Weekly book shelf, monthly edition: September

This is the last monthly edition. Probably. Because we will be traveling for the last two weeks of September we are putting the start of our classical, scheduled learning on hold until the first week of October. These first two weeks of September we are using to review past topics and make a plan for the rest of the year.

With that in mind, September was a month of rediscovering old favorites as we cleaned off shelves and reorganized for the coming scheduled year. All of these are rereads, which means he must have really loved them the first time to pick them up again.

Peter Pan and Wendy is not the Disney movie, and although it is sprinkled with a few similar faux pas that reflect the era of its composition, this story has its place. If nothing else, it's a good jumping off point for discussing the evolution of prejudices everywhere, but it's also a really imaginative and beautiful story. Plus it's written with challenging and rich language.

Ginger Pye is simple and sweet. A dog, some sweet kids, the dog gets stolen, chaos ensues. Simple and sweet.


The One and Only Ivan is a beautifully written story—one of the better children's novels to come out of our current era. The story of a caged gorilla and his friends and their efforts to help a baby elephant who has been added to their caged ranks, this is a book that will tug at the heart strings. It's also a social commentary on animal rights. A good one. Calvin rereads this one regularly.


Another regular revisit for Calvin, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is full of fantastic word play and hilarity that challenges a young reader to think, while making them laugh.



Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding Vol. II thread plan

After spending the early part of September reviewing BFSU vol. I, in October we'll be continuing our science journey with Elementary Science Education, or BFSU vol. II gor frades 3-5.

Here is my previous note about the BFSU books from my Vol. I thread plan post:

I love these books, but not everyone does, because these aren't the kind of books you can crack open for the first time on the morning you expect to run through a lesson together. These books do require planning ahead, and sometimes studying ahead, depending on your own science background. Since I studied Evolutionary Biology in college I already have a very strong science background, but these lessons are so well described that they lend themselves to learning together.

First, though, a bit about what these books aren't: they are not workbooks or text books; they are not intended to be handed to a student; they don't have tests, questions, pictures, or diagrams; they are not scripted.

What they ARE, is a series of well thought out lesson plans that guide teachers and students through the basic tenets of science by following the scientific model of "show don't tell".

Lessons plans in these books are intended to be taught in a few sessions over one to two weeks, depending on the depth of the lesson and the depth of your interest. Each lesson opens with an overview, a breakdown of the parts of the lesson with suggested time expenditure for each part, and lists of necessary background knowledge, expected knowledge outcomes, and necessary materials.

Every lesson has suggested demonstrations and hands on activities as well as suggestions for general conversation. Most lessons also suggest ways to go deeper into lessons when the interest is there.

At the end of each plan is a list of suggested reading materials.

The lessons are divided into four different topic threads (the nature of matter, life sciences, physical science, and earth and space science), and all lessons in the three books are connected via a flow chart that shows a suggested order of attack and demonstrates how certain lessons flow into others and which are necessary prerequisites to others.

It is easy, although a little time consuming, to sit down with the flow chart at the front of each book and make a plan of action for the school year, whatever that means to you. Where possible, we tend to focus on the Life Science and the Earth and Space Science threads in the spring and summer when the weather is nice, while in the fall and winter we focus more on the Physical Science and the Nature of Matter threads. This is what I think works best for us, but there are many ways to plan the order of delivery while still keeping to the suggested flow order, so you can do whatever works best for you.

Here, then is my plan of action for covering the lessons in Elementary Science Education: BFSU Vol 2

October 2014
(connecting concepts to our recent trip to California, and the season change to fall)
D-10: The Water Cycle and its Ramifications
D-11: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Movements of Tetonic Plates
D-12: Mapping the Earth; Latitude and Longitude
D-9: Cause of Seasonal Changes

November 2014
(connecting to the fall season)
B-16: Fungi and Bacteria I: Their Role as Decomposers in Nature
B-17: Fungi and Baceria II: Decomposers vs. Food Storage and Preservation
B-18: Fungi and Bacteria III: Decomposers vs. Disease and Health

January 2015
A-11: Atomic/Molecular Motion I: Evidence from Brownian Motion and Diffusion
A-12: Atomic/Molecular Motion II: Relationship to Temperature
A-13: Atomic/Molecular Motion III: Heat and Pressure

February 2015
A-15: Will It Sink or Foat? The Concept of Density
A-16: How Metal Ships Float/Making a Hydrometer
A-17: Heat, Volume, and Density


March 2015
(connecting to our trip to the tropics)
A-18: Convection Currents: Observation and Interpretation
D-13: Climate and Weather I: Wet Tropics and Dry Deserts

Break for side study of bird migration and species identification


April 2015
B-12: The Life of Plants I: Growing Plants for Fun, Food, and Learning
B-13: Cells I: Microscopes, Observations of Tissues, and the Cell Theory


May 2015
B-14: Cells II: Cell Growth, Division, and Differentiation
B-22: The Life of Plants II: How a Plant Grows Its Parts


June 2015
B-15: Cells III: Integrating Cells and Whole-Body Functions
B-19: Microscopic Organisms I: Their Multitude and Diversity
B-20: Microscopic Organisms II: Single-Celled Organisms; Kingdom Protista


Break for summer observation of species and habitats in the wild


2015-2016 school year (order planned, but not yet placed on calendar)
C-8: How Things Fly
C-9: Center of Gravity, Balance, and Wobbling Wheels
C-10: Movement Energy and Momentum
C-11: Mechanics I: Levers and Discovery of the Underlying Principle
C-12: Mechanics II: Inclined Planes, Pulleys, Gears, and Hydraulic Lifts
C-13: Electricity I: Electric Circuits, Switches, Conductors, and Non-Conductors
C-13a: Electricity Ia: Static Electricity, Sparks, and Lightning
C-14: Electricity II: Parallel and Series Circuits, Short Circuits, Fuses, and Ground Wires
C-15: Light I: Basics of Light and Seeing
A-14: Concepts of Chemistry I: Elements and Compounds


Year 3 school plan (2014-2015, age 8)

We continue homeschooling through the summer, just with a lighter load of table work and an emphasis on life learning, and I count our years from mid-June through mid-June, so when I say "the 2014-2015 school year", I mean June 2014-June 2015. I do this because Calvin's birthday is in mid June, plus this is about when we launch our different summer schedule.

June 2014-June 2015
Age 8 (public school grade 3)


We love the Michael Clay Thompson series from Royal Fireworks Press. We originally used Susan Wise Bauer's First Language Lessons, but Calvin flew through that entire series and we both wanted something more rich and holistic. The MCT series certainly provides that. Since Calvin already had a great background in grammar, having finished the entire FLL series, he flew through the MCT Level 1 books in just a few months last spring and he really couldn't get enough, especially of the poetry and Latin root lessons. We took a break over the summer, but will pick it back up full swing this fall. We also use a supplementary spelling workbook (for vocabulary building and handwriting practice as much as for the spelling), and journal writing.

We started with the Math-U-See back in the pre-school or kindergarten age and it has served us well. The curriculum makes great use of visual aids and continually builds on and reviews previous topics. We use three supplementary workbooks that practice logic based math as well.

We started with Spanish last spring using the Flip-Flop Spanish book. This was a pdf file that I purchased on CurrClick and printed at home, and while I would never consider it a well rounded language lesson book, it was a pretty light and fun way to get started with some vocabulary before settling down into the nitty gritty. The nitty gritty is more where we are starting this fall with Spanish for Children.

As with so many others in the homeschooling community we have been plugging along with The Story of the World, and I plan to continue in this way with a few changes. Prior to this year we have been spending lots of extra time on various civilizations and time periods. For each civilization we studied we went into details about their mythology, their origin stories, and usually sought out examples of early (very early) literature traditions. This year, with the exception of the Norse mythology that is coming up, I plan to speed up our journey through this curriculum.

No changes here. We are still using Building Foundations and loving it. The only change I wish to effect this year is the addition of some supplementary living science reading.


June 2014-June 2015
Age 8 (public school grade 3)


The Michael Clay Thompson series, Level 2:
Grammar Town, Paragraph Town, and Practice Town
Building Poems
Caesar's English
Poetry for Young People series
Spelling Workout Level F (to be completed in January)
Spelling Workout Level G (begin in January)
Reading, both alone and aloud, choice and assigned from a long list of classical books

Math-U-See Zeta (complete in October)
Math-U-See Pre-Algebra (begin in October)
Logic Liftoff, grades 4-6 (complete in January)
Orbiting with Logic, grades 5-7 (begin in February)
Logic Safari Book 2, grades 3-4 (complete in January)
Logic Safari Book 3, grades 5-6 (begin in February)

Spanish for Children Primer A

The Story of the World, Volume 2
The Story of the World, Volume 2 Activity Book

Building Foundations in Scientific Understanding, Volume II, Grades 3-5

Drawing with Children, by Mona Brooks
Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists series, by Mike Venezia

Piano Adventures Level 3B series (complete in March)
Piano Adventures Level 4 series (begin in March)
Boychoir of Ann Arbor Preparatory Choir


Weekly book shelf, monthly edition: August

Calvin was all about the spooky books this month, which was interesting because prior to this he was so anti-spooky books that he wouldn't even let them reside on the shelves in his room. He's turning over a new leaf, I guess. The following are the standouts, per Calvin. The first three I'd consider pretty good reading, the Chillers series is definitely what we call "junk food" reading—temporarily delicious, but completely devoid of sustenance. 

Thirteen-year-old Thomas moves into a large old house with quite the reputation. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the legend held that two fugitive slaves and the man who was hiding them were killed there. With secret tunnels and possibly buried treasure, the house seems like a dream to Thomas, but is the house haunted? This book and its sequel, The Mystery of Drear House, are wonderful options for historical fiction from the Civil War era.


Twelve-year-old Kenny moves to Providence, Rhode Island, only to find that his attic bedroom is haunted by the ghost of a teenage slave named Caleb (see a pattern here?). As Kenny learns more from Caleb about his life and its end, Kenny is increasingly troubled by the wrongness of it. Beautiful and haunting while also inviting the reader to think about justice and racial equality.


Young Horace has a very logical mind and doesn't at all believe in ghosts. That is, until he is hired to photograph a gravesite and, in the process, discovers that his photographs seem to have supernatural powers. Caught in a money-making scheme dreamt up by his boss, Horace inadvertently releases a force from picture into the world. This is certainly not the best of Avi's writing, and the story is pretty dark in places, but it serves for a good, spooky, light read.


The Michigan Chillers series is a rather outrageous collection of monster stories, all set in the main tourist spots throughout Michigan. Light on the writing front, and even light in the setting description, I get the feeling these are fairly formulaic horror stories with just a few key setting details thrown in to give them a push in the market place. It seemed to me that in several instances the actual action of the story took place in places outside of the supposed setting (like underground caverns, or inside buildings), so that not too many specific details had to be used. The author is a Michigan native, though, and the books are certainly fun, light reads for a little late summer night spooking.


Weekly book shelf, monthly edition: July

Calvin begged me to locate a good copy of Oliver Twist for him to read. Then, as possibly was to be expected, he had a little trouble with it. It wasn't the vocabulary, or even the language, I don't think. His main complaint was that the beginning was so negative; everything that happened to Oliver was bad. We assured him that it would improve, and the further he got into the book, the more into the book he got. By the end he couldn't put it down. I agree with him, though, the beginning sure is a downer.

Vampires are all the rage now, but this series is actually a 1980s classic. If you can call anything about the 80s classic, that is. Originally published in German, the story is about a young boy whose life takes a turn for the exciting when he makes two new friends—a vampire boy and girl pair. Adventures and hilarity ensue. Jon handed this one to Calvin because it was a favorite of his when he was little (oh those classic 80s), but upon further reading he found it to be lighter than he remembered. Such is life. Calvin enjoyed it, but he didn't go back to reread it the way he usually does with books he loves.

Speaking of books he loves, though, it was apparently time for the apparently annual Oz reread. I first read the Oz series to Calvin the summer he turned four. He loved it then, and as his reading skill grew, he reread it to himself almost immediately. He loved it so much, and some of the series books were so hard to get through the library, that we went in search of all fourteen Baum books—in the Books of Wonder editions because they have the original illustrations in situ. He has reread the entire series every year since.

Another beloved series of the 80s, but in a totally different vein, we were just waiting for the day that Calvin would discover our Calvin and Hobbes collection. Now he has. He spent the latter part of the month totally engrossed in the comics. Of course some of the humor is lost on him, but not all of it, and he has had a wonderful time play acting some of the antics, and he's picking up on some of the kid's humor, too. We asked for it. (Disclaimer: we did NOT name our Calvin after the comic, but he really is starting to resemble that iconic kid).