National Gallery Library

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Did you know that the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has a library and all of us may borrow books in the mail from there? I just got my first volume and we are enjoying it immensely.

An Eye For Art - a book we borrowed from the National Gallery of Art

An Eye For Art – we borrowed it from the National Gallery of Art

The process to sign up for this library is as easy as 1-2-3: (1) you create an account; (2) you choose the learning resource you want to borrow; (3) you click “request this resource” right there on its page.

There are no late fees and the borrowing times are generous. We just received our book and we do not have to return it until December. Yes, you read that right.

You can also ask for resources ahead of time, to have them staggered. The process is very intuitive as you work your way through the borrowing windows.

Many resources are available as downloadable images and PDFs. You will find that you may not need to borrow physical books that often, but, of course, it depends on your needs and your children’s ages and level of interest in art.

There are CDs to borrow, too, and DVDs with all sorts of art documentaries. One other resource I would recommend are the videos on the YouTube channel of the National Gallery. You will learn so much about the two buildings in D.C., who donated the land and the money, how and why it is not part of the Smithsonian Institution, and about the collections themselves.

Our family lives about eight hours away from the National Gallery. We have already visited the Smithsonian in D.C. and walked past the National Gallery, but, alas, we only had time for the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum. The next time we visit D.C., which I hope is later this year, we will definitely have to go into the National Gallery.

There are collections we can view ahead of time on their website, so that the children may feel excited about seeing these masterpieces in person. Also, there are treasure hunts. These Family Guides which you can print at home or request when you get there will enhance your visit as you go from gallery to gallery.


Prince Albert, Homeschooling Dad

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After watching Victoria on PBS for a few weeks, I was very interested in learning more about Prince Albert, her husband. My local library carries The Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert, the most comprehensive biography of Prince Albert, written by Stanley Weintraub. I read it after watching Weintraub’s lecture about the book on YouTube.

Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert

The most comprehensive biography of Prince Albert – I learned a lot from it

Through it all, I learned that Prince Albert was a wonderful homeschooling dad to his nine children. Albert and Victoria enjoyed 17 years of a happy marriage until his unfortunate death at the relatively young age of 42. Prince Albert wrote about his children’s studies extensively in his diary, which makes him a blogging dad by modern standards. So what kind of education did he give his royal children? Continue reading »

We know that he taught some of the subjects and for others he hired private tutors. The children had their own garden plots at Osborne House, the royal family private residence on the Isle of Wight. They tended to their farm animals. They also took piano lessons, French, German, Latin, history and math. How to write and read English was taught as well, of course.

As they grew older, they learned to fish, shoot guns, and hunt with their father. The girls learned to embroider. Special attention was given to art: painting with watercolors and sketching, as well as art appreciation. The royal couple had an impressive art collection for the children to enjoy.

Prince Albert was a Chancellor at Cambridge University and brought about educational reform in that institution, based on the standards of German universities that he had attended or visited. Until his tenure, Cambridge did not teach science or any history after medieval times. As you might imagine, he had an uphill battle with the academics of his time, but he managed to improve the curriculum.

After the first World Fair, The Great Exhibition of 1851, which Prince Albert organized through multiple committees, he was able to use some of the money earned through tickets to buy land in South Kensington, in order to establish a series of museums and institutions of learning. Known today as “museum row,” that area of London continues to be one of the most visited places in the world.

The other part of the money was placed in interest-bearing accounts in banks. The interest earned by that money is used to this day to foster learning and support scientists and artists. Another Prince Consort handles those funds today: Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband. Several Nobel laureates and famous artists have benefited from the funds which can be traced down to Prince Albert and his Great Exhibition.

In those days, corporal punishment was part of the normal way of educating a child, so yes, he administered it. Other than that, we cannot find much fault with his homeschooling.


Standardized Testing

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Last week, my children took their annual standardized tests at our umbrella school in Knoxville. In Tennessee, one can sign up under the local school district, or with an umbrella school. Umbrella schools come in different shapes, forms and sizes. Some are remote places that will not require much of you in exchange for the piece of paper which shows that you are not truant.

Terra Nova 3 test prep materials

Test Prep books we used – our test is called Terra Nova 3.

Others are local brick-and-mortar schools with a homeschool umbrella program. As such, they will give your child a diploma when high school graduation comes around. The diploma will not even mention the word “homeschool,” which makes the umbrella school hold parents to a high standard. Many such local umbrella schools require annual testing.  Continue reading »

Our umbrella school, Berean Christian School in Knoxville, requires testing starting in second grade, with an optional test in first grade. I know people who are not registered officially to homeschool for fear that their children will be required to test. The conspiracy theories abound among such people. That their children will freeze and not score high or, on the contrary, do a great job, but the test providers will give them a bad score, which forces the parents to put them in public school etc.

I have made up my mind that I will not be truant. We live in a free world, governed by laws. As long as I follow the law of the land, I want to believe that nobody will come knocking on my door to ask for my children. I have documentation on hand which shows we are registered legally for homeschooling in the State of Tennessee.

And if testing shows my children do not score well, then I am the first one to put them in a different academic environment or the change what we are doing. But, as it turns out, my children score well. We will only know the results of these tests in April, I think. Judging from the previous two years, we should be fine this year, too.

This year, one of my children said the test was “very easy.” The other one had time to draw three pages of detailed comics during the test – they finished that much ahead of the allotted time. So I am not worried.

We like to cover a lot of material before the test even though it is not an end-of-year test. This is simply a preparation for the ACT or SAT – whichever we will decide to take once college plans must be made. It is also a tool for me to know if we are doing a good job or not. If we have gaps in our knowledge, we had better know about it, right?


Art Field Trips

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Now that the standardized test is behind us, we can have some fun with subjects like foreign languages and art, which I tend to de-emphasize in the months leading up to the test. We visited two art museums recently, to get our art juices flowing: Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg and the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Girl looking at digital art

My daughter looking at digital art, in Knoxville, at the Museum of Art

At Arrowmont, we caught the tail end of the juried exhibition from Sevier County residents. We live in a community full of talented artists. It was inspiring to see all the different pieces and media.  Continue reading »

Arrowmont displays their permanent collection and then temporary exhibitions. The museum is free and they also have a library filled with art books and magazines. On Wednesdays, volunteers come to cull through their collection and discard what is not needed anymore in the school. They fill up a bookshelf with giveaways or heavily discounted art books.

Boy and girl at Arrowmont

My children at Arrowmont

I picked up several free beautiful art books and a $1 large coffee table book on London. How would you like to travel to London for $1 and not worry about terrorism, flight inconveniences and jet lag? With such a book, one can.

The children enjoyed the art and got a lesson in art marketing. They were shocked at the prices of some of the pieces. The most expensive one was $16,000 and most of them were in the $300 range.

In Knoxville, the Museum of Art is also free. They have a Children’s Corner filled with art books for children, a Brite Lite wall, two art easels for drawing, and many craft opportunities. While their gift shop offers pricey items, I have also found some of their offerings to be the same price as Amazon or Walmart. If you are watching your budget, the gift shop is not a bad option for some of the art products they carry.

Girl at KMA Lite Brite Wall

My daughter at the Lite Brite Wall

Play sticks are available in the Children’s Corner

The permanent collection upstairs houses, among other things, Catherine Wiley’s beautiful Impressionist paintings – my favorite part of going to KMA. I discovered Catherine Wiley’s paintings of motherhood and women six years ago, when my children were in diapers. Wiley’s depiction of motherhood helped me transcend Pampers and Huggies.

One of the temporary exhibits is an interactive, digital art display on loan from the Thoma Foundation and the other one is a beautiful collection of abstract art by Jered Sprecher, a UT art professor. His “Respiro” and “Calling” spoke to me in a personal way. The first one reminded me of Ramazzotti’s “Respiro nel blu” and the latter reminded me of homeschooling, because I feel called to do it.

"Respiro" by Jered Sprecher

“Respiro” by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

"Calling" by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

“Calling” by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

Art museums, for me, represent these spaces where I get in touch with parts of myself I do not usually see or feel. I talk about “art therapy” and that is because I feel more complete or aware or healed when I come away from these places. On a more specific note, I think that we are still healing from the shock we suffered in November with the wildfires, so yes, we need some art therapy.

The children love everything about the visits: the art books, the art corner with its manipulatives, and the exhibits. At KMA, the Thorne Rooms offer a collection of miniatures that delight them. I enjoy looking at them as well and they came in handy, after all the history lessons we had recently. These dioramas show actual living rooms from medieval Spain or Victorian England or the American Frontier.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 13

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Chapter 13 was all about the Sun King of France, none other than Louis XIV. We made masks and talked about Versailles and the man in the iron mask. It was a bit of a crazy story to tell. Maybe I did not explain well, because they had a lot of questions about it.

Versailles Mask

Versailles Mask

A few years back, I watched the famous movie about it with Leonardo di Caprio but I remember some of the action was inappropriate for small children, so we will not be watching that any time soon. Maybe I can look up some books on the subject. Continue reading »

We talked about Versailles and I showed them pictures online. Of course, my daughter and I love the dresses the ladies wore back then. As we were admiring them, my son rolled his eyes. Typical boy, what can I say?

Scary Versailles Mask

Scary Versailles Mask

About the craft: we made these Versailles masks but I could not convince my daughter to accept that the tips go up. She wanted them to go down. Therefore, the mask covered her whole face. Also, if you did not want to do an elastic, you could just glue a popsicle stick to one side of it. Not all balls were fully masked and secretive.

Susan Wise Bauer mentions this as an option as well. They did not necessarily want to hide their identity. It was more of a fun thing to do – keep a mask in one hand and cover your face now and then, depending on the conversation.

The Sun King, of course, was quite a topic. I am not impressed with absolute monarchs and neither are my children. We discussed the divine right of kings – again. It’s important for them to understand why these people behaved this way. As soon as you invoke God’s permission for your actions, you need to tread carefully.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 12

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Chapter 12 covered Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. What a chapter! For some reason, England is always interesting for us to study.

Homemade bread

Homemade bread

We made some bread in the bread machine and talked about the cooking project in the book, a loaf that measures up. Susan Wise Bauer provides a recipe for “easy bread” in the Activity Book. I am curious enough to try it some day, but not right now. I have too many things going. Maybe I will try making it during spring break, which is coming up shortly. Continue reading »

So for all intents and purposes I baked some bread in my trusted bread machine and called it a project. The kids love homemade bread. The house fills with the aroma and we all just feel like we are home. A friend of mine says that a home just does not feel like a home to her unless there is a cat around. I feel the same way about the smell of homemade bread.

Anyway, the kids do not remember the names of the people we study in history – it’s a fact. If we go through this history cycle three times, as SWB recommends it, they probably will. I keep telling myself this is only the first time they encounter these characters. They will have to read about them several times before they finally understand who is who and why they do what they do.

It is a new way of doing things for me, because I learned a lesson by heart and then considered my job as a student done. This is different. Reading and narrating, then hoping things will stick as we go through the cycle again in the next four years… Hmm… it’s all a big adventure, isn’t it?


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 11

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Chapter 11 was all about India and the Mogul emperors there. The craft was not that complicated. We put a couple of stuffed animals in the math balance and tried to see what goods could make them balance.

Foofa on a math balance

The weight of Foofa in costume jewelry and such

The story was that of the young Indian prince whose weight was measured in gold and food which were then given to the poor on his birthday. The kids had fun bringing costume jewelry, marbles and other objects to try to make things balance. Continue reading »

I suppose you could really dive into this activity and transform it into a math activity and other things – a whole unit study in itself about India. The thing is, unit studies do not appeal to me. I would suspect one cannot do a unit study about India either without cooking an Indian dish. Alas, I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate Indian cuisine.

Teddybear in math balance

Teddybear in math balance

I have several Indian friends who have cooked their dishes for me and promised me to tone down the spices. The food was so spicy, I had tears in my eyes as I ate the first couple of forkfuls and then asked to be excused from finishing the rest of my plate. I am sorry, but Indian food is not my thing. I have never liked spicy food to begin with. Ginger and curry are not at all flavors I like, either. There it is.

The kids enjoy looking cities up on the world map. We talked about how large India is – large enough to be called the Indian subcontinent in some contexts. And that was another chapter done.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 10

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Chapter 10 dealt with China and the rise of the Manchu. The kids could not believe how stubborn and self-sufficient the Chinese were.

Girl gets sand from a sandbox

Getting sand from our sandbox

For our craft, we made a Zen garden. Oh, the fun! We have an aluminium pan for our crafts and first my daughter filled it up with sand from the sandbox. Then, they cleaned the sand a bit. Lots of little leaves and pebbles somehow manage to get into our sandbox, despite the lid. Continue reading »

Raking the Zen garden

Raking the Zen garden

Then, I explained to them how to rake it and decorate it with rocks. My children have recently started rock collections and they were very willing to part with three of their rocks for this project.

We talked about the difference between Zen and Christianity. We believe, as Christians, that there is nothing good in us. The heart is desperately wicked, the Bible says. That is why we need a Redeemer and we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Through faith in Him, we receive eternal life. He lives in our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and so now our hearts are renewed. Our actions reflect this inward change.

Zen garden

Zen garden

With Zen, things are different. Zen believers turn inwardly to achieve peace. Christians reach outside of themselves, to God and His Son, while Zen teaches people to look inside themselves. The kids did not seem to have a problem distinguishing the two principles.

For the record, I have given up on reading the suggested books. Maybe this summer? We are in the home stretch of preparing for the annual standardized test and I seem to have tunnel vision about the 3Rs. We will definitely look at some of the titles suggested by SWB and see if the library can get them for us.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 9

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Chapter 9 deals with the Western War or the Thirty Years’ War. This was a fascinating lesson to me. I had forgotten the details of this war. After all, it has been decades since I studied it in school. Now that I know more about the difference between Catholics and Protestants, I looked at the story in a different light anyway.

Shredded apples

Shredded apples for the Swedish apple cake

First of all, religious wars are sad. We talked about the fact that war may be a necessary evil at times, but it should never start simply because you persecute somebody for their faith. Continue reading »

For our craft, I made a Swedish apple cake according to the recipe in the Activity Book. It was fun and, as usual, I substituted some ingredients for health reasons. No matter how you cut it, one cup of sugar in a cake recipe seems extremely rich. I used some molasses and honey instead of the sugar. I definitely did not use a cup of the sweeteners.

Molasses, coconut oil and honey

Molasses, coconut oil and honey

My suggestion to you it to omit the nutmeg in the recipe. Even though I like nutmeg, it totally seemed to overwhelm the cloves and other ingredients. So skip the nutmeg altogether and make your Swedish apple cake more palatable.

Swedish apple cake

Swedish apple cake

The consistency was more that of a fruit cake – dense and fruity. I was the only one who consumed this apple cake and that’s because I don’t believe in throwing away food. Maybe I went too far with my substitutions? Maybe it is supposed to be that way?

Swedish apple cake in pan

Swedish apple cake in pan

It was edible, especially with a cup of milk nearby, but I am not a picky eater. My children tried it and did not like it. It must have been the nutmeg, but I also think that the name “cake” made them expect something fluffier and softer.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 8

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The Middle of the East or Chapter 8 was all about the Persian puzzle and the Ottoman Turks. Needless to say, I have a great deal to add to the history lessons on the Ottoman Empire, as someone who grew up in Romania. Thanks to our proximity to the Black Sea area, Romanians were always being invaded or threatened to be invaded. For centuries, the Turks were our greatest enemies.

Bridge of four arches

One soldier was enough to make the bridge of four arches bend.

The craft we chose was to build a bridge of four arches. It was not that hard, but it was not easy either. Scotch tape helps but it can be unruly, as I just used scrap paper for the arches, and scrap paper is flimsy. By the way, let us talk about the supplies needed. Typing paper? I had to look that up. Continue reading »

Apparently, that is another name for A4 – the European size for what we call 8 1/2 x 11 or Letter size in America. A4 is slightly longer and wider than Letter size.

The good news is, what you need to cut out of a piece of “typing paper” also fits within a Letter size. So we used some scrap paper, Letter size, and cut out the strips required. This was a great exercise in measuring with a ruler, by the way. If your children need some practice with measuring and using a ruler, there’s your opportunity.

We put them together with tape and then tested them with plastic soldiers. One plastic soldier was OK on it, but two proved too heavy. The kids played with the soldiers as if they were having a battle around the bridge and did not place them on the bridge.