We had a spectacular sunset on the last day of our France study. It was just after dinner when my son noticed the brilliant orange and red shadows on our living room curtains. We ran outside together, jumped the back fence and raced out to the water’s edge. Whenever we have dry lightning storms at sunset, the sky becomes incredibly rich in its contrasting colors. We saw intense red, gold, orange and yellow against brooding black and charcoal gray. It looked ominous and glorious all at once. We saw a flock of ibis flying east and a flock of roseate spoonbills heading west. A kingfisher made his dinner dive and we were nearly ecstatic over the sight of a rare snail kite soaring over our heads. But that sunset, of that sunset made us giddy. We had looked through some of Van Gogh’s work as we were discussing the Montmartre earlier that day. The minute my son saw the full scope of this sunset he let out a joyous little whoop and called to me, “Mom! Its a Van Gogh! Look! We just read about him and now the sky is a Van Gogh!”
Homeschooling is hard and sometimes I wonder/worry what the effect will be on my relationship with each of my children. Moments like the above are a gift from God. Granted, they are not always so flashy and obvious, but He still gives them to me. I tuck them in my heart to remember on days when feelings are hurt, tears run and personalities are at war. I love that we were able to share such a glorious moment together. A few days after this sunset we were reading another book that briefly mentioned Van Gogh. Immediately I raised my eyes and looked at my son, he grinned and gave me a little wink. We are now permanently bonded over Van Gogh. We’ll never be able to look at his work again without remembering that moment.
In our effort to learn French culture, I told the kids we would be slowing down even more than we already have. We would learn to linger well over truth, goodness and beauty. This resulted in some epically long morning time breakfast gatherings. We read so many books together (booklist at the end of the post!), enjoyed at least three pots of tea at each sitting and ate way more treats than we should have.
After reading a lovely little story about life in the french countryside, we decided to have a countryside day. We baked fresh bread and chopped veggies for soup, made a batch of lotion and some chapstick, diffused lots of lavender and read about the production of essential oil, and hand rolled beeswax tapers for our table this autumn and winter (while learning about bees!). The boys loved this particular activity. The smell is so warm and comforting and they loved getting to work on something meaningful for our home. Its good to feel useful, isn’t it?
A few readers have asked about our “unstandardized testing” method, so I thought I would share a bit on this recap about how its done at our house.
First, I cover our table in butcher paper (I purchased a very large roll on Amazon nearly 3 years ago and have yet to run out). Next I give the boys several pastels and beeswax crayons. I choose 7 topics for them to illustrate and work on. This week they illustrated: Heidi on the Alps, a coniferous forest, acid rain effects, the cathedral in Rouen, a cave and its lifeforms, trabecular bone structure grid, and the Eiffel tower. While drawing, they recited their poetry work, scripture memory work, Classical Conversations memory work and they narrated portions of our reading from Spyri’s “Heidi.” I also gave a verbal spelling test to each child. Once the illustrations were completed, the boys went through each one and explained what they were, what they learned and the significance of each one.
My second born (age 7) explained the white stone structure of the cathedral in Rouen. We studied Monet’s painting of this building earlier in the week and then read through David Macaulay’s “Cathedral.” My son pointed out a few architectural elements, their purpose and significance and then talked about Monet’s painting, use of light and its effects on the white stone. He then talked a bit about Monet and the impressionist movement. We studied Monet for close to three months so he is now able to talk about him comfortably. There is great benefit to a slower learning that promotes savoring.
My eldest discussed the Eiffel tower. Happily, our morning time history book, “Stories of the Nations” by Lorene Lambert, gave us a fascinating account of Gustave Eiffel’s life and his construction of the tower. This story captivated my son to such a degree that we spent an entire afternoon learning all about the construction of the tower and its similarities to the human trabecular bone structure. (Aside: I know I have mentioned “Stories of the Nations” before, but I must once again express just how meaningful and enriching this book has been in our ECC study this year. Each chapter is only 2-3 pages long and takes just a few minutes to read at the table each morning. It has captured even my 5 year old and the children have had this beautiful experience listening to the history of the world spread out in an engaging way.)
Our entire “test” took a little over an hour and the boys were so proud and eager to show off what they knew and what they had absorbed throughout the week. The idea of testing to find out what someone does not know is a bit foreign to them and so they look forward to these afternoons of sharing. Once the paper is unrolled I have an opportunity to listen and evaluate what they have retained, what peaked their interest, what was valuable to them and exactly why certain pieces of information were deemed important by them. This helps me in my future planning and gives me a great gauge for where we have been and what we have moved forward with.
For this country study, we decided to really focus in on Art and Food. Big surprise, I know! I tried to tempt them to look at fashion (how cute are these Chanel paper dolls?) but no one took me up on it. One of my favorite Instagram accounts belongs to Terri Woods of @Woodsermom. A few weeks ago she recommended a beautiful book called, “Painting Pepette,” about a little French girl that wants a portrait done of her stuffed bunny. She ventures out to the Montmarte and encounters an assortment of artists that each paint a portrait of the little bunny and very different styles. The book is quite charming. Woodsermom had asked her children to paint on subject in the style of four different painters, so we followed suite. We chose my son’s stuffed hummingbird “Hummy” as our subject and once again the butcher paper and all the art supplies came out. We listened to beautiful music and spent several hours (I was bit shocked at how long they lingered over this) painting, drawing, watercoloring, sketching and sculpting. We took a virtual tour of the Louvre afterwards.
The internet is incredible (and horrible). How neat to be able to find 360 degree tours of buildings in France or a view of the city from the top of the Eiffel tower? Check out Napoleon Bonaparte’s house!
Lastly, we just had to watch “Ratatouille” and make our own recipe for lunch one day. They wanted to eat their meal with crusty bread and hot chocolate. This would be a fun activity to pair alongside the marshmallow Eiffel Tower, or an apple chunks Eiffel Tower is you want healthy disgruntled children.
Confession: I am a bit behind in posting, we have already finished Germany! I’ll be sure to post our recap of that study soon. Thanks for following along!
France Study Booklist:
Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock
Anatole by Eve Titus
Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust by Karen Grey Ruelle
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Monet by Mike Venezia
Paul Cezanne by Mike Venezia
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
Twenty and Ten by Claire Bishop
Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson
Kate Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew
Joan of Arc by Demi