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Cuddle Up With Christmas Classics

Christmas Classics to read as a familyTo me, there is nothing cozier than a warm house, Christmas lights, a snuggly family, and a good story.  And Christmas stories are the best, especially the old ones that stick with you forever and ever, amen.

I’m always telling you to read aloud with your family, and Christmas time is the best time.  For most of us, it’s chilly (or even downright cold) in December.  Plus it gets dark super early.  There’s no better way to spend that time than cuddled up on the sofa reading a brilliant book aloud for the whole family to enjoy.

Maybe you just want to pick one to read for yourself or as a supplement to your homeschool.  However you want to read this Christmas, the classics are always the best.    That’s why they’re classics, y’all.
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Composer Charts

The Lit Mama Homeschool is back in full swing, refreshed and rejuvenated, after two weeks off for Thanksgiving break.  I hope all my lovely readers had an amazing Turkey Day.  We did at the Brison house.  I baked all day Wednesday and cooked the meal on Thursday, with one caveat–which was the GREATEST thing I have ever done for Thanksgiving.

I cooked my turkey.  In the Crockpot.  Overnight.  So I didn’t have to do Any Real Work.  It was… amazing.  All I did was thaw the turkey, remove the neck and giblets, stuff it with an onion, an apple, and some garlic and celery, and turn the Crock on high for 3 hours.  Now, I had to get up at midnight to turn the Crock down to low, but that took 20 seconds of barely-interrupted sleep.  For the first time ever, I got to hunt on Thanksgiving morning because I didn’t have to stand over a turkey.  A. Maz. Ing.  I will never cook turkey any other way.  When I got up at 5:30 to hunt, I turned the Crock off, kept the lid on, and by the time we were ready to eat at 1:00 the turkey was still warm, nicely, browned, and juicy as a turkey can get.  I’m telling you.  This is the big secret.  Now you know.  Go forth, young Padawan, and use the Force for good next year.

cooked turkey

Anyway, school is back on and we’re having a blast.  We have three weeks till Christmas break, and I’ve mentioned before we always use this time for a concentrated unit.  We’ve done pirates, dinosaurs, Christmas Around the World, and Victorian Christmas.  This year, we’re doing composers.  In fact, we’re learning more about Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, and Bach.  Having studied music theory already, we are using this time to learn a bit more biography about each of these composers while reminding ourselves of their wondrous music.

We love to do charts here at Lit Mama.  Charts help the Littles get facts straight in their heads.  We have done them when studying explorers, dinosaurs, the 13 colonies, China’s dynasties… You can make a chart for anything.   For us, it’s an easy reference to keep the information we’re learning straight.  You would be surprised how much the Littles remember about explorers from our study 3 years ago.  And I really believe the charts have a lot to do with it.  We keep the charts, too.  They have their own place on the back of the classroom door, so we can refer to them when we need them.

composer chart

Yeah, I know. The cat walked on it with wet feet before I could hang it up. What can I say? We live here. The cat is the boss. So the chart is a little smeary.

I use freezer paper to make the charts.  I think I’ve probably told you before that freezer paper is the poor woman’s art paper.  It’s white.  It’s wide.  It comes in a long roll.  It’s wax-backed, so paint and marker don’t bleed through.  Mm hmm.  Perfect. I just cut a piece in the length I need, then I think of some common facts for each of the subjects we’re studying and make a graph.  The Littles fill it in as we learn.  For the composers chart, I listed lifespan, period, country, unique attribute, famous piece, full name, and age of first concert.  These facts are important for keeping these 5 composers straight in their heads.  Some of them for obvious reasons, but I thought listing a unique attribute for each composer would help them remember things like Beethoven’s deafness and that Mozart was a prodigy.  Knowing the age they were when they gave their first public performance might help the Littles understand how great musicians were made back then.  Listing one famous piece will help them at least remember one thing composed by each person as they grow older and develop their own taste in music.  I was a little disappointed when the listed Beethoven’s 5th rather than Moonlight Sonata, which is my all-time, hands-down, favorite instrumental piece of music.  But at least they recognize it when it plays as easily as they do the  5th symphony.

I am interested to see, when we start on Mozart on Thursday, what they make of his rock-star lifestyle.  I explained today that they would see that he was kind of like a child actor who grew up never learning boundaries or self-control as opposed to Beethoven’s very adult rudeness and self-absorption (but really–can you blame him?  He is still probably the most widely-recognized composer for a very good reason.  Plus, it had to be torture, having all that music in his head and not being able to hear it.  So give him a break).  They are looking forward to learning more.

I hope the holidays and the shoppers are treating you well.  Remember to be kind to each other even when it’s difficult.  A smile and a nice word might just make someone pay it forward, and then we could all have a pleasant season.  And get our shopping done.  And not accidentally-on-purpose heel a stranger with our carts.

Love wins,

KT

Hijacking the Homeschool Hum-drums

As we spin down toward the holidays at an ever-increasing rate, are you looking at your homeschool days and thinking, “Hmm…. This could use a makeover?” Or worse, are your littles showing signs of being a bit, shall we say, bored with the way things are going?

Usually by now, we homeschool parents have got it together for the year. We’ve chucked those fabulous plans that didn’t work and settled into a nice groove with the ones that did. (And the replacements for the ones that didn’t. And the other cool stuff we came across in August and September.) The problem is that sometimes that groove can slowly… get… more… and… more… blah. Sometimes it doesn’t, but what do you do when it does?

bored littlest

I can always tell when Littlest has gotten to that point. He drifts off during school. Not to sleep, but to Never-Neverland (or more likely to post-apocalyptic Georgia where he tools around on a motorcycle, melts the girls’ hearts, and kicks butt with a crossbow). Once his attention drifts, you can bet your boots I have lost him for the rest of the day if I don’t take drastic measures. Threats–I learned early on–reprimands and the like Do Not Work. In fact, if he feels the least little slight from me, he withdraws even further. I have to sweet him. Do you know what I mean? I have to treat him like he is the greatest kid in the world and it’s my job to figure out how to entertain him enough to bring him back to the lesson. It is not easy. For one thing, he is not a pushover. He sees right through it if it’s false. Then I’m right back where I started.

Middle is easier. For one thing, he is more like me in that he Loves To Learn, No Matter The Subject. He wants to Know Everything. I totally relate to this kid. Anything I want to discuss, research, play… Middle is there with his learning cap on. But even he gets bored sometimes. We all do, right?

bored middle

Picking good reading material is essential to my homeschool. If I sense I’m losing them, I can always say, “Hey, do you want to read another chapter of our book right now?” I promise you that has saved me many, many times. We have almost finished Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but since it is a family favorite and über-interesting, I’ve fallen back on it a time or two in the last couple weeks.  Honestly, it’s hard to keep it to a chapter or two a day.  This book just builds.  You never want to put it down.

One of the things we do to combat those restless doldrums is spend a lot of time during the holidays learning about the holidays.  I try to pick some new aspect of Native American culture to study in November every year and make the lessons fun, with lots of hands-on activities and crafts.  When I throw this into that daily groove, the littles liven up.  For December, I usually pick a completely new topic to study in-depth.  Sometimes it’s stuff we’ve covered before, but should look at more closely.  This year I think we’ll have some serious music history lessons.  Sure, we’ve covered that before, but never as a unit study.

November books

I lighten the load a bit around this time.  Try to freshen it all up so when the new semester starts in January, they aren’t completely torpid in their attitudes.  Then I can get boring if I want to.  It’s freezing outside; where are they going to go?  hehe

No, really, there are so many ways to enliven your homeschool when you feel it getting monotonous.  iHomeschool Network has a great free printable called Banish Blah: Over 200 Teaching Ideas to Motivate Homechool Kids and Make Mom’s Job Easier.   Sometimes, especially as the weather gets colder, just getting your littles up and moving can enliven the whole lesson, and this gem is full of ideas for doing that while Still Teaching.  I know!

Playing board games is another great way to keep the learning going in a fun way.  In this house, we all love Scrabble and trivia games.  No kidding, we have 6 different Trivial Pursuit games, two versions of Cranium, and 3 Scrabble boards.  We also use Scotland Yard, Clue (we have 2 versions), and Sorry to practice math and strategy.  Pictionary is good for art.  You can have an entire school day of nothing but board games.  Or you can play one board game a day.  Whatever re-engages both you and your littles.

board games

Because the weather is turning glum, it might be a good time to get out of the house.  You know, we tend to want to hibernate as much as the next bear.  Just giving in to that can lead to lethargy.  So find some close, cheap educational outlets, and plan a week of field trips.  And seriously take them all in one week.  When you come back to the classroom the next week, everyone will be recharged and ready to go.  Some of the things we have close by are a Civil War battle site, the original state capital, some very cool caves, a glass factory, an art gallery.  There it is, 5 free or cheap things to do within 20 minutes of my rural farm!  Just think what you could come up with.  It might sound extreme to do a field trip every day, but it’s only one week and it can really make a difference.

I have told you before about the Quiet Time Basket I use to calm rambunctious behavior, but Julie over at Homeschooling-Ideas has some fabulous ideas for Boredom-Buster Kits.  Seriously, she suggests doing these kits up in brown paper bags.  They seem great for things like doctor’s waiting rooms and the like, but wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could grab one when you see a little losing interest in class, hand it to her, and let her re-engage with learning on her own?  Um, yeah!

However you decide to beat the mid-year blues, make sure your littles are having fun with it.  Sometimes just taking a ‘sick day’ can make a difference.  Spend the day baking cookies, watching holiday films, reading picture books together.  Do things that don’t feel like learning.  Give yourselves a chance to recharge.

And remember.  In January, you can be as boring as you want to.  They really can’t go anywhere.

Love wins,

KT