Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Book Has Changed Your Life?

I've spent the last couple of days deciding what books I want to read in 2016. This was sparked by The 2016 Reading Challenge on Tim Challies' blog this week. I printed off the challenge, taped it in my bullet journal, and started marking it up with the titles I would like to read.

My husband and I have an embarrassing number of books on our shelves that we have not read yet. We have always been readers, but have slowed down quite a bit (with the adult reading, anyway) since having children. Somehow our book acquisition rate has not slowed with our reading rate. The truth is, we still want to be avid readers, and are not willing to let that image of ourselves go. We need a plan.

Given our shelves full of books, I populated most of the list with titles from our bookshelves. Books we don't own will hopefully come from the local library.

Here are some of my picks so far:
A book about Christian living: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis (on my shelf)
A biography: The Personal Life of David Livingstone by William Blaikie (on my shelf)
A classic novel: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (already started, will finish in 2016)
A commentary on a book of the Bible: I Wish Someone Would Explain Hebrews to Me by Stuart Olyott (on my shelf)
A book with the word "gospel" in the title or subtitle: The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (on my shelf)
A book more than 100 years old: Kept for the Master's Use by Frances Havergal (on my shelf)
A mystery or detective novel: Arthur & George by Julian Barnes (at my library) or something by Dorothy Sayers (also at my library)
A book with at least 400 pages: George Whitefield Vol. 1 by Arnold Dallimore (on my shelf)
A graphic novel: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (at my library)

One recommendation stopped me, though. "A book someone tells you 'changed my life.'" So I decided to turn to you, dear readers. What book has changed your life?

I can't exactly return the favour, because I don't really tend to think in dramatic terms like that. Usually if a book has come close to "changing my life" it's because it was at the culmination of a long process of life or thought change anyway. Other books have changed my life for a few years or a decade, but the change has not been permanent. But I will give you a list of a few of the best books of my life, if you like. (Amazon links included for your reference. I am not an affiliate. If you're buying, I'd suggest supporting someone who is.)

Literature:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
A Sacrifice of Praise: An Anthology of Christian Poetry in English from Caedmon to the Mid-Twentieth Century ed. by James H. Trott

Theology: 
When Grace Comes Home: How the Doctrines of Grace Change Your Life by Terry Johnson
Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal by Richard F. Lovelace

Christian Life:
Each for the Other:Marriage As It's Meant to Be by Bryan Chappell
Family Vocation: God's Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood Mary Moerbe and Gene Veith

Education:
Home Education:Training and Educating Children Under Nine by Charlotte Mason

There. Now I'd like to hear from you. What are the books that have changed your life?

Cookie Day 2015

Yesterday I declared a holiday and and we made some cookies.


We made chocolate-dipped shortbread, chocolate chip cookies with M&M's (red and green, of course!), date-filled stars, raspberry almond thumbprints, almond crescents, and gingerbread nuts (kruidnoten).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Beginning our Picture Book Advent Calendar 2015

The Christmas picture books have been coming in quickly at the library. I wrapped a stack of them on Saturday.

We've been unwrapping them one by one at tea time this week. (Tea time doesn't always look like this...often it's just snack and a poetry book or two.)


The boys have been taking turns choosing the wrapped book from the stack and unwrapping it. JJ(5) had the first turn on Monday.


The book turned out to be Shooting at the Stars: the Christmas Truce of 1914. This was a new book for us, and while I probably wouldn't have chosen it for our very first Christmas picture book (we're choosing at random), it was a good bridge from Remembrance Day a few weeks ago to Christmas a few weeks in the future.


We wrapped up our tea time with some poetry by Christina Rossetti (who has wonderful Christmas poetry, by the way!), and then finally got to the part my boys had all been waiting for...


...the Jacquie Lawson Victorian Advent calendar a friend gave us for the computer. Each day has a special little activity, and the boys love it. (Thank you, Christina!)


We normally have no screen time before 4:00 PM, so having a bit in the morning is a special treat for them.

That's how our lesson time has begun each day so far this week and hopefully continuing on until Christmas. Homeschooling is fun! :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Highlights from Year 2, Term 1 Exams

SA(7) just finished Term 1 of Ambleside Online's Year 2. Since we finished halfway through a week, I decided to try to do some exams this time.


This isn't the first time I've tried to do exams. The first time I tried was a huge failure. It was my own fault. We ended our term at the end of a week, and I tried to start exams at the beginning of the next week, after I had told him that our term was completed. I tried to sell them as a special event and a way to share with his Papa what he had learned. I even got out the video camera to record his answers. Bad, bad idea, at least with this child.

This time, I took the lessons I'd learned from that fiasco and made the exams as much like our regular school routine as I could. The only difference was that I wrote down his answers. It went much more smoothly.

I know some of you aren't familiar with Charlotte Mason or Ambleside Online, and are wondering why on earth I'd do exams with a homeschooled Grade 2 student. After all, I know what he knows, right? I've been right with him as he's been learning it. The answer is that these exams aren't really like any test you'd be familiar with from school. The best way I can think of to put it is to say I'm taking a snap-shot of where he is right now.

The value of exams for him:
-A sense of accomplishment as he himself realizes how much he knows.
-As we do them regularly, a realization that the things he learns today are not expected to be forgotten tomorrow.
-An exercise for his long-term memory.

The value of exams for me:
-A sense of peace that these methods are working and he is retaining what he has learned.
-An assessment of anything that needs to be adjusted in the future, particularly areas we neglected.
-A record of progress from term to term and year to year.

I'll be honest and say that the true reason I haven't done exams regularly until now is because deep down I had a fear that I would find he hadn't retained what he had learned. That fear was unfounded. True, there were some answers I was disappointed in, but overall I was encouraged.

Bible
We did lessons from both the Old and New Testaments this term, beginning Genesis and Matthew. This is his answer when I asked him to tell about the flood.
"God told Noah to build the ark and to bring seven pairs of the clean animals and one pair of the dirty animals. And it rained for forty days and forty nights. Then Noah sent out a raven. ("I don’t remember the name of the bird." “Dove,” I told him.). Then Noah sent out a dove, and it couldn’t find any land. Then he waited seven days and sent it out again and it came back with a leaf in her beak. And he knew there was dry land nearby. And the ark was resting on a rock. And then God told them to go out and to scatter and fill the land."
He did not do as well when I asked him what Matthew says about the birth and early life of Jesus.
"He was born in Bethlehem.Then God told them to go to different places.And then after a time they lost Jesus, and they searched for him and they were surprised to find him teaching."
(That last part is not even in the Matthew account.) I told him later I was surprised he didn't say anything about angels, or wise men. He said, "I do know that, I just couldn't find the words."


Literature
We've been reading Pilgrim's Progress after breakfast almost every day. We are almost finished with it (I think it was supposed to last us the whole year? Oh well.). Instead of our normal narration, I simply had the boys tell me what to draw after each episode. This meant that they highlighted the events more than the conversations in their narration. I think we will go through Pilgrim's Progress several times over the years, no doubt with different levels of understanding. They really enjoyed it. Here is what Seth said when I asked him how the pilgrims ended up in Doubting Castle.
"Hopeful said they should not go off the way. And Christian wanted to go off the way onto that path. They met another person, and he said it went to the Celestial City. And then he fell into a pit. And then they thought they should get out, but they almost got drowned. They slept beside the path, and then the Giant Despair saw them and took them and locked them in a dungeon. Then he said he would check for key-locks. (I don't think that's the right word.) And then they talked, and then Christian said, “I have a key that can open any lock!” And he tried it, and it fitted. And they opened the lock. But one lock, the gate, creaked so loud that it woke up the Giant Despair, but he couldn’t get out of bed and run after them. Then they went back into the way."
Another highlight this term has been Understood Betsy. I asked SA to tell me about little 'Lias, a character in the book.
"Betsy made some clothes for ‘Lias because he was all dirty and didn’t have any clothes. Then they went to the door and put the clothes on the doorstep, rang the doorbell, and ran. (Rustled in the grass, and lots of other things that make noise in the night.) A person came to the door and picked them up. They looked through the window. He looked like little Molly with no one to feed her. They hoped Mr. Pond would adopt him. The next day at school they saw that he was dirty and didn’t have any new clothes on. Disaster had happened. After little ‘Lias had said the story, Mr. Pond looked over their shoulders. And he said he will get some clothes for ‘Lias. They met him in the Hall in new store-bought clothes."
History 
We have been studying British history, going steadily through Our Island Story and a few chapters of Hillyer's Child's History of the World. We learned about William the Conqueror in both books, so I was a little surprised at SA's response when I asked about him and the Battle of Hastings
.
"William the Conqueror or William the Red?" he asked. 
"William the Conqueror," I said. "William Rufus was his son."
"Harold waited for William the Conqueror.He sailed across the sea to Harold’s kingdom.They pretended they were going away, but then they ran up again and they killed him." 

This took all of fifteen minutes to get out of him. On the positive side, it did include elements from both books. Our Island Story mentioned how long Harold waited for William to come and attack him, and Child's History of the World told about how William and his forces pretended to flee during the Battle of Hastings, then turned and defeated Harold.

I also asked him about another story from Our Island Story, the White Ship. At first it seemed as though I would not get anything. Finally I decided to prompt him. "King Henry was in Normandy, and when he was going home, someone wanted him to sail on his ship, but he couldn't go." That opened the floodgates.
"King Henry said, “The prince may go on.”And they were sailing and they laughed. And the boat suddenly stopped and the laughing stopped. And they cried for help.King Henry heard it and he said, “I hear people far away,” and they said it was a little bird.But he spoke so sternly that they went back. And many people crowded onto the small boat. As the boat overturned, two people were left clinging to the mast. And they cried for help. And one said, “Goodbye, God be with you,” and he slipped into the sea and drowned. And his clothes were made out of satin. The other person who was left wore sheepskin clothes. Just about when the sun was going to go up. And he clung to the mast until some fishermen came, and they saw the person clinging to the mast. And they brought him home. And then he said that Henry’s son died. And they said, “What terrible news to bring to England!” And nobody told the king for three days, and then they pushed a boy in the king’s room and he mumbled out the story. And the king fell down on his face, and they laid him down on a bench. When he opened his eyes again he didn’t have a happy look. Nobody ever saw him smile again."

(If that doesn't make sense to you, there is a gap in his telling...it was the prince, in a little life-boat, who spoke sternly and told them to go back for his sister.) I was struck by the details that had captured his imagination: the way the laughter stopped, the clothes that enabled one man to survive, and "Nobody ever saw him smile again."

Geography
This was a fail for me. I didn't cover the concepts I was supposed to because I assumed SA already knew them. At the same time, this showed me the value of exams... now I know I still need to go back and do it with him! I asked him, "Do you know what a compass is? Describe a compass and tell me what it does."
"A thing that tells you which way you’re going. Its little arrow turns to different directions as you turn. It is round, with an E for East, N for North, W for West, and S for South. It tells you which way we’re going."
He didn't know about the magnetic needle and how it always points north. Oh well, now he does. :)

Nature Study
We had a spider project this term, and I asked SA to tell me about it.
"We caught spiders with our spider net. And also we found them on webs and caught them with a cup and we wiggled the cup to keep them from running out. We put them in poison or freezed them. We gave them to the spider lady.And we could catch them in a spider trap uncovered or covered with a piece of cardboard. And we could check it the next day from making the spider trap and putting it in the dirt. My favourite spiders were the argiopes." (We found two types.)
SA also read and narrated from the Burgess Animal Book. This was the first book he started reading on his own for narration, and he always narrated very well. I kept the lessons very short this term (ten minutes per day, four days a week), and as a result we only got through half of the assigned readings. We will pick up speed over time, I know. I asked him to tell me about a squirrel.
"The flying squirrel. He goes about and he flies in the night. And he goes up a tree to the top of a tree, and then he jumps and flies off. His tail helps him keep his balance. And he can steer so he won’t bump into things until he lands on the tree he’s going for. And then he goes up the tree to do it all over again."
Technically, this is not correct (flying squirrels don't fly, they glide). I know he knows this. I assume the name tripped him up...

Math
I chose a few questions from his Singapore Primary Math 2B workbook, including simple multiplication and division, geometry, diagrams, and word problems with money and subtraction. He answered them easily.

The only question that tripped him up for a second was "David has 8 quarters and 12 dimes. How much money does he have altogether?" He asked me how much a quarter and a dime were worth. I told him, and he had the answer immediately. $3.20. The three was written backwards, but he included the dollar sign and the decimal point.

It wasn't quite fair of me to include that question anyway, as we didn't do the money unit in the book yet (I plan to get some Canadian money for that and haven't gotten to it yet.).

Copywork
I had SA copy a line from our Bible memory passage this term, Psalm 139. "Lead me in the way everlasting." While I normally set the timer for five  minutes and have him complete what he can in that time, I wanted him to complete the line for his exam. I put on the stop-watch so we could see how long it took him. Well. It took him 21 minutes. (I estimated that he is capable of doing it in seven.) At least it was neatly done. There is work to be done there, but then I already knew that...


Looking back over the term, there are a few other things I want to take note of:

Narration has progressed. At the beginning of the term, SA still needed to narrate after every paragraph. Now, I can read several paragraphs or even several pages in the easier books (like Understood Betsy) before stopping for narration.

The choice to slow down and work on our atmosphere and discipline at the beginning of Year 2 was a good one, but I could have picked up the pace a little as we went on and gained our balance. The first twelve weeks took us fifteen weeks including exams and one week off at the end of August. Daily, we did two readings with narration of fifteen minutes each, and one of ten minutes (that he read himself). I didn't include Bible and Pilgrim's Progress in that count, as we put those into Circle Time. I'd like to go a little more quickly as we head into winter. I'll start with the same pace in our second term, but increase the minutes per lesson to twenty over time (fifteen for the lesson he reads himself).

We skipped Parables of Nature this term. I felt I needed to cut something, and that is the book I never learned to love over the year we've already spent with it (So. Very. Wordy.). However, SA asked me about it yesterday, as he noticed it was never checked off on the schedule. He would like to read those stories, so I think we'll add it into Circle Time again once we're done with Pilgrim's Progress.

The boys need to do more chores. I haven't done a good job with that this term.

---------
And now, it's time to take a week off! We're going to visit my mom and dad, yay!



Thursday, November 12, 2015

Narration: Deceptively Simple, Extremely Powerful

There is nothing more simple than narration, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

It is simple, because you read a book to your child, and then you expect him to tell it back to you. There is no textbook, there are no comprehension questions. There is no script.

And yet, narration is not easy. It may not be easy for the teacher. She has to let go of the curriculum and the scripts and trust that reading and narration will be enough. She has to choose well-written “living” books full of ideas, not just facts. She has to stand back and let the learning happen…let the mind of the child meet the mind of the author without mediation from her. Narration also means she requires work from the child, and sometimes there is resistance to that work. Steadfastness in forming habits of attention and self-discipline in your child is also not easy.

Narration is also not always easy for the child. It requires attention, and hard work. In some ways it is natural. Any time your child comes running to you full of enthusiasm to tell you all about something, he is narrating. But narration is also a discipline, and there will be days he will not feel like paying attention or doing the work.

A Meeting of Minds

When you read a living book to your child (or he reads it himself), it is as if your child meets and forms a relationship with its author. The author’s enthusiasm is catching. The way he describes things captures your child’s imagination, because it has captured the imagination of the author. It is a direct relationship between your child and the author. It is not mediated by you, the teacher. Actually, it is your job to facilitate this meeting, but then to get out of the way.

Getting out of the way does not come naturally to us as mothers. We hover. We wonder if our child caught this or understood that. We explain and explain. We add teaching tools and gimmicks to capture their interest.  The author can hardly get a word in edgewise, and we do not realize that our children would be captivated if they could just spend some one-on-one time with him.

So how do you facilitate a meeting of minds without getting in the way?

You get to know the author’s mind yourself by pre-reading. This is not so you can now mediate that knowledge to your child. Now you know the author’s intent, and you know your child, and you are ready to facilitate that meeting!

You prepare your child for the meeting. The author uses some language that your child doesn’t know. Your child may not be familiar with the time and place the author is going to tell him about, and maps and timelines may be brought out. Sometimes a picture or two may be necessary. We recently had to look up pictures of cathedrals, as SA(7) had never seen one. You may need to prompt him to remember what came before and the context of what will be read today. Preparing your child does not mean beginning to tell him what the author is going to teach him directly.

Now comes the meeting. You read to your child (or have him read). Because you have prepared him, his mind is not distracted with questions like, “What does that word mean?” You are not interrupting the meeting of minds with further explanations. (I have to admit that this is sometimes easier said than done, but it is what we aim for.)

Immediately after the reading, you require your child to tell you about it. This requirement is essential in your role as teacher, and it is yet fairly passive. You listen to what he learned from the author without distracting him with questions and comments. You know that if he can formulate his thoughts and tell what he knows, he really knows it.

Sometimes, if no narration is forthcoming, you can prompt. This is not easy to do well. Your goal is, after all, for him to collect his thoughts and know and tell what he knows. I prompt by reiterating in one sentence what came before today’s reading, and ask, “Then what happened?” Often this is enough to get him started. If still nothing is forthcoming, I will say, “I remember something about (character, or event)…” If after all that, there is still nothing, I say, “If there is nothing you remember, I’ll go on.” Often he will suddenly have something to tell me at that point. SA(7) often needs a little time to collect his thoughts before he narrates. I prompt when I see that his attention has drifted from collecting his thoughts to something else. It is really just a gentle reminder to get back to his work.

In reading and narration, most of the work of learning has taken place. Then, and only then, is the time for questions and conversation about what was read. If you feel there was a major point that was missed, you can draw it out then with a question or an observation. I have to be very careful not to overdo it on the teaching with my son. Too much explanation really turns him off. Usually I don’t have to catch myself, though, because he lets me know! J

Why narration, and not comprehension questions? As soon as you ask a question or make a comment, your child’s attention shifts from the knowledge he has gained directly from the author and shifts to you, the teacher. It adds an additional (and distracting) consideration in his narration. Instead of just asking himself “What did I learn?” he has to ask “What did mom expect me to learn?” as well. That second question is much harder to figure out than the first, and it can cause the narration process to shut down. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have expectations, just that your part was to choose the book and prepare him well so that he could do the work of learning. I’m also not saying you have to completely let go of what you expected him to learn, just that you have to wait until he tells you what he did learn so you don’t distract him.

Recently, I took a detour from narration in our Bible lessons, using another method to teach. Today, we went back to narration. As we went through the simple process of reading and narration, I felt content. I knew that my son had learned something, that his hunger for knowledge was being satisfied. Contentment, mind hunger satisfied regularly...these keep me going when narration is not easy. They keep me from looking with longing at all the creative and colourful curriculum there is out there. Reading living books and narration are enough for me and my family. They are more than just enough. They are powerful and effective.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: Grapevine Studies (Bible Study Curriculum)

Bible study has always been done very simply in our homeschool. Immediately after breakfast, we read a passage of Scripture and I ask SA(7) to tell the story back to me. Then we may talk about it a little. We review our memory work, usually a passage with several verses such as a psalm. When I received Grapevine Studies to use and review, it was hard for me to take a break from our tried-and-true method of narration and try something new. However, it solved a problem that I've been having for a little while; keeping all of my children engaged in the Bible story at once, and I think I've learned some lessons from that!


We received Grapevine Studies Old Testament 1: Level 1 Creation to Jacob as PDF e-books of a teacher's manual and a traceable student workbook for ages three to five.

Grapevine Studies teaches a timeline first in its Old Testament Overview, and then the individual stories within the timeline. The timeline is then reviewed repeatedly between stories so that children begin to have a strong concept of the order of events throughout the Old Testament.

The Bible Stories themselves are taught using "stick figuring" --simple line drawings done by the teacher and copied by the students. In the traceable workbook, children trace the line drawings.

Lessons can be done once a week, or divided over four days. A typical lesson at this level has:
- A review of the timeline
- Eight short passages of Scripture to read and stick-figure (two per page on our traceable student worksheets)
- One or two very short memory verses to learn
- Seven or eight review questions

How We Used it

I used the traceable student worksheets for Old Testament 1: Level 1 Creation to Jacob with three of my boys. SA(7) is a bit behind in his pencil skills, so using the traceable worksheets was appropriate for him. JJ(5) probably could have copied my stick figures without tracing, but he enjoyed it anyway. I'm not sure MM(3) got too much out of the stories, but he did love participating and doing what his big brothers were doing.

Every morning I printed off the worksheets for the day from the PDF student workbook and referred to the teacher's manual. After breakfast I read the suggested Scripture, drawing the stick figures on a blank piece of paper. (The manual recommends a dry-erase board and markers, but I made do with what I had, and that was fine.) The boys traced their stick figures on their worksheets as I read. Then we would review our Bible verse(s). On the last lesson day, I asked them the review questions.


What We Thought

As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I appreciate the directness and simplicity of Charlotte Mason's method for Bible lessons.
"Read aloud to the children a few verses covering if possible, an episode. Read reverently, carefully, and with just expression. Then require the children to narrate what they have listened to as nearly as possible in the words of the Bible. It is curious how readily they catch the rhythm of the majestic and simple Bible English. Then, talk the narrative over with them in the light of research and criticism. Let the teaching, moral and spiritual, reach them without much personal application." (Home Education, p. 251)
I have been following Charlotte Mason's method for a while now, and have been very pleased with how SA(7) has been retaining what he has learned, simply by narrating it. I felt that the Grapevine Studies' stick-figuring method was not as good as narration in getting him to pay attention and really know the Bible stories we studied. Of course, stick-figuring could be used as a form of narration for some children (have them tell back the story using stick figures). However, SA's skills would not be up to using any form of drawing as narration at this point.

However, I do have younger children who are not of an age to narrate yet. SA(5) and MM(3) often have a hard time sitting through SA's narration of the Bible story, and they tend to drift away from our Circle Time at that point. Using this curriculum ensured their enthusiastic participation throughout the Bible lesson. Unlike SA, both of them love drawing and colouring!

Yesterday, I noticed that JJ(5) is remembering things from weeks ago. He got out his notebook and pencil crayons and began drawing several of the days of creation from memory. He did not have them in quite the right order, but he did remember exactly how they were depicted in stick figures when we learned them.

The Bottom Line

Will we continue to use Grapevine Studies now that this review period is over?

Yes, for a while, and after a fashion. I am planning to go back to our old format of reading and oral narration for SA(7). While we are still in the "Creation to Jacob" time period, I will continue to print traceable worksheets for JJ(5) and MM(3) to work on while we read our Bible passage. I'm not sure what we'll do beyond that yet. I will not continue using it as written.

Stick figuring could not replace the power of narration for us, but it did have value in keeping my little people engaged in our Bible lesson.

For more reviews on Grapevine Studies' various subjects and levels, click on the link below:

Grapevine Studies Review

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Independent Reading for Narration in Year 2

SA(7) is reading quite well now. Ambleside Online's booklist for year two is still mostly too advanced for him to read on his own, and I read most of them aloud to him. However, I have given him two books this term that he reads independently, and then comes and narrates to me. These two books are Holling C. Holling's Tree in the Trail and The Burgess Animal Book for Children. The language in these books (particularly Burgess) is relatively simple.

I am still keeping the lessons where he does this very short at ten minutes, but I am hoping to stretch them to fifteen or even twenty minutes by the end of the year. He is doing extremely well. He actually does a better job of narrating these books than the ones I read aloud to him. This may partly be because they are easier books, but I suspect it is also partly that his learning style is more visual than auditory. There is also a little bit of excitement in the fact that he feels like he is telling me something I might not know (since it's not something I just read aloud to him...).

I have also tried having him listen to Librivox and read along for some of his more difficult readings (The Little Duke). I am not particularly happy with that option, as I often feel like I could read it so much better to him myself, even with the French pronunciations. He likes the novelty of the audiobook experience, though, so we do it for variety sometimes.

Because of the very short lessons, we are "falling behind" on the Burgess Animal Book for Children...we are just not keeping up with the Ambleside Online schedule for it. However, he is enjoying it so much, owning it, really (this is his book to read and narrate from), that I'm not eager to jump in and help him move through it faster by reading some of it aloud. So we'll just continue at a comfortable pace. No doubt we'll speed up a little before the year is through.

Fellow CM homeschoolers, how do you transition from reading aloud to independent reading for narration? Is it a gradual process for you, or do you begin all at once at a certain point? I assume the time a child is ready varies widely from child to child. I'd love to hear your experience.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: Peter and the Wolf from Maestro Classics

Maestro Classics ReviewAs I was doing some dishes last evening, I overheard SA(7) humming a tune. I looked at my husband. "Is that...?" He nodded. Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Yes, this is the child that couldn't carry a tune in a bucket not so long ago. The humming, slightly off-tune but perfectly recognizable, was thanks to some daily sol-fa work. The actual tune was thanks to a Maestro Classics recording we've been listening to lately. We received an MP3 and digital download of Peter and the Wolf to listen to and review.

Maestro Classics Review

Maestro Classics' recording of Peter and the Wolf is part of their Stories in Music series, a collection of twelve recordings that includes classics such as The Nutcracker and Carnival of the Animals, and also some beloved children's stories set to original music like The Tortoise and the Hare and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. All of them are performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Stephen Simon and include extras such as the stories of the composers, more information about the music or the story, and extra music.

Our Peter and the Wolf recording came with the story of Prokofiev; a music-only track without the narration; a talk from the conductor about how the musical themes, not just the instruments, represent the characters in the story; a Russian dance performed by Trio Voronezh; and themes from Peter and the Wolf performed by the same trio, giving it a Russian flavour (This was my favourite extra!). We also received a download of an activity booklet (CDs come with a physical copy). There is a free curriculum guide online to accompany the recording. We didn't use it, but I know some of you might be interested.

At our house, Thursday is music appreciation day. Normally, that means that at about 10:30 AM, we take our snacks upstairs to watch Classical music on YouTube. Each term, we focus on a particular composer and watch a several of his works performed by a variety of performers and symphony orchestras. When we received Peter and the Wolf, we took a break from Brahms and listened to Prokofiev instead. Several Thursdays in a row we listened to Peter and the Wolf again along with one of the extra tracks. We also did a couple of the activities from the booklet. Their favourite was matching the instruments to the animals.

We had actually watched Peter and the Wolf about a year and a half ago during one of our regular music appreciation sessions on YouTube. It had been a wonderful performance, so I was surprised that the boys didn't remember it when we began to listen to this CD. I suppose that should be a lesson to me... we do need to listen to things over and over again for them to become familiar and beloved. I don't think they will ever forget Peter and the Wolf now. Because of this, I have decided to choose one piece from each composer we study to listen to repeatedly until it is very familiar. I think I will also buy some CDs like this one that the boys can listen to on their own whenever the mood strikes them. I sense a Christmas gift idea! :)

For more reviews of Maestro Classics Peter and the Wolf, as well as The Nutcracker, click on the link below.

Maestro Classics Review

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: IEW Timeline of Classics and Other Resources

Institute for Excellence in Writing is well-known for its writing programs, but it has other resources as well. I had the chance to use and review three of them: Timeline of Classics, Teaching with Games Set, and A Word Write Now.

Timeline of Classics

Of the three resources, the one I'm the most excited about is Timeline of Classics by Gail Ledbetter. This is a well-chosen book list of classic literature, biographies, the very best of historical fiction, and even plays and films, all arranged chronologically. It is divided by time period: Ancients, The Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and The Modern World. The pages are very simply laid out with just the right amount of information: a description of the time period and/or the setting, title, author, and the level each resource is appropriate for (Elementary, Middle, or High School). Each page also has an intriguing quote from one of the recommended books.

Since we are studying the Middle Ages right now, I turned to that section of the book. I could see at a glance which resources were appropriate for elementary school. I opened my library's website and started searching for and reserving the titles that sounded interesting: The Sword in the Tree; The Making of a KnightCastle Diary... I noticed a recommendation for a historical atlas, and thought, "Yes! I need to buy one of those." (I had just been trying to google historical maps online with very limited success.)


Any homeschooler that uses a literature based approach for history will appreciate this resource. It hits just the right balance of selectivity and comprehensiveness, and could easily be used as the basis of all your history studies on its own. I anticipate referencing it regularly for years to come.

Teaching with Games

The resource my boys were most excited about was the Teaching with Games Set. This parent/teacher resource includes two DVDs containing workshops led by Lori Verstegen on teaching with games, a spiral-bound book with rules and templates for all the games, and a CD-ROM with a PDF of the book and some bonus materials (extra games!). There are twenty games, most adaptable to any age group, many adaptable to more than one subject area. The games range from "No-Prep" games that require nothing more than a piece of paper (at the most), to matching games, Jeopardy-type question games, math games, and "Make as You Teach" games.

I was amused with the fascination this set held for my boys. It is a parent resource, but SA(7) spent hours poring over the instructions for the games, and JJ(5) immediately chose "The Space Game" (a home-made board game) as his favourite. They both watched the game demonstrations on the DVDs with me. We played several of the games, and as usual in this house, the math games got played the most.


"Fun Times" was a big hit, providing plenty of multiplication practice. I chose to make our own game board for this with multiplication facts between 1x1 and 6x6. (The original had multiplication facts from 2x5 to 7x10, and required modifying a pair of dice.) SA and I (or JJ, who soon figured out how to find the answers on the board based on the factors on the top and side...) took turns rolling the dice and multiplying the two numbers on the dice. We put our tokens on the answers, and the first person with four in a row was the winner. The game had some twists to add to its excitement...rolling doubles and landing on shaded squares on the board had special consequences.

Teaching with Games is a worthwhile resource that could be helpful to Sunday-school teachers and classroom teachers as well as homeschoolers. To be perfectly honest, I can be a bit lazy about coming up with games or activities to go with our studies. The boys were very pleased that I got to review this, and I'm sure they will keep me using it for some time to come.

A Word Write Now

The last resource I used was A Word Write Now. This student thesaurus by Loranna Schwacofer is creatively organized by character traits, descriptive words, and words for movement and the senses. The idea is that children do not always know exactly what word they are looking for. This thesaurus directs the student to a category of words and provides a range of ideas as to how they could express themselves using different parts of speech. Each page also includes examples from classic literature.

My boys are not old enough to use a thesaurus, so I used it myself. I often consult an online thesaurus as I blog, so I thought perhaps this one would do as well. It was not really a good fit for my purposes. My use of a thesaurus usually goes like this:
- I notice I'm overusing a word
- I type the word into a search engine
- I pick a better word from the synonyms that come up. 
I'm very task-oriented in my thesaurus use, in other words. This thesaurus is more oriented to creativity. It is all about exploring and enjoying words. I expect it will be very useful at some stage as my children learn to write, but we're not there yet.

If you are looking for a student thesaurus, I suggest you check out the samples online at Institute for Excellence in Writing and see if this is something that might work for you.

Other bloggers on the Schoolhouse Review Crew have reviewed these resources and also Phonetic Zoo Spelling from Institute for Excellence in Writing. Click on the link below to see what they have to say!

IEW Review

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Copywork in Grade Two

"I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson--a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work--humpy m's, angular o's." Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p 253, emphasis mine. 

I

The above is the result of a typical copywork lesson right now for SA(7). Three little words, done in five minutes of effort. He prints fairly neatly, but not with ease. Aside from his daily copywork lesson and some numbers in his math book, he writes little to nothing. I worry about this sometimes, particularly when I notice the achievements of others around his age, or even his younger brother JJ(5).

When I was eighteen and in driver's ed, the classroom instructor said something that stuck with me. Some people learn to drive quickly and with ease, while others take more time and effort to master it. What matters is proficiency in the end, not how long it takes to get there. 

My aim is for SA to learn to write beautifully and with ease. This is not a race. It is not a competition with other seven-year-olds. If it takes him years to get to that point, it will be okay. 

Meanwhile, he takes five minutes out of each school day to do his very best printing. He has his bad days, where his pencil "accidentally" makes stray marks and mis-shapen letters. We erase and go on the next day. He does not hate copywork. He is not frustrated. It is enough for now.

There have been two or three times in the last month that he has voluntarily copied something or written something down, and I take that as a hopeful sign. It may be that he will experience a sudden jump in ability someday, as he did with reading last year. It will not be the first time slow, steady, daily effort has laid the foundation for such a leap.

I am very happy with Charlotte Mason's method of oral narration (telling back what has been read aloud) for the younger grades. Because of this, his learning is not tied to his reading and writing skills. He is growing in his composition and communication abilities, and someday his manual writing skills will catch up.

If you are curious, we use Penny Gardner's Italics: Beautiful Handwriting for Children

Monday, October 19, 2015

I'm So Sorry, Boys...

...but Christmas isn't for two whole months yet!

Yes, you may play outside as long as you like!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Apple Picking at MacPhee's Orchard

This week we did something the boys look forward to every year: apple picking at MacPhee's Orchard. Five of their twenty varieties were ripe, and we chose to pick Spartans and Nova Spies. Sadly, my favourite JonaGolds were not quite ripe yet. I'm not sure yet if we'll manage to come back for them when they're ready... the orchard is about 40 minutes away from our place.

The orchard is a peaceful, quiet place with thousands of small trees. Children can easily pick apples all by themselves. We met several families from our local homeschool co-op there and got to work. SA(7) carefully read the information sheet telling us about all the varieties of apples...their taste, texture, and other defining characteristics. MM(3) pulled the wagon around. As usual, JJ(5) was my most faithful worker.

As we were paying for our apples (only .70/lb!), the boys caught sight of the maple syrup they were also selling. The boys wanted some, but I held them off ...maple syrup is expensive! Finally I decided they could buy some --if they went and bought it themselves (learning experience = added value, to me). 

I gave SA(7) the money, and told JJ(5) to go with him and ask for a small bottle. They started off to the tiny store, but before they got there, JJ came back. "I'm shy, Mama," he said.
"I know," I said. "You just go along with SA. He's not shy."
They got to the little store, but didn't go in. All three of them (by this time MM had decided he wanted to be in on it, too) hung around the door and peeked in. This time SA came back.
"I've never done bought something without you before, and I feel nervous about it," said he.
"Well," I said firmly, "If you boys don't buy it, we're not going to have it."
So they went back again. At the door, they peeked in and looked back at me. "Go on," I encouraged.
They went in. Five seconds later, JJ came tearing out with the maple syrup, and SA came out more slowly with the change.
"Did he give you the correct change?" I asked. 
"Yes," he said.
JJ was dancing with excitement. "He gave me the maple syrup, and he gave SA the money!"
"Did you do it the way I told you?" I asked them.
"Not exactly," said SA, "I didn't ask for a small bottle, I asked for a 500 millilitre bottle, because that's how much the small bottles hold."

So we went home and had apple pancakes and maple syrup for lunch.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wednesday With Words: Poetry of Sound and Feeling

I was reading Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Bells" to the boys at teatime today and it made me think of the different reasons we love different poems. We enjoy poetry very simply here --no analysis or picking apart, just reading and enjoyment. I'm sure we'll engage in some analysis later on, perhaps in high school, but for now we're laying a foundation of pure pleasure in the words, the sounds, the meanings, the feelings. "The Bells" is one of those poems where the sound of the words sweeps you along and evokes emotion, from the cheerful tinkling of the silver sledge bells at the beginning of the poem to the desperate, frenzied tolling of the iron bells at the end. This kind of poem almost reads itself... it pulls expression from you as you read it.

And that brings me to one of my favourite poems of this kind: "Tarantella" by Hilaire Belloc. It's not quite as heavy as Poe's "Bells," despite the "feet of the dead" and "Doom" at the end.

Tarantella

Do you remember an Inn,
Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of the tar,
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the dark of the vine verandah)?
Do you remember an Inn,
Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the Din?
And the Hip! Hop! Hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Glancing,
Dancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in--
And the Ting, Tong, Tang of the Guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more,
Miranda,
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar:
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the Halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground.
No sound:
Only the boom
Of the far Waterfall like Doom.

Did you read it aloud? Could you feel the din and whirl of the dance, and then the abrupt slowdown as you understood the depth of the silence and desolation of the Inn now?

Having children and reading poetry aloud to them has increased my enjoyment so much. I would never have glanced at this one twice back in the days when I only read poetry silently to myself. Some poems are meant to be read aloud, and you only understand their appeal when you do.

Do you have any examples of poems that are best read aloud? I'd love to hear them!


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Field Trip to Orwell Corner

 Today, we went to Orwell Corner, a local historic village.

A little over 100 years ago in this one-room schoolhouse, science in the early years took the form of nature study. My boys didn't see anything strange or different about that at all. This was a humming-bird nest.

MM(3) dipping candles.
We had a lovely long wagon ride.

There were also animals to see, a blacksmith shop to visit, and a general store with many interesting artifacts.

My favourite part of the experience was seeing SA(7) at the blacksmith shop. He was very interested in everything about it, and it was a joy to see the utter unself-consciousness with which he peppered the blacksmith with questions and exclaimed in wonder at the temperature of the glowing metal. He learned a lot today, and told his papa all about it when he got home tonight. I love natural, spontaneous narration!


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wednesday with Words: Hannah Coulter

It is difficult to read whole books, these days. I have been snatching moments while nursing. There is a book on the windowsill in my bathroom. My library basket is full of books I want to read, but will probably not get to right now. I feel like this last month or so since baby AJ has learned to crawl has been the most overwhelmingly busy time I've had since I became a mother. Meanwhile, I have joined a book club. I really could not resist, you see. We are reading Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry.

I have made it through the first five chapters so far. Thankfully this is one book that is best read slowly anyway.
"This is the story of my life, that while I lived it weighed upon me and pressed against me and filled all my senses to overflowing and now is like a dream dreamed. So close to the end now, what do I look forward to? 'Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.' Some morning, I pray, I'll have the good happiness of 'the man who woke up dead,' who Burley Coulter used to tell about.
This is my story, my giving of thanks." (Hannah Coulter, p. 5)
I think Hannah Coulter has the heart of wisdom of Psalm 90:
"So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom."


Another quote that provoked meditation in me as a mother and the educator of my children was Hannah speaking of her grandmam:
"She shaped my life, without of course knowing what my life would be. She taught me many things I was going to need to know, without either of us knowing I would need to know them. She made the connections that made my life, as you will see." (Hannah Coulter, p. 11)
I know that God knows the future of my children. That He is using me in just such a role is exciting, frightening, and humbling, all at the same time. But I trust He knows what He's doing, even if I don't.

What have you been reading?



Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: Middlebury Interactive Languages

Over the last couple of months, I have had the opportunity to use and review Elementary French 1, Grades K-2 from Middlebury Interactive Languages.

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
This has been more of a challenge than you might think for me, because I know that you, my loyal readers, will be looking for an evaluation as to how this program lines up with Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy and methods. You will get it, but you should know that up till now I have not been a very good Charlotte Mason homeschooler when it comes to teaching foreign language. This is not because I do not agree with her methods. It is purely a matter of intimidation. I don't feel qualified to teach French. I know a fair amount of French from high school, but my accent is far from pure, and I wouldn't dare to actually speak French to a real French-speaking person. I have used and dropped one program with my children already, and have been half-heartedly searching for the perfect program. I say half-heartedly, because I know that once I find it, I will probably have to shell out quite a bit of money for it! Meanwhile, we have been choosing one theme and one French song per term, and watching YouTube videos once a week relating to that theme and song. Then came the opportunity to try Middlebury Interactive Languages.

The courses offered by Middlebury Interactive Languages are all online. They offer Spanish, French, German, and Chinese courses in elementary, middle school, and high school levels. These courses are an immersion approach to language learning using video and interactive multimedia. Elementary French 1 is a six-month subscription to twelve units containing six lessons each.  Units one through five and seven through eleven teach vocabulary based on themes such as greetings, numbers, family, colours and animals. Units six and twelve are review. At this level two to three lessons a week are recommended.

How does Middlebury Interactive Languages match up to Charlotte Mason's approach to language learning?

To begin with, I should stress that I am only reviewing level K-2, and so will only compare that with what Charlotte said about language learning for children under age nine. I have no idea whether higher levels of this program will match up in a similar way with Charlotte Mason's ideas for older children.

Immersion
Charlotte Mason believed that “French should be acquired as English is, not as a grammar, but as a living speech... "We must acquire a new language as a child acquires his mother tongue.” (Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pp. 300 and 302) While the lessons she describes are not at all like the lessons in Middlebury Interactive Languages, I think the immersion approach they take is an excellent application of this principle.

The immersion approach used in Elementary French 1 looks like this: each unit is built on a folk tale from a French-speaking country. In a video, children hear the entire story in French with animated pictures. Children take in the story directly from the French, understanding what they can from the pictures as they hear the story.

In addition, all instructions are recorded in French, though there is the option to hear them in English as well if you don't know what to do. Activities focus on matching the correct French word to the correct object rather than translating into English words, and children hear the words over and over as they do the activities. Each lesson also includes a pronunciation component, where children hear a word and then record it. (There is a version of this course that includes a teacher for an additional fee. I believe the recording is used more fully in that version for feedback. But even without a teacher, this is a great way to get otherwise reluctant children to actually say the words.)

Another part I love about this course is the emphasis on the fact that real people in real countries around the world speak French. The folk tales used highlight the different cultures of French-speaking people, and activities in lesson five of each unit give more information on the various cultures represented. "Living speech," indeed.
 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review


Hearing and Speaking before Reading and Writing
Charlotte Mason emphasized the importance of hearing (preferably in a native accent) and speaking a language first, before reading and writing and studying its grammar and spelling. “A child should never see French words in print until he has learned to say them with as much ease and readiness as if they were English,” said Charlotte, who considered a child's early attempts to read French words by English phonetics a chief cause of poor pronunciation.

In Elementary French 1, children do see the French words at the same time as they hear them. The words are included at the bottom of the screen on the videos, and are also part of the interactive lessons. This would not have been a disadvantage to my pre-reading children who crowded around whenever SA(7) was doing his French lessons. However, I noticed that it did affect the way SA(7) acquired the vocabulary. On the one hand, seeing the words made it easier for him to get the right answers in the activities. On the other hand, I found him doing things like pronouncing the number “sept” exactly the way it looks in English (like the beginning of “September” rather than like “set”.). I think Charlotte Mason was right on this. In this respect, this course would have been better for my three- and five-year-old boys crowded around than for the seven-year-old who was actually doing the lessons. SA(7) is naturally more visual than auditory in his learning, and seeing the words distracted him from the (for him) more difficult work of hearing and pronouncing that is so important as he begins to learn this new language.



Consistent Daily Lessons and Review
In the very early years (the earlier the better), Charlotte Mason recommends a relaxed, yet intentional and consistent daily French lesson incorporated naturally into the child's activities (for example, while playing outdoors). She recommends teaching a child a few, building up to about six new words every day. These lessons should not be random, but each one should build on previous lessons. Words learned should be incorporated into sentences and kept in daily use. “The child’s vocabulary should increase steadily, say, at the rate of half a dozen words a day. Think of fifteen hundred words in a year!” (Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 301)

Okay, I'm completely overwhelmed now, even though I have seen the incredible power of doing a little every day in other areas of my homeschool. I do have a slight tendency to throw in the towel and not do anything if I can't do it "right" (in this case, in the way Charlotte recommends). This is why I've been doing very little up to this point.

Elementary French 1 goes at a slower pace. With six lessons per unit, and perhaps ten new vocabulary words per unit (though all presented in the context of a story with many more words), the rate comes to an average of about five new words per week if you do three lessons per week. In our family, we began at the recommended pace, but now we have accelerated to daily lessons, mainly because SA(7) loves them so much.

Maybe some day I will reach for Charlotte Mason's ideal, but for now this pace is fast enough for us, and it's certainly much faster than I was going before.


One thing I would have liked to see is more regular review of previous words learned. Units six and twelve are review units, but I would have preferred simply adding a little bit of review to the end of each lesson instead.

I would also have liked to see the French songs always introduced in lesson five introduced earlier in the unit and repeated more often. Of course, knowing this now, I can always go directly to lesson five and play the song daily after each lesson we do.

Do I recommend Middlebury Interactive Languages Elementary French 1, K-2 for Charlotte Mason homeschoolers?

Yes, I think it is a very worthy option, especially for children who are not yet reading and will not be distracted by the printed word. You will have to navigate the lessons for them, as it is not set up to be navigated independently, even by a grade 2 child. I do not consider this a big drawback, as it keeps me actively participating in the lessons.

Some homeschoolers may find the cost of $119 per student to be an issue. While I believe the cost is reasonable based on the quality of the program, homeschooling families often live on a single income and spending this much on a subject that is not one of the "Three R's" can seem extravagant.

This is one program that we will continue to use until it is complete. If I find then that SA(7) is retaining what he has learned well, we may even consider buying the next semester despite our tight budget. I'll keep you posted!

For more reviews of Middlebury Interactive Languages, click on the link below.

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: Wonky and Tapple Games from USAopoly

We love to play games in our family. We play card games about once a week as part of our school day. Aside from that, the boys pull out games almost every day and play them on their own. Game pieces are scattered across my floor more often that I like to pick them up! Almost every Sunday finds us at Grandma and Grandpa's house, playing board games.

The boys were very excited to receive a box from USAopoly last month with two games in it: Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game and Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone. The box was ripped open immediately. Since Papa was home from work that week, he played both games with them right away. Since that day, both games have gotten lots of use. Tapple even got taken along in the van on errand day to keep the big boys content while I took care of baby AJ's needs.


Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game 


USAopoly Review

Wonky is played with cards and nine slightly oddly-shaped wooden blocks in three different sizes and colours.

Players each receive a hand of cards, and the tallest player begins the game by playing a card and placing its corresponding block on the table.

Play proceeds until *CRASH!* the tower falls. The player responsible for the crash must pick up more cards (This is not good, since the object of the game is to get rid of all your cards!).

It can be a challenge to stack the blocks, especially if your hand of cards only has large blocks after smaller blocks have already been played. Thankfully, there are some special action cards that allow you to skip your turn, change the direction of play, or get your opponents to pick up extra cards.

To win, you must either play all your cards, or successfully place the ninth block on the tower. We have not managed a nine-block tower yet.

This game is recommended for ages eight and up, but both my seven-year-old and five-year-old had no problems playing. SA(7) really enjoyed this game, and I know it will continue to be a favourite with him. JJ(5) enjoyed it as well, but lost interest if a round lasted longer than ten minutes.

One thing we noticed is that playing Wonky on the floor worked better than playing it on the table. Anyone jiggling the table could cause the whole tower to come crashing down. The floor allowed for more stable towers (as long as the baby wasn't around!).

Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone


 USAopoly Review

Tapple is a fast-paced, addicting word game. It is played with category cards and a "Tapple Wheel" containing twenty letters and a ten-second timer.

The beginning player chooses the category "In This Room," and we're off!

Player 1: (tap C) Chairs! (hit timer)

Player 2: (tap P) Piano! (hit timer)

Player 3: (tap B) Books! (hit timer)

Player 1: (mind blank.) ... (timer dings!) Player is out!

Player 2: (tap D) Drum! (hit timer)

Play goes on until there is only one person left. That person gets the category card and a new round is begun. The first person to collect three category cards wins the game.

Tapple was my favourite of the two games, though my mind went blank at the crucial moment far too often! It was especially fun to play with a slightly larger group when we took it along to Grandma and Grandpa's for our weekly game time. It was also great as a fast two-player game.

This game is also recommended for ages eight and up, but SA(7) had no problem with it. We modified the rules a bit when playing with JJ(5). We allowed him to choose any word beginning with the correct letter, rather than having him stick to the category. I found this game lent itself well to modification depending on the needs of the players, whether for more challenge or for less. We even allowed MM(3) to play, just allowing him to tap a letter and hit the timer on his turn without saying a word. This left fewer options for the remaining players, but it was hard to play this game at our house without including him. The ticking and dinging timer is like a magnet for three-year-old boys!


Overall, we had a lot of fun with these two games from USAopoly. We will continue to play them often, and that's a high recommendation coming from me!

For more reviews, check out the link below:


 USAopoly Review

Crew Disclaimer

Supermoon Eclipse

The Supermoon Eclipse last night as seen from PEI, Canada. Picture by my husband Stephen, who really, really wished he had a better camera in that moment. I think he did great with what he had!


When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Three Bean Salad, a Math Activity

We've been having fun with a math activity from Family Math called Three Bean Salad. It has been a fun way to work with ratios and proportions, and figure out how to solve for 'x'.

You give your child three kinds of beans and a recipe. Each salad contains all three kinds of beans.


A simple recipe might be:
2 white beans
Twice as many red beans as white beans
10 beans in all

A more difficult recipe is:
The same number of red beans as white beans
3 more black beans than red beans
A total of 18 beans

It took SA(7) a little while to figure out that last one, but he did.


JJ(5) and MM(3) also wanted to get in on the action. I made up some simpler recipes for JJ (for example, 4 red beans, 3 white beans, 10 beans in all) and let MM make up his own culinary creations.