A family compact

We’re three weeks in to the Story of the World book three for our history studies and are finally entering Colonial America times, which is exciting for all of us. One of the activities suggested in the Activity book for SOTW (which I highly recommend this addition for the hands-on learners in your homeschool) is making a Mayflower Compact for your family or school as a way to expand your understanding of how important it was for the large group of people sailing over on the Mayflower to covenant together and try to establish a form of equal representation and rights. Little could they know upon landing in the New World how horrible that winter would be or just how much they would come to depend upon the generosity of the Wampanoag Native American tribe for survival. I think it is incredible that William Bradford had the foresight to lead saints and strangers alike into a fellowship that would help them endure.

Obviously, we have long before this little school activity come to acknowledge the importance of covenant relationship within our family and indeed have been living it out. However, I really like hands-on object lessons for the kids that have a deeper meaning than just words on a page. Writing our own Mayflower Compact and adding in some of the original language made it really special. Even though we still manage our home with Pete as the head and ultimate biblical authority, the needs and desires of each and every member of the family are considered both in daily undertakings and weighty decisions. Not quite a representative government, but one wherein the children can feel secure as they grow. Everyone in the family signed our compact, even the baby, and we all affirmed our commitment to each other and enjoyed discussing just how blessed we are to live in this country. Truly, how blessed we are to have each other, come bad winters and unknown seasons and joys and tears.


History News & All About Reading

I cannot even express how excited I have been during the past two weeks of Sonlight Core B history lessons.  Why?  Because we discovered The Greek News.  It is a History News publication book presenting Ancient Greece in an “eyewitness news” format.  What a genius idea!  The layout is captivating, the articles witty and informative, and the educational content is very well done.  The Spartans are far more interesting when depicted in an expose on the rigors of boyhood in Laconia than a few wordy black and white paragraphs.  Perhaps it is because I am a visual learner, but I would have remembered far more history if I had seen even a small portion of it presented in this way.  Just as tabloids draw the eye in the grocery checkout stand, so The Greek News headlines stand out – “Death By Poison,” “Living in a Pigsty,” and “Olympic Scandal.”  The girls have no idea what they are not missing in history textbooks.  I have rigorously guarded them from the dry and boring drivel that I had to memorize through my school years.  The very definition of a living book is something like The Greek News, in my humble opinion.  Of course, the visual content can be a bit overwhelming for a student who is not a visual learner (my second-born) but that can be easily overcome by the plethora of other story-like books we have on Ancient Greece.  Being visual and artistic like her Mommy, Jaelah is thoroughly enjoying herself with this particular book.  I am so impressed by the style of History News that I am looking to get several others to supplement our historical studies.  They are not all scheduled with Sonlight, but it would be wonderful to have some of these resources on the shelf for history review as well as Institute for Excellence in Writing source material.

Recently, I had another “around the mountain” experience with curriculum.  Chavah is extremely kinesthetic, so I knew I was going to have to figure out some really active ways to teach her phonics and reading.  Originally, I liked PAL, which is a component of language arts available through the Institute for Excellence in Writing.  Since we’ve enjoyed so many of their lectures and materials, I assumed I would be perfectly safe ordering the whole PAL program.  It uses file folder games as a method of reinforcing lessons.  What child doesn’t like to play games as part of learning?  Particularly of interest was that All About Spelling was incorporated into the writing portion of the program.  We have had smashing success with all AAS products that we’ve ever used, so I didn’t think it was possible to go wrong.

The blended sight-sound system is the style of reading instruction used by PAL.  We have always used a mainly phonetic approach, only memorizing sight words as necessary.  I am not a fan of memorizing words right away, especially with very young readers.  I think it can be successful, but it can also be extremely confusing to memorize vague phonics rules before becoming proficient in decoding.  I had not a clue that PAL was going to focus so heavily on sight words.  The very first few lessons included names of colors (blue, purple, green, brown, orange) as well as complex vowel team sounds like /ee/, /ow/, and /ay/ which were then to be memorized in words like sheep, brown, and today.  While I think some of these words will be present in some early vocabulary-controlled readers, I was shocked that they introduced them without teaching any simple CVC words.  I could see clearly that it was not going to work for us.  The redeeming aspect of the program was the use of the file folder games.  They were simple and fun (and required about 10 hours of cutting and laminating on my part) and memorable for Chavah.  Unfortunately, she retained almost nothing from the games we did play.  PAL presents itself as the only beginning reading program a parent will need, but if Chavah had not known the letters and their sounds from our successful completion of All About Reading Level Pre-1, she would have been completely lost.  I had to kick myself for wasting so much time with something that was not working.  IEW has a fantastic customer service team and accepts returns without time limits, so I returned the whole PAL program.  IEW has a vast list of resources, and I hope this is the only one proven to be unsuccessful.  Then I cracked open our brand new All About Reading Level 1 books and almost cried with relief.  Why had I strayed from the good ol’ faithful system that has worked so well for all of us?  Simple, straightforward, CVC words, strong phonetic base, and FILE FOLDER GAMES!  I did not even know AAR used them!  Silly mommy!  We have been using it for just over a week and Chavah is reading.  I will certainly think twice the next time something appears to be great before purchasing it.

And now, we are preparing for the completion of Week 18.  Halfway through an exciting and challenging year!  We are about to celebrate Yom Kippur, followed by the festival week of Succot.  What a great place to end this term!  I’ll be back soon with more Botany experiments and Math U See thousandth place value thoughts and inspirations.

Chronological history

There are many differing opinions when it comes to teaching history in homeschool.  I have not yet defined “the best” one for our family, but I like some of what I have found so far.  I want to teach history chronologically, because I believe that is the best way to explain the timeline to children.  Jumping around too much, or starting in at one point in history without context can be confusing.

We like Sonlight’s history approach.  First grade was an introduction to the world’s cultures.  It was not necessarily chronological as it was a basic overview of the world – it’s a big place, there are lots of different people, and learning about all of them is going to be fun!  Second grade will start with Creation and go through the fall of Rome.  Third grade will follow Rome through the 20th century.  We are not doing Sonlight’s one-year condensed history options because I plan to spread out the history over two years (possibly three).  To do this, we are going to supplement with Greenleaf Press history resources as well.  Greenleaf also has a chronological history approach, though theirs is MUCH slower than Sonlight.  It spends the first year on Israel and Ancient Egypt, followed by a full year of each of these:  Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, 17th and 18th centuries, and finally the 19th and 20th centuries in year 7.  Whereas Greenleaf teaches history in its truest chronological sense, Sonlight will switch over to American History for two years (4th and 5th grade), then spend a full year on the Eastern Hemisphere before delving back in to world history for the second time, though more in depth, in 7th and 8th grade.  I like Greenleaf’s approach, but I have two concerns.  First, it is slight overkill to spend an entire year on each of the ancient societies.  I can just see the girls’ faces when I bring out Tut’s Mummy again.  “Aww, Mom, we know all about mummies!  Can’t we learn about John Smith already?”  Second, the ability of the girls to retain important facts related to Ancient Greece is vastly different in 2nd grade than it is in 6th or 7th grade.  This is why Sonlight’s “once through and then repeat” approach will fit nicely here. We’ll be using Greenleaf’s “Famous Men” series throughout our historical studies as I believe the girls should be very familiar with the most influential people in history and why they were influential – not just memorizing lists of dates and map points.

I have no idea where our journey will take us in the high school years, but we have plenty of time to consider it as we approach that season.  At this point, the most important thing I can do for the children is give them a solid foundation and perspective.  As my knowledge of history is painfully lacking, I look forward to journeying with all of the kids through time.  Bon voyage!