Cultivating Confidence

    By Renee Miller

self-confidence[1]A while back, a teacher at a local dance studio commented that our Garden School students show a lot of self-confidence. She said they’re always “game” and willing to try new things. I’ve noticed this, too, and was reflecting on what helps to instill this quality in our children.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

We try to keep a lid on kids ridiculing each other. This is often their first response when they feel nervous or afraid themselves. It is also common in most of our own school experiences. So it takes a concerted, conscious effort to develop a school culture where the students respect each other and support one another’s efforts. We give our students lots of opportunities to succeed in a supportive environment, and that builds their confidence.

This is not to be confused with the “Oh, Johnny, you’re so amazing” nonsense when, in fact, he’s not, and we both know it. Truth must always under gird any culture where we expect respect. Boys especially can’t stand empty falseness. This means there is a time when a student’s effort is questioned and he or she is encouraged to do better.

Also, we are of the opinion that every child is uniquely gifted for a purpose in this world. This powerful idea intrigues children. We aren’t expecting them to excel at everything. Instead we ask them, “What has God given you a passion for?” and, further, “How can you encourage another student to discover his or her areas of giftedness?” This is quite different from the notion that you can be anything you want to be.

Another thing we do is to foster an environment that has rich, multi-age interactions. A group of thirty 13-year-old girls just don’t behave as well as a group of thirty girls from the ages of 2 to 80. Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time with groups of junior high girls. It tends to bring the best out in people to be aware that they are setting an example for someone else or being admired by a younger person.

This brings us to keeping them from being raised in an environment where they learn to be peer dependent, or where they would only do something because it was “approved” by their group. I’ve found the best way to move children from this mindset is through significant time with family and the community at large. What makes a student successful in the local high school does not make him or her successful in life. Bill Gates is credited with saying, “Be nice to nerds. You will probably work for one.” This will become obviously apparent to our students as they spend time with other adults who are worthy of imitation.

While it’s difficult to put my finger on just what exactly fosters confidence in students, I hope the above thoughts will spur our readers to explore this topic further and leave comments below.


    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.


Have a Mathy Summer!

    By Dawn Lamping

Summer is always welcome in the Rockies, and it beckons us to have fun. Why leave math out of that?

Here are some great outdoor math games and projects that are guaranteed to hold the interests of all your crew and keep everyone’s skills sharp until the days get shorter again. Not only will your kids enjoy them, but they’re adult-tested for fun, too!

purple Columbine[1]For the youngest set, counting is the name of the game. There are so many beautiful plants to count in summer! Some have three petals, many sport six. The rose (an edible math treat as long as it’s safe from pesticides) is built on the principle of 5, as is our state flower, the columbine. Older siblings can help younger ones press flowers, and these can be used to make math cards! Let an older child glue specimens to index cards and laminate or cover with Contac paper. If you have three cards that each have a three-petaled flower on them, count how many petals in all. Children like to make up their own games with such cards. You can choose to follow up the activity with writing multiplication equations if you like. For pre-algebra-with kids as young as kindergarten and as old as teens-add and subtract things your children gather in their romps by writing the first letter of the object along with the amount. Although you can’t add leaves and pinecones, you could do something like this by writing “p” for pinecones and “l” for leaves: 2 p + 3 p + 4 l + 7 l – 2 l = 5p + 9l.

Little ones also love motion. Sidewalk chalk can be used for a number line to play addition and subtraction games. For the older set, make jumps of a certain number to skip count, or skip count backwards to divide. Make “four square” with numbers in each cell, and toss a pebble in turns to see which numbers to add. Expand the square or add fractions and decimals for greater challenge.

Ball games help with skip counting. Even very young children can learn to count by twos, fives, and tens just playing catch and counting aloud each turn. Older kids will enjoy skip counting. For a larger group at the park, it can help children reorganize their energy to get in a circle and toss a ball to anyone in the circle while skip counting. Let the ball bounce once without saying that number to work through all the “every other” patterns: fours are every other two; eights are every other four. Sixes are every other three; twelves are every other six.

Use a duck-duck-goose format in a circle for the “every third” sets. Choose a target “goose” number on the times table you will practice before you begin, and when that number is reached, then the chase ensues. Nines are every third three; twelves are every third four. Sixes are every third two. Let “it” run around the circle of friends who are sitting down and touch everyone’s head. Each person in the circle must be silently skip counting to keep up. Only every third person says their number aloud. If you are counting by threes, the first person would be three, the second six, the third nine. Only the third person says “nine.” If the target number-such as 36-is reached without errors, then the target person gets up to chase “it” around the circle and if they catch “it” before “it” can run around once to sit in the target’s place, then “it” has to stay “it” for another round.

Sunny DayUse sunny days to your math advantage. Chart sunrise and sunset times to watch the coming and waning of the solstice on the longest day of the year, June 21. Students can chart these on a graph and determine the rate of change daylight and find the average rate of change in a week’s time or across the whole summer. Temperature charts lend themselves to this activity also. A next step is to combine temperature and day length for comparisons.

Shadows can be used to measure the height of a tall building or tree. Just measure the shadows of yourself and the tall object. Then measure your own height and figure out the height of the tall object through setting up a ratio by imagining right triangles. The right angle will create comparable proportions. If you are five feet tall, and your shadow is seven feet long, and the tall object’s shadow is fifteen feet long, set up the following proportion: 5 : 7 as h : 15. Solve for the unknown height h. This method is called “shadow reckoning” and was used by the ancient Greek mathematician Thales to measure the height of the Great Pyramid using only shadows.

Above all, stay outdoors as long as you can and enjoy learning together. With a bit of creativity, you and your children will have fun without even realizing how “mathy” the summer has been!

What are you most looking forward to this summer?


    Dawn Lamping didn’t see much of fifth grade recess because she was held in to try to “catch up” in fractions. That experience cooled any interest she had in mathematics until she started her family in 1994. Through the journey of homeschooling two children, Dawn discovered the “blueprints of Creation” within mathematics. She feels blessed to share the joy of math and enjoys exploring and mastering numeracy in the classroom through hands-on experiments, fun drill games, geometry, and art. She holds an Honors Degree in Psychology from the University of Missouri and completed teacher training at Arizona State University.

Twaddle vs. Classics

    By J. Marvin

The box was dusty and heavy with mysterious contents. I realized it was one that had been packed years ago and gone through three moves without ever being unpacked; now, in my new apartment-my new start- I was ready to unfold the flaps and discover its treasure.

Box o' BooksIt was full of musty-smelling books, and as soon as I lifted one out and blew off the little dust-bunnies along the spine, I recognized one entire shelf of my mother’s library, packed up and brought from Florida after her sudden death 15 years ago. These were books she had bought when I was little, books that had lined her shelves in the house where we lived from the time I was 6 until I was 17. These were books whose titles I had scanned in childhood looking for likely reading material; the few remaining from a fire decades later in West Palm Beach.

For the most part, these are not famous books. Not the sort that highschoolers are required to read, and certainly not classics. A few are well-known enough to have inspired movies – The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, You Shall Know Them – but even those have not been discussed in any literature classes I’ve ever taken, and even in my print-voracious childhood I didn’t read most of these. Those I did read went clear over my head, like Topper, which I read when I was about ten. I thought it was hilarious, but I had no schema, no background knowledge, in which to fit all the double-entendres and drunken shenanigans it depicted.

This got me to wondering about what kinds of books other people read when they’re ten years old. Reading is, after all, the cornerstone of Charlotte Mason’s approach to education; literature is the door to every other discipline for her, and “twaddle” her scathing condemnation of “reading-made-easy” — ” the white ashes out of which the last spark of the fire of original thought has long since died… second-rate story books, with stale phrases, stale situations, shreds of other people’s thoughts, stalest of stale sentiments.”

treasureislandcover[1]Hence, I conducted an anecdotal, entirely unscientific survey among friends and family, and discovered that a fair number of people actually chose classics to read at that age. Ten years old seems to be about the age at which most of the people with whom I spoke began to read for pleasure and choose their own books. Some sought books from school and public libraries, but nearly everybody read what was on their parent’s and sibling’s shelves at home. There are exceptions, of course; several people, including one young mother who was homeschooled decades ago, remembers nothing they ever chose to read. Others recall obscure books in full sensory detail. One girl now in her twenties recalled that her mother would only allow her to check out six books at a time from the public library, so she would pick six long ones. Her favorites were the entire Dragonriders of Pern series. Men in their 40’s and 50’s remember reading Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, The Jungle Book, and Sherlock Holmes. Many books from classical homeschooling book lists, but these are not homeschooled guys.

drew9[1]Then there are the twaddle readers…although, on Simply Charlotte Mason’s discussion forum ( one parent observes that “there is good twaddle and bad twaddle.” A lot depends on the definition for the word, of course; and what might be “reading made easy” for a highschooler can be an acceptable choice for a nine or ten-year-old. Thus, many readers of Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames mysteries (plucked from an older sibling’s shelves), Judy Blume, Hardy Boys, The Boxcar Children, The Babysitters Club. Some of these same readers chose Madeleine L’Engle and Little House on the Prairie at the same time that they were reading Judy Blume in the classroom. It’s a 7-year-old girl, surprisingly (since teachers-in-training are cautioned that “boys prefer nonfiction”) who chooses books about nature –“frogs, horses, mountains, bugs” — and I had a passion for The Earth for Sam, published in 1930 – “the story of mountains, rivers, dinosaurs, and men.”

What are your homeschooled learners choosing to read? Where do they find them? Is your home library a source of meaty classics, truth, and beauty?


    With a degree in Modern Languages and Bilingual Education, Jennifer has taught Spanish, Russian, Latin, and Bible, coordinated weekly chapel, and tutored Hebrew at The Garden School. She homeschooled her son before sending him to Sarasota Christian School, and is an avid advocate of home cooking, home remedies, home birth, and home death as well.

Books, Glorious Books!

    By Monica Cappelli

books[1]There’s just something about books. The weight, the texture, the smell. The feeling that they’ve been thumbed through before. The stimulation derived from communicating with great minds across the ages.

I am an avid Bookie. My children have inherited that passion, so some areas of our home are rather overrun with tomes from days gone by. All kinds of fiction, nonfiction, and those curious creations, Historical Fiction (how does one classify these?!)

A few years ago I was given a Kindle eReader (love it!) But still, my predilection for paper often gets the best of me. I’ve visited amazing libraries and bookstores over the years in many parts of the world. I’ve also visited countries where bookstores and libraries are extremely difficult to find, and literacy takes a backseat to more pressing concerns of life. That, to me, is terribly sad. Of all places on earth, those are where people have the greatest need for great ideas.

Still, while many tourists visit museums and famous sights, I hunt for the local bookstore or library. There, I meet real people: the locals, who are so often curiously similar to the characters dwelling within the bound pages.

If I were to write a book of my life, most of it would be about reading!

As a youngster I read copious amounts of literature, encyclopedias, as well as the dictionary to escape to worlds of wonder populated by both real and fictional heroes, villains, and my own imagination. During middle school and high school I discovered books were the gateway to broader horizons with subjects I would never learn about in school, but could plumb to my heart’s delight at the library.

Even now, my heart thumps with the same enthusiasm as my little girl when we call “Library Day!” Nowadays we declare Library Day rather liberally; some homeschool days start at the library and end when our eyes are crossed with fatigue. You see, I really am addicted-three hours of labor during my last pregnancy were spent at Borders! I didn’t leave until I really had to (when other patrons began displaying sympathetic labor pains.)

Some of my favorites?

From my elementary years:

Who Will Comfort Toffle?
The King’s Stilts
Hilty: The First Hundred Years

In junior high:

All Tolkien – everything he ever wrote.
Til We Have Faces
Gone With The Wind

In high school:
Sister Carrie
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
Ethan Frome
Atlas Shrugged
East of Eden
The Count of Monte Cristo


The Kite Runner
Unaccustomed Earth

All of Francine Rivers’ novels.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?


    Monica Blog PicMonica Cappelli is a wife and the mother of four wonderful children. Over the years her family has been blessed to experience home, public, private, and parochial schooling. This has given Monica an appreciation for the strengths and challenges of the educational choices available to families. A successful experience is possible in any of these situations with the support of community and prayerful, encouraging parents. Monica strongly believes that parental academic expectations and “leadership by example” in the areas of competence, autonomy, and service set the stage for a young person’s entrance into a successful, joyful, and productive adulthood.

Drumroll, Please…

Chicken SoupWelcome back! And the winner of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters is…


Congratulations, Sage! Please either leave a comment or send an e-mail to with your contact information so that we can mail your prize to you!

Thank you to everyone who entered, and please stop by again tomorrow for some summer reading help as Monica Cappelli reveals some of her favorites!

We’ll see you then.

Mother’s Day Giveaway

Chicken SoupIn honor of Mother’s Day this weekend we’re giving away one free copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters! As long as you’re a current resident of the United States, anyone is free to enter. All names will be put into a hat, and a winner will be randomly selected and announced by 7:00 P.M. MT on Thursday, May 9th! Make sure and check back Thursday night to see if you’ve won.

Here’s how to enter:

Share the link to this post through either Facebook, Twitter, or in an e-mail
(You can easily share the link by one of two ways: 1. By clicking on “Leave a comment” followed by clicking on the Facebook or Twitter share icon at the bottom of the page, or 2. By going to the web address bar and right-clicking “copy” then “paste.”)

Leave a comment answering the following question so we can enter you to win:

What is the greatest gift you have ever given or received on Mother’s Day?

Happy Mother’s Day, and we’ll look forward to announcing the winner on Thursday!

(To preview one of the stories from this book, read Elizabeth Veldboom’s post “A Sign of Love” here: .)

A Sign of Love

    By Elizabeth Veldboom

(This article originally appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters. With Mother’s Day coming up next weekend, I wanted to dedicate it not only to my own mom, but to all you mammas here at The Garden School Journal, both near and online. You are some of the greatest moms I know, and we at GSJ would like to take this moment to honor you. To help wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, we will also be giving away one free copy of The Magic of Mothers and Daughters! Please check back this Tuesday for more details.)

“The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book.”

    -Author Unknown

I saw this sign in a classroom: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” It was a simple statement, yet it evoked such gratitude, such happy memories from childhood, I couldn’t help but smile.

My mom was my teacher growing up. Since I was homeschooled from kindergarten until fifth grade, it was she who taught me how to read. The sign brought back memories of her holding up Hooked on Phonics cards and rejoicing with me when I got the right answer. It made me remember trying to copy her perfectly formed letters as she patiently waited by my side. Her helpful presence was always there as I graduated from the short Bob Books to longer books at the library.

It was she who first introduced me to Nancy Drew, and because of her I still have a bookshelf full of all fifty-six of them. Snuggled against her on our couch as she read, I listened as she transported me to mysterious times and places. It was magical to be so enveloped in a world not my own. Her steady voice guided me through books I didn’t have the ability to read yet, and I marveled at the treasure she held between her hands-this treasure she’d chosen to share with me. Sometimes while reading she’d even don a Scottish accent, just for me.

Each day she’d decide upon a certain number of chapters we’d be reading. But as she finished that last sentence on the predetermined page, I’d prepare my plea: “Please, Mom! Just one more. I have to know what happens!”

She’d protest at first, but always acquiesced in the end. With one more chapter stirring my imagination, I always left content, dreaming of what would happen next and looking forward to the next episode.

Throughout the years, I never lost my love for reading. The magic and excitement never changed for me. What did change was my need to have my mom read to me. I could begin and finish a book when I wanted and I didn’t need her to sit down with me to help me through it. Soon our precious reading time evaporated all together. Instead, I locked myself away in my room to read.

I became an independent teenager who still loved to read, but who had forgotten where she first acquired that love. I grew to love writing, too, and found it was almost impossible to express myself in any other way. What had once enthralled me as a listener, I could now create! It was a whole new kind of magic, but with a forgotten source.

Until the day I saw the sign. Suddenly, it all rushed back to me. The memories of looking over her shoulder as she read, catching words I hadn’t known before like gold flecks in a stream. Flying on as wonderful a magic carpet as Aladdin’s, watching people and scenery flow below. The sound of her sipping from the cup of coffee she always brought, and her playful voice telling me to make a “duck butt” for a capital G. I smiled, realizing I had someone to thank.

I couldn’t wait to rush home and tell her. As soon as I got back, I updated her about all the happenings from the day as she glided about the kitchen preparing dinner. Then I remembered.

“Oh! Mom. Thank you for teaching me how to read.”

For the first time she stopped, casserole in her mitted hands. With a quizzical brow she asked, “What? Where did that come from?”

“Thank you for teaching me how to read. I read a sign in Mr. Jabbour’s classroom today that said, ‘If you can read this, thank a teacher.’ Well, you’re the one who taught me. So thank you.”

A look of touched surprise came into her eyes. “Oh. Well, you’re welcome, honey.”

We shared a fond smile, each of us remembering a certain green couch where it all began. The memories only we could share. It was only a part of my childhood, but how special it was. But even more special was my mom, my teacher.

Because of her, I have found a passion and a career. Because of her, I have been encouraged, guided, and taught. Because of her, I am inspired to pass on to my own children one day the gift she gave to me.

Mom and I hugging on Graduation day.

Mom and I hugging on Graduation day.

What are some of your favorite memories from childhood?


    Elizabeth V. PicElizabeth Veldboom is a 2009 graduate from The Garden School, and a student in Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She has previously been published in places like Susie Magazine and She has a huge heart for homeschooling families and would love connecting with you, so visit her blog anytime at