The Great Depression and Children's Literature

In the 1930s an economic depression took hold of the world. It started in the United States, but soon spread throughout the world. Those of you using the 7th grade social studies with Oak Meadow  study about the events and have the opportunity to interview someone that may have experienced this time in history. My own father was a young boy during this time and he has lots of stories to tell about lines at soup kitchens, and people losing jobs. His father was a farmer and survived mainly by planting and selling his crops. Interviewing and talking to people about their experiences can give one a strong connection to a period of time in history. The American Experience website, has remarkable stories and photographs from people. On the site, search “an American Experience” such as the Dust Bowl, and many options to look at will be presented.

If you are interested in reading stories from this time period, I’ve found some terrific books for you to enjoy!

Curtis, Christopher Paul Bud, Not Buddy

Hesse, Karen Out of the Dust

Koller, Jackie French Nothing to Fear

Peck, Richard Year Down Yonder

Peck, Robert Newton Arly’s Run

Phelan, Matt. The Storm in the Barn

Taylor, Mildred Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry





Oak Meadow 2016 Poetry Extravaganza

April is National Poetry Month! Do you ever write poetry just for fun? Poems can be like paintings with words. You might try a traditional form, such as a haiku or a couplet, or just start writing free verse and see what comes out of your pen!

Every year we take this opportunity to celebrate our students’ poetry. Many of our students write poems as part of Oak Meadow’s comprehensive curriculum, and others submit poems they wrote outside of their lessons.

Here are a few of our students’ poems that we hope you will enjoy. You can see some of the others on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We’ll be posting the rest on our website soon!

Photo credit: Heather Brainerd  (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Heather Brainerd
(Oak Meadow Archives)

The Kite
by Isabella Merlini, grade 10, Oak Meadow

High up in the air,
Soaring in the summer breeze.
Flying happily.

“I was inspired to write this haiku poem based on a previous poem that I wrote in fifth grade about a kite. I have always liked watching kites as they fly because they look so happy and free when they are high up in the sky.”



Poem by Lucy Enge, grade 9, Oak Meadow

Photo credit: The Krefting Family  (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Krefting Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Among the hills we walked today
breathing in the smells of spring
and rejoicing in Earth’s glory

preserved for us and generations.
Parks and trails of Nature’s beauty
and full of peace and serenity to all who come

to be healed or relaxed.
I went this night for a closer look
At the hills and meadow grasses,

only to realize the true importance of nature,
in that we need these special places
For recreation and rejuvenation,

millions flock to the National Parks
in every state of the Great U.S.
I am proud to have such parks for everyone in every place.

“I was inspired to write this poem after a hike with my mom on part of the New England National Scenic Trail by our house in Connecticut for my world geography class.”

A Fleck of Faith

by Jamie Stenzel, grade 8, Oak Meadow

She gazed around at the light strands of grass which bowed down to the wind,
and smiled as they sprung back up
like brave warriors in a hopeless war
against a force that was so much greater than them,
moving with the aspects of nature
until it broke them down again and again
and gained another fleck of flimsy faith,
the wind soaring through and around them
the way it did when she had tried to return home that night
but it had been too strong,
and she truly felt exactly like these lonely fields of grass,
especially when it rained and she was soaked,
her straw-like hair like damp hay itself,
and her stick-like figure flimsy
like the flimsy fleck of faith the grass gained,
although she truly knew she was stronger than that within,
for after sitting there a few more minutes
she realized she was not only like the grass,
she was like the wind too
strong, weak, quiet, but ever so loud,
and sadly destructive,
and then her quite unflattering smile reappeared
she finally felt like she could return home again.

“I wrote this for an English assignment, and I was pretty happy with it, and decided to submit it. I sort of had this image of a girl who’s run away from home, but then realizes she doesn’t have to be afraid to face her obstacles, like grass against wind. My inspiration came from that scene.”

Even if you haven’t ever written a poem before, give it a try! If you can write, you can write poetry. If you create something you like, share it with us here. We’d love to see and enjoy your poetry, too.

Photo credit: The Robert Family  (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Robert Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)


“What provisions can be made for the very capable homeschool families who tend to be over-achievers?

This question was asked a few years ago by one of Oak Meadow’s enrolled families. It has recently been inquired again. I went back into my blog files and found the following thoughts that were compiled from an email thread between Oak Meadow k-8 teachers regarding over-achieving students and home teachers. I think this invaluable information is fitting to provide once more. The bulleted list below is a summary of the suggestions and advice:

  • You do not have to explore everything in depth.
  • Pay attention to your stress level. Slow down and lighten the focus if you feel rushed or pressured.
  • Moderation in all things.
  • Find a different perspective that helps an over-achieving student (and even the home teacher) to relax.
  • Think outside the box. Not every assignment needs to be in a final copy. Some assignments can be done orally, video taped, or even letting it lie until another year.
  • Take a walk for pleasure!
  • Focus more on the process rather than the goal or end result.
  • Show your children it is OK to make mistakes.
  • Remember that the joy of learning is the most important aspect of schooling.
  • Step back and look at the progress your student has made.
  • Sometimes less is more. Focus less on the number of pages and more on the quality and content of what has been written.
  • Stay in good humor. Children are like sponges – they pick up and absorb stress, if that is what you are feeling.


The following is a dialogue in response to the question regarding overachievers. Thanks to all the Oak Meadow teachers who participated in this collaboration. We hope it aids in your home teaching skills.

Michelle Menegaz:

I suggest looking for those times when just touching on something more lightly might be enough. You will know by how rushed, obligated, or pressured you are feeling versus maintaining a balanced enthusiasm, Children (and all of us, I think) need time to digest as well as ingest our learning.

I think it is natural and advantageous to go through cycles with writing… a time when you focus on brainstorming without the need to polish a final product is very useful in skills development. Sometimes the student may be digesting and assimilating knowledge and skills at a newer level before taking the next steps or leaps in learning. This is fine and even preferable to constantly churning out the same amount of work every month. I trust you to use your  intuition and be open to your student’s process to know when to push, listen, back off, or explore new ideas. 

Andy Kilroy:

Sometimes people seek out home school options to get their children out of the grind, and then get so wrapped up in the curriculum, that they forget all about the joy and flexibility and turn into taskmasters (home teacher) and over-achievers (child). It is important to not overdo the technical aspects of the work, but instead focus more on the joy and creativity aspect. I also like to reinforce to the home teacher that there is always something constructive to tell the student.

Sarah Adelman:

Students of over-achieving home teachers seem to fall into two categories: those that put a ton of pressure on themselves to be as successful as their home teachers; or those that shut down or don’t bother because there’s no way they can meet that expectation. I currently have a student whose parents are both high-achievers. This student is really hard on himself and very much of an overachiever  While his parents could probably do a better job editing his papers than I ever could, it is much less stressful for him to look at outside feedback and suggestions. I think having another perspective, particularly on his writing, has helped him relax. 

Lesley Arnold:

The pressure and stress a curriculum and a home teacher might put on a student can weave into every part of life, which can lead to finding it difficult to do anything. I encourage “lightening up” and “thinking outside the box” on the assignments. Not every assignment needs to be in final copy. Not every assignment needs to be typed into a three page essay. Some assignments can be done orally, some can be video taped…etc. Some assignments can “sleep” until another year! 

Home teachers need to know that they can be more flexible with the curriculum. Focusing on how much of the day involves “intellectual pursuits” can be very taxing and tiring. For example, taking a walk for mere pleasure and not for meeting the demands of an assignment is an invaluable part of a day! 

Sarah Antel:

It’s important for the home teachers to take a step back, a moment’s break, and look at the progress their children have made. 

Leslie Daniels:

I know ALL of us have felt like overachievers at more than one point in our lives. So, when this happens to me, I do the “wake up call” and remind myself to stay in good humor. And this is exactly what I suggest to my home teachers who present each lesson too much by verbatim or take each assignment too seriously. Have you noticed that many of the over-achieving home teachers seem to set high standards for their own personal lives – as parent, home teacher, partner, family/community member, etc? And this type of stressful nature in a parent also develops stress in the children. After all, children are like sponges and pick up on everything!   

It’s also important for the home teacher to understand that a child does not need to feel pressured by imperfections with lessons, etc. I encourage them to find humor in their own personal antics and to express this humor in front of their children, so their children will know it’s okay to make mistakes. We learn from our mistakes! Aside from basic concepts, most every concept that is being introduced and taught to the students in the k-4 grades is reemphasized in the 5-8 grades, and then once again in high school. So, in working with overachievers, I remind the home teachers to focus more on the process and to not always be so concerned with the goal. And most of all, I emphasize that instilling the joy of learning is THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of schooling. When a child is given the opportunity to learn in a joyful manner, then they will become life-long learners ~ and isn’t that truly what is the most valuable gift we can offer our children?


12 Ways to Support Student Independence and Autonomy in Learning

Homeschooling parents often ask how they can help their children learn to work independently. Independence is a skill that grows slowly and needs to be nurtured over time. Students need opportunities to repeatedly practice and gain confidence in their capabilities. They also need to know they can trust that an adult will be ready and available for support when they need it.

Here are some ways parents and teachers can foster independence in children.

  1. Have them help plan how to set up their homeschool space. “How would you like to organize your space? You know yourself well; what would work best for you?”

    Photo credit: Lucy Enge  (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Lucy Enge
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Let them pick out their own supplies. “What do you need? What do you like?”
  1. Give the student control over what they will learn. “What would you like to study? What are you interested in learning more about?” Help them understand educational requirements and encourage them to come up with ways to meet them.
  1. Help them develop the range of possible options. Listen when they have suggestions. “What other possibilities could we consider? Can you think of anything else?”
  1. Support different ways of demonstrating knowledge. Brainstorm possibilities with the student, let them choose, and then hold them accountable for their choices. “How would you like to share what you’ve learned?”
  1. Encourage them to use a planner or calendar. Provide one and show them how to use it. “You’re very capable. Let me show you how you can remind yourself what needs to be done.”

    Photo credit: The Bessent Family  (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: The Bessent Family
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Keep the schedule flexible. Let them tell you what they would like to do when. “What do you need to accomplish today? How will you make sure those things get done before tomorrow?”
  1. Encourage them to play outdoors. Playing on their own can help foster a sense of independence in children. “Go play outside! I know you can keep yourself occupied. It’s fun to be independent. If you need my support, you can ask.”
  1. Let the student define their own goals. Don’t demand perfection. Ask questions like, “What standards do you have for yourself?” “How accurate do you think this needs to be?” and “Are you satisfied with your progress?”

    Photo credit: Sarah Justice  (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Sarah Justice
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Guide them; don’t direct them. Don’t tell them how to do things. “I trust you to figure that out on your own. Let me know if you need help.”
  1. Ask open-ended questions. Listen attentively to the answers they offer. “What do you make of this? What are your thoughts?”
  1. Let them learn from their attempts. Don’t correct them right away. Ask them, “How did things go? Could you make it better somehow? What do you think?”

What other ways can you think of to nurture independence in your homeschooled child?

An Important Day in History

Paul Revere’s Ride

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 18071882

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.


April 18 is a very important day in American history, for on this day in 1775, Paul Revere rode from Charlestown to Lexington to warn Massachusetts colonists of the arrival of British troops. It is noted as the beginning of the American Revolution.

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

In 1973, Jean Fritz began writing a series of American Revolution books that have provided children with an adventurous look into the lives of George Washington (George Washington’s Breakfast and George Washington’s Mother), King George (Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?), Paul Revere (And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?), Ben Franklin (What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?), Sam Adams (Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?), John Hancock (Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?), and Patrick Henry (Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?).

You might wish to explore America’s historical past with lessons and activities that complement this award-winning series of books. The educational website, TeacherVision, referred to the Jean Fritz books as important tools for learning about American history. This site offers themes, an art study, games and other activities to accompany the books.

Astronomy for Kids

In Oak Meadow’s fourth grade science coursework, the final block of lessons offers an extensive study on astronomy. The twelve lessons offer educational information, additional book and story selections, sky watching activities, hands-on projects, and artistic exercises.

I highly recommend the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) website to families as a way to further enhance the ongoing lessons. APOD is a collaboration of NASA and Michigan Technological University (MTU). Each day, an image or photograph of our universe is featured with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer. This website is extremely interesting, as well as quite educational for any budding scientist, astronomer or avid sky watcher.

As part of Oak Meadow’s fourth grade astronomy block, there is a five-week main lesson project, in which the students choose a planet to research and complete a written report. I suggest perusing the website, Kids Astronomyfor additional information. It offers educational websites and interactive games, worksheets, music, and movies.

Meet_the_Planets_CoverOne of Oak Meadow’s enrolled families shared an exciting website they discovered called Meet the Planets. This site (and book) offers awesome portrayals of “Who’s Who & What’s What” in each of the illustrations created by Laurie Allen Klein.

If your family is interested in stargazing, there are many amazing events occurring throughout the year of 2016. The Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events for Calendar Year 2016 is a good site for finding these specific dates. Plato, the Greek philosopher and mathematician, once wrote, “Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.” May you find similar inspiration in your sky gazing activities!

The Outdoor Classroom

The Best Kind of Classroom
by Ian MacMillan

This is the best kind of classroom,
No walls, just sky and trees.
This is the best kind of classroom:
No radiators, just a gentle breeze.
You can learn here well, as the birds sing
About your place in the scheme of things.
You can make up poems about woodland flowers.
Why it’s almost as good at the Literacy Hour!

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

Yes, spring has sprung, and even though many parts of the world are still covered in snow and/or experiencing other wintry conditions, it’s that time of year to think about spending more quality time outdoors. Spring is often when our minds and bodies are yearning more than ever to get some fresh air and to stretch our legs. Perhaps you may just want to dip your toes into the cool water in order to sense the revitalization of the new season, or perhaps you might like to indulge in a more active role through game playing.

Active, outdoor games are always enticing to play this time of year; and what better way is there to spend time with your children than by playing games? Right outside your door, you and your children could play marbles, hopscotch or other sidewalk chalk games, such as tic-tac-toe or hangman. Jumping rope, flying kites, blowing bubbles, or even washing the family car (or your bikes) can be enjoyable outdoor experiences.

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

If you want to keep the outdoor activities on a more educational level and relating to the current school lessons, you might include: exploring nature and observing new signs of spring, taking a conducted sensory walk, practicing math skills with natural objects, writing a journal entry on a picnic table at a local park, gathering wild edibles for your upcoming cooking project, composing a poem by your favorite tree, painting a picture with a feather you found, or helping with a community clean-up event!

The creator of the website, “Mess For Less”, provides ideas and activities for playful learning with kids. You might enjoy viewing the ideas offered in 25 Outdoor Learning Games.


images-1Imagine you’ve gone back in history and it is the year 1899. You are with the Wright brothers at their bicycle shop, the Wright Cycle Company. They’ve been making, repairing, and selling bicycles at their shop since 1892. As they work, you hear them talk freely about their new passion of flying. Orville and Wilbur have been observing birds in flight and they’ve noticed that birds tilt their wings to one side or the other depending on which direction they want to go. So now the brothers are talking and thinking about some experiments they are going to try. That’s when you notice they’re not working on bicycles; they’re building kites! Yep, kites! You try to follow their conversation about how they are building a kite with wings that can be controlled by strings, just as birds control their own wings in flight. Jump ahead 5 years and all their observing, questioning, building and experimenting with kites resulted in the first piloted glider and then the first powered aircraft!

Each year there is a kite festival in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the Wright brothers experimented with their kite flying. It looks like great family fun and The Wright Brothers National Memorial Park grounds there would be wonderful to visit.

APRIL is KITE FLYING MONTH! Make some kites! Try some of these: