MFW ECC Norway

Norway! Quite possibly, our favorite unit so far. Surprising because on the eve of this study’s inauguration, my husband had to call an ambulance to come get me after I began to experience sudden and horrific pain. Two days in the hospital, lots of prescription meds and a slow recovery had me forecasting a pretty dreadful, overwhelming and miserable few weeks of school, but the exact opposite happened. Our village lovingly reached out and made meals, came to visit, took over some of my responsibilities and encouraged us. My husband even went in my place to our Classical Conversations community day and wore the Director’s hat on my behalf.  It blessed me deeply to have such thoughtful love and care poured over us. Even the boys were extra helpful and diligent in their work. While we did not have as many outdoor adventures as usual, we still had a lovely time with our study!

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We spent many, many hours reading this time around. The D’Aulaires have a wealth of books for Norway study and we read them all. Many cups of tea and several knit dishcloths later, we went through the pile and chose our favorites and read them again. We also enjoyed Joanna Spyri’s “Heidi” as one of our overall European books.

Norway/Scandinavian Booklist: 

Welcome Back Sun by Michael Emberly
D is for Dala Horse: A Nordic Country Alphabet by Kathy Jo Wargin
Once Upon a Northern Light by Jean Pendziwol
East of the Sun and West of the Moon
Norwegian Tales by Ingri D’aulaire
Ola by Ingri D’aulaire
Children of the Northern Lights by Ingri D’aulaire
Leif the Lucky by Ingri D’aulaire
Book of Trolls by Ingri D’aulaire
Katie the Windmill Cat by Gretchen Woelfe
Boxes for Katje by Candace Flemming
Hans Brinker, the Silver Skates
Hannah’s Cold Winter by Trish Marx
My Tour of Europe by Teddy Roosevelt Age 10 by Ellen Marx
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

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Science with ECC continues to be a bit shaky at times. The kids love the science experiments (don’t skip them!) but POE is still hard to get through. So we do what we can and then we take off on our own. The BBC Planet Earth series is phenomenal and we loved the episode on forests. We used tree cards from Tanglewood Hollow and a beautiful crochet tree ring I received from a Montessori Materials swap. My son and I have been knitting tiny crochet bowls like mad lately and we have been using them to hold some of our favorite nature finds.

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While the older boys finished cataloging tree rubbings and leaf samples in their nature journals, my youngest children went with me to the kitchen to make The Homegrown Preschooler’s Herbal doh recipe. We had a lovely time practicing math and practical life skills. The older children went outside and collected pine needles and pine cones to decorate the table. I set out some natural materials like acorns caps, sweet gums, petals and walnut shells. The boys sat and played with doh while I read through books and eventually we switched over to enjoying various Scandinavian composers and musicians.

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Its encouraging to witness the engagement that takes place through living books. Dry textbooks just do not impart the same connection and inspiration. The boys were utterly captivated by the life of the Lapp children and spent many hours learning more about reindeers and the midnight sun and of course, the northern lights.

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Even during their quiet time, I caught them reading in little corners all over the house. I think we all needed to be still for a few days. Don’t get me wrong, by the time my husband returned home they were always bouncing off the walls with pent up energy, but overall, they were content to snuggle on my recovery bed, drink tea, knit and listen to stories. Or at times, day dream while I read and make incredibly accurate laser gun noises under their breath while they battle evil forces in a galaxy far, far away. Ah, boys.

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Towards the end of the week we experienced an actual beautiful weather day! Granted, a massive tropical storm was providing cloud cover for the entire state, but hey! it was nice and cool! So we jumped on our chance and headed outdoors for a picnic. But first, the boys had to get incredibly dirty. They caked on the mud, made leaf crowns, painted each other’s faces, adventured in other realms and had a marvelous morning. They settled onto their blanket as I read aloud from a stack of books I brought outside with us. They watched the clouds for a bit as I read and eventually, they each closed their eyes and just listened to the story. They looked so peaceful all cuddled up together. This only lasted a few minutes before someone threw a punch or tooted or threw grass in someone’s face and the equilibrium was lost. But still, those fleeting moments of silence and peace were magnificent.

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Lastly, we marked the anniversary of our faithful friend’s passing on September 6th. Our beloved pup, Frankie, who was with us for 8 years. It was a hard day for everyone. I am thankful that the boys have had time to grieve his death and I recognize that they are still sad and grieving. Its the biggest loss they have encountered so far and it was a heavy day in the midst of our study. I am glad that we could honor that day the way these boys needed to. Reindeers, Dutch cookies, Norwegian myths, poetry tea time and a walk to our friend’s grave with a fistful of purple flowers.

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Norway was beautiful and its one of those studies I will treasure in my heart because of all we experienced as lived out our week.

We’ll meet again in Paris!

 

MFW ECC Brazil

On the night before we began our study of Brazil and South America, the Olympics began. Totally unplanned. It was so much fun to see the opening ceremony and watch a presentation of Brazil’s history unfold before our eyes.

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We loved hearing the music too! The boys asked me to find some more Brazilian music and we began by listening to Putumayo Kid’s Present Brazilian Playground and the Bossa Nova tunes of Sergio Mendez.

Of course another highlight was the world parade. We tried to find each country on the map as they were announced. I was greatly encouraged to hear how much the boys have already retained.  It also peaked the boys interest in the world flags.

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In an effort to avoid an enormous post covering three weeks worth of school work, I will share how we did our Geography & Culture work for this unit and then a few tidbits and other resources for a few other subjects.

Geography work for South America consisted of several things. First, I made extra copies of a map of South American with clear black line borders and little else. Every day the boys would sit down, and fill in all the countries they could remember onto their maps. Then I would hand them a correctly filled out map and they would check their work. Then they would add two new countries and we would recite the countries again and I would switch back and forth between asking, “Show me ____” and “Tell me what this is?”  I would only quiz them on countries they had filled in so far. The next day, they would receive a brand new map to fill in from memory, check their work and add a few more in. By the middle of the second week of Brazil study, they could fill in the entire map correctly. I learned of this method from Sonya Schafer at the last homeschool conference I attended and its really worked for us.

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We would reinforce our work by building  geography puzzles (note: We purchased ours on Zulily for $19) and using the Geography game that comes with ECC. I love this simple game. The boys have learned so much using it and I like that I can walk away and they are confident enough to play and learn on their own while I work with the other two kids. We often close out Geography time by reading “Around the World in 80 Pages“which gives us a closer look at all the other countries in the continent we are currently visiting.

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Cultural study has taken many forms this year. Again, we have to acknowledge that they cannot walk away from this year experts on every single world culture, so I am not stressing out about reading  every single “Welcome to >Insert Country’s Name<” book the library has to offer. I am looking for my kids to make heart connections with the people in these far away lands. So in the first few days of encountering a new country/continent, I spread out the “delectable feast.” A variety of books about the country. Culture study, a cookbook, travel books, biome information, indigenous peoples book, and a books about crafts or fine arts. I play some culturally appropriate music and they sit down and dig in. Its really important to me that they get to follow their interests and seek out treasure to dig out and claim for themselves. Its so much more meaningful than randomly reading out statistics. They get to notebook whatever they have discovered and then they get to present the information to us.  They often go in completely different directions. This week my eldest went from tapirs to butterflies to brazilwood to the Yanomami tribes to homemade dye. He had to make his own a few days later and paint a rainforest picture with it afterwards.

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As the days progress I incorporate living books about the country. We had several favorites this study that really drew us in and made us feel like we were there! Check out our book list at the end of this post.

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The boys have been keeping science notebooks this year with illustrations and narrations from our work with the Usborne Living Science Encyclopedia. We continue to use Biome cards and animal ecology study work from Pin it! Maps. (Check out the free teaching materials tab!)

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Based off of their interest, they spent several days learning about the variety of bird beaks in the world, while I avoided all of the laundry in the house. They were fascinated by all the new information garnered and when we went for a visit to our local zoo’s Amazon section, they were calling out all the different kinds of beaks they saw.  Some of their new artwork for their ornithology albums came out so lovely. Its especially encouraging to this art challenged mother to see our diligent work paying off little by little. We are still using Drawing with Children since we had to hold off for a long time on it until we were ready. I am so glad we waited! Its been much more fruitful now.

We also got a bit of sensory fun added in with a prepared “Smells of the Rainforest” Tray featuring things like cinnamon, cacao, coffee, hibiscus, etc. (Check out Mirus Toys for sensory activities and bird beaks study)

Last bit of information for science, we found these beautiful insect and butterfly cards for FREE here. (Thanks Eltern Vom Mars!) which we used during our brief look at entomology. We also spent time with our CC Science work, learning all about biomes and consumers.

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During our second week we decided to catalogue all the edible natives in our farm along with all other fruit bearing plants on the property. It was so grand to realize how many dietary options we have should political anarchy ever shut down all grocery stores. Our nature walks have been so brief lately due to the tremendous heat index down here. We are doing our best to get outside in some way, but the time is always short. Unless…

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We hit the beach.

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Now that is my kind of nature walk in the dead of August!!! I know once the tropical weather calms the heck down we will have plenty of time to do more nature walks. Until then, nature walk = farm and beach and books. And that is ok! Next month we will resume our walks and we will be starting “Blaze New Trails” an adventure guide by Holly Giles of The Giles Frontier as part of our nature study experience. We’ll let you know how it goes! (PS If you are studying Little House in the Big Woods this year at all, check out Holly’s “County Fair” study. Its darling and I can’t wait to use it over summer break next year!)

Brazil was a three week behemoth. It was fun, but we were so excited to move onto Norway. A few other things that happened outside of Brazil during our three week study?

LOTS of practical life work. How to change a lightbulb, how to sew a button, how to load the dishwasher, how to get a cookbook and finish a recipe from start to finish (Check out Mollie Kazan’s Honest Pretzels) to name a few.  I am reminded that there are many, many things I do doing the day that could really be taken on by someone else now. Someone much shorter than me and way eager to help and learn. It takes time to teach new skills, but this intentional investment of time is so very worth it!

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The boys are still working on their pottery skills with their teacher and I love the glow they get when working at something difficult and worthy.

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Our knitting projects have all but wrapped up and we are starting to venture out into the world of knitting socks. Four needles!? Yowza! And my second born has started embroidering, which is fun but a bit maddening when he gets stuck and I have to jump in and figure out where he is. My eldest still shows very little interest in this sort of handiwork so he has picked up more Paper Sloyd and is enjoying completing some beautiful work on his free time.

I am grateful once more that my children get to fully experience that wonderful, fleeting bit of magic known as childhood. Not everyone gets to and I am so thankful they have one.  I continually remind myself to make time for them to just be children–to have joy and wonder and space to ponder.

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I am also thankful God brought us to homeschooling. There will be many dropped balls and missed academic goals and fumbled parenting moments, but I am so secure in walking this path God has called us to because of His merciful reaffirmations and bountiful grace in leading us. I have complete faith that Christ has a plan for my children and their lives. They belong to Him. Our calling is not conditional upon how many lesson plans are completed or how many baskets of laundry are completed each week.  I get to beat back the devil’s lies and whispers with the TRUTH of victory already won. Thank God for that! See you all in Norway!

Brazil Book List:
The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
The Rain Forest Grew All Around by Susan Mitchell
Up and Down the Andes by Laurie Krebs
Biblioburro by  Jeanette Winter
Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown
The Tapir Scientist by Sy Montgomery
A Mango in the Hand: A Story told through Proverbs by Antonio Sacre
Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl (4th grade +)
Welcome to the Green House by Jane Yolen
The Umbrella by Jan Brett (Costa Rica, but we were late in reading it. Rain Forest Biome fit though)
Nature’s Green Umbrella by Gail Gibbons
Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth by Eric Carle

Rain Forest by Ben Morgan (SUCH gorgeous photography!)

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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MFW Adventures: Abraham Lincoln

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We have spent the last two weeks learning about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. The boys picked up their Beautiful Feet Early American History Guide again and dove into Ingri D’Aulaire’s “Abraham Lincoln” which, like all D’Aulaire’s books, was a big hit with my kids. This book really brought Lincoln to life for them. Our conversations this week were centered around the importance of truthfulness, the discipline of hard work and the responsibility we have to stand up for justice.

My eldest son (age 8) was able to memorize the Gettysburg address over the two week period. We would spend 5 minutes at a time reviewing and adding a new line. This would happen on the way to the grocery store or before bedtime or while we waited for his brother’s soccer practice to wrap up. It was really great to see him accomplish a lengthier piece of work.

We spent so much time reading this week, desperately trying to catch up on the read alouds we missed while my throat was out of commission. I placed a large piece of kraft paper on the floor and the boys had their war plans laid out on it while I drank cup after cup of Throat Care and read. We did not make any fancy lap books or spend time with handouts. Other than a few coloring $1 coloring books from Dover on the various uniforms and weaponry of the Civil War, we mostly engaged with the battlefield below while listening to living book about the war.

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I also want to share one of our favorite productions from Audio Adventures: “With Lee in Virginia.” You can follow the link for information on the all star cast and how the production came together. We are huge G.A. Henty fans over here and I was over the moon when I discovered that Audio Adventures was producing so many of his stories. (We also have “Under Drake’s Flag”, “The Dragon and the Raven”, and “In Freedom’s Cause” all of which get an enthusiastic recommendation as well!) The boys were riveted by the story “With Lee in Virginia” and they listened to it several times over the past two weeks.

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Another treasured audio CD is from Greathall Productions, read by Jim Weiss. “Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America is a wonderful biographical CD. We could listen to Jim Weiss read all day long. His voice is just wonderful. (Last year, my son said he wanted to be Jim Weiss when he grew up!)

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Here are a few of our favorite books from the pile we read:

Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books by Kay Winters
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale by Deborah Hopkinson
Abraham Lincoln’s World by Genevieve Foster *** This is a great book to flip through and read bits out of but it is definitely out of age range (2nd-3rd) as a main study. But we loved looking through it!

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Abe loved books. We decided to really celebrate that this week and the boys spent a lot of time enjoying their favorite books over and over. We had our monthly “PoetTreats” tea time this week to make sure we celebrated our favorite poems too. “PoetTreats” is always a special time for us. I decorate our table nicely and make their favorite tea and treats. Everyone gets to bring their current favorite poetry book and we go around the table reading poems out loud while we enjoy our snacks.

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To cap off our study of Abraham Lincoln, my husband took the boys out to the wood pile where they learned how to chop and split wood. They were all so eager to lend a helping hand and learn from their Dad.

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The second week of the study was spent learning about slavery and the Civil War. We enjoyed learning about the first submarines of the Civil War and the kids came up with some really fun designs for old war machines!

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I brought out a reproduction newspaper from the civil war era and we discussed how differently news traveled back then and how soldiers communicated with various camps and the people back home. Each boy got to pen a pretend letter containing important battle plans for another civil war captain to read. Then they had to be delivered by another soldier through the woods to the campsite. Lets just say, I am still finding bits of paper and the occasional wood rifle in the backyard. It was a busy day!

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We have taken a few “Civil War” field trips in the last year and half. Knowing that we’d be diving into Adventures and eventually studying the war between the states, I made an effort during our road trips to stop off and show the boys bits of history. Over Christmas we stopped off at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Last April, my Mom and I took the boys to Fort Sumter.

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We learned a great deal at the museum and this week I asked the boys to recall some of what they had learned. They remembered many, many details from the fort and the museum inside. My eldest described in great detail, the flag pictured below, which is the original flag that was flying over Fort Sumter when it was attacked.

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My youngest remembered passing by the old Slave Mart (now a museum).

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Slavery is a hard topic to explain to children. We are proud to be Americans but we also want to acknowledge the very terrible things our country has been a part of. Racism is especially heartbreaking to explain when your children are completely innocent that such a thing exists. They first heard about it last year during our Cycle 3 study with Classical Conversations. I read them wonderful books starting with the civil war era up through the civil rights movement and they were left feeling very confused. They would ask about their African American/African friends and family members and wonder what it was that subjected them to these horrible things. I was feeling a little anxious about starting that painful topic all over this year.

But this year, we had a few months of prior African History study in Cycle 1 of Classical Conversations. Hearing about the Songhai, Zanj and Zimbabweans, gave them a clearer picture of Africa and its history. We studied the start of the slave trade and its origins briefly to give them an idea of its full scope and long history.

We did read several books about the lives of slaves on southern plantations and their experiences in the underground railroad, but the most helpful book we read was, “Who Owns the Sun?” by Stacey Chbosky. Now at first my son could not stop saying “God!” in answer to the question so I had to start over and preface it by saying, “Yes, God owns everything. But this book is asking if any one man owns the sun?” and this helped us move on with the book.

By the last page there was not a dry eye around our table.

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I don’t think I will ever find an easy way to talk about slavery and/or racism, because it is a horrible and hard thing no matter how you approach it. Giving the boys a bit more background into the culture and discussing the topic of slavery in general, helped us understand the specifics of slavery in America a bit more clearly. Their tender hearts were pierced by this which was hard to watch but necessary for them to experience as they continue to grow in a world where racism is very much alive. We finished our time of study by praying to God and thanking Him for the life of Abraham Lincoln, who stood for up for justice and truth. We prayed for our country as we continue to be divided on issues of race. We prayed for our men in uniform overseas and here at home and for our leaders that govern our country.

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!

Art Appreciation + Resource List

“We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.”—Charlotte Mason

I want art to be a part of the mold that serves to shape my children into the adults they will one day be.

Art trains our eyes to behold life with wonder. Studying art adds texture to our history timeline. Art adds depth to stories and breathes life into our everyday academics. Art provides a space for souls to encounter and reflect.  Art calls us to create. Art is a valuable and worthy use of our time.

Teaching children to appreciate art felt like a daunting prospect when I first started. While my lovely sister was always supremely gifted with art, I was gifted in the art of hacking together a *good enough* project. I could *kind of* make art. I certainly knew how to appreciate various forms of art, but in the execution department, I was sorely lacking. When it came time to teach my children, I felt a bit overwhelmed and more than a little underprepared.

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One child loved art, one child hated it. One child loved to make and break, one child could not bear to touch anything weird. One child loved Picasso and Monet, one child repeatedly asked “is this over yet?”

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When did that happen? It happened over time. Growing up with art takes time.
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If you’ve been following, you know I am not a “Top Ten Ways to” or “How to Perfect…” kind of blogger. But I do love me some philosophy of Education. After tons and tons of reading over the years, I have learned to approach any subject I teach like some weird Classical/Charlotte Mason Ninja with Montessori-ish throwing stars sporting a Fred Rogers Tshirt. Whether its the Trivium, or Charlotte’s 4 R’s (Reading, Reasoning, Relating, Recording), when I approach something I have a system in mind and a mantle of compassion and grace balanced precariously on my shoulders. Ahem, and *reinforcements in the pantry. *Read: chocolate and wine.
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For me, Art is all about the E’s.

Expose, Encounter, Explore, Express, Emulate.
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Expose:
This is, somehow, the simplest and most difficult of all the steps. There has to be a purposeful step taken towards including quality art in your home. You have to go out of your way to bring it inside. You have to decide to mix it into your everyday life.
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The paintings pictured above are part of an art study called, Enjoying Art Together, from My Father’s World. They helped me get the ball rolling back in the days of little to no quality art. I would hold up one painting before breakfast and lunch. I would not say a word. I would just hold it up and the kids would look at it. I would display it on the server next to our table between meals. I would leave the other paintings around the house where the kids would find them. Art books and puzzles started popping up around the house. Art sprang up around the home wherever the kids looked. They lived with art.
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Then I cracked open the books and read stories. My goal was to engage them with each painting. I started to ask questions, “What colors are used in this painting? How does that color make you feel? What are these people doing? Is it sunny where they are? How do you know?” Then they asked each other questions. They would look and look into a painting until they came up with a story about each one. Some stories were quite lovely, I will never forget my eldest son’s interpretation of Renoir’s “A girl with a watering can,” it was simple and heart achingly sweet. Nor will I forget my cheeky four year old’s story about Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles.”

“Forest made of spaghetti, my name is Blue and I DON’T like you. You show up on my plate on Thursdays and I wish you were tacos. Stop making me into blue forks, when all I want is to be free to love a taco.” 

Deep stuff, I know.

Surface value questions that lead to internal interpretation of what the artwork relates to them. That is pretty much the goal.

Explore
We start to look into how these pieces of art were made. I call their attention to certain elements. I slip in vocabulary words and touch on techniques. They repeat words back to me and then the new questions start. Michelangelo used marble? Where did it come from? How long did it take to haul out each piece? How long did he train to do this? What were his days like and how did that impact what he made? What other sculptures did he make? Do you have a favorite?

Lets think about these cave paintings. Where did all the different colors come from? What materials can we gather if we were to make this painting? Could we make this painting in another form? How would it look as a sculpture? watercolor? mixed media? The more artists and artwork we add to our vocabulary the more depth this step begins to have. For example, my seven year old choosing to paint triptychs based off of woodcuts from one of his favorite storybooks using brushes he made out of sticks and ferns from the back hollow. This idea sprang from a dozen sources and converged upon our dining room table one random rainy afternoon.
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Technically, they have been expressing all along! Their reaction to the initial art exposure, their questions and answers as they encountered art, their research and response as they explored the artwork. Now I gather all those balloons, tie them together, hand them over to my children and watch the lift off. This is the place where ideas and concepts mesh together and my children have the opportunity to express what they have learned. They talk about the odds and ends they have gathered and the different ways they employed each piece. This is probably my favorite portion of the process. We have moved from questions to conversation. Its a beautiful step and always takes the most unexpected shapes. In Classical education, every single subject is interconnected and it really shows when we reach this portion. Science, history, geography, math, language— all of it comes into play. Art and academics serve to enrich each other. Its rather thrilling. 🙂 IMG_4911Emulate
Now we go back to the beginning and look at the piece anew. I bring out texts or tools and we try and learn some techniques together. We recall the vocabulary we learned as we explored. We remember lines and shades and shapes we studied. Then we emulate what we have processed. It is easier to do this step after we have formed a friendship with the artist. We just had tea in a cozy Parisian cafe. Remember that crazy waiter who kept dropping the hot croissants? The night sounded like a lone trumpet and the breeze knew every hair on our heads. We can learn how to paint these elements now that we have spent days with them. Of course, it will never be the same breeze. It won’t be the exact waiter. We know this. We keep trying and we keep learning, and in our minds, we see the painting we want. We encourage our hands to keep trying.

Sometimes kids freak out when their art doesn’t match up to the idea in their minds. Sometimes I freak out too. But we are doing this together, the kids and I. The chances are high that at least one of us can talk the rest of the group away from the ledge of artistic despair. (So many FEELINGS in art class! Ay yi yi!) We remind each other, “Emulate might look more like an Echo, for now.” (or forever, in my case). Art is not a perfectly executed machine. I don’t ask for or require perfection. Art is chance to demonstrate what they have learned and showcase their experience with it. The children’s Matisse renditions looked nothing like Matisse, but they felt like Matisse.

My eldest hated drawing for the longest time. But he persevered and continued to work hard. A few months ago, he drew this picture of his hero, George Washington.

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Technique may not be perfect, but art has seeped into their pores and mingled with their thoughts and become impressed upon their cellular memory as they paint, mold, sculpt, paste, splatter and create.

Posts like this make me nervous. Don’t read perfection. Don’t think I have it all figured out. With four kids in the mix, we rarely have an art session that does not include tears or disappointment of some kind. Find a way to let art find its way into your home. Whatever that looks like for your family, just take the first step because it is a beautiful, valuable element of education that should not be overlooked.

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Farmhouse Schoolhouse Favorite Art Resources

Websites~
Donna Young: the whole site is full of ideas for various subjects. Donna’s art tab has great projects and directions for learning drawing techniques and perspectives. Very helpful!
Art History Mom: I really dig this site. Art History Mom has tons of project ideas based off of various famous pieces of art. We loved her Van Gogh Sunflower art project.
The Artful Parent: Pretty much everything in this site is great. “Simple ways to fill your family’s life with art & creativity.” Yes, please.
Filth Wizardry: Discovered this gem thanks to The Homegrown Preschooler. Messy art for kids. Huzzah!  #sayyes!
Jackson Pollock Painting Center: it comes up as a blank site. As you drag your cursor the lines appear and once you click it will switch over to a new color. No ads, no weird pop ups, just painting Pollock style. The tots LOVE this and I love it!
Picasso Head: Make Picasso heads with clip art. So much fun.
National Art Gallery for Kids: There is so much on this site, I don’t even know where to start. Check it out. My kids made a gorgeous landscape a few weeks ago using this site. It was really fun to watch unfold.

Art Studies~
Simply Charlotte Mason’s Picture Study Portfolio
My Father’s World Enjoying Art Together
Memoria Press Art Cards 
Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes

Book List~
Katie and the Picture Show by James Mayhew (Adorable little Katie visits Museums, crawls into pictures and goes on adventures. We love every. single. one.)
Katie and the Starry Night by James Mayhew
Katie and the Sunflowers by James Mayhew
Katie and the Bathers by James Mayhew
Katie Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew
Katie and the Waterlily Pond by James Mayhew
Katie and the Spanish Princess by James Mayhew
Katie and the Mona Lisa by James Mayhew
Anholt’s Artists Books for Children by Laurence Anholt: This is a great series! We love “The Magical Garden of Claude Monet”
Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists:  Another great series by Mike Venezia. Your local library may even have some DVDs. Our boys adore Venezia’s story about Michelangelo.
Mini Masters Boardbooks: A series for toddlers. We love these. They have gotten really really pricey. I’m talking $40 on amazon for the Monet one. We found ours as a bundle on ebay. These are definitely cute but I wouldn’t break the bank to get them.
Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors by Jane O’Conner
Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars by Joan Holub
Pablo Picasso: Breaking All the Rules by True Kelley
Tickle Tut’s Toes by Julie Appel
Make Van Gogh’s Bed by Julie Appel
Count Monet’s Lillies by Julie Appel
Maryann F. Kohl has fantastic art books! We have about 10 of them. We have found them for pennies at thrift stores and on used book sites. Global Art, Story Art and Discovering Great Artists are some of our favorites.
A Child’s Book of Art by Lucy Micklethwait
ANY COFFEE TABLE BOOK WITH GIANT PICTURES OF ART. Truly, get thee to a Barnes & Nobles and check out that huge clearance section of books. There is almost always a giant collection of art that you can buy for around $5. Its usually tucked behind “Weapons of the Civil War” and “Haunting Visions of Ireland.” Pictures. of. art. Go!
Paul Cezanne Block Puzzle: I know its not a book, but this one is too good not to share. Six paintings, one puzzle, big chunky blocks. We love ours.

Art Supplies typically not listed on other blogs~
Kraft Paper Rolls: I’m talking the ginormous 1000 ft rolls. They last a good year and a half or so and we use it every week. I just unroll enough to cover the table, cut and the kids can paint and practice new techniques or make a huge mural.
Plastic Egg Cartons: Yup. Ask your family to save them for you. Cut them apart so you have trays with six slots each. These are cheap, disposable paint palettes.
Twine: We use a surprising amount of twine. Mostly because the boys love making their own paintbrushes thanks to “Benjamin West and his Cat Grimalkin” by Marguerite Henry. (Story of American painter Benjamin West who grew up in a Quaker home, no art allowed, and made paint brushes out of his cat’s hair). We use the twine to bundle up pine needles or grass blades to sticks for a natural paint brush.
Vegetable/Fruit Scraps: Don’t throw that celery butt away. Hand it to your toddler to make celery stamps while you are teaching your older kids the basics of drawing. Keep those moldy strawberries and squish the juice out of them to make paint.
Grocery bags: Its not a bag anymore. Its a smock. Paper or plastic—it will work.
Standing Mirror: For self portraits.
Chocolate: For despair.
A camera: For documenting your child’s artwork and progress!


MFW Adventures: Revolution & Rhinovirus

The best time to gauge my children’s progress in learning to work independently, always occurs when I am sick.

Mom is down for the count. How much can you do on your own?

I’ve been working hard with my eldest son to learn how to fend for himself. Last year, I realized that if I ever disappeared for a few days, I would likely return to find him half starved and wearing the same clothes he had on when I left, with a decent chance he may not have even noticed my absence. The child knows how to melt away into imaginative play like no other. On the other hand, my second born would have prepared three square meals a day, finished a load of laundry, completed an assortment of projects on top of his daily schoolwork, and managed to keep all the pets fed and the house clean.

Its not like I only worked with the second born on life skills. They both received the same lessons and the same amount of attention. It really boils down to this: my second born cares about independence and basic hygiene; my first born does not care about anything but the alternate universe in his head.

So I end up sick for their all time favorite history topic, the American Revolutionary War.  What to do? Should I skip school for a week? If it had been any other subject, I would have! But here was a chance to see the kids in action in a subject they were well versed in.

I did decide to skip science this week as an act of grace and mercy towards myself. We voted to double up on science the following week.  We kept our morning routine the same. The boys worked through their Saxon lessons and we set aside our Language Arts for the week. When life gets hard we usually stick with one or two subjects and let the other subjects take a rest. The chances of goal achievement are much higher and I don’t have to deal with the horrible guilt of not finishing a tremendous to-do list by the end of the week. Honestly, stripping back also helps the kids learn much more than they do when I try to pack in too much. Win-win.

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So how did we survive the Revolutionary War while the General battled Rhinovirus? Well, aside from an insane “Liberty’s Kids” marathon that has left me with a vehement hatred for the opening bars of “I see a laaaaaannnnnd….,” we spent the majority of our days on the floor with packs of army men and an assortment of legos.  I read books aloud and drank tea. Whenever I needed to sleep, they read books to each other and drank tea. Even outside of school hours, the boys kept picking up easy readers and step into reading books about the Revolution.  I loved passing by their room at night and seeing those night lights on and the history books open. What a thrill!  Despite the hideous plague of illness I was wallowing in, I could not help but feel immense gratitude for the blessing of homeschooling. My kids don’t hate school. They love to learn. <—This will never cease to amaze me!

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The boys built a variety of weaponry. Cannons, sabers, muskets. Full disclosure: I did not teach them any of this, I don’t know where they acquired this knowledge and I still have no idea what any of it is , how it works, or when it was used. I only know that my kids dig it big time.

A few months ago, I stopped off at a Barnes & Nobles with $7 left on an old gift card. I found this book in the clearance section. Totally NOT age appropriate, however, it came with dozens and dozens of document replicas that made its $5 price tag worthy of my gift card.

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The boys loved reading notes from Cornwallis, drafts of the Constitution and George Washington’s commission note which renounces his allegiance to King George and pledges his loyalty to the United States.  Lots of tiny people geeing out over here. They spent Friday in Revolutionary War garb, tricorn hats in place, sending missives back and forth between camps. The toddler Nathan Hale was usually charged with carrying the documents between the Greenback Mountain Boys and an “ICY COLD” General George Washington.

So what did we read this week? Pretty much everything by Jean Fritz. One lunch hour consisted of twelve books and many, many quesadillas with sliced avocados from our tree. (Lemon tea for me!) They did not want lunchtime reading to end.

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Revolutionary War Book List
Can’t You Make Them Behave King George? by Jean Fritz
And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? by Jean Fritz
Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz
Where was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? by Jean Fritz
Why Don’t You get a Horse, Sam Adams? by Jean Fritz
The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz
Why Not, Lafayette? by Jean Fritz
Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? by Jean Fritz
The Scarlett Stocking Spy by  Trinka Hanks Noble
The 18 Penny Goose by Sally M Walker
George the Drummer Boy by Nathaniel Benchley
If You Lived at the Time of the American Revolution by Kay Moore
If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution by Elizabeth Levy
Heroes of the Revolution by David A Adler
Nathan Hale Patriot Spy by Shannon Zemlicka
Paul Revere by Esther Forbes

We capped off the week with a Revolutionary battle reenactment that resulted in three nosebleeds, one broken picture frame, a box of overturned cheerios, a damaged tricorn hat and left me bedridden until my sweet husband came home early from work to rescue me.

Confession: I have a super big crush on my children’s principal.