Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: Teresa of the New World

Teresa of the New World, a young adult novel, is the latest book by Sharman Apt Russell. The story takes place on the North American continent in the 1500s, a unique setting for a YA book.

The story is about a girl named Teresa, the fictitious daughter of the real conquistador Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. While the story is fiction, Russell's writing makes this scenario almost impossible not to believe. Of course, a conquistador stranded for years in North America had a child with a native woman...

In 1527, Cabeza de Vaca sailed from Spain on a royal expedition to the New World.
After their fleet was battered by a hurricane off the shore of Cuba, the expedition secured a new boat and departed for Florida. They landed in March 1528 near what is now Tampa Bay, which the expedition leader, Panfilo de Narvaez, claimed as the lawful possession of the Spanish empire. (From PBS.org)
Narvaez' decision to divide his expedition into two parts was a big mistake. Of the 300 men who disembarked in Tampa Bay, only Cabeza de Vaca and 3 other men survived.

Those three - Alonso del Castillo, Andres Dorantes, a Moor named Esteban - are also characters in Teresa of the New World.

One of the things I really enjoy about this book is that it makes me want to learn more. It makes me want to look up information. It makes me curious. I love a book that does that.

And while this book is heavily researched, as are all of Russell's books, this book isn't strictly historical fiction. On the second page, Russell writes:
"The earth said, I will tell you about a girl with long black hair who could swim through rivers of stone. She moved through stone as wind moves through the branches of a tree. Once she followed a vein of fire to a lake of fire, and she swam there smiling at all the bright fish..."
This book is a combination of hist-fic and magical realism. Teresa can talk to animals, she can enter their thoughts, see through their eyes. And she can swim through stone...
"It was hard to keep track of time. Teresa swam through white granite with flashing crystals: quartz, mica, feldspar. Sometimes the air was tinged pink, and sometimes it darkened to light gray, but she could always see far enough ahead to feel comfortable, as though she were swimming through the water of a mostly clear pond... Nothing, really, was in her way" (Russell 155).
She's able to connect with both the living and nonliving factors in the environment.

Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso, Dorantes, and Esteban traveled west...
...in hopes of reaching the Spanish Empire's outpost in Mexico, becoming the first men of the Old World to enter the American West. Their precise route is not clear, but they apparently traveled across present-day Texas, perhaps into New Mexico and Arizona and through Mexico's northern provinces. (From PBS.org)
In Teresa of the New World, Cabeza de Vaca takes Teresa (who, at the beginning of the book, is only four years old) with him.

In 1536, Cabeza de Vaca finally makes it to Mexico City, the Spanish Empire's outpost. He leaves Teresa there, where she becomes a servant in the governor's house, and goes back to Spain. He can't take her. She's illegitimate, and she looks more Indian than Spaniard. As is the custom in her tribe, her head has been made flat, and she has facial tattoos. (For more information on the practice of cranial deformation, click here.)

At sixteen, Teresa is shown a book that her father wrote about his travels in North America (La Relacion, published in 1542). The book contains no details about Teresa, as if she doesn't exist. Her father has left her behind forever.

At the same time, a series of epidemics (smallpox, plague, etc.) is moving through Mexico. Russell's descriptions of the effects of these diseases are intense. (This book is aimed at readers 12 years old and up.)

With everyone around her dead, Teresa goes off in search of a wise woman she once met, and on the journey, she meets a Spanish warhorse and a shape-shifting Mayan boy/jaguar. She goes off in search of her place in a new world.

As I said earlier, I love books that make me curious to learn more and this book did just that.

I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This post does not contain affiliate links.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Preschool Geography Lesson: Oceans

Our home(pre)school co-op met today to learn about the world's oceans. Mom T put together an absolutely awesome lesson.

She used two books:

The cool thing about these books is that they show the actual size of each animal. You can see this in the photo of the jellyfish at the top of this post. For large animals (like dolphins), the book shows parts of the animals.

To begin, Mom T taped maps to the picnic table (preschool life hack!).
Then she taped plastic cups filled with cut-out sea creatures to the table.
Next, she showed pictures of animals and explained where they live. It was such a brilliant way to teach little ones geography.

 Here are more animals we added to our maps:

 My four year old coloring her map:
Aren't those dugongs cute? :)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Nature Study at the Sea: Chiton

This is another creature we saw on our trip to Leo Carrillo Beach a couple of days ago. It's called a chiton (ki-tun).

Some facts about chitons:
  • A chiton is a mollusk, meaning it has a soft body and no backbone, and (usually) lives in a shell.
  • A chiton has a dorsal shell made up of 8 separate shell plates. (Count them!)
  • A chiton also has a "girdle" (tissue) that encircles the dorsal shell and holds it together.
  • When a chiton dies, the eight shell plates come apart, because there is no longer any tissue holding them together.
  • This chiton's girdle is ornamented. (See all of the furry-looking things around the shell?) Scientists think that the chiton's girdle ornament is for defense or camouflage.
  • They can curl up in a ball (like a roly-poly!).
  • Chitons do not have heads.
  • Chitons make magnetite. They are the only mollusks that do. Their teeth are coated in magnetite, making them harder than stainless steel.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nature Study at the Sea: Sea Hare

This is a sea creature I saw at Leo Carrillo Beach yesterday

When we visited Abalone Cove, I mistakenly captioned a picture I took as being that of a sea slug. Well, yesterday, after watching the creature pictured below open and close its parapodial flaps, I noticed something lighter in color inside it. I put my finger between the flaps and felt something hard. Because I thought it was a sea slug, an animal that doesn't have a shell, I was surprised and confused. I had to know why it was opening its flaps and what the shell was.

I discovered that the animal I thought was a slug was actually a sea hare, named for the its hare-like "ears." The sea hare does have a shell inside, to protect its heart and gills. It has an input siphon and an output siphon for its gills, and I'm pretty sure now that the opening and closing of the parapodial flaps had to do with the sea hare breathing.

The sea hare is hermaphroditic, and it has a very bizarre way of mating. Here is a link to a National Geographic video explaining how the sea hare reproduces.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Field Trip: Leo Carrillo Tidepools

What a lovely day we had.
We spent the day with friends at Leo Carrillo Beach in Malibu. Four moms, and six kids between the ages of almost 3 and almost 5.
After we explored the tide pools, the little ones dug in the sand, climbed rocks, hiked through the coastal scrub looking at wildflowers and bugs, picnicked, collected rocks to build a rock castle, and waded in the surf.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Charlotte Mason and Composition

I've been thinking about composition pedagogy a lot recently. A couple of months ago, my principal announced that there was some funding available for Common Core instructional materials, and my grade level was able to purchase some teacher packages from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). In preparation for next year, I've been watching IEW training DVDs.

I like IEW. A lot. But it's not the way Charlotte Mason believed composition should be taught. I also like some of the progymnasmata-inspired curricula out there. But, again, it's not the way Charlotte Mason believed composition should be taught.

My favorite Mason quote about composition comes from Home Education (247):
In fact, lessons in 'composition' should follow the model of the famous essay on "Snakes in Ireland" - "There are none."
As a public school teacher, this is completely the opposite of what I'm mandated to "believe." And yet, I agree with Mason.

It's not that Mason thought composition should never be taught. She just didn't think it should be taught until about 10th grade (Form V).
In these Forms some definite teaching in the art of composition is advisable, but not too much, lest the young scholars be saddled with a stilted style which may encumber them for life. (Vol. 6: 194)
Some. But not too much.

The idea of waiting to teach "writing" until a child is in high school is something that, I think, many people are uncomfortable with. It's not the way we learned writing. It's not the way children in public schools are taught writing. If everyone else's child can write a state report by the end of fifth grade, won't my child be "behind" if she can't? Doesn't my child need to be able to write essays for college applications? Won't delaying teaching my child essay-writing until high school cause her detriment? How will she get into college? How will she be successful in college classes?

But I'm so comfortable with this.

In public elementary schools, students go through the writing process. They draft, revise, edit, publish. Why? They don't have a firm grasp of the grammar rules. They don't have a firm grasp of spelling rules; they're still getting weekly spelling lists and taking weekly spelling tests. They haven't been interested keenly* in the subjects they're asked to write about.

*from pg. 193 of Mason's An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education

I teach 4th grade at a Title I school, which means that the majority of my students come from low-income homes. Last year, most of my students came from homes where English was not their parents' first language. One-third of my students had parents who didn't speak English at all.

I wish I could delay teaching them how to write.

If my students were in a PNEU school, they would be in Form II. In Form II (4th through 6th grade), children wrote narrations, but their narrations weren't revised. They weren't edited. They weren't published. (They weren't celebrated with fruit platters and parent invitations and colorful Post-It notes, the way we public school teachers have been trained to celebrate the writing of children.) The narrations didn't conform to a certain length. (If I had a nickel for every time a child asked me how long a piece of writing needed to be, or if their paragraph needed to have five sentences, I would have quite a few nickels...)

The rules about paragraphing weren't established until 1866. Defoe and Dickens didn't need these rules to be Defoe and Dickens.

It wasn't until later that students wrote in other genres. In Form III (~7th/8th grade), students wrote:
  • a good precis (pronounced pray-see, a very specific kind of summary) of a lesson
  • a descriptive essay
  • narrative poems on striking events
  • a resume (meaning a summary, not an employment resume) once a week, about something read in literature, the news, history, or about an allegorical subject (which would be less like writing a summary and more like writing a literary analysis)
  • letters (Christmas letters to friends abroad on general news)
And then there is this interesting parenthetical note in Programme 93 for Form III:
(See Meiklejohn, 176-183.)
I'm assuming this refers to Meiklejohn's A New Grammar for the English Tongue.
Now, pages 176 to 183 of this edition are about paraphrasing and prosody. So students in about 7th grade - by Term 93 - were reading about how to paraphrase and about some of the meters used in English poetry (it looks like these pages in Meiklejohn cover iambic, trochaic, anapestic, amphibrachic, and dactylic meters).

In Term 94, the programme changes a little. Prior to 94, students were not required to write poetry that would scan. But in 94, students are. The programme doesn't require students to write their poems in a specific meter - YET.

In Form IV (~8th/9th grade), students wrote:
  • weekly resumes (as in Form III)
  • poems about current events, characters in the term's reading, heroic deeds, historical characters, or on scenes of the season
  • letters to friends about family events and general news
But here's where it gets interesting. The parenthetical note says:
note metre of poems set for this term
Each term focused on one meter. Students could spend a whole three months exploring iambs. Or a whole three months playing with trochees.

If only!

I love that, with my own daughter, I will have the freedom to focus.

Forms V and VI (10th through 12th grade) appear very similar, except Form VI appears to list more essays.

In Form V:
  • a good precis
  •  a letter to the editor 
  • essays on subjects taken from history, literature, and economics
  • ekphrasis/analysis: (write on a picture studied
  • write on some aspect of nature 
  • letters for magazine on nature: for the P.U.S. Magazine...on occurrences in nature
  • essays, in the style of Macauley [Thomas Babington Macaulay maybe?] on subjects suggested by the term's work in Early Stuart Literature
  • poetry: occasionally, twenty lines of blank verse** or sonnets events that stir general feeling, or on historical or living personages. These must scan, see Abbott & Seeley***, Part III. 
**iambic pentameter
***Part III (pages 91-150) are about metre, disyllabic metre, and trisyllabic metre

In Form VI:
  • essays on ethical and economic problems
  • essays on events and questions of the day
  • essays on any subject that interests you
  • poetry: occasionally, twenty lines of blank verse on some deed of heroism or aspect of nature
  • letters to the editor
  • a good precis
  • letters for the P.U.S. Magazine on occurrences in nature
  • essays, in the style of Macauley [Thomas Babington Macaulay maybe?] on subjects suggested by the term's work in Early Stuart Literature
  • ekphrasis/analysis: write on a picture studied
  • write on some aspect of nature
  • poetry: occasionally, twenty lines of blank verse or sonnets (events that stir general feeling, or on historical or living personages. These must scan, see Abbott & Seeley, Part III.)
It's interesting to me that, while a student would have studied iambic pentameter, and would have had lots of exposure to Shakespeare prior to 10th grade, he or she wouldn't have been required to try their hand at a full sonnet until Form V.

Most of the above was about poetry, but the essays PNEU students read were sophisticated and dense. James Anthony Froude, Charles Lamb, Sir James Stephen.

I don't know how useful reading essays like these would be nowadays would be (if useful is ever a concern) as the essay has changed. For slightly more modern collections, one could look at books like One Man's Meat by E.B. White and How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher. I read these in grad school.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them. :)

A Preview of My Daughter's 4th of July Costume

My daughter loves the song "Great American Melting Pot" from Schoolhouse Rock, so for this year's 4th of July parade, she is going as Lovely Lady Liberty. My husband has plans to build her a platform, and we also have Statue-of-Liberty-green face paint. :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Leapfrog's My First Spelling Bee

My four year old loves this game.

I hadn't planned on giving her spelling instruction. I thought we would wait until 4th grade and start dictation. That's not what happened.

A few months ago, at Easter, my aunt gave us this game. My daughter, then three years old, immediately wanted to play it, because when you give a three year old a game, she's going to want to play it.

So, we started with the Level 1 cards.
The Level 1 cards are mostly CVC words (3 letter words that follow the consonant-vowel-consonant pattern). Bug. Rug. That sort of thing.

We soon moved on to Level 2. Below are pictures of some Level 2 cards...
As you can see, there are two kinds of spelling rules in this deck. There are words VCE words (words that end vowel-consonant-silent e, such as BAKE and CANE) and words that begin with blends (like the blend "SN" in SNAG, SNAP, and SNIP, or the blend "PL" in PLUG and PLUM).

There are 40 cards in each deck (and there is one deck for each of the 12 levels, so you get A LOT of cards).

I've taught my daughter to think out loud while she spells. I model this for her. When it's my turn, she reads me my card. (In the above photo, you can see that there is a word, followed by a sentence that uses the word. So, she gets reading practice without realizing it.)

DAUGHTER: Your word is snip. Tad will snip and glue the paper.

ME: Hmm. Snip? Okay. Well, I hear {sn} at the beginning, so S-N. And then I know I need a sticky letter*. {Sn}, /i/... I! S-N-I... And then I hear /p/. P! S-N-I-P, snip.

DAUGHTER: You're right! [She flips over the card and shows me I spelled my word correctly.] You win a coin!
 These are the coins...
...and coin holders.
She likes to be green. I get red.

There is also a sand timer, but we don't play with it.

While I have no qualms about beating her at Connect Four, Candyland, or Chutes and Ladders, I never let her lose at Spelling Bee. We always end in a tie. Mommy and Daughter always end with the same number of coins.

Like I said earlier, I've taught her to think out loud. This way, I can help her think through the word. I can say, "What two letters make that sound?" or "What sticky letter* do you hear?" or "What sound do you hear at the end?"

So, she always spells the word correctly, and she always earns a coin. It's not about making her feel good; it's about making her stick it out.

Speaking of sticking...

*Sticky letters are vowels. My daughter knows both of these terms, the silly/memorable one, and the correct one. Sticky letters is in a Leapfrog DVD. The song goes like this, "We're A-E-I-O-U. We're the vowels. We're the glue. We stick the words together. We're very sticky letters." During the song, each of the vowels gets covered in sticky stuff like bubble gum to help it be a sticky letter.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Feeding Day at the Aquarium

We spent the afternoon at the aquarium. Today was feeding day. So my daughter got to put a chunk of fish into a sea star's mouth.
Here are some swell shark eggs...
...and a sarcastic fringehead (which is one of the most fascinating fish!). It looks like this. But it also looks like this...
photo from this site
A word of advice: Never pull a sarcastic fringehead out of its home.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Yay! Goggles!

Saturday at my daughter's second swim lesson, the instructor asked if she had goggles.


Was she supposed to?

I looked around the pool and - somehow I missed this the first lesson - every kid had goggles.

So, after her lesson, I ordered her a pair of kid goggles made by Speedo, called Skoogles. They come in all sorts of colors. She chose green.

They arrived today, and we went back to the pool. She didn't have a lesson today; we went to meet some friends who had their lessons today, and play with them.

My daughter loved her Skoogles. She spent two and a half hours splashing around with her friends, showing how she can now go underwater, and she was all smiles.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Grapevine Stick-Figuring

Our Grapevine Stick-Figuring curriculum arrived last week. We completed the first lesson the day before yesterday, and did half of the second lesson this morning.

We're starting with Creation to Babel, and using the Traceable version. I ordered one student book and one teacher's book. I didn't realize until I received them in the mail, that the "books" aren't actually bound. I thought they were like coloring books, but they're not. They're hole-punched pages, so you need to put each "book" in a binder.

To keep everything together, I put our student pages and our teacher pages in one binder, with the student pages at the front and the teacher pages at the back.

If you look at the photo above, you can see that there are four boxes, and in each box, there is a passage listed. For example, in the second box, the passage is Genesis 1:1-5. So, for the second box, I read that passage to my daughter, and then she traced the "stick figures" with crayons.

The Grapevine curriculum uses 8 colors (red, blue, purple, green, yellow, black, brown, and orange), and everything is colored specific colors

I can see how some people would like dividing this into five lessons, doing one box a day Monday through Thursday, and then doing the Lesson Review on Friday.

I like to work as long as my daughter is attentive, so, as I said earlier, we completed the first lesson all in one sitting. It was new. She was excited. During the second lesson, I actually let her do some of the Bible reading herself, so it took longer, and that's why we only completed half of it.

I thought it was cool that by the second lesson, she showed an understanding of book, chapter, and verse. I was also impressed at how much she was able to read on her own. (We're not using a KJV yet; we're doing NIV right now.)

More on Grapevine later...

Friday, June 19, 2015

Inside Out Movie Review

Today I took my four year old to see Pixar's new film, Inside Out.

The movie is about an eleven year old girl named Riley, who moves from Minnesota (leaving her friends and the the lake where she learned to ice skate) to San Francisco (where they've ruined pizza by topping it with her least favorite food: broccoli). But it's also about Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear who live in Riley's brain. Joy and Sadness accidentally get sucked out of the Command Center and transported (via tube) to Long Term Memory, leaving Anger, Disgust, and Fear at the controls, and have to find their way back.

(If you're planning to see it and want to be surprised, stop reading now.)

There were moments I whispered to my preschooler, "We don't say that," or "She shouldn't have done that. That's not nice." For example, there were a couple of stupids, a shut up, an idiot, and a moron. There was a moment where Riley was sarcastic and then yelled at her parents, but I was happy to see her father tell her to go to her room. ("See, Riley got a time out," I whispered.) 

There were also things that went over my daughter's head, like a gag  about a Fabio-esque Brazilian pilot, an imaginary "boyfriend," and the line, "What's poo-ber-tee?" Did the movie need them? I don't think so. But they went by very quickly.

The movie also had moments that made me cry. Some of Riley's happy memories are put into the dump, and they turn to dust and blow away. And later, when my daughter asked in a worried tone, "Mommy, why is he disappearing?" of Riley's imaginary friend (an elephant/cat/dolphin made of cotton candy), I didn't answer because I didn't want to upset her more.

I thought it was nice how Sadness was able to make Riley's imaginary friend feel better (when Joy couldn't) by empathizing. And I related to Joy; in many ways, she's like a mother. She loves replaying Riley's happy childhood memories, and Riley's happiness is Joy's priority.

And, yes, that made me cry too.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Piano with Alfred's Prep Course

My husband, a musician, chose the Alfred's Basic Prep Course to teach our preschooler how to play piano.
Each level of the course has several books.
Level A has 6 books, not including the teacher's manual, and a set of flashcards. Of the 6 student books, three are activity books (Activity & Ear Training, Theory, and Notespeller).
Since our preschooler is very interested in activity books, and has begun to color inside the lines, I thought it was a good time to start these. (They've been sitting on the shelf since December.)
Yesterday I pulled out one of the books - the Notespeller Book - and the rubber stamps...
...and when my daughter was done with the first page (the music alphabet), she asked if she could do the second page.

Today, she asked to do page 3.

We're off to a good start. :)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Recipe: Baguettes!

Today we made baguettes with our friend Julia. Here's how you can too...

Assemble your ingredients. (This recipe makes 2 baguettes.)
  • 2 envelopes of active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons of honey (we used creamy raw honey)
  • 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of salt (we used coarse kosher sea salt)
  • olive oil, for greasing the bowl
  • cornmeal, for dusting the pan
  • 4 ice cubes
Pour yeast into a bowl.
Add half a cup of warm water.
Add your honey.
Let it stand 5 minutes. This is how it will look.
 In a separate bowl, combine your flour...

 ...with your salt.
Pour in your yeast mixture.
Mix your dry ingredients with your wet ingredients. We used our hands.
Gradually add 1 cup of warm water to the dough. You may not need the whole cup of water. We didn't. I think we used about 3/4 of a cup.
 If the dough is sticky...
...add a little more flour.
 Dust your cutting board with flour and start kneading your dough.

Using the heels of your hands, flatten the dough, then fold. Flatten. Fold. Do this for 2 to 6 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
 Use the thumbprint test. Stick your thumb in (not this deep) and if your dough rises back up, you're done kneading.
Grease your bowl with a olive oil. You don't need very much. Put your dough in the bowl. Cover your dough with a dishcloth and go do something else for 25 to 30 minutes.
 When you come back, it will look like this.
Put it on your cutting board and give your dough a good punch!
 Divide your dough in half. You're making two baguettes.
Fold each baguette in to the middle, then seal the seam. (You want air in the baguette.) Turn the baguette over, seam side down, and repeat the folding and sealing. Do this until you've formed a nice long baguette 12 to 14 inches long.
 Put a piece of parchment paper on your baking sheet, and sprinkle a handful of cornmeal onto the parchment paper.
 Spread it evenly.
 Put your baguettes on the baking sheet. Then cut diagonal slits (1/2 inch deep) in the top of the baguettes.

Cover the baguettes for 25 minutes and go do something else, including preheating your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Put 4 ice cubes in a pan. 

Put your baguettes on the middle rack, and your ice cubes on the bottom rack.

Bake for 15 minutes.
Let cool.
Aren't they gorgeous?!
And they taste delicious!