Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Picks for Exploring Rumpelstiltskin

{Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. If you click on them to make any purchase, we may get a small percentage of your sale at no extra cost to you. We thank you should you choose to support our family this way.} 

Last night, as I was collecting another laundry basketful of books that were due at the library, I found myself smiling at how one free program can inspire hours and hours of fun and learning.

Yes, Dreamtale Puppets and our local library did it again!  

This time, not with a gentle study of Jack and the Beanstalk, but with Rumpelstiltskin.

Now, I admit, Rumpelstiltskin is not my favorite fairytale.  For, in it, a girl promises her first born child to strange little man who does magic in order to save her life and, then, the girl marries the very man who had threatened to kill her -- a greedy king.  Indeed, the story seems filled with more vice than virtue.  

However, it is a "classic" and, thus, invites some exploration.

Explore we did.

First with an introduction to the plot through one picture book.

Then through viewing Dreamtale Puppets creative tabletop retelling of the story...

...and enjoying a post-performance opportunity to get up close and personal with all the puppets.

And, finally, through reading other versions of the story and coming up with our own dramatic play retellings.

The five picture books we chose to explore the story were:

Duffy and the Devil takes a popular play from 19th century Cornwall, which was inspired by the classic tale of Rumpelstiltskin, and puts it into picture book form with fun pen and wash illustrations and an ending that one does not expect (and that made my children laugh!)  True to the time period when this version of tale was dramatized throughout England, the Rumpelstiltskin-like character is portrayed as a devil and there are witches in the story as well.  However, there is very little that is scary about the book since the illustrations are so light-hearted.  I'd say the book is worth a gander for its unique twist if nothing else.

Gorgeous oil paintings in a medieval setting create a feast for children's (and adults' ) eyes in the Caldecott Honor Book Rumpelstiltskin.  The text of the books is well-written and stays true to the 1819 Grimm's version of this classic tale by having Rumpelstiltskin fly off on a wooden spoon at the end.  It was my favorite version of the book to read to my children.

Rumpelstiltskin: The Graphic Novel was Luke's favorite version of the classic tale, becausse it is written in comic-book style with bright, captivating (if trendy) illustrations and plenty of speech bubbles.  

I, personally, found the book less thrilling than he did.  However, I did appreciate the fact that the author tried to smooth out some of the less virtue-filled characteristics of the girl and the king in his retelling.  For, in this version of the classic tale, the girl promises to pay Rumpelstiltskin's price should she ever become queen, but does not know that price is her first-born, and the king keeps Rumpelstiltskin in his palace not due to greed, but due to love.  Plus, the girl shows determination and cleverness as she discovers Rumpelstiltskin's name in order to save her firstborn - a daughter.  The book also contains a glossary, a brief history of the classic tale, discussion questions and writing prompts, making it a good one for academic settings -- but only ones with children who do not frighten easily.  For, to be honest, the character of Rumpelstiltskin in this version is drawn to be quite ominous.

Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter gives a new, happily-ever-after twist to the old Rumpelstiltskin tale.  In it, the girl and the little odd man named Rumpelstiltskin escape the greedy king, get married and have a daughter, only to have the king capture their daughter years later, requiring her to appease his greedy ways.  The daughter, in turn, devises waya to help the poor people living in the king's countryside while also helping the king overcome his greed.  Of course, everyone (except maybe the king's guards with their gnashing teeth who are dismissed near the end of the story) lives happily ever after.

The illustrations in this version are delightful.  The storyline is fresh.  Overall, the plot redeems the vice-ridden classic tale with a strong, virtuou female character and good winning overcoming evil in the king.  I just wish there were not slang phrases in the text, such as "here's the deal" and "that jerk".

The Story of Rumpelstiltskin (Usborne First Stories):  This quick-and-easy book is a basic retelling of the classic tale with simple text and charming illustrations.  Like many other Usborne early readers, each page of The Story of Rumpelstiltskin has a short, large-font line of text at the top of the page, which young readers can likely attack on their own.  Then, it has a large, engaging illustration with two lines of smaller- (but still large-) font text below it.  These final two lines are slightly more challenging to read and can be read by a parent (or by a child who is progressing a bit more with reading).  The book is a quick and easy read with a cute, non-menacing looking Rumpelstiltskin.

Now, I know there are many, many more Rumpelstiltskin-inspired picture books out there. My children and I just moved onto different topics and themes before diving into them.  I'd love to hear about your favorites though in case we revisit this classic tale in the future.

What versions of Rumpelstiltskin do you like the best?  How do you approach classic tales with less-than-redeeming plots? 

Friday, June 27, 2014

My Kids Cannot Get Enough of Explorers! {A Veritas Press Self-Paced History Review}

If I only had a way for taking and then sharing video here, I would be kicking this post off with a clip of my children happily singing the memory song they learned on one of the Veritas Press Self-Paced History courses from Veritas Press or one of them enacting one of their own extensions of the
Veritas Press Self-Paced History: Explorers to 1815.  

Since I do not, though, you'll just have to take my word for it.  Our experience with reviewing the online history course and hands-on Explorers to 1815 Flashcards has created some priceless memories!

What is Veritas Press and Self-Paced History?

Veritas Press Review

Veritas Press is a notable curriculum provider for those looking to use the classical method of education at home, or even in traditional schools, with a Christian world view.  As I discovered, their materials also dovetail nicely into interest-led home learning (or at least the self-paced Explorers course does for mine!)

The Veritas Press Self-Paced History: Explorers to 1815 course is an online curriculum aimed at children in grades 2-6 that includes two costumed actor-tutors that teach children about 32 important historical events and people in chronological order.  Within each student lesson are:

  • songs to help with memorization of names, dates, palces and events
  • video footage and slides of locations
  • mapwork
  • review and learning games
  • online tests

The characters James and Abigail, as well as a totem pole named Ikuhabe, take students through 160 lessons broken up into 32 sections.  Each lesson takes approximately 30 minutes to an hour to complete in full, depending on the student, and is laced with humor.

There are also supplementary hands-on projects and reading assignments available under the parent/teacher log-in, as well as easy-to-access grade report.

Online access, of course, is vital for the course.  Offline, flashcards (discussed below) are helpful, as are basic office/art supplies and additional reading books.

How Did We Use It?

 As soon as we received access information for the Veritas Press Self-Paced History: Explorers to 1815, I set up on online account easily by following direction, "bought" our course and then created my son's username and password.  After that, my oldest son pretty much took over, first watching the tutorial that showed how things were going to work and, then, proving himself an eager, self-directed student as he cruised through 30+ lessons so far at his own pace, with his siblings looking over is shoulder! 

For, yes, although the Veritas Press Self-Paced History: Explorers to 1815 course was meant to be reviewed only by my eight-year-old, it has become a favorite with my almost-four and seven year olds, too.   

Each time my oldest gets online to enjoy "Explorers", his two younger siblings clamor to sit next to him.  Then, even though my son loves moving through the lessons with his own hand on the mouse, sometimes he is kind enough to offer it to his siblings.  (I just love it each time I witness his kindness as he reads onscreen questions aloud  so his younger siblings can "help" him complete interactive games and activities!)

Once the kids are on "Explorers" (as they call it), they tend to stay on until I ask them to give me back my laptop.  I dare say, if I had let them, they might have done a marathon and finish the entire 32-week course in but several sittings!  Instead, I usually set a timer for 15 minutes to a half hour per sitting, at the end of which they beg to at least finish whatever lesson they are on. 

Then, in between online lessons, the children chat about the explorers, ask me to print out maps on which they draw their own explorer stories, model after the actors to teach their own historical lessons, ask to go to the library to get books out on topics that "Explorers" has introduced to them, etc.

The Flashcards

There was significant lag time between when we received access to the self-paced online course and when our Explorers to 1815 Flashcards ($19.95) were shipped.  During this time, we realized that the flashcards are not necessary to have.  However, once we received them, we were happy to have them.

My daughter, especially, liked the large, laminated cards, which look like Montessori 3-part cards on the front: 

Veritas Press Review 
And contain key information on the back.
Veritas Press Review

All on my daughter's own, she began using the cards for copywork and one day, I discovered that she had figured out how to use our printer as a copy machine and, then, proudly created her own school work.  

(Sorry for the unintentional copyright infringement my seven-year-old committed, Veritas Press.  I let her know she was not to do it again, but thought the pile of her work that I found was such a testimony to her love of your products that I could not help admitting what she had done here and including the above picture.)

My daughter also liked to "teach" her younger brother with the cards and, whenever Big Brother got online to do "Explorers", she asked for the cards.

My oldest, however, was not as impressed with the cards.  He mostly just liked flipping through the 32 chronological cards to see which ones he had yet to explore online had which ones he already "knew".

As a parent-educator, I think the cards are fabulous.  They encapsulate on two well-formated sides all of the information presented in the online lessons and, with my imagination, will lend themselves to all sorts of future learning games such as Sequencing, Find the ~ and other variations of Card Crazy games we like to play.

Would We Recommend It?

Veritas Press Review

I had a chance to ask my oldest his thoughts when I was writing this review.  He said:

"My favorite part is at the end of some of the episodes.  There is a game where you answer review questions.  For one of the games you are an explorer and in another one you shoot at targets...I got tired of the song and I don't like the part where they say 'The British lost at Bunker Hill,' because it is not true.  They technically won the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was not even fought on Bunker Hill.  It was fought on Breed's Hill.  

My favorite section so far is called Jamestown Is Founded in Virginia."

My daughter added:

 "It's awesome! My favorite explorer is Columbus!"

As for me, I have noted that of all the curricula we have been blessed to review this year, Veritas Press Self-Paced History: Explorers to 1815 has been a favorite.  

Some things I appreciate about it are:

  • Children can enjoy learning independently.  The program is easy to use, understand and follow.

  • The course is self-paced and picks up each time it is accessed just where it was left off.  (However, there is an option to go back to review materials.)

  • Lessons are multi-sensory.  Within each, you watch and learn about the explorers and apply what you've learned to playing games and filling in blank maps, etc.  In doing so, Visual and Auditory learning are tapped into.  Additional suggested projects key into Tactile learning.

  • The quality is top-notch, with videos performed by costumed actors; interactive online "worksheets", games and tests; and easy-to-access grade reports for students and parents who wish to put numbers to learning objectives.

  • The course is complete enough to use as a stand-alone history program, which can be rounded out with included instructions for hands-on projects and supplementary reading lists.

  • The program is so fun that my children request to use it over and over and I often see learning gleaned from it playing into their dramatic play, drawings, conversations, etc. throughout the day.

In addition, real, live people answer the Veritas Press customer service lines within a single ring!  (Or so that was my experience when I forgot my parent/teacher username and password once and needed to call.)

Some things I didn't care for as much were:

  • It took a while for our flashcards to come in. 
  • While children can go back to re-do worksheets and tests, their first score on them "sticks".  This may be a boon for those who want hardcore record-keeping, but for my children it is a detriment.  My son gets into storylines and likes to "move on" quickly.  I like mastery, so I often encourage him to cycle around to things a second time.  I would love to easily be able to check improvements in my son's second (and even third) cycles.  Mastery, in my book (and in my son's) is not often a one-shot effort.
  • There is a time limit on some of the activities, such as the spelling ones.  This frustrated my son, who is not a strong speller.  
  • The course is pricey.  I would have never touched this curriculum at $199 per student if I had not had the chance to review it.  For one area of study for one child, the course just seemed too far out of my family's budget.  However, now that our family has experienced the course I can attest that the money for it would be well-spent.  The multi-sensory course makes history come alive and stick.  Detailed, extensive and engaging, with options for hands-on projects and further reading, it could really act as as a spine for an enriched year of learning.

I also wished, in a way, that Veritas Press Self-Paced History: Explorers to 1815 was not so self-directed, but this is for purely selfish reasons.  

Because my son can do the lessons on his own (and because his sister and brother already eagerly crowd him at the computer whenever he sits down to "do Explorers"), there is little need (or room!) for me to join in. Tet, when I do, I find the program as engaging and educational as he does.  (Yes, I am a geek!) 

Overall, I'd have to say that the Veritas Press Self-Paced History: Explorers to 1815 course is one of the most successful things we've used this year as far as curricula go.  My 8-year-old loves it, chooses it often and incorporates what he as learned from it into so much else that he does.  Plus,  it delivers fun and learning for his younger siblings, too.   

We are excited to have received a full year's access to the Veritas Press Self-Paced History course ($199, with a sibling discount of $100 off).  All three of my children have been loving (despite the fact that only one is officially reviewing it) and it is quickly making me  - a screen-limiting mama - a convert to the benefits of additional online learning. 

For Fellow Catholics

When we were given the opportunity to select one of the Veritas Press Self-Paced History courses, I let my son decide which one he was most interested in.  I was glad that he chose the Explorers one, because Veritas Press is known for its Reformed theology point of view and I felt that Explorers course might have less theological overtones in it than others do.  

I wanted my son to be able to use the course independently without me hovering to be on hand for faith-based questions that may arise.  It worked out well for us.  Few theological questions arose. 

We are not a family that shelters our children from differing worldviews.  We are one that embraces our Catholic faith with joy though and compares and contrasts other views accordingly.  If your family is the same way, Veritas Press can be a wonderful tool for learning about history and about the differences and similarities of various Christian worldviews.

Learn More about Veritas Press

Click to read Crew Reviews

Read Schoolhouse Crew reviews about all the following self-paced courses:

Veritas Press Review

Connect with Veritas Press on:

Thank you for joining our family for this review.  We'd love to hear your thoughts about this program, as well as on other independent learning and history programs.  What are your favorite features?  Do you have any questions?

    Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Enjoy a Woodland Habitat Exploration Day - A Pictorial Report and Free Printable Lesson Plan

{Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links to books that we used in planning, prep and follow up to our co-op meeting.  We thank you for blessing our family should you choose to click through any of these links to make any Amazon purchase.  Doing so adds nothing to your purchase price, but does provide our family with a tiny percentage of your sale.}

 Here we are but a week or so away from the beginning of July and I am just getting to posting about our second Habitat Explorers Co-op class, which was in May.  

For those of you who have been waiting for this post since I shared our first free printable Habit Explorers lesson plan and report, thank you for your patience.  You (and everyone else) need wait no longer for the second meeting's lesson plan on Woodland Habitats.  Here it is (with a photo report further along in this post.)

Resources for Our Woodland Habitat Lesson

Books we used during our meeting were:


Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take Along Guides) 


At home, some of the other books we read for preparation and follow-up were:




Around One Log: Chipmunks, Spiders, and Creepy Insiders 

Some of these books, as well as ones about other types of habitats, are featured with brief descriptions at Favorite Habitat and Nature Books.  Feel free to take a peek.

Highlights from Our Woodland Habitats Meeting
Please also enjoy a peek into how the planned lesson became reality for our mini nature co-op, with, of course, a few last-moment adaptations... 

Upon arrival, children that naturally gravitated towards an old foundation to wait for the lesson to begin...

Once all expected friends had arrived, we gathered in a Sharing Circle to say hello, review the last lesson and introduce the day's focus:  Woodland Habitats.

Due to car issues and sickness among some of our co-op families, our group was smaller than I thought it would be when I had planned the day's opening game.  So, I enlisted the help of parents and tag-along teens to help us learn a bit more about what is needed for a seed to become a tree.

Then it was off for a modified Tiny Treasures egg carton walk through the woods. 

We paused along the way to take in beautiful views and to inspect things along the trail...

We also stopped to fill our boxes with samples of tiny treasures found along the trail. 

Everything was going as planned until...

... we got over this little bridge.

Shortly after this little bridge, the trail turned into foot-sucking mud.  So, in deference to a few of our friends who had forgotten to wear can-get-wet-and-muddy trail shoes, we turned our hike around.  From that moment forward, I adapted the plans I had written out to fit our day.

Planned nature notebooking went by the wayside for the most part as we paused at a small clearing to share out egg carton finds and feed our hungry bellies.

However, exploration and identification did not.  In fact, not only did we share, discuss and try to identify some of our egg carton treasures, but we also tried to i.d. critters we found crawling about our picnic space.

We enjoyed reading A Log's Life together, of course, pausing for important things, such as...

... finding more critters!

Then, when all were done eating, we did a brief lesson on photosynthesis which included, some dramatic play of children growing into trees...

... and additional spoonfuls of maple syrup sugar to help the lesson go down!

From there, it was back to walking through woodlands.

 Small groups broke off to inspect finds along the way, each going at its own pace, until we made it to the side of a river, where we collected woodland leaf debris to make leaf litter bags in prepartion for a future meet up.

Some children scouted good locations to place our leaf litter bags.

Some worked cooperatively to dig out rocks to use as anchors for the bags.

And, some used their big muscles to carry the leaf litter bags and their anchors down to the river for placement.

By then, official time was up, so we all made our way back to the parking lot.  Along the way, I snapped this photo, which I love.  While one mom talks with another mom and an older child, my oldest walks and plays gleefully with the babe in her arms and one of her boys (in the red) walks with a book he had sometimes been reading throughout the day.  So many ages, stages and interests coming together in community,  I love it!

And, I love this!  

After some families had departed, several stayed behind.  While parents chatted and kids played, this little one spied a toad.  She was so excited by it and called out, "Miss Martianne!  Miss Martianne!"  The next thing I knew, all the children that were left gathered around her, taking turns inspecting her find.

They eventually made their way to a mound of dirt and grass, where they played in child-dug "burrows" and told stories to one another.  The boy in gray was sharing a story here with the rest of the gang...

...while his baby sister delighted in it!

Meanwhile, my daughter buddied up with one of the youngest lingerers.

And, finally, the kings and queens of dusty, dirty, fully-engaged learning and fun, were told it was time to wrap up the day.

Another absolutely ideal day of Habitat Explorers had come to a close.  We all waited eagerly for the next one, on Freshwater Habitats, which I will share about another day...

Until then, please find all the posts related to the Habitat Explorers Co-op I taught this spring by clicking on the button below.

I'd love to hear about your favorite outdoor lessons and experiences in a comment here or on the Training Happy Hearts Facebook page.  We're always looking for tried-and-true inspiration for future outdoor experiences!


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