Friday, May 30, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol 7: Reading, a Water Battle, and Other Random Thoughts

May is almost over. I have been enjoying this month between the end of school and the beginning of summer activities. I gave myself this month without school planning (or at least, without too much of it). I spent most of it reading, and that was lovely.

I also spent much of May in physical therapy, which was not quite so lovely. I have at times been very discouraged about the likelihood my upper back and shoulder would heal, but I am currently optimistic.

Over the course of the last month, I have been thinking often of those who are always in pain. I have been horribly short-tempered with my children and know it's because I am a complete failure at handling pain and discomfort well. I have been trying to remember to offer it up for those who cannot go to physical therapy and get better. Surprisingly, this offering often makes it a tiny bit easier for me to be nice to my kids.

Those of you who are facebook friends with me might have seen a link I posted to this blog post, How to Make Your Children Hate Reading. We signed up for one summer reading program this week and will participate in another one at a different library as well. I have been requiring a chapter a day from the two readers this summer (along with some math facts practice). The chapter has to be from a book I select, though I have let First Daughter choose from different options. First Son could, too, but he's mainly interested in getting it done, not wasting any time thinking about what he might like to read.
I try to choose fun books for summer. For example, First Son is now reading the The Half Upon a Time Trilogy and the third installment of the Hero's Guide series, which just came out, The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw. First Son and I did rock/paper/scissors to see who would get to read it first and I lost, so I have to wait my turn.

More than once, they have read more than one chapter of their books; that's what I want from summer reading programs. I look for books that are at or slightly below reading level with lots of humor and excitement.

On Memorial Day, the children convinced Grammy and Kansas Dad to have a water balloon and water gun battle. When I told First Daughter I never liked water balloon fights very much, even when I was seven, she was shocked. Kansas Dad said, "I can think of one word for that."

First Daughter replied promptly, "Boring!"

Yep, that's the word.

Second Son didn't last very long before he decided it was too hectic and too chilly. He and his puppy snuggled next to me.

I think the children have now decided all summer holidays warrant swim suits and water battles.

I'm not very good at following the news, but I saw this blog post linked off facebook about the Amazon/Hatchette disagreement. I'm an affiliate with Amazon and don't intend to stop shopping there entirely. When you live as far as I do from stores and have four kids to haul around with you, online shopping can be a great blessing.

I do, however, try to give my business to smaller bookstores when I can. My school shopping is almost entirely split between RC History and Sacred Heart Books and Gifts. (These are not affiliate links.) Unlike the local bookstores (and there are a few wonderful independent ones within driving distance), these stores carry books I need to buy for school. I've also had the pleasure of talking with both of the owners on the phone or through email, a delight unknown at giants like Amazon.

I also firmly believe in adequately compensating people for their work, whether it be making soap, writing or illustrating books, or making plastic do-dads. For that reason, I prefer to purchase fewer things or do without so I can a higher price if necessary to feel like I'm supporting someone's ability to properly feed, clothe, and support a family. It's not a perfect system and I'm not always consistent. Luckily, when you mostly want to sit at home and read a book, the needs are few.

My birthday was this week. I don't feel like I should be old yet, but my gray hairs beg to differ. Can you guess where we went to celebrate?

Kansas Dad has started painting our white picket fence. It's going to look amazing when he's done. We're going to try to get the kids to help paint, too. Luckily they really will think it's fun because the older two already know the Mark Twain trick.

Have you checked out the Unbound blog yet? I've mentioned it before. If you've glanced at it and didn't find anything interesting, now's your chance to help guide the content. They have posted a short reader survey (very short, I promise) and are looking for lots of helpful responses.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Homeschool Review: Map, Charts, and Graphs D: States and Regions

Maps, Charts, and Graphs Level D: States and Regions by Modern Curriculum Press

We've been using this series for four years now and I'm still pleased with it. I like having one set of workbooks for the ease of use for one subject but mostly because I like presenting my kids with one subject in which they are also learning how to answer multiple-choice and short-answer questions. It's not a difficult skill so one page a week is more than sufficient. There were certainly a few times this year when First Son missed a question because he didn't understand how he was supposed to answer even though he could figure out the answer with the map.

Level D had 30 lessons covering cardinal directions, intermediate directions, map keys, elevation maps, globes, scale, highway maps, political maps, geographic regions of the United States and Canada, state maps, special maps (like at a museum), time zones, and comparing maps. Some of the most difficult and most valuable lessons required First Son to write directions to get from one place to another using a map. The last five lessons cover pictographs, bar graphs, line graphs, circle graphs, and a chart. These lessons at the end were more useful this year as we didn't cover charts and graphs as much in math this year as in previous years. (I did, however, find one error in the answer key for one of the graph lessons. First Son's answer didn't match the one in the answer key, but was correct when I checked the graph.)

As before, all of the lessons are in full color and spread across two pages. They are appealingly designed. Each one took First Son fifteen or twenty minutes to complete. He was able to work independently, though I did review the material with him if he did not answer all of the questions correctly.

In addition to the answer key, the book contains a one page glossary, and a simple atlas I found quite useful. I intend to cut it out and put it in a folder to continue to reference in future years. (I haven't purchased the later books yet; they may contain similar atlases.)

In the past few years, I've been purchasing these workbooks at Sacred Heart Books and Gifts. (I am an affiliate with Amazon, but not with Sacred Heart.) 

Reviews of Previous Books in the Series
Level A: The Places Around Me
Level B: Neighborhoods
Level C: Communities

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: Clementine's Letter

Clementine's Letter by Sara Pennypacker, pictures by Marla Frazee

I picked up this book to introduce myself to the Clementine series, which I thought might be a good one for First Daughter. She loves books about precocious little girls and she loves books in a series so she can read a bunch one right after another.

The illustrations in this book are adorable; I love Marla Frazee, and so do my girls who recognize her style instantly from the many times they have gazed lovingly at her illustrations in The Seven Silly Eaters. I also loved how Clementine teasingly calls her little brother vegetable names (because her name is a fruit), different each time. They even take a trip to a Chinese grocery so she can learn new vegetable names. Her description of her brother's morning ritual of saying hi to each of his feet made my mother's heart happy.

Do you sense the "but" coming?

Right away I was a little concerned about the family of Margaret, Clementine's best friend. Her parents are divorced with her father living in Hollywood (making commercials) and visiting them in Boston one week out of the month. Divorced parents of friends in books is not great, but I could probably let it slide. What's more problematic is the mom's boyfriend, who seems to live with them. I'm not sure I want my seven year old daughter to think that's acceptable or normal, even though I realize out in the world that kind of thing is not uncommon anymore. Still, it makes me uncomfortable.

Even then, I thought...maybe...after all,  First Daughter is unlikely to really think the boyfriend is living with them since it's not overtly written in the story and she doesn't know about that sort of thing.

A subplot of the book, which isn't mentioned anywhere in the blurbs, is that Clementine would like to earn $20 to surprise her mother with an organizer for her art supplies. In itself, this is a great idea and could be a nice way to show how Clementine learns the value of hard work and perseverance. (Sense the "but?")

But, instead of working to earn the money, Clementine finds some bags in the basement under a sign that says "CHARITY COLLECTION - DONATE YOUR UNWANTED ITEMS FOR A GOOD CAUSE." It's even in all capital letters like that in the text. She pulls the stuff out of the bags and sets up a little rummage sale table in the lobby, quickly making $22 by selling it to other people in the building. She happily pockets the money, because buying her mom an art supplies organizer is a "good cause."

That's right: She steals from charity to buy her mom a present.

She does end up in trouble for this little escapade, but not as you'd expect. Are you ready for it?

The neighbors find out their friends were discarding what had been gifts from others in the building and were angry. They were angry at their friends for donating the gifts they had given and they were angry at Clementine for showing the whole building they had given away gifts they received. Clementine goes door-to-door, apologizing to all the tenants, not for stealing but for revealing their decision to donate the gifts.

Then Clementine and her father have a long talk about how she doesn't think through her actions. It's really sweet, actually, how he tries to guide her to being a better person, but he's oblivious. Clementine's transgression was not showing off what others had decided to do with their own belongings; it was taking the items in the first place.

Sigh, and then it gets a little bit worse. (Didn't think it could, did you?) When Clementine's father sees what she has bought with the money (which no one even contemplated asking her to give to the charity; he told her she had to offer to return the money to those who bought from her, but they all loved what they bought), he says, "Well, I guess it makes it better then--what you did. It's a good reason...wanting to make someone happy."

Oh dear.

A third grader's culpability for stealing charity items to see to buy her mother a present is certainly less than that of an adult stealing millions of dollars from an organization to buy illegal drugs and a mansion in the Canary Islands, but that's not the right response. Maybe something more like, "I understand you thought you had good reasons to do what you did, but it was still wrong to steal from the charity. What do you think you could do to make it right?"

In the end, Clementine asks if they can build a wall around the charity donation area so no one can see what others are donating.

Really? How about so no one can steal the donations?

She does put the extra $2 she earned inside the wall, for what that's worth. (Apparently, in Clementine's imaginary Boston, there's no sales tax. I wish there hadn't been sales tax when I lived in real Boston.)

To sum up, the rest of the Clementine books may be adorable and lovely, but we won't be reading them. I don't want to have to read them all and I wouldn't be comfortable putting any of the others in First Daughter's hands without reading them first.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review: Homeschooling with Gentleness

Homeschooling with Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling by Suzie Andres

I was pleasantly surprised by this little book. Ms. Andres has a clear style that lays out what unschooling is, why there's nothing specific about it or the Catholic faith that would preclude Catholics from unschooling (presenting two main arguments against it and her refutations of them), and the three main sources of her comfort and support in unschooling.

People who already know a lot about unschooling may be bored by the first couple of chapters in which John Holt and his supporters are quoted extensively. I've read a little about it myself, but none of the original works, so this was mostly new to me. Personally I think unschooling (or relaxed homsechooling) is a perfectly adequate way to teach your children at home, but it would drive me crazy. I like to plan every book to the page numbers we'll read each day and week. I still found much to relish in this book, though.
As Catholic parents we will want to teach our children that loving God and doing His will are our first priorities, rather than worldly ambition, or a drive to succeed, even in the academic realms.
One of my favorite parts includes a long quote from John Holt's How Children Fail in which she addresses the fear that if we do not require our children to do anything, they will do nothing at all. He responds this is "the creed of a slave." He claims school has taught children they will behave that way; I'm not sure I completely agree with his argument. It may be that the school environment is a symptom of a larger cultural attitude rather the source. I found it intriguing to think of my own attitude, times when I might act as if I were a slave forced to prepare lunch for my children rather than a mother who delights in time spent with them.
The world needs interesting and interested citizens, not prodigies. We do not need to pass on to our children a large body of information before they leave us. Instead, we need to support our children in their natural learning and the development of their special gifts. Finally, we need to change our outlook. Instead of focusing on giving our children a complete education, or a perfect education (neither of which are necessary or possible), let us strive to awaken in them a love of learning. If we can help them to develop an attitude of life-long learning, we will have done enough.
We're not unschoolers, but this is my attitude about our studies, particularly in history and science. It is not my goal to teach my children everything about ancient Greece or African geography or the human body. Instead, we use the material to practice reading, thinking, filtering, and the process of learning itself.
Certainly we will again be attacked by scruples about our parenting and homeschooling efforts. But we must recognize such scruples as temptations, and seek to overcome them with patience and gentleness toward ourselves.
In the end, there are book lists, because no book on homeschooling should be without such a thing. There are lists of books for parents, for little ones, young readers, and older readers. I consider myself fairly well-read, and there were both books I loved and books I had not yet read on the lists.

The author has a newer book, A Little Way of Homeschooling, which our library added to its shelves. I look forward to reading it as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fifth Grade People and Places, African Geography in Level 2 Mater Amabilis

Next year, First Son will be in the second year of Level 2, fifth grade. Mater Amabilis recommends an African study for People and Places under Geography. One of the main goals of this study is to introduce new countries and experiences using living books and complementing that with mapwork on the region. I had not read any of the recommended books before and sought them all the at the library.

Our library did not have Africatrek: A Journey by Bicycle Through Africa by Dan Buettner (First Son and I both enjoyed Sovietrek: A Journey by Bicycle Across Russia) or Jock of the Budhveldt by Sir J. Percy Fitzpatrick. I downloaded the free Kindle version of Fitzpatrick's book, but was so distracted by the weird formatting, I couldn't make myself read it. I was also a little uneasy about some of the reviews about the outdated attitudes sometimes depicted in the book. We read lots of older books and I usually have no problems letting things go by without comment or starting an interesting discussion on how things have changed, but I usually try to reserve that for times when I'm reading aloud and can tell how the children are reacting as I read.

Hippos in the Night: Autobiographical Adventures in Africa by Christina Allen seemed really light. I felt like First Son was ready for something that delved more deeply into the issues of modern Africa, though I still wanted a book for young people. I thought this book would be fine but it didn't seem great, and the reading level was quite a bit below First Son. I think First Daughter could read it in second grade next year, if she needs some more reading choices.

Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story by Beverley Naidoo is set in South Africa during the time of apartheid. I think this could be a good book to share if I wanted to spend time discussing apartheid, but I tend to focus on that a lot in our American studies (slavery and racism here) and did not want First Son to think this exemplifies modern South Africa (though I suppose I don't really know it doesn't).

I returned to our library catalog and Amazon to find other options. After reading quite a few books set in Africa for young people and skimming even more of them, I think I've found the three I intend to assign next year.

Safari Journal by Hudson Talbott is the fictional journal of a twelve-year-old boy who travels to Africa with his aunt. There are some derogatory comments about his sister (who is not along for the safari), but for the most part the journal offers lots of great information on the people, animals, and modern life in Africa, as well as a great example of nature journal entries.

Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta is the story of twelve-year-old Linus who moves to Liberia when his father gets a job at the American Embassy there. Set in the 1980s, it still gives an interesting glimpse into modern Africa, and has the benefit of being pretty realistic since the author moved to Liberia in the '80s when his father started working in the Embassy. There are some supernatural aspects to the story, as a very dangerous black mamba has a mysterious connection to Linus, and there is one scary part where the mamba attacks Linus's brother, but overall I think it's a great story.

A Gift from Childhood: Memories of an African Boyhood by Baba Wague Diakite, an actual memoir of life in Mali. Baba spends years of his early life with his grandparents in a rural village, then moves to the city with his mother. Unlike a fictional account, some of the stories are not really connected; they are meaningful episodes in his life. I thought it was a great introduction to life in Mali and was thrilled to read his praise of his wife's Kansas hometown as well as his thoughts on the similarities between her rural upbringing and his own. What a great book for a Kansas boy to read! Of the three, this is probably likely to be First Son's least favorite, but I think it will be good for him.


First Son read Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe a few years ago. The content of this book would be fine for a middle grade aged child and the writing is a little simpler, so it would be an excellent choice for a boy who struggles a little with reading.

In a few years, when First Daughter is ready for Level 2, I think I'll substitute Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan for Mamba Point. It's set in the past and part of the time in England, but the longing for Africa is constant. It's a sweet story of honesty and perseverance. I think most girls would enjoy it more than Mamba Point.

For more mature readers, I enjoyed both A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story and The Good Braider.

For young readers, I highly recommend Anna Hibiscus and Hooray for Anna Hibiscus! The other Anna Hibiscus books might be just as good, but our library didn't have them.

Our library also has a vast collection of picture books set in Africa. As in past years, I plan to read-around-the-world (in Africa) with the little ones and am a little overwhelmed with the number of options. (That's saying something for someone who will read one hundred picture books to pick thirty without really batting an eye.) I usually try to document our picture books on the blog after we read them. Here's the list of a few set in Africa we read back in 2011-2012 if you just can't wait to get started.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Homeschool Review: Cursive First

Cursive First: An Introduction to Cursive Penmanship
by Elizabeth Fitz-Gerald

We've been using Cursive First for two years now. I used it with First Son starting in third grade when he was ready to learn cursive and First Daughter began writing in cursive right from the beginning in kindergarten.

There are a lot of places online you can read about why teaching cursive first (before print writing) is better for children. Many sites claim educational benefits but there are also many schools that neglect to teach cursive at all anymore, so I think it's hard to really know the benefits or disadvantages (if any) of teaching cursive or teaching cursive before printing. I teach cursive because it's easier physically for children to write in cursive than to print, so their little hands don't get as tired. It's also easier to learn similar letters like b and d and p and q because they are written very differently in cursive. Plus, it makes your thank you notes much more beautiful.

The Teacher's Manual for Cursive First has lots of wonderful information for anyone hoping to teach someone else how to write. There are detailed instructions and lesson plans for the early lessons, when a child should be writing in the air or in a salt box, and later as writing with a pencil is introduced. The practice sheets are very basic, but that's all you really need. They are each only a half sheet of paper, which fits nicely with Charlotte Mason's methods looking for fewer letters but all of high quality. I was disappointed that some of them looked like they'd be photocopied quite a few times, but they are still functional and it's an inexpensive non-consumable resource. I also purchased the phonogram cards; it was really nice to have some in cursive.

In kindergarten and first grade, we work on one letter a day, or a single half-sheet of review. I generally ask for three perfect letters. My son, in third and fourth grades, did two practice sheets a day, but still just three perfect letters on each one. We just worked through all of the practice sheets in order. First Son has pretty much mastered the letters. He'll continue his practice during copywork and dictation next year unless I noticed particular problems. First Daughter will continue using the Cursive First practice sheets next year in second grade. Second Daughter will be just beginning!

I think the practice sheets would work far better as an e-book. It's great that they are non-consumable, but it was a little exhausting to run to the printer and copy out whatever pages we needed. I finally took an hour or so and scanned all of them into a PDF so I can print just the pages we need. I also made a full page each of the difference clock faces and the house because it just seemed easier to me that way.

At the beginning of last year, I printed whole books of the pages for First Son and First Daughter and put them in a binder. I mark the pages I want them to work on each day and when they reached the end of the book, I started them over at the beginning. Because they only wrote three or four letters each day, there was plenty of room on the practice sheets for a second or third round. Next year, when Second Daughter will be in kindergarten, I won't give her a whole book at first. Even when she starts with pencil and paper, I'll just introduce the half sheets to avoid overwhelming her.

Overall, this is a good resource for teaching cursive at any age and is reasonably priced for a family.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, Son

The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son by Lois Lowry

I read The Giver a few years ago, but Kansas Dad was reading the entire quartet recently, so I decided to read it again and then all the other books as well, which I had not read before. Without lessons to teach and most of our activities on hold, I managed to finish all four books in four days.

The Giver was even better the second time around.

* Spoiler Alert *

If you haven't read these books, especially The Giver and Son, you should run to your library now and read them. Come back when you're done. I promise not to delete the post.

Kansas Dad and I were discussing the ending of The Giver and realized we had completely different understandings of the end. He thought Jonas and Gabe died at the bottom of the hill and I thought they lived. In fact, I thought the ending of the book was its most powerful part: Jonas and Gabe, tired, weak, cold, at the end of their perilous journey, perched at the top of the hill with the end in view. From his received memories, Jonas believes he sees family, love and celebration ahead of them, but he doesn't really know. It's a moment of great hope and anticipation, but is also terrifying.

Though I believe Jonas lived through the ride and did indeed find a home at the bottom of the hill, I also think it's a good metaphor for dying and going to Heaven. We arrive at the end, exhausted from our lives, hopefully ones of sacrifice and love (as Jonas's was), and glimpse the destination. We anticipate love, celebration, and great joy, but we don't really know. We must have faith. Our understanding of those ideas, those truths, are a little like Jonas's memories, not quite perfect, and are therefore merely a glimpse of the wonder that lies ahead. Trembling from exhaustion, and fear, we balance for a moment between two realities, earth and heaven, before the exhilaration of the rush to our Lord.

I don't know what the author thought about the ending of the book, and it doesn't really matter. It made me think of Heaven.

I didn't think there was a need for any more books and was a little concerned they would collectively diminish the power of the first one. The second book, Gathering Blue, tells of another community, one of cruelty and abuse and one crippled girl there, Kira, who faces a choice at the end to run to safety or work to improve the lives of the people in her village. I thought the third book, Messenger, was the weakest. I think it's about tolerance, honor, and sacrifice, but it just didn't match The Giver.

* Spoiler Alert *

Now I'm going to tell you the end of Son. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The last book is nearly as good as The Giver. In it, we meet Claire, Gabe's mother, and see what his birth was like for her, how she loved him as no one else in the community knew love, how she yearned for his touch and his smile. After Jonas and Gabe escape, she is set adrift and finds herself washed up on the shore of a village far away from all she has known. For years, she strengthens her body in preparation for the search for her son. A horrible man called the Trademaster, offers her son in trade for something precious and she agrees because she has no choice. In the end, Claire and Gabe are reunited but he must then do battle with the Trademaster for his mother's life. Gabe's courage, as he faces this Evil without any weapons, and his triumph through the love he shares with his mother, are wonderful, a fitting ending to the series.

I have only one quibble with the ending. In the book, it seems like Gabe has conquered Evil for all time. As Christians, we know only Christ can do that (and will, at the Parousia), but I don't think you have to be Christian to believe that each person can and should do battle with Evil. Every time we choose the Good, every time we sacrifice for someone else, every time we love when it is hard to do so, we make a stand against Evil. Perhaps we even injure it, beat it back, but Humanity alone cannot defeat it. Kansas Dad and I talk of this often, how we are called to build Christ's kingdom on earth. Our work will never be in vain, but it will also never be complete.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Quote: The Idea of a University (Seventh Discourse)

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman in the seventh discourse of The Idea of a University, in part two:
Now this is what some great men are very slow to allow; they insist that Education should be confined to some particular and narrow end, and should issue in some definite work, which can be weighed and measured. They argue as if every thing, as well as every person, had its price; and that where there has been a great outlay, they have a right to expect a return in kind. This they call making Education and Instruction "useful," and "Utility" becomes their watchword.
In part five:
"Good" indeed means one thing, and "useful" means another; but I lay it down as a principle, which will save us a great deal of anxiety, that, though the useful is not always good, the good is always useful. Good is not only good, but reproductive of good; this is one of its attributes; nothing is excellent, beautiful, perfect, desirable for its own sake, but it overflows, and spread the likeness of itself all around it.
In part six:
I say that a cultivated intellect, because it is a good in itself, brings with it a power and a grace to every work and occupation which it undertakes, and enables us to be more useful, and to a greater number.
Part ten of Discourse VII is a single paragraph, and my favorite paragraph so far in the whole book. I will quote only a small portion of it, but it is worth seeking out. Here, Bl. John Cardinal Newman is speaking not of the goal of a Liberal Education, but the result of a Liberal Education:
But a University training is the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary teaches him to see things as they are, to go right o the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility. It shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their state of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them. He is at home in any society, he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can as a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself; he is ever ready, yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon; he knows when to be serious and when to trifle, and he has a sure tact which enables him to trifle with gracefulness and to be serious with effect.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories

My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories by Heidi Hess Saxton

I love this book of Bible stories!

We've been using this book for two years now, reading aloud one Bible story to all of the children twice a week. There is a brief introduction for each story but the text is directly from the Bible, the NRSV. At the end of each passage is a small prayer, often verses of a psalm or a traditional Catholic prayer. There are often quotes or tidbits of information as well.  I appreciate how selections are included from less common "story" books like Baruch and Sirach.

The Going Deeper section lists related Bible passages, other readings used at Mass with the Bible story, or sections of the Catechism. You could use these readings with older children to delve more deeply into the text. This section also includes one or two recommendations for actions related to the Bible story. I love that these are not sickly sweet at all, but suggestions even adults might appreciate.

There's an excellent illustration for each Bible story in full color. I found the illustrations tasteful and realistic.

After two years of two stories each week, we're about two-thirds of the way through the book, so there's a lot of material within the book. My children are currently 10, 7, 5, and 3 (though the three year old doesn't always listen quietly to the story). I began reading from this book when First Daughter was in kindergarten and think it works well starting at that age. Because it's the NRSV, there's no reason older children can't appreciate it as well.

Both First Son and First Daughter will be reading independently from retellings of the Bible next year in our history studies. There are reasons to use a children's Bible, but the writings of Charlotte Mason and Sofia Cavalletti have persuaded me that even very young children can grasp the essential truths of Scripture. Not every Bible passage will be appropriate for children, so I appreciate this book in which Scripture passages are selected with children in mind but presented through the NRSV.

Friday, May 9, 2014

7 Quick Tales Vol. 6: Hawk Pellets, Silly Pictures, and Chickens

Yesterday, I had my hair cut. I doubt anyone will notice. She took off five inches, but it's still pretty long. I can't believe how much nicer it looks with a nice blunt cut at the bottom instead of the straggly ends I had.

A wonderful veteran homeschooling mom shared some bird pellets with us last weekend. We invited some friends over and enjoyed an afternoon of playing after dissecting them. First Daughter was the most enthralled.

We learned the difference between owl pellets and hawk pellets, deciding the four we had were from a hawk.

I've started going through all the picture files on my computer. I think there are a thousand pictures from the kid cameras. Some of them are awesome, though. Here's a small sampling.

Sadly, Second Daughter's camera is having issues. It's still under warranty so we're mailing it off to see if they'll repair it. There are still two kid cameras roaming the house so I don't doubt the interesting pictures and movies will continue.

In the course of wading through the photos, I found a few videos to upload. Apparently, I had to make a new "channel" on YouTube which will not link with my old videos. They're still online; I just can't access or alter them. Ah well. Here's a link to the new channel, for what it's worth.

I also updated the banner photo at the top of the blog and all the kids pictures in the sidebar. The one at the top is from Easter. The ones on the side are from January when I forced the kids to each sit for a photograph before we had our family picture taken by a photographer at church for a new directory.

Our new chicks arrived today! We picked up 25 chicks as soon as the post office opened this morning.

We are very close to being diaper free in our household - day and night. This will be very momentous and yes, worthy of a family celebration with frozen yogurt.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Quote: The Idea of a University (Sixth Discourse)

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman in the sixth discourse of The Idea of a University, in part one:
I say, a University, taken in its bare idea, and before we view it as an instrument of the Church, has this object and this mission; it contemplates neither moral impression nor mechanical production; it professes to exercise the mind neither in art nor in duty; its function is intellectual culture; here it may leave its scholars, and it has done its work when it has done as much as this. It educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.
In part five:
Now from these instances, to which many more might be added, it is plain, first, that the communication of knowledge certainly is either a condition or the means of that sense of enlargement or enlightenment, of which at this day we hear so much in certain quarters: this cannot be denied; but next, it is equally plain, that such communication is not the whole of the process. The enlargement consists not merely in the passive reception into the mind of a number of ideas hitherto unknown to it, but in the mind's energetic and simultaneous action upon and towards and among those new ideas which are rushing in upon it. It is the action of a formative power, reducing to order and meaning the matter of our acquirements; it is a making the objects of our knowledge subjectively our own, or, to use a familiar word, it is a digestion of what we receive, into the substance of our previous state of thought; and without this no enlargement is said to follow. There is no enlargement, unless there be a comparison of ideas one with another, as they come before the mind, and a systematizing of them. We feel our minds to be growing and expanding then, when we not only learn, but refer what we learn to what we know already. it is not the mere addition to our knowledge that is the illumination; but the locomotion, the movement onwards, of that mental centre, to which both what we know, and what we are learning, the accumulating mass of our acquirements, gravitates.
In part eight:
A thorough knowledge of one science and a superficial acquaintance with many, are not the same thing; a smattering of a hundred things or a memory for detail, is not a philosophical or comprehensive view. Recreations are not education; accomplishments are not education. Do not say, the people must be educated, when, after all, you only mean, amused, refreshed, soothed, put into good spirits and good humour, or kept from vicious excesses.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

April 2014 Book Report

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill is a sweet story of a remote school on the Alaskan frontier in 1948. It's historical fiction of the best quality and I think First Daughter will read it during her independent reading next year in second grade. (purchased used)

First Communion Days from Neumann Press is a book of short stories about little children and their relationship to Jesus in the Eucharist. I'm a little ambivalent about this book as a couple of the children die shortly after receiving (which is always a little weird for me, though my children have never commented on such things). There is also a story in which the child talks about buying souls out of purgatory by giving the priest a stipend and asking for a mass to be said. I felt like the practice of saying mass for those in purgatory and the tradition of offering a stipend to the priest are delicate areas, not well explained or understood by little ones. After talking about it with Kansas Dad, though, we decided to let First Daughter read the book because the stories are mostly sweet and it's exactly the kind of book she loves. We're just very careful in how we speak of those practices and explain them to the children. (received as a gift)

Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story by Beverly Naidoo is one of the books recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 2's People and Places focus on Africa. It's set during the time of apartheid. I think it's a good book for introducing that subject, but I'm not certain that's the impression with which I want to leave First Son when he's only going to read three books set in Africa. So, while a possibility, I'm not sure we'll be using it. (library copy)

Sand: Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey is a single edition of all the Sand stories. I really enjoyed Howey's Silo saga and thought this one not quite as good. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library)

Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta is the fictional tale of a boy who moves to Liberia with his family when his father joins the American embassy there. There's a bit of African lore in Linus's unusual relationship with a black mamba, but overall I thought this was a great book of friendship, growing up, and family relationships, as well as a fascinating peek at life in Liberia in the 1980s. The author was the child of a diplomat in Liberia at that time and many of his experiences and memories are reflected in the book. (library copy)

The Good Braider by Terry Farish is the tale of a young woman in Sudan (now South Sudan) who escapes war and repeated rapes to a Sudanese community in the United States and then must learn who she is in this new place. It's beautifully written. A few brief pages at the end of the book give a summary of some of the events in South Sudan in recent years, bringing the reality of this fictional tale into clearer focus. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library)

The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John started off very promisingly with a young girl orphaned by a fire moving to a South African wildlife preserve to live with her grandmother. In the end, there was an extensive amount of magical African elements which I thought overwhelmed the better parts of the story regarding her relationship to the land, new friends, and her grandmother. I read this because I was considering it for our African studies next year, for First Son to read, but I think I'll find something else. (library copy)

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park is one I requested from the library as I was looking through books on Africa even though I thought it might be too mature for First Son to read. Based loosely on the life of Salva Dut, one of Sudan's Lost Boys, it shows some of the unrest and trauma of Sudan (and South Sudan). It's written at a middle-grade level but contains much violence and tragedy, in particular a young boy presumably eaten by a lion and Salva's uncle being mercilessly shot, so you'd want to read it yourself before sharing it with a younger child. I think First Son could handle the story but haven't yet decided how much of the harsh realities of some African countries I want to include in his studies next year. One of the things I like about this book is the strategy Salva uses to survive his ordeals and how he translates that into triumph for himself and his goals to improve life in his home country. (library copy)

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green, from this wonderful list of books for boys, is one I was contemplating for First Son to read next year, in fifth grade. I wanted to read it myself first because of the relationship between Queen Guinevere and Sir Launcelot. (There's plenty of smiting through helmets and cutting off the heads of knights, too, but I wasn't too worried about that.) The language regarding the relationship is vague enough to be appropriate for pretty much any age. It's on his list for next year, but I'll probably put it at the end or ask him to read it the summer after fifth grade. This was my own first introduction to King Arthur proper and I enjoyed it tremendously. (library copy)

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats by Steve Ettlinger gives the gritty details about all the major chemicals in processed foods. I thought it was fascinating and anyone interested in food chemistry should read this book. Even those who don't eat a lot of processed foods might be interested in reading the chapter on enriched flour. All those vitamins come from China and no one seems quite sure about which companies make them, let alone overseeing the processes themselves. On the other hand, it seems pretty clear the addition of the vitamins has made a measurable difference in the health of Americans. (library copy)

She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer by Sarah Hobart Alexander and Robert Alexander is a short chapter biography of a girl from Hanover, New Hampshire, who was the first to learn using the innovative techniques that taught Helen Keller. It's well illustrated with photographs and includes a chapter at the end comparing Laura's education with that of a deaf-blind student today. It's written at a middle-grade level, I think, but I was fascinated. Of course, I have a soft spot in my heart for Hanover and Boston, both of which feature in the book. This book is definitely on our list for independent reading or a family read-aloud when we study this time period in American history in a few years. (library copy)

Martha and Chip by Katharine Sohler is a fantasy book written by a young woman who was homeschooled. I was considering buying it for First Daughter but instead decided to encourage her to read it before I had to return it to inter-library loan. It's a nice little story for young readers. (inter-library loan)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a tale of magic and romance. It was wonderful. (library play-away)

Legend by Marie Lu is a young adult dystopian novel in which a wicked government is experimenting on their citizens and ruthlessly killing them to maintain control. It's not very nuanced, but an enjoyable summer read. It's the first of (of course) a trilogy. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Monday, May 5, 2014

First Daughter's First Grade Books

We started First Daughter's first grade reading by finishing up The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, which I reviewed here last year. We did two lessons a day for a few weeks. Near the end of the book, the lessons get quite a bit longer, so then we went back to one a day and even sometimes split one between two days. She finished the book in week 6 and we moved on to real books. I wasn't sure what her level would be and she read a few books at the beginning that were pretty far below her challenge reading level, but they are good books so it was fun to read them.

I had First Daughter read aloud to me for the entire year. She had a bad habit of skipping words and I wasn't sure why. Was she struggling with words she should know how to read? Was she skimming and substituting a word she knew fit the sentence? (First Son used to do that, replacing words he couldn't read with a word he knew fit.) In the end, I decided she was just reading really fast and skipping short little words she didn't think were very important. So while her reading level was quite good, I asked her to continue reading aloud and made sure she slowed down enough to read each word. If I had been busier this year or had a newborn or something, I would certainly have switched her to independent reading. To provide some practice and time when she was forced to read slowly, I would have asked her to read aloud to me once a week or so, but probably a book I would otherwise have read aloud to her to decrease the time involved.

So, on to the real books! Here's the list of books First Daughter read aloud to me in her first grade year:

Grasshopper on the Road by Arnold Lobel, because no education is complete without Arnold Lobel. I made sure there were a few of his books lying around so she could read them for fun, too, but she was already pretty far beyond this reading level.

Hot Fudge Hero and Bertie's Picture Day by Pat Brisson, both of which are among my very favorite books. Bertie is a great kid and the relationships he has with his parents, his sister, his friend, and his neighbor are the kind I want my kids to emulate. First Daughter also read Little Sister, Big Sister by the same author about a different family. These books are all out of print, but our library has them all. I snagged my copies on, where as I write they are all available, though not necessarily in hardcover.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner is the first of the Boxcar Mysteries. First Daughter enjoyed this book and I like introducing it to kids because it gives them a whole series to read on their own, but I'm not going to have the other two read it aloud to me. I can't explain why, because the children are sweet and the content of the stories are perfect for early readers (exciting, but not too exciting), but I just don't care for it. We own the first six books in the series and neither First Son or First Daughter read them all.

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg is a book about change. It's sweet and funny.

The Best-Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill is an older book, but the love of little girls for the dolls is still strong today. First Daughter loved this book. I think she read it over two days.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh is one of those easy to read chapter books that are worthy of being read by anyone. First Daughter was a little frightened by this book, but I kept encouraging her to read on and she persevered.

Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way! by Steve Voake is a wonderful little book and the beginning of a series. It's perfect for early elementary readers, especially girls. First Daughter and I were both delighted by Daisy.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan is a classic for a reason. First Son never read it because I didn't realize how simply it is written. First Daughter loved it and I was as happy to listen to her read it aloud as I had been to read it myself the summer before.

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh is another of those books I love to hear my children read aloud. Sarah's courage is the kind that of courage we all need to do things that seem frightening but are surmountable.

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown, a story of high entertainment for the early elementary crowd.

"B" Is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood is the first book in a series. Betsy is in first grade in this one and the descriptions of her class and her adventures are sweet. First Daughter loved this book and I actually enjoyed it more listening to First Daughter read it than I did when reading it to myself.

Unlike First Son, First Daughter devours books, often reading for long stretches of time during the day. In addition to the books she read aloud to me, I have a need to provide lots of supplemental reading for her. Throughout the year, these are the books she read in her own time:

The Complete Ramona Collection, multiple times. She has, in fact, read some of these books so often that my old copies fell apart. Thank goodness for the library.

The Magic Tree House books, though she tired of these after the first twenty or so.

The Junie B. Jones books, which I have never read. First Daughter thought Junie B. Jones was based on Ramona, and she's probably right.

Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl and Bramble and Maggie: Give and Take by Jessie Haas, which First Daughter particularly enjoyed because she thinks we need a pony here on the Range. (If only they were not so expensive to feed!)

Like Bug Juice on a Burger, the sequel to Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.

The rest of the Daisy Dawson books

The sequels to Sarah, Plain and Tall, of which there are four. (I've only read the first two of these, though I keep meaning to read the last two just to see what happens.

A variety of Flat Stanley books, none of which I have read, but which First Son and First Daughter have both been enjoying.

Off and on throughout the year, she read from the Little House books. She is now currently in the middle of The Long Winter and intends to read the rest of the them this summer.

Just for comparison, here's the list of books First Son read when he was in first grade. It's interesting to me to see how different their interests are. First Daughter didn't really want to read any of the Magic School Bus chapter books. First Son had to be forced to read the Little House books and the Narnia books in third grade. They basically took him through the whole year. Even though he enjoyed them, he had no interest in reading ahead on his own time. First Daughter will probably jump at the chance to read the Narnia books all on her own.

I have a long list of books for First Daughter to read, but given her propensity to read at all hours of the day, I'm always happy to hear more suggestions. Let me know if there's something you think she'd enjoy!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol. 5

I buy a new book for myself about once a year, usually at the end of May when I'm flush with birthday money, and I am really tempted to make Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It my purchase of the year. I even looked at it in an actual store yesterday, but didn't purchase it seeing as how I don't have any birthday money in hand yet.

Jennifer is having a little giveaway to a lucky blogger who mentions her book in 7 Quick Takes. I promise to use it to buy her book if I win.

I was at said bookstore yesterday looking for a birthday gift for one of Second Daughter's friends in a few minutes of child-free time. I had this child-free time because my mother-in-law kindly took the children to the park while I suffered through my second physical therapy appointment. I injured my back last June, nearly 11 months ago, and finally accepted the fact that it was not going to get better on its own. The physical therapist seconded the doctor's theory that I had developed extensive scar tissue and recommended a therapy involving physically breaking the scar tissue up. So twice a week, she pushes against all the muscles in my upper back, shoulder, and arm until they bruise. I think the bruising is an unfortunate side effect.

I mention this therapy for a few reasons. Firstly, to garner sympathy (yeah, it's not fun) and prayers (yes, please!). Secondly, to publicly thank my mother-in-law and husband who are taking time from their schedules to care for the children at weird times during the day so I can go to physical therapy. Thirdly, to assure everyone who sees me in person that any bruising you may see is indeed part of a regimen that I am told will lead eventually to complete health for my poor injured back. No one is beating me (not even the physical therapist).

Also please note: I will probably hate the smell of cocoa butter before this therapy is over, so if you intend to purchase any sweet smelling beauty products for me, you might want to choose something else.

We finished school this week!

Dance of joy time!

We took Friday as a day of celebration, beginning with breakfast at a local donut shop. The children enjoyed a visit to the park with Grammy. Then we met for lunch at their favorite restaurant, Taco Bell, before Taekwondo, and stopped by the frozen yogurt joint before heading home. We started the year with frozen yogurt, and ended the year with frozen yogurt. It must have been a good one!

After our long day of celebration in town, we came home to tidy quickly and prepare a feast in honor of St. Athanasius. He is Kansas Dad's confirmation saint, the patron of our school, and also our family's patron saint. I made St. Anthony of the Desert soup and the pork loin recipe with parsley and shallot sauce in The Food You Crave. First Son made Tiger Nut Sweets. First Daughter made decadent brownies from The All-American Cookie Book, a cookbook totally worth the $5 you could spend to get a good used copy. Of course, we had lots of salad goodies and crusty bread from My Bread.

We feasted all day long.

Just by chance, our parish priest was able to join us for dinner which was his good luck given the extra dessert.

This morning, First Son, First Daughter, and Kansas Dad participated in a diocesan charity run/walk. I expected to wander along at the end of the pack with Second Son and maybe Second Daughter, but they wanted to run. So all four children (mostly) ran the 1.5 miles with poor Kansas Dad jogging along, knowing he'd suffer the shin splints for it later. Next year maybe we'll fundraise a little more so we can all officially register.

School's out. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is done. Choir and CCD and soccer are all done. We have about a month before the swimming lessons, Totus Tuus, and other summer activities begin. I had planned to take a few weeks to deep clean my house - the kind of cleaning that includes moving all the furniture and scrubbing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees. But given my back and physical therapy plan, I think I had better hold off on that. Perhaps instead I'll finally go through our pictures so I can make photo albums for the past nine months. And then maybe I'll make Second Son's baby book. If I hurry, I could finish it before his fourth birthday.

Or maybe I'll just read a lot.

Did I mention we finished school this week? I did? Well, I think it's momentous enough to count for two takes.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!