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(This will be quick)

The show had quite a bit.  Style, 2/3 excellent acting, great humor and did I mention style?

The most powerful, pointed works of art reach both outward and inward.  A character is recognizable as both a symbol of some telling aspect of the world around him and as a human being.

The problem with Don Draper was that, in the end, he was all symbol, and not, as written, recognizable as a real human person.

What did he symbolize?

The modern man’s lack of identity and roots. His willingness to slip in and out of roles with no deep sense of who he is.  The resultant endless search and treatment of other people as non-persons as well.

The endless circle of materialism that we exploit and dig into as we search, search, search.

Interpersonal exploitation and exploiting what one learns in the exploitation so one can dream up ads for crap that no one needs but now thinks they do because they, too, are searching, dreaming, and yearning.

But Mad Men, unlike, say, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, ultimately, I think fails in this regard (while it succeeded in many other) for two reasons:

First, the absence of any real satirical edge.  I wrote about this before.  Mad Men gives us all these interesting people tossing about occasionally interesting ideas and recognizing certain truths in service of….ads for stuff. And if you look at advertising in the 1960’s, it’s mostly goofy and ridiculous and lame and doesn’t match the pseudo-elevated tone of the creative strivings of the characters.  There were flashes here and there, but the whole series would have been more honest if there had been at least one character who consistently grappled with the moral questions that arise from striving for wealth and using one’s gifts to produce awkward clips that  seek to manipulate consumers into buying things.

Secondly, as I began this post…Don Draper is ultimately not a real person.  And perhaps that is the point? Okay, but again, here’s where irony and satire comes in play.  If the ending had been satirical, I would have bought it with great enthusiasm.  And perhaps it was?  But…I don’t think so.  It’s presented as the completion of a circle of sorts in terms of Draper’s relationship with himself and advertising as an extension of himself.  Fine.  There’s a point to that that is consistent with the entire series.

But. It’s coy and unsatisfying as well because it doesn’t address the fact that Don Draper has failed as a human being. This failureis symbolized most powerfully and even ironically, in terms of the whole series, by the fact that cigarettes, where he made his mark, killed the woman who became his ex-wife because of his lies about his identity and his infidelity. That’s no secret, and yeah, Betty’s still smoking in that last shot, lung cancer or no.

It’s not unrecognized in the episode, either, that failure.  When he tries to give the same “You won’t believe how easy it is to walk away from your child” speech to Anna’s niece as he had given to Peggy, she rejects it out of hand, and in that, he is forced to confront the falsity of his entire life of walking away from his children.

And he does, breaking down into really nothing.

Then he meditates, cut to Coke.

Which, as I said, works on a certain level…when you have had a character development trajectory that has been dosed with a knowing satirical and ironic critical edge all along.  Yup, here we go, we’d be able to say.  One more con.  One more attempt to compensate for your moral failure by creating an advertisement that expresses what you should be bringing to your actual life, but aren’t.

But we haven’t had that edge, testing and teasing Don.  We’ve been immersed in Don’s endless agonizing and victimization of others as a serious human quest for identity and acceptance, and therefore, the resolution should be consistent with that path.

It wasn’t.  The bare facts of it could have been, but structurally, it didn’t work and wasn’t satisfying, not because we “need to know what happens” regarding Don and his kids, for example, just because we’re curious, but because that along with all of Don’s personal problems, was an issue. 

In the end, Weiner couldn’t create a character that held all of this in the right sort of tension, balancing truth about human life and choices with a knowing, ironic look at all we throw out there as a distraction and ultimately fruitless compensation.

But yeah, I’d watch The Campbells of Wichita.  In a heartbeat.

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…try these!

The Prove It books – described in detail here.  Good for 8th grade and high school graduates.  Prove It! Prayer might be good for a Confirmandi.

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All of them would be great to gift to your local youth minister or catechist, right?

A college graduate"amy welborn"?

Perhaps, Here.Now. A Catholic Guide to the Good Life or The Words We Pray. 

Here.Now. is no longer in print in a print  edition, but is available used and is being sold as a Kindle edition.  (Which are easy to gift – you just purchase it and send the recipient a link.  Remember you don’t have to own a Kindle to read a Kindle edition – you can just get the free app for any device.)

You can read the introduction here. 

The Words We Pray is a collection of essays on the prayers listed below – traditional Catholic prayers. In the book, I make the case for praying these prayers, suggesting that there is great value in joining our own hearts to the prayers of the Scriptures and of the saints. They’re a little bit of history and a little bit personal reflection. It’s probably my favorite of all the books I’ve written.

More information

  • The Sign of the Cross
  • The Our Father
  • Hail Mary
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  • The Morning Offering
  • Salve Regina
  • The Act of Contrition
  • The Jesus Prayer
  • Anima Christi
  • Angel Prayers
  • Prayers of St. Francis
  • St. Patrick’s Breastplate
  • Memorare
  • Suscipe
  • Veni Creator Spiritus
  • Grace at Meals
  • The Liturgy of the Hours
  • Glory Be
  • Amen
  • Where Do My Prayers Go?
  • Using Vocal Prayer

I don’t have any of these available for sale here, but in case you are still looking for picture books or The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days….check here.  (Remember, the picture books would be great end-of year gifts for catechists, DRE’s or your parish or school library or classroom.)

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…is coming.  And you still have time to order this, even from me!

(Update:   if you go to the order page, you will see two ordering options.  One is sent Media Mail, and the other is Priority. Order “priority” if you would like it by this weekend.)

The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days is a 365-day devotional for Catholic women. It is loosely tied to the liturgical year, is a very handy size, and features special devotions for several saints. It is not structured to be tied to any particular year. So it’s sort of perennial. And no, I don’t know about the crosses on the cover. People always ask me about them, thinking they’re mine. You can take a look inside the devotional, including several entries for January and June here.

I would like to add that the devotional entries were very carefully composed to be inclusive of all women, no matter their state in life or areas of interest.  I don’t presume that all women are married, have children, single, widowed, divorced, young, elderly, employed outside the home or not, homeschoolers, are into shopping or shoes or purses, are engaged with social media, or what have you.  It wasn’t an easy book to write – in fact, it was the most difficult book I’ve written – but I’m pleased with the outcome, and I think most readers are as well.

If you want to get more of a sense of what these devotions are like, check out my Living Faith contributions.  You can read a few here:

April 23

April 19

January 18

December 7, 2014

December 12, 2014

January 20

January 23

I have a few copies of this book here. The price I ask includes shipping, but I send Media Mail.  If you would like it shipped Priority, I’d just ask that you email me at amywelborn60-at-gmail.com, so we can arrange faster shipping.

Other Mother’s Day suggestions:

I also have copies of all the Engelhart/Welborn collaborations (sorry, no saints books right now – but we’re holding strong at #1 and #2 bestsellers in that category on Amazon.) – and you can get all four for $50, shipping included, and they will be signed by both of us.  Also, copies of The How to Book of the Mass and How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist. 

As always, make sure your local Catholic bookstore carries these books first!

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Still without internet here. Coming to you from Zaxby’s this time.  I thought we were okay, but then it went out again, so I’ve made the call, and will be switching providers at some point this week.

But until then a few notes on homeschooling stuff:

(Obviously no videos all week…too bad…there have been some good ones posted at The Kids Should See This …but they will still be there!)

*We’re almost finished with Getting Started with Latin. As I said before, we are supplementing it with Visual Latin, but the more I get into the latter (again – we did a lot of it with my older son), the weaker it seems. The videos are amusing, but the order and pace is just off – jumping in and discussing “feminine, masculine and neuter” nouns without reference to declensions, for example – instead of exploring the first declension thoroughly before moving on to the second, then the concept of gender when you hit the neuter second declension nouns.  Yes, it means you will probably have to delay discussing adjectives, but I think it’s better to get a deeper sense of the concept of declensions as the way we understand nouns along with verb conjugations.  So, no, I can’t recommend Visual Latin.   (Besides, if you are not Christian or religious in your worldview, his “reading” passages hit religious themes right off, and the thing is, they’re made up – they’re not classical or even deeply theologically based  That bothered me the first time around, and even more so this time.)

*Catholic schools, please get a clue and start teaching Latin again, across the board, to everyone, starting in elementary school.  Even aside from the, you know, Catholic aspect of teaching Latin, the habits in instills are so important:  it has prompted a curiosity about word origin in my son, to the point that it’s almost a reflex for him to pause upon hearing a new word, and reflect on where it came from (if that word is English)  or what it leads to (if it’s a Latin or Greek word).  In addition, the particular skills that are learned in Latin translation, it seems, are deeply related to problem-solving and logic in a way that translation of living languages is not.  As my son has interacted with longer and longer sentences involving various cases and conjugations, I can see his brain work:  Quickly scan the sentence, get a sense of the general structure, find your verb, find your subject, and then drill down into everything else. It teaches him to get a general sense of a problem or issue, and then carefully take it apart –  before tackling – and being overwhelmed – by a mass of particulars.

*I LOVE the Writing and Rhetoric series from Classical Academic Press.  Granted, we are only on the first volume (Fables, Grades 3-4), and I don’t know if the process will eventually get repetitive, but four chapters in, I am sold.  The way it works in this first volume is that a fable is presented as the centerpiece of each chapter.  The student reads the fable, then narrates it back to the teacher.  After that point, the fable is used as a basis for various exercises: summarization, amplification, writing in a copious manner, exploring synonyms and always some form of creative writing.  I’m particularly struck by the process of summarizing that is taught:  Find the main idea.  Circle it.  Underline any words that are essential to the main idea.  Cross out any words or sentences that are not essential.  Then write a summary.  It’s very methodical, but it seems it really teaches how to summarize.

*I think this, combined with the Brave Writer method of tapping the imagination and observational powers, will be the core of our writing program here for now.  I can stop searching for that Platonic ideal at least.

*As I said in the 7 Quick Takes, Beast Academy 4D is here.  It continues to impress, and it continues to entertain my son, since he has already grabbed and read the whole text (in comic book form) at this point.  Since 5A will probably not be out until mid-fall, I’m guessing, we will take our time with this one, with a lot of supplementation – some from the Challenge Math book, and some from various books I picked up (digitally) during one of Scholastic’s 1$ sales – a book on fractions for grades 6-8, Building Math Vocabulary, and Algebra Readiness Made Easy, as well as Evan-Moor daily Math problem books, both regular and word problems.  I’m finding that at this point of in Beast Academy 4 – about ¾ of the way – seems to place a student mid 5th grade in traditional American math.  I’d have to get a textbook to make sure of that, as well as actually finish BA 4, but from leafing through 5th grade supplements at the bookstore last night, it seems about right.

*Books that have impressed this week:  As we have been deep into avian life, we’ve checked out several books (and will be "amy welborn"investing in a couple of birds of Alabama- type books), but one that is particularly lovely is the National Wildlife Federation-published World of BirdsIt features drawings and paintings rather than photographs, and it’s lovely, engaging and full of good information.  (And of course, if you are going to tackle birds, you will book mark the Cornell Orthinological site).

I love maps.  I think historical maps are such a great way of exploring history and geography and, as an implied side effect, the nature of human knowledge and understanding, which is never complete, and always changes and develops.  In short: don’t be arrogant,  human race.  What you think you know? That will change.

Great Maps is a new, big, fat, solid book that presents historical maps from all cultures with a great format:  One spread discusses the map in general, and then the next highlights certain intriguing or important features.  It’s really good, worth checking out and maybe even worth purchasing if that is your interest…okay…time’s up!

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My book club read George Saunders’ collection of short stories, The Tenth of December.  So good. He drills down deep into matters of human connection and purpose with a vision that in some stories evokes, in my mind, Walker Percy. At times, there are mysteries about what exactly is going on and what exactly this or that process or machine or war is all about, but all tenth-of-decemberthe better to help the reader be pulled into the world on the level of shared experience, rather than just curious observer.

A Goodreads reviewer took these stories to task for not having any heart, and, well, in my experience (and the experience of our group), the opposite was the case.

These stories are all about rescuing other human beings and what we have to overcome in order to acknowledge the  humanity of those needing rescue and our own reluctance to reach out, risk and sacrifice.

There is so much (well, some) chatter that abounds concerning..where is the faith in fiction? Where is the Catholic fiction? As much as I’m interested in both religion and fiction and as much affinity as I have for 20th-century Catholic-themed and sourced fiction, those conversations don’t interest me much.  I’m more interested in finding writers like Saunders (way after the rest of the world did, of course) and being engaged by the questions he poses in such arresting ways.

(Saunders, btw, was raised Catholic and is now Buddhist.)

If you want a taste of what Saunders is all about, these stories from that collection are available online for free:

Here is a blog post with links to several Saunders stories – three are in this collection: “The Tenth of December,” “Puppy,” “The Semplica-Girl Diaries.” (although with the last, the version in the book is longer than that which was published in The New Yorker.)  You can read “Victory Lap” here.  The story, “Home” is here. The last couple of paragraphs of “Home” are as deeply human and true as anything in contemporary fiction.

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— 1 —

Atlas Obscura has become one of my favorite sites.  For example, check this out:

Built as a residential home in 1630, in the heart of the oldest part of Amsterdam and bordering the infamous red light district, this particular steep-gabled building holds a remarkable secret. Making your way through the nearly 400-year-old corridors, kitchens, and bedrooms, there is a narrow and steep staircase that leads to the upper floors. Where, hidden away in the attic, is a magnificently miniature, fully-appointed Catholic church.

The clandestine church, known in Dutch as a “schuilkerk,” was secreted away in the attic on purpose due to the persecution of Catholicism in Holland in the 17th century. Unable to hold mass in public, Jan Hartmann converted the attic of his home to a church in 1663.

— 2 —

I think I shared before that my younger sons were going to be serving every single liturgy of Holy Week at the convent. Well, they did!

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And it was lovely.

— 3 —

I read Christopher Beha’s Arts and Entertainments – it had been praised in various faith-n-lit forums, so when I saw it on the library shelf, I decided to give it a go.  It’s a very quick, initially entertaining read – I read most of in one evening.

It’s the story of a youngish man who teaches drama in his own high school alma mater.  He’s a failed proessional actor, whose former girlfriend has gone on to star in a wildly successful television show.  Married, he and his wife struggle with fertility, and in order to pay for treatments,assured of anonymity in the transaction, he succumbs to temptation and sells a sex tape made with his former girlfriend.

Of course the veil is ripped away immediately, and the novel is about the power of contemporary reality-television culture and there was certainly a theological/spiritual observation being made. As the kingmaker reality-television producer (a former seminarian) declares, the audience has replaced God as the arbiter of good and evil, as the motivator for human choice and behavior:

“In the world I used to live in, good is whatever God wants. That’s it. There’s no other measuring stick. There is no good before God. When we say that God is good, all we’re saying is that God is God. In the world I live in now, it’s the same thing. There’s only one criterion. What does the audience want? Does the audience want you to be honest? Does the audience want you to be kind? . . . The audience has only one way of expressing its interest—by watching. They might watch because they love you. They might watch because they hate you. They might watch because they’re sick. Doesn’t matter. Is that good or bad? The question doesn’t make any sense. Good is whatever the audience watches.”

I think this is an astute observation, but I think that Beha actually doesn’t cut deeply enough here.  In confining his characters’ hijinks to the world of television-and-movies celebrity and reality TV, he lets the rest of us off the hook.

I say this because “the audience” isn’t just people who watch TV and peruse gossip sites. The “audience” that must be pleased is composed of our blog readers, Facebook friends, Instagram and Twitter followers…all of which feeds the human temptation to make choices and behave for thGod’e sake of others’ opinions rather than God’s will.

It’s the temptation to perform instead of just live.

So…three stars for Arts and Entertainments because, while it certainly kept me entertained, it did get a bit repetitive and stayed on a level that was just too safe.

— 4 —

So I bought this in Spain.

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People were puzzled.

Why would you want a sharp carrot?

Well, I finally broke it out and used it this week, and here’s how it’s done.

There’s an edge that functions as a peeler, and it’s nice and sharp.

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And then you use the “sharpener” part to make curls or rosettes.  Nifty.

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And if you really want to, you can certainly just sharpen your carrot:

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As I said before, I got this at a shop called Tiger, which I would love to see in the US: a Dollar Tree with Ikea design sensibilities.

— 5 —

I fell down on the Easter egg stuff this year, but honestly, with 10- and 14-year old boys in the house, the pressure is not overwhelming.  Although this year’s version (I didn’t have the energy to tackle the Ukrainian eggs this year) was chemically and mechanically intriguing enough that the 14-year old  wandered into the kitchen on night and made a couple of his own volition.

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I bought some 100% pure silk ties at the thrift store – darker colors are preferred.  Then you wrap the eggs in that fabric, then wrap each again in a square of white sheet or pillowcase, and boil for fifteen minutes.

The site I got this from recommended not eating the eggs because of the risk from the dye  You can do blow-out eggs in this manner, but you’d need to weight them down in the boiling water.

If I ever do this again (which I probably won’t), I would make sure the silk was more evenly wrapped and every bit of eggshell was in contact with fabric.  We had some blank patches. I’ll also remember to put vinegar into the water next time….

— 6 —

 Alabama:  Where you go from a slight morning and evening chill to three-foot mosquitos showing up in your house all within a week’s time.

— 7 —

Looking for gifts for First Communion? Mother’s Day?

Got it!

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days

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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A post on what we’re doing schoolwise for the 10-year old…mostly these days, but with some future planning. Mostly to keep myself accountable….

  • We spent several weeks studying up on Spanish culture, geography and history, as well as honing in on the art we were going to see, particularly Valesquez, El Greco, Picasso and Goya. Don Quixote. I, Juan de Pareja. So that took up most of March. Then, field trip to Spain. Then there was Holy Week, during which they served many liturgies at a convent served that week by a very strong homilist.  You can’t get much stronger catechesis than being carefully trained to serve at the Triduum liturgies during which you are immersed in the deep tradition of the Church, including music, you witness a community gracefully and generously caring for its aged members and welcoming guests, and you hear strong, direct, missional homilies. Yup.
  • There’s another trip (stateside!) coming up in a few weeks, so prep has begun for that: geology, history, geography, bookmaking….
  • Back to the present:
  • Prayer today was Mass readings & Morning Prayer.  Every so often, we read the Mass readings from an actual Bible rather than the Universalis website, to give him practice in looking up passages in the Bible. He also wrote down some citations from my dictation (like Acts 3: 1-10. And then, what would it be if the citation were Acts, chapter 3, verses 1 AND 10. And so on.) When there’s geography mentioned, we pull out the map and figure out the lay of the land.
  • Reviewed liturgical year, particularly Easter Season.
  • Copywork today was Luke 24:35, the last sentence of the day’s Gospel.
  • Cursive practice, again and again! 
  • We finished Beast Academy 4C before our Spain trip, and so we are waiting with baited breath until 4D is released.  In the meantime, he is going through Life of Fred: Fractions, which is partly review and partly new stuff and a crazy story he loves to read.  We’re also working through a bit of Challenge Math. 
  • We’ve picked up the pace on Latin, hoping to finish up Getting Started With Latin in a couple of weeks. At the same time, we’ve started Visual Latin, another light introduction but at a quicker pace.  My older son worked through part of VL year before last, and I don’t recommend it as a stand alone by any means, but as an engaging (up to a point) supplement it’s okay. We’ll stay on this course until the fall, when he will probably start Henle – although I am still pouring over forums at The Well-Trained Mind sorting through resources.
  • We’ve started this writing program – I like it so far.  Still using a lot of the Brave Writer way of thinking as well, but this gives me a little more structure to work with.
  • Back to the MENSA poetry program – today we started “The Road Not Taken.” (link leads to teaching/memorization aids)
  • Science as per usual is all over the place.  It’s spring, so that’s happening: bees to be watched, dead wasps to be studied, blooms to be found…and so on. I want to finish the chunk of the grade-level science book that deals with electricity, but we’ll see how that works out.
  • I found a site (don’t remember where) that listed a lot of sources for free propoganda teaching materials from organizations and industries.   I’ve received a couple, and we’ll look at those this week – like this one ALL ABOUT COAL! 
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  • Our first EEME kit came this week, so we’ll hit that in the next couple of days (or probably early next week) and I’ll report back. (I paid for it – it wasn’t a review set, btw)
  • We get several magazines published by Cricket – highly recommended, watch for sales – and they, in addition to the couple of dozen books on his own interests (animals and natural disasters, mostly, although this week he brought home a book on Watergate….)  he checks out from the library every week, provide much of the history and science reading.
  • Some good videos lately, each of which leads to further exploration and discussion.  Most of them come from The Kids Should See This, Science Dump (although that has sexually-related material, so you can’t give free reign there, if you ever do to kids on the Internet, which I don’t.), Brain Scoop, Periodic Videos, and many of the other great science-focused YouTube channels out there.
  • Constant recreational reading.  Now he’s tearing through this series. Should take about a week. Before this, he consumed The Tripods trilogy.  Frequent interaction/questions/spontaneous narration about what he’s reading.
  • I found a really good music theory site: Dave Conservatoire.  It’s like Khan Academy for music.  So far, it’s great – even the videos on areas he’s familiar with are engaging enough to keep him (and me) interested and in every one, we learn something new. It will be even better once he has more interactive quizzes in place, but even as it is, it’s very useful.
  • And sometimes it all fits together: We watched some stuff on pitch from Dave Conservatoire, reviewed some of the many other activities we did on the physics of sound a couple of months ago, reviewed a couple of pages from the Usborne physics books we have, then watched sonic boom videos from Science Dump, and then saw and discussed this video on the George Mason students who devised a way of putting out fires using sound waves.  
  • Once a week, homeschool boxing class, and finally, his excellent art class is starting up again, after a basketball-induced break. (BB practice was at the same time as art). Schola at the Cathedral. Cub Scouts. There’s one more science center classes left before summer. A lot of piano this month – state competition, regular recital, and then a scholarship audition.
  • We’re continuing, at a leisurely pace of about once a week, to do the Mapping the World with Art curriculum, which he really enjoys.
  • Oh, if you want a good source for season-related poetry and quotes, go here – it’s great.  It’s a wonderful source for both copywork and general seasonally-inspired poetry reading and sharing. 
  • Lunch eaten to Horrible HIstories. (Now that Lent is over…he gave up TV for Lent, and didn’t complain once…)
  • Alabama Shakespeare is performing As You Like It, so next week, all three of us will start familiarizing ourselves with that..  (They are also performing King Lear, but I think we’ll stick with the comedy. )
  • Wanderings? Tigers for Tomorrow – a rescue facility for, well, tigers, and other cats as well as some bears, wolves and so on.  Excellent, thought-provoking tour.  The weather is now turning gorgeous, so definitely more adventures to come……Mental wanderings? Lots of drawing of imaginary worlds and cataloguing imaginary animals, and creating music on the keyboard and piano…

I think we’ll follow the same kind of path next year, simply getting a little more intentional with both the Latin and the writing. I hope his math progress can track with Beast Academy’s release schedule, but I’m afraid we’re going to continually be just a bit ahead.  He should, no matter what, be ready for the AOPS Pre-Algebra in 6th grade.  If you’d suggested that to me before Beast Academy, I would have scoffed, but now, about to finish up 4 and looking forward to grade 5 in the curriculum, I can see very clearly how the BA road is leading straight to AOPS – methods and ways of thinking that were new to my older son as he engaged with AOPS for the first time two years ago are being introduced in Beast Academy – so that when the 10-year old meets them in a year…he won’t be meeting them for the first time.

The last time I threw out a post like this, some concerned person wondered if the poor little fellow was having room to play in his busy schedule.  I’ll simply remind you that for us, “school”  –  takes three hours a day, tops. Then….recess for everyone!

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