Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Homeschool Progress Report: May/June 2020

Though we pretty much school all year round, taking breaks here and there as suits our family, we have been in a sort of winding down phase for the past couple of months as we get closer and closer to completing the first year of our history studies. History is the only subject where we stick to a specific timeline, and ending one year of study and starting the next is basically how we will mark the change from one school year to the next. All other subjects we take at whatever pace suits the learner, which is why M., age 6, is currently doing fourth grade math but can't yet tie her shoes and C, age 4, is working on addition facts but still needs to be reminded not to speak using baby talk. 

In any case, here is what we worked on in May and June. 

Math

M. (6 years, 7 months) has continued on with her usual math materials. On Khan Academy, she is now at the fourth grade level and working on adding fractions. In Xtra Math, she's memorizing multiplication and division facts. We started reading three chapters from the Life of Fred series each week (rather than just one) and finished both Edgewood and Farming. M. also completed the second part of Singapore Primary Mathematics 3A, and she is working on finishing the Intensive Practice book for 2B as a review of previous work. Before starting 3B, she is taking a break to strengthen her mental math skills with Mental Math Kids Can't Resist

C. (4 years, 9 months) is in second grade on Khan Academy. She is also practicing adding tens and ones using flashcards and the soroban. We are planning to start Life of Fred with her this summer to solidify her addition facts, as she tends to freeze up when they appear in her other work. The Fred series also really makes math seem fun, which is an idea she could afford to have reinforced. 

History

In history, M. has finally made it to Rome, and she is really enjoying it. We started out learning about the Roman Republic and took some time to read Hannibal by Joel Newsome. The writing was a little dense for first grade, but she likes a lot of detail so we just went with it. We also read Julius Caesar and the Roman Republic by Miriam Greenblatt, which provided not just information about Caesar, but also about daily living in the Republic. 

After this, we took a quick detour to Imperial China and studied the Qin and Han dynasties. We read National Geographic Investigates Ancient China and learned about the Terra Cotta warriors, which M. drew in detail to accompany a narration. We also read The Great Wall of China by Leonard Everett Fisher, which explained how and why the wall was built. We watched some video tours of the Great Wall on YouTube as well.   

After China, we picked up with the Romans again just as Augustus Caesar came to power. We read some selections from A Picturesque Tale of Progress: Conquests II, which helped familiarize M. with the names of the emperors. I then helped her organize them into a timeline and memorize a fact or two about the reign of each. After that, we spent some time on Pompeii. M. read The Buried City of Pompeii: What it was Like When Vesuvius Exploded by Shelley Tanaka independently and also talked to my mother-in-law, who has been there. Together we also read National Geographic Investigates Ancient Rome and watched some YouTube video tours of the ruins at Pompeii.  

Once we had all the names and dates sorted out, we finished out this section of our Roman studies with more general information using books like Science in Ancient Rome by Jacqueline Harris, One Day in Ancient Rome by G.B. Kirtland (this one is excellent), The Romans in the Days of the Empire by Shane Harris (also excellent), and the Art of Ancient Rome by Shirley Glubok. We threw in a historical fiction read-aloud too: Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld. Grandma also sent a Toob of Roman figures and a Sticker History book about the Ancient Romans which made it possible for M. to act out much of what she learned each day 

At this point, we have two main topics left in first grade: Christianity and the Fall of Rome. We expect to finish no later than mid-August. 

Science 

In science, which I'm still combining for both M. and C., we took a long leisurely look at birds. We read most of the bird-themed picture books we own and then spent a couple of weeks reading about each species covered in Superlative Birds by Leslie Bulion.  We noticed birds on walks and used an app from Cornell to try to identify birds we heard by their calls. M. wrote a couple of bird reports and C. drew some scientifically inaccurate but very cute pictures of owls, cardinals, and blue jays. We also did a craft project where all three of my big girls made nests for fake cardinals I bought at Dollar Tree.

We also started reading a few questions each day from The Big Book of Tell Me Why, which covers all kinds of topics the girls ask about as well as many others they haven't thought of but find interesting. 

Memory Work

M. spent most of the spring memorizing "The Destruction of Sennacherib" by Lord Byron, which she performs beautifully. At the end of June, she just started working on her next poem, "If" by Rose Fyleman. Since we haven't been in the car much thanks to the pandemic, we haven't quizzed her as much on things like bodies of water, the countries of Europe, or the planets, but we will get back to it. 

C. memorized "The Reason for the Pelican" and reviewed the four directions and the planets. 

E. really wants to have a poem to learn too, so she has been assigned "Wee Willie Winkie."

Reading And Writing

It's really hard to keep up with M.'s pleasure reading since she often reads at times when I have to be doing things with the other kids, but she's kept up the pace pretty well. I know she read Tik-Tok of Oz, which she loved, and at the end of June, she was working her way through The Enchanted Castle. Almost all of her assigned writing took the form of narrations, but I also find a fair amount of handwritten notes and signs around the house that show me she is also writing creatively sometimes for fun. 

C. also reads voraciously. She read the Penny books by Kevin Henkes, along with dozens of other easy readers from our shelves. She's also still really into Carolyn Haywood, and she has recently read Betsy and Mr. Kilpatrick and Eddie the Dog Holder. For fun, she also likes to pick up a Sophie Mouse book and read it in one sitting. She's much more willing to write her name on things than she was, and she's starting to ask how to spell things so she can label her drawings and write notes to her sisters. 

E., age 2 years, 8 months, is starting to show a lot of pre-reading behavior, like making up her own stories based on illustrations and memorizing large chunks of text. I've started singing the alphabet song with her to pave the way for reading skills a bit down the road. 

Health

We haven't done much of any serious health work, but explaining why we're all wearing masks when we go to stores and other places has been a health lesson of sorts. The twins' ever-developing abilities also serve as great talking points about human development. 

Music

Recorder and piano practice continue for both M. and C. We also listened to Classics for Kids episodes about Edvard Grieg, Dmitri Kabalevsky, Zoltán Kodály, Modest Mussorgsky, Georges Bizet, Giacomo Puccini, Gioachino Rossini, and William Grant Still. In June, we learned the hymn "All Ye Who Seek a Comfort Sure." Both M. and C. also musictheory.net to practice naming notes correctly. 

Catechism

Though Masses are available now, we haven't quite figured out how to handle going yet, so our catechism lessons have consisted mostly of watching Mass on the computer. We did attend a baptism for my and my husband's goddaughter which prompted lots of great discussion, and we  also frequently sing the hymns for the day on Aleteia.org. As June ended, I also wrote up some big prayer cards to hang by the dining room table so the girls can easily remember how to say the Morning Offering and Angelus. M. is also working on  memorizing the lesson in her Catechism about the theological virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

Art

M. had an art lesson with me and my husband about the color wheel, which included some pages from Just Look by Robert Cumming, the art text we have been reading for a couple of months, and some YouTube videos. My husband also hung a string across the dining room wall so now artwork can be displayed. The only major art project we did was to make a father's day card, but I did most of the work. Over the summer, I hope to allow the girls more freedom with art supplies. 

Physical Education

With no playground and no pool (they're allowed to be open, but are not open), our P.E. opportunities are more limited than they were last year. We did have one opportunity to run around at a park and we try to take walks and let the girls run on the deck as much as possible, but it's probably not enough. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Spring 2020

For the purposes of tracking our reading, Spring ran from March 3 to June 2, which mostly corresponds to the time period during which we were ordered to stay home in the state of Maryland, and also to the first 11 weeks home with the twins. Lots of reading took place, but I can't promise that our record keeping was as impeccable as it had been during the fall and winter. For one thing, Miss Muffet took over writing down the titles for herself and Bo Peep for a good portion of the season, and I know she was not that meticulous about counting every book. For another, because we were home all the time, the girls were going through huge towering stacks of books every day and leaving them in piles around the house for me to write down, and on a few occasions I got fed up and shelved the books without recording them first. But I still have plenty of highlights to share. 

Family Read-Alouds

In the beginning of March just before the twins came, I read aloud All-of-a-Kind Family. I strongly suspected one of the twins was a boy (which ended up beng true) and I thought it would be fun to quickly read about an all-girl family while we still were one. Miss Muffet and Bo Peep both took to the characters immediately and months later, they still talk about the scene where Sarah refuses her soup at the dinner table and isn't allowed to partake of the other courses until she eats it. 

After we settled in a bit with the twins, I read aloud The Doll People Set Sail to finally finish out the Doll People series. Then my husband read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I followed that up with Half Magic, and then he started June with Matilda by Roald Dahl.  The girls loved all of these - even two-year-old Jumping Joan! 

My husband also read quite a bit from his collection of old Cricket magazines. 

Little Miss Muffet (6 years, 6 months)

In addition to our reading for school, which I'll talk about more when I do my May/June progress report, Miss Muffet read a ton of books independently during these months of quarantine. Some of these books were intended to complement schoolwork, such as Tales of a Chinese Grandmother and You Can Write Chinese, Our Little Macedonian Cousin of Long Ago and Our Little Spartan Cousin of Long Ago. Others were just for fun: Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, the Dani series by Rose Lagercrantz, The Pope's Cat series by Jon M. Sweeney, Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary, Meg of Heron's Neck by Elizabeth Ladd, the Pippi Longstocking books, and Dr. Dolittle in the Moon by Hugh Lofting. She also revisited a lot of favorite picture books and ended up with over 280 titles on her reading log!

Little Bo Peep (4 years, 8 months)

Bo Peep recorded 363 books on her reading log during the spring, which, even if a lot of them wound up being duplicates, is still a really impressive number for a child who just learned to read. Looking at the titles on her list, it seems like she just read entire shelves and sets of books as she came upon them: the Poppleton series, all of my Children's Choice Book Club books from when I was a kid, Mr. Putter and Tabby books, a bunch of books illustrated by Maurice Sendak, others written by Charlotte Zolotow, and a few fairy tales. We also kept handing her more easy readers from our shelves and on Open Library: Amanda Pig books, Arnold Lobel (including Frog and Toad), the Dan Frontier series, Crosby Bonsall's mysteries, the Billy and Blaze series, and some I Can Read science titles. She also read a few titles in Carolyn Haywood's Betsy series. 

Little Jumping Joan (2 years, 7 months)

Jumping Joan still tends to cling really intensely to a small set of favorite books, so her reading log is always very short compared to her sisters'. This spring, she fell in love with We Help Mommy, Baby Dear, and The Poky Little Puppy. She loves to quote the parts of We Help Mommy about Martha seeing her face in the shiny glass of the washing machine and how Daddy is "very pleased" when Martha makes him a treat. In Baby Dear, she's fascinated by the new baby, and surely sees some of her own experiences with the twins reflected back to her. The Poky Little Puppy is just all about the desserts, especially rice pudding. Jumping Joan also started to enjoy the Gossie books, our collection of poetry by Mr. Rogers, a few stories from A Very Little Child's Book of Stories, Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow, and Sarah's Room by Doris Orgel. 

Jack and Jill (2 months)

Books are still new to these little ones, but we're slowly introducing some good ones. Though they don't necessarily hear books together all the time, both have been exposed so far to Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker, Hat Socks Shoes published by Busy & Bright Baby, Hello Lamb and Goodnight Bear both by Jane Cabrera, and Black and White by Tana Hoban. They are also often the audience for read-alouds by their two oldest sisters, which most of the time everyone seems to enjoy. 

Poetry Picnics

I revived a tradition we started when Miss Muffet was a toddler and took the girls out on the deck for a few poetry picnics on nice days. The books we've read have included Gregory Griggs and Other Nursery Rhyme People by Arnold Lobel, Poems to Read Aloud to the Very Young by Josette Frank, and The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog by Paul B. Janeczko and Richard Jones. 

Reading with Grandma and Gran

One nice thing to come out of the changes brought about by the pandemic has been that the girls spend much more time with their grandmothers via Skype. One of the things we've been doing during these Skype dates is having the girls read to Gran and Grandma, and also having Grandma (my mom, who happens to have a lot of children's books on hand because she works with kids) read to them. My mom has read a variety of titles including Click Clack Surprise by Doreen Cronin, Bridget's Beret by Tom Lichtenheld, The Teddy Bears' Picnic by Michael Hague, The Horse with the Easter Bonnet by Jane Thayer, Miss Flora McFlimsey's May Day by Mariana, and some selections from The Poppy Seed Cakes by Margery Clark. Some of the books the girls have read aloud have included the You Read To Me, I'll Read to You series by Mary Ann Hoberman, I Really Want to See You Grandma by Taro Gomi, When Grandma Came by Jill Paton Walsh, Louie by Ezra Jack Keats, The Glass Mountain by Diane Wolkstein, and Something is Going to Happen by Charlotte Zolotow.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Feel-Good Reads for Times of Trouble

This March, just before our governor issued a stay-at-home order for the state of Maryland, I gave birth to twins. The first few weeks at home after that were an emotional rollercoaster. I had the usual postpartum baby blues, and on top of that, we were having to adjust daily to new rules about where we could go, what we could do, and which businesses could be open. The governor issued 35 executive orders in as many days, and it felt like we were mourning some new loss every single day. 

So, though I had been doing a lot more serious reading recently, I recognized that, for this season of my life, what I really needed were some light-hearted reads with guaranteed happy endings.  With the help of the Novelist database, an Instagram book club hosted by Janssen Bradshaw, and a few Goodreads lists, I actually found a good number of titles that managed not only to fulfill my need for cheerful books but my need for good writing as well. Here are the six feel-good books that have kept my reading life afloat during these months of staying at home. (Note: There are varying amounts of sexual content in these books, but none so integral to any plot that it can't be skipped if that is your preference as it is mine.)

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Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters (2019)

I had seen this book here and there on Instagram and I think possibly even in the grocery store, so it was one of the first ones I looked for when I started shifting into this new mode of light reading. The main character, Evie, works for a film agent who is having trouble getting a screenwriter to finish his romantic comedy script. Ezra, the writer, has writers block, largely because he doesn't believe people can fall in love like they do in the movies. Since her job is on the line, Evie makes a deal with Ezra. She will stage meet cutes to prove that falling in love is possible, and in exchange, he will turn in his script. The meet cutes Evie puts together are disastrous in various ways, but in the meantime, she grows closer to a sweet widowed dad and his little girl who don't necessarily approve of her bet, but seem to like her a lot otherwise. Though I didn't love some of the vulgar humor that snuck its way into this story, I laughed a lot when I was reading this book, and I was also caught by surprise by the way Evie's situation resolves itself. I was also surprised by the fact that I was so taken by a book set in England. In the past I've had trouble orienting myself to non-U.S. locations in contemporary books, but I'm definitely over that now!

Attachments book cover

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (2011)

At the end of March, Janssen from Everyday Reading announced that her Instagram book club would be reading Attachments during April. I had been wanting to participate in one of her book clubs for a while, and since this book was available digitally from the library, I was able to join in. Attachments is the story of Lincoln, whose job (in 1999, when the book is set) is to monitor the emails of employees at a newspaper and send warnings to anyone who misuses the company email system for personal correspondence. Jennifer and Beth, employees of the newspaper and best friends, do in fact use their work emails to discuss their personal lives, which involve Jennifer's hesitancy about getting pregnant and Beth's frustration with her often emotionally unavailable boyfriend, among other things. Lincoln knows he should just warn them and move on, but he enjoys their emails so much that instead he keeps reading. And then he begins to fall in love with Beth. While I have liked every one of Rainbow Rowell's books that I have read, this is by far my favorite. I just loved everything about it - all of the characters, the dialogue, the surprising yet believable twists and turns of the plot, and, most of all, the way all the conflicts of the story are resolved. It's also very clever and funny.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill book cover

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (2019)

I discovered this book well before the pandemic, but the holds list for the ebook was so long that my turn didn't come up until April. As it turned out, though, it was worth the wait!  Nina Hill is an anxious introvert who likes her own schedule (which includes ample reading time) and prefers her own company. When the father she never met dies, she suddenly inherits an entire family of relatives she previously knew nothing about, which feels completely overwhelming. On top of that, she also meets a man, Tom, who seems like he might be perfect for her, but who also might reject her if she knew about her anxiety. As Nina grapples with these new connections, she starts figuring out how to open up her world a bit more to people who might make it a better place. I really loved the tone and voice of this book. Nina is unlike any other fictional character I have encountered and I was drawn both to what happens in the story and to the style in which it is written. 

Well Met book cover

Well Met by Jen de Luca (2019)

This debut novel caught my attention because it is set at a Renaissance Faire. The heroine, Emily, has moved to a small town to help her much older sister in the aftermath of a serious injury. Her sister's teenage daughter has taken a job working for a local Renaissance Faire, but in order to be allowed to participate, she needs to have an adult join the cast along with her. Emily does so somewhat reluctantly, and she begins to question her decision even more upon meeting Simon, who runs the Faire. He comes across as stern and difficult, and seems to especially dislike Emily's penchant for suggesting new ideas. When Emily learns Simon's history with the Faire, however, she realizes there is much more to him than meets the eye. The characters, dialogue, and setting in this book are amazingly well-done. There is some seriously graphic sex in the book that took me by total surprise when I was listening to the audiobook, but that is mostly contained to chapter 16 and can be skipped without losing a single relevant plot detail. Had this book not been so well-written and so engaging in every other aspect, I would have abandoned it over the sex scene, but on the whole, I'm glad I didn't, and I'm planning to read the forthcoming sequels, Well Played and Well Matched.

I Owe You One book cover

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella (2019)

Since childhood, I have always gravitated toward books with warm families at their centers. In this book, main character Fixie Farr runs a shop with her widow mother, social climber brother, and free spirit sister. Though Fixie is known in the family for being the one to fix things, she often has trouble voicing her opinions in the face of her siblings' strong personalities. When their mother takes a much-needed vacation to recover from a heart problem, however, Fixie finds that her brother and sister are both so wrapped up in themselves they don't recognize what is actually important to the shop. As Fixie struggles to keep the business afloat, she also deals with her feelings for two other men: her ex-boyfriend, Ryan, who has recently returned home after failing to make a go of it in Hollywood, and Sebastian, the handsome stranger who slips her an IOU for a favor after she saves his laptop during a fluke roof collapse at a cafe. I like this book because it's not just a romance, but a story of a character coming into her own and deciding what she wants, on all levels. I have never read Sophie Kinsella before, but I thought this was great and would read more. 

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Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (2019)

Cassie Hanwell is a successful and talented firefighter in Texas. On the night she receives an award, however, the honor is given by a man with whom she has an ugly history, and when he makes unwanted physical contact with her, she defends herself beautifully by knocking him over the head. Unfortunately, though her female captain understands the situation, she can't allow Cassie to stay on after displaying such unbecoming behavior. In desperation, Cassie agrees to be reassigned, and she requests a position in a firehouse near her estranged mother's house in Massachusetts, so that she can also fulfill her mom's request for help with some medical problems. Cassie knows her new firehouse is not especially happy about having a female firefighter join their ranks, and she plans to keep her head down and stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, though, on her first day, she meets the rookie and notices an attraction right away. It's not until tragedy strikes, however, that she realizes just how much he means to her. I really like Center's writing style and the way the story involves all the details of life as a firefighter. The story is also a real page-turner, and really keeps you guessing at how a happy ending will come about.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Recently Abandoned Books

For years, I didn't have a "did not finish" shelf on Goodreads because I almost never abandoned books. This is partly because I was working in libraries and wanted to be able to talk intelligently about books my patrons asked about whether I was interested in them or not. Now, though, as I read primarily for my own enjoyment, or to preview books for my own kids, I  do make room in my reading life for the occasional DNF. The ten titles on my list today are the books I've abandoned since August 2019.


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Read on Arrival by Nora Page 

This is the second book in the Bookmobile Mystery series, which stars a librarian in her 70s. I gave the first book three stars, but really struggled to get into the second one last summer. I'm finding that for me, some cozy mystery premises stop being engaging after a book or two, and I think that was the case with this one. 

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Twins 101 by Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin

My twins were born 9 weeks ago, but back in September, we had just found out we were expecting them, and I was reading all the twin things. Unfortunately, this book made having twins sound like a major crisis during which I and/or my babies would most certainly have a brush with death. I had to stop reading for the sake of my mental health. (And my pregnancy and delivery were both totally smooth, so all the dire predictions ended up being wrong in my case.)

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Starlight by Debbie Macomber 

I am very picky about my Debbie Macomber books, and in general, the older the book of hers, the less I like it. Since her 2019 Christmas book was a Mrs. Miracle title, and I don't like those, I decided to try this older one (from 1983) on audio as Christmas approached. There was nothing wrong with it per se, but I just never got into it, and by the time Christmas arrived, I was over it and ready to move on, so I did.

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A Christmas Book by Elizabeth Goudge

This book I had to abandon because it was an inter-library loan and it was due back to its home library before I could finish it. Since it mostly consists of holiday-themed excerpts from Goudge's novels, I will probably get to most of these eventually, since what I did get to read I absolutely loved. 

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Murder at Icicle Lodge by J.D. Griffo

This is the third book in the Ferrara Family Mystery series. I have not read the first two books, but downloaded this from NetGalley because I liked the description and the wintry cover. Unfortunately, I was only 3% into the book when I realized that the writing was overly descriptive, and that the story wanted me to believe that a 65-year-old woman who would have grown up in the 60s and 70s was somehow ignorant of the concept of a "shotgun" wedding. There were just too many problems for me to feel like continuing with this book would be a good use of my time.

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Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun

I was torn on whether to accept this review copy from the publisher because it was a retelling of a classic (Great Expectations), and I tend to have issues with those. At the time, though, I had just received an unsolicited copy of More to the Story by Hena Khan, which is a retelling of Little Women, and I envisioned an Instagram or blog post highlighting both books. Unfortunately, as I should have suspected, I was irritated by the way the author tried to make the plot of the Dickens novel fit contemporary circumstances and I just couldn't make myself push through to the end. I now have a personal policy of not reviewing adaptations of classic novels!  

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Happy and You Know It by Laura Hankin

I've been on a contemporary fiction kick since we've been in this pandemic situation, and when I was browsing ARCs on Edelweiss+ this title jumped out at me. A musician who performs sing-alongs for a playgroup? That sounded like me doing story time for my friends in my living room! So relatable! Except it wasn't. I was not prepared for how negative this book was. Every character in this book was just miserable, and they were so cavalier about everything from adultery to abortion. It was just too much for me, and I had to quit. 

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Studies in Words by C.S. Lewis 

One of my reading goals for the Schole Sisters Reading Challenge this year is to read five books about linguistics. I realized, though, that what I really want is more of a "pop" approach to the topic than an academic one. Lewis is brilliant, of course, and the information in this book is fascinating, but it was not what I had in mind for right now. 

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A Mysterious Mix Up by J.C. Kenney 

This is the third book in the Allie Cobb mystery series, the first two of which I enjoyed very much. This one, though, felt like it was trying really hard to be relevant by throwing in lots of pop culture references that didn't quite fit the context. I tried to power through and just focus on the plot, but it was just too distracting.

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Deadly Ride by Jody Holford

This is the third book in the Britton Bay mystery series, the first two of which I also enjoyed very much. I think my issue with this one was the setting. The main action of the plot takes place at a car show, and I just couldn't get into it. I tried both the ebook and audiobook before realizing it wasn't me, it was the book. 

What have you abandoned lately?

Friday, May 1, 2020

Homeschool Progress Report: March/April 2020

Looking back at the homeschool report I posted just two months ago, I feel as though I must have written it during a different lifetime. A few short weeks ago, I hadn't yet delivered my twins, and we were completely ignorant of how the coronavirus was about to impact our freedom to go about our normal activities. Now we're not just homeschooling, but ordered by law to stay home, and since they came home from staying with friends while I had the babies (a boy and a girl, both doing well!), my kids haven't really seen anyone outside of our immediate family. Though our day-to-day routine hasn't changed that much - and honestly is more or less what it would have been with newborn twins even without the coronavirus - things don't feel normal, and as a result, our school life hasn't been fully normal either. We are also coping with the disappointment of a canceled visit from Grandma and the fact that there was no public Mass on Easter, two things which further contribute to our unsettled feelings.

Still, though we took a bit of time off in March, we have still been accomplishing schoolwork, and though our homeschool review this year has already taken place, I want to have a record of what we did for our own purposes. Since we have slowed down some, this post will focus on both March and April. 

First Grade with M., age 6

Math

Much of M.'s recent math work has been on the computer, using Khan Academy, where she is working at the 4th grade level, and Xtra math, where she has finally finished subtraction and has now moved on to division. We're also still doing "Fred Fridays" with Life of Fred (we're in Edgewood now) and most days, I try to assign a few pages of Singapore Math. She's working on 3A right now and has just moved into the workbook for 3A part two. This is mostly review since she has already learned her times tables, but working with division and remainders is new and she seems to be enjoying it even if she is sometimes making careless mistakes. 

History

Right before I went to the hospital to have the twins, M. finished a quick couple of weeks on Ancient China. We read The Ancient Chinese by Virginia Schomp and Science in Ancient China by George W. Beshore, and M. did narrations about the ancient Chinese belief in five elements and using moxa and acupuncture to treat illness. After the twins came home, we did a week or so on the Ancient Celts using The Ancient Celts by Patricia Calvert. M. did  narrations about Celtic kings and Celtic marriage.

After the Celts, we studied the Maya using The Ancient Maya by Barbara Beck. This book was perfectly suited to our purposes and much more enjoyable than the Celts book. M. did narrations about Mayan clothing, Mayan art, the eras of Mayan civilization, and the Mayan counting system. She also played this Maya math game from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, experimented with Maya pottery methods using play dough, and did some online tours of Mayan sites (such as Chichen Itza) using Google Arts & Culture.

As April comes to an end, we are reading Alexander the Great from the Landmark series, and she has just finished Our Little Macedonian Cousin of Long Ago by Julia Darrow Cowles, which involves Alexander's childhood. M. especially liked learning about Alexander's approach to untying the Gordian knot, and she wrote and illustrated a narration about it.

Science

For most of March, science mostly consisted of M. taking her microscope out on her deck to look at whatever struck her fancy. In April, we shifted gears and M. and C. started doing a unit on life cycles together. We have so far read about the life cycles of beans, frogs, and mosquitoes, and M. has drawn diagrams of each. We briefly tried planting beans in bags, but over-watered them so nothing actually grew. I do plan to have us try again.

Health

We avoided mentioning the coronavirus to the girls at all for a couple of weeks, but when it became clear we'd be stuck at home for weeks on end, we did end up telling them that there is a new germ around and we all need to be careful not to spread it. M. wanted to know what the name of the germ was (Covid, we told her) and there has been some discussion about washing hands to prevent sickness from spreading. Aside from that, welcoming new babies into the family has been our main health lesson. 


Reading and Writing 

M.'s recent reads have included Pippi on Board and Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren, More All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, Dr. Dolittle in the Moon by Hugh Lofting, and several titles in the Dani series by Rose Lagercrantz. As read-alouds she also heard The Doll People Set Sail by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Aside from narrations, her writing has mostly been self-directed, in the form of lists of things she'd like to do each day, signs directing her sisters to join her for various clubs and activities, and other assorted random notes. 

Memory Work

M. is nearly finished memorizing "The Blind Men and the Elephant." 

Music

M. has continued to practice recorder and piano, and we have continued listening to Classics for Kids. We recently covered the sets of episodes on women composers, Frédéric Chopin, Antonio Vivaldi, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Antonin Dvorak.  We also watched some of this string duo performance by members of the Marine Band, which features neat arrangements of Gershwin and Joplin pieces we previously studied. 

Art

For art appreciation, we read Linnea in Monet's Garden to satisfy M.'s interest in his artwork. Afterward, she streamed the film adaptation through the public library. We also finally finished reading Looking at Pictures by Joy Richardson, though I think we will spend some more time with the paintings it covers before we move on to something else. M. also created a beautiful picture of Jesus's empty tomb following this video from Art for Kids Hub. 

Physical Education

Since our local playgrounds are also closed right now, phys. ed. mostly consists of running around on the deck when the weather is warm. God willing, outdoor activities will resume soon and we'll be able to get back to the park (or maybe even the pool in a few weeks?)

Catechism 

We finished the readings to accompany these Jesus tree ornaments  and glued the ornaments to a cross made from brown paper. We also streamed the pre-1955 Good Friday liturgy online and watched the Easter Vigil from the National Shrine. Each Sunday, we've been trying to "attend" Mass at a different church. We also made sure to tune in for the Pope's Urbi et Orbi blessing. M. has also demonstrated sufficient knowledge of the content in lessons 1 through 8 of her St. Joseph Catechism that we have finally started Lesson 9.

Handwriting 

M. is still practicing her cursive using exercises my husband makes for her, some of which are quotations from famous people and others of which are sentences relating to her day-to-day life.

Typing 

M. continues to use Typing.com. We discovered a section of the site where the typing exercises follow a "choose your own adventure" format. She types a page of a story and then gets to choose what happens next, which really motivates her to want to type. 


Pre-K with C., age 4 

Reading 

C. finished all the lessons in The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading and not long after, she started reading chapter books. She has now read several titles from Carolyn Haywood's Betsy series as well as all three books in the My Father's Dragon series, and her current read is Eddie and the Fire Engine by Carolyn Haywood. She also continues to read through our collection of easy readers, including books by Arnold Lobel, Crosby Bonsall, and Millicent Selsam.   She and M. also like to read aloud to their grandmothers over Skype and have been performing selections from the You Read To Me, I'll Read to You series by Maryann Hoberman.

Math

C. started Singapore 1A at about the halfway point and has now finished the book. Next, we're going to take a break from Singapore and focus on strengthening her mental math skills using the soroban. C. is also working on first grade math on Khan Academy.

Memory Work

C. made a video of her recitation of "A Spike of Green." We will assign her a new poem soon. 


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Book Review: Cracking the Bell by Geoff Herbach (2019)

Because of how much I enjoyed Geoff Herbach's writing in Stupid Fast, I always make a point of reading whatever he publishes, knowing I will probably enjoy how he tells the story even if I'm not that interested in the subject matter. This is how I came to read this novel focused on the dangers of concussions in high school football. (I downloaded the digital ARC from Edelweiss+.)

Isaiah has had a rough couple of years. After his sister was killed, he started acting out a lot, and the only thing that seems to keep his destructive behavior in check is playing on the football team. Isaiah is also a talented football player and he expects his football skills to pave the way for him to go to college. This is why, when he takes a blow to the head during practice, he tries to ignore the symptoms that make it very obvious he has suffered a concussion. The truth eventually comes to light, however, and Isaiah is left to figure out whether he can safely continue playing the sport he loves, and how else he might cope with his pent-up aggression and anger if he can no longer do so on a football field.

As he has in all his other books, Herbach has created a believable and sympathetic protagonist in Isaiah. Though it was somewhat nerve-wracking reading this as a mom and realizing how serious a head injury can be, it was also easy to understand why Isaiah was afraid to admit to his symptoms. The dilemma he faces is very difficult, and Herbach really illustrates how his relationship with his parents in the aftermath of his sister's death really contributes to that. Though this is very much a cautionary tale about the dangers of teens becoming injured playing football, it is also a family story about grief and growing up.  Herbach also does a really nice job of helping the reader to feel Isaiah's concussion alongside him. I imagine if a real-life football player didn't know he had a concussion, he could figure it out pretty easily after reading the descriptions in this book.

Cracking the Bell is ideal for fans of sports fiction by authors like Mike Lupica, Chris Crutcher, Fred Bowen, and Tim Green. I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by Graham Halstead.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Up From Jericho Tel by E.L. Konigsburg (1986)

Jeanmarie Troxell and Malcolm Soo are two latch-key kids living in a New York trailer park. They become friends when they team up to bury and give funerals for dead animals they find in their neighborhood. Their burial ground is a place they christen Jericho Tel, and it is beneath this makeshift cemetery that they meet Tallulah. Tallulah is a dead actress who enlists Jeanmarie and Malcolm to help her find the Regina Stone, which someone stole from her body as she was dying. In doing Tallulah's bidding, Jeanmarie and Malcolm come to meet some of her eccentric perfomer friends and they work together to solve the puzzle of what exactly happened at the moment of Tallulah's death.

Until now, I thought (George) was E.L. Konigsburg's weirdest novel, but Up From Jericho Tel has definitely given it some competition. What makes it so odd and therefore so intriguing is the fact that so little is explained. Why does Tallulah want the help of these specific kids? What does their burial of dead animals have to do with her finding them? What is the point, really, of seeking out the Regina Stone? The story doesn't really address any of these issues; rather, the reader is just plunked down in the middle of these unlikely events and asked to accept them.

Obviously some of what Konigsburg is trying to get at involves fame, as both Jeanmarie and Malcolm wish to be famous and Tallulah became so during her lifetime. Tallulah also waxes philosophical at every turn, and she has a lot of wonderful one-line insights that really resonated with me. Still, it is impossible to really articulate what this book is truly about; giving a booktalk to a child reader would be difficult to say the least. I think the only way to present it, honestly, is to say it's a Konigsburg book and trust readers who have enjoyed some of her less "out there" books to know what that means and to bring an open mind to the story.

Though it's not my favorite Konigsburg, reading this book was a fun way to spend a few evenings. I don't think I'll be likely to re-read this one any time soon, but it is definitely very different, and despite its many quirks, the quality of the writing is top-notch. Even a not-very-interesting plot is made somehow engaging by Konigsburg's unique voice. With this author, it's never so much what she writes that I enjoy, but how she writes it.