Planning, Part 3: Subjects

Science: AO Y3 has some nature study readings (Pagoo and Secrets of the Woods) and then some science options, one of which I don’t care for the writing style of and one of which isn’t readily available. So I plan to continue with the next stage after Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, Elementary Science Education. It just got here in the mail last week and I have started flipping through it. It looks really good, but really challenging–at least for the teacher. Plus, I’m going to need some equipment, most significantly a proper microscope and a triple beam scale, which aren’t cheap but should last us several years. I’m a little intimidated. I’m also not sure how to plan, or how to make sure it actually happens. It slid off too easily or got shortchanged last year. But there’s some really cool stuff in here. We will also need to start keeping notebooks, which means–sigh–more writing for Deux. That AND I want to make Nature Notebooks a weekly thing this year. (We did do many more entries this year than the year before. And this can be an independent activity.)

History: Duchess wants to do her own timeline. I think I’m going to get a small notebook and have her use it just for the time period covered during this school year. I’ll probably need to get one for Deux, too, even if he doesn’t put much in it. I am not certain whether I want to read history out loud or have them read it to themselves. And if they do read it to themselves, how do I provide the appropriate introductions and preparation? The trouble is, the history reads are usually relatively easy to read independently, but they do need context.

History Biographies: For the first term I will have Duchess read the biography of Da Vinci by Hahn, which is fairly lengthy. Deux will read the shorter one by Diane Stanley. In the second term, I’m going to have Deux read the biography of Sir Walter Raleigh recommended for Year 3.5 and Duchess read both Bard of Avon and Good Queen Bess. I haven’t decided what to do for the third term yet–I may have them both read The Landing of the Pilgrims or I may have Deux read Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims by Bulla.

Geography: An idea I want to try is having them trace their own map of Asia to fill in. I’m going to do one map for the whole year to which they will add the journeys of Marco Polo, plus the weekly blank map to learn to fill in the modern countries. I got the Komroff Marco Polo, which looks good, but I have to schedule it myself–there are only 26 chapters, so I might intersperse with some activities from Marco Polo for Kids, which I will probably just get from the library.

Math: I’m still planning to do MEP–I think it’s the best fit for where they are now. What I really want to do long-term is now the Art of Problem Solving, but they don’t have anything between 3d grade and pre-algebra. (And I don’t care that much for the younger level stuff, anyway.) That means switching curriculum again in a couple of years. Which, of course, is supposed to be bad. However, I think I have good reason for the choices at each stage, and I’m willing and able to help them bridge any gaps. I’m still dreading the writing issue with Deux.

Languages: I still have to order this, but I’m excited to try using a Spanish curriculum based on the Gouin series. I’m hoping it will help them make the jump from being familiar with the sounds of Spanish to actually *using* it. For Duchess, I’m going to have her try Mango for French–we can get it free through the library.

Art and Music: I’ve changed from the AO 2013-14 selections to ones from various years that will correspond with our current timeframe. Other than that, I think we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing. It’s not fancy, but it begins an acquaintance.

Twins: I’m making a list of books to work through, not on any particular schedule, though generally rotating through: the “Among the ____ People” books, a book of fairy and folk tales, the “Twin” books.  I’ll try to read a few appropriate history tales when the older kids are doing something similar, and not give up picture books entirely. I’m not going to schedule reading lessons in advance, because I really have no idea how quickly they’ll progress, but we’ll start with doing word building (maybe in some cool little notebooks) and then add in actual CM-style reading lessons when they seem ready. I don’t think I’ll plan math as part of school–I will continue using the recommendations from The Arithmetic Primer, but as part of ordinary life. I also want to work on a calendar of firsts with them. They will continue to participate informally in memory work and in art and composer and nature study. I would like to look through Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding and make notes of specific areas I want to be sure to discuss with them this year–they are asking lots of good questions on their own. Having worked through it once more formally with the older kids, I think I’m doing better at simply integrating it into their own observations rather than making formal lessons out of it.


Planning, Part 2: Reworking

Now that I think about it, I don’t want to follow Y1 as written with the twins, nor do I want to do it as I did with the big kids. No, what I really want to do is coordinate their history with the big kids.

And I think the main reason I want to do that is to coordinate our art and music appreciation with the time period in history we are studying. It just makes so much more sense to illuminate the time period in history with the appropriate art and music than to just have it chosen in a random rotation. I understand why AO does it that way, but I don’t think it’s ideal. And if I’m willing to do just a bit more of the legwork myself (since I can’t always borrow someone else’s labor of gathering the appropriate pictures and music), I can have the ideal.

Also, DOB think it makes a lot of sense, and that’s a strong point in its favor, especially since he is most insightful at history conversations and every once in a while we toss around the idea of doing history as a family in the evenings. (And maybe if we could go six weeks without a new medical crisis, we would do it.) Since the twins inevitably listen to the big kids’ free reads (and vice versa) it just makes sense to be aiming for a similar timeframe. I can’t wait to do, say, Carry on Mr. Bowditch as a family. (Some people caution about the increasing maturity of the reads in upper years, but looking at the lists, I’m seeing very few things I would feel the need to wait on. Maybe my kids are just very insensitive. Or maybe they just are very used to eavesdropping on the big kids. Last week I read them all The Wanderings of Odysseus, complete with man-eating monsters and the slaying of the suitors and they all thought it was the greatest thing ever.)

As for changing the history rotation, it really will involve only a tiny tweak the first year–swapping out Fifty Famous Tales for something with a more early American focus (since that is what the big kids will be doing in Y4)–probably Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans. The existing biographies will be perfect. (I’ll probably still include a few tales of ancient Greece and Rome, especially those inspiring to the early Americans, like Cincinnatus.) Y2 will be a bit more, but I will use the same history books currently scheduled for those years, just different chapters. (Not sure if I will keep Little Duke or do it as a free read when they get back to that time period in Y4. On the other hand, Tree in the Trail and Seabird will actually fit, which may make them more comprehensible.) It will probably take the most reworking when the big kids are in HEO and the twins are still in the lower years, but once they all get to HEO it will be no big deal–the HEO years are a more “salad bar” approach, as they say, and I can easily just pick a lighter load of similar materials for the twins. The only challenge is, if I do this, I really should stick with it–it will rearrange the schedule sufficiently that it would be very hard to put the twins back in the usual sequence.

This next year it won’t change anything for the twins except that I’ll make sure to include some picture books that will go with the time period the big kids are doing. (OK, honestly I can’t think of any that will go with the very early explorers–except Columbus, which we just read–but Pocahontas and the wonderful photobooks from Plymouth Plantation will be ideal in Term 3.) And for the big kids it will mean that, instead of jumping all over, we will listen to Palestrina and Purcell and Handel, and look at Da Vinci and Raphael and Rembrandt. I also am going to include at least one folksong each term that is from the appropriate time period. (I finally discovered that folk songs by time period are listed on the HEO years, so I can take them off there.)

Another thing I am maybe thinking about changing is the way we do memory work. Since they were just preschoolers listening to me sing, I’ve done one set of memory work per month, changing to a completely new set at the beginning of each month, and reviewing one older item each day. It’s very simple for me to keep track of, which is why we have stuck with it. However, they really don’t need that long to learn most of the items (especially poetry and folk songs) while they may need much longer to learn, say, a longer Bible passage or a Spanish song. So it’s possible that a more varied rotation would be more effective. On the other hand, it’s also possible that if I try to do anything more complicated, I will lose my place and mess up what we have going, which is pretty decent. This needs more thought.

Our Timeline, As It Now Stands

Our timeline is loosely adapted from the one recommended in the front of A Child’s History of the World. It sits, as recommended, on the wall of the children’s bedroom where it can be looked at frequently, and occasionally added to extemporaneously (hence Spiderman’s apearance at 3100 B.C.).

The Whole Thing

The underlying material is a strip of Cling Thing, cut to fit the wall. It’s repositionable and reusable. The kids managed to rip the bottom strip off the wall, crumple it off and cover it with fuzz, and I just wiped it off with a wet cloth and stuck it back on.

The cards are just blank index cards, cut in half.

When we get to something datable, we draw a picture of it, write a caption, and stick it up.

It’s very simple and easy to do. We’re doing ancient history this year, but Duchess has been adding some of her own cards based on her independent reading. I should probably put composers and artists up on there, too, but I haven’t and besides there really isn’t room.

Cost was $20 for the Cling Thing, and not very much for the index cards. (It took me two rolls of Cling Thing, with a bit left over. We had lots of blank index cards left over to play 1000 Blank Cards with.)

As you can see, it’s far from precise. It also does not have a lot of room. One thing I regret is I cannot figure out a way to represent centuries without getting in the way of the actual events. So I just put things up approximately where they should go. It’s still very useful for young children to get an idea of the scope of recorded history and distances in time, and I see them beginning to make connections on this basis.

Next year I might have the strips each represent a century, as we do smaller chunks of time at once.

Despite its limitations, I think it’s the perfect approach for us right now. We’ll get fancier and more precise as they get older. What matters now is that they love history and have some idea that Moses was a whole lot longer ago than Robin Hood.


France, Week Two

Well, this week we’ve had a relapse on the stomach front (D4) and an invasion of colds, but we soldier on.

On Monday the big kids and I made homemade sketchbooks for their France studies. D1 immediately started filling hers by copying favorite pictures from the different books we have read. D2 had more trouble feeling comfortable with putting something in it, although he did start drawing a maze. (I didn’t initially see any connection between that and France, but then when we watched *Cathedral* we saw that cathedrals often had mazes drawn into the floor as a kind of mini-pilgrimage.)

Actually the week has been full of such serendipitous connections. D2 had also wanted to learn more about heat and cold–again, great, but not necessarily connected to France. However, one of the books we got about France, *Hot Air*, was in fact about the first hot air balloon. On Tuesday we read that and did some experiments related to the weight and volume of air, plus effects of heat and cold on it, using our science book for reinforcement and discussion.

We’re not forcing connections or trying to pull things into a true unit–just exploring and following where the trail leads and finding they do indeed all interact.

*The French Twins* continues to be a big hit, and we are also enjoying *The Family Under the Bridge*. (I explained the “starlings” allusion in the old hobo’s attitude toward the children, and they were delighted. “Yes! We are loud and eat a lot! We are starlings!”) I finally just told D1 that after 6 years of reading to her, I deserved payment in knowing she was listening, so she had to tell me back enough of the story that I would know she was listening. Every time. She seemed to accept that.

After “Roland and Oliver” was such a big hit, I decided to read the next legend in the book, “The Battle of Roncevalles.” OK, so I knew the general idea and I’m not sure why I thought it would be appropriate. (Brief summary: Roland gets betrayed, refuses to call for help, and he and 20,000 of the best knights of France are slaughtered by the Saracens.) But I read it. They listened. They cried. I felt bad. I offered them tea with honey. They recovered and went on with their lives. I guess you have to learn sometime that the good guys don’t always win.  DOB thinks it was fine.

They are still obsessed with Robin Hood after watching the movie last week and reading the picture book last month. Now they are begging for the original Howard Pyle version. And planning a play involving their cousins (They have not yet informed the cousins). I want to provide more support for that next week.

I am really pleased with how naturally the twins are integrating with this study. D4 is still obsessed with “My I-fuh Tower!” He recognizes it everywhere and the afternoon when he was so sick we looked through a book about it a dozen times. The twins are also still interested in zoo animals, and in winter. (Oh, yeah, it snowed this week, too! Changed to rain overnight, though, so there wasn’t much chance to play in it.)

And–perhaps at D1’s instigation–they insisted they needed their own sketchbooks. So I helped them select pages and tie them together. On Friday morning I got up to D2 and to some extent D1 building beautiful towers obviously inspired by the architecture we have been seeing. Miraculously, my defunct camera started working again and I was able to get some pictures. Later in the day we assembled those and some pictures from Google of the Eiffel Tower and the Rheims Cathedral (featured in *The French Twins*) and printed them out for everyone to cut out and paste in their sketchbooks. The twins insisted on participating with this, too, and actually did quite well with the glue although I did not permit them the scissors.

Friday afternoon the big kids and I watched Cathedral, by David Macaulay. It was well done and quite enjoyable. We have the book for further browsing.

Oh, and they all have “Frere Jacques” down already. Maybe it’s time to start “Allouette.”

I’m still finding it tricky to fit in school, outside time, and my work, even though the babysitter came two afternoons this week. Basically I need to get moving faster in the morning. Until all sickness is out of the house and DOB is feeling better, though, that’s going to be hard to do every day. But somehow we are getting through.

I have put up a map and cut out the cardboard for a quick timeline, but have not made use of either yet. Would like to bring those in more next week. Also we have a biography of *Joan of Arc* now and I would like to read that at some point, although D1 may be reading it on her own. (Or she may just be carrying it around intending to read it and actually reading *Calvin and Hobbes*.) Asterix has also been popular–I should maybe get another one or two of those.

Tinkering with the Chronology

When we first began drafting outlines of what we wanted to study (Oh! And the kids too! We do mean to include them. . . . ), we decided to do a four-year rotation of world history, beginning with ancient times. That much, it turns out as I’ve researched various curricula, is pretty common. But our initial idea was to approach the study of ancient history one empire/culture at a time: Egypt, then Mesopotamia, then Greece, then Rome.

It turns out most of the popular history-based curriculums out there don’t do this. They stick to a stricter chronological order: some time in Egypt, skip over for the early Greeks, skip back to see Israel and the Middle Eastern empires for awhile, then some more Greece, early Rome, etc. As I sat down plotting out which history chapters from where we’d have to study, I was beginning to second-guess our plans. Maybe following a stricter chronological order would be better.

After further thought, though, I still think at least for ancient times and for very young children, the cultural approach makes more sense. Maybe it’s relevant to scholars to note connections between pots and weaponry, or speculate on climactic changes that created instability and migration. But for children, it’s easier to see the sweep and the continuity of one people’s story—see their early legends, their rise, and then see the stage shift somewhere else, and look back and note the origins there.


Maybe Homer and Sennacharib did live close to the same time, but that would hardly have been a significant fact to them. People who were in the Late Bronze Age didn’t know they were. But they did know the stories they had grown up hearing.

So I think we’ll stick to our current plans, at least for ancient times on the first time through. Later eras don’t have the same broad power shifts and as transportation improves, concurrent events become more significant. We’ll keep a chart on the wall to help us track how things fit together chronologically. Anyway, that’s the plan until it changes again.

Gilgamesh and other planning things

I did find an excellent adaptation of Gilgamesh, by Bernarda Bryson. Although it's quite suitable for a read-aloud to children, it's not at all childish. (A series of Gilgamesh picture books I got was too childish even for children.) DOB read it and declared that Gilgamesh is henceforth his favorite mythological character. His struggle is not just against monsters but against his own limits. The illustrations are cleverly done, too–they're closely based on suitable artwork from the Near East.

I really haven't found many good children's books on Babylon or Assyria. But that may be a good thing; after all, one or two good books are better than a whole plethora of mediocre ones. Reading two or three of the tales of ancient Babylon, plus a few chapters from a history book and a few factual books on the life and times might be more memorable than the overload temptation that will face us with Egypt, Greece and Rome.

I've been debating whether I want to include a study of the Americas or India and China in this first year. After reading a book on the Mound Builders and other North American civilizations, though, I'm convinced that I do. After all, the Mound Builders operated right in our back yard. Taking some time out in late September (when the weather is likely to be perfect) to visit the local sites may be a great way to get a tangible connection with the archeological methods and findings of ancient civilizations far away.

Book Review: Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs

Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs, by Barbara Mertz

(That's “hieroglyphs,” notice. “Hieroglyphic” is an adjective, never a noun.)


I wanted some sort of book to read on Ancient Egypt, as my knowledge of it was limited to a random jumble of Pharaohs and pyramids, with Israelites wandering in and out. This was a random pick from the library listing, and a very lucky one indeed. I knew from the first line that it was exactly what I was looking for. Ms. Mertz, after a lifetime of fascination with Egypt, chattily passes on what she's learned in some semblance of chronological order.


It's a book full of personalities:  immortal kings, clever commoners, and the sweaty archeologists trying to decipher it all. It's short and straightforward enough to make the progression of history easy to remember, but gives enough detail to make it interesting. Egyptian history stretches out into its long ages of existence and triumphs that were already in twilight just when the rest of history starts to get going.


There's some attention given to scholarly methods and debates, but not an excessive amount, and with some skepticism towards getting too carried away on theories: “Often the evidence for a 'race of invaders' conssists of cultural changes–which, in prehistoric societies, means primarily new kinds of pots. I have a prejudice against this sort of argument. I get idiotic mental images of invading armies brandishing pots, which they thrust threateningly into the trembling hands of the conquered indigenes.”


The only thing I would do differently, if I were doing it over, would be to read this book concurrently with Tales of Ancient Egypt, by Roger Lancelyn Green. Many of the stories Green develops in full are summarized by Mertz and used to comment on the culture of the time. They would be perfect together.