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20 April 2017

5 Days of Books: A Feast of Ideas

The written word is really pretty miraculous. It allow us to communicate over not only vast distances in space, but also through time: Hero(10) and I are reading Robinson Crusoe as part of his school work right now, and in a very real way we are having a conversation, albeit a bit one-sided, with Daniel Defoe. This is really quite remarkable, since Mr. Defoe died in 1731, just shy of 300 years ago. But, through the miracle of books, we can consider the ideas that he thought were important enough to write down. One of the major themes we've encountered is that of God's love, and we get to see how Crusoe finally turns to the Bible in order to turn to God. It's a beautiful thing.

Mormon theology holds that writing, rather than being an invention of man, is actually a gift from God, originally given by inspiration, and that Adam and his children kept records, including records of God's dealings with and commandments to man. The Biblical account in Genesis gives us the highlights, preserved in those early records and recorded and passed to us by the prophet Moses, of some of the most important events and ideas of human history.

It is this ability to transmit the ideas and events of the past to future generations that makes the written word such an amazing thing: we don't have to start fresh every generation, ignorant of the things that have been learned by those who have gone before us. Books give us access to the "Great Conversation" that has been going on through the ages. And they give us the opportunity to bring that heritage, and its character-shaping power, to our children.

Some ideas can be found by the senses, but many ideas, especially those influencing character and behavior, travel from one mind to another. Of these, some are certainly passed by word of mouth or family traditions. But just as providing three proper meals a day requires planning, Charlotte [Mason] urges us to focus on quality and intentionally put our children in touch with ideas the best minds, which can be found in living books.
-Amy Hines, A Rich Feast of Ideas

Today over lunch, I read aloud from Pinocchio, who learned the folly of being a picky eater. The book has really captivated the kids' attention, and after reading about his antics they're not sure if they like Pinocchio or not. He, through his own bad behavior, goes without supper, and when Geppetto sacrifices his own breakfast for him my kids were appalled that Pinocchio would refuse to eat a part of it, then complain that he was still hungry. It was particularly timely, as my own picky eater left a small pile of green peppers on his plate. He prefers them raw, not cooked, but I could see the wheels turning. After that we got out our poetry for the day. I've been mulling over Hero's first poem from Wordsworth off and on all afternoon; there's a lot in there. Reading over lunch and throughout our day allows us to feed our minds as well as our bodies.

The life of the mind is sustained upon ideas... the best thought in the world is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving. 
-Charlotte Mason 6:25-26

We want the best books because we want the best, most ennobling ideas for our children -- and for ourselves, too. When we plan our education, we need to spread a generous feast.

All this week, I'm posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic or browse the linky below to see what other Crew members are writing about.

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19 April 2017

5 Days of Books: Second Language Literacy

Foreign language learning is a challenge. Lots of people take classes in one or more new languages; a relatively small number of people actually make the leap into meaningful fluency in their second language. Fortunately, a number of the people who have made that leap have talked about what they do. I've spent a fair amount of time over the past two or three years reading about what adult learners who have successfully become fluent in a second language say, and also lurking in groups of parents who are passing heritage languages to their children, and there are some striking similarities between what the two groups say and recommend, and it has profoundly impacted how I go about working with our family's second language.

The biggest takeaway that I've had from reading what these people say is that you have to make room for your new language in your life. The language that stays in the classroom, and never gets integrated into your daily routine, is probably not going to be a language where you ever become comfortable. Both adult learners and people who pass along heritage language talk about the mass of time that's necessary to attain fluency: they recommend aiming for exposure to the second language (L2) for roughly a third of the day. This includes conversation, obviously, but things like the music you listen to, the talk radio in the background, and yes, the books you read, count as well. The exposure adds up, and when combined with active study, becomes a powerful boost to your L2 skills.

Don't wait to buy books until you've already become fluent. Get the books now. Literacy follows books; it doesn't precede them. It doesn't matter that you can't read them yet. Buy them, and work on them a little at a time, and you will grow into them. 

Literacy follows books in English; it works the same way in your L2. The same things that support literacy in your child's first language will support and facilitate it in the new one. Get picture books. Board books. Bilingual books. It's ok if they're "too young". They won't feel too young, because the work of figuring out the unfamiliar words will make them challenging. Amazon has an amazing variety of books in foreign languages. I've been able to find books in Japanese and Welsh without having to delve into Amazon.jp or anything crazy like that. I've even been able to sometimes get Japanese books at the local Half-Price Books. Buy the books. Flip through them. Look for words that you recognize. Then, get cozy and play around with your dictionary. If you get stuck, you can take a picture of the page and ask what's happening on the HiNative app - they've been very helpful for me when that's happened. Every book will grow your vocabulary. The first one is hard. The second one, too. But it does get better; you will start to find words that you know already.

Preschoolers are famous for latching onto a certain book and demanding that we read it again and again. There are reasons for why they do this crazy thing: they are learning from all that repetition. We can learn from our youngest language learners, and imitate the things they do naturally when they are learning their first language to help us acquire our second.

Research about reading to children has repeatedly demonstrated this phenomenon, although researchers are not sure why some children develop such strong attachments to particular books. What seems clear, though, is that children’s preferences drive learning, and repeated exposure to a story can deliver benefits in several developmental domains, including vocabulary and motor areas.
-Repeat After Me

I have for several years been slowly building a library of picture books in Japanese, and it is remarkable how many times I need to read a book for it to feel reasonably fluent to read it to myself. And reading it to my kids reasonably well requires still more practice. One of the results of this is that investing in a picture book - even very simple board books - gives a great return on the investment: the books last as vehicles of active learning far longer than I expected them to when I started building our L2 library. There is a surprisingly large amount of language used in simple picture books and toddler songs about colors and numbers! These things build our base in the same way that they build our munchkins' base in their native language.

Sometimes, you luck out, and you find a classic that has been translated. The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into a host of languages. Not only did we find the book, but we later found that someone had set it to music, which is extra exciting: we then had the correct pronunciation of every word in the book, which was immensely helpful.

Figuring out search terms and specific titles can be challenging, but if you can find them, poems in your L2, something along the lines of Mother Goose, would be a great asset. Each language plays just a little bit differently, and the poetry that they teach their children is an introductory course in that play. They also form a body of common knowledge that most speakers of the language share, so if you can break into that, then you are adding depth to your L2 experience.

One place that I always recommend turning to for L2 text as soon as possible is to scripture. The Church has the Bible and other scripture (as well as other materials) in a host of languages. For some of them, there is audio available in the regular Gospel Library app. You can also get Bible text and audio through Faith Comes By Hearing, which has the Bible in more languages than I had realized existed! There is something special about scripture (obviously), and even if you stumble along a single verse or a single sentence at a time at first, it is well worth the effort of making the attempt: I find that it brings the Holy Spirit into the whole effort, and boosts the whole project in a way that nothing else ever can come close to.

All this week, I'm going to be posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic to see what other Crew members are writing about.

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18 April 2017

5 Days of Books: Supporting New Readers

In order to learn to read, new readers must internalize a number of skills. They have to recognize that letters represent sounds, and master about 44 sounds which are represented by a mix of individual letters and letter groups. As they learn to recognize which letters make the various sounds, they need to have enough practice to gain fluency with those words - research into how kids learn to read tells us that most kids need between 4 and 14 instances of seeing a new word before recognizing it becomes automatic. Give then number of words that kids need to learn to be able to read well, it is clear that they are going to need a lot of practice. Teaching kids systematic phonics helps them to progress through the various letters and letter combinations in an easier-to-harder order, and it also assists the teacher in knowing what kinds of words they know, so that we can find them books that are suited to their reading level. We want to consistently provide good books that are not too hard, not too easy, but just right.

At first, kids need books that are written with a limited vocabulary. I am a fan of the Bob Books because the first book requires only 4 letters to read successfully: kids are able to read a real book very early in the teaching process.  We use a combination of Happy Phonics and The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading, and I have adapted the little stories in TOPGTR into little books that I made up for my kids. These homemade books are great because they continue with the limited set of sounds that the kids have already learned, and finding ready-made phonetic readers is difficult. Fortunately, they're not hard to make, and kids are not demanding as far as the pictures go: no amazing art skills are needed. Stick figures will do.

After that, I get out our box of "easy books". These are leveled readers, which I usually pick up at Half-Price Books. Because we're getting them used, they're not expensive, and that means that we can make sure that there are books in our box that are interesting enough to be worth the effort of reading. The jump from phonetic readers into Step 1 books has been a big leap for my kids. I will sit next to my kids and help them read these, but I do not read books from the Easy Box. I will help, and I will read our regular picture books, and we consistently keep a chapter-book read-aloud going, as well as various LibriVox titles that the kids ask for, but I do not read books from the Easy Box. If they want to know those stories, they have to do the work themselves. This incentivizes them to make that jump -- I am careful to make sure that there are books in our box that are worth their effort to read! For Hero, this meant that I located easy books about superheroes: nothing else was worth it. Dragon is much less demanding. 

It's tempting to stop at this point, and consider the child a reader when they can read the leveled readers and start to branch out into the regular picture book collection. However, until they are reading chapter books fluently and voluntarily, they still need support and encouragement, as well as books that have a somewhat limited vocabulary and syntax. 

Early chapter books sometimes get a bad rap as being twaddle, but I think that's overly harsh. I consider them a bridge. They are not literature, exactly, but neither are Bob Books. To me, books like Magic Treehouse , or D.C. Heroes that Hero loved when he was learning, are an extension of the same concept of the Step 1 readers: books written with deliberately limited vocabulary and syntax in order to facilitate early reading. For Hero, we had an additional step between the stepped readers and easy chapter books: graphic novels. Those helped him get used to a book-length work, and they have a larger word count than picture books, too. 

None of them, Bob Books, Step readers, graphic novels, or easy chapter books are fantastic literature. But I won't call them twaddle, either: an emerging reader needs support. Some take to reading quickly and easily. Others are more reluctant readers and they need works that help them.Building fluency can take time, and it plain old isn't fun to struggle through a book that's too hard. We want reading to be a pleasant activity that they do voluntarily, and giving kids books that are appropriate to their skill level, even as they move into chapter books, is an important support. For some, it's critical. Hero was a very reluctant reader for a long time. If I had not been willing to give him books that had a somewhat limited vocabulary and syntax and that he found interesting, he may have never made it over that hump. This is not to say that we put just any old thing into his hands; I still didn't give him books that are based on rude humor or other twaddle. Meanwhile, the feast on real literature continues in our read-alouds, same as always.

For my kids, I aim to get them reading well. Fluently and voluntarily. Without tearing apart the groundwork we lay in hundreds of hours of snugly stories from birth, establishing reading as a pleasant thing, a great leisure activity, I want to make that transition to voluntary reading, which means that my emerging readers chan have limited vocabulary & syntax for a time if they need that kind of support for a little while. 

All this week, I'm going to be posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic to see what other Crew members are writing about.

5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017

17 April 2017

5 Days of Books: Literature or Twaddle?

 So, having determined that it's important to choose good books, the next task is to figure out how to identify them. There's a lot of names for the good books. Sometimes they're simply called literature. Sometimes these books called living books. Colleen Manning describes living books as "whole books, firsthand sources, classics, books that display imagination, originality, and the 'human touch.'" Charlotte Mason describes this kind of books this way:

For the children? They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' represent their standard in poetry; De Foe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature––that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life.
-Charlotte Mason, 2:263

Whatever we call this sort of reading material (though these standards really apply to all the media we consume), we're looking for material that is ennobling, that develops style and taste, that encourages the reader to aspire to become something more than he is. Character is the true aim of education, and we need to choose books that lead us to be more than we are at present.

As with companions so with books. We may choose those which will make us better, more intelligent, more appreciative of the good and the beautiful in the world, or we may choose the trashy, the vulgar, the obscene, which will make us feel as though we’ve been ‘wallowing in the mire.
-David O. McKay, quoted in Our Refined Heavenly Home

This is not to say that every book needs to be a big, heavy, difficult book. It's important to balance work and wholesome recreation in life, and this is true in our reading as well. It's ok to read simple, easy books, too.

A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader. … The master must have it in him to distinguish between twaddle and simplicity, and between vivacity and life.
-Charlotte Mason, quoted in Myth: Twaddle and light reading are the same thing

But what is "twaddle"? Before I started talking to homeschooling moms who study Charlotte Mason's methods, I'd never heard the word. It quickly became clear that twaddle is a pejorative, and these books are of inferior quality, and ought to be avoided. The word twaddle means "foolish speech or nonsense; talk or write in a trivial or foolish way." But it's used in a somewhat broader sense in Charlotte Mason circles: it also means works that are poorly written, or that talk down to the reader. It's fluff, like cotton candy: it looks inviting, but there's nothing to it. Books that are dumbed down, full of diluted knowledge -- and that includes altogether too many text books, which are frequently poorly written and engaging. Brandy Vincel has a great discussion of what twaddle is on her blog, and she says this: 

Light reading might call for a minimum of mental effort, but it still requires something of the reader. Twaddle leaves the mind stupefied and in need of recovery. To use a dietary analogy, light reading is a bowl of fruit. It has a necessary place within a balanced diet, nourishing the body when used in moderation. Twaddle is more like a box of Junior mints. The effects last beyond immediate gratification, and require time to efficiently work out of your system. They might taste grand, but when the pleasure is past you ache a bit, your moods are not quite under your control and your teeth hurt. Your mind might be capable of withstanding the effects of twaddle, but twaddle is never good for it.
-Brandy Vencel, Myth: Twaddle and light reading are the same thing

But where do you find this kind of books? I have a couple of resources that I love to look at first when I'm looking at what to read. One of them is the Ambelside Online curriculum. In addition to the great materials they recommend for the actual school books for each year, each year also has a lengthy list of suggestions for "free reads". The more that I look at these lists (Hero is using the Year 4 list this year), the more that I appreciate the quality of the books they have selected.

The 1000 Good Books list is another fantastic resource for high quality literature. Created by a group of homeschool moms, it's broken down by age level, starting with picture books and going through many of the great classic titles, including The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice, Up From Slavery, and a host of others.We have been using this list for years, and I have yet to read one of their books that wasn't excellent.

All this week, I'm going to be posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic to see what other Crew members are writing about.

5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017

16 April 2017

5 Days of Books: Good Books Matter

I have occasionally run into a school of thought that says, "As long as they're reading, it's a good thing, even if the book is not a very desirable book." Sometimes this philosophy puts on very reasonable, academic-sounding clothing and says things like, "Sometimes people use the word literature in a snobby, exclusive way, implying that these books are literature, and those books are not, but in reality, all written works are literature, and we shouldn't be so quick to discount those we don't prefer."


Some books are worth reading -- and some are not. And you don't have to dip into the truly filthy genres to find ones that are not. But, for the Christian reader, it's important to realize that there are objective standards from God that govern what books make the cut and which ones do not, and for any reader it's important to be aware that some books are simply higher quality than others. Some stories are literature -- and some are twaddle (trivial or foolish speech or writing; nonsense; also often used to describe poorly written works).  

One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child's intellectual life. We need not say one word about the necessity for living thought in the teacher; it is only so far as he is intellectually alive that he can be effective in the wonderful process which we glibly call 'education.'
-Charlotte Mason, 2:279

Miss Mason speaks of children, but surely the same thing is true of us all: the line between teaching and learning is blurry, and I think that most adults spend a great deal of time on both sides. The apostle Paul gave us a clear standard to apply to a host of things we encounter: including our books (and other media):

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
-Philippians 4:8

Paul's not describing Captain Underpants nor Twilight nor Fifty Shades of Grey's sick pornographic depiction of abuse here. He's not really talking about unobjectionably bland formulaic works, either. Paul is urging us to aim for the very best books, to make those books our teachers, to take their heroes as our companions. Books that urge and inspire us to develop the qualities that he mentions. Books that invite the Holy Spirit to be with us, so that we can learn, not only by study, but also by faith. Ones we can revisit, and share with our children and our grandchildren. Books that we can take something valuable from each time we read them.

It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence.
-Charlotte Mason, 6:56

As we select books for ourselves and our children, it's our responsibility to see that they have the best books to read and to be read to, and in so doing we will bless their lives through cultivating in them (and at the same time in ourselves) a taste for the Good, the Beautiful, and the True.

All this week, I'm going to be posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic to see what other Crew members are writing about.
5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017

10 April 2017

Psalm 15: God's Holy House

The 15th Psalm describes what the tabernacle (the ancient forerunner of the temple) is, and who we need to be in order to make the House of the Lord our home, too.

In Psalm 11 we read about the importance of fleeing to the temple; this Psalm is about who we need to be in order to be able to shelter at the temple.

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? 
-Psalm 15:1

Tabernacle is an interesting word. The Hebrew word in Psalms 15:1 that's been translated as "tabernacle" is ohel: a tent. while it's rendered as "tabernacle" 198 times, it's also rendered as "tent" almost as many times: 141 times. Genesis 4:20 talks about Jabal as the "father of such as dwell in tents", and it can even be used to mean housing for animals, as in 2 Chronicles 14:15, where Asa, king of Judah, has appealed to the Lord for assistance in repelling Ethiopian invaders, who are soundly defeated, followed home, and their cities spoiled, and the tents of their cattle destroyed, and the livestock driven off. The Hebrew ohel is used in each case: the tent for the animals, the tent of the people, and the holy tent that is the Tabernacle of the Lord.

It's very interesting to me that there is so much overlap in the language used to describe the people's homes, and the language that's used to describe the holiest places of worship: ohel meant both Tabernacle and also the tents that people lived in, and our bodies are even referred to as tabernacles. Today we live in houses, and when we visit the temple we go to the "House of the Lord".

In reading the Old Testament with my boys, we've had a chance to hear the lengthy descriptions of the Tabernacle that was built in Moses's day several times. I've gradually realized that there's a lot that's interesting in the account of building the tabernacle (It starts in Exodus 25.), and a lot of symbolism in it.

So when we are invited to the tabernacle, or in our day, to the temple, in a way we are visiting not only one of the Earth's most holy places, designed to instruct us and to help us remember Him, but we are also invited to, at least symbolically, visit God's home. The 15th Psalm is instructions for what kind of person we need to be.

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? 
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righetousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
-Psalm 15:1-2

In English, "upright" means to be strictly honorable and honest. But the Hebrew word this was translated from is even more demanding: tamiym is translated into several different words in the King James version, "without blemish" being the most common.

When one is described as tamiym, there is nothing in his outward activities or internal disposition that is odious to God. This word describes his entire relationship to God. 
-Strong's Concordance, entry for tamiym, Hebrew 8549

The 15th Psalm describes what the tabernacle (the ancient forerunner of the temple) is, and who we need to be in order to make the House of the Lord our home, too.

The Psalmist continues, describing several things we must avoid doing as we seek to make our abode with the Lord:

He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor take up a reproach against his neighbor. 
-Psalm 15:3

Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines backbiting as: To censure, slander, reproach, or speak evil of the absent. And it defines a reproach as: To censure in terms of opprobrium or contempt, to charge with a fault in severe language, to treat with scorn or contempt. This is not an endorsement of today's brand of "tolerance" that pretends that vice is as respectable as virtue; the next verse continues:

In whose eyes a vile person is  contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. 
-Psalm 15:4

Rather, I think this is commentary on how we ought to treat each other. To contemn means to consider unworthy of regard or respect. So at the same time that we draw a sharp distinction between that which is vile and that which is upright or tamiym, we should be careful to draw a distinction between the sin and the sinner, and to treat all God's children kindly.

The 15th Psalm describes what the tabernacle (the ancient forerunner of the temple) is, and who we need to be in order to make the House of the Lord our home, too.
From The Virtue of Kindness, April Conference 2005

The last verse and a half of the Psalm continues to deal with the standards of integrity and with our treatment of others:

In whose  eyes a vile person is contemned;but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that swearth to his own hurt, and changest not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. 
-Psalm 15:4-5

I love that this Psalm starts and ends with promises of blessings: the Psalmist begins by asking who will abide in, dwell in, the House of the Lord. And then, after outlining the character requirements, he finishes with this:

He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
-Psalm 15:5

Temple photo courtesy the LDS Image Library.

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07 April 2017

A Day in the Life

A day in our life as we homeschool and do our best at Christian living.

6:00 - My alarm goes off. I'm trying to move our mornings earlier, and I want to take my quiet time early, rather than late. I actually pulled it off yesterday -when I decided to do this around a year ago, morning started at 9 or 9:30, and had for more than a decade. So figuring out how to be a morning person again has been a process. I didn't make it today: I felt like dirt, turned off the alarm, and went back to sleep.

8:30 - I finally wake up again. I should have set a second alarm; this is longer than I wanted to sleep, and after yesterday's very early start at 5:30, it feels ridiculous. The kids give me a spontaneous narration for the tank documentary that Hero(10) picked out for them. I ask Peanut(4) about it and she tells me, "We watched tanks. They blow stuff up." Sounds about right. I put up our lists for the day.

A day in our life as we homeschool and do our best at Christian living.

9:00 - The kids spend some time watching Mincraft videos in Japanese. They don't agree on which one they want, so Hero and Peanut watch one playlist in the living room, and Dragon(6) watches another on the computer. I am making oatmeal, and try to also bounce between the two screens, helping the kids decipher an extra word here and there.

Doing these videos -just watching- is surprisingly effective at helping the kids to get new vocabulary and phrases. A number of the things that get said on the videos have become ordinary parts of our family conversations, now, without my needing to push it: the kids do it spontaneously. I'm not the only one that's having a slow start this morning.

9:30 - Breakfast. I made more than yesterday, so we don't run out. The kids are growing, and the amount I used to have leftovers from is not even close to adequate anymore: this is discovered yesterday. Peanut has a mini-meltdown when the screens are turned off, but then pulls it together. We do our scripture boxes over breakfast, until my BFF calls. I chat about 10 minutes, then tell her I have to go and teach the kiddos.

10:30 - Some people are dressed. Hero is practicing his violin, which is sounding pretty good. At his request, I text a copy of the video to my parents. I have the dishwasher half emptied. I need to locate our math stuff for the day. I feel disorganized. Dragon sees the video of Hero, and he wants to be in one, too.

10:50 - I sneak in some yoga right quick. Hero is working on his Japanese and Latin flashcards with the Anki SRS, and listening to (but not watching) various violin songs on YouTube.

Dragon and I finish out his scripture box, then he practices his violin and wants to also send a video to Nana and Grandpa. Then I persuade him to read to his sister while I finally get a shower.

 11:20 - When I'm done, I find the kids are exercising. Hero is doing planks, with "help" from Peanut. Dragon is right in there with them. 

Then, Dragon does a bridge - his first ever. He's especially delighted when I tell him that I can't do that one.

And Peanut does her "kitty pose". With the crazy hair. That's next. I fix her hair and mine.

11:50 - Our friends will be here very soon (we get a playdate while some of their family goes to a performance). We've done a good job, but we're not quite done with school. Hero sweeps the kitchen, then does a few review problems of 3-digit addition & subtraction with borrowing and carrying; then he does a logic puzzle. Those are a favorite right now. I do math with the younger two. Dragon is practicing buying things. We did a "Two-Thing Store" yesterday, where the store requires that you buy two things -- and only two things, add them up and produce the correct change. Today, he wants to do a "Three-Thing Store". So we do. I take the opportunity to introduce quarters.

 Peanut demands math as well, so I get out the rods and our scale and let her play with them. It looks like math, and even though I don't really show her much, she's delighted. She has more or less demanded to be in school too, now that she's "a little bit big". So I'm giving her things more of the time these days. It's pretty amazing to me that she's getting to be about the same age that the boys were when they started doing school, too. My kids are getting bigger.

12:10 - Our friends arrive. Dragon has one problem left, and I'm just mean enough that I make him do it -- and write it himself -- before he can go outside with the kids. He survives this cruel thing that I do to him. I put Peanut's hair in crooked. It's driving me a little bit crazy, but she's happy, so I'm not messing with it. Yet. The dishwasher still isn't completely unloaded, but I head outside, too, anyway. We've all got spring fever.

1:00 - The kids got chilly; it's only 45F. So they're back inside playing Minecraft. Unfortunately, we can't hook up their tablet to our computer's server: Minecraft isn't cross-platform compatible like that. But the kids work it out, and everybody seems happy, so I let them handle it. The youngest two want watercolors, so I set them up while I make lunch. At the end of lunch, we spend a few minutes watching some puffy Mourning Doves that have settled down for a rest on the deck. They apparently think that it's a bit on the chilly side too: I've seldom seen doves look so puffy. All the kids are delighted. When lunch is done, it's back outside. This is an energetic crowd; the house feels really quiet when they've gone. There were supposed to be pictures of the doves, but first they were blurry, and then they didn't download correctly. So you'll just have to imagine the fluffy, puffy birds.

2:45 - The extra kids are gone. It was so nice that their mom had a few minutes to hang out and chat before they had to go back home. Then another friend dropped by and gave me a belated birthday present, which was very sweet. My kids are still outside, but I still want to try to squeeze in a little art lesson before the day is completely over, so I get to setting that up. We're trying out ArtAchieve lessons right now, and today is the day for the very first one.

3:15 - We've got Eilleen Ivers going in the background (Hero and I saw her at the symphony a while back), and the kids are working on their box drawings from the ArtAchieve lesson, learning to really see what they are trying to draw. It goes pretty well. Dragon started out convinced that he can't do it -- since observing is difficult for him, drawing is, too. But by the end, he was happy with his work, and feeling much more confident in his abilities. I like to see that.

3:30 - Daddy's home!! Everybody is excited to see him. He inspects all the art. Peanut writes her name on the painting that she made for him, which is the first time that she'd done that: very exciting!!

3:40 - All the school work is done, except for the kids' chores. Dragon is going to vacuum; Peanut helps him pick up the toys. While they do that, the Daddy and I chat. Peanut got a Moana doll for her birthday in January, but she broke it. Now she wants a new one, but she has to buy it with her own money, so she wants a "sticker job" -- we told her that when she has three stickers on her chart then she can have the doll. But right now, she has to wait for Daddy and me to stop chatting.

5:00 - Daddy and Dragon have gone in search of ink for our older printer. Peanut has done her job, and she and Hero are having a snack. It's super quiet, and I grab a couple minutes to work on some blog posts.

The rest of the evening was very busy: we had a quick, informal dinner, then the Daddy had some things to do, and I took the kids to church for Scouts. Dragon read nearly a whole Magic Treehouse book while we waited for Hero's den to plan out what they're doing next week when they cook on a fire.

One of my girlfriends caught me while we were at church; she's so nice to me: she had been to Japan recently, visiting her parents who are serving a mission there, and she brought back a couple books for us. I'm so excited to get to work on reading them! They're all a little difficult, which means that, in the process of figuring them out, there's going to be lots of growth.

After that it was bedtime. I'm trying to fix my bedtime, so that it's more compatible with an early wakeup, and I did an ok (not great) job of getting there. Part of that was that I didn't attempt to read any of the new books; I limited myself to just looking at the packaging on the chocolates that she brought us.

See what a day of homeschooling looks like in other Homeschool Review Crew Homes:

A Day in Our Homeschool 2017

04 April 2017

Shepherd, Potter, Spy, and the Star Namer {Crew Review}

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver}
I haven't read any historical fiction that centers on the Bible in a very long time, so when we were asked to review Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer from Peggy Consolver - Author, I was looking forward to it. And the book did not disappoint.

The author's story is fascinating: she'd been interested in writing about the Gibeonites for a while, but was having a hard time placing them in their historical and geographical setting when she had the opportunity to travel with the Associates for Biblical Research and work on a dig in the Holy Land. She tells her story on their website, and it, like so much else on that site, is pretty interesting.

"I had begun writing historical fiction about the Gibeonites of Joshua 9 and 10 from the point of view of a young shepherd boy and his family of potters. Struggling with describing the historical and geographical setting one day, I quipped to my husband, 'If I really write this story, maybe I should go there.'"
-Shepherd, Potter, Spy and the Star Namer

I knew the story of the Gibeonites -- but not their name -- so I had a quick refresher, which was easy, because the relevant chapters are right on the back of the book: the Gibeonites are the ones that trick the Israelites. They dress up in old, old clothing, and they take old food, and they tell Joshua and the elders that they're from far, far away, when in reality they're from right there, neighbors with Jericho. And they make an alliance, though they should not have been able to, had they not deceived the Israelites. (I've always been a little amazed it worked, and that Joshua didn't say, "Wow. You low-life lying scum. You can't do that!" and attack them anyway -a fraudulent contract isn't really a contract, I thought- but that's not how the story goes. Which makes me ponder modern ideas of honor.)

The story deals with the horrors of the worship of Molech, but does so in a very delicate way: my 10 year old did not pick up on what was going on, though to me, already knowing, it was pretty obvious. I suspect that the story could probably be read aloud to a group with younger kids in it without needing to explain that worship of Molech involved infanticide, though we already had a read-aloud going, so I didn't actually read it to my younger kids. I would be comfortable doing it in the future, though, when we had time for it. 

While I really liked the insights into the situation that the book offered (more on that in a minute), I didn't like the way that the story ended. On the one hand, it was a foregone conclusion: they make the alliance, and for their duplicity, they're condemned to slavery. But, although the characters had been three-dimensional and relatable throughout, in the last chapter or two they're suddenly content with slavery:  turns out there's a family curse that condemns them to be slaves, but in this case slavery is salvation because it turns out that the vague belief in a "star-namer" deity (certainly far preferable to Molech) is actually a tradition that more or less becomes worship of the Hebrew God, and within a few hours of arriving at the Israelite camp the main character, a thirteen year old young man, has more or less reconciled himself to his slavery. He shows insight and adaptivity that a tribal elder would struggle to display... I just can't buy it from a thirteen year old that's just been given as a hostage and is suddenly a slave, rather than the son of a respected craftsman, tribal leader, and freeman. I like the story - lots, really; I could see myself re-reading this book in a year or two. But the ending was much more tidy than real life really is. There's not a lot to go on in the Bible, as far as the reaction of the Gibeonites to their new status, and I think that figuring out how to do the ending might be the hardest part of doing this particular story, and I'm not sure that I could do it better. But it felt too pat. Too easy. The rest of the story had been complex and intriguing, but then the ending was tied up in a nice bow, perfect and tidy. Real life isn't tidy, and this is a (dramatization of a) real story.

Overall, though, I think that the book is well worth reading anyway. It was really interesting, watching the story unfold from the point of view of the condemned peoples. Challenging. The rumors, as the Israelites are still a ways out, the terror from the miraculous crossing of the Jordan and the stunning destruction of Jericho. Anger. Fear. Refugees. I'd never considered the refugee situation that it would have created as people fled. Food shortages. Shortages of everything. Extra work trying to defend against the unstoppable force of the Hebrews' god. Reading the book made me think about the Conquest in a whole new and challenging way. Watching the family the story follows try to cope with this impossible situation really made the story come alive. It made me think deeply about a passage of scripture that I'd previously just read, scratched my head at the different customs, and moved on. I will never look at this story quite the same way. This book makes the Gibeonites and other Canaanites into real people. It takes them from being a faceless mass of people who are easy to perceive as just a mob of Bad Guys, and transforms them into a group of father and mothers and cousins and neighbors -- and it does that for both the Gibeonites and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Israelites. That's valuable.

I had Hero read the story, then asked him three questions:

1. Describe your favorite scene in the story.

My favorite scene is "When the Sun Stood Still", the last chapter. It was where Joshua and the Hebrews chased King Zedek's men, and chased them until they were all dead. And the reason is, at this point, the potters of Gibeon were servants to the Hebrews, and the Hebrews were defending their servants, and, it's not as bad as it sounds. And so, when the battle was going on, Zedek's men were blindsided, and Keshub got a new bronze sword. And then, Joshua looks at the sun, and just after he'd issued a command to kill every one of Zedek's men, I think it's because Zedek's men would continue to hunt and kill the Gibeonites and Hebrews, and then, after he'd issued the command, he went up to a nearby hill, lifted his arms, and told the sun to stay still.

2. Tell something that the main character, Keshub, learns in the story.

Probably the biggest thing that Keshub learned is that what the Gibeonites called the "Star Namer" is really the Hebrew God. And he could call him that, because Heavenly Father does know each of the stars by name.

3. Who do you think would like this book?

People who like historical fiction would probably like Shepherd, Potter, Spy and the Star Namer.

It took a long time for Hero to read this book, for reasons I never did figure out, so we didn't do tons with it, but there is a nice study guide to go with the book. However, he was quite interested in the weapons videos that are included in the study guide resources, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him and his best friend try to make a bow this summer or attempt to make a sling. His friend has already been researching how to do it from PVC, and they've been plotting. It's amazing the stuff they come up with!

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