Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer Reading Wrap-up

It's Labor Day weekend, how did that happen? So it's time to wrap-up our Summer Reading Challenge for Grown-ups. I'm really curious to hear what you read this summer. Did you read any great children's books?

I ended up reading a mix of middle grade, young adult, and grown-up fiction. My favorite children's books were:
I loved this mystery about a girl who discovers her grandfather has been hiding a priceless painting in their attic and all that she must go through to find its rightful owner. I passed it right to my husband when I was finished and he also enjoyed it. It also convinced us to rent The Monuments Men movie, which was a decidedly disappointing experience. Should have just stuck with the book.

In this book, three teens start an Internet conspiracy to try and get people to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I enjoyed the characters and their love of learning and great books. One thing I have been noticing lately is that there is a decided lack of what I would call "casual religion" in children's books. It used to pop up quite frequently in books like Anne of Green Gables, where there would be religious characters or the main characters might even have a conversation about religious topics without the book being a "Christian" book. I appreciated that the characters in this book who all attend a Catholic high school actually talked about issues of faith without coming off as preachy or trying to prove a point, just the kind of honest questions people have. Well done!

Did you find any new favorites? Any books to recommend to me? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

I hope you had a great summer of reading!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Distracted by Dulcimers: Daniel's Duck

Ella discovered the shelf where I have all of our new Five in a Row books, and picked out Daniel's Duck by Clyde Robert Bulla. It's a sweet Easy Reader about a boy living in the mountains of Tennessee in the 19th century. His family members are all preparing items to display at the County Fair, and he decides to carve a duck. When the people laugh at his creation at the fair, he takes his duck and runs away. A famous local woodcarver reaches out to him and convinces him that people were laughing because they enjoyed his artwork.

One of my favorite aspects of the Five in a Row curriculum is that it encourages your kids to look closely at books and notice things. Once they notice things, they begin to be curious and want to learn more. Before you know it, you've followed a rabbit trail that has your kids passionately interested in Jean Ritchie and other mountain folk musicians. At the beginning of the week, we were learning about cabin life and making lists of all the items in Daniel's cabin. The kids noticed that there was a dulcimer hanging on the wall. My husband bought me a dulcimer for my birthday the year before last and I really meant to learn to play it, but then I got busy with life and my hundreds of other ideas and it's been sitting on my dresser ever since.

The kids encouraged me to get out my dulcimer and we all tried to learn to play. It's a very simple instrument with just four strings and no chords, so the kids could learn a little. After playing a bit, I decided the kids should hear how a dulcimer really ought to be played, so I found a video of Jean Ritchie playing her dulcimer. KET has a series called Old Music for New Ears, which you can listen to for free online, and it is absolutely fabulous. It's like having a wonderful old-time musician come to your homeschool and give a concert. They have 21 episodes with old-time musicians like Ritchie, Mike Seeger, Malcolm Dalglish and Odetta. By the end of the video, the kids were singing along, and begged to watch again. By the end of the day, Ella had memorized the song "Lazy John" and taught it to the other kids. Then they began begging to sing her songs at bedtime. We ended up watching the show during lunch each day, and pulling out the dulcimer to play afterward. Halfway through the week, Ella said, "I don't know if we're learning about Daniel's Duck or Jean Ritchie!"

But we did pull things back around to Daniel's Duck and learned about the changing seasons. The kids were thrilled to make four seasons headbands with trees on them and rotate around the driveway. 

Then we did the art activity that the kids had been looking forward to all week: carving soap. We bought a few bars of Ivory Soap. I was skeptical, but it really is soft enough to carve with a butter knife. All four kids (with a little adult help on the toddler side) enjoyed drawing their designs on the soap with a toothpick and then hacking away at it with their knives. Here we have Mabel's pig and Ella's fish.
Then they decided that since soap was a temporary thing, they should recreate their carvings in playdough and let it dry out so they could keep it. They rushed off to do that exact thing while I made dinner.

Here is some free parenting wisdom for you: Never joke with your kids that they should take a bar of soap and run out into the rain to get clean that night if they actually are in possession of a bar of soap! To quote Ella, "Daddy has the best ideas, and then he lets us do them."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dad-schooling: Open Fire Cooking

You probably thought I was kidding about the putting all our money for history curricula into historical reenactment gear, right? Well,since we had some time off last week with nothing to do, we thought, why not learn to cook over an open fire. But what, you say, you live in an urban neighborhood with a tiny lawn, how can you learn to cook over a fire?

Well, the answer is: you put Dad in charge of schooling for the day. If that Dad happens to love tending fires, cast-iron cookware, and historic cooking, well, all the better.So I give you hands-on learning: dad-schooling style.
First, you must procure a cast-iron dutch oven with legs and a lid that will hold coals, a lid lifter, and an iron tripod. Second, you must dig a hole in your backyard and build a fire-pit. Third you must build a fire and build up some coals. Into your pot, you add some chicken, onions, apples, some home-rendered lard, and some spices. Throw some potatoes in the coals, and you have a delicious dinner.
So good, in fact, that the kids insist on making breakfast the next day on the fire. Our first foray into baking worked out pretty well. Biscuits, yum.
 Weekend 2: The kids run in excitedly to tell me that they just started the fire with flint and steel. Not even one match! Not one! They also seem to have found a copper tube to help blow into the fire to fan the flames. They made another fine dinner on the fire: pork roast with carrots, corn and potatoes roasted in the coals. We all feel a little bit more secure knowing that if we lose power, we have a kitchen right in our backyard. Those are some real life skills, along with our history lesson.
Anyone else have any interesting dad-schooling stories to share?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

History Easy Readers: The American Revolution

My second-grader is reading well now, and loves to read out loud. So I like to have her read a book along with our Five in a Row units. While we were at the Revolutionary War reenactment, I discovered that the Old Sturbridge Village bookstore had a whole section of Easy Reader historical fiction, and we picked up several set during the Revolutionary War. Here are some you might want to check out with your new readers.

Paul Revere and the Bell Ringers by Jonah Winter
(Ready to Read Level 2)
This book is part of the Childhood of Famous Americans series . It tells the story of a young Paul Revere and his friends as they try to start a club to help their town. They decide to start a bell ringing club and need to make their own rules, write a contract, and learn to ring the church bells.
Sam the Minuteman by Nathaniel Benchley
(I Can Read Book Level 3)
This book is worth checking out for an American perspective on the first battles of the Revolution, but also for the illustrations by Arnold Lobel of Frog and Toad fame.


George the Drummer Boy by Nathaniel Benchley
(I Can Read Book Level 3)
For a perspective from the British side from the same author as Sam the Minuteman, George the Drummer Boy tells the story of a young drummer in the British Regulars at the battles of Lexington and Concord. Great for comparing two sides of an historic event.

Abigail Adams: First Lady of the American Revolution
(Ready to Read Level 3)
 This is a short chapter book biography of Abigail Adams in the Stories of Famous Americans Series. We learned a lot about Adams very fascinating life from this book: her intelligence, love of learning, and resourcefulness through the war and ultimately her time as first lady of the United States.

Sybil Ludington's Midnight Ride
(On My Own History)
I had never heard of Sybil Ludington before reading this book, and it's a wonderful story of bravery. Sybil was a sixteen-year-old girl living in New York who rode 40 miles to all the neighboring towns on a dark and rainy night to alert her father's troops that the British were burning Danbury, Connecticut. This can also be a great parent read-aloud for younger students.

George, Thomas, and Abe!
(The Step into Reading Presidents Story Collection)
This is a collection of three early readers about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. They include funny true stories about the presidents. Ella couldn't quite believe that George Washington really had a dog named "Sweet Lips."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Paul Revere's Ride

I am happy to report that our second and third weeks of school were considerably calmer and more enjoyable than our first. In fact, one day my two-year-old marched over to the playdoh basket, pulled out a placemat, a can of playdoh, and cookie cutter and went to the table and amused himself during our entire lesson. It was miraculous! I also knew it was going to be a kind of rough and interrupted week with my husband traveling so we spread our study over two weeks.

With our new interest in the American Revolution, we decided to study Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Ted Rand, which is in Five in a Row Volume 3.

The first day, the kids asked, "Should we put on our old-fashioned clothes?" You have to set the proper mood, right? Last year, we did some colonial history classes with our friends, and we still had our quills so we got them out to do some handwriting practice.
While they worked with their quills, I read a great non-fiction book: Let it Begin Here!: April, 19, 1775 The Day the American Revolution Began by Don Brown. This book had lots of historical details and wonderful illustrations on each page, so it  was just right for early elementary school. We also read several great easy-readers that I will save for another post.

The kids have really been enjoying watching the show Liberty's Kids, which is  a cartoon set in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War. Episode 5 features Paul Revere. You can buy the entire series for $5.00 on Amazon.

The girls also listened to the American Girl: Felicity audiobook series, which we had bought on cassette tape from the library. I had originally thought they would listen to a bit each day, but they pretty much sat down and listened to the entire six cassettes in an afternoon and a morning, while they were working on craft projects. We also had a movie night and watched the Felicity movie, which was actually quite good.

For art, we looked at the artist's use of light and made some nighttime oil pastel drawings. We made  tin-punch lanterns using aluminum pans punched with thumbtacks from this helpful tutorial from The Tiny Funnel.

For language arts, we did one of my kids' favorite activities: acting out vocabulary words. Since the book was a Longfellow poem, there was a lot of rich new vocabulary: words like muster, grenadier, phantom, and steed. We also read more of Longfellow's poetry from Poetry for Young People: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. We did some copywork and writing and pulled our spelling from the lines, "One if By Land, Two if By Sea."

Here are two great resources I found for Revolutionary War copywork and printables:
Write Bonnie Rose has Revolutionary War copywork and a section on Paul Revere's Ride in her Elementary Spelling set. These are both freebies you can download if you subscribe to her blog.
3 Dinosaurs has an American Revolutionary War printable pack for ages 2-8. There are really cute matching cards and coloring/ writing sheets.

For science, we learned about fog and made fog in a jar.

We played some colonial games from this book I got at a library book sale last year: Colonial America: Cooperative Learning Activities. It was the best 50 cents I have ever spent on curriculum. I used it for my history co-op class and the kids loved the activities and the beautiful printable crafts. The Muster March game, which had them practicing marching around while one person drummed different signals, fit in perfectly with the Five in a Row activities suggested. It was especially cute to see my two-year-old with a toy musket, shouting, "Hoozah!"

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Starting our Homeschool Year with a Bang: The American Revolution

Even though I have lived in New England now for half of my life, I still sometimes have surprising moments. For example, I  grew up near a civil war battle site in West Virginia where I attended a few reenactments. West Virginia became a state during the civil war, so it's a pretty big deal down there. So when I hear about a war reenactment, I immediately think of blue and gray and the 19th century. Somehow, it never occurred to me that people would reenact the Revolutionary War! Nevertheless that thousands of people, including whole families would dress up in colonial garb and camp out at Old Sturbridge Village. I have to say, it was awesome! Rebels and Redcoats is the largest American Revolution war reenactment in New England and there were large camps both British and American set up all around the village.There were plenty of soldiers, but also families at the camps, doctors, fife and drum corps, parades, cannon firings, and the actual battle.
Any time we had a question, there was a history buff right there ready to answer. The girls learned how they did laundry during the colonial times, and got to try it out.
After watching them shoot a cannon, we were wandering around the American camp, and this little boy said. "Would you like to learn something?"
We of course said, "Sure!" Then he went on to teach us all about how they started fires and kept them going. He demonstrated with a  flint and steel and this pipe he used to blow into the fire.  He was great, and I have to say, it kind of made us reconsider using any kind of history curriculum at all. Why spend that money, when we could just start buying historical reenactment gear?
We all left the village totally excited to learn more about the American Revolution. Check back this week for more of our adventures.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Look of Eagles: An Honest Recounting of our First Week of School

When we got back from our week-long vacation, our box of new homeschool curricula had arrived from Rainbow Resources. This year, it turns out I did not own a single book from Volume 3 of Five in a Row, so we bought the Volume 3 literature package. It was so lovely to get see that big stack of beautiful picture books!  The kids were so excited, they spent the last few days of our vacation playing school with their new handwriting books. My oldest daughter even decided to teach herself cursive from an old Richard Scarry book.

On the way home from West Virginia, we listened to Come on, Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody. The recording by Jim Weiss was so good. If you loved the movie, you will really enjoy listening to this. After Seabiscuit is retired from racing with an injury, his owner Mrs. Howard visits him one day in his stall and finds that Seabiscuit has "the look of eagles." The only way to keep him happy was to put him back in the race. That's the way it it with our kids too. Even if it's the middle of July, once they have the "look of eagles," you may as well put them back in the game. This, incidentally, works out really well because by May, they definitely have the look of butterflies, and there's nothing to do but set them free to flitter around the yard from flower to flower.

You would think that this enthusiasm would lead to an amazing first week of school, but even though this is my third year of homeschooling, it seems that I still haven't learned that the first week of school is always a bit traumatic. By that, I mean mostly for me. This year, in particular, I seemed to have experienced every emotion you will ever experience while homeschooling all wrapped up in one week: Enthusiasm, doubt, fear, anger, exhaustion, and joy.  I know that usually first week of school posts are rosy, but maybe this will help introduce you some of you newbies to real-life homeschooling.

Day 1: I dive in enthusiastically at 8 o'clock in the morning and bustle around for eight hours doing all the lessons I've planned. Because one book is not enough to study, I decide to combine two books: Blueberries for Sal  for the preschoolers and The Finest Horse in Town for the elementary-schoolers.
We had spent the Saturday before picking ten pounds of blueberries, so Blueberries for Sal was an obvious choice. The Finest Horse in Town was also set in Maine and covered patriotic topics for July so it seemed like a good fit.
Blueberries make excellent math manipulatives, especially for subtraction when you eat "tremendous mouthfuls."  
Day 2: The day the kids have their own plans. It was science day, so we talked about how scientists classify different animals. I got out all of our animal flashcards and we sorted them in different ways and read from our National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia. Then we were supposed to do a simple project where we make our own animal classification cards for the different animals in our books. Then, in theory, we add to these with each book. Somehow, two hours later, the living room floor was strewn with every magazine we own and the children had produced one book of animal artwork, one collage book about farm animals, one collage book with the actual animals from our books, and a collage book of various colored tractors. 

Day 3: the first meltdown happened. One tired mama, three whiny, young kids. I don't even think we made it through reading our picture books before I lost my temper and had to give myself a time-out. Having recovered some, sent the kids outside to play, and served lunch, I decided to try and redeem the day by planning a fun book-inspired Fourth of July meal for dinner. The kids loved squeezing lemons for lemonade and making patriotic jello parfaits. 
And they were quite industrious all afternoon making paper flags and decorations and setting up a playmobil recreation of The Finest Horse in Town. Everything was happy until the flags wouldn't stay on the wall and everyone was hungry and it all fell apart, which is why I don't have any pictures except this I took the next day.
Day 4: We were all slowing down and drifting back to last year's schedule of starting between 9 and 10. Yes, you don't have to be a morning person to homeschool. Good news for me! The day goes well except that I begin to have curriculum doubt. The spelling workbook I ordered is confusing. I decide to jettison it, but what do I replace it with? So I begin scouring the Internet for free spelling curricula, which leads to reading about different theories for teaching spelling, which eventually leads to wondering whether my entire educational philosophy is off and perhaps I should be homeschooling some other way: Charlotte Mason, classical, unschooling! Aghhh!

And also somehow the house exploded!

Day 5: The kids are calm. The house is put back to order. We start work at 10 and by noon, the kids have all done reading, math and a watercolor painting project, and we are done for the day! This is excellent news because I need a couple hours at least to put away the mountain of clean laundry.

Week 1 wasn't everything I hoped it would be, but somehow the books got read, the blueberries were all eaten, and we're still excited to do it again next week Ahh, homeschooling!