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So we've been engaging in educational pursuits lately, really. Many of my plans have been stymied by the nasty cold I've had for the past two weeks. K also threw a wrench in my plans for starting with a week on castles and the Middle Ages by developing a grand passion for the ocean and fish.

I'm finding myself often being caught wondering where I draw the line between insisting K do the things I have planned and deciding that the advantage of homeschooling is that we can follow her passions. When it comes to reading and math, I'm good at staying firm, although I might make compromises like letting her spend more time on Reading Eggs or put off a handwriting assignment until tomorrow. But with everything else, my feeling is that in first grade, it's only reading and math that have a particular level that a child should be able to achieve. As for the other subjects, it's important that they learn history, science, art, health, etc. But there is anything in particular in those subjects that you can point to and say, "A first grader should know that." It's not like she should be expected to know American history through the War of 1812 and have a good grasp of geology. So since our approach is that she should be exposed to these subjects but the actual topics we cover are entirely up to us, it's hard to insist that we absolutely must be learning about castles when all she's interested in is dolphins and sea anemones.

So we finished up The Duchess Bakes a Cake and our study of the micro-organisms that help make our food by making bread and yogurt, then moved on to Very Last First Time, the story of an Inuit girl in Canada who goes beneath the sea ice at low tide to gather mussels on her own for the first time.

And here was where I ran into a problem I've worried about since embarking on FIAR: what if K refuses to read the main book? We had a bit of this with Cranberry Thanksgiving, but I was able to get her to listen to it after some persuasion. The thing is, sometimes K will take one look at something and decide she absolutely does not like it and will not be moved on the subject. She's extremely stubborn, and I have learned that fighting it head-on is the worst possible approach if it's not something that's really important (stubborn refusal won't get her out of a trip to the dentist or picking up her toys, for instance). It's better to try and take a different angle or give her time to warm up to it after some persuasion. In this case, for reasons she wouldn't or couldn't explain, K refused to read Very Last First Time. And I was getting sick and was nearly seven months pregnant and just didn't have the patience to work her around to it.

So I decided that there was nothing stopping us from covering the topics I had planned on covering. So we read lots of books on the Arctic and spent quite a bit of time looking up information on the sea animals that live there. We did a lesson in pontillism, which is the style Very Last First Time is illustrated in, but works fine as a standalone topic. K developed a passion for sled dogs, so we looked up information on them and K spent quite a bit of time getting pulled around in a laundry basket by her visiting grandfather.

From there, we moved on to Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, with more success. I'm hoping to finish it up in the next couple days, so it will get an entry of its own.
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On our last day of Mirette, we studied the geography of Paris. I didn't have a lot of luck finding age-appropriate non-fiction books, but found several nice picture books that gave a good overview of the geography of Paris. We started with Everybody Bonjours, which I nearly didn't check out at first because the text is so basic, but then I flipped to the back and found the detailed guide of all of the Paris landmarks pictured in the book. Highly useful. From there, we read a few more books and looked for the landmarks we had already learned about. We did a brief detour to learn a bit about gargoyles, then watched a few videos on Paris aimed at tourists. Since Mirette takes place in the 1890s, we've been reading a Magic Treehouse book that takes place during the World's Fair of 1889, for which the Eiffel Tower was built.

Then we moved to the hands-on portion of the lesson. First, I had K cut out a paper model of Paris that I found on the Web, which was great fun to play with. Then we made a wooden model of the Eiffel Tower from one of the many kits available at Michaels. We've done a number of those kits and they're surprisingly good for $5 or less. They're marketed as 3d puzzles, but with some glue (and I highly recommend using glue if you want it stay together), they become very nice little models, or in a couple cases, lovely little dollhouses with functional furniture. It became clear quite early on that K inherited my interest and ability in working with her hands. I did a lot of the model (there were parts that just would not have fit together and stayed without adult strength), but she was very good at spotting how the pieces should fit together. Altogether, it was a very pleasing project.



Our next book is going to be The Duchess Bakes a Cake, largely because it came in the mail the other day and once I said the word "cake," K was set on it. I wouldn't have necessarily chosen right now for it because we have plans for two other books to take advantage of grandparents being around for Christmas who can help with certain topics. The medieval theme of Duchess lends itself to a more extended study that we won't have time for if we want to cover the other books while grandparents are here. Life is also pretty distracting right now, which is why I haven't been pushing heavy academic work right now. But we can always find another book to cover the Middle Ages if we want to come back to it later.

Books used today:

Everybody bonjours! by Leslie Kimmelman
Babar Loses His Hat by Laurent de Brunhoff
Come fly with me by Satomi Ichikawa
Night of the new magicians by Mary Pope Osborne
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We're celebrating Thanksgiving this week with Cranberry Thanksgiving, a book I remember fondly from my youth and devilishly hard to get my hands on presently. Buying it was out of the question, because the cheapest copy I could find online was $50, used. I've already complained about how the Philadelphia library allowed the copy I had on hold get checked out by someone else. So I tried one suburban library only to discover it had been checked out in the four hours between when I checked the catalog online and getting to the library. I finally tracked it down at another suburban library.

K's reaction, upon being presented the book, was to declare she didn't want to read it and she was going to hide it under the couch, which she did. After the ordeal I went through (and the fact that I didn't have any alternate plans for the week), that was not going to fly. I told her she had to listen to it at least once, and I figured if we didn't read it again, we at least would have a basis for the rest of the activities for the week.

Sigh. There are many good things about having a child that's very independent and self-directed. And then there are the times I mentally chant to myself "Stubbornness is a trait that will serve her well in life. Really. No matter how much I want to shake her until she just cooperates without argument." At least she'll be resistant to peer pressure, right?

Anyway, after a show of plugging her ears, K did in fact listen to the story and seemed to mostly enjoy it, although she never did warm up to Mr. Whiskers, despite the fact that he's the hero of the story. Then we talked a bit about how it takes place in New England, where many of her ancestors lived. I told her a bit about her great-grandmother, who grew up in Maine. Then we watched a Reading Rainbow with a segment on harvesting cranberries. We finished with a short video on Thanksgiving.

I feel conflicted about how to teach about Thanksgiving, since I'm not fond of the idea of promoting our national myth of happy Pilgrim and Native Americans, conveniently glossing over how within 20 years, said Pilgrims would be mercilessly killing the same Native Americans. I think K should know about the Puritans, since they're her ancestors (we're direct descendants of Roger Conant, the first colonial governor of Salem). But she's a little young for a reading of Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates, which I feel does a good job of both appreciating the good points of the Puritans while showing them warts and all. So I'm mostly ignoring all that and concentrating on Thanksgiving as a harvest festival, which is how I choose to celebrate it. Tomorrow, we're reading a bunch of Thanksgiving books that talk a lot about giving thanks and sharing our blessings and very little about Pilgrims. I'm also planning to show her "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," which is Pilgrim heavy, but at least the Thanskgiving video we watched today gave a pretty accurate history, including the fact that Europeans had enslaved the Wampanoag.

Books used today:

Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin
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Today was not a great day for school. We all had a lot of trouble getting started this morning, and while cuddling together in a big pile in bed is lovely, it doesn't get schoolwork done. K was also not in a very cooperative mood because I had enacted a new policy the night before in an effort to get a response to my attempts to get her to clean up her toys besides whining and delay tactics. Perhaps I should have given her more warning last night, but sometimes scorched Earth tactics are the most effective and I was fed up. So she was rather preoccupied by the Rapunzel doll residing in my closet and not inclined to pay attention to school (but she did do a bang-up job cleaning up the living room tonight!). Then we spent the afternoon on time-consuming errands, including, ironically enough, driving out to a suburban library to track down a copy of the book we're doing next week, Cranberry Thanksgiving.*

But I did manage to get some geography in, thanks to Google Maps (the FIAR manual keeps suggesting things like looking up maps in your Worldbook Encyclopedia - how quaint). We found Boston first, and looked at how far it is from Philadelphia (and then we looked at Michigan, and Illinois, and Hawaii - I never said we were particularly on task today). Part of Make Way is drawn from a duck's eye view flying over the city, so it looks something like a map. I zoomed in on the map of Boston and we were able to identify where on the Charles the mallards built there nest, and then trace the route they took to walk back to the Public Gardens. We used as much of Google Streetview and the satellite view as we could to see the Gardens themselves. We could see some swanboats, but I had to go look up the statues of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings that are in the Public Gardens, since K really wanted to see them. I'm quite certain we won't be able to get out of a trip to the Public Gardens on our next trip to Boston, which is just fine with me.

If I can manage it, I'm going to try to read two more McCloskey books, Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine with K this weekend and discuss how he uses the same artistic style for all of them. But even if we don't, I think we've made a decent showing of our first week of rowing, given how recently I started preparing. We're going to do Cranberry Thanksgiving next week, but continue to go easy on other subjects, then try to start up with reading and math as well as FIAR the week after Thanksgiving, which will hopefully get us past both the school fatigue and the holiday distraction (for the moment, given how soon Christmas distraction will start up).




*I would like to extend a gigantic raspberry to the Free Library of Philadelphia on this issue. Last Monday, there were three copies listed as available in the system - two were checked out and one was available, but at a branch on the other side of the city. So I put it on hold so it could get transferred to my branch. For three days I kept checking its status and it just kept saying it was still on shelf. Then yesterday I checked again and it had been CHECKED OUT. What exactly is the point of putting a book on hold if no one can be bothered to take it off the shelf and HOLD it for you? I truly have more sense than to be trying to track down a popular Thanksgiving book a week before Thanksgiving, but it was because my own library failed me, apparently through being too lazy to actually retrieve books people have requested.

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