Saturday, September 20, 2014

Homeschool week in review (week 4)

Bible: This week's Name of God was El Kanna, which means Consuming Fire and Jealous God.
For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.  
Deuteronomy 4:24

But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one 
who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire.
Deuteronomy 9:3 

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, 
let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God 
an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 
for our God is a consuming fire.  
Hebrews 12:28-29

Math: Fractions still, and they're going really well. (This is significant, because last year, we just about killed each other trying to teach or learn this same stuff.) We're also beginning to move into decimals, which this book describes in a totally different way than I've ever seen before. I held my breath, but either Will didn't remember having it explained differently last year or this explanation made more sense to him. He was able to sail through it, thank you God.

Grammar: Katie had a test over subjects and predicates and did very well on it. Will started a chapter on nouns, which he could do in his sleep. At least, he could do it in his sleep until we got to plural nouns. He made a noun plural by adding apostrophe-s and I freaked out on him. (Apostrophe-s is one of my biggest grammar pet peeves. You never make a word plural that way! NO WIRE HANGERS!!) I don't know if he thought it was funny or if I scared all the previous pluralizing knowledge right out of him, but next he wanted to "drop the Y and add -ing." That would be strike two for Mom. "I.N.G.??  The plural of city is citing??" Thankfully, next we moved on to collective nouns, which we always think are fun. A pride of lions, a class of students, a murder of crows, what's not to love?

Literature: Everybody is still finishing their biographies, and I'm working on a template for their final projects on these books. I predict Katie will really get into the final project and Will will do the bare minimum, which is a shame, because I think C.S. Lewis (Will's book) could yield a fascinating end product.

History: We talked about Ireland, the IRA, Sein Fein and also India and Mahatma Ghandi. (I was surprised to learn that Ghandi's famous hunger strike lasted only 3 days. Did you know that?)

Science (co-op class): The General Science class was focused on the scientific method. It could have been pretty straightforward, but I'm noticing the textbook repeats itself by restating what it previously said regardless of the wordiness of the section being repeated. Or restated. For clarity. I find that distracting, confusing and irritating.  The other class--Physical Science--was covering air pollution. Also in exhaustive detail.

IEW (co-op class): They each had two paragraphs to write, and they did great work with them. Each paragraph had to contain two clauses, which is a surprisingly sophisticated construction, because a clause has to have a subject and a verb. See what I did there? "Which is a surprisingly sophisticated construction"is a phrase, but "because a clause has to have a subject and a verb" is a clause. Okay, enough nerdy grammar talk. They're using strong verbs and adverbs like old pros. It makes me so proud.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Homeschool week in review (week 3)

Our homeschool year has officially, completely (finally!) launched! It was a good week.

Bible: Our Name of God for this week was Jehovah Nissi, The Lord is my banner. I really got a lot out of this one. In ancient times, a banner was carried into battle. I've always pictured the banner as a fabric flag, but we learned that the banner was much sturdier, made of wood or even metal. At the top, they would mount symbols of their values, much the way the American flag gives us a surge of patriotism. These banners served several purposes: first, to rally the troops in battle, second to guide the troops to safety or a meeting place, and third, as a sign of victory.

Moses built an alter and called it The LORD is my Banner. 
He said, "For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. 
The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.
Exodus 17:15-16

Math: Fractions for one, place value for the other. Math is not my dealio.

Grammar: Will is finishing up the first unit of his Grammar and will have his second test on Tuesday. Since Katie started a week later, she's a little past halfway in her first unit.

IEW (co-op class): Both kids' assignments came together fine. Honestly, I wish they were being asked to do a little more, since they're so familiar with IEW. They're doing a who/which clause and an adverb. No sentence starters, no banned words, no strong verbs. I think I'm going to start punching the assignments up a little.

Science (co-op class): Complete opposite of IEW. This class is reeeeeeallllly stretching us. Lots of homework and harder work than any of us are quite used to. They both had a test that went well, but I'm not sure they gained any confidence from that.

Literature: We are reading biographies this month. Both of the kids' books were written by Janet and Geoff Benge, but one is from the series "Christian Heroes: Then & Now" and the other is from "Heroes of History." I think Will is going to have an easier time talking about the character virtues of C.S. Lewis than Katie is with Milton Hershey.

History: We finished learned about PART A and PART B. Will and Katie turned in their first notebook projects. Will filled in a map showing the Central Powers and the Allied Powers in World War 1. Katie did a comic strip showing the life of Phan Boi Chau.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Whatcha reading, week 37

I took a detour last week to read Biblical Womanhood instead of Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. I think it's kind of interesting that last week, in the midst of some church drama, I was reading Biblical Womanhood and then immediately after that, I read Black and Blue when domestic violence is blowing up all over the headlines.

So, yeah, a book about domestic violence wasn't the cheeriest of topics. Black and Blue is the story of a woman who flees her abusive cop husband with her ten-year-old son.  The book opens as they leave their lives in New York and follows them as they set up a new life in a new place with new identities.  I read this book in one day, but I'm not sure that was because it was inherently riviting. In fact, the story dragged a little in places and dragged a lot in others. Still, I knew the husband was going to turn back up at some point and I wanted to be there when he did. 

Besides Frannie and her son, there were a handful of supporting characters in the story, but they were pretty one deminsional: the new friend, the new boyfriend-who's-not-a-boyfriend.  Beth (the name Frannie assumed) works as a home health aide, and the most interesting relationship she forms is a friendship with the elderly wife of one of her patients. Beth is not able to be completely honest with anyone because of the risk of her husband finding out where she is, but on reflection, I think she's been less-than-honest with herself and her son for so long, that revealing little and misdirecting when she can't avoid revealing has become second nature.

This is the second Anna Quindlen book I've read in the last month. (The other was Every Last One, which was also decidedly dark.) Quindlen has either been in an abusive relationship, is close to someone who has or has done excellent research. She hits all the right notes, from Beth blaming herself for her husband's actions to planting seeds in Beth's upbringing to explain why she was vulnerable to such a relationship. What she does best, however, is subtly portraying Beth's fatalism. Over the years they were married, through his abuse and her decision to stay, something in Beth clearly died. She loves her son deeply, but she's so damaged that when something awful happens to him, the reader is most struck by her inability to fully engage. She is sad, but resigned. Does she think she somehow deserved it? I don't think so, but she's lacking the fight you would normally expect from a mother in that situation.

Up next: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. How's this for an opening line: "They said the typewriter would unsex us." Can't wait to watch this one unfold. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Whatcha readin'? Week 36

I know I said last week that I was going to read Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue next, but thanks to a Kindle sale, I picked up A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans on a whim. I'm glad I did. The church I attended as a child was having a kerfuffle, so I was already thinking about the religious culture I grew up in. A Year of Biblical Womanhood gave me a convenient framework to examine gender roles and expectations.

Rachel Held Evans took one year to focus on what the Bible says about women and to follow it as literally as possible. One month she took on modesty, another month submission, another month homemaking, etc. Some things--like camping in the front yard during her period a la The Red Tent--seemed gimmicky at first, but to her credit, she writes with warmth and humor, so you sense that she is genuinely trying to follow all the Bible's instructions for women. Yes, I rolled my eyes at some of her tasks, but on reflection, I have to say that I respected her for not dismissing any of what she found in the Bible as being optional or "just how things were done at that time." Since she didn't pick and choose, she earned some credibility with me.

My favorite parts of the book were when she sought out people who were already living certain aspects of Biblical womanhood. She spent time with Amish women, corresponded frequently with an Orthodox Jewish woman and even interviewed a polygamous wife. Ahava, the Jewish woman, was absolutely my favorite. Her insights on the Jewish context of the Old Testament were pure gold. I was shocked to learn from Ahava that Jewish men memorize Proverbs 31 to praise their wives. (As opposed to American women who read Proverbs 31 and feel they can never measure up. What?? Proverbs 31 is about recognizing wisdom in action? I always thought of it as a job description!) "Eschet chayil!" means "Woman of Valor!" and it became the author's battle cry throughout the book when she met with success and as encouragement to herself when the project was wearing her down.

The heavier topics that Evans tackled through this project--such as justice, specifically--really caused me to think. I'm going to be mulling over her conclusions, rereading passages of Scripture and maybe seeking out other commentaries. I think that's the real takeaway from this book--we think we know what the Bible says about women; it's certainly been drilled into me since I was very little. But do we really? Or are we relying on the traditions and interpretations that have been passed down? Are we brave enough to find out for ourselves what God's definition of eschet chayil is, without giving ourselves a pass on the parts that are inconvenient or downright hard? I don't think I'll be picking up a headcovering after reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood, but I will definitely be thinking about and looking for answers to many of the questions it raised.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Homeschool Week in Review (week 2)

Phase Three of our homeschool launch is complete.  First the kids started their co-op classes, then we started Will's pre-algebra and grammar, plus Bible and History, which we do as a family. This week, Katie started her math and grammar. By the end of next week, we'll have all kids doing all subjects!

In Bible, we studied the name of Jehovah Rophe, the God who heals. This particular name was challenging for me, because we lost a beloved family member to cancer in June. Some of my favorite verses we looked up were these:

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Math--everybody's on track and it seems to be going pretty smoothly. Will has already finished his first chapter and did well on the test. (Yay!) 

Grammar--I love grammar; I really do. My kids are reasonably proficient in it, so it's a subject that nobody really minds doing. We're still in the simplistic early days of "simple subject vs. complete subject," but their Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) co-op class gives them practical exercises to apply what they've learned in grammar. The instructions for IEW will say, for example, "add a who/which clause to your rough draft." The nerdy grammarian in me just gets all giddy over things like that.

History--This week we covered the Mexican Revolution & Pancho Villa; Porfirio Diaz and his 30-year presidency, Francisco Madera & Victoriano Huerta (still called the Jackal or the Usurper by modern-day Mexicans!) This all happened immediately prior to the beginning of World War 1, which we'll begin studying next week. Unless I spend a couple more days on the Mexican Revolution--I found it really interesting!

Science--This is a co-op class, and I really want to stay out of it as much as possible, so there probably won't be much to report on this. I think I saw on the syllabuses (syllabi?) that both kids have their first science tests next week.

In preparation for beginning our study of literature next week, everyone chose a biography to read. Katie chose Milton Hershey; Will chose C.S. Lewis; and I chose Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I'm kicking around a couple of ideas on fun projects we might do, either as we read or to wrap up this unit.

Thanks for reading! I hope you have a wonderful weekend. 

Monday, September 01, 2014

What I've been reading lately...

Back in January, I set a goal to read 52 books in 2014, so I've been reading a lot this year. At first I chose books indiscriminately from all genres. I envisioned reading fiction, nonfiction, biography and history in equal doses. It didn't take long for me to realize that I had seriously romanticized the notion of being a well-rounded reader! Nonfiction and history had fallen off my radar by March or April because, well, I'm doing this for pleasure and it was stressing me out to be falling off-pace because nobody can write nonfiction about, say, WWII in less than eleventy billion pages. The vast majority of my selections are fiction and come from recommendations on, BookRiot or Amazon. If I read something that is beachy chick-lit,  I try to follow it with something substantive and/or respectable.  All books have to be in the 300-page range, and rereading old favorites is not allowed.  And my last "rule" is that I can abandon a book I hate after I get 50% of it read.

The last book I read was Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. I haven't written literary criticism since college (i.e., more than twenty years ago) so my ability to gush about a book and still sound intelligent is long gone. However, if anything were going to convince me to come up with some obscure insight and defend it with high-falutin' language and references to the rest of the text, this would be the book.  It's a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, told from the point of view of the oldest sister. (I realized early in the story that I had confused the story of Cupid and Psyche with the story of Narcissus and Echo.) 

It's hard to read C.S. Lewis and not expect to see Aslan in every shadow, but Till We Have Faces was not written as a Christian retelling of a Greek myth. There is, I think, plenty of symbolism and whatnot to point our eyes toward God, but I think that is the case in almost all good writing. Charlotte Mason, the 19th century English educator whose ideas most influence our homeschooling, asked the following questions to spark her students' thoughts: What does this teach us about God? What does this teach us about mankind? What does this teach us about the world around us? Using these questions as a springboard, I could easily write three A-quality papers about Till We Have Faces, but I'll spare you the academic double-talk.

When I've read C.S. Lewis's theological treatises--back when my brain was still nimble and well-rested--what struck me about his writing style was that he doesn't begin by laying out his premise and then building support for it. He gives a reason, then another reason, then another and THEN says, if A, B and C are true, then we must obviously conclude that X is also true.  Till We Have Faces has a typical story-telling style, but in thinking of what I learned in this book, I see that he used the same inductive process here. He told the story by telling A, B and C so the reader expects him to end with X being true. The twist was that at the end, he revealed that A, B and C were, in fact, NOT true, so X was also not true. I didn't see that coming at all, at it left me wanting to flip immediately back to the start of the book and read it again. I want to tell you the specifics so, so, so badly, but it would be WRONG for me to spoil it. Let's just say that when my yearlong re-reading ban ends, I will be rushing back to Till We Have Faces to see if there were things I should have picked up on.  

Next up on my book list is Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. (A story of domestic abuse--did I mention that the pendulum tends to swing from one extreme to the other??)

Thanks for reading! If you're reading something fantastic, I would love to hear about it!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Homeschool Week in Review (week 1)

This summer has been tumultuous for my family, with 5 major, life-changing events between June 1 and August 31.  We got through the last heartbreaking event of the summer on August 21, and I had planned to start school after Labor Day so we could enjoy one week of peaceful, relaxing summer. Apparently that was too much to ask. My son announced on Sunday, August 24, that he didn't want to wait until after Labor Day; all his friends were starting school on the 25th. Since I never, ever, ever (EVER) expected my middle schooler to complain that he wasn't getting to start school when everybody else did, I compressed my planning/enjoy the summer week into a planning/enjoy the summer DAY and we started last Tuesday.

(Of course, Life in the Button Factory is never as simple as just starting a school year on 24 hours' notice. My daughter decided that she was fine with waiting until after Labor Day, so we're have two different start dates. I tell you what, I have the lunatics running the asylum here.)

So here's what our first week looked like:
Bible: We are continuing our study from last year on the names of God. This week we learned about God's name Adonai, which means Lord or Master. Adonai has the connotation of being the name a servant would use to address his master. My favorite verse that we found was Luke 1:38, where Mary said to the angel, "I am the Lord's servant. Let it be to me according to your word."
Math: We are using Teaching Textbooks again this year. Will completed his first lessons; Katie will start hers on Tuesday.
Grammar: We are using Growing with Grammar again this year. Just like Math, Will started his lessons, and Katie will start them this week.
History: We read about Puyi, the last Emperor of China, the French colonization of Indochina and Phan Boi Chau, who started the Vietnamese thinking of the possibility of independence.
Science: Will is taking Apologia Physical Science at a local co-op; Katie is taking Apologia General Science at the same co-op.
Institute for Excellence in Writing: they're also taking this class at the co-op. I love this program, but I was really having a hard time teaching it myself. The cobbler's children have no shoes, and all that.
Literature: planning to start our literature studies in the next two weeks.

I plan to post a weekly wrap-up of what we're learning throughout this year. I always seem to lose steam with gradebooks and such, so my hope is that having a narrative-style record of our year is something I can enjoy and stick with.