Sunday, January 22, 2017

Literature Discussion: A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

Choosing books can be both exciting and challenging. In some ways, looking at the possibilities is like looking at a line of presents ready to be opened on Christmas morning. On the other hand, the sheer number of books out there is somewhat overwhelming. For that reason I do sometimes get a bit discouraged when looking for the "perfect" book to dig into. After all, reading is an investment in time and energy. Many books also draw you into the story and truly make you "feel" things right along with their characters.

I find it helpful to hear what other people have to say about books I might be interested in. Good friends and family give me great ideas. I also use reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I have also found it helpful to peruse notated suggestions from books like Honey for a Teen's Heart by Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton. This book in particular gives some of the authors' favorite books as well as synopses and some notes which help the reader find books compatible with their interests and values.

I recently read one of the books which was highly recommended by Hunt and Hampton: A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. Overall, it also got high reviews from both Amazon and Goodreads.

One thing to keep in mind about reviews (including mine) is that each person brings his or her own life experience to a book. This means that there will often be widely varying, even strongly divided opinions about some books. 

Some of the positive things about the book:

*One of its biggest strengths is the humor. Some scenes between the grandmother and her grandchildren are quite funny. 

*It's a pretty short book at around 150 pages and it flows pretty quickly. I could see this, in combination with its humor, as something that would attract even reluctant-reading teens.

Some of the negative things about the book:

*Not all people will appreciate the type of humor in the book. The way the narrator and Grandma talk about other people is less than flattering. 

 In the end, most adults would probably enjoy it and parents know their children well enough to be able to decide together whether this book would be for them.

Questions to discuss:

*How do the characters change by the end of the book? 

*Would you like to spend a week with a Grandma like this? Why or why not?

*Why do you suppose the children's parents sent them to Grandma's for a week each summer?

*Does Grandma enjoy having the kids for a week? Back up your opinion with text from the book.

*The book takes place mostly in the 1930's. How do the events of this time period shape Grandma's values? How do the events shape the types of activities the children experience while at Grandma's?

*Could you turn the tables on Grandma? What if you brought Grandma to Chicago for a week? What could the kids teach her?

Friday, January 20, 2017


TAKING A LOOK INTO OUR FILES: High-school and college prep

As the end of my oldest student's eighth grade year aproaches, we've been thinking and talking more and more about plans for the future. This includes both high school plans, college plans, and beyond.

It's not really something new for us. You might be surprised if I told you how long I'd been thinking about this. But I knew this time would come and I don't think I'm really all that different than most people. I do wonder, though, how many parents like me actually have file folders for their research.

I've collected bits of information mainly for two reasons. First, we want to be prepared for the future. Second, I want to feel more prepared in the face of what feels like such a big and overwhelming phase for us.

Let's be honest, there's sometimes a lot of pressure on parents and students when contemplating what the future holds. The pressure can be even greater when it's the first time you've gone through all of this. But there are so many helpful, confident voices out there who have traveled this road before. And there is so much that we can learn from them!

I thought I'd share a list of the types of materials I have in my high-school and college prep idea files. 

-A list of books I haven't read but want to read. Topics include life-lesson books like "How to Win Friends and Influence People", specific books and videos that might make up part of a high school course, scholarship books, etc. 

-A list of books that colleges and "experts" have suggested that students read before graduating (we'll consider some of these when deciding what literature to read during the next few years)

-Articles torn out of magazines about everything you can imagine related to getting into college, parenting teens, how to write homeschool transcripts, and non-traditional activity ideas such as entrepreneurship

-A list of our state's graduation requirements

-A community college brochure (and one from a large high school) which lists their courses offered (as an idea-starter when deciding which courses we might like to pursue in high school)

-A list of college requirements from a few typical colleges, showing the items that we'll need in a few years when it's time to apply. Some of these include items that will need to be considered well ahead of time, such as letters of recommendation.

My file is already pretty sizable, but there are also a few categories we haven't started including yet: colleges that strike our fancy with contact information; testing deadlines for the PSAT, SAT, ACT. Also, scholarships and deadlines actually have their own folders.

Does anyone else keep a folder like this? What's in yours?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Writing prompt: What if?

Have you ever stopped to wonder how the world would be different if you altered the life of one person in history?

On October 6, 1723, Benjamin Franklin arrived in Philadelphia at the age of 17, after spending his early life in Boston, where he was born.

Writing assignment: What if Benjamin Franklin had never been born?

Would someone else have made his scientific discoveries and improvements instead? Would the lightning rod or the bifocal glasses have taken the same successful roads if invented and improved somewhere else? 

Who would have taken his place on the Committee of Five which drafted the Declaration of Independence. History credits Franklin with some of the changes that went into that document. What would be different if he hadn't been there?

What would have changed if Franklin had not been the first Postmaster General of the United States?

If someone else had been America's ambassador to France during the Revolution would France's  policy have been the same?

Would Philadelphia's first fire department and the University of Pennsylvania look any different?

We'll never know the answers to these questions because Benjamin Franklin did, in fact, follow the path he followed. Yet it makes for a very interesting writing prompt, particularly for students familiar with Franklin's place in early U.S. history.

As a side note, this writing assignment is easily adapted to fit any particular time in history. What if Hitler had become an artist? What if Pasteur hadn't been encouraged by personal experiences to study infectious diseases?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Parent of an eighth-grader: What's on my mind?

My kids are growing up very quickly. I know we all say it, but I feel it to be true. Having an eighth-grader this year I am also feeling that the end of the tunnel isn't too far away.

This knowledge brings many questions along with it. Will we successfully complete all the classes we need to complete before time runs out? Will my student be self-motivated enough to continue through the next phase of his life without the structure that our schooling has provided? Will we get all the tests and paperwork done in time for college admission?

Many of my thoughts will be common feelings which both parents of children in traditional school as well as parents of homeschooled children can probably relate to.

Though none of us know what paths our kids will take after high school, we have decided as a family to prepare for the future as if college were the goal. Our reasoning is simple: if a different opportunity comes along, we will still reap the benefits of a rigorous education. But if we didn't prepare for college along the way, it's a bit more challenging to make up for missing classes and tests later on.

The largest items looming in my mind currently include:

*Getting our life-after-high-school antennae on: This simply means being more inclined to notice conversations other people have about what they or their students have experienced in the transition from high school to whatever comes next.

*Forming and honing good study habits: Setting goals, managing time, finding out the best times for you personally to work on certain types of tasks...Work ethic, self-motivation, and perseverance...Many of these skills are steps to success whether kids go to college or straight to a job.

*Forming and honing life skills: Everyone needs to know how to do their own laundry, basic cooking, healthy habits and  eating, money management...You need these, too, no matter what your future holds!

*Encouraging them to find their strengths, weaknesses, and interests: Knowing these might be very helpful when deciding what type of career path to follow. As a parent, I might need to give a listening ear when my students think out loud through these issues. I will also need to find time and energy to shuffle kids to extra activities or clubs if they think they might like to pursue some of these interests.

Other considerations in my mind:

*Money for college


*SATs, ACTs, the Common App...

These last three aren't quite as pressing yet, and I'm trying not to dwell on them too much right now. One thing at a time. We just keep doing our research, making connections with people who have been down this road before, and teaching and learning one day at a time.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Free catalog with articles about classical education

Do you love free stuff? Do you enjoy reading about learning and education?

Memoria Press publishes a catalog/magazine which always includes several informative articles about teaching and learning. Some recent articles have tackled the "how" and "why" of such subjects as Latin, Logic, and Literature. The web address to sign up for the free catalog/magazine is:

Incidentally, we have successfully used several Memoria Press publications over the years: Prima Latina, Latina Christiana I and II, and several of the literature study guides. I also highly recommend the title "Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child". This book, by Cheryl Swope, offers encouragement to anyone involved in educating children. In addition, it gives practical advice for teachers of special needs children. It is written from a Christian perspective.

If you're interested in learning more about the classical method of education, or would just like to learn new ideas to use in your teaching, definitely get your hands on Memoria Press's free Classical Teacher catalog!


Sunday, October 2, 2016

What would your five-year old do with your computer? Part 2

Yesterday I posted  here about some of the great benefits of giving kids access to word processing programs in order to write their thoughts and stories. It's a great way to help beginning writers get their thoughts down more quickly than they'd often be able to accomplish with pencil and paper.

We love looking back at these writings so much, I couldn't help sharing a couple more.

The first shows the five-year old's understanding that things are done in an order and that writing serves a purpose to instruct other people. If you're wondering how "useful" such writing is for kids, consider that the majority of elementary-level grammar books seem to assign this type of writing yearly.

"List of my 5th year old treat"

1. mix red up with green
2. mix for 1 min
3. put 2 eggs in
4. mix again for 3 min
5. put on a BIG plate
6. put it in the oven for 3 min
7. put cherries on it
8. enjoy girls ONLY

Though the above example would be rather unsettling to find on your dinner plate, I love the writing. I laugh that it's for "girls ONLY"--count yourself lucky, boys! Also, it shows a beginner's culinary understanding of how long it takes to stir and cook things.

The second example gives a glimpse into the child's thoughts on the day before her fifth birthday. Just so you know, all of these writing examples were used with the student's permission--she loves looking back now six years later and reading them. She's happy to share them with you.

    I can't wait for my birthday! I will make everyone giggle and laugh at my birthday! The whole world will celebrate me and my birthday! i will be 5 years old and sooooooooo supriesed! i canot wait any longer until my birthday!

A couple things are worth noting in this example. I shared an example here yesterday in which this same child spelled out "evrybody". A couple months later she seems to have gotten the hang of spelling "everyone". In the same two months, she came to an understanding that sentences start with capital letters (none of the sentences were capitalized the first time yet several were in this example).  And, of course, I smile that the whole world will celebrate this sweet child.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What would your five-year old do with your computer?

Perhaps the five-year old would write this:

Title: as i went on not being sick and i hit my nea when i was running arowned homarny park and i was me and 73 cophse

as i went on not being sick i hit my nea when i was running arowned homarny park and i was me! i decided i could tomarow be a dragon to christopher!
Key: homarny park=harmony park
        cophse= coughs

Sure, your first reaction might be to see all of the spelling errors or the jumps from one plot point to another. 

That's not what I see. I see a five-year old who already knows how to spell many common words and can sound out spellings for the rest of the words well enough so that you can actually follow what she's writing. (And she realizes that 'coughs' is irregular in some way.) She uses end marks correctly some of the time. She has heard enough stories so that she knows that great ones have a "problem". She's even left you in suspense--that's classic serial writing right there!

We made it a point to allow our kids to use word-processing programs at this age and to save and print their work. I'm so glad we did! Not only do we have some excellent material for the family scrapbook. We also gave them a chance to really stretch their wings when it came to writing for fun. The time they spent writing improved their spelling. For instance, in the example above, the child invented spellings for the other words she couldn't spell, but I believe she asked for the spelling of "decided". By using the word for her own purposes, it helped cement the word into her memory so that she would be less likely to need help spelling it the next time.

For one of my children, this time writing stories also helped her become someone who loves to write. Now six years later, you can often find her sitting with her computer in the early mornings on days-off, typing away at her computer. (As a side note, having a computer of her own was so important to her that she saved up her own money to buy one--she got tired of waiting to have a turn on the shared computers in the household!)

I'll close by sharing another story this same five-year old wrote two days prior to the story above. Fans of Kung Fu Panda will especially enjoy her antagonist:

    emma almost hit her pony shaped pinyata at the one night! she was hitting it softly so she could not make it do a boom to it when the treats would fall out and she would awake mommy and daddy and christopher! at the meantime emma hit the pinyata with 100 score! it was the time she went trikertreating outside! i did not know a little girl came with her prinsess and angels came and they marry a dog and the angels grin even dose the girl and her prinsess played with her! TRIKERTREAT! evrywon said! at the meantime at noon evrybody went to sleep! at the meantime at the morning emma woke up and saw evrybody gathered arowned her! she saw somebody! it was ti lung! GOT SOMETHING FOR YA! i said squishing to ti lung! MENCI! i said getting a new voice! DON'T YOU GET MY DRAGON POWER! I'M THE DRAGON WORYOR! SQUINCHY! NO! YOU WILL PINCH PIE NAILS! SQUINCHY! we raced form to form, day to day, and the queschin is who will win? ti lung just frowned! NOBODY CAN GET AWAY MY DRAGON POWER OR I'LL GIVE YOU A DRAGON SHOWER! i sended my mini ninjas to come distroy ti lung! they did as i pleasd! now after the fight all of us went home to my house! now you can think of us and do what we did and think how you can remember ti lung by making a snack that looks like ti lung to you when he died! think of that as hard as you can! think of it!