Category: Homeschooling Encouragement (Page 1 of 2)

Encouragement from a Mom of 12 with 35 years of homeschooling experience.

Review – Creation Museum and the Ark

To say that I am a long-time creationist would be an understatement. My husband and I listened to our first debate on creation versus evolution decades ago when we were college students. And I have read, watched, or listened to a wide variety of creation resources over the ensuing forty plus years. Needless, to say I’m a big fan of Ken Ham’s work with Answers in Genesis.

And since we live in northern Alabama, less than 400 miles from the Creation Museum, we have made many trips there. In fact, we became members in 2008, within a year of their opening, and have had some sort of membership there ever since. We probably only average one trip per year, but with the size of our family, one trip per year has still made memberships a worthwhile investment. This is something I found to be the case almost any place I took my kids – from zoos to aquariums to most museums. (For example,  in 2005, on our Lewis and Clark  adventure we got a one year family membership at Fort Mandan’s Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center – knowing there was almost no chance we would be back in North Dakota within the next twelve months – but we were still better off getting the membership.)

In addition to numerous trips with family members, I’ve taken students to the Creation Museum twice and the Ark Encounter once (it was still just a dream the first time I took students up there.)

Every trip has been a little bit different, of course, but every one of them has been worthwhile. On this most recent trip, we did the Ark Encounter first. It was the second time my daughter and I had been, and we had the privilege of introducing four others to it (two teens and two older adults). As expected, a good time was had by all.  And there is something awe-inspiring about seeing a life-size ark, and then going inside and imagining (with the help of some wonderful creative effects) how Noah’s family and all those animals would have lived and worked in such a space for over a year.

The exhibits at both museums are extremely well done – from both a visual aspect and an information one. Since my daughter and I had been before, we were able to focus on some of the exhibits that we had only glossed over the first time, as well as enjoying several that were new since our first visit.

One of My Favorite New Exhibits at the Ark Encounter

Because there is so much to see there, it is most definitely the type of place that begs for a return visit (or 2 or 3 or …), hence the beauty of a membership. It’s just really hard to take it all in at one time.

Additionally, I strongly recommend against trying to do both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum in one day. I met a couple as we were finishing the Ark who had done them both that day, and it made me tired just listening to them. There is so much to see and do at both places that I cannot imagine doing that – there would be no way to fully enjoy both places if you were trying to cram them both into the same day.

Population: What we know versus what we can only deduce.

And at the Creation Museum, be sure to include a planetarium show if at all possible. We have watched one almost every time we have been there, and never get tired of them  – with our favorite being Created Cosmos.

So, again, my recommendations for getting the most out of your trip to the Creation Museum and the Ark:

The absolute best option is to get an annual combo pass so that you can go to both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum two or more times in a twelve month period.

Next best is to get a ticket that includes both – and go to one on one day and the other one on the next day. We actually did one on Tuesday and one on Thursday on our last trip, and visited the Newport Aquarium in between the two. No right or wrong way to do it!

Even the diversity of the fish at the aquarium tell the story of Creation.

But, if those are not options, and you have the endurance for it – visit them both in one day – just know that you’ll be really tired at the end of the day! (Also, figure in forty-five – ninety minutes to get from one to the other and park. At the Ark Encounter you will be parking and riding a shuttle to the Ark itself, and at the Creation Museum you may end up parked far enough away to where you prefer to ride the shuttle bus. And of course, all that adds to the time factor.)

And, if you just can’t work in the time or the money for both, you can’t go wrong with either. The friend I took this last time enjoyed the Ark more – feeling like she was “encountering Noah and the Flood” in an entirely new way there. But, the Creation Museum might be my choice for just one, because it covers such a broad array of topics within the area of creation, including a small exhibit on the ark. But again, neither would be a bad choice.

This is part of what I like throughout the beginning of the Creation Museum – the explanations of Present vs. Past.

Both places have restaurants that you can eat at if you are there over a meal (we usually are) and don’t want to pack a picnic (we usually can’t). The restaurant at the Ark became a buffet between our first and second trips there, which made it a little more expensive than we had planned on, but it was actually an exceptional meal, so in the end we all decided it had been worth it, and we will gladly eat there again on future trips.

Whether you are “in the area” or have to make a special trip to the greater Cincinnati area for these, I strongly encourage you to work these into your trip. If you want to share good, solid Creation information with your students or family, or just want to increase your own knowledge, you can’t go wrong with the Ark Encounter and/or the Creation Museum.

Each place has done an exceptional job of bringing together great displays with good information, in a family friendly location, suitable for children and adults alike. There are inside portions, and weather permitting, some nice outside portions at both as well – including a petting zoo and nice botanical gardens.

Happy traveling and learning!


35 More Great Education Quotes

About six months ago I put together a post with almost three dozen of my favorite quotes about education. Of course, that was barely scratching the surface on such wonderful quotes.

I’ve decided that this week is another good week for such a list. (I just returned from Texas, I’m trying to finish editing one novel and start editing a second one, all while doing a variety of planning for a major trip next fall, and two different family reunions. So “free time” has been rather limited of late!)

So, this week I’m again going to “cheat” and use some great words from other people. You will certainly see my attitude towards education when you read these quotes. And again, even if you don’t agree with every one of them, I hope they cause you to think!

  1. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)
  2. “I learned most, not from those who taught me, but from those who talked with me.” Augustine (354 – 430 AD)
  3. “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Erasmus (1466 – 1536)
  4. “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.” Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)
  5. “All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.” Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)
  6. “The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)
  7. “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
  8. “One you learn to read you will be forever free.” Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895)
  9. “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841 – 1935)
  10. “Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.” Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923)
  11. “Do not let the endless succession of small things crowd great ideals out of sight and mind.” Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923)
  12. “I remember that I was never able to get along at school. I was always at the foot of the class.” Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931)
  13. “Education is an admirable thing, but nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
  14. “Unless education promotes character making, unless it helps men to be more moral, more just to their fellows, more law abiding, more discriminatingly patriotic and public spirited, it is not worth the trouble taken to furnish it.” William Howard Taft (1857 – 1930)
  15. “Thank goodness I was never sent to school: it would have rubbed off some of the originality.” Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943)
  16. “It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.” Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)
  17. “Education is the period during which you are being instructed by someone you don’t know, about something you do not want to know.” K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936)
  18. “Schools have not necessarily much to do with education…they are mainly institutions of control where basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school.” Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)
  19. “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)
  20. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)
  21. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by the way it climbs a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein  (1879 – 1955)
  22. “Play is the highest form of research.” Albert Einstein (1879 -1955)
  23. “I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.” Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976)
  24. “The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done.” Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980)
  25. “The greatest service we can do to education today is to teach fewer subjects. No one has time to do more than a few things well before he is twenty, and when we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.” S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)
  26. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Seuss (1904 – 1991)
  27. “When we make our laws and educational policies primarily for the parents who don’t care, instead of for those who do, those laws are backwards. We urge the burden of proof be on the state to show which mothers and fathers are not doing their job.” Raymond Moore (1916 – 2007)
  28. “Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world.” Nelson Mandella (1918 – 2013)
  29. “What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn’t a school at all.” John Holt (1923 – 1985)
  30. “Ask questions to find out something about the world itself, not to find out whether or not someone knows it.” John Holt (1923 – 1985)
  31. “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But, for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Fred Rogers (1928 – 2003)
  32. “When you take the free will out of education, that turns it into schooling.” John Taylor Gatto (1935 – )
  33. “I don’t think we’ll get rid of schools any time soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we’re going to change what’s rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the institution ‘schools’ very well, but it does not ‘educate,’ that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It’s just impossible for education and schooling to be the same thing.” John Taylor Gatto (1935 – )
  34. “Genius is an exceedingly common human quality, probably natural to most of us.” John Taylor Gatto (1935 – )
  35. “Education doesn’t need to be reformed – it needs to be transformed. The key is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to built achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” Sir Ken Robinson (1950 – )

Happy learning!


Learning Styles and Curriculum Choices

Homeschooling parents have to take many things into consideration when they are planning their educational package for their children. Yes, it would be easy to just pick up a pre-packaged curriculum complete with student books, tests, answer keys, and lesson plans. What could be wrong with that?

Why Not Just Buy a Pre-Packaged Curriculum?

After more than thirty-five years of homeschooling, several things come to my mind – (1) The costs of such a package can be too much for many homeschooling families. (2) The time involved in putting such a package into use can actually be quite intimidating, particularly for families with multiple aged students. (That was the driving factor for me looking into other options just a few years into our homeschooling journey.) (3) And not least of all, not all students do well with prepackaged curriculum. As the following info-graphic shows, children learn best in a variety of different ways – and not all do well with the high level of reading and writing that prepackaged curriculum tend to focus on.

Taking Learning Styles Into Consideration

Whether you are just starting out on your homeschooling journey, or have been at it for awhile and now see the need for a change, it can be beneficial to consider what your students’ learning styles are. I’m not saying that everything has to be taught that way (in only a hands-on manner for kinesthetic learners, or in just an auditory manner for students who learn best that way, for example).

In fact, the best learning often comes from a combination of methods – hands-on, audio, visual, etc. But when you take into account the way your student best learns, instead of blindly following a pre-packaged curriculum, you will often find that the process goes better, with both students and teacher being less frustrated.

Examples of Different Options for Different Styles

Visual learners usually remember 75% of what they see or read. Needless to say, they understand information best when they see it. So instead of  struggling to get visual learners to memorize flashcards or just read from the textbook, try watching educational homeschooling videos or looking at charts when teaching a new topic.

For your kinesthetic learners, try engaging them in hands-on activities like field trips or a trip to your local zoo or museum. Incorporate movement and storytelling with these types of learners.

If your child is an auditory learner, there are numerous resources such as audio books, where they can listen to books or read along with books.

And for almost any learner,  on our educational journey we found that both travel and games added to the variety and interest of  all involved!

Spending Money Differently

And if you go about it the right way, you will find yourself spending less money. Or choosing to spend it on things with more lasting educational value – good quality real books instead of textbooks that are generally used and then abandoned; family memberships at those zoos, aquariums, or museums that you will want to visit more frequently, and so on.

A Smoother Journey

So, if you are wondering how to make your homeschooling journey go a little smoother,  I strongly encourage you to take learning styles into consideration and work to make it a more enjoyable and more effective trip for all involved!

Happy learning!


Learning Differently or Learning Disabled?

I miss many things since closing the physical space of Creative Learning Connection. But there is one thing I certainly don’t miss – standing in front of parents, generally well-meaning mothers, who went on to tell me of their children’s disabilities – in front of their children.  It made me want to cringe. And then to lash out at them, maybe shake them, and ask if they knew what damage they were doing to their child. But I could do none of that. I had to listen quietly and then pray that I could come up with an answer that would be helpful.

Labels – Good or Bad?

I have never been a fan of these labels and cringed at their use. To hear many of these mothers use them, they sounded more like a crutch or a curse. And I shuddered more than once at what those labels were doing to the children on whom they had been placed.

Square Pegs and Round Holes

I would prefer we talk about the fact that some of our students learn differently, because isn’t that what it’s truly about? We aren’t all wired the same. We learn in different ways, but schools (and sadly, often even homeschool programs) all seem bent on making square pegs fit into round holes. Let’s embrace the differences, rather than trying to make everyone the same! It’s the differences that brought many of our most famous artists and scientists to where they managed to accomplish so much. Men like Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein probably accomplished what they did because of their learning differences, rather than in spite of them. Maybe someday we’ll learn to embrace those differences, rather than just labeling them and fighting against them.

Using Labels for Good

In the meantime, I have not completely changed my mind about labels. I think they can still cause more problems than they solve in many cases. But I have softened my view on them a bit. I have spoken with mothers recently who were embracing the labels as the answer to why their child struggles/struggled to learn many things. When the labels can be used to get help in school or to convince a parent that the child is not merely being rebellious or stubborn when they aren’t learning something, then they have become a tool for good rather than just pain.

And I have found nothing that expresses the good that can come from a properly applied label than a video that my niece and her son made recently. It made me cry and I can only hope that others will be moved by it as well.

Happy learning – regardless of your learning abilities and differences!


Personal Libraries

Happy New Years

Happy New Years to all of you! I hope you are each ready for 2018 – I’m still trying to figure out where 2017 disappeared to. I might have skipped today’s blog post, but it’s already been almost a month since I last posted one on this site, so I thought it would be better to do a “short” post rather than wait another couple of weeks!

Holidays and visits to and from family are certainly part of why I’ve been absent from writing for so long, but there has actually been another big distraction for the last few weeks – I’ve been redoing my personal library.  I knew it would be a big task, I really did. But, whew, now that we’ve been working on it for so long, I’m not sure we really had any idea just how big it would be. (And on more than one occasion I did wonder what we were thinking!)

Do you have a Personal Library?

But, before I get into more about that, I would like to ask – how many of you have personal libraries? Since most of the readers of this blog are homeschoolers, I hope that most of you can answer yes to that question! I realize that here in the twenty-first century we live in a digital world that didn’t exist when I started homeschooling over thirty years ago, but there is still something very special about “real” books that sit there on a shelf, reminding you they are there and that they are meant to be used.

A Long-time Love Affair with Books

I’ve always loved books – I can credit my parents for implanting that love many decades ago. And it is a love that I have strived to pass on to my children. (Games and books have been the largest category of gifts in my family for as long as I can remember.)

Libraries and Homeschooling

And as a homeschooler, I really can’t imagine not having had a personal library all those years that I was educating my own children. We happily moved thousands of books across the world and across the country as the Army moved us from place to place. In fact, when we were heading stateside from Germany, we started to worry about our weight limit, and we were willing to get rid of furniture if need be, rather than get rid of any of our books. My best guess puts my library at about 7,000 books when we moved into our current home and converted the “formal dining room” into a library. My husband graciously filled three of the four walls with wall to wall, floor to ceiling bookshelves.

Purging Books

As my homeschooling came to an end, I started trying to purge my books, though I don’t think I’ve managed to shrink my current holdings to much under 5,000 books.

“New” Bookcases

When I closed my physical store at this time last year, we chose to keep more than a dozen of the bookcases that had graced the walls of Creative Learning Connection for the previous decade. But for the last year the shelves have sat in our storage unit awaiting the time and energy to put them back to use. So several weeks ago I decided the time had come to bring the brown bookcases over and replace the white shelves that had served our needs for so long.

It was mid-December and company and holidays were just around the corner – but my son had some time off between semesters and I wasn’t going to get a better opportunity to do this! To increase the chances we wouldn’t change our mind – I scheduled someone to come clean our carpets on December 15. So we were committed. We had to remove thousands of books, so that my son could then remove the dozens of shelves that were already there.

A BIG Project

Several students helped remove and box some of the books on Wednesday, and Thursday three of us worked until late into the night (or early into the morning) to finish the task. But we did it! We cleared out the room, the carpets were cleaned and the following week we were ready to reverse the process.

It’s a good thing the Liquor store gives away free boxes! This is NOT all of the boxes either.

Of course, removing the books and the shelves was actually the easy part. The next week, the fun really started. I determined I had space for seven bookcases in the library. The problem was that our brown bookcases were actually two different styles – so in order to get seven that matched, we had to get three of them from the storage unit, and then also trade for the two in the office and the two that were in my second floor bedroom. And, of course, the four that were already in the house were already full of books and/or games! So before those could be moved they had to be emptied.  My son and two of his friends brought over the bookcases we needed from the storage unit (including two to replace the ones in the office – the bedroom replacements will have to wait until this part of the project is completed.) Meanwhile my daughter and I were removing books and games as quickly as we could.

Is the End in Sight?

By the end of Monday the bookcases were in place in the library. The shelves still had to be installed, and then 100 or so boxes had to be emptied. Two weeks later, we’re approximately half way through the process of installing those shelves and putting the books in their proper places. (If I’m going to all this trouble, I want my books to be more or less organized!)

I think this is where we were in the process a week ago.

We’re not where I had hoped to be by today, but we’re getting there. I have knee surgery scheduled for January 10, so finishing before then is the new target. (We’ve already missed the before Christmas company deadline.) In the meantime, we try not to trip over the stacks of boxes and books that really are shrinking!

Happy reading.


Learning Resources

I love sharing resources with others who are looking for new and different ways to educate children, in and out of a classroom. So it was very exciting at a recent family get together when I learned that one of my brothers-in-law is planning to become a classroom teacher when he retires from his first career in a couple of years.

He wants to teach elementary school, and I primarily focused on high school in my last years of teaching, but I still had quite a few fun resources to share with him.  And it occurred to me that some of these may be of interest to readers of this blog as well.

Free and Inexpensive Resources

So here are a number of my favorite all around educational resources, several of which are free or inexpensive, and most of which could be helpful whether you are involved in the education of younger students or older ones, and whether you are dealing with just one or two students, or an entire classroom of them.

TED Talk

An amazing Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson on Changing Paradigms about Education (everyone with an interest in education should watch this!):

 Izzit Educational DVDs are amazing! And as an educator you can get a free one each year. (Or you can stream any of them for free.) If you are working with high schoolers there are so many great ones to choose from!  If you are working with elementary age, these two (Pups of Liberty) are my favorites:

Books and Lectures

As I’ve mentioned on my other blog, I am an avid Audible listener. So, of course, I listen to these through Audible. But the first two are also available as books, and the last one is also available directly through the Great Courses (though there they will definitely cost more than getting it through Audible!)

Happy Learning!



Never Stop Learning!

Beginning Another School Year

Depending on what part of the country you’re in, school has either just started or will likely start sometime in the next several weeks. (Having gone to school mostly in the North, the start of a school year belongs after Labor Day in my mind, and that’s generally how I structured my classes. But I know that not everyone has that amount of flexibility.)

But either way, starting a school year, like ending one, is a good time to reflect on the purpose of school.  Why do we do what we’re doing? What are we trying to accomplish? It might be better to ask and answer those types of questions before plunging into the “which curriculum will we be using this year?” questions.

Home Schooling vs. Home Educating

In my thirty-five years of educating my own children, I often used the term “home schooling” out of simplicity (since it’s the term most often used by the others involved in a similar journey), but in actuality, my focus was seldom on schooling my children. So why, you might ask, was I home schooling my children? Because I cared about the education my children received.  Even before our first child was born, my husband and I were researching what our educational options for each of them would be.

It’s not that students can’t receive a good education in a private or public school situation – many of them do. It’s not that there aren’t good teachers in those settings – many of them are. (Both my Mom and Dad were teachers at different times in their careers.  I respect the hard work done by them and the many other dedicated teachers out there.) And it’s not that every parent is cut out to be responsible for supervising the education of their own children – but I find that many of them are!

Defining “Education” and “School”

The definition for education is “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge; developing the powers of reasoning and judgement, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

Especially when we get to the “developing the powers of reasoning and judgement” portion of that definition, isn’t that a better description of what we’re trying to accomplish than their definition of school: “an institution where instruction is given.”

What’s the “Best Education”?

I never wanted my home to feel like an institution, and after I got started on my journey of educating my own children, I also didn’t want it to feel like a school. This wasn’t just about giving instruction! Helping my children receive their best education became my goal. Not someone else’s definition of “the best education” either – but what was best for each of them.

Love of Learning and Tools to Learn

Did I always accomplish my goals with them? Of course not. But my primary goals were to help give them a love of learning and the tools to learn. Now that they are all adults, I think it’s safe to say I was fairly successful in those goals.

Recently, independent of each other, two other adults made comments to me about learning. One said something to the effect of “she was tired of learning new things.” The second one was complaining about something he had never learned, as if he was now somehow too old to learn it.

Never Stop Learning

My response to the first person was that when we stop learning we stop living. May God always give us the desire to continue learning! And to the second person I pointed out that it would be better to say that he hadn’t had a chance to learn that particular thing yet.  He’s still alive, with a sound mind, and should certainly continue to learn new things!

My Retirement Goals

At sixty, I’m now semi-retired, with full retirement likely right around the corner. What retirement means to me is that I get to spend my time learning what I want to learn – which is an amazing freedom that I hope to fully take advantage of.  Of course, I spend much of my learning time on the history that goes with my current writing project (Leonardo da Vinci, at the moment). And this summer, as discussed in several recent posts, I’ve had the privilege of attending two Shakespeare events that have been lots of fun learning as well. (I do have much more to share about Shakespeare, but first I have to organize my notes. So those of you who don’t want to hear more about Shakespeare get another week off, and those that do, will have to wait another week, or go back and read the first, second, or third posts about that exciting subject.)

Learning to Draw

But of all the things I’m currently making time to learn, the drawing lessons I’ve been doing have to be the most fun.  I’ve wanted to learn to draw for a long time, but like anything else, it’s a task that takes time. This summer I’ve finally decided to make that time. I’ve been working out of several “learn to draw” books for about a month now. And I can actually see progress in my drawings. It’s very exciting.

The Time to Learn

So, please, take the time to learn. You won’t regret it. (And if you’re a homeschooling parent or classroom teacher, it’s a great thing to model for your kids/students!)

Happy learning!


Even More Shakespeare Fun

Okay, so this wasn’t quite the type of camp we had.

In last week’s posts (here and on I mentioned two of the many ways we experienced Shakespeare at the No Kidding Shakespeare camp I recently attended. A camp for adults, who knew?

My Methods for Sharing

Today I will share several others. But first, I want to reiterate a couple of things from my first post on Sharing Shakespeare: in the twenty years that I’ve taught Shakespeare I’ve settled into a fairly simple way of sharing Shakespeare with my students – passing out characters in order to read the plays aloud together, and watching the plays (live and on video). There are distinct advantages to both the reading and the watching, and over the years I’ve done both, sometimes starting with one and sometimes starting with the other. (Though last year I had an unusual group of students – they didn’t want to spend any of our class time watching plays – they were enjoying the reading too much! Since this group included a couple of young men with no prior experience reading Shakespeare, I was not going to argue!)

To Read Them All or Not To Read Them All

Enough Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories to last a LONG time!

Overall, I have found that method to be very successful – I have introduced countless students to the wonderful words of the Bard that way. And I certainly won’t be making any major changes this year. (The one year I tried a major shift got off to a really bad start, until I went back to the tried and true.) But what I do plan to do is work in a few of the activities we did at camp around our reading – starting or ending several class periods with an activity that relates to that week’s class. That will mean spending more time on one play, but I have no problem with that. Years ago we had a three and a half year push to read every one of Shakespeare’s plays aloud in class, but since then we’ve settled for making our way slowly through some of the best. (Reading each play was a great accomplishment, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart!)

Dramatic Activities with Shakespeare

But, with no further ado, here are some of the other neat activities we did at camp that I’m hoping to incorporate this fall:

Speaking Sculptures

For this activity we each received a line from a play and then had to walk around the stage reciting the line as we followed different instructions we were being given – walk faster, walk slower, speak the line faster, speak louder, those types of things. I think the idea there was for us to become comfortable with our line, and to experience it in different ways.

A scene from Much Ado

Then we paired off with the person closest to us. We were to instruct our partner to stand in a pose that somehow went with our line. The challenge was that we were not supposed to talk to our partners, nor touch them – we were supposed to get them into position with merely the suggestion of our hands. And I’m sure my students will give me the same blank looks that you’re trying to give me right about now. (It’s definitely something that’s easier to explain through showing than through words, so you’ll just have to take my word for this portion.) Once each partner was in position they were given the other’s line to speak. As half of the group stood as” speaking sculptures,” the other half wandered around and looked and listened. Then we swapped places and repeated the process.

“Forming” the sculpture was indeed a challenge. But it was interesting to wander around and listen to the different lines. I hadn’t recognized my own line or my partner’s line, but as I moved from sculpture to sculpture I did recognize some of the others as being from Much Ado About Nothing. It turned out all of them were from Much Ado. 

Introducing a Play?

A rendition of Taming of the Shrew

I’m thinking that might be a fun way to introduce whatever play we’re starting with this fall. (Sadly, I’m still deciding which one we’re going to do first – so many good ones to choose from – so I can’t start getting lines prepared for this quite yet.) One of the plays the American Shakespeare Center folks will be bringing to Huntsville in February is Taming of the Shrew, so it’s at least in the running for our first play of the semester, depending on how long ago we last read it.

Once I have our first play chosen, I can pick lines for the students to practice speaking and sculpting. I wonder if they’ll be able to figure out which play it is any faster than I did.  Time will tell!

Snapshots of a Scene

For another one of our activities we were broken into small groups, each with a portion of a different scene. Each group had the same number of people as their scene had characters.  As a group we had to choose five places from our scene that we could take “snapshots” of  – where we could  quickly “act” them out (more of a posed three-dimensional picture for each place.) The idea was to visually represent the highlights of our little scene.

I’ve never considered myself much of a drama person (I know, I know, I teach Shakespeare, but that’s different!). But I really enjoyed the various activities we did like this one.

Varying the Tempo

Another time we were in similar small groups with a different short passage. We were instructed to start by reading aloud our passage (adding limited movements if we wanted). Then  we had to read it again several times, varying the tempo and emphasis of individual portions as we read. We could see (or actually, hear) what the small changes we made to our reading did for the overall feeling of our section.

Using These in Class

I don’t want to turn my Shakespeare classes into acting classes – plenty of others already offer those. I want to keep my emphasis on reading and enjoying Shakespeare. But I can see how these types of activities, sprinkled sporadically amongst our readings could add a new dimension to our Shakespeare understanding and enjoyment.

More to Come

I’m not sure if I’ve shared about all of the great activities we did at camp yet. (I still haven’t gotten home, unpacked from that trip, and relocated my notes!) But either way I should have more to share within a week or two. I’m planning to go back to Staunton to attend their Teacher Seminar. in early August. Hey, we’re on a roll here! Maybe by then I can nail down which play(s) we’ll be tackling this fall and start figuring out where to work in these various, fun activities.

Actors before Hamlet

In the meantime, if you are already planning to share Shakespeare with your (older) students next year, I hope these different ideas are helpful. And if you’re aren’t, maybe you could reconsider. Overall, I’m a big fan of middle school and high school students spending lots of time with Shakespeare, but not so keen on younger students being exposed to his work. Adult themes permeate these plays, and I don’t see the benefit of sharing those with our youngsters quite yet, but maybe that’s just me. Some of my students have enjoyed Shakespeare with me for as many as four or five years. (What can I say, I don’t think they can get too much Shakespeare!)

Remember, as Hamlet said so many years ago, “The play’s the thing.”

Happy reading!


Sharing Shakespeare with Students

Almost twenty years ago I started a literary journey of discovery that I may never turn back from. Sad to say, at that point in my middle-aged life, I had never read an entire Shakespeare play. In 7th grade we had studied portions of Macbeth, but I’m fairly sure that was the sum total of my previous Shakespeare (reading)  experience.  I’m not sure how I managed to graduate from high school (as valedictorian, no less) with no other encounters with Shakespeare. But I don’t know which frustrates me more – that fact, or the fact that I actually took a Shakespeare class while I was a student at M.I.T. – and we never read a total play there either!

Enjoying Shakespeare

Yes, there are lots of ways to enjoy Shakespeare – watching his plays on the stage or on a screen certainly aid in that process. I even wrote a guest blog post for Folger about  “Three Ways to Have Fun with Shakespeare,” so I’m clearly not against those types of activities either.

Reading Shakespeare

But playing with or watching Shakespeare should come with reading Shakespeare, not take its place.  And I’m not talking about reading about Shakespeare – I’m talking about reading Shakespeare. Yes, the plot development and characters in Shakespeare are pretty amazing – but It’s his words that rise to the top when I ponder why students need to become better acquainted with the Bard. And there’s no better way to make that acquaintance than by reading his plays – from start to finish.

Another way to read Shakespeare.

My First Classes

When I started this journey it was at the request of one of my older sons. He had been reading Shakespeare on his own (having fairly well exhausted the literature in the family’s extensive library). But he was tired of reading the plays alone. The conversation went something like this: “Mom, you should teach a Shakespeare class. I want to read these plays aloud with others.” Me: “Of course.” (As I’m wondering how I’m going to teach about something I know so little about.)

But as happened so often in the thirty-five years that I homeschooled, not knowing something didn’t get in my way. I was going to make this work – and learn Shakespeare along the way, right alongside my students. The first year I “taught” Shakespeare we invited one other family (so between us we had eight readers). In order to have a good balance of plays, we started with Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and Henry V, giving us a taste of his comedies, tragedies, and histories. Those three plays had the added advantage of being easily available in video format. (Though I found out the hard way that the version of Hamlet we rented needed to be screened.)

Sadly, I can’t remember now whether we watched the video versions and then read the plays, or did it the other way around (and over the years of teaching since then I’ve done it both ways). But either way, when it came to reading the plays, we passed out characters amongst each of our readers, and then read each play, from the first scene to the last one.

Characters and Lines

It didn’t take me long to run across the first problem – trying to determine which characters had the most lines.  With students of a variety of reading levels (from elementary age through high school), it was crucial to have an idea which characters spoke most often and with the greater number of lines. After a great deal of searching I gave up and took care of the problem myself – creating a character-line chart for each play we were preparing to read. (How many lines does Hamlet have? Or Ophelia? Or the King? I could soon answer all of those questions and then some!)

After one year with just one other family I was branching out and inviting other high school students I knew.  Pretty soon I was teaching a bona fide high school Shakespeare class of sixteen students. We mostly read Shakespeare, occasionally watched Shakespeare, and sometimes we even discussed Shakespeare.

Other Resources

While I was teaching, I continued to learn about Shakespeare – reading a number of other books along the way. (A couple of my favorite books included Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and Shakespeare for Dummies.) As I taught and studied I fell further and further in love with Shakespeare.

Recently I’ve also discovered several Audible books related to Shakespeare that I’ve also enjoyed, including Shakespeare Saved My Life and several Great Courses lecture series – Shakespeare: The Word and the Action; William Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies and How to Read and Understand Shakespeare.

None of the above are absolutely critical for starting to teach or learn about Shakespeare, but any of them will help add to your understanding if you are interested.

Sharing Shakespeare

And I can safely say that I have now shared my love of Shakespeare with dozens of students directly over the last two decades, and through other teachers that I taught, probably hundreds more. Many of them benefited from the guide I wrote during my first three and a half years of teaching every Shakespeare play – Sharing Shakespeare with Students.

Happy learning!


Teaching History without Textbooks

If I could only choose one subject to try and convince people to teach without the hindrance/help of textbooks, it would be history. History out of a textbook is generally just about memorizing dates and names long enough to take a test. (The regurgitation method I mentioned in the previous blog post, Teaching Curriculum vs. Learning Curriculum.) But how much of that is actually learned? From my personal experience, I would have to say very little.

Dates and Names?

Are the dates and names really that important? Why do we want our students to memorize things that are (a) so quickly forgotten and (b) so easily looked up?

King Richard I

When I think of history and what’s important about it, the first thing I think of is the stories. Isn’t it the stories of people and events that matter? It’s not just those long lists of names, whether they be presidents or kings or explorers. No, it’s what those men and women (and occasionally, children) did that make them worthy of being on a list in the first place. If we stick to the stories of history, much of the remembrance will come. And again, what we don’t remember, we should at least know how to look up.

Flow of History

Civil War Ruins

The other important part of history we shouldn’t neglect is the flow of history. I didn’t necessarily need my students to memorize the dates of the important events – but I did want them to have a sense of what came before what. Many, many years ago I read an insightful book, What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? The statistics in the book were rather startling. The majority of high school juniors and seniors couldn’t place things like the Civil War in the right half century – on a multiple choice test. While I may not think that every student should be able to tell you without hesitation that those dates were 1861 to 1865, I think they should all have an idea that it was fought in the second half of the 19th century and that World Wars I and II were fought in the first half of the 20th century.

History Options

So, when we are choosing our educational packages for our students for the upcoming year(s), what should we take into consideration in our decisions for history? Can we look beyond what the curriculum companies package together for us and consider what might be a better “learning curriculum” instead?

Should We Cover Hundreds or Thousands of Years?

First, I would recommend asking whether it’s really necessary to study such a long period of history in such a short amount of time. It is amazing to me that almost every American History curriculum insists on a study that covers hundreds of years, and of course, World History curriculums are generally worse, covering thousands of years.

At what point did we decide that history should be taught that way? Who can really make sense of that many events in such a short time? Why not choose a portion of American or World History to teach – and go into it in more depth? Many homeschoolers hesitate to stray away from canned curriculum because they might miss something. But, as I’ve always said, covering something is not the same thing as learning it. (Go back to that difference between Teaching Curriculums and Learning Curriculums.) Shouldn’t we be more concerned about what actually gets learned?


Another common fear I heard often was “What about tests?” When we’re not using the packaged curriculum, we’re giving up those nice, neat tests they generally provide. But since I don’t see a real value in tests in a homeschool situation, I never really missed them myself. And if you really need a test, you can always write one yourself. Or better yet, have the student(s) write it! What a great way for a student to show they have learned about a particular topic – if they can write the test that shows what the most important things were that they just studied.

Where do I begin?

So, you might be asking, if I’m going to teach something smaller, like say, the Civil War, and I’m not going to use a curriculum, what am I going to use? There is an endless supply of resources for teaching history – from field trips to movies to “real” books – both fiction and non-fiction. My family spent an entire school year studying the Civil War. (I put our favorite resources in my book, Civil War Topical Study.) We visited battlefields in a number of places, including Shiloh, Chattanooga, and Gettysburg. We watched several movies, including the Great Locomotive ChaseGettysburg and Glory. (The first one is a family movie and the other two are great movies – minus the bad language and some typical battle violence – as with all such things – preview before you show!) And we read countless books, from the public library and from our own personal library. For older students and adults, Jeff Shaara is my absolute favorite history author. (And he has written historical novels on a fairly large number of American wars besides the Civil War – including the Mexican War, the Revolutionary War, and both World Wars I and II.)

Using Games

As I’ve said before, games are another great way to learn and reinforce topics like history. Timeline games are one of our favorite tools for increasing history learning. I talked about those more on my other blog in Writing Timeline Games. But if you are unfamiliar with the concept, they are basically what they sound like – a timeline in a game format. In keeping with the priority of learning the flow of history without memorizing specific dates, the games can be played and won without having any of the dates memorized. You don’t have to know exact dates – you just have to know which events came before and after the other events in your timeline.

Options Outside of Textbooks

Hopefully you are getting the idea that there are lots of history options outside of textbooks. Choose a time period or a war and start learning together with your student(s). You don’t have to have it all figured out in advance and you don’t have to have all the answers!

Happy learning!

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