Year 4: Ancient History Term 1 wk 3-4

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And we are back!

April was a crazy month. Easter, the end of our CC Year, science fair, closing program, music recital, family vacation, wild + free book club, practicum training and licensing training all took place within a three week timespan. All of it was wonderful but utterly exhausting. I am beat.

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Morning Time
Rich + Rooted Passover by Jennifer Naraki
Genesis 21-50
Herodotus and the Road to History by Jeanne Benedict
Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors by Lorene Lamber
Ancient Egypt by James Baikie
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Hymn: “Fairest Lord Jesus”
Simply Charlotte Mason Picture Study Portfolio: Giotto
Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francois
Poem: “To Be a Pilgrim” by John Bunyan
The Apostles Creed
Biography: Mathematicians are People Too by Luella Reimer
Geography: Visits to Africa by Simply Charlotte Mason
Composer: Vivaldi
Latin: Memoria Press

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Ancient History
My boys have been begging to study Ancient Egyptian History for quite some time now. They were so thrilled the day we hit lesson 5 in the Beautiful Feet Book’s guide and I asked them to decorate an Ancient Egypt Page for their notebooks.
We broke up the readings for “Pharaoh’s of Ancient Egypt” since they are too lengthy for the stage of narration that they are at. Splitting each chapter into three sections has been helpful. They illustrate and include a small written narration for one section and give oral narrations for the other two sections. “Tales of Ancient Egypt” by Roger Lancelyn Green has been a great hit. Its interesting to see the kids dissect the creation story, flood story etc and compare and contrast it to Biblical history.

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We found several wonderful books to add depth to areas of interest within our studies. We broadened lesson 8 with “Pharaoh’s Boat by Weitzman, David L. [HMH Books for Young Readers, 2009] Hardcover [Hardcover]“>Pharaoh’s Boat” by David Weitzman, which tied in perfectly with our study of Pharaoh Cheops and the construction of his pyramid. The book outlines how the Egyptians built boats for the Pharaohs to use in their journey to the afterlife and how they were disassembled, then buried at the base of the pyramids. The latter half of the book walks us through the archeological discovery of one boat and how it was reconstructed and preserved.  Its a bit pricey to track down so check your local libraries first for this wonderful gem!  I’ll list additional books in our book list at the end of the post. I’ll also include a new tab in our Shop tab with links to some of our favorite Ancient History resources.

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The Student Bible Atlas has been hit or miss with the boys. Last week for lesson 6 we decided to do some more advanced map work using our homemade plexiglass easel from The Homegrown Preschooler.  The boys painted the map on the plexiglass using a mixture of tempura and dish soap (with a tiny bit of acrylic added in!) I printed out labels and the kids were able to label their map together. We gathered around the map as we read and they pointed out cities and features as read along. Diving into the map and bringing it to life really solidified everything for them.

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Math
My long time readers know that I like to spend time with a curriculum before writing about it. I am almost to the end of my “observation period” with Right Start Math and I am so excited to share more in-depth about our experience with the curriculum. For now I will simply report that we are loving it! We used Saxon for our entire homeschool experience until the day I realized that my children knew how to answer questions correctly without understanding why they were right. I knew we needed a new program and when I looked at Right Start, I had a feeling it would be a great fit for us. We had to humble ourselves and pick up a lower year package because I knew my children had missed a number of foundational things and had even learned a few things out of order.
I am so glad we did this. The kids flew through the first 40 lessons in the book but now they are really starting to grapple with some of these concepts. Its beautiful to see them understanding math to such a degree that they are PLAYING with their math. They are loving the logic and structure of numbers. They are begging for math everyday—that says a lot to me.
My eldest son really struggled with place value. I’m not sure if it was a dyslexia thing or if the Saxon script never explained it in a way he could understand, but the simple exercises in RSM along with the use of the abacus, finally clicked place value understanding in his mind. What a joy to witness!

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We have really gotten into a beautiful groove with our Friday exam. The last two weeks the boys have launched right into sharing their favorite stories with each other and teaching their younger brother some of the best things they learned that week. A lovely peek at some rhetoric level sharing. In fact, all the classical education stages are usually present at the table. My youngest proudly rattling off terms and the older two bursting with dialectic questions and once in a while that beautiful burst of rhetoric reasoning as they teach their younger brother something valuable that they learned. I have really come to value these afternoons. Its encouraging to see what sorts of things they are taking away from their lessons, what they are internalizing and what is shaping their character.

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Extra Curricular
Speaking of character, the amount of habit training and character training that occurs within the realm of handwork never ceases to amaze me. Slow, methodical, meaningful work does wonders for our habit training. Then there is the added bonus of handwork as processing space. I shared about my children’s various thinking styles on instagram a few weeks ago. They each have a different way of processing their lessons, but something they all need is TIME to ponder what they have learned. One child needs to verbalize as he thinks, another needs constant outdoor motion (usually time on a skateboard or bike will do) and another needs to work with his hands. I call him my “build it out” thinker. On the day I snapped this photo we had just wrapped a morning of studies containing Shakespeare, Giotto, and the Rosetta Stone. He was sawing wood and working quietly at his work bench for a while and suddenly piped out, “I like how everything we learn is connected and I am a part of it all.” It was a great reminder that after feasting on great ideas, children need that protected time, gifted time, to think and ponder what they have taken in.

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We did not do any formal science during this study period. GASP! We had formal science for a solid 10 months and once our busy end of the year season hit, I felt comfortable letting it go because of all the NATURE STUDY we are constantly immersed in. The children have plenty of time outdoors to observe nature, ample opportunity to interact with insects and animals and other creatures and a never ending desire to read books about all kinds of nature. To be honest, they’ve got this covered. We will probably start up again in June once I am home from convention.

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Ancient History Booklist (lessons 5-9)
Pharaoh’s Boat by David Weitzman
Egyptian Boats by Geoffrey Scott
Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors by Lorene Lambert 
The 5,000-Year-Old Puzzle: Solving a Mystery of Ancient Egypt“>The 5,000 Year Old Puzzle by Claudia Logan
The Boy of the Pyramids by Ruth Fosdick Jones
Mummies, Pyramids and pharaohs by Gail Gibbons
Egyptian Mummies by Henrietta McCall
Mummies Made in Egypt by Aliki
Cat Mummies by Kelly Trumble
Building History Egyptian Pyramid by Gillian Clements
Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile by Tomie dePaola

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Stay tuned for our next installment of The Road to Morning Time!

Year 4: Ancient History, Term 1 Wk 1-2

My children skipped summer break. Yes, you read that right. They were SO excited to start  Ancient History from Beautiful Feet Books and continue on with Right Start Math and IEW and all the rest that they canceled their own summer break. We’re giving year round schooling a try. Six week on, one week off. Something tells me we will be sticking with it for a long time.  In these posts I will be sharing about our studies with an in depth look at how we blend Charlotte Mason and Classical Education. This first post is heavy on the set up and light on the practical blending, but as time moves on I’ll have more room for greater specificity. Here is a look at our first two weeks on the new schedule.

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Morning Time:
Genesis 1-20
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Hymn: “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”
Giotto Tended the Sheep by Opal Wheeler
Simply Charlotte Mason Picture Study Portfolio: Giotto
Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francois
Poem: “The Moon” by Robert Louis Stevenson, “Opportunity” By Edward Sill
Biography: “Mathematicians are People, Too. Vol. 2” by Luella Reimer
Geography: Visits to Africa
Handwriting: Classical Conversations Prescripts
Composer: Corelli and Vivaldi

Ancient History with Beautiful Feet Books
Let’s begin by saying that this guide is geared for 4th grade-7th grade in the Intermediate section, which is the first half of the book, and 8th-12th grade in the Advanced Section, which is found in the second half of the book. My two boys are now in 4th grade so I am making adjustments as needed since they are at the very bottom of the recommended age range. The first four lessons of the guide cover Creation- Hammurabi.

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I love how open-ended Beautiful Feet Books is. Enough direction to keep us on track but the overall unscripted assignments allow us to really follow our interests for each section which is so life-giving and keeps the boys engaged, invested and eager to dig for more!

One of the main texts used in the first four lessons is a TEXTBOOK called Streams of Civilizations. It is obviously not a living book and to be honest, if I read every word aloud my kids would have probably run away screaming.  I took time before we started this unit and read through the first assigned chapters of Streams of Civilizations so that I could have a grasp of where things were headed. I marked interesting sections to read aloud to the boys and then I went in search of living books that explained the unmarked sections in a more engaging way. I’ll add our book list at the end of the post.

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A couple of set up notes for everyone following along. The boys will be filling out a standard composition notebook for their Ancient History study. Maps, narrations, drawings, terms, research etc. are contained within. The boys have dubbed them “Field Journals.” We also have picture story pads from Miller Pads & Paper for all of their Bible reading narrations. Secretly, I am using these notebooks to ease them over to more formal written narrations. We divide the scripture reading over a period of a few days and each time we read the boys narrate the story, then we get out our Bible Journals (picture story pads) and they illustrate what they learned. On a separate sheet of notebook paper they write out a few sentences/short paragraph about the story in their own words. I check for any spelling mistakes and then the sentences are written out once more in their best handwriting in the notebook. (All spelling mistakes are added to a list and then worked on at the end of the day). The written narrations will lengthen over time. We are also using a Book of Centuries from Miller Pads & Paper and updating it every day.

Lesson 1
We stretched the first lesson out over a period of three days.  We spent the first day reading through the entire Genesis account of creation, narrating and discussing it. Day two was spent reading about evolution and going through Streams of Civilizations.  The third day was spent further discussing terms found in the Streams of Civilization book. Everything from uniformitarianism to sequence dating. I am a bit surprised that the kids were so excited about their glossaries! We read additional living books each day and on the third day we also read several living books about archeology and anthropology and even went on a “dig” in the backyard to uncover some chicken bones I had buried the day before. Have you checked out  the newly released film “Is Genesis History?” The boys and I saw it in the theater a few weeks before our study began and it was such a helpful starting point for our discussions about Creation, Evolution and the Flood. We spent the remainder of our time on the third day researching the bronze age before the lesson migrated to the backyard with the boys all fashioning spears and weapons out of rocks. I probably should have seen that coming.

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Lesson 2
I really love that the moment we opened our book about Noah, a rainstorm began outside. It felt like a hug from the Lord. When the boys were younger we looked at Peter Spier’s book Noah’s Ark and the flood account in the Bible beginning in Genesis 6. This time we also added in the phenomenal Tom Dooley book, The True Story of Noah’s Ark The boys responded so well to it that I am now considering a trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky this fall so they can see the Ark replica. We spent a full day on the Flood topic and made sure to read flood accounts from around the world. We also discussed geological studies about the flood which were quite fascinating. On our second day with lesson two we read an excellent account about Sumer, Akkad and Sargon in the book “Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors” by Lorene Lambert. This book is EXCEPTIONAL and a much better read than the Streams of Civilization account. I did highlight a few terms and excerpts to go over with the children from Streams after we finished reading from Lambert’s book.  We brought out some Crayola Terra Cotta Air Dry Clay 2.5 lb Bucket and wrote our names in the cuneiform language using popsicle sticks.

Lesson 3
Ziggurats. These kids were captivated by ziggurats. They built several versions of ziggurats out of legos while I read stories about Mesopotamia, Babylon and the Tower of Babel. When it was time to read about Abram and trace the map of his journey the boys sat up a bit straighter and pointed with wide eyes to the city of Aleppo, which we just discussed at the end of our Exploring Countries and Cultures study. I always try to compare the ancient maps to the modern day maps so the boys can see where everything is now.  We pulled out our giant timeline to see how things were weaving together. My eldest mused at the end of the lesson, “Ancient history still really matters today doesn’t it? Its hard to talk about anything political if you don’t understand the history of a place.”

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Lesson 4
Again, Lorene Lambert saves the day. Don’t get me wrong, Streams of Civilization is helpful, but nothing beats a living books account of a topic you want your children to experience and bond with. Her account of Babylon, Nebechednezzer and Hammurabi was excellent. We made sure to visit the Louvre for a close look at the Code of Hammurabi stele.  The boys made more recordings in their notebooks. We also took our first look at the beginnings of the Egyptian Civilization and the boys were completely captivated.

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Lesson 4.5
Ok there is no lesson 4.5, but I wanted to read about the Assyrians, Hittites and Persians so I made a lesson 4.5. Plus, the kids were begging to learn more about the Indus River Valley Civilizations from our Classical Conversations Timeline.  We mainly used Lorene Lambert’s book but we also included a few living books found in the list below. We also pulled out our Pin it! Maps for some more geography practice and a chance for the boys to narrate a bit about life along these four rivers. We spent another chunk of time talking about irrigation and drawing plans for a system in our orchard.

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Science
We did an in depth animal study for science during these lessons. We studied camels! What unbelievable fascinating creatures they are! Our two primary texts happen to be out of print books, but you can visit any public library and find plenty of great books on camels!

Since we happened to study no less than FIVE major rivers these past two weeks: the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, Indus during Ancient History study and the Yangtze river during my first grader’s FIAR study. we decided to conduct a few experiments with stream flow.
We also went online to see photos and video of the headwaters for each river.

We butchered a pig on our farm last weekend and the boys helped us to package everything. We also saved some of the organs for dissection and microscope inspection.

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Math
We are now using Right Start Math and LOVING IT. Once we have worked on our daily portion of History, we take a quick break and return for a math lesson and some games. For those unfamiliar with Right Start, the program comes with a spiral bound book of Math Games that helps children gain greater fluency in their math skills. It is not unusual to find my children playing these games together long after math is over. We take breaks between every subject and right now, math is the time of day when the kids forgo the break and keep chipping away at their games and lessons.  The transition from Saxon has been much more fluid than I initially anticipated. We started a level lower than they were at with Saxon and I am so glad we did! I can’t believe how many foundational things my children had missed out on. They’re already demonstrating a greater understanding of mathematics. They aren’t just giving answers, they can now explain the WHY behind their answers. I am finding that this program is extremely helpful for my dyslexic learner. He has loved using his abacus and everything is flowing so much faster now.

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Latin
We are progressing well with our Memoria Press Latin. After a solid year of Latin its great to hear the boys come across a derivative in their regular reading and hear them chirp out the Latin word it comes from.  “Ha! Navigate. That SO comes from navigo.”

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We are still faithfully chipping away at Student Writing Intensive Level A as we prepare for our first upcoming year of Essentials. I am seeing tremendous improvement in my children as they work through this program. My twice exceptional son (dyslexia and creatively gifted) is flourishing right now. He loves the assignments and appreciates their meaty brevity. I’ll be posting more in depth about this program in the weeks to come!

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Music
Our History of Classical Music Study from Beautiful Feet Books takes place every Friday morning. After taking up so many new instrument this year I realized that the time was ripe for capitalizing on this family interest. This study does not disappoint. We complete one lesson each week and we could not be happier with our lessons. We seem to have fallen into the habit of preparing a cup of cocoa and gathering round our CD player as we listen to our Music Masters CDs. My eldest usually draws while he listens and my second born works on his knitting or crochet work. We are recording our work in these lovely lesson books.

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Friday Exam
Our last two Friday exams were a blend of oral questions from the Streams of Civilizations tests and narrations from the boys about what stuck out most in their minds. They have vivid recall of every battle I mentioned in the past two weeks. They also carried forward quite a bit about Sargon and the flooding of the Nile each year in Egypt.  If you don’t know about our Friday exams, you can read about them here.

Symposium
Friday afternoons will never be the same! After lunch I let my youngest children watch Mr Rogers neighborhood on my laptop and the older kids and I cozy up on the couch and we discuss, debate, ask questions and exchange ideas on things we learned throughout the week. This has become our prime time for witnessing the fruits of blending Charlotte Mason and Classical Education. We pull out our timeline cards and retrieve some of our cycle 1 memory work from Classical Conversations. The exchange of bigger ideas begins to happen in this space and I am witnessing their slow transition to the dialectic phase. I often bring some sort of hands on work for us to do while we converse. A few weeks ago we ran stitches through canvas while discussing the sea voyage of Columbus in anticipation of our visit to the Niña and Pinta replicas. This task made a tactile connection in their brain about Columbus that built relationship to the event. Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education. Poetic knowledge is a powerful thing!

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Extra Curricular
The boys practiced their individual instruments after Blessing Hour and we put in our usual 5-6 hours on the mat training in mixed martial arts.  Handwork this term consists of wood whittling, crochet and basic hand sewing.

Book list for Ancient History Lessons 1-4(.5)
Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors by Lorene Lambert
The Creation Story for Children 
The Epic of Gilgamesh

The True Story of Noah’s Ark by Tom Dooley
Indus Valley City by Gillian Clements
Looking at Ancient History by RJ Unstead*
Land of the Two Rivers by Leonard Cottrell* (new print version released in 2012)
Archaeologists Dig for Clues (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)
Birthdays of Freedom by Genevieve Foster*
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
DK Eyewitness Books: Mesopotamia
Adam’s Synchronological Chart or Map of History. (The GIANT timeline picture above!)
Camels: Ships of the Desert by John Waters*
Camels are Meaner than Mules by Mary Calhoun*

*=harder to find. Check abebooks, thriftbooks, Amazon Used, eBay and etsy.

The Road to Morning Time: A Pregnant Pause

There are some aspects of pregnancy that are hard to recollect now. Brain damage from sleep deprivation will do that to a person. While this brand of selective memory loss is certainly essential for the perpetuation of our species, there are some parts of pregnancy that were so joyful (or dark) for me that I will probably never forget them.  My children were still very young when my sixth and final pregnancy  began nearly five years ago. Everyone was still four and under. It feels crazy just writing that.  But that was my life back then– My Big Fat Gestating, Lactating, Homeschooling life. (Officially calling dibs on that for a future book title).

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Morning Time was short and sweet back then. A prayer, a song, a story and they were off. When we first started morning time, food was the major draw and I was the only one at the table not wearing diapers.  After a solid year and half things were slowly progressing upwards. I finally felt like my PPD/PTSD was at a manageable level and I was enjoying life with my boys. We were on the home stretch of grad school and flat broke. We lived in this little yellow bungalow I had loved since I was a girl. Hubby built a brick pathway and a white picket fence around the front so I could plant a beautiful garden. It was healing  to be out there with the boys. We would often bring in flowers to set on the table and they became part of the simple beauty of our morning time. I didn’t have a plan for each and every day, but we were consistently reading something and we were always singing hymns we learned at Bible Study Fellowship.  I woke up craving that simple time every morning. 10-20 minutes of peace before the boys were unleashed upon 1100 square feet.

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Then I got pregnant.

Again.

I kept it to myself for two weeks, trying to shield my poor husband who was wearily working through his dissertation. I probably would have kept the secret longer but my girl Whitney Houston died and as we watched the livestream of her funeral my hormones took over and I weepingly confessed all.

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You know that bone deep exhaustion that comes with those first weeks of building a human inside your uterus? When all you want to do is hibernate but the tiny humans that live with you are flat out not having it? Then the morning sickness kicks in and you spend most of your day heaving in the bathroom while little fingers are poking in from under the door and a little lisping voice is asking “Mommy! Mommy! Wath that noithe? Are you vomiting again?”  Yeah, Morning Time is hard to do when all that is happening!

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This was the season in our lives when Morning Time briefly became Afternoon Time. We didn’t start our days out together singing. We started our days out caring for one another. Even the littlest one recognized that Mommy was ill and needed help. My hubby would get up before the sun to do some research, then he would wake the boys, change their diapers and feed them breakfast before heading out the door for another day of grad school. I would often walk out of the bathroom after a bout of morning sickness to find the hallway littered with “gifts.” Treasured cars, trucks, dinosaurs, animals, all waiting for me, carefully put in place by three tiny boy warriors with hearts growing in empathy for their mama. This was the season when one of my sons emerged as a natural caretaker. When someone needed something and I was unwell, he would go and solve the issue or find what was needed. One son emerged as our resident encourager. He would walk over and sweep the hair off my forehead as I lay on the couch nursing the baby and he would say “My poor sweet girl, you are doing such a great job Mom.”  Then there was the baby, just over a year old. He didn’t care when we had morning time, he cared when he had Mommy Time.

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Mommy time always trumps Morning Time.

After all the nausea passed and the day was half over, the boys would go down for their naps. I would rest a little and when they awoke we had our Afternoon Time. It was a sweet way to transition out of nap time. A snack, a song, a story, a prayer, a handful of flowers. It was peaceful and purposeful. It was not part of the original plan, but its what worked for that season.

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On the really bad days, there was no Afternoon Time, and the world kept turning and the children kept growing and we would try again the next day.

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We moved across the country when I was about six months pregnant. This upheaval led to two months without Morning/Afternoon Time. The longest stretch we ever went without.  It was a hard period in our family history, but we were blessed to be near my husband’s family and to have access to a wonderful amount of nature!

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Once we were settled into our new space I realized that I was ready to have Morning Time again. We had barely gotten into the habit when our last little boy came lightning fast into the world and everything turned upside down again for a few months.

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But by now we had seen and tasted the beauty of Morning Time. We all loved it. We all needed it. Morning Time was here to stay. Now I set my eyes on stretching their ability to linger at the table, to long for more beauty and more stories. I was mere months away from meeting Charlotte Mason and the boys were growing by leap and bounds. In many ways we were crossing a bridge together, the bridge that would take us to a whole new world of learning that would change us forever.
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Stay tuned for our next installment of the Road to Morning Time: Bridging the Transitions.

For The Birds.

As a dad, I want my home to be full of LIFE– learning and discovery, excitement and joy, good music and delicious food.

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One way that we infuse our home with life is by keeping a variety of animals.  We are starting small and slow on our little hobby farm (For some larger-scale farm beauty check out our friends at Marmilu Farms), but we did develop a master plan for the property that incrementally includes chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks, rabbits, bees, quail, pigs, goats, sheep, cows, horses, llamas, alpacas, ostriches, capybaras, lesser kudu, and velociraptors.  OK, well maybe not quite that much, but we’re learning as we go, and this is the story of how we stumbled wing-deep into turkeys.

Two months after moving on to this property, we picked up a handful of chickens.  Soon after, Elsie went to our local farm store for chicken feed and came back with chicken feed and two turkey poults. (Which, incidentally, helped create a new family rule: NO IMPULSE BUYS OF LIVESTOCK.)  Only one survived, but I built a small coop for it and after seven months we had a fantastic backyard-raised turkey dinner.  Our first foray with turkeys was a success!

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So when year two rolled around we upped the ante and brought home 3 poults from the farm store.  I expanded the first coop for them, they had plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and room to roam, and everything was fine and dandy.  Then one day when they were about four months old I heard a huge commotion coming from the coop, and as I walked over to investigate, what I saw was basically an avian version of a vintage WWF fight.  Two of the birds were duking it out, kicking, scratching, pecking, beating each other with their wings.  It took me a second, but then I realized “Ooooooh… I have two males and one female, and the males are fighting with each other because of her.” So the next day I sold a male to a coworker and revised our turkey strategy: initially we planned to fatten them up and eat them, but now that I knew I had one of each sex, I was just going to let them go and see what happened.  Sure enough, two months later they started mating, and one month after that she started laying eggs.  At some point in the process they picked up the names Tommy and Shelley, the former because male turkeys are called toms, the latter because her production of nearly one egg per day over the course of six months was simply amazing, not unworthy of a namesake like Mrs. Duggar.

Turkeys really are amazing animals, and the boys and I were endlessly fascinated with them.

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The assortment of feathers, the way they walk and eat, the way that Tommy would puff himself up and snort, and his inclination to dance.  We found ourselves regularly walking out to the coop to check on them for sheer entertainment, often several times a day, and they became an instant point of discussion with friends and family that visited.  We had many a deep conversation standing around that coop watching them.  And they continued their daily cycle of mating and laying.  My 6-year old once witnessed the act and later told us “I saw the turkeys play this kind of wrestling game.  Shelley sat on the ground and Tommy crawled up on her back and was waving his feathers and doing a weird dance on her back.  He looked like he was having a lot of fun, but she didn’t seem to like it very much.”

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With such a prolific production of fertilized eggs I excitedly bought an incubator with the dream of having a mini turkey farm, keeping some of the poults for ourselves (for more delicious backyard-to-table dinners down the road) and selling the rest for some extra cash on the side.  Little did I know how much the odds are stacked against the production of good, healthy poults!  If the egg is fertilized in the first place, the embryo has to grow successfully.  And even if an embryo develops properly, carefully maintaining the incubator at a certain temperature and humidity, it has to hatch itself.  Sadly, I had several poults die while hatching, as they were not strong enough to sufficiently crack through the shell and push themselves out.  And of those that did manage to hatch, some had defects or were ill and others wouldn’t eat or drink, and they ended up dying within the first few days.  The harsh reality of life and death shattered my turkey breeding idealism- I’d guess that for every dozen eggs I put in the incubator, only 2-3 would make it through to be healthy birds.  But boy did I try!  I borrowed a friend’s incubator and had them running in tandem for nearly five months, so that as one batch of eggs was hatching, the eggs in the other incubator would be halfway through, and so on.

The boys enjoyed the whole process as much as I did and were exposed to important life lessons in the meantime.  They liked watching me give the birds their food and water, and would accompany me on the daily trek to retrieve the egg.  Once the incubators were running, I would catch them sneaking into the room to check on the eggs through the incubator window, even if they were still weeks away from hatching.  And as the hatch day approached, I taught them how to candle the eggs with a flashlight to check on the development.  And if you ever want your normally rambunctious kids to sit still and channel their energy into excited shrieks and yells, let them watch something hatch out of an egg!  Some poults started and finished the whole process in about two hours, others took nearly two days, and others died halfway through.  And, of course, watching a new hatchling is fascinating, so they all took shifts on Turkey Patrol.

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They loved helping me feed and water the poults and watching them grow and change over the first few days and weeks, and experienced the sadness when I told them a sick newborn had died.  One day they came home and asked where the newly-hatched turkeys were, and I explained that I had sold them and that we would use that money to help take care of the other animals.  The boys gathered a whole range of valuable experiences with these turkeys, hands-on experiences that balanced nicely with their classroom studies.

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And what about Tom and Shelley now, you ask?  They were delicious!!

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But they gave us one last parting educational gift- Can you guess what those two things are in the picture below?  Incredibly… those are still-forming eggs!  When we butchered Shelley, we found those inside. It takes more than a day for a turkey hen to form an egg internally, so there is a pipeline of several forming eggs inside her at any one point.  AMAZING!

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MFW ECC Kenya

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After three weeks in Africa, we wrapped up this afternoon by reading through our favorite selections from our study, which was fitting because of all the great books we found for this study! I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of excellent book choices available this time around. We had a great time drawing pictures, building model homes for the various regions in Africa out of clay and practicing our beadwork while I read aloud.

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One of our first books was “Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions” by Margaret Musgrove.
26 Traditions through the alphabet explored. This book sparked their curiosity in many different directions. We took a closer look at the Ikoma people of Tanzania and their use of small birds to lead them to honey for gathering. We read up on the Tuareg people and were fascinated by the veiled, largely silent males in the culture and the unveiled womens position of great respect as they told stories and recited poetry.

Next we read “Bringing the Ran to Kapiti Plain” by Verna Aardema and then we went full steam into our study of the African savannah.

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We were able to read 8 books while the boys drew out a landscape of the grasslands. Then the younger two went to work with modeling clay while the older two did some map work on their Pin it Maps. We made sure to pin all the regions we read about in the books we looked at this morning and it really helped solidify these places in their mind when they could trace borders and take note of local land water forms.

The boys also enjoyed looking through their Dad’s photo album of his months spent in Kenya. They loved seeing the great variety of animals and the sight of their Dad, young and free, exploring Kenya and making friends overseas.

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For the past four years we have raised money as a family to give to Heifer International each Christmas. With advent right around the corner, I was quite pleased to find the book “One Hen” which tells of the story of “how one small loan made a big difference.” This story had everyones wheels turning, not just about our coming donation to Heifer, but about other ways to help stimulate business opportunity and growth in poorer areas of the world. My eldest remarked that he wanted to find ways to help families become self sufficient and take pride and joy in their work. The boys each wrote out a small composition about small business loans and filed it away in their ECC notebooks.

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I recently posted about our Friday Exam, we split the three weeks of study between North and East Africa, West Africa and South Africa, holding a Friday exam each week to cap off. Things I never thought to see on my dining room table? Weaverbird nests, termite hill cross sections, secretary birds and long giraffe tongues.

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Our nature notebook has started to pick up steam now that the summer steam is lessening. We went for a lovely hike early one morning last week and had several new experiences even though it was a familiar trail. I love that about nature! We got very close to a blue heron and were able to hear its strange call. We found raccoon tracks, a few dragon fly specimens and photographed several specimens of wild orchid.

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We came home and journaled together, only to discover that on the same day last year we also saw a blue heron! An exciting moment for us! We are still using the nature journals from Classical Conversations and its wonderful to see how their work has progressed over time.

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“King if the Wind” by Marguerite Henry was our lunch time read aloud for this study alongside the Christian heroes Then and Now  edition of David Livingstone.  The days are slowly ripening into perfect outdoor reading weather and I have a feeling we’ll be doing the vast majority of our schoolwork outdoors this winter. We start Marco Polo’s account of his journey on Monday and I can’t wait!

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There are a few resources that we use for each study, without exception, that I do not mention every time I post. They are:

1) Planet Earth DVDs  and One Small Square series by Donald Silver for Biome Study. These two together have replaced Properties of Ecosystems for us. We journal and illustrate pages from the Square books and then watch Planet Earth. We still do all the experiments listed in the TM.

2) Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel*
3) Material World by Peter Menzel*
*These books have been much more interesting and engaging than the majority of the Geography pages assigned in our TM. Oftentimes we skip those entirely and just learn about the countries using these two books along with the book basket recommendations and…
4) Give Your Child the World by Jamie Martin. This is a book of book lists organized by area and country. Its fantastic and has enriched our year.

5)  Pin It Maps. We use the individual country maps, world map, land and water forms and country flag maps.

6) Around the World in 80 Pages by Antony Mason. This little book takes the children through the countries on the various continents. The last few weeks we read through its descriptions of North Africa, East Africa, West Africa, South Africa and portions of the middle east. It really made the continent of Africa so much more vivid for my children and helped them understand that Africa is not one giant plain covered in grass and full of elephants and lions and giraffes. It gave depth and perspective and contrast. Such a great little book!
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Africa Book List

Rain School by James Rumford
Ashanti to Zulu by Margaret Musgrave
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema (also a Reading Rainbow episode!)
Two Ways to Count to Ten: A Liberian Folktale by Ruby Dee
Seven Spool of Thread by Angela Mediars
Owen & Mzee by Isabella Hatkoff
We all Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs
Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight
Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier
Jaha and Jamil Went Down the Hill: African Mother Goose by Virginia Kroll
The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela by Cristina Kessler
My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me by Maya Angelou
One Hen by Katie Smith Milway
My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tolowa Mollel

I have dropped the ball on crafts, thanks to our focus on handiwork. We haven’t really opened Global Art much of late because of everything else we have going on, especially with crochet and knitting. But I do love some of the crafts in the book so I’m going to try and be a bit more diligent about setting time aside for the boys to make these things.

Next up–the Middle East!

The Friday Exam

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A few years ago, I handed my two eldest children their very first math test. They sat together, side by side, and commenced. Within moments they were wriggling in their seats and soon the little game of “oops, I dropped my pencil” began. I asked them repeatedly to sit still, focus, and finish–to no avail. After an hour had passed the last answer was finally recorded. The boys were frustrated and cranky, I was overwhelmed and wondered what on earth I would do once they were middle school age. This pattern repeated itself throughout the fall of that year until we broke for our usual Advent rest.

Throughout Advent we would sit by our little electric fireplace (We don’t need a real one down here!) and read for long periods of time. One day my second born brought out paper and crayons after reading time and he began to draw the first story I read some forty five minutes earlier. I knelt beside him and asked him to tell me the story. Never taking his eyes off his work, he relayed the story with remarkable accuracy and feeling. Sure, he left a few things out, but I was amazed by all he recalled. He was able to narrate with greater depth and accuracy while drawing than when standing at attention during his narration lesson. His eyes and hands had purpose now and were no longer roaming about the room while he spoke.

This was the birth of our Friday Exam, though the children call it something else. Months of observing and adjusting and tweaking eventually produced our current methodology.A way to evaluate our children in a joyful and creative way.

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I begin by covering our table in butcher paper (our roll has lasted a few years).  I set out pastels, beeswax crayons and any other useful or necessary visual aides. Then I DO NOT say, “Come and take a test.” The word test is not used. Cuz… yuck.

I invite the boys over and say something like, “Lets chat a while” or “Show me…” or “Tell me about…”

Then they begin to draw their favorite concepts and ideas from our week of study. They love jumping in with something that excites them to get their creative juices flowing.

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While I have them engaged and eager, we work through our drills and memory work. Perhaps they will recite a poem or passage from scripture they have learned, or they will work through their classical conversations memory work.  Oftentimes I will have them spell words aloud (which is the best practice for my eldest son who is visually disorganized) or I will dictate ONE FAMILIAR sentence for them to write out next to their drawings. Then we move onto science. We are studying biomes this year under MFW Exploring Countries and Cultures scope and sequence. The boys draw the biome and relay its characteristics and then they get to make up a story about one animal that lives in the biome. I love hearing their creative storytelling! If the story gets off-track, I gently reel it back in by asking a question. Ultimately, I am looking for 3-5 facts about the biome and 2-4 facts about the animal. They have grown better at this over time. Next the boys will illustrate a scene from our family read aloud and we will discuss it. This is not a time for heavy handed literary analysis! We try and relate to the story, ask questions, work through difficult concepts or spend time comparing what we have processed to what scripture says. We are growing taste, discernment, and insight.

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History, anatomy, botany, geography, art—we touch on a variety of subjects during the week with our “chase the spark” method and the place where I really see the full tapestry of their work is during Friday exam. It is always ENCOURAGING to me. Imagine that!  An exam that brings consistent encouragement? Now, if there is a lull, which can happen from time to time depending on energy levels, sugar intake, will power of the preschooler to ignite anarchy or current lunar calendar, I will pick up a pastel and draw something and they have to guess what it is and then we discuss it.  I cap the exam off after an hour. No need to strain every bit of information out of their heads. I want the children to leave feeling confident and happy and full, the same way they leave the dinner table each evening, that is what I aim for when they depart after their exam. I praise them for their work that week. We do not address any misbehavior or disappointments, that happens at another time. We end on a high note, praising what they did well so that they go into the weekend feeling encouraged.

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As the exam progresses I take notes and once the boys leave I take more. These notes provide highlights from the exams and I am always sure to record what their current interests and delights are. I also jot down areas of struggle or things we need to revisit, perhaps in a new light or meshed in with one of the things they are currently enjoying.

The exam is not given to determine what they do not know. I already know what they do not know because my class is SMALL and I am with them everyday. Why give them a test I know they will not do well on? What does that accomplish? There is no room for a red pen and a bell curve here. Neither is the exam a way to ensure that everyone knows the same thing. As whole persons with unique souls, minds and hearts, the boys are naturally drawn to different aspects of subjects at different times—unstandardized! One brother may absorb his 11 times table rapidly through rote memorization at the beginning of term, another brother may embrace it six months later in song or story form. One brother will look at the Eiffel Tower and be drawn to its structure–the physics and mechanics of wind and steel. Another brother will look at the Eiffel tower and relate to the story of the man behind its creation, its history, and patriotic value. Both children have learned truth, goodness and beauty in ways that cannot be determined by bubbles or multiple choice. I do not need a paper trail to demonstrate who my children are becoming.

Can a person spend his childhood savoring knowledge, gaining wisdom and cultivating a lifestyle of intellectual growth without the presence of thousands of one dimensional tests marking the way? Yes. Yes, of course he can. There is more than one way to demonstrate competency just as there is more than one way to educate a person.

This is not to say that my children will never take a “normal” test. I am sure as the years pass we will have occasion to take a few. But for my children, especially in their tender growing years, I see little need, purpose, or joy in issuing tests for each subject every ten lessons.

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So we unroll the paper and cover the table where we our minds  and hearts meet throughout the week. A button is pressed and music floods the room. We spill pastels upon the table and with the guidance of our hands they convey the treasures we have gleaned that week. We laugh and color and sing and recite and tell and share and discuss. It is not a time for fear or nervousness. Its a time for joy and celebration and the formation of new questions.

MFW ECC: France

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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