Friday, June 29, 2012

Homeschool Review: Jesus Our Life (Faith and Life 2)

Jesus Our Life (Faith and Life 2) from Ignatius Press

I used the Revised Edition. Last year, the Third Edition was published to incorporate the changes to the liturgy of the new Roman Missal. The changes can be downloaded in an Adobe file from the Ignatius website here.

We used Our Heavenly Father (Faith and Life 1) in first grade. You can read my review of it here.

Jesus Our Life has 34 chapters. The early chapters begin with the most basic concepts and incorporate Bible stories to show salvation history. In many ways, it repeats concepts introduced in the first book. Personally, I like this cyclical approach in catechism as much as I like it in math. First Son hears slightly more complicated information each year, building on his knowledge and understanding.

Later chapters focus more on the sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, appropriate for a second grade text. (Most Catholic children will receive these sacraments for the first time in second grade, as we do at our parish.) I liked the chapters on Reconciliation especially, though I think they come a little late in the year. Children should be practicing the actual steps of Reconciliation for at least a few weeks before their first confession, so it would probably need to be introduced before these chapters are read. Similarly, by the time we reached the chapters on the Eucharist, we'd already covered all the information in great depth in our sacrament preparation. We ended up skipping the chapters that explained the parts of the Mass, the articles of the Mass and the words of the Mass.

If I were using only Jesus Our Life, I would be tempted to begin with Reconciliation (chapter 17) and work through the end of the book, then return to the beginning for the remainder of the year.  Personally, though, I would not consider Jesus Our Life as sufficient for sacrament preparation (First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion). It does a solid job of imparting knowledge of concepts like the soul, the Trinity, and original sin (just from the first few chapters), but it's not very good at developing a great love for the sacraments. Hopefully I'll have a chance to post about our sacrament preparation later.

One of the aspects I loved best about Our Heavenly Father was the beautiful artwork included in each chapter. Other than a few photographs of the Mass, the pictures were all reproductions of famous paintings depicting appropriate Bible stories and they were lovely. Sadly, Jesus Our Life is instead illustrated with cheesy watercolors. At their worst, they are bad, but even at their best they are entirely forgettable. I'm not an expert of art history, but I cannot imagine there were not paintings that would have fit the themes. I happen to have the third and fourth books already, both of which revert to the paintings as illustrations.

I used the teacher's manual extensively in first grade. We had catechism two to four days a week and I incorporated many of the recommended activities. Because we focused two days a week on sacrament preparation in second grade, I did not have additional time for supplemental activities and we just read through the chapter and (usually) narrated it in one setting.

I also did not use the activity book this year, mainly because I didn't want to buy two copies and I didn't want to discuss every week why First Daughter did not also receive any activity sheets.

In first and second grade, we used the catechism questions provided in each chapter. I typed them up and printed them one chapter to a sheet of paper, placing them in our memory binder. When First Son memorized a chapter's questions, we moved it to our review tabs (first every other day, then once a week, then once a month or so). I liked the method, but was a little frustrated that the questions and answers were nearly the same every year, but not quite. Next year, both First Son and First Daughter will be memorizing questions and answers from the new Baltimore Catechisms. We'll stick with the same questions for a number of years. We will still read and discuss the questions and answers in our Faith and Life books.

You can learn more about the entire Faith and Life series on their website. The Faith and Life series is also available online through My Catholic Faith Delivered. I have heard good things about the online courses, but have decided against them myself, mainly for cost reasons. I can purchase the student textbooks for around $10 new or less used (two of them have been free from other homeschool parents) and use them for all of my children. The online subscription only covers one child for one year.

Ignatius Press has provided nothing in exchange for this review. I receive nothing if you follow any of these links, make a purchase, or subscribe to the online courses.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Uncle Jed's Barbershop

Uncle Jed's Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell, illustrated by James Ransome

I discovered this book a few years ago, when we read through American history in picture books for First Son's kindergarten year. I checked it out again as I was planning our financial history course for next year as it's a wonderful example of working and saving toward a business goal.

Uncle Jed is a traveling barber, serving the black community at a time of sharecropping and segregation. He is always saving his earnings to invest in a barbershop of his own. He sacrifices savings for his family. He suffers a total loss in the Great Depression. Yet he perseveres. It's a beautiful story, lovingly illustrated.

As with all great picture books, it introduces us to a range of issues like race relations, discrimination, family, sacrifice, dedication and perseverance, all seemingly without effort. They are simply part of the story. As a real tale based on the life of the author's great-uncle, it appeals especially to my kids who love to hear about real people.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (36th Ed.)

1. Mr. Clean Magic Erasers - I forgot to mention these last week. I used six of them to clean off all the pencil marks and crayon drawings Second Daughter had done on the walls and doors in our house. I avoided them for a long time because I thought they might have chemicals in them, but then I read they work by abrasion (like sandpaper). They did take off some paints, but I was willing to make the trade.

2. They turned the sprinklers on at the donut club this week.

3. I took the kids to a small water park and we all had a fantastic time!

4. I passed the fit test for P90X. (Kansas Dad blew the test away.)

5. Second Daughter asking Second Son to hold her hand in the van.

6. Blowing bubbles on Grammy's front lawn after Sunday dinner.

This week is Totus Tuus!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Homeschool Review: Primary Language Lessons

Primary Language Lessons by Emma Serl, updated and reprinted by Hillside Education

This book is recommended by Mater Amabilis in Level 1A for second and third grade. We completed lessons 1 through 82 in second grade and will finish the remaining lessons in third grade. The exercises become more complicated as the book progresses.  In second grade, I spread the lessons out. Usually we had grammar three times a week, but every third week or so we'd have only two lessons. I think we had fewer during Advent as well.

The Hillside edition of this book is a spiral-bound paperback, about 8" by 10". I love the spiral binding because it made it so easy to lay the book open on the table and read together from it or copy from it. In addition, many of the paintings in this edition are in color. The lessons vary between narration, poetry, picture study, conversations, fill-in-the-blanks and discussions about word choices and very basic grammar. An answer key is available on the Hillside website, though I don't think I ever used it.

The grammar lessons in this book are wonderfully simple and conversational. Usually, an exercise that focused on grammar would show a few example sentences and then provide some leading questions to allow the student to discover the element of grammar for him- or herself. Often, it would be followed by a few sentences for additional practice. As the year progresses, there are lessons on the comma, capital letters, initials, and sentences (to name a few).

I also appreciated the word choice lessons. Without expanding on tenses and conjugations, the lessons allow the student to get a sense of whether "is" or "are" should be used, whether "a" or "an," "eat" or "ate" or "eaten." Of course the language to describe the differences should be taught eventually, but it seems to me it will be much easier if the student can already tell what the choice should be. There are also word choice lessons for homophones like "their" and "there."

Many of the lessons are conversations between the student and the teacher, discussing a poem, a painting, a parable or merely something of interest like the student's favorite season. The topic of the conversation is not nearly as important as the process the student employs to organize and deliver their thoughts. In our lessons, I always asked First Son to tell his stories or compositions rather than write them so we could focus on the thought process rather than the physical process of getting his thoughts on paper. (Sometimes I would type them for him.)

Many of the poems are meant to be memorized. Some of them I typed out for our memory binder, but most of them we just read together. In third grade, I'm going to ask First Son to read them aloud. He will be able to practice enunciation and inflection.

We modified this program quite a bit as we went along. It seems to advance quite rapidly in dictation and composition. First Son struggled with these skills in particular and I found Writing with Ease to give us a better structure for learning them. (See my review of Year One of Writing with Ease here.) I also decreased the amount of writing in the program (actual physical handwriting) for First Son in second grade because I didn't want to overwhelm him. It was very simple to change the exercises to oral ones rather than written. As the year progressed, we would complete them orally and then I'd have him write a certain number of them out. I think the physical act of writing is helpful in instilling a feel for the correct use of words in complete sentences and I didn't want him to miss out on that completely.

I really like this book and it's gentle introduction to grammar. We end up touching on grammar in a number of ways in second grade (and next year in third grade) but if I could only keep one, it would be this one.

I did not receive anything in exchange for this review. I purchased the book myself. I do not receive anything if you follow a link to Hillside and make a purchase. You can also find a different edition of Primary Language Lessons on Amazon for a bit less, but I would highly recommend the Hillside one if you have a bit of leeway in your budget.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Book Review: Reviving Ophelia

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, PhD

In this book, Dr. Pipher argues our American culture with its obsession with body size, promiscuity, and violence has critically damaged the souls of teenage girls. Published in 1994, it is arguably out-of-date, but I was interested in reading it as I was a teenage girl in the 1990s. My own teenage years were relatively stable and, though Kansas Dad says I'm thinking too far ahead, I'd like to do all I can to ensure my own girls have stable teenage years as well.

Dr. Pipher's book is based mainly on anecdotes and case studies provided by her clinical work with teenage girls in distress. Many of these stories are depressing and overwhelming, so should be read with some caution, especially for teenagers themselves. Because she very rarely works with well-adjusted young women, I think Dr. Pipher might be overestimating the effects on young women as a whole in our culture. There is no doubt in my mind that some teenage girls suffer in the ways she describes, but I think a great many teenage girls survive the onslaught of culture and the pressures of adolescence without such trauma.

That is not to say that I believe Dr. Pipher is incorrect in much of her assessment against contemporary media. While reading this book, I watched advertisements and television shows more carefully. I found a great many of her critiques still applied. Women, even strong women in prominent positions (doctors, lawyers, judges) are nearly universally young, slim, beautiful and sexy. One show in particular showed a strong black judge who ended the show wearing a firefighter's jersey, singing and dancing suggestively on a stage. Seriously. Perhaps it's unreasonable to expect anything else of a television show written and filmed to appeal to viewers and advertisers, but we don't have to let our children watch it.

I was disappointed at the lack of footnotes or end notes, especially given the number of statistics she quotes. They would all be out-of-date by now, but I do think it indicates a lack of scholarship. I searched a little online and found the CDC website with current information that is nearly as distressing as what she quotes in the book.

Only one conservative family appears in the book, which receives praise from Dr. Pipher for its well-adjusted daughter and criticism for how it infringes on her independence and creativity. It is unfortunate she could not find a more reasonable example.

Dr. Pipher was clear on her belief that divorce is bad for children, something many people are reluctant to admit.
In the late 1970s I believed that children were better off with happy single parents rather than unhappy married parents. I thought divorce was a better option than struggling with a bad marriage. Now I realize that, in many families, children may not notice if their parents are unhappy or happy. On the other hand, divorce shatters many children.
In addition, while Dr. Pipher does not want to exclude physical intimacy entirely, she admits it doesn't seem to be a good idea.
By high school, some girls may be mature enough to be sexually active, but my experience is that the more mature and healthy girls avoid sex. Because of my work, I see the unhappiness of early sexual intimacy--the sadness and anger at rejection, the pain over bad reputations, the pregnancies, the health problems and the cynicism of girls who have had every conceivable sexual experience except a good one. I'm prepared to acknowledge exceptions, but most early sexual activity in our culture tends to be harmful to girls.
Personally, I think she's being too careful here. I'd say it's a bad idea for all adolescent girls.

Dr. Pipher calls for a change in our culture, for the creation of a society where women have the independence, freedom and choices of our contemporary time with the safety and community of a generation ago. I think that sounds great, but probably unrealistic. We can as parents, however, create that kind of environment for our own daughters at home. Reading this book has given me a few ideas on ways to do that, though there are probably plenty of other books that would be just as helpful.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Peter Spier's Rain

Peter Spier's Rain, a wordless book

In this delightful picture book, Peter Spier shows a brother and sister immersing themselves in a rainstorm. Their mother sends them forth clad in raincoats and rain boots, armed with an umbrella large enough for two. As the book progresses, they seem to explore the entire rainy world...animals, playgrounds, splashes and drops. Every time we look through it, I want desperately to be one of those children, and I think my children do as well.

Then, they come inside to the warmth. They bathe, drink hot chocolate, eat cookies, and enjoy the rest of the rainy day with books and blocks and even a little television. The stormy night is followed by a beautiful day. And lots of rain puddles.

Peter Spier's illustrative style is detailed. The two-page spreads often include up to twelve or thirteen scenes.

A perfect book for springtime. Or anytime.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Recipe and a Product Review: Muffin Scoop

For my birthday last year, I received this OXO Good Grips Large Cookie Scoop from my brother and his family (which his wife selected for me, of course).

I love it.

I use it all the time.

I tried it for cookies, but it makes huge cookies, which First Son prefers to make by hand and I prefer not to make (because eating more cookie is not really something I need to do).

It is perfect for muffins. I make a lot of muffins here on the Range, so it gets a lot of use. Every time I pull it out and squeeze batter into the muffin pan, I am happy. 

I usually use slightly rounded scoops, which is less than most muffin recipes expect, so a 12-muffin batter will often make 18 for me. I like that because I'm not throwing away as much gnawed muffin when my toddler is done with it, but I also don't have to listen to him complain as I would if I cut a larger muffin in half for him. It's also nice for portion control for bigger people.

The handle for this scoop needs only a little pressure and the batter comes right out.

The muffin pan, full of perfectly shaped batter scoops.

Beautiful muffins!

I also love using the muffin scoop when I use my mini-loaf pan (like this one) or small loaves (these, and they are truly fabulous). I use two scoops for a mini-loaf and three for a small one. If I don't mix it together with a knife, they break right into halves or thirds at the table, which my girls think is fun.

Now, so you have something to try out when you buy your own muffin scoop, I'm finally posting my Banana Bread on the Range recipe. I've adapted this recipe from one that was in a Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, but one that is long out of print and they no longer include the original recipe. (I no longer have the original book, either, because the first copy was set on fire and the second one fell apart. I salvaged a few of our favorite pages when I realized the new edition didn't include some of our favorite recipes.) I long ago modified the original so I think it's acceptable for me to print it on the blog.

Kansas Mom's Banana Nut Bread
Makes 27 muffins using a slightly rounded scoop with the OXO Good Grips Large Cookie Scoop, leaving a tiny bit in the bowl for little helpers to taste. I also often make 1 loaf and 18 muffins or 2 loaves and 6 muffins...whatever works for you.

4-6 medium bananas (6 is best), as ripe as you can get them (frozen is fine)
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp lemon extract (optional; you could also use some finely shredded lemon peel)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup ground flaxseed
2 tbsp wheat germ (optional)
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin and/or loaf pans with cooking spray.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, bananas, sugar, cooking oil, and lemon extract.

3. Add dry ingredients, up through the flours. (I add them in the order listed, right into the mixing bowl.) Mix until almost combined.

4. Add the chopped nuts. Mix just until you don't see any more flour. (Ideally, you'd mix these in by hand, but I'm too dependent on my PowerAid mixer.)

5. Spoon into the prepared pans or use the muffin scoop.

6. Bake loaves for about 45-55 minutes, muffins for 18-24 (depending on your oven, pan sizes and how you've filled them).

This is a very forgiving recipe. The last time I made it, I ran out of nuts, so I substituted shredded coconut for the rest and it turned out great. Early in my marriage, I once made it without salt or baking soda. (I have no idea how that happened.) A sprinkle of salt and 30 seconds in the microwave and it was just fine. More recently, I forgot the sugar until after it was in the loaf pan. I just mixed it in and it was fine.

As written above, this is a good solid recipe you can feel good about feeding to your kids every day at snack-time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What I Loved about Last Week (35th Ed.)

1. Kansas Dad came home! (Oh, wait, I wrote about that last week.)

2. Donut club at our parish. We were all able to do this week and it was just lovely playing out in the sunshine.

3. A good conference call for work.

4. Chicks again! We had the opportunity to order chicks along with some friends. They've been chick-sitting for us for three weeks and now it's our turn while they're on vacation. When they return, they'll take their 5 and we'll have about 25. Eggs in six months. Yum!

5. Second Son reading a story to his friends, complete with light saber.

6. Friends visiting! We had a wonderful visit from dear dear friends from Boston. They and their four children stayed with us for two days on their way to a family gathering in Denver. We ate and played. We visited the science museum and walked along the river. We had a picnic and a bonfire. We played at the park. It was a blessing to have them stay with us and I do hope we are able to return the visit someday.
7. A lovely dinner out with a couple from our parish. They treated us to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants and had all nine of our kids stay with their baby-sitter (who's a wonderful young woman). The kids had a great time and so did the parents.

8. Father's Day with Kansas Dad and his parents. We enjoyed a delicious lunch and ice cream cake. It's been a while since we've been to their house for Sunday lunch and the children were very excited to play in the basement.

We have a quiet week next week - summer reading program, the donut club and a workday at church are the only things on our schedule. We'll get rested up before Totus Tuus starts.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Review: Five for Victory

The Mitchells: Five for Victory by Hilda van Stockum

The kids and I will be studying World War II in American History next year and I was interested in finding a read-aloud that focused on life in America during the war. It was the perfect opportunity to pre-read Five for Victory, the first book in the Mitchells series offered by Bethlehem Books.

The book opens as the five Mitchell children, their mother and their grandmother see Father off. He's heading to the war and they're left alone. The book follows their antics and earnest efforts to do their part for the war. In a very gentle way, we can see some of the hardships those left behind faced and also find inspiration in their heart-felt desire to help their mother and neighbors. Father is missing in action for a brief time without instilling a great amount of fear or anxiety in little listeners (just enough to give a taste for the fear and anxiety many people felt during that time).

The plot is a little predictable but I didn't feel it detracted from the pleasure of the story. I fully expect my children to love this book (as I did) and am eager to collect all the Mitchell books for our library. If you hurry, you can dowload the e-version of this book from the publisher for free; it's their free estack book for the month of June!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Homeschool Review: Classic Myths to Read Aloud

Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology by William F. Russell, EdD

This book is recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 1A (second and third grade) for Tales under Literature.

In the introduction, Dr. Russell encourages parents to continue reading aloud to children long after they can read on their own. (I agree!) He extends that encouragement to include stories of our cultural history, drawing on arguments by E.D. Hirsch. (Someday I'm going to have to read his writings.)
The great myths, though, are valuable in their own right, not just because they provide the mental "hooks," or schemata, that enable us to gather and understand new material. These myths have survived through the centuries because they have had something important to say, and because people of widely disparate ages and cultures have found in these tales lessons and inspiration for their own lives.
He continues with some helpful suggestions for parents who are reading aloud to children. There are also some recommendations of additional books of myths and warnings about modern re-tellings.

After the introduction is a helpful list of Greek and Roman Gods along with their particular powers. Then come the myths! They are divided into two "levels:" Listening Level I for ages 5 and up and Listening Level II for ages 8 and up. The children and I read all the Level I stories in second grade with First Son narrating them. I read one story aloud each week for 22 weeks, taking time off for Advent. We'll be reading the Level II stories next year in third grade.

I haven't read the Level II stories myself yet, but so far I have loved the Level I stories. They wander through Greek and Roman myths but include delightful versions of Icarus and Daedalus, the Battle of Marathon, Europa and Cadmus, Pegasus, Orpheus and Eurydice, Pygmalion and Galatea, Theseus and Jason and the Argonauts. The myths of Theseus and Jason are divided into two or three parts to make each reading session a reasonable length.

In the introduction to the Level I myths, Dr. Russell warns that these tales can be disturbing:
[M]any ancient myths have tragic of unhappy endings. Such tales, therefore, do not make good bedtime stories, nor are they suitable for those times when a read-aloud can provide a much-needed cheering up.
We read these during our lesson time and I found nothing too distressing for my girls (who were five and three).

Each myth includes a brief summary, an approximate reading time and an extensive list of vocabulary and pronunciation. The pronunciation is invaluable for parents or teachers who may not remember the Greek myths themselves and seems to include all of the words that might be troublesome. Dr. Russell encourages the reader to read the myth ahead of time, preferably out loud, which I'm sure would be ideal though I usually did not take the time to do that myself. After the myth, a section called "A Few Words More" talks a little about how the myth has become a part of our culture or the English language. It's not meant to be read aloud but merely to be a bit of extra information for the reader.

I highly recommend this book. We've enjoyed the myths. First Son narrated them reasonably well, with some narrations ranking among his very best. The language treats adult themes perfectly for little ears without sharing unnecessary and inappropriate information and also without inducing unwanted questions. The Level II myths are mainly taken from the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid. I am very much looking forward to reading them aloud with First Son.

I'll end with a final quote from the introduction:
The great myths can teach us many things, for in them we find history and geography and astronomy and word origins. But most of all we find the struggles of human beings, including all the passions and frailties that are to be found in humans today. We are connected to these ancient civilizations in Greece and Rome by some words in our language, to be sure, but we are even more directly connected to them by these myths, for it is in these tales that we see ourselves...We struggle, just as the ancients did, to know where we fit on this planet and how we should conduct our lives, and we wonder on occasion, just as they did, whether our lives and actions are all part of some grand plan.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reading Through American History with Picture Books

When First Son was in kindergarten three years ago, we read through American history in picture books. Two or three times a week, we read picture books set in a particular time period. The books selected were mainly based on what I found in library searches and a few I had lying around; I didn't buy anything, but we were still able to read some wonderful books. I've been searching through the blog to find the particularly good ones to include for First Daughter's kindergarten year in 2012-2013. Next year, we won't read quite so many. Instead, I'm trying to find one picture book to read each week that will correspond to First Son's American history studies (Civil War through...well, as far as we get, but I'm hoping to get to September 11, 2001).

Well, I discovered that my blog records of our American history reading are rather hard to navigate, so I decided to write a post to help everyone, myself included, find them more easily.

For every time period, I was looking for living picture books. I was not particularly concerned with imparting factual knowledge like dates or big events. I wanted beautiful picture books that would delight us first and give us a feel for life in the time period second.

August and September: Pre-1600 North America - This group is mainly composed of Native American legends but also includes Columbus.

October: Colonial America through the Revolutionary War - the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, Johnny Appleseed and George Washington

November and December: Exploration, Expansion, and the Civil War - more tall tales, Sequoyah, Ox-Cart Man, the California Gold Rush, the Underground Railroad, and Abraham Lincoln

January: Reconstruction, Urbanization, and Industrialization (1865-1889) - The Statue of Liberty, immigration, and saving the buffalo

February: The Progressive Era (1890-1913) - Helen Keller, Least of All, George Washington Carver and more immigration

March: World War I and the Jazz Age (1914-1928) - The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Duke Ellington

April: The Great Depression - perseverance, family, and skyscrapers

May: Everything after the Great Depression to the present - John Steuart Curry, Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, and some recommendations for later books

I spent a little time updating these posts, fixing the formatting and a few links that weren't working. I apologize to anyone who received updates in their readers for posts that are three years old.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Chicken Sunday

Chicken Sunday, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco

I have to admit, Patricia Polacco is not one of my favorite illustrators, but that does not keep me from reading aloud many of her wonderful books to my children. Chicken Sunday is my favorite of her picture books.

There is so much to admire and love in this story, it seems difficult to believe: inter-racial friendships and understanding, love for neighbor, love for family, perseverance and dedication to meet a goal in service of another, financial responsibility and reacting to injustice with compassion and forgiveness. And it's a true story.

This book deserves a place of honor in every library.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (34th Ed.)

1. I made a new Parmesan cheese bread and the children all raved about it.

2. Our parish is starting a donut club for the summer. First Son and I went to a daily Mass and then spent an hour in the sunshine with friends enjoying donuts and running around.

3. I saw a shooting star on Thursday night!

4. I made popsicles for the first time this summer. First Son doesn't like them, but the girls will eat almost anything frozen into my popsicle molds so they've been very happy to eat (essentially) frozen fruit for dessert this week.

5. I signed the kids up for swimming lessons. I showed up on the first day because I wanted to get three kids into the same session (same two weeks, back-to-back lessons). Success! Second Daughter is so excited to be going this year, though I have my doubts about whether we'll get our money's worth for a three-year-old. We'll see.

6. Kansas Dad wasn't here to make pancakes on Sunday morning, so I made chocolate butterhorns. (I don't do pancakes.) Oh, chocolate butterhorns are delicious and decadent and I only made two for each of us because I could have eaten ten myself. The rest were frozen and half of them are going to a family that is expecting a baby soon because they cannot stay in my freezer or I will bake them and eat them all.

7. Second Son said, "'Night 'night, [approximation of Second Daughter's name]" So adorable! He also surprises me over and over again with the words he will say. I've said it before, but I really think that boy has been holding out on us. I think he knows how to say everything and just doesn't want to give up being the baby.

8. Second Daughter built a nest for Second Son.

9.  Kansas Dad was out of town and Second Son was still contagious with Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. I called a friend and dropped First Son and First Daughter off at church to sit with them. I love that they wanted to go. I love that I could send them to sit with friends.

10. Second Son and Second Daughter with a current favorite past-time:

11. I survived six days and five nights alone with the kids while Kansas Dad was at a conference in New York. At the end of the time, I was reminding myself to offer up all my frustrations as sacrifices for single parents. (It didn't help that we spent the majority of the time cooped up in the house because the kids took turns catching Hand Foot and Mouth Disease and then Second Son's blisters were too painful for him to wear shoes so he couldn't even play outside.) Did you notice What I Loved About Last Week posted late this week? I wanted to be able to say: Kansas Dad is HOME!

I love that man, and not just because he's home to help get the kids to bed and walk the dog and take out the trash and go to the grocery store and put salt in the water softener and respond to the kids who cry during the night and...well, I'll stop now because you're going to start wondering what I do around here. Sometimes I wonder that myself.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Homeschool Review (Preview): Essentials: The Logic of English

Essentials: A Systematic Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Writing (The Logic of English) by Denise Eide

A few months ago, I read and reviewed Denise Eide's book, Uncovering the Logic of English. Immediately, I knew I wanted to implement her ideas in my reading instruction for First Son, but I was reluctant to figure out how to modify the information in the book for him. When I saw she had a curriculum, I wanted it! I received a discount on the materials in exchange for an honest review, so I'm going to do something I don't usually do here: I'm writing a homeschool review for a product we haven't actually used yet. I didn't want to wait until the end of next school year to post about it. Instead, I'm going to pre-review the curriculum now that I've read through the introduction and written lesson plans for the first five lessons.
The program systematically teaches how and why English words are spelled in a particular manner and how to build words into phrases and sentences, thereby providing students with the tools needed to decode, spell, and write.
This curriculum could easily be used in a homeschool, as a supplement for a struggling reader (perhaps with a tutor or parent at home) or in a very small classroom. Many of these activities will work best with only a few students, which is probably the best way to teach reading to any student.

You have to read the introduction to understand how the lessons should be implemented. Otherwise, you'll overwhelm your students. For example, Ms. Eide clearly states young emerging readers should use large motor skills, a whiteboard or a salt box to practice writing rather than writing by hand until they have developed physically enough to handle the fine motor skills.

The introduction provides sample schedules for older students not reading at grade level, older students struggling with spelling, emerging readers (6-7 years old), young emerging readers (5-6 years old), and ESL students. The recommended sample schedules are still pretty intense for all but the emerging readers. Ms. Eide's program is designed to bring students up to speed very quickly, with an upfront investment of time and resources: 75-130 minutes a day, to complete the forty lessons in the book in 8-16 weeks. Because First Son is not what I'd call a struggling reader, but more someone who needs supplemental instruction to cover what we neglected the first time around, we'll be following a more relaxed schedule. I intend to complete one lesson every week or every other week (depending on the content of the lesson) with about thirty minutes a day.

A large section in the Introduction explains all the skills students should have before beginning Lesson 1 in the book. Before you despair, all of these skills, and nearly everything you need to know to teach them, are presented in the Introduction. She encourages teachers to move quickly through these, especially for older students. Though all the phonograms A-Z should be introduced, students do not need to have memorized every sound for every phonogram before moving on to the Lessons. We'll be spending one week on phonemic awareness exercises, many of which I expect to be new to First Son, but only because we haven't spoken of them explicitly. Then, we'll spend two weeks introducing the phonograms and finishing up his cursive instruction on the lower case letters. (He's about two-thirds of the way through the alphabet now.) During this time, First Son will be reading other lessons out loud to me or independently in addition to our work with the Essentials curriculum. I'll include First Daughter (a kindergartner) in any of these lessons she likes as well. If she has trouble with any of the phonemic awareness exercises, I'll add them to her lesson time for extra practice.

In the phonemic awareness, phonogram exercises and throughout the book, Ms. Eide includes a recognition that students learn best in different ways. Many activities combine two or more of these modalities and all of the optional activities are labeled to show whether they are particularly good for kinesthetic learners, visual learners, auditory learners or creative learners.

Finally, we get to the lessons themselves! The book contains forty lessons. Every fifth lesson is an assessment and review (Lesson 5, Lesson 10, etc.). The other lessons are composed of three parts.
Part One includes: Phonograms, Exploring Sounds, and Spelling Rules. In Part Two students learn fifteen spelling words and how to analyze their spellings. Part Three integrates the spelling words into a Grammar Lesson, Dictation, Composition, and Vocabulary Development Activities. 
The lesson plans are very detailed with example scripts and expected responses from students. They are extensive, which is why hours are necessary to complete a single lesson and why they are spread out over many days for younger students. I haven't actually used these lessons, of course, but it seems like they will provide a structured and organized way to learn the logic of English. Notice there are no sections called "Reading." Students will be reading in every section, but the reading itself is broken down into decoding the phonograms and learning how the phonograms stand for sounds. The Spelling Rules meet two needs: helping students think about how a word will be spelled when they hear it and recognizing the spelling rules in the words they are reading so they can determine which of a phonogram's sounds are in a particular word.

The assessment and review lessons are not for grading. Ms. Eide explains, "Reading and spelling are subjects that should be taught to the point of mastery for all students." So if a student is struggling, we don't just assign a "C" and move on, we provide supplementary activities for the skill. If a student makes fewer than two mistakes in the assessment, the review portion is skipped, moving on to the next lesson. If more mistakes are made, the teacher is encouraged to select the appropriate activities from the review lesson for additional practice.

One disappointment I had was the relative scarcity of games in the Essentials Teacher's Manual. Every single lesson has multiple recommendations for games, but they are all in the Phonogram and Spelling Game Book. The book is a reasonable $15, but all of the games actually require one or more of the specialized sets of game cards. The complete set is $45. I decided not to purchase the set, thinking I would be able to create something similar myself at home, but without instructions or even a description of the games, I really have no idea what kind of activity to substitute. So if you want to use the games, buy the set.

You absolutely need the Teacher's Manual to implement this curriculum. It contains all the lessons and instructions. The workbook is useless without it. The Phonogram and Spelling Game Book and Teacher's Manual are non-consumable. I can't speak for the game book, but the Teacher's Manual is very well-made. It's a hardcover book that looks like it will hold up to years of use.

The phonogram flash cards are not an optional part of the program. They are used to present all the phonograms and for review on a regular basis. I thought I would save some money here by making my own which seemed simple because the phonograms are clearly identified along with all the information for each one in both The Logic of English and the Essentials Teacher's Manual. For the most part, I hand-wrote the cards. Then I cut them with a paper-cutter, laminated them, and cut them again. Take my advice: buy the cards. Even not counting my time, there's a good chance I spent more money on card stock, ink and laminating pouches. And my cards don't look nearly as nice as the ones pictured.

I also made spelling rule cards. As with the phonogram flash cards, I'd recommend purchasing them.

I selected the Cursive workbook to use with First Son. As far as I can tell, it's "cursive" because the examples are written in a cursive script. You could definitely write answers either in print or in cursive (probably in either workbook). The workbook is large with lots of activities, all of which are referenced in the Teacher's Manual. If you are really motivated, you could do the program without the workbook because there's enough information in the Teacher's Manual to figure out what your student needs to do, but the workbook itself is well-done. It's thick and might be hard to complete without removing the pages. They are well-perforated and look like they'll come out very quickly, too, so I will probably hole-punch them and put them in a binder.

The Spelling Journal is also referenced in every lesson. I think this would be a nice addition if you intend to use Essentials as your only spelling program, but I also think it would be fairly simple to create a spelling journal at home that would meet the same needs.

I intend to discuss the spelling portions of the text with First Son and to use the rules to supplement his spelling program which does not explicitly teach any spelling rules. For now, I plan to continue with the grammar, spelling and writing programs we were using (none of which takes much time), but I am going to re-evaluate that decision regularly during the school year. I think this program could be enough for writing (dictation, not copywork or handwriting), grammar and spelling; I'm just reluctant to give up on ones that I know are working well for us.

Especially for young students, you will want to have a whiteboard, salt box, magnetic letters or other kinds of materials to involve large motor skills rather than fine motor skills as students learn to write the letters.

The cost of this program is substantial, especially compared to some of the non-consumable how-to-read-everything-you-need-in-one-book programs that are available, but I think this program is much more comprehensive that the others. I was discussing it with another homeschooling mother who has a severely dyslexic son. It seemed to compare very favorably with the program she used with him at a much lower cost. I expect this program to fill in every gap in First Son's reading skills and am very excited to use it with him. While I intend to continue with First Daughter's current reading program, I am going to supplement it with Essentials to ensure she never has the gaps First Son encountered.

I've read on the forums for Essentials that a program for young emerging readers that would incorporate real books is currently being developed. I can imagine how that would be the ideal reading program for me (hard to say if it would be perfect for my kids!) and would be very tempted to invest in it for Second Daughter and Second Son.

I will be sure to report back on Essentials when we've used it for a year. In the meantime, you can learn more about the books and purchase all the materials at the Logic of English website.

I received a discount on the Essentials Teacher's Manual and two Cursive Workbooks in exchange for an honest review. I am not an affiliate and will receive nothing if you make a purchase of these or any other products linked in this post.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Homeschool Review: Prima Latina

Prima Latina is published by Memoria Press. You can read a great deal about it on their website, where you can also purchase the materials. They recommend it for students beginning Latin in grades 1 through 4. In first grade, I opted for a more relaxed introduction to Latin with Song School Latin. (See my review here.) We started Prima Latina in second grade.

Each lesson in the Student Book includes two pages of text and two pages of exercises. The text of the lessons includes Practical Latin (a common phrase), the Lesson itself (verbs, invisible verbs, constellations, etc.), Vocabulary (five words or phrases), a Latin prayer for memorization (one new line each week) and Derivatives (English words based on the Latin vocabulary from the lesson with definitions).

The exercises generally included Review Questions, Lesson Questions, Translations of the lesson's vocabulary words, Speaking Latin practice prompts, Write and Learn (writing each vocabulary word and its meaning twice and answering a question or two) and Fun Practice (find invisible verbs in a favorite storybook, etc.). First Son wrote his answers directly in the book and usually had ample room. I was concerned at the amount of writing, as we had struggled with handwriting in first grade, but he started the year filling everything out without complaint. (Later, he started to groan when he had to write, but that had more to do with him than with the lesson.)

There is a Review lesson after each five new lessons, for a total of 25 lessons and 5 review lessons. We made it through Review Lesson 4. I had originally planned to finish the book in second grade, but I decided later to decrease our Latin lessons each week to take advantage of a basketball camp in the spring.

I also purchased the Teacher Manual. It has an overview of Latin grammar and a brief explanation of the lessons followed by tests for each of the review lessons, answer keys for the tests and a vocabulary drill form. I copied the tests for First Son. He would complete it at the beginning of a review week using his book, then again at the end of the week without his book. I used the vocabulary drill forms every week because I firmly believe (based on my own experience with Spanish) that writing a word is helpful in remembering it. The Teacher Manual then includes the entire text of the student book with answers. I think you could teach this course without the Teacher Manual. I found the answers fairly easy to discern even though I have no Latin knowledge outside of what we've done in our lessons. I liked having the tests and drill form to copy, but you could also devise your own. I do wish the binding of the Teacher Manual didn't look so similar to the student book. I often pulled it off the shelf instead of the student book and First Son would laugh at me.

We listened to the Pronunciation CD as part of every Latin lesson. At the beginning of the year, I played it off my laptop, but I loaded all the tracks on First Son's Kindle Fire after Christmas so he could access them all himself (which he liked). He practiced his Roman numerals every time he scrolled through the tracks. I found the pronunciation CD well done. It's very easy to understand and gives enough time to repeat the words or phrases before moving on.

The Latina Christiana I Flashcards are recommended as supplements for Prima Latina, but I decided to wait on flashcards. They're not usually very fun and I was more interested in enjoying Latin this year than concerned he memorize every vocabulary word.

I thought the lessons were reasonable for the target ages. First Son generally understood them without too much additional discussion. The explanations of parts of speech (like noun and verb) worked well for him and were even sometimes entertaining.

Overall, I think Prima Latina is a good course. First Son started out very well with it. I noticed him struggling as the year went on, but I think this is mostly because I stopped listening to the CD and working through the exercises with him. Being more involved would have been better for both of us (as I would like to learn Latin), but I often used that time to change a diaper or attend to another child. When I slowed down the lessons in the spring, I tried to take more time with him and plan to do so next year.

The next time we use Prima Latina, I think I'm going to plan on spreading it out over two years, especially if I start it with First Daughter in first or second grade.

We're going to start third grade with a review of the first twenty lessons, probably using the four review lessons we've already done. I'll ask First Son to write the answers and vocabulary on another sheet of paper. I'll be introducing the flashcards along with the pronunciation CD. I'm going to continue the remaining five lessons slowly, two weeks for each lesson. Once we finish, we'll move on to Latina Christiana I.

I did not receive anything for this review. I purchased all the materials myself.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Financial Literacy in Third Grade

I've been spending some time recently planning our financial literacy course for next year. It's based on the book Raising Financially Fit Kids. I reviewed it on the blog here. There are probably a number of curricula offerings for financial literacy in the homeschooling world, but after glancing through the book again I was confident I could put something together that fit the Charlotte Mason philosophy (not that I'm an expert), fit our family's needs, and could be extended through not just this coming school year but every year.

We've never done anything regularly on financial literacy before. I decided to start with the first set of Basic Money Skills for 5-8 year olds. Joline Godfrey outlines activities and books for each skill as well as good books for parents or teachers to read so we can understand them ourselves. I simply went through the recommendations and chose a book and an activity or two for each skill. We're going to go through all ten skills reading a book for each one (generally one book per week), then go through all ten skills again with activities pertinent to our family and First Son. I love this plan because we'll be reading lots of books (hooray!) and because it allows us to cycle through the skills at least twice in the coming year. Rather than go through them a third time, we're going to read through a book on money - the history of money, how it's made, what it looks like in different countries, and so forth.

Our library had many of the recommended books and I had a couple myself, but there were a few I  couldn't request. It turned out to be difficult to search for children's books on particular money skills. (Shocking, I know.) I found a list from the Ohio credit unions with suggestions that helped a lot in filling in the gaps. I'm still looking for a good book, a living book and preferably a picture book, on borrowing money or using a credit card. Let me know if you have any ideas!

We'll be spending 10-15 minutes a week on financial literacy. It's not a lot of time, but it will be dedicated and directed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Orange Pear Apple Bear

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett

We received this book as a gift from some dear friends when Second Daughter was born. It's a very simple book with only a few words, mainly those in the title. The illustrations are beautiful and clever. Blending colors and shapes, we see the orange, pear, apple and bear transformed through the book.

Years ago, I filmed First Son and First Daughter reading this book aloud. Here's First Son (who can actually read the words):

Then, First Daughter wanted to read it. She doesn't know how to read, but the book is fairly simple and she should be able to figure it out. She gets a little overexcited, though:

If that's an endorsement you can resist, there's nothing else I can say to change your mind.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Quote: Towards a Philosophy of Education

Charlotte Mason in Towards a Philosophy of Education:
As soon as he gets words with which to communicate with us, a child lets us know that he thinks with surprising clearness and directness, that he sees with a closeness of observation that we have long lost, that he enjoys and that he sorrows with an intensity we have ceased to experience, that he loves with an abandon and a confidence which, alas, we do not share, that he imagines with a fecundity no artist among us can approach[,] that he acquires intellectual knowledge and mechanical skill at a rate so amazing, that, could the infant's rate of progress be kept up to manhood, he would surely appropriate the whole field of knowledge in a single lifetime!
This is Second Son right now. It is one of my favorite times in a child's life when everything he says is a astounding revelation, even if I can only understand a fourth of it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

What I Loved About the Last Two Weeks (33rd Ed.)

Did you notice What I Loved About Last Week was missing last week? We drove to Illinois to visit my parents while Kansas Dad went up to Chicago for a conference.

1. Our best drive to my parents' house ever - no one threw up and hardly anyone cried. We stopped at a rest stop and had a picnic lunch. The kids loved running around and playing games. We made it in record time, too. (Let's not talk about the drive home, shall we?)

2. Second Son started saying "yep" our first day at my parents' house. I'm not really sure where he picked that up, but it's adorable. Over the past two weeks, he has started talking a lot more. "Yep" and "nope" get him far. He also says First Daughter's name and will ask for "more water," though he often means more milk. When he's in the mood, he'll repeat almost anything you name for him. Not that he's in the mood very often. He teases us with it, yelling stuff out when we start to move on to something else.

3. A morning on horseback. We visited friends of my mother who graciously let First Son, First Daughter and Second Daughter ride. They also hitched one of the horses to a pony cart and gave us all rides.

First Daughter would still be on this horse if it was at all possible.

4. An evening with fireflies. We let the kids stay up late one night and run around outside catching fireflies. We don't have many of them on our bit of Range, so it was a new experience for them all. They loved it! We let the fireflies go when we went back inside.

5. A night with Kansas Dad in Chicago. My parents graciously watched our children, with some help from my awesome aunt and uncle, while I hopped a train to join Kansas Dad at his conference. We had dinner with a dear college friend and her family and, the next day, I spent hours with them walking their neighborhood and enjoying a fabulous lunch. It had been about four years since I last saw her, so it was a very special treat to reconnect. (It was nice to hang out with Kansas Dad, too.)

6. Memorial Day at the pond. All the cousins came. We fished, we picnicked, we tried to take a picture of all the grandchildren. It was a great day. (Yeah, I didn't fish. Kansas Dad was in charge of that. Fish and bait don't bother me; I just find it really boring. If I'm going to sit around and stare at the water, I want to be holding a book, not a fishing pole.)

First Son's first fish!

First Daughter's first fish!

7. Ordering books! Sacred Heart Books and Gifts had a coupon code for free shipping. I took advantage of it and ordered most of what we still needed for next year. I love buying books! A few I'm most excited about: A Saint and His Lion: The Story of Tekla of Ethiopia and Saint Thomas Aquinas.

8. Lesson planning. It's a hassle, but I love it. I'm working my way through American History, Physics part I, and Financial Literacy right now. So many wonderful books we're going to read next year!

9. Fences that stand up. A big branch broke our picket fence a few months ago. Subsequent storms have weakened it further. Kansas Dad devoted a few hours on Saturday to a temporary fix. (Eventually, I think we're going to have to rebuild that part of the fence, but since we're not sure of the long-term fence situation, it made sense to avoid a big investment.)

10. Dinner with family. Kansas Dad's brother and sister-in-law were in town this weekend. We were a little wary of infecting them with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, but were able to meet up for a dinner over the weekend.

11. Photo albums. I recently decided to start making photo books with an online service rather than ordering prints and putting them in albums myself. I finished the first album of 2012 over the weekend and ordered it. I also uploaded our May pictures and shared them with family. I am therefore officially up-to-date on pictures! (Not that I have met all my picture goals. Second Son's official picture on our wall is from when he was three months old and the family portrait hanging above our fireplace is more than five years old and is missing two kids.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

May 2012 Book Reports

Edmund Campion: Hero of God's Underground by Harold Gardiner - This book shows the English Reformation very much in black and white. The bad guys are truly bad and the good guys are wonderfully good. I don't know how historically accurate that is, knowing almost nothing about the English Reformation, but I plan to read a few actual histories to get a feel for that. I think this could be a good book to read aloud to First Son next year as a supplement to our history studies, but I'll certainly read it when the girls are busy with something else because the descriptions of tortures and the martyrs' deaths are rather disturbing. (purchased used copy)

Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle  - This was the last book for my science fiction and theology class. In it, a science fiction author dies ignominiously and finds himself being lead through Dante's Hell (updated for contemporary sins and full of real and imaginary characters). It's been more than fifteen years since I read Dante's Inferno, but the authors do a good job of presenting it here so you don't have to remember it or know it to enjoy this novel. It's a bit impertinent, but I think is an engaging book to read concerning the problem of sin and eternal damnation. (purchased new by Kansas Dad)

The Gammage Cup: A Novel of the Minnipins by Carol Kendall - In this book, the Minnipins have become complacent, following leaders who have forgotten the dangers of the past. A few brave Minnipins are voluntary outlaws from a village that has become inhospitable to those who dare to wear different clothes or study history. They are the first to discover a great danger to their village and risk their own lives to warn their people and defend them. The more I think about this book, the more I like it. I will definitely encourage First Son to read it. (library copy)

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life by Susan Helen Wallace, FSP with Patricia Edward Jablonski, FSP (a review for The Catholic Company)

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty (library copy)

Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom by Zoya with John Follain and Rita Cristofari - I picked up this book at a library sale and decided to read it when the reviews looked good. It was a startling memoir of life in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation through September 11th and the immediate aftermath. Zoya's voice is clear in the novel, young and blunt. I was particularly disturbed because she is nearly my age; I would often compare our lives at different times during the book. I'm not sure how to best help the women of Afghanistan. (RAWA, Zoya's organization supports the use of contraception.) Certainly prayer is a good place to start. (purchased used copy)

The Whisper of Glocken: A Novel of the Minnipins by Carol Kendall is a sequel to The Gammage Cup (above) and I think I liked it even better than the first one. In this book five New Heroes set out to seek the reason for the overflow of the river which flooded two of their villages. They are average Minnipins without even a strong bond between them, but set out nonetheless. (library copy, and shockingly, they had to pull it from the storage shelves which don't even have bar codes; this book deserves to be read more!)
Like the true chime of the golden Whisper which cut through mountains, it came to him--the truth about heroes. You can't see a hero because heroes are born in the heart and mind. A hero stands fast when the urge is to run, and runs when he would rather take root. A hero doesn't give up, even when all is lost.
The Saints Pray for Us edited by Christina Miriam Wegendt, FSP (a review for The Catholic Company)

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (first book Kindle edition, from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, second and third books purchased for the Kindle)

Adulthood Rites and Imago by Octavia E. Butler are the second and third books of the Xenogenesis series. I read the first book as part of the science fiction and theology class. These continued the story of Lilith's children on a changed Earth. I wanted to read the end of the series, but I can't say it was entirely satisfactory. The whole concept is bizarre and disturbing. (desk copy of Lilith's Brood)

The Perilous Road by William O. Steele is a book I was considering for our homeschool lessons next year when we'll be studying the Civil War. Chris is a young boy who struggles with an extreme hatred of the Yankees even when his own brother joins them. In the end, he realizes that Yankees are just men, some of them kind and lonely, and that war is a terrible thing. It includes a violent scene of a Civil War attack and its aftermath. I found Chris's hatred overdone, but I think this could be a fine book for a child to read to themselves. I will not be reading it aloud with my young girls. I think First Son could read it next year in third grade but I haven't decided if I'll ask him to do so. (library copy)