Category Archives: Learning

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.



Filed under Books, Language Arts, Learning, Reading

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!)


Filed under Books, Curriculum, Language Arts, Learning

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.

owl pellet 1

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.

owl pellet 2

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 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!



Filed under Books, Charlotte Mason, Convention, Curriculum, Learning, Science

Proofread Carefully to See if You Any Words Out.

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. – Gene Fowler

The last few weeks of our homeschool have been focused on how to write a formal essay. We follow a loose Classical/Charlotte Mason homeschool philosophy, and are transitioning from copywork and dictation exercises to more formal outlining and essay writing. Though we will be doing much more of this more formal style of writing next year, the opportunity came up to attend a writer’s camp through the DL school we are enrolled with. The camp was conducted in a small group atmosphere, and provided an opportunity for each of the kids to brainstorm their ideas together. 

Writing an Essay

Writing an Essay

I don’t generally insist on formal writing exercises with my kids (they write naturally, why make it feel like drudgery?), but over the years, I have gently introduced them to different styles and methods of writing.  As they get older, there is a need for more intermediate writing skills. One of my children is a natural creative writer, but seems to dislike formal writing for information exercises. My other child seems to be the opposite, being somewhat displeased with having learn the formalities of creative writing, but managed to write longer paragraphs than her older sister when it came to essay writing. This is often the way it goes, no? Sigh….

Gluing it on Poster Board

Gluing it on Poster Board

What I discovered during this little writing camp though, was an essay writing method that was easy for the kids to learn and follow along with. In fact, it is a method that seems to work well with children as young as 4th grade! Because the method was shared at a writing camp, I searched the web to try and find a replication of this method in order to share with you. You can take a look here, and here – they are very similar. I would also recommend conducting a little writing camp of your own. Using the steps in the above mentioned web sites, a small group of 6 kids would probably work really well with ages between 10 & 12, or grades 4-6.  Once set up, try to pick topics the kids are passionate, or somewhat knowledgable about, this kick starts their creativity and can inspire them to dig deeper into their research. Most importantly, don’t forget to communicate to your kids the purpose of a persuasive essay:  to persuade their audience to accept their idea or point of view.

Include Some Pictures!

Include Some Pictures!

The finished essay can then be typed, or handwritten, or if you wish (as my kids did), cut and pasted onto poster board complete with drawings. Schedule the final week of your writing camp to be a presentation week – the kids can present and read aloud their reports, and encourage one another. If time allows provide some snacks and time for play afterwards. Don’t know what to do with a giant poster board when you get home? Before you recycle, take a photo of the project, and either burn it to a disc, or print the photo and keep for your homeschool records. This way, you can keep the project and do away with the clutter!

In the interim, I’ll leave you with this:

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. – Arthur Polotnik


Filed under Charlotte Mason, Classical, Encouragement, Language Arts, Learning, Writing

Cogito Ergo Sum

I was asked to write an article pertaining to how I am able to implement critical thinking with a Christian perspective into my homeschool, but before I explain how we do it, I feel I must firstly explain what critical thinking is, and what it is not.


As a Christian home educator, I find myself constantly thinking about what it is I’m teaching my children. I am after all, their biggest influence. Not only am I responsible for teaching them the three R’s and other academics, I am also responsible for modeling good manners, for helping them develop good work ethics, for demonstrating love, acceptance and forgiveness, and for giving them the skills they need to think for themselves. My focus for this article; obviously, is the latter. What is this critical thinking and how are we able, in this process called homeschooling, to find success in the arena of teaching our kids to think for themselves?


Webster defines critical thinking as: the mental process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion .I am speaking of course, of a higher degree of thinking. I am not speaking of merely forming an opinion, but rather to be able to logically support an argument – based on a solidly formed premise. Sound intimidating? Not really, if you have been taught the basics of critical thinking. And what better a place to start the process of critical thinking than with our own faith? How many of us are able to comfortably support an argument about Intelligent Design? How many of us can skilfully use rhetoric to support a creationist world view? Could you hold your own against an individual who holds an opposing evolutionist world view? How about a university professor? Is this a skill you hope your children will one day posses? Is this a skill you value?


Teaching our children to think is probably one of the most important life skills to obtain, and sadly it is often overlooked. It is also not obtained; however, without a serious degree of effort on our part. If you have been learning along side your children in your own homeschool journey, then you will feel quite comfortable with this process. Unfortunately, you can’t teach this skill by handing your child a workbook – though some mind bender exercises (found in a workbook) can definitely help a young brain to stretch its muscle so to speak.


I have found the most effective way to teach critical thinking is through discussion. You can pick almost any topic: from mathematical word problems, scientific processes, literary analysis, and creative problem solving – to name a few. Lately, I have been focused on a combination of biblical and scientific fact. More specifically, using the bible alongside a wonderful children’s reference book on intelligent design titled It Couldn’t Just Happen. Many lively discussions can be brought forth as a result of exploring this book together with your children. Your objective should be to simply ask open ended questions. Try not to lead your child in their answers – remember your job is to give them the tools they need to start to think for themselves. Think more of gentle guidance, and less of leading the witness. Help turn over the soil in their young minds, pretty soon they’ll be asking you for the shovel.


I have also felt the Lord gently guiding me towards what I have coined God’s own World Wide Web – the www here standing for world history, world religion and world view. They are all so closely interrelated, intertwined, and interwoven. Are you seeing the relationship here? I myself am just starting to get the gist of it, but it starts with a foundation of basic critical thinking skills.


May God bless you richly in your homeschool journey.


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Filed under Encouragement, Learning, Parenting

Homeschool Perk #5

No Longer be a Slave to Grades!


Head on over to Heart of the Matter Online to read the rest of this month’s Homeschool Perk! See you there!

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Filed under Encouragement, Learning, Subjects

Birds of a Feather….

bird-count-button01Birds of a feather stick together. That’s right – the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society are asking families, students, and people of all ages to help make an important contribution to conservation. Come join the12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count(GBBC), February 13-16, 2009. 

“The Great Backyard Bird Count benefits both birds and people. It’s a great example of citizen science: Anyone who can identify even a few species can contribute to the body of knowledge that is used to inform conservation efforts to protect birds and biodiversity,” said Audubon Education VP, Judy Braus. “Families, teachers, children and all those who take part in GBBC get a chance to improve their observation skills, enjoy nature, and have a great time counting for fun, counting for the future.”

Simply dust off those bird feeders and fill them up – then for as little as 15 minutes a day – observe the feeders and identify which species are showing up for a little winter snack. You can participate in just one or all four days of the count. Then record your sightings each day online at GBBC provides many helpful resources, and Cornell provides a great online bird guide to assist those who may be without a good field guide for their region. For more information about the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit their site here.

So go on, get out those binoculars, stock your feeders, empower your children and come join us in the count!


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Filed under Community, Learning, Nature, Science