Monday, June 30, 2014

J is for Jesse James

Well, so far I’ve shared about several famous people who lived in Missouri – every school kid in the U.S.A. should have heard of Daniel Boone and George Washington Carver and I think it’s fair to say Mark Twain is known around the world.  My letter J post is reserved for someone “infamous.”   In fact, if I were to say “Wild West” or “Gunslinger” or “Outlaw” the name might pop into your mind.

Jesse Woodson James was born Sept. 5, 1847 in Kearney, Missouri.  His father was a preacher of all things, but left the family to join the forty-niners with a bad case of gold rush fever.  He died in California when Jesse was three years old.   I won’t say we can blame Jesse’s outcome on the lack of a father figure though.  Another important piece of the puzzle was the Civil War.  The James’ family sided with the Confederacy.  In 1863, a Union patrol attacked the farm and hung Jesse’s stepfather.  Later, both Frank and Jesse James were members of Quantrill’s Raiders a group of pro-Confederate guerillas who ambushed Union patrols and stole their supplies.  Their worst offense may be the Lawrence, Kansas massacre that claimed the lives of 150 men and boys.

After the War, the James boys kept up their disruptive ways, stealing from trains and banks rather than the Union army.  Somewhere along the way, James earned the reputation of being an American Robin Hood—robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.  He may have done the former, during train robberies he would steal the train’s cash box but not hold up the individual passengers.  There’s no evidence that he did the latter—they kept the loot for themselves.

I’m not saying Jesse James should be modeled or idolized (does anyone else remember The Brady Bunch episode where Bobby picks James as his hero?), but he is definitely an iconic figure in America’s history and there are plenty of places in Missouri to learn more about him.

The Jesse James Home (St. Joseph, MO)

$4/adults , $2/ages 6-17, free/5 & under

This is the home where James was shot in the back of the head as he straightened a picture.  He was killed by a fellow gang member, Bob Ford, who was interested in the reward money.  Bob Ford was pardoned by the governor of the murder, but he never received the full reward.  The house has been moved from its original location to a spot behind the Patee House, a hotel where the investigation of the death took place (the Patee House was also the headquarters for the Pony Express so it’s worth a visit too).

The Jesse James Farm  (Kearney, MO)

$8/adults, $4.50/ages 8-15, free/under 8

The birthplace of Jesse James.  You may view a 20 minute film about James and his family, tour the farmhouse and see James’ boots and cartridge belt in the museum.

The Jesse James Bank (Liberty, MO)

$6/adults, $3.50/ages 8-15, free/under 8

The James Younger gang held up this bank in February 1866 –the first daylight armed bank robbery in peacetime.  The bank looks as it did back then and you can still see the original green vault.  Neither of the two bank employees was injured during the robbery, but a Liberty College student was shot outside the bank.  The take was nearly $60,000.

Jesse James Days (Pineville, MO)

This annual festival celebrates the town’s location for the filming of the 1938 film Jesse James starring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda.    There’s a carnival and parade and a staged bank robbery.

Meramec Caverns (Stanton, MO)

$20/adult, $10/ages 5-11, free/4 & under

I mentioned in my post C is for Caves that there was evidence that Jesse James used the cave as a hide out.  One of the stops on the cave tour is Loot Rock,  where strong boxes from a Gadshill, MO train robbery attributed to the James gang.  The items found can be seen in a display box at the cave’s entrance.  These were also two figures (presumably from the James gang) situated in the underground river showing how they used it as an escape route.   They weren’t pointed out the last time I visited the cave so I’m not sure if they’re still there.

Jesse James Wax Museum (Stanton, MO)

$7/adult, $3/ages 5-11

This is a stop for all those folks that enjoy a good conspiracy theory.  According to the museum, Jesse James was not killed by Bob Ford, but the entire thing was a hoax that allowed James to start a new life under the alias J. Frank Dalton.  You can see a collection of firearms and other belongings of Jesse James and his gang and see a variety of wax figures pertaining to the James family.  The was museum was started by the general manager of Meramec Caverns (who arranged for Dalton to live in a cabin on the cave property and greet tourists).  Unfortunately for the museum, the body of Jesse James was exhumed in 1995 and proved with 99.7 percent certainty that it was the outlaw’s remains.  This may be why I’ve never seen visitors in the parking lot when we drive by.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me




Friday, June 27, 2014

Rescued Book #24 Les Miserables

I confess up front that I haven’t finished reading this week’s book – I mean you try to read ___ pages in a week.  It’s a book I picked up several times in the regular library and thought “There’s no way I can get through this in a measly two weeks – I doubt I could get through it even if I renewed it for another two.  So why bother?”  Then I’d put the book back  and mentally stick it on my bucket list.  Then I saw a tightly bound paperback copy at the book sale.  Surely I could afford 50 cents for a book that’s always on the list of the world’s best literature (note: the unabridged version also makes the list of the world’s longest novels, just edging out Tolstoy’s War and Peace).  

Les Misérables

Hugo, Victor. New York: Signet Classics, 1995. 1488 pp.

Yes, there have been movies and there was the musical, and know there’s the movie of the musical, but if that’s your only exposure the Hugo classic then you’ve only gotten the Cliff Notes version – even when it clocks in at almost 3 hours in length.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the musical.  I just saw it again last year at the St. Louis Muny.  But Hugo uses those pages and pages to build some of the finest character studies I’ve ever read.  Let’s take a minor role from the musical—the priest, I’m not even sure the audience knows he’s actually a bishop.  We learn absolutely nothing about him except he gives away his silver and candlesticks and doesn’t press charges against Valjean.  His actions just didn’t seem that plausible to me, even for a man of the cloth.  I just assumed he had to do it or we’d have no way to move to the second act. 

In the novel Hugo writes what could almost be a short paperback on its own to share the bishop’s “back-story.”  He had been a wealthy, aristocratic man, he lost his wife while they lived in exile in Italy during the French Revolution, he returned to France as a humble priest and ran into Napoleon Bonaparte who made him a bishop.  Although he was then a prince of the church he continued to live a very humble lifestyle.  He gave his bishop’s palace to the soldier’s hospital and lived in their small residence instead.  He gave away 90 percent of his salary to local charities and when he learn he was eligible to collect a stipend to rent a carriage to visit his province he claimed it and gave it away too.  He accompanied men to the gallows when  the local priest refused to do so.  Now I finally find it believable that he would give away the family candlesticks because it fits his pattern.

I’ll admit that I don’t always appreciate the level of detail Hugo provides as it seems to get in the way of the flow of action.  My professor in college gave me permission to skip the expository portions of Moby Dick, so I’m not feeling guilty about jumping ahead when Les Miz seems to wax on a little too long.  I’m sticking with it though, all summer if needs be, because I rescued my own copy and don’t have to worry about returning it to the library.

You can find a list of all my Rescued Books here

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: Science Demonstrations DVDs

How many other nails do you think you can balance on the head of single nail?  That’s just one of the questions we sought to answer as we watched a pair of Go Science DVDs.  This is the second series of science demonstrations being distributed by Library and Educational Services.  We had previously reviewed two DVDs from the first series and when my Schnickelfritz heard there was the opportunity to see more, he quickly chose the Sound/Gravity/Space and Engineering/Design/Flight volumes.  (As a side note: I’m a frequent L&ES customer and as long as they were shipping to my door, I ordered next year’s inductive Bible studies too).

Each DVD is hosted by Bob Roy, teacher of science methods at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and former director of Science Theater for a local news channel.  He’s joined, either on his back yard set or in a real field, by a group of kids and sometimes his dog.  The kids assist him in a series of science demonstrations which always end with “Every time we learn more about science, we learn more about our Creator….God.”  You’ll notice I’m using the word “demonstration” rather than “experiment” –we’re not testing a hypothesis or following the scientific method here.  Mr. Roy doesn’t even go into great depth to explain why the things work the way they do --  it’s really more like using science for brief sermon illustrations.

Volume One: Sound, Gravity, Space 

This 78 minute DVD contains the following demonstrations:


Workings of a Piano Water Whistle
Screaming Pop Can Candle Seesaw
Balloon with Nut Drop Book with Paper
Simple Telephone Sun-Golf Balls
Rueben’s Tube Solar Bag
Breaking Glass UV Beads
Organ Pipes Bang Barrel
Stick with String  

I’ve highlighted the demos that could be done at home, although you’ll have to determine the supply list and how to build any of the gadgets yourself.   The picture below is of the Screaming Pop Can activity.  By blowing VERY hard through a straw placed nearly between two cans we could make a VERY  annoying sound.  

Go Science: Screaming Pop Cans

The video demonstration ends with a brief discussion about pleasant vs. unpleasant sounds and that the prayers we say are a very pleasant sound to God’s ears.

Schnickelfritz thought the coolest demonstration was Rueben’s Tube, named after the man who discovered a way to “see” sound waves as flickering flames dance while sound is being passed through a tube of flammable gas.   This one obviously can’t be done at home.

Volume Seven: Engineering, Design, Flight

This 56 minute DVD contains the following demonstrations:


How Much Will it Hold Leaning Tower of Lyra
Nail Balance Trebuchet
Centrifuge Walking on Eggs
Bed of Nails Rocket Balloon
Vinegar Rocket Toiler Paper on Paint Roller
Film Canister Rocket  

We have our own vinegar rocket (a commercially made one) that we used and had a little more success than they did on the DVD.  It’s getting harder and harder to find film canisters (in fact, some kids probably don’t know what they are) but we had one from summer science at the local library where Fritz did the same activity.  And here’s a picture of our nail balance (incidentally, our answer to the opening question was 15 nails).  The mini-sermon point here was the each one of us has been given a purpose by God and when we work together we can set the world on fire.

Go Science: Nail Balance

The age recommendation for the DVD’s is 4-12.   This is down from the 6-14 age range listed on Series One of  Go Science and I’m wondering if it might not need to be lowered slightly more.  We reviewed Series One when Fritz was nine and he watched the demos over and over again.  In fact, he’d raise his hand and answer like he was one of the in studio kids (you can read that review with a click here).  Now he’s eleven and he watched the DVD’s when the package first arrived and once again with me when we did some of the activities ourselves, but he hasn’t viewed them again.

The DVD’s won’t be wasted though—I’m saving them to use for devotions as I lead Ranger Kids (K-2nd)  this fall. I really think it’s the best forum for the series.  The demonstrations are very engaging for younger kids, Mr. Roy is so enthusiastic, each one only lasts 5-10 minutes, and they all end with a Christian application. 

We’ve recently become very sensitive to the needs of the hearing impaired in our home and I will mention that these DVD’s do not have captioning. The Go Science DVD’s are available through Library and Educational Services for $8.97 per title. In order to purchase anything from this vendor you must fit in one of the following categories.

  • Resellers
  • Libraries, Library Directors, and Librarians
  • Schools, Teachers, and other School Leaders
  • Churches and Church Leaders
  • Home Educators
  • Missionaries
  • Licensed Day Care Centers
  • Specialty Stores


Click to read Crew Reviews

Monday, June 23, 2014

I is for Independence Day in Hannibal, MO

How do you like to celebrate the Fourth of July (I’m talking to my American readers)?  I suppose it depends where you live.  Those on the coasts by like to spend the day at the beach or watching the famous hot dog eating contest at Coney Island.  I grew up watching airshows and fireworks under the Gateway Arch overlooking the Mississippi River.   If you’re looking for Americana and nostalgia, there’s probably not much that can compete with Hannibal, Missouri. 
Each year the town schedules its own National Tom Sawyer Days to coincide with our country’s anniversary.  Tom Sawyer is the fictitious,  all-American boy created by the town’s real, famous author Samuel Longhorn Clemens (better known by his pen name Mark Twain).  During the three day event, you can watch raft races on the Mississippi, compete in a contest to whitewash a fence, even enter your favorite hopper in a frog-jumping contest (this in honor of another Twain work, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County). 

One of the highlights is the Tom Sawyer/Becky Thatcher contest to select a young man and young lady to be ambassadors of the city and the faces of the town’s tourist industry.  This isn’t just a look-alike or costume contest and is only open to Hannibal residents (which is too bad because my Schnickelfritz would make a very cute, freckle-faced Tom).  The seventh graders must make speeches, be interviewed, and pass two written tests—one about the town and one about Mark Twain.   The winners represent the town at civic events throughout the year and stroll the historic district for tourists during the summer so they really have to know their stuff.  In the ceremony to announce the new winners the outgoing Becky gives the new Tom a fishing pole and the outgoing Tom gives the new Becky a slate (it says I Love You, just like the scene in the book).  Here’s the local newscast’s reporting on last year’s contest…

Of course if you can’t visit during National Tom Sawyer Days, you can still submerse yourself in all things Mark Twain the rest of the year.  You can visit his boyhood home (the whitewash fence is still there).
Mark Twain's Boyhood Home; Hannibal, MO
Other museum properties are the office where Clemens’ father served as Justice of the Peace, the home of the boy who inspired Huckleberry Finn, and the home of the girl that inspired Becky Thatcher.  The museum has 15 original painting by Norman Rockwell for a commemorative edition of the Tom Sawyer book.  You can also cruise the Mississippi River on a paddle wheel steamboat or explore Mark Twain’s cave.  Adults might enjoy the Mark Twain Himself show at Planters Barn Theater –one man dressed in the familiar white suit, sharing that special Twain wit. Watching the Tom Sawyer Days events is free, the other attractions have their own fees.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Two Rescued Books

This week I tackle two books by the same author, the second carrying on the story of the first.  I originally hesitated to include My Side of the Mountain in my Rescued Books series.  I was trying to select books I felt most people hadn’t read or heard of and this was a Newberry Honor book.  I can still remember my sixth grade teacher reading it aloud to the class and I was so anxious to find out what happened I had to check it out of the library for myself.  And yet here was my local library pulling it off the shelves to sell.  The book was in fine shape so I can only assume they did it due to a dirth of patrons checking it out.

My Side of the Mountain

George, Jean Craighead.  New York: Dutton, 1959.      177 pp. 


On the Far Side of the Mountain

George, Jean Craighead. . New York: Dutton Children's, 1990.  170 pp.

It’s somewhat surprising to me that a woman wrote these books. They are set up as the journals of a 12 year old boy, Sam Gribley,  who has run away to live off the land in the Catskill Mountains.  In the preface to My Side of the Mountain the author explains that her father was a naturalist and taught her to identify edible plants, lash together a table and chairs, and snare and dress rabbits for dinner. Her older brothers were two of the first falconers in the United States.  She, her mother, and her daughter had all attempted to run away while in elementary school.  In every case, the mother did nothing to stop the daughter and even checked the bag for a toothbrush.  I suppose that’s why she had no problem writing that Sam’s family did nothing to dissuade him when he announced he was leaving to find the family farm in the mountains.  

In today’s world, Sam would probably be followed by a camera crew for one of those survivalist shows on the NatGeo channel.  He knows how to build snares and carve fish hooks, he burns out a room to live in the trunk of a large tree, and he catches and trains his own falcon.  Of course this book was written before we had 200 satellite channels vying for out attention so we have to content ourselves with Sam’s drawings.

In My Side of the Mountain, Sam is generally by himself.  There is an occasional trip to town to meet the librarian and do some research (she also cuts his hair) and the occasional visitor on the mountain (an English professor named Bando comes for an extended stay in both books).  Most of the cast of characters are the animal friends Sam observes—Frightful, the falcon; Jesse Coon James, and Baron Weasel.

The book ends with Sam’s family arriving (over a year later), having decided to leave the crowded city and join Sam on the mountain.  On the Far Side of the Mountain, although written thirty years later, picks up the story.  It only took Mr. Gribley a few weeks to realize he wasn’t cut out for wilderness life.  The family is headed back to the big city, leaving Sam and now a younger sister Alice behind (it makes for a good story, but I know there was Protective services in the 90’s – talk about neglected children).

This sequel does seem to have more of the environmentalist/green movement overtones than the original.  Frightful is abducted by a less than honorable conservation officer to be sold.  [SPOILER ALERT] After being rescued, she’s set free so she  can breed and repopulate the cliffs with baby peregrine falcons.  Still, the book is enchanting and filled with more wilderness skills.  There’s a part of me that would like to try grinding acorns into flour or boiling cattails to see if they really taste like mashed potatoes.  

There is a third book in the series, Frightful’s Mountain, which we have not read but is probably worth finding….maybe at a future library book sale.

You can find a list of all my Rescued Books here

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

H is for Harold Bell Wright’s Cabin

We’ve been visiting the western side of Missouri these last few weeks with stops in Kansas City and Diamond.  This week we head slightly southeast to that mecca of live country music, neon signs, and go karts  – Branson.  Long before Shoji Tabuchi put a pool table in the men’s restroom, before Silver Dollar City gave out change in real silver dollars,  before the Baldknobbers opened the first music show on Highway 76, tourists  travelled to the area to see the sites and people made famous in Harold Bell Wright’s novel The Shepherd of the Hills.  You can see not much has changed over the years.

Wright was pastoring in Kansas when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.  He traveled to the Ozarks in hopes of regaining his health and enjoying some good fishing.  (This would not have been at Lake Taneycomo or Table Rock Lake, but the original White River).  It was a flood on that same river that caused Wright to seek shelter at the Ross Cabin.  Summer after summer Wright returned to stay on the Ross’s property and they became the inspiration for Old Matt and Aunt Mollie in the novel.  It’s is their cabin, still in its original location that people can tour today.

Wright eventually gave up the ministry to write full time, but he still managed to weave a sermon or two into his stories.  In another novel, That Printer of Udell’s, he warns of the dangers of churches that talk the talk but fail to walk the walk (faith without works).  In The Shepherd of the Hills, there’s almost a parable about the Two Trails: one that leads to the higher, sunlit fields and one that leads to the lower ground where “gloomy shadows gather long before the day is done.”

In the cornfield where Wright camped and wrote now stands Inspiration Tower with its 360 views of the Ozark Mountains.  Here’s Wright’s take on the hills as described in the book –written in hillbilly twang…

…When God looked upon th’ work of his hands an’ called hit good, he war sure a-lookin’ at this here Ozark country. Rough? Law yes! Hit war made that a-way on purpose. Ain’t nothin’ to a flat country nohow. A man jes naturally wear hisself plumb out a-walkin’ on a level ‘thout ary downhill t’ spell him. An’ then look how much more there is of hit! Take forty acres o’ flat now an’ hit’s jest a forty, but you take forty acres o’ this here Ozark country an’ God ‘lmighty only knows how much ‘twould be if hit war rolled out flat. ‘Tain’t no wonder ‘t all, God rested when he made these here hills; he jes naturally had t’ quit, fer he done his beatenest an’ war plumb gin out.

For the last 55 years people have come to watch The Shepherd of the Hills pageant performed in Mutton Hollow.  Every night the Baldknobber gang set the shepherd’s cabin ablaze and every night Sammy Lane discovers that becoming a lady has more to do with the heart and mind than fancy dresses and wealth.  The pageant has fallen on hard times though.  They’ve cut back performances and at one time thought they’d have to close entirely.  I’ve heard the Passion Play in Arkansas nearby is also in similar circumstances.  So if you happen to be visiting the area, please consider patronizing these long-standing local shows.  Family passes (2 adults and up to 3 kids) are $105.04 and if you’ve priced tickets for Branson shows that’s fairly reasonable. 

If you just can’t make it to Missouri this year, then at least visit through the pages of the novel. (Don’t watch the John Wayne movie—they truly just took the names and changed everything else about the story).

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

G is for George Washington Carver Monument

  • GWC MonumentMayonnaise
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • cooking oil
  • Laundry soap
  • Quinine
  • Hand lotion
  • Shampoo
  • Dye
  • Wood filler
  • Linoleum
  • Insulation
  • Rubber
This odd assortment of items are just a few of the products made from peanuts developed by George Washington Carver –who was born in Missouri! 
Although we don’t know the exact date (around 1864), we do know he was born to a slave named Mary on the Carver Farm in Diamond, MO in the southwest corner of the state. [This would be a good time to point out that I’m marking the attraction’s location with a red star on my post graphic]  

The Civil War was still raging and Missouri was a slave state that stayed with the Union.  Most people don’t know that Missouri had the third highest number of skirmishes during the war (behind Virginia and Tennessee).  A lot of these fights involved semi-organized bands of guerillas, often called “Raiders.”  It was just such a band that captured Mary and baby George when he was just a week old.    His mother was never heard from again but George was found and returned to the Carvers, but he had contracted whooping cough which left him frail.  When slavery was abolished, the Carvers raised George and Susan Carver taught him to read and write.  He left Missouri in 1874 to begin his pursuit of an education, but he still kept in touch with the Carvers.

In 1943, (the year of his death), the birthplace was declared a National Monument.  At the time, there were only two other national monuments that marked birthplaces, one belonging to George Washington and the other to Abraham Lincoln. The site, now maintained by the National Parks Service is great for homeschoolers!  First of all, IT’S FREE!! (don’t you love that word?). Secondly, it’s practically like a unit study in a field trip: You’ve got your history—some Civil War, some  of the African Americans’ struggle for equality.  You’ve got your science – the onsite Discovery Center has interactive exhibits and laboratories to learn more about Carver’s work in botany.  You’ve got art – Carver used to draw and paint flowering plants and landscapes. You need to log some P.E. hours? There’s a mile long trail through woods and past streams (this is where you’ll see the boy statue in my graphic).
I found a great overview of the George Washington Carver National Monument done by an Arkansas man for his Out of the Norm online video show….

If you’re ever taking a vacation to Branson, this would make a great day-trip.

I’m linking up with …
Ben and Me

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rescued Book #20: Henry Reed, Inc.

When I go to library sales, I’m always looking for the older, hardback books.  Older because they tend to not be offensive and have the same values I’d like to share with my son.  Hardback because they tend to stand up better.   This week’s book had a third attraction—the illustration on the cover.  It reminded me of other favorite books: Homer Price and rescued book #17 Centerburg Tales.   Sure enough, when I looked at the title page and saw it was illustrated by Robert McCloskey.  That was good enough for me to take a chance on it.  And what a delight it’s turned out to be.  This week’s rescued book is…


Henry Reed, Inc.

Robertson, Keith, and Robert McCloskey (Illus.). New York: Viking, 1958. 239 pp.

The title character is the son of a diplomat stationed in Naples, Italy but he’s spending the summer before eighth grade with his aunt and uncle in Grover’s Corner.  His history and government teacher has asked him to keep notes about his experiences to share with the other students in the fall so he begins a journal—the very book we hold in our hands.  In fact, the book begins with instructions  and an address to return the book in case it gets lost.  Rather than chapters, we find dated entries of varying lengths. After all, some days are more interesting than others.  Take the day Henry decided to become an entrepreneur.


June 24th,

Well, I went into the research business today. It was simpler than I thought it would be.  All it took was a can of paint and now I’ve got somebody who wants to be a partner and is willing to contribute something to the business. I haven’t made any money yet, but even in the research business I imagine it takes a day or so to get rolling.

The paint, as you can see, was to paint his name on the side of the barn.  The business partner is a neighbor girl named Midge.  Her contribution to the business is a pair of white rabbits, but as you can see by the net in her hand one of them has gotten away.  In fact Midge and Henry spend the rest of the book trying to recapture Jedidiah Rabbit (Midge can’t become a full partner and get her name on the sign until she comes through with her part of the bargain). Other great characters are Agony, the beagle and ill-tempered neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Apple (get it, they’re crab apples?). 

For a research business, they certainly have a lot of side money makers – selling fishing worms, painting and selling box turtles, even striking oil.  Okay, that last bit was actually digging into an abandoned, underground fuel tank.  They still managed to pump it out and sell it to Midge’s father.   Other adventures aren’t as successful – Agony gets stuck in a culvert pipe,  and an attempt to remove a hornets nest end up with the whole town losing power (you’ll have to read why). 

Now I’m on the lookout for further chronicles of Henry Reeds adventures: Henry Reed’s Journey, Henry Reed’s Baby-Sitting Service, Henry Reed’s Big Show and Henry Reed’s Think Tank.  If they’re anything like this first book, we’ve got a lot of wholesome summer reading ahead.  Of course, my local library was the one to discard this book so I’ll have to look for the others elsewhere.

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

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review: Learning Breakthrough Program

I believe one of the keys  to being a good teacher, is to never stop being a student yourself.  The facts I’m sharing (2 + 2 = 4 or  the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776) don’t change, but I can learn new, more effective ways to share the material that will make it easier for my son to grasp and retain it.  Even the food I prepare and the physical activities he does can make learning easier.  That’s why I was intrigued to read about Dr. Frank Belgau, developer of the Learning Breakthrough Program.  His journey to create alternative treatment for issues like ADHD and Dyslexia has been chronicled by his son in the book A Life in Balance.  To be clear: this book is about the development of the program, not how to implement the regimen itself.  The target audience is any adult with a stake at helping kids reach their full potential: parents, teachers, doctors,  therapists, coaches, etc..

Dr. Belgau began his journey as one of those kids he’s now able to help.  He describes himself in terms like:  mental fuzz,  a bucket with a leak, pushing an immovable object up an endless hill,  tangled feet, disobedient limbs.   During the summer between his fourth and fifth grades, he made a deliberate effort to “get control of [his] feet” and to his delight discovered that when he got his body under control, it also stopped the letters from swimming around the page as he tried to read.  

Reading A Life in the Balance is like sitting with Dr. Belgau as he reminisces on the teachers, colleagues, and students that he’s encountered—each one bringing a new piece to add to the puzzle and clear up the picture.  There’s the science teacher, who’d worked with Thomas Edison, who taught him to study his own failures and learn from them.  There was a blind student with cerebral palsy, who demonstrated determination, patience, creativity and artistic talent when given the chance – originally, in the 1860’s the practice for dealing with learning challenged kids was to have them put their heads on a table and place newspapers over their heads!   There was the optometrist researched the differences in brain development between readers of English (left to right) and Hebrew (right to left).

As I said, the book is like listening to Dr. Belgau reminisce and at times I think he gets a little off track and wordy, but I believe he’s trying to include every possible bit of evidence for researchers and therapists who may be considering integrating the program themselves.  There is only anecdotal evidence presented here with the occasional mention of a peer reviewed paper that have been published elsewhere.  The first 112  of the 196 pages in the book deal with the background of the program.  Next comes several chapters on the equipment of the program: bean bags, balls, a balance board, and striped stick.  It’s not presented with enough detail to implement the program on your own and Dr. Belgau warns the program must be done by the letter. There are other chapters that explain activities that can be tried without investing in equipment—like a Space Walk: walking, hopping and skipping.   While the child goes through the movements, the parent can evaluate details like are the arms swinging in a smooth, crosswise pattern? 

I was familiar with some ideas presented in the book, like how to strengthen the bridge between the two hemispheres by encouraging movement that crosses the body’s midline.  For years my Schnickelfritz has been challenging himself to stack cups with Speed Stacks.  Notice how his right hand is reaching across his body to the cups on the left side?

Speed Stacks-- crossing the midline

While waiting to receive the book for this review, I came across balance board at my discount grocery store.  This is not the board Dr. Belgau uses in his program, but it was the right price at the right time so I picked it up.  My son is sort of a wiggle worm anyway, that is he learns best when there’s movement involved.  Now when he has trouble focusing, I have him stand on the board for a few minutes. 


A Life in Balance retails for $16.94.  If you are interested in the treatment program, or just fascinated by the link between body and mind it’s worth a read.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Monday, June 2, 2014

F is for Federal Reserve Bank

How well do you know your money?  Have you ever taken out a bill and studied it?  Go ahead, get one out of your purse or wallet or piggy bank.  Did you ever notice the words written across the top?  No matter what denomination, it says Federal Reserve Note.  Our money is printed by the treasury, but it’s been put into circulation by one of the twelve Federal Reserve Banks spanning the country.  Missouri is the only state to have two such banks. The one in St. Louis oversees much of the state, all of Arkansas, and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.  The one in Kansas City handles the western side of Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, and part of New Mexico.






First, I’d like to draw  your attention to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis website.  It’s got a great deal of educational resources for all ages. I drew a lot of material from there when I taught personal finances to our 4-H club: stock market games, flash cards, even lesson plans for tying economics to favorite books like Little House in the Big Woods (think about The Wonderful Machine chapter and discuss human resources v. capital resources with the combine to harvest wheat).   You don’t have to be teaching others, perhaps you’d just like to educate yourself as a consumer to understand terms like “opportunity cost” or “gross domestic product” – you’ll find a series of podcasts to teach you.

Now, for the really observant, you’ll spot an error in my title image. I needed an “F” for this alphabetical post, but that’s actually the designation for the Atlanta district (Kansas City is noted with a “J”)—I admit to the Photoshopping.  More importantly, I want you to notice the star on the image is over Kansas City.  That’s because the Reserve Bank there is really a destination you must travel to in person.  That’s because it’s home to The Money Museum!  While you’re there you can:

  • Stand next to a $40 million dollar wall made of stacked $100’s
  • See if you can lift a bar of gold (it’s encased and you lift with a lever)
  • See if you can spot the counterfeit $20 bill
  • Watch robots move and stack cases of money in the Reserve Bank’s cash vault
  • Take a picture of an enlarged $100,000 bill with your own face as the portrait
  • See a display of coins minted in every President’s administration

The museum is FREE (your tax dollars at work) to visit.  Just so you’re not caught off guard – this is a real bank with LOTS of real money.  As a visitor you’ll be expected to store any coats and bags in a locker (you can hold the key), guests over 18 must present a photo ID, there are metal detectors and x-ray machines,  and photography is prohibited in certain areas.

Now for the wise guy that’s asking “Do they give out any free samples?” The answer is YES! Each guest is allowed to take home a FREE bag containing about $165.  The only catch --- it has been shredded.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

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