2018 Book List

Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to the books we’ll get to read in 2019! Here’s my annual recap of books read this last year (I split the post into two sections: the books I read on my own, and the books I read aloud to the kids).

Animal Farm by George Orwell. Orwell was a socialist in the 1930’s who grew disillusioned with communism after he saw its effects when implemented. He wrote Animal Farm as a sort of dark satire of Russia’s embrace of collectivism: animals on a farm decide they don’t need Farmer Jones anymore and they run him off, determined to survive together as a socialist collective. When Napoleon the pig sets himself as the leader of the collective, things begin to take a sinister turn.

The copy I borrowed from the library also included related readings (short stories, poems, and essays): “Harrison Bergeron,” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; “The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union,” by Michael Kort; “The Birds,” by Daphne du Maurier, etc. (I admit that for a book with readings related to socialism/collectivism I did not see the connection between this theme and “The Birds.”)

And so the tale of confessions and executions went on, until there was a pile of corpses lying before Napoleon’s feet and the air was heavy with the smell of blood, which had been unknown there since the expulsion of Jones.

Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. One of the best books I’ve read. Bridges traces the goodness, wisdom, and sovereignty of God through the pages of Scripture, applying the comfort found in these truths to circumstances in the life of the believer—from sickness and adversity to everyday decision-making. Very heartening and encouraging. Highly recommend!

God’s infinite wisdom then is displayed in bringing good out of evil, beauty out of ashes. It is displayed in turning all the forces of evil that rage against His children into good for them. But the good that He brings about is often different from the good we envision.

The Food Babe Way by Vani Hari. This book was gifted to me from a family member. Hari is a food activist who has diligently researched foods and food additives, and successfully petitioned many different food companies and restaurants to change the unhealthy ingredients in their foods. She breaks down the labeling on foods, explaining each questionable ingredient, what it is, where it comes from, and the potential health risks associated with it, and outlines a plan for changing one’s diet to avoid all the junk and poisons in the typical American diet. She also discusses a number of different popular diets (Atkins, Gluten-Free, Paleo, Vegan, etc.), highlighting the pros and cons of each and concluding that the best diet is one which includes all of the food groups (if possible), in proper balance and from clean, quality sources. Very informative.

My own chronic health problems led me to make the connection to food, a link that made sense once I started researching the effects of certain chemicals on the body. I learned how to detoxify my very poisoned body, and when I did, all my health problems started to vanish. I lost thirty pounds. My so-called incurable eczema totally healed, and my skin glowed. My asthma and allergies became ancient history. My stomach issues vanished. My anxiety was gone; I no longer had to take any drugs, prescription or over-the-counter.

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney. Standing as (possibly) the oldest surviving long poem in Old English, Beowulf recounts the story of a brave Scandinavian warrior who battles monsters and a dragon. Little is known about the background of this story, or even who wrote it or why. The interweaving of Christian and pagan influences adds further curious layers to this mysterious drama.

In off the moors, down through the mist bands

God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.

The bane of the race of men roamed forth,

hunting for prey in the high hall.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. Years ago I had read Babywise before my first child was born. While implementing the ideas found in that book did seem to help both my first two kids sleep through the night (5+ hours) at an early age (at six to eight weeks or so), I wondered if a somewhat more moderate and less extreme approach than rigid schedules and lengthy, stressful, cry-it-out sessions was out there (besides being told to just live without sleep for the next couple of years!). I found Pantley’s book at a library sale and bought it for a few cents before Rachelle was born. While I don’t think any one method has all the answers (I pick and choose what I find helpful in books) I did plan to use her store of tips and techniques to help Rachelle learn to sleep through the night…as peacefully as possible for both of us.

But as it turns out, this baby started (mostly) sleeping through the night on her own very quickly. I hardly had the chance to try any of Pantley’s sleep solutions. So I can’t tell you whether or not they work.

And that’s okay with me, lol.

[This book] will explain the exact steps you can take to gently help your baby sleep through the night. So, prop your eyelids open, grab a cup of coffee, and let me explain how you can help your baby sleep—so that you can get some sleep, too.

In Quest of Gold: The Jim Ryun Story by Jim Ryun with Mike Phillips. Rummaging through an old antiques store in Wichita one day, I came across an autographed copy of this book and purchased it for my husband who, as a runner himself, had always been a fan of Jim Ryun’s (a Kansan himself). This autobiography is an up-close and personal look at this world record-setting champion’s life, from his exciting achievements on the track to the way God used the disappointments and frustrations of his running career to ultimately bring Ryun to Christ. 

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Since running had been my one and only god, in order to give me something far better and more enduring, [Christ] had to take my substitute god away. Thus I grew to a point of genuine thankfulness for what happened that day on the Munich track in 1972. For out of the dust of defeat blossomed the new life that came to flourish in my heart.

Physician Assistant’s Guide to Research and Medical Literature by J. Dennis Blessing. Written to PA’s, this book discusses study methods, study designs, threats to validity, limitations, presentation, analysis and interpretation, ethics considerations, etc. Even as a lay-person I found the information helpful, since I research and read a good bit of medical literature. I made many pages of notes from the book.

The only way health care can advance is by research and application of the results. Even if we are not actively involved in research, we must possess a basic understanding of the process and what it means.

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The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. This is the children’s Newberry Award-winning fantasy story about a chivalrous little mouse named Despereaux. I read it in one sitting in the car while traveling to see family for Christmas (previewing it for Brianna). Loved it (and so did Bri). 20190103_132236

Picture a kingdom where soup is outlawed. Where mice may never speak to men, and rats may never embrace light. Where kings suffer from broken hearts and servant girls dream of being princesses. A kingdom where perfidy stands out in stark contrast to empathy and honor, as revenge to forgiveness, darkness to light, and despair to hope.

This is The Tale of Despereaux.

Have I mentioned that beneath the castle there was a dungeon? In the dungeon, there were rats. Large rats. Mean rats.

Despereaux was destined to meet those rats.

Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.

True Grit by Charles Portis.

People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen everyday. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and one hundred and fifty dollars in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.

Thus begins the story of Mattie Ross, the plucky young girl from Arkansas who teams up with a couple of lawmen with rough-as-40-grit-sandpaper personalities and equally gritty courage to track down her father’s murderer and bring him to justice. (Some language.) 

READ-ALOUDS WITH THE KIDS:

Godliness is Great Gain by unknown authors. This is a collection of stories from the 19th century. Most are fictional stories of faithfulness and obedience in the lives of ordinary people and the rewards that come with righteousness. (This book and The Little Medicine Carrier are part of a series of books for children from the 19th century—a set I read as a child. I’ve since found this collection—and more in the series—at Grace and Truth Books. Dennis Gunderson has also written a study guide to accompany this series).

When used properly, expectations are good and valuable. When they cause a person to throw away dependability, faithfulness and humility, they are ill-used…Only those who “set their affections on things above,” can be truly happy. True happiness can only be found through true repentance, and forgiveness by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Little Medicine Carrier. A little boy named “George” is hired by a doctor to deliver medicine for him. Though he faces many temptations, George learns to be faithful, honest, and kind. When he befriends a young girl who is very ill, he witnesses her faith in Jesus as she nears death.

“Miss Beatrice must be very good not to mind dying.”

“No, George. The dear, young lady knows that she is a sinner. She has learned to trust her Savior who died so she could live. She knows she can do nothing for herself and that Jesus has done everything for her. As a result of this, she holds on to Him with so much joy and peace.”

Untold Secrets of Planet Earth: Dire Dragons by Vance Nelson. This is a stunningly gorgeous book about dinosaurs from a young earth, creationist perspective. In this unique work, Nelson explores findings and artifacts from all over the world that give evidence for the co-existence of man and dragons/dinosaurs. The information is organized by country, the findings from the United States, Mexico, Peru, England, Wales, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Mali, Ethiopia, and China explored. I’m including this here as a book the kids listened to, but in this case I didn’t read it to them—Daddy did. 🙂

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If dinosaurs lived alongside people, then surely somewhere on planet earth the evidence of such an extraordinary coexistence would be found…The evidence presented in this book has become the answer to that question.

Dragons: Legends and Lore of Dinosaurs by Bodie Hodge and Laura Welch. If you were to guess that we really enjoy dinosaur/dragon books, you’d be right. 😉 I picked this fun book up at a homeschool conference. Every page contains new delights to discover: pockets to open, minibooks to flip through, papers to pull out. With much the same theme as Dire Dragons, the book focuses on ancient stories, tales, and writings that support the evidence that man and dragon (dinosaur) once lived together.

Since the mid-1930s, speculation has run rampant over a sea monster purported to live in Loch Ness, known simply as Nessie. Debate has raged while numerous expeditions have sought to solve this modern mystery. But it may not be as modern as some think. There are written reports of a mysterious creature in the loch, able to kill swimmers, back to the 6th century.

I Heard Good News Today by Cornelia Lehn. This book was included in the Adventures in Obedience course (which I had previously mentioned in this post). It recounts 92 stories of virtue and missionary endeavor, the stories being sorted by country/continent. A few of these missionaries were quite familiar (Jim Elliot, Hudson Taylor, Gladys Aylward, etc.); most were new to us.

Far away in a village in the rugged mountains of Taiwan there lived a little girl called Gau Fu-Mei. One night Fu-Mei had a strange dream. It was so clear and so real that when she woke up she knew exactly what she had dreamed. In her dream she was told that there was a God who loved her.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is the third book in the series that we’ve read and it tells the story of the Ingalls’ brief time in Kansas, when they homesteaded near Independence. After we finished this book we got to actually go see the homestead where Laura had lived. The original house did not survive, so a replica was constructed on site. But the old well that Pa and his friend dug is there, and other old buildings (like a post office and school, etc.) have been moved to or constructed on the site. Since we visited during Prairie Days the kids got to do hands-on activities, listen to a history lesson in the one-room school-house, participate in a costume contest, and meet Wendi Lee (who played “Baby Grace” on the Little House on the Prairie TV series), and several descendants of people (or relatives of people) who were mentioned in Laura’s books, including a Mr. Wilder.

Laura was very happy. The wind sang a low, rustling song in the grass. Grasshoppers’ rasping quivered up from the immense prairie. A buzzing came faintly from all the trees in the creek bottoms. But all these sounds made a great, warm, happy silence. Laura had never seen a place she liked so much as this place.

The Tuttle Twins Series by Connor Boyack. This series has grown since the time I purchased it, but we’ve read six of these books for kids on Austrian economics, free market principles, and classical liberalism. It’s a great series! I wrote about these books in a post on homeschooling books/materials last year.

“True laws protect people and their property from plunder,” Fred explained. “When true laws exist and are respected, people work hard to improve their lives and they work peacefully with others. Everyone prospers together and is happier.”

“…But when the law lets people plunder, it turns everyone against each other,” Fred said.

Where Do You Think You’re Going, Christopher Columbus? by Jean Fritz. This short, generously illustrated biography of Columbus by a Newbery Honor-winning author gave us a glimpse into the life and achievements (as well as the failures) of this famous man. In tongue-in-cheek style both his strengths and his weaknesses were portrayed. (We read this one for school since we were studying Columbus in our history lessons.)

It was lucky that Christopher Columbus was born where he was, or he might never have gone to sea.

Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer by Robert Byrd. I had always thought of Leonardo as an amazing genius, but I didn’t know the breadth and depth of his curiosity and creativity in so many different areas! This book shared many little known facts about Leonardo and his ideas and inventions. Did you know he liked to create an upbeat atmosphere while he worked, so he would employ musicians, singers, and entertainers to perform while he was painting? Or that he had a predilection for playing practical jokes? In one instance he attached a sheep’s intestine to large bellows, hid from sight, then pumped the bellows, inflating the intestine till it filled the room and flattened people against the walls! Did you know he invented an alarm clock that jerked the sleeper’s feet out of bed at a set time? You will find these and many other interesting stories in this lavishly illustrated book.

Leonardo was said to be tall and handsome, charming and fashionably dressed, and so strong he could impress people with seemingly superhuman feats, like bending iron horseshoes with his bare hands.

Renegade: Martin Luther (The Graphic Biography) by Andrea Grosso Ciponte and Dacia Palmerino. The artwork in this book is gorgeous. It represents a brief look at the highlights of this Reformer’s life—graphic novel style. This book is targeted more towards young adults than children but I read it aloud to the kids. Be forewarned there are a couple of swear/cuss words (which I “edited” out as I read aloud), and as this is a graphic novel some of the illustrations were just that: graphic (a few were a bit on the gory side).

By the way, the most excellent documentary (docu-drama actually) I’ve seen on his life was done by PBS: Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World. Borrowed it from the library, watched it with the kids for school and loved it. Highly recommend! (Watch the trailer for it here; also note that this is the 2017 documentary, not the older PBS documentary.)

“So, Martinus! Do you retract your writings? Yes or no.”

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scipture or clear reason, I am bound by the biblical texts I have quoted. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Therefore, I cannot and I will not recant anything. I cannot act contrary to my conscience. So help me God! Amen!”

A Dragon in the Sky: The Story of a Green Darner Dragonfly by Laurence Pringle. Lovely paintings by Bob Marstall illustrate this story of the life cycle of a dragonfly named “Anax.” In style and content it reminds me a bit of Holling Clancy Holling books; it was an enjoyable living book read.

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Wait…wait…wait…Now! Anax unleashed his deadly lower lip. It shot out and seized the damselfly nymph with sharp grasping claws. Then the lip swiftly folded partway, bringing the nymph into Anax’s waiting jaws.

Morning Star of the Reformation by Andy Thomson. This work of historical fiction revolves around the life of John Wycliffe and his “Lollards.” Wycliffe wanted every man and woman to be able to read the Bible in his or her own language. He challenged the teachings of the Roman Catholic church, and was an inspiration to Luther and others of the Reformation who followed in his steps a century later. (The book is a little mature reading for the age of my kids, delving into theological disscusions and being more targeted for young teens, but I read it to them anyway since we had studied Wycliffe in history this school year.)

John said softly, “Why do we fear death, Giles? You in your heart and I in mine believe the same thing.”

Giles glanced up. “What is that?”

“Come. You have read St. Paul. The saving of the soul comes from God, not the Church. Indeed, He foreknew His people before they were born, Giles. It is a matter between man and God. The Church has no say in it.”

What have you read this last year? What was your favorite read of 2018?

Books and Resources Part 2: FREEBIES!

In Part 1 of this two-part post, I listed websites and resources for purchasing used and new books and curriculum. In this Part 2, every resource listed here is free! I’ve organized it into:

Books/Texts

Full Curriculum

Informational/Partial curriculum or full curriculum (organized by subject)

Games/Interactive (organized by subject)

Videos

This list is by no means comprehensive; it merely scratches the surface of the vast amount of free resources currently available online.  Also, please note that I cannot verify the appropriateness of the content of each of these sites. Some are secular, some are Christian. Use your own judgment.

Sites with Free Books/Texts

LibriVox. You can download and listen to free audio readings of books in the public domain; a good source for classics.

ICDL (International Children’s Digital Library). Free children’s books from around the world; choose your language then you can filter results from there.

Many Books offers more than 33,000 free ebooks, including titles that are not in the public domain.

Open Library has over 1.7 million free ebooks, including high school and college textbooks; available in a number of formats.

Authorama offers more free ebooks of the classics/public domain literature in HTML and XHTML format.

Read Print. Lots of classics; lets you keep track of what you’ve read in a user-friendly way and provides the opportunity to discuss books and join online book clubs and groups.

Questia has 5,000 free classics, rare books, and textbooks.  

Project Gutenberg. For the older texts and classics; over 50,000 free books.  Also good for research purposes when looking for original source material; along those lines, see also texts from  Wikisource and Google Books.

Internet Archive boasts a rich collection of over 16 million free downloadable books, plus movies, music, software, etc.

Wikibooks. Free educational books/textbooks; note that these are open content and anyone can edit them.

FreeComputerBooks. For the geeks, a site with tons of free computer programming/coding books; see also FreeTechBooks for free computer science books/textbooks—over 1,200 available.

Local library. When you’re looking for a particular title you need for a school assignment, don’t forget this resource! And many times even if you’re local library doesn’t have it, you may be able to procure it through inter-library loan.

Free Full Curriculum Sites

The sites listed here offer lessons in all academic subjects, for free.

Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool. This is a laid-back, Christian curriculum with a bit of an “unschooling” flavor. It teaches preschool through 8th grade, with a separate site offering high school curriculum. It covers reading, writing, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, math, history/social studies/geography, science, Spanish, Bible, computer, music, art, PE/health, and logic.

Kahn Academy. Spanning kindergarten through high school, Kahn Academy has millions of students the world over, while their resources are being translated into 36 different languages. Their mission is “to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” The bulk of the course relies on instructional videos and practice exercises. (I even signed up for its math instruction to fill in some of my own gaps!)

Ambleside Online offers a classical/Charlotte Mason-style homeschool curriculum. It relies heavily on living books—real-world literature, as opposed to textbooks. Thirty-six week schedules are outlined in detail for each grade. (This would be one of my top picks.)

Free World U is a pre-K through 12 academy that teaches the subjects through electronic flashcards; a $19.95/month upgrade to the free version provides exams, an exam portal, a feedback function, a year plan, and progress bars; several other upgrades/extensions are also available.

See a list of more full, free online programs here

Informational/Partial or Full Curriculum (remember that these subjects can also be found at the “full curriculum” sites listed above)

Science

Teach Preschool Science. Complete, free science curriculum for ages 3 through kindergarten; lesson plans, learning experiences involving various projects, and related books, websites, and resources are included.

Science Sparks. All kinds of fun, hands-on projects, activities, and sensory/messy play for little tikes—looks like a very fun site!

Magic School Bus science curriculum (for elementary grades). This includes free lesson plans, worksheets, and experiments to go along with the episodes—which you will need to purchase or borrow.

Classic Science Life. Free downloadable science ebooks for children of all ages.

Guest Hollow . Science of Seasons is a free literature and activity-based science curriculum for a younger grade (this one is more classical/Charlotte Mason style). This site also offers other science courses for elementary, upper elementary and even high school students, relying on living books and hands-on activities (while some are free, some require the purchase of a curriculum schedule, $25). Check them out—they’re pretty awesome!

Try Engineering. Lesson plans for 141 cool projects can be found here as downloadable pdf files; ages 8 and up.

Micropolitan Museum. This science site features image galleries of microscopic specimens.

Zooborns features “the newest, cutest animals from the world’s zoos and aquariums.”

Math

Do the kids need a little extra math practice in a certain area, or maybe just need a worksheet here and there over the summer to help them keep up what they’ve already learned? The following sites offer free math activities and printable worksheets for many different grades: K5 LearningHomeschool MathEducation, Math Aids, and SoftSchools.

History and Geography

Bringing Up Learners. Free, full year history curriculum: lesson plans, guides, and resource suggestions.

Guest Hollow also has free American history curriculum (grades 2-6)!

Timeline Index. Everything is organized by “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when.”

Check out this LONG list of free geography curriculum, resources, and supplements.

Language Arts

Scott Foresman grammar and writing curriculum. Free online grammar and writing handbooks for grades 1-6.

National Treasures Workbooks. Downloadable spelling and grammar practice books for grades K-6.

KISS Grammar . Instructional materials and workbooks for grade 2 through high school.

Spelling Words Curriculum. Complete spelling curriculum for grades 1-5.

Bible Based Spelling Lessons. Spelling lessons for lower elementary grades.

Art

Hodgepodge .  Over 100 free art lessons for many ages.

Kinder Art. Preschool through high school arts and crafts projects.

Music

This find made me so excited! Years ago when I taught piano I used the Mayron Cole music curriculum. This complete course begins as young as kindergarten or pre-K and spans through high school. Lessons, music theory, performance music—everything is here; this course is good for both group and private lessons. The books were always a little pricey, but I felt they were worth the cost: they’re fun, heavy on theory (no, those two things are not mutually exclusive 😉 ), and encourage mastery.

Then a few weeks ago I received an email that made my day: Mayron Cole was retiring and she had decided to gift her music curriculum to the world…for free. More than 3,600 pages, 525 solos, 1,000 worksheets, 60 ensembles, 650 midi and mp3 fully orchestrated accompaniments, and several games are available as free downloads—every product and book she ever created! I’ve already started downloading the books and accompaniments—it’s like Christmas, people! So check this incredible offer out here. Screenshot_20180515-141026 

Miscellaneous/Multi-subject

Rudiments of Wisdom Encyclopedia . Informative and entertaining, this online encyclopaedia is written up in the form of cartoonish drawings with text.

Virtual Homeschool Group . This site offers free, online courses for IEW, Fix it Grammar, Saxon Math, Spanish, Photography, Mystery of History, Apologia science, and more! Video lessons and computer-scored quizzes and tests included!

Games/Interactive

Science

Science Kids offers interactive science games, as well as projects, lessons and more.

Math

Johnnie’s Math Page. Math practice and games for ages 5-15.

Math Game Time. Free math games, videos, and worksheets.

Math Goodies. Free math games, interactive lessons, and downloadable worksheets.

History and Geography

History Mystery. Search for clues and enter the answers as you read.

Mission US. For grades 5-8. These role-playing mission games help students explore historical time periods and events. “Each mission consists of an interactive game and a set of curriculum materials that are aligned to national standards and feature document-based activities.”

DOCSTeach is a free tool for teaching from original documents; it provides primary source materials, then allows you as the parent to create your own interactive learning activities with these sources.

Ducksters Geography. I’ve played some games from this site with the kids.

National Geographic Kids. Lots of videos, games, and information for kids. It covers more than geography, of course; science and history are also touched on.

Language Arts

Grammar Practice Park. Grammar games organized by grade.

BBC grammar games. Alphabet, spelling, and grammar games.

Education Spelling Games. Spelling, letter knowledge, reading, and word games.

Home Spelling Words. Lists, games, tests and practice.

Spelling City targets spelling, writing, phonics, and vocabulary.

Art

NGAkids Art Zone. Interactive art activities at the National Gallery of Art.

Miscellaneous/Multi-subject

Starfall covers a variety of topics. There is a free version and an upgraded version which you can pay for. I have only used the free version with the kids and this has allowed them to practice reading and math skills. I noticed a difference, that they had gained ground in their phonics skills, when they started using this.

Apples4theTeacher. Interactive site with lots of games covering a vast array of educational subjects.

Sheppard Software has a variety of games, videos and quizzes on a variety of subjects.

Apps—there are many free educational games you can download. 

Videos

There are so many educational videos on every subject under the sun available on YouTube and elsewhere that there’s no way I could even begin to scratch the surface. But for history and art, here are several compilations others have made of these offerings:

History Videos for Kids from Brookdale House is a great educational resource as it gives extensive lists/collections of YouTube videos for different periods/subjects of history (was having trouble with the link this morning so I don’t currently have one in this post, but you should be able to google it).

YouTube Art Lessons for Kids. List of art channels for kids.

A Big List of Free Art Lessons on YouTube. A lengthy list of YouTube channels that teach art, sorted by style/subject; many are probably geared toward older students.

* * * * *

Do you have some favorite free resources you use? Share in the comments!

School Curriculum Part 3: Reading and Language Arts

Here’s what we’re using for phonics/reading, grammar, and spelling.  🙂

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We use Phonics Pathways for our core reading program. This is an all-in-one, kindergarten through second grade program-in-a-book. While Marcus is just starting in it Bri is hurrying to finish it up. It also includes simple games (which both of my kids thought were a lot of fun). It’s not divided up into specific lessons; instead you move at the child’s own pace, whether that means completing half a page or two pages/day. There’s a lot of helpful instruction for the parent as well.

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For reading, I have used the Amish Pathway readers with Brianna (Marcus isn’t ready for them yet). Bri started out in the 2nd grade readers this year and zoomed through all of those, then completed the 3rd grade readers as well, so that she has now graduated to other chapter books. She reads a chapter in her Bible each day and has started on the Boxcar Children series.

A site we’ve used for reading and phonics fun is Starfall. I never paid for the full version, but we’ve just used what was available on the free version for a little extra math and reading fun. 🙂

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 First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind takes a Classical/Charlotte Mason approach to language study. I think one of the best words to describe the approach used here is “gentle.” Copywork, dictation, poetry memorization, story readings and discussions—as well as the technical side of learning parts of speech, diagramming, etc.—all play an integral part in this language program. Each lesson is scripted for the teacher which makes it very easy to use (books 1 and 2 contain 100 lessons each). Lesson time will vary from child to child, but we probably spend about 10-15 minutes a day with it on average (minus copywork time). Although Marcus isn’t technically at the grammar level of study in these books, he memorizes the poems with Bri. 20180314_155349

It’s easy to teach, easy to use, and we plan to work our way through the whole series of four books.

Spelling

We’ve started with a program called Spelling You See. I love, love, love everything about this program…okay, except for the price tag. It is a little pricey (as in $40+ to $50+ per grade level), but I use these consumable/non-reproducible books in a way that will make them last through every child who will use them, so I feel like the cost is at least somewhat justified (I’ll explain in a minute). 20180314_155457

Copywork and dictation are the foundation of this course. However, its real strength and unique quality lies in its highly visual approach to learning. No tests are ever given or required (though you can do this for your child yourself if you feel it’s a must).

Bri started out in Level B this school year (technically about a first grade level) and it includes two student workbooks, a handwriting chart, and the instructor’s handbook. The books contain 18 lessons each for a total of 36 weeks’ worth of lessons. In the first book, she practiced copying a new poem each week (so in Lesson 1 she copied part of “Jack and Jill” every day for a week). Then she practiced tracing letters and/or writing some words from dictation (week 1 included 3, three-letter words, but towards the end of the first book she was writing up to 15 words/day from dictation, and words with up to 5 letters each). 

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The second student workbook is where she began to really get into the core of the program: color “chunking.” As with the first book, she copies a poem each week. But first, she reads the poem, then gets out her crayons and “chunks” it (we use dry erase crayons on a sheet protector into which we slip her page for the day, so it’s erasable and reusable).  20180314_155728 

Yellow is used for “vowel chunks.” Purple for “bossy R chunks.” Blue for “consonant chunks.” Pink for “endings” (like ed, es, ful, ing, ly, etc.) And so on (initially, only a couple of colors are used as children get practice with the concept). By color coding each of these “chunks” in her poem each day, she is creating a visual memory of the words. The reason this becomes so important (especially later on) is because many English words are not phonetically spelled, and cannot simply be “sounded out.”

So after she “chunks” her poem, she copies part of it (in a separate notebook; I don’t let her write in the student workbook). She then chunks the poem (this time handwritten) a second time before finishing up her lesson. She is then to read what she has written. 

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So read, chunk, copy, chunk, read. That’s the order. Then at the end of each week instead of copying her poem, she writes it in its entirety from dictation/memory.

I can see the program helping her already. When I’m dictating a word in her poem I’ll ask, “What vowel chunk (or what bossy r chunk) did you color in this word?” The light will go on and she’ll be like, “Oh, I colored ‘ou’ in ‘spout’”; or “Oh yeah, I colored the bossy r chunk ‘ar’ in ‘cupboard.’” 20180314_095612

She’s usually able to complete a lesson in 15 minutes or so, depending on how much she piddles. 😉 And most of her lesson can be completed independently, so there’s very little teacher time involved and practically zero prep time with this course (after the 1st book of Level B, that is).

It’s a win-win for Mom! 😉

2017 Book List

Happy New Year!  It’s 2018!

Here’s my annual recap of books our family read the last twelve months. You may notice that my reading list for this last year includes mostly children’s books. In tallying it up I realized that, besides the Bible and miscellaneous books I’ve started but haven’t finished yet, I’ve only actually completed five books for myself this year.

Oh well. The kids and I covered quite a bit of ground in the children’s department—I’m sure they’re satisfied with my lopsided reading list. 😉

The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace. Both doctrinal and practical teachings on the role of the wife. Peace encourages women to focus on the Lord and His gospel in their marriages, doing all that they do as unto Him, rather than for selfish gain.

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Whether her husband is a faithful Christian man or an unbeliever, God wants every Christian woman to be a godly wife—an excellent wife.

The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders by Gregg L. Frazer. Dr. Frazer is professor of history and political studies at The Master’s College (I was briefly in correspondence with him concerning my own manuscript). I first read an article he had written in an issue of Answers in Genesis several years ago. I was rather shocked then—and pleasantly surprised—to find a major Christian publication conveying a view as unpopular—but historically sound—as Frazer’s.

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His book is excellent. He delves into the multidimensional nuances of the Founding Fathers’ key political and religious beliefs in a way I’ve not seen done by anyone else. Taking neither the position of the secularists—who claim the Founders were deists, and deny any serious religious influence—nor the position of the “Christian America” advocates, who have romanticized the Founding era and misrepresented the Founders’ true beliefs—Frazer brings sanity to the debate, illuminating the theistic rationalism of the key Founders of this country. He then explains how this theistic rationalism (which had its focus on moralism and avoided theology) became the basis for the American civil religion—a “God and Country” sort of “Christianity,” focused on patriotism and moralism. Every American should read this.

Both the secular and Christian America schools of thought, then, are warmly received by their intended audiences. Consequently, there is little motivation to investigate the evidence and to make an independent analysis. This book presents the results of such an independent analysis and finds both views wanting.

Anthem by Ayn Rand. This was a short and interesting read. A story written in poetic form, it decries collectivism and exalts individualism. From a political standpoint, I share Rand’s perspective on many things. However, we take two vastly different philosophical paths to arrive at similar political conclusions. Rand sees man as God, which is her ultimate argument for individualism. She sees life as being an ode, an anthem, to the ego of man; everything revolves around man the creature. Rand was a very libertarian-minded thinker, but she rejected God and therefore had no objective basis for morality. Her life philosophy was tainted accordingly—and this creaturely pride profusely bleeds through Anthem.

And as we all undress at night, in the dim light of the candles, our brothers are silent, for they dare not speak the thoughts of their minds. For all must agree with all, and they cannot know if their thoughts are the thoughts of all, and so they fear to speak.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. A classic tale of censorship. The job of Guy Montag and his fellow firemen is to start fires—not put them out. Shooting kerosene through their hoses instead of water, they burn down houses that contain books (all but comic books, sex magazines, and trade journals are banned). Minorities might be offended by certain books, and man must be kept happy, distracted from what his government is doing. Intellectualism is a dirty word. The populace must keep themselves busy with pleasures and distractions, with sports and entertainment, but must never think, for thinking is dangerous—and might offend someone. (Note: there’s a fair bit of language.) 

…We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?…”

The Fallacy Detective by Nathanaiel and Hans Bluedorn. Fun book from the homeschooled Bluedorn brothers! Using simple language and many humorous illustrations, Nathaniel and Hans explain the basic forms of bad reasoning and logical fallacies. This is a book I intended to get my kids when they were older (recommended for ages 13 through adult), but when I found a used copy one day for $4, I nabbed it and read it myself. This will be fun to go through as a family—each short lesson has lots of discussion questions (there are 36 lessons in all). I’m thinking this might be a great book for family dinner-time table-talk someday. 😉

Order a copy for your family before these books disappear off the shelves! No parent pursuing the highest standards of academic attainment for their child would be without this book! The study of logic is an ancient and honored tradition!

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Oh wait…did I just make use of propaganda techniques like “exigency,” “snob appeal,” and “appeal to tradition”…?

Torturer: “You are a heretic. You can’t prove that you aren’t one, so you are a heretic. Confess, or we will stretch your body out until you are a foot taller.”

Accused: “Ha, you did it—you committed a fallacy! I learned all about it in a book called The Fallacy Detective.”

Torturer: “That’s enough cheek out of you. Brutus, give the wheel another turn.”

So that’s about the extent of my personal reading this year. Here follows the list of children’s books the kids and I went through together:

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’ Dell. A classic children’s tale of a female “Robinson Crusoe,” marooned on an island for many years after her people left. This is actually based on a true story. The kids found it fascinating.

Until that summer, I had kept count of all the moons since the time my brother and I were alone on the island. For each one that came and went I cut a mark in a pole beside the door of my house. There were many marks, from the roof to the floor. But after that summer I did not cut them anymore. The passing of the moons now had come to mean little, and I only made marks to count the four seasons of the year. The last year I did not count those.

Missionary Stories with the Millers by Mildred A. Martin. A collection of true, exciting stories about Christian missionaries. I read this book to the kids; Bri could hardly stand for me to put it down, lol. I read it first as a young teenager, and I remember it making a profound impression on me; it really strengthened my own faith. It’s written by a Mennonite, but only a few of the stories are about Mennonite missionaries.

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The featured missionaries include such well-known men and women as David Livingston, Hudson Taylor, and Amy Carmichael, as well as less-known figures such as Alvin Frey, Jack McGuckin, and August Eicher. Twenty-nine stories in total.

Lying motionless, he waited for another bullet, but none came. “If I keep still, they may think I am dead already,” Gary thought with sudden hope. Eyes closed, he listened alertly. Yes, the voices of the attacking guerrillas were fading in the distance as they trooped off up the trail!

Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne. A charming collection of sundry poems written by the author who created the Winnie the Pooh stories and all their memorable characters. Both of my kids enjoyed this book.

When I was one,

I had just begun.

When I was two,

I was nearly new.

When I was three,

I was hardly me…

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter by Beatrix Potter. In this book, we made our way through all the tales we had not previously read together by individual chapter books. From Peter Rabbit and farmer MacGregor to little Pig Robinson, Potter’s entire collection of stories was here, including those she never published/released to the public during her lifetime. Obviously an avid lover of nature, her quaint little animal characters and their stories often highlight simple moral lessons.

Jemima Puddle-duck was a simpleton: not even the mention of sage and onions made her suspicious.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. Of life, of love, of beauty, this is the classic tale of a friendship between a spider and pig. After we read the book together, the kids watched both the movie and the old classic cartoon.

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Stuart Little by E. B. White. This rambling and humorously outrageous tale about a mouse named Stuart (pardon me, he only looked very much like a mouse in every way), was written by the author of Charlotte’s Web. The ending was so abrupt that when I turned the last page and announced the story was over, Brianna gave me a dumbfounded look and exclaimed, “What!? That can’t be the end! There has to be more! What!?”

He wiped his face with his handkerchief, for he was quite warm from the exertion of being Chairman of the World. It had taken more running and leaping and sliding than he had imagined.

The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New by Marty Machowski. Machowski breaks “big” theological concepts down into simple, bite-size pieces, making them accessible for even very young children (for whom it is written). Each teaching is related to something familiar to children in order to help them understand it.

Covering everything from the inerrancy of Scripture, to the doctrine of the Trinity, to gospel terms like “justification,” “sanctification,” etc., it’s a fairly comprehensive introductory to theology for little tikes. At one point, after reading about the substitutionary atonement of Christ in the book, Marcus excused himself to go to his room to pray. He came back and told me, “I told Jesus I believe on Him.”

Occasionally (rarely) I came across a concept which I chose to approach from a little bit different angle or explain in a little bit different wording than the book, but overall I think the book helped my kids grasp some really good stuff.

Oak trees sprout from acorns and toads begin as tadpoles, but God never had a beginning… The day ends when the clock strikes twelve. The race ends at the finish line. But God never ends.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. They were all here: Milne’s classic, beloved stories of a boy and his bear.

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“Oh! Piglet,” said Pooh excitedly, “we’re going on an Expotition, all of us, with things to eat. To discover something.”

“To discover what?” said Piglet anxiously.

“Oh! just something.”

“Nothing fierce?”

“Christopher Robin didn’t say anything about fierce. He just said it had an ‘x’.”

“It isn’t their necks I mind,” said Piglet earnestly. “It’s their teeth.”

Pharaoh’s Boat by David Weitzman. Written for children, this is the story of the boat that Cheops had buried with him (in pieces) for his journey to the afterlife. It was discovered in 1954 and assembled for the first time many years later.

As they dug, there suddenly appeared an old stone boundary wall. Strange. They weren’t expecting to find a wall here… Had the wall been deliberately built there to hide something?

Julie Andrews’ Treasury for all Seasons (poems selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton). “Maria” of The Sound of Music (Julie Andrews) collected these poems and songs celebrating the seasons, months, and special days for children. From Emily Dickinson to Jack Prelutsky, many authors’ poems are featured here (180+ pages). While there was a couple I skipped over (due to theme or for some other reason), this was a very nice (and fun!) collection, each page sweetly illustrated by Marjorie Priceman.

Then read from the treasured volume

The poem of thy choice,

And lend to the rhyme of the poet

The beauty of thy voice.

Backyard Explorer Leaf and Tree Guide by Rona Beame. This kid-friendly pocket-book is filled with illustrations, photos, and descriptions related to all things trees. It explains basic scientific categorizations and facts in simple terms, contains photos of many leaves for tree identification, and has a section on nature projects. Fun little book—perfect for toting on nature walks!

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Have you ever brought home a leaf and wondered what kind of tree it belonged to? …Then get set to go on an exciting nature hunt!

Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. An oldie but goodie, this collection of stories includes tales from ancient Rome to 18th century America: Julius Caesar, George Washington, William the Conqueror, Robin Hood and King Alfred—the legends of these and many other characters are told in short-story form.

At last the day came, and then the very hour. Damon was ready to die. His trust in his friend was as firm as ever; and he said that he did not grieve at having to suffer for one whom he loved so much.

So that’s it!  What stories/books have you and your family enjoyed this last year?