Read Alouds September 2014

We finished off many books this month, mostly because we started school again in August and finished up our first term at the end of September. This list includes chapter books read aloud for school reading as well as those we read out loud for unrelated family enjoyment, and a few I read myself in order to discuss them with Jack and Hannah, who read them independently.

I’m glad we own a paper copy of The Story of Napoleon, but had I known it was available in audio form for $1.99 I might have purchased that version. The book, by H.E. Marshall (author of Our Island Story, another of our favorites), is a spirited, lively version of the major events of Napoleon’s life, reign, and downfall. This book is listed as an Upper Grammar assignment for Tapestry of Grace Year 3, but I decided to read it out loud instead of asking Hannah and Jack to read it independently, because I didn’t want Sarah to miss out. Plus, I’m leaning more toward doing our history and literature reading out loud and letting the kids free read outside of school assignments (currently, Jack is reading Tolkein and Hannah is reading so many things simultaneously I can’t keep track).  Anyway, if you’re looking for one book about Napoleon that is both informative and well-written, plus a living book not a dry history text, we’d recommend The Story of Napoleon.

If you liked Five Children and It (which of course you did, how could you not?) you will also like the reprise of the same family having adventures in The Phoenix and the Carpet, except this time instead of a Psammead they have adventures with…wait for it…a phoenix and a magic carpet.  We really love these siblings now, and had great fun with this book as a bedtime read-aloud.  I was wiser in my choice of a more sustainable voice for the Phoenix but the chapters in the book do run long.  A few times I got away with reading only a half chapter, but the last night we were all so intent on finding out what happens that I read 68 straight pages and that, my friends, was a lot.  Worth it though–this book is great fun and highly recommended.

We read Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin
as part of our not-so- great artist study this term. We did learn a lot about Benjamin West’s childhood years from this book, although our attempts to study his paintings came to naught.  When I asked Hannah to tell me about Benjamin West in her end-of-term narration, she gave many details about his upbringing but concluded with “He became a great painter, and I’ve heard he was very good.”  Momfail for not pulling the picture study together, but I do think it was worthwhile to read the book, as we learned about Quakers and colonial life, and we found the story and illustrations engaging.

A Head Full of Notions
is a chapter book biography about Robert Fulton, who invented/perfected the steamboat. Of particular interest, the book highlights how Fulton was consumed with achieving fame, and always took all the credit for himself, even when other people helped him. The kids all noticed and remarked on these things, leading to good conversations.

If you like stories about little people, like the Borrowers and so forth, you will probably like Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White. The book imagines that Liliputians were brought back to England and escaped to a deserted island monument at a crumbled down old country house, where they are discovered by the last descendant of the ducal property owners, a little girl under the thumb of a dreadful governess and the guardianship of a despicable curate. I learned about this book in How the Heather Looks and found it very amusing, so I immediately gave it to Hannah, who is also a fan of the miniature people genre.

I found out about Magic & Mischief: Tales from Cornwall via How the Heather Looks, although that book referred to an older set of Cornish fairy tales on which Magic & Mischief is based.  I think the older version probably would be better.  The fairy tales in the book are interesting, but not in the literary way that, say, the Andrew Lang fairy tale books are.  Of most interest, to me anyway, were the old English words sprinkled in here and there in the book.  I think linguistic change is very interesting and I love to learn the origins of old words and phrases.  Hannah co-opted this book out of the library bag before I had a chance to get to it, and she thought it was ok but didn’t have anything particularly superlative to say about it.

Abel’s Island  was a fantastic family read-aloud.  Written and illustrated by William Steig (who wrote some of our favorite picture books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Brave Irene, etc), this short chapter book would be a great choice if you’re just easing in to reading longer books aloud.  The story follows a spoiled young mouse who  is swept away to a remote island during a storm.  While on the island, Abel learns to take care of himself, finds out what his professional calling is, and figures out that he’s much stronger than he would have imagined.  We all loved this story and the pictures are great too.

We listened to most of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Vol. 3: Early Modern Times on our long car trip in August, but finished it up in September.  Although Bauer’s volumes don’t exactly match our Tapestry of Grace years (TOG Year 3 covers the 1800s, SOTW3 covers 1600-1850), they are a great spine and so well told and memorable.  Of all of my (many) educational purchases over the years, buying all four volumes of Story of the World in audio form was probably one of my best decisions.

So, telling the story of a famous historical figure through the viewpoint of his or her pet is apparently a huge thing in kid literature. The latest of this genre that we’ve read aloud has been Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale.  The book is narrated by Lewis’s dog, Seaman (alternately referred to as Scannon in older books, because Lewis had such atrocious spelling that no one could figure out the animal’s name until recent scholarship decoded it), and each short chapter is based on an incident from Lewis’s actual diaries in which the dog is mentioned.  It is a pretty good device, and an engaging way to add depth if you’re studying Lewis and Clark.  Sarah particularly enjoyed this book.  The pictures are very nice as well.

Eli Whitney, Boy Mechanic was a school read-aloud, and I’m glad we found it.  The book is a great and engaging biography of Eli Whitney, focusing primarily on his childhood (with a few chapters at the end covering his invention of the cotton gin and interchangeable parts).  There are nice pencil drawings throughout, and the chapters are not terribly long, but always interesting.  Jack was especially interested each day to find out what new thing Eli was going to figure out (he built a violin, figured out how watches worked, and all sorts of other things).

Every time we got in the car and listened to the Tim Curry dramatized audio version of The Bad Beginning (from Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events) the children debated whether or not to continue.  One of my kids is particularly impacted by the mood of music, and was almost brought to tears by the scary accompaniment and creepy voices of this story.  Still, we pressed on because we all wanted to hear how the story would turn out.  I will say that from my perspective the book was fun, because it uses great vocabulary (and explains the words well) and is funny.  The kids all requested that the subsequent books in the series be consumed in paper form rather than audio.

Of Courage Undaunted was supposed to be a school read-aloud.  After waiting for it week after week in the library hold line to no avail, I eventually purchased a copy.  I tried to read it aloud for several days but for some reason I just don’t think it lends itself to reading out loud.  The kids agreed.  So Sarah looked at the pictures and sounded out bits here and there, and Hannah and Jack read it to themselves.  That meant I had to read it too so that I could discuss it with them, and it was ok.  I didn’t love it.  I remember loving reading about Sacagawea as a child, but this book is more about the crew as a whole.  It gives good information, and I do really like the illustrations, but it just wasn’t particularly a favorite.

What have you been reading aloud (or along with) this month?


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Eiffel’s Tower

Eiffel’s Tower: The Thrilling Story Behind Paris’s Beloved Monument and theExtraordinary World’s Fair That Introduced It is an interesting history of how Gustave Eiffel designed and built his eponymous tower, but it’s also a fascinating look at Belle Epoque Paris and the many famous figures who came to the World’s Fair when the Tower debuted.  Author Jill Jonnes did a fabulous job of weaving stories together to give great insight into people like Van Gogh, Gaugin, Whistler, Edison, Annie Oakley, and others who may have just been historical figures to you before.  You’ll be struck by what an amazing moment  in history the 1889 World’s Fair was.

I found the information on the Eiffel Tower particularly engrossing.  Jonnes managed to make the engineering and design issues vivid.  It’s easy to think of existing structures as a given, but the book reminds you that at the outset people tend not to believe breakthroughs can happen.  I took a fabulous class on bridge engineering in college, and portions of this book reminded me why I loved the topic.

Eiffel’s Tower mixes so many aspects of history together that it’s sure to interest most readers.  The writing and pacing are well done, making the book highly readable as well as informative.  I’d recommend it!


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Homeschooling With a Baby

This year in addition to three scholars, I have an active and mobile baby in the mix. How do we homeschool with a baby? Creatively.

Sometimes Eliza is eating while we do school.  Other times she’s playing with toys in her high chair (as pictured, with magnet boards).  She also is happy to roam around pulling things out of baskets and making huge messes.  It could be because she’s the fourth child, but I’m much more tolerant of the mess making.  What? You want to pull 478 different magnet letters, puzzle pieces, shape tiles, and blocks out and mix them up while I teach your brother how to diagram sentences?  Go for it, babycakes!

I’m kidding. Partially.

With older siblings around, I have the freedom to designate someone as the babysitter while I do Office Time with another child.  The watcher’s main job is to keep Eliza safe, prevent her from ingesting poison, and keep her occupied.  Sarah usually finishes her school work earlier than the others, so she often plays blocks or My Little Ponies with Eliza.  Hannah and Jack just keep an eye on Eliza while they do other assignments.

We’re sort of in an in-between phase, but Eliza still sometimes takes a morning nap.  On those days, we try to cram Office Times in while she sleeps.

Then there are the times when we look up from one-on-one teaching time and see this adorable face peering in at us.  It’s hard to resist, so sometimes Eliza is allowed to crash Office Time.  She tries to scribble in notebooks, pulls bookmarks out of books, climbs all over us, and otherwise distracts us teaches us how to focus.

I do think it’s good to be able to work while there is distraction around–not all the time, but every now and then.  In life, there aren’t many times when you have the luxury of completely silent focus and yet you still have to be productive.

But for the most part we rely on sibling babysitting, naps, and designated school time toys to keep Eliza occupied while I’m teaching.  She sits on my lap during read-alouds and quietly plays pretty well nearby when we’re doing our subjects together.

I’m trying to make more of an effort now to read board books and picture books to Eliza.  I want her to know and love the favorites we spent years with when the other kids were little.  Some days I fit it in when we’re in the rocking chair up in her room, and other days it’s just here and there when she brings me a book.  I know I’m not reading as many picture books to her as I did to the older kids when they were her age, but maybe it’s about the same amount of time since she does listen in on the school reading.  And I do plan to keep up daily nursery rhymes, Aesop, poetry, fables, fairy tales, etc in our reading rotation because those are important for baby linguistic development as well as enjoyable for everyone else.

So that’s baby-schooling for us.  If you have babies or toddlers in your homeschool, how do you handle it?

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Sarah’s School Work, Fall 2014

Sarah is in Kindergarten this year!  In some ways she seems past this stage, in that she’s quite articulate and good at many things, but in other ways she’s still pint-sized, as evidenced by the fact that she went to church in a size 3T dress this Sunday and I didn’t notice anything amiss.

In addition to the subjects we cover with the other kids, Sarah’s individual school work includes:


Last year Sarah got through half of Saxon 1, so this year I am pulling back in pace a bit and just having her do one page of the second half of Saxon 1.  At this pace, she will still be part way through Saxon 2 by the end of Kindergarten so I don’t see any reason to rush around.  Doing one page a day still helps her practice writing her numbers and gives her time to get really good at addition and subtraction facts.


Sarah is still convinced she can’t read, which is perplexing since she’s 139 lessons in to the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, and is reading even complicated phonemes like -aigh.  But because she can’t pick up any old chapter book and read it, like Hannah and Jack can, she thinks she can’t read.  Curiously, she also thinks she can’t ride her bicycle, although she actually can and has repeatedly done so in front of numerous witnesses.  So at any rate, in addition to her reading lesson, she also reads me a short book like a Bob book reader or one of Eliza’s board books, or something like that, because maybe if she reads an actual book daily, eventually it will sink in that she is in fact reading.  In spite of her assertion that she can’t read, Sarah still reports that reading is her favorite subject, so I guess that’s good.


Sarah couldn’t understand why she didn’t have a spelling book like the others, so I went ahead and started her in All About Spelling 1.  I was not too surprised that she immediately grasped the concept of building words by sound, but I was surprised that she enjoyed it so much that she begs to be allowed to do more spelling every day. I actually have to cut her off after she does a week’s worth in about 10 minutes.  So although we’ve only completed five weeks of school, she’s already well over 2/3 of the way through the book and showing no signs of slowing down.  I figure at some point we will get to something that takes more effort and then we’ll slow down to a normal pace, but at this point she’s enjoying it so what the heck.


I said I wouldn’t do it but I’m going through First Language Lessons 1 with Sarah again.  I was going to skip it, but she wouldn’t have it and I thought maybe we’d rehash level 1 another time for review before going to level 2.  It can’t hurt, right?


I just have Sarah doing copywork for handwriting.  Since she copies the same length passage that her older siblings do, and her spelling also includes dictation, I feel like that is sufficient.

How long does this take?

Truly, Sarah is the most diligent worker in the house.  She never complains about her work, but just cheerfully does her assignments.  It takes her about 10 minutes to do her copywork, and then about 30-40 minutes for Office Time (her one-on-one teaching time).  Usually she gets all of her work done with me.  Then the subjects we do with the other kids take one-and-a-half to two hours, so total she’s probably doing about two-and-a-half to three hours of school a day, not counting extra reading time and bedtime read-alouds.  That seems reasonable for her age.  Other than school work she does a lot of dressing up and playing make-believe games with her ponies and castle and dolls, and singing at the top of her lungs.

It’s interesting to think about the differences between Sarah’s Kindergarten year and Hannah’s.  In many ways, I’m doing way more with Sarah than I knew I could even attempt with Hannah, but in other ways, I’m way more laid back.  You learn things along the way I suppose.


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Jack’s School Work, Fall 2014

This is Jack shortly after we picked up his new cello. The boy has been asking to take cello lessons since he was three, so we finally gave in.  He’s really psyched and we’re hopeful that his enthusiasm will translate into happy practicing!

Jack is in second grade this year and is very smart and capable, but we are having to do some heavy lifting on attitude and diligence.  From what I’ve read, this is a common issue with seven-year-old boys and I am researching like mad on the topic.  Book recommendations welcome!  In spite of that, it’s often really a joy to teach Jack, because his mind is so incredibly interesting.  He asks wildly insightful questions and sees connections in unusual ways that keep me entertained and on my toes.  In addition to the subjects we do together with the other kids, here is the run down on Jack’s individual work:


Jack is kind of a ninja at math when he is in the mood, so he is having no trouble in Saxon 3. However, he does have trouble understanding why he should show his work when he can easily do it in  his head or out loud, so sometimes there is a battle over completing the three page lesson each day  (one page teaching, one page practice, one page of math facts). I remember Hannah having this problem too and she turned the corner eventually, so I’m hopeful Jack will too.


Since I’m tackling Latin as an individual subject this year, Jack is going it alone in Prima Latina and having no trouble at all.  We’re just doing one chapter per week and he’s heard all of the vocabulary in years past, so the only new thing is that he’s having to write answers down this year, but that’s no problem.  He’s getting 100% on end-of-week tests and likes to sing the prayers as songs (which they sort of are–one is essentially Holy, Holy, Holy in Latin, and another is the Gloria Patri, etc).


Having asked to learn cursive last year, Jack is doing New American Cursive II this year.  Some of the gleam has worn off now that he knows how the letters go, but practice makes perfect.


Unlike his older sister, Jack is an intuitive speller, so All About Spelling 3 is helping him understand the rules behind how we spell and it’s not hard for him.  The only stumbling block here is the dictation–to reinforce the spelling rules the book has the teacher read a sentence containing words from that rule and then the student writes it down.  The method is good, but Jack balks at having so much writing.  To finish the week he has to do three sentences per day, which isn’t really that much, but sometimes there is foot dragging.  When he is focused, though, spelling is a cinch.  I’m hoping the kinks work themselves out as we go along.  Meanwhile, I work on being calm and cheerful. :)

Language Arts

For grammar and writing we’re using First Language Lessons 3 and Writing With Ease 3.  Jack loves these and he really, really likes diagramming.  Boy after my own heart.


I still have Jack practice reading out loud most days.  He reads well, but it’s good to practice inflection and he has a tendency to skim over words when he’s not sure how they are pronounced.  He is reading The Fellowship of the Ring (having really enjoyed The Hobbit this summer when we read it aloud–he likes fantasy/adventure) and also some books about heroes of the Wild West and various other chapter books he picks up around the house or from the library stack.  He doesn’t read as much as Hannah does, but he enjoys reading and is keen to get in on book clubbing with me whenever we get to it.

How long does this take?

For Jack, this question is so variable!  He spends about 15-20 minutes on cursive and copywork at the table with the girls, then on a good day he can get his Office Time (one-on-one teaching time with me) done in about 30 minutes.  On a bad day his Office Time can take over an hour.  Then he spends maybe another half an hour on the assignments I give him in Office Time unless he gets distracted and starts playing Legos or building forts, in which case he might still be doing assignments in the afternoon when he would rather be outside playing.  Added together with the subjects we do together with the girls, which takes about one-and-a-half to two hours, I’d say Jack spends between three and five hours on school work per day, not including his personal reading time or our evening read-aloud time.

I don’t mean to overstate the difficulties of school here, Jack is really a very pleasant and happy boy generally speaking, and I do enjoy teaching him.  I think our struggles are mostly related to his developmental stage and I trust we will see improvement sooner or later!


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Hannah’s School Work, Fall 2014

Hannah is in third grade this year and seems to have really turned a corner with school work. She’s always been a good student, but this year she’s much more able to handle her workload without dilly-dallying or complaining about how much writing she has to do.  I have told her several times already what a complete joy it is to have Office Time with her–that’s our individual instruction time–this year.  In addition to the subjects we cover together with the other kids, this is what Hannah’s individual work looks like:


After a brief review, we launched into Saxon 5/4. This is the first Saxon level that is a textbook rather than a consumable style, so I think a big step is that Hannah is writing out all of her problem sets in a notebook rather than just putting in the answers.  She’s learning lessons in neatness and checking her work, which is important for later math levels so good to learn it now!  I’m surprised to note that 5/4 spirals more slowly than the end of Saxon 3 did, but it’s an easy win for Hannah since we labored over intense long division this summer so going back to easier review is a relief for us both. I wasn’t sure about this progression–it seemed strange to put her directly in 5/4 as a third grader–but now I’m much more confident that it was the right decision.  There is an option to take a segue from Saxon 3 to a few intermediate levels, but I am glad we didn’t bother with that.


We’re doing a big review of Prima Latina, mostly for spelling purposes (if there was an award for spending the most possible time in one Latin book, our family would probably win it for our multi-year journey through this one!) and then we’ll move into Latina Christiana at long last.  I’m finding that it works much better for me to tackle Latin individually with each child rather than attempting it as a group subject.


Spelling has long been a thorn in Hannah’s side, and I’ve tried so many programs with such limited success.  Usually, she’d get a perfect score on a weekly spelling test and then promptly spell the same words incorrectly in her other writing.  This year, I pulled her back into All About Spelling 2, in hopes of helping her to understand the rules behind spelling since that curriculum worked so well with Jack last year.  Then the heavens parted and an angelic chorus sang “AAAAAHHHHHleluia” because oh my word she is finally getting it!  For some reason this fall spelling is clicking for Hannah.  I think she’s just at an age where she ADORES things that are mysteries or puzzles and AAS is helping her see the rules and reasons behind spelling correctly.  She’s taking the lessons at a rate of 2-3 per week (rather than 1 per week as you’d do normally) so I think she will be on track by the end of this term.  What a relief for us both.


I have Hannah doing her copywork in cursive every day, and also using Copybook Cursive from Memoria Press for additional practice.  It’s sort of overkill, but we have the book on hand.

Language Arts

After much research, I got Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts set and started it with Hannah.  We ADORE this method.  The books integrate grammar, word roots, poetry analysis, and writing in an idea- and story-based way that really makes sense and emphasizes beauty and understanding at a deep level.  I got Level 1, which is used for gifted 3rd graders or 4th graders.  At first I wondered why, because I think at some level Hannah could have done this stuff in 1st grade, but I’m glad I waited because I think her 3rd grade love of figuring out how things work and seeing patterns is helping make this a breeze.  She’s finished Grammar Island and almost half of Building Language and Language of the Hemispheres already, and is doing a sentence analysis from Practice Island every day.  These books dovetail nicely with First Language Lessons, so she is finishing up some of the last diagramming lessons from FLL 3 and will move into FLL 4 as soon as we receive our copy.  I won’t lie–this is a lot of language arts.  But Hannah really enjoys it, so I don’t mind that she spends several hours a day on it.  In fact, on days when we’ve been rushed and I’ve tried to skip some of this, she begs to do it anyway.


Reading is Hannah’s favorite thing.  She reads voraciously and since I can’t keep up with her anymore, I try to read a few things she’s reading in the interest of discussion, but other than that I rely heavily on classic book lists I find in a variety of places.  Since she reads so much and way beyond her grade level I don’t bother counting reading as school work anymore–it’s just part of her life, which is how it should be!  However, I’m doing some research on how to shape literature discussions so that we can pick our mother-daughter book club back up in a way that helps her learn literary analysis and how to be a thoughtful and discerning reader.  Recently Hannah told me that she feels the need to read War and Peace.  I said yes, you really should read War and Peace, but perhaps not this year.  :)

How long does this take?

Going over her math lesson and doing some mental math work together, Latin, spelling, and language arts in Office Time takes about an hour.  She does her copywork and handwriting at the table with everyone else generally for about 15-20 minutes, and the work I assign her in Office Time takes her about two to three hours if she’s diligent.  Then the reading we do for our together subjects takes about one and a half to two hours, not including bedtime reading.  All told I’d say Hannah spends five to six hours a day on school work.  Usually we start by 8:30 and she works until lunch, then finishes her work during afternoon rest time.  Sometimes she’s still doing work at 8:30 at night, but that’s her choice.  I have no idea how much additional time she spends reading, but it’s a lot.

As I mentioned, I am really delighting in teaching Hannah this year.  It will be interesting to see how the year turns out!


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Subjects We Do Together

Each of the children has individual teaching time with me (we call it Office Time because it takes place in my office) but we also do several subjects together.


We usually begin the day with copywork. Each child copies the same passage (usually one of the review poems from our memory work binder, a stanza of the hymn we’re learning, or a piece of poetry we’re working on memorizing), but at his or her level.  Sarah prints, Jack prints but in smaller letters, and Hannah writes in cursive.  Copywork counts for Sarah’s handwriting as well, but Jack and Hannah each have additional cursive handwriting practice.


Each morning, we review five catechism questions and answers, and read one section from Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism–basically these work through the scripture proofs for each question with one question per week.  We also sing one hymn we’re learning and one for review.  Or maybe two.  Or maybe we sing every hymn we know.  It varies. At bedtime we have worship and read a chapter or section from the Bible (we’re in Acts at the moment), work on our Bible memory chapter (Philippians 2 now), sing a Psalm or hymn, since the Doxology and Gloria Patri, and talk about any topics that come up.


We’ve been working through Tapestry of Grace Year 3, reading all of the Lower Grammar and most of the Upper Grammar assignments (and supplemental assignments) out loud.  We like to read together, and I’ve been feeling confirmed lately in our choice to do this, thanks to reviewing some research on the benefits of hearing texts read aloud.  Anyway, what this looks like in practice is that often I read from several chapter books while the children are working on handwriting or doing an art project or eating breakfast or lunch, or we sit on the couch and read all bunched up together.  Usually both, at different times of day. We have several books and chapter books going at once, and it’s delightful when the kids make connections between subjects and topics this way!  We’re also going through the US Presidents song once or twice a week.


We’re reading the Tapestry of Grace Year 3 Lower Grammar and Upper Grammar literature selections together, plus our daily dose of Aesop, Mother Goose, poetry, at least a few picture books unrelated to school work, at least a few board books for Eliza, and we’re also studying Hamlet this term. The moment when my children intelligently discussed the question, “Should Hamlet have avenged his father?” was a high point in my life thus far.  Because really, what young kid has NOT wanted to get revenge at some point? This is an issue between siblings at times in our house, and so they are really tracking with Hamlet’s dilemmas and I am loving it.  More details on our Hamlet study to come!  We’re also working on some poetry memory and memorizing a few short pieces from Hamlet.  At bedtime we read aloud a few chapters from a book unrelated to our school reading.


We’re doing Apologia Astronomy again this year because the topic is cool and I didn’t think the kids would remember it from a few years ago.  I was wrong.  But I think there is value to going over it again and they are really into the topic, especially Jack who would like his own telescope.  I like the book we’re using for its conversational tone.


We’re reading about Benjamin West together, but I wasn’t successful in my attempt to get prints of his paintings so we haven’t done a proper artist study yet this fall.  I’m hopeful that the other artists I selected for study this year will be better for real picture study.  The kids have done a couple of art projects from Deep Space Sparkle (this one was a hit) and my mother-in-law plans to give them drawing lessons intermittently from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.


Our composer this term is Beethoven.  We love him.  We’re listening to his works every day, and have greatly enjoyed The Story of Beethoven in Words and Music from the Music Masters series.  I really recommend Music Masters if you want to get the basic story of a composer’s life and influences plus an exposure to their major works.  Jack is beginning cello lessons this fall, and Hannah is back to piano lessons.


I bought PowerGlide Spanish but to be perfectly honest we have had a hard time getting to it most days.  I like that the program is intuitive and story-based, but it’s just hard to find the time to fit it in.  I’m thinking this over.


We do the map work from Tapestry of Grace together and go over the Classical Conversations states and capitals song a couple of times a week, or at least as much of it as I can remember, which is only through Baton Rouge, LA.  I need to load the song back into my phone.  We’ve also reviewed the continents a couple of times.

Look for more on what each kid is doing for individual work in upcoming posts.

If you homeschool, what subjects do you work on together?

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Calm Schooling

I marvel that I can say this, and we are only three weeks in so I well know that things may change, but this year homeschooling has really been a joy.  We made a few changes that I think are contributing mightily to this happy fact.

We are protecting our mornings.

In previous years we have done co-ops and activities at least one morning a week.  I have also previously been willing to let my outside work take morning time–pushing school to afternoons or evenings or weekends as needed.  That worked in some ways, but I’ve come to realize–at least for my children–that we need a reliable structure.  Every morning we do our school routine.  The kids know what’s coming next.  I am not stressed about compressing work into times that aren’t optimal for attention spans.  On two occasions this fall I’ve had either the babysitter or a friend over for a morning, and while that might be ok as an every now and then thing, it really is not ideal.  I’m feeling confirmed in my conviction that we need to protect our mornings.  

We are not on anyone else’s timetable.

This is also the first year we have not used a co-op or outside group for any academic subjects.  I stopped doing Classical Conversations because the group’s focus is not similar enough to my convictions about education and I resented the push to learn material that wasn’t tied to our main studies.  Last year we were in a co-op with other families using Tapestry of Grace, and while it was awesome in many respects, in the end I felt harried by needing to stick to the week by week schedule.  I realized that I value the ability to take two weeks to cover a time period we like, or the freedom to compress two weeks together when there isn’t a lot of material on a topic or we read ahead.  I am no longer stressed out by being on a long wait list for books, and I feel better about the flexibility to dig deeper into topics of particular interest to the kids.

We moved to a term calendar.

This summer was too long (even the kids agree!), at least in part because I was SO burnt out from schooling without breaks last year.  We never took a fall break or a spring break,or a long weekend and our Christmas break was less than two weeks long.  This was really just my lack of planning, and my own inability to spot the burnout looming.  This year, I’ve scheduled our year in terms.  For the most part, we’ll do school for six weeks and then take one week off (with a slight exception in the fall to allow a break week over Thanksgiving).  We will be having school into June, and then taking the month of July off for our summer break.  I’m interested to see how it works, but so far it’s helping me feel restful and energetic about the year.

We are prioritizing truth and beauty.

I feel pretty strongly about academic rigor and expecting a lot out of my children.  At points this has led to my priorities getting out of whack.  Certainly I am not scaling back academics, but rather this year I’m committed to viewing them through the lens of truth and beauty.  My goal for their education is that academics help the kids to interact with ideas and see the truth and beauty in every subject.  We’re making time for artist study and composer study and copying excellent poetry for handwriting.  We’re working on habits and reading together even more than usual (which is saying something since we use literature-based curriculum!).

But mostly I think the change is in my attitude.  I’ve always loved homeschooling but, as with many worthwhile things, I haven’t always found joy in it moment by moment.   This year I’m determined to focus on the joyful moments, and I find that it’s giving our entire school day a more calm, relaxed, joyful atmosphere.

How do you promote calm, joyful days at your house?

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How the Heather Looks

How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children’s Books is my most favorite book of 2014 so far.  I absolutely adored it, and am grateful to my friend Heather of Blackberry Rambles for the recommendation.

The book chronicles a fabulous trip undertaken by an American family of four in the 1950s, in which they traveled around the UK finding locations of all of their favorite children’s literature.  I have LONG wanted to try something similar, visiting all of the spots I’ve read about all of my life, and it was pure pleasure to read about someone who had actually done so!  The book was very well written and researched, and helpful in reminding me of books I read in childhood but haven’t remembered to read to my own kids, plus many more I never read (sadly, many of which are out of print).  Apparently–although I’m not sure how you’d find this statistic–How the Heather Looks is the book most stolen by retiring librarians!  I can’t countenance theft, but I can understand why they do it.  I’d love to own a copy of this book myself.

I felt like Bodger was a kindred spirit, especially after I read how she had used actual maps to figure out if the Borrowers could have engaged in commerce with Lilliputians.  As much of my childhood imagination play revolved around little people of various sorts that I read about in books, it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to map out.

Bodger’s children were 9 and nearly 3 at the time of their trip. She notes that at the outset people asked why they would undertake such a journey when their little girl was so young.  But the book really captures the joy that Lucie (the preschooler) and the whole family had as they explored the settings of their favorite books.  I could see turning to this book again and again for historical and setting context and book recommendations, and as a thoroughly enjoyable travel memoir.

After reading the book I googled Bodger and found, to my horror, that shortly after returning from the trip Lucie was diagnosed with a brain tumor, from which she died at the age of six.  During that time Bodger’s husband was diagnosed with schitzophrenia and left them, and thereafter her son was also diagnosed with schitzophrenia and ran away and got caught in the drug culture of the 1960s and was never part of her life again.  Bodger went on to start programs for at risk women and children using literature as therapy, wrote for the New York Times Book Review, and led initiatives for storytelling and literature for the rest of her life.  I was aghast to hear about how the family shattered, but felt so glad for Bodger that she had this document of a happy time, rather than just memories of illness and death and loss.  The book and my subsequent reading about the author struck me with a deepened sense of how important it is to cultivate joyful memories, and to really document those moments because they may be fleeting.  

In spite of the dark aftermath–which is not referenced or even foreshadowed in the book–I would wholeheartedly recommend How the Heather Looks to anyone who loves children’s literature (particularly of the British variety) or travel memoirs.


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Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

I read The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Workbecause Elizabeth Foss raved about it, and I did find it interesting and helpful.  The book’s author researches marriages and relationships and so the book is very data-driven, but in a readable way.  The author debunks several commonly held ideas, shows how most marriage therapists are not as helpful as they could be, and suggests principles that couples can work on to make their marriages work.

One thing that stuck out to me in particular was the author’s assertion that you shouldn’t worry about solving your arguments, because, in fact, most marital arguments can’t be resolved.

I’ll pause to let that sink in.

According to the author’s research, many recurrent arguments are rooted in fundamental identity, upbringing, or personality differences that won’t go away. Instead of trying to change your spouse’s dreams and deeply held views on how things work, you should focus on respecting and honoring your spouse’s perspective so you can “declaw” the issue and figure out a way that each of you can be more flexible and stop the issue from being painful.

Overall, the tone of the book is very hopeful.  The author’s research shows that people can have very happy and fulfilling marriages even when they are very different, don’t have date nights, and disagree on things (contrary to what you may have heard).  You don’t need to be Cinderella and Prince Charming.  Having a happy and fulfilling marriage seems to come down more to how fond you are of each other, your refusal to allow contempt to enter your relationship, and your commitment to honor and respect one another even in your differences.

I’m not sure if I’d recommend this book to engaged couples or newlyweds, because you’d probably read it and think “yeah whatever these will never be issues for us.”  But if you’ve been married a while, you probably would at least get some good encouragement from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.


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