Teaching My Baby To Read

Home » Classical Education

Category Archives: Classical Education

Teaching kids about Islam


Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to make a coffee table book display of all of the wonderful children’s books about Islam I’ve collected.  Just because I’m Christian  doesn’t mean I want my children to grow up ignorant about other religions! 

In my “I Brake for Moms” column last Sunday called Ramadan is an opportunity to learn about Islam I mentioned three special children’s books:

Here are a few more books that we own, that I didn’t mention in my column:

Hopefully I’ll find time to review those soon!

P.S. If you’re interested in finding even more books about Islam for children, the author Rukhsana Khan has a wonderful list of “vetted” books:


Get a jumpstart on carschooling

Adding some history to our lives.

Adding some culture to our lives.

If you’ve ever wanted to get started with carschooling, the Homeschool Buyers Co-op has a good deal going right now to get you going:  5 Jim Weiss CDs from Greathall Productions for $62.35 (including tax and shipping). That comes out to about $12.50 a CD.

(Of course, check with your local library too because you might be able to borrow them for free.)

Here is a complete list of all of the Jim Weiss CDs I’ve reviewed so far.

The following are titles I just purchased. I don’t know if they will be winners or not:

  • Rip Van Winklel and Gulliver’s Travels
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and The Story of Rome
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
  • Thomas Jefferson’s America

Afterschooling with Story of the World v4

The deep, dark, SOTW IV

The deep, dark, SOTW IV

Third grade has started and our schedule is packed.  More importantly, my son’s classroom teacher is keeping his brain very full.  That’s not just good, that’s great.

So how can we meet our 1 hour and 45 minutes a week goal of Afterschooling without me being a mean mom?

Easy.  I’ve got two words for you: Carschooling and Kindle.

For the past month, Bruce(8) has been listening to Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 4: The Modern Age: From Victoria’s Empire to the End of the USSR.  (I couldn’t find the audio version of SOTW Volume 4 on Amazon anymore, but here’s the link to Peace Hill Press.)

SOTW v4 is a marked change from the previous three volumes which I have also reviewed on my blog: SOTW v1, SOTW v2, and SOTW v3.  It’s deeper, darker, and not meant for young children.  In the introduction, SWB gives a sober advisement to parents that this book is four fourth grade and up.

Bruce is still a year shy of that mark, but he has learned so much history, religion, and philosophy already, that I felt he could handle it.  But we are being very careful to listen to SOTW v4 when Jenna(4) isn’t in the car with us, or else asleep.

There are 11 discs in the volume, and we got through the first four before school ever began.

We’ve heard about the Second Reich, the Russo-Japanese War, the internment of Afrikaans in the Boer War, and the beginnings of World War I.  See what I mean about this volume being dark?

But we also learned a lot that ties in with our own Russo-German family history. That’s been interesting to hear, because it provides a more global understanding of why my ancestors came to America.

To supplement the audio discs, we also own the book version.  On the weekends when Bruce wants to earn extra time on his Kindle, I have him read a few chapters.  The new Angry Birds Star War edition is a great motivator!

The John Locke Experiment, SOTW III

A marshmallow, a chocolate chip, a raisin and a teaspoon of sugar.

A marshmallow, a chocolate chip, a raisin and a teaspoon of sugar.

Do you know what sweetness is?  Were you born knowing what sweetness is, or did you have to experience sweetness to understand?

That’s the question we were asking today as we learned about John Locke.

In case you were wondering, yes, this is another part of our summer adventure listening to Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Vol. 3: Early Modern Times, 2nd Edition (9 CDs).


(Btw, check out the SOTW Pinterest board I’m creating with Mrs. Warde from Sceleratus Classical Academy.)

The John Locke experiment comes from page 99 of The Story of the World Activity Book Three: Early Modern Times.  Parents read actual exerpts from John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, while kids eat the sweet stuff.

Then you have a discussion about how John Locke believed people were born as a “blank slate”, or “tabula rasa”.

As activities go, this one only took about five minutes.  But hey, how many 8-year-olds and 4-year-olds are out there learning about John Locke this summer?

You might even say that my kids were born blank slates with ultimate potential, but their mommy is turning them into nerds, one summer day at a time…

Dipping our toes into Story of the World 3, Activity Guide

This summer my kids and I are going to be exploring Susan Wise Bauer’s “Story of the World, History for the Classical Child, Volume 3, Early Modern Times”.

We have already listened to SOTW III a couple of years ago in the car.  This time around, we are listening, reading, and doing some of the projects in the activity guide.

Catherine the Great Paper dolls from SOTW III

Catherine the Great Paper dolls from SOTW III

I’ll be blogging about our SOTW III adventure, and updating the SOTW Pinterest Board I’m making with The Younger Mrs. Warde from Sceleratus Classical Academy.

Click here to see our SOTW Pinterest Board.

As you can see from our picture, we jumped into SOTW III in the middle, because Catherine the Great is of particular interest to our whole family.  But now we are back at the beginning, taking things chapter by chapter.

As always, I’m considerably impressed by what Susan Wise Bauer has accomplished.

Gearing up for Summer

Last year we did A STEM Summer and had a blast.  This year I’m planning on doing the Activity Guide from Story of the World Volume 3.  Other ideas are for percolating as well…

I was shopping at JoAnn’s Fabric yesterday and saw that all of their teacher’s supplies were on clearance.  Even though I’m not a teacher any more, is was really hard not too go nuts.  Especially since almost everything was under a dollar.

It got me thinking some more about summer.

This reading poster is one of the things I am really excited about.  It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it includes pictures about genres.  Then I got 100 die-cut books to with it.  So every book my son reads this summer, can be proudly displayed under the corresponding genre.  That will be really motivating for him, plus it will let us know “the big picture” of whether or not he’s reading in a balanced way.  If he’s not, that’s okay too.  It’s just useful to be mindful.

Another thing I found (not pictured) was a US Presidents bulletin board kit, also for super cheap.  So I picked that up too.  Maybe I can do something with presidents and books I pick up at the library.  (I’m still not sure.)

But what I do know, is that I’m excited by the possibilities!

Shakespeare for all ages

Do you think Shakespeare is too hard for kids?  Think again!

With the right type of scaffolding, almost any age can enjoy the “Bard of Avon”.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

For Kids 2.5 Years Old and Up

Shakepeare’s Storybook with CD by Patrick Ryan doesn’t exactly tell the stories of Shakespeare.  Instead, it includes the stories that inspired Shakespeare.  So instead of “Hamlet”, you hear the story of “Ashboy”.  “A Bargain is a Bargain” tells the story of “The Merchant of Venice.”

There are two CDs with this book, as well as lots of pictures.  None of the stories were too scary for my daughter, who started listening to them as young as two and a half.

For Kids 4 and Up

Can I just say how much I love Jim Weiss?  Basically anything you purchase from Greathall Productions is going to be golden.  Shakespeare for Children is no exception.  This is an audio CD that tells the stories of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “The Taming of the Shrew”.  Both versions are awesome!

Tales from Shakespeare by Tina Packer is another great choice for kids.  My son and I have read this book at bedtime over and over again.  The plays are told in narrative form but include original lines whenever possible.  The illustrations are beautiful; my only complaint is that there aren’t more of them.

For Kids 6 and Up

Chapter 39 of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 2 includes historical information about Shakespeare, as well as a brief retelling of “Macbeth”.  If you have Jim Weiss reading the audio version of SOTW2, this appears on Disc 9.  I love the entire SOTW series to begin with, so getting a bit of Shakespeare thrown in is a nice bonus.

The Shakespeare Stealer is a historical novel for middle grade audiences by Gary Blackwood.  It tells the fictional story of Widge, an orphan boy who knows how to do a cryptic shorthand that allows him to transcribe plays when he should just be watching them.  The language is pretty advanced (not inappropriate, just challenging).  You really feel like you are getting a history lesson when you read this, as well as being entertained.

For Kids 10 and Up

Imagine if Monty Python, the Globe Theatre, and the evening news were mixed together.  You might end up with “This is Macbeth” and “This is Hamlet”.   These are two really wonderful introductions to Shakespeare for older students, created by Greg Watkins and Jeremy Sabol from Stanford’s Structured Liberal Education program.  (More about my own interest in SLE here.)

There are key scenes from the plays performed, faux interviews of the characters, musical interludes, and pretend medieval commercials.

My son Bruce is only seven, so he doesn’t quite have the attention span to make it through an entire DVD.  But he loves the medieval commercials so much, we have watched those on repeat.  It’s going to be really difficult to walk past the replica sword store, the next time I take Bruce to the mall…

Elizabeth Gaskell is my new Jane Austen

Have you seen North and South? Not the Civil War miniseries from the 1980s, but the 2006 BBC production of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel about the Industrial Revolution? I watched it on Netflix last week, and was totally blown away. Why have I never heard of Elizabeth Gaskell before? I think I like North and South even more than Pride and Prejudice. That means a whole darn lot coming from me. As soon as I finished watching the last episode I started reading the book from the library. It was published in 1855 as a serial in Dickens’ magazine Household Words. Here’s a clip from YouTube:

For those of you Classical Education mothers out there, here’s a relevant passage from Gaskell’s book. John Thornton, the self-made man and manufacturer, who as an adult is trying to gain an education says this:

“That is true, — I had blundered along it at school; I dare say, I was even considered a pretty fair classic in those days, though my Latin and Greek have slipt away from me since. But I ask you, what preparation they were for such a life as I had to lead? None at all. Utterly none at all. On the point of education, any man who can read and write starts fair with me in the amount of really useful knowledge that I had at that time.” (p 86)

What was so thought provoking to me about North and South is that it is a Victorian book about the middle class. Gaskell poses major questions like: “What does it mean to be middle class? Does having money make you middle class? Does having an education make you middle class? If the only thing that places you in the middle class is money, and then you lose your money, are you still in the middle class? ” It is also heavily implied that an education is something that can never be taken away from you.

In modern terms, you could rephrase these questions into: “Why not just give kids an education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. These are the things they need to know to get a good job and make money. Why bother with history and literature at all!” (Just to be clear, that is certainly not my opinion.)

The most prominent plot point in North and South is of course the mill worker strike. That was a very timely book for me to be reading last week. Thankfully, my brother in law is back at work!

So blog readers, check North and South out from the library or watch the miniseries, and please share your thoughts!

King Tut Here We Come!

Our family has tickets to go see the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center this summer and everyone but our two-year-old is super excited. In order to help prepare my seven-year-old for this experience, I purchased a copy of Who Was King Tut? by Roberta Edwards, which is written at the third grade reading level and includes lots of pictures.

Another book we already own that talks about King Tut is Historical Heroes, Wickedly Funny Profiles of Six Time Honurored Megastars! No, I am not misspelling that. It is a British book, and really funny. You can check out my full review here.

We are also going to reread pages 99-102 in Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 1, which has a great introduction to King Tut as well.  My SOTW #1 review is here.

Basically, if I’m going to spend $50 on King Tut tickets this summer, then I want to make sure that we get the most educational bang for our buck. 🙂

Animal Farm For Kids

(An 11 year old me, 6 months before the Berlin Wall fell.)

Recently, Bruce(7), Jenna(2.5) and I spent a wonderful afternoon watching the cartoon version of George Orwell’s classic book Animal Farm on Hulu.plus.  This was the perfect compliment to my Inspired By SLE Reading List #3. Bruce and I had just read all about the Bolshevik Revolution, Communism, and the Cold War in The Last 500 Years by Jane Bingham. Now all I had to do was pop some popcorn and bring these big ideas to the small screen.

The first time I read Animal Farm was in sixth grade when my family took a trip to Europe, six months before the Berlin Wall fell. We flew into West Germany, and then drove through East Germany to get to our friends, Walter and Hanelora’s house in West Berlin. Driving through East Germany my dad was pulled over for a speeding ticket, even though he wasn’t speeding! We were all quite terrified, but a little bit of cash saved the day.

This is what I wrote in my diary about what it was like to visit the Berlin Wall from the West side. The next day, we went through Checkpoint Charlie and saw East Berlin too.

Watching Animal Farm with my kids was a full circle moment for me. It was surprising how old lines came back to me; “Four legs good! Two legs b-a-a-a-a-d!”, and still freaked me out after all of these years! Jenna(2.5) just thought we were watching a cartoon about farm animals, and lost interest after about fifteen minutes.  🙂  Luckily, her older brother stuck with me.

The best part of this experience was the conversation the cartoon prompted me to have with my son Bruce. Together, Bruce and I questioned which was worse for the animals: being ruled by Farmer Brown or being ruled by the pigs? What were the differences between Snowball and Napoleon? We discussed the words “propaganda”, “proletariat”, “Capitalism”, and “Communism”.  I told Bruce what it was like to go through Checkpoint Charlie and have every inch of our bus searched for 45 minutes. I explained to him that when George Orwell first wrote this story, people in America were honestly afraid of Communism, but that now that moment of fear had passed.  Wow.

Virginia Woolf for Kids

Part of my reading list for children inspired by spring quarter of Stanford’s SLE program includes finding a book for kids that introduced them to Virginia Woolf.  I could only find one book out there that met this task, but luckily it was a good one.

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear is something that both my 2 year old and my 7 year old have enjoyed.  The illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault are absolutely charming, and the hand lettering is done in D’nealian, which is the handwriting program my son Bruce uses at school.

Virginia Wolf tells the story of two sisters named Virginia and Vanessa.  One day, Virginia wakes up in a really sour mood and turns into a wolf.  Vanessa spends the rest of the book trying to help her sister choose to feel better.  At one point, Bloomsberry is mentioned.  When we finally see Virginia’s face without the wolf head, she does indeed have a very distinctive looking nose.

This book is similar in merit to When Sophie Gets Angry because it helps children understand “big emotions” and think about socially appropriate ways to handle them.  I’m not sure how much either of my kids learned about the real Virginia Woolf, but they are at least going to be familiar with her name and know that sometimes she suffered from really dark moods.

A Dream Library for Your Children

Excuse me while I drool. For part of my Inspired by SLE a Reading List for Children Part #3 I purchased Who Was Anne Frank, Who Was Charles Darwin and Classic Starts: Frankenstein. Now it’s only a matter of time before my wallet starts burning  and I order a whole bunch more from both the “Who Was” and “Classic Starts” series.

Bruce(7) was already familiar with the “Who Was” series, because it is responsible for his highly detailed knowledge of the Beatles and Harry Houdini. When I sat down to read the Anne Frank and Charles Darwin books, I was really impressed by how the publishers covered serious material in a safe way for children. That they could make history seem so entertaining for young readers, was an added bonus. Unfortunately, our public library system only has a handful of the “Who Was” series, which is really disappointing.

As for the “Classic Starts” series, I was totally unfamiliar with it until I read their version of Frankenstein. I was really impressed how the publishers were able to translate the story into something that was easy and fun for kids to read, without losing the big-picture themes of the story. There are discussion questions at the end of the book, as well as a short essay for parents by Arthur Pober, EdD. This is what he writes:

“Reading an abridged version of a classic novel gives the young reader a sense of independence and the satisfaction of finishing a “grown-up” book. And when a child is engaged with and inspired by a classic story, the tone is set for further exploration of the story’s themes, characters, history, and details. As a child’s reading skills advance, the desire to tackle the original, unabridged version of the story will naturally emerge… When we look at the issues, values, and standards of past times in terms of how we live now, we can appreciate literature’s classic tales in a very personal and engaging way.” (pp.151-152)

Exactly! That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with my kids through all three of my Inspired by SLE Reading lists. I know my seven-year-old was able to finish off that version of Frankenstein in less than 40 minutes, but I also know that since it will be floating around our home library for the next few years, that he is likely to read it again and again. Gouge me in the wallet now, but I want the entire “Classic Starts” collection!

Here’s what I’m going to do in the meantime (before I win the lottery).  I’m adding both series to my Grandma Please by This! page. That will at least be a good start. Any of these books would be great future presents for Grandma and Grandpa to buy.

Grandma Please Buy This!

Frankenstein for Kids

As part of my Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program, a Reading List for Children Part 3 my son Bruce(7) read the Classic Stars version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Bruce read this on his own in about forty minutes and I wasn’t really sure how much he understood.  It turns out, quite a lot actually, (with a bit of confusion thrown in).  The following is the transcript of our conversation about the book:

Q) What was this book about?

Bruce’s Answer:It was a pretty good book.  It was the whole story technically about how Frankenstein created the Monster.  But it sort of started with this guy chasing after the Monster. The guy (I know he was Frankenstein) was rescued by Captain Walter (who wasn’t the main guy or anything).  Frankenstein just told Captain Walter the whole story which goes like this:  He makes two friends, a really funny guy and a girl.  Then, he has to go away to the university. 

His first professor is really horrible but his second professor is awesome.  The second professor thought there was a new way of thinking.  It was really cool.  The second professor was technically the best.  Frankenstein learned so much that he wanted to create a real human being out of body parts.  But he knows if he does that that he has to study death and life and everything like that.  So then he makes the Monster.  He thinks the guys is going to be awesome, but the Monster is actually really horrible and evil because I think Frankenstein forgot to give him a brain. His wrist and all of his connections were sewn together, like with needlepoint.  It was just plain weird.

Q) What did the Monster think?

Bruce’s Answer:  He was sort of evil because he didn’t have proper body parts.  He didn’t have enough skin.  He was evil because he was made out of dead things so he was like a king zombie.

Q) Did the Monster want to be human?

Bruce’s Answer: No, because the Monster wanted to be made out of living parts, but the professor knew that wasn’t possible.  The professor needed to study way more for that, but he wasn’t going to.  The Monster wanted living body parts that he could control.

Q) Do you think humans should be able to create new creatures like Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster?

Bruce’s Answer: Not really, because if it went wrong then it would be really freaky and it would be weird.

Q) Do you think Dr. Frankenstein was brave for trying to do something new that nobody had ever done before?

Bruce’s Answer: Sort of, but he was also overconfident.  He was teensy bit overconfident than he should be.

Q) Were there any girls in the book?

Bruce’s Answer: Dr. Frankenstein made a friend with a girl.  The girl’s name was Elizabeth.

Q) How did the book end?

Bruce’s Answer: It sort of ended when Dr. Frankenstein died and Frankenstein’s Monster was sad that his dear creator died and then he jumped out the window of the ship. But Captain Walter, the guy who owns the ship, jumped out into the sea of the Arctic.  Frankenstein’s Monster is probably dead, but he was dead anyway.  Oh, and Frankenstein killed Elizabeth.

Q) How did that happen?

Bruce’s Answer: I don’t know how she died.  The book doesn’t tell you.

Q) Why do you think that Frankenstein is associated with Halloween?

Bruce’s Answer: It’s not associated with Halloween.  He just wanted to be a great scientist.  It doesn’t have anything to do with Halloween.  At first he was going to create an animal, but then he thought the world needed another human, not an animal.

Q) When some people hear the word “Frankenstein” they think of the Monster, instead of the Dr. Frankenstein.

Bruce’s Answer: Frankenstein actually created the Monster.

This was the first book I have bought from the “Classic Starts” series and I was extremely impressed. This is actually problematic for me, because now I want to buy more!  Ugh.  If only there was a money tree in my backyard…

Kafka for Kids


When I first read Franz Kafka’s classic work Metamorphosis in college as part of Stanford University’s Structured Liberal Education program, I had what is likely a common reaction: “What the heck? This is crazy!” So I was really curious to see what my son Bruce(7) would think of Mary James’s Shoebag, which we are reading as part of my Inspired by SLE Reading list #3 for kids. (By the way, I need to say a BIG “thank you” to blog reader Tracee for suggesting this book to me in the first place.)

Shoebag is indeed the perfect introduction to Kafka for kids… and maybe adults too. It tells the story of a cockroach named Shoebag who one day wakes up and has transformed into a young boy. His cockroach family has no idea what to do with him, and their reactions cover the gamut from compassion, to fear, to disgust and even hatred. Other elements of the story include enabling behavior, selfishness, and money causing family dysfunction.

One of the main Kafka references in Shoebag is that Shoebag’s best friend at school is named Gregor Samsa who (spoiler alert!) is also a cockroach who has turned into a human. Gregor’s real cockroach name is In Bed. It’s possible that the character Tuffy Buck is based on the boarders in Metamorphosis, but that might be a stretch on my part. There is also another character named Pretty Soft, who is a child actress. The whole human family shields her from reality and treats her like she is a different species too.

Of course, to a seven year old like Bruce, Shoebag is really just the story of a cockroach that turns into a human and has to go to school. If you just take this book at face value it is not deep at all. But the more you think about it, the smarter it gets.

This is what I mean. When Bruce and I were talking about Shoebag, I all of a sudden had a huge leap in understanding about Metamorphosis. To me as a mid-thirty year old, both stories are about what happens when somebody in your family makes choices about their life that are so out of the norm for the rest of you that it is almost like that relative turns into a different species. Do you by chance have a person like this in your family?

When somebody you love makes really bad decisions, the rest of the family doesn’t know what to do or what to feel. Emotions might range the gamut from compassion, to fear, to love, to disgust or even hatred. Other elements of the situation might include enabling behavior, selfishness and money. There is also a lot of hurt and a sense of betrayal. Not to get to personal, but there is a relative in my family who has made a lot of bad decisions in the past five years and whom Bruce is very familiar with. Discussing Shoebag together with my son was a great way to help him process what was going on.

My husband chimed into our talk with yet another interpretation of all of this and that is the “mental health” perspective. Maybe in Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa was losing his mind and his family didn’t know to deal with that. Maybe Shoebag didn’t really turn into a little boy. Maybe Relative XYZ is really dealing with ____. Maybe when I sent that person gift cards to Trader Joes periodically, I was like Grete leaving out bits of food for her brother Gregor. Maybe Pretty Soft needed more help dealing with reality on her own, and less enabling. Or maybe money is a bigger part of the plot lines then any of the characters have examined.

 That’s some pretty deep stuff to come from a book about a cockroach. My final thought is that Shoebag is the perfect example for one my most important learning goals from my Inspired by SLE Reading List #3 for kids: You can be your own hero. You can either crawl to the back of your bedroom and hide with an apple core in your back until you die like Gregor Samsa did in Metamorphosis, or you can look in the mirror and see your real self like Shoebag, and choose to find a way home to the people who love you.

T. S. Eliot For Kids


T.S. Eliot is one of my all-time favorite poets, but I had never heard of him until tenth or eleventh grade. I remember thinking at the time, “Wouldn’t it have been cool if I had read Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats when I was a kid?” Well, now’s my chance to give that experience to my children. Jenna(2.5) is not very interested, but Bruce(7) is willing to read about one cat a night. I’ve also caught Bruce reading Old Possum by himself, so I know that Eliot has caught his interest. Since we’ve joked that Bruce is like the Rum Tum Tugger, this shouldn’t surprise you.

Of course, now comes the strange part. I still need to explain to Bruce that our little book of cat poems has come to life in one of the most famous musicals of all times, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Don’t get me wrong, I love Andrew Lloyd Webber. In fact, last year for our anniversary my husband and I saw Love Never Dies in London and actually saw Andrew Lloyd Webber from a distance, crossing the street. It was right before the entire cast left for Australia, and he was there checking their performance one last time. But going from reading funny cat poems with my seven-year-old in his room, to watching full grown adults dressed up like felines and belting out show tunes is pretty surreal.

I guess now I need to have a conversation with Bruce where I try to explain the 1980s…