Saturday, May 31, 2014

Rescued Book #19: Rabbit Hill

Let’s face it, there are a lot of good books about talking animals –Charlotte’s Web, the Freddy the Pig series, The Wind in the Willows, and Winnie-the-Pooh (I’m counting talking stuffed animals too).  Now I’d like to add another book to the list.  It doesn’t seem to get as much attention even though it won the Newberry Medal in 1945.

Rabbit Hill

Lawson, Robert. New York: Viking, 1944.  128 pp.

Mother & Father Rabbit, Uncle Analdis, and Little Georgie are all a little anxious about the arrival of a new family to the abandoned house.  The last owners were not good stewards of the land—especially the garden where the rabbits looked for food. Of course, there are more than just rabbits living on the hill—we meet deer, fox, squirrels, field mice,  a woodchuck named Porkey, and a skunk named Phewie (I still can’t read that without a giggle).

This is a great read aloud for little ones—everything moves at a slow and gentle pace.  There may be a few moments of anxiety—Georgie is chased by a dog, Willie the mouse falls into a rain barrel; they are resolved quickly so no one will be kept awake wondering what happens next.  Little Georgie is hit by a car, but it happens “off camera” as it were—just the mention of screeching tires and an engine roaring off again.  Georgie is quickly found by the new owners and tended to in the house.  By this point it’s clear to the reader that they care for the little creatures on their property and everything will turn out all right, but Uncle Analdis is a crotchety old rabbit who worries his nephew is being tortured.   In the end, the folks erect a St. Francis of Assisi statue in the garden and lay out food for the animals who in turn agree to protect the garden.  It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside (but I still cringe when I see a squirrel taking off with one of my green tomatoes).

Mr. Lawson wrote Rabbit Hill near the end of World War II and I’m sure his theme of “can’t we all just get along” was the hope of many.  My copy was discarded by the Indianapolis Public Library.

You can find a list of all my Rescued Books here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: Apologia Christian Worldview Curriculum


Do you ever get that odd feeling as your vacation draws to an end?  Your still relaxed and enjoying your trip, but there’s a little sadness because you know it’s going to end soon.  I’m feeling that way now, because we’re coming to the end of our worldview studies with Apologia Educational Ministries.  The  fourth and final book in the What We Believe series is What on Earth Can I Do? ($39.00).  We were introduced to the series when we reviewed book #2 Who Am I?  I was so impressed with it that I purchased the first book so we could “catch up.”  And we reviewed book #3 Who is My Neighbor in 2012 (I’ll link to my other reviews at the bottom).  If you’re new to the series, please check the other books and consider using them in order (the authors recommend this for the most effective teaching).  In addition to the text book we received:

What On Earth Can I Do Notebooking Journal  ($24.00)
What on Earth Can I Do? Junior Notebooking Journal ($24.00)
What on Earth Can I Do? Coloring Book ($8.00)

The hardback textbook contains eight lessons:

  1. Your Story or God’s Story
  2. Who Put You in Charge
  3. Will You be Found Faithful?
  4. Where is Your Treasure
  5. Where Does Your Time Go?
  6. Whose Life is it Anyway?
  7. Why Isn’t it Easy Being Green"?
  8. What Will Happen When the Master Returns

The overall theme of stewardship is taught with fictional stories, Bible excerpts, references to pop culture and historical figures, vocabulary and scripture to memorize. Chapters always begin with The Big Idea to introduce the topic.  Three bullet points called What You Will Do summarize the remainder of the chapter. Next comes what my Schnickelfritz calls the “Not-so Short Story.”  The first 4 chapters tell the serialized story of two children stuck in London during The Blitz.  The final 4 chapters focus on a family living on the Serengeti.  There is an opportunity to discuss the story while answering the Think About It questions, then kids will prepare for the meat of the lesson by studying Words You Need to Know and memorizing the Hide It In Your Heart verses. The lessons end with a call to action called What Should I Do and a Prayer

Then it’s story time again.  This book greatly fleshes out some of The Parables of Jesus: The Prodigal Son,  The Talents, The Generous Vineyard Owner, The Rich Fool, The Great Banquet, The Wheat & the Tares, The Landlord’s Son, and The Mustard Seed.  What Jesus told in a few verses have been expanded to give historical facts and cultural backgrounds that the original audience would have known. The stories are 4-8 pages in length.

The curriculum can be used with kids in 1st-6th grades, obviously it may have to be read aloud to younger kids.  To accommodate different levels of handwriting skills Apologia provides two different coil-bound workbooks: the Notebooking Journal for ages 10 and up  and the Junior Notebooking Journal for ages 6-9. I love that both have a place for the student to write their names on the cover in the “Written By” box.  That truly gives them ownership of a place to practice penmanship, take notes from the text, write out prayers and praises, and scrapbook service projects.  You’ll also find word searches,  crossword puzzles, mini-books (think lap booking), and coloring pages (in the Junior edition).  For the very young kids, you may prefer to just let them color in the coloring book while you’re reading or working with older kids.  The pictures relate back to the stories and parables.

Apologia vocabulary comparison

Jr. vocabulary is just fill in the blank

Apologia post-story work comparison

After the story, older students have comprehension questions while Jr. notebook-ers color

Apologia crossword comparision

Jr. crossword puzzles have much fewer words and larger spaces to write

Both journals contain a suggestion syllabus working through each lesson in two weeks, with assignments 3 days per week.  For the most part the reading will be the same for both older and younger students (I did notice a few days being off by a page or two) so you could just read it aloud to all your kids.  With several years’ experience under our belts, I’ve found this pace to be too fast to maintain.  We prefer making worldview studies a daily activity and alternate between reading days and journaling days.  Some days I even break the reading into smaller portions –the parables and short stories are long enough on their own so I don’t require any other reading those days. 

While he’s old enough to do his own writing, I sometimes act as his scribe so he can concentrate on forming complete thoughts and working through complex ideas.  This is usually on days we’re analyzing the parables. On days when he’s writing prayers and praises, etc. I allow him privacy to share thoughts and concerns with his Savior.

We’ll be saving the rest of What on Earth Can I Do? for next year’s schoolwork.  Then I’ll be storing the series away for any grandkids that may come along –that’s how much a blessing these books have been to our family.  Now, as I promised, here are links to my reviews of earlier books in the series.

Who Is My Neighbor Review

Who Am I Review

Click to read Crew Reviews

Sunday, May 25, 2014

E is for Elephant Rocks

Well, here we are on Memorial Day weekend—the kick off to all things summer and you’d like to do something outdoors.  Why not take a hike with the family?  Get a little fresh air and exercise, see the flora and the fauna.  What about some giant red granite boulders that have eroded over the year and somewhat resemble giant pink elephants?  That’s how Elephant Rocks State Park earned it’s name.

The granite in the area has been quarried since 1869.  If you visit St. Louis you may see it in the city hall, or the piers of the Eads Bridge spanning the Mississippi River, or even under your feet as cobblestones on the wharf or Lacledes landing. The granite has been used in buildings from coast to coast and is also frequently used for cemetery headstones.

In 1967, the area became a state park.  Two big positives----1) It’s a state park so it’s FREE (homeschoolers love that word). 2) The main 1-mile trail is handicap accessible—paved for wheelchairs and the signage includes braille.  There are spurs off the trail that lead to the top of the mountain or overlooking one of the original quarries (now filled with water).

In a lot of state parks and nature sites you’re warned to stay on the trail and don’t touch the flowers and plants.  Here the main attraction are granite rocks—you can’t really hurt them.  Climb over them – try to make them roll (nobody has succeeded so far). 

The only possible downsides to the park: 1) If you’re a young Earth creationist you probably want to skip the signage and teacher’s resources which is filled with “billions of years.”  Just enjoy the scenery as God created it.  2) It’s in the middle of nowhere—about 90 minutes south of St. Louis, 50 miles being rural roads.  If you’re going to drive this far, make it your destination.  You can’t camp at Elephant Rocks, but just 15 minutes away is Johnson Shut Ins State Park with camping, lodges, and some of the best swimmin’ holes in the state.  I’m sharing that now since I have something else picked for my J post.

Think you might like to visit?  Check out this video…


I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rescued Book #18: The Illustrated Junior Library

We’re expanding this week!  Rather than talk about a single book, I’ve got a whole series to share with you. You’re probably already familiar with the individual stories: Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Jungle Book, etc. but haven’t seen them in this format. 

I have to confess that my apprehension in moving to a Kindle and the world of eReading was that I’d miss books like those in the collection…hardbacks with cloth covers and the title in gold lettering on the spine.  What makes the series more remarkable is that they were designed for young adults, hence the title “The Illustrated Junior Library.” 

First published in the 1940’s by Grosset & Dunlap, these books didn’t “talk down” to their audience—simplifying words or shortening long passages.  These books are all unabridged (with the exception of the Three Musketeers, I don’t know if it was for length or content).  Dotted throughout the text are black and white sketches and every one in a while you’re rewarded with a full color illustration.

My first IJL titles came from my stepfather.  He’d saved Black Beauty, Little Men and the Jungle Book from his childhood.  Since then I’m always looking for other titles to add to my collection.  Now I have Little Women, Tom Sawyer, Gulliver’s Travels, and Swiss Family Robinson on my bookshelves. 

If you’re only exposure to these classics is through movie adaptations and watered down kiddy versions then you’re missing a lot.  Let’s look at Swiss Family Robinson.  Yes, I love watching the Disney film with my son but the term “based on the book” should probably be “loosely based.”  Mr. Disney left out a son and added a love triangle and a boatload of pirates.   Director Ken Annakin admitted in a 2002 interview “What we did was more or less throw Wyss’ book away.” 

Johan Wyss was a Swiss minister and he wrote the book to teach his own four sons about family values and self-reliance.  You remember the scene in the movie where they ride the ostrich and other animals in a race?  In the film, this holiday was to disperse some tension from all the preparations for the pirates.  Here’s the reason for the fĂȘte in the book. 

I turned my thoughts, as I lay waiting for sunrise, to considering what length of time we had now passed on this coast, and discovered, to my surprise, that the very next day would be the anniversary of our escape from the wreck. My heart swelled with gratitude to the gracious God, who had then granted us deliverance, and ever since had loaded us with benefits; and I resolved to set tomorrow apart as a day of thanksgiving, in joyful celebration of the occasion.    

It’s these God-honoring passages that get tossed first in the abridgements.

Here is a list of titles in the Illustrated Junior Library series (this came from my 1950 copy of The Jungle Book, so other titles may have been added).

  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Adventures of Pinocchio
  • Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Aesop’s Fables
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Andersen’s Fairy Tales
  • Arabian Nights
  • Black Beauty
  • Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tales
  • Gulliver’s Travels
  • Hans Brinker
  • Heidi
  • Jo’s Boys
  • Jungle Book
  • Kidnapped
  • King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table
  • Little Lame Prince
  • Little Men
  • Little Women
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • Swiss Family Robinson
  • Tale of Two Cities
  • Treasure Island

The good news for collectors is that many of these books have been reprinted since the 40’s.  My copy of Tom Sawyer was published in 1977 and Treasure Island is from 1994, but they are still crafted like books that deserve to be cherished.

You can find a list of all my Rescued Books here.

I'm linking up with ....

Every bed of Roses

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

D is for Daniel Boone Home

This week’s ABC Blogging Across Missouri destination may come as a surprise to most folks – Daniel Boone in Missouri?  I thought that guy was from Kentucky.  (If you said Tennessee, then your thinking of Davy Crockett. Your confusion is natural as Fess Parker portrayed both men while wearing a coon skin cap).

Well,  Boone is famous for blazing the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap and exploring and settling what is now Kentucky but he wasn’t born there, he didn’t die there, and at the time of exploration the territory was part of the Virginia colony.

In 1799, Daniel Boone and many of his adult children’s families went west in search of some elbow room.  He was 65 at the time and the Spanish government offered him the position of “syndic” (a judge or justice of the peace) in the Upper Louisiana Territory.

Does that come as another surprise –that I wrote Spanish and not French?  Well, at the end of the Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War in North America), France secretly negotiated to give its land west of the  Mississippi River to Spain before being force to cede it to England in defeat.  The Spanish controlled the land from 1762 to 1802.  Napoleon reacquired the territory in 1800 (although he continued to let Spain administer it) before finally selling it to the United States in 1803.

Boone was evidently kept busy with his syndic duties –he received a special dispensation from the Spanish Governor not to be held to the requirement of clearing and farming the land grant, he built only a small cabin for he and his wife and eventually moved into son Nathan’s home.  This is in fact the building referred to as the Daniel Boone Home today.

He held court under a tree very near the Missouri River in what’s now St. Charles county.  By all accounts he was wise and fair.  In one case disputing the ownership of a cow, he had to side with the plaintiff which meant taking the animal away from an old widow.  Boone did what the law required and then gave the widow a better, healthier cow from his own herd.


The stone structure you visit today as the Daniel Boone Home was built between 1803 and 1810. It’s four stories tall if you include the attic (the lowest level holds the kitchen and could be considered one of the first walk-out basements). 

According to the historical plaque the walls are 2 1/2 feet thick, made of blue limestone. Can you see the black spots on either side of the windows?  Those are rifle holes in case of Indian attack.  Daniel Boone carved the five fireplaces out of black walnut.

It was here that Daniel Boone died Sept. 26, 1820.   He was surrounded by family and spoke kind words to everyone.  He was buried next to his wife Rebecca a few miles away near Marthasville, MO.

The property is owned and operated by Lindenwood University.  Since my visits as a schoolchild, they’ve added a historic village with a one room schoolhouse, mercantile, a chapel and gristmill.  Every fall they host Pioneer Days with historical music and games and you can listen to a Daniel Boone re-enactor share his adventures.  In the summer they hold a week-long day camp for 10-18 year olds to learn blacksmithing, Dutch oven cooking, tomahawk throwing, black powder rifle, and animal tracking. 

The tour for the home and village is $12/adult, $10/senior, $6/ages 4-11. 

If you’re in the area and willing to take a little drive you can stop by the Judgment Tree memorial (a new tree has been planted) and the original gravesite.  In 1845, a delegation from Kentucky excavated some of the larger remaining bone fragments to bury at a monument in that state.  By today’s standards, it’s not a big controversy but they might not have taken the right remains.  The graves weren’t marked with headstones at the time of internment…someone else may have been buried next to Rebecca and Daniel had to be placed at her feet… the slave that pointed out the graves to the Kentuckians may have purposely misled them to one of a black man.  At best, both state can claim to have a part of the man.  A local historian may have put it best—Kentucky may have his bones, but his heart remains in Missouri.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: Micro Business for Teens

I think most parents would agree that education isn’t just about how many facts and figures we can cram into those little heads.  We teach our kids to give them tools and guidelines that will benefit them in their future endeavors – be it business, medicine, or running an organized home.   That’s why I jumped on the chance to review Micro Business for Teens. I’m sure my son’s college admission or first job offer won’t pend on whether or not he can list all the presidents in order, but for him to be able to state he started and managed his own business….well, that may open a few doors.  If not, he has the tools to start another one.

We received three eBook PDF files:


I was familiar with the term “small business” as both my father and grandfather had their own companies, but not “micro business.”  In case you’re in the same boat, let’s go over some of the characteristics and why they work for teens.

  • Simple and fast to start up—Immediate gratification, not months and months of planning.
  • Usually only one worker—no complications of payroll tax, Social Security Administration or unemployment to worry about.
  • Sole proprietorship—no contracts, partnership negotiations, or lawyers to file incorporation documents.  Also makes closing a business much simpler.
  • Little start up money needed—starting a microbusiness shouldn’t mean taking on debt
  • Usually home-based—no need to rent space, easy to move (when the teen goes to college)
  • Low risk—you don’t have to be the next Bill Gates or create something entirely new, it can be a time-proven option like mowing lawns or babysitting
  • Manageable—teens still need time for school and socializing.  A micro business should be similar to working a part time job.
  • The worker can learn while earning—a teen can earn money and learn time-management, marketing, bookkeeping, customer service, etc..

Now about the specific books


Starting a Micro Business ($4.95 eBook, $9.95 pbk)

Seven chapters in sixty pages.  After learning what a micro business is (basically the points I made above), the teen will spend time getting ideas for a business, learning what possible problems might be encountered, writing a business plan, finding ways to finance the business,  find links to research common businesses for teens, and finally be encouraged and motivated through the process.

Throughout the text, you’ll find boxes with brief examples of teens who have started their own business to show it really is possible.



Running a Micro Business ($4.95 eBook, $9.95 pbk)

This slightly more complicated subject is covered in eighty pages, broken into nine chapters.  This is the day-to-day stuff vital to any going concern: Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, Bookkeeping,  Software, Legal Names, Insurance, and Time Management.

There are some great tools here to help define a target audience,  how to record transactions, and how to reduce risk with insurance.  These can be very complicated subjects and in some case the author suggests that you confer with a lawyer or accountant or read a third book (not part of this review) Money and Taxes in a Micro Business.




Micro Business for Teens Workbook

($9.95 eBook, $14.95 pbk)

This 102 page book has chapter that correspond to those in both the Starting and Running eBooks (the Legal Names & Numbers are Reducing Risk chapters from Running a Micro Business have been combined).

Most chapters begin with a fill-in-the-blank exercise to review the chapter.   Then come blank forms to brainstorm business ideas, write a business plan, determine start up costs and the cost of your product or service,  record helpful websites, books and mentors, create a sales presentation, To Do lists, hour by hour schedules, etc.



The series is designed for 10-18 year olds, so my Schnickelfritz is on the younger end of the spectrum.  I chose to read it aloud to him so I could add more explanation (I was an accountant in my former life and took many business courses).  We loaded the eBooks as documents on the Kindle Fire and printed out pages as we needed from the workbook.  He stuck with me through the brainstorming and creative activities of coming up with a business, but lost enthusiasm when we started to learn how to run a micro business.  As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.  I wouldn’t call him lazy, but he’s not driven to earn money right now.  He’s too young for a car.  He’s content with the games and books he has now– I can’t even get him to name two or three things he’d like for his birthday or Christmas.  I’ve thought of creating a need – like making him pay for his karate lessons, etc.  For now, I’ll just hold onto the books – everything I read was very sound advice, and see if a business drive develops with another year or two of maturity.

I hope you’ll indulge me for just a moment while I pull out my soapbox.  I’ve heard from more than one source that Common Core is designed to churn out compliant workers with no creativity, critical thinking, or entrepreneurial  skills—and yet the unemployment rate for this year’s college graduates may be as high as 16.8 percent.  If they’ve been groomed for one thing and that thing isn’t available, what are they to do?  Thank goodness for home schooling and curriculum like Micro Business for Teens to help prepare our kids for productive and fulfilling futures.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Rescued Book #17: Centerburg Tales

Have you ever seen a long lost friend years, maybe decades later, and felt that instant sense of reconnection?  They same thing can happen with books – at least for this bibliophile.  I love it when I spot a book from my childhood that I can share with my son.  That’s the case with this weeks book….

Centerburg Tales

McCloskey, Robert.  New York: Viking, 1951. 191 pp.
Centerburg Tales and its predecessor, Homer Price take us back to a kinder, gentler time in America.  Boys and girls play jacks and spin tops around the town monument—the toys courtesy of the Whoopsy-Doodle Breakfast Food Company when you mailed in a cereal box top.  They go and watch serial movies on Saturday mornings and on other days they’re willing to listen to a town elder spin his tall tales of days gone by (while enjoying a donut at the local diner).
Homer and his family live in the town of Centerburg, Ohio.  I don’t know if it’s because his parents are so busy running the campground where they live, or because they’re too grounded but McCloskey chooses to focus on the more colorful members of the family like Grandpa Hercules and Uncle Ulysses (notice a theme here…Homer, Hercules, Ulysses?).  There’s also the town sheriff (hangs out at the donut shop of course) and his spoonerisms—that’s where you juxtapose your consonants like “Smoley Hoax” instead of “Holy Smokes.”
The chapters of both books make their own stand alone stories: a rich matron loses her diamond bracelet in the donut making machine, Homer thwarts a gang of robbers with his pet skunk.  The Centerburg Tales are a little more far fetched…the top secret Experiment 13 seeds turn out to be Godzilla sized ragweed plants…the whole town is paralyzed because they can’t get the lyrics of a really obnoxious song out of their heads.  Here they are below searching the library for a cure…

As whimsical and charming as the stories are the pictures.  If the style seems familiar, you’re probably recognize the work of Robert McCloskey.  He wrote and illustrated the childhood classics Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal.    If you buy your own copy of the book, do yourself a favor and get the hardback so the illustrations will be bigger (my Schnickelfritz loved to study them while I read).  If your child is too young to read to themselves, you might also consider the audiobooks – the narrator does wonderful voices.

My copy of Centerburg Tales was discarded by Parkwood Elementary school.  I hate to think what modern rubbish they needed to clear the shelf space for when they got rid of this treasure.
You can find a list of all my Rescued Books here.

I'm linking up with ....

Every bed of Roses

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

C is for Caves

In last week’s post about Bonne Terre Mine, I mentioned that one of Missouri’s nicknames is “The Cave State.”  What a perfect lead-in to this week’s letter C post.  Most of the more than 6000 caves discovered in the state are relatively small or privately owned (you can read about our adventures in the small Bathtub Cave here). 

There are, however, a few entrepreneurs that discovered you could earn money by showing the larger caves of the Show Me State.  I’m listing some of them below (the ones I’ve actually been in) with the most recent admission prices I could find. NOTE: Due to the nature of caves, many of these are NOT handicap accessible. Please visit the links to see if your needs can be met.

Bluff Dweller’s Cavern (Noel, MO)

The  45-60 minute tour costs $12/adult, $6/ages 4-11, free/under 4.  The cave was discovered in 1925.  Early excavation found arrowheads, bone tools, and remains of early inhabitants.  The first passage is spectacular to see.  There’s no colored lighting, just the natural beauty of the rock.  The onsite museum holds some of the artifacts found in the cave. Not Wheelchair accessible.

Marvel Cave (Branson, MO)

This cave is free to tour on (actually under) the grounds of Silver Dollar City and you can tour it for free with your park admission. The tours which leave every half hour and last about 1 hour, are NOT handicap accessible.  There are nearly 600 stairs  and in the place where you make tour reservations is a replica opening you’ll want to be sure you can stoop through.   The cave was actually one of the first attractions in the region—opening in 1894 (long before the neon signs and glitz of Hwy 76).   There’s evidence of visitors to the cave much earlier—in fact Spanish Explorers by have come as early as 1541 looking for the Fountain of Youth and other treasures. The cave boasts the largest entrance room in North America (204 ft. high, 225 ft. wide and 411 ft. long).  In fact the pile of debris that has fallen into the sinkhole stands 124 ft. tall by itself.

Meramec Caverns (Stanton, MO)

Colored lighting at Meramec CavernsCave tours leave every 20-30 and last about 80 minutes. Prices are $20/adults, $10/kids 5-11, free/4 and under.  You can’t travel far on a Missouri Highway before you spot a Meramec Cavern sign—maybe even painted on the roof of a barn.  It was one of the first, if not THE first attraction on that nostalgic highway, Route 66.   Philipp Renault (remember him from the lead mines in last weeks post) came here in 1720, when the natives told him there was a glittering yellow metal in the cave.  It was only saltpeter –still a valuable resource used to make gunpowder.  In fact, a century and a half later, the Union Army had a gunpowder facility in the mine.  Evidence suggests that after the war, the infamous outlaw Jesse James hid out in the cave.

The cave uses colored lights to accentuate all the stalactites and stalagmites.  In fact the tour ends with a regular light show at the “Stage Curtain” formation while you listen to Kate Smith sing God Bless America.


Onondaga Caves (Leasburg, MO)

This cave is owned by the state and tours are given mid-April through October. The Price is $15/adults, $9/kids 6-12, free/under 6.   Tours are 75 minutes long.   The formations in this cave are breathtaking—the Queen’s Canopy, the King’s canopy, and the Lily Pad Room—the rock formations really look like lily pads floating in the water.   Some of this cave may be wheelchair accessible, but the Lily Pad Room requires climbing steps (this part of the tour is optional, there’s a waiting area along the path for those you prefer not to make the trip).  There is a second cave in the same park (Cathedral Cave) that offers tours by lantern--

Turnaround point at Onondaga Cave it

Mark Twain Cave (Hannibal, MO)

The one hour tour costs $15.95/adult, $9.95/ages 8-12, $3/ages 7 and under.  They also offer a 90 minute lantern tour for $3 more.  What the cave lacks in beauty (none of the flowstone or stalactites and a hundred years’ worth of graffiti) it makes up for in nostalgia.  This is the cave referred to in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer

By and by somebody shouted “Who’s ready for the cave?”

Everybody was. Bundles of candles were procured, and straightaway there was a general scamper up the hill. The mouth of the cave was up the hillside—an opening like a letter A. …By and by the procession went filing down the steep descent of the main avenue, the flickering rank of lights dimly revealing the lofty walls of rock almost to their point of junction sixty feet overhead. This main avenue was not more than eight or ten feet wide. Every few steps other lofty and narrower crevices branched from it on either hand –for McDougal’s Cave was but a vast labyrinth of crooked aisles than ran into each other and out again and led nowhere.

My uncle can attest to the maze of corridors in this cave, having gotten separated from his tour group. 

These are just a few of the show caves you can visit in Missouri.  If you have a scout or just a child that likes earning patches, you might want to check out Missouri’s Cave Explorer program.  Visit at least five of the fifteen participating caves and you can earn an embroidered patch.

I can’t end this post about caves without mentioning the most famous residents of caves---bats.  In 2006, hundreds of bats near a show cave in New York were found dead.  They had a white fungus growing on their noses.  Since then White-nose syndrome has been spreading westward (as far as western Missouri).  The fungus seems to irritate the bats out of their normal hibernation cycle and they either freeze or starve to death.  Mortality rates in caves with WNS vary from 50 to 100 percent.  Missouri’s Dept. of Conservation has already closed several caves (like the Bathtub Cave I linked to above).  At some point it may become necessary to close or restrict access to caves.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Review: US History for Homeschoolers

I’ve confessed before that history was not my favorite subject in school.  I’ve come to believe it wasn’t the subject matter that was so boring but the way it was presented…name, date, war, date, place, name etc.  Page after page of blips of information.  The men and women of history were as shallow and lifeless as the portraits that appeared in the margins.  I vowed history wouldn’t be that way for my son.  A perfect example is our latest review product from Golden Prairie Press.   We put ourselves in the moments of history with great American characters  by listening to their music, tasting their food, even giving voice to the past by performing skits.  All this from the Digital Heroes & Heroines of the Past: American History Curriculum.

I was familiar with the author Amy Puetz from her history articles in a homeschooling magazine to which I subscribed—she being a homeschool graduate herself.  She’s also a committed Christian and presents history as “His story”.  Although we’re well past the times of the Bible in this American History study, you’ll find Bible verses to memorize every week and the inclusion of facts that daily prayers during the Constitutional Convention.

In the package we received:

Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Part 1 eBook
Fifteen weeks with five lessons each (388 pp.) covering Leif Erikson and Columbus to Andrew Jackson’s presidency. The first chapter also discusses the Native Americans and how they must have arrived via a land bridge after Noah’s flood (remember I said it was His story).  You can view the
Table of Contents  and a sample of the  first three lessons.

Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Part 2 eBook
Fifteen more weeks with five lessons each (408 pp.) covering the presidency of Van Buren to the current administration.



Additional Materials Downloads
You’ll find the link and password to several videos (dancing the Virginia Reel, Mr. Bell invents the telephone, etc.), a collection of maps (these also appear in the text books, but much smaller), reproductions of paintings and illustrations of historical significance (for art studies or inspiration to write a story) and several blank timelines to be printed and filled out by the students.  There are actually several versions for each timeline to meet the needs of a variety of ages.  Youngest students may simply us the completed copies, slightly older kids may use one with the dates or the events and fill in the other size, older students may have a blank form and have to fill in everything.





Historical Skits eBook

This 50 page book has nineteen skits about Sir Walter Raleigh, Lewis & Clark, the Panama Canal, etc.  You can see a list of all the skits and a sample of the Christopher Columbus skit.  As the parent of an only child, we’ve had to tweak programs that include skits.  We may end up just reading them and taking turns with the parts.  I’ve found had success using mini figures or toy soldiers and making a puppet show of sorts.  In this case we were reading The Price of Liberty with George Washington and his cabinet debating how to pay for the War.  I found images of a historical doll collection—including Gen. Knox! I printed them out and mounted them on craft sticks.  I couldn’t find one for Edmund Randolph so Schnickelfriz played that role (we only had four hands between us anyway).


Sing Some History CD
These are recordings of twenty songs mentioned in the book.  Some will be very familiar like Yankee Doodle and Pop Goes the Weasel.  Others we didn’t know at all like Chester and Uncle Sam is Rich Enough to Give Us All a Farm (no longer true by the way).  The audio quality varies here—some songs sound like they were recorded in a living room.

Listen to Some U.S. History MP3 CD

It can be hard to read The Declaration of Independence or The Constitution, why not listen to them (or at least a portion).  Other clips include Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address,  Patrick Henry’s Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death, and excerpts for Mary Chesnut’s Diary from Dixie.  Patrick Henry’s speech was not just read, but acted out…it even sounded like he was speaking in a large, echoing chamber.  Talk about history coming alive!

With our digital downloads, I put the textbooks and pertinent songs/recordings on my Kindle Fire.  The text is a PDF file so we couldn’t use the dictionary function of bookmark features of the Kindle.  Ti was easiest to leave the Art Study files on our main computer so Fritz could view the images well.  There were a few that seemed pixelated on our big 24” monitor, but most were clear and crisp.

Because we were already studying American History this year we picked up where we were at the end of the American Revolution (latter portion of Part 1 eBook).  Most lessons will have two reading options, a single page for 1st and 2nd graders and 3-4 pages for 3rd-6th graders.  Occasionally though there would only be one selection for all grades.  If you’re reading aloud, the younger kids should be able to follow along just fine. These lessons are usually shorter and seem to be written in a story format (like the lesson about Nathan Hale: The Brave Spy).

After most lessons you’ll find comprehension questions, dates & events to add to your timeline,  you may find some additional reading suggestions, a recipe, sheet music for a song to listen to or sing along, etc.  The may also be a hands-on activity—the Nathan Hale lesson had us make invisible ink with lemon juice.  The first lesson of each week will include the Bible verse to copy and memorize. 

On the whole my son enjoyed Heroes and Heroines of the Past – he didn’t even mind the long reading assignments when they were done in story format (I think his favorite was about the Swamp Fox).  He would have preferred the geography activities to be  coloring in and drawing lines rather than just looking at maps and answering questions.  It would have been neat to study this in a co-op setting where he’d have other kids to perform the skits with him. 

I’m planning on us continuing to use this curriculum next year although we’ll need to supplement it to get a whole year’s worth out of the Part 2.  The Digital Set sells for $98.99, for the same price you can get the set with 3 books and 3 CDs.   There are some optional literature books for the older students to read (I was able to find some of them online for free).

Click to read Crew Reviews


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rescued Book 16: Thomas the Tank Engine

Well, I have a few announcements for my Rescued Book series.  Obviously I missed a few weeks – one week we were busy with the FIRST Robotics/First Lego League championships and the second week I was with family celebrating the life of my aunt that passed away.  I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t call the series 52 Consecutive Weeks of Rescued Books.  So I’ll pick up where I left off with book 16.  The second bit of business is that we’re wrapping up our school year (we’ll still have some school work with the products we review for the homeschool crew), and that means more reading for fun rather than tying in to our history lessons.  So I’ve got several weeks of fun, charming, adventuresome books for summer reading.

This week’s book is an oldie – both when we acquired it and when the stories were actually written.  Long before the outrageously expensive wooden sets or the PBS series, Thomas the Tank Engine started as a way for an English Reverend to amuse his 3-year-old son in bed with the measles.  He recalled his own childhood and listening to trains and “helper engines” chugging up a steep grade near his home and coming to the conclusion that trains had personalities.  As is often the case with kids, the stories had to be told over and over again and the boy noticed any deviation made intentionally or not, so the Reverend wrote down his stories to keep the “facts” straight.  Thank goodness he did, because half a world away and more than half a century later my son fell in love with Thomas, Edward, Gordon, Henry and James too.

Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection

Awdry, W.  New York: Random House Value Pub., 1997. Hardback

This is actually a book of books – the 26 books written by Rev. Awdry between 1945 and 1972 (apparently then his son continued to write for the series).  Each book has four stories that are just about the perfect length for bedtime reading.

The first of these books was called Three Railway Engines and featured Edward, Gordon, and Henry.  Rev. Awdry only had three stories developed, including the famous one about Henry hiding in a tunnel to keep his green paint job out of the rain— he ended up being trapped behind a brick wall when he refused to come out.  The publisher agreed to print the book only if a fourth story was written with a happy ending for Henry (he was released from the tunnel and actually sported a blue paint job for a while).

So how did Thomas end up being the mascot for the series?  I’m not sure he’s even in the majority of the stories as the later books focus on other lines and utility engines: Bill & Ben, Skarloey, Rheneas,  Duck, etc.  After the book was published, the Reverend built a toy engine for his son’s Christmas present and it ended up with the name Thomas.  Of course, this new toy would have to be included in the stories—much like the real Winnie the Pooh bear. 

One name that does not appear is Sir Topham Hatt.  He’s referred to as the “Fat Controller” in all the stories (proving they were written in a less politically correct age).  I also think there are far fewer crashes and accidents in the books than the TV series-- I suppose because crashes are visual and do better on the screen.  

If you’ve got a little one, especially a boy, that’s going through a train fixation stage why not cuddle up in a reading chair and let him look at the illustrations in this book while you read about the trains of Sodor Island?  Then let him study the map inside the cover to see where all the adventures took place.


You can find a list of all my Rescued Books here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Review: Homeschool Handwriting Program

There are a lot of subjects my Schnickelfritz takes to like a duck to water ---writing is not one of them.  I believe he probably has dysgraphia (forming letters backwards, starting at the bottom instead of the top, making his circles clockwise instead of counter-clockwise).  With hard work and practice, we have seen improvement, but there’s always room for more.  We were not going to pass up the chance to try Logic of English, more specifically their Rhythm of Handwriting Cursive - Complete SetWe received the following components:

The Cursive Handwriting Workbook(softback 174 pp.) The first section is directed to the parent/teacher with  Steps to Teaching Handwriting, Tips,  Schedule Ideas, and Ideas for Practice. The majority of the book is for the student to practice writing—first individual lowercase letters, then learning to connect the letters, then uppercase letters.

The Student Whiteboard  (7.5” x 11”)  The board is designed to be used in a landscape format. One side has a single practice line about 3 1/2 inches tall and the other has five practice lines each about 3/4 inches tall.  Both sides have a bolded base line and a dashed middle line.

A set of Cursive Tactile Cards – One side of each 4.25” X 5.75” card has a sandpaper textured letter applied to it, the other side  lists what “type” of letter it is and the “rhythm” instructions to write it (more on these terms below). There is a set of cards for each lowercase and uppercase letter, each digit 0-9, and each component to form the letter (loops, swing, straight down, etc.) I’m including a photo of the card for T, Q, and Z and these are the ones that show the most discrepancy in different fonts (e.g. sometimes a capital Q looks like a large 2 in cursive).

The Cursive Quick Reference Chart (laminated tri-fold) The letters are arranged by the main component used to form them. For example  l,b,f,e,h,and k are considered “loop” letters while n,m,y,v,x, and z are “bump” letters.  The letters are color coded to match examples and instructions to form the components also listed on the chart.

Up to this point, teaching Fritz how to form letters has been visual – either having him watch me write the letter first or tracing dotted images of the letter on paper. Logic of English breaks down the formation of each letter into components and teaches you to say each step.  The complete instructions to form a lowercase w are:

  1. Swing up to the midline
  2. down to the baseline
  3. swing up to the midline
  4. down to the baseline
  5. swing up to the midline
  6. dip connector at the midline

After practicing and becoming familiar with the letter, the student only needs to recite the bold font words (thus forming the rhythm in the title of the program). 

Logic of English lists their handwriting program for ages 4 to adult (they actually recommend starting with cursive). Schnickelfritz is 11, but still has poor handwriting. There is nothing in the program to make him feel behind or that it’s designed for younger students (no silly pictures, etc.). We simply skipped the teaching steps that taught the sounds of the letters (this only appears in the teacher’s section of the Workbook). Because of his age we were able to go through several letters per day—sometimes all the letters of a certain “type” although I would stop if he complained his hand was hurting.  I’m more interested in quality instead of quantity.

I would start by giving him the Tactile card for the type of letter we be studying.  After tracing it with his finger several times, I’d put out the letters and let him trace just that component on each card so he could see how they belongs to the same family.  Then we’d look at one letter at a time and he would trace each component while I said the instructions out loud (I had to use the Quick Reference Chart since the card instructions were face down on the table).   Then we moved on to the Workbook.  I had heard at a homeschool expo somewhere that students need the friction of pencil on paper to help the muscle memory move to the automatic side of the brain – that dry erase boards were too smooth to accomplish it.  I could print out blank sheets of writing paper from the Logic of English website when needed.






Some days when Schnickelfritz absolutely refused to pick up a pencil, I’d just let him trace letters and say the rhythm to himself.  His muscles were still getting the practice forming each letter.







After six weeks, I have to say I can see improvements it Fritz’s handwriting.  I don’t know if it’s from his having to slow down to say the rhythm while he forms letters or just adding an auditory component to the presentation or seeing letters as a series of detailed steps rather than the whole.  Whatever it is, I’ll take it.  If you’re just starting to teach writing, you might consider Logic of English first so you won’t have to deal with some of the struggles we’ve had. 

The Rhythm of Handwriting Cursive - Complete Set sells for $65. You can also buy the components separately.

Click to read Crew Reviews

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