US History--Civil War & Reconstruction--2013

It's been five years since we last studied the Civil War.  Because my kids usually get each subject twice (I have a 5th grader and a 10th grader right now), I like to have different read-aloud books each time. We discuss the books and movies, then my older kids do other assignments and tests as well.  I typically use the same resources for extra high school work each time (eg. the Critical Thinking in US History series) because the younger kids don't use it.
  • Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt.  This book is a masterpiece--and a tear-jerker. It covers all of the major battles of the war because the main characters--a young boy and his sister--devour the newspapers trying to find news of their brothers and friends serving in both armies.
  • Harriet Tubman by George Sullivan.  It is part of Scholastic's "In Their Own Words" series, and uses as many primary sources as possible.
  • Stonewall by Jean Fritz
  • Gettysburg video.  This is the film version of my all-time favorite Killer Angels.  It is heart-wrenching.
  • The Eyes and Ears of the Civil War by G. Allen Foster.  This is a fun book that talks about information gathering during the war:  the telegraph, spies (including women!), hot-air balloons, and others.  You can pick and choose chapters, or read the whole thing.
  • Lincoln--A Photobiography.  I chose this book because I am emphasizing the question of what we were fighting for--states' rights or slavery.  This book includes a lot of Lincoln's thinking on both topics.
  • The Civil War: an Illustrated History by Catherine Clinton.This book is an "encyclopedia" of the war, with short articles on many people and events.  It was good for filling in gaps not covered in our read-alouds.
  • A History of US--Book 6, chapter 29, "Mr. McLean's Parlor" about the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
  • Article from Meridian Magazine titled "Joseph Smith, Abraham Lincoln, and the Call for Repentance" about reasons for the war.
  • Critical Thinking in US History, Reconstruction (volume 3, chapters 5-9 about the Reconstruction) for my high school student.  This series teaches logic and reasoning using historical writings about the time period.
  • Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder.  This book gives a picture of the devastation and hard feelings in the South after the war.
We added many people and events to our century books.  This year I purchased line drawings of timeline figures from Home School in the Woods.  My 5th grader really enjoyed this because he usually just draws stick figures!

I'm always tempted to cover every battle of the war.  I have to remind myself that it's more important for my kids to become acquainted with and to think about a few of the relevant people and ideas.  They'll remember those, but they probably wouldn't remem-ber the textbook version. :)

Local History & Geography--Waldorf Grade 4

Fourth grade focuses on the LAND--the physical features rather than the human-made creations--which shape our history.  Thus, this outline is specific to Enumclaw, Washington, but I hope you can extrapolate to your own area.
From the title, you might think this is a social studies unit.  However, I included lots of science too.  (This was more than a one-month block as a result.) Unlike the usual "whole to parts," which goes from the big picture to the small detail, I started from local and went to state-wide.
I did these activities with my fourth grader and my ninth grader (who was earning a Washington state history credit).  We had no problems adapting our activities for both ages.

Week One:
  • Climb Mount Peak, a local "big hill" from which you can see our town. Note where there are rivers (even if we can't quite see them), high places, low places, etc.
  • Paint a very general map of our area, just with the basic physical features but still no roads or buildings.  D included Mount Rainier, the Cascade range, the White River, the Green River, and the location of the city of Enumclaw.
  • Visit Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Spend a day or two learning about glaciers and how they made the canyons and rivers of our area.  We read a book one day (mostly a lot of vocabulary).  On day two, we labeled a map with the names of the major glaciers on Mount Rainier (and what rivers flow from them) and had a test on the glacier vocabulary.
  • Learn how glaciers formed the rest of our state (the coulees, Dry Falls, etc.).  Memorize the major geologic regions of Washington, and make a map of them.
Week Two:
  • Discuss Mount Rainier--past eruptions, the lahar (ancient mudflow) on which Enumclaw is built, what it looks like in the crater.  (I used Discovering Mount Rainier by Dog-Eared Publications.)
  • Watch a video about the eruption of Mount Saint Helens (2 hours away from us).
  • Study the line of volcanoes--part of the Ring of Fire--stretching from northern California to southern British Columbia.  What makes a volcano?  Memorize the volcanoes of the Cascade range and identify them on a map.  (I used Cascade Volcanoes: a Discovery Book by David Purcell.)
  • Define and learn about watersheds and the water cycle.  (I used Beginning in the Watershed--Grade 4 from the For Sea Curriculum. I highly recommend this curriculum!)  We discussed our "ecological address" in the watershed, and determined we are part of the White River watershed, coming (mostly) off the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier.  Our house is almost on the dividing line between two major watersheds, so this was a tricky question :)
  • Go to the White River (we chose Federation Forest State Park) to sample aquatic insect larvae and determine the health of our watershed.  (This activity was also from Beginning in the Watershed.)  There were an amazing number of insect larvae!  This also turned out to be a perfect segue into future parts of our unit.  We found hundreds of dead salmon--those which had already spawned--along the river banks.  (We smelled them before we saw them!)  And we were able to hike part of the Naches trail which many early settlers followed on their way to our region.
Weeks Three and Four:
  • Learn the seven species of salmon and trout that live in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.  (This activity was called "Name That Salmon" from Our Home: the Estuaries--a high school curriculum from For Sea. This whole salmon study was a combination of activities from the 4th grade and high school For Sea books.)  We cut out and colored pictures of the various species, and identified which we had seen at Federation Forest.
  • Tell the story of the life cycle of a Chinook salmon who was born in Red Fish Lake in Idaho.  (Our family had a personal experience with this, having visited the lake one year when only one salmon had returned!  Thankfully, the numbers are now increasing.)
  • Visit two different salmon hatcheries--one in Issaquah and one in Orting.  We were able to tell the differences between the different species we saw :) and to see live salmon, dead salmon, and salmon eggs.
  • Discuss possible causes for the decline of salmon populations in the Northwest.
  • Read about research exploring how salmon find their way back to their spawning stream.
  • Learn about aquaculture and the three methods for raising salmon.
  • Explore how natural selection changes genetic diversity and how hatcheries alter the salmon gene pool. We actually made models of fish with certain genes, then used scenarios from Our Home: the Estuaries. Interesting stuff!
  • Tell Native American stories about the salmon.  We enjoyed reading stories about Raven and Eagle as well.
  • Make a diorama of Native American salmon fishing.
  • Role-play the meeting of different cultures with different values.
  • Analyze how the Boldt Decision (allocating fish in Pacific Northwest waters) has affected native and non-native fishermen.  We watched a video about this, then discussed it.

Weeks Five and Six:
  • Draw a map of our neighborhood.  (Here we finally got to buildings!)  N drew a map that extended to downtown as well.
  • Read selections from In the Shadow of the Mountain and Settlers of Enumclaw--local histories of our town.
  • Read aloud the book Sweetbriar Autumn.  N had been reading the prequel Sweetbriar, which introduces the first settlers of Seattle.  Sweetbriar Autumn is the fourth book in the series and talks about the Indian Wars which began in our White River valley.  The names and locations were very familiar!
D and N at Fort Nisqually (in Point Defiance Park)
More:  From here, we went on to study our state history--explorers, fur trappers, missionaries, Oregon trail, current events....  We learned a little about state government (N studied it in more detail), and memorized our state symbols--bird, tree, flower, etc.  We visited several other historic sites and museums.
We also expanded our study of the land--out to the estuaries and to the Pacific Ocean.  (Here we used the For Sea curriculum Life in the Estuary--Grade 3 as well as the previously mentioned high school-level Our Home: the Estuaries.)  We ended with a field trip to the Nisqually Delta estuary and wildlife refuge.  

Washington History

I have an all-time favorite book for Washington state history, but I hesitate to put it on my "Favorite Read-Alouds" list because most of you aren't from Washington.  Maybe I'll just post it here as an example of great writing :)
I will say that I had to beg, borrow, and steal (not quite) to get a used copy of this book in pre-internet days.  Now they have it on Amazon, and there is a book about Oregon by the same author.
Without further ado, here is an excerpt from the natural history chapter--called "Ice, Lava, and a Space Needle" of Washington Times and Trails by Joan and Gene Olson:

"From the Proterozoic, let's slide as gracefully as possible into the Paleozoic.  (Be thankful; it's easier to spell.)  The great sea had begun to fill up with silt during many periods of drying out and flooding.  If descendants of Proterozoic Washingtonian still occupied the family homestead in the Blue Mountains, they might well have found that their ocean view had disappeared (resulting, no doubt, in a dismal drop in real estate values).
"Should we now skip lightly into the Mesozoic?  This era, by itself, might well have lasted for one hundred million years.  Time enough, at any rate, for Washington real estate to assume still different positions, such as standing on end.  It was during the Mesozoic era that the land suffered ups and downs and took on the highly unlikely, though interesting, shape it holds today.  Toward the end of the period, hot rocks thrust their scalding way through the earth's crust and began to form the mountains now called Olympics and Cascades.  The Mesozoic was the age of reptiles; dinosaurs were cocks of the walk.
"But if the reptiles thought the Mesozoic was interesting, they should have seen the Cenozoic....
"The lava cooled, the lakes and rivers were formed and rich soils were laid down in the valleys.  But don't think for a minute that the excitement was over; never a dull eon; there was still to come the Quaternary period of the Cenozoic era and everyone knows how lively they are."
Never a dull history class!

Educating the Will

I have been thinking a lot lately about the principle of moral agency--the power to choose.  The ability to act for ourselves and not to be acted upon.  I believe it is an incredibly precious gift from God.
So I find it enlightening that two of my favorite "mentors"--Charlotte Mason and Rudolph Steiner--had much to say on this topic.  They both called it "Will," but it is the same. And schooling the will should be one of the fundamental goals of education.
Charlotte Mason noted that a child who is called "strong willed" because he always wants his own way has actually a weak will.  He does not have enough control to choose what is right when what he wants is wrong.  If a child is always choosing the easy way, it is a parent's job to help strengthen that child's will by giving him experience and practice in choosing right.
Rudolf Steiner believed that "thinking, feeling, and willing" are parts of the soul.  He, too, encouraged exercises for cultivating the will.  And Steiner's educational model (Waldorf) includes daily activities for not only head and heart, but the hand--where the will is manifest. (Notice that "will" involves action.) By exercising the will, we train it to choose right.
Charlotte Mason felt that good ideas are the best way to inspire the will.  Her recommendations for reading living books and for studying good art and music are both ways of nourishing the will.
I love Charlotte Mason's school motto: "I am, I can, I ought, I will."

Winter Solstice 2011

"Last night was the longest night of the year.  But, starting today, the days will be getting longer.  The sun will be getting stronger and climbing higher in the sky.  This is also the time that we celebrate the birth of the Son of God—He who is the Light of the World, who gives us light and strength.
"Taking turns, let us walk to the light and light our candles, and then share our light with those who come after us."
Thus began our celebration of the winter solstice: our advent spiral.  This was the first year we had celebrated with other homeschool families, and it was our biggest spiral ever.  (Maybe a bit too big, since it took a long time for each child to walk all the way in and out!)

Cream of Butternut soup for our solstice feast!
It may be our family's last spiral celebration, since D decided he didn't want to walk this year.  (He did help to build the spiral, however.) Perhaps he has outgrown it.  But I always welcome the chance to think about light and what it means.  Jodi Mesler, another Waldorf mom, recently shared her insight that the fall equinox to the spring equinox is the time for inner work:  prayer, meditation, planning.  There is less light outside, so we find it within ourselves.  Spring equinox to fall equinox is the time of outer light and outer work--implementing our thoughts and plans of the darker time.  From now on, this is what the advent spiral will mean to me.

Language Arts with Norse Myths--Waldorf grade 4

Throughout my years of homeschooling, I have used literature to teach language arts.  Mostly I let the authors of Learning Language Arts Through Literature figure it out for me.  For 4th grade, however, there just wasn't a good way to get through the whole LLATL book and do all the Norse myths recommended for the Waldorf curriculum.  So I began with a "scope and sequence" of what is typically covered in 4th grade.  Here is one online list.  Then I found a good book of Norse myths.  Children of Odin by Padraic Colum was my favorite of the several I read.  It is available here, but having the book is nice too.

Instead of doing several blocks of Norse myths, we are doing them throughout the year.  Each week I read one of the stories to D.  The next day he narrates (retells) the story and we talk about it ("Reading" and "Thinking Skills" topics).  

The third day he--sometimes with help--decides on a summary of the story or part of the story.  I write down the summary and he copies it or writes it from dictation in his lesson book.  (We started dictation in 3rd grade, and he does it a little over half the time now.  But I think there are good skills learned from copywork too.)  That covers "Penmanship" and many of the "Composition" topics in the scope and sequence, though the summaries are pretty short.  Other projects throughout the year will give D a chance to write longer pieces.  Of course he illustrates each story too.

The fourth day, we cover the "Grammar" goals.  This turned out to be easier than I thought, because I just choose one of the items on the scope and sequence list and spend two or three weeks on it. (D is also doing Editor in Chief, Beginning level once a week, so I mostly coordinate with what he is learning there.) With capitalization, for instance, we talked about the rules then I typed up a paragraph from the story that had lots of names in it.  D had to fill in all the necessary capitals--first word of each sentence and proper names of people and places.  For identifying nouns, I found a section of the story with a variety of words and he circled all the nouns.  This gave us a chance to talk about pronouns too.  Another day I had him take a few paragraphs and change them from past tense to present tense.

There were still some units in the LLATL book that I wanted to cover, so I have scheduled them in over the months.  For instance, we did "friendly letters" just after D's birthday when he had thank-you notes to write.  We will study poetry (and book making) when N is doing a poetry unit in her literature class.  And I have planned a research skills unit for part of our state history study.

I am having a good time, and D is LOVING the Norse myths.  Rudolf Steiner really knew what he was doing to cover them in 4th grade.

Textiles and Fibers--Waldorf grade 3

According to Waldorf philosophy, the third grade child is emerging from his little world of family and imagination and is finding his place in the bigger, outside world.  That is why we study Old Testament stories:  people on a journey, learning how to relate to authority.  But we also study the ways we get along in this bigger world--namely food, clothing, and shelter.  Here's an outline of what we learned about textiles:
What was it like to be a baby?  We told D's birth story.  Was he born with any clothes?  What kind of things did he need?  In main lesson book (MLB), he drew a baby with his "layette."

The first peoples' clothes were animal skins--leather.  D made a handwork project with leather. (The Tandy company has lots of kits.)  What are the advantages and disadvantages of clothing made from skins?

D played with some actual cotton plants.  (I bought mine on Ebay for just a few dollars.)  I let him pull apart the bolls to find the seeds inside.  Wasn't the cotton gin a great invention so we didn't have to do this by hand?
We read Cotton by Millicent E. Selsam which talks about the history of cotton, the plant, and how it is processed.  In what kinds of weather would you like to wear cotton?

I told the legend of the Chinese princess who discovered silk when a silkworm cocoon fell in her cup of tea.  (I found this story several places, but my favorite was "The Secrets of Silk" by Elizabeth Seward in Living Crafts magazine, Spring 2011.)  We also read Material World--Silk by Claire Llewellyn and got some new colors of play silks. :)  D drew the life cycle of the silk worm in his MLB.

We watched several You-Tube videos about how flax is grown and processed.  D illustrated the process in his MLB.

We read Pelle's New Suit by Elsa Beskow. (Pelle's suit is too small for him.  He shears his sheep, then he has to help the people who card, spin, dye, weave, and sew his wool into a new suit.).  We made a drop spindle and did our best to make yarn.  (It wasn't very even!)

 With every fabric, we tried burning a piece to see how flammable it was and how it smelled.
This was a really fun (and informative!) unit.  I think older children would enjoy it too.

Language Arts grade 3--Creation Unit

In January, I used the Old Testament creation story for a language arts unit. D made his own Main Lesson Book out of watercolor paper.

On the cover he wrote in Hebrew "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.  (This is the most fun he's had with form drawing ever!)
For each part, we would read the account of a "day" in the book of Genesis, then D would paint. The next day, he would summarize the events and write his summary.

Day 2;  God made the firmament....
Day 1:  God divided Dark from Light.

Day 4:  God created sun, moon, and stars.
Day 3:  God separated land from water.
He made plants.

Day 6:  God created land creatures
(note spider in web) and man.

Day 5:  God created birds and sea creatures.

For this part of the unit, we were working on capitals at the beginning of sentences and periods at the end.

After finishing the book, we talked about Adam and Eve naming the animals, and brainstormed animal names (nouns) and the things they did (verbs).

Shelters and Building Unit--Grade 3

This is D's "Shelters" unit from Fall, 2010
(borrowing heavily, with permission, from Marsha Johnson of Shining Star School)

Week 1--Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles
--Tell story of Sinai and 40 years of wandering.
Sing “Follow the Prophet”—verse about Moses
--Watch YouTube videos of building a Sukkah
Why is it important to the Jews to celebrate this holiday?
--Build our own Sukkah! and have lunch inside.
Draw a picture for Main Lesson Book.

Week 2—How do we live in our region?
--Walk around the neighborhood and look at the homes.
--Draw a picture of our house (MLB).
Look at parts of house: foundation, walls, roof, doors, windows, porches, eaves, rain gutters, siding, trim, chimney, stairs.
What materials were used to build our house?
How does the house look from different sides?
Which window goes with which room?
--Copywork—poem “My House’s Night Song” by Betsy Rosenthal
--Tell Stories of Northwest Native Americans—how they live, what they did, how they found food and shelter.
Choose a story for MLB.
If possible, visit a museum with exhibits of NW tribes.

Week 3—How do people live in other parts of the world?
--Talk over places we have visited. What are the homes like there?
--Copywork—from Come On Over to My House by Theo LeSieg
--Focus on different regions (via library books) and examine:
• Hot dry climates (cool, thick adobe, African kraal, mud-n-daub homes)
• Hot wet climates (homes on stilts, reed walls, roll-up-the-sides house, boat)
• Cold icy climates (igloos, thick felted yurts)
• Snowy mountain climates (pointed roofs with 2nd story “doors”)
• etc.
Draw the homes from these climates—showing proper flora and fauna around.

Week 4—Building a home
--Look at a building in process.
Notice foundations, steel rebar, studs, headers, footings.
Draw construction structures in MLB.
Examine, use, then draw hand tools including hammer, saw, screwdriver, chisel, ruler, square, plane, and drill. Make a simple project with carpentry tools
--Make a foundation of stone or bricks. (We made a raised garden bed.)
--Build a miniature dwelling and report on it.

Building Skills

I recently finished reading a book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle which discusses the neurological means by which genius is built. In other words, how do you myelinize the right nerve pathways to make a skill come easily? The author suggests three parts to the process:
Deep Practice—specific strategies to make practice really count
Ignition—motivation which triggers passionate commitment
Master Coaching—teaching traits which inspire the previous two elements of genius.
I wonder, of course, how I can apply this to teaching my children. Coyle discusses the Bronte sisters: geniuses who started out as very ordinary children writing “little books.” He even includes an excerpt from one of their books. There are huge spelling and punctuation problems, and not much talent evident. Coyle concludes
“The unskilled quality of their early writing isn’t a contradiction of the literary heights they eventually achieved—it’s a prerequisite to it. They became great writers not in spite of the fact that they started out immature and imitative but because they were willing to spend vast amounts time and energy being immature and imitative, building myelin in the confined, safe space of their little books. Their childhood writings were collaborative deep practice, where they developed storytelling muscles.”
It makes me happy that L loves to write novels! Maybe I don’t have to wade through and edit all of them, if I can help her to apply the principles of deep practice while she’s writing.
What about math? Part of deep practice is making mistakes, then backing up and correcting the mistakes before forging onward. To apply that, it seems I need to sit with my children as they work their problems. When I see an error, we will correct it immediately and then practice another similar one. (That keeps Mom busy, but it’s worth a try!)
In the epilogue of the book, Coyle speaks specifically to how the talent code can be applied in various disciplines. The “Education” section mentions the Phonics vs. Whole Language debate, and Coyle points out that each is an incomplete part of building reading skills. “Phonics is about building reliable circuits, paying attention to errors, and fixing them. It’s about chunking: breaking down a skill into its component parts, and practicing and repeating each action involved in that skill….Whole Language, on the other hand, is about ignition, about filling motivational fuel tanks by creating environments where children fall in love with reading and writing.” Both are needed for reading success.
This book has certainly given me a lot to think about. I hope you will comment on how you feel these principles can be applied in homeschooling.