Bookish Life | Classical Conversations

Strengthen Your Reading Muscles with the Classics

By on October 14, 2019

I recently enjoyed a debate with some teenagers about what makes a good book. We were reading a classic with which they were struggling to connect. This started a lively discussion on the merits of reading this book. Was it a good book? What makes a book good?

My final conclusion was that a book is good when you can learn from it. This doesn't mean non-fiction, fact-based books are the only good books. It means that I am challenged, encouraged, inspired, and changed by reading it. As the reader, the burden of learning something from the book is on me. Classics make good teachers because they don't give up their goodness easily. You have to fight for it.

Is the Bible a good book?

If a student believes that books are good if they instantly capture their attention, keep them up all hours of the night waiting to see what happens next, and thrill them with delight with an unexpected ending, then they will find very few classics "good". The extension of this idea is that if no classics are good books, then the Bible, which is the greatest classic of all time, is not a good book.

Does God's word instantly draw us in to its truth? Do we stay up all night waiting to see what happens next in God's story? Is the ending so delightful that we can't wait to start the book all over again?

These kinds of questions challenge me. My pastor recently suggested trying to sit down and read the Bible in a day. He wasn't suggesting studying it, but simply reading it like you would a good book - a page turner. While I didn't make it all the way through in one day, I did start trying to read it like I would approach my favorite books. I've learned that as I become a stronger reader, I have greater access to the Bible. So I'm working my brain out on some classics, and finding the strength training allows me to appreciate all of the books of the Bible.

Challenge in reading the classics

Classic literature poses many challenges that make you fight to glean their goodness. The Bible is no different.

1. The Language is foreign

You don't actually have to find a book in a foreign language for it to feel like your reading in a foreign language. Have you tried to read Canterbury Tales in the original Old English recently? It doesn't even sound like English. The Pilgrim's Progress can feel the same in the sense that it just isn't written with the vocabulary and sentence structure that modern writers utilize.

2. The Time Period is foreign

The next difficulty readers face is the fact that they aren't living in the time period of the author. Even a modern historical fiction book is easier to read because the author shares the same time period as their reader. That means that they know how to bridge the gap between modern thinking and historical thinking. Gulliver's Travels is a challenging read because his satire aims its jabs at the culture of the day. If you're not familiar with 18th Century English government or the Whigs and Tories, then you might miss his point.

3. The Writing Style is foreign

Even worse, each generation has its favorite style of literature to devour. You may not appreciate Robinson Crusoe if you're not a fan of travel adventure novels. In the same way, you might miss the beauty of Gothic romances like Jane Eyre if you're hoping it will be a modern romance.

I totally understand the challenge here because I grew up reading Sweet Valley High. The good news is that even someone who didn't grow up appreciating the more challenging literature can grow to love it in time.

Moving from Foreign to familiar

In order to move from the foreign to the familiar we're going to have to build a bridge. That's going to take work. It won't be easy. Here are some tools to help bridge the gap between our modern sensibilities and those of the classic authors.

1. suspend judgment

It is way too easy to start a book, struggle getting into the story, and then just stop reading. I've found that many books I've thought were dull came to life by the end like A Tale of Two Cities. Then again there are those that dragged on forever and never seemed to end...but I had to get to the end of the book before I could fully make that assessment. Persist to the end before you start to make a judgement.

2. Employ curiosity

As I read, I like to try to see if I can discover the hidden beauty in a book. If it is deemed a "classic", how did it earn that title? It is like when someone tells you that a song is their favorite, you listen to it differently. Someone has found some profound beauty in this work, so there must be something to find.

Another strategy I've used is to read a book with the attitude of this is the most interesting thing I've ever read! When I think it is interesting, I can usually find something that is interesting when I read.

3. Keep Moving

One of the best tools I've used is Audible. I love listening to the book aloud as I read along. This helps my brain keep from wandering and gives me that extra boost to finish reading to the end. I know Tolkien says, "Not all who wander are lost," but I think it is definitely true that all who wander while they're reading are lost! Having an audio version of a book helps to discipline your focus as you read, which will allow you to get more out of everything you read.

4. Take notes

I know this idea can seem counterproductive to my previous encouragement, but note taking helps to focus your interest in the story and draw out some of those meaningful observations. This is where you can bring out your detective skills and see if you can find hidden connections that aren't visible on the first pass. While you can simply take notes on each chapter, here are some alternative solutions:

  • Make a Character Chart - list the characters and map out their relationship to one another or encounters with one another.
  • Timeline of Events - Every good detective knows that the timeline is where you start when trying to figure out what is happening
  • Map Out the Story - Sometimes it can be helpful to map out the story in a way that fuses the two together in a character chart timeline. It can get kind-of messy, but it is sure helpful in gaining understanding of the overall story.

5. Get Help

There is nothing wrong with allowing a guide to help you walk through the process. I love to use SparkNotes to ensure I'm understanding what I'm reading. I'm not using the notes to read the book for me, but to keep me on the right track. One resource that transformed my reading is the CiRCE Institute's highlighting method. They have a book now that explains the process: A CiRCE Guide to Reading.

Here are some other resources I love on how to read:

It's also helpful to have some resources that introduce you to the stories:

What Happens when you become a stronger reader?

With anything you practice, you become stronger and better able to navigate the challenges of difficult material. It comes slowly, but each time you read you become better able to see things that you couldn't see before. It's like you're slowly gaining access to a whole other world.

Martin Luther fought for a whole generation of people to have the Bible in their own language so they wouldn't be dependent upon someone else to translate it for them. Today we have access to the Bible in our own language, but we either don't read it or we can't. It's probably a combination of both.

We need to strengthen our reading skills so that we don't slip into a world again where people don't read the Bible for themselves and therefore don't think for themselves.

Continue Reading

Challenge | Classical Conversations | Printables

Strategic Tic-Tac-Toe Board Slam

By on September 9, 2019

My son discovered Strategic Tic-Tac-Toe on Cool Math Games when he was younger. It is such a interesting twist on an old favorite. When trying to come up with a new math game for their Challenge IV class, my son and husband collaborated with their class to take the traditional Board Slam (or National Number Knockout) and mash it up with Strategic Tic-Tac-Toe. The end result? A strategic twist on a fast moving number game.

Strategic Tic-tac-toe board slam

For a free printable game board, read to the end!

Board Slam Basics

Board Slam is a math game where you roll three dice and use math operations to calculate all the numbers on the board 1-36. You must use every number once and only once. This gives students great practice in manipulating numbers.

Not every combination of numbers will clear the board, but you can look up possibilities and solutions on this Board Slam Calculator. There are twenty-five combinations that do clear the board however, so there is a lot of variety with which to work.

For example, if you roll a 2, 3, and 4, you can combine them to form these equations:

  • 2 + 3 + 4 = 11
  • 2 + 3 + 40 = 6 (numbers to the zero power are equivalent to "1")
  • 2 + 3 - 40 = 4
  • 2 x 3 - 40 = 5
  • 42 + 3 + 2 = 21
  • 42 + 32 + 22 = 29
  • 42 + 32 + 23 = 33
  • 40 + 33 + 23 = 36

Now Add Strategic Tic-Tac-Toe

In the game Strategic Tic-Tac-Toe (or Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe), the first player starts in the center square. The position in the inner square that the first player plays sends the second player to that section of the larger tic-tac-toe board. To make a play, players have to formulate the number in the box to place their mark.

As play continues, the strategy starts to build. Traditional tic-tac-toe strategies don't work the same when you're playing on a larger board. As the board fills up, you can't just play where you want because you might send your opponent to a square where they can get three in a row.

Once a square is claimed, it becomes a wild square. If one player is sent to a square that is captured, they can choose any square to play in next. This would allow the other player to head to a square that they can gain three in a row.

Once they get three in a row, the square is claimed. The goal is to get three of the big squares in a row to make a super tic-tac-toe.

If you're still wanting a bit more explanation, check out this video:

Playing with a group

If you're playing with more than two players, this is also a great game to collaborate as a team. My husband had five students in his Challenge IV class, and the first few rounds of the game they played class vs. tutor. Eventually they shifted to three on three. This is a great way to cultivate team work as they work through different strategies and volume control! They can't give away secrets to the other team!

While it may take a few rounds of play to get the hang of it, the depth of the strategy becomes really addicting! You will want to play this all the time!

Download Your Free Game Board

Strategic tic-tac-toe board slam

Download your FREE STRATEGIC TIC-TAC-TOE BOARD SLAM GAME BOARD and enjoy a new twist to an old favorite math game!

Continue Reading

Home School Resources

The GPA Trakr : A Better Way to Navigate High School Credits

By on September 2, 2019

After graduating my first, I have a good sense of the necessity of keeping good records and having the right info for your transcript. A good friend of mine has come up with a solution: The GPA Trakr. It's a tool that provides a great way to organize and track your student's high school career. I've asked her to share her story about how and why she developed this resource. Keep reading to the end for an awesome $10 off coupon code!

When my daughter, Kiki, entered 9th grade, I knew that I would have to transition into tracking her classes, grades, credits and a GPA for the sake of graduation and college. Yikes! Although I consider myself relatively organized, this was going to be a whole new journey for me. Prior to this, math was the only thing I tracked. I feared making mistakes that would hinder her opportunity to graduate! In reality, many homeschooling parents are intimidated by homeschooling through highschool. In fact, it’s a time that many choose to quit homeschooling entirely! The question that came to my mind was, “Will I be able to ensure that my daughter would graduate properly?” 

Research, Research, Research

I dove into some useful research and began to put together information that became of great value to me. I found the highschool requirements for my state and, with the help of my husband, created a simple but very useful spreadsheet that would not only help me track her classes, credits, and final grades, but also auto-formulate her GPA with every grade. In creating it, I knew immediately that this was going to prove extremely helpful to me! In the midst of all this, I found that the journey to graduate my child was really not going to be difficult at all! It just required a good system and a little organization! 

Being prepared for graduation boils down to just a few simple things:

  1. Knowing the criteria
  2. Doing the criteria
  3. Tracking the criteria

In lieu of this, I created a tool to share with other parents who were beginning their journey to homeschool through highschool. I call it the GPA Trakr and it is meant to make the process of tracking highschool classes, credits and GPA as simple as possible, tackling criterias #1 and #3.

Here’s what the GPA Trakr does:

  • Gives you immediate access to Texas High School Graduation Requirements with an additional special link for criteria for all other states.
  • Allows you to quickly add the classes and curriculum that your high schooler is taking
  • Helps you track the final grade and credit for each class, accounting for additional credits for Honors classes
  • Auto-populates a real time GPA as you enter each grade
  • Helps you be prepared with everything you need for your child’s high school transcript 


  • You buy it once for your whole family and use it for each child - it is NOT a subscription
  • Keep your family protected from inquiring minds by have great records
  • Plan classes ahead, be organized, and have a great overview for what’s to come
  • Allow your high schooler to easily see how they are progressing in their journey

If you’re interested in this tool, it is my pleasure to offer you a $10 OFF coupon for followers of Family Style Schooling and get it for just $39.95. Just enter the code FAMILYSTYLESCHOOL and purchase it here.

And because I want you to love it, I always offer a money back guarantee

For more guidance on homeschooling through highschool, invites to special events, or to set up a free 30 minute guidance session to get yourself on track, follow Homeschooling Through Highschool on Facebook or look for gpatrakr on Instagram. Let’s talk!

Continue Reading

Challenge | Classical Conversations | Faith

How to Use Comparison to Enhance Bible Study

By on August 19, 2019

Of Aristotle's Five Common Topics, Comparison has always been the easiest for me. Perhaps it is because I grew up comparing things, whether good or bad, all of my life. This summer I led a seminar in using the topic of Comparison to generate ideas for an entire paper.

The topic of Comparison generates a wealth of ideas. Sometimes it is hard to get a conversation going about the Bible because as we get older we forget to wonder about the Bible. We've heard all of the stories before and so when we get to familiar subjects, we glance at them to see if they're still the same thing we know them to be, and then we move on. But what if you could slow down and wonder? Is there anything new to find in those old familiar stories?

Comparing Rahab and Zacchaeus

Our first character for comparison is Rahab, from Joshua 2. She is living in the ancient city of Jericho and works as a prostitute. When two spies arrive from Israel, she takes them in, hides them, and helps them escape. Her life is forever changed by this encounter.

Zacchaeus, a New Testament character who we meet in Luke 19, is a tax collector living in Jericho 2.0 about a mile south of the old ruins. I know him from the song we used to sing in Sunday school about him being a "wee little man", how he "climbed up in a sycamore tree" to see Jesus as he passed by, and how Jesus said, "Zacchaeus, you come down. For I'm going to your house today." His life is forever changed by this encounter.

How are they similar and different?

At face value, these two characters seem to have little more in common than a city name and a life change. When you work to find their similarities however, it really makes you consider how well you really know the characters, and it brings about a new sense of wonder.

In comparison there are three helpful categories to investigate as you look for similarities:

  • What do they both have?
  • What are they both?
  • What do they both do?

As you identify similarities you can also note how they are different in those areas. You can look for differences in two categories as well:

  • kind - is it a totally different type of thing
  • degree - is one better/worse than the other

So let's see what we can discover about these familiar Bible characters.

What do they both have?

I love the brainstorming process. This is a time when all ideas are considered and none are thrown out. One thing at a time. Once you have all of your ideas, you can start to weed out the weak from the strong. Right now, don't judge, just consider:

- High Vantage Points

Rahab's home was situated in the wall where she could see everyone who was coming and going. This gave her a place to watch for newcomers to the town, and it seems that she gleaned a lot of great information from her high perch. It makes me wonder how often did she sit and watch? What else did she know about the people coming and going from her city?

Zacchaeus, on the other hand, was just a short guy in the right place. He was curious about Jesus, but he couldn't see over the crowd. Thankfully, he was resourceful and spry because he found a nearby tree to scale. How old do you think he was? What was he wearing? Did he do this often?

- Wealth

Rahab's wealth is shown in a more subtle fashion through the fact that she has a house and stalks of flax laid out on the roof. This means that she had the basics provided for and seemed to be living a pretty comfortable life. Compared to the Israelites who had been wandering in the desert, she was doing pretty well. It makes me wonder, did the king pay for her place or if she was self sufficient?

Zacchaeus's wealth is evident to all. It is expressed in his short bio in Luke 19:2 - He was the chief tax collector and he was wealthy. It makes me wonder why was he looking for anything else? Didn't he have everything he needed?

- Homes in Jericho

We've already briefly noted this, but it is fascinating to me that Jericho, which is leveled in Rahab's story - actually the event that even gives Rahab a place in the Bible - is mentioned again in the New Testament. Why did someone rebuild this city? Who would name it Jericho even if the land was reused?

After a little bit of research, I found that God told Joshua to tell the people that whoever tried to rebuild the city would be cursed (Joshua 6:26). This came true when Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho in King Ahab's time (1 Kings 16:34). When we encounter Jericho in the New Testament, it is a buzzing Roman city where King Herod had built a winter home and eventually died (Encyclopedia Britannica).

So maybe this Realestate wasn't as much of an advantage for either Rahab or Zacchaeus as it seemed.

What are they both?

Our next category looks a little deeper into what kinds of people they are, but we're still just identifying the obvious. The deep epiphanies come when you least expect it.

- Workers of Odd Jobs

Let's face it: Rahab's job was not a career with a 401k retirement plan. She was a contract worker with a job that didn't generate respect from the Israelite religion. Yet, the spies trusted her. I wonder why.

Zacchaeus worked for the enemy. In the New Testament, the Israelites were now living under the thumb of the Romans, so a Tax Collector, while it was a lucrative and stable job, was not popular with the Israelites. Yet, Jesus sought Zacchaeus out and went to his house to eat with him. I wonder why.

- Robbers of Their Community

Even though Rahab's clients were willing participants, the act of prostitution robs the actors from the blessings of sex within the protection of a marriage relationship. It is no wonder Rahab was looking for help from the God of the Israelites.

Zacchaeus took money from people who did not wish to give it up. They were forced to give their precious resources to a regime they did not support. I wonder what sparked Zacchaeus' interest which led him to that tree on that day.

- Looked Down Upon

Both held occupations that did not generate esteem among their peers. One could make an argument that the city of Jericho was so corrupt that they esteemed Rahab as a prostitute, but the fact that the word "prostitute" is always attached to her name doesn't seem like a blessing.

When Jesus says he's going to Zacchaeus' house, the people all grumble around about how great of a sinner Zacchaeus is. Nobody likes him very much. I wonder what he thought about Jesus coming over to his house.

What do they both do?

Our final category for exploration is what do they both do.

- Pursue Truth

When Rahab talks to the spies, it is clear that she's been watching the God of the Israelites for some time. She's collected stories, watched for stagers, and seized the opportunity to seek out the truth. It's taken a long time, but then again her resources for accessing the truth were very limited. I wonder how long she'd been contemplating this idea.

Zacchaeus is actually fairly impulsive in his pursuit. It is more of a curiosity than a determined investigation like Rahab's. As a collector, it seems he's stumbled upon a richer pot than he imagined. I wonder if he realized the wealth he'd found.

- Take Risks

By hiding the spies, Rahab risks everything: her career, her life, and her family's lives. She was "all in" on the bet that God would win the battle against Jericho and she was willing to risk it all. I wonder how many times she's worked out the odds on this bet.

When Zacchaeus climbed that tree, he was really just improvising. He wanted a good look at Jesus, but from a safe place at a distance. Surely he didn't bet on Jesus walking up to him in that tree, calling him by name, and going home with him. I wonder if he realized the risk he was taking.

- Repent

In the end, Rahab leaves her life of prostitution to live with the people who serve the living God. She changes her ways, and ends up being known not for her sin but for being in the line of Christ (Matthew 1:5). She's commended for her faith (Hebrews 11:31) and righteousness (James 2:25). I'd say that she's changed. I wonder what her family thought of the change.

Although he's only mentioned in Luke, Zachhaeus has clearly repented since Jesus himself clearly vouches for him. Not only does Zacchaeus trust in Jesus, he also vows to give back more than he took from the people. He will no longer become wealthy at the expense of others. He's found the true source of wealth that will never perish. I wonder what his family thought about the change.

Lasting Impacts of Extravagant Faith

In my seminar with high school kids, they picked three similarities to attend to in their paper: both Rahab and Zacchaeus pursued truth, repented sins, and took risks. In the end they decided that Rahab had the greater faith and impact because of her place in the lineage of Christ.

What did we glean from this comparison? Extravagant faith impacts not just the person who is trusting God. Both Rahab and Zacchaeus impact the future of their immediate family, but additionally, their stories of faith are still being read today and impacting lives beyond their imaginations.

We don't make choices in isolation. Rahab and Zacchaeus are great examples of extravagant faith that we can follow.

Curiosity in Bible Study

We cannot let our familiarity or unfamiliarity with a Bible story shut down our wonder. Slow down. Consider the fact that these aren't just made up stores, but they are real people with real circumstances encountering a real God. It's powerful.

Each of these ideas sparked a new idea for wonder which could take your understanding of either one of these people to a richer and deeper level.

What do you wonder about?

Continue Reading

Classical Conversations | Essentials | Foundations | Home School Resources | Latin Helps | Printables

Latin with Andy Code Breakers

By on July 29, 2019

When we started making Latin videos for Latin with Andy in 2017, we had no idea what we were in for! We have learned so much on our journey, and we're excited to share a new branch of the Latin with Andy resources: Code Breakers.

Andy had the opportunity to work with some younger students and loved seeing how quickly they picked up on the concepts when they imagined they were breaking a code. In truth, they were, because that's what translating is: code breaking.

So we've come up with a way to share the basics of the Latin language in a fun and manageable way for our younger friends to get their feet wet without drowning in the abyss of Latin grammar.

Code Breakers Videos

The best part of this resource is that all of the videos are FREE to watch on YouTube, or you can find them all organized here!

LWA Code Breakers consists of five longer lesson videos, each followed by six shorter videos that break up the main ideas into small bites to practice. At the end of each video, students are rewarded with a little outtake clip that we had way too much fun making.

Along with these videos we've created Video Companion Guides (a free download) and Daily Practice Worksheets to purchase for $10, which will transform these videos into a more formal curriculum.

LWA Code Breakers Supplemental Materials

This 88 page resource includes worksheets that take students step-by-step through the concepts presented in the Lesson overview video. They break the work down into quick, easy steps to start building those Latin muscles without wearing them out.


In addition, extra helps are included which give teachers an overview of what is introduced in each lesson, as well as a lesson plan for completing the material in a year, a semester, or even a week, depending on the age of your student.


The final aspect of this resource includes a full color answer key for teachers who aren't familiar with Latin to help walk their students through the basics with success. It can be intimidating to lead someone else down a road you haven't walked before. Answer keys are a great tool to help you get where you want to go!


Who Could Benefit from Code Breakers?

4th - 6th Graders

We recommend that a student has had some formal English grammar study. So if you're in Classical Conversations, they could start Latin with Andy Code Breakers along with Essentials, or even better, after their first complete year of Essentials.

7th and Up

Anyone preparing for a more intense Latin course like Henle Latin could benefit from working through these videos. Think of it as an on-ramp where they can get up to speed without going from zero to sixty in a blink.


Parents who would like to know how the Latin memory work transfers to their student's future studies could get a grasp of the importance and value of really learning that well.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the videos and get excited about Code Breaking with Andy!

Purchase your Latin with Andy Code Breakers Supplemental Materials here:



Continue Reading