Tag Archives: literature-based learning

Ode to the Sunday School Teacher

Unashamedly, I am still basking in the glow of my Prince Edward Island adventure. Upon returning home, I have read The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery for the first time, which incidentally, I purchased from the Site of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home. The paperback proudly bears the stamp.

And I have been re-reading The Story Girlsupposedly the author’s favorite of her novels.

Combine these readings with the fact that our church has been talking about our responsibility of reading for the sake of the community, and throw in the fact that I just completed Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith, have been planning Bible home school curriculum for this next year for my boys, and the fact that I have substituted teaching in children’s Bible classes a few times at church this summer, and it is not difficult to see why a couple of these passages spoke sweetly to me.

Montgomery, who married the Presbyterian minister Ewen MacDonald, was a theological thinker in her own right. With a knack for describing hypocrisies and frivolous loyalties to tradition and prejudices, Montgomery often snuck in satirical statements through her most upright and judgmental of characters. Remember the proudly outspoken Mrs. Rachel Lynde? In a letter to Anne in college, she writes,

“I don’t believe any but fools enter the ministry nowadays….Such candidates as they have sent us, and such stuff as they preach! Half of it ain’t true, and what’s worse, it ain’t sound doctrine. The one we have now is the worst of the lot. He mostly takes a text and preaches about something else. And he says he doesn’t believe all the heathen will be eternally lost. The idea! If they won’t all the money we’ve been giving to Foreign Missions will be clean wasted, that’s what!”

~from Anne of the Island, chapter 5 “Letters from Home”

Now contrast Anne’s enthusiasm for the young and lovely minister’s wife, Mrs. Allan.

“I never knew before that religion was such a cheerful thing. I always thought it was kind of melancholy, but Mrs. Allan isn’t, and I’d like to be a Christian if I could be one like her.”

~Anne confiding to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, p. 172

Wouldn’t we all want this to be said of us?

So, for those of you who are teaching a Sunday school class, who open the Bible in front of young minds and share words of truth and life, you are filling more than an hour’s void.

“The social life of juvenile Carlisle centered in the day and Sunday schools. We were especially interested in our Sunday School, for we were fortunate enough to be assigned to a teacher who made our lesson so interesting that we no longer regarded Sunday School attendance as a disagreeable weekly duty, but instead looked forward to it with pleasure, and tried to carry out our teacher’s gentle precepts- at least on Mondays and Tuesdays. I am afraid the remembrance grew a little dim on the rest of the week.”

~ from The Story Girl, p. 26

You are providing a vision of what it means to be part of a kingdom of grace and love. It is a great service in which the subjects are only coincidentally small. If nothing else, you are narrating a picture of God’s appealing beauty. May your story be consistently bewitching and inviting.

On their Behalf

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All written in the mid-twentieth century the following novels, although originally written in varying languages – English, French, and Serbo-Croatian, spanning three continents and even more countries – the United States, France, South Africa and Bosnia, share some important similarities.  The following novels would make terrible summer reading. They are not books with which to relax in the warm sun under the shade of your patio furniture in the backyard, or lightly skim as you dig your toes in the sand on your family vacation.  They are slow-moving, difficult, reflective books requiring readers to digest them slowly.  They are not feel-good reads for a light, breezy day.  Strange that I  find myself reflecting on them at this time of year? Not really.  Once my boys’ history and science, math and grammar are put away for the year, my mind is freer to explore my own thoughts.  And, apparently, this June that means death and priests, philosophy and apartheid.

The following are four novels to compare and contrast. They share some weighty themes and interesting literary emphases.

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Death Comes for the Archbishopop  by the American writer Willa Cather was originally published in 1927. It recounts the tale of two Catholic priests in the hills of New Mexico territory in 1851 who battle arid deserts, ancient customs and their own vices and loneliness.

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The Diary of a Country Priest was written by Georges Bernanos in 1937.  It is an ambitious novel with a seemingly unambitious plot.  A French priest finds himself caring for very mundane, prosaic parishioners in an ordinary French village.  These parishioners are mean gossipers, fault finders and antagonistic. The priest is confronted with the need to forgive and be forgiven, even as he knows he is dying.

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The South African classic Cry, the Beloved Country by the late Alan Paton did not immediately end apartheid when it was published in 1948, but it certainly spurred on the dialog which forged its path. Written primarily from the perspective of an aging Zulu pastor, this novel deals with race-relations, ethnicities, murder, forgiveness, healing and our human dignity before God.

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Published in 1966, in what was then known as Yugoslavia, Mesa Selimovic wrote his best known novel, Death and the Dervish.  It is unfortunate that the Bosnian writer is little known in the United States, as this book not only enlightens the reader to the region’s history and psychology, but also deals in relatable, contemporary themes. Throughout its pages a Moslem dervish from the  eighteenth century is in search of his brother who has been arrested by the Turkish authorities.  Enmeshed in their lies, he begins to question his own purpose and his place in society.

Each of these novels is deeply philosophical, spiritual, and fundamentally asks difficult questions about humanity’s purpose and direction. Each of them uniquely deals with social justice.

We shift our ground again when a black man does achieve something remarkable, and then feel deep pity for a man who is condemned to the loneliness of being remarkable, and decide that it is a Christian kindness not to let black men become remarkable. Thus even our God becomes a confused and inconsistent creature, giving gifts and denying them employment. Is it strange then that our civilization is riddled through and through with dilemma? The truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of high assurance and desperate anxiety, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions.

from Cry, the Beloved Country, p. 155

 

In each novel someone is intervening in someone else’s behalf. Father for a wayward son, a brother for an estranged brother.  The protagonist is a priest – or in one case a dervish – a spiritual leader who finds himself vulnerable and in need of being led.

Monks suffer for souls, our pain is on behalf of souls. This thought came to me yesterday evening and remained all night long beside my bed, a guardian angel.

from The Diary of a Country Priest, p. 28

Every one of these novels are political in varying degrees.  They do not feature characters inspiring coups, but quietly, desperately searching for a better, more peaceable life, free from foreign rule. 

In each novel there is a struggle with authority. There is a tension between races. There is a grave injustice and there is suffering. Death is a prominent theme in each novel, as well as forgiveness.

I’ve done something bad to him…I needed his friendship, like air, but I was ready to lose it because I couldn’t hide that lie from him. I wanted him to forgive me, but he did even more: he gave me still greater love…Most beautiful is that his love doesn’t even need to be earned. If I’d had to earn it I’d never have received it, or I’d have lost it long ago.

from Death and the Dervish, pp. 271-272

My death is here. A death like any other, and I shall enter into it with the feelings of a very commonplace, very ordinary man. It is even certain that I shall be no better at dying than I am at controlling my life. I shall be just as clumsy and awkward…Dear God, I give you all, willingly. But I don’t know how to give, I just let them take. The best is to remain quiet. Because though I may not know how to give, You know how to take…Yet I would have wished to be, once, just once, magnificently generous to You!

from The Diary of a Country Priest, pp. 279-280

Far away from large cities, these stories are rural, primarily set in villages, far removed from fast-paced, sophisticated worlds.  And so the pace of the novels are slow, sometimes plodding, thoughtful to the point that the plots are frequently moved along by the dialog.

These are novels inextricably tied to land or place, filled with beautiful imagery and lush language.

It was the Indian manner to vanish into the landscape, not to stand out against it. The Hopi villages that were set upon rock mesas were made to look like the rock on which they sat, were imperceptible at a distance.

from Death Comes for the Archbishop, p. 233

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills.  These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing to it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke…About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld.

from Cry, the Beloved Country, p. 3

 

The geography and time period are characters themselves as significant and pivotal as any others in the novel. They are bound to the soil on which they tread, to the people and languages with which they speak. Bosnia, the American Southwest, bucolic France, and South Africa are more than mere backdrops. They imbue meaning and urgency to these stories. Although each novel is set in a different time period, there is an amazing timelessness in their themes.

These are all spiritual struggles. The Bible and the Koran are liberally referenced and quoted.

A beautiful word is like a tree, its roots are deep in the ground, its branches rise up to the sky.

~from Death and the Dervish, p. 310 quoting The Koran, Sura xiv, 24

On the day of  my death, when they carry my coffin,

do not think that I will feel pain for this world.

Do not cry and say: it is a great loss!

When milk sours, the loss is greater.

I shall not vanish when you see them lay me in the grave.

Do the sun and moon vanish when they set?

This seems like a death to you, but it is a birth…..

What grain does not sprout when it is put into the ground?

So why do you not believe in the grain of men?

~from Death and the Dervish, p. 12, quoted inexactly from several passages in The Koran

-I have ever thought that a Christian would be free from suffering, umfundisi. For our Lord suffered.  And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is not life without suffering.

Kumalo looked at his friend with joy. You are a preacher, he said.

His friend held out his rough calloused hands. Do I look like a preacher? he asked.

Kumalo laughed. I look at your heart, not your hands, he said. Thank you for your help, my friend.

from Cry, the Beloved Country, p. 227

 

Our protagonists seek and find their answers not simply in their own experiences, nor in the advice of their compatriots, but through the lens of spiritual truth and vision.

One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.

~from Death Comes for the Archbishop, p. 50

 

 

Living in Maycomb

For the past month or so my boys and I have been living in 1935.  In Maycomb, Alabama.  We have felt the berating accusations of Mrs. Lafayette Dubose as we walk outside, and my eldest has been mimicking Scout’s thoughtless exclamations, “What the sam hill are you doing?!….But Atticus, he has gone and drowned his dinner in syrup!”

Yes, we have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, little knowing that this would be the book my boys would read as its author prepares to leave this world.  For me, that book was Cry the Beloved Country when Alan Paton died in 1988, my senior year of high school.  Both books teach us something about race relations and the innate dignity of humanity.  My boys finished the novel on Thursday, Ms. Lee passed away Friday morning, we watched Gregory Peck magnificently portray Atticus Finch that night in our basement, and then we attended our local repertory theater to see the play performed Saturday evening.  This week we will be involved in one final project to close out our time with Jem and Jean Louise Finch.  They will choose to construct the Radley home, create a storyboard of one of their favorite, meaningful scenes, or write an obituary for one of the book’s deceased characters.  I will leave it up to them.

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Here is S’s drawing of the Radley place.  Scout is peering into the knot hole of the tree, while Boo secretly peeps through the curtains.   “Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really knew a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” chapter 31

There was occasional complaining this month around the amount of work related to this book, but I am proud of their efforts, especially as they struggled to think through issues. Typically, we would have enjoyed this book together as a read aloud, but five-year-old G presented a problem.  Due to the sensitive subject matter, and the fact that he soaks everything up that his brothers are involved in, I decided to have them read the book on their own, working through it at a similar pace.  They wrote out definitions to new vocabulary they encountered in the chapters.  They composed a few summaries or written narration of sections.  They answered comprehension questions either in written form (neat handwriting, complete sentences) or in a discussion forum. We often used the questions found here online.  Occasionally, I pulled a quote by Atticus to use as dictation.

We did some preliminary research on the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and Jim Crow laws.  We used the few sites where I provide the links here.  And we also used this one to learn a bit about the author herself, as well as her childhood friend Truman Capote. My guys had a good time examining the map we found online of fictional Maycomb. They traced the steps Jem would have taken to retrieve his torn overalls, and the route the children may have taken to sneak out after Atticus the night before the trial.

We created a word cloud together with wordle pulling character names, themes and events out of the novel.  We discussed and defined concepts like flashbacks, foreshadowing, and Bildungsroman.

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Graciously, a semi-retired judge of the Court of Appeals of Indiana, whom we met at our church, willingly ate lunch with my kids, and a couple of other homeschooling families, and talked with them about the law and the United States Constitution.  What made this a particularly meaningful meeting was that our friend happened to be African-American and he happened to be raised in the South during the 1940s and 1950s.  Not only were our kids able to ask him questions about his family members and personal experiences, but he also took the time and care to impart words of wisdom similar to Atticus Finch’s – always do what is right, there are other ways of handling things when you are angry, and there are proper ways of engaging with people who disagree with you.  I am elated our kids were able to take advantage of this opportunity to listen to a live person of this caliber speak of historical and meaningful things. And all I had to do was ask. I am constantly on the move to uncover ways people in our community can help me supplement my children’s education. I am so grateful our friend took the time to share with us.

As my family leaves Maycomb, Alabama, and as the world bids a grateful farewell to Nelle Harper Lee, I pray some of these memories and lessons remain with my children long after the vocabulary lists and written paragraphs are obsolete.

“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-” chapter 3

Reading through Christmas: a list

If someone were to ask me what my favorite topics are during our homeschool day, I would have to include history, but the read alouds are by far my favorite.  Even before we began homeschooling, even before I began bandying about the term “read aloud,” well, really long before my boys were even crawling, we have read together.  While there are many wonderful academic and professional articles explaining the benefits of reading aloud to our children, the most profound reason for me is the shared vocabulary and language we acquire together.  By this I do not exactly mean that we learn new vocabulary words together, or write down definitions from a dictionary, but rather our hearts speak the same language because we have traveled together through the pages of historical fiction, biographies, fantasies, allegories and adventures.

There are times when a single word conveys more than if one of us had spent dozens of words describing a scene.  How powerful and fraught with meaning the following:

C A I R  P A R A V E L

the unbreakable vow               

churning butter with Ma

“All’s well that ends well.”                                                                  coxswain              landlubber

KEELHAULING

“no good, dirty rotten, pig-stealing great great grandfather.”

S T A Y   G O L D.

You may or may not recognize all these references.  I know my boys will certainly know the context and significance of each and every one.  And if we are having a bad day, or we need a quick reminder of our bond, if we want to explain a correlation, or illustrate a similarity, we have the common (literary) language with which to do so.

Like most years, I am finding this season hectic.  In looking for a balance between a manageable school load, and maintaining a home, it is difficult to determine what is necessary.  Although I refuse to give up read alouds, I wasn’t sure we would have the stamina to begin a fresh book at this time of year.  So, what follows is our list of seasonal short stories and excerpts, nearly all set at the Christmas season.

We have only read a few so far, and who knows in what order we will share them, but here is our Christmas 2015 read aloud list (not including our advent reading, of course).  These are stories hand picked in hopes of promoting a true spirit of generosity, goodness, kindness and compassion that may long carry my boys past the holiday season.  Admittedly, it is a challenge to find read alouds simple enough for the five year old, yet engaging enough for the 12 and 13 year olds.  The following list combines some tales with thought provoking stories with complex vocabulary for the older two, as well as simpler stories which should be nostalgic for them.  If someone barely in their teens can feel nostalgia.

As we recall these stories we might contrast Scrooge with Stefan Avdeyitch.  We may see similarities in Jo March and Anne Shirley.  Whatever may come out of our reading, I hope it will ignite dialog and bind us closer together.  I hope you enjoy this list, or create one of your own.  Please share if you do.

God bless us, everyone!

CHRISTMAS Reading list 2015:

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1.”Where Love Is, God is There Also” by Leo Tolstoy.  Technically, this is not a Christmas story, but it does take place in the winter.  It quotes so much from the Gospel of Luke and Matthew and concentrates on love for mankind that it exudes the spirit of Christmas without naming it.  This is not a children’s story, but one that older children should be able to appreciate.  I can hardly make it through the poor cobbler’s tale without my voice cracking at least a bit at the end.

 

G was in and out of the room during this longer tale, but afterward I discovered he had listened to much more of the story than I thought.  Later that day, he wanted to sit with me in our sun room and sip tea from our toy wooden samovar.
G was in and out of the room during this longer tale, but afterward I discovered he had listened to much more of the story than I thought. Later that day, he wanted to sit with me in our sun room and sip tea from our toy wooden samovar.

2.  Elves and the Shoemaker by Paul Galdone.  A classic.

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3.  from All of a Kind Family Downtown, “Christmas Stockings” by Sydney Taylor.  I adored this book series growing up and learned so much about the practices of Jewish holidays from them.  Henny and Charlotte were my favorites, but I also harbored a special love toward Guido, their Italian neighbor.

 

 

 

 

4.  “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.  When I was about A’s age I began saving birthday money and allowances to purchase leather bound books with gold pages.  Dickens.  Poe. R.L. Stevenson.  And finally O. Henry.  This Christmas classic is both sad and heart warming.  It’s the one where the poor, young couple both get what they want for Christmas…sort of.

5.  Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I have written about this collection last year.  These letters, which the fantasy writer wrote to his children as they were growing up each Christmas, are poignant, in keeping with the times and laugh out loud funny.  Hints of his trilogy abound.  Goblins appear and make trouble.  Polar Bear inevitably saves the day…and the toys.

6.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  No explanation needed.  No matter how many movie or play versions you have seen, the original is superb.

7. from Little House on the Prairie, “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” by  Laura Ingalls Wilder.  There are many wonderful Christmas stories from this entire pioneer series, but for some reason this one has always been my guys’ favorite.

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8.  “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote.  Sad , sweet, poignant and almost lyrical in his writing, Capote recounts for us a piece of his childhood long gone.  Largely neglected in a small town in Alabama, he and his elderly cousin set out to make fruitcakes for their acquaintances.  As a bonus I found this lovely illustrated edition at our library.  Even with the lengthy text, it held even G’s interest.

 

 

 

9.  from Anne of Green Gables,  “Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves” by L. M. Montgomery.  Because boys know what it is like to want something so badly, too.

10.  “The Burglar’s Christmas” by Willa Cather.  A surprising ending.  A family reunion.  The meaning of grace.

11.  from Little Women, “Playing Pilgrims” and “A Merry Christmas” by Louisa May Alcott.  Jo and Marmee.  Because we may all have presents at Christmas, but there is always something more.

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By covered wagon

G and I are still  reading through Little House on the Prairie.  Today we decided to make use of our little historical figures, mostly from those ubiquitous Toobs, and our markable map from Sonlight.
 Yes, this edition is the very copy I read at G’s age, and years afterward.  Look up in the far left-hand corner.  Can you believe it only cost $1.75?

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They had come in the covered wagon all the long way from the Big Woods of Wisconsin, across Minnesota and Iowa and Missouri.  All that long way, Jack had trotted under the wagon.  Now they set out to go across Kansas.

p. 13

And everywhere were little brown-striped gophers.

These little creature looked soft as velvet.  They had bright round eyes and crinkling noses and wee paws.  They popped out of their holes in the ground and stood up to look at Mary and Laura….

Mary and Laura wanted to catch one to take home to Ma.

pp. 43-44

 

So Laura chewed and swallowed, and she said, “I want to see a papoose.”

p. 46

Indians came riding on the path that passed so close to the house.  They went by as though it were not there.

They were thin and brown and bare.  They rode their little ponies without saddle or bridle.

They sat up straight on the naked ponies and did not look to right or left.  But their black eyes glittered.

Laura and Mary backed against the house and looked up at them.  And they saw red-brown skin bright against the blue sky…

pp.226-227

After a bit of map work and reading one more chapter, G made his own snug, log cabin.  They were cut at the ends of the logs just like Pa had cut theirs with his ax.

There was no door and there were no windows.  There was no floor except the ground and no roof except the canvas.  But that house had good stout walls, and it would stay where it was.  It was not like the wagon, that every morning went on to some other place.

“We’re going to do well here, Caroline,” Pa said.  “This is a great country.  This is a country I’ll be contented to stay in the rest of my life.”

p. 74

Learning Math with Laura

Sometimes Ma let Laura and Mary go across the road and down the hill to see Mrs. Peterson….She was a Swede, and she let Laura and Mary look at the pretty things she had brought from Sweden….   Mrs. Peterson talked Swedish to them, and they talked English to her, and they understood each other perfectly.  She always gave them each a cookie when they left, and they nibbled the cookies very slowly while they walked home.  

Laura nibbled away exactly half of hers, and Mary nibbled exactly half of hers, and the other halves they saved for Baby Carrie.  Then when they got home, Carrie had two half-cookies, and that was a whole cookie.

This wasn’t right.  All they wanted to do was to divide the cookies fairly with Carrie….They didn’t know what do.  So each saved half, and gave it to Baby Carrie.  But they always felt that somehow that wasn’t quite fair. 
-Laura Ingalls Wilder in “Summertime” from Little House in the Big Woods

Can you believe Laura Ingalls Wilder  included a simple math lesson right there in her narrative? How convenient.  Imbedded in this brief text of a visit to a nearby neighbor, there is much more than a fraction riddle.  There is the lesson of sisterly selflessness, the lesson of developing relationships with those around us, the lesson of appreciating others and allowing them to be who they are regardless of differences.  All those will need to be explored internally or at a later time.  Now, we have to evenly divide those cookies.

G and I have just finished the first volume of Ms. Wilder’s series.  Honestly, he wasn’t thrilled about my read aloud choice until I told him there was a panther in it, and Pa cleans his rifle.  He was surprised, however, that he enjoyed listening to how Pa played the fiddle about Yankee Doodle and Ol’ Grimes, and how to make cheese and maple syrup.

After we read the above excerpt, I asked G if he could think of a way to break 2 cookies into 3 even pieces.  His immediate answer was to break it in lots of little pieces.   Hmmmm… Not a bad initial thought.  

The next day we decided to trace some circles and pretend they were Mrs. Peterson’s cookies.  G made them chocolate chip.

  
By cutting out two more circles and cutting them into halves I demonstrated how two halves is the same as one whole.  If you look carefully at Mary’s cookie in the picture you can see how G was dividing the cookie into little tiny triangular-like wedges.  Whew.  That would have been hard work for a walk home.  As he divided, he counted Mary- Laura-Carrie-Mary-Laura-Carrie-Mary-Laura-…Then he realized that was an ABC pattern.  Good for you, G.

The cookie on the right is my attempt at showing him how you could make one-third wedges out of cookies.

This all didn’t take very long, because he really needed to get back to more important things.  I mean, those pictures of Spider-Man defeating Doctor Octopus are not going to draw themselves.

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

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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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?*

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.