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. 

Schooner Schooling: Lessons in Sailing and Marine Biology

A Yankee ship came down the river

Blow, boys, blow!

Her masts and spars they shone like silver

Blow my bully boys blow!

How do you know she’s a Yankee liner? 

Blow, boys, blow!

The Stars and Stripes float out behind her.

Blow my bully boys blow! 

If Homeschooling is so much fun, why not try Schooner Schooling?  Happymess joined a homeschool schooner and discovered some elementary truths about life on the water.

How do you know she’s a Yankee packet? 

Blow, boys, blow!

They fired a gun, I heard the racket

Blow my bully boys blow!

This 80 foot schooner is powered by…can you guess?  Yes..WIND …and Muscle.  The kids raised all 4 sails and were nearly undone by the amount of strength required.

And who d’you think is the captain of her?
Blow, boys, blow!
Why, Bully Hayes is the captain of her.
Blow my bully boys blow!

We really hadn’t thought about the fact that sailors sang while they worked.  The schooner First Mate led the Halyard Raising songs with great Sea-Gusto and soon all the kids were heaving and pulling in time to the beat.  Can you feel it?

Oh, Bully Hayes, he loves us sailors; 

Blow, boys, blow!

Yes, he does like hell and blazes!

Blow my bully boys blow!

This put an entirely new light on our Early Explorer history lessons.  Now we hear the sounds of the ship and breathe the fresh salty air; we feel both the excitement of adventure and the exhaustion of pulling the lines.

And who d’you think is the mate aboard her: 

Blow, boys, blow!

Santander James is the mate aboard her.

Blow my bully boys blow!

The boards sway under our feet as we scan the horizon.  Azure skies knock against the quiet rocking of the boat.  Lines are coiled quickly and sails are set to the wind.

Santander James, he’s a rocket from hell, boys, 

Blow, boys, blow!

He’ll ride you down as you ride the spanker.

Blow my bully boys blow!

We feel the lure of the sea that led young boys to leave the security of their mainland homes and jump ship, seeking adventures in the New World.

And what d’you think they’ve got for dinner? 

Blow, boys, blow!

Pickled eels’ feet and bullock’s liver.

Blow my bully boys blow!

Like pirates, the children rule this floating school.  They drop the nets, dredge the bottom, heave them back on deck (still singing) and explore their living treasures.

This flounder is flat as a pancake with both eyes on one side, “The better to see you with, my dear.”

Then blow, my bullies, all together, 

Blow, boys, blow!

Blow, my boys, for better weather.

Blow my bully boys blow!

Marine biologists explain that the color of the sea (dark green) is due to the millions of plankton that live in the water.  Although plankton are individually invisible, they are so numerous that they color the entire body of water.

Blow, boys, blow, the sun’s drawing water;
Blow, boys, blow!
Three cheers for the cook and one for his daughter.
Blow my bully boys blow!

Marine plant life is an important component of this ecosystem.  Guess who thrives on clean water and clean air?  All of us.  Another reminder to respect our environment.

A Yankee ship on the Congo River, 

Blow, boys, blow!

Her masts they bend and her sails they shiver.

Blow my bully boys blow! 

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is learning through living.

Public Speaking: Shakespeare Untangled, Only Slightly Mangled

Our local Homeschool Theater Company will be producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare.  Auditions are being held and the Happymess Kids, and others, are busy practicing, rehearsing and memorizing.

This unabridged, original language version will be performed with a cast of 24 students, ages ranging from 8-18.  No mean feat.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grow

We like to practice public speaking outdoors where loud, confident voices can shout to the treetops.

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:

 

Our homespun Happymess public speaking program consists of repeated practice in reading complicated, often strident, historic addresses and rehearsing literary monologues and soliloquies.

On of our favorites, for this exercise, is Socrates’ speech to the Athenians upon being condemned to death for speaking the truth:

In the next place, I desire to predict to you who have condemned me, what will be your fate: for I am now in that condition in which men most frequently prophesy, namely, when they are about to die. I say then to you, O Athenians, who have condemned me to death, that immediately after my death a punishment will overtake you, far more severe, by Jupiter, than that which you have inflicted on me. For you have done this thinking you should be freed from the necessity of giving an account of your life. The very contrary however, as I affirm, will happen to you. Your accusers will be more numerous, whom I have now restrained, tho you did not perceive it; and they will be more severe, inasmuch as they are younger and you will be more indignant. For, if you think that by putting men to death you will restrain any one from upbraiding you because you do not live well, you are much mistaken; for this method of escape is neither possible nor honorable, but that other is most honorable and most easy, not to put a check upon others, but for a man to take heed to himself, how he may be most perfect. Having predicted thus much to those of you who have condemned me, I take my leave of you.

This speech, once the words can be pronounced, can only be said loudly and forcefully.  Socrates is unapologetic and accusatory.  Our young public speakers learn to belt out his defense at top decibel. No room for stage fright here.

In fact, when Athena was interviewed after working as a reporter on closed circuit TV for Destination Imagination they asked her, “How did you get so good at public speaking?” to which she answered, “My mother had me stand on a rock in the backyard and shout Socrates’ death speech repeatedly across the yard.”  I wonder what the neighbors were thinking?

Another great public address we have used is that of Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro”, 1852.

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just. 

This can only be said unapologetically with force and conviction.

We like to place the “speaker” about 60 feet from the “audience”. This encourages audible, self-assured voices that be clearly heard at a reasonable distance. We emphasize speaking S-L-O-W-L-Y and         C-L-E-A-R-L-Y. In this case, Bounce is practicing the part of Oberon for his Midsummer Night’s Dream audition.

There sleeps Titania some time of the night,

Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;

 

Happymess kids are dancing around Truth as he attempts to memorize his speech and rise above the distractions created by several bouncing brothers.  They are deliberately trying to confuse Truth as he valiantly recites his piece despite their best efforts at confusion.  Ultimately, this builds confidence, as Truth knows nothing can come between him and his chosen piece of recitation.  Plus, everyone has a lot of fun in the process.

And there the snake throws her enameled skin,

Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in. (2.1.249)

We will be studying Midsummer Night’s Dream on several levels, increasing the difficulty as the children become more familiar with the unusual language.

So, how do we get the kids to learn all this stuff?  We start slowly.  Bruce Coville has written a wonderful series of Shakespearean children’s books.  Each book is based upon a different play and closely follows the plot line while interspersing original text in the adapted and simplified version.  The illustrations, by Dennis Nolan, are truly fanciful and capture the magic of the original plays.  These books make Shakespeare accessible to any reader.

We will eventually read and study the original play using the Oxford Student Shakespeare edition.  This series is annotated throughout with stage notes, explanations of character attitudes, vocabulary definitions and explanations of references to other texts (Biblical, historical, etc.)

Many of the children, at the auditions, are quite young but have already performed several times with this theater company.  They were readily able to cope with the difficult language.  Their prior experience was apparent and impressive.  The directors have really had a positive impact on this homegrown troupe.

Rehearsal of this play, which will take months, will certainly build public speaking skills, emotional emphasis, and clarity of speech.   As are great historical speeches, Shakespearean language is at first incomprehensible.  It is a great surprise and joy to the students as they begin to untangle complex language and interweaving plot lines and discover that they can finally understand, enjoy and begin to “own” these words for themselves.

 All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.        As You Like It, William Shakespeare   

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is practicing public speaking skills through reciting Shakespeare in the backyard with the sun shining, the dog barking and the boys joyfully bouncing about. 

Missing From Schedule: Daydreaming

A fellow blogger recently reminded me that daydreaming is central to creativity, intelligence and enjoyment of life.

So why isn’t it in the Schedule??!

Homeschooling is work, lots of work.  When we aren’t focused on our worksheets and textbooks we are reading historical commentaries and related fiction.  We are practicing our piano and rehearsing for our play.  We are preparing for our next contest and checking our boxes on our assignment sheets.  Yes, we are working away.

Many people are quick to comment on what they presume to be missing from the Homeschooling Lifestyle.

They ask, “But what about socialization?” 

Can-Can Dancers created by Athena

I respond, “With 14 kids here running around designing new machines, creating art and theater and jumping on the trampoline, it is a wonder with all this socialization that they ever get anything done!” (Exasperated Homeschool Mom after Heavy Kid Infiltration)

Still unsatisfied, they query, “How do you know they are learning anything?  Do you get them tested?”

Heavy sigh accompanied with small smile, “Yes, they take all types of standardized tests.  They have weekly review tests.  We are quite confident that they are learning.”

Doubting Thomas continues, “But aren’t you worried that they won’t know how to react in difficult situations? How will they know how to make the correct decision?”

I answer, “And how is that exactly being taught in schools these days?”  Because really, if they are teaching morality, propriety and good judgment I am certainly the last to know.

But, do you know what is missing from Homeschool Happymess?  Good old fashioned daydreaming.

The advantage of attending regular school is that you have hours upon hours in which you can simply gaze out the window.  School affords the student with the opportunity to escape through all manner of dreams.

Universe created by Bounce

The opportunity to contemplate the universe, to imagine oneself as a super-hero, to solve global problems, to examine the wings of an errant butterfly, should not escape the homeschool student.

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And echoed by Shakespeare, through Hamlet, ‘To sleep, perchance to dream…”

So in the name of good old-fashioned schooling, shall we have a day devoted to dreaming?  It will certainly be a worthwhile way to spend our time.

Bounce in Self-Designed Chapeau

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is a cornucopia of possibilities.  Let’s remember to allow our children the simple but necessary joy of daydreaming, so they can imagine, and eventually build, a better tomorrow.

Teaching Scooter to Read: A Cautionary Tale

For the 8th time in my life, I am embarking upon the initially impossible task of teaching a young child to read.  Not memorizing, but actually decoding the letters into real sounds and real words with meaning.  I will be honest. It is daunting.

We began months ago with rhyming words and consonant recognition.  This initial step was successful but we were not able to make much headway, so like a good progressive mommy, I gave Scooter time off to grow and develop.

Months later, as we were preparing for Kindergarten, I was called into the new school’s office for a “special” meeting.

“We are delighted to be offering Scooter a spot in our school,” the earnest headmistress assured me. “However, Mrs. Happymess, it has come to our attention that he may need some assistance learning to read…”

“Oh, of course, Miss Headmistress,” I smiling assured the brusque woman addressing me, “I can certainly help Scooter as he prepares for Kindergarten.”

Well, since those fateful words have been spoken, Scooter and I have used every learn-to-read program I can find, and we are still just mastering the consonant sounds.

To be sure, Scooter, as Dr. Seuss says, “Can read little words, little words like if and it.”  Actually, he can read Mat, Pan, Can, Jam, And, The End.  That’s about it, and I generally put that skill set into the memorizing rather than decoding box.

So when my husband and I recently went to Parents Night at Scooter’s school and were asked to write him a note, I struggled to compose one that I thought he could read.  It went something like this,

Dear Scooter,

I can see you like school.  We can be sad to miss you.  And do you like to eat jam with no ants?  Me too.  The End.

My husband was quite mystified.

“What the heck kind of note is that to write?”  He asked suspiciously.

“One he can read,” I answered defensively.

And there you have it.  Months and days and hours of effort and still we are learning the same lesson each day.

Our pediatrician smiled wisely and said, “They all develop at different times and there is no point trying to teach them beyond their capabilities.”  Truer words were never spoken, and yet she may not be acquainted with my tenacious tendencies.

Scooter is not without his charm.  In this picture he has copied the Bob Book cover and carefully written “Pre-Reading Skills,” not withstanding the fact that he has no idea what that actually means.

 My favorite learn-to-read books have always been the Bob Books.  They are simple, uncomplicated and truly tell a viable tale with very few letters.  Each story adds just one or two new words and your child will soon be able to gain confidence “reading” these short stories.

Once Scooter can read approximately 20 – 30 words I will begin to “write” my own little stories for him to read.  For me, this is always the really “fun” time in a child’s reading development.  They love reading the little, silly stories about themselves, their friends and family.  We are definitely not there yet.

This year, owing to needing additional material for Scooter, I have used Hooked On Phonics Pre-K and Kindergarten levels 1 and 2.  These are nice sets, easy to use and quite appealing.  Scooter enjoys the words and graphics.

Scooter loves interaction.  He is fascinated with the “sounds” this computerized D for Dinosaur makes.  I am wondering, Who is that knows what a dinosaur sounds like?  Scooter enjoys the “Dinosaur Dance.”

 I have also found some great FREE online reading programs.  My absolute favorite is Starfall.  www.starfall.com

This program offers a complete introduction to the alphabet, beginning word construction Pan, Can, Fan, etc. and then small stories using each new word and sound set.  Additionally, Starfall has some very nice introductory number and math programs.

 There are countless electronic learn-to-read programs but it still always comes back to the basics.  Words and Books.  After all our lessons, Scooter and I return to the basics of reading together.

 Scooter loves stories and I show him how the words I am reading are right there on the page.  Ultimately, I evaluate his reading skills based upon true decoding.  Can Scooter read a new word in a new context because he can sound out the letters and recognize the word?  Can he read a story and understand the meaning?  We are still a long way from success but I am confident we will get there.  Meanwhile, Scooter is learning that I love him and I love words and together we are loving the words that make up the stories that we always enjoy reading together.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the opportunity to practice eternal patience.  For each child, it is their first beginning. 

History: The Timeless Gift

A quick History lesson from Pulitzer Prize winner, David McCullough,

Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it.  Jefferson, Adams, Washington- they didn’t walk around saying, “Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?”  They lived in the present just as we do.  The difference was it was their present, not ours.  And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either.

 In a 2005 speech, David McCullough makes the point that “history” happens to the everyday man and woman.  What makes the story interesting, and thus memorable, is the way the people respond to the events of their time.  As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Character is Destiny,” and McCullough makes the case that our Founding Fathers’ biggest attribute was their character.

McCullough encourages the teaching of history to ensure that we, the current occupants of this world, value the gifts we have been given by our predecessors.

He says, “We have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed.  This is essential.  We have to value what our forebears did for us, or we are not going to take it very seriously, and it can slip away.”

McCullough offers this analogy, “If you’ve inherited some great work of art that is worth a fortune, and you don’t even know that it is a great work of art and you’re not interested in it – you are going to lose it.”

Thus our precious Democracy will go by the wayside if we fail to teach our young students the value of freedom and personal liberty.  It becomes our responsibility as teachers, parents, and educators to instill a love of our Nation and an appreciation for the sacrifices that have afforded our freedoms.

One of our favorite books for the young historian. 

Our Happymess kids love history.  We strive to make every century seem relevant and interesting.  We use countless sources from illustrated children’s books, colorful atlases, ancient maps, primary sources, personal diaries, illustrated encyclopedias and dense historical dissertations.  We love documentary films, old newsreels and historical novels.  History is the story, our story.  And thus we were very gratified to find a perfect endorsement of homeschool-style teaching in the middle of McCullough’s presentation.

The original flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner national anthem. We visited this last year in Washington, DC.

And we need not leave the whole job of history teaching to the teachers.  The teaching of history, the emphasis on the importance of history, the enjoyment of history, should begin at home.  We who are parents or grandparents should be taking our children to historic sites.  We should be talking about those books in biography or history that we have particularly enjoyed, or that character or those characters in history that have meant something to us.  We should be talking about what it was like when we were growing up in the olden days.  Children, particularly little children, love this.  And in my view, the real focus should be at the grade school level…they can learn anything so fast it takes your breath away.  The very important truth is that they want to learn and they can be taught anything.  And there’s no secret to teaching history or making history interesting.  Tell stories.  That’s what history is: a story.  And what’s a story?  E.M. Foster gave a wonderful definition of it:  If I say to you, the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events.  If I say, the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.  That’s human.  That calls for empathy.  And we ought to be growing, encouraging and developing historians who have heart and empathy.

I wonder if McCullough knew he was actually accurately describing the homeschool movement and our emphasis on multi-disciplinary, multi-generational and multi-cultural education, all with the purpose of “making it feel real” and thus instilling empathy for all.

We are grateful for today’s history lesson, which was a portion of Lesson One from Exploring America, a homeschool curriculum designed by John Notgrass. We have used this program before and really love it.  Notgrass has written text, quizzes, short-answer questions and essay questions, which cover the myriad facts that together comprise our national history.  The companion volume, American Voices, is an amalgamated 400 pages of primary sources. Through these speeches, letters, poems and essays the student of American History can live and breathe the very words of the Americans who built our nation.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is bringing the past to life though original documents and mementoes.