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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Free Reading Journals / Logs for Your Homeschool

I like to give high school students a reading journal or diary to record their favorite books. (Such as this one at Amazon - affiliate link.) Not just my own teens, but the teens in the high school book club I've led for more than a decade. Even after they grow into adults and move out of their parents' houses, some continue to keep their journals up to date. It’s a great habit that encourages reading for enjoyment.

Keeping a reading journal helps you recall which books and authors you love, as well as hate. It’s great to pull out when talking books with friends or when you’re trying to decide what to read next. Like any diary, it’s fun to go back years later and see what you were doing then.

I have created several templates so you can create a homemade reading journal. They can be downloaded here: Free Homeschool Planning Forms. Scroll down to "For the Love of Literature Resources."

You can choose the journal that works best for your child’s grade level. Print out on three-hole-punched paper to keep in a binder. Children can then fill in the blanks as they read new books. I also suggest having children decorate the binder so that it’s something that begs to be read.

Additionally, this little tool will help you with your record keeping and planning.

Note: There are many other free homeschool forms for you at the link above.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ultimate Catholic Homeschool Giveaway

It's time again for the Homeschool Connections' Ultimate Catholic Homeschool Giveaway!!!

Here's the list of prizes (one for each of 5 winners):
Entering is super easy. Just follow the steps below in the Rafflecopter. There are daily entries to help you increase your chances of winning. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 7, 2015

Read Alouds for 8- to 10-Year-Old Girls

My sister-in-law asked me to come up with a list of good chapter books for her granddaughter and her niece. I thought it would be fun to share with you too. I chose books that were loved by my daughters at this age. ~Maureen

Click on the book title for ordering information or reviews. (Note: some are affiliate links.) I tried to put them in order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest, within each group.


All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor - I'm not sure who loved these books more: my girls or me. The All of a Kind Family series is a hidden treasure. You rarely see it on classic reading lists which is a shame. It is a delightful story of a large Jewish family living on the upper east side of New York in the early 1900's. I honestly think I'm a better mother for having read the story of Mama, Papa and their 5 daughters.

Betsy Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace - These are a delight to read aloud. They're the story of two childhood friends in Minnesota who are as different as night and day. Set in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the books exude a certain innocence, yet honestly depict the mischievous fun of young girls. I do suggest sticking to the first four books. I'm not as big a fan of the later books that take place during Betsy and Tacy's high school years.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder - A classic that should be in every home, the story of a young 1800's pioneer girl and her everyday life. It's a simple story that is both fun and interesting to read. My daughter Laura was named after the author -- that may tell you a bit about how much these books are loved in my own home.

Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum - When I read the first book of this series aloud to my oldest daughter I struggled with it because the movie kept running through my head, which is very different from the book. However, my daughter was hooked and went on to read 7 more of the novels on her own. (There are thirteen all together.)

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - Anne with an e is a feisty red-headed 11-year-old girl who is sure to find her way into your heart. She has a knack for getting in trouble, drama seems to follow her where ever she goes, and she's just plain fun.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis - You can't go wrong with this classic. If you only buy one set of books, this is the set to buy. It rolls off the tongue so easily when read aloud. I love that it can be read over and over again throughout the years. It can be read to a child when she's 6, again at 10, and again at 17, and be loved equally at each reading. The beauty of this is that your child will understand it at a different level each time. At 6 it may nothing more than a lovely story about a lion. At 17 it's still a lovely story but the deep theology woven throughout it is understood.

Favorite Books

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White - White is certainly a favorite author in my home having also written Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan. Charlotte's Web is a classic that has passed the test of time. Take my word for it -- it's worth your time to explore the world of Zuckerman's Farm along with Fern, Wilbur, Templeton, and, yes, Charlotte.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren - You won't find any deep theology or much of an underlying moral in the storyline -- it's just a plain fun book. Pippi is as lovable as she is strong (she can lift big burly policemen over her head!). She lives on her own, her mother dead and her father lost at sea, with a pet monkey and a suitcase filled with gold.

Matilda by Roald Dahl - Dahl is the king of dysfunctional families in child fiction. And, yet, we can't put his books down. How fun to watch Matilda, our book-devouring heroine, take down Miss Trunchbill and exact revenge on her cruel family. Perhaps it is because Dahl's villains are so completely outlandish that we don't cringe at such a horrid storyline. If you dislike the thought of any violence in your children's books, skip this one (and all of Dahl's other books).

Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire - I'm a big fan of the d'Aulaires. Their illustrations are as delightful as their stories. This book is quite different from the rest in this book list, but I felt compelled to include it as it was so loved by my family ... and because I'm a big fan of mythology.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodges Burnett - An absolutely beautiful story of a wealthy girl left orphaned and penniless. Her purity of heart and kindness can't help but move the reader and implant a desire in your heart to look for goodness in in our world. I'll never forget sobbing with my daughters throughout the book. Now that they are grown women, I can say that we are closer because of such read alouds.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit - Written in the early 1900's this is another story of riches to rags. Father is taken from the family and Mother must leave London with the children and move to the country. Filled with innocent charm, it's a delight to share with young children. As with A Little Princess, if you read this aloud, make sure to keep Kleenex close at hand. PS Not to be confused with the Boxcar Children series, which is fun to read and worth the time, but the writing is much simpler and at a younger level.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - I read this one summer to my daughters under the giant oak tree in our backyard. Everyday we picnicked and read ... and cried and laughed and loved. There is no more perfect "girl story" than Little Women. If you love this one, and you will, check out Little Men, Eight Cousins, and Jo's Boys.

Specifically Catholic

Glory of America series by Joan Stromberg - These are easy, yet thoroughly enjoyable, reads for daughters. The author chooses child protagonists that young readers can connect with ease. Each story is uplifting and centers around an American saint. So, you learn a little American history on the way too. My own daughters were deeply touched by Mrs. Stromberg's books when they were young.

Lives of the Saints series by Mary Fabyan Windeatt - If I ever wrote child novels, I'd want to write like Mary Fabyan Windeatt. She has a way of inviting children into a story and taking them on an adventure. These books are easy to read, while teaching children about the lives of Catholic saints in an enjoyable format. Personally, I tied them into our history lessons - reading them in chronological order.

The People’s Princess, a St. Katharine Drexel Story by Joan Stromberg - The beautiful, true story of an heiress who had it all by American standards. Yet, she gave it all away to serve the poor and the disenfranchised. This is a story that helps young girls see there is more to life than jewelry, parties, and the coolest fashions.

Search for the Madonna by Donna Alice Patton - If you like mysteries, Search for the Madonna will grab your attention. The story takes place during the Great Depression. Twin sisters are trying to help save their aunt's farm by finding a missing priceless family heirloom--the Brandenburg Madonna. I loved the fun adventure, but was also moved by the heroine's personal faith.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many great books out there for young girls. Once you have these read, I should have a new list for you and your 11- to 13-year-old girls!

If you have suggestions that you would add to this list, please share in the comments. Happy Reading!!!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Online Summer Classes for Catholic Homeschooling Families

We are very excited to let you know that we have scheduled three great courses for the summer semester. It is likely we'll add more courses to the lineup in the future, but we couldn't wait to share.

Professor Joseph Pearce will be teaching a course on G. K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man. Kevin O'Brien will be teaching two courses. First up will be a high school course on C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Second will be a middle school drama / acting course. 

This is going to be one fun summer!

Here are all of the details ... 

TO REGISTER: Homeschool Connections Registration Page for Live, Interactive Courses
Click on Summer 2016 Semester and click on Search

Class datesMondayTuesdayWednesday, Thursday, June 20 through June 30.
Total classes: 8
Starting time: 1:00 PM Eastern (Noon Central; 11:00 AM Mountain; 10:00 AM Pacific)
Duration: 55 minutes
Prerequisite: None
Suggested grade level: 9th to 12th grade
Suggested high school credit: ½ semester Literature
Fee: $110 if you register on or before February 15, 2016. $125 after February 15th.
Instructor: Kevin O’Brien
Course description: Two of the greatest Christian writers of the 20th century were also close friends - C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien - a friendship that awakened Lewis to the Faith, but that also may have faltered because of the demands of the Faith.  We examine the relationship of these two men, the ups and downs of their friendship, and how they influenced one another’s writings.
Course outlineClass one: Overview of the course and of the setting and times into which Lewis & Tolkien were born.
Class two: Selections from Surprised by Joy, the life of C.S. Lewis
Class three: Selections from Joseph Pearce's biography of J.R.R. Tolkien
Class four: Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories" and the Night Talk that started Lewis' conversion
Class five: Other influences on Lewis' faith: Chesterton and the Inklings.
Class six: The Inklings and the development of the writings of Lewis and Tolkien: how they influenced one another.
Class seven:  Lewis' marriage and Tolkien's reaction to it: trouble in the friendship.
Class eight: We examine the legacy of each author, review what we've learned, and bring the course to a conclusion.
Course materialsSurprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce should both be purchased by students and at least one of the two books should be read ahead of time, before the first class session. Other material will be brief selections from works and letters of the two authors, and will be provided free by the instructor in class or as PDF files.
Homework: Completing the assigned reading for each class; taking six quizzes and one essay exam. Estimated homework time each week: 4 hours.

Class dates: Daily, Monday through Friday, June 6 through June 17Total classes: 10
Starting time:  1:00 PM Eastern (Noon Central; 11:00 AM Mountain; 10:00 AM Pacific)
Duration: 55 minutes
Prerequisite: None
Suggested grade level: 7th to 8th grade
Suggested credit: ½ semester Drama
Fee: $130 if you register on or before February 15, 2016. $150 after Feb. 15th
Instructor: Kevin O’Brien
Course description: Can a group of homeschoolers put together a one-act play in two weeks, even if they’re separated by thousands of miles and acting for their webcams?  We’ll find out in this fun, challenging, inspiring and kind of crazy Internet Acting Camp!  The final production will either be recorded as an Adobe Connect session, or (if we can manage it technically) edited and uploaded as a video for family and friends to watch!
Course outlineDay 1 - Introduction and overview - Mr. O'Brien talks about show business and about St. Genesius, patron saint of actors.Day 2 - Short scenes from various plays will be read, acting tips will be given.Day 3 - We will begin to formulate a plot and characters for our play.Day 4 - Plot and character outlines will be written as a final outline.Day 5 - Provisional scenes will be read and / or improvised.  We will come up with a few dialogue scenes that are fun and that we're proud of.  (Between the two weeks, Mr. O'Brien will write the play whose plot and characters the students have outlined into a final form, with scenes, dialogue, etc.)Day 6 - The play is read in class.  Acting coaching is provided.Day 7 - RehearsalDay 8 - RehearsalDay 9 - RehearsalDay 10 - Final performance!Course materials: Provided free as PDF files by the instructor.
Homework: Writing scenes, learning lines, practicing on your own.  About 5 hours per week minimum, but each student may do more if his or her heart is in it!

The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton
Class dates: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, August 9,10 & 11, and 16, 17 & 18.
Total classes: Six
Starting time: 1:00 PM Eastern (Noon Central; 11:00 AM Mountain; 10:00 AM Pacific)
Duration: 55 minutes
Prerequisite: Complete reading The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton before the first day of class
Suggested grade level: 9th to 12th grade
Suggested high school credit: ½ semester credit for Literature or English
Fee: $75 if you register on or before February 15, 2016. $90 after Feb. 15th.
Instructor: Joseph Pearce
Course description:  The Everlasting Man is G. K. Chesterton’s classic work of Catholic Apologetics. The book's thesis is ultimately that the Incarnation is central to an understanding of history. Chesterton takes on the claim that man is simply the product of evolution, arguing that Christianity provides the True explanation for the genesis and purpose of human life. Chesterton wrote the book as a rebuttal to popular author H.G. Wells, whose secularist The Outline of History was influential at the time (1920’s). As Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, says, “Of all of Chesterton’s literary monuments, this is perhaps his greatest, for he eloquently and concisely packs the whole human story between the covers of one book.” In this course, we will unpack that story and study it together over six classes.
Course outline:
Class one: Part I, chapters 1-3
Class two: Part I, chapters 4-6
Class three: Part I, chapters 7-8
Class four: Part II, chapters 1-2
Class five: Part II, chapters 3-4
Class six: Part II, chapters 5-6
Course materials: G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man(Ignatius Press), 978-0-89870-444-0
Homework: Completing the assigned reading for each class; taking six quizzes. Estimated homework time each week: 3 hours

Friday, November 6, 2015

Why High School Students Need Punctuation and Grammar Classes

Registration is open. Click here: Homeschool Connections Registration (Click on the semester and Writing, then click on Search.)

Should high school student continue with punctuation and grammar studies? Yes! Too often, we consider such studies to be too basic for older students. However, punctuation and grammar is taught at a completely different level in the upper grades compared to their grammar school lessons. It gives students the tools needed for college and business writing.

Correct punctuation and grammar help others to fully understand us. If you want to do well in school and your job, then mastering punctuation and grammar is critical.

The elements of tone, speed, and even the timbre (such as whispering, rasping, or growling a word) communicate meaning to others. The voice carries power, enabling our message to be fully understood. The plain printed words on the page can’t give us nuance. But punctuation can. With punctuation, our original meaning can be more closely translated to the page.

Grammar refers to both the order of words and choosing the right word. When it comes to certain word orders on the page, there is a right way to write. There are right words to use—a proper choice of words and a proper order of words. However, some words are not appropriate for different audiences or purposes. Grammar gives us a formal, clear way to place our words in order, to get our meaning across to the reader.

Whether we like it or not, based on our words, people judge us. If a person uses grammar incorrectly (not choosing the right word or word order), people catch it. The reader realizes and remembers incorrect grammar. Based on what the reader sees, you may be (unconsciously or consciously) put into a category of educated or not educated. You’re labeled. Whether the label is true or not, we are now viewed with that tar.

The label, not educated, puts you into a category where others may make assumptions about you that, most likely, aren’t true. Judgment may lead others to a lack of respect. Based on incorrect assumptions, poor decisions may be made (like whether or not the person wants to hire you for a job). Grammar matters, for many reasons.

Honing your punctuation and grammar skills in high school will help you beyond writing assignments. It will help you achieve high grades in other subjects. I can confidently tell you this: more often than not, poor punctuation and grammar can sink the ship that carries your top grade. You can have everything going for you, and those small, basic punctuation and grammar errors can mess things up and take away your A, fast.

We hope you'll consider joining us next semester in High School Essential Writing 1: Punctuation and Grammar. It is only a 6-week course, but it is six weeks that will change everything, for the better. Below are all the course details for the Fall 2015 course. The course will be repeated in the Spring 2016 semester if you need it in the spring. It is also available as a recorded, independent-learning course through our Unlimited Access program.

Registration is open. Click here: Homeschool Connections Registration (Click on the semester and Writing, then click on Search.)

UPDATE: The following live course has been completed. However, it is available year round as a recorded, independent-learning course through Unlimited Access. Also, it will be offered again live next fall. High School Essential Writing 1: Punctuation and Grammar
(Formerly titled Elements of Writing for High School; Essential Punctuation and Grammar)
Due to the popularity of this course, it is scheduled three times in the fall semester and twice again in the spring semester. If it fills up, register for one of the other dates/times.
Class dates: Due to the popularity of this course, it is offered twice in the spring semester. You can choose one of the following days/times:
     Mondays, January 11 to February 15, 2016
     Mondays, February 22 to April 4, 2015. No class March 28 for Easter Break.
Total classes: 6
Starting time:
     Mondays (starting Jan. 11), 2:30 PM Eastern (1:30 Central; 12:30 Mountain; 11:30 Pacific)
     Mondays (starting Feb. 22), 11:30 AM Eastern (9:00 Central; 8:00 Mountain; 7:00 Pacific)
Duration: 55 minutes
Prerequisite: None
Suggested grade level: 9th to 12th
Suggested high school credit: ½ semester Writing. Follow with Simplified Writing 1 for a full semester credit.
Fee: $80 if you enroll on or before November 15, 2015. $90 if you enroll after November 15 for all 6 classes
Instructor: Lisa Mladinich
Course description: This is an essential writing course for all high school students. Give your high school student exactly what’s needed for high school and college writing—including the confidence and the ability to use punctuation and grammar well. Don’t let your student struggle—master commas, tense, colons, semicolons, dashes, ellipses, and more. This class will give your student the strong foundation needed to finally master the details that are holding him or her back from writing well. Sentence constructions in the course are upper level, meant to challenge and prepare your student for upper-high school and college courses.
Course outline:
Class 1: Mastering commas in a series and commas with conjunctions using complex sentences
Class 2: Mastering commas and clauses and tough constructions, including multiple ideas, connectors, and transitions
Class 3: Mastering tense, competing punctuation, quotations, dashes, and ellipses
Class 4: Sticky-pair sentence construction (if-then, not only-but also) and tough grammar in upper-level constructions
Class 5: Mastering colons and semicolons with leading sentence constructions
Class 6: Mastering tricky punctuation details, end punctuation, and the most common grammar challenges
Course materials: All course materials provided free for students by the instructor.
Homework: Weekly writing assignments, with grading and direct feedback from the instructor, with an estimated two to three hours per week for homework outside of class time.

Registration is open. Click here: Homeschool Connections Registration (Click on the semester and Writing, then click on Search.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tolkien, Lewis, and Smallness

I had the privilege last month to present the $500 award for The Tolkien, Lewis, and Friends High School Essay Contest at The Center for Faith & Culture (Aquinas College in Nashville, TN). I thoroughly enjoyed spending the weekend with this year's winner Lydia Martin and her family. Lydia is a homeschool senior and hopes to join the Dominican Sisters in Nashville. Her essay is almost as delightful as the author. I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed listening to it at the Tolkien and Lewis Celebration.  ~ Maureen Wittmann

Little Things
Lydia Martin

     Lewis and Tolkien’s fiction and fantasy works, by the mere fact of being fiction and fantasy, are often mistaken for escapist literature.  Actually, there is a key difference between the writings of these two authors and escapism.  While the events and even the worlds they describe are fictional, and while they do not have a moral, in the ordinary sense of a point the author is pushing, what they portray is nothing less than an understanding and reflection of truth.  One of the chief ways they do this is through their portrayal of little things.  Both Tolkien and Lewis create whole and glorious worlds which are rooted in littleness and humility, and by being so provide an avenue of truth by which the reader finds a different kind of escape, right into the world of reality.
In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the most obvious place for littleness is the Shire.  Everything about the Shire is little: little people, houses so low that they prefer to be underground entirely, and the quiet, childlike pursuits of its inhabitants.  The hobbits’ most steady concern is food, as Tolkien tells us, “growing… and eating it occupied most of their time.”  They are fond of bright colors, and parties, and presents, very much like most children.  “Book learning” is not particularly important to them, and some never bother learning to read at all.  Instead “they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well ordered and well-farmed countryside.”[1]  The Shire is not a Utopia, but even hobbit quarrels tend to be small, like the petty feud between the Sackville-Bagginses and Bagginses of Bag End, the cheerful contempt for “foreigners,” or the distrust applied to hobbits from other regions within the Shire itself.  Hobbits are neither angels nor heroes, but little people minding their own business and loving life.  
     This basic love for the good things acts as a foundation for the hobbits’ spiritual growth. When Frodo first leaves the Shire he has no idea that he will become a savior for elves and men.  He only thinks of protecting his beloved homeland.  The other hobbits go with even less comprehension of the overarching dangers, either to themselves or others, but follow him on strong hobbit principles of friendship and family.  Because their love is for things that are close and concrete, it has substance rather than being an illusionary admiration of distant things, as abstract love tends to be.  Small though it may be, the solid reality of their love enables it to grow.  As Merry says in The Return of the King:
It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep.  Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not.  I am glad that I know them, a little.[2]
The understanding and love for what is small and hidden gives perspective to and understanding of big things.  Frodo learns not only to love the Shire from a distance, but to recognize his call to work for the ultimate defeat of the Enemy.  As Gandalf told him, he was “meant” to bear the Ring, and he opens himself up to this meaning.  Merry and Pippin pledge their allegiances to Rohan and Gondor in addition to their own Shire and their cousin Frodo.  Sam is willing to carry on and finish the quest, even without his master.  Their deep roots in humble things make these little and apparently inconsequential people a deadly threat to the greatness of the Dark Lord himself.
     Yet this thread of humility, the appreciation of the small, and particularly the understanding of one’s own littleness, is also shown in the things “higher and deeper,” than the Hobbits.  Gandalf, one of the greatest beings in Middle Earth, hides his power behind tattered grey and occupies himself in lonely journeys.  He watches, and waits, and protects, never demanding personal attention.  More than his outward un-ostentation, he knows that his power is limited, or rather, that he himself is limited.  He refuses the Ring because he knows that he has the potential for very great power, but he also knows that because of that potential, the Ring would overcome and rule him, to the ruin of all.  Aragorn, Elrond, Galadriel, and Faramir have the same realization of their own limited abilities in the face of great evil and similarly reject the Ring.  Paradoxically, their understanding of their own weakness allows them to remain in control of their free will instead of being possessed by the Ring.  Their weakness is their strength.
     Others are not so humble.  Boromir believes in his pride that, while elves and wizards may be corrupted by the Ring and thus must reject it completely, he will not be.  He has a passion to save Middle Earth, particularly his own Gondor, as do the rest.  The difference is that he believes that he, personally, has the strength and purity of character to withstand the Ring and bend its colossal evil to good.  Ironically, this pride in his own honor as a “truehearted man”[3] is the foothold in his nature which the Ring exploits, leading him to break his honor and attack a companion.   Saruman falls in a similar way.  He has all the trappings of power and glory, and is the head of the White Counsel.  Everything about him seems strong and wise and good.  Yet, while he is surrounded by the apparent security of Isengard, he oversteps his strength and is seduced by Sauron’s lies and his own desire for power.  By believing in their own immunity to temptation and the absolute inviolable strength of their wills, they fall.
     The Enemy, the Dark Lord himself, lives in the hugeness of his own evil.  His realm of Mordor is a vast and blasted waste, a desert of rock and ash and craters.  He has millions of orcs at his command.  He holds many of the southern and eastern countries as allies or slaves.   His first major appearance into history occurred during the First Age, as the greatest servant of Morgoth, the Great Enemy, and by the War of the Ring, he had replaced his master and been The Enemy for about 6000 years.  He holds mighty Gondor constantly at bay, and continues to send out evil into the northern lands which Gondor and Rohan cannot wholly check.  He wraps himself in the darkness and shows his power in destruction.  He wishes to overawe, overwhelm, overpower, overmass Middle Earth with his crushing enormity.
     It is interesting to note, amid all of Sauron’s graspings at greatness, that the Ring is “so small a thing.”[4]  Much of its danger lies in its innocent appearance.  It seems to be just a plain gold ring. Its victims are lulled into a false sense of security, because it seems at once harmless and beautiful.  When it drives them to deeds of madness and evil, as it does to Boromir and Gollum, and as it tries to do with Bilbo, they are caught off guard.  It is Sauron’s great gamble, into which he poured a great measure of his strength.  It was made in imitation of, and in order to gain mastery over, the other Rings of Power, which the elves made to be sources of good.  Sauron comes closest to victory by trusting his strength to the One Ring, a very little thing, “the trifle which Sauron fancies.”  Though littleness may be a foundation for humility, as it is for the hobbits, humility is something more than that.  It is a dependence and an opening of the heart to goodness and truth which are lacking there.  Thus the Ring is only a counterfeit and can be overcome by true humility.
     Like Tolkien, Lewis makes his understanding of humility integral to his work, yet he draws it out more emphatically.  Tolkien’s use of littleness is very subtle, like the laws of physics or gravity, which are perceptible without being visible.  Lewis makes a visible theme of it, like the rising sun.
     In the last book of the Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength, Lewis uses this theme to great effect.  Jane and Mark are a newly wedded couple, and they begin with very high opinions of themselves.  Jane prides herself on being very sensible, modern, and scientific.  Mark piques himself on being in the “inner circle” of his college, the “Progressive Element.”  When they encounter problems, their vanity prevents them from seeking help and support from one another.  They are afraid of the vulnerability involved in acknowledging their own insufficiency to face challenges alone.  Jane’s opinion of herself is shattered when she suddenly develops the most un-modern, un-scientific psychic dreams.  The only way to deal with her visions is to trust others and depend on them as she earlier refused to depend on her own husband.  She recognizes goodness, and makes herself subservient to it, even though she does not fully understand it.  Mark’s vanity, on the other hand, rests less on his intellectual abilities than on his social ones.  He is attracted to worldly power and constantly curries favor with whoever appears to have it.  This eventually leads him into the N.I.C.E., a huge corporation which is taking over the world in the name of progress and development.  Only when faced with death does he realize how petty his pride has been, and he tries to reject it.  Instead of being able to do so, he finds himself assaulted by demonic temptations to accept an invitation to “the true inner ring… the ultimate secret, the supreme power, the last initiation,” to surrender himself to the arcane.  In the face of this overwhelming evil which he has hitherto unconsciously desired and sought, he recognizes that, like it or not, he is horribly vulnerable.  He doesn’t believe in God, but he calls out to all that he knows of Goodness, as he has found it in his wife, and in certain friends from long ago, and asks for defense from the evil that is too big for him.  He chooses to be vulnerable to goodness rather than evil.  To be little is to be dependent, and when Jane and Mark, in their own separate ways, realize that they are little and depend on a higher good than themselves, they humbly submit to it.  This dependence on the Ultimate Good enables them to grow into their own individual persons and successfully resist evil.
     In the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’s main characters are not merely childlike, they are children, and the rest of Narnia is peopled with animals and mythological creatures, which are humble in their own way.   It is a child’s world, which is another way of saying that it is the sort of world grown-ups need, because it is so little.  The Narnians are little creatures: dwarves and satyrs, fauns, naiads, dryads, and talking animals.  Their littleness, especially that of the animals, rests ultimately in the fact that they are not men.  In Narnia they have been raised from the status of servants to subjects, but Lewis tells us that “Narnia was never right except when a Son of Adam was King.”[5]  Even when they are a little conceited, like Pattertwig and the other squirrels,[6] or simply oversensitive, like Reepicheep, they remain at root humble in accepting the dominion of Man.  Man is the king and crown of creation, and in Narnia, understanding this fact, animals and men have a much clearer understanding of their relations to one another under Aslan than most men and beasts in this world.
     Of course, there are also giants, but the giants in Narnia manage to illustrate humility as well as the smaller creatures.  The good giants are always very simple-minded, like Giant Wimbleweather in Prince Caspian, or Rumblebuffin in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  The clever giants, for some reason, are always bad.  Taken in context with the general attitude towards humility, the logical reason is because the combination of physical and mental power has gone to their heads and they live only for themselves
     The children themselves often have to struggle to accept their childhood.  Lucy, the youngest child in the whole series (not even yet in boarding school like the others), is the discoverer, and her older siblings refuse to believe her.  When they return to Narnia again in Prince Caspian, it is she who first sees Aslan, and she who first obeys him, when the others neither see him, nor believe her.  In both cases, she, as the youngest, the least, is the most receptive to Aslan, because she is the most willing to forget herself.  When Aslan tells her that it is time for her to live and learn entirely in her own world, Lucy remembers the lessons she learned in Narnia, and above all remembers Him.  By doing so, she finds Him in this world also, and is eventually allowed to return.  Her sister Susan does the opposite.  From the beginning Susan is always trying to act grown-up.  She disbelieves Lucy, and then listens to her fears and chooses her own way, the logical, sensible, grown-up way, even when she knows Lucy is right.  By continuing her vanity (in many ways like Mark’s), she loses Narnia.  She crushes her ability to believe what she once knew, and is eventually left behind in England, alone.    Where Lucy is willing to be little and open, Susan attempts to be independent and shuts herself off from anything which threatens to disturb her world.
     When Eustace first comes to Narnia, he has a similar problem.  He is full of himself, always trying to show off or act superior.  In reality, he knows very little about anything worthwhile, and he can’t comprehend the Narnian world.  He dislikes and distrusts his companions and is only attracted to the wealth and haughtiness of Calormen, the nemesis of Narnia and all that it stands for.  On Dragon Island, he secretly gathers treasure for himself and plans to escape with it to Calormen, where he will be self-sufficient.  He is punished for his greed and pride by being changed into a dragon.  As a dragon, he is as powerful and self-sufficient as he could wish, but he suddenly realizes that he would prefer to be small, and in harmony with the people who all along have tried to be his friends.  He tries to help his companions as best he can in his new body, and his change of heart is tested when Aslan leads him to a magical pool.  The lion tells him to “undress,” that is, take off his dragon skin, before he gets into the water.  Eustace is unable to do so because there is a new skin beneath each one he removes.  He swallows his fear and allows Aslan to do it for him.  Through his dependence, a very beautiful thing happens to him, which happens in other ways both in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and in our own world.  He becomes himself again.
     It is one of the paradoxes of the spiritual world that a person becomes most himself when he surrenders himself in love.  “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”[7]  Lewis’s works are not strictly allegory, in the sense of each thing being intended to represent something from our world.  As Lewis explained in a letter to some children who asked about this, his idea about the representative aspect was “let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen.”[8]  In the same way, Tolkien did not make his world a parallel or a copy, but a precursor.  The reason that humility is glorified in all three worlds is because the same basics of the moral and theological world apply to all.  All three worlds have the same God.  Tolkien and Lewis’s mythological worlds were less translations of this world than rhapsodies on truth and beauty set to dovetail reality.  Both authors, like Tolkien’s elves, put the thought of all that they loved into all that they make, and as God was their greatest love, He also shaped and influenced every aspect of their works.
     Tolkien and Lewis understood and applied humility in their works as the virtue touchstone with reality and with God.  They show delight at and appreciation for the simple things of everyday life, as one finds in Narnia and the Shire.  They also remind the reader that he is living in a world full of both danger and adventure, filled with things bigger and stronger than himself.  There is nothing wrong with being smaller than the things we face; in fact, victory often comes through the little things.  Most importantly, the little things are good because they come from the Ultimate Good, the one who stands behind all music and all stories, all heroes and all worlds.  All things depend on Him, and the good ones are good because they accept their littleness and become who He made them to be.

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue Concerning Hobbits. (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1982) pgs 18, 10
[2] Tolkien, The Return of the King. (2nd edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1993) pg 142.
[3] The Fellowship of the Ring, 414
[4][4] The Fellowship of the Ring, pg  414
[5] C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian. (Harper-Collins, New York, 1979) pg 69.
[6] Ibid, 98
[7] Matt 16:25
[8] Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead, C. S. Lewis, Letters to Children. (Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1985) pg 45, a letter to Fifth Graders from Maryland.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Biblical Greek: Homeschooling Online Classes

ADDENDUM: This course is now being offered free for the 2015/2016 school year. 

“I now entered the first class of what today would be called the gymnasium for classical languages [Greek and Latin] ... In retrospect it seems to me that an education in Greek and Latin antiquity created a mental attitude that resisted seduction by a totalitarian ideology.” 
~ Pope Benedict XVI, Memoirs

Homeschool Connections is very excited to let you know that we are continuing to offer Biblical Greek for the upcoming school year. Students as young as thirteen and as old as eighteen are welcomed to join us. This is a great course led by an energetic and knowledgable teacher. His love for the subject is contagious -- his students can't help but succeed in their Greek studies. (See below for a video with Mr. Egan.)

This course can be taken as an independent, learning course through Unlimited Access or as a live, interactive course starting in September (details below).

Why Learn Biblical Greek?
Why not? To understand the New Testament and the classics firsthand, in the language they were written, is a great gift. It helps to establish a strong foundation for Catholic education.

Top Ten benefits to learning a new language, specifically Biblical Greek:
  1. Knowledge is always increased in learning completely new things.
  2. Learning a new language, with a new alphabet, improves analytical and logic skills.
  3. The ability to read the New Testament in it's original language.
  4. To gain a new cultural perspective.
  5. A greater appreciation of language and its structure, including English.
  6. A greater knowledge of English vocabulary, as many English words contain Greek roots.
  7. Higher SAT and ACT scores.
  8. Biblical Greek followed by, or proceeded by, Latin benefits students in a unique way as both are the main root languages of our Western culture.
  9. The Greek language has a long and rich history stretching all the way from the thirteenth century BC to the present.
  10. Because the pope says it's a good idea!
“Hardly any lawful price would seem to me too high for what I have gained by being made to learn Latin and Greek.” 
~C.S. Lewis

(click on course title to register)

Note: This is a 2-part course. Students are expected to register for Part Two in the spring.
Registration is limited to 15 students.
Class dates: Mondays, September 14 to December 14, 2015
Total classes: 14
Starting time: 4:30 PM Eastern (3:30 Central; 2:30 Mountain; 1:30 Pacific)
Duration: 55 minutes
Prerequisite: Basic English Grammar
Suggested grade level: 7th grade and up.
Suggested high school credit: 1 full semester Biblical Greek or foreign language.
Fee: $185 if you register on or before July 15, 2015. $205 after July 15 for all 14 classes.
Instructor: Dan Egan
Course description: In this course, we begin with the alphabet, which is not as frightening as might be thought. Then we will progress slowly into Nouns and adjectives. A part of the class will be given to Christian Greek symbols and their meanings. We will also focus on Greek roots found in English words to build our English vocabulary – an excellent boost for the SAT vocabulary section. There will be 10-15 minutes of homework every night and progress will be seen in a few short weeks. By the 3rd week we will be reading short passages from the Greek New Testament.
Course materialsBasics of Biblical Greek, Deluxe Edition (2nd Edition) by William Mounce, ISBN # 0310250870 (

Homework: Includes study of vocabulary and grammar forms as well as worksheets. There will be a weekly practice quiz as well as an in-class quiz. Homework will take approximately 15 minutes daily in addition to weekly lecture and review.

Meet the Instructor:

Daniel Egan received his B.S. in Geography from Northern Kentucky University, but his true love has been teaching Biblical Greek in Cincinnati since 2001 to high school and grade school children. He occasionally can be heard on EWTN's Sunrise Morning Show on their Bible Tidbit segment. Dan loves to study the Bible and to evangelize. He is happily married to Arica Egan and they have 5 children so far. He has been a student of Gary Michuta's since 2003.

(click on course title to register)
This is a 2-part course. Students interested in joining us midyear should email if unsure about prerequisites.
Registration is limited to 15 students.
Class dates: Mondays, January 11 to April 25, 2016. No class Feb. 22 for midterm break or March 28 for Easter break.
Total classes: 14
Starting time: 4:30 PM Eastern (3:30 Central; 2:30 Mountain; 1:30 Pacific)
Duration: 55 minutes
Prerequisite: Introduction to Biblical Greek, Part One (Fall 2015 or Unlimited Access) or equivalent.
Suggested grade level: 7th grade and up.
Suggested high school credit: 1 full semester Biblical Greek or foreign language.
Fee: $185 if you register on or before November 15, 2015. $205 after Nov. 15 for all 14 classes.
Instructor: Dan Egan
Course description: In this course, we begin with the alphabet, which is not as frightening as might be thought. Then we will progress slowly into Nouns and adjectives. A part of the class will be given to Christian Greek symbols and their meanings. We will also focus on Greek roots found in English words to build our English vocabulary – an excellent boost for the SAT vocabulary section. There will be 10-15 minutes of homework every night and progress will be seen in a few short weeks. By the 3rd week we will be reading short passages from the Greek New Testament.
Course materialsBasics of Biblical Greek, Deluxe Edition (2nd Edition) by William Mounce, ISBN # 0310250870 (

Homework: Includes study of vocabulary and grammar forms as well as worksheets. There will be a weekly practice quiz as well as an in-class quiz. Homework will take approximately 15 minutes daily in addition to weekly lecture and review.

“To read Latin and Greek authors in their original, is a sublime luxury. I thank on my knees him who directed my early education for having put into my possession this rich source of delight; and I would not exchange it for anything which I could then have acquired, and have not since acquired.” 
     ~ Thomas Jefferson