May 2015 Nightstand

What's On Your NightstandSince last month’s Nightstand, I’ve mostly done this:




(Yes, most of those boxes contain books.)

Well, that’s not entirely true–I’ve done plenty of other things.  However, moving has taken up quite a lot of my mental and emotional space, which unfortunately doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy for reading.

Since last month’s Nightstand, this is what I’ve finished and reviewed:

  • The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith, most of which I read while relaxing on Sunday during Benny’s long nap.  I had had it on my Kindle for a long time, and for some reason it came to me that now would be a good time to read it as I contemplate things like paint colors and furniture placement in our new home.  I used to be an infrequent reading of the Nesting Place blog , so I was already familiar with Smith’s philosophy, which is one I really appreciate.  (Her catch phrase is “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful,” and that’s also the subtitle of the book.)  I enjoyed reading this book a lot.  While I can’t really say I learned anything, it did energize me for the task ahead.  (This is a mixed blessing, since we don’t close on our home until mid-June, so there’s not a whole lot I can actually do right now.)  I was surprised by the end of the book.  It made me cry.  Also, I’m really glad I read this one on my phone (yes, I did) and iPad instead of my old-timey Kindle because it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable without the color pictures.  Highly Recommended.

Right now I’m about a third of the way into Christy by Catherine Marshall, which is a re-read for me for the RTK Bookclub.  I hope to finish it up sooner rather than later.  I’m enjoying it, but I’m just not getting a lot of traction on it because of everything else that’s going on.

What’s up next?  Well, this is what I’ve saved out of all those boxes up there:



That’s just a random assortment of things, most of which are for either my Newbery Through the Decades Challenge or my Birthday Project.  I’ve also lost traction on my TBR Pile Challenge, so maybe I’ll get back to that, too.Reading to Know - Book Club  I am excited to be hosting Carrie’s Reading to Know Bookclub for the month of June!  In fact, I’ve just ordered the 70th anniversary edition of the book pick, which is The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery.  I’ll probably read this one aloud, or at least listen to the audiobook, which is included in this gift set.  Won’t you consider joining us for this read?
While I haven’t read much for my own personal enjoyment this month, I have been reading aloud a lot.  Come back on Thursday to read all about it!

One thing about it, this next month won’t be boring.  :-)

What’s on Your Nighstand?

Caught Reading

DSC_0081This post could more appropriately be titled “Caught Listening,” for that’s actually what they were doing:  listening to The Horse and His Boy via Overdrive.   What’s better than immersing yourself in Narnia while coloring on the porch on a warm spring day?  :-)


The DLM, a metacognitive note

We’re enjoying A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell again.  It’s a book that has grown on me because the DLM loves it so much.  I just wanted to pop on here to document something that happened tonight to remind myself of how much I enjoy having a front-row seat to watching the unfolding intellects of our children.  The DLM has fully grasped the fact that there are two stories going on in this book:  the story Louie is in, the actual “story” in the book; and the “messed-up” part–what’s happening to the book while Louie’s story is unfolding.  He actually explained it to me just that way tonight.  I wish I had taken down his exact words, but I didn’t exactly have a pencil and piece of paper handy.  😉   It’s little things like this that make homeschooling a pleasure.

Similar stories we’ve enjoyed:

Can you think of other books that are sophisticated in this way?  Another one that comes to mind is Bad Day at Riverbend by Chris Van Allsburg, which is one I need to share with all my children.





Homeschool wanderings: writing and grammar edition

I’m finding here at the end of six years of doing this thing called home-based education that I’m a little burned out on the way we’ve been doing things.  Maybe it’s just me, or maybe boredom/burnout/stress is inevitable.  I don’t know.  All I know is that long about the time of the February Slump I found myself just pushing my girls through some of their work.   Much of it felt disconnected, too–we had separate writing curricula and separate grammar curricula, and we were always reading aloud a lot, especially just good literature and history, so it seemed like surely some of that could be combined somehow.  Additionally, the curriculum I was using with Lulu is excellent, and she was doing okay with it, but she was not engaged with it much at all.  Besides that, I truly feel like it was enough above her head that she would benefit from it more when she’s a little older.  I felt like they were jumping through my hoops on most days with very little investment on their part, and that’s not what I want for their educations at all.

Enter Brave Writer.  I purchased and read The Writer’s Jungle a few years ago and enjoyed it, but ultimately I wasn’t quite brave enough to ditch the curriculum and just go for it.  I’ve followed the Brave Writer Lifestyle Facebook page for a while now, and there conversation there is always rich and inspiring.  We already do quite a few things–and always have–that are a part of the Brave Writer philosophy/lifestyle, like reading aloud and having poetry tea time.  I have a local friend (an IRL friend!) who has embraced the philosophy in her second year of homeschooling, and we bounce ideas off each other frequently.   Looking back, I see that this change has been a long time in coming.  No matter how much curriculum I contemplate and/or purchase, I sort of do the same things:  read, discuss, write.  I’ve been a huge fan of Heather’s blog, Blog, She Wrote, for a long time.   Hers is the “kind” of homeschool I think I envisioned long ago when I first thought about homeschooling.  She calls her method of writing and language instruction “coaching writing,” and it’s very Brave Writer-ish.  While I don’t think I can copy what she does exactly, I do think that I can work toward the engaged and authentic learning that I see through her blog posts.  (I do understand the nature of blogging– that we only blog the good stuff, that it’s an incomplete picture, etc.  That’s one reason I like the whole Brave Writer philosophy–it’s completely realistic in terms of real life.)

After we finished our weekly out-of-the house activities in late April and the girls had mostly finished their formal grammar curricula, I decided to just go for it.
What had we to lose?  We had been reading about the Lewis and Clark Expedition for a while, and the girls read a lengthy but enjoyable book about the Corps of Discovery and their adventures.  I had them write up a daily list of things they remembered about each day’s readings–a list narration of sorts–so they’d have something to go on once we started our project.  I presented them with several ideas:  a field guide to the Corps’ discoveries, a newspaper article, even a skit.  They both decided to do a sort of field guide, and I let them take the lead in it.  They chose to write about animals and native groups the expedition encountered.  This led to our use of our state’s virtual library to access the Encyclopedia Britannica to research their topics.  They wrote drafts, we reviewed them together, and then Lulu typed her final copy and I typed Louise’s (because she hasn’t learned to type properly yet).  Here’s a bit of their work.

Lulu, age just-turned-eleven:





Louise, age nine-and-a-half:



DSC_0089They both ended up with five or six “specimens” in their field guide, as well as a prologue and epilogue.  We intended to add illustrations, but alas we were out of color ink in our color printer and I was feeling the need to bring this to a close so we could move on to the next big task, which is moving.  :-)  I feel very good about this project.  I was pleased with the amount of engaged work the girls put into it.  Most of all, I am very pleased when both of them cited the project as one of their favorite things from the school year.  I call that a win.  I don’t intend for all of their writing to be from our history studies, but this is definitely a start.

As far as a formal grammar study, I’m still mulling that over.  Both girls, especially Lulu, know a lot about grammar already, having “done” grammar every year since grade one.  Brave Writer philosophy says hit it once in mid-to-upper elementary school, again in junior high, and (maybe) again in high school.  Something like that.  I’m considering subbing Latin for English grammar next year and using The Arrow for our various read-alouds.  At any rate, I plan to pick dictation and copywork from our read-alouds and use that to talk about grammar.  That’s the way The Arrow works.  I love the way Brave Writer approaches dictation.  It’s completely stress-free compared to the way we have been doing it (The Well-Trained Mind way).

Right now my plan is to ditch the spelling workbook completely.  Both of my girls seem like natural enough spellers, and we can continue working on spelling through dictation.  I have Spelling Wisdom from Simply Charlotte Mason, and we might go back to using that.

This is what I know:  I can’t keep doing things the way I had been doing them.  I know that fatigue is inevitable, but when I’m feeling the strain of not only my own fatigue but my own children’s lack of engagement, something needs to change.  It feels good to have the beginning of a plan in place.

Related links:



The Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith

I picked up The Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith at the library because of its tagline:  A Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers.  I love the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, so how could I not check out this short chapter book? This particular story has her traveling to the northern part of Botswana to visit her Aunty Bee who lives at a safari camp.  Precious travels north riding in the back of a neighbor’s truck along with other people from their community.  When she arrives at the safari camp she learns that the exciting event that Aunty Bee had hinted at in her letter was the filming of a nature-based movie at the camp.  That meant that Precious would have the opportunity to “meet” Teddy the lion, one of the actors in the film.  When Teddy comes up missing, it is up to Precious, the budding sleuth, to solve the mystery.

I read this one aloud to my girls, thinking that it might be a good fit for them and the DLM.  Actually, I think the ideal age for this book is somewhere in between:  the DLM, at almost five, wasn’t terribly interested in this gentle story and usually wandered out of the room while I was reading it, and the girls, at ages eleven and nine-and-a-half, probably wouldn’t have complained if I had quit reading it in the middle.  LIke its adult counterparts, this novel is light on the mystery and heavy on the description and characterization.  I, for one, love this sort of story, but I’m not sure it translates very well for children expecting a real mystery.  Also, because of its brevity, it’s hard to feel like you’ve gotten to known the young Precious Ramotswe or her African home.  For those of us familiar with the original stories, we can appreciate the many similarities:  the wonderful descriptions of beautiful Botswana; the wisdom of the culture; the community; etc.  With the right preparation, I do believe children could find enjoyment in this short novel.  However, without adequate preparation the story falls a little flat due to its lack of excitement.  I will say that one thing it has going for it for sure are the interesting illustrations by Iain McIntosh.  In addition to plenty of lovely illustrations, there is also a good bit of helpful backmatter:  a page of information about the geography and people of Botswana; a reader’s guide; and curriculum connections for teachers. I do wonder how this one would translate to audiobook.  We’ve enjoyed quite a few of his other children’s stories in audiobook format, so maybe it was my reading that made it fall a little flat.  I still think it might work better for just the right age child, too.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed this one and would definitely read the others in the series (there are three more so far) myself, whether my children wanted to go along for the ride or not.  :-) (Anchor Books, 2013)