Friday, April 24, 2015

Weekly Homeschool and Life Wrap-up 4/24

Outside my window

Winter returned to Northeast Ohio as soon as I put the sweaters in storage boxes, and just as the tulips were about to bloom. We'll have another 30 degree night and I'm trying to remain hopeful about our flowers. Last year they didn't make it. The crocuses, hyacinths and daffodils have done well.

On my mind...Field Trips

We have a lot of medical appointments between the neurological issues and the juvenile arthritis issue, so field trips have never been plentiful for us. If I pursued those and continued to be faithful with appointments as well, no teaching would get done. Three of my four children need explicit teaching so we must show restraint with our scheduling.

Not to mention, the stress involved in the neurological issues just compels a mom to keep it all as simple as possible for everyone's sake.

However, this summer, while still doing some school, we will add our share of 70-mile radius field trips, starting with some cultural and science opportunities in Cleveland, the closest big city. Funds are extremely limited so we can't think big, but it's time to show my children around nonetheless.

Middle School Learning

The boys are continuing with Sonlight Core H (World History Part 2), reading Story of the World Early Modern Times, Madeleine Takes Command, Kingfisher World History Encyclopedia, and Usborne History of the World.

Synopsis: This historical novel, set in 17th century New France, features Madeleine de Vercheres, a teenage girl who takes up arms in defense of family, country, and faith against the Iroquois.

Madeleine Verchere's story is based on a true account of colonial French Canada of the 1690's. Harassed by Iroquois, the Verchere family's fort must keep a continual guard. 14-year-old Madeleine is left alone with two younger brothers and few others when the Indians attack. We follow the brave and determined stratagems of Madeleine and her small circle. Madeleine's youthful leadership, especially of her brothers, will win the reader's admiration.

My Thoughts: This novel is a powerful one for any late elementary to early high school child. It provides an inspiring and detailed portrayal of courage, bravery, leadership, principle, and strategic problem solving. For any child who ever wondered: "What does courage look like?"...this is the novel to hand them. I was very impressed and so thrilled that my boys were reading it. Sonlight chooses stories that move you, teach you, and compel you to reach for higher ideals. 

Next up for the boys is an award-winning mystery novel entitled The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.

It isn't as scary as it looks. Weird cover, but I tried not to let that dissuade me. It teaches much about 18-century Japan.

School Library Journal Synopsis: Grade 6-8 A Sherlock Holmes-style mystery set in 18th-century Japan. Fourteen-year-old Seikei, son of a tea merchant, longs to be a samurai, although he knows that this is an inherited honor he can never hope to attain. While on a business trip, Seikei and his stern father take shelter at the Tokaido Inn where a cruel and oafish samurai, Lord Hakuseki, is also staying. A precious jewel is stolen from the lord, and a young girl whom Seikei has just met is accused of the theft. He risks his life by speaking out to defend her and Judge Ooka, called in to solve the crime, is taken with the boys bravery and enlists his help to solve the mystery. This sets Seikei onto a dangerous path where he goes backstage at Kabuki theaters, meets an enigmatic actor, and more than once must act in the honorable way of a samurai. He remains resourceful and courageous, although he often fears he may be on the wrong path. Judge Ooka maintains a steady presence, urging Seikei to observe, be logical, and reason out the motives for the crime. The plot builds towards an exciting, dramatic climax. All of the action is placed solidly in the context of the Tokugawa period of a Japan ruled by an emperor and a shogun, and pervaded by the need to defend ones honor above all else. An unusual and satisfying mystery that will be enjoyed by a wide audience.

My Thoughts: I'm not done prereading it, but I'll let you know more soon. There are two sequels.

Middle School Writing

Write Shop Junior Level E is a good program, well-written and thought out, and well-organized, but if you're teaching four children, it has too many steps and lead-up activities to be feasible. I'm sorry I spent the money on it, but don't let that dissuade you. For smaller families, I think it's an excellent curriculum option. 

I don't have time to tweak it, so I've decided for other reasons too, to go out on my own with the teaching of writing. College-level writing is a big leap and many homeschooling moms say they wish they had given more difficult assignments leading up to it. I've been giving the boys mini literary-analysis essays so they can get used to citing text to support and strengthen their arguments. In high school they have to use two sources in their papers, so now is a good time to practice.

I'm also varying the type of writing they're assigned, including narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive. Check this link for an excellent sample and explanation of a literary analysis paper.

We had a raccoon have babies in our shed sometime in the last month, so that made for a good narrative paper. Daddy tried different tricks to rid our property of the critters, since we couldn't afford to have professionals come out. After three attempts they're gone, hopefully for good (very humanely done; no animal harmed). Let me just say that raccoon mommas are very good mommas.

Current Passions

Peter continues to plan his garden, research plants and herbs, and try to predict the last frost. He can read horticulture books for quite a while, though he tells me he just skims them for information. Actually, he does more researching than planning, which I think will help him sometime if he wanted to own a nursery, help farmers, etc. His knowledge base is really growing and he has plans to heal our woes with herbs, which will be appreciated.

Mary and Beth continue to love sewing and making clothing for their stuffed animals, and Beth continues to make homemade dolls out of anything and everything. She tells me she gathers ideas from books and loves to think up new ones. She sees them in her mind, she explains.

Paul continues to love, love, love with a deep passion the computer programming classes on Khan Academy. It's all he talks about and he starts all his subjects early to have ample time in the afternoon for his programming, which means we have a lot more competition for any computer time around here, since we have just the one PC and a Kindle Fire. Paul is almost done with the first course and is wondering how he can use this for the glory of God. I explained that Christian organizations need programmers and web designers and he could easily turn it into a God-honoring pursuit.

I continue to bake a loaf of whole-wheat flax bread each day, with it coming out of the oven around lunchtime. I use the breadmaker on the dough cycle only, rather than using it for the actual baking. The last rise occurs in a warm oven. As well, I'm continuing to research the healthiest foods and work out how to afford them.

I continue to enjoy reading all the books from the boys' curriculum, as well as reading to the girls.

Lower Elementary Happenings
Mary, my second grade dyslexic reader, is in All About Reading Level 3, and she also began reading the Magic Tree House books I got her for Christmas. She still needs help on at least 4-6 words per page, but she's working hard and pulls them off the shelf without my prompting, which is huge for a dyslexic reader. They don't typically like reading, but we're hoping to beat those odds around here. This mom loves books and that helps a lot. If books are valued in a home and given a place of respect in the daily time schedule, I think we're doing all we can as parents and teachers. Read them, have them all around, and talk them up.

My kindergartner is doing far better in math but Mary still struggles with the numbers a lot. The blog on my side bar entitled The Dyslexic Advantage has been invaluable to me as a teacher and parent. I read more this week about why math is so difficult for 50% of dyslexics. It feels like such an uphill climb, but I like a challenge. 

I think when Mary starts 3rd grade Teaching Textbooks math (CD ROM) next January, she will be helped a great deal. The visual and the auditory together have really changed the game for Peter, who began using the program in the 3rd grade. He and Mary have a similar learning profile with math (dyscalculia), although dyslexia affected Peter far less in reading than it does Mary. And Mary fares better as a speller/writer than Peter did at this same age.

I have some outstanding Social Studies picture books to share, newly published in 2015.

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls Published March 2015

School Library Journal Synpsis: K-Gr 2—This powerful and winning picture book tells the story of a young man overcoming the odds. Born in Ghana with a deformed left leg, Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah experienced stigma as a result of his disability: his father abandoned the family, and many assumed that the boy would be little more than a burden. However, with the encouragement of his mother, Yeboah refused to give up, hopping to school (instead of walking) and even learning to play soccer and cycle, despite receiving no extra help or accommodations. Thompson's lucidly written text explains how Yeboah cycled 400 miles in 2001 to raise awareness, forever changing how Ghanaians perceived those with disabilities. The narrative is simply and clearly written, and the illustrations are skillfully rendered in charmingly emotive ink and watercolor collages. A brief author's note explains how Yeboah inspired legislation upholding equal rights for the disabled and how he continues to make strides, working with organizations that provide wheelchairs to those who need them and setting up a scholarship fund for children with disabilities. VERDICT This uplifting account will resonate with readers and supplement global and cultural studies. A triumph.—Kathryn Diman, Bass Harbor Memorial Library, Bernard, ME

My Thoughts: Beautifully done in every respect. An outstanding addition to any elementary social studies curriculum; inspiring for all ages. I disagree with the above reviewer that the interest level is only as high as 2nd grade. My older boys were captivated and educated too.

In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries 
by Gerda Raidt, Christa Holtei Published March, 2015

School Library Journal Synopsis: This fascinating picture book blend of fiction and nonfiction uses the story of the Peterses, a made-up German immigrant family and their fifth-generation American descendants, to explore immigration in the 19th century. Through well-crafted text and charming, detailed drawings, Holtei and Raidt convey the severe economic conditions that precipitated the Peterses' journey in 1869. Charming panoramas of the Peterses' home and village and close-ups of their careful planning prepare readers for the trip's progression, including what items the family carried with them in the one trunk allowed aboard the Teutonia. Onward from their passage in steerage, the Peterses disembarked in New Orleans and transferred to the steamship Princess on their way to Nebraska. There they made their final connection to their new home via covered wagon. Well-written paragraphs expand on topics such as "Life in Steerage" and "Seeing the New World." The narrative then highlights the fifth-generation of Peterses, who traveled back to their ancestral home in Germany to uncover their history. This tale emphasizes the triumph born of hard work and industry, themes that reflect the experiences of many immigrants to America, and humanizes this period. VERDICT A thoroughly delightful and informative story that may even inspire some readers to discover the joys of genealogy for themselves.

My Thoughts: My girls and I were fascinated with this beautiful, charmingly-illustrated book. Ages 6 and 8, they're usually pretty wiggly, but my girls they didn't squirm a bit, listening attentively the whole time, and interjecting a few comments here and there. They learned a lot and I was very impressed with the presentation of the material.

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall 
by Julie Dannebery, Jamie Hogan, Published March, 2015

School Library Journal Synopsis: Gr 3–5—This attractive picture book retells naturalist and writer John Muir's climb up a steep trail behind a waterfall along Yosemite Falls in April 1871. Danneberg includes information about Muir's love of the outdoors, his house in Yosemite (where he slept in a hammock that hung over an indoor spring), and his exploration of the park's natural setting. Lucid descriptions and the use of the present tense make the story immediate and relevant. Hogan's expressive renderings of the explorer's face are the highlight of this book, depicting the excitement and awe that Muir experienced standing beneath the falls. Many pages include supplemental information about the man and his love of nature. Quotations used in the text are cited, along with suggested readings and pertinent websites. VERDICT This is a solid work, ideal for those looking to add to collections or units on environmental studies, geography, writing, or biography and sure to inspire further interest in Muir.—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel

My Thoughts: Excellent choice for all, but especially for your nature lovers. I've been to Yosemite four times as a California resident and I miss it terribly. Raising children in Ohio is better on a lot of fronts, however, so I have to remember Yosemite in my daydreams. We took our boys there one last time before we moved here, when they were 22 months and 3 and a half. The girls have never seen it.

Earmuffs for Everyone: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs 
by Meghan McCarthy, Published Jan. 2015

School Library Journal Synopsis: K-Gr 3—This picture book charts the evolution of the earmuff. McCarthy starts in the 18th century, discussing the ways that various inventors improved on one another's designs, until Chester Greenwood made one last tweak to the wire headband and applied for a patent. Woven into the narrative is a description of patents. Children will also come away with a greater understanding of the nature of inventions. The book ends with a brief biography of Chester Greenwood and a section about the dedicated citizens in the state of Maine who lobbied for a Chester Greenwood Day (made official in 1977). Back matter includes an author's note, a note about patents, and a photo of the annual Chester Greenwood Day parade in Farmington, Maine. Rendered in acrylic paint, the illustrations are appealingly cartoonlike, portraying people with exaggerated round eyes and faces, and complement the concise but upbeat text ("[Isaac Kleinert] also made dress guards, which protected ladies' clothing from sweat. Ew!"). A solid addition for those seeking titles about inventors and inventions.—Samantha Lumetta, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH

My Thoughts: This book is cool! Read it to your older children too and let them dream about the patent they will one day apply for.themselves, when they get that invention under way. It's great for budding engineers and truly creative kids...and those who need to be encouraged to think creatively. It just made me smile and I was so grateful for the engaging storytelling style and the excitement it caused around here.

More new trade books next week! How was your week?

Weekly Wrap-Up


Laurie Thompson said...

Thanks for the shout out for Emmanuel's Dream! I'm glad to hear you and your boys liked it. Did you know there's a curriculum guide available for it? You can download it at
All the best!

Christine said...

Wow! Laurie, so nice of you to drop by here. Thank you for letting me know about the curriculum guide to go with your new book. You are very talented!