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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.

Life Lessons from The Hobbit

Image result for the hobbitWe are nearing the end of The Hobbit.  We are lamenting the fact.  We all want to stay in Tolkien’s world a bit longer.  Littlest even suggested reading The Trilogy outside of school.  Together, but without the study guide.  I am considering it:  A study guide would help deepen their understanding.  Would they enjoy it more if they didn’t have to answer questions after each chapter?  Would they enjoy it less if I didn’t guide them into thinking about the story more deeply?  Could we do it book-club style?

Whatever–I am all about reading Tolkien for any reason, so I will probably cave.

One of the questions I asked my Littles for today’s chapter of The Hobbit was, “Why did Bilbo give the Arkenstone to Bard?”  If you know the story, from either the book or the films, you know this a pivotal point in the book.  Their answers were many.  And short.

“He wanted to help Bard with the trade.”

“He was weary of being in the mountain.”

“He didn’t want Thorin to starve.”

All true answers.  But I wanted something deeper.  So I kept asking, “Why?”  What purpose could Bilbo be serving in helping Bard with the trade and keeping Thorin from starving and even getting out of the mountain?  They came to it, eventually, without any statements from me.  Just continually leading questions.

Bilbo was trying to save everybody.  This tiny being who once believed he had no adventurous spirit or courage and had been through so many tests of his valor… In the end, he just wanted to save everybody the strife he saw coming if Thorin and Bard continued their stand-off.  Why?

There are a couple of true life lessons I want my Littles to leave home having ingrained in their beings.  Be Kind.  Stand Up For What Is Right.  (In fact, my favorite thing about Disney’s live-action Cinderella is that Ella’s mother’s final advice to her daughter is, “Be kind and have courage.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.)

So I told the Littles as we discussed Bilbo’s motives, “Tolkien is showing us what a true hero does.  He doesn’t just rush into battle, sword blazing, haloed by courage.  He is kind. To everyone.  He stands up for what is right.  It doesn’t always take a battle to do that.”  I haven’t been able to drive that lesson home so well since we studied Samuel Adams and the Revolutionary War.

When we are kind, we put a good and light energy into the world that pays both forward and backward.  Especially if we are kind for no reason.  One example I set is that I always read the name tags of people working in the public (cashiers, fast food clerks, etc.), and call them by name when speaking to them.  Invariably, they smile.  Granted, they are also kind back to me, which gets me better service, but that is not the reason I take the time to read their names and use them.  I do it because I have worked such jobs and I know how it can start to feel like people are not really seeing you as a human being.  And I don’t ever want to make another person feel that way.

When we have the courage to speak up for what we believe in and take action to support those beliefs, we push back against tyranny.  My Littles understand that each person is an individual with individual thoughts and beliefs, and that we all have the right to those things.  So they don’t pressure others to think like them, and they don’t sit back and allow others to pressure them into behaving in a way that goes against their own beliefs.  It’s a great weapon against peer pressure that will help them throughout their lives.

I was glad that here in our final week of school we got to have such a great discussion about something so important to me.  I guess that means I owe even more gratitude to Tolkien than I previously thought.  I don’t mind.  I can’t wait to see what he teaches us in The Trilogy.

Be Kind.

And Have Courage.

Love wins,

KT

Make an Awesome Novel Study Guide

Speaking of letting them lead, we were supposed to round out our literature year with Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  We were all set to read it, having finished The Story of Dr. Dolittle.  Then my Littles surprised and humbled me once more by asking, “Mama, can we read The Hobbit instead?”

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I was raised on The Hobbit.  Tolkien was a household hero.  So for my Littles to actually request the book made me nothing short of ecstatic.  I wanted them to really get the full effect of the novel–light (good) versus dark (evil), and secret maps, lost treasures, fantastic characters and courage beyond imagining.  So this called for no ordinary study guide.

IMG_20150421_092911738It called for this.  Not just a folder or binder with some notebooking pages and worksheets thrown in, but a study guide that made them feel like part of the adventure.  So the first thing I did was Google a map of Middle Earth and Thorin’s map showing the way to the Lonely Mountain.  I printed them out and we tea-stained them to make them look old.  We also tea-stained a bunch of lined paper and some worksheets we would be using.  I got out my handy-dandy woodburner and burned the edges of the maps and of the folders (in this case, I three-hole punched manilla folders because they were already the right color), and the Littles glued their maps of Middle Earth to the front.

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We glued Thorin’s map into the inside cover.  That way as the company travels to the Lonely Mountain, we can follow their path on both maps.  We used binder rings to add the notebooking paper and worksheets to the folder because I’ve found they are easier to use than brads when you’re dealing with these types of folders.

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We didn’t have a lot of worksheets for this guide, but I love to have them keep a character list, especially for books with this many characters.  (I mean, the awesome thing about The Hobbit is that there are pretty much 15 main characters.  15.  Sure, some of the dwarves and even Gandalf get relegated to minor characters throughout the book, but you still have to keep them straight in your head.)  I made this simple worksheet, we tea-stained it and burned the edges… Voila–a worksheet that fits our theme.

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As usual, we mostly use this folder for answering daily questions about our reading and doing fun writing exercises like making up dialogues between two characters who don’t ever really speak in the book.  The Littles enjoy it more when they know they helped create such a cool place to keep their work.  And Littlest Cannot Wait till we’re done reading so he can use his maps for play.  With only 2 weeks of school left, he doesn’t have long.

Making this kind of study guide is easy and fun and adaptable to almost any adventure story.  In fact, we did one for Robinson Crusoe two years ago that was made to look like a journal.  If I can dig one out, I’ll take a pic and post it for you later in the week.  In the meantime, keep making literature fun!

Love wins,

KT

A Little Learning for the Lit Mama

I learned two new words this week.  It’s cool because it doesn’t happen very often anymore (unless it’s a medical term or foreign language), so I always share the word with my whole family.  Since these two words were from completely different sources and yet oddly related, I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is petrichor.  Know what it is?  (I didn’t even know there was a word for it, let alone that it was petrichor.)

It means ‘the smell of rain.’  I learned this today on the earthsky website, which remains one of my favorite internet discoveries.  You know, that smell when you suddenly know it’s going to rain any minute?  It’s caused by an oil that is released from the Earth into the air before rain begins to fall.  How cool is that?

When Middle was much smaller, we were leaving for a field trip one morning and as he got into the car he said, “It smells like fog.”  I loved the idea of that–the world smelling like fog.  I told him I had always been able to smell when rain was coming, and maybe he could smell when fog was coming.  Turns out, we were both smelling petrichor.  The word comes from the Greek petra (stone) and ichor (the ethereal blood of the gods).  Heavenly Blood in the Stone?  I love language.

IMG_20150416_203452513_HDRThis cool picture is actually the view from my front porch last night.  This fog popped up with no warning, no petrichor or creeping.  Not there one minute, there the next.  My beautiful husband commented that he had seen this movie, and it didn’t turn out good for anyone.  The whole while I was snapping pics and thinking of the word I had learned earlier in the week.

Deliquesce.

Isn’t that delicious?  Some of you may already know it, I had never heard it.  Deliquesce, as in ‘dissolve into liquid.’  I read it in the novel I’m reading, Archimedes Nesselrode by Justine Graykin, a lovely, magical book that I am completely enamored with and hope will never end.  The line was, “I, myself, might simply deliquesce like a bubble on a summer breeze!”  Again, with language, especially when well-used.  Deliquesce like a bubble on a summer breeze?  I don’t know about you, but that’s how I’d like to go.  I was laying in bed reading and I called for the Littles to get out of bed and come and hear this word.  They liked it as much as I did, and Middle even decided to make it a move in one of his video games.

Everything is a learning experience in this house. Even for me.  So I dare you to use these words today.  If you live nearby, you should have no problem finding a chance to use petrichor.  And everyone should say deliquesce every single day.  Just because it’s fun.

Love wins,

KT

Let Them Lead

When I was a little girl, there were lots of things I wanted to be when I grew up–mainly a writer, but also a detective, a librarian, a professional dancer, a singer/guitarist in a rock band… Well, you can see my interests were many and varied.  I had teachers who encouraged my writing as a skill, but no one really ever took any of my dreams too seriously.  No one told me that back then, all you had to have to be a librarian was a high school diploma.  By the time I decided to go for it, I had to have college and certification to be eligible for the job.   No one Ever told me the steps I might take to become a detective.  And by the time I got to high school, the constraints and social tiers of public school had me just letting go of most of those dream balloons and watching them float away into the sky.

Not writing, of course.  I can’t Not write.  Don’t have that in me.

Anyway, when Middle approached me about 6 months ago and said he wants to be a video game designer when he grows up, I realized I had an opportunity to make his life different.  So I found a wonderful unit study from The Old Schoolhouse called “I Wanna Be a Video Game Designer” from the WannaBe Series. I printed it out, hole-punched it, put it in a binder (you know my love of binders!) with some school paper, and told him to read the unit and start writing down his ideas.

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I swear, that kid never goes Anywhere without that binder.  He has come up with ideas for 3 video games, and has notes on everything from levels to characters to skill trees to settings.  He talks about designing constantly.  He reads magazines and e-articles about designing.  We’ve researched the best degree to aim for in order to be a designer.  He has started to learn coding, though it has been a bit of trial and error, since the little I know about coding comes from writing this blog.

But here’s the thing.  Today, my favorite thing about homeschooling is that whatever my Littles decide they’re interested in, they can learn about it.  Even if I don’t know much about it, I can find resources and peers who can point me in the right direction.  Even if I’m not remotely interested in it, I can act enthusiastic and encourage them to follow that dream to fruition or till it dies of its own accord.  I can set them up to learn extracurricular-ly or I can make it part of our curriculum like I did with chemistry.  They have the time to put real effort into it and as long as they have Mama being their constant cheerleader, they truly can do Anything they put their minds to.

I can’t wait to play Middle’s first video game, even though I don’t even like video games. I believe he will design one. ( If you saw his borderline obsessive behavior, you would too. haha)

Sometimes, as homeschool parents, it is our job to sit back and listen.  Find out what our littles want out of life, even if they are only 10 and 12, or 6, or 3.  Let Them lead us.  The absurd fact that we’re grown-ups does not always make us right.  It doesn’t even make us smarter.  If we listen, we can encourage, and if we encourage, we blow our littles’ lives wide open.  The possibilities are truly endless.  And they don’t have let go of those strings and let their dreams float away.  They cried when they lost balloons when they were small.  Do you think it feels any different to them now?

Love wins,

KT