MFW Adventures: New Netherlands + Wiggle Room

IMG_5239Lots of new growth on the farm this month! Pineapples, bananas, watermelon, and avocados. What a great boost of encouragement for us as we lay out plans for our big fall garden.

We have wrapped up the unit on New Netherlands. Confession: I had no idea how to plan for this one. Not too many activities lurking around pinterest for this one. A trip to the library yielded a scant six books. I decided to keep the planner as bare as possible for the week. You know, keep a little wiggle room? I was tempted to take advantage of this “slow” week by adding extra geography or art, but I restrained myself.  Instead, at the end of each session, I would turn to the boys and ask, “Lets play what we learned! What should we do?”

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Well, these boys have zero problems being creative. They loved being in charge of our activities for this unit! We planned out settlements with our lincoln logs. We colored in maps of Old Boston and made a town meeting diorama.

IMG_5261We built windmills, sea port dioramas and Dutch step homes. We played with them during activity time.

IMG_5268We took the loom out to the backyard and did some weaving while we “watched the sheep.”  We had to bring our rifles along in case the wolf (our west highland terrier) showed up. We pretended to take long sea voyages while huddled in bunk beds.IMG_5291
Then we had this conversation:

Six year old: “Sooo how come you never make those crazy snacks that go with our Adventures stuff? Like that little cookie bear driving a covered wagon made out of marshmallows and graham crackers.”
Me: “Because toddlers.”
Six year old: “Can I make a cool snack for us?”
Me: “Sure, what do you have in mind for Dutch Pioneers?”
Six year old: “I was thinking crescent rolls stuffed with gummy worms. Ya know, for the moldy bread?”
Me: “Not bad kiddo. You should write out a line up for the whole year!”

Not all ideas were approved. For example, the suggestion: “Lets invent a Separatist’s Diarrhea Bucket for sea trips! You go mix some mud for the diarrhea…” was met with, “Hmmmm, lets rethink this game a bit.”

So we went on a very long sea voyage while summer rain pounded down on the roof of the farmhouse. Whenever lightning flashed we’d roll about on the bunk beds and pretend to be seasick while someone shouted out “Day 42!” or “Day 127!” The boys excel at feigning sea sickness, so I can check that off the list, “Things the Boys should learn in 2nd Grade.”  We sometimes read aloud from our book basket to pass the time during the voyage. Then the six year old began to direct things, “We’ll eat this moldy worm bread and Mom, you can be Trinka the cow. Go hide in the closet with the other cows and let out a sad, seasick, ‘Mooooo’ every once in a while.” (I have grown so much as an actress this year between my turns as Goodwife Misery and Trinka the cow). The six year old became a little overbearing and at one point my four year old rolled his eyes and said, “Ugh! You are such a Duke of York!” Guess the preschool gang has been absorbing more than I thought they would…

Have  I mentioned how much we love ” American Pioneers and Patriots?”  We are quite thrilled with it! Hands down our favorite part of Adventures so far. These stories about children throughout history make my sons wonder about their own place/story in history. Here are a few other books we read this week:

IMG_5294 James E. Knight books—so much information relayed through these engaging stories!

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We are also plodding our way through Betsy Maestro’s book: The New Americans: Colonial Times 1620-1689. We began last week during Pilgrims and we read a bit more this week about the colonists in New Amsterdam. The book does describe plenty of the violence between the settlers and the Native Americans. I am still not sure how much of the book we will finish in weeks to come. As always, I must balance informing their minds while still taking their young age into consideration and protecting their hearts. The fragility of their innocence is both humbling and terrifying sometimes.

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We watched Magic School Bus, baked bread and finished our yeast experiments. We churned butter and kept working on our handicrafts.

We completed our Beautiful Feet study of “The Courage of Sarah Noble,” well ahead of the MFW schedule, which allows us to read “The Matchlock Gun” next week, during Michigan Pioneers.  We snuck in “Sign of the Beaver” during our noon reading.  “Sign of the Beaver” carries many parallels to “The Courage of Sarah Noble,” but replaces a young heroine with a young hero. The boys were thrilled at the thought of being abandoned in the wilderness with only Indian neighbors for company.  They are currently wondering which part of the farm they can run away to and how long they might survive there.  Many votes have been cast in favor of “somewhere near the chicken coop so we can eat eggs!” We also managed to squeak in a few chapters of “Misty of Chincoteague.”  I had not planned to read this book at all for our Adventures year, but our language arts book, Writing With Ease, used it this week and the boy’s collective curiosity was piqued. After all, “American Pioneers and Patriots” featured animals brought over on ships to New Amsterdam. What other voyages did European animals take to come to the New World? My eldest is considering penning a small children’s book for his baby brother about just such a journey. Whether or not he ever does it, I am pleased that he is thinking about storytelling.

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This unit was 40% pretend play, 40% read alouds and 20% science experiments. Does it sound like we read a lot? Well, we do. If your family does not read out loud much, don’t feel less than. I love reading and it has naturally flourished in our home because I make a huge effort to read out loud as many times a day as possible. We suffer greatly in other areas because of that single minded effort (read: LAUNDRY). I encourage you to do what you can with where you are in life. Even if its just ten minutes a day. Don’t feel guilty, just start somewhere and be consistent!

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The boys always keep their hands busy while I read. The preschool gang made use of our sensory bins during story time. Mostly water beads, kinetic sand, corn and playdoh. They have learned to play quietly and are quite absorbed in what they are doing when measuring cups, magnifying glasses, scissors and toob figures are involved. Its taken training over the course of many weeks, but the stretches of quiet play are getting longer and longer each day!

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This week we used the book “Colonial America.” It provided the patterns for the projects listed earlier in this post. Dutch step homes, windmills, etc. This book was more challenging than the Pilgrims History Pockets book we used the week before. The boys had no trouble coloring in and cutting out all the pieces, but they were only able to independently assemble 2 out of the 8 projects we finished. I would not recommend this book if you are looking for independent work, unless your child is especially deft at constructing these sorts of models.

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Our favorite project was probably the “Look Inside Log Cabin.”
IMG_5339IMG_5337The boys loved seeing how simple these log cabin homes were. “No room for toys inside…so that means the outside world was where the kids played all of the time!” They seemed to be inspired by this prospect. During our Mom’s group playdate, my second-born eschewed the splash pad at the park in order to climb our family’s favorite giant banyan tree, far away from the group.
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When I asked him about it he responded, “I am a pioneer boy in my heart today. I want to only be in this tree with my thoughts and imagine whatever I want. I think its the best way to play.”  Little by little, his brothers joined him. When we arrived home, they quickly changed clothes and headed outdoors again; eager to collect eggs and mushrooms, scouting for places to build a log cabin, gathering pinecones and jasmine flowers to trade with neighboring Indian villages.

10915279_820075911018_1848104050298760662_nThese imaginative adventures are made of rich stuff, my friends.

MFW Adventures: Pilgrims & Constellation Fun!

Its the end of week/unit 5 and I am pleased as punch that we decided to use MFW Adventures this year. What a fantastic curriculum!

We started the week with a classroom switch up. I try to rotate things every 4 weeks to keep the preschoolers from rebelling. IMG_5130

Our reading corner has a new location away from the play stand, or as it was known the first four weeks of Adventures, “The Launching Pad.” After repeated collisions and head trauma, I figured it was time to rearrange things.

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Puzzles (Target dollar spot finds) and toys were swapped out too. I never keep more toys out than they can clean up within 10 minutes. We clean the classroom at the end of each day and I am not a fan of spending more than 10 minutes doing so.  I’m glad we started the week out with a fresh feel in the room. I rotate the toys to keep the little guys interested and engaged.

I really needed hands skillfully occupied this week.  We kept last week’s Native American sensory bin and also added a sensory bin filled with water beads. The boys had a few tiny ships in there at one point and launched several journeys to the new world across a sea of colorful beads.

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Lots of rain and thunderstorms this week meant no great outdoors for us. I chose my flexible version of the Pilgrims unit since we would not be making tiny Plymouth plantations out of sticks and mud in the great outdoors as previously requested.

The boys were still not over last week’s Native American study when we began on Monday. We definitely had a lot of thematic carry over.  The boys made a few more necklaces and even started a line of Indian pottery fashioned from modeling clay. Squanto is cooler than Ironman around this house.
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I don’t believe I have ever read a book about Pilgrims in the middle-end of July. Usually, such books are read in the coolness of a dry November, under a shady tree, after a large dinner. How strange to read in this blazing heat and pouring rain. We did not feel very  Thanksgiving-ish. I am ok with that. We have a Thanksgiving Unit included in our MFW package which I will gladly use in November. To be honest, there is so much more to the Pilgrims than just Thanksgiving. I’m a bit glad all the cliche stuff was out of the way!

Our Beautiful Feet study led us through “Pilgrim Stories” by Margaret Pumphrey; “Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims” by Clyde Robert Bulla; and “The Pilgrims of Plimoth” by Marcia Sewall. These books are rich and deep and thought provoking. My boys asked many difficult questions that led to very hard conversations about persecution. “Pilgrim Stories” was very informative but quite long to get through. The boys colored through a 3D map, coloring pages from pinterest and completed activities from a colonial history pockets book to pass the time as I read aloud. We would pause after each chapter to discuss storyline and ask questions.

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We loved our book basket this week! “If you sailed on the Mayflower in 1620” absolutely captivated my boys. It asks a new question on each page and then provides a detailed but brief response. Since it was not one long continuous narrative, we were able to go through a few pages each day that pertained to the storyline in our other chapter books. It all unintentionally worked out.
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“You wouldn’t want to Sail on the Mayflower” was also quite the crowd pleaser…
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But the real winners were a quartet of books from the library about colonial trades. My boys were thrilled with these!
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They expressed interest in opening their own individual blacksmith trades and we made signs for their respective shops; “Sharp the Gizzard” and “The Hunter’s Blacksmith.”
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Lots of imaginative play around the farmhouse this week. The boys were quite struck by all the strange Puritan names in the books we read (Love, Fear, Patience) and dubbed me “Goodwife Misery.” I was told that as a mute I could not comment on the living conditions. I basically sat in a chair while they brought me various household items. They would go hunting and gathering. They “planted” corn (yellow construction paper bits) in the couch. Later when I went to clean up, I found a can of tuna wedged alongside it. I am grateful that it was a sealed can of tuna.  I love this kind of play that points to deeper learning. These stories are staying with them beyond the classroom.

We took up a new craft this week!

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The loom is from Melissa and Doug. We were able to snag it for $10 with a coupon. All of my boys have loved giving the loom a try and we have two completed products so far. Weaving isn’t just for the little gals!

We watched library videos about Miles Standish and Plymouth Plantation, along with Drive Thru History’s episode on Plymouth. I managed to find my childhood favorite “The Mouse and the Mayflower” for free on youtube.

The lovely MFW blog, Chaos meets Creativity, shared a link for a very cute Mayflower game. Unfortunately, the boys were not very interested in playing by the time I finally got around to pulling it out because they wanted CONSTELLATIONS!

Our library had nearly every book on the MFW recommended book basket list for science this week. We read them all, along with our favorite well-worn copy of “A Children’s Introduction to the Night Sky” by Michael Driscoll. I love that book! We all wished we could go outside this week with the telescope, alas, certain death by mosquitos just was not worth it. Ah, life in the tropics.

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I printed out Montessori cards, lacing cards and set out black squares of construction paper along with little star stickers so they could build various constellations.

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We even made constellation tubes!
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Yup…45 minutes of work to put those puppies together and the two eldest had zero interest in them.  ZERO.

Truth is, I spent tons of time laminating, coloring, punching holes, wrapping, organizing, etc; and my kids just wanted to spend time making their own constellations THEIR way. You don’t always have to be fancy. Simplicity seems to be the recipe for flourishing around here. Complication almost always backfires on me. (I’ll learn the lesson one day, right?) Child-crafted constellations were popping up everywhere. Leaving soggy cheerios on the dining room table in the shape of Cassiopeia; connecting the freckles on your brother’s face with a pen to find Andromeda; arranging the Little Dipper in the schoolroom abacus, building your own constellations is quite a marvelous undertaking!

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My personal favorite is simple and sweet– a boy with some sidewalk chalk and a bucket of rocks to mark the stars with.

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Isn’t child-led play a wonder? I love it. These boys taught themselves more about constellations this week than I did with my sad little basket of internet offerings. This is as it should be. Way to go, boys!

MFW Adventures: Jamestown & Reevaluations

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There are times when my children prove with resounding flourish that there is an art to gentle learning. This was definitely one of those weeks.  These kids kept slowing me down! I wanted to press on and they dug in their heels and demanded a slow walk through the unit. They wanted to savor their learning like a delicious meal. It was a good reminder to only give them the very best. Even though I found 12 books on Jamestown at our local library, I only gave the children 4 to look through. Good, true and beautiful is the standard. IMG_4906

After years of careful, parent-led gleaning, they are starting to filter through things a bit for themselves. “This book is….not that great. What are they trying to tell me? It doesn’t seem like its anything good or true or useful,” my eldest mused.  He can’t put many words to his assessments yet, but he can decipher richness from twaddle. This is incredibly encouraging to me!

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Jamestown is mighty good fun, Mom! Lets study it again and again!” said the second born.

IMG_4851We spent the majority of the week in just this way; boys coloring pictures or building forts out of lincoln logs, while I read aloud from books.

This was so pleasurable for everyone, it almost felt like a vacation!

In some ways we are on an eternal vacation from school. Those strict regulations are being stripped away as I become more and more unschooled and we are left with the brilliant truth that learning is living and abundant and pleasurable.

The boys learned so much from their Beautiful Feet Books—Pocahontas and Jamestown, New World Adventure.  We are just thrilled with their Early American History Guide thus far.  We colored in our next 3D map and built a model of Jamestown (pictured above) which we found in a free sample lesson from Homeschool in the Woods.

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Then came the unexpected punch in the gut from my eldest.

“Mom, I loved school this week. It was so nice to not feel stupid.”
“WHAT? You have felt stupid? Why? When? You are not stupid, not in the least!”
“I am such a slow reader and no matter how hard I try to remember what I learned, I just cant. It doesn’t make sense when I look at it and I never know which way things are facing. My heart beats really fast and I feel kind of sick.”

Yeah.

MFW 1st grade phonics was a huge hit with my 6 year old. He’s a duck in water when it comes to reading. Everything clicked. It all made sense. It was all so incredibly effortless. He is reading chapter books on his own now. He is always reaching for something new to read.

My eldest did not do well with MFW 1st phonics. He struggled. It was painful to watch and miserable to teach. We added in Explode the Code halfway through the year and he improved a little bit.  But here we are on the threshold of second grade and it feels like he is regressing.

Do I press on? Do I stop all together? Do I hold the six year old back until the seven year old gets a more solid foothold?

I felt overwhelmed by all these questions at first. Then I remembered to be thankful for them. We are so blessed to homeschool. We can stop if we need to. We can slow up or speed down. No matter what, we have the opportunity to do what is best for our children without worrying about someone else’s timetable. What incredible freedom! What a gift to our children!

We are sticking with MFW and Beautiful Feet as planned but with expectations adjusted for each child. I have taken out a few of our tougher language arts books for now. We will resume Writing With Ease once we’ve had time for remedial reading work. We will continue using First Language Lessons along with our Spelling program. We have ordered All About Reading and will commence with this program once it arrives.  My eldest will work on this program with me in the afternoons. We are hoping AAR will help him decode words and build his confidence! The second born will use this time to read books and make new vocabulary lists to record in his composition book, which we have titled “Discovery Dictionary.” He jots down all unfamiliar words throughout the course of the week and we look up their meanings on Friday afternoons.

We will keep using lots and lots and lots of read aloud books. IMG_4848
We had torrential downpours all week long.

The backyard fort is infested with mosquitos.

Studying Jamestown gave these boys fort fever! So we built forts with pillows and blankets. We built forts with crackers and cheese. We built them with paper and toothpicks and glue.

The boys really melted into their play this week.

I believe with all my heart that there is no better learning than that kind of deep, engaged play. I’m glad we cut back on the unnecessary busyness in our life.

I see our schoolwork transforming into lifestyle.

Books start informing their play. Projects start melding with their dreams and ideas. Chores link up with character studies.

Even if the house is a bit chaotic and I am not using even a tenth of all the great ideas I had scribbled down while planning our Adventures year, learning is seeping into every minute of our day. I see the transformation from those once “busy hectic days” into “full rich days.”

Hard weeks can bring rich blessing into our lives. I am grateful for the revelation my son gave me and for the chance to slow things down and help him. I am thankful for God’s mercy in showing me all the ways these loose threads of many years are coming together to make something lovely.

MFW Adventures: 1492—go with the flow.

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Christopher Columbus!

I always love the way June Allyson, as Jo March in Little Women, lets that expression fly.

I ended up saying it all week…

i.e. “Christopher Columbus! There’s an armadillo in our yard!”
IMG_4747I have lived in Florida for the majority of my life and never once met an armadillo in the wild. To be fair, this armadillo has presumably lived its entire life in Florida and never encountered me once. We kept our distance out of respect for Mr. Armadillo’s wild nature and all around creepiness. Hooray, nature walk! Always exciting when something other than birds, bugs and/or types of bark, happens.

And that is not the only strange thing that happened around here….

IMG_4823My boys asked to do multiple crafts.

Multiple.

Crafts.

IMG_4825They made a pirate ship (Not what Columbus sailed on but I’ll take it), three maps, bead necklaces to trade for Indian gold and a flaaarrllaarggllaar made out of popsicle sticks. Ok, even after it was explained to me three times by my exasperated six year old, I’m still not quite sure. I believe it was some sort of navigation tool. I said “ooooo” and “aaahhh” whenever he paused for approval during his explanation. A flarrrrllaarggllaaar you guys! All on his own!

Ah, Columbus. He really wanted that trade route.

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He wanted the route and I really wanted the boys to hit certain goals this week. Halfway through I realized that they were going in a completely different direction than I.

Just like Columbus, I had hit an unexpected barrier.  Pesky ol’ South America kept Columbus from finding Asia (and months of madness, possible mutiny, starvation and eventual death in the middle of the Pacific). I decided to respect the road blocks my kids were putting up, lest I meet with disaster, and follow their lead. Last week, they were up for long discussions about Leif Ericsson. This week, they wanted hands on experiences and in-depth play about Columbus. In other words: “stop talking Mom and play with us!”

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We enjoyed the MFW materials in this unit–especially American Pioneers and Patriots. This became one of our favorite read alouds during our Literary Lunch hour. When the rains came, we hid in the boys bunks. Catalina, Pedro and Martin, riding out the storm. (We did not wedge any knives into the door)

Our Beautiful Feet book study continues to delight the boys. While I enjoyed “Leif the Lucky” more,  it was great to add in “Columbus” for a few great comparison discussions.  The boys have learned so much about diligence and self-control in these last two weeks of BF study. We press on, eager for more great living-book learning!
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The younger set of siblings had a great time tagging along this week. Every time the elder boys asked to draw maps or star charts, the younger boys would jump in on the fun. Lots of paint everywhere. Truly, a fantastic mess. They were so happy!

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The boys are still loving their manipulative maps from Interactive 3D Maps: American History. Its probably our favorite resource this year!

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We also enjoyed watching the Drive Thru History episode about Columbus. We asked for the series last Christmas and its been great fun so far–we highly recommend it!

After days of reading and mapmaking, the boys were itching for some adventure. When an afternoon rainstorm rolled in on Friday, my eldest stood at the window and watched the powerful winds shake the trees in our orchard.

“Can you imagine this kind of fury in the open unknown sea?” he asked.

“It must be terrifying,” I said.

“Mom, is it too late in the world to have an explorer’s heart?” he wondered.

“Never.” I assured him.

“Thats good. I am a kind of boy thats made up of courage and exploration but with safety too because, well, you’re my Mom and I love you,” he grinned at me.

I’m glad I went with the flow. Forcing them to do everything on my agenda, well, they may as well matriculate into our local school system for all the good it will do them as independent, creative learners.

I love watching them develop a love of learning.

I love that studying about Columbus and Viking Explorers has left my boys with a heart for exploring and a yearning for discovery, instead of an ache from sitting down all day staring at a textbook.

I read a passage this week about the unfurling of a mighty white sail from its massive yardarm. The boys were listening attentively, faces smiling and eyes alight with wonder. I’ve spent the last years hoisting their sails onto yardarms, tacking everything down and tying everything in place. Now the sails are beginning to unfurl, the wind may not have caught yet, but the sails are starting to stretch out and its a breathtaking experience.

Book List for Columbus (I found nearly all of them at the library)
1. Explorers Who Got Lost by Diane Sansevere Dreher
2. The World of Columbus & Sons by Genevieve Foster (this is an upper level BF book. We just looked through it)
3.  Who Was Christopher Columbus by Bonnie Bader
4. Christopher Columbus by Stephen Krensky
5. Animals Christopher Columbus Saw by Sandra Markle
6. Pedro’s Journal by Peter Koeppen
7. Into the Unknown by Stewart Ross
8. Great Ships by Patrick O’Brien
9. Columbus by Ingri & Edgar d’Aulaire
10. Land Ho! Fifty Glorious Years in the Age of Exploration by Nancy Winslow Parker (This was a great read for any kiddos wanting MORE explorers!)

Beautiful Feet Review + My Father’s World Adventures

Beautiful Feet books. 

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They do it to me every time.

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Online or at a conference, I am drawn to them.

Moth to a flame.

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We are using their Early American History: A Literature Approach for Primary Grades along with My Father’s World Adventures.

I love reading to my kids. The majority of the books studied in EAH were all ready on my book list for MFW. I had flipped through their guide at the FPEA convention this year and loved the way they went through each living-book. The study can be completed in two years or in one year, depending on how many lessons you decide to complete each week.  I will say from the onset that I am in no hurry to complete Adventures. Maybe we will finish in one year, maybe it will take two. What I know for certain is my desire to make the most of this wonderful season in their lives.

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They employ the Charlotte Mason method of education: reading, reasoning, relating and recording. If I am going to incorporate something, I want it to integrate well with the learning style we employ. Beautiful Feet meets the standard.

The EAH guide opens with this quote from Cervantes:

“…the ultimate end of writing is both to instruct and delight.”

We just completed our first book study, “Leif the Lucky” by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.  Instruction and delight indeed!

I would have read “Leif the Lucky” this year, no matter what. Its just too excellent of a book to pass up on. However, we would not have delved into the book to the extent that we did without this guide.

Topics like the principles of self-control and moral sense, were discussed by looking at the text and digging through scripture. We memorized a poem and used a dictionary.  EAH made us stop and really reflect on this book. Each lesson provided socratic questions to further enrich our discussions. Beautiful coloring pages, which are free to download, accompanied the lessons. This gave my children a closer look at the d’Aulaire’s gorgeous artwork. My son was inspired by these exercises and now tries to imitate their work in his own independent projects. Nothing sweeter than amateur d’Aulaire-esque Lego mini figures and dragons.

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There are 19 books studied in this guide. They all pertain to American History but not all match up precisely with MFW’s schedule. For example, Leif the Lucky, Columbus, Pocahontas, Jamestown and Pilgrim Stories all fall nicely into the sequence. But in later lessons we will be reading through Winter at Valley Forge while we study different states. I am ok with these themes not lining up perfectly. I don’t want to rush lessons in one curriculum or pull back on another just to make them meet up. It will be interesting to see how the children react to newly introduced books that relate to something they learned weeks prior. What will they still recall? How will a slower study of a living-book influence their understanding of the topic? How will this fit into the framework of their timeline now that they know “what happens next”? 21513_1

I have not purchased the entire package of books used with the guide. I plan to find them little by little on thrift sites or at used curriculum sales.  Some we will be able to find at our local library and I can decide later if we would like to add those books to our personal library.

I’ll be checking in throughout the year as we try and incorporate these excellent Charlotte Mason based curriculums. If you are using Beautiful Feet books along with My Father’s World, please chime in the comments and let us know how your experience has been!