Category Archives: Books

The Phantom Tollbooth

Recently we started a parent/child book club based on the format in Deconstructing Penguins mentioned in the previous post. Towards the end of Deconstructing Penguins, the Lawrence’s give a list of a few great books to start your book club with. The first one on the list was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster.

This lively humorous children’s book was published in 1961.  Now considering I was born in the late 60’s I was amazed that I had never before seen this book, let alone heard of it – so let me start out by saying that this is an amazing piece of children’s literature full of clever puns and idioms that make this children’s book a very entertaining allegory full of witty appeal. Although it can be read at a fourth grade reading level:

  Critics have acknowledged that the book is advanced for most children, who would not understand all the wordplay or the framing metaphor of how to achieve wisdom. Writers like the reviewer in The New York Times have focused on the children and adults able to appreciate it; for them, it has “something wonderful for anybody old enough to relish the allegorical wisdom of Alice in Wonderland and the pointed whimsy of The Wizard of Oz”. It is now often acknowledged as a classic of children’s literature. Wikipedia

That being said, all the more reason to explore this book as a family, or even better in a parent/child book club. We had a lot of fun digging deeper together in this book and I have to say, most kids in the group understood most of the underlying wit with just a few probing questions. The little “Ah-ha!” moments of understanding were going off constantly in the circle of kids (and adults too!). Even if you don’t dig deeper with this book, I found that most kids had it read in just a couple of days – and some (including my own) choosing to read it again.

If the title of this book is new to you, consider adding it to your children’s book list. The Phantom Tollbooth is a highly engaging, lively, funny, witty, and thought-provoking read.

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How to Deconstruct a Penguin

penguinsI recently came across this book Deconstructing  Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. It’s basically explaining how you can establish a book club for kids and their parents. The Goldstone’s conducted their own parent/child book club for years with such great success, that they decided to put the detais in a book for the rest of us.

Up until recently, I haven’t been a big fan of the novel study curricula available to homeschoolers. These are typically geared towards elementary school kids and are loaded with somewhat predictable questions seeking just as many predictable answers. In short form, if the child has read said book with minimal interest, then it is most likely they will find these types of questions on the fringe of boring. For these reasons I discarded many of these types of novel studies.

Enter Deconstructing Penguins. This book was like a breath of fresh air. It made literary analysis; dare I say…exciting to kids! Not only are kids and their parents encouraged to read the book together, the book created opportunities to get together with other families who have read a particular children’s novel, and dig a little deeper with regards to what the story was really about. I found it almost effortless to introduce the kids to things like protagonist, antagonist, setting, climax, and plot. I also discovered that such an approach to digging deeper into literature really lent itself well to a group setting. The kids fed off each other, brainstormed together, shared different points of view, and…..wait for it…..LEARNED together.

I find as homeschoolers, there are vast amounts of quality time spent in independent learning. Occasionally, I find independent learning can sometimes lack opportunities for our kids to hear others’ points of view. I personally see this as not only beneficial, but also necessary. So, where time allows, I would like to do more of it, and Deconstructing Penguins has provided our homeschool with just such an opportunity.

I highly recommend this book and found it worthy of the valuable real estate in my resource library. Give it a read, and give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised – and my kids can’t wait to do the next book! (oh, and btw – the parents had fun too!)

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Owl Puke!

Owl Puke BookYes, you read that right – Owl Puke. The technical name would be Owl Pellet, or something much more refined, but this title got your attention, yes?

I recently attended the 2009  Homeschool Conference in the lower mainland of our province. This was their second year however, in a new venue, and even though there was less to take home (vendors brought less merchandise due to space constraints), there were still a few goodies to find. That said, I think I’ll be making the trip to BCHEC conference in Kelowna next year. However, I digress – so back to my finds.

My youngest daughter is a birding (and owl) enthusiast, so when I saw this little package labeled Owl Puke, I couldn’t resist. The kit comes with a dissecting tray, a nifty little book, and a sterilized owl pellet. The fun starts when you get to carefully take apart a most disgusting intriguing little owl pellet and look for the remnants of the sorry little rodent creature who fatefully became this owl’s lunch. What kid wouldn’t love that? Okay, so I wouldn’t touch it, but I didn’t let on. I have, inadvertently passed on some of my own fears to my children in the past, so I carefully concealed my disgust and put on my best enthusiastic face. It seemed to work – in fact, she couldn’t wait to get started.

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Taking apart owl puke, however, takes time and patience to carefully extract teeny tiny little bones, then sort and clean them. But the fun doesn’t stop there. No, after sorting out the sorry remains in this owl’s lunchbox, the kids can reconstruct the skeletons, and then identify the ill fated victim. For your scientific pleasure, I have included a diagram of the skeletal system of a friendly rodent in your neighborhood. Just print it off, then have the kids glue the bones right on top, or mimic the shape on their own piece of construction paper.

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If you wish to conduct this experiment on your own, it’s advised that you acquire only sterilized owl pellets as unsterilized pellets can contain nasty germs. Sterilized pellets can be ordered online at www.hawkquest.org. Needless to say, if you have a young owl or birding enthusiast in your household, I can highly recommend this little kit, it scores high on the Yuck -O-Meter, is suitable for grades 2 – 12, takes more than one afternoon to complete, and is educational money well spent!

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Homeschool Perk #6

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I have been writing a on a continuing theme over at Heart of the Matter Online for the last few months, with the emphasis being on the many perks of homeschooling. Come join me there and read all about this months homeschooling “Perk”: You can Develop Your Own Learning Plan. See you there!

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Book Review – Window on the World

window-on-the-worldI am often asked how I am able to teach to two different age levels. For homeschool families with more than two children, most of them have found ways to overcome this. For the rest of you, I will share how we manage it. There really isn’t any big secret – just a little bit of common sense. Certain subjects like math, for example, are taught individually – ie: each student works through their own math text for each appropriate grade or learning level. Other subjects, like history, science, and geography (and even some language arts) can be what I refer to as “cross taught”.  In other words we conduct our learning on those latter subjects as a group – and in our case it’s only a group of two. I simply expect either less or more of the said younger or older student depending on what assignment we’re working on.

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One of the latest geography books we’re using this year is called Window on the World,  by: Spragget and Johnstone. What I love about this book is it makes cross teaching world geography very simple.  The book features roughly one hundred countries around the world (one country per page), and offers up a brief but interesting synopsis of each country and their corresponding people groups. Presently we have placed the names of all these countries in our  geography jar, and two or three times a week one of these names is drawn randomly . The country is located on both a world map, and the globe. If the interest is there, then related library books about the country’s people, customs, culture, religious beliefs, resources, and native plants & animals are borrowed and read as well. To track our progress around the globe a colored dot is placed on a wall map of the world. To take this  a step further, you can give your student an opportunity (if they like to draw) to draw their own map of some of the countries – rather than coloring in a black line map. Use your imagination and creativity to make it fun!

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I’ve been amazed at just how much the kids are remembering on their own and are starting to naturally point out things they see in their own environment about some of the countries they’ve explored in this book. New Zealand alone has triggered such observations as New Zealand lamb (at the grocery store), a new Zealand bird – the kiwi (in their bird book), New Zealand Wool (in a clothing label) – and of course their personal favorite: the location of the filming of  The Chronicles of Narnia, the movie. They even made their own observations at just how far these young actors had to travel from their home country England all the way to New Zealand to film this movie.

Overall I highly recommend this book to further the study of geography in your own home learning environment. If your kids are tired of map books, why not try something different? Your little globe trotters will thank you – and you just might learn a thing or two you never new before either. Happy trotting!

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I Lichen You Very Much!

Well, this whole new enthusiasm thing seems to be contagious! Today we went for another nature walk, but this time our group of young botonists grew from two to seven! This time we ventured a little further from home, to a local city park. We were on the hunt for birds, but the kids were so enthusiastic that this new kind of exploring knew no limits. With sketch books in hand the kids seemed to have inherent abilities to spot things often overlooked and unseen by the unobservant eye. There seemed to be a lot of attention drawn to plants, fungus and trees.

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Stones were lifted, ferns overturned, moss inspected and a few unusual lichens were discovered. Lichens are rather interesting to observe as they are neither plant; nor a distinct fungus, but a kind of blend of fungus, alga, and sometimes a type of bacteria. Each is dependent on the other for survival and together they form this very unique organism that thrives in our BC rain forests.

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If you are considering making nature walks a regular part of your homeschool journey, I’d highly recommend taking along a few field guides to help out your young botanists in their discoveries. I have a variety of field guides that we own on insects, flowers, trees, and birds. The Lone Pine and Usborne field guides are great for children, but if you have older students you may want to look for something a little more in depth. The library is a good place to “try before you buy” so to speak. I recently ordered the Hand Book of Nature Study. This book was originally published in 1911 and is very thorough – after all plants haven’t changed much in the last hundred years. It is available to view online, but it’s a little tedious trying to make an 800+ page online book usable in reality, but don’t let me sway you – have a look. This gem of a book can be overwhelming without understanding the purpose of the thing. This little quote sums it up:

“The chief aim of this volume is to encourage investigation rather than to give information.” – Handbook of Nature Study

I recently found a blog featuring this very book and who’s purpose is dedicated to encourage those interested in using it. Once our book arrives I hope to participate in the weekly Outdoor Hour Challenge  featured on this blog. In the interim, I will leave you with this quote:

Nature observation is enhanced by sketching what is seen: “To look at it is something, but its spirit will not come at once; you must look long enough, with a child’s forgetfulness of time. Gazing for long, though, becomes tedious; you begin to think of the dinner-hour. But to draw it is to caress it; all the difference between staring at a kitten and stroking it; between watching a game and playing it. That is why it is worth learning to draw.” [from this Parents’ Review article]

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Fun with Electronics!

electronics-kitYou might think that electronics is not a subject that could be enjoyed by a fourth grader, but this post might just change your mind. I too, was a sceptic. Even though I have daughters who are not afraid of getting dirty, or exploring the world of insects and reptilians, I was sure that electronics might have to wait ’til eight grade. However, to my surprise I came across this nifty little electronics kit titled non other than: Fun with Electronics.

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The kit is comprised of a cardboard “workbench”, 52 springs, and various electronic components such as transformers, various capacitors, resistors, transistors, diodes and the like. The kids can (and did) put the entire workbench and all the components together themselves with relative ease. Once the workbench is complete, there are 25 different circuits the kids can build on the bench in order to create various electronic projects, including sound, touch, and light activated switches. Following instructions is critical though, and the ability to troubleshoot a problem circuit or locate a missing connection is necessary and requires much patience. Over all, the projects are quick and rewarding, and if the kids are able to follow verbal instructions well, you can sit and read the circuit patterns to the kids while they go to work and connect it. You can even do so while drinking your coffee – really.

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You may be wondering: Okay, that sounds cool, but I have kids in different grade levels and I simply don’t have time for all these separate little projects. Believe me, I had thought of that too. Which is why this year I have taken a different approach to science. I have two girls in grades 4 and 6 with two different sets of learning outcomes for science. If your kids are old enough, consider teaching the same subject to both grades. This electronics kit was purchased to meet 6th grade learning outcomes, and it happens to be something that my fourth grader is very much into. So, as a result, my fourth grader ends up ahead by meeting these 6th grade learning outcomes ahead of schedule – freeing 6th grade science for well, whatever she may fancy. Even though many of us are enrolled, it is possible to find the scholastic freedom that is familiar to many registered home learners.

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