Free Friday: November 21, 2014




A hearty congratulations to all on finishing a fantastic first trimester together! Progress reports are done, our Viking Quest history event was amazing, our kids are growing, and we’re all learning a ton. We are truly thankful for all of our families, teachers, and staff that make up this special community, and we are overwhelmed with gratitude for all of you who keep our school going strong. Thank you! 


As we head into Thanksgiving break, Down Home wishes you and your family a week full of gratitude and joy, and hopes you find time to slow down a bit, and enjoy connecting with loved ones. 


Down Home will be taking next week off too – see you back here in December. Happy Thanksgiving!




SLO Classical Academy is not affiliated with the above mentioned website.


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Categorized: Archive, Community

What’s the Big Deal About Handwriting?


{photo by Mary Knudson}


Our Handwriting Workshops are coming up the week after we get back from Thanksgiving – have you signed up? 


Perhaps you don’t often think about handwriting, but we hope these workshops will inspire you to get excited about this subject! We want to encourage proper letter formation and neat penmanship as part of our classical curriculum. Students who can write comfortably, legibly, and quickly are better able to spend their time and effort on the content and style of their writing. This will serve them well in many areas of life where assessments are based on written work, especially in a timed situation. And even in our modern age, handwriting is an important communication skill – those who can write quickly and neatly have an advantage.


Our guest, Jan McCloskey from The Handwriting Clinic, will be giving a series of workshops on various handwriting topics such as beginning printing, cursive, and improving legibility. You don’t need to have a preschool or kinder student to benefit from these, either – there’s something for every age, from preschool through 12th grade! This is a special opportunity to work with a true expert in the field, who has developed the handwriting program that we use here at SLOCA.


So what’s the big deal about this handwriting expert and the First Strokes program? This is our third year using First Strokes as part of our school's Kinder curriculum, and we have found it to be an effective program for teaching handwriting because it uses multisensory techniques and consistent habits for letter formation to teach handwriting to all students. A few parents (many of them teachers, too), offered their thoughts on the First Strokes handwriting program:



I am a serious fan of First Strokes. Esther’s handwriting was so neat in kindergarten, and I even used it to “correct” some of Abe’s writing when he was in Primary.  I think the various levels (beginning with large arm movements and gradually working to smaller movements and then to paper) really help develop the correct letters, and it’s done in such a kid-friendly way. They learn to spot their own errors and think it’s fun to circle their best letters.   I have even been using their cursive program and Abe’s cursive is pretty darn nice looking (and I didn’t even help him with it!).

~Joy Newman, parent of four children, Track A


{photo by Joy Newman}


{photo by Joy Newman}



As a teacher I can say hands down, this is the best handwriting I’ve seen in all my years of teaching 1st grade (and this is my 15th class).

~ Jennifer Perneel, Primary teacher and parent of two children, Track B



The First Strokes program was a big hit for us.  Last year, we really enjoyed all the hands on activities to develop the fine motor skills.  Now, Lyla is conscientious about her printing, both how each letter looks and how her sentence appears on the page.  We loved working through First Strokes and are pleased with the results.  I think Lyla has an ingrained sense that her work should be lovely and she has a real understanding of how each letter should look so she can and does judge for herself.  She proclaims excitedly when her work is beautiful and self corrects when it is less than so.  

~ Lisa Ann Dillon, Intermediate teacher and parent of two children, Track A


{photo by Lisa Ann Dillon}



The results of implementing First Strokes in our kindergarten program has far surpassed my expectations.  Each child has the opportunity to build fine motor skills, learn how to hold writing utensils correctly, properly place and form all letters, as well as write sentences with beautiful penmanship, all while having fun.  It really is a joy to send confident kindergarteners on to primary ready to focus on the beautiful language and content of copywork without being bogged down by the mechanics of handwriting.  Two thumbs up for First Strokes!

~ Mary Knudson, Kindergarten Lead Teacher and Educational Consultant, and parent of two children, Track A


{photo by Mary Knudson}



It’s exciting to see the overwhelmingly positive response to this handwriting program, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have Jan McCloskey come and teach us more. Here at SLO Classical we want to keep offering great learning and training opportunities like this to our parents, teachers, and students. We hope to see you at one or more of these valuable workshops! 


All workshops will be held in the Grace Church Founder's Hall (1350 Osos Street, San Luis Obispo).  Sessions are priced separately, but there is a 25% discount on two or more sessions per family.  This is also open to the public so invite your non-SLOCA friends!


Please click here to RSVP for the workshops.


Here once again is the schedule and descriptions of the workshops:


Intro to Cursive (2nd grade and above) - Thursday, December 4, 6-8pm

This two-hour class is designed for teachers and parents.  Attendees will be taught the benefits of learning cursive, as well as how to teach cursive to children in a way that aids in good visual memory and increases speed while maintaining legibility. 


SLOCA families: $25, plus $18 for optional workbook

Community members: $35, plus $18 for optional workbook



Print Legibility Techniques (3rd-6th grade) - Friday, December 5, 8am-3pm

This full-day class is designed for teachers, parents, and students.  This interactive class will have attendees learning the importance and how-to's of a proper pencil grasp, as well as techniques to improve legibility (of letters and numbers) without having to rework through a handwriting program.  


SLOCA families: $60/family, plus $18 for required workbook

Community members: $75/family, plus $18 for required workbook


Bring a bag lunch!



Print Legibility Techniques (7th-12th grade) - Friday, December 5, 3:15-5pm

This afternoon class is designed for teachers, parents, and students.  During this interactive class, attendees will learn techniques to improve legibility (of letters and numbers) without having to rework through a handwriting program.


SLOCA families: $25, plus $5 for materials

Community members: $35, plus $5 for materials



Fine Motor Centers and Multi-Sensory Handwriting (Preschool-2nd Grade) - Saturday, December 6, 8am-3pm

This full-day class is designed for teachers and parents.  During this engaging and interactive class, attendees can expect to learn how to teach a proper pencil grasp, incorporate fine motor activities into their existing curriculum, as well as how to teach handwriting using multi-sensory techniques.


SLOCA families: $60/family

Community members: $75/family


Bring a bag lunch!



SLO Classical Academy is not affiliated with the above mentioned business.



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What's for Dinner: Whole Roasted Pumpkin Soup




Whole Roasted Pumpkin Soup

(and leftover pumpkin ideas!)


serves 4-6


I couldn't resist - this recipe looks like a fun and dramatic addition to any Thanksgiving meal! I must clarify that I haven’t personally made this yet, but please let me know if you do, and how it turns out. This will be my last pumpkin-related food post this year, I promise. But hey, how often during the year would you make this? 



One 3- to 4-pound cheese pumpkin

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1 leek, halved and thinly sliced

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

cup grated Parmesan cheese



1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Using a paring knife, cut a tapered circle around the stem of the pumpkin (as if you were making a jack-o'-lantern). Remove the top of the pumpkin and trim any stringy bits. Scoop out the pumpkin seeds with a spoon and discard (or save, if desired).

3. Place the rosemary, thyme and sliced leek in the cavity of the pumpkin. Pour in the chicken stock and season with black pepper. Add the grated Parmesan cheese, then replace the top of the pumpkin.

4. Transfer the whole pumpkin to the prepared baking sheet and roast in the oven until the exterior of the pumpkin is golden brown and shiny, and the flesh inside is very tender, 1½ to 2 hours. (If the exterior is browning too quickly, reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.)

5. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and take off the top. To serve the soup, scoop several spoonfuls of pumpkin flesh from the inside, place in a bowl and top with a ladleful of broth. Finish with more pepper and Parmesan cheese, if desired.


Watch the video to learn how it's done:




AND a bonus today - check out 10 Smart Ways to Use Leftover Canned Pumpkin.



Click here for a printable pdf of the above recipe.



SLO Classical Academy is not affiliated with any of the above mentioned websites or businesses.


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Categorized: Archive, Food

Directed Drawing


{photos by Michelle Dorman}


If you’ve walked into our library or any of our classrooms, you’ve likely seen the beautiful displays of student art hanging on the walls. Art is taught and woven into our program at every level, and our kids benefit from learning with a different part of their brains when they create art. 


In class, our younger kids often participate in directed drawing (or guided drawing), where the teacher breaks down a picture into smaller steps and guides the kids line by line through the creative process. It’s a wonder to walk into a Primary classroom, like the one above for example, and see a wall of “Leif the Lucky” portraits. They were clearly done together, yet each one is unique. 






Directed drawing is a fun, engaging way to build artistic confidence in children – they see their finished product and feel proud of their accomplishment. (“I drew that!”) If you ever find yourself wanting to do directed drawing with your kids at home, we have a few tips and resources to share with you today. Mrs. Fragasso, one of our Primary teachers, has the following advice on how she guides the kids in her classes:


I usually start by orientating them to the paper.  If I drew an invisible line from top to bottom, I would get a left and right side.  If I drew an invisible line side to side, I would get a top and bottom. Everything we draw is made up of lines and shapes the kids know (straight, wavy and jagged lines, circles, squares, rectangles…)  I try to break the picture down into lines and shapes and talk about angles, and size of lines. I usually start from the center and work out on a face, but you can start wherever makes sense to you.


Another interesting tip is to use a black sharpie, rather than a pencil. This helps kids not to focus on erasing or making something perfect, becase when they get critical then the left side of the brain is taking over, not the creative side. If you mess up, you just turn that into part of the picture. It also helps to use good quality materials, not because we have to have “the best,” but because it makes the whole experience more enjoyable and often easier.


You can take any picture or portrait and use the above tips to help guide your child through creating their own version of it. But let’s say you’re not so sure of your own artistic skills or aren’t quite up to guiding kids through drawing lessons, but they love to draw and want to draw more often. Thankfully there are always quality resources out there to help! 


Here are a couple of YouTube channels with directed drawing videos:



  • Art for Kids Hub – He has a website too, with step-by-step printables if you don’t want to watch a video, as well as helpful tips. His videos are fun because the teacher has a kid do the drawing alongside him.


And since we've been studying Vikings, here’s How to Draw a Viking Ship – this lesson isn’t as step-by-step, but many kids would be able to get the idea. This teacher has more lessons on his site as well.




You can always search Pinterest or Google for “directed drawing” or “guided drawing” and get more options, from simple to complex. 


There are also many quality books available to purchase, with step-by-step drawing instructions, such as the Dover How To Draw series, Ed Emberley’s books, and Draw Write Now books. If you have a favorite drawing book or series, please share in the comments below!


So when you’re looking for activities to keep the kids engaged over the upcoming holiday breaks, why not let your child’s inner artist come out? You might even want to join in and draw alongside them… it can be surprisingly fun and relaxing!



SLO Classical Academy is not affiliated with any of the above mentioned websites or businesses.




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Magical Moments: Writing Workshops with Gary Schmidt


{photos by Michelle Dorman}


Today’s Magical Moment was one of the most magical EVER for some of our students. After our fabulous fundraising evening with Gary Schmidt a few weeks ago, our UMS and high school students were treated to a wonderful and unique opportunity – Dr. Schmidt came to SLOCA that Friday to conduct writing workshops with these two groups. How amazing that our students had the chance to work with and be encouraged by this talented yet humble award-winning author! 


Latin teacher Pamela Gerhardt attended the UMS workshop, and today we have her thoughts on this memorable experience, along with photos and a few student testimonials:



As each student took a seat in our very full to overflowing classroom a few weeks ago, one by one they each received a manilla envelope with the instruction, "Do not open!"  After a brief introduction Gary Schmidt had them open their envelope and take out a very old vintage 1800s portrait.  The students were also told to study the black and white portrait and to quickly give the person a name, occupation, considering how they look, the way they stand or sit, consider their clothing, how would this person greet you in passing....and so on.
Next Dr. Schmidt went around the room and had each student introduce their character, which they did most enthusiastically.  And as the morning went on, he continued to ask questions of the student's character, "your character goes home, which is his favorite room in his home, why?  What is something your character wants to hold but does not have?  What obstacles must your character overcome in order to get what he wants that someone else may have?"
Every student was engaged, every student was writing and wanting to share their story.  He pointed out that every good story is often a reflection of life, not always neat and tidy, but within it there is an obstacle to overcome and a challenge to meet.   Overall it was a very clever tool he used  to get one thinking, observing and imagining along with writing.   
It was a privilege to see how he connected with the students and they with him.  A master teacher and storyteller in action.


Several students offered their comments as well:


"I took the middle school writing workshop led by Gary Schmidt, and it was so great! I think everyone that went to it thought the same thing. He was very funny and made us think about what goes into writing extremely detailed and interesting characters. He gave us examples and showed us how a character walks, positions themselves while sitting or standing, and how they say hello and goodbye can actually tell you a lot about who the person is. Even though how someone says hello is just a minor detail, it is these small things that make a story more interesting to read. He also left us with the words "What if..." on the whiteboard. Now that we had our detailed characters imagined, what if... aliens landed? What if... their mother perished? What if... ?  I am currently writing a short story that I hope to submit to Hanging Lantern, and when I was working on it the other day, I found myself asking "what if?" about one of the characters. So I know that the workshop has already helped me as a writer."

~ Quinn Ferrarini, 7th grade, Track A




"Gary Schmidt is such an incredible writer, but above all he is an inspiration. His workshop was an eye-opener to a different approach to story writing. He took us through an intriguing and insightful way to “gather” our thoughts for any piece of writing we wish to start.  I thoroughly enjoyed his workshop, and left anxious to try out some new techniques." 

~ Carina Womack, 8th grade, Track B




"I absolutely loved Gary Schmidt's lecture and writing workshop. I was intrigued and inspired by his love for reading, writing, teaching and passion for kids. I was greatly motivated to read more books! He really knows how to relate to kids (especially middle schoolers) and to pull the beautiful ethos (character) out of themselves. We are all very unique and talented but we don't always realize it and I think Gary was able to inspire us with that message through his books. As for the writing workshop, I never had an experience like it. He taught us how to develop characters, settings, and conflicts to create a groundwork for our stories. I thoroughly enjoyed it because I was able to create my own story in a way that engaged me with my character and got me excited about writing stories. Gary is someone whose life has been messy yet he overcame it and was able to inspire others with his incredible ability of writing. Thank you so much Gary for coming to our school!!"
~Katie Erb, 8th grade, Track B




"I really liked the idea that he had to bring in photos and have us brainstorm some little details about our particular character. I definitely would not have thought to do that myself."

~ Sam Babb, 8th grade, Track A




"Gary Schmidt was really down-to-earth and great with kids (not the stereotypical high-strung author!)"

~ Sierra Cox, 7th grade, Track B4




"It was a great experience. I love the way that Gary presented the workshop. And it definitely helped my writing in the form of character development."

~ Jonah Jenkins, 7th grade, Track A





I LOVED Gary. He was both witty and warm, rather grandfatherly, and made me think about things I never would have thought about otherwise."

~ Sage Theule, Senior




I learned that classical books are important because they ask questions that apply to life.”

~ Cormic Calloway, Freshman




“I really appreciated how Gary Schmidt took us seriously, and seemed genuinely interested in what we were saying. He considered everyone's opinions and seemed to care about each one of us as people.”

~ Hannah Thompson, Sophomore




"Gary was super kind and really made an effort to include us all in the conversation. He really cares about students and their writing endeavors, and he inspired me to love writing and to want to write more."

~ Kate Bischoff, Freshman


One of our middle school students also wanted to share her thoughts after attending the fundraiser event, our "To Be or Not to Be" evening with Gary Schmidt:


"As soon as Gary Schmidt spoke the first word of his speech, he had already grasped my attention. I was listening to only him, not the occasional chatter happening beyond me. Just him. The way he told his stories or adventures blew me away. I felt like I was right there. I could tell other people felt it too. Their eyes were glued to him in astonishment. They could see nothing else, feel nothing else, or hear anything else but him. I've always wanted to do some public speaking. 
When I left that night I felt as if I could go up and speak in front of America with thousands of eyes watching me. I want to have the same effect on people as Gary Schmidt had on me. That was one of many things I treasured that night. Another one is when he told us how much his books had affected people. I would love to be a writer that possesses that same quality one day.
Having Gary Schmidt speak, while eating the delightful Madonna cake, will be a moment in time I hope to never forget."
~ Kendra Twist, 8th grade, Track B
{photo by Sandi Twist}



Many thanks to you, Gary, for coming all the way out to California to inspire our parents, teachers, and most of all, our kids. It was an absolute pleasure to hear you speak and to spend time with you, and we are so grateful for the time you invested in our students here at SLO Classical Academy!


Thank you also to Pamela Gerhardt for writing about this workshop for us, and to all the students who shared their thoughts!



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About Down Home

Welcome to Down Home, San Luis Obispo Classical Academy's blog! We are a classical school offering options to make education work for families. We have a full hybrid program for grades K-8, which means two days at school with three days of home education, all days following the classical model and curricula carefully laid out by the school. We also have a four day program available for grades 5-8. Our high school students attend school three days each week. This blog is meant to support and encourage on the home front because in so many ways, the heart of what happens at SLO Classical Academy happens down home. Semper discentes - always learning together.

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