Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 28

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Chapter 28 is titled “China and the Rest of the World.” It is meant to contrast how the Chinese viewed themselves versus how the world (mainly Great Britain) saw China. If you ever needed a conversation starter on the topic of illegal drugs, this would be it.

Girl throwing clay on toy pottery wheel

Working with air dry clay and a toy pottery wheel

By now, you know I use these history lessons to make applications to our daily lives. Because the opium trade is discussed in the second story of the chapter, this was my opportunity to cover the bad long-term consequences of drugs. Continue reading »

When King George III sent his ambassador to China, I pointed out he was the same George III against whom American Patriots fought during the War of Independence. It is important for children to start making connections as we move from one continent to another.

We are building our timeline and seeing how the same “characters” pop up here and there across the map of the world creates a big picture in their minds.

They kept asking, “Why would anybody want to dream these crazy dreams?” We talked about the emptiness of people who do not have a purpose in their lives. We believe in a Creator God who put us on this earth for a reason. He has given us gifts and talents and our job is to hone those talents for His glory.

We develop a relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ, every day. When you have His Spirit in your heart and in your mind, you are not looking for ways to escape reality. On the contrary, you are seeking ways to improve your efficiency so that you can redeem the time and get your mission accomplished.

Unit studies are not my thing at all, but I like to make connections between the subjects as we come across things I consider useful for their upbringing. This is just an example of such a conversation.

For our activity, they wanted to make Chinese vases, as recommended in the activity book. I reluctantly agreed to getting out the toy pottery wheel and the air drying clay. Who looks forward to that kind of mess? Not me. But my daughter especially loves art tactile experiences.

Did she make a vase that looks like the sketches in the activity book? Nope. At least, she had fun and I got over my fear of clay and messes one more time. It’s all good.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 27

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Chapter 27 deals with the beginning of the industrial revolution: the cotton gin in the US and Watt’s steam engine in the UK. My son is into technology, so he was eager to learn more about these events. My daughter came along for the ride. As long as there is a coloring page, she is happy.

Boy draws invention on paper

For our activity, my son drew his own invention

The world has changed dramatically since the invention of the steam engine and this chapter describes very well the lives of people before and after Watt’s invention. I like Ms. Bauer’s writing and my children do, too. Continue reading »

It was touching to read about the children who helped in coal mines. I brought home the point to my children. They sometimes complain they have to “do school” but these nineteenth century children would have given anything to be spared the work in the mine. It is a sobering thought and it had the right effect on them for a few hours.

The next day we were back to the moaning and groaning about math and other subjects. I don’t want you to think that my children are enthused with learning every single moment of every day. They are normal children who would rather play when they should be studying.

Sister watches as brother draws his invention

My daughter watches as my son draws his invention

They obey and put their toys away and come to the table so we can study, but not without a bit of coaxing on my part. Obedience is important and I am still working on getting them to obey the first time I say something. Even Ms. Bauer shared that her children mutter things under their breath as they are asked to start a lesson or do a chore. But they go and do it.

I acknowledge their feelings and re-direct them to their task by saying something like, “I know you feel like playing a bit more, but it is 10:30 already and we really need to get started with math, otherwise we will be here studying at 6pm and who wants to do that? The sooner we get it all done, the more time in the day there is for you to play.”

If your child does not obey you when you ask them to come to the table and it takes more than a minute to convince them, it is time to take some of their privileges away. Obedience comes first.

The crazy thing is, once they get going, mine start saying, “I really like this! This is so cool! So glad we are learning about this!” or an equivalent. Like a train that starts slowly moving its wheels and then goes faster and faster, some children need to warm up to the idea of learning.

Philharmonia Winter Concert

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My son’s orchestra, Philharmonia, gave a winter concert last night at the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville, alongside three other ensembles: Preludium, Sinfonia, and the Chamber Orchestra.

Boy and girl with rabbit ears

My kids goofing off after the concert

One of my friends has a daughter in the same orchestra and she films it. We are so grateful for her efforts. Here’s a link to the 2018 Philharmonia Winter Concert. My son is in the second violin section. Continue reading »

Once the camera stops panning around and settles on the conductor, you can see my son at the top left corner of the screen. His stand partner is one of the rehearsal assistants. She has blond hair and wears a black top.

Girl passes out concert programs

My daughter poses after passing out programs

Their three pieces were unbelievably beautiful:

  1. “To Dance in the Fields of Glory” pays tribute to the military, their sacrifices and their meaningful lives.
  2. “Forever Joyful” describes the boundless energy a puppy has. The composer wrote it after he got a puppy.
  3. “Baila Conmigo” is Spanish “Dance with Me,” a fitting title for a tango.

The winter concert usually gets very challenging because of the weather and the flu season. Several school closings threatened to cancel two of our rehearsals and the director would have none of it.

We practice in a Knox County school, so when they are closed for weather or flu outbreaks, the youth symphony cannot access the building. Well, they came up with a solution.

One night, we went on the UT campus, in the beautiful Natalie Haslam Music Building. We have been there before for violin workshops and recitals, so we were familiar with the layout and parking. All things work together for good.

Back to the winter concert. My daughter’s orchestra passed out programs at the doors before the concert. They take their job seriously. They will start preparing a piece for the April concert, but until then they donned their concert attire and passed out programs at the doors.

TeenPact One Day

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For the third year in a row, we headed to Nashville for TeenPact One Day. This year, we managed to book a room next door to the Snodgrass Tower where the class was held. We just walked over, after making arrangements to leave our car parked at the hotel until that afternoon. So, so convenient. As soon as we know the date for 2019, we will book our room again at the Capitol Hotel Downtown Nashville.

TeenPact One Day

Signing each other’s Box Game

TeenPact is a four-day workshop for teens ages 13-19, teaching them how a bill becomes a law and many other details about our government. TeenPact One Day is the same workshop adapted for children ages 8-12 and it only takes place over one day. To be precise, between the hours of 10am and 4pm, with a lunch break. Continue reading »

TeenPact also has the tag “leadership school” because it trains the children how to shake hands, have eye contact, the mechanics of public speaking, making friends, and how to be a leader and influence people.

There is homework you download from the TeenPact website. Although not graded, the homework prepares your children for the day. It also gives parents and opportunity for conversations on topics that might not otherwise come up.

State House of Representatives

State House of Representatives

This year, we talked to our children about Roe v. Wade, for instance. My favorite part of it, of course, is vocabulary. They learn political terms: candidate, campaign manager, grassroots coordinator, legislative, executive, judicial, capitol, bill, lobbyist, corporate etc.

Our youngest attended TeenPact One Day for the first time this year and she loved it. She says she already looks forward to next year.

The day opens with an icebreaker called the Box Game. The students receive booklets and one of the pages contains boxes with things that might apply to them, e.g. “I have blue eyes.” They are to sign each other’s Box Game in one box and move around the room to get all the boxes signed.

State Senate

State Senate

Then, there is a 15-minute worship service followed by the Sword Drill. This is a game my son loves. The Bible becomes a sword and they are to look things up in it as they are told.

There is a skit about how a bill becomes a law – everybody’s favorite. Then we walk to the Capitol building for a tour and scavenger hunt. Lunch is followed by more workshops on government.

Returning students have a different track every year. The first-time students remain in the same classroom and are guided through the mechanics of public speaking. Returning students go into smaller classrooms and discuss different terminology.

As citizens of this country, we choose to vote in every election and stay informed about the political issues of the day. We believe it is important for our children to be trained in such matters.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 26

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Chapter 26 in Volume 3 took us to Russia. Catherine the Great made a big impression on my daughter. Of course, the paper dolls were a hit. She decorated every single one and made sure she could stick and remove them with Velcro dots.

Catherine the Great Paper Dolls

Cutting out the paper dolls representing Catherine the Great

My son was disgusted with Peter Ulrich’s behavior. It’s good for them to see good monarchs and bad monarchs. We talk about legacy sometimes. What do we want people to think of when they remember us, after we are gone? Continue reading »

It may sound like a terrible subject for children, but I think it is important for them to remember that, one day, they will be gone. However, their actions will live on in the memory of others. How do we want to be remembered?

Cutting Velcro dots

Tiny Velcro dots were needed for the crowns

My daughter said, “I am glad Catherine made Russia into a great nation.” We discussed several details about her reign. Even though she still believed God gave her the right to be queen, Catherine improved the lives of all Russians when she was in power.

It is always good for little girls to have strong female role models, especially when schools for women are created and women are empowered through education.

Catherine the Great Paper Dolls

Catherine the Great Paper Dolls

Too bad Catherine got married to a horrible guy. Even more heart-wrenching is what happened to her children, how they both got taken away from her by her mother-in-law, who raised them herself. I cannot imagine anything worse than that.

After reading up on her on my own, I was glad Susan Wise Bauer left out all the children Catherine the Great issued with other men. Those details can wait for when the kids are older and can handle such information.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 25

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The French Revolution is the subject of Chapter 25. It gets gory at times, the story line, but thankfully Susan Wise Bauer kept those details to a minimum.

Patriotic button during the French Revolution

Patriotic button during the French Revolution

My son is very interested in wars and battles so he was excited to hear our chapter dealt with fighting and conflict. Of course, they felt for the kids of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI. Continue reading »

One of their friends is named Maximilian so Robespierre stood out for them – as if what Robespierre did was not enough to stand out. But, you know, it helps when you can make connections.

The first story was strictly about the conditions in France which lead to the French Revolution, while the second dealt with the aftermath of the Revolution, i.e. the Reign of Terror.

Tricolor felt buttons

We used felt pads with sticky backs instead of the recommended foam

In all honesty, the way suspicion reigned supreme reminds me of Communism and, also, this political correctness required today in everything you do and say. Obviously, what happened in France in the late 1700s was pushed to the extreme, but the atmosphere is the same.

If you show less-than-enthusiastic support for Syrian migrants these days, you are a heartless person. Never mind that European women are raped by migrants and terrorist attacks happen almost every month in Europe. Never mind that. In the name of globalism, we should open all borders and let mayhem take over the West.

If your jar of peanut butter says “Made in the USA” or “Peanuts grown in the USA,” you are in trouble with the political correctness police. You are a bigot and a horrible person who causes people to seek counseling. We are living in strange times. History repeats itself.

All the more reasons to keep on keeping on with our history lessons. I am behind with printing out our history timeline figures, but I promise to catch up next week. Maybe.

Homeschooling through Sickness

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It’s January – the season of colds and flu. Throughout the year, parents and children contract an illness or a condition and some are more serious than others. Do you homeschool through sickness? The short answer is, it depends.

Cup of tea and muffins

A cup of tea and muffins can restore a bit of energy.

Last year was a bad year for our health. One of our children coughed for six months straight and she needed inhalers to get better. She also fractured her elbow. Personally, I developed adrenal fatigue (or insufficiency) and discovered I cannot tolerate gluten in my diet. Continue reading »

All in all, 2017 was a bad, bad year for health. And yet, we were able to get our school done. We took it slowly with some things like history and science. Even when they were sick, my kids loved reading, so they kept reading and reading to pass the time.

On days when I got a bit more energy, I made them do their math and we also covered Bible. I was never so ill that I could not drive them to their classes outside the home.

Learning never really stops. Even when the kids are running a fever and lie in bed completely weakened by an invisible bacteria, the fact that a parent takes their temperature and administers medication and fluids is a lesson in itself. When they become parents, they will have these memories to fall back on to treat their own children.

One thing I have found useful, although we do not want to abuse it, is educational videos. We have some DVDs from 3ABN called Kids Time. They contain Bible stories for children, as well as healthy recipes kids can make, music, and even science experiments. When I have been too sick to do a devotional with my kids, I let them pop in a Kids Time DVD and they get their daily dose of Bible.

Another thing you could do is let them watch Discovery channel or a similar program. Watching big structures being built or a show like Myth Busters can really help their science vocabulary. One drawback are the commercials. Some commercials are racy. Others advertise beer. Here’s your chance as a parent to point out to your impressionable children that we need to discern what is being advertised and why and how.

When I was at my lowest point with adrenal fatigue, I could barely get Bible, math, and English done. They practiced piano and violin on their own. For the rest, I just crawled around the house taking care of the most basic household chores and that was it.

Sometimes I got discouraged and felt it would never end and we would never catch up with the rest of our work. But as we persevered and I got better, we were able to forge ahead and get back on track. Grit, my friends, wins every time.

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 24

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Chapter 24 deals with Captain Cook’s voyages and the beginnings of Australia as a British colony. Since we just finished “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” the kids were already somewhat familiar with the name “Captain Cook” and the whole idea of explorations. It was a happy coincidence that our literature selection and our history lesson overlapped in a way.

Boy looking through telescope

My son looking for Venus after sundown

I am more interested in the reading comprehension questions now, as the nationally standardized test is coming up in six weeks. There will be lots of reading comprehension items on that test and I want the kids to learn how to approach their texts.  Continue reading »

If the questions are really easy, I direct the question to my second grader. She sits with us in history and loves to color and do the maps. She also loves the crafts, if any. But until recently she did not show an interest in answering the questions. As she grows and matures, I also want to challenge her to answer in full sentences and to scour the text for the right answer.

The other exercise that I did not emphasize before but on which I insist now is narration. My son gets lost in the details and has a hard time summarizing a text into three sentences. So we work on that skill at the end of the history lesson. I give him the examples given in the book if he does not know how to do it, or I correct him as he goes along and starts giving too many details.

Looking through the telescope

Looking through the telescope

For our activity, we chose to look at planet Venus one evening, after the sun set. We were leaving the house to go to tae kwon do, which should explain why my son is wearing what he is wearing in the picture. The moon was out, but no sign of Venus.

We looked around the moon through the telescope, but we could not find Venus. Later on, after tae kwon do, Venus was out and I just don’t have the right camera to capture it. But we spotted it and thought about Captain Cook and his secret mission.

Fun Activities For You & Your Kids

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There are going to be periods when you and your kids are together and you’ll want to spend time as a family. It’s not always easy to think of activities on the spot. That’s why you should have a few ideas handy that you can turn to when the opportunity to be with your kids arises.

Boy and girl playing in the snow

My kids playing in the snow

Have a few options in mind in case you get bored of one, or your kids aren’t enjoying themselves. Use your time together to talk, laugh and have fun as a group. Appreciate the chance to all be together and let yourselves be creative and free. Continue reading »

Play Outside
On days where the weather cooperates, head outside and get some fresh air. Soak up the sunshine and run around to let off steam. Find a local playground, go through the sprinkler in your backyard or write with chalk on the sidewalk. Get out all the toys and see where the day takes you all. Participate with your kids and show them that you’re engaged in what they’re doing.

Create Photo Collages
From mood boards and look books to greetings and scrapbook keepsakes, photo collages are a great way to arrange your best shots in an artful way. The best part is that you don’t need to be a professional designer to make your picture collage look great. Simply remix the Adobe Spark templates by adding your own text and images. Ready-made photo templates make it easy to create expressive and meaningful collages. Adobe Spark is free to use, and it can be mastered in the comfort of your own home in a matter of minutes.

Color, Draw & Paint
Get crafty by setting out all the different art supplies. Color, draw and paint the afternoon away. Put all the options out on the table and let everyone choose what they want to tackle. Turn on the music, make your favorite snack and enjoy time spent creating and crafting. If any of the projects turn out well, you can hang them on the fridge or wall as artwork. This will keep you busy all day if you want it to. Make sure you always have coloring books and utensils available in the house to use whenever necessary.

Puzzle or Board Games
If you want more social activities, then pull out a puzzle or a few board games for entertainment. This will get everyone involved. Challenge yourselves to a bigger puzzle this time or a new game if you want to mix it up. This is a great opportunity to connect with each other and talk about whatever’s on your mind. If a particular puzzle or game isn’t doing it for you then simply choose another and try again.

All you have to do is put your thinking cap on if you want ideas for what to do with your kids. Use these suggestions to get you started, and you’ll likely come up with even more as time passes. No matter what you’re doing, remember to have fun and be grateful for this quality time together.

Skype Violin Lessons

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A few years ago, I was complaining to somebody about the fact that there were no violin teachers in Sevier County and I had to drive to Knoxville, which is one hour away, so my children could get lessons. He said, “Try Skype lessons!” My reaction was, “No!”

Girl taking Skype vioiin lesson

My daughter’s violin lesson via Skype

Fast forward a year and I was burned out of driving for violin lessons. The kids were not happy with their instrument, either. They enjoyed piano more and violin practice became this big stressful moment of the day. Continue reading »

Quitting was not an option, so I did the only sensible thing I could think of: I Googled “Skype violin lessons.” I found several names and websites of great violin performers and teachers. Two stood out, so I contacted them.

We set up a free lesson with each. We went through the lesson with each of the kids. At the end, I asked the kids which one they liked more. It happened to be the same one that I liked the best. I let the other one know we were going with somebody else and I thanked her for her time. She replied very kindly, wishing me good luck etc.

Then, I turned around and let Mary-Elizabeth Brown know that we would be delighted to join her violin studio via Skype. That, my friends, was in April 2016. As I said, my kids were in bad shape mentally about the violin. My oldest actually cried during one of the lessons, telling the teacher that he enjoyed piano more. She took the time to listen to him and worked with his frustration.

Boy talking to violin teacher via Skype

Conversations are an important part of a violin lesson

My youngest was six at the time and bouncing off the walls during the lessons. She was playing on a 1/8 violin which was impossible for me to tune at times. The teacher, again, encouraged me that it will be just a few more months on that violin. Kids grow, you know? And the next size up would be much easier to tune.

Ms. Brown also worked with my rambunctious kid and employed some cool methods to get her to be more accountable, focused, and responsible. This teacher produced all sorts of coloring incentives for practice. She had playful ways of presenting the information, to get my child to make it through the lesson.

My son during his Skype violin lesson

My son during his Skype violin lesson

She helped me become a better parent by suggesting several books Suzuki parents read, which empowered me to be more patient and relaxed.

Long story short, by August, my children auditioned for the Knoxville Youth Symphony and got in. In four months, Mary-Elizabeth Brown had calmed me down and prepared the kids enough to where they got into ensembles for their levels.

After 10 more months of hard work, the kids were making progress and Ms. Brown suggested we enroll them in the Royal Music Conservatory assessment program. On June 1, 2017, we drove two hours to Elizabethton to have them assessed on level 1 and 3 respectively.

Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down? They received the highest scores for their levels in the examination center AND in the whole state of Tennessee. Now, my children are not concert masters in their orchestras. There are children in Tennessee who play better than my children, obviously. But those children did not show up to this exam.

My kids received high scores, got a boost of confidence and self-esteem, and another summer rolled by. When they auditioned again for the youth symphony, our son moved up in the next level orchestra.

But the best thing was when, in November 2017, my son said to me, “Mom, thank you for making me practice. I really like the violin now. And I really like how good I have gotten with it. Thanks for not letting us quit.”

All this to say, Mary-Elizabeth Brown is one amazing teacher who can take a bad situation and turn it into a good one. And by situation I mean bowing, posture, attitude, everything that has to do with the violin.

She happens to have some openings in her studio, so feel free to contact her on her website,, to set up your own trial lesson with her.