Friday, March 22, 2013

Nature Study - Another Attempt

This school year, my friend Sara and I are enjoying our little Charlotte Mason community, which consists of our two families. She has 5 children and I have 3, so we have a good little crowd, although technically only 4 of them participate in the majority of the activities.

One thing we're working on perfecting, or at least improving, is nature study. I am not quite sure how to implement it correctly, so we've tried a couple of different things. We chose birds as our first topic, so I tried having us study things like different beaks, different wing types, etc. That wasn't a huge success. We tried spending our time outside at Sara's house, because they have a few acres out in the country. Sometimes we found things to draw, but mostly the kids wanted to play by the time we got out there since it was the last thing in our schedule for the day.

This term, we're trying a different approach. We are discussing specific species of birds we are likely to encounter in our area, and drawing pictures of our "bird of the week" in our nature journals. This has worked well, and we've all noticed that we learn the markings of each bird pretty well, because we have to pay close attention while we work on our drawings. Both families have bird feeders, so we've been able to observe our birds in action. Good stuff!

We also decided to take one week per month and go to a local park and observe nature in each season. This was our first sojourn to Bakers Mountain Park, a local wildlife preserve with hiking trails and bird feeders. They even publish a list of birds you're likely to see there, so you can look for them when you visit.

We managed to scare all the birds away today. :-) The kids were all so excited to go on a hike, we spent very little time actually observing anything, and certainly no attempt was made to be quiet so the birds might let us see them. There was lots of tree-climbing and running. I'm giggling just thinking about it; they were so full of joy, it wasn't in me to rein them in this time.

Tree Climbers
It reminded me of my first nature study class in a different co-op. I sent the kids on ahead on a little trail, thinking I'd need to follow behind to make sure we didn't lose anyone. I learned that, in fact, I needed to go first, because they all sped through the trail, chattering merrily, and observed not one thing on the walk. One memorable quote was, "I saw some trees." (We walked through woods.) After that, I went first, and modeled observing things for them.

We had a similar experience today. I actually took my backpack with nature guides, binoculars, a little magnifying jar, our journals, pencils and colored pencils. This turned out to be unnecessary. Some of the boys did notice some really cool moss that felt just like carpet, but of course, I don't have a nature guide to identify moss so we weren't able to learn anything more about it. When we got back to the picnic tables, and I asked the kids if they'd observed anything cool, no one had anything to say. One child, who shall not be named, actually said, "We didn't see any nature!" Both Sara and I laughed and laughed that. I threatened to call the Charlotte Mason police. Oh, my goodness - we had just spent quite a long time hiking through a beautiful area, and there was nothing to see?!? The child in question did specify that we were looking for birds, and we hadn't seen any. We did hear tufted titmice singing throughout the day, though, and we were finally able to identify the song thanks to our handy iBird app.

Next time, I will make it clear that we are going on a NATURE WALK and that we are going to OBSERVE NATURE. It will most likely require a more concerted effort to be quiet (something at which we don't excel quite yet) and less running. It's a little challenging with our very small peeps, but we can work on it. After all, they are future nature students too!

Do you know that one of my children said to Sara, "Never let my mom go on a nature walk. She takes forever." Sara, bless her, responded, "Could it be because she's actually looking at things?" Hee! In spite of our spring fever, we saw some cool stuff today. Check out what we think might be a woodpecker tree:

Woodpecker Tree?
I'm not sure what did that to the bottom of the tree (picture on the right). Any thoughts?

We also saw lots of lichens and mosses - my favorite things to find in the woods - and I'm pretty sure we found wild ginger! That was a first for me.

Lichens, Moss, Wild Ginger
There was also a tiny stream running across the trail. Pretty sure all the littlest ones splashed in it. Naturally, the park's website says no wading is allowed in streams. Well, then, it's pretty silly to have one running right across the trail, don't you think? What little person could resist a splash or two?

Tiny stream across the trail
We had a wonderful time today. We went on quite a hike - we chose the hardest trails, I learned, upon reading the website after we got home. The kids got lots of exercise (as did the moms) and we got to know a little bit about the park. Our hope is that as we spend more time there, we will become familiar with this park in all seasons. I have hope for us.

REVIEW - The Art of Poetry

Older (age 9?) children should practice reading aloud every day, and their readings "should include a good deal of poetry, to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour; and that a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said, with a certain roundness of tone and precision of utterance. Quite young children are open to this sort of teaching, conveyed, not in a lesson, but by a word now and then."
- Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 227
I've mentioned before that I wanted to add more poetry into our homeschool days this year. When I thought about what I knew, I had vague memories of learning about poetry in fits and starts throughout high school and college. In fact, I still have my college poetry book. I knew I wanted my kids to learn about form and meter and "stuff," but left to my own devices, I had no idea where to start or what to teach.

Thus, I was pleased to receive a copy of Classical Academic Press' The Art of Poetry curriculum to review. I received a copy of the The Art of Poetry Teacher's Edition, a copy of The Art of Poetry Student Text, and a DVD with the first two lessons from the Art of Poetry DVD Set.The course is intended for children in middle school through high school.

The goal of The Art of Poetry is to teach students to read closely, to develop a relationship with the poems they encounter. As I learn more about Charlotte Mason's principles of education, I see that children are taught to be close observers of life, of creation. Charlotte Mason said that "education is the science of relations," and Christine Perrin, the author of this program, says that "reading a book is like learning to listen to another person--we have to work to listen and to understand to the best of our ability based on our own perspective and experience." (p. xiv, Introduction to the Teacher) I love this quote from Miss Mason's book, Ourselves, the only volume of her 6-book series written to children:
"There are libraries, too––such libraries! containing every book of delight that ever was written. When anybody sits down to read, the author who made the book comes and leans over his shoulder and talks to him. I forgot to say that in the picture-galleries the old painters do the same thing; they come and say what they meant by it all." 
- C. Mason, Ourselves, Book 1, p. 3
Do you not love the image of your favorite authors leaning over your shoulder, sharing their thoughts with you? I know I do (and I would especially appreciate it if some of the painters would clue me in, too, but that's a topic for another day).

All that to say, I felt a connection with Ms. Perrin and her goals for her poetry program. She states that "literature is asks us to come into relationship with it in such a way that we might be changed and instructed in the way in which we conduct our lives." She then says that "interpretation aids this process. However, writing a teacher's guide that provides interpretations of poems is risky. The concern is that you might not mine the poem yourself if the silver is already there for the taking." (p. xii, Introduction to the Teacher) I appreciate that she knows the danger of simply telling students what a poem contains - she cautions us to be sure we seek and find for ourselves. I believe Miss Mason would have applauded that.

Now, on to the review! There is a *ton* of information in this program. It is organized into three main sections:
  • The Elements of Poetry:  images, metaphor, symbols, words, sound, rhythm, shape (stanza and line) and tone (putting it all together)
  • The Formal History of Poetry: including history of form, movements, genres; verse forms; shaping forms; open verse; and an anthology of narrative poems (see the table of contents here)
  • Application: growing your interest, perhaps with a writer's journal, a notebook of favorite poems, or starting a poetry group, along with many other suggestions
Each chapter in the student book includes an anthology with discussion questions and vocabulary words for each poem, as well as a list of activities. The Teacher's Edition includes everything from the student book, as well as explanations and answers that go along with questions for each poem, and a poetry timeline. Both the teacher and student books have a section with short biographies for each of the poets covered.  There are some great online resources for the course as well: Christine Perrin keeps a blog called The Art of Poetry Online, which includes many teaching helps; audio files of readings of some of the poems from each chapter you can download; and suggested weekly schedules of  different ways you could choose to work through the program.

My girls and I started using the course by watching the first DVD lesson on Imagery. We enjoyed it very much, particularly because the chapter includes a poem by Robert Frost (my favorite poet). I had them work on a couple of the activities, including writing out images for each season, figuring out which of our 5 senses was the most important to us, and discussing images that are important to us. We read the poems in the chapter together, and really enjoyed discussing the images in them. I love Robert Frost's poem, "Dust of Snow," because of the image it creates in my mind. It was a great exercise to verbalize that mental picture.

The second chapter covers metaphor. We love several of the poems in this chapter! "Hope is the Thing with Feathers" by Emily Dickinson is dear to my heart. "Nothing Gold Can Stay" is my very favorite Robert Frost poem, and the discussion questions helped me see things I hadn't before. We also read "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud" by William Wordsworth, which is a poem Emma loves. It was such fun to look at both beloved and new poems in a new way as we sought out metaphors!

While we did enjoy the DVD lessons, the second one on metaphor was VERY long. We tried to watch it all in one sitting, and in retrospect, we should have watched a poem or two per day and discussed them, rather than trying to absorb them all at once. I found the DVDs to be quite useful, hearing others read the poems and discuss their impressions. It's helpful to see how others analyze poems while we're learning to do it ourselves.  

I am not a "poetry person," if you know what I mean, but I am a poetry wannabe. I am getting every bit as much out of The Art of Poetry as my children are, and I'm enjoying every minute. It's certainly challenging us. We are working our way through the material slowly, so we can learn without overloading our brains. I really like the suggestion in the book of spreading it out over more than one year, because there is so much information to process..

Whether you are a poetry lover who wants to share that passion, or a wannabe like me who hopes to foster a love for poetry in herself and her children, you will find The Art of Poetry to be a valuable tool on your journey. The girls and I are already able to see things in our daily poetry readings that we didn't before, and I look forward to creating our own personal personal anthologies and increasing our knowledge with this program.

You can purchase The Art of Poetry directly from Classical Academic Press:

The Art of Poetry Student Text, $24.95
The Art of Poetry Teacher's Edition, $29.95
The Art of Poetry DVD Set, $69.95
The Art of Poetry Bundle, including student text, teacher's edition, and DVD set, $99

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

REVIEW: Essentials in Writing, 6th Grade

I am a bit obsessive about homeschool curriculum, and I have read about many, many writing programs, but I had not heard of Essentials in Writing before having the opportunity to review it.  It's a complete language arts curriculum, and is available for grades 1-12. I was pleased to receive a copy of Essentials in Writing 6th Grade, and I used it with Emma (7th grade) and Abbie (6th grade).
Essentials in Writing is set up with grammar lessons for the first part of the book (lessons 1-25 in the 6th grade program), and then writing lessons for the remainder (lessons 26-68). There is a video to watch for each lesson, taught by Matthew Stevens, who was a middle school teacher before developing this writing curriculum. I found his lessons to be clear and engaging, and my girls enjoyed them as well. You can see a sample 6th grade lesson here. The recommended approach is to have students look at the day's worksheet, then watch the video and complete the assignment. Once they're done, they should look over the next day's lesson so they're aware of what's coming next.

The 6th grade book covers the following topics (you can download the scope and sequence here):
  • Sentence types and structure, addressing sentence errors as well as dependent and independent clauses
  • Capitalization rules
  • Punctuation rules
  • Grammar:  subject/predicate (both complete and simple, and compound subjects/predicates), parts of speech, subject/verb agreement, propositional phrases, appositives
  • Spelling rules for plural nouns
  • The mechanics of dialogue
  • Figurative language
  • Parts of a paragraph & Writing a paragraph
  • The writing process: pre-writing, drafts, revisions, editing/publishing 
  • Writing a personal narrative
  • Writing an expository essay
  • Persuasive writing
  • Writing a summary
  • Compare/Contrast
  • The process for writing a research paper
  • Poetry (text features/end rhyme, free verse and composition)
My two favorite things about this program are (1) the DVD lessons take me out of the equation for the most part, which is very helpful with a busy 5-year-old in the house and (2) short lessons, so that even when there is a project that will take longer to complete, it's broken into bite-sized pieces so it's not overwhelming. One thing I wished for while we were doing the grammar lessons was an answer key, because every now and then I wasn't 100% sure of the correct answer, and while I was flipping through workbook to write my review I found it in the back. Aha! The good news is, the girls made enough mistakes that I know they haven't discovered it yet for themselves. :-)

Both girls enjoyed using this program. Well, the younger one said she didn't mind it, which means she liked it a lot. :-) The older one felt that it was easier to understand than the other program we'd been using, and I attribute that to the DVD lessons. She also said she would not complain when we continue to use it. That's some high praise from my "tweenagers," I assure you.

I did learn while working through this program that my girls really need practice reading directions and completing an assignment by following a given example. We've done informal grammar instruction up to now, and our writing has been primarily copywork and narration, so they have not done many worksheets. Once they did their EIW lessons, we went over them together, and that made for some good discussions. When I pointed out mistakes, they were able to see what they'd done incorrectly right away, and I hope it's helped them see that reviewing their work before turning it in is a good idea.

Each level of Essentials in Writing is $40. You will receive two DVDs with the lessons, and a PDF copy of the workbook via email. It's a good-sized workbook, and they also have a pre-printed Optional Workbook available for $20 if you'd rather not do the printing yourself. When I had questions, I received answers quickly and appreciated their customer service.

I like this curriculum. I like that both grammar and writing are taught, and how each year builds on previous knowledge. I love that poetry is included! It's a great program at a great price. It's definitely worth checking out!

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Monday, March 18, 2013

REVIEW: TouchMath

My little guy turned 5 in August, so even though I would not have sent him to school this year, if we were going that route, we've done some kindergarten work. Overall, it has not been going well. He doesn't want to sit still, and has strong opinions about whether or not he should have to do any school work at all. It's not that he can't do it; he's quick to grasp things, and once he decides to cooperate, it goes quickly. I do spend quite a lot more time getting him to do the actual work than he spends doing it, though.

I've been revising my plan over the last few weeks, and felt it was best to pare back to some reading instruction and a little math. When the opportunity came to review TouchMath, I was excited to use it with Isaac. We were both thrilled to receive our box, and quickly got everything out to play. For the purpose of this review, I received downloadable versions of all 4 TouchMath Kindergarten Homeschool modules, A-D. There are 6 units within each module.

  • Module A focuses on Counting, Adding and Subtracting within 5
  • Module B focuses on adding and subtracting within 5
  • Module C focuses on understanding numbers 1-20
  • Module D focuses on measurement, data, and geometry. 
In addition to the core program, we also received the following fun manipulatives to use:  TouchMath Tutor Kindergarten Software, TouchShapes,

and 3-D Numerals. Note: The manipulatives are optional, and not required to use the program.

Isaac *loved* all the manipulatives. We started out with learning the touch points on the numbers, and he caught on quickly. He liked to get them out and practice on his own. He enjoyed using the TouchShapes during the lessons, and liked using them to make pictures on his own. He's always up for a game on the computer, and he liked having a special math game just for him.

"Mommy, is this a rhombus or a  hexagon? Very good, Mommy!"

One of the first things we did was learn to count to 100. I remember practicing this with my girls when they were older than Isaac, so I wasn't sure how it would go, but he caught on lickety-split. I loved how the worksheets had him start counting in a random place and continue from there, or fill in numbers in the middle of a sequence. It made him think about the numbers, and he did very well. 

 Counting to 100 - fun with Cheerios!

As we got a little further, I thought some of the activities were a bit simple. I didn't see why he needed to circle groups of shapes, for example, until I remembered from the teacher training video how crucial it is to connect manipulatives and pictures with the abstract numbers. By circling groups of 2, he is learning to see what a "2" means.

TouchMath recommends using the program for 2 - 2.5 times your child's age, which would be 10-12 minutes per day for my 5-year-old. On a typical day, we would try to work on a set of activity sheets, which were in sets of 2-4 pages in the  Implementation Guide. Sometimes, we got them all done, and other times, we might get through one. He liked the computer software, so I encouraged him to practice on that, and he was almost always willing.

As we began to use the program, I was concerned that I was missing something. I had read the teacher's instructions, but didn't feel I had quite enough information. I confess that I am an anxious math teacher. I went to the website and ordered their free teacher training DVD, even though I wasn't sure I'd get it in time for the review. It arrived via Priority Mail in just a couple of days! I was thrilled with the quick turnaround. I watched the DVD, and it was very helpful. They also included a "Teacher Training Manual," with much of the information presented in it, and practice problems for each thing presented. It was excellent, and I felt much more confident after I'd viewed it.

I have been impressed with their excellent customer service. I had a question about the software, and was able to get an answer quickly. Also, we had an issue with one of our manipulatives, and they sent us another one right away free of charge.

I really, really like this program. I love the statements that children are given to memorize, like "I start on the side with the arrow. The arrow is in the ones column on the right side." Also, for addition with regrouping, they put a box over the next column, and for subtraction, they use a "regrouping bar," which is a line, instead. My girls were often confused with regrouping and would add instead of subtract, etc. Those visual cues are excellent.

TouchMath was created because an elementary teacher saw her beginning math students having difficulty, and wanted to help them. The focus was initially on students with special needs, but has grown into a math program for anyone. I love this quote from their website: "During the next thirty years, our goal is to help banish math anxiety worldwide, whether that anxiety is born of fear, lack of comprehension, or a learning disability." I have a daughter with quite a lot of math anxiety, and I wish I'd known about this program when we were starting our math journey. I think it would have made a huge difference to her.

I've spent a lot of time stressing over math in my homeschooling career, and while using TouchMath, I felt I could teach it successfully for the first time. The way they explained the concepts made so much sense to me, which made it easy to explain to Isaac. I was amazed at how quickly he learned things while using this program.

Product Pricing:
TouchMath Homeschool Kindergarten Modules, A-D: $59.95 each, or $199.00 for all four
TouchMath Tutor Kindergarten Software, $99 
TouchShapes, $30
TouchMath 3-D Numerals, $79

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Friday, March 15, 2013

What's For Dinner?

We often have pizza on Fridays, but tonight we're having something different. I thawed a top round/London Broil yesterday, intending to have it last night, but I'd forgotten that it's not the best choice for grilling. I'm putting it in the crock pot this morning, instead.

I thought I'd share the recipe. It's one of my family's favorites, and it's nice and easy. I'm not sure where I got it. I think it came from a bunch of homeschool moms sharing recipes online, as we are wont to do when the "what are you making for dinner" question arises. I love slow cooker recipes, because when 4 o'clock comes around, I don't have to worry about getting much together because it's already done.

Crock Pot Flank Steak

1 flank steak, approx. 1.5 lbs, cut in half if you have a small crock pot*
1 Tbsp oil
1 large onion, sliced
1/3 C water
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilis
2 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

*I use top round/London broil because that's what I usually have

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown steak in oil. Transfer to crock pot. In the same skillet, sautée onion for a minute or two.Gradually add the water. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Pour over the meat in the crock pot. Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours or until the meat is tender. Slice and serve with the onion and pan juices.
I usually serve this with mashed potatoes, but we had those last night, so this time we might go with baked potatoes and a salad. If you try it, let me know how you like it!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nature Study Moment

Monday morning, I went for a walk before the kids were ready for the day. I was able to identify the sounds of a woodpecker knocking on someone's tree, a Carolina wren tea-kettling, a tufted titmouse singing, and a mockingbird chattering away. It was lovely! I heard lots of other birds I couldn't identify yet, but I'm working on it.

I also found a Northern Flicker at the side of the road, so I brought it home to show the kids. I think the neighbor's cats got it, but it wasn't bloody or anything.

Such a beautiful bird! I had never seen one before. I looked it up in our bird book, and there are two kinds: red-shafted and yellow-shafted. I found one of the yellow-shafted variety.

Look at that beautiful wing! I loved the heart-shaped spots on its belly near the tail. And that beak - I am glad it wasn't aiming at me.

Poor thing, I couldn't leave it by the side of the road. My dad used to bring stuff home for my brother, sister and me to see all the time when I was growing up. He brought home a baby skunk once! My mom was less impressed with that one. We found two small owls in the road once - apparently they'd been chasing each other and been hit by a car.

How often do you get to see a wild bird up close? We have bird feeders, and we all love to watch the birds outside, but this was a great opportunity to observe details we wouldn't otherwise be able to see. This was a big bird - much heavier than I had expected.

I am not the only homeschooler who brings home dead things. :-D Have you found any cool stuff on your nature walks and brought it home for futher exploration?

Monday, March 11, 2013

REVIEW: ARTistic Pursuits Art Curriculum

True confession: I have not done very much art instruction with my girls. (I haven't done much with Isaac, either, but he's only sort of in kindergarten so I don't mind so much.) Art is one of those "extra" things that only happens when there is "time." I don't have much confidence in my ability to teach it well, either, so most often it slides to the back burner. I've looked at ARTistic Pursuits before, and I have a couple of their books for younger children. When we've used them, the girls have enjoyed them very much. However, they typically fall by the wayside in the name of getting MATH done, you know?

I was therefore thrilled, and a bit trepidatious, at the opportunity to review one of their brand-new, updated books. I received  Middle School 6-8 Book 1: The Elements of Art and Composition, available for $47.95 from their website, for the purpose of this review. It's a nice comb-bound book, so it lays open easily while we're working on lessons. It's directed at ages 11 and up.

The topics are organized into 16 units, and each unit has four lessons:
1. Building a Visual Vocabulary
2. Art Appreciation and Art History
3. Techniques
4. Application
Assignments are color-coded in gold, so it's easy to see exactly what they need to do. Students should plan to spend approximately an hour on each lesson. If they do two classes per week, the book will take 32 weeks to complete. The author notes that it is important to schedule art lessons when the student will have plenty of time to complete the assignment, even if it takes them more than an hour. That's a good reminder - it's hard to stop in the middle of a drawing and find your "groove" again when you come back to finish it.

The book is written in a lovely narrative style to the student, so my girls have been able to do the lessons without my direct supervision. I had initially hoped to be able to work through it along with them, but it didn't work out that way. They've been doing a great job on their own.

The supplies needed for this particular level are simple: drawing pencils and paper, pen & ink. We had many of required items and it wasn't difficult to find the rest. ARTistic Pursuits offers supply packs for each level, which are great if you're not sure what to buy or can't find what you need locally. It also makes it easy to get everything you need in once place so you're ready to start when your box arrives!

Because I have older editions of two of the books for younger ages, I contacted the author and asked if they were compatible with the newer editions. She responded quickly, and told me that the content is the same, with some added pages, so older and newer versions are compatible. Good to know!

I asked my girls what they liked most about the program, since they've been drawing away without me. My older daughter said she liked that the book was written to her (the student), and that there were specific instructions to follow. She and I are similar that way - we don't respond well when we're told to do "something." We like to know exactly what's expected. My younger daughter liked drawing household objects, and learning to look at things that are around us all the time from a different perspective. She also liked using several different drawing pencils in varying degrees of hardness in her pictures.

The first unit talks about space. One of the assignments was to draw a quick sketch from a painting, titled "Portrait if the Elephant, Dal Badal, Chasing His Attendant." They were to sketch the picture on a full sheet of paper, and then on a half sheet of paper. They both did the assignment, but my older girl lost her pictures. For some reason she didn't do them in her sketchbook, and they've wandered off. My younger daughter did a great job, though! Check it out!

Here are some of my younger daughter's other drawings:

Clockwise from top:
Illustration of the story of the 6 blind men and the elephant; our bamboo plant; daffodils; and her Bible verse memory cards on a ring

Here are some of my older daughter's drawings:

From left to right:
Her cat who hates everyone else; illustration of the 6 blind men and the elephant; daffodils

I've seen improvement in their drawing skills in the few weeks they've been using this book. The main thing is practice! With a book to follow and specific assignments to do, they spend time drawing regularly, incorporating new skills along the way. As they've worked through the lessons, they've seen they CAN draw, and their confidence has increased. My older girl would rather not bother with drawing most of the time, but she has enjoyed this book and I've been pleased with her work. My younger girl loves to draw, but is a perfectionist, and has a hard time believing in herself. I've seen her smile over projects she's created over the last few weeks.

Probably my favorite thing about the program is that it is teaching the girls to observe the world around them. In our Charlotte Mason homeschool, careful observation is key. Education is relational; all subjects are interconnected throughout Creation, and the only way to find those connections is to observe carefully. I love seeing how much more closely the girls observe things while they're drawing them.

I also love that art appreciation is included. We get to see pieces of art from famous painters as well as ones who are new to us, and each one is carefully selected to illustrate the topic for the unit. There is information about not only the artist, but the culture during the time the piece was created. We do have our own artist studies, but I appreciate the exposure to new works we haven't seen before.

I love this art book, and plan to have the girls continue working through it. I feel inspired to get out my kindergarten book for Isaac to use, too. ARTistic Pursuits offers art instruction for all ages: Pre-K, Early Elementary (K-3), Elementary (4th-5th grade), Middle School (6th-86th grade), and High School.  Don't forget those handy supply packs, which come with a bag to keep everything in one place. As a mom who wants to teach art but doesn't have any previous knowledge, I highly recommend this curriculum. I hope you'll check it out!

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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Saturday Fun with Isaac

Todd's finally home after a week away, and we are all so glad to see him! He came home on the red-eye from California, so he's tired. Isaac has been waiting patiently for him to wake up from his nap on the couch. (He's snoring under all those pillows, couch cushions and blankets. You can see his toes if you look closely.)

I thought it might be time for Isaac and me to go outside. I managed to sprout two avocado pits, and they've been ready to put in the dirt for quite some time now. We've been meaning to plant them, but the job kept getting delayed. Today was the day!

The plants have been growing in glasses in the kitchen. Here is a link to the instructions I used. (I just went over them again, and learned that these are going to grow into trees. I thought they were going to be vines. Oops.) Half of each pit came off when I pulled out the toothpicks before planting them. I could see how the plant sprouted out of the seed - very cool!

First, we put some pieces of broken terra cotta pots in the bottom of our big pot. These serve to cover the holes enough to keep the dirt in, but let out any excess water. That's a handy trick I learned from my grandmother. Then, we filled the pot about 2/3 with potting soil, and arranged the little plants and their roots before covering them all the way. I hope they do well. They've been hanging out in only water for a long time, and sometimes water roots don't translate into dirt roots as well as I'd like.

I took the potted plants up to my bathroom, which gets lots of bright light and is practically a tropical environment in the summer time. If they get too big, I will have to separate them; I read that the trees can get from 20-40 feet tall! If they do grow into trees, I will have to keep them in the house in the winter, so I hope I can keep them smaller than that. Wouldn't it be fun to be able to grow avocados?

Isaac is wearing quite an odd expression in that picture. I tried to get him to smile by saying, "I love you, Mom!" That's what he gave me. Oh, well. 

After we finished with the plants, Isaac proceeded to make a giant mess on the driveway with potting soil and water. What better way could a small boy spend the morning? Then we took Charlie the Bucket Beagle on a walk, and everyone was happy. Hopefully Daddy got enough of a rest that he will be able to play with his boy this afternoon.

Note: A "bucket beagle" is out crazy dog, Charlie - he's the only one. :-) He's a hound-colored terrier mix. My sister calls him Charlie Bucket, and the nickname has evolved into calling him Charlie the Bucket Beagle. His full name is Charles Xavier Sarsaparilla.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

REVIEW: "Abraham's Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream" Book

My girls have shown interest over the last couple of years in earning their own money. I confess that I haven't been as helpful to them in that as I could have been. For a while there, it seemed like they were always talking about garage sales. I feel stressed thinking about organizing a garage sale,  so we haven't done that. They've also wanted to try a lemonade stand, but we don't live in a neighborhood that gets much traffic at all, so I haven't encouraged that, either.

I was intrigued when I heard about Abraham's Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream, a book by Robert and Kathleen Basmadkian, from the company Inspiring the American Dream. I received a hard copy of the book, available from their website for $14.99, or as a Kindle book for 9.99. It's a nice paperback, with sturdy cover and pages, and nice illustrations. It's aimed at ages 7-12, and after reading it to my kids who are 5, 11, and 12, I agree with that. The girls understood it, but my little man didn't really, although he enjoyed hearing the story and looking at the pictures. 

The story begins with a boy named Abraham learning that his parents have lost their jobs. They tell him and his sister that they will still celebrate Christmas, but there will be no money for gifts. Abraham determines to do something about that, and starts using his smart phone to text his friends, looking for odd jobs and ways to earn money to help his family. While he's doing that, Abraham Lincoln appears in his screen, and proceeds to take him on a journey through a "cyber world," where he meets famous figures of past and present who exemplify the American Dream: Martin Luther King Jr., Norman Rockwell, Amelia Earhart, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Linda Gates. Abraham (the boy) discerns that his own special talent is painting, so he creates several paintings and proceeds to sell them, raising enough money to buy gifts for his family for Christmas as well as for donations to a local homeless shelter.

I confess that I had to go look up a definition of "American Dream," simply because while I've heard about it all my life, of course, if you'd asked me to describe it to you, I would have had a hard time.

In 1931, James Truslow Adams, an American writer and historian,  defined the American Dream this way: " should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement." The United States Declaration of Independence state that "all men are created equal" and they are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights," including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I found this information on Wikipedia, and it did give me a clearer idea of what I was looking for from this story.

I enjoyed reading this book with my children. I liked that it talked about individuals finding their own special talent, and being creative in using it to find ways to earn money. I also appreciated seeing a young man acting selflessly to help his family in a time of need, and also finding a way to help other people, as well. I appreciated, too, that it mentioned the Great Recession, a part of history we are all experiencing now. It prompted a great discussion with my girls. Had I been paying a bit more attention, I would have noticed brief biographies of the people mentioned in the book, and we would have read those first. The story makes more sense when you know a little bit about the people mentioned. There is also a list of vocabulary words and their definitions - very helpful! I do feel that the story gave us a lot to think about, and I intend to continue talking with them about what they believe their own special talents to be and how they might use them to accomplish their own goals as well as bless others.

While the story is clearly written as a fantasy or dream, I like to see a more realistic picture of the effort it takes to make enough paintings to sell, and how Abraham came up with the money for the supplies to create them. The American Dream is all about creating your own success with your own hard work, and my one criticism of this book is that it skated over the hard work portion of the process.

Overall, we enjoyed reading this book. It's a great idea, and a good way to present the ideals of the American Dream in a narrative, living way. I hope you'll check it out!

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.