Thursday, April 17, 2014

Let Mourning Become Gladness (and 3 Requests)

The other day I was sorting a pile of papers when I found this one: 

It was one of the many that my daughter drew as she mourned the unexpected passing of my niece.  I am not sure when she drew it.  I am sure that it expresses her hurt, yet her hope and faith.

Another picture that Nina drew was this one:

Nina drew this beautiful image of love moving toward her cousin in heaven on April 25 on one of our learning white boards. On that day, Nina had been going about her day when she randomly burst into tears and would not be comforted. A bit later, she came to me with a white board and said, "This is why I was crying." She missed her cousin.  Her heart was broken yet hopeful.  Mine was too.

I held my girl, talked with her and prayed with her. Then, that night, before we slept, I prayed for her, for my niece and for all that are affected by the loss of someone gone too soon due to despair.

Today marks one month since we laid Adrian to rest.  Daily tears have ceased in our home, but daily prayers continue.  One of those prayers is that the Lenten journey that so many I know are on this year may be transformed with with a beautiful Easter and that no matter where each of us is in our life's journey, we be filled with light and love.

As I begin this day, I am moved to make three suggestions:

  • Today, be present with someone, offer compassion, let God work in you and through you to share love.  Sometimes but one word, gesture, smile, kindness, shoulder... can make all the difference in day.  Jesus washed his disciples' feet.  How can we offer service through love?

  • Pray for all who died too soon and for all who they left behind.  So many I know have been affected this Lent by suicide, accidents, miscarriages and more.  It is hard to understand why such unexpected losses happen, but it is edifying to understand that God's promise of eternal life remains even when earthly life ends.  He will turn our mourning into gladness over time.  We can yet dance with our Lord together in eternity.  Unlike all who witnessed Jesus die on the cross, we know that death is not the end.  Let's unite in faith in love.

  • Pause right now, take a deep breath, close your eyes, smile and know that you are loved. We all are.  Infinitely.  Created through love to love.

May we live every moment of this day asking ourselves "Am I living this moment with love?"

Easter is coming!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Igniting (and Answering) Curiosity! {A Review}

Curiosity Quest Review

Curiosity QuestThe name says it all, doesn't it?  

Children asking questions and seeking answers based on individual interests.  That's exactly what I seek in our homeschool.  

Thus, when I was pleased when our family was offered the chance to watch:

Curiosity Quest Review

Curiosity Quest's DVD Combo Pack - Produce (Mushrooms, Cranberries, Orange Packing)

Curiosity Quest Review

and DVD Combo Pack - Swimmers of the Sea (Sea Turtle Rescue, Penguins, Salmon) in exchange for an honest review.

What is Curiosity Quest?

Curiosity Quest is a PBS series in which the affable host Joel Greene travels to different locations in order to discover answers to questions young viewers write into the show with.  In each 30 minute episode, Joel and his team share their hands-on educational experiences with viewers which pack in loads of interesting facts, unscripted interviews and even some potentially new vocabulary words.

What Was Our Experience with Curiosity Quest?

Shortly after receiving the videos in the mail, our family snuggled together to watch the children's first choice: the DVD Combo Pack - Swimmers of the Sea.

Of course, we found the portion on magellanic penguins interesting and cute.  Who would not be enamored with penguins?  And who knew that penguins bark?

Curiosity Quest Review

Likewise, we enjoyed the episode where Joel traveled to the Florida Keys to visit a sea turtle rescue place.  It reminded us of visiting a seal rescue center in our local area while also wowing us with facts, such as just how big little turtles like the ones shown in the picture below can grow.  (No spoilers here!  You'll have to watch to discover the huge potential size of turtles yourself!)

Curiosity Quest Review

Then, learning about Alaskan sockeye, king and pink salmon was interesting, especially as what Joel discovered about the salmon connected to what we have learned about local herring.  Both types of fish have similar life cycles.

Curiosity Quest Review

On another day, we watched the DVD Combo Pack - Produce, which was equally interesting and formatted in the same way as the children's top pick (the sea creature one), where Joel takes viewers on virtual hands-on field trips in order to answer viewer questions.

In one of the food episodes, we followed the entire process of harvesting cranberries at one of the nation's largest cranberry growing places.  Since we live in the heart of another of the nation's cranberry growing areas, we found ourselves comparing large-growers' experience as shown on the DVD with that of small-scale growing friends we know locally.

Curiosity Quest Review

Another episode was on one of oldest son's, Luke's, favorite foods: mushrooms.  As we watched this one, we all found it amazing to see just how mushrooms go from spores on hay to ready-to-eat packaged products.  Our youngest son Jack was particularly impressed with the mushroom harvesting.

Curiosity Quest Review

The final episode in the produce combo-pack was on how oranges are grown, harvested and packed.  The machines used in the sorting process wowed us and, I, for one, am now curious how the growing, harvesting and packaging of organic oranges differs from that of conventional ones.

Curiosity Quest Review

As we watched all six of the episodes of Curiosity Quest that we were blessed to review, we found ourselves engaged in asking and answering questions and even pausing for connected discussions.  The children also got up to their own explorations after watching the videos, such as drawing sea creatures and then cutting them out to enact their own Curiosity Quests.

... and squeezing an entire bag of citrus fruits to make juice!

Without question, we enjoyed the vicarious hands-on field trips we went on while we watched the DVD's as well as the activities that they inspired.

Would I Recommend Curioisty Quest Videos?

Curiosity Quest Review

If you are not lucky enough to live in an area that carries Curiosity Quest on the air, or if you have children that like to watch the same shows over and over, I would definitely recommend looking into Curiosity Quest videos.

With the episodes that our family watched, we were immediately engaged when the energetic Joel Green read a letter from a child who was curious about something.   Then, we enjoyed learning as Joel went on location to quest for answers.  

We all:
  •  appreciated the humor the episodes were peppered with
  • learned from the Fun Facts that break up each segment of the shows
  • found ourselves trying to answer candid interview questions that are presented to kids during each episode
  • and felt that, on the whole, the videos were as entertaining as they were engaging and educational.

I did, however, wish there was a package insert or a weblink available with study guides for further learning.  For, while we are perfectly capable of learning more on our own (and already doing so!), I feel it would be an excellent "bonus" to have ready-to-go study guides available to those who purchase videos or even for those who watch episodes on-air and then seek out the Curiosity Quest website.

Learn More

The DVD Combo Pack - Produce and DVD Combo Pack - Swimmers of the Sea sell for $24.95 each and are targeted fro children ages 7-14, but make quality viewing for the whole family.  There are episodes on dozens of more topics, too. 

See how other families are using Curiosity Quest videos:

Click to read Crew Reviews

Visit Curiosity Quest :

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Which Knight Books Are Worth Reading? (20+ Options for History, ELA and More)

The kids focused on Knights for a recent homeschool history fair.

Luke, Nina and Jack have been so into knights and medieval times this year that we have brought home baskets and baskets of knight-related books from the library.  Silly me, however, did not return the books with the same flow with which they came in.  In fact, as life got busy, I hit "renew" far too many times for far too many knight, Jack and the Beanstalk books and other books, thereby causing myself to amass a "due today" list that filled two baskets to the brim.

Our library was able to restock its shelves after we returned this load!

Oops!  That was back-straining mistake that taught me two lessons:

  1. Do not renew so many books on the same day, because then they will all become due on the same day and you (and your back) WILL regret it.
  2. If a borrowed book ends up being "just okay", return it right away.  (You husband, who hates the clutter in the house, and your back, which hates back-straining library return baskets, will thank you!)
The heavy library return also inspired me to take some notes on the knight books I was returning so when we inevitably cycle back around to medieval studies in a year or two or three, I will know which ones are worth borrowing again.

To save you some heavy loads at the library (or to help you pick which books may be worth purchasing if your library system is not as awesome as ours is), I am sharing part of my knight / medieval book list notes.  Only part because if I shared the entire list, this post would seem endless.  So, I just picked the first 20 from the pile and will likely share more another day.

The Castle That Jack Built (Usborne First Reading: Level 3) is a typical Usborne early reader that contains absolutely no historical value, but lots of repetition for developing readers.  Dragons, witches, princes, princesses, mayhem.  It contains them all.  I would not necessarily get it again.

I loved A Day in the Life of a Knight and so did my kiddos.  It framed so many facts into a well-illustrated, well-told story about one knight's day.  It also contained gentle, fun tie-ins to time telling, fact or fiction statements, multiple choice quiz questions and a glossary.  A great blend between story and non-fiction resource, this book is a favorite for young learners that we will get during our next knight/medieval times phase.

Imagine You're a Knight! (Imagine This!) blends facts, fancy and fun illustrations together to make a book that is less educational than it is fun.  My children giggled and pointed out "that's not true" parts as we read it.  In my opinion, it's worth a borrow, but not if your list is already too long.
It's Fun to Draw Knights and Castles was a life-saver for Mike and me when Jack (and sibs) kept asking us to draw them knights.  It really made drawing simple!  It also encouraged us to use different media for creating knights and castles (paint, paper cut outs, tin foil, marker, pencil, etc.) as suggested by the different well-illustrated, step-by-step projects in it.  Plus, tit offered brief "splat-a-facts" to pique learning interest.  This book was one of our favorites.  Great for hands-on, creative kiddos and parents who love artistic endeavors but may not be incredibly skilled with them.

Good Night, Good Knight is a cute, fun early reader about a a knight and some dragons who need help getting to bed.  With no real educational value history wise, we enjoyed it over and over as a bedtime book read by me or Luke.

If You Lived In The Days Of The Knights is jam-packed with easy to access information written in Q&A form.  Not humorously engaging like some of the other books we read and with fewer eye-catching illustrations, the book is still one I would strongly recommend for a short-list as it packs so many understandable facts and explanations in, answering and expanding kids' natural curiosity.
  Knight Fight (Usborne Very First Reading) was an easy, enjoyable read for Luke to entertain his siblings with as well as a book Jack and Nina "read" the pictures of.  With rhyming text, bright illustrations and several pages of puzzles and exercises it makes a worthwhile addition for young learners.

I am not sure why a Knight's Handbook has gone out of print, but I am sure that if your library system does not carry it, it's worth scooping up used.   It is a witty (sometimes sarcastic) and entertaining book that blends facts with silly illustrations and textual tidbits.  Luke loved it as a break from "just the facts" type reads.  Some might be offended by parts of the books humor.

Knights & Castles (100 Things You Should Know About...) contains brief, informational facts, plentiful illustrations, various quizzes and activity ideas and more.  It was great for reading short segments of, for the children to browse on their own and for Luke to read portions to his siblings.

The Knight's Handbook: How to Become a Champion in Shining Armor is an all-in-one book I would purchase if I did not have an awesome library system since it contains a bit of everything:  interesting facts, recipes, crafts, hands-on learning ideas and information about a wide array of knight-medieval times subtopics.  We did not dive as deeply into this book as we could have since I intend to do so when Jack is a bit older and Luke and Nina are more self-directed in their reading and project planning.  In a couple years, this will be an awesome resource for us, I am sure.  It is already, we just had so many good ones, I want to save this one for later.
Luke enjoyed reading the three chapters of The Knight's Handbook: How to Become a Champion in Shining Armor Stories of Knights (Usborne Young Reading) to his siblings after I read it once.  I don't know if I'd recommend buying the book, but it is certainly worth borrowing for young learners who are strengthening their reading skills to enjoy a few simplified tales about Arthur's knights.  Honesty, bravery and honoring one's word play into the themes.

Knights in Shining Armor, like most Gail Gibbons non-fiction books, presents facts and illustrations in a way that engages young learners. It shows the development of a boy from a page into a knight, gets into weaponry and armor and at an age-appropriate level, depicts scenes from daily life and concludes with a brief summary of King Arthur's famous knights.  If I only had a few books I could get for young learners to dive into knights, this would be one of them.  It's fairly simple, yet effective.

Max and Me and the Time Machine was a random book we found at our library.  It has no illustrations save for that on the front cover, but is told in a way that makes imagining the story easy.  We read it together over the course of several bedtimes.  The children loved how history was woven into fantasy in this story of two boys that were transported back to 1250 AD by a time machine.  They want to read more books in the series.

We took out No Sword Fighting in the House: A Holiday House Reader Level 2 only because the boys so like sword play right now.  After I read the book to the kids once, Luke enjoyed reading it to his siblings and the kids enjoyed the storyline and illustrations.  It's a typical early reader and has no historical value, but is worth borrowing fore reluctant readers like mine.  (Luke still prefers to be read to rather than to read himself.)

Real Knights blends brief biographies about 20 knights with details about armor, castle life, tournaments and more. Well illustrated with a wide array of facts and stories, we'll likely get this again in the future, especially to give a broad overview of people, places and topics the kids might want to then dig deeper into.

Stories of Knights & Castles contains stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Tables and some lesser known knights.  We read them together and enjoyed the book.  However, the book is not one I would say is a must-have.
Take Care, Good Knight is another book by the same author as Good Night, Good Knight and makes an enjoyable read for youngsters, but hold little history education value.  So, not so important for a history study, but fun for cross-curricula studies and early reading.

I wish that What If You Met a Knight? did not have so much small text because it is a quality read that debunks myths and fanciful images of knights and replaces them with illuminating illustrations and text that engages even as it strains tired-mommy eyes.  We will likely get this one out again when the kids can read it on their own.

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Medieval Knight!: Armor You'd Rather Not Wear is part of a series of history books that my library carries that my oldest enjoys.  With brightly colored illustrations, off-beat humor but plenty of facts, it is anything but a dry presentation of medieval times and knighthood.  We'll be getting it out again when we revisit knights in the future.  The kids find it humorous and I appreciate that they engage in the facts through it.

As I said at the start of this long post, we read a ton of books.  I will likely do a round two on another day.  Until then:

What are some of your favorite books and resources for learning about knights and medieval times?


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