SONY DSCGameology is the best way to get through the winter blues and break through the “February Wall.”  What is Gameology?

It is the art of learning through games.   It is an art I have spent many years perfecting!  Yes, I admit it.  I am a game-a-holic!  And I am proud to say through my example my daughter is a game-a-holic too!  When our family started a new unit, we played a game to introduce the topic.  When we needed help remembering information, we played a game.  When we were overwhelmed and overworked, we played games.  When I needed a break (or the kids needed a break), we played games.  While in the car, we played games. While on vacation, we played games.  While waiting at the doctor’s office,  we played games.  When math facts were killing us, we played games. When biology and chemistry terms baffled us, we played games.  During election season, we played games.  During the world series season, we played games.  Before and after historical field trips, we played games.  I think you get the picture.  Any time I could use game time as an excuse to put the books away, I did!

Did you know it takes 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain UNLESS it is done through play?  If a person is learning through play or games, then it only takes 10-20 repetitions!  So you see, science backs me up too!  Playing is our brain’s favorite way to learn.  Playing games is a great way to learn, review and reinforce concepts, skills, and facts.  It is scientifically proven!  There is so little time and so many games to play!

At our special weekend for homeschooling moms in March, we will be sharing how to  travel around the world through books, games, field trips, and family vacations.   In our morning session, “Passport to Learning,” we will focus on our all-time favorite games we used throughout the years to learn about geography, cultures, and countries around the world.  Since we have so many favorite games and so little time in our morning session, I wanted to share some of our favorite math, science, history, grammar, writing, and art games with you in this post!


Let’s get one thing straight before we start:  Not all students will memorize their math facts!  While this act comes easily to many, it is downright impossible for some.  So don’t beat yourself up (or your child) if he still can’t recall quickly and correctly the answer to 6 x 8 !  However, you can play card, dice, and board games to help teach, review and reinforce those pesky math facts and down-right mind-blowing algebraic concepts.

Addition & Multiplication Fact Card Games:  Check out our “12 Days of Christmas” article.  We explain 12 different card and dice games you can play.  Also, my Math FUNdamentals:  Using Games to Teach Math book is out of print, but we are working on a 2nd edition and hope to publish with Amazon in 2021.  All of the games listed below can be played with the whole family.  Each game can also be adapted for younger players or for advanced students.

  1. Quick Pix Multiplication– Fast-paced multiplication fact recall gameI
  2. Quick Pix Math– Same game but with addition facts
  3. Sequence Dice Game–  best addition and strategy game on the market!
  4. Over and Out Card Game– super fun game of adding, subtracting, mental math and doubling
  5. Farkle– hilarious game with lots of adding
  6. Shut the Box– adding, subtracting, and simple order of operations
  7. Uncle Wiggly Game:  game of counting and place value!  Don’t forget to read the tales of Uncle Wiggly!
  8. 24 Card Came– adding, subtracting, and multiplication fun
  9. Zeus on the Loose– Don’t let the name full you!  It is math game with a mythology twist!
  10. Totally Tut- Again, don’t let the name full you!  It is math operations game with an Egyptian pyramid theme.
  11. Sushi Go!  Super fun party game with lots of math addition in the scoring78877n-sequence-dice-game
  12. Absolute Zero Card Game– great for older kids
  13. Equate -math verison of Scrabble
  14. Pizza Fraction Fun Game– Don’t forget to have fun learning fractions too!
  15. ANY Board Game with dice!  Kids are adding every time they roll and move!  Our favorite is Parchessi!
  16. ANY -Opoly Game!  Kids are learning about all kinds of topics while practicing their money skills!  Our family favorite is Dog-opoly!

*** Don’t forget logic is a big part of mathematical thinking!  Add these “must have”
strategy and logic games to your math playtime:  Chess, Clue, Guess Who, Battleship, Mastermind, Logic Links, Set, & Ticket to Ride


Where to begin??  There are so many scientific fields to investigate!  See our “Textbook and Stress-Free Science” article for some of the best science games out there.  In the list below, I share a few new ones on the market and some old classics not mentioned in the science oplogy

  1. Treking the National Parks:  Great way to learn about our national parks and the animals that live in them.
  2. Amazing Animal Trivia Game:  mix between memory and trivia
  3. Guess in 10:  animal card version of 20 questions
  4. Qurious Space:  fast-paced space trivia game
  5. The Invention Game– hilarious guessing game about real patents that were never mass- produced
  6. Totally Gross:  Game of Science– be prepared for some silly science shenanigans!
  7. Rock On!  Geology Game of Rocks & Minerals:  bingo-type game to learn rock cycle



Since we will share our favorite geography games at our special weekend for homeschooling moms in March, this list will focus more on history games you can play.  Shhhh!  Don’t tell your kids they are doing school work!  These games are so fun and jam-packed with information, you may never want to use a history book again!

  1. The Constitution Quest Game:  learn about the 3 branches of governmentIMG_0902
  2. Hail to the Chief:  learn about the electoral college and presidential trivia
  3. Monopoly America Special Edition:  take a trip down American memory lane.  Even the pieces are patriotic
  4. Our America Board Game: tons of trivia facts
  5. Oregon Trail Game: They finally created a card game from the classic computer simulation!
  6. Made for Trade:  great for colonial history (and economics)
  7. Castle Keep:  Medieval strategy
  8. Medieval Alliance:  beautiful board and playing cards
  9. Medieval Memory Game:  learn about important persons and structures medieval-alliance-game.jpg
  10. Senet:  classic Egyptian game, a little bit of math and a lot of Egyptian fun
  11. Ancient History Go Fish Game:  learn about important persons and ancient structures
  12. Feilong:  The China Game– awesome way to learn about ancient China
  13. Any Professor Noggins Games!



In our article, “The Perfect Writing Curriculum,” we shared some of our favorite word games to help build vocabulary and a love of language.  Click here to read it.  There are also the classic spelling games like Scrabble, Boggle and Mad Libs that should be on every homeschooling shelf!  The list below is full of grammar and writing games.  These games are so addictive, I bet the whole family will want to spend all day playing them!tall-tales-game-giveaway.jpg

  1. Tall Tales Story Telling Board Game:  create and spin a tall tale while playing!
  2. Once Upon A Time:  cooperative family game of writing fairytales
  3. Create A Story Board Game:  Draw character, setting, and conflict cards to create the best (or craziest) story
  4. The Plays the Thing:  Super fun game to learn about Shakespeare and three of his balderdash_game-13596.jpg
    plays.  No prior knowledge of Shakespeare needed to play!
  5. Apples to Apples:  Did you know this family favorite is full of adjectives and nouns!
  6. Read My List:  quick thinking, fast-paced game to build vocabulary
  7. Balderdash!    Hilarious game of vocabulary and definitions!  (Did you know Dr. Seuss, Shakespeare, and Roald Dahl make up hundreds of words now used in the English language?


  1.  Lord of Chords: Wow!  Expensive but beautifully done.  Full of music puns and clever way to learn simple and complex music theory.
  2. Art History Games:  Go Fish for Art Renaissance Card Game, Impressionist Artists Go Fish,  Van Gogh and Friends Go Fish Card Game, & American Ditto Art Game


Coming in a future post, “Soul Food,” we will share some of our favorite Bible games too!

So that, my friend, is Gameology in a nut-shell!  We hope your family will love playing these games as much as we did!

God bless,


**If you would like to learn more about using games, literature, and fieldtrips to teach geography, history (and just about everything else), join us at our 3rd annual special weekend for homeschooling moms on March 27th and 28th.  In our morning session, “Passport to Learning,” we will share tons of ideas of how to incorporate traveling, games, and literature into your homeschooling!

For more information, click HERE.

To register, click HERE.

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Christmas Around the World

!Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noël! Buon Natale! Mele Kalikimaka! God Jul!  Shnorhavor Amanor yev Surb Tznund (Շնորհավոր Ամանոր և Սուրբ Ծնունդ)!  Merry Christmas!

buon-natale.jpgIt is officially the holiday season!  We have less than 25 days until Christmas.  This means our house will be teeming with excitement, the smells of gingerbread and tons of family activities.  The hustle and bustle of December also makes it harder to complete lessons and stay on task.  Math and writing lessons get pushed to the bottom of the “we will get to it tomorrow” pile.

Unfortunately, homeschooling moms like myself also carry a twinge of guilt in December as Christmas gets closer and closer and less and less schoolwork gets accomplished.  Being a Type A person, December always brings a different kind of stress for me.  Our family never seems to have enough time to get our school work completed.  There are so many fun fieldtrips to go on, so many friends and family in town to visit, so many cookies to bake and so many presents to make and wrap.   And this year, my eldest graduates college and turns 21 in December!  There will be lots of celebrating and little school work being done.

christmasbreakOne year, God reminded me of the main reason we homeschool:  the freedom and flexibility to learn about Jesus as a family! One year out of desperation, we decided to take off the entire month of December.  Yes, the entire month!  I know, traditional schools maybe get two weeks of vacation, but we decided our family would take some much needed time off and spend our time making memories and spreading some Christmas cheer.  However being Type A, I felt guilty about not doing “school” for a whole month.  So I turned our Christmas traditions and holiday errands into part of our “school day.”

christmas-in-mexicoSome of my favorite holiday “school work” were the years we learned about how other countries around the world celebrate Christmas.  Since “Coffee with Carrie” blog spent the first few months of the 2019-2020 school year sharing how to “travel” the world in 80 Books, we decided to extend the “travel” theme to Christmas time too!

king cake 2In our Christmas “travels,” some years we learned how other countries and cultures celebrate Christmas.  Some years we focused on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the season of Advent and then learned about Kwanzaa and Epiphany after Christmas.  Since I am from New Orleans, we always incorporated Epiphany and Kings Day into our Christmas “lessons.”    After all, Mardi Gras season starts on Epiphany or King’s Day.  On Epiphany, we eat King Cakeread the story of the Wise Men, and talk about the cute plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake.  


christmas around worldThe first resource you will want to get if you are going to learn about how Christmas is celebrated around the world is  Christmas Around the World by Lankford.  It not only comes with short descriptions of how different countries celebrate Christmas and birth of Jesus, but it also gives cooking and craft ideas too.  We even used some of the ideas to make Christmas presents for family and friends.  Another great resource to use is Celebrate Christmas Around the World.  

Start the Christmas season off by celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. Saint Nicholas was a Christian bishop who helped the needy. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving grew. Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia, an area that is part of present-day Turkey. He reportedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. A devout Christian, he later served as bishop of Myra.  There are many legends about Saint Nicholas.  One story tells how he helped three poor sisters. Their father did not have enough money to pay their dowries and thought of selling them into servitude. Three times, Saint Nicholas secretly went to their house at night and put a bag of money inside. The Dutch continue to celebrate the feast day of Saint Nicholas on December 6. It is a common practice for children to put out their shoes the night before. In the morning, they discover the gifts left by Saint Nicholas. Dutch immigrants brought the legend of Saint Nicholas, known to them as Sint Nikolaas or by his nickname, Sinterklaas, to America in the 1700s.  Our family loved putting out our shoes out on the eve of Dec. 6th.  The kids would wake up to chocolate gold coins in a brand new pair of shoes.  As the kids reached puberty, they grew out of their shoes faster than they could adequately use them, so in the spirit of St. Nicholas, we donated presents and some of our slightly used shoes  (and a few new pairs) to a local community center in our town.  The presents and shoes were then given to needy families in our area.

In Mexico, Christians celebrate Los Posadas.  With your family this holiday season, learn about Los Posadas and even attend one if you can.  We live in Southern California so visiting Olvera Street during the holiday season was always a treat!

In Egypt, Coptic Christians make up only a minority, around 10 percent of the population, but they have longstanding Christmas traditions, such as the Feast of the Nativity. The Coptic Christians also observe the month of “Kiahk,” starting from Nov. 25 through Jan. 6, where they fast and eat a vegan diet.  On January 6th, they celebrate Christmas with a liturgical service, which is then followed by a fellowship meal where they break their fast and continue to rejoice in the birth and incarnation of Jesus.  While our family never fasted during Advent, the season leading up to Christmas Day, we do host a feast on Christmas Eve for our family.

Live-NativityItaly is where the tradition of nativity scenes or creches originated.  The Nativity scene is said to have originated with Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223 when he constructed a nativity scene in a cave in the town of Greccio and held Christmas Eve mass and a nativity pageant there. Greccio reenacts this event each year.  We made our own clay and wooden figures nativity scene, which I still put on the mantlepiece every year.  

AJ5905, Vermont, VT, New England. Image shot 2000. Exact date unknown.Some Church historians state that the tradition of the Christmas Tree, also known as Tannenbaum, began in Germany. German and Dutch immigrants also brought their traditions of trees and presents to the New World in the early 1800s.  The evergreen Christmas tree is a symbol of everlasting life and in some cultures also represents the Tree of Life, which is why many ornaments are apples.  Germany is also known for the tradition of all things gingerbread.   One of our favorite traditions to this day is decorating our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and then making a gingerbread house the first week of Advent.  Celebrate with your fellow Germans by making homemade ornaments for your Christmas tree and then bake and decorate a homemade gingerbread house.

yule-log-cake.jpgIn France, the land of good food and fabulous chefs, one Christmas celebration is to bake and eat 13 different desserts! All the desserts are made from different types of fruit, nuts, and pastries.  The Yule Log (the literal tree and the chocolate version) originated in France as well. In Provence, it is traditional that the whole family help cut the log down and that a little bit of it is burnt each night. If any of the log is left after the Twelfth Night, it is kept safe in the house until the next Christmas to protect against lightning!  A Chocolate Yule Log or ‘bûche de Noël’ is  a popular Christmas dessert or pudding. It’s traditionally eaten in France and Belgium.  The Yule Log is made of a chocolate sponge cake roll layered with cream. The outside is covered with chocolate or chocolate icing and decorated to look like the bark of a tree. Some people like to add extra decorations such as marzipan mushrooms!  While we did not bake 13 different desserts for Christmas Day, we do spend a lot of time baking tons of cookies!

Although in total secrecy, Christians find a way to mark the birth of Christ in countries where Christians are persecuted, such as North Korea, the country that has been ranked as the most oppressive place for believers in the world for 15 straight years by major watchdog groups, such as Open Doors USA.  While many Christians around the world are not free to publically celebrate Christmas, it doesn’t stop them from secretly celebrating the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.  While there are not many Asian or Middle Eastern Christmas traditions to try, our family did spend time praying for persecuted Christians around the world during the Christmas season.  

There are so many more Christmas traditions to explore and participate in.  Don’t forget to pick up a copy of Christmas Around the World by Lankford (biblically based) and Celebrate Christmas Around the World.  (secular).


In December, the one thing we did not skimp on was family read aloud time.  Since we didn’t have official lessons to do, we actually had more time to read great books while sitting around in our PJs.   One of my new favorite picture books is A World of Cookies for Santa:  Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World M. E. Furman. This super fun book takes readers across the globe to see all the treats that await Santa on Christmas Eve. The children head to the Philippines where puto seko cookies and ginger tea are left out for Santa; jet to Russia for a honey-spice cookie then set out for Malawi for a sweet potato cookie! When you finish the book, the journey’s still not over.  Recipes are provided in the book for your family so you can bake some of the cookies mentioned in the story.     

world of cookiesSome of our favorite Christmas chapter books were The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Robinson, A Little House Christmas by Laura Ingalls Wilder and A Christmas Carol by Dickens.  We also spent many hours reading classic picture books such as The Polar Express, The Night Before Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas Each year I always added a picture book that told the true meaning of Christmas.  Some of our favorites are Humphrey’s First Christmas and The Legend of the Poinsettia..


Boy Writing Letter to SantaDuring our December “break”, we had no problem finding writing “assignments” to do.  The kids helped me write and address our Christmas cards.  They wrote Christmas notes to send to friends and then wrote thank you cards for gifts they received.  They created our gift tags and place cards for Christmas Eve brunch.  They copied favorite recipes to include with homemade gifts and favorite Christmas verses to add to cards.  They created shopping lists, “to do” lists, grocery lists, and guestlists.  Today, brush writing and calligraphy are the new craze!  With your older kids, learn how to write your favorite bible verses using colorful markers and brush writing.  They make beautiful gifts and keepsakes.  Don’t feel guilty!  There were always plenty of writing opportunities to do in December.


cookiesDon’t feel guilty about spending time baking either!  After all, there is a fine art to baking which is only made possible by science!  From yeast rising to cookie batter ratios to spices in gingerbread,  science “experiments” with chemical reactions, compounds and mixtures are happening every time you bake another dozen cookies!  Still feeling guilty, don’t forget about all of the measurements, multiplication, and fractions that are being used every time you triple your famous pumpkin bread recipe!


and-the-angel-said-to-them-fear-not-for-behold-i-bring-you-good-news-of-gre-esvOf course, don’t forget to celebrate the reason for the season!  Even if you do not get to play any of these games, read any of these stories, or do any of these activities, make sure you take the time to go caroling, serve your neighbors, and spread the good news of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection this holiday season.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,


Around the World in 80 Books (Part 3)

hello-diffretn-languages.jpgHola!  Bonjour!  Ciao! Nǐn hǎo! Guten Tag!  Good day, Matie!  Welcome back to our travels around the world in 80 books three-part series.  If you haven’t read the first and/or second blog, CLICK HERE (PART 1) and HERE (PART 2).

This month we will finish our travels by traveling to Asia, Africa, and Australia.  Besides eating delicious food and reading great books from around the world, we also spend a lot of time playing games!  Over the years, we have accumulated geography board games and card games as well as unique games that are played in other cultures.  Our “travel around the world” year-long studies can be summed up in four words:  pray, read, eat, and play!  We would learn about other countries and pray for missionaries around the world.  We would read books about people and places around the world and chapter books set in different places around the world.  We would eat new and exciting foods grown and cooked in countries around the world, and we would play games that helped us appreciate God’s amazing world and the people in it.

game ticket to rideI could do a whole blog just on the games our family has played and collected over the years!  Because we have so many favorites, my daughter and I will share many of them at our special weekend for homeschooling moms in March.  One of our Saturday sessions is “Passport to Learning.”  I promise we will bring tons of games from around the world to share with you!  Click here for more info on Saturday’s session:  Passport to Learning

Until then, let’s get our book backpack and finish our travels to Asia, Africa, and Australia!

BOOKS #61-70  ASIA

  1. Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin & Story of Ping by Majorie Flack (China)
  2. Grandfather Tang by Amy Tompert (China)
  3. The Origami Master by Nathaniel Lacheneyer  (Japan)
  4. Bee-Bim Bop  & A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (Korea)
  5. Mountains of Tibet by Mordicai Gerstein (**deals with incarnation beliefs**)
  6. Grandfather’s Dream by Holly Keller (Vietnam)
  7. The Secrets of the Terra Cotta Soldier by Ying Chang Compestine (China)
  8. White Crane:  Samurai Kids #1 by Sandi Fussel (Japan)
  9. Dolls of Hope by Shirley Parenteau (Japan)
  10. White Elephant by Sid Fleischman (Thailand)



  1. Possum Magic by Mem Fox  (Australia)
  2. The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall (Australia)
  3. Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox  & New Zealand’s ABC by Holly Schroeder
  4. Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (Egypt)
  5. Emmanuel’s Dream:  A True Story by Laurie Ann Thompson (Ghana)
  6. Seeds of Change:  Wangari’s Gift to the World by Jen Cullerton Johnson (Kenya)
  7.  I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Baba Wague Diakite (Mali)
  8. The Storyteller by Evan Turk (Morocco)
  9. Nelson Mandela:  Long Walk to Freedom Picture Book edited by Chris van Wyk (South Africa)
  10. Boy Who Harnassed the Wind:  A True Story by William Kamkwamba (Malawi)



I hope you enjoyed our travel “Around the World in 80 Books” three-part series.  We suggested 80 books we have used over the years to learn about different cultures and places around the world.  However, don’t box yourself into these books.  There are so many picture books, devotionals, and chapter books to choose from.  The idea is to pick books that highlight a country or culture in an authentic way.  I tried to pick books that showed the beauty of God’s world and the diversity of God’s people.  I also tried to find stories of people whose lives are worth emulating and stories of people following God’s Word.  I tried to read books that helped our family see the world the way God sees it and help our children to love God’s people the way He loves them.  I even chose books that highlighted other religions so my children would hopefully grow up to be global-minded, mission-oriented, and kingdom-centered.

If you are overwhelmed, may I offer a word of advice given by Jesus himself?  “Seek first the kingdom of God and all of these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:22)” and But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).  Martha was frazzled and stressed about all she needed to do, but Jesus reminded her the most important place to be is at his feet in his presence.  When we choose to put God first, all the other things will be added in God’s perfect way and in God’s perfect timing.   My motto is “If all you did today with your family was read THE good book and a GOOD book, then you had a great day!”  It is enough and sufficient for that day.  The GOOD book is soul food and a good BOOK is brain food.  Without even trying, your kids will learn a few historical, scientific, and /or artistic concepts along the way.  There will be other days to catch up on math and writing.

May God richly bless your homeschooling adventures for His glory,

Carrie De Francisco

Mark your calendars for March 27-28th.  If you live in the southern California area, we would love for you to join us for our next homeschooling mom event:  Homeschooling Adventures:  A Weekend to Refresh, Rest and Rejuvenate.  It will be a weekend of encouragement, refreshment, and fellowship.  During our Saturday morning session, Passport to Learning, we will share more on the topic of how to travel the world (literally and figuratively) through books, field trips, games and family vacations. Check out our Upcoming Events Tab for details of each session and links to register.


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Around the World in 80 Books (Part 2)

Welcome back to the second part of Around the World in 80 books!  If you haven’t read Part One, click here

passport booksGet your passport!  This month, we are off to explore South America, Europe, and the Middle East – one book at a time.  If you can’t physically visit a country to immerse yourself in their culture, the next best thing is to immerse yourself into the life of a person from that country.  Whenever our family has a chance to talk with a friend or a family member who is from another country, we invite them over for tea and conversation.  One of our favorite tea times was with a friend of mine from Bible study.  As usual, my friend who is from Malaysia arrived in traditional Malaysian clothing and was bearing yummy gifts for the kids and my hubby.  Christy loves to cook, so we invited her to our home to share stories of her growing up and to cook lunch!  (Yes, I actually invited a friend over and asked her to cook our lunch!)  The kids and I had a blast!  She brought authentic spices from Malaysia and even produce from her own garden.  She invited the kids to help her prepare the meal while she explained what the foods and spices were, some of her favorite childhood stories that revolved around the meal she was preparing and even taught us some Mayla words.  Christy also brought pictures and books and told us all about her home town, her family, and her country.  She even taught us how to play one of her favorite Malaysian games.

suitcase booksIf you don’t have any friends or acquaintances from far away and exotic lands, the next best thing is to become friends with a character in a book.  We can learn so much about a country and its culture through the eyes of someone who lives there (fictional or real).  This month, let’s explore South America first and visit the Carnaval in Brazil!  (Hey, I am from N’awlins after all!  We love a carnaval!) It was hard to choose, but here is a list of our top ten favorite books about South America, Europe (so, so, so many to choose from) and the Middle East.


  1. Cassio’s Day:  Brazil by Maria De Fatima (This is a great non-fiction, photographic book series)  (Brazil)
  2. Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood  (Paraguay)
  3. From Dawn to Dusk:  Enrique’s Day by Sara A. Fajardo  (Peru)
  4. My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown  (Chile)
  5. The Lost City:  The Discovery of Machu Picchu by Ted Lewin  (Peru)
  6. Treasure Hunters:  Quest for the City of Gold by James Patterson (Peru)
  7. Nate Saint:  On a Wing and a Prayer by Janet Benge (Ecuador)
  8. Up and Down the Andes by Laurie Krebs (Peru)
  9. Cameron Townsend:  Good News in Every Language by Janet Benge (Central America)
  10. Waiting for the Bibloburro by Monica Brown  (Colombia)

**Don’t forget about the Count Your Way Through series.  Count Your Way Through Brazil by Jim Haskins was one of our favorites.



  1. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Denmark)
  2. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (France)
  3. The Adventures of Robin Hood (England)
  4. The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning (Germany)
  5. D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire (Greece)
  6. Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco and Patrick:  Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola (Ireland)
  7. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (Italy)
  8. Heidi by Johanna Spyri (Swiss Alps)
  9. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (Europe in general)
  10. The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson (Austria)

**Han’s Christian Andersen’s Fairytales are full of European imagery, folktales, and landscapes.  You must check out my favorite art series, Katie and the Sunflowers (and the other Katie books)  by James Mayhew.  Katie has the ability to jump into masterpieces and interact with the painter and the people in the painting.  These are great books to read while studying Europe and its great masters.  ***



  1. Arabian Nights:  Retold from the Classic Tales by Classic Starts (Middle East)
  2. The Legend of the Persian Carpet (Persia / Iran)
  3. Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco (Israel)
  4. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (Pakistan)
  5. One Grain of Rice by Demi (India)
  6. Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn (Afganistan)
  7. Just So Stories and The Jungle Book by Kipling (India)
  8. Who is Gandhi? and Who is Mother Theresa? (Who is Series)
  9. The Librarian of Basra:  A True Story from Iraq by Jennette Winters
  10. The Hungry Coat:  A Tale from Turkey by Demi

**Don’t forget about the Count Your Way Through series.  There are many Middle Eastern and European countries in this series.  Count Your Way Through Iran by Jim Haskins is a more recent publication and is beautifully illustrated.



indian food.jpgThe best part about “traveling” around the world is trying new foods. Make sure you try out some local ethnic restaurants in your area and attempt to make authentic recipes from around the world.  We even tried to find markets and grocery stores that specialized in a particular culture. This way we could try some of the spices, produce and goodies a country was known for.  When my family and I started “traveling around the world” as part of our Year One cycle, I needed to purchase cookbooks.  Today, delicious ethnic recipes are just click away on the internet or just ask Siri.

Enjoy your homeschooling adventures this month!  Check back next month for Part Three.  We will travel to Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Sayonara, adios and aloha,

Carrie De Francisco

***Mark your calendars for March 27-28th.  If you live in the southern California area, we would love for you to join us for our next homeschooling mom event:  Homeschooling Adventures:  A Weekend to Refresh, Rest and Rejuvenate.  It will be a weekend of encouragement, refreshment, and fellowship.  During our Saturday morning session, Passport to Learning, we will share more on the topic of how to travel the world (literally and figuratively) through books, field trips, games and family vacations.   For more information on the event and sessions, visit our tab “Upcoming Events.”  Make sure you “like” and “follow” our blog for monthly topics on Christian homeschooling and for updates on our registration for our homeschooling mom event in March.***

Check out our Upcoming Events Tab for details of each session and links to register.  See you in March!

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Around the World in 80 Books (Part 1)

Get our your passport and come take a literary and memorable trip around the world with me!  A little background info before we embark.   Our family loosely follows the classical approach.  I have always loved the idea of learning history in chronological order, so when we began our homeschooling journey, we started at the beginning.  However our very first year of homeschooling, I was inspired by My Father’s World:  Exploring Countries and Cultures curriculum.

Before we embarked on learning about ancient history, I wanted to spend an entire year “traveling the world” and learning about the places and the unique geography of the places we would study in later years.  So during our first year of homeschooling, we embarked on an adventure to learn about the 7 continents, the major countries and cities throughout history, and the cultures, people, and landscape of the beautiful places found in ancient, medieval and modern history.  I made “Passports” for each of us, and we spent the year “traveling the world” through books, song, food, festivals, field trips, music, and art.  Our classical homeschool cycle looked like this:

  • Year One:  “Travel the World”
  • Year Two:  Ancient History (Creation to Christ)
  • Year Three:  Medieval to Modern (Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation & Exploration)
  • Year Four:  US & Modern World History (1700’s to current)

During our “Traveling around the world” year, we started in North America and focused on the United States first!  We learned about our home state, California, and then we worked our way across America.  (FYI- If you are looking for a comprehensive interdisciplinary literature-based curriculum for California History, check out CA Out of the Box!)The first time we did Year One, we focused on national parks as we traveled the US.  The second time we did Year One, we memorized the states and capitals.  The last time we did Year One, my son was taking a culinary art and cooking class as well as a few art classes, so we focused on the unique foods prepared and served in different parts of the United States.  Yes, we ate our way around the US!  Additionally, we also spent the year learning how to draw and label the United States from memory.

After a month of “traveling” the United States, we worked our way up north to Canada and then went south of the border to Mexico.  From North America, we explored the richness of South America and many of its culturally and historically unique countries.  We then moved across the pond to study Europe.  We often spent way too much time in Europe but some of my favorite inventors, artists, musicians, and political figures are from European countries.  Next, we crossed the Ural Mountains and explored Asia and the Middle East, which is the cradle to civilization (and the focus of most current event news stories).  We moved across the Strait of Gibraltar into Africa and then finished our travels in Australia and Oceania.  Some years we had time for Antartica and some years we didn’t.

This is how our Year One “Travel Around the World” was generally organized:

  • September:  United States
  • October:  North America (Canada, Mexico & Central American countries)
  • November:  South America ( Picked 4 countries to focus on)
  • December:  Learned about how Christmas is celebrated around the world
  • January:  Europe ( Picked 4 countries to focus on)
  • February:  Europe & Middle East  ( Picked 4 countries to focus on)
  • March: Asia & Middle East ( Picked 4 countries to focus on)
  • April:  Africa ( Picked 4 countries to focus on)
  • May:  Australia and Oceania Countries

Since we cycled through Year One every four years, we would focus on different countries each time we “traveled the world.”  For example, the first time we did Year One and Europe, we learned about Great Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Russia, and Italy.  The second time we did Year One, we learned about Scandinavian countries, Greece, Austria, Poland, Croatia, Czech Republic, etc.  By the time, we cycled through Year One three times, we learned about the majority of countries in Europe. As we “traveled” to different continents and countries, we read  A LOT of books!  Read alouds are not only a great way to learn together but a great way to explore the world without ever leaving the comfort of your home (and Pj’s).

This post is Part One of a series entitled “Around the World in 80 Books.”  Before we read our way around the world, let’s start with some great books to introduce maps, geography and God’s marvelous creation around the world.

BOOKS #1- #10 Atlases Galore

  1. The Travel Book:  A Journey Through Every Country in the World by Lonely Planet Kids
  2. The Scholastic Atlas of the World by Scholastic Publishing
  3. Children’s Atlas of God’s World by Craig Froman
  4. The Natural World:  Usborne Illustrated Encyclopedia (Animals around the world)
  5. Draw Write Now Series:  #4, #6, #7, & #8 by Hablitzel and Stitzer
  6. Geography From A to Z:  A Picture Glossary by Jack Knowlton
  7. The Baker Book of Bible Travels for Kids by Anne Adams
  8. Window on the World: When We Pray God Works by Daphne Spraggett
  9. How to Make Apple Pie and See the World by Majorie Priceman
  10. How to Make Cherry Pie and See the US by Majorie Priceman

Books #1-3 are “must have’s” in any homeschool library!  The Travel Book and Scholastic Atlas are divided into continents.  Then in each continent section, there are two-page spreads about each country located in each continent.  The two-page spreads have colorful maps with pictures, illustrations, and fun facts about each country.  If your child is a trivia buff or likes to read a lot of info in little bite-sized nuggets, he will love these books. They are great for research too!  Books #4 and #5 are great for naturalist and animal lovers.  Similarly, these books are divided into sections by continents and regions but explore the animals and ecosystems unique to each area.  Books #7 and #8 focus on Bible lands, ancient history, and missions around the world.  Finally, my two favorite picture books are #9 and #10.  My family read these books over and over and enjoyed the culinary connection to the cultures and countries mentioned in the books.  They are super fun and a great way to start any geography unit of study.

BOOKS #11-#20 United States

  1. A is for America by Devin Scillian (and its counterpart P is for Passport)
  2. If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 by Ann McGovern
  3. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  4. Ben and Me:  Astonishing Life with Ben Franklin by Robert Lawson
  5. Little House in Big Woods Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  6. Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
  7. Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
  8. Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt or Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  9. American Tall Tales
  10. How Many Days Till America:  A Thanksgiving Story & Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

**There are so many picture books, classics and Newbury’s to pick from and read.  I just listed some of our family’s all-time favorites that appealed to both my book-a-holic daughter and my super active son.  The following four books are wonderful books to read about the pre- and post Civil Rights Movement:  The Watsons Go to Birmingham, Bud Not Buddy, Ruby Bridges Goes to School, and Sounder (a favorite for dog lovers).***

BOOKS #21-30  Canada, Mexico, and Central America

  1. Count Your Way through Mexico & Count Your Way through Canada by Jim Haskins (Get the whole series!  There is one for just about every country!)
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  3. M is for Maple:  A Canadian Alphabet by Michael Ulmer
  4. Dear Primo:  A Letter to my Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh
  5. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz
  6. Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema
  7. The Cactus Hotel by Brenda Guiberson & Cactus Soup by Eric Kimmel
  8. The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
  9. Abuela’s Weave by Omar Castaneda
  10. Come Look with Me:  Latin American Art by Kimberly Lane

**Don’t forget to learn about a country’s culture, values, beliefs, and folktales by reading its version of Cinderella.  Mexico’s version is Adelita:  Mexican Cinderella Story by Tomie dePaola.  My daughter, who is a Disney freak, loved reading and comparing the different cultural Cinderellas.  Check out Yeh Shen (China), Rough-Faced Girl (Native American), Domolita (Mexican), Cendrillion (Caribean), The Irish Cinderlad (Ireland), Egyptian Cinderella, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (African), Korean Cinderella, Persian Cinderella, and The Golden Sandal (Middle Eastern)**

Happy Travels and check back next month for “Around the World in 80 Books”  Part Two.  We will explore South America, Europe, and the Middle East – one book at a time.

Carrie De Francisco


***Mark your calendars for March 27-28th.  If you live in the southern California area, we would love for you to join us for our next homeschooling mom event:  Homeschooling Adventures:  A Weekend to Refresh, Rest and Rejuvenate.  It will be a weekend of encouragement, refreshment, and fellowship.  During our Saturday morning session, Passport to Learning, we will share more on the topic of how to travel the world (literally and figuratively) through books, field trips, games and family vacations.   Make sure you “like” and “follow” our blog for monthly topics on Christian homeschooling and for updates on our registration for our homeschooling mom event in March.***

Check out our Upcoming Events Tab for details of each session and links to register.  See you in March!

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Summer Time Science: Best Way to JUMP START This Year’s NATURE STUDIES

feet in the sand.jpg.600x315_q67_crop-smartAh, summertime sun and lazy days at the beach!  Some of my favorite times during the year.  Besides relaxing at the beach and sleeping in,  I had the honor and privilege this summer to speak at Christian Homeschool Education Association (CHEA) convention in Southern California (Pasadena, CA to be exact).  It was a blessed weekend of wonderful reminders of why we homeschool and how to follow God’s leading as we live out this call to homeschool.

This mid-summer post is a continuation of one of the sessions I presented at CHEA on “Nature Studies for the Nature-Deficient Family.”  Whether you were able to attend the session or not, I pray this blog will help you “Jump Start” your science studies this year!

If you are looking for a way to do science this year that is stress-free, text-book free and guilt-free,  try Nature Studies!  If you are looking for a way to do science this year that doesn’t require an expensive curriculum or expensive outside science classes, then I strongly suggest you do Charlotte Mason style Nature Studies this year!

What are nature studies?  In a nutshell, it is using God’s creation as your inspiration for scientific exploration.  No boring textbooks are needed.  No expensive science curriculums are needed.  No hectic outside science classes are needed.  It’s you, your kids, a backpack, a few journals, and the great outdoors!  (Click the Nature Explorer handout for ideas on how to put together a nature study backpack: Nature Explorer’s Handout )


  1. Explore nature (backyard, neighborhood walks, parks, gardens, zoos, hikes, etc).
  2. Stop, sit, and draw what you see.
  3. Learn about the plant/animals you saw when you get home.
  4. Add info to your drawing (facts, labels, quotes, verses, thoughts, etc)

Yep, it really is that simple!  If you are not sure how to get started or you have always wanted to do nature studies with your family but haven’t tried it yet, summertime is the BEST time to try it out!  If you plan on doing nature studies for the first time this coming school year, summertime is the BEST time to ease into this new and fun way to learn science.

sea gullsBEACH DAY:  First, plan a day at the beach!  Any beach will do.  It can be a coastal beach, the shore by a lake, or even a stream in a local canyon.  Actually, plan to spend the day at a local beach once a week for the rest of the summer (or as often as you can).  Even though that sounds like a lot of time at the beach, trust me! It is well worth the packing, the sand in your car, and the extra meal planning.  Your kids will love you for it (and you will thank me later).

kelp-on-beach-2EXPLORE:  Don’t bring your nature study backpack with you.  It’s ok.  (If you are new to this, you probably don’t have one yet anyway!)  Just leave it at home as you start learning how to do nature studies.  The whole idea is to get you and your kids used to exploring nature for fun (and seeing God’s handiwork and handprints everywhere)!  Besides, you are still in summertime “non-school” mode.   No need to turn beach day into a school day!

  1. Pull up a blanket, slap on the sunscreen, and start splashing in the waves.
  2. Build sandcastles (and your kiddos will notice some very interesting little critters in the sand).
  3. Collect sea shells (and bring them home).
  4. Pick up the washed-up kelp on the beach (and let them “pop” the blooms).  Search through the mounds of kelp.  You will be amazed at how many little animals live in it.
  5. Notice the sea birds flying overhead (and trying to eat your picnic lunch).  Take pictures of the different birds you see with your iphone.

DRAW:  Once you come home (or the next day if everyone is sun-whipped), pull out your child’s nature journal.**   Ask your child what was her favorite thing she saw while at the beach.  Whatever it was, have her draw it in her journal with colored pencils.  If she liked the shells the best, she can simply put some of her favorite shells in front of her and draw them.  If it was the squishy kelp, you can pull up a picture of kelp on the internet and let her look at it while she draws.  If she liked one of the sea birds, let her look at the photos you took on your iphone.  The drawing doesn’t have to be perfect!  Drawing in her journal should be just as much fun as playing on the beach and collecting the seashells.  If your child wants help or is older, here are a few online instructions, worksheets, and  book resources she can use.


INVESTIGATE:  One day during the week, investigate the item she drew.  There are tons of online sources, field guides, and books you can use.  Your library will have TONS of Audobon and DK collector guides.  Amazon has some great books too.  There are laminated field guides specifically for California birds, seashells and marine life.  The internet has some great online classification guides as well to help you and your child identify the beach object she drew.  There is even an app you can use on your phone.  Just take a picture of the shell, and the app gives you the name, classification, and description of the shell.


WRITE:  Keep this simple and keep it age-appropriate!  If your child is younger, she can just write the name of the object next to or under the drawing.  If your child is a little older, then she can write a sentence or two about the object.  It can be a description of it or it can just be where she found it and why she likes it.  Older students can label the drawing, include its scientific name and classification and more details about it.  For added fun, you can search for a bible verse or a famous quote that relates to water or the beach to add to the page or you can find a poem about the item to write next to or below the drawing.


READ:  Get your hands on as many picture books and/or information books as you can and share them with your family.  During the summer, libraries and book stores have numerous beach and water-themed displays.    Read, read, read and have fun!


START OVER!  Yep!  That’s it!  Start over!  Spend another day at the beach.  Build sand castles, collect seashells, interact with the birds, squish those sea kelp buds, and have fun in the sun.  When you get home, start all over.  Pick something to draw.  Learn about it.  Write a few things about it and read a few more books about the beach.  You are dipping your feet into the cool and relaxing science “curriculum” of nature studies.  Once you get your feet wet this summer, you can dive right into making nature studies your whole family science curriculum for the year!

May God richly bless your summer exploration for His glory,


**Nature Journals:  All you need is a notebook, journal or sketchbook for each child (and yourself).  The $1 store has old fashion lined composition notebooks.  Michael’s sells sturdy spiral art sketchbooks, which you can usually find on sale.  Bookstores like Barnes and Noble sell beautiful lined and unlined journals.  Make sure each child picks out his/her own nature journal.  If you don’t have colored pencils, pick up a pack while you are at the store.  Don’t use markers or watercolor.  They bleed onto the other pages.**


MARK YOUR CALENDAR!  We hope you can join us for our annual special weekend for homeschooling moms on March 28th-29th, 2020.  Visit our “UPCOMING EVENTS” tab for more information on the weekend and how to register!

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The “Perfect” Writing Curriculum


We had a wonderful time this past weekend at our special Homeschooling Mom Weekend Event!  I hope and pray you were as blessed as I was by our time together.  It is always a pleasure meeting and fellowshipping with moms who are also on this homeschooling journey.

Our last session on Saturday was “Building Hearts and Home (Schools) For Christ.”  Using the analogy of our actual homes, we discussed different ways to secure our foundations, build relationships with our Savior and with our family members, create meaningful traditions and cherished memories, as well as how to whet our appetites for God-honoring and Christ-centered entertainment.  While “inspecting” our actual “school room or study,” we focused more on our attitudes while teaching (and learning) since we covered the “how to’s” and “curriculum choices” in a previous Coffee with Carrie post.  (Click here to read.)  I promised in our “Building Hearts and Home (Schools)” session and in our previous post, I would share an entire post on how to teach writing!  So here it is as promised!

writing amour quoteWhile writing this post on “writing,” I was painfully reminded of the number one reason kids have trouble writing (or in some cases hate to write)!  Even as a published author, I share the same issues many of your children have with writing:  Writer’s Block!  Often times it is extremely hard to just get started!


Type A personalities like myself, insist on perfection from the beginning of a project.  With that kind of pressure, it is hard to even begin when we struggle to find the best way to start!  We want to “hook” the audience right away!  Additionally, Perfectionist might get started but stall along the way as they obsess over every misspelled word or incorrect punctuation in their first draft.  With Type B personalities, it may not be procrastination or a heart issue, it might just simply be the wrong writing curriculum is being used.

Older students may not know what to write about (or don’t particularly feel motivated to write about the prompt given).  Younger students simply haven’t lived long enough to have much to write about or enough experiences to draw from.  Struggling students may have a limited vocabulary, writer’s fatigue with the act of physically writing, and/or dysgraphia (a form of dyslexia).

1 peterLet’s first discuss WHY we want our children to be excellent (or at least proficient) writers and good communicators.  The most important reason is to help our student share her faith, express her beliefs, and explain the Gospel.  Especially in the age of texting and tweets, Facebook and Instagram,  blogs and vlogs, and news and fake news, this generation more than any other generation in the past, need the ability to express themselves and defend their faith in a powerful and effective manner.  Is our aim to raise the next C.S. Lewis or Charles Spurgeon?  No!  But do we want our children to be able to express themselves in spoken and written language to impact their friends, family, and strangers for the kingdom of God?  Yes!  So if our primary goal is NOT to raise the next Mark Twain or to earn a perfect score on the SAT, then your writing instruction should be simple, stress-free and fruitful.

Is there a perfect writing curriculum?  As a certified and registered IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing) writing instructor, I humbly say “No”!  Just like there is not one perfect math curriculum or reading curriculum, there is no such thing as the perfect writing curriculum.  It is always best to start with your student’s learning style, strengths and weaknesses in mind as you decide which writing curriculum (if any) you will use.  Yes, it is easier to use the same curriculum for all students if you have a large family, however like math, your students will probably be at different writing levels and have different writing and spelling abilities.  Writing is one of those subjects that may have to be individualized.  So let’s talk about options so you don’t go crazy teaching from multiple curriculums each and every day.

Let’s address the elephant in the room.  You really do NOT need to purchase and use an expensive, boxed curriculum.  There, I said it!  While Sonlight, Growing with Grammar, Shurley Grammar, Beautiful Feet, and other similar boxed curriculums are all-in-one and great resources, you CAN teach writing, punctuation, and grammar without a boxed curriculum, and you can do it without breaking your budget!

writing voltaire quoteAfter teaching 25 plus years, writing books and devotionals, and homeschooling my own, I have found there are basically SIX essentials to teaching writing and instilling a love of writing in any student:  (1) Read great books, (2) copy great writers, (3) write something every day, (4) integrate writing, grammar and spelling, (5) practice editing, and (6) play with words!


FIRST, the best writing curriculum is simple:  Read, read, read!  When you think your student has read enough, then read more to them!  The best writing teacher is a great book!  There is a great debate about whether or not to let your child read “dwadle.”  If your goal is to instill a love of reading, let your child read the books he enjoys.  In the meantime, read great books aloud to him to build his vocabulary, whet his appetite for great storylines, and to introduce him to many beloved characters.  As he reads independently, he is seeing how words are used and spelled and how correct punctuation and grammar rules are applied.  As you read aloud to him, he will learn new vocabulary and appreciate timeless themes and intricate conflicts.  Reading will also spark his imagination and give him tons of writing ideas.

dr-seuss-quote writingAfter reading together, discuss, discuss, discuss!  Have meaningful conversations about the choices made by the characters, the descriptions used by the author, and your child’s opinion of the story. Don’t take out a list of reading comprehension questions.  Instead, ask your child to narrate the story, to give his version of the story, or to dictate to you what he enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy).  Narration, paraphrasing and dictating are actually your student’s first draft to any writing assignment!  It is the best way to remove writer’s block.  Just simply ask your child to tell you about the story or about his favorite part.  Ask him to predict what might happen next or what he would have done instead.  This exercise in organizing his thoughts and opinions is actually the first step in organizing and writing a paragraph.  Don’t skip discussions, narrations and dictations.  They are the most important part of any writing “program” and the first step to excellent writing.

SECOND, copy great writers and copy great works.  Although copywork is often seen as an exercise for young students, it’s a classic tool that is useful for almost anything you want to learn to do well. Artists copy the works of great masters in order to study their techniques, musicians play the works of great composers, and writers copy masterworks they hope to learn from.   With younger students, give them short items to copy word for word, punctuation mark by punctuation mark, capital by capital.  Give them Bible verses you want them to commit to memory, famous quotes you want them to know, or verses of poetry you want them to read.  By using copywork, they are learning the rules of grammar and punctuation while also learning great proverbs, quotes, and poetry.  (It is also a great way to practice handwriting in a painless way!)

ben-franklin-quotes writingIn The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin relates how he taught himself to write more elegantly and expressively.  He copied great writing.  Franklin only had two formal years of schooling so he relied on the library and the books on the shelves to be his writing teacher.  In his own words, this is how Benjamin Franklin taught himself to write:

“About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator – I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it.

With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try’d to compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come hand. 

Then I compared my Spectator with the original.  By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language.”

In a nutshell, Franklin did the following:

  1. Read an article or passage from a book.
  2. Wrote short hints about each sentence (or a keyword outline) and then set it aside for a while.
  3. Using these short hints, he recalled what the article was about and then rewrote the article in his own words.
  4. Compared his work with the original.
  5. Revised and improved his writing.

This technique can be used with younger as well as older students.  If it worked for America’s greatest writer, publisher, and diplomat, it will certainly work for your youngster or teen.  Start with a paragraph he read for science.  Have him write keywords or “hints” from each sentence.  Ask him to narrate the paragraph back to you using his “hints.”  Then put it aside for a day or two.  (This is very important in the life of an author.  We need time to percolate our thoughts.  We need time to let the words marinate in our mind.  We need time to chew on our ideas. Putting a piece aside for a day or time is essential in the writing and editing process!)  In a few days, ask him to narrate or dictate in his own words what the science paragraph was about.  Have him read it aloud.  (This is also an important part of the writing process.  Writers hear and see mistakes when they read it aloud.)  Then tell him to compare his version of the science paragraph with the original article.  Compare the punctuation, capitals, and spelling as well.  This is also great practice in summarizing information and paraphrasing.  In today’s technology world, it is too easy and tempting to just “cut and paste” when writing an essay or report.  Using this method helps students avoid the pitfalls of plagiarism.

For younger students, use the same method but with shorter paragraphs or with picture books.  They can retell and rewrite their favorite stories.

ernest-hemingway-quotes-imaginationTHIRD, write every day!  Yes, have your student write something every day!  It isn’t as hard as it may sound.  There are tons of opportunities throughout the day and the week to write.  Not all writing needs to be informative or creative; it just needs to be purposefully!  Ask your youngster to jot down a “to do list,” make a birthday card, create signs for a yard sale, respond to an email, write a letter to grandma, record a recipe, write a wish list, share prayer requests, or copy (and memorize) a Bible verse.  I think you get the idea.

Incorporate journaling into your writing program.  At the beginning of the year, spend a little extra money and let your student pick out a nice notebook or journal.  Make sure you get one for yourself too!  Every day (or at least a few times a week), give your student a journal prompt.  Ask a question such as what is your favorite season and why or would you recommend the book we just finished and why?  Ask her to describe the family pet or her best friend.  The prompts can be silly or serious.  How was your day?  What are three things you are thankful for?  If it really rained cats and dogs, what would that look like?  The prompts could be story titles such as “My Alien Teacher” or “The Forbidden Stone.”  She then writes a story that matches the title given.  If you are not feeling creative enough to come up with writing prompts each week, there are great (and free) resources online.  Make sure YOU write too!  Whatever prompt you give your student, make sure you write about it as well.  Half the fun is sharing your ideas of a perfect day or your description of your best friend as well as listening to your child’s.  If your child is older, she may just want to journal her thoughts each day like a traditional diary.

4598-ernest-hemingway-quote-in-order-to-write-about-life-first-you-mustBring the journal or writing notebooks with you whenever you visit a museum or go on a nature hike.  At an art museum, ask your student to draw their favorite painting and then write a story about what is happening in the picture.  If you are at a science or history museum, ask her to write 2-3 things she learned about ____________.  You fill in the blank.  When on a nature hike, stop and smell the roses or at least to listen to the birds and watch the clouds move.  Ask your teen to pick something to draw.  She can either write something about the object right then and there, or she can find some information about the animal, plant, or rock when she gets home to write underneath her drawing.  If she is younger, you can simply give her the name of the object and a short sentence description to copy underneath her drawing.  The idea is to keep it simple but purposefully.

FOURTH, Connect writing, spelling, and grammar as much as possible.  Never correct with pen the spelling and grammar mistakes in your child’s journal.  This will stifle their creativity in future writing prompts if they know you will red slash their entire story or description.  However, do use their writing to point out a few things they can change the next time they write.  “Did you know you always capitalize the letter ‘I’ when it is referring to a person?  “I loved your story about the hare but I noticed you used ‘hair’ instead of “hare.”  This would be a very funny story if the main character was a strand of ‘hair” and not a bunny ‘hare’!   Let’s write about that too!”  “I noticed you listed some of my favorite ice cream flavors too.  Make sure you put a comma in between them if you have three or more.  Otherwise, it can sound confusing to someone else if they read it.  It might sound like it is one flavor, strawberry banana butter pecan,  instead of three separate flavors, strawberry, banana, and butter pecan.”  You can point out a few things each week and then look at their writings to make sure they are applying what you taught them.

Don’t circle or cross out misspelled words in your child’s journal but write them on a separate sheet of paper or in a different notebook.  You will notice your student has certain works he always misspells.  Use the words he uses in his journal as his personal spelling list.  My son always spelled “very” as “vary” and “friends” as “fiends.”  Since these were words he used all of the time, I made sure he learned how to spell them correctly.  Use his writing to teach those pesky homophones:  their/there/they’re, its/it’s, your/you’re, and two/too/to.

DO correct and mark up formal writing reports or paragraphs.  If the paper is littered with mistakes, don’t worry about explaining each and every one.  Pick one or two recurring mistakes to tackle.  Find a grammar or punctuation error you haven’t had a chance to teach him.  Use his own writing to explain why you use a semicolon instead of a comma or which words are capitalized in a title and which words are not.

primary language lessons bookI highly recommend using the book Primary Language Lessons by Emma Serl to teach and review important yet basic grammar, punctuation and spelling rules in a gentle and simple way.  We used the hardcover edition so all writing and copy work assignments had to be written in a separate composition notebook and all narrations and descriptions could easily be done orally.  However there is now a consumable, workbook version.  Using this version allows moms with multiple ages and abilities to do the same assignments but at different levels.  We loved this resource so much we used it for several years and then used the Intermediate Language Book as my kids grew.    Take your time with the lessons.  Some lessons take just a few minutes and some take a few days.  Some assignments are copy work, some are poetry memorization, some are fill in the blanks and some even ask the child to describe famous piece of artwork.  Use the lessons to teach grammar and language skills.  The goal is to finish the book well not to rush through it!

Integrate spelling, writing, and grammar as much as possible.  Unless your student has learning issues that require using a specialized spelling program, it makes more sense (and takes less time and planning) to teach spelling and grammar within the context of writing lessons.  You really don’t need a different workbook for grammar and spelling for each child.  Parts of speech can be so dry is it easier to teach them in a fun way.  Use the timeless School House Rock videos and jingles to memorize the eight parts of speech and how each are used.  Yes, sing your way through grammar!  Use the good old fashion Mad Lib Series to review parts of speech and how they are used.  If you are using Primary Language Lessons by Emma Serl, then your youngster will also receive short and simple instruction on parts of speech, punctuation, and grammar.  With older students, the best way to learn English grammar is to learn a different language.  As teens learn to conjugate a verb, parse a sentence and add declensions to nouns, they will not only be learning Spanish (or Latin or Italian or French, etc), they will also be learning about direct objects, prepositions, articles, and so much more in the English language.

daily gramsSIXTH, practice editing and do daily editing exercises.  No matter how young or old your student is, short, simple lessons are your the best usage of time.  There is no need for pages and pages of punctuation exercises.  Our favorite resource is the Daily Grams series by Wanda Philips or the Daily Language Review series by Evan Moor.  Both series start in Grade 3 (which no formal grammar or writing instruction should begin anyway) and both go all the way up to high school level. There are 180 lessons in each book, one for each day.  Each lesson is a page long with several questions about parts of speech, a few sentences to correct, several punctuation exercises, a few sentences to combine, and a few vocabulary and/or spelling questions.  We used them as review.  When my daughter got a question wrong, I daily language reviewused it as a way to reinforce something she forgot, or I used it as a short teaching lesson on something I haven’t had a chance to teach her yet.  There really is no need to spend an entire day on direct objects or an entire lesson fragments vs. clauses.  Use short and simple editing exercises to teach, reinforce and review grammar and punctuation rules.

Don’t forget!  Your student is also reading, reading, reading so she is also seeing punctuation and capitals being used properly!  Students are also revising their written work after it has been proofread, edited and corrected by you.  While discussing her latest story or report, take the opportunity to explain to your child why a conjunction was needed or why a period was needed in a particular sentence.

bananagrams1FINALLY, play with words!  Incorporate vocabulary, spelling and writing games into your curriculum or weekly lessons as much as possible.  If you use the “Morning Basket,” add a word game in it.  Scrabble and Boggle never go out of style!  Introduce these games to your youngster as soon as they start putting letters and sounds together.  Since I was a kid, tons of other great word games have been created and are worthy of your time and investment:  Bananagrams (spelling), Blurt! (vocabulary), Sentence Says (parts of speech and sentence formation), Wordical (spelling), Scattagories (vocabulary), You’ve Been Sentenced (parts of speech and sentence formation), and Parts of Speech Challenge (hard to find but worth the search!)

Don’t be afraid to use technology to help a struggling student or to aid a high schooler.  There are tons of great word game apps worth a few minutes of play time.  Also, dyslexic and/or dysgraphia students should have access to the “dictation” capabilities of Word and Pages.  It allows the student to narrate or dictate his story or paragraph while the computer types.  Using this capability is also great for editing practice.  It often uses the wrong word (i.e there for their, etc) and it often leaves out important capitals and possible commas.  Your son can then print his dictation, proofread it, correct it, and then revise it on his computer.  Spell check is a wonderful thing!  Consider using as well.  It highlights and underlines words, phrases, and sentences that need to be checked and/or corrected as a student types.

iew imageWhat do you do if you absolutely NEED or WANT a curriculum to guide you?  I highly recommend the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).  If you do have a large family with multiple ages and grade levels and you want to use ONE curriculum for ease and scheduling purposes, I suggest you use one of IEW’s Level A resources.  No matter how old your eldest is, you can use an IEW Level A curriculum at least for the first year. All Level A resources explain how to create outlines before writing, which words to avoid, how to dress up a paragraph, and how to vary the types of sentences used.  Each Level A book teaches the basic paragraph format, which can then be expanded for older students into essays and reports.  Level A also gives younger students topics to write about if they don’t have their own ideas, gives older students master writers to imitate, and gives struggling writers the step-by-step, back-to-the-basics- instruction they need.  Depending on which Level A resource you choose, you can also incorporate the study of history or science into your writing lessons!  At the end of this post, I recommended my favorite IEW Level A books that you can use to get you started or to use as stepping stones.

keep-calm-and-write-on-true-writers-32054687-792-792The most important thing to remember is if you can read, understand, and evaluate this article on the “perfect” writing curriculum, then you are capable and qualified to teach your child how to write and how to write well!


May God richly bless your teaching and writing for His glory,


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IEW Level A Complete Writing Course:  This package comes with teaching videos for the student and parent to watch as well as all writing assignments and teacher answer keys.

IEW Level A Intensive Continuation Writing Course:  This is great for the second year and with any grade level, even older students. It is always best to start at the beginning and keep it simple.

All Things FUN and Fascinating:  Writing Lessons:  This consumable workbook is a year-long beginning course filled with a variety of fables, creative writing, “book reports” and writing assignments in both science and history.  There are no DVD instruction videos with this resource but it is self-explanatory.

Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons:  This consumable workbook is a year-long beginning course filled with info and writing activities for Ancient History.  It is a great way to learn history and writing at the same time.  It also recommends historical fictions that can be read and used with the writing activities.  There are no DVD instruction videos with this resource but it is self-explanatory.  ***IEW does have other history-based writing curriculums, but I highly recommend if you are new to IEW, start with Ancient History.  Their Medieval Times, American History and World History resources assume the student is an advanced writer and an experienced IEW student.   They are harder to use if you are brand new to IEW**