March 25, 2011

Curriculum Thoughts

I have found it pretty impossible to do school these days. The baby's schedule and my exhaustion combined with post-partum fuzzy brain has necessitated a small hiatus.

I expected that.

What I didn't expect was my obsession with picking curriculum for next year. I think it is because I can pick curriculum sitting down, it allows me to feel like I'm being a little productive, and it is fun. Fun, fun, fun.

So far I have almost every subject decided. I'm still investigating a few options for art and adding/subtracting from my "wish list."

Here are my thoughts on my choices. First, I really like A Beka math for its frustrating amount of review problems--now that I've gotten past the "do every problem" mentality. It really is a great program when you pick and choose the problems based on your child's competence.

However, I like A Beka a LOT MORE when combined with The Thinking Company's math reasoning books. The Math Reasoning books are fantastic for critical thinking/problem solving and terrible for reviewing basic concepts. I've found that a mix of problem solving (what my children like best) and practicing the basics of computation (what A Beka does best) has proven a real winner for us.

Math Program: A Beka math with The Thinking Co.'s Mathematical Reasoning books.

Miriam is turning 8 this June and in my head that means she has to start "real school." Before 8, I just can't take it all that seriously. Example: language arts. We haven't done much by way of real gung-ho grammar in the past. This year, however, I feel strongly that it is time to start. Due to my recent discovery of The Well-Trained Mind (I'll be sharing my thoughts on that book in another post) I discovered the Rod and Staff Publishing Co. When I looked through their third grade language arts program I found--miracle of miracles--that it requires diagramming sentences. WAHOO!! When I taught English in a public school I found sentence diagramming to be the number one best way to learn/teach grammar. Really. And it isn't even awful--it is actually pretty fun. It's like a game or puzzle. Sold.

Picking a spelling program has proven extremely time consuming. Every program has its advocates and denigrators. Every expert has an opinion. It always comes down to the needs of your child. We've been using Sequential Speller and loving it. My daughter spells the words out loud and feels very proud that she can spell such long words. However, Miriam is also a reluctant writer because she hates misspelling words. Unlike me, Miriam does not pick up spelling from reading. I need a program that lays things out for her--so more phonics based--that she can do independently and will hopefully help jumpstart her writing because the words she's learning to spell are words she's comfortable using in her writing (unlike most words in Sequential Speller). With all those many requirements, I finally decided on the Rod and Staff spelling program. She can do it independently, it groups words in a way that makes sense, and I think it will appeal to Miriam. Plus, we can keep using Sequential Speller for fun.

Language Arts Program: Rod and Staff for Miriam and for Cowen Language Lessons for the Very Young. Rod and Staff Spelling for Miriam and my own made-up spelling curriculum for Cowen. McGuffey's Eclectic Readers for Miriam (thank you Dad for the best Christmas present!!) for reading. Cowen and Emeline (yes, she's ready) will be using the Little Books: Set One and Set Two for reading. (I have a whole new plan for teaching reading--I'll tell you all about it in anther post.)

As you all know, I make up my own science and history.

For handwriting we will continue to use Handwriting Without Tears. We love that program. It has worked miracles in our homeschool.

The jury is still out on art. I am currently investigating a book called Storybook Art that has art projects drawn from children's books. The premise is that the author of the art book found 100 "greatest" children's books. Then she studied how the illustrators illustrated the books and created art projects that helps children do what the illustrator did in the children's book. I love the premise. I just got the book from the library so I'll be looking through it thoroughly in the next week or so. If you've used this book or any of its projects, let me know what you think.

There you have it. I haven't bought any of the new stuff yet because I don't want to be hasty and make mistakes. I'm prone to doing that. However, I am very pleased with how far along I am in the process and pleased with my plans for schooling this summer.

If you have used any of these materials and have thoughts on them--PLEASE SHARE. Also, if you have found a product you think is fantastic--PLEASE SHARE. Picking curriculum is good fun, but it is also a long, nerve-wracking process. I hate spending money only to find out that the curriculum didn't match the child. It happens.

Still, in the end, there is just something very elemental and soul-satisfying about setting all the new books on the table and really going to town planning for the new school year. I love it. Love it, love it.

March 12, 2011

Cooking the South African Way

My children really enjoyed Festivals of the World: South Africa. It had a list of all the festivals in the area, and it sure seemed like all people do in South Africa is party. The kids and I decided we wanted to move there!

After reading the book we watched a few youtube videos--some about the game of cricket as that came up in the book and my kids had no clue there was a sport named after an insect. :) We also listened to both of South Africa's national anthems. After that I couldn't resist playing them the most beautiful national anthem in the world--O Canada. Yes, I am Canadian. Why do you ask?

After all the youtube videos, we were hungry, so I told the kids they could make pumpkin fritters from the recipe found in this book: Cooking the Southern African Way by Kari Cornell. Since I had to nurse Harriet right after I told them they could cook, they proceeded without me. It actually, surprisingly, worked better that way. It is hard to be too uptight when you don't see most of the mess until clean up time.

Besides, they did an awesome job.

Miriam's reading the cookbook that it sitting on the chair. After Cowen opened the can of pumpkin and orange stuff started flying, I ordered the library book moved to a more secure location.

I did the frying for safety reasons. I used more oil than necessary as I realized early on that the smaller the fritter, the better. Pumpkin doesn't set up like we're used to with more flour heavy projects. Therefore, to get the best crispy outside to mushy inside ratio, we made the fritters pretty small.

Nothing like a little cinnamon and sugar to help the pumpkin go down.
We all really liked them, and I'm not a huge pumpkin fan. The mushyish center threw us off at first--very different from a corn fritter or scone--but it really was tasty and you could tell it was cooked properly, just a different texture than we were used to.
The next morning I used the remaining pumpkin in my pancakes. You can't taste the pumpkin very much and it is an extra veggie. Brilliant. Besides, kids like it because the pancakes are orange.
If you're feeling like a South African treat--a pumpkin fritter is a pretty good option.

PS--I've joined the throng of "spinach smoothie" weirdos. You really can't taste the spinach. I never would have believed it if I hadn't tried it. I make my own yogurt for our smoothies to cut down on sugar (then I add 4 TBLS back in--go figure), add some frozen berries, a bunch of spinach, and voila--a lovely addition to lunch or a nice snack. Homemade yogurt is yummy and super easy and way cheaper. You should try it.

March 11, 2011

reading charts and rewards...

(click on picture for full size and print it if you want to)
so, this is a reading chart i made for luke.
we're trying to motivate him to read to us,
on his own, to his sister, to anyone.
we just want him to read, read, read.
and to motivate him to do that,
we make these charts.
he picks the images -
(we're using fish this week)
and picks the reward as well.
so far his favorite reward seems to be
fudgscicle (sp?)/movie parties.
and to get both of them together -
he has to fill in two whole charts.
give it a try.
it's simple and fun.
and luke seems to really get motivated by this system.
(and he's hard to motivate)
okay, over and out.
becky from

March 6, 2011

Good Books for Your Kids!!!

In our study of Africa, we found a gem. Gold Star Book. I loved it. LOVED IT! It only took me 15 minutes to read. The chapters are short, the pictures add to the charm, and the story is fabulous. Warriors, Warthogs, and Wisdom: Growing Up in Africa by Lyall Watson is an autobiographical book about Watson's grandma (a Harley motorcycle is involved), best friend (a Zulu chieftan), and a warthog. Awesome. It makes you wish you'd had his childhood--and I had a perfect childhood myself.

There is also a little bit about eating bugs.

Seriously, read this book.

In other good news, Miriam discovered The Hardy Boys. I never much cared for mysteries growing up so I didn't read Hardy Boys or Trixie Beldon or Nancy Drew. However, I am SO GLAD that Miriam is in love with this series because I know it is 100% clean and child friendly so I don't have to preview any of the books.

That is a such a wonderful feeling.

Besides, what is more adorable than hearing Miriam giggles from her end of the couch and see her shaking her head and whispering, "Silly Joe"? Yes, Miriam whispers out loud often when she reads. I like it because it is funny and I can hear how she is processing what she is reading. Mostly though, it is just funny.

My mother is a great believer in reading all genres. She would often hand me mysteries to read and I would turn up my nose. This annoyed her. Finally, she handed me Victoria Holt's The Night of the Seventh Moon. A mystery. She made me read it.

I loved it.

Still one of my very favorite books. Definitely my favorite mystery (along with The Westing Game).

I'm telling you this so you don't think I'm anti-mystery.

I'm just more pro-dragons. And magic. And trolls. And things like that.

March 5, 2011

Other Africa Books

Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove is a must-read book. My children loved it. The pictures are awesome. It is an a-z book with an African tribe described for each letter. Obviously, with just one page for each tribe the info is not very in-depth, but it is perfect for kids because the info is interesting, brief, and the pictures. Wow. The pictures make the whole thing. Loved it.

Ashanti to Zulu should really be followed by African Journey by John Chiasson. The photographs are amazing. It is a photo-essay about modern Africa (okay, modern as of 1987). Still, it was a great way to talk about what has changed in Africa and what has stayed the same. It also introduces the concept of famine and drought and what happens when people can't grow food. Sad, but a good discussion.

March 4, 2011


I was going to do a whole sub-unit on explorers during the Africa segment of the Babies Unit. First we read about the explorer Mary Kingsley. Then, we read through (skipping when it became too much info) Exploring the World: Da Gama, Vasco da Gama Sails Around the Cape of Good Hope by Robin S. Doak.

It is a really good book. The maps are very useful and the pictures are interesting. It is designed for middle readers so there were a few places where we bogged down. Certainly not the fault of the book--just the ages of my children. Then I pulled out an outline map that included Europe and Africa and had the kids add a line for da Gama's trip, with dots at all the places in Africa that he stopped.

It is the first time we've done a map to demonstrate something besides the location of places. It was fun, we enjoyed it, and I forgot to take pictures.

So that was all pre-Harriet. After Harriet, I thought I would jump back into things to help my kids stay happy and not bored.


I didn't jump back into anything except exhaustion. Baby wakes up at 11:00 pm, 2:00 am, and 5:30 am (or 6:00 am--sometimes even a little later than that), so I cannot complain about her sleeping habits. She's an angel for a two-week old.

However, I'm still exhausted.

So rather than read Exploration Through the Ages: The Travels of Livingstone by Richard Humble to all my children and do a similar map of his travels, I just had Miriam read the book to herself and we chatted about it. I read the book (as did my hubby--we both enjoyed it) first so I could guide the discussion to exploration and what was cool about it and what would be hard about it and what the Africans probably thought about these white foreigners telling them to change their lives and become Christian. This leads into a discussion of our missionaries and why we tell people they should change their lives. Good stuff.

I definitely recommend this book for any studies on Africa, missionary work, exploration, or colonialism. It is a great read.

Dr. Livingstone, I presume.

March 2, 2011

Last Day Spent on Babies

Not much has been done by way of school around here. However, a baby in the house is a daily lesson. Since baby was here, I decided to read the last two baby books I'd checked out of the library and give a short lecture about being careful with the baby.

Hello Benny! by Robie H. Harris was a huge hit with all four of my older children. It discussed in pretty good detail what a baby needs and what it is like to be a baby. For example, one of our favorite pages discusses what a baby can see and then has two images of Benny's dad--one close-up and clear and one farther away and blurry. Great way to drive the point home. In short, I was impressed with this book.

Welcome, Baby: Baby Rhymes for Baby Times by Stephanie Calmenson was a hit with Miriam and Emeline. The rest of us lost interest pretty quick.
There you have it. Two more baby book ideas if you are interested in teaching your kids about babies.