Thursday, September 19

Serafina and the Black Cloak + Appalachian Folklore

Before written language, we had storytellers - people whose job it was to remember the stories and pass them down to the next generation.  It is the oldest form of narrative communication, and was frequently used by groups such as those who settled in the Appalachian territory.  These tales of supernatural and haints told of the deepest recesses of the mountain range...

In Serafina and the Black Cloak, the reader encounters something they can't quite put their finger.  They are also introduced to the wampus cat, or catamount, a native animal to the region.  What is the catamount?

Once, there was a Cherokee woman whose husband often went hunting.  Before each trip, the men would seek out supernatural powers.  One evening, the woman dressed in a cougar skin and followed her husband into the woods.  She was spotted by the sorcerer and dragged before the men.  The sorcerer cast a spell upon the woman, and her disguise became her skin.  She became a mix of cat and woman.  Nowadays, the catamount wanders alone through the Appalachian Mountains in the night.  Whenever mystery occurs during the night, it is blamed on this wampus cat, who forever lurks near humans, never to rejoin them.

The best storytellers...
  • get their attention in the first 30 seconds to a minute with a compelling beginning
  • end the story with emotion (happy, sad, content, excited, etc.)
  • use expressive body language, words, facial expression and tone of voice to communicate the story
  • know the basic facts of the story, and then tell it with flair and flavor
  • don’t get sidetracked with another great story
Make / Do
  • Painter – Mountain lion 
  • Ramp – Wild garlic 
  • Sorry – Something of little or no value 
  • Wish Book – Mail-order catalog 
  • Varmint – Wild animal 
  • Pert-near – almost
  • Co-cola — any brown soft drink
  • Ate Up – completely infected
  • Haint — ghost
  • His people — relatives
  • Parts — neighborhood
  • Poke — bag or a sack
  • Polecat — skunk
  • Red Light – stop light or traffic signal
  • Skittish — nervous
  • Spell — a while
  • Actin’ Up — hurting
  • Plumb — completely
  • Worsh — wash
  • Monday a week — next monday
  • Liketa -  almost or nearly
  • Agin' - against
  • You'ns - plural of you, similar to "y'all"
  • Research a story from this region.  Where did it originate, and how has it evolved?
  • Try your hand at coming up with, or altering an existing, supernatural tale.

Wednesday, September 18

World War II Code Talkers + Novel Study

In American Indian culture, boys are trained from an early age to become warriors. Warriors don't just fight enemies, but also care for their people. With this cultural influence, many felt led to serve in the military during the war. Several thousand Native Americans served during World War 2, but the most famous were the Navajo Code Talkers.

There were two types of codes used by the Native Americans during the war. "Type Two" code involved translating a phrase into a tribal tongue and passing it through radio waves just like that. The more sophisticated code, 'Type One,' was developed using the Navajo language. Each letter of the English alphabet was assigned a Navajo word, usually an animal, and that was used to spell out encrypted messages. The code talkers had to memorize all of the words and be able to perform well under very stressful battle conditions.

This newspaper article below, discussing how code talkers helped win the war, came from the September 19, 1945 issue of the New York Times. Learn about Navajo Folklore in our Modern Mythology series!

Make / Do
  • hogan
  • mutton
  • defiance
  • optimistic
  • intense
  • senninbari
  • propaganda
  • shrapnel
  • preliminary
  • bayonet
  • “When we saw them, we realized that our enemies were just human beings.”  This statement comes from Chapter 14.  Why is it important in the context of the book, as well as in life today? 
  • Why do you think it took so long for the government to officially honor the Navajo code talkers that served in WW2?

Tuesday, September 17

Breaking Stalin's Nose + Josef Stalin Unit Study

Serving under Lenin until 1924, Joseph (Josef) Stalin created a climate of propaganda, paranoia, and fear in the Soviet Union until his death in 1953.  He transformed the USSR from an agrarian (agricultural) society to an industrialized one, but also created the greatest man-made famine in history and began the "Great Purge" of the 1930s.

Stalin maintained control of his people with an iron fist.  He imprisoned millions of citizens, including political opponents, critics, and even innocent citizens who had done no wrong.  Secret police, informers, and begrudged neighbors often turns people in under accusations or mere heresay (similar to gossip).  These people were often forced to confess to crimes they didn't commit through torture and imprisonment.  

During the Great Purge (1934-1939), an estimated 700,000 prisoners were executed for being 'enemies of the working class.'  Later under Stalin's reign, the Soviet Union came out as a major world power after World War II.  They also developed a nuclear program.

At its most basic, Communism is the idea that all people should share the wealth of the world.  No person should have more than anyone else, and no one should own personal property.  Stalin's vision of Communism can still be seen today in places like North Korea.

Make / Do
Watch / Listen
  • aggravate 
  • capitalist 
  • communal 
  • communist 
  • infiltrated 
  • interrogating 
  • legion 
  • scheming 
  • solemnly 
  • suspicious 
  • vermin 
  • vigilant 
  • wrench 
  • Sasha and his friends have to listen to propaganda songs regularly. How would you like to have to listen to "America the Beautiful" and "The Star Spangled Banner" as your only music choices on a daily basis? Do you see any propaganda currently working in our own country?
  • In Stalinist Russia, the anonymous accusation of a crime was enough to get someone imprisoned, perhaps forever. How does this process of law differ from that of the United States? How do your rights differ from those of Russians under Stalin’s rule?

See other book studies here!

Monday, September 16

Best Immune-Boosting Herbs for Natural Health

Immunity is affected by daily habits, lifestyle choices, and exposure to toxins.  Your immune system doesn't just help prevent you from catching colds, but also prevents against things like cancer.  Maintaining a healthy immune system should be top priority all year long, not just during cold and flu season...

To keep your immune system firing....
  • Eat a diet of fresh vegetables and fruit for the antioxidants, but don't forget the high-quality proteins and fats.  Your body needs these to repair and build cells.
  • Exercise thirty minutes a day at a moderate intensity.  Excessive exercise can actually hinder immune functioning.
  • Sleep seven to nine hours per night so that your body is rested and has time to repair cell damage and produce white blood cells.
  • Although toxins are ever-present in our modern environments, do your part to avoid them by eating organic foods, antibiotic-free meats, and avoiding x-rays and radiation.
  • Use adaptogenic and immune-boosting herbs to strengthen the immune system.
Want more information on boosting your immunity? 

An adaptogenic super root, ashwagandha is used to increase vitality, relieve stress, enhance sleep, boost brain and cognitive function, and generally help the body to 'adapt' to stressors.

Astragalus comes in pill or tincture form, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Its main use has been to boost the body's immune system.  Brew and drink a tea from the roots at onset of a cold for quicker relief.

One of the trendiest herbs for immune boosting, echinacea can be taken regularly over long periods of time.  It has been reported to reduce the odds of catching a cold by 58%, as well as to reduce the duration of the common cold.

Used for its antioxidant activity, elderberry also lowers cholesterol and boosts the immune system.  It is also used for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis.

Learn how to make Elderberry Syrup in this easy tutorial!

Best taken raw, garlic contains many sulfur compounds which detoxify the body, boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and improve circulation.

Learn how to make Fire Cider using raw garlic.

Goldenseal helps to boost the 'power' of other herbs, and is often paired with echinacea.  It has antifungal and anti-infective properties, which explain the healing actions of this herb.  It should not be taken for long periods of time, but should be used more intermittently.

A natural antioxidant source, Oregano Oil contains phytochemicals which support the body’s natural resistance. Gaia Herbs supercritical CO2 extract of Oregano volatile oils contains phenols, including Carvacrol and Thymol. These oils help support a healthy microbial environment in the intestines and a healthy immune response.
A rich source of Vitamin C and antioxidants, rosehips support the heart and cardiovascular system, enhance the integrity of the vascular system, and can be used as a daily tonic.  They are also useful in speeding the healing of bruises and wounds.

*This information is not intended to diagnose or treat ailments.  I am not a medical professional.*

Friday, September 13

Serafina and the Splintered Heart + Writing a Ghost Story

Scary stories, or horror stories, are one of the favorite genres of middle and high school students, especially this time of year!  Well-written novels in this genre devote a lot of space to crafting the perfect setting, one which lends itself to creepiness....  

The Serafina series follows the adventures of Serafina, an orphan who is taken in by a worker at the Biltmore House, as well as her animal and human friends.  Along the way, Serafina and Braden run into many spooky adventures and have to solve the mysteries that keep popping up around the estate.  Each book features a new antagonist.

Reading scary stories helps students to develop a good sense of setting, and is a great way to encourage new and struggling writers to write.  They'll be so busy mastering the art of suspense, and trying to surprise you, that it won't seem like an assignment!

Watch & Explore
Prepare to Write
  • Listen to ''Sorry, Wrong Number,'' by Louise Fletcher. Radio plays aren't simply dramatic readings; they include sound effects, voice actors, and music.  Pay attention to how these elements create the setting.
  • Practice the art of the unknown.  Think of an object, and without saying what the object is, describe it in great detail.  Try to keep your listener in about its shadow, the noise it makes, how it feels.  Remember to refer to your mystery object as an 'it.'

Explore the world of High Fantasy creative writing here!

  • Create a setting and cast of characters for your long story.  Use these to get you started...
    • Who is the main character(s)?  What character traits does he/she have? 
    • What is going to happen to this character? 
    • Are there other characters who will be around when this event takes place? 
    • Where is the event going to happen?   What time of day?   What season or time of year? 
  • Get a box of fortune cookies.  Each day, crack one open and use the fortune as a jumping off point for writing.  Remember to make it suspenseful!  (Responses should be one to three paragraphs.)
  • "I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more..."   Write the story of your experience.
Think - 
  • When would you use a cliffhanger?  Are there times when a cliffhanger would not be appropriate and / or useful?
  • Think of a novel that successfully builds suspense.  How does the setting affect those key moments?  Is weather used to add tension?  Find at least three examples of threatening imagery in the author’s description of the setting.

See other book studies here!

Thursday, September 12

Occupational Therapy in Homeschool

You might also be interested in Speech Therapy for Homeschool.

Occupational therapists focus on tasks involving fine motor skills, such as shoe-tying or handwriting.  Physical therapists offer exercises to improve strength, balance, and coordination, which helps with walking up stairs, running, and jumping.  Both are very much needed by children with developmental delays, but therapy is time-consuming and can get expensive very quickly.  

As homeschool parents, we are responsible not only for our children's education, but to make sure they receive any needed therapies.  Here are a few ideas to help you with basic therapy at home...

What are the signs of a delay?  If you are reading this, you probably already know whether your child is delayed, but here is the general checklist.

In younger children some of the signs of a motor delay include:
  • Not being able to bring their hands together by 4 months;
  • Not rolling over by 6 months;
  • Having head lag when pulled to a sitting position after 6 months;
  • Not sitting by themselves without support by 8 months;
  • Not crawling by 12 months;
  • Not walking by 15 months;
It can be difficult to judge with an older child, but generally :
  • often described as clumsy or forgetful
  • may have difficulty using a cup, spoon or fork to eat.
  • may have the tendency to drop items or run into walls/furniture
  • may have trouble with tasks requiring hand-eye coordination and dexterity
  • may also have difficulty holding a pencil and learning to write

Watching your children struggle with daily tasks is difficult.  We want them to succeed, but they have to learn on their own.  I cannot, and will not, tie my son's shoes until he is married...only to pass that task onto a wife.  So, we came up with new options.

  • Lock Laces.  These have saved us such heartache, and they are the very first thing I would recommend for a mom with older children!!  After years of trying to tie shoes, my son is now able to wear sneakers like all of the other children, thanks to Lock Laces.  And no more "baby velcro shoes."
  • Pencil Grips.  Again, a must-have for your homeschool.  Handwriting is a burden for these children.  No matter how hard my son tries, he cannot write legibly.  With the Pencil Grip, his fingers stay in the correct place, and we can at least make out 70% of what he's written...which is enough to decipher the rest.  Do we have a ways to go?  Absolutely.  But he's got enough confidence now to keep on keepin' on.
  • The Quiet Book.  This is a church-specific book for us, because it keeps him occupied during long sermons.  Any other time, he would balk that "it's a baby book!"  But he needs to learn the skills.  The Quiet Book focuses on zippers, buttons, snaps, and even shoe-tying.
  • Simon Swipe.  Remember the classic game, Simon?  Of course you do!  It's back, but with a twist.  Simon Swipe has been a fantastic addition to our son's therapy.  It's a big kid toy, and he even has to fight his brother to get to play with it (as you know, making it even more desirable)!  This combines auditory perception with fine motor skills and motor planning.  And did I mention that it's NOT a baby toy?  It's a great tool for older children.
  • Activities for Gross Motor Skill Development.  This book is for you, mom.  It will help guide you through games that will build your child's skill and confidence.
  • Activities for Fine Motor Skill Development.  This is your cutting, pasting, handwriting...and some tools and games to improve those skills.  
  • Handwriting Practice.  You might also print out some of these free handwriting skills sample sheets.  There are many different historical eras to select from...pick the one that interests your child.  You can choose the grade level based on your child's reading level, but then select manuscript or cursive, as desired, for extra practice.

If you're lucky, you are only coping with motor skills delays.  If you're like many of us, you have a Rolodex of therapists.  (Does anyone use those anymore?  Other than me?)  We have also compiled several resources for speech therapy in your homeschool.

Math Class & Occupational Therapy Combined
Our son needs kinesthetic, or tactile, learning methods. It can be very difficult to find materials for this learning style, but typically the ones labeled 'Montessori' will fit the bill.  

After a few years of math lessons, and still no progress on being able to count by ones, we tried having him write out his numbers regularly.  But it wasn't until we discovered this Montessori hundred number board that things began to fall into place!
The set comes with one hundred wooden numbers, from 1-100, a grid board, and also a storage box for the number pieces. All of the wooden pieces are smooth, so you don't have to worry about splinters.  It comes with a printed-number page, but also with a blank page for more advanced learners.  It's sturdy, it's hands-on, and in a matter of weeks, we are noticing the difference!

How does it relate to occupational therapy?  Simple.  You're working with small pieces, so tuning those fine motor skills.  Also, by physically touching the squares, it helps the brain to integrate that learning.

Occupational Therapy At Home

  • Massage – Deep pressure helps our son when he begins to feel a loss of control.  It also helps to get him moving when he has no energy.
  • Trampoline –  There's something about bouncing that helps to center sensory children.  Even a small living room trampoline will do the trick!
  • Baking cookies -  For a sensory experience, try hand mixing cookie dough.  It might be a challenge at first, but the promise of fresh basked cookies usually helps us get started.  Need deeper muscle challenges?  Pull out the mixer and lug it up to the counter.
  • Gardening – Another sensory activity for a sunny day, getting hands dirty and smelling soil and fertilizers can help to desensitize against smell and texture issues.
  • Kinetic sand – An inside / dreary day activity, this is a good starting point for sensory / texture issues.  The sand doesn't get into everything (like regular sand), but still allows for that 'sandy' sensation.  It can be molded and played with...make a sand castle!

Wednesday, September 11

Easy Grammar Systems {Review}

We have all heard the complaints from our children over the dislike of grammar. “Mommmmm, this is not fun!”  “You are trying to torture me…one word at a time!” “Why do I need to do this? It is the same thing I learned last year!”  It appears to our teens that we are on a mission to make sure their life is misery! 

I have heard so many complaints about grammar and how boring and lame it is, but we all know that good grammar is the root of refined conversation and writing. If you have a child who would rather be at the ball park or fighting evil on the Playstation, Easy Grammar Systems is for you! I was so excited to be given the opportunity to review Easy Grammar Ultimate Series:  Grade 11 this year. 

I have picked up the Easy Grammar texts at many homeschool conventions, flipping through the pages and having executive meetings with the the teacher, curriculum purchase department, and the parental advisory board (yes, me, myself and I, we have many of these meetings!) and trying to decide if it would work for my reluctant and bored teen.  After trying it, all I can say is wow!  I should have done this a long time ago! (I really must have a staff meeting, it is obvious some one has dropped the ball!)

This is a remarkable grammar program.  The lessons are short (like super short!), your child can complete a lesson in approximately 10 minutes, excluding whining, loss of writing apparatus, and /or lost book.   Each lesson covers several aspects of grammar, including sentence structure, punctuation, parts of speech, and sentence combining. The lessons move smoothly, flowing from each segment easily. (They also travel well if you are one of those people who has to school from the car or waiting rooms.)

The workbook includes 180 daily lessons, which can be worked in the book or copied (since this is a reproducible book).  After every ten lessons, there is an assessment; again these can be used once or copied.  The assessments are found in the test booklet, and have five questions each, so your student is not stressing over a long test. There is also an answer key to make your life easier, mom!  During the summer, before our school started, we were completing ten lessons and one assessment weekly.  After school began, we completed an assessment every other week.
One of the things that I found could be troublesome is that the answers are in the back of the textbook. I know that we all hope our children won’t peek, but this could be an issue.  There are also areas that I feel need a more explanations and/or examples.  Another area that I felt could use more explanation and / or examples was the "difficult words."  Your, you're, there, their, they're....let's be honest.  How many times have we seen these words used incorrectly on social media and even in official documents?  A little more practice in this realm would be useful.

One of the positives for our family was the fact there was no sentence diagramming. Here again, we are saved from the cries of the woebegone child.  However, I appreciated the sentence combining section, which helps the student to take sentences and combine them into a short appropriate paragraphs.  This exercise leads toward more effective writing, and I discovered that you can use the sentence combining as starter for a creative writing assignment!

  • Short lessons
  • Smooth transitions from one area to another
  • Uses cyclical learning
  • May be copied for multiple students
  • Assessments after every 10 lessons
  • Answers in the back of text
  • Could use more explanations/examples on more difficult words
See what others are saying about Easy Grammar Systems at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!
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