Friday, August 31, 2012

The Catholic Company Review: The Catholics Next Door

The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living by Greg and Jennifer Willits

Hosts of a Catholic radio show, Greg and Jennifer Willits have written a book that covers daily life as a Catholic family. They cover a wide variety of topics from the relationships we develop with others, Natural Family Planning, family prayer, and the role of technology in a faithful family.

I have never listened to the Willits's radio show, but I was looking forward to reading this book, mainly because I expected it to be an amusing peak at their lives. There were some funny parts, but the best one ("Toddler boys lasso each other with rosaries at family prayer.") is on the back cover and in all the descriptions of the book.

The book is written in alternating voices, Greg and Jennifer taking turns, which works rather well. The different sections flow one to the other as if they were sitting next to each other. I imagine their radio show gives them a lot of practice talking to others in the same way.

Overall, though, I was a little disappointed in the book. I am in no way a perfect Catholic mom. (People who only read the blog might not realize that, though you hopefully learn that blogs aren't the whole story. I don't write about my failings as a mother often on this blog; I like to keep that stuff private.) I really felt like I didn't learn that much from this book, though. I suppose it's more about providing moral support than a lot of depth.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Catholics Next Door. The Catholic Company is also a great online store for all your Catholic gift needs, such as baby baptism and christening gifts. You can also find a wide selection of Catholic Bible Studies for both parish groups and individuals, as well as a variety of other Catholic Bible study resources. (I receive nothing if you make a purchase at The Catholic Company.)

Homeschool Review: RC History's Connecting with History Volume Two

Connecting with History Volume 2: The Arrival of the King and His Kingdom (New Testament and Early Medieval History) from RC History

This volume is the second in a series we began in first grade (see the updated review here of Volume 1).

Connecting with History is a four year cyclical history program that groups students into Beginner, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric levels based on age and ability while keeping all students in a family studying the same time period from a Catholic perspective. The CONNECT method is integral to the program. You can read an excellent summary of the program here on the RC History website. The full explanation of the CONNECT method is in the Teacher's Guide, part of Volume One, but if you choose to begin in a later year of the cycle, the author will provide what you need. Volume 3 is also available. Volume 4 is being developed.

Volume 2 includes New Testament history (beginning with Mary and Joseph) through the Battle of Hastings (1066) in seven units. Each unit has a theme (Incarnation, Sharing the Faith, etc.) that is highlighted in the readings and discussion notes. I appreciate the summary at the beginning of each unit that bring the events and people of the unit into focus as part of all of salvation history. It's only a few pages, but I feel like they provide a good place for me to start as the teacher. For use in Volume 2, I also bought Celebrating 2000 Years of Christian History, which I used for myself more than for the children. It provides a century by century overview of Christian history in a brief form, perfect for the homeschooling mother.

The second volume is much more comprehensive than the first, including an extensive list of creative writing and hands-on projects for each unit and grade-level in addition to the fantastic book lists. Timeline suggestions, vocabulary, mapwork, and memory work and copywork selections are also included. Also, they have included Hillside Education Literature Guides for many books which are a fabulous resources. If you join the listserve (which I highly recommend), you can find additional useful files. I recently saw they were collecting a list of movies that could be incorporated.

Some of my favorite resources for Volume 2 were: A Life of Our Lord for Children (which we read as a family slowly over the course of many weeks), The First Christians (again, read slowly over the course of a few weeks), Pompeii, Buried Alive! (which First Son loved), Adventures of Saint Paul, and Ethel Pochoki's Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints.

This history program involves a certain amount of preparation time for the teacher, mainly in selecting which books to use and assigning unit readings over the course of the desired number of weeks. I spent vastly more time developing a much weaker version of this course of study for our American history for third grade and am immensely grateful to the author and all those who helped her in developing this solid program for Catholics. Teaching history without it would be much more difficult and, I have no doubt, less rewarding. Seeing the resources recommended for older grade levels makes me even more excited.

The Volume itself is very reasonably priced (especially the electronic version) but to use a great many of the wonderful resources may involve a significant investment. Personally, I have chosen to cut back in some other areas so I can purchase more of the history books. I also use the library extensively and make a valiant effort not the include every single book in our lesson plans. (I learned in using Volume 1 that we should limit ourselves a little!)

I cannot recommend Connecting with History highly enough. Cathy Duffy has also included it in her most recent list of 101 Top Picks.

I have not received anything in exchange for this honest review. The links above to the RC History site are not affiliate links and I receive nothing if you make a purchase. Many of the books can be found at your local library (or ask for them to be purchased!) or at other bookstores. I encourage you to support the RC History store; many of the prices are as good or better than what you will find elsewhere. To be honest, I purchased many of the books used, from Amazon, and from Sacred Heart, but I also make a significant purchase (or two...or three) from RC History.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: My Rows and Piles of Coins

My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa M. Mollel, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

I'm pretty sure this book was recommended in Raising Financially Fit Kids. (See my review here.) We read it as part of our Financial Literacy course this year for Basic Money Skill #1: How to Save.

Saruni is a young Tanzanian boy who decides to save his coins for a bicycle which he can then use to help his mother take more produce to market and to run errands for her. Each week, he saves the coins she shares with him and practices faithfully on his father's bicycle. It's a marvelous book of dreams, perseverance, patience, and generosity. It is set in the 1960s, but a note from the author at the end (which also includes useful pronunciation guides and definitions) says much of rural Tanzania remains as it is depicted.

The illustrations are just as wonderful as the text. They're a realistic glimpse at a beautiful African family. I particularly love the ones showing Saruni with his parents. They seem so proud and loving.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Third Grade Earth Studies: Mountains and Volcanoes

Update on July 23, 2017 - I'm preparing for our third child to do this study and am pleased to say the Mater Amabilis™ ™plans have been updated. Many of the links work now. Leaving out the visits to a local mountain (since we still don't even have a substantial hill), we'll be doing those plans pretty closely this year.


Within Geography and Earth Studies, Mater Amabilis™™ recommends a study of Mountains and Volcanoes in third grade. There's a schedule of lessons based on Mountains and Volcanoes (Young Discoverers: Geography Facts and Experiments) by Barbara Taylor.

I noticed as I went through the lesson plans that some of the links no longer work. More worrisome were the number of lessons during which we should go visit a mountain. Honestly, I think we'd have to drive a couple of hours to even find something close to a "hill" so that's not really an option on a regular basis. I reworked the lessons to fit our Kansas homeschool and thought I'd share. I expect First Son to read nearly all of these lessons aloud to me, though perhaps by the end of the year he'll be reading them independently and simply narrating to me. We'll have to see how it goes.

Again, most of these lessons are based on the schedule at Mater Amabilis. Mainly I've added a few resources.

Lesson 1
- I Wonder Why Mountains Have Snow On Top: and Other Questions About Mountains pp. 4-5
- Mountains and Volcanoes (Young Discoverers: Geography Facts and Experiments) pp. 4-5
- Print a blank map of the world. (I found one here.) Add the major mountain ranges (draw mountains) and name them.

Lesson 2
- Mountains and Volcanoes p. 6

Lesson 3
- How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World (This book is one of my favorite picture books.)

Lesson 4
- Mountains and Volcanoes p. 7 (demonstration on the movement of magma)
- In the book basket: Volcano and Earthquake (DK Eyewitness Books)

Lesson 5
- Mountains and Volcanoes p. 8
- Print another copy of the world map (above) and draw the tectonic plates on it.

Lesson 6
- Mountains and Volcanoes p. 9 (demonstration to see how Africa and South America may have fit together)

Lesson 7
- Mountains and Volcanoes pp. 10-11
- Make an earthquake with wooden blocks.
- In the book basket: Earthquakes (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)

Lesson 8
- Compare the map of major fault lines with a world map. Which major cities are most at risk of earthquakes? Mark them on your map. Talk about the need to build carefully in earthquake prone areas. Simulate an earthquake and see its effect on buildings. (Or watch a YouTube video of an earthquake on buildings.)

Lesson 9
- Make a page on the Richter scale for our notebook. Use Great Shakes: The Science of Earthquakes (Headline Science)
- Print another world map and show most recent earthquakes 5.0 or higher using this site.
- Note for teacher - consider discussing tsunamis.

Lesson 10
- Mountains and Volcanoes pp. 12-14
- Make a notebook page on fold, block and dome mountains.
- Make a model of fold mountains using colored play dough, modeling clay or plasticine.
- Add the Great Rift Valley and the Appalachians to your mountain map.

Lesson 11
- I Wonder Why Mountains... pp. 6-7
- Add the highest mountains to your map.
- Mountains and Volcanoes p. 15
- Learn about how the Himalayas were made. Demonstrate with ice cream and cookies (biscuits).

Lesson 12
- The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest

Lesson 13
- I Wonder Why Mountains... pp. 14-17
- Make a notebook page on glaciers and plant life on mountains.

Lesson 14
- I Wonder Why Mountains... pp. 18-19
- Make a list of animals that are found in mountainous areas. Make a page about one type of animal for your notebook.
- Use these books for research: Mountain Mammals (True Books: Animals), Animals of the High Mountains (Books for Young Explorers), and Draw Write Now, Book 8: Animals of the World, Dry Land Animals (Draw-Write-Now)

Lesson 15
- Mountains and Volcanoes pp. 16-17
- Explain erosion.
- Demonstrate the effect of the acid in rain on rock – put a piece of limestone or natural chalk in a jar and pour vinegar onto it.
- Look at pictures of Bryce Canyon (Utah) and the Giants Causeway (Ireland) to see examples of erosion.

Lesson 16
- Mountains and Volcanoes pp. 18-19
- Make fossils with Plaster of Paris and modeling clay.

Lesson 17
- Mountains and Volcanoes pp. 20-21
- Talk about how volcanoes are made. Demonstrate how lava flows and sets by making toffee. (Maybe.)
- I Wonder Why Mountains... pp. 8-11

Lesson 18
- Mountains and Volcanoes p. 22
- Discuss and draw three different kinds of volcanic types.
- Check Volcano World or other online site for pictures/videos of three types forming.

Lesson 19
- Learn about the six eruption types: Icelandic, Hawaiian, Strombolian, Vulcanian, Pelean and Plinian from Volcano World. Make a page on eruption types for your notebook.

Lesson 20
- Choose a symbol for volcanoes and make a key for your mountain map. Mark the following volcanoes: Mount St.Helens, USA (composite cone); Mount Fuji, Japan (composite cone); Mauna Loa, Hawaii (shield cone); Mount Vesuvius, Italy (cinder cone), Mount Etna, Sicily (composite cone).
- Look at pictures of as many of these volcanoes as possible, either online or in a book.

Lesson 21
- Mountains and Volcanoes p. 23
- Build an erupting volcano.

Lesson 22
- Mountains and Volcanoes pp. 24-25
- Read about undersea volcanoes and volcanic islands. Add Krakatoa, Surtsey and Mauna Kea to your map. Add pictures of volcanoes to your notebook.
- I Wonder Why Mountains... pp. 12-13

Lesson 23
- Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens Chapter 1

Lesson 24
- Volcano Chapter 2

Lesson 25
- Volcano Chapter 3

Lesson 26
- Volcano Chapter 4

Lesson 27
- Volcano Chapter 5

Lesson 28
- Mountains and Volcanoes pp. 26-27
- Learn about igneous rocks. Look at a diamond and a piece of pumice stone and examine them with a magnifying glass.
- Mark Le Puy (France), Giant's Causeway (Northern Ireland) and Staffa (Scotland) on your map.

Lesson 29
- Mountains and Volcanoes pp. 26-27
- Make crystals.

Lesson 30
- Mountains and Volcanoes p. 28
- Explain geysers and look at pictures.
- Add geysers to your map key and mark Yellowstone National Park (USA), Iceland, New Zealand and Honshu (Japan).
- Make a page on geysers for your notebook.
- View webcam of Old Faithful.

Lesson 31
- Mountains and Volcanoes p. 29
- Make a geyser.

Lesson 32
- Mountains and Volcanoes pp. 30-31

Lesson 33
- I Wonder Why Mountains... pp. 20-23

Lesson 34
- I Wonder Why Mountains... pp. 24-27

Lesson 35
- I Wonder Why Mountains... pp. 28-31

And that's it! I think First Son is going to love this course!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First Son's Narration: The Riddle of the Sphinx

There once was a king and queen that really wanted a son and at last the queen gave birth to a baby boy. Then when the king brought his son to the temple of Apollo, the priest there said that he would kill his father and have his father’s queen for his wife. Then when the king heard this, he ordered one of his servant’s to kill his son, but when the servant got where he planned to kill him, he pierced his ankles and hung him up on a tree.

A shepherd came and found him and then he went to the city where he came from and gave him to the king and queen of that city. Then he grew up to be a good sports player, racing and boxing and wrestling. When he went to a temple to pray, the priestess there said that he would kill his father and take his father’s queen for his wife, just as his real father heard when he was just an infant.

Then he ran away through the city, tried to escape. He saw a chariot coming. The rider on top said “Get out of the way and let me pass.” And when he would not pass the servant tried to whip him, but the prince was too fast. He grabbed the whip, struck the servant dead and also knocked the man off the chariot and his head landed on a rock and then he died. Little did the prince know that this man was his real father.

Then he heard of a giant monster called the Sphinx which had the wings of an eagle, the head of a woman, and the body of a lion. Then he dared to go and try to answer its daring riddle. He solved it. Then the Sphinx went out of the city, cawing and flapping, cawing and flapping. And then he returned to the city and had a queen for his bride. Little did he know that this was his real mother, the second part of the prophecy.

Then a giant plague ran through the city which he was in. He sent messengers to go to the temple, to go into the hills, and see what they wanted them to do before the plague stopped. Then when all the other people didn’t know who, there was an old blind man who knew. Then the king said it wasn’t true. Then suddenly the story of his life unraveled and the truth came crashing down on him. And then he stabbed his own eyes to blindness. Then everyone started robbing from him. All he did was stumble and beg through all the streets. Only his own daughter cared about him. He drifted away in peace.

 -- narrated by First Son today (in third grade) after a reading of the myth in Classic Myths to Read Aloud

I resolve to read this post every time I despair of First Son's ability to narrate.

My Favorite Picture Books: Ox-Cart Man

Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall with pictures by Barbara Cooney

I read this book with the girls during our first week of school and it's a wonderful way to begin kindergarten or preschool (or end a day or begin a reading session or...well, anytime).

Hall begins in the fall by describing a year's worth of goods grown, sewn, carved, and gathered by a New England family. The ox-cart man loads it all up and travels by the side of his ox to Portsmouth where he sells everything, even the cart and the ox. He buys a few precious things for his family and walks home. Through the coming year, we watch the family again growing, sewing, carving, and harvesting in anticipation of another trip to the market.

Barbara Cooney's illustrations are wonderful as always, warmly illustrating this family's life of hard work and cooperation. The tone and style makes us easily believe they were painted long ago.

This is one of those perfect books that should be read again and again by every family.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Updated Homeschool Review: Connecting with History Volume One

This review was originally published in June 2011. Since then, I have learned more about the program and Sonya, the author, has developed a new website and additional resources so I decided to update the review before writing one on the second volume. You can read the original one here.


I spent a long time last year searching for a history program. I wanted something cyclical, so we could start with creation in first grade and come back to it again in a few years. I wasn't sure I wanted something specifically Catholic, but that's what I found.

Connecting with History is a Catholic history program based on the classical model. Families can study history on a four year cycle, eventually. Volume One, Volume Two, and Volume Three are available. Volume Four is currently being developed. In each volume, reading lists are provided for four levels: Beginner (1-3), Grammar (4-6), Logic (7-9) and Rhetoric (10-12). There are recommendations in a few of the units for combining students at different levels for some of the books.

The goal is to "connect" the student with history. You can read more about the six steps here. Each unit includes a summary, list of timeline cards, vocabulary, essay and research ideas, creative writing ideas, ideas of hands-on projects, maps from Blackline Maps of World History (which is now out of print; information on substituting Map Trek is available upon request and in the file sharing groups), and memory and copy work suggestions.

In Volume 1, we studied Old Testament history and Ancient cultures. The main textbook at the Beginner level is a children's Bible along with engaging nonfiction books. Every unit also includes literature suggestions of which they recommend you select at least one to read with the children.

Learning to be archaeologists
We loved almost every single book suggested in the units. One of my favorites was Old Testament Days, which is a wonderful book full of not only lots of activities that really help kids understand what life was like for the people in the Old Testament, but also short pieces that expand geographical, political and religious knowledge for kids. (Me, too.) Another one the children really enjoyed was Famous Figures of Ancient Times. It's a good thing two of each figure are included in the book. First Son and First Daughter both loved putting all the figures together. First Daughter could do most of them herself (at four years old).

I would have liked to do more culminating activities for each unit. Those were some of the things I cut from our schedule. Volume 1 provides only a few examples and suggestions for writing assignments and big projects, but I've glanced through Volume 2 and they've really expanded that section for each unit.

I think, too, that we read far too many of the literature selections. They were all excellent, but we had trouble finishing our history in a timely manner. (In fact, we have another week or so of history readings. I want to make sure to finish Volume 1 before we start Volume 2 in the fall.) I really hope to try to rein myself in a little more next year!

Making a salt dough map of the Promised Land
I started out with American history twice a week and Ancient history twice a week. After a few months, it was obvious what I'd selected for American history was not pleasing us. I cut that out and spread our Ancient history out over four days. Not only did we enjoy the readings more, it helped to shortened our history readings, narrations, and mapwork short, which made First Son much happier. Next year I'm adding American history back in, so we'll have to see how it works out.

Volume 1 is heavily focused on Western history.  At first I was disappointed to find nothing on other ancient cultures (like China and India), but realized later that these cultures are introduced as Western civilization encountered them. While it remains Western history, there is the opportunity to expand readings on those cultures as much as we'd like.

I was very pleased with our history and have already ordered Volume Two (and most of the books!) to use next year.

This review is my own opinion. I did not receive anything in exchange for it. Currently, RC History does not have a referral program, so I will not receive anything if any purchase is made. (Updated in 2015, RC History does now have a referral program. If you would like to make a purchase under my account, please use this link to enter the store. I have not modified the links within the text so they are not referral links.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (43rd Ed.)

It's late on Sunday night and, unlike most weeks, I didn't jot down a single note about what I loved last week, so this is going to be quick and (probably) incomplete. And without pictures.

1. Last week was our first week of school! Only 35 weeks to go...

2. First Daughter's reading lessons were a delight last week. We finished up last year really struggling, not because she couldn't read but because she couldn't be still and focused, effectively driving me crazy. After a summer off, she's brilliant - flying through lessons with hardly any problems at all (pretty impressive without any review). So I think she just needed to mature a little and I intend to remember that when it comes time to teach Second Daughter how to read. If she gives me any trouble, we'll just set it aside.

3. Second Son praying with us in the morning. He runs over to the prayer shelf and holds his little hands in prayer.

4. First Son's independent reading went really well last week. I had been asking him to read one book aloud to me and a different one independently, but I was so pleased, I think we'll just let him read the one independently and have him narrate now and then in the form of discussions which should come easily as he's reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

5. Grammy treated us all to an afternoon at the zoo on Sunday. Lovely weather, lovely company, lovely day! It was especially fun to watch Second Son because he didn't remember the last time we were there.

There was probably a lot more; I'll have to track it all better this week.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Review: Saints and Heroes

Saints and Heroes by Ethel Pochocki with illustrations by Mary Beth Owens

I am not surprised I loved this book. It follows very much in style and substance Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints, only written for older, independent readers. It reads very much as if the author were settled down next to the reader with a meaningful story to share.

There are many saints children will find familiar in this book: St. Juan Diego, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Katharine Drexel and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (who deserves to become familiar with young children and will become a saint this October; First Daughter is already planning a celebration for teh occasion). Alongside these are figures less well-known, at least here in America, like Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, and Maura Clarke, all martyred in El Salvador in 1980. My favorite story was that of St. Josephine Bakhita, a greatly inspiring saint who suffered as a slave and found freedom in Christ and His Church.

I also appreciated the comforting stories of St. Maximilian Kolbe and the Holy Innocents of 9/11/2001. In these pages, Ms. Pockocki tackles horrible events of the modern world with grace and compassion. I intend to read the 9/11 story with First Son when we discuss that day in American History this year (in third grade) and will likely share the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe when we read about the concentration camps of World War II next year, in fourth grade.

I think First Son could read this book now as far as the reading level goes, but I would be cautious about sharing it with him given the examples of modern day martyrdom. I would be willing for him to hear the stories, but am not sure I want him reading them alone just yet and I'm not anxious to read them aloud to the girls just yet. (This is likely a barrier in my own mind, but I'm hesitant to share modern martyr stories with them when they are so young, though we have read many stories of martyrs in the more distant past and have discussed how some people are still persecuted in modern times.)

I've linked to the book on Amazon above, but I purchased it directly from Bethlehem Books. I did not receive anything in exchange for this review and will not receive anything if you make a purchase from Bethlehem Books. I am an affiliate with Amazon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Saving Name of God the Son

edited by Jean Ann Sharpe with artwork by Fra Angelico

I recently purchased this board book as a baptism anniversary gift for Second Son and absolutely love it. I bought a few extra copies to give to godchildren and I wish I'd picked up more. (I bought mine directly from Bethlehem Books.)

This book introduces children (and parents) to the person of Jesus Christ using text born of the liturgy of the Eucharist, all complemented perfectly with appropriate artwork by Fra Angelico. It begins with the Annunciation and shows the life of Jesus through the Ascension and the Last Judgment. It's beautiful in every way and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Notes at the end identify every painting. In addition, a list of references from the Bible and The Catechism of the Catholic Church appear for the text on each page. It is, therefore, a perfect book for godchildren and their parents, imparting the faith in a beautiful way. Holy Child Curriculum also provides a page of suggested activities, none of which I have tried yet with Second Son. (He loves to point to Jesus in every painting, though.)

It was originally envisioned as the first of a series, including books on God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. I can only hope if enough of us purchase and share this wonderful book, they will provide the remaining books.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (42nd Ed.)

1. Last week, First Son became an alter server. He served daily Mass four times and is now ready to serve on a Sunday, though I think it'll be September before he gets on the schedule. He was so very excited! I absolutely loved how he would leap out of bed when we went in to wake him so he could eat early enough.

2. We ate lunch at Taco Bell to celebrate First Son's first day serving Mass. (Mainly this was because it worked out for us to be in town during lunch in between errands, but he was pleased.)

3. Second Daughter and Second Son both had well-child visits last week. Both are healthy and doing well. Second Son seemed to finally figure out the doctor was not actually going to hurt him. He still cried, but there was a measurable decrease in his agitation over the course of the visit.

4. I took the kids, all of the kids, on a number of errands last week. No one hyperventilated. No one had a panic attack. No one called the authorities. I was very pleased. Stressed, but pleased. (Anyone who has taken four children between two and eight on errands involving school supplies, superstores, clothes, doctor's offices, and a hobby store will understand the stress.)

5. Included in our errands were two trips to the library, conveniently located for the times I needed something to occupy us for just a little while between appointments. First Son asked about getting a library card, so we did. The three older ones all have cards now and gleefully used the self-check-out for two books each.

6. Second Son "read" Blue Hat, Green Hat. The rendition was recognizable and adorable.

7. Second Son has also started joining in with our Litany of Saints during evening prayer. He'll sing, "Pway fo us!" (The older kids also taught him to sing "St. Elmo" in the Litany, which is hilarious and I do dearly pray for St. Elmo to forgive any disrespect. I hope he has a sense of humor...)

8. We took our annual back to school field trip last week. This year we decided to go to the Oklahoma Aquarium to see the sharks. It was a bit of a drive, but the kids handled it well and I think they had a great time. They may even have learned something.

First Daughter took our picture

9. Kansas Dad and I finished week 7 of P90X. We're more than half-way done - only six weeks to go!

10. Yesterday was our first day of school! That explains why "What I Loved About Last Week" is a day late; I was too busy gathering materials on Sunday night to finish the post. It was a good day! First Daughter had a fabulous reading lesson (meaning she didn't cry or make me cry) and First Son handled the day rather well.

First Son - first day of third grade

First Daughter - first day of kindergarten
Second Daughter - four years old and causing trouble
Second Son - two years old and wants in on the fun of picture time

Friday, August 10, 2012

Science Plans for Third Grade: Physics

Quote from Charlotte Mason in Towards a Philosophy of Education:
Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value.

For the past couple of years, we've used Noeo Chemistry I and Noeo Biology I for our science curriculum. You can click the links for full reviews, but for the most part I was satisfied. In particular, we enjoyed the chemistry program. When I started thinking about the upcoming year, though, I was uncertain about using the Noeo Physics I course.

First, it uses the Young Scientists Club experiment kits. I know these have received awards for organizations, but I was not impressed with them. I think for a little more money, you can find much more robust experiment sets.

Second, I found using Noeo two days a week to lead to very long lessons. For both biology and chemistry, I would use the four day schedule to avoid long readings. In third grade, I was hoping to cut science back to two days a week in part to increase our nature study time. It would be even better if I could finish the course early in the spring to allow for additional outside time as the flowers are awakening. The only way to finish early, maintain short lessons, and have science two days a week was to cut half or more of the lessons. It seems like a big investment to use less than half of the materials.

Third, Noeo Physics I includes the book Starry Messenger. Personally I don't think this book gives a good historical view of Galileo's relationship with the Catholic church, which was complicated and political. I don't think anyone in the Church claims the case was handled well on either side, but this book seems extremist. Moreover, the illustrations are a little disturbing. With picture books, the illustrations will remain with the children longer than the words and I am not anxious to share this book with my kids.

Fourth, I didn't want to spend a lot of money. Or, more precisely, if I was going to spend money I wanted it to be for experiments, not books. (Shock! Gasp! We have a great library and I intend to use it.)

The most important reason I opted against Noeo Physics I, though, is the Mater Amabilis schedule for fourth grade. If I follow it, we'll cover magnetism and light along with some wonderful reading the following year. I felt like I could skip it in third grade and still have a great year of science.

I could, of course, skip science altogether in third grade. Nature study alone is more than sufficient in the younger grades...but, I love science, and so do the kids. I didn't want to cut it completely.

So, in third grade, we're going to cover Physics Part I as developed by Kansas Mom with inspiration from Noeo Physics I, At Home Science, and library searches. I also intend to read a picture book that corresponds to our week's topic for the girls (kindergarten and preschool). I wouldn't be surprised if First Son listens in to that as well, as I expect them to listen a bit to the physics lessons and participate in the experiments (because everyone loves experiments).

Force and Gravity

Forces in the Earth: A Book About Gravity and Magnetism by R. J. Lefkowtiz (gravity chapters only)
Newton and Three Laws of Motion by Nicholas Croce (chapter 5 only)

Experiments and Demonstrations
Janice VanCleave's Physics for Every Kid

Picture Books
Gravity Is a Mystery (Let's-Read-And-Find-Out Science) by Franklyn Mansfield Branley
Up, Down, All Around: A Story of Gravity (Science Works) by Jacqui Bailey
Energy Makes Things Happen (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Forces Make Things Move (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown


Eye Wonder: Invention by Caroline Bingham

Picture Books
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition by William Kamkwamba


The Paper Airplane Book by Seymour Simon (including making and flying airplanes)

Picture Books
To Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers by Wendie C. Old (read over a few weeks)
Animals in Flight by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins

Book Basket Books
The Wright Brothers: Inventors Whose Ideas Really Took Flight by Mike Venezia
DK Eyewitness Books: Flying Machine by Andrew Nahum
Super Wings: The Step-By-Step Paper Airplane Book by Peter Clemens


How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by Rosalyn Schanzer
Great Inventors and Inventions (Dover History Coloring Book) by Bruce LaFontaine (Thomas Edison, The Electric Battery, Alternating Current and the Tesla Coil)
Wired by Anastasia Suen

Experiments and Demonstrations
Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100

Picture Books
Young Thomas Edison by Michael Dooling
Charged Up: The Story of Electricity (Science Works) by Jacqui Bailey
The Magic School Bus And The Electric Field Trip by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degan

More Inventions

Eye Wonder: Invention by Caroline Bingham

Picture Books
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
All Aboard!: Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine (Great Idea Series) by Monica Kulling


Rubber-Band Banjos and a Java Jive Bass: Projects and Activities on the Science of Music and Sound by Alex Sabbeth (including experiments)
Great Inventors and Inventions (Dover History Coloring Book) by Bruce LaFontaine (Radio)
Marconi's Battle for Radio by Beverly Birch

Picture Books
Sounds All Around (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1) by Wendy Pfeffer
The Magic School Bus In The Haunted Museum: A Book About Sound by Linda Beech
Mole Music by David McPhail
The Magic Flute: An Opera by Mozart by Kyra Teis
Cool Bopper's Choppers by Linda Oatman High
Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman
The First Music by Dylan Pritchett
Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido D'Arezzo by Susan Roth
Out and about at the Orchestra by Barbara J. Turner

We'll be done after 31 weeks and the only purchase I made was the SnapCircuits. Everything else was available at the library, through, or something I already owned. Feel free to take and modify this book list, but if you live in my area, please switch it up a little so we don't end requesting the books at the same time!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Rapunzel

Rapunzel: Based on the Original Story by the Brothers Grimm retold and illustrated by Sarah Gibb

There are lots of picture books that retell fairy tales and many of them are worthwhile. When reading fairy tales in a picture book, the illustrations are just as important than the tale itself, especially if it is one that is well known by the listeners. This book is a delight to all little girls who dream of being in a fairy tale themselves.

Lovely colored pictures are interspersed with silhouettes. The illustrations are full of long flowing dresses and long flowing hair. Rapunzel is barefoot throughout with pointed toes worthy of any young ballerina.

I had already fallen in love with this book when Kansas Dad said, "These illustrations are really good." No family interested in fairy tales should neglect this story.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (41st Ed.)

I really should have picture this week...but I'm too lazy (again) to get them off the camera.

1. Watching the "'Lympics" with the kids (as Second Daughter calls them). They're fascinated by everything. We've talked about the different sports, exercises, dedication, perseverance, different countries, different colors of people all over the world, winning and losing gracefully, and generally just had a good time.

2. A very old friend was near-by last week on a business trip. She stopped by for dinner two days last week! We're really hoping she'll be back again soon.

3. Second Son's baptism anniversary was last week. I asked that the Mass be said for his intentions that day so we started with daily Mass. He was kind of grumpy all day and into the night. Hopefully that didn't have anything to do with the Mass and his baptism anniversary blessing!

4. On Saturday Kansas Dad went into the office to focus on his grading. We had a quiet day at home. At one point, First Son decided to write a letter to an author (of his own accord, and a very nice one at that!) while First Daughter said a Rosary by herself. I would have felt proud of our parenting skills if Second Son and Second Daughter hadn't been following each other around the whole time fighting over anything either one of them touched.

5. I have decided that First Son is really and truly finally reading silently. For a long time he refused to even try. For even longer I was convinced he was just looking at pictures, but I think he's got the knack now. These sorts of things are very exciting for some reason.

6. Second Son "punching" along with our exercise video and counting (something like "two and nine and two and free and one and nine"). He's so adorable!

7. Swimming again! We braved the water park again on Sunday. It had cooled down into the mid-90s so it was almost too chilly outside! We took the little ones to the indoor heated pool for the last half hour. Everyone had a great time at the pool, but it does seem to end up in exhaustion and whining before the day is out. Second Daughter fell asleep right after dinner on Grammy's couch, slept when we moved her to the van, while Kansas Dad ran errands, when we moved her out of the van, when I changed her into pajamas, and all the way into bed for the night.

8. I'm finished making our lesson plans! They're insanely detailed, but that's how I like them. There's no way we'll do every single thing I have on there, but I prefer to cut later than to try to remember something I thought we might try if we had time. Now I just need to figure out when we're going to fit them into our days. And I need to tackle the homeschooling baskets and cabinets. They are still a disaster from last year!

First Son is serving as an altar server at daily Mass this coming week! We have lots of errands and a little more planning and organizing to do before school starts on the 13th! Exciting!

Friday, August 3, 2012

July 2012 Book Reports

Earthquake at Dawn by Kristina Gregory is a fictional account of Edith Irvine's experiences of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. She was an amateur photographer whose prints survived 80 years in a trunk before they were donated to Brigham Young University by her nephew. They show a devastated city. I had considered reading this aloud next year along with our American History studies but decided it would not be engaging enough for First Son, mainly due to its focus on the young women and families rather than the excitement and danger of the firefighters and other rescuers. I'll put it on the list for consideration when the girls are older. (library copy)

Edmund Campion by Evelyn Waugh is a well-written account of Edmund Campion's life and martyrdom. I had wondered if it might be more nuanced than Edmund Campion: Hero of God's Underground which I read last May. I find it tells nearly the same story. I suppose it's not quite so black and white, but there is no redemption for the leaders of the English Reformation in Waugh's book. I do recommend it for anyone interested in the life of Edmund Campion. (inter-library loan)

Made to Crave by Lisa TerKeust (purchased copy)

The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum (library copy)

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright is a nice little book about nine-year-old Garnet's summer days on a farm in Wisconsin in the late 1930s. The drought is breaking and it seems to be a summer of joys and fun. There's no dramatic plot, just a series of events in Garnet's life, most of which are the kind I'd love for my children to have. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the importance smell has in the descriptions. With air conditioners and machinery, I think the good smells of life have been diminished.  The book has a major flaw, though. The text talks repeatedly of one of Garnet's friends being "fat" while the illustrations show them both as very slim. It would be hard for a young girl not to wonder exactly how thin you can be and still be fat. We might read this as one of our read-alouds this coming year, but I doubt I'll show those illustrations if we do. (purchased at a library sale)

The Story of King Arthur (Dover Children's Thrift Classics) by Tom Crawford was on our list for last year's history reading but we didn't get to it. I read it this summer thinking I might give it to First Son for independent reading but I was rather disappointed. It's the bare story of King Arthur (mainly Sir Lancelot) and not much else. (purchased copy)

Old Sam, Dakota Trotter by Don Alonzo Taylor is now on our list of read-aloud books for American history. It's written based on the memories of the author's childhood in Dakota Territory. Exciting and entertaining, it's perfect for boys but I expect all my children to enjoy it. (purchased copy; I bought mine from Bethlehem Books)

Louisa May Alcott, Young Writer by Laurence Santrey is a nice little book on Louisa May Alcott. I intend to ask First Son to read it independently (which he should be able to do in a single sitting) if we read Little Women together as a family this year.  (received from my mom; I think she bought it at a thrift store)

A Picture Book of the Mass from Catholic Icing (review copy)

The Story of Christianity: Volume Two - The Reformation to the Present Day by Justo L. Gonzalez was recommended to me by Kansas Dad when I was looking for a broad overview of the Reformation to prepare myself for the upcoming school year. He said it wasn't very entertaining, but I found it to be a relatively easy read for the weight and breadth of the topic, treated with broad strokes, of course. I believe the author is Catholic, but did not think it was biased against the Protestants. I learned a great amount about the Reformation in a relatively short number of pages, so would recommend it to homeschooling moms. So far I've only read the Reformation section, but I plan to read the rest of this volume as well. (Kansas Dad's copy; a new edition is available)

Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe showed up in a library search I made for "Niger River." Chike is eleven and longs to cross the Niger River, though he lacks the money for the ferry. A reader will learn along with Chike about honesty, wisdom, trust, friendship, and courage, along with some well-written descriptions of life in a Nigerian village. I intend to include this with our study of 52 Days by Camel, though I haven't decided if I will read it aloud or if First Son will read it to the rest of us. Highly recommended. (library copy)

Help Me Pray (a review for Catholic Company)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Over and Under the Snow

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal

Time to think about winter! I'm planning some winter-themed books to read with my girls this coming year and this book is a delightful new addition to our seasonal rotation.

A young girl and her father are cross-country skiing through the northeastern woods. As they glide "over the snow," they discuss the life "under the snow," in the subnivean zone. Deer mice, squirrels, shrews, voles, and bears appear, along with white-tailed deer and snowshoe hares and others. The bits of information about the animals are introduced naturally in the course of the story with more information provided at the end (along with recommended resources in books and online).

Christopher Silas Neal's artwork is all cool-toned for the winter season with the girl's red hat, scarf and mittens providing bright accents, along with the red fox. The animals are shown under the snow with the girl and her father above. Even I could pore over these pages; they are indeed art.

This is a perfect book to read just for the pure enjoyment of it's flowing language and illustrations, but it could also be a useful accompaniment to a study of winter habitats. There are plenty of topics for further discussion, if that's your wont: hibernation, life cycles, insects, amphibians, mammals, constellations, and camouflage (just for starters). I think this book deserves a place on every bookshelf, right next to Owl Moon (which of course should have its own post as one of my favorite picture books, but surely you've all read it already!).