September 29, 2011

Wow, that was hard, how did you do that?

We all enjoyed reading stories about Rollo last year. The Rollo stories are written by Jacob Abbott who has also written many historical fiction novels. I particularly enjoyed reading Rollo at School because it gave me so many helpful insights into how to go about teaching my boys. So I was even more thrilled when I got my kindle and was searching around on the web for free books to find a book entitled The Teacher, by Jacob Abbott. As I expected this little freebie has been just the thing to encourage me and to give me some new ideas about teaching my boys.

I have often marveled at teachers like Charlotte Mason who held high standards, asked a lot of their students and yet seemed to get the students to do it…..happily. I believe in a high bar when it comes to education because I believe that people naturally will rise to what is expected of them. Shoot high and you may even get there, shoot low, you get low. So in shooting high I have discovered that my children do not naturally like to push themselves, they often don’t seem to want to shoot high with me. While reading the Teacher I discovered a really cool, really small and yet powerful change I can make in how I teach which has proved to be the missing link for us in our home education to reach the high bar with happy willing students at least most of the time.

“Never underrate the difficulties which your pupils will have to encounter, or try to persuade them that what you assign is easy.” -Jacob Abbott

“Easy work is dull work”- Jacob Abbott

These quotes were new thoughts to me. I always went about each of my lesson assuring my boys that all I assigned they can do and that it would be easy if they did blah blah blah. I would say something like this:

“ Ok guys, today we are going to copy this map of Egypt onto this larger paper. I want you to note the shapes of the seas, the bends in the Nile as it flows north. After you have drawn the lines in pencil I’ll give you more instructions. It is a simple drawing, I know you can do it and I am sure you will all do well.” As they began and ran into difficulties there was often a lot of discouragement and whining complaints of I can’t etc. I was baffled.

With words like this “a simple drawing”, said to my boys it should be easy, but it wasn’t. By trying to say words like this I thought I was reassuring them, letting them know I thought they could do it. But when they had difficulties it made them look bad, and they felt as if they were letting me down. My boys would often become disheartened and sluggish in their attempts to do what I assigned when I spoke this way about my assignments. As a teacher I can feel their discouragement and I would be at a loss as to how to rectify what I had just crushed not even realizing how I had done it. I know that they can draw this map, but I also know that it is challenging them. I have given them a difficult task. So I have learned instead to introduce my lessons this way, using different words and approaching the lesson from a brand new angle They are not dishearten but leap at the new challenge with real enthusiasum.

“Ok guys, today we are going to copy this map of Egypt. It is a difficult map to copy and I am not sure if you will be able to do it. I think it may be too hard. But I suspect if we try we may get close. Shall we give it a go? I want you to copy the shape of the sea and the bends in the Nile just as they are represented here on our map. Let me know if you need help as you begin and get into the drawing.”

 When I approach my lessons this way immediately their eyes brightened. They now had a difficulty we all knew was difficult. We were on the same page ready together to see if it could be done. Now what thrills the heart of little men most is knowing they can do it. Each day I give them things "I am not sure they can do” ( in reality I know they can do these things but they don’t know they can do them...yet) and they love to prove me wrong and show me (themselves) they can do it. And I love letting them. I am also there ready to help and they feel better about asking for help because they believe they are impressing me and showing me how good they are doing. Me being impressed and ready to help them overcome the difficulties puts us all on the same team feeling valued and triumphing through astronomy, math, reading etc together.

“It is astonishing how great an influence may be exerted over a child by his simply knowing that his efforts are observed and appreciated.”-Jacob Abbott

Here is another example from the Teacher;

“You pass a boy in the street carrying a heavy load in a barrow; now simply stop to look at him, with a countenance that says, “That is a heavy load; I should not think that boy could wheel it.” And how quick will your look give fresh strength and vigor to his efforts. On the other hand, when, in such a case, a boy is faltering under his load, try the effect of telling him, “why, that is not a heavy; you can wheel it easily enough; trundle along.” The poor boy will drop his load , disheartened and discouraged, and sit down upon it in despair."-Jacob Abbott

I wonder how often I say such things to my boys not realizing the paralyzing effect my words have upon them. And I also wonder how easily my little scholars may jump at challenges if I express my appreciation and marvel at their hard work instead of sighing with their struggles and their frustrations jumping to save them instead of helping them to overcome.

“Even if the work you are assigning to a class is easy, do not tell them so unless you wish to destroy all their spirit and interest in doing it; and if you wish to excite their spirit and interest, make your work difficult, and let them see that you know it is so; not so difficult to tax their powers too heavily, but enough so to require a vigorous and persevering effort. Let them distinctly understand, too, that you know it is difficult , that you mean to make it so, but that they have your sympathy and encouragement in the efforts which is calls them to make”-Jacob Abbott

Happy triumphing!
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
I am, I can, I ought and I will

September 21, 2011

A Trip Through Egypt...a meal

This week Ann Voskamp via her book A Child’s Geography: Explore the Holy Lands took us on a trip through out the land of Egypt. We looked at four geographical areas, The western and eastern deserts, the Nile valley, and the Sinai Peninsula. Did you know that the Suez Canal took 10 years to build or that the 4,500 illuminated manuscripts are housed in a library in the middle of the desert? Did you know that the Aswan dam is responsible for causing as much harm to the delta region of the Nile as it helps the people? Did you know it is one of the largest dams in the world? We found these things out and lots more as we read through the lively narratives of her travels through this very vast and interesting land. After learning about each region and coloring a flag of Egypt we made the recipes at the end of the chapter; hummus and fig or date balls.

To eat the hummus of course one must have flat bread and that really isn’t much of a meal so we made some quinoa taboulleh to go with it. Here is the recipes from our lunch;

Date Balls

Blend 1 cup of almonds in yur food prcessor and set aside. Then add:

2-3 cups of date paste or pitted dates

1 cup walnuts

Pinch cinnamon

Pinch nutmeg

Once that is blended, roll that paste into balls and dip into honey ( it helps if the honey is heated up a bit) and roll into the almonds you set aside earlier. Presto you have delicious date balls!


In a food processor add:

1 (16 oz.) can of garbanzo beans or chick peas (save ¼ cup of the juice)

¼ cup of the juice from the garbanzo beans

1 ½ T lemon juice

½ t salt

1 clove of garlic crushed

2T tahineh

2T olive oil

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Cook ½ cup of quinoa and set aside. (1/2 cup quinoa to 1 cup water, plus ¼ t salt)

In a bowl add:

1 cup chopped parsley

1 small tomato chopped small

1 small cucumber chopped small

2 cloves of garlic crushed or minced

1 t salt

dash of black pepper

2T olive oil

Cooked quinoa you set aside earlier

Yum yum, can you please pass the flat bread? 


September 20, 2011

What is Astronomy?

We have had so much fun these past two weeks looking at what Astronomy is. Tomorrow we will be putting finishing touches on our Planet mobiles and mini books. Come see what we have been learning:

Did you know that the planets help to keep the moon in it's place? or that Pluto has been voted out of the line of planets which orbit the sun? We didn't, but now we know. 
To begin our study I read chapter one of Exploring Creation with Astronomy while the boys narrated and colored in their astronomy coloring pages. Then using this lapbook and this one too, we put some mini books onto a cardstock page. You may be thinking, "How can she afford two lapbooks!" well, all I can say is half price sales are wonderful.

I pick and chose between the two layouts and pick the one which seems to best fit us and what we are getting from the chapter. Then I pre-cut the mini books out and the boys arrange them on the page. That will take one days worth of our time. Another day we fill in the answers to the questions on the mini books. And when we have time when one-to-one lessons are happening for math and reading then the boys can use that time to color and decorate the pages as they like. This page has a blue background which helps to offset the white mini books really well. When we do the sun the background will be yellow and with Mars, red and so on. I chose to use card stock pages because the instruction the lapbook suggested a file folder for each chapter and I wanted something that was more all-in-one-book,not a bunch of seperate folders. So I pre-cut the page backgrounds and made holes for the pro-click binder so all the boys have to do is arrange and learn.

This pocket holds our pneumonic to remember the planets and their order around the sun and cards for each planet and their relative sizes to each other. We spent one class period doing this assignment.
The idea for our solar system mobile came from Enchanted

 To begin I cut decided on a size for the "sky" and cut that out of cardboard.

 Then I painted the card board dark blue on both sides.

 Once the paint was dry, I taped the edges with black duct tape, but if you have dark blue masking tape that would be even better. The glossy of the duct tape isn't so great.

 The tape is also too wide so each strip of tape needs to be cut down the middle before you apply it to the edges of the card board sky.

 Next using lids and cans and things around the house I approximated the orbits of the nine planets. (we voted to keep Pluto in even though we heard he was voted out recently) After the rings are in place I used the guide at enchanted learning to place the holes using a sturdy nail where the planets will eventually be hung.

The boys painted on their own stars.

 Then I found this set of planet coloring pages which the boys water colored and cut out.

 Once the planets are finished, I cut out white circles about the size of the planets from card stock. Then I cut some string by which to hang the panet. We used embroidery floss. Cut to the length you want it and tape it to the cardstock circle.

 Then glue the planet in this case the sun to the card stock thus covering the taped in string.
Flip it over and write the name of the panet on the back. Or, if you like, color two of each planet and put the copy on the back to make it two sided and label it in another way.

 Once all of the planets have a string attached to it then thread the string end through the hole you made with the nail.
 On the other side tape down the end, twice in two directions for strength. Once all the planets are taped in you are basically done. We decided not to add a string above to hang it for when our loft beds are finished the boys want to sticky tack the sky part to the underside of their beds and hang the mobile above their desks. But if you are so inclined to hang yours, enchanted learning has good directions.

Gauguin Artist Study

"I am leaving to be at peace, to rid myself of the influence of civilization. I only want to create art that is simple, very simple. To do that I need to renew myself in unsoiled nature." -Gauguin

We began learning about Paul Gauguin last year. We chose to do this mini mural below using pre-mixed paints to get the imaginary colors he was famous for.

I wanted to begin with one of his paintings from Tahitii because it is there that he felt he had found the ideal unspoiled life he was looking for. I found it interesting that thougth he abandoned his wife and children in search of his dream of living amongst the uncivilized and paint, he kept pictures of all of his children lined up in order of their ages on his mantle where ever he found himself. We learned from the section in Van Gogh and Friends about him that he often wrote them letters.

To learn more about his indiviual paintings I made 12 Montessori cards with the name of each work typed on the bottom of the card. I printed two copies of each card and we played concentration and go fish with them. Once they had the feel for the names I required them to be able to say the name correctly before securing the cards to their own pile.
To learn more about a few paintings,

We learned more about Gauguin when we read The Yellow House. Seeing him with Van Gogh really shed some light on his personality. And becasue we had already learned alot about Van Gogh it was fun to do this notebooking page about their differences and similarities. We also filled out an artist bio sheet and added our favorite dover art stickers to the bottom.

Self Portrait
So, though Gauguin was not a saint, he has lovely colors and ways of doing art that enriched us and inspired us to use our colors with more imagination and boldness. And though we began our study of his art last year and finished it up again this year we hadn't fprgotten what we knew about him and have gained alot from knowing more about this fascinating painter.

September 15, 2011

Wall Map of Egypt

We finished our wall map of Egypt thanks for your help T.J.! We did this a month ago before we took a break, and before we dismantled the school room. So it was ready when we started up again a few weeks ago. I made the map by taking this map and using the poster app in my Publisher software and then pinted it out. It prints out in several sheets of paper so I glued and taped them together as need be and T.J. and I water colored it to add the green belt on the Nile river and the blue waters of the seas surrounding the sandy land.
We ended up cutting off the border with the Egyptian gods on it because we all agreeded we wanted a cleaner simpler map. We are using this map mainly for our map drills each week. We also used it as we read through A Child's Geography: Explore the Holy Lands. to SEE the kinds of geographical terms the book is describing.

Map drill is a method Charlotte Mason used in her school in England at the turn of the 18th century. I think it is a great way to learn about the geography of a country a little bit each week. It works like this.

I give them a blank map each week.
They add one feature to the map, say "The Red Sea."
The following week I give the same map but also blank.
They fill in "The Red Sea" from last week from their memory.
(Though I will write out the words so they can spell them correctly at this age it is needed.)
Then we add another feature, say "Thebes." 
The next week they have two features to add onto the map by memory, "The Red Sea" and "Thebes."
Then we add another feature, and so on.

Some times we paint the map but not always. It takes about 10 to 20 mintues or longer depending on whether there is art work involved or not. By the end of the year after seeing this map maybe 36 times or so, we will know it.

Impatience, the uprooter of seeds well planted

We read a story a while back from our Frog and Toad books. Toad wanted to plant a garden like Frog's so Frog gave him some seeds and Toad took them home and planted them, but they did nothing. So, he did all sorts of things to get the plants to grow. He sang to them, He stayed up all night with them thinking they were lonely, He shout at them to grow, and on it went. Frog came by a few days later to see how Toad's garden was coming along and he laughed at all the efforts Toad was making to get the seeds to grow. He then told Toad the secret of growing, you must water them, let them have sun and WAIT. I often forget to wait and in my impatience I often uproot the very seeds I have been trying to plant.

This last week was our second week back at school and as is normal we have lost some progress in the habits we were forming last year. We aim for three habits recommended by Charlotte Mason for young students: The habit of attention, the habit of perfect execution and the habit of obedience. So it is to be expected that it will be awkward and maybe painful as we try to reestablish them again after a month of not doing them. So I planted the seeds of reminders, made a careful plan to reestablish them and then set about working to see my little garden grow. But I am an adult and I forgot kids are not. I had the right seeds, put the right plan in place, but I got impatient, Like Toad I wondered why I did not see results sooner. I was irritated and fretful. In my impatience I began to uproot the seeds of the habits I was so careful to plan for. I forgot to wait, to be kind, to be supportive, to expect success. I forgot to allow time for the seed to soften and to absorb the water and the nutrients and then when it was ready, it will sprout. I must be patient. I must continue on like the farmer caring for the seeds deep in the ground doing faithfully my work and soon I will see that they have after all received the water I have been applying, and they have been getting nourished by the soil I placed around them. They will grow. They will learn.

In the meantime the sun is shining and I am enjoying the well tilled earth and the rich dark soil knowing in a few months there will be a harvest…if I am patient.

Why a Kindle

I always thought the Kindle and other e-readers were simply only for those who travel alot, and who are on the go and need the convenience of having a library closer than just in down the street. But I have changed my mind and recently invested in one.

What changed my mind was a sale I saw on G.A. Henty Books. A company was selling these historical fictions novels I just love for a little over $7 a piece! WOW! What a steal. Now these books usually go for $16 to $25 a piece and my boys love love love love them. So I went to my shelf took down the Henty books I owned and began to put the ones I didn't have into my shopping cart. Once I had the books all selected and in the cart then I looked at the final cost and realized something profound....if I bought a Kindle I could save a pretty penny and get all these books for virtually free, plus many more to boot. So I did some research and then I did it. I bought us a Kindle.

One thing a really like about this purchase is the access I now have to vintage, old, public domain books. In the past I would print them with my laser printer and bind them in various ways to use them in my lessons. But printing costs money. It is also alot of work. Not to mention that many of these older books are copied so that the pages which in real life had a color to them now print a dark grey. Not so easy to read and very ugly too. But with the kindle no problem. I now have list upon lists of old books I can download into my Kindle for free. I have a library in my hand. On raining or inconvenient days when it just isn't easy to get down to a library I am set.

Here are a few sites to check out for downloadable reading at your finger tips some are free, some for a small price under $5 or so.

Project Gutenberg FREE
Manybooks FREE
Yesterdays Classics E-reader books
Amazon Kindle FREE
Amazon Kindle Store

If books are not in a Kindle format the Kindle can read a PDF and with some clicks of the buttons you can get those in a readable fashion as well. Also the Kindle will play MP3 and other audio formats so if you like audio books like we do then there are a few sites to check out to store those on your Kindle as well. I hook mine up to speakers so we all can listen to the story while the kids are doing dishes or in lying bed on their way to sleep.

Recordings of books for Ambelside Year 0-4
Recordings of books for Ambelside Year 5-8
My Audio School (pay $15 and get more than your money's worth of audio books)
Project Gutenberg Audio

I use my Kindle as a read aloud device for the many vintage and public domain books we love to read. It is a book, a book shelf, and an MP3 player all in one. I waited until this year to buy because now my boys are ready for longer stories and more complicated plots. Though they still enjoy books with picture they also enjoy books that feed their imaginations. And because we simply love the older writers and the classics

September 11, 2011

This Years Curriculum: Art and Music

This year we are getting to know Mozart, Brahms, Handel, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cezanne, and Augustus Renoir. In addition we are still investigating the instruments of the orchestra and learning to draw. I am not making many changes to how we go about it so the methods we used last year are the same this year we are simply continuing on. Posts from last year are:


For composer study we like to begin by reading biographies by Opal Wheeler, Mozart the Wonder boy, Handel in the Court of the King and The Young Brahms. The study set we purchased came with coloring pages from the charming illustrations in the book and a CD of music that is also introduced in the story as we read it we listen to the music the composer wrote or played. The stories are engaging and tell a lot about the life of the composer. My boys love them. At some point we will fill out a Notebooking page about the composer and look at where he fits on the timeline. We will also add his picture to our composer lapbooks which we started last year. Finally we like to listen to Classical Kids productions. This year we have Mozart’s Magic Fantasy, Hallelujah Handel, and Daydreams and Lullabies. At night we play the music of the composer we are getting know as they go to sleep.

In between composers we continue to learn about the instruments they were composing for. Last year we began by having some fun with Carnegie Hall’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra online. We will play around with that again this year too! We are using The Story of the Orchestra as our spine and doing some copywork with the info found in there. I made up a few other games and some montessori cards to give more ways to interact with the instruments and have some fun at the same time. I also picked up a second hand copy of Meet the orchestra and The Philharmonic Gets dressed just for fun.

Mary Cassatt

Our Artist studies usually begins by reading a short kid friendly book about the artist. This year we have Suzette and the Puppy a story about Mary Cassatt, Smart About Art: Pierre Auguste Renoir, Paintings That Smile, The Girl With the Watering Can and Cezanne and the Apple boy. Then we will color some of that artist’s work, and do some art work in the style of that artist if possible. At some point we will fill out a notebooking page about the arts and add some stickers of that artist work to our page. I also like for the boys to become familiar with 12 works of art by that artist by name. I try to select works which are the most well known and that they would relate to. To do this I have made Montessori cards for Cezanne, Cassatt and Renoir. We play go fish with them, concentration, and match the names to the pictures.

In between artist studies we are learning some of the basic skills of drawing using Barry Stebbings book, I Can Do All Things. I photo copied the Introduction to drawing portion of the book (pages 9-105) and bound it with my handy pro click binder.

Though art and music are considered electives at our house we rarely skip these subjects. I feel they add richness and beauty that is useful for inspiration, refreshment and creativity which are so important to us all as human beings. My boys enjoy learning about the lives of interesting and creative people and I enjoy knowing they are becoming familar with some of the best minds in the world.

That concludes our curriculum for this year. So much of the ease and flexiblity as well as the organizational ideas I have came from Sonya Schaffers guide to planning, called Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education. Though I am not a strictly CM home educator, and rarely do I sit down like I did the first two years with the planner and use it like a manual, the ideas she gave me have modled my thinking and set me upon a easy road where I am free to pick and choose resources I love and be sure I will be able to fit them together and within a time frame of a day, a week, a school term or a school year, and at the same time allow for life to throw us curves and still be fleible in our daily living. Thanks Sonya, I am indebted. :)

Now onto the fun and adventure of learning!

September 8, 2011

This Year's Curriculum: Astronomy

Last week was our first week of school and we eased into the schedule by only doing our core subjects of Bible, language arts, Math and History. But this coming week we will be adding in our electives: Latin, astronomy, art and music. The boys are very excited about astronomy. I promised them that exploring this subject means we get to camp out in the back yard on occasion and look at the stars. They squealed with delight. I too am looking forward to our star parties.

We are using Jeannie Fulbright’s Exploring Creation with Astronomy as our spine. I have organized our term according to her chapter headings in much the same way I did with our spine in Ancient Egypt. So our year looks like this at a glance:

What is Astronomy?

(I love that this lapbook is BW so my boys can do the coloring. It also perfectly coincides with our Astronomy spine)

Make a model of the Solar System with these idea with these planet diagrams (thanks Pioneer Woman!) and a few ideas of my own.


Magnifying glass activity

pin hole viewing box (experiment from ECWA)

Planets sticker book 


crater activity (experiment from ECWA)

make a model of Mercury (experiment from ECWA)


Lava activity (experiment from ECWA)

 Radar activity (experiment from ECWA)


Advertisement to sell the Earth activity (experiment from ECWA)

Make a compass (experiment from ECWA)


phases of the moon activity (experiment from ECWA)

build a telescope (experiment from ECWA)


Living on Mars activity (experiment from ECWA)

Build an olympus mons (experiment from ECWA)

Space Rocks

Create a scale model of the solar system (experiment from ECWA)


Make a newspaper activity (experiment from ECWA)

Make a hurricane tube (experiment from ECWA)


Make a venn diagram (experiment from ECWA)
Make a centaur Rocket (experiment from ECWA)

Uranus and Neptune

Act out a play about the discovery of Neptune (experiment from ECWA)

Make Couds (experiment from ECWA)

Pluto and the Kuiper Belt

Make a sloar system book (experiment from ECWA)

Make Ice Cream (experiment from ECWA)

Read some of Planets Moons and Stars

Stars and Galaxies

Mnemonic pharse for the stars (experiment from ECWA)

Make an Astronometer (experiment from ECWA)
Create a Constellation Plaetarium (experiment from ECWA)

(This old book looks intriguing, it is a bit long so we may not have time to read it, but I may.) 

I plan to use this book for our night time lessons in the back yard.

Space Travel

Let's visit the planets activity (experiment from ECWA)

Build a model Space Station (experiment from ECWA)

Because we love science so much we do astronomy three times a week. The first day we read through a chapter in Exploring Creation with Astronomy and narrate and discuss what it says, the second day we put the mini books together from our lapbook package from Journey Through learning. Then the third
day is Galileo day. On this day, we are getting to know Galileo and trying out some of his experiments We are using these resources for this day.
Galileo Day

FREE Notebooking pages of things Galileo said.

Now for some art and music and we will call it a day.

September 6, 2011

This Year's Curriculum: Latin

Last year did an overview of Song School Latin. (find a good review here)I say we did an overview because we did not do everything that was suggested in each chapter. I selected bits that I thought would fit in our time slot and be interesting to the boys at their level. It was the first workbook my boys have done and they loved it, but since they are not yet reading the format was cumbersome for us all. Needless to say we skipped quite a bit and thus left a lot of room for us to repeat the book again this year.
To make it new I traced the book cover and photo copied it. Then I scanned it into my computer and printed it out onto card stock. Now I have a black and white front identical to their old ones except we get to add our own colors. I also copied the book itself. Now they all have new books with new covers.

Last year they listened to the songs often as they went to sleep at night, so when I introduced it to them in our lesson they already knew the songs. Sometimes we made puppets from the images in the book and used those with the songs as well. This year I hope to incorporate more puppets and skits in a theatre to bring the vocabulary words to life. I found these fun ones here.

I also think it would be interesting to use some Montessori type activities with the vocabulary and thus I have created some Montessori cards to be used with each lesson. That means we may branch out and end up making a lap book based upon the information in the workbook and use the workbook pages less. We will see.

We are all excited about re-using a curriculum in a different way. Many of the activities we left undone await us and since there really isn’t anything else out there my boys are ready for just yet I am happy to put in a little extra this year to keep Latin fun.

Latin is one of our electives we do it once a week maybe twice if time permits.