Homeschool Discoveries

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

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

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


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!



Book Discoveries this Week: Little Runner of the Longhouse July 13, 2012

Filed under: Books,Themes — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

We got started this week with our first unit in our US History studies — Native Americans and Explorers.  Our “book basket” (it’s really one of those stacking cubes) is overflowing with titles.  Once I got started requesting books, I really went a little bit overboard!

I can’t remember if I found Little Runner of the Longhouse on one of the book lists that I looked at, or if I just requested it after one of those “one thing leads to the next”  late night library catalog browsing binges.  😉

I feel like most of the books we’ve brought home from the library about Native Americans are fairly culturally sensitive.  This one, maybe not so much (especially if the two “one star” reviews on amazon are to be believed).  I want to generally make sure I’m presenting honoring, accurate views of Native Americans to my kids.  But this book is cute, regardless.  I’m hoping that the kids understand the difference between a fictional book like this and the books from the non-fiction section of the library.

In any case, this easy-reader book appealed to all the kids.   Little Runner is a young boy who wants to participate in his (not-identified-in-the-story) tribe’s New Year traditions, but his mother tells him he is not old enough. The “big boys” dress up and “steal” things from other members of the tribe.    Little Runner wants to “steal” something he can use to trade for all the maple sugar he can eat.  I’m sure all the kids can relate!  He cleverly thinks he can “steal”  Little Brother and hold him for ransom, suggesting to his mother all kinds of things she might give Little Runner to buy back his younger brother.

Miss M chose this book to read from the book basket, and of course it only took her a few minutes to finish it.  Mr K asked me to read the book to him (Mr. E was at Grandma’s house during this first reading).  Then today Mr E tried reading some of it aloud to me.  He made it through about four pages before handing the book over to me to finish it — it was just a bit over his patience and reading level at this point.

After listening to the book today, the boys, completely on their own, decided to make masks that were loosely inspired by the masks they saw in the book.  All I had to do was cut the small mouth holes and tie on the elastic strings.  And not to be outdone, Miss M had to make one too once she saw the boys’ masks (she’s holding a basket because she is the “basket lady” in the book):

After checking into it just a bit (and this was before I read the amazon reviews), I discovered that Little Runner of the Longhouse is loosely based on Iroquois traditions.  I wasn’t clued in though while reading the book that the masks are sacred objects.  I had been hoping not to fall into the trap of too many stereotype-promoting activities in our studies of Native Americans, but it appears we were both stereotypical and a bit sacrilegious today.  Whoops!  The kids had fun reenacting the story though, and this just goes to prove that I never need to bother with spending money on a curriculum that plans out activities for my kids — they are going to find them to do whether I am involved or not.  😉

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


U is for United States History July 11, 2012

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:21 am

I am so excited for our coming year of history studies.  There are many, many options to select from in looking for an American History curriculum for early elementary.  But even with so many options to choose from, I still didn’t find just one program that I liked completely!  I liked books from many of the curricula, and each had some books I didn’t care for as much.  Some were more or less expensive.  Some didn’t have the types of written work I was looking for (I wanted some lapbooking, notebooking and other papercrafts/activities!).

But, since I am a planner at heart and I love, love, love looking at book lists…I decided I could plan my own United States History curriculum for this year!  We’ll study American History from the beginnings to about 1850 this year (2012-2013), and study 1850 to the present next year (2013-2014).

I didn’t plan out a week-by-week schedule.  Instead I divided the first part of American History into five units or time periods.  For each unit I planned out various key non-fiction texts, literature read-alouds, literature for my 3rd grader to read alone, materials for use in making a notebook and timeline of what we are studying (and crafty projects too if Miss M would like to do them), as well as a big list of books for a “book basket” of optional reading.

We’ll make sure to work on history in some way each day, working through books from the book list and taking time at least a couple days a week to do something for the notebook (a notebooking page, a lapbook piece, etc).  I’ll be trying my best to keep a record of what we do with weekly or bi-weekly posts, as well as reviews/recaps of many of the books we read.

Want more details on what we are doing? Be sure to visit my “United States History Year 1” page, which has more info and a link to my spreadsheet of books.   And be sure to stop back often this year (or subscribe via email or RSS) if you want to see how this great experiment in D.I.Y history curriculum works out for us!

I’m linking up with Blogging through the Alphabet at Ben and Me (this week’s link-up coming on Thursday).

Blogging Through the Alphabet