Thanks to Wendy!

I just want to give Wendy of AskWendy a big THANK YOU for posting a link to this year’s Epeolatry Contest. Not familiar? There’s still time to get your 600 word entries in! Free and open to all ages. Details here.

Check out AskWendy for information on writing contests for both adults and kids. She posts everything from small contests like mine to ones from big name magazines and presses with large cash prizes. Thanks, Wendy!

Various Homeschooling Resources

This is just a quick list of some recently discovered resources:


8 100-Year-Old Tips for Writing About Controversial Topics is a short list of quotes by G. K. Chesterton with a lesson summary of what to take from his words, as interpreted by the article’s author, Brad Shorr.  The list is simple, but poignant, and still relevant to today’s writers, especially in an age where blogs and social media networks provide the greatest forums for discussing controversial topics.  The tips are (see article for original quotes):

1. Humor

2. Penetrating Insight

3. Reframing the Issue

4. Uplifting Point of View

5. Finding the Center

6. Putting Opponents in a Positive Light

7. Identifying Yourself with Your Opponents

8. Focusing on the Big Picture’s How to Teach Writing: 7 Steps for Elaboration is a succinct list of methods to help you or your children increase their descriptive narratives in creative writing.


On the Seattle Homeschooling Group Facebook page, a discussion came up about Biology resources online.  Included in the discussion were the two following links:

Biology Corner, which offers worksheets, online labs, and even course materials for various levels of Biology.

ASU School of Life Sciences’ “Ask a Biologist” offers free printable biology coloring pages good for elementary and middle school students (some are more detailed and intricate than others), which can pair well with any of the lower-level course materials from Biology Corner.

I’m still on the hunt for comparable sites to assist my daughter in exploring Chemistry, which is her preferred form of science at present, though she’s already discovered that to go very far in the subject (beyond atoms, molecules, and the table of elements), she needs to improve her understanding of higher levels of math than she’s yet achieved.  My math-obsessed partner has taken over much of that portion of her education to help give her a boost, and we’re moving her into Algebra now.


I stumbled across Storm the Castle a couple of months ago, set it aside, and hadn’t spent much time looking through it precisely because it offered so much!  From tutorials on bee-keeping to sword-making to classic guitar to yes, even writing help, it boasts a wealth of eclectic interests and the means to put one’s creative ideas into practice.

You can find these and other great resources at the Willow & Birch Pinterest page and my Homeschooling tag on Delicious, links to both available always on the right hand sidebar.

2nd Annual Epeolatry Contest

Gold Apple ( small  and without seed ) .... Tr...

Gold Apple (Photo credit: Vietnam Plants & America plants)

Last year, inspired by a list of obscure words being removed from one of the major dictionary publishers, I held a short story writing contest for anyone who wanted to participate.  The deadline was my birthday, and three handmade prizes were awarded to the winners.

It was so much fun, I’ve decided to do it again, and in order to encourage more entries, I’m posting it here.  This is an all ages contest (if you have budding writers in your homeschooling experiment, this might be fun for them), purely for the enjoyment of the exercise, and the full details can be found at my LiveJournal page.

Brush up on your iambic pentameter, because this year I’m accepting both 600 word short stories AND sonnets from eager epeolatrians.

. . . and I really need to make a banner or official image for this contest.  The Golden Apple captivates viewers with its xanthic radiance, but what, pray tell, does it have to do with writing contests or the word epeolatry?

Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Handwriting Notebook

Considering how lengthy my last post was, I wanted to focus (far more briefly) on the notebook I just created for squirelflight.  It didn’t seem reasonable to me that she have a notebook for each, especially given that they all tend to be interrelated in our educational “plan.”  (Most things rarely go according to plan, after all.)

Because direct, clearly written instructions and expectations work best for her (along side a flexible schedule and fluid boundaries), I wrote this on the back of the title page:

For Reading:

  • record book title and author
  • create list of vocabulary from each book or reading selection based on words with which you were not familiar
  • look up definitions for each unfamiliar word and copy definitions and source (e.g. Webster’s, on book’s page

For Writing:

  • write brainstorming, outlines, and rough drafts here
  • for final: type or copy in best handwriting (not in notebook)

For Spelling:

  • practice spelling words from lists and practice bees with Mama
  • copy and rewrite unfamiliar spellings on a separate page*

For Handwriting:

  • exercise use of “best handwriting” throughout
  • use pages for practice exercises in cursive, italics, and clear printing

Below this, I drew tiny boxes and wrote in examples of each category and how it might look.  Since I’m the quadruple Virgo (and not the quadruple Cancer that she is), I figure I’m the best resource she has for organizing her work, and guiding her toward methods that help her learn best.  My examples may not work for her, but at least they give her ideas of how one might approach these tasks.

With the unfamiliar words in both her practice spelling bees and her reading selections, I have asked her to not only write them down in the notebook, but to go back through the book in small sections at a time, and create flashcards that show the properly spelled word on one side, and the definition on the other utilizing her best handwriting.  This way, she gets the repetition both in reading and writing, and the definitions will sink in better (an area with which she has some difficulty).  The definitions also include keys to pronunciation, but those only work with an understanding of phonological writing.

*On the first spelling page, I wrote the additional directions:

Please start on the next page.  Write each word three times in your neatest hand.  Use one line for each word’s set of three.  If you do not readily remember the definition for each word, please look it up in the dictionary.

The Path to Spelling and Linguistic Success

For me, linguistically-related subjects were easiest: English, math, music, drama, and foreign languages.  They were codes that helped communicate.  I started speaking early, reading early, and used my skills to become the youngest accepted member at the Alliance Theatre Academy of Atlanta from a single cold reading at age 5 (at the time, the minimum age for the program I entered was 9; now, they have classes from pre-K and up).

My daughter, squirelflight, however, struggles with the many of the subjects I found simple, and it’s been a long road of acceptance on my part that she isn’t just a miniature version of me.  Like every individual, no matter their genetics, they still end up with different environments in which to develop and a natural set of abilities from which to operate that cannot be measured by their parents’ achievements.

As my 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Vancini, once asked me (after I’d prattled on about the writing success of several members of my recent ancestry), “Yeah, but what have you done?”  I may not have liked him then, but I love him for it now.  I was such a teacher’s pet, and he actually pushed me to be my best.

So, the challenge for us now is for me to find ways of making what comes naturally to me understood by my daughter, who simply doesn’t get it as easily.  Her wealth of books, and her passion for reading has helped her spelling to some extent, but her understanding of meanings, pronunciations, and flow are still an area that we’re working to improve.

This week, we began a project to see what words she’s already comfortable with that are considered relevant to her grade level.  I found a list of 5th grade spelling words on Wednesday, and I reminded her of the standard method for responding to questions in a spelling bee (starting and ending with the word, spelling it in the middle, and if there are known homonyms, asking to have the word used in a sentence).

Since the list is rather long, we’ve broken it down and started with words beginning with A-C.  Yesterday was my birthday, so we took a break from it, and then today we did D-G.

With each column of words, I’m erasing ones she had no trouble spelling from memory, and at the end of the “bee,” writing out a list of the words with which she struggled into her reading/writing/spelling/handwriting notebook.*  She then copied each word three times in her best handwriting, and when we’re finished with this list, she has been informed that I expect her to write each of them on a flashcard with the definition of each on the back.

However, from my own experiences growing up, and my lessons in linguistics while studying at university for my anthropology degree, I know that whole-word memorization isn’t truly the best way to build an individual’s understanding of the English–or any–language.  Our own tongue is rather dynamic and filled with numerous irregular verbs, and there’s a good reason why:

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
–James D. Nicoll

All languages evolve over time, and though written forms of any language take the longest to adapt to the commonly spoken dialects, eventually even spellings are altered to accept contemporary conventions in thought and speech.  English has a long history of being conquered, altered, and then stealing from everyone else’s languages.  These days, its global proliferation has acted almost as a virus upon the languages of other cultures–either wiping them out, taking precedence in certain schools or fields, or shifting specific terms from the local to the English.

With over 180,000 words in use in the English language (that Oxford Dictionary knows of), and many being borrowed from other cultures or invented for technology or business purposes, it’s difficult to imagine forcing our children to memorize the spellings of each.  Thus, it’s important they understand two things: phonemes and word roots.

Phonemes are the units of sound that, when put together, make a coherent series of sounds called words.  Take the word “way,” for instance.  We could break it down into the /w/ phoneme and the /ai/ phoneme.  W-ay.

While linguists insist on using one of the main code languages for describing phonemes regardless of language or form of writing being studied, there isn’t a single world standard for phonetic transcription.  One in common use in the U.S. and Europe is the International Phonetic Alphabet, and can help anyone better understand how to say (and eventually spell, once comprehension of the writing system is understood) words of many languages correctly.  However, unless you or your child is planning on becoming a linguist or studying multiple languages, it may not be necessary to learn the IPA by rote, as some have suggested.

Considering the many irregularities within the English language, it’s better to use a combination of phonetic awareness, whole word memorization (of irregular words), and a basic understanding of word roots.

When I attended St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano (6th grade through the first half of 8th), their method of teaching English helped me immeasurably.  Although I already had a fairly sturdy grasp of English for my age, their 6th grade instruction of Latin and Greek root words, as well as a parallel course in Latin, helped me better understand the pieces of words held in common by all romance languages.  My own experience of living in Monaco, also gave me a better understanding of the French scattered throughout English, and thus, its Germanic origins as well.

This history of words and their development over time is known as etymology, and learning about the etymology of words helps contribute not only to the understanding of one language, but others within the same language family, and the history of the people who used those languages.  By learning about English’s history, I’ve never forgotten that 1066 is the date of the Norman invasion of England, which brought French into common use within English.  And I’ve never been one for remembering dates, which made history a rather difficulty subject!

The most important thing we can offer our children when teaching them the art of spelling, writing, and speaking in any language, is that we find methods that work for them, that help them best understand what we are attempting to teach.  After all, you can drill ’em ’til the cows come home, but in the end, they may have only learned spite, resentment, and a sense of personal failure.

Spelling Lists:

Phonology Sites:

Help with Root Word Teaching:

As I wrote this, it occurred to me that one of my heroes growing up was Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series.  While I admit, my first introduction to her was from the television adaptation of the book, I never forgot out to spell “chrysanthemum” after she showed up Gilbert Blithe in the classroom.

Please let me know of other resources you’ve found helped, and if any of those above are working (or not) for your own homeschool!

*Since this became such a lengthy post, I’ll post squirelflight’s new notebook and its organization and associated expectations in a separate post.  UPDATE: here’s the post!