Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

Maple Syrup Snow Candy January 29, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fun Stuff and Extras,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 6:06 am

This is an activity that has literally been years in the making for our family.  🙂 I’m not sure if it was after I first read “Little House in the Big Woods” out loud to Miss M or if it was on a later re-reading, but we found this passage inspiring:

“They all hurried to the kitchen for plates, and outdoors to fill the plates with snow…Grandma stood by the brass kettle and with the big wooden spoon she poured hot syrup on each plate of snow.  It cooled into soft candy, and as fast as it cooled, they ate it.  They could eat all they wanted, for maple sugar never hurt anybody.”

Two winters ago, we had plenty of snow.  Miss M asked me several times if we could buy real maple syrup to make the maple sugar candy.  I never quite got around to buying the maple syrup.  Then last winter we had very little snow, and not much at any one time when we did get any.

For months before this winter, the kids were asking, “Mom, is THIS the year we’ll make the maple syrup snow candy?” I resolved to finally make it happen.   I found real Maple Syrup at Aldi after our first snow of the year had mostly melted (yea for bargains!), and then we just had to wait for another significant snowfall.  It’s been a dry winter, but we finally got a few inches of snow on Sunday.

After reading a recipe or two, as well as the comments about those recipes…I decided that maybe it didn’t really matter exactly how I made this maple syrup snow treat.  Microwave the syrup? Use room temperature syrup?  Random people on the internet made me think this easy solution would work just as well as the complicated idea of boiling the syrup on the stove to a certain temperature.  Here’s what it looked like on our first effort:


Maple snow candy take 1

The result was more like…maple-flavored snow cones? Or maybe a bit like a maple “ice cream” of sorts?

I didn’t want our memory of this activity to be so un-candy-like, so I thought we could try again the next day. After a bit more reading, I decided maybe the recipes were right — We needed the syrup heated up to a higher temperature for the syrup to turn into candy.  I don’t own a candy thermometer, so I had to rely on the cold water test to determine if my syrup was hot enough.

Here’s take two:

Maple syrup snow candy 2

Our result was much better, but still overcooked.  I under estimated the time it would take Miss M to retrieve a pan of snow from outside.  Meanwhile, my syrup got hotter and hotter — almost to the point of burning.  It was probably at stage 5, the hard crack stage, instead of stage 1 the soft ball stage!   But luckily, hotter produces candy of some variety!

Our candy was not taffy-like at all, but hard and brittle…yet still tasty (if a bit burnt tasting!). I also realized as I was making this that using a sheet of ice would produce pretty much the same result.  Of course, in the pioneer days of Little House in the Big Woods, no such sheets of ice were conveniently available in the kitchen.    But in this modern day and age, if it is just the maple candy taffy “result” we are looking for, there’s no need to wait for a snow day! 🙂

There is a lot of potentially interesting science study involving the science of sugar and candy-making.  I found this unit study on candy to be very interesting! I didn’t spend a lot of time looking, but I’m sure there are many more candy science resources to be found.

I may try the maple syrup candy yet again with a candy thermometer, just to say I’ve mastered this generations-old treat…or maybe we’ll move on to making the best-possible rock candy.  That’s what the kids are voting for!


“The Year of the Horseless Carriage 1801” by Genevieve Foster January 28, 2013

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 6:00 am

Inventions and inventors are often a topic of interest for our family, so I was intrigued when I ran across The Year of the Horseless Carriage 1801 by Genevieve Foster.   In this book Foster weaves together a narrative of  early 19th century progress and invention with threads of world history that were occurring at the same time.

The “horseless carriage” in this case is essentially a stem engine on wheels — more of a precursor to the locomotive than the automobile (the device more commonly referred to as a horseless carriage).  Richard Trevithick is an English engineer with plenty of ideas about how to use the steam engine to make a useful vehicle.  He may have been a little ahead of his time,  but his ideas paved the way for more modern locomotives.  At about the same time American inventor Robert Fulton wondered what would happen if he put a steam engine in a boat, and had a bit more long term success from his endeavors.

While telling the stories of Trevithick, Fulton and others that collaborated with them, Foster also tells the stories of a few major socio-political events of the first two decades of the 19th century — including Napoleon, Lewis and Clark and the War of 1812. She also weaves Beethoven into her story — I hadn’t exactly realized he was contemporary to this time period.  An interesting note here is that apparently Beethoven greatly admired Napoleon at one point and originally dedicated his 3rd symphony to him — but rescinded the dedication after it became apparent that Napoleon was turning into a cruel tyrant.

I read this book aloud to Miss M and Mr. E.  They enjoyed it enough to typically ask me for more after I read a few pages.  🙂  Some of the material in this book was repetitive for us since we were also reading A New Nation by Betsy Maestro at the same time.  I skipped a few pages and paragraphs here and there to make sure the kids didn’t get too bored with the repetition.

Overall, we all enjoyed Foster’s very engaging narrative style.  She is really telling a story with history.  Because we were reading other books about the same time period as well, I might have enjoyed a book just about the inventors and inventions written in the same style a bit more — but especially for anyone looking for just a brief introduction to this time period (1801 to 1821), this book is a good choice. At only 92 pages (which include quite a few nice black and white illustrations drawn by the author), it didn’t really take us too many sittings to read this book.

I’ve checked out a few other of Foster’s books from our library, but those were a bit longer both in page length and amount of time covered — I’ll be keeping those in mind for the future when the kids are a bit older.




The Half-Way Through Reivew — Our Calendar and Curriculum January 17, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:48 am

As of this week, we’re approximately half-way through the 2012-2013 school year.  I say “approximately” because I’m not sure exactly how many days we’ll end up with at the end of our school year.  We aren’t required by MN state homeschool regulations to school for any specific number of hours, days or weeks each year — we don’t even have to track or report the length of our school year.  I did plan out an academic year calendar before our school year started, however.  I am planning for about 34 weeks or 170 regular school days (not counting the partial school days with one to three subjects we did last July and August).

I’m currently planning on two week-long breaks during the second half of the year — a mid-winter break around President’s Day and a spring break in April.  During the first half, we took off two days at Thanksgiving, plus two full weeks at Christmas (and then I “counted” as school a total of five days spent on low-key review/independent work during the holidays).    I’m not sure yet if week-long breaks will be the best way to go.   Winter blahs/spring fever can strike hard, but it may be that two or three short breaks (4 day weekends?) might end up working out better for us.   Or maybe we’ll take fewer breaks and end sooner.  Or take the breaks and end sooner anyway.  😉  I have the last day of school before summer break slated for May 24th…but that’s written in pencil.  🙂

This half-way mark is a good time to re-evaluate our curriculum and see how we’re doing in each subject:

History:  We’ve been greatly enjoying our US History studies…in fact, we are “ahead of schedule”  based on the outline I created for the year.  I think we’ll continue on through the Civil War this semester (I originally thought we would only make it up to the point just prior to the Civil War this spring), and then with the remaining time in the school year (and into the summer) take a detour into the history and geography of our state.  We’ll then plan to pick up on US History past the Civil War next fall.

Science: We’ve definitely slacked on our plans to continue with BFSU as a family.  Miss M has been working on Sassafras Science Adventures: Zoology and will finish that up in about two more weeks.  I wish more than one volume of that series had already been released!  We’ve also enjoyed some great science-y shows and videos as a family — SciGirls, Magic School Bus and The Happy Scientist.   The boys have had plenty of random science library books, and we’ve taken a few trips to The Works (a local science and engineering museum).

However, with Miss M nearing completion of her independent science curriculum, I feel a bit more compelled to do something with BFSU again.  Doing something with the great rock and mineral kits I ordered is first on the agenda.  Then after that perhaps I will finally have the courage to try BFSU Vol. 2 — though I think I will start with the C and D threads (physical and earth science) as those look a lot less intimidating than the lessons in the A and B threads in that volume!

Bible/Character Study:  I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to take advantage of either the Doorposts products or the “We Choose Virtues” flash cards I purchased.   Some of it is just not making the time for it, and some of it is that not all these items worked out for us as well as I expected.   The Bible study I got for Miss M was also not a good fit at this time (I’ll save it and try again in a year or two — I think she was just too young to do it on her own).   For right now, I am focusing on a more basic goal of making sure everyone reads or listens to the Bible daily.  We’ll see if we incorporate other study or character materials, but I am not making that a big goal for the rest of this school year.

Art/Music:  I thought we might try out Artistic Pursuits book 2 this year.  We haven’t really gotten around to it.  I’m not too broken up about it.  🙂  The kids do plenty of arts and crafts on their own, as well as doing art at our co-op.  We discovered the free, monthly “Family Fun Days” at our local art museum, and we’ve attended three of those so far this school year.  That provides some direct art appreciation experience!

I didn’t start the year with any music education plans, but we ended up buying Mr. E and Miss M a guitar for Christmas since they both continually expressed an interest in learning an instrument.  I am trying now to get lessons set up — but haven’t found a good fit for a class or instructor quite yet.  I’m hoping to find something soon!

Math:  I’ve written quite a bit about our math ups and downs in my weekly wrap-ups.  Starting this week I’m having Miss M take a break from RightStart D.  I’ve downloaded Math Mammoth 3-B, as well as putting together a packet of multiplication fact practice and getting some multiplication songs for her to listen to.  Three days in — it’s so far so good!  Much less stress in the Math department.  🙂  We’ll re-evaluate in six to eight weeks to decide if we’ll go back to RS for the rest of the year or continue with Math Mammoth.

Mr. E is still flying through Right Start B.  I’m thinking he may finish before the end of the year, and I am not sure how I feel about a Kindergartener in Right Start C!  To slow things down a bit, or at least to keep things more interesting, I’ve been throwing in some Singapore Challenging Word Problems book 1 (We tried the regular Singapore 1-A, but it was essentially too boring for him after a short time), as well as some Life of Fred Elementary series (starting with “Apples” this week).

Handwriting practice:  Okay, I really have been a slacker in this department with Miss M and Mr. E! Miss M learned cursive last year.  At first I thought she would continue cursive with A Reason for Handwriting D…then I thought it would be a better use of time to have her do copywork based on things we are learning for history, science, etc.   After a few weeks of me asking her to do copywork, things just never working out quite “right” for her (she didn’t like the format of the pages, the font I chose, etc)…and I just dropped it.  At least her printing is looking neater this year?  I haven’t decided long-term if cursive is an issue I will push with her.  I never write in cursive myself, so I’m hard-pressed to find a strong reason to require it.  After some initial enthusiasm with A Reason for Handwriting A, Mr. E has been none-too-eager to practice neat handwriting.  I am settling for gently encouraging him to use as many neat lower case letters as possible when writing spelling words, and planning to approach the issue next year when he is a first grader.

Spelling/Writing/Grammar with Miss M: Logic of English Essentials is going great for Miss M!  We are mostly doing just the phonograms/spelling sections of LOE and just glancing and the grammar and composition assignments.   We’re a little over half way through.  I originally thought we might finish this year, but unless we do some extra spelling somewhere along the way, we may end the year with 3 to 5 lessons remaining.  I’m okay with that, since lesson 35 (of 40 total) appears to be a good breaking spot and at that point we will have covered all 74 basic phonograms and all but one of the 1 of the 30 spelling rules.

Miss M hasn’t been doing much writing beyond occasional writing for her science notebook, creative writing to practice spelling words, or other writing she chooses (like writing letters).  I’m okay with that — I’m already seeing that the more her spelling improves, the more confident she is with writing.  We still have plenty of time for formal writing instruction in future years.

As for grammar, I have plans for more formal grammar study starting next year-ish.  But I am thinking about adding a story-based grammar study this spring like Sentence Family or Grammar Land.

Phonics/Spelling/Reading with Mr. E:   While Mr. E does not seem to enjoy reading nearly as much as math, he is making fine progress for a K’er.  I typically set a timer and ask him to read out loud for at least 10 minutes each day.  He’s read quite a few easy phonics readers this year (BOB books, I see Sam series, etc), and is now working on his choice of some Dr. Seuss books with a bit of help.

Soon after the year began I started working through Logic of English Essentials with Mr. E.  We made it through about lesson 8 before Christmas break, but I found that I was having a hard time breaking it down into enough small, fun chunks for him…he could do the spelling dictation and remember phonograms for a little while, but I wasn’t seeing a lot of retention.  I decided over Christmas break to buy the Logic of English Foundations Beta for Mr. K (more on that below), and as it turns out, starting at around lesson 47-ish of Foundations is a perfect point for Mr. E.  Foundations breaks apart the phonics/spelling instruction into small, fun chunks we can do daily — perfect for a 5.5 year old who would rather be doing math or playing legos!  I’m guessing we should be able to get through most, if not all, of Foundations before the end of the school year!

Preschool with Mr. K:   Mr. K is still three, though not for long — He’ll be four at the beginning of February. It’s my personal preschool philosophy to not get too bent out of shape about what three-year-olds and young fours are learning.  Mr K listens in on a lot of what Mr. E is doing, and I print out educational printables when he is in the mood for them.  This fall I was doing a pretty good job selecting some classic picture books to read aloud to him (note to self…I need to start doing that again!), and we did some light math once every week or two (usually while the older kids were in their gymnastics class).

For a few weeks before our Christmas break, I had been noticing that Mr. K was grabbing paper and randomly writing any letters he could figure out how to make, and then bringing me the paper with the question, “Mom, what words did I write?”.    I decided this was the perfect point to seize upon his interest and start Logic of English Foundations after our break.  It’s only been a bit over a week, but I’ve been really impressed so far by how well Mr. K is doing with the program.  The initial lessons are perfect for his attention span (we could do an entire lesson in 10-15 minutes).  I’m sure our progress through the lessons will slow down at some point, as I notice that the lessons mid-way through the program (where Mr. E is starting) are a bit longer.

That’s where we’re at right now! I’ll be making updates to our curriculum page some time soon…and of course it will be fun to look back at this post come May and see the progress we’ve made!


“The Silly Plant” — A Story by Miss M December 7, 2012

Filed under: Creativity,Spelling — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:57 pm

Two weeks ago, when we were working on Logic of English Essentials List #16, Miss M started writing a story to practice her spelling words.  She didn’t finish the story before the end of that week.  But then when I asked her to write sentences including the “wor” phonogram words she learned for lesson #18, she decided to finish out her story with those words.

She wrote it out in pencil, then I helped her with a bit of editing.  I was so proud of how she spelled very few words incorrectly, and usually picked fairly logical phonograms to spell the words when they were spelled wrong.   Even the grammar and sentence structure was pretty good — especially considering we’ve done very little formal writing instruction (I figure there’s time for that later when we’ve finished our year of intensive spelling instruction!).

Here is Miss M’s story:

The Silly Plant

One day I had some dollars and cents. I spent it so that I could attend a school where I could take lessons on how to grow silly plants.  I get to pour water on my plant. I do not yet know what kind of plant mine is.

But the next day I find out that my plant is a new kind of plant that eats germs.

Today is the last day, and I get to take my plant home.  Now I own the plant. I have a wonderful idea! It would make an excellent gift for Lilly.

So I put the plant in a shoe box and started walking over to her house. But then all of a sudden, the plan started to grow and grow and grow!

“Oh no,” I shouted, “Oh no! It is too big!”

What am I going to do? This is the worst time for it.


“Hello,” said Lilly.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “It’s too big now. I’ll have to grow another one.  It will be a lot of work though.  But I’ll keep my word to give it to you.  Ok?”

“Ok. You know I have a bunch of worms in my back yard,” Lilly said.

“That will be perfect,” I said, “Let’s go.”

“What a wonderful world,” said Lilly, “That’s definitely worth your time.”

The End.


Collage Friday: Halloween, a Birthday (and a bit of school too)! November 2, 2012

Filed under: Math,Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 3:50 pm
Tags: ,

We were probably a bit less productive than usual in terms of schoolwork this week.  Monday Miss M had an eye exam in the middle of the day, plus we had other errands.  Tuesday we celebrated Baby J turning one year old!

We had a few neighbor families over for cupcakes after dinner on Tuesday night.  Between cleaning the house for the party, making cupcakes, gymnastics class, and another appointment Tuesday afternoon…Tuesday was almost a wash as far as school was concerned.  🙂

Then Wednesday was, of course, Halloween.  While we had nothing special going on during the day, the kids had just a bit of trouble focusing on schoolwork.  But hey, it’s math if we calculate the number of hours from any given time to the time for trick-or-treating, right?

Miss M dressed as Raggedy Ann and went out some of her best friends (and their dads) to trick-or-treat.  Tony, dressed as Abraham Lincoln, took our two “Junior Avengers” (Mr. E as Hawkeye and and Mr. K as Captain America) — another neighbor friend was Iron Man, so we had quite a few of the Avengers represented.  Baby J got to wear the same Frog costume Mr. K wore as a baby.  Such is the life of a 4th child.   Baby J stayed home with me to help hand out candy.  He was bummed that I wouldn’t give any to him!

Thursday was a pretty normal day (other than being tired from staying up late the night before.  Today (Friday) we had a regular school morning followed by two public school friends who had a day off today spending the afternoon at our house.

Despite our exciting week, we did make some educational progress: 🙂

Spelling:  It was a review week for Miss M (age 8, 3rd grade) in Logic of English Essentials (lesson 15).  I finally had her make spelling word cards for review and practice of words she decided she needed more practice on.  I’m not sure why we didn’t do that on the other review weeks!  We tried to do a spelling word Pictionary of sorts, as well as a “guess the word from a description of that word” type of game, with Mr. E (age 5.5, grade K) having a stack of Miss M’s words, and Miss M having a stack of words that Mr. E should know.   The spelling part of these games were fine, but it took forever for the kids to guess the word they were supposed to be spelling.  Neither one was able to draw or describe very well in a way the other could understand.  It was pretty funny.

Mr. E also finished the spelling words in Lesson #4 of LOE-E, (though he still needs more practice on the phonograms from that lesson), did a couple pages of Explode the Code 3, and practiced reading each day.

Preschool:  I don’t write very often about what Mr K (age 3.5, preschool) is doing.  To be honest, I am not doing a lot of stuff specifically with him.  He spends a TON of time listening and watching what Mr. E is doing for school, and plenty of time doing what 3.5 year olds are typically doing – listening to stories, playing, coloring, etc.  Most weeks, he gets a special more focused time with me for an hour during the big kids’ gymnastics class.  Sometimes we talk about basic math concept, sometimes we talk about letters, sometimes we just read.   This week he picked out an activity book with mazes, stickers and dot to dots.

He also got very upset that he couldn’t play the spelling game with us.  So he took the dry erase board after the game, and started asking me how to spell cat, dog, and a few other short words.  He actually managed to sort of write a few of the words I told him how to spell!  I was pretty impressed, considering I haven’t taught him any writing.  He is just learning by proximity, I guess! 😉

Math for Mr. E:  We worked on place value and traditional names for the 10s and teens with lessons 41-44 of RightStart B, as well as doing a few pages of Singapore 1-A and starting Lesson 45 of RS-B on adding numbers with answers in the teens.  The “stations game” to practice traditional names for the tens is pictured.

Math for Miss M:  We started Level D of RightStart this week.  I knew there was some review at the beginning of Level D, but once I took a really good look at it, I was really shocked by just how much there is!  I gave Miss M the 1st quarter test, and, except for one section on liquid measurement, she could complete the entire test!  I actually pondered ditching RightStart D altogether for something else, but when I broached that subject with Miss M (who really is not one to like change!), she said she really, really wanted to stick with RightStart.

So after stewing on it for a couple days, I think I came up with a plan that will work for us.  I went through the lessons and identified 22 of the first 86 lessons that will actually need me to teach Miss M a new concept (after lesson 86, it’s pretty much all new concepts).  There’s no need to rush, so we probably won’t do one of these brand new lessons every day.   We only need to average 3.35 lessons per week to finish D by the end of the school year, so we’ll feel free to take some extra days to play games (or just not have a “together” time for math — a “day off” of math for me!)

I think Miss M still could use review and practice (especially practice to develop speed) on some of the concepts in those other lessons we won’t do together, so I’ll be assigning her the workbook pages corresponding to those lessons she already understands as independent work.   I’ll also be assigning her pages of multiplication practice so she doesn’t forget all those multiplication facts she started learning at the end of level C.

This week, besides that 1st Quarter test, we did a couple lessons with “calendar math problems” from the beginning of the level, plus two lessons on liquid measurement.  We drew a nifty diagram to help remember Quarts, Gallons, Pints and so on…but I seem to have missed using the picture of it.  I’ll have to share that later.  🙂

History: We continued Ben and Me as our all-together fiction read-aloud, and also started If You Were There in 1776 as a non-fiction read-aloud all together.  Miss M finished Felicity’s World, and read several short historical fiction chapter books (including 4 of the 6 “Felicity” American Girl books).

Science (not pictured):  It’s really a good thing I bought Sassafras Science Zoology for Miss M, because the last few weeks that been pretty much our only science other than co-op.  While I feel more confident than ever in teaching BFSU lessons, with having to prepare lessons for my co-op class (which none of my kids happen to be in),  I haven’t been as motivated to prepare separate BFSU lessons for my kids.  And all my kids (especially Miss M) still remember the materials in the lessons I am preparing for co-op.  Note to self…go order those rock samples so we can actually do the Rock and Minerals lessons from BFSU sometime soon!  😉

We are looking forward to a weekend without too many plans, and another busy week next week with all the kids having well-child check-ups, election day and co-op day!

Have a wonderful weekend! I’m linking up with Collage Friday and the Weekly Wrap-Up.

Homegrown Learners

Book Discoveries this Week: Three Revolutionary War Titles November 1, 2012

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 3:10 pm
Tags: ,

In our US History studies this year we’ve hit the Revolutionary War period, and we’ve already completed a few read-alouds related to this theme.

I hadn’t necessarily intended for all my bedtime read-alouds with Miss M to be focused around our history themes, but so far that has been the case.  After finishing The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I thought we would go for non-history read aloud.  We read one chapter of The Wind in the Willows, and neither of us really liked it.  I know it’s a classic, but I wasn’t impressed after that short trial.  I checked out a “Classic Starts” abridged version, and I may assign that to Miss M at some point in the near future.

I needed a new read-aloud more quickly than I expected, but I didn’t have some of the other history-related titles for Miss M handy (and she requested another history read-aloud).  So, I looked at All Through the Ages to see if I could find something that I could acquire as a free ebook.  A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia by Alice Turner Curtiss seemed to fit the bill, so I downloaded it from Amazon.

A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia takes place in British-occupied Philadelphia in 1778.  Ten year old Ruth Pennell is the “little maid” of this book (there are several other “Little Maid” titles by the same author featuring different girls in different cities).  As the story opens, Ruth’s aunt is staying with her while her mother is away caring for an ill relative and her Father is with General Washington’s army — and Ruth’s dog is missing.  Ruth takes matters into her own hands to find the dog (and meets an important figure in the British army in the process!).  She has a series of other adventures along with a few of her friends that culminate in her very own opportunity to help the Patriots in the war effort.

Miss M and I generally both like these kind of  “episodic” stories about young girls and their adventures, and this was no exception.  I think I can see, though, why this one maybe didn’t survive the test of time to become a well-known classic.  Compared to more modern works (or even more “classic” older books), the tone of A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia was a bit moralistic at times.  Ruth got herself into a bit of trouble with some of her adventures, and the author was not particularly subtle about what lesson Ruth (and the readers of the story) was supposed to learn about asking permission to do things, borrowing things that belong to others or letting a grown-up know where you are going!

These obvious moral lessons didn’t seem to bother Miss M at all — she was very eager to read other titles in this series (at least four of which were available free in Kindle format at — I haven’t looked around to see if any of the other titles in the series are available as free ebooks).

After A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia, we moved on to Toliver’s Secret by Esther Wood Brady.   Ellen Toliver is another 10 year old girl, this time living in New York City (also occupied by the British).  Though I didn’t catch a date in this story, from the events described I would guess it perhaps takes place in 1777.     Ellen is shocked to learn that her Grandfather is a spy for the patriots.   When Grandfather is injured and can’t take a secret message across the river, he asks Ellen to take his place.   It was supposed to be a simple mission of riding across the river with the merchants and finding Grandfather’s friend at a tavern.  Nothing goes according to plan, however, and typically-timid Ellen is faced with a very difficult and dangerous journey.

This was a quick and exciting read for Miss M and I.  She could have easily read it on her own (and did read a couple chapters out-loud one night while I put away my laundry!), I enjoyed sharing it together with her.

After finishing this book we started another Revolutionary spy tale – Sophia’s War by Avi.  This is a bit more mature and complex story.  We’re only a few chapters into it, and I’m eager to find out how this book will develop.

Finally, I have a picture book read aloud to share:  Those Rebels, John & Tom, by Barbara Kerley, Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.   Thanks to Amy @ Hope is the Word for the recommendation of this title! We have quite a few picture books from this era in our book basket, but Miss M has been reading most of them independently, and the boys haven’t been picking them on their own.  Finally this week I asked Mr. E to pick a book from the history book basket as a part of his school time, and Mr K and Miss M decided to listen as well.  Those Rebels, John and Tom is a biography of two famously different friends — Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who put aside their differences for the good of a new nation.   I loved Kerley’s writing style — it’s pretty lighthearted for a serious topic, which makes it all the more fun for everyone listening to the book.     The illustrations are a bit in the style of political cartoons, and the kids enjoyed looking for some of the details in the pictures.

We’re knee deep in Revolutionary War books around here, so I’m sure I’ll have more to share in future weeks!

I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


Collage Saturday: C is for Completion Celebration October 27, 2012

Filed under: Math,Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:20 am

This week I’ll start out with a big highlight:  Miss M finished RightStart Math Level C.  Yea!!!  This level of RightStart Math is pretty long, and  from what I’ve heard many students take over a year to finish it.  It took us 12 “school months” to finish (aka 15 months on the calendar, but we took nearly three months off from new lessons this summer and just did review!).

Since this was so long in coming for both teacher and student, we decided to celebrate.  We headed to the mall last night for some ice cream and window shopping:

Overall this was another “mathy” week as we worked to complete Level C:

Several of Miss M’s final 6  lessons of Right Start C this week focused on Tangrams.   She completed an easier Tangram book when she was much younger, so she thought these would be a breeze.  She was surprised by how tricky a few of the questions were, but in the end said the Tangram lessons were some of her favorite all year!  For her final activity of RightStart C, Miss M and I played a game of Negative Corners on Friday (scores in the below-zero range and moving lower).  Level D is ready and waiting, so we start that on Monday!

I worked through 4 lessons of RightStart B with Mr. E.  This was the section with the infamous “Cotter Fractal” involving potentially cutting out either 100 or 1000 tiny triangles and gluing them on bigger triangles in a nifty pattern.  Mr. E kept saying he wanted to do all 1000…but after doing just one “10 Triangle” he’d had enough!  I was more than happy to skip the rest of that activity (I skipped it the last time through with Miss M as well — I think it would be more fun with a group!).

Mr. E really enjoyed adding big numbers with the base-10 picture cards, and then also with side 2 of the abacus.  I love how RightStart emphasizes place value early on.  Mr. E wanted to play games on Friday as well since Miss M got to do that with me, so we pulled out Speed and played games of 2, 3 and 5 speed.   I don’t think I have mentioned it in any blog posts, but we got this game a month or so ago and really enjoy it.  It’s a fun way to practice or learn multiples/skip counting.   Mr. E and Miss M both love this game!

Other learning accomplishments this week:

  • Spelling: Miss M did all but the assessment for lesson 14 of Logic of English Essentials, while Mr. E finished lesson 3 and started lesson 4.   I’m pretty much only doing phonograms and one round of spelling dictation with him — I am guessing I’ll go through another round of LOE-E with Mr. E when he is older.
  • History:  I finished one bedtime-read aloud with Miss M (A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia) and nearly finished another (Toliver’s Secret).  We also started another “all together” read aloud (Ben and Me).   Miss M read several books from our history book basket as well and we watched another episode of Liberty’s Kids.
  • Science: Miss M finished Chapter 8 of Sassafras Science Adventures, the kids watched several “Happy Scientist” videos and we reviewed a few lesson on Air and Solid/Liquid/Gas from BFSU as I prepared to teach my co-op class for Thursday afternoon.
  • Mr. E’s Reading: Mr. E read several BOB books from Set #4 as well as a few other easy readers.
  • Co-op: The kids did “recitation” at co-op this week.  All kids K and up pick something to memorize and recite.  Miss M recited two short poems while Mr. E picked a Bible verse to recite.

Fun stuff this week:

Upper Left: Annual Pumpkin Carving Night!

Upper Middle/Right:  Miss M and Mr. E are taking a weekly homeschool gymnastics class.  We’ve done it for seven weeks with five more to go.   Baby J really enjoys watching the kids.  🙂 This week Grandma Karen was visiting for a couple hours on gymnastics day, so she came along to watch (and read to Mr. K, who is just a bit too young for the class, unfortunately!).  This week the gym was decorated for Halloween (Notice Miss M on the “witch swing”!).

Bottom row: We went on a spontaneous park outing on Wednesday afternoon, despite some drizzly weather.  Everyone came home pretty soaked when all was said and done, so much of the rest of the afternoon was taken up with hot baths, hot cocoa and time to snuggle and read.  🙂

Have a wonderful weekend!  We have a busy weekend ahead with a number of things planned…then next week we are looking forward to Baby J’s birthday and Trick or Treating!

I’m linking up with:

Collage Friday and the Weekly Wrap-Up!

Homegrown Learners

Book Discoveries this Week: Sign of the Beaver and The Matchlock Gun October 26, 2012

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:01 am

For the past couple of years, most of our longer read-alouds have happened at bedtime, with just me and Miss M.  Tony reads picture books to the boys while I try and read a chapter or two to Miss M of our current book.  This year, I’m trying to incorporate Mr. E into a few more chapter book read-alouds.  What seems to be working so far is to start reading to the kids during a meal or snack.  If the book is engaging enough, Mr. E and Miss M will both be more than happy to keep listening even after the food is gone.  Mr. K will usually wander away…but he is only three and a half, so I don’t really expect a huge degree of interest in books with few pictures.  🙂

When I first started reading The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, both Miss M and Mr. E begged for chapter after chapter of reading in the very fist sitting.  Our pace slowed down after that, but both of them really enjoyed this book.

In The Sign of the Beaver, 13 year old Matt and his father have traveled to Maine to get land and build a cabin in the late 1700’s.  With the cabin built, Matt’s father leaves to retrieve the rest of their family while Matt stays behind to guard the cabin.  While alone in the wilderness, Matt faces challenging circumstances — and also finds an unlikely friendship with an Indian boy named Attean.

Unlike many historical fiction novels set in early American history, this book portrays a really positive relationship between Native Americans and settlers — even if it is just one young settler in this story.  Attean has things to learn from Matt as Matt tries to teach him to read English.  But Matt seems to learn far more as he learns from Attean how to survive in the wilderness with limited supplies.

This might be my favorite read-aloud so far of this school year.  I think the kids might agree — it was one of those kind of books that make you a bit sad at the end that the story is already over.

I made a conscious decision to read The Sign of the Beaver to the kids before reading them The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds. These two books take place in the same general time frame, but The Matchlock Gun is set in a time and place of armed conflict between settlers and Indians.  This short chapter book (or you could possibly call it a long picture book), tells the story of the Van Alstyne family near Albany, New York around 1757.  As Teunis Van Alstyne leaves to do his duty with the village militia, Edward and his mother and sister are left behind on the family farm to defend it against the possibility of attacking Indians.  What seems like a remote possibility at first becomes more and more real as the story progresses, to the point where Edward must truly use his Grandfather’s Matchlock gun than even his father has never fired.

The boys in particular seemed to enjoy the suspense and excitement of this story (Mr K even listened, thanks in part to lots of pictures and a bowl of popcorn!), while Miss M thought it was just “okay”.

This Newberry Award winner published in 1941 is not without controversy.  Many reviewers on Amazon labeled this book as racist — and I have to admit, I can kind of see why.  The illustrations are kind of “cartoonish” in a way — playing on the fears of what scared settlers probably saw in their minds’ eye as they imagined the possibility of being attacked by local Indians.  There is also one paragraph in particular that describes how Gertrude Van Alstyne saw the Indians coming through the woods , and describes them as looking less than human.  I will admit, I skipped this paragraph when reading out loud to the kids.

The Matchlock Gun is based on a true story that was handed down through the Van Alstyne  family.  You can imagine that as a story like this of frightening attack is told time and time again, the tone of the story would be of fear and the heroism of the boy who defended his family — not of the potential grievances the Native Americans had against the settlers, or of other nuances of the French and Indian wars.   So given that perspective, and the age of the book, I feel like I can forgive its potential offenses.   But, this is why I read this book to the kids after Sign of the Beaver — so we could discuss how different each boy’s experience was with the Native Americans and why.

I’m linking up with Read Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


American History Unit 2 Recap: Early Settlers and the Colonial Period October 25, 2012

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:56 pm

Our second unit or topic for our US History studies this year was the early settlers through the pre-revolutionary colonial period (approximately 1609-1780 — Check out my post last week about our studies of American History prior to European settlement).  We just finished this unit up the week before last (although last past week we were still finishing up a couple read alouds that fit with this time period).

I originally planned nine weeks for this unit — that turned out to be way too long! We ended up spending about five weeks (or was it six weeks?) on this topic.  The vast majority of books we found for our “book basket” in particular focused on the topic of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower (and fewer about Jamestown, the Puritans, the French and Indian Wars, and everything else in between).  And we read two longer chapter books about the Puritans. So by about the fourth week, Miss M let me know that she felt like we had been talking about Pilgrims and Puritans  forever.

Here are a few highlights of the resources we used:

Longer Read Alouds (links to my blog posts about these books):

Longer  Books Miss M read Independently:

  • Pocahontas and the Strangers
  • A Lion to Guard Us
  • Skippack School (might be classified as a long picture book.  The copy we had from the library was old and gorgeous.  I meant to read it also before we had to return it, but I might have to get it again to read it sometime!)
  • Courage of Sarah Noble
  • Fire by Night (from the series, The American Adventure)

Miss M enjoyed all these books, and although I am not sure she would have picked any of these completely on her own, she seemed eager to read them most days.  I keep forgetting to ask her which was her favorite — but just judging by her tendency to read more than the minimum assigned amount of reading on a given day, it might have been Pocahontas the the Strangers.

Picture Books:

We again had a full book basket of picture books for this topic, weighted heavily toward books about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims.  Miss M’s favorite books were again titles from the “If you lived…” series, while the boys really enjoyed the humorous tone of “You wouldn’t want to Sail the Mayflower”.   We also read two titles in the American Story series by Betsy and Guillio Maestro — The New Americans and The Struggle for a Continent — to give us an overview of the entire time period.  The boys particularly enjoyed the latter due to all the information about battles in the French and Indian wars.  🙂 A somewhat complete list of books we had in our book basket can be found in the file linked to on my US History Year One page.

Other Activities:

Despite spending a lot of time browsing through craft and activity books, Miss M only selected one craft during this unit.  She made her own ink using strawberries, and then used a feather she found as a quill pen.

We didn’t attempt any other written work during this unit.  Miss M has little interest in notebooking or lapbooking at the moment.  I am encouraging a bit more notebooking for science, so I am not going to force it with history.  I ask her to tell me about what she read (oral narration) and we are calling it good at that.

We’re also not making much progress on a timeline.  Miss M seemed excited about making a timeline at first.  But when the rubber met the road and I couldn’t provide printables to glue in the timeline that were exactly what she had in mind, she wasn’t very motivated.  I still might stick a few dates in myself.  🙂

Given that we’ll cycle back to American History about four years or so, my main goal is just exposure and introduction to the key concepts.  I’m imagining that by middle school (when we do American History again) Miss M will be far more ready for serious notebooking, timelines and maps!



Fraction Fun Day! October 19, 2012

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,Math — kirstenjoyhill @ 6:24 pm

Miss M (3rd grade) is nearing the end of RightStart Math Level C.  While fractions were introduced earlier in the book, here near the end there are about 8 lessons (nearly in a row) covering various aspects of fractions.  Given that Mr. E (Kindergarten) is also very interested in Fractions, I decided to call a “Fraction Fun Day” this week and do lots of fun fraction-related activities with the kids:

After giving Miss M a light list of independent work to complete and having Mr. E practice reading, we dived right into our fun math topic for the day.

We had already been working on Fractions for a couple days before Fraction Fun Day (the picture shows Mr. E putting together the RightStart fraction chart on Monday), so our first activity was fraction art — the kids made kites from 1 inch graph paper I printed out, and we figured out what fraction of their kites were comprised by each color.   They also made “fraction ice cream Sundaes” and we decided what fraction of the ice cream was represented by each flavor (free template here).

After the art work I treated the kids to a fraction-related snack — Hershey chocolate bars! We worked through the Hershey Fractions Book together and the kids made the various fractions found in the book (and other fun designs).  After reading just a bit about the ingredients of a chocolate bar in the book, we just had to learn more about chocolate making! This video and this video from youtube were very informative! We also discussed ways we use fractions in everyday life: cooking, time money, etc (baby J thought the measuring cups were great fun to play with!).

RightStart’s card games set comes with a deck of fraction cards.  We used the cards to play a game called “One” (the object of the game was to make rows of fractions, and be the player to lay down the card that will cause the row to equal one).  We also played Fraction War.

Finally, a fraction fun day would not be complete without using fractions for some fun cooking! I suggested cookies, but between the fact I was missing ingredients for a recipe I really wanted to try, and the fact that Miss M had her heart set on using a recipe from one of her cookbooks, we decided to go with making candy critters instead.  This was fun activity that kept the kids busy for quite a while in the afternoon of our Fraction Fun Day!

Credit for inspiration for some of these activities goes to this post from Mary @ Homegrown Learners and some of the fraction-related posts @ Step Into 2nd Grade.