In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord

Our last lunchtime read-aloud of the official school year was In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord.  I chose it because it fit with our U.S. History studies and because there is an Arrow for it, though we ended up not using the Arrow.  It was a quick read and one we all enjoyed.  It’s the story of an eight or nine year old girl who chooses the name Shirley Temple Wong for herself before leaving China to live in New York City with her mother and father.  The transition from their ancestral home in China to apartment-living in NYC is fraught confusion and humor, as is Shirley’s transition into public school.   Shirley struggles and ultimately triumphs both socially and academically, but we get an inside track into what it might’ve been like to dive headfirst into the American culture of the 1950s for a kid who doesn’t even really speak English very well.  Some of the references are dated, of course, but that didn’t prevent us from enjoying the story.  Based on the author’s life, this story is a good one to give a little window into life into NYC life in the 1950s as well as the immigrant experience. (Harper & Row, 1984)

This year’s high points

It’s always a dicey thing for me to look back on those optimistic first day posts or this-is-what-we’re-doing-this-year posts and either sigh over plans left unfulfilled or laugh ruefully over how things went awry.  This year’s end I’m counting our successes more than our disappointments, so if this post seems a bit too rainbows-and-unicorns, rest assured that we had equally as many (if not more!) rough spots.  :-)  Here are the high points, at least in my mind, in no particular order:


U.S. History has been an unmitigated pleasure for me (and I think the girls, too) to wander through this year (and last). We didn’t have a curriculum per se; instead we relied heavily upon Joy Hakim’s History of US, miscellaneous nonfiction titles and novels, a few documentaries, a few projects, and a few field trips.  Here are a few of the highlights:



  • A Little Women party to celebrate our Civil War studies
  • A trip to Shiloh National Military Park
  • A visit to Pope’s Tavern, a local site that was a Civil War hospital, among other things (this was excellent–the docent there really knows his stuff and was delighted to talk with my interested girls)
  • A trip to the Jesse Owens home and museum (as yet unblogged, but I have hope that I’ll get to it soon!)

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We’re continuing our history studies through the summer with more reading and field tripping, but I can say with a full heart that we’ve had a wonderful two years of history studies.


I feel like this is the first year that Latin actually stuck for us after making attempts at it for two or three years.  I credit Latin for Children by Classical Academic Press for this success.  We’re continuing our Latin over the summer to finish Primer A, and for next year I’m buying my own student book for Primer B.  I think I’ll drop the student activity book (which we barely used) and hit the translation book harder.  Clash Cards are a must!  Latin is definitely one of this year’s bright spots.


I feel a little funny picking this next one as one of my highlights of the year because, well, we still haven’t finished it.  I learned about Mystery Class by Journey North through some of my Brave Writer online connections, and I think it might’ve saved my sanity this winter.  We worked on it on Fun Fridays, and it was the most highly-anticipated part of our week.  One thing it showed me is how much fun and how effective authentic learning is (even if it’s a contrived “mystery”–the searching out of the clues and the graphing of the photoperiod was still real).  Another thing is how important it is to mix it up a bit every now and then. A little math, a little science, a little geography, a little world cultures, a little history–what’s not to love?  I’m already making a mental note for next year to try to pull in some friends to make it a group activity (and end with a party, of course).  If you’d like more information about it, check out my friend Alexandra’s posts at Life on Island Studio (that’s PEI!) as well as Melissa Wiley’s posts.



The DLM can read.  The DLM can read!  I’ve “done” kindergarten with him this year, more or less, and while we’ve only averaged maybe three or four day’s worth of formal lessons (which usually last about thirty minutes or less daily, I’d guess) each week, they’ve been mostly painless. (Well, getting him to sit down, how ever briefly, isn’t always painless, but. . . .)  Many days I just let him decide what he wanted to do, especially as my resolve to be hard-nosed was deconstructed as the year progressed:  reading?  math?  play a game?  tell me a story?  draw a picture? We used All About Reading level one this year and almost finished it.  One poetry tea time mid-April, he read a twimerick (a tongue-twister limerick) entitled “Flapjack Jack” alone, and I was completely surprised.  This month he’s been reading aloud for fifteen minutes daily for the Read Aloud Revival challenge, and I’ve been amazed at what he’s been able to read more-or-less on his own.  I was aghast the night he read a story from The Jesus Storybook Bible aloud to Steady Eddie.  Granted, he’s really familiar with the stories, but he doesn’t have them memorized.  Honestly, it feels like I had a little bit to do with his reading, but the blossoming from someone who painstakingly sounds out words to someone who can read a word without figuring it out has been (of course!) the work of his own brain.  His going from a pre-reader to a READER is definitely a mark in the victory column.  Three down (or almost down). . . one more to go.  :-)



Nature study isn’t something I’ve planned for several years now, but we have been doing it this year purely because I’m interested in it.  We’ve lived in our new home for a year now, and I have been amazed by how simply moving about five miles from where we used to live has opened up the natural world to us a bit more.  Our new neighborhood is much more wooded and close to a nice-sized creek, so we just have more nature to observe.  Steady Eddie built me a bluebird box for Valentine’s Day, and he hung a bird feeder right outside our dining room window (which is basically on the second story of our home, so it’s no small feat–to hang or to frequently refill–and reminds me daily of his love).  We observe our feathered friends daily, sometimes hourly.  About a month ago I finally got around to working with the DLM to make a chart to keep up with the species of birds we observe, and now our chart is full of tally marks.  I can’t really say how much I’ve enjoyed birdwatching this spring, or how much this has rubbed off on my kids.  It’s not unusual for us to whip out my phone and search for any bird we see using the Merlin Bird ID app and usually successfully identify it.


We have bluebird babies in our box, and we’ve found nests in unexpected places IMG_6298(including our grill!)  We have an armadillo that visits us frequently.  (Insert grimace here.)  We have chickens.  We have chickens!  The chickens are a 4h project.  Currently they’re in what I call our “chicken condo” in our basement, but they’ll be moved to an outdoor coop and run soon.  Right now we also have about eight tadpoles in our mudroom sink, and if I don’t forget about them, we’ll try to learn a bit about the frog life cycle.  We still like to go places for nature study, and in fact this year we’ve had a few good nature-related trips—Oak Mountain State Park and the Alabama Wildlife Center (with a side of whooping cranes) and our favorite, the Huntsville Botanical Garden.  A highlight of our year this year, though, has been nature study at home.


In my mind, the real successes are the ones that come from the child’s own interests or passions.  I’ve seen this happen for my girls this year, and while much of it is in its infancy, I want to note it here.  I’m afraid that this will seem a little one-sided, too, because one girl’s passions and interests are easier for me to document because they happen mostly at home.  Louise has discovered or delved deeper into a few things this year that really make her happy.  For one thing, we committed to giving swimming another try right after Christmas, and she counts our three or four times a week swim practices as one of her favorite things ever. She is likely going to compete with the team for the first time in June.  I had a feeling this might be her thing, and I was right.  :-)  Second, this girl is very, very interested in all things science, especially the life sciences.  She goes through phases with it.  One of her latest phases has been human anatomy and physiology.  She borrowed some of Steady Eddie’s old college texts and has undoubtedly surpassed her mother in her knowledge of the human body.

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Louise’s drawing of the human heart

Last, this year she has blossomed in her interest in writing.  I’ve tried my best to follow the Brave Writer philosophy of writing instruction this year, using projects and copywork and dictation and free writing and lots of reading (always!) and discussion and what to many people wouldn’t look like “real” school.  Louise has been writing letters and emails to friends this year, and she has written quite a bit of poetry–all on her own.  Both girls are always-and-forever reading, and she was inspired to write Cynthia Lord a letter after reading Lord’s Newbery-winning Rules.  No one was more surprised when she got a letter back from Lord the very next week! This felt like such a validation!  Lord’s letter is just so wonderful.  Here it is–

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Louise keeps this in her treasure box.  <3

Another confirmation of Louise’s new-found writing prowess came through another letter-to-the author she wrote.  After we had the privilege of renewing our acquaintance with Irene Latham a few weeks ago, Louise wrote her a letter and sent along a poem she had written that was inspired by Irene’s latest poetry collection.  Lo and behold, I got an email from Irene asking if she could publish Louise’s poem on her blog!  She also asked if Louise wanted to send along any art, so she did.  Irene included both her poem and art in this fabulous blog post, and we’ve been basking in the glow of this unexpected gift ever since.

Lulu is also finding her niche, though hers mostly shows up in her involvement in our co-op’s robotics team.  This past fall she got to participate as a full-fledged member, and she was the team’s notetaker.  She LOVED it.  They’ve been meeting biweekly this spring doing some preliminary skill work, and she has been in hog heaven (as we say here in the South).  She also loves math and finished her elementary math studies this spring and has moved on to pre-algebra for the summer.  She’s resolved to work through Jousting Armadillos this summer and move on to Algebra I in the fall.  She and Louise have gone with Mamaw weekly this winter and spring to work on crocheting and knitting with one of Mamaw’s friends, and Lulu has taken to both.  (She crocheted me a throw rug for Mother’s Day!)  Cooking and baking are her other interests, and she keeps us in yummy baked goods.  She advanced to the state level in our state music teacher’s association’s juried piano auditions, and this required a good bit of dedicated and determined practice.  She is growing up!

I guess I’d consider this seventh year of home educating at the House of Hope a success.  I hope I’ve given a picture of organic learning–that’s what I want most of all.  Most influential in all of this has been Julie Bogart and her Brave Writer philosophy of writing and home-based learning.  I can see her fingerprints on so much of what I say and don’t say about this year, and I can’t help but stop and give her a bit of credit.  It has definitely made me relax a bit, which is huge for me.  Check her out on YouTube if you want to be inspired.



National Poetry Month recap

We spent April and May really focusing on poetry in our homeschool.  Well, we do that anyway, with our weekly (ish) poetry tea times, but since April is National Poetry Month, I make extra effort during April every year.  This year it spilled over into May.  

I chose Love That Dog by Sharon Creech as a Friday-only read-aloud back in April because there was a good bit of buzz about it in my online Brave Writer community.  It’s a novel-in-verse, which is usually a hard sell with my kids.  They usually reject reading them independently outright.  This one is really engaging, though, and it turns out that we all enjoyed it.  It’s simply the story of a boy named Jack who’s learning about poetry in school, and as his teacher, the appropriately named Ms. Stretchberry, introduces him to the likes of William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost and William Shakespeare, he begins to assimilate the meanings of the poems into his own life and even begins to write poetry himself as a natural outgrowth of reading it and hearing it.  The title of the book comes from a poem Jack writes which is inspired by Walter Dean Myers’ “Love That Boy.”  The story ends with Jack getting to meet Myers himself, which is a nice ending, especially for us since we got to meet one of our favorite poets last week.  I don’t find this genre of novel the easiest to read aloud; I always feel like I need to show my kids the text so they can get the formatting.  If, however, the purpose of reading this for me was to get my kids to engage with poetry, it was quite a success.  (Well, it was half a success. 😉 )   One of my girls has taken the idea and run with it, writing poetry of her own and really seeming to own the meaning behind the words.  All in all, I’d give this book a Highly Recommended for the poetry lover and non-poetry lover alike.  (HarperCollins, 2001)

Reading William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”  again in Love That Dog inspired Louise, age ten, to write her own poem:

The Leaf

So much depends


A brown leaf

Falling, fluttering

And decomposing

On the wet ground.

I think this is really good!

We finished up Love That Dog today with a party school lunch.  I completely stole the idea from my friends who blog at Hide the Chocolate and Not Before 7.


I labeled our “poetry pop” with all our favorite poems–a Shakespearean sonnet for Lulu, “Love That Boy” for Louise, a twimerick for the DLM (which, I might add, he can READ himself!), “Baa Baa Black Sheep” for Benny, and Frost’s “Time to Talk” for me.

IMG_6320The girls worked on their own anthologies of favorite poems today, so I read aloud from those and finished the novel while and after we ate.  They collected poem titles during our poetry tea times during the month of April, so compiling them today involved locating them again and typing them.  I’m happy to have these as little snapshots into their lives at ages twelve and ten.   These books are going on our poetry shelf.

Lastly, we celebrated National Poetry Month last month by making our own “poet-tree.”  Our resident artist, Louise, painted the tree for us, and we all added titles to leaves as we read the poems aloud during April’s poetry tea times.  I borrowed this idea from yet another friend who blogs at Up Above the Rowan Tree.  




This is a keepsake for sure!  I love that the DLM was able to write his own titles. 

I’d consider this year’s poetry focus a success, and ending our official school year with poetry hit just the right note.

Fresh Delicious by Irene Latham

Alabama poet and author Irene Latham has done it again, and what a delight it is!  Fresh Delicious:  Poems from the Farmer’s Market is her latest poetry collection.  Containing about twenty poems, this collection just smacks of summer.  Each poem celebrates a farmer’s bounty from the perspective of a farmer’s market customer.  Readers can enjoy the delectable goodness of tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, farm fresh eggs, corn, and my own personal favorite, purple hull peas, just by turning the pages of this colorful collection of poetry.  Mique Moriuchi’s illustrations are cartoonish and very kid-friendly–the perfect complement to Latham’s playful poems.  I can see this collection inspiring young writers to compose their own poems, especially if the collection is coupled with a fruit-and-veggie poetry teatime.  In fact, Irene has included some yummy recipes in her book, so there you go–poetry and treats!  Highly Recommended.  (Wordsong 2016)

IMG_6212My girls and I had the privilege of meeting Irene Latham (again!) on Thursday at a local school where she had come to speak to and encourage young writers.  What a treat!

Related links at Hope Is the Word and elsewhere:


The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill

First Anne, now Corrie.  This is the year for me to share with my girls some of the books–both fiction and non–that I hold dearest to my heart.  April brought us to World War II in our history studies, and because I first read The Hiding Place myself when I was about the age of Lulu, who will be twelve next week, I decided to read it aloud to them.  I did this with only a slight bit of trepidation because I wondered if time had softened the harshness of the Ten Booms’ story in my mind.  Both girls have read a good bit on their own about the time period, though neither has read anything (to my knowledge) that has intimated to them the real horrors of the Nazi regime, etc.  (I don’t overly censor their reading–over the past year I’ve really loosened the reins on letting them pick their own reading materials, but I would probably draw the line at something that is explicit about wartime atrocities.)

Although I have read and re-read The Hiding Place, it had been years since the last time I’d read it.  It is just as wonderful as I remember it being.  I’ve read devotional books by Corrie, some of her other books (Tramp for the Lord, In My Father’s House, and others), and whatever else about her I could get my hands on.  I consider her and her entire family true heroes, so sharing her with my girls was a genuine delight to me.  More than that, I was once again touched and amazed by the Ten Booms’ simple faith and obedience.  Now that I’ve lived over forty years on this earth, knowing that there were (and, please God, are) people who practice this sort of faithfulness is both encouraging and convicting to me.  It was a curious thing for me to read it again at this point in my life.  Their story seemed much shorter–I remembered a much lengthier and more detailed narrative.  I also confess to more cynicism at this point in my life than I’m comfortable living with, so the Ten Booms’ childlike faith was, again, encouraging and convicting.

These days, especially when I’m sharing my own very-most-favorite-books-ever, I am having a hard time writing what I consider worthwhile reviews (or thoughts or whatever one might call this ramble).  I mean, what can I say about this book that I’ve read and re-read–doesn’t everyone already know all about it?  I’ll close by simply saying that if you haven’t read The Hiding Place, read it.  (1971)

IMG_5930This is my original copy of the book.  In my mind’s eye I can see my  pre-adolescent self walking back to the back of our long-since-closed Christian bookstore in my hometown and reaching up to an eye-level shelf and taking this then brand-new paperback down and purchasing it.   Its pages are fragile now and its cover is brittle, but what memories it holds!

I suppose next on our to-be-watched list is the movie version of the Ten Booms’ story.   I also should share with my girls the fabulous website devoted to all things Corrie where we can watch a virtual tour of the Beje and its environs and learn even more about the family and their experiences.

Highly, highly Recommended.