Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Educational Conversations

This week Q Ideas is hosting a conversation on education entitled "Public, Private, or Homeschool?" It's a great collection of responses including a discussion on "classical education", an essay from a reluctant homeschooling mom, issues surrounding school choice, and our favorite Ted talk from Sir Ken Robinson. Check it out here.

You may also enjoy:

Education as Legacy

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Early American History at GHC by Rea Berg

The sole substitute for an experience we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature. –Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Early American Primary SG CoverDear Readers,
At the Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, California, June 12-14th, I will be presenting a session on Early American History Through Literature.  This presentation will explore the power of studying the history of our nation throughliterature, rather than standard textbooks. The joys and advantages of learning history when it is taught through narrative are too numerous to address in a blog post, but I will address a few here by way of a teaser for my upcoming session next month!
Dana Gioia, man of letters, poet, and social critic has written extensively on the importance of literature in society.  In an article he wrote a few years ago, titled“Why literature matters: good books help make a civil society”, Gioia notes how dramatic declines in the reading of literature have negatively impacted our society.  This decline has manifested itself in dismal historic knowledge, such that college seniors cannot pass a high school level American history test of basic knowledge; the corporate world laments that local schools graduate students with poor reading skills, and higher order problem-solving skills dependent upon imagination are at an all-time low.
Other studies cite that 42% of college graduates never pick up another literary work again.  The tragedy that this represents is hard to fathom but given an educational system that in many cases blights any love of reading through the imposition of dry lifeless textbooks, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the outcome would be exactly what we are seeing.
One extraordinary advantage of home education is the opportunity it provides families to choose a vast array of literary works and center their studies around those. The benefits of a literature approach are multifaceted and I believe, lifelong.  Students who have the option of rich, broad, and expansive literary choices become lifelong lovers of literature and creative problem-solving adults.
Other benefits of literature include a deeper connection and respect of our cultural and literary past.  Students who are exposed to a broad range of literary works see the world through a much more hopeful, optimistic, and understanding lens. Reading the thoughts of great minds who have gone before us, understanding and having empathy for their trials, and rejoicing in their triumphs, brings perspective and wisdom.
As Gioia notes in the aforementioned article, literature is also a powerful force for good in society.  Important literary works have changed the course of history and brought justice and truth to bear upon society’s ills.
 “Indeed we sometimes underestimate how large a role literature has played in the evolution of our national identity, especially in that literature often has served to introduce young people to events from the past and principles of civil society and governance.  Just as more ancient Greeks learned about moral and political conduct from the epics of Homer than from the dialogues of Plato, so the most important work in the abolitionist movement was the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Having read Uncle Tom’s Cabin a few times over the course of our home schooling years, I think I can understand in a small way why this novel was able to move a nation in the manner it did.  Harriet Beecher Stowe was gifted in helping her readers identify vicariously with the victims of slavery–not just the slaves, but even the inheritors of slaves.  Her characterization ghc_250x125of the evil effects of slavery on an entire society, slave and master alike, turned the conscience of a nation and became a powerful catalyst for change.
Literature is powerful.  For the homeschooling parent, there is no more effective tool in his or her tool chest.  This seminar at GHC will explore the literature that has impacted the course of American history, the books to read with your students, the best authors for children, and how to establish a literature-based curriculum that will encourage lovers of literature and life long readers. Sign up now to attend GHC in Ontario, California, June 12-14.  If you sign up through the BFB link (here) your registration will help to support the Blickenstaff family as they continue to adapt to life altering challenges.  Also, GHC has posted the schedule for the conference, so be sure to go online and check it out!  Hope to see you there!


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, May 16, 2014

Student Spotlight: Ethan

Today I'm excited to share with you a project done by Ethan. He's 14 and has been working his way through our Medieval History Through Literature study guide for grades 5-9. His mom sent us one of his assignments and I loved it so much I had to share it with you!

Here's the assignment:
"For the section on Joan of Arc it is suggested that the student create a series of newspapers with various articles on the life and times of Joan. Create a title for the paper that is appropriate to the time period along with author names for each article. For the first article research 15th century Paris. Write an article on your findings. A possible title would be "Unacceptable Living Conditions Uncovered in Paris" or "Reporter Finds Streets in Disrepair in Latin District" or "Boy Rescues Baby from Seine". Be creative! Include imagined interviews, editorials, and illustrations to give the reader a feel for the time period."

As with all the assignments in our study guide, we encourage parents and students to be creative and take them in new directions if that works better for their particular learning style. And that's just what Ethan did. Click on the images below to see the creative articles that Ethan wrote for his newspaper The Daily Joan.

I asked Ethan to answer a few questions about his studies and experiences in writing and he graciously agreed. Thank you so much Ethan!

RM: Where did you get the ideas for your individual articles?
EH: The front page article was chosen from a list of prompts from the study guide. The Siege of Orleans and Joan's trial and execution were, to me, the two most important events.

RM: Did you enjoy reading about Joan of Arc?
EH: I enjoyed it [Joan of Arc: Warrior Saint] a lot, it was probably one of the best books from this study.

RM: What has been your favorite book from the study?
EH: I wouldn't say that I have one favorite, but the three books I enjoyed the most were, The Kite Rider, Castle, and Queen Eleanor.

RM: Are you interested in journalism and/or writing?
EH: In 2012, I was one of the editors of a small newspaper that was put together for my homeschool journalism class. Also, as part of National Novel Writing Month, I wrote a short novel in 2011 called The Golden Lion, and am working on finishing another titled, Catastrophe.

RM: Do you enjoy studying history?
EH: History is one of my favorite subjects, specifically American history.

Thank you so much Ethan for sharing your work with us! If you ever want to share your novels, I'm sure there are other BFB students who would love to read them. All the best with the rest of your school year.

If your student has a project they would like to share, please email me (rebecca at bfbooks dot com). We'd love to highlight their work.

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!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Believing in Reading

Earlier this week a troubling report from Common Sense Media showed that fewer and fewer children and teens are reading for pleasure. I'm not altogether surprised by this as there are now so many more objects, things, and obligations vying for our children's time and attention. Couple this with an educational system driven by test evaluated outcomes and it's not surprising that reading is no longer seen as a refuge for teens. 

The report highlights four primary areas of concern:

1. Reading rates have dropped significantly among youth:

  • 53% of 9-year-olds are daily readers verses only 17% of 17 year olds
  • Since 1984 the portion of youth who "never" or "hardly ever" read has tripled!!! 
  • 1/3rd of 13-year-olds and 45% of 17-years day they read for pleasure only 1-2 times a year, if that.
2. Reading proficiency has suffered:
  • While there has been some improvement in reading scores of 9- to 13-year-olds, 17-year-olds have not shown any improvement in 30 years.
3. Gaps in proficiency continue along racial lines:
  • While 46% of white 4th-graders are rated as "proficient", only 18% of black and 20% of Latino students at the same grade level are rated at this level. This gap has not changed in over 20 years.
4. Gender gaps are also persistent:
  • Girls are 12% more likely to be rated proficient in reading than boys.
  • Girls read more than boys, one average 10 minutes more than boys. 

The thing about these statistics that worries me the most is that as our children read less and less, I believe that the development of essential character qualities is being threatened. As Frank Bruni states in a recent editorial, "I believe in reading — not just in its power to transport but in its power to transform." Studies have proven that reading fiction increases empathy. We all know that reading ignites the imagination. It can also provide a healthy escape for youngsters overwhelmed by the pressures and stresses of life. 

As we approach summer, let's be sure that we still maintain an atmosphere of reading in our homes. Check with your local library to see what sort of Summer Reading programs they are offering. I loved taking part in those when I was a kid! And often there are great prizes to incentivize kids to read more. Also, here are a couple of neat opportunities for young students to write about how their favorite books have influenced them. Check out these very cool contests:

Students are asked to read a book, poem or speech and write to that author (living or dead) about how the book affected them personally. Letters are judged on state and national levels. Tens of thousands of students from across the country enter Letters About Literature each year. If you are in grades 4-12, you are eligible to enter the Letters About Literature reading and writing contest. Here are the Rules and Guidelines.

The “A Book That Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest encourages rising 5th & 6th graders to reflect on a book that has made a personal impact on their lives. The contest is administered through local public library systems in the Mid-Atlantic region, and top winners are honored at the Library of Congress.

There are a lot of other writing contests and this list is a useful reference. If you know of any others, please share below. And if you've entered or won a contest, we'd love to share your good news here so let us know!

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 hereAnd if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below! 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mother Culture by Kathy

Today Kathy Alphs reminds us of the importance of cultivating "Mother Culture" - especially in relation to the example we're setting for our children! Enjoy: 

Mother Culture by Kathy Alphs

As I glanced at my monthly calendar, I found the following words staring me in the face: ballet lesson, Awana, piano lesson, art lesson, dance recital photos, dance recital rehearsal, dance recital, Milwaukee Ballet performance, Kids Choir musical, last day of school, and homeschool convention.” Just reading through our upcoming monthly schedule made me feel tired. Next, I began perusing my newsfeed on Facebook and a post from my friend’s page grabbed my attention, “If you're so focused on your kids' education that you're not getting one, and then you're telling and not showing. And if you're not getting one...nobody is getting one.” I felt like I cold water had been thrown in my face. This was the wake-up call I desperately needed to bring me to my senses. I knew I had to make time to participate in “Mother Culture.”

What is Mother Culture?

You may be sitting there scratching your head, wondering, as you read this blog post, “What in the world is 'mother culture'?” Mother Culture is best defined in a quote by Billy Graham, “Mothers should cultivate their souls so that in turn they may cultivate the souls of their children.”[i] Karen Andreola, author and Charlotte Mason advocate says, “The primary idea embodied in ‘Mother Culture’ – an obscure term I uncovered from the past – is expressed in the quote above: ‘Mothers should cultivate their souls.’”[ii] Cultivating ones soul conjures up the mental image of a garden being prepared for spring planting. The gardener begins by removing of dead undergrowth, tilling the soil, selection the seeds, sowing the seeds, covering the garden with soil, and finally the watering the prepared garden.

Nurturing Your Soul

Image source
Metaphorically, it sounds great, but what does it look like in real life application? By nature, I am doer, just call me Martha. I long to possess the gentle spirit of Mary, but my inner Martha calls out to me every day like a roaring lion. She reminds me of all the things which need to be “done” on my “to do” list. The first lesson I learned in pursuing Mother Culture was that I had to make time for it. If I didn’t make time for it, it would not happen. I have learned to apply the concept of Mother Culture according to the “seasons of life.” When our child was younger, I scheduled thirty minutes to one hour each afternoon beginning after our read aloud period. During this time, I would read a devotional from my Bible, and chapter from a good book. As our child grew and changed, my Mother Culture moments reflected these changes as well. The sessions became longer and came to include our entire family. A nature hike at a state park, a trip to the local farmer’s market, strolling through the botanical gardens, visiting the State Fair, attending an exhibit at the natural history, art or science museums, a bicycling trip along the bike trails, cross country skiing on a nature trail, planting a garden, and cooking an ethnic meal provided the nourishment and refreshment my body, mind, and spirit craved. I even applied the concept of Mother Culture to the virtual world by creating an online group where bibliophiles (mostly mothers who love books) can come together to chat, share and discuss their favorite books. 

In closing, I would like to leave you with these words as food for thought, “If we would do our best for our children, grow we must; and on our power of growth surely depends, not only our future happiness, but our future usefulness.”[iii] 


[i] “The Parent’s Review,” “Mother Culture,” Volume 3, no. 2 1892/93, pgs. 92-95, courtesy of Ambleside Online.
[ii]Andreola, Karen, “A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning,” United States of America: Charlotte Mason Research and Supply, 1998.
[iii] Permission granted by Rachel Pinegar DeMille to quote Oliver DeMille from the “Thomas Jefferson Education” Face Book Group, 2014.

Thank you Kathy!

 Thank you so much for sharing this Kathy! It's such an important reminder, especially as we get into the summer months (which tend to always be more hectic than we anticipate!). The post reminded me of this clever little gif that I thought you all would enjoy!

When you’re really into a new book and just want to spend all your time reading it, but you have to put together lesson plans and cook dinner:

GIF source: adapted from:

Before we all feel that way, let's try to engage in some Mother Culture here. I have discovered that a heart-to-heart with a close friend, reading a book that has nothing to do with parenting or education (even if it's just while I brush my teeth), or taking a walk and snapping photos of things I find beautiful are things I need to do in order to be a better mom and wife. What do you do to cultivate your soul? Share below!

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 hereAnd if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below! 

Friday, May 09, 2014

Classical Literature for Character Building

Dear Readers,
Just a little over six weeks from now, June 12-14, the Great Homeschool Conventionreturns to California for three days of wonderful workshops, keynote speakers, and tantalizing curriculum exhibits! At Beautiful Feet Books, we  look forward to connecting with you either at one of the three sessions I’ll be presenting, or at our BFB booth.
b4c4f95361719784b9d266fb5f2f0a79One of the topics I will be speaking on is: Classic Literature for Character Building (or Character Through Literature), so I wanted to take a moment to give a brief overview of what my session will cover as you make plans for your GHC weekend!
We can strip the knight of his amor, to reveal that he looks exactly like us, or we can try on the armor ourselves to experience how it feels.  Fiction provides an ideal opportunity to try on the armor. –C.S. Lewis
Over thirty years of reading aloud to my children has convinced me, more than ever, of the profound life-changing, life-equipping, and soul-nourishing importance of great books.  Recently I began reading Charles Dickens’s  A Tale of Two Cities to my youngest daughter, aged 14.  She was fairly ambivalent as we began, particularly because the 19th century English verbiage is challenging, to say the least.  Not being familiar with Dickens can stop even an avid reader from wanting to continue what can be a truly challenging endeavor.  Fortunately for me, an older adult son happened to be visiting at the time and remarked that A Tale of Two tale-of-two-cities-book-cover-450x600-1Cities was his favorite book in high school.  He even remembered writing his own Tale of Two Cities based upon Dickens’s great work. Haply, that helped cinch the deal, and we continue pursuing this remarkable novel knowing that the unforgettable characters that Dickens created in this work–the cruel Madame Defarge, the noble Charles Darnay, and the ultimately self-sacrificing Sydney Carton, will impact our hearts long after we close the final pages of this book.  As Lewis notes in the quote above, we can either choose to live cynical unimaginative lives, or we can, through our imaginative powers walk vicariously in the shoes of another, and through that identification, ultimately determine what kind of people we want to be.  Will we make noble, self-sacrificing choices like Darnay and Carton, or will we be unforgiving and vengeful as the cruel Madame Defarge?  In small ways, we have an opportunity to make these choices each day.
The best books inspire us, not by preaching lofty sermons, or by moralizing lectures, but by drawing us into stories that resonate with the human desire to love and be loved, and by our longing to live for something bigger and better than ourselves. In the novel Don Quixote, Cervantes states through his main protagonist that the ” . . . ultimate end of writing is both to instruct and delight” (476).1 Since Cervantes is credited with the invention of the modern novel, perhaps his perspective is one we should take to heart. Regarding the notion of “instruction” of course, as parents we get that, that is a given. In our parental role we are forever looking for resources to educate, inform, and instruct our children. But how often in that pursuit, do we neglect the notion of delight? When we make choices of literature,  do we adequately factor in the importance of delight as an essential medium of the most important kind of learning?  Consider how often Jesus used stories to teach moral lessons.  His stories were never dry, dull, or boring.  Rather they captured his listeners by their pure simplicity, their inherent truth and their clear applicability to everyone’s lives.  All great literature has these same inherent qualities, from the simplest children’s book like Make Way for Ducklings to sophisticated novels like Pride and Prejudice.  
In June I’ll be presenting the essential elements that make books delightful, and how stories have the power to truly mold ourselves and our children into the kind of characters we want to be in this great drama called life–written and directed by the master storyteller Himself. I hope to see you in June at the Great Homeschool Convention!

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 hereAnd if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below! 

Monday, May 05, 2014

Curiosity and the sandbox model

I've written about curiosity before on this blog (click here and here to read previous entries) and I'm more and more convinced that it is innate to human beings and an absolutely essential element in fostering a love of learning.
Baby's curiosity

My nearly five month old son has displayed his curious nature from the first week of his life. As I type this now he's sitting on my lap, watching my fingers on the key board then bobbing his head up to look at the books on the bookshelves. My hands are dribbled with drool as he's been teething but he's much happier to be with me, looking around, than sitting in a bouncy seat or lying on his back. He wants to be upright and checking things out. He wants to grab at my fingers and listen to the clicking of the key board, he wants to coo and make new sounds with his newly discovered lower lip. It is not that easy to type with an infant in your lap as I'm sure many of you can attest to, but seeing his growing awareness of the world around him is so well as a little scary. I want to insure that he's being adequately stimulated but given the room to develop an ability to entertain himself and use his imagination.

The desire to explore

To that end I purchased a book recommended by my sister called Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina. It's been a fascinating read and I've enjoyed it. And the book reinforced my conviction of the importance of nurturing your child's curiosity. Medina promises to give parents the keys to raising a "smart and happy child." To do that he looks at today's leaders, innovators, and thinkers, analyzed research on brain development and came up with what he calls "5 essential ingredients" that make up human intelligence. The very first element is a "desire to explore".  He quotes Hal Gregerson, lead author of a study published in Harvard Business Review as stating the following:
"You can summarize all the skills we've noted in one word: 'inquisitiveness.' I spent 20 years studying great global leaders, and that was the one big denominator...If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions. But by the time they are 6 1/2 years old, they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High-school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they're grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them."
What a sad but completely understandable outcome of traditional education. And overwhelmed teacher of 30 active little people does not have the resources to nurture the individual natures of all those students. I'm sure that this curbing of enthusiasm and curiosity is one of the reasons many of you chose to homeschool. As parents who have chosen a different educational path, we have a huge responsibility and privilege. So how do we accomplish the task of encouraging our little one's curiosity?

The myth of one "right" answer
As Gregerson observed in his research, students are quickly taught that having one "right" answer is key to success in a classroom. While that is certainly efficient and makes educating a bit easier and straightforward, I believe that this model is the one responsible for squelching creativity and imagination. When I write study guides for BFB I think a lot about curiosity and how I can help our customers support their children's innate ability to question and think outside the box. To that end, you will find very few questions with simple "right or wrong" answers in my study guides. I try to incorporation questions that make the student think a bit deeper, to see the material in a different light or from a perspective outside of their own experience.

The sandbox approach

I often utilize what I like to call a "sandbox approach" to comprehension questions. When you look at a sandbox, there are specific boundaries that mark the area in which a child can safely play. These boundaries provide structure and security. Within the sandbox there is plenty of room for a child to explore and play. She can create new things, tear down castles left behind by others, shift sand and toys from one area to another. In other words, within the bounds of the sandbox, the child has a lot of freedom. I think of curriculum and study guides as the boundaries of a sandbox. They are there to provide structure and within that structure there ought to be a lot of room for individual students to develop their own style of learning, to be able to ask provocative questions, to try on different perspectives. At BFB we put a lot of effort into thinking about how to empower parents to teach their children in a way that is enjoyable and encourages the development of curiosity. Our study guides are not designed to be rigid but to help you to tackle the idea of trading in your history textbook for a pile of literature. That can be a scary endeavor and we are here to help you unlock the richness of a literature based education. And we want to encourage your student to bring his or her unique observations and perspectives to that literature and that is why we rely more on discussion questions than we do comprehension questions. This approach is not for everyone, but for those of you who want to take the road less traveled, we're happy to take this journey with you.

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 hereAnd if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below! 

Friday, May 02, 2014

Incredible Ruins

AP photo
 As someone who loves ancient and medieval history, I often have to remind myself about the ruins of the recent past. Within the past century there have been incredible events of history and it's easy to focus on the major ones like the World Wars or our nation's engagement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Vietnam, Korea, etc. I admit to a bit of solipsism in this regard. A January article from the "Atlantic" jolted me out of my stupor. Featuring haunting photos of the ancient city of Ani, the photo journal shows how ancient history invades our world today, how recent atrocities leave scars on the landscape, and provides a haunting glimpse into a past that not many of us study in our elementary and high school years.
CC BY SA Scott Dexter

Digging a little deeper I found wonderful information on Ani. Apparently it was originally founded over 1600 years ago and was a bustling center of enterprise and trade. As the "Atlantic" article states, it was known as the "city of one thousand and one churches". For a city of 100,000 residents, that is a very high concentration of houses of worship. I highly recommend taking a look at the article and browsing through the photos. Maybe encourage your children and/or students to do some research on this time-forgotten place. Using some of the photos for a presentation would be fantastic!

And, how amazing would it be to visit Ani? If any of you have had the privilege, please share about your experience below! And if you find other interesting facts on Ani or its history, chime in. What event in history has held a particular fascination for you?

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!