Saturday, December 8, 2012

War and Upstate NY

I really enjoy planning field trips that match up to the topics we're studying.  I don't like them to be "special events" that don't make sense- I just love to weave them in.  We live in an area that's a gold mine for a family studying colonial history up through the revolution- in fact, there are historical markers everywhere if you're looking for them.  We made quite the sport of it last spring as we were studying the revolution and the area is littered with "George Washington slept here" type signs.  The street at the end of ours is Burgoyne, crossed by Ethan Allen a mile away- and a range of other names I never recognized as historical until this year.  We're also in the near vicinity of the setting for the novel The Last of the Mohicans, the upper Hudson Valley, and the foothills of the Adirondacks.

So, imagine my disappointment when I figured out that all of the fun historical sites we could visit would be closed until after our school year had ended!  We had a very lame winter last year, so I couldn't even tell myself that the ground would be wet, etc...but none of them would open until mid-May.  So, I wound up cramming visits to all these sites into just a few days.  Until then, we contented ourselves with hunting down historical markers.  Now, I will cram them all into one blog post (long overdue) as well.

 This is one of the homes of Philip Schulyer, who was a general in the Revolution.  Part of the Saratoga National Historical Site borders on the property where my mother grew up, although the house isn't there anymore.  It's in the village of Schuylerville, site of a battle called the Turning Point in the Revolution.  I have passed it many times, and toured the battlefield park as well, but I don't remember ever going on the tour of the house before.
We got lucky that day because we walked up to the house and got a tour guide all to ourselves, while seconds behind us a school bus had pulled up and the kids were headed our way.  The guide said we got their first.  I was happy not to have to share the small spaces or the guide with a group of students.  Midway through the tour, we became exhibit B as they all gaped at us coming down the stairs.  (Ohh, homeschoolers...)
I couldn't take any pictures inside, but a few interesting features I can recall I would like to record.  One is that the sitting room of this house (windows to the right in this picture) boasts original wallpaper on one of the walls.  The others have been made to match it.  Whoa!
Another interesting feature was the little beds. If you've ever been to a historical home and noticed the short beds, perhaps you have been told or guessed that "people were shorter back then."  But according to our young guide, who I really liked but whose name I can't remember, people weren't shorter.  In fact Philip Schuyler was almost as tall as George Washington (who didn't sleep there, though he visited), 6'4".  But they slept sitting up in those days due to some sort of superstition.
The other striking element to me is that the floors in the public areas were lined with a rattan-like coverings which turned out to be the packing materials from the crates of fancy dishes (china) the Schuylers had had shipped over from, well, China.  Reuse and recycle!
One other interesting fact I picked up was that Schuyler's wife was of the family Van Rensselaer.  There are plenty of Dutch names up this way, thanks to the original European colonizers.  But Van Rensselaer is a name associated with another historical building, of which you might find pictures on this blog, and a certain number of my readers might be familiar.  It was a fun little connection to make.  They had 15 children.

 From there we moved on to the Battlefield Park visitors' center.  We found very friendly and outgoing staff, as well as a bookstore stocked with all the books we had just read for our unit.  They also sell a nice supply of local goods like maple syrup, honey and recipe books.  We watched a movie there about the Turning Point and then we played with their hands in exhibit of soldier clothes and a tent like the soldiers would have camped in.  After that, we toured the battlefield.  That costs extra, but I was determined to do this right.  We had brought a picnic, so we found a nice spot to sit and eat.  We were met by another friendly and outgoing interpreter, a retired to teacher who happily told us all about the site.  He also gave us directions to a spot on the lake in Ticonderoga where we could find a heron rookery, but I regret we didn't get there this year.  He also told us that there might be birds' nests in the cannons, which might have become the most memorable fact of the day for the Boy.

I regret to say that once you've seen one grassy field with a cannon on top of a hill, you've pretty much seen them all.  Getting in and out of the car for each redoubt quickly got old, so, we rushed through the remainder of the park.  We had one more stop to make.

 No visit to the Saratoga National Historical Park is complete without seeing this:

 And climbing all the steps to the top.  This was our second trip up the monument, which was 200 steps and is covered with murals of battle scenes.  The view form the top covers the battlefield, the Hudson River on its way to Albany, hills dotted with cows and trees, and a military cemetery with a walking trail.  From there we ran to meet Daddy at a Ben & Jerry's.  It was the last day to use our Groupon.

In mid-June we attended our first re-enactment.  I see more in our future.  This one happened at Bolton Landing on Lake George, and was a French and Indian War event.  British soldiers on land met with French, wearing blue, who arrived by ship from the Lake.  They battled up the hill and then the British beat them back down.  
 There were also Scottish bagpipers and soldiers, and some Native American re-enactors acting on either side.  It was very well-done and the battle lasted about 20 minutes.  Afterwards we were able to visit  the re-enactors' tents, as they were encamped for the weekend.  We learned that the first step in becoming a re-enactor is to pick a war, and then to pick a side, and get the clothing made.  Apparently when we have done that, we can just show up!  It does sound like a fun way to spend a weekend or two each summer.

One of the displays we enjoyed was that of a lady who does costuming and speaks at schools.  We also saw food preparation, and a few vendors had displays for sale.  I thought the pewter chess set was something special.

What do you suppose the marker below is about?   I thought it was about the battle that was being re-enacted, but it isn't.  It's another "George was here."

Another day, we went to Crown Point, NY, another National Historic Park.  Crown Point is on Lake Champlain, a spot that the French and English vied for for years.  I never knew, growing up, just how important this area had been during colonial times.  Though familiar with some of the Revolutionary spots, I didn't realize the trade importance of all those waterways and the richness of fur, lumber and stone that made it worth fighting for.  Although the Hudson River and Lake Champlain aren't attached, and the canal system hadn't been invented yet, the waterways were still the easiest way to transport goods at the time.  So, this spot where we live, just before the Hudson becomes un-navigable, was very important. 

At the Crown Point Site there are remains of both a French Fort (St. Frederic) and a British one, which became an American one during the Revolution but wasn't very important by then.  There isn't much left of Fort St. Frederic, but I took a picture anyway.

As at Saratoga, our trip began with a picnic.  It was a very hot day, so we were excited to pay the small fee and go into the museum to watch a movie about the site.  It was an interactive display that lit up in red flames when it told about the fires that had destroyed the various incarnations of the Fort.  After we toured the museum, which is filled with artifacts pulled from the ashes, we met a man dressed in full French regalia.

There is another site between home and Crown Point, Fort Ticonderoga.  We didn't visit there because it costs more than the others and wasn't in the budget.  It is nearly a 2 hour drive to visit these.  I am glad we did though and wonder whether the next time we visit this period of history, I should try to align it better with the seasons so that we can visit the sites at the right time.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Next Year's Homeschool Plan-Reveal

It's that time of year again, when homeschool moms like me are making their choices for next year.  Actually, I think I'm a bit late in posting this, as I rounded up most of my choices around income tax refund season.  I am convinced that the curriculum companies plan their sales in March and April for two reasons: families are flush with income tax refunds, and burned out and looking for a change at about the same time of year.  But I digress.  

I'm listing my plans for this year.  Perhaps my plans and my explanations of my choices will help you.  We'll start with the Little Princess; her plan is the simplest.  It's a continuation of what we have been doing this year.  She just turned five on Wednesday, so, as far as I am concerned she is ahead of the game at about halfway through kindergarten.  This year, she's been doing about 2 pages a day in Explode the Code 1, and a Saxon Math K lesson every few days.  

The same math book is here because she isn't done with it yet, and she's now working in Explode the Code 11/2, which is supposed to be supplemental.  I didn't know that when I bought it, but considering her age, I think it's a good idea to take it slow.  She'll finish 2 before the year is out, and it's marked Grade 1!  The other reading book you see here is Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  We used it this year, and got up to Lesson 25 or so, but the Princess got resistant to it and so, rather than doing battle, I went back to the workbook.  I had dropped the workbook because she was resisting reading sentences, and she's over that now.  So I have learned that switching these out is good, at least for her.   The other reading instruction here is a Between the Lions tape, which I check out at the library as a supplement to whatever we are learning in Reading.  I've also got a Sid and Sam book in there, which is just something I had out of the library for her to work on a few weeks ago when I took the picture.

The real backbone of our homeschool is Tapestry of Grace.  This year we will be doing Year 3.  I only have a few Tapestry books at her level because I don't buy them; there are too many good selections at the library.  What you see here represents the era we are covering- the 1800's- from president John Adams up to William McKinley.  I bought the Abraham Lincoln paper dolls at a going out of business sale locally, and truth be told, they are for me.  

Since I mentioned it, I will tell you where I got all of these books, because learning how to find good books (Tapestry books) cheap is very important to any reader who's a Tapestry user especially.  And I know I'm not the only homeschool mom on a budget!  So...Library, of course.  Number one source!  The only thing I bought new was the Explode the Code workbook.  100 Easy Lessons, Westward Ho! and the others came from, or moms selling at curriculum fairs or Yahoo! Groups.  The Abraham Lincoln book by D'Aulaire and the Cherokee book are "found" books- I just had them around or got them out of a free box somewhere.  To do this I had to have a pretty good idea of what we were going to be looking for.

Science is not represented here.  My plan is to have her listen in on her brother's lessons from Apologia's Flying Creatures.  He loves to read to her if she will listen, or I will read to them both and she'll have a coloring sheet.  Handwriting is covered in Explode the Code, but if we need more I will get them from  That site also has pages here to go with 100 Easy Lessons.

Now for the Mayor.  I've already mentioned his Science class.  He did part of that book last year, but our local co-op is doing it this year, so he will finish it.  I plan to supplement his Science with materials about the scientific discoveries of the era we are studying in History- the steam engine, the cotton gin, light bulb, vaccine, etc.  
For math, he will continue with Saxon Math.  We were given a full set of older edition Saxon tests a couple of years ago, and although he finds it tedious, it's a strong program that we will continue with.  Math takes him hours every day, but I don't think it's the program's fault.  One problem is that he's ahead of his age, so he's writing out problems with an 8-year old hand that isn't really ready for so much writing.  I hope that this issue improves next year.  

For English we use Rod & Staff; which is an intense program.  It's not hard for The Mayor though because he's been doing it since first grade.  I used the entire Rod & Staff curriculum my first year homeschooling, and English is the only thing I still use.  Now, with the acquisition of Grade 4 this year, I have a complete collection grades 2-8.  We also use Spelling Power, and I got the 4th edition for $3.00 at a curriculum swap this spring.  Writing Aids is a handbook that comes with Tapestry of Grace, and I will use it to teach writing that covers topics from History class.  The rest of the books pictured here, as well as quite a few on our Kobo e-reader, are for History class.  The Mayor will enjoy the activity book, which has word seaches, crosswords, maps and recipes from early America.  Likewise he will enjoy the Oregon trail computer game, which has been revised just a little since I played it in junior high.  

The Girl isn't studying Apologia General Science this year.  There's a very small group her age at our local co-op who are going to take another year to get ready for this book.  I don't know yet exactly what they are going to do.  She's continuing with Saxon math, which she's doing well with this year.  I think the continual review in Saxon is perfect for her.  She got about halfway through Rod & Staff 6 this year because we had to finish 5 and her book was late arriving for 6 (through a used curriculum site).  That was my fault for not following up with the seller.  But Rod & Staff English isn't a program where you can skip the end of the book; it gets more complex each year, so we're just going to work our way through it.  I change up the order of the lessons so that the writing lessons complement the genre we're learning to write.  I also did the Capitalization and Punctuation chapters for everyone in March last year to make sure they were ready for their standardized tests, since that was a weak spot last year (we hadn't gotten to that chapter yet!).  She will also use Spelling Power as well as Wordly Wise 6 for vocabulary development.

One other thing we added this year is a Health book.  I got it at our local sale, and I didn't really shop for it because it's not a major subject.  She'll have to do about two chapters a month.  

For History, she has Oregon Trail and the Kobo like her brother.  I got the bundle of Yesterday's Classics for the Kobo, which we have accidentally nicknamed Bob, and they will share that.  We'll also listen to some of those selections from, while in the car.  I am thinking about playing some of the selections from the past year over the summer to bring the Girl up to speed on the Dialectic level readings, because she's moving up this year and it is going to be a challenge.  The thing I am most excited about here are the missionary biographies, some of which I can borrow from church and some that I got at the local sale.  They are inspiring to read, and close to my heart.  She also has a workbook on the Constitution, which I got from  Streams of Civilization 2 is there (found that on a "free" table), for those weeks when I can't find the sources Tapestry recommends.   We are doing our History and Literature with an on-line co-op again.
The Giant will move up to Rhetoric this year as a 9th grader.  It's a great deal of reading, but fewer different books.  I bought a bunch of them from another Tapestry mom a few weeks ago who was finished with Year 3.  That was a great find from a Yahoo! Group.  She will not be doing the Government track, just 1/2 credit US History and 1/2 credit Western Civilization.  

Like her sister The Giant has an Abeka Health book that she will need to do about a chapter a week in this year.  New York requires a half-credit in Health.  

For Science, The Giant will do Apologia Biology at our local co-op.  I got the book and the CD at a sale in April at a very good price.  I still need to order the dissection tools and specimens for the 4 dissections they will do this year.  She's not real excited about that.  She got about 2/3 through Saxon Algebra 1/2 this year and will finish that before continuing on to Algebra 1.  

There's no Rod & Staff book for the Giant; she's reached the stage where they focus on writing and we have Writing Aids and associated resources.  One interesting thing for this year is that I offered to teach all the Rhetoric Level Writing in the on-line co-op. I have four students besides my own, and I'm excited and a little nervous about that.  I have not decided yet which level(s) of Writing Aids to use, since I have 2 10th graders and 2 11th graders in addition to my 9th grader.  She doesn't use Spelling Power either but has Worldly Wise 9.

There's one more subject in that photo and it's Latin.  I'm stubbornly using Ecce! Romani because I used it in high school myself and I like the inductive approach, especially for Latin.  We did about 8 Chapters this year so we'll just pick up from there.  In addition, Fine Arts aren't really pictured but she will be studying them along Tapestry lines as well as taking a Drawing and Painting Class at co-op.  

I realized later I should have taken a picture of all the teacher's guides I will be using.  I'll be managing quite a bit with a student in each of Tapestry's 4 levels, teaching a little one how to read for the first time and helping two transition into new levels.  This is one of the reasons I like Tapestry though; although they are at different levels they are all on the same subject in History and can be combined for many things, such as geography.  But I still have to correct three math notebooks, two health books, English worksheets, etc.  I do get scattered.  We'll get behind schedule, but one of my goals this year is to do more of the hands-on projects that we love but didn't seem to find time for last year.  Check back in the Fall to see if we also get a chance to blog it!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ocean Boxes

This  past year we studied Zoology using Apologia's Swimming Creatures Book.  One of the project recommendations is to make an Ocean Box, progressively adding creatures to it as you learn about them.  Here is a visual of the project for those who need some inspiration:

We started our box in September with our homeschool co-op.  The teacher brought in the blue paper.  Here it has some dangling fish that we had around the house, and the big yellow thing is a submersible, part of a play set that The Little Princess has.  The play set actually came with several of the marine animals that we needed, so we were inspired to use them all.  Thus, the boat you see on top of the box below.
Well, the boat threw off the proportions of the whole thing, so in April we went with a bigger box.  Here's what we ended up with:

 For sand on the ocean floor, we
 made some salt dough and just spread it around.  We also put some on top to symbolize beach, where a seal was playing (we cut out the seal from a box of animal crackers).  We put black construction paper on one corner of the box to make the midnight zone of the ocean, where we hung our angler fish.  The whale was made from a small plastic flower pot (an idea I mooched from an Oriental Trading kit).  We had some seashells to put into the sand, but The Girl also made one of modelling clay and out a pearl bead inside.  Some other additions:  fun foam sea animals from Little Princess, stuck to the back and sides, and a plastic wrap jellyfish.   There are a modelling clay-and-toothpick Cnidarian (look it up; I can't remember!), some sand dollars, an eel, and some turtles.  In addition, we had some collectible cards from our trip to Sea World in January and from National Geographic Kids that we cut out and stuck to the sides and back so that they popped out.  On the top, next to the boat, an orca is leaping out of the water.  The boat anchor goes through the box and dangles in the scene.  The boat came with scuba divers, the submersible, a nautilus, giant crab, anglerfish and I think some other fish that we hung up with sticky tack.
Final Project the night of our Knowledge Fair.  
One thing I didn't get to do but wanted to was to add ocean sounds.  Hubby has a tiny speaker that we have used with other presentations, and we were going to put it inside the boat with ocean sounds like dolphin calls, waves, etc, playing from an mp3 player.  I had some technical difficulties with this on the day of the Knowledge Fair, so it didn't happen.

Aside from that, though, I am really happy with how the box turned out and glad that we included this project as we went along.  Most of all, I found that these two kids worked together on it remarkably well.  If you know them well, you know that is saying something!  This is our third Apologia Elementary Science course that they have worked on together, and they are finally getting the hang of cooperation!  Next year, The Girl will be in Middle School science and The Mayor will have to use his cooperation skills on the Little Princess.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Recently, we've been taking a course on Spiritual Gifts for Sunday School.  This is not the first time either Todd or myself has taken a spiritual gifts inventory, but it's a good subject to revisit from time to time.  We also saw it as a pretty natural next step after taking membership at our new church, because we do want to fit into some ministries while we are here, though it may be for a short time.

It's always sort of funny when we tell people that we really don't want to be around them much longer, and they understand that as a good thing.  Since we feel we're making progress towards leaving the country with the support of many churches, people often ask us when we're leaving and then sort of pause and apologize for wishing that.  It's ironic; we enjoy these people and are so glad to have them join us in our efforts, but at the same time we want to leave on this adventure already!! Likewise, when we visit the sending base people passing through would say "I hope you're not here the next time I come, " and we understand it as the best possible wish for us, even though it sounds so unflattering.

That being said, we do wish to "plug- in" locally while we are here.  So we are working with our class through a book about Spiritual gifts, which includes a tool for taking inventory, and lists of ways a person can use them.  Now, there are about as many ways to interpret spiritual gifts as there are denominations.  A more Pentecostal or charismatic church member likely describes the gifts of knowledge, tongues and interpretation somewhat differently than a member of a mainline denomination.  That's okay; I learned a long time ago that each of these church personalities serves a purpose in the life of the whole Church.  None are better than the other; just as different Christians have different gifts and personalities, different churches have them too.  As long as we're working for the same Christ's Kingdom, it's all good.

But the thing I am enjoying about this time around is the tri-color facet of the instrument we are using.  They have broken down the gifts into three categories, or colors, that roughly line up with types of churches.  I don't know if my pastor and Sunday School teacher reads my blog, but if he did, he would notice I've been reading ahead.  It's just that interesting to me!  (Yes, I took some Sociology courses in college.) So, Blue represents the more charismatic gifts:  deliverance, discernment, faith, healing, etc.  Red represents the gifts commonly found in the evangelical church:  apostle, counselor, helper, teacher, leader, missionary.  Finally, the green area are the liberal church (with my apologies to those who object to that label):  artistic creativity, craftsmanship, organization and wisdom.

A little background on myself to illuminate this topic.  I grew up in the United Methodist Church, which certainly falls under the "liberal" green area.  So did my husband.   In college, I attended InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a decidedly evangelical group in the red category.  Todd was in the college ministry of Chi Alpha, the Assemblies of God, which is more Pentecostal.  As a married couple we have found church homes in all three types by turns.

So guess which categories our gifts fall into?  To be completely honest, I can't remember Todd's right now.  But mine go like this:  2 Red (Service and Missionary, no surprises there), 2 Green (Voluntary Poverty and Craftsmanship, and 1 Blue (Faith).  I had a tied sixth one, suffering, but I'm not going to focus on that one.  It's blue, though.  I think  it's very telling how my church background/experience is mirrored in this instrument.  There's a second set of gifts that the inventory measures, the latent gifts, or areas where a person ought to experiment and see if there's a gifting.  Mine are all green.  Some of Todd's were blue; he's a wannabe Pentecostal.  I'm looking forward to the part of the class where we talk about using our latent gifts.

If you have never done an instrument like this, or it has been a long time and you can't remember what your gifts were, ask your pastor about having a class on it.  Then, apply what you know and get to to work using your gifts. It's much more rewarding than working out of a feeling of obligation or because there was a need.  God didn't give them to you to make you feel good; they're for the whole church to benefit.   It can been very freeing to say "no" to something that's not a good fit so that you can work in your area of giftedness, although that's not a license to be lazy.  It's permission to teach that class you always wanted to try, or to start that ministry or program that appeals to you.  Let me know what you find out.