Snow books

It’s finally snowing here for our first day of winter break, and we’re going to pull out all our favorite snow books today. They are (in no particular order):

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The charm in Uri Shulevitz’s Snow is that Boy with Dog knows better than everyone else who tells him it’s not going to snow. The illustrations are fantastic, and the sparse prose is exactly right.

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Virginia Lee Burton’s classic, Katie and the Big Snow, is chock full of details. The only thing I change when I read it aloud is “The doctor couldn’t get her patient…”

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Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon perfectly captures the haunting silence of a snowy night.

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Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day was Phoebe’s favorite when she was little (and I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that I substituted her name in for the main character’s.)

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Jaqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley is the true story of Wilson Bentley, the man whose passion for natural beauty led him to photograph snowflakes. His work was amazing, and this children’s book about him is beautiful.

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I loved Carolyn Haywood’s Snowbound with Betsy growing up and dug an ancient copy up a few years ago. I still love it.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter haunts my dreams: the food running out, the Christmas box that couldn’t make it, the cutting for the train…

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Winter Holiday, the third book in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, takes place on a frozen lake and is full of all the fun you imagine you’d have with like-minded kids and utter freedom.

I don’t think we’re going to have enough snow to give me time to read all of them today… but I’m going to give it a shot. What snow books am I missing?

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Daybook: Mid-December

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Outside my window: dark. And cold, too, though it’s supposed to warm up enough for a comfortable run later. Whether I’ll have time is  different matter.

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In my shoes: I’ve been running at the end of the day again. Somehow, between the aforementioned darkness and cold, I can’t quite get myself in gear to run before our school day starts. Instead I’ve had a few beautiful sunset runs, one under the Supermoon (which connected me with a whole bunch of moon-runners on Instagram) and one where I saw an enormous owl, whom I managed not to scare away.

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In the kitchen: I’m in a cooking funk.  I write out meal plans but don’t want to go to the store, so when it comes to four o’clock and I drag myself back into the kitchen (which is invariably awash in piles of dishes and school books and bags and mail) I realize I don’t have some crucial ingredient.  Some weeks are like that, even in Australia.*

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When I went though my photos last week, I found that I had taken almost the exact same photo of this ornament 7 years ago. His name is Harry. He’s what I feel like every day at 4:30p.m., which is exactly why I need to run in the afternoon.

On my reading pile: We started our annual reading of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and we all sat around chuckling at the same jokes as we always do. I love that book. When I’m without children, I’m reading Lydia Reeder’s Dust Bowl Girls, which I mentioned over here on my book blog.

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In the school room: I realized a few weeks ago that we hadn’t been doing enough art.  My high schoolers were whining and complaining when we did it, so I’d been skipping it, but my youngers need a lot of art. So we’re back to sitting at the table while I read, at least once a week. The boys can opt out if they want, but I’m making it available. (More often than not, they join in, even though they’re too cool# for it.)

We’re doing our exams this week on history and literature. This involves narrations (e.g., drawing a comic, making an annotated diagram, writing a page, or asking 5 questions about the reading).

Also, it’s recital season. Last week we had two recitals (one piano, one piano and violin), and this week we have a concert and two Nutcracker performances. It must be December.

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Grateful for: great music teachers. My in-laws’ beautiful reminiscences of their dad last week. Xeljanz. Running. The upcoming release of my book, Lost Things.^

Praying for: Mandy, Judi, Lori, Christine, Bishop Gerry, Scott, Aimee, Austen. All those who are mourning lost loved ones more than ever at this time of year. Refugees and those who minister among them.

*No, I’m not in Australia. #No, it’s not humanly possible to be too cool for art. ^Coming out January 10, 2018.

Of invisible growth and winter blooms

As my oldest child is applying to colleges, I’m doing some heavy reflecting. Our time, which once stretched seemingly forever (I’m just talking about between dinner and bedtime, here) is now short. No matter how many times he comes home after he graduates, I will no longer be his primary educator. I wonder what I neglected to cover and what we spent too much time on and should have breezed over.

Many years ago, my friend Erin gave me a Christmas cactus. It was beautiful, covered in trailing red flowers. It was just the thing for my dull, hard winter. And then its blooms faded and fell.  I’ve been waiting for it to bloom ever since. We’ve moved homes twice in the intervening years. I’ve moved it around our houses, searching for the best light. Watering it faithfully. But nothing. Nary a bloom to be seen.

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There are lots of websites with instructions for how to force a Christmas cactus to flower. They recommend cool darkness and drought. For whatever reason, I never tried any of the tricks. I’ve just been watering it faithfully once a week for seven years and moving it from house to house.

There have been many seasons in our homeschooling where it seemed that there was nothing happening. Despite our faithful daily math and daily reading, progress was invisible, maybe even non-existent. I looked for short-cuts and magic curricula. Perhaps I needed to put the kids in a local school, where they would flourish. (Especially in February. Every February, the grass always looks greener at our local school.) My lofty goals and ideals crumbled into shards of I-wish and what-if.  What if he never gets this? I wish our days/school room/crafts/history lessons looked like the ones I saw on fb/pinterest/instagram.

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Last February, something looked different on my cactus. Almost imperceptibly, the tips of its fronds (leaves? arms?) turned red and then opened. It was blooming. I hadn’t done anything different: same windowsill, same weekly water ration, same morning sun. But all the invisible, internal work it had been doing burst forth in blossoms.

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I’m seeing the same phenomenon happening in my older children this year. Habits I used to have to enforce daily now happen without my reminding them (most of the time). Where I used to hear, “I’m bored,” now they say, “I need more time to finish what I’m working on.” It’s amazing, especially since I haven’t done anything different. It’s just their own invisible process finally producing fruit I can see.

Please help me remember this come February.

2017-8 School Year Plans

These are our plans for school this year, with a 12th-grader, 9th-grader, 8th-grader and 4th-grader. A copy of this will remain under my pages (found in the sidebar and in the tabs under the header photo) for future reference, though I will update it at the end of the year to take out what we didn’t like/do or what we added.

History: US History. In the past I have wrapped US history into our world history by period, but I recently discovered that didn’t count for Colorado’s high school graduation requirements. This year, we will study US History and add in what’s happening around the world at the same time for context.

Our 12th-grader is taking US History at the community college. Depending on where he decides to go to college next year, we will either take the in-state guaranteed transfer credit, or have him take the AP exam next spring.

For 4th, 8th and 9th grades I’m shaking things up. Instead of reading the spines we’ve used in the past (The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, and Genevieve Foster’s The World of George Washington, etc.), I’m using investigative strategies I learned from Yohuru R. Williams’s excellent book, Teaching US History Beyond the Textbook.

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I purchased an assortment of collections of US history primary sources called Researching American History (found at Rainbow Resource Center) for the kids to use in their research.  I don’t expect my 4th grader to pull from multiple sources, but for the older kids, I have asked for at least 4 sources per project.

I’ve assigned US history books (biographies, autobiographies, novels and picture books) for them to read independently, and they will present their findings (travel brochures, PowerPoint presentations, reports, posters, comic books, movie trailers, plays) to each other every 2-3 weeks.  We will also play Timeline regularly to help us cement a mental timeline. We have a list of US history movies to watch. My older two will participate in National History Day in the spring.

Geography:

For 12th-grade, Jonah will be reading Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography and Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America. Then, with the idea in mind that the natural resources and paucities of a region help determine the political struggles of that nation/region, he will do a series of case studies of different regions in the world.

For 8th and 9th grades, we are studying US geography in the context of history, incorporating historical maps and states’ geography.  For my 4th grader, we will work through 36 states week by week, hopefully incorporating some out-of-state travel. We like these coloring books and games for geography.

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English (Composition/Grammar/Spelling/Punctuation):

My 12th grader will be doing an essay-writing intensive (aka, writing tons of college and scholarship essays).  His US history class also has weekly writing clinics and lots of assigned papers.

For 4th, 8th and 9th grades, we will use Spelling Power for the first time. Additionally, they each have a daily grammar review with a one-page grammar exercise. I’ve tried lots of Charlotte Mason-esque “gentle” or “natural” grammar reviews, and they don’t seem to work for us. I think the problem is me. Anyway, this year we’re trying something less oral and more written (and formal).  The Spectrum series of test prep books works well for us to teach writing concepts in small chunks, which we then try to reinforce with writing assignments.

English Literature:

Shakespeare: This year we will read The Winter’s Tale. It’s one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and seems to flirt the line between tragedy and comedy. It covers serious ideas of betrayal, suspicion and grudge-holding, but it has a happy ending. Something for everyone.

Poetry: We will read Emily Dickinson, Claude McKay, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Edna St Vincent Millay, and Langston Hughes. My older son will read some Gwendolyn Brooks, Bob Dylan and Tupac Shakur.

Read-alouds: We have a limited time all together as a family for reading now that my oldest has two days each week on campus, and the kids are still attending their once-a-week school.  We began by rereading Because of Winn-Dixie, but I haven’t entirely decided what our other read-alouds will be.

Independent Reading: A significant portion of my younger kids’ literature will be historical reading, including Phoebe the Spy, Little Britches, Steve Sheinkin’s The Notorious Benedict Arnold, The Port Chicago 50, King George: What was his problem, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, and Most Dangerous; the Little House on the Prairie series, Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg series, Elijah of Buxton and The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, and Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now. I also have a collection of other MG and YA literature on the list.  More booklists to come.

Picture (Art) Study:

Our picture study will focus on Normal Rockwell and Edward Hopper. But I’m also planning a unit on Native American textiles and pottery, and a unit on the quilter Harriet Powers.

Math:

12th grade: AP Statistics. 9th grade: Singapore NEM Level 2 (continuing). 8th grade: Singapore NEM Level 1 and the Life of Fred: Geometry. 4th Grade: Singapore Primary 4A and 4B.

Bible: Everyone is doing some Old Testament reading to improve our Bible literacy, and we will finish the Gospel of Mark (again) and some epistles (yet to be determined).

Science:

12th grade: Chemistry with Lab

9th grade: Veritas Academy’s online Chemistry and Biology through the enrichment school.

8th grade: We’ll be using biology modules from Science Fusion, including Cells and Heredity and Diversity of Living Things.

4th grade: We are planning weekly nature study with a focus on plants, although we started with the total eclipse.

Foreign Language:

12th grade: he is taking a year off FL.

4th, 8th and 9th grade all are taking Spanish through our enrichment school. Hooray!

If you have any resources you think I should include to make this a better year, please shoot me an email. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

7QT: Instead of the news

One: It’s been hard to write this year. There is so much terrible news, and all of it is much more important than anything I have to say about school or local food. When I finally get over it to write something and schedule it to post automatically Monday morning, something terrible happens (looking at you, white supremacists who overran Charlottesville, and nutcase in Barcelona) and then my response appears to be some links about the upcoming eclipse.  There are many thoughtful, wise responses to the state of our nation and world.  I’m sorry that you won’t find them here.  Read them first, and then when you can’t take reality any more, you can pick up some sheet cake and come back here to read about something less distressing.

Two: Welcome back. While you were gone, I’ve been organizing our books.  Every year I  pull out the ones I want to have handy to assign for school.  I’ve been putting it off this summer because… well, see #1 above.  (It’s not just writing that’s been hard.)  But school starts on Monday, and I’m running out of time. I began yesterday by going through all the shelves and pulling out the books I need. Now I have to make room for them in a convenient spot, which involves moving those books somewhere else.  Anyway, it quickly became overwhelming.

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Three: So instead of finishing the task, I moved on to the abundance in the kitchen.  It’s August, which means melons and corn and tomatoes and peaches. Hallelujah. A God who made the peach is Someone I can get behind.

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I used to spend a hot, August afternoon sweating over the canner with these beauties. No more. Now I wash them, slice them in half to remove the pit, and freeze them on parchment paper. (The peaches, not the pits.) It takes about 10 minutes and involves no heat. Then, when the peaches are frozen, I throw them in bags.  In the winter they are perfect for the cobblers and smoothies that are the antidote to the February blues.

Four: While I’ve been working hard (or running to escape the news), the children are struggling with boredom. Poor things. I feel so sorry for them.

Five: Phoebe has taken to writing a newspaper.  I was nervous about this at first, until her first two articles were Tips about the Eclipse and Tips for Going Back to School. A girl after my own heart.

Six: Moriah has been coping by baking. Alas, that enables my coping by eating. After days of double chocolate chip cookies, lemon bars and flourless chocolate cake (she has been limited only by the egg production of our hens), I begged her please to make something that could count as lunch.  “Here,” I said, “use all these gorgeous tomatoes to make some sauce.”

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Seven: Teenage boredom for the win. Now if I could only talk her into helping me with the books…

When you can’t take the real news any more, check out Kelly for more Quick Takes.

Eclipse resources

Just a quick check in today with a few resources about the total solar eclipse happening next Monday, August 21.

Eclipse

For my favorite essay about the eclipse, here’s a link to Annie Dillard’s Total Eclipse. (I wonder why she named it that?) I read this essay (again) last fall after I made us reservations in Wyoming. I came out from my room with tears in my eyes to tell my family we were going to the eclipse. They all looked at me in bewilderment until one of them asked, “Um… Mom, are you crying?”

No pressure, but the Atlantic reprinting will expire the day after the eclipse, on August 22.  After that, you can find Annie’s Dillard’s essay in Teaching a Stone to Talk, and in her more recent anthology, The Abundance.

It might be too late to buy eclipse glasses, but if you already have some, double check that they meet the requirements necessary to protect your vision. For a list of vendors who have certified their filters and glasses, check here.  The glasses should say “Meets the requirement for ISO 1231202:2015.” Don’t ask me what those numbers mean. I have no idea.

If you can’t get glasses in time, you could still use the eclipse as an opportunity to study the retina and how light causes vision. Here are some resources for that: how sun damages your eyes, a 47-second video on how the retina works, and a Crash Course video on vision.

For more information on the eclipse’s path, check NASA’s site of maps, both interactive and state-by-state. NASA also has links on to how to build a safe solar viewer (for anyone who can’t get their hands on safe glasses), eclipse art projects, and educational resources, including ones specific for homeschoolers!

The Atlantic has all sorts of articles on the eclipse.  Here’s a link to their coverageSpace.com had a great article explaining why the eclipse moves west to east, instead of east to west.  The L.A. Times addressed what sort of behavior we can expect from animals during the eclipse.  And if all of that is just too much, here is a link to Space.com’s beginner’s guide to eclipse viewing (with a video from NASA).

Here’s hoping we can plant and water the seeds of wonder and curiosity in the next generation.

 

 

Summary of our 2016-7 curriculum

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This year, our kids were in 3rd, 7th, 8th and 11th grades. Our curriculum isn’t determined by those grade levels, but I list them here so you have a rough idea of who the audience is. We have 4 days/week at home, and one day in class at a homeschool school sponsored by a local charter school. My kids take mostly enrichment classes there (think Art, Music, Drama) with a few academic exceptions, but I don’t rely on it for our core subjects (reading, writing, math, history, science).

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History:

Spines:

  • Genevieve Foster: The World of Columbus and Sons
  • Genevieve Foster: The World of Captain John Smith

This is the first year we’ve made it through two entire Foster books in one school year. I chalk that up to age (the children’s, not mine) and consistency. It’s amazing how much more we can get through at 16, 14, 12 and 9 than we could at 8, 6, 4 and 2. That said, I wish I had emphasized regular narrations (written) for retention.

Additional history read-alouds:

  • Castle (Macauley)
  • Who Was Ferdinand Magellan? (Kramer)
  • Mansa Musa (Burns)
  • Longitude (Sobel)- (this one was a hit with 8th and 11th grades and NOT a hit with 3rd and 7th grades)
  • The Queen’s Promise: An Elizabethan Alphabet (Davidson Mannis)
  • The Pirate Meets the Queen: an Illustrated Tale (Faulkner)
  • Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press (Koscielniak)
  • Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama (Bass)

3rd, 7th and 8th also did two biographies on historical persons of their choice. (3rd: Aaron Burr and Hillary Clinton, 7th: Isabella of Castille and Mozart, 8th: Einstein and Abraham Lincoln). 11th grade participated in National History Day through his school.

The election

2016 was a fascinating year to learn about our electoral system. We used CNN10 (formerly CNN Student News) and Syd Sobel’s Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts, and we mapped the electoral college on election night.

Geography

We study and color maps and talk about historical changes between political boundaries in the history we study vs. how countries are now.

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Areas we studied: England, UK, Europe, North Africa, Central America and the Caribbean

We also kept a globe in the living room and hung a world map in the kitchen. We referred to them all the time, which was a vast improvement over our geography study in previous years.

Literature:

Read-Alouds:

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)- we assigned parts and read this aloud together
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)
  • Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome)
  • Greenglass House (Kate Mitford)
  • Raymie Nightengale (diCamillo)
  • daVinci and Michaelangelo (Mike Venezia)
  • Flush (Hiaasen)
  • Kira-Kira (Kadohata)
  • Echo (Munoz Ryan)
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Robinson)
  • Unfinished Angel (Creech)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)- we read this in parts, and each of us memorized a speech made by a character we read.
  • lots of older picture books (think Bill Peet, Dr. Seuss, Margaret Wise Brown, Mary Ann Hoberman, Cynthia Rylant and others) and new picture books we enjoyed, including the Zorro series by Goodrich

Everyone read other books independently every day. I’ll post on some of their favorites in a separate post.

Poetry

Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Maggie Dietz’s Pluto, Lewis Carrol’s Jaberwocky, GK Chesterton’s The Donkey, Rachel Field’s Something Told the Wild Geese, Carl Sandberg’s Fog

I feel like we started strong with poetry and then fell off the wagon in the second semester (with a slight boost during April, National Poetry Month.)

Bible:

1 Timothy, James, 1 Peter, Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree (now available as Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas), The Gospel of Mark.

Picture Study:

Picture Study is a Charlotte Mason subject. In the past we’ve been more thorough in our study, but this year we looked at the paintings 1-2 days a week, we played I Spy with them, and we reproduced a few of them. I saw it mostly as a way to familiarize the children with styles of art, and to enjoy the individual painting themselves. We didn’t put a lot of effort on this subject, but we got a big bang for our buck. I bought our post-cards from Memoria Press. We have their Kindergarten, First and Second Grade sets of postcards. I pulled these paintings from all three sets.

Titus as a Monk (Rembrandt), Five o’clock Tea (Mary Cassatt), The Stone Breakers (Courbet), Paris Street: Rainy Day (Caillebotte), Still Life with Apples and Oranges (Cezanne), Three Musicians (Picasso), The Goldfish (Matisse), A Girl with a Watering Can (Renoir), The Fighting Temeraire (Turner), Rain, Steel and Speed: The Great Western Railway (Turner), Golden Eagle (Audubon), Starry Night over Rhone (Van Gogh), God Creates Adam from the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel (Michelangelo), The Last Supper (da Vinci), View of Paris from Montmartre (Dufy), The Thinker (Rodin), The Peaceable Kingdom (Hicks), Tree of Life (Tiffany), Umbrellas in the Rain (Prendergast), The Little Owl and (Durer).

A special day of Picture Study was when we visited the Masterworks Exhibit at the medical school- a collection of amazing paintings and sculptures collected by some physicians on the faculty. It was a great exhibit in a very intimate setting.

Field Trips:

Reykjavik, Iceland

London: The British Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court, The Tower of London, Greenwich including the Cutty Sark museum, Harry Potter’s World.

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Concerts and Plays- In the Heights, Wicked, The Proms (Mozart and Bruckner).

Other field trips: skiing, the DAM (The Art of Venice, and Star Wars Costumes), Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Kindness

Videos

  • Nature’s The World Without Amphibians
  • CNN10 (10 minutes of non-partisan middle-school appropriate news)
  • This Day in History
  • Crash Course History with John Green

Math:

  • 3rd grade: Singapore Primary 3A/3B
  • 7th Grade: Singapore NEM 1
  • 8th Grade: Singapore NEM 2
  • 11th grade: AP Calculus BC through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers

Foreign Language:

  • 7th grade French:
  • 7th/8th grades: Spanish through our once a week school
  • 11th grade: Latin: translating Julius Caesar through Memoria Press’s Online Academy, and the National Latin Exam
  • 11th Grade: Biblical Greek 1 through Memoria Press’s Online Academy

Science:

  • 7th and 11th grades: Environmental Science through our once a week school
  • 7th and 8th grades: Focus on Middle School Physics (Keller)
  • 3rd Grade: Real Science-4-Kids Physics (Keller)

Additional classes for our 11th grader:

US Government (fall semester): de Toqueville: Democracy in America; Hamilton, Madison and Jay: The Federalist Papers. Various: The U.S. Constitution, readings drawn from The Washington Post and The Economist, satire from Stephen Colbert, SNL, Trevor Noah and Seth Meyers.

This class focused on the set-up of the US government and the checks and balances put in place. Additionally, we spent a lot of time talking about the tensions between states’ rights and a strong federal government.

AP Comparative Governments and Politics (spring semester):

For this class, I combined several of the online class syllabi available at the College Board. His spine was Introduction to Comparative Politics: Political Challenges and Changing Agendas (Kesselman, Krieger and Joseph). (They’re changing the class for 2018, so make sure to check in before you design your curriculum.)

Other readings included:

  • Baer: The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower
  • Schell: Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the 21st Century
  • Fukuyama: Women and the Evolution of World Politics
  • Friedman: The Lexus and the Olive Tree
  • Marx: The Communist Manifesto
  • Machiavelli: The Prince
  • Dahl: On Democracy
  • Economist special editions on Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, China, UK, Brexit, and Iran
  • Preston and Dillon: Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy
  • Breaking the Cycle of Electoral Violence in Nigeria (pdf)
  • Special Hearing on instability in Nigeria (pdf)
  • Zakaria: The Rise of Illiberal Democracy (from Foreign Affairs, pdf)
  • Lots of news online (esp. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, and the BBC)

I think this was his favorite class, despite (or because of?) the heavy reading load. The readings (I got all of them from the AP site and my amazing dad) were excellent, and with the unfortunate instability in many parts of the world, it made for a fascinating class.

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Coloring in the Electoral College Map on November 8, 2016.

Introduction to Grant Writing

He had an opportunity to be work on writing grants for a non-profit run by friends of ours. We used two books as introductory spines:

  • O’Neal-McElrath: Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing and Writing Successful Proposals
  • Karsh: The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need

We also reviewed other grant applications from a variety of sources.

This class was a huge stretch for him and not an unqualified success. By no means did his drafts of the grant proposals go in without major editing, but it was a great opportunity for him to have to think about writing within very specific constraints.

His (and my) favorite part of the class with the non-profit he worked with, Foster Source, which provides support, practical help, and education for local foster families. He had an opportunity to provide child care, meet amazing foster families, and learn about the incredible (and often invisible) needs right in front of us. We will continue to be involved with this great organization even after his class is done.

Other writing for him this year included a major paper for National History Day, and completing NaNoWriMo in November.

All right, that’s all for this year. For previous years’ curricula, please see my pages (links by year, at the top of the blog.)