March 31, 2008

Sirah Milestone

Tonight after dinner we were all sitting around the table drinking tea and listening to Serona read Red Planet by Robert Heinlein. Sirah picked up a pen and piece of paper and starting writing. At first she was just drawing and then she was writing her name. Then she said to us I think I know how to spell your name mom. She wrote MOM on her paper spelled correctly and neatly with no prompting. Then she went on to write the names of each member of our family asking for help with spelling now and then. I was really proud of her. Serona and I kind of looked at one another in surprise and praised her.

Sirah has shown little interest in writing or reading as of late. She has practiced writing her letters on a wipe board now and then and has been writing her name for awhile. We really had no idea that she could write all the letters from her head and sound out and spell mom (which I grant you is an easy word) so it was really fun to see that. At this age we take a "as it comes" approach to school. We basically read to them as much as we can and whenever they want and then as they show interest we work on letters, math concepts or whatever they are interested in. It is always exciting when they show some new piece of knowledge or interest you had no idea they had.

March 30, 2008

Wii Wish You a Happy Birthday

Ciaran turned seven and he played 5 hours and 35 minutes of Wii. His birthday wish was to play video games all day and he came pretty close. Of course he also wanted birthday dinner, cake and presents which took away from his Wii time. As we moved through the day I thought to myself "this seems familiar". Well you know how some kids love repetition?

For their birthday the kids get to choose their birthday dinner, cake and what they would like to do that day. This year Ciaran wanted to have a fruit salad and nice cheeses for dinner. He choose watermelon, pineapple, blackberries, raspberries, pears, apples, nectarine, melon and grapes. For the cheese he wanted Prima Donna Gouda, swiss and muenster. For dessert he wanted a half chocolate, half vanilla Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle cake. Here is a link to his 6th birthday summary.

For what he wanted to do he was limited this year both by the snow and the fact that we are all recovering from being ill for a solid week. So he chose playing Wii all day. We happily obliged and realized in many ways it was a repeat of last year. It was a great day and exactly what he wanted which always makes us happy when they feel that way at the end of their special day.

For his gift this year Serona and I splurged on a nice bike complete with gears. He has been eying bicycles every store we go to. Serona stopped at the bike shop on the way home (he had a bike on layaway) and told Ciaran he had to pick up some new tires he was getting - which Ciaran thought meant for dad's bike. He wanted to go in and look at the bikes but Serona said "No, you wait in the car". Clearly disappointed and perhaps a little surprised to be told no he waited. Serona came out carrying a pair of tires and returned to the car. A few moments later a shop worker came out carrying his new bike and put it in the car. Ciaran was very surprised and very excited. When we arrived home he immediately rode around the neighborhood, snow and all to try out the new bike with gears and hand brakes. He seemed to get the hang of it right away.

Now we just need the snow to melt and no more snowstorms until next November (okay October) - am I asking too much?

March 28, 2008

Cell Phones as Lighters

No I am not creating a new gadget - nor am I trying to market this one. Rather I am sharing my first experience at a concert where the musicians said "I wanna see all those cell phones in the air" and I had the eerie feeling this is supposed to be like when we held lighters in the air at a Pink Floyd or Black Crowes concert? I think it was officially my acceptance of being part of a generation gap.

Some context might help I suppose. Serona and I and a few other parents from our homeschool cooperative took a group of teenagers to see Skillet/Thousand Foot Krutch/Decyfer Down this week. These bands are actually on our personal Zunes (ok not Decyfer Down) and while I would not classify them as favorites we do enjoy some of their music. We were excited for the concert and it was great to see everyone really enjoying themselves. I knew we were definitely not the demographic of the crowd but that was fine with us.

Still I have to admit seeing the cell phones in the air as if it was the normal thing to do threw me. Not seeing the phones there, not watching everyone take photos, text message or call one another through the club. All of our chaperons were checking their phones as much as the students we were with. I had a pretty good discussion about the differences between the treo, iphone and various blackberry models with some of the students and we text messaged between the groups to communicate where we were and were going, that was all normal to me. The part that was weird was the idea of cell phones instead of lighters and how normal it seemed to everyone else around me.

To tell the truth it shouldn't be strange. They look kind of similar - though I think lighters feel and look better. They are safer to be sure and they don't violate all the ordinances I am sure clubs have with non-smoking ordinances and various security concerns. As we were walking out a few of us parents were talking about it. I think I still prefer lighters for myself and I think it would have felt different at many of the concerts I went to to be waving a cell phone and somehow to me it seems less memorable. Then again who in the world thought to hold up lighters together? They function the same in many ways and maybe cell phone ambient light is better for the current and future generations to hold above their heads as they sway to their music - has to be safer.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cake

This is Ciaran's birthday cake made by Rhiannon. He wanted a TMNT cake and she wanted to make it for him. This is her second cake she has worked on decorating herself after learning about cake decorating in a recent class. She is 8 years old. Let you know how he likes it.

March 27, 2008

Their Own Music

Our family loves music, all kinds of music and we listen to a lot of it often. As they get older they have started developing their own tastes - limited still by what we choose to let them listen to in the first place. For awhile they were content to just listen to the playlists we made for them on our yahoo music account or their playlists on my zune. A few months ago I made Rhiannon her own cd and she loved it, the kids started fighting over it and wanted to have their own but with some of her songs and some of their own favorites. Recently I took some time to make them their own cd's, Rhiannon has moved on to an mp3 player - so I just add the songs she likes when she wants them. Her play lists have gotten too long to list (some of her favorites are Relient K, Casting Crowns, Rich Mullins, her dad, Andy Cooney, Sara Groves and Hawk Nelson)but here is the recent CD I made for Ciaran:

I Can't Wait - Sara Groves
California - Hawk Nelson
Supernatural - Hillsong Kids
Head on Collison - Hawk Nelson
On the March - Hillsong Kids
This is Your Life - Switchfoot
Made to Love You - Tobymac
The Cartoon Song - Chris Rice
The Story of Chess - Broadway Chess recording
Ain't Easy Being Green - Kermit the Frog
Life of a Salesman - Yellowcard
Watching You - Rodney Atkins
Boy Like You/Man Like Me - Rich Mullins
I'll Do My Best - Go Fish
To God Be the Glory - Group Publishing VBS
Jesus Take the Wheel - Carrie Underwood
Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus) - Chris Rice
Never Underestimate My Jesus - Relient K
Fireflies - Faith Hill
Starfish -Sara Groves
Pooh Corner - Kenny Loggins
Rainbow Connection - Kenny Loggins

Here is Sirah's most recent cd (there is quite a bit of overlap with Ciaran's):
I Can't Wait - Sara Groves
I'll Do My Best - Go Fish
God Will Never Stop Loving You - Karyn Henley
Supernatural - Hillsong Kids
Big Bad Billy - Go Fish
This Little Light of Mine - Go Fish
To be a cat - Aristocats soundtrack
Jesus Take the Wheel - Carrie Underwood
Never Underestimate my Jesus - Relient K
You're My Little Girl - Go Fish
Whole New World - Alladin soundtrack
Beautiful Child - Sara Groves
Cinderella - Steven Curtis Chapman
Fireflies - Faith Hill
Pooh Corner - Kenny Loggins
In My Daughters Eyes - Martina McBride
Pray for Me - Michael W. Smith
Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)- Chris Rice
All the Pretty ponies - Kenny Loggins

You know when it comes down to it this was a very simple thing to do for my children and they really appreciate it. They often go in their room to play and listen to the CD and they usually fall asleep to it. It was a simple gift that was tailored to their likes and a way to share something important to us all - music.

A simple gift to give your children if you have a cd burner. Amazon has a great collection of non-DRM music that you can purchase individual songs if you don't own them. Of course most of my children's choices we already owned because that is what they listen to - though they did request a few songs specifically they heard on the radio or elsewhere. I know our kids appreciate it ages 8, 7 and 4.

March 26, 2008

If You Lived during the Trail of Tears Lesson Plan

For our third week of class Rhiannon really wanted to do a Native American tribe. She wanted to focus on the Nez Perce (because of Kaya,the American Girl doll)and I wanted to focus on the Cherokee and Trail of Tears. So we compromised and talked about Native American tribes in general with emphasis on different aspects of different tribes.

We began the class with some general talk time with facts about Native Americans. I used the Kaya doll, her horse,saddle, cradelboard and clothing along with other artifacts to describe some of Native American life. A member of our cooperative is part Cherokee and brought in a real Cherokee cermonial spear with eagle feathers and beading. My co-teacher held it up and talked about why Native Americans can have eagle feathers but no one else can. We did not allow the kids to touch the spear but they were all fascinated by it.

Next I gave a very brief overview of the time of the Cherokee and set up for the Trail of Tears. We gathered the students and their belongings: coats, backpacks, sweatshirts etc. We marched them through and outside the building taking away personal items as we went (making them just drop the items wherever we told them). I roughly walked them through the events and we made kids lay down (as if they died)and made them leave friends behind when they were sick. We started with 15 and only 4 made it back to the classroom. We gathered everyone together again and talked about the events and how it was like that during the trail of tears. I gave them a handout to add to their books (can be viewed at end of post).

Then we divided them into three groups and moved through four stations:

Design and Symbol Painting
Food and Props

Station 1 - Weaving
Using newspaper the kids will experience weaving. The goal of this station is for everyone to try it and understand a bit more about weaving - they will NOT have a take home project from this. The setup will be for one big weaving project that way the focus is on the experience of weaving and not trying to get everyone to finish a project. We taped newspaper strips to the table and then used other strips to show them how to weave. The teacher here talked about weaving baskets, showed some pictures from a book and was able to share a real story she had of someone weaving natural fibers for her family with them standing there.

Station 2 - Designs and Symbols

The second station will be an opportunity for the kids to draw Native American symbols. You will need brown construction paper , a brown paper roll, or the inside of paper bags. You need enough for each student to draw his or her hand and cut it out and I suppose some reserve for mistakes. After they cut it out they will be drawing a story using Native American symbols on their hand. We used a boook with different tribal symbols and talked about the importance of symbols to the culture.
After they finish their hand/stories they can cut them out and glue them in the book. I will also make up a handout of the Trail of Tears for them to glue in the book.

Station 3 - Stickball
Using lacrosse sticks and balls we will let the kids get a sense of what Native American stickball was like. As lacrosse sticks are very similar to a traditional stick ball game they played. This game was a hit with the kids and we did not even get to the second game which was:

You will need two small plastic plates - try rolling them on their side they should be able to run along a floor like ours for a bit. Then four sticks - roughly of equal lengths. Try to keep them on the smaller side - big enough to throw small enough to be safer. The game is played by one person rolling the plate and the others throwing their sticks to land where they think the plate will stop.

Station 4 - Food and Artifacts

We served cornbread dry and water. It was not their favorite snack so far. We talked about why they cooked with so much corn. The kids got to look at the clothes and artifacts. I also shared some pictures from various books of items that we did not have for them to actually see.

Trail of Tears Timeline(handout)

1830 Indian Removal Act: While Indian removal was, in theory, supposed to be voluntary, in practice great pressure was put on American Indian leaders to sign removal treaties. Most observers, whether they were in favor of the Indian removal policy or not, realized that the passage of the act meant the inevitable removal of most Indians from the states.

1835 Treaty of New Echota removal treaty of Cherokee nation in which United States agreed to pay the Cherokee people $5 million in compensation, cover the costs of relocation, and give them equivalent land in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma in exchange for all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi. Was never ratified officially by Cherokee nation

May Cherokee roundup begins May 23, 1838. Southeast suffers worst drought in recorded history.
June First group of Cherokees driven west under Federal guard. Further removal aborted because of drought and "sickly season."
July Over 13,000 Cherokees imprisoned in military stockades awaiting break in drought. Approximately 1500 die in confinement.
October For most Cherokee, the "Trail of Tears" begins.
December Last group leaves Cherokee homeland carrying the records and laws of the Cherokee Nation. 5000 Cherokees trapped east of the Mississippi by harsh winter; many die.

January First overland contingents arrive at Fort Gibson.
March Last group reaches Oklahoma. More than 3000 Cherokee die on Trail of Tears, 1600 in stockades and about the same number en route. 800 more die in 1839 in Oklahoma.
April Cherokees build houses, clear land, plant and begin to rebuild their nation.
May Western Cherokee invite new arrivals to meet to establish a united Cherokee government.
September Cherokee constitution adopted on September 6, 1839. Tahlequah established as capital of the Cherokee Nation.

March 25, 2008

School Roundup

Been awhile since I did one of these. Realized today when I was introducing Ciaran to division and handed Rhiannon The Hobbit to read. Overall the school year is going well. I had my "Oh no it's almost April moment" and got through it. I like to finish school in beginning to mid May. Knowing that I have a surgery coming up in mid April I have to plan a bit more if I still want to hit that deadline and enjoy one of my two favorite months in Minnesota.

As I type this I am still struggling to admit that we had one of our "big snowstorms" just this week. For Easter we always get the kids outside toys and sports items. Feels a bit strange to purchase horseshoes and baseball cleats with 6 inches of snow on the ground! Still I know in just a few short weeks we will all be ready to put the books aside and enjoy the wonderful time in Minnesota (read before the mosquitoes arrive) and be outside as much as possible.

So that gives us about 7 more weeks of solid school time before every one's hearts and minds wander outdoors. We are actually surprisingly on track, I am always amazed when I hit April and don't need to panic - it is a great feeling. I am sure it is going to end as they get older but for now I will take it :) Even with switching history mid year we are doing great. We study history chronologically following Story of the World but once we reached the New World time period I stopped world history and went into and American history study, focusing a lot of our studies on the American Revolution time period. This has been rewarding and interesting for us all. While everyone is on track for finishing their texts and workbooks and accomplishing what we set out to do, the thing I am definitely most excited for this year is Ciaran's progress in reading.

I recall last fall having to use the carrot of video games to stir any interest in reading anything, even something simple like a BOB book. Just last night I came home with a stack of readers and he read himself four books before bed. He was excited to read to us all today and read me two stories. He is working his way through the Magic Tree House books and is finally realizing that reading is just fun, not only work for school. He reads his beginner bible on his own proficiently, this same book he was convinced he would never be able to read back in October. It has been really special to be a part of this process and see how far he has come. He also has a love of numbers and math seems to come more naturally to him. Of course I am still convinced if I ask him of his biggest accomplishments this year he will tick off a list of video games he has cleared and learning to skateboard and snowboard. Which are fun and great achievements as well I know.

For Rhiannon - her proudest moment this year was writing her book report on The Little Princess . She was very reticent to write, convinced she couldn't do it and would hate it. After taking our time working through the book of her choice she completed a project she was very happy with. She also is content with the progress she has made in drawing, especially fairies and princesses which are her favorite to draw. Her details and features have grown more realistic and consistent. On a personal note she seems to really enjoy that she can bake bread on her own, ride and care for a horse well, and hand sew items with proficiency.

Sirah continues to surprise us all. She goes through stages where she wants to sit and "do real school" and other times where she can't be bothered and just wants to makes us all meals in her kitchen or dress up as a princess and put on dance shows. We are happy to let her just find her own rhythm and follow it. She has a special school notebook where she has been working hard on writing her name. Her goal this year is to learn to write her name neat and tiny enough that she can get her own library card. She is very close and I am sure by summer she will come home with her very own library card. She has shown interest on and off with learning to read. Right now she simply wants to run her finger under what I read and "read" it to by repeating what I just said. She has little interest or patience for bob books and prefers listening to stories like AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh books, CS Lewis Chronicles of Narnia and any picture/storybook about cats and other animals that talk. So that is what we spend time doing. Today I asked her and Ciaran to each pick two storybooks to read and they both came down with a pile of 8 each plus Rhiannon picked out a few. I snuggled everyone into my bed for what was to be a 2 hour reading session. But they were all enjoying the stories, behaving well and sitting still - so who am I to argue?

They promptly got up and practiced and then performed a gymnastic show complete with actually climbing on my walls and swinging from one door to the next in what they called the Monkey Doorknob show. So they obviously built up some energy during that long reading session.

Overall it has been a good albeit a flexible school year filled with successes and challenging moments. I look forward to finishing out the last few weeks and watching them complete what they started and feel a sense of accomplishment at meeting our goals for the year. I have to admit it feels good to begin talking about spring and looking forward to long nature walks, playdates at the park, mornings at the beach. Things that all seem very far away as I watch the ice form on my driveway and pray that the snow won't melt too fast and cause another flood in our basement.


March 24, 2008

Resistance is Futile

I was on my way out the door to return some library books and pick up some on the reserve shelf. Ciaran gently asks me if he can go with me. It is 10 minutes before bedtime and we are all recovering from the flu. I say no. I start to say "Don't worry I'm not getting new books," then I recovered and looked at him and said "OK you know that's not true" but I'll be sure to pick some good ones and headed out the door.

I arrive at the library with a bag full to return, confident this time I will manage to return more than I check out. I figure I am alone, I don't have to worry about what the kids will sneak in the bag. In reality I still walked out with as many books as my bag would hold, this time just 29 books. Five of them were for me and the rest were story books and readers for the kids. I felt almost guilty leaving the library with a bag fuller than when I arrived. But we really do read them all so why feel guilty? Why not just embrace the benefits of the public library that our family loves so?

I will admit I have had over 100 books checked out at a time often between the two library systems we use. But if you have looked at our reading lists you know we read them. And anyone who frequents the library with young children is well aware of that blissful few hours after you return when you hear nothing but silence and the turning of pages or a solitary voice reading aloud to a captivated audience. The joy of new books!

I arrived home and filled our library cube with new goodies knowing what tomorrow will bring. I even sneaked into Ciaran's room with a handful of new readers to show him. He asked "Can I please read you one now, like a bedtime story from me?" - Who can resist the sweetness of that and I crawled into bed with him and listened to Amelia Bedilia Play Ball. I loved his smiles and giggles at all the silly things she does. He read the whole book to Sirah (who could not resist the temptation of a story and came in from her bed) and I. As I tucked them all in again for the night, including more last drinks, prayers and hugs I was content. I went to turn out Ciaran's light and he said "Please can I just read one chapter book more to myself tonight?" Of course you know the answer to that. Resistance is Futile!

Enjoy a good book with your children,

March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Wear a bit o the green or the leprechauns will pinch you. Our family is all wearing the green. Sadly we won't be doing too much today though as it is snowing here in Minnesota and I am down with a nasty cold. Still raise a Guinness and a enjoy the day!

March 14, 2008

Special Bear and Special Reading

Dear sweet Sirah - she really is a joy in life. Recently just the two of us have begun reading Winnie The Pooh by AA Milne alone. Each night before she goes to bed or in the middle of the day when she needs a snuggle we are reading one chapter at a time and having a grand time of it.

Just tonight we read IN WHICH PIGLET MEETS A HEFFALUMP and she could not stop giggling and smiling. Of course that encouraged me to play up Piglets scared voice more and more which made her laugh more and more. She could almost not stop laughing at the stuttering and confusion over the words he has. It was one of those precious bottle it up memories. She was sitting on my lap in her bed all smiles and giggles.

Sirah loves being read to and is very patient about whatever she listens to but you could tell this was the perfect book for her where she is at right now. She lights up as she listens to the story and it is very hard for her to wait for the next chapter. Tonight while we were reading she liked this picture in particular.

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne has always held a special place for us and our family. While Disney did a fine adaptation of the stories it just does not have the same classic feel as the book with the black and white simple sketches. A few years ago Serona spent some time traveling back and forth to London where he purchased a very "special" bear for Sirah. To this day she calls him "special bear" and it is her favorite of all her stuffed animals and toys. When Serona travels special bear is always held in her arms when she sleeps. It is very cute and sweet. He told her the bear was similar to the one from the classic pooh stories. It is only now as we read it this time that she similarities between her bear and Christopher Robin's. She sometimes will hold special bear while we read out loud.

There is a sweet precious and indescribable perfection that happens when your child reads a book out loud with you at the precise moment they are ready to really enjoy it. There is this perfect calm and joy and thrill at sharing each moment together. Something so precious about watching those eyes get big and wide and wait in anticipation for what is coming next. Something pure about the laughter that erupts from their belly. Something bittersweet about the tears that start to well up in their eyes as they try to hold back the emotion. I think what is so amazing to experience is the pure emotional reaction the child has to what is being read to them. To watch them experience and feel the things they are hearing, to see it come alive for them and watch them engage with the world they are just discovering for the first time or perhaps revisiting like an old friend. To share that world and story and that precious moment with your child is a memory you want to bottle and take out on rainy days 10, 20, 50 years from now. It is not to be missed and to be treasured when it happens.

Now we read out loud A LOT as a family and as individuals we read a lot (some more than others) and we read all kinds of stories. I would say on average I read out loud 2 hours a day, depending on the school load. About an hour and a half of that is "pleasure reading" not done for school. So some days if I have to read out loud for more than an hour of school reading I can top out at over 3 hours read aloud. Most often i would come in right around 2 hours out loud.

Often for that pleasure reading we read a single book as a family and we take turns at who the book is really "geared for" and all listen together. We have done younger, middle and older books. Right now that book for us is Prince Caspian by CS Lewis. It would be mainly targeted at Ciaran age 7 (almost) who chose it. Sirah has read the book several times on her own and this is probably our third cycle through reading Narnia out loud, seems we come back around every other year to the land of Narnia. Sometimes we read at the dinner table after the meal is finished. Other times all snuggled up on the couch winding down for bed. Sometimes in the middle of the day when we all need a break and some quiet connecting time. Usually we read a chapter a sitting, sometimes more and sometimes less. In general it seems that reading time is a little over a half hour to forty five minutes. Then there are all the storybooks I read aloud to Sirah and Ciaran plus school read alouds.

Recently I felt the pull to take some time to have another "special book" with each child. One that is just to be read aloud by the two of us alone. From time to time we do this. Sometime that book can take us several months to get through because we become busy with other things, sometimes we get so engrossed we move rapidly through it. For the last three days I have read each of them a chapter out loud alone with their special book - it has translated into about 40 minutes per child out loud or about two hours just on that! Then again I have to spend a lot of time laying down these days and reading aloud is one thing that is easy to do that way. Right now Sirah and I are reading Winnie the Pooh as I mentioned.

Rhiannon and I are reading Betsy and Tacy go Downtown. This is one we have been working on for a long time. We started reading the original story in the series two winters ago when Rhia had her tonsils out. This book was started in early fall and has been on our back burner for a few months but she recently wanted to read more out loud and we are nearly finished now. I love these books as they are so sweet and light and easy to read and enjoy together. They offer some Minnesota history and a simple yet engaging story of friendship and growing up.

Ciaran and I are reading A Wrinkle in Time. I will admit some hesitation at reading this book at this age with him but he was insistent and so far is very engaged as he relates to young Charles Wallace. We actually have had some very interesting discussions about his own learning styles and approaches to learning and education that were initiated out of this book. It has also provided a nice discussion point for the way people talk to one another and relate to their family members and friends. He is always surprising me at what he really was ready for that I was hesitant about. As of now I am enjoying it with a hint of guarded optimism. It has been years since I read this book and I am really enjoying reading it with him.

I do love reading out loud to my kids and encouraging them to read on their own. One of the biggest blessings of homeschooling has been the increased amount of time we have available to us to read. Some of our reading time is school subjects to be sure especially as we cover history, science, geography, good literature and some of the arts. Yet so much is just simply because we enjoy it. I think Rhiannon especially would have a difficult time if something caused her schedule to tighten in such a way that she had to drastically reduce her reading time. I can't even keep track of how many hours in a week that girl reads. I simply know we can't keep up!

I know in years to come I will look back at special bear and be thankful for these fond memories of reading these stories to my children and Lord willing one day my grandchildren. These are the stories that carry from one generation to the next as it standing up to 80 plus years of time clearly indicates. Just before I laid down to write this I checked on my children snuggled in their warm beds and I found special bear tucked in Sirah's arm with a copy of Winnie the Pooh open upon her lap where it clearly was as she feel asleep.

Teen Christian Music Class

This semester I am teaching a very fun class at our homeschool cooperative - a class that practically teaches itself and has been interesting for the students and fun for me. Our co-op is Christian based and I thought teaching a music class would be a lot of fun, discussing contemporary music and what it means, how it makes us feel, etc. I gave the students the one guideline that all the music they chose had to be on a Christian label and be acceptable to their own parents - otherwise anything went. Any music style and we have seen quite a few from pop to heavy rock, alternative to praise, rap to ballads, latin to punkish. It has been interesting and fun. Class discussion has been good and everyone seems to be enjoying it.

Before class began I asked the students to fill out a survey of music they liked and did not like, list their top ten bands and pick ten songs to discuss in class. We have 15 students (7 boys and 8 girls, ages 13-17) so that was 150 songs to chose from. There were some students who did not offer 10 songs and there was quite a bit of overlap in favorite songs and bands. I still had a lot to chose from for just 6 weeks of 55 minute class sessions.

The plan was each week for them to listen to the music at home ahead of time and have the lyrics available to be read and then discuss the songs in class. The first week of class we opened with some discussion and focus for the class. I discussed music as modern day poetry and talked about the power of lyrics. We talked about how music raises certain emotions and thoughts in us, charging us up or helping us to mellow out.

To illustrate the point that sometimes the medium is the message (the music itself creates the message irregardless of lyrics) I played three very different versions of the same song - a Christmas carol, Angels we have heard on high. One version was typical Christmas chorus with a big choir, another version was a Celtic folk version and the last was a rock/punk version done by a band that made 80% of the top 10 bands list for all the students (interestingly one of the few to cross gender lines).

Lastly I set up five loose classifications or groupings for the purpose/meaning of the music we would listen to. I mostly did this to facilitate class discussion and provide some easy tools to begin listening to and looking at music differently. I think it helped the students to evaluate the music more and initially dig in a bit below the surface. As class progressed this tool was used less and less (as I hoped it would be) as they moved into richer discussion about the songs. Still every once in awhile we come back to these groups as they provide a common understanding and a simple way to express a bunch of similar things about songs.

Here they are:

Praise/Worship -
fairly easy to spot and label - church, youth group, KTIS, directly to or about God. Most often personal about you and God. Good praise and worship should not be a song you can replace your girlfriend or boyfriends name in - but is unique to God. Much is watered down praise so people can stick loved ones names instead. Modern day psalms

Dealing with the World -
Discussing every day issues and world events through music and the way we need to manage them. Sometimes strategies are offered, sometimes just emotions or causes are expressed. often it will be a mix of all. Relationships, politics, health issues, families, etc

Faith Strengthening and reminding -
written for Christians to remind and encourage them to stand strong in their faith. Casting Crowns, Caedmons Call, Jars of Clay

Evangelism -

Drawing others to the faith with good music and a positive message in the lyrics. most often crossover bands - bands that sound like popular mainstream music

Just for Fun -
most music has a message to it but occasionally you really find some songs that are just pure fun.

Then the fun began. I won't go into all the class discussion here but it was very interesting and I think in the end the students are getting a lot out of it. I would say they definitely feel a sense of ownership as they have picked the music themselves. For the most part all the songs I have selected for the class discussion have come from those initial lists and their band and song preferences. Interestingly I did not end up just choosing their top 3 songs from each list or any simple thing like that. Rather I spent a lot of time listening to ALL the music and selecting a subset of it that offered variety, exposure to lots of musical tastes and styles and went across all the above mentioned categories. Each week we had about 10 songs to choose from for class discussion usually only making it through around 5 sometimes 7 of the songs. In the end I think they had a good mix of music. We are just at the halfway point now - though all the music has been selected, so I will have to give a final class overview.

If you teach this or a similar class you should poll your own students and let them choose the music so they have ownership of the class. I chose Christian labels as a guideline for the class because it filtered out a lot of material I may not have wanted to wade through or enter with some of the younger students and it provided a clear bright line for our class. It also offered parents a certain amount of comfort at what may or may not be talked about and from what general perspectives. That boundary may not be necessary for some others and this could easily be taught in a secular way, you just may have to filter through more.

I think one of the important keys to this class was letting them give me the big set of music to choose from and still maintaining control over what I selected and presented to the group from that. I then gave them back some more control by allowing them to vote on which songs to discuss for the week (from the subset of 10 I had selected for the week). It also allowed me to balance musical tastes and show a wide variety of styles and messages within the class. I had had the freedom to focus discussion in a week around a particular topic (ie different worship styles, different "world issue" songs, and so on).

I really want to compliment my students for the respectful way they dealt with fellow students and music they truly did not care for. Out of 40 songs we have gone through to this point only 1 song has been unanimously liked. Yet they were able to engage with others and share their thoughts and feelings about the music. Some songs brought out strong differing opinions in the students and some others led to different understandings of what the song was about and what it might mean. Overall it has been fun and interesting to getting to know the students more through the music they like as well as the music they don't. They have offered a lot of insight to each other and hopefully learned a few things about themselves, others, music and the world through the process. If nothing else it has been fun for us all.

Our list of songs:

Week One and Two
Lift - Carried Away
Breathe into Me - Red

Strong Tower - Kutless
We Win! -David Crowder Band
What This World Needs - Casting Crowns
America's Next Freak - FM Static

Shine - Newsboys
5 Minutes of Fame - Barlow Girl
Time and Confusion - Anberlin
Free - Rachael Lampa

Awakening - Switchfoot
Be My Escape - Relient K

Is Forever Enough - Hawk Nelson
For the Moments I feel faint - Relient K
Thank God I'm Not the One - The Afters
You're Not There - Jaci Velasquez
Famous One - Chris Tomlin
Made to Love - Toby Mac
You - Britt Nicole
Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus) - Chris Rice
Angels we Have Heard on High - Relient K

Week Three

California - Hawk nelson
Cartoons - Chris Rice
Come Right Out and Say It - Relient K
Dare you to Move - Switchfoot

Deeper Life - Natalie Grant
Eschuchame (listen to me) Jaci Velasquez
I'll Get Over It (Miss elaineous) Everyday Sunday
Jesus Freak - DC Talk

Love Hate (On and On) Disciple

Week Four
Mountain of God - Third Day
Never Alone - Barlowgirl
Never Been Unloved - Michael W. Smith
Ooh Aah - Grits
Paperthin Hymn - Anberlin
Phenomenon - Thousand Foot Krutch
SecondHand Dreaming - Ruth
Upside Down - Zoegirl
We Need Each Other - Sanctus Reel
Whispers in the Dark - Skillet
You - Switchfoot

Week Five

The Everglow - Mae
You LIft Me Up - Rachael Lampa
Speaking in Tongues - The Elms
Dive - Steven Curtis Chapman
Never Take Friendship Personal - Anberlin
Those Nights - Skillet
The Innocent -Kutless
Learn to Breathe - Thousand Foot Krutch
You're My Little Girl - Go Fish
Here I am to Worship - Passion Worship Band

Week Six
Wake Up! Wake Up! - Everyday Sunday
What I thought I wanted - Sara Groves
Who I am Hates Who I've Been - Relient K
This is Your Life - Switchfoot
Head on Collision - Hawk Nelson
Wherever We Go - Newsboys
Why Do I DO - Jump 5
If We Are the Body - Casting Crowns
What if I Stumble - DC Talk
Oh Gravity - Switchfoot

March 13, 2008

Bloggable Moments

Well the sun is out and we were pushing 50 degrees today. I looked outside to find Sirah and Ciaran outside. Sirah was in her bathing suit, winter boots and her Easter bonnet splashing in mud puddles as content as could be.

I brought her back inside and told her to get dressed to which I found her definition of getting dressed was a leotard with tights, her good Easter cream colored coat and her boats and bonnet.

We remedied the situation, helped her dress appropriately and she returned to spend the afternoon out in the mud puddles splashing, digging and in general enjoying the break from winter.

You should have seen her.

If You Lived in the time of the American Revolution

So far I think this was my favorite of the classes in this series. Perhaps it is because we are in the middle of the American Revolution here at home but it was a fun class I think the kids enjoyed. I decided to make the focus of the class walking the students through the history that led the Patriots to rebel against the British in a fairly interesting and interactive way. We used candy to make it most interesting to them.

For the main talk time everyone gathered in a circle on the floor and was given a napkin full of skittles. We had someone be King George, someone be the tax collector and someone be parliament. In the future I would skip the parliament as it made it too complicated. We walked through all the laws and rules passed by the British and took candy from the kids to represent their losses in money/supplies/freedoms. I went through each of the following, briefly explaining it and then having the tax collector take away candy to represent it. For example we took half their candy during the currency act to represent loss of half of money value. For the intolerable acts we "taxed" them for glasses, clothing, shoes, etc) I also handed the following out as a printout the kids added to their books as a reminder of the lesson and overview of the causes of the American Revolution. This is a simplified list that was useful for our class, it is not detailed and comprehensive however.

Causes of American Revolution

French-Indian War
colonists help England fight and win
England decided to tax colonies to increase money and
lower expenses by closing the frontier

The Sugar Act 1764
tax for all sugar, used patrols to enforce

The Currency Act 1764
made colonial scrip (money) illegal
reduced value by half

The Quartering Act 1765
provide barracks and supplies to
house or quarter British troops

The Stamp Act 1765

required government stamps for all official papers
stamp masters tarred and feathered by patriots

Repeal of Stamp Act 1766
Parliament repealed under pressure
America's first victory

The Townshend Acts 1767

taxes on imported goods such as
glass, tea, coffee, paper, paint

Writs of Assistance 1767
search any home or business
encouraged neighbors to "tattle" on one another

Colonial Legislatures Dissolved 1767

Massachusetts assembly dissolved by Parliament
due to resistance and encouraging others to resist
-dissolved MD SC and GA as well

The Boston Massacre 1770
shots fired into a crowd of civilians
5 people dead - led to outrage

Townshend Acts and Quartering Act Repealed 1770
all repealed by British prime minister
except tax on tea

The Tea Act 1773

decreased British East India tea essentially
creating a tea monopoly for Britain along with tea tax

The Boston Tea Party 12/16/1773
colonists disguised as Indians boarded tea ships in
Boston Harbor and dumped 10,000 pounds of British tea

The Intolerable Acts 1774
Boston ports closed until lost tea costs paid
Changed and controlled local government structure
New worse quartering act - troops stationed in homes against will

First Continental Congress 1774

colonial delegates meet in Philadelphia to decide on common action
wrote a petition to King George III asking him to intervene
rejected Parliament but said loyal to king
Patriot/Loyalist break

Lexington and Concord Battles 1775

The war begins

Some Famous Americans of the Time

George Washington
Patrick Henry
Thomas Jefferson
Samuel Adams
Abigail Adams
John Adams
Paul Revere
Ethan Allen
Benjamin Franklin
John Hancock

While this list seems really long it moved quickly and had an impact. I think the kids really felt injustice at losing something they valued. We left everyone with somewhere between 2-5 skittles and allowed them to eat them saving the rest for later for a review activity.

Then we broke the kids into small groups and moved them through a few stations.

Spy and Secret Messages

1. Invisible Messages: They got to try their hand at using invisible ink to write messages. Use one of the following mixtures to make your own Invisible Ink:

* lemon, grapefruit or orange juice
* milk
* sugar or salt water (teaspoon in a cup of water)
* white vinegar

Use any kind of heavy white writing paper, paper with lines is best kind. Dip a clean pen (not a ball-point) or any instrument with a smooth point, like a toothpick, into the ink. As you write the words will disappear, so hold your finger at the end of the last word to mark your place. When its dry, hold the paper over a bright electric light or a heated pop-up toaster.

2. Book Cifer Code: Think National Treasure, most of the kids understood it from that reference. Pick one page from your favorite book, make sure it has a lot of words on it! Assign numbers to the words on the page to make your own Secret Code. Use the words to compose a message to decode. We had a teacher create the message and they deciphered it.

3. Rebus game

These were all available at the one station for the kids to try. You would not likely need all.

Almanac Making Station

Tying it to the almanac of the day we had each student make their own book to keep records of the class in. Using crumpled paper bags, white hole punched paper and leather straps the kids made books designed to look old fashioned but fairly low budget. They wound the piece of leather through the holes in the paper and bag and then wrote If you Lived on the front and their names inside. We had enough pages for each week we did to have several sheets for them to fill. They pasted in the work from the previous week (knights) and this week - the outline of causes and spy games.

Food, Discussion and Artifacts

The last station is a catch all station - they get to eat their food - this week was tea and shortbread type cakes. While they are eating I show them pictures from various books the DK Publishing time period books work really well. We also had a tricorn hat from the time period for them to look at. I had set up a water harmonica but we could not make it work. This is the wine goblets with water filled at different levels. After persistence one of the students figured it out and it does sound beautiful if you can figure it out. We had some of our glasses filled too high.

At the end we brought them to review the American Revolution causes. To keep them interested we used candy. I went through my long list above reminding them even if the names sounded strange they could likely figure it out from our experiences before. I rewarded right answers with candy. That was a hit and served as a nice review.

I am always amazed when I type this all out how much we do in the span of a single hour. It is really because we have several teachers there is no way to do all this at one time with one teacher. But maybe divided over a few days you can get it in. I never expect them to have depth just a basic taste and overview of the time period we are learning.

I love teaching history this way because it really seems to bring it alive to kids. They suddenly find history fun and interesting and hopefully some of the details will sink in because they learned them not just by dates but through experience. I know my own kids do really well with this format.

If You Lived in the Time of the Knights Lesson Plan

This semester at our homeschool coop I am helping teach an "If You Lived in the Time of..." series based roughly on the book series. We have 16 kids, 5 girls and 11 boys all between 2nd and 5th grade. For the first week we looked at If You Lived during the time of the knights. We began the class with a talk time, then split them into various stations to rotate through in smaller groups. Then brought them back together for another short talk time while they eat and then finish with playing some big group games all together.

During the talk time we did some general Q and A about the time of the knights. Asking questions like why are the lights off in the room? What does all the stuff around us look like? And then gave a simple overview of the time period and what we were going to do in the stations. This was pretty brief because we spent a lot of time at our stations. The class period is just under an hour.

We had four stations

Physical Training to become a knight

bow and arrow practice
wooden sword/shield battle
code of honor discussion
look at and handle a real sword (one person at a time in the middle of the room not near anyone else).

Castle Life
Castle figures and actual plastic or wooden castle as model
Castles - parts of - how they lived discussion with a great popup book on castles.

Writing and Scribes
Book of kells sample to look at
sample coloring book of kells page for each
coat of armor - family shield using a quill pen and ink


jester hat
castle dress up
musical instruments

Group Games

hunt the slipper
blind mans bluff

rose petal bread
hard cheese

The kids rotated through all stations ending with the food. This class moved very quickly and the kids seemed to enjoy themselves. Two things to note. The sword fighting, bow and arrow station was VERY hectic especially with our older boys. The ink was VERY messy and challenging for them to work with. I have three other teachers with me. Each station requires an adult to lead the activity and share interesting facts/discussion from the time period.

We ended the class with our teenage boy helper knighting all the boys in the class. They kneeled before him and with the sword on their shoulders he dubbed them "Sir x.." - it was kind of a fun way to end the class.

You could easily take out a few stations - the first to go I think would be the ink because it is messy. Though the kids did enjoy getting to try it and realize how much work writing the book of kells really was.

We saved their work for a class book we were making in the next class. At the end of the semester they will have a book with work from all the time periods we study.

March 11, 2008

Here Comes the Sun

The sun is shining, the temperature is approaching 50 and I can faintly hear the sounds of birds. This is the first time in I can't remember how long. I am not optimistic we have seen the end of the snow - we are going sledding today after all. Still I will take what I can get in the crazy month of March in Minnesota.

Blogging has been non-existent lately but the warmer weather is inspiring to me and things have happened I desire to share so maybe like the spring I too will be returning. I was just informed by my 8 year dd that my 4 year old dd is "being very impertinent about which gloves she is going to wear" so that is my cue to go get them out the door and onto the sledding hill.

Stay tuned - I will return.