Posts Tagged ‘high school’

High School Biology Labs

Dear Reader,

Our modus operandi for high school science is to continue with living books but to add in labs (see my booklist for biology here and all my lists of living books here). With my oldest two, I had use a certain company which did all the labs for biology or chemistry in a two-day “lab intensive.” This company has since gone out of business and though the owner is offering labs again, none are near me (I know some of his teachers, who were wonderful, had gone out on their own as well, but if they are in business today I can’t find information on them). Lacking someone to do the work for me, I got a few local families together and we did labs on our own.

The idea behind these is that the child does not have to have done biology get to do them. My 9th grader did them at the end of his year of biology but my 8th grader will be doing biology next year. The other kids in our group were also in the 13-15 year old range and most have not had biology yet.

There are some notes in the document on what we did and how it worked, including links to supplies and instructions when I got them from other sources. We did one 3 hour session and then one 5 hour session the next week. This was due to particular time constraints and was not ideal. The osmosis and bacteria labs do need to be started the first day so they can react for a few days to a week. The blood sugar lab needs to be done on an empty stomach so is best done first thing in the morning. The fetal pig was a bit of a disaapointment to me. I know my son dissected a cat when he did labs with that company I alluded to. I did not have access to cats (at least not ones intended for dissection), but it might be worth substituting something else if you can find another animal.

Last note: we did these labs for $75 per student with one dissection animal for every 2-3 kids (we had an odd number so one group was of 3).

Here then is the lab packet we used (opens a google doc):

Happy dissecting!


Living Books on Geology

My senior chose geology for her science this year. She had a pretty busy year and she is aiming for an art school so I didn’t feel the need to make her science too tough. You might want to add additional books or some labs or other activities if you are looking for a more robust curriculum. You can find a list of geology books we used at younger ages here.

Living Books on Geology

Secrets from the Rocks by Albert Marrin — Marrin is a favorite author of mine. He writes more often on history but has a few books, like this one, on science. This is a fairly simple book, ceratinly not high school level. It tells the story of one particular man in search of dinosaur bones.

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee — This is a thick volume intended for adults and combines a number of works which the author published separately originally (I believe). McPhee is a well-known writer who has written for The New Yorker and other publications.

A Grain of Sand by Gary Greenberg — The story of sand and what we can know from different kinds of sand.

The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester — The story of how one man noticed and deciphered layers in the earth and made a map to depict them.

Beneath Our Feet by Ron Vernon — An introduction to some of the basics of geology including basic forces and types of rocks. Includes lovely microscopic photos of rocks. 

The Rock Book by Carol Lane Fenton and Mildred Adams Fenton — A fairly detailed catalog of different kidns of rocks and minerals.

Living Books on the Roaring Twenties

Dear Reader,

We’ve finished another decade in our study of 20th century history so here again are the books we used and what I thought of them. Find all the booklists here.

Living Books on the Roaring Twenties

This is going to be  a fairly short list. We only spent 2 weeks on the 1920s and I did not find a lot of good books to use. My goal for this section was to convey life in the 20s. We are saving the big stock market crash to go with the 30s since it really begins a new era.

Our spine books this year are from this series:


As I’ve said before, they are not classic living books but they at written in a quite readable style compared to more modern works. They do give a good selection of American history, world history, and popular culture. I don’t always read all the culture stuff (especially anything about sports, yawn). I did read the section on pole sitters this time. My kids found it very amusing and my oldest was surprised that this was such a phenomenon that they included it in the book.

I had both high schoolers read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I remember liking this book in high school. I read it again before I gave it to them. Though it starts a little slow, it is a good story with a lot of action at one point. The picture of life in the 20s it gives is very much of the extreme upper classes but I think that is okay for an era known for its freedom and excess. If you have not read the book recently, I do recommend prereading as there are some adult themes like adultery. Other Fitzgerald works could also be good choices. He has many short stories.

I really struggled to find any other living books on this era. I got out a small stack from my library and was pleased with pretty much none of them.

Here first are a couple of the books I rejected as being too dry and not at all stories:

For my 7th grader, I chose Al Capone and the Roaring Twenties:


Perhaps because it is on one more narrow subject, it seemed better than most of the others I looked at.

I had my 6th grader read three short books:

The Roaring Twenties by R. Conrad Stein (above left) is from a series I like, Cornerstones of Freedom. Unfortunately, this time I was not able to get one of the older books from that series which typically have titles like “The Story of . . .” But I settled for one of their newer books. American has Fun by Sean Price (above right) is also not a living book and is actually fairly simple for her age but a) I had another week to fill and b) it seemed less horrendously dull than my other choices. The one book which was decent was And Now, A Word from Our Sponsor : The Story of a Roaring ’20’s Girl by Dorothy Hoobler (sorry, no picture on this one). It was not the finest writing but it was a story, about a young girl who builds a radio on the 20s, and seemed engaging.

And lastly, a few of the books we didn’t use but which might be worth a look:

From left to right we have:

  • Top Drawer: American High Society from the Gilded Age to the Roaring Twenties by Mary Cable — seems to be about what its title suggests. I chose not to use it because it was too broad chronologically for what we wanted to it seems like an interesting subject.
  • Joy Hakim’s War, Peace and All That Jazz — I know a lot of homeschoolers like Hakim’s books. I’ve mostly looked at her science books and find them too busy — eg. with side boxes of added info — for my tastes. Given the scarcity of good materials on this age, however, this one could be worth a look.
  • First Book of the Long Armistice by Louis L. Snyder — Despite its title, this seemed like it was a higher level book, at least middle school age. Again, it seemed broader than what I was looking for.
  • Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen — This looked to be an adult book (reading level, not content, though I didn’t look at it enough to know about that). It could work for high schoolers.

Are there better books on the 20s? I think there must be; I’m not sure if the lack is just in my library system. If not, somebody get out there and right some stories about this fun era!


10th Grade Lit: American Bestsellers

Dear Reader,

For 10th grade literature this year I had my oldest do a course on Great American Bestsellers. (You can read about all our Charlotte Mason-y homeschool plans here.)

The idea for this course is from The Great Courses. I based it on and used their audio series of that title. The class actually includes many more books than we were able to do but I picked those that I thought would be the best fit for us. For each one I had my son read the book. After he had finished I gave him an essay type question to answer and then we listened to the lecture together. I also read each of the books. Some I had read in my youth but had a sketchy memory of and I wanted them to be fresh in my mind so I could make sense of his essays.

A couple of notes on The Great Courses: We have used a few of their products. Their quality varies with the professor who teaches them. I tried and rejected another one of their American Lit courses as being dry and unnecessarily mature in content. I bought the CDs but they also have audio downloads and your local library may also have copies (mine has quite a lot of them). They also have frequent sales so if you are in no hurry, wait for one. You could do the course I had my son do without the lectures. I don’t really see any good reason to spend extra money for the video version for this subject. The lectures are each 30 minutes and we did them on the way to his bagpipe lessons when we had to be in the car anyway.

The books covered by The Great Courses’ class are: The Bay Psalm Book, Common Sense, The Last of the Mohicans, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ragged Dick, Little Women, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Virginian, The House of Mirth, The Jungle, Main Street, The Maltese Falcon, The Good Earth, Gone with the Wind, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Grapes of Wrath, Native Son, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Woman Warrior, and John Adams.

There is no way we could have made it through all these books in a year. I eliminated some for not being fiction, others for being long and/or not of likely interest to my son. The books he ended up reading were: Common Sense (not a book or fiction but a short selection to get our feet wet), Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ragged Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Maltese Falcon, Of Mice and Men (substituted for the much longer Grapes of Wrath), To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catch-22. Huck Finn I actually let him do as an audiobook but he still had to write a paper and listen to the lecture. Little Women, the Last of the Mohicans and Gone with the Wind we watched the movie versions of and listened to the lectures but he did not have to write on. I might make my daughter read them when her turn comes though, but I didn’t think my son could make it through two long girly books. The Good Earth he started but just couldn’t seem to get through so much to my chagrin I let him drop it. Catcher in the Rye I started to (re)read and remembered that it is pretty much annoying teens sitting around talking and using bad language. I hated it and didn’t want to keep reading it so I dropped it. We also listened to the lecture on The Bay Psalm Book. We are already pretty familiar with Psalters so there was really nothing to read here.

Here then are the questions we used for each book we did do. The Great Courses gives sample questions in the guide that comes with the lectures. Occasionally I used these. More often I googled essay questions and selected and/or modified ones I liked.

Common Sense

I’m embarrassed to say I can’t seem to find the exact question I had him answer on this one. I think it was along the lines of: What arguments does Paine give to justify his cause (rebellion)? Are these arguments convincing?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

1. Faith plays a large part in the book. For each of the following characters, write a paragraph saying what they believed and how it affected their actions:

Uncle Tom

George Harris

Augustine St. Clare

Miss Ophelia

Little Eva


the Hallidays (the Quakers)

Simon Legree

2. What do you think Harriet Beecher Stowe’s view are? Is there an overall statement about faith she is trying to make? Can you discern what she believes or which character(s) she would most agree with?

Ragged Dick

What does the author, Horatio Alger, value? What would he say one needs to get ahead? Give specific examples from the book to support your position.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

In Ragged Dick we touched upon the moral system of the author– in particular what he views as good behavior and what he sees as the consequences of good behavior.

The situation is a lot more complicated in Huck Finn. Discuss the moral world of the book and its author. The following questions may help you think about this and can figure in your essay (but don’t have to if you don’t find them helpful):
1. Think about lying in the book. Are there good and bad lies (to the characters)? What defines the difference?
2. What about the morality of helping an escaped slave? How does Huck view it? Tom? Why do they do what they do? Who is more moral?
3. Where does Huck draw the lines between good and bad? What actions (his own or of other characters) does he approve of or disapprove of?
4.  where in the book do moral values come from? The community? The family? The church? One’s experiences? You might want to answer this question for a few different characters.

5. What do you think Mark Twain’s view is? In Ragged Dick the author’s opinion was obvious. Is it here? Is there one character that you think Twain would agree with? Does he even give his own view? Or does he maybe just criticize others? Is he saying anything about society’s views?

Again your essay doesn’t need to address all these points. Think about them and see what you can come up with and then link it all together in one essay on the general topic “the moral world of Huck Finn.” I would like you to touch on Mark Twain’s own view though if there is anything we can discern about it.

The Maltese Falcon

It’s one question — answer the main one and weave in the other ones if they are useful: Write an essay about what motivates Sam Spade. Does he demonstrate commitment to his profession? If so, how? Is he a hero or an antihero? Are his motives the same as the other characters’? Are they nobler?

Of Mice and Men

Why does George stay with Lennie? Why does he do what he does at the end of the book? Think about each of the minor characters. What information or insight do they contribute to the story? These seem like 2 question but I think they relate. Try to weave them into one essay.

To Kill a Mockingbird



Is Yossarian crazy? How do he and the other characters deal with the difficult situation they are in? Pick a few characters and discuss how they deal with the hardships or war and life in the military. Who do you think handles it best? Why? Does anyone have a sane response?


9th Grade Lit: American Poets

Dear Reader,

This is part two of what we do for 9th grade literature. You can find part 1, which covers American short stories and essays, here. In truth, I interweave the two and go chronologically, but it seemed easier to blog about them one at a time. Scroll down for all the nitty-gritty details.


9th Grade Lit: American Poets

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I got the text of these poems from the Poetry Foundation website and got notes on each from Enotes. Many of these we did together as a family when my oldest went through the course. We also cover Emerson with essayists.

  • Read “Hamatreya” and discuss Emerson’s view of land ownership. (Reading the blurb from Enotes will help the teacher know what to expect.)
  • Read “The Snow-Storm.” What is this poem saying? What metaphor is being used?  To what is the snow-storm compared? What is Emerson saying about art (again Enotes will help here)?
  • Read “Days.” Emerson had a fairly idle life as a poet and essayist in the midst of a very busy culture. How does he reflect on this in this poem? What is he feeling about his own life? What picture does the poem give?
  • Read “Concord Hymn.” We actually had seen this poem recently on the monument at Old North Bridge in Concord where it is inscribed. Discuss the events behind the poem (note that the poem itself was written long afterward). What does the poem say about the purpose of the “votive stone”?
  • Read “The Rhodora.” What is Emerson saying the purpose of beauty is?
  • Read “The Humble Bee.” How does Emerson use sound and form in this poem? How does he compare the bee to humans? Which one has the preferable life?
  • Read “Forbearance.” What is forbearance? Look it up in the dictionary and write out a definition. What things does Emerson think show forbearance? How would he define it?
  • Read “Each and All.” What point is Emerson trying to make? (Hint: reread the 9th-12th lines.) What examples does he use to support his argument?

Walt Whitman

I used a few resources for Whitman: Poetry for Young People, GradeSaver, and the Academy of American Poets. I pieced together questions for the various poems. You will also need a more complete book of Whitman’s poetry.

“Song of Myself”

I used the excerpts from the Poetry for Young People book for this one.

  • Stanza 1: What do you think he means by “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”?
  • Stanza 2-end: What does he see in the grass? What does it represent? The Bible says “man is grass.” Do they mean the same thing? Why or why not?
  • What do you think Whitman believes about God? Man? Sin?
  • Whitman called his book of poetry Leaves of Grass. Why do you think he did?

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! my Captain!”

These poems are both about the death of Abraham Lincoln, read them together and compare and contrast.

“Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand”

Read the poem. What is this poem about? Hint: what is being carried in hand? What is he saying about writing?

Various other poems

I selected various other poems from a big book of Whitman’s work that we had checked out and had my son write paragraphs telling what he thought they meant. Among those we used were: “A Sight in camp” and “Come Up From the Fields.”

Emily Dickinson

I used a number of different sources for Dickinson: the Poetry for Young People book, GradeSaver, Mr. Gunnar’s site, and the Big Read. For some of these I had my kids write out answers, others we read and discussed aloud. FYI Dickinson did not title her poems; they are named by their first lines.

  • Read “I heard a fly buzz” and “Because I could not stop.” Compare the two death scenes.
  • Read “Success is counted sweetest” and “I’m nobody.” Compare and contrast.
  • Read “To fill a gap.” What is this poem saying? How does its form contribute to its meaning?
  • Read “Tell all the truth.” What is this poem saying? How does she feel about truth?
  • Read “The bat is dun.” How does she describe the bat? What can we learn from him?
  • Read “A light in spring.” What is the poem saying about nature? About God?
  • Read “Behind me dips – eternity.” What does she say about eternity and life and afterlife? What is the tone of the poem by the end?
  • Read “They shut me up in prose” and “I dwell in possibility.” How does she portray pose? Poetry? What does the house represent in the second poem? What do these two poems have in common? How can these be read as feminist poems?
  • Read “Safe in their alabaster chambers.” Think back to other Dickinson poems you have read as well. Does she write more about death or life? What is her view of death and the afterlife?
  • Read “This world is not conclusion” and “I know that He exists.” It has been said that Dickinson was “not entirely orthodox in her Christian faith.” How do we see that in these poems? What are her beliefs?

Robert Frost

I relied heavily on the Cummings Study Guides for Frost except for “Birches” for which I used Shmoop.

“The Road Not Taken”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Read “setting and background information” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again. Write a summary of each stanza.Read through Cummings’ summaries and notes.
  • Which road does the title refer to?
  • Write responses for study questions 1,2, 3 and 5 from Cummings.

“Fire and Ice”

  • Read the poem. If reading aloud, have copies for all students so they can follow along.
  • See if the students can figure out the meter of the poem and its rhyme scheme. From the Cummings guide read “meter” and “rhyme.”
  • Define alliteration, anaphora, and paradox. Find examples in the poem.
  • Read “Dante’s influence” from the Cummings guide. What does Frost think is worse — desire or hatred/betrayal? Do you agree?

“The Mending Wall”

  • Read through the poem. What is the central theme or question of the poem? What is the neighbor’s view of walls? How is the neighbor portrayed? What are the pros and cons of walls? What does the poet/speaker think of walls? What is the verdict of the poem? Why does he help his neighbor rebuild?
  • Read the poem again. Can you determine the format/meter of the poem? Read “verse format” from the Cummings guide.
  • From the Cummings guide read “literary devices and imagery.” Write out definitions and examples for: anastrophe, metaphor, personification and hyperbole.
  • What types of walls separate people? How are walls in the Bible symbolic?

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Find specific words n the poem that tell you about the time and place. Who are the characters? Read “Intro” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again, stanza by stanza. Summarize each one and then look at the Cummings guide notes.
  • Define alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor and personification. Find examples in the poem. What is the meter of the poem? Discuss end rhyme versus internal rhyme (see Cummings guide notes).
  • Why does the author like the woods? Read Cummings Guide “meaning.”


  • Read the poem. Summarize it. What is the form (style) of the poem? Read “Blank verse” from Shmoop.
  • Reread the poem. What is the contrast being made? List the characteristics of the boy swinging and the ice storm. What do each of these represent?

T.S. Eliot

Eliot was American but renounced his US citizenship. Nonetheless, I included him among our American authors. Some of his works are long and tough. Others are quite fun.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (printable assignments here)

  • From the Cummings guide read “Explanation of title” and “type of work.” Read the Dante quote, its translation and the note about it. Read the first 2 stanzas. How does he describe the setting? the mood? What do you think the 2nd stanza means? How are the women portrayed?
  • Read “speaker”, “characters” and “themes” from the Cummings guide. Read stanzas 3-10. Give a brief summary of each.
  • Finish reading the poem. In stanza 11, who is being alluded to? (Hint: Note the head and prophet references.) Stanza 12: Read Luke 16:19-31. Stanza 14: How is Prufrock like Hamlet? How is he different? Stanza 15 to the end: How does he end it? What are his thoughts now?
  • Find examples in the poem of simile, personification, metaphor, alliteration, anaphora, and hyperbole.

“Sweeney among the Nightingales”

  • Read the poem. Discuss the setting. From the Cummings guide, read about Agamemnon and his connection to the poem.
  • Read the poem again and go through stanza by stanza. Note the rhyme and meter.
  • Read the poem once more. Discuss its meaning.

Various shorter poems

  • Read “A Song for Simeon.” If you are not familiar with it, read the biblical passage on Simeon. How does Eliot portray Simeon?
  • Read “Journey of the Magi.” If you are not familiar with it, read the story fo the magi from the Bible. How does Eliot portray them?
  • Read “the Hippopotamus.” What two things are being compared? Does this surprise you? How are they compared? What is the end of each? What point is Eliot trying to make?
  • For fun read selections from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

ee cummings

Read “in Just.”

  • What is happening in this poem?
  • Read it aloud. What do you notice? Which words/phrases/sounds do you like?
  • What is the effect of the way the poem is laid out?
  • Read Shmoop’s summary:

“What’re they good for? Well, here’s our best Shmoop expert opinion: when you read a line of poetry aloud, your eyes (and therefore your voice) tend to speed on to the end of the line. Try it and see. When you read “in Just-,” however, the spaces slow your eyes down. More importantly, they slow your voice down, as well. As you’re reading, you’re thinking, “Huh? I totally don’t know whether to pause for the spaces or not!” And even in that time that it takes to think that through, your voice slows oh-so-slightly. Kind of cool, huh?So we pause during the lines. So what? You can almost hear the time that it takes for the balloonman’s whistle to travel across the playground. The space between “whistles” and “far” mimics this time. It’s like we actually see the sound and maybe even its echo afterwards.

One more thing: did you notice what we haven’t got in this line? Punctuation.”

  • Who loves spring (in general, not in the poem)? What about the ballonman? How does he fit in here? Why does he get to be part of spring? (Notice the end about his feet — what does he look like?)
  • Read pp 78-80 in Liberated Imagination by Leland Ryken.

Assignment 2: “somewhere I have gladly traveled . . .”

  • Read Background on cummings:

“No doubt, E. E. Cummings was a rebel. Even before he made his name as a poet, he was rubbing authority figures the wrong way. One famous story happened during World War I, when Cummings was volunteering as an ambulance driver in France. Cummings got annoyed with all the rules and started sending coded messages back home just to see if anybody would notice. They noticed, alright, and Cummings got locked up in an internment camp under suspicion that he might be a traitor and a spy. He actually wrote a novel about the whole experience called The Enormous Room. (Click here for more of the deets on Cummings’s crazy life story.)

Cummings’s wartime rabble rousing was nothing compared to what he was soon to unleash on the literary world. See, our rebel-poet was also a painter and became really inspired by Modernist art movements like Surrealism and Cubism, which exploded the rules of traditional painting. Cummings didn’t see any reason why poetry couldn’t recreate itself just as radically as the world of art was doing at the time. So he brewed up a signature style that thumbed its nose at traditional rules of poetry and took the form into new dimensions. Of course, you can’t expect to go around breaking a bunch of rules without ticking some people off. Some critics accused Cummings of being weird for weird’s sake, while others seemed to think that he just had no idea how to write a “real” poem.”

  • Stanza 1: note that there is no space in “travelled,gladly” This is not a typo. Why does cummings do this?
  • What is the “trip” the speaker is taking?
  • Stanza 2: Think about closing and opening and eyes in this poem. What do you notice? What is weird? What do you think it all means?
  • Notice that the one capitalized word is “Spring.” What is the effect of this?
  • Stanza 3: Notice the smooshed words again “beautifully,suddenly” What has changed in this stanza?
  • Stanza 4: What words are smooshed in this stanza? What is different this time? What do you think that means?(Hint: how are colons supposed to be used?)
  • What greater meaning can you get from this poem? How do you think the speaker would define love? Why does he love this woman? How do you think she feels about him?

Read “my father moved through dooms of love”

  • Do you see any progression in the poem?
  • Overall, do you think the poem presents a positive view of death, or is it more doom and gloom? Why do you think so?
  • Which would you say the speaker values more: the rewards of the afterlife, or the rewards of life itself? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?
  • Do you think that the speaker’s father would agree with his son’s attitude toward death? Why or why not?

A Charlotte Mason Education in High School: How We Do It

Dear Reader,

I get a lot of questions along the lines of “how do you do . . . in high school?” High school is the time when panic seems to set in for a lot of homeschooling moms. My own take on homeschooling high school (as I discussed in this post) is that we shouldn’t abandon our principles but we need to also consider the “passports” our kids need to move on to the next stage of their lives. Our society expects certain things, like SATs, and we need to help our kids meet those expectations while still giving them the best education we can.

If anything, as I work my way through with my kids, I am more convinced than ever that a Charlotte Mason education is the way to go and that it is not only possible to give them this in high school, but that it is even more important to do so in their teen years than it ever was before. In the early years, the distinctions between the different philosophies are harder to discern. Everybody learns to read, everybody plays outside. It is in these later years that how we view education is going to make the biggest difference.

Before I tell you what I do, I’d just like to share  this excellent resource from Ambling along Together. It tells you what Charlotte Mason materials are out there as well as which other materials can mesh with a CM education. Personally, I cobble a lot of different things together, relying most heavily on Simply Charlotte Mason and the TruthQuest guides and occasionally turning to Ambleside Online.

So how do we do CM in high school? Let me start out with a disclaimer that my oldest just finished 10th grade. My second is right behind him, having just finished 9th. So at this point I’ve done 9th twice and 10th once. I realize that leaves me with a lot to go still before  declare any of this a success. Nonetheless, I will tell you what we have done and what the plan is for the next couple of years. I reserve the right to edit or trash this document if things change as we move forward.

A Charlotte Mason Education in High School

Math — I’ll start with math because it’s one of the simplest subjects to discuss. We have a living math curriculum we love: it’s Life of Fred. If you’ve been in homeschooling circles in recent years, you’ve probably heard of it. Some people love it, some don’t get it. It’s worked really well for my oldest and seems to be working for my two younger ones. My oldest is able to read the chapters, do the problems, check them on his own, and learn what he needs to learn. Unfortunately, this is not the case for my second child. She just can’t get the concepts from Fred’s more indirect approach. She needs something straightforward. We started with an actual textbook this year, though one that emphasizes art a lot more (this was for geometry so there is some natural connection). Honestly, it was a lot of busywork and wasn’t working well. We ended up finishing the year with Math-U-See and plan to try Teaching Textbooks next year. My take on math would be this: I love Life of Fred if it works for the child. Otherwise, just find something that does work for your child. I know there are other living math curricula for the earlier years. In high school, my goal is to get them what they need (which will vary from child to child; one is in calculus, one will probably not go beyond Algebra 2). Self-sufficiency in math (being able to learn the material on their own and check their own work) is an added bonus. We find this is easy with Life of Fred. As long as the child basically gets it, they are able to check their own work.

Language Arts — Language arts is a tough one to sum up because it is so pivotal and encompasses so much. Writing alone sends many homeschool parents into fits and could generate  a few blog posts without even mentioning spelling, grammar, and literary analysis.

Up until this point (through 10th grade) we have continued dictation. I may not continue with it in 11th and 12th; I haven’t decided on that yet. In recent years we have used SCM’s Spelling Wisdom. I am not 100% enamored of it but it is the best single source for dictation passages I have found (and I am much too lazy to find my own). We use these passages to study spelling and grammar, but I don’t approach it in any organized way. I select a passage, usually just the next one in the book; we go over it; I point out any words that I think they might have problems spelling. I also go over any punctuation, especially anything out of the ordinary. This often entails other grammar as well since I’ll say things like “Why do we have a comma here? It’s at the end of the subordinate clause.” Sometimes I’ll point out an interesting construction if the author has done something unusual or lovely with how they’ve structured the passage.  They are meant to review it on their own during the week and then we do dictation at the end of the week (or a couple of days later; sometimes we have done 2 passages a week).

We have done various grammar things through the years. I particularly like KISS grammar and would recommend doing it all in one or two years when your child is in 7th-9th grades. We did a lot of it earlier on because I, like you, was stressed about grammar. But in theory I do think it is fine to wait till middle or high school and to do grammar all at once That is really all the attention it should merit. We have used/are using Life of Fred Grammar for high school. This is a set of 4 slim volumes. LOF recommends that one do all 4 volumes every year for high school. We are using them for the first two years (9th and 10th) and then I think we will leave it at that. Beware that after using this grammar curriculum your teen will become really annoying and tell you that you are using the word “nauseous” inappropriately. (That sort of thing really nauseates me.)

We have not done a formal writing curriculum. I made some attempt at one a couple of years ago, but in the end have decided that, like grammar, this is just not that necessary a subject. Let me rephrase that: writing as a separate subject is not that necessary. By high school your child should be doing a fair amount of written narrations plus they are reading and doing dictation from good writing. I know it doesn’t seem like enough, but it really goes a lot further than you’d think to producing good writers (see samples of my kids’ narrations here and here). I don’t critique my kids’ narrations very much at all. I will occasionally point out egregious errors but that’s about it.

I do, however, require some writing of my children which brings us to the next subject: literature. I don’t think one needs a certain scheme for literature in a CM education but I have come up with one for my family. This is partly one of those passports that makes things look good on a transcript. We have a subject for literature so I can write impressive looking phrases like “American short stories, essays and poetry” which is in fact what we do in 9th grade. You can read about how we do that here and here . My son has been doing Great American Bestsellers in 10th grade (link here when I get it). Next year I plan to have both of them do movies as literature which I will devise based on the book Meaning at the Movies (my review here). Because it is easier to do the movies as a family, my daughter will wait to read the bestsellers until 11th grade. In 12th I plan to give my son some freedom in picking what literature he would like to read. It could be sci-fi or Russian literature or English romantic novels (unlikely) or something else. With each of these, I have my kids write something after each piece or unit. It might be answering some questions, writing a short essay, or writing a longer essay. In these cases I do have them revise a bit and edit for errors. With both I found that I had to provide some direction in what is expected in an essay for the first one or two. Honestly, this was pretty basic and straightforward. No curriculum needed. I just said something along the lines of “When we write an essay, it is customary to have an introductory and a concluding paragraph. Each paragraph also has this basic structure — some sort of intro and conclusion and the meat in the middle.”  I have come across a living book on writing which I really love (read about it here) and which I plan to make them read at some point the next year. I love its approach much more than some popular curricula which require certain numbers of adjectives per sentence and the like.

Before leaving language arts, I’d like to say a bit about literary analysis. I’m not sure that analyzing literature is very CM and I don’t like to go overboard with it, but I do like to include a little. We live in a world in which everyone is always trying to convince one of something. I’d like my kids to be able to see what other people are trying to do, both in advertising and in books and movies. Everyone has a worldview and many have an agenda and I want them to be on the lookout for such things. As a family we have done literary analysis of some relatively simple books like Charlotte’s Web and Babe. More recently we have done Animal Farm and Lost Horizon. All these studies I have based on the book Deconstructing Penguins (my review here).  We learn terms like protagonist, antagonist, and climax, but most importantly we try to see what the author thinks and is trying to say. When we study movies in the coming year, my goal is really the same: to see what the director (or whoever makes the movie) is trying to say and how he says it and to get behind that to what he himself believes.

Oh, and we study at least one Shakespeare play a year as a family and read one Dickens novel. The latter is done over lunch and is completely without comment or application. I’m not going to take time now to say how we do Shakespeare, but trust me it is pretty basic. IMO Shakespeare is not meant to be read through; it is meant to be seen and heard. We haven’t done a lot of poetry in high school though I do occasionally read them some. We did more in earlier years and they do some on their own when we do American poets in 9th grade.

Science and Nature — Science is definitely one area where we have to consider what colleges may want. Specifically, colleges like to see a few years of specific sciences (biology, chemistry, physics) with labs. Unless you are really sure your child will not want to go to college ever, I would try to adapt to what they expect here. You can, however, consider less widely covered sciences such as astronomy, anatomy, botany, or forensic science. Personally, I would want to include a couple of the traditional ones, especially for a child who has any interest in pursuing math or science. My approach is pretty traditional: biology in 9th, chemistry in 10th, physics in 11th. Twelfth grade I plan to let them choose. They could do an AP level course in a science they’ve already done or pick something more off the beaten path.

Before I get to specifics of how we do science in high school, I’d like to say a few words about all the years that come before. These years are for nature study and reading living books on science. I know there is a temptation to prepare for high school science with other science-y courses before hand. As mine move into high school, I have become convinced that a lot of what we do before high school is useless. That is, introducing concepts like the periodic table or learning parts of an atom are useless. They will get that stuff again. What is useful is cultivating a spirit of inquiry and observational powers. That is what nature study is for. You can have a focus for a time (we have done, for instance, a year of geology and weather), but I’d keep it focused on living books and hands-on observation.

In my oldest’s 9th grade year, we set out to study biology (see this post for a more in depth summary of our adventures). I cobbled together three things: a lab course (see below), living books (which I couldn’t bear to give up), and a DVD based course (for thoroughness and seeming more like a real science course). I came out of that year more committed than ever to keeping living books as the core of our science. So here is my basic plan for high school science which can be applied to any subject: find living books, try to have one that is a good overview so that you know you are not missing key areas, but keep it living; read and narrate those books; add a lab component. So far we have done biology and chemistry you can find those book lists here.

The lab component is tougher and will depend on where you live and what is available. There are classes in our area which use that very popular Christian science curriculum (which has never enticed me), but I have so far managed to steer clear of them. I thought I was not going to find labs for chemistry near us so I had my son do some labs on his own (actually with his 10 year old sister). You can read about that here. But it turns out we are going to have Landry labs near us so we are going to do that too. My son did the Landry biology 2-day lab intensive and loved it.  They do all the labs for a year of high school science in 2 days. They do send you home with lab reports to write up so beware there is more work after they leave. I have very science-y friends who are skeptical and say they would never use such a thing, but my son dissected more things in those 2 days than most high school kids do all year. I know in “real” schools labs are often no longer hands-on and one can do video labs at home too. This would be a last resort for me. Whatever the schools may be doing, I think the hands-on is important. I just don’t think you are going to learn things in the same way by only observing. For physics next year we did find a co-op that is doing a labs only class every two weeks.

What about nature study in high school? I’m ambivalent on this issue. On one hand, a major purpose of nature study is to lay the groundwork for later science so in high school that becomes moot. On the other, nature is God’s creation and we should keep paying attention to it. I have let this slide with my oldest. My daughter has more of a natural affinity for such things. She will draw and paint birds and flowers on her own and has a love for nature photography as well. We have found a wonderful teacher at a local Audubon sanctuary that encourages this as well so that has been a great fit for her. And in defense of my oldest, he does have the inquisitiveness and interest in science that one hopes to cultivate, he just expresses it differently at this age.

History (and Narration) — History is the core of our homeschool. In an era that values the STEM subjects above all others, we cling tenaciously to a subject which is by definition out-dated. I have 4 kids, and I like to keep them all on the same time period. Though we have reduced the amount of “together time” we include in our homeschool week, this is one of my favorite things and I am not willing to give it up all together. My approach to history is very simple: read and narrate, read and narrate, read and narrate. I pick a “spine” book that covers our time period. Three times a week I read it aloud to all my kids and have them take turns narrating it. This last year I started taking turns too. They get to correct me or say things I have forgotten when I narrate. They love that. I try to gear the spine book to the level of my oldest or close to it. Then they all read books at their own level. Because we have the spine to give an overview, they can specialize in their individual reading and focus on one event or person.

Just because of where we are in our studies, we have been going through American history. Next year, my oldest’s 11th grade year, we will do the 20th century. For 12th grade I may either have him try to do a flyover of ancient history (which we did years ago as well) or let him pick a period of history that interests him. My next one will get a slightly different course of history as she will be doing the 20th century in 10th grade. That means she has time to do ancient in 11th and medieval in 12th. Though I would also be okay with her picking what she wants to study in 12th. In general, in line with CM’s ideas, we are not interest-led but my idea is to allow more freedom in 12th grade as a kind of transition to being on their own in college.

When they read their history books, the scheme again is just read and narrate. Generally, I give a chunk of about 20 pages, depending on how hard the book is and how it naturally divides up, to my high schoolers to read per day. My intent is to give them about 30 minutes of work with reading and narrating though I could see moving that up to 45 minutes. History is definitely an every day subject. At least up until this point I have told them “give me a written narration x times per week and vary which subjects you write for” and let them decide what they are doing orally and what they are writing. My second child actually prefers written narrations and does them more often than not. They both do their written narrations on a device and email then to me. My oldest has also done oral narrations as a voice memo and sent them to me at times. This works well if I have to be out or busy with other things. When I am not home, I will also have them narrate to one another.

I don’t correct their written narrations though occasionally I may point out some error of grammar or spelling, especially if it is something that I think they really don’t know. Once in a while we will get a mistake along the lines of using “would of” for “would have/would’ve” which seems to be a case of them never having realized what the real phrase is. These things I correct because it is something they have learned wrong, but I don’t nitpick about other errors. For the most part they are decent writers, though we have focused on it very little (see “language arts”) so I am not inclined to put too much into it in the context of another subject.

We probably should do some sort of end of the term/end of the section review by having them answer open ended essay questions about what they have learned. My understanding is that this would be a very CM way to do testing, but I haven’t been good about actually doing it. I should clarify as well that the sorts of questions I have in mind would be along the lines of “tell me what you know about Reconstruction” or perhaps something slightly more specific which allows the child to tell what they know and to integrate information but does not require them to remember specifics that I deem important.

How do I decide which books? I rely heavily on the Truth Quest guides. I start with the guide in front of me and search for what my library has. I also look up favorite authors to see if they have anything on the topic. If I really like the sound of a book, I will order it used from Amazon if I can. If you are interested in what books we have used on a given period, check out my list of living book lists here.

Foreign Language – If you have any idea where you child wants to go to college or what they would like to study, I recommend you research what might be required of them in the realm of foreign language. If you want to keep your options open, I’d aim for at least three years of one foreign language.

Charlotte Mason would have recommended two languages starting in the early years (1st and 3rd grades, I believe). Latin and French were the big ones for her. I don’t think we need to be bound by this. I think this is one of those areas where the changes in the world can affect how we go about things. In late 19th and early 20th century England French was probably the most practical modern language. That is no longer the case (unless you live in certain parts of Canada perhaps). In terms of what one hears every day, Spanish is probably top of the list for most of us (though depending on where you live there might be other choices). On a global scale, Arabic or Chinese could be very practical. You might also consider what career your child is likely to pursue and what languages would benefit them there. Military? Consider Arabic. Business? Maybe Chinese. What about an academic subject like math? I’m not sure if things have changed, but in my day the most likely other language to find academic papers written in was German.

And then there are the dead languages. Is Latin still necessary? I think CM would say yes. Afficiandos of classical education would argue that there is a lot of benefit to studying it. Of course English itself is indebted to Latin for a lot of its words. And if one is going to learn another Romance language, Latin will come in handy. It is used in the sciences. And beyond that, Latin, with all its cases and endings, is good for the brain. Having said of all which, I have never made my kids learn it. I am not opposed to dead languages – I have a Master’s degree in biblical Hebrew — but I’ve never particularly thought it worth the time involved. My oldest chose to study Latin as his language for high school so we do have some experience with it. Before that, he did Koine Greek (he really would have liked to do classical Greek but I thought he was too young for any of the classical Greek curricula out there when he started).

The two things I value in a foreign language curriculum for high school are: minimal parental involvement and oral interaction. The only truly CM curriculum I know of for languages is Cherrydale Press’s Spanish and French but these are for younger ages. We have used various things for my daughter up to this point, including the infamous Rosetta Stone, and I have not been happy with any of them. I am very wary now of any online-only curriculum. I think it is tough, not to mention boring, to learn any language without human interaction. I am looking into both local and Skype classes for my daughter for next year.

For Latin, we chose the Cambridge Latin Course (CLC) for my son. We got the books used from Amazon and relied heavily on the website which is quite thorough and for a small cost allows you to do all the exercises online. But even with a dead language, he struggled without live feedback. Now he is doing the same curriculum with a tutor. Though he struggled on his own, I do like CLC; the stories are fun and one jumps right into them.

Social Studies – Social studies is a pretty broad term. The three things we do which fall under this category are economics, government, and geography. Geography is an on-going thing for us; economics and government need only happen once. I combine the two in 10th grade and call it one credit of social studies or civics (or a half credit of each). My husband is an economist and he picked Lessons for the Young Economist for us to use. I divided up the readings for a half year and just have them narrate each chunk. For government we use The Everything American Government Book which, though not a living book, is used by Ambleside Online. You can even find it all divided up nicely into readings for you on their website.

My son has now gone twice to iGovern East which is a camp run by Generation Joshua, the teen branch of HSLDA. He has loved it. He has also asked to study comparative government next year so I am preparing that. But these are optional and my daughter won’t do them.

In younger years we do map drills for geography, but I drop these for high school. I have floundered around a bit for geography. You can read what my intentions for this year were here. I really love the idea of combining geography and current events. It hasn’t worked out quite as well as I had hoped.  More recently, we have just been looking at maps and discussing them, not in a formal way, just whatever seems interesting about them. You can find some cool maps here, here and here. This is a once a week thing at best.

Technology – Technology is not a subject CM considered but it is one we might want to include today. For the most part, I think given exposure kids will get what they need. Letting them play around with computers (that doesn’t mean games!) is probably the best way to go about things. My son is of the math/science bent so my husband had been working with him on programming for a while. This year he took AP Computer Science through PA Homeschoolers. It was a good experience and I would recommend them. My daughter has little interest in such things so we have not required her to do any programming. She does have an online business so she has some proficiency with the internet in other ways.

My general advice about technology would be: consider including it. Think about how your child is likely to use it and how you can give them a taste of that. Look for open-ended approaches that allow the child to explore. I am wary of things along the lines of “learn xxx through playing Minecraft.” That idea seems very unit studies-ish and tricky to me. It’s not very CM to try to sneak the education in with other things.

Fine Arts – I have decided that for fine arts in high school I will let my kids not do what their younger siblings are doing. We have done composer and artist studies, and it was time for a change. My daughter wants to go to art school so for her the arts are still a big subject; for my son the goal is just to get a fine arts credit for the transcript. I know that CM would say we should continue with the arts in a more serious way, but, well, one has to choose where to spend one’s time and energy. And in our house it is hard for him to be completely ignorant of art anyway.

I know CM isn’t supposed to be interest-led but I decided to go with what my son is into for his fine arts – Country Music. I got him a big thick book on country music, had him read it, and then required a term paper on a subject of his choice. This is still in progress so I will get back to you on how we did that and how it turned out. I’ll probably call this a half credit in fine arts for transcript purposes.

For my daughter, I put together an art history course for her 9th grade year. You can read about that here (link coming soon). Next year the plan is to have her do AP Art History and then after that AP Studio Art. She also takes lessons with a drawing teacher. And pretty much makes things (crafts and art) constantly in her free time.

Handicrafts – Handicrafts are not something I deliberately incorporate at this point. My daughter has her own business making and selling things and is always eager to try a new craft when it comes within her purview. My son has never particularly been into handicrafts. I don’t push it at this point. He does occasionally do things of his own accord. For instance this year he has been making stop motion videos and had to construct his own tripod to make it work. My encouragement to you would be to look at what your child is already doing and to have a broad definition of handicrafts. There may be more that fits the category than you have considered.

If you would like some craft ideas for older kids, here are some we have tried: Ukrainian egg dying (see this website for materials), fabric painting (we got a kit here), rag rug braiding (try making trivets for a small project), paper curling, zentangleupcycled t-shirts, paper beads, DIY lip balm, jewelry from old credit cards, and then of course there are the old stand-byes like sewing, knitting and crocheting.

Side note: I love how this article talks about introducing kids to new crafts. My kids are beyond the ages considered in the article but I love the balance between “follow me and do exactly what I do” and “here’s some clay” with absolutely no instruction.

Physical Education – We haven’t done a lot with physical education in a formal way. When my kids have been interested in an activity, we have pursued it, and they have weekly homeschool park days where they get plenty of exercise. Charlotte Mason used Swedish Drill. You can read about that at the Afterthoughts Blog here. The best I can say is that to include some sort of exercise routine seems quite CM. She believed in being well-rounded and would not have neglected the body.

Home Ec – We have never done home ec as a subject.My kids have had chores for years. Recently we went to a new system where they switch monthly and they have a lot more to do. In fact, they do almost everything and I do way less than I was (though not as little as they think I do). I have had no regrets and no guilt on this. Their college roommate will thank me. My own kids haven’t yet.

Bible/Religion/Theology/Philosophy/Church History – We have done a lot of different things in this category (you can see it is very broadly defined). Some of it I have liked;  a lot of it is floundering again, trying to find something I like. For my younger ones, I assign Bible readings; the older two I expect to find and read something on their own though I’m willing to give direction if they ask. This year I also tried to incorporate books on religion or theology. I let them read these at their own paces. They didn’t get through much 😉 But they did both read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and What is the Christian Worldview?, which is really just a book of basic reformed theology (see my review here).  I think we will continue with this but I may give them some guidelines so they don’t neglect it and let it drag out. I also had them do church history and philosophy this year. I don’t think we will continue with the latter for my younger two. We used Philosophy Adventure and I was not enamored of it. For church history we used Sketches from Church History. Once I gave up having them do the accompanying workbook and had them just narrate what they read it wasn’t too bad. My plan is to have them both do Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then  Live next year. There is a video version as well which we will use; I haven’t decided if I will also have them read the book. My plan going forward for the other two would be to do church history in 9th, perhaps some other sort of philosophy or theology in 10th, and Schaeffer in 11th.

Am I forgetting anything? I am sure I am. What would you like to know more about?


9th Grade Lit: American Short Stories and Essays

Dear Reader,

As I work my way through my children, I am slowly editing the original plan I used for 9th grade literature for my eldest. My second is just finishing up her freshman year. She had already had some exposure to the authors he studied so I ended up shortening some sections and adding new ones. The topic I have chosen for their 9th grade year is “American poetry, short stories and essays.” I prefer to go through them all chronologically, interspersing the poetry with the longer works, but for the purposes of this post, I am going to give you the short stories and essays. Look for a post on poetry soon and for 10th grade lit which is when we do American novels.  Before getting into the meat of it, I should add that I combine this material with Life of Fred grammar and Spelling Wisdom  for dictation to make a 9th grade English course.


9th Grade Literature: American Short Stories and Essays

Washington Irving

Irving is really the beginning of American literature. That is, he is the first to consciously make American literature. His stories are fun to read and are probably familiar so they make a great introduction to our course as well. I used a couple of different books for the text of the tales themselves. It doesn’t really matter what edition you use for most of these authors. Just make sure it is the original, unabridged text.

I stumbled upon Sterling’s edition [The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Unabridged Classics, 2013)] at our local library. It has discussion questions in the back for all the tales in the book. While I was selective in which ones I chose, I found these an excellent resource so I highly recommend trying to find this specific edition, if not for the texts, at least for the questions. Because these stories are so accessible, they can be studied with younger children as well (I initially did “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Specter Bridegroom” with all my children). Find this info in a Google document here.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

  • Read the story and write an essay answering the following questions: Compare Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones. How are they similar? How are they different? Which man do you think Katrina should have chosen? Is Ichabod a hero? Why or why not?

“The Devil and Tom Walker”

  • Read the story and write and essay addressing the following: Discuss Tom Walker’s fate and his wife’s. How were they alike? How were they different? What do you think happened to the wife?

“Rip Van Winkle”

  • Read the work. Discuss what changes from before Rip’s long nap and after. What has changed in Rip’s life? What has changed in the country? How have the townspeople changed? What do you think this is saying about the new post-Revolution America? What might Rip’s wife represent? (spoiler: bossy mother England) Are things better or worse post-Revolution (or for Rip post-nap)?

“The Specter Bridegroom”

  • Read the story. This is a lesser known work but we really enjoyed it. There is a lot of humor here. We loved the accomplished young lady who could write her name so well even her own aunts could read it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’re getting into a lot tougher stuff after Irving. Emerson is hard; many of his contemporaries didn’t understand him. Yet he is pretty big in the history of American writing. My solution is to be pretty selective and to read excerpts.


I used Mr. Gunnar’s notes for this work. The portion on “Self-Reliance” can be found here. I divided the assignment up into four sessions. The numbers refer to Mr. Gunnar’s discussion questions (see this document).

  • Read through the essay (that is, the portion Gunnar uses). Go through paragraph by paragraph and write briefly what you think the major points are.
  • Reread the first paragraph and answer questions 3 and 4.
  • Answer questions 8, 9, and 10.
  • Write and essay summing up Emerson’s ideas and giving your own reaction to them.

“Nature” chapter 1

I used the text from Emerson Central and discussion questions that I originally got from Mrs. Mammana’s website at Darien Public Schools. Unfortunately the latter appears to no longer be available online. So instead, you can find my version here.

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau follows close on the heels of Emerson, chronologically and idealistically. The two were friends and Emerson encouraged Thoreau. I highly recommend the series of picture books on Thoreau by D.B. Johnson. Even older children can read these to get a brief intro to Thoreau’s life. He is one author whose life is highly relevant to his works. Another fun intro to his life which I recommend is Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden which presents key events in a cartoon like format. While we discussed the events of Thoreau’s life and have in the past visited Walden Pond and the reconstruction of his cabin there, we didn’t actually read any of Walden beyond the bits in the books I have mentioned.

“Resistance to Civil Government”

I relied on Mr. Gunnar again for this one. His page is here. The relevant discussion questions are in a document here.

  • Read the first two paragraphs and answer questions 3, 4, and 5.
  • Read the third through 5th paragraphs. Answer questions 7 and 10.
  • Read the rest of the essay. Answer questions 11, 12 and 13.
  • Answer questions 16 and 17.

Various Quotes

I printed out a page of Thoreau quotes and chose a few for my son to comment on. You could also let the student choose or pick others of course.

  • Read the quotes that begin “I know of no more encouraging fact . . .” and “The finest qualities of our nature . . .” Discuss what each of these means.
  • Read the quote that begins “No way of thinking or doing . . . ” Copy it. Tell what it means. Tell if you agree.

Edgar Allan Poe

Because this post needed a picture . . .

Whew. If you’ve had enough of transcendentalists, it’s time for something completely different. Poe is fun. Poe is scary. Poe is just plain weird. Kids like him.

“The Black Cat”

  • This story and discussion questions were on Mr. Gunnar so I used it. The relevant portion is here. I didn’t have my son write out answers for this story. Instead I had him read the story in one sitting and then asked him the questions and we discussed.

For the other Poe stories I used the edition illustrated by McKowen [The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe; illus. by Scott McKowen (Sterling Pub., 2010)] and relied upon his discussion questions. If the stories were longer, we took a few sittings to read them and then discussed at the end.

“The Tell-Tale Heart”

  • Read the story. Is the narrator a madman? Why did he kill the old man? How is he caught? Was there really anything to be heard to give him away?

“The Masque of the Red Death”

  • Read the story and answer questions #4 and 8 from McKowen’s edition.

“The Purloined Letter”

  • Read the story. This is a longer story and will likely take more than one sitting. As you go along then, ask what the student(s) think the answer will be: Where is the letter?

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

  • Read the story and answer questions #5 , 7 and 13 from McKowen’s edition.

“The Cask of Amontillado”

  • Read the story and answer questions #6, 12 and 14 from McKowen’s edition. What was the fued between the two men?

“The Pit and the Pendulum”

  • Read the story and answer questions #9 and 15 from McKowen’s edition.

At this point we had reached the end of what my son did but I wanted to add more for my daughter. I had her read one story by each of the following authors just to give her a taste of their work. I found a wonderful book at my library, The Greatest American Short Stories, ed. Arthur Grove Day (New York: McGraw Hill, 1953). The book has questions on each story in the back which I used or modified some of them though many others I rejected.

James Thurber

I knew this story only from the Looney Tunes version. I found the original much more depressing but enjoyed it. Let me know what you think happens at the end. I have my own idea on that as well as on what the pocketa pocketa is.

Read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

  • Think about the names in the story. Do people’s names fit them?
  • What do you think is the significance of the pocketa pocketa sound?
  • What do you think happens at the end of the story?
  • List the qualities of the real life and fantasy Mitty‘s.
  • What is Mitty in his fantasies that he is not in real life?
  • Look at how the dream and real life sequences are written. Are there stylistic differences?
  • What is the effect of this?
  • What is this story saying about masculinity? How would the author define being masculine?

John Steinbeck

Of course Steinbeck was a prolific author and has many longer works as well, one of which is included in my 10th grade literature curriculum. For now we are just getting an introduction. “Leader of the People” features Jody, a boy known from some of Steinbeck’s other works, the best known of which is The Red Pony.
Read Steinbeck’s “Leader of the People”
  • Who changes most is this story?
  • What do the dad and grandfather represent?
  • Why does Jody give up on the mouse hunting?
  • What do you think the theme of message of the story is?

William Faulkner

I remember reading and liking (though not always understanding) Faulkner when I was in high school. I don’t think I’ve read anything of his since.

Read “The Bear

  • Why does the boy get rid of his gun, watch, compass and stick?
  • What do you know about Sam Fathers? What significance does his heritage have?
  • They say that stories can have 3 kinds of conflicts: man vs man, man vs self or man vs nature. Which kind is this? Are you sure?

Living Books for High School Chemistry

Dear Reader,

When I tried to cobble together a biology course for my then 9th grader, I discovered that the part that worked best for us was the living books. So this year, his 10th grade one, I declared that I would not be swayed by outside pressures but would keep living books as the center of our curriculum. I plan to use the same selections (with just a few tweaks which I’ll explain below) for my second child next year.

Living Books for High School Chemistry

Life of Fred Chemistry We love the Life of Fred series. It started as a math curriculum but has expanded into early readers, high school chemistry and more. This year my 10th grader was using no less than 4 of the LOF books. When I saw they had a chemistry one, I couldn’t resist. As with the whole LOF series, this book tells the story of Fred, a 5-year-old genius math professor. All the books incorporate the subject matter in Fred’s life. There are 36 chapters and each has a problem set with answers at the end. I let my son work through this one on his own because he can check his own answers (and he’s pretty trustworthy about such things). Because it is only 36 lessons, I had him do it once a week. Mondays were for LOF, the other days for his other books . . .

Edited 5/23/2020 to add: My second child got really bogged down in LOF Chemistry and we ended up dropping it but returned to it with my third who is so far doing okay with it. LOF can be tough and intensive.


The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things by Cathy Cobb and Monty L. Fetterolf We used this book as kind of second spine book in addition to LOF. I chose it mainly because it has experiments which are relatively easy to do with relatively accessible supplies.  For Biology, my son did a 2-day lab intensive course with Landry Academy. It looked like we would not have their chemistry lab in our area this year so I wanted something else that involved labs for him. As it turns out we will be able to do the chemistry labs in October. We were really happy with the biology lab last year and I would recommend their lab intensives if you have one in your area. Since my daughter will be able to do the chem lab in October, I will probably have her skip this book. I did like it though. It is well-written and easy to read. It is really directed at an adult who wants an introduction to chemistry. The supplies for the labs were not too difficult to find. I made a list of all we would need, bought whatever I could from Amazon and the rest at my local supermarket or hardware store. I also had my son lead the labs himself. His ten-year-old sister was his audience/class so he had to read a chapter, figure out the lab and then lead her through it and explain it to her. He also used this book once a week through the whole year.

Exploring the World of Chemistry by John Hudson Tiner I didn’t have my son read this one but it is one I am considering for my daughter next year to replace Joy of Chemistry (see above). We have used Tiner’s books in the past and I have found them easy to read. Though they are thin and are perhaps more of a middle school level, I find that they contain a fair amount of info and that my kids retain them well. A thin book retained well beats a thick one that the child can’t remember in my estimation. My daughter is also less of a science-y type so I don’t mind going a little lighter with her.


The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements by P.W. Atkins Now we get into the living books which my son read. The Periodic Kingdom treats the periodic table as a land with different countries within it. This paradigm allows the author to explain the landscape of the periodic table and the relation of the elements to one another. I’m not big on memorizing things like the elements and their characteristics but this book allows one to get the lay of the land, if you will, and to see how it all fits together very nicely. My son did a great job narrating this book and seemed to enjoy it. An alternative to this book which I looked at was The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker and Jeanne Bendick. It seemed a simpler book along basically the same principles. It could also work for younger children.

Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry from Ancient Alchemy to Nuclear Fission by Bernard Jaffe As it name suggests, this book takes a historical approach to chemistry, showing its developments through time.

Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny LeCouteur I love how chemistry can be approached through different lenses. Napoleon’s Buttons looks at a number of molecules and tells their stories. An alternative which I looked at but didn’t like quite as much is The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. If you are looking for an explicitly Christian book, you might want to check out Elements of Faith by Richard Duncan.

Two I didn’t have time for but considered look at the chemistry in specific processes: The Chemical History of a Candle which I believe is a series of lectures by famed scientist Michael Faraday and That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles by Joe and Joseph Schwarcz. Edited 5/23/2020 to add: I have now read Schwarcz’s book and had my third child read it and I have to say this is a new favorite. Short, entertaining blurbs on chemistry-related subjects. It would work well just as a nature lore book for high school too. My third child also read Faraday’s book and it seems to have gone well.

Lastly, another one I wish we’d had time for:  Molecules of Murder by John Emsley looks at the chemistry in crime, specifically at poisons.







A Charlotte Mason Education in High School (and College Prep)

Dear Reader,

I ran across this wonderful quote recently while rereading Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake:

“Also, it would be wrong not to equip our children with ‘passports’ to our society. There are exams to be passed if Johnny or Ann are to be allowed into the fraternity of our society’s demands. But let us try to keep the true spirit of education alive as long as possible.” (p. 68)

This quotation sums up so well my own take on homeschooling high school. As I consider my own children, two of whom are now high school age, I am not at all displeased with their educations, past or present (if anything, what I would change is to have done less in the earlier years). I like who they are and I am comfortable with what they are learning. Rather than abandoning a Charlotte Mason approach in high school, I find that it is in these later years that I am truly beginning to see the fruit of it. And the tools we have used thus far — the use of living books and narration in particular — are still the best ones I have found for inspiring interest and producing true learning.

My own view of homeschooling high school is that its true difficulty lies in the fact that one must now do two things: educate, as one always has, and prove that education to others. Of course, depending on the state you live in and the state of your relationship with your in-laws, you may already have been trying to prove yourself for years. But with college and/or employment looming on the horizon, high school becomes the time to really think about satisfying society’s expectations. While I do think many colleges are getting more homeschool friendly, it is hard to avoid things like standardized testing and grades at this point in our journey.

These, then, are the “passports” Macaulay speaks of. They are the legal paperwork we must have in order to move forward, and, as she says, we would be foolish to not help our children get those emblems that our society requires. The key, I think, is to satisfy those external requirements without abandoning everything we have done so far and, I should add, without essentially requiring a double load of our children as we have them meet both our demands and those of society.

So what is my high school advice? Don’t abandon what works for you. Learn to translate it into a language that the institutions of society will understand (grades, credits, etc.). Take those standardized tests. Consider a few outside classes, perhaps in subjects that are either less central to your education or easier to quantify anyway (eg. math, foreign language). But don’t feel like you have to give into the system completely. Remember that your goal is still about who and not what.


Raising Who Children in a What World

Dear Reader,

A Charlotte Mason education focuses on who. The child is treated as a person; their whole personality is taken into account and must not be violated; and the goal of their education is not to produce a worker or to enable them to get into college or earn money but to shape their character and personality. It is all about who they will be, not what they will be.

Unforunately, we live in a time and  a place when society is most concerned with the what. What college will they go to? What job will they get? How much money is involved? Will there be fame? Fortune?

I think the conflict comes to a height in the high school years. Up until that point one can blissfully ignore the world’s expectations. But after high school comes, for many, college. And in order to get into colleges one needs to play the game and produce results in the forms that the world likes and understands.

I have never struggled very much with homeschooling. We started when our kids were young (they have never been to school) and our approach grew and developed as they did. I never doubted whether we should be homeschooling and I have come to love the approach (Charlotte Mason) that we have taken and to appreciate it and to like who it is turning my kids into.

But now we are faced with having two high schoolers in the upcoming year and there are more struggles than previously. Not because I doubt what we are doing — I am happy with what my kids are learning and think they are well-rounded people. But they will likely want to go to college so I need at the same time to make sure that what we are dong is translatable into the world’s terms. And that is the hard part.

My oldest is a science and math type guy. For his 9th grade science this year we have combined a curriculum and labs with living books. But I have found that the living books are the real treasure here. He learns so much from them and they are truly interesting. But will a science curriculum based solely on living books be acceptable to a university? My older daughter struggles with math. She has always been an artist at heart (and already has here own business; see here) and I really, really doubt she will ever need any math beyond algebra. I am hard pressed to think of times I have ever needed more than this. But can she get into college without at least algebra 2 beneath her belt?

These are the sorts of questions I have but I don’t have the answers yet. And it feels awfully risky to experiment on my kids in the hopes that they will be able to do what they want if I don’t comform to what is expected.

What do you think? Have you used a truly CM education throughout high school? What areas did you compromise in, if any?