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Great Grammar!

edit 1I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned my favorite grammar tool, but I think it’s time I shared it.  I stumbled across it quite by accident and I have never been so grateful for a homeschooling tool.  Grammar is my thing, always has been, like I was born with an inherent understanding of it.  It causes problems in Little School because that understanding makes it hard for me to teach it.  I find myself having those moments of, “Why don’t you just get it?  It’s obvious.”  (Not that I would Ever say that aloud, but just feeling that way makes it hard for me to explain the fundamentals.)

So I bought an advanced grammar book, and for our first semester this year, we went through it page by page.  It helped me explain the things I have no explanation for.  But still, the Littles–especially Littlest–weren’t quite grasping all of the concepts.  Enter Everyday Edit.

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Offered by the informative schooling site, Education World, Everyday Edit offers a free paragraph for each day that has ten errors in it:  spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.  The students’ job is to find those errors and correct them.  We started doing them in January.  Though they have the free print-outs to do their own work on, I write the paragraph on the board and we go through them together. At first it took the Littles quite a bit of time to find the errors. Sometimes I had to explain the reasoning behind the errors.  If I couldn’t do it, I would pull out my handy-dandy Everything You Need to Know About English Homework and remind them. When we were working from the more advanced book, this workbook helped make things simpler sometimes.  In just two months, they’ve increased their speed by three times.  It takes me longer to write it on the board than it does for them to find the mistakes.

I honestly believe it is the best way to teach punctuation.  Once students have the rudiments down, this short, daily practice session helps them understand how it all works.  By now, grammar has become easy and painless.  I can’t recommend Everyday Edit enough.  Give it a try; let me know what you think.

Love wins,

KT

Teaching Poetry in Your Homeschool

All you have to do is look at my homepage–at the lovely poem by Hafiz that stands front and center–to know that I love poetry.  It is among my favorite forms of expression.  How else to describe beauty in so few words?  Poetry can have the power of a photograph–depicting a scene so vividly you can see it, simply because of words.  Narrating a story so succinctly that to read it is like watching a film.  Portraying an emotion that overwhelms the reader as if she were feeling it herself.  No wonder the epic poems of Homer, Virgil, and Dante have been handed down for so many hundreds of years.

Teaching poetry in your homeschool can be a daunting challenge, especially if you dislike or are intimidated by poetry yourself.  However, breaking it down into simple, understandable steps can make it easy on you and fun for your students.  Here are some ideas that can help.

Copywork

When the Littles were still learning handwriting, we started every morning with copywork.  I would write a seasonal poem on the chalkboard, and they would copy it down.  Once they had copied it, we would go through the poem line by line until they understood it.  Sometimes we used simple poems, like those in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, sometimes we would copy poems from the greats–Longfellow, Keats, Dickinson.  Robert Frost has several lilting poems that are perfect for the winter months and easy to translate into phrasing young people can understand.

Poetry for Children

Believe it or not, a great way to introduce your children to poetry is through Any of Dr. Seuss’s books.  Green Eggs and Ham provides a child’s first look at rhyme and meter.  My favorite (and in my opinion, the most brilliant) poet for young people is, of course, Shel Silverstein.  What child can resist a poem called “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes?”

If you have to dry the dishes   A-Light-in-The-Attic1-320x480

(Such an awful, boring chore)

If you have to dry the dishes

(‘Stead of going to the store)

If you have to dry the dishes

And you drop one on the floor–

Maybe they won’t let you

Dry the dishes anymore.

Again, a great and entertaining way to learn about meter and rhyme.  And Silverstein’s books are full of such uproarious poems.  The Littles get them out and read them for fun, never realizing that they are learning what a rhyming poem looks like.

Another superb poet for children is Jack Prelutskey.  I love A Cow’s Outside:

 

         A cow’s outside is mainly hide,

        undoubtedly this leather

        retains a cows insides inside,

        and holds a cow together

 

 

Simply having your children read a selection of these poems and then asking them to mimic them is a great introduction to poetry.

 Language

The most important aspect of poetry is language.  The ‘poetic device.’ Poets are limited in the tools they can use.  They have only Words with which to convey an image, idea, or feeling.  So they have to use the right words, every time.  An introduction to this idea might contain lessons on alliteration and assonance–the repeated sounds of consonants or vowels, respectively.  Onomatopoeia–words that sound like their meanings such as tick, hiss, and gurgle–is one of my favorite poetic devices, and one that littles can have a lot of fun with.  Hyperbole (the outrageous exaggeration of something) can provide a lot of laughter, too.  Metaphors and similes are some of the most important and oft-used devices by poets from all eras.  Personification is also a good language activity to get students’ poetic juices flowing: “The vase stood still until I knocked it off the sill.”  Vases don’t stand; that is personifying.  A great web page to get you started is at Education Portal.

Different Types of Poems

The following poems are far from the many various types to be learned.  They are fun, simple ways to start teaching your students to write their own poetry.  You can get into free verse and sonnets later. 🙂

Acrostic–Uses a word going vertically down the page as the first letter in each horizontal line.  For example:

Littles run round my house

Over and under like a mouse

Valiantly battling deadly foes

Ever erasing all my woes

Diamante–This style has seven lines arranged in a certain structure. It starts out describing one thing and ends up describing another.

Picture

Haiku–Haiku consists of 3 lines and 17 syllables.  Lines 1 and 3 have five syllables and line 2 has seven syllables.  They do not have to rhyme, but a fun challenge can be rhyming lines 1 and 3.

The sky is so blue.

The sun is so warm up high.

I love the summer.

Cinquain–This consists of five unrhymed lines, with each line containing a certain number of syllables.

Line 1: 2 syllables

Line 2: 4 syllables

Line 3: 6 syllables

Line 4: 8 syllables

Line 5: 2 syllables

Limerick–This style has 5 lines with lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyming and lines 3 and 4 rhyming.  It usually starts with “There was a…” and ends with a name, place, or person. Lines 1, 2, and 5 should have 7-10 syllables and lines 3 and 4 should have 5-7 syllables.  The last line should be a little farfetched.

There was an Old Man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
His daughter, called Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

When you use these tools for learning both reading and writing poetry, the idea of it suddenly becomes much less intimidating.  Breaking it down into simple lessons makes it a pleasurable (even funny) experience your children will truly enjoy.

What about you?  What ways have you introduced poetry into your homeschool?

Love wins,

KT

Those Everlasting Tucks (or Using Good Description)

If, like me, you use your children’s reading experiences to enhance their writing, there is no better book to showcase good description than Tuck Everlasting.  Natalie Babbit tells her tale of a family who accidentally drank from a spring of eternal youth with such eloquence that the story seems to float along on a dry, August wind.

Which is just what she intends.  Writing with intention is one of the best lessons a student can learn, and Tuck Everlasting is one of the best books to illustrate the idea.  Let me give you an example from the prologue:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autum, but the first week of Autumn is motionless, and hot.  It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.

Wow.  Sure, we’ve felt that in the first week of August, even noticed it, but how many of us could describe it so vividly in so few words?  I am fascinated by the idea of that week being like the car poised at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the Littles and I discussed it for, oh, about twenty minutes.  It is a rare pleasure for an author to ensconce you so deeply in her setting so quickly.  Just reading and discussing that description can help your student imagine interesting ways to describe things in his own work.  Here’s another, from chapter 9.

The pastures, fields, and scrubby groves they crossed were vigorous with bees, and crickets leapt before them as if each step released a spring and flung them up like pebbles.  But everything else was motionless, dry as a biscuit, on the brink of burning, hoarding final reservoirs of sap, trying to hold out until the rain had returned.

Image result for tuck everlasting images

Can’t you just hear the grass crunching underfoot?  See the swarms of gnats hovering at eye level?  This is what we want to teach our students–to evoke even more images by writing about just a few.  There are lots of way to teach descriptive writing, including lessons on metaphors and similes, using specific, strong words, and, of course, showing and not telling.  But nothing can teach good description better than seeing it in action.

There’s a reason Tuck Everlasting is just as popular today as it was forty years ago.  The idea of living forever is appealing but, as Babbit demonstrates, comes at a price.  The novel helps children understand a little about death and why it is necessary and even about how life should be lived to the fullest because the reality is we have a limited time on Earth.  Guided reading has afforded us with so many conversations that I’m kind of feeling like this is the best book we’ll read this year.  The real reason it’s still so popular and intriguing is that it is so well-written.  The words are beautiful.  It’s as though Babbit took each individual word, stuck it in her mouth, sucked on it, and savored it before putting it to the page.  By doing so, she tells part of the story without words–she puts it in our minds more even than a film would.

If you have a child who struggles writing descriptions, read Tuck Everlasting with her.  Pause every time your heart wells up (and it will) with the amazing feelings evoked by Babbit’s descriptions.  Discuss what she means by her words, how it makes you feel, and see if your student can come up with other colorful ways to phrase the description.  I promise you, it will help.

And, heck, even if I’m wrong, no one should trade the reading of this invaluable book for watching it on film or stage.  There is pure joy in the pages, in the author’s love of language, that just doesn’t translate.

Love wins,

KT

Snow Day!

snow day

We finally got our first snow here, and boy, did we get snow!  More than we’re used to at one time in this area.  So when even all the regional courthouses shut down, we decided it was time for Little School to have snow day, too.  (I know, you’re wondering how I’m keeping from working myself into a lather about getting off schedule… Well, haha, I am not!  But I’ll worry about it later.)  Snow days are for Fun.

It’s brutally cold out there today, so honestly we took the snow day yesterday, when it was a balmy 20 degrees.  As we played in the white stuff, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could hate something so beautiful.  Even though I’m stuck on the farm until it starts to melt off, since my beautiful husband drives the four-wheel-drive to work, there is plenty to appreciate about being forced to stay home.  The days seem to last longer when you’re not worrying about where you have to go next.  And it means more hours with the Littles.  To, you know, build a snow fort just inside the woods where we’re protected from our imaginary enemies.  This snow is very light and powdery, not good for snowmen or snowballs, and we had to really pile it up to make our fort walls instead of packing it like we normally would.  But we got it a couple of feet tall–enough to be able to tell what it was.  We decided we’d wait till week’s end to finish it–when the snow has had a chance to maybe melt a little and re-freeze so it’ll pack better.

How to Make Ice Cream From Snow - Sherri Osborn

We made snow ice cream, because who doesn’t love That?  If you’ve never made it, Family Crafts has a great recipe here.  It’s super simple, and a great treat for littles with cabin fever.  It’s been hard today, looking out the window at all that fun and knowing that the negative wind chill is going to keep us inside.

We filled the bird feeders again yesterday, and the birds seem pretty grateful.snow birds  We can’t help watching them; even though the Great Backyard Bird Count is over, we remain completely fascinated by their antics.  Plus, the Littles have a bet about what new birds may show up since food is seriously scarce right now.  Yesterday, we saw a pileated woodpecker hanging around, but he’s not been back yet today.  So far we’ve seen titmice (is that the plural?), dark-eyed juncos (we call them snow birds because they’re only here in winter), and cardinals, but the snow birds are winning–I think that’s all there are in the picture.

We followed bunny tracks through our persimmon grove and down the main path through the woods.  It was hard work slogging through all that snow, but the Littles’ laughter and excitement, and the sun glinting off the snow, made it worth it.

Besides, taking a snow day is sacred.  Even if you can’t get snowed out of homeschool, it is so dazzlingly fun to have an unexpected day off that it lifts everyone’s spirits.  And even when it’s only 20 degrees, sunshine is the best cure for everything.  So we went back to school this morning refreshed and ready to learn.  So yeah, I’m grateful for snow.  For now.

Love wins,

KT