Monday, April 29, 2013

Homeschool Review: 2012-2013 Family Read-Alouds in World History

I already wrote about our American History read-aloud books. The ones below were selected to match up with Connecting with History Volume 3 (mid-11th century through the end of the 17th century).

This year, First Son was in third grade and First Daughter was in kindergarten. Second Daughter (age four) and Second Son (age two) were often around at read-aloud time as well.

Adventures of Robin Hood (Classic Starts) adapted by John Burrows from Howard Pyle's original - First Son could have read this himself, but I knew the girls would enjoy it as well. I don't know how it compares to the original (since I've never read it myself), but we all enjoyed this book and it's appropriate for all ages.

Alfred of Wessex by Frank Morriss should have been first on our list, but I forgot about it. I own this for my Kindle and thought First Son would enjoy the exciting story of the king who fought off the Viking invaders, but he and the girls were all ready for it to end before we finished it. (This book is not listed in the Connecting with History syllabus.)

Saint Thomas Aquinas for Children and the Childlike by Maritain Raissa is a nice introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas for children, touching on much of his intellectual work. First Son could have read the words, but he understood it much better because I read it aloud and we could talk about it a little.

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli is one of my very favorite books. It's a wonderful book to read for early medieval England, but it's also a marvelous story of courage and perseverance all on its own. We listened to this one on an audio CD from the library and the children all enjoyed it immensely. Highly recommended anytime.

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray is another one of my very favorite books. Separated from his father and his sweet dog, Adam is courageous and resourceful. He learns patience, perseverance, dedication, and how many wonderful people there are in the world to help a young man on his way. This is truly one of those historical fiction novels that are always worthy of being read, aloud or independently.

Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel Brill is the story of a young Canadian woman who takes command of her family's manor when it is under attack by Iroquois. It's recommended for the Logic level, but I owned it and thought it would be alright to read it aloud. It fostered some interesting discussions and the children were thrilled with the exciting story. The chapters were short enough to keep them eager for more.

With the exception of Alfred of Wessex, all of these books can be purchased from RC History, along with Connecting with History Volume Three.

The links above are affiliate links, but I received nothing in exchange for writing these reviews. I purchased all of the books above, and Connecting with History Volume Three.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Catholic Company Book Review: Seeds of Faith for Children

by Rosemarie Gortler and Donna Piscitelli
illustrated by Mimi Sternhagen

Over and over again, I am pleased with the little books for children written by Rosemarie Gortler and Donna Piscitelli. I own all but one, I think (Living the 10 Commandments for Children) and even reviewed Little Acts of Grace 2 for The Catholic Company a few years ago.

I have used all of these books as our catechism books for my preschoolers and kindergarteners, but I think Seeds of Faith for Children will quickly become one of my favorite first books to use in our homeschool (along with Little Acts of Grace and The Mass Book for Children).

In this book, children learn how the gifts of God through the Church help our faith to grow just like a seed well tended grows into a beautiful plant. These precious gifts are prayers, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments, sacramentals, and even the opportunities to do acts of charity. The explanations are perfect for little ones like preschoolers and kindergarteners, encouraging them to make connections with the prayers they hear at Mass and the statues or other sacramentals they may see at home.

Throughout, there are quotes from Scripture (the RSV translation, not modified) and from the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church. The end of the book includes prayers, a list of the sacraments, and the Ten Commandments. (The Commandments are also listed within the text, but in language more accessible for young children. I thought it was very well done.)

The illustrations by Mimi Sternhagen include the little mouse my children have learned to find on each page. I appreciated that, though the mouse is shown going to confession, he does not take Communion. I love how Jesus himself appears in the confessional and with the priest in the illustration of First Communion (which has such a beautiful young girl!). I can tell there has been a real effort to make the illustrations an additional source of information on the faith for children.

Another wonderful book from Rosemarie Gortler and Donna Piscitelli.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an objective review.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Seeds of Faith for Children. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Homeschool Review: 2012-2013 Family Read-Alouds in American History

This year, I decided we'd set aside a little time each day to share a read-aloud with the family focused on the time period we were studying in history, one for American History and one for World History. I found some of these in resources like Let the Authors Speak, books I already owned, or through library searches.

We would read through the American History read-aloud two or three times a week until it was done. Then I'd start a new book that matched up with our current studies. We read these when First Son was in third grade and First Daughter was in kindergarten. Second Daughter (four) and Second Son (two) were intermittent listeners.

This year in American History, we started with a study of slavery and the Civil War. Then we just moved chronologically up to the present times.

Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling is a biography of Harriet Tubman for children. I thought it was a nice way to learn about slavery and the struggle for freedom. (purchased copy, I think at a library sale)

Old Sam: Dakota Trotter by Don Alonzo Taylor is the story of a trotting horse with an injured leg who proves himself time and again on the frontier. It's told wonderfully from the perspective of a young boy who loves the prairie life. The kids loved this book! (purchased copy, from Bethlehem Books)

All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor is one of my very favorite books. Set in New York City, it chronicles the delightful daily life of a Jewish family with five young girls. All of my children loved this story. We followed it up with the next two books on audio CD from the library (All of a Kind Family Downtown and More All-of-a-Kind Family). I'll be checking the next one out of the library to read aloud as the children are all asking for more - even Second Son! (The first one we read was also a library copy.)

Blue Willow by Doris Gates is another one of my favorite books. It's such a sweet story of courage and every day life during the Great Depression. Janey's father lost his ranch in the Dust Bowl and now they follow the field work. She longs for a permanent home and a regular school. Her family is loving and supportive and she finds new and wonderful friends. (library copy)

Gentle Ben by Walt Morey is the story of a young boy and his pet bear set in the territory of Alaska. It's a wonderful addition to any story of Alaska or a nature study on northern habitats. (purchased copy, at a going-out-of-business-sale)

Every one of these books would be worthy of reading aloud regardless of any history studies. In fact, those are exactly the kind of books I seek out for our family read-alouds.

These were a number of other books I had ready and waiting but we did not have time to read them aloud together this year during our American History read-aloud time.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink - Because it's one of my favorite books, we read it as one of our regular family read-alouds (which we read every day!), so we didn't miss out on it. (I own this book from my childhood.)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - I wanted to read this, but we didn't really have time for it and Kansas Dad thought First Son probably wouldn't be that interested. When the girls are older, we're definitely going to read it aloud! (I own this book, too.)

Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder - This is a wonderful book of post-Civil War life, forgiveness, and family, but we just didn't have time to read it. I might ask First Son to read it independently next year. (We would have used a library copy.)

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright is a nice story of a young girl in Wisconsin, but I don't think it's quite as good as the other books. (I picked this up at a library sale.)

The Mitchells: Five for Victory by Hilda van Stockum is a lovely tale of five Mitchell children at home during World War II. It's a read-aloud appropriate for all ages about what life was like in the war years. It's predictable, but in a sweet way. I'm very tempted to ask First Son to read this independently next year or read it aloud just for fun with the girls. (I purchased this for my Kindle from Bethlehem Books, though I do not see it offered at the moment.)

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata is the story of a young girl sent to one of the Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. I liked this story on many levels and think it would be great for older children, especially girls, as an accompaniment to a World War II study but in the end decided against reading it with my younger children. There's nothing really inappropriate; I just think older kids would appreciate Sumiko's emotions and struggles more. (library copy)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review: Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons is one of the recommended books for classic children's literature for Mater Amabilis, Level 2. I had seen this book recommended a number of times but had never read it myself. What a shame! First Son will read this book in fourth grade next year.

The four Walker children are on holiday with their mother and young sister when their father gives them permission to camp alone on an uninhabited island. The book is full of their elaborate imaginative play (along with friends) and their opportunities to grow in responsibility. It's really wonderful and highly recommended.

A central part of the storyline is the sailboat the Walkers use (the Amazon) and the book is full of extensive sailing vocabulary. Because that and the sayings of sailors and pirates are not commonly heard here in Kansas (surprised, aren't you?), I created vocabulary sheets as I read the book myself. I copied sentences from the book with words or phrases underlined. If First Son can tell me what they mean (after reading the chapter independently), he's done. If not, either we'll look them up together or he will alone and then report back to me. If I need any, many of the sentences would work well for copywork.

My only disappointment is that the library has only two of the novels. It will be expensive if I decide to collect the series for our home library (though undoubtedly worthwhile).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Athanasius

Athanasius by Simonetta Carr
part of the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series

I first saw this book mentioned on Brandy's blog and was immediately intrigued because St. Athanasius is our family's patron saint and there are not many books available on him for young children. (Of course, there's St. Athanasius by Forbes, but that's not for young children and is not anything close to an objective biography. We'll read it a bit later anyway.)

The series is obviously written from a Protestant viewpoint (given the titles on John Calvin, for example), but that didn't mean this particular book would be inappropriate for Catholics. Not willing to spend money without seeing it first, I requested it from inter-library loan.

I thought it was a nice biography of Athanasius with a well-written description of the Arian heresy for young readers. I think First Son (who is in third grade now) could easily read this himself and, with some discussion, understand quite a bit of the controversy. It includes maps, icons, and photographs of busts of the Roman emperors, along with the artists illustrations.

The Nicene Creed at the end of the book is not the one we say at Mass, but overall the book is a good introduction to St. Athanasius (though it never calls him a saint, of course) for Catholics. I hope to purchase it for our homeschool.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Review: A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms

by Lisa M. Hendey

I love reading books about the saints and have read quite a few. This is one that surprised me with how well it connected the lives of saints (some of whom I thought I knew quite well) to the daily activities of my own life.

Lisa Hendey has compiled a book on the 52 saints that have been most helpful to her own life. In a surprising way, she has written about the lives of these saints, the lessons we can learn from them, and the support they can provide for women at all stages of motherhood.

For each saint, she provides a short biography, an explanation of how this saint has been her particular friend and when she calls on him or her, traditions associate with the saint, a brief quote, a week's worth of Scripture and short prayers related to how the saint is most helpful to mothers, activities for mom and for mom with the children, a prayer to be said each day for a week with the whole family, and a few thought-provoking questions. I had this book from inter-library loan, so I did not have the leisure of a year to spend with these saints, but I think I could benefit greatly from doing so. I think my children would happily pray with me to these saints during evening prayer.

I had only two complaints about this book, and they are small indeed. I prefer a different translation for the Scripture verses (easily remedied with my own Bible) and I would have liked a reference for the source of the quotes from the saints. A few I know are from Scripture, and many of the others were probably from books mentioned in the text, but I think it would be easier for someone to follow up on the quotes if there was a reference.

Overall, this is one of my favorite books on saints. I think it's appropriate for all Catholic women, though married women would probably appreciate it more. Ms. Hendey is open and comforting for both those who suffer with infertility and those who are overwhelmed caring for large families.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane

The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C. M. Millen, illustrated by Andrea Wisnewski

Brother Theophane isn't very focused on his copywork in the scriptorium. He's sent to make the brown ink, instead, but a foray into the forest for bark yields more interesting results. This book lets us peek into the world of illuminated manuscripts during the Middle Ages. Brother Theophane is an imaginary monk, but the development of beautiful colored ink and elaborate decorations on manuscripts is real enough. A nice note at the end gives background to the creation of inks and illuminated manuscripts.

I like how Brother Theophane, while not quite like the other staid monks, is portrayed without condemnation or bitterness. His colored ink is welcomed by the others but their calm and steady monastery life continues.

Andrew Wisnewski's illustrations are fabulous. They manage to create some of the beauty of illuminated manuscripts within a print with lots of wonderful details that connect to the story for those willing and eager to seek through them.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Discussion: Chapter 6 of Unconditional Parenting

The quotes in this post are all from the sixth chapter of Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn: What Holds Us Back?. 

In this chapter, Mr. Kohn asks why people choose not to use unconditional parenting.
If conditional and control-based parenting are really as bad as I say they are--and, more important, if they're as bad as scientific research and real-world experience show they are--then why are they so popular? Or, to put it differently, what holds so many of us back from being better parents?
The tone of his question seems to imply we have all learned about unconditional parenting and dismissed it as a valid way to parent. I think it's more likely people have never heard a strong argument in favor of this method. I haven't read extensively in the "how to parent" genre, but like any parent I've read much in newspapers and magazines as well as talked a lot with other parents. Mr. Kohn's book is really the first to argue for this particular type of parenting.

I think a better question is why the so-called parenting experts have not been writing and talking more about unconditional parenting. This chapter focuses more on addresses the arguments of individuals against using unconditional parenting rather than those of doctors, researchers, and other experts, though it does talk a little bit about our American society.
[O]ur culture isn't especially supportive of children in general, nor is there a surfeit of fondness for particular children unless they're cute and well behaved. If there's any collective affection, it's conditional at best.
It's nice to see someone admit that in a book.
Here's the point: If children in general aren't held in great esteem, it becomes easier for parents, even basically good parents, to treat their own kids disrespectfully. And to the extent that we ourselves harbor a dim view of children, we may be less likely, as I suggested in chapter 1, to offer unconditional love to any child, even our own, since we fear they'll just take advantage and try to get away with as much as they can.
On a day-to-day basis, it's hard to argue with the results of typical parenting. First of all, it's easier than unconditional parenting: "doing to" and making demands is much simpler and faster than "working with" a young child. We haven't instituted unconditional parenting completely in our home, but even in the small things I've done, I've had other parents tell me they would "not put up with that kind of behavior." (In this case, we were talking about getting my four year old dressed and out the door for a class. Rather than telling Second Daughter what to wear or dressing her myself, I had talked with her about what she should wear for the weather that day and the class she was attending and then talked with her each time she selected something I thought was inappropriate. In the end, we both walked out the door happy with what she was wearing and in time for her class, but later than I had originally intended.)

Secondly, typical (conditional) parenting does seem to get results. In the short term, using rewards and punishments changes a child's behavior in the way a parent wants. I think it takes a brave parent (and I'm not sure I'm there yet) to go against popular opinion and use unconditional parenting when we fear our children are going to misbehave and therefore prove that unconditional parenting doesn't work and we, therefore, are not good parents.

I want to be brave, though, and trust that unconditional parenting is going to help my children be the people God wants them to be. The more I consider my interactions with my children, the more I see the beauty of unconditional parenting and how it allows me to treat my children with the respect they deserve and to model the unconditional love God the Father has for all of us.

I know my relationship a child is not the same as my relationship with another adult, but sometimes I cringe when I think what I might feel if another adult said to me some of the things I have said to my children (and that are encouraged by conditional parenting techniques). Many of them seem even worse if I imagine someone I loved and respected saying them to me. For example, some parenting books recommend using the silent treatment with your children if they have behaved in a way that displeased you. Yet, I doubt any good book on marriage would recommend employing the silent treatment on a spouse.

The answer, though, is not permissiveness. That's an important idea. When trying to break out of a conditional parenting mindset, it's difficult to imagine how something like unconditional parenting is not permissiveness, but we should not let kids run wild. That, actually, would be ignoring children more than employing unconditional parenting.
That's an argument not for more discipline, but for grown-ups to spend more time with kids, to give them more guidance, and to treat them with more respect.
Then he gave an interesting argument - that many parenting books and advice columns present parenting as an "adversarial" relationship. As I thought about this statement, I realized it is often true. Parenting advice is often about getting a child to do what the parent wants without regard to the child's thoughts or feelings, only his or her actions.

Do I really want parenting my children to be about "winning battles" or "outmaneuvering them?"

If we want to think about parenting as a "side-by-side" activity, as parents and children move through life together, learning and helping and guiding, rewards and punishments seem more clearly to work against our final goals.

Later, Mr. Kohn presents one of the arguments Kansas Dad found very compelling.
But in another, more important sense, those who rely on traditional discipline have a tendency to overestimate what children can manage on their own. Such parents don't understand--or else they just ignore--how kids below a certain age simply can't be expected to eat neatly or keep quiet in a public place. Young children don't yet possess the skills that would make it sensible to hold them accountable for their behavior in the same way that we hold an adult or even an older child accountable.
As a homeschooling mother, I find this thought particularly helpful. Just as I challenge and encourage my children as they move through a subject like math, I should challenge and encourage them in all their skills. It would not make sense for me to expect my third grade son to pass the AP exam in calculus and it may not make sense for me to expect my four year old daughter to pay attention to the homily at Mass. Rather than punishing her, I should make the accommodations she needs to help her through the Mass and to accept as much grace from her time in the church as she can. In this example, our help and guidance includes enrolling her in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program where she can learn about the Mass and how it shows God's great love for her, calling her attention back to the Mass when it wanders, quietly explaining how Father's homily applies to particular experiences she has had recently, marveling with her on the greatness of God's love, reading of our faith with her at home, practicing being still and reverent at home during family prayers, inviting her to share her thoughts with God, and so on.

I may not be right, of course, but the more I think of it, the more I believe my goal is not that Second Daughter be still at Mass, holding her hands in a prayerful way for 45 minutes, but that she come to love the Mass so when she is no longer living in our home, she will desire to attend on her own, that she will feel God's love and experience an overwhelming desire to want to praise and worship him. Not everyone feels that way every Sunday (or every day for daily Mass), but we experience it often enough to make the effort to attend and participate when we are struggling.

When Second Daughter is contemplating her confirmation or whether she will attend Mass when she's at college, will she look back at her childhood and remember Mass as a time when her parents faced her toward the altar with love and awe or will she remember Mass as a time of derision, anger, frustration, boredom, and punishment?

Then he gets to religion with a total of two paragraphs:
Further, while many religious people equate the idea of unconditionality with aspects of their faith, a case could be made, drawing on the holy books of Christianity and Judaism, that the deities in these religions offer the ultimate in conditional love. Both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly promise extravagant rewards for those who are properly reverent, and horrific punishments for those who aren't. God loves you if and only if you love Him--and, in some cases, if you meet various other criteria.
I've read a number of other reviews that rejected Mr. Kohn's entire book on the basis of these two paragraphs (quoted above only in part). Mr. Kohn's misunderstanding of the true love of God does not negate all of his arguments for unconditional parenting (and is, in fact, not that uncommon a belief about God). For me, the unconditional love of God is one of the strongest arguments in favor of unconditional parenting, that my actions as a parent should imitate his love for my children. 

I'll be honest here. One of the greatest hesitations I have in using unconditional parenting is how other parents, parents I know and respect, will respond. It's a difficult thing to go against the crowd.
As I've said, people in our culture are far more likely to fault parents for controlling too little rather than too much--and to approve of children because they're "well behaved" rather than because they're, say, curious. So when you combine the parent's anxiety about being judged with the likely direction of that judgment, you end up with this unsurprising fact: We're most likely to resort to coercive tactics, and to become preoccupied with the need to control our children, when we're out in public.
This was a good chapter. He addressed nearly everything I had running through my head when I thought of the reasons we shouldn't use unconditional parenting. I'm not sure I like all his answers, but at least he thought about and attempted to address many arguments against unconditional parenting.

Previous posts on Unconditional Parenting

Thoughts on the Introduction
Discussion of quotes from chapter 1
Discussion of quotes from chapter 2
Discussion of quotes from chapter 3
Discussion of quotes from chapter 4
Discussion of quotes from chapter 5

Monday, April 8, 2013

Homeschool Review and Lesson Plans: Jungle Islands

Mater Amabilis Level 1A recommends a study of Extreme Environments in Year 2 (third grade) for Earth Studies. The books are meant to be read independently, then narrated. I added a little notebooking and extra books from the library.

I already blogged about the book for our first term, 52 Days by Camel.

In the second term, we studied the Solomon Islands with Jungle Islands: My South Sea Adventure by Maria Coffey and Debora Pearson. This is another wonderful book in the same series as 52 Days by Camel, full of photographs and insight into the South Sea cultures and environment. I think First Son liked this book the best of the three we read this year in our Extreme Environments studies.

As I mentioned before, each week First Son would read from this book and narrate. Then I often asked him to complete a notebook page as well. I usually asked for a few words (labels, notes, a sentence or two) and a drawing, which I encouraged him to color. The library books were set out to entice additional reading, which sometimes happened.

Week 1

(No reading this week.)
Create a map of the Solomon Islands for your notebook. (First Son used the library book below and an atlas.)

Independent reading: From Kansas to Cannibals: The Story of Osa Johnson by Suzanne Middendorf Arruda - I shared this with First Son because Osa's life was truly fascinating and she was a country girl from Kansas, but we talked a little about how the native people of the islands and Africa were described and treated by Osa and her companions. (Their treatment of wildlife was also very different from what is expected today.) It made for exciting reading and some thoughtfulness on changing times and how we should always strive to be considerate of all people and careful in our stewardship of God's earth. She has a museum not too far away, but too far for a mid-year field trip.

Library book:
Solomon Islands (Enchantment of the World) by Judith Diamond

Week 2

Read the introduction, "Help! I'm Drowning!" and "My South Sea Adventure."

Week 3

Read chapter 1, "All Aboard!"
Research coconuts or sugar cane. Draw a picture of the life cycle of one of them for your notebook. (We went online for this research because there wasn't an appropriate book at our library.) Taste shredded coconut or make something with coconut milk for dinner.

Week 4

Read chapter 2, "Jungle Eyes."
Read about wildlife mentioned in the chapter (parrot, bats, sharks, or mudskippers). (Again, we went online for this research.) Draw an animal for your notebook with notes from your research.

Week 5

Read Life in a Coral Reef (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Wendy Pfeffer, Coral Reefs by Jason Chin, and This Is the Reef by Miriam Moss.
Draw and color a coral reef for your notebook with notes from your research.

First Son didn't make many notes, but he could name everything. The fish are frowning because they know the shark is going to eat them.
Library books:
Coral Reefs by Gail Gibbons
The Coral Reef: A Colorful Web of Life (Wonderful Water Biomes) by Philip Johansson

Week 6

Read chapter 3, "Come On In!"
Draw a picture of the war canoe built by the islanders and a picture of the kayak used by the author and photographer. Note the differences on your notebook page.

Week 7

Read chapter 4, "Crocodiles!"
Draw a picture of a crocodile for your notebook with written notes.

Week 8

Read chapter 5, "Land of the Skulls."

Week 9

Read chapter 6, "Into the Unknown."
Draw a page on frigate birds for your notebook. (We went online to find pictures of frigate birds of all ages.)

Week 10

Read chapter 7, "Make Way for Giants."
Draw a page on leatherback turtles for your notebook with written notes.

There are probably some good documentaries on leatherback turtles, but I didn't have time to screen any.

Week 11

Read chapter 8, "Diving into Adventure."

Week 12

Read chapter 9, "Up, Up, and Away."

I considered watching South Pacific at the end of our term, but decided in the end we didn't need more screen time.

I'll be doing this study again in three years with First Daughter, so be sure to share any ideas or other resources!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

March 2013 Book Reports

Ice Age by Brian Freemantle is a science fiction book about a virus released from the melting ice caps. There are too many problems with this book to mention. Please don't read it. (purchased for the Kindle when it was a Kindle Daily Deal)

"B" Is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood is a sweet little story of young Betsy in her first year of school. If you have a young reader eager for chapter books, it would be a good choice. Personally, I don't think it's as good as Happy Little Family, but it may be easier to find. (library copy)

Love in the Little Things: Tales of Family Life by Mike Aquilina is a collection of essays on Catholic family life. The short essays are a good length for harried parents of young children and do a nice job of connecting what we do as we move through our days with spiritual growth and the life of the Church. (inter-library loan)

Chucaro: Wild Pony of the Pampa by Francis Kalnay is more the story of the gaucho Juan than the wild pony, but it's a quiet story of the pampa of Argentina. It's recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 2 when reading about the Americas. I thought it was amusing at times and a nice little book (probably a bit easier reading than First Son will need in fourth grade). I'm happy with this book as one of the three he'll read, but I'm open to other ideas for South American books. (Secret of the Andes is an option as well, but I'm not sure how much he'd enjoy it.) (library copy)

The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money by Carl Richards is mostly a book on investing. Kansas Dad and I don't do a lot of that. (We have some retirement accounts, but nothing we spend any time on.) I found this book fascinating, though, because it really encourages people to think about their own goals and dreams, then pick a financial strategy. It's inspired me (and therefore Kansas Dad) to take a little time this year to review our financial goals and how we plan to reach them. Last year, we focused on our physical health. I'm not at the end of that journey yet, but I think I'm ready to tackle something else in the same way. (library copy)

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh is a rather awful book. Harriet is mean and spiteful. She experiences no personal growth. The adults are all complicit or vacuous. Seriously, skip it. (library copy)

The Cay by Theodore Taylor is recommended as a book on the Americas for Mater Amabilis Level 2. Set during World War II, Philip finds himself alone on a raft with an old black man after his ship is torpedoed. A head injury causes him to go blind before they reach an island. The novel follows his growth from a completely dependent and frightened boy while telling quite a bit about the geography of the Caribbean. I think it'll be a good addition to our studies in fourth grade. (library copy)

Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII by Kyra Cornelius Kramer is a fascinating argument that King Henry VIII carried a rare blood antigen that led to multiple miscarriages and infant deaths for his wives and an even rarer condition as he aged in his forties that accounted for the dramatic personality changes and paranoia that contributed to his attacks on family, friends, and the Church. There's no way to tell if her argument is true, but it certainly seems plausible. This was a great book for me to read as the children and I were covering this period in English history. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

Third Shift - Pact (Part 8 of the Silo Series) by Hugh Howey carries the story begun in Wool and the first two shift books a bit farther. It brings all the story lines together in preparation for the final installment. I really enjoy all of these books. (purchased for the Kindle)

Holy Crocodile by Caroline Cory (a review for The Catholic Company)

Tippy Lemmey by Patricia C. McKissack is the story of a young girl and her friends terrorized by a neighborhood dog. The problem-solving is pretty good. The story is fun and exciting without being too scary. I'd recommend speaking frankly about race while reading this early chapter book with a child because the children are black and (based on what I can tell in the pictures), the dog owners are white. Race isn't an issue in the story, which is nice, but I think it's best to talk to children about race rather than just assume they won't think a person's color makes any difference. It takes place during the Korean War (the dog belongs to a soldier) but the war itself doesn't figure prominently. This is on my list as a possibility for First Daughter to read aloud to me. (library copy)

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie on Julie Sternberg is a sweet tale of a girl whose babysitter must move away. Her parents are supportive. Her new babysitter is understanding. She makes new friends and grows up a little. This is on the list for First Daughter to read aloud to me in first grade. (library copy)

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr is a classic I had never read. Sadako, of course, becomes ills with cancer years after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I think it could be a nice complement to a study of World War II or modern Japanese history for an older child (perhaps twelve). The reading level is not difficult, but the topic is complicated and distressing. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Homeschool Review: Making Music Praying Twice

Making Music Praying Twice

You can purchase the Homeschool Edition directly from Making Music Praying Twice. It is also available at Sacred Heart Books or at Adoremus Books. Because it is a large purchase, I recommend watching for a deal.

I'm pretty sure I purchased mine from Adoremus last year using their Easter discount code. Their Easter sale is going on now (until April 7th) and I still think it's one of the best prices you'll find if you want to purchase the whole set.

The full homeschool curriculum comes with five CDs, five music books (one for each of the CDs), and a homeschool edition teacher's manual.

I decided to purchase this curriculum last year when I wanted to decrease the number of days we were driving into town and thought I could use it instead of spending an hour in the van every week driving to and from choir practice.

First Son (nine years old) and First Daughter (six years old) participate in the small children's choir at our parish. Second Daughter (four years old) and Second Son (two years old) get the bulk of their singing and instrumentation experimentation in this program. And they love it. Second Son loves it so much he asks for the "Good day" CD nearly daily!

The curriculum comes with five CDs (Ordinary Time Fall; Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany; Ordinary Time Winter; Lent; Easter and Pentecost). Good Day (to begin) and God Bless (to end) are on each CD, but the other songs are a mix of seasonal offerings, spoken rhythms, movement songs, and other fun choices. I am no musical expert, but the performances and recordings seem professional and are not at all annoying for adults. It is a Catholic program and includes such wonderful songs as Dona Nobis Pacem, Magnificat, Our Father, and other delightful hymns like Holy God We Praise Thy Name.

The manual provides plenty of background information and lesson plan options (daily or weekly). I particularly appreciated the sections that talked about all the different ways to incorporate music into life with young children, many of which we were already doing. There's a bit in there about how important early instruction is in brain development. I'm not sure I'm convinced by the idea that children must learn something before they turn four in order to ever be proficient at it, but I do think music play is more important than formal instruction in math or reading. (Of course, I think imaginative play in general is more important than formal instruction in math or reading for young children; that's one of the reasons we homeschool.) The Making Music Praying Twice lessons, however, seem to me to be more of the informal instruction kind rather than formal lessons.

I chose to use the daily lesson plan, but we usually only have official music time three times a week, though the children are free to listen to the CD more often. Ideally, the instructor would be comfortable enough to go through the lesson without the CD, but my musical talents are extremely limited. We simply flip through the tracks on the CD so it can always accompany us. For each track, there is a whole page in the manual with recommendations on using the song in the lesson plans and expanding on it throughout the day (like changing the words during bath-time or when rushing out the door on errands). Kansas Dad is much more proficient than I am at changing lyrics to match our situation. It's something he's always done naturally.

There could be a lot of equipment with this curriculum. I've been investing in musical instruments based on Making Music Praying Twice's equipment guide since at least a year before I purchased the curriculum. Even before that, I had selected good instruments as gifts for our children. Here are a few of the things we've enjoyed:
  • Egg shakers - These were a gift from St. Nicholas one year. They are easy to hold and make a pleasant even sound.
  • Rhythm sticks - These were another gift from St. Nicholas, after watching the children enjoy them so much in our homeschool choir.
  • Floor drum - Second Son received this last Christmas from my parents. Kansas Dad was a little concerned, but the children don't bang on it too much or inappropriately. It has a nice sound and came with two drumsticks (though people complained in earlier reviews at Amazon that it only came with one).
  • Jingle bells - The children received a few of these just last December from St. Nicholas. They make a delightful ringing.
  • Hand bells - Second Daughter received these years ago for her birthday. They're getting a little chipped now from being tossed into our instrument basket, but they still sound wonderful. I chose them because they play actual notes in a scale and I often use them with our music CDs because I can read music just enough to ring the right one now and then.
  • Glockenspiel - Again, this is a really nice instrument that plays the actual notes of a scale. 
  • Long streamers - I had high hopes for these. The girls loved them, but they didn't stay nice looking as long as I'd hoped. That's probably because Second Daughter likes to chew on the silk. Sigh.
I felt like, with this curriculum, I was able to offer my children musical experiences they would otherwise have lacked without formal music lessons in a school setting, though I think it could be a wonderful addition to what children were doing in school if they weren't home with me.

This program is a way to infuse our day with a quiet time for prayer, a silly time for singing or dancing, a loving time with tickling and singing about each other, and a bit of music instruction besides. I believe I first heard of Making Music Praying Twice on the Mater Amabilis website (recommended for the prep level). As I think more about the preschool and kindergarten years, I begin to think we should be doing less rather than more. Next year, Second Daughter will be starting kindergarten. I'm considering skipping formal math altogether, but Making Music Praying Twice will remain an important part of her lesson time.

The activities and songs are particularly designed for children under eight. I found First Son was not focused during our music time and often sent him off to do some independent work. As the year progressed, he enjoyed leading the little ones with the manual and lesson plans. I'm not sure the lessons were quite as educational on those days as they might have been if I led them, but he did a remarkably good job.

I could never be an instructor for Making Music Praying Twice, but the training seems to be quite reasonable and is now offered in a number of cities. If you have the skills and the time, consider becoming trained and offering this program at parishes near you. They are currently working on an updated edition that will have three years' worth of music and lessons.

Don't forget, if you are interested in purchasing Making Music Praying Twice for your home, the Adoremus Books Easter sale is going on until April 7th. (If you miss it this year, they have one every Easter.)

I did not receive anything in exchange for this review. I do not receive anything if you purchase this or anything else at Making Music Praying Twice, Sacred Heart Books, or Adoremus Books, but I do receive a small commission if you follow a link to Amazon, put something in your cart, and purchase it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Less Math and More Poetry Memorization

We've just finished our Spring Break and have hopefully stored up enough relaxation to gird ourselves for the weeks ahead. I find we tire of the outside activities at the end of the year. Sometimes it's hard to remember how good and worthy they are, but we will persevere.

First Son has finished third grade math!

We have accomplished the required number of hours of school for the year!

Sadly, that makes it a little bit harder to focus on what remains to be done. We all long to go play outside in the spring sunshine instead. We'll use some of our math time for other subjects, though, so we'll start to finish other things a bit quicker now.

In other news, Brandy shared a link to a Memoria Press article that touts the benefits of memorizing poetry. It's nice to see someone agreeing with at least part of my post on poetry memorization.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Homeschool Review and Lesson Plans: 52 Days by Camel

Mater Amabilis Level 1A recommends a study of Extreme Environments in Year 2 (third grade) for Earth Studies. The books are meant to be read independently, then narrated. I added a little notebooking and extra books from the library.

In the first term in third grade, First Son read from 52 Days by Camel: My Sahara Adventure by Lawrie Raskin with Deborah Pearson. This book is wonderful. It's full of pictures and interesting bits of information on the culture, environment, and people of North Africa. First Son was not very happy about narrating for me each week and he grumbled about the notebook pages (though he has improved dramatically on those as we reach the end of the school year and are now on our third book in this series). He loved the readings, though, and poring over the pictures.
I bought this older version used on Amazon.
Here's our schedule for the term, for those that might be interested in doing something similar. The library books were placed on our desk or on our window sills in an attempt to attract First Son or the other kids to flip through them. They were not assigned reading. Sometimes I selected them just for the pictures.

Often I encouraged First Son to use them to find additional information for his notebook pages. In general, I was not demanding in the content of the notebook pages. I usually required some labels, brief notes, or one sentence (so a little writing) and a picture. I encouraged him to color the picture with the good colored pencils or beeswax crayons. At the beginning of the year (and for most of this particular book), his notebook pages were not extensive or impressive, but he gained in confidence and skills through the year.

Week 1

Read "How I Became a Desert Explorer" (up through p. 5).
Draw a map for your notebook of northern Africa. Be sure to include Fez, Timbuktu, and other major cities, rivers, and ocean names.

Library books for deeper reading:
Morocco (Enchantment of the World) by Ettagale Blauer and Jason Laure
Morocco (Major World Nations) by Frances Wilkins

Week 2

Read chapter 1, "Fun Times in Fez."
Make a page for your notebook on Fez.

Week 3

Read chapter 2, "Chills 'n' Thrills."
Make a page for your notebook on the Atlas Mountains.

Library book:
The Butter Man by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou - This is a touching story of a young boy (as told later when he is a grandfather) of a time when his family faced extreme scarcity. It may be hard for little ones to read who would be upset by the thought of children starving, but for older children it can be a good way to help them think about children that are not blessed by an abundance of food. It happens to take place in Morocco, so I included it here in our study.

Week 4

Read chapter 3, "What a Blast!"
Make a page for your notebook on the Sahara. Use information from the library books.

Library books:
Earths Changing Deserts (Landscapes and People) by Neil Morris
I Wonder Why The Sahara is Cold at Night: And Other Questions About Deserts by Jackie Gaff

Week 5

Read chapter 4, "A Camel Tale."
Make a page for your notebook on camels.

Week 6

Read chapter 5, "Fun in the Sun," and The Storytellers by Ted Lewin.
Make a page for your notebook on African markets and bargaining.

Week 7

Read chapter 6, "Midnight Madness."
Make a page for your notebook on mirages.

Week 8

Read chapter 7, "Almost There..."
You've been given a map of the Niger River Basin. (I printed one out from Wikipedia.) Make some notes about it on the paper for your notebook.

This week I also shared Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe with First Son. He read it independently over a few days and we talked about it briefly. I think this is a wonderful book when it stands on its own merits and fit nicely into our study as a glimpse of the people who live around the Niger River.

Week 9

Read chapter 8, "Timbuktu at Last."
Make a notebook page on Timbuktu.

Week 10

Read chapter 9, "In Search of Salt."
Make a notebook page on salt.

Library books:
Sodium (True Books: Elements) by Salvatore Tocci
Salt (Around the World with Food and Spices) by Melinda Lily

We finished in ten weeks, instead of twelve, because we took a few weeks off in September. (I can't remember why now, but probably because we had a series of well-child and dentist appointments.)

I'll be doing this study again in three years with First Daughter, so please share any ideas or other resources!