Sunday, July 17, 2016


Reading a book with someone else can be very rewarding! When discussing the book, though, sometimes it's difficult to know where to begin. Here are some things to consider about Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. The story is set in America during the Civil War and follows the struggles of one Illinois family.
(I've included some thoughts on the questions at the end of the post.)

1. What gave the author, Irene Hunt, the inspiration for writing the book?

2. Briefly describe the main event(s) of the "five Aprils".

3. Is anything left "up in the air" at the end of the book.

4. Is any character untouched by the war? Back it up with details from the story.

5. Pick one (or two) characters and explain how they are forever changed or touched by the Civil War.

6. The book mentions numerous important battles in the war. Plot them on a map. Re-create Shadrach's "line of x's" in which he sets up the geography behind the strategy.
Look into some of the the battles that are mentioned. Especially keep an eye out for first-hand accounts (especially letters) from people living at the time.

7. In the book, Jethro writes a letter to President Lincoln. Why? Choose a current issue that you are familiar with. Write a letter to the current president about this issue.

8. Do you see anything of yourself in the main character, Jethro? In what ways are you similar and different? Is there another character that you connect with?

9. Toward the end of the book, Jethro is contemplating what post-war "peace" will look like. Briefly research Reconstruction. Did it achieve the long-awaited peace?

10. Many of the characters and people mentioned in the book must grapple with the idea of right and wrong. (Wilse debating Jethro's family, Lincoln and the deserters, Jethro helping Eb are just a few). In several cases, a back-and-forth debate is given. Choose an issue which you are familiar with. Can you set up the back-and-forth arguments of both sides of the issue?

Bonus: The act of "writing" is so central to this book. Letters are used to help characters communicate with one another, newspapers bring news from the war, and the editor's English grammar book educates young Jethro. Has writing always been this important in people's lives? Is it still as important today? In a time when we can receive instantaneous text and e-mail, can we appreciate the agony of waiting weeks for news of our loved ones? When was the last time you wrote an old-fashioned letter to someone?

#1-The author's note in my copy explains how her Jethro's family was modeled after her grandfather.
#2-A sample answer: The First April-Fort Sumter and the beginning of the war, preceded by much talk, debate, and anticipation/The Second April-Jethro had just "left his childhood behind him" the week before, when his father became ill/The Third April-Jethro received his letter from Lincoln just recently which explained his April 1 plan regarding the deserters/The Fourth April-Much talk of the presidential election of 1864/The Fifth April-End of the Civil War and assassination of Lincoln
 #3-A few things left uncertain by the end of the book include Bill's final fate, the '49er son, and the state of the United States. Many readers will have their own questions which they are curious to know, which are not stated in the book.
#4-I would like to hear other people's answers to this one. Most, if not all, characters seem quite affected by the war. Even the ostracized Burdow family sees something of a change because of all this war has brought with it.
#9-The success or failure of Reconstruction is somewhat "up in the air" itself. Since it depends upon who you ask, be sure to seek more than one source of information on this topic.
#10-I find with many students that it's the process that's important here, even if we disagree on the right answer. "Can you back up your case?" "Can you do it respectfully?" "Can you do it without an ad hominem?" Knowing what the "other side" argues is also helpful in honing your own case. 

Monday, July 4, 2016


America's 4th of July is a great celebration! But why? Here are some of the Who, What, Where, When, and Whys that will help lay a foundation for understanding this national holiday.

For many families, the learning really begins in the excitement of the fireworks, in the parades and the candy, in the waving of flags.Then the kids ask, "What's so special about the Fourth of July anyway?"

1. What: The Declaration of Independence was ratified on this day in 1776. Older students can delve into the actual words of this document and discover its purpose as stated in the words of the very Founders of the United States. Younger students can be told why the 4th of July is considered the "birthday" of the United States. Students of a variety of ages can memorize the introduction and/or the preamble, or read them out loud with some patriotic music playing in the background.

2. Who: Thomas Jefferson gets a lot of attention regarding the Declaration of Independence, and very rightfully so. BUT students can also hear about John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and their roles in the creation of this document. Students can make sense of Benjamin Franklin's feelings at this time that the colonists must "hang together" or surely "hang separately". Very often overlooked in the study of the Declaration is also the person of King George, but in some ways, there would have been no Declaration had it not been for the choices of King George. (You've got to love the rather lengthy list of grievances the Founders had against the King, as listed directly in the text of the Declaration.)

3. When: Though July 4th is the date celebrated as the birthday of the United States, the work of writing took many days during that summer of 1776. Also, investigate why John Adams predicted that the 2nd of July would be a day of "pomp", "parade" and "illuminations". 

4. Where: Though Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is an obvious choice of locations to mention, it is the perfect chance to point out all 13 of the original colonies and also the location of England.

5. Why: The very best way to see the answer to this question is to read the text of the declaration itself, which explains right at the outset what the reasons were for the 13 colonies to declare their independence from England. Older students can contemplate the questions of whether the decision was justified and imagine whether or not such a document would ever be needed in the future.

6. Effects: What different reactions did colonists have when this document was read aloud throughout the colonies? What was King George's reaction? Also important to note here is that in some ways, the United States Declaration of Independence became the groundwork for many other countries in the years following. See, for instance, France a decade later.

7. Where does it fit? Some people mistakenly remember the Declaration of Independence as the beginning of the American Revolution, but studying the events ten years before and after 1776 help put the Declaration in perspective.

8. Visualize the Declaration: John Trumbull, for example, painted "The Declaration of Independence" in which he paid attention to detail as to the location and appearance of people's faces. Look, also at a copy of the original document. Some students may wish to copy a small part of the Declaration onto some parchment or "aged" paper.

9. Other resources: There are so many great books written for children about the Declaration of Independence, the Fourth of July, and the people who had a hand in making the history of this date. There are also videos that might be appropriate for your children (as always, you may choose to preview these first yourself). Liberty's Kids has an episode about the Declaration of Independence, and the History Channel made an "American Revolution" series which more advanced students might find useful.

10. Other ideas: Of course, finding ways to celebrate the 4th of July as the birthday of the United States leaves plenty of room for fun! Red, white, and blue food and crafts, local parades and fireworks, and patriotic music set the stage for creating a feeling that "There's something special about the 4th of July!" 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Money 101:Talking to kids about money

This summer, the family has embarked on an adventure we're calling "Money 101".

Why "Money 101"?

  • We're talking about the "basics" of money: needs/wants, saving/spending, getting/keeping money, and lots more!
  • It sounds so official (though really, a lot of what we're doing is just chatting about something the kids LOVE to talk about anyway).
  • It's really about developing knowledge and skills regarding money that prepare us for life.    

So far, "Money 101" has provided some neat and practical discussion in our household.

I started out by asking what my 11-year old and 13-year old know about money. They shared things like: 
                             -Money is valuable
                             -It's important to know how much you have
                             -Don't spend too much/Don't waste it
                             -Government controls many things about money (what it looks like and how much it's worth)
I then asked about what they'd like to know more about regarding money. This will help guide where we go from here.

How do you get your kids thinking and talking about money? 

How often do you talk about it together? 

How do your kids feel about money?