Monday, January 25, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 1/11/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Winter Days" by Gareth Owen, "Snow in the Suburbs" by Thomas Hardy, "A Hard Winter" by Wes Magee, "In the Garden" by Anonymous, "Once I Saw a Little Bird" by Anonymous
  • Articles from Kids Discover magazine: The Middle Ages (This was much better written than the previous week's issue about bicycles. It was engaging for C., for whom it was new, and M., for whom it was review.)
  • Art Appreciation: New York Waterfront by Stuart Davis from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: Red River Valley
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, "The Tiger" by William Blake, address, phone number; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first eight books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10
  • Music Appreciation: Symphony No. 94, "Surprise": Second Movement by Franz Joseph Haydn


We worked some with magnets over the summer before deciding on our science schedule for the school year, so much of this unit was review. We watched a few videos, including some about about maglevs that both M. and C. found really interesting:  

C. also did her first Kiwi Crate this week. She made an arcade claw and some pom pom friends to grab with it. She loved this project and can't wait for the next one. 


M. read about the development of Parliament in A Picturesque Tale of Progress. She also read The Bayeux Tapestry: The story of the Norman Conquest: 1066 by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey, The Norman Conquest by Walter C. Hodges, Magna Carta by Walter C. Hodges, and Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz. She watched The Bayeux Tapestry - all of it, from start to finish, The Animated Bayeux Tapestry, History at Home Live! – 1066 and the Battle of HastingsThe Story of Magna Carta, What Was Life Like? | Episode 3: Anglo-Saxons - Meet an Anglo-Saxon Warrior, and What Was Life Like? | Episode 4: Normans - Meet William the Conqueror and King Harold. She also looked at a panoramic image of the Bayeux Tapestry and she visited

C. finished The Big Golden Book of Cavemen and Other Prehistoric People. She watched a few videos to finish out this topic:  


C. finished counting with quarters in the Complete Book of Time and Money. M. continued working on fractions in Singapore 3B.

Reading and Writing 

C. read Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary. M. continued reading aloud Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago to Gran over Skype. She also read Ramona and her Father, Ramona and her Mother, and Ramona Quimby Age 8 on her own. 

Instrumental Music

Both girls practiced piano and recorder every day.

Other activities 

The girls did their exercise video from the Ten Thousand Method  and had a masked outdoor playdate on Friday. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Candlewick Picture Books (November 2020)

I fell behind on reviewing picture books at the end of 2020, but even though these have been out for a few months now, I think it's still worth sharing my three oldest girls' thoughts (and mine) about these titles.

Ellie's Dragon by Bob Graham

When she is very small, Ellie, the daughter of a single mom, finds a newly hatched dragon whom she names Scratch. Though none of the adults in her life can see him, Scratch goes everywhere with Ellie - even to preschool. As Ellie approaches the teen years, however, her need for Scratch diminishes until one day he leaves Ellie to find a new friend.

All three girls liked this one. Little Bo Peep (5 years, 3 months), said her favorite parts were when Ellie named the dragon and when the dragon found a new friend. For Little Jumping Joan (3 years, 2 months) ., the best part of the book was the illustration where Scratch first flew. Little Miss Muffet (7 years, 1 month) said her favorite part was when Ellie found Scratch. I thought the story was really similar to "Puff the Magic Dragon" and I went back and forth between thinking the song and story would make a good pairing and feeling like the book was unnecessary since we already have the song.

Mr. Brown's Bad Day by Lou Peacock, illustrated by Alison Friend

Mr. Brown, a tiger who is a very important businessman, has a bad day when a baby elephant snatches his briefcase, sending it on a path that leads Mr. Brown all over town. The briefcase has very important items inside, and Mr. Brown just can't rest until he has them back.

Little Bo Peep enjoyed the fact that different animals kept ending up in the briefcase. She especially liked the baby elephant. Little Jumping Joan liked that the baby elephant hung the briefcase from the ice cream vendor's cart. Miss Muffet said her favorite part was the ending, which got a big "Awww" from all three girls. The ending didn't work as well for me, but I think it got the intended reaction out of the girls.

Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus, illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Little Bear doesn't know whether bears can ski, and he is tired of being asked, until he and his dad visit an audiologist who helps him realize people are asking, "Can you hear me?" After he is fitted for hearing aides, the answer to that question becomes a resounding yes.

The girls did not get this one. They could not understand that, to someone reading lips "Can bears ski?" and "Can you hear me?" might look alike. The ending was also too subtle for them to grasp and trying to make sense of the last page distracted them from talking about anything else in the book. I tried multiple ways of explaining it, but while they could appreciate that Little Bear could not hear, the story focused their questions on the meaning of the text rather than the implications of Little Bear's discovery.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 1/4/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "January" by Winifred C. Marshall, "Birch Trees" by John Richard Moreland, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, "Diamond Poem" by John Foster, "Snowflakes" by Leroy F. Jackson
  • Articles from Kids Discover magazine Bicycles issue 
  • Art appreciation: Day and Night by M.C. Escher from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: We Three Kings  
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, excerpt from the Gospel of Luke; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first eight books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10
  • Music Appreciation: Amahl and the Night Visitors 


We moved things around in our schedule for this second half of the school year, so now we're doing science immediately after breakfast instead of after lunch. This week, we revisited magnets, which we covered over the summer, but which came up again in BFSU and EESE. We reviewed the first two parts of the lesson in EESE and then watched some videos: 

The favorites for both girls were the SciShow Kids and Dr. Binocs videos. They actually retained everything we covered over the summer, too, so I think that added to their interest in the videos. 

E. opened her first Koala Crate, the theme of which was rainbows. She made a rainbow pillow, a tie-dyed tote bag, and a stained glass window craft. She absolutely loved it, and has been sleeping with the pillow every night. 


C. finished her Sticker Histories book about the Ice Age and went back to reading from The Big Golden Book of Cavemen and Other Prehistoric People

M. finished learning about medieval Spain by reading about the Alhambra. She then discussed it with Gran, who has been there. Then she started on medieval England with the story of Beowulf in A Picturesque Tale of Progress.  


C. spent some time with real coins reviewing their values and continued workings with dimes, nickels, and pennies in The Complete Book of Time and Money. We had been having her fill out the worksheets on the computer, but because so many of the pages started involving coloring and matching, we printed out a few of them for her to be able to work on without having to master the stylus. 

Reading and Writing 

C. continued reading Twig, and after finishing it, drew a picture of the characters. M. zipped through two Ramona books: Ramona and her Father and Ramona and her Mother. She has been enjoying reading in my bedroom closet, and if she isn't interrupted will happily sit in there and read an entire book in a single afternoon. M. also worked on her Christmas thank-you notes and continued reading Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago on Skype with Gran. 

Instrumental Music

M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder daily.


Of her own volition, M. drew a picture of an ear cleaner (called "CleanEar") that she invented.

Other Activities

We had a masked playdate with the grandkids of our next door neighbors. We also attended a Latin Mass at a new parish, and M. followed along with the Latin. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

An Open Book: January 2021

This year, I've decided to join in each month with An Open Book, a link-up hosted by Carolyn Astfalk at and My Scribbler's Heart where everyone shares what they and/or their families are currently reading. I'm getting this one in just under the wire, but hopefully I'll be better prepared for next month.

I recently stayed up until 2 o'clock in the morning to finish the latest middle grade novel by Gary D. Schmidt, Just Like That, which just came out January 5th. Something horrible happens to a beloved character from one of Schmidt's previous novels in the first chapter, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to enjoy the book after that, but happily that was not the case. This was a definite five-star read for me. 

This month I'm also slowly working my way through The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge and a re-read of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the audiobook of The Late Show by Michael Connelly, which has a really interesting female detective as its lead character and an obscure 1990s middle grade novel called The Love of Friends by Nancy Bond. I've also been reading aloud to my three oldest girls at lunch time and right before bed. We just finished Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald and now we're reading Felicia the Critic by Ellen Conford. 

My husband is reading Bartholomew Fair by Mary Stolz. I haven't read it yet myself, but it's a middle grade novel that follows several characters, including Queen Elizabeth, as they attend London's Bartholomew Fair in 1598. He says it's pretty disappointing because while the author is an excellent writer, historical fiction is not her forte.

My daughter, M., age 7, is  getting back into the Ramona series. She was very early to learn to read and read several of the books when she was 5, and we cut her off for a while and said she needed to be a bit older to appreciate the others. She now has the green light to finish the series. She has been holing up in my walk-in bedroom closet to read, and so far this month she has finished Ramona and her Father and Ramona and her Mother

My daughter, C., age 5, has been reading Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones. At first she had trouble getting into it, and then suddenly she had only a few chapters left. Her plan is to read Henry Huggins next. 

My daughter, E., age 3, is really into the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. She loves that Mercy likes to eat toast "with a great deal of butter on it" and she enjoys looking at the illustrations to retell the story after it is read aloud to her. Her current favorite title from the series is the final book, Something Wonky This Way Comes

My twins, daughter A. and son R., age 9 months, have been listening to nursery rhymes in the board books by Claire Beaton that they received for Christmas. I also recite nursery rhymes to them, and R. has taken a particular liking to "Doctor Foster went to Gloucester."

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Reading Through History: Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt (2021)

Meryl Lee Kowalski is devastated when, between seventh and eighth grades, her close friend, a beloved character from The Wednesday Wars (2007), is killed in a tragic accident. Unable to stand the thought of returning to Camillo Junior High School, she enrolls in a girls' boarding school where Mrs. MacKnockater is the headmistress. Mrs. MacKnockater is sympathetic to the boarding school students and also to a young man named Matt who is on the run from danger but has sought refuge at Mrs. MacKnockater's house. As Meryl Lee and Matt both face their individual fears and forms of pain, they also turn toward each other in friendship and perhaps a bit more.

I have to admit that, after Schmidt killed one of my favorite middle grade characters of all time in the first chapter of this book, I was almost not going to read the rest of the story. As a one-time creative writing student, I admire his willingness to take a risk, but as a reader who counts The Wednesday Wars in her top 10 children's books of the last 20 years, I felt like this was a cruel way to open the book, and though the rest of the story turns out to be wonderful, I still think the character in question died in vain. Schmidt could have had Meryl Lee mourn almost any loss; I would love to hear the author's thinking behind his decision.

All that aside, however, because Schmidt is an author whose books I consistently love, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. The book was so engrossing that I wound up reading it all in one night, staying up until after 2 a.m. to finish, and I couldn't bring myself to give it fewer than five stars. The writing in this book is amazingly vivid. It's not flowery, but the descriptions are almost deceptively evocative. Without realizing it was happening, I built up images in my mind of Meryl Lee's school, her dormitory, Mrs. MacKnockater's house, and all the people and places Matt remembers from his previous life. Schmidt also does a nice job of balancing tension and hope. There are lots of very difficult moments for each of the characters, but there is never sense that they are insurmountable. Gary Schmidt really effectively infuses this story with heart, and it becomes impossible not to love the characters. Were he to kill one of these characters, I would be just as devastated as I was over the death that occurs in Chapter One of this book.

My recommendation to Schmidt fans is to stick with the book. It's definitely reasonable to be angry over a death that may seem gratuitous, but it would be a shame to miss the rest of this wonderful story because of that. If you've never read The Wednesday Wars, my suggestion would be to read that first, and then read Okay for Now (2011), and only then pick up Just Like That. Reading this book immediately after The Wednesday Wars would be kind of emotionally torturous, I think, as would reading Just Like That first. But do read them all. Schmidt is a brilliant writer even if I don't think his big writing risk has quite paid off. 

Thanks to Clarion Books and Edelweiss+ for the digital review copy.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Christmas Book Haul Edition

In 2020, I didn't do a great job of keeping up with reviewing the picture books I received from publishers. I think there were a few reasons for that, one of which was that I stopped posting regularly about my kids' reading outside of books the older two read for school. So this year I'm bringing back this feature. It won't cover every single title we read, but it will hit the highlights of the new and classic titles everyone is enjoying.

Jack and Jill (9 months)

We have never had a baby this old at Christmastime, since the three older girls are all fall babies, so it was really fun watching the twins enjoy the excitement of Christmas morning. They received mostly books as gifts, since they are likely our last babies and we didn't want to buy a lot of baby toys that would end up being donated within a year. 

In their stockings were Indestructible books (Busy City, My Neighborhood, and All Year Round) and Melissa and Doug Fun Faces Mask books (Goodnight Faces, Farm Faces, and Zoo Faces.) They love the Indestructible books, but so far they have mostly just stared at me when I put the mask books up to my face.

Under the tree from me were You're My Little Baby by Eric Carle, Up Cat Down Cat by Steve Light, the Johnny Appleseed Babylit book, and Freight Train by Donald Crews. They happily listened to me read each of these. Jill seemed most fascinated by the mirror at the end of the Carle book, while Jack loves the colors of Freight Train.

From my sister they received a set of cloth books with animal tails on the sides of the pages and crinkly pages, and one board book with ocean animal tails. They probably play with these the most of any toys they have. They both love the crinkling sound.   

From my mom they received three board books of rhymes illustrated by Clare Beaton and Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by the Dillons.  

Little Jumping Joan (3 years, 2 months)

From me, Jumping Joan received Some Dinosaurs Are Small and Curious About Mammals. The dinosaur book was not a hit and may end up leaving our home library for the donation box, but she seemed to like Curious About Mammals as much as she liked the book that preceded it, Curious About Birds

From my mom, she received This Old Man by Carol Jones, which I first saw in an Instagram post and which reminded me of Peek-a-Boo by the Ahlbergs because it has cut-out holes to peek through. She loves that song and has been singing the book to the babies. My mom also sent We All Go Traveling By, which Jumping Joan knows from watching the video adaptation on YouTube. It was one of her favorite gifts of the year. 

Little Bo Peep (5 years, 3 months)

Bo Peep received books 3 and 4 in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series from my mom, and the 5th one from me. She has already read the third book and has moved on to the fourth. Her other books were all from my mom: You Can Do It, Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells, Caroline at the King's Ball and Caroline and the King's Hunt by Jean Le Paillot, and Penny and her Sled by Kevin Henkes. She read Penny and her Sled and has been reading the others aloud to family members on Skype calls.

Little Miss Muffet (7 years, 1 month)

Miss Muffet received the first three books in the Poppy series by Avi from my mom and a couple of Alain Gree activity books from me. She was much more interested in other things she got for Christmas, but she did start one of them and said she "kind of" liked it. 

For the Family

I wrapped up my review copies of The Language of the Universe by Colin Stuart and One of a Kind by Neil Packer to add to our nonfiction shelves. These have been a hard sell so far, but I'm sure their time will come. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Homeschool Update: Weeks of 12/21/20 and 12/28/20

Advent and Christmas Activities

In the days leading up to Christmas Day, we added the last four ornaments to the Jesse Tree: Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, and the Holy Bible. We also watched the last few Days of Advent from Brother Francis and C. and E. also watched the Brother Francis Christmas episode. On Christmas Eve, we did a short Lessons and Carols service at home. M. played Joseph and a king, C. played Mary and the angel, and E. played a shepherd and a king. M. and C. took turns reading from the Bible and singing carols. On Christmas Day, I sent the performance to some long-distance family and friends. On Christmas Day, we watched Mass online. 

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Winter" by Judith Nicholls, "Winter Trees" by William Carlos Williams, "Be Like the Bird" by Victor Hugo, "At Nine of the Night I Opened My Door" by Charles Causley, "Amulet" by Ted Hughes, "The Four Corners of the Universe" (Mescalero Apache song) translated by Claire R. Farrer, "I Heard a Bird Sing" by Oliver Herford, "Keep a Poem in Your Pocket" by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, "The Garden Year" by Sara Coleridge  
  • Art Appreciation: The Repast of the Lion by Henri-Julien-Felix Rousseau and Summer House, Bayshore by William J. Glackens from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 2006). 
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender:  "How is sugar made?"; Where does starch come from?"; "How does yeast make bread rise?"; "What is caffeine?"; "Why is milk pasteurized?"; "What is aluminum?"
  • Music Appreciation: Handel's Messiah and  Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 58 by Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, excerpt from the Gospel of Luke; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first five books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10


C. continued working in her Sticker Histories book about the ice age. She watched The Story of Saberteeth and When Camels Roamed North America.

My husband and M. read about Medieval Spain in A Picturesque Tale of Progress. Independently, she started reading El Cid by Geraldine McCaughrean, Victor G. Ambrus.   


C. worked on counting dimes, nickels and pennies in The Complete Book of Time and Money from American Education Publishing, and she completed Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 12. She also worked in third grade math on Khan Academy. 

M. worked on fractions in Singapore 3B, completed Life of Fred: Honey Chapter 7, and worked in fourth grade math on Khan Academy.  


We took the week leading up to Christmas off from science. The lesson for the week of the 28th in BFSU and EESE was Lesson B-3 Plant and Animal Kingdoms - Distinguishing Between Plants and Animals. We used a printable from the BFSU Facebook group to sort photos of living things into groups of plants and animals. We discussed that the key difference between plants and animals is how they obtain energy, and that all energy ultimately comes from the sun. We also watched Feed Me and  Gotta Eat! from Crash Course Kids. 

Reading and Writing

My husband read aloud The Long Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. I read aloud The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L'Engle, Amahl and the Night Visitors adapted by Frances Frost and Roger Duvoisin, and the beginning of Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald. Independently, C. read more of Twig. For diction practice, she read sections from the first McGuffey Reader aloud to me. M. worked on Christmas thank you notes and started reading Little House By Boston Bay by Melissa Wiley. 


C. and E. practiced piano and recorder and watched a performance of The Nutcracker

Physical Education

We went to the playground once, and the girls ran on the deck when it was warm enough.