Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Prayer by Jane Austen

Bath, England
I recently came across a souvenir from a trip to Bath, England where I visited the Jane Austen Centre. It is lovely and I thought I would share it here as I know many of you are Austen fans.

Give us grace, Almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our Hearts, as with our lips. Thou art every where present, from Thee no secret can be hid. May the knowledge of this, teach us to fix our Thoughts on Thee, with Reverence and Devotion that we pray not in vain.
Look with Mercy on the Sins we have this day committed, and in Mercy make us feel them deeply, that our Repentance may be sincere, & our resolutions stedfast of endeavouring against the commission of such in future. Teach us to understand the sinfulness of our own Hearts, and bring to our knowledge every fault of Temper and every evil Habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow-creatures, and the danger of our own Souls. May we now, and on each return of night, consider how the past day has been spent by us, what have been our prevailing Thoughts, Words, and Actions during it, and how far we can acquit ourselves of Evil. Have we thought irreverently of Thee, have we disobeyed thy commandments, have we neglected any known duty, or willingly given pain to any human being? Incline us to ask our Hearts these questions Oh! God, and save us from deceiving ourselves by Pride or Vanity. 
Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by Discontent or Indifference.
Be gracious to our Necessities, and guard us, and all we love, from Evil this night. May the sick and afflicted, be now, and ever thy care); and heartily do we pray for the safety of all that travel by Land or by Sea, for the comfort & protection of the Orphan and Widow and that thy pity may be shewn upon all Captives and Prisoners.
Above all other blessings Oh! God, for ourselves, and our fellow-creatures, we implore Thee to quicken our sense of thy Mercy in the redemption of the World, of the Value of that Holy Religion in which we have been brought up, that we may not, by our own neglect, throw away the salvation thou hast given us, nor be Christians only in name. Hear us Almighty God, for His sake who has redeemed us, and taught us thus to pray.
Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Refer a friend...get free curriculum!

When Beautiful Feet Books first started back in 1984, it was a small operation run out of a living room. Over the years it has grown almost entirely by word-of-mouth. Our customers are enthusiastic about great literature, flexible study guides, and tapping into their children's creative and intellectual potential and are happy spread the word about BFB. So, we are excited to introduce our new Referral Program - designed to reward those of you who have recommended our products to your friends. And it's easy! Easy as 1, 2, 3.

Basically, if you tell a friend about Beautiful Feet Books and that friend places an order with us, have her mention your name and you will receive a code allowing you to download a free copy of one of our History Through Literature Study Guides. So simple!

And you can choose from any of our award-winning study guides:

To learn more, click here. And thank you to all of you who have so enthusiastically recommended our products over the years! It's hard to believe that it will be our 30-year anniversary next year. It wouldn't have been possible without you! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Great Homeschool Convention

We are excited to announce that Rea will be speaking at the Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, California, June 12-14. Session topics will be announced soon, but this is a great opportunity to meet fellow homeschoolers, be inspired by great speakers, and thumb through curriculum. BFB will have a booth there so you'll can swing on by and say hi, ask questions, browse books, and talk to other BFB users. To attend, register here.

The GHC will also be Greenville, Cincinnati, and Texas. You can register for any of the locations by clicking here. For every registration processed through that link, $5.00 will be donated to the Patty Pollatos Fund for Brent Blickenstaff.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Making time

It has been heartening to me to see a recent resurgence in the recognition that allowing children time to play is extremely important. Maybe it's a reaction to the Tiger Mom phenomenon. Maybe it's a recognition that it is possible to have too much of a good thing when it comes to extra-curricular activities. Maybe it's just a greater humility in parents who can recognize that their child will probably not be the next Steve Jobs or Yo-Yo Ma no matter how many classes and specialty camps she is enrolled in. Maybe its realizing that testing standards are by their nature arbitrary and result in classrooms where the natural learning processes are not only curbed but often destroyed. Maybe it's frustration with ever increasing homework loads. Whatever the cause may be, there is a growing movement that advocates for giving children time to play. Time to be kids. Time to get into scrapes and exercise their imagination.

I know we have talked about this before (if you missed these posts, check them out here and here and here) but today I want to take a different tack. The benefits of play have been well documented. There is even an article from The Atlantic extolling the benefits teaching your children to daydream. It's an excellent read and well worth your time.

But today I want to focus on an intangible that is difficult to measure. How would your home life change if you were to actively resist the compulsion to over-schedule? When I think about my own life and look back on my childhood, the times I most treasure were those in which life was less hectic. Now, I have to make allowances for the fact that I am an introvert in a family of extroverts, but I don't think any personality type enjoys the feeling of frenzied chaos. And yet, many of our homes feel like Grand Central Station, where we pass those we love the most in a rush, making our way to one meeting or co-op class or music lesson or sports tournament or church event. And yes, this is the nature of modern life. But, I wonder what we're sacrificing, especially in terms of our family life, with this constant on-the-go lifestyle. Is living this way conducive to being available for one another? Does it allow for time to ask your sulky 14-year-old why he's acting withdrawn instead of just telling him to "Snap out of it!"? Does it allow for spouses to connect in ways that ensure they still know one another when their nest is empty? Does it allow for setting aside time for spiritual investment and growth? Does it allow for you to take a break from worrying about academic achievement and just lay in the grass with your kids and watch the clouds go by? Does it allow you to be there for a friend in crisis?

Of course, every family has obligations and commitments and some are unavoidable. But is it possible to introduce a bit more play and time together into your family life? Homeschooling can prove to be a double-edged sword in this respect. There is the pressure of ensuring your children stay on track and are performing at grade level. There are more hours spent together but this can also be a bit crazy-making! So, how to balance the need to give your children time to play while ensuring they don't fall behind and you can maintain your sanity?

Incorporating play into schoolwork is a great place to start. One family that uses our curriculum does a wonderful job of creating fun projects based on books used in our study guides - like making Karana paper dolls during the unit on Island of the Blue Dolphins, or creating a board game based on Uncle Tom's Cabin. What fantastic ways to allow your children to play and create, all while learning more about history. Choosing curriculum that gives you the flexibility to chase down rabbit trails of creativity is key to ensuring your children do not get bogged down in drudgery. And that you all enjoy what you're learning together.

For families that have a difficult time setting aside family time and down time, it may be a good idea to actually schedule it, like you would any other obligation. A well-rounded childhood will incorporate extracurricular activities. Sports, art lessons, musical training - these are all wonderful things to provide for your children and I don't want that to get lost in this discussion. Just make sure your children also have time to be with you. And this means time to just be with you - not doing anything obligatory. The gift of availability is one that cannot be overestimated in its importance to your children. Sometimes I hear from other parents who never consider the fact that their children do crave time with them. Don't make this same mistake. Your children want to be with you and the moments you are able to give them will have more of an impact on their lives and how they see themselves than any lesson or extracurricular activity. So celebrate that and try to keep it in mind when you're looking at that family calendar and trying to decide whether or not to add another activity.

Related Posts:

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mid-semester Encouragement

It's midway through the first semester of the 2013-2014 school year and maybe you're feeling a bit of the inevitable drag that follows the initial excitement of a fresh start. Those smartly sharpened #2 pencils no longer have any erasers. The brilliantly organized bookshelves and supply drawers are a muddled mess. One student is struggling with math and has fallen behind. Another student read all the great stories in his literature program and now has the daunting task of completing the neglected comprehension assignments. The science experiments keep failing. And there aren't enough hours in the day to accommodate the growing to-do lists. 

At BFB we know how you feel! And so we just want to take a moment to encourage you. When things start stacking up and it feels like you're going to doom your children to a lifetime of underachievement (don't worry, you're not!), sometimes the best thing you can do is take as step backwards. This may mean taking a day off from school and doing something with your children just for the fun of it. It may mean taking a break from Pinterest and the impossible standards it can set. It could be that you need a date with your spouse or a long chat with an encouraging friend. Whatever form it takes, it's worth taking a pause mid-semester. From experience we know that parents, teachers, and students can all start to feel overwhelmed at this point in the year. Pushing through without stopping to contemplate the good work that has been done, the obstacles overcome, the growth witnessed, can lead to drudgery and discouragement. So, take some time to look through your students's notebooks. Re-read some of their papers. Check out the progress in that math book. More than likely you'll be encouraged by the progress shown. And take time to affirm your children and students for their good work. Then go out for ice-cream or plan a scavenger hunt or spend a day doing nothing but enjoying one another's company. Homeschooling is an enormous task and it can often be messy and disorganized and chaotic. But, in the wise words of Jane Austen, "Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked." A shift in perspective can make all the difference for you and your children as you both expand your knowledge of the world and all the wonder it holds. Try to not lose sight of the fact that every lesson you are teaching is opening your childen's minds to the amazing and beautiful world we inhabit. Your work and investment in these young minds is a beautiful thing. 

For those of you who love reading with your children, sometimes you just need to spend an afternoon cuddled up reading a great story. May we suggest the following:

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Johnny Tremain by Ester Forbes

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

The House of Sixty Fathers by Miendert DeJong

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey

Or any of the Caldecott Classics we outline in this article

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Royal Education

Although I grew up in the 1980s when Princess Diana was all the rage I never really developed a fascination with her. My family did not have television and so the very idea of celebrity was somewhat foreign to me. My heroes, without exception, resided on the pages of books. During my first experience of living abroad while studying at Oxford, I began to grow more familiar with the British royal family. I, in a typically American way, sort of wrote off the whole idea of the royals and giggled at the more outrageous behavior exhibited by some of the royalty.

Seven years later I moved to Edinburgh and that is when my education in royalty truly began. While many of the members of the royal family are continually finding themselves the subject of less than flattering headlines, Queen Elizabeth has managed to maintain a remarkable dignity and grace. She's been queen since her ascension on February 6, 1952 and has met every US president since then with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson. In all her years as the most public representative of the British people, she has conducted herself with a thoughtfulness and poise that is rare and admirable. Never reactionary, Queen Elizabeth seems to be able to respond to both the most embarrassing of situations and the most serious occasions of state with a poise not often seen in the capitols of either the US or UK. And so, when I came across a 1943 article on her education, I was intrigued. How was this remarkable woman trained? What did her education look like?

Queen Elizabeth with President Truman (source)
It was surprising to me to learn that Elizabeth was raised not in a palace but in a house on Piccadilly Street in London. There she was surrounded with the ebbs and flows of normal London life and her education was undertaken by her mother, who taught her to read, and a private tutor. The emphasis was on reading and writing, as well as French, piano and ballet. At the age of seven a Miss Crawford, a graduate of Edinburgh University took over. Miss Crawford was Scottish and brought with her a knowledge of the world gained through extensive travel and was also an avid outdoors woman. Miss Crawford would share the responsibility of educating the future queen with various tutors. The author of the article describes this royal education as follows: 
Princess Elizabeth today reads history with the Vice-Provost of Eton, on the basis of such works as Trevelyan's History of England, which could not be improved on, and Muzzey's History of the United States (how many English girls of seventeen read any American history at all?), together with European history in outline. In Biblical history Canon Crawley, of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, has been her guide. A natural linguist, she speaks French and German fluently and with an excellent accent. She has read some Moliere, some Corneille, some Daudet, and she knows many of "Les Cent Meilleurs Poemes Francais" by heart. 
The Princess's explorations in the field of English literature are of greater interest and perhaps of greater significance. Time for reading at large is limited, for the formal educational regimen is treated seriously. But in or out of "school hours" she has read most of Shakespeare; The Canterbury Tales; a good deal of Coleridge, Keats, Browning, and Tennyson; some of Scott, Dickens, Jane Austen, Trollope, and Robert Louis Stevenson; while in lighter moments she turns to Conan Doyle...
That is a wide and wholesome range that would provide a sound basis of literary knowledge and taste for any girl in her last year of school.
Queen Elizabeth with President Ford (source)
This solidly literature based education was paired with time for exploring the outdoors, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, and singing. Just as we have often talked about the importance of free time and letting kids enjoy their childhood, it appears that Elizabeth and her sister Margaret were afforded ample time to be themselves - putting on plays, running freely. Princess Elizabeth was also a Guide, the British equivalent of a Girl Scout, eventually graduating to the level of Ranger.
Now the Princess is a Sea Ranger—most Guides become Rangers when they are about sixteen—and gets manifest interest and enjoyment from the weekly meetings. The scope of the Rangers is wide. A system of war training has been developed, known as the Home Emergency Service, which includes First Aid and Home Nursing, Child Welfare, and various forms of Civil Defense. Princess Elizabeth is concerning herself particularly with the last, and acquiring incidentally a good all-round knowledge of electricity.
Who would have thought Queen Elizabeth could serve as an electrician should the need arise? It appears that this varied and thorough education was excellent preparation for a rule that would last over sixty years. When Elizabeth assumed the throne upon the unexpected death of her father, she was a mere 25 years old. Nine years before that day, the article referenced above concluded with these lines:
The Princess may have years of service as heir-presumptive before her. She may at any moment by the caprice of fate be summoned to the most exalted position in the greatest Commonwealth in the world. Enough is known of her upbringing to show how well the preparation for either lot has been achieved by a training that has never threatened to dim the freshness or mar the simplicity of her girlhood.
Queen Elizabeth toasting President Reagan
An education grounded in great literature and history has served Queen Elizabeth very well. One can only assume that the broad perspective of ideas encountered in the hours spent with Austen, Shakespeare, Chaucer, studying biblical history, and learning British and American history gave the Queen the ability to place contemporary events into proper perspective. As a child of World War II, she knew the gravity that accompanied political action. Ruling through various economic bubbles and crashes, social changes and revolutions, the continually shifting political ideologies of the masses Queen Elizabeth has remained consistently measured. Of course her reign is not without fault, but one has to recognize an ability to remain grounded in the face of six decades of change. 

To learn more about Queen Elizabeth, here are some fun links:

~Princess Elizabeth's First Broadcast. At age 14 Princess Elizabeth appeared on the popular radio broadcast The Children's Hour. The purpose of her appearance was to speak to the thousands of children who had been sent out of London to the countryside and to other countries to escape the Blitz in London. Absolutely endearing. Listen here

~The wedding of Queen Elizabeth to Prince Phillip, click here

~Information and video of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth available here

~Photos of Queen Elizabeth with 12 US Presidents, click here

All quotations in the above post are taken from "The Education of a Queen" by Wilson Harris.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Reading for Emotional Health

On this blog, we've talked a lot about the humanizing benefits of reading. We know that it makes us more empathetic. We know that reading great literature connects us to the chain of human thinking in a unique way. And now a study confirms what we've known all along! Reading real literature, as opposed to pop fiction or non-fiction, makes us more empathetic.
"That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking."
This is the first study of its kind in that it made a distinction between reading what I would call true literature and popular fiction or non-fiction. The study was also distinctive in that it found that reading for a mere 3-5 minutes created a greater capacity for reading emotion. Isn't that amazing? A tiny period of time with a good work of literature immediately affects our ability to engage with others in a more meaningful way. It's incredible to think of the effect a childhood spent in the company of good books would have on the formation of that child.

One very important aspect of the study is the distinction between the effect had by popular fiction and non-fiction verses the impact of literary fiction. Those study participants reading excerpts from authors like Wendell Berry were clearly able to engage with increased empathy and social perception. This reinforces the idea that we must provide our children with exposure to the best literature available.

Our study guides often include books that students find challenging to read. Books like Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, or Dante's Inferno, or Upton Sinclair's The Jungle are all books that most students have a difficult time with at the beginning. Usually the student is able (or forced!) to persevere through the reading and ends up enjoying the book and feeling enriched by the experience of reading it. Each of these books pose different challenges in that the language may be difficult to comprehend, the story line may be very foreign, the imagery confusing, but the student who perseveres is being trained in the skills of overcoming a challenge and is, as we now have evidence to prove, developing incredibly important social tools and skills. It seems that these skills come from the requirement that readers of complex literature interact with the story line, plots, and characters in a way that is much more engaged. As one professor stated:
“Frankly, I agree with the study,” said Albert Wendland, who directs a master’s program in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. “Reading sensitive and lengthy explorations of people’s lives, that kind of fiction is literally putting yourself into another person’s position — lives that could be more difficult, more complex, more than what you might be used to in popular fiction. It makes sense that they will find that, yeah, that can lead to more empathy and understanding of other lives.”
 When we at BFB are considering a book for inclusion in one of our history programs we take in to account many factors such as:

  • Historical veracity (Is this work historically accurate? Is the author reliable?)
  • Historical value (Did this piece of literature play a significant role in shaping history?)
  • Literary quality (Is this piece well-written? Will students find it engaging?)
  • Will this work challenge the student? 
  • If this work is not challenging, will it add to the student's enjoyment of the program and provide a more dynamic portrait of life at that point in history?
We try to strike a balance between books that are fun to read for their own sake (One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, The Golden Goblet, Johnny Tremaine) and add historical color to the study with books that will provide the facts of history and challenge the student to engage critically with the subject. History requires both the inclusion of nonfiction and literary fiction. This approach provides a more complete picture of past and connects us with our roots and traditions.

I found this study to be immensely encouraging in that it reinforces the value of all those hours spent with my nose in a great book. It also means that the hours I spent trying to get through the pages of War and Peace were not wasted despite the fact that I really never connected with the book. It also shows me why there are times when I just want to pick up a book off the latest best-seller list or lose myself in an Agatha Christy mystery. Those are moments of escapism and nothing more and sometimes that's a necessary indulgence. When I want to better my understanding of the world and the people who are my neighbors, I know that reaching for Austen or Hawthorne or Bunyan will prove a more fruitful investment of my time.  

To read more about this fascinating study, click here. And to learn more about using literature to teach history (and empathy!), click here

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Youngster Revolutionaries

A few weeks ago there was a blog entry that made the circles through the internet and I thought that in light of what is going on in Washington, DC, it may be a good time to share it. Watching the grownups in our nation's capital refusing to make concessions, reach agreement, or compromise can be discouraging so let's turn back the clock to the very beginning of our history as a nation and take a closer look at the founding fathers. Did you know that when our country declared its independence from England on July 4, 1776, many of these "founders" were barely out of their teens? And many of the people who would play key roles in the Revolutionary War were even younger? 

Todd Andrlik compiled a list of the ages of significant players in our revolution and discovered the following: "As it turns out, many Founding Fathers were less than 40 years old in 1776 with several qualifying as Founding Teenagers andTwentysomethings. And though the average age of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was 44, more than a dozen of them were 35 or younger!"

Here's the ages of some of the youngest revolutionaries in 1776:
  • Andrew Jackson, 9
  • Deborah Sampson, 15
  • Marquis de Lafayette, 18
  • James Monroe, 18
  • John Trumbull, 20
  • Aaron Burr, 20
  • John Marshall, 20
  • Nathan Hale, 21
  • Alexander Hamilton, 21
  • Robert Townsend, 22
  • George Rogers Clark, 23
  • David Humphreys, 23
  • Gouveneur Morris, 24
  • Betsy Ross, 24
  • William Washington, 24
  • James Madison, 25
  • Henry Knox, 25
  • John Andre, 26
  • Thomas Lynch, Jr., 26^
  • Edward Rutledge, 26^
  • Abraham Woodhull, 26
  • Isaiah Thomas, 27
  • George Walton, 27
  • John Paul Jones, 28
  • Bernardo de Galvez, 29
  • Thomas Heyward, Jr., 29
  • Robert R. Livingston, 29
  • John Jay, 30
While those figures represent the youngsters of the group, many were also middle aged: 
  • Abigail Adams, 31
  • Elbridge Gerry, 31
  • Thomas Jefferson, 33
  • Benedict Arnold, 35
  • John Hancock, 39
  • Thomas Paine, 39
  • Patrick Henry, 40
  • John Adams, 40
  • Paul Revere, 41
  • George Washington, 44
  • Martha Washington, 45
  • John Witherspoon, 53
  • Samuel Adams, 53
Benjamin Franklin, at 70, was clearly the oldest of the group. For the entire list, click here. I definitely found it surprising that twelve of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were under the age of 35! Maybe it's all those paintings of them wearing white wigs and looking very serious that made me assume they were older. Either way, I find it encouraging that a group of men representing such a wide swath of age and experience were able to come together and form an entirely new government and nation. Maybe our representatives in Washington should take a pause and consider these men and their willingness to work together to establish something greater than themselves. 

To learn more about the Revolutionary War, check out our study guides on Early American History.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Attention schools, co-ops, charters, and families...we offer bulk discounts!

Did you know that we offer special discounts to schools and co-ops placing bulk orders? Were you aware that we offer multiple purchase discounts on all our timelines and maps? We at BFB are committed to helping you save money and offer the following discounts.

Discount Offers:
If your school is looking at using BFB products, give us a call because we are able to offer great discounts on bulk orders of our products. We're also able to discount bulk orders of products produced by other publishers! Discounts usually range from 10-20% so you can save a considerable amount on classroom orders. Sometimes we can also offer even deeper discounts on products we publish ourselves, so be sure to give us a call.

Student Material Discounts:
We have set up great discounts on some of our most popular student consumables. Our Timelines and Map Sets are very popular and these discounts make it easier for families and schools to provide each student with their own copies allowing students to color, draw, and create and express their creativity. 

Regularly priced at $16.95, we offer classroom sets for 8 or more students. Each student gets a complete map set for $9.95. That's a savings of nearly 40%! 

For families who are using our Geography Through Literature study, we offer discounted maps sets for $12.95 for each additional map set purchased. This saves families over 20%!

We offer similarly significant discounts for schools who want to use our Timelines. Whether you're using our Early American, Ancient, Medieval, Science, Music, or California History Timelines, your school can save when purchasing our Classroom Kits!

Our individual Timelines are $9.95. For multiple copies of the same Timeline, you only pay $5.00 for each additional student to have their own! And if you're needing copies for a classroom of 15 or more students, simply purchase one of our Classroom Kits for $69.95! That's less than $5.00 per student - a savings of over 50%!

And, of course, all our Jumbo Packs carry a "Lowest Price Guarantee". We're committed to offering the best literature available at prices you can afford!

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