ideas! container to which I’ve already added some feta and black olives. Delicious! If there are leftovers, I just pop the lid on and bring it home for lunch here the next day.I get mine at Costco for a better price than at Amazon, but thought you might want to see a picture. I also found them once at Aldi!)

Dinner: Beans and Gluten Free Cornbread


Breakfast: Gluten Free Pancakes

Lunch: Leftover Potato Soup or Beans and Cornbread

Dinner: Tenderloin (from the freezer), Butternut Squash, Green Beans


Breakfast: Leftover Gluten Free Pancakes

Lunch: Boiled eggs, Salad

Dinner: Gluten Free Pizza


Breakfast: Baked Oatmeal

Lunch: Whatever you can find.

Dinner: Black Bean Soup


Breakfast: Baked Oatmeal

Lunch: Fruit and/or Veggies Tray for our Home Church group, Beef Stew

Dinner: Breakfast for Dinner


Snacks for the week

Homemade: Super Swim Bars (Granola Bars), Popped Amaranth and Bananas, Almonds and Chocolate Chips, Smoothies, Popcorn, Apples/PB/Granola Sandwiches

Storebought: Fruit PouchesFreeze-dried FruitGluten Free Pretzels


If you’re looking for a menu plan template, you are welcome to download one by visiting the Printables page.

This post linked to:

Classical Conversations Cycle 3 Week 19: Probability

Classical Conversations Cycle 3 Week 19 Probability
I've posted my lab sheet for this lab on CC Connected (user name lb_oliver). My thoughts here will dovetail with that approach. You can also see my suggestions for ways to expand on this topic in my post here.

First, if you’ve got a better handle on these labs than me, stop reading now and move on.

I’m not claiming to be an expert on the subject.

But, if you don’t, or you’re just looking for someone else’s perspective, here are my 2¢.

Let’s begin with the end in mind. What’s the point of this particular lab? In my opinion, for our Classical Conversations Foundations students, it’s twofold:

  1. Helpful approach to tutoring CC Cycle 3 Week 19's Science lab!Grammar: To teach some basic statistics grammar (Probability, Outcome) and to see those terms applied.
  2. Dialectic: To begin teaching children to think about the “probability” that something (anything) could occur.

So, if you’re teaching a group of YOUNGER STUDENTS, you’ll want to focus on the grammar and getting children to use it and understand it. Set your objectives (and your bar for feeling successful) accordingly. Focus on the terms. Use them clearly during your lesson. Move through the “warm-up” slowly. Help them to really think about what you’re asking. You can use the term “probability” and “chances” (or other synonyms – likelihood, expectation, etc.) interchangeably, while you’re talking. Just be keep coming back to the term “probability” so they begin to understand what that term means. In addition, for some young students, this will be the first time that they hear the term “tally marks” and see them used. For them, that’s good stuff! Take the time to explain them and show them quickly how they work. I also suggest for younger children that they do this lab in pairs of two with a parent assigned to each pair to help with counting and making tally marks.

If you’re teaching a group of OLDER STUDENTS, you can probably move through the warm up more quickly as they catch on to what you’re asking and how it relates to the chips in your hand. You might need to quickly review tally marks before allowing them to start performing and recording their results. These students can work individually or in teams. Once they’ve completed the lab, you can add up the results of the class to see how they might have differed from individual results. Explain to them that while their individual results might have varied, that 20 is really not very many draws. Over time, with even more draws, the results of the experiment would be 1/2. Then, use the lab to begin to expand their ability to use logic. What would they need to start with in order to GUARANTEE they could get the results they wanted to? They’d have to start with chips that were all the same color. Even if there was only one chip of a different color in the mix, at some point, with enough draws, you’d pull that color out. So, the only way to be sure you can get the results you want, if you only want to draw a white chip, for example, is to start with all white chips. This seems totally logical to many of us as adults, but we take for granted that children have the same ability to be logical that we do. Their minds are all at different points in beginning to make those leaps, so this is a great exercise for them, and you will likely discover that you have some children who understand it immediately and others who are slower to grasp it (or are silent as they work through it in their heads).

For ADULTS/PARENTS– Why do we care? Why are we doing these labs? What is the point of this with children this age?

The science of origins is the effort of scientists to explain how the universe began.  The science grammar that we’ll learn in these 6 weeks is the basic definition of different ways used to explain how life began and developed. As always, YOU are the teacher. You decide how (or if) you want to elaborate on this at home. Tutors will drill the sentences/definitions. You decide what you want to teach your child. The science labs involve an introduction to basic statistics (probability, odds, combinations, etc.). Probability relates to the science of Origins because data is collected and analyzed and different and opposing conclusions are often drawn from the same data! Learning how to collect, record and analyze data is a skill that all scientists use. Gathering data, analyzing data and drawing conclusions are very much a part of many explanations of the origins of the universe. Eventually, our children will need to be able to draw their own conclusions from data that is presented to them. These labs are a great introduction to early critical thinking skills.


Photo credit: Flickr

Homemade Hot Chocolate

World's Best Hot Chocolate Recipe

World's Best Hot Chocolate Recipe!What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods these days? We have been iced and snowed in for nearly a week here are our house. This kind of weather is very unusual around here, so we’ve enjoyed the chance to slow down a little. The kids have spent so much time out sledding and playing that they are falling into bed at night and sleeping in late in the mornings. As homeschoolers, we could press on with a normal school schedule if we chose, but all of the children that live near us have schedules dictated by one school system or another and they’ve all been off and itching to play. I’ve also been “snowed under” with the tax returns I do at this time of year, so it’s been a good time to let the kids have a break and enjoy the type of play that just isn’t possible around here on a regular basis!

As a result, I’ve had piles of boots and coats and hats and gloves at my back door on and off all week (when my children haven’t been off piling up their boots and coats at a neighbor’s door) and I have served up lots of homemade hot chocolate. My sweet husband finally had to explain to some of the children yesterday that we were going to have to cut everyone off before we ran out of milk. The children who don’t live here were fascinated to learn that we buy our milk directly from a farm and won’t be picking any more up until Saturday. So, when we’re out, we’re out! This was very disappointing, because apparently, I make the “World’s Best Hot Chocolate!” Who knew?

So, just in case you need an excellent (and easy!) recipe for Hot Chocolate, here you go!

 Homemade Hot Chocolate

(makes about 36 cups)

1 1/2 Cup Cocoa (or raw Cacao Powder)

3 Cups Sugar (or Organic Cane Sugar)

3/4 tsp Salt (or Himalayan Salt)

Mix these together. I like to run them through the blender or the food processor so they are more finely ground and dissolve more easily, but it’s not a must. Store in an airtight container.

When you’re ready to make some hot chocolate, measure out 2 Tablespoons of the mix into a cup. Add 1 Tablespoon of boiling water to the cup and mix. Then add:

1 Cup Milk

1/4 tsp vanilla

And, of course, if you really want to treat yourself, be sure and add marshmallows!!


By the way, I’ve run the nutritional information on this, and it’s about 220 calories if made with fresh, raw milk. If you want to make it with less sugar, you can. I’ve made it with 1 teaspoon of powdered stevia in place of one of the cups of sugar. It’s still delicious! Since the sugar is bulky, you’d only need about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of the mix to make a cup.

Classical Conversations Orchestra Cycle 3

Classical Conversations Orchestra

I say this every year, but . . . . I really ENJOY the Orchestra 6-weeks of CC! If you need some ideas for things to do in class or to expand on things outside of class, I’ve got some suggestions! I’m always on the look out for new ideas myself, so please feel free to share yours in the comments below!

Activities for Class

Orchestra-ImageIf you’re a tutor out there who is stressing about this particular portion of the year, I’ll give you my layman’s two cents (and empathize with you . . . Tin Whistle is the hardest for me!): Don’t get bogged down in whether or not you love the music, or whether or not the children do. You’re task is largely the same with the Orchestra as it is with any other subject – teach (and drill) the grammar.

Introduce the time period, explain what a symphony is, what an orchestra is, what the instrument families are (more on all of this below). Then spend some time listening for those things you’ve discussed in the musical pieces (what kind of emotion do you hear? what instrument families? etc.).

Melody from has a great song (with video) and file folder game for reinforcing the different musical periods.  I also like to put something up on the wall in the classroom and make sure we tie the musical periods back to their place in our timeline (it’s a good time to pull those particular timeline cards out again), and a picture of each composer as we discuss him (my picture above is from Cycle 2). We’ll review those things each week and then build on that knowledge. If it’s at all helpful to you, you’re welcome to download and print off my “Period Headers” and pictures of composers here

Bulletin Board and Wall ideas for teaching about the Orchestra. CC Weeks 19-24

When I first started tutoring, I purchased a bulletin board set with nice pictures of the instruments. While I recognize that this might not be entirely in keeping with the “stick-in-the-sand” method of CC (which I do truly respect and generally try to adhere to), having these visuals has worked well for me. The particular set that I have is large, and the sheets can be left as 4 large posters, or they’re made to do some accordion folding. I choose just to slap them up on the wall in our classroom (or at home) each week. They get the kids’ attention and make the Orchestra study different from the other studies. I think I paid $12 or $13 for this set in a Parent/Teacher store somewhere and this is the fourth year I’ll use it. It’s definitely been worth it to me to have it around!

In teaching Orchestra I will spend time each week talking about the instrument families (If you’re looking for more information on instrument families, this website has a great overview to give you information to share with you kids!). We will cover one family each week. Our community learns the Orchestra song in our assembly time in the morning and we add an instrument each week, so I sync our class time up with our assembly time – Week 19: Violin (Introduce all 4 families and focus on the Strings), Week 20: Clarinet (Woodwinds), Week 21: Trumpet (Brass), Week 22: The Horn (Review Brass), Week 23: Drum (Percussion). We’ll use the posters above to assist us as we discuss the instrument families, and we’ll also use these worksheets I’ve created to reinforce some of the facts about the instrument families:

FUN worksheets for learning (or reinforcing) facts about the instrument families. CC Weeks 19-24

I like to play Bingo with the Instrument Families for at least the first week (Week 19) of Orchestra. It’s popular, so we usually play it again during the review weeks (Weeks 23 and 24) if there is time available. It’s a great way for kids to get familiar with the instruments and their families.  I downloaded a black and white version off CC Connected a couple of years ago, but I prefer the version that I’m using this year. It’s color, and the images are labeled with the names of the instruments, so it reinforces the names and cuts down on confusion. I downloaded it here.

Once we’ve reviewed the orchestra, our vocabulary, and the instrument families, we’ll talk about that week’s composer and add his picture to the wall. Classical Music for Dummies has some great information about the composer and the timer period in which he composed. I often tell people that I underutilized this book the first year or two that I tutored. It’s not just informative about the composer and the piece of music . . . it also has lots of GREAT information in the back section on the instrument families and it’s presented in a really approachable and interesting way. I also like to use the books I’ve included in the “Books” section below to add more information and visuals to our few minutes discussing the composer.

When it comes to time to listen to the music, I REALLY appreciate the CC moms who put the listening flow charts together and post them on CC Connected each year. This is when I’m thankful to have my “Classical Music for Dummies” CD ripped and loaded on my iPhone, so I can play the songs and watch the time to see where we are in the piece. It helps me to engage the children in class if I can say, “Okay, listen for the . . .  (ex:”Oboe to start playing”, “the strings to all come in”, “the horn to start crying”, etc.)” And, it’s helpful to have moms in class with the younger ones to point to where we are on the flowchart (I usually print enough copies for there to be one for every two children to share). Some pieces of music lend themselves really well to this. Others lend themselves better to just listening quietly and drawing/coloring a picture of what the music makes you think of or feel like. There’s usually a sheet for this out on CC Connected, as well, usually with a little bio of the composer, but of course a blank piece of paper works fine, too. In years past, I’ve also taken paint sticks or large popsicle sticks and cut crepe paper streamers to tape/glue to them and we’ve whirled and twirled to music that had that feel to it.

If time permits, and things are going well, we might listen to a piece (or a portion of a piece) more than once. When a piece has very distinct sections played by certain instrument families, it can be fun to hand out popsicle stick “puppets” of the instruments and ask the children to raise the family that they hear (this can range from easy to very tough . . . and can be quite funny when the pieces get complex!).


Well, if you’ve been spending ANY time on this blog at ALL, you already know that I love the books from the “Getting to Know” series by Mike Venezia. Seriously, I should be paid for my endorsement at this point. But alas, I am not. I just really, really like these books and think they work BEAUTIFULLY for Foundations age kids. Particularly the preschool/elementary ones, but these books are meaty enough to work on up into middle and high school; they’re just easy to read. I actually like to take them to class with me when I tutor. The facts are interesting and some of the pictures are helpful to the more visual kids. They’re a great supplement to the information in Classical Music for Dummies.

Wonderful book for learning about Tchaikovsky  Wonderful book for teaching children about Stavinsky

Sadly, there is no book on Debussy in the “Getting to Know” series (Get on that, Mike!), and I haven’t had any luck finding another book that would appeal to children.

This is a great book (with CD included) for learning about the Orchestra. It also touches on the different musical periods, so it dovetails nicely with how we cover the Orchestra in CC.

Great book (and accompanying CD) for learning about the Orchestra. CC Weeks 19-24

CD’s/MP3 downloads and Videos

I really like this entire series of CDs (you can also download the MP3 files). They’re inexpensive, and they mix the biography in with the music of the composer in a way that makes it really easy to listen to. You can treat it like an audio book and pay rapt attention to the narrator with the biography, or it’s fairly easy to just focus on the music and tune out the spoken word, if you prefer. These can be nice to have playing in the background while your children are playing or working on school work at home. You can pick up an awful lot of information (and hear a lot of classical music!) that way.For this cycle, Tchaikovsky is the only composer this series covers.

Excellent resource for learning about Tchaikovsky


This series is also wonderful. Again, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is the only piece represented (the series does cover a different piece of Stravinky’s)

Fun resource for learning about classical music!

Of course, the classic way to teach children about the different instruments in the orchestra is via some version of Peter and the Wolf, composed by Prokofiev. My favorite version of this is the one narrated by Sting.

My favorite version of this composition! The classic way to expose children to the different instruments in an orchestra. CC Weeks 19-24.

Fun book for learning about the different instrument families!Three years ago, I discovered The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket, which I actually like more than Peter and the Wolf for actually explaining the instruments in the orchestra to children. It’s got a lot of dry humor (much of which goes over children’s heads, but adults will find amusing), and does a great job of introducing the orchestra. I’m a VERY visual person, and I’ve got to tell you that the book that accompanies the CD did nothing for me. I think the CD or MP3 files stand on their own just fine, but I’ve had pretty much no luck locating them for purchase by themselves. I’ll include a link to the book here at Amazon so you can see the reviews or look at it for yourself, but I was also able to find a series of youtube videos that someone created using the book and the audio. You can access my playlist of them here.

Games and Apps

The New York Philharmonic website has an entire area for kids that is AWESOME! Definitely check it out and explore. Here are two games from this site that you definitely won’t want to miss:

  • Sort the musical instruments by family:
  • A classic “memory” game with musical instrument images. Nice thing about this one is that the images are labeled and when you flip the cards they play, so you experience the sound of each instrument. Brilliant!

Carnegie Hall has also created an online Safari adventure for learning about the orchestra.

At this website you must correctly answer the questions about the instrument families or your ship will be sunk! 

At this website you can listen to a sample of music and guess which instrument performed it.

This is just another good all around website. It has games and uses Benjamin Britten’s Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra to illustrate the sounds of the different instrument families.

This is a free iPad app for learning about the Orchestra:

Classical Conversations Statistics Labs from Cycle 3

Elementary Statistics Labs

We are entering Weeks 19-24 of Classical Conversations Cycle 3. ThAwesome ideas for teaching kids about statistics!is is the second time I’ve been through this cycle, and I have a better appreciation for the Statistics Labs. For the youngest, the abecedarians, this will probably be their first exposure to tally marks and making charts. I realized, having experienced with my own daughter, how much easier this made some of our math lessons a year after we were actually done with this cycle. Many of the concepts taught in these labs are challenging to our Foundations-age students (and their mothers!), but if we’ll slow down, try not to get intimidated, and take the time to try and understand them, these labs are great exposure to the grammar of basic statistics.

This time around, I’m more determined than I was last time to make them meaningful for my students at CC and for my kiddos at home. I thought I’d share with you some of the resources that I’ve found for expanding on the labs that we’ll be doing during our CC Community days.

For those of you on CC Connected who might find them helpful, I’ll be uploading the lab sheets that I’ve created for these weeks in the next few days.


Younger Students

Wonderful book for teaching young children about probability!I’ve found some awesome books for making statistics concepts approachable for even the youngest of our students! My favorite is “probably” It’s Probably Penny. The first few pages do an EXCELLENT job of teaching the concepts of the Week 23 lab in a way that works well for elementary age students.

These three books are also fun books for elaborating on the concepts of probability (although I will warn you that the last of these, A Very Improbable Story uses the terms probability and odds interchangeably, as do many of us, while mathematically that is incorrect. I had to work pretty hard to get these two term and their use straight in my head in preparation for these labs, so I did stumble on that in this otherwise entertaining and educational book):

Great elementary age book about probability!  Entertaining book about probability for elementary-aged kids!  An entertaining way to learn about odds and probability for children

This video covers Mean, Median, and Mode. Honestly, I found it a little annoying, but the aspects that annoyed me may very well be what help it stick in a child’s head.

If you prefer something musical (and who doesn’t?), there are multiple versions of this little diddy out there, but this is one of the more creative recordings. It teaches the concept of “Range,” which isn’t covered in our CC labs, but it’s still a very handy way of remembering the basic definitions of these terms. Here’s the poem:

Hey Diddle Diddle,

the Median’s the middle.

You add, then divide for the Mean.

The Mode is the one

that you see the most,

and the Range is the difference between.


Older Students

If your kids would like a fun rap song to help them with understanding Mean, Median and Mode, this one absolutely fits that bill!

If your child is ready to expand on their knowledge of statistics (or you are), but still wants it to be fun, both of these books contain some great information about statistics, but present it in fun ways. I’ll bet a few of you out there have a child who will read anything as long as it involves a comic-book/graphic-novel approach (I do!). Start with the first one – The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics, and if that isn’t meaty enough, or your child is ready for even more, try The Cartoon Guide to Statistics (which is like a college course, but with cartoons).

A fun book for older elementary kids to learn about statistics!  Cartoons make learning about statistics fun!

The following video (see link below) is a little too complex for all but the oldest (or most mathematically-oriented) of our Foundations-level students, but it is basically a class on probability done in a very conversational and approachable way. The kids in the video are pretty adept at mental math, which might even inspire a few students to embrace math with more gusto.

There are also some good courses available at Khan Academy for learning about probability and statistics.


I know this isn’t the end of the good resources for these subjects out there, so please share in the comments if you have other suggestions! I’d love to hear them!

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