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Teach Them to be Wordsmiths

As we meander through Asia this year, I have happened upon a book that is perfect for our purposes, quite by accident.  I knew this book existed, but it hadn’t occurred to me to include it in our studies.  Fortunately, the Fates were with me, and we have begun reading Memoirs of an English Governess at the Siamese Court by Anna Leonowens.  The book the King and I is based on.  Fabulous.  I got it for a couple bucks for Kindle, and since the Littles’ tablets are hooked to my Kindle account, we can all read along together.

King and I

When I came across it, I had no idea the luxe world of words I was getting us into.  But I am quite satisfied with the result.  See, Anna wrote her memoirs in the mid-19th century.  The century that gave us Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, and the Romantic poets.  A time when the only form of long-distance communication was letter writing and authors were True Wordsmiths.

Credit line (HTML Code): © Iurii Sokolov | Dreamstime.com Title: Old love letter Description: Love letter and antique quill on a black background Photo taken on: March 26th, 2010 ID: 13697480 Level: 3 Views : 389 Downloads: 5 Model released: NO Content filtered: NO Keywords (Report | Suggest) fashioned pen paper nostalgia copy old history handwriting love quill romance calligraphy letter manuscript antique mail reading retro writing memories

The definition of a wordsmith is a skilled user of words.  One of the reasons Charles Dickens is my Dead-Author Boyfriend is that he was, indeed, a skilled user of words.  Luxurious, meaningful, true words.  The kind that rarely get used in today’s mass market writing world.  The kind that a lot of kids today have replaced with acronyms and misspellings.  I love reading 19th century books because I am taken back to a time when words meant something, when they could be truly tasted and savored as they were read.  I want my Littles to have that same experience.

Anna Leonowens was a true wordsmith.  Take a look at this sample in which Leonowens is describing her first view as her ship leaves the ocean to enter the Meinam River:

On the other [bank], which at first I took for a floating shrine of white marble, is perhaps the most unique and graceful object of architecture in Siam; shining like a jewel on the broad bosom of the river, a temple all of purest white, its lofty spire, fantastic and gilded, flashing back the glory of the sun, and duplicated in shifting, quivering shadows on the limpid waters below.  Add to these the fitful ripple of the coquettish breeze, the burnished blazonry of the surrounding vegetation, the budding charms of spring joined to the the sensuous opulence of autumn, and you have a scene of lovely glamour it were but vain impertinence to describe.

Vain impertinence, indeed.  Have you ever read a description that took you Straight There any better than that?  This.  This is what I want my Littles to learn about Asia.  How it inspires such words.

The other thing I hope they learn from reading this book is how to use words to say what they really mean.  There’s nothing I hate worse than when I use a word that means what I’m saying and a listener acts like I’m the idiot for using it, when he is the one who doesn’t understand it.  Let’s keep it simple and say I use the word, ‘hulking.’  And someone says, “What the hell does that even mean?”  And I say, “You know, big and imposing.”  And they say (condescendingly), “Why didn’t you just say big?”  Well, because I didn’t mean big.  I meant hulking.  And how am I the idiot here?

Hmm.  Kind of got off on a rant of my own.

My point is, if you want to teach your homeschoolers about Really Using the Language, you can’t go wrong with introducing them to 19th century novels and autobiographies.  If you feel they aren’t quite ready for Leonowens, try Black Beauty or Alice in Wonderland.  (Alice, by the way, is also a great way to introduce them to way authors can invent words that become part of everyday language.)

I mean, is it nerdy to be a wordsmith?  Maybe.  Some of my friends certainly tell me it is.  But I would rather my Littles at least know how to be a wordsmith than grow up thinking BTW is a word.  Right?

We forget, in this visual world, that words have power.  It is up to us to give our littles the tools to be able to use them.  So read lots of 19th century books.  It will give your littles a hulking vocabulary.

Love wins,


P.S.  I just found this great blog called Small World at Home that has an 11-part lesson plan on wordsmithery.  Check it out if you want to add writing lessons to cement what your littles are reading.  I didn’t go all the way through it, but Sarah offers some great ideas.

I Heart Homeschooling

I know I’ve raved about homeschool on this blog since day one.  I’ve told you why I love it, how I love it, and why I think it’s what’s best for my kids.  I’ve told you my reasons for pulling my littles from public school, and that it never occurred to me that I could do so with Big, though I ardently wish it had.  Well, this week has given me the proof I needed to validate all that raving, and it’s all because of trivial pursuit.


We love board games in this house, as you may have figured out by now.  We are huge proponents of family game night, and it can pop up any day of the week, usually several times.  We are fortunate that every one of us truly likes every one of the other family members, and we spend more time together than any other family I know.  Playing, laughing, cooking together, rambling around the farm… We’d rather be with each other than anybody.

Board games are great fun, but they are also great learning tools.  My personal favorites are those that involve truly using your brain–brain skill–like Scrabble, Cranium, and trivia games.  I kid you not, I have six different versions of trivial pursuit on our board game shelf, 2 versions of Cranium, and several other trivia games to boot.  Even so, I never thought about how trivia games could show me just how much my littles are learning in homeschool until my beautiful husband picked up a video game this week that has several board games on it–Scrabble, Monopoly, Risk, and Trivial Pursuit.

Now I don’t usually play video games.  But this is Trivial Pursuit!

Our family game table

Our family game table


So we sat down two nights in a row to play.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. My littles are Wicked Smart.
  2. Littlest knows just as much about the world as Middle and Big.
  3. It’s starting to really be a challenge to beat them.
  4. I am super-competitive when it comes to showing off my brain skill. (Okay, so that was the one bad thing.)

Playing a hardcore game of Trivial Pursuit with them was not only fun, it gave me a chance to see what they know outside the classroom setting.  It was like giving them a test.  And they aced it, with flying colors.

more family games

See, one of the reasons I am unhappy with the current public school system is the constant cramming of facts for test prep that leaves kids so full they can’t possibly remember it all long-term.  There is a lack of substance in the current system that wasn’t there when I was in school 640 years ago.  So I approach homeschool from that angle.  You may remember that I had planned this year to be a series of geography unit studies about Asia and Africa.  Because I didn’t want my littles to just memorize a bunch of maps.  I wanted them to learn about each country as they learned its place in the world so they would have more of a point of reference than just boundary lines on paper.  I want them to remember this stuff, not forget it in 3 years.  You may also remember that I almost chucked the whole thing because the planning process (coupled with my crazed perfectionism) was arduous at best.  Then we studied China according to the plan, and the Littles loved it so much I decided to keep going.  Well, here we are a couple of weeks into the new semester and we’re still studying Asia.  I had begun to panic, trying to figure out when in the hell we were going to be able to move on to Africa.

Then it hit me.

We so do not have to do Africa this year.  I can relax and enjoy Teaching Them Everything about Asia, because we will still be homeschooling next year, and that will be the time for Africa.  So I can relax and Teach Them Everything about that, too.  It was an epiphany.  I hate to admit it, but I was kind of trying to cram.  I learned this week why I have to stop myself from doing that.

Out-of-the-box schooling (and a shot of color to chase those winter blues)

Out-of-the-box schooling (and a shot of color to chase those winter blues)

Those games of Trivial Pursuit showed me that my Littles are truly learning from me.   They are retaining information from as far back their first year of homeschool, and I mean information their dad and oldest brother didn’t even know.  They were kicking ass and taking names at Trivial Pursuit–in every topic.

It. Rocked.

I was one proud mama.

Here’s the thing.  Homeschooling gives us a chance to use literature, projects, field trips, and other out-of-the-box teaching tools to help our littles Truly Learn every subject they take on.  It gives us a chance to teach them at a higher level than public school would, or to slow down and make sure they have really grasped a concept before moving on.  My crush on this experience gets stronger every day, but never so much as when I see the proof of its benefits.

And I don’t even have to give them a test.

What about you?  What evidence have you seen that homeschooling is working well for your kids?  I’d love to hear all about it.

Love wins,


YA Book Review: Paperglass by A.R. Ivanovich


Paperglass by A.R. Ivanovich

Paperglass is the second installment of The War of Princes series by Ivanovich.  Yeah, I reviewed the first one last week, but I am binge-reading this shit, so you’re going to hear all about it.  These books are incredible.  You know how sometimes you read the first book in the series and then the next one isn’t quite as good and it just gets worse from there?  These are so not those books.  They actually get better as you go, like The Hunger Games (books, not films-the reverse is true with the films) or the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield.  Paperglass is even faster-paced than Haven, and the danger was more palpable since I already knew the dangers of the Outside world.  Can I just say my heart pounded nearly the entire time I was reading because I was well aware the whole time of the tightrope Katelyn was walking?  How often do you get that from a book?!  Only when it is done extremely well, and Ivanovich has the stuff.

In this chapter of Katelyn’s story, Haven has been threatened and Katelyn has no choice but to venture back Outside in order to prevent a catastrophe.  Rune and Dylan are both back to make her life complicated, albeit in different ways.  I love Dylan’s character–the reader is never any more sure about him than Katelyn is.  He’s superbly imagined and written.  You couldn’t ask for a better herring.  Katelyn’s love life follows an obvious but important thread, too, and you have to cheer about it because it never gets trite.  Her mission to protect Haven is tangled by meeting the Margrave (a high power in the Outside army) and brushes with the Prince of Shadows.  Ivanovich’s world is believable, lush, and complex, and her characters are the same.  You can’t ask for more than that in a fantasy for any age.

Like last week, if I give you too much I’m giving away the story.  Buy these books.  They’re relatively cheap for your Kindle, and you will not regret it.  I’m in the middle of the third installment now, so I’ll let you know next week if the series continues to rock.  (Here’s a hint–Hell yeah, it does.)

Love wins,


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Story Time: Hildilid’s Night

Learn all about nighttime with free printables, crafts, and recipes for Story Time: Hildilids Night

We’ve done a couple story times that involved snow (both The Mitten by Jan Brett and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen), so let’s move on to that other resident of winter–nighttime.  Because we all know night lasts for about 3 years every day during January.  And if you’ve never read this great book by Cheli Durán Ryan–and illustrated in pen and ink by the great Arnold Lobel–then you’re in for a real treat.

The best lesson you and your littles can glean from this book is one of tolerance.  You may be wondering where I’m going with this, but it’s a really good book for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (or as Littlest calls it, Milk Day–get it? MLK-Milk?).  Hildilid hates night, so she hates all things associated with night-“bats and owls and moles and voles and moths and stars and shadows and sleep.”   She tries a ton of ways to get rid of night, but night will not go away.  It really gives you a good place from which to jump start a tolerance conversation.  Hildilid is going to have to learn to live with night, just like we should all learn to live with one another’s differences.  So that’s lesson number one.  I mean, you’re welcome.  There’s a lot more fun stuff to do with this book, so stay with me.
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