Monday, March 31, 2014

Anne School: Anne of Green Gables for K-2

What do you do when the kids beg you to learn about Anne of Green Gables, but it's not on your curriculum? In fact, it's not really on any First Grade curricula. Well, you make it up as you go along.

The best resource I found for this age group was a blog called One Room Schoolhouse. She had put together a K-2 unit for her grandchildren based on Anne of Green Gables. She has links to videos and other resources, which inspired several of our lessons on making friends, fashion through history, geography, and baking a cake.

I also put together a fun handwriting lesson. I printed out some images from Sullivan Entertainment and wrote out handwriting cards to go with them. I posted them around the house and we did a "Write Around the Room" using our slates to copy the words down. For my preschooler, I gave her another copy of the picture and she ran around trying to match them up. Then we played Memory with all the cards  when we were done. In fact, we've played Memory with the Anne cards nearly every day since then.

We listened to the audiobooks of the original books as we were going along, but we also used this picture book adaptation by M.C. Hellendorfer.

I would never suggest skipping the real book for a picture book, but  the picture book worked well as our normal Five in a Row book. We read the picture book almost every day and enjoyed the beautiful illustrations by Ellen Beier. We learned about Prince Edward Island and Canada for Social Studies. We acted out our favorite scenes from the book and tried to guess.We drew our dream dresses with or without puffed sleeves.

We also read several chapters from the Anne of Green Gables Treasury. This book is chock-full of information from Anne's family tree to a floor-plan of Green Gables and a timeline of her life. It has interesting chapters on fashion and schooling at the time, and recipes and crafts.
The girls really enjoyed making Victorian scrapbooks. Ella titled hers "Ella's Scrapbook and Buk of Olfashun stuf." I made a simple stapled book and we printed out images from The Graphics Fairy. This website has a huge amount of copyright-free vintage images organized by category. We also looked through magazines for other old-fashioned items. I also ordered the girls Anne of Green Gables coloring books from Dover publications. I didn't realize that these also included an abridged version of the book along with the coloring pages.The kids enjoyed them, but were quick to point out that it was not the real book.

For science and math, we made "Ruby tea biscuits" and "Anne's Liniment cake" from the Anne of Green Gables cookbook, (without the liniment, of course). These were all for our Anne of Green Gables tea party, but I will save that for another post.

Friday, March 28, 2014

When Books are Kindred Spirits

Photos copyright Sullivan Entertainment Social Download Pack
Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorite books as a child. I read the whole series when I was in sixth grade and all eight books took up a position of honor in the little bookshelf that was built into the head of my bed, where they would be available to me at a moment's notice for re-reading.

After a failed attempt at reading it aloud to our oldest daughter a few years ago, I was convinced that it would, sadly, be a long-time until I could share it with my daughters. Then in January, I thought we might watch part of the Anne of Green Gables mini-series for our family movie night. Our girls had been loving the old episodes of Little House on the Prairie television show and my friends' tween daughter had assured me that "they grew up on the movies." So I thought we could give it a try.  The girls were immediately hooked. I had intended to just watch the younger years, but they demanded the sequel too. As I love the original miniseries almost as much as the books, I was happy to comply.

That soon led to the listening to the first three audiobooks and Rainbow Valley, and the girls begging to do a unit on Anne for school. Then they found out that their best friends had also just watched the movie and were equally obsessed. Now whenever they are together they act out full scenes from the movie - in costume.

In a misguided attempt to add some calm and soothing music to our day, I checked out the soundtrack to the movie from the library. It only took the girls a few tracks to discover that track three was the scene where Anne and Diana chase the cow out of the field.
Photo copyright Sullivan Entertainment Creative Commons
This meant that every time that track came on they had to dash in a big loop around our house mooing and yelling "Anne, mind your dress!" Then they had to put the track on repeat so they could chase the cow some more. When they introduced their friends to this game, it became so popular that they began to request that we bring the music with us to their house so that all nine of them could chase the cow. Now when the music starts to play, even my 21-month-old son comes running, yelling, "Anne! Anne!"

One day, in the thick of this Anne-mania,  I was talking with my husband about how formative these books were for me as a child. I remember riding my bike up the dirt road behind our house and naming my favorite spots on our property. There was one particular bank where the trees had been cleared. I named this place Teaberry Gardens because of the tiny, red teaberries you could find growing on the ground. The berries were not sweet, but had the sharp bite of wintergreen. While Anne had her red, dirt roads and the wind off the sea, I had a ring of mountains on every side, which I used to imagine looked like the graves of giants. She had brooks and  Idlewild and I had creeks that were so cold they turned your ankles red and my little hidden spot in the woods I named Terabithia (after another of my favorite books). Anne taught me that you could love a place deeply, even if that place was out-of-the-way and a bit old-fashioned. She taught me that I could love my home-place in West Virginia as much as she loved Prince Edward Island.

"But wait," my husband asked me. "Didn't you read the books after all of that?" After a stunned silence, I said, "You're right. I didn't read them until I was in sixth grade. Maybe they weren't formative after all, maybe they just made my life make sense."

Some books are good stories, but other books are kindred spirits. They take hold of you and draw you in. You look out at the world and see a lake of shining waters where there had only been a pond. In its reflection, you find you a whole new way of seeing yourself, and suddenly you find that you make sense, that perhaps you are a kindred spirit after all.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Owl Moon

"When you go owling
you don't need words
or warm
or anything but hope."

It's been another week of cold, cold temperatures here. It seems even crueler now that it is officially spring. The children have resorted to shoveling snow into the driveway to try and create puddles they can jump in. They go out into the yard and talk to the croci, which are just poking their heads out of the ground, to try and get them to grow. We are ready to learn about frogs and butterflies and plant seedlings, but instead we are still huddled by the pellet stove. 

To usher winter on its way (this was two weeks ago when I was not quite so bitter), we studied Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. What a beautiful book. Such gorgeous watercolor paintings and the words are poetry. Just lovely. Earlier in the winter I found out that Jane Yolen was actually leading an owling trip from one of our local libraries. I so wanted to go.But it turned out to be one of those fantasies I have in my head that does not involve the reality of carrying overtired toddlers through the snow in sub-zero windchills. Reality won on this one, but maybe someday.

I always know how much the kids love a book by how quickly it is incorporated into their play. I had various lessons planned, but instantly after reading the book, they begged me to find them owl masks. What did homeschool moms do before the Internet? By the end of the day, they had choreographed an owl dance, which they performed everyday that week.
Through our Five in a Row lessons, we learned about painting shadows and using cool colors to make wintry watercolor paintings. We learned about nocturnal animals and made a collage. We went on a birdwatching walk. We learned about similes and metaphors, which led to some spontaneous poetry writing. But most of the week was owls, owls, owls. We watched an owl documentary and they fell in love with the fluffy little baby owls. So we collected some pine cones and covered them with wool roving and glued on maple seeds and leaves for wings. (Based on this tutorial.) I made them some needle-felted eyes.  I tried to explain to my three-year-old: "If you use the yellow wool, it will look like a duckling." To which she replied, "Okay, I'll make a duck." So we have a nest of owlets and one duckling.
The girls absolutely loved this chapter book we read aloud, Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat. It had a sort-of Henry Huggins feel to it, but set in the Canadian prairie and with more critters. A boy adopts two owls as pets and they get into all kinds of scrapes. Ever since reading Gone Away Lake with its great illustrations by Joe and Beth Krush, I've been loving mid-century pen and ink illustrations in books. This book's illustrations are similar and really full of life. Younger kids will really enjoy this.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Around the World Tea Parties: China

For our second trip around the world this winter, we visited China. Our Five in a Row book was The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wise, which is about a duck who lives on the Yangtze river and learns a lesson about obedience. We enjoyed learning about China, doing a  sink/float science experiment and learning to draw water.
We've been using a few different resources to learn about each country. We find the country on our world map. We read the entries in DK First Atlas, DK Children Just Like Me , and DK Children Just Like Me: Celebrations. We look up videos on youtube of traditional music and dance from each country and listen to the language. I also found some great coloring sheets for Chinese New Year at Activity Village. The coloring sheets also led to an amazing discovery. If I give the three-year-old coloring sheets, we can actually read a chapter book out loud during the day without her pulling my hair or trying to climb on my shoulders. A major victory and we really enjoyed reading Little Pear by Eleanor Frances Lattimore.
For our tea party, we decorated with red and gold and made a paper dragon, and I got to pull out some of the Asian pottery we received as gifts for our wedding. Of course, we had to dress up. Ella wore a Chinese dress we found at a thrift store, and Mabel made a little red and gold vest out of part of  a dress we found in the scrap bag and wore it over a flowered dress. I made the Chinese stir-fry that I knew the girls already liked, but Brent also visited the Chinese grocery store and picked up dumplings, steamed buns, and rice crackers. We also made some almond cookies at home. Through these tea parties, the kids have been much more willing to try new foods. At this party, they discovered that they really like dumplings and rice crackers.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

10 Audiobooks Your Whole Family Will Enjoy

(or How to Survive 14 Hours in the Car with Small Children)

Since we live a very-long car drive away from my parents, I have spent years trying to figure out how to occupy small children on road trips. I have tried everything Pinterest  has to offer from busy bags to snack trays. I've tried backpacks full of toys, sing-a-longs, and dvds. Word to the wise: never teach children the song "Going on a Bear Hunt" at the beginning of a trip. We even once let our toddler methodically tear off every tab from a lift-the-flap book because it kept her quiet for a few hours.

Then a few years ago, I grabbed a couple of audiobooks from the library. For some reason, my then four-year-old liked the looks of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. I also grabbed the sequel, Super Fudge. We popped the cds in and started listening to the adventures of Peter and Fudge. When we stopped to stretch our legs at a store, the children started begging to go back to the car and chanting "More Fudgie! More Fudgie!" That's when I knew I was on to something.

Now before a trip, I pack a big bag of snacks and an equally big bag of audiobooks from the library. The kids grab a couple of small toys each, but the first thing they ask is, "Story, please."

Audiobooks have tons of benefits.
1. Hours of read-aloud time from great literature instead of hours spent singing the Strawberry Shortcake songs over and over in your  head. 
2. Whereas a dvd may get you through 90 minutes of a trip. A longer audiobook will last five to six hours.
3. No fancy equipment needed. Free from the library.
4. It's enjoyable for the whole family and educational.

Here are our family's all-time favorite audiobooks.  Hope you enjoy.

1. A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck, read by Ron McLarty.
It's become our unofficial tradition to listen to this trilogy of books from Richard Peck (A Year Down Yonder, A Season of Gifts) on our Thanksgiving trip each year. They only get better with listening. Joey and his sister Mary Alice spend their summer with their grandmother in a little town in Illinois. Grandma Dowdel is larger than life and one of the funniest characters in literature. Ron McLarty is our favorite audiobook reader and a perfect fit for this series. His old-lady voice is spot-on. I guess I should warn you that there is a corpse in the book and frequent use of a double-barrel shotgun and a lot of drunk men singing in their underwear, so if that's not your taste, well, listen anyway.

 2. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright, read by Colleen Delany
This was our family's top pick from last year. Portia and her cousin Julian discover an abandoned lakeside community and eccentric elderly brother and sister, Pindar Payton and Minnehaha Cheever, who live there. We fell in love with every part of this book from the secret clubhouse the children build in the attic of one of the Victorian mansions to the ancient clothes and cars and the "heavily-embroidered names" of the characters. We followed it up with every Elizabeth Enright book we could find.

3. The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry, read by the author.
We have listened to this Christmas book several time. It's funny, as you might expect from Dave Barry, but it's also quite warm and touching. Set in the 1960s, Doug Barnes is playing a shepherd in the Christmas play at the Episcopal church. When his sister's beloved dog dies right before the pageant, the family needs a miracle to get through the Christmas season. Catholic vs. Episcopal nativity prank wars, goofing off at the pageant, an invasion of ants in family car, and a lot of frozen bat poop make for a very funny story. 

4. Fair Weather by Richard Peck, read by Estelle Parsons
Set in 1893, three country siblings, their grandfather and his dog, Tip, attend the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. Along with Richard Peck's great sense of humor, you get a great history lesson into the changes going on at the end of the 19th century. Estelle Parsons narration is really terrific too.

5. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo, read by Cherry Jones
When Opal moves to a new town with her distracted preacher father, she finds friendship in the form of a dog named Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie brings a cast of eccentric, but loving people into Opal's life. Kate Dicamillo is one of my favorite authors and this is one of my favorite books by her. Of course, all of the dog-lovers in our family were especially fond of this title.
6.The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, read by the author
The Trumpet of the Swan is a classic about a swan with no voice who learns to play the trumpet and finds love. This audiobook is especially great because it's read by E.B. White. We loved this story and are always on the look-out for swans.

7. The Doll People by Ann M. Martin, read by Lynn Redgrave
A 100-year-old porcelain doll family meet their new neighbors, the plastic Funcrafts and together they solve a mystery and find a missing member of the family. We loved Lynn Redgrave's narration especially her different accents for the doll families. There are two sequels also read by Redgrave.

8. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, read by Suzanne Toren
A big family of girls growing up in New York at the turn of the century. Simple family adventures and a look into Jewish culture and holidays. Suzanne Toren really captures the different voices well.

9.The Penderwicks, A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall read by Susan Denaker
The Penderwicks  has all the charm of classic family adventure books like ones by Elizabeth Enright, but in a modern-day setting.

10. Pie by Sarah Weeks, read by Kate Rudd
A mystery involving a top-secret pie crust, a fat cat named Lardo, and a young girl who learns the real secret to baking pie. This book introduced us to the fun of listening to mysteries as a family. While there is a funeral at the beginning, the mystery stays warm and sweet instead of spooky. And it caused our toddler to chant, "Pie! Pie!" every time we got into the car.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Have You Met the Fairchild Family?

 First off, you should know that I was born in eastern Kentucky and grew up in West Virginia, and part of my thesis in college focused on Appalachian literature. I love mountains and I love mountain people. For my birthday this year, I was excited to receive a children's book set in Appalachia, which I hadn't read. It was only after reading it that I noticed the word "haunting" in a review on the back. By haunting, they seem to have meant unbearably tragic. There seems to be a lot of melancholy in Appalachian books, and I understand where it's coming from, but it's not really what I want to read to my fairly-sensitive 7-and-under crowd in my house. Even Newbery award winning, Shiloh, which is a beautiful tale about a boy who saves an abused dog, would be a bit much for my kids.

It set me on a quest: to find a book set in the mountains, that would be totally appropriate to read to young children, and would, dare I dream, be happy? I wanted it to have the joy of "When I was Young in the Mountains" by Cynthia Rylant, but be in chapter book form.

I am happy to report that my quest was successful. I found The Fairchild Family series from Rebecca Caudill. This series of four books features a large Kentucky family. They are poor, but happy. They love each other and have various adventures together. In the first book, Happy Little Family, the youngest Bonnie is four years old and desperately wants to go to school with her siblings. 

The second book, Schoolhouse in the Woods covers Bonnie's first year in the little one-room schoolhouse in the woods and surprises like a family molasses-making party.

  In the third book, Up and Down the River, Bonnie and Debbie set out to get rich by selling pictures and bluing to all their neighbors. They don't end up wealthy, but they do end up with a lot of new pets. ALA Booklist described it as: "Real little girl adventures, pleasingly illustrated." You just don't see book reviews like that anymore.

The final book, Schoolroom in the Parlor, is set during a terrible winter when the family is snowed into their home. Older sister Althy decides to teach everyone at home. Library journal said that the book had "Strong values and satisfaction in an old-fashioned picture of family solidarity and simple pleasures"

We have been reading these for bedtime reading and they are great for younger kids who love old-fashioned books like Little House on the Prairie. These stories are sweet and fun and remind me of the stories my uncles would tell at our family reunion about growing up in Kentucky. The books are short and have lovely pencil illustrations throughout so they would be great for younger readers too. 

All these books have been reprinted by Bethlehem books. I just discovered this publishing company, which reprints older books and I loved their mission. From their website:
"For those of you who don't know us—Bethlehem Books is a small, home grown publishing company dedicated to restoring to children and families a treasury of wholesome, character-building literature. We are more than just a business. Our work springs from the heart of the Bethlehem Community of Benedictine Oblates, a lay group of families and single people which began in 1971."  

A religious order dedicated to reprinting old children's books. Sign me up!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Around the World Tea Parties: Russia

In December, my oldest daughter requested that we do an around the world unit when we went back to school.The main curriculum we use is called Five in a Row. It's composed of week-long units based on  picture books. Each day you read the book and do different activities in social studies, language arts, art, science, and math. We have encountered so many new and lovely books through this curriculum. I love that we can learn together as a family. The kids enjoy it so much. It's also one of the most affordable homeschool curricula out of there, so I highly recommend it.
Since Five in a Row is very flexible with what order you study the books, it was really easy to put together our Around the World unit. Since Ella wanted to start with Russia, we pulled out a book we had done last year called Another Celebrated Dancing Bear by Gladys Scheffrin-Falk. I wasn't sure about repeating a book, but the kids had no problem at all. Whereas last year, we had focused more on the circus elements of the book, this year we dove into Russian culture learning about the Russian people, Russian composers Tchaikovsky and Serge Prokofiev, and Russian dancing. We also tried our hand at etching for art using a crayon and watercolor etching technique.

Since our girls love tea parties, we decided to do a special tea party for each country we studied. Of course, they had to dress up. Our kids believe that any lesson is better learned in costume. They wore red dresses and babushkas.
When I was in high school, a cousin of mine gave our family a beautiful blue Soviet tea set, which we used.We decorated with some Matroyshka dolls my husband had bought in Russia and a Ukrainian cloth a friend had given me. We made a Russian brown bread and the girls helped me shape it into a bear just like Boris and Max in the book. He turned out great.

Since our friend, Susannah, was visiting that weekend, our tea turned into more of a feast. We had several kinds of pickles, olives, sausage, cheese and crackers. We also served cheese blintz, strawberry preserves, and Russian tea cakes. We made spiced tea to drink and the adults even tried stirring jam into ours like they do in Russia. The kids preferred sugar cubes.

An Introduction to School of Good Books

I have always known that we are a family that loves books, and that we have a special soft spot for children’s books. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered just how deeply my childhood as a bookworm has influenced my parenting today.

When I found out that we were pregnant the very first time, I did what all nerdy moms-to-be do: I began reading up on how to be the perfect mom. I consulted the books that said you should always carry your child with you and the books that said you should always put your kid down. I read until my mind was in a total whirl and I gave up reading parenting advice books all together. Instead I gave myself permission to read books that I actually liked to read, which happen to be mostly children’s books.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a very rare moment when the house was totally quiet. Our three girls were building a secret hideout in the attic and my son was asleep on my lap. (Okay, so the house wasn’t completely quiet, but I was happily ignoring a lot of thumps and bumps from the attic.) The sound of heavy furniture being dragged across the attic floor suddenly gave me a deep sense of satisfaction in parenting. An image sprang to mind from Little Women of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy putting on plays in their garret. I realized that I had always wanted my children to put on plays in the garret. Then I began to think of other things I want for my children, and images from other favorite children’s books began to pop into my head. 

I want my children to have a bit of earth to tend like in The Secret Garden.

I want them to have a place to daydream where there is “scope for the imagination” like in Anne of Green Gables.

I want us to work together as a family and learn to do things for ourselves like in Little House on the Prairie.

I want them to know a God who is good but not safe like in The Chronicles of Narnia.
I want them to know the comforts of the shire, but be ready for adventure when necessary like in The Lord of the Rings. 

I want them to learn at their own pace like in Understood Betsy.
I want them to always fight for the light like in The Tale of Desperaux.

I want them to know their history like in When I was Young in the Mountains.

I want them to have an appreciation for interesting older people like in Gone Away Lake.

I want them to know how to make and enjoy delicious homemade food like in Farmer Boy.

I want them to experience the Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love of The Jesus Storybook Bible.

I guess all of this explains why we have four kids, (Don’t all the best children’s books have four kids?)  and homeschool. But it also explains why we love to make pickles with our kids from Babci's recipe, why we let them wear their sunbonnets to our favorite living history museum, and why we fill half our tiny yard with a tomato patch. It's why we dream of moving to a farmhouse with a few acres of rolling hills and brooks surrounding it. It’s why we share our favorite children’s books with our kids whenever we can.

So, welcome to the School of Good Books. I hope you'll come back and read more of our old-fashioned family adventures with books. I also hope to offer lots of recommendations for great read-alouds, audiobooks, and  children's literature grown-ups will love to read too.
What are your favorite children’s books? Do they influence the way that you raise your kids?