Wednesday, January 30

Percy Jackson & Greek Mythology

*Shout out to my 15yo son for creating all of the Modern Mythology units!!*

The Beginning
From the empty nothingness came the embodiment of night and darkness, Nyx and Erebus. They had offspring called Hemera and Aether, who represented day and the air to balance the parents. Then Gaia, Ouranos, and Tartarus came to be the earth, the sky, and the abyss. Gaia and Ouranos had children known as the titans. They also had two other sets of children- a race of giants called the three elder cyclops and the three hekatonkheires. 
The cyclops had only one eye, and the hekatonkheires had a hundred hands. 

Ouranos was so frightened by how hideous his children looked that he threw them into the abyss of Tartarus. Gaia was furious and she hatched a plan with her sons to banish him to the sky. She gave her youngest son, Kronos, a scythe and told him to chop up Ouranos with it while his brothers held him down. The oldest brother, Oceanus, wanted no part in the murder so he was banished to the ocean by his younger brother. Ouranos's physical form was destroyed, and Kronos became king.

The Titans
The Titans were the first, or elder, deities. There were twelve main titans, including the parents of Zeus, Kronos, and Rhea. They ruled during what was called the Golden Age. They were overthrown by their children...led by Zeus. This was called the titanomachy.

The Chimera 
The fire-breathing Chimera was a terrifying beast with a serpent for a tail, a goat's body and a lion's head! King Sisyphus has commanded the warrior, Bellerophon, to destroy it. Soaring above the monster on Pegasus, he shoots arrows at it. Bellerophon then attaches lead to his spear and thrusts it into the vicious beast. The hero’s actions kills the fiery Chimera.

Scylla & Charybdis
On both sides of a narrow stretch of sea, monsters lie in wait. On one side, Scylla thrashes around her six snakelike heads, ready to crunch on passing sailors. On the other, Charybdis creates a deadly whirlpool. No person has ever faced these beasts and escaped unharmed. Now the king, Odysseus, and his crew must pass them to get home. They edge around Charybdis' spiraling sea, saving the ship from being swallowed whole. Scylla swoops down and gobbles up six men, and Odysseus shouts, leading the rest of the crew past Scylla and out of the deadly channel. Having survived the dreaded beasts, Odysseus and his men continue their journey.

The Minotaur
Half-man, half-bull, the Minotaur lurks in an underground maze of king Minos waiting for his next meal - children sent to him as a tribute. Lost in the labyrinth, the kids will be devoured, but brave prince Theseus has had enough of his land living in fear of the Minotaur. He accompanies the group, and is prepared to fight. Hearing the Minotaur breathing nearby, he springs toward it. Dodging the monster's deadly horns, he thrusts his sword into the beast. The Minotaur is dead, and Theseus unspools a string given to him by the kings daughter Ariadne that he wound as he walked through the maze...he leads the remaining children out to safety.

In a swamp, creeps a deadly nine-headed serpent called the Hydra. Heracles, son of Zeus, must kill it as punishment. After Shooting arrows into its eyes , the Hydra attacks, so Heracles hits its heads with a club, knocking them off, but more grow in their place! Heracles' friend, Iolus, then leaps to his aid with a flaming torch. After an epic battle, the men finally destroy the Hydra!

This hideous Medusa has snakes for hair, terrifying tusks, and a face that turns anyone that looks at it into stone! To please his king whom his mother is hiding from, Perseus agrees to slay the beast. Wearing a Hades helmet of invisibility and carrying the adamantine sword given to him by Zeus (not adamantuim!),and a polished shield given to him by Athena, he sneaks up on Medusa. She's asleep, but one gaze at her face and Perseus would be a statue! He looks at her harmless reflection in his shiny shield and beheads her. Victorious, Perseus flies off on winged sandals.

  • Percy Jackson
    • An adventure-quest with a hip edge. At first glance, Perseus Jackson seems like a loser (readers meet him at a boarding school for troubled youth), but he's really the son of Poseidon and a mortal woman. As he discovers his heritage, he also loses that mother and falls into mortal danger. The gods (still very active in the 21st-century world) are about to go to war over a lost thunderbolt, so Percy and sidekicks Grover (a young satyr) and Annabeth (daughter of Athena) set out to retrieve it. Percy is an ADHD, wise-cracking, first-person narrator. Naturally, his real quest is for his own identity. Along the way, such topics as family, trust, war, the environment, dreams, and perceptions are raised. 
Make / Do
Define / Identify
  • Zeus
  • Hera 
  • Poseidon 
  • Hades
  • Dionysus 
  • Apollo
  • Artemis
  • Ares
  • Athena 
  • Hermes 
  • Aphrodite
  • Hephaestus 
  • Demeter 
  • Why were the Greek myths important to the development of ancient Greece as a civilization?
  • What is your opinion of the religion of ancient Greece?
  • What role does pride play in Greek mythology?

Monday, January 28

Kane Chronicles & Egyptian Mythology

*Shout out to my 15yo son for creating all of the Modern Mythology units!!*

Egyptian Creation
At first, there was only Nun. Nun was the dark waters of chaos. One day, a hill rose up out of the waters. This hill was called Ben-Ben. On this hill stood Atum, the first god. Atum coughed and spat out Shu, the god of the air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. Shu and Tefnut had two children. First, there was Geb, the god of the earth. 

Then, there was Nut, the goddess of the sky. Shu lifted Nut up so that she became a canopy over Geb. Nut and Geb had four children named Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. Osiris was the king of the earth and Isis was the queen. Osiris was a good king, and he ruled over the earth for many years. However, everything was not well. Seth was jealous of Osiris because he wanted to be the ruler of the earth. He grew angrier and angrier until one day he killed Osiris. Osiris went down into the underworld and Seth remained on earth and became king. Osiris and Isis had one son called Horus. Horus battled against Seth and regained the throne.  After that, Horus was the king of the earth and Osiris was the king of the underworld.

The Goddess Isis
When her husband Osiris was killed and dismembered, Isis was seen as a dedicated wife by searching high and low for his remains. It was Isis who supposedly taught the people of Egypt about the institution of marriage. As the mother of Horus, the protector god of kings, Isis represented the ultimate mom.

Isis was the patron goddess of magic and healing and was one of the most powerful deities of ancient Egypt. She was said to know everything on heaven and earth except for one thing: the secret magic name of Ra, the god of the sun and king of all the other gods. So Isis hatched a plan to learn it. She made a snake out of dirt and some of Ra's sweat and laid it down on the ground where he be sure to walk by it.

When he stepped on the serpent, it bit him. Isis rushed to Ra's side when he called out for help. She told him that she could heal the poisonous bite with a magical spell, but would need to know Ra's ren (true mane or secret name) in order to properly do the incantation. After learning his name, Isis did indeed heal Ra, and was all the more powerful in the end!

  • Kane Chronicles
    • Book 1 Description : Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane. One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Make / Do

Define / Identify
  • Aken
  • Amenhotep
  • Anubis
  • Aten
  • Bastet
  • Bes
  • Horus
  • Isis
  • Osiris
  • Ra
  • Set
  • Sobek
  • Tefnut
  • Thoth
  • Pharaoh
  • Pschent
  • Apophis/Apep
  • Book of the Dead
  • Hieroglyphs
  • Obelisk

  • There are many theories.  Why do you think the Egyptians built pyramids?  How do you think the pyramids were built?

Friday, January 25

Using the Good & the Beautiful with Upper Grades - Middle & High School

If you’ve been on any homeschooling chat groups lately, you’ve probably heard of The Good & the Beautiful…..but most of what’s out there is aimed at younger children.  Our kids are in middle and high school, and we wondered how the program would work for older kids.  After two years of using it, I can honestly say that it works WONDERS!

*We did not receive anything for writing this.  We love the curriculum and have found that a lot of folks have questions about the upper grades, so wanted to share our experiences.*

In case you’re unfamiliar, The Good & the Beautiful is a relaxed approach to homeschooling.  I have to jump in here and say that, the first time I saw it, I really didn’t think it would be enough for a school year.  My fear was that it would require a lot of supplementation, but it doesn’t.  In fact, in only six months of using this curriculum, my struggling middle school learner jumped FOUR AND A HALF grade levels in reading!

The price is very affordable for families, there are morals included in every lesson, and it’s designed for the busy mom with its open-and-go format.  While it is Christian-based, it offers up a neutral world-view, allowing parents to tailor it toward their family’s beliefs.  The print quality is amazing, and the vintage reading material is a delightful change from what our children were gravitating toward before we switched to this curriculum.

What’s Not Included
 High School CoursesWhen looking at this curriculum for upper grades, bear in mind that you’ll need to go outside it to choose a math program, as they are still writing the early elementary levels.  Personally, we use Saxon and have been very happy with it.  

You can use their science program for early middle grades, if it helps you to teach younger kids at the same time, but it’s not really rigorous enough for a standard middle school curriculum, and definitely not enough for high school.  We typically switch to Apologia around 5th grade, using their Exploring Creation with… series as a transitional tool into their upper grades courses.

You can choose to order printed or downloadable curriculum.  Our family has selected primarily print format because it's such high quality at an affordable price.  We do, however, print some....and large families might find it more cost-effective to purchase curriculum once and just pay to have it printed.  We recommend the Homeschool Printing Company.  Here's a video of our experience, as well as a coupon code to use there!

SchoolhouseTeachers has many excellent options for science, foreign languages, maths, and electives, which are currently not offered for upper grades students by TGTB.  We have used their website for several years and love it!  They also have courses for parents, a print magazine, and extra goodies and giveaways just for their subscribers.  You can try them out for only $5 - with complete access to everything on the site - to see if it's a good fit for your family.  Two good places to start are High School Courses and High School Help.

So what exactly DO we use?  
History, handwriting, and language arts – which covers a lot more than just reading and writing!  The Good & the Beautiful’s language arts is one of my favorite program components, as it covers reading, spelling, writing, dictation, literature, grammar, vocabulary, geography, and art.  By including geography and art, it takes a bit of a unit study approach.  For example, in High School-1, unit five covers the Arctic areas.  They read a book about the Arctic, and the geography, art, vocabulary, and writing assignments tie in with that region.  You can cover quite a bit with just the one class!

Language Art & Handwriting
At the middle grade levels, my students are working more independently, but still need instruction, particularly on the grammar concepts and sentence diagramming.  We also do spelling and dictation aloud together.  This is a time when they are learning to work alone, but not quite ready for the whole enchilada.  It is at this level that we also use the handwriting – particularly levels 5 and 6, which focus on cursive.  The handwriting curriculum not only teaches letter formation, but grammar, states and capitals, and presidents.  There is also quite a bit of student drawing involved, which my kids love!

Once they hit high school, however, the curriculum is set up to reinforce those skills of time management and responsibility.   Divided into ten separate units, the student is able to take a unit and work on it for two to three weeks before turning it in for grading.  If more instruction is needed, he can come and ask (and I do check in occasionally), but it’s his responsibility to progress at a pace that finishes the unit on time.  

Our family has always loved to read aloud books together….from the Little Golden Books to entire series (such as A to Z Mysteries and Magic Treehouse) and now we’re reading big chapter books together.  The history curriculum has a minimum of four read-alouds each year, so if you don’t like reading together, it might not be a good fit for your family.  However, for us, it’s given the kids the perfect excuse to still curl up with mom in their teen years.

One of the things I like about history is that it takes the classical education approach – of four different eras of history – and teaches from all four of those each school year.  Rather than doing an entire year of ancient history, we’re doing one quarter on ancient history each school year (with each year focusing on a different region, such as Egypt or Greece).  It’s easy to get burnt out on a particular era when you’re knee-deep in it for an entire year, so we like that things get mixed up!
The history includes read alouds, audio recordings, and accompanying worksheets.  At the middle school level, these worksheets include timelines, coloring, extra readings, and short research assignments.  At the high school level, all of these are included as well as projects.  Each quarter (each historical era), the high school student has a short list of projects to complete before we move on to the next era.  This goes back to student responsibility and time management.  He can do them little by little throughout the quarter, or save them for an all-nighter on the last day of the quarter (which, I hope he learns from!!), but it’s his responsibility to do a good job within the time constraint.

Looking Ahead
The number of upper grades families using The Good & the Beautiful is sure to grow in the future, as the current elementary-age families progress.  If you’re ahead of the curve, have no doubt…this is still an amazing curriculum for middle and high school students!   This video shows the materials more in-depth.

Tuesday, January 22

Someday We Will Fly -- Life in the Shanghai Ghetto

Someday We Will Fly (Rachel Dewoskin)
Warsaw, Poland. The year is 1940 and Lillia is fifteen when her mother, Alenka, disappears and her father flees with Lillia and her younger sister, Naomi, to Shanghai, one of the few places that will accept Jews without visas. There they struggle to make a life; they have no money, there is little work, no decent place to live, a culture that doesn't understand them. And always the worry about Alenka. How will she find them? Is she still alive?   Meanwhile Lillia is growing up, trying to care for Naomi, whose development is frighteningly slow, in part from malnourishment. Lillia finds an outlet for her artistic talent by making puppets, remembering the happy days in Warsaw when her family was circus performers. She attends school sporadically, makes friends with Wei, a Chinese boy, and finds work as a performer at a "gentlemen's club" without her father's knowledge.  But meanwhile the conflict grows more intense as the Americans declare war and the Japanese force the Americans in Shanghai into camps. More bombing, more death. Can they survive, caught in the crossfire?

Our Thoughts on the Story...
It was new territory, as this was an element of World War 2 we knew nothing about...a completely new setting.  However, the book was kind of all over the place and difficult to follow at times.  The circus element ties both settings together, and it's interesting to 'people watch' some of the minor characters in the book, but there are too many underlying plots...kidnapping, overcoming grief, flight of the refugees, the missing all sort of becomes too much for the reader.  If you're interested in learning Mandarin, there are several phrases and such that you can use as a starting point!

Chinese Jews  ::  中国犹太人  ::  יהודים סיניים‬
Prior to World War 2, thousands of Jewish refugees had fled to China to escape the Russian Revolution.   They were joined by approximately 20,000 more Jews who were trying to escape persecution in the 1930s and 1940s.  They came to Shanghai because it did not have immigration restrictions, and they were allowed to come.  (Many countries at the time were turning Jews away.)  

Upon arrival, they were ushered into a tiny area of 0.75 square miles in the Hongkou District, into what was known as the 'Shanghai Ghetto.'  Many people lived in group homes, and the living conditions were very cramped.  They opened up shops and cafes, worshiped in synagogues, held Girl Guide meetings, and generally tried to bring a bit of home to the ghetto.
A Jewish girl with two Chinese friends in the Shanghai Ghetto during WWII (Courtesy Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum)

Getting to Shanghai could be a difficult and dangerous journey, but it was a risk worth taking to these families.  Families had to obtain a transit visa, which was very difficult to get.  It is said that two Asian diplomats, Suighara and Ho, went against orders and issued about 8.000 visas to save Jewish lives.  They are likened to the Chinese version of Oskar Schindler for their life-saving efforts.

The ghetto was a small area of dark alleyways and darker buildings.  Although safe from the concentration camps, Jews still had limited food, water, and medicine, and were subject to checkpoints and restrictions on where they could go.  Deep into World War 2, Nazi representatives began to urge the Japanese army (who had control of this area at the time) to exterminate residents of the Shanghai Ghetto.  They chose not to, and these Jews were kept safe.
Author Interview - See the inspiration behind Someday We Will Fly!

Saturday, January 19

We Were There with the California Forty-Niners

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In January 1848, an overseer at Sutter’s Mill in northern California saw gold flakes.  Even without social media, the word spread rapidly, and his discovery led to more than 300,000 prospectors flooding into the region!  These people came from all over the world; they came by ship, rail, horse, and foot.  What they found wasn’t exactly the expected dream….

Lack of housing and sanitation, as well as lack of law enforcement, led to dangerous living conditions.  Thievery and murder were on the daily menu.  The work was backbreaking, and few actually struck it rich.  For those who came from someplace other than America, including the many Chinese who crossed the Pacific, xenophobia and prejudice made life even more dangerous.

A lucky few were able to find gold nuggets lying on the ground early into the rush, but it quickly became a line of folks trying to find the best technique to pan for gold.  The most money, however, was to be had in banks, restaurants, saloons, and stores…those who catered to the miners.  It’s said that the amount of gold uncovered in the few years of the rush would be equal to tens of billions of dollars today!

Impacts of the Gold Rush include :
  • Development of the Transcontinental Railroad
  • California earning statehood in 1850
  • Creation of a stronger legal system
Want to go panning for gold?  Here's a short list gear you'll need:
  • Folding chair or bucket to sit on
  • Waterproof boots
  • Prospecting pan (deep base and side ridges)
  • Tweezers (to pick out the flakes)
  • Glass vials (to store your gold)
  • Strainer / classifier to sift debris
Keep in mind that gold panning isn't a get-rich-quick scheme!  Small amounts of gold, such as flakes, are considerably more common to find, but even those tiny amounts of gold add up to a nice chunk of change.  Be sure to lookout for the tiniest flecks of gold, as they do add up quickly!  


Make / Do


Define / Identify
  • Alluvial deposit
  • Assayer
  • Bonanza
  • Boom town
  • Cholera
  • Commodity
  • Cutthroat
  • Greenhorn
  • Freewheeling
  • Hydraulic mining
  • Lode
  • James Wilson Marshall
  • Mercantile
  • Panning
  • Pay Dirt
  • Placer mining
  • President Polk 
  • Prospector
  • Sluice box
  • Trommel
  • Unscrupulous
  • Vein
  • Vicinity
  • Yield
  • How did the Gold Rush reshape the demographics of California?
  • If you had lived in this time period, would you have participated in the Gold Rush? Why or why not?
  • Read this article.  Which fact surprises you the most?  Why?

We Were There With the Mayflower Pilgrims

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When King Henry VIII made himself head of the Church of England in 1534, many people were unhappy.  Some of them created a new church and called themselves "Separatists.”  They were treated poorly because they did not conform, so many moved to Holland for religious freedom.
About a decade later, they joined with a group of investors to get ships so that they could sail to America.  The investors provided them with supplies for the journey, and the Separatists agreed to send fish, timber, and fur back to England for seven years to pay off their debts.

The colonists began with two ships – the Mayflower and Speedwell – but had to leave the Speedwell in England due to it taking on water.  Some people stayed in England, and the rest crowded onto the Mayflower.  Not everyone aboard was a Separatist; some were “Strangers” who were coming to the New World for its opportunities.  There were 102 colonists and 26 crew members on the 66 day journey.  Two people died and one baby, Oceanus Hopkins, was born on the ship.

In November 1620, the Mayflower reached Provincetown.  About 24,000 Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe lived in the area at the time.  There were minor skirmishes between the two groups.  Still aboard the ship, the men signed the Mayflower Compact, which was an agreement of government.

They pulled into Plymouth Harbor in December 1620, and began the arduous task of setting up a home site.  They found land that the Patuxet tribe had abandoned (due to a smallpox epidemic), and this provided them with a good harbor, a clean supply of water, cleared fields for planting, a hill to build a fort on, and no nearby hostile natives.  One Patuxet remained who did not die from the plague; Squanto helped these colonists survive the first winter.

Still living on the Mayflower while homes were being built, people began to get sick from disease.  They contracted pneumonia and scurvy, and two or three died each day during the first months in Plymouth.  Half of the crew died; the remaining crew returned to England in the spring.

Squanto, Samoset, and Massasoit helped the colonists to plant seeds, hunt, and live like the Native Americans.  They lived in relative peace alongside the colonists, and brought much food to the first harvest gathering, which we call Thanksgiving today.


Make / Do
  • Take a virtual field trip at Plimoth Plantation
  • Write ten negative things in your life; then find a reason to be thankful for them.  For example, I’m thankful for the spot I find at the far side of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking

Watch / Listen

Define / Identify
  • Pilgrims
  • Vestments
  • Squanto
  • Indentured servants
  • Mayflower Compact
  • William Bradford
  • Wampanoag
  • Samoset
  • Massasoit
  • Patuxet
  • Pneumonia
  • Scurvy
  • Sachem
  • Separatists
  • New World
  • Colony
  • Leyden
  • Investor
  • Puritan                          
  • Common House
  • The Pilgrims made a peace treaty with Chief Massasoit.  What do you think would be important to include in a treaty?
  • Read “THE WAMPANOAG SIDE OF THE FIRST THANKSGIVING STORY.” .”  Why do you think the story of Thanksgiving changed so much through the years?  What do you think of the Native American tribes referring to this as the “Day of Mourning?”
  • Write a newspaper article describing the first Thanksgiving as though you were there.  Remember to address the questions : who, what, when, where, why, and how.

We Were There at the Opening of the Erie Canal

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In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the industrial revolution led to a need for speedier ways to get goods to market.  One proposed solution was the canal.  The Erie Canal, in particular, linked the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.  It was proposed in 1908, and construction was completed in 1825.  At the time, it was considered the Eighth Wonder of the World!

New York Governor DeWitt Clinton proposed the idea of the canal, which many people considered unwise – it was even called “Clinton’s Folly.”  At a distance of 363 miles, and with 34 locks (to compensate for elevation changes), the canal took a long time, and several millions of dollars, to build.  Nearly twenty years later, Clinton was one of the first to board a packet boat and journey down the canal! 

The Erie Canal provided several jobs and economic growth to the areas around its ports all the way until the 1980s, at which point it became more of a tourist attraction.  The canal was an engineering feat, and required the knowledge of construction workers, stonemasons, engineers, and skilled manual laborers.  Many problems arose during the construction, but they were quickly solved by the crew.

Packet boats were used to transport goods at a quicker and cheaper rate than previously available.  Mules (such as ‘Sal,’ from the song) helped to tote the loads.  Canal families became a ‘thing,’ as families lived on the boats and transported goods for a living.  Eventually, improvements were needed and new sections of the canal were created.  You can still see parts of the original canal today!
Profile of the Erie Canal

Make / Do 
Watch / Listen
Define / Identify

  • canal
  • lock
  • DeWitt Clinton
  • Benjamin Wright
  • mule driver
  • toll
  • barge
  • Westward Expansion
  • Wedding of the Waters
  • Irish Immigrants
  • aqueduct
  • Clinton's Ditch
  • towpath
  • civil engineer
  • Lake Erie
  • Albany
  • hoggee
  • To what degree did geography influence the construction/placement of the Erie Canal? 
  • If you were responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal, what would you have done differently and why?
  • Using this information, what conclusion can be drawn about the effect that the Erie Canal had on America’s economy and population distribution?