North American History and Some Confusion Over Canada

March 29, 2021 at 5:15 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

We read through history chronologically, something those who have read this blog for awhile are perhaps well aware. In doing so, we tend to skip around the globe a tad. I try to redirect the kiddo to maps, but in the case of North America, I failed somewhere…

“Wait, where’s Canada?”

“North.”

“I don’t see it.”

“It’s north of the United States.”

“Canada isn’t a state?”

As a homeschool mom my face palm was directed one hundred percent at myself. “No, baby, it’s its own country.”

I know how why the confusion occurred. Well, let’s back up. We’ve been reading, a LOT…

Saint Isaac and the Indians – Milton Lomask

When the French were flocking to North America and colonizing the forests and St. Lawrence River, along with them came Jesuit missionaries intent on sharing the word of God with the Mohawks (Iroquois) and Huron people. Some, were martyred by the very people whose souls they were trying to save. Isaac Jogues, was such a man. He was later sainted by the Catholic Church.

We are not Catholic, but we do value Catholic church history as an important part of education. I try to keep a well balanced and diverse selection of biographies as we study so we can see a complete picture of the world and all God’s creation. When looking for elementary friendly biographies on those who have been sainted, I find Ignatius Press a reliable source. Lomask’s book didn’t fail us and we were enthralled with Isaac’s story.

The Courage of Sarah Noble – Alice Dagliesh

Kiddo read this on her own, then I read it immediately afterward, so we could discuss. I’m getting to the point where I hand her more books to read alone, not because I’m reading out loud less, but so we have more time to read meatier things aloud while she tackles the easy stuff. She enjoyed this one and made a lap book off a kit I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. It’s not my favorite, but I definitely think it has value on an elementary reading list.

The Matchlock Gun – Walter D. Edmonds

This is the second time we’ve read this book. The first time we paired it up with a trip to the science museum for a firearms through the ages exhibit. Kiddo was excited to revisit it and we looked through old pictures from when we got to peruse cases and cases of antique matchlock guns. This is another fantastic “living book” to read during a study of early America.

Who Was Blackbeard? – James Buckley Jr.

Kiddo hates any book with “bobble head people” on the cover. When she was younger I used to put post-it notes over their faces. She’s getting better about ignoring the awkward caricatures on her own and was able to put a lot of personal preference aside for the sake of a good pirate story. The Who Was series is perfect for filler when you just can’t find a better biography on a person readily available.

Ben and Me – Robert Lawson

I love Robert Lawson books. So does Kiddo. But it wasn’t just Robert Lawson that captivated her for this one… mice make for riveting anthropomorphized creatures. We both just love a good rodent in the lead. For Kiddo there was another aspect… the week she read Ben and Me, she actually binge read about six Ben Franklin biographies. She just can’t get enough of the guy.

The D’aulaires have a fantastic picture book about him, we are on a mission to own everything they wrote, and there were a handful of other generic chapter books on our shelves she powered through for the sake of more Ben.

While she was doing all this Ben Franklin research, I read…

Myne Own Ground: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore – T. H. Breen

…which was utterly brilliant. I’ve never read such an honest, objective account of the slave situation in colonial Virginia. It is single handedly the best race relations book I’ve read to date. And I’ve read a lot of them over the years, trying to understand everyone. Kiddo obviously didn’t read this one this time, but I definitely plan on including it on a high school reading roster.

This is where I derailed, while she focused on Ben, I was reading about the English Republic between 1649-1660. I read a book on Charles I by Leanda de Lisle, a book about Roger Williams by James A. Warren, a biography on Henrietta Miaria (Charles I’s wife) by Alison Plowden, and a biography on Charles II by Martyn R. Beardsley.

During this time we discussed Ben Franklin’s travels to France. We talked about a book we read a few years ago called Madeleine Takes Command about a French girl at a Fort in Canada. We discussed the politics of what was going on between North America and Europe… She likes to understand people and things they fight for, I didn’t catch on that the borders were unclear.

Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin – Marguerite Henry

My husband read Brighty of the Grand Canyon out loud before bedtime as a family. It was lovely. He has a lovely reading voice and Kiddo and I just love Marguerite Henry. Brighty is set during Teddy Roosevelt’s time, so it was a little misplaced, but delightful. Benjamin West was a perfect way to drag ourselves back to our timeline, and it was required reading for her history class at Atrium (our co-op she attends and I teach at once a week).

We loved this one and it put us both in the mood to paint, we watched a YouTube slideshow of his work, so we would be familiar. While feeling artsy, we read a biography on Maria Merian, The Girl Who Drew Butterflies. We revived our nature journaling.

But Benjamin West also gave us an opportunity to discuss Quakers. We hashed out the similarities and differences in our beliefs after she pointed out that they’re a bit like me… luddites. My kid likes to call me out for my avoidance of technology. Ironic, considering I’ve written a blog for over a decade.

Amos Fortune, Free Man – Elizabeth Yates

This is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. I’m so glad the Kiddo and I got to share reading it for our first times together. She asked if we could visit his historical landmark, and I definitely want to add that to our list of vacation goals.

Ethan Allen: Green Mountain Rebel – Brenda Haugen

I love the Signature Lives biographies. They’re such great resources. The cool thing about reading about people like Ethan Allen is the opportunity to really discuss flaws and virtues in human beings. How most people have both. Some people teeter into the realm of so flawed they become evil and some are so virtuous they become sainted… and some, like Ethan Allen, have a bizarre mix of both. Mischievous to a fault. Brash. Heroic. Terrible. Principled. A Menace. A Patriot. A Legend.

George Washington then became the highlight of our weeks… we read George Washington’s Teeth, Phoebe the Spy, we talked about the spy ring (an endless fascination because we descend from Townsends, but not those Townsends), The Winter at Valley Forge: Survival and Victory, George Washington’s Breakfast, Cinnabar, the One O’Clock Fox.

Calico Captive – Elizabeth George Speare

My first introduction to Elizabeth George Speare, I believe, was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I can’t wait to share that with her; but Kiddo’s was Calico Captive. She was riveted. “One more chapter?” But the chapters are long. “Please?” We spent hours, against Charlotte Mason’s advice of limiting book binging, we binged.

Note: Calico Captive involves Indian capture, being sold to the French, living as a prisoner in CANADA.

Not to let a good theme go to waste, we also read Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jamison by Lois Lenski.

We brushed up on our Benjamin Banneker knowledge from the last time we studied him, and then dived into…

Early Thunder – Jean Fritz

I just can’t get enough Jean Fritz. This particular title might be my favorite Jean Fritz yet, and I really do love them all. I thought it would take us longer to finish, but it became another “Please read another chapter” book. We finished this one even faster than Calico Captive.

Early Thunder follows our underlining theme for history this year which has largely been: “It’s Complicated.” I loved how perfectly it addressed all the emotions of the people in Salem as they wanted to be good citizens but also govern themselves. What makes a good citizen? Someone who sides with their neighbors or someone who is loyal to a distant government?

From an educational stand point it helped the Kiddo sort out who the Whigs and Tories were, what they stood for and why. It gave us an opportunity to lay out the monarchy of England, the purpose of Parliament (remember the Magna Carta? What did that mean? How is that affecting the 1700s?). It set her up for revisiting the Declaration of Independence with a clearer view.

From a spiritual maturity and empathy stand point, it helped her wrestle with the idea that we cast hindsight judgements on historical figures all day, but do we really know what we would do? Do we really know what we would choose when placed in those historical figure’s shoes? The book was truly a roller coaster ride of deep thinking for a kid, and I’m so glad we made time for it.

This doesn’t even come close to wrapping up our semester studies, I haven’t even caught up to where we are on our reading list as of the posting of this blog… we tackled Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Johnny Appleseed, and more…

But it does bring me to the moment of my point–Canada–and why we now have a Geography curriculum.

“Mom, I might regret this, but… can we get a geography curriculum?”

I laughed. Heartily. And then proceeded to find and order what extra bits I needed to complete something I discovered I already owned half of.

Beautiful Feet: Geography Through Literature Pack

We already had a few of Holling’s picture books, I only had to order the guide, a book, and the maps. I’m so glad I did. We’re in love.

And, we understand what’s going on with Canada now.

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The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree

February 10, 2021 at 4:43 am (Education, In So Many Words) (, , , , , )

“Why are the virgins trimming their wicks?”

We were listening to Johnny Cash’s When the Man Comes Around. Not but a month or two ago we discussed how it was a song about Revelation, because her mind was blown that I had put Johnny Cash on my Spotify playlist of gospel music. She is also taking a poetry class and is significantly more interested in lyrics and their meanings than ever before. This time, the song came on because I had been sent a meme of a cat riding a dog that said, “And I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the rider’s name was death.” It was pretty funny. I had a good laugh. I posted it on social media with a link to Cash’s song and started playing the song, because how can anyone resist? The song itself is a thing of beauty.

“Well, do you remember Matthew 25?” I pulled out my bible and started reading her the Parable of the Ten Virgins. She, with her impeccable memory, started reciting it.

Matthew 25:1-13, New International Version

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

“I remember that one,” she said, “But I don’t know what it means.”

And we talked about Jesus coming again. Because of a Johnny Cash song, we talked about how it is important for Christians to ever be ready for Christ to come again, because we don’t know when that will be. 

Don’t just talk about being a Christian, live your life as one. Study the Word daily, pray without ceasing, don’t be the one the Lord says, “I never knew you,” to. Our relationship with Jesus is more than just a religion, more than just showing up on Sunday, more than a series of rituals. Saying we are a Christian means we are followers of Christ and the words should not be slung around lightly. Because, as Cash says (referencing a story in Luke), one day, “the father hen will call his chickens home.” We definitely want to be one of the chickens.

WHEN THE MAN COMES AROUND – JOHNNY CASH

“And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder

One of the four beasts saying,

‘Come and see.’ and I saw, and behold a white horse”

There’s a man goin’ ’round takin’ names

And he decides who to free and who to blame

Everybody won’t be treated all the same

There’ll be a golden ladder reachin’ down

When the man comes around

The hairs on your arm will stand up

At the terror in each sip and in each sup

Will you partake of that last offered cup

Or disappear into the potter’s ground?

When the man comes around

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers

One hundred million angels singin’

Multitudes are marchin’ to the big kettledrum

Voices callin’, voices cryin’

Some are born and some are dyin’

It’s alpha and omega’s kingdom come

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree

The virgins are all trimming their wicks

The whirlwind is in the thorn tree

It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks

Till armageddon no shalam, no shalom

Then the father hen will call his chickens home

The wise man will bow down before the throne

And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crowns

When the man comes around

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still

Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still

Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still

Listen to the words long written down

When the man comes around

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers

One hundred million angels singin’

Multitudes are marchin’ to the big kettledrum

Voices callin’, voices cryin’

Some are born and some are dyin’

It’s alpha and omega’s kingdom come

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree

The virgins are all trimming their wicks

The whirlwind is in the thorn trees

It’s hard for thee to kick against the prick

In measured hundredweight and penny pound

When the man comes around

“And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts

And I looked, and behold a pale horse

And his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him”

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Thanksgiving 2020

November 28, 2020 at 8:57 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Pretty much always has been, because, well… FOOD. I love the food. I love the deep fried turkey, I love the dressing (which I call stuffing even though it’s never stuffed in anything because you don’t stuff that which you deep fry), my cranberry sauce (which is apparently somewhat unique and more of a salsa or relish, a blend of: wholeberry cranberry, cranberry sauce, orange marmalade, apple cider vinegar, chopped onion, chopped cilantro, chopped jalapeño, and a sprinkle of orange peel). For dessert, I prefer my marble pumpkin cheesecake over pumpkin pie, some years I’ve made Pumpkin Rolls — another bite of perfection. And I’ve always loved that above all, Thanksgiving is about being thankful to God for what we already have and the burden of gifts are not involved.

This year, our history studies coincided perfectly with the holiday: We studied William Bradford, the Mayflower, and the Pilgrims.

William Bradford: Pilgrim Boy by Bradford Smith is a gentle middle grade chapter book that tells the story of the Puritan governor William Bradford. From his childhood with his grandfather, through his schooling, to Holland, and across the sea to lead a new colony to religious freedom. Understanding his story helps flesh out understanding for King James, the King James Bible, British politics, and early America. Without knowing William Bradford, do you really know what the Pilgrims were thankful for?

During the weeks I read this aloud, Kiddo was reading a book called Pilgrim Stories by Margaret Pumphrey, published by Beautiful Feet. We caught one error in the book, at the beginning the writers seem to be confused about Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart. We revisited our Rhyming History of Britain and memorized a few stanzas to ensure Kiddo didn’t remember the wrong information. It helped to clarify how James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Memorizing rhymes is one of our favorite activities (so much so that we spent November 5th celebrating Guy Fawkes Day memorizing the infamous poem… Remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot…).

I read The Landing of the Pilgrims as a child, I really love the old Landmark Books and make a point of collecting them, and this was another one I made Kiddo read on her own this time. I find at this age when I can assign independent reading, instead of me reading out loud less, we just cover twice as many books per topic.

My husband read The Adventures of Myles Standish out loud and we both marveled over the beauty of the timeline across the bottom of Harness’s lovely biography (so much so, we started stocking up on other biographies in the same series for the future).

P.J. Lynch’s The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower might be one of my all time favorite Thanksgiving books. The illustrations are simply beyond gorgeous and take my breath away. Lewis Buzbee talks about children’s picture books in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop and how they’re meant to be read over and over again, by children and adults alike… this is one of those books, a perfect work of art I am pleased to own and revisit. I paid full price for it (something I rarely do, as the majority of my books are bought used), and have no regrets.

Thanksgiving Day, Kiddo insisted on dressing like a Wampanoag child. She was very disappointed that not a single article of clothing her dress up basket included authentic Wampanoag attire. Instead she’s wrapped in a touristy Navajo blanket sent to us for our donations to some reservation school or another. (My mother spent much of her childhood near the Navajo and they are the one tribe we feel a familial attachment to despite a lack of native blood. I grew up singing bible school songs in Navajo, as she was taught.) I know some in the world would consider this cultural appropriation at the worst or at best possibly roll their eyes at us, but we study these things and she dresses up out of the highest level of respect, empathy, and intrigue. This is childhood, children learn through stories and play.

By afternoon, she’d shed half her costume and settled into the life of Squanto while I read the Mayflower Papers over dessert.

Education is a lifetime pursuit and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my love of learning through the discipleship of homeschooling.

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Jamestown

November 28, 2020 at 7:39 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

We spent the month of October studying Jamestown, Pocahontas, and John Smith. We also read a few things on Galileo, since he was making discoveries and writing books around the same time and we enjoy getting a whole big picture of the world perspective when we study any place or time period.

So, for a big, big, big picture perspective, I read Her Majesty’s Spymaster by Stephen Budiansky first, to take me from all the mysteries surrounding Roanoke through British and Spanish politics, espionage, and intrigue, and into the reign of King James.

From there, I tackled Love and Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price. I loved this book. I think Price thinks very highly of John Smith and it shows, but I also think the author tackled the subject like a true historian: with a lot of source documents and an appreciation for the fact that all human beings typically have virtues as well as character flaws. Too many tend to portray people as all good or all bad, depending on their political leanings, personal preferences, and limited knowledge/ understanding of humanity.

I couldn’t put Price’s book down and I’m honestly astounded there are less than five star reviews on Goodreads because I just adored this account so much. It is well-balanced, thoroughly researched, and presented in a riveting manner. I think Price treated each historical figure with respect and honesty.

After this, naturally, we binge read everything we could get our hands on about Pocahontas. From D’Aulaire’s beautiful (though, apparently now controversial?) picture book, to Linwood Custalow’s “True Story” of Pocahontas, which to me reads like a propaganda piece about how all natives are saints and all white men were terrible… Obviously, these sorts of narratives (especially when poorly written) don’t sit well with me. I would love to read a Native American who is also a historian tackling this subject. I was disappointed in Custalow’s ranting, but am sure (because history is always documented by the “winners”) that some part of the truth lies in the middle and I’m dying to know which parts are the truths.

That desire for truth and clarity led me to Helen C. Rountree‘s The Powhatan Indians of Virginia, which is brilliant! I highly recommend her work for anyone looking for an authoritative voice on the natives of Virginia. Her research is so thorough and respectful she was made an honorary member of the Nansemond and Upper Mattaponi tribes. I appreciate that she is well-educated, articulate, and has the stamp of approval to share cultural context that allows us to understand what was going on between the lines of the source documents we’re accustomed to reading, like John Smith’s own book.

And like a flash, we moved onto William Bradford in time for Thanksgiving…

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The Atchafalaya Basin

October 12, 2020 at 5:02 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to pick up and take school into the world. We love field trips. I realized recently that I always refer to them as field trips and not vacations, because each change of scenery for us offers a new learning experience, and we never stop working on math and spelling.

So when we had the opportunity to venture out into the swamplands of Louisiana, we packed up our school work and went.

Although our family’s main homeschooling style relies on the Classical model by choice, by nature after growing up in the GT program of public schools, I’m a Unit Study girl. So when headed to the Atchafalaya we watched a National Geographic youtube documentary on the basin and loaded up on picture books.

Jim Arnosky is a long time children’s book favorite of mine. He is the author of the Crinkleroot character, possibly my favorite children’s character of all time, and truly my go-to when looking for any sort of nature themed studies. I was pleased to discover I already owned copies of All About Turtles and All About Alligators, perfect for swamplands. We picked these up years ago and I just love the whole series. They’re perfect for little nature lovers to peruse in their free time when they are excited about a particular animal or another, or for building unit studies on a particular ecosystem like we did when we went to the swamp.

The One Small Square series by Donald M. Silver and Patricia J. Wynne is another favorite. Instead of individual species and their place in the world, this series starts with the ecosystem and defines what is in it. From the cypress knees and ferns to the bacteria and fungi, Swamp talks about all the different layers of life that make up each square inch of swamplands, including diagrams of life at a cellular level… “A carpet of sphagnum moss covers this floating peat island. The moss’s tangled leaves have special hollow cells that soak up and hold water…” Swamp also covers mangrove swamps and the differences between the two.

Homeschooling is such a blessing and it was so exciting to not just read about the environment, but go and––literally––put our hands in it. I am thankful to God every day for the adventure of educating my kiddo.

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Mysteries of History Part Three: Roanoke

October 8, 2020 at 11:30 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The world is full of things we’ll never know and one thing I do know is that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.

As a child, the story of Roanoke was glossed over in history classes. It maybe earned itself a whole paragraph in a textbook… The colonists disappeared, most likely they were either slaughtered or absorbed by Native tribes. End of story. Now let’s talk about Jamestown and Pocahontas.

Wait, what?! That’s it!?

Jane Yolen’s picture book Roanoke addresses all the theories and just how big a mystery it actually is quite nicely, which I appreciate for my kid. At least she’s been given a bigger bit of bait than I had at that age. As a lifetime sucker for anything written by Jean Fritz, we’re also reading The Lost Colony together, it’s longer and one usually tackled by slightly older kids whereas Yolen’s picture book can be read in one sitting.

As far as information and writing style go, I prefer Jean Fritz––every time––and especially this time. Jean Fritz is my go to for all kids and young adult history books. We have a pretty extensive Fritz collection and still aren’t close to owning all the author’s work. I was so pleased to add The Lost Colony to our library, which in addition to beautiful illustrations, included all the most recent theories (as of 2001) and a summarization of Lee Miller’s Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.

I read Lee Miller’s book and found it completely enthralling. As a homeschool family, we pick up and take our studies pretty much everywhere, and the week of Roanoke we had the luxury of spending on the Atchafalaya Basin. The only thing that could have been more perfect would have been if we had been in the Virginia and North Carolina swamps and beaches instead of the Louisiana ones––but the ambiance for the unraveling of a sixteenth century crime was perfect.

The book truly had me on the edge of my seat, due largely because of content. The writing style, which annoyed many reviewers on Goodreads, was superfluous at times, but I got the sense that it was the genuine excitement of the author jumping full swing into storytelling mode. I find the premise she suggested not only possible, but plausible based on her presentation of evidence. It’s a great book to read to get a big picture view of both sides of the pond when it comes to early American history. Too many books seem to focus on the colonies or Europe, but rarely truly show what is happening on both sides of the globe at the same time during the era.

Miller brings everything back to Elizabeth I’s Spymaster, so naturally I had to find out if her claims could be substantiated. Up next, my findings in Stephen Budiansky’s Her Majesty’s Sypmaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage.

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Mysteries of History, Part Two: The Americas

October 5, 2020 at 1:58 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

From what I can tell from Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s Goodreads biography and résumé, the man is half journalist and half historian. Perhaps, that’s why I enjoyed his writing. He’s perhaps a better journalist than any writing for the papers these days (always pointing out his own biases rather than writing opinion pieces as fact) and keeps his research assignments to the point instead of meandering in and out of his feelings (which I’ve noticed modern-day scholars doing a lot of lately). I could be wrong about him as a whole, he has a rather lengthy list of books and I have only read two of them. But what I have read, I have loved.

The Americas: A Hemispheric History has an average star rating of 3.25 on Goodreads. I gave it 5 stars. Most of the complaints seem to be that he’s not a specialist in his field and wrote too general a book––which I found incredible that he took so much history and covered it so well in two hundred pages––or, that he used words and language people didn’t understand (apparently, if you’re a journalist, you’re doomed to two syllable words forever?). The book did tackle a very broad scope of history and condensed it to a cozy mystery length, but the fact that he did it without missing major broad strokes, still telling the stories of the North and South Americas without skipping things your average high school student should know about this hemisphere but rarely does… I found it impressive.

By no stretch of the imagination is The Americas an end all be all. It is a jumping off point for people who love to learn. It’s a book that identifies all the major players textbooks are required to mention, and a few they fail to, during the times of exploration and conquest. He poses a few philosophical questions about viewpoints so you know when there is a conflict of perspective so you can go forth and research from there. There are many things Fernández-Armesto says that I don’t entirely agree with, but I liked that he made his biases clear and actually referred to them as biases. I would much rather read differing viewpoints and discuss topics outside of an echo chamber than not, but I also greatly appreciate when people are able to step back and say, this is my bias rather than infer that anything coming from their mouth (or pen) is a universal truth simply because that’s how they feel.

For instance, for a historian, Fernández-Armesto seemed to articulate a very laid back view of how all history is just a matter of perspective, not fact. This made for great storytelling, as he presents all sides of a situation, but as a Christian and self-taught scholar, I do believe in the existence of universal truths. I believe modern society as a misguided view on which things are universal truths/ facts and which are not due to the hot button phrase “my truth.” I tell my kiddo, having empathy for someone’s perspective, understanding where they are coming from and how they got the ideas they have, does not make their ideas correct. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, and those who do are doomed to watch everyone else repeat it, but I’d still rather go through the world with my eyes wide opened. I still want to go through the world with an ear that hears.

Maybe that’s why I find Fernández-Armesto’s writing style approachable and easy, when others have not. He doesn’t say all the politically correct things. He doesn’t perpetuate the required narrative, but shares the facts he has collected along with his own ideas (and is very clear about what are ideas). I pick his books up when I’m starting an in-depth study as an armchair book to whet my appetite for the topic. I’d recommend this particular one as a pre-requisite title before diving into source documents. I ordered a couple books he cited as I was reading, and even more as I read his bibliographical essay at the end of the book. I love that style of works cited. Is it a professional format used by scholars? No. Is it fantastic for a people in their homes wanting to know what books the author read to come to the conclusions he did? Yes. And honestly, how often do you get a chance to read someone’s bibliography for pleasure?

I’m excited, as always, to know more today than I did yesterday… and more tomorrow than today. I’m excited, as always, to find out all the things I don’t know, and learn them––only, of course, to find I don’t know even more things. I think this is why I “eat history for breakfast,” as a friend of mine once said, because I’m a detective always on the hunt for information, so I can understand the world God made a little better.

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Mysteries of History, Part One

October 3, 2020 at 7:35 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

One of the misconceptions of homeschooling is that one or both parents are doing ALL the teaching. Sometimes that’s true. But most of what homeschooling is about is the power and ability for the parent to pick and choose resources (including other teachers/tutors). As much as I love teaching history, this year history instruction became a duty I chose to share with another mom in our homeschooling group. The beauty of the heaviest portion of the kiddo’s history lessons being taught by someone else on a specific day is that it leaves me more time to read additional books that cover the same topics the kids are studying. The downside is, we’ve changed gears a little and are studying a different time frame than I initially planned. The good is outweighing the bad.

At home, we had cycled back through the American Revolution and I was pumping up to spend most of our spring semester on the Civil War. As we started the Fall semester, however, our “Early American History” course reset our timeline back to the Vikings and we kickstarted the year with Eric the Red and Norse Mythology to lay a foundation for the earliest known explorers and their encounters with the early Native Americans.

One of the fun things about studying history, is studying also the evolution of history, science, and mythology while you’re at it. We got to watch some neat documentaries on Norse Explorers and how for a long time people didn’t believe that Leif Ericson had ever actually touched North American soil, but archeology has a way of uncovering truth… and sometimes additional mysteries. As students of history, our job is to remember that education is a lifetime pursuit and keep digging (sometimes literally) for answers.

During the first half of this semester we also studied the Spanish explorers. Naturally, we covered Amerigo Vescpucci (I read Felipe Fernández-Armesto‘s biography earlier this year and loved it) and Columbus, of course. Kiddo did a presentation on Vasco Nuñez de Balboa after reading multiple books about explorers and conquest. While she was preparing her speech (my husband helped her wrap her horseback riding helmet in foil so we could add a plume and make it conquistador armor for visual aid upon her head), I read up on Cabeza de Vaca.

A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca has been on my shelf for awhile now. I knew I wanted to read it, I just wasn’t sure when. I’d read his journals before, and when reading Reséndez’s chronicle of the journey, I realized I actually had two copies of the source document. The copies of Cabeza de Vaca’s journals I have are at least different publishers, so I don’t feel entirely ridiculous. I do enjoy perusing annotations and notes in addition to devouring primary sources.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (and yes, his family name was Cow’s Head, due to a his ancestor placing a cow skull in a strategic place during a battle against the Moors) is considered the first historian of Texas by some. A journey to explore Florida quickly became a survival story full of starvation, slavery, building Native American relations, and faith healings.

I gave Reséndez’s book four stars on Goodreads when I logged it as read. It’s fascinating stuff, but I did find it a tad too easy to set down. It’s definitely an account worth having on any armchair historian’s shelf, though, and I will definitely hold onto my copy.

After that I jumped into The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention that Changed the World. I put Amir D. Aczel’s work on par with Dava Sobel’s and would happily hand this amusing piece of scientific history in the hands of any upper middle to early high school student. It reads a bit like a memoir of discovery as Aczel traipses around Europe trying to uncover who actually invented the compass and reveals some “truths” to be delightful legends and fabrication. Realistically, I wouldn’t call this book scholarly, and it has some poor reviews where people have lamented that fact, but I did find it great fun and would have gladly participated in this research adventure pre-publication. I secretly just want to chat up old Italian men in dank out of the way libraries. Reliving Aczel’s research trip would be a fabulous vacation, because, after all, our education is a lifetime pursuit and also our favorite past-time.

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Do Fish Spend Wisely?

October 3, 2020 at 4:18 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

Title: Save Money and Spend Wisely During and After the Economic Crisis

Author: Dana Wise

It’s been awhile since I regularly read books sent to me by the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review. It used to be my favorite past-time, and lately my number one priority has been homeschooling.

Honestly, I agreed to read this book because I’m a sucker for cute marketing and the author sent the request titled “Do Fish Spend Wisely?” with this jpeg:

I also enjoy supporting small businesses, which include the small presses within the publishing industry. This book is from a publishing house called Ready Set Agile! based out of Slovakia and I’m interested to see how they grow. I always try to support American businesses first, but that ideology does not limit me (thankfully) to supporting American businesses only. My true passion is for small businesses and the global market of today gives us an opportunity to support small businesses in other countries as well.

The author sent me the request because I used to review financial books for a consultant website and I have posted excerpts from most those reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I have an outdated degree in marketing and management and took more accounting courses in college than some accounting majors, but most of what I learned was from my parents and how they ran their household, helping run a small business for nearly a decade, and life experience. I am not the target audience.

The target audience for this book would be someone who knows next to nothing about making wise financial choices. The advice is good and valid advice, but nothing you wouldn’t find in existing financial guides. It isn’t “pandemic” specific, but definitely has decent tips for surviving any recession.

It’s short and to the point, reading more like a series of blog posts, which is typically how the general public acquires information these days, so I understand why it would be helpful that it is written this way. It would be an appropriate graduation gift for that high school senior you don’t know very well and aren’t sure what they like or need. Every eighteen year old needs to go out into the world with some handy money tips.

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Homeschooling Chemistry and Physics

August 20, 2020 at 3:43 am (Education, Recipes) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This year at Atrium (my kiddo’s co-op), I’ve been teaching science with a bit more purpose than I did last year. Last year consisted of a lot of impromptu science articles and activities… when we were studying the bubonic plague in history, I covered fleas on rats, the plague, what modern day scientists said about it, and played a song from YouTube about it set to the tune of Hollaback Girl. In the spring we covered lots of random pollinator things, talked about bees and butterflies and the anatomy of a flower. We did black out poetry over articles I had printed. At some point in the year, I brought roly polies and we talked about crustaceans and literally played with bugs in the driveway. We made terrariums. It was a hodge-podge of whetting the group’s appetite for the idea of studying science seriously, but was mostly exactly what you’d expect homeschool science to be: nature studies, crafts, songs, and critters.

The 2020-21 school year I was determined to do different—to do better.

Naturally, I started teaching what I consider the most difficult science of all the sciences: Chemistry & Physics. To a group of children that range between 5 and 13.

If you’re going to get serious about science, the studies of matter and energy are the way to go, right? Every time I prep for class I’m two parts terrified and one part giddy.

But today, I realized, I’m not failing them. And more than that, they seem to be enjoying themselves.

In our first two lessons, we covered matter. We talked about properties and how scientists use properties to describe matter. I started by describing that matter is anything that has volume and mass, but to say that then I had to describe what volume and mass are. I sent them home with a white bread recipe. One of the fourth graders actually baked it over the weekend and was able to tell me all about how cool it was that the same ingredients can create something with a different amount of volume. I was so pleased. If only this one child understood volume because of a white bread recipe, then I felt I was already winning.

During that same first lesson I taught them about displacement and was delighted when my classically educated group of kids were able to participate in a retelling of Archimedes and the Goldsmith. Several kids shouted “Eureka!” along with me. If I wasn’t already sold on the trivium, that moment would have done it.

Density was when it got really fun. In Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics I found a lab with salt, water, two eggs, and two cups. Fill both cups with water about halfway. Dissolve a quarter cup of salt into one of the glasses. Have the kids announce their hypothesis on what might happen, then drop the eggs in their own glass. The egg in the salt water will float because the water is more dense than the egg when there is salt there, but the egg in the regular water will sink because the egg has more density. One of the kids was convinced it was because one of the eggs was bad and one of them was good, so another mom swapped them. The experiment won out!

After that we talked about buoyancy and made aluminum boats. (This lab was also found in Fulbright’s textbook.) Everyone had brought a casserole pan where we had blue dyed salt water and pennies sprinkled at the bottom of each. The goal was to make a boat that could float the most pennies without sinking. The kids loved playing pirates and stole each other’s pennies a lot in a spirit of imagination and fun. Our best ship held 176 pennies. Runner up had 173 before the ship started taking water. The take away: surface area helps.

On day two, the following week, we talked a lot about gold versus pyrite, how luster and hardness helps you identify matter.

The kiddo and I made playdough the day before and at the start of the lesson I put pieces of tree limbs, various garden and river rocks, aluminum foil, and the play dough out on the table. There were plenty of sensory aids for everyone to have their hands on something. Nearly everyone squished play dough in their hands for the duration of the lesson, which I thought was perfect as it helped explain the concept of malleability to the littlest ones and kept hands busy so their brains could focus.

My new, very involved husband sent me to class with a giant magnet and we also discussed how magnetism can help you identify different materials. Everyone got a turn choosing a piece of junk I’d collected from around the house to try against the magnet.

Finally we wrapped up the day with a Mel Science Lab. I’m obsessed with our subscription and it was pretty cool seeing the kids get to do a more intense lab. I had the oldest kids in the group do work, two boiled water and we talked about the “rapid vaporization of a liquid using heat” because I love defining things while two others mixed up the chemicals and dropped in the pyrite samples. Fifteen minutes later, we had a small sample of Prussian Blue!

All in all, I’m pretty pleased how our class is going and I can’t wait to map out next week’s adventure. Because of the broad age range of kids and the desire to keep them all engaged and learning, I’m trying to maintain at least one craft oriented activity, some sensory aids, and a Mel Science Lab per gathering. If you have any ideas or advice, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from the more experienced.

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