Archive for the ‘Homeschool’ Category

Book review: Thirteen Orphans, Breaking the Wall

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

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Book review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

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Author:Mark Twain
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Year of publication:1884

When i started this book i had to get used to the language and it went along rather slowly, but as i continued to read it, I sped up and by the end i was very satisfied.

Huck Finn describes a historical period (it's set during times of slavery) and i found it very interesting to be in the mind of a boy struggling with the moral problems of setting a slave free.

--Fizzy, age 14

Note from Emily:

It took Fizzy nearly a year to read Huckleberry Finn. It was not an easy read, and so, when something more flashy came along, say, Twilight, Fizzy would put Huck down.

And then the transition back was challenging. But every time she started reading Huck Finn again, she would say, "NOW I remember why I like this book." It is not just the dialog that makes reading difficult here. It is also about the concepts.

What is the difference between "owning a person" and taking responsibility for a person? What are the rights of parents and society over children, who do sometimes know right and wrong better than their elders? This is a deep, dangerous book, and not only for its time, but still, now, more than a hundred years later. Amazing.

In many ways it was like when she read Kim a few years back. (Except then I did help with the reading, this time, she read the entire book to herself.) LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Kim. Didn't really want to read more "grown-up" Kipling for a while afterward. Although, Jungle Book and "Just So Stories", which are not all that easy to read either, are still often in our minds.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The

Movie Review: Man On Wire

Monday, September 1st, 2008

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One day when my older daughter was about 4, before we knew that she could read, we took a trip to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. It was a great visit. The grounds are lovely and we saw many creatures we’d never seen or even heard of before. But then, all of a sudden, dear daughter cried, \”What time is it? We have to get out of here. Now!\” She started lurching around, dashing one way and then another. But we were looking at some very interesting red kangaroos, or maybe they were tree pandas, and hadn’t seen the real pandas yet. \”WHY do we have to leave now?,\” we asked her. Eventually, she calmed down enough to point a sign out to us. One we hadn’t realized that she had seen, let alone read and understood. It said, \”Park closes at sundown.\” There ensued a heated family discussion about the definition of sundown and it was finally agreed that it might be open to interpretation. The compromise reached was that we would dash over to see the giant pandas and then leave before the federal authorities arrested us for overstaying our welcome at the zoo.

Man On Wire is the true story of how Phillippe Petit and a group of his friends snuck into the World Trade Center and strung a high wire between two of the towers so that Petit could dance nearly 1400 feet in the air over New York City. And was then arrested and charged with trespassing. It was the \”Artistic Crime of the Century\”.

We took our 13 yr. old (younger) daughter, the one who likes to climb to very high places, with us to see the movie on condition that she \”not get too many ideas\”. Luckily, the movie features shots from above the \”crime scene\” so we could all experience what it might feel look like to look down at the streets of New York from 1400 feet. Dear daughter shuddered with the rest of us.

Man On Wire is hilarious, exhilarating, terrifying, inspirational, and, to those of us with a previous relationship with the World Trade Center, nostalgic and sad. Anyone trying, for any reason, to sneak into any New York landmark for any reason these days would no doubt not get even the modicum of support that Petit did. And they might indeed be shot on sight. Sad, very sad. Petit’s lovely graffiti gone, all gone, along with the terrible smells of the subway under the WTC and the soaring views above.

Man On Wire is like a real life Mission Impossible, told in flash-back. It is the story of a team of friends who are very, very, very good at what they do and have to learn to be very good at other things too (like sneaking into buildings), so they can do the thing they love to do.

There’s Petit at 17… Already obsessed by walking the high wire in challenging places, he reads a story about the plan to build the World Trade Center (the towers were going to be the tallest buildings in the world at that time). Before he even knew what they looked like, he knew he had to wire-walk between them.

When he gets out of jail after wire-walking the Sydney Harbour Bridge, he learns that the WTC is about to be completed. We hear Petit and some of his co-conspirators reflect back on their adventure. (The interspersing of live footage and photos with \”re-creations\” of some moments is confusing, but does not detract from the authenticity of the film.)

The lessons taught by this documentary are plentiful and satisfying:

  • That one with a true gift should be honored, but that challenging that person to exercise that gift is permissible. (Petit’s friends worry that by helping him perform this walk, they might be abetting a suicide. The policemen who arrest him let him dance on the wire for a good long time before they drag him in for psychological evaluation.)
  • That competent co-workers and friends you trust are not easily replaced, so you should treat them well, appreciate their advice, take their counsel. That you never truly lose them, but you can through your own carelessness, lose them as true friends.
  • That hard work and planning, in addition to raw talent and drive, are key to success.

Maybe I’ve said enough about this movie. See it. And take your teenage children. (There is one very, very short scene in which a man and woman romp in the nude. But the real reason you don’t want to take youngsters is that you probably don’t want your three year old to get ideas. Also because a fair amount of the film is in French with English subtitles.)

And, if your child has a gift, even if it is a scary one, you might as well help him or her to do it well and with competent support. We want our children scaling great heights. We don’t want our children breaking into high buildings and jumping off roofs but feeling all alone.

— Emily

Book review: Love, Stargirl

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

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Author:Jerry Spinelli
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Year of publication:2007

It had been one of those errand-intensive Saturdays. On the way home after much driving, with groceries in the car, my 13 yr. old said, in a studiously casual way, "Hey Mom, you know the sequel to Stargirl is out." One of the pathetic things about us is that we forget our own phone numbers, but know by heart the precise coordinates of every bookstore and/or library in our current vicinity (where ever in the world that might be) and their hours. We checked Love, Stargirl out of the library within 15 minutes.

If you have a gifted child, particularly a girl, who is about to enter high school, or who is already in high school, and who has not already read Jerry Spinelli's amazing novel about the glory and the pain of being orders of magnitude different from one's peers, go now and read Stargirl. And then hand it to the child.

Love, Stargirl, which takes the form of a letter that Stargirl writes to the boyfriend who was insufficiently tolerant of her uniqueness, is not really a sequel that can be fully appreciated unless one has already read Stargirl. In her letter, Stargirl describes the process by which she rediscovers her joy in creatively reaching out to others.

Solving the puzzles that Stargirl poses us is interesting and moving and so we recommend reading Love, Stargirl highly, but -- read Stargirl first.
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Two highlights of our school year

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

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1. My 12 yr. old aka dd built a hovercraft as part of her science fair project. Having watched the Junkyard Wars episode on hovercraft, I was quite worried about whether it would ever get off the ground and had actively discouraged dd from choosing this as her project. However, on her own, dd located really excellent plans for building the hovercraft. (The skirt folds in on itself and so forms a closed pouch, and then dd punched holes in the center of the bottom pouch. Which is much more efficient than an open skirt — all the air immediately pushes down.) Then, with just a short lesson about machine tools from her dad (and he did oversee the work) dd pretty much built the whole craft in a day, then took another day to punch the holes and attach the leaf blower (most of that time was spent worrying about where to put the holes). Herself. For example, dd came up with a very clever scheme for where to cut the air holes using a protractor and a pencil on a string for deciding where to cut them… ANYWAY, no limbs, not even any blood lost on the construction. Dd had allocated a week of debugging, but pretty much none was required.

THEN, in terms of the experimental design — dd was trying to determine whether additional weight slowed or sped up the hovercraft — I could tell that she had really no way of even starting to think about what her hypothesis should be. SO, I steered her (really, just emailed her a link) to a webpage with Newton’s 3 laws of motion. And, it was astounding how quickly she understood what F=MA means. And also, when you can sit motionless 1/2 inch above the ground, the law of inertia starts to make a WHOLE lot more sense.

Then, she weighed each of her classmates and had them ride the course she’d laid out to get the data. We had MANY volunteers.

And then, there came the time when dd had to write her report and create her board. I think that figuring out what the difference between \”weight\” and \”mass\” are and what the word \”gravity\” means took the most time. Finally, I pulled out our older daughter’s old AP Study Guide to Physics B & C, and the light bulb turned on over all our heads. No one really knows what the word \”mass\” is — it a property of matter having to do with how gravity affects it. And so, what is \”gravity\” — it is a theoretical force that explains how matter interacts. So we got to learn what recursion means, and at some point dd stopped and said, \”How come this took me so long to understand? I must be very stupid.\” (Must’ve been all of 20 minutes.) And I pointed to the cover of the AP Study Guide to Physics B & C and asked her if she knew what an AP was, and pointed out to her that this was a book for sophisticated high school students, and that, really, it was obvious from the definitions that even physicists don’t truly understand these terms.

Then, there were some very \”smart people\” (dd’s words) who served as the judges. They were very impressed with dd’s board and with her deep understanding of Newton’s laws. The hovercraft gives you SO many ways to understand inertia. It does not move (horizontally) unless force is exerted on it. It then goes and gives no indication that it intends to stop, once pushed. And then — action/reaction. So there is the leaf blower blowing air down. And — SOMETHING is blowing that air right back up. And that air is pushing the hovercraft up off the ground. (Enough air to lift a 300 pound adult. AMAZING. EERIE.)

Anyway, go now. Build a hovercraft. It is fun. Exciting. To build and ride.

2. Every year dd’s school goes on an Intensive Studies trip. This year’s was to the Southwest. We’d never seen the Grand Canyon before. We live on the coast, where it’s mostly cool and damp most of the time. We had some friends of the school show us Hopi. (The entire trip website is not completed yet. But here are some of the pages.)

One of my photos was named Sony’s Picture of the Day. We saw so many magical places.

So, it was a good school year. I don’t have any idea if dd learned any math or English. Next year is her last year at this school. I am already traumatized at the thought of investigating high schools. Perhaps we’ll just home school.

Book review: Cheaper By the Dozen

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

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Author:Frank B. Gilbreth
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 8 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Year of publication:1948

Skipping grades in school was part of Dad's master plan. There was no need, he said, for his children to be held back by a school system geared for children of simply average parents.

Dad made periodic surprise visits to our schools to find out if and when we were ready to skip. Because of his home-training program -- spelling games, geography quizzes, and the arithmetic and languages -- we sometimes were prepared to skip.

... The standard reward for skipping was a new bicycle.
My 12 year old loved almost everything about this true story about how a couple of pioneering efficiency experts raised their 12 children. Except the ending.

Although I tried to warn her about the ending by pointing out some of the foreshadowing and emphasizing that this is a true story, she was pretty much devastated by it.

Homeschooling parents and those seeking ideas for enriching their children's learning opportunities will re-read this humorous collection of family anecdotes, written by two of the children themselves, often. Mr. and Mrs. Gilbreth, efficiency experts that they were, strove to ensure that even times of "unavoidable delay", such as when their children used the bathroom, were used for learning. For example, the father painted the constellations on the bathroom ceilings, hid messages in Morse Code throughout their vacation home, insisted that the children listen to phonograph records in French and German for the entire time they spent in bathrooms, etc., etc.

The story of the mother of the twelve children, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, is told in the biography, Making Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth -- A Life Beyond "Cheaper by the Dozen".

-- Emily Berk

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Cheaper By the Dozen

Book review: The Pinhoe Egg, A Chrestomanci Book

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

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Author:Diana Wynne Jones
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 8 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Year of publication:2006

In this, the latest episode in the life of Cat Chant, Cat has truly settled in to preparing for his future. The story reveals that he has come far in his apprenticeship to Christopher Chant, (the current Chrestomanci -- Chief Enchanter) and his family.

Cat has learned how to learn from a very gifted nine-lived enchanter who is (obviously) very talented, but possibly not as talented as Cat is. Throughout the book, Cat works on identifying skills Chrestomanci has that Cat still needs to learn, on when to solve problems on his own and when to call for help, and on how and when to intervene in the lives of the less gifted inhabitants of the universes he is destined to govern.

Like the plots of many other stories in the Chrestomanci series, the plot of this novel explores the problems of a gifted child (in this case a girl) who is made to feel inferior because she is special.

There are many thrilling touches in this tale, which started out "less slowly" (as my 12 year old says) than other Chrestomanci books and then -- got better and better. Two of our favorite were when:
  • Cat just comes out and tells Marianne (the talented girl enchantress with low self-esteem who is being utterly abused by her family) that she has great power, but needs to be brave and stick up for herself.
  • The entire sub-plot that concerns Klarch, the griffin. SO cute! Will definitely make you want a puppy.
Highly recommended, but you probably want to read at least Charmed Life first.
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If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Pinhoe Egg, The: A Chrestomanci Book

Book review: Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom – Strategies and Techniques Every Teacher Can Use to Meet the Academic Needs of the Gifted and Talented

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

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Author:Susan Winebrenner
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:Non-fiction; education
Year of publication:1992

If you're going to get one book and your child is in school, get this one.
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If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom : Strategies and Techniques Every Teacher Can Use to Meet the Academic Needs of the Gifted and Talented

Review: The Well-Trained Mind

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

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a review by the mother of a gifted homeschooler

I’ve now read TWTM twice and have had time to think about it a bit. I like SOME things about classical education in general and TWTM in particular, but others, I’m not too keen on.

First of all, Piaget’s stages of development have been known to be incorrect for years (even though they’re often taught in psych 101). They just aren’t true.

Having a true \”grammar stage\” would be acceptable to some students but just plain painful to most gifted ones–and beyond that, for math, at least, it is simply counter-productive. For example, TWTM predictably likes Saxon math, with its emphasis on rote memorization and the execution of algorthims as a substitute for actual mathematical thinking. While many gifted children will accept this, it is not a good idea. There is, quite frankly, a very good reason that Susan Wise Bauer did not major in science, mathematics, or engineering. Most classical education curricula provide a very poor background for these things. The prediction in TWTM that students will find upper level math and science \”hard\” is not representative of the difficulty of the subject so much as the completely lack of decent preparation.

Memorization of facts, which is an emphasis of a classical education, provides a framework around which everything else you learn can be hung. Whether it’s dates or mathematical facts (and this from someone who HATED memorizing math facts), there are certain tools that are important to build a body of knowledge upon.

Also, many schools now completely neglect all language arts, and classical programs usually offer a very good program for those. History is often dreadfully dull and incoherent as presented in schools, and most classical plans make it important, relevent, coherent, and at least fairly interesting. Primary sources are important, but they are not the be-all and end-all of math or science or history studies for very important reasons.

For a subject-by-subject critique of TWTM from my point of view, since it’s the most popular book on classical education, click here.

— Sophia

Book review: The Jungle Book

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

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Author:Rudyard Kipling
Illustrator:Jerry Pinkney
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 8 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Year of publication:1894

"At this point, reading pretty much any book is very easy for me. So what's important to me is how the book is written and what it's about," my 11 year old said to me recently.

"Then what about The Jungle Book? Did you find that easy to read?"

"Well, no, actually. It was very hard. But beautiful."

Rudyard Kipling's century-old story may be the perfect book for advanced but very young readers to tackle. The plot is involving, the characters -- people and animals -- think and act like individuals you might have met. But what's truly captivating about the book is the language Kipling uses.

My daughter's only misgiving about the book: It's clear that Kipling does not hold monkeys in high regard. Unlike people who do not even know of the Law of the Jungle, monkeys know of the Law, but refuse to submit to it. Monkeys are dear daughter's favorite animals. She will need to write her own book, in which they state their reasons for their recalcitrance.

In terms of the monkeys and the plot in general, it turns out that Disney's animated movie, Jungle Book, stays pretty close to the original book. And it's got some wonderful music and voices as well. Too bad I won't be recommending anything Disney for the next year or so.

Anyway, this book is better than any movie.

The hardcover to which this review links also includes the stirring story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a very brave little mongoose.

There are many thees and thous in Jungle Book, which make parsing some sentences challenging. But the ideas described in these complicated sentences and long chapters (each one a tale that pretty much stands on its own) are thrilling.

For example, one chapter tells how Mowgli, the wolf boy, organizes his pack to stop the marauding gang of over 200 dholes, red dogs, which threaten to stampede through the jungle, ripping every animal they come upon to shreds. There is much blood shed, unavoidable bloodshed, and Akela, who led the wolf pack when it adopted Mowgli, is mortally wounded:

"Said I not it would be my last fight?" Akela gasped. "It is good hunting. And thou, Little Brother?"

"I live, having killed many." [responds Mowgli]

"Even so, I die..."
"So why does he say 'Good hunting' if he's dying?" my daughter asks? (Dear daughter was prepared for this death, although she is very sad about it. Akela is old and prepared to die.)

Well, in the book, 'Good hunting' is a greeting, like, 'Shalom' that means both 'hello' and 'good bye'. And also, Mowgli's plan has succeeded, so it has been good hunting, even though Akela was mortally wounded. And also, it is the wolf's way to kill and be killed, in accordance with the Law of the Jungle. So many layers of meaning expressed in just a very few words!

This chapter, like all of them, beautifully shows the power of that Law. You kill only when you have been gravely wronged. You make sure bullies do not harm you or those for whom you are responsible. But you don't act out of malice or greed, and you act in concert with your friends and brothers.

Highly recommended for advanced young readers.

-- Emily Berk

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Jungle Book, The