Monday, June 29, 2015

Homeschool Review: Writing with Skill Level 1

Writing With Skill, Level 1: Student Workbook (The Complete Writer) by Susan Wise Bauer

I selected this text for First Son based on the success we had with the Writing with Ease series (I wrote about Year One here.) and because a friend with a slightly older son had used it successfully. The Writing with Skill series is a continuation of Writing with Ease, building on the skills developed by narration, copywork, and dictation. In the first book of Writing with Skill, the student starts with the basic skills of narration and outlines. Over time, the student practices skills like incorporating descriptive words, understanding metaphors or similes, and transforming indirect objects into prepositional phrases (and vice versa).

For each day, the student reads through the lesson in the book, practicing skills along the way. Some of the exercises are designed to be done right in the book. These we did orally. Most of the others are done in a writing notebook. The text recommends using a computer, so First Son had a few documents in GoogleDocs.

The excerpts used in nearly every lesson were interesting and at an appropriate level for First Son in fifth grade. His reading level is probably a little above average for fifth grade, but his interest level in anything "school" is low. He found most of the readings accessible, only needing help in understanding a few of them. More importantly (for him), most of the readings intrigued him so he was encouraged to keep reading.

The Instructor Text is a separate book, just as large as the student text. It does not contain most of the excerpts, but does include all of the student text instructions. I found it invaluable when working with First Son. It provides examples and potential answers (many exercises have more than one correct answer) as well as helpful questions to ask the student to guide him or her through exercises found difficult.

For a student willing and able to read a text and work independently on writing, this book is an excellent choice. I would have loved it as a student myself.

For First Son, however, who had no interest in learning to write and even less in reading a text book on learning to write, it was nearly a disaster. He struggled with simple requests and then would quickly become frustrated when I tried to work with him. He neglected to read the directions carefully and would become angry when I pointed out that he had either not done part of the lesson or had done it incorrectly. Many of the finer points never showed up in his writing until I specifically asked him to rewrite part of the lesson to incorporate something he had "learned" previously.

I'm still considering my options for next year, but it will not be Writing with Skill. There was simply too much frustration on both sides. I think I need something more formal than simply written narrations to help guide him to better writing, but I'm not sure how much time I want to devote to it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Prereading: Daughter of the Mountains

Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin

This book is one of the options at Mater Amabilis for Level 1A Year 2 People and Places. The site notes that there are references to Buddhism and astrology in the book which would need to be discussed, and that is certainly true. I didn't consider this for First Son because I figured he'd prefer to read about a boy than a girl, but I had a copy and decided to read it in case I wanted to use it next year. It's simply fabulous.

Momo, a young girl of Tibet, follows thieves and her stolen dog down the mountains and into India. She meets friends and allies along the way and helps others in her turn as well. The descriptions of the geography are wonderful. I almost wish I could go hiking in Tibet!
While she was still near the top of the mighty Jelep La, she could see far down and away to the end of the world, it seemed. Her eyes passed lightly over the lower ranges of the Himalayas, crowding together in upsurging, jumbled heaps of blue and green. Far, far below these solid hills the earth lay flat, a deep turquoise blue, and shimmering away in the distance till it melted into the paler blue of the sky. As she gazed, Momo could hardly tell where the earth ended and the sky began.
I'm please with the People and Places as I've planned it without this book so I don't think I'm going to change it to put this one in. I like it so much, however, that I'm going to put it on the list of our read-alouds for next year. It'll be nice to involve Kansas Dad, too, who can tell us how Catholics should respond to Buddhist beliefs.

Friday, June 26, 2015

First Piano Recital

First Son and First Daughter started piano lessons last fall. A very dear friend of mine is their teacher and I think she's fantastic. The recital was also perfect - all kids we knew, one right after the other, with lots of fun and fellowship (and scrumptious chocolate chip cookies and vanilla scones) afterwards. Just so it's on the official blog record, here are the videos.

She was a lot more nervous than she thought she would be, but she kept on going.

First Son was one of the steadiest players that day. He came. He played. He ate cookies. Just another day. (Maybe it was his previous performance experience.)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Prereading: The Reb and the Redcoats

 The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery

This is one of the possible resources listed for RC History's Connecting with History Volume 4A (American History)

A captured American soldier-colonist, the Reb, is held at a private residence in England. The action of the Revolutionary War is far away, but the book shows some of the effects on those who return from war or have friends and family in harm's way. It's a book about honor, chivalry, friendship, and seeing the humanity of those who are our political enemies.

It would be appropriate for reading aloud to the whole family and I think I'd like it a lot better than reading Mr. Revere and I, which I'll have as an option for First Son (sixth grade) or First Daughter (third grade) to read independently.

The links above are affiliate links at RC History. I purchased this book directly from the publisher, Bethlehem Books, during one of their many great sales. (I actually purchased the Kindle version from the publisher a year ago, but we didn't get to this unit last year and I took advantage of a sale to get a real book for the kids to read.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quirky Kansas

The Great Whale of Kansas by Richard W. Jennings

In preparation for First Daughter's Kansas study next year, I came across this book at the library. Set in an imaginary town geographically centered in the United States (appropriately named Melville), it's the tale of a lonely 11 year old boy who uncovers something extraordinary in his backyard. It's full of facts about geology and the history of Kansas as well as all the side-show worthy claims of Kansas (deepest hand-dug well, largest ball of twine, Big Brutus, just to name a few*).

It's not a perfect book. There were no whales in the oceans of Kansas and if someone did discover one in his or her backyard, it should certainly be studied by science. The whole ceremony at the end of the book seemed a little much to me. Also, the boy's crush on his science teacher seemed unnecessary. My son is eleven and while I suppose he might be unusual, I see no reason to introduce an element like that into the story. It doesn't introduce anything explicitly inappropriate, though, and I feel comfortable reading this with all my kids (who will be 11, 8, 7, and 5 when school starts).

All that said, this book is such a good fit for us next year, I plan to read it out loud to the whole family. It's Kansas, geology, natural history, American history, paleontology, and just plain fun. I only hope the kids don't start digging an enormous hole in our backyard after we read it.

* The Kansas Explorer's Club is a great way to explore the weird and sometimes wonderful world of rural Kansas.

The Amazon link is an affiliate link. I checked this book out of the library.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Homeschool Review: Our Lady's Book

Our Lady's Book by Lauren Ford

Mater Amabilis recommends this book for Easter reading in the second year of Level 2 (fifth grade). It is centered on the life of St. Catherine Laboure from her childhood through her life in the convent, telling of how Mary appeared to her. Later, it introduces other Marian apparitions as Sister Catherine may have heard of them from visitors and fellow religious. Through it all, the author weaves together the apparitions to reveal a common thread, a recurring theme that speaks to a young reader.

The visions included are those of La Salette, Lourdes, Pomain, and Fatima. All of these are approved by the Vatican. (The pages on the Marian apparitions at The Miracle Hunter are excellent resources.)

Obviously, someone who is not Catholic would not share this book with his or her children, but even Catholics may hesitate. The damage done by false reports of apparitions is real, as Simcha Fisher recently said better than I could. Distraction from Jesus and what he is calling us to do, even at a site of real visions and miracles, can be damaging. Finally, I always wonder if a heightened focus on Marian apparitions will be perceived as further evidence by Protestants that Catholics worship Mary. (We don't; or at least, we shouldn't.)

I debated a little with myself and Kansas Dad before assigning this book to First Son. While some Marian apparitions have been deemed worthy of belief (as have all of the ones described in this book), no Catholic is required to believe any of them. I did assign it, but did not require narrations. Because it was after Easter, we were also at the end of the school year and I knew he would read it quickly.

I read this book along with him and enjoyed it myself. The tone reminds me of A Life of Our Lord for Children (which I love).
We must ask for that peace. This is prayer. And, of course, we must do penance...Our Lord Himself told her, "It is penitence alone that will bring peace to the world." And then He went on to say just how we should go about achieving this. He only wishes that each person do his simple and honest daily tasks as best he can, accepting all the trials and bothers along the way.
The apparitions themselves are not exactly the focus; it's more on the people involved and how they tried to live as Jesus called them to do so. Overall, a decent book, but one I think you could skip (especially in a school year with a late Easter) without too much worry.

Amazon links are affiliate links. I purchased this book used on Amazon.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Seven Quick Takes Vol 11: Just a Typical Summer with Kids

-- 1 --

You may have noticed First Daughter's sling in the Shakespeare recitations I posted on Wednesday. She broke it while roller skating here at home last Sunday evening.

It was a bad break and required more than seven hours in two different hospitals to be set and splinted. We'll be seeing the doctor about every other week for the next six to eight weeks, but, unlike an adult, she shouldn't need surgery. We're praying each night to St. Stanislaus Kostka (patron saint of broken bones) that all heals well.

There's a long list of things she won't be doing this summer, but we're trying to focus on what she can do. (If you have ideas for super-fun not-very-expensive summer activities for an active 8 year old girl in a cast, please leave them in the comments.)

First Daughter now has the distinction of being the first child in our family to have a broken arm. She's also the first for staples, but not for infection-caused-by-LEGO or baby-teeth-crushed-and-extracted.

-- 2 --

The week before the broken arm, the older three children went to Totus Tuus at our parish, which is our version of vacation Bible school. It was Second Daughter's first year and First Son's last year for the day program. Next year, he'll be old enough to go to the evening program. Yikes!

As a homeschooling mom, I struggle with letting my children go and listen to others talk about our faith in a less precise way than I would prefer, but it is only one week a year and they love it so I take a deep breath and tell myself they'll be fine.

-- 3 --

For my birthday, my brother and sister-in-law gave me a five year diary. The first few weeks were really memorable: a vacation in Illinois with my parents, swimming in the pond, Second Son falling in (and being promptly rescued), fishing, an overnight trip with the kids to Chicago (art museum fail, field museum mostly win, train ride win), an overpriced visit to a Legoland Discovery Center (the best place Second Son has ever been), and a series of fun dinner guests. I was just beginning to wonder what I would write when things were calm and boring when First Daughter broke her arm.

-- 4 --

In order to go to said Legoland, we drove nine hours from my parents' house in Illinois to a church in Kansas. Kansas Dad had gone online and found one near our hotel with a Saturday evening vigil. It ended up being a church out in the country, but with a big parking lot. Our kids were not in the most pious frame of mind as they had just spent nine hours in a van, were already hungry for dinner (despite many snacks), and had been partaking of screen time. We were surprised to find ourselves at a Mass with an archibishop, all the Knights of Columbus, and a baptism. Many vigil Masses are 45 minutes long. This one was an hour and a half. Second Son has not behaved so horribly at Mass for years.

I remember one point in the homily when the archbishop was talking about the missionary work of parents who take their children to Mass even though it's difficult. I would not have been surprised if he had pointed right at us, standing alone behind the huge glass doors separating the vestibule from the sanctuary, a perfect example.

-- 5 --

I have a new camera! I bought it with birthday money and am so happy to have one without random circles all over the place. (The old one had something on the lens inside the camera. It needed to be taken apart and cleaned which was going to cost more than a new one. Now, the old one belongs to Second Son, who takes horrible pictures and runs down the battery watching videos on it.)

The new camera can take a bunch of pictures in succession, which gives us fun collections like these:

-- 6 --

Last week the children and I watched The Tale of Despereaux. It was a travesty. I mourned for the poor author who watched a movie studio take her beautiful novel and turn it into that movie. Don't watch it. Instead, read the book.  It reminded us of the horrible adaptation of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Read that book, too, and don't watch the movie.

-- 7 --

A few days ago we went to a house concert, which should have been a tremendous amount of fun surrounded by friends and good music outdoors on a summer evening. Unfortunately, Second Daughter jumped off the swing, landed on her arm, and wept quietly for an hour before Kansas Dad took her to the emergency room. It was his second time in the same week with a daughter and a broken or maybe-broken arm. Sigh. Happily, her arm does not seem to be broken, though it has been aching for a few days.

Join in Seven Quick Takes at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

First Son's Life

This video shot by Second Daughter exemplifies daily life during the school year for First Son. Doing something fun, then suddenly remembers he has less-fun-work to do. (She recorded this in February, but I just got around to watching it.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

If Gru Were a Shakespearean Actor

Last summer, I read and reviewed How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. You can read that post here.

During the school year I began reading How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare with the children. We memorized passages and I read from the chapters, slowly and discussing it as we went along. We only memorized four passages, the ones selected from A Midsummer Night's Dream, but they responded with absolute joy. All of my children (11, 8, 6, and 4) can recite some lines from the play. The three older ones can recite many lines from the play. My two oldest know the plot and, what's most important, love the play.

I absolutely recommend this method of learning Shakespeare with your children. As evidence and for your amusement, I'd like to present First Son, performing as Gru as a Shakespearean actor.

"Bottom's Dream" (Passage 3 in the book)
First Son as Gru as Bottom, other three children as Minions

The Minions did their jobs well. I've actually heard him do an even more convincing Gru performance; he was a little nervous with the camera running.

"Theseus and Hippolyta" (Passage 4)
First Daughter as Theseus and First Son as Gru as Hippolyta (using his Most Magical Fairy Princess voice from Despicable Me 2)

They all think this voice is hilarious. I'm sorry you can't hear it very well. I have a new camera (yay!) but it doesn't come with those fancy microphones that real movie sets have.

"I Know a Bank" (Passage 1)
Second Son wanted to recite. First Daughter agreed to help him.

"Captain of our Fairy Band" (Passage 2)
Second Daughter's favorite passage

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"
Second Son

This phrase has become common in our house. When chaos reigns, I will often say it and capture the attention of all the little ones in hearing.

I had meant to read A Midsummer Night's Dream before last school year and did not. I'm reading it now. It's a delight to come to a passage we memorized or read together.

Memorize Shakespeare with your children. You will not regret it.

The links to Amazon above are affiliate links. My original review copy was provided free by the publisher in exchange for an objective review. This post contains my honest opinions and recitations by my zany kids.

Monday, June 15, 2015

2014-2015 Family Read-Alouds

This is a list of the books I read aloud during the last school year, fifth grade for First Son, second grade for First Daughter, kindergarten for Second Daughter, and preschool for Second Son. I like to alternate choices for the younger ones with choices for the older children. I have a list to begin the year, but we also sometimes veer off to meet an immediate interest.

I wrote earlier about the books we read during Advent and Christmas, when we set our official read aloud book aside.

The Borrowers Afield by Mary Norton is the second book of the Borrowers series. We started this over the summer, selected by the kids, and finished it at the beginning of the school year. I like the Borrower series, but I would prefer the kids read them on their own. So far, they seem to prefer I read them aloud so no one has read any of the subsequent books. (purchased used copy)

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne was selected for my younger two who had never heard it. They loved it, but surprisingly, the 10 year old enjoyed them the most. I had forgotten how much of the cleverness is hidden from the young ones. (received as a gift long before I had children)

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody is one I had to keep returning to the library before we finished and then wait a month for the other patron to return it. We finally finished it this year. I don't think we enjoyed it as a read aloud as much as other families. (library copy)

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit was delightful. Four children discover an ancient sand fairy while digging in an old quarry. They receive one wish a day with exhilarating and enlightening results. I had never read the whole book myself and was as interested as the children in how it would all end. (library copy)

The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley was much loved by the six-year-old girl. Mama got a little tired of saying "Milly-Molly-Mandy" over and over again, but the stories are very sweet. (library copy)

The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit is the sequel to Five Children and It. The sand fairy is only mentioned. Instead, the children discover a phoenix egg in a carpet and adventures abound. Nesbit's understanding of the detritus of childhood is fantastic. I lost my voice before we finished the book, so we listened to the end at LibriVox. (free Kindle version)

A Bear Called Paddington, More about Paddington, and Paddington Abroad by Michael Bond were universarlly loved by all my children (aged 11, 8, 6, and 4). I had only planned to read the first book, but they convinced me to read two more. Paddington is one of those characters that can be equally loved by parents and children. They enjoyed the new movie as well. (all library copies)

Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo was easily one of our favorites of the entire year. Even Kansas Dad, who heard a few chapters in the mornings, eagerly awaited a narration from the kids to hear what he had missed. It is the story of a young boy swept overboard on a trip sailing around the world with his parents. He awakes to find himself on an island, but he's not alone. The tale of the friendship that develops between the boy and the island's resident is poignantly written but still exciting. It's recommended for Level 1A (second and third grade) by Mater Amabilis, but we didn't read it when First Son was that age. (library copy)

James Herriot's Treasury for Children was a selection for the younger children (6 and 4) who were too young (or not born!) that last time I read it aloud. Oh my! I'd forgotten how wonderful it is. We all enjoyed it. (purchased used copy)

The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton adapted by Nancy Carpentier Brown. I haven't read the original Father Brown stories, but we all enjoyed these. I wanted to introduce my kids to the character before my parents visited because they like to watch a BBC series based on the books. My dad listened in on some of the stories and was inspired to read the originals. (borrowed from a friend)

The King of the Golden City: An Allegory for Children by Mother Mary Loyola, illustrated by John Watson Davis - I wrote about this book on the blog earlier this spring. (purchased used copy)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. We enjoyed this book so much we moved right into Through the Looking Glass for our summer reading. (library copies)

On LibriVox - The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit is the third (and last) in the series that starts with Five Children and It. We'll finish this one over the summer.

Audio Books - I like to have an audio book available for drives in the van. Most of our drives are at least half an hour, so we have a lot of time to fill. (These were all checked out from our library.)

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus - I loved this book. The audio version is excellent.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I have a personal aversion to anything by Dahl but was convinced my children deserved to hear a little of it. My compromise was to get the audio CD from the library. As I expected, they delighted in the quirky story and I was glad when it was over.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare appealed to all the children even those I chose it mostly for First Son.

The Cat of Bubastes: A Tale of Ancient Egypt by G. A. Henty was one I had planned to read aloud myself. The kids really enjoyed this story, but I found it dry and pretentious. We had to listen to the audio CD because I couldn't bear to read it anymore. (It was a little easier to listen to it.)

The Call of the Wild by Jack London was a book I was going to pre-read for First Son, but decided we'd just listen to it when I saw the library had it on audio CD. I have never read anything by Jack London myself. There were a few scenes in which animals were cruelly treated (most often by other dogs) and one fairly gruesome scene at the end where Buck attacks and kills a large number of people. As far as I know, it was all historically accurate (though fictionalized) and it was certainly beautifully written, but I probably would not have let my girls (6 and 8) listen to it if I had read it myself beforehand. They handled it without comment or gasp, though. It would have been worthwhile independent reading for First Son (11) either for school or summer reading.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien is such a fun book. We all enjoyed it. We also watched the movie, but none of us liked it.

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit is not my favorite Nesbit book and the audio version interspersed the text with classical music which seemed to universally be in conflict with the mood of the story at that particular moment.

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo. This book may be one of my favorites of all time. There's courage, goodness, honesty, and kindness, in a world that's a little bit silly.

We also listened to quite a few of Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I'll probably post on those later on.

The links above are affiliate links to Amazon. If you click on one, add something to your cart (anything), and purchase it, I receive a small commission. Thanks!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

May 2015 Book Reports

Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak is the story of a young boy on a Greek island who adores the donkey his grandfather purchases to carry firewood. I came across is recently and thought it might make a good substitute for one of the Level 1A Year 1 People and Places selections for Second Daughter. (She listened to all of The Wheel on the School rather closely just this year.) It has its moments of humor and would be an adequate book for modern Greece, so it's a possibility, but I might keep looking. (library copy)

The Perfect Egg: A Fresh Take on Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night by Teri Lyn Fisher and Jenny Park - my review. (review copy from Blogging for Books)

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill - my review. (library copy)

Persuasion by Jane Austen is wonderful. I'm still thinking about it weeks later. Read it. (library copy)

Thunder from the Sea by Joan Hiatt Harlow is the story of an orphaned boy in 1929 Newfoundland who goes to live with a new family. He miraculously rescues a dog in rough seas, fulfilling a life-long wish. It would be great as a read-aloud or for young independent readers. (library copy)

The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket. I'll probably write more about this series when we finish all the books. (audio CD from the library)

The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snickett, performed by Tim Curry, continues the story of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. In this book, one of their guardians is obsessed with the current fashions, even of ridiculous things. For example, elevators are "out" so she successfully campaigned to have the elevators removed from their building. While walking around in Chicago on a recent vacation, Second Daughter (6) commented, "Mom, I think headphone are in because everyone is wearing them." Perceptive. (audio CD from the library)

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, second in The Giver Quartet. I reviewed this for another website, but you can read about it on the blog here. (library copy)

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose - my review. (library copy)

The Sod House by Elizabeth Coatsworth - my review. (library copy)

Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat is a story of adventure, courage, friendship, and ingenuity in a freezing Canadian winter. It is a good book for First Son (11) to read this summer. (

Books in Progress (and date started)
Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). My homeschooling budget is always grateful for any purchases.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Fairyland Like Oz and Wonderland

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente

September is a twelve year old girl living in Nebraska during WWII. She's invited to adventure in Fairyland by the West Wind and promptly accepts a quest. Along the way she attracts friends with compassion, kindness, and courage.

It's beautifully written, full of quiet insight, with a rich vocabulary beyond that of many middle grade readers. The tale itself is probably too simple for teenagers, though adults will again recognize its value. I think it's probably best suited for young girls who are reading far above grade level (and their parents). While there are references to smoking, drinking, divorce, and procreation, they all seemed to fit the environment. None of them seemed likely to encourage such behavior in the reader. I would be comfortable sharing this book with my 11 year old son or my 8 year old daughter, though I think my son wouldn't be interested enough to wade through the vocabulary and my daughter wouldn't be able to do so.
But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move.
I had a difficult time immersing myself in the Fairyland world at first. Though it reflects the traditional fairy tales and books like those of Oz and Wonderland, it's almost an alien world. Only in the last few chapters did I feel comfortable enough to stop imagining the world and simply be in it. Those last few chapters were worth the effort, though! I imagine it would be easier in subsequent books, having already been introduced to much of the world.
I cannot help that readers will always insist on adventures, and though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief.
Interestingly, September is described in the text as having the dark skin of her father and dark curly hair, which might appeal to minority readers, but the illustrations don't seem to show her as dark.

The title, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, seems unnecessarily unwieldy.

The link above is an affiliate link to Amazon. I borrowed this book from the library.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

An Early Reader for Kansas Territory

The Sod House by Elizabeth Coatsworth is an early reader in which a young girl travels to Kansas Territory with a movement to prevent slavery from taking hold. Her family struggles more with isolation and threats from other white settlers than Native Americans (who protect them) or the harsh environment. It's a nice complement to Kansas studies for young readers, especially for girls or those not quite ready to read the Prairie Skies trilogy. First Daughter would be able to read it very quickly, but I think she'll like it so I'll provide it as an option.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Christmas in June: Advent 2014 Read Alouds

I wrote a little about our poetry and our picture books for 2014, but forgot to write anything about the longer books I read aloud.

Each year during Advent, I set aside whatever book we are reading and change to something appropriate for the season. There are so many delightful options!

Here's a post where I wrote about what we read in 2012 and my plans for 2013. I never confirmed what we read during Advent in 2013 and I know you've been wondering. We read A Christmas Carol, The Trees Kneel at Christmas, and Kirsten's Surprise but did not read The Birds' Christmas Carol. Somehow I missed it in 2014 as well, but I've made a note so we start with it in 2015.

Our Advent 2014 Family Read Alouds

The Light at Tern Rock by Julia L. Sauer is a short and uncomplicated tale of a young boy disappointed in his Christmas plans. It wasn't my kids' favorite book, but I thought it was worth sharing and would recommend it.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson was riotously enjoyed by all my children. We also watched the movie, but all agreed the book was better. Please note: there is a lot of misbehavior in the book. My children have either already heard these sorts of things or really wouldn't do them (like smoking in the bathroom or setting things on fire).

Josefina's Surprise: A Christmas Story by Valerie Tripp is another American Girl book. Josefina finds healing at Christmas after the death of her mother. My girls (8 and 6) especially enjoyed it.

A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill, who wrote the Fairchild Family Story, one of my very favorite series for young children. This is an Appalachian miracle story and a lovely Advent read.

The Year of the Christmas Dragon by Ruth Sawyer is about a dragon who saves the Christmas celebration of a small town in Mexico. Skip it if you don't like "good" dragons but I love how the story of the Nativity and Christ's appearance on earth is so enthralling for the dragon. It's easy for my children to forget how astounding the Incarnation is

I purchased a used copy of A Certain Small Shepherd but the other books were all from the library. As always, the links above are affiliate links to Amazon. If you click on one, add something to your cart (anything), and purchase it, I receive a small commission. Thanks!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Math Talk: Life of Fred and Hoping My Kids Don't Hate Math

I devoted time last summer considering math. First Son had just finished 4th grade, during which he completed Saxon 5/4 math. Though successful with the math itself (with some leeway for recalculations in his long division), he hated math. Lamentations surrounded our daily math work. No one liked being around him when it was time for math, but I was even more concerned that he would give up on ever enjoying math before he had a chance to learn much of anything interesting.

I've never felt like I could see the beauty in mathematics, but I believe it is there. I want my children to see it and though I'm not sure how to reveal it to them, I do know that dreading math every day would hide that beauty, possibly forever.

So I considered. A friend struggling with the same sorts of issues decided to invest in the elementary series of Life of Fred. These books are the most likely ones to be recommended when homeschooling moms ask about kids who hate math. They tell a story centered around a child math professor at an imaginary Kansas university (Yay Kansas!) who encounters problems in real life that can be solved with math. Because they are presented in a series rather than by grade level, students can work through them at their own pace without focusing on whether they are ahead or behind. In the elementary series, every short chapter (meant to be read independently by the student) ends with a Your Turn to Play section in which there are a few practice problems.

The intermediate series (starting with Fractions), also has problems at the end of every chapter. In addition, there are "Bridges" which are mastery quizzes every three to five chapters. Those have ten questions each and it is recommended students answer at least nine problems correct. If not, four additional Bridges are provided.

The Life of Fred story hints at exciting higher level math all through the books. The reasons for math appear in the text (like a story problem, but more interesting) and then are addressed with math, compared to most traditional math books in which the concept is introduced and then made more complicated with story problems. Instead of being useful, math is just hard.

I bought a few of the books. First Son started the school year (fifth grade) working through Fractions. His attitude flipped completely. Math quickly became his favorite subject. He often read the elementary series during his free time.

He managed the first few Bridges, but soon started having problems. He was struggling with the long division problems, making small mistakes. His weak multiplication skills were showing. We took a few weeks off, focusing on mastering the multiplication and division facts (using, Multipication Wrap-ups, and Speed on the iPad) then returned to Life of Fred.

I think some children would work well through the problem sets and  comparing their answers with the correct ones. First Son, however, too quickly gave up on trying and would just look at the answer. It would become apparent to me when he couldn't pass the Bridges. To compensate, I would grade his Bridge, then recommend any areas with which he struggled on Khan Academy. I have my reservations about Khan Academy, but the problem sets are designed to reward mastery. Usually, you continue to work through a skill using hints and videos until you can answer five questions in a row correctly. Eventually, I asked First Son to do one chapter of Life of Fred each day in addition to two problem sets on Khan Academy. (He also continued with Xtramath each day until he had mastered division.) The combination of the lively story in Life of Fred and the focused practice on Khan Academy seemed to work well for us. By the end of the year, he had worked his way through about half of the second intermediate book, Decimals and Percents.

The elementary series starts with Apples and progresses through books starting with subsequent letters of the alphabet. All elementary students should start with Apples and can work more quickly through the first few books if appropriate. If the student finishes all ten books before being ready for Fractions (around 5th grade, after all the multiplication and division facts have been mastered), there are three more books you can use (Kidneys, Liver, and Mineshaft). After those, if the student is still not ready for Fractions, the publishers recommends you start back with Apples as there are many higher level skills that can be developed by a second reading.

Last year, First Daughter (in second grade) started with Apples and worked independently through the elementary series. She finished the first seven books, working about four days a week. At first, she was upset to move away from Saxon math (mostly because she was proud of being a grade "ahead" in her math), but after a few weeks, she admitted the new books were much more enjoyable. Every few days I would watch as she answered the problems to see whether she understood the concepts. By the end of the year, she had finished Goldfish. First Daughter continues to work on and at Khan Academy as well.

I read a chapter or two aloud a week to Second Daughter who was six but only in kindergarten. She enjoyed the story but didn't not understand all the concepts completely. The author recommends not starting before first grade and I would concur. We slowly worked through Apples and the second book, Butterflies, before the end of the school year. Next year, when she is in first grade, we're going to start the year with something else and add in Life of Fred when she is ready to read and work independently through the third book. Given Second's Daughter's progression through the books, there will be plenty of time to read them even if we wait until second grade.

Overall, I'm pleased with how Life of Fred has changed the math attitude in our house. My children can learn math for the rest of their lives, as long as they don't learn to hate it first. An added benefit is the significant decrease in the amount of time I spent presenting Saxon K-3. I wish I had started using it earlier.

One of the reasons I hesitated was a perception that they were expensive. Ten books! $16 each! I did a calculation. For the first child, paying regular price, the Life of Fred books (ten elementary books and three additional books) cost $208. Saxon K-3 is $418 (that's not counting fourth grade, which is probably included in the Life of Fred books). Plus, each additional child is another $121 in consumables. Life of Fred isn't the cheapest math program out there, but it's a lot less expensive than Saxon. From what I can tell, the books should sell very well after you are done with them, too. They've held up to multiple readings already at our house.

All of the links above are affiliate links to Amazon, but that might not be the best place to buy Life of Fred, if you're interested. Check out the Life of Fred website (not an affiliate link; this is an "official" seller website and is not maintained by the publisher) for more information. You can also find Life of Fred at CBD (not an affiliate link) and at Adoremus Books (not an affiliate link). I bought a couple used off Cathswap, most of them at CBD (where free shipping coupon codes are plentiful) and the additional elementary books at Adoremus during their Easter sale.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Fun at the Science Museum

This video is from a field trip we took with some friends to a science museum back in November.

The older kids all worked together on this massive tower. They wanted to let the baby (who was not quite two yet) crash it down, but the moms were a little concerned too much of it would fall on her head. So we gave the four year old demolition duty. Some of the other kids thought he wasn't destructive quickly enough.