Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Review: Croconile by Roy Gerrard


We read this as part of our Egypt studies in history.  I read it with a 1st, 3rd and 6th grader (to give background).  Everyone enjoyed it, but this one is best read aloud, especially for the youngest.  The story is written in free verse, so it is especially good as a read aloud, and can be used as part of your literature study (of course) in free verse. 

Highlights of the story are two children become friends with a crocodile, go on adventures without the crocodile, excel in artistry of the time (sculpting and painting), get into a scrape with villains and then are rescued by their friend the crocodile in the end.  Aside from the free verse aspect (loved that), I didn't find the plot of this one all that good.  Our friend the crocodile was missing through all the story except the very beginning and the end yet got billing in the title.  That the kids are saved by a creature usually reserved for the villain of tales, of course, is a nice touch.  The plot touched on the flooding of the Nile annually, traveling by boat for trade and the art of the times, all great touches.  The fact that both kids excelled and became masters of their craft with very little time seemed not great to me, probably because we had just studied the requirements to be an artist of the time in the great pyramids.  People reading this for enjoyment only would likely pass over that aspect without a problem.  It is, after all, a children's book with a crocodile hero. 

The illustrations I didn't find all that wonderful in this one.  They are more bland, not as vivid, though certainly not awful, and are quite detailed.  They just didn't hold attention as well for my kids, a minor thing to note, especially if you are holding this book up in front of a class as a read aloud.  They are not bright enough to be seen as well.  All in all, a nice read though, good length, lyrical. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Review: The Scarab's Secret

In history, we are in Ancient Egypt.  There are so many great books for kids on Egypt, I can't even begin to look at them all at the library even.  I decided to choose a few we had read with Zach when he was kinder/1st grade, incorporate those for Lily and Noah, and add a few new ones to liven it up.  This one was a great recommendation in one of our guides. 

This is a folktale-style story of the little scarab beetle, Khepri, and his adventure with the pharaoh, saving him from death at the hands of two villains in the tale.  Yep, that is the tale, and it is simple.  That is not really what is great about this book, of course, though we all appreciate that an insignificant little critter saves the life of a mighty pharaoh, thus telling our kids that everyone can do great things!  The illustrations in this one are awesome, colorful, detailed, reminding one of fresco paintings.  The pictures detailing the interior of the buildings showed heiroglyphs, my kids of course finding the representations of ones they knew, ones we had been studying. 

The pacing of and length of this tale, combined of course with the great illustrations, made this a perfect read-aloud for us.  I actually used this one in co-op, so I had a group of 10 kids from pre-K to 6th grade.  All of them enjoyed it immensely, saying a lot about the appeal, right?  Highly recommend this one for just fun or to incorporate in your Egypt history studies. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

History this year: History Odyssey Ancients

History this year was a puzzle for me.  In the past, we have done Sonlight and Tapestry of Grace in different years.  We follow loosely the 4-year history cycle (covering all history every 4 years cyclically).  We actually took a little longer in our first cycle, but I had all young ones so that was a fun thing.  We came back around to ancients this year, starting our second cycle through while homeschooling.  I have a 6th grader, a 3rd grader and a 1st grader this year plus a 3yo.  The gap in ability is pretty wide, as is true for a lot of homeschooling families or "one room schoolhouse" type of setups.  I already knew that more than one core was not my thing (hence, I don't use Sonlight any longer).  Our last history was TOG, but looking carefully at their year 1 (ancients), that isn't the way I wanted to take.  We are Christian (Catholic), but TOG year 1 for us is just too biblically heavy, though they are the best I have found in integrating all levels of kids from youngest to adult learning in the same history cycle.  I definitely interweave all religions into our history studies, feeling that religion of course is one of the most powerful motivators of actions throughout history.  However, the focus on Christian primarily in the ancients isn't what I believe is best for us, leaving too little time on the other fascinating ancient cultures that didn't involve Christianity.  So that left me stumped for history this year.  We could easily just do Story of the World ala The Well Trained Mind, but even with the activity book and some extras, I wanted something "more" for Zach aside from just outlining or whatever.  It just didn't seem to suit my vision for this year for Zach. 

I finally came upon History Odyssey.  After downloading samples and looking at it, that is what we went with for these reasons: 
  • Classically based:  4-year history cycle with a level of difficulty corresponding to the three generally accepted levels of students (though note they are still writing levels!).  I could get guides catering specifically for my kids without a lot of manipulation.
  • I like the publisher.  I have other science products by them, and the writing and content I found to be good though not the perfect fit for our personalities here in my school.
  • Price is reasonable honestly.  TOG is much more robust of course, but I don't use all the components and it is freakishly expensive if you are using it mainly as "history only" in your studies compared to the alternatives.  
  • Ebook format makes it convenient for me to use on the go, or print, and again keeps the cost reasonable.  
  • Book choices use common ones (Story of the World, Children's History of the World, etc), but also give "extras" as well to enhance studies.  Plus, they incorporate hands on ideas, History Pockets and other things appealing to the youngest of mine (TOG is not as good as this, Sonlight is the best though), fiction (again TOG not so much, Sonlight best) and nonfiction choices.  I feel it is a fantastic buffet for my kids.  
  • It is broken into "lessons" for teaching, not days or such as Sonlight but definitely laid out to be easy to teach.  
The only real "problem" if you want to call it that is levels 1 and 2 are not exactly matched up between topics.  I'm teaching sometimes together and some independently (my level 2, Zach).  I have reordered the topics a bit to keep them in the together part, and changed up the pacing of Zach's guide to keep them on track.  That is working great, and Zach is loving listening in to the easier stuff he already heard once pretty much, yet delving much deeper in the more challenging level 2 material.  After doing ancients this year, I will reevaluate if I want to go back to TOG this history cycle or continue with HO from now on.  I really am loving it though, so this might become our permanent main history curriculum, that elusive best fit for our family.  Of course, I am a homeschooler, so I continue to tweak and adjust, add and subtract, from what is in the guide, but what would be the fun otherwise?!