Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book of the Moment: The Mystery of the Periodic Table

I love this book.  A book about the history of chemistry aimed at middle-schoolers?  Yep, one of my new favorite books.

The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker

Books like these are some of what make me excited about homeschooling and about educating classically.  We can assign books like these.  At least in the early years, our kids' assigned reading will be all up to us, leaving us time to read a fantastic book like this.  

I certainly want our kids to someday take classes that teach them the nuts and bolts of chemistry, such as working in a lab and how to balance chemical equations.  But if I had my druthers, I would be perfectly happy for some of that time to be replaced (if they couldn't do it all) with reading this book and others like it.  

By recounting the history of chemistry, the book shows what it takes--the trial, the error, the perseverance, the outside-the-box thinking, and especially the building on others' ideas--to be a scientist who discovers anything new.  

It explains how oxygen was discovered.  Do you have any idea how oxygen was discovered?  Neither did I.

And it is very engagingly written.

My favorite paragraphs (they introduce a new chapter):

Perhaps you feel that you will never get anywhere in life because you are not rich.  Or you are tall and lanky like a walking vine.  Or you have a very gruff voice, and even worse, people start yawning and leaving the room when you speak.  Or maybe your chin and nose are both so long and pointed that they almost touch each other.  Perhaps you are colorblind.  And maybe you are so busy that you cannot get your work done properly.
If you had one or two of these problems, you might consider yourself quite unfortunate.  But if you had all of these problems, you would be John Dalton, one of the most famous chemists of all time, and the founder of the modern atomic theory in chemistry.  So keep that in mind.  (pp. 81-82)



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Columbian Exchange and Cycle 3 Week 1 art


I am going to tutor older kids at CC this year, and since many of them have been in CC for a number of years, I'd like to tie some history into the OiLS drawing project we'll do for week 1.  Here's what I'm thinking:

  1. As each tutor should do each year in week 1, teach or refresh the kids' understanding of the five elements of shape (OiLS) explained in Drawing With Children.  I will explain the idea of OiLS and have the kids draw some examples on their own page (using a page such as the one "amychelle" uploaded to CC Connected).  I will tell them to use a different color for each element as they make them on the page (such as red for angled lines, green for dots, etc.).  
  2. I will tell them they will learn how to draw a chicken using OiLS.  "Why a chicken?"  I will ask.  The answer is that we memorized a history sentence about Columbus this morning, and his trips to the western hemisphere began something called the Columbian Exchange.  I will pull out this fantastic picture, which I think they'll find interesting, and explain that...
    1. Before Columbus landed, there were many, many kinds of livestock, crops, and diseases from the western hemisphere that people in the eastern hemisphere had never seen, and vice versa.
    2. Did you know that Comanches didn't always have horses?  And Italians didn't always have tomatoes?  
    3. We are going to draw chickens (which were brought from Europe to the Americas) to remind us of the Columbian Exchange and to practice our drawing!
  3. HERE is the link showing how to draw chickens in two different positions.  I will instruct my kids to use the same color to draw each element of shape as they did in their warm-up page.  The result will be multi-colored chickens.  :)

We'll see how it goes!

Monday, August 11, 2014

I can't believe I'm saying this, but Poetry Memorization (!?!?)

A friend told me about Andrew Pudewa's Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization, and we decided to give it a go.  Who, me?  Poetry memorization??  Not my thing at all.

I've long known that many classical educators require children to memorize poetry; I just couldn't imagine actually following through with my own children.  We are only so-so about memorizing Scripture, and I believe that to be even more valuable, so I hated to add anything that would crowd that out at all.

Pudewa's curriculum sounds do-able, though, and here's why:  it's on a CD!  We can listen to it in the car!  Since that has proven to be our solution for so many other things, it only makes sense to try it here.  It was about $65 for a few CDs (which I really wanted) and the accompanying book (which seems less necessary to our family).  That felt like a steep price to pay for poems that are all in the public-domain, but I do not know enough about poetry to cobble together any kind of good selection myself.  Additionally, while I don't love Andrew Pudewa's recordings, I certainly couldn't do any better.  

On top of that, this one program should last us many, many years.  Some of the later poems are quite long.  (Have you ever considered memorizing "Casey at Bat?"  Yikes!)

I wish my motivation for listening to so much poetry centered on the intrinsic value of poetry's beauty and depth.  I've semi-arrived at that place.  I also want all of us to be familiar with pieces of writing that have inspired generations of people of all be a little more of the part of the "Great Conversation."

On top of these reasons, I have more pragmatic reasons for listening to poetry in the car.  :)   

Pudewa says in the introduction of the book:
 No matter how brilliant and effective at teaching writing one may become, a frighteningly true and significant fact keeps raising its ugly head.  It's simple; it's obvious; it's terribly important, and that is this:  You can't get something out of a child's brain that isn't there to begin with.
This makes sense to all of us, of course.  How can you find the perfect word if you don't know it exists?  A person can certainly become a good writer without having read poetry.  I think very few among us, however, could become good writers without having savored either good poetry or good prose.  Our own kids are exposed to a lot of good prose (we have been reading a lot of chapter books together lately!), but adding in good poetry can't hurt either, right?

For the moment, I am not planning to put any kind of schedule on our poetry memorization, such as the one Pudewa outlines in his book.  We are just listening in the car at our leisure.  However, I will probably require the boys to recite one or two of them as their presentations at CC this year.  I may add a timetable of some sort as they get older.  

We'll see!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Have you ever made butter?

Because you'll quickly learn that we pay too much for it.



Whipping cream  (I posted milk at first, but that's wrong!)
A jar 

Twenty or thirty preschoolers
(Just kidding.  But you will want several people who can take turns doing the shaking.  Your arms will get tired quickly!)

Did you know that all you do is put some cream in a jar (don't fill it completely) and shake it or roll it around for a while? 

After a few minutes, your slosh-slosh will turn into a ker-plunk ker-plunk, and you'll look in to see a lump of butter underneath a layer of buttermilk (what else?).  

Our great-grandmothers would laugh that we don't know how to make butter. Just like I laughed when a friend told me in high school that she didn't know how to boil water.

We all shrink back from complicated "projects" and "lessons" with our kids, but this one couldn't be easier!

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.)


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.)