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.

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: Exploring Countries & Cultures–Getting Ready!

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Hello friends! We are gearing up for the start of Exploring Countries & Cultures. We are due to kick off our new school year on June 6 and my explorers are chomping at the bit!

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Homeschooling has become such a part of our daily lives that we ended up studying something every week this summer. I never asked the boys to do anything, it was entirely child led–which was wonderful! We ended up taking many, many nature hikes and explored several learning centers in our area. Both boys expressed sadness at the end of Adventures that we did not cover WW1, the Great Depression, WW2, the Civil Rights Movement, etc. So we spent some time covering those topics over the summer. We  predominately used living books. Our favorite by far was, “Only a Dog: A Story of the Great War,” which you can find here.

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Simply Charlotte Mason

We also pulled a few lessons from Ann Voskamp’s “A Child’s Geography” just to whet our appetites for the coming school year. We are in the midst of making paper mache globes to hang in the classroom. The boys have maintained their interest in learning, explored topics of interest and kindled curiosity for the coming school year. I will be honest and say that if my boys arent building, exploring, discovering, playing, learning, SOMETHING!!!! ANYTHING!!!! then they are most definitely fighting and I am most definitely pulling heart out. Even though I needed a break this “summer,” I am more than willing to keep providing learning material just to avoid the hideous sound of four children arguing.

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What have I been up to other than the promotion of world peace? Getting things organized for the school year. Our 3rd son has already begun his K year and things are progressing nicely. Our 4th son is in the last weeks of his curriculum, A Year of Playing Skillfuly by The Homegrown Preschooler. I am in the midst of planning our area practicum for Classical Conversations and gathering materials for my new group that begins class in August. I am so excited to be Directing this new group but I also know that my first callings are: Child of God, Wife to my husband, Mother to my children and Teacher to my children. With this in mind I began my planning by stripping back and trimming away all unnecessary fat. It is often hard to say no because there are many, many wonderful groups and tools and organizations out there. We are blessed to have so many options. As a family, we have prayed and we know where God is calling us and what kind of education He has set before us. Knowing that, we are staying the course and saying “No” where it needs to be said. I do this every year before I lay a finger on any piece of new curriculum. Trim the fat.

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Here are the resources we will be using this year!

1) History, Geography, Bible
My Father’s World: Exploring Countries and Cultures
Pin it! Maps
Classical Conversations Cycle 2

2) Math
Saxon Math 3
Making Math Meaningful
Classical Conversations Cycle 2

3) Phonics & Language Arts
All About Reading Level 3 (8 yo with possible dyslexia)
Explode the Code 6 (7 yo)
Spelling Wisdom
Classical Conversations Cycle 2
Simply Charlotte Mason Language Arts Handbook
Beautiful Feet Books Horse Study

4) Foreign Language
Latin Cristiana 1
Classical Conversations Cycle 2

5) Fine Arts
Simply Charlotte Mason art packs
Piano
2nd semester- Guitar (8yo)
Saxophone (7yo)
Classical Conversations (tin whistle, orchestra study, composer study, artist study)

6) Handwriting
Classical Conversations Prescripts

7)Science
Classical Conversations
MFW Exploring Countries and Culture
Nature Study (TBD)
Beautiful Feet Books Famous Scientists Study

8) Handicrafts
leather work
crochet
knitting
candle making
card making

Morning Basket:
Mathematicians Are People, Too! by Luetta Reimer (Volumes 1 & 2)
Burgess Book of Animals
CC Geography
Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCoullough
Stories of the Nations by Lorene Lambert (Volume 1 & 2)
Hymn Study
Scripture Memorization: Ephesians 6

I know that looks like an enormous amount of work! But keep in mind that I have two boys in the same “grade” but not in the same place with learning. For example, we practice our CC memory work each day before math. We will skip count or recite equivalents, etc. Then we pull out our Saxon books and work through a problem set or we bring out our Waldorf notebooks and play with Math, depending on the day! If my eldest is struggling to grasp something in Saxon, we stop and use a more Waldorf approach to connect him to the concept. For language arts, my eldest struggles greatly with reading and has seen tremendous benefit from AAR program. My second born found Explode the Code at a friend’s house, begged me to buy it for him and has flown through the series by himself. He likes to do this when I work with his eldest brother. We approach our spelling and language arts using Simply Charlotte Mason. We need those short, focused lessons with a focus on mastery. Music and Art switch off every other day. Handicrafts are done during leisure time.

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We begin our day with Morning Time. This is usually conducted over a relaxed breakfast with many cups of our favorite tea. First we go over the plan for the day in order to limit surprises. Is there a doctor’s appointment? Will we be visiting anyone? What are the expetations for that visit, etc? The boys then review their current geography work for CC, we read one poem or look at one piece of art and we sing one hymn. Those three things are done in a five minute window of time. Brief. Consistent. Next, we spend 10-15 minutes reading from one of the books listed above. We may finish them all this year, we may not. We just want an enriching story to begin the morning with a variety of subject that connects to things we are learning in the classroom that year. After reading, we spend a few minutes reviewing and learning our scripture passage for the year or we might write out a few cards of thanks or enouragement to friends. We close by singing the Doxology and moving over to the classroom. Again, real life is happening in between the sentences. Spilled tea, burnt toast, hurt feelings, etc. But we never ever ever skip morning time. I am so excited to read the books in our basket this year. I’ve heard great things about the McCollough book and Stories of the Nations in particular. We have a seperate book basket for the lunch hour but I havent quite readied our reading list for the year yet so I will post that once it is ready.

We work on a block schedule,which I have detailed here.

While the older kids are working on their assignments, the younger childer are hard at PLAY!

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I have set up several small spaces throughout the room that I can change throughout the year for the younger two to play and work.  We change toys out of the play stand every few weeks. We’ve also prepared a few other work boxes based on the various continents for the kids to play with (the older boys also work at these spaces too since they also love to play and explore).  All school materials are left accessible to them. Hubby had this ginormous world map with the United States on the right hand side, which left the other continents intact, and features all longitude and latitude lines marked. Hooray for using things you already own! We are planning to display work from each continent around the map as the year progresses.

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To the right of our book cart we have set up several small book cases with tons of books for them to handle as the need arises. Their school books are also tucked in these cases. On top of the bookcases are all the writing and art tools they use on a daily basis. We notebook nearly everything and I will be posting how we do this as the year progresses. I purchased all of their notebooks ready made here along with paint jars, watercolors, brushes and modeling clay. (Yes, long time readers that spy the rainbow boxes in the corner, I caved and got a chicken war cart of doom!)

I’ll pause here to mention two books on our gutter shelf that I am especially excited about this year.
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We plan to incorporate these books with ECC!

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Above is our Pin it! Maps Geography station. All the pin maps, reference maps,control maps, pins, prompts, etc. are stored on these shelves for easy access. Have you visited pinitmaps.com yet? The free resources section is a dream! Free biome cards, land form cards and much more. Check it out! The boys can grab their preferred map along with the corresponding pins and cards and set to work! Read more about these fantastic maps here and here.

Thats the whole kit and caboodle my friends. I’ll post our weekly schedule a week or so before we begin the school year so you can take a peak at how we balance things. See you soon!

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For the Birds– Birding & Resource List

Bird watching with tiny ornithologists is no easy feat.
IMG_7641There is a constant flood of noise trumpeting our arrival minutes before we reach the glades that hold our most sought after birds. They often take flight before we even get there. Chances are, if we venture out of the house in search of a specific bird and preschoolers are in tow, we won’t have much luck.

So we learned to look for signs of birds around us. Discovering their nests, learning about their feeding habits, watching for patterns in their departures and returns to the neighborhood. We set up bird feeders in our trees and left colorful yarn in the back hollow for the birds to use when building their nests.

We stopped to listen.

Because we slowed down we heard the tiny chirps of baby cardinals tucked high in the limbs of our jasmine tree. We were there the day the nest tumbled down after a particularly bad storm. We scooped up the nest and quickly tucked it back in place.
IMG_4807 We started collecting abandoned nests in the late summer once the squirrels started knocking them down from the trees.

We know where the owl lives in the back hollow. Its small and brown and we love to look for its pellets. His head can rotate in the most alarming ways.

When the baby mockingbirds flew away from their nest, we peaked inside and found one egg that never hatched. Frail and small; blue and perfectly speckled. Dwarfed when held next to one of our chicken’s eggs.  We marveled at it.

The gaggle of ibis that frequent our yard, their long hooked beaks and funny legs probing the grass. They’ll hunt for bugs alongside our chickens.

The flash of bashful pink under the pines when the roseate spoonbill comes to visit.

Sandhill cranes, poking around the fence, stretching to their full height of 3-4 feet, look like nosy neighbors. The Gladys Kravitz of the bird world.

Our proximity to the Everglades provides us with a wide variety of birds to watch in our own yard if we simply sit down and look up. Peregrine falcons, hawks, and other raptors abound out here. We are even visited with some frequency by a beautiful bald eagle. We hear the loud screeches of these raptors as they close in on their prey. We find remnants of their meals on the ground beneath the towering pines near the orchard. The back end of a rabbit. The head of a small bird. A gutted fish.

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Tell me about the robin’s nest? Where is it located? What is the nest made of? What does the robin eat? We discovered these answers over days of rambling about the farm, remembering to keep our eyes and ears open. Pirate raids and jousting tournaments put on pause when we heard the familiar call of the blue jay that lives in the oak tree. We watched the epic battles between the jays and mockingbirds unfold before our very eyes. Quick turns out to the yard after breakfast to stop and listen under a nest teeming with young. We watched them grow up and fly away.

We spent time writing down the things we saw and when we saw them. Recording our findings helped us to see the patterns. The exquisite formula of nature.

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Two weeks ago we drove to a bird trail and found the gates locked. The boys were terribly disappointed. As we slowly drove home along the canal, we encountered a large stork, lit up by the early morning rays, a long snake dangling from his beak. I stopped the car and we stared at him in silence as he slowly slurped the snake down his throat like spaghetti. Nature always finds us, even on days when we are turned away at the gate.
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Yet the boys were determined to begin their own birding expeditions away from our yard. So I set about slowly teaching the boys how to birdwatch on the trail.

We started out by reading “Take a Backyard Bird Walk” by Jane Kirkland.  This is a fantastic introduction to the world of birding. How to find nests, learning about habits and migration, even learning how to determine what a bird eats based on the shape of its bill. There are blank pages for observation notes. This is not a book for bird identification but rather a birding “how to.” Truly, a great find that cements birding in the backyard and helped transition us to birding on the trails.

A few other books have sat on our school table, providing information and vocabulary tools for any curious passersby.

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We started with our native birds. Two at a time. We loaded our ark with knowledge in this way. We drew pictures and watched quick youtube videos about each bird. We squinted up into the sky in search of them.

We learned how to pack for our nature hikes. I learned to always bring a snack for the loudest preschooler. It keeps him quiet and out of trouble. I recommend our recipe for Audobonbons.
We record our findings and remember to check in with our local Audubon Society for help identifying unknown birds we encounter. Birding with littles can be challenging. Teaching children to be purposeful in their nature walks is challenging too. Both are incredibly fun and rewarding.
What started out as a brief unit study for My Father’s World Adventures in US History has become a lifestyle habit. We observe and record birds. They are familiar to us. They are part of our life rhythm here on the farm.  Birding teaches us to classify, record, relate, recall, and dialogue. It is now an integral part of nature study for us.

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Here are a few other tools and resources we use in our ongoing bird study.

Booklist:
Mama built a Nest by Jennifer Ward
Birds, Nests and Eggs by Mel Boring
Feathers, Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart
What Makes a Bird a Bird? by Mary Garelick
A Nest Full of Eggs by Priscilla Belz Jenkins
About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sills
The Bird Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta
Feathers for Lunch by Lois Elhert (great for the littles!)
The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W Burgess
Beaks! by Sneed B. Colard III
An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston
Birdsong by Audrey Wood
Our Yard is Full of Birds by Anne Rockwell
Two Blue Jays by Anne Rockwell

img_7142Activities:
Bird Bingo: A family favorite! There is also this version which features lovely hand drawn illustrations instead of pictures.
Lego Birds Model Kit: Bluejay, Hummingbird and Robin. They come with stands and a little sign inscribed with their latin names.
Bird Printables: I discovered these gorgeous printables  off the delightful homeschool blog Chaos Meets Creativity. We used our printables around the house on a rainy day. I perched them on picture frames or high on shelves. The boys took their toilet paper roll binoculars and practiced spotting them an identifying them.
State Birds & Flowers 1000 piece puzzle
Birds of the Backyard 1000 piece puzzle
Backyard Birds toob: We always use our 40% off coupons at Hobby Lobby for these. They work in sensory bins, working with ordinal numbers or color sorting, and we love to make homes for them out of playdoh.

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Online Resources:
Xeno Canto: The largest online collection of bird sounds 
550 North American Bird Calls
: specific to N.A.
All About Birds: Learn how to listen to and identify, bird calls. Browse the rest of the site for great information on birds!
10000 Birds:Loaded with info on birding and conservation
Nature Songs: More North American bird calls
Where do you want to go Birding today?: Database of the best place to go birding worldwide
There are some websites with bird calls specific to each state.
Florida
Wisconsin
Lots more if you do a google search of your state + birds!

MFW Adventures: More States & Birds + Evaluations

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It’s Fall inside ya’ll!!!

Confession: I love autumn when its actually autumn, but I’ve never been a big fan of decorating for fall when it looks like the the height of summer outside. Yet my boys love decorating, so this is the week when I show them love by hauling out the box of fall decorations from the boiling hot garage and then spend hours of my life tossing fabric leaves on every available surface of my home. Sigh.

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Now autumn themed food? I can get on board with that at any time of year. My pumpkin bread will never ever be as good as my Mom’s bread, but that doesn’t stop me from tossing a sub-par loaf in the oven now and then. It smells good enough to draw in one or two kids. Beggars can’t be choosers. Oh the joy of reading “Farmer Boy” around a plate of warm mediocre pumpkin bread! Tea time is 30% better these days.

Week 15 arrived and I realized that we were almost halfway done with Adventures. We are having fun and time is flying fast! Not as fast as the birds outside when they hear us coming, but close enough.  I wanted to spend some time evaluating our homeschool life now that we are nearing the halfway mark. Here’s what happened this week…
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On Monday morning my son quipped, “Guess we are in for another round of birds and states!” and so we were. You can read all about how we study the states and birds here.

We added a few great elements this week that my boys enjoyed. Beginning with inspiration from this lovely graphic….
bird-tracks-animals-infographics-600x600-1The boys and I started to look around for bird tracks and scat along with feathers and nests. We have found some pretty great stuff so far along with some not so legitimate made up stuff too. (My four year is the King of “Look at this oviraptor egg that I found!”)  We are gearing up for a deeper study of animal tracking next week with Daniel Boone, so this was a great introduction. Premeditated Leftovers has a handy dandy article on Bird Unit Study Resources and we used several of those ideas this week.

We are anxiously awaiting our new Birdscapes clear view bird feeder from Amazon. Hopefully feeding the birds straight from our window will provide us with plenty of bird watching opportunities. We decided to wait one more week before decorating our tree for the birds. A low key schedule next week will provide ample time for bird viewing so we can reap the rewards of our hard work! The boys are eagerly planning out bird treats, designing shelters and building additional feeders.  We’ve picked a tree close to the house but far from walkways. (No sunflower seed enhanced poo poo on my sidewalk, thank you!) The tree is situated near a large thicket of thorny flowering plants which already house many birds. We’ll be posting updates of our Bird Tree along with our upcoming Bird Watching post!

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I’ve been training Team A to take more initiative and responsibility with their school work. Teaching time management is a taxing but worthy effort. Some days the boys decide to forgo our block schedule rhythm and finish all their work quickly in order to spend the remainder of the day outside. My boys are starting to recognize how and when they work best. I don’t think I really learned that about myself until halfway through college!  I’m thankful they have the opportunity to evaluate those things now.

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This week they flew through their work in the early morning hours and then rushed outside to play the day away. They played with mud, sticks, puddles, grass, stringy moss, leaves and pine needles. I assumed they were just making an enormous mess and having fun.  After a few hours my son invited me over and explained what they were working on.

“We are watching the water flow from the top of the crest down into this lower area and figuring out all the ways to break up the stream and make it flow the way we want to. We built the things to stop the water from flowing and doing that created all these little lakes. Then we tested out what things would sink and what things would float. Then we played with the water hose to figure out how much water had to come out at which speed in order to knock down the dams we built. Like a flash flood? And we tried making little mud houses to see if they could stand even against certain levels of water flow. Water always flows downhill, don’t forget. If you stand down there you might think its flowing up towards you, but its not. Its flowing down. Think of the Nile river flowing North. You are North but your elevation is lower so that means our river flows down towards the North. Which reminds me, that puddle is the Sea of Galilee and that little rivulet is the Jordan river and guess where it flows, Mom? The DEAD Sea! We filled it with dead leaves so it wouldn’t get confused with the Sea of Galilee.”

This blew me away. As he spoke I could connect the dots between the years of My Fathers World. Bible stories, science projects, history work, books, and games. Its strange watching MFW K, MFW 1st and MFW Adventures come together in a single moment and then join hands and merrily skip away.  I tuck these moments away and reflect on them in the moments when the world tries to bring doubt into our classroom. When the devil whispers that what we are doing is not enough, that the kids don’t know enough, that I am not enough; I silence those whispers with the moments of affirmation God gives me. Those precious moments I can look back on, reach out to cup in my hands and then spill out like little pearls before God as I thank Him for His faithfulness. He called me to homeschool. He is equipping me daily. He is even encouraging me while I stand in the heat, swatting mosquitoes and listening to my eldest bubble up knowledge that feels outrageously beautiful to him.

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Here is the plain truth of my homeschool life at the close of week 15: My rough and tumble boys are thriving with their gentle education. Its not perfect. It doesn’t have to be perfect in order for them to thrive. In fact, I think they are thriving because our homeschool is not perfect.

Because the preschooler threw tantrums in the classroom this morning, we ran away to the park and had a beautiful morning.

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Because I forgot to print out our language arts cards, we stayed even longer since we didn’t have a reason to rush home.

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Because I lost my temper in a flood of sinful anger, I had the opportunity to apologize to my boys under the shade of this beautiful tree. We got to talk about grace again and it reminded us of this week’s Bible verse and before I knew it, we were talking about the Tabernacle and the Temple and the mighty curtain torn asunder and we were all breathing in gratitude together.

Because MFW is gentle with my children, it reminds me to be gentle with myself. Gentle with my expectations and the demands I put upon myself as a wife, mother and teacher. I recite Isaiah 40:11 to myself quite often, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

He is gentle with us!

I never expected that one of the defining words of their childhood would be “gentle.” And yet there it is, coexisting with other defining words/phrases like: “muddy, messy, adventure, accident-prone, projectile vomit, projectile everything else, stories, farming,therapy, insects, confidence, legos, bravery.”

“Gentle” is the umbrella that covers all the other words.

I am so thankful for that.

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MFW Adventures: The New Nation & The New Routine

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We are gearing up for growing season! All around the country people are getting their harvest on, but we are prepping for planting season. The avocados, bananas and pineapples are just about done and the kitchen garden is in the works!

We have lots of little hands eager to help around here. Hubby graciously agreed to build a potting table for our science lab. The boys are so excited to plant seeds and watch them sprout.

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But first: rocks, weeds and grubs! Turns out our new pup, Trusty Banjo, loves to pull weeds. We are well matched and well pleased.

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We wove in as much MFW to our farm routine as possible this week. As we pulled weeds and readied garden beds, we looked for bugs that birds might eat, saving grubs for our chickens while we turned over rocks and caught tiny green katydids. We walked the property, searching for abandoned birds nest, knocked down by squirrels. We found four lovely little nests and enjoyed studying them in all their intricate, thrifty glory. We read five or six books on Audubon and the boys drew a zillion pictures of the birds in our yard. We do have a bald eagle that makes the rounds here on the farm. We love catching sight of her in the early morning. What a powerful bird! She has been featured repeatedly in our sketches this week.  We searched for our local Audubon chapter and found tons of field trip opportunities and information on local birds. Last but not least, a rainy afternoon snack of “dirt in a cup” (chocolate pudding, crumbled Oreos on top with a gummy worm or two tucked inside) helped round out our first bird week.

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The boys are eager to start marking out our kitchen garden plot. They are not eager to take more pictures with the sun shining in their faces. Soon, we will have time in the garden each morning as part of our Fall-Spring schedule. There is talk of a Darth Vader scarecrow. I can not wait!

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The nature journals are ready to come back out now that the heat is finally becoming bearable again. The boys were quite taken with all the new mold patterns on our towering slash pines. In fact, all new growth immediately caught their attention. We drowned in our doggy grief for so many weeks, we failed to notice all the new life outside our windows. The changes took us all by surprise. I love that even in a place with only two seasons, we can see change in the nature around us.  The boys have their special trees that they visit regularly. We may not ever see them change color or drop leaves, but they are still living, growing wonders, with plenty of subtle changes for attentive eyes to discover.

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Along with a new farming season, we have now officially incorporated all the components of our year. We began Adventures in June and added in new things each month. This month was the final add in, our preschool curriculum, “A Year of Playing Skillfully” by The Homegrown Preschooler. Before the week was out, I noticed something strange…

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Team B, the two youngest in our crew, were behaving like angels in the schoolroom. Playing quietly with their resources. Listening well to directions.

It was weird.

It was a miracle.

It was a wee bit disconcerting.

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Why is this happening? Are they plotting something? Will there be an ambush later?
I’ve previously shared about our rhythm. I teach in block schedule format. If we begin arithmetic at 8AM, we do not begin our next subject until 9AM. If the boys only take 15 minutes to complete arithmetic, then they have 45 minutes of free play until they return for their 9AM subject. It they finish arithmetic in  58 minutes, then they have two minutes before the next subject starts.

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Well, the boys were certainly focused this week! Team A finished each subject with at least half an hour to spare for free play. Team B played quietly on the sidelines, waiting for the all clear signal.

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Why was everything suddenly working so well?  They were behaving with exceptional dedication and focus because they knew what was waiting for them on the other side of responsibility….

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Play. Play was waiting. Beautiful, glorious, child-led play. My 7 & 6 year old need time to play. Lots and lots of time. I am giving them the very intentional gift of time. The hours are not packed to the hilt with lists of things to do. They finish their work and then they are released to enjoy their play. What a gift free time is for them.  Time to be a child, time to pause and wonder how to employ new skills and test the world around them during that precious half hour of leisure.

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Wonderful things are happening on the farm. Confidence and happiness. Less stress and more mess. They are learning more than ever through these invitations to play and discover. The preschoolers rush outside and engage everything head on. Sorting, measuring, testing, creating, evaluating, gathering, thinking, wondering and learning how things work. They all come back to the schoolroom, refreshed and ready for more work. No complaints.

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I used to look over my planner at the end of each day, to judge how successful our day had been. I measured in check marks.

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The rubric has changed. I walk up to my boys and flip their precious hands over. I look for marks of happiness and wonder and discovery. I look for dirt under fingernails and paint stains on the soft pads of their fingertips.  These are the marks of a good day.

New Nation Resources!

This week, our reading list did not stray from the book basket recommendations made by MFW. We finished up another book in our Beautiful Feet books study, 1801: Year of the Horseless Carriage by Genevieve Foster.

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Coloring Sheets: My four year old is quite keen on joining in the state study. I’ve been printing out free state coloring sheets from crayola.com and he loves them! They also have smaller state shape cards that he is enjoying as well.
Legos: My older children love building state Legos after completing their state sheets. I flip their sheet over and begin reading about the state. They grab the Legos basket and begin building the state shape while I read. So far, I’ve made it through each sheet and at least one book from our state book basket. 

New Jersery
Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken (DVD) A portion of the film takes place in Atlantic City
Adventure Aquarium: One of our favorite aquariums in the country. My boys love to go on here and read about the different animals in the exhibit. We will be returning for a visit this winter, so it was good to refresh our collective memory and take stock of which exhibits we want to spend the most time at. 
New Jersey History Kids: a fun website to explore!
New Jersey Historical Maps: This website contains historical maps of New Jersey that are interesting to look through.

Pennsylvania
Mr. Nussbaum’s Learning & Fun!: Another fun website with several resources.
Historical Maps of Pennsylvania:   site of historical maps.
Virtual Liberty Bell

Georgia
Georgia Peach Festival 
Colonial Georgia Images