Monday, September 15, 2014

The Incredible Ways Children Learn

Photo: Alamy
This week I have been listening to the TED Radio Hour podcast and I want to share a specific broadcast with you. As educators and parents, I think you'll find this absolutely fascinating and encouraging. You are all probably back to school, settling into schedules, past the first-week blues, and maybe you're excited about where this year is going to take you and your family. Or maybe you're in desperate need of some encouragement. Either way, I think this podcast will re-energy the weary and strengthen the resolve of the enthusiastic.

Entitled Unstoppable Learning, and drawing from five different TED talks, host Guy Raz digs into the absolutely incredible way babies and children learn. The latest science shows that even while babies are in the womb, they're taking in, assimilating, and processing information. One little factoid that I loved was when babies are born, they cry in the accent of their mother's language! Babies have already learned how to adapt to the culture and family into which they are born. Wow!

The look of wonder in a baby, a window into
their brilliant minds.
The first years of a child's life are critically important in their lives, but learning does not stop there. Sugara Mitra talks about his experiment in placing a computer into a wall in a slum in Delhi. He placed it at a height children could easily reach and left. And what were these children doing on this computer? Via remote desktop, Mitra was able to observe what the children were doing with this new object of fascination. With no training on how to use a computer, young children were teaching themselves how to use it. They figured out how to use the character map because the computer had no keyboard. And the real kicker is that the computer operated in English so these unstoppable learners taught themselves English in order to be able to teach themselves how to use the computer! These are children living in desperate conditions, without access to the luxuries of tutors, specialized education programs, even basic school supplies. And yet, that thirst for knowledge is unquenchable when given an outlet for development. Mitra pushed his experiment further. He developed a proposition: with access to a computer, would Tamil speaking children in a village with access to a computer programed in English be able to teach themselves about DNA replication? Without teachers, without adult supervision, without computer training of any kind, these children in an Indian village did in fact teach themselves about DNA duplication. And so Mitra saw something that has been observable but often ignored: children do not need to be taught how to learn. Teaching is not about training children to learn. Children begin learning in the womb. As educators, it's often more our role to set up an environment that provides fertile soil for the growth of that inherent learning ability. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is step out of the way!

Our entire philosophy is built around this idea: children are natural learners. They do not need to be taught to be curious, interested, or explorative. Every parent knows that babies and toddlers are the most curious creatures alive. This ability does not magically cease to exist when they enter school, but sadly it seems to wither in the confines of a classroom, rigid schedule, lifeless textbooks, and arbitrary standards. We've found that educating children via a philosophy that allows for more personalization, less rigid evaluation, and a broader definition of "learning" allows this inborn skill to flourish. Our study guides are not strict to-do lists. They do not contain a lot of tests. They're structured around fantastic stories and literature. We encourage parents to take part in their children's learning process, to discuss ideas and events, to channel curiosity into critical thinking. So if you find yourself bogged down in a curriculum that has endless checklists and fill-in-the blank worksheets, consider taking a step back. Seek to encourage joy in exploration. The learning will come. And take a bit of time to listen to the podcast, it's a great reminder that sometimes we just need to let go of our expectations and allow children the freedom to be their curious selves.

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages. To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here. And if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

American and World Modern History for Intermediate Grades!!! Sneak Peek!

It's almost here! At BFB our office is humming with activity as Rea, Jon, and Josh work round the clock to finish our BRAND-NEW study guide: American and World Modern History for Intermediate Grades. This long-awaited guide follows up our Early American History for Intermediate Grades and spans the time period from the beginning of the Civil War, right up through the 1990s! We're currently putting the final touches on it and the electronic version will be available for download this coming Friday. Hardcopies will be ready to ship in a couple of weeks. 
To whet your appetites for this exciting new study, here's some sample pages and excerpts. This guide covers one of the most exciting periods of history, a time of extreme change, scientific advances, unprecedented social change, and exciting innovation. It was also the bloodiest period in the history of the world. This study will guide students deep into the intricacies of history, allow them to get to know the heroes and heroines who changed the world, along with the villains who gave the world a glimpse of pure evil. 

The booklist for this guide is amazing! Featuring stories of non-stop action, heart-wrenching heroism, devastating loss and incredible bravery, this study appeals to all of us who love a good story. Showing that history is story, you can forget about dry textbooks and lifeless facts. Throughout the study guide you'll find author spotlights to help fill in the background for some of the 19th and 20th centuries' best writers. There are also call-out boxes to draw attention to some of the most fascinating historical figures studied in this course, people like Gladys Aylward, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, The Wright Brothers, Alvin C. York, Eric Liddell, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, Jackie Robinson, and others.

From the southern United States to the shores of Normandy. From the banks of Kitty Hawk to the villages of Korea. From President Lincoln to President Reagan. This guide bounds through time and place, leaping continents and cultures while following the progression of history.

And for you literature lovers out there, here's the book list. As we wrap up a few details, a title or two may change so keep that in mind.

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
The Perilous Road by William O. Steele
Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor 
Theodore Roosevelt by Genevieve Foster
Sergeant York by John Perry
The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward and Christine Hunter
Rascal by Sterling North
The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop
The Little Riders by Margaretha Shemin
War Boy: A Country Childhood by Michael Foreman 
Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi
Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam by Huynh Quang Nhuong

Check out the pack here!

Are you as excited as I am? This Friday, we'll be posting the link to the study guide!

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages. To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here. And if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below.

Friday, September 05, 2014

History Spotlight: Ancient Ethiopian Churches

BBC Travel has a fascinating account of a journey to visit the ancient Christian churches of Ethiopia. These frescoed buildings are tucked away in thousand foot cliffs and require a physically (and mentally) challenging climb up hundreds of feet of rock. The caretakers guide visitors up heart-poundingly precarious sheer rock faces. Due to their isolated positions the churches are stunningly preserved and feature Orthodox frescoes. 

Click here for more photos and an account of a journalist's pilgrimage to see these amazing sacred sites. 

All photos from:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Recent Reviews!

One of our favorite homeschool reviewers, Cathy Duffy, recently reviewed a couple of our products. If you aren't familiar with Cathy, she is a fixture in the home school community. People have trusted Cathy to tell them what products are worth their time and treasure. She brings years of experience to her role as curriculum specialist and her book 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum is a gold standard for thousands of parents trying to pick the best curriculum for their children. A homeschool mom herself, Cathy began teaching her three sons in 1982 and continued all the way through high school. Here are links to her reviews of a couple BFB products:

A Child's First Book of American History by Earl Schenck Miers. 
Cathy says "A Child’s First Book of American History is one of the few children’s history books that you might want to buy in the hard cover edition because you will probably want to hold on to it forever." We agree and are so thrilled to be able to make this book available for a new generation of readers. You can read the complete and detailed review here.

"Beautiful Feet Books has brought back into print some of my favorite books for world history for upper elementary grades through high school...The beauty of these books is the storytelling approach to history. Foster begins with the day the key person was born and traces “goings-on” around the world throughout his lifetime. Foster makes the connections between people and events all around the globe that are usually lacking in textbooks. Because of this approach, even George Washington’s World is a world history study. If you read these in chronological sequence you cover world history fairly well for the time periods they reflect." The Foster Collection is one of Cathy's Top 101 Picks! Full review here.

Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages. And if you're looking for great resources for your family, check out our webpage. If you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Life changing literature, a post by Kathy

Recently, I was perusing our book shelves in search of our next summer read aloud. While running my fingers across the shelf, they stopped when I came to one particular book, Lois Lenski’s Strawberry Girl. I took the book off the shelf, thumbed through the pages and smiled. This book had brought two families together and changed their lives of both forever. Our family affectionately refers to this one particular summer as “The Strawberry Girl Summer.” Please allow me to share our story with you.

Last summer before we left on vacation, I asked our six year old daughter to select two books for me to read aloud while we were traveling. The two books she selected were A Cricket in Times Square and Strawberry Girl. To be honest I had reservations about reading Strawberry Girl. However, she was so insistent, that after talking it over with my husband, it was decided I would read it. After I had finished reading the final chapter she said, "The family across the street are like the Slaters. Someone needs to tell them about Jesus." She was right; the family across the street are like the Slaters. The family consisted of a single mom, who was an alcoholic with five children. The family members had made poor decisions in regard to life choices: joining a gang to obtain acceptance, choosing to solve their problems with the use of drugs and alcohol, to experience self-gratification via marital relations outside of marriage were considered the “norm” for this family. I did agree with her, someone needed to tell them about Jesus, and I hoped that someone else would be called to do it.

About a month ago our daughter requested for me to read Strawberry Girl again. Interestingly enough when I began the book, our pastor began a series on "loving others as Jesus did." When we finished the final chapter of Strawberry Girl she said to me again, "Mom the neighbors across the street are like the Slaters. Someone needs to tell them about Jesus." Only this time I knew the someone to tell them about Jesus would be our family.

The weather where we live became warm and the neighborhood kids began to come out to play, including the little girl who lives in the house across the street. I was not thrilled she wanted to play in our yard, however, I remembered what my daughter had said, and so we invited her to play. Interestingly enough the opportunity came up when she was having dinner with us one evening to invite her to a children’s program at church. She was enthusiastic about it, so we took her with us. Over the summer we continued to form a relationship with this child and her family which gave us the opportunity to “tell them about Jesus.” During the end of summer, the family was forced to relocate to another city because their poor life choices had caught up with them. As I read the final page of “Strawberry Girl” I sighed, closed the book and placed it back on the shelf. This family is in our thoughts and prayers daily, and we often wonder what happened to them. I guess we will never know this side of heaven.

 I’ve often commented that our home education experience isn’t just for our daughter, but for our entire family. When I stop to think about it, I learned some important lessons during this one particular summer. The first lesson I learned was to be selective when choosing books for read aloud times. “Good books provide support for the kind of character we hope to see developed in our children,” says author Gladys Hunt.

The second lesson I learned was to listen to my daughter. If I had not listened to her prompts to read and reread the book Strawberry Girl our family would have missed an opportunity to invest in another family and share our faith with them.

The third lesson I learned was to be authentic as a follower of Jesus. Christianity is more than just about talking about your beliefs. It is about putting “hands and feet” to your beliefs and living them out for all to see.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote by Robert Coles, “Stories are a way of teaching. Our own lives are mirrored and intensified by stories. We learn the connection between things by reading stories.”

Thank you Kathy for sharing about the ways a simple book like Strawberry Girl can have a profound impact on its readers and the people our lives touch. That is one of the things we love about great stories: they change us. More profound than any self-help book, stories have the power to mold our character, push us out of our comfort zone, and challenge our faith to grow.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Arguing for Simplicity

In a time of polarizing opinions, little "across the aisle" dialogue and gridlock it's been refreshing to read two books, written by very different authors, that end up arguing for a similar cause. Ten Way to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child is written by Anthony Esolen, a college professor, Christian, and social commentator. The Idle Parent is written by lefty British anti-authoritarian Tom Hodgkinson. While they come at parenting from completely different positions, they both end up advocating for an educational approach that includes cultivating an atmosphere of learning within the home. They're both positive about home schooling. They encourage parents to take responsibility for their children's education. They advocate plenty of free time, outdoor play, limiting structured activities overseen by adults. Imagination is valued and great literature is used to encourage its development.

Respect for Children

The thing that struck me is that both authors have a healthy respect for children. As a parent, I'm
continually amazed at the developments of my son. Little ones come with so much pre-programed information and are so incredibly aware of their surroundings. Even during the first week of my son's life, he expressed interest and curiosity, staring at the lights and decorations on our Christmas tree. As he gets older that natural inquisitiveness has only increased. He also expresses, as all babies do, the purest form of joy. His affections are clear and shameless. These are qualities I want to preserve as long as I am possibly able. While many parenting philosophies and teaching ideologies seem to put an emphasis on "developing" the child, I think that can often result in misguided applications. Esolen and Hodgkinson seem to agree. They both make convincing arguments for freeing children from the pressures of performance based success. Replace a rigid class schedule with a more holistic educational approach that involves more time for exploration and discovery. Reduce the number of hours children are required to spend seated at desks and allow them to run free outside. Let them organize their own games instead of signing them up for youth soccer. Ultimately, it seems to me, they call for parents and educators to put a little more trust in the children entrusted to our care. In a culture that encourages helicopter parenting, I think there is wisdom in this idea.

Rejecting "Success"

As homeschoolers and parents, don't we all feel an enormous amount of pressure to ensure that our children succeed? That they stay on track with their traditionally schooled peers? That they're adequately "socialized"? Maybe we can relax a bit. According to Esolen and Hodgkinson, maybe we need to rethink what we mean by success. Both authors argue for a rejection of commercialism and an adoption of simplicity. How refreshing! Maybe success can't be equated with a 9-5 job and lots of stuff. As homeschoolers, we're already a bit outside the mainstream and I think that we all want more for our children. The authors certainly place a high value on innovation and entrepreneurship and giving back. By eschewing an educational system and philosophy that values order over innovation, time spent indoors over time spent exploring nature, fill-in-the-blank answers over critical thinking, we've taken the first step toward allowing our children to grow into the people they were created to be. And we're encouraging them to look at learning not as something that should be accomplished in 45 minute segments, but in everything they do.

Leaving room for joy

One of the most rewarding aspects of my jobs is hearing from parents who have been reacquainted with what it means to love learning. Time after time, I'll hear from parents who thought they hated literature or despised history. After getting rid of the textbooks and rejecting test-driven learning, these moms and dads have rediscovered their curiosity while encouraging their children's inborn inquisitiveness. They've spent hours together cuddled on the sofa with their children learning about Beowulf and Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman and Augustus Caesar and Marie Curie. They've planned history field trips to state parks, something that a couple of years ago would have sounded like drudgery but instead has become a favorite family memory. Amazing how redemptive these experiences can be. Education stops being the mere transfer of information from an "expert" to a "student", it becomes an organic exchange between child and parent, both inspiring one another, perspectives shifting, eyes opening, stories unfolding. Left to their own devices, children will learn and explore (especially if there are no screens nearby to distract them from this important endeavor). So, as you start this new school year, in the midst of lesson planning, leave a little room for freedom, exploration, and joy.

You may also enjoy:

Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages. And if you're looking for great resources for your family, check out our webpage. If you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Giveaway Winners!

We had so much fun reading all the reviews you submitted on our website! These provide valuable feedback for us and we're thrilled to know what you love about our products...and what you think needs improving. So, thank you to everyone who submitted a review. We appreciate the time you put into helping us. 

And, we have two winners:


Both Paige and Shelly submitted lots of great reviews and RandomPicker pulled their names. Paige and Shelly, you both have won one of our most recently updated Study Guides! Choose one of the following: 
History of Classical Music

Early American History for Intermediate Grades

Early American History for Primary Grades