Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tano's High School Reading List

P = pleasure reading (elective)
C = class assignment reading (required)
A = audio book


Crazy Love, Francis Chan - P
The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton - P
Congo, Michael Crichton - P
Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton - P
The Lost World, Michael Crichton - P
Prey, Michael Crichton - P
Sphere, Michael Crichton - P
Timeline, Michael Crichton - P
My Brother Sam is Dead, Collier & Collier - C
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins - P
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins - P
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane - C
ESPN Magazine - P
Mythology, Edith Hamilton - C
What If...? Intriguing Answers for the Insatiably Curious, How Stuff Works, Inc. - P
Across Five Aprils, Irene Hunt - C
The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux - P
I Am Number Four, Pittacus Lore - P
The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth Speare - C
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain - C, A
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain - P
Short Stories of Mark Twain, Mark Twain - P
The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells - P
War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells - C, A
What Einstein Told His Barber, Robert L. Wolke - P

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Not this week or next week, but the week after, we have exams. First term exams were similar in format, but I have learned a bit and modified them slightly. The kids have learned a bit, too, since last time. They didn't do much in the way of preparation ahead of time first term, and the whole point of exam week was missed.

The schedule for what is due when, spread over the course of the exam week, is posted. I want them to show off what they know, what they've learned over the last twelve weeks. This time, when I gave them the sheet, they immediately began planning ahead. I can't wait to see how they do.

Nathaniel’s 2008-2009 Term Two Exam (6th grade)

Bible: Recite Psalm 119:9-16, orally or written.

Poetry/Penmanship: Write a poem by Emily Dickinson (six line minimum or two, if shorter).

Folksong Study: Sing “Goober Peas” from memory and explain its significance.

Artist Study: Describe your favorite Friedrich painting in detail and tell about it.

Literature/Writing: 1. Submit a well-written paragraph about each of three interesting figures you have studied from mythology

2. Submit a “translation” of a section of dialogue (10-12 lines) from Romeo and Juliet into modern English.

2. Submit a book report project on Kidnapped, selected from the list of ideas given to you

Reading: Read aloud a passage selected for you from one of your books

Dictation: Write a paragraph dictated to you, with excellent punctuation and spelling

Citizenship/Government: Tell about Caius Marcius Coriolanus--the positives and negatives about his leadership

History: Tell about three people or world events from George Washington’s boyhood, three people or events from his time as a soldier, and three people or events from his time as a farmer. Submit an illustration for one thing from each time period (a reproduction of a drawing from the book).

Spanish: Pass a written Spanish vocabulary quiz, based on the words we have studied so far. (75% or better)

Science: 1. Tell what you have learned from one of the chapters of Madame How.

2. Submit a complete sentence in “Analysis’ Language” and another one in English to simply explain what happened in the exploding plastic bag experiment. Submit cartoon-style diagram instructions for someone to recreate the experiment.

3. Tell three examples of complex systems in nature that would be unlikely to have “just happened.” Submit a diagram for one of them.

Church History: Submit a thorough paragraph on the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, or John Wesley.

Handicrafts: Present one wooden sword, dagger or knife that you have completed with excellence and describe the process of creating it, as well as the design’s historical significance.

Elliana’s 2008-2009 Term Two Exam (3rd grade)

Bible: Recite Psalm 119:9-16

Poetry/Penmanship: Write, from memory, a short poem by Eugene Field or James Whitcombe Riley (or 6-8 lines of a longer one)

Folksong Study: Sing “Goober Peas” from memory and explain its significance

Artist Study: Describe your favorite Friedrich painting in detail and tell about it.

Literature/Writing: 1. Submit a paragraph describing a favorite scene from Romeo and Juliet

2. Submit a “translation” of a section of dialogue (6-8 lines) from Romeo and Juliet into modern English.

3. Submit a book report project on Wind in the Willows, selected from the list of ideas given to you.

Reading: Read aloud a passage selected for you from one of your free-reading books

History: 1. Submit a list of four kings of England that you have studied this term, making mention of several (three or more) positive or negative things about each of them.

2. Draw a series of three or more full-page pictures that illustrate the life of Richard, Duke of Normandy.

Spanish: Pass a written Spanish vocabulary quiz, based on the words we have studied so far. (75% or better)

Natural Science: Submit ten flash cards that would teach children about different animals you have studied in the Burgess Animal Book for Children. Include a drawing, identification information (things like size, coloring, features), food and habitat information for each, as well as one other interesting fact about each. Flashcards should be made on white 3x5 index cards and done neatly.

Church History: Tell about the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Also, read and explain the prayer of his that you studied.

Handicrafts: Present one dessert that you have baked, by yourself, with excellence. Submit a neatly written and complete recipe for the item on a 3x5 index card.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Simple Air Pressure Experiment

Many thanks again to Aurora Lipper and Supercharged Science for the idea for this simple experiment.

Monday, October 6, 2008

My Daughter's Classroom of Choice

This photo was taken through the dining room window today. Note the warm and furry ottoman.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fun With CHEMISTRY (of all things)

On a whim, I picked up a book at Barnes and Noble last month called The Periodic Table: Elements With Style!, by Basher and Dingle.

Buy this book. Buy all of these science books done by Basher. They are incredibly entertaining and can't help but be educational, as well. My kids DIG on this one that we have, the one on the periodic table. It makes the elements personal, memorable and completely approachable. We can't wait to buy the others in the series.

So today, I found a link to this site, done by the University of Nottingham. It features a clickable periodic table, with a short video linked to each of the elements. The style is a decidedly nerdy UK chemistry version of Mythbusters. The kids and I watched about a dozen of the videos this morning and, while they are quite advanced and much of their content is over our heads, they are highly entertaining (to us, but then we are a bit nerdy) and educational for whatever level you are at.

When we pulled out the aforementioned book to read up on each element before watching the corresponding video, the videos made much more sense and we really enjoyed watching them.

Chemistry. Who knew it could be interesting and fun? I wish I had known it before I took my chemistry class in high school, the worst class of my school career. Fortunately, my kids will not approach chemistry with the same sense of loathing as I did, thanks to wonderful resources like these.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

School During School

Andy's woodworking school, is now up and running. We are past half way through our first week. Teaching my own students while Andy teaches his is proving challenging, but not impossible.

My job is to cook for the classes, a light breakfast of fruit and yogurt and fresh baked goods, and then a huge hot meal for lunch, plus occasional snacks and non-stop coffee. The way our house is set up, the kitchen is completely isolated from the rest of the world, so I can't just set the kids up where I am working (note: new kitchen countdown is on).

In adjusting to the new scheduling required, including me being very busy during the time that we have typically done school, I have had to get a little creative. Mind you, nothing I have done is terribly creative for a veteran home schooler, but we're talking about me here, folks, The Reluctant Home Educator.

Today, Tano and I listened to his chapter of Robinson Crusoe via audio book while we did the dishes together. Yesterday, the kids followed me around the yard as I watered my poor, neglected gardens, all the while discussing good poetry and brutal Vikings sweeping through English towns. Spanish consisted of the kids planning and rehearsing short conversations they could have with one of the woodworking students who is from Venezuela and speaks fluent Spanish.

It's different, but it is working.

The kids are also getting quite an education in the culinary arts and food service. They are meal planning and cooking and baking with me, learning to serve meals efficiently and attractively, and experiencing how much work it takes to clean up after big feasts. Plus, we are just learning how to work together well, like a team. It's good.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Of Runaways and Literacy

A young girl came to my front door this morning. She couldn't have been more than eight years old--a cute little thing. She said she was a runaway slave and had seen the lantern on my hitching post. Was this a safe house?

Yes, it was.

She asked if she could stay a bit and get warm and rested. I invited her in, of course. Poor thing was breathless and shivering from cold and fright. Two big tracking dogs had been close on her heels.

She looked so bewildered and lost, and I suggested that perhaps learning to read and write would help her on her journey. I directed her into the living room to the makeshift school table and bade her look in my own daughter's Kitty Folder for a page of copywork. Pencils were already on the table. That would get her started.

Follow the Kitty Folder
Follow the Kitty Folder
For a page of copywork will help you read and write
If you follow the Kitty Folder

The little girl beamed and set about her work.


If you haven't already guessed it, we enjoyed studying the Underground Railroad today and learning the traditional folk song, "Follow the Drinking Gourd." When Elli went outside for her break, she began to act out what she had learned, and brought it back to the house with her, hoping I would play along. She loves it when I do. Here are the links we used in our study:

National Geographic -- The Underground Railroad (an interactive simulated journey from plantation to freedom--very well done)

The Big Dipper, As Seen Through Other Cultures (a fun interactive look at the constellation, as it has been viewed in other times and places)

An overview of the meaning of the song and its lyrics

Teacher Tube -- Underground Railroad (an eight minute video overview)

Some guy singing the song with a guitar (a three minute video)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Notes From Week Four

NOTE: The following post is long and probably uninteresting to anyone but me. I am posting mostly for my own records.

We are a third of the way through our first term of home education. I am still enjoying myself, and the kids are too, in most areas, but the glossy sheen is starting to fade, just a bit. Here is where we are at as we approach the end of week four:

- We are a full week behind my intended schedule for Spanish, but I think I was overly optimistic at the start. I am slowing it down and giving more time for review of terms and phrases already covered. I really need to get better about using it around the house more in general conversation. They are picking it up and enjoying it, but I forget that even the most basic vocabulary and phrasing is brand new to them. That's ok. We are not in a hurry.

- Both kids seem to like the Book of Centuries we are compiling, a time line in a book that they create sort-of-a-thing. They are noting overlaps in various subjects they are studying. For example, Tano took note this week that Fanny J. Crosby, the hymnist who wrote a song we just finished studying, was about my age when the Civil War broke out. For whatever reason, this made history come alive for him. I'll take it.

- Copywork/penmanship is going very well, I think, and I am seeing fairly dramatic improvements in both kids' handwriting. Elli is just learning cursive for the first time and is picking it up quite naturally, but is frustrated with the pace of her progress. Tano is un-learning some bad habits and learning to form his letters properly, with a consistent slant and spacing. He doesn't really want to spend time on his handwriting as it was "always good enough before," but even he is impressed with the changes, I think.

- Our Shakespeare study is going well, so far. We will be adding two more students (ages ten and eleven) this Friday, and met with them this week to catch them up on what we've covered so far in Romeo and Juliet. I was surprised that both of my kids wanted to sit in on the meeting and seemed genuinely excited to share their new knowledge of old English and the plot of the play, so far.

- Art instruction (Nance is teaching basic drawing techniques) is more enjoyable for Tano than Elli, so far. Tano is ready and eager, whereas Elli is just not picking up on the concepts and feels frustrated with her abilities, comparing herself to the other students, most of whom are quite a bit older than her.

- Science experiments are a big hit with both kids. I need to start working on making Tano do more actual science to go along with the fun experimentation.

- Both kids are using "Dance Mat Typing," the free online typing program from the BBC. They are actually learning to type and enjoy the program.

- Bible has been a highlight of our day. We are able to enjoy it as a family around the table after breakfast. We are reading Proverbs together, bit by bit, most days only covering a few verses, but enjoying lively discussions over them. We are also memorizing a verse each week from Psalm 119 and each person must be able to recite it at breakfast on Friday morning. It has been a real joy for us, so far.

- Nature study is going well. We are spending part of each Thursday afternoon down at the river, where each kid has adopted a particular tree to observe, study and document. They are drawing in their nature journals and Tano is making detailed lists of observations. It is fun to see the leaves changing. The differences are rather dramatic from week to week at this time of year. Today we also added in a short hike down the river bank to a marshy area and admired small and large trees that have been felled by beavers. Along the way, we found lots of neat footprints of animals going back and forth from the river for drinks of water.

Breaking it down per kid:

- Tano really doesn't like dictation, even once per week. He groans when it is announced, but is still willing to give it good effort.

- Tano's poetry study is going better than I would have ever dreamed. He is loving Alfred, Lord Tennyson, his poet for this term. He is taking to poetry beautifully, and enjoys finding the rhyme and rhythm patterns, as well as picking apart the imagery and symbolism. Tennyson rocks.

- Tano's study of Alcibiades, from Plutarch's Lives (Kaufmann's Young Folks Plutarch version) is going better than I would have anticipated, but we are reading such a short amount of it each week that it is hard to get up much momentum and interest.

- Tano has settled into a groove with Robinson Crusoe and is really enjoying it, reading (while simultaneously listening to) two chapters per week, spread over four days.

- Tano has suddenly gained an insatiable thirst for knowledge of WWII weaponry, especially fighter planes. He's doing research on them in his self-directed learning time, taking notes on each plane's specifics, and then building each one out of Lego blocks and photographing it before dissembling it for parts for the next one. The P-38 model was actually pretty cool. He is not studying WWII at all right now, so this new interest has taken me by surprise.

- Tano is enjoying his study of the universe in It Couldn't Just Happen, but is struggling with the the more literature-based Madame How and Lady Why. It is an old book written for British school children and takes a very round-about literary approach to learning scientific principles. I hope the book picks up a bit, honestly. It is a little slow right now, and not completely capturing his attention, even though I can see where it is headed and think the premise is great. I don't want it to become drudgery, though.

- Tano and I both are both enjoying Poor Richard, a beautifully written biography of Benjamin Franklin. We both look forward to each new segment. I loved biographies when I was his age, and this one is particularly well done.

-Tano is also enjoying Minn of the Mississippi, which so far is about the birth and life of one particular snapping turtle. Each chapter is very short, but well written and somehow suspenseful. I caught him reading ahead at one point.

- Tano's mythology study, from The Age of Fable, is starting out slowly. This week, we finally finished the preface and introduction. We are both hoping the book picks up a bit now that the preliminaries are out of the way. He is learning, though, and his new-found knowledge of some basic Greek and Roman gods and goddesses overlapped nicely this week with our art study. This week's print was Botticelli's "Primavera," which features Venus, Mercury, Cupid and Zephyrus prominently.

- Tano had a lot of fun drawing a cartoon version of Botticelli's "Primavera" in art study this week. His rendition of Mercury was hilarious, and his Cupid had his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth in concentration, a gesture that the boy himself does frequently.

- Tano is enjoying the history of the American colonies in This Country of Ours, but is frustrated with the slow pace of Johnny Tremain, a historical novel set in the same general time period. I loved Johnny Tremain as a kid and read it several times, so I really talked it up to him, but that was a mistake on my part. I hyped it up a little too much, I'm afraid, and his expectations were too high. I'm learning.

Ok, this has become more lengthy than I expected and I can't sit here any longer. Next time I update like this, I will focus on Elli and what she is up to.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Over lunch today, my eight-year old daughter was recounting to Daddy and Grandpa the tragic tale of Roland, beloved nephew of the mighty Charlemagne. Roland, sung about by poets through the ages, was a courageous but ill-fated general, tragically struck down in battle because of the spiteful intrigue of a traitor. It was quite the grand story to be told over such humble soup and sandwiches.

When she had finished her tale, and noble Roland lay dead on the battlefield with his uncle the king weeping over his body, her eyes took on their familiar knowing twinkle and she smirked, "The third grade kids at Lone Rock School [her former elementary school] probably wouldn't even be able to pronounce Charlemagne."

Monday, September 22, 2008

September Still Life

I didn't know a messy desk
could be this beautiful.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Adjusting to Freedom

You would think that the freedom of no longer being bound by the confines of the traditional school day would be thrilling to me. But you would be wrong. I spent too many years of my life setting my mental clock by the rolling of the buses, morning and afternoon, to just unplug the clock and forget about it.

This week the kids and I have been helping Andy (Daddy) out in the shop, as he gets things ready for his new woodworking school. He is putting up some beautiful redwood wainscot on the walls, which is really attractive, but a lot of work. We have jumped in to help cut the lumber down to size, round off the edges and finish it with hand-rubbed oil so it can be installed.

Tuesday, we did school first and then worked out there on the redwood all afternoon. Wednesday, we worked on it all evening, even setting up flood lights in the yard so I at my sanding station and Tano at his oiling station could keep going after dark. But this morning we really shook things up.

Andy had someone coming to work at nine o'clock in the morning and wanted him to be able to start installing right away. We didn't have all of the wood ready to go yet, though, so we got up early, had a quick breakfast, and went out there, all of us, to finish the job--or at least get enough done by the time the help arrived that he could get started. We worked until lunch time, got it all done, and then did school after that.

Those of you who are accustomed to this home education thing are still waiting for the punchline. But that was it: we worked all morning and didn't start school until after lunch. After lunch!!

I'm still adjusting, folks. Give me time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mini Co-op Day

Two of my very dear friends, Nance and Jen, and I have joined forces for Friday afternoons at Nance's house. Between us, we have eight students--one fourteen-year old, one thirteen-year old, one twelve-year old, two eleven-year olds, one ten-year old and two eight year-olds. Jen also has a very little guy, but he is more interested in playing with the dogs and the cat outside, than sitting in on class sessions.

I am teaching Shakespeare for the first segment. We started today with an introduction to reading old English in play format, some old vocabulary, and the basic plot and characters of Romeo and Juliet, the first play we will tackle together. It was so fun. I am really looking forward to digging into the play next Friday, and the kids all seem to be into it, too.

After Shakespeare, Nance is teaching art. Today, she had the kids drawing, trying out different art pencils to see what they could push them to do, and attempting some basic shapes with light and shadow. The kids had such a great time experimenting with various techniques.

After our Shakespeare and art classes, we all drove off to the church for choir practice, which also started today and will take place every Friday afternoon until the three performances in December. This is a community choir for kids from third through eighth grades, and it has a reputation for excellence. The director is very experienced and really brings some amazing talent out in the kids, a rag-tag group of about forty young voices from our little farming and ranching community. It's Elli's first year and she is SOOOO EXCITED. Tano is not interested in singing, but loves to be part of big productions, so he is an assistant to the director, helping out with whatever she needs.

It was a really great day. I think we will look forward to Friday afternoons.

Here is a photo of my Shakespeare class, taken last Friday on our field trip to The Route of the Hiawatha. They are a really great group of kids.

More photos of the bike trip are posted here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fun Science

Many thanks to Aurora Lipper and Supercharged Science for the idea for this simple hovercraft experiment. Making this video was the kids' idea. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


The concept of narration, in Charlotte Mason's terms, is the retelling of what was just read. This is done to train kids to read carefully and absorb, rather than just skim lightly and have to re-read for content.

While we don't do narration after every single passage that is read by each kid, we do randomly choose one or two items per day to narrate. I had read that kids from a public school setting can be quite resistant to this process, so I wanted to start it out well, before they could develop any negative opinions.

I searched around for other people's creative ideas and blended several of them into my own. Using this little system, my kids actually look forward to narration and count it as a special treat, like an occasional dessert after dinner.

We use a single die, found in a baggie of unclaimed game pieces. After a child reads a passage, s/he rolls. A one or a two means that I will choose the style of narration that will be given. A three or four means that the child will choose from the list. A five or a six means that s/he gets to roll again and let the die decide which item on the list (of six options, conveniently) will be done.

Here is the list:

1. Oral narration (the child just summarizes aloud what was read)
2. Written narration (a couple of sentences or a paragraph, depending on the age of the kid)
3. Draw a picture or a comic strip (my son happily drew a whole chapter of Robinson Crusoe for me this way today)
4. Series of two-word sentences (eg. "Tree grew. Boy saw. Boy wondered. Buffalo ran. Boy worried...." Great for simple subject and predicate.)
5. Charades/pantomime (they enjoy this more than I thought they would)
6. Q & A (this one requires them to roll again; 1-3 = parent quizzes kid, 4-6 = kid quizzes parent)

Narration rocks.

The other night at dinner, I suggested that my daughter tell Daddy about a particular passage she had enjoyed in one of her history books. She narrowed her eyes to suspicious (but merry) little slits and asked, "Do I get to roll?"