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.