"'Education is the Science of Relations'; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––
'Those first-born affinities,
That fit our new existence to existing things.'"

Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education
with a quote from The Prelude by William Wordsworth

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ancient Egypt

We finished up through Unit 4 of Connecting with History (well, we read a lot about ancient Egypt even if we have to catch up a bit on the other cultures of the time.

I picked up an ancient Egypt pack from a used book sale a year or two ago that looked intact and we finally put it to use. It contained all the parts to make a Tutankhamun mask. I started out using white glue but that was very slow going waiting for it to dry. Then I discovered the advantage of a hot glue gun.

I didn't quite finish the mask but I got enough of it done so the kids could wear it. Between the mask and the Jim Weiss stories, they were inspired one day.

They called me upstairs to show me the discovery of an unknown Egyptian tomb they had discovered.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

da Vinci Advent Art Study

I was inspired to include an art and music study during our Advent break by Studeo: Marian Songs for Advent. I wanted to put together some Madonna pictures for an art study; I needed to look no further than Leonardo da Vinci.

About.com: Art History has a collection of da Vinci images that includes 9 relating to Advent. And they're large images, too. Be careful--some of the later images are not da Vinci but were influenced by him. And I love his final work, St. John the Baptist.

Shown here is The Virgin of the Rocks, ca. 1483-1486.

Friday, November 27, 2009


We took this week off from any formal studies (other than cooking!) and we interrupt our regularly schedule schoolwork for Advent. I have found a few new intriguing resources for this year.

We will have our Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath. Jennifer Miller at Family in Feast and Feria has put together a wonderful reading schedule based on three books by Inos Biffi made available through Family-Centered Press. The schedule also includes two saint books by Ethel Marboch Pochocki, Saints of the Seasons for Children and Around the Year Once Uppon a Time Saints.

Elizabeth Foss on her Serendipity blog has created an Advent Around the World collection of books, links, recipes, and crafts.

I've bookmarked a fun interactive Advent calendar from the USCCB. Roll over the calendar itself to open the doors. Will something be in there on Sunday?

I need to finalize our Advent schedule. I've decided to continue MEP in hopes of getting Ds#1 into Y4 sooner (we just started the second half of Y3) and to get Ds#2 into Y3 (he is in the sixth and last book of Y2.) Maybe we'll do some history reading, too. Most of all we are excited about preparing our hearts for the birth of our Savior.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


For the past several years our family has been a part of a large co-op. The first one met in someone's home, and when she moved away the co-op fell apart because no one agreed about how to run it. We were then active in a second democratic co-op that also fell apart. Lesson learned: good co-ops need leaders to make the decisions.

This year we are part of a 3-family Catholic Co-op that is part of the TORCH organization. This has been dramatically different from our previous experiences. I teach science (of course) but I can teach the topic and method that fits in to the rest of my homeschool. Though I still have 10 kids as before, we can break into groups, watch videos, do outdoor activities more easily. Overall it is much more relaxed.

The two other moms teach cooking and saints. Our final week focused on St. Jerome since Ds#1 was St. Jerome for All Saints Day, and Ds#3 was the lion from which the saint pulled a thorn. The picture shows them reenacting the scene.

Speaking of All Saints Day, we also had a party with our TORCH group. We had cupcakes instead of a cake and put a saint icon on top of each.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More On MEP Math

I continue to be amazed by MEP and my kids continue to love it. Because MEP is so different, it took a year for all 3 to be able to complete one MEP lesson each school day.

Ds#1 is on the 6th and final book of Y3. Interestingly, MEP is just now introducing vertical addition--you know, listing the numbers vertically and then adding with regrouping. Finally, his 4 years of Math U See could be used for MEP and he of course breezed through these problems.

Those of you not familiar with MEP might be scratching your heads. What is MEP doing in all the time between learning addition and learning vertical addition? MEP teaches arithmetic using small numbers and then students use these basic skills to learn a wide variety of other math concepts and applications--continuing sequences, filling in tables, logic puzzles, money and metric (which focuses on units, 10s, 100s, and 1000s,) geometry, algebra, order of operation, and of course, word problems. They use small number arithmetic so much that moving to 3 digit numbers or vertical math with regrouping is simple because they already understand the concepts. It is just another or bigger way of doing what they have already been doing.

For example Ds#2 is doing Y2. MEP introduced multiplication and division together, one being the reverse of the other. And while most of his calculations are on the multiplication chart, he sometimes has to do things like 68 ÷ 4. First he says he doesn't know that, but he knows that 68 is 40 + 28, and he can divide each of those by 4, which is 10 + 7 = 17. He learns early on to regroup numbers because it is useful, not because it is what you need to do vertical arithmetic.

It is as if typical math programs put the cart before the horse. They certainly present the concepts of place value and regrouping enough for kids to get an understanding for them. But you better pick it up quickly because you're going to be adding 5 digit numbers soon! The message is that you need these skills in order to do the algorithm without any understanding of the greater mathematical picture.

I invest 40 minutes each for Ds#1 and Ds#2, and 20 minutes for Ds#3 teaching math and it is worth every minute. And to think such a math program is free.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mesopotamia Party

Paula is also using Connecting With History, vol. 1 for her family's ancient history studies, and while at times we are trying to reserve the same books through the library system, we do get the benefit of having parties at the end of each time period.

Our first party was Ancient Mesopotamia. Most of our kids dressed the part and we had a great spread of foods eaten at the time, including a 3,000 year old recipe for onion biscuits that ds#3 helped me make.

Next up will be Ancient Egypt at our house in a few weeks.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Westward Expansion: Santa Fe Trail

We finished up Lewis and Clark and began reading about the Santa Fe Trail. Of course we are reading aloud the Holling C. Holling classic book, The Tree in the Trail. Holling books are among our family's favorites. We read this a couple of years ago, but now that Ds#3 is "official" this is well worth reading again. The story is from the perspective of a cottonwood tree, so begins long before the "trail" that American settlers established.

We found several other interesting picture books about the subject. One is A Right Fine Life: Kit Carson on the Santa Fe Trail by Andrew Glass. Apparently Kit Carson struck out on his own along the Santa Fe Trail and went on to have a life intertwined with the country's westward expansion. (I'll be looking for some appropriate biographies to add on to our list.) The kids get a kick out of the vernacular; they were talking like Kit after we read it.

Another biography adapted for children is Along the Santa Fe Trail: Marion Russell's Own Story by Marion Russell, adapted by Ginger Wadsworth. The book details a lot of the difficulties and dangers of these times. James Watling's pictures are beautiful and moving, and a great part of this book's appeal.

I found a couple of historical fiction books relating to either the Santa Fe Trail specifically or Westward Expansion in general. The first is the highly recommended title Brave Buffalo Fighter by John D. Fitzgerald. Ds#1 is really enjoying this book even though, again, it shows a lot of the difficulties encountered by families migrating west. All of the fabulous historical fiction from Bethlehem Books are family favorites as well.

We also found a Dear America book about this time period called All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder by Megan McDonald. For those of you unfamiliar with these series, Dear America has fictional young women writing diaries while My Name is America has fictional young men. Our library owns all of both series, and I even saw a few about world history though the series name escapes me. I'm interested to see if Ds#1 likes the Dear America version as much as the My Name is America one. I hope so!

Here are a few good non-fiction selections with wonderful pictures and enough text for the 8 to 14 year olds to read. The Library of Western Expansion: The Santa Fe Trail by Ryan Randolph is short yet informative, great for younger kids. (The book is OOP and very expensive used, so hopefully you can get it from your library like we did.)

David Lavender has written longer works about the Santa Fe Trail, yet also has wonderful 64 page, picture-laden, narrative-style book great for this age group. The Santa Fe Trail by David Lavender makes great reading for this period.

Finally, we also have by Melvin Bacon and Daniel Blegen. Bent's Fort: Crossroads of Cultures on the Santa Fe TrailThis 72 page book is full of details about life on the Trail, including a few references to various faith beliefs and comments, Christian and Native alike. It also contains a fair amount of photographs and drawings.

William Bicknell opened the Santa Fe Trail in 1821 and its use ended, as did many westward routes, with the 1870's completion of the transcontinental railroad. The Trail of Tears is another topic that fits well into this one, as well as the early Mission Trails.

Here are a few web resources that I found though we have not used much yet:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hands On Homeschool Blog Carnival #12

School is back in session for just about everyone now, and our kids are getting busy doing hands-on projects! Here is the place to get inspired.

Cheryl is starting an official mailing list for this Carnival. Please drop her an email...CherylinMa at gmail dot com...if you would like to get a email when a new edition comes out. She's looking for hosts, too!

Let's begin with the many, many ideas Jimmie gives us with Living Math with Factors, Multiples, and Primes posted at Jimmie's Collage.

Jimmie also has a neat narration tool, Puppets for Narration posted at Heart of the Matter Online, a Christian homeschooling group blog full of information.

Go out and get your hands dirty! Katie give several suggestions for Using Nature Study to Study all Areas of Science posted at Katie's Homeschool Cottage.

This science lesson is after my own heart that Teresa blogs about in Best Lesson Ever posted at higher education.

Barb shows the beautiful art her children created in Geography Through Art: Ivory Chessmen posted at Harmony Art Mom. The book recommendation looks great!

Martha gives us a different perspective of "hands on" as she describes Today's Extraordinary and Amazing Event posted at Sunrise to Sunset. She also added in a hilarious post about a sign during her family's recent visit to the zoo in Texas is a Country, really! posted at Sunrise to Sunset.

Interested in making a simple, large, timeline display? Dana describes hers in Our Timeline posted at school for us. It is really impressive!

More on history, Sarah in the woods shows her family enjoying a day in ancient Rome in To The Republic! posted at The Forest Room. The Roman bath is just precious!

Finally, Yours Truly has a wearable science, or is it art, project Solubility, Capillary Action, Math, and Art on At Home Science. I'll also be sending this one on to Miss Julie's fabulous new kids' art carnival, The Gallery. It's well worth the visit!

Thanks for visiting the back-to-school Hands On Homeschool Blog Carnival. I'm really looking forward to more wonderful ideas throughout the year!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Response to "Unit Studies and Charlotte Mason"

Jimmie's Collage has a blog entry in the current Charlotte Mason blog carnival encouraging a discussion about Miss Mason's opinion about unit studies. Here is the quote Jimmie refers to:

"The well-intentioned, clever, hard-working teachers who create these concentrated studies have no idea that each lesson is an offense to young minds. Children are eager and capable of a wide range of knowledge and literary expression. But these kinds of lessons reduce their learning to senseless trivia and insipid, pointless drivel. They develop apathy that stays with them, and the mere mention of learning makes them anticipate boredom. Thus their minds wilt and deteriorate long before their school career ends."

Let me first define "unit studies" as the integration of multiple school subjects, such as literature, history, math, and science, based on a single unifying theme. Entire curricula are designed in this manner, the most well-known being the excellent program, KONOS. Yet even KONOS has parents supply their own separate grammar and math programs, and the science portion is weak in several units.

It is one thing to integrate topics that naturally flow together, for example drawing from your literature to create copywork, or reading historical fiction and period literature along with your history studies, or assigning writing topics based on your subject of study. Trying to make other subjects integrate, however, is like putting square pegs into round holes, and those other subjects suffer because of it.

Math and science are two subjects likely to be short-changed; this is because these are rarely the central theme of a study. Activities that integrate these subjects usually are contrived as Miss Mason observed. Creating word problems based on historical subjects does nothing to increase a child's mastery of mathematics. Science involves reading biographies or science history rather than learning scientific principles.

Today I see a different notion of "unit studies" in homeschooling circles, something that is more properly called "thematic units." We are studying Westward Expansion this year, so I have collected a variety of resources--books, movies, games, web links, lesson plans--relating to this theme. I do not try to integrate grammar, math, science, art, or any other subject into this theme. I do, however, provide a variety of approaches, including hands-0n activities, for kids to learn from, though our homeschool is child-driven in this narrow area. I give the kids an activity book and they pick out the project they want to do, or something else of their choosing, so they make their own connections rather than me giving them mine.

This goes back to my own philosophy about phantom "holes" I used to worry so much about. We are learning about vast subjects, like history and science, of which we could never master all there is to learn. The notion of "core knowledge" is an illusion when we consider all that we leave out of curriculum standards. And when we forget more than we learn of trivial facts, then what our children retain through the relationships they form with a topic is as worthy as what anyone else has formed. Our task as teachers is to provide the framework that reflects our world view and the resources that instill our moral values; our children will then forge their own knowledge relationships.

This reminds me of a G. K. Chesterton quote (who married a woman that worked for the P.N.E.U. by the way) that is at the bottom of my left sidebar:

"The present collapse of this country began when education was regarded as a substitute for culture, or rather when instruction was regarded as a substitute for education, or rather when getting facts by teaching was regarded as a substitute for getting truth by tradition."

That is where KONOS has it right--by centering their themes around Christian virtues. In that sense, our entire homeschool is one continuous unit study centered on the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Westward Expansion: Corps of Discovery

The first topic in Westward Expansion is the Lewis and Clark Expedition, or the Corps of Discovery. Here are the books I have found for the boys to read, and a few comments about them.

Of Courage Undaunted by James Daugherty is a classic. The Captain's Dog by Roland Smith is an interesting selection I have not read, told through the eyes of Clark's dog, Seaman. Seaman's Journal by Patti Eubank has the same premise only it is a short picture book. How We Crossed the West by Rosalyn Schanzer is done in the style of a D'Aulaire or a Holling, so I chose it for a read aloud. I have several books in the In Their Own Words series, which intersperses primary source journal entries in with the rest of the non-fiction text.

Below I put three "spines" that I found very helpful. Lewis and Clark for Kids is one in a series of books that chronicles topics and has a dozen or more activities to enrich them. The other two books are both what I call "timeline books," meaning the table of contents gives a timeline of events and each short chapter details those event. These and others in the two series will be very helpful this year.

Addendum...I forgot to list some of the web resources I found!
Online gamesWe also have The Lewis and Clark Adventure Game that has lots of information on the board, as well as the National Geographic movie.