View into First Tour Essentials – Week 1

Essentials is notoriously know for being overwhelming and stressful to mom and students alike. I was fortunate as a director to get lots of training over the summer for this stage of learning. I shared some of my thoughts on how I plan to simplify this year with intentions of encouraging other parents. I have decided to write about what this practically looks like in our house each week with a view into our first tour of Essentials. I would LOVE to hear how you are managing at home as well as any other tips you may have. Please do share in the comments!

My Student

My Noah is his daddy’s son for sure. Not only do they look just alike, but I swear they have the same brain. Anything logical comes so easy to him. Math, building, and directions are so easy. I think he could teach me. Reading and writing? Not so much. At 9 years old I would say he barely has a 3rd grade reading level. Aside from being in Foundations for three years he has had absolutely no additional preparation for Essentials. He struggles in the language areas and as much as I hate to admit it, my training as a school teacher made it worse. I was so stressed that he wasn’t reading at age 5 that I think I gave him a negative view of language as a whole. I am slowly trying to repair that view and pray daily that Essentials awakens a love for language within in. My goal this year is to make this year as fun as possible and to not push him too hard. I want to partner with him and learn together!

Day 1 – Community Day

My son was so excited to get to go to Essentials this year. His best friend is a year older than him and he was so excited to be in class with him. He seemed very lost the entire class. Almost bored. His eyes kept glazing over. I sat next to him the entire time and would gently point out where we were and what we were talking about. The IEW outlining portion was very hard for him to keep up. When class was over I was nervous about what he would think about it all. So I asked: “So Bud, what did you think of your first Essentials class?” to which he replied “It was so awesome! I love it!” Mom was a little perplexed at his response, but hopefully this will continue to be a trend.

Day 2 – First Day at Home

First we went over the outline because I didn’t feel like we finished it well in class. The last few sentences I wrote down quickly for him because he was struggling to keep up. I wanted to make sure he understood why I chose the words I did. Then we went back together and tried to remember what all our symbols meant and why we chose the words we did. I later found out I should have reread the written selection we were outlining first. I’ll remember that for upcoming weeks. We did go back and read the selection together after we finished the outline. Then we moved on to the EEL portion. First he wanted to go and practice correcting the sentences. He felt really lost in this area at the beginning of class this week. He is rather competitive so I think he wanted to be able to participate next week. I had planned to do just one sentence but he wanted to more so we did three and I told him we needed to move on. Then I had him copy the bold faced portions of Chart A on the blank chart with dry erase. Finally we used this awesome board my friend made him to go over chart A again.

We also sang some songs from the Foundations level to review the definitions of verb, subject, and other keys words. Overall we spent about 25 minutes. It would have been less if he hadn’t wanted to do extra work.

Day 3 – First Paper

We sat down and went over our vocabulary cards quickly. Then we read through the source text one more time. Then it was time to write our very first paper. He wanted to write the title and his name. Then I took over the writing and wrote each sentence exactly as he said it to me. Afterwards I asked him to find a place in his paper to use a vocabulary word. He chose three words! Next we worked on memorizing chart A. He copied the chart with dry erase and then we moved on to the awesome board we have and did that with the songs and chants I have off of CC connected. Today we spent about 25 minutes as well.

As an aside, I have found the the fine point dry erase markers are still a little too thick for chart copying (you can see this in the picture above). However, the ultra fine tip markers are amazing! They just came out last year I believe. I have a pack on it’s way from Amazon right now. I am looking forward to having them for next week. This is what they look like:

And they are so much cheaper on Amazon than they are in the store, which is always a win.

Day 4 – First Day with Decorations

Day 4 was the first day this week that Noah asked if we could stop. We started out editing a few more sentences and practicing the vocabulary then we dived into lesson 2 in the IEW book. He had a hard time understanding exactly how the -ly adverbs worked, so I did most of the work and he slowly caught on, but did not enjoy today’s lesson at all. He does not like doing things he is not great at, so he was eager to move on. We practiced reading the story on page 17 with different adverbs I chose and changing our voices. He thought that was fun. I also realized we should have waited to write our paper until after today’s lesson but I figured out a way to go back and make it work.

Day 5 – Dressing Up the Paper

Today we started with editing and vocabulary and then went back to work with -ly adverbs. I learned today how true it is that you simply cannot help your child too much in this stage. The school teacher in me would have been aghast at all the “work” I did yesterday and thought “he is never going to learn if I do it all for him”. Today that was proven completely false. We picked up adverbs again today and he understood them so much better. He was not stressed out or overwhelmed by them. He wasn’t afraid to ask questions and he was willing to learn more. We were both encouraged. After we did the brainstorming exercise on page 19 we went back to the paper he wrote and found a spot to insert an adverb into his paper. Then he wanted to put in a few more. His paper is turning out so beautiful! Finally we worked on and chose a more appropriate title using the last sentence in the paragraph. He told me he wanted to rewrite the paper for his final draft in cursive, but not today. We ended the lesson there after we practiced with our velcro chart A one last time.

Final Thoughts

Thankfully, we have the Labor Day week to work on re-writing the draft since our community will not meet this week. However, if we didn’t I think I would be perfectly okay with just leaving the paper in draft form. He did an excellent job pushing through and I was surprised at how much he could accomplish. Our first week of Essentials was wonderful and I pray we can keep the positive momentum going throughout the year. I want to continue to remind myself that I can not help my child too much and be amazed at how his grows this year!

GF, Dairy Free Summer Vegetable and Sausage Dinner Recipe

I have always loved cooking and have been told by many people that I am pretty good at it. Until we were hit with an insane amount of dietary restriction.  A few of my kiddos have had some allergies over the years and I have adapted slowly. Most recently due to some complications after my last birth my immune system has been struggling and now I have some issues with food. Currently these are the foods that someone in our house cannot eat: beef, egg whites, almonds, gluten, dairy. Do you have any idea how hard it is to make meals with all of this restrictions? Close to impossible! Cooking moved from my most favorite daily chore to my most dreaded.  I have had to reorganize how I make all my meals on top of everything else I have going on. However, I have found keeping it simple with just fresh veggies and a protein has made it much more bearable.

The past few weeks have been crazy as I am gearing up for the school year so I am trying to keep my time making dinner to 20 minutes or less. Last night I made the most delicious dinner that was cheap and delicious. I shared some videos of the process on Facebook and Instagram and had several requests for this quick and yummy recipe. It is gluten free, dairy free, and egg free.

Easy Summer Vegetable and Sausage Dinner



  • Prepared brown rice
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Various Veggies from your summer garden (I used zucchini, squash, bell peppers, and onions)
  • GF sausage of your choosing, cooked
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt, oregano, and cumin
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
  • Hot sauce (optional)


  1. Prepare brown rice as desired
  2. Warm up the oil in a large skillet and add the garlic. Saute until fragrant but not brown and ad veggies
  3. Saute veggies for 5-7 minutes until slightly tender, but not mushy
  4. Add in sausage and seasoning, mix, and cook until sausage is hot and flavors have blended nicely
  5. Serve on top of brown rice with hot sauce on top if desired

My Thoughts


This was my cutting board full of veggies before I put them in the skillet. Insanity! I am afraid for the teen years.

I will say that I feed a small army of boys every single day that can eat me under the table even though they are all under the age of 10. So the amount of food I prepare is massive. The great thing about this meal is that it is easy to adjust the portion sizes. If you are preparing for 4 normal eaters or less I would decrease the seasonings by half. I am not kidding.

Also I have been coveting this beauty for quite some time now:

If you are blessed with one of these beauties you have to use it for this recipe and send me a picture. It would make this so much more fun and tasty! 

Entering the Dialectic Stage – Simplifying Essentials

We joke all the time about all the “Why?” questions when our children are little. We lament about all the questions we get asked each day. I recently discovered that the questions asked in early childhood are nothing like the questions your child starts asking when they start entering the dialectic stage of learning. Below is a picture of my handsome 9 year old to put a face with just some of the questions I have been asked by him over the past 48 hours or so (and will also give you a little amusing insight into our life):


  • Why is there a flood in Louisiana when God said he would never flood the Earth again?
  • Why are their flies? They are annoying, what would happen if we just killed them all? What do they do? Why did God make them?
  • What does the word infuriated mean?
  • Why do people get divorced? If they are mad at each other why don’t they just forgive each other? Then kids would be able to always have their mom and dad.
  • How do you make a car? How many parts are there inside a car?
  • Why does gas make cars go?
  • What makes the air cold coming out of the vents?
  • Why don’t you like Trump?
  • Do you think I could build a tractor out of legos that actually works?
  • What makes the corn get so tall?
  • Did Abraham Lincoln have any brothers?
  • How come you only had boy babies? Why don’t we have a sister?
  • Where is Jamaica? Why are all the people there so dark?
  • Why does the rooster mate with some chickens more than the others?

Can we just go back to the “Why?” question repeated over and over again? I end each day with my head spinning from all the questions he asked. Last week I wrote a post on keeping learning simple in the early years. I got such incredible feedback on that post, but had one resounding theme in the comments: what about the Essentials years? How can I prepare them for Essentials?

Preparing them for Essentials

If you fully understand that the Classical Model then you should understand that aside from doing the memory work in Foundations there really isn’t anything you should or can do to prepare them. Essentials intentionally begins at the age when the dialectic level of learning and development should start. Trying to prepare your child for a milestone that hasn’t occurred yet would be like buying your newborn walking shoes to prepare them to walk. Foundations IS the preparation for Essentials. The best thing you can do to prepare them for Essentials to help them master the memory work in the early years, so they can use it later. Just like you help your infant master sitting and crawling to strengthen their muscles before they are ready to walk.

Organizing Essentials Materials

When you get your amazing Essentials guide for the first time it feels huge and overwhelming. It isn’t bound in anyway, but just a big stack of loose leaf paper. After speaking with some experienced Essentials moms I absolutely love the way I chose to bind mine with their suggestions. I made a quick video for you to see what I did and how I did it.

Essentials on Community Day

Essentials is often described as incredibly overwhelming for first year families. As a director, it has been great to be able to sit in on several Essentials classes as well as attend tutor training for Essentials. I am actually walking into my first year as an Essentials parent feeling empowered and prepared as a result. The most important thing to remember about beginning Essentials is that you cannot help your child too much. Let me say that again: you cannot help your child too much. Modern education has us thinking that our child needs to be able to do this all on their own. We model it to them a few times and then they should be able to repeat it and apply it. If we help them we are allowing them to “cheat”. This is a big fat LIE. We don’t show our children how to walk and expect them walk right away. We don’t demonstrate swimming and then throw our kids into the deep end! So why do we think that we should behave that way with reading, writing, and arithmetic? Essentials presents the exact same information to you and your student every year for three years for a reason: it will take that long for your child to begin to master it. Sit next to your child in class. If they are feeling overwhelmed with all the writing, let them dictate to you and you do the writing. If they have a question and are nervous to ask, ask for them. You should leave class each week as a team, ready to tackle the weeks work together.

Essentials at Home

As I mentioned in the video above, Part 1 of the Essentials Guide is FULL of rich, wonderful, helpful information. Starting on page 19 you will be able to read some awesome ideas for what you should be doing at home. I did want to point out that the guide only recommends that you spend only 20-30 minutes a day on Essentials work. That is it! How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Please do not stress your student or yourself out by trying to eat the Essentials Elephant all at once. You will both get sick and tired real fast. Here is the plan I have formed in my head for our first year. If you are a second or third year parent, your schedule will likely look different. My goal is to focus on Chart A this year first. My son does have an incredible memory, so we may end up memorizing more, but if we can get Chart A memorized this year I will count that as success.

  • Day 1 – Attend class together and learn together
  • Day 2 – Copy charts, dictate 1 sentence from dialectic discussion, start and finish the outline. If we still have time we may add in the editing exercise
  • Day 3 – Work on mastering Chart A from memory, dictate a sentence, create a rough draft together and edit
  • Day 4 – Work on mastering Chart A from memory, dictate a sentence, write second draft of paper
  • Day 5 – Work on chart A from memory, work on additional sentences if he can handle them, finalize paper with dress ups, write final draft

Foundations in the Dialectic Stage – Cycle 2

As I mentioned earlier, Foundations lays the groundwork for Essentials. The memory work presented in Foundations will help the student in Essentials. A child can still learn and be an active member in Essentials without having attended Foundations, but having that ‘foundation’ will be such a blessing to you and your student. If you have students, like mine, that have been in Foundations since they were 4 or 5 you may find that they are ready for a little more information as they go through the cycles for the second time. Having some things on hand may help you answer some of their rather difficult questions as well. As I shared last week, we try to incorporate leaning into our everyday life. These items below are absolutely not needed, but are items I have loved having available for them to learn with without them actually knowing they are learning. The best thing you can do for your kiddos is to read to them. Read, read, read, read and read some more! I shared some great book lists last week you can get some great ideas from. I have included a few of my favorite books for older kids below as well. You can click on any item to get pricing from Amazon. I have an obsession with Amazon Prime. Some of these items are on my Amazon List for this year and have not been purchased yet.

These puzzles are amazing! They make geography tactile while having the countries all cut out into the pieces. It also allows the kids to feel the shape of each country.


The Food Chain Game makes science memory work come alive.

Classical Medieval History Go Fish Game is another great game for this cycle


The Draw Europe book is a great way to encourage your student to practice drawing the map

This is just one of the many books in the “Who Was…” biography series. These are great books for independent reading or reading aloud

A Final Thought

Just remember this is a process, keep it simple. My rule of thumb is to start the year off with only the most basic supplies and add to them when I need them, IF I need them!