Tuesday, August 27, 2013

50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Fifty years ago tomorrow, 250,000 people convened on the Mall in Washington, D.C. to speak out for the oppressed, disenfranchised, and downtrodden. This day marked a turning point in U.S. history and set the stage for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It was during this momentous event that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his moving and poignant "I Have a Dream Speech" and helped open the eyes of a nation to the great injustice that was marring this nation.

To honor and celebrate this anniversary there are all sorts of resources available. Time magazine has a great commemorative issue available on newstands. It contains interviews with people who were there and participated in the March along with beautiful photographs of the event.

Online, here are a few of my favorites.

~Text of King's famous speech.
~Did you know that the most memorable lines were given off the cuff and hadn't been written into the original speech text?
~Watch the march and speech here.
~34 photos of the March.
~David Brooks writes about the ideas behind the march.
~King's moving and poignant "Letter from Birmingham Jail".
~Resources on the civil rights movement from history.com
~NY Times front page and coverage from August 28, 1963
~LIFE original photos
~LIFE rare photos of MLK and the Freedom Riders

Monday, August 26, 2013

Homeschooling Statistics and What They Mean

Homeschooled: How American Homeschoolers Measure Up
Source: TopMastersInEducation.com

Another fascinating info graphic on homeschooling has been circling the internet. Like the one we wrote about previously this one shows homeschoolers excelling by nearly every possible measure when compared to their contemporaries in public schools. I was once again struck by the equalizing effect of homeschooling. No matter if both or neither parent holds a college degree, students in those families still score in the 80-90th percentiles. Differences in family incomes creates a small difference of 4 percentage points on tests, but that is far less than the differences exhibited by public schooled children from poor school districts when compared to students from wealthy districts. The parental possession of a teaching certificate barely makes a difference for educational outcomes. What this says to me is that parental educational background, income level, certification, educational dollars spent, and a dozen other factors are so much less important than parental involvement. While the other factors often take center stage in our national debates about education reform, it really is the parents and family commitment to education that makes the real difference in student lives. This is strongly demonstrated in these statistics on homeschooling and I think that it applies to our students in private and public schools as well. A whole world of educational issues, problems, and challenges could be solved if parents took ownership of their children's education and were more involved. So, kudos to you, our readers, for your investment in your children's lives! You are making a significant and measurable difference in the lives of your children and are to be commended for your efforts and diligence. We know that it isn't always easy and you've picked a more challenging road, but your time and energy are not wasted. Here's to the new school year - may you enter it inspired by the knowledge that your investment is well worth the effort and is making a difference.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Notebook Contest Winners!

It was so much fun to look over the entries you submitted for this contest. Thank you to everyone who participated. We'll definitely do it again as I think it's inspiring for everyone!

Without further ado, here are the winners. To see more detail, click on each notebook entry to enlarge.

3rd Place
This entry is from Melanie who used our Ancient History through Literature. She enjoyed turning the stories into cartoons! Here she depicts the ancient Syrians retreating from Thutmose III's army! We loved the action and sense of humor portrayed in this entry.

2nd Place

These pages are from Kaden's notebook. At age 8 he's working his way through our Early American History for primary grades and we're very impressed with the maps and format of his notebook. The map of the world includes labels for each continent and he used the description in The Vikings to label his Viking longship. Well done!

1st Place
Winner of a $50.00 BFB gift certificate!

First place goes to the Story family! All three of their children, James, Katie, and Jesse, kept notebooks for their work in our Early American History for primary grades and it was lovely to see how each child expressed his or herself in the coloring and writing projects.

Thank you to everyone who participated! We'll do this again soon. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Children and Technology Follow-Up: Mindfulness

If any of you had a chance to listen to the Diane Rehm show featuring Catherine Steiner-Adair, I'm sure you found it fascinating. Throughout the program I was struck by the need for increased mindfulness in our interactions with children and fellow adults. I know I am guilty of zoning out in front of my computer screen or letting my phone take away my attention during a face-to-face conversation with my husband. I've only had a smartphone for one year and it's amazing how much of a distraction it has proven to be. Before jumping on the iPhone train, both my husband and I either did not have cell phones or had the really basic ones that are easy to ignore because the only thing you could do with them was make calls. 

Now I find myself constantly having to resist the temptation to check my phone for a message, a Facebook post, a twitter response, etc. Granted, there are definite benefits. I love being able to text back and forth with my parents and siblings, who are over 3000 miles away. I like the convenience of many of the apps I use. The main challenge is making a conscious choice to put the phone away when I'm with people. I think I have an advantage here over younger people because I know what it is like to host a dinner party where no one was using a smart phone. I know what it's like to have a three-hour coffee date with a friend and never be interrupted by a chirping phone. Like Steiner-Adair I feel very sad for the tech generation as they may never know what it's like to have those unwired exchanges. 

Steiner-Adair put it very well when she said: "The big disconnect really is the paradox of the age. We are unbelievably connected to each other in ways we've never been able to be and yet the quality of our connection has led to an increase in loneliness, in face time, in speaking to one another, in being fully present with each other. All the human attributes that make us fully human in our connections to each other."

To be fair, my siblings and I all have memories of my mom spending long hours on the phone (the old fashioned kind!) with friends who needed her attention. And it's human nature to be distracted and to focus on the urgent. The difference I think Steiner-Adair finds troubling is that screens are everywhere. And it's so easy to simply resort to technology in moments of stress and frustration. "And there's no doubt when you hand a child a smart phone because they're frustrated in the checkout line and it's so easy. What we are teaching kids in those moments is that the way you deal with frustration or being upset is to stimulate the brain not to calm the brain down."

It seems to me that one way to combat our technologically addicted world is mindfulness. Now mindfulness is usually traced back to Buddhist practices of meditation but I prefer to think of it as a conscious decision to engage with life in a meaningful and spiritually aware way. One can find many biblical references to living thoughtfully and developing a disciplined mind (Col 3:2, Rom 8:5, Rom 8:6, Rom 12:2). By "taking a beat" in moments of frustration and busy-ness, one can cultivate a habit of mindfulness and by modeling this to our children, maybe we can stem the tide of technological invasion into our lives. Now, this may involve setting up and maintaining strict boundaries. More than that I think that it means making a concerted effort to spend quality time together. Those of you who read this blog regularly can probably predict how I think that should happen. Yes, I think that reading aloud as a family is a great way to encourage interaction. Playing together, whether it's board games or a friendly match of soccer or touch football, is another great way to encourage "real" interaction. The best antidote to screen time is real human connection. If we make ourselves available to those real-world interactions by limiting our virtual ones we'll probably end up being better spouses, parents, and friends to the people in our lives. And we'll be showing the next generation that technological interaction is not the only method. 

There is a time and a place for technology (I am writing this on a blog after all) and it's a very useful tool. And I think that's the key. It is there for my use, I have control over the role it plays in my life. I start classes next week and I know that that is when I have a tendency to allow technology to play a bigger role in my life. And so as we're all starting up school, I am going to challenge myself to more mindfulness in terms of my interaction with others. Will you join me?

All quotations taken from the transcript of "The Big Disconnect" available here.

Related Posts:

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Children and Technology

Today on NPR's The Diane Rhem show the topic is children and technology. I think it's going to be a fascinating discussion and would encourage those of you who are interested in the topic to tune in.

From the show's website where this episode is entitled "The Big Disconnect": "New technology has radically changed the way we communicate with each other. Young people especially are relying on texting and social media for advice and friendship. A recent study found that children between the ages 8 and 18 are spending more than seven hours with electronic devices every day. Parents working from home are also spending more time on smartphones and tablets. In a new book, clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair argues that widespread use of electronic devices exposes kids to unhealthy values and puts children at risk at every developmental stage. She says technology has negative effects on empathy, attention and family relationships. Diane and her guest discuss the effects of technology on children and their families and what parents can do about it."

To listen live, click here or tune into your local NPR radio station. I would love to hear what you think of the show so we can get a discussion going on technology, its uses for education, its effects on your family, and how you incorporate it into your family's educational journey.  

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Preserving a Tradition

Over at the MindShift blog, Annie Murphy Paul has written a fantastic post on the importance of teaching today's students how to read deeply. Arguing that this skill has been threatened by an increasingly utilitarian approach to reading, Paul makes a convincing argument that in losing the ability to read in such a way that it becomes a sort of spiritual experience, we are at risk of losing our cultural heritage and identity.

I found her article fascinating and am in perfect agreement with her as I have seen the effect that utilitarian reading has on students when it comes to studying history. More often than not students who are taught history using textbooks written in technical "informative" language fail to develop an interest in the subject. History becomes reduced to names and dates and other "facts" and loses its human element. Reading about racial segregation becomes nothing more than a few paragraphs of facts and students may think "Well, that sounds awful" but fail to truly comprehend what it was like to live under Jim Crow legislation. Give them a book like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and their experience is transformed. Their brain engages in an entirely different way and they are drawn in to a story of deep human suffering allowing them to develop a sense of justice, empathy, and emotional engagement. It is for this reason that we at BFB are passionate about teaching history using literature. If a student's education fails to teach him to read on a deeply human level, it has failed him. And, unfortunately, most students are not reading in this way. As Paul states in her post: "This is not reading as many young people are coming to know it. Their reading is pragmatic and instrumental: the difference between what literary critic Frank Kermode calls “carnal reading” and “spiritual reading.” 

Paul goes on to state: 
"If we allow our offspring to believe that carnal reading is all there is—if we don’t open the door to spiritual reading, through an early insistence on discipline and practice—we will have cheated them of an enjoyable, even ecstatic experience they would not otherwise encounter. And we will have deprived them of an elevating and enlightening experience that will enlarge them as people. Observing young people’s attachment to digital devices, some progressive educators and permissive parents talk about needing to “meet kids where they are,” molding instruction around their onscreen habits. This is mistaken. We need, rather, to show them someplace they’ve never been, a place only deep reading can take them."
She is so right! And anyone who has traded in the history textbooks for great literature knows exactly what she's talking about. The initial transition may be difficult as this sort of reading is a skill that is developed over time, but it will completely transform a child's understanding and experience of history. There is light that is suddenly lit in a student's mind and his imagination is engaged in ways it never was before. We've seen it happen time and time again and it's a wonderful thing to witness. 

Most teachers, stressed by an overwhelming amount of paperwork and testing standards do not have the time to devote to teaching their students how to read deeply. For those of you who have made the choice to educate your children at home, you have a unique opportunity to impart the gift of "deep reading" to your students and children. And while it will be a gift that they will come to cherish, it will also be a skill that helps preserve our very heritage. The ability to read helps us to understand who we are and where we have come from. Paul sees this as essential to preserving our history and our literary traditions: 

"There’s another reason to work to save deep reading: the preservation of a cultural treasure. Like information on floppy disks and cassette tapes that may soon be lost because the equipment to play it no longer exists, properly-educated people are the only “equipment,” the only beings, who can unlock the wealth of insight and wisdom that lie in our culture’s novels and poems. When the library of Alexandria was lost to fire, the scarce resource was books themselves. Today, with billions of books in print and stored online, the endangered breed is not books but readers. Unless we train the younger generation to engage in deep reading, we will find ourselves with our culture’s riches locked away in a vault: books everywhere and no one truly able to read them."
 As you prepare for this coming school year and are looking forward to all those wonderful books you'll be reading, take a minute to read Paul's article. You will, undoubtedly feel inspired to challenge your students in their reading, to impart to them the wonderful experiences found in the pages of great literature. All the best to you and your family as you begin this school year - may it be full of adventures, literary and otherwise.

If you feel you need some direction in choosing great historical literature, check out our study guides and book packs! We've assembled some of the best literature for teaching history and have produced lesson plans to help you work through the ins and outs of teaching history using great books!

And don't forget about our great 30% off sale on Your Story Hour CDs!

Don't forget to enter our contest for a $50.00 gift card and other great prizes. Entries must be in by Aug. 17 at midnight. Details here!  

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Tools for Mom's Sanity


Growing up in the Berg household not only meant that books were an integral part of my childhood, it also meant that my siblings and I were expected to help pitch in on everything from family chores to renovation projects as well as work for Beautiful Feet Books. In the early years of starting this little company this meant lots of hands-on assembling of product. Whether we were helping with time line assembly, spiral binding study guides, addressing catalogs, or checking in book shipments, you could be sure that there was some sort of educational cassette tape playing in the background. More often than not, it was one of the recordings from Your Story Hour. As there are a limitless number of hours in which we could work, and only a limited number of YSH recordings, we soon had them memorized and were always happy to hear that there were new CDs available.

These stories are such a part of my childhood! Me and my brothers and sisters listened to them so many times we had every word, musical transition, and sound effect memorized! The same thing happened with the Music Masters' CDs. In addition to listening to them while working, they were also played during afternoon quiet times and I think were a key to my mom staying sane while raising four young children, homeschooling them, and starting a home business. So, if you're looking for a screen-free way to keep your children entertained (and quiet!), I'd highly suggest stocking up on these! Right now we're having a blow-out sale! They're all 30% off! And 13 sets available, that's a lot of quiet time!

The Patterns of Destiny Series features 12 CDs with the stories of Clara Barton, Joan of Arc, George Washington Carver, Florence Nightingale, Paul Bunyan and many more.

The Heritage of Our Country Series is a 12 CD collection featuring the exciting lives of Booker T. Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Christopher Columbus, Benjamin Franklin, Marty Marion, and more!


There are 11 Great Stories Collections that each feature six CDs and have the dramatized stories of historical figures as well as fictional tales. 

All are on sale now! Check them out here

Attn California Customers!

Hello Dear Readers!
I am once again hosting a Back-to-School Literature SoirĂ©e later this month!  I am still settling in on the topics to be offered, but am definitely offering a session on Ancient History through literature.  This will cover literature for both young readers and middle school (if you have high school students studying this next year, let me know). You can still submit votes on an additional historical period, so let me know what you’d like to cover!  I have had some interest expressed for Modern US and World History for high school level, but would like to hear if there are others also interested in this period.  You can email me your suggestions at rea@bfbooks.com.
I plan to devote a session to Caldecott and Newbery Medal winners, some current and also looking back at some treasures long forgotten!  As usual, I can only accommodate 25 ladies, so if you’d like to attend, register soon!  So looking forward to seeing you!
Here is everything you need to know in order to register:
51YQZYN1Y6LDate: Saturday, August 24, 2013
Time: 9:30 am – 3:30 pm
Place: 1306 Mill Street, San Luis Obispo
Cost: $30.00 which includes lunch (please let me know of any special dietary restrictions)
Register here.
-Happy reading, Rea

Friday, August 02, 2013

Enter our contest for a chance to win a $50.00 BFB gift card and other prizes!

Calling all BFB users! Send us photos or scans of your child's notebook pages to be entered in our contest to win a $50.00 Beautiful Feet Books gift certificate!

Chloe's journal entry on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Notebooking is a key part of all our curriculums and over the years many proud parents have brought their students's notebooks to conventions or our offices to show them off to us. We've loved seeing the creative work expressed on each page and have been inspired by the work invested. Now it's your student's chance to show their work to thousands of other BFB students! The winner's work will appear here on the blog and on the Beautiful Feet Books website, www.bfbooks.com.

Jack's journal entry featuring the travels of Nate in Seabird
from our 
Geography Through Literature Study Guide

There will be three winners! The first place winner will be awarded a $50.00 gift certificate to use at www.bfbooks.com. The second place winner will win a hard back copy of A Child's First Book of American History (value $42.95), and the third place winner will win a paper back copy of A Child's First Book of American History (value $32.95). All winning entries will be featured in a special blog posting.  

To enter, scan or photograph a page from your portfolio or notebook. For best effect, try to take the photographs in natural light without using the flash. If you have created a website or use a blog to completely notebook assignments, send us a link. Send all entries (photos, scans, links, etc.) to rebecca@bfbooks.com. The contest closes on August 17, 2013 at 11:59PM, so get those entries in! Winners will be announced on the blog August 25, 2013. For official rules and conditions, click here.