09 10

18 August 2017

Morning Lessons and Long Afternoons




I've seen people talk about having mornings reserved for lessons, and long afternoons for kids to enjoy their own pursuits... and I've often wondered how people get all the work done in the morning! For a long time, I thought that maybe it was our odd schedule -- my husband's previous work was on a second shift schedule, and he held that position for over a decade, so we had very short mornings and late nights, in order to facilitate the maximum "daddy time", and allow him to participate in our bedtime routine. Had we been doing public school during those years, the kids would have only seen their dad on the weekends, which was not an acceptable alternative! So we had this odd, late schedule. And while it's been more than a year since he changed jobs and schedules, it's proving difficult to fix the schedule that the kids and I keep. So I assumed that part of the problem with our inability to get all our school work done in the mornings was lingering schedule issues. And probably some of it is.

However.

I was reading the Introduction to A Philosophy of Education today. I've read a fair amount of this volume before, but I typically skip introductions, so I missed this last time. This is what Miss Mason says:


This scheme is carried out in less time than ordinary school work on the same subjects. There are no revisions, no evening lessons, no cramming or "getting up" of subjects; therefore there is much time whether for vocational work or interests or hobbies. All intellectual work is done in the hours of morning school, and the afternoons are given to field nature studies, drawing, handicrafts, etc. Notwithstanding these limitations the children produce a surprising amount of good intellectual work. No homework is required. 
-Charlotte Mason, 6:9


I turns out that Miss Mason and I define "academic work" very differently, and that's part of the "problem" that I've been puzzling over: she appears to be dividing the students' work in to academic and non-academic work... and I haven't been: it's all school work to me. Miss Mason includes Nature Study in non-academic work, done in the afternoon. I like to go out in the morning; the weather is typically better. We also need to travel to our Nature Study area -- not far, it's just a local park -- but the need to travel to get there means that we don't do a little bit every day, we tend instead to do it once a week, and use about three quarters of our school day on it when we go out. Drawing and art work in general is another thing that I tend to do at less frequent intervals for larger chunks of time because that works better for our family.

Additionally, I love this idea:


When a child grows stupid over a lesson, it is time to put it away. Let him do another lesson as unlike the last as possible, and then go back with freshened wits to his unfinished task. 
-Charlotte Mason 1:141


The idea of arranging the day so that we typically move to a lesson that is unlike what we are currently doing is very appealing to me. In practice, what I actually do is put all our lessons on a markerboard, and let the kids choose what they want to work on next. It doesn't actually matter to me what order they do them in the majority of the time, so long as they are done at the end of the day, and the kids relish the opportunity to make those small choices. The distinction between lessons with Mom and independent lessons is, practically speaking, far more important in our day that Miss Mason's divisions of academic vs. nonacademic work. Independent work tends to be what we finish before lunch, simply because they don't have to wait turns to do it. Interestingly, when left to chose their own order, the kids nearly always order their days so that the next lesson is quite unlike the one just finished.

So it's really instructive to see what, exactly, Miss Mason is including in her afternoon work, because it makes me aware that the largest reason that we're "unsuccessful" at doing our lessons in the morning is because I don't make that kind of academic/nonacademic distinction, and in fact, leaving "nonacademic" projects for the afternoon would not work well for our situation for a variety of reasons. I am inclined to think that changing up the categories of lessons is not a critical alteration to the method: things like solid habits of attention and narration, the broad feast being spread, the respect of the individual student, and attention to the development of student character all strike me as being far more central to the classical education methods and philosophy that Miss Mason was teaching. While the specifics of our schedule doesn't exactly match hers, the principles that underlie: making sure that the important, but less academic, perhaps less obviously "educational" schedule items get adequate time, that is something that we both have in common on schedules that work for our specific situations.

Makes me glad that I read from her volumes; it's easy to start to worry that I'm somehow doing it wrong. But Miss Mason's ways are so gentle and lovely, it's well worth the effort of reading them yourself.

11 August 2017

Bilingual Calendering Update

I realized tonight that it's been almost exactly three years since we started to do a calendar "circle time" in Japanese. I was pretty frightened to even try, but my friend Mrs. C. was right: it's been much more do-able than I thought, back then. And all of us have grown as a result. We started pretty straight forward: just a calendar for "Today is the 11th of July." Actually, we often just count our way through the calendar, since there is some specific jargon for counting days of the month in Japanese. I need to work on helping the kids learn to say, "Yesterday was the 10th. Today is the 11th. Tomorrow is the 12th."



We've learned several songs in the process of doing this calendar stuff. Our toothbrushing song is in Japanese, and the kids know the Wise Man and the Foolish Man, among a few others. We're reinforcing place value -- and Japanese doesn't have the irregular and confusing "teen" numbers: numbers to 100 are completely regular in every way and make place value simple, which is nice. We can count to 1000, and sort of tell time. It's tough teaching and learning time on an analog clock in a new language, but they're getting there!


After starting to work with Latin Christiana, I decided to adopt some of their methods in our Japanese -- specifically, we're practicing some of our verb conjugations by chanting them. It's working so well for the Latin, that I thought I'd try it here, and it seems to be working here as well. It's a nice easy introduction to grammar, which I've been feeling the need to do. I plan to continue to introduce new grammar and vocabulary in this way, starting with the most common and most regular verbs.


For three years of work, it doesn't sound like much. But then I realize that we've done that much in spite of the fact that calendar time is one of the things that we miss as much as we hit. And my own ability to deal with these parts of the language has been greatly enhanced by working on them these past three years. And that's all to the good, because where I improve, I can help my kids more effectively.

We still don't have anybody but each other to speak to, and I'm still not fluent. But I do see marked improvement in all of our skills. Showing the kids what I have learned, in spite of not being fluent, doesn't freak me out anymore. We know more words, we use them more frequently in our daily lives. We just started watching the Netflix cartoon "Troll Hunters" -- in Japanese. And we have several regular channels for watching Minecraft videos in Japanese. It's amazing how much my kids have learned -- and use naturally and fluently -- from watching Minecraft videos on YouTube. I wish that I was able to sit down and watch it with them more often; we all learn more when I can come and do some dictionary work to help expand our vocabulary.



I really can't say enough good about the HiNative app. It lets me ask natives how to say the various things we want to say, so that we're learning real Japanese, checked over by real native speakers, and not a pseudo-Japanese imposter that we make up thinking that we're speaking Japanese. That's a real lifesaver, because I have yet to locate a book that will teach us household Japanese. But we keep asking for the sentences that we want to learn, and it's slowly adding up.

Progress, including slow progress, is success.

I'm glad that I didn't let not knowing scare me off. This is fun.

07 August 2017

A Narration from Fifty Famous Stories Retold

One of Dragon's favorite things in school is when he gets to listen to Aesop's Fables and Fifty Famous Stories Retold. We're following the Ambleside Online schedule for these books, so they will last for quite a while. Which he both loves and hates. He'd like to just gobble them up, but I'm doling them out slowly, so that he has time to think over each story, and really let them settle into his mind -- and hopefully his heart, as these are all stories that can give him something to think about, and encourage his character to grow in good ways.


There is something very special about spending a really long time on a book. And please note, I don’t think all books are worth doing this with, for sure. Not every book needs to be studied. I would only do this with school books — I’m not out to schedule and slow down my children’s free reading books. But these books that are worth meditating on and thinking about are proven so much more instructive when they are lingered over.
If each chapter had a powerful central idea, and I read three chapters without stopping, I consumed one idea after another, and had no time in between for my soul to be instructed by each individual idea.
-Brandy Vincel, Why Slow Reading Matters More Than You'd Expect


So he listened, and then he told me that he'd like to do a movie of his narration today, and I thought I'd share it with you.





Just for fun, after we'd listened to the story, we also listened to the William Tell Overture. He liked that, too.





02 August 2017

Commonplace Book: July

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. These are a selection of the passages that I've included in my commonplace book this month:



The best dividends on labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.
-Orville & Wilbur Wright, quoted in The Wright Brothers by McCullough, 125



Darkness cannot persist in the presence of light. I do not know, I do not know anybody who does know, how to put darkness into a room to make light vanish.
-Boyd K. Packer, quoted on Instagram



Madam How is never idle for an instant. Nothing is too great or too small for her; and she keeps her work before her eye in the same moment, and makes every separate bit of it help every other bit. She will keep the sun and the stars in order, while she looks after poor old Mrs. Daddy-long-legs there and her eggs. She will spend thousands of years in building up a mountain, and thousands of years grinding it down again; and then carefully polish every grain of sand which falls from that mountain, and put it in its right place, where it will be wanted thousands of years hence; and she will take just as much trouble about that one grain of sand as she did about the whole mountain... Most patient indeed is Madam How. She does not mind the least seeing her work destroyed; she knows that it must be destroyed. There is a spell upon her, and a fate, that everything she makes she must unmake again; and yet, good an wise woman as she is, she never frets, nor tires, nor fudges her work, as we say in school... Madam  How is wiser than that. She knows that it will come to something.
-Madam How and Lady Why, 9-10



If no other knowledge deserves to be called useful but that which helps to enlarge our possessions or to raise our station in society, then mythology has no claim no the appellation. But if that which tends to make us happier and better can be called useful then we claim the epithet for our subject. For mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness.
-Bullfinch, Age of Fable, vii\



Perspective is to painting what the bridle is to the horse, the rudder to a ship... There are three aspects to perspective. The first has to do with how size of objects seems to diminish according to distance; the second, the manner in which colors change the further away they are from the eye; the third defines how objects ought to be finished less carefully the farther away they are.
-attributed to Leonardo DaVinci



... we must continue to understand and educate ourselves if we wish to have success in educating our children.
-Dean & Karen Andreola, Introduction to the Original Homeschooling Series, Charlotte Mason, 6:iv



We fail to recognize that as the body requires wholesome food and cannot nourish itself upon ANY substance so the mind too requires meat after its kind. If the war [WWI]  taught nothing else it taught us that men are spirits, and that the spirit, mind, of a man is more than his flesh, that his spirit IS the man, that for the thoughts of his heart he gives the breath of his body. As a consequence of this recognition of our spiritual nature, the lesson for us at the moment is that great thoughts, great events, great considerations, which form the background of our national thought, shall be the content education we pass on.
-Charlotte Mason, 6:5


01 August 2017

In the Reign of Terror Audio Drama {Crew Review}

In the Reign of Terror


For this review, we were listened to In the Reign of Terror, and audio drama by Heirloom Audio Productions on CD, which is an adaptation of G.A. Henty's book In the Reign of Terrorm, and the downloadable study guide that goes with it.

The story is gripping. I didn't realize it at first, but this is not our first story from G.A. Henty. So far, I've really enjoyed all of his works -- and making it an audio drama, where they've gone a step further than just reading the story, and given it a sound track and audio effects, just really enhances the story. The characters, each portrayed by a different actor or actress, really come to life. The English sound English, and the French characters sound French. That actually made us work at understanding, particularly at first, because the French accent has always been one that's a little bit difficult for me to follow, and it's pretty thick at times. But our ears adapted, and we were able to follow without serious issues. The story is about 16 year old Harry Sandwith, who in the months just prior to the reign of terror, is engaged to be a companion to the five children of the Marquis de St Caux, and live with them in their country home some miles outside of Paris. Harry's family feels that, even if there is unrest due to the revolutionaries, it is unlikely to touch the home of the Marquis, but of course the revolution becomes both more widespread and more violent than anybody predicted, and Harry gets caught up in quite the adventure.


The recording is beautiful. The sound track is lovely -- both the music and also the various noises that they use to bring it to life. You can see the kind of attention to detail they put into sounds of all sorts in the clip they include on their "Who We Are" page, where they show how they collect the authentic sound of a door handle in a church for another title, In Freedom's Cause. In the Reign of Terror sounds like it's had that same attention to detail and high level of excellence as well.

I don't want to give away too much of the story, because I think you're going to love it, but of course things turn far more violent than the Marquis or anybody else anticipated at the outset. Harry has just enough time to learn some French and get comfortable with the family, and then things get crazy as the revolution picks up its pace. There are mobs, the Marquis rushes off to fight for the king. There is heroism in many places, betrayal, rescue -- at one point Harry even ends up briefly working as Robespierre's personal secretary!

Henty has included in his story a number of points of commentary that bring out the substantial differences between the French Revolution and the American Revolution, which I really appreciated because it made it really easy to have a series of conversations about the differences, and while, while the one was a noble thing that actually brought freedom to a nation, the other used noble verbage but descended into worse tyranny than what the existing rulers had exercised. As one character puts it, "It is not égalité, equality, the canaille -- that is, the common people, desire, but a reversal of roles." In the Reign of Terror starts with a bit of an introduction, where these ideas are given voice by Henty himself: "The difference was in their hearts. The difference was their attitude toward God."

In addition to the audio drama itself, we were also given a study guide, which is beautiful and extensive: 43 pages. The study guide is available through their Live The Adventure site. It starts out with some interesting background on G.A. Henty, and on a few of the key players in the French Revolution.



The study guide includes a lot of comprehension questions -- they have some for every chapter, if you are so inclined. We listened to this the way that we would a read aloud: no comprehension questions, and I didn't ask for narrations, but just let the discussion happen organically, which it did. If we had used it as a school book, I would have spread it out over a number of weeks, perhaps even a month or two, and we would have made greater use of the extension activities in the study guide. It's full of extra information: definitions of French words, and information boxes that help to paint a more complete picture of what it was like in France in that time, and the sharp contrast between the privilege and privation that existed.


There are two sets of questions for each chapter. The first are just basic comprehension questions, covering the sorts of things that we usually cover in narrations. But the second are really thought-provoking questions that could be discussion topics, or a jumping off point for writing papers for older students.


One thing that I particularly appreciate is that the questions both encourage the student to consider the story in relation to scripture and the gospel, but they are worded in a way nearly completely nondenominational, and while a one or two questions do suggest a total depravity/original sin perspective, it would be a very simple thing to adapt these questions to reflect the LDS understanding of the nature of man, which rejects original sin or holding children responsible for the crimes of parents, and embraces the inherent goodness that is implied by the Biblical assertion that we are the children of God. The study guide also encourages students to consider some of the great questions in government, relating to the purposes of government, what good governance looks like, and highlights the way that pretty rhetoric can disguise ugly intentions and deeds.




We had enough other stuff use of all the resources, but there is a lot of good stuff in the study guide, and you could use In the Reign of Terror and its study guide to do a really in-depth study of the differences between the American Revolution (which the introduction suggests shouldn't even really be called a revolution, but instead ought to be thought of as a "War for Independence") and the French Revolution, and a stepping stone to some great conversations about a host of important topics. And the study guide is written in a way that encourages you to consider things in light of what scripture teaches on the matter.

The story itself is great, and the study materials are outstanding. My first grader enjoyed the story, my fifth grader and I had some good conversations, and you could probably use this study guide with high schoolers for papers and discussions on a wide variety of important topics.



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29 July 2017

Odd Bits: Planning, Latin, and Burdens



::1::

We started doing Latin a while back, and I started wondering: once we've learned some stuff, what is there that we can read? I'm sure that I'll find some other, more traditional things, but there's this fun list of classic children's books that have been translated into Latin. Some of them are even picture books, which should make a good starting place for building a collection of Latin works. I think that, when you are serious about learning a language, collecting materials in that language should be a priority: literacy follows books, not the other way around, so I don't like to wait until we are already good at it before we start finding materials that are enjoyable to look at.


::2::

I love this story about the guy that got the Constitution amended -- who pushed and pushed until one of the Amendments that James Madison authored, one considered for inclusion in the Bill of Rights, but never actually ratified, was passed in 1992. Just as good is the way that the process affected the teacher that gave the poor grade that started it all.


::3::

It's time to make some lesson plans, if I can ever get my life to settle down and figure out how to get some uninterrupted time at my desk! This season isn't very good for that kind of thing. So here's a couple of homeschool links:

::4::



26 July 2017

William the Conqueror Crown Craft Tutorial / RigidWrap & CelluClay Review {Crew Review}


Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting KitFor this review, we were given the Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit, which is made by ACTÍVA Products. There is also a ACTÍVA Products' Favorite Sculpture KIDS CRAFTS, which is a free ebook designed to go with the kit, downloaded from their website.

This is a first for us; we've never used Rigid Wrap or anything like it. It turns out that there's a lot of tutorials on YouTube and Pinterest, if you search for things like "Rigid Wrap" and "plaster cloth", which was really helpful to me. There are also instructions in the ebook, but it was in seeing other people actually using the materials that I started to understand what the materials are like and get an idea of how to use them. The ebook includes a number of craft projects, but I wanted to make something that would line up more with the history that we've been doing, which is focused on the time period around William the Conqueror right now. I decided that we would make a replica of the crown he wears in one of the portraits that I found of him.

Image Credit
William the Conqueror is of particular interest to me because one of our ancestors, Ralph deScoville, came over from Normandy with the Duke, and that branch of the family ended the conflict over the English throne as a member of the Norman nobility that owed their lands to the new king, receiving them in thanks for his part in helping William to the throne. Because of this connection, I wanted this period of history to stand out in their memories, and spending a little extra time on doing a  craft, I am hoping, will help with that. So I found this picture, which I think is a historical painting, but I've had trouble sourcing for certain, and we're attempting to make a model of his crown. Rigid Wrap comes in a roll; to use it you just cut strips off it. We started with longer ones, about 4 inches long, and later used shorter ones to fill in specific areas. To activate it, you just get it wet, then squeegy the extra water out, though the kids most often just took it straight from the bowl to the project, without pausing to wipe away extra water, and it didn't hurt things at all; the kids were all really excited about this project and there was a lot of enthusiasm. We started with the round "bowl" shape part of the crown, built on one of my cereal bowls (covered in plastic wrap so it would come out at the end) as a mold.

The kit is really generous, so after we'd started the crown, we tried making a rock, like what the people who do model railroads and war games with miniatures make, while we waited for the crown to dry. The enthusiasm for this rather gooey activity was in no way spent, so we went ahead and got started the second project right away. We don't do a lot of playing tabletop war games, but the Daddy and I have enjoyed painting minis for years, and some of the scenery pieces that people were making in the tutorials I found for these materials are really cool, so I wanted to try making a rock. The base starts out with just paper and things that we found in the recycle bin, which looks amazingly credible as a rock shape already after we'd covered it with strips of Rigid Wrap. We set both of them outside to dry, hoping that the wind would hurry things along for us, because nobody really wanted to wait long for the next phase of the activity! The cool thing is, even with two projects in progress, we haven't even used up a whole roll of the plaster cloth.


At this point, I turned my attention to the CelluClay that's included in the kit. Unfortunately, the instructions in the kit don't have anything to say about this, which, although the box says it's a bonus, is half of the contents of the kit. This is frustrating: if you're going to include a "bonus" product (which is no doubt worked into the price), then there should be instructions on how to use it. After a little digging in the links they gave us for the review, I found a winged hearts project on the website that includes instructions for how to use the CelluClay. If I had bought this at the store, this would have been more than a little irritating to need to go searching for instructions: the included projects just say "mix CelluClay in a ziplock baggie", which isn't very helpful. And it really needs instructions: you mix the stuff you get in the box with water and mold it into the shape you want. This is totally different from any other clay we've tried previously. However, it's really easy, just a 2:1 clay powder to water mixture mixed up with your fingers, and it's pretty easy to manipulate the wetness a little, depending on what you're trying to do: more water will smooth out really pretty nicely (though not perfectly smooth), and less water holds its shape a little more firmly. The winged hearts project even has a video that you can click through to, so you can see what it's supposed to look like, which was really nice.

We coated both the crown and the rock with CelluClay, trying to smooth out the crown as much as possible, and using it to create texture on our rock, as well as fill in some of the gaps we still had between sections, and smoothing away the grid-texture from the Rigid Wrap, which didn't fit the rock idea at all. The kids had a great time with this part. Peanut and Dragon handled the crown and Hero did the rock. I mostly just kept the younger kids from getting the clay too thin with the water we were dipping our fingers in to do the smoothing.





In addition, I found that you can also play around with it as it dries, and continue to nudge it into the shape you want as it starts to harden, which is a great feature. I did that with our rock, smoothing out some of the spikes the kids had left, after it was drying and no longer the center of their attention. After we put the CelluClay on, we needed to let it sit probably close to 12 hours before it was completely dry. This project was one that we worked on several times over a couple of days. It doesn't take long at all to put things together at any of the stages in building it, but there's a lot of drying time in between, so  plan to do this with several days to work and wait and work again.

For the crown's little decorative ridge, I used another layer of CelluClay, and for the spikes that come out of the ridge, I built six little triangles with circles on top that on a piece of cardstock, just drawn out freehand, then tucked into the wet CelluClay.

I think that, if I was doing it again, I'd use very thin cardboard, and coat them with one or the other of the materials, which would toughen them up and give them a texture similar to the rest of the crown, but this time I just went with putting the cardstock spikes on the crown, set into the CelluClay. This idea didn't end up working very well, as they didn't stick to the crown the way that I'd hoped. But it's good enough to be fun to play with once it's finished.

Then it was more drying overnight. But I did spray paint the rock project black as the first step in getting the white lump to start looking more like a rock! We left the crown white as the base color, since you tend to get brighter colors that way, and Hero wanted to paint it red. I evened up the bottom with the scissors before I turned it over to them. A tougher tool would probably have been better, but I didn't have anything that seemed likely ready to hand, and the scissors did get the job done.  I did point out that crowns are typically made of gold, but Hero said he was going to start with red. He and Peanut painted it, and I went behind and filled in some of the white spots for them: the texture meant that Peanut, especially, had a hard time getting into all the dips and valleys with the paint. Which is just fine for the crown, and absolutely perfect for the rock.




Pretty soon, our own royalty were sporting crowns. We got out some of the dress-ups and costumes (Do you like the LOTR tunic that I made Hero a while back?), and messed around for a while.


The crown itself is surprisingly sturdy, and will probably last a while even in dress-up play, which is pretty cool. We didn't put too many layers on, probably 2-3 in most places, though the top has a little more where I was trying to smooth away the print from the foot of the cereal bowl we used to make it, and I had been a little worried it would be flimsy, but it's not at all. It's a little on the small side, so if you do this probably pick a bowl that fits the kids' heads a little better than ours did; I didn't think to size it before we started. 


The rock turned out beautiful. It even fooled Dragon into thinking that I had a real rock at one point -- and he helped make it, silly kid! I finished painting it, and then glued some of the flocking we have to do bases of our minis to make it look mossy and dirty... like a rock should. I'm really pleased with how it turned out. The projects in the ebook are cute, but they're really very young, and one of the things I wanted to know as if the Rigid Wrap and CelluClay could be used for projects that teens or grownups might want to do -- can they be real art, as well as crafts. And the answer is a resounding yes. I saw another Crew member talking about doing a relief map for part of their geography work, which is a great idea, especially if you're going to be working on a certain area over a period of time. I think it could absolutely be used for that and for all kinds of other projects, ranging from the youngest kids' crafts to serious art projects. I love the versatility of this product.



At the end of these fun projects my thought is that the products are very good, and there's a whole lot of different things you can make with them -- once you figure out how to use them. The instructions are lacking for both how to use them, and how to clean up: I ended up with plaster stuck to the bottom of my bowl when I didn't wash it out right away. Probably should have seen that coming... but I didn't, and a little note in the instructions would have been really nice. However, both Rigid Wrap and CelluClay are easy to use and the kit is generous enough to do a number of projects, so once you have learned what to do, the possibilities for what to build are near endless. Clean up is easy -- but don't dump it down the sink! I was looking at one of the other reviews, and plaster in the pipes caused some minor problems for one of the other Homeschool Review Crew families. But the lack of instructions are really the only downside. Clean up, as long as you do it immediately, is a snap: everything just wipes away, and any plastery water gets dumped in the yard. The cardstock pages we used to protect our surfaces were completely adequate to the job. You could use tinfoil or maybe parchment or wax paper if you didn't want it to stick to your base, but we just ripped the cardstock off and it was no big deal for what we made. Both the Rigid Wrap and CelluClay are easy to use, and I can definitely see us using these supplies again at some point. Plus, even after doing these two projects, there is about half the contents of the box left: I love it when good supplies stretch for several projects.





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25 July 2017

R.E.A.D. Curriculum and Review Pack {Crew Review}

READ Curriculum Notebook

For this review, we were given the Learn to R.E.A.D. Curriculum Notebook, a 36-week phonics curriculum with some language arts components, and the R.E.A.D. Review Pack, which is 28 early readers that correspond with the R.E.A.D. Notebook, both from the The Crafty Classroom. The readers can be used with the R.E.A.D. Notebook, or on their own. Both of these are kindergarten products. The R.E.A.D. Notebook says that, "If your child is able to identify a majority of the letter sounds they are ready to begin this curriculum."

My first impression, downloading these projects, is that the files are huge. The R.E.A.D. Notebook is 798 pages, and the R.E.A.D. Review Pack is almost 100. In looking them over on the The Crafty Classroom website, I hadn't realized they were so large. That is a lot of printing, and my printer wasn't working very well at the start of the review, so be aware that a number of my pictures don't reflect the actual print quality very well. It's also a black and white only, but a number of the pages in the R.E.A.D. Notebook are very cute color pages. For most of the pages, it's not a big deal that there are light places, and color pages are printing fine greyscale. We figured out the problem with the printer, so when I printed the readers, things were much better. However, buyers should be aware that these products are going to give your printer a workout! I found a notebook and started out with the first 39 pages, which gave me the instructions for using the curriculum, pretest materials, and the first word family's activities.

The first thing that you do with your child is check and make sure that they know their letter sounds. I was a little surprised at how much work Peanut still needed on this, and we spent the first week or two just working on letter sounds, and introducing the daily page. There are several pages included in the packet for testing letter sounds, and these have turned out to be extremely useful for finishing teaching the letters. I put these letter pages in sleeves -the curriculum suggests doing that with a few things; I did it with a lot- and we started out shoring up letter sounds. We also practiced some of the daily things, her name, some of the counting exercises, and so on. We started with the page of letters with pictures (which should be color, but prints decently anyway, even with my printer doing parts of the page extra light; also the capitals on the left are uneven because of my printer: the originals are not like that), and we just mark them with a happy face when she says the sound. She loves to see the happy faces start to add up. It's extremely convenient to be able to just grab the binder and have everything we need.


In addition to the page of letters with pictures (which are easier to read than the picture suggests, not bad in greyscale, and if you can print them in color they're super cute), there's also both capital and small letters that we'll be doing the same way until she has them cold.

After a couple days working with just letter sounds, I realized that the letters she needed to begin the first week of work on the -am word family (a, m, y, j, r, and d) are mostly letters she knows, so we started to work through that letter family, while still continuing to work pretty intensely with the individual letter sounds. This means that we're moving more slowly through these first lessons than one lesson a week, but I think that it's working out fine to do it this way, as far as how Peanut is doing with it.

This is the first page in the -am word family section. I had some extra page protectors, so we just tucked all of the pages in, which helps me adapt for the poor print quality because I can write out the words. Some of the pages are black and white; these rhyming pages are supposed to be really cute colored pages; my printer does all of them greyscale and that badly right now; the packet is supposed to be way cuter than what my pictures show. We sound them out together as I add each letter, and I give it a little circle when she's done it, because she likes me to.





There's a nice variety of activities, so even though we spend quite a while working on the same letter family, she isn't getting stale on the words. This means that she's happy doing enough practice to really get good at these words before we start adding in the next word family. And, the way that things are set up, it's easy to make sure that she's not just remembering and guessing, but actually reading the words. This word card activity was a huge favorite for us both. We set up a number of different sentences, but this one was one I knew Peanut's Grandpa would especially appreciate:








Review Pack READ



The review books are cute, and highly phonetic, which I really like. They're meant to coordinate with the curriculum, with a new set introduced every 5 lessons. The overview page has some color (see the screenshot to the left), but the books themselves are black and white, which is important for me right now. Really my only complaint is that it bothers me when phonetic words are introduced as sight words; in week 5, am one of the sight words -- but it fits one of the word families the kids should have learned! The only real sight word in week 5 is "the", and even that one can be taught phonetically if you pronounce it with a long e. Week 10's only sight words are "come" and "to" -- all the rest are phonetic. My feeling is that everything that can be taught phonetically should be, as that maximizes the child's ability to attack unfamiliar words. There are plenty of words that must simply be memorized; it doesn't make sense to me to add to that by including rule-following words in the sight words. That being said, these are lovely little books.

The setup for them books is pretty simple: you print them, cut them -- they're probably in the correct order as they come out of the printer -- and then staple them. Easy peasy. By this point we'd fixed up the printer, so I just went ahead and printed out the whole file. It's a good size stack, but I thought that would be easier to do than figuring out page numbers every time we need them. The instructions suggest using a kleenex box to store them, which I thought was really clever.




Assembly was as easy as promised: I cut them out with my paper cutter I got for scrapbooking, but you could easily do it with scissors, too. Then you lay them on top in order -- the books have page numbers, so it's easy, even if you get distracted while cutting them and lose your place. I cut and made up the four books that use the words from the first four lessons, and while Peanut hasn't quite gotten far enough to be ready for these yet, I'm really excited to use them. She must be, too, because she saw my pile of printed pages ready to turn into books, and spread them out all over (very carefully and tidy), and then asked if she could color them all! The books look excellent: simple, mostly really phonetic, and I'm excited to do them with her when she's ready. Once she's read them for the first time, then she can color them. She likes that kind of thing. 

Overall, I'm really liking this program, in fact I'm feeling very blessed to be on this review, since this is working so well for my daughter. They activities are holding her attention, there's plenty of practice, and the readers are cute. It's a good fit for us, and I plan to continue to use this after the review is done, instead of the other materials that I used with the boys.


If you want to read more reviews of a number of different The Crafty Classroom products click the banner below.

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19 July 2017

Natural History Artists and Techniques


We've had such a lovely time learning from John Muir Laws that when that Natural History Illustration course asked people to share their local naturalist-artists that I thought I'd make a list, so that I can browse through them at my leisure. I'm hoping that some of them will also have teaching materials to look through, like he does. But just browsing their art would be fun, too.

Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1840-1925) - Cologne, Germany
Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa
Jeannette Fournier - New Hampshire artist
Kathleen Marie Garness - Chicago Orchid artist
Jan Prentice - Connecticut
William D. Berry - from California, but did sketches in Alaska
Hye Woo Shin - from South Korea; I like her tree drawings
Lary Zach - Wildlife artist from Iowa
Angela Vaculik - artist from Ontario, Candad

Another resource recommended by the course is this set of measuring techniques. I've looked at one, and though I haven't had a chance to do any of the things they suggest, it looks like a good and useful exercise.









I love this quote that they included from DaVinci:


"Perspective is to painting what the bridle is to the horse, the rudder to a ship . . . There are three aspects to perspective. The first has to do with how the size of objects seems to diminish according to distance; the second, the manner in which colors change the farther away they are from the eye; the third defines how objects ought to be finished less carefully the farther away they are."
-Leonardo da Vinci


My first attempt at doing the homework for this course was a bird. Should have been a landscape... oops. But it's the best drawing I've done to date, so I'm still feeling pretty successful. I'm hoping to do some more with this, and to collect some more of the instructions to continue to work on after the course is finished, so that I can continue to improve. It's pretty exciting to see my work improving as much as it is.


18 July 2017

Mapelle Films: Trust Fund {Crew Review}


Trust Fund Movie

It's a bit of a change of pace to review a movie, rather than books or curricula! But Trust Fund has a fun homeschool connection: the cinematographer and producer, Isaac Alongi, was one of the early homeschoolers: he and his parents started homeschooling in 1982. He's now the talent behind Mapelle Films. So we watched Trust Fund.

It's a prodigal son - or in this case, prodigal daughter - story, and the framework of this beautiful parable (see Luke 15) is the anchor for the whole story. Reese, the younger, free spirited daughter of a successful publisher is feeling confined by her life, and the need to pay attention to basic mundane things... like having money in her account to pay her bills. Like paying her own rent or working. She's writing a book, and that should be enough "adulting" to cover everything. She doesn't get along very well with Audrey, the older sister, the perfect one who does everything "right".

Like so many girls from good families, Reese has "bad boy syndrome": the man she falls for is bad news: he's a member of an Italian crime family. Reese steals from the trust her late mother had set up for the girls and runs away to Italy, little realizing just how much trouble she's getting herself into. She comes within a hair's breath of ruining her life, but, fortunately for her, she's the heroine in a movie, and the parable has a happy ending! It's a fun chick flick: my husband was completely uninterested, and my oldest son was pretty ho-hum about it. I should have planned things better and had a girlfriend over to watch with me, but I didn't think of it in time. Even if my guys were unimpressed, I thought it was fun!


There's some cool things about this movie. The story, even though you know the basic outline because it's based on the parable, still keeps you guessing, and there's a couple of twists that I didn't see coming. And the pacing was different in a fun way: When, as an adult, I got my own copy of Disney's Cinderella, I was really surprised at how the style of the older movie is different from more recent ones: there's lots less changing of the camera angle, and there's more space in the movie to just enjoy, or to reflect. Trust Fund reminded me of that, just a little bit: the pace isn't as frantic as some of the newer movies. Maybe it's because we watch so much of action shows (the comic movies are big winners at our house), but this was a really nice change of pace. As far as the content, although she's run away with a boyfriend, and when she comes home there's another love interest, the movie is refreshingly free of bedroom scenes or anything of the sort. The only possible complaint as far as "too much skin" is that all the young women in the movie wear these (really cute) very short skirts... and that's it. That's the only content "advisory" that a parent might need to be aware of... and it's nothing! (I probably wouldn't even have noticed, if it wasn't for the fact that I strongly dislike wearing short skirts myself, so I kept thinking, "cute, but probably uncomfortable".) A movie with no content advisories whatsoever is a lovely change of pace! I also like the way that they follow the parable in that, when Reese comes home, the movie is only half done. The second half of the movie follows Audrey much more closely, and looks at her struggles to cope with Reese's decisions and her dad's responses... and the love interest that threatens to "replace" their mother in his heart. The father really is an amazing person. I had never before realized how super-human a parent would need to be, in order to respond the way that parable outlines. It's an interesting thing to ponder, as a parent. I'd never thought about the Prodigal Son as a lesson book on parenting... I see that passage a little differently now.

Mapelle Films also has an interesting study guide to go with the movie. Honestly, I was more than a little skeptical about it: it's a movie... what're you supposed to "study"? But the study guide was thought-provoking. It's written from a Protestant point of view, and the study guide to me suggests it's been written from a "total depravity" understanding of human nature. Total depravity, which goes hand in hand with the idea of original sin, is a Protestant doctrine which holds that we are, fundamentally, wholly corrupt, unable to even attempt to follow Christ because of what they refer to as our "sin nature". LDS theology holds that we are responsibly for only our own sins and not for Adam's transgression, and that while we exist in a fallen world, we are, fundamentally, the children of God (Romans 8:16), and made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), and being made in His image means that we are, at the core and in spite of the fall, fundamentally good and able to attempt to keep the commandments of our own will, though our imperfections in doing so mean that we must unavoidably rely upon the Savior's Grace. Still, even with these significant differences in theology, there was a lot in the study guide that was really thought provoking and beneficial to ponder. The makers of this movie have given long and careful thought to the parable that it's built upon, and they have a lot of insight to offer. These theological differences between Christian denominations in no way affect the movie; they only become apparent in reading the study guide.

There's also a companion volume -- you actually see it in the movie, which is kind of fun -- Love Was Near. It's recommended for girls age 12 and over, and since Peanut isn't even close, we didn't ask for that, but a number of the other reviews did, so if you're interested in the book or seeing other reviews, click the banner below:

http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/adventures-of-rush-revere-book-series-reviews/




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