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When Fiction Teaches History (and why you should use it)

Reading fiction to supplement history lessons is a fun way to help your kids learn

I’m always going on about how well fiction works as a supplement to classroom lessons.  It is amazing what reading a story can do for helping your kids visualize a time period, a science procedure, or a country they’re studying.  And visualization means memorization.  So reading a story about a subject you’re studying can totally help your kids remember what they’ve learned.

Last week, the boys and I had an experience that really validated all my Crazy Book Lady ramblings.

No, really.  Let me tell you about it.
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When You Want to Teach Them Everything

As homeschool mamas, we have a deep desire to do this education thing right by our littles.  We look around at the ever-growing homeschooling world and we see all these choices–curriculum sales, free downloads, dozens of teaching methods–and we want to make them all.  At every turn, we question ourselves:  Should we be using that method or this curriculum??  We look at blogs and tweets and pins and Instagram photos and wonder why our homeschool doesn’t look like another family’s.  And, if you’re anything like me, you want to teach your littles Everything There Is To Know, so they will be fully prepared for the life coming to them.

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The question becomes this.  How do we decide what to teach each year?  You know what a big fan I am of Hirsch’s What Your __ Grader Needs to Know series.  Though I rarely use them these days, I own all of them from kindergarten through 6th grade.  They helped me tremendously when I was starting out, especially when it came to ensuring my Littles were keeping up with their grade level in public school.  That was a thing for me at first.  I knew a family who had lost their kids for six months over a lackadaisical homeschool education, and I would never risk losing my kids for any reason.  However, my Littles surpassed their public school grade levels years ago, and over time I have loosened up.  I’m sure they appreciate it.

Even so, those books are a great place to start figuring out what you’re going to teach for the year.  They can be gotten on the cheap on Amazon, too, so if you feel like you need the help, look into them.

Nowadays, I go about things a little differently.  One of the very first things I do when I start thinking about a new year is create a book list.  Not a text-type list, but a Read-Aloud List.  I try to match a couple up to things we will be learning in other subjects, but mostly I just try to narrow down our options to a doable list.  Because it’s always longer than the school year has days.  Here’s what this year’s looks like so far:

  • Tom Sawyer
  • Huck Fin
  • Animal Farm
  • Ruby Holler
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Number the Stars
  • Holes
  • David Copperfield
  • Great Expectations
  • The Jungle Book
  • Treasure Island
  • Moon Over Manifest
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • The Halloween Tree
  • Brave New World

I am not done making this list.  As you can see, we couldn’t possibly fit all of these into one school year of reading a chapter aloud a day.  But I will keep adding to it until about mid-June, then I will sit down with it and figure out which we’ll read during summer session, and how many we can fit in during September through May.  Then I’ll change my mind.  Then I’ll start making novel studies.  I’ll be slightly mad and extremely busy during that phase.  Think the Mad Hatter on speed.  Yup.

mad hatter

Next, I’ll look over my notes, like I mentioned yesterday.  See, throughout each school year some rabbit trail that they show keen interest in  will make me think, “We should study this in-depth.”  So I’ll write up a new schedule for the next year.  A couple weeks later, the same thing will happen, and I’ll either add to the schedule or change it entirely.  Then I’ll read a blog post that inspires me and think, “No, we should do That.”  And more notes will be made.  Once we’ve completed a school year, I have to wade through all of that and make a concrete plan.

Here are the subjects I would like to cover next year.  In a perfect world, I would be able to fit them all in.

  • Reading (i.e. reading aloud and studying the book together)
  • Africa Unit Study (just like this past year, with the history, science, art, etc., of each country)
  • American history: WWI through Civil Rights Movement
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • Spanish (we’ve had several years of Spanish, but I like them to have at least a little every year)
  • Biology (I have a brilliant college text that has language simple enough for them to grasp and I Really, Really want to read that thing.  We had a Science Question of the Day every day this year, and we cracked that book open often to get a little more in-depth answers.  We loved it.)
  • Long essay/research writing (I would like very much to continue our summer studies throughout the year)
  • Romantic Poetry
  • Shakespeare
  • Art history
  • Learn an instrument
  • Math (of course)

Kind of looks like an AP high school schedule, doesn’t it?

africa-animals

Now, I know from this year that the Africa unit will take a lot of our time.  But I fully believe that learning all about a country makes its location stick firmly in their heads, and I have seen the proof of that this year.  Also, I really want to continue this line of geography, because we’re on a roll now and I think it would be cool for them to have that info to build on when we pick an historical period to study later on.  For instance, studying India and surrounding countries set us up for the Industrial Revolution and colonization studies.  Which is why I’m burning to study that in detail.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to study two or three different historical periods in one year–that could get confusing.  So if we’re doing Africa, the IR and American history will probably have to wait.  But I have all these super cool books on that period of American history and I Really want to use them.  It’s a quandary.

Also, if we’re studying Shakespeare, studying another era of poetry is a bit of overkill, no?  So maybe I should drop that until next year.  And art history would be included in the Africa study, so I can drop that from the list, too.  So I narrow it down some.

  • Africa unit (including history, science, art, garden, and government)
  • Reading
  • Spanish
  • Biology
  • Essay/Research writing
  • Shakespeare
  • Instrument
  • Math

Looks more doable, doesn’t it?  But reading Shakespeare And reading a chapter book?  Is that feasible?  And studying geology and animal science for Africa and Then studying biology?  Is it too much?

Looks like I have some more thinking to do.

At least you can see my thought process.  When you homeschool without a curriculum, you might have more options, but you also have more responsibility.  When you want to teach them Everything, you can make the mistake of over-planning.  Having too much on their plates can kill a school year quicker than anything.

So make a list of all the things you want to teach them.  Then decide which are most important to you, most interesting to them, and if any are similar enough that you can choose one and still be covering the subject.  Before you ever take out your planner, narrow the list down 2 or 3 times.  Then, once you start filling that planner out and realize you’re going to be in school for 12 hours a day, narrow it down again.  Get your littles’ input.  It helps me to find out which of the chosen subjects the Littles would like to study most.  Because you want them to learn Everything, but this is supposed to be fun, right?  Because it’s easier to learn when the learning is fun.

If this didn’t help you at all, I hope that entering the chaos of my mind at least entertained you for a few minutes.  Lord knows it amuses the hell out of me.

And keep in mind, I always end up chucking at least one thing once the school year is in full swing.  I already told you–I’m a plan-a-holic.

Love wins,

KT

 

India in Salt Dough (Another Way to Geography in Homeschool)

It’s been a while since I just rambled about our homeschool.  I so enjoy helping you out with ways to get lit into your own days that I forget sometimes you want to know what’s going on with me and my Littles.  One of the fun things about being a homeschool blogger is sharing homeschool experiences, though, so here’s what we’re up to.

As you may know, we decided back in January to cool our jets and take our time studying Asia this semester rather than trying to squeeze in Asia and Africa both.  It was the best homeschool decision I made this year, hands down.  We have really enjoyed truly diving into the history, culture, and geography of each country, as well as including wildlife and geology into each lesson.  The Littles have both exclaimed on various occasions how much fun they’re having and have even begged to keep studying a country once I feel we’re done because they are enjoying it so much.

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What kind of homeschool mama would I be if I didn’t comply with that?!  Oh. Yeah.  That’s why we do this, right?  To get our kids to love learning and look forward to it and all that yummy goodness.  I mean, one of the thousands of reasons.

We’ve been studying India this week and today is our last day.  I thought it would be fun, since India has a pretty diverse topography, to make a salt dough map of the country.  You know by now how much I love salt dough.  It’s cheap, easy, and fun.  It dries on its own.  It’s malleable.  You can do anything with it.  Throw it at your kids if you want (no, before it hardens).  It won’t hurt them.  But if they’re like my kids, they will throw it back, so be prepared for all-out war.  Which can maybe lead to a lesson on warfare?  See, I’m thinking this through.

You can do this for any country, of course, if you really want your littles to remember where different land forms are.  Here’s what we did:

Basic Salt Dough Recipe:

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

1 cup water

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.  Add the water slowly, stirring as you go.  If the dough gets sticky, add a little more flour.  You want it to resemble play-doh.  Knead the dough for a couple minutes.  Roll it out to remove air or impurities.  Done.

Print out a decent-sized map of India

We used this one.  We printed it, cut it out and put it on a larger piece of paper to use as a guide for our basic landform.

Make your map

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The Littles then used their salt dough to lay out a basic form of India.  Once that was complete, they added the Eastern and Western Ghats, the Himalayas, the Deccan Plateau, the Satpura mountains, the Ganges River, and the Ganges Plain.  They made a little star to mark New Dehli.  Then they painted their creations.

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This project was fun and easy and the Littles left with India’s topography a little more salt-doughed in their heads (instead of cemented.  Get it?).

You would miss my cheesiness if I reined it in.  Admit it.

Love wins,

KT

 

How Reading Counters Meanness

I have a story for you.  It’s a story about a little girl who loved to read.  When she was very young, she saw all of her family–mother, father, brother–always immersed in books.  Her father and brother read wonderful stories to her from those books.  She begged to be taught to read herself and finally her brother taught her because she couldn’t wait until she was in school to get to read stories herself.

austen reading by the window

Years passed.  Friends came into her life.  They laughed at the books she always carried, but they also asked what each story was about.  The girl began to write stories of her own, trying to match the wonder she found in Raggedy Ann stories and Nancy Drew mysteries.  She never stopped writing stories or reading books.  In high school, all her teachers encouraged her to become a writer.  With knowing smiles, they allowed her to read her own book when she should have been paying attention in class.  She discovered new authors without assistance–Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen.  She began to understand history in a way she wouldn’t have otherwise.  When stress or meanness came into her life, she had a place to go, always.  She always had a book.

Last week, my beautiful husband was sick.  He had bronchitis, sinusitus, and an upper respiratory infection.  He was not feeling well at all, and he stayed home from work the whole week.  This meant I ran more than usual, hopping into the car to go to the store and pick up this or that for him.  Apparently it was a bad week for everyone around here, because about 80% of the people with whom I came into contact were grumpy and mean.  Or condescending and mean.  Or annoyed and mean.

high five

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, then you know that I believe that the most important human trait is kindness and that I practice it every moment.  When people are mean to me, I have to admit,  I get confused.  If I am being polite, friendly, kind… why the hell are people responding to me this way?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take a lot of guff, and when a situation calls for strength, I find it.  But if the cashier at the gas station stares a hole through me because I’m taking too long to put my change away, am I supposed to stare back?  Attack her, either verbally or physically?  Well, no, the situation calls for none of those things.  I don’t know what’s going on in her life to make her so impatient–I don’t even know her name–so why would I pull out my cranky card?

get well card

After one particular similar situation, I left the store and climbed into my car.  My brain was still trying to assess the event and I was feeling confused and a little hurt and a little offended and a little like, “Why the f— did I come out in public again?”  I put the keys in the ignition and looked down at the console.  There sat my Kindle.  Ready to be turned on, the text-to-speech option almost blinking at me with its serenity.  And I smiled.  And I forgot the meanness inside the store as I remembered I had a beautiful story to listen to on the way home, and I didn’t know that woman.  She didn’t even know my name.  In an hour she will have forgotten me.  In 2 minutes, I would forget her.  I turned on my Kindle, put the car in reverse, and smiled as that wonderful robotic voice began to read to me.

I had a book.  I always have a book.

This.  This is why we want to engender a love of reading in our children.  Sure, there are other reasons–to promote literacy and good speech, to help them learn about the world, to give them knowledge.  But the single best thing about a book is that it takes you away.  I’ve said it before, but I fully believe that teaching our littles to love reading gives them a healthy form of escapism and could save them from trying other, more dangerous ways to escape.  Sure, I could have come straight home and poured a stiff drink to shake off that incident.  It probably would have relaxed me.  But by the time I got home I would have been stewing in it for 15 minutes, blowing it up in my head, letting my feelings hurt even more.  I might have needed 2 drinks at that point. haha

reading escape

 

Instead, I had immediate succor.  Something that relaxed me and made the incident seem as trivial as it really was.  We want that for our kids, don’t we?  Because no matter how much we want to and how hard we try, we can’t protect them from all the mean people in the world or all the temporarily mean moods.

There is nothing more relaxing than falling into a good story and staying there until your brain is ready to deal with your problems.  So read to your littles.  Read in front of your littles.  Have your littles read to you.  Read, read, read.

Some day, when they’re pulling away from the store with an oncoming headache, they will thank you.

Love wins,

KT