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KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys. Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.

Oliver’s New Twist

dickens dictionary outside                               dickens dictionary inside

I have extolled the virtues of reading aloud with our children several times in the last couple months. I have even mentioned that the Littles and I are reading Oliver Twist together this year. But today I found yet another reason having a read-aloud class is beneficial.

I fell in love with Charles Dickens when I first read Great Expectations at about the same age as Middle. I remember discovering the decades-old hardcover in the middle school library, but I don’t remember what in me made me decide to pick it up and check it out. I think, at the time, I was fascinated by the old cloth and thread binding of such books. I didn’t know what Great Expectations was about and if I had heard of Dickens before it was through seeing different versions of A Christmas Carol on film.  Even so, from the moment I opened the first page, I was hooked.  Ensconced.  Enraptured.  I have read a Dickens novel every year since, at Christmastime, which seems like a fitting time to dive into the world of mid-1800s England and lose myself among such brilliantly written pages.  I know more about the British government and the plight of the poor and Victorian England than I really need to.  And I never tire of it.   And reading Dickens is always like slipping into a warm blanket with an even warmer cup of coffee.

So I wanted my Littles to know that feeling.  Last year, when they were in 3rd & 5th grade, we read A Christmas Carol and made the dictionary pictured above (it is actually quite long, because if there’s one basic thing any reader can take away from Dickens, it is one kick-butt vocabulary).  They understood it! and enjoyed it so much that I decided to read my Christmas Dickens with them from now on.  Oliver Twist has 50-plus chapters, and since we read a chapter a day, we had to start early to make sure we were reading it for Christmas.  We’ve now been reading for 4 weeks—finished chapter 20 today—and the Dickens Dictionary has grown exponentially in that time.  But today—oh, I do love when something new comes from reading literature—Middle was reading aloud (they alternate pages) and he read this line:

The latter recognition was uttered with just enough embarrassment to imply a doubt of its reception..;

Except he read imply like it rhymed with simply.  A reasonable mistake.   I was thrown back to the years (about 10 of them, to my reckoning) after I first read the word vehement.  Probably in a Dickens novel when I was close to Middle’s age.  I pronounced it vee-hem-ent rather than ve-a-ment.  For 10 years.  At least.  And when someone corrected me, he did it in front of a crowd of people.  He thought I had called him a behemoth.  It was super embarrassing.  So immediately upon hearing Middle’s mispronunciation, I gave him a gentle smile and kindly told him how to pronounce imply.  And tucked it into the teacher file in my head to watch for such easily mispronounced words and make sure both Littles know how to say them right.  To save them any embarrassment in their twenties.

See, having a well-read mind automatically brings a great vocabulary into one’s life.  Being well-spoken is something we have to learn.

What about you?  Have you come across a new learning tool when reading aloud with your little ones?  If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Love wins,

KT

Lessons Out of Nowhere

A couple of years ago, the Littles and I did an in-depth course in astronomy. I am constantly amazed by the things I still have to learn, and that course changed the way I look at stars on clear nights forever. One of the coolest things we found during the class was www.earthsky.org. The site has a wealth of information on it, as well as amazing pics and videos to educate about both the Earth and the heavens above us. We signed up to receive their email updates and I still read them religiously every time I get one.

Today’s lead story was about rumors floating around (apparently pretty thickly) that this December is going to bring 3-6 days of total darkness on earth due to a solar storm that was going to kick up some pretty thick dust and debris of its own. The rumor racing around the internet claims that NASA had officially predicted the storm.

Obviously, something that big would be reported more than just in your junk email or facebook page, let alone on some of the hokey websites floating around out there, just waiting to snag you in their black holes of lies and near-truths. Why some people always assume that a thing is true just because it’s in the media is beyond me.

But there are some good learning opportunities here.   For one thing, this rumor and earthsky’s article debunking it present a chance to talk to your kids about the importance of internet safety, which websites they can visit and trust, and how to debunk such rumors themselves (a little research is usually a quick fix. I can’t tell you how much I prayed that actor Paul Walker’s death was an internet rumor).

This also provides a chance for us to teach our kids the truth about the media they are barraged with constantly in this age. How often the media focuses on bad things to stir up excitement and get ratings or readers. How sometimes the media focuses on one story to keep our minds off something else. How media is run by conglomerates that sometimes have their own self-interests at heart. How some venues are leftist or rightist and some are just extreme. How anyone can start an internet page and we should pay attention to the source of our information. And how as responsible citizens of a free country, we should do their best to find out every side of a story before forming an opinion.

I’ll talk to the Littles about both of these things after we share a good laugh over the latest apocalypse. Of course, they would be more interested if zombies were involved.

If you can think of another lesson to be learned from these hoaxes and internet rumors, please let me know what you come up with. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Love wins,

KT

Priorities… Schmiorities?

When I started this blog it was my intent (and, believe it or not, still is) to make it a priority in my life. It is meant to be a jumping-off point for bigger things. But, like all homeschool moms, I tend to get bogged down at the beginning of the school year. All my careful planning over the summer gets tested. Some things work. Some are GLARING fails. I have to scramble around to make sure our classes are following my vision while making sure the Littles are staying engaged and even entertained so they’re actually learning something. This year I discovered our intended art history book was more technical than my original skimming of it implied and neither artistic nor historical enough. So I am using it as a jumping off point to COMPLETELY PLAN our art history class each week instead of following the notes in my teacher planner. Umm… my friends and husband will tell you I have enough to do without stressing about that week to week.

I am a Mama who envisions grand things for her children’s futures. My homeschool is not for the faint-hearted. And sometimes, I just want to be faint-hearted. Because the slightest deviation from the fastidiously planned school day can send me into a tailspin of worry and guilt. Am I doing enough? Are they learning enough? Have I got them far enough ahead of the curve that we can afford to lose this one day of math? Am I cheating them because a doctor’s appointment or other priority made us cut the day short? How will we make it up if we get a chapter behind in Oliver Twist? When will we find the time?

Any homeschooling mama will tell you these are common worries. Some of my colleagues even laugh at me for them. “Your kids are happy and healthy,” they say. “So long as you treat every experience as a learning experience, you are schooling them.”

I tell myself that. I don’t listen.

So actually making time to do something for myself (i.e. this blog, Zumba class, a trip to the grocery store ALONE), hasn’t been a priority for me for four years. And I don’t see it being a priority until Littlest is graduated and off to college. I can’t even picture any of those things ever being more important than sitting down to plan art class.

With that in mind, I’m making myself a promise. Because this blog and its promise are important to me. I’m going to sit down with my family and discuss a way to make this one thing one of my priorities. Because if I don’t teach my kids to take their commitments (even those they make to themselves) seriously, why bother teaching them at all?

What do you think? What’s one thing in your life you would love to make a priority just for you?

Love wins,

KT

Using My Creative Noggin

So I’m going to deviate from lit posts today to talk about something I’m very excited about this year. GEOGRAPHY!! We’re studying U.S. geography in school this year, and our fall/winter schedule gives us just enough time to do two states a week with some reminder stuff at the end of the year. I found some fun-tastic worksheets and notebooking pages at a couple of the homeschool sites I follow, including www.layersoflearning.com and Homeschool Bits at www.currclick.com . Plus, I got a frabjous ebook set (one for students, one for the teacher) called Fifty States and Where to Find Them by Kathy Jo DeVore at www.barefootmeandering.com that is chock full of info! But as great as those are, they aren’t what’s got my blood pumping.

image of our homeschool geography scrapbook front coverimage of map in our homeschool US geography scrapbook

I knew last year when we completed world geography that we would be moving on to our beautiful States next. So I got to thinking—what could I do that would really give the Littles a hands-on look at each individual state and really concrete each one in their minds? (Short of packing up the camper and spending a year or two on the road, I mean.)  First, I wanted to concentrate on one state at a time and really really learn it before moving on to the next. Thus, this year’s new schedule was conceived. One state on Tuesday, one on Thursday, with a couple of hours to learn about each. But then… (drum roll, please) I realized that every state has a tourism department. And those tourism departments probably send out those magazines telling all about the states. And those magazines are full of pictures! The idea for a U.S. State Scrapbook was born!

image of homeschool US geography scrapbook maps

I got hold of some big binders, made covers, added dividers by region and some construction paper to glue pics on. We started in New England and not only did we read about Maine, Vermont, etc., in a few books and do some worksheets and notebooking, but the Littles had a blast cutting their fave pics out of the travel guide and adding them to their scrapbook. And it is truly working. They are now little fonts of information about all of the New England states, and they’re able to keep them straight. I have to admit, I feel a little bit genius about this one.

Image of an inside page of our homeschool US geography scrapbook

It’s a lot of mail to get. And if you’re an even bigger environmental freak than me, it is a lot of paper. To get a travel guide or guides from all fifty U.S. states requires a storage bin to keep them in. A big one. And Massachusetts IS a bigger enviro-freak than me; they don’t even have print guides anymore. So those pics you’ll have to print off if you want them from their online guide. But ALL the guides are free. And the fun learning that comes with it is priceless.

If you’re looking for a super-awesome way to get the states separate in your homeschoolers’ heads, this is it. I had to share it once I saw what a success it was. I hope it inspires you to have a successful and creative year, too.

Also, because I can’t resist a good book-plugging, the books we are using are National Geographic Kids United States Atlas, The United States of America (A State-by-State Guide) by Millie Miller and Cyndi Nelson, and Don’t Know Much About the 50 States by Kenneth C. Davis.

Love wins,

KT