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: War of 1812, Star Spangled Banner & Lewis and Clark

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We studied the War of 1812 last year during cycle 3 of Classical Conversations. The minute the boys saw our topic of study they launched into the corresponding song, “The war of 1812, gave confidence to the US to write the Monroe doctrine…”

I made several recordings of their young warmly voices as they sang out “The Star Spangled Banner.” Its difficult to imagine what they will sound like a few years from now.

We recreated the Battle of Ft McHenry in our bathtub. We will not be sharing those pictures. Suffice to say, there was a great deal of water outside the tub when it was all said and done!

After spending the first two days of our unit reading about the War of 1812 and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner, the boys asked if we could take a detour with Lewis & Clark. I love homeschool detours. We always learn so much! Here’s what happened…

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We jumped in with our Interactive 3D American History maps. 
We looked up the various Indian tribes and geographical features mentioned on the map. The boys were very excited about researching these terms in their child craft encyclopedias.

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We made a lap book from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus. All the printouts were free and easy to assemble. We listed defining characteristics of various tribes, studied botany and mapped out Lewis and Clark’s route.

We printed out the corresponding coloring sheets to fill in while I read aloud from our Louisiana Purchase book list (see below).

We played a really fun Lewis & Clark Westward Bound board game. The cards relay information about the trip at each stop along the map.

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Lastly, I purchased a few pounds of white sculpty clay and the boys fashioned pieces for our Corps of Discovery diorama. I read aloud from a few books written from the experience of Seaman, the massive Newfoundland dog that accompanied Lewis and Clark on their journey.

We baked the pieces in the oven and then painted them a few days later.

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This was a great project! I love how hands on it was. I also got a lot of reading in while they worked and afterwards, while they played.

On Friday, we went for our usual nature walk. The boys had spent the week cataloging the plants in our backyard. We dissected a bird of paradise flower and labeled each part. I had seen a great link for making your own grocery bag nature journals, a la Merriweather Lewis. I had planned to let the boys fill their homemade journals with drawings of native plants as though they were the original discoverers.

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In the end, I opted to just let them enjoy the great outdoors with a project in mind.
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When we returned home, they worked on their natural journals and sketched a large piece of brood comb from one of our pine trees. They also sketched a honey bee and labeled its parts.

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I’m glad we did this instead of the journal. They were much more excited to sketch bees today. Some days, its better to let them lead their own learning.

We ended the week by playing one of our new favorite board games, Wildcraft,  in honor of those crazy botanist/explorers Lewis & Clark.
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Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark Expedition Reading List

How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark by Rosalyn Sanchez
Lewis and Clark: The Story of Our Nation from Coast to Coast, from 1801-1850 by Sally Isaacs 
Lewis and Clark: A Prairie Dog for the President by Shirley Raye Redmond
The Louisiana Purchase: Would you close the deal? by Elaine Landau
The Lewis and Clark Expedition (Graphic History) by Jessica Gunderson
Seaman’s Journal: On the Trail with Lewis and Clark by Patricia Eubank

We’ll be taking the next week off and I plan to read “Of Courage Undaunted” by James Daughtery.

 

 

MFW Adventures: States & Birds

We are loving our tour through the United States.
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The boys memorized all fifty states and capitols last year during Cycle 3 of Classical Conversations. They also tackled all the geographical features and memorized many different important pieces of American History in their weekly History sentences. I’ve loved watching all this information burst out of them at different points this year.

I was initially worried that the State Study would not be enough on its own for them. But once again, turns out what MFW has prepared is more than sufficient!

I comb-bound all our state sheets into one notebook for each boy and purchased a special set of Prismacolor colored pencils. The boys know these pencils are very special (aka mucho dinero) and are only to be used with our state sheets. I love seeing the special care they have taken with these new tools. Its made them work carefully and their trademark little boy sloppiness has diminished greatly as the days pass. They are eager to shade their state birds just so and capture the exact color of each state flower.

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While the boys work on their State Sheets and Lego State creations, I read from various books. We have been using the suggested book list from MFW, but I have also incorporated a book of collected poems by Lee Bennet Hopkins entitled, “My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States.” I also try and include readings from a few poets or authors hailing from the states we are studying. We usually glean these authors from the list of state poet laureates.  (PS There are FIVE states with Official State Poems).  Lastly, I read the next book off of our Beautiful Feet Books list. I will be posting our list and references soon so be on the lookout! We’ve read so many wonderful new books in the last two weeks. Its fun watching the boys play “raise the barn” or make knick knacks around the house to sell at Portsmouth Market like the Ox-Cart man.

Some days the reading outlasts the work at hand. On those days the boys rush to pull out their much adored US History Geo puzzle.  Some days the work outlasts the reading. On those days I rush to find a bottle of my much adored Essie nail polish. IMG_7143

The littles stay engaged by coloring their own states sheets and then making states out of play doh.  Other times they prefer to stick with their own motor skill/sensory play activities.
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I have honestly spent more time in the last two weeks preparing activities for the younger boys to engage with so that our older boys can focus well on their work. Of course, this means that when the older boys finish their work they rush over to see what their younger siblings are up to and the join in the play!

Our study of birds is progressing beautifully. I am in love with this portion of Adventures! Having the Everglades nearby blesses us with a large variety of birds year round. This gentle introduction of state birds has blossomed into a new hobby for my children.We’ve started collecting feathers and nests. The eldest has asked for several new books on Audubon’s life. We are eager to learn about the birds in our area and are planning a field trip to our local Audubon base.  Pretty much everyone was happy… until they realized we would not be making a delicious chocolate nest treat every single time we studied a new bird.  Oh, the drama!
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Training the boys to observe nature quietly is not easy. I’ve armed them to the teeth with binoculars, notebooks, cameras and colored pencils, hoping that occupied hands would silence voices that lack volume control. This plan met with mixed success. I finally realized that merging the toddler’s snack time with our nature walks was the way to go!

BEHOLD!!!

A recipe on my blog. This may not ever happen again, so enjoy it….


Audubonbons

Ingredients:
Granola bars
Chocolate Bar
Wax Paper

Step 1: Cut granola bar into bite sized squares.
Step 2: Place granola squares onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper
Step 3: Melt the chocolate bar and drizzle it onto the granola squares
Step 4: Place in fridge until hardened. Or place in freezer as an extra treat for teething toddler or as a tooth loss motivator for your 7 year old and his loose tooth thats been hanging in there for two months without falling out. Sigh.
Step 5: Place in baggie and take along on your nature hike.
Step 6: Hand it to your toddler and say “stick some Audubonbons in your pie hole and let your brother draw the mockingbird!”


Next week, we will be writing up a more thorough look at our bird watching activities. It will most certainly not be a “how to” guide, more like a “don’t you feel better about your nature walk/life in general now?” kinda thing.  Tears and laughter abound.

Speaking of life in general. The humidity is starting to dissipate! Its still warm, but its bearable. As in, I no longer feel like I am walking in a can of soup when I walk outside. From this point on, any schooling that can be done outside—will be done outside! Hooray! Time to bust that picnic basket out of storage.

IMG_6924Anyone else adoring “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder? Its inspiring the boys to get even more involved on the farm. Training the new pup to guard the chickens, pulling weeds and helping mark out garden plans. Its going to be a lovely, all hands on deck, kinda Fall!
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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.

MFW Adventures: Benjamin Franklin & Layers

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We get a lot of lightning storms. This time of year, we have them almost every day! Our study of Benjamin Franklin coincided nicely with the weather. Last night, the bad weather rolled in just as the sun was setting.

unnamed-2It was overwhelming. Soon after the evening meal, the inside of our home suddenly turned a brilliant golden pink. We ran outside to see what was going on! We were greeted by brilliant colors, the rumble of thunder and powerful lightning bolts transecting the sky’s rosy palette. A great way to end a week of lightning watch. Thanks, God!

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If you’ve been following our blog, you know by now that I am a bit of a book junkie. I hyper focus on books all. the. time.
So I am taking a page out of Ben Franklin’s personal book of improvements and finding ways to improve the way I do laundry homeschool with books. Book overload is not a good thing. I am learning to cut back on book volume and instead of grabbing copious amounts of literature repeating the same information ad nauseaum, I am choosing a few solid books that are well written and beautifully illustrated. I am trying to make sure that our book basket has variety and sustains high interest levels. Do I really need 6 books on Benjamin Franklin that all present the same biographical material? No. For example, we picked up “A Picture Book of Benjamin Franklin” by John Alder at our local library last week. This book is fine but not necessary for our week because it parrots back all the information we received through other sources. We ended up slipping that particular book, along with a few others, back into the library bag.

61zuKVuME5L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Benjamin Franklin Book List:
1. Benjamin Franklin Young Printer by Augusta Stevenson We read a few chapters from this biography every night before bedtime. The boys loved hearing stories about Benjamin Franklin as a child. In fact, he simply became “our pal Ben” during these evening readings. How fun to step inside the Franklin family banter! Ben made tough, deliberate decisions even as a child–this  captivated my boys.
2. Now and Ben by Gene Barretta We loved this book! Bright and engaging. Parallels our world today with the innovations created by Franklin way back “Ben.” The four year old always came sniffing around when this book was pulled out.
3. The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin by James Cross Giblin The pictures alone are enough to draw a crowd.
4. Electric Ben by Robert Byrd My boys read this one back and forth to each other.
5. Ben and Me by Robert Lawson Another great chapter book read. This was our lunchtime book and my children are so hopeful for their own Amos.
6. Whats the Big Idea Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz My second born has chosen to read this book on his own. He is 3/4 of the way done and I am excited to hear his “report” when it is finished. I love that he is interested enough to pick up a book on his own.
7. Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares by Frank Murphy Simple enough for my son to read by himself. He came running into my office, waving the book and begging for help so that he could make his own “magic squares.” He made magic squares all week long.
8. Benjamin Franklin by Indri D’Aulaire Our primary resource (outside of The Story of the U.S.) Beautiful, informative, incredibly engaging.

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Our Beautiful Feet study has now synced up perfectly with MFW Adventures. We read the D’aulaires book, “Benjamin Franklin” each morning while coloring in the free pages provided by bfbooks.com.

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One of our favorite chapters in the book, “Ben Franklin, Young Printer,” describes Josiah Franklin’s undercover methods of educating his children. Josiah and Abiah would invite guests over for dinner and through carefully crafted questions, lead the guests through a series of informative conversations that would edify their children and open the world to them while their little feet remained planted under the dinner table.
IMG_5513Now on his return trip home, Uncle Captain David stopped by for pizza and brought along his sea charts. Once the pizza was consumed, the chart was placed on the floor,  measuring instruments were brought out and my children were soon learning how to plot courses around buoys, shipwrecks and shallow water.

IMG_5518 My eldest remarked later, “I think we should do this kind of Franklin School Style more often!” We are so thankful for a wonderful visit with our dear friend and for his willingness to sprawl out on the living room floor and talk to our boys about the things he is learning.

IMG_0124 I would have loved to spend our week outdoors doing fun Ben Franklin Activities as originally planned; but the heat, lightning and mosquitoes convinced us otherwise. The great outdoors are a great misery right now. I didn’t want the kids bouncing off the walls all week. (This summer we are averaging 3 nose bleeds a day thanks to wrestling, wiggling and plain-old “not watching where you walk”). How to have a fun week learning about Ben Franklin with minimal outdoor time while also avoiding meaningless handouts? Hmmm…

Dare we try lap-booking?

Confession: I never really fancied myself a “lap book” kinda gal. They seemed like an inordinate amount of work for Moms with mixed reviews on how much kids actually learned. The endless copying, card stock, glue, coloring, assembling–yay! More “Things to Do.” I wondered what percentage of these books were actually put together by children? Also, anything that feeds my Type A personality in a negative way is something I tried to avoid. Lap books just seemed like the homeschool version of crystal meth for my personality. (RUN AWAY!) Anyways, my boys have loved Ben Franklin for many years (devotion to the point of attempting non-sanctioned haircuts in B.Franklin’s money style) and they wanted to do a BIG PROJECT when we reached our pal Ben during Adventures. You know whats coming….

We finished a lapbook.

IMG_5603 Or rather, THEY finished a lapbook. Yup, we took the plunge. As you can see from the cover page, I was not in charge of coloring. I certainly did the majority of the assembling, but these boys took charge!

Homeschool in the Woods lap-pak study of Benjamin Franklin was incredibly fun and meaningful.  The instructions are clear and precise.  The Benjamin Franklin book we assembled was lovely and I am so thankful that it came with Audio accompaniment. I was able to leave Team A coloring, cutting materials and listening to audio, while Team B and I sorted laundry on the other side of the house.

IMG_5604I was a bit worried that we would overload on the Franklin family if we integrated this lap-pak with our MFW study, but it complemented everything quite nicely. The boys were always looking forward to the next small project. If they did not have such a high degree of interest then the lap-pak thing just would not have worked for us. But these boys wanted more! And the lap-pak delivered.
IMG_5605Leather apron trades, inventions, timelines, contributions, documents, etc.  Kudos to Homeschool in the Woods for this thoughtfully prepared material. My eldest loved getting to set the type for his own name with all the letters placed backwards and then seeing it close down on his name with the letters facing the right way. The second-born loved reading about Ben’s inventions and setting up the printing press diorama.
IMG_5606Once we assembled the books, I carved 10-15 minutes out my day with each son so they could walk me through their lap-pak. They were so proud of their hard work and eager to relay as much information as they could.

“See this armonica? Mozart liked it so much he made music for it. Thats how awesome Ben Franklin was. I want to build an armonica because you can’t get them in a store. They are in museums now.”
“All the printer’s type go in backwards because when it presses down then the letter go the right way. Its a mirroring thing, you know?”
“Just think about how important the Treaty of Paris was, you know Mom? And Ben Franklin helped write it and sign it! He was already pretty old by then so he had to use the bifocals he invented.”
“This is all the stuff he did. This line right here stops right before he’s your age Mom, which means he did all this before he was your age!” 
“Ben Franklin practiced these 13 virtues. My favorite is Temperance but really I think we could all use more Silence.”  

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If Ben Franklin is just another week for you, proceed as planned. But if your kiddos have a special interest in him and would enjoy something “extra” then I recommend this lap-pak with two hearty thumbs up. (PS. Its geared for grades k-2). The boys learned a lot about the life of Ben Franklin and the importance of following directions. I learned that I am a lap-book “once in awhile” kinda gal and am in no danger whatsoever of becoming addicted.

Last but not least, SCIENCE.IMG_5537Lots of Magic Schoolbus  over here! Beep, beep! We love reading Faith McNulty’s “How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World.” Its one of our favorite books to read on a fairly regular basis.

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This year I deliberately included Gail Gibbon’s “Planet Earth/ Inside Out.” This book uses evolution and big bang terms throughout. I walked the boys through the basics of each theory using the book. We looked at the creation account (even browsed through our old MFWK Creation books) and then reread “Planet Earth/Inside Out.” Plenty of discussion and great questions. I had to look up a few things and the boys followed along as I researched. The second born was fascinated by Robert Ballard’s current research of the biblical flood’s impact on an ancient shoreline at the bottom of the Black Sea.  My eldest wants to research the possibility of pangea’s existence before the flood and the subsequent break up as a result of the flood. I love that he is wondering about that. I am glad that he is sorting through questions about creation and evolution while at home. I went to an evangelical college with a lot of kids that were taught nothing but creation at home and then went through major crises once they arrived in science class and began learning all these theories. I love that homeschooling provides platforms for researching and asking questions together about the beautiful mysteries of the universe our God so lovingly created.

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How fascinating is our earth? The boys resounding question was “But how do scientists know this FOR SURE?” They are hungry to learn more about the scientific method and the history of science in general.
I made a pretty ugly and haphazard basic felt puzzle for the boys to play with. They loved sorting the layers of the earth and labeling the various pieces, all the while asking for MORE INFORMATION! Something tells me that our high school science years will be quite the doozy!
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Next week we begin our study of my eldest son’s all time favorite person ever: George Washington! We may be taking more than a week to finish our study, we plan on enjoying it to the fullest!
Happy Adventuring, friends!
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MFW Adventures: New Netherlands + Wiggle Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature Walks & Our Hike Pack

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Nature hikes and nature journals. Two parts of homeschool life that are growing in importance over time. In fact, it has become essential to our life as homeschoolers.

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When we first started homeschooling, I assumed that the scheduled “Nature Walk” portions of our curriculum were just a “get them out of the house” option. And while these scheduled walks do get them out of the house, they have become so much more than that to our family.

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Nature walks have given us an abundance of time. When we are at home I always feel like the days are slipping by and the children are growing too quickly. Out in nature, everything slows down. Time seems to multiply. Details, thousands of details, spring up all around us. We begin to discover and wonder aloud. We start naming, classifying, drawing and jotting down notes of things to look up later. We sit quietly and reflect. We are lost in a canopied cathedral, where worship and wonder mingle and flow unconstrained.

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This year we have been keeping more formal notebooks of our time outside. Seasons, times, sightings, sketches, thoughts, ideas.  The six year old loves making tree rubbings against the bark of the biggest trees he can find. My seven year old is quite keen on sketching hawks. The four year has been content to draw bats over and over and over. Guess what? He’s getting quite proficient at drawing bats! His drawing skills improve through this repetition. We are starting to find our bearings a little quicker with practice. Before the compass is pulled out we each take a guess. Which way is North? Over time the guesses have become more accurate. Where is the closest body of water? What are the names of the trees in this forest or park?

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Today, I finished reading “Keeping A Nature Journal” by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth.  It has inspired me to keep my own journal and quit overseeing my children’s journals.

Summers are difficult where we live. Extreme heat and extreme bugs make outdoor time a misery.  The majority of our outings are to parks and the beach. If we rise particularly early, then we are able to go out for a hike in the local preserves.  The rest of the year is gorgeous perfection and we are often outside rambling around the farm or in the pine woods nearby. We make great effort to get outside every day and once we are there, I leave the boys up to their own devices for awhile. Its amazing what stories they come home with.

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I keep a backpack, stocked and ready for these hikes.

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Included in our Hike Pack:

1) (4) 2 x 3 rugs from IKEA
2) Pencil case stocked with pencils (HB, 2B and 3B) erasers and a few colored pencils.
3) Pocket knife
4) Badger Sunscreen and Bug Spray combo
5) Take Along Guides
We use: Caterpillars, Bugs and Butterflies by Mel Boring
Trees, Leaves and Bark by Diane L Burnes
Tracks, Scats and Signs by Leslie Dendy
6) Nature Journals
We use:  Classical Conversations Nature Sketch Journals for 7 and 6 year old.
Run of the mill composition journals for myself and the 4 year old.

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Also in the pack but not pictured…

7)  Diapers + wipes
8) Flashlight for checking tree burrows
9) Cell phone w full battery
10) First Aid Kit
11) Compass

Before we leave for the Nature Walk we usually read a passage from an adventurous book my boys have expressed fondness for.  For example, “Wild Animals I have Known” by Ernest Thompson Seton or any of Thornton Burgess’ Animal stories. We make sure we are wearing the correct footwear and that we have been sprayed and lotioned in order to fend off ticks and UV Rays. We grab our water bottles and the boys usually arm themselves with binoculars and wooden rifles. Then, we set out to find the spectacular ordinary and the beautifully mundane.  We do not go looking for tigers or elephants. We walk quietly in the nature that is part of our space and time and we try to get to know it a little better and in doing so we know ourselves and each other better.

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Boys love to collect things. I am forever turning pockets inside out before loading the wash. I’ve had a few terrified lizards leap out at me and once or twice a wriggly worm. Usually, the pockets are stuffed to the brim with seeds and rocks and bits of twine.

This is quite wonderful for us. On rainy days or unbearably hot days, we pull out those little treasures and sketch them.  I have also found these small acrylic boxes from Oriental Trading Co. to be quite useful!

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We can enclose paper wasp nest fragments, snake skins, fragile exoskeletons or decaying leaves inside.  It is then passed around so the boys can examine their finds without crushing or mangling them.

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The clear view from every side is perfect for studying our specimens up close! The boys, inspired by Teddy Roosevelt, have decided to curate their own small museums. We are preserving their best finds each school year and then displaying them in shadow boxes. The boys will be responsible for curating their specimens, labeling them and pinning them in place.
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I asked my son the other day, “What is your favorite thing about Nature Walks?” He responded quickly, “Its the biggest space for me to wander and think about all I  am learning and all the stuff I still don’t know. Everything feels taped together. I feel really small and really big all at the same time. Mostly, I just like looking at all the wonderful things God took the time to make.”