Family Read-Alouds for 2019

The last several years my end-of-year book posts with micro-reviews of everything we’ve read for the year have grown longer and longer. I made it through 33 books in 2019, so this year I’m going to split them up by categories, starting with the books the kids and I read aloud together (or in a few cases, that I previewed for them to read on their own). 🙂

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. This was a favorite of mine as a child and I finally shared it with my kids this year. When the Herdmans—the “worst kids in the history of the world”—show up asking to participate in a church pageant, the story of the birth of Christ is about to become very touching and real for them and for those who come to see the play.

This story will have you laughing…and possibly crying. We started and finished this 80-page book in one sitting then watched the movie based on it.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. Speare’s Newberry award-winning children’s novel was published in 1961. It tells the tale of a young Jewish man named Daniel who seeks revenge on the hated Romans who have conquered his land. He and a band of other Jewish boys eagerly await the return of the promised Messiah, hoping He will rid them of their enemies.

When a Teacher from Galilee shows up and multitudes begin to follow Him Daniel is intrigued, but hesitant. Will this man wreck vengeance on their enemies? Or has He come for some other purpose? Is He the answer to their longings? Or just another distraction?

The Hedge of Thorns, Lamplighter Rare Collection Series. Years ago my husband read this short little book. He was very impressed and decided that one day he would have his children read it.

That day came—this year. I ordered a copy from Grace and Truth Books and shared this little gem with the kids. Originally written in 1611, its language has been updated to better convey its timeless truths to young people of modern day. It tells the story of a brother and his little sister who learn that God sometimes puts “thorns” in our path to protect us from greater spiritual dangers.

A brief ten chapters, it’s a great little read—I recommend!

Poems of Robert Louis Stevenson, selected by Helen Plotz. I picked this up at a used book store one day and decided to use it as a read-aloud with the kids. The beginning of the book contains a short biography of Stevenson’s life. This Scottish author of classic favorites such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped was quite a character himself!

The collection was quite varied; some of the featured poems were written for children, while some dealt with more mature themes like death and loss (there were even several I chose to skip when reading them to the kids, due to his sometimes irreverent way of expressing his opinions on religion).

Paddington’s Storybook. I have always loved A. A. Milne’s classic characters from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. But after reading Paddington I realized I was finding a place in my heart for the loveable, innocent, silly bear who turns every situation into a disaster—and yet manages to save it all in the end.

With the story set in London, my kids (and even husband) were going around making little exclamations like “Crikey!” after reading this book (English authors/books are so fun!).

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Another sequel in the Little House series, Laura tells the story of her family’s settlement in Minnesota, the good times and the challenges they faced as they started life again after they had to leave Kansas.

Wild Light by Erik Stensland. This is not a children’s book.  It’s not even fiction. I had bought this in anticipation of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during a family trip. We wanted to learn what we could about it. Stunning photography combined with scant but informative text about the history, wildlife, and original peoples of the Rocky Mountains make this a great coffee table book.

Sarah, Plain and Tall and Caleb’s Story by Patricia MacLachlan. I remember watching the movie series based on these children’s books years ago, but I’d never actually read the books.

In Sarah, Plain and Tall, a woman from Maine answers a mail-order bride advertisement to meet a widower and his two young children in Kansas. Caleb’s Story continues the tale, in which a stranger with a dark secret shows up on their farm when Caleb is a teenager (there’s actually another book between these two, but the library didn’t have it so I haven’t read it yet).

These are sweet stories about family, love, fortitude, and forgiveness. They’re easy reads for young ones, too—Sarah, Plain and Tall was just 58 pages, and Caleb’s Story 116.

White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan. In search of more books for Brianna, I turned to Ambleside Online for suggestions. The Sarah, Plain and Tall series were on that list. When I found them at the library I also swiped several other titles by the same author off the shelf to preview.

In White Fur Flying, a dog-loving family becomes curious about their mysterious new neighbors. The little boy doesn’t speak, and the woman and her husband keep to themselves. It takes the special love of a dog to bring all of them out of their shell so hurts can heal.

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan. This may have been my favorite of the MacLachlan titles. A family goes to help their aunt with her farm during a flooding. The eldest child loves writing poetry and wishes she could sing. She has a secret she keeps to herself: her baby brother, Teddy, can sing beautifully. He sings to her every night, and they have a special bond. When Teddy suddenly disappears during the flood, family comes together and secrets are revealed.

Kindred Souls by Patricia MacLachlan. Family love figures prominently as a theme in MacLachlan’s stories and this book is no exception. A boy and his grandfather share a tight bond together. To surprise Billy, the grandfather, the family comes together and builds him a sod house, just like he used to have. As Billy’s health deteriorates, a dog comes into his life and stays with him, keeping him happy.

There was one thing in this book I had to discuss with Bri. In the story, the dog shows up and then after the grandfather’s death it disappears. It is implied/suggested at the end that the dog was an angel. I explained to Bri that the Bible does not say that angels take the form of animals. Might not be the biggest deal, but was something we talked about.

52 Spurgeon Stories for Children Book 1: How a Spider Saved a Man’s Life by Tony Hutter. We finished the first book in this 5-volume series and we’re hooked! These are great, simple devotional readings (two short pages each) that are very interesting and entertaining. He uses each illustration to teach a biblical truth.

We really enjoyed the story about the monster—when Spurgeon is walking home from preaching one night he sees a ghostly apparition.

What does he do?

He attacks it!

Usually Spurgeon wasn’t scared of anything, but this particular evening he really was frightened. He suddenly saw something awful, horrible, terrible! It was like a giant, a monster, with great outstretched arms! Whatever was it?

To find out, you’ll have to read the story for yourself… 😉

What books has your family enjoyed reading aloud together?

 

School Curriculum Part 4: Of Leaves and Lichens

Science!  Brianna tells me this is her favorite subject.  🙂

We’re working our way through the Young Explorer Series by Apologia. Very much based on a Charlotte Mason style of education, this curriculum does not include any tests or formal reviews. Instead, copywork, narration, and journaling are relied on to help the student learn the material—and remember it. 20180325_154558

All the books in this series are written for 1st through 6th+ graders: you can use one science book to teach any/all of your children in this grade range (makes it super nice and saves teaching time if you have more than one child—plus the siblings get to be studying the same cool stuff together).

This series takes an immersion approach to science: instead of briefly sketching the surface while covering a broad range of subjects each year (spiral approach), one subject is made the center focus for the whole year. 20180325_154642

Last year we studied astronomy. This year we are delving into botany. Exploring Creation with Botany is divided into 13 lessons. Each lesson introduces a new topic related to the main subject, followed by science experiments, project and activity ideas, and journaling suggestions (note: this is not all meant to be covered in a mere 13 lessons; rather each lesson is split up over multiple days—generally a couple of weeks). After each short section is studied, narration prompts are given in the textbook. The chapters are as follows:

Lesson 1: Botany

Lesson 2: Seeds

Lesson 3: Flowers

Lesson 4: Pollination

Lesson 5: Fruits

Lesson 6: Leaves

Lesson 7: Roots

Lesson 8: Stems

Lesson 9: Trees

Lesson 10: Gymnosperms

Lesson 11: Seedless Vascular Plants

Lesson 12: Nonvascular Plants

Lesson 13: Nature Journaling 20180325_154125

Every textbook has a corresponding, spiral-bound Notebooking Journal (purchased separately). You have two choices here: the regular Notebooking Journal, or the “junior” version for beginning writers (if your kiddos are still pretty young/in the earlier grades). I bought the junior versions both last year and this year and they include Scripture copywork, coloring pages, more project ideas (and sometimes templates for the projects in the main textbook), nature journaling pages, space for making notes on experiments, reproducible material for making matchbooks and minibooks, references, labeling pages, and a suggested reading list for each chapter. 20180325_154116

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The Journal is a very convenient and attractive way to not only provide extra activities but to showcase the student’s work. However, not wanting to have to buy a separate notebook for each student (they’re around $20/each), I ended up buying My Nature Journal by Cheryl Swope, and having Brianna record her work there while keeping the Apologia journal for reference, but free of markings. 20180325_154405

For Marcus I bought a small, hardcover, blank book set for him to draw pictures in. 20180325_155504

A couple of the little projects we did this year included making a light hut (in which we grew basil), and learning about taxonomy by going through the shoes in my closet and classifying them into the categories of kingdom, phylum, class, and order respectively. As far as the text was concerned, since they are still pretty young I sometimes skimmed/summarized the lesson, using it as a basic outline rather than reading the entire chunk of text word for word (although in other sections we did read it line by line like any other book). 20180325_154722

Nature walks are obviously an integral part of this study course, so we headed out with Backyard Explorer: Leaf & Tree Guide by Rona Beame. After we were well into the school year I came across another handy little reference at a bookstore, from the Fandex Family Field Guides, Trees: North American Trees Identified by Leaf, Bark & Seed. Dozens and dozens of trees are presented with photos and descriptions of their leaves, bark, seeds, flowers, and fruit.

If you are into nature journaling, you may enjoy a closed Facebook group called Charlotte Mason Nature Journaling. Here you can see and share ideas and photos with other fellow nature enthusiasts.  20180325_154304

As we worked our way through the course we borrowed books from the library to go along with whatever we were studying. We watched documentaries—from the library and from our own creation science collection. I also found short videos related to our subject on YouTube.

For instance, when we were learning about the life cycle of ferns, we watched this animated presentation. There are a lot of high-quality videos on YouTube that correlate well with science studies. Often after we read our text the kids will beg for a video so they can actually see the principle in action or pictures/footage of the subject. YouTube is practically limitless here. I’ve even seen my kids sit through very dry scientific lectures on YouTube—and stay more or less engaged. 20180325_154233

As another little fun “extra,” we put together a 4D plant cell anatomy model.

I’m saving a surprise for the kids for the end of the school year: I plan to take them to visit Wichita’s Botanica gardens (30 gardens covering over 17 acres) for a fun conclusion to this year’s botany study. One area—Downing Children’s Garden—is dedicated specifically to children.

Looking forward to it! 🙂

Around the World in…Four Semesters: School Curriculum Part 2

My son is obsessed with all things maps. If you didn’t think someone could actually love geography, well…

He collects maps the way some kids collect coins or stamps. Family, friends, and acquaintances have supplied him with maps galore, and I’ve bought him a National Geographic book of our National Parks—just because the thing is filled with maps. When a friend sent me a homemade apron made from atlas print material, Marcus went bananas over it.

“Hey! It’s got a map, Mom!”

We’re not doing a formal geography curriculum this year. It’s more like a little bit of this and a little bit of that. To me, geography is a subject that would be incredibly boring in a vacuum, divorced from its bigger (and much more interesting) brother, History. So I tacked some of it on to our history lesson: after listening to our lesson, we simply find the place the events took place in on a globe and/or map, and we might look up pictures of the country on the internet.

Then we fill the cracks in with bits and pieces here and there.

My favorite discovery in this department for this year has been the Draw ____ series. Each book focuses on a different country or continent, teaching you to draw and label it in its entirety, step-by-step. 20180127_130916

I intend to slowly collect the series over time. This year I bought Draw the World and Draw Europe. Bri was able to follow the simple directions on her own to complete both maps. She’s already drawn Europe a couple of times, and I plan on having her periodically get the books back out and draw through each one multiple times as she gets older to help her memorize the layout in her mind.

While I originally only planned to assign a few steps a day, she ended up enjoying it so much she finished a map in one day of her own accord the first time I gave her the book!

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This was her drawing of Europe.  🙂

 

Puzzles are another great way to help kids learn geography painlessly. While we have various geography puzzles, my favorite set would be the Geo Puzzles. What makes these different is the fact that each piece is cut out in the shape of a country, state, or continent.  

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Finally, there’s media/internet. In my history post I mentioned we watch “Are We There Yet?” videos from the National Geographic Kids channel on YouTube.  (Another article I linked to in the history post also lists various other history and geography YouTube channels for kids.)

A couple of websites we use for learning and games include National Geographic Kids, and Ducksters. I also found a closed Facebook group called Learn Around the World which I joined. Members post a potpourri of neat ideas, games, projects, books, etc. related to geography. It’s a fun group to follow, so if you’re looking for ideas in this department join up and check the group out. 🙂

When I was a kid one of my favorite computer games was DK’s World Explorer. Having fond memories of this, I looked it up to see if I could find an updated version for my kids. Sure enough. With few changes, it’s exactly how I remember it. There’s a LOT of geographic information packed into this colorful game. To this day I still remember facts I first learned from it. Good memories!  Screenshot_20180312-151337

How about you, Mamas? What are you using this year for geography?

Dashing Knights and Fair Damsels: School Curriculum 2017-2018 Part 1

20180120_121541Viking raiders, daring knights, and damsels in distress—it’s the stuff of medieval legends. Making our way through a four-year tour of chronological world history, we’ve found ourselves in the Middle Ages this year. From St. Patrick to John Huss, King Alfred the Great to Joan of Arc, this time period holds many captivating stories.

We’re using The Mystery of History series by Linda Lacour Hobar. This year we’re in Volume II: The Early Church and the Middle Ages.

I enjoy this series because it covers much more than western history. This year we get to learn about the Maori in New Zealand, famous emperors and empresses of China, the great Zimbabwe of Africa, the Samurai of Japan, etc., right alongside classic western history. It’s fascinating to learn that about the same time as Leif Ericsson was discovering America, a great civilization was arising in Zimbabwe. Did you know that about the same time the Inkan empire was emerging in South America, the Turks were engaged in the conquests that would establish the Ottoman empire?

It’s captivating to watch all the pieces fit into the story together. And through it all, Hobar points to God’s sovereign plan through history in the lives and events of man and time.

Volume II contains 84 lessons, and begins in the year A.D. 33 with the disciples at Pentecost, ending in 1456 with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. The text for each lesson is usually 2-3 full textbook pages in length. This year I bought the set on CD so that we could listen to the lessons while we’re eating breakfast. (I love this option and wish I had taken advantage of it the first year!)

Hobar provides the teacher with lots and lots of extras. She stresses that there is no reason to try to do everything she suggests. Pick and choose. (Volumes I and II both contain the text and all the extra resources and activities in one book. Volumes III and IV each include a set of books which can be purchased separately or together.) I didn’t actually make a lot of use of the “extras” this year, but I’ll run through them so that you have some idea what the program offers.

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She suggests doing a timeline and explains how to make the figures for it. The first year we made a timeline, but I bought pre-made figures to save time. It still felt like a good bit of work and with the kids being quite young I wasn’t sure that it was worth the extra effort. So we didn’t do a timeline this year, although when the kids get older I want to have them do something at least similar.

Then there are the memory cards. Each week, a few sentences summing up people and events from the lessons are written on a card and periodically reviewed. Again, I did this the first year, and got lazy on the second. I’ll wait till the kids can write out the cards for themselves. ;p

A student notebook, divided into sections by continent, is kept so that work pertaining to the lessons can be filed under the appropriate geographical sections. 20180120_120740

Her lessons include map work (all maps and templates for projects are included in the back), and we did a little bit the first year, but I decided to wait on that this year until they’re a little older. For now, I toss them an inflatable globe and we find the country we’re studying on the globe and/or map each morning.

For activities, each lesson is followed by one or more suggestions under three different categories corresponding with different age groups: younger, middle, and older students (this program can be adapted for use for 1st grade through 12th grade).

For example, after reading about the great Zimbabwe of Africa, younger students might go on a gold hunt or play gongs; middle students might visit a local craft shop, buy glass beads and string them together in honor of this ancient African tradition, or find and photocopy of picture of Victoria Falls and file them in the student notebook; and older students might research African countries and write about their basic facts (type of government, capital city, population, language, religion,). etc.). 20180120_121726

Then there are plenty of tests, quizzes, crossword puzzles—you name it. This woman has thought of everything. It would be overwhelming to try to use all of it, so you customize the program for your own family’s use.  20180120_121643

After listening to the lesson in the morning I usually try to find a brief documentary clip (or on rare occasion a full one), or even a cartoon short that sums up the story again. Just by doing a search on YouTube I can usually find something—I’ll put in the name of the person or event followed by “for kids” (you’ll see as I do this series of posts that YouTube is my best homeschooling friend, lol). You can find plenty of History Channel videos and other similar documentaries. 20171213_091806

One channel I like is Extra History (from Extra Credits): bright, peppy summaries of historical events in a sort of fast-paced, comic-book style. The overviews are really pretty good. These aren’t necessarily geared toward children, but my kids really liked the videos. 20171213_091706If we’re studying a particular country, I turn to the National Geographic Kids channel “Are We There Yet?” series: seven-minute overviews of the land and culture of a country from the perspective of kids.

When we were studying ancient history last school year and going through Bible history, a really good channel I stumbled onto was The Bible Project, which gives very solid and succinct outlines of books of the Bible, summarizing their message with personal application in 5-12 minutes’ time.

Here’s an article listing geography and history channels for elementary students on YouTube.

With the exception of The Bible Project, I can’t vouch for the appropriateness of the content of all the videos of these channels, so view with your kids at your own discretion. 😉

For a hands-on activity we’ve been using the Famous Figures series by Cathy Diez-Luckie. Each book contains 10 to 19 historical figures to cut out and put together. At the front of the book there is a short biographical section for each character, and then there are two sets of each figure printed on heavy cardstock: one in full color, and one in black and white which the student can color (we’ve just been using the colorized version). The costumes are carefully researched and historically accurate, so this is a very nice addition to a history program. 20180120_12132920180120_121254

After cutting out the pieces you attach them together with brads so that you now have a moveable figure. The kids play with them like puppets. The Famous Figures of Medieval Times include Justinian I, Theodora, Charlemagne, Leif Eriksson, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart, Genghis Khan, Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo, and Joan of Arc.

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We couldn’t study medieval times without making a castle, so I bought Easy-to-Make Castle by A. G. Smith and we cut out, folded, and glued the pieces to make our own cardstock castle (or rather, we all cut them out and I folded and glued them together). 🙂 20180120_121203

Dover Publications makes some very accurate, detailed, and informative historical coloring books. I bought Medieval Jousts and Tournaments and Life in Celtic Times, thinking the kids could color in them while they listened to the lessons. But we ended up listening to the CDs during breakfast so I had to find other times to use the books here and there. (Note: in Life in Celtic Times there was a page depicting gruesome religious practices that I chose to remove.)  20180120_121039

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Okay, that all sounds very time-consuming, but really I’ve just kept it pretty simple this year. This is what our basic history time looks like Monday through Wednesday:

We listen to the lesson during breakfast.

We find the country the story is about or takes place in on a globe and/or map.

We watch a brief video (if I can find one; also, last year we would briefly “re-enact” a scene together).

Throughout the week during our reading time (when we read storybooks, poems, etc.) I will sometimes include a book from the library on something that corresponds with our history subject.

And that’s pretty much it.

I don’t really do anything for history on Thursdays, but on Fridays we may cut out a character from Famous Figures. Haven’t done any full documentaries in awhile, but I try to schedule these for Fridays if we’re going to watch one.

And—oh, did I forget to mention History Day?

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Every once in awhile we do a themed “History Day” just for fun. We drop our other subjects for the day and do activities, read books, make projects, and even watch movies that have to do with our theme. Last year we had a history day with an ancient Egyptian theme: the kids dressed up and had a “feast” on the floor with some traditional Egyptian foods, reclining on cushions while listening to ancient Egyptian music (thank you, YouTube), etc.

This year we had a medieval-themed day. The kids dressed up, we read/looked through lots of books of castles and knights (from the library), cut out and made our castle, listened to medieval-style music (again, thank you, YouTube), had an archery contest with homemade bows that Cliff had made for the kids, read the story of Robin Hood, and to top it off they got to watch a cheesy old medieval movie: Prince Valiant.20170929_161446 20170929_160221

More for fun than for historical accuracy or academic value, History Day is still a hit in our family.

But as some say, “Play is the highest form of research.” 😉