Category Archives: Homeschooling

Back to Egypt

When I first taught Ancient History to the girls B9 was but a baby or toddler so did not get involved.  I remember when we were making a model of a Roman villa he helped with a few things but his first real memories of history studies are from our medieval lessons.  He found the whole knights and castles thing very enjoyable, every battle, siege and weapon intrigued him whereas the girls wanted to know if there was more to  history than kings and battles.

After we completed our Canadian history studies  I felt it was time to take B9 back to the ancient world.  I  teamed up with a friend and we did ancient history together with our nine year-olds once a week.  We began at the very beginning with some review from Genesis and then moved onto all things Egyptian.

That took us half way through last year and then we moved into Ancient Greece.  Our activities included recreating the Nile River in a baking dish, mummifying a doll, building pyramids, cooking both Egyptian and Greek feasts, creating and modeling costumes or crowns from Egypt and Greece, a mini olympic games, building the Parthenon and making papier mache Greek vases

We do our history lessons when all the older children are at their writing classes and it was  funny to hear them exclaim about B & P’s activities when they returned to the house.  According to them we did far better activities this time around than when we did it with them years ago.  I think they might be right.

This year our little history class has doubled we now have two girls and two boys embarking on a study of Ancient Rome.  Early on they spent some time browsing through a stack of library books looking for topics and activities they would like included in the lessons.   It was an even split between lifestyle and craft activities on one side of the table and technology and construction on the other side.  Already we have created Roman roads from sand, pebbles and concrete, Roman soldiers with bendy limbs so they can be displayed in battle positions and a continually expanding illustrated timeline.

Lit Chat

It has been a long time since I wrote a book review.  It is certainly not because I haven’t read any books.  I think it is a little like high school English class, getting the book read was never my problem, writing about it was another matter.  I have been reading quite a bit in the last few months, mainly books that our literature group will be reading in the coming year.

The proposed line up for the older literature group to which L16 belongs:

The Chosen by Chaim Potok
I read several of Potok’s books many years ago because after enjoying the first I was drawn to look for more.  I enjoyed The Chosen just as much the second time round. It centres around two Jewish teenage boys, both fine students, sons of fine Jewish scholars.   One wishes to be a rabbi even though his strength is mathematics.  The other wishes to be a psychologist but is expected to take his father’s place as rabbi one day.  Although the fathers could never be friends, the boys become strong friends.
Pygmalian by George Bernard Shaw
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
A great favourite of mine, which I will enjoy reading again from the copy which belonged to my grandfather.
Far from the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
Before Andrew and I had any children we went on a Thomas Hardy binge. We read one after another trading and comparing after each one.
Something by P.G. Wodehouse (We have yet to choose what we’ll read)
The Last of the Mohicans James Fenimore Cooper
Unwind Neil Shusterman
L15 and I read this dystopian novel last year. It is set in a crowded world where teens can be “unwound” if for some reason they don’t measure up. It is disturbing but watching the main characters fight the system each in their own way brings up many questions which will make our discussion interesting I’m sure.

The younger group which A14 has joined will read the list below:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speares
The Other Side of the Island Allegra Goodman
Watership Down Richard Adams
The Prince and the Pauper Mark Twain
Who Has Seen the Wind W.O. Mitchell
A novel by a famous Canadian author which I must admit I had my doubts about until well over half way through the book.  I am not sure whether the group will enjoy it or not.  The book meanders through prairie life and the reader gets to see it through the eyes of a young boy.  Consequently the story rests where the boy’s thoughts rest and passes over other things.  This young boy does do some very deep thinking at times though.  I found it hard to get into initially as it didn’t seem to pursue any of the subplots for long; I would just get interested in a few characters and their stint would be over;  someone else would take centre stage.  Having said that, by the end I had been pulled into the ups and downs, lefts and rights of Brian O’Connal and enjoyed seeing him reach the close of his boyhood.
Treasure Island R.L. Stevenson

May, June where did you go?

May is long gone and June is fast disappearing.

May is always a crazy month, May madness is not an inappropriate name for what goes on around here.  In May many of our activities come to an conclusion.  They do this with end of year concerts, projects and get togethers.  While this is happening spring and summer activities are starting meaning that for a few weeks at least two, but usually three members of the family were out every night of the week except Saturday. ( So naturally we had to squeeze some MasterChef into Saturdays, but that isn’t the point of this post!)

The girls had several concerts and a five day whirlwind tour of New York.  I hope to get them to choose some of their favourite photos to share on the blog soon.  B9 had soccer two nights a week with Andrew as one of his coaches.  They both enjoyed it and did not miss a single game because of rain.  May drew to a close but the madness carried into June.  All three children worked hard on their various academic tasks in order to finish earlier rather than later.  B9 has wrapped up and the girls are almost there.  We closed our Geography course for the year by holding an Asian feast.  Each member of our group brought a dish from one of the countries they had researched and the spread was impressive and delicious.

Our final art class occurred on a very pleasant afternoon spent at the arboretum, drawing whichever vista took our fancy.  Outdoor education was scheduled to finish with a camp out but as the bugs were very bad it was postponed and replaced with a soccer game and potluck.  We also squeezed in the last literature discussion, covering a Canadian book, Bifocal, and then met to plan for next year.  We are going to run two groups next year for Junior and Senior highschoolers so  I have been reading  quite a few books in preparation for that.  B9 participated in a read-a-thon where he had to set himself a goal for 7 weeks of reading.  Each week he was sent a riddle to solve and the culmination was a party last week where Ray’s Reptiles brought along some animals native to Ontario.  His favourite was the impressive turkey vulture.  He had no trouble completing his target number of chapters each week as he is totally engrossed by the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

We have been playing tennis a few times a week and everyone is improving.  A13 has signed up for a Track and Field program this summer which began a week ago is held three times a week.  She ran in her first meet on Saturday in the 100 and 400 metre sprints.  She is hoping to get the chance to try hurdles and high jump also.

So life has been full but much has been achieved.  In the next week we should settle into our summer routine which will involve a bunch of tasks and activities which we have not had time for through the year… but at a more relaxed pace, I hope.

Pastel progress

I am very happy with the progress my class has made in using pastels.  If you compare this group of seascapes to the previous ones you will see more definition in the sky and the sea.  These pictures were done on coloured paper which helps create a mood.


We have moved on from watercolours in  our Art class.  We tried a couple more techniques with watercolours first, including masking areas with masking fluid and combining watercolour with black pen outline.  Maybe I will post about them some time, but as I have yet to post about the giant snowman my kids made with their cousin in January,  I wouldn’t hold your breath!

When we first began watercolour everyone complained that it was hard and they couldn’t do it, but as the weeks went by they improved and mastered several different techniques.  The week I brought out the pastels, I was told again that it was too hard.  It is hard, I agree and has to be approached quite differently to watercolour.

We have several sets of pastels, each one a little different and by the end of the lesson they are spread from one end of the table to the other.  During the first lesson we tried several techniques with pastel just to see what they could do.  Blending was the most popular and  continues to be used quite a lot.  It is hard to get used to the idea that the colour  needs to be built up layer over layer.   Although we roughly shade in the main colour areas first it takes a while to give definition to the elements in the picture.

The following pastel drawings are from our second class; the first week we drew fruit, something I did many times  in highschool and college art classes.  It wasn’t very popular with my group so we moved onto landscapes the next week.

The one above with the dramatic sky is B9’s.

More from my Art Class

We did a few more snowscapes and then tried a seascape before the class as it was adjourned.  The writers went back to writing and the younger two resumed their ancient history studies.  But I was having too much fun to stop so we found a new time slot and made it a non-mandatory subject.  For this Daisy project I had four students.

We started with a sketch of a pineapple concentrating on the negative space, ie. we had to draw the pineapple by shading in the background not by sketching a pineapple.  This helped us look at the space the pineapple took up rather than the pineapple itself.  After that we did the same thing with a daisy, using an image on the computer as our model.  Instead of shading in the background with a pencil we painted in the background with yellow and green washes, leaving our daisy shape white.

The following week we practiced before filling our daisies in with grey shadows where necessary to define their petals and then orange and yellow wash to make their centres.

The top one is by A13, she thinks it looks like someone painted a daisy on their camouflage pants.  I don’t have all four to show you because one student was adamant that hers not be displayed this time.  I really liked it, but there was no budging her!  The ones I did in preparation have been added to my painting page.

Art class

During January and February the Group of 3 had  art class once a week which I taught.  This has been good and bad.  Good, because lesson prep for an art class is fun!  Bad, because there is so much I don’t know.

We were fitting the art class in while the writing classes were not meeting so I wanted to plan some exercises for developing technique as well as some where we would complete a piece of art.  We began with some drawing exercises which, apparently did not appeal to everyone.  We looked at perspective and proportion and how to get it right.  I set up boxes and bottles and a cardboard cylinder for us to draw — not that exciting I admit.  We also drew a vase with dried hydrangeas in it; again not a popular choice.  I, the art teacher was happy  nevertheless, with the results of the exercises.  The following week we drew some of the same items breaking them down into basic shapes first, and we did the vase of hydrangeas again – and again it was not popular.  (In future weeks I carried it over and sat it on the table for fun just to see what the response would be)

Our first piece of art was a watercolour snow-scape with silhouetted trees.  The first step was to create the background which was a combination of snow and sky.  We wet the whole paper and used different blues with a little black to make a swirly, abstract sky, leaving some areas white to suggest snow.   While that was drying we practiced drawing winter trees, either bare deciduous or different kinds of conifers.   The next week we added silhouettes of trees to our snowscapes.

Here are some of the paintings by the students including L15’s above.

There are a couple more snowscapes I will feature later when the finishing touches have been added.

(I’ve created a new page for my own paintings which I will update from time to time.  You can find the link in small print in the blog header)

Highschool literature group

Remember the Group of 4?  This year one of our families has left the group to attend school so we are now the group of three.  Of the eight children in the Group of 3, six attend Writing classes on Friday, classes the mothers (and I believe, the participants) are very happy with.  When planning for this year I spoke to a few mothers of  highschoolers about creating a literature component to supplement the writing classes.  Our writing teacher does a fabulous job and points the students to examples of great writing from great literature but does not require the reading of entire works as part of her writing course.  We wanted to make sure our highschoolers were reading some great literature but didn’t want to add another full subject to their load.

So the literature class, club, group was born.  Initially I was calling it a class but it isn’t; it is more of a discussion group.   We decided to meet once a month to discuss the book just read.  Each month one parent/child team takes responsibility for preparing questions and background then leads the discussion.

We are now onto our fourth book and it seems to be going well.  I don’t think we have chosen a book yet which everyone has loved but that isn’t surprising.  We began with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird which L15 really enjoyed.  I had not read it in a long time and I also enjoyed it.  Unfortunately L was sick the night of the discussion but we were able to attend a few weeks later when the group got together to watch the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck.

The following month we read Animal Farm by George Orwell.  As far as I could tell the boys in the group really enjoyed it and the girls did not.  The discussion, however was very interesting as we talked about the likelihood of being able to stand against the current when all around are being brainwashed and led astray.  Although we talked about the Russian revolution we did not dwell on the historic figures being portrayed by the animals, but talked more about the type of people they were and the character traits they exhibited.  There were quite a few comments which began, “If only they had…”

A few weeks ago we met to discuss Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot.  Naturally the conversation was quite different as we were discussing a biography.  Some members of the group really appreciated the fact that in the book a plane was a plane, it didn’t represent anything else!  Even though the story is now over fifty years old the testimony of the five missionaries’ lives impacted everyone in the group.  We discussed singlemindedness, commitment to eternal things and the incredible trust each man and his wife had in the sovereignty of God.

Currently we are reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Unlike the three previous books I had never read this.  I did not know what to expect and found that it drew me in and disturbed me at the same time.  L15 is not too far in yet.

In April we will read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and then May, which is the month L15 and I are responsible for, has been left for a contemporary novel.  I am currently searching for something appropriate.  There are a couple I think might be good but L has read them already and I would prefer to find something new to her.

Royal Assembly

For the last few weeks we have been studying Africa in geography.  Each student had to pick an African country, complete some research and mapping, then present their project to the group.  B9 picked Botswana, but then noticed that Lesotho was completely surrounded by another country:  South Africa.  He thought this was a very cool thing and decided to learn about Lesotho instead.

We had been reading and collecting information for about a week when he happened to be discussing his school work with his friend across the road.  His friend mentioned that the king of Lesotho was coming to his school the following week.  When B9 told me this I was a little stunned, so did an online search to find out exactly what was going on.  Sure enough King Letsie III was attending a special assembly at our friend’s school to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Help Lesotho and to thank those who have supported his country over the last 5 years.

I called the school to see if we could attend and was given instructions and sent a special parking permit.  It was important that we arrive well before the King as no-one would be admitted to the hall after he entered.  B9 was happy to see his friend who had the added privilege of meeting the king after the assembly to ask him a question.  The assembly included quite a bit of audio visual material from Lesotho, which showed us what the land was like and the living conditions of some of the people.

There were several speakers, the school choir and some video presentation from children and women in Lesotho who have been helped through Help Lesotho.  The king spoke last and his gratitude was very moving.  Naturally his concern for the people of Lesotho is great, particularly because HIV Aids is a huge problem leaving many of the children of the country without parents.  B9 and I enjoyed being at the assembly and B9 also enjoyed explaining to his audience during his presentation that, as part of the current events component, he had been to see and hear the King of Lesotho speak!

During our geography class we also enjoyed presentations about São Tomé and Príncipe, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.  Everyone had a slightly different approach in their presentation, some providing food, others music and others a glimpse into the lives of people they knew in the country they studied.

Soccer, tennis and geography

Spring soccer has started for A12 and B8.  They play twice a week and are on the same team this year.  It is the last year for A12 in this particular league, which is probably not a bad thing.  She is a head and shoulders taller than most players and is almost as tall as the coach.  Even B8 who is playing in the age level above his own is not the shortest.  Both children are enjoying the games and the team is improving every week.  Last night A12 scored two goals.

The whole family have been playing tennis as often as we can.  There are courts beside the soccer fields so we play during soccer and take turns to go and support the team.  We have also been playing with Group of Four on Fridays after our Canadian geography lessons.  We spent four weeks on Geography, starting with the big picture, which included provinces, territories, capitals, geographic regions, major rivers and lakes.  We then narrowed in on Ontario, looking at waterways, cities and towns and climatic regions.  To review and finish we played a game of Geography Jeopardy where the mum’s created answers and questions  in all the catergories we had covered.