Lepidoptera


DSC_0008Tuesdays and Thursdays this year have been filled with lunches with friends, and gym and art classes for A and S.  For G, it has meant preschool.  Out-of-the-house, pack-your-lunch, play-with-friends preschool.  It has been a great thing for our four-year-old guy.  Up until now he has tagged along for the ride, sitting back seat to whatever the brothers were involved in.  Preschool, however, has been wholly his.  He has loved each moment.  

With fewer than twenty students, our little church preschool has been a wonderful place for G to learn, play and grow two days a week.  Not only has it provided him opportunities for learning and social time, but it has also given our family support.  G sees his teachers as positive, loving reminders of his own capabilities.  We are so grateful for that.

This month they have been concentrating on caterpillars and butterflies.  The teachers have displayed monarch caterpillars in jars.  They have learned about the chrysalis.  They have talked about colors and defense patterns, such as false eyes.  Watching the process from caterpillar to butterfly only serves to excite him about his own growing and changing body.  G seems to have a direct understanding that because God created everything, he has executed it all in astounding and loving ways.  I wanted to capitalize on their studies and explorations  at school, and bring them home.  I love how they are able to observe live caterpillars.  Below are some of our favorite butterfly books.  Here I need to give kudos to our local librarian who helped me become acquainted with two of these titles recently.  They are both new favorites with G.

Butterfly Literature-


51rVkztDKyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_A  Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long – I cannot describe how exquisite the details of this book are!  The illustrations are like something to be found in a high quality nature journal.  Both the text and colorful artwork urge you to race outdoors….to sit and observe.

eb14c1abc1a3212fd824c758cfd6b3caSummer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle and Julie Paschkis tells the true story of Maria Merian, who as a teenager, became a lepidopterist and artist of nature during the Middle Ages when the wisdom of the day stated that insects were evil and sprang up out of mud.  Maria was insistent and carefully studied their life cycle.  The simple text is a gentle introduction to the beauty of science and learning, giving children an inspirational role model.    The illustrations are bright and colorful, almost folk or naive in style.

61J9X28RWPL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons is one of the best places to begin to understand details of the life cycle and habitat of the popular orange and black lepidoptera.  Her books of non-fiction are some of our favorites.  This one introduces vocabulary such as migration and proboscis.

51mofq0deWL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Bob and Otto by Robert O. Bruel and Nick Bruel is an incredibly sweet, witty story of two friends – an earthworm and a caterpillar.  When one of them grows and changes, the other feels neglected.  Not only is this a story of the differences in creatures, but a tale of the importance of friendship.

Gottago-210-expGotta Go!  Gotta Go!  by Sam Swope and Sue Riddle – The persistence and intrepid spirit of the monarch caterpillar is contagious in this repetitive and charming book.  The basic illustrations add to the sweetness.  Your little one will enjoy chanting along with you, “Gotta go!  Gotta go!  Gotta go….to Mexico!”

G has been bringing home butterfly crafts, but we wanted to do one more simple one at home.  This is where my creativity breaks down a bit, so I need to keep art projects as basic as possible.  On a folded sheet of paint paper I drew half a butterfly.  G painted it in and we folded the page over to press the other half of the butterfly to the other side – symmetry!

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I’ve watched you now a full half-hour;

Self-poised upon that yellow flower

And, little Butterfly!  Indeed

I know not if you sleep or feed.

How motionless!- not frozen seas

More motionless! and then

What joy awaits you, when the breeze

Hath found you amongst the trees,

And calls you forth again!

~William Wordsworth “To a Butterfly”

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G used tempera paints for his creation.  Because there were no green or orange in our box, we had to mix up our own colors.  Not only did G enjoy swirling his paint brush about on his paper bag “palette,” but it was a gentle reminder of what red/yellow or blue/yellow make.  Another bit of science for us.

Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man.

~Vladimir Nabokov

Why Atticus Finch could have raised a child on the autism spectrum

DSC_0002Lately I have been spending time within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s not my first time to read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.  This might be my fourth or fifth.  Between reading the novel for a book club and reading it in preparation to make use of it as a read aloud with A and S early next school year, I am reading for curriculum – for historical setting, thematic elements, symbolism and life lessons- just as much as for narrative enjoyment.  From spending time in quiet reflection adjacent to Atticus and the Mobile Register to racing past the Radley place behind Scout with my jeans rolled up, I have been reflecting on the significance of Harper Lee’s story for myself.

Jem.  Calpurnia.  Mr. Heck Tate.  Maudie Atkins.  Tom Robinson.  Reverend Sykes.  Mrs. Dubose.  Lively characters with much to say to us even today.  While it is widely recognized that Atticus Finch was a good father doing his reticent best in solitary and difficult times, I have also come to a more personal conclusion: Atticus Finch could have successfully raised a child with Asperger’s.

Aunt Alexandra’s vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-a-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life.  I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year.  She hurt my feelings and set my teeth permanently on edge, but when I asked Atticus about it, he said there were already enough sunbeams in the family and to go on about my business, he didn’t mind me much the way I was.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 9, p. 89

The beauty of Atticus’ statement to Scout is in his acceptance of her.  No only does this make me smile for its understating qualities but also for Aunt Alexandra’s usage of the word “sunbeam.”  Atticus’ connotation of the word seems substantively different.  Not only did Atticus “not mind” her differences, but he did the hard work as a parent to help her stand out against her society insomuch as she was standing on her own two feet.  He didn’t mind her wearing overalls.  He didn’t mind her being addressed as Scout, instead of her given name Jean Louise.  He didn’t mind her running around half wild with an awkward neighbor boy and no girls for friends.  He didn’t mind her swearing, not really, because he understood it was for attention and want of expression (and incidentally a last-ditch ploy to avoid school).  These were unequivocal traits which made Scout stand out as an oddity in polite, accepted Maycomb society.

How is all this important to me?  Because he wears the baseball cap 24/7.  Giggles uncontrollably at things no one else finds even slightly amusing.  Uses archaic phrases.  Recites stories from memory that at times have little to do with the flow of conversation.  Interjects tidbits of trivia on baseball, presidents, car models, world countries, etc. apropos to goodness knows what.  Why should I find this difficult or offensive?  Like Atticus I am learning to accept.  Whereas he fought the battle of Aunt Alexandra and Maycomb County, I fight my own internal battle.  Hard pressed between how I feel others may perceive him and how I should just let him be.  My own quirky sunbeam.

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – ”

“Sir?”

“-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

chapter 3, p. 36

Atticus teaches Scout and Jem to take stock of another’s perspective multiple times in the novel.  He offers this advice concerning those he genuinely cares for like Miss Caroline or Mr. Cunningham, and for those he does not, such as Bob Ewell.  We need more empathy, more walking around in each other’s skin, more children who can say, “I don’t agree with you, but I understand why you think that way.”  More people who are strong enough to wield grace and patience.  Not condoning immoral behavior but a loving spirit and empathy for someone else’s struggle.

Atticus had said it was the polite thing to talk to people about what they were interested in, not about what you were interested in.

chapter 15, p. 164

Empathy and theory of mind can be difficult for people on the spectrum.  Difficult, but not impossible.

Atticus pushed my head under his chin.  “It’s not time to worry yet,” he said.  “I never thought Jem’d be the one to lose his head over this – thought I’d have more trouble with you.”

chapter 11, p. 113

As a member of our bookclub noted, Atticus never blatantly tells the children when it is time to worry.  He teaches by example through a forbearance that supersedes worry and despair.  Through these words he gives credence to the seriousness of the situation, but allows them to know that someone is sharing their concern.  He is listening.

Isn’t this what we all desire, for someone to say, “Yes, I hear you are scared.  Yes, those are legitimate worries.  Let’s deal with this together.”?  Unfortunately, fear and anxiety can be the primary emotion for people on the spectrum.  Atticus might have been able to successfully parent his way through these daily struggles with an Aspie son or daughter.

Certainly I am not proposing that Jem or Scout were intended to have Asperger’s.  They were precocious, yet neuro-typical.  Nor am I proposing that acceptanceempathy and anxiety are things exclusively children with Asperger’s need to learn, but as I have often heard expressed: People with Asperger’s struggle with the same issues everyone else does, only more so.

Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break.  Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him.

Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

chapter 31, p. 294

Building a case for picture books

The first time I intuitively felt someone dismiss picture books as only for little kids, I was genuinely surprised.

“Oh, we don’t read picture books anymore with Connor.*  He’s reading chapter books on his own now.”  This mother’s statement perplexed me then as it was unexpected.  And it still perplexes me today.  My oldest two were six and eight at the time, and while they were both independent readers, I felt we were a long way from discarding picture books.  Chapter books.  Picture books.  Are they really so mutually exclusive?  Must I give up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder once I have begun to read Willa Cather?  So, it stands to reason, I refuse to abandon Jane Yolen for Katherine Patterson.  Let us linger a bit longer on the delights and purpose of the picture book.   There is a case to be made for the necessity of high quality books with beautiful illustrations, specifically targeting independent readers 9, 10, 11, 12 years old, and beyond.  Here is why we still read picture books.

SENSITIVE MATERIAL

Just as Margaret Wise Brown‘s charming Big Red Barn may be a perfect bed time read for  a three-year-old, but not so much for a ten-year-old, so there are some subject matters best left for older children.  Many authors/illustrators provide safe places for older children to explore potentially scary or sensitive issues through the haven of clear illustrations and well-intentioned words.  Death, war and severe prejudices can be broached in ways a chapter book may not be able.  Here are a few examples.

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Chicken Sunday  by Patricia Polacco

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber and Adam Gustavson

SPECIFIC INTERESTS

Whereas an eleven-year-old may not pick up an entire biography on a famous mathematician or botanist, a picture book can usher them into a brand new world with ease.  Through more complex storytelling, greater vocabulary and unique interests, the older reader may enjoy these great finds.

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Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates by M. D. Usher and William Bramhall

When Jesse Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest and P.J. Lynch

Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei by Peter Sis

My Brothers’ Flying Machine by Jane Yolen and Jim Burke

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter and Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham

EMOTIONAL SAFETY

For some tweens, there is a sweet reassurance that our pains and feelings of inadequacy may be universal.  There is a comfort in knowing we are not the only ones.  This is true whether we are four, fourteen or forty.  Here are some wonderfully written stories full of emotional intelligence.

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Odd Boy Out by Don Brown

Chowder by Peter Brown

Basket Moon by Mary Lynn Ray and Barbara Cooney

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

GREAT STORYTELLING

Just as it is a little sad that the short story genre is dwindling, it is also unfortunate that we may not appreciate the genre of picture book in its own right.  I marvel at the craft of these below. With fewer words, they transport us to magnificent places, and succinctly help us in learning new perspectives.

The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park and Julie Downing

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Crow Call by Jane Yolen

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

Lassie Come-Home by Rosemary Wells(adapter), Eric Knight (author)  and Susan Jeffers

VISUAL ARTS

Once you open the cover to the books listed below you will not wonder how they might appeal to an eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year old.  These books for older children can easily be appreciated for the visual humor, charm or poignancy.

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Locomotive by Brian Floca

Sitting Ducks by Michael Bedard

The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Zen Shorts, Zen Ties and Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth

Tibet Through the Red Box by Peter Sis

NOSTALGIA

While the following books may readily be enjoyed by younger children, older ones may feel the thrill of nostalgia as they read them again.  Reading them later, after a span of time, just might give them the gift of growing perspective.  If they related to the little girl at six years old, now they can see things through the older sister’s or mother’s point of view.  I know we all re-read stories from our younger days, simply because it brings back some of those warm memories associated with reading.  Here is my list.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney

Days of the Blackbird by Tomie de Paola

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, but this should get you started if you need to re-aquaint yourself with this genre.  Does your family have a favorite not listed?  Leave it in the comments.  There are so many great ones lining the library bookcases, as well as our own at home.

Easter Sunday

Easter didn’t come with chocolates, jelly beans or an egg hunt for our family.  There was not ham or roast lamb for a big Sunday feast.  As much as I love family traditions, I just haven’t prioritized the organization it takes to pull it off for holidays and special events.  Without extended family nearby, and now that my first two boys are getting older, it just seems less of a priority.  Sometimes I allow it to make me feel a little frustrated, a little sad.

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Yet, when I reflect on our Easter weekend, I honestly don’t know how I could be disappointed.  The Midwest has been enjoying the first true signs of spring.  Trees are budding, I have seen daffodils, and the robins are plentiful .  The weather is mild, and for the most part, a light cardigan or long-sleeved t-shirt is all you need during the warmth of the day.

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My family has been out enjoying the graciousness of warmer weather for the last several days.  I can tell, because there are flakes of dried mud in my entry way where my boys have tromped in and out multiple times throughout the day.  The bicycles, scooters and skateboards  are all askew in the garage from their constant use (and apparently we need to work on training them to return to their proper place).  Although G opted for riding his scooter over an egg hunt, it has all been good, solid family time.

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Easter Sunday church services provided us with a reminder of the unbelievable nature of what we profess.  A man 2,000 years ago rose from a tightly sealed tomb, and we meet every week in his name.  We were encouraged to live boldly, bravely and pray for those in imminent physical danger.  My family was confronted with the miracle of resurrection, as well as the challenge of living out our faith even in the most potentially heinous of times.  A serious message for an eleven and (almost) thirteen-year-old.  I am thankful we were present.

As always, we read the Bible together as a family.  I am determined to find a way to practice this more regularly and meaningfully for my boys.  A gentle retelling of Christ’s death and a joyful narration of his resurrection helped us celebrate the weekend.  There is something special about Easter, but I am grateful  that every Sunday we have the opportunity to celebrate the fact that He still lives.

As I look back on our “uncelebrated” Easter,  I smile.  No, I hardly missed the jelly beans.  I hope I am correct in saying that my guys didn’t miss them either. Spring, family time, encouragement in our church, and Bible reading.  It was all more than enough.

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Inspired by Potter: Trivia and Treacle Tarts

Although I did read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone while in my late 20s, not long after it first came out, I read it quickly and dismissively.  I wasn’t that impressed.  My life has been fairly Potter-less until this fall when my middle son S picked up the first in the series at the library.  Now, my vocabulary has enlarged to discuss Quidditch, snitches and quaffles, along with horcruxes, floo powder and apparition.  And I use these terms every day as if they were REAL WORDS!

S inhaled the first three books on his own, then we began reading the rest as read alouds.  Needless to say, we have some Potter-obsessed preteens around the house.  They also seem to be fully indoctrinating their four-year-old younger brother.  The other day while reading a Bible story out loud, I catch G.

“And Jesus apparated to his disciples…”

“Uh, G, I think you mean appeared.”  Well, what’s the difference, right?

Not long after beginning Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireI created a trivia quiz loosely inspired by British culinary culture as it appears haphazardly in the series.  I asked them questions during our morning time together to motivate them for the day ahead.  Here are some questions: (Please keep in mind my children, though worldly and knowledgeable in Indian, Italian, Japanese and Central European fare, are woefully ignorant of British food).

BRITISH FOOD QUIZ

1.  Would you rather eat…

A.  Hagis

B.  Bangers and mash

C.  Marmite

 

2.  Which item would likely appear on a dessert tray?

A.  Treacle tart

B.  Black pudding

C.  Yorkshire pudding

 

3.  Which unusual food combo would Brits eat for breakfast?

A.  Barley or oatmeal soup

B.  Scones with clotted cream

C.  Beans on toast

 

4.  What does “pop into a chippy” mean?

 

5.  What is the actual name of a famous dish made from leftover potatoes and vegetables fried on a stovetop skillet?

A.  Sizzle and snap

B.  Bubble and squeak

C.  Spitter and spatter

 

6.  What are sticking out of the crust in stargazy pie?

A.  Fish heads

B.  Balls of dried fruit

C.  Sausage and sultanas

 

How did you do on the quiz?

We celebrated the end of each book by watching the movie together (that is, once we put G to bed, much to his profound chagrin.)

Our latest Harry Potter activity has been to indulge in our title character’s favorite sweets – the treacle tart.  We found a pretty good recipe here.  Many typical local U.S. supermarkets carry golden syrup, which is the closest to what Aunt Petunia might purchase in her local shop in Little Whinging.

When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates leaving them sparkling clean as before.  A moment later the puddings appeared.  Blocks of ice cream in every flavor you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate eclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries…

As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families.

from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 93

I have to admit, however, that I did not make the shortcrust pastry.  As usual,  I was executing most of this on the spur of the moment.  This worked out just fine for using my family’s beloved “Miracle Pie Crust” recipe, which I originally learned from my mom.  It goes something like this:

1  1/2 C flour

1/2 C oil

pinch of salt

4 T milk

With a spoon or fork mix all ingredients gingerly in pie plate and press out as best you can.  That’s right, just in the pie plate.  Believe me.  It is flaky, moist and delicious.  And it “miraculously” works with everything from quiches to cream pies.

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Here is how ours turned out.

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Super sweet, tangy, and a bit of a cross between a chess pie and the filling of a pecan pie, it almost smells as good as the scent of Ginny Weasley’s hair.

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Who wants pi?: Book suggestions

Days away from celebrating a well-known mathematical constant, our family is eagerly planning how we will spend it.  Eagerly? Well, maybe not eagerly.   We did mention a couple of times how cool this year is.  Not only is March 14th National Pi Day, but this year is now being tauted as EPIC.  Why?  It will be 3-14-15.  Get it?  3.1415…?  And if you really want to geek out about it give a big shout out to pi at exactly 9:26:53am. epic pie day Being mathematically challenged most of my life, I am certainly not a numbers or formula kind of person.  Sitting in Mrs. Lombardo’s algebra and geometry classes, I remember the unblinking digits of pi circling the room close to the ceiling, inspiring me to absolutely nothing but a slight fear of too many numbers. And why were they about to topple over onto our desks? Language, literature and history were rife with creativity and imagination.   Mathematics, however, bored me to tears of frustration.  Years later, not feeling the stress of grades and textbook problems, I can distance myself from my mathematical distaste.  Why not have fun with something anyway?  The following books certainly help.

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Sir Cumference series  These clever picture books by Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan do justice to the practicality of geometry.  Set in medieval times each character’s name is a play on words, such as Sir Cumference, his wife Lady Di of Ameter, their son Radius, and a niece Per of Ameter.  Geo and Sym of Immetry, as well as Vertex are also important characters.  The stories and illustrations seem to suit the 5-7 year-old age range, however the math concepts are really geared for an older child, possibly 9-12, depending on their exposure and mastery of math.  This week we plan on calculating the areas of circles making use of pi.  There are several books in this series.

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table

Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi

Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter

Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland

Sir Cumference and all the King’s Tens

513wGK37C9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Navigating Early Written exquisitely by the 2010 Newberry Award winner for Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool has also penned this 2013 adventure of a boy named Jack Baker.  Navigating Early is set just after WWII and focuses on 12-year-old Jack, who is still mourning his mother’s death as his taciturn father drops him off at a Maine boarding school for boys.  While there, Jack is befriended by Early Auden, “the strangest of all boys,” who is also dealing with his great loss, the presumed death and disappearance of his brother Fisher.  With no other plans during their spring break, the two sail off down the river in search of adventure, answers and healing,  Early, although not stated as such, likely has Asperger’s, and a savant gift for memorizing numbers.  He not only knows pi to the thousands of digits and does not believe it to have an ending, but also sees the digits of pi as a distinct story, a narrative which eerily unfolds in real life as the boys continue further on into their journey.  Early’s tale of pi and the boys’ acknowledgement of what is happening to them unfolds simultaneously.  Without revealing anything further, Navigating Early is a novel of friendship, loyalty, family and endurance. Not only is this a beautiful story, but a surprisingly imaginative and heart-warming way to celebrate Pi Day.

Or any day, really.

Of historical importance

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It seems peculiar that I should feel the need to write something in defense of spending so much time with history.  There has been such a push in education, however, in recent times to concentrate almost exclusively on “necessary” academic subjects, the three Rs, that is reading, writing and arithmetic.  Even science and foreign language take priority over history, cursive and art, which seem relegated to extras, or even worse.

For us, however, history seems to be at the heart of our academic day.  And I don’t mean the memorization of dates, quotes and people, but the love, deference and analysis that we give to the study .  I do not pretend to know enough to speak intelligently about educational philosophies, although I researched them heavily before beginning our home education.  If pressed into explaining what I am attempting to do with my guys I guess I would say we are definitely eclectic, influenced most by unit studies and Charlotte Mason.  As you can see in the blurry photo above, we happily make use of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World and supplement periodically, trying to find “living books,” which fit best into our current study.  Although Bauer is closely associated with classical education, her history works well with narration and my own ideas about literature-based learning.  I am not necessarily concerned that my children remember every important detail, but more that I am able to point the way for them to educate themselves, not merely while they are “of school age,” but far beyond. I want to teach them to teach themselves, to learn how to learn, and to love learning.

The question is not, -how much does the youth know when he has finished his education- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

Charlotte Mason in School Education

What follows are a few simple reasons we find history significant to our studies:

1.  It is a means of incorporating multiple disciplines, such as reading, narration, writing, and geography, as well as developing other skills like note taking.

2.  It is easier to appreciate art and literature through the ages as it relates to major historical events and shifts in thought.  Not convinced art is significant in and of itself?  Some argue it is what defines us as human.

3.  It is a built-in venue for teaching writing and thinking.  Beginning with narration (or retelling stories) we can make use of historical events as a natural springboard for writing summaries, analyses and eventually drawing important connections.

4.  Closely tied to number three, the careful study of history teaches us to think.  There are no obvious or objective answers in history.  We glean from it what we will.  A proper study of history forces us to be critical in our view of world events.  Learning how events are interconnected, or how one event may precipitate another, is an important exercise for growing minds. Particularly important for middle schoolers who are naturally black-and-white in their thinking, history provides a way for us to discuss the morality, meaning and potential consequences of major decisions, thoughts and events.

5.  It helps us appreciate where others have been and where we are all going.  It is difficult to understand the present, and project appropriately about the future, if we do not have a grasp on the past.

6.  It helps us to appreciate different cultures, foods, languages and peoples.  Training our children to accept others begins early.  History is a natural way to cultivate this.

In spending our days looking through books on the Vikings, Napoleon or what precipitated the Great War, we are not merely looking up a date or a concise list to satisfy the requirements of an essay question.  Rather, we are the ones asking the questions.  We are drawing pictures and maps.  We are questioning who we are, and are learning to express it.

*Does your family enjoy history?  Is there a beloved subject you and your family find yourself defending?*

Do you walk to school or do you take your lunch?* (Or why we are homeschooling now)

Why does it often take us so long? Sometimes it really bothers me that it takes us so long to wake up, eat breakfast and start our day.  I mean, if we are all downstairs at 7:00 a.m., why is it sometimes 9:00, or later, before we are gathered ready to start our learning?  Is it a prime example of wasted time, how we squander moments when we could actually be utilizing them to greater advantage?  Or am  I merely revealing my type A personality, proving to myself that I feel the incorrigible need to be forever productive?  Most likely the latter.  Family ought to be a comfortable place, a place where you are allowed to just be.  While our days seem full and busy, full of individual responsibilities, it is the role of family to allow each to breathe, to enjoy one another’s company, to be thankful that we are safe and together. So why does it take us two hours to eat breakfast and collect our books? Foremost, we are not particularly go-getters in the morning.  I sit over two to three cups of coffee, thinking, planning our day, but mostly mustering the strength and stamina necessary to get us through seventh grade math and a writing task.  A is petting the cat while lying on the floor.  G is reenacting superhero battles over and over in the dining room where he has more space. S is scrambling an egg and somehow using two or three extra bowls.  Each child eats separate breakfasts and prepares it themselves, and while this is great practice in life skills, it is also not the most efficient.  I need to make my peace with this.

The truth is I am weak, but our days are fairly productive except, of course, when they aren’t.  Does that last sentence remind anyone else of Dr. Seuss?  We choose not to overextend ourselves with outside activities.  We surround ourselves with positive people we admire- mostly people from our church.  The kids have plenty of time to play, get on the iPad, lie around the house, construct things around the house from blocks, legos and random objects, create their own comic strips at 8:55 in the morning, and have plenty of time to be bored. The simple fact is it is ok we are slow starters.  We are far from squandering our time in the mornings.  I need, instead, to be savoring it.  Really, at least partially, this is why we began homeschooling.   Before we began the homeschooling adventure which has increased the chaos and noise level in our home exponentially, I read article after article advising me to write down for posterity our personal reasons for choosing home education.  The articles promised it would serve us well in times of uncertainty. I offer to you, reader of this post, a private peek into our family’s thoughts.  This is why we choose to make pancakes or scones on a weekday, why we take two hours to eat breakfast, why it is more than ok for us to bump aimlessly into one another from room to room in the mornings until we are sufficiently awake.  Just a caveat: I know many families who tackle these objectives admirably while sending their children to public school.  Keeping our kids home was not our only option, but it was the one which called the most obviously to us, beckoning a new vision for what our family could look like.  We are still living by hope and faith, eager to see how our children and family develop.  Here are my words I jotted down three years ago.  Most of the reasons are salient today.

Our Reasons to Homeschool

Family –

To regain our sense of family love

To renew our relationship with one another

To allow us to enjoy our children at their best times of the day, and to alleviate the stress of the morning scramble for the school bus and the afternoon fights over homework.

Education – 

To be in control of what and how we taught our children, including life skills, spiritual teaching, character lessons, multi-cultural topics, an international worldview, and a strong focus on their own individual academic interests.

To enjoy being directly involved in the boys’ learning and self-guided study

Due to a concern at losing them in the public school system, not wanting learning to become a drudgery, but a joy

Social – 

Due to a concern with placing A in a middle school setting too soon (that is fifth grade where we live).

To give our children more distinctly positive social opportunities

Some of you may disagree home schooling to be a viable answer to these issues.  Some of you may not even recognize or share any of these concerns regarding your own children.  That is understandable.  We may not always feel the same way as I did three years ago, or as we do today.  But this is why we are doing what we are doing now.

Doing nothing for two hours in the mornings may not be an option in a few years, but indubitably I do not miss chasing down the school bus or scrambling for a lost homework paper after cramming down toast and jam.  I can  choose to see days with slow, lazy unproductive beginnings, or I can appreciate my family all together functioning as a unit, albeit imperfectly.  My boys can wake up slowly if they choose, and they are good friends.  I don’t think I want to change that.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

Psalm 133:1

*The title of this post is a bit tongue-in-cheek.  Growing up, my dad would always ask these sort of nonsensical questions, which on the surface, do not seem necessarily related.  Back in his day, however, those kids who did walk to school were also allowed to go home for lunch.  So, if you brought your lunch, you probably did not walk.  As homeschoolers we sometimes go for walks, sometimes we take our lunch, sometimes we hit Subway or Chipotle, and sometimes we just stay home for lunch.

Sharing Stone Soup – part two

If you read my last blog post you know we have been enjoying the traditional tale of Stone Soup, focusing on Jon J. Muth’s quiet and endearing retelling.  Many times when G and I feature a story of the week together, I hone in on specific activities we may do together.  This story provided us with an immediate and obvious one – make our own stone soup!  Now, for those of you who love to collect new recipes, sadly, I cannot enrich your cookbook with a new one.  In fact, I rarely cook like that.  I tend to cook what is already in my pantry and fridge, sprinkling in this dried spice and that herb.  In fact, the very nature of the story seems to suggest we not come to our great soup pot with expectations and specific cooking formulas, but rather with open hearts, attitudes of spontaneity, and a willingness to share.

G scrounged around in his room and toy bins for three round, smooth stones.  Doesn’t every little boy already have some of these lying randomly about?  He collected some small enough that fit easily in his two-fisted, preschool-sized grasp.  Yes, indeed, we scrubbed them clean and dropped them into a small pot on the stovetop.  In our large dutch oven we sautéed finely minced carrots, celery, garlic and onion in olive oil and let them become translucent.  Just as in Muth’s story I allowed G to suggest random things to throw into our soup.  DSC_0029Carrots.  Mushrooms.  Peppers. Chicken. Broth. Broccoli.  I added in everything G suggested.  Well, almost everything.  I did convince him apples may not be the best match for our soup.  He was very careful as he proudly chopped carrots all by himself.  (He was heavily supervised!) We let it simmer and ate it in remembrance of the giving villagers.

It never ceases to amaze me how much more readily children will eat the food they prepare themselves.  Fortunately, we had several of these little sweet peppers, because G ate five himself while slicing them for the soup.DSC_0034

Friends have told me of families who meet together at reunions to contribute by household to a great pot of stone soup.  What a wonderful way to teach and illustrate the beauty of community, sharing and belonging!  What an interesting idea for co-ops, play groups, neighborhood parties or church groups!  If we all bring what we can, we can create something delicious and amazing.  And it will be surprisingly different each time. Isn’t that the message of the tale?

Something magical began to happen among the villagers.  As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more.  And as this happened, the soup grew richer and smelled more delicious.

Sharing Stone Soup – part one

 


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With Chinese New Year approaching in just over a week, I have been reflecting on great children’s literature based in Chinese history and culture. Chinese New Year 2015 is February 19, the Year of the Goat. For older kids who are able to enjoy chapter books there are Grace Lin’s The Year of the Dog, I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Wilson, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen.  However, this last week G and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and re-reading Stone Soup.  Many of you may be wondering what Stone Soup has to do with China.  Over the centuries, many countries have produced their own versions of Stone Soup or Button Soup, mostly originating in Europe.  I grew up reading a version that took place in the American colonies right around the time of the Revolution.  My favorite of them all, though, has become Jon J. Muth’s retelling set in a tiny Chinese village near the Great Wall.  Three Buddhist monks look down on a simple collection of houses as they discuss how happiness is achieved.  As is typical with Muth, his approach is very zen, yet nothing is lost with G.  From the black cat which winds its tail about the water-color characters and peeks charmingly from over a giant pot to the wise, hospitable young girl dressed in royal yellow, G has taken this version in wholeheartedly.

Here is what we did:

Day One: Read the story

Drawing lesson – For those of you know me, don’t laugh.  I am honestly the last person who needs to be teaching art, unless it is simply art appreciation.  Yet, this was a simple lesson of recognizing the use of shapes.  We turned to the story’s final page and noticed how the stone bridge created a trianglular shape.  I attempted to help him draw his own two-point perspective and he included simple, waving and smiling figures.  They were happy because they had learned how to make stone soup (see my upcoming blog post).

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Day Two: Read the story again (no, children do not necessarily get bored like we might from reading the same story repetitively.  As long as it is an engaging story the familiarity of the book will only serve to boost their confidence.)

Math with rocks, wood blocks and figures – The traveling Buddhist monks in Muth’s book collect three rocks for their soup.  They are stacked in the illustration from the largest on the ground to the smallest precariously perched as the head of the Buddha himself. (G thought it resembled a snowman.)  We explored our manipulative arranging them from largest to smallest, then smallest to largest, and finally creating different patterns.

Day Three – Read the story, of course.

Geography – Explore China on the map.  Some people say it is shaped like a chicken.  I can almost see it.  G did find where he imagined the beak to be.  We looked at photos of the Great Wall of China, colored a printout map which I found online, and learned a few Chinese phrases.

Ni hao ma = Hello, how are you?

Hun hao, she she = I am fine.  Thank you.

We ran out of time that day, but another fun activity could have been to build our own Great Wall out of blocks.  We like Citiblocs around here.

Day Four – Read the story

DSC_0038Social Studies – Create your own village of community people.  Early in the story Muth names some of the villagers who were suspiciously lurking and peering secretively through windows.  They were the doctor, scholar, tea merchant, carpenter and seamstress.  We gathered up supplies and toys from about the house and spread them throughout the living room, giving space to each community helper.  But, instead of acting stingy, we shared our talents.  G gave me a shot, served me tea and read me a book.

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Day Five –  Read the story

Music and culture – Here we played with shadows, learning the farther away from our light source, the smaller the shadow.  Shadow puppetry is a Chinese traditional art form, and we had fun not only with our hands, but also S’s marionette Chinese dragon puppet.  Muth does a fabulous job with details throughout his illustrations.  Not only is the clothing seemingly accurate down to the tiny shoes, but also the prominent red lanterns and musical instruments.  The erhu and the pipa are specific instruments in Chinese folk music and play a role in the villagers’ eventual celebration feast.  You can watch a video here like we did.

There is a day six in our study of Stone Soup. Can you guess what it is?  Come back in a couple of days to see if you are right.