Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fun When Temps are High and Cash is Low


First, let me start by saying that this summer has really been quite pleasant—especially when compared to the drought of last year and nearly 3 solid weeks of temps over 100.  Yet even last year, in an effort to stretch every dollar to its breaking point, we turned the thermostat up as high as we could stand it to keep the electric bill down.  For us, keeping cool means finding another venue with air conditioning during the day.  And yet we still want to avoid the temptation to spend in other ways,  i.e. we’re not going to browse the mall.  Here are some things we’ve found.

The Movies

The cinema just up the road always offers a series of eight children’s movies on Tuesdays and admission is only $1.00. I know regionally the Wehrenberg Theaters offer 10 weeks of films on both Wednesdays and Thursdays.  So look in your area for independent or theater chains that have a similar program.  The movies aren’t new releases, but generally are less than three years old.  Even if you have seen the picture before you get to sit in a dark and cool theater.  Since we don’t go to the movies often a lot of them are still new to us.  Now this option only remains frugal if you resist the temptation to buy popcorn and drinks.  I make sure my son understands this before we enter the theater.  And if you have a baby or a chatty toddler don’t worry that they will disturb the audience—we’re all in the same position.  Another tip—you may need to arrive early.  Free or nearly free movies can be pretty popular.  I’ve seen whole day camps and day care centers show up at our theater.


Bowling Alleys are another air conditioned venue.  This year some one told me about the  program.  If you visit the site you can see which alleys in your state are participating.  For each account you set up, you can list 6 kids who will get two free games every day from June 1 to Aug 31.  Have more kids? Set up another account.  Want to bowl with them?  For $24 you can add a family pass of up to four adults who will also get to bowl two games per day (they must accompany a kid in the program).  Each facility can set it’s own terms about age limits and shoe rental.  Our nearest bowling alley does not include free shoes, but I found a pair of bowling shoes for myself at a consignment store.  I also determined it was cheaper to buy my son a pair of shoes (new on eBay for $25) rather than pay $2.25 for shoes for the number of times we’d be going (so far more than 18 times).   We’re lucky that this particular town has just passed a ban so the bowling alley is smoke free.  When my son was doing the bowling project for 4-H we went to an alley that allowed smoking, but during the day when there aren’t leagues it really wasn’t bad.

The Library

Every library seems to have a summer program for kids.  They get to hear a story and usually take part in a craft project.  Mom can participate or take some quiet time for herself browsing the shelves.  One year we the Librarian read  The Invention of Hugo Cabret as a serial over the summer but other years there have been shorter selections that only take one day (which helps in case you can’t attend every week).  They’ve brought in balloon artists, magicians, PBS characters, etc.  to the wrap up events.  Our library has toddler time in the morning and time for elementary kids after noon so a family could make a day of it (maybe have a picnic on the library lawn).  And the fun doesn’t have to be limited to the summer.  There are always events at the library to draw in kids.  Our county system sponsors a monthly chess night, monthly Lego building parties, cookie decorating days, and Christmas ornament workshops. 

For more ideas on Beating the Summer Heat Click below



TOS Review: Homeschool Programming

It must be a sign my Schnickelfritz is growing up, but he’s dropped his plans to build a new amusement park called “Seven Flags.”  His new career career choice is to create video games—he’s got plans for a Hank the Cowdog series he’s been writing up.  Eager to encourage him in this at least more reasonable pursuit, I was happy to be selected for the  Homeschool Programming review.

The KidCoder Visual Basic Series is a year-long course, the first semester covering Windows programming basics and the second semester using those commands and skills to create simple computer games.  For each semester there is a PDF file of the instruction manual (200+ pages), and a zipped file (4.5MB) with Solutions Guide, tests, and working copies of the programs that will be built in each lesson.  You will also need to download Windows Basic 2010 Express—a free program available on the internet.  I found it most helpful to print out the manual and bind it so I could see it right in front of me as I typed.  A lot of the programming code appears in tan boxes and the windows that should appear on your computer screen are blue so color printing is probably the way to go.

There is also an optional purchase to get video instruction for each lessons.  These DVD’s must be viewed on the computer and are like power point presentations with audio.

 I’ll be honest that my son found the work slightly on the hard side, but he is just a little younger than the grades 6-12 recommendation.  He discovered quickly that while the coming up with ideas for videos games is fun, it takes lots of lines of coding and logic to make everything work.  Learning about strings and building loops was not as fun as turning on the video console.  And the exercises weren’t exactly thrilling either—we built a program that simply opened a window saying “Hello World!”  and another that popped up boxes with samples of different data types (“myBoolean: True).    I did let him go ahead and play some of the games that would be built in the second semester as a sort of dangling carrot—that once we got through the basics, we could turn to more fun activities, and that did get us through another week of lessons.  In the end, I kept on with the lessons myself and let him stop by and watch if he were interested.  We’ll hold onto the books and try again when he gets a little older, but be aware that the rest of the review is based on my experience.

The Windows Programming book has 14 Chapters.  Each chapter has 3-4 lessons, a bullet-pointed review, and a “Your Turn” section.   The first lesson or two in each chapter explains the concept in detail: Variables, Input Boxes, Strings, etc.  The final lesson in a chapter walks you step by step through building a program based on the concept. 

I was especially please that Kid Coder did not just walk you through the steps once and then assume I had it down perfectly.  I built my first project in Chapter Two—a simple pop-up window that said “Hello World.”  In the lesson I had to change the form’s name, label and text from the defaults.  This is a skill I would have to do with every new program.  Even as far as Chapter 5, the text was still giving me hints that I needed to look in the Form Design section of the screen to changes the names and where to click.  This saved me from having to flip back through earlier lessons looking for the pertinent information to refresh my memory. 

Each Chapter ends with a “Your Turn” exercise where I was to expand the program I’d been building or build a similar program, only this time there were no helpful hints.   It truly was a test to see if I understood the lesson or needed more review.  For example, in Chapter 5 I had been using the computer’s internal clock to build a program that would say “Good Morning” or “Good Evening” depending on the time of day.  My solo adventure was to use the same clock feature to determine if it was a weekday or the weekend.   My logic expression wasn’t formatted correctly and it thought every day was a weekday (wouldn’t that be horrible?).  So I had to go back and review the use of the “Or” in my statement.

I wasn’t able to get to the Game Programming book in my lessons, but as I mentioned I did let my son play the games so I have some preview about what I’ll be learning.   There are still lessons focusing on concepts—like controlling the movement of objects like the ship in the Bubble Blaster game pictured above.  There are topics dealing with sound, animation, adding text, dealing with virtual gravity, and more.   For the games themselves, my son’s favorite was Bubble Blaster and Ice Cream toss but we could also learn to build a Go Fish game and a bouncing line (not really a game but something to watch move around).

Homeschool Programming sells each semester separately (with or without videos) or you may save some money buying a Year Pack.


Course Only

Couse & Videos

Videos Only

Windows Programming

$70.00 $85.00 $20.00

Game Programming

$70.00 $85.00 $20.00

Visual Basic Year Pack

$120.00 $145.00 $30.00

Della’s Dinovite Challenge: The Conclusion

Where does the time go?  The pool will only be open for a few more weeks, we’ve already started another homeschool year, and Della has finished her 90 day Dinovite Challenge.   It’s actually been a little over the 90 days.  The first two weeks she wasn’t receiving full scoops as she got used to the taste and there were a few days that we missed giving it to her.  As you may recall there are 7 signs that your dog might need a supplement.

  1. Itching & Scratching 
  2. Dry, Flaky Skin 
  3. Recurring Ear Infections
  4. Paw Licking
  5. Stinky smell 
  6. Excessive Shedding
  7. Lethargy

When we started, Della definitely had Itching & Scratching, Flaky Skin, and Excessive Shedding.  Perhaps the Lethargy too, but we’re not a very active family to begin with.  She’s never been prescribed anything for ear infections although she does scratch at them a lot.  The Paw Licking and Stink Smell were never really issues.

I mentioned my first post that Della liked the Dinovite.  I served it up with a little cream for her each day.  Turns out she really likes the cream.  One week I didn’t have any fresh milk from which to skim cream.  I tried mixing the Dinovite with raw, whole milk but Della wouldn’t have anything to do with it.  The Dinovite sat there soaking up the milk and swelling till it was like green Cream of Wheat in the bowl. 

Other things I noticed during our trial.  It appears Della’s lost a little weight (which she probably needed to do).  I wonder if the Dinovite was expanding in her stomach, making her feel full longer?  I can’t confirm she’s lost any weight until she goes back to the vet.  Second,  my husband has noticed that the spots where she does her business in the yard are actually greener than the surrounding grass.  In fact he’s actually had me direct her to new spots in the front lawn that look they they need a little pick me up.

Now onto the results.  The Itching & Scratching has not improved at all, in fact for a while it had gotten much worse.  She started a new habit of running her snout along our textured walls, the carpet, the upholstered furniture, etc. trying to get rid of what must have been a terrible itch.  I actually called Dinovite to see if she could be allergic to any of the ingredients.  The nutrition expert believed Della was dealing with yeast die off and referred me to several online articles.  Her snout rubbing has gotten better but it’s still part of her daily routine now.

The Dry, Flaky Skin is still there, especially noticeable when we use the Furminator on her which brings up our last main symptom.  The shedding is still as bad as ever.  I know that she’s part German Shepherd and therefore dealing with an undercoat but the Dinovite website still lead me to believe that the shedding should be limited to twice a year.

So overall, I’m disappointed with the results of our Dinovite challenge and when I went to ask for my refund I became disappointed with the Dinovite customer service.  I told the representative I wanted a refund and why.  He proceeded to say that the Dinovite was working, just at a slower rate than it should be because I had purchased the wrong sized box and wasn’t giving Della enough of the product.  The thing is I called them when I ordered it and told them how much she weighed.  They were the ones who told me which box to buy (and made a point of saying how much money I’d save by not needing the larger quantity).  Not only did they hem and haw over giving me my refund, they wanted me to spend more to buy a bigger box—one that I’d never get a refund for because I was no longer a new customer.

So I’m glad if Dinovite works for some people, but we won’t be buying any more.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: Couponing Made Simple

Contrary to its name,  paper money in the United states is printed on a blend of linen and cotton.  I propose that the Treasury department start adding some spandex to help me stretch my dollar a little bit further each month. 

All kidding aside, most families are seeing money flowing out at a greater rate than their income is rising.  It’s even more noticeable in homeschooling families which tend to be one-income households (with more members than the U.S. average).  So one homeschooling Mom, Christi the Coupon Coach decided to do what we do best—teach others what she has learned.    Her book ,Couponing Made Simple states you will “Learn to save 80% today & for the rest of your life.”

The paperback book ($18.00, or $4.99 for an eBook) is just over 125 pages and contains ten chapters—starting with Success Stories to motivate you to try the system.  The next seven chapters are the meat of the program—learning the terminology, suggestions for organizing coupons, the step by step process, and coupon ethics.  The last topic is really more about the legalities—don’t copy coupons, don’t pull peelies off of things you’re not buying.  It doesn’t delve into whether or not it is ethical to clear the shelves of 200 bottles of energy drink leaving none for other shoppers.  There is a bonus chapter on finding bargains at yard sales and thrift stores and a final chapter sharing a plan of salvation. 

The book is an easy read, I got through most of it in 3 hours at the pool.  There are also several money saving tips that don’t involve coupons—like weighing bags of produce (say a 3 lb. bag of apples) because some bags weigh more than others. 

Do her techniques work?  They certainly can.  Last week our Schnucks store has yogurt on sale 20 for $10.  That may seem like a lot, but you don’t really have to buy 20 to get the sale price (Christi explains this in the book).  Since I had two coupons for $.40 off of eight, I bought 16 yogurts.  The great thing about our Schnucks store, is it’s the only place in driving distance that doubles coupons (for the first 15, $.50 or less). 


I scored a better deal on a recent trip to Walgreens.  They had my mother’s supplement drink on sale Buy One Get One Half Off and my husband’s deodorant Buy One Get One Free.  I had four $3 coupons for the drinks and four $1 coupons for the deodorant.

Neither of my two best examples is close to the 80 percent mentioned on the book cover but I have several factors working against me.

  1. I live in a rural area.  My local paper doesn’t carry coupon circulars.  I have to get the big paper from St. Louis but I live outside the normal delivery area so I can’t take advantage of the great sale prices they offer for subscriptions.  If I buy four papers as Christi suggests, I’m out $10.00.
  2. The only store that doubles is 13 miles away and they restrict me to the first 15 coupons less than $.50.  They are a pricier store to begin with so I don’t normally shop there.  I figure is takes a gallon of gas to drive round trip so that’s nearly $4 I can’t spend on groceries.
  3. My two local groceries are Mom & Pop stores.  Their sales flyers are filled with their house brands, not national brand named items so I can’t match coupons.

I seem to have better luck with personal care items at the drug store than actual groceries.  I’ll take my dollar stretching victories where I can get them.  Couponing Made Simple is really the basics so I still need to find online sites that  help me no what order to present coupons at Walgreens – Yes, order does matter.  Christi does have a page on her website with some of her favorite Coupon Match Up Websites. If your new to couponing this book may be up your alley.  And I prefer learning from a book than sitting in front of a computer screen browsing websites for help.



Friday, July 12, 2013

TOS Review: Susan Marlow Books

Am I the only mother that cringes when her kid says “I’m bored.”  My response is always the same—read a book!  If you looked around our home, you’d think I could open my own branch of the county library.  Fortunately for me, our latest review was a book my son wouldn’t put down so thank you Susan Marlow and Kregel Publications .   Goldtown Adventures is her latest series set in California town after its Gold Rush heydays.  In the first book,  Badge of Honor , we are introduced to 12 year old Jem, his 10 year old sister Ellie, and their widowed father.  Jem still dreams of striking it rich on the family claim, but the father is moving on—purchasing a ranch, taking on the sheriff’s job, and inviting his recently widowed sister Rose and her son Nathan to bring a woman’s touch back into the home.

As my son and I sat on our porch swing we were transported back in time to a land of lucky strikes and claim jumpers.  Actually, I was the one sitting as Schnickelfritz acted out the story.  Ms. Marlow certainly took P.T. Barnum’s motto “Always leave them wanting more” to heart.   Most chapters end with a carrot dangled in front of your nose, daring you to put the book down without finding out what happens next—sentences like: And he found himself looking right into the business end of a Colt .44 revolver.

Which brings up a good point.  The setting  is a mining town in the wild west.  There are saloon fights and shootouts.  A constant plot element is Jem’s concern for his father’s safety as the new sheriff in town.  At one point Jem is held prisoner and his life is threatened. The the reading level for Badge of Honor is ages 8-12 (and my 10 year old can certainly read it on his own), but you may want to make this a read aloud so you can edit some passages and soothe anxious listeners.

The book has 142 pages and 18 chapters.  I was able to read it all waiting for my son to finish robotics camp—just shy of 3 hours, it really is a page turner.  We enjoyed the book as summer reading fun but if you’re studying the era and want to make it more like school, there are free study guides available for each book.  There are 24 pages of vocabulary, word searches, writing prompts, and informational articles.

The Goldtown books may be purchased separately for $7.99 or as a package for $13.95.  The third book in the series is due this fall.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Canning Dill Pickle Chips

One of my favorite memories growing up was staying at the farm where my grandmother grew up and helping my great aunt can her dill pickles.  Actually, eating the pickles was better but canning them was still fun.   I tried  to get my aunt’s recipe – she’d long since forgotten it and neither of her daughters had a copy.  Public Service Announcement:  Save your recipes for your children!   Food memories can be as much of a cherished heirloom as any you leave behind.

Anyway, I ended up using a recipe from the Ball Blue Book for Hamburger Dills.

4 pounds 4-inch cucumbers                                            2 heads fresh dill per pint

6 Tbsp. canning salt                                                         1/2 tsp. mustard seed per pint

4 1/2 cups water                                                               2 peppercorns per pint

4 cups white vinegar (5 % acidity)                                  1 garlic clove per pint (optional)

Wash the cucumbers and drain.  Cut them into 1/4 inch slices (crosswise or lengthwise) and discard the blossom ends.  Also start heating the water in the canner.  I put a round cooling rack in the bottom and set my clean jars inside to heat up.  I put the lids in a separate smaller pan to heat as well.

Combine salt, water and vinegar in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. 

Remove the jars one at a time from the water.  Pack cucumbers leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Add 2 heads of dill, 1/2 tsp. mustard seed, 2 peppercorns, and 1 clove garlic (if you like) to each jar. Ladle hot liquid over cucumbers leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles.  Don’t use a metal knife to remove the air bubbles –use something plastic.  Ball makes a great plastic tool just for this purpose and one end has notches to help you measure headspace.  Adjust the two-piece caps.

By the way, I found a great way to peel the paper off my garlic.  I just sat it on my silicone oven mitt, folded over the finger area, pushed down and rolled the clove in small circles.

Make sure there’s at least an inch covering the jars in the canner—two inches would be better.  Process for 15 minutes at a rolling boil.

Monday, July 8, 2013

2013–2014 Planners Giveaway


Although the temperatures around here wouldn’t give it away, it is July and that means a new school year here in Missouri.  Isn’t it amazing that just a few weeks ago we were trudging through our final days of fourth grade but now I’m pulling out new books and designing new printables and rarin’ to get started with the fifth grade.  Of course one of my first projects is always to print out and bind a new planner for the school year: calendars, field trip lists, books read, even a page to add  pictures for the first and last day of school with a sample of Schnickelfritz’s handwriting.  The great thing is most of the work has been done for me with the Schoolhouse Planners.  All I have to do is decide which pages to print.

This “Big Mama” planner has over 800 pages sells for $39.99. It has calendars in a variety of formats, almost 80 pages of homeschooling articles,  another 80 pages of lists (composers, states & capitals, periodic tables, etc.) forms for recording field trips, library books, and progress charts.  And that’s just the school side of the planner.  On the house side are dozens of recipes, grocery lists and meal planning pages,  chore charts, family medical records, financial forms and more. 



The Primary Planner ($9.95) is the youngest specialized planner with articles written just for primary students, lists of Caldecott and Newbery award winning books,  grammar rules, multiplication tables, and more.






The Intermediate Planner ($19.00) is for 5th-8th graders (and their parents).  There are planning sheets, calendars, and an address book.  There are also forms for book reports, a kid’s financial record, and Bible reading schedules.






The High School Planner ($29.00)  can help your kids finish their home education and prepare for the next steps with articles about study skills and college planning.  There are forms for tracking scholarship information and exploring career ideas.  They can work on time management and organization skills with calendars, record-keeping forms, and forms for goal planning and objectives.




Special Learners of all ages get their own planner ($29.00).  The articles come from special needs experts as well as homeschooling mothers who’ve walked this path before you.  There are forms for medical and therapy records, weekly food and behavior diaries, and task analysis cards to help teach life skills.





So how can you get these planners for yourself?  You could always purchase them at their listed price through,  but you know I’m all about frugal options.  Members of have access to all the planners with their membership and you can try your first month for only $3.00 (continuing at $12.95/month).

Of course for frugal folks, the best option is FREE.  And I have the opportunity to giveaway 1 Big Mama Planner and 1 other planner (winner’s choice) to followers of my blog.  Just sign up below.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

TOS Review: Classical Conversations

In our digital age of keyboarding and texting, it seems that handwriting and penmanship are going the way of the buggy whip.  And yet who doesn’t relish finding a letter from a friend in the mail or cherish a well written thank you note?  And as far as I know you aren’t allowed to text your essay in at the SAT tests, so I still want my son to be able to make a good first impression if his means of introduction takes a written form.  Daily practice is what he needs and now he’s got it with PreScripts Cursive Words and Drawing.  It’s part of a new series or copywork,  history facts, and art instruction published by Classical Conversations.    

The organization is best know for its network of community learning centers, and if you attend one of those, the subject matter of the copywork will tie in with the history facts and Bible verses your kids are learning.  The spiral-bound, consumable book can stand on its own as well.  As far as my Schnickelfritz is concerned, the verses chosen for copywork just start with the letter of the alphabet we are practicing.  Fritz is at the high end of the suggested age range (5-10), but penmanship is one of his weaker skills.  Still, he hasn’t found the text or the drawing exercises too childish.

You can set your own pace through the material—there’s enough to last a school year if you do just one page a day.  This had been enough for us during our lightened summer school, but I think I’ll keep it at this schedule as we ramp up this fall as well.  It keeps Fritz from getting too frustrated and because the pages alternate from copywork to art exercises he only has to do cursive every other day.  He’s still getting some small motor exercise as he draws shapes like circles, lines, and swirls and combines them to make animals and simple objects.   Sometimes he tries to get away with just copying the sample images he sees and I have to remind him the instructions say to “fill the page.”

I’m not sure where the whole mutant, cannibal worms are coming from.  Just take it as proof that this was done by a 10 year old boy.

Prescripts Cursive Words and Drawing and the higher levels of the series retail for $11.99.  There is a beginning book that focuses on letters and coloring available for $12.99.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Black Bottom Banana Bars

This week the youth at church were having a spaghetti dinner and baked goods auction to raise money for their mission trip.  Here’s what I contributed.


1/2 Cup butter, softened                                                  1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 Cup sugar                                                                       1 tsp. baking powder

1 egg                                                                                   1 tsp. baking soda  

1 tsp. vanilla extract                                                            1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas                                     1/4  cup cocoa

Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the egg and vanilla extract.  Beat until thoroughly combined.   Mash the bananas (approx. 3), but measure them to ensure you have enough.  This measuring cup is great for shortening and sticky things like banana.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add to the creamed mixture.  Remove about 2 cups of the batter and reserve it to the side.  Add the cocoa to the remaining batter.  Spread the cocoa batter into a well greased 9X13 baking pan.  Spoon the reserved batter on top and swirl it with a knife or spatula.   Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool before cutting into bars.  Yields: 2 dozen.


Monday, July 1, 2013

TOS Review: Institute for Excellence in Writing

I was first introduced to the Institute for Excellence in Writing (henceforth referred to as IEW) with a review of their Teaching Writing with Structure and Style program two years ago.  I knew how to write but didn’t have the first clue with how to teach my son to craft a good paragraph.  I was so pleased with  TWSS and the Student Writing Intensive program that EIW was become my go-to language arts source.  We’re using their recommended spelling curriculum and next year we’ll be using their Fix-It Grammar text.  Still, I was surprised when I was offered the chance to review Teaching the Classics.  It seems the writing company was expanding to a second “R” –Reading.

I received a spiral bound workbook and 4 DVD’s  of Adam Andrews teaching a Socratic Method for Literary Education.  Note: there are no closed captions available on the DVD’s.  To be clear, this program is designed to be watched and read by the parent/teacher who will then turn around and use it with her children/students.  The great thing is the students can be any age—in fact, it’s probably easier to teach kids to recognize plots and themes with children’s literature than War and Peace.  The examples in the DVD workshop include The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Tom Sawyer.

My Schnickelfritz just began reading for his own enjoyment in the last 18 months.  Left to his own tastes he would never get beyond the Hank the Cowdog series   Here’s how our conversations went when he finished a book.

Mama:  So, did you like the book?

Schnickelfritz:    Yeah, it was good.

Mama: What did you like about it?

Fritz:  It was funny.

Mama:  In what way was it funny to you?

Fritz:  I don’t know, it made me laugh.

Mama:  Can you give me a specific instance where you laughed?

Fritz:  No.  Can I go to my room now?

This past year I began assigning other types of books to expand his exposure to other genres and to tie in with our history lessons.  In this case I was less concerned with whether he liked the book or not, I wanted to know what he’d gotten out of the reading.  My question changed to  “What did you read today?” and he’d respond with a synopsis of the chapter he’d completed.  It still wasn’t much of a conversation, really just an exercise in memory. Once again I was struggling as the teacher how to teach my son—in this case, how to glean information from the words on the page.

That’s where Teaching the Classics comes in with two special tools, a Story Chart and the Socratic List of questions.The story chart is a visual organizer for the student to fill in the five basic elements in all stories: conflict, plot, setting, characters, and theme.   The Socratic List has 21 general questions, each broken further down into 5-10 more specific questions about the elements and author.  The sub-questions are arranged from least to more difficult  following the classical education stages of  grammar, logic and rhetoric.   You’re not expected to answer all the questions with every book,  just pick our 3-5 for discussion.   To really delve into the questions correctly, you as the teacher should have already read the book and have several examples from the pages to back up your answers. 

Here are story charts from our reading of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (this is way below my son’s reading level but I chose it for that reason so we could focus on the plot).  I filled one chart out as I planned our book discussion and filled out the other based on my son’s answers (he was intimidated by the small ovals to write in)—can you guess which is which?



One of us thought the conflict was man vs. man with the question being “Would Mike or Henry win the bet?”  The other of use thought the conflict was man vs. nature.  Put in question form: “Would Mike finish the basement before the sun went down.”  Notice how this shifts the climax of the story.  (By the way, mine was the bottom story chart).

We’ve also been able to have some meaningful conversations about other books and actually expanded our analysis to compare and contrast settings and characters.  Our fun summer reading has been the Great Brain series set in Utah in the 1890’s, but then we received Badge of Honor for an upcoming review and it’s set in California in the 1860’s.  In the grand scheme of history and geography, that puts these two books in roughly the same setting and the main characters of both are adolescent boys.    Yet when we studied the towns and boys  we found some key differences.  Fritz noticed that the gold town was smaller yet had more saloons than the Utah town.  This led to a discussion about the Mormons in Utah and their stand against alcohol.   Better still, he commented that while both boys had a desire to strike it rich, Jem in California was working several jobs to earn money while the Great Brain was satisfied to swindle his friends for their money and property.  Now these were the kind of conversations I dreamed of when I began the homeschooling journey!  I’m looking forward to the upcoming year as we read Sign of the Beaver and Johnny Tremain.   Swinging to the far opposite side, my mother is also interested in watching the DVD’s so she can discuss an allegorical book she’s found fascinating but is having trouble putting her thoughts into words.

Teaching the Classics retails for $89 and you may preview the lesson plans and a sample on the IEW website.  You may also visit the Andrew’s website CenterForLit to download blank story charts, a curriculum guide (titles that work well with Teaching the Classics), and a suggested reading list.


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