Monday, November 30, 2015

Technology Meets Imagination

Abby and Grace have been playing with our duplos lately, constructing all kinds of houses and other structures. Abby brought me a small duplo configuration.

"It's a phone," she said.
I see.

"It's an i-phone," she clarified.

I turned it over.
Oh, of course.

How do children pick up on technology so quickly?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Homeschool Highlights: Thanksgiving Feast

This is the second year I have been in charge of the Thanksgiving feast for our homeschool group. When I was growing up, my elementary school had a Thanksgiving feast every year. Kids were encouraged to come dressed up as Pilgrims or Indians and enjoy turkey lunch. Drawing on those happy memories, I love organizing our homeschool feast.

I started out by marking out the size of the Mayflower on the ground so the kids could see how big the Mayflower wasn't--approximately 106 feet long by 25 feet wide. There were 102 people on board, and the trip lasted 66 days. We also figured out how big the Mayflower would have been comparatively for a group our size--scaled down to about 18 percent. That was an eye opener!

Next we drew up our own little Mayflower Compact. One of the kids was John Carver and everyone threw out ideas for good rules for a new colony. I explained that the initial Mayflower Compact pledged the pilgrims' loyalty to God and the king of England.
Then we started our stations. The first was a fishing station. At the first thanksgiving we assume they ate locally available seafood--eel, bass, or shellfish. So the kids all got to take turns catching some fish for our feast.
The second station was target practice. At the first Thanksgiving they went out and shot fowl--probably duck, goose, turkey, or other birds. When they weren't feasting they played games and did some target practice. So we set up some targets and Nerf guns and let everyone take a turn.

The third station was grinding corn. We set some big stones and some popcorn kernels out and let everyone try grinding some cornmeal.
Everyone also got to sample some authentic dishes from the first Thanksgiving--nausamp (savory cornmeal mush) and pompion pottage (stewed pumpkin). For the nausamp I boiled about 1-1/2 c. cornmeal in 4 c. water till it was thick then seasoned it with parsley, green onions, and salt. For the pumpkin I mashed pumpkin with a bit of butter, salt, cider vinegar, and ground ginger.
The final station before our meal was a turkey poster. Everyone could write things they are thankful for on a feather and stick it on the turkey.
For the meal all the moms signed up to bring different items. It was a good feast
Before we went home we made fun candy pilgrim hats. Just stick a peanut butter cup on top of a cookie with some frosting. Use a piece of gum or candy (we used butter mints) for the buckle. Yum!
I love teaching my kids (and their peers) about the value of gratitude and our heritage of shared thanks--such beautiful, important concepts!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why I Listen to Christmas Music Early

Last fall someone was commenting to us about hearing Christmas music being played in a public venue.

"It's not even Thanksgiving yet. Can you believe that? Isn't that silly?"

I was quiet. But Abby pitched in and said, "We've been listening to Christmas music."

Yes, that's right, I start listening to Christmas music before Halloween.

I love Thanksgiving as much as the next person. I believe in teaching my children the value of gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifice of the pilgrims and others who have gone before. I think it's sad when Black Friday excitement eclipses Thanksgiving. I believe that Thanksgiving should get full attention.
But I also believe that the true spirit of Christmas is the spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving. Spending more time pondering the miraculous birth in Bethlehem makes me more grateful and fills me with a greater desire to reach out and bless others. When I think of what I'm grateful for, Jesus Christ and His gospel are at the top of my list. I scratch my head sometimes when people seem determined to keep Jesus at bay until appropriately honoring the Pilgrims. I think even the Pilgrims would agree we got that one backwards.

So I often listen to Christmas music in my car and around our house from October through February. Our family loves sitting in the living room singing Christmas hymns throughout both November and December. I rejoice in the opportunity to teach our children to rejoice in Christ.

May we all give thanks for our Savior, the bountiful earth He made for us and the free country He has given us. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Homeschool Highlights: The Feudal System

We had a great time reading chapter 16 of The Story of the World, Volume 2 and learning about the feudal system. Of course, the first thing we did after reading it was go make the castle mentioned in the activity guide. It was a great hit. (An an excellent use for leftover Halloween candy!)

Later that week I pulled out a booklet from Windsor Castle that I bought years ago when I visited there. (If you don't happen to have a booklet from Windsor Castle, there are plenty of articles and pics online.)
William the Conqueror started building Windsor Castle in 1070, just four years after becoming king. He chose its location because it was on a bluff overlooking the Thames, and it was originally a motte and bailey castle. It is both medieval (because William the Conqueror initiated its construction) and modern (because the royals still live there). When I visited in the early '90s we saw Queen Elizabeth leaving, and she waved to us on her way out.

Windsor Castle is a great option for teaching kids about medieval castle construction. The round tower used to be the keep--it was expanded in the 1800s.
The gate features slits in the wall so boiling water or molten lead could be poured on invaders. (Wowzers! Glad I didn't live back then.)

It was fun to show all these things to the kids and help them understand medieval castles a bit better. After that we read St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges. It provides examples of a knight owing service to a monarch--an easy way to demonstrate how the feudal system worked.

A few days later Abby informed me that she was building Windsor Castle out of blocks.
  She made sure the gate had slits for the transfer of various boiling liquids
and she put a keep in the middle of the courtyard. A pretty good rendition for a first grader!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fitting in the Pieces

Abby was working on a cube puzzle recently. You know the kind--take 9 cubes, and if you put them together just right you can come up with 6 different pictures. If you think about it, it's a bit hard for a little kid until they become familiar with the scenes and how things fit together.
I watched Abby for a while. I tried to offer as little advice as possible.

"Turn them all to the same color frame."

Then wait and see what she can figure out. Put one in a corner. Add another. And another. Realize that none of them are in the right place. Hmm. What to do now?
"You see that corner piece? Put it in the corner."

More waiting while she figures out what fits where.

Suddenly it struck me how much my gently-coaching-but-mostly-remaining-quiet while Abby works is like my relationship with God. So often I would like Him to tell me more.

What do I do? How do I do this? I can't make all the pieces of my life fit right now, Lord. Can you just tell me what the end is supposed to look like? Please?
I would love a puzzle cover for my life. So He gives us scriptures. And His Spirit. And here a little and there a little He gives little pieces of light and wisdom.

"Try responding with love."
"That's not really what you want in the long term."

"You'll feel better if you forgive."
Bit by bit I try to follow instructions. When I do things work better. He doesn't give it to me all at once--He doesn't do the puzzle for me. The reasons are the same. If I did the puzzle for Abby, what would she discover and how would she grow? If God does it all for me, how will I learn?

So I stumble along piece by piece. I know that I am safe in His hands. And in the end the picture He helps me create will be glorious.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Homeschool Highlights: Vikings

We had a lot of fun learning about the Vikings. We read chapter 14 from Story of the World Volume 2. We also read Yo, Vikings by Judith Byron Schachner. It's a jaunty little picture book that is fun but educational and my kids enjoyed it.
I made Jake a Viking helmet and braided wigs for the girls, and we turned our couch into a Viking ship while we did some reading one afternoon. (I got the Viking helmet idea from this site.)

Jake's cardboard stick horse had to sub in for a fierce dragon head on this Viking ship

At the end of the week we celebrated all of this new knowledge with a Viking dinner. We built a long house with stuffed animals at one end of the room. (Viking homes in the country often had rooms for animals at one end of the house and rooms for people at the other end.)
We made the Viking bread from the Story of the World Activity Guide. We also had some salmon, peas, and cabbage cooked with onions and spices. Vikings ate a lot of fish and cold-weather crops like peas, onions, and cabbage. It was yummy.
Finally, we had a Viking Thing all dressed in our Viking gear. Every summer Vikings had a Thing--a big meeting where they met to decide laws. Our Thing was our weekly family council. I'm not sure popcorn (our traditional family council food) is very authentic Viking food. We made a quick pitcher of Viking mead (unfermented, of course) to supplement. (Our mead consisted of 4 cups water, 1/2 c. honey, grated orange peel from half of an orange, and a dash of ground ginger. I got the idea from Days of Knights and Damsels by Laurie Carlson, an excellent resource for medieval history.)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Hard Knock Life

I frequently like to ask the kids about the best and worst parts of their day when I tuck them into bed at night. Recently I had a few moments alone with Abby, and I asked her what the best and worst parts of her life are right now. Her response was immediate.

"Well, the worst part of my life is that I can't just jump on the trampoline all day." She went on to describe how her idea of perfection would be jumping all day with only brief breaks for food. Formal schoolwork and household jobs would, apparently, be abolished.
It's a hard knock life.