Tuesday, August 27, 2013

REVIEW: "Beauty in the Heart" Bible Study Book from Doorposts

I am always looking for interesting Bible studies to use with my children. We read in our Bibles daily (well, most days) together, and discuss what we've read. I have a small commentary that we use to help us summarize points from the section we're reading, or to bring up questions about important things I don't want us to miss. I like this method and it keeps me accountable for reading with my children.

However, I like to use additional materials as well, and when the opportunity came up to review Beauty in the Heart by Pam Forster, from Doorposts, I was thrilled to take a look at it and work through a portion of it with my girls. We received a comb-bound copy of the book to use. It's intended for ages 12 and up, and I have to say that my 12 and 13 year old girls were plenty challenged by this study. I learned a lot myself.

What I liked very much about this book is that not only did we learn about what comprises true beauty, we also learned the basics of different methods of studying the Bible. They recommend a Strong's Concordance, which I have, and a Nave's Topical Bible, which I didn't have, so I ordered one.

There are 10 chapters, each taking up to a week to complete, for a total of 86 days of study, or about 17 weeks if you work on the study for 5 days per week. The chapters are:
  • Beauty in Submission
  • Beauty in the Heart
  • Beauty in Trusting God
  • Beauty in Humility
  • Beauty in Modesty
  • Beauty in Serving
  • Beauty Without Discretion
  • Beauty in Crisis
  • Beauty at the Gates
  • Beauty in Review
The Bible study methods include inductive study, verse study, character study, verse study, and word/topical study. Although the study is written for girls, there are alternate questions for boys included. The book states that boys can encourage girls to grow in Godly beauty, and that it's important for them to learn to discern between true and false beauty in relationships as they consider marrying.

We spent the review period on the first chapter, a couple days per week. The chapter is titled "Beauty in Submission," and is an inductive study of a portion of I Peter. I printed copies for us of I Peter in the KJV. We read the entire book aloud together, stopping after every few verses to narrate and discuss. Then, we used the method described to mark up our passages (we used highlighters instead of pens). We weren't quite ready to mark up our Bibles, and I have done inductive study with printouts before. For the next part of the study, I made up tables for us like the one in the book, so we could organize what we'd highlighted. We spent a few days organizing our findings and discussing them. We took our time, because we're still getting used to the KJV, and we looked up verses in other versions of the Bible if we had questions.

I'm glad I decided we would work through this study together, because it is not easy going! There is a *lot* to be learned from this book. It's laid out so nicely - we read in I Peter about "the way holy women of the past who put their trust in God used to adorn themselves," and then go on to study those holy women and their stories. I love the way inductive study draws you into Scripture and helps you see the details of a passage.

This is a brand-new study, available for $14.00 from Doorposts. Click to see a PDF sample here. They currently have a special offer: if you purchase the printed workbook, you can use the coupon code "beautystudy" and receive a free PDF copy of the book! This offer expires on August 31, 2013.

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Friday, August 09, 2013

Charlotte Mason and Living Books, Part 5

Today, we're going to talk about some resources for locating living books. It's not as difficult as it might seem to find them!

One source I've already mentioned this week is TruthQuest History. There are book recommendations for all ages, and each period in history. You can use it as a history curriculum, but it's worth the price just for the amazing book lists the author, Michelle Miller, has compiled. Michelle runs the Children's Preservation Library in Michigan, a library of living books containing 20,000 volumes. Makes you want to move to Traverse City, doesn't it? She's also written several articles for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine on living books. Here is a link to a fabulous article she wrote on how to tell if a book is living.

My favorite go-to place for book recommendations is Ambleside Online. Their book choices are excellent, and as I've mentioned, we use a good portion of their curriculum. Whenever I want a book for my nieces and nephews, I go there to see what wonderful choice I might find. My nieces and nephews love to read, and I have never sent them a duplicate book when using AO's list.

Another website that has a great list of books is the 1000 Good Books List, put together by Christine Miller of Nothing New Press. She has the books organized by age level, and by category within the age lists. She also publishes a lovely book called All Through the Ages, which is a list of books organized by chronological and geographical history.

I have had the privilege of visiting Living Books Library a couple of times, and the lovely ladies who run it, Liz and Emily, are book gurus. Liz writes for their Journal (blog), and has put out several "Top Picks" lists on various subjects. I
used many suggestions from her list of favorite historical fiction books from the Middle Ages.

There are some great books with book suggestions, too. Here are some of my favorites:

I hope you've enjoyed our incredibly brief sojourn into the world of living books this week! I find that I have a LOT more material to share, so I may plan some future posts. I'd love to hear if you have any resources to share, or favorite books!

Summer Blog Hop

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Charlotte Mason and Living Books, Part 4

Today, we're going to look at a fun subject for living books: science. This post has taken me much longer to write than it should have. I keep going off on rabbit trails as I look up books to share.

As I mentioned on Monday, I first discovered that science could be fun with a level 1 science reader about an octopus. Since then, I've found TONS of great books on science for young children! Most of them are older, but there is one current series I love: The Cat in the Hat Learning Library. There are all kinds of topics - even one on maps! I like them because the facts are presented in rhyme, which makes the books more fun to read, and the information easier to remember. Isaac, my 5 year old, enjoys having these read to him, and my girls like them too, even though they are 12 and 13. Mostly I think they just enjoy having me read to them, even if it's rhyming science books. Do check out the website. There is some great stuff there. We also enjoy "The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That!" show on PBS/Netflix.

An author I love, who writes books about natural history (defined, according to Google, as the scientific study of plants and animals, presented in popular rather than scientific form) is Jim Arnosky. We have several of his Crinkleroot books, and they are just lovely. Crinkleroot is a crusty old outdoorsman, who walks you through the woods in the books, pointing out different things related to the topic at hand - birds, butterflies, trees, etc. Mr. Arnosky has a fantastic website, with coloring pages and all kinds of nifty stuff. There are a few of his Crinkleroot books in print, and you can purchase the entire collection on CD. He has also written several "All About" books, about different animals, with beautiful illustrations.

Yet more favorite books for my girls have been The Burgess Bird Book for Children and The Burgess Animal Book for Children. (The links take you to the Baldwin Project, where you can read the books online for free to see what you think.) We discovered these books thanks to Ambleside Online, and the girls read them eagerly for school last year. They are stories about birds and animals, as Peter Rabbit encounters them in his woodland life. It's a wonderful way for children to learn without even realizing they're learning. Lots of people love the bird book! There are some lovely resources at the My Soul Doth Delight blog, and Satori Smiles has a fantastic Burgess Bird Book Companion. The Teach Beside Me blog has a nice Burgess Animal Companion.

You might be thinking, as I did, "Sure, living books are all well and good for little kids, but what about high school? I can't possibly do science in high school without a textbook, can I?"

My answer is: Yes, you CAN!

Kelly Christenberry, a homeschool mom using Charlotte Mason's methods, has put together some lovely lesson plans for biology and chemistry, which you can download for free on her blog, Grace for the Day. I am slowly collecting the books, and planning to use them with my girls, I think - although, since I began working with Liz at Living Books Library, she's helped me choose some books that are more along the lines of what Charlotte Mason would have used. Miss Mason would have had her students working on multiple science topics simultaneously. This coming year, we're going to start working through a book called The Study of Plant Life by Stopes; Liz told me that Miss Mason would have had her students working on botany constantly, along with natural history. We're also going to read Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley for earth science, Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us (AO recommends this edition for young readers), and, if you can believe it, The Life of the Spider by Jean-Henri Fabre. Liz assures me that even if I don't like spiders, Fabre's writing is so amazing that we will enjoy the book. I'm taking her word for it. *shudder*

The goal, as always, is to choose books that will inspire students to connect with the material - to help them see how the information fits into the overall picture of Creation. I have read plenty of science textbooks in my time, and my children will have to do so if they find their path leads them to college. However, for the time I have them, I want them to love learning, and to engage with what they learn. The best way to do that is with living books.

If you're interested, here is a link to a book Charlotte Mason actually used for science in her schools: The Sciences: A Reading Book for Children by Edward S. Holden.

Tomorrow we're going to talk about some places to start looking for living books.

Summer Blog Hop

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Charlotte Mason and Living Books: Part 3

Let's talk about history!

One of the things I like most about homeschooling is getting to teach my children more about history than I remember learning in school. Do you remember trying to read history textbooks? What a snooze! There was nothing interesting about learning history that way. The girls and I did try a textbook once - it was supposed to be one of the "good" ones. After years of living books, they hated it, so we stopped and came up with a new plan.

As I mentioned on Monday, Charlotte Mason advocated living books for children - books that inspire them with great ideas. One of the first books we read that gave my children a love for history was Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall. We learned about this book from the Ambleside Online curriculum. Honestly, when I first started reading it, I was skeptical. However, we persevered, and my girls loved this book! I ended up purchasing a hardcover copy for each of them.

Charlotte Mason also advocated teaching history chronologically. Doesn't that make sense? I know I didn't learn history chronologically; I have no idea why history was presented as it was throughout my years in school. Chronological history gives an overall picture of how we got where we are.

During this upcoming school year, we will study the Middle Ages. Many of the books we'll use will be from Ambleside Online's Year 7 list (my girls are 12 and 13), but I wanted a different spine. My friend Liz Cottrill from Living Books Library helped me plan out my curriculum for this year, and she recommended The Middle Ages by Dorothy Mills. Along with that, we will read some biographies - King Alfred, Joan of Arc, St. Francis; and we will read some great literature: Beowulf, Robin Hood, King Arthur. I also have quite a lovely collection of historical fiction put together.

In Charlotte Mason's schools, all children, from Year 1 through Year 12, would have been studying the same period in history together. A child just beginning in school would step into wherever the school as a whole was in the history cycle (I believe they did two, 6-year cycles through history). I like the 6-year cycle. You learn history at a pace that allows you to hang out and get to know the people and the times.

The trick, then, was to find a way to bring my little man, who is 6, along with us on this journey. I used a couple of resources to find books that he would like. First, Liz wrote an article on her blog with her Top Picks for Middle Ages Historical Fiction. Do you know what I found there? Virginial Kahl's fabulous book, How Many Dragons Are Behind the Door? I loved that book as a child. My mom still has our old copy at her house, and I have refrained from sneaking it back to my house because there are six other grandchildren to enjoy the book, in addition to my own three. (This is where you comment on my remarkable restraint.) I learned from Liz's list that Ms. Kahl published several other books about this time period, and even though they are fictional picture books, you can learn a lot about the Middle Ages from them. You may have heard of The Duchess Bakes a Cake, which is one of the books used in a popular homeschool curriculum for younger children called Five in a Row. I don't actually have that one yet but I've been collecting all the Virginia Kahl books I can find over the summer.

Another resource recommended by both Liz and Ambleside Online is Truthquest History. The author, Michelle Miller, has written a lovely history curriculum including extensive lists of living books. Her books are worth getting for the book lists alone! I picked up a copy of her Middle Ages guide, and went through it to find books appropriate for Isaac. Liz recommended The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla as a good book for Isaac on King Arthur, and there are several more from the TruthQuest lists in my pile for him.

I'm particularly excited about one book we will read together this year: King Alfred's English. My friend Courtney at the Classical Circus reviewed it last year, and I thought it sounded amazing then, but didn't remember to get a copy. Another library friend of mine, Tenley, mentioned that she is going to use it with her son for their Middle Ages spine, so I finally picked it up, and plan to read it with my girls this year. It's about the development of the English language, from Old English to modern times, and it incorporates history, along with linguistics. I majored in linguistics in college, so this book is right up my alley, and I'm hoping my girls will find it interesting too.

That's a little glimpse into how we will use living books in our homeschool to cover history during this upcoming year. If you have any books you love on the Middle Ages, I'd love to hear about them! Tomorrow, we will talk about living books for science.

Summer Blog Hop

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Charlotte Mason and Living Books: Part 2

Yesterday, we talked about what a living book is. Today, we're going to talk about some living books we've used and loved, beginning with some that are important for young children.

Ambleside Online is a wonderful online curriculum guide, free to use, with a goal of being as close as possible to the curriculum Charlotte Mason would have used in her own schools. The wonderful ladies on the AO Advisory have read countless books, seeking the best possible literature to use in their curriculum. Their website is a wealth of information, and if you have an interest in Charlotte Mason at all, I encourage you to visit the website. They have a forum there, too, where you can ask questions and receive answers from wonderful, experienced folks using Charlotte Mason's principles.

Ambleside Online had been recommended to me by several people I knew who were Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, and it's the first place I looked to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. The booklists they have are fabulous. If you take a look at their list for kindergarten (Year 0), you will see that there is an abundance of excellent stories: Winnie-the-Pooh, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, et al, and Brer Rabbit, just to name a few. They also recommend nursery rhymes (Mother Goose) and classic folk tales like "The Little Red Hen" and "Three Billy Goats Gruff." Some of these books I knew, and some I did not. My girls loved them all!

Year 1, or around age 6, is when Charlotte Mason recommended beginning "seat work" for children. In AO's list for this year, as well, there are wonderful stories like fairy tales, Aesop's FablesJust-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, and Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. There is some history, but AO points out that it focuses on people, rather than events.

Young children connect with stories. Fairy tales can seem rather grisly, but children are able to process big ideas through listening to a story in a way that would otherwise be impossible, I think. Also, young children are better able to connect with people rather than events and facts, which is why biographies are so important. Reading about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and Christopher Columbus, hearing their stories, stepping into their worlds through the pages of a book - these things mean so much more to a child than simply memorizing the facts of their lives.

Another thing I love about fairy and folk tales is the insight they give into different cultures. You could add local legends to your reading for anyplace you study, and gain a whole new dimension in your understanding. One year, we read Tales of Ancient Egypt by Robert Lancelyn Green, while we studied Ancient Egypt, and Norse Myths by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire at the same time as part of our early American/Viking studies. Not only did we find it fascinating to read the different stories with regard to their nations of origin, but contrasting them brought about a lot of great discussion. I'm not sure you could find two cultures more dissimilar in their thinking than the ancient Egyptians and the Vikings!

I'll never forget when we read Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. We'd been listening to the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis at the same time. When we read "The Sword of Damocles" and heard about the king named Dionysius who was known as a tyrant, Abbie piped right up and said, "Just like King Miraz in Prince Caspian!" It is just delightful to watch children making connections, isn't it?

Simply Charlotte Mason has a great article on The Power of a Story. I encourage you to go over and read it for yourself.

Tomorrow, we're going to talk about using living books for history.

Summer Blog Hop

Monday, August 05, 2013

Charlotte Mason and Living Books: Part One

When I started homeschooling my oldest child, she was five, and I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn't bear the thought of sending her to school for an 8-hour day. How could that possibly be beneficial to a young child? A friend, whose daughter took ballet with mine, talked to me about homeschooling. She told me about the book, The Well-Trained Mind, and let me come to her house and see her books. I was sold! It took a little bit more convincing for my husband, but before long, both of us were sure homeschooling was the best option for our family.

We started out using some of the WTM suggestions for kindergarten. Emma didn't like them very much, and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I thought maybe adding some Bible stories to our school time would help, so I did a search for a Bible study for her age, and came up on My Father's World kindergarten program. It was a perfect fit for us, and we loved every bit of it! The best part for Emma was that everything was integrated. The handwriting and reading portion was related to the science which was related to the character training. The math involved simple activities, such as filling in the daily calendar, filling out a hundreds chart, counting popsicle sticks and making them into bundles of 10, and counting money (pennies at first, etc.)

When we started using the curriculum, there was an amazing book list in the back. I will never forget when we got to the unit on the octopus. I found two of the books on the list: An Octopus is Amazing by Patricia Lauber, and Nico's Octopus by Caroline Pitcher. I wasn't expecting much; science books were boring, in my mind, but if they wanted us to read about an octopus, that's what we were going to do.

I was amazed. I had no idea I would learn so much from a "Let's Read and Find Out" Level 1 science reader. I felt like a bit of a goob, honestly, that I did learn so much - why didn't I know that information already? Well, really, how often does one need to know facts about an octopus? But - I loved knowing.

The teacher's manual for our kindergarten curriculum mentioned Charlotte Mason, and I wanted to find out more about her. You can't seek information about Charlotte Mason without hearing about living books. Also, the Well-Trained Mind talks a lot about living books. So, what exactly is a living book?

I have read a lot about living books, and heard many people speak on the topic, but I believe most of the definition I'm about to share with you came from a workshop I attended taught by Elizabeth Cottrill and Emily Kiser, at the Charlotte Mason Institute conference last year. They shared the following characteristics of a living book:

  • It expresses truth clothed in beautiful language
  • Usually written by one author with a passion for their topic
  • Usually narrative in form
  • Usually a primary source, although sometimes a secondary source can be better-written
Children connect with living books. They are inspired by them; they want to talk about them, and want to learn more. Someone once told me (maybe Emily) that if I read a book and had nothing to narrate when I was finished, I could count it as "twaddle." If it didn't make me think, it wasn't worth my time. I've tried to remember that. 

I'm going to talk throughout the week about living books we've used and loved for different topics. For today, I will leave you with this quote from Miss Mason about the importance of living books, using the modern English paraphrase from Ambleside Online for simplicity's sake:

Summer Blog Hop

Friday, August 02, 2013

REVIEW: "Little House on the Prairie: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder" DVD

Like many children, I grew up reading the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read them often - they are lifelong favorites. When I read them to my girls for the first time, I still cried when they thought Jack was dead, even though I knew better. I love reading about Laura's adventures throughout her life, and I love sharing them with my children. Now, I have actually heard of people who don't like these books, but I'm pretty sure there is something wrong with them.

There was also a television show that ran from 1974 until 1983, and if you're around my age, you grew up watching it - at least the reruns. In my mind, Laura Ingalls Wilder will always look like Melissa Gilbert.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to review the Little House on the Prairie: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder DVD from Dean Butler with Legacy Documentaries. Actually, it was really hard to choose between this one and the one on Almanzo Wilder, and I would have been equally happy with either one. The documentary itself runs for around 75 minutes. The DVD also includes a "making of" video, as well as trailers for "Pa's Fiddle" and "Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura."

I watched this DVD with my girls, and I have to tell you, it was wonderful. Dean Butler (who played Almanzo Wilder in the television series) has given everyone who loves these books such an incredible gift! I am going to try really hard not to narrate the entire thing so I don't spoil it for you. Here are some highlights:

The really cool thing about this documentary is that it really starts after the ending of Laura's books, and is about her life as a writer. For 13 years, she wrote a newspaper column called "As A Farm Woman Thinks" for a local paper, and wrote poems in a little column called "Tuck Me In Tales." (The poems have been published in a book called Laura Ingalls Wilder's Fairy Poems; you can find it inexpensively used on Amazon. You're welcome.) She used her writing to help support Rocky Ridge Farm - the place where she and Almanzo started over after the hardships of their early years of marriage.

I learned that Laura's daughter, Rose, was the one who really encouraged her mother's writing. Laura traveled to San Francisco to stay with Rose and be "groomed to write for the national market."  She wrote for McCall's magazine. (She wrote to Almanzo that writing for a magazine was difficult and she'd rather raise chickens!)

It wasn't easy to get her books published. She was writing during the Great Depression, and it was difficult to sell any writing. However, she finally found a publisher in Harper & Brothers who knew children growing up in the Depression would be inspired by the courage, optimism and strength Laura described in herself and her family. Thank God for that publisher's insight! The books are still inspiring children (and adults) generations later.

Rose Wilder Lane sounded like a bit of a stinker. She was divorced, which had to have been a huge deal back then. She moved back to live near Laura and Almanzo, and that's when most of Laura's books were published.

It was interesting to read about things Rose thought should be changed or left out of the books. For example, when they got to Little Town on the Prairie, Rose wanted to change the main character to Laura's younger sister, Carrie, so that the heroine would continue to be a young girl. Laura refused, because she felt her readers were growing up with her character in the books. I can't even imagine not reading through Laura's life, can you? Also, Rose wanted to leave out Mary's blindness because she thought it was too depressing. Laura stated that she could not continue to write the books without that part because it was too significant in their lives. Again, I can't imagine the stories without Mary's story.

Think about this: Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up traveling in a covered wagon and lived with no electricity or indoor plumbing - or even glass windows. Before the end of her life she saw trains (took one to see Rose in San Francisco) and even flew on a plane. Her life spanned the most incredible period of American history. When her books were being published, there was no such thing as "Young Adult" literature; that term was coined in the 50's, so Laura was really blazing a trail. The documentary said that when readers would drive by her house, she would welcome them into her home and even give them a tour. Doesn't she sound lovely?

This is the first time I've realized a true connection with an author. I love books, love to read, but I don't often read biographies. I don't want to be disappointed in the creators of the worlds I love to visit, you know? However, when I watched this DVD, I felt like I was learning more about someone who was a very dear friend, even though I never met her. (I'm not THAT old.)

All right - I could keep going, but really, you need to get this DVD and watch it for yourself. It's available from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum for $24.95. You know you want one!

There is also a DVD available about Laura's husband, Almanzo, entitled "Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura," available from Legacy Documentaries. I haven't seen it yet, but I am going to get one SOON.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!

Thursday, August 01, 2013

REVIEW - Global Art from Gryphon Publishing

In my search to find things my children to do together, I've found that crafts appeal to all of them. My girls both love to make things, and Isaac is constantly creating his own (usually quite messy) "art projects." Global Art: Activities, Projects and Inventions from Around the World from Gryphon House looked like a great resource. I received a copy of the paperback book to review.

I like how this book is organized. The book is about 190 pages, including 138 projects total. They are grouped into 7 chapters, one for each continent. Each project is labeled with the country of origin, and there is a picture of a globe with a star showing about where the country of origin is located. There is also a paragraph about how the project relates to the culture. For example, the Wycinanka Ludowa (paper cut) projects are from Poland:

At the beginning of each section, there is a reading list with books about the continent you can read with your children as you work through the different projects. I was able to find many of the books at my local library. I live in a small town with mediocre libraries, so I feel confident that most people should be able to locate at least some of the suggested reading at their library.

The suggested age range for this book is grades K-5, and the projects are coded with icons denoting Experience Level, Art Techniques, and required Planning and Preparation. I found the planning and preparation codes to be useful; they told you if you'd be likely to find supplies around the house. Even at the highest level, all the supplies listed should be easy to find locally.

My girls, who are 12 and 13, did most of the projects we worked on. While my kindergartener was capable of doing some of the things, he was not terribly interested in "structured" art projects and it was difficult to get him to sit down and work with me. The book is intended for a younger age group, but my girls found the projects challenging. For example, even though the Transparency Scene (Poland) project looked simple enough, it required a fair amount of forethought and planning, and they weren't expecting that. It was good for them to have to think it through. It also took them a while to figure out how to cut out their paper dolls so they stayed together in a line - we had lots of laughs over that! It really wasn't difficult, but they didn't read the directions the first time.

Here are some of the projects we worked on:

I love that the art projects are connected to specific countries, and that there is information about the origin of each craft. I also like reading a book to illustrate more about the culture of the country whose craft we're doing. The only drawback, to me, is that most of the projects are "crafts." They are not terribly useful, and I don't often like to do crafts for the sake of doing crafts. However, I do think it's fun for the kids to make things that help them connect with the people and places they're reading about. Overall, this would go nicely with geography studies, particularly for the younger crowd. And, if you have a child who would do well with a fabulous idea book and some supplies, this would be an excellent resource.

Global Art is available for $16.95 from Gryphon House Publishing.

 Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Crew!