Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in u.s. history (3)


Weekly book shelf, 7/3

Thanks to a somewhat impromptu weekend trip I'm behind on pretty much everything, especially the laundry. But vacation means travelling, and that means lots of reading in the car (though not for me, that's something I've never been able to do with out getting vertigo), on top of other reading times. Calvin is definitely all set for his weekly library reading, and he got lots of extra read aloud time with his Oma on this trip, who was sitting next to him in the car.

What Calvin read to himself this week...still on his Magic Tree House kick, he explored Indpendence Day and some others that focused on the history of the United States. Actually, he spent a lot of the trip rereading these to anyone who would listen. He really enjoys these books, and I have yet to find anything in them about which to complain.


As mentioned, we had plenty of read out loud time this week. Calvin's Oma, Jon's mom, brought with her for the car ride, on our way to a family reunion with a bunch of other Dutch folk, three books about Dutch artists Van Gogh and Rembrandt. All three of these books were wonderful. They are based on historical facts and bring the artists to life, engaging the reader in their stories, and the illustrations are very enjoyable. I was especially pleased with the two Laurence Anholt books and I see that he has a whole series of books on master artists.

Having finished the Royal Book of Oz, we started a new bedtime read aloud this week: The Little House on the Prairie. I have actually never read this series, so I am looking forward to discovering it along with my son.

And on my shelf this week...I am half way through The Women of Brewster Place, by Gloria Naylor, and I finished reading Swann's Way, the first volume in Proust. I am really enjoying Proust, and because I think I'll get more out of it a second time through, I've actually gone back to reread the first volume. Also, I'm in the process of starting a separate blog just for taking notes on the work as a whole.


Learning writing style, and journal entries

Calvin has been writing for a while now. He started keeping his journal almost a year ago. At that time it was mostly a sentence, or even just a few words, describing an activity from the day, or sometimes a book that we'd read, and I was helping him form his sentences and sound out and spell the words. I got him started on the journal before he could read in part because he was interested in doing so—he'd noticed me keeping journals for some time by then—and also because I thought it might be empowering to be able to share his thoughts with the world at large. He enjoyed it, and I'm pretty sure the process helped him learn to read a few months later, though learning is a very fluid process, and like the proverbial chicken and egg I can't tell which drove the other—the journal the reading, or the reading the journal. And as Calvin gained his own writing legs I slowly stopped helping him with his journal, and some time early this year I left him sitting on the couch writing while I ran on the treadmill, and since that time all the entries have been entirely his—spelling, punctuation, composition, and all.

Recently he and I had a chance to talk about sentence formation and about telling stories with written words. The topic presented itself because after having read all the Oz books by L. Frank Baum we graduated to the subsequent books by Ruth Plumly Thompson, only her writing just isn't as good—it's not as clear, it's not as bright, it's not as enjoyable. We compared some of their methods for story telling, and some examples of their sentence formation as well. From there we started talking more about what makes a sentence interesting in general, and about rhythm and flow in a short work.

We explored Calvin's own journal next, and found that some entries were more fun to read than others—he found that the ones that had been short, quick, and easy to write were the least interesting to read later. Then we tried something: he wrote a quick entry about our Log Cabin Weekend trip, then asked me to help him rewrite it. I helped him by asking leading questions about the day itself, by talking about different ways to phrase the same thing, and by encouraging him to vary his sentence length. He seemed surprised by the difference between the two entries, and excited, too, as though a new window had opened in his mind, or a new door in his life.

Journal entry original:

Journal entry rewrite:


Happy Thanksgiving

It's often said that becoming parents keeps you young. I get how this relates to giving you a reason to sit on the floor and play with toys you'd left behind in your forgotten youth, but over time I've found that there is another, a far deeper, meaning to the saying; mainly, becoming a parent has given me a second chance to learn the many things that were once vanquished to youthful lessons. This is true about many things, but has become particularly more obvious over the past month as I've tried to talk to Calvin about Thanksgiving. Sure, it seems rather mundane, and as I pulled our traditional Thanksgiving decor out of hiding I thought nothing could be simpler than a holiday about giving thanks, but when you really think about it, what is Thanksgiving? Is it a holiday about national heritage? Is it about religion? Or is it simply an ancient festival?

There are probably arguments for all of the above. I have vivid memories, boosted in color perhaps by the pictures I have in albums, of wearing a pilgrim costume and reciting a poem in front of my entire school as a first grader more years ago than I care to remember. Some years later I remember attending a full formal Thanksgiving dinner in the school auditorium, a meal laid out in careful preparation by parents and teachers and meant as a lesson in manners and thankfulness for the fourth and fifth grade classes. Who doesn't remember making hand tracings into turkeys or reading books about the voyage on the Mayflower and the strict life style of the Pilgrims who survived it? Put all these things together and what you get is a confusing conglomerate of a holiday, and that's what, after attempting to teach Calvin about the holiday of the month, has left me groping for an understanding that, as a child, I was sure I already possessed.

As an Americentric holiday Thanksgiving kind of fails. As children we were taught that this particular holiday was in celebration of that first feast, shared in the seventeenth century between the Pilgrims, who had landed in the dead of winter and nearly gone extinct, and the Native Americans who had saved their necks the following year by showing them how to grow food in the so-called new world. This, however, is a history I am loath to champion without also mentioning the fantastical way the generations to come returned the favor by taking control of the land they once knew not at all how to master. I also find it difficult to teach as a religious holiday, and don't believe it was ever meant to be one, other than through its relation to the Pilgrims and their religious fanaticism that mostly petered out long ago. So that leaves us with the ancient harvest festival option; many cultures have celebrated their fall bounties with harvest celebrations that date back into unrecorded time, and this would seem like a pretty good fit if it weren't for my seeming inability to give up on the "Pilgrims and Indians" lesson just yet; after all, it's an important lesson and needs to be inserted somewhere.

And so my cogitating has brought me full circle. I've spent many a moment pondering the importance of each aspect of the holiday that kicks off the Christmas season every year (for me, anyhow—for the stores that holiday is probably Halloween), and the only thing I feel certain of is that Thanksgiving is really just a big melting pot of a holiday, not unlike the nation to which it belongs. Certainly that at least gives us leave to use the felt Pilgrims and Native Americans we assembled earlier this month to go with the Thanksgiving book by Flanagan. I certainly know more about the history of the holiday than I did when I first started this process a month ago, but don't have any better a grasp on how to teach its meaning to my son. It's a disappointing and rather lacking conclusion, and maybe that's why I'm only just now discovering it as an adult. But, with black Friday sales just a few hours away, it's time to close the book on this holiday and move on to the next, much less confusing, holiday, the one with evergreen trees in homes and a magical man in red who flies with deer and delivers gifts to children on the birth day of a child who wasn't actually born on that day. Nope, not confusing at all.