Homeschool Discoveries

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

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski April 3, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:39 pm
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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

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

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.


“Thimble Summer” by Elizabeth Enright February 23, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:42 pm

newbery-through-the-decadesI had Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright on our “to read” list for last spring as we finished up with our second year of American History studies, but somehow we never got around to reading it.   So, this was an easy choice for a 1930’s award winner for the Newbery Through the Decades Challenge in February.

Thimble Summer was a book I could have easily handed over to Miss M for a quick read, but it was also an enjoyable book to read together.   Like other of Enright’s books we’ve read (The Saturdays, Gone Away Lake), the story is gentle and focuses on episodic adventures of children who seem like “ordinary kids” in many ways. Thimble Summer takes place in the 1930s and relates the incidents in one girl’s life over the course of the summer after she finds what she believes to be a lucky thimble.

A friend recently told me how she just doesn’t understand what I (and other friends) see in books like this.  “They’re pretty boring,” was essentially what she told me.   If you are looking for edge-of-your-seat excitement, this definitely won’t be your cup of tea.  But, Miss M and I both find very enjoyable to read about what life might have been like for a nine year old girl in a different era — when no security system would immediately betray the presence of two girls locked into the library after hours, and a trip alone to big town down the road (via bus and hitchhiking) would not result in a call to the police.

Thimble Summer would make a great addition to a historical fiction reading list for 20th century American History, or just an enjoyable read for anyone who likes sweet, true-to-life stories.


“Downright Dencey” by Caroline Snedeker February 22, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:20 pm

newbery-through-the-decadesMy big inspiration to get back to blogging was Amy’s “Newbery Through the Decades Challenge” @ Hope is the Word.  I love reading Newbery award winners and I hope to someday be able to say that I have read every Newbery award winner.   Given that I had been having a hard time deciding on books for Miss M and I to read together, the idea of reading one or more Newbery books each month this year sounded like a great idea. Both honor books and award winners are eligible for each month’s challenge.

The first book we read for the challenge (back in January…better late than never to blog about it, right?) was Downright Dencey by Caroline Snedeker, a 1928 honor book.   While I am aiming to read mostly award winners for the challenge, none of the winners from the 1920s struck me as books I wanted to read with my daughter right now.  A couple sounded like they might be of interest to the boys, we’ve already read Gay-Neck, Story of a Pigeon, and I’m saving Trumpeter of Krakow for when we reach the appropriate time in our history studies.  That left the honor books to look through, and I chose this one because M often likes books featuring girls about her age.

Downright Dencey is set in the Nantuckt island Quaker community soon after the War of 1812.  Dionis, or Dencey as she is often called, is a fairly spirited girl who, in a moment of rash anger, throws a stone at a boy who is calling her offensive names.   She feels she must seek this boy’s forgiveness, and in her attempt to do so, she gives away a precious books and promises to teach this outcast boy to read.   Dencey must be secretive to fufill her promise since her mother would never permit her to spend time with this boy, and she finds herself facing a battle within as she struggles between keeping her promise to the boy and feeling guilt at the lying and deceitful behavior she has to undertake to keep the promise.

While I felt like this book was a bit of a slow starter, the action picks up as the story progresses.  Dencey faces a number of minor hardships and adventures, and gets in trouble for impulsive behavior and bad choices in a way that reminds me just a bit of Anne in Anne of Green Gables.  Quaker religious beliefs figure prominently into the story.   I found it interesting to see how the beliefs of Dencey and her family share some similarities to beliefs I hold, while other beliefs are unique and almost puzzling.

Miss M gives this book a “thumbs up” as well.  Even when I almost thought about giving up on it a couple chapters in, she assured me she wasn’t bored and enjoyed the book all the way through.


Back to Blogging?!?! February 4, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — kirstenjoyhill @ 1:39 pm

I think I will try again to blog.  No promises on how long this will last or how much I will post though.  🙂  I’ve decided that I miss blogging about books, and using that as a means of keeping track of what we read and how much we like (or don’t like) various books.   I don’t miss trying to wrap up every week with lots of pictures, so I probably won’t do that.  I might share some thoughts about what we like or don’t like about various curricula we are using.

Here’s a quick update on everyone and what we are doing/using:

As a family, we are doing history from Creation to the Fall of the Roman empire with Mystery of History as our spine, and we’re using Science in the Ancient World by Jay Wiley for science.

Miss M is 10.5 and in 5th grade.  She’s using CLE for math (plus Life of Fred Fractions once a week and Xtra math for fact practice) and Treasured Conversations for writing and grammar, as well as Language Mechanic for some grammar and mechanics practice.  She already finished Sassafras Science Botany and is reading Quark Chronicles Botany.  We are going through the Susan C. Anthony list of Top 1000 words (Spelling Plus/Dictation Resource Book), and marking them up Logic of English-style for spelling.  Plus history book basket reading, and read aloud/read alone lit from a list I made.  She’s taking guitar lessons and does Bible reading and SOAP journaling every day. She finished a typing program earlier in the year and has had good intentions about doing German with DuoLingo, but hasn’t progressed very far yet.

Mr. E is almost 8 and in 2nd grade.  He is using Beast Academy for his primary math (he is advanced in math, so we are part way through book 3D right now).  He is also doing Spelling Plus/Dictation Resource book in an LoE style for spelling, and we are slowing going through Getting Started with Latin…both for learning Latin and for some light grammar.  I’ve been using English Lessons through Literature 1, though he hates the copywork so we dropped that early on.  We also started the year with him doing Elson Readers for reading, but now I am letting him choose books for free reading and having him read  a minimum of 20 minutes per day.  We also do daily Bible reading and sometimes SOAP journal writing during our school time.

Mr K turns 6 on Friday and is in Kindergarten.  He is doing Logic of English Foundations for reading/spelling/handwriting (we are a few lessons into book C).  For math, we finished up Singapore Essential K book B back in November, and decided to try out Miquon for him since he loves cuisinaire rods.  We’re using parts of the Orange and Red books.  He also listens in for English Lessons through Literature and Bible reading.

Mr. J is 3, and loves to play and find ways to make mischief.   We’re not doing much preschool yet…maybe next year.  🙂


U is for Unless… August 10, 2013

Filed under: Thoughts — kirstenjoyhill @ 7:39 pm

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain”  (Psalm 127:1 NIV).

This verse jumped to mind right away as I was thinking about what to write about for my “U” post in the “Blogging through the Alphabet” challenge.   I like to plan, and I like to accomplish tasks.    When it comes to homeschooling, it’s really easy for me to work hard on the to-do list, and forget to pray, and lift all my plans up to the Lord.   I want the Lord to build our “house” of our kids’ education, and allow him to direct me as I plan and carry out our school year.




I’m linking up with Blogging through the Alphabet @ Ben and Me!
Blogging Through the Alphabet


Collage Friday: Time Flies… August 9, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:12 pm

You know how it goes…time flies…when you are…having fun, preparing for Vacation Bible Camp, preparing for a big road-trip vacation, oh and getting ready for a new school year all at the same time!  I looked back today and realized it’s been three weeks since I did a wrap-up post!

Here’s some of what we’ve been up to:

The week of July 22nd we went on a field trip to the Oliver Kelley Farm and did a three day local “mini mission trip” called Mission to the City:

Oliver H. Kelley FarmMission to the City 2013



The week of July 29th we visit the Minnesota Zoo with friends from our co-op, and took a weekend camping trip in Clear Lake, Iowa with some old friends from our college days (and their three cute kids!):


The animatronic dinosaur exhibit at the zoo was a favorite on that outing, and a new bike carrier for our car led to a favorite on the camping trip — actually being able to take our bikes with us so we could take a bike ride with our friends!



A highlight from this week was a field trip today to Historic Fort Snelling, a site near us that is a fort that was recreated to be as it was in the 1820s, complete with costumed characters.  The boys’ favorite was watching the soldiers doing their drills and shooting their guns.  Miss M’s favorite was chatting with the cook in the kitchen and doing a scavenger hunt:

Fort Snelling 2013 take 2

Here are a few other highlights of things we’ve been up to lately:

August 9 collage

1. New books are arriving in the mail/UPS…but between Vacation Bible Camp at our church (which I am in charge of, so it is kind of time consuming), and our big vacation, we won’t be starting until the day after Labor Day, just like most public schools around here.  I’ve updated our curriculum page with our picks for 2013-2014.

2.  Watching bikers go by for a local 24 hour bike race

3. – 4.  Helping out with making summer treats (mini popsicles and rhubarb crisp)

5. – 6.  Having fun, laughing and playing

7.  We actually played a math game this week (Corners) — not something we have done much of this summer!

8.  Our National Night Out block party is always a top summer highlight.  This year we had to wrap it up early, unfortunately, due to a sudden thunderstorm.

Whew,…that’s it for now.  I’m looking forward to all our hard work with VBC coming to fruition next week, then relaxing and having fun on vacation.

Linking up with:  Collage Friday and The Weekly Wrap Up.

Homegrown Learners

History Plans for 2013-2014: US History “Year 2” August 1, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:25 am

This past year we studied the “first half” of United States History using my own literature-and-library-book based plans.  We started at the beginning with Native Americans, and I originally thought we would only study up until 1850, or just before the Civil War.

As the year went on, I saw that I had over-estimated how long some of the units were going HTTA-TTto take, and we also were able to get a nice early start on our history studies last year (starting in July).   After we completed my original plans through 1850, we did a unit on Slavery and the Underground Railroad and a unit on the Civil War (I never managed to write blog posts about those units though…maybe I should still go back and do that!).

We’re going to finish our US History studies this year, starting with the post Civil War Reconstruction era, and making our way up to the present, or at least somewhat recent events.  I realized the other day that events I remember (like the political changes in Eastern Europe in the 1990s and the terrorist attacks of 9/11) are history for my kids!

I’m still making my own book-based plans for read-aloud literature, read-alone lit for Miss M, and a “book basket” of picture book and short non-fiction selections for Miss M to read alone or me to read to the boys.

I’m also adding in at least one “History Through the Ages: Time Travelers” study for Miss M.  I’ve already purchased the Industrial Revolution through the Great Depression title.   There’s one more on WWII, then if all is going well, we also might use the 20th Century Lap-Pak.  That title has only the lapbook component, and not the short readings and other projects that come along with the Time Travelers…but it would give us some written component to take us to the present day.

I’m excited to have the short reading sections form a bit of a spine for Miss M, since I don’t have another spine text in mind.  I’m also hoping that since the lapbook pieces and other projects are assigned lesson-by-lesson, it will help us stay on track with having some written aspect to our history studies (something we failed to do last year).

I’m still refining my reading lists (and I may not get them all done before the school year starts), but here is my overall plan for the year…subject to change, of course, if some time periods take more or less time to cover than I am expecting!



Unit: # Weeks Lessons from HTTA Time Travelers Approximate Dates
1865 – 1899 7 Lessons 1-10, except 6 Sept 3 – Oct 18
1900 – 1914 5 Lessons 6 & 11 through 16 Oct 21 – Nov 22
World War I 3 17-18 Dec 2 – Dec 20
1920s 2 19 – 20 Jan 6 – 17
1930s (Great Depression) 2 21-25 Jan 20 – 31
WWII/1940s 6 WWII study — all Feb 3 – Mar 21 (incl. a winter break)
1950s-1970s 4 20th Century Lap-Pak March 24 – April 18
1980s to Present 3 20th Century Lap-Pak April 21 – May 9



I’m hoping to find the time to post by book lists and unit wrap-ups throughout the year!

Linking up with…Curriculum Planning at Highhill Education and History/Geography Link-Up at All Things Beautiful!