Friday, June 28, 2013

Preschool Reading Around the World: Australia, New Zealand, and Hawai'i

In our second term this year, I selected books for our Preschool-Reading-Around-the-World reading time to coordinate loosely with our island jungle studies, so I focused on books set in Australia, New Zealand, and Hawai'i. (I'm not sure I managed to get a New Zealand book; I had one selected and then the library got rid of it before I requested it for our study.)

I often asked First Son (third grade, age 9) to read this aloud to the girls (ages 6 and 4). That way, he was able to add a little more context to his extreme environments studies and, most importantly, had an excuse to read a book he might have thought was too young for him but that he really enjoyed.

The Singing Snake by Stefan Czernecki and Timothy Rhodes, illustrated by Stefan Czernecki, is a retelling of an Australian folktale in which a snake cheats to win a singing contest. The illustrations are evocative of aboriginal Australian art and the moral is worthy.

Ernie Dances to the Didgeridoo by Alison Lester tells of a young boy who accompanies his parents to Arnhem Land in Australia, the home of Aboriginal people. While his parents are working at a hospital, Ernie is making friends and learning about his new home. There's a helpful list of definitions at the end. This is a bright, colorful, fun book that tells a lot about Arnhem Land. My children loved this book.

Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley, is one of my favorite picture books so of course we had to read it.

Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan, illustrated by Pamela Lofts, is a delightful book telling of the rescue of a wombat captured by a dingo by a variety of other Australian animals. First Son and First Daughter were laughing out loud at this book.

Wombat Goes Walkabout by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Christian Birmingham, tells of a young wombat separated from his mother. In seeking her, he meets lots of different Australian animals and learns just a tiny bit about each one (and how they are different from wombats). In the end, his particular skills save some new friends who help reunite him with his mother. The illustrations are quite realistic of the animals of Australia. We also read Wombat Walkabout by Carol Diggory Shields, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, which is more of a silly counting book. The kids enjoyed it, but I didn't like it as much as Wombat Goes Walkabout.

Over in Australia byMarianne Berkes, illustrated by Jill Dubin, is based on Over in the Meadow, which is one of my favorite picture books, but in some ways it is even better. In addition to the rhyming stanzas with appearances by Australian animals, pages at the end of the book include lots of information on Australia's environments and lots of animals. The illustrations are collages, colorful and beautiful. There's a note at the end on creating your own collages. And there's more - tips from the author on activities for the book (though we didn't do any of those ourselves, many look fun) and even the music for the song. There are a lot of books that extend Over in the Meadow, but this has to be one of the best.

Toad Overload by Patricia Seibert, illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis, tells about the introduction of cane toads to Australia. I don't usually choose non-fiction books for our reading-around-the-world, but this one is both interesting and accessible. Who doesn't like reading about huge toads? I liked providing a book that might prompt some thought on the ways humans change and interfere with environments and this book does not automatically condemn people.

Polly Hopper's Pouch by Louise Bonnett-Rampersaud, illustrated by Lina Chesak-Liberace, is a sweet story of Polly, a kangaroo who wonders about a lot of things, especially why she has a pouch. She eventually discovers what fits perfectly in her pouch. It's a perfect story for little ones, especially little girls.

Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester is like a journal of the journey of a family around their home continent of Australia. The children "miss" the winter term of school, but it's clear to any homeschooling family that they learn much more than they would have in a school. It's a marvelous book for learning a bit about Australia and encouraging your children to beg for a year-long journey of their own country. First Daughter in particular thinks this would be a fantastic idea.

No Slippers by Mary Braffet is a cute little story of a young girl who can't keep track of her slippers (sandals). It's set in Hawai'i and was sent to us by a dear friend who grew up there, so it's special to us.

The Island-below-the-Star and Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves written and illustrated by James Rumford are both beautiful stories imagining the discovery of Hawai'i by the first inhabitants. Rumford creates stunning artwork and it's always a joy to share his illustrations with children. The stories are a little long, so I allowed the children a choice of one of these to read. Personally, I like Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves better, but they are both wonderful.

Georgia in Hawaii by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, is a beautiful picture book about an artist and her painting. This book makes me want to return to Hawai'i more than any other we read. The illustrations are done in a style similar to Georgia O'Keeffe's. It would make a nice complement to an artist study as well our journey around the world.

Grandma Calls Me Beautiful by Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, is the lovely book of the love between a grandmother and her granddaughter. It is set in Hawai'i and the life of the islands permeates the book. There's a nice glossary and some explanations at the end, but it would be impossible for any child to miss the loving relationship.

Other Posts on Reading Around the World with picture books


Central and South America

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: The Cloister Walk

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris

Kathleen Norris is by nature a poet. This book is a memoir of her time within monasteries and as a Benedictine oblate. (I didn't even know a non-Catholic could become an oblate.) She provides a context and description of monastic life in the modern world. As a Protestant, she offers surprising insight into a predominantly Catholic world.

She writes of nearly every aspect of monastic life, including celibacy.
With someone who is practicing celibacy well, we may sense that we're being listened to in a refreshingly deep way. And this is the purpose of celibacy, not to attain some impossibly cerebral goal mistakenly conceived as "holiness" but to make oneself available to others, body and soul. Celibacy, simply put, is a form of ministry--not an achievement one can put on a  résumé but a subtle form of service to others. In theological terms, one dedicates one's sexuality to God through Jesus Christ, a concept and a terminology I find extremely hard to grasp. All I can do is to catch a glimpse of people who are doing it, incarnating celibacy in a mysterious, pleasing, and gracious way.
In a society where celibacy is held is such low regard, it's refreshing to read someone contemplating it for its virtue alone. It's a difficult concept to understand, even for those who try to maintain a celibate life before marriage rather than within a monastery, and is worth our attention.

There is an insightful chapter on Maria Goretti and other virgin martyrs. For those unfamiliar with the story, Maria was a young girl living with her mother in a household with another man and his son. The son wanted to become intimate with Maria. After many rebuffs, he fatally stabbed her in a vicious attack. She is often revered as a girl willing to die rather than "sin," but I refuse to share that aspect with my children, ever. First of all, I am saddened that Maria's poor mother was unable to protect her daughter from the crime, despite her knowledge of the son's intentions. If any of my children came to me with concerns like this, and I hope they would under the circumstances, I have the power to act on those concerns. Though they are probably too young to understand the story at all (and we'll be skipping it in the book of saints my son will be reading in fourth and fifth grade), I will not tell my daughters it is better to die than to be a victim of rape.

The story of St. Maria Goretti is a powerful one. It is a tremendous story of forgiveness and redemption. Maria forgave her attacker before her death and, as the story goes, appeared to him in his prison cell leading to his conversion. It is also a reminder of our duty to the poor and disenfranchised to prevent the circumstances that put Maria in harm's way.

Ms. Norris is one of the few people I have seen who sees through the typical virgin martyr stories to something that can lead us in the modern world to a greater faith.

She shares many discussions with those in monastic life, both nuns and monks, and muses about how their choices and experiences could influence our own thoughts, lives, and actions. On contemplating why someone would leave a world of options and choices to enter a monastery, a life of scarcity or choosing poverty, she wonders:
What would I find in my own heart if the noise of the world were silenced? Who would I be? Who will I be, when loss or crisis or the depredations of time take away the trappings of success, of self-importance, even personality itself?
I have recently come to a point in my life when the idea of a silent retreat or an individual retreat at an abbey as she describes seems heavenly. I admit this is not so much a result of a better prayer life, but of the realization of the complete lack of silence in a home full of four children. Even so, her descriptions of the benefits she has experienced living with Benedictines and learning their way of life is inspiring.
It is the aim of contemplative living, at least in the Christian mode, that you learn to recognize a blessing when you see one, and are able to respond to it with words that God has given you. Yes, in response to that wildly colorful yet peaceful sky; yes, I could say back to God, with a line from Psalm 65: "The lands of sunrise and sunset you fill with joy."

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Catholic Company Book Review: He and I

by Gabrielle Bossis
translated and condensed by Evelyn M. Brown

This book contains the journal entries of Ms. Bossis, a Frenchwoman who purportedly heard the voice of Jesus speaking to her repeatedly over the course of many years. Her voice usually gives little more than a place or time ("Holy Hour"), with the words of Jesus filling pages.

The book carries an Imprimatur (1969), indicating there is nothing within it that contradicts the faith, but it is a personal revelation and therefore no Catholic is required to believe either that Jesus spoke to Ms. Bossis or that these were His words. The more I thought about it, the more I became open to the possibility that Jesus really did speak to Ms. Bossis.

In the Preface, the translator writes:
If we can admit that Christ does speak in the soul, can we deny the possibility of a voice or at least of the impression of a voice? Gabrielle herself had doubts. The reply to one of them reveals her own suspicions: "And if these words do come from your own human nature, didn't I create that nature?"
If I believe one of the goals of prayer is to become still enough to hear the voice of God in our souls (and I do), then I should be pleased to read the results of one woman's dedicated prayer life. Ms. Bossis was not a contemplative nun; she was a woman out in the world, struggling through the war and keeping busy each day but always turning to Christ and carving time out of her schedule for regular Holy hours, hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
"When you tidy your house, think that it is Mine and you will make it more beautiful. When you prepare your meals think that it is to honor Me. And when you rest your body, think that it is My body, My friend; and this is the reality, since all that you have is first Mine, isn't it?" (October 24, 1940)
In the journal entries are repeated encouragements and professions of great Love. The voice of Jesus guides Gabrielle Bossis in her daily life.
"The all-important thing is that you mean to imitate Me. You see you must continually purify your intention. Hold it up to Me like a little sanctuary lamp. Oh, this love-will to always please Me, to keep Me company, to comfort Me!
"Just now you offered Me one of the first violets saying, 'Perhaps no one has thought of giving you any today.' It was just a trifle, yet it was much to Me, for I am kept in the background on earth. I, the King of Heaven!" (March 16, 1944)
One of the amazing things apparent in the book is Ms. Bossis's continued struggles. Even a woman who hears the voice of Jesus still finds herself distracted at Mass or grumpy with her neighbors. Regular prayer can help us identify those areas in which we struggle and, hopefully, improve them, but it is a difficult journey.

This is my favorite quote in the entire book:
"If you want to gain strength to make a sacrifice, don't look at the sacrifice. Look at My joy." (February 14, 1947)
 When contemplating the response to Lui et moi, as published during her lifetime, the voice says:
"Do you know what we're doing in writing these pages? We're removing the false idea that this intimate life of the soul is possible only for the religious in the cloister. In reality My secret and tender love is for every human being living in the world. there is not one who does not have a mysterious yearning for it. And how true it is that each one wants to see someone live My love so that he may discover the means of reaching Me." (January 12, 1950)
As she lay ill, near the end of her life:
"So be filled with joy at the thought of approaching it, as you were in the airplane when you asked, 'Shall we be arriving soon?' And someone said, 'Keep on looking at the horizon and you'll be able to tell when the plane is about to land.' And if some of your dear ones were waiting for you, your heart leapt with joy. My child, the one who is waiting for you is your Creator and Savior. Go gaily to meet Him as if you were going to a festival. Lovingly prepare your 'going away' costume, the one ornamented with the jewels you have received from Him. And besides this, borrow the radiant colors--your heavenly mother's and your beloved's raiment. You must take the habit of adorning yourself in them every day. They are holding them out to you because they want to see their own beauty in you. Give them your humble smile, the smile of a child happy to be going home." (March 16, 1950)
What a beautiful way to envision death and our union with God.

More than anything, I was attracted to the relationship Ms. Bossis developed with our Lord and Jesus. The hours she spent in adoration allowed her to hear a voice, a voice that encouraged her to do even more for the Lord. The specific words Ms. Bossis recorded were spoken to her, to her spirit and relationships (though she was directed to publish them). I was encouraged in my own prayer life, eager to begin to develop the kind of inner peace and stillness that allows Jesus and the Holy Spirit to speak to me. I've always felt this is an area in which I fail repeatedly and was pleased to feel so encouraged by reading this book.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest 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 He and I. 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.

Homeschool Review: Loyola Kids Book of Saints

by Amy Welborn with illustrations by Ansgar Holmberg, C.S.J.

I received this book from another member of last summer, just in time to use it last year for First Daughter's saint readings. Mater Amabilis recommends Little Book of Saints Volume 1 and Little Book of Saints Volume 2 at the Prep level, but we had already read these with her. At the next level (1B for first grade), Mater Amabilis recommends Once upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints, but we had been reading these with our history studies, Connecting with History. (I've reviewed them here.) So I was looking for something else and was thrilled to receive this book.

I love how Amy Welborn presents the stories in this book. They are grouped together under a common theme (like "Saints are people who love children," "Saints are people who create," and "Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray"). She introduces each saint just as I might if I were telling a story, rather than reading one aloud, talking first about the lives of children and how this particular saint has a connection with their own lives.

For most kindergarten students (and even first grade), the stories are probably too long. First Daughter loves to listen and narrate, though, so I knew the length would be acceptable. (Second Daughter will be starting kindergarten this fall and we'll be using My First Book of Saints, which is a combination of all the Little Books mentioned above. She would never sit and listen to the stories in this book.)

Of greater concern for young students is the content of the stories. First Daughter began this book in kindergarten. There are enough stories that we'll continue this book through the end of first grade. I decided to skip the stories in part 12 ("Saints are people who are brave.") and part 15 ("Saints are people who come from all over the world."). In both of these sections, all or nearly all of the selected saints are martyrs for the faith. The author does a good job of presenting the stories without excessive violence, but the suffering week after week seemed inappropriate for my little girl. There are other stories of martyrs in other parts, but I thought First Daughter would be alright listening to them. My son, who was in third grade this year, could read these stories next year and I would not be overly concerned.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Home on the Range Recipe: Maple Oatmeal Muffins

For a long time, I've wanted an oatmeal muffin recipe, but none of them seemed to work very well. They were dry or dense or bland. So I started to experiment until I came up with one that we all love and that uses ingredients I usually have in the cupboards. (What to make when I don't have bananas for banana nut muffins or zucchini for chocolate zucchini muffins?) I think it makes a good solid snack muffin for my family.

As always, I use my kitchen scale to measure out the ingredients. I've given estimates using measuring cups. Let me know if I made any mistakes.

Maple Oatmeal Muffins

3 1/2 oz quick-cooking oatmeal (1 cup)
12 oz low-fat vanilla or plain yogurt (1 1/2 cups)

3 eggs
3 3/4 oz brown sugar (1/2 cup)
8 oz unsweetened applesauce (1 cup)
2 3/4 oz maple syrup (1/4 cup)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp maple flavoring (optional)

5 oz whole wheat flour (1 1/4 cup)
3 3/4 oz ground flaxseed (3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)

1 1/2 cups yummy add-ins - The kids prefer frozen blueberries (7 1/2 oz). Kansas Dad and I like chopped pecans (5 5/8 oz).
  1. Mix the quick-cooking oats with the yogurt. Let it sit for at least five minutes.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients (eggs through the maple flavoring). Add the yogurt and oatmeal mixture.
  3. Add the dry ingredients (whole wheat flour through nutmeg). I add it all to the bowl and then mix. It's good to leave a few streaks.
  4. Add the blueberries, pecans, or whatever else you want to try. Again, it's alright to leave a few streaks of the dry ingredients.
  5. Scoop into muffin pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of your muffins and your oven; I tend to make small muffins in a very hot oven so they don't take very long).
If you don't have ground flaxseed, you can add 1/4 cup vegetable oil with the wet ingredients instead.

Feel free to Pin or share this recipe, but please do not post it in its entirety in another location and always include a link to this post. Thanks for respecting the time I spent perfecting this recipe.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: Go Home, River

Go Home, River by James Magdanz
illustrated by Dianne Widom

This is the simple story of a young boy's first time traveling with his family to a fair to trade, but it is also so much more. The author imagined what such a trip would have been like for an Inupiat family in 1875, before European contact.

The boy's experiences are awe-inspiring, but told in a quiet gentle voice. We learn a great deal about the natural life in their home and the water cycle (though without the scientific terms like evaporation).

The illustrations are based on painting using octopus ink and are wonderful. Even without a lot of color, they make me want to travel in the far north.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Homeschool Review: Maps, Charts, and Graphs Level C

We have been using these workbooks for three years now and they continue to be among First Son's favorite lessons. The maps and illustrations are in full color, each lesson spread over two pages. In third grade, he completed each lesson (one each week) in fifteen or twenty minutes. He was able to work independently other than a few times when he answered something incorrectly and I helped him correct his answer. (The answers are in the back of the book and can be removed if necessary.)

Level C has 30 lessons. The majority cover mapping skills with lessons on map making, using a globe, cardinal directions, applying directions on a map, map symbols and keys, comparing maps, map grids and scales, using a highway map, land and water features on a map, and using a map to solve problems or answer questions. The last seven lessons cover pictographs, bar graphs, circle graphs, tables, diagrams, and charts. We cover charts and graphs pretty extensively in our math lessons, and I don't think the few lessons at the end of this book would be sufficient. They are a nice review, though, especially when they are used to answer questions.

Compared with the previous two books, Level C has a greater amount of text in the lessons and instructions. Most of the exercises are multiple-choice or short-answer. I like providing some practice with these sorts of questions as First Son encounters them outside of our homeschool.

As in the first two books in the series, this book assumes students are living in the United States, though it is easy to adjust if necessary.

These workbooks are designed as consumables and that is how we use them. The questions could be answered on another sheet of paper or orally.

As before, I am pleased with this workbook and intend to continue the series next year with First Son. First Daughter will be beginning with Level A. These are, I think, the only workbooks we'll be using next year. (Here are the previous review: Level A and Level B.)

I've purchased these workbooks at a variety of stores, depending on coupon codes or sales, but I believe Sacred Heart consistently has excellent prices on them. (I am an affiliate with Amazon, but not with Sacred Heart.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On the Eve of Father's Day, 2013

You’re in Kansas, serving noodles with cheese.
I miss your homemade sauce. Washing
Dishes, sending children to bathe, you tease
The girls and chase Buddy, who’s protesting,
But he’s dirty, gard’ning all day with dad.
Monkey-towel hat after his bath, choosing
Stories, like Bear Wants More. Pajama-clad,
He’s snug in bed. It’s quiet time: reading,
LEGOs, playing a game, for an hour.
The Litany of Saints by candlelight:
St. Athanasius, pray for us. Kiss our
Children. In Boston, as you say good night,
I talk and laugh, maybe sipping some wine,
Thinking of you, missing your hand in mine.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Discussion: Chapter 8 of Unconditional Parenting

The quotes in this post are all from the eighth chapter of Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn: Love without Strings Attached.

It's important to remember what unconditional parenting is not:
[W]e're not talking about spoiling kids or taking a hands-off approach to raising them. Unconditional parents play an active role in the lives of their children, protecting them and helping them learn right from wrong.
This is a difficult distinction for me, at least. Unconditional parenting seems so different from what I expect parenting to be (though not from what I'd like it to be) that I have to remind myself that incorporating ideals of unconditional parenting does not mean we are letting the kids run wild.
[T]he recommendation to make that distinction [between who a person is and what that person does] is sometimes tossed around a little too casually. The fact is that it's often hard even for an adult, much less a child, to make sense of it. "We accept you, but not how you act" is particularly unpersuasive if very few of the child's actions find favor with us. "What is this elusive 'me' you claim to love," the child may wonder, "when all I hear from you is disapproval?"
When I read the quote above, I thought about the familiar saying: "Love the sinner. Hate the sin." It seems to me this is a difficult concept for adults to understanding and implement. How much more difficult must it be for a child to make that distinction when listening to the words of a parent, especially if the child is feeling upset or anxious or unloved.

An important way to incorporate unconditional parenting is to create an attitude of love. For me, the most obvious place to start is the way I first respond in a crisis, the kind of crisis that happens a hundred times a day with young children: someone won't put on her shoes, someone spills his water, someone has neglected to put forks on the table for dinner. Focusing on the ideals of unconditional parenting helps me to calm down and refrain from yelling over and over again to get my children to do something I think they should already have done. Getting shoes on feet is really not a crisis; it's just something that has to be done. At the end of the day, the shoes will be less important than how I spoke to my child.

Giving myself more time is imperative if I want to incorporate unconditional parenting. There will always be times when we are rushing out the door, but the more I can minimize them, the less I will feel stressed and find myself yelling about shoes. (Finding shoes when we're in a real crisis, like a run to the storm shelter under threat of tornado, never seems be to a problem for anyone.)
It may sound obvious, but we sometimes seem to forget that, even when kids do rotten things, our goal should not be to make them feel bad, nor to stamp a particular behavior out of existence. Rather, what we want is to influence the way they think and feel, to help them become the kind of people who wouldn't want to act cruelly. And, of course, our other goal is to avoid injuring our relationship with them in the process.
I'll be honest - the next quote is one of the reasons this book struck me so strongly.
The first question here is so obvious that many of us never stop to think about it: What is my mood usually like when I'm with my kids?
Do I act as though I love my children and love being with them? It seems obvious to me: I have cut back my work hours; when I do work, I do so from home; I rarely leave them with other people; and, perhaps most conclusively, we homeschool. But children don't think in logical ways like that. They don't have a wide range of experience and knowledge about mothers who work outside the home or even families where the children go to school every day. What they know is what they see and hear from me all day every day. Do I seem like I enjoy being with them? Do I seem eager to bake with them, paint with them, play with them outside? (Oh, I'm so terrible at that last one!)

Why should they believe I love them if I don't seem to want to spend time with them?

That doesn't mean I have to neglect everything just to snuggle on the couch every day (though I suppose that may be necessary on some days). It just means creating an environment and atmosphere in our house where as often as possible I respond with respect and patience and love to my children.

It seems so obvious when written like that, but I think we all know how incredibly difficult that can be on a daily basis with children, even ones we do love.

He talked a bit in this chapter about how to respond to our children when they show us pictures or sing us a song or show off a new skill.
Again, the most effective (and least destructive) way to help a child succeed--whether she's writing or skiing, playing a trumpet or a computer game--is to do everything possible to help her fall in love with what she's doing, to pay less attention to how successful she was (or is likely to be) and show more interest in the task. That's just another way of saying that we need to encourage more, judge less, and love always.
I think these sorts of things are especially important in homeschooling families. After all, the children need to know from me, their teacher, if they are making progress, but it's also important to me that they continue to make progress for just about any reasons except my praise. I personally try to focus a lot on pointing out to First Son how he has improved over the course of time because he has been practicing every day. I hope that way to both encourage him to be proud of his accomplishments for their own sake and to notice the slow growth over time that can be difficult to perceive.

Mr. Kohn talked a bit about teachers and parents and the traditional classroom. I believe his children attend a prestigious (and probably expensive) school that eschews grades.
School environments are often distinguished by an array of punishments and rewards, with elaborate behavior-management systems, "recognition" for those who are obedient, and sanctions for those who aren't. Children aren't helped to become caring members of a community, or ethical decision-makers, or critical thinkers, so much as they're simply trained to follow directions. In the worst-case scenario, the encouragement of learning takes a back seat to the enforcement of order.
There are a handful of pages on how to deal with a situation in which rewards and punishments are used in the school - talking to the teacher, working with the teacher, presenting evidence, and so on. It's hard to imagine how a single parent talking to a single teacher in a public school could make a difference in how rewards and punishments are used. Many of the schools around here have school-wide systems.

He doesn't even mention homeschooling, perhaps because it's not very prominent. It's hard for me to remember that homeschooling can still be unusual in some areas. Homeschoolers around here are certainly a minority, but we are a substantial one with many supports. Mr. Kohn's books are among those that have provided encouragement to me (and Kansas Dad, too, I think) in our commitment to homeschooling our children. I think you can implement unconditional parenting and still send your children to public or parochial school, but homeschooling gives us the opportunity to provide this environment of unconditional love for an even greater amount of time in our young children's lives.

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
Discussion of quotes from chapter 6
Discussion of quotes from chapter 7

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Love Is...a Reunion

Love is telling your wife she should fly to Boston for a weekend with some dear college friends she hasn't seen in five years and that she should stay a few extra days to see other friends from our long-ago time living there.

Love is taking care of everything while she is away and pretending like it's not a big deal.

I should be boarding shortly.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: Apple Pie ABC

Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray

How many alphabet books do you really need? Not that many, really, but with books like this one I can't help collecting a few more (at least on our library lists). I found this book originally at Stacey Loscalzo's blog, which I must have reached by following a rabbit trail as it's not one I follow, but I will be always grateful for the introduction of this delightful book.

A young girl makes an apple pie, which is most certainly not for the dog, but through the letters of the alphabet, he desires and plots to sample a crumb (or more). You'll have to find a copy of the book to learn whether he was successful, but it will be worth the search. The text is clever. The illustrations are crisp and simple but wonderful.

There are a few other books mentioned in the post that are among my favorites. Here are some I've already mentioned on the blog:
Kansas Dad didn't like Lemons Are Not Red, however, because it says carrots are not purple and some of them are. We've grown them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Homeschool Review: Wordly Wise 3000 Book 3

I selected this book last year, for third grade, for a couple of reasons. I love vocabulary and I wanted to ensure that First Son was increasing his understanding and ability to use new words. I was also looking for a few things that would travel well, especially one morning a week when Kansas Dad would be supervising some independent work, and would be good supplements to what we were already doing. A vocabulary workbook seemed like a good fit and I had heard good things about the Wordly Wise series.

This book has fifteen lessons, most of which follow the same pattern:
  • A word list with parts of speech, definitions, example sentences and sometimes illustrations (note: the word list does not include pronunciation, so a parent unfamiliar with the words would have to find that somewhere else; I personally did not encounter any words I did not know in the third grade book),
  • Exercise 1: Words and Their Meanings - either selecting from multiple choice the vocabulary word that matched the definition or the definition that matched the vocabulary word,
  • Exercise 2: Just the Right Word - replacing bolded words in a sentence with the correct vocabularly word,
  • Exercise 3: Applying Meanings - answering multple choice questions involving the vocabulary words, 
  • Exercise 4: Word Study - grammar lessons using the vocabulary words, like adding suffixes or prefixes to make new words from vocabulary words,
  • A passage with reading comprehension questions in which the vocabulary words appear in the passage, the questions, and the answers,
  • And usually a review word puzzle would finish out the lesson.
In addition, there is a Wordly Wise website that provides games and additional practice. My kids played the games a few times and loved them, though they often needed help because the word lists would include five lessons at a time so they were not always familiar with all of the words.

I would spread a lesson over two weeks, working twice each week:
  • Week 1, day 1 - read through the word list with my son, taking turns reading them. Then we worked through Exercise 4 together.
  • Week 1, day 2 - First Son worked through Exercises 1, 2, and 3 independently.
  • Week 2, day 1 - read and narrate the passage. Sometimes I read it to him. Sometimes he read it independently. If his narration didn't include the answers to all the reading comprehension questions, I would ask those as well.
  • Week 2, day 2 - the review crossword or word puzzle, if there was one, and sometimes using the Wordly Wise website.
I used this book as a consumable; First Son circled or wrote his answers within the book. It would be very easy, however, to write the answers in a notebook and save the book to use with other children in later years.
Overall, I liked this book. The passages were surprisingly interesting, though there was one on bullies I chose to skip. The exercises gave my son some practice on the types of questions he might find on a state or national assessment (if we did them) and exposure to multiple choise and fill-in-the-blank type questions. I think as a vocabulary supplement, this book (and probably the series, as much as it follows the same pattern) would be great.

The word study exercises were the most challenging. There were even a few when I wished I had purchased the answer key (which I do not think is necessary). I found First Son really could not complete these on his own.

Even so, I decided to stop after lesson nine. Our need for independent work had changed a little as Kansas Dad and I moved our schedule around. I often found First Son's vocabulary grew much more from the books we were reading in our other studies, most especially from the family read-alouds which were often more challenging that what he could read himself. Eventually, I decided the time to do the Wordly Wise book would be better spent in other ways. (I believe we stopped it the week we started an eight week basketball camp.)

I did not receive anything in exchange for this review. I purchased the Wordly Wise 3000 book myself.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Home on the Range Recipe: Ham, Potato, and Corn Chowder

I started this post months ago and then almost finished in time to publish it right after Easter, when lots of people have left-over ham, but then it languished. Hopefully you can remember it when you have a desire for something warm and filling (now that it's summer).

I love ham. We buy them around the holidays when they're on sale, so they are somewhat of a rare treat. For years, I tried ham and bean soup recipes to find a use for the ham bone and was forever disappointed. Oh, the soup was alright the first day, but the leftovers (and there were always leftovers) were unpleasant at best. Kansas Dad seemed to like them more than I did, but not enough to be particularly happy when faced with ham and bean soup...again.

So I went on a search for a different kind of recipe. I searched online and found a few different ham chowder recipes which I decided to adapt and combine. Mostly, I used this one. I ended up with a recipe Kansas Dad, First Son, and I love. (The other kids don't like anything except pasta and white rice, but they will eat a piece or two of ham out of the soup.)

Ham, Potato, and Corn Chowder

First, make the stock. You can do this a day or two ahead of time. If so, just put it in the fridge and skim the fat before you use or freeze it. You'll probably get more stock than you need for the chowder. I freeze it and either make the soup some other time (when I have some ham but no bone) or for any recipe that calls for stock when ham seems like a good flavoring. I love these freezer jars for storing my stocks.

It's really easy to make the stock. I usually start it as we're cleaning up for dinner and just let it simmer away until I want to go to bed.

1 ham bone (with some meat still on the bone)
water to cover

Place the ham bone in a large pot with water to cover. Bring it to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for at least 30 minutes. Remove the bone and cut off any remaining meat. Save this for the chowder. You can reduce the broth if you like, but I usually just use it.

Now, the chowder!

2 tbsp butter
½ onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 ½ tsp diced Serrano chiles (optional)
1 tbsp flour
2 cups skim milk
4 cups ham stock or broth
6 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
16 oz chopped ham (or whatever you happen to have)
12 oz bag of frozen corn
paprika, salt, and pepper to taste
  1. Melt butter over medium heat.
  2. Add onion, garlic, and chiles and cook until softened.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and add the flour, mixing until smooth.
  4. Slowly add the milk while stirring.
  5. Return the pot to the stove and cook over low heat until the milk thickens. (This takes a few minutes.)
  6. Add the broth and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Boil for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft. Reduce heat to a simmer.
  7. Add the ham, corn, paprika, salt, and pepper. Cook on low until the corn is warmed through.


We like our chowder spicy. I use a lot of our chiles because they've been in our freezer for a few years now and have lost some of their strength. You might want to start with less heat.

Use more or less stock depending on how much liquid you like in your chowder.

Use more or less ham depending on how much you have and how meaty you want your chowder. We like it with lots of meat.

If you have ham, but no bone, make the chowder with some other stock or just water.

This isn't a particularly low-calorie food, but it's very filling. I use Calorie Count to estimate the calories and then we use our kitchen scale to measure out a serving. (Calorie Count does not like "ham broth" or "ham stock" so I just use "beef stock" and go with it. It's all just an estimate anyway.)

By the way, the crusty bread is fantastic with this chowder.

Feel free to Pin or share this recipe, but please do not post it in its entirety in another location and always include a link to this post. Thanks for respecting the time I spent perfecting this recipe.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: Prayer for a Child

by Rachel Field with illustrations by Elizabeth Orton Jones

I mentioned this book years ago on the blog, when First Daughter was enthralled with it. Five years later, it is still one of our favorite books. It's such a sweet simple prayer of thanks from a child's point of view.

I recently (that would be back in February) read Elizabeth Orton Jones's acceptance speech when she won the Caldecott medal for this book, which is worth a little bit of your time.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Homeschool Review: The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading

by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington

I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with First Son (an older version shown in my review). He did indeed learn to read, but there seemed to be a great many words that he would mispronounce. He couldn't seem to recognize or remember phonograms that were slightly different than what he had learned. He also seemed intimidated by more difficult words, skipping them, guessing at them, or merely replacing them with a word that he knew from the context had an appropriate meaning. I thought this would dissipate over time and I suppose it did get better, but through all of first and second grade I felt like he had to read everything aloud to me because he was consistently reading certain words incorrectly.

I was on the search for something more systematic and thorough for First Daughter and decided to try The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. I have been very pleased with it! After reading Uncovering the Logic of English, I was pleased to see how well it followed the same thought pattern, introducing a more thorough list of phonograms. I modified the teacher text a little to take into account some of the different language or additional information in Uncovering the Logic of English. I think they complement each other well.

The lessons clearly state at the top what will be taught, the parent's role is clearly written out (though I often paraphrased the instructions), and the lessons follow a pattern that quickly becomes familiar - review words, new sounds and sample words, and a story to read. There are no pictures, which I liked because pictures are often more distracting than helpful. The stories are simple, of course, but I was often impressed with them given the small number of phonograms. I can only recall a few instances where a phonogram appeared in a story before it was introduced. (I should have written them down to report back to the author, but life in the midst of a school year is hectic.)

The book recommends a magnet board and letters for the lessons. First Daughter loves these. In fact, all the children love them and I've even used them with First Son. I bought the Little Red Tool Box: Magnetic Tabletop Learning Easel and Smethport 120 Foam Magnetic Letters. The board has held up really well to two years of use. The letters are all great except for the ones Second Daughter chewed. Even those still stick to the magnet board. I always watch carefully when my children are using magnets, though Second Daughter would only swallow them accidentally. I think the magnets in the letters are probably not strong enough to cause any health problems, but it's good to be vigilant. If you dislike magnets or wanted to avoid spending much money, a movable alphabet would also work.

I started First Daughter in this book the year before she started kindergarten. She turned five at the end of September that fall. We struggled. She was so wiggly! She would stare at the ceiling and complain that she couldn't see the words. I broke lessons down so we would only do about a third of a lesson each day. It was terrible and we both dreaded it, but it was also clear that she was learning, so I continued. That was a mistake. We finished a whole school year of lessons that way, getting through relatively little of the book. I considered continuing over the summer, but I was exhausted by the thought. So I put it aside.

In the fall of 2012, she started kindergarten. She was about six weeks shy of six years old when we picked up the book again. I thought about reviewing some of it with her but decided to see what she remembered if we just jumped right in. It was amazing. She finished an entire lesson (remember, we were only doing a third of a lesson the year before) without any complaining and much less wiggling. (She is naturally a very wiggly girl.) By the end of the year, we were often doing two lessons in less than ten minutes, and sometimes she would want to do more. As I write this, we're about thirty lessons from the end of the book.

Second Daughter is starting kindergarten in the fall, but if she behaves at all like First Daughter, I am going to put this book aside and wait. I've also decided to teach Second Daughter her phonograms using Doodling Dragons: An ABC Book of Sounds rather than the first twenty-six lessons in The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. Those lessons were a little boring (though remember First Daughter was probably not ready for them when we started). I haven't used this book yet, so don't take this as a blanket recommendation.

There is only one thing I wish this book had: recommendations for early readers (preferably living books, of course) my child would be able to read as we go through the book. For example, after Lesson 124, there might be a list of books that use the phonics learned so far and maybe a few stretch words. I'm sure it could be done, but it would be a time investment. At this point, First Daughter could probably fly through a lot of the books First Son read after he finished Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

I plan to follow The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading with Essentials (see my pre-review here) in first grade for First Daughter. The same organization is making a program designed to teach younger children to read that looks fantastic, but also a lot more expensive than The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. If you anticipate having difficulty with a child learning to read, I would recommend checking it out. If I had unlimited homeschooling funds, I would be very tempted to buy it for the two who don't know how to read yet.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

May 2013 Book Report

Call It Courage by Armstrong Perry is a Polynesian legend of a young boy who is afraid of the sea, in a culture and world where the sea is everything. Mafatu flees his island on a quest to conquer his fears, planning to return as a son to make his father proud. Seeking the conditional love of his father is the only disappointment in the book of perseverance, skill, and strength. Beautifully written, it's a wonderful book. I originally found it in an article at Memoria Press. If I had read it early enough, I would have included it as independent reading in third grade along with our study of the South Pacific Jungle Islands, but instead First Son will read it as one of his independent geography books in fourth grade. (library copy, but I recently requested a copy at

The Boy from Reactor 4 by Orest Stelmach is a mystery and action story of a young woman's quest to find a famous Ukrainian thief and the supposed millions he stole. It's nothing special, really, and I almost stopped reading it, but it was a good option on a hard day when I was distracted and limping around on a twisted ankle. I kept thinking I must have picked out a sequel because the back-story seemed too complicated, but apparently it's a first novel. (Kindle edition borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

The Midnight Folk by John Masefield is on the list of possible classic books to read in Level 2, but I personally didn't like it that much. It seemed disjointed, various scenes written but without a solid plot line. There was also a lot of drinking and smoking (not by the main boy). So I don't think I'll give it to First Son next year. (library copy)

Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is one I picked up when thinking about poems for the children, not for them, but because I thought I should be reading poetry myself. I tried to read every poem slowly, but some of them did not appeal to me. It's a problem I have with all poetry. Luckily the children don't have that option since they listen to me read aloud. I surprised myself by finding two poems I particularly liked. At the end, when I went back to them, I realized they were both by the same poet, Ramona McCallum. You can read one of them here. (She has a number of poems on the site.) Our library doesn't have her book, though, so I'll have to request it from inter-library loan. (library copy)

Stations of the Nativity by Lawrence Boadt (inter-library loan, but I purchased a copy after reading it)

Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey by Sofia Cavalletti, Patricia Coulter, Gianna Gobbi, and Silvana Q. Montanaro (purchased copy)

Where the Flame Trees Bloom by Alma Flor Ada is one of the possible books listed by Mater Amabilis in Level 2 for the People and Places study of the Americas. It's a series of short stories, memories of a girl's childhood in Cuba. Many of the stories are sweet and well-written. First Son may read it next year in fourth grade. I'm still looking into our options. (

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning with illustrations by Kate Greenaway is a nice edition of this poem for children. I had never read the entire poem myself and am now looking forward to sharing it with the children next year. I think we'll start our poetry with some Shakespearean sonnets, then read this together. (library copy)

The Most Beautiful Place in the World by Ann Cameron is a book I found while searching Amazon and our library catalog for books set in Central or South American. It tells of Juan who lives with his grandmother after his father abandons them and his mother leaves him to marry another man. His grandmother loves him a great deal and encourages him in his studies, but I decided against using this in our Central and South American study because I am reluctant to share stories of children abandoned by their parents with my children. (library)

Like Bug Juice on a Burger by Julie Sternberg is a sequel to Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie which I read recently. In this one, Eleanor goes off to summer camp. It's not as idyllic as she expects but she perseveres. I would never send my nine year old off to sleep-away camp for two weeks, but the book was excellent and I put it on the list for First Daughter to read in the future, maybe next year. (library)

Tierra del Fuego: A Journey to the End of the Earth by Peter Lourie is a brief book full of photographs of his visit to Tierra del Fuego. It gives a little introduction to the people and culture and would be easy enough for a fairly early reader. It's another book I found while searching for Central and South American books and I'm considering it as part of our People and Places studies in fourth grade. (library copy)

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright was available as a Playaway from our library so I pre-read it very quickly before we took a long car trip. It's a delightful story of four children who pool their allowance to give one child each week a truly eventful experience. First Daughter listened to this book on our trip and loved it. (library copy)

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson came up in the library searches I did for Central and South American books. Set in 1901, orphaned Maia travels to the Amazon River basin to live with relatives and Miss Minton, a governess who becomes a trusted friend. I'm putting this in our plans for next year as part of our study of Central and South America. I enjoyed it and I think First Son will like it, too. (library copy, but I've requested one from

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey is the story of a group of colonists released too soon, questioning the AI that is supposed to help them and struggling to survive. The homosexuality of the main character was more prominent in the story than I had anticipated, but other than that it was alright. This is the kind of story I like to have when we're traveling and I want to read to pass the time but have to stop often to look out the window. Perfect for that. (Hugh Howey is the author of the Wool series, which I've really enjoyed.) (purchased for the Kindle when it was only $1)

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein (purchased copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Teeth Twins

I haven't touched our picture files in months, so this picture is a little delayed. First Daughter lost both her top teeth over the holidays. (That girl always seems to lose teeth when we're visiting my parents in Illinois.) I worked hard to get a picture of First Daughter and Second Son, both missing both of their top two teeth back in January.