Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A New Addition to Our Day

When I taught public school we had time each morning referred to as DEAR (Drop Everything and Read). It was so much fun! I allowed my students to sit under their desks, on our classroom beanbags or anywhere - as long as they were fully engaged in a book. Each year for some of my students it took time to acclimate to this new freedom. Reading for the pure enjoyment of the activity was a new concept for them. No discussion, no tests, no agenda.

Recently, as I was thinking about what I wanted our homeschool days to look like, I realized we just weren't spending enough time reading. I read a Bible story to them each morning at breakfast. At lunch we do our read-alouds; for the last several months we've been reading through the Chronicles Of Narnia again. Haddon reads a science reader to me daily, as well as from a phonics reader and his My Favorite Bible Storybook for Early Readers. Thatcher reads daily from Story of the World, in science and across most of the curriculum. In addition, he reads each evening for at least an hour at bedtime. But somehow it just wasn't enough. I was not getting to see my boys delight in books on their own. And I definitely wasn't getting enough reading time in with Beckett. One of my biggest goals is instill a love of reading in my boys because a lifetime passion for learning almost always begins with a love of reading. DEAR time immediately came to mind.

So when it was time to start our new semester I told the boys that from time we finished breakfast, around 8:15, until 9:00 it would be DEAR time each day. There were a few stipulations. I would have a basket of books from which they could choose their daily reading selection. They could discuss with me outside of DEAR time if they had particular requests but I got the final say. There would be no talking to each other or discussing of books; this was just time to read and enjoy.

Thatcher took to it right away! He loves to read and always has. We have used this time to be certain we get all of our history reading finished. I am also making sure to keep the basket full of of many fiction selections as he naturally gravitates to non-fiction. He adores the Childhood of Famous Americans biographies, and any book about the military or spies will hold him captive for hours. Because I don't want him to neglect the beauty and creativity that is found in fiction I am making sure that at least every second or third book he reads is full of imagination. It has been fun to watch him rediscover this genre of books.

For Haddon, at first, DEAR time was intimidating. He was definitely still an emerging/early reader when we began. By nature he is not a risk-taker and the thought of reading without Mommy right beside him was a little unsettling. I told him that he could come tiptoe and ask me a word anytime after he tried his "good reader strategies" and was still was stuck. He was greatly relieved but still reluctant. The first book he chose was Frog and Toad are Friends. It took him the full week to read it. Then he picked up Frog and Toad All Year followed by Frog and Toad Together. With each successive book he got a bit more comfortable and a bit faster. The book he is reading in this picture, Days with Frog and Toad, was completed in one sitting. He was so very proud! His confidence has gone through the roof and I have been amazed at his growth as a reader in just six weeks since starting DEAR time.

Beckett, my sweet Beckett. He was born seventeen months after Haddon and in the middle of multiple therapies, doctors' appointments and diagnoses for Thatcher. As a result, I have logged a fraction of the reading time with him that his older brothers got. DEAR time has been a wonderful opportunity for us to read together and to try and make up a tiny bit of all that missed time from years past. But it has been a learning experience for him...and for me. The other boys would sit still for anything I read to them; they were just happy to be reading. In contrast, Beckett is very picky about what we read. He has to choose the book or at least agree to my selection. ;) He has loved the Dr. Seuss books, especially Fox in Sock and Green Eggs and Ham. We have also been reading lots of Mother Goose rhymes and he has enjoyed memorizing several and saying them to Daddy when he gets home at night. At first he would not sit still to "read" any books independently (while I was cleaning up breakfast dishes) but now he will curl up and look at a book for five minutes or more. It's a slow start, but a start, nonetheless!

The first subject we do each day is our Bible/Discipleship time at breakfast. The next thing we do is curl up on the couch and read each day for DEAR time. I wouldn't have it any other way! :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More Thoughts About Self-Education Over at Milk and Cookies

Amy, at Milk and Cookies, asked if I would do a guest post during the 10 Days of Homeschooling Blog Hop sponsored by Heart of the Matter. I immediately said, "Yes!" and got to sharing some things that have been on my heart as this year completes the grammar stage for Thatcher.

Despite obtaining a degree in education and teaching public school for eight years, I had no idea that there were different methods of (home)schooling when I started out on this journey. Thankfully it was not long after I began educating our oldest that I stumbled across The Well Trained Mind. It immediately clicked for me; this was the education I wished I had received! And the journey to classically educate our boys began.

Now jump forward six years...

To read the rest head over to 10 Days of Classical Education: Day 2 at Milk and Cookies and take a peek.

Also, take some time to check out some of the other "10 Days" posts. I have been inspired and encouraged, and I bet you will be too!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Multitudes on Mondays ~ February 7

A little late today but continuing the list of His good gifts:

31. The whole family tagging along with dh to Austin this weekend on a work-related trip.

32. Perfect timing of the church who asked dh to speak just before we were to start our unit on Texas history! :)

33. The break in the icy road conditions on Friday that allowed us barely enough time to get out of Houston after we thought we wouldn't be going on this much anticipated trip after all.

34. Sharing family legacies...being able to show my boys the 180 year old house my mother-in-law grew up in east Austin, now owned by the American Botanical Council. What a blessing to see where she and her siblings (whom my boys adore) made all their childhood memories!

35. Fun times learning about our state's history at the Texas Capitol.

36. Walking around the campus where I attended college. Such sweet memories. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I shared remembrances with the boys.

37. A visit to the Texas History Museum. I know nothing of the specific history of other states save where it intersects with American history, but Texas truly has a remarkable story. This museum really was an incredible opportunity to experience it.

38. The best part of the LBJ Presidential Library for my boys was rolling down the steep hill out front afterwards! I got each of them to stop just long enough for me to snap a quick pic...and then back to rolling. ;)

39. For little random details I always notice and fall in love with...like old ornate doorknobs from 1888 in the House and Senate Chambers at the Capitol.

40. For little boys worn out and ready to go back home after a fun and exhausting weekend.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Five Dollar Friday: Roasted Tomato Basil Soup with Homemade Whole Wheat Croutons

This recipe is from one of my favorite Food Network stars, Ina Garten aka Barefoot Contessa. I love her recipes and her show and own two of her cookbooks. I made this recipe for the first time a few weeks ago. Thatcher ate two huge bowls and would have eaten more if I let him! You can find the original recipe here at the Food Network site. The recipe below has a few modifications to make it more cost effective and fit our family's taste. Honestly, as is it is a little high on the price to be considered a $5 meal but I wanted to post it because if you have basil and tomatoes from your garden, this soup would be nearly free! Even obtaining one of these ingredients from a friend's garden would bring the price down by $3.00. Spring will be here before we know it so if this recipe isn't in the budget for winter, tuck it away for spring when everyone's gardens will be full of goodness.

Also, I love this soup because it is not laden with tons of heavy cream like so many tomato basil soups are, yet it has enormous flavor. I serve it simply with homemade croutons and a bit of Parmesan cheese. Grilled cheese sandwiches are always a favorite with any tomato soup or a chicken Caesar salad would be wonderful if you wanted to add some protein.

3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt (may not need if you are using stock, esp. if it's not low sodium)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped yellow onions, about 2 onions
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 (28-ounce) canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
2 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 quart chicken stock or water
1/4 cup heavy cream (not in original recipe but just a bit add a lot of flavor in my opinion)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt (if using), and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

2. In an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, saute the onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the butter, and red pepper flakes (if using) for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add garlic and cook two more minutes.

3. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock/water. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes.

4. Add 1/4 cup heavy cream.

5. You have several options here depending on the kitchen gadgets you own and how chunky you want your soup. The original recipe calls for a food mill but I use my immersion blender to make a really smooth soup (and don't have to dirty up any additional bowls or appliances). A food processor or blender would work well too, just be extra careful when mixing/pureeing really hot liquids.

6. Taste for seasonings. Serve hot or cold.

Cost Breakdown: $9.62

$ 3.00 - 3 pounds plum tomatoes
$ .42 - olive oil
$ .02 - 2 teaspoons sea salt (may not need if you are using stock, esp. if it's not low sodium)
$ .04 - black pepper
$ 1.00 - 2 cups chopped yellow onions, about 2 onions
$ .24 - garlic cloves
$ . 14 - butter
$ 1.50 -canned plum tomatoes (sale)
$2.99 - fresh basil
$ .02 - dried thyme
free - 1 quart chicken stock or water (ckn stock left over from here or here)
$ .25 - heavy cream

If you want to add homemade croutons here is how I do it:
I use thick slices of the homemade whole wheat bread I make for our family, but any bread will do. Cut the crust off and brush an olive oil/herb mixture over both sides of the bread. I like to add about 1/4 tsp of basil and 1/4 tsp of thyme with a bit of salt and pepper to about 1/4 cup olive oil for my croutons. You could add garlic powder if you wanted garlicky ones! Cut bread into large chunks. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 - 20 minutes turning every few minutes until all sides are browned. These are wonderful sprinkled on top of your soup. Enjoy!


Thursday, February 3, 2011

SOTW Wrap Up and Review

This week we finished Story of the World 4. I posted our condensed plan to cover the entire fourth book in only 21 weeks in an old post. As in other years, Thatcher has loved this volume! I chose not to go too in depth with many of the more sensitive topics and am very thankful to share that the condensed schedule worked well for us. It will also allow us to spend the remainder of the year on Texas History.

Now that we have completed all four volumes I feel I am somewhat qualified to do a review of the series as a whole! I have few complaints and many praises about SOTW. It, like all curricula, has strengths and weaknesses, but I feel the strong points far outweigh the weak. I am also aware that one aspect of the curriculum that may be a weakness for us can be a great strength for others, depending on the teacher's goals and the types of learners she has. I felt the stories were well-written for the age they were intended. Condensing and summarizing thousands of years of world history for elementary children was a HUGE and bold undertaking for Susan Wise-Bauer, and I think she did a remarkable job. Certainly, no curriculum is perfect and we tweaked along the way. We skipped some things that were not holding Thatcher's attention (although that was rare) and we camped out on areas that were especially exciting for him.

We rarely used the Activity Guide other than as a staring point for my yearly book lists (You can see them at these links - SOTW 1 , SOTW 2, SOTW 4) . Thatcher is not a crafty/activity kid and certainly not a fan of coloring so a huge part of the AG was never used. I don't anticipate using
the most of the activities with Haddon and Beckett either; I much prefer these wonderful SOTW lapbooks available for free! Hopefully she will continue making and sharing them for all four volumes. (The first 15 chapters of lapbooks from Volume 2 are already available on her blog as of this posting as well.) I also am not a huge fan of the way SOTW teaches geography as I do not think it is helpful for young children to learn by only focusing on a tiny bit of a map at a time. I am so thankful I purchased this set of Geopuzzles from Timberdoodle and will continue to use them with Haddon and Beckett rather than using the maps from SOTW as our introduction to geography. I will also research other options to teach basic map skills apart from SOTW. Any recommendations? :)

Further, I am not crazy about the review questions included in the AG, because, in my opinion, if you are having your child(ren) regularly narrate then the review questions are overkill. The exception would be that if/when, through narration, the teacher discovers the student just didn't get the concepts presented, then the review questions can be helpful to guide them to a better understanding of what was read. Lastly, I will most likely not have my boys complete history copywork like I tried to have Thatcher do; you can see my attempt at the link for my SOTW 1 book list above . It was just too much and when I have my young boys doing copywork I would prefer them to be copying bits of Scripture, literature or poetry. We spend a great deal of time on history as it is and I would rather focus our copywork efforts on other areas that often don't get as big a share of the educational pie.

What I appreciate about SOTW is that my child loves history after this first rotation! That speaks volumes to me. He now has "pegs" on which to hang all future learning. He remembers the basics about each period of history so that when we being again next year he will have a solid foundation on which to begin building.

Another thing I have come to appreciate just this year is that SOTW can be more than just a history series. It can be an wonderful introductory (or supplementary) writing course if planned and executed well (and, I believe, according to the author's intent). I wanted to share a few things I've learned about SOTW and how I will use it a bit differently with the younger two boys in regard to this to maximize the writing aspect of the program, which I have come to view as a huge strength of the SOTW series.

If you are Classically educating your children you will undoubtedly have read about narration (especially if you have read The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer, the same author as SOTW) as an important tool in the process of teaching your children. Narration is also a vital skill if you are educating according to Charlotte Mason's principles. The way they define and use narrations vary somewhat though. If you haven't yet read my post comparing the two styles, you will want to pop over and read this first before proceeding. In TWTM, Wise-Bauer says of narrating, "You'll be using this technique (narrating) extensively in the study of history,"~Revised and Updated version, p. 109.

When Thatcher was in first grade we started strong with narrations and lots of good intentions. The problem was that Thatcher was not ready for WTM style narrations (choosing the most important details) and I wasn't prepared enough to know how to support him in what proved to be a very challenging skill. I kept trying to get his narrations close to the samples in the Activity Guide and we both ended up frustrated. I also attempted to get him writing his own narrations way too soon considering he is a boy, young for his grade AND an Aspie (who almost by definition struggle with writing) which just further intensified the frustration for both of us. For the most part I dropped narrations and just had him read and listen to the audio book and do some supplemental readings for each chapter. This I regret.

The problem was that when things got tough and narrations just got tedious, I dropped them completely instead of changing and adapting to make them fit us. When we didn't fit the plan I dropped the plan. I threw out the baby with the bathwater. I forgot that a curriculum is just a tool, not a noose! ;) That's because I am too much of a by the book kinda gal. Sigh. What I know now is that developmentally he wasn't ready for narrations as defined by SWB's Well-Trained Mind but he was most certainly ready for narrations ala Charlotte Mason.

This is a classic case of, "If I knew then what I know now..." With my youngers I will do it differently. We will be more diligent to stick with oral CM style narrations for a much longer time. I will only have them begin copying their narrations down after I am CONFIDENT they are beyond ready for this skill. I will only have them write their own narrations independently after we have done it together for several months and he is pushing me out of the room! ;) We will move to more WTM style narrations when they are older and better able to discern main idea vs. supporting detail(s) concepts. We will practice this skill much outside of just history as well.

Another problem was that I didn't have "the big picture" in regard to where these narrations were taking us. I think all moms starting the SOTW series should start by first listening to Susan Wise-Bauer's three lectures titled A Plan for Teaching Writing from Peace Hill Press. Listen to all three MP3's even if your child is just starting out. It will give you that big picture I was missing. It will help you persevere in those tough times (like I failed to do) because you will better understand WHY you are doing WHAT you are doing.

Each year in SOTW 1-3 your child is expected to narrate each chapter along the way taking a greater responsibility for his/her narrations as the years and the child's maturity progress. But in SOTW 4 there is a switch that I was unaware of until I bought it this past summer. SOTW 4 moves from narrating to outlining. At first the students are given incomplete outlines to fill in after reading each chapter. In this way they are slowly introduced to this very valuable skill but ever so gently. In the last 10 chapters of the book they are given completed outlines and are expected to write a paragraph from the outline.

Wow! This was such a great transition for us. We, with lots of hard work and perseverance (that was lacking in those younger years), made the transition successfully and Thatch can write a well developed paragraph with minimal help now. The transition would have been much more smooth had I continued with oral narrations in the younger years but just taken our time, known my kiddo better and understood that big picture. Yet despite our less than desirable start, here is an example of one of his final outlines. He completed this completely on his own with no help from Mom.

And here is an example of the three paragraphs (he forgot to indent the third) he wrote independently from the second part of the outline you can see above all about Civil Rights. I was beyond thrilled when he brought this to me!

Overall, I am thrilled to give Story of the World my strongest recommendation as a first history program for grammar stage students. There are many wonderful options out there and I rate this as one of them. It was a strong start for us in what I want to be one of our core subjects all throughout our schooling. Thank you, Susan, for all your hard work and your contributions (this being only one of many) to the homeschool community!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Narrations: WTM Style vs. CM Style

I am reposting from the SSA archives today because it is an important piece to understanding tomorrow's ramblings. ; )It was from a post where I was answering SSA readers' questions I had received via email and/or the comment section.

Question: Could you share how a WTM-style narration and a CM-style narration have looked different to you? We do WTM-style right now and it seems so...artificial, or forced, or something.

Answer: I talked a little about this in my last post comparing CM to Classical, so here I thought I'd share a few quotes from the authors themselves. First Susan Wise-Bauer's ideas on narrations...
Narration is a way to develop the child's understanding and storytelling skills. The process is simple: the child tells you what he's just heard or read. ...In first grade, you begin to ask the child to summarize the plots of short simple stories...Narration lets you know how much a child retains and understands. It also develops vocabulary and powers of expression, and lays the foundation for good writing later on.

~The Well Trained Mind, Revised and Updated, p. 55 (emphasis mine)
Narration removes the need for "comprehension exercises." Instead of learning to complete fill-in-the-blank questions, the child uses all his mental faculties to understand, sort through, reorganize and relate the main points of a story.

~Ibid, p. 59 (emphasis mine)
This process (of narration) developed the student's comprehension skills and taught him how to tell the difference between irrelevant details and important elements of plots or argument.

~Ibid, p. 272 (emphasis mine)

And now Charlotte Mason's ideas on narration...

Narrating, like writing poetry or painting, is an art that's inherent in the mind of every child. It's just waiting to be uncovered. The child doesn't need to go through an educational process to develop it because it's already there. The child only needs a reason to narrate and he does--easily, generously, with events in the right order, using appropriate illustrative details, with the right choice of words, without flowery wordiness or redundant phrases, as soon as he's able to speak easily. This amazing ability lies within every child, yet it is rarely tapped into to serve his education. Robert will come home with an exciting story of a fight between Duke and a stray dog down the street. It's wonderful! He saw it all and tells everything with great eagerness in a style that might rival any epic movie. But our scorn for children is so ingrained that we don't appreciate it. All we see is how childish Robert is being. But if we could only see it and use it, his recounting could be the very foundation of his education.
~Home Education, Volume 1, p. 231

Readings should always be in consecutive order and from a carefully selected book. Before the day's reading, the teacher should talk a little and discuss with the children what happened in the previous lesson. Then she can say a few words about the current lesson, just enough that the children are eager in anticipation. But she should be careful not to explain too much and, especially, she shouldn't take too long to get into the reading itself. Then she can read two or three pages, enough to cover a complete episode. After that, she can call on the children to narrate. If there are several children, they can take turns. The children narrate with enthusiasm and accuracy while still retaining a sense of the author's style. It isn't a good idea to nag them about their mistakes. They may begin with a lot of "ums" or "ands" but they soon stop doing that on their own, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to publish in a book! This kind of narration lesson shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. The book should always be very interesting. When the narration is over, there should be a little bit of discussion where the moral points are brought out, pictures can be shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard.
~Ibid, p. 232-233

Essentially, the main difference between a WTM (Classical) narration and a CM narration is that the former wants more of a summary and the latter wants a child to tell all he is able to recall. To me the CM style is much more natural for a young child as many struggle mightily to differentiate between a main idea and a superfluous detail. The poster of the original question states that she feels WTM style narrations seem, "artifical or forced." I would maintain this is because WTM narrations may be trying to accomplish too much, especially for the younger student. If the goal is to determine, "how much a child retains and understands" (SWB quote above) then why summarize? If we really want to know how much they retain then let the children tell all they know! I am not saying summarization is not a valuable skill...oh, but it is. I just don't feel this is necessarily the best place to teach it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My (Again) Updated Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

I have been making our family's bread for almost two years now. Hard to believe. It all started because I wanted a whole grain loaf that used no HFCS and I was tired of paying $4 for it. I started in May 2009 using a bread machine and tweaked until I had a really great loaf of bread. But then about six months ago my trusty bread maker died. I had read time and again that the best loaves are made by hand but until that point had resisted trying it out. The bread maker was just so easy. ;) After my machine quit I began researching new options; once I saw that the ones I wanted were in the $200 + range I quickly decided that it would be me and the trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer for a test run!

Wow! Same recipe, same ingredients but so much better!!! I could not believe it. Dh could not believe it. Truly amazing. And the best part is that using the Kitchen Aid with the dough hook to do most of the mixing/kneading means that it hardly takes me any more time to make this loaf than it did in my bread maker. If you don't have a stand mixer you will just need to knead by hand for about 15 minutes or so. Whole wheat loaves take longer than white loaves. Another bonus of kneading by hand is that it's a great arm workout and incredibly therapeutic as you pound away all your frustrations on the dough rather than on those around you! ;)

I have also changed away from my original recipe which used milk. I have one little guy who cannot tolerate dairy well so we replaced the milk with water about a year ago. In addition, this is a large loaf so you will need a 10 inch bread pan. I am currently looking to replace all my aluminum cookware with stainless or stone bakeware and haven't been able to find a 10 inch bread pan in either. If any of you readers know know of a place, please pass it along. I can find the 9 inch in abundance but not the 10.

100% Whole Grain Bread

  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or any mild tasting vegetable oil)
  • 4 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup oat flour (made by grinding rolled oats in my blender or food processor)
  • 1/4 cup gluten
  • 2 tsp yeast (active dry)
  1. Measure all wet ingredients (first 5 listed) in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, reserving a tablespoon or so to bloom yeast in small bowl.
  2. Add yeast to reserved warm liquid. I never check the water temp anymore as I know what is just about right by touch but most websites will say between 110 and 115. Hotter than that will kill your yeast.
  3. I premix all my dry ingredients (excluding yeast) every month or so like at the bottom of this post. If you use my method, dump all dry ingredients in the mixer on top of wet and turn mixer on low. If not, measure all dry ingredients and add to mixer, then turn it on low for 2 or 3 minutes.
  4. After the yeast has started to bloom add it to the mixer.
  5. Keep machine running on low speed for about 8-10 minutes.
  6. Empty contents of mixer onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand another 4-6 minutes. Add flour as needed so dough doesn't stick to your hands or the counter.
  7. Form dough into an oval about the same length as your 10 inch bread pan.
  8. Place loaf into a well greased pan.
  9. Cover with a kitchen towel and set in a warm place away from drafts. For me this is in on my dryer if it's running or on top of my stove, if not.
  10. Let rise until loaf is about an inch to an inch and a half above the pan. This usually takes a few hours in my house in winter. Shorter in summer.
  11. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes covering the last 10 minutes lightly with a piece of foil to keep from over browning. Most websites will say cook until bread reaches an internal temperature of 200 - 205 degrees but I have found that at 190 I can pull my loaf out and let it continue to sit in the pan for 5 minutes before turning it out to cool and it's perfect. Every pan is different. Every oven is different. You will just need to play around and find what works for you.
  12. You just must eat a hot piece with some butter and a bit of honey. Please do! :)