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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

Midway through National Reading Month

You may or may not know that March is National Reading Month.  Of course, you know the Lit Mama, Every month is National Reading Month at my house.  But March is a great time, beginning with the celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday on the 2nd, to encourage littles to get in the reading habit.

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This month encourages us to remember the value and joy of shared reading, of reading alone, of utilizing our libraries, and of trying a new genre or author.

There are a great many activities to celebrate National Reading Month.  Here are just a few:

1. Visit your local library each week and pick up new books for your littles to enjoy.

2. If you don’t already do so, pick a chapter book and read aloud with your littles for fifteen minutes a day.

3. Hold a book club with your littles, assigning a set number of chapters for each week followed by a discussion of the chapters at week’s end.

4. Set up a contest where the little who reads the most books by the end of the month wins a prize–a fancy bookmark, a book light, or a new book.

5. Pick books with settings in different countries and have a ”read around the world” month.

6. Find an appropriate audiobook to listen to in the car while running errands.

7. For older littles, break out your old picture books and have a carefree day of easy reading!

8. For those not yet reading, use picture books to have fun phonics lessons and letter recognition.

9. Donate well-loved books to less fortunate children so they have the same opportunities to learn and explore your littles have had.

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If you do a Google search, you’ll soon find that there are other months designated as National Reading Month–National Family Reading Month in May, National Book Club Reading Month in October…. Actually, I saw stuff for just about every month.  I like March because of the Seuss tie-in (honestly, who truly does not like Green Eggs and Ham?).  But you could just follow our lead and make every month National Reading Month.  Your littles will be better off for it and even two weeks of reading aloud 15 minutes a day can lead to a habit.

Celebrate reading.  Remind your littles there’s nothing better in the whole world.  All hail the Great Seuss.  And if you have any other ideas about how to recognize Reading Month, please share them with me.

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?”

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(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.

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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