Friday, January 30, 2015

Things I learned and Books We Loved in January

Things I learned in January:
December was a really hard month in homeschooling, as you might have gathered from my posts.Too much excitement, not enough work school getting done, and Mom in a miserable mood. To truly finish it off with a bang, my oldest daughter had an emergency appendectomy on New Year's Eve. But January has been full of blessed ordinariness, lots of reading, and renewed excitement about homeschooling.

One thing that has made such a difference is that we now have a better routine for the day. At the beginning of the month, I sat the kids down and asked them what they wanted to get out of our days. Mabel suggested, read more books! Ella wanted to learn to ice-skating. I began to tell them about some of the things I was interested in. I recently purchased a new writer's curriculum called Brave Writer. I'm only a few chapters in, but the kids were so excited when I mentioned some of her ideas like Poetry Teatimes and narrating stories to me while I write them down.

I explained to the kids that in order to fit all this fun new stuff in, we'd have to plan out our days better. We all went up to the computer and made a handy new picture schedule with Microsoft word. You won't believe the difference this has made. They are getting ready in the morning earlier (with only a little bit of prompting), helping me with morning chores like unloading the dishwasher and folding laundry. We've been able to do our Five in a Row, read-aloud during snack each day, have some physical activity, and in the afternoon individual lessons,quiet time, and tidying up. We've also designated one special thing per day: Monday is Music, Tuesday: Art, Wednesday: Writing, Thursday: Poetry Tea Time, and Friday: cleaning (the kids actually suggested that!) I have never been a routine person before, but I am starting to be a believer.

January is also such a great month for reading. Brent and I both have a stack of new books we are working through from Christmas. The older girls are starting to read more on their own! So here were some of our favorites in January.

My reading:
Disclaimer: I really wanted to love this book even before I read it because I love the author's website Story Warren: Allies in Imagination so much. If you haven't heard of Story Warren before and are a parent looking for ways to inspire your kids in faith, imagination, and reading, you should check it out. The author S. D. Smith is also from West Virginia, so even more reason to hope for the best because West Virginians are awesome. 

The good news is that I loved the book. The Green Ember is a fantasy book about Heather and Picket, rabbit brother and sister. When their family home is attacked and their parents taken captive, they escape and find a new home with a group of rabbits who aim to bring back The Mended Wood that has been destroyed. The characters have a lot of depth and I totally identified with their pursuit to find their purpose in the world. The book is also firmly rooted in hope. It made me think of a line from Katherine Paterson's essay Hope and Happy Endings. "Hope for us cannot simply be wishful thinking, nor can it be only the desire to grow up to and take control of our own lives. Hope is a yearning rooted in reality that pulls us toward the radical biblical vision of the world remade." This book does exactly that, but even if you don't want to go that deep with it, it is still an awesome adventure story you and your kids will love. I hope there will be a sequel.

The Spark is a memoir of a family's journey with their autistic son. Jake has a genius IQ, but is non-verbal as an autistic preschooler. Barnett decides to follow her intuition and nurture her son's interest in light and designs, and soon finds that he is teaching himself college-level math and astronomy. This memoir was surprisingly gripping as Barnett takes you inside their families struggles. I read it in two days because I couldn't put it down. Ultimately, it's about finding what is special about your child, but also giving them plenty of time to just be a kid and time for the family to build memories together and play, even when dealing with so many family challenges.

The kids requested that we rewatch the entire Anne of Green Gables mini-series recently. It didn't take much to twist my arm. Now they are obsessed with the soundtrack just like last winter and playing many games of Chase the Cow around the house. My two-year-old son even requests that they play Avonlea. His summation of the movie. "Anne fell down in the mud. She got mud on her face." and "Anne died in the water and the man rescued her."

I got a new-to-me L.M. Montgomery book for Christmas: Jane of Lantern Hill. It's a little more modern than the Anne books, about a girl who discovers that the father she thought was dead, is alive. When he asks her to visit him on PEI for the summer, she comes alive. After life with her domineering grandmother, she finds that she loves being useful and able to care for other people and animals. My favorite scene was when her father introduces her to the wonder of the stories in history and the Bible. She has always been forced to read these books, and suddenly with his interest and love, she finds that she actually wants to read.

I discovered Elizabeth Goudge last year when I read Pilgrim's Inn, and I fell in love with her writing. I picked up The Scent of Water this year and also loved it. Goudge's books are usually set in quaint English villages. In this one, the main character Mary, a Londoner, inherits her cousin's house in the English countryside. The story is also about Mary's spiritual journey, though and Goudge lets her characters grapple with spiritual questions in such a natural way that it never comes off as cheesy or in your face. Goudge is a master of symbolism. I always find myself wanting to look up images from medieval tapestries and bits of poetry when I finish. Such beauty and healing in these books.

Brent's reading:

Brent's favorite book of late (I also really loved it.) was Jennifer Fulweiller's spiritual memoir Something Other Than God. Some blog writers' books just read as a collection of blog posts, but Fullweiller's story of her journey from atheism to Catholism was beautifully written. She takes you through each step of her journey of faith without jumping to the end and writing backwards, so that you actually get to grapple with each question she has. She's also quite funny, which is a bonus. 
Did I mention the girls are reading?

Ella has always been such an auditory learner that she hasn't had a lot of drive to read books on her own. Recently I found her secretly reading Ramona the Pest at quiet time. Now she's finished that and moved on to Beezus and Ramona. I remember reading the whole series in third grade. Sweet to see her enjoying them now.

Ella has also been loving the Sir Cumference books.  This is a whole series of books about math topics like angles, shapes, and graphing, but told with knights and quests. They  make math really approachable and fun. Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland has a special medallion at the back that the knight uses to measure angles and find his way through a labyrinth. The kids took out the medallion and decided to make their own. I, of course, found a protractor to help them.

The kids' favorite read-aloud was The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye. This reads like a classic fairy tale, but a rejected fairy gives the baby princess the gift of being ordinary. She grows up and the whole family is distressed because she can't be married off. She, meanwhile, is charming, witty and loves to escape the castle to play in the woods. When the family decides they will hire a dragon and lock the princess in a tower, to try to trick a champion into saving her and marrying her, she runs away to the woods and eventually gets a job as a scullery maid in another castle, where she wins the heart of the young King who lives there, with her lovely personality and brains and ordinariness. If your girls love princess tales, you should definitely read this one.
Mabel is 6. She showed a lot of early interest in reading, but became really frustrated last year as the stories got longer in her reader. We ended up stopping reading lessons all together. Apparently the best thing you can do with her is stop and wait until she's ready. This has been true from everything from potty training to reading, but it takes me a while to get the picture. This year she has been speeding along in reading. While we took the month of December off from formal reading lessons, she decided to pick up her Elephant and Piggie books and start reading. She has 10 of these and has read them all and moved on to other easy readers. Now she is requesting that we do two reading lessons a day. Thank you Mo Willems for writing easy reader books that are actually easy to read and SO FUNNY!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Duchess Bakes a Cake

We are finally back to Five in a Row after the holidays and readjustment to school. This may have been our favorite week ever. We read The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl, which is a funny book about a Duchess who puts too much yeast into a cake with disastrous results. 

The kids were really excited to study castles and princesses. Before vacation was even over, they pulled out Knights and Castles: 50 Hands-on Activities to Explore the Middle Ages and built a catapult out of tp rolls. 

The manual suggested that we act out the book, and the kids were very enthusiastic about this idea. We ended up doing a full production with costumes, memorized lines and many rehearsals, so many that we probably read the book more like fifteen times than five.
We performed the play on Monday when Daddy had the day off work, and they did great. Mabel played The Duchess and did a marvelous job balancing on a stack of couch cushions for the dough. Beatrix was the baby Gunhilde and pulled off fake-crying with ease, and Ella was the Duke, the King, the Queen, the cook, and the General, which required many accessory changes and catapulting bean-bags at her sister, which she enjoyed immensely.

For history, we learned a bit about the Feudal system and read a lot about the Middle Ages. From the Knights and Castles books, we also made medieval dioramas. They were supposed to represent The Four Alls: Serfs, Knights, Royalty, and the church, but we didn't quite finish the church. Instead, Trixie made her own free-form diorama. If your kids are creative, a low-temp glue gun and a big bag of wood bits are amazing fodder. Throw in some old tissue boxes, some fabric and ribbon, and lots of sticky sparkly foam. They turned out great. I was only called on to do a little bit of needle-felting when we ran out of little wooden people for the king and queen.
For language arts, we're adding in some lessons from the Brave Writer curriculum. The kids were really excited about narrating stories while I wrote them down. We are also loving doing poetry tea-times. On Thursday, the kids decided to bake a cake. They began this project with daddy before I got out of bed, so it was a little crazy that morning, but it tasted great and was a great math lesson. We did not end up reading the poetry in the picture.We actually read Good Masters, Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz. When I checked this out of the library, I thought it would be a little too frank for the kids. These poems do not sugarcoat any aspect of medieval life, but they were really interested in each character's story. For art, we learned about the color wheel and complimentary colors.
After the performance on Monday, we had a medieval feast. 
Though we didn't end up sewing together a suckling pig and a capon, as suggested in A Medieval Feast by Aliki, we did make our own trenchers out of bread dough and ate without forks.We listened to medieval music while we baked.
The kids decorated loaves of bread that were flavored with rose water. 
They helped Brent chop apples and make a faux mince-meat pie for dessert.