The winter season is my favorite time of year to curl up in my coziest reading chair by the warm fire and indulge in a good book. I have especially fond memories of snuggling in the oversized chair with my children and reading storybooks as the snowflakes fell softly outside the window. Perhaps this scenario is also familiar to you and your family.
When I hear the exciting news that a child has just begun learning how to read, it brings a great joy to my heart. This child has now entered a new realm of learning and a new way of discovering the world. Learning to read is like receiving a gift of a lifetime!
We are fortunate that our modern-day world makes books so readily available. There is a numerous assortment of amazing classics for children, including many Newbery and Caldecott Award winner and honor books. The American Library Association recently announced 2017’s Caldecott and Newbery Awards.
Each year the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) also creates a “Children’s Notable” list that identifies the best in children’s books, recordings, and videos.
I recently asked some of my local homeschool students to share the names of their favorite books. It was both entertaining and educational for the other children to hear which book titles were selected. Many were familiar favorites, while the new titles sparked interest in a desire to read some of these unfamiliar books. It was also delightful to listen to each child’s oral summary of their favorite book. We even discussed how our “favorite” books often change because there are so many unknown books that are just as fantastic as the ones that have already been read!
In Oak Meadow’s fourth grade syllabus, a suggested activity for Natalie Babbitt’s book, The Search for Delicious, offers doing a poll for the most delicious foods. It could be inspiring to poll the choices your children and their friends’ favorite books. We can even create a list of your children’s favorite books right here on the blog. My all-time favorite children’s book is Gwinna, beautifully illustrated and written by Barbara Berger. If you haven’t read this story to your children, I highly recommend it!
Quotes on ceiling of Michel de Montaigne's study in France.
“Among the liberal arts, let us begin with the art that liberates us…”
Michel de Montaigne wrote these words in the late 1570s, when he withdrew from public life to hole up in a tower where he read, wrote, thought, paced, and ultimately, transformed the landscape of writing altogether.
Montaigne was a French nobleman and former magistrate whose life prior to his writing career has been called “unremarkable.” But it is precisely the things society has always called unremarkable that he fixed his mind on when he chose to sit down and begin writing in a style and form the world had never seen before.
Actually, he didn’t even sit. He felt his mind was more active if he paced around his library and dictated his thoughts to another person in the room. When he moved his books into the tower, he had his favorite quotes painted on the wooden beams that held up the ceiling. In this way, he could gaze up at them while walking and allow their ideas to inspire him as he walked.
“For our boy, a closet, a garden, the table and the bed, solitude, company, morning and evening, all hours will be the same, all places will be his study.”
This active approach to writing and thinking makes sense when we consider what he was writing about—ordinary, mundane things that everyone experiences but which no one ever talks about, to this day and certainly not in 1580. These were topics like: “Of thumbs,” “That we laugh and cry for the same thing,” “Of smells,” “Of sleep,” “Not to counterfeit being sick,” “Of the resemblance of children to fathers,” “Of liars,” “Of the custom of wearing clothes,” and so on. They weren’t informational articles, nor were they fictional stories or poems. They didn’t fall into any category of writing that anyone recognized. So what were they?
They were the mind in active work on the page—exploring, questioning, doubting, contradicting, and meandering, through the halls of sciences, poetry, fashion, law, history, morality, and a hundred other topics and disciplines, all with one unifying factor: the pursuit of curiosity.
Montaigne called them his essais, from the French word essayer—to try, or to attempt. Montaigne wasn’t an expert in the topics he was writing about or disseminating his superior knowledge. Instead, he was thinking and writing with a passionate rigor and a humble acknowledgement that learning and the pursuit of truth and discovery are never-ending processes.
“Put into his head an honest curiosity to inquire into all things; whatever is unusual around him he will see: a building, a fountain, a man, the field of an ancient battle, the place where Caesar or Charlemagne passed.”
This active, questioning, doubting, failing, and persevering definition of the word essay has been completely discarded from the American education system (if it was ever really present at all) through the industrialized uniformity of traditional curriculum design. When I say the word essay, I doubt you think to yourself, “Oh yeah, questioning and imagining, meandering and exploring! So fun, I love essays!” but rather, “Five paragraphs, same structure every time, topic sentences, plan the ending before I begin writing, never say the word I, hamburger method, makes me hate writing and feel like I am a bad writer.” At least that is what every writing student has told me the first time I asked them what an essay was.
The five-paragraph essay is one kind of essay, but it is not the only kind of essay, and it should not be the first kind of essay we learn how to write in school. I’ll tell you why: because it does not teach you how to think. In fact, it teaches you the opposite of thinking. It does teach organization of thought—but why should you learn how to organize your thoughts before you have been given the opportunity to think?
What Montaigne got so right in his essays that we should remember in our writing today is that essay writing is not so much about convincing your readers that you are an expert, but rather demonstrating the avenues, sidewalks, flight patterns, maps, and trajectories you’ve traveled to arrive at your discoveries. It’s about crafting a question (such as, “Since it is philosophy that teaches us to live, and since there is a lesson in it for childhood as well as for the other ages, why is it not imparted to children?”), reflecting on your initial knowledge about that question, researching the question, staging a conversation between your thoughts and your research, and reflecting on the discoveries that you made. By learning to think and write rigorously in this way, you also learn all the formalities of grammar and mechanics, and gain a comfort in writing in specific forms like lab reports or the five-paragraph essay.
In the spirit of Montaigne, and this rigorous, independent learning, I’ve designed a new writing course for Oak Meadow high-schoolers called Composition: Expression & Understanding, and you can enroll in the first semester now! Semester two will roll out this summer. This course will prepare you for the independent learning style of Oak Meadow, and it will strengthen your writing abilities in preparation for studies in all disciplines. But most importantly, this course will help you discover who you truly are, what you believe in, and how you want to pursue your own full and meaningful life. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?
In November of 1895, Alfred Nobel passed away and left a very large amount of his money to go toward a variety of prizes. The prizes became known as the Nobel Prizes. It was a generous beginning to yearly honor work in the sciences, literature, and those people working for peace throughout the world.
I am always most interested in The Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel’s will stated that the Peace Prize would go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
The 2017 award went to an organization, rather than one person. The Nobel Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This is a world-wide partnership of organizations dedicated and focused on a nuclear weapon ban treaty for the world. What an honorable intention to free the world’s people from the use of a nuclear weapon.
In 1904 Ivan Pavlov won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Some of you may have already studied about him and his ideas. You may be studying Pavlov’s work in the Oak Meadow curriculum. On the Nobel Prize website there are educational pages that have some fun facts and games to play. The one about Ivan Pavlov is great!
“I’m very sensitive to the English language. I studied the dictionary obsessively when I was a kid and collect old dictionaries. Words, I think, are very powerful and they convey an intention.” Drew Barrymore
For those of you in 5th-8th grade, I hope you have your very own dictionary! I don’t mean a digital one. I mean a dictionary that you can hold in your own hand, turn the pages, mark it up, and carry it around with you. Get a dictionary to keep next to you as you study. Make it your constant companion and it will serve you well!
With a dictionary you can find the proper spelling of a word, what a word means, how to pronounce it, the part of speech that it is, and where the word originated. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years and into high school, find a Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent addition.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’sCollegiate Thesaurus. Both the dictionary and the thesaurus will become your best friends as you go through the year.
Also really useful will be a good atlas for discovering new places in the world. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!
While you are using the dictionary, why not make a dictionary of your own? Keep track of the new words you looked up or found while you were reading:
Get a notebook or put some lined paper into a binder.
Mark a page with each letter of the alphabet leaving about 10 pages in between each letter.
Make a beautiful cover to your dictionary.
Start filling in those pages with the words and their definitions!
Welcoming a new school year is exciting! Here in New England I think I can actually feel the excitement in the cooling air of autumn. Getting ready for a new school year can mean finding the best spot for studying, getting your supplies in order, and setting up your desk space. Setting up your own “work space” allows for you to separate work from play. Look for a quiet, comfortable space with few distractions, and good lighting. Looking ahead in the curriculum to see what supplies you may need is a great way to set yourself up for successful learning. Get out your favorite pencils, pens, crayons, and notebooks!
For those of you in the middle grades (ages 11-14), if you don’t yet have your very own dictionary and thesaurus, now is the time to find them! Both will become your best friends as you go through the year. Printed book versions are great to just have next to you as you read and write. With a book at hand you won’t be distracted by your device (computer, kindle, phone, ipad) and you can mark up the pages any way that you like! You can often find used ones at second hand book stores. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years, look for Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent additions.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’sCollegiate Thesaurus.
Also really useful is a good atlas for discovering new places in the world and helping you illustrate maps. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!
The 2017 IDITAROD will start on March 4 in Alaska. If you haven’t yet heard of the Iditarod Race, let me tell you it is one very exciting 1,150 miles! Men and women race with teams of dogs and sleds to see who will arrive in Nome, Alaska first. (There are two starting points, Anchorage or Fairbanks, depending on the year, the weather, and the snow coverage.) The race is based on true events that occurred in 1925 when the children in Nome, Alaska were ill with the deadly disease of diphtheria. They were in need of a special medicine and they needed it quickly, as many children were dying. That medicine was far away in Anchorage, Alaska, it was January with freezing ice blocking the ports and grounding airplanes. The race was on to get the medicine to the children as quickly as possible and it seemed the only way to do that was to use the mushers and their faithful dogs. A relay of the best sled drivers and dogs was arranged and after five and a half days of grueling weather, the last sled driver and his dogs arrived in Nome. Many children in Nome were saved and an epidemic was halted all thanks to the amazing teams of dogs that each man had cared for. One special dog team leader was a dog named Balto.
You can read more about Balto, his bravery, and the events in The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie Miller. The first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was held in 1973 and has been raced ever since in honor of the first race to save children’s lives.
In the past years, while the race is on, children and families have taken up the challenge of spending the same amount of minutes outdoors as the mileage of the Iditarod. That’s 1,150 minutes! Why not take up this challenge with friends and family members? Keep a record of your time outdoors and what activities you did!
By the way, when the Oak Meadow group was at a conference in Alaska last May, they contributed to a fundraiser for the 34th annual Yukon Quest, writing messages on the protective booties that the dogs wear in the race (they need a LOT of them!). One of Oak Meadow’s booties was on team #3!
Here are some books that you might enjoy for further reading:
The Oak Meadow curriculum offers many opportunities to learn how to research and write reports. Note that I wrote LEARN, because most middle school students are just beginning to learn how to find appropriate resources for a topic and how to organize the information into an interesting, cohesive, and fact-filled report.
Finding a reliable source can begin with a trip to the library for magazines, encyclopedias, newspapers, biographies, and lots more! Some students don’t have a library nearby and so they use the internet for their research. Reliable sites are usually ones that end in .org, .net, or .edu. I like to use the Great Websites for Kids as a starting point. Their website notes that the site is an “Internet guide of child-safe sites selected by a committee of the American Library Association.” You can choose a subject such as “sciences” and then choose a specific subject of interest. Give it a try!
There’s a lot in the news these days about what is fact and what is opinion. When I read reports by students I often write, “Make sure you back up your opinion with a reliable source that explains the facts that you are basing your opinion on.” Some students are learning that an opinion can be based on fact, and they’re backing it up with a quotation from a reliable source. For instance, I received a research report on sound frequencies for an 8th grade physics lesson. I was impressed with the three sources and the examples that the student used for his research. However, most impressive was the use of quotations from his sources that added strength to his examples. Convincing a reader that what you’ve written is true, rather than just your opinion, is pretty important! When you use a quote from a reliable source you give your opinion validity. It allows the reader to trust that your opinion is based on fact.
The Stonekeeper book #1 of the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
I was at the public library the other day when I overheard a librarian ask a student what genre she had to read for an assignment. “Genre? What’s genre?” the student asked. I listened as the librarian explained that books are written in different genres. She went on to explain that in fiction for example, there is the mystery genre, science fiction genre, or even fantasy genre. Then the student asked what genre graphic novels are because she wanted to read one. I was very interested in the answer because I really love graphic novels! I’ve read quite a few and lately my favorites are Cardboard by Doug TenNapel and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. They are both entertaining and inspiring stories with lively illustrations.
As it turns out, graphic novels fall into many genres. They are not a genre by themselves. There are non-fiction graphic novels, fiction graphic novels, fantasy graphic novels, mystery graphic novels and the list goes on!
So again the librarian asked what genre graphic novel the student was interested in. She answered that she didn’t care at the moment. She just wanted to look at them. The librarian showed her the graphic novel section of the library.
When I looked around the library and saw sections of books divided into categories, I had to wonder when this genre idea came into being. I love to research, investigate, and learn about the things I wonder about so this will take me some time! In the meantime, I’ve got a whole list of great graphic novels, in all genres, that you may enjoy reading!
“Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and India’s Kailash Satyarthi
Win Nobel Peace Prize”
“A Peek Inside The World’s First Carbon Neutral City”
“Google’s Young Scientists Are Out To Change The World”
These intriguing news headlines come from a news source called DOGO News
In the Oak Meadow social studies curriculum, you will most certainly come across an assignment that requires current event articles from a news source. If you don’t have access to newspapers or magazines in your area and there isn’t a library near you, it may be a challenge to find local current event news articles, and a greater challenge to find articles about events that are international. DOGO News has terrific and interesting articles for kids on current events taking place over the world. They cover many subjects like science, sports, and health, and there are also lots of videos and games.
The Smithsonian Tween Tribune is another great source! It has daily news for kids grades 5-8. You will find articles for your specific grade level with photos, graphics, and audio and/or video materials prepared by the Smithsonian. There is so much to learn about history, and the arts, science, and culture of countries around the world.
“Teen Read Week™ is a national adolescent literacy initiative created by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). It began in 1998 and is held annually in October the same week as Columbus Day. Its purpose is to encourage teens to be regular readers and library users.” http://teenreadweek.ning.com/
It’s Teen Read Week! Support your local library!
I love this! If you have read any of these books vote for up to three that are your favorites. You have until the 15th of October to vote.
If you are in the 8th grade with Oak Meadow, you have the opportunity to choose a place to volunteer in your community as a community service project assignment. There are a variety of ways to provide service in a community. My students have done projects as simple as picking up trash in their neighborhood, walking their neighbor’s dog, or playing cards once a week with a grandparent. Others have reached a bit further into the community by volunteering at a local Red Cross, community kitchen, or recreation center. If you are wanting to do some community service and are undecided as to what to do, I encourage you to find the nearest public library and ask if you can volunteer. If the library doesn’t have positions for students your age, substitute your volunteering assignment with joining the teen club at your library. Most public libraries in the United States have teen clubs. Read for the fun of it!