Inspired by Angie: Solving a Homeschooler’s Dilemma

Recently, Angie, a Homeschool HappyMess reader, sent me a series of questions that I thought might make an interesting post, and so with Angie’s permission, she and I will together tackle the intricacies of designing a homeschool curriculum..

A climbing Angie:  Allia, I have been following your blog and am inspired beyond measure.

A leap of faith

Believe me, I am grateful for your confidence in our humble homeschool.  Homeschooling is a leap of faith.  You have to believe in yourself and believe in your children.  It is my hope, through this blog, that people can see themselves bringing inspiration and creativity to their own children’s education.

A Bounce hand paint

Mine is one step in an effort to right the wrong of boring, stultifying education whose tenants of secular equality for all has whitewashed history and distilled learning to nothing more than a series of meaningless platitudes, creating a generation of children with no interest in reading and little ability to write, let alone create.  Break out the paint, glue and glitter, read original documents, apply literature to history, perform a science experiment…together we can explore the planet.

Angie:  I have a few questions:  Do you use the literature to guide the history lessons or do you teach history in a chronological order (like other classical homeschoolers) and choose literature that corresponds with that time in history?

I am a strong believer in the benefits of teaching history in chronological order, after all, that is the order in which it all happened.  Like domino’s, each event was the catalyst for the next, each shift in beliefs, a result of the immediate past.  That being said, I have found that if followed too literally, it is difficult to ever get out of the Middle Ages, let alone Ancient Mesopotamia.  So, although I enjoy reading A Childs History of the World, by Virgil M. Hillyer, and my children love The Story of the World (especially on tape), by Susan Wise Bauer, sometimes (often) I will jump around.

 

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.  Hall of Armour

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. Hall of Armor

HappyMess boys wearing "real" armor!

HappyMess boys wearing “real” armor!

I am an even bigger believer in grabbing opportunities as they present themselves, and building a quick mini-lesson around an exhibit, or a play or an article in the newspaper.  History, and science are so much more interesting when a child can see the immediate application of the knowledge.

Joan of Arc, MET

Joan of Arc, MET

 

HappyMess kids studying Joan of Arc at MET

HappyMess kids studying Joan of Arc at MET

History at the MET

History at the MET

Museums are a great place to learn about the past.  Here we find that ancient peoples had similar aspirations as ourselves.

History books that we have enjoyed include:  The American Story, by Jennifer Armstrong and A Young Peoples History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. There are countless wonderful books about ancient Egypt and Greece and about every corner of the world.  I like to choose books with engaging pictures as I usually begin every History lesson with shared reading.  Initially, it is the parent, or teacher, who breathes life into the history lesson.  A good history lesson is like a piece of theater, filled with anticipation, suspense, surprise and resolution.

We have found that many literature books dovetail nicely with our studies.  When reading historical literature we concentrate on understanding the feelings of the characters, asking ourselves, Why did they make these choices? Respond in this manner?  How is this different, or the same from our experiences, desires, actions?  Frequently we will read a book that is so compelling, we will read the literature first and then research the time period afterwards.

Celadon pottery at the MET

Celadon pottery at the MET

This was the case with A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park.  We read the book, chose a quote as our school motto, and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to view original pieces of celadon pottery.

A wonderland boook picturesOh..and built an entire book club, around that experience, and created an Outreach Program, Wonderland BookSavers, that has so far, since September, donated 4,000 books to needy children both in the US and abroad…

A doc filmand created a 7 minute documentary film and a Destination Imagination theatrical presentation…see the importance of just one piece of quality literature…?

So, what was the answer?  Usually I am running at least two concurrent history programs.  One is plowing forward through time, looking at facts, geo-political factors, resulting changes, etc., the other is inspired by current events, great literature, museum exhibits or lectures on a topic.

Additionally, Homeschool HappyMess kids participate in National History Day each year. This leads to very in depth research into a specific topic.  This year we are focusing on the TET offensive and the media misinformation that surrounded that event, causing the American people to further turn against the Vietnam War.

A TET 1A TET 2 fall_of_saigonA 1968-Tet-Offensive-3Our older children have created a theatrical piece in which the “war fought in the living rooms of America,” literally comes home through investigative journalism.  They recently won First Place for their local presentation, and are off to the State competition next month.  Working on projects and competitions allows the student to “own” a piece of history.

We are also engaged in learning the fine art of the “research paper,” through a project on the Economy of Ancient Ephesus, as an offshoot of the study of Latin and a subset of the history of the Roman Empire.

History is the wonderful and terrible story that envelopes us all.  There are 1,000 ways to study, memorize, examine, and theorize about history.  Choose any path, as they say, “All roads lead to Rome.”

Angie:  How do you relate the sciences?

Well, we again take several different approaches to the study of science, for younger children I am content with doing fun experiments and visiting hands-on science museums and randomly choosing interesting science books or biographies from the library.  My goal is simple:  awaken curiosity and provide answers about our physical world.  Science and history can often be studied in tandem, as is the case with Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Copernicus.  Science, like history, is not a series of facts but a series of people.

A Truth at farm

leaf classification

leaf classification

Our 3rd grader is also following the BJU curriculum.  This provides many interesting facts and experiments in a more organized fashion.  Again, we read books, biographies and enjoy the world.  As our students get older we follow specific studies so they can learn the basics of chemistry, biology and physics.

Angie:  How do you go about choosing your reading list for the year?

A Bounce libraryI love classic literature. Generally those books, which have been known and loved for decades, are well written, use correct English grammar, have interesting vocabulary choices, reflect clear values and tell a compassionate story that resonates with young readers.   In other words, they are worth struggling with and will make your student a better reader and a more thoughtful person.  My annual reading list is comprised of those pieces of quality children’s literature which are at the appropriate reading level.  I mainly choose books the child can read himself, but also include a few that can be read aloud and discussed.  For our book club we have focused on books that reflect a message of personal growth and responsibility.  These books have included A Single Shard by Park, from which we took as our motto, “One hill, one valley, one day at a time…,” Old Yeller, by Gipson, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Carroll, Classic Poetry, Ancient Greek and Roman Myths and now, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan.  With each book, our book club performed a community service project…but that is a long story for another day…

Angie:  Also, a fun one:  is your schoolhouse an outbuilding or connected to the main house? 

 

HappyMess schoolhouse visitors

HappyMess schoolhouse visitors

In this case, since homeschooling has taken over our lives and thus, every corner of our living space I think it might be more accurate to say that our home is a modified outbuilding connecting to our schoolhouse.

Angie, I hope this helps.  Thanks for your faithful reading!  Allia

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is sharing the experience of growth with an unseen, but forever perspicacious community.

Brown Bag Surprise: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Have you ever started something that brings you to such a different place at the end that you can almost not remember the beginning?  Such was the case with our December Brown Bag Surprise.  It began on an innocent day in December, near the beginning of Advent.

Brown Bag nativityBounce’s Destination Imagination team is committed to Community Service.  This commitment has led them to view every opportunity in the light of service, asking, “How can we take this experience, gift, opportunity, and turn it into a gift for others?”

Upon finding an unused case of 9 dozen teddy bears, our church donated them to Bounce, saying,

“We know you will find something to do with these teddy bears.  All we ask is that when you do, write an essay for the newsletter and let us know how you used these bears.”

It was just three weeks before Christmas; visions of sugarplums still danced in our heads.

brown bag design 1brown bag design 2

Bounce decided to create teddy bear gift bags.

Bounce’s Destination Imagination team is also his Book Club, which is also the Wonderland BookSavers: Inspired by Literature team, a group which has, since September, donated 2,000 children’s books to multiple charities.  Their gifts are inspired by the literature they read.

brown bag poetry reading groupDecember is Homeschool Happymess Poetry Month.  Bounce and the Wonderland BookSavers were studying poetry.  They memorized the wonderful Lewis Carroll poem, Your Are Old Father William, from Alice-in-Wonderland.  They selected favorite poems and practiced their recitation skills, proclaiming their love of rhythm, rhyme and alliteration from the tops of ladders, the schoolroom reading loft, and the tops of bookcases.

Bounce chose his favorite:  The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe.  We had no idea how apt would be that choice.

Hear the sledges with the bells,

            Silver bells!

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,

            In the icy air of night!

While the stars, that oversprinkle

All the heavens, seem to twinkle

            With a crystalline delight;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

            Bells, bells, bells-

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

What would a gift bag be without a book of poetry?  Bounce found a wonderful, inexpensive, collection of poetry from Dover Thrift publishers.

Brown Bag poem book

We ordered 9 dozen books to go with the bears.

brown bag design 6And the Bears ‘n Books package was born.

brown bag design 3brown bag design 4brown bag design 5brown bag design 7Bounce knew that wrapped gifts were not allowed, and so he and his friends and siblings set about making the most elaborate brown bag designs they could imagine.

brown bag book boxes housebrown bag boxes in car Hear the mellow wedding bells,

            Golden bells!

What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!

Through the balmy air of night

How they ring out their delight!

From the molten golden notes,

And all in time,

What a liquid ditty floats

To the turtle-dove that listens while she gloats

            On the moon!

Oh, from out the sounding cells,

What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!

            How it swells!

            How it dwells

On the Future! How it tells

Of the rapture that impels

To the swinging and the ringing

Of the bells, bells, bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

            Bells, bells, bells-

To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

After 10 days of hard work the bears were ready for Christmas delivery.  We drove them down to the police station where Christmas gifts where being donated for local children.

brown bag bounce wth policeHere the story took an unexpected turn.

Hear the loud alarm bells,

            Brazen bells!

What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!

In the startled ear of night

How they scream out their affright!

Too much horrified to speak,

They can only shriek, shriek,

            Out of tune,

In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,

In a mad expostulation in a deaf and frantic fire,

            Leaping higher, higher, higher,

            With a desperate desire,

And a resolute endeavor

Now-now to sit or never,

By the side of the pale-faced moon,

Oh the bells, bells, bells!

What a tale their terror tells

            Of Despair!

While making these bear packages, a terrible tragedy occurred:  Newtown.  We were so stunned and saddened by this that for days our homeschool ceased activities and we simply prayed for the children and families of Newtown.  Like many in our community, our grief was too great to describe.

Now the police asked Bounce if he would be willing to donate his bear care packages to the children of Newtown.  They wanted to have gifts to give to the children when they returned to school.

brown bag bounce with state trooperAt 9:00 at night, when the town was quiet, except for a steady stream of mourners, Bounce was taken on a police escort tour of the many memorials of Newtown.

brown bag memorialbrown bag in our heartsbrown bag stay strongbrown bag picket fenceBounce left a Children’s Illustrated Bible at the picket fence, in hopes that prayers would bring some peace to this misery.

How they clang, and clash, and roar!

What a horror they outpour

On the bosom of the palpitating air!

Yet the ear it fully knows,

            By the twanging

            And the clanging,

How the danger ebbs and flows;

Yet the ear distinctly tells,

            In the jangling

            And the wrangling,

How the danger sinks and swells.

By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells,

            Of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

            Bells, bells, bells-

In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!

We know that it will be a long time before peace returns to the community of Newtown.  We respect their efforts to put forth a message of peace and love throughout this terrible ordeal.  As we travel on the highway we are most impressed by an enormous sign reading, “We Are Sandy Hook; We Choose Love.”

Hear the tolling of the bells.

            Iron bells!

What a world of solemn thought their melody compels!

            In the silence of the night

            How we shiver with affright,

At the melancholy menace of their tone!

For every sound that floats

From the rust within their throats

            Is a groan,

And the people-ah, the people,

They that dwell up in the steeple,

            All alone,

And who tolling, tolling, tolling,

In that muffled monotone,

Feel a glory in so rolling

On the human heart a stone-

They are neither man nor woman,

            They are Ghouls:

And their king it is who tolls;

And he rolls, rolls, rolls,

            Rolls,

A paen from the bells;

And his merry bosom swells

With the paen of the bells,

And he dances and he yells:

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the throbbing of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells-

To the sobbing of the bells;

Keeping time, time, time,

As he knells, knells, knells,

In a happy Runic-rhyme,

To the rolling of the bells,

To the bells, bells, bells:

To the tolling of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

            Bells, bells, bells-

To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

And so, yesterday, the police asked Bounce to donate his bears to a neighboring school in Newtown, one that has hosted many Newtown funerals, St. Rose of Lima.

Brown Bag school signThe Wonderland BookSavers were asked to speak at the school’s Friday Mass.

brown bag churchThey brought a message of love and solidarity, saying, “We want you to know that children all around the country are praying for you.”

They recited cheerful poems.  Bounce read a poem about a squirrel.

Whisky, frisky,

Hippity hop;

Up he goes

To the tree top!

Whirly, twirly

Round and round,

Down he scampers

To the ground.

 

Furly, curly,

What a tail!

Tall as a feather

Broad as a sail!

 

Where’s his supper?

In the shell,

Snappity, crackity,

Out it fell

 

The girls did a dual recitation of You Are Old Father William.

 

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said.

“And your hair has become very white; and yet you incessantly stand on your head.

Do you think at your age it is right?”

 

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son, “I feared it might injure the brain. 

But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,

Why I do it again, and again”

 

“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,

And have grown most uncommonly fat;

Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door,

Pray, what is the reason for that?”

 

“In my youth,” said the man, as he shook his gray locks,

“I kept all my limbs very supple.

 By the use of this ointment,  One shilling the box.

 Allow me to sell you a couple.”

 

“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak

For anything tougher than suet;

Yet you finished the goose with the bones and the beak-

Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

 

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,

And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,

Has lasted the rest of my life.”

 

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose

That your eye was as steady as ever;

Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose-

What made you so awfully clever?”

 

“I have answered three questions and that is enough,”

Said his father, “Don’t give yourself airs!

Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?

Be off, or I’ll kick you downstairs!”

Brown Bag Old w:eel

St. Rose students thanked the Wonderland BookSavers with a standing ovation.

Wonderland BookSavers asked the St Rose children to join them in their quest to gather children’s books to donate to a library in Appalachia.  The St. Rose children were eager to help.  This week Wonderland BookSavers will bring boxes and posters for a book-drive to St. Rose, and a new collaboration will be born.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.  John Donne

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is living our commitment to the global community.  Love thy neighbor as thy self.

Adventures in Bookland: Destination Imagination (again!)

Homeschool Happymess is counting down to Christmas and the vacation that surrounds this wonderful time of year.

WBS Truth and Bounce atlasWe are crazily trying to complete all our fall projects, blasting through those half-discarded spelling books, competing with one another,

“How many chapters have YOU completed in Wordly Wise?”

Our older students have final exams in Latin, Witty Wordsmith, Chemistry, Algebra, and History of Science, to name just a few.  They can be found up at all hours, musing over flashcards, strewn across couches, reciting archaic languages and studying arcane scientific facts.  They are dedicated.  They are restless.  They anticipate the conclusion and yet, 15 page term papers still loom in their immediate futures

Our younger students are delighting in the wreaths that are newly hung on all the doors and windows.  They eagerly search every magazine for clues as to what Santa may bring.  They are crafting and wrapping small games and puzzles for their favorite stuffed animals.  Adventure Bear will receive a lovely pot of marmalade, purloined from a breakfast buffet.  Gifts are wrapped and hidden.  Bounce has an elaborate pirate treasure map detailing all the locations.  I encounter these odd items as I search the back of cupboards and behind doors looking for missing Christmas china and wrapping paper.

WBS reading trainAnd throughout the mayhem emerges our newest project:  The Wonderland BookSavers:  Inspired by Literature

This year Bounce and his friends formed a new book club dedicated to reading and discussing   Classic Children’s Literature.  The book group members are young enthusiasts who are committed to making the world a better place.  Following their reading of Old Yeller, (previous post), the group read, and became entranced by, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll.

alice-in-wonderland white rabbitThey decided to name their Destination Imagination Project Outreach team after Alice in Wonderland and after great thought they have created the already amazing, Wonderland BookSavers.

WBS researchingTheir mission is to redistribute gently used children’s books to children, libraries and schools who have need of these books.

WBS donate 1WBS donate 2Thus far they have donated 685 books to a local charter school library.

WBS boxes and bookThey are currently preparing another 1,000 books to be sent to a community in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia.

Wonderland BookSavers has already had a strikingly positive influence on this initially simple homeschool book club.  The children are able to see the tremendous impact that literature can have upon the imagination and the spirit of the reader.  They understand that reading is a form of communication, both with the author and with other readers.  They value the time that they spend reading and discussing literature and thus they see the value that books have for all children and communities.

WBS Bounce with booksWonderland BookSavers are committed to enlarging the community of children that have access to books.  The children love handling all the “used” books.  They pore over the pictures, read aloud sections to one another, and generally have the opportunity to enjoy hundreds of books that they might otherwise never have seen.

Occasionally they will hold a book up in disgust,

“This is TOTALLY inappropriate,”

as a modern and heavily pregnant Mary goes lurching along on a donkey in a parody of Mary and Joseph, and out the book goes in the trash.

WBS stacked boxesBut mostly, these discarded and unloved books are wonderful classics and our children fall in love with them before carefully placing them in the box with the other treasures.

Wonderland BookSavers are wondering, “Who are these other unknown children?” and, “Will they like these books as much as we like them?”

And so, as the Christmas Season is upon us, we find once again that, “Giving is better than receiving.”

WBS Bounce on boxesWhat we didn’t realize is that we would be watching 4 young children locating and donating literally thousands of books to communities across the country and even across the oceans, with their motto, “Inspired by Literature.”

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is watching a small book club reach out and touch the world.

Hurricane Homeschool

Hurricane Sandy has swirled, uninvited, into our lives, and like our neighbors near and far, our lives have been temporarily rearranged.

The leaves are now gone from the branches.  They hover in clumps at the bottom of the pool, shimmering on reflected trees.

We, like many, were Mandatory Evacuated.  In a matter of 45 minutes we grabbed groceries (everything we could see), clothing (not much), schoolbooks (the basics), one computer and the dog.  Of course, we forgot the flashlights.  And so we returned to our Traveling Homeschool mode that marked so much of last year.  This time, with our previous experience, we knew just how to do it.  Hint:  fastest packing item, the laundry basket.  Grab everything you see and toss it in a basket.  Throw basket in trunk and drive away. 

Meanwhile the kids were most distraught about missing their friends and Halloween.  In fact, that was the only salient point they understood about the entire evacuation process.  Prompting my husband to question their sanity.

“But we will be missing Halloweeen,” they howled in unison, as our car pulled out of the driveway.

“It is a National Emergency,” Husband replies matter-of-factly.

“But we can’t miss Halloweeeen.”

Husband turns the volume up louder on the radio.

Three hours later, when we arrive at our new temporary housing,

“When can we go home?  It’s almost Halloween.  We HAVE to go home for trick-or-treating.”

A revolt was imminent.  I unpacked the kids, dog and books and promptly set up a portable classroom.  This shocked the kids into silence.

You may ask, Why school?  With every single school in half the nation closed, why do we continue, undaunted, as we are pummeled by wind and rain?

Simple.  Parental sanity.  With 5 kids in a small space, schoolwork is the most direct route to peace and tranquility.

 We brought only our most basic books, math, spelling and vocabulary.  With many online classes and textbooks we quickly created a computer-share system with priority going to kids taking classes on the West Coast, where there are no weather-related delays.  Remarkably, they got everything completed and uploaded in time, despite being granted extensions.

With few textbooks we quickly turn to the best education:  classics.  By late afternoon each day we are draped about the room, swathed in blankets and reading the available books.  Athena is reading My Antonia by Willa Cather, Quantum finished A Raison in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and then found a copy of Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  Truth is happily reading Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Bounce has finished Alice in Wonderland and is now reading Through the Looking Glass, both by Lewis Carroll, and I am finishing Black Boy by Richard Wright.  Happily, with few clothes and much food, we are comfortably dressed in our pajamas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Scooter found a box of alphabet letters and spent several hours figuring out how to arrange them in alphabetical order. Soon we may use these letters to show Scooter how to create three letter words.  He now knows there is a pattern to word-making.

The lights began flickering and I began steadily cooking all the food in the house.  My husband asked, as the second roast chicken came shimmering out of the oven with several dozen baked potatoes, “What ARE you doing?”

“Cooked ford is more useful than raw food,” I responded, and went on to hard boil another dozen eggs.

So now it is officially Halloween and the police have canvassed the neighborhood and forbidden children from wandering around in the danger-ridden dark.

Needless to say, our neighborhood is now scarier looking than the best Halloween and it looks like real ghosts have been playing havoc with the town.

Our family, like many others, is thankful for our safety.  We are grateful for simple family moments: meals shared together by candlelight, games played by the fireside, and long afternoons spent reading cherished classics, all punctuated by long rainy-day dog walks.

Hurricane Sandy has provided us the opportunity to stop moving at the speed of light (electricity) and begin to move at the more natural speed of the human being.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is being grateful for the miracle of safety and educating your children through literature in the midst of chaos and adventure.

Wordless Wednesday: Have Sign Will Travel

We observed this man at the beach.

Man and his Sign.

We stayed long enough to determine that:  Yes, he arrived and departed with his sign, carefully folding it along with his chair and book, before returning all parts to the trunk of his car.

This is one dedicated individual.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is enjoying the local political scene while drinking coffee at the beach. 

Mystic Aquarium: Sea (ze) the Day!

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

 The engine rooms of the Titanic are fascinating and tell a poignant story of ambition and destruction.  Bounce and Scooter are amazed by the sheer immensity.  How can something this big be so easily destroyed?

Examining the varieties of fish, touching the leathery-spiny hides of baby sharks and avoiding the nipping claws of sand crabs make marine life accessible.

 Small portholes in the penguin exhibit give Scooter the impression that he is inside the tank.

The (brainless) jellyfish exhibit pure poetry.

 But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. 

Khalil Gibran 

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is finding beauty in all creatures, great and small.

Old Yeller and the Homeschool Book Club

Happymess is hosting a new book club this year.  It is wonderful to find new children and new ways to explore classic children’s literature.

Bounce creates his own book cover

What makes a classic?  Believe it or not, this is a discussion which the kids enjoy debating every year.  Some think there is a “committee” which grants a book “classical” status.  Others are sure there is a “list.”  In actuality, it is determined by pure love of literature, granted by a doting audience that discovers the same wonderful titles and falls in love anew with outstandingly portrayed characters.  A novel becomes a classic when it succeeds in telling an enduring tale that resonates with every reader.  It is timeless in its message because it speaks to that which is human in all of us, be it through fantasy, historical fiction or mystery.

And his own back cover

The challenge to the teacher is to help new readers discover the same beauty and meaning that previous readers have known for generations.  Our new book club has given this group of homeschool buddies the opportunity to share A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and most recently, Old Yeller by Fred Gipson.  We like to discuss the major themes, examine the author’s stylistic approach and imagine ourselves in similar positions.  Each novel has inspired its own unique approach, and Old Yeller is no exception.

We began our group discussion with a series of open-ended questions, designed to explore the experience of reading Old Yeller.  We noted that the end of the story was in the beginning, as is the case with so many great pieces of literature.  We discussed how suspension of belief allows us to read the entire story, almost oblivious of the inevitable and dire ending.

The kids were excited to share their insights into this coming-of-age story as Travis struggles to be the man-of-the-house in an unforgiving world.  Travis is a hotheaded youth forced to be tolerant, responsible and hardworking.  Eventually this trio of requirements forces Travis to mature and become the “man” he wasn’t at the beginning of the story.

The open-ended discussion was inspiring but the kids felt they were ready to tackle something equally challenging:  a detailed 50-question test on specifics of Old Yeller.  We found this excellent quiz on Capo Creations:

www.nt.net/torino/old50test.html

I was truly surprised at the children’s ability to accurately recall minute details of the story.

Example:  The man who used to go from house to house getting free meals and was too lazy to go on the cattle drive was (a) Bud Searcy (b) Burn Sanderson (c) Jed Simpson (d) Bert Wilbur

I guess you will have to read the novel with a magnifying glass to find the answer to that one.  Or be a 10 year-old avid reader.

Some of the group thought they would write an essay discussing Travis’ character development, tracking the parallels in plot with Travis’ maturation.  Bounce elected to make a photo book cover, front and back, with his own synopsis on the back cover, see above.  This was really fun for Bounce as he loves his dog and can understand the dynamics of a relationship between a boy and his dog.

Our book club group has a soft side and they love to help others.  They decided that in honor of Old Yeller, and countless deserving animals just like him, they would like to help animals at a local shelter.

So, all last week our hard working book club members have scrubbed floors and babysat and ironed linens.  They earned a combined $95.00.

170 Lbs. of pet food

 

Adventure Bear joins in the mission

This morning, with a delightful break from homeschooling, we met at the local pet supply center.  After rejecting the most expensive brands, our group learned to study the “price/lb.” labels and the “sale” signs.  They carefully perused their options, lifting 50lb bags of dry cat and dog food in and out of shopping carts as they weighed their options.  Finally, after great deliberation, they purchased 170 lbs. of cat and dog food for our local animal shelter.

 And now for the best part, they got to carry all that food into the shelter and make their very own donation!  And then of course, they visited with all the animals, wishing always that we could bring them all home.  Sadly, we could not.
Old Yeller now “belongs” to this group of intrepid young readers.  They are building their very own criteria of what makes a classic.  For these homeschoolers, Old Yeller will be filled with memories of lifting 50 Lbs bags of pet food in the rain, making old-time photos with the family dog, writing short pieces about growing up, competing with one another over test questions, and crying with Travis when he finally has to choose between his family and his dog.

Now that is what makes a classic.

Let Me Count the Ways:  Homeschooling is remembering that for each child it is their first childhood, no matter how many generations have preceded them.