Monday, September 28, 2020

The Read-at-Home Mom Report for 9/28/20

Finished Books

 I finished three adult novels this week. 

The first was Finger Prints by Barbara Delinsky, which I zipped through on audio. Because I'm more used to reading mysteries rather than romantic suspense, I was a little bit annoyed when I was able to easily figure out who was secretly causing problems for the protagonist, who was in the witness protection program. Still, I like Delinsky's writing, and in general, I like reading these backlist titles from 30+ years ago. This book also gave me a chance to use my free trial of Audible Plus. 

The second book I finished was Beartown by Fredrik Backman. This was my first time reading a book by him and though the language and subject matter were rough, the writing was excellent. This book started out strong and actually got even better as it went along. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel Us Against You, and it looks like there is a third book in the works for 2021 as well. I'm also really impressed that Backman isn't even 40 but has already written so many novels and seems to have a lot of perspective on various stages of life, including some he hasn't yet lived himself.

And finally, after nearly four weeks, I finished Green Dolphin Street! Every time I read Elizabeth Goudge, it seems to take forever, but the payoff is always so good. I gave this one five stars and would read it again even though it was such an undertaking for me. I wish that I had the brain power to join in the discussions more on Instagram, but I never feel like I have an answer to the questions that are posted, and I usually end up just reading other people's comments. 

Currently Reading 

I'm still determined to finish September by Rosamunde Pilcher by the end of September, even though I have 400 pages to go. I really felt like I needed the audio to help me out so I got a free trial at because none of my usual audiobook apps had it. I had some issues with the app because I was out of data on my phone and didn't realize the book didn't download all the way, but now it is fully downloaded and I'm hoping to listen to a lot of it to try and get it done by Wednesday night.

The other book I started is a nonfiction I heard about on an old episode of What Should I Read Next? and that's I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman. This is an exploration of villains and how we feel about them. It's a great palate cleanser after reading a lot of fiction this month. 

Up Next

I have several books from Netgalley I didn't touch at all in September. I think I may need to do a weekend ARCs-only read-a-thon to get through them.

I'm linking up today with The Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 9/14/20

We mostly stuck to the same schedule for week two of the school year with just a couple of exceptions. One was that we "skipped" school on Monday morning to go with some friends on a nature hike through the woods. C., especially, really took to the whole thing, climbing fearlessly over fallen tree trunks and otherwise diving headlong into the natural world. The other change was that M. is now doing English while C. does math and math on her own with me at a later time when all the other kids are busy or asleep. She was just sitting and staring off into space otherwise, so we made the change on Friday.

Morning Time

  • Poem from Exploring Nature with Children by Lynn Seddon (used for the nature hike): "Autumn" by Emily Dickinson 
  • 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): "Plum" by Tony Mitton, "I Had a Little Nut Tree," "Magpies" by Judith Wright, and "Seven for a Secret" by Anonymous. 
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "When were books first made?"; "Who invented cartoons?"; "How did our system of counting begin?"; "What makes money valuable?"; "How did coins get their names?"; "How did we get our system of measurement?"; "When were the first police organized?", "What is the F.B.I?"; "How did fingerprinting start?"
  • "Lift High the Cross" sung from The Vatican II Hymnal
  • "Polly Wolly Doodle" sung from Wee Sing Fun 'n' Folk (accompanied by Daddy on guitar on Friday)
  • Painting from Exploring Nature with Children by Lynn Seddon: Squirrels in a Tree by Archibald Thorburn
  • Painting from Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 1996): The Oddie Children by William Beechey
  • Listening to Symphony No. 5 First Movement by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Lesson 2 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism 
  • Liturgical year: Exaltation of the Cross (September 14), Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15), Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian (September 16), St. Robert Bellarmine (September 17), St. Joseph of Cupertino (September 18)
  • Questions from the 500 Questions Game Book (Parragon Books, 2017) for fun on Friday
  • Memory work: planets, days of the week, months of the year, birth dates, address, phone number, 50 states, countries of Europe, four directions, 13 colonies, four marks of the church, poems (M. is working on "If" for Rose Fyleman , and C is working on "The Fairies" by William Allingham. They have both almost mastered them.)
After morning time, we went outside to record the wind, sky color, temperature, humidity, precipitation, animal activity, etc. The girls were supposed to do this independently but they were misbehaving so much I have to go out with them. We skipped the exercise video each day, but we had hours of outdoor playtime on Sunday and Monday, including M.'s first-ever game of kickball. 


I read our schedule wrong last week and did two weeks of history for M., so this second week was pretty relaxed for her. She illustrated her narration about the Empress Theodora and made her own list of laws modeled after the Code of Justinian, after which she watched "Why We Have Rules." She also watched Khan Academy's video about Hagia Sophia and another YouTube video about the Byzantine Empire. (Note: this video looked great at first glance, but when I previewed it, I heard talk of Justinian's sex life and had to pass.)

C.  watched two YouTube videos explaining timelines ("Timelines for Kids" and "Timelines Introduction"), started listing events for a timeline of her life and, on Friday, began to copy them in chronological order onto a big piece of paper. 

Table Time 

This week's activities at the dining room table were sticker collages, drawing with chalk, stringing beads (which they all refused to do), and a memory game involving a spinner that caused many tears when M. won the first round.


M. and C. did the usual Singapore and Khan Academy math work. M. is still doing weights and measures in Singapore 3B and C. is working on addition and subtraction in 1B. 


E. was not as interested in doing school this week. She did a few minutes of Khan Academy Kids each day and played with magnet letters. We read a couple of picture books: First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger and On Market Street by Anita Lobel.  She also asked to do some questions from My First Brain Quest and she agreed to do a coloring page a couple of times. She spent a good amount of time playing with our large collection of finger puppets as well. 


This was our first week of Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding and we did lessons A-1: Organizing Things into Categories and  A-2: Solids, Liquids, Gases. We mainly just discussed these topics, but one day, I gave each of the two girls a tray of random objects and asked them to organize them into categories. Another day, my husband had them write down various categories that our family members could be placed into and then had them play a "Guess Who?" style game where one girl thought of a family member and the other one asked category-based questions to narrow down who it might be.

Reading and Writing

M. is still working her way through the worksheets in Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills: Grade 3. This week, she focused on spelling homophones. She said her favorite exercises were the ones requiring her to find mistakes in existing sentences and correct them. She also started writing a story entitled "Mr. Albatross: A Detective Story." 

Here it is: 
One day Mr. Albatross was going for a walk. He passed a tree under which was a man's body. Mr. Albatross went over to the tree and shook the man,  but he didn't move. He didn't talk either. He just lay there silently. Then Mr. Albatross said, "Methinks you are dead." The man said nothing, but a voice said, "I am lord of these trees." Mr. Albatross looked beyond and a saw a row of trees stretching all the way to the west. "And I came to you in the form of a man."

C. and I read a chapter of The Boxcar Children together each day. She also worked on some writing about her experience on the nature hike. For her, I'm primarily working on slowing down enough to comprehend what she's reading (a problem I had as a kid) and developing a love of writing.

We also finished our lunchtime read-aloud of Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George. 


M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder for 15 minutes every day this week.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Read-at-Home Mom Report for 9/21/20

Just a quick Monday update. I didn't get to write up my post about how our school week went yet, but I still wanted to sneak on and share how my reading went this week.

Finished Books

Thanks to a challenge on Instagram to read 500 pages in three days, I finished two books over the weekend. 

The Lord God Made Them All is the fourth memoir by James Herriot about working as a veteriniarian in the English countryside before and after World War II. It wasn't as good as the first book of the four,  but it captured that same spirit as the author related anecdotes both amusing and heartfelt about the farmers he encountered over the years. It was definitely better than book three, which focused too much on the war for my taste. 

Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs was a standard "second chance' romance, but with some added layers of family strife. The hero and heroine have both lost their mothers -he, recently, and she, as a child, back when they knew each other the first time around. Both struggled to come to terms with how their own relationship went wrong while also trying to untangle the truth about their families. Since reading The Lost and Found Bookshop earlier this year, I have a newfound respect for Wiggs's writing, and in this book, I could see hints of the same themes covered in the newer book. 

Currently Reading 

I'm still reading Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge and September by Rosamunde Pilcher. 

I also started Finger Prints by Barbara Delinsky on audio. I've never read anything by her, but the premise, about a woman in witness protection, appealed to me. 

I also sampled a bit of Beartown by Fredrik Backman on Scribd, and I think that's going to be my next book after I finish September and Finger Prints.

I'm linking up today with The Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Read-at-Home Mom Report for 9/14/20

I'm Back! 

For the past year, I haven't been posting regular updates about my reading at all. Last year at this time, I was in the throes of first trimester nausea with our twins, and all the formatting and such that was required to create these posts just felt exhausting. Then, in March, the twins were born just days before everything was locked down due to the pandemic, and posting weekly still felt too burdensome. With this new school year, however, I decided it was a good time to revamp my reading life to make room for a better homeschooling schedule and for time to devote to writing. Now that I expect to be reading fewer books, it seems much easier to post about them here. Since I already have a feature where I talk about reading with my kids, I'm going to stay away from kids books in these updates and instead focus on the adult books I'm enjoying (or not.)

What I've Read So Far This Month

All but one of the books I've finished so far in September have been audiobooks. 


The one that wasn't was Bless Us, O Lord: A Family Treasury of Mealtime Prayers by Robert M Hamma, which I received for review on Netgalley from Ave Maria Press. It looked good on the surface, but I thought it had some issues that bumped my rating down to 3 stars. My Goodreads review explains my qualms.

Three of the audiobooks I've finished have been cozy mysteries. 


One for the Books by Jenn McKinlay is the 11th book in the Library Lover's Mystery series, and it features Christmas and a wedding. I read the first 9 books of this series in print, but have found the last two really enjoyable on audio and will probably continue reading them that way in the future. I wasn't that into the mystery, but I liked all the details surrounding the main character's wedding and the way her friends and neighbors were incorporated into that storyline. (My review on Goodreads.)


Death with a Dark Red Rose by Julia Buckley is number 5 in the Writer's Apprentice Mystery series, and it's another one where I love spending time with the characters. I liked the way this one shifted focus to a previously minor character and allowed her to take center stage some of the time. I would not read this book out of order, as it does spoil earlier mysteries in the series, but it's really enjoyable for long-time readers. (My review on Goodreads.)

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Telephone Line by Julie Mulhern is book 9 in the Country Club Murders series, and it wasn't my favorite. The wit and humor were there, but the plot felt dull. I typically give books in this series 4 or 5 stars, but this one only got three. (My review on Goodreads.)

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Finally, I listened to Your Blue Flame by Jennifer Fulwiler for the second time. (The first was when it came out in May.) This is my book club book and we'll be discussing it this Thursday via Zoom. Not many self help books genuinely feel inspiring, but this one truly is. And it's very funny too. (My review on Goodreads.)

Currently Reading

I have seven books going right now. 

Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge HCDJ BCE | Green dolphin,  Elizabeth goudge, Book worth reading

My main focus is Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge, which I'm reading with a book group on Instagram. (I also won my copy in an Instagram giveaway.) I have been dividing the sections according to when the discussions are to take place, and then I read a set quota of pages per day. Her books are slow and descriptive, which I love, but they take me a long time to get through. 

September | Rosamunde Pilcher | Macmillan

The other book I really want to finish this month is September by Rosamunde Pilcher. Obviously, if it goes over into October, that's not the end of the world, but I do like the idea of sometimes reading a book during the time of year in which it's set. 

I also have three audiobooks in various stages of completion. I'm listening to Who Does He Say You Are?: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels by Colleen Mitchell for another book group on Instagram, as well as Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs and The Lord God Made Them All by James Herriott. 

Theoretically I'm also reading Ulysses by James Joyce, but I haven't touched it in a couple of weeks.

Finally, I've been reading my way through Flannery O'Connor's short stories through the course of the year, and I'm still sticking with that plan.

I'm linking up today with The Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 9/7/20

This past week was our first week of the new school year. This year we still only have one official school-age kid, M. (6 years, 9 months) who is in first grade according to the school district and second grade for our purposes. C. (4 years, 11 months) misses the cut-off for being in kindergarten this year by about four weeks, but she's reading and doing first grade math for fun, so there is no reason to wait, and we are calling this her kindergarten year. E. (2 years, 10 months) wants to be included, so she is doing a bit of preschool every day too. 

Because there are now five kids in our family this year we created a detailed schedule showing what needs to get done not just for school but in terms of chores as well. Chores, academics, meals, and play time rotate throughout the day, stretched primarily over the hours between 8 am and 3 pm.  Here's a summary of what we did during our school time this week. 

Morning Time 

We're beginning each morning this year with a morning time which begins over breakfast and continues for about 45 minutes. The girls come to the table at 8 and say the morning offering and the pledge of allegiance. As they eat, I share different items of interest with them. This first week, morning time included:

  • 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): "The Magic Seeds" by James Reeves, "Spin Me A Web, Spider: by Charles Causley, "Hurt No Living Thing" by Christina Rossetti, and "Dew on a Spider's Web" by Dorothy Snow 
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "How did Halloween originate?"; "Who first thought of the alphabet?"; "Why don't we all speak the same language?"; "How did the English language begin?"; "Who invented the pencil?"; "Who discovered how to make paper?"
  • "Immaculate Mary" sung from The Vatican II Hymnal
  • "Kitty Alone" sung from The Fireside Book of Children's Songs by Marie Winn and Allan Miller, illustrated by John Alcorn (Simon & Schuster, 1966)
  • Paintings from Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 1996): Edward VI as a Child by Hans Holbein the Younger and  Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
  • Listening to Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 Movement 1 by Johann Sebastien Bach 
  • Lesson 1 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism 
  • Liturgical year: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 8), St. Peter Claver (September 9), St. Nicholas of Tolentino (September 10), Sts. Protus and Hyacinth (September 11)
  • Questions from the 500 Questions Game Book (Parragon Books, 2017) for fun on Friday
  • Memory work: planets, days of the week, months of the year, birth dates, address, phone number, 50 states, countries of Europe, four directions, 13 colonies, poems (M. is working on "If" for Rose Fyleman , and C is working on "The Fairies" by William Allingham).
Morning time concluded each day with the ten-minute exercise video from the Ten Thousand Method on YouTube. Our phys. ed. requirement was further fulfilled this week by an afternoon of sports with the local homeschool community. 


M. has picked up right where we left off in July, with the Byzantine Empire. This week, we read the chapter in A Picturesque Tale of Progress entitled "The Eastern, or Byzantine Empire," which included the following sections: "Justinian and Theodora, the Circus-girl Empress," "Byzantine Life and Art", "The Justinian Code," "Christianity in the Days of Justinian," "Justinian the Warrior and Builder," and "Struggles with Lombards, Slavs, Avars, and Persians." (I misread the spreadsheet where we mapped out our history plan for the year. Those last two sections were meant for this coming week.) M. wrote a narration about the Empress Theodora.

C. is starting the year with My Backyard History Book by David Weitzman (Little, Brown, 1975). We read the opening pages of the book, including the section on names, and then looked up the first names of people in our family and read the information provided in What's Your Name?: A Book of First Names and What They Mean by Beth Goodman, Nancy E. Krulik (Scholastic, 1991). 

Hands-on Activities

This year, we have set aside an hour each morning for all three girls to do the same hands-on activity together at the table. This week, these activities were play dough, watercolor painting, pattern blocks, and making a weathervane. 


Both M. and C. continued their work on Khan Academy. They also worked in their Singapore workbooks. M. completed exercises 5-8, and half of 9, in Singapore Primary Mathematics 3B working primarily with units of measurement and convering between centimeters and meters, meters and kilometers, and feet and yards. C. did more than 20 pages in Singapore Primary Mathematics 1A, dealing mostly with place value, and simple addition. Each of the girls also did a chapter of Life of Fred on Wednesday. C. is still in book one, Apples, and M. is in Goldfish. 


While the older girls work on math, E. has her school time. This week, she heard Mr. Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham, Just Me by Marie Hall Ets, Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, and The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio. We sang songs using a song cube I created using a dry erase die from the Dollar Tree, and she played a few games on Khan Academy Kids. We also sang "Five Little Pumpkins Round," "I Went to Visit the Farm One Day," and "When Cows Get Up in the Morning" with the flannel board, and practiced identifying letters using magnetic letters and the Melissa and Doug Alphabet Activity Pad.


We are gearing up to restart Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding, this time with both M. and C. This week, we did our preparation for beginning to gather data about the weather for a lesson we will do next year that requires a year of data. My husband was in charge of this, and he showed them how to use a thermometer, how to identify the color of the sky, how to figure out which way the wind is blowing, where to find the times of sunrise and sunset, and where to look up high, low, and average temperatures for a given day. He also created a simple tool for measuring barometic pressure. 

Reading and Writing

M. is doing language arts worksheets from a workbook my mom sent us, Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills: Grade 3. This week's topics were alphabetical order, antonyms, and plurals. C. practiced reading aloud from a McGuffey Reader and The Boxcar Children. Both girls practiced writing in cursive. M. wrote her narration in cursive, and C. practiced strokes. During lunch, I read aloud from Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George, and my husband read at dinner from Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle.


M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder for 15 minutes each every day this week.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Summer 2020

I typically think of summer as a very reading-heavy season, but since every day since March has felt more or less the same, this year's summer reading didn't feel that different either. I also stopped keeping track of the huge piles of picture books the two olders girls read because there were just so many, and they read a lot of the same books over and over again, so the numbers on their reading logs were way down this year compared to last summer.  Still, all the kids certainly read or heard a respectable number of books between June 3 and September 2. 


My husband read aloud a number of classic children's books after dinner during these months: Matilda by Roald Dahl, The Willow Whistle by Cornelia Meigs, Treasure Island, The Men Who Found America by Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson, and The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss. Treasure Island probably made the biggest impact, as now all three older girls frequently break out into spontaneous recitations of "Fifteen men on the dead man's chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum." Little Bo Peep (4 years, 11 months) kept falling asleep during The Swiss Family Robinson, claiming she was bored. 

I read aloud almost daily after lunch. I read Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld as we were finishing up with our homeschool studies of Ancient Rome, and everyone enjoyed the suspense of the mystery in that book. Next, I read two in a row by Elizabeth Enright: Thimble Summer and The Saturdays. We followed that up with Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat. Then Jumping Joan (2 years, 10 months) brought me The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell, and asked me to read it. None of us knew anything about it, but we gave it a try, and it was fantastic! Odd (it's about a hunter and a mermaid and their family of adopted animals), but really very good. We ended the summer with one of my childhood favorites, Ten Kids, No Pets by Ann M. Martin. 

Little Miss Muffet (6 years, 9 months)

Miss Muffet hasn't been plowing through the novels as much lately as she did earlier in the year,  but she has a read a few: Tik-Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Tree House Mystery by Carol Beach York, The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit, Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago by Evaleen Stein and The Legend of Pocahontas by Virginia Watson. She also revisited Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel and The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes as audiobooks. Her favorite thing, though, has been reading through the Favorite Fairy Tales books by Virginia Haviland. She has read the tales from Germany, Russia, Sweden, France, England, Spain, and Denmark. As the summer ended, she was just getting into Redwall by Brian Jacques, which has inspired lots of drawing and pretend play surrounding Cluny the Scourge. 

Little Bo Peep (4 years, 11 months)

Bo Peep is still reading tons of easy readers and chapter books. This summer, among other titles, she read three of the Penny books by Kevin Henkes (Penny and her Song, Penny and her Doll, and Penny and her Marble), both Sam the Minuteman and George the Drummer Boy by Nathaniel Benchley, Tom and the Two Handles by Russell Hoban, and The Spice of America by June Swanson as well as Betsy and Mr. Kilpatrick, Annie Pat and EddieAway Went the Balloons, Eddie the Dog Holder, Betsy's Busy Summer, and Eddie and Louella, all by Carolyn Haywood. She also revisited Little House in the Big Woods and Rufus M. on audio. 

Little Jumping Joan (2 years, 10 months)

It's been  a summer of big-name toddler favorites for Jumping Joan, who has discovered Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, A House for Hermit Crab, and Mister Seahorse), Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Two Bad Mice), and Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny).  She also fell in love with a few different story collections: Sheep in a Jeep: 5-Minute StoriesSweet Dreams 5-Minute Bedtime Stories, and my childhood copy of 366 Two Minute Bedtime Stories and Rhymes. I also took out all of the old copies of Babybug magazine I saved from when Miss Muffet was little, and my mom sent us a few more she picked up at the Salvation Army, and Jumping Joan has me read two or three aloud every day before her nap.  

Jack and Jill

The twins are starting to love books. Jack especially loves Dig Dig Digging by Margaret Mayo, Things That Are Big by Natalie Marshall, and Summer Babies by Kathryn O. Galbraith. He will happily sit and listen to any book and he tries to turn the pages and stares happily at the illustrations. 

Jill is a bit more focused on physical milestones at the moment, but in addition to the books Jack likes, she has also heard Ten Little Babies and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox.  

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Homeschool Progress Report: July/August 2020

We do some kind of schooling all year round, so we did continue many of our subjects straight through the summer. In a normal year, this may have included some field trips, but with the pandemic, we stuck mostly to read-alouds, workbooks, and computer programs.


M. (6 years, 9 months) practiced her mental math skills using Mental Math Kids Can't Resist, and she continued with the Intensive Practice book for Singapore Primary Mathematics 2B (for review), while also starting Primary Mathematics 3B. To save paper and to make it possible to re-use the workbook in the future, we scanned the whole thing and she has been using a stylus and the Kami app on her Chromebook to write her answers on the pages. I then use the stylus to mark wrong answers, and she corrects them right there on the page.

On Khan Academy, M. has reached the fourth grade level. These past two months, she focused on adding, subtracting, and multiplying fractions and mixed numbers, multiples and factors, basic geometry, decimals, graphing, and line plots.

We also printed a set of multiplication flashcards to replace Xtra Math, as M. was no longer doing the work and was instead waiting for the program to give her the answer to each question. We have been slow in getting started using these, but they will be a daily part of her routine this fall.

C. (age 4 years, 11 months) also has a set of flashcards for addition and subtraction facts which I bought for her at Dollar Tree, and she also spent her summer doing most of her math on Khan Academy. She is at the 2nd grade level, which covers topics such as analyzing shapes, measuring length, line plots, bar graphs, and picture graphs, time on a number line, counting money, adding four 2-digit numbers, and adding on a number line.

For fun, both M. and C. also spent time using geoboards and pattern blocks.


In the first half of the summer, M. was still finishing up her first year of history. We covered Christianity using several books: National Geographic Kids Who's Who in the Bible, National Geographic Kids The World of the Bible, The Parables of Jesus by Tomie dePaola, The Miracles of Jesus by Tomie dePaola, St. Paul The Apostle: The Story of the Apostle to the Gentiles by Mary Fabyan Windeatt, and The Holy Bible Adapted for Young Catholic Readers edited by Elsa Jane Werner and Charles Hartman and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky and the Provensens. The National Geographic books are great except that neither of them contains an image of the crucifixion. (Was this decision made to protect children from seeing violence? That seems preposterous and likely at the same time.) The St. Paul book was also excellent for illustrating what life was like during the early days of the church, but it was too long for a read-aloud. I intentionally did not use In Bible Days by Gertrude Hartman because it felt oddly antagonistic toward Christians. 

M. and C. also watched The Witnesses Trilogy (God With Us; The Messengers; and To Every Nation) on, which they loved. I would definitely recommend all three films.

After Christianity, we covered the Fall of Rome in A Picturesque Tale of Progress, stopping just before the reign of Emperor Justinian, which is where we will pick up this week when we begin the new year.

For the month of August, we decided to do a "quickie" unit on U.S. History, using all the books we've collected on various topics and time periods. Here is our reading list: 
  • Meet the North American Indians by Elizabeth Payne
  • Little Runner of the Longhouse by Betty Baker
  • The Men Who Found America by Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson
  • The Columbus Story by Alice Dalgliesh
  • On the Mayflower by Kate Waters
  • Sarah Morton's Day by Kate Waters
  • Samuel Eaton's Day by Kate Waters
  • Giving Thanks by Kate Waters
  • Pocahontas by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire
  • The Legend of New Amsterdam by Peter Spier
  • The Boston Tea Party by Russell Freedman
  • Mary Geddy's Day by Kate Waters
  • George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer
  • Six Silver Spoons by Janette Sebring Lowrey
  • And Then What Happened Paul Revere? by Jean Fritz
  • Paul Revere's Ride illustrated by Paul Galdone
  • Sam the Minuteman by Nathaniel Benchley
  • George the Drummer Boy by Nathaniel Benchley
  • Shh! We're Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz
  • The Adventures of Lewis and Clark by Ormonde de Kaye, Jr.
  • Locomotive by Brian Floca
  • Who Let Muddy Boots into the White House? A Story of Andrew Jackson by Robert Quackenbush
  • Quit Pulling My Leg: A Story of Davy Crockett by Robert Quackenbush
  • Stagecoach Sal by Deborah Hopkinson
  • The First Book of the California Gold Rush by Walter Havighurst
  • Quick, Annie, Give Me a Catchy Line!: A Story of Samuel F.B. Morse by Robert Quackenbush
  • The Drinking Gourd: A Story of the Underground Railroad by F.N. Monjo
  • Meet Abraham Lincoln by Barbara Cary
  • Meet Robert E. Lee by George Swift Trow
  • The Silent Witness by Robin Friedman
  • Mark Twain? What Kind of Name is That? by Robert Quackenbush
  • Who's That Girl with the Gun?: A Story of Annie Oakley by Robert Quackenbush
  • Along Came The Model T!: How Henry Ford Put The World On Wheels by Robert Quackenbush
  • Coming to America by Betsy Maestro
  • Klara's New World by Jeanette Winter
  • Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone
  • First Flight: The Story of Tom Tate and the Wright Brothers by George Shea
  • The One Bad Thing about Father by F.N. Monjo
  • Don't You Dare Shoot That Bear: A Story of Theodore Roosevelt by Robert Quackenbush
  • A History of the United States for Young People by Arensa Sondergaard
  • Empire State Building by Elizabeth Mann
  • Letting Swift River Go by Barbara Cooney
  • Meet John F. Kennedy by Nancy Bean White
  • Moonshot by Brian Floca
  • American Adventures: The Battles
  • American Adventures: Westward Journeys
  • American Adventures: Voices for Freedom
  • American Adventures: Troubled Times

Additionally, I showed M. and C. multiple episodes of Reading Rainbow featuring historical fiction picture books ("Ox-Cart Man," "Watch the Stars Come Out," "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch," "Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express," "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "Ruth Law Thrills a Nation," and "My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States") and several other videos available from the public library through Just For Kids Access Video, including a few by Weston Woods ("Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus?" by Jean Fritz, "Martin's Big Words" by Doreen Rappaport, "Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln" by Jean Fritz, and "The Pilgrims of Plimoth" by Marcia Sewall, and one from Sunburst Visual Media featuring colonial American reenactors ("Plymouth Plantation.") They finally finished watching Liberty's Kids, too.

This looks like a lot, but it was really just a quick read-aloud session each day, followed by a video, and no other formal work. They did play a lot with their historical figures from their various Safari Ltd. Toobs, but that was of their own volition and not part of school per se.


We didn't do a lot of formal science during the summer months. There was lots of impromptu studying of insects, flowers, trees, birds, etc., but no sit-down lessons. We did watch some episodes of Wild Kratts and some videos from Sci Show Kids.

Reading and Writing

For M., the big books of the summer were Tik Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Legend of Pocahontas by Virginia Watson, and Redwall by Brian Jacques (which she is still reading.) She also wrote a letter to a bookseller friend my husband and I met on Goodreads who has kindly sent us several books.

C. read mostly Carolyn Haywood and books in the Dan Frontier series.


Hygiene is still the main focus here: brushing teeth, washing hands, brushing hair, etc. All three of our big girls also talk about "the germs" that prevent them from going anywhere , and they have experienced having to go out wearing a mask a few times. They also play a game I can't stand called "The Covid is Strengthening," where they just run around shouting that into pretend phones.


In July, we finished listening to all the episodes of Classics for Kids. For the rest of the summer, we sang for fun, sometimes hymns and sometimes folk songs. Both M. and C. practiced their piano and recorder lessons daily.


We had our twins baptized the first week in August, so there was lots of talk about that, and we watched the Brother Francis baptism episode on to prepare. We also watched Mass online every Sunday and introduced the Morning Offering prayer into the girls' morning routine.


Aside from projects the girls came up with themselves and birthday cards for my sister, Grandma (my mother) provided most of the art for the summer during her visit the first week in August. She had them make lighthouses from plastic cups, jellyfish from paper plates, and butterflies and unicorns using chalk pastels. She also left us with a lot of the supplies she used to use at her summer camp, including a ton of markers.

Physical Education

Summertime PE is usually just going out the playground by our house as much as possible, but the HOA closed it for the entire summer, so instead the girls rode bicycles, ran laps on the deck, galloped hobby horses to the mailbox, and on a couple of occasions met friends at a county park to run around.

Stay tuned...

For us, the new school year starts on Tuesday. I'm going to start the year trying to post an update like this weekly, on Saturdays, and see how that goes for a bit. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Reading Through History: The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry (1933)

Set on the island of Crete during the rule of King Minos, The Winged Girl of Knossos (of which Paul Dry books sent me a review copy quite some time ago) retells the popular myths of Theseus and of Icarus and Daedalus. Inas is the fearless bull-jumping daughter of Daidalos, an inventor of sorts who has been working on a pair of wings that allow Inas to fly. These wings must be kept secret lest the government accuse Daidalos of using magic and condemn him to death. Inas is also a close friend of the princess Ariadne, and when Ariadne desires to rescue a Greek prisoner called Theseus, she entrusts Inas with the task of leading him away from the labyrinthine halls of his prison by way of a long black thread. With danger encroaching from a variety of angles, Inas must do her best to save the life of herself and those she loves.

In many ways this book is to Ancient Crete what J.G. Fyson's books are to Ancient Mesopotamia. This story, which provides a plausible explanation behind centuries-old popular myths, immerses the reader in its setting so completely that it becomes easy to imagine the customs and daily living of these ancient people, and to believe that these legends actually have their basis in reality. 

Inas, especially, is an engaging heroine, but without becoming what I sometimes call an "anachronistically woke female." (I've seen some reviews labeling this book feminist. That's a buzzword that typically turns me off from wanting to read a book, and I would not apply it here). She is definitely not interested in domestic arts like the nearby citizens of Siceli, but neither is she incredulously wise beyond her station in life or the era in which she lives. She feels real, and therefore the reader is entirely invested in her fate throughout the story. The tone of the story, too, is surprisingly contemporary-feeling despite this book being 87 years old! It truly reads like a much newer middle grade historical fiction novel. 

I plan to assign this book to my kids during their fifth grade years, as they study the ancients for the second time around, during the logic stage of the classical trivium. I think it would also make an excellent read-aloud, possibly even for a first grader with a particular love for ancient history and the appropriate background knowledge. At any age, however, prior knowledge of the myths is needed to fully appreciate this fascinating tale. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Reading Through History: A Bone From a Dry Sea by Peter Dickinson (1992)

A Bone From a Dry Sea is a 1992 Carnegie Medal winning middle grade novel with a dual timeline. In the past, Li, a primitive young woman in a prehistoric tribe, begins to imagine beyond her culture's current capabilities. In the present day, Vinny, the daughter of an archeaologist  accompanies her father to work on a dig and must contend with the oppressive behavior of his difficult boss.

While this book has an interesting premise, the execution mostly fell flat for me. The segments of the story set in prehistoric times are well-written and engaging, but their connection to the present isn't developed that well. The present-day chapters don't delve as much into actual archaeology work as they do into the inter-personal relationships of the characters. There's the tension between Vinny's divorced parents, as well the question of whether Vinny's dad's coworker is his girlfriend, and the overbearing tendencies of Vinny's dad's boss. With all of these issues commanding attention, there isn't much room left to contemplate the implications of any of the archaeology work that is accomplished. The story ends without a strong sense of what the reader is meant to take away from it. The ending is also so abrupt, it feels like there is no conclusion to the story.

Since we own The Dream Time by Henry Treece, which explores prehistoric society in a beautifully poetic way, and the present-day section of this book is so weak, I don't really see a reason to assign this in our homeschool. If my oldest daughter continues to show an interest in archaeology, however, I would like to find a better novel that explores archaeology without all of the side plots. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Reading Through History: The Dream Time by Henry Treece (1967)

The Dream Time tells a story set not long after humans first began walking the Earth, and its main character, Crookleg, is an artist whose capabilities are not fully understood by others. He wanders between different primitive civilizations to escape possible punishment for creating forbidden pictures.

The writing in this book is deliberately unusual as it tries to portray a consciousness that is not yet fully human, but is just waking up to its potential. Everything is new in these early days of civilization and the characters often have thoughts they can't yet express verbally or ideas that have never occurred to anyone in their tribes before. Attempting to capture how it would have felt to be a person during this time period results in a very poetic text from which the reader feels a bit disconnected.

There is a lot to philosophize about in this book, and for that reason, it seems best suited to middle school readers and older. Treece raises questions about what it means to be human, and reflects on how it might have truly felt to live in a time before most tools and techniques we use today hadn't even been imagined. I think it is hard for even adult readers to fully grasp this concept, so a book to help young readers begin to comprehend this idea is a true gift. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Book Review: Francie on the Run by Hilda van Stockum (1939)

In this sequel to The Cottage at Bantry Bay, Francie O’Sullivan has finally had the surgery required to heal his foot, and he is ready to head home. Unable to stand being cooped up in the hospital any longer, he takes to the streets of Dublin, determined to get himself home to show his twin brother Liam how well he can walk. When Francie gets on the wrong train, however, he sets into motion a series of encounters with kind strangers who, through roundabout means, help him to get home to Bantry Bay.  

The premise of this book is the kind of thing I tended to avoid as a kid. I was always troubled by the idea of a child going off somewhere without his parents knowing, and the idea of Francie having fun on the road while his mother doesn’t know where he is bothers me even now. Still, Francie’s indomitable spirit comes alive on the page, and it’s hard not to get caught up in his cheerful enthusiasm. It was really fun reading about how each new friend Francie made reacted to his strong little personality, and of course, there was never any chance that everything would be anything but well in the end. 

Francie on the Run is a great everyday adventure story. Though best enjoyed as part of the series, it could also stand on its own. Personally, as it is part of that larger series, I would have liked to see more of the rest of the family, but it does work just fine as just Francie’s book. It also piqued my curiosity with its introduction of Pegeen, whose name is also the title of the third and final Bantry Bay book. I’ll be reading that as soon as I can find a copy!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Half Magic by Edward Eager (1954)

 Mark, Katherine, Jane, and Martha, the children of a single mother, find themselves entrusted with a lot of responsibility when they discover a magic coin that works by halves. Their mother unwittingly has the first adventure with the coin, during which she suddenly finds herself halfway home from visiting her aunt and uncle, but soon the children are making carefully calculated wishes that take them to far-flung points in time and space.

My husband and I listened to the full cast audiobook recording of this book on a car trip years ago, but I believe I slept through some of it and therefore didn’t add it to my Goodreads shelves because I hadn’t read the full story. This time around, I read the book aloud to my three oldest daughters (ages 2, 4, and 6) and enjoyed it much more. My intended audience was really the oldest two girls, and they both loved the idea of the magic coin and its tricky way of granting wishes. Each time we sat down to read, they were curious to know who was going to have a turn with the coin next and how they were going to use it. 

For me, the appeal was largely that, despite the magical elements, the story is grounded in reality. I have a hard time diving right into fantasy worlds, so I always appreciate it when an author begins in the real world and slowly introduces magic. I also thought it was a fun way to encourage my kids to think mathematically, and also a great excuse to introduce them to the legend of King Arthur, which figures heavily into one child’s adventure with the coin.

Half Magic will appeal to readers who like old-fashioned family stories, like Elizabeth Enright’s Melendys series or Eleanor Estes’s Moffats books, as well as to those who enjoy stories where magic enters the real world a la The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. I plan to read aloud the sequel, Magic by the Lake, possibly during the upcoming school year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Book Review: Family Grandstand by Carol Ryrie Brink (1952)

The Ridgeways, Susan, George, and Dumpling, live with their father, a college professor, and their mother, a mystery writer, in Midwest city, in a house very near to the university campus. A student named Dorothy helps out with the family’s housework, and Tommy Tokarynsi, the university’s star quarterback who is better known locally as Tommy Tucker, mows the family’s lawn. When Tommy’s grades begin to suffer to the point that he might not be allowed to play football anymore, the Ridgeway kids look for ways to solve the problem while also trying to convince their father to allow them to rent out parking spaces on their property during football games and working on figuring whether Dumpling is a child prodigy.

This book has old-fashioned charm similar to books like The Davenports are at Dinner by Alice Dalgliesh and Those Miller Girls! by Alberta Wilson Constant, with similar family dynamics to those depicted in the Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry. The characters are just quirky enough to feel believable, and the dialogue among the family members is really entertaining. There isn’t much of anything groundbreaking about this book, but anyone who enjoys football or dreams of living near a university will absolutely love it. This may not be as memorable as this author’s Caddie Woodlawn or Baby Island, but it’s a worthwhile read nonetheless. If you enjoy Family Grandstand, also look for the second book about the Ridgeways, Family Sabbatical.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Read-at-Home Mom Report: 2020 Challenges Check-In

Before the pandemic turned the world upside down, I had big plans for completing reading challenges in 2020. Though I have read a lot of books so far this year, I'm not sure that all of my challenges have been getting the attention they deserve. Today we'll find out. Here is how things are going with each challenge in which I am participating: 

A Year of Flannery O'Connor

The goal of this one is to read all of Flannery O'Connor's short stories in a single year. This started out as a project with a real-life friend who is also on Instagram. We decided to open it up to the wider bookstagram community and started out trying to run individual discussion groups. After a while, that felt burdensome so I switched us over to a dedicated account for Flannery O'Connor read-alongs where anyone could discuss the short stories. Unfortunately, my friend hasn't been able to keep up with the reading, and I am terrible at writing discussion questions, and the whole thing has not yet proven to be a huge success. I am typically good at running online groups but I am finding that I'm not really cut out to lead book discussions. 

2020 Classics

This challenge started in May of 2019, and the goal was to read 20 classics by the end of 2020. As of the middle of July, I have reached the goal but I plan to keep counting until the end of the year. The classics I read for the challenge are: Middlemarch by George Eliot, The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, Gunnar's Daughter by Sigrid Undset, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, Nutcracker and Mouse King and the Tale of the Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman and Alexander Dumas, The Bridal Wreath by Sigrid Undset, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Mistress of Husaby by Sigrid Undset, The Cross by Sigrid Undset, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Adam Bede by George Eliot, O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, Common Sense by Thomas Paine, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

The Unread Shelf Project

Thanks in part to the pandemic, this has been my favorite challenge of the year so far. With the libraries closed, I read like mad from my unread shelf all during the spring, and now it has become habit for me to constantly have a book that I own on deck to read next. I have read 47 (!!!) of my unread titles so far this year and DNF'd or unhauled a bunch more. I've also read at least one book each month to fit the monthly challenges that go along with the project. 

The Modern Mrs. Darcy Challenge

My enthusiasm for the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge and the What Should I Read Next podcast have waned a bit in 2020, and so, while I have completed all of the prompts for this challenge, it has largely been by accident. (I am also kind of disappointed in the MMD Summer Reading Guide this year. The lack of nonfiction was a bummer, and I have DNF'd a bunch of the selections.)  

Scholé Sisters 2020 5x5 Challenge

I loved this challenge idea, but it feels awkward doing it when I'm not really part of this community. My five categories I decided to read from were biographies and memoirs, Catholicism, books about books, Concord, Massachusetts and linguistics. Oddly enough, though I have 5 titles sitting in my house that have to do with Concord, this is the only category in which I have not yet read a single book! 

For the biography/memoir category, I've read five titles: My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary,  Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman, The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle, and A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. 

For Catholicism, I've also read five:  Made This Way by Trent Horn and Leila Sales, Into the Deep: An Unlikely Catholic Conversion by Abigail Rine Favale, Giving Thanks and Letting Go by Danielle Bean, No Greater Love by Mother Teresa, and Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn and Kimberly Hahn. 

I've only read three books about books so far: For Reading Out Loud by Margaret Mary Kimmel, The Proof of the Pudding by Phyllis Fenner, and Books in Search of Children by Louise Seaman Bechtel. 

And I've read two linguistics books: The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson and Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. 

Catholic Reading Challenge: A Year of Short Stories

This reading challenge depends upon a podcast. I have not been into podcasts at all and never even started the challenge. 

Craving for Cozies

I have read 18 of the 25 cozies I plan to read this year. This isn't really a challenge for me to complete; I just like keeping track of them in the Facebook group and seeing what others are reading. 

Cathlit 2020

I added this challenge after my initial challenge post. I am not going to get to all ten of the categories, but I like the way the prompts expand my spiritual reading horizons. So far I've read a memoir by a Catholic (Into the Deep: An Unlikely Catholic Conversion by Abigail Rine Favale), a book by a Catholic novelist (Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset),  a book about a saint (St. Paul The Apostle by Mary Fabyan Windeatt), and a recently published Catholic book (Your Blue Flame by Jennifer Fulwiler). The other categories are: a spiritual classic (I think I'll probably read Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich), poetry by a Catholic, a book by a doctor of the church (this is the one I feel most certain I will not complete), a book about beauty (I have Leah Darrow's The Other Side of Beauty in mind for this one), a book about feasting,  and short stories by a Catholic (which I can check off at the end of the year when I finish Flannery's Complete Stories).

I think chances are good that I will complete most of these by the end of the year, but I do wish I felt more enthusiastic about them.  I think I'll need to be more selective about challenges next year.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Read-at-Home Mom Report: Revisiting My 2020 Reading Goals

As hard as it is to believe, 2020 is nearly two-thirds over. I have both been wanting to check in with my reading and blogging goals and putting off doing so, mostly because I didn't want to think about how the pandemic has rained on my reading parade. As it turns out, though, on the whole, being home much of the spring and summer has actually been a good thing for my reading life. So today I'll bring you up to date on how my reading goals for the year are progressing, and I'll do a separate post next week to check in on my challenges. 

My first goal for the year was to read 365 books for the Goodreads challenge. I meant for this to be a low number so that I might consider taking it a little bit easy, but then we went on lockdown and I read like a maniac to keep myself from constantly checking the news and fretting over when, if ever, my new babies would see the outside world. So, while I should only be around the 220 mark right now, my current total is 237. I'm not going to increase the goal, but it is extremely likely that I will surpass it. (I'm seriously considering setting myself a goal in 2021 that I am not allowed to exceed. I do sometimes think less reading is more.)

My next goal was to post something on Goodreads for every book read. I started out strong with this, then abandoned it during the twins' newborn phase and now I'm trying to play catch-up. I do actually want my Goodreads to be fairly complete for this year, so I'm going to keep at it. 

Goal number three was to take one day off from reading per week. I mostly did this in the very early part of the year, but once we were ordered to stay at home, I gave it up. I'm reading something every day and until life starts to look normal again (if it ever does), I'm not going to worry about it. 

The next goal, read one book per format at a time, went out the window pretty much right away. I'm just too much of a mood reader to be able to adhere to this kind of restriction. My thinking was that this goal would remind me to actually use the Kindle Fire I bought on Black Friday last year, but with the libraries closed, e-books have figured into my reading life even more heavily than normal and that hasn't been a problem. 

Blog more is the goal that makes me laugh the hardest. I keep making this resolution every year, and every year I blog less. I don't think I actually want to blog more; I just want to blog differently. Having a specific set of prompts or an ongoing project would probably help this be more of a success. 

I also planned to read 6 vintage middle grade novels from our shelves and I have done so already. I read: Francie on the Run by Hilda van Stockum, Up from Jericho Tel by E.L. Konigsburg, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld,  The Dream Time by Henry Treece, and Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat. 

My last goal was to read 6 adult books that are at least 20 years old. (Not counting classics.) This has been the most fun to complete of all my goals and I might very well end up reading an additional six. The ones I've completed up to now are: The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman, The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge, A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie, Colony by Anne Rivers Siddons, Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver, and Outer Banks by Anne Rivers Siddons. 

The other two things on my list were more like rules than goals, and I think the policies of having  no monthly TBRs and participating in no open-ended read-a-thons have been good ones. I did make a TBR for a couple of challenges, and in neither case did I finish everything in the stack, so that solidifies the decision not to post them monthly. I have done a few read-a-thons with specific goals and that has been productive. 

All in all, in terms of the amount of reading I've been doing, this year hasn't been a waste at all. My reading challenges, on the other hand, may be another story. Check back next week to see how those are going.

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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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 to practice naming notes correctly. 


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 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. 


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.)

Would Like to Meet book cover

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. 


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.