September 27, 2012

Christmas Excitement: Miriam

I am a Christmas fanatic.  I need half a year to celebrate adequately and get my fill of Christmas music, and then the other half of the year to plan the presents.  I like to have everything purchased and/or made by the end of October.  That allows me to throw myself into celebrating in November and December.  For those of you who are tsking--I'm Canadian.  Thanksgiving is over for me by the middle of October.  ON TO CHRISTMAS!!!  Yee-haw!!!  I mean, ho ho ho!!!

As the children age I find it harder and harder to pick presents for the oldest kids, while simultaneously finding it almost impossible to get anything for the youngest of the kids because we already have enough toys around the place for little hands.

To encourage you to send me ideas and to help kickstart your own Christmas shopping brainstorming, I'm going to post what we've picked for our kids as we finalize their lists.  We don't get many presents (well, compared to some people--maybe we're exorbitant and just don't know it) but we do give our kids a stocking stuffer, a book(s), a sibling present that they make for each other in November, and one Santa present.  Then I also get to pick a present for each child that is from their great-grandma that they get at her Christmas party that is usually held the first weekend in December.  

A little about Miriam.  She is 9, is in the 4th grade, has red hair and a VIVID imagination who sometimes condescends to visit us in reality, wants to be a detective when she grows up, is addicted to Hardy Boys books, is a beautiful pianist, makes up hilarious songs while washing the dishes, and loves people of all varieties.  She loves to create art--more crafty stuff than drawing--and she is wonderful at entertaining her siblings with all of her delightful made-up games.  She's also ridiculously bright.

Without further ado: Miriam's 2012 Christmas list.

The boxed set of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.  I've been waiting forever (it feels like) to introduce Miriam to Anne.  They are clearly kindred spirits.  Miriam wishes she was an orphan because it would make her life much more dramatic.

Dress Up Days doll panel.  All of my girls are getting these fabric dolls as their stocking stuffers.  I am going to make Harriet's because she's too little and so I'll know how to put one together.  One panel includes two outfits plus a headband thing and the doll.  For Miriam I am going to cut out the pieces, add the necessary batting, put it all in a ziploc and put it in her stocking that way.  She'll be way more excited about sewing it together than she would be about an already put together doll.

 Crime Scene Investigator Kit.  This kit requires you to be a detective.  It comes with a booklet explaining the crime that was committed and the suspects.  You have to conduct 7 forensic type experiments to figure out the perpetrator of the crime.  We're pretty positive Miriam is going to love it.  This is her Santa present.
Pressed Flowers Collection Kit.    This is not a Christmas present--it is what we are getting her for her 10th birthday.  We had a hard time deciding between this and the detective set but decided to save the pressed flower kit for June when there would actually be flowers.  Miriam has been trying to dry flowers and leaves in books for years without success.  We've even called her brilliant Aunt Kami, artist extraordinaire, for tips but still failed.  I'm positive Miriam will wow me with all the creative things she thinks up to do with her pressed foliage.
Lego Hagrid's Hut.    This is what Miriam is getting from her great-grandma.  All the children except Harriet are getting Lego things from great-grandma because they all love Legos and we have very few.  I thought Legos were lame when I was a kid (still can't work up much excitement) but I LOVE how much time my children spend playing quietly with them.  Excellent.

And there you have it--the first of 5 Christmas present posts.  I would love to hear what is on your Christmas lists as I can always use good ideas and we are still searching for the perfect present for Emeline and Harriet.  Suggestions welcome!

PS  I only have one thing on my list--a really nice bamboo cutting board.  I've already hinted to my hubby that Ross might be the place to shop for me this year.  :)  Anything you are hoping for?

September 26, 2012

Our History Units and Books

I recently received an email from Maria (a blog friend) about my ancient history units--the structure and timing and whatnot.  I thought I would write a response on here in case it benefits anyone else.  Warning: information overload to follow.

In putting together Ancient History by geographical areas, I had to make sure there was information for the areas I wanted to study and also that I would have time to cover the most significant (to general world history) areas.  After I got started I decided that trying to do science and history at the same time didn't work for me so I switched to a 4 week history 4 week science model.  Here's how it looks on paper:  Remember I switched to the 4 week plan AFTER I already started.

April 23-May 11: Mesopotamia (3 weeks, twice a week--or approx. 6 hours)

May 14-May 25: Bible Lands - or Middle East (2 weeks or 4 hours)

May 28-June 8: Persian Empire (2 weeks or 4 hours)

July 16-Aug. 10: Egypt (5 weeks or 10 hours--my children LOVE studying Egypt and there is so much information that spending extra time is fun and justified)

Sept. 10-Oct. 19: Greece (lots of weeks but not really because I have been so busy that we haven't done anything for Greece yet except read a few books.  Because of that, I added on two extra weeks for Greece to catch up.  I think you need 5 weeks or 10 hours to really cover Greece well and set things up for Rome.)

Nov. 26-Dec. 21: Britain/Scandinavia  (4 weeks or 8 hours.  You could cover this area in a much shorter amount of time but there are quite a few fun books at the library and there is Thor, not to mention some really great battles with Rome--therefore, I added two extra weeks because I knew my 7 year old son would want to spend more time on it.)

Feb. 4-March 1: Rome (4 weeks or 8 hours.  Yes, you could spend WAY more time here, but I just don't think Rome is as interesting as some other places so I decided 4 weeks was enough for us.)

We are taking off a month whenever baby arrives--either the end of Feb or beginning of March.

April 29-May 3: India (1 week or 2 hours)

May 6-10: North America (1 week or 2 hours)

May 13-17: Japan (1 week or 2 hours)

May 20-24: China (1 week or 2 hours)

I realize that the hours we spent on these areas are rather arbitrary but I did allot time in part due to the materials available for each area.

To recap, I broke up the world in this way:

Bible Lands/Middle East
North America

I already posted the books I used for Mesopotamia, Bible Lands/Middle East, Persia, and Egypt.  For those interested I'll post the book list I have for the rest of the areas but promise, pretty please, to remember that this is my un-kid-tested list.  When I post books on this blog it is AFTER I've used them and gauged my children's reaction.  I'll post again after each unit with the list of books my children liked the most.  The books come from either Davis or Weber County libraries.

Souhami, Jessica.  Rama and the Demon King: An Ancient Tale from India.

Alexander, Lloyd.  The Iron Ring.  (The book is based loosely on Indian mythology.)

Clements, Gillian.  Building History: Indus Valley City.

Ali, Daud and Fiona MacDonald, Lorna Oakes, and Philip Steele.  The Illustrated History Encyclopedia: Great Civilizations of the East.  This book covers Mesopotamia, Ancient India, The Chinese Empire, and Ancient Japan.

North America:
Quigley, Mary.  Excavating the Past: Mesa Verde

National Geographic: Ancient Pueblo: Archeology Unlocks the Secrets of America's Past.

Scholl, Elizabeth.  How'd They Do That in the Mayan Civilization?

Harris, Nathaniel.  National Geographic Investigates: Ancient Maya

Noble, William.  How'd They Do That in the Aztec Empire?

Millard, Anne.  Pyramids.

Galvin, Irene Flum.  The Ancient Maya.

Dahl, Roald.  The Mildenhall Treasure.

Macaulay, David.  City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction.

Windrow, Martin.  The Roman Legionary.

Osborne, Mary Pope.  Ancient Rome and Pompeii.

Osborne, Mary Pope.  Vacation Under the Volcano.

Macdonald, Fiona.  How to be a Roman Soldier.

Roberts, Paul C.  Ancient Rome.

Biesty, Stephen.  Rome: In Spectacular Cross-Section.

Murrel, Deborah.  The Best Book of Ancient Rome.

James, Simon.  Ancient Rome.

Morley, Jacqueline.  Inside Story: A Roman Villa.

Rutland, Jonathan.  See Inside a Roman Town.

Osborne, Mary Pope.  Pompeii: Lost and Found.

DiPrimio, Pete.  How'd They Do That in Ancient Rome?

Ballard, Robert D.  The Lost Wreck of the Isis.

Sutcliff, Rosemary.  Frontier Wolf.  I haven't read this yet.

Stefoff, Rebecca.  The Ancient Mediterranean.

Green, Jen.  Ancient Celts: Archaeology Unlocks the Secrets of the Celts' Past.

Climo, Shirley.  Stolen Thunder: A Norse Myth.

Martell, Hazel Mary.  Myths and Civilizations of the Celts.

Martell, Hazel Mary.  What Do We Know About the Celts?

Colum, Padraic.  The Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths.

Shofner, Shawndra.  Stonehenge.

Lunge-Larsen, Lise.  The Adventures of Thor: The Thunder God.

Harrison, Michael.  The Doom of the Gods.

Muller, Robin.  The Nightwood.  This is a shorter version of one of my very favorite books ever, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.  Miriam will be reading Pope's version.  Sigh.  I love it when my kids read my favorites!

Yolen, Jane.  Sister Bear: A Norse Tale.  This is a shorter version of Jessica Day George's Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow that Miriam saw sitting on my pile of books and is currently reading.  It was okay--definitely not George's best, but not bad either.

Sutcliff, Rosemary. The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool.  I haven't read this one yet.

Gaiman, Neil.  Odd and the Frost Giants.  I haven't read this one yet either.

Keary, A.  The Heroes of Asgard.  Really long--I'm going to have it around for Miriam to thumb through.

Fisher, Leonard Everett.  Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Norse.

Osborne, Mary Pope.  Favorite Norse Myths.

Hinds, Kathryn.  Barbarians! Ancient Celts.  

Place, Robin.  The Celts.

Green, Roger Lancelyn.  Myths of the Norsemen.  I own this book so I don't know if it is available at the library.

Tannen, Mary.  The Wizard Children of Finn.  I haven't read this yet.

Arnold, Caroline.  Stone Age Farmers Beside the Sea: Scotland's Prehistoric Village of Skara Brae.

Hague, Kathleen and Michael Hague.  The Man Who Kept House and East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

Curren, Polly.  Folk Tales of Scandinavia.  

Japan/Other Asian Spots
Richardson, Hazel.  Life in Ancient Japan.

James, Alison J. The Drums of Noto Hanto

Sierra, Judy.  The Dancing Pig.  Set in Bali.

Ali, Daud.  The Illustrated History Encyclopedia: Great Civilizations of the East. 

Cotterell, Arthur.  Eyewitness: Ancient China.

Beshore, George.  Science in Ancient China.

Friedman, Mel.  Ancient China: A True Book.

Michaelson, Carol ed.  The Nature Company Discoveries Library: Ancient China.

Alexander, Lloyd.  The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen.  Set in the Tang Dynasty.

O'Connor, Jane.  The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China.

Terzi, Marinella.  The World Heritage: The Chinese Empire.

Ali, Daud.  The Illustrated History Encyclopedia: Great Civilizations of the East.

Other Random Ancient History Books that Looked Interesting
Woods, Michael.  Ancient Warfare: From Clubs to Catapults.

Atkinson, Mary.  Pills and Potions: A History of Remedies.

I hope some of that was helpful to someone!!

September 16, 2012

Miriam's New Subject: Reading Comprehension

I added a few new subjects to Miriam's day this year as she is a big 4th grader and all.  One of the subjects is reading comprehension.  At first glance that seems silly as Miriam reads well above her reading level and has no problem comprehending what she reads.  However, I wanted to address two issues with this new subject: test preparedness and critical thinking skills.

Miriam has been doing critical thinking work since Kindergarten, but solving logic puzzles has gotten pretty simple for her.  We continue to bump up the challenge but she understands the process of reading the clues and marking a grid.  (I'm talking here about logic puzzles that have you find a solution based on a few clues.  For example, find 4 people's last names using a grid and clues such as "no person has a last name that is longer than their first name.")  Miriam adores logic puzzles and I think they are valuable so we continue to do them. (We use the Critical Thinking Co's Mind Benders for our logic puzzles.)

However, while that type of logic study is useful it isn't the best way to prepare for the English section of the ACT or multiple choice tests in general.  Well, I guess it is if a person knows to transfer the information.  Never mind everything I just said.  Instead, we'll just say that I wanted more specific practice for the English and science portions of the ACT.  I realize that is many years in Miriam's future, but the sooner you start practicing the better you get and the better scholarship you get.  I used to practice test taking with my public school students and the kids who understood the process, format, and strategies for test taking had such an advantage.

Enter The Critical Thinking Company.  Some days I feel like they should give me a kickback for all the nice things I say about their company.  They don't.  But they should.  :)  I bought Science Detective for 3rd and 4th grade because Miriam hadn't done anything like it before so I wanted her to feel successful and build up to harder problems.  While she reads and comprehends at a much higher level, she doesn't evaluate charts at a higher level or find the sentence that best answers the question at a higher level.  What I'm saying is, I'm glad we didn't buy the 5th and 6th grade book although I debated between the two for quite some time.

Clearly I'm tired because this post feels like it is all over the place.  I apologize.

Let me wrap up.  This workbook contains short passages of non-fiction based on science principles.  The sentences are numbered and the paragraphs are assigned a letter.  Following the passage are a series of questions about the information in the passage.  Most of the questions come in two parts: what is the answer to this question and which sentence best answers the question.  I really like that part because it forces Miriam to evaluate the passage even when she knows the answer already.

So far the passages have all included graphs of various types.  In the question section there are questions that can only be answered by evaluating the graph and for one passage Miriam was required to fill out 3 graphs similar to the one found in the passage.

This book really is a stellar reading comprehension workbook.  It forces Miriam to read carefully, to read the questions carefully and evaluate exactly what is being asked and how and where to find the answers.  It forces her to learn to decipher the purpose and information presented in a variety of graphs.

In short, it does everything I wanted it to do and does it very well.  Plus the passages and number of questions are a perfect and appropriate length for her age--it takes her 15 minutes to complete one passage with questions.  She is assigned two sections per week so she does reading comprehension on Tuesdays and Fridays.  I think it is just the right amount.  As she gets better at it I will probably start having her skip every other passage to get her through the book in one year so she can move to the next book in the series next year.  Then Cowen can use the book and do the passages Miriam skipped when he gets to 4th grade.  :)  I don't see any reason a child would need to do every single page in a book that size unless you did start the child in 3rd grade and expected him to take 2 years to complete the book, or the child really struggled with this type of work and needed the extra practice.

The only other thing I think I should mention is that the Critical Thinking Co markets this as a "core" textbook for science.  Yes, conceivably you could use this book as your science textbook but I wouldn't recommend it.  It doesn't build on itself well and the concepts are not delved into or layered enough to be a stand-alone science curriculum.  Plus, it would be boring.  No experiments.  But that's my opinion, for what it's worth.

Here's the link if you want to "look inside" the book on the Critical Thinking Co's website:

Happy homeschooling!

PS  I'm feeling better.  More stable, happier, less nauseated.  Blessed second trimester.  Thank you so much for all your kind words via emails and comments and for your long-distance hugs.  It really made a difference in my outlook.  I'm so glad I have friends like you.

September 14, 2012

Guest Post by my sister Kami

I stole this post from a blog I share with my sister.  She was thrilled to find a Spanish immersion program for her children because she is married to a Colombian and wants her children to be able to speak with their dad in both languages and their other relatives in Spanish.  That is why she and her hubby picked the house that they did when they recently moved to Houston.  

Let me make one thing VERY CLEAR: I am not anti-public school in any way.  I've mentioned that before on this blog because I value so dearly the fantastic teachers with whom I have had the privilege of working.  I know how many hours they spend and I know how deeply they invest in their students.  I also think our system of education is pretty decent.  It is popular to criticize American education--a hobby started by politicians to give them a talking point in speeches.  Politicians like to compare American education to Asian models or the Swedish model where it is convenient (like math scores) and ignore the rest (like the Swedish model's emphasis on time outdoors and free play or the Asian family structure and culture that is so different from here), but anyone who takes the time to think through those comparisons carefully or do the math (ha!) realize that the test score differences are statistically very small and that in the Asian model only the best and brightest are being tested, unlike here.

I could go on forever on these subjects.  Suffice it to say that while there is always room for improvement in any model, the American model has been educating the majority of people quite well for a long time despite huge problems like the sheer size of the country and the incredible diversity within it.  

I am in no way anti-public school.  However, in recent years there has been a huge push to "fix" our system.  That would be fine except the people doing the "fixing" are politicians--not educators--and they are creating problems that I find extremely worrisome.  In fact, the more they "fix" the worse our schools get.  In my opinion, of course.  One change is the refusal to "social promote" as we have in the past, essentially keeping children with their peers even if their understanding of the material does not warrant promotion.  Politicians like Jeb Bush have really sold this idea to the public, without any care for all the research that has been done that shows that a child who is held back is at incredibly high risk for dropping out of school.  If you hold a child back twice it almost guarantees the child will not finish high school.  Therefore our most at-risk students (those in poverty who are not doing well) are being held back, thereby increasing the chance that they will not finish high school.  Foolishness.  

Another movement that makes me want to pull my hair out is the move to increased preschool despite the mounds of research that show that the more time a small child spends with his primary caregiver (usually the mother) the more likely that child will be to make better decisions in adolescence about drugs/pre-marital sex/etc.  Basically, the more time spent with Mom in the preschool years, the stronger the mom voice in the adolescent's head saying, "What would Mom say if I did  . . .."  

There are many other examples.  Right now I'll let my sister rant about another issue that bothers me--because it is personal for her and she does a great job.  Thanks for letting me re-post your original post, Kami.

This Tuesday, I went to two open houses, one for the elementary school and one for the junior high.  First of all, they overlapped the scheduling.  Umm..that's dumb.  Second of all, is it just me, or is this some heightened form of helicopter parenting?  That's what I felt like, but on the other hand, I did find out several things.  The first one of which will be my rant.

Elena goes to all day kindergarten from 8:20 till 3:40.  I think this is much too long, and she comes home exhausted each day and cries half the mornings about having to go to school. However, I figured, it's kindergarten, they'll have lots of play time and recess, and she'll adjust.  At the open house, I received a detailed schedule of their day.  Guess how much time they have for recess during the entire day???
15 minutes!  

Seriously??  I would be exhausted with the schedule they have these kids on.  I literally cried when I was telling Leo about it at home that night.  (Okay that might be a bit of postpartum hormones.)  She does have PE for 55 mins, 2 or 3 days a week--it varies.  But that's not the same as unstructured play and downtime.  Here's her schedule:

8:20-8:30 Morning announcements and pledge
8:30-8:45 Calendar (reviewing days, months, seasons)
8:45-9:00  Phonemic Awareness (ABC chants, sight words review)
9:00-9:45 Writer's Workshop (kid writing)
9:45-10:30 Extended Learning/Developmental Centers
10:30-10:48 Handwriting
10:48-11:18  Lunch (this does not include recess time, I asked)
11:30-12:35 Math/Science
12:35-1:30 Specials (Art/PE/Music/Library)
1:30-1:45 Recess
1:45-2:00 Snack/Quiet time
2:00-2:20 Themed Interactive writing (science/social studies)
2:20-2:35 Shared reading/read aloud
2:35-3:20 Literacy Centers/Guided reading
3:20-3:40 Pack & Stack/Dismissal

So is it just me, or does this seem crazy?  And the teacher kept explaining how the district upped it's standards this year, and kids have to be reading at a 1st grade level by the end of kindergarten, and how they're requiring more sight words to be memorized, etc.   Really?  I know I'm the odd person out by not having Elena in preschool, but Kindergarten, I thought, was still supposed to be a transition into regular school.  But not only that, I would want my older kids (1st graders, 4th graders, etc) to have more recess too.  Even the national recommendations are at least 20 minutes of recess a day.   

My father referred to my school district as "abusive," and said that "No educator in the country would consider that as developmentally appropriate for that age group." The reason my dad's opinion is significant is because he's the dean of the college of education at a university and has worked in education for many, many years.

My good friend who has a ten year old brother in an elementary school nearby--which is rated the number 1 elementary school in the entire Houston area, and one of the best in the state--told me that her brother is being treated for anxiety.  And the problem is the pressure he feels at school.  That's insane.  She herself went to a the number 1 ranked high school in Houston, and she said BYU (most of her classmates went to Ivy League schools) was easy for her, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing, because she was so burnt out from high school when she got there and she felt that her high school had been too extreme and not in proportion to the needs of preparing for college and a career. I definitely want my kids challenged in school, but this is too much. 

Back to play, here's some tidbits I found.

 In a comprehensive review of numerous studies on play, researchers found evidence that play contributes to advances in "verbalization, vocabulary, language comprehension, attention span, imagination, concentration, impulse control, curiosity, problem-solving strategies, cooperation, empathy, and group participation" (Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990). Recent research provides additional evidence of the strong connections between quality of play in preschool years and children's readiness for school instruction (Bowman, Donovan, & Burns, 2000; Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 2002; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). Further, research directly links play to children's ability to master such academic content as literacy and numeracy. For example, children's engagement in pretend play was found to be positively and significantly correlated with such competencies as text comprehension and metalinguistic awareness and with an understanding of the purpose of reading and writing (Roskos & Christie, 2000).
The Importance of Being Playful. By: Bodrova, Elena, Leong, Deborah J., Educational Leadership, 00131784, Apr2003, Vol. 60, Issue 7

Because of the positive effects of physical activity on attention-to-task, it is recommended that elementary school teachers consider implementing physical activity sessions throughout the school day in the form of recess and classroom-based physical activities.

Impact of short bouts of physical activity on attention-to-task in elementary school children Matthew T. Mahar Activity Promotion Laboratory, Department of Exercise and Sport Science, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA

When youth participate in at least 60 min of physical activity every day, health benefits accrue, such as healthy bones and muscles, improved muscular strength and endurance, reduced risk for developing chronic disease risk factors, improved self-esteem, and reduced stress and anxiety (Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008).

So I'm going to write a letter to the principal and superintendent of the school district voicing my opinion.  Also, I am definitely holding my other children back a year before they start kindergarten and I'm going to start looking at other school districts nearby and charter schools.  However, the reason we moved to this area WAS the schools.  Elena is in the Spanish two-way immersion program, and I really want my kids to stay in a immersion program for Spanish.  So my options are limited.  (See me now banging my head on the table.) What to do?  What to do?