Learning Notes Week of July 14

Learning Notes Week of July 14

Ben and Anthony wearing new hats from Grandma Scott
Ben and Anthony wearing new hats from Grandma Scott


Table time went pretty smoothly. Sophie did her copywork and a page of math and then drew a picture of a princess and a castle. I noticed that she’s regularly writing her name on her pictures.

Bella did a page of math from the Saxon book– I’m just going to have her do all the review pages instead of teaching her the lessons. If she gets stumped, then we’ll stop and do the lesson. I’m also working my way through a list of what a second grader should know, checking what she knows, teaching what she doesn’t. We reviewed greater than and less than and reading numbers with four digits. Then she colored a picture.

Then she struggled through a page of copywork while sitting on the couch. When she got too stressed she’d grab the globe and trace routes around the oceans following the arrows that mark the various currents. It seemed soothing to her and well, she’s working on geography that way too.

All this time Lucy and the boys were playing with math manipulatives.

Then we took a break and went outside and I made all the kids some fruit smoothies.

Then we came back in and Sophie read me a Bob book and then Bella read me some sentences off the white board. Then I read a chapter of history to Bella– Martin Luther and the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation. We’re doing these chapters from The World’s Story by O’Neill instead of The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer. I much prefer the Catholic slant, thank you very much. Bella listened intently, Sophie listened at least a bit, enough to comment that she didn’t think Martin Luther was very nice. (Though I think the book is pretty balanced in its approach to him.)

Lucy and the boys popped in and out, playing in the dirt then playing with toys inside.

Then lunch time and after lunch I pulled out a basket of sea glass and shells and other bits I collected long ago. Bella and Ben and Sophie and Anthony all sorted them and investigated. Bella decided to have a museum and at my prompting sorted her objects into man made, organic, and inorganic categories. Then she arranged them for prettiness. Ben and Anthony and Sophie all decided they were running stores. Ben’s store was at the beach, Anthony’s store was at the farmer’s market.

Then playing with train tracks and cars and people in some massive game all over the living room floor.

When I picked up Beyond the Heather Hills suddenly all the noisy, rambunctious play stopped. First Bella plopped herself next to me on the couch. Then Sophie moved from the train tracks on the floor to sit on the rocking chair, listening attentively from the other side of the room. Ben and Anthony also grew still, came to the couch. Anthony grabbed Pegeen and flipped through it looking at the pictures, but he was clearly listening to Martha’s adventures. We did two short chapters of Martha and then one long chapter of Pegeen. Then a few short sections of the Bible catechism book with Bella, Sophie, and Ben taking turns answering the questions. The first few sections are all very familiar Creation and Fall, but I figure it’s never a bad thing to review. We finished out our afternoon reading session with The Princess and the Vagabone in the Princess Tales book, which is another Irish story and fit in well with Pegeen. Lucy woke up at the end of the story and that put an end to reading for the day. After that I made dinner while the children got up to all sorts of mischief. Before dinner I bathed three children who all got muddied playing in the rain and after dinner I bathed one child who fell asleep on the office floor before dinner and had an accident whilst sleeping, poor rudely awakened child.

Bedtime story. Ben requested Otis. I noticed Bella took the museum catalog of the Quilts exhibit to bed with her. Though when I went to tuck her in that book was on the floor and she was once again staring at North American Plants and Animals.

I notice most of this sounds nicely orchestrated and organized and leaves out the wandering and redirecting Bella and interruptions and distractions and nursing Lucy and changing her diaper and helping children use the bathroom and making chicken stock and so many other details.

Lucy grins for the camera (right before this she yelled: "Picture!")
Lucy grins for the camera (right before this she yelled: “Picture!”)
Two knights and a fair damsel
Two knights and a fair damsel
Bella and Ben cross swords
Bella and Ben cross swords
Anthony the knight. His first time wearing Ben's costume. He was thrilled.
Anthony the knight. His first time wearing Ben’s costume. He was thrilled.
Anthony the bashful knight and Lucy drinking her smoothie.
Anthony the bashful knight and Lucy drinking her smoothie.


Off to a slightly slow start, not because the kids were playing but because they were all reading. It was especially hard to get Sophie to transition. Once she stopped reading, she wanted to color. But I finally hooked her with the copywork. I’d written out the first line of High Flight, the poem we’ve been memorizing. Her eyes lit up when I told her what treat I had in store. She copied it right away and then illustrated with an airplane. After that she willingly did a page of math and then read me a Bob book.

Dom helped Bella do her math, which was a nice break for me. Though he didn’t know what a “number sentence” was and Bella didn’t remember either. Bella did her copywork, read me her sentences from the whiteboard and then we played with some numbers, looking at place values of four an five digit numbers and writing out the words for numbers up to ten.

I decided to make bread today without a recipe and it came out really well. That took up some of my attention as did a cranky Lucy. And the fact that Dom was home threw us all off a little bit.

Afternoon stories included a chapter of Pegeen (all four big kids still crowd around for it.) and one of Beyond the Heather Hills. Then I read a picture book each for Sophie, Ben, and Anthony. Anthony requested the Mike Venezia Georgia O’Keeffe and we started to realize she was born in Wisconsin two years after Laura Ingalls Wilder. We found her birthplace, Sun Prairie, on the map and it’s about 200 miles from Pepin where Laura was born in the Little House in the Big Woods. Funny to think of them growing up so close together in Wisconsin. I knew Laura lived well into the modern era but I still associate her with the rural life and the 19th century where I I know Georgia lived in New York and painted skyscrapers. Both women lived into their 90s too. So many parallels. We got out the US map and looked at Wisconsin and also looked up the prospective route for a trip to Grandma’s house in Virginia.

I’ve finally memorized High Flight and it’s been so fun to have Sophie and Bella cheering me on and prompting me when I stumble. They are great coaches. For us the best way to memorize poems is for me to do it. I copied out the poem and hung it on the kitchen cabinet and recite it while I cook and clean. They absorb it just by hearing me struggling to remember. Bella had it down long before I did. Sophie seems to have most of it, though she refuses to recite. Ben and Anthony both have phrases of it and are clearly listening. Even Lucy has been heard to echo a few words of it. I’ve also been trying to make a point of reciting other bits of poetry I know. Today it was the Prologue from Henry V: “O for a Muse of Fire that would ascend the highest heaven of invention…” I know it all the way to the bit about famine, sword and fire leashed like hounds and crouching for employment. I’d like to get the rest under my belt at some point. I was also reminded of Edna St Vincent Millay’s poem about the candle burning at both ends and recited that too:

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

Also, today Sophie spontaneously made her bed and then with the momentum generated by that success, went on to clean her whole room. Well, “clean” might not be the exact word, but she got almost everything off the floor. And that, my friends, is a major accomplishment. I couldn’t even see the floor in there yesterday. So I celebrated by vacuuming it. I sort of knew this day would eventually come, but I also didn’t really believe it. I’m doing a happy dance and trying to figure out how to motivate maintenance of the clean room and made bed.

Bedtime stories: Feathers for Lunch for Sophie. Fern Hill for Bella.

Ben's practicing his letters.
Ben’s practicing his letters.


Bella decided that instead of copywork she wanted to work on a story she’d started writing a while ago. So she wrote out a sentence of that in her notebook, I helped her spell all the words. The story is about the Fairy of the Animals and Bella is very proud that it starts in the middle of the story with stuff happening and not slowly.

She really didn’t want to focus on school work this morning, but I coaxed her to read me some sentences and we counted by threes on the hundreds board and then counted to 1000 by 100s. And that was good enough really for one day.

Sophie copied out the next line of High Flight and did a page of math and read me two Bob books. And colored a butterfly in her coloring book.

Ben copied out a few letters in his handwriting book. Pretty good ones: r and l and i and t and x and z.

Ben, Lucy, and Anthony had checkups this afternoon. When we came back we were exhausted. I read a chapter of Pegeen and that was it. Oh though we did glance through the new book about swords that Ben got for his birthday.

Bedtime stories: Feathers for Lunch and Blueberries for Sal.

Ben with Grandma
Ben with Grandma
New pajamas!
New pajamas!


Bella wrote another sentence of her story. Sophie wrote another line of the poem. Sophie discovered subtraction and did sums that add up to five and six. Bella learned how to count by making tally marks, how to apply that to counting coins, and also rounding up to the nearest ten and to the nearest hundred. Sophie read me a Bob book. Bella did not do a separate reading lesson, but did play a spelling game on the iPad.

Story time. Blueberries for Sal is Anthony’s current favorite. Also he requested that Dom read him Hist Whist. Ben wanted me to read from the illustrated Tales from Shakespeare for kids. We read Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Not sure how much of that sank in. Sophie requested Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Fir Tree. (After which Bella asked me a most perceptive question about whether it’s good to be always longing for some other time instead of the present. I said I didn’t think it was. It was better to appreciate where we are now. She said she agreed and she thought perhaps that was the lesson of the Little Fir Tree. Which she got at about the same time I did.)

We read about the Protestant Reformation in England and France. Two chapters of Beyond the Heather Hills. And a chapter of Minn of the Mississippi.

I made chocolate chip cookies and Sophie burned her leg on the pan. (She has a terrible habit of sitting on the dining room table.) After her burn was bandaged, Bella let Sophie sit in her bed, a coveted treat, where I spied them devouring Calvin and Hobbes, which has become a huge favorite of all my kids.)

Bedtime story was the Smithsonian Institution Backyard book about the raccoon. And Hist Whist. And Lucy has now firmly decided that after all the big kids go to bed it’s her turn to have a bedtime story from Daddy. It is so very cute.

Sisters playing
Sisters playing


I had to take Bella to a dentist appointment, to get teeth extracted, so I considered today a school-free day for her. But Sophie did copywork, math, and reading with Dom while we were gone. In the afternoon I had to do the food shopping so we didn’t have a story time.

We did watch a video about how to put on armor. So I guess that counts for a bit of history.

Bedtime stories were our only reading of the day. Fern Hill and Smithsonian Backyard: Raccoon at Clear Creek Road.

Anthony at the MFA
Anthony at the MFA
Kids in a box at the zoo.
Kids in a box at the zoo.
Lucy with scarf
Lucy with scarf


Trip to the farmer’s market followed by a picnic lunch at Wompatuck State Park. After we ate we took a little stroll down one of the fire roads, a nice broad paved way. We saw few people, three boys on bikes, one older guy walking. Mostly it was us and the birds.

We found wild blackberries and I let the kids pick and eat them. What a treat! We found a little brook.

The boys fell asleep on the way home. It was late when we got here. But we managed to squeeze in dinner and baths and then bedtime.

Bedtime stories. Monarch at Aster Way, Owl Moon.

Picnic at Wampatuck State Park
Picnic at Wampatuck State Park
Picnic at Wampatuck State Park: like father like son
Picnic at Wampatuck State Park: like father like son
Picnic at Wampatuck State Park: three sisters
Picnic at Wampatuck State Park: three sisters
Picnic at Wampatuck State Park: Lucy eyes Sophie's burger.
Picnic at Wampatuck State Park: Lucy eyes Sophie’s burger.
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  • Yes, I am curious about why Catholics choose Story of the World. Is it really better than all the other options for history, except for the reformation time period? I haven’t looked into this thoroughly yet, just wondering what makes SOTW appealing to fellow Catholics.

  • I find the story-survey approach appealing for younger kids, although maybe not the particular story voice she uses. I don’t have any of the books. I find the reported tendency to make up facts to complete a story (that the Athenian plague was caused by rats, for example) distressing though.

    • I’d love to know if people have found better stories with a more appealing voice and better adherence to facts. So far no one has been able to point me to a single work that does a better job as a spine for world history for early elementary.

      I figure at this stage they are going to get a certain percentage of wobbly facts no matter what the source so my goal is to start teaching from multiple sources from the get go instead of relying on one text book. I’m more interested in teaching the beginnings of critical thinking than in finding a text that agrees with my understanding of history 100%. I point out errors when I catch them and we discuss why they might have got there. Teaching that we can’t take one author’s word for it and learning the beginnings of the discipline of history seems like a better approach to me than worrying about finding a non-existent errorless book.

      So we’ve talked about archaeology and looked at ancient documents. The Dead Sea scrolls exhibit at the Museum of Science was awesome in that regard. Discussing how what we have of the Bible is a copy of a copy of a copy of what was originally an oral tradition that was written down a long time after the events happened. So i guess my approach is two-pronged: starting to understand the how and why of history even as we enjoy history primarily as an interesting story about people who,lived long ago sort of sums up my approach. My goal is to make history come alive and so far for that purpose SOTW has been engaging, fun, a starting point for exploration rather than a source for Truth. We read lots of picture books, some versions of classic literature for kids, some bits of the originals. We look at art and architecture and archaeology and daily life to try to get as full a picture as a young child can grasp.

  • I confess I didn’t do an extensive search before I adopted the book so I’m not all that familiar with other options. I was not very picky when choosing a book for first grade because for early elementary I just wanted an engaging story to give a sense of scope and sequence of history, a spine to connect other works of literature and picture books to. I don’t use SOTW as my only history source, but as the thread that sort of helps string the beads together. I liked it because it was readable, engaging for a first grader, which is where Bella was when we started with it. As she’s grown the flaws have become more apparent.

    Having a specifically Catholic book wasn’t high on my priority list. I did like that SOTW vol I covers Hebrew history in with Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman. And that it looked at what was happening in India, Africa, Asia, South America, etc.

    I wanted a true world history book and not just western history. I know some Catholics seem to think that learning about Asia and Africa and the pagan world is irrelevant but I see myself as raising a whole person who I want to be interested in history as a way to understand all peoples and not just understanding our own heritage. I prioritize Western history certainly, but I do like it to be contextualized. That was a flaw in my own education that I wanted to correct in my kids’.

  • The part of this post where you relate how you memorize poetry in front of your children blew my mind. By the time I was Bella’s age I already hated trying anything new for fear of failing and looking stupid; I would be absolutely paralyzed at the thought of somebody watching me struggle to memorize a poem. I bet your kids learn more from *that* then from the fact that you’re teaching them poetry.

    • Good point. I’ve started seeing bits of that tendency in Bella, fear of doing it wrong, fear of giving the wrong answer. I do want them to see me struggling, messing up, trying again. Oops I burned the naan the first time I tried to make it. Oops, I tried a new recipe and didn’t like it very much. Oops I read that wrong. Dom’s been trying to learn Italian with Duolingo. I like them seeing us as learners, even struggling learners, and learning as a process for everyone, not just something kids have to endure.

      I just couldn’t see how to get them to even learn poetry without modeling the process myself. Memorizing can be drudge work if you don’t want to do it, but if it’s something you want to know, then the only way to memorize is through repetition. I pointed out to Bella that knowing poetry by heart gives you something to occupy your mind when you are bored. One of my favorite college professors had eye surgery and was laid up in bed with bandaged eyes for weeks, maybe even months. In one of her lectures about poetry she spoke about how her wealth of memorized verse got her through that time when she couldn’t read and there wasn’t always someone around to read to her. Bella took that to heart too and has been reciting the poem in the doctor’s office, in the bathroom while waiting for others to finish up, in the car, etc.

      As with most things, I’m not so good at doing formal lessons, some curricula suggest having children memorize a poem a week or a poem a month, etc. That’s a great idea and a noble goal, but much too structured for me to deal with now. But I can do a little bit and hope it catches on.

  • Thanks for sharing your thought process on teaching history, Melanie! I guess it’s similar to your approach with children’s Bibles–have a wide variety! Makes sense to me, and I guess I tend to get caught up in the quest for the one perfect book, which is more of a hindrance than a help…

    Have you looked at A Short History of the World by Gombrich? I have several friends that use it, but I can’t offer any first-hand experience with it.

    • Yes, I think my approach is similar in all subjects. Variety isn’t always possible, but to me it’s preferable.

      I have the Gombrich and I really like it. His style is definitely to my taste, though I haven’t read the whole thing or examined it carefully. I believe Mrs Darwin mentioned she was reading it with her girls a year or two ago and they were definitely early elementary:

      While I think it would definitely work for elementary, I decided to save it for later because I thought SOTW was a better fit for first grade. I think Bella could handle the prose, I don’t mean that, but the chapters in Gombrich are more compressed and the pacing is quicker. The whole history in one volume instead of four. It would have worked, but I leaned a bit more towards Story of the World’s pacing and had already been sold on the idea of the Well Trained Mind’s four year cycle of history.

      So Gombrich is on the shelf to be read sometime in the future when the moment seems right. Maybe for middle school? Or maybe sooner when I get bored with SOTW?

  • Thanks for your reply! I will check out those posts by the Darwins. I’ve tried to read TWTM but been a bit overwhelmed by it, so I haven’t heard her reasoning for the four year cycle. But I can see where a slower pace might be better as an introduction…my oldest won’t be 5 for six more months, so while we’re going to do a little bit this year, I’m still trying to feel my way around all these options! I appreciate getting a glimpse into what you’re doing and why!

    • You sound just like me, researching homeschooling and asking questions and feeling out options long before Bella was school age.

      It’s been years since I read TWTM, but this is what I remember and some of it may be synthesis with other educational philosophies or programs, but it’s why it makes sense to me. The basic idea of the four year cycle is to take history slowly so you can get some depth as well as breadth. You will visit each era three times in the course of the total education: first in elementary, then in middle school, finally in high school. The idea is that each of these visits will correspond to a different developmental stage: grammar, then logic, then rhetoric. And so will be apprehended by the student at a different level.

      But, and I don’t know if this is WTM or not, you can do whole family history where all the kids do the same history at the same time, just engaging at different levels depending on their aptitude. That’s sort of my goal. Sophie will jump in on the colonial era this year. She hasn’t been doing history with us till now, but has absorbed quite a bit just by hanging out with Bella and listening to bits of our reading. What she lacks in knowledge about the ancient and medieval world she’ll pick up more when we swing around again, at which point Bella will be on her second go round and delving deeper.