The Expository Prose…FDR: His Library, His Life… Sandwich

Teaching beginning expository prose is never fun.  Not fun for the teacher and certainly not fun for the young student.  So now is the time.  This year Bounce and I will be exploring the wild shores of expository prose and I hope to arrive at the other side with a competent writer in tow.

FDR Bounce with flag So where do we start?

As part of Bounce’s Boy Scout (Webelo) Citizenship Badge, he is required to write a short paper on an American president.  We chose FDR because his New Deal program has some obvious parallels to current politics.  Why not see where it all began?

fdr1 cartoonWe began by reading short books on FDR and doing some quick Internet research.  Bounce wrote a muddled 2-page paper on FDR.  Not surprisingly, it was evident that Bounce didn’t really understand any of the Big Ideas:  Great Depression, Dust Bowl, New Deal, WWII, etc.

FDR and BrooksWe decided to take a field trip and visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York.

The Library does an amazing job of telling the story of crisis and intervention between 1929-1945.  Each room has short videos that explain the “facts”, followed by artifacts from the era.  The entire exhibition, gallery upon gallery, provides an excellent view of history.  One has the sensation of riding a time-travel train through the lives of Americans, both wealthy and indigent.

Bounce finally understood each of the salient points of the time period.  We were left with the impression of the monumental importance and success of Roosevelt.  Where would we be without him?

FDR 100 daysUnfortunately, there are few counter arguments and questions about alternative paths or the ultimate effect of the rising scope and growth of government.

As Edward Rothstein noted in his June 27,2013 review in The New York Times,

The most intriguing displays are actually scanned documents on video screens that present the controversies and debates during the Roosevelt years: Did the New Deal really end the Depression, or did the coming of the war? Why didn’t Roosevelt support federal anti-lynching legislation? (He did not want to lose Southern Democratic support.) What were his attitudes toward race? What was behind the executive order that interned Japanese-Americans along the West Coast? Did Roosevelt do what was possible to help Jews fleeing Hitler’s executioners? (At one point Alaska was considered as a refuge.) And did he give away Eastern Europe to Stalin at Yalta?

Please see complete article here:

No matter one’s political view, the FDR Library is impressive and educational.  Bounce learned more in one afternoon than would have been otherwise possible.  We bought and read three new books about FDR.  Bounce noticed that all three told different versions of the “truth,” a fact certainly worth noting when reading secondary sources.

For great online resources directly from the FDR Library check this out:

Bounce struggled through creating an outline for a formal paper, with thesis statement and supporting evidence.  We discussed that each paragraph should contain one topic only, and begin and end with bridge sentences that would lead to the next topic.  Finally, his new 3-page paper is complete.  We both heaved giant sighs of relief.

Bounce remains blissfully unaware that my real goal in this exercise is the teaching of expository prose. I am happy to “hide” expository prose in a history-Boy Scout sandwich.  Am I a genius or a coward?  You decide.  But it is working.  Word by word, Bounce is learning to write.

FDR 1932 Presidential Election

1932 Presidential Election map.  Need we say more?

As FDR famously said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

But what if I fear government take over and the loss of liberty and individual freedom?

FDR Pequot warNext topic of government intervention (also prompted by the Citizenship Badge):  The Great Swamp War.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is munching on expository sandwiches composed of real life experiences, while sailing the high seas of independence.  

So Long Sweet Summer, So Long…

Summer is our favorite season.  The weather is warm and wild and thus prohibitive of difficult endeavors.  Freedom reigns.

Each person is free, like the wildflowers, to grow in any direction and to follow the sunshine of their dreams.

Happymess kids begin the summer with a trip to the zoo and a greenhouse.

The plastic gorilla is even more fun!

The Fourth of July was shared with friends and family.  Watching shards of light sparkle and reflect across the ocean waves is spectacular.

This summer Scooter got his first set of wheels.  He is finally able to ride to the library, church, candy store and beach with his brothers!  This is surely the high point of Scooter’s summer.

For the first time, Truth and Quantum left home to spend a week living in the woods.  We missed them, but loved coming up for the closing bonfire.

Athena traveled most of this summer.  We did manage to catch up with her long enough to enjoy kayaking on the lake together.

Oddly, perhaps, most of our summer was spent reading.

We read long, complicated historical novels like Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and fun, short books like Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown.  We read intriguing children’s books like A Single Shard by Sue Parks and we read Bob Books as we struggled to teach Scooter some basic reading skills.

One of our favorite activities is the Library Summer Reading Program.  Bounce and Scooter race to the library everyday to record the new number of hours they read.  They average 2-3 hours per day.

We allow Scooter to count his pre-reading activities towards his reading total.

One of the fun aspects of summer is that everyone enjoys the whimsy.  Here is the ceiling of our favorite summer diner.

Bounce loves art.  I am not a big fan of scraping paint off the floor so summer and art and I are best friends.  Bounce created an outdoor studio where he can paint whenever he likes.


As summer comes to its inevitable end, I begin organizing, arranging and planning for the unsentimental months ahead.  Here we have all the un-owned shoes looking for new feet so they can attend school next month.  I managed to find several pairs each for Bounce and Scooter.

And so the month of August draws to a close and we must finally say, “So long sweet summer.”  What a wonderful interlude it has been.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the freedom to dream, create and cherish the unscheduled and the free.

Washington Whirlwind

This weekend was a perfect whirling dervish of art, history, science and Happymess thrills and chills.  We had our highs and lows, and now as the new week begins, we can’t quite believe it happened in just 48 hours.

Hirshhorn Waterfall, Washington DC (Allia)

Happymess kids begin their Washington, DC adventures.

 Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. 

This is the first time that all 102 of Andy Warhol’s Shadow paintings are being presented together.  They make an impressive array along the curve of the gallery, with various shapes and colors playing off one another.

Andy Warhol Shadows Exhibit

Initially, Happymess kids were slightly surprised by the modern art offerings.

“Where are the emperor’s new clothes?”

Athena, formerly Creatress, “It’s really great seeing all these paintings together.  If you just saw one or two you would assume he (Warhol) really didn’t put anything into it, but when you see so many (of the same image in different colors) you realize that he really did work hard after all.”

Allia thinks, Hmm.  If one image doesn’t impress, why then are 102 more effective? Or, mathematically speaking, what is 102 times zero?

Bounce, “The great thing about art is you really can’t do anything wrong.  You just make it (art) whatever way you want.”

Allia, “Yes, that is exactly right.  Art is whatever you want it to be.”

Scooter, shouting indignantly from his stroller, “These paintings aren’t art.  They’re just scribbles!”

Out of the mouths of babes….

In fact, we had a great time at the Hirshhorn galleries and enjoyed many of the extremely colorful and playful ways the artists expressed themselves.  We took numerous photographs and had many novel ideas for art projects of our own, including set design ideas for some upcoming Happymess theater competitions.

Modern art offers terrific freedom of thought and expression.  The older Happymess kids felt empowered by the boldness of thought.  The younger Happymess kids were relieved to see that perfection is not a requirement for artistic creation.

National Museum of African Art

Our next stop was the Museum of African Art.  Here we were truly inspired by the variety and depth of expression throughout the exhibits.  Athena is currently writing a script that takes place in Africa.  She perused every detail looking for set and costume design ideas and studied videos of African dances.

Bounce and Scooter were thrilled with the hands-on activities.  Scooter is coloring African masks and headdresses.  Later this winter we will be creating these same masks and headdresses out of paper-mache.

Bounce was intrigued by an illuminated kaleidoscope.  He is working on a science project involving solar energy and lighting with his Destination Imagination team.

The Museum of Air and Space

These exhibits really focus on man’s determination to conquer air and space travel.

Again, Bounce and Scooter preferred creating their own aerodynamic space ships and airplanes.

Athena was busy studying the Wright brothers and their first attempts at flight.

She will use this information for her National History Day competition entry.


It was a long and exhausting day, as you can imagine.  We were delighted to finally return to our hotel so that we could relax and plan our evening activities.  Being a Happymess family, we should have known better.

Just as we were getting ready for dinner, Scooter became very ill and we had to rush him to the hospital.  I will not bore you with the long evening I spent in the emergency room.

By the next day he was feeling much better and we had the opportunity to play Chutes and Ladders together (for hours).

Ancient Indian game of Snakes and Ladders

This game is based on the ancient Indian game of Snakes and Ladders.  The intention was to teach morals and manners while entertaining tiny tots.

The beauty of this simple game is that it encourages young children to play fairly.  The desire to cheat seems to be irresistible.  Scooter tried every which way to put himself on a ladder while sending me down the chute.  We may need to introduce this game into our regular Happymess curriculum.

Johns Hopkins Study of Exceptional Talent

Meanwhile, while Scooter and I were whiling away our time at Georgetown University Hospital, the Happymess crew had move on to new adventures.

Athena received an award at the Grand Ceremony of SET at Johns Hopkins University for her outstanding SAT scores, taken at age 14.  She received First in Country and First Internationally (tied with many other children from around the world).  We are very proud of her accomplishments.

Boy Scout Wilderness Survival

During this very same weekend, Quantum and Truth were learning camping and orienteering skills in the hills of Massachusetts.

Washington Whirlwind (Allia)

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is experiencing art, history, science, camping, an international award and the local hospital in one 48-hour period!

Boy Scouts Closing Thoughts: Start Each Day Anew

"Let Every Boy Scout Be Prepared" (Allia)

Last night, during closing ceremonies, the troop leader had some words of wisdom,

“Tonight may not have been perfect.  There may have been something that upset you.  Perhaps you had a disagreement with another boy,  or you didn’t perform as well you had hoped.  But don’t dwell on the negative.  Don’t let one bad experience color your whole perspective.  Most importantly, don’t bring those feelings to your next meeting.  Start each day fresh.  Begin again with a positive spirit and the expectation that things will go well.  Each day is a new beginning, a new chance to be your best.”

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is remembering that simple ideas can be big ideas.

Boy Scouts in the Modern Era: Relevant or Outdated?

“Scout Law:  A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave clean and reverant.”

How does this worthy list of adjetives fair amongst todays fast-paced boys?  To investigate this unlikely combination I traveled to a dimly lit “gym” in a small brick building at the edge of a middling New England town.  I was surprised by what I encountered.

We attended a Court of Honor for the local Boy Scouts.  At this event boys received merit badges for a variety of positive behaviors and beneficial skills learned.  They earned awards for learning to build fires, for learning safety procedures during natural disasters and for helping the community through charitable contributions and personal efforts to educate and assist the less fortunate.

Here in 2011 boys were being publicly rewarded for learning to be self-reliant and learning to help others in need.  At the end of the evening the boys were instructed to clean the room and allow the adults to help themselves to dessert before they themselves stormed the dessert bar.

Our sometimes recalcitrant son, who looked increasingly worried by the high standards being set by others in the room, concluded the evening by saying,

“I want to help some of the older boys earn their Eagle Scout merit awards.”

I was floored.  I thought he would be ready to bolt.  Every boy had committed himself to spend hours learning difficult material and then days and weeks applying this knowledge to materially benefit their community. My son, who eschews hard work, was ready to sign up for extra credit!

I applaud the Boy Scouts for maintaining their traditions and values in the face of our secular and me-centric society.  Evidently the appeal of being useful has not faded.  These fortunate boys are being given the opportunity to actually be relevant in a modern world.  They are eager to learn and to be needed by their community.  They are directly rewarded on the most tangible basis: they can clearly see that they have directly improved the lives of those who are less fortunate. They can appreciate the need to learn self-reliant skills because these skills are immediately useful in their Scouting lives, personal lives and in their work to help others.

In short, the lessons and positive behaviors are immediately useful to the Scout.  Obvious relevance brings education alive.  I am so grateful to have the energy of these pre-adolescent boys channeled into a venue which rewards helping others above helping themselves.