Friday, January 29, 2010

How I Wrote Our State History Curriculum

     When I did my student teaching in New Braunfels, Texas, I got to work with third graders.  I not only experienced the responsibilities of teaching first hand, I also learned a lot about New Braunfels history.  I was gripped not only by the information, but also how the students easily picked it up.  I was amazed as I watched the kids actually learning the structure of their local government. Our field trip was to city hall to meet the city dignataries. 

    When I got my own third grade classroom, I ditched the typical generic social studies book on communities and I wrote my own curriculum for San Antonio, where I taught.  Although I had lived most of my life in San Antonio, I had only been to a few places. The summer before I taught this class, I endeavored to do a lot of research and driving around to visit every nook and cranny of the city. I was amazed at what I found!  San Antonio not only has rich Spanish and Mexican history, but also French and German!  I wrote out a basic history of specific locations in third grade language. Then I developed an appopriate art assignment to correlate throughout the lessons.  When we studied Spanish missions, we tried our hand at watercoloring the infamous Rose Window.  Each student had a book, with their own writing and art, by the end of the year. 

     Well, fast forward a few years and it was time to teach my own kids state history. Using a similar approach, I wrote our own state history curriculum. Again I learned a lot more interesting things than I did in our boring history text in 7th grade!   Dividing the curriculum into major components and then putting them in a logical order, my kids studied geography, symbols, history, and government.  We also visited as many places as we possibly could. 

      For geography I used the Texas State Park Service. I found printable maps and the kids labeled each area.  Then I had lots of brochures of our state (gleaned from tourist racks) which the kids cut up to make collages for each geographic area.  This has stuck with them. Whenever we drove to a certain part of the state, like Dallas to get from San Antonio to Virginia, the kids would say, "Wow, we're in the Prarie and Lakes region!"  Excitement built as we saw our first pine trees in the Piney Woods region of East Texas as we drove to Virginia. If we drove to Colorado, they definitely got a feel for the distinctions of the Panhandle Region. Of course our favorite part was the Hill Country.  

     Then I scoured a Texas guide book (obtained free from the internet) for fun facts, which I devised into a scavenger hunt. The kids had fun with that.  I learned a lot about how towns were named.  I also made a list for common items to develop thematic studies of Texas as they fit chronogolically into our studies.  Before I had never appreciated being a Texan. Now I was getting hooked!

     After studying geography and state symbols, I started researching the history. I had gotten as many Texas historical coloring books, none of which my kids liked. They were never ones to do coloring books. They always had to create their own stuff from scratch.  If I had thought about it at the time, I'd have also gotten books at the used bookstore. I hit upon a gold mine of information at a web site developed by the University of Texas, from which I wrote the bulk of our Texas history pages. I am picky with using the internet and want to make sure of the veracity of the information I use.  Being a university with masters and PhD programs, I should be able to trust their information. One question led to another and they had an excellent data base.

     From topics studied in Texas history, I googled to find interactive web sites at the kids' level. We used one from the Smithsonian on reading Native American symbols on a buffalo robe. Another great site was a role playing scenario at a US fort in Texas. 

    Then we visited as many places as we possibly could.  We got to visit a fort in Fredericksburg, Texas.  We learned that the fort wasn't needed, so they closed after a few years, because the nearby town of Fredericksburg had made an excellent peace treaty with the terrifying Comanche Indians in the 1800's, which is still in effect today.  Every May they have a Pioneer Day celebration where they celebrate their German pioneer history with the descendants of the original Germans by day, and have an Indian Pow-Wow with descendants of the original Comanche at night.  We got to do this several years ago and had an incredible time! 

     When we got home from these field trips, the kids would write about it and do art work, creating their own state notebook. Sometimes they would use tourist brochures to make collages. Other times I would write up something for them to copy. Towards the end, they started learning IEW. Since they were new to IEW, I would write something simple for them to KWO and rewrite, using IEW units 1-2.  If they were older, they could use the Write from the Brain from unit VI after the field trip. Or they could do a research paper using literature from the place we had visited.  

     Texas history sticks with us today, even though we are now in Virginia.  Hmmmm, I think this summer we need to do a little research on our local Virginia history... 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Charles Lindbergh and...Lafayette?

       One of the movies I was most looking forward to in our unit of study of the early 20th Century, was The Spirit of St. Louis.  This great movie stars Jimmy Stewart, who incidentally flew planes in WWII for America! I heard that Stewart sought this part!  As in all his movies, he did a terrific job in this part. And we had fun reading about and watching this movie about Charles Lindbergh.

     One reason we enjoy Charles Lindbergh, is that he he trained at Brook's Field in San Antonio, Texas, after WWI. (I grew up in San Antonio and my husband and kids lived there many years.)  This is hysterically shown in the movie by his arrival with his broken down and beat up biwing airplane, that he flew onto the base flightline, in front of a training instructor who prided himself, as all TI's do, on everything being spit and polish.  
     The story amazingly shows Lindbergh's dream, among others, to be the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean without stopping. What was the motivation?  A man who owned hotels in New York City, promised $25,000 to the first pilot to fly between New York City and Paris, France nonstop.  The race was on! (By the way, the name of one of his hotels was Lafayette! The kids and I read this in one of our books and we were laughing!  See, Lafayette was so wonderful, his name has been placed everywhere!)

      The movie shows how Lindbergh was financed, how the name of the plane, Spirit of St. Louis, was obtained, and how the plane was made from scratch, specifically for this flight, to be as light as possible to hold as much fuel as possible, to fly across the dangerous ocean.  

      Watching the flight was an edge of the seat experience, as Lindbergh fought sleep deprivation and climate elements.  His arrival in Paris, the city of lights, was a beauty to behold and the joy of the French people was fun to watch, although their exuberance wrecked his plane, which you can see today (repaired!) in the Smithsonian!               

Monday, January 25, 2010

What are Valid Research Sources?

     When we started using Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)over 3 years ago, I learned many valuable tips.  When I watched the TWSS session on  unit 4 research reports, Andrew discussed valid research sources. He said wickipedia was not a reliable source of information, because anyone can write an article there.  Really?  After a few moments thought, it didn't surprise me. Information from wickipedia can be as trustworthy as these hoaxes and urban legends we receive in our e-mail inboxes.  Although I had become quite astute at catching a hoax a mile away, I had let down my guard with sites like wickipedia.  With this new information, I now scrutinize any source material we use for research on the internet. 

   I know it is easier to use wickipedia than to go through the extra effort of finding a reliable source.  However, if anyone can write a wickipedia article, how do we know that the information is accurate?  I knew a lady who was working on her higher degree (masters or doctorate). She needed one more documentation for one teeny tiny well known detail before she printed off her research and handed it to the  professor. She was in a rush and used wickipedia. As a result, she scored a B on the paper, soley due to the wickipedia source. Everything else in her paper was perfect and if she had stayed away from wickipedia, she'd have made a perfect score on her research.  The professor admitted her cited information from wickipedia was accurate, but wickipedia itself is not trustworthy. It is not recognized in "the profession" any more than it is in college classes.  Therefore I am training my kids to seek the best sources for the research.

     I want to train my kids to gather their information carefully for integrity's sake. However I am also preparing my kids for college. Even when I was in college, the professors were strict about the types of source materials we used, preferring a variety of sources, no encyclopedias, and nothing published more than ten years previous unless it was a primary source document.  Why should we, ourselves, do less, on blogs, forums, etc, when referencing information? We are modeling for our students. We should train our students to a higher standard.  In my athletics classes in school, we were always told by the coach that the way we practice is the way we will perform.  This is how professional athletes train.  Shouldn't we train our students for the best?  

     Even when I write my blog articles on something historical, I carefully research my information. I try to double check my sources.  If I do not know something I either state that or leave it out. Since I only have a bachelors degree, I do not have the credentials needed for others to cite my work. However, I research my information carefully for integrity's sake. I realize I may have some mistakes despite the care I put into my work.  When I discover mistakes in my writing I correct the mistake. I expect the same of my kids and other students I've had in the past.  I try to be a good role model of what I teach. Furthermore, I link to sites that to the best of my knowledge are reliable, so anyone interested in more information, can continue their research.

     When analyzing source material on the internet, I look at the source.  Often times I use information from a university or museum. Also I scroll to the bottom of the page to check the references for documentation.  In essence, I look for proof of validity. Did they write from the top of their head or do they prove what they know? Then I try to match the information with that which we have in our numerous books and with discussions we've had with various historians.  I go through the process with my kids, since they will certainly be required to include internet sources in coursework. They need to learn now how to use a variety of credible material for research, from primary source documents, to books to the internet.  Over the last four years, they have picked up the scrutiny of research sources well. It takes a little more time, yet in the end, the result is refined and polished. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Eric Liddell, Chariot's of Fire, and a Book Written by Liddell

     Recently we studied the life of Eric Liddell, which was a thrill for me. We have studied the lives of many missionaries in the last two years, within the historical eras of their lifetimes. Although reading a biography of a missionary is inspiring, reading it in context of the historical period we are studying helps us to understand so much more. Since many of these missionaries are set in a different time frame than we now live, it can be difficult to truely understand their choices and difficulties, unless studied in context with history and worldview. Additionally I enjoyed learning about people like William Carey, David Livingstone, and Amy Carmichael, yet none of them fired me up.  I was beginning to wonder if I'd get excited about any missionary. In preparing for our studies of the early 20th century, I pulled out my collection of books on Eric Liddell. Then I remembered! He is my favorite!  Without question, he has been the one missionary that makes my teacher juices flow, to try to teach the most about the impact he has had on the world.

     Part of teaching about Eric Liddell is easy, due to terrific movies like Chariots of Fire.    This is one of my all time favorite movies.  In an era when everything is expected to be politically correct, I truely appreciate a secular movie made about 20 years ago, which sought to get the stories of two athletes for Great Britain, a Jew and a Christian, told to the world. Although slightly fictionalized, the movie stayed true to the message of these men. Their entire life stories are not told. Instead, the focus is on their lives at the onset of the 1924 Paris Olympics.  There are plenty of references in the movie that tell about their lives before the setting of the movie.  Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell were short distance runners for their countries, England and Scotland, respectively. Abrahams was a Jew, represented in the movie as out to prove himself to a world that has historically prejudiced itself against Hebrews.  Liddell was preparing to be a missionary in China, where he was born to missionary parents. His brother and sister were missionaries to China.  Yet, to his family, he seemed to put his missionary career on hold, while he ran races in unorthodox style...and won them.  

     This is  a terrific movie for teaching literary technique. They had many things in common.  They won record setting races. They were Olympic contenders.  They were collegiates.  

     The juxtaposition of these two men, are stark. This high definition contrast clearly illuminates their individual motivations for running.  Abrahams was a Jew whose goal in running was to prove himself to the world.  Liddell was a Christian whose goal in running was to let God's glory shine.  Abrahams time was spent with a trainer (which apparently was illegal) to analyze every move to make every move count. He had seen a race where Liddell ran and tripped, causing certain loss of the race.  Yet Liddell amazingly got up, and speeding to the finish line, came from far behind to win the race. This is a dramatically true story!  Liddell had a habit of running with improper form, arms waving and head thrown back.  Abrahams was trained to perform with spit and polish, in preparation for the Olympics. Who would win the gold medal for their best race, the 100m?

     While Abrahams spent his time in worry and training, Liddell spent his free time, outside of practice, in preaching. I read a story about the actor who portrayed Liddell. He had been studying the Bible for his part.  When he read one of the sermons in the script he'd have to give, he felt extremely uncomfortable about it. He said to the directors that he didn't think Liddell, himself, would have preached in that manner. Instead of fiery sermons which were indeed typical of the day, Liddell had an easy going, mild manner. The actor was encouraged by the directors to write his own sermon for that part. He did and it became the most moving part of the entire movie.  Of Eric Liddell, the actor who portrayed him said, "...he never pushed his faith down anyone's throat. When he spoke, he spoke rather quietly. He just talked about real things-about himself and his faith and what he did that morning."  

       There is some fiction in the movie, such as the details surrounding Liddell's refusal to run in the Olympics. But the bigger parts of that story are all accurate.  Liddell was originally scheduled to run in a heat on a Sunday.  Liddell did refuse to run the race due to his personal principle of setting Sunday aside as a Sabbath rest.  Unlike the movie, the details of allowing him to run a different race was settled before he arrived at the Olympics.  Even though he ran for Great Britain, like Harold Abrahams, it was the heat for the 100m that he turned down that would have pitted him against Abrahams. Abrahams won the gold for the 100m.  

     In fact, one of my biographies on Liddell, written by Sally Magnusson, details not only his life after interviews with the family, but also has a chapter on the making of the movie. She has one paragraph on the liberties taken in the movie, primarily so they could have a plot line (conflict). There are 5 details listed that are different from fact, not for artistic license, but to create a drama with a plot line to hold the viewer's attention.      Furthermore, she specifically states that it is details like these that the directors took liberties with.  However, "the personalities of the two men were sacrosanct; they were to be represented exactly as research showed them to have been."  

       Another fictionalized account surrounds an encouraging note Liddell received before his rescheduled race, the 400m.  This long distance race was not one that anyone expected him to win, partly because he excelled in short distance races. The movie shows him receiving an encouraging note from one of the American athletes, Jackson Scholtz. In reality he received it off the field from someone else, but the note was the same. The note said, "The Old Book says, 'Those who honor me, I will honor.'"  Encouraged, Eric Liddell stunningly won a gold medal in the 400m!

     I find it incredible at how well Liddell was accurately represented in Chariots of Fire. When the producers talked to the wife of Eric Liddell, the only thing the family saw that they got wrong, was his running style. Yet that was the one thing they knew they got right, because of all the pictures they had on record of him running. We have pictures in some biographies we have of him, and he definitely ran with his head thrown back and his arms flung out.

     Somewhere along the way, I learned that the movie was not made by a Christian company. Instead, it was a secular movie where the directors wanted to get the story right on these two men. Yet even more amazing to me, is that this movie was produced by a muslim, Dodi Al-Fayed.  Do you recognize the name? He died in a horrific traffic accident in a tunnel in Paris with his girlfriend, Princess Diana. 

    Chariots of Fire inspired me to want to learn more about Eric Liddell. Over the years, I have bought a few great books which came out on the market relating to Eric Liddell, including the Sally Magmussen biography. A Professor of Classics  from a university apparently had the same interest in Liddell as I had, reading several biographies on Eric Liddell's life. From them he learned that Liddell had 2 pamphlets published before his death. He also learned that there was a manuscript Liddell had written while in a Japanese internment camp.  It had circulated through the camp and no one knew what became of it. The search began and with the help of Liddell's widow, the manuscript was located and published.  The Disciplines of the Christian Life appear to no longer be in print, but I did find them used at places like amazon and paperback swap. My copy begins with a memory of a man who remembered "Uncle Eric" when he was a young boy in the internment camp. While missing his own wife and daughters who were safe in Canada, Liddell poured his life into helping those around them and took the boys under his care, running races with them.

    The Disciplines of the Christian Life is built upon the idea of "precept on precept" with a daily reading plan of the Bible throughout the year. Unlike most plans, instead of deluging the individual with the breakdown of how to accomplish the reading of the entire Bible in one year (which isn't a bad thing but can be discouraging to those who attempt to keep up with the reading plan, fail and then give up.) This plan is easily managable, using themes to disciple a person in the major tenets of the faith. Liddell also builds upon the ideas with a bit of practical commentary and tips for how to study the Bible and pray. Although he gives ideas on how to grow spiritually, instead of getting caught up in the legalism of having only one way to do something, he gives suggestions but admits there are many ways/times of the day to set aside for study and prayer.   Also the plan does not begin on the first day of January, but goes month by month. In other words, most people are caught up in having to start January 1 and give up before they start if they don't begin according to schedule.  This book designed to pick up any time of the year. 

Month One-The Nature of God, Communicating with God, God's Moral Law

Month Two-Jesus in Mark's Gospel Part I

Month Three-Jesus in Mark's Gospel Part II

Month Four-God's Moral Law

Month Five-The Character of Jesus

Month Six-The Kingdom of God/The Kingdom of Heaven

Month Seven-God is Love

Month Eight-The Life of Paul in The Acts of the Apostles

Month Nine-The Epistle to the Romans, Paul's Gospel

Month Ten-The Holy Spirit

Month Eleven-Victory

Month Twelve-The Fellowship/The Church  

     In the Appendix are helps for new Christians: Baptism, Communion, and Scripture readings for the three great festivals of the church (Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost) 

  Currently the kids and I are doing this as part of our morning devotions. It takes five minutes a day.  After that we do a few other devotions.  After seeing Eric Liddell's story dramatically portrayed in Chariots of Fire, it is fascinating to see what drove his desire to run for the pleasure of God.

Monday, January 18, 2010

18th Century Stitching Class at Colonial Williamsburg

Guess what? I recently noticed that CW was going to be offering a sewing class on 18th Century hand stitches, using Diderot's Encyclopedia! I did some quick research on Denis Diderot and here is a searchable database for his encyclopedia, which is currently being translated from French.  After receiving the go-ahead from my husband, I called CW for reservations!

The class was held in the Costume Design Center, which I got to tour in October for their open house.  The class was led by the manager of the CDC and most of the students were seamstresses at the CDC.  Out of a class of about 9, I think 6 of us were guests. This was neat because we could ask lots of questions about the workings of the CDC and its application to CW's mission, as well as see lots of application of the stitches we learned to actual historic costumes that are sewn there and worn in CW by the interpreters.

We were given our notebooks for cataloging our stitch samples and reference material, as originally catlogued by Diderot. In four hours, we had 15 stitches to learn to do, in addition to learning how to cover a button.  First we introduced ourselves.  One of the guests had never sewn before. She got all the one on one she needed (we all did) and did a great job! One of the employees from the CDC who joined us doesn't even sew!  Instead she does organizational stuff.  There are tens of thousands of costumes in the CDC and tons assigned to each interpreter (I forget the average number, I think it was something like 80+ pieces! Some actors have far more costume pieces than others depending on the characters they portray.) and she knows where every single one of them are located! She is literally the "go to" gal!  A guy sat next to me.  He was fun to chat with. He does some kind of museum consulting type work.  Although he doesn't typically sew and he struggled a bit, he positively persevered and he learned plenty of information to help him communicate in his consulting job.  He grew up in the area and has always liked CW. He does some reenacting now.  Some guests were just in town for the week because their husbands were at another CW conference  for woodworking which my husband would have enjoyed. I was the only guest, that I know of, who sews historic costumes.  That was revealed to the group later which made things really fun! Anyway, it doesn't matter what your skill level is. Nor does it doesn't matter how practically you might use this in the future. All that matters is that you come with a willingness to learn and have fun...and we did!

First we practiced on muslin and my basic stitches looked awful! Then I tried linen, which was the fabric used for shirts back then and that was amazingly easy.  No wonder I am having so much trouble with my son's historic shirt. I thought I'd save money and employ ease of care by purchasing a poloyester cotton fabric, but the stitching doesn't take well nor does the fabric have memory.  I learned a lot about how the type of fabric dictates how lots of things turn out. With linen, the guy said we could pull out a thread and use for a stitching line. I confirmed that I had read that in the historic pattern I had been using for my son's shirt. As a result, the manager threw in an extra lesson, teaching us how to do that and what a difference!  Here is my page for this stitch, the Front Stitch.  The sample on top is with the muslin and the one on the bottom is with the linen. You can tell how much better the linen sample is.  There is a page for each stitch. On the right is a diagram that shows how the stitch is made. To the left is a box to place our sample. Underneath that is the written instruction from Diderot's Encyclopedia.  Then I wrote notes on  the sides. This will be an excellent resource book! 

When we learned the topstitch, somehow the subject of military uniforms came up. I don't remember if the manager started it or if I did. But I mentioned that I made my son a Lafayette costume.  One of the employees spoke up and exclaimed that she had seen me and my kids and husband at the CDC open house. Hmmmm, my husband was at work that day. Oh but she saw me with a man.  Perplexed, I said we were on our own that day and no man was with us. Everyone was laughing!  I told her that since she had seen that Lafayette costume, I had made another one, that was more accurate and that the actor who portrays Lafayette told me I got the details right. 

When the manager heard all this, she explained that topstitching is done differently with wool, because it is thicker.  She showed us samples of wool fabric on the table, navy blue and buff and excitedly I said that was for the Lafayette coat and she said yes.  It is a broadcloth wool which is a wonderful fabric. I could immediately tell it would be easier to sew with than felt, which I used for my son's, (due to expense and ease of care) which is sadly pilling up.  I think another Lafayette coat is in my future, perhaps for next winter season. When I mentioned this I was told that wool is easy to care for and they even dry cleaned it back then, with powders and such. Hmmm...  The manager also explained that wool is not normally turned under and the edges are left raw. I said I had read that in a historic resource I had found and had noticed that on the CW Lafayette's coat, so that is how I did my son's.  Then she gave me an extra lesson, on topstitching on wool. Because the fabric is thicker than say, linen, it is topstitched a bit differently. That was really fun about the class. She kept us moving according to the schedule of learning all the stitches, but she didn't hesitate for a moment to teach us something extra if we were interested! It is rare that I take a class in anything because I am usually bored out of my gourd. But she had my interest every second! I was absolutely thrilled to show this sample of Lafayette's wool to my son, who was equally thrilled to see and touch it. I think this is my favorite technique from the entire class.  I used one of each color of the Lafayette wool, navy blue and buff.  Here it is sewn and opened up.

We got to do different stitches on different fabrics like linen, wool, damask, and silk...all 100% natural fiber. This definitely convinced me to give up on nasty, gnarly, unworkable synthetics. I have been painfully trying to handsew my son's first official 18th century shirt with a Kanik Korner pattern. The pattern is great. My fabric is awful. It's a synthetic so it would not get wrinkled.  Ugh.  It is sheer torture trying to get the needle into the fabric and trying to turn edges narrowly for hemming. These fabric samples they gave us to use were absolutely delightful to work with.  From now on I'm using natural fibers!
 I had previously learned from the tailor about frugality in sewing, and the manager brought out a great example to build on the stories the tailor had shared a few weeks ago.  The manager brought out a coat for Thomas Jefferson. The coat is stunning and unique from what's typically seen in the historic area. There is a blue velvet collar, that is pieced.  This is based on the actual historic coat, where the velvet was actually pieced, at one edge of the collar. It's as if the curve of the collar simply ran off the edge of the fabric, so they just pieced the extra on. The CDC tries to do all of the costumes with historical accuracy. We were told that Mr. Jefferson was supposed to pick it up, but he never showed up. That would have been so much fun if he had shown up while we were in class!  
I can't wait for the other classes. For their 75th anniversary they will be holding several more classes this year, one a month. Imagine, a reason to return to Colonial Williamsburg every month this year!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Coffeehouse Tour Served with a Hot Drink at Colonial Williamsburg

     Guess what? I got to take an 18th century sewing class at Colonial Williamsburg at the Costume Design Center!  I'll blog about that separately.  The class began early Sat morning, so after my husband got home from work Fri afternoon, we drove down to CW.  After arriving, we had just enough time left in the day to make our first regular tour of the Coffeehouse. We had a special tour at the Grand Opening. However this was our first formal tour, unlike any other tours in the historic area because we were served drinks!

     We sat in the first room where we listened to a first person interpretation of a lady who worked at the Coffeehouse, learning that these coffeehouses were all the rage in London where gentry gentlemen met.  She tried to play a card game with a gentleman, but a card was missing in the deck.  Because of the ongoing rebellion to the Stamp Act, there can be no purchases for playing cards, much less newspapers or any other pieces of paper.  Then we went into the back office, which could be rented out to us if we had some coins to pay. After that we went into the next room and were told to sit at tables where there were coffee cups set out with spoons and saucers.  There was cream and sugar at the table. The ladies went around serving us our choice of either coffee, tea, or historic chocolate! The chocolate is dark, not as sweet as we are used to and has some spices like cinnamon and nutmeg in it.  Meanwhile Mr. Charleton, the proprieter, spoke to us.  He is hilarious and he told our extremely quiet group that we were dull. (We've gotten to know this actor behind the scenes and he really is nice.) Then my son asked him whose picture was over the fireplace.  Mr. Charleton told us all about the man in the picture, William Pitt, who worked in Parliament in England. Amazingly Pitt stood up for the rights of the American colonies!  None of this was new to me or the kids, but we thought it was a great way to make sure all the adults in the place got educated as to Mr. Pitt! That one question brought up a terrific conversation among everyone.  Hopefully that took care of the problem of being dull! 

     With the money my son has been saving and received from the grandparents for Christmas, he got a new camera, which he finally got to test  at CW.  Most of these pictures are his.

     The next morning my husband dropped me off at the Costume Design Center for my sewing class. Then he took the kids to spend the day in the historic area.  Originally he had no idea how to fulfill their time without me!  I gave him a few leads to keep them busy and they reported later that they had a terrific time!  Here are some pictures from their day!

With a stunning blue sky and highs near 60 degrees, this was the warmest day we've experienced in over a month!

They hung out with the horses.

...who came to see them.

They saw bluejays...

...and squirrels.

They went to the Playbooth Theater that performed at Raleigh Tavern. They saw a few scenes from different plays, including Macbeth. In the 18th century, theater was an interactive experience where the audience could heckle or yell encore to their heart's delight! Then they went to the shoemakers and heard a great story about where General Washington got his shoes.  Ask next time you visit!  You'll be surprised!

After a late lunch we left for home. As we walked by the Magazine we saw the Christmas tree still lit!  My son went over to take a picture and ended up trading favors with a guest, where they each took each other's pictures!  My son figured out how to get this lovely lit picture in the dark, by using the manual settings.   


Friday, January 15, 2010

Video of the Coffeehouse Grand Opening

Here is a video of the Grand Opening of the Coffeehouse from November 2009.  If you look hard you might see us. We are in the audience and had a great view of all the drama which I wrote about here. There are lots of pictures of all the drama, including the new Coffeehouse scene of the Stamp Act protest on the front porch of the Coffeehouse, a historic event that actually happened there! Then the Colonial Willliamsburg time machine turned the hands of time from 17 to the 1930's with the founders, Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Goodwin. There was even a recitation of Patrick Henry's Caesar Brutus Speech, all of which was followed by an tour of the Coffeehouse, from the basement to the main floor at dusk.  There were many other entertainments and servings of coffee and apple cider as well!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip: Westward

     This week was the premier of Colonial Williamsburg's Electronic Field Trip, Westward, about Daniel Boone.  Electronic Field Trips are award winning programs made affordable to homeschoolers through Homeschool Buyer's Co-op.

     We read a biography of Daniel Boone in school last year, so we were able to quickly pick up many of the details we studied through the EFT. However review is always great, because some things are missed the first time around.  As much as I tried to impress upon my kids that Daniel Boone opened settlements in Kentucky during the American Revolution, my son picked up on that for the first time while studing this EFT!  Even though we study history chronologically and topically, we did study Daniel Boone after our American Revolution studies, since his life in the wilderness went beyond the years of the revolution.  

     Because this EFT was basically a review for us and we are busy with our regular history curriculum, we kept our activities for this EFT light this time.  Monday we went through the teacher notes together. Then we did one activity from the teacher packet together. EFT's always include primary source documents, which is the starting place for thorough historical analysis.  This time these particular documents included quotes by famous men involved in exploration of the West, either affecting exploration or affected by exploration.

     The very first person quoted rang a bell with us, Moses Austin!  He is an important figure that we studied several years ago in Texas history.  In the 1820's he lived in Louisiana and made a trip to San Antonio de Bexar, seat of the Spanish government in today's San Antonio, Texas. He talked to the Spanish royal governor about bringing Americans to settle East Texas, which was a tenuous land which the Spanish tried to keep possession of.  With the French close by in Louisiana, they were a constant threat to taking over the Spanish possession. There were few settlers from Spain. The Canary Islanders did settle in San Antonio de Bexar and built San Fernando Cathedral which you can still visit in downtown San Antonio. However there was little interest in settlement until Moses Austin came along.  With the help of an interesting European, the Baron de Bastrop, Moses Austin received permission to become an empressario, or land agent.  In return for bringing settlers into Texas, he would receive land from Spain. Before he could return to Texas with settlers, he contracted pneumonia.  On his deathbed, he asked his son, Stephen, to carry on the task.  Stephen Austin did, bringing in "The Old Three Hundred", to settle East Texas. He brought many more groups over and negotiated constantly with the Spanish provincial government.  The settlers were willing to take on Spanish rules in return for Texas land, like practicing the Catholic religion.  In time, a dictator named Santa Anna rose to power in Mexico and changed previous agreements with the settlers, in essence, taking away freedoms.  In protest, Stephen Austin went all the way to Mexico City to talk to the government and was jailed.  All of this fueled the Texas Revolution.  Today Stephen Austin is known as the Father of Texas and the state capital is named for him.

   Because of the quote in the EFT, we learned new things about Moses Austin.  He was born in Connecticut, eventually settled in Virginia and had a town named after him, Austinville, in Wythe County!  Wythe County is named for George Wythe, resident of Colonial Williamsburg, legal tutor for Thomas Jefferson and signer of the Declaration of Independence. I love these Texas/Virginia connections! 

     Tuesday we watched the video segments on the computer. Part One was about an interview John Filson made with Daniel Boone, where much is explained about why the men dared to venture past the Proclamation Line into the wilderness.  Part Two was about Boone's wife and family, who had to keep a watch for Indian raids.  Finally the wife decided to take the children to North Carolina to her family, after she learned that her husband had been captured by the Indians. Her married daughter though, decided to remain in Kentucky, certain that her father would one day return home. Part Three was about Boone's friendship with the Indians and his justification for it.  Many thought he had turned traitor, but he testified that his friendship was primarily for survival.  After the interviews, Fisk had the book he wrote about Boone published. This made Boone famous.

     There are two computer activities for this EFT. One is a map game, teaching interactive geography and the development of the West. When I say West in context of this EFT, I am not talking about the Great Plains, but rather Kentucky. 

     The second activity was to experience a day in the life of Daniel Boone and his wife.  I chose the wife first, who had busy days due to her husband's absence on a hunting expedition. I had to do as many activities as I could, running to this highlighted spot to that one, trying to accumulate as many points as possible before night fell.  I was going nuts trying to keep up with everything. Then I tried Daniel Boone's day, which was a bit different. Since he was on the hunting expedition, he had to do his tasks of checking traps but also shoot deer to survive on food. He couldn't  come home until he brought home a certain number of deerskins.  Hard as I tried, I quickly died of starvation. 

     Thursday, the morning of the EFT live broadcast, the kids e-mailed their questions to Daniel Boone. My daughter asked: "How did the American Revolution affect your attempts to colonize the western frontier?"

Daniel Boone's answer:

During the Revolution, colonization continued but probably not as fast as it could have since so many men were in the army.  I spent most of the time in Boonesborough.  In 1781, I was elected to the Virginia assembly so I did travel to Richmond, Virginia for the meeting of the assembly.

Your most obedient,

Daniel Boone

My son asked:

Colonel Boone,

How did you decide to explore the west instead of fighting in the
American Revolution?

Inquisitively yours,


My son got replies 3 different times from Daniel Boone!  Our favorite was this:

The easy answer is I liked to be alone or with a few comrades in the woods.  My family, too, learned to survive in the wilderness.  However, the loss of my son and brothers to Indian savagery was hard on me and the rest of my relatives.

A better answer puts my exploration of territory west of the Appalachian Mountains in the context of the American struggle for independence.  The British enlisted the aid of the northern Indian tribes in their effort to retain the original thirteen colonies.  Any western activity could potentially help the American cause.

Your most obedient servant,

Daniel Boone

     Between the live broadcasts, the kids played the computer activities for the EFT.  Right before the second broadcast, they asked me if I had any trouble with any of them.  We had to laugh as we shared similar experiences as I described above.  One of the questions on the live broadcast was whether Mrs. Boone had as much work to do as Mr. Boone. We had to laugh as we reflected on the computer activity. My son described it best.  He said that Daniel Boone certainly eats a lot. Although my kids were able to shoot deer, unlike me, they were never able to shoot enough and kept dying, despite how many times they replayed the activity.  Then my son said that Mrs. Boone was so busy, running here and there, that he never had time to read the little pop up signs that went with her actions.  When it was time to feed her family, she served them lickety split and went to another activity, yet never ate!  My kids thought that the comparisons between the two were hilarious!    

Monday, January 11, 2010

Delightfully Different Kids

House hunting...they have a lot in common. Since moving to Virginia, we've done both. After a month of looking at more houses than I can count, the doors finally opened with our offer and we were under contract and we moved in by the end of April! For various reasons, we are still church hunting. A common factor we are finding in all the churches we visit, is youth expectations, or lack thereof.

The church we are currently visiting is starting a new church wide study this week and strongly encouraged us to join small groups. We signed up for one where we could take the kids. I asked the group leader what the kids who attend do. I was shocked when he told me they play ping pong in the basement. Sunday the pastor asked me if I was excited about the book that is part of this study and I told him I was bored with it. He was shocked! I told him I was grabbed in the first sentence with its historical reference, then it lost me when nothing else was mentioned about it. This was a big deal to me because the historical reference is the theme of the book. The pastor agreed it could have been better developed. I told him I tried researching the historical point but couldn't find anything. He said he had two references that he could send to me so I am looking forward to them. He added that the topic is relevant to our lives. I agreed, but I told him we had been taught that information a long time ago and we are living it now and was part of our huge story of moving to Virginia! I added that it's presented rather lightly in the book and I like meatier stuff. I gave an example of what we were studying in school that we thought was more inspirational and he seemed to like that information. I pretty much expected him to put me down but he told me I could be an encouragement to the group in applying the lesson. Hmmm...

In the meantime, my kids aren't excited about being stuck in the basement during small group time. My son told my husband that he'd rather be sitting in the middle of discussion with us and so would my daughter. Tonight, my husband asked the group leader if it would be okay for the kids to sit with us to listen in. The group leader warned my husband we'd be opening the Bible, implying teens don't open Bibles or listen. I was shocked when I heard this. I asked my husband if he told the group leader otherwise and he said yes. He told the leader that the kids like to study their Bibles and want to sit in on the talk. The leader got excited!

We used to attend an incredible church in San Antonio. Without trying to attract members, the church grew and grew and was bulging at the seams. One of the hallmarks of the church was the incredible teaching at all age levels. I'll have to share later how we used to do missionary conferences for the adults and the kids, which is no longer done, but used to be highly anticipated, enjoyed and resulted in much fruit. Then we moved to Northern Texas. Seven years later we returned with children to a smaller church attendance and a change in how things were done.

Over the nine years we attended this church, it continued to change, especially the youth group. The main change in thinking by the leadership was that the church had to conform to the kids. Due to continued changes, we started attending the 8am Sunday School class, for various reasons. One was so that the kids could be part of the early morning youth group which was smaller, more personal and tamer than the wild group that met later. My son started telling us that the youth pastor would teach for 15 minutes of the entire time. Before long, the youth pastor wasn't even showing up. My husband talked to him and he said he couldn't be bothered. The kids were dwindling in. The real class was later and that's where he preferred to focus his time. This came up with the high school Awana leader who made excuses for the youth pastor, saying that teens do not engage with the teacher. So that makes a pastor/teacher quit teaching????? The leader said it isn't easy. So what? The leader basically said it was impossible. I was ready to do my Fran Drescher impersonation, sticking out my hand and saying, "Talk to the hand because the ears ain't listening." I don't get like this often, but I am a teacher to the depths of my soul. When I see kids getting lost in the cracks, shy me speaks up! I told him I teach devotions to two teens (my kids) every single day before we start school, on top of all the other lessons I teach. The youth pastor is paid to work at the church full time to prepare lesson so that he can teach this group of kids one morning a week for one hour.

I know it's a different generation but that doesn't mean that we give up on them! I used to work with the children's choir at this church and the director was incredible. She worked with the teen choir too and I know it is possible, in this current generation, to move kids and inspire them! She did it! She didn't quit! She worked harder! She showed them she cared by listening and entering their world. She told them they could do things the world considered impossible! She taught them Scripture, making it relevant by connecting it to the songs they were singing and the people they would be reaching out to. I was administrative assistant so I got to type out and print all the stuff she did with the children and teens. One evening during rehearsal, she focused on commitment and got them fired up to be committed to the choir. The kids loved it! The problem was the parents. It was tough. A lot of them were close friends of mine who would come to me, thinking I was of the same mind as them, and they'd pour out their guts on how they didn't think their kids should be committed to excellence in the choir and that they had no support for the director.

There are two brothers who have started talking about teens raising the bar. Odd that I hear leaders rave about this and take teens to their conferences...but I don't see the leaders help the teens raise the bar. My kids might be different from other kids out there, but they love the Lord, we are close, they make friends with any age group, they are great listeners and are happy to help others. I know there are other kids out there like mine, but it appears they are becoming rare. As parents we need all the tools we can get when working with kids. I've got a toolbox full of ideas that I've learned from those who have gone before me. I'll be sharing more of them over time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Entering Their World

One of the greatest motivators I have ever found, not only for my own kids but also those in my public school classrooms or Sunday School class, entailed "joining them". In essence, I entered their world. Typically that would mean doing "it" with them. If my students struggled through a writing assignment, I sometimes wrote one too, so they could watch me go through the process. When I suggested unit celebrations to my kids, they were dubious. They were not keen on doing speeches, interpretations or recitations, much less dressing up in costume. How about if I did an interpretation and wore a costume too? They thought that was great! History presentations have become a hit in our family and if I were to quit doing them, there'd be a mutiny on my hands!

The hardest part for my kids is doing the first person interpretations. I am trying to get them away from using index cards, so I try not to use note cards either. Actually, this is easy, since I rarely have time to put my interpretation on paper or even to rehearse. When I became Clara Barton, my kids were flabbergasted I was able to smoothly do the entire presentation without any previous rehearsal or note cards. I told them it was because of years of speaking experience. This has inspired them that it is possible, though they are still working on the bravery to leave the index cards behind.

My son is now trying to motivate me to wear a costume to Colonial Williamsburg, to complete the experience. He thinks it would be too cool for Mom to be in costume too. I love Colonial Williamsburg and the actor/interpreters are my favorite. Their costumes are incredible and CW wouldn't be wonderful without the interpreters in costume. It brings life to the historic area. However, I cannot bring myself to wear my simple dress, which is less than historically accurate. I am busy sewing historically accurate costumes for my kids. Besides, I am SHY! I just don't know that I can venture forth in costume without being an employee. This shyness brings to mind the most bizarre thing I have ever done to build esprit de corps with my students.

When I taught fifth grade, I wanted to both inspire my students to read and enjoy literature and to give presentations. Therefore I'd assign unique book reports. The typical, "I read _____________ written by ___________ "etc, etc, etc is so boring. To make book reports more fun, I'd have the students choose from a variety of bookreport methods to present to the class. At the end of the day, the students would present their reports through a variety of creative means such as a chalk talk, cartoon, skit, advertisement or the ever popular rap. Rap was my student's favorite method of presenting book reports and they'd enlist their friends to help and we'd have an action packed literary afternoon! This gave me an idea when I got a phone call one night.

One night I got a phone call from a lady in choir with me. Being the beginning of the choir season, it was our group's turn to introduce ourselves. She wanted us to introduce ourselves in a unique way. Hmmmmmm, what would be unique? Why not a rap? I asked my star rappers (students) for help. I put some words together (I forget now what I wrote) and they worked on my, ahem, presentation. Remember I am quiet, shy and old fashioned. I don't even listen to rap in my free time. All I knew about rap was basically through my students. This was a challenge for me! Finally it was the big night at choir rehearsal. I had my shades (sunglasses) ready. I was called to go first. I put my verses on the music stand, put on my shades and did a quick rap. The choir members were at first stunned, then they burst into applause! They loved it! I hurriedly sat down and watched the others from my group...give perfectly boring, routine, yet safe, introductions, "Hello. My name is ______________. I do ____________ for a living." Even the lady who called me, whose idea it was to do unique presentations, gave a basic intro! What is this? I was the only person to do anything unique! I sunk down in my chair, wanting to hide. After choir rehearsal, lots of the choir members complimented my unique approach. Blushing, I had to admit it was certainly memorable!

The next morning at school the students asked about the rap and when I told them I was the only one to do the unique presentation, they were elated! They were proud of me for following through with a committment. That was likely the bigger lesson in the entire experience, as well as letting them know that I was with them. It definitely strengthened ties with some of my students, who were having difficulties with different things.

Whether writing with your kids, dressing in costume with them, or rapping for the choir, remember that smaller things like listening to them, playing games and reading books with them count too! Have fun together, entering your children's world!

Monday, January 4, 2010


I've been hearing lots of woes from moms, about their children's work habits, or lack thereof. This root seems to grow into a weed called a bad attitude. What to do? I've learned lots of great ideas over the years from others, that I'd like to share now, in a progressive series for character training and intrinsic motivation.

I think the single greatest thing I learned about raising children was from Chuck Swindoll. He used to travel quite a bit and said the best thing he ever did in raising his children was to listen to them. Each night he'd go to their bedrooms, beginning with the youngest, to lay on his bed and just listen to whatever the child wanted to say. He'd progress into each child's room, simply laying with them and listening. He figured he usually did all the talking. But what did his children think about things? What were their joys, hopes, struggles? He learned a lot! He understood his children better. When times came that he *had* to say something, he could do so with greater wisdom, because he understood the child's point of view.

Oftentimes when kids stop listening to mom and dad, is when mom and dad don't listen to them. Then the kids go out to find peer groups who will listen. Sadly these peer groups are not always a good substitute. There is an old saying that children should be seen and not heard. In the depths of my heart, I do not think that is Scriptural. In the Bible, the disciples tried to send the children away from Jesus. However Jesus wanted the children to come to Him. I do not think Jesus sat and lectured the children. I think He sat and listened to them and enjoyed them! Do we as parents enjoy our children?
Before we had children, I'd watch a particular family at choir practice. The mom played the piano, dad and the two teenage boys played trumpets and trombone, and the little girl sat and quietly played. It wasn't the ability of playing the musical instruments that drew me to this family. It was their interaction with each other. I liked seeing the teenage boys sit next to their mom at the piano, to chat with her and to even put their arms around her. Or one of the boys would hang out with his little sister. The entire family was close and respected one another. Also the kids were all a delight to be around, well behaved, fun and polite. I sat and watched them before rehearsals began all year. I'd sit and prayed for children just like them. I yearned for that closeness. Guess what? I got those kind of kids! Oh we have our moments, but we work through things and come back together again. An open relationship is a high priority to me. If the doors to our relationship start to close, I start to pray about what needs to be done to open the doors to that relationship. If character training needs to be done, I pray about how to approach that in the best way. I will share some of the ways I do that with this series.