Saturday, October 16, 2010

Three Musketeers Week 6: What's Up, Duke?

Welcome! This blog post is related to my Three Musketeers class at our homeschool co-op, Homeschool Out of the Box. We have an academic section, reading Richard Pevear's translation of the book, and an enrichment section, reading the Usborne Young Readers' abridgement of the story. For all lesson plans related to this class, click the Three Musketeers tag at the bottom of this post.

HOMEWORK: Today we reviewed all our French and also learned how to ask someone their name and tell someone our names. We practiced on each other -- my, we're getting polite.

DISCUSSION: Our review of the reading comprehension from last week led us straight into our topic for today: Queen Anne. We learned her life story, and the background gave us a lot of insight into why she is found in the predicament Dumas creates for her. Learning about the real stories of historical figures that appear in this novel forces us to examine the way Dumas uses his material -- where he stretches the truth, where he invents, and where he uses real events to move his plot along. Queen Anne was a child bride, uprooted from her country and culture, and she was doing the best she could. It's my reading that Dumas treated her pretty well in the novel -- she seems like a victim trying to survive the royal turmoil. That may be a kind presentation.

In the junior class we talked about how in lots of movies (I used Shrek as an example, but lots of the kids had also seen The Princess Bride, which is another good one) a princess is being forced to marry someone she doesn't love. They all recognized this trope and agreed that arranged marriages were wrong and troubling. We talked about how usually in stories or movies, someone rescues the princess at the last minute and she doesn't have to marry the bad guy. In Queen Anne's life though, no one rescued her. No one busted down the doors of the church at the last minute, no one swept her away, no fairy godmother helped her, and she had to marry that guy she didn't know or love. So we can understand why she met someone later in her life that she did fall in love with, since her marriage was so unfair and not based on love. I think they get it.

ACTIVITIES: We had a wonderful time dancing and singing today, and in fact learned the very beginning step of what will become our minuet. The kids were great at this! They should practice at home -- any song in 3/4 meter would be appropriate for practicing. If they've forgotten the step, maybe the phrase "Step step step, tap tap tap" will help bring it back.


In the senior class, we acted out the arrest of M. Bonacieux:

Characters: D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, Aramis, Bonacieux, Guards

Action: D'Artagnan and the three musketeers are sitting around his house, just partying like it's 1632, when M. Bonacieux busts in and begs for their help in finding his kidnapped wife.

Bonacieux: Help! My wife's been kidnapped! And now they're after me.
D'Artagnan: We'll protect you, no matter what.

But oh no! Here come the guards to arrest M. Bonacieux. D'Artagnan not only refuses to help him, he encourages the guards to take him away!

Bonacieux: Help! Help! They've got me! Help me!
D'Artagnan: That's right, guards. Do your job. Take this man to the Bastille!

Porthos is outraged, but D'Artagnan explains that they can do more good for M. Bonacieux if they are not arrested with him, as they surely would be if they'd fought for his freedom.

In the junior class, the kids are a bit farther along in the plot, so we acted out the Duke's visit to the Louvre.

Characters: D'Artagnan, Constance, Duke of Buckingham, Queen, Scar-faced man, Cardinal Richelieu, King.

Action: We set up the room as best we could and used our imaginations, but we basically needed a doorway, a street, a bridge, the Queen's chamber, Cardinal Richelieu's office, and the King's office. When we started out, the Queen, the Cardinal, and the King were in their places, Constance was outside the door, the Duke of Buckingham was on the bridge, and D'Artagnan was inside the door. We also had a box of diamonds.

Constance (coming through the door): I escaped my captors!
D'Artagnan: How?
Constance: I tied my bedsheets together and went out the window!
D'Artagnan: Why were you kidnapped in the first place?
Constance: That's not my secret to tell. In fact, I have to go!
D'Artagnan: Let me go with you!
Constance: No, stay here. I have to go by myself.

Constance sets off on the streets of Paris and D'Artagnan sneaks behind. As she reaches the bridge, the Duke of Buckingham puts his arm around her and D'Artagnan protests.

D'Artagnan: Hey! What are you doing? Get your hands off her.
Constance: No, this is the Duke of Buckingham. I was sent here to meet him.
D'Artagnan: Oh, sorry! What can I do to help?
Duke: Follow us to the Louvre and protect us.

So the three of them set off to the Louvre with D'Artagnan guarding the rear. They enter the queen's chamber.

Duke: Oh you're so beautiful, so wonderful, blah blah blah.
Queen: Yes, yes, but we can never be together.
Duke: NOOOOOOooooooOOOOOOooooo!
Queen: Well, I'll give you a present to remember me by.

The queen gives the duke her diamonds. The scar-faced man, who had been hiding in a corner, snuck off to tell Cardinal Richelieu.

Scar-faced man: Hey, the queen just gave the Duke of Buckingham her diamonds!
Richelieu: Ah, that gives me an idea.

Richelieu goes to visit the king.

Richelieu: Hey, I have an idea -- why don't you have a party for the queen. She can wear the diamonds you gave her -- it'll be awesome!
King: That's a great idea.

The king goes to visit the queen.

King: Hey, I have an idea. I'm going to throw you a party. Make sure you wear your diamonds!
Queen: NOOOOoooOOOOOooo!!

If it seems complicated, consider we did this four times, mixing the parts around so everyone got a chance to be the part they most wanted to be. It was so much fun, and I was amazed with the kids, their awareness of the storyline, and their ability to take on these roles and really ham it up.

POETRY: Today we read "More Strong Than Time" by Victor Hugo so we could compare the love scene that Dumas wrote between the Queen and the Duke with Hugo's love poetry. The kids did a great job understanding this poem and were very good readers. I'm interested to see what they will think of some of the lines that Dumas gave the Duke compared to Hugo's images.

ASSIGNMENT: Here are the vocabulary words:


And the reading comprehension questions:

D’Artagnan makes the same promise to Constance that the Duke of Buckingham makes to the queen. What is it?
What object does D’Artagnan keep noticing, and what initials are embroidered on it?
Why was Athos arrested?
What does the Duke of Buckingham tell D’Artagnan to do?
How many times has the Duke seen the Queen before?
What does he plan to do in order to see her more often?

I'd like them to consider if they'd let themselves get arrested for a friend, and think about Athos' sacrifice for D'Artagnan. Was it wise for him to be arrested, given how fierce the Cardinal was, and how unjust the justice system could be at the time?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Three Musketeers Week 5: The Mousetrap

Welcome! This blog post is related to my Three Musketeers class at our homeschool co-op, Homeschool Out of the Box. We have an academic section, reading Richard Pevear's translation of the book, and an enrichment section, reading the Usborne Young Readers' abridgement of the story. For all lesson plans related to this class, click the Three Musketeers tag at the bottom of this post.

HOMEWORK: We tried reciting the days of the week in French today, and also learned how to say "I'm awesome!" which is very important for a Gascon. We went over some vocab from last week, specifically lackey, bourgeious, apprehended, swaggering, and rendezvous. We also traded sketches and tried to identify each others' musketeers. Some of the students are brilliant caricature artists!

One of our most interesting points from the reading comprehension involved dissecting the phrase: "In prosperity one should sow meals right and left, in order to harvest some in adversity." This is a musketeer's idea of a savings account! How nuts is that? A very Alexandre Dumas type sentiment, we decided.

DISCUSSION: Today we discussed the Louvre, from its beginnings as a medieval castle on the banks of the Seine through its use as a royal palace as it was during the time of the Three Musketeers, to its current life as an art museum. The kids have some assignments on their worksheets relating to the most famous treasures in the Louvre.

ACTIVITIES: In the senior class, I had the kids choreograph a ten-move fight scene. They split their paper into two sides, and then figured out and wrote down ten moves for each side of the battle. Then they went outside to practice and fine-tune their moves.

In both classes, we talked about passwords and the different situations in which they are used, like Constance and D'Artagnan used a password to get D'Artagnan recognized at the Louvre. In the junior class, we played Password, which is just like "Telephone" in that you try and whisper a three word password around the circle and get it safely around without any changes. We had a lot of fun with that.

Another game we played in the junior class was designed to get them started reacting to the literature in a thoughtful way. We sat in a circle and passed a ball around. When each child held the ball, it was his or her turn to speak. The first round we had to say the name of any character from the book. The second round we had to say the name of a character and then whether they were a hero or a villain. The final round we had to say our favorite character and why. It was fascinating to me to see these children, as young as five, really thinking about their choice. Several of them chose Milady DeWinter as their favorite, and when asked why, Elsa for example said, "Because she's powerful and knows how to get things done." I thought that was pretty insightful. Those who chose D'Artagnan as a favorite seemed a little horrified that anyone would pick the scar-faced man, for example. But I could tell from the discussion that they are all reading and all absorbing the material -- excellent.

ASSIGNMENT: I challenged the students to set a password with a friend or relative, so that in case they needed to send a message to that person, they could verify that it was an authentic message. We also had these vocab words to look up:

Writ server

And these reading comprehension questions on chapters 9 and 10:

What two countries does the Queen love, and why?
The scarred man mistook Aramis and the doctor’s niece for two other people. Who?
Why is Porthos upset with D’Artagnan after Bonacieux is arrested?
What is a 17th century mousetrap?
D’Artagnan listens to a lot of interrogations without interrupting. But when does he interrupt?
Who is D’Artagnan’s alibi?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Three Musketeers Week 4: Lackeys and Abduction

Welcome! This blog post is related to my Three Musketeers class at our homeschool co-op, Homeschool Out of the Box. We have an academic section, reading Richard Pevear's translation of the book, and an enrichment section, reading the Usborne Young Readers' abridgement of the story. For all lesson plans related to this class, click the Three Musketeers tag at the bottom of this post.

We began class today reviewing our French vocabulary and checking out our homework and reading comprehension. The students had put some effort into their visions of the abandoned monastery, and we contrasted their ideas with the ones in the video clip I sent out in email. Here's that video. One of the most important things to absorb from this reading is the fun, witty patter the combatants toss around during the preparations for the duel, which is paid homage in a scene from The Princess Bride -- and you can see that video here. Fun stuff!

DISCUSSION: We talked last week about Victor Hugo and how he wrote more serious intellectual drama and Dumas wrote more popular entertainment and adventure. We talked today about the similarities in The Three Musketeers and popular stories, even fairy tales or bedtime stories. What common elements could we find in this novel and some of our most familiar stories? Damsels in distress, sword fights, chase scenes, very easily identifiable villains and heroes, uncomplicated good guys and bad guys, kings, queens, palaces, secrets, etc. One of the most obvious of these elements, and yet the most difficult to identify, is the number three and the repetition connected to that number. We all remembered "The Three Bears" and "The Three Little Pigs" as well as all the things that come in threes in plot lines of familiar tales. We'll see as we go forward that not only are there three musketeers, but there will be repetitions in threes in the action as well. This was very challenging material for the kids, and even the junior class was able to follow this discussion, and did a great job making this connection.

POETRY: We read the Victor Hugo poem "The Grave and the Rose." I gave them an English translation below the French poem on the page, and we compared how difficult it is to tell who is speaking in the English version, compared to the original French. We continue to look at different challenges of reading literature in translation, and this is one of them. I assigned the children to use two colors of highlighter or colored pencil to delineate the speakers in the quoted parts of the poem.

We also worked on the second line of "Demain des l'aube" and put the first two lines together.

ACTIVITIES: We sang our songs inside today -- no dancing around in the rain for us, but that's okay. It gave us more time to look at the French. We did Il Court le Furet, Sur le Pont d'Avignon, and le Petit Prince, and the junior class also worked on Claire de Lune. No swordfighting today either due to the rain, although the junior class still managed to slash and cleave a little bit!

ASSIGNMENT: On the worksheet for today are four ovals. I'd like the students to draw the faces of the four main characters on those ovals, using whatever props or clues they can draw so that they can trade with a partner and be able to identify which face goes with which character. Here are the vocabulary words they should find and highlight in the text:


And here are the reading comprehension questions for chapters 7 and 8.

Who is Athos’ lackey, and what rule does Athos enforce with him?
Who is Porthos’ lackey, and what does he look like?
Who is Aramis’ lackey, and what three problems does he have?
What does this mean: “In prosperity one should sow meals right and left, in order to harvest some in adversity.”
According to the landlord, what is the queen’s situation?
What person does the landlord suspect of kidnapping his wife?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Three Musketeers Week 3: Alexandre Dumas vs. Victor Hugo CAGEFIGHT!

Welcome! This blog post is related to my Three Musketeers class at our homeschool co-op, Homeschool Out of the Box. We have an academic section, reading Richard Pevear's translation of the book, and an enrichment section, reading the Usborne Young Readers' abridgement of the story. For all lesson plans related to this class, click the Three Musketeers tag at the bottom of this post.

HOMEWORK: We began class today by reviewing the vocabulary words they looked up, the musketeer terms they researched and going over the reading comprehension questions.
Important comprehension points:
1. Understanding the difference between the King's Musketeers and the Cardinal's Guard and getting how there were different armies and regiments and whatnot.
2. Understanding why M. Treville pretended to like the Cardinal and praised him. This was a very very tricky one but I did have a few spectacular little readers tell me it was because it was a test for D'Artagnan, to see if he was a spy. We discussed spying and how that works, and how that would have been a foreign concept for naive D'Artagnan.
3. D'Artagnan is insanely impetuous, and for the second time loses an important letter of introduction because he's following his temper into a fight. What would we have done? Finished up with M. Treville and secured our futures and careers. What did D'Artagnan do? Go charging off into the street to die. D'Artagnan! Such a temper! We focused a lot on this in the enrichment track class too.
DISCUSSION: Today we learned about Victor Hugo and compared his biography to that of Alexandre Dumas. Hugo was writing at the same time, but he was a very serious writer, much more intellectual and dark than Dumas. He was less interested in swordfighting and romance and more interested in despair and hopelessness. We talked about how Hugo's life in some ways paralleled Dumas' story -- political involvement, exile, and major shifts in opinions and beliefs. Dumas, however, was more fun. Hugo was such a nut that he ended up making his own furniture by chewing up wood. Seriously. We talked about how great genius sometimes comes with eccentricities (say it with me: eccentricity) and that what we love about Hugo is also what made him a total nutburger. Dumas wrote cookbooks and got fat. Hugo turned out to be some kind of mad beaver.
We also had a great discussion about how reading Hugo might be more interesting in terms of really delving into 19th century French literature, but that it wouldn't be appropriate for their age group. This led to a comparison between the "real" translation of Three Musketeers and the Usborne abridged version. Many kids in the older class have younger siblings reading the "junior" version and have noticed differences. For example, in the junior version, Constance is the landlord's sister, not wife. We talked about how in the 9-12 year old class we can discuss how different marriage was back then, how adultery was much more common and expected, and how marriage in the 17th century was not so much based on love. We talked (patronizingly) about how our little brothers and sisters cannot be expected to make this kind of ethical distinction, and therefore the book they read makes it easy for them by changing some details. Very excellent discussion -- I was so proud of the kids.
POETRY: Instead of reading a Victor Hugo novel, we're going to read and learn some Victor Hugo poetry. The one we're going to memorize in French is "Demain, des l'aube" which is definitely Hugo's most popular work, and perhaps the most famous poem written in French. It is, as you would expect from Hugo, very dark and gloomy. For next week, we're tackling just the first line:
Demain, des l'aube a l'heure au blanchit la campagne
Next week we'll do the second line, and so on. It seems daunting when you look at the whole thing, but I know they can do it. They will amaze themselves and you. Here's a funny video someone made, animating a famous portrait of Victor Hugo as if he is reciting his own poem:
SWORDPLAY: Today the kids learned two new moves -- the cleave and the high block. These are two handed moves. Cleaving looks like you're coming straight down on your opponent's head, the high block is how you would stop someone from cleaving your skull in half. Super fun!
SKITS: Today we acted out two scenes: D'Artagnan comes to Meung and gets in a fight with the scarfaced man, and D'Artagnan chases the scarfaced man through the streets of Paris, enraging the three musketeers in the process. This was great fun, and the children were wonderful at acting! I think it's particularly important in the enrichment class that we bring the story to life in this way, and it was highly entertaining for the children. They did great! This is something we can't do at home with our own books and our own kids, so I want to do this as much as possible as we go forward through the book, whenever we get to interesting scenes that lend themselves well to drama.
VOCABULARY: Here are the vocab words for next week. Please highlight and define.

I also asked the kids to consider the abandoned monastery as a scene -- what might it look like, feel like, what characteristics would make it a great place to duel? Here's a link to the fight scene from the 1993 Disney movie, "The Three Musketeers" that shows how this particular director imagined it.
ASSIGNMENT: Please read chapters 5 and 6. Not all of chapter 6 needs to be read word for word by the kids themselves. There is a lot of dialogue and some of it drags. Honestly these conversations are not that critical to the plot. This is a place in the text where you can summarize for your kids if they're overwhelmed by the material! :) Here are the comprehension questions:

1. What does this mean: “Suffer nothing from anyone except the King, the Cardinal, and M. de Treville”?
2. Why did Athos decide to fight D’Artagnan left-handed?
3. What happened to interrupt the duel D’Artagnan and Athos had started?
4. How did M. de Treville misrepresent the fight to the King?
5. What were the Musketeers doing when D’Artagnan got into a fight with Bernajoux?
6. What was wrong with the King when D’Artagnan and M. de Treville went to visit him?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Three Musketeers Week 2: A Bridge, a Ferret, and a Little Prince

Welcome! This blog post is related to my Three Musketeers class at our homeschool co-op, Homeschool Out of the Box. We have an academic section, reading Richard Pevear's translation of the book, and an enrichment section, reading the Usborne Young Readers' abridgement of the story. For all lesson plans related to this class, click the Three Musketeers tag at the bottom of this post.

HOMEWORK: We began class today by reviewing the vocabulary words they looked up, the musketeer terms they researched and going over the reading comprehension questions.

The most important thing to remember from chapter 1 is the way D'Artagnan responds to offense, throwing himself immediately into life-threatening conflict over what seems to us to be a small irritation. D'Artagnan's behavior at the beginning of the novel is "provincial" and unsophisticated. He doesn't understand the way the world works, he's not into trickery and subterfuge -- he is aggressive and uncomplicated, and of course this gets him into trouble. This is D'Artagnan "before."

The most important thing I want them to remember from chapter 2 is the contrast between the way D'Artagnan was raised (to respect the King and Cardinal) and the way the Parisians behave, making fun of both. We talked about how Paris is a whole new world for D'Artagnan, and how he respects and loves the musketeers as if they are superheroes. Meeting Porthos, Aramis and Athos would be kind of like a kid today walking into a room with Superman, Spiderman, and Batman. He also believes at this point that the King and Cardinal are both noble figures worthy of reverence and obedience. Again, this is D'Artagnan "before."

FRENCH: Here are our French words for today:

Merci Thank you
Du rien. You’re welcome.
Tres bien Very good.
S’il vous plait Please

We talked about the many uses for the phrase "tres bien" and practiced saying it with correct slang pronunciation, which does not at all sound like it is written.

DISCUSSION: We read about Alexandre Dumas and learned some biographical information. Three important points here: First, Dumas was multiracial, and that was a big deal in 19th century France. His African ethnicity possibly made people take him less seriously, maybe affected the way he was received in literary/academic circles. Second, The Three Musketeers was written as a serial novel, which means there were lots of cliffhangers, and Dumas profited by getting his characters into hairy situations and then getting them out. Dumas was an adventure writer -- his books were meant to be exciting and entertaining. He was a pioneer in this genre, combining action, romance, and drama. Third, Dumas lived large -- he traveled a lot, loved to swordfight, cook, eat, and was a major womanizer. He was a big character, physically and figuratively -- a very alive and exciting kind of guy.
DANCE: We practiced our three dances: Il Court le Furet, Le Petit Prince, and Sur le Pont d'Avignon. Silliness ensued. We're getting our movements down, and picking up some of the French. No stress on learning this; we have all semester to absorb it.

SWORDPLAY: Today in the academic track class I introduced the idea of choreography and how in movies and plays, swordfights are not just free-for-alls that the actors can play out however they want. We talked about staging fights with a partner and I gave the kids time to get together with a partner and stage some moves. As of now, they know how to slash supinate and pronate, and how to block those slashes with the opposite slash in a figure 8. They also know how to thrust and block the thrust, and how to salute. And yet, all the choreographed demonstrations that resulted from our efforts ended in a bad death.

VOCABULARY: Here are their vocabulary words for next week. They should find them and highlight them in the book, and look them up or ask for definitions when necessary. Note: There is a swear in here, not necessary to translate it directly, just translate as "Zoinks!" or whatever. I include these swears because they appear in the book. It's Dumas' fault. Blame him.

ASSIGNMENT: The children are to read chapters 3 and 4 in the Pevear, or chapter 2 in the Usborne, and the academic track should be able to answer the following questions:

1. What made M. Treville angry at Athos, Porthos, and Aramis?
2. Why did Treville tell D’Artagnan that he was devoted to the Cardinal?
3. What did D’Artagnan leave in Treville’s office when he ran after the unknown man?
4. With what three people did D’Artagnan arrange to duel?
5. How did he get on each one’s bad side?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Three Musketeers: Week 1: In Which We Learn to Swear in French

Welcome! This blog post is related to my Three Musketeers class at our homeschool co-op, Homeschool Out of the Box. We have an academic section, reading Richard Pevear's translation of the book, and an enrichment section, reading the Usborne Young Readers' abridgement of the story. For all lesson plans related to this class, click the Three Musketeers tag at the bottom of this post.
OPENING: We began our class by throwing our books on the floor and seeing what a satisfyingly loud and intimidating sound they made. I explained to the kids that this is a very hard book, very challenging for them to read, and that they wouldn't normally be expected to read it until they're in high school or even later, but I expect them to read it now, and I know they can! Then we learned a swear in French. One of the great things about the Pevear translation, for teaching purposes, is that he leaves some of the exclamations in French. Today we learned to exclaim "Sangdieu!" just like the musketeers do, and I comforted (or disappointed) the children by telling them that this is a mild swear, along the lines of "crap" or even "yikes." One translator suggested "Gadzooks!" So having thrown our books on the floor and hollered "Sangdieu!" we began class.
FRENCH: Our French words for today:
bonjour (hello)
salut (hi)
au revoir (goodbye)
a bientot (see you later)
We'll be adding more French every week! But no more swears. Well, maybe two or three more. But then no more.
BOOK DISCUSSION: Each class will include some discussion of the chapters of the book we read for the day. I want to spend some time each week going over what might be confusing or interesting about what they read, and also giving them a preview of what they're going to read next. The key to getting them through this book will be to give them plot signposts to recognize and ancillary historical information to make the book seem familiar as they go through it.
Historical stuff: Today, since we hadn't read any book yet, we looked at the map of France, talked about how Gascony was a relatively wild and untamed area in 1630, one of the last areas of France to be conquered and subdued by the French nation. Dumas himself was from Gascony, and so it is with love and respect that he characterizes the Gascon as a feisty and unruly type of guy. We talked about how our hero, D'Artagnan, was always cruising for a fight, and fancied himself a tough and dangerous guy. We also talked about how there were different regiments and armies within France, some connected to important nobles, some connected to cities or regions, and then the two main rivals: the Cardinal's guard and the King's musketeers.
Plot stuff: We talked for a while about what it might be like to leave home to seek your fortune, in 1630. There wouldn't be cell phones or internet or even telephones. There wouldn't be a post office with mailboxes on the corner so you could write home to Mom. There wouldn't be newspapers so you could keep track of what was going on back in your home town. It would be a very different prospect than you might face today, and I asked the kids to think about what they might take with them if they were going on such a journey. We also talked about the dangers and benefits of going somewhere new, where no one knows you -- this might be an exciting chance to reshape your identity, but it also might be scary to know there's no door you can knock on for aid if you get in trouble.
We learned three songs and dances today:
Le Empereur et le Petit Prince
Il Court le Furet
Sur le Pont D'Avignon
To learn them, we're using the versions by Petit Ours Brun. If your child is burning to hear them again, you can download MP3 versions from here. I'm sure they're on iTunes too. We'll be mixing it up a little later on, doing our own version with guitar, but for now I need my hands free so I can dance with them and show them the (awesome) moves.
Today we talked about having a motto, and the kids came up with great definitions. On their worksheets there are five examples of mottoes in Latin for them to look up and translate:

Semper Fidelis (The Marine Corps)
Citius, Altius, Fortius (The Olympics)
Per Mare, Per Terrum (Royal Marines)
Semper Paratus (US Coast Guard)
Carpe Diem
If they've got through all those, here is a page with more Latin mottoes from the time. I gave the kids the assignment of coming up with their own personal motto. Maybe they will get some ideas from that page, or invent their own! It doesn't have to be in Latin.
We learned two big words today: pronate and supinate. Pronate means a position of the sword hand with the knuckles up, and supinate means a position of the sword hand with knuckles down. When you slash, the direction follows the little finger, if that makes sense. So a pronate slash goes from your left to right, and a supinate slash goes from your right to left. We learned how to salute, how to do slashes both ways, and how to do a thrust, where your hand goes from supinate to pronate. This is all we'll be working on this week and next week -- just in different combinations. Then we will add decapitation and we'll be done! Just kidding. We will not be adding decapitation.
Disclaimer: I do not know fencing! I do not know medieval swordplay! What I do know is how to give the children vocabulary to use to describe the moves I want them to safely make so that we can choreograph an awesome battle and have lots of fun! I will try not to directly violate any kind of fencing rules, and if I do, I am open to correction.
Here are their vocabulary words for next week. They are to highlight them in their books and look up or ask for definitions as necessary.

I also gave them some musketeer words to look up and draw. We'll have vocabulary words every week for them to "treasure hunt" in the assigned chapters.
The children are to read chapters 1 and 2 in the Pevear, or chapter 1 in the Usborne. Here are their reading comprehension questions (these are also in their notebooks):

1. What three gifts did D’Artagnan’s father give to him before he set off for Paris?
2. Why did D’Artagnan get angry at the unknown man in Meung?
3. How did D’Artagnan misrepresent himself to the strangers in Meung?
4. What was Monsieur Treville’s father’s motto?
5. What surprised D’Artagnan about the men hanging out in Monsieur Treville’s antechamber?
It's not at all necessary for them to write down the answers for these. I won't be collecting anything. Just some questions we'll be discussing in class, and again something for them to seek out in the book to make the text more manageable and accessible.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 15: Finale

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: This is our last class meeting! Weep! Our day today consisted of rehearsing for our show, taking our final exam, and performing for the parents. The Junior Aeneid class also made a craft project and reviewed the whole story of the Aeneid. While we retold the story from the beginning, we decorated pinwheels with scenes from the story -- one on each of eight points of the pinwheel. Then we folded them and stuck them onto the ends of Arma Virumque Cano pencils, and blew into them like the winds of history carrying the story into the future.

Final Exam: No more true and false! Today's final exam consisted of 25 questions, some with more than one answer required, and it was really tough! I'm very proud of the kids for their recall, their enthusiasm, and their excellent brains. The final exam was a big success. Everyone who took it got a commemorative Arma Virumque Cano pencil, donated by Ben and Shira!

The Death of Turnus: In the academic track class, we spent some time discussing the end of the Aeneid. The final scene in our book is the death of Turnus, the Latin hero that Aeneas ended up fighting one-on-one to end the battle and establish his place and a place for his descedents in Italy. There they were, facing each other across the battle field, and the whole weight of history was on them. Aeneas threw his spear and wounded Turnus in the leg and he went down. Now, here comes Aeneas, ready to finish him off, ready to wipe out this whole idea that the Latin king had any power over his Trojans and his future. And Turnus looked up at him and asked for mercy, or at least to have his body returned to his father.

We paused the conversation on that moment and I asked the children to consider what they would do in that situation, if they were in Aeneas' position. This is a hard question! We talked about how we in our culture value kindness and mercy, value giving people second chances, how we would not necessarily kill someone who we had subdued and who was asking for mercy. But the Roman ideal, though they valued clementia, was to be strong, to kill fiercely and to die well. As I said to the children, a Roman soldier was not one to say, "Well, Turnus, we've had our differences, but now I've taught you a lesson and you can go on your way."

Even so, Aeneas paused in that moment too. Did he kill Turnus? Yes, he did. But only after he saw the belt of Pallas, the Etruscan prince and his friend who had helped him in the battle. Turnus was wearing it as a trophy, and it caught Aeneas' eye as he hovered over Turnus, weighing that killing blow. So this archetypal Roman killed his enemy without mercy, but he did it not for the gods, or for himself, but for his comrades in arms, for his fellow Romans, and for Rome. We talked about how this motivation was romanticized in "Horatio at the Bridge" in the lines about the Romans being like brothers, in the brave days of old.

So, those ideas about that scene sort of encapsulated everything I have tried to teach the children this semester about the Aeneid: why it was important, what it meant to the Romans at the time when the Empire was expanding, and why Virgil made the choices he made in writing it.

The Finale: Here are some videos from our final performance:

"Let's Get the Heck Out of Troy"

"Dido and Aeneas: I Will Be Roman"

A Demonstration of Roman Virtue:

A Recitation of an Excerpt from "Horatio at the Bridge":

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen"

"Arma Virumque Cano"

I have loved teaching all your children, and hope to see them all back for The Three Musketeers in the fall! Keep reading!

Aeneid Class: Week 14: The Rostra

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Rostra: We began our Rostra event immediately, and invited the parents to come up and be populace. We staged the Rostra by pushing tables together in the middle of the room, and attached our Rostra banner to the front of the table. All of us walked around briskly, going "rabble rabble rabble" to approximate the noises of a busy forum if we were in Ancient Rome. Then one by one the kids would take the stage and recite as much of the memory work as they were comfortable reciting. To give you a better idea, here are the videos I put together. I was filming while rabbling, and some of the clips got clipped, messed up in some way, or did not film properly to begin with -- but at least you can get the general idea. All the children were amazing, and I'm very proud of all the hard work they did pulling together the memory work.

Class: Today's quiz was over the Rostra fast facts. We sang our songs, practiced Horatio at the Bridge, and discussed some more of the story of the Aeneid, as Aeneas rallies the Etruscan princes and kings to join the fight against the Latin tribes. Next week is our finale, and we are ready!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gamer Birthday Parties at Cybercriter Internet Lounge

If you're female and over the age of 23, you may never have set foot in an establishment called an "interent lounge." I'm about to tell you why you might want to swing that door open wide and walk right in. Now, you may have a certain vision in your mind connected with such a place, involving adolescent males with patchy beards growing to the floor, eyes glazed over, cheese powder flecks crusted to the sides of their mouths, hands clicking rhythmically on their gummy controllers. Maybe the place smells kind of like an old sock, with wires running everywhere, and blinking lights in seizure-inducing rows. Maybe there's Red Bull dripping from the walls. Maybe there are giant alien swords stuck into the cement floor.

Maybe there are places that fit that description, but Cybercriter Internet Lounge (yes, really only one T) in Norfolk, behind the Ted Constant Convocation Center, is not one of them. Let me take you on a tour, and enlighten you. When you walk in, you're in a long but small room with beautiful HD televisions along all the walls. Attached to every console is a game system -- Wii, Playstation, etc. There are windows, and light bulbs, and there is carpeting. There's a counter with snacks and a register. It's all very clean. There are no drooling adolescents. At all.

Now here's the majestic beauty that I want to show you. Imagine you're hosting a birthday party. All along the walls there are clusters of children, eagerly playing games. Some are watching, others playing, they're laughing, yelling "YES!" and "OH MAN!" together, having a ball. There's every child-friendly game on every game system you can imagine. WiiPlay, WiiSports, Guitar Hero, Mario Party, Little Big Planet, and the list goes on. But the magic is the sincere energy and joy and excitement of all the little friends together, trying different games, cheering each other on, locked in battle, and thoroughly, utterly engaged.

We went to CyberCriter for Louis' gamer birthday party, and I was absolutely amazed at how well the kids played together, how much fun they had, and how quiet it was in the room. All the moms had a lovely chat, Deva had set up one counter with snacks and drinks, and it was amazing. I arrived skeptical, and left completely convinced.

Here's the info: $10 per child includes two hours of play time on the consoles. If you want CyberCriter to handle pizza and soda or juice, it's an additional $4 per child. There are spaces and tables for crafts, chips, birthday cakes, etc. You can bring your own games/consoles/whatever to supplement what they have, or just use theirs. They can accommodate between 5 and 20 kids. If you have a gamer in your family who's having a birthday or another special event to organize, this just could be your dream solution!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Differentiated Curriculum: What does it mean?

Beyond multiplication tables or the life cycles of frogs, beyond the dates of the Punic wars or the names of the Presidents, the most important thing that we can teach our children as home educators is how to think. Thinking is more than memorizing or reacting -- it's making and recognizing connections in the world. Applying this idea to that situation, translating this concept into that context: that's thinking.

Prufrock Press is a fantastic publisher of curricula and learning materials for gifted children. The most impressive thing about their programs, for me, is the emphasis on teaching the children how to think, encouraging them to make connections, and stretching ideas across the whole spectrum of learning to show them how everything is related, how one idea can apply to many situations.

A perfect example of this kind of teaching is the concept of "differentiated curriculum." What does this phrase mean? Each differentiated program takes one broad concept and applies it to many different situations and contexts across the curriculum. Science, art, literature, history, geography -- all are linked by a common conceptual element.

The unit we bought is called Structures, and it comes in three parts. Here's the description from the Prufrock Press web site:

The Earth is a solid structure on which we live, but it is not unchanging. Forces inside Earth constantly change both the inside and outside of the planet we call home. When students consider the concept of structures, they will discover that the word has many meanings. The Structures Differentiated Curriculum Kit provides exciting activities to help students discover the structures that exist all around them.

The books in Prufrock’s new Differentiated Curriculum Kits employ a differentiated, integrated curriculum based on broad themes. This all-in-one curriculum helps teachers save planning time, ensure compliance with national standards, and most importantly, pique their students’ natural excitement and interest in discovery. By participating in the wide variety of activities in the Differentiated Curriculum Kit for Grade 5, students will discover the structures around them and gain a lifelong desire to learn.

Structures Book 1: Geology, Expansion, and the Arts, students will learn that structures can be physical, natural, symbolic, and metaphoric. Students will explore natural bridges, earthquakes, erosion, Westward expansion, the Industrial Revolution, and more. In Structures Book 2: Cultures, Geometry, and Energy, students will explore the origins of popular nursery rhymes, racial barriers, and geometry and architecture. In Structures Book 3: Government, Cycles, and Physics, students will study cycles in time, business, monetary value, electricity, and magenetisim. Each book contains detailed lesson plans, reproducible activity sheets, and assessment tools.

Other books in the series include Systems, Cycles, Frontiers, and more. Here's a link to the page with all the differentiated curriculum. If you're like me, the very idea sets your brain to popping -- what poem, scientific concept, historical event, geographical phenomenon, piece of art, and political system could be linked with the idea of "cycles"? The whole concept of this curriculum is just magical to me, and it seems like an ideal, perfect, absolutely exciting way to engage a child over the summer, or as part of a really cool, integrated year of homeschooling.

Note: There are a lot of assessment materials and reproducible pages -- which makes it seem like it is more intended for classroom use. This would make the material perfect for use in a co-op or a group of friends all learning together. Ancillary materials are used a lot -- books from the library, or stuff you may have in your homeschooling library, to introduce the scientific and historical stuff.

Shurley English Teaches Itself

There are are some areas of the homeschooling curriculum about which I get excited. Literature, for example, really gets my blood flowing and my teeth chattering. I love to learn it, teach it, toss it up in the air and catch it, feed it cookies, babysit its toddlers, etc. History increasingly delights me too, although that surprises me -- I can remember saying "History is so over" to enrage my history major friends. I love working with the kids on music, art, writing. But one thing I do *not* enjoy, one thing I found galling and irritating as a child and feel pointless and tiresome now is GRAMMAR.

My nod to grammar with Benny has been to purchase some kind of floppy, grade-level workbook a few weeks before our yearly test. We mash through it with our noses pinched, and then he knows whatever capitalization or comma rules are appropriate for him to know, and we leave it for another year.

The one place where we have spent some time learning grammar, and the one context in which it seems interesting and relevant, is Latin. As you know, we use Latin for Children from Classical Academic Press, and in teaching the first level this year, I kept hearing about how Latin for Children is designed to fit perfectly with Shurley English, and how a lot of the methods employed are similar, based on the same research. Well, we LOVE Latin for Children -- maybe, just maybe, I could love a grammar program too. As I contemplated starting Sadie in first grade in the fall, I realized that Shurley English might be perfect for her -- so I bought the Level 1 stuff from their homeschooling-specific line, and had a look.

I have to tell you, this stuff teaches itself! One lesson I learned immediately is that unlike many programs, the teacher's manual in Shurley English is essential. It tells you exactly what to do, what to say, how to say it, what pieces of the workbooks and activity books to use, and more. There are chants, songs, and jingles, along with a very methodical approach to teaching elementary grammar. For someone who is uninterested in charting any new courses or blazing any new trails in teaching this particular material, Shurley English is perfect.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 13: Aeneas' Shield

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: We are coming to the end of our class! That is sad for me. I have really enjoyed working with your children this semester. We still have a lot to get through in these last few weeks however, including today -- two painting projects to get through!

Aeneas' Shield: At the end of the reading assignment for today, Aeneas' mother, Venus, gives him a present. This special shield foretells the future of Rome, including our favorite characters, Julius and Augustus Caesar, of course! Virgil wouldn't want to let a chapter go by without reminding us that the whole point of this epic is to validate the authority of the emperor! Today we are making shields with watercolor. To do this project you will need watercolor paper marked with concentric circles, and watercolor paints. Those children who were in my Jungle Book class last semester were reminded that mandalas come in many forms -- and that concentric circles marked with symmetrical designs are everywhere! Some of the students took up the challenge to make pictures of the founding of the Roman empire, and some did more abstract designs. Here are some examples of their work:

I was particularly impressed with how some of the children in the enrichment class were able to graphically articulate the growth of Rome from one city to a big and powerful empire through assimilation and attack. We've been talking about how the bigger you get, the easier it is to get bigger, either by intimidation or war. It was great seeing that some out on some of the shields!

The shields will be used as programs for next week's Rostra event.

Rostra Banners:

Next week we will be putting on our final big event: Oratory at the Rostra. We created banners to decorate our platforms today. I was absolutely floored by the fact that I had ten children all working collaboratively around a single banner, and in three classes I had no arguing, no "he got paint on my part!" at all. Kudos to these kids, really! Super great job. You'll have to wait to see the banners, because I didn't take pictures yet, but they are... expressive.

Rostra Info:

The children almost all volunteered to take part in the oratory at the Rostra next week. You are invited to attend! It will be held in the classroom. Warning: If you are made nervous or queasy by children standing on tables, please bring the appropriate sedatives for yourself. :) Below are the memory lines they chose to recite. You will find the words they're working on in their scrapbooks, or I'm printing them below. They do NOT need to memorize all of the poem in order to participate. Even one line is fine! I told them even one syllable is fine, actually. Encourage the children to recite only what they're really comfortable reciting -- we want this to be a very positive experience, and that means fewer lines is better, if more lines bring anxiety. Look for your child's name in the list below. If you and your child are not sure what you should be working on, please let me know. If your child's name is not on the list, it means they did not want to participate. All participants will receive a special issue "Rostra" citizenship coin.

Mark Antony's speech at Julius Caesar's funeral: Stephen, Louis, Carrie, Hannah, Nathan, Richard, Benny, Cecelia, Basi, Catherine, David, Sadie.

Aeneid in Latin: Shira, Ben, Sarah M., Martina, Julia, Elsa, Katie, Max, Morgan, Miranda

Horatio at the Bridge (either the first two verses, or the last two verses, or both): Emily, Jillian, Sarah R

Brayton will be the MC at the 9:30 class, and Celia will be the MC at the 10:30. I will MC the Juniors.

Reading Assignment:

Reading for next week is Nisus and Euryalus and The Return of Aeneas. After we finish with our Rostra presentation we will be having regular class with singing, Horatio practice, and a quiz over the Rostra fast facts.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 11: Horatio at the Bridge

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: Last week was so gloriously exciting that we needed this week to catch up a bit and regroup. We had some recitations to hear, some songs to review, and we needed to get back in touch with the story of the Aeneid.

Underworld Travel Guides: I checked the kids' work on their Underworld Travel Guides (or Underworld Bestiaries) and awarded citizenship coins to those who had finished the job. Some of these kids did absolutely amazing work on their illustrations and showed a great command of the material and real creativity in presenting the information. I hope these will be keepsakes for your child to remember their experience with this text for years to come. When they revisit the Aeneid in college, hopefully they'll remember their first interaction with it, as kids.

Scrapbooking: Speaking of memories, I had photos printed for the children to paste into their scrapbooks. We took some time to do that today, and look back over the activities they did in class: the dinner party, the gladiator games, and the chariot races. Some of them wrote captions and notes for themselves to look back on. I encouraged them to include their own drawings, their own pictures from home, or any other little keepsakes or memories that they might have collected during the class.

Horatio at the Bridge: We've been working on a dramatic recitation of this poem, and today we solidified the parts. There are four individual parts: Consul (Emily, Julia), Horatio (Sarah R, Stephen), Spurius Lartius (Shira, Martina), and Herminius (Louis, Basi). Ask your kids whether they have an individual part, and make sure they know what they are supposed to be reciting. All of us together will recite the first two and last two stanzas.

Reading Assignments: For next week, read The Flames of War and The Future Foretold.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Welcome to the New Address!

This blog is now located at Please update your bookmarks, tell your friends, throw out your rabbit bedding, and put sticks in your hair!

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 10: Chariot Races

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: Today we met outside! The weather was beautiful, perfect for our purposes. We sat on the grass and spent a little bit of time taking the quiz on the Underworld. The enrichment class sang through a few of our songs. Then we learned about the Circus Maximus, the organization of a chariot race, and other relevant facts.

Chariot Race Philosophy Lecture: We focused our discussion on one significant difference between our culture and the culture of Ancient Rome, as illustrated by the clip from "Ben Hur." In the old days, if someone fell out of the chariot, do you think the emperor clapped his hands and called a halt to the race? "Hold on guys, let's take a break and make sure that Maximus is ok! Can we get a stretcher out here?" NO! If Maximus fell out of his chariot, that was his own dumb luck, and if his friends managed to drag him out of the way before the horses came around again, good for them. If not, bad for him.

At this point it's important to do whatever is necessary to communicate to your students that you are about to say something very serious. Maybe stand on a chair. Maybe flap your arms around. Maybe glower. Then tell them that in this respect our culture is *VERY DIFFERENT* from the Roman culture. While the Roman's primary interest in chariot races was entertainment (and they found gruesome injuries profoundly entertaining), our primary interest in chariot races is SURVIVAL. Have them say it out loud: SURVIVAL. I actually had each one individually say it back to me. What is the most important thing today? SURVIVAL. And what constitutes survival? Not falling down, not falling out of your chariot, not causing your charioteer to fall out of his/her chariot, not causing your co-horse to fall over.

I told them clearly that we were creating a spectacle, not a real race, and that while no prizes would be awarded for winning, I would be awarding citizenship coins for safe behavior. As it turns out we only had one injury -- one of our horses scraped up her ankle -- and everyone got their citizenship coin. Looking back on the experience, I'm pretty amazed that someone didn't fall in the Hague or something, but we all had helmets on, and you know that often prevents excitement. Right?

Chariot Race Activity:

To carry off a chariot race the way we did, you will need a wide open space, preferably without traffic. We had a low traffic street that we were able to stop the few cars from coming through during the races. You'll need a mom at the start, a mom at the turn, a mom to help the emperor do his/her job, a mom to orchestrate the horn blowers, a mom to man the first aid station, etc. Then you need the following items:

2 large wagons.
8 dog leashes (four on each wagon, two pairs clipped together to harness the "horses")
Safety helmets
Traffic cones
Emperor chair, costume, and a hankerchief to drop to begin the race
Horns (gift paper tubes, pvc pipe, etc)

Here are pictures:

And here's one video:

For many more pictures and videos, please visit the chariot race Flickr set.

As you can see, we had a great time. Thanks to all the parents and helpers that made it a safe and happy experience for the kids, and thanks to all the kids who really adopted a spirit of cooperation and fun. Yay for chariot races!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Explode the Code Blends Phonics and Fun

My mother taught first grade for a million years. In her career, she saw trends in pedagogy come and go, including whole word reading, context support, invented spelling, etc. She was a firm believer in the phonics method, and even hoarded old textbooks, saved phonics-based readers from dumpsters, and rebelled against her school system in order to continue teaching first graders to read with phonics. She believed that all other methods were, to use her word, "bunk."

I know my mother would have loved Explode the Code. It is not flashy, and it is not slick == it is solid, reliable, old-school phonics and it will teach your child to read. In this it reminds me of the Bob Books -- also hand drawn, also based on progressive phonics, also reliable as dirt. Now, for those who love learning on the computer, there's even an online version of Explode the Code, which translates the excellent phonics foundation to a fun, flash-based learning environment. Using the web site independently or together with the workbooks, it's a win win. Go here to explore this new online phonics curriculum.

My daughter Sadie has been struggling with reading for years. She is now six, but since she was four she knew all her letters and the sounds they make. She had the tools, the knowledge, to read first grade material, and yet she would look at a word and say "I can't read." This was extremely frustrating for me as a teacher. I am a book person, my older child is a strong reader, how could this be happening? I'm still not sure exactly what's going on in Sadie's head when she says "I can't read." I think it might have to do with her persistent suspicion that if she learns to read we'll send her to college.
Explode the Code workbooks and online games have been miraculous for her. The repetition, the spiralling returns to familiar material, the very very slow steps forward accompanied by many iterations of the words the child can confidently do, have made it absolutely impossible for her to tell herself she can't read. She can. It's undeniable. The words she knows with Explode the Code she knows inside out, upside down, backwards, and sideways. When she looks at me, shocked, and says, "I can read that!" it's amazing! Explode the Code works for us, and if you have a brand new reader that needs the confidence that comes from practice, I bet it will work for you too!

Aeneid Class: Week 9: Travel Guide to the Underworld

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: Today's quiz was about Carthage and Dido, and we sang all our songs in their entirety. We had a successful memorization of Mark Antony's speech, and a very close call with Arma Virumque Cano -- next week for sure! Encourage your children to work on these poems at home, and recite them for friends, relatives, whoever will listen. Nothing builds confidence like repetition and also applause from Grandma.

Memory Work: Today we practiced "Horatio at the Bridge" as a dramatic reading. Horatios are Sarah R and Stephen K. I know they are hard at work memorizing their lines! The consuls and other brave Romans with speaking parts are encouraged to memorize their parts too, and EVERYONE should be memorizing the last bit, from "Romans in Rome's quarrel" to the end. The children are doing a magnificent job delivering their lines with feeling and ferocity! Great job, all.

The Underworld:

Today's project for the academic track classes is a travel guide to the underworld. I gave them the title page and chapter list, which we pasted into their scrapbooks near the end. Their assignment, which they worked on in class, was to complete the travel guide, one chapter per page, in their books. They can do it however they want to do it -- as a comic book, all text, all pictures, etc. They can do it humorously, seriously, standing on their heads, whatever. Next week I'm going to have a look at them, and the students who have fulfilled the assignment will receive a citizenship coin!

The enrichment track kids are creating a bestiary. They also received a title page and chapter list, and they also should complete the pages of their bestiary (including harpies, gorgons, a chimaera, Cerberus, and the Furies) to receive a citizenship coin. If you have lost your scrapbook, you can do this on separate pages stapled together.

Chariot Races Preparation:

Next week we are going to turn Grace Street into the Circus Maximus and hold our own chariot races. We have already arranged wagons to be chariots, but we need many more volunteers and items. The chariots will be run two at a time, from the end of the street by the apartment buildings down to the intersection at Yarmouth. We will have the green team (supported by the emperor and the Roman people), the blue team (supported by the Senate) and the red team, (supported by the political resistance). Please dress your children in one of these colors, if possible.

The children will play three roles -- horn blowers, horses, and charioteers. If your child is going to be a charioteer, he or she must MUST must have a bike helmet. Any horses that spill out their charioteers are going to be disqualified, but we still want to be ridiculously safe. If you want, you can also bring along elbow and knee pads -- that would be completely appropriate. We also need dog leashes, two per horse. Please label everything that you bring. We will need volunteers to stand at the ends of the Circus Maximus and hold traffic when necessary. We will also need a first aid kit with bandaids and bactine in case anyone falls over and gets scraped up. So please let me know if you can:

___ Be a traffic guard
___ Bring bandaids and bactine and be the first aid station
___ Bring dog leashes -- the basic kind with a snap on one end and a loop on the other.
___ Bring helmets and knee pads and elbow pads
___ Be an official

If you do not want your child to participate, that is totally fine. He or she can be a horn blower and still have fun. Please email me with any questions you have, to volunteer to help, or with any issues you want me to address.

If you like, you can watch the video of the chariot race from Ben Hur! If you have trouble with the embedded video, here is the link. Be warned: it is violent -- people get run over by horses, for example. But it is a bit of classic movie history and still after all these years a very exciting scene.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 8: Dido's Trick

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: Our quiz today covered the Law of the Twelve Tables, so we had twelve questions in the quiz. I experimented today with letting one of the children make up the quiz, and it was fun! All you have to do is read some of the fast facts as they are, for true answers, and mess up some of them in amusing ways, for false answers. After a few halts and restarts, we got the hang of it and had a great quiz. So, this is yet another way of reviewing the facts -- make them wrong on purpose. If you are working on this curriculum with one child at home, I encourage you to let them quiz *you* by creating some false answers to trip you up. Always entertaining. I was relieved to find that one of the kids making a false answer included laundry detergent among the incorrect details. Hehehe.

Memory Work: Today we sang our "Arma Virumque Cano" song all the way to the end, and also our "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" song all the way to the end. Children are memorizing! Citizenship coins are being earned! Congratulations to all of you moms for following up at home and making this happen. The kids will have a chance to show off their oratorial skills at the Rostra on May 11.

Dido's Trick:

We used scissors and a piece of paper to recreate the legendary trick that Dido supposedly played on a local king, when trying to get land on which to build her city of Carthage. Keep in mind, this trick has also been attributed to Alexander the Great and probably other historical figures as well, but it makes a great parlor trick so we learned it anyway! Thanks to Miranda and Louis' dad for pointing me to a place online where we could print out a template to use for this -- it made the project so much easier.

The idea is that you can cut a hole in a small piece of paper that you can walk through standing up. Here is the template from As long as you never cut through a T, and stay on the lines, you will end up with a huge circle of paper that you can, indeed, step through. I would love to see some enterprising young person try this trick with an even smaller piece of paper and even smaller strips -- it would be neat to see how close we could get to encompassing Carthage!


The fast facts for this week are about Carthage, and we talked a lot about its geography and history of animosity to Rome. Did it all start with a failed romance between Dido and Aeneas? Who knows?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Ballad of the Latin Verbs: A Song for Teaching 1st Conjugation Verb Endings

This song includes the names of the children in your class, so depending on how many kids you have and how many syllables their names have, you may have to switch things around a little. You can always repeat names or add Latin endings to their names. That is permitted.

The tune is from an Irish tune called Fox Hunter's Jig but I play it in A. The first chord is like A major except you take your finger off the B string and play that open. My favorite recording of it is by Cherish the Ladies, Ballad of the Foxhunter. Cherish the Ladies lyrics are a W.B. Yeats poem, but mine are kind of an anthem for our Latin Club. This is the first song we learned, to go along with Chapter 1 in Primer Level A of Latin for Children from Classical Academic Press.

Ballad of Latin Verbs

Link to the video on YouTube.

Amo amas amat, amamis amatis amant
Do das dat, damis, datis, dant
Narro, narras narrat, narramis narratis narrant
Intro, intras intrat, intramis intratis intrant

Shira, conjugate!
Ben, make the nouns decline!
Adjective endings are our food,
Verb tense our wine!

Brayton, the ablative
tells where and when and how
Stephen the genetive
can classify a noun

Erro erras errat, erramis erratis errant
Specto, spectas, spectat, spectamis, spectatis, spectant
Sto stas stat, stamis statis stant
Paro paras parat, paramis paratis parant

Martina conjugate!
Nicholas decline!
Benny and Sarah
Let your vocabulary shine!

Dative tells us just for whom
the verb is done
Acccustive tells us who
the verb is done upon.

She Will Be Latin: A Song for Teaching Noun Declensions

She Will Be Latin

Words by Lydia Netzer
Grammar by Classical Academic Press
Music by Maroon 5

Link to the video on YouTube.

First declension nouns are mostly girls
-a -ae -ae -am -a -ae -arum -is -as -is
The word for fatherland is patria
Tell me how that’s feminine please?

Mensa mensae mensae mensam mensa
Mensae mensarum mensis mensas mensis yeah!
Via viae viae viam via
Viae viarum viis vias viis

Fewer words, more endings
That’s how Latin is lending
Our derivative blendings
So our English is bending

Second declension nouns are men now
-us –i -o -um -o –i –orum -is -os -is
There’s a lupus in my ludus
Do not sit him next to me

Ludus ludi ludo ludum ludo
Ludi ludorum ludis ludos ludis
Hortus horti horto hortum horto
Horti hortorum hortis hortos hortis

Fewer words, more endings
That’s how Latin is lending
Our derivative blendings
So our English is bending

Second declension neuter nouns
-um –i -o -um -o -a –orum -is -a -is
Thanks for the donum in the forum but
Did it have to be your helmet grease?

Donum doni dono donum dono
Dona donorum donis dona donis
Astrum astri astro astrum astro
Astra astrorum astris astra astris

Saturday, April 03, 2010

What's the Deal with Sentences? A Song for Learning Latin Sentence Patterns

In our Latin Club, we use the Latin for Children curriculum from Classical Academic Press. In level A, the children learn chants for sentence patterns that they can use to start translating and easily creating Latin sentences. Here's a song I wrote about the sentence patterns to help the kids remember them, and just for fun!

Here's the link to the video on YouTube.

What’s the Deal with Sentences?

What’s the deal with Pattern A?
What does SNV mean?
Like “Sweep no vents” or “See no views” Or “Steal no victories”?
SN stands for “Subject noun”
And V for action verb.
So SNV is pattern A
Now you’ve heard the word.

So “Vir intrat” and “Vir Mutat” and then “Viri pugnant”
“Magister clamat” and then “Magister ambulat”

What’s the deal with Pattern B?
A linking verb like sum, “to be”
Connects two nouns together
The subject and the predicate
Are linked and then equated
I’m a girl(boy) and you’re a boy(girl),
With pattern B we state it.

So “Filii sunt amicae” and “Marcus est amicus”
“Dominus est socius” and “Servus est filius”

What’s the deal with Pattern C?
It’s just the same as Pattern B
Except for one small way
In the predicate we see
An adjective is waiting
To be linked with the subject noun,
In Pattern C relating.

So “Vir est bonus” “Vir est malus” “Viri sunt ignoti”
“Magistra est antiqua” “Discipuli sunt novi”

Enjoy! Here's the video:

Arma Virumque Cano: A Song to Teach The Aeneid in Latin

I Sing of Arms and the Man

Link to the video on YouTube.
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus,
I sing of arms and the man who came from Troy to Italy
Exiled by fate, that’s what I’m singing.

Laviniaque, venit litora, multum
ille et terris iactatus et alto Vi
superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram;

I sing of arms and the man who came from Troy to Italy
Exiled by fate, that’s what I’m singing.
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam fato profugus.

Multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem,
inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum,
Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae.

I sing of arms and the man who came from Troy to Italy
exiled by fate, that’s what I’m singing
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam fato profugus

Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso,
quidve dolens, regina deum tot volvere casus
insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores
impulerit. Tantaene animis caelestibus irae?

I sing of arms and the man who came from Troy to Italy
exiled by fate, that’s what I’m singing
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam fato profugus

I use this song to teach the first twelve lines of the Aeneid in Latin to our Latin club and also to my Aeneid literature class. Who says The Aeneid can't be a country song? Italy is a country.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Book Arts Bash 2010: Why Teach a Child to Write a Novel?

In encouraging a child to write a novel, you're not just asking them to produce a book. You're promoting several important benefits in their education, and in their development as a person. Writing a novel, for kids and teens, really has very little to do with the final product, you see. While their books are fantastic and we love to read them, the true purpose of writing at this age is not to create the Next Big Book that will bring the publishing industry to its knees. It's all about the process, and kids learn much from the process of writing a novel. It's why we love NaNoWriMo. It's why I wrote my curriculum, "How to Teach a Child to Write a Novel." It's why I encourage my own kids to get their ideas into stories, their stories onto paper, to share with the world.

Firstly, children work out ideas and dreams in their novels, trying out different identities, exploring fantasies, and toying with systems and situations they may have run into in real life. A work of fiction is a giant "What if?" and it's a safe place to postulate. My son Benny created, for example, a "little brother" character in his novel. This kid was invested with all the sass, defiance, naughty behavior, and arrogance that he himself is not allowed to exhibit. The character, "Duane," was constantly in trouble, a permanent drain on his mother's patience. I could sense the glee that Benny was experiencing while writing Duane, and while it was hilarious I also thought it was useful. In writing the mother character as well, he was putting himself in the position of both parent and child, and in expressing this relationship, he understood better the way our relationship sometimes works.

Second, children (or adults) who write novels become better readers. A person who picks up a brush and begins to put paint on a canvas instantly knows about painting - the brush strokes, the paint consistency, the composition of a painting - on a much deeper level than they could have by just looking at art. In the same way, someone who has written, or even attempted to write, a novel reads novels with a new understanding of their construction. They watch movies differently. They construct their anecdotes differently. Once they've been taught about plot, climax, character goals, significant objects in the setting, and the rest of it, they see the books they're reading in a different way -- they're reading as insiders now, privy to all that information that only writers know, and appreciative of the effort and dedication that goes into writing a book.

Finally, a child who has written a novel has put his feet on a very elevated path. Having entered this elite "club" of novel-writers, he or she stands next to greats like Woolf, Faulkner, Asimov, Morrison, and Joyce. Writing a novel is one of the grand things you can do, as a person in this modern world, like running a marathon or scaling a mountain. It's an item on lots of people's list of things to do before they die, and doing such a large thing at such a young age gives an enormous sense of accomplishment. A kid should feel, stamping "THE END" onto the final page of a long hard effort, that having written a novel, he or she can accomplish anything.

For these reasons, and for the fun of it, Sherene and I put together the Book Arts Bash, a writing contest for homeschooled authors, where we hoped to encourage young novelists by taking their efforts seriously, and putting their work on the desks of real authors, agents, and editors. We recruited judges from the top tiers of the publishing industry: Sara Gruen, Holly Black, Joshilyn Jackson, Karen Abbott, and more. We offered a top prize of $100 in each grade group, and critiques from literary agents from the top three. It has been an astonishing success, and here are the results:

Kindergarten and First Grade:

A Big Problem by Brianna T.
Runners up:
Adventures of Big D and BMC by Emma W.
Zoo With A Strange Zookeeper by Vivian L.

Second and Third Grade:

The Adventures of Blue Flame the Heroic Giant Squid-Fighting Hero by Sage M.
Runners Up:
Ruby, A Twisting Tale by Emilie M.
Mittens the Cat by Melea von T.

Fourth and Fifth Grade:

1 by Nicci M.
Runners up:
One Girl Revolution by Sadie Z.
Blaze by Alexandra S.

Sixth Grade:

The Princess by Lena G.
Runners up:
Becoming Callie by Lena G.
Trixie by Lydia A.

Seventh Grade:

Happy Ending is a Place by Mandy H.
Runners up:
Violet Fire by Bryn B.
Kite by Hannah S.

Eighth Grade:

Hollin by Garrett R.
Runners up:
Common Animals by Thomas B.
Little Angel by Adayla S.

Ninth Grade:

Why I Missed the Second Set by Rose C.
Runners up:
Untitled by Larissa S.
Tales of the Humbats: The Seventh Piece by Raven M.

Tenth Grade:

Children of the Stars by Holden M.
Runners up:
Shattering Darkness by Vienna H.
The Scouser Cap by Emily V.

Eleventh Grade:

Cadence by Scout G.
Runners up:
Vengeance: 25 cents by Kathleen M.
Don't Look Down by Tanya S

Twelfth Grade:

If Pearls Could Sing by Pamela C.
Runners up:
Broken Things by Emily D.
Falling Night by Anna W.

Big thank you to our generous sponsors:

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Shurley Grammar: A grammar curriculum that takes your child from first through seventh grade, using drills and jingles to teach writing skills (and also reading skills!) along the way. A trusted name in home education, Shurley will not steer you wrong.

Classical Academic Press: If you're contemplating teaching Latin or Greek in your homeschool, you definitely need this system. With audio, video, fun activities, and online Latin games, as well as standard workbooks and quizzes, anyone can teach Latin.

Prufrock Press: Parents of gifted children often have difficulty finding work that will challenge their kids' abilities while still being fun. Prufrock's gifted education materials are a godsend. Kids see them as a treat!

Explode the Code: Many of us have used Explode the Code workbooks with our kids and enjoyed the progressive phonics curriculum. Now Explode the Code has launched an online version, taking their reading education to a whole new level.

Can you help us by republishing the results and sponsor links on your blog, supporting homeschooled writers and this novel-writing contest? Please email us or leave a comment to let us know you can help. We need twenty blogs to participate. Would you donate a post on yours? You can use this text file to copy and paste into your blog editing software. Right click to download.