Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Under the Redcoat at Colonial Williamsburg Day 1

Colonial Williamsburg has outdone themselves with special programming this past weekend, for a historic reenactment called "Under the Redcoat".  We got to spend the entire weekend in CW, participating in memorable events. 

My children were stopped by the Redcoats at one of the checkpoints and nearly arrested!   The looks on their faces were priceless. 

We got to meet the dastardly Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, himself! (Then the actor who fantastically portrays him stepped out of character. A treat for us because he's our favorite actor and we've never met the man underneath the many hats that he wears.) 

Later, while watching an incredibly riveting scene of the British officers scheming how to out maneuver General Lafayette, a patriotic squirrel made an impromptu appearance, literally dropping in and crashing leaves on Benedict Arnold, thoroughly aggravating him. 

Additionally I obtained "secret papers" from one of the British soldiers that I had "befriended."  It's fun being a spy for the Continental Army!  

Equally fun, I got to speak my mind towards a few Redcoats!     

"Under the Redcoat" is a yearly reenactment of the events of June 25-July 4, 1781, the final summer of the American Revolution. During this time, the Redcoats entered Williamsburg, putting the citizens under martial law. General Cornwallis and the turncoat, Benedict Arnold, were in town at this time. To reenact the event, British army reenactors from across the country arrive in Colonial Williamsburg. New to this year's event, Revolution City significantly tweaked its schedule with the addition of new scenes to bring history alive about life "Under the Redcoats".

 A couple of weeks ago the official programming came out.  Guests entering the city needed to be prepared to sign an oath of allegiance to the king. (gulp)  When I relayed this information to my family, there were simultaneous exclamations of shock, excitement, disbelief, and denial. Knowing this is merely a reenactment, we were excited to play, yet mixed into our emotions was the struggle on how to remain faithful to our heroes, Generals Washington and Lafayette. Suddenly, pages we have read in history books and historical fiction and scenes played out on the screen, took on new meaning as we wrestled with how to accomodate being "Under the Redcoat," while retaining our loyalties to the patriotic cause.     

When hearing our angst, one of the CW employees suggested that we act loyal to the British, while actually using my son's idea of being spies for Washington and Lafayette.  My son schemed that I should take him to Mount Vernon to get one of the invisible ink pens to sign the oath. I told him the Redcoats would not recognize that writing implement, likely forcing us to sign with quill and ink. Thus my son planned on changing his name, or even writing his name extraordinarily small.    

After arriving in CW, we walked over to the encampment, where the Redcoats were setting up their tents. 

Actually camping in Market Square overnight, we watched them pitch the tents, dig fire pits...

and cook dinner.

Entire families were there, reenacting as well. 

The usual schedule for Revolutionary City was slightly altered on Friday. Because this time-frame of June 25-July 4, 1781 was being reenacted the entire weekend, RC ended with  Benedict Arnold arriving in town, followed by the Provost Guard marching in to town to set up camp. 

 Whereas the actual army was camped outside of town, the Provost Guard was a smaller group that arrived to restore order to the town. When one of the Redcoats told me this, I questioned the term "restore order."  Weren't the citizens orderly before the Redcoats arrived? 

 We ate dinner at Chownings Tavern, and to our surprise we were joined by some Redcoats.  Even in 1781, some would have eaten in the encampment and others would have eaten in the tavern. Enjoying good food and entertainment all the while, we kept a watchful eye on the Redcoats (seated at the table behind my son).


That night, all was well. Yet life would soon be very different, as we would see over the weekend. Stay tuned for parts II and III.     

Friday, June 26, 2009

Learning about Impressionist Art

     We saved our study of Impressionism for after our other history studies were complete.  We are using a terrific book for this: Monet and the Impressionists for Kids. I set the excitement for the unit by talking first about Paris (where Impressionism began). I asked the kids if they knew that Paris was called "The City of Lights?" They did not. I told them that recently I had been looking at pictures of this beautiful city at night, when I began to wonder when this transformation occured. For the last few years we have studied about the numerous wars, the French Revolution, the barricades, etc. How did Paris become as lovely as it is today, especially at night?  I had no idea how to find the answer to that question. Surprisingly, the answer was in our Impressionism book. I told the kids about it, but I would not tell them how it became the city of light. Then we sat at the computer and looked at pictures of Paris at night.  The kids were amazed.  I am waiting to hear their exclamation of disbelief when they read that Napoleon III was responsible for this! The kids and I have a running joke now about Napoleon (and sometimes the III) always showing up, week by week. They thought he went into exile with his ideals a long time ago.

     One of the Impressionists, Claude Monet, did a lot of his painting in his garden near Paris.  I used to have a calendar book full of pictures of his garden, which I cannot find now. I've not been able to find as many pictures of his gardens on-line as I did in that calendar, but they are stunning.  One of our Monet field trips the other day was to take the kids to the nursery with me to select plants toh enhance the small garden we inherited when we recently purchased this house.  Since we have recently moved here from Texas, we are finding a lot of new plants. It was exciting to purchase new varieties that I've never had success with in Texas. 

     In the midst of learning about Impressionism, we are getting an education on color. The other day a new friend from church said she'd help me in my dilemma to select just the right paint colors for the house. Turns out she is an interior designer!  She liked what we did so far and challenged me to enhance the one shade from the front of the house for the family room, with the color "Dry Leaf".  Well we were at the store yesterdy looking at more paint chips and my daughter exclaimed, "Here's one called Lafayette!"  I took it home and it's a perfect match to "Dry Leaf."  "Lafayette" will soon be surrounding us on the walls of our family room! My daughter is now looking for a paint color called "George Washington."     

     My designer friend asked me about my choice of the Calla Lilies. Why not? She has asked me to keep her updated on how well it does. We hope it is a success because we liked it a lot.  I had fun putting in Eastern flowers in a patriotic color pallette for the urns.  Then I put my favorite colors for the garden everywhere else. The potted Mandevilla still needs to find its home in the ground next to the lamppost.

     Although my garden is for the enjoyment of others as well as to lift my own spirits, I am looking forward to using it for some of our art projects. Part of the idea of Impressionism, at least for Monet, was to be inspired by the outdoors and to paint in natural lighting at different times of the day, to capture a variety of effects.  It was during this time that the travel easel and art kit were developed, so that artists like Monet could take their art supplies with them and go wherever they wanted to paint, whether it was a field, the sea or the sky. In fact, when we did the bluebonnet exhibit at the Witte Museum in San Antonio last winter, this was precisely what the artist that was featured did.  In Monet's later years, he developed his garden on his property specifically to inspire him for his painting.  He included an arched Japanese bridge over the water garden that he had built. His most famous pieces, The Water Lilies,  were inspired from this. There is a Japanese bridge spanning the water garden at the Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg. Hmmmm....

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ellis Island, Castle Garden, Galveston and Fredericksburg-Immigration and Ancestry

     We have recently completed a fascinating in-depth study about immigration.  This is a great way to introduce or review various historical eras with kids, while tracing ancestry.  History becomes more meaningful when it becomes their story.

     The furthest back I can trace my ancestry is through my mom's maiden name, which is French. Our French ancestors were Huguenots from Brittany. Apparently they were kin to some French Seigneurs and we had a coat of arms. After the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, they fled to Holland due to religious persecution.  This was brought to life when I read GA Henty's St. Bartholomew's Eve: A Story of the Huguenot Wars to my kids last winter. I told the kids to imagine our ancestors' flight during this time.  My kids always enjoy GA Henty books and it was neat that this time we were reading about family history.  Descendants of this particular ancestor immigrated to America from Holland in 1721, settling in Pennsylvania. Aboard ship, the family name, which was French, was Americanized, or spelled phonetically. Were they terrorized during the French and  Indian War?  

   My mom had other ancestors who immigrated to America from Wurtemberg, Germany in 1764.  It's amazing the details that were located on these ancestors.They arrived on the ship, Hero, which had 500 passengers, landing in Philadelphia. Did they meet Benjamin Franklin?  Did they go to his print shop?

    Another of mom's ancestors arrived in America in 1864, the groom from Switzerland and the bride from Germany. I have a copy of their marriage certificate in German.  I also have a copy of the citizenship papers of the groom, from 1873.  I don't think it was these ancestors, but another great aunt that my mom remembers as only speaking German.  She was called Dutch. I'm not sure if she was Pennsylvania Dutch or from Germany. 

     While we were visiting Civil War Battlefields around Fredericksburg, one of the park rangers asked where we were from. When we told him Texas, he asked if our ancestors fought in the Confederacy in Virginia.  Some Texans did. Some even fought in Williamsburg. But our ancestors on my mom's side were still in Pennsylvania and fought for the Union. When I was 10, I got to visit the graves of a lot of my ancestors in the Alleghany Mountains and saw the flags and markers on the graves, identifying the wars they fought in.  Did any ancestors fight with Generals Washington and Lafayette in the American Revolution?  Did any fight with General Grant in the Civil War? 

     My dad's family was still in Germany. They immigrated to America after the Civil War.  When the Ellis Island immigration records became available on-line a few years ago, I could not search for my ancestors, because Ellis Island had no records before 1892.  Prior to this Castle Garden handled the reception of immigrants. I didn't realize this until studying immigration in the last few weeks. I found pages of my my maiden name at Castle Garden! This was exciting since the only people I know with my maiden name is in my immediate family.  I'm not able to find specific ancestors.  Perhaps I have a variation of spelling so this could become a treasure hunt!  I do know that the groom was born in Essen, Germany and the bride was born in Westphalia.

    Finding great historical fiction books that conincide with students' geneology is a great way to get them excited about history.  Searching for possible immigration records can be fun too.  Did you know there were other immigration stations other than New York? A few years ago we went to Galveston Island on vacation and took a tour of the tall ship Elissa. As part of the admission, we got to do the museum for the immigration station. We had fun searching through the records even though we knew we had no relatives who came through there. 

     Another fun way to get kids interested in ancestry and history is through hands-on and dance. A few years ago we went to Fredericksburg, Texas for Pioneer Day, commemorating the anniversary of their settlement. One of the activities was watching the German polka dancers.  They told us that they each had different costumes, representing the different areas of Germany. I was trying to remember which region of Germany I was from so I could ask if anyone wore that costume.  The highpoint was when we were invited to dance with them! (Sorry, Pam, no one took a picture of me dancing the German polka!)   

Also we used these books which were quite poignant.



Sunday, June 21, 2009

How Do I Instill a Love of Reading in My Students?

     Recently I was asked how I instill a love of reading in my kids. I was a bookworm while growing up and that was my number one drive to become a teacher. When I was a college student I put a large badge on my backpack, "If you can read this, thank a teacher." I felt if I could teach kids not only how to read, but also how to enjoy reading, the sky would be the limit for them.  That has always been my motto, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a similar saying at the Library of Congress last summer.

      Using a classical curriculum has built upon this idea. Because there is no time to read all of the Classics in 4 years of high school, the hope is to lay a foundation of not only understanding, but enjoyment of learning, for the student to pursue reading the Classics throughout adulthood.  Does this not encompass the dream of every teacher? 

      However, before teaching the Classics at the Rhetoric level, I need to instill the basic love of reading.  Most every parent knows that this begins when children are very young with read alouds. What can be better than cuddling up with children and reading books out loud, living out adventures from days of yore around the world?  My kids loved books so much growing up, that whenever one of the grandmas or aunts came to visit, they were asked required to read books out loud for hours on end.  Our visitors would tell us that they had dreams at night that at the airport, they had to go through a special inspection station where they were required to correctly answer questions about the books they had read to the kids. In the dreams I guess they feared whether they could get the process straight about how water is cleaned in water treatment plants from all the times they read The Magic Schoolbus at the Waterworks. (Gotta love Ms. Frizzle!)  That was the year I had enrolled them in the summer reading program at the public library. When awards were given, they got the one for most hours read.  Everyone was astounded over how many hours they had been read to!  Thanks to the aunt and grandma who read many hours to the kids, on top of the hours my husband and I were reading to them! 

      However some kids are not fans of silent independent reading, so that is basically what spurred this post. It is concerning when kids do not enjoy independent reading and are reliant on Mom to do all the reading for them. At some point in time a transition to independent reading needs to be made. After all, Mom won't always be around to read everything aloud. Whether college is in the future or not, the child grows up and must eventually face reading independently. Hopefully they can approach it with anticipation and pleasure. Parents in this boat might be surprised to read my suggestion to keep reading aloud!  The difference is that not everything should be read aloud. Keep that special time, but don't let it become the focus. It should become the treat.  Meanwhile, turn off the television, video games and other electronic entertainment. Focus on old fashioned entertainment like outdoor play and open ended toys like tinker toys, legos, marbleworks, etc. For more on this subject, locate a copy of The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. In it, he makes the case for minimizing electronic entertainment, perhaps one show a week, and maximizing books, puzzles, board games, outdoor play, etc.  Therefore, it's not a matter of completely doing away with technology but minimizing it. I have had comments from one of the aunts and grandma that when my kids watch a lot of television, they become comotose.  Not only that but they struggle more in school when they get too much electronic entertainment.    In the back of the book are booklists of great read alouds, with a synopsis of recommended books. Some books lend themselves better to reading aloud than others. Perhaps you've noticed. Some books can be tediously sluggish as a read aloud yet they are wonderfully fascinating as a silently read book.

     Sometimes the challenge with older students enjoying independent reading is the transition from picture books to chapter books.  I first faced this as a public school teacher of third grade students. I knew part of the hurdle was to inspire them with great literature.  I deliberated over which set of books to read to my third graders. A continuing series would be great. Since I probably would not be able to finish the series in nine months, they would hopefully be inspired to complete the series on their own. One year when I taught third graders, I chose EB White books. First I read Charlotte's Web, which they had already heard in second grade yet happily enjoyed again. Then I read aloud The Trumpet of the Swan. The students were so charmed by the book that they incorporated the lead characters in every creative writing assignment they possibly could for the rest of the year.
The next year I taught third grade I wondered what would be fascinating, yet different? What would prepare them for the future? Hmmm, how were my previous fifth graders least prepared when I taught them?  Hmmmm, sadly, American history.  How could I best prepare my third graders, in an interesting way, for American history in fifth grade?  Then I hit upon a favorite from my childhood, The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I knew a lot of background information that I could easily incorporate into unit studies. Also, I've actually been to her husband, Almonzo's house,  in upstate New York near the Canadian border.  I had plans to bring  to life the story of a pioneer girl who lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, then traveled by covered wagon to Indian Territory, Minnesota and South Dakota. She endured plagues, blizzards, and saw a railroad and a town built from scratch. She has inspired me to have the Declaration of Independence read aloud every July 4th, like in the Independence Day celebrations she attended.   

     My new class of third graders arrived and I quickly saw that they were terrified of chapter books. It didn't help that the new school librarian told them they could only check out picture books, because they were not old enough to read chapter books. That was preposterous!   I told the students they COULD read chapter books. They merely contain more words on the page and fewer pictures.  That meant there was more of an adventure to savor! I opened Little House in the Big Woods (Book 1 in the series) and reeled them in to the historic past. By the time we were halfway through Little House on the Prairie (Book 2 in the series), they were enthralled. They started asking the librarian to allow them to check out the Little House books.  She insisted they couldn't possibly read the chapter books. They insisted they definitely could.  She insisted they could not.  They wore her down. Starting in late September, 99% of my students had 1-2 Little House chapter books stacked on the corners of their desks every day to savor when they had completed seat work.  Interestingly, that school year, the Scholastic book club offered a different Little House book in each month's order.  My students bought the entire series!  We did related art projects, which I'd post on the wall outside the classroom for all to see. Above the art work I made a USA map with a moveable Conestoga Wagon that traced Laura's journeys throughout the Midwest. I put the titles of the books at the locations where they occured.  This got the other students in the school excited! I had other teachers tell me that their students were jealous of my students who had fun traveling with Laura.  When the third grade received money to purchase classroom sets of books, the lead teacher looked at me and said, "Laurie, since you teach the Little House books, why don't we order classroom sets of the first two books in the series?"  Those books were often checked out by the other teachers in the school. By the end of the year, we got halfway through The Long Winter.  Sadly we said goodbye at the end of the year.  I gave them a synopsis of the rest of the series and eagerly they went home to begin summer reading, completing the series!

     Many homeschool moms already do this type of thing.  Perhaps the one key point I'd like to pull out, is the difference in outlook between the librarian and myself. She made it impossible. All I did was make it possible. She told my students they couldn't. I told them they could. Our greatest role as teachers is to be the students' greatest cheerleader. They need to know that they can.  Our outlook can make all the difference. If we make it exciting, if we say "they can", if we help them through the process, the students are more likely to try...and "accidentally" enjoy.

     That leads me to my own kids.  My daughter struggled with learning to read, yet finally got a handle on oral reading. My younger son practically taught himself to read.  During their early school years, we had our read aloud snuggle time with the Little House books.  These books were highly enjoyed and brought up a lot of conversation.  The time came to transition my kids from picture books to chapter books. I looked for books that would match not only their interests, but also their reading ability. My son enjoyed trains, so I introduced him to The Boxcar Children. When he first saw them he wanted me to read them out loud to him. No, I wanted him to read it independently.  He said it was too many words and not enough pictures. I replied that's because it had more adventure. Curious, he finally read the first book and got hooked. In fact, he got so hooked, he would read nothing but The Boxcar Children. His favorite character was a boy in the story who has the same name he does. These kids became his motivation for everything. If the Boxcar Children did something, he had to do it. If the Boxcar Children said it, it was so.  I began to worry. I had created a monster! How to motivate him to read something else? He was open to my reading other books aloud, but he'd only read the Boxcar Children
When we started a Classical track in our studies to more reading of real books, using literature to correlate to our history studies, I feared he would mutiny on reading the literature books. Remember I said we are the students' greatest cheerleader? In private I worried; in public I excitedly talked about the books. His first literature book was The Golden Goblet which was huge for him. He was certainly smart enough but all along he insisted he couldn't.  I kept asking him if I should give him easier books but I think he was challenged to keep up with his older sister. He read The Golden Goblet in three weeks, keeping pace with the assigned reading and it was a hit! Every year I ask him what his favorite literature book is. Every year he tells me, all of them. Except this year. When we studied Napolean, he was not a fan of this man.  For literature he was supposed to read an actual primary source account of the Napoleonic Wars, called The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier.  Because this book was building a wall, I took it off his reading list. That is the first time I have done that. I think it's important to be flexible and be careful to choose our battles. About this time I knew that my son's favorite actor at Colonial Williamsburg portrayed Napoleon in Europe, and we've seen him portray Napoleon at Poplar Forest with Thomas Jefferson, I'd like my son to read this book...at least someday. (Editor's Note 6-19-14: In 2009 we moved to Virginia and got to know this actor much more, and in the process we learned a lot more about Napoleon. When we again studied the 19th century in the autumn of 2012, my son gladly read The Diary of a Napoleonic Footsoldier, as well as a biography recommended by the history who portrays him, on top of a book I found at the used bookstore which detailed Napoleon's battles.  We ended up spending 4 months on Napoleon!

     For my daughter, I chose the American Girl series of which she is still a fan.  However, she didn't read independently. I did everything I could think of to motivate her to read silently.  Despairing, I finally thought of DEAR (Drop Everything and Read).  One afternoon I called the kids down to the living room with a book they'd enjoy reading for 30 minutes.  I set the timer. (Can't argue with a timer.)  They were not allowed to leave for any reason during that time. They could not leave to get a drink, or go to the bathroom, or to get another book.  They had to stay in the living room with me, the entire time, reading the book. It could not be a school book. It had to be a non-school book. (I would not allow comic books either. The point is to have them read chapter books.  Of course younger children can enjoy picture books.)  Oh, and here is the key to DEAR, I read a book too!  Not a school related book. Not a magazine. Not a newspaper.  Not the computer. A chapter book!  I could not leave the room during DEAR anymore than my kids could.  I ignored the telephone. I read. This is an opportunity to model that Mom reads for fun. How often do the kids see me reading things that I HAVE to read?  How rarely do they see me reading a book for pure enjoyment?  In truth, I have done very little of that since before college. This became my favorite time of the day. It was incredibly soothing and relaxing in the midst of a busy day to pull apart from a hectic schedule to lay down on the sofa and enjoy a trip to other lands in other times.  My son quickly got engrossed in his book. My daughter tried to avoid the book for the first two days. When she saw that I was firm, and she realized she could be forever bored out of her gourd 30 minutes a day unless she read a book, she started reading independently. Today, she and my son both rarely go anywhere without a book in hand to read silently. (Editor's Note 6-19-14: This is amazing how my daughter read so many books on the Great Books list and enjoyed them, considering that last year she was diagnosed with the need for Vision Therapy. Her eyes tracked poorly which which explained the struggles I had in teaching her phonics and independent reading because she had poor eye tracking along with a couple of other things. Yet she learned and she enjoyed!)  Another important rule is that no comprehension questions may be asked by the teacher to the students.  The students need to have reading material they can enjoy without worrying about "measuring up."   If comprehension questions are asked of every single book they read, they are likely to quit reading for fun.    

     Literature books are fun and tend to be the easiest to help the kids transition to independnt reading. However a classical education also involves history books of the non-textbook type.  For months before we moved away from textbooks to fully immerse ourselves in classical studies, I raved over the historical books being more interesting than dry textbooks.  My daughter is compliant, eager to please me, so she willingly dove into the historical books, answering weekly questions in preparation for our Socratic Discussions. Even in highschool when she should have been more at the rhetoric level, my son and I kept leading her through logical thinking to make historical connections. (Editor's Note 6-19-14: I think this difficulty had a lot to do with the need for vision therapy. Even so, by college she was at the top of her hsitory classes. Granted she was more fact based, but she at least unstood all the historical details.)  Although my son is a deep thinker, quickly makes connections and is an excellent reader, the historical books are not his favorite. He tends to stall on them. Some books he likes better than others so he reads them more avidly. Nevertheless, he finds a few of them sheer drudgery to read, which slows him down. For that, I help him to focus on the big picture. 

        To motivate my kids in the details of school, I have them look at the big picture.  What do they want to be when they grow up? Of course this may change, but their desires now can help them work their way through things that may not be fun to them now.  My daughter wants to be a teacher and my son wants to be a lawyer.  Both of those require college.  Where would they like to go to college?  What are the requirements? I line up their coarse work to help them achieve their goals. They know that. Also we look at motivating Bible verses.  They have hearts to obey God, so verses are the most impacting to them. Then I had them make posters of pictures of their career goals, college of their choice and verses of their choice. Now my son, in particular, has motivation to do the difficult things.  Furthermore, he was greatly encouraged by one of the actors at Colonial Williamsburg last summer, and that has helped him to persevere.  Despite not enjoying certain history books, he likes the new found knowledge. He is a regular junior Patrick Henry, expounding at great length aboaut his ideas, whenever he has a captive audience.  I often wish I could go back in time to visit with Patrick Henry's mother to compare notes. (Editor's Note 6-19-14: This year I graduated my youngest. That is my son. Last year he chose to read a history book about the first ironclads in the Civil War, which was a few hundred pages long. This summer he wants to read a book on military strategy from the Ancient times to WWII. Again, this book is a few hundred pages long. I do think that encouragement, leading by example, and perseverance are key.=)  

     My kids are still learning to love reading.  When we pile up in the car, they always have books with them, usually school books if they have school work to do. However if school work is caught up, they always bring a fun book to enjoy on the drive. As long as they keep doing that, I feel as though we are making progress. Hopefully they have a love of reading that will last a lifetime.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

How do I Plan "Becoming History" Presentations?

     Often I am asked how I plan history presentations. First the how is wrapped up in the why.  If we know why we do something, then our process of completing the goal is easier to set. With my goals established, I involve my kids in the planning process. 

     Because I make many of the choices throughout our studies by assigning this and that, this is the chance for my kids to make their choices of who they are going to be. Furthermore the student is more likely to be motivated to excel in extra research for their presentations if they are given freedom of choice.  Not only that but this gives them a chance to grow. When they are adults they'll have to make their own decisions. This is a chance to pracitce decision making and goal setting in a safe and fun environment. It's amazing what my kids do when they choose and want to do something, as opposed to when I assign something.   

     Usually my kids choose their favorite person from their history studies. One time my daughter chose a favorite character from her Rhetoric literature book, Sense and Sensibility

My son often chooses to be himself, but in another era. He has to do his research to create his character and this actually employs higher level thinking skills than merely becoming someone who lived in the past. Be open to possibilities!    

    My goal for a history presentation is not only to have fun, but to attempt something challenging and different.  Homeschoolers have rare moments to use speaking skills.  History presentations are a wonderful opportunity to let the kids have fun while trying out their speaking skills through a recitation, skit, speech, or presentation. Therefore speaking parts are required!  How do I choose? Start slowly. In the beginning, for our Egyptian presentation, we gave a brief introduction to our characters and explained what was learned while showing off all the projects.  Well, if my kids can do an extemporaneous introduction, why not raise the bar a wee bit? For the next history presentation, as Ancient Hebrews, I assigned a speech. A year later when we studied the Elizabethan Era, I started adding recitations. We had to quote Shakespeare!  Next time around, perhaps we can do a Shakespearan play! 

      I also try to coordinate the speaking parts with unique aspects of history.  For instance, when we learned about the Ancient Greeks, we *had* to do a play. We kept it simple, doing one of Aesops' Fables. My kids wrote the play in their own words.  The kids made their own costumes for this. Since the primary costume of the Ancient Greeks was the mask, they wore simple clothes and embellished masks.  Now when they happen to see the classic Greek masks, they always remember their Greek studies of the early theater. When we come back to this in a few years, I'd like to try a classical Greek play (and we did!)

When we studied Ancient Rome, we learned that they used lots of rhetoric.  Therefore the kids wrote persuasive essays. I printed them out on parchment paper, we rolled them up into scrolls and they were read for the history presentation. 

During our Ancient Rome unit, my son memorized a famous piece of rhetoric of the Apostle Paul.

     My kids are getting so comfortable with this, that now the sky is the limit. I try not to overwhelm my kids or have them do too many new things at once.  I try to let them work on one major skill each unit, and then showcase that for the history presentation. If anything, my kids are the ones who get all the ideas to continually add to our presentation until I have to tell them we have to stop creating and just have the presentation! =)
     Now that one speaking piece is scheduled for the history presentation, what else?  Costumes!  I know, I know, not everyone is as crazy as I am for attempting to do so many period costumes in one year!  Some of my friends who do know how to sew but don't enjoy it or don't have the time have Ebayed their costumes. In the picture below, the kids in the middle are mine and I sewed their costumes. I made them simply, because I had recently done the fancy Elizabethan ones and wanted a sewing break. (Yes, even I get tired of sewing sometimes. =) However the girls on each end are my friend's daughters. My friend, who can sew but doesn't enjoy it, ordered their costumes off of Ebay. Aren't they great!?

    How do I lay my plans out on paper?  This is the brainstorming part. I use blank printer paper.  I jot down ideas while I go through our books and jot anything down that inspires me.  The sky is the limit.  The more I write, the more ideas I get. My wheels continue to turn as I go about the day and I go back and jot things before I forget them.  There are so many art projects from which to choose, yet we have a limited time. I try to narrow down the field by looking at projects that reflect the culture studied and will teach us the most.  For example, when we studied the Ancient Hebrews, I knew understanding the layout of the tabernacle would be confusing. So we made one from scratch! 

When we studied the surrounding ancient cultures to Israel, we made our versions of their famous forms of art. We made friezes. 

When we went to Washington DC last summer, my kids were commenting on all the friezes and appreciating the craftsmanship. They knew how hard these were to make.

When we studied Ancient Greece, we studied the different columns. 

Now wherever we go, if they see a column, they say, "Mom!  There is a Doric column!" or "There is a Corinthian column!"

  We used to live in San Antonio, Texas and as many times as we went to the Alamo, imagine our surprise at our first trip back after studying columns. Did you know there are columns on the Alamo? 

When we studied Ancient Rome, we made mosaics.

When they saw the mosaics at the Library of Congress, they were impressed. Mosaics are not easy to do!  

When we studied the Middle Ages, we made an illuminated alphabet. Again, this was not easy. In Washingon DC last year the kids got to see the Gutenberg Bible and they could appreciate the craftsmanship.  So instead of coloring a mosaic, I'd encourage making a mosaic with broken tile and grout. These still decorate my kids' rooms. Those are the best projects I think. 

     We also have food because we are always hungry during these presentations! There are kids' craft books that have recipes. Googling works. Sometimes my daughter goes through our books and lists the foods and cooking techniques we've read about (a major character in Egypt may have had lots of fish to eat).  Sometimes we create our own recipes. The Ancient cultures did lots of roasting.  The French boil their meat whereas the British roast their meat.  The British eventually used butter and the Mediterranean used olive oil.   It's been interesting what we have learned about food patterns over the years.  

    How do I plan the sequence of events?  This varies with each history presentation. Basically we usually eat first because I am prediabetic and I HAVE to eat! We usually have a salad and a grilled chicken of some sort since those are free foods for my prediabetic blood stream.  Most cultures at least had that for food.  I can fill up on that and nibble on the rest of the goodies. Then I have energy to get through the evening.   Since we had a small dining room in the Texas house (we just moved to Virginia) we usually did our meals buffet style. Now I have a larger dining room but fewer guests (we left Grandma and Grandpa in Texas).  When we did our Medieval Feast we HAD to eat at the table. So we flip flopped the furniture between our living room and dining room. This was not easy moving big furniture through narrow spaces. But where there's a will there's a way.  For wall decor my daughter had made stained glass with tissue paper and black posterboard. (I try to keep things simple and inexpensive. My wheels are constantly turning.) I hung those in our windows to see the pretty stained glass. I've known of some co-ops that do this in a church, which is bigger to accomodate all the families. A great medieval spot would be a picnic ground like a Ren Faire recreated by homeschool students. Why not?

    How do I personalize the history presentation according to my kids' interests? My daughter likes to make jewelry so she always researches a typical piece of the period and we go to the craft store and figure out how to recreate it. If something completely new needs to be made, we might use a special clay that bakes and  then she paints it. My son always has a hat, a weapon it seems, and usually a noisemaker of some sort. He usually creates the props for his own costume. Recently he created a bayonet for his toy rifle for this Civil War history presentation.

When he was a musketeer, he made a sword. That gave me an idea.  I found a web site that taught fencing. So he did a presentation on fencing moves. 

Then when he was Lafayette (not for a history presentation but for a Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip project on Yorktown...this is getting contagious!) he enhanced his musketeer sword to look like Lafayette's. 

We had the wonderful opportunity to meet Lafayette a few months before in Colonial Williamsburg.

My son analyzed vacation photos of the sword Lafayette wore to upgrade his sword.  

My kids take piano lessons, so they always choose a piece that was written during the era studied to play. My son also plays the fife. We find a patriotic tune from the era for him to play.  

    On the big day, lay out all of the books we've read on a table. (The table is not always this full, but this was one of our favorite presentations.)  Merely seeing that incredibly full table will give all of you a major feeling of accomplishment, while impressing the guests! On another table lay out your year plan and your kids papers,   maps, timelines, etc.  Showoff the work! They become part of the mini-museum. 

If there are guests, write a little sign that says, "Welcome to _______________" and name the era and write the dates.  Put that in the entry way.

Don't have enough tables? Use those little round particle board tables with the 3-4 legs that screw in. I have lots of misc fabric that I use for table cloths. I buy fabrics on sale a lot.  I try to use rustic burlap type fabrics for the most ancient cultures. The fabric gets more sophisticated with the varying advancing cultures.  Using a fellowship hall? Set the display tables around the room and arrange the feasting table for the families and guests in the middle of the room with the stage in front.

For the food table do a nice centerpiece typical of the era. Or buy lots of produce, typical of the era, to use as display.  If you're in a co-op everyone can bring a representative food for the centerpiece. When we did India and China, which was rich with spices, I poured little  piles out onto a plate for part of the display. 

Put out all the art work.

Decide on where the stage will be.  Have fun! 
For ideas for many of these projects, check these categories found in my sidebar:
This page is full of links which breaks everything down by historical era. I am currently (as of June 2014) updating my blog (since I have graduated my youngest) so check back for more ideas.  =)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Seeing The Star Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian's American History Museum

     Last March the friends in Maryland we were staying with took us into Washington DC on the metro, to teach how it works. My son had a blast. He had always wanted to ride one of these.  I was incredibly thankful they showed us how to use it, because I had always been overwhelmed with the idea. We used it one other time since, to go to the Cherry Blossoms and rode it like pros thanks to them!  However, I have decided I do not like the metro. I do not like being underground. I do not like watching the lights flash by, making me dizzy and causing me to lose my balance, due to my lack of balance nerve.  Also, all that time underground made me feel like those miserable cave creatures in the George McDonald books. Every time I leave the metro and enter fresh air and sunlight I want to scream and dance for delight! (I'm shy so that's saying a lot!) However I am sure that one of these days I will take the kids into DC to see some of the sites on the metro. I'm just not a city gal. Nevertheless I do want to enjoy some of exciting stuff DC has to offer.    

     The day our friends took us on the metro, we went to the Smithsonian and spent some time at the newly renovated American History Museum. I was quite excited because I had always wanted to see the Star Spangled Banner! Even though we were in Washington DC last August, I was forced to cross it off my list.  The museum was closed for renovations.  I was extremely disappointed. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine we'd be living in the area and I'd have an opportunity to actually see this historic flag.   

     Part of the renovation process was to make this fragile flag accessible at all times for viewing.  Before, it was raised and then lowered at different times of the day, in order to protect the fragile fibers.  Now it is in a special environment and there are no long lines to wait for viewing like there used to be.  At least at the time we went, we walked right in. 

     The flag was prodigious! Even despite all the snippets that have been cut and given away over the years as souvenirs in the 19th century, it was impressively huge. Being a seamstess, I couldn't imagine sewing anything that massive. I stood there for a long time marveling at the craftsmanship and the history it bore.  Finally moving on, I felt immersed in the battle at Fort McHenry as I read and looked at the displays around the flag. When we moved to the next room, my kids and I played with the interactive flag to discover all the information the flag holds in it's tears, rips and stains. Well, I suppose I can make like a mole in the metro for a while to be able to see fascinating pieces of history up close, like the Star Spangled Banner.. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why Do 18th Century Signatures Have Flourishes Underneath?

After visiting the printer we went upstairs to the Post Office to get a demonstration on the use of the quill. This is another activity we had wanted to do last summer but couldn't work it in, so  I was glad to see it on the schedule again!The gentleman wrote my daughter's name on a card with a flourish underneath, then it was her turn to do so. After that he did the same with my son. The gentleman made comments with both of my kids because they write with their left hands. He told us that in his day, everyone writes with their right hand! He even had me take a turn, but I left out the swirl underneath my name. He told me I needed that because someone else might come along and add something else that I didn't want underneath my name. So that's why 18th century signatures had flourishes!

I've noticed this activity throughout the years in various shops. A guest needs only to check their weekly schedule/map that they receive at the visitor center to see when it is offered. I forget the specific name of the program but it's easy to find! I'm sure one can even ask around!   

(Editor's Note 6-19-14) This certainly isn't a child specific activity, but it does encompass some of that one on one I know a lot of my friends are looking for.  In fact I've been asked by one of my homeschool girlfriends if I could feature activities for kids at Colonial Williamsburg. There are many and I'll be trying to give them their own special place for easy reference!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Talking to the Printer about Colonial Cities

Next we went to see the printer, which we didn't get to do last summer. The printer was hanging up the sheets to dry as we walked in.

We got to talking about the circulation of the Virginia Gazette. He compared the population of Williamsburg to the larger colonial cities of the time. He asked us which colonial city was the largest. My daughter said "Boston". Correct! Then he asked for the second largest colonial city. My son said "Philadelphia". Correct! Next he asked for the third largest which was between the other two. When no one else answered I said "New York". Correct! Finally he asked for the fourth largest colonial city, south of Williamsburg. Once again no one else was answering, so I said "Charleston". Correct!These larger cities might have a daily gazette, but Williamsburg had a weekly gazette. He showed us how he prepped the ink...

...he applied it to the typeset...

...he pulled the press...

...he pealed off the paper...

...and there is one side to the gazette!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Early June Blooms in a Colonial Williamsburg Garden

After lunch, we had a few hours before Revolutionary City began. What to do? We went to the Colonial Nursery. I wanted to get a special plant for my new Virginia garden. I found a bleeding heart! I also got some seeds for sensitive plant. This is a lot of fun to play with. You touch the leaves and they close up. There was one on display to have fun with. I didn't get pictures of these. But I did get pictures of other flowers in bloom.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fun New Scenes for us to See at Revolutionary City

With another history presentation behind us, and wanting a break anyway from the move-in process into our new house/new area/new state, I was ready for a time of refreshment and rejuvenation. That means none other than...a day at Colonial Williamsburg! I also wanted to seize the moment. My kids are of the age now that we can pick up and go. In a few years they will have jobs and will be attending college and we won't be able to squeeze in all the historic Virginia fun like we can now. Besides, it counts for homeschool, right?
A friend who works there highly recommended we visit on a day 2, since all three of our other visits, since we've moved to Virginia, were on day 1. She told me that there were many new scenes from what we had seen last Aug.  Carefully checking the weather forecast, because there seems to be lots of rain in Virginia, I decided Wednesday would be the best day. Although Wednesday was looking to be hot and dry, Friday was looking to be cold and rainy.

My kids decided to wear their costumes this time. As I handed my son his costume Wednesday morning, I told him to skip the stockings because the temperature would rise to 96 degrees. Although he said okay, I found him at breakfast in full costume, stockings and all. He had a long list of reasons for wearing the stockings, which he summed up by saying if his favorite actor/interpretor at CW can withstand the heat to wear his full costume, so could he!
We arrived at the Palace Garden just in time to see Patrick Henry, which I wrote about here because he talked about the 18th century tax stimulus package which I thought was noteworthy enough to recieve it's own post! 

Then for the first time, we got to meet George Mason, who lives at Gunston Hall! Since we tried to buy a house on Gunston Hall Drive, we are now aware of George Mason! George Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was actually the precursor to the Declaration of Independence. We got to discuss different rights. A lot of the questions from the audience revolved around slavery. It was interesting to hear the perspective of each of the delegates of the best way to end slavery.

The next scene was "What Holds the Future", a poignant scene about slave families being split up and sold at the auction block. We saw the process of this scene being developed and saw parts of it performed in our EFT "Making History Live." Now we got to see the program in its entirety...and have our hearts ripped out in the process. The actors get a bit rough, so it isn't recommended for children.

Then we walked down to the Courthouse for another scene we've never seen before. While waiting for that to start, I called my husband. Once again he told me to call him whenever we were in front of a webcam. lol This new scene at the Courthouse, "Blessings of Liberty", opens with the announcement that the Declaration of Independence has arrived in town. While some eagerly read it, others debate it. There are still Loyalists lurking about. There are even Patriots who are out to destroy every semblance of allegiance to the king.
After some lunch and some historic shopping, the kids and I sat down on a bench in front of the Kings Arms Tavern and listened to the tavern owners banter back and forth with each other across the Duke of Gloucester Street. One of the actresses had picked some Service Berries from the garden and shared them with us. I never heard of them before. They looked like a purple blueberry and tasted a bit tarter than one.They were delicious!

The oppressive heat of the day must have caused the dark, ominous clouds in the distance and the threatening rumble of thunder. Hopefully Revolutionary City would not get rained out! The warm up program began with music and dancing!

As we headed to the Capital for the reading of the Declaration of Independence, I was surprised to see the horses!  They weren't in the program I saw last year!


After the horsemen arrived at the capital, my son ran over to take pictures. He insisted that Mann Page recognized him.  I told him that's impossible! We had only met him the summer before. How in the world could he recognize us? Undaunted, my son insisted that Mann Page remembered! 

...a truely meaningful reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Everyone gets a part. By the end, my son joined in reciting it with them.  No, he did not have the words in front of him.


As the fife and drum corps played and marched out, we were told to gather for a major announcement. I don't know what was wrong with us but he asked us three times to gather closely to him for a major announcement. I finally got it and I moved closer, as did everyon else.  I had a difficult time concentrating, because I was thinking I should have toted our rain gear with us. The temperature had significantly dropped, the wind was rising, the sky was darker, the thunder was booming and the lightening was flashing in the distance. Were we crazy people? Actually we were proving that we were duds as actors. LOL As the guy told us about the major victory at Saratoga, which caused France to decide to support our cause, we weren't responding the way he expected. He kept prodding us to say something. So we did!  We started "booing" when we needed to "huzzah!" and we "huzzahed" when we were supposed to "cheer".  The poor fellow was so patient with us. We were laughing, then TRYING to get into the spirit of things when he told us to give three cheers for that selfless patriot who made the major victory at the Battle of Saratoga possible...Benedict Arnold! Um I confess we were a bit lame in our "huzzahs" over him. If only he knew what we knew. =) But that's the point of Revolutionary City...to get caught up in the events of the day, not the future. Why did people feel as they did and act as they did during certain events? What would we really have done, not knowing the future? These are pages of a history book come to life.

   We got a few rain drops during the next few scenes, and then it was time to head to the Capital because the Redcoats were coming, led by the turncoat, Benedict Arnold. Because of the lightening and thunder, the horses were not used. The Redcoats came to us through the Capital.

 By the end of the Revolutionary City program, the storm had moved further out and the sun was in! We followed the fife and drum corps to the Courthouse to meet with General Washington for the program, "On to Yorktown, and Victory!"

 Generals Washington and Lafayette arrived...

...to assure the citizens of Williamsburg that victory is close at hand.

The British are surrounded at Yorktown and the French have arrived by sea and land with men and provisions.

After the generals left...

we followed the General's staff and the fife and drum corps back to the Capital. 

Sadly, it was time to go home. As we walked by the windmill, my son took a picture of the cloud formations.

I captured the more  forbidding clouds that indeed caused some challenges in getting home. Downpours and deluges dumped on us south of Richmond, through Richmond and then again in Northern Virginia.  Finally we arrived home safely. The rain could not damper our spirits and we deluged my husband with the events of the day when we got home!  We can't wait to go back! My husband simply can't believe I want to return so often! The kids are thinking like me! When can we return?