Monday, February 29, 2016

How to Do Nature Study when Mom Doesn't Like Going Outside

** Don't forget - Today is the last day to enter to win Let's Play Math

Nature study is an integral part of Charlotte Mason's philosophy. It was, in fact, one of the main tenets that drew me to shaping our school around her philosophy of education. Then, as my children grew and we dove more deeply into formal schooling, it became clear that nature study rarely happened for one simple but overwhelming reason.

Though I loved reading about being in nature with my children and the idea of being in nature with them, I dreaded going out in nature with them.

Partly it was the hassle of getting everyone out the door, partly is was the lack of proper gear, but mostly it was my own disinclination to leave my snug little house.

Nature study was on the schedule, but week after week, I just crossed it off and we stayed home. Determined to address what I saw as potentially the most serious problem in our education, I declared 2015-2016 The Year of Nature Study and discussed with a dear friend all my thoughts on the matter. I invited her and her family, also homeschoolers, to join us on this quest. She accepted.

We are now within a few months of the end of our school year and I am declaring The Year of Nature Study almost entirely a success! So far we have gone on 18 nature walks with our coop (more on that later), visited new baby lambs, camped at two state parks and one national park, and spent a day at a preserve.

How to Do Nature Study when Mom Doesn't Like Going Outside

First, convince your spouse to make nature study a priority.

This isn't really a step, but I wanted to give Kansas Dad his due. He has supported my efforts to better our nature study time immeasurably. He borrowed equipment and arranged camping trips for our family last summer. The Great Sand Dunes was amazing and the kids all loved Roaring River State Park. When I suggested taking a day our first week of school to explore Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, he took the day off work to join us (and drive - I hate driving).

Whenever he's with us for a hike, he's encouraging the kids and pointing out all sorts of interesting plants, fungi, and rock formations. He leads by example and my family especially loves it when he comes with us. He doesn't draw in a nature journal, but he keeps an eye on the kids so I can draw in mine when we're out with our family.

Second Son bundled up for freezing rain
Next, gather the equipment.

Clothing - The exact needs here will depend on your climate and personal preferences. The most important thing I needed was shoes for myself. I had only one pair of old exercise shoes, a size too big and with "breathing" openings which meant if it was chilly or damp, my feet were cold or wet (or both). Knowing I didn't have good footwear gave me too easy an excuse to avoid nature walks. So I invested in a quality pair of hiking shoes. You may not need something as expensive, but since we were planning on camping and hiking as a family quite a lot, it seemed a wise investment for me. (I love them, by the way, and now wear them almost exclusively.)

learning about ice ("Let's hit it with a rock!")
We have had an unusually mild winter with lots of lovely nature study days. On one day, it was sleeting rain. Though I had said we wouldn't go out in such weather, we did. I joked with my friend that we were either an example of supreme dedication to Charlotte Mason's philosophy or an example of women who had taken it a too far and neglected to use common sense in our nature study. (We lasted about 20 minutes that day, but the kids did have a grand time trying to beat through the ice with rocks.)

Water bottles - I firmly believe in avoiding plastic bottles. It may be unreasonable, but that's just how it is. I grab the metal ones just about wherever I find them for a decent price because we lose them all the time. All the time. My favorites are Klean Kanteens, but I rarely buy them. You know, because we lose them. Ideally, we have one water bottle per person, but we can't always find enough of them (because we lose them) and so must share.

Backpacks - In honor of a camping trip we were taking last summer, my mother-in-law bought us some backpacks like these. They're light and perfect for the children to carry their own notebooks, pencils, and snacks. I also keep my bag stocked with a mini first aid kit, Neosporin spray, wipes, old grocery bags to use for wet things or garbage, bug spray, sunscreen, and a whistle.

Having dedicated nature study bags is a tremendous asset: they're always packed and ready to go. We just throw in a snack and toss them in the van.

Notebooks - We have Moleskin extra large notebooks, but regular old lined notebooks work, too. Saint Nicholas brought each of the kids a pencil kit last December. He found them on clearance at a local hobby store, but something like this pencil set would work, too. Ones that snap or zip close are nice because the pencils don't get lost or jumbled in the bag.

We've added lots of fun things to our bags over the past year: a pocket microscope, binoculars, a small ruler, magnifying glasses, and identification books, but these are all just extras. (Make these things inexpensive because the children will drop them, step on them, leave them behind, bury them in sand, splash them in the water, and generally have a marvelous time.)

Once you've got the equipment, make the time and get it on the schedule.

Here's where the coop comes in. My friend organized our coop with an intricate time table and children moving between three different locations (before we even begin nature study!). Our coop day includes piano lessons, speech class, and some church classes. My job is to drive kids back and forth to classes, supervise speech class, and decide where we're going each week for nature study. (I got the easy jobs.)

In retrospect, it's amazing how combining nature study with other activities was essential in making sure I got it done every week. I don't have to motivate for nature study because we're already in the van with our bags packed.

There is also nothing like twelve children from two (three now) to thirteen, waiting eagerly in two vans, to make you realize nature study better happen.

Then, choose the locations.

I brazenly asked friends with river-graced property to allow us to tromp along their paths about once a month this year, and they said yes!

I also selected one other location we would visit about once a month through the year.

Those two locations became our backbone. Visiting often throughout the year would allow the children to become familiar with the changing of seasons and weather in a particular place.

Then I did some research and online searching for other natural places or parks we could visit sporadically through the year. Kansas Trail Guide was really helpful for me. You don't need much or a "serious" nature trail. Our second backbone location is a city park with a paved trail. Three of the other locations we visit regularly have playgrounds; they are city parks and not wild nature trails.

Finally, set the ground rules.

Taking twelve children anywhere can be overwhelming and I knew I could only handle a weekly excursion if I wasn't anxious about someone getting hurt every week. I established some ground rules to allow us to keep a semblance of order and get everyone home safe and sound.
"icky water" (an honest display of a nature journal)
  • If you hear us call or blow the whistle, stop where you are and look for one of the grown-ups.
  • Children who do not respond appropriately will spend the rest of the nature walk holding one of our hands. (The big kids are horrified by this possibility.)
  • Respect personal property and water safety.
  • Be kind to God's plants and creatures.
  • No sharing snacks. (We have severe allergies in our group.)
  • You must draw in your journal before you eat your snack. The location and date should be included. (Later we added a requirement for a sentence or two about the day or the drawing, but even so, nature journal entries will need some bolstering next year.)
For the most part, we try to allow the children free rein to explore, climb, and wander. Therefore, we spend a lot of time counting to twelve.

In our family, we also needed to institute immediate showers for First Daughter when we get home. She has extensive allergies and has more than once developed a serious rash after our nature study walk. We just recently discovered Zanfel, which seems to help a lot (as it should, given its price).


I joke all the time that our nature study is much more Last Child in the Woods than Handbook of Nature Study. With twelve rambunctious children as excited to be together as to be outside, it's difficult to maintain peaceful contemplation of nature. As a first year, it's been a success and I'm hoping we can build on that next year and in the future to improve our nature journal skills and actually learn some names of plants or something. (It's the blind leading the blind, folks.)

We had some breaks during the year. Because we follow our church's class schedule, breaks for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Ash Wednesday, and such, are built into the year. We also took advantage of time together to do a few other activities. In December, we spent one coop day caroling instead of doing nature study. We're also having a little concert one week this spring. Though we focus on nature study, it's convenient to have that time available for a few special things we can still all do together.

Be sure to share in the comments any tips on getting nature study done. I definitely need help on the nature journal and identification skills.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spies and Codes, Revolutionary Style: George Washington, Spymaster

George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen

This book is recommended by RC History for the grammar level (4th-6th grades) of Connecting with History volume 4A (American History).

It's a fantastic little book, delving deeply into George Washington's spy network and the early days of espionage in American history while also providing opportunities to practice reading in code and hints of how espionage still works today, for good or ill. I particularly loved how the font and design of the book evoke the American Revolutionary times as well. Even the title chapters reflect time times: "Spymaster at Work. In which Washington proves to be a master of deception, and help comes from a surprising source." A large variety of woodcuts, maps, and paintings (all in black and white) illustrate the text.

Kansas Dad even picked up this book and read a bit of it, granting it his approval as well. As a connoisseur of end notes, source notes, and other such appendices, I commend the author for his excellent work on those areas of the text as well. It's shockingly rare to find those well-done in works for young readers.

This work would appeal especially to boys, I think, especially in the 4th-8th grades. First Son read and narrated it this year, in sixth grade.

Links to RC History are affiliate links.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Beauty of Geometry: String, Straight-Edge, and Shadow

String, Straight-Edge, and Shadow: The Story of Geometry by Julia E. Diggins, illustrated by Corydon Bell

I can't remember where I purchased this book, but I'm linking to RC History because it's presence on the syllabus for Connecting with History Volume 1 is the reason I purchased it and I am entirely grateful. Through the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece, it tells a story of discovery, the discovery of the eternal truths of geometry.

We began this book last year, when First Son was in fifth grade. I would read the selections to him and then he would narrate it back to me. This year, in sixth grade, I asked him to read it independently and then narrate it. Some of the chapters, ones that deal specifically with theorems more than story, are a bit more challenging, but worth the effort.

In the chapter The Golden Age and the Golden Mean, the author writes of the rise of Athens under Pericles.
High on the hill of the Acropolis rose new marble temples and bronze and painted statues. Crowds thronged the vast new open-air theater nearby, to hear immortal tragedies and comedies by the greatest Greek playwrights. These splendid public works were completed under the direction of the sculptor Phidias and several architects, all of whom knew and used the principles of geometry and optics. "Success in art," they insisted, "is achieved by meticulous accuracy in a multitude of mathematical proportions." And their buildings had a dazzling perfection never seen before--the beauty of calculated geometric harmony.
This is not just a book that teaches geometry. This is not just a book that lists off the names of important men and their achievements. This is a book written by someone who appreciates the intrinsic beauty of geometry and skillfully shares that appreciation with the reader.
But working on what may seem useless has frequently been the task of mathematicians, and such tasks, pursued with care, patience, and persistence, have led to most useful results. A whole book could be written about useful results from useless problems.
Kansas Dad taught a class on theology and mathematics a few years ago and agreed whole-heartedly with the above quote. Over and over, he says, investigations into pure mathematics have revealed insights that have clear and immediate real-world applications.

The book reaches its end and its pinnacle in discussing Euclid's Elements.
It was as though Thales and the Pythagoreans had quarried great marble slabs from nature, and through the centuries that followed many minds had carved and polished each piece until at last the whole was put together by Euclid into a simple and perfect structure as lovely as any Greek temple.
Excellently written. Clearly and attractively illustrated. A fantastic addition to our homeschool and a book I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Links to RC History are affiliate links. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Get Ready, Get Set: Let's Play Math (A Review with a Giveaway)

Let's Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together and Enjoy It by Denise Gaskins
Mathematics is mental play, the essence of creative problem solving. This is the truth we need to impart to our children, more important than fractions or decimals or even the times tables. Math is a game, playing with ideas.
I discovered the Let's Play Math website a few years ago. I felt like my oldest son was learning his math skills just fine, but he was also learning to hate math with a passion. He dreaded every minute of math and was convinced he was terrible at math, despite my protestations. Ever since, I have been open to ideas to reveal to all my children the beauty and joy of mathematics, even though I've never felt certain I understood it myself. I recently joined the review team for new Let's Play Math books and was excited to read and review the updated version of Let's Play Math.

The book is divided into five main sections. The first one, "How to Understand Math," is one of the most valuable. It describes how mathematicians, people who revel in math, think about math. They play. It's not just about skills and arithmetic; it's about how people learn and the problems that have fascinated them for centuries.
Real mathematics is intriguing and full of wonder—an exploration of patterns and mysterious connections. It rewards us with the joy of the “Aha!” feeling. These characteristics make it easy to stick with real math, even when a particular concept or problem presents a difficult challenge. Workbook math, on the other hand, is several pages of long division by hand followed by a rousing chorus of the fraction song: “Ours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply.”
"Playful Problem-Solving" explores math through stories, manipulatives, and solving interesting and challenging problems that are about more than just arithmetic. It's full of stories you can tell your children and games you can play together, describing interactions that are centered not around a school day but around family life. (All the problems mentioned have solutions listed at the end of the book.) "Math with Living Books" encourages parents to present math history with children, to trace the excitement of mathematical discoveries and advances over the centuries. Also, math concepts can be presented more interestingly than most textbooks in picture books, chapter books, and puzzles.

In "Let's Get Practical," the author describes what math might look like in a homeschool setting, starting with some of the ideas she herself has implemented. Buddy math, for example, involves taking turns solving practice problems and talking through the process. (I was particularly struck by this idea which I've used for years in reading but never considered for math.) Working through problems together is not about getting the right answer at all.
Our discussion is the important thing. The answers are an almost insignificant byproduct. Sometimes we don’t even bother to work out the final calculation because what intrigues us is the web of ideas: how can we think our way through this problem?
She answers frequently asked questions and provides some descriptions of educational offerings, textbooks, and online resources for different ages. These are not homeschool curricula reviews, but rather highlights of materials she has found to be comprehensive, adaptable, or particularly useful for different subjects.

The "Resources and References" section begins with a booklist for parents and teachers and just gets better after that. There are probably hundreds of print and online resources mentioned including worksheets and lessons found online.

A Table-ful of Math
Because I am familiar with some of Denise Gaskins's other work (emails, blog, and other books), I had already modified our homeschool math a bit based on her ideas. Second Daughter and I have been playing math games for a few years and am pleased with her progress and her attitude toward math. For the past few days she has joyously managed a store of boxes in the living room.

Reading this book, however, has made me consider challenging myself even more.

I'm considering adding a puzzle time or math read aloud to our "cultural studies loop."

I'm considering how to incorporate more time with me into math lessons with First Son and First Daughter. The author points out how families, especially homeschooling families, make family read-aloud time a priority; we read to our children and we ask them to read to us. When it's time for math, though, we send them off to another room with a book and then just point out all their mistakes. This accusation struck home. How can I maintain the personal connection with my children as they explore math without spending an additional two or three hours each day in one-on-one lessons?

I'm considering how we might take time every now and then, at natural breaks in our current math curriculum (with which I am still quite happy), to explore some of the intriguing ideas or websites mentioned in Let's Play Math.

I'm considering ways to foster a relationship between my children and math that encourages problem-solving for it's own sake rather than merely to get the answer to a question. I think most math worksheets and lessons inherently reward behavior that just gets it done. Get the answer right and you can move on.
We recognize that children are short-term thinkers, wanting to finish their school work with as little effort as possible so they can get back to the truly important things in life, such as Minecraft. We resist their efforts to turn math into answer-getting and insist on their taking time to explain and justify their conclusions.
I've already decreased the time we spend on math facts and drilling for the younger ones and will continue to consider how to ensure we're memorizing the facts well enough to facilitate higher level math without drilling so much we damage the growing love of math. Let's Play Math acknowledges the necessity of learning math facts and practicing skills, but insists we must consider the larger goal when we decide on our methods.
Mathematical literacy is a worthy challenge. But most of us want more than literacy for our children. We want them to be educated. An educated person is interested in more than merely what is useful. He or she loves to learn, studies for the sake of gaining knowledge, and grows in wisdom.
Math facts and skill practice are important but not sufficient. Mathematicians don't just add, subtract, multiply, and divide: they solve puzzles.
Instead, we need to introduce our students to the thrill of tackling tough, challenging puzzles. We need to give children a taste of the joy that comes from figuring things out, the “Aha!” factor. We need to adopt the mathematician’s view of math as mental play. Learning to think a problem through can be hard work—and that is exactly what makes it fun.
Changing how we address math can be frightening, especially for parents that learned math in the very kind of environment or with the kind of attitude we're attempting to avoid. My oldest is in sixth grade and I feel like I'm just beginning to find our way in approaching math, even though we've been learning math all along. I believe I can establish a few small changes, a little at a time, and we'll see results in the end.
Don’t worry about taking a less formal approach to math in the elementary school years. If you are always doing something—reading library books, telling each other stories, enjoying math crafts, drawing geometric pictures, playing with calendar numbers, and so on—then your children will pick up an amazing amount of knowledge. As Julie Brennan explains: “Early exposure to real mathematics in natural settings, without requiring mastery of arithmetic on a set timetable—this has been a key to the ease with which my kids attain mastery when the time is right for them.”
Here on the Range, I'm determined to establish an environment where math is not just numbers and answers. I firmly believe my children can learn all the math they want, when they're ready, as long as they don't convince themselves they can't learn it, they don't like it, or that it's too hard. To reach this goal, math must be a regular part of our lives in a way that encourages conversation and exploration.
Our kids can only see the short term. If we adults hope to help them learn math, our primary challenge is to guard against viewing the mastery of facts and procedures as an end in itself. We must never fall into thinking that the point of studying something is just to get the right answers. We understand this in other school subjects. Nobody imagines that the point of reading is to answer comprehension questions. We know that there is more to learning history than winning a game of Trivial Pursuit. But when it comes to math, too many parents (and far too many politicians) act as though the goal of our children’s education is to produce high scores on a standardized test.
Let's Play Math could be the very introduction a young family needs as they contemplate the first few years of homeschooling. First Son's early years may have been completely different if I had read this book when he was five. It could be a fantastic book for a family with a child that's struggling (in homeschool or otherwise) with math. A few years ago, when First Son first showed signs of a potentially life-long hatred of all things numerical, reading this book may have helped me adapt the curriculum we were then using to meet his needs and enrich him. (We ended up switching and I'm happy with that, but I could have avoided quite a bit of angst.) This book would be perfect for a parent who has always struggled with inadequacies in math or for someone like me, who always did just fine in math but never understood the claims of math's beauty or fascination. I find myself excited to explore some of the resources the author has gathered together for my own growth and new challenges.
In the few years we have our children at home, we cannot possibly teach them everything they will need to know as adults. At best, we can give them the tools for learning and the ability to reason, so they can continue their own education. And one of the most important tools for learning is a solid understanding of real mathematics—math taught the mathematician’s way, as mental play.

THE GIVEAWAY - Win Your Own Copy of Let's Play Math

Denise Gaskins has graciously offered her book as a giveaway hosted right here at Our Home on the Range! She is providing an autographed paperback copy of Let's Play Math for the grand-prize winner AND an electronic version (winner's choice of Kindle, PDF, etc.) for the runner-up.

I'm trying something new here on the Range. Use Rafflecopter below to enter the giveaway.
  • One comment and you're entered. Tell me your favorite math resource or, if you don't have one, that you need this book to discover one.
  • Contest opens on Thursday, February 25th, at 7:00 am and ends at midnight on Monday, February 29th. (Central time - it's Kansas folks!)
  • I'll email the winners on Monday or Tuesday and will choose new ones if I don't hear back within 48 hours - so be sure to watch your email!
Just to be clear, the author offered to provide prizes for this giveaway without knowing what kind of a review I would write. No purchase is necessary for the giveaway, and no benefit is gained by making any kind of a purchase.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I received a free copy of a PDF version of this book in advance of its publication as part of Denise Gaskins's review program. This post is my honest opinion. The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. I receive a small commission if you click the link, add something (anything) to your cart at Amazon, and make a purchase in whatever time frame Amazon currently employs.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Picture Book Comparisons: Bloody Cats and Goblin Rats

This year our focus while Reading Around the World in Picture Books is Asia. We've recently started exploring Japan. We read The Boy Who Drew Cats retold by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Christine Kastl (Japan), the tale of a young boy who only draws cats, the most remarkable cats. One night, his drawings come to life and rid a temple of a horrible goblin. I love the look of the ink on rice paper in the illustrations, though the huge rat goblin is a bit disturbing (for me, not the kids). I also loved how the priest sends the boy away from the first temple. Exasperated by the boy's incessant drawing, not least on beautiful screens, he remains calm and kind. The boy asks for any final advice.
The priest did not know what to say. Suddenly the words came out of his mouth, straight from his heart, without passing through his mind: 'Stay away from large places. Sleep only in small spaces.'
Akiro was puzzled. It was strange sort of advice for a priest to give his student when he was sending him away into the world. But a teacher's advice has to be taken with gratitude, even when it sounds odd and meaningless. So Akiro bowed low and left.
What a good attitude Akiro has!

Our library has a few different versions of this folktale so I also checked out The Boy who Drew Cats adapted by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Aki Sogabe. These illustrations are also well-done, though I prefer those in the first. I hesitate to write anything against Margaret Hodges's story-telling skills, but the priest's advice in this tale is "Avoid large places at night; keep to small," which seems less lyrical to me though it obviously means the same thing.

Very young children might be a little disturbed by the drawings of cats spotted with red (blood from the goblin).  The illustration of the goblin rat in the second book includes only the tail, but the text was a little more frightening than the book above. Not that Second Daughter or Second Son (ages seven and five) found either bothersome. Dead goblin rats and bloody cat drawings are apparently run-of-the-mill around here.

Monday, February 22, 2016

2015 Advent Listening Loop

Last week, I posted about the Advent books we read in 2015. Today, I'd like to share our playlist for Advent.

I've written before about some of our listening loops. As we have time, during chores or busywork, we'll listen to a playlist, rotating through a loop of different lists including, among others, science songs, folk songs, and patriotic songs. You can read a bit about how the listening loop works in this post.

I had an idea in my head of the songs I wanted for Advent and then searched Spotify for versions I liked. I find it difficult to discern words in choral arrangements, so I preferred individual singers or smaller groups.
If you want to purchase a single CD for Advent, I would recommend Advent At Ephesus. It's simply beautiful. We listened to this often as well, so I didn't include anything from it on our listening loop.

During the Christmas season proper, we listened to hours of beautiful and celebratory Christmas music. Our favorite CDs are Unbroken Song, When My Heart Finds Christmas, Joy: A Holiday Celebration, In the Bleak Midwinter, Peace on Earth, Veggie Tales: A Very Veggie Christmas and Bing Crosby. Our Spotify playlist contains almost 300 songs, so we listen to much more, but own these.

* I love this CD, but it drives Kansas Dad a little crazy. He insists (and I don't disagree) that there is absolutely nothing irrational about Mary's decision to acquiesce to her Lord.

The italic print: 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). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts (so they'll really be from me).

Links to Spotify are not affiliate links. I receive nothing from them, but I highly recommend the paid subscription to Spotify as some of the commercials are not family-friendly. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Solid Beginning to Chemistry: The Elements

Last summer, as I was contemplating First Daughter's chemistry course for third grade, I read about a new book on the Mater Amabilis facebook page. (Oh, what a wealth of resources and wisdom that page is! Join it!) Ellen Johnston McHenry at the Basement Workshop has created a number of resources for teaching chemistry, biology, and other subjects. The Elements: Ingredients of the Universe interested me as it could be the main textbook for our chemistry course and it seemed to be aimed right at First Daughter's level. I purchased the book and CD. The book contains all the text, activities, and lots of supplements. The CD allowed me to print the activity pages so we didn't have to write in the book (as intended by the publisher). It also includes the songs, which you can download separately if you like. I put the songs on our science playlist.

The Elements is designed for ages 8-13. First Daughter turned nine just after the school year started last fall. Her reading level is probably a bit higher than third grade, and I intended to assign the text to be read independently and then narrated. There are eight chapters in the book. You can see a sample of the first two chapters online. The text discusses the properties and definition of an element, the periodic table, atoms, and an introduction to the different families of elements (alkali, halogen, noble gases, etc.). The family chapters reminded me of the spirit of books like the The Burgess Bird Book for Children, giving personality to the behaviors seen in different groups of elements.

Within each chapter are lots of activities and the end of each chapter is a comic of The Atomic Chef. There are even more activities in the Teacher's Section at the end of the book. One of our favorite parts of the study was visiting the Basement Workshop Youtube channel where there were playlists of videos created to match the studies in the book. (Links to the Youtube channel are in the text.)

First Daughter's reading level was advanced for a third grader, but she definitely found the text challenging. I had planned on one chapter a week read independently plus an additional day when we would complete an activity or two together. After a few weeks, it became clear she was not able to narrate adequately, so I divided each chapter into two and read them over two weeks. I also worked through most of the activities with her to make sure she understood them. At the slower pace, she was able to remember much of the information. Most of the activities and videos were intriguing enough to pull the sixth grade boy over as well. In fact, he read much of the text over her shoulder, so I believe the stated age range is accurate.

For the most part, the activities First Daughter completed with me were designed and recommended in The Elements. I did encourage her to spend some time with EIN-O's Molecular Models Kit (originally used with Noeo Chemistry 1 which you can find here and which I wrote about here) and the Photographic Card Deck of The Elements which I received one year for Christmas because it's awesome.

This text was a solid beginning to our third grade study of chemistry. We spent fourteen weeks on this text and then moved on to some other chemistry books and resources I had, mainly from Noeo Chemistry 1. I imagine I'll write about those sometime, too.

The italic print: 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). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts (so they'll really be from me because the kids say I don't have any money).

Links to the Basement Workshop Store and Noeo Science are not affiliate links. I receive nothing from them, but perhaps you'll find them useful. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: Robert McCloskey Love

Somehow, I have managed to miss all the fantastic Robert McCloskey books in my favorite picture books posts. I suppose it's probably harmless because surely anyone who stumbles onto this blog already knows about these wonderful books, but I still would like to establish clearly my love for them.

Make Way for Ducklings - Kansas Dad proposed to me in Boston's Public Gardens, so reading this book lifts my heart every time because I remember that day. We also lived in Boston for a couple of years when we were newlyweds, so really the good feelings abound. Second Daughters love for all things bird just makes it even better.

One Morning in Maine - A blissfully perfect day - a lost tooth, a boat ride, an ice cream cone, clam chowder. Reading this book always reminds me of Our Town and how the memory of one ordinary day nearly breaks Emily's heart. This is life and it's beautiful.

Blueberries for Sal - Bears, blueberries, and a baby. What's not to love? This is probably the favorite McCloskey book among my children.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Fun on the Range: Running in Circles

Second Son has my old camera. It works perfectly but the lens is smudged. Because it would cost something like $80 to have the lens professionally cleaned, I just picked a new cheap camera and gave him this one. He loves it. I frequently find the memory card full of thousands (thousands) of pictures of all the pages of Star Wars books or videos of him following the dog around as he (the dog) attempts to escape.

Recently, Second Son and Second Daughter have been making exercise videos, or perhaps they are just videos of them exercising. Second Daughter started it, I think, but this video from Second Son's camera is my favorite.

This kind of activity is what the Range kids call fun.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Reading Around the World in Picture Books 2013-2014: Central and South America

I'm behind on posting our selections for Reading Around the World in Picture Books. These are the books we read in 2013-2014 (two years ago!), when First Daughter was in first grade, Second Daughter was a five-year-old preschooler, and Second Son was three. First Son was in fourth grade, studying Central and South American in his People and Places studies. I selected picture books to coordinate with his studies. Even if he didn't snuggle up with us to hear the story (and sometimes he did), the books were floating around the house, perhaps offering additional inspiration for him.

** I've marked our favorites with two asterisks.

Unless otherwise noted, all of these books were library books.

** Erandi's Braids by Antonia Hernandez-Madrigal, illustrated by Tomie dePaola (Mexico), is the story of a young girl who sacrifices her beautiful hair so her mother can buy a new fishing net.

** Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate by Dianne De Las Casas, illustrated by Holly Stone-Barker (Mexico, Aztec), is a retelling of the myth of the blue frog that stole the secret of chocolate from the Sun God to impart it to the people on earth.

Abuela's Weave by Omar S. Castaneda, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez (Guatemala), shows a young girl who weaves beautiful fabrics with her grandmother then travels to the city to sell them for the benefit of the family.

Borreguita and the Coyote retold by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Petra Mathers (Mexico), tells of a lamb that escapes coyote's hunger through trickery and, in the end, surprising strength.

** Musicians of the Sun by Gerald McDermott (Aztec) is the tale of a gray world transformed by the release of the musicians of the sun. It's brilliant and stunning. A group of elementary students performed a version of the book using shadow puppets you can watch on YouTube.

The First Tortilla: A Bilingual Story by Rudolfo Anaya, illustrated by Amy Cordova (Mexico), relates the legend of a great famine. A young girl struggles on a quest to take a gift to the Mountain Spirit so it will send rain. This bilingual story has more text than some of the others. It also requires a bit of explanation about myths and gods of the people before they learned of Christianity, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

** Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup and Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta, pictures by Rafael Yockteng (Bean Soup) and Fernando Vilela (Rice Pudding) (El Salvador), were wonderful additions to our study. I was excited to find anything from El Salvador because my sister-in-law was born and lived there until she was seven. These books are poems, written in English and Spanish, celebrating the food of El Salvador. Intermingled with the recipes are the kinds of comments and conversations that go on in homes where families cook together, talking of history and mythology and the world. There are a whole series of books by Jorge Argueta, Biligual Cooking Poems, all with different illustrators, presumably chosen to best reflect the style of the home country of the food.

Juan Bobo Goes to Work: A Puerto Rican Folk Tale retold by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Puerto Rico), is one of many silly stories you can find of Juan Bobo whose foolishness benefits his family in the end.
** Tap-Tap by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
(Haiti), is a delightful tale of a young girl in Haiti who wants to ride the bus home. I always love the illustrations of Catherine Stock. Our library no longer has a copy of this book and I desperately want to buy one for our home library.

Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (Haiti) - When a teacher has a book that can solve his agricultural problem, Josias convinces his father to let him attend school and "hold the book." The bean field resolution, while probably correct, is not convincingly told in the story, but it's interesting for American children to read about children in other countries who must struggle for the ability to go to school.

** A Gift of Gracias by Julia Alvarez, illustrated by Beatrix Vidal (Dominican Republic), is the Dominican legend of Our Lady of Altagracia. It's lovely and my girls always enjoy it. (owned)

** Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Creole / Martinique), is a Cinderella tale illustrated by the fantastic Pinkney. I love it, and so did my girls.

** Martina the Beautiful Cockroach retold by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael Austin (Cuba), is the story of a beautiful cockroach awaiting her suitors who receives unexpected advice from her abuela: to spill coffee on each one. Hilarity and wisdom!

Red Knot: A Shorebird's Incredible Journey by Nancy Carol Willis (spans North and South America), follows a single red knot on her round-trip journey from the southern tip of South America to the northern tip of North America and back again. (owned)

Miro in the Kingdom of the Sun by Jane Kurtz, woodcuts by David Frampton, (Inca) is the story of a young girl who saves her brother and the prince with courage and help from the birds, her friends. 

Chaska and the Golden Doll by Ellen Alexander (Peru) is based on the true story of Chaska, a young girl who longs to go to school but whose village school is too small to hold all of the children. When she finds an old Incan idol, she is allowed to decide what to do with it.

** My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra (Chile), is a story of Gabriela Mistral written in both English and Spanish. It is one of my favorite picture books.

Mia's Story, a sketchbook of hopes and dreams by Micheal Foreman (Chile, Andes Mountains) - Mia, a young girl whose village is essentially in a garbage dump, befriends a dog who runs away. While searching for him, she discovers a beautiful place high in the mountains and gathers armfuls of flowers to remind herself of it. She and her father then sell the flowers in the marketplace. The illustrations are wonderful though I imagine her home is less idyllic than the book shows. I like how the people are just people and the story isn't about poverty; it's exactly what it says: a story about Mia. I wonder, though, if the publisher and author/illustrator shared any of the proceeds with Mia's family.

** Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains by Barbara Knutson (Andes Mountains) is a delightfully hilarious book in the trickster tradition. Cuy the Guinea Pig tricks the Fox. To escape his wrath, he ingratiates himself with the farmer but ends up in trouble again when he is caught by the farmer's trick. Will he escape a second time? The illustrations are rich and colorful, just as enjoyable as the story.

Mariana and the Merchild: A Folk Tale from Chile by Caroline Pitcher, illustrated by Jackie Morris (Chile), is a tale of a lonely woman who cares for a merchild. The merchild becomes a bond between her and the children of her people that comforts her when the merchild must return to the sea.

** Peter Claver, Patron Saint of Slaves/Pedro Claver, Santo Patrono de los Esclavos by Julia Durango, illustrations by Rebecca Garcia-Franco (Colombia), one of my favorite picture books, is about St. Peter Claver, a courageous example of dedicating your life to the poor and weak. (owned)

** The Pied Piper of Peru by Ann Tompert, illustrated by Kestutis Kasparavicius (Peru), tells the legend of how St. Martin de Porres led all the mice from his monastery without hurting any of them but to the satisfaction of the monks who were disinclined to live with mice. St. Martin de Porres is one of my absolute favorite saints and any Catholic family traveling around South America should read about him. Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert by Gary D. Schmidt and illustrated by David Diaz is another delightful book about the saint, one I learned of after our study (and which we now own). He's also one of the two saints on my favorite Glory Story audio CD. (I purchased this CD; this is not an affiliate link.) It's funny, even for parents, and neither of the saints featured is martyred for the faith. (Those stories are good, too, but they always make me cry.)

My Mama's Little Ranch on the Pampas by Maria Cristina Brusca tells of a young girl's experiences on the small ranch her mother buys and runs in Argentina. It's a companion to On the Pampas by the same author. Both of these books give a wonderful light-hearted look at the hard work on a Pampas ranch. We read My Mama's Little Ranch on the Pampas together and they read On the Pampas on their own.

Animal Poems of the IguazĂș: Animalario del IguazĂș poems by Francisco X. Alarcon, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez (Argentina), is a wonderful book of bilingual poems written by the poet (mostly) while visiting the Iguazu Waterfalls. It was a fantastic addition to our study.

The Farmyard Jamboree by Margaret Read MacDonald, illustrated by Sophie Fatus (Chile), is the simple tale of animals. It was fun for the little ones to hear the different animal sounds. It's definitely better for younger children.

** Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, illustrations by John Parra (Colombia), is another of my favorite picture books. We've read this book many times together. When First Son (now 12) saw it over my shoulder while I was writing this post, he asked me to request it from the library again.

So Say the Little Monkeys by Nancy Van Laan, pictures by Yumi Heo (Brazil), is an origin tale of tiny monkeys who live along the Amazon but never make a permanent home. Second Daughter loved this book. The rhyming text is full of noises and silly sounds, perfect for young listeners.

Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme
 by Marianne Berkes, illustrated by Jeanette Canyon (rainforest) - It's Over in the Meadow, but in a rainforest, and not so beautifully illustrated (though I'm partial to Keats in general). This was nice for the little ones.

The Umbrella by Jan Brett (rainforest setting) is just as you'd expect from Jan Brett. The children enjoyed it.

Looking for Jaguar: And Other Rain Forest Poems by Susan Katz, pictures by Lee Christiansen (rainforest), is a book of poetry on animals of the rain forest. I enjoyed the illustrations in this book; they reminded me of paintings. A few pages at the end give more information on the animals.

Dancing Turtle: A Folktale from Brazil by Pleasant DeSpain, illustrated by David Boston (Brazil), is the tale of a turtle destined for soup who tricks a boy and his sister into helping her escape.

Mira and the Stone Tortoise: A Kulina Tale retold by Melinda Lilly, illustrated by Charles Reasoner (Brazil), is also a tale of a dancing turtle. I like both the text and the illustrations better in this version than in Dancing Turtle (above), but it's a lot of text for little ones.

We're Roaming in the Rainforest by Laurie Krebs and Anne Wilson (Amazon rainforest) shows a group of three differently-shaded children observing wildlife in the Amazonian rainforest. The brightly colored illustrations and rhyming text are well-suited to young listeners.

The Pot That Juan Built by Nancy Andrews-Ceobel, pictures by David Diaz (Mexico), is written in the same style as "The House that Jack Built." Longer text (in a smaller font) on each page gives a more developed biography of Juan Quezada, a potter who revived an ancient process and style. An afterward includes more details on the process and photographs of a beautiful completed pot.

A Mango in the Hand: A Story Told Through Proverbs by Antonio Sacre, illustrated by Sabastia Serra (unspecified country but Spanish-speaking), tells the story of Francisco and his quest to procure mangoes for his name-day feast. Proverbs (like "Better one mango in the hand than a hundred in the tree") appear throughout the story.

First Daughter will be in fourth grade next year, so we'll read many of these books again with the younger two. It will be fun to revisit them!

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Surprising but Worthy: The Children's Own Longfellow

The Children's Own Longfellow, poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow illustrated by "some of the best-known artists of the late nineteenth century"

Mater Amabilis suggests Level 3 students study an individual poet each term. I thought about doing a proper poetry study with First Son, but decided instead to read a few books of poetry from selected poets. Rather than setting aside a different time, I incorporated the poetry into our regular poetry reading time during our cultural loop. We read a few books from one poet all together once a term but divide them from each other with other books of poetry, generally aimed at the younger children.

We started the year with Jack Prelutsky, who is silly enough to appeal to First Son but is a man who appreciates poetry of the highest quality as can be seen in the anthologies he edits like The Random House Book of Poetry for Children and Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young.

In the second term, I selected Longfellow. First Son has been working consistently on memorizing Paul Revere's Ride for over a year now. (It's a really long poem!) I thought it would be nice to read some of this other works to complement his memory work. I didn't pre-read the poems, just glanced through a bunch of titles from our library and selected a couple based on illustrations or how the paper felt in my hands. (Totally true confession.)

Originally published in 1908, this little book I found at our library doesn't even list the illustrators of the eight full-color plates, one for each of the selections. The illustrations are wonderful, just what you'd expect from turn of the century artists. The book includes The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Village Blacksmith, a selection from Evangeline, selections from The Song of Hiawatha, The Building of the Ship, The Castle-Builder, Paul Revere's Ride, and The Building of the Long Serpent.

The very first poem, The Wreck of the Hesperus, outraged First Daughter (age 9). "Who would put a poem like that in a book for children?" she cried incredulously, and a little teary-eyed, as I confirmed her worst fears of the fates of the captain, his daughter, and the crew. Evangeline was difficult for the younger ones to understand so I would occassionally stop and explain what was happening. They did much better with The Castle-Builder and Paul Revere's Ride, of course.

Despite First Daughter's misgivings, this book is perfect for a Level 3 student. First Son (sixth grade, age 12) didn't struggle as much as the younger children. I loved reading it aloud, too. There's value in giving children the gift of lofty poetic language even if they don't understand every word. There's also value in a parent savoring that same language while reading aloud. This book in hardcover would be a great addition to a family's library.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: The Big Snow

The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader

The animals of the forest are getting ready for winter as the geese fly south. Deer, raccoons, mice, ground hogs, birds, are all preparing. Then, just after Christmas, a great snow falls. Hunger sets in, but a kind old man and woman put out food for the animals and birds.

That's all. Nothing else happens. It's a lovely peaceful book of the natural world and its intersection with our world, when we care to notice. After reading it, my children always want to put out food for the birds. They've never been disturbed by the realization we live a bit farther south and don't have any big snows that last all winter. (We do usually have one or two big snows that melt away.)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Pegeen and a Sale!

Pegeen by Hilda van Stockum

This is the third in the Bantry Bay series by Hilda van Stockum, which includes The Cottage at Bantry Bay and Francie on the Run. I've read them all aloud to the children, experiencing them right along with them because I didn't read any of them ahead of time. These delightful stories follow the antics and every day lives of a family of five children in Ireland, including twin boys. In Pegeen, a young girl befriended by Francie on his adventures in Francie on the Run, visits after her Grannie dies while awaiting word from her guardian uncle in America. She's half-wild but innocent, sweet-tempered, and fiercely devoted to Francie and his family. The children and I fell in love with her! More than once, we lost track of time while listening (or reading aloud).

The Catholic faith of Pegeen, Father Kelly (her priest who guides her while awaiting news from her guardian), Francie, and her family all shine through the pages, though never pedantic. When Pegeen worries her grandmother will feel out of place in the grandeur of heaven, Father Kelly comforts her.
Father Kelly's lips twitched. "Surely ye don't believe that God would promise us happiness an' then pay no attention to our wishes, trying to please us with what we don't want?" he asked, playing with Pegeen's curls. "Ye may be sure He knows exactly what Grannie would like most, an' He'll give it to her. For 'Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.'"
The children romp over the fields in a manner befitting the wonder celebrated in Poetic Knowledge and the freedom mourned in Last Child in the Woods. Francie and Liam, twins about seven years old, imagine themselves warriors in past battles.
They made quick work of them, slaughtering everyone mercilessly, but they still had to destroy the guns. That was the best fun of all. Liam came with his arms full of dry sticks and Francie found some matches in his pocket. Very soon they had a bonfire as elegant as the real one must have been, some two hundred and fifty years ago. In fact, it was such an excellent one, and they had chosen their spot so well, that with a little encouragement Mr. Dolan's hayrick would have joined in the conflagration. Luckily the farmer spotted it in time, chasing the boys with a few bitter words and smothering the lovely flames with shovelfuls of earth. The twins watched it from a safe distance.
"No one'll ever let us have a bit of fun," said Francie, mournfully.
The author knew Ireland intimately and must have loved it. The descriptions lure us to Ireland as surely as they encourage us to delight in the beauty of our own homes.
Pegeen stepped out into the road, digging her bare toes into the dew-drenched earth and swinging her kettle merrily. She loved to surprise the first meeting of the sun with the blushing sky, before the day had properly begun. Over grass and low shrubs lay light webby cloaks sparkling with jewels. These the fairies had left behind when they fled with the night, Pegeen knew. A rabbit loped across the way, scattering drops like a fountain as he burrowed hurriedly under the bushes. Pegeen sniffed the sharp autumn smells and filled her lungs with new air.
Mother, Father, Francie, Liam, Pegeen...they are all real. Mother says, speaking of a pet rabbit:
"I was vexed with the beast, an' that's foolishness, for he only does what nature has taught him to do. But there, it's hard to keep a family going an' keep your temper as well."
When Pegeen asks her if she likes real babies:
"I like 'em a sight too much for me own good," said Mother crisply.
Later, Mother tells a story. It was like seeing our family as I imagine it (and perhaps not as it is in real life). At the end, tears are in her eyes.
"But Own chose the right thing, didn't he?" asked Pegeen. "There's nothing to be sad about, is there?"
"Arra, leave her alone. Mothers do be having tears tucked in the corners of their eyes that will come out, regardless," said Father.
My children laughed and nodded knowingly.

Irish folktales and history are woven throughout the book, too, just as tales of the American Revolution or St. Nicholas might in our own family. Pegeen surprises and enthralls the local teacher and her classmates with a recitation of one of the tales of Cuchulain. Later, she imagines herself in heaven and sees her revered heroes there.
She saw King Conor with his purple mantle and Emer, Cuchulain's wife, who possessed the six gifts of womanhood: the gift of beauty, the gift of song, the gift of sweet words, the gift of ready hands, the gift of wisdom, and the gift of modesty.
Six gifts worth pursuing.

We just finished this book last Thursday and I was delighted to see Bethlehem Books announce a Mardi Gras sale because I was forced to write about it promptly so I could tell you all about the sale as well.

On Monday, the 8th (today!), and Tuesday, the 9th, Bethlehem Books is offering 51% off all print and ebooks with coupon code mardi51 at checkout.

In addition to the Bantry Bay series, Bethlehem publishes the wonderful Fairchild Family series (which I wrote about here), and the Mitchells series (mentioned here and here).

We have also enjoyed many of their historical fiction publications: Victory on the Walls, Hittite Warrior, God King, The Winged Watchman, The Reb and the Redcoats, Old Sam Dakota Trotter, Nacar the White Deer, Madeleine Takes Command, and Archimedes and the Door of Science. (Just to mention a few.)

Basically, I have come to trust this publisher and therefore feel confident in recommending them and sharing about their current sale.

I receive nothing from Bethlehem Books for this post or if you make a purchase. I bought Francie on the Run and Pegeen for the Kindle at a similar sale last year. (I bought an old hardcover edition of The Cottage at Bantry Bay on Cathswap years ago.) The Amazon links above are affiliate links.