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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/arts/design/a-revamped-roosevelt-library-and-museum.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

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:

http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/education/students.html

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Word for Word: Scrabble Nationals

Happymess has just returned from the excitement of participating in this year’s Word Whirlwind, otherwise known as the National School Scrabble Championships (N.S.S.C.).

This year’s competition was held in Orlando, Florida.  Universal Studios provided a great background for Giant Ambitions.

Quantum joined a local library Scrabble club this year and discovered that he really enjoys both words and strategy.  After months of studying and extensive time playing, Quatum and his teammate are ready for the big time:  Scrabble Nationals.

Here they will meet their matches, literally.  Children grades 4-8 are arriving, Scrabble boards in tow, from all over the U.S. and Canada.  It will be two days of tension on the high seas of words.

Almost immediately, as the kids arrive, they unpack their boards and tiles and begin to play.  There are Scrabble games in the hallways, on the floor, in spare meeting rooms.  These kids love playing Scrabble.  School Scrabble is a team sport and the kids are eager to try their skills against one another.  There is a real sense of camaraderie amongst these verbose and competitive kids.

But finally, the real competition must begin.  Teams “square up” and check “distribution” to ensure that they have the correct number of every tile.  These kids keep careful track of each tile that is played and they are keenly aware of what tiles their opponents may hold on their “rack.”

The Number 1 ranked team starts off the day winning a $100 prize for a 104-point word:  ficklest.  Let the games begin.

Each team is allocated 25 total minutes of playing time.  Once the games begin there is almost totally silence.  Partners confer with one another through whispers and gestures.  They rely upon one another to find “bingos (8+ letter words) and to spot “phonies” (false words played by opponents).

The all-important leader board consumes the attention of team members.  As each team completes their round the placements are shifted.  Teams eagerly wait to see where they are placed, to view their “spread” (cumulative points won) and to determine the ranking of their next opponent.

The evening of Day One is spent at an ice cream party and, you guessed it, more games!  Word-crazy kids play a series of board games, but Scrabble continues to be the most popular.  In this more casual environment, kids pick their own partners and opponents.  It is an opportunity for the novice to challenge the leaders.

Famous Scrabble Masters are on hand to share their wisdom and love of the game. Joe Edley, author of Everything Scrabble, is closely watched by a group of Scrabble students.  He shares some secrets.  The School Scrabble Champions are eager to try to beat him.

Day Two brings many more rounds of Scrabble and the competition for the very top slot is getting fierce.  A single careless error can be costly.

Quantum and his teammate have finished their final game.  They are ranked number 20, with an impressive spread of +282.   After two days of Scrabble against some tough players they feel very satisfied.

Now it is time for the final round.  This game is played between the Number 1 and the Number 2 team to determine the final ranking.  The game will be played in a separate room but the play will be filmed and projected live in a special theater.

We all pile in eagerly to watch and to shout advice from our seats, which the actual players cannot hear.

The National Champions for 2012 are announced.  This team is a pair of 8th graders who won this same championship when they were in 5th grade!

This has been a great weekend and a pleasure to watch hundreds of kids for whom the WORD is still sacred.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is discovering a new world of people committed to the love of words.