Monday, August 11, 2014

July 2014 Book Reports

God King: A Story in the Days of King Hezekiah by Joanne Williamson will be a history read-aloud for us next year. There are a few battle scenes that might be a little scary for the girls (who will be 6 and 8) but I think they'll be alright if I talk through them. This book is excellent and I'm looking forward to reading it with the kids. (purchased copy, I believe I bought this directly from Bethlehem Books. They have great sales so if you are interested in their books request their emails or follow them on facebook.)

Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe is a classic. It was interesting to think about how it would have been like to read it when it was first published and contemplating what it might have to say to us today. (I don't have any great insights to share; it was just thought-provoking.) (playaway from the library)

Still Life with Dirty Dishes: poems
by Ramona McCallum is a book of poetry by a Kansas poet with young children. A great many of the poems seemed to reflect my own life and I enjoyed the book tremendously. The title poem is still my favorite. You can read it online here. (library copy, purchased after I requested it)

The Smart Martha's Guide for Busy Moms by Tami Kiser (inter-library loan)

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton surfaced in my searches for books set in Africa for First Son to read this upcoming year. I read it myself in eighth grade but couldn't remember much of it, so I thought I'd refresh my memory even though it's not one I would ask him to read. It's heartbreakingly beautiful. I listened to most of it and loved the reader's interpretation in the the audio version. (audio CD from the library, library copy for the chapters on one of the discs which wouldn't play for me)

Burning for Revenge by John Marsden, the fifth book in the Tomorrow series, which I'm reviewing for another website. (library copy)

The Idea of a University by Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman (Kansas Dad's copy from a library sale, which I managed to almost destroy)

Champion: A Legend Novel by Marie Lu is the third book in the Legend trilogy. It managed to be better than the second book and a much better ending than the Divergent series. I read this to review on another site. (library copy)

Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde was predictable, but sweet, a nice book to read over the summer. (borrowed for free from Kindle Owners' Lending Library, since replaced by Kindle Unlimited, which is not free)

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig (a review for Blogging for Books)

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson (library copy)

A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review: A Little Way of Homeschooling

A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres

This is Suzie Andres’s second book, building on Homeschooling with Gentleness. In the first book, she presented arguments supporting her belief that unschooling is one of many methods of homeschooling acceptable and appropriate for Catholic families and she described a little how that looked in her own family.

This book expands on the theme by presenting chapters by eight Catholic families that unschool and five Catholic families that incorporate some aspects of unschooling. Many of these families are large or deal with illness or disability, a nice complement to Suzie’s own small family of two boys so far apart that the first one was going off to college as the second one started school.

I do not have an unschooling personality. Even the thought of it makes me a little anxious. I like my year planned out in advance with readings for each day in nice neat (and very large) Excel spreadsheets. It’s good for me to read this sort of book to remind myself that planning to the exclusion of listening to my children could foster disenchantment with learning and faith. In the most extreme cases, it could damage our relationships with each other.

One of my favorite quotes is from Cindy Kelly (who writes on her blog here)
When I was a teenager and in college, I only knew one thing: how to play the game. I knew that if I got A’s and pleased professors, I would advance, and I did. I wish I had known that while it is fine to play the game, the game is not the goal. The goal is finding God’s will for me and my place in the world.
If our goal is seeking God and his will for our lives (and it is), then our homeschooling choices should point toward that goal.  To that end, I have been thinking even more carefully about what we’ll be doing next year.

One revelation I had while reading was the thought that textbooks are written to fit the traditional school year. Of course I knew that before, but I suddenly realized the math book had lessons for the whole year not because they were all appropriate for the student but because they had a certain number of days to fill. I don't want our lesson plans to be like that. So I wrote lesson plans but I will be discerning as we go whether the lessons we do each week are leading us to God or if there is something better we could be doing with our time. I have a lot of history on our schedule this year and we might spread the readings out more even if we don't finish it all. I don't have any grammar on our schedule this year, but First Son will be doing some more writing and I will try to teach him a little grammar as we go along. Or not. We'll see.

At the end, the author reminds us that the beautiful words we read are only a part of the women who wrote them:
We are just like you, wondering what in the world we will put together for dinner tonight. We are just like you, and not entirely sure of ourselves. We may write long books and thoughtful Internet posts proclaiming the goodness and freedom of unschooling; at the end of the day we still lie in bed exhausted and wonder if our children are learning what they should.
Much of the book describes following the Little Way of St. Therese and the example of St. John Bosco, a great teacher of orphan boys in the 1800s. These thoughts are most fitting for Catholics, though both of these saints have insights into human character that many non-Catholic educators would find interesting if not enlightening. For example, Don Bosco writes:
It is certainly easier to lose one’s temper than to be patient; threaten young people rather than reason with them. I would say that it better suits our lack of patience and our pride to punish those who resist us, rather than bear with them firmly and with kindness.
The booklists at the end are excellent, divided into categories on St. Therese, unschooling, Catholic homeschooling and general homeschooling, education, and more.

It was a joy to read this book and I highly recommend it. As a side note, Hillside Education did a wonderful job printing and binding this book. It's beautiful.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book Review: The Idea of a University

The Idea of A University by Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

I spent months slowly reading this book. It was a pleasure to read, with plenty of small quips and carefully explained and defended ideas. It's the kind of book that rewards the careful reader and deserves a measured approach. I usually read only one or two sections at a time, sometimes only three pages.

As I read this book, I thought carefully about the kind of university education I want my children to have, and therefore the kind of education we should provide, the kind of environment we should create, to foster the love of learning and of the faith we desire for our children.

I'm not sure this post qualifies as a review as much as simply a statement that I finally finished the book. You can browse my quote tag for excerpts I wanted to share, but this post has my favorite.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review: The Sense of Wonder

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson, with photographs by Nick Kelsh

This book's brief text is lavishly illustrated by nature photographs. Published posthumously, it encourages the reader to step outside with young people, even very young people. For those of us who hope to infuse nature study into our homeschools, it's a short book full of inspiration.
I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused--a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love--then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.
I emphasized that last sentence. I believe it's true: that to be outside even without a guide book or any knowledge of the plants or bugs or birds, is more important that to sit inside and read about them. I'd much rather sit inside myself, though, and therefore I must fight this lethargy year after year.
The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig

I had read glowing reviews of this book on other blogs and glanced through the book enough to decide I wanted to try it with the kids next year for our Shakespeare studies. I was thrilled to find the new paperback version available at Blogging for Books and requested it immediately.

Ken Ludwig has written a fantastic book for all parents interested in sharing Shakespeare with their children. These are exactly the methods he used successfully with his own two children, now young adults, though he was not a homeschooling dad. Instead, they delved into Shakespeare in their free time on weekends and in the evenings. Though the strategy is memorization, the true strength of this method is how understanding the meaning of the passages, their context within the plays, and the genius of Shakespeare's language is intertwined with the passages.
...I became convinced that the way into the subject--the way to introduce someone to Shakespeare for the first time so that it doesn't feel daunting and yet has real integrity--is to memorize it. First a few lines, then whole speeches.
The books is designed for the parent to read first, then share the passage and information with the children. Links are provided for resources as well, pages to print as memorization aids and recordings of Shakespearean actors reading the passages, for those of us unsure of pronunciation. The author explains every passage so anyone, even someone who feels daunted by reading Shakespeare themselves, can understand the meaning of the selections.

What I love most of all about this book is the example the author has given us of how to share a passion with children. Mr. Ludwig's delight in Shakespeare and his awe of Shakespeare's abilities permeate the text so much that I found myself delighted and awed as well at all the same things. It seems impossible to present Shakespeare in such a way and not foster a love of language in our children.

This is not a course of study. There are not explicit lessons for each week and day of the school year, but I think a homeschooling parent can easily adapt this book for homeschooling. I intend to simply start at the beginning and work our way through the passages. When we've memorized one (myself included!), we'll move on to the next. (My oldest two will be in fifth grade and second grade, but I think the book can be used with children of any ages, though some of the later passages are more appropriate in content for older children.) I anticipate years of enjoyment from the 25 passages in this book (and a bonus 26th and lists in the back of additional passages to explore and memorize). I will probably also introduce some of his recommended books for children every once in a while. At the end of the book, it's not about being able to pass a test on Shakespeare or incorporate quotations into college writing papers, though you might be able to do that; it's about building a foundation of Shakespeare in a child that will foster a desire to learn more for the rest of his or her life.

This book is also a gem for anyone interested in Shakespeare. I never studied any of his plays after high school and have seen very few of them performed. I would hardly know where to start now given the plethora of books and movies and performances. The appendices in this book include annotated lists of books for children, books for teachers and parents, films, and audio recordings. After finishing the book, there was nothing I wanted to do more than start reading, watching, and listening to all of his recommendations.

You can read more about the book here and more about the author here or on his website.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions above are my own.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Smart Martha's Catholic Guide for Busy Moms

Smart Martha's Catholic Guide for Busy Moms by Tami Kiser

For some reason (that would be not reading the description completely), I expected this book to focus more on how to like Mary than how to be organized. It's actually an organizational book written to help moms (especially Catholic or Christian moms) shape their homes and responsibilities around their families rather than the other way around.

I am a Martha, you see. I have always been a Martha, but having children made the mean Martha in me come out even more. In just the past few years, I have been paying closer attention to the areas of our lives that cause me to start focusing more on stuff like how clean the house is rather than keeping the house clean enough so I can spend time with my family. I really do not want to be the kind of mom who yells at her kids to clean up all the time or who stresses out so much about a mess that I never let them use glue. If I don't keep an eye on my anxiety levels and plan accordingly, I am totally that mom.

I've read a bunch of organizing books and spend plenty of time skimming Pinterest for ideas for problem spots, so I was surprised to find some great ideas. One of the best so far has been the chore wheel. I should have taken a picture of mine, but you can find a bunch of them online like this one. Ours is just for dinner and is only for the three oldest (the youngest of whom needs mom or dad to closely supervise). It's already cut down on arguments about whose turn it is.

The best thing about this planning and organizing book is how the focus is not on being super-planned or super-organized, but about meeting the minimum needs of your family so you can actually spend time with your family, so you can be at your best (and the kids are at their best) for playing games or enjoying dinner together or taking a nature walk.

She's also reasonable.
Deciding which activities to be involved in is by no means an easy process. It's a balancing act that parents have to perform. Often, both choice are right: you are okay if you do sign up for Little League, and you are okay if you don't.
I also found lots of great ideas for handling technology and issues that grow as the children grow. I don't have teenagers yet, but I'm closer than I used to be! I liked reading a little about what we can expect, some proactive ideas, and (maybe most of all) the assurance that all these opportunities for growth do not have to be huge battlegrounds.

Friday, July 18, 2014

7 Quick Tales Vol 9: Summer Excitement and a Link to a Book Giveaway

We recently finished a week of swimming lessons. Juggling our summer commitments and four kids all at different ability levels had me frustrated with our local pool lesson offerings. At the advice of a friend, we opted for private lessons this year and they were wonderful in so many ways! The kids learned a great deal, the lessons themselves were incredibly relaxing for me, and it was only one week instead of two.


One day we packed a picnic lunch and spent the afternoon at a local lake. The kids were thrilled and, later, exhausted.

We also recently visited Grammy and PawPaw's neighborhood pool for the first time this summer. We still need to find time to visit a water park or the summer water fun will be incomplete.

We celebrated the Fourth of July with another water fight, of course. It's tradition!

Kansas Dad set up a tent in the backyard and had a sleep-out with the kids. They were a little excited. Can you tell?

As if that weren't enough excitement, we also took the kids to the county fair. We hadn't been to a county fair since First Son was little (maybe before First Daughter was born), though they've been to the state fair a few times. For the first time, we bought bracelets for the kids and let them ride and ride and ride. We probably spent two and a half hours just on the rides. I think First Son and I rode the carousel about twenty-five times in a row. Those were some happy kids! (Until we took them home and put them to bed and tried to make them be civil to each other the next day.)

Earlier this week, I decided to devote an entire day to errands. I'm not sure why I felt inspired to do this. Kansas Dad filled the van with donations and things to sell. I loaded up the four kids. Off we went! Through the course of the day, we made four donations, delivered one political campaign sign, sold items at a resale shop, returned items at one store, shopped at three housewares or office stores, had lunch (at which First Son ate for an hour, ingesting about twice as much food as I did), spent an hour at a candy store, and met Kansas Dad for an afternoon frozen yogurt treat (not quite in that order). At which point the younger two children and I limped home while the others made a final stop to look for birthday presents from brother and sister to brother and sister.

The 10-year-old displayed a shocking lack of patience while the 3-almost-4-year-old staged a violent sit-in at one of the stores when I refused to give him an entire bag of cookies I had bought for the four of them to share. The 7-year-old alternated between complete silliness and attempting to herd her brothers and sister like a mama. The 5-almost-6-year-old alternated between running away from me and antagonizing her younger brother. My feet and knee ached.

So we were all showing our age.

It wasn't as bad as it sounds. For the most part they were reasonably behaved children. The employees at the stores and restaurants were always gracious.

I can't decide if I should challenge myself to always mention at least one book when I do a quick takes post or if I should challenge myself to never mention a book in a quick takes post. I'll leave the debate for next time and let you know you still have a few days to enter to win a copy of Ben Hatke's not-yet-released book Julia's House for Lost Creatures at his blog, Art and Adventure. We love Zita the Spacegirl and I'm so excited for his new book!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

June 2014 Book Reports

Prodigy: A Legend Novel by Marie Lu is a young adult dystopian novel, the sequel to Legend. There's nothing amazing here; it's pretty standard fare. I read this to review it for another website. (library copy)

The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time by Lawrence Lovasik. I've linked to the review. (inter-library loan)

Something Other than God by Jennifer Fulwiler. I've linked to the review. (library copy)

Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery by Rachel Adams is a book written about her second son, born unexpectedly with Down syndrome. For the most part, I found it a touching memoir, honest about her mixed feelings regarding her son. It's odd to me someone can be nearly certain she would have aborted her son if she had known of his condition, be incredibly delighted with him now that he is here, and yet have no qualms about increasing testing so other women can avoid life with a child just like hers. (library copy)

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy. I've linked to the review. (library copy)

Awakening and Rebellion by Karen Sandler are the second and third books in the Tankborn series. I read them to review them for another website. I was disappointed in the prominence of same gender couples in the second and, especially, the third books. (library copies)

The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw is one of the books First Son will be reading next year. I had considered it for a family read-aloud, but I think it might be a little too much for the girls: child abuse, abandonment, threat of death, and a scary trek through a tomb. I think First Son will be fine reading it in fifth grade and it's full of interesting ancient Egyptian life as well as courage and friendships. (copy from

Books in Progress (and date started)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Quote: The Idea of a University (Discourse IX)

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman in the ninth discourse of The Idea of a University, in part eight:
If then a University is a direct preparation for this world, let it be what it professes. It is not a Convent, it is not a Seminary; it is a place to fit men of the world for the world. We cannot possibly keep them from plunging into the world, with all its ways and principles and maxims, when their time comes; but we can prepare them against what is inevitable; and it is not the way to learn to swim in troubled waters, never to have gone into them. Proscribe (I do not merely say particular authors, particular works, particular passages) but Secular Literature as such; cut out from your class books all broad manifestations of the natural man; and those manifestations are waiting for your pupil's benefit at the very doors of your lecture room in living and breathing substance. They will meet him there in all the charm of novelty, and all the fascination of genius or of amiableness.

Friday, June 27, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol 8: 6 Random Thoughts and a Picture

Earlier this week, I received a big box from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts. Nestled inside, surrounded by homeschooling books for next year, was my birthday book (the book I selected this year to buy with my birthday money), The Little Oratory. I've flipped through it a little and it looks just wonderful! I've promised myself I'm going to finish The Idea of A University first, though.

Speaking of Sophia Institute Press (publisher of The Little Oratory), they are having a nice sale with lots of $10 books$5 books, and a $5 flat rate shipping. It includes a few of my favorite books like A Life of Our Lord for Children, The Year and Our Children, and The Young People's Book of Saints. First Daughter will be reading that last book next year in second grade for her saints study. (I don't receive anything if you make any purchases.)

The two older kids have been at Totus Tuus all week, our parish's version of vacation Bible school. It's a wonderful time of fellowship with our community, but oh my! It is exhausting! There has been much wailing at the slightest provocation (from the kids, of course, never me; I'm not exhausted at all...oh wait). I'll be happy when the week is over, though we're following up with a week of swimming lessons so perhaps we're only jumping from the fire into the frying pan (slightly less painful but still not what you'd call relaxing).

I spent the first three days this week working with some of the other catechists in our Atrium. We pulled everything out, washed all the cabinets, shelves, and materials, and reorganized the Level 2 and Level 3 materials to make room for the new ones. The room looks beautiful and (almost) ready for next year. We were so productive we were able to focus on finishing up some of the materials on the third day. I feel so blessed my children will have a Level 3 Atrium, but also very glad to be happily teaching Level 1 myself.

Summer is such a good time for nature study. Without any real effort on my part, we've been noticing things. At a small suggestion, the children are eager to pull out their nature notebooks for some drawing. This week I found a brown recluse spider in the cabinet, trapped in an apparently slippery bowl. The kids were fascinated and loved showing it off to the Totus Tuus team members. They all sketched it in their notebooks, too.

--- 5 ---

We have a lot of birds right now. Kansas Dad butchered three earlier this week, but we still have a batch of laying hens (though still too young to lay any eggs), a young batch of meat birds, a second batch of meat birds, and ten keets (baby guineas). Eventually we will have eggs and meat to show for them, but for the moment the meat birds offer a nice greeting to anyone who comes to our door.

Second Son recently had his eyes checked under the See to Learn program. An optomotrist will examine your three-year-old's eyes for free. There are quite a few conditions they can treat more easily if they are detected early. (You can find a list of participating providers online.) He did really well, though he kept calling the duck picture a giraffe.

In other health-related news, First Son recently learned his braces will come off in August. Hooray all around! He's already coming up with a list of all the foods he wants to eat that have been taboo for the past year.

I think I'm out of takes, so you'll have to make do with a picture I found on First Son's camera recently.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!