Category Archives: History/Socials

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.


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!


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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Filed under Books, Curriculum, History/Socials, Learning

Election Time = Opportunity to Teach Government

We have a Federal Election approaching our True North Strong & Free. That’s right, October 14 is voting day for us here Canadians, and if you homeschool, it’s a prime opportunity to teach government and politics. I recall stressing a little bit last year at the idea of having to cover government for 5th grade learning outcomes – and we all know how exciting teaching government can be (wink). Soooo, luckily I was let in on a little secret from a fellow homeschooler with more experience and wisdom than I. “Why teach government now?”, she said….”Why not wait for an election?” Hmmm, I thought – now that makes sense.

So, here we are at election time, and I have decided to take two weeks straight and focus on Social Studies – with the sole purpose of teaching government and politics. That’s one of the many perks of homeschooling – you can take advantage of these opportunities and digress off the scheduled PLO’s (provincial learning outcomes) with the freedom to cover them in any order you wish. They all get covered in the end, but when opportunities like his come up, it simply personalizes the topic for the kids and gives them something concrete that they can hold on to – solidifying their learning experience.

We are using a nifty little book called Canada Votes, by: Linda Granfield. The book walks you through the basics of Canadian government and election procedures – connecting what the children are seeing around the neighborhood with the election process. In addition, we have been taking it upon ourselves to take note of individual candidates and running parties, as well as investigate what each candidate is standing for. (This can be taken a step further coincidedly with another book called Who Runs This Country Anyway?  by: Joanne Stanbridge) The girls are charged with picking three major points that each candidate is promising and writing them down. As we go along, we are provided opportunities to discuss in depth (according to skill level) what we think of each candidate’s stance on certain issues. By the end of the two weeks, we should be able to make an informed decision as to whom we think should best be suited for the running positions. The children are responsible for this fact finding process and along the way, they are learning a new skill – the skill of applied logic. No mind-bender workbook will provide this kind of logistic opportunity.

I am amazed at the type and depth of conversations we have had so far, and I did not anticipate having these kinds of conversations, but I stand in awe at the natural progression of it all. I imagine as we continue to investigate, we will have many more. So, if you have such an opportunity with your children to tie in government and politics with an election process, by all means do so! You will be amazed at the natural learning that occurs, the life skills that are developed and the character that arises in your children.


Filed under Curriculum, History/Socials, Learning

Take a Trip Back in Time!

Craigflower SchoolhouseLast week we had the pleasure of participating in a field trip to an 1850’s Manor and Schoolhouse. Since we are working our way through our Pioneer Unit Study, we figured a visit to this museum would be very timely.

Manor wallThe Craigflower Manor is one of the few remaining original HBC (Hudson Bay Company) wooden structures in North America. Built in 1856, it housed Kenneth Mackenzie, his wife Agnes and their children. Hand PlaningMackenzie was hired by the HBC company to manage a large agricultural farm. The farm was to provide fresh produce to nearby Fort Victoria. The Craigflower schoolhouse was completed in 1856 in order to provide education for the children of the employees who worked on the farm.

Grinding WheatOur tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, friendly and great with the kids. This was by far one of the most fascinating field trips we attended this year. One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to cater your child’s learning experiences to the subject you have chosen to investigate. Organizing a field trip is easy and rewarding as it provides the opportunity for community learning. Using Their SlatesOur tour guide had lots of hands on activities for the children to participate in. We did things like take a turn at hand grinding some wheat (grown on the farm), experimenting with a carpenters hand plane and even an outdoor game of pioneer style ‘catch’ with a hoop and sticks. But the best part of all was the opportunity to sit in the old schoolhouse desks and practice our penmanship on real slates with authentic slate pencils. The kids were absolutely thrilled.

I highly recommend tying in your study of pioneer times with a visit to this historic site. You will not be disappointed.

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Filed under Community, Field Trips, History/Socials, Learning, Places To Visit, Unit Studies

Simplify Your Gifts!

Hand Dipped CandleAs we dig deeper into our study of the pioneers, we begin to fill our hearts with gratitude for the simple things in life. We’ve been taking a peek at what the pioneers did for gifts as they celebrated Christmas isolated from their nearest neighbors who were trapped by the snow and cold. Since there was no Wal-Mart, Television, or Billboards to entice us with things we don’t need – but think we do,  we paid attention to what gifts were exchanged between the pioneers at Christmas.

Adding DyeAfter snuggling together and watching the original Little House on the Prairie, we observed the following. Children were very fortunate indeed to receive a new pair of mittens, a hand carved wooden toy, perhaps a hand made doll, or a piece of peppermint candy. A shiny new penny was also a pleasant surprise. Grown ups seemed awfully grateful for a few sweet potatoes, some sage to go in the stuffing (if they were lucky enough to have a turkey) or a new pair of dipped candlesticks.

Pouring CandlesHomemade gifts always seemed to be the most treasured when I was a child. This got me thinking about the kinds of things my girls could create with their own hands and present as gifts, so we decided to hand craft our own candles. Though we didn’t use beef tallow and beeswax, we were able to create some lovely soy candles. We got together with another homeschool family and the girls melted wax, prepared wicks, stirred in dyes and added delicious scents. Stirring WaxIn no time we had quite a collection of wonderful little candles to give away.

Though I cannot stop the flow of commercialism, nor prevent kind hearted relatives from buying more toys, I can prepare my heart and demonstrate to my children the beauty of the simpler things in life. And hopefully, leave an imprint of thankfulness in their own hearts and minds.

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Filed under Encouragement, History/Socials, Learning, Unit Studies

Thankful For The Simple Things

Little HouseWith school portfolios out of the way, December leaves me yearning for a break from all the bookwork, and a desire to learn new things with a fresh excitement. So, that is exactly what we’ve been doing. Since I’ve decided to ‘Simplify our Christmas’, our unit study has taken us on some very interesting places. Pioneer1We’ve read excerpts out-loud from the following books: A Little House Sampler – by William T Anderson, Little House on the Prairie– by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Way West: Journal of a Pioneer Woman – by Amelia Stuart Knight, and On the Banks of Plum Creek– Laura Ingalls Wilder. After delving into some of these books it isn’t hard to be extraordinarily thankful for the things we have. I must admit, I was somewhat romanticised by the whole idea at first. I had visions of an easier, much simpler life than what we have today. I wondered if the modern conveniences of our life today have really helped us to live a simpler life. The answers I have found are rather interesting. (more later)

Road signThough the pioneers did indeed live a much simpler life, their life was far from easy. I knew that going in, but chose to leave it in the background. However if you really were a pioneer in the mid 1800’s, you could not choose to leave that in the background, so to speak. Though simple and rewarding, their life was incredibly labor intensive. Not only did it take many months to travel to the new frontier; for there were many perils along the way, but there were also many months to follow establishing a homestead. This was no easy task. If you were fortunate enough to have neighbors near by, you may have had some help putting the roof on your house or building a stable for your livestock. If not, you had to depend on the help of your wife and children. Bugs attacked, snowstorms froze, the sun scorched and prairie fires threatened.

Wagon & OxenPerils aside, I did observe this. With all the hard work to be done on the homestead, there was plenty of time to work side by side one another and share stories. There was time to learn a trade from either parent. There was time to help one another. There was time to play together. There was time to pray together. There was also plenty an opportunity to be thankful for ones health and family. The simple things. The important things. I think I can learn something from these people. 

What do you think?


Filed under Books, Encouragement, History/Socials, Learning, Unit Studies

Simplify your Christmas!

Christmas in 1876This time of year a particular frenzy starts to develop inside and outside our homes. Sadly, many people are robbed from the joy and peace this holiday represents. This year my family is simplifying. With Christmas just around the corner I thought about how I could connect our learning to the simplicity of the Christmas Season I so eagerly desired. Since our social studies found us peering into the late 19th century, I found myself wondering what Christmas must have looked like to the pioneers? I am somehow convinced that they weren’t concerned with how tastefully their homes were decorated or whether or not they had the latest and the greatest of the world’s possessions.

apioneerchristmas.jpgThis led me to put together a unit study on the pioneers with an emphasis on what Christmas must have been like in the late 1800’s. I found myself led to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum and stumbled upon a Laura Ingalls Wilder Unit study.  As we explore this study together we find ourselves simplifying our thoughts and attitudes. I found myself wanting to put away the department store tree I always put up and add fresh evergreen boughs decorated with hand strung popcorn and cranberries.

Over the next few weeks I will periodically share with you some of the activities and projects we will do together in our Pioneer Christmas unit study. For now, I will leave you with this quote from A little House Sampler by Laura Ingalls Wilder and edited by William T Anderson.

Evergreen Wreath….I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet simple things in life which are the real ones after all. We heap up all around us things that we do not need as the crow makes piles of glittering pebbles. We gabble words like parrots until we lose the sense of their meaning; we chase after this new idea and that; we take an old thought and dress it out in so many words that the thought itself is lost in its clothing like a slim woman in a barrel skirt and the we exclaim, “Lo, the wonderful new thought I have found!”

Little House Sampler“There is nothing new under the sun,” says the proverb. I think the meaning is that there are just so many truths or laws of life and no matter how far we may think we have advanced we cannot get beyond those laws. However complex a structure we build of living we must come back to those truths and so we find we have traveled in a circle.   

 -Laura Ingalls Wilder


Filed under Encouragement, History/Socials, Unit Studies

A History Lesson @ Tod Inlet

Dense ForestMelmanI went on a lovely hike yesterday to Gowan Todd with some other homeschool friends. I had never been there before, except by boat when we went on our Eco Tour. What made this trail different from others I have been on was the density of the forest. I mean it was really dense. The type of dense that makes you wonder if you’re going to get lost. The type of dense that would make Melman from Madagascar say “Aghhhh nature! It’s all over me! Get it off!”

Giant Concrete FootingsAs we were walking along we noticed signs stating things like “Sensitive Ecosystem” and little ribbons tied to plants in order to keep hikers on the trail so as not to disturb the aforementioned ecosystem. Soon afterwards, we begin to notice things among the sensitive ecosystem. Things that looked like they clearly didn’t belong there. Things like giant concrete slabs, pilings and footings. Artifacts from Factory WorkersGiant, rusty, discarded drilling equipment. And (gasp) broken glass, pottery, and even old shoes! As we were pondering how all this junk could be in the middle of a sensitive ecosystem I decided to ask a group of ladies who were enjoying a rest at a nearby picnic table. When asked if she would share with us the history of the park, she was more than pleased.

QuarryOkay some of you may be nodding by now, but previous to this days visit I knew nothing about the history of the beautiful forest I was walking in. You see Gowan Tod Provincial Park is located just behind the world renown Butchart Gardens. And before there were breathtaking gardens and a provincial park, the land, owned by Robert Pim Butchart  was a bustling port and limestone quarry! Limestone was mined for cement production and therefore the land was also used as a cement factory.

After the quarry was exhausted of it’s limestone it resembled a barren lifeless pit. It was actually Butchart’s wife, Jennie who started to transform the sunken land into what is now known as Butchart’s Sunken Gardens. Here’s what I found from this website. 

Quarry before and afterAs Mr. Butchart exhausted the limestone in the quarry near their house, his enterprising wife, Jennie, conceived an unprecedented plan for refurbishing the bleak pit that resulted. From farmland nearby she requisitioned tons of top soil, had it brought to Tod Inlet by horse and cart, and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, under Jennie Butchart’s personal supervision, the abandoned quarry bloomed as the spectacular Sunken Garden.

smokestack.jpgThe only surviving portion of Mr. Butchart’s Tod Inlet cement factory is the tall chimney of a long-vanished kiln. The chimney may be seen from The Sunken Garden Lookout. The plant stopped manufacturing cement in 1916, but continued to make tiles and flower pots as late as 1950. The single chimney now overlooks the quarry Mrs. Butchart so miraculously reclaimed.

You see, we were walking in a sort of natural museum. A museum that contained historical artifacts of the quarry, factory, port and even the workers who were once employed by the factory. As we looked closer, we noticed that the broken bottles and old shoes were in fact really old. Gowan Tod Provincial ParkConcrete Living QuartersThere were even remnants of flower pots (produced by the factory) and what was left of old concrete housing quarters, and as we looked up we could see the still standing smoke stack of what was once the cement factory. Nature just adapted to the remnants of the land. Vivid mosses grow all over the concrete footings and housing remnants, trees grow up through the pilings, and there are native flowers and vegetation growing right along beside the old quarry drills. Who knew? Apparently everyone but me. But if your sitting there thinking “Wow, I never knew that!”, then I’m glad I could share this little bit of history with you. If you haven’t been to Gowan Tod Provincial park, then come on out for a visit. It’s well worth it!

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Filed under Field Trips, History/Socials, Nature, Places To Visit