Tag Archives: travel

Our Curriculum (Part One)

A while back I wrote a post on what (and how) we study, but we’ve since updated our curriculum in many ways, so I thought I’d write up an update on our studies for those of you who don’t know. I’d like to talk in depth about each lesson we do, so I’m splitting this post up into two so it doesn’t get too long.

We don’t use any one program, though there are lots of those to choose from. Instead, Mom has pieced together a careful curriculum that fits our needs best. We study math, geography, art, Latin, writing, history, and botany, and use a different format for each subject, allowing us to get what we need out of the lessons. So let’s start going over those subjects.


Math. For math we use an internet program called Khan Academy. It’s a fairly simple site, but quite well-organized and useful. Not only does Khan Academy offer math for grades K-8, algebra, calculus, trigonometry, geometry, and statistics, you can also study science, computer programming, history, grammar, music, economics, and test prep. But let’s get back to math.

The format is arranged in such a way that you work on one skill until you have gotten five problems correct in a row. Then you move on to the next skill, and so on. Every so often you receive a “Mastery Challenge,” testing you on the skills you’ve worked on. Your prowess at a skill is rated by level, so one type of problem could be on any one of five levels. They are: “not practiced” (meaning you haven’t begun to work on it), “practiced” (you’ve gotten five in a row right), “level one” (you’ve gotten that sort of problem right in a Mastery Challenge twice), “level two” (you’ve gotten that sort of problem right in a Mastery Challenge four times), and “mastered” (you can complete that skill correctly every time). Even when a skill is mastered, it’s sometimes brought back in a Mastery Challenge to make sure you remember how to do it.


The only trouble with Khan is a sometimes-exasperating teaching method. If you can’t get a problem right, you can either watch a video explaining the general formula, or get hints that tell you step-by-step how to complete the particular problem you’re stuck on. But the exasperation comes with the videos: they’re always teaching you how to do the simpler version of the problem you’re doing, and really aren’t any help at all. I was ready to quit Khan Academy and use something else (maybe Teaching Textbooks), but then I discovered that what I thought was an aggravating mistake was actually a popular teaching method used by the most elite schools. The general idea is that you have to figure it out yourself. You have to try your absolute best at working out the problem, and if you still can’t get it then you open up the hints and go through them slowly and carefully, understanding where you messed up and learning the techniques. The knowledge that the aim of this method is to develop a problem-solving ability gives me the patience to work through what seemed at first like useless difficulties.


Geography & Art. American geography is a subject that would be hard to avoid, given our lifestyle, but world geography is where a curriculum comes in handy. We use Ellen Johnston McHenry’s Mapping the World with Art, a fun program that teaches you how to draw different countries (Greece, Italy, Spain), as well as famous bodies of water (the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Sea of Galilee), with an end goal of drawing the whole world from memory. The program is designed to allow even the worst artists (er, me) to draw things that look how they’re supposed to. The instructions are mostly quite simple, though I’ll admit drawing Greece made me rather want to stab somebody (preferably Ms. Ellen McHenry, but anyone would do).


When we do this lesson, Mom usually draws up each step on our dry-erase board, so that we can see it well. Gordon and I use Palomino Blackwing art pencils, and incredibly nice Micron pens designed not to smear, to trace over our work once we’ve finished.


Latin. We’ve studied Latin for six years, I believe, and the whole time we’ve used Memoria Press. This curriculum has lesson plans for some other subjects as well, but we’ve never used those.
Our Latin studies are fairly straightforward. We learn new vocabulary words, recite conjugations and declensions, groan over ever-growing lists of bazaar grammar rules, learn about exceptions to rules we thought were constant, study word order, translate sentences, scour the textbooks for pronunciations, and call the Memoria Press people to ask what on earth they mean; in short, Latin’s the hardest subject we study.

But that doesn’t stop us from pressing on, and by now I have a pretty good understanding of the language; I know hundreds of Latin words, and I can decline the nouns and conjugate the verbs, and put all the parts of a sentence into their proper orders, with personal pronouns and tenses and adjectives that match the noun which they modify in “person, number, and case, but not declension.” And yet, I still couldn’t talk to you only in Latin. So I’ll keep studying.

Don’t forget to come back next Monday to learn how we learn writing, history, and botany!

The Ark Encounter

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. That’s already an incredible achievement, and you can read about that post here, though I can’t promise it will be the best quality. I was only nine at the time and had minimal writing skill. Anyhow, there’s another thing going on on Ken Ham’s plot of Kentucky land now. For over six years the boat has been worked on, but it’s nearly finished now, and we went to visit. Who wouldn’t?

We had brought along great friends of ours, Cali and Marcus Perry, of the blog Unpredictable Perrys and now Unpredictable Perrys Continued. They had already been to the ark, and acted as fantastic tour guides on our visit.

The parking lot was far away from the actual ark, but even from there it was clearly visible; an indescribably large shape resting on the horizon, looking vaguely like a boat, but more reminiscent of a large rectangular box. It certainly didn’t look anything like those cartoon arks you see in kids’ books.


When I stepped inside the ark, the first display was of animal quarters. Cages for larger animals lined walls, and small clay jars covered with a rough cloth would have housed amphibians. There were clay water jugs and sacks of food lining the walls, and some of the cages had highly realistic animal sculptures in them. Many of the creatures were odd, extinct beasts that we only know about from fossils, and cages were accompanied by plaques answering questions related to the animals. The giraffe family was represented, so one plaque guessed, by a short-necked variety to save space, and the dinosaurs were probably brought along as eggs or juveniles.

There was a room full of Bibles in other, even ancient, languages, some of them thousands of years old!
There was a room full of Bibles in other, even ancient, languages, some of them hundreds of years old!

After exploring this first area, we moved on to the mini-museums on the next floor. Of these, my favorite was one describing the flaws of and generally calling out children’s book authors and illustrators who taught, even jokingly, about an unrealistic and tiny boat with all the animals squeezed in tight. Those making this exhibit were even so bold as to display tons of kids’ books that had misrepresented the ark. It was a fun room.

The "Fairy Tale Ark" room.
The “Fairy Tale Ark” room, as seen from a stairway leading to the floor above.

On the third floor we reached what was possibly my favorite area in the whole ark: the living quarters. Contrary to what you might think, it was absolutely fantastic. In the kitchen, vegetables hung from the ceiling and a tiny garden grew on a shelf.  Beautiful handmade panels lined the walls, and the design was simple yet elegant.


The bedrooms, however, were the best part. Each room had a large, luxurious bed in the wall like a window seat, and pretty woven door to closets. One room had a hammock in the middle, another a large desk, and a third a small table. The rooms were beautifully and tastefully decorated, while being simple and practical. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that with my room, even though I’ve known it was impossible from the moment I thought of it.


It was a really fantastic day in a really fantastic museum, and I’d love to go back. If you haven’t been there yet, just know this: you’ve got to go.

Two Year Travel Anniversary: Museums

Wednesday, April 1st. was our 2 year anniversary of traveling. You can read about our 1 year anniversary here or here. If you haven’t read the other two posts, or you want to read them again, I would suggest going back and reading them all in order. But if you just want to read this one, than go on ahead!

At 6:00 in the morning Dad woke us up. Gordon was tired, as he always is when waking up before noon, but I wasn’t! I jumped out of bed and got dressed in a long sleeve T-shirt, jeans, a sweater, and a jacket. It’s cold here in Williamsburg, Virginia, and I’m not planning on freezing to death! At 6:30 we were all ready to go. Gordon and I grabbed blankets, and Mom handed us our breakfasts. (A chocolate-banana shake and a bagel with cream cheese for Gordon, and a shake and banana for me). We got in the car and started to drive. I brushed and braided my hair, and then we played the license-plate game. (A game in which you find license plates from different states). It was a 2 and a half hour drive, but it didn’t seem too long. At 8:30 A.M. we crossed the border and read the sign. It said:

“Welcome to Washington D.C.”

A Picture I Took of a Water Fountain
A Picture I Took of a Water Fountain

Soon after arriving, I saw the Capitol Building from the highway. I was a little disappointed to find that the dome was under construction, so we couldn’t really see it. But it was alright, because we could see so many other things! The first thing we went to was the American History Museum at the Smithsonian. There was one exhibit that had stuff from movies, like Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. That was fun to see, but in the upper floor there were things I liked better. I can’t limit my favorite thing to just one, so I’ll tell my top three favorites.

One thing I saw that was really exciting was Thomas Jefferson’s writing desk. It was the one that he wrote the Declaration of Independence on! There was a note in it that said that he knew it would become something of great value and something that people came from all over to see.

Another thing of Thomas Jefferson’s was a Polygraph. Now Polygraph means lie detector, but back then it was something else entirely. A polygraph use to be a brilliant device that had two arms with a fountain pen on the end of each. The idea was that you would hold one pen and write with it, and the other pen would copy your actions, because the arms were connected. There were also two ink pots. When you dipped your pen, the other pen dipped. It was a genius idea, and I can’t imagine why people don’t still use it today. Not only does it copy your words, it copies your handwriting!

The Polygraph
The Polygraph

Last, but  most certainly not least, is the most famous thing in the museum. Of course you’ve heard of it! You probably see at least one replica every single day! The last thing we saw in the American History Museum of the Smithsonian was The Original American Flag, sewn by Betsy Ross herself. The Flag!! The Flag That Francis Scott Key was looking at when he wrote the National Anthem!! How cool is that??? (Answer: Pretty Darn Cool)

The flag had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, because at that time there were fifteen colonies. I saw “had” because somebody cut off one of the stars years ago as a keepsake. That was before the flag was in a museum, and since nobody really thought to preserve it, it was just fine to take a piece. There are little chunks cut off of edges, too.

When people were preparing the flag to be put in the museum, they had to cut 1.7 million stitches to get off the linen backing that was beginning to wear too much.

The other museum we went to was a Japanese drawing and tea museum.

I really liked looking at the tiny, detailed drawings to try to find people. Some were fishing, carrying water, walking, or hunting. Some were just sitting inside houses, or out on boats. Sometimes there were animals, too. Little birds, or a few rabbits. They were really pretty. Sorry for the size of this next picture. It would be impossible to see the detail if it was any smaller.

This is not a Japanese drawing, but it is similar in the way that it is very small and detailed. This was one of a dozen small drawings of the style.
This is not a Japanese drawing, but it is similar in the way that it is very small and detailed. This was one of a dozen small drawings of the style.

There were little tea bowls, in another room, and clay serving trays. Some were made with two different colors of clay, each taking up half of the space diagonally. Some were weird geometric shapes, and some had drawing on them or scratched into them. They were all beautiful, each in their own way.

I won’t write about the monuments, because I’m sure this is long enough already. Next week, though, Gordon will tell about them. So stay tuned!

– Lillian