Sunday, September 21, 2014

Books of the Moment: Sam the Minuteman, Paul Revere's Ride, and Jean Fritz books

We are in the thick of American history here at our house, or at least as in-the-thick-of-it as you can be when your school kids are only eight and six.  Our six-year-old gave a presentation about George Washington this week at our Classical Conversations community, and he told me four out of the six kids in his class presented about George Washington.  :)  

We've been reading from Story of the World, and we've picked up other books, too.  There are obviously billions of good books about American history, but I'll mention a few we've really liked.

Sam the Minuteman--Written by Nathaniel Benchley and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, the same man who wrote and illustrated the Frog and Toad series.  Like Frog and Toad, it is written on a lower level and has frequent pictures.  It's about an older boy who is caught up in the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  Pretty perfect for the first-grade crowd or so (it is about a battle, though, so of course is it not light like Frog and Toad).

Paul Revere's Ride--The poem written by Longfellow and illustrated by Ted Rand--My boys are memorizing part of the famous poem and will have to recite it as one of the presentations this year at CC.

Jean Fritz books, such as Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? and others--I will not act like my children love these books.  They are fairly long and are aimed at the nine and up crowd, I suspect.  However, for what they are--text-heavy history books with lots and lots of information (as opposed to comic-book style history books that are also available)--I think they're pretty fantastically done.  Fritz writes engagingly.  She makes things funny.  And she handles the history well.  We haven't read all of her many books, but they will be on our library list for years to come. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

&Punctuation fun (?!?)**

I made a fun way to check how well my sons understand punctuation.  

HERE is the file.

My boys have never had an explicit lesson on punctuation; instead, I've just explained things as we've read or written together.  I thought I'd better double-check to see what we might have missed! 

I simply had them read these "sentences" aloud to me, which they found amusing.  

These two anchor charts might come in handy at some point, too:

(The idea for this wasn't my own; I heard about it in teacher training once; but I couldn't find documents for it online.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Books of the Moment: Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers

We've got a number of good books around our house about God and the Christian life.  There's a set of four little ones that I honestly didn't expect our kids to care about much, but they do:

the Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers series.

Each of the four books just shares lots of true statements about the topic it's covering.  There is no plot or storyline; they are not fiction.  They are just page after page of statements.  

But our kids like them!

I think it's largely because of the illustrations.  Every page has an engaging picture.  And the size probably doesn't hurt, either; they are small, hardback books that are easy to tote around.

Sometimes our kids tell us things they've read in these books.  I think they've been helpful.

Who would've thought!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pre-K Lite

Back when each of our boys were about the age our daughter is now, we did a fun Pre-K with friends.  Now that we live far away and are just getting to know people, there was no one to do a Pre-K with for Olivia.

Obviously I could enroll her in a preschool or Mother's Day Out somewhere, but that might or might not accomplish what I would want to be accomplished.  I have a few very concrete things I want her to learn (how a calendar works, the months, a certain set of songs that teach her great things in fun ways).  Obviously plenty of Pre-K's would do that for her, and many would exceed my expectations and teach her much more, but since I don't know which ones those are here, and since I already own all of the exact things I most want her to be exposed to, it just makes sense to do it myself.

As for other perks of preschool programs, she can get the playtime that I want her to get at the CC nursery and in the childwatch at the Y.  

**The problem is that it's not much fun to sing those songs and do the motions by yourself (or just with your mom).

So I've recruited her two big brothers to "do" Pre-K with her.

(Yes, they are getting too old for it.  They think it's quite a lot of fun now but I suspect it will wear thin in a few months.  This Pre-K Lite may only last about six months or so.)

About once a week, we're doing the same calendar time that we did at our Pre-K co-op. And that's it.  We're not doing any of the fun projects that we did with Pre-K for the boys. I'm sure she would have loved that, but on the other hand, her life is more fun than the boys' were at the same age in many ways.  And she really wanted a Book of Centuries and also the science lab book I made for the boys, so I just went ahead and made her one of each.  Hers do not contain the same pages on the inside, though.  Whenever we read about a historical topic or do a science project that she listens in on, I'll just print her the same kind of journal pages we used back in the Pre-K, something like this:

(Just gray Comic Sans letters in all caps at the top for her to trace.)

Anyway, that's it.  That's our fancy Pre-K Lite.  She also asks (begs) to do "schoolwork" while the boys do, so I print out dot-to-dots for her, and I am finally using up gobs of coloring pages and handwriting workbooks I still have from my public school teaching days, and I will buy her a Pre-K math book the next time we go to Wal-Mart.

But as far as our Pre-K co-op we did with the boys, Olivia is just getting the vestiges.  Somehow I think she's still having lots of fun, though!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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??