Monday, November 2, 2009

Moon Gazing

The Moon BookIt is 7:30 pm, Tuesday, night number two of our moon study. We date our three-inch square and run to the cool outdoors, eager to see if there are any changes in the moon's shape since last night. We look. We look. No moon. "Maybe there is no moon tonight", a disappointed voice whispers. "Oh, there's a moon. God ALWAYS makes a moon. It is just hiding."

Cloud cover hides the moon on this night, but no worries, four excited precious ones plop on the driveway and draw the clouds. Tonight we are cloud gazing...and practicing our night time sketching.

Helpful links for more moon gazing fun:

Books about the moon:

When God Provides Three Pounds of Apples....


When God provides three pounds of apples for $1.00, make...applesauce, and apple pie. That's just what we did!

This weekend, Saturday to be exact, I happened upon an amazing sale: a three pound bag of apples for $1.00. I purchased several, tossed them in the backseat and drove home, proud as a peacock. My husband was somewhat astonished.

Bright and early this morning (no the internal clocks of my children did not automatically reset) my oldest daughter asked to make pie. That request led to applesauce. And so, by mid-morning the house smells of sweet scents of fall. I'm convinced if I look out the window, hues of brown, orange, yellow and red will paint the countryside. Though some of you may have that delight, we in the sunny south are blessed with palm trees and evergreens. Nonetheless, my house smells of fall.

Baking the apple pie reminded me of the several recipes and activities from Flip Three Pancakes With One Spatula. Out came the books and poof, we spent the morning with apples instead of starting the moon study I had intended. Oh well, that was my plan, not THE PLAN.

Here are some ideas (in case you find an apple bargain):
  • Use an apple slicer to slice an apple into eight equal parts. Discuss how many slices make up half an apple and a quarter of the apple. Divide the slices evenly among the people at the table. Add peanut butter for a yummy snack.
  • Cut an apple in half length-wise and width-wise. Discuss the differences. Talk about symmetry. Count the seeds.
  • Purchase three or four types of apples. How do they taste? Do some taste differently? Some sweet? some sour? Make a graph of the family favorites.
  • Arrange whole apples (preferably different types) on the table and draw an apple still life. Discuss shading and light source.
  • Visit an apple orchard and pick apples.
  • Make an apple pie.
  • Make applesauce.
Read some good books:
  • Apples! by Ken Robbins
  • The Apple Orchard by Patricia J. Murphy
  • Apples! Apples! by Gail Gibbons
  • From Apples to Applesauce by Kristen Thoennes Keller
  • How Do Apples Grow? by Betsy Maestro
  • Apple Fractions by Jerry Pallotta

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From One Train to Another


Last week the girls and I disembarked the train on which we rode for several days, finishing The Mystery on the Train by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Tonight we boarded another train, riding with four-year-old Walt Disney from Chicago to his new home. Having had a few lessons in "rail lingo" during our first read, we were two steps ahead for our new read. Trust me, this wasn't planned, but I love when situations like this happen- a nice bridge to our next adventure. Seeing the title, Walt Disney, and being a fond of the blue-covered Childhood of Famous Americans series, I pulled the book from the library shelf. Eighty pages into the book, we have not been disappointed. What a great book! Nothing questionable thus far, just an exciting walk through young Walt's life, listening as his innate interest in art and animals comes to life, despite frequent hardship. We are beginning to see young Walt develop a tender relationship with his brother Roy. What a refreshing treasure that is! Well, anyway, tomorrow, with anticipation, we begin on page 80. The tension and conflict in the plot encourages us to come back to find out what happens.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's "P" Day

Grab the magazines, construction paper, scissors, and paste! We cutting out pictures that start with the letter P. After we cut "P" pictures, we will be dining on Piggies in a Blanket (hot dogs cut in half and wrapped in biscuit) and then reading books about pigs. We may decide to act out The Three Pigs or pull out the flannel board version. Any one for a game of Parchesi? Later today we are going to a local parade to watch our cousin march with his high school band. He is a percussionist. Perfect!

Pig books:
If you Give a Pig a Pancake, Laura Numeroff
Pigs, Gail Gibbons
All Pigs are Beautiful, Dick King-Smith
The Book of Pigericks: Pig Limericks, Arnold Lobel
Pig, Jules Older

Preschool piggie ideas http://stepbystepcc.com/animals/pigs.html

Lots of piggie activities http://webtech.kennesaw.edu/jcheek3/pigs.htm

More piggie stuff http://www.northcanton.sparcc.org/~orchard/pigs/pigs.htm

If you don't like piggies, how about popcorn, peacocks, pancakes, or pandas...

Popcorn
Popcorn Plants, Kathleen V. Kudlinski
Popcorn activities http://webtech.kennesaw.edu/jcheek3/popcorn.htm

Peacocks
Colorful Peacocks, Deborah Underwood

Pancakes
Miss Mable's Table, Deborah Chandra
Curious George Makes Pancakes, H. A. Rey
From Maple Trees to Maple Syrup, Kristen Thoennes Keller
Ideas for teaching math while making pancakes and other foods, check out Flip Three Pancakes with One Spatula http://www.cherylbastian.com/flip3pancakes

Pandas
Giant Pandas, Gail Gibbons

Follow the giant pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/GiantPandas/default.cfm
Panda activities http://www.first-school.ws/activities/animals/wild/panda-giant.htm






Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thank you, Chirs Klicka!

Just wanted to express my appreciation to the Klicka family for their support and encouragement to homeschooling families over 25 years. They sacrificed much for us. May God grant them peace and comfort as they mourn the loss of an amazing husband and dad.
http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/200910050.asp

Friday, October 9, 2009

What's Behind a Perfect SAT?


Love my newest pleasure read! Recommended by a veteran, I searched the Internet to find a used copy. Eureka! Found! It was in my mailbox a week later and I immediately opened the package and began reading, while cooking dinner. This stuff is so fascinating! Not because I have a student who achieved a perfect score or that I endeavor to have a student who will earn a perfect score, but because I am curious what elements comprise a "perfect score".
SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score written by Tom Fischgrund, Ph.D, complies and details the results of his landmark study. His findings come from interviews with students who earned a perfect score on the SAT (160 of them and their parents) and College Board data. His goal "was to understand the academic habits of these bright students (p.3), who these students were as individuals (p.4), and what made them successful." (p.4) He asked:
  • How many times did they take the SAT?
  • What kind of education did they receive?
  • How many hours did they spend studying?
  • What were their sources of inspiration and motivation?
  • Did their parents interact with them in special ways?
  • Did they read a set number of hours a night?
  • Were they interested in certain subjects?
and more....

From the data he answers commonly asked questions. Some of the answers are obvious, others thought-provoking.

Some (there are many more in the book!) of the interesting findings:
  • "Succeeding on the SAT is not a short-term approach but takes a lifetime approach to learning." (p.5)
  • "Students who scored a 1600 on the SAT typically spend more hours a week reading than those who get an average score." (p.5)
  • "A vast majority of perfect score students participate in multiple activities outside of the academic realm... and pursue these endeavors with passion and won't settle for half-hearted attempts to learn a new skill." (p.5)
  • "They were not pushed by their parents or teachers to achieve. Their drive comes from within." (p.6)
  • "Parents motivated them to learn in the early years and then gave them the tools to motivate themselves through high school." (p.6)

The author uses charts, graphs, and in-depth insights into the lives of these students and their families to answer the 7 secrets. Students share their likes and dislikes (very interesting!), how they spend their free time (equally interesting!), how they relate to friends, and the role of family in their lives. The book also contains information about preparation (long term and short term), study tools, test-taking tips, developing passions, and learning styles.

Interesting information, wouldn't you agree? The next question for me: How does this effect, or will it effect, how I am teaching my children? For certain I will continue to foster a love of reading with my children, through reading aloud and listening to great audio literature, and nurture a love of learning, not with the intention of scoring a 1600 on the SAT, but with the goal of raising thinkers and problem solvers, adults who will use their creativity and God-given talents to provide for their families, to care about and for people, and to serve where they are called.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A is for Art by Stephen T. Johnson


The book jumped off the library shelf! With a candy collage of brightly-colored gum balls, Smarties, and Double Bubble on the cover, it caught my children's attention. As I paged through the clever find before approving it for the library bag, I marveled over the creative use of abstract art.

Every letter of the alphabet is assigned a page, in alphabetical order of course. The page is a piece of abstract art described with alliteration. For example, the letter B is hidden on the "B" page entitled Blueberry Blues. The caption reads "Beside the bisected, black, bumpy bicycle tire, a bunch of busy burgundy brushstrokes blurs into a blue background with a broken bowl below at the bottom." Amazing use of "B" adjectives! Author/illustrator Stephen Johnson gives the reader examples of abstract art described with words that set the mind in motion. Inspiring!

Children find this art particularly intriguing as they feel sure they can produce an eye-pleasing piece. To young children, this art is doable, created with everyday items. In fact, young readers may decide to make their own abstract alphabet book. Not a bad idea.

For readers interested in checking out other Stephen Johnson books, look for:
  • Alphabet City
  • City by Numbers
  • My Little Red Toolbox
and others. Read about them at http://www.stephenjohnsonstudio.com/books/a_is_for_art/

For information about Stephen T. Johnson, visit http://www.stephenjohnsonstudio.com/about/
He has private and permanent collections including the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C. and a mosaic mural in the DeKalb Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another Boxcar Finished


Okay, so we are devouring Boxcar Children books. I know devouring books is not normal fare, but a steady appetite for read aloud time is an appetite I want to feed.

Our most recent read was The Mystery of Peacock Hall. It was packed with fascinating information about Thomas Jefferson and Monticello. Timely as well. We had read, earlier in the day, The White House by Jennifer Silate. Another fascinating selection highlighting the chronological history of the White House and its residents. Though we are finished with The Mystery of Peacock Hall, what we learned about Thomas Jefferson remains. In fact, I'm quite sure our next adventure to the library (maybe later today!) will involve a catalog check for resources like the ones below:
  • Meet Thomas Jefferson, Marvin Barrett (Landmark)
  • Thomas Jefferson's Feast, Frank Murphy
  • Thomas Jefferson: A Picture Book Biography, James Cross Giblin
  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?, Jean Fritz
  • Thomas Jefferson: Voice of Liberty, Andrew Santella
  • Meet Thomas Jefferson, Patricia Pingry
Helpful links:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/thomasjefferson/

http://www.monticello.org/

http://www.enchantedlearning.com/history/us/pres/jefferson/


http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/presidents-day/games/concentration2/


http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/presidents-day/thomas-jefferson/


http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/P/tj3/writings/brf/jeflxx.htm

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sew Sweet!


This weekend found my daughter and I in stitches! My daughter's sewing skills amaze me, as does her ambition. Beginning this summer she began sewing aprons to accompany my Flip Three Pancakes math/cooking curriculum and has been quite busy. I love the colors and patterns she chooses! She has an eye for design.

This weekend I pitched in to help her fill a large order, 5 adult reversible holiday aprons (one side Thanksgiving and the other Christmas) and 1 Gator apron (which she gave her aunt as a birthday present). And so, together, we were in stitches. I loved it! Working along side my sweet daughter on a shared project. Treasured memories!

This is the peppermint pattern she finished last week.

More patterns are are available at the bookstore page of my website http://www.cherylbastian.com/bookstore. She also takes custom orders. Wonder what pattern she will be sewing today?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Boxcar Children Books




"Mom! That store over there has 5 boxcars for $5.00!"



During the middle to late elementary years, my oldest son "collected" Boxcar Children books. He devoured them, reading one a day. Recently, with four daughters middle school age and younger, we've dusted off the covers and crowded onto the love seat to read. We are now devouring these books. Thankfully, my oldest son has agreed to let us "borrow" titles from his library. After all, he did purchase most of them.



My love for these books as been rekindled. Four siblings work together to solve mysteries, generally mysteries which occur in their hometown, Greenfield. Yes, they work together! Siblings! Each helps solve the mystery with his or her unique gifts or interests. As they work together, they encourage one another. What refreshment! Never have we heard any of the siblings call another a name that wasn't given at birth. What a way to reinforce positive sibling relationships! We have come to love this family (me, for the second time around!).



Here is why I like to read the Boxcar books together:


  • The Boxcar children are resourceful. They use what they have or what they can find. They don't head to the store everytime they "need" something, and don't whine over something they don't have.

  • The Boxcar siblings protect and care for one another. A few days ago during the mystery the children were trying to solve, the oldest brother pushed his younger siblings from the edge of the curb where they were in danger of being hit by an oncoming reckless driver.

  • The Boxcar siblings are children of integrity. Just yesterday we heard Henry say, "She belongs to us for now, at least until we find her owner." He knew their new found pet was not really theirs, he was just trying to give it a good home, UNTIL the owner could be found. And then, they tried to find the owner. No ill intentions here.

  • The Boxcar siblings serve people. Last night as we read the last chapters of The Animal Shelter Mystery, we listened in on a conversation which took place in the Alden kitchen. Jessie, the oldest daughter, offered hot tea to a cold elderly neighbor.

  • The Boxcar siblings honor and respect adults. Never a unkind word has be spoken to or about an adult character in the book. Again, a refreshing feature.

Some might say these are not "realisitic". Well, perhaps. But I believe "realistic" is an individual opionion. Personally, I like my young ones relating to positive familiy interations woven with care for the community. I want their "realistic" to be serving and protecting those people whom God puts in our midst.


I love that each book is thematic. For example, the book we just finished involved saving the community animal shelter. While reading and discussing the plot, my children learned the ins and outs of caring for stray animals and how shelters are run. We were exposed to animal shelter vocabluary and pet care. Part of the plot involved deeds and land ownership, so we were also introduced to state capitals, land offices, and record rooms.


The author of the Boxcar Children series, Gertrude Chandler Warner, wrote the books so that young readers could enjoy an exciting story, one they could read independently. The plots of the books are written from her personal experiences and childhood adventures. She wrote the first eighteen books of the series.



Read the information to you children. They will enjoy hearing Miss Warner's life's adventures.
If you are ever in Putnam, Connecticut, vist her museum.




Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Occupying Preschoolers


Over the past sixteen years of homeschooling, I have had to occupy my share of preschoolers. In fact, it remains a daily joy! (I typed "challenge" and realized though I might feel challenged at times, I love my preschoolers and am savoring the very few years I have left- unless God has other plans. I am counting it all JOY!) With a three year old, and another who is five, I am often pulling ideas from my mental file to engage (not just busy) my younger ones while I finish proofing a high school essay or grade a Geometry lesson.

Knowing many of you are in the same boat, I wanted to share a link to an article I wrote for Homeschooling Today. It originally printed in the July/August 2009 issue.
http://www.homeschooltoday.com/news/172/30/Creative-Ways-to-Occupy-Preschoolers/

Friday, September 11, 2009

This Week's Learning...Not At All What I Expected!


This week's learning took a different path than I had envisioned. I planned math lessons, phonics, an audio book, and several read-alouds from varying content areas. But here is what actually happened...

Monday was a holiday. All eight of us had breakfast together. Then our college sophomore worked on a paper, our high schooler caught up on some math, and the girls planned and packed for Nanny's. All eight of us went to Nanny's to enjoy dinner with extended family, the girls swam. One of the girls told an older brother she loved him! The boys headed to a youth event.

Tuesday was the day I thought we would jump right into the school week. As we finished cleaning up breakfast dishes, I overheard, "Let's make melt beads and sell them!" Well, okay? I listened more intently and heard furniture moving! Peeking around the corner, my living room had been rearranged by those who had managed to sneak away from breakfast duty. "You be the seller. I'll be the buyer. Then we'll trade. Let's use the cash register and those old gift cards. We'll have a whole store!" I had a choice to make: my plan or theirs? We took a break for lunch, sat for individual reading time with mom (while the others continued to work on their inventory), mom took the high schooler to baseball, returned to make dinner, and read a few books to the girls about small mammals, comparing eating habits and living preferences. Mike and I surprised the girls with a treat.
Wednesday we spent the morning caring for our cousin. It was amazing! The girls played with her, painted with her, made play dough sculptures with her, and encouraged her emerging vocabulary. Each daughter had individual reading time with mom and worked on math. My older daughter worked eagerly sewing several aprons she had sold. In the evening we read several books about seasons and small mammals and the older ones joined Mike and I to watch the President's speech on health care. We discussed the contents and answered questions until it was way past bedtime.

Thursday the girls drew a city on the driveway. Someone had the ingenious idea to make parking spaces and charge rent. Out came the cash register (again!) and profits were calculated. I spent time with the high schooler reviewing Chemistry. Later, the the art easel came out, accompanied by thirty brushes and twenty paint colors. One of my favorite moments was the three year old leaping onto the lap of our college student (he commutes) and giving him a huge kiss. I worked with the girls individually with reading and math. My older daughter orchestrated baking chocolate chip cookies with her sisters (I reminded myself the time they spent together was more important than the flour that was mounding on the kitchen floor). In the evening we went to the library.

Friday...that is today. We just finished pancakes. Makes me want to read our favorite pancake book and go maple sugaring. That would require a vacation in Vermont. Guess books will have to take us there. It's raining. Perhaps we will play in it. Our cousin arrived. We'll nurture her. The high schooler needs my help with school. New books from the library..YEAH! A church event this evening. I have an article deadline tomorrow. Can't wait to meet each event of the day.

Why am I sharing my week's events with you? Several reasons. As moms (yes, that includes me) we have a horrible habit of comparing ourselves with others. If the First family completes 5 lessons of math one week, we try to complete at least 5, maybe 6, the next. If the Second family fills their week with field trips and excursions and their children burst with joy, we try to pack our coming week with field trips and excursions. The same can be said about co-ops, art classes, sports, theater, dance, horse riding lessons, and on and on. There's one problem: their kids are not your kids. Their family is not your family. Some Dads have to travel. Others work at home. Every aspect of family life is different for different families. God made it that way. He gave us our kids, in the order He gave them, with the gifts He fashioned, for a purpose. It does us no good to compare what we should be, could be, or will be doing during any given day. Chasing after other's successes never gives us joy! It makes us frustrated and tired.

How does this all relate to why I wrote about my week's events? Because many times I was tempted to stop whatever was happening (the melt bead store, the development of parking spaces, the baking of the cookies, the sewing of aprons, etc.) and pull out all four levels of the math book, the phonics book, the science book, the journal, the health book, the whatever we were "supposed" to be doing. Had I interrupted the process, life lessons would not have learned, relationships would not have deepened, and previous learning would not have been applied. For me, in those moments on those days, I had to make choices, not based on what other people thought was right, but on what was needed in our home.

The other reason I am sharing this is more personal. I need to remember Who orders my day. I make plans, but God orders my steps. Plans are good, flexibility is a must. I have no doubt my children learned something this week, and in some regards more than I could have envisioned. Yes, they learned and practiced academic skills, but more importantly they initiated getting along with one another, allowed one another to take turns, worked out conflicts, built vocabulary and conversational skills, asked questions, pondered answers, communicated with people older than they, built a city (if only in the driveway), took care of the dog, worked together to accomplish a task (emptying the dishwasher)...the list is endless.

Am I happy about how the week unfolded? Absolutely! And, it wasn't at all what I expected.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Must-Read Blog: Best Books for Boys

A dear friend, knowing how much I love books and encouraging others to read, sent a blog to my inbox. Holy Experience is the blog of Ann Voskamp. Today she penned Best Books for Boys: A Booklist Compiled by a Boy. What an inspirational read! I hope you find it as intriguing as I did. Thanks, Ann! (and thanks Virginia for sending it my way)

http://www.aholyexperience.com/2009/09/best-books-for-boys-booklist-written-by.html

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Another Chapter in Our High School Story

Second high school student, second read through the story, I should be on top of this, right? Wrong! This has been a not-so-normal week (if there is a normal). The unusual circumstances of this week have caused me to stray from my "planning" mode, and hence, the SAT deadlines have crept up on me.

If you have a high school student, it is SAT planning time. The 2009-2010 dates and deadlines are posted. Take a look! Pre-planning will save headaches later (as well as unnecessary late fees).

Check out www.collegeboard.com.

Here's a link for a SAT blog I wrote this morning entitled It's SAT Time! http://finishwellhomeschool.blogspot.com/

Monday, August 24, 2009

Today's Favorite Memories

Today was our first official day of "school" for the new school year, though we started unofficially last week, or was it the week before? Sometimes the lines of life and learning are so blurred. But, that is a topic for another blog.

Today we spent part of the day building a Duplo city, complete with towers, garages, houses, and stores. People milled about the main street. Cars raced about recklessly. Dialogue saturated the living room. Creators collaborated about city essentials. Ice Cream Shoppe? You bet! It was essential.

After each child had a chance to read aloud to mom, the three oldest girls listened to an entire audio book. Gracious! I didn't stop the enthusiasm. I made dinner, did laundry and helped a high schooler write Geometry proofs.

We greeted Dad after his arrival home from his first day of school. The older boys headed out for the evening and after the dinner dishes were done, we settled on the couch to start a new read- aloud. The girls have been enjoying titles from the Boxcar Children series. I love these books. The siblings in the books work together to solve a problem, speaking with kind words, and acting with thoughtfulness. What a refreshing series! Definitely a change from the examples we often see in the world.

Regardless of whether it was the first day of "school" or not, it was memorable.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Flip Three Pancakes Reviewed in Take Root and Write

Meredith Curtis reviewed my book, Flip Three Pancakes with One Spatula, this week in Take Root and Write.

Flip Three Pancakes is a math curriculum and a cookbook packed with ideas to teach math while preparing meals with children ages 3-8. The activities included in the book are based on grade level skills taught in K-2nd grade and have been used in our life learning adventures.

Check out the review at:
http://issuu.com/noellemena/docs/trwdm-issue25-2009-august10-14?mode=a_p (scroll down to page 26)

The same review was posted at Joyful and Successful Homeschooling Reviews:
http://www.takerootandwrite.com/2009/08/flip-3-pancakes-with-1-spatula-review.html#more

Need an apron or chef's hat for your cooking adventures? Check out this week's fabric colors at http://www.cherylbastian.com/bookstore. The aprons make great gifts, too.

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Two NEW Blogs for Home Schooling Families

Helpful tidbits. Resources. Sage wisdom. All this and more can be found in two NEW blogs built by my friend Virginia Knowles. Start Well is for families who are just beginning the homeschooling journey and Continue Well will encourage those of us who are in the midst of middle school. These blogs are the building blocks for Finish Well, a blog to help high schooling families. Virginia has asked me to be a contributing blogger to all three. A perfect place for a momma who has children at every stage!

I am thrilled about the resources families will have at their fingertips. Tell your friends to check back often as each of the blogs has several contributing authors.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Link to Storybook History

A friend sent me a link she knew I would enjoy. She was right. It's a blog written by children's book extraordinaire Gladys Hunt. Gladys Hunt has written several titles including well-known and loved, Honey for A Child's Heart.

Here's the link: http://tumblon.com/honey/210/remember-the-little-golden-books

I hope you enjoy the link (and others by Ms. Hunt) as much as I did!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

This is the Day...

This is the day the LORD has made! Yes, and this is the day my DH returns from the Dominican Republic and my DS returns from Mexico. Both served people living in poverty.

Mike, part of a team of 38, accompanied 10 at-risk teens on their journey to serve people in poverty greater than their own. It was an adventure which took planning, patience, and perseverance as these teens prepared with passports and packing. Several had not been out of the city, others had never stepped foot on a plane. They return this afternoon. Can't wait to see them!

My DS, a student leader with his youth group, has been gone for 2 weeks. His adventure began as a 24-hour trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan where he attended training to build water purifiers. From Aqua Clara, he boarded a plane, headed back to Orlando, into a Centra Care for an ear infection and joined the Mexico team, already on the first day of their journey (what a quick 36 hours that was!) Team Mexico departed Orlando headed to Chihuahua to build water purifiers for the poverty-stricken people of the Brickyard. I have followed their blog, but can't wait to hear the stories face-to-face!

So, my children are more than excited, kind of like soda pop which has been shaken, ready to explode. We'll tidy the house, make it smell sweet (remember, it is the girls here at home...and DS #2 who has been an amazing help with yard work and upkeep), and prepare for excitement beyond the midnight hour (DS's plane lands at 11:00). The girls already told me they are not going to bed until everyone is back home.

This is the day the LORD has made! We wait eagerly for it to unfold. What does GOD have planned for this day He prepared for YOU?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Clay Day


At a local craft store, my girls cashed in on a 40% off coupon, wrapped their arms around 7 pounds of clay and hurried home to the kitchen table. Clay creations came alive. Our table was covered in gray dust. We used several resources to learn more.

Fun With Modeling Clay by Barbara Reid
Mudworks: Creative Clay, Dough, and Modeling Experiences by MaryAnn F. Kohl


Later, our oldest daughter made some cooked playdough, a huge hit in our home. She used the recipe I used when I taught preschool, emptied all the ingredients into a medium cooking pot and cooked on medium heat until the dough formed a ball. The old recipe was hand-written on a piece of scrap paper and given to me by a mentor teacher. No idea where the teacher found it.
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. salt
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What Have You Been Doing?


I can't believe it has been almost a month since my last post. What have you been doing, you ask?

Our summer started with a reunion in PA to celebrate my parent's 50th Anniversary. We came home, unpacked, and welcomed families into our home for annual evaluations. We love this time of year as we assess the progress of home educated children and encourage the mommas (mostly, though we did have one dad this year). Evals were a large part of our day, the other part, well Mike sent me off to write while he read aloud to the girls. I sat at the computer, writing and enjoying the giggles and laughs pouring from the living room.

Between June 16 and July 22 I polished the manuscript of my newest book, Celebrate High School: Finish With Excellence. The contents reflect the most commonly asked questions I've been asked, answered with the most helpful information we've discovered during our 6 years of high schooling. I added wisdom and practical helps I'd gathered and tweeked. Celebrate High School is packed with planning tips, record-keeping details, graduation and scholarship requirements, high school literature lists, sample course titles, NCAA guidelines, easy-to-follow instructions for writing transcripts, course descriptions and other valuable supporting documents, and Internet links for many high school-related topics. Sample letters and documents accompany explanations. The feedback I've received so far has been very positive. I am thrilled Celebrate High School has been helpful to many in just the first week of publication.

As I polished Celebrate High School, I prepared for a local high schooling event, Finish Well. Finish Well was a half-day conference Meredith Curtis, Virginia Knowles and I organized for families who were walking, or intended to walk, the high school journey. Held July 25, it was an event we hope to repeat in the Spring.

This week Mike is serving in the DR and Josh is spending week two in Mexico building water purifiers for the people of the Brickyard. When Mike returns, we will continue with two more weeks of evals before Mike heads back to school.

And so, you read what has kept me from blogging. It has been a productive summer.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

To the Puddles


Rain poured. Rain poured. One solid week of on and off rain. Our outside time was limited. But, our girls were ecstatic. Rain meant puddles. Puddles meant...tadpoles! When the sun peeked through the clouds, to the puddles we went, fish net and small buckets in hand, ready for one of life's most adventurous events, tadpole-catching.

The first round of tadpoles made their way back home, to our home, that is. Dad dug out the 10 gallon tank from the garage. Swoosh! In went the tadpoles. Back went the children, to the puddles. The second round of tadpoles made their way to their new home. Swoosh! In went the second batch of tadpoles. You could almost hear the tadpole party leaping from the 10 gallon tank on our porch. The tadpoles had a new home with new friends and had been saved from being baked on the street.

So, for the last week we have observed tadpoles grow legs, shed their tails and hop out of the tank. It has been a week of jubilation, a week of excitement. Ahhh, if we could have such joy about the world around us, a joy that will send us back to the puddles next spring.

Raising tadpoles:
http://allaboutfrogs.org/info/tadpoles/
http://www.tooter4kids.com/Frogs/life_cycle_of_frogs.htm
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/amphibians/Frogprintout.shtml
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/amphibians/books/froglifecycle/

Reading about tadpoles:
From Tadpole to Frog by Wendy Pfeffer
From Tadpole to Frog by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

THE END


The story has ended. My last blog, which took place at the end of our school year just days before our vacation, shared the beginning of our collage story. It was a story that began with painted papers intended to be cut into geometric shapes to create a beach scene. The idea was not our original idea, it was an idea we wowed over earlier in the month while reading the book I Love Collage! (you can read about it in one of my earlier blogs). Anyway, back to our beach collage.

After the painted papers dried, we cut out the shapes (yes, a math lesson) and created our scene. The girls helped one another place their shapes and re-cut new ones. In the end we had 4 amazing pictures, each completed at the developmental level of the artist.

I know it has been a long time, over a month, since I last sat to tell the story. I appreciate your patience and hope the anticipation built as you awaited the ending.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Stories Begin at the Beginning

Creation began when God created. Our family began when we said "I do!" Art begins in the mind of an artist.

Today we began our day reading about artists: Giotto, Bellini, De Vinci and Carle. We read their personal stories and learned about their techniques. I told the girls about the amazing paintings I was in an art gallery in Venice. Then we headed to the kitchen table to mix paint. The eleven year old decided to paint modern art. The seven year old painted a landscape like the one she watched Bob Ross paint the day before. The five year old painted Dad a birthday card. Mom and the three year old painted paper. Paper? Yes, papers from which we will cut collage shapes for our collage beach scene. That's this afternoon's story.

So, this blog shares the beginning of our painting story, the one we will conclude later this afternoon. I will tell you about it later when we finish the story

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Scrabble for All Ages


I jumped and shouted, "Look! Cheez-Its with letters!" Turned heads and puzzled looks were upon me. "Lady, your in the grocery isle." They thought.


I knew where I was but I could not contain my excitement. A new idea had jumped from the grocery shelf and into my brain. I see learning opportunities everywhere, even in the grocery isle, and frankly, a new tool for learning is like a Christmas present under the tree.


I have thought about this new find for several days. Cheez-Its with letters. The new snack is called Cheez-It Scrabble Junior. Do you realize the learning possibilities?



  • Grab a handful fo Cheez-Its. Group them according to letter...all the C's together, all the T's together, etc. Find out which group has more, which group has less. The math and language arts skills involved are for the youngest learners: grouping, set-building and letter recognition.



  • Make an alphabet train. Line up the letters while singing the alphabet and you have the foundations for alphabetizing.



  • Grab a letter, make its phonetic sound, and find items around the house that begin with that letter. Beginning phonics with a fun twist.



  • Use the letters as mini flash cards. Grab a letter and make the sound. Grab another and make the sound. Go through the whole alphabet.



  • Create two letter words: am, an, at, as, ax, be, go, if, in, is, it, me, on, so, and to. Add a letter to each to make three letter words. Spelling at its earliest beginnings.



  • Spell the names of family members. These are high-interest words with a purpose for new spellers.

The possibilities are endless, not to mention, fun, different, and appealing . What a unique introduction to a positively educational game, Scrabble!


While I am on the subject of Scrabble, let me share how this game impacted our learning. Being an "adult game" if you want to classify it as such, it instantly grabbed my son's attention. He wanted to play because he saw Mom and Dad playing. Being a beginning speller did not stop him. He wanted to play. So, I created a "dictionary" for him. I stapled 26 pieces of notebook paper together. Each page was labeled with a letter of the alphabet. Once labeled, I wrote 3-5 letter words which began with the letter written on the top of the page. My son used his "dictionary" to play Scrabble with us. His spelling skills improved and eventually he was able to play without the "dictionary". Our children love a friendly, family game of Scrabble. It's a great way to spend an evening. Honestly, our older boy's vocabulary and spelling skills now surpass Mom and Dad and the kids usually win the game.


Scrabble (and Scrabble Junior) have been the number one spelling tools in our home. You can imagine how excited I was to find Cheez-Its Scrabble Junior on the shelf. I let the ladies in the isle know what an incredible treasure had been discovered.


With all this thought and excitement about letters, I have been reminded of our favorite alphabet books.



  • A is for Asia by C. Chin-Lee

  • P is for Pilgrim by Carol Crane (just one of the many, many titles in a series from the Discover America series...http://www.gale.cengage.com/DiscoverAmerica/guides/

  • Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert

  • 26 Letters and 99 Cents by Tana Hoban

  • Alphabet City by Stephen Johnson

  • The Airplane Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta (just one of the many, many thematic alphabet books he has written)

  • Wild Animals of Africa by H. Ryden
Have fun with language arts today. Education is real and relevant.




Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plots: What We Know and What We Figure Out Later

Ever wonder just how each event or person impacts the plot of a story? I have. And I have learned a few lessons, like many of you. Every word, every situation, every action, every character, impacts the story. We may not understand how the story will unfold or which character will play a lead role in the climax, but rest assured it is all important. Without the unknown woman walking through the door, the lady sitting across the library table or the girl coming to the rescue, the plot changes. Sometimes dramatically.

Can we be a part of the plot? Everyday we have the opportunity. We step from bed and into the scene. We talk. We decide. We act. We love. It all adds to the plot. To ours and to others.
Where will I be in the unfolding plot tomorrow? Will I sit on a park bench and offer kind words to the discouraged one or choose to sit quietly? Will I hug the hurting or let someone else do the hugging? It all matters.

This is a seemingly off-topic blog, but a closer read begs a thoughtful pause. Think about the roles we play in the plot. Think about the roles others have played. How do we convey to our kids the role they play in the plot? By living the story. Each story is a story to be lived in order to be learned. They will look back and remember the wrinkled hands that held theirs. They will remember the smell of the soup kitchen in which they served warm meals on a cold day. They will remember walking the battlefields. Lessons learned from the plot of life. Lessons that don't become known, sometimes years later.

Reading books that invite us into the plots of others help us (including our children) learn. When we put our hands under the cool water, pumped out from the garden pump, we think of Helen Keller's courage to learn. When we fly in an airplane, we remember the brave Wright Brothers determination to fly. When we snorkel while on vacation, we understand the significance of an untethered breathing apparatus. All lessons learned from the lives of those who walked before us. Our lives today are no different. The plot is being written. What will we learn from our efforts? What will others learn from us? It is all to be determined....today, but maybe not discovered until later.

I Love to Collage!

I have been working on a writing project and haven't had much extra time lately to tell stories or blog about our "book" fun. However, I did have to blog about our recent find. We found the most incredible, colorful, inviting book at the library last week.

I Love to Collage! by Jennifer Lipsey

Excellent, empowering (especially for kids and parents who think they were born without creativity), and written with step-by-step instructions, this book will inspire the reader to get up and get creative. Many mediums are explored in the twenty ideas detailed between the covers. Tissue paper, newspaper, painted papers, torn papers, garbage (yes, garbage), nature findings and more are used to make amazing art.

My girls were particularly interested in the Tasty Treats project which involved painting papers and then cutting shapes to make a yummy treat. The results were an ice cream sundae and cone. Brilliant hues and impressive images (almost good enough to eat) were the end result.

For those who want to take collage to the next level, here are some suggestions:
1. Study artists who use the collage method, especially children's book illustrators. Look for the art of Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Lois Ehlert, and Denise Fleming.

A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle (painted tissue paper)
Ship Shapes by Stella Blackstone (fabric)
Pie in the Sky by Lois Ehlert (paper)
Snowballs by Lois Ehlert (found object)
Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming (found objects)

2. Compare the mediums used by these authors. Try using the artist's techniques with found objects from the around the house.

3. Research the history of collage.

4. Visit an art museum. Look for examples of collage art.

Collage is not the only art technique which deserves attention. Find out more about painting, photography, digital art, clay, print making, and drawing. My unit study Check These Out! devotes 4 weeks to discovering children's books, including illustrations. Check These Out! at http://www.cherylbastian.com/bookstore.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Melon Balls: How our Lunch Shaped Up

I've missed blogging, sharing stories from our life. Many weeks have passed, many blogs I wanted to write, but didn't have time to type. Maybe you will hear those later.

Today, however, math jumped out of our watermelon. Our oldest daughter was helping prepare lunch. She pulled the watermelon out of the fridge as the other daughter yelled, "Let's make melon balls!" Perfect. The younger children hadn't heard of melon balls. We took turns balling the melon into spheres of all sizes and density. Soon we have a whole bowl full of spheres and began thinking of other spheres we knew: globes, soccer balls, baseballs, soap-on-a-rope, golf balls. eyeballs. Our list ran long;the gears in our minds, spinning. By the time we made and ate 50 melon balls (counting by ones and then tens) we understood the concept of "sphere".

Learning while preparing and eating food is what my book Flip Three Pancakes with One Spatula is all about. Each lesson teaches a math concept and then extends the lesson to content areas, suggesting titles of books for additional practice or reinforcement.

So, in keeping with the concept of "sphere", here are ways to extend and reinforce the lesson.

1. Round up an orange, either off the tree, fresh off the orange tree in the backyard or from the fruit basket. Compare its spherical shape with the shape of a flat one-dimensional circle. Discuss the differences. Find examples about the house or on a nature walk. Read Circles Around Town by Nathan Olson or Circles by Sarah Schuette.

2. Cut the orange in 8 slices and divide evenly (if possible) among those at the table. Discuss the orange in terms of its fractional parts: half, quarters and eighths. Read Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Counting Book by Paul Giganti, Jr.

3. Use a set of fraction circles to experiment with fractional parts of a circle. Cut out your own fraction circles from construction paper.

4. Measure the circumference of the orange with a string. Measure the circumference of other spheres in the home (golf ball, baseball, or beach ball). How does the circumference of the orange compare in length with the other spheres?

5. Make fresh squeezed orange juice.

6. Discuss the nutritional value of oranges. Hint: think Vitamin C, scurvy and the like.

7. Visit an orange packing plant or grove.

8. Draw and shade an orange, talking about light, dark and shadows. Research shading on the Internet, with a parent's supervision, of course.

9. Read Sunny Numbers: A Florida Counting Book by Carol Crane.

10. Mix red and yellow paint to make orange. Add black and white to make shades and tints. Use the paints to sponge paint with circles or to paint an orange, shaded with the tints of orange paint.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Organizing High School Records: Writing a High Schooler's Story



Heart of the Matter is hosting 8 Ways to a More Organized Homeschool Carnival. This week, Week Four, is Organizing Your Records. The posts will be up March 27. In the meantime, you can stop by, read the past week's posts, and be blessed by moms who offer their creative organization tips.

Over the last several weeks I have encouraged moms who are gathering high school records in an effort to write the "stories" of their high school students. One mom was gathering documents for employment, another mom was proving her "good student" was eligible for reduced car insurance. The last mom was in the process of preparing a transcript and other necessary documents required for college admission. I encouraged these moms to keep their high school records well-organized making the high school story writing process less daunting. Accurate and organized record keeping is the key to developing a high school portfolio.

There are many ways to keep high school records. We begin organizing high school records as soon as our students enroll in high school courses, which might be eighth grade if they take Algebra I or other high school level courses. We purchase a two-inch binder, fill it with notebook paper and plastic protector sleeves, and use dividers to create twelve sections, arranged alphabetically:



  • Activities (a listing of sports, scouts, band, choir, youth ministry, 4-H)


  • Awards (each award for Honors Student, Presidential Physical Fitness, Eagle Scout, Student Leader placed in a plastic protective sleeve )

  • Certificates (each certificate for Most Valuable Player, Band President, Varsity sports placed in a plastic sleeve)

  • College admission requirements (for the colleges we are considering)


  • College applications (the actual documents found online, printed out for easily reference)


  • Community service/volunteer hours (a log of hours and the supervisor's contact information from church, community, political, and service organizations where the student volunteered, as well as hours documented in letter format on the organization's letterhead with contact information, dates of service, and hours served)


  • Grades (for each subject completed or currently enrolled)


  • Letters of recommendation (letters, placed in plastic sleeves, from individuals/supervisors who know your student in an educational setting, church setting, work setting, or community setting who can speak to character, work ethic and academic ability)

  • Medical records (verification of shots and any important medical information, colleges will need this for admission)


  • Test results (sent to your home from PSAT, SAT, ACT, CLEP and AP)


  • Transcripts (outside the home, perhaps online classes or correspondence programs)


  • Work experience (listing of employer's contact information, employment dates, advancements, job titles and description of responsibilities)


  • Writing samples (perfect references for college essays)


Important papers and information are filed in the appropriate section as soon as they enter our home (or shortly thereafter!). This system is easily expandable if we need it to be and there is no limit to what we can include. We consider all information necessary until we find out otherwise.


As our students journey through their high school years we file information into the notebook. Having the information in one place speeds the story writing process. To write a resume for a potential employer we reference the letters of recommendation for possible references. At the end of the student's junior year when he/she begins to write college essays, the writing sample section of the notebook is a valuable resource. To write a high school transcript, we format the document on the computer and fill in the needed information from the notebook. We also refer to the notebook as we complete community service and extracurricular sections on college applications. The notebook is a goldmine of nuggets!

Writing your high schooler's high school story is exciting! Whether you are creating a resume for a first job, calculating grades for reduced car insurance premiums, or compiling a college admission's package, your high schooler's notebook will lessen stress and frustration. All the information will be at your fingertips, in one place. The time spent with your high schooler writing his/her story will be a memorable one, one in which you can rejoice togehter. It is the culmination, the last chapter, of the student's homeschool journey. Enjoy writing it!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bite-sized Math

You might be wondering why I am posting Bite-sized Math on a blog that has to do with stories. I am too, but I just had to share about our math experience today. Remember, there's always a story!

Today I purchased bite-sized bagel pizzas. They were the special bargain at the local discount grocery. When we opened the box, the bagel pizzas were neatly arranged 3x3 on a square plate. Ah! Math before our eyes! We quickly realized that there were 9 bagel pizzas on the tray because our minds saw the 3x3 array.

Skip ahead one hour. Tummies full, time for school! Five of us sat on the living room floor with papers and pencil in hand (and Monopoly Jr. to the side). One daughter worked on simple addition, one daughter was writing sentences, the toddler was cutting up the remains of an old workbook, and the other daughter was working with me on division. To her, on this day, the numbers were foreign symbols. We reviewed the division concept. I brought out objects. That helped some. And then it dawned on me. She was the one who recognized the 3x3 pizza bites. Ah, yes! Something, a mental picture and yummy lunch, to which she could relate.

I explained that our equations on the paper were just like the bagel bites. "If we had a tray of nine bagel pizzas and three friends, how many bagel pizzas would each friend get?" Her eyes lit up! A light bulb moment! Each equation was a pizza problem. I stated each equation in terms of pizzas and friends and the concept was again, understandable.

"We have a tray of thirty-two bagel pizzas and four friends, how many pizzas will each friend get? We have a tray of forty bagel pizzas and two friends, how many pizzas will each friend get?" When the numbers grew larger, the eyes of all the children (who had been listening and started to get the concept) looked in amazement. Twenty bagel pizzas! WOW! That is quite a lunch!

And so, the story is this...life is full of lessons, even math lessons.

There are some fun, well-written children's books which reinforce the multiplication and division concepts. One of our favorites is The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins, however the library is full of fun math books, waiting to be tossed into your library bag. Grab a pizza. Divide it up evenly and then fall into the couch for an afternoon of read-aloud!

Sea Squares by Joy N. Hume

How Many Feet, How Many Tales? by Marilyn Burns

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Multiplication Book by Jerry Pallotta

Looking for more yummy math lessons? Check out my NEW book Flip Three Pancakes With One Spatula! It's packed with ways to prepare a meal or snack with your child and suggests books related to the recipe. A great way to prepare a meal, learn math and spend some quiet moments in a book.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day



Every wonder if a Saint Patrick ever existed? Or, if he did, what made him so famous? We asked the same questions and today we found our answers while reading Saint Patrick by Ann Tompert. Saint Patrick was one of the most famous and beloved saints, born during the fourth century in southwest Britian. His mission was to take Christianity to the Irish people. One of his greatest tools of evangelism was the three-leafed clover, the shammrock, with which he explained the Trinity. Now the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick is the reason we celebrate Saint Patrick's Day.

Author Ann Tompert uses information from Saint Patrick's letter "Confession" to answer the many questions children (and their parents) have about the saint. The picture book was selected by Booklist as one of the top ten religious books for children in 1998. Ms. Tompert has written a bookshelf full of children's books including two other titles we have enjoyed.

Saint Nicholas by Ann Tompert
Saint Valentine by Ann Tompert

Today as we read Saint Patrick and Saint Nicholas, we compared the saints, their missions, the locations of their homelands and their journeys. We used a globe to track the saint's travels. We discussed the similarities and differences between the saints and subtracted their birthdates to find out how far apart they were born. If we had clover in our yard, we would have wandered outside to pick some. We settled for cutting out a few we had traced on green construction paper. The shammrock shape is symmetrical, in case you wondered. I also went online to find out more about the author's personal story, as many times the life of the author brings depth to his/her writing. By the end of our reading, we had been emersed in the stories of two saints that impacted world history and answered questions about why we celebrate a current event, Saint Patrick's Day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Where's Cheryl?

Remember the seek and find books Where's Waldo? Well many of my readers have asked "Where's Cheryl?" In an attempt to answer that question, here are a few paragraphs from my current life chapter.

I have been busy writing two articles (set to print this fall) and several shorts (shorter articles and sidebars) as well as a homechooling high school handbook (larger than a handout and shorter than a book). With a recent increase of people seeking my consultation in regards to homeschooling high school, a handbook will help me assist them and give them something to carry away from our time together. Writing invigorates me! Sharing stories is a passion! Mix the two and you have the two most recent paragraphs in my story.

Those of you who are in Central Florida may be interested in an upcoming event I am thrilled to be a part of. Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at Lake Mary Public Library from 6:00-7:15 p.m. I will be sitting on a panel of moms who have homeschooled young adults through high school. Both ladies, Meredith Curtis (http://joyfulandsuccessfulhomeschooling.com/) and Virginia Knowles (http://www.virginiaknowles.com/) are dear friends of mine and honestly, they have been my teachers! I feel blessed to even share a platform with them. The evening will be a question/answer panel format and is open to those who are homeschooling high school students as well as those who might be considering homeschooling high school in the future. It is being offered free of charge. Come join us!

So, these writing adventures have kept me from my blog. I promise to share some of favorite stories here soon!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tall Tales Versus Truth

What a discussion we had today! Not one part of the discussion was planned, it just happened. We were going through life and poof! we learned something new. Well, some of us did. The others, we were just reminded of what we all ready knew. This is the the learning I like best because I know they got it. New concept. Discussion. Application. Learned.

It all started with a trip to the library, like most of our learning. We checked out some interesting books, came home and read. Here is the list of the books in our bag:

Pecos Bill: A Tall Tale reold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Paul Bunyan: A Tall Tale retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg
American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne

We read these and other tall tales. While reading, one listener said, "That doesn't sound like it can be true?" How right she was! I asked her what she thought was not true and why. She answered. Then we talked about how authors use exaggeration to tell a story, to make it interesting to the reader. Exaggeration, used as a literary device is used to stretch the truth.

Well, this was a great lead for a discussion. I asked more questions. What is truth? How do we know something is true? Where can we look if we want to know if something is true?

We finished our conversation. Later, we learned more about one of the authors. That link is below.

http://www.stevenkellogg.com/page2.html

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Biographies: Stories about People


"Today Benjamin West is remembered because he was the father of American painting; and many like to think of him as the only American ever to become President of the Royal Academy of England. But I like to remember him as a boy who wanted so very much to paint that he dug his colors out of the earth and made his brushes from his cat's tail."

Marguerite Henry


Biography is my favorite genre. Several of my children would tell you biography is their favorite genre, too. What is it about people stories, stories that allow us to peek into the pages of one's life?

We are relational beings, created to be in relationship with others. So, when we pick up a book that invites us into the lives of others, we read as fast as we can, trying to learn more about the person. Such has been the case with one of our recent reading adventures, Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry.
My children and I traveled back to eighteenth-century Pennsylvania to grow up alongside Benjamin West, who eventually became the Father of American Painting. We faced his challenges as a Quaker boy passionate about painting, a forbidden venue in his time and community. Benjamin, determined to use his artistic talent, enlists the help of Grimalkin, his coal-black companion. The author's writing style invited us into the plot with her descriptive language and well-structured story line. In fact, by the end of the story, we knew Benjamin West, feeling his frustrations, his joys and his triumphs.

Not only did we come to know Benjamin, but we also came face to face with the Quaker faith and the people who followed these beliefs. Our reading led to profitable conversations and additional research. Having grown up in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, I was familiar with Quakers and what they believed, but this was my children's' first introduction. It was an accurate, historical introduction, one which allowed us to "live" history in eighteenth-century southeast Pennsylvania.

I highly recommend this book, written by an award-winning author who is known for her fictional animal stories as well as her juvenile non-fiction. We read Benjamin West aloud to three of our four youngest, a pre-kindergartner, a second grader and a fifth grader, all whom begged for me to turn the pages and read on. The book could be read independently by children ages 8-12.

For more information about Benjamin West:





Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Power of a Story


This past weekend Mike and I hosted a small group leader gathering in our home. Many of us had not met before the evening so Mike, in an effort to help us get to know one another better, offered a question for thought and discussion. “If you could have dinner with any person, dead or alive, who would that person be?” Interestingly, one-third of the people chose to have dinner with a parent or a grandparent they had lost prematurely. Each person explained why they chose that particular person.

At the end of the evening, I chatted with one of the leaders about the power of stories, stories shared in the written word and in the spoken word. We agreed the motivation behind choosing a family member was the desire to hear the stories, the stories of the family heritage, the stories which contributed one’s being, the stories that contributed to the lives of others.

My grandmother will celebrate her 91st birthday tomorrow. She has lived through the Great Depression, WWII, the Kennedy Era, the invention of many modern conveniences and more. She remembers events well, better than most of us on any given day. She holds within her, a living history, of our world and of our family.

Several months ago, my seven-year-old daughter questioned the age of her great-grandmother and made an insightful comment as we studied the Great Depression. “We must ask Grammy about her experiences during the Great Depression. She might be the only person left alive that we can talk to about living during that time.” Ah, yes, child, you understand the importance of passing down stories.

We are all story tellers, story bearers, regardless of our age. Stories are the connection to generations, the stories we long to hear, the stories our hearts need to hear. Today I will purpose to tell at least one personal story to my children, one with which they might better understand their heritage and their world.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What Shall We Give Our Children?

Mike, I and the boys have been reading and discussing Leap Over a Wall by Eugene H. Peterson. The book chronicles and ponders the various aspects of David’s life. Interestingly there is a chapter entitled Imagination: David and Goliath. This chapter is all about the power of stories. Of course, this chapter grabbed my attention, because I know stories influence and change people’s lives, not to mention the generations that follow. And so it is with the story of David and Goliath.

Many of us, whether churched or unchurched, know the details of this empowering story. David, a small shepherd boy, collects five smooth stones, tucks them in his pouch and sets out to face the giant Philistine. An enormous feat which takes God-sized courage. David looks in the face of the giant, the adversary, and with a slingshot, claims the victory.

As we grow, this story grows with us. We realize as years and accompanying experiences move us through life how powerful this story really is. It is not just this story which impacts our lives, but all stories, the good and the not-so-good. “Stories don’t stay put; they grow and deepen.”1

One of the greatest gifts I give my children is a heart and mind full of stories, stories which were read, told or listened to. Stories from the Bible, stories from yesteryear, stories from my childhood, stories of the present and stories of the future; all will allow my children to discover, to explore, to ponder, to work out the relationship of good and evil, love and hate. The stories I give to them shape their being and help form in them a “God-dominated imagination”.2

I cannot underestimate the power of stories in the lives of my children. They, like me, will reference the stories when they need courage and hope, faith and encouragement. I must decide which stories I will present to them to open, to read or to listen to.

All quotations from the reference below.
Reference: Leap Over a Wall, Eugene H. Peterson, 1997

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Learning with Us: A Rainforest Matching Game for Preschoolers

Our older children are learning about the rainforest biome which includes mapping, the four layers, the animals, the plants, and the products. As soon as the younger children saw the brightly colored animals, they wanted to learn too.

In the course of my internet search, I found a set of rainforest animal matching cards at http://www.abcteach.com/free/f/flashcards_rainforest_mix.pdf . I printed two sets, cut them out, mounted them with rubber cement onto construction paper and recut around the edges making a colorful edge and double thickness for durability. A perfect game for preschoolers! Books we found helpful were:

Rainforest Babies by Kathy Darling
Predators in the Rainforest by Saviour Pirotta
Find it in the Rainforest by Dee Phillips
People of the Rainforest by Anna Lewington and Edward Parker
Living in a Rainforest by Allan Fowler
Does it Always Rain in the Rainforest? by Melvin Berger

Monday, February 2, 2009

President Study, Groundhog Day and More!



February is loaded with opportunities to learn from the stories of others, from life. Last week we started our presidential unit study. We continue to work through the unit, reading about the lives of the men who lead our country. Today we also started our February calendar (math). This month we chose a heart shape in three colors and a silhouette of George Washington for our calendar pieces. We laid the pieces out along the kitchen floor, creating a pattern (math) and then writing one number (more math) per piece for each of the days in February. In addition to starting our February calendar and learning about the presidents (social studies), we talked about Groundhog Day (more social studies) and folklore (language arts). Folklore, often passed from generation to generation, is based on traditions, customs or beliefs and can include legends, fairy tales, myths and songs. We found two books we enjoyed. Perhaps there are more in your local library.

Groundhog Day! by Gail Gibbons
Groundhog Day by Michelle Aki Becker

Weaving Scripture Into Life Stories

Some of my favorite stories are from the Bible. Today I was reading Proverbs 31, the infamous wife of noble character. I can relate to verses 10 through 31, not because I exude all the noble characteristics of the wife, but because the skills and tasks named in the text encourage me to reflect on my life story, to weave the character into my role as a wife.

If you who live in Central Florida, you know today brought a continuous hammering of rain. I waited for the drops to stop, hoping I could trek out to the grocery store without becoming drenched and then be chilled by the cool air. At 4:00 this afternoon, I decided it was not going to stop raining and I would simply have to be tough and weather the weather. I thought about Proverbs 31:21, “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” As I loaded the groceries in my car, in the rain, the verse popped into my mind. We were not experiencing a snow storm, and I didn’t fear for my family, but I had an “ah ha” moment. The moment was unrelated to my character, but instead to the impact of scripture, of stories, on our lives. Scripture read and learned will not be forgotten; it will become a part of our life stories. Today, the wise words of scripture were woven and applied to my life. I can’t wait to read tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Math in Our Presidental Study

Today our presidential study quickly changed to a math study. Of course! I should have figured as much; I should have taken notice to the foreshadowing in the day's unfolding story. Enter a book about presidents, a printable book from http://www.enchantedlearning.com/history/us/pres/washington/books/tab/ and four girls who really wanted to play store rather than school.

As we began reading our president book for the day, an inquisitive young one asked, "Where have I seen him before?" Not two seconds passed and another young one announced, "On the money!" She was indeed, on the money with her answer. George Washington was on the money. This discussion landed us right back to the store request. Okay, I give.

We read the president story and then, at the request of our oldest daughter, headed to the Internet to print money, play money that is, at http://www.moneyinstructor.com/play.asp. We didn't have enough real dollar bills to play store, so we printed our own and had a discussion about counterfeiting. Minutes later, we had a bank vault full of cash: $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50 dollar bills. And now... as I write, a country store has developed in our living room. Not only that, but there is a fair amount of adding, subtracting, multiplying and change making happening without me even having to ask! Hummm...wonder where this will go...wonder how the story will end.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

President's Day Is Just Around the Corner



We read some great stories today; so great I had to share them with you! Having watched the 44th President of the United States take the oath of office and now getting ready to celebrate President's Day, we have embarked on an impromptu unit study.
The first adventure in our unit study was to make a visit to the public library. The trip was successful, just like the many before. We hurried home and began reading. We learned heart-warming stories about the amazing men who have served our great nation. Here is a sampling of the books we checked out:


The Legend of the Teddy Bear by Frank Murphy (one of our favorites!)
Abe Lincoln's Hat by Martha Brenner
Bully For You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz
Presidents' Day by Anne Rockwell
A Picture Book of Abraham Lincoln by David Adler
Young John Quincy by Cheryl Harness
William Henry Harrison: Young Tippecanoe by Howard Peckham