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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.

Books about China

As we head toward the weekend, I am pretty satisfied with the work I’ve gotten done on our China unit Study.  But being Lit Mama, I couldn’t leave my readers with just a post about researching for a unit study.  I have to tell you about the books I’ve chosen to go along with our Asia study.

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I am fortunate enough to have a room walled in bookshelves (thanks to my beautiful husband) and I have filled them over the years with a plethora of both fiction and nonfiction.  So the first place I go when I’m looking for literature to add to our curriculum is my own bookshelf.  Good thing I’m always picking up new books to add.  There’s usually something I’m looking for right there, already in my house. (I should catalog these books, but who has time for that?!)

The Star FisherOne of the books I’m going to utilize from my own shelf is The Star Fisher by Laurence Yep.  This is a beautiful novel about a Chinese-American family who comes to West Virginia in 1927 and faces prejudice and persecution.  We’re going to read it so that the Littles can be reminded why prejudice is perhaps the Worst Human Flaw Ever, as well as to gain insight into Chinese culture.

The other book I’ll be using off my own shelf is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Product DetailsSince we’ll be studying Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism as part of Asian history, and the Littles read the complete A.A. Milne line of Pooh books this year, I think it will be a fun and insightful addition to those lessons.  If you’re unfamiliar with this wondrous book, it uses quotes from Pooh and Pooh stories to teach the basic tenets of Taoism.  If you love Pooh at all, you will find yourself not only laughing out loud at his antics, but reflecting on how just how powerful a story Winnie-the-Pooh is.  Good stuff.

My wishlist on Amazon is overflowing with books I want to buy, but I assume we’ll only have time for maybe three before we move on to Africa, depending on their length.  My top pick for a second fiction book is The Road from Home by David Kherdian.  I haven’t read it yet, but it’s a YA book about the Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks.  I think it will add a rich history lesson to our curriculum as well as preparing the Littles to learn about the World War II Holocaust in years to come (hopefully the 2016-2017 school year, but my plans Do tend to change over time).

The Caravan to Tibet by Deepak Agarwal is also on my wishlist, because it is set in India and Tibet (which is a province of China) and looks like a good action story.  The caravan journey is one which was actually undertaken by Indian peoples in times past, and I get the impression there will be lots of descriptions of India and Tibet and the mountains that separate them.  You can’t really ask for more from a book young boys will be reading.

A Royal Diaries book, Lady of Ch’iao Kuo, Warrior of the South, Southern China A.D. 531 by Laurence Yep, rounds out my list of hopefuls.  It tells the story of a young girl who proves herself to be a great leader and military strategist when her world is threatened by war.  I love that it is set in such a long-ago time and the protagonist is female.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions as to which book you would include in a China unit study.  If you have any other suggestions that are near and dear to your heart, please let me know about them, too.  I’m so excited about getting all of this together, and it feels like choosing the lit is one step closer to done!

Love wins,

KT

Heading to China

Planning a unit study can be overwhelming work.  There are so many things to consider, so many subjects to cover.  As I plan our 2015-2016 school year, I’d like to take you along for the ride.  If you are a homeschooling parent who plans your children’s curriculum, following my journey may give you some ideas how to approach your own planning.  If you purchase curriculum, maybe I can give you some good ways to supplement them.

I’ve mentioned before that we are doing the entire school year in unit studies based on Asia, Africa, and Oceania.  The subjects I’m trying to include are geography, history (including garden and art history), art, science (animal and earth), reading, and writing.

When I first started researching China for lessons, the sheer amount of information bogged me down.  China has a thousands-year history compared to the paltry 200 of the United States.  There is so much to choose from in every area.  My enthusiasm petered out as I realized I might never be able to winnow it all down to a week’s worth of lessons.

That is, until I had my Bright Idea.

I’ve written so many research papers in my life I could almost make an income selling them.  I love research papers.  I love the investigation that comes with preparing to write them.  I get excited about learning a subject so well I can write a paper explaining it to others.  I had certain rituals I followed in high school and college that kept me on track and focused.  Utilizing those well-honed tools, I had soon gathered enough information in such an organized manner that I could make it into an interesting introduction into the subject.  What Fun!

So yesterday, as my mind boggled at the influx of all that is Chinese, I realized that I could better organize it in my head if I treat it like a research paper.  So I got out a notebook.  And I started taking notes, just like I did in school.  And the next thing I knew, I was ready to put those notes to the purpose of deciding what to include in the lesson plan and when.

Whew.

If you are planning any lessons for next year and finding yourself bogged down, don’t despair.  Get out a notebook.  Take notes instead of just bookmarking or copy-pasting.  Write down the important aspects of whatever you’re reading.  You can go back and do full research later if you have to, but right now just write in your notebook the main point of each article or book you’re looking through.  Suddenly, I promise, it will start to coalesce in your head.   You can get it organized into main points, and then go back and flesh it out after your brain stops whirling.

I hope it works for you as well as it did for me!  Let me know what you think.

Love wins,

KT

7 Things I Love About the Beginning of Summer

As we begin  our first summer break, I am taking a bit of time to reflect.  The school year is so very busy for me and often weeks go by before I get a chance to stop and just breathe.  I enjoy that busy-ness, but I also look forward to the time when I can slow down a little and look at what we’ve accomplished, compare that with our overall goals as homeschoolers, and look ahead to how I want to proceed in achieving those goals.

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In honor of this breather, I want to tell you why I love the onset of summer.  It’s not just a time of slowing down around here, since we have a small farm, it is also a time of speeding up.  Here are the things I most enjoy:

1. Getting outside from dawn till dusk.

This is the time of Great Unplugging for us as a farm family.  We spend most of our days outdoors from May through mid-October, caring for our animals, garden, and woods.  We refurbish pens and fences, plant, water, fertilize, repeat in the vegetable garden, keep our paths cleared in the woods, plant annuals in our flower gardens, make decisions about trees in the yard, and ensure we are providing homes, food, and the like for the wildlife.  We do not have time or inclination for television or screen time (I mean, besides the obvious work I have to do on the laptop).  My poor mama tried to reach me for a while by phone yesterday.  She had to give up and drive over to our house because I was outside and my phone was… not.  And I love that about summer.  I think people tend to be far too attached to their phones.

(Sorry, Mama.)

2. Baby animals

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We raise golden pheasants, doves, rabbits, ducks, and chickens.  We have years when we raise a pig and/or a cow, and we’ve had our share of goats, but right now we’re concentrating on birds and smaller things.  I can’t leave out the miniature donkey, but since he is a solitary guy, he doesn’t make babies.  Unfortunately.  I bet they’d be cute.  Because the baby rabbits in my barn right now are so cuddly I turn into Elmira from the Animaniacs cartoon.  I just want to grab them all up and squeeze them.  Hard to make money that way, so I resist.  The doves don’t stay little for very long and their mamas are super protective, so we don’t usually get a good look at them until they’re learning to fly, but it’s a precious thing to get to watch them learn.  We’ve not had baby pheasants yet, but who can resist a fluffy, yellow chick or duckling?  Not me.  I bet you can’t either.

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3. Five weeks with no schedule

Although I sometimes miss the structure of the school year, it doesn’t take me long to appreciate the loose, easy days of summer.  My sister says our family moves through the day with a certain indescribable grace, accomplishing many tasks while seeming to have no hint of schedule.  It Is kind of organic, the way we think about the things we want to get done in the morning, then move from one thing to another without worrying about time or how much we’re getting done.  It’s so nice to sit on the front porch in the evening, look out across the pond, and realize how much we’ve accomplished.

4. Family camping trips

Even though we live surrounded by forest, it’s fun to load up the camper and go somewhere new.  Camping is a great way to take a vacation on the cheap, and finding a site near a historical venue gives us a chance to turn vacation into learning time and make up for any snow or sick days we might have taken over the winter.

5. Fishing

I’ve already posted about this, but I Love going fishing with my family.  Fishing gives us time to really relax and enjoy each other and we take advantage of it whenever we find a spare hour or two.

6. Hanging clothes on the line

This is a chore that soothes me like no other.  Getting to stand in the sunshine, letting my mind wander as I pin a load of laundry up, is a welcome chance to reflect every day.  Besides, there is something about the smell of clothes dried in sunshine that has no comparison.  It turns the chore of laundry from tedious to pleasant.

7. Getting to plan for next school year

You might hear me complain about this later, but I always love the novelty of doing new research and figuring out what I will teach the Littles about in the year to come.  Right now, I’m deciding about Chinese history.  There is A Lot of it.  So I’m taking my time, trying to figure out how to divide it up.  Do I pick a major event from each dynasty?  Do I focus on philosophy?  We’re doing art history and garden history next year on top of plain old regular history, so how do I incorporate those?  And should I do music history?  Call me crazy, but I love making these decisions.  Especially since I inevitably learn new things myself while I’m planning.

Because I’m so excited about the planning stage, I thought I’d offer you a freebie that is an old standby for me.  This book report form is what the Littles use to let me know they’re reading on their own and understanding what they read.  Let me know what you think of it.  I can always use input.  Here’s the link:

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Book Report 2014

What do you do with your summer that you’re looking forward to?  I’d love to hear your plans.

Love wins,

KT

Lessons from Dad

IMG_20150429_194007813I wish you could have gone with us to our fishing hole last night.  It was a warm, breezy evening, the sun dropping toward the trees behind us and lighting up the meadow grass till it was golden.  Red-winged blackbirds and martins swooped low over the pond, gathering insects and drinks of water and chattering at us because, in the case of the blackbirds, we were disturbing their nests.  Geese called to each other and a woodpecker drummed against a tree.  The new cattails and rushes were a brilliant green, the pond the steel grey of spring water, the sky perivwinkle with tufts of clouds (my sister calls them ‘Simpson’s clouds’ because they remind her of the opening shot on the TV show).  After a busy day of school and work, the pond called us to come and just breathe.

Fishing is relatively new to me.  My husband introduced me to it about 12 years ago, and I fell in love.  There is something so peaceful in the monotony of casting and reeling, casting and reeling, hooking something that might be a keeper or a throwback, baiting a hook.  There is no time to worry about anything.  There is nothing to do but relax.

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The Littles (and Big) have fished since they were very small.  There are rules when we go fishing.  We only take one phone, in case of emergency, and it stays in my pocket unless I want a picture.  We have to talk quietly.  We each have to do our best to bait our own hooks and remove fish from the hooks when we catch them.  (Sometimes Dad has to help all of us!  I’m not so good at getting a fish off the hook.  Too afraid I’m going to hurt him worse than I already have, especially if he’s small and I know I’m going to throw him back.)

There are lessons to be learned here that wouldn’t have been taught if Martin had not come into my life, because I didn’t know the benefits of fishing before him.  It’s more than just fresh fish on the table, which is delectable enough.  It’s unplugging, unwinding, taking a minute to be by yourself and a minute to just enjoy your family.  It’s taking time to appreciate what nature has to offer and to teach us.

IMG_20150429_193828556_HDRIt’s working alone and working together.  Martin is gentle as he baits Littlest’s hook for him and reminds him how to set the hook.  Littlest glows under the attention. He is a social fisherman, wanting to be close to someone else while he casts and reels.  If he isn’t close by me or his dad, he is glued to Middle’s side, constantly seeking guidance and conversation.  He gets to completely be himself as he fishes in a way that the daily grind sometimes takes from him.

IMG_20150429_193823157_HDRMiddle is an introspective fisherman.  He most often wanders down the bank of the pond to be alone with his thoughts.  He baits his own hooks, removes his own catches, and only speaks or acknowledges us when forced.  I admire this in him.  I watch him sometimes when he is focused, wonder what is going on in his very active little mind.  What adventure is he on that we are not privy to?  Because trust me, that imagination is always working.  I don’t ask.  I let him be him in a way that the daily grind sometimes takes from him.

A fishing trip is one of the best ways for me to enjoy watching how my husband impacts my sons.  His gentle strength, his calm manner, his deference to nature–these are all attributes I want my boys to have.  He teaches them to stand on their own, but also how to work together when they need help.  He shows them how to take advantage of what nature has to offer without taking advantage of nature.  He is a natural science teacher because he knows so much about how the environment works and he talks about it conversationally.  The Littles rarely even realize they’re learning.  He calls me the homeschool teacher, but the truth is he is just as much their teacher as I am.

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I love that fishing season starts as the school year ends.  It is a good transition into natural learning.  And getting lessons from Dad means Mama gets a bit of a break.  And as all my homeschooling darlings know, Mama needs a break by the end of the school year!

Love wins,

KT