Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Final Leg of M. Arronax's Journey

The final chapters of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea provides much fodder for the curious mind. If you're just now joining us on the out of book journey check here and here for the other installments.

  • Different varieties of whales make their appearance in this last section. Visit the American Cetacean Society to satiate your need to know. They have fact sheets, resource lists, and curriculum. You have to give your email address to access some sections, but the information is good enough to risk getting a little junk mail. I particularly like the Cetacean Breath Chart and the breath holding activity that goes along with it.
  • Atlantis - Interesting passage in the book and there are many books if you want to add information. Atlantis: The Legend of a Lost City by Christina Belit is one that we were able to get from our library.
  • Volcanoes - Interestingly enough we started studying volcanoes and volcanic rocks about the time we got to this section of the book. I'll do a separate post since it is part of our planned science study this year.
  • Honeybees - We didn't do much here because the children have been helping with the beekeeping duties since they were three. But possibilities exist since bees are such interesting insects, not to mention productive.
  • Penguins - If you haven't seen it already, be sure to watch March of the Penguins. Though the movie only tracks emperor penguins, the Antarctic is shown in its bitter cold, unforgiving beauty. Did I mention how much I like Morgan Freeman's voice? Watch Happy Feet, too. It makes me smile.
  • While you're still shivering, snuggled in front of the television, watch Eight Below for a view of scientists working in Antarctica. Then talk about the South Pole and how you know when you make it there. Nemo used chronometers, barometer, and lenticular glass.
  • Icebergs - Here is a wonderful lesson (much more than one lesson) combining icebergs, Antarctica, and penguins. The resources are fabulous!! My children are fascinated by icebergs.
  • The Giant Polyps - K is obsessed with this. Unfortunately, the creatures in the book don't have a scientific basis. We did look. We found these giant squid pictures and information.
If I had not been enjoying this book along with my children and reacting to their curiosity, planning a more cohesive study using the book as a Charlotte Mason living book spine would have been possible. Reading a book without prior knowledge has its benefits too, because you can truly let your children lead. Sure, I had the bright idea to plot the journey, but we studied freely roaming in and out of the science of the fiction, never overwhelming either child with schoolish study, but providing enough library books, or web resources to answer those questions so freely asked.

As with all good books they lead to other good books. We are now reading The Mysterious Island because inquiring minds want to know, "What happened to Captain Nemo?" In fact, K has all of Jules Verne's books on his to be read list.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


We have been fumbling around in Ancient Rome even though we are supposed to be studying the Middle Ages. Our study was supposed to begin with the fall of Rome, but last year we never finished Ancient Rome, so we decided to do a quick journey through Rome. Getting additional resources from the library can be fraught with delays and poor choices if you have to order your books blind and online from regional members, rather than scanning the shelves. I usually compensate by choosing two or three books on whatever subject we are studying, hoping one or the other will work.

I did this with Cleopatra with much success. I got Diane Stanley's Cleopatra and The Women of Achievement Cleopatra. The Women of Achievement Cleopatra is a longer chapter book with much good information including a chronology, book and web resources, and images, but we chose the Stanley picture book for our study because it was more interesting and less textbookish while still being filled with valid information.

Diane Stanley, with Peter Vennema illustrating, created a scholarly, living, picture book. I know that sounds strange and somewhat of a contradiction, but that is the only way I can explain it. The story is great. I intended to break it into smaller pieces, but the children kept saying, "More, More, More!!!" so we read the whole book in one night. While creating an interesting story Stanley cautions us about the scarcity and lack of reliability of ancient resources for Cleopatra (everything preserved is written by her enemies). Yet, she seems to create a fair picture and even quotes Plutarch. The illustrations are bright, detailed, and many have mosaics like the cover. There are also maps, a pronunciation guide, and a bibliography. Diane Stanley's Cleopatra was a wonderful find for our family.

Stanley and Vennema have also collaborated on Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations. I've put them on my list.

Picture Books for the Whole Family

A couple of weeks ago Susan at Chicken Spaghetti published a reading list for her son's third grade class. I wasn't familiar with The Library by Sarah Stewart, so I ordered it from my library for my third grader. While I was online, I also noticed that the library also had two other books by Sarah Stewart, so I reserved them too.

I'm glad I did. We (and I mean the whole family) loved them all. I read them to Princess, but while they were on the kitchen table K and Mr. W read them all. K said, "Momma, Elizabeth Brown is a lot like you."
I said, "We can still get through the doors and the bookshelves aren't cracking."
He said, "Yeah, but, I mean, it could get that bad."

I was left speechless. I suppose he is correct since my first instinct was to run out and buy the books because we liked them.

The Gardener is a wonderful book set in the 1930s. Lydia Grace, who has to go live with her uncle because of money problems, transforms the rooftop of a city building into a garden and brings joy to customers and her uncle, though he doesn't smile. The illustrations are beautiful and the text, letters from Lydia Grace, inspirational.

Finally, The Friend is a wonderful book about a young girl and her nanny sharing days. The routine of the week of washing, ironing, and cleaning is preserved, but also the love. I suppose I was moved (I cried) by this book more than my children and husband because I had a special relationship with a nanny. Even without a nanny in your past, this is a wonderful tale of relationships and caring caregivers. David Small, the illustrator for all three books, captures the relationship perfectly.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Deconstructing Penguins

Jove wrote about Deconstructing Penguins a couple of weeks ago here and here. I commented at her blog without having read the book, so then I felt I needed to find a copy and make good. I was able to order it at the library and read it this weekend.

In this short book Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone show that meaningful discussion of books is not beyond the capabilities of children, and they show you how to do it. Their explanations and examples of the various elements of literature are sound and explained through examples. Samples of dialog (responses from children and the Goldstone's own questions) illustrate just how easily extracting meaning from books can happen with younger children.

In my opinion, these conversations are part of a child's encouragement to read and to think. Though book clubs are fun, the dinner table and living room are an even better place to chat about books. By making the conversations a natural part of reading and living, you don't confine serious book talk to the classroom. I don't believe that the conversations need to be structured or conclude in finding the one true meaning of the book. I do believe that giving children tools (words and methodology) to seek meaning in literature can open relationships with books and give children confidence in siting and proving their opinions.

Be ever cautious, though. One sure way to extinguish the fun of reading is over analysis. The same goes with those boring question and answer sheets in which the answers to the questions can always be copied directly from the text, and with discussions so open-ended that you don't even have to read the book to participate. Find a middle ground, especially with younger children, that enriches the book and gives them a reason to read.

For further reading:
Reading Strands by The National Writing Institute is an older, not quite as polished, book that provides examples of Socratic questioning and information about the literary elements. It also contains extensive book lists though some of the selections are not those I would choose.

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster is a compilation of a lecture series about novels. Though this material is certainly more advanced than the needs of a homeschool teacher of primary level children, the information is thoughtfully presented by a great novelist who we would assume knows one or two things. I like this book because it is informative and as well written as a novel.

A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H. Abrams is probably in its 200th printing (I have my tattered 5th from graduate school), but it is the standard by which all other books of this sort are judged. It is a tool for those seriously interested in literature, for not only does it explain and clarify literary terms and devices, it succinctly discusses schools of literary criticism in case you want to do something other than deconstruct. Again, this is much more than you may need, but is a wonderful reference for inquiring minds.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Was There A Real King Arthur?

I found a good history book at the library for mystery loving learners, Mysteries of History by Robert Stewart. With topics like Why Did the Pharaohs Build the Pyramids?, Was Marco Polo a Great Explorer or a Liar?, Was Napoleon Poisoned?, Why Did the Hindenburg Explode? and Was There a Real King Arthur?, inquiring minds are sure to read.

Each topic has a duel timeline that highlights events pertinent to the question or person along with world or national events. There are also art images, photographs, maps, and pertinent quotes gleaned from primary sources. Possibilities and evidence are presented.

These mysteries are not solved in the 9 or 10 pages devoted to each question, but the discussion is interesting for tweens and adults alike. I like that it shows that history doesn't have all the answers written in a text book, that science can be used to verify history, and that humans impact history through interpretation and writing.

The plan was to only use the sections of the book that relate to Medieval/Renaissance History:
  • Did Rome Really Fall?
  • Was There a Real King Arthur?
  • What Happened to the Knights Templars?
  • Was Marco Polo a Great Explorer or a Liar?
  • Who Built Great Zimbabwe and Why?
  • And perhaps, Did the Chinese Beat Christopher Columbus to the New World?
But, restricting the study will be difficult with such scintillating questions, pictures, and information.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More 20,000 Leagues

We have been having a blast with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In fact here are a few more interesting side trips we took. Don't forget the first ones if you are just joining me on this journey.
  • The Great Barrier Reef - Complete with diving sounds, submerge yourself in this very cool resource to get a realistic impression of the reef, not to mention information on predation and parasitism, competition, and commensalism and mutualism. Have fun on your dive. Then, see how much you know.
  • How Pearls are Made - This Field Museum of Chicago resource is thorough, beautifully done, and age appropriate.
  • Virtual Sri Lanka(Ceylon) - This site has more information than we can use for this study. In fact, with the literature, myths, religion, history, geography, economics, and art you could study Sri Lanka for a year. And it is all free. I would supervise with this site since there is link after link after link. Though we haven't found anything objectionable, it is not a made for children site.
  • Sharks - Obviously there is a ton of information in the library and on the Internet and I think we will see it all by the time we get through. The children just can't seem to get enough. I like this lesson plan as a starting point (just because it's fun), then choose anything from this list. In the book the shark mentioned was a black-tipped shark. There isn't as much available for this particular species, but a more generalized study seemed appropriate given the somewhat fictionalized account (they are rarely as big as M. Arronax described) of the shark's size and mouth. Here is a lesson about the shark's bad reputation. One of the links (go to photos) on this page shows the black tip and its place in the World's Most Dangerous Sharks competition.
  • The Rea Sea - Though this resource is not as polished as some of the others, you can find pictures of all the fish and coral mentioned in the book.
  • Dugongs - National Geographic comes to the rescue again, with this fact sheet including video. Be careful not to get trapped in the video room. They are all wonderful.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

As promised, The Medieval Literature Selections

The Medieval Reading List for next year is long. There are so many truly worthy and enjoyable stories for this time period. You'll find an assortment of fiction here to compensate for the age differences of my children and the need for diversity. We usually stay close to unabridged versions of books, but make a few exceptions when needed when the material is too bawdy or too difficult to sort through.
  • The Arabian Nights - We have a beautiful version of this classic, the Morrow Books of Wonder edition. The framing device of Shah Shahryar avenging the faithlessness of women and his reasons for doing so should probably be left to an older audience or edited as you read, but the actual 1001 tales (51 in the case of this edition) full of jinnis, lamps, and flying carpets are sure to capture the imaginations of children.
  • Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and retold by Geraldine McCaughrean - This is another book that we won't read in its entirety, though I considered it. McCaughrean does a wonderful job transforming Chaucer's verse to prose. We will read and hear the Middle English Prologue (see Luminarium below) and if the children are interested in doing more, I just happen to have a copy of the unabridged version in Middle English.
  • King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle (Sterling Publishing) - These tales of bravery, honor, romance and magic capture the essence of chivalry. True the tales are legend and may not give accurate portrayals of the reality of life in the Middle Ages, but allusions to these stories are prolific in literature. To be a reader, you must understand the allusions from their original context, not the Cultural Literacy version. They will be ready for the Malory version next time.
  • Robin Hood by Howard Pyle - I hope we like Pyle. The last two times we read Robin Hood we read the Bernard Miles version. I thought we would try a different view.
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - We will use the modern translation from Luminarium (see below). This one is short enough to read online. No you don't get the cozies when you snuggle with the computer, but it is certainly cheaper.
  • Saint George and the Dragon by Geraldine McCaughrean - This is a beautiful picture book. The illustrations by Nicki Palin are fabulous. Don't be fooled, children and adults love picture books and can learn as much from them as more scholarly works.
  • Favorite Medieval Tales by Mary Pope Osborne - This is an anthology of the short versions of medieval tales from Finn Maccoul to The Song of Roland to Chanticleer and the Fox. Lovely illustrations and retellings of the classic stories of the period perfect for my youngest. She will still listen to the longer versions, but I wanted something accessible for her.
  • Castle Diaries by Richard Platt - This may be considered drivel by many, but I like the journaling involved in the book, the honesty of the hardships, and the voice of the younger boy.
  • Don Quixote of the Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes - We read Don Quixote and the Windmills by Eric Kimmel last time. It is a beautiful picture book and I will try to get a copy from the library this time, but it wasn't enough for my son. He thought the whole situation was hilarious and wanted to read the whole book. We will attempt to read an unabridged copy this time.
  • This may belong in the geography section, but we will be reading The Travels of Marco Polo translated by William Marsden.
  • The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman - I want to read this one. Hopefully, the children will agree.
  • Shakespeare and the other plays - A lot happens in medieval drama. I will write a separate post on our Shakespeare studies and the others. They deserve the space.
This should get us started. We will go to the library to add picture books and shorter fiction and non fiction. If you haven't already, see the history resources.

For a web resource of information and a great deal of medieval literature try Luminarium. The Medieval and Renaissance sections are truly informational. Click here to hear the Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in Middle English while reading it with annotations. The birds twittering in the background may be over kill, but truly a good rendition. Many of the pages have music and just listening to reenacted music on medieval instruments is educational in itself. There are texts and images from medieval plays. Take a look. It truly is an amazing resource.

History of the Middle Age

Edited to add web resources that I forgot and to repair a link.

Last year we studied Ancient Times, so this year we will move into the Middle Ages and finish with the Renaissance. Excitement does not begin to describe what my children feel about this new study. In fact, I received a few books from Rainbow Resource Center last week and many of my resources have been consumed. Alas, what a quandary. Do you let your children devour all the materials before you actually start school? I do.

We will use Van Loon's The Story of Mankind and The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia for our spine. We will start on page 90 in the Van Loon book. Last year I felt we had too much spine and not enough extra reading, so I may be overcompensating, but we really like trips to the library to bring home arm loads of new and interesting books. I think it helps keep the study fresh. We will keep up with history on a timeline. Last year, I added important events to the timeline, but this year I'm letting the children add all the events except the beginning and ending of our time period which I needed to add to create the grid.

In addition to the spine books and timeline, we will use Blackline Maps of World History to map our way through the middle ages. From this base, I will order books each week or two from the library to bolster and add detail, making sure I have materials appropriate for both my eleven year old and my seven year old.

Here are some of the resources that won't come from the library. I make the purchasing decisions by finding materials that look interesting, seeing what is available at the library, then weighing the enjoyment and length of use of each item. We buy more than some people, but less than others.
  • The Usborne Official Knight's Handbook - My son grabbed this book out of the box and read it immediately barely stopping to eat or do chores. Then, he read it again. He loves it. He has been training to be a knight for days by filling a backpack with bricks and running around the house, building weapons and shields, studying. True, this book is not difficult, nor is it serious non-fiction. But, it is fun and the information is good. I'm sure my daughter will love it, too, if K ever lets it out of his hands long enough for her to pick it up.
  • Archers, Alchemists, and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed by Priscilla Galloway - Another fun book that seems to be a magnet for children. Which career would you choose? Seriously, the book shows how medieval jobs were more specialized than the jobs today and how birth played an enormous role in life choices.
  • The Great Castle Search - No reading involved in this book, but instructional in its own way. Search the pictures to find tools, weapons, foods, and people of medieval times. I bought this one for myself, but I haven't gotten my hands on it yet.
  • Knights & Castles: 50 Hands On Activities to Experience the Middle Ages - Every history study needs a few activities to mess up the kitchen, clutter the house, and make history more real. I used this the first time through history but didn't do all the activities.
  • Keep Out! by Malcolm Day - My mother gave my son this book last time we did medieval history, but he still finds it interesting. This book is more specific about how castle layout has changed over time.
  • National Geographic Biography Series: Galileo, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Leonardo Da Vinci, Marco Polo, and Elizabeth I - I like these books for a couple of reasons. First, they have the beautiful graphics that you would expect in a NG book. Secondly, the books have a Bibliography which many writers of children's biographies and histories forget to include. The book also has a listing of websites, so you can take your study further without additional expenditure.
  • Medieval Siege Engine Kit - We will build a Trebuchet. I just knew my children would love to hurl things across the room at each other and at me. You can choose between a catapult or a trebuchet.
  • The Art of the Catapult by William Gurstelle - We've owned this book for a while and have built a few. We will build a few more this year because you can never have too many.
We may purchase a few more along the way, but the library is full of wonderful books and the internet is loaded with free good quality resources. Here are a few:
  • Middle Age Exhibits - This site has links to everything from a dictionary of feudal terms to primary sources of internet material. There are also sources for more sources. Take a look.
  • Medieval Studies Theme - Again, a site of sites with lesson plans and primary sources. There is material for younger ages even at some of the University links. Obviously, you can pick and choose what you like.
What you don't see here are our literature and art selections. I will tell you about them in other posts, even though I always have felt that literature and art tell us as much about history as history books, biographies, and architecture.

Friday, August 3, 2007

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

I know it's summer, but the learning opportunities are so fantastic with this book that I haven't been able to resist throwing in a few tidbits of more structured learning. K chose 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea last time we went to a bookstore and since I had never read it, we decided to do the book as a family read aloud so I could hear it too.

We read Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days a couple of years ago and had a lovely terrestrial trip. Now we get to see the aquatic world.

This book has many somewhat technical passages that can be difficult for the younger members of the family, but there are so many opportunities to add information and resources that even the youngest child can have fun.

First you need a refresher course on latitude and longitude. Here is a lesson plan that has great information. When you are done you will be able to plot your underwater course on a map. We are doing this now and I must say it is great fun. We are using our globe and some map dots. Here is Jules Verne's map in the event you want to check to see if your course is the same.

So far the Nautilus has remained in some well know currents. Since we are traveling with the currents, it doesn't hurt to take a side trip to learn more about them.

Of course you will want to look at the flora and fauna under the sea, especially the creeps of the deep. Check the websites on this page and here are a few of the books we have checked out from our library.
  • Ocean by Robert Dinwedle and Fabian Cousteau
  • Exploring the Deep Dark Sea by Gail Gibbons
  • The World Beneath the Sea by Susan Harris
  • Kingfisher Voyages: Oceans by Stephen Savage
My son is super interested in submarines. Take a look here and here to satiate that natural curiosity. How Things Work also has good information, too.

Since we like to do a bit of art with everything, I also checked out Ralph Masiello's Ocean Drawing Book.

We have only gotten half way through the book. Think of all the trails we can follow by the time we get to the end. The possibilities are as truly endless as the ocean.

If your crew is not ready for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, try the books and resources at this website which is designed for the younger life learner.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

If you are planning Early American History

There is a wonderful article by Charles Mann in the May National Geographic that gives a believable account of the the settling of Jamestown including a cool map. At their website they have an interactive map and other interesting stuff. Charles Mann wrote 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. I will have to add this one to my list along with the children's book, 1607: A New Look at Jamestown, written by another contributor to the article, Karen Lange.

I'll be getting back to my magazine before someone sneaks it.

Oh! One more thing, my precious bees are an invasive species. I've never thought of them like that. Isn't it interesting that a non-native insect has dominated life as we know it and its possible demise is causing tremors of fear across America?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Birchbark House

On the drive to and from the beach we listened to Louise Erdrich's The Birchbark House. I chose it because Susan at Chicken Spaghetti was going to read it with her child. I had not heard of this book, so I investigated and thought it would be a good match for our family. I couldn't get a copy of the book without special ordering, so I downloaded the book for my iPod.

The children and I loved the tale of Frog, the Anishinabe/Ojibwe girl, who is comparable to Laura of Little House fame. We listened to tales of her mischief, her courage, and grief. We learned much.

Now, though we are studying ancient history, we will have to take a side trip to the Northern Great Lakes area to satiate the children's desire for more information. I found this interesting web site. It has lesson plans (which I won't use) and much great information.

Thanks, Susan!

Oops I forgot: The reader, Nicolle Littrell, was great. She did voices and animal sounds.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ecce Romani

Warning: I am a complete foreign language imbecile. I once had a teacher tell me to "Give it up! With your lazy tongue you will never be able to do anything more than drawl."

But I keep trying. . . For two years we used Latin Primer, but at Christmas we moved to the story based Ecce Romani. Pink Panther and I learned a good bit of Latin with the Latin Primer Program. We still review many of the chants and vocabulary, but we needed a boost in excitement, so I researched and found this story based program. We love it!!!! With mischievous boys and servants who yell "Abite, molesti!"(Go away you pests!), daring rescues, and everyday life captured in accessible Latin, we have been enjoying Latin rather than tolerating it. I purchased the workbook and audio CDs since I had no prior (before homeschooling) Latin knowledge.

The CD reads the story, reads the story with pauses (so you can repeat the sentences), and reviews vocabulary. We listen and repeat this every day of the week, then work on a few of the exercises. By doing only one chapter a week we get to spend plenty of time with the exercises and practice, while still maintaining our Charlotte Mason inspired short lessons.

You can get the entire program from Pearson Educational. They have a special homeschool registration, but then you have access to all of the Pearson Educational materials.

I just overheard my 7 year old daughter yell, "Abite molesti!" to my son and husband as they were chasing her around the house. I think we have a keeper.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The List - Picture Books

Originally posted at Twice Bloomed Wisteria, my other site.

As promised, here is THE LIST! This task was more difficult than I imagined. I could name a few from memory, then I went to the children's bookcases. Each asked what I was doing and I told them I wanted to make a list of our absolute must have picture books. At this point, they both started screaming favorites and pulling them off the shelf. We eventually chose books that had been read until the pages acquired that old book feeling or the covers were taped. After the list was finished, I realized that there were still treasured books that were not represented. These are in a random order.
Miss Suzy
Miriam Young
Arnold Loebel
Great story and pictures. This is one from my childhood. I always enjoyed the good winning over menacing.
Diane Cannon

You have beautiful nature pictures, a story about growing older while retaining your inner youth, and the "perfect figure eight." What more could you need?
Miss Twiggley's Tree
Dorothea Warren Fox

A wonderful story about a woman who eschewed typical society coming to the aid of the the town that snubbed her. I love the idea of tree houses if you haven't noticed.
The Complete Curious George
Margaret and H.A. Rey

My mother gave this volume to me, because I loved Curious George when I was young. We have read the cover off this book.
Leo Lionni

Validation of the poet, not to mention cute little mice.
Over on the Farm
Christopher Gunson

I'm not usually much on counting books, but my sister gave my son this book when he was very young and the pages have been worn to that wonderful patina because the pictures and words are wonderfully happy.
The Raft
Jim LaMarche

Wonderful paintings and wonderful story about a boy interacting with nature on a raft.
Mike Mulligan
Virginia Lee Burton

Love the tale of problem solving.
The Quiltmaker's Gift
Jeff Brumbeau
Gail De Marcken
Beautiful quilt pictures and a magical story about giving.
Don and Audrey Wood

The drawings of the fingers with their piggy personalities are priceless.
Toot and Puddle
Holly Hobbie

Mud Season
The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
Don and Audrey Wood

The drawings and the power of invention.
The Runaway Bunny
Margaret Wise Brown

The power of a mother's love
Where the Wild Things Are
Maurice Sendak

The pictures and the reality of the tantrum
The Little Engine That Could
Watty Piper

New Shoes, Red Shoes
Susan Rollings

Bright, happy shoe images that my daughter could not resist
My Many Colored Days
Dr. Suess

Color and the reality that not all days are
The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter

Who can live without Peter and Jeremy Fisher
The Lorax
Dr. Suess

It's never too early to start teaching about environmental stress.
Peach and Blue
Sarah Kilborne

Wonderful story of how someone else's view can improve our own.
Douglas Florian

Interesting pictures and cute insect poems
The Foot Book
Dr. Suess

I know this one by heart because I read it over and over and over and over
No Matter What
Debi Glori

Again, a mother's love overcomes a bad day. "Do you still love me; Do you still care?" Of course, I do.
Something From Nothing
Phoebe Gilman

Beautiful pictures and story. The mice images on the bottom of each page are wonderful.
In a Small, Small Pond
Denise Fleming

Bright, interesting pictures and happy words and pond life.
The Classic Tales of Brer Rabbit
Joel Chandler Harris
Dan Daily
Trickster tales, especially Tar Baby
Aesop's Fables

Jerry Pinkney
Great pictures and classic tales

What have I forgotten? Here's Becky's list. Zilla's list is in the comments section of the last post. Where's your list?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Papyrus Paper

Remember my weekend post about the benefits of a cluttered office or home. Manufacturing of papyrus paper has been one of the causes of the clutter, recently. We have made recycled paper on several occasions and when I saw these kits in the Rainbow Resource catalog, I thought it would be a fun, though not taxing, addition to our Ancient Egypt study. In reality we have had papyrus pulp soaking in the kitchen for a couple of weeks. We didn't just have one container either; we had two so each child could have his own project.

Making papyrus paper goes something like this.
  • They soak the pulp while sloshing sticky papyrus water all over the counters while they are watching the progress,
  • They roll with my nice rolling pin while I wonder whether the rolling pin will be fit for pastry after its tour of paper making with my over zealous children
  • They slosh water all over the floor as they transport old water to the sink and refill for the next round of soaking,
  • They soak for another 3 days while asking me, "Is it ready yet?"
  • They roll the papyrus pulp more vigorously this round, splashing water all over the kitchen as the rolling pin presses absorbed water out of the papyrus,
  • They slosh water out of the trays onto the floor as they get fresh water,
  • They soak, again,
  • Then, using about 10 dish cloths per child they lay out the fibers in a criss cross pattern overlapping each piece, press the papyrus between 2 dish cloths until all moisture is absorbed using my nice rolling pin, and flatten the "paper" as much as possible,
  • Then they transfer "paper" to some newspaper sections and weight it with stacks of books which I had in abundance since I didn't "organize and clean" this weekend. They didn't even have to leave the kitchen to gather enough weight
  • Finally, they continue to switch out the newspaper until the "paper" is dry and paper like.
Unfortunately, our "paper" is not paperish, even with all the waiting, rolling, soaking, rolling, and flattening. A sample paper came with our kit and it looks like silk dupioni while ours looks like burlap. I suppose we should have soaked and rolled more, but I don't think I could have handled the accident waiting to happen trays lurking in my kitchen any longer.

See what wonderful things can happen if you are open to a bit of clutter.

Next, we will experiment with smut ink and hieroglyphics. I hope the paper is usable.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

A Broader View

Originally posted at Twice Bloomed Wisteria, my other site.

As I teach my children at home using materials that are essentially derived from a classical approach to education, I find that I must be ever vigilant that our readings don't narrow our perspective rather than broaden it. With traditional suggested readings for our grade levels, the world view is presented in a typically Euro-male perspective. I have chosen to use classic books in our homeschool because I want to give my children the information they need to make connections, see allusions, and join the Great Conversation. As much as I believe in the importance of the Classics, I know that we cannot stop there. Our world is smaller because of technology and mobility. We need to know the other stories, as well as our own, to interact productively in the world.

Let me give you an example. The first day of my first year of teaching (outside the home) I walked into a classroom and looked around and saw twenty five students, no two of which had a similar skin tone. I asked the first question that came to my mind, "How many of you speak another language other than English at home?" Twenty of the twenty five students raised their hands. There were eighteen different first languages in that class and so began my education. Struggling with ESL issues in writing was the more manageable problem that year. The larger problems arose from dealing with assumptions we all make based on our traditions, views of history, religion, and other prior knowledge.

I found that you could not assume that history is perceived in a chronological way with important dates marking the way. I found that courtesy in discussion could be enforced but ingrained hatred - hatred of which I have no experience does exist and is taught from birth - cannot be overcome in a semester. I found that I could not expect girls from some cultures to take a stand against a man even if it was just in a class and just about literature. The reality of leading a class of so diverse a population was that I could assume nothing and I had a lot to learn. I never had another class that culturally diverse, but the lessons I learned that year and in subsequent years have never left me. The literature, history, theology, and anthropology I studied to bring understanding is not necessarily appropriate for young children, but I do attempt to add culturally diverse reality to our classical home studies with other resources.

Jokes run rampant about the attempts of government, schools, and individuals to become "Politically Correct." Political correctness is not what I wish to teach my children. What I seek to do is to show my children that what we believe to be written in stone based on our traditions is water writing in other cultures. I want to teach true respect for individuals. Teaching true respect comes from modeling the behavior yourself, but I also find it helpful to introduce literature, art, cultural study, and religion of different peoples without reducing the studies to stereotypes.

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Geographical study - By knowing the terrain, political boundaries, and seasons much can be understood about the development of cultures. If flood and drought periods dictate the lives of a people, then culture and religion will be established based on the cyclical nature of their lives. If mountains, swamps, or deserts isolate a group for long periods of time, those cultures will have developed based on those restrictions. Geography is essential to understanding.
  • Religion - Religion, in many ways, defines a culture and the actions of the peoples. By studying world religions we can gain a greater understanding and respect for the people practicing those religions. We have used The Usbourne Book of World Religions for a base study and have enjoyed the concise explanations of the basics of the six major religions. Mentions of subgroups are included, but defining differences are not necessarily given. This book is a good starting place and enough information for young children.
  • Literature - I believe that much can be learned about people through reading literature. In fiction you get insight into daily routines, religious practice, and social traditions that is more informative than fact lists because you are privy to the emotion and the conflict. Finding appropriate material for young children is not difficult.

    If you are reading about India do a library search for that area and narrow the search by eliminating adult material and non fiction. I prefer stories written by a member of the cultural group that have been translated or folk tales that may have several versions.
    • In a Circle Long Ago by Nancy Van Laan is a compilation of Native American Lore.
    • Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell is a picture book that combines the reality of African American Art and the story of Sojourner Truth.
    • Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji is a pigeon story but also a story that gives great insight into the life of a boy in India.
    • The Cinderella stories - Variations of the Cinderella stories have amused and challenged my children. We have read ten or more. Side by side comparisons are wonderful for highlighting differences. There are several Internet sites with information on Cinderella story variations. I think this one is the most straightforward and informative.
    • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is a wonderful verbal picture of Mexican American life. Be forewarned, while the reading level and vignette format makes the book accessible for younger readers some of the content is more adult. Pick and choose stories.
    • Poetry - is a great way to introduce varying cultures. Think of the power of Langston Hughes poetry and the stark beauty and sparseness of haiku and other Japanese poetry.
    • The Asante and Native American Trickster Tales in which animals teach the lessons that are important to be passed along.

  • Art - Looking at the art of various cultures can illustrate the stories without words, what materials are available, and which things are sacred or of high importance. The quilts of Faith Ringgold, Choctaw baskets and needlework, Guatemalan textiles, origami, African drums, masks, and Kente cloth, Inuit carving, and Japanese gardens are just a few.
  • Music - Listening to and appreciating music of various cultures can be more challenging because of language barriers, but experiencing the tabla of India, the various African drums, the Latin rhythms, and the energy of the polka can open communication.

While true respect for individuals and their beliefs can never be taught in school, an understanding of those beliefs, an appreciation of the contributions of the various peoples, and an insight into the realities of other cultures, which don't include stereotypes, can only serve to open a dialog between peoples that will lead to greater understanding and acceptance of the differences and similarities of people in our multi-cultural world.