Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Additional resources for our Books of Centuries

 (those garish white rectangles are where my son's name is)

I posted a few weeks ago about my new (and simpler!) plans for having our kids write and draw about the history they learn this year.  I knew I wasn't doing anything actually new, and that's been proven to me again and again as I've found numerous websites dedicated to just what we're doing--basically, "notebooking."  That's what we're doing.  It's been done, and now we're joining in.  

The most helpful site I've found is this:

Notebooking Fairy

She has billions and zillions of templates for notebooking pages.  I don't really want billions and zillions of templates, because simplicity is part of the point here, but I did download a few that I thought were both really useful and really flexible at the same time, such as:

Timeline pages
Postcard pages
Movie pages
President pages

We will use those pages to supplement our more general notebooking pages.  I suspect our goal will be one or two Book of Centuries entries per kid per week, plus one of the many outside images I hope the books are filled with.  When our older son begins Essentials at CC in a year, any papers he writes relating to history can also be filed into his Book of Centuries.     

Two of the Notebooking Fairy's posts that I found valuable:

Is Notebooking Useless Busywork or Real Learning?  
Fifty Things to Put in a Notebook

If any of the handful of readers of this blog have done notebooking, do you have any advice to share??

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Our End-of-the-Year Museum!

(four of the kids' timelines; the other three are on the back)

As we'd planned all along, we had a museum to wrap up our SOTW/CC co-op that we did with two other families.  As I mentioned before, we had several goals for this museum:

  • an event that would serve as a motivator to do good work as they made their timeline entries and projects.
  • a chance to show the dads and a few other folks what they'd done.
  • a chance to celebrate the year.
  • a fixed ending-point so moms could throw away the projects at the end of the year!

I hadn't really expected the museum to serve as great review for the kids, but that actually may have turned out to be one of the best things about it.  We'd all meant to have our kids make their museum labels as we went along, but that didn't happen much.  Instead, the kids had to make them in the days leading up to the museum, which turned out to be good review of what they'd learned.  Additionally, some of the kids drew big signs for the "museum entrance," and that was good review, too.

Much fun!

(I am not going to show their science biomes books because they have their names on them.)


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Please excuse my weird last post

(which is now deleted).

We moved a couple of weeks ago and then went out of town for a week.  I didn't realize I had a half-finished post scheduled for a day I didn't even have my computer set up.  :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A simpler next year (a history notebook/Book of Centuries)

  (the garish white rectangles are where my son's name is printed)

Our CC/SOTW co-op has been a perfect fit for us this year, but alas, it is time to move on to something different.  We are moving to a new city and therefore leaving our co-op partners-in-crime behind.  

We did a lot of fancy projects this year, the kinds of things I can only do by dividing and conquering.  Besides the fancy projects, though, I read from The Story of the World twelve times with my boys, which was about the perfect amount for their ages (five and seven).  (We read most selections twice, which drastically helped their comprehension and retention, I think.)  Then they wrote and drew about what they learned at the co-op and we taped those things into their accordion timelines.

Next year we'll follow the more traditional homeschooling pattern of just reading and writing.  Each of the boys will make an ongoing history notebook.  They will be simple.  And flexible!  

(We will call this notebook a Book of Centuries, although they are not exactly like the Charlotte-Mason-style projects of the same name.  These are akin but a bit different.  But "Book of Centuries" is a lot catchier than "history notebook," don't you think?)

These are the pages we'll use:


(I made three sets of these, each with different widths of lines.  The corrected files are HERE, HERE, and HERE.)  

The first two pages are biography pages.  The only difference between them is the frame, but I thought it'd be fun to have some variety.  (Plus, the oval frame is entirely too flattering for Attila the Hun.)  The third and fourth pages are for anything else I want the kids to draw and write about: battles, inventions, artistic movements, anything.  They'll draw a picture and then write about it, continuing onto the second page if need be.  I don't know how much I'll guide what they write about; maybe I'll just have them be sure they've addressed the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why).  

(Since the original post, I have found other great notebooking pages online.  HERE is a post about some of those.)

Then they will put them into a thin binder in chronological order.  I'll put some tabs with labels like "1600-1650" in the binder, and we'll call it organized.  And... 

...this format will allow for a lot more images.  I plan to frequently print out important photos, paintings, or documents for the boys to place in their history notebooks.  They will write a short caption under the image and that's it.  Don't you think they might like flipping through a history notebook full of images like this:

and this:

and this:

and this?

Or so many, many more.  

We could include photos of architecture!  Or a sample of a folk story from a given time and place!  Or maps!  Or anything!  Because we will have flexibility!!!!

And when the kids read fiction or biography set during a particular historical period, we can print a copy of the cover of the book and stick it where it goes in the book.  Books like these:

And if we visit places relating to history (a battlefield, for example), we can stick our photos, maps, etc. in the correct spot.

I am excited about this.  

The timeline journal was great because it gave the kids a good visual.  However, we have now done two different co-ops that revolved around timelines.  I think my kids are getting a fairly good visual of the centuries.  What I want more of now is SPACE!  I don't want them to be constrained by tiny spaces anymore!  So!  Here's to full-page entries! And we can keep adding all kinds of things for years and years and years, I hope, and never need to start over.  We'll just move it all to a bigger binder when the stack grows too fat.  But we will never run out of room between 1700 and 1750, say. 

I will sacrifice the visual of the timeline for unlimited space at this point.  It will also be muuuuuuuuch easier on me.  No more cutting out timeline arrows and taping things in.  This will be easy.

But worthwhile.  I think they will retain a lot with their Books of Centuries.  

So in a way we're doing less with history this year, and in a way we're doing more.

Yay for a long-term plan!


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book of the Moment: Fergus Crane

Do you like:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
My Father's Dragon?
The Mysterious Benedict Society?

Yeah, me too.  If you do, you might like Fergus Crane.  I better be careful; that was a huge build-up.  But it is a fun book, and it seemed to channel all of those books.

It also feels a lot like How to Train Your Dragon.  

Fun book.  And these two guys have written many, many more, so we've got a lot more books to check out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Squishy Human Body

My friend Amy mailed this to our family out of the blue a few years ago, and that was an inspired move on her part.  We love this thing!  Our kids whip out the forceps and hemostats and begin surgery!

It's called the Squishy Human Body and look at this:

The Organ-izer.  :)  Kids can open up the guy, take out his organs, and figure out what they are.  Then the kids have to figure out how to put the organs back into the body, which isn't a no-brainer.

If you are in Classical Conversations, this will be perfect the upcoming cycle, but of course this would be great for anybody.

Fun, fun gift.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Re-reading…and re-reading…and re-reading!

The Narnia books and Winnie-the-Pooh are proving to me that the more times my kids have read a book, the more times they want to keep reading it.  (Within reason, you know.)  

They've developed that affection for particular books that we're all familiar with.  Am I the only one who craves to read Pride and Prejudice at least once a year?  Probably not. Familiar books are sometimes called friends, and I believe it.

With respect to my kids, the Narnia books continue to hit this home to me.  The early books are the ones they've read/heard more frequently (my husband often reads them to them, we have great audio recordings of the whole series, they've seen plays or movies of them, and they read them on their own), and those early books are the ones they love most.  For now.  I'm sure their affection for the later books will grow once they become more familiar with them.

Because, to even a greater extent than is the case for adults, I can see why kids want books repeated: there's so very much of it they don't understand the first time.  

It's got to take even longer for them to make a book a familiar friend, don't you think?

When I started my "ordered chapter book list" for myself a year and a half ago, it was really short.  Maybe fifteen books?  

I've read a lot more children's books since then (including a few I've chosen not to put on my list because I don't plan on letting our kids read them).  And there's a part of me that feels silly for continuing to push myself to read more and more kids' books, because I'm seeing more than ever that what we should really do is re-read some of those favorite books we've read before.

(I don't even really remember a book until I've read it twice.  Uncle Tom's Cabin?  That giant Churchill biography I read a few years back?  I have little more than general impressions from those books.  I will need to read them again to really have them locked into my brain, I think.  And I've noticed I'm not the only one in my house that way.  We have both sieves and vaults for memories around here.)

However, I keep reading kids' books, and here's why: because if we're going to read a given chapter book multiple times, I want it to be one of the ones we love the most!  The ones that are most enjoyable, or most worthwhile, or hopefully, both!  The ones that contain the most truth, beauty, and goodness--and adventure, and fun, and beloved characters, and really quality writing.  And the more books I read, the more I'll have to choose between.

So, while I will certainly continue to keep my ordered chapter book list going, I am going to make a condensed version here.  My Most Beloved Books list.  These are the ones that I hope all of my kids read multiple times, no matter what.  And most of these are ones that  I think they'll be quite happy to read multiple times.  Like the other list, they are listed in the approximate order I'll introduce them to my kids.  (Some are obviously for much older kids.)  This list will eventually get long, too, as I continue to read more books, especially books aimed at older kids.  But it will be my must-reads, while the other list will be my can-reads.  There I'll have extra titles at-the-ready for any voracious readers who might be found under our eaves; here I'll have the ones my kids can't get out of!  

That's the end of long-winded me.  Your family likely has different taste in books than my family, but here is my list:

Most Beloved Books

**Frog and Toad series and other Arnold Lobel books
**Fancy Nancy series
**Mercy Watson series 
**Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut series
**Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein poetry books
**Flat Stanley series
**My Father's Dragon series
**The Great Cake Mystery:  Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case  
**Sarah, Plain and Tall
**Fergus Crane
**How to Train Your Dragon
**The BFG
**Charlotte’s Web
**Winnie the Pooh (both books)
**Mary Poppins
**The Mouse and the Motorcycle series 
**Eric Liddell:  Something Greater Than Gold
**Hank the Cowdog series 
**Henry Huggins series
**Caddie Woodlawn
**Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
**Doctor Dolittle series
**The Great Brain series
**Little House on the Prairie series (I will leave this here because it seems to be lots of other people's favorite series, although we've never gotten hooked)
**Narnia series
**Maniac Magee
**The Candymakers
**Ella Enchanted 
**Number the Stars
**From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
**Leepike Ridge
**The Ocean of Truth: The Story of Isaac Newton
**The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
**The Westing Game
**The Penderwicks
**Ronia, the Robber's Daughter
**Tuck Everlasting
**Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
**The Witch of Blackbird Pond
**Johnny Tremain
**Little Women
**Anne of Green Gables series
**The Hobbit
**The Hiding Place
**Gladys Aylward:  The Adventure of a Lifetime
**The Lord of the Rings series

(Obviously I'm not going to read the billions of books in series like The Boxcar Children with my kids over and over.  But I'll make sure they're well-exposed to three or four of them and then they can continue if they like.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How to construct a test

The following post may not seem very applicable to our household's current educational doings since my oldest child is all of seven.  

It is a post about two professors I really admired in college and their method of testing their classes.  

However, we're educating with an end in sight, right?  Quality college classes certainly aren't the entirety of that "end," but hopefully they're involved, and maybe, just maybe, I can learn from how great professors do things, simultaneously improving my kids' K-12 education by introducing these methods in small doses as they're able to handle them,  and meanwhile setting them up well for their college coursework.  Maybe, just maybe.

Both of these professors taught history classes, and their tests were formatted in very similar ways.  Maybe this format is common enough in history classes, but then again, I had plenty of other history classes that were not structured quite this way.  This structure always impressed me most.  Okay, the structure, at least as well as I remember it:

  1. About two weeks before the test, the professor would give us a slew of "terms."  These could be dates, places, people, or events.  Some were quite specific and some were less so.  They might be "Battle of Gettysburg," "Henry Clay," or "Brest-Litovsk Treaty."  I am guessing about 25-30 items were on the list.  
  2.  Our job was to prepare to "identify" some of those terms on the test.  We needed to say whatever was most significant about that term, and do so completely enough to satisfy our professor.  That would probably include very basic things (a date or location, say), but explaining the significance of that term (Why was this important?  What did it lead to?) was the crux of it.
  3.  I don't remember how many terms we had to identify on a given test, but it was something like this: the professor would list eight terms, and we had to identify five of them.  Each was worth five points, or something like that, and partial credit was often given.
  4. We needed to identify the terms completely, but the professor didn't need to give us a word limit on them, because obviously if we spent too long on the term identification, we'd run out of time for the essays.
  5. After we identified the terms, we answered two essay questions.  The professor provided three topics and we had to choose two to write on.
  6. We wrote furiously for an hour and a half and then, hands cramped and brains absolutely drained, turned in our blue book to the TA.

Despite the fact that I studied like mad for those classes and never managed to pull off an A, I still think the structure for those tests was brilliant, and here's why:

  • It was simultaneously very rigorous and very fair.  You'd been given the terms beforehand, so if you didn't do well on that part, you had only yourself to blame.  The essays were tricky, but, in the case of both the term identification and the essays, you got to drop the question or questions that you felt weakest on.  
  • It encouraged you to make the really important connections--why did this happen?  why was it important?--as well as not let you off the hook for the "data" (such as dates) when they were really significant.  And the best way of figuring out how to identify the terms was with other students beforehand.  Constructing the test so that groups of two or three students spent days scattered throughout campus hashing out how to identify these terms sounds like great teaching to me. 
  • By spending all this time hashing out the terms, you were basically preparing yourself for those essay questions.  You didn't know what they'd be, but you also knew that if something from class didn't make it into the "identification terms," it wasn't too likely to play a major role in an essay question.  You had an inkling of what the professor considered most significant.  (That probably kept him from being badgered with lots of "What's going to be on the test?" questions, too.  He just told you!)
  • I'm sure there are many avenues in which professors teach each other how to craft a truly good essay question (and I'm sure there are many professors who haven't availed themselves of those avenues...).  My limited impression, though, was that many of the prompts did not ask "Why did this happen?" but instead asked something more like, "Did such-and-such or such-and-such have a greater impact on blank?"  Something with a comparison in it.  Something that made you demonstrate you had wide knowledge about more than one aspect of a certain issue, or more than one precursor of an event, or whatever.  It almost guaranteed that you would have more than enough to write about, instead of finishing ten minutes before class was over because you weren't sure what else to put in.  It gave you a chance to make a compelling argument with lots of information put in.  My arguments obviously never proved to be super-compelling, but I appreciated the structure of it nevertheless.

All that writing must have been a nightmare for the TAs to grade.  Yikes, there were towering stacks of blue books heavy with ink.  That said, the TAs were probably able to gauge quite well what we knew and didn't know.

And I am so grateful my high school AP English teachers made us spend class periods writing feverishly to finish an essay before the bell rang.  I never would have made it through my college liberal arts classes without that practice.

    The last two things:
    • Our finals were true finals, not just tests that covered the last third of the material.  I think that really ups the amount of learning that happens.
    • One of the professors always had Tuesday/Thursday classes, meaning that he had hour and a half blocks for class each time.  He lectured for an hour, and then anyone who wanted to could go packing.  That was most of us.  Then anyone who had a question could stay in their seats and ask it.  Ohhhh, that was brilliant.  Anyone who didn't want to hear that One Guy's litany of questions didn't have to stay, and as they waltzed out the door thirty minutes early week after week, they felt like they'd won.  The One Guy probably also felt like he'd won, because here were thirty full minutes for he and his compadres to get their questions in.  And the professor probably felt like he'd won, too, because he didn't have his train of thought interrupted while lecturing.

    Monday, May 12, 2014

    Books of the Old & New Testaments Challenge

    We all know that if something's set to music and you listen to it incessantly for a day or two, you can memorize anything.  It took me a few years to capitalize on that as much as I should.

    Do you know the books of the Old & New Testaments?  If you don't, I dare you to learn them with your family this summer.

    I bet there are plenty of places you can purchase recorded songs of the books of the Bible, but free is free, and I know of two good-and-free options:

    1. Sing the books of the OT to the tune of "Ten Little Indians."  That's what we do.  Play with how to fit the words into the tune a few times before you teach your kids, and then sing it daily until you've got it.
    2. Download them for free(!) from Classical Conversations' website.  See the tab that says "CC Connected?"  Choose the menu option that says "guest," and then, contrary to logic, do not choose "free downloads," but instead click on "public library."  There you will find songs for the books of the OT and NT.**  

    Anybody up for it?

    **(Also, you will see a song for the presidents.  Why did no one teach me a presidents song before?  Why did I not know the order of presidents before I began taking university history classes?  That would be been helpful…)

    Wednesday, May 7, 2014

    If I could only have one book to teach a kid to read with...

    ...this would be it, and here's what I'd do with it.

    I'd use a few of these things each time we read it.  In no particular order...

    • I get my child to read anything they are able to read--and that includes the letters of the alphabet and the words "I" and "a."  That means even a child who knows very, very little can participate and feel like she is reading!  Even the title!  She becomes used to gradually piping up with anything she knows.

    • I take advantage of the text to make sure my child knows both the uppercase and lowercase of each letter.  Since they are used back-to-back throughout the book (A...a...A!), that makes it easy-schmeesy on my child.  

    • I underline words with my finger (from left to right) as I read them to my child.  I do it so often that my child begins to do it, too, which allows me to see if she just has things memorized or if she is associating what she's saying with the correct thing on the page.  I can also see if she understands that print moves from left-to-right and then top-to-bottom.

    • I have my child read the words "big" and "little" on every page and show her that B-I-G always spells big, page after page, so that she can see the repetition.  

    • (In a world where I have more than only this book, I point out the many instances of "big" and "little" in other favorite books.  They're all over the place.)

    • Once my child has the hang of the word "big," I try to trick her by writing something like "BIT, BIG, BAG, BEG, BIG" on a piece of paper and help her weed out what doesn't say "big."  If I treat it like a fun game, she'll think it's a fun game. 

    • If she knows anyone by the name of Ann, Annie, David, Don, Donald, Jerry, Jordan, Lola, Oscar, Pete, Peter, Rosy, Robin, Ross, Sam, Sammy, Vera, Violet, Will, Willy, Warren, Waldo, Nixie, Knox, Yolanda, or, believe it or not, Icabod, I make a big deal of that name being on the page and having her read it each time.  

    • I show her that if you cover up the last letters in, for instance, Willy or Sammy, you end up with Will or Sam.  

    • Similarly, I show her that covering up the "-ing" in "washing" makes "wash," or how covering up the "-s" changes the word "feathers."

    • I exaggerate the sounds of the letters so she'll associate those sounds with the letters on the page.  The most fun example is "Four fluffy feathers on a fiffer-feffer-feff."

    • I also exaggerate sounds I can draw out, such as the mice going "Mmmmmmm," or, even better, the king's "kerchoo."  I get a piece of paper, write "kerchoo" with extra Os, and the more Os, I write, the longer we say "oooooooooo."

    • I teach her to "catch" which pages say anything different than what is typically repeated on each page, such as "What begins with those?" instead of "What begins with B?" or the pages where that phrase is left off altogether.

    • I have her pipe up with more and more high-frequency words (such as "on" or "the") as we read it more often. 

    • I draw attention to any place that words repeat.  Silly Sammy Slick getting "sick sick sick" is a great example.  I read her the first one and show her how she can therefore read the next words (look! s-i-c-k, s-i-c-k).

    • I use the words my child now knows well (like "big") as a jumping-off point for sounding out other words.  (I write BIG on a page, then something like PIG, helping her to sound it out.  Then FIG, and MIG, and WIG, and TIG, and RIG, and so on.)

    • I enjoy the book with my child because it is goofball and we both love it.

    And of course there are other ways to teach my child through this book, but those are places I start!