Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"The Harms of Homeschooling": a debate

My hackles are up this morning.  I just read this piece published in the Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly from the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland (and I groan inside because I am employed by this very university system).  Get yourself in a good place before you read this article, since it will certainly tick you off, no matter what kind of home educator you are.  There's bile for everyone in there.  Ms. West, the author, paints us all as hyperconservative trailer trash (unless we are among the few "over-educated and bored suburban mothers" with nothing better to do than paint our nails and usurp public school power). 

Thankfully, this excellent, thoughtful and well researched rebuttal exists (written by a passionate secular homeschooling mother), and so does this one, written by Milton Gaither (author of Homeschool: an American History). 

Please take fifteen minutes and read this, then consider making your opinions known.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Are you a curriculum junkie?

I don't think I am.  It's hard, though, because I love books so much, so I do tend to over-buy.  But this blog caught my eye today.  I love Julie Bogart (Brave Writer)... if you have a second, give it a read.

The Curriculum Hunt

And if you like that one, backtrack just a bit and read her post on Developing a Philosophy of Education.  This is one I think I need to print out and post in a handy place (the idea of recalling a time when we all felt miserable especially resonates with me, and I need to do that on those days when I think my life would be easier if my kids were back in school!).

As this seems to be the season of doubting what we're doing (I think it's really just year-end burnout in diguise) maybe these encouraging words will shift you back on track.  They were just what I needed heading into our holiday break.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

If Rosetta Stone is on anyone's Christmas list...

There's a Rosetta Stone coupon that just came out from Borders.  $30 off level 1, $100 off 1,2,3 and $125 off levels 1-5.  Good through 12/20. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Books about books

Some of my favorite books in the world are books about books.  I have stacks and stacks of them.  I love to read books, but I do admit that my secret pleasure is reading books about books.  Sometimes they're fiction (The Historian comes to mind...  and next on my list is The Book Thief) but usually not.

Nancy Pearl, librarian extraordinaire, has published a couple of books on books.  Book Lust was the first, followed by Book Crush for kids and More Book Lust.  If you ever find yourself in a reading rut, grab one of those books at your local library.  You'll have a list a mile long by the time you're half done.  Nancy makes me want to read everything.

I also picked up Honey for a Child's Heart recently.  Written from a Christian perspective, it's especially good for homeschoolers who have sensitive readers at home.  Most of the recommended books are uplifting stories and have subject matters that conservative readers will think are age-appropriate.  What I love most about the book, though, is the focus on sharing reading together as a family, and how very nourishing that is to young spirits.

But, I found a new must-have for every homeschool library (it's on my Christmas list!).  1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up is my new fave.  Any book that ranks Lemony Snickett right up there with A Chair for My Mother or Goodnight Moon is okay by me.

The book is organized by age group/reading level, from board books up to Young Adult.  The selections are listed chronologically, which I haven't seen before, and gives sort of an interesting perspective on the growth and evolution of children's literature.  The books are reviewed by a team, giving not just a synopsis of the book but also a brief history of it (if relevant).  It's $36.95, which is a big chunk of change for any homeschooling budget, but it's a bit less on Amazon and Borders has it on the BOGO 50% table through the holidays.  (A great gift, but at 960 pages I wouldn't recommend hanging it in your stocking.)

Happy reading!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

And on the subject of the National Mythology Exam

The sub-test for this year is Heracles (or Hercules).  I found this wicked cool book at the Walters Art Gallery (they had stacks of books throughout the Greek Myths exhibit that you could peruse as you enjoyed the ancient art).  Strong Stuff: Herakles and His Labors is a picture book that describes the twelve labors given to the title character as a punishment for his transgressions (killing his family).  School Library Journal says its for grades 2-4, Booklist says 4-7, and I say all of the above.  It's a great book, and will certainly appeal to the younger kids that like superheros, monsters and all things destructive.  I like it because it's a terrific explanation of the story of Hercules/Heracles/Herakles that kids will remember.  Includes a map and pronunciation guide.

Odyssey Games

We're getting ready here for the National Mythology Exam in February.  Ever since reading the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, J is obsessed with all things Greek and mythological.  So when I found out about the NME, she immediately wanted in.

We went to a class at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, where they have an amazing exhibition right now called Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece.  While waiting for the kids, I found a couple of awesome games in the gift shop. 

First is the Odyssey Memory Game, which includes the 60 most important names from Homer’s famous epic, with names, pronunciations, and definitions printed on each card.  It's a classic Memory game, with 2 of each card to match.  There are 3 groups of 20 (Classic Characters, Immortals, and Monsters, each group with different back-side pictures), so you can easily break the 60 cards into smaller batches for play.

The Odyssey Definitions Game is basically a set of flash cards.  This is the one we bought to study for the exam.  You could certainly flip them over and play memory with them as well (or any other pairs game) but we're using them as flash cards.  I punched holes in the bottom left corner of each card and put them on a metal ring so they're easy to flip through. 

The Odyssey Storytelling game is more of an interactive, role-playing game.  It includes 30 Storyteller cards, 30 Divine Assistance cards, 60 Invoke the Muse cards: 120 cards in all.  This looked better for a larger group setting.

There is a link on the publisher's page to receive 25% off your order if you are a homeschooler (Doh!  Wish I had known that at the museum!) with a simple email.

I'm back!

Little bit of a break... went on vacation and one thing led to another.  I haven't quit thinking of books to share, though!

My latest quest originated from my daughter.  She's 8.  After a library visit where she checked out (yet another!) Scooby Doo Mystery (blech) she laid it on the line for me.  "Mom.  I want mystery books.  But they have to have pictures.  Not picture books, chapter books.  With pictures.  Mysteries."  And so began the search for chapterbooks-withpictures-thataremysteries.  Could she stump the Homeschool Librarian?

Not a chance!  Here's what I found:

A to Z mysteries.   One book for each letter of the alphabet, plus a few bonus books.  Books in the series have 80-90 pages, with b & w illustrations on almost every page.  This gives just enough of a page break-up for young readers.  Main characters are male and female for broad appeal.

Also from this publisher is the Capital Mysteries series.  There are 11 books in the series, and each takes place in Washington, D.C.  Slightly shorter than the A to Z mysteries, at about 80 pages, Capital Mysteries have slightly fewer pictures (one illustration every 4-6 pages).  The publisher's website has activities and coloring pages that correspond to each of the mysteries for both Capital and A to Z mysteries.  Both series written by Ron Roy.

Cam Jansen Mysteries.  22 books in the series, each with about 64 pages.  Illustrations on every other page.  These books have been around for about 25 years. Written by David A. Adler.

From the author:
"The Cams are not simply chapter books with easy reading levels. Children who are just beginning to read on their own, read slowly. They read every word. But they don't think slowly. We can't ask them to speed up their reading, so to keep their attention it's necessary to keep the story moving. The Cams move quickly. Something is always happening. Characters are introduced through dialogue and plot. Scenes are set in just a few words."

Similar to Cam Jansen, Nate the Great mysteries (by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat) have been loved through generations.   Nate the Great books are an excellent introduction to chapter books.  Each is about 32 pages long, with less text per page than most of the other mystery series.  The main character will appeal to boys (although girls will enjoy them, too) and there is a spin-off series with Nate's female cousin, Olivia Sharp

22 books in the series, and 4 Olivia Sharp books.  The recent re-printing of the books contain fun activities at the end such as jokes, recipes and craft ideas that correspond with the stories.

Remember Encyclopedia Brown?  He's still around!  First published in 1963, Encyclopedia Brown mysteries have been a favorite first chapter book for families everywhere.  There are 23 books in the series (I still remember reading The Case of the Disgusting Sneakers) and each is about 100 pages long.  Pictures every 4-6 pages.  Written by Donald J. Sobol.

This series may appeal to slightly older readers who still want shorter books with some illustrations (Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown is in 5th grade).  Publisher's age recommendation is 9-12.

Another made-over blast from the past is the series Nancy Drew Notebooks.  Shorter and simpler than the classic Nancy Drew books, these have 76-80 pages each, with a few illustrations thrown in every 6-8 pages.  Recommended age group on these is 5-8, but I think they would appeal up to age 10.

Similar in appeal is the Nancy Drew Clue Crew.  82 pages each, with illustrations on every other page.  Text is also slightly larger than the Notebooks series.  There are 27 books in the Clue Crew series and 69 books in the Notebooks series.