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Who ever would have thought that a first-century historian would make for the rip-roaring-est experience of the school day?

Thanks to A Delectable Education's scheduling cards, this past school year has included subjects that I always aspired to, but could never quite fit it - things like Shakespeare, daily poetry, appreciating paintings from the masters and enjoying music by great composers. But there was one subject recommendation I was scared to venture into: Plutarch.

My idea of The Classics are a big stack by Dickens, Bronte, Dostoyevsky, Hugo; voices echoing from the far reaches of the 19th century. Attempting anything older than that (sans religious literature, obviously) has ended up being an abandoned attempt. I once got really ambitious and tried something super old and foreign - Don Quixote (Spain, 1605) - but after a year of plodding, I gave up. The suggestion that I should include the study of Plutarch, a first century Greco-Roman biographer and essayist, made me almost immediately want to throw up a white flag of surrender. This was not a battle I was prepared to fight. My eleven-year-old would balk - and yes, if I was going to attempt this at all, I would only inflict it on the eleven-year-old.

What can it hurt to try? You don't really know until you try. This has become a theme for me this past year when I was inundated with so many ideas and ideals and I knew I had to come up with something better than I've-never-done-that-so-I-never-will-do-that. So, I penciled Plutarch in for one thirty-minute slot once per week. At the appointed hour on the appointed day, I sat in the dining room with Blue. This is how it would go: We'd start with the life of Julius Caesar since that was someone he had at least heard of before. I would read a paragraph or two and he would tell back to me, in his own words, what I'd just read.

I read one paragraph.

He responded with "Uh. Um. This guy...uh..." He was fidgety, he was halfway-checked-out. I knew it! Too hard! But then, an idea: I retrieved a box of Roman Playmobil characters - left over from last year's Rome obsession. Dumping it out on the table, I said, "Maybe these could help."

He sat up straighter. He thought for a second. He ran to the playroom and grabbed a little boat from the toy box and brought it back, loaded it up with figurines and gave them voice. "Arg! We've come to kidnap you, Julius Caesar!"

"You really want to take that risk? You'll be sorry you did this when I execute you later." "Execute us! Blarg! You're nothing but a puny wimp!"

"Let's hear you say that while you'e being crucified..."

By the time he was finished with the scene, I was rolling on the floor laughing. He'd transposed Plutarch's first-century dialogue into a modern trash-talk battle and it was hilarious. We finished that first half-an-hour and Blue went running to 10-year-old-Green to inform him - "You missed it. That was the best ever..."

Green begged to get in on the action next time. So, I included him the following week and the two of them listened to paragraph after paragraph, reenacting each scene with gusto.

Eventually, eight-year-old Orange had to sneak away from whatever assignments he was supposed to be occupied with during the Plutarch reading. And even two-year-old Pinkie knows that when the box of Playmobil Romans comes out, it's time to gather around the table, grab a little figurine and start battling the rest of them.

You never know until you try...

A recent theme that seems to be cropping up in my recent reading and podcast listening is this: moderate amounts of stress (i.e. the introduction of new and unfamiliar stimuli or situations) improves brain function and prompts forward strides in memory and cognitive performance. Taking the initiative to purposefully expose yourself to moderate stress leads to the brain literally creating new stem cells, which go on to form neurons or brain cells.

In that vein, tackle a challenging and unfamiliar topic of study, dare yourself physically with a new posture or skill, shake up your routine by trading out an hour or two of early morning sleep for an afternoon power nap.

For my kids, I think this whole venture into Plutarch has been successful thanks to these two factors: the neural jolt of something new combined with the delight of play.

So, if anybody has any ideas for how I can apply that magic to grammar... :)

Our morning school routine involves moving through a series of about eight to ten different skills and subjects over a three-hour period. If my (distractable) students could execute the (simple) thing in front of them and then refer back to the (conveniently) printed list to see what was next, the morning would be quick and painless.

But that's not what they do.

They do everything but that.

They take their history books to the couch to read and start scuffling over a coveted seat and that turns into a full-blown wrestling match and when the top dog finally claims his seat victoriously, they've wasted ten of their allotted twenty minutes.

They go to different rooms for quiet speech practice and discover that - happy gasp! - there's LEGO in this room and what is LEGO in front of me for except to be built? The recitation is abandoned by the door.

They are supposed to be working their math problems on a whiteboard and they are turning their 8s into butt cheeks on stick figures...and then drawing speech bubbles for them...and then making dialogue recommendations to each other.

And meanwhile, I'm standing there, sounding like a broken record, "Guys, did you finish? Guys, is it time for that right now? Guys, what are you supposed to be doing?"

Some days are better than other, but today, I felt like I spent all morning herding cats. When one of the boys took a full eight minutes to get through reading two words (because the toddler wanted his attention), I had had it. I was done with the nagging, pleading, cajoling, threatening. I just wanted them to take responsibility for their own education! Is that really so much to ask?!

So, I exploded all over them. "Where's your list? Over on the wall? That's right! You know exactly where it is! It is YOUR job to get that stuff done! You think I like chasing everybody around the house saying, 'Time for this, time for that...Did you do this, did you do that?...Finish this! Finish that!'?" I pointed to my crazed eyes and frizzed hair. "Do you really want a mom that looks like this?"

"We're sorry," they murmurred, eyes downcast.

But I was too far gone to defused with a simple sorry. "Sorry? I don't need sorry! I need you to grow up and take some responsibility for yourself. I can't tie you to a chair and open your brain and pour in the education. This is YOUR job, not MY job..."

"We know..." their voices were quiet and they were fiddling with their pencils and I knew I should just shut up and move forward but you know that feeling? The one where you're falling and you just can't stop yourself no matter how much you want to?

"If you know then why don't you just do it? Why do you make me chase you all around the house..." I put my hands to my head and closed my eyes and ranted and raved.

And then I felt arms around my waist.

I stiffened. No, there will be no ingratiating of yourselves to me this time. You can't win my magnanimity with a little squeeze and grin.

Competing sides warred in my head. You could at least soften your tone a little. "When you guys push me this far, it is really hard for me to come back around."

"I know," his voice was muffled against my clothes and the grip around my waist didn't waver.

Come back to love. Come on.

It's so frustrating, though! I won't be treated this way!

I put my arms around him hesitantly. "Don't make me do both my job and your job, guys."

He kept holding. Firmly. Quietly. His head tucked down against my ribs. Completely still.

Come back.

I don't know if I can. It's too hard.

Come back.

I want to. Keep holding. "I'm really trying to come back to you..."

And he kept holding. It must've been close to two minutes. I put my mouth close to his ear. "You're brave. It's brave to try to hug an angry porcupine."

I fear angry people. When I see the smoke starting to come out someone's ears, I slink off into the shadows. I run for cover. My son didn't do that. He saw the ranting and raving and he ducked under the waving arms and embraced angry me.

He kept holding and I buried my nose in his hair and breathed him in. "Your strength right now is charging up my strength. Thank you." My return hug was genuine now - a physical expression of the gratitude I felt for him, of the awe I had for his maturity in handling a emotionally overwrought female who happened to be him mom.

"I'm so proud of you," I told him as he straightened up and returned to his current assignment.

Another son put his hand soothingly on my arm and set his notebook in front of me, opening to the page where he had written, "Deep breathe, Mommy" as I was fuming.

These are my boys who often don't pay attention when I'm dictating the next sentence to them...who talk over me to each other while I'm trying to explain how to simplify fractions...who never miss a chance to let a nature walk to devolve into a wrestling match...

...who have watched attentively as Papa soothes Mommy in her most stressful moments...who have cultivated empathy for other human beings and have practiced accommodating the needs that arise...who are pleasant to go through life with.

Last weekend, I got a much needed boost when I attended a large-scale homeschool convention. A big highlight was sitting in the crowd and looking up at Sarah MacKenzie, who has provided me with plenty of inspiration in the past few years. During her talk, she made a point that resonated deeply with me: a person's deepest desire is to find someone to share life with and then to share a beautiful life together. Careers will peak and then fade, hobbies will come and go. What everyone wants on their tombstone, in their eulogy, is to know that they meant something to someone.

And that's the most important aspect of educating our children: to optimize their future capacity of meaning-something-to-someone, to give them every tool possible to become people that are wired for successful, meaningful relationships.

It's such an un-quantifyable goal. But there are benchmarks; there are moments when we get a glimpse of the priceless skills and capabilities that our kids are developing.

And that courageous, calming hug from an eleven-year-old boy was one of them.

In which we check in weekly and update our Favorite Things: resources that fueled our curiosity this past week.

Documentary of the Week: The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice

Neil Oliver is another favorite among our documentarians. He has a great sense of dramatic timing and, similar to Dan Snow, finds ways to "get his hands dirty." This series was our introduction to the Celts and believe you me, we found plenty to love and plenty to hate (Vercingetorix opposing Julius Ceasar = epic / Druid and bog bodies = nightmarish). Top-notch quality, intriguing for all ages. All three episodes can be viewed on either YouTube or Amazon Prime.

Check out a preview below.

Game of the Week: The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game

No secret that I love games. But my four-year-old has started asking "Mommy, play a game with me!"

And it kinda makes my blood run cold. There is almost nothing worse than a mind-numbing game of "Chutes and Ladders." This game is perfect for my just-turned-four-year-old. The components are great quality - gotta love that cute little squirrel grabber! They feel very durable. I love that the game doesn't involve any physical jumping around (sorry, that's just asking too much of mommy...), but there is a physical challenge of utilizing those little squirrel paws.

Bonus Awesomeness: Read Aloud Revival

One of my favorite podcasts of recent months has been the Read Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie. It's full of great ideas, interesting interviews, wonderful recommendations.

And...my mom got the greatest back-to-school gift for us: a premium membership to Read Aloud Revival. I've loved exploring the master classes and the forums. And I look forward to lots of great ideas for how to further develop our book-loving family culture. Check out the podcast and get inspired!

Don't forget to peek at my Instagram to see what awesome books we enjoyed this week. Got a favorite resource that fueled your curiosity this week? Leave a comment and point me in the right direction!

#Homeschool #Homeschooling #ReadAloudRevival #Celts #NeilOliver #SneakySnackySquirrel #Boardgames #Documentary #Podcasts

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