Homeschool Discoveries

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

Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld April 15, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:38 pm
Tags: ,

Some books in the “historical fiction” genre seem meant to take seriously, while others are just fun books that happen to be set in a historical time period.  I read Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld out loud to my boys (and Miss M read it to herself), and I think we would put it in the latter category.

Detectives in Togas revolves around a group of Roman boys who attend a small, prestigious  school. The boys tease one another and get into petty fights, as schoolboys tend to do.  It was one thing for Rufus to write “Caius is a dumbbell” on his tablet at school…but is he the kind of boy to write it on the temple wall outside Caius’s house as well?  The authorities seem to think so, and Rufus is thrown in jail.  The same morning as the writing is discovered on the temple wall, the boys discovered their teacher has been robbed, bound and gagged, and thrown in his closet.

The boys want to get their friend out of trouble, and find out who robbed their teacher as well.  It is a bit of a madcap story as the boys explore possible leads, sneak around, consult a fortune teller, consider a letter to the emperor and visit various offices and officials.  I’m not sure it’s very historically realistic behavior…but unlike my expectations of The Thieves of Ostia, I didn’t really expect a humorous book to include characters that acted exactly inline with what their historical counterparts might have done.

Overall this was highly entertaining for all of us (I think the three year old was even listening in, given some of the things he said to me after we read it).  If members of your family are prone to name calling, you might want to know that calling someone a “dumbbell” is an event repeated several times in book — even by the boys’ teacher at the end of the story when he decides that Caius might really be a dumbbell after all when he gives a rather unintelligent answer to a question.  Luckily I was able to break my boys of the idea pretty quickly that it’s a word that would be allowed in our house.   Now if only I break my three-year-old so easily of the habit of using bathroom-humor sorts of words when he is mad at us! 😉

I was happy to find a copy of the sequel (Mystery of the Roman Ransom) at a recent library book sale, and we’ll probably be reading that at some point in the near future.

 

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark April 13, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:07 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve already read seven of the ten Newbery Award winners from the 1950s, so I had only a few options to pick newbery-through-the-decadesfrom if  I wanted to read at least one award winner for the Newbery Through the Decades challenge for this month.  After perusing the descriptions of the three 1950s award winners I had not read, Miss M and I chose, Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark, the 1953 Newbery winner.

Secret of Andes is a coming of age story.  Cusi, an Indian boy in Peru of Inca decent, is a shepherd living high in the mountains in the care of Chuto, an older shepherd.  The story takes place in modern times, at least modern enough for a brief mention of a truck.  Other than that one clue as to the time-setting of the story, the rest of the story easily could have taken place long ago, as Cusi is living just as the Andes shepherds have for centuries.

As the story unfolds, we learn more and more about his life (as he learns more about himself).   This short (128 page) novel is a bit slow moving. It’s full of beautiful descriptions of mountains, valleys and llamas.   But it wasn’t exactly a page-turner that kept us coming back to read it each night.

There’s a big “reveal” in the last couple chapters about Cusi’s identity and the future the lays ahead of him, as well as a beautiful relational scene between Chuto and Cusi.  The last chapter almost made the rest of the book feel more worthwhile, but overall it wasn’t a favorite for us. I think had we already been studying Peru or Incan history, we might have appreciated it more.  🙂

 

Read-Aloud Wrap-Up for March 2015 April 8, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:55 pm
Tags: , ,

Besides our two “Newbery Through the Decades” challenge titles for March that Miss M and I read (21 Balloons and Strawberry Girl), a lot of our read-alouds and audiobooks lately have been related to our ancient history studies.

Since I am still getting back in the habit of chronicling our reading here on the blog, I am going to back up to February momentarily.  We spent most of January and February, as well as part of March studying ancient Greece.  No study of ancient Greece would be complete without a reading of the Iliad and the Odyssey, right?

After a brief try at reading Black Ships Before Troy (Rosemary Sutcliff) with Miss M,  we decided to go with a bit simpler version.  Black Ships Before Troy was just a bit too complicated to start out with, given a limited background in greek mythology.  I picked up a copy of the Classic Starts version of the Iliad and this was just perfect for a quick read alone by Miss M (who honestly wasn’t very interested in the story!), and for a read-aloud to the boys.

I spent most of March reading the Mary Pope Osborne retelling of the Odyssey to the boys.  Osborne’s Odyssey is told in six short books (combined into just 2 volumes in some editions).  Miss M easily read them to herself at the pace of one book per day, but it took much longer for me to get through reading all six volumes aloud to the boys at a pace of two chapters per day! Luckily, they are exciting and the boys definitely wanted to find out if and when Odysseus ever made it home, so we persevered through the whole six volumes.   I enjoyed this too, having forgotten most of the details of the story of the Odyssey.

In February and into March we also listened to a much more modern mythological story — Percy Jackson and The Olympians Book 1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  The kindle + audiobook prices for this was pretty reasonable, and I thought it would be a fun way to get the kids more excited about mythology.  I have to say, it worked pretty well.  🙂  We listened to the audio book on various car rides and occasionally in the house as well.  The Percy Jackson books are built around the premise that the gods of Greek mythology are real, and that they move their presence periodically to the strongest country in western civilization.  Of course that means that the home of the gods is currently New York City.  Percy is a demi-god, or half-blood, who must save the world from a potential war between the gods.

The Lightning Thief is quite entertaining, and I think I enjoyed it as much as the kids. It is definitely full of magic and mythology, and the descriptions of Hades and the underworld were borderline scary to me.  Interestingly, this didn’t seem to bother the kids at all — even my six year old! (It was way over the head of the 3 year old, of course).   I wouldn’t necessarily suggest this series of books to kids who are easily scared or who don’t have a firm grasp of the line between fiction and reality when it comes to talking about mythological gods.  Kids who can handle Harry Potter should do just fine.  My kids are comfortable pretending and reading stories “about those fake Greek gods,”  and it doesn’t seem to shake their genuine beliefs at all.

Miss M and I had our own audiobook in March as well.  We had a long-ish drive to and from a family event by ourselves, and I wanted to have something to make the time pass quickly in the car.  I decided to try and match up with our history studies a bit, and I chose The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence to download from the library. This is the first book in a series called “The Roman Mysteries.”

In The Thieves of Ostia, a group of children need to solve a puzzling mystery of who has been killing some of the neighborhood dogs.  It’s an exciting “whodunnit” that pays a lot of attention to Roman customs and details of life in the first century AD.   This is definitely more appropriate for older elementary ages and up — in fact, I later realized that the paper copies of this book are shelved in the teen section of our library!  The book contained some rather vivid descriptions of the poor treatment of slaves, and graphic depictions of the beheading of the dogs.  Drunkenness and suicide are also touched upon in the course of the story.  Miss M (age 10.5), was not bothered by this…but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable listening to it with the boys (ages 8 and 6).

While interesting and full of detail, I did feel like The Thieves of Ostia fell into the trap that many historical fiction novels fall into of projecting modern views onto people from a different era.  I didn’t find it very believable that the daughter of a well-off sea captain, a slave girl, a Jewish-Christian boy, and a mute beggar boy (the main characters of the story) would really have become friends and share in the solving of a mystery in Roman times.  In general, it was hard for me to picture kids from Roman times “searching for clues.”  There was practically even a “I would have gotten away with it if it wouldn’t have been for you meddling kids” line from the culprit when he was caught.

Overall, I don’t think we’ll be seeking out any more books from this series, though perhaps it is someting Miss M will pick up and read on her own at some point.

 

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski April 3, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:39 pm
Tags: ,

Our second Newbery Through the Decades selection for the 1940s was Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski.  We’ve read one other historical novel by Lois Lenski (The Puritan Adventure), which we enjoyed a couple years ago.  I vaguely recall trying one other time to read Strawberry Girl when Miss M was younger, and the dialect turned me off before we even finished the first chapter.  I’m glad we waited though, because some of the themes in Strawberry Girl are much better suited to a ten-year-old than a younger kid.

Strawberry Girl takes place in early 20th century Florida.  The story follows the story of Birdie Boyer, whose family is settling into a new property.  They come into conflict almost immediately with their neighbors, the Slaters.  The Slaters are a rough sort of family pursuing an older way of making a living — raising free-range cattle.  The Boyers, in contrast are a bit more refined, and want to follow more modern agricultural techniques by raising orange trees, planting strawberries, and fencing in their property.   Conflicts arise as the old ways of cattle ranging across any field is thwarted by fencing.  Interpersonal conflicts arise between the families as well.  The book isn’t just about the conflict (though that is a main theme) — the reader also gets a picture of Florida pioneer life that is quite different from the midwestern and western pioneers we read about in many other pioneer stories.

Sam Slater, father of the Slater clan is an alcoholic, which leads to a certain degree of misery for his family and is the cause of some of the conflicts in the book.  This ongoing theme of drinking leading to violent actions (or at least very unwise behavior) make this book a better choice in my mind for readers/listeners old enough to ponder on this without being overly disturbed.

Strawberry Girl does have a happy ending — almost unrealistically so.  The crops do well, old enmities are forgotten as the Slaters embrace modern ways, and Mr. Slater even decides to embrace Jesus at a revival meeting and give up drinking.  Miss M really liked how everything was wrapped up in a nice, happy way at the end of the book, but as an older reader it was hard for me to believe that everything could turn for the better so quickly.   I suppose that is part of why it still falls into the children’s lit classification rather than a book for an even older audience.

Though I was worried that the “Florida Cracker” dialect (as the characters in the book even call themselves) would be difficult to manage, it wasn’t as difficult this time as I found it the first time around.  I had the audio book on CD from the library “just in case” but I didn’t need it.  🙂 I found myself unconsciously correcting some of the non-standard grammar, but managed to mostly read it aloud as written.

Miss M gives this one “4 stars out of 5”, and I might rate it just a bit lower.  It was enjoyable, but not a favorite. I did really enjoy the illustrations — Lois Lenski has a special place in my heart as she is the illustrator of one of my all-time favorite book series, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.  🙂 Miss M and I often commented how the characters in Strawberry Girl could be slightly less refined versions of Betsy, Tacy and company (who were set in about the same historical time period).

 

“The 21 Balloons” By William Pene du Bois March 6, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:16 pm
Tags:

newbery-through-the-decadesWe’re already off and running with our Newbery Through the Decades challenge for this month — the 1940’s.  We started The 21 Balloons by William Pene Du Bois, the 1948 medal winner, at the tail end of February.  It was a quick read, and we had it finished earlier this week.

The 21 Balloons is a “fantastic” tale (in the sense of “imaginative” or “fanciful”).  It takes place in 1883, and professor William Waterman Sherman has been found in the Atlantic ocean surrounded by 20 large balloons attached to a platform.  This is quite a surprise, because he took off in one balloon from San Francisco only just a little over a month earlier.   After insisting that he must return to the Western American Explorers Club to tell his tale, he is eventually whisked by train across the country to recount his journey.

Professor Sherman crossed the Pacific quite quickly in his balloon, in which he had hoped to spend a year floating around the world.   Misfortune struck, in the form of aggressive seagulls, and he unfortunately crash lands on a tropical island.  This tropical island turns out to be Krakatoa, which, in this story, turns out to not only be inhabited, but inhabited by a fabulously wealthy group of 20 American families, who have carved out for themselves a most unique society on the island.

If you are at all familiar with history, you might guess as to why Professor Sherman’s stay on the island did not last.  Just as in real life, the fictional volcano on the Island of Krakatoa also erupts,  causing the islands inhabitants to flee, and the professor to end up in the state which he is found at the beginning of the book.

While I found the book somewhat entertaining, it’s not one I would eagerly re-read or list among my favorites for the year.  Miss M enjoyed it more than I did.  She liked the humor of some of the situations on the island, and was more easily able to suspend her disbelief at the circumstances that led to the group of Americans living on the island.  I found the set-up to be a bit preposterous, and that diminished my enjoyment of the book to some extent.  I’ve only read one of the 1948 honor books (Misty of Chincoteague), and I have to say I enjoyed that one more in comparison.

 

 

Our Continuing Experiences with Logic of English — Part 1 (The 2013-2014 school year) February 25, 2015

Filed under: Curriculum,Spelling — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:37 pm
Tags:

IMG_20130927_141540When logging back into my blog after my long blogging hiatus, one thing I noticed is that my various posts about Logic of English are still getting frequent visits.   We’re still using and benefiting from Logic of English, and I feel like I have learned as an instructor how I can better use the Logic of English techniques and curricula with my students.

To read a little bit about our past journey with Logic of English, you can check out these posts:

I’ll pick up in this post where I left off in the last post, which I wrote at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.  That year, I had finished up using Essentials with Miss M (a third grader at the time), and had completed most of the beta-test lessons of Logic of English Foundations (we primarily used what became levels B and C) with Mr. E (a Kindergartener at the time).

As I had planned, I used the Advanced Lists for Essentials with Miss M (4th grader at the time), and started working through Essentials with the basic lists for Mr. E (a 1st grader at the time).

One of the first things that went out the door was the idea of keeping both kids together on the same “week” of the curriculum with different lists.  Mr. E wasn’t ready for a full Essentials lesson each week.  Had Foundations D been available that year when Mr. E was a 1st grader, it would have been a perfect fit).  He had a basic knowledge of the phonograms, but needed more practice at using them.  He needed more reading practice with early readers and easy chapter books to gain fluency.  But, alas, Foundations D wasn’t published until this school year due to various delays.    As it was, I tried my best to make reviewing phonograms and learning the spelling rules fun for Mr. E while we worked through Essentials, and we varied in pace through the year, doing half lessons some weeks and full lessons other weeks.  By the end of the school year, we had completed about 25 lessons.   He made lots of reading progress through the year as he practiced reading daily, and was spelling more than adequately for a first grader!

Miss M had a mixed experience last year with the Advanced Lists for essentials.  The advanced lists for Essentials weren’t necessarily designed as a “second year” of Essentials, though they certainly can be used that way.  The LoE website describes them as an “alternate” to the basic lists provided in Essentials.   Not having any other ideas of what to do with Miss M for spelling and knowing she needed continued instruction and practice, we gave the “Advanced Lists” a go.

Without a doubt, Miss M’s spelling continued to improve as she practiced analyzing and then learning a list of 25 words each week.  However, some words on the advanced list were almost too easy or were repeats from the previous year, while other words were quite challenging.  “Ice” was too easy, while “Cacophony” was not only a spelling and vocabulary challenge, it was a word that my 4th grader was unlikely to need to read, much less spell, any time soon.

I wish I would have realized before the end of the year that 25 words is too long of a list for Miss M in particular.  We’ve used much shorter lists for spelling this year (more about that in an upcoming post), and she is much better at mastering new words, however difficult, when she is less overwhelmed by a long list.

Meanwhile, Mr. K (who turned 5 in February of 2014), started showing a growing interest in learning to read.  Since, as a beta tester, I already had in hand the Foundations materials, I began working through Foundations A with him in January of 2014.   He turned out to be a natural at many of the phonemic awareness activities! With very little practice or prompting, he was able to blend, segment and identify beginning, ending and middle sounds.  Most of the spring of last school year for Mr. K was spent with me loosely going through Foundations A to teach him the sounds of the first 26 phonograms, then helping him with reading the I See Sam beginning readers.   He wasn’t very interested in learning to write, so I decided to save that for Fall 2014, his Kindergarten year.

At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, I was definitely pleased with everyone’s progress.  But I also knew I needed to take things a little bit of a different direction for Miss M and Mr. E, while at the same time really diving into Foundations B with Mr. K.   More on that in my next post!

 

“The White Stag” by Kate Seredy February 24, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:00 pm

newbery-through-the-decadesEven though we already finished one 1930s Newbery Award winner for the Newbery Through the Decades challenge in February, I decided we could sneak in one more before the end of the month.   Thimble Summer was a quick read, and I hadn’t planned ahead for the next bedtime read-aloud for Miss M and I.   The White Stag by Kate Seredy has been on my shelves for quite a while, though I was thinking of saving it for a few months from now to match up with our history studies.   But, I’m glad I decided to grab this 1938 Newbery winner to enjoy right now.

Over the past year or so I’ve become a huge fan of Kate Seredy’s work.  We read The Good Master, The Singing Tree and The Chestry Oak last year as historical fiction to match up with our history studies (We were focusing on American history, but read these European-focused works when we were at the corresponding time periods in our studies).   As I impatiently await my very own copy of The Chestry Oak (It has been out of print for many years — we had to get it from ILL, and now it is soon to be reprinted!), I was getting antsy to read another book by Seredy.

As we read The White Stag, I didn’t feel so bad about not waiting until we reach the time of Atila the Hun in our history studies to read this mostly-fictional saga of Attila, his ancestors, and their sojurn across Europe and central Asia.  In this work inspired by traditional Hungarian folk tales and mythology, Seredy weaves a surprisingly beautiful story of people migrating and conquering their way to a land promised to them by their god.

What really stood out to me in this story was Seredy’s amazing writing.  I am not usually one to stop and marvel at an author’s word choice, but I found myself doing that several times while reading this book aloud:

“Soon came the coldest cruelest winter the Huns and Magyars had ever known.  Snow lay thick on the ground for months and the icy northerly winds howled like malignant demons.  When spring finally came, the thawing snow swelled the rivers into raging torrents impossible to cross. Unwonted idleness began to chafe the restless spirit of the warriors.” (p. 56)

“The wild mountains of Altain-Ula were but a legend to the Huns, the years by the misty blue lake only a fading memory. The past lived in songs, the present in their flashing swords, and the future in their hearts. The future was ‘a land between two great rivers, surrounded by mountains.'” (p. 80)

I’m not sure if these quotes quite convey it when separated from the rest of the text, but Seredy’s descriptive, beautiful language make this story feel like a sweeping epic even though it is told in only 93 pages (including pages taken up with Seredy’s equally beautiful and detailed illustrations).  This book is definitely more than worth the short amount of time it takes to read.