The Best of TED – 7 Great Talks of Ideas Worth Spreading

The Best of TED

TED carries the catch-phrase ‘ideas worth spreading’ and provides a platform for some of the very best thinkers around the globe to communicate something that they believe will challenge and inspire others.  Twice a year TED hosts two conferences in which TED talks pass on a wealth of knowledge and ideas in no more than 18 minutes.

Some of the talks are inspiring, beautiful, and creative.  Others are informative, full of knowledge or communicate an innovative idea or invention.

I wanted to share some of my most favourites with you.  I hope you find something here that will inspire and move you.

  1. Sir Ken Robinson: Schools Kill Creativity
  2. Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth – visualized
  3. Lisa Bu: How Books can open your mind
  4. Jamie Oliver: Teach Your Child About Food
  5. Jill Bolte Taylor: Stroke of Insight
  6. Dr. Terry Wahls: Minding Your Mitochondria
  7. William Li: Can we eat to starve cancer?

Are there any TED talks that you have enjoyed?  Please share!

Introducing Solids to Your Baby

Introducing solids to your baby v2 small

I’ve sure come a long way on introducing solids since I began this parenting gig almost 10 years ago.  By the time my third child came around to this stage, the processed crackers and store-bought biscuits were history, and instead I was making homemade blends of vegetables cooked in stock and taking a careful, considered approach to how and when foods were introduced.

So here are some things I’d like to pass on that I hope will help you as you put together your plan.

Why Organic?

The most important thing for our family is that we choose only organic foods for these reasons:

  • More nutrition
  • No harmful chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other toxic residues.
  • Free from additives and GE-free

If buying organic food is a stretch for feeding your whole family, consider buying organic food just for your baby, as the quantities are small enough that you shouldn’t notice much of a change to your overall grocery bill.  It’s just worth the investment to give your baby a head start to optimum health.

When to Introduce Foods

I introduce single foods and watch for any reaction over a few days before introducing the next one.  I also prefer to cook vegetables in homemade broths/stocks.

Here’s the basic plan I’ve followed, give or take a few compromises here or there.

4m + (minimal solids; ie. 1-2t per day)

  • Egg yolk
  • Mashed banana
  • Avocado

6-8m (single foods to start with, then gradually introduce blends, as well as meat and oil)

  • Cooked vegetables: sweet potato, carrots, parsnip, beetroot
  • Raw pureed fruits: pear, banana, avocado, apple
  • Cooked fruits: apple, dried apricots, peach, plum
  • Meat: Cooked and pureed lamb, beef, chicken
  • Broths: added to meat and vegetable blends
  • Oils: coconut and olive oil

9-12m

  • Homemade casserole/stew
  • Vegetable soups
  • Cooked vegetables: broccoli, peas
  • Dried fruits (small amounts): dates, raisins (soaked and blended in with other fruit)
  • Cooked berries (if tolerated)
  • Slowly introduce tastes such as ginger, garlic, onion, spices
  • A little of the juice from homemade fermented vegetables mixed with food

We introduced certain types of dairy slowly about this stage, such as kefir and yoghurt and a little butter, as our baby appeared intolerant to dairy from when he was a few weeks old (eg. nappy rash, green poop, unsettled when lying flat, reaction would occur about 4 hours after I’d eaten any).  We did a little cheese with him about 11 months.  We don’t do store-bought skim versions of any dairy with all our children.

Avoid until after 12m and then introduce slowly and one at a time:

  • White potatoes
  • Leafy greens
  • All grains and legumes (babies do not have enough digestive enzymes to handle them)
  • Citrus fruit and tomatoes
  • Nuts
  • Honey
  • Egg whites
  • Raw berries (pectin can upset tummies)

More Information

Bear in mind, this is all just a guide based on what’s worked for us.  You might have a different set of needs to consider for your little one.

Once you have your plan, print it off and keep on the fridge or somewhere handy to refer to easily.

All the best to you as you help give your baby a great start in life!

Victoria

Best ‘Ancient’ and ‘Middle Ages’ Historical Reads {Elementary Level}

Best Ancient and Middle Ages Reads

History is by far our favourite subject, and I’m always on the look-out for great titles to add to our homeschool library. We are working our way through Ancient History at the moment, and gearing up to study the Middle Ages in a few months time.

This list below has some historical fiction, and I’ve also included titles where the historical setting paints a wonderful picture of what life was like during that time period. I’ve also included some really great biographies.

If you click on the link, you will likely find the approximate age level and also some reviews on the content itself. I haven’t read all of these books myself, but have read reviews online to determine whether they meet the ‘living book’ criteria for our family. I’m fairly confident they are good picks, but make sure you read reviews to determine if they’re the right fit for your family. Many of these will be on the next round of our 4-year history cycle, particularly those that have philosophies and worldviews that are much different from our own.

Ancient (5000BC to 400 AD)

Fiction

Biographies

The Middle Ages (400-1600)

Fiction

Biographies

I hope you find some great reads here.  If you’re about to take a break from school for the summer, you might just be able to inspire your elementary aged children to keep learning through the break. 😉

If I’ve missed any great titles, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

Victoria

 

 

A Week of Homeschooling with a Reluctant Learner

Working with my Reluctant Learner

We are back into our second term of the year this week, having had 2 weeks off any formal learning in our home. My almost 5 year old is writing well for her age, and is very hands-on with her learning. We’re not in any rush to have her sitting at the table for long periods of time, but it does help to have all the kids in the same area doing some sort of structured activities, including the younger ones.

I can’t just sit my preschooler down with activity books to go through like I did with my first child. She’d rather get her hands involved in something messy and creative.

This week she announced that she did not like school and would not be doing anything this week. Rather than ruin her love of learning by insisting she do what I had planned (which I thought was all fun stuff!), I asked her what she wanted to do.

‘The Sound of Music’ and nothing else, was the reply I was given.

Reluctant learner paper dolls

By the end of the week, the paper doll folder had enjoyed plenty of use

So here’s how our week of ‘not school’ looked:

  • We found these beautiful paper dolls of the characters from ‘The Sound of Music’ and she spent about 3 hours on the first day just cutting them out and getting to know them;
  • We found an Edelweiss flower online, as no-one around here knew what Edelweiss even meant.
  • We did our own version of this lollipop art in the style of Austrian architect and artist Hunderwasser (everyone joined in for this one)
  • We did a colouring page of ‘The Tree of Life’ by Austria artist Gustav Klimt
  • We looked up Austria on our markable world map
  • We learned how to yodel and watched some great YouTube clips of young girls yodelling.
  • We had Weiner schnitzel (with beef though, not veal) and apple strudel for dinner one night (I made homemade pastry which probably wasn’t as authentic, but at least it was healthier!)
  • We started a ‘Sound of Music’ book at my daughter’s insistence, which has different words for her to trace over and copy.
  • We listened to some music by Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
  • We looked at photos of Austrian landmarks online, especially the Danube River and the Alps.
  • We read about Austria in every book I could find on our shelves, including historical costumes, how children of the world live, and general country facts.

Hunderwasser art (this one is actually my older daughter’s one, as the silver came out better in the photos)

Reluctant learner

The Tree of Life colouring page – a work in progress

This week coming, I plan on easing in a few things we were doing before the holidays, including a few minutes of her reading to me, and some early maths activities. We’ll finish our Sound of Music book, and then next week’s theme is ballet, since there’s much excitement about the upcoming show that the girls are both in.  So we’ll be doing this great free ballerina preschool activity pack.  (Here are the rest of Carisa’s free preschool packs).

But no schoolwork involved, right? 😉

How do you manage to keep learning fun in your homeschool?

~ Victoria

Reluctant learner homemade book

The beginnings of the Sound of Music copywork book. I have written in some words for my preschooler to trace and then copy.

 

Comforting A Friend Through Miscarriage

Comforting a Friend Through Miscarriage

This one is a subject close to my heart, having walked this journey twice before, and some of you will have too.  My best friend and her husband recently lost their little one, and it has freshened up those emotions again that never really go away completely.  As I’ve seen her courageously walk through this, my heart has ached for her grief, yet also rejoiced in the life that she carried for a short but significant time.  You are eternally changed!

I remember some of those things that were said to us that were so affirming and encouraging, and some of the others that, although well intended, just deepened the pain.

The estimate on how often a miscarriage takes place is usually either one in every four, or one in every five pregnancies.  Despite how common a miscarriage may appear, it can be a life-altering experience, and the loss bears its affects both physically and emotionally.

Let’s call it what it is: a miscarriage is the death of a child.  It is not merely a failed pregnancy, or nature simply taking its course.  Whether you’re 4 weeks along or much further, the loss is no less significant.  As with any loss, grief is something that is personal and different for each person.  You’ve also lost the hopes and dreams that you have carried for your child, regardless of the length of your pregnancy.

If you have other children, you may find that holding them helps to find a resting place for your love and longing, but they don’t replace the child you’ve lost.

A decade has passed from my first loss (of two), and yet still it has a deep and immovable effect on my heart.  I’m forever changed.

I look back on those experiences, and I’m grateful for the love and support we were given by those around us.  Not everyone knew how to help us or what to say.  For those that lose earlier on in their pregnancy, speaking about their loss carries some risk as not everyone will respond with a level of compassion or understanding.

Can I offer some suggestions as to how you can help comfort a friend through their loss?

What To Say

  • “I’m so sorry for your loss”.
  • “I’m praying for you”.
  • “I’m here for you”.
  • “How are you feeling today?”
  • “What do you need from me?”
  • “It’s OK to feel the way you do”.

What To Do

  • Be available to listen
  • Be patient with where your friend is at, and how long it may take to walk through their loss
  • Send cards, flowers, and words of acknowledgement for your friend’s loss
  • Drop off a meal and/or some groceries
  • Offer to help with housework or children
  • Send a text saying your thinking of them, but don’t expect a reply back.
  • Remember the first anniversary

What NOT To Say

  • “You’ll have other pregnancies”.
  • “When will you try again?”
  • “Try not to think about it”.
  • “At least you weren’t too far along”.
  • “You have your other children that you can focus your attention on instead”.

The thing that touched me more than anything, was when people used my babies names, and acknowledged them as precious and valued lives.

I also found the the simplest words, kindest gesture, and the ongoing words of love as time went on, were the most significant and helpful as I journeyed through our loss.  Sometimes people got philosophical, or tried to say too much, and it often made the pain worse.  If you don’t know what to say, simply say “I’m so sorry for your loss”.  If you don’t know how to help, just ask.  Be prepared if your friend doesn’t want to talk about it, or perhaps doesn’t want to hear about what is happening in your life just at that moment.

Just love them, listen to them, and offer yourself to be and do whatever they need.  Pray for the Father surround them with His presence, and be His hands and feet in their life.

Even if you don’t understand or can’t identify with your friends journey, you can still lovingly help them as they walk out their loss and grief in the days and weeks ahead.

Be blessed,

Victoria

Psalm 139 hwh

 

Magazines for the Whole Family

Magazines for the whole family

Here are a handful of my favourite magazines for some whole family reading.  I love to sit down in the quiet with a magazine and flick through short articles on all kinds of different things.  It’s definitely one of my favourite ways to re-charge.

HOMEMAKING

Seasons at Home

This is a great read that seeks to minister to homemakers and their families by providing encouragement for mothers, homemaking tips, DIY projects, homeschooling, recipes, crafts and more.

From Scratch

From-Scratch-April-May-2014-CoverWeb‘From Scratch’ is a free bi-monthly online magazine for the modern homesteader and for living life simply.  You’ll pick up heaps of great ideas for your home on gardening, food, DIY projects, homemade products and more.

HOMESCHOOLING

Answers

Creation scienceAnswers is the Creation Science magazine published by ‘Answers in Genesis’, and reaches 200,000 homes each quarter.  It’s packed full of relevant articles on the latest creation science news while also having an apologetics and theological perspective through which to understand culture.  While I don’t share all of Ken Ham’s theology in its entirety, I so appreciate the solid science and his dedication to defending a creation science worldview through the written word.

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

TOSThe Old Schoolhouse Magazine is a free online magazine by The Old Schoolhouse that is packed full of homeschool encouragement and resources.   Read my review here.  They also publish a print version, which for 2014 has over 300 pages of homeschool goodness. I have a copy in my hands which I’m still not finished.  This edition features Deborah Wuehler, Todd Wilson, Heidi St. John, Andrew Pudewa and many other homeschool greats, including my talented online friend Bonnie Rose Hudson who is completely fantastic.

Nature Friend

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

Nature Friend is a creation-based children’s nature magazine for the whole family to enjoy.  There is opportunity for your children to submit different contributions as well.  This is one we haven’t gotten ourselves yet but plan to at some stage in future.

FAITH

Voice of the Martyrs

We have joined the mailing list for the NZ branch of ‘Voice of the Martyrs’ and they send out a magazine a few times a year with the latest news and ways to partner with this mission.  I wholeheartedly recommend supporting their ministry if you have a heart for the oppressed and persecuted.  Visit the US website or NZ website for more information.

Relevant

Relevant

Relevant is another magazine that I haven’t physically had in my hands yet but I’ve been enjoyed the articles online for some time, plus some of the worship sessions that have been recorded by Relevant.  The magazine is targeted at the 20 and 30-something age group, and covers topics of ‘faith, culture and intentional living’.  The digital magazine is free to view, and the print version is a very small $6 for 6 months.

FOR CHILDREN

Answers for Kids

kids-answers-092

Answers for Kids is the children’s magazine from Answers in Genesis, and contains just 8 pages that fold out, with a theme each time that fills the pages.

God’s World News

gwnews24We subscribed to this super magazine last year and even with the international postage it’s still incredible value for a monthly magazine for each of my children.  The different editions cater for different age groups, and cover the same content but age appropriately.  This is definitely one of our favourite homeschool resources.

** Update on ‘God’s World News’ – the magazine have decided to halve the number of print editions per year from 10 down to 5, and in the month’s between your child will receive an e-mail instead.  There are less print edition options also.  The cost remains the same.  In my opinion, this is no longer the fantastic value that was offered before so I no longer recommend it, but you might still decide it’s worth it for your family.  **

Do you have any favourites?

Victoria

Favourite Homeschool Curriculum for Elementary Ages

Favourite Homeschool Curriculum pin

In our 5 years homeschooling, we have used a number of approaches and curriculum options. In the beginning, I went for a complete package in its entirety from Sonlight. But over the years, I’ve customised more and more, as I’ve gotten to know each of my children more, I’ve found my own rhythm in managing our little home school, and I’ve also continued to evaluate and prioritise our learning goals as a family.

The following are my favourite curriculum choices, some of which we’ve yet to purchase and others that we regularly use. I’ve also included some that we won’t be using anytime soon, but I still consider them great choices.

I’ve spent many hours over the years researching and looking for the best fit for our family, so I hope my searching benefits your family also.

HISTORY

Story of the World (4 volumes) –is written by a Christian author (although not a Christian curriculum) and takes a chronological approach to presenting the history of the world. The volumes progress in difficulty, and it is intended you start with the first volume and work your way through the subsequent volumes in chronological order (which is the Classical approach to history). We love the narrative style, and the accompanying student workbook has just the right variety and amount of work and activities to bring history alive and help with your child retaining what they have learned.

SOTW Vol 2

Mystery of History – is a chronological and Christian text of complete world history, also four volumes, and weaves world history and bible history together into a complete story. It is also Classical in style, and seeks to tell the story of God as revealed through history.

M of H Vol 1

Homeschool in the Woods – is by far our favourite place to purchase complete lap books/project packs (on CD or downloaded), and are comprehensive enough to use on their own, or to supplement other history programs. The products range from composer and artist packs, world history, US history, and incredible timeline resources. I strongly encourage you to take a look at the samples and consider adding these incredible resources to your homeschool.

HITW Old Testament (3) sm

GEOGRAPHY

WinterPromise – have a number of themed programs (amongst other subjects), and also some smaller downloadable studies on their sister site, Spirited Autumn Hope. The one I want to mention is Children Around the World, which has a unique way of understanding geography through looking at how children of the world live. It is more than just a geography-based program, and includes activities and learning ideas, timeline activities, and a Prayer and Personal Involvement Journal that encourages your child into faith and action.

Children_of_Many_Lands

Geography Songs: Sing Around the World – has the countries of the world set to some catchy music to learn them, with an accompanying book and markable world map. This is still a favourite of ours.

Geography Songs

Globalmania – is a free downloadable course to learn the countries, capitals, major cities, mountains, rivers, and more. It is a full-year curriculum, designed to be completed in 7 months, and utilises online games and activities as part of reinforcing what your child learns.

Globalmania

BIBLE AND CHARACTER

Apologia ‘Who is God series’ – this has been our favourite discipleship resource so far. This series gives a solid scriptural foundation to the Christian faith, using real life illustrations and a student workbook, and achieves exactly what it sets out to do. Because of our values and theological emphasis, we still add in other resources to give a balanced approach to our discipleship program.

Who is God

Homeschool in the Woods – Also mentioned above under history, Homeschool in the Woods do Old Testament and New Testament Activity Packs which are a fantastic hands-on learning experience, with great content as well.

HITW Old Testament (5) sm

What’s in the Bible DVDs – From the Creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer has put together these fantastic DVDs that introduce children to every book of the bible. The content is comprehensive but not too overwhelming for children. We just love these!

Whats in the bible

ENGLISH/LANGUAGE ARTS (including Spelling)

Writing with Easethis has been one of our mainstays since the beginning, and we love the living and ‘whole’ literature passages chosen to learn comprehensive, narration, dictation and copywork.

Writing with Ease

Handwriting Without Tearsanother mainstay in our home, I now have two very different learners loving these books and asking to do them. These books teach handwriting from Pre-K through to 5th Grade, both manuscript and cursive, and early on children use a slate board, playdough, wooden pieces, music, and other multi-sensory methods of learning their letters.

HWT

All About Spellingour favourite spelling program, All About Spelling uses the phonics method and also a multi-sensory approach to learning spelling (tiles, writing, and colour-coded flash cards, and phonograms CD-Rom or app). It never feels like work for us, and it’s one of the favoured subjects in our house to learn because it’s so hands-on and the results are evident immediately.

AAS

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessonswe’ve just started this bumper book with my pre-schooler, who loves the time with me and loves to run her finger across the line. It is so detailed that you only have to read what’s there (although I find a cut a few corners). So far, this little experiment is working well!

Teach your child to read

MATHS

Math-U-Seewe have stuck with this program simply because it covers everything so well (using the mastery approach) and comes highly recommended from all my favourite curriculum sites. It has a teaching DVD, teacher’s manual, and student workbook. It’s my eldest child’s least favourite subject and I’m not sure if any maths program would achieve a different result – she’d much rather be doing something arty or reading! For now, I’m confident that it will be our choice of program and cover all the bases we need.

MathUSee

Life of Fredcurrently on our wishlist, the Life of Fred series is written by a retired maths teacher who wanted to bring maths alive to children through the story of a genius child named Fred. Some parents use them as standalone maths curriculum, but based on reviews I’ve read, we’ve going to use these to supplement our current program. It is recommended to go through the entire series from the start, even if your child is at a higher level. I’ll keep you posted on what we think of these once they’re in our hands.

Life of Fred

SCIENCE

Apologia Young Explorers SeriesWe are in our third year of using these books and are continually impressed by how great the content is, and how much our children enjoy using them. They are written from a creation science perspective, and take an immersion approach to science, focusing on one subject in depth for the course of the year (eg. astronomy, zoology). The Notebooking Journals are optional, but in my opinion they make it into a ‘whole’ curriculum for the year.

Apologia Young Explorers

FINE ARTS

See the Lightthis is a hands-on, art technique DVD series, teaching the basics, blending, proportion, texture, and much more. The CDs can be purchased individually or as a complete set.

see the light

Artistic Pursuits – we love this approach to learning art, through art history, art appreciation and hands-on skills. We have sometimes jumped around with the lessons, if there is one that particular week that goes along with our history (eg. Greek pottery). A little pricey, but a really unique and beautiful resource.

That’s about all I have space for in this post – if we’re talking curriculum I could go on for a while! Please let me know your favourite curriculum and resources – I’m an open book!

Artistic Pursuits

Victoria

PS.  Here’s a full run-down of what we are using for the 2014 year (January-December)

Our 2014 Curriculum sm

Read some of the other Favourite Curriculum Choices of the TOS Crew:
curriculum-choicesThis post uses some affiliate links.

Our ‘Back to Eden Garden’ Progress – One Year On

 

Back to Eden Garden pin

For the past 12 months, we’ve adopted a method of gardening, sometimes called the ‘no dig’ method, and more recently popularised by the super documentary ‘Back to Eden’, which is free to view online.

With summer just behind us and the cooler months approaching, I thought it would be a good opportunity to pass on how we’ve done over the last 6 months.

In all honesty, the weekends have been so filled with other activity since Christmas that our little garden has been somewhat neglected. We just let the summer months roll by, and enjoyed the produce that came from it, when really we should have continued with the relatively small amount of maintenance that it needed to thrive.

So I’ll pass on some things we’ve learned in this process, and the how we’re moving forward from here.

Soil

Fresh wood chips

Fresh wood chips

It’s all about the covering, right? What we really needed to continue with, was adding cover on top of the existing wood chips. Because we didn’t start from scratch initially, we couldn’t just heap 6 inches of cover on top of our existing plants. So we put down compost first, then added wood chips on the top but not at a thickness that was going to produce the kind of results we wanted. Decomposing just takes time – there’s no rushing nature!

Our wood chips have been decomposing nicely, but we have needed to keep adding fresh wood chips on the top. The other thing the garden could greatly benefit from is some chicken manure or similar.

Remember how Paul suggests you put in a garden? Newspaper first, then compost, wood chips and manure on the top. Have a read and watch of this on the Back to Eden website on covering.

Our plan is to source some wood chips locally (we had bought them in from out of town) and keep a supply elsewhere in our back yard. This way, we can keep the garden replenished. We also want to make use of living on the coast and collect up some seaweed from the beach to use on the garden. I’ve been told by a local veteran gardener that it’s the trick to the hugest and juiciest strawberries. Here’s a great write-up on why to use seaweed.

In the meantime, last weekend we put some fresh mulch on top of our existing wood chips, and will keep doing this through the winter months.

Weeds

Our weeds have definitely decreased significantly. But as we slackened on the cover, there are patches in our garden where there is little cover and some weeds have come up. Because we’ve had the wood chips and it has lessened the weeds, it probably lulled us into a false sense of security as we didn’t feel the need to tend to the garden!  We’re paying for it now, as we’re having to put some work in. But we’re happy with getting through a long hot summer with not too much that’s sprouted.

Plant Health

You can see from this photo, we have way too much clay and not enough decomposed wood chips underneath.

You can see from this photo, we have way too much clay and not enough decomposed wood chips underneath.

Again, because our soil health has needed some attention, namely some manure and/or nutrients, some of our leafy greens were a little woody instead of being juicy with water. The outside leaves particularly, and that is where we had some problems with insects or clusters of insect eggs. The inner, juicy leaves were insect free, even those exposed to the air. It just goes to show that the principles do work if you actually use them.

Harvest

We enjoyed plenty of summer harvest through the warm months, including different varieties of tomatoes, spinach, squash, and towards the end, pumpkins and butternuts. Next year, we’ll be better at preparing for the upcoming season and planning ahead. We still have time to get seedlings in for the winter, but it will be from seedlings we purchase from the garden store and not our own seeds.

Lessons Learned from Our First Year

Our little garden with the remains of summer's growth

Our little garden with the remains of summer’s growth

  • The soil is a living organism. We need to remember to continue to replenish the cover and check that the soil underneath is damp and rich.
  • While transitioning our garden to this method, we need to still water sometimes through dryer periods until there is adequate nourished soil underneath our wood chips.
  • Healthy soil makes for healthy plants, and less weed and insect problems.
  • Manure and sea weed are great for ongoing soil health!

In 6 months time, I hope to tell you that we’ve found a rhythm to keeping our garden maintained and healthy!

Finally, whether you’ve watched Back to Eden or not just yet, have a read of this great article on ‘How to Grow a ‘Back to Eden’ Garden’. Tell me what you think!

You might also be interested in my other posts on No-Dig Gardening.

Heroes and Heroines of the Past – American History Curriculum {Review}

Heroes and Heroines pinDigital ‘Heroes and Heroines of the Past’: American History Curriculum is a 30-week curriculum by Golden Prairie Press covering American History from the year 1000 to the present, and is geared towards 1st to 6th Graders (ages 6-11) .

Self-taught historian and author Amy Puetz is a homeschool graduate and has a contagious love for history. She has written a number of history books and loves to bring history alive for Christian families, particularly in ways that highlight role models in history past.

I had the opportunity these past few weeks to use and review the digital download version of ‘Heroes and Heroines of the Past: An American History Curriculum’. We haven’t studied American History before, so I loved that this was a complete package, and that it also covered the time period from the earliest people to the present.

Aged paper with homemade quill and berry ink.  My daughter wanted to write the first paragraph of 'Dixie'.

Aged paper with homemade quill and berry ink. My daughter wanted to write the first paragraph of ‘Dixie’.

What it Contains

The digital download product contains the following components:

  • Heroes and Heroines of the PastPart One (1000-1837) – 388 pages
  • Heroes and Heroines of the PastPart Two (1837-present) – 408 pages
  • Historical Skits E-Book – a 50 page book containing 19 plays to perform
  • Additional Materials – a collection of supplementary materials
  • Listen to some history – an audio collection of speeches, poems and sermons
  • Sing some history – listen and learn some of the songs mentioned in the two main e-books

There are optional literature books (sold separately), and most the supplies needed you will most likely have. Previewing the upcoming activities will ensure you are prepared for anything else. We used our existing timeline book, but there is also a printable timeline if you don’t already have one.

The ‘Additional Materials’ also contain colouring pages, videos, historical artwork and more that is designed to supplement the main reading text.

Historical art writing exercise.

Historical art writing exercise.

How the Lessons are Structured

Most lessons have two sections containing the same information but for two levels. The first section is for 1st-2nd Grades with approximately a page of easier-to-read text and larger font. The second section is for 3rd to 6th which has more detail.

At the end of each lesson, there are a number of questions to see what your child has retained, and some different activities each lesson such as writing topics, geography and maps related to that lesson, historical art (with questions), models to construct, and skits to perform. There are prompts in the main text as to when the ‘Additional Materials’ CD contains further resources to enhance the lesson’s reading.

Viking long boat made from playdough

Viking long boat made from playdough

How We Used It

The lessons took on average between 20m and an hour, depending on what additional activities we completed after the reading. Usually I sat my daughter in front of the computer and she read herself, other days I read to her so we could be involved together.

We supplemented with some history books we already own on the period of discovery, but these are not necessary. We just love to sit and read together and take whatever opportunity we can to delve a little deeper.

Columbus Coat of Arms

Columbus Coat of Arms

My Thoughts on the Curriculum

There is no doubt that the content is thorough, well-written, pitched perfectly for the age range, and a fantastic introduction for us to American history. For such a wide span of history, Amy has done a superb job of highlighting the best of history, and choosing key characters and events to give an overview of American history. The inclusion of scriptures to memorise, examining historical art, extra activities such as cooking and making models, plus the variety of different audios to listen to, gives the feeling of a ‘whole’ history learning experience that will appeal to all styles of learning.  I especially loved the illustrations.

I read both the main e-books through and found the writing style engaging and enjoyable, even as an adult, and looked forward to discovering the continuing story as I read each lesson.

Aztec writing

Aztec writing

Download vs Physical Product

We really love to sit down cuddled up and read history aloud together. Reading from a screen isn’t quite the same as sitting in close on the couch with book in hand. So I tended towards letting my daughter sit in front of the computer by herself and learn independently, which meant we didn’t enjoy the learning experience together quite the same as we would if we were huddled together closely on the couch, with the little ones at our feet with their own activities.

Granted, this is purely just our family’s preference, and you may find in the digital age that you are happy with downloading to your device and just as free to have a ‘normal’ reading experience from a screen. I only mention it as part of our experience.

Sorting seeds from cotton

Sorting seeds from cotton

A Word on Worldviews

History is written from many perspectives, and every author brings their own worldview to the writing. Being outside of an American worldview, I noticed in the course of reading some differences in the re-telling that stood out as different from my own worldview (which is that of a New Zealander with European heritage).

I note this not to point out shortcomings in a very well-written curriculum, but rather to make you aware that as your child works their way through the reading, you might want to bring your own guidance to tailor your learning accordingly. This means you’ll have to preview it yourself! This is a good idea to do with any history you introduce to your young children, as authors will paint a picture with only what they have in their ‘toolbox’ so to speak!

At times I noticed the American-centred emphasis and worldview quite obviously coming through, with the narration of history being told from this perspective. I also found sometimes the English people were painted as less noble or impressive than other nations of the time. For certain, some Englishmen in history have made some bad choices, but the achievements and admirable things (such as the spreading of the gospel) were downplayed or omitted in favour of noting inconsequential things such as: “The French got along very well with the natives. They did not cut down forests as the English did” (p43). Or this: “England did not want Spain to get all the glory and treasures of the newly discovered land, so in 1497, King Henry VII hired a Genoese sailor named John Cabot to explore the western ocean” (p27) – this is more of an interpretation than historical fact. They are subtle points, but are there nonetheless.

Here are a few more examples:

  • The text read: ‘…Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America’ (p22) despite the fact that there were already people living in America so it had already been discovered – just not by white men.
  • The re-telling of the Spanish Armada in 1588 gave the perspective of English pirates plundering the Spanish ships as the reason for this battle, but made no mention of the religious background to this scene which I believe is fundamentally tied to the reason for the battle; ie. Catholic Spain wanted to rid England of the Protestant religion, continuing the conflict from when Philip II of Spain and his wife Queen Mary I of England, both devout Catholics, sought to bring Catholicism back into England (30 years previously).  The Spanish initiated war on England but it had been brewing for many years.
  • One of the study questions reads: “Why is individual ownership of land better than communal living?” (p70), which assumes upfront that this is a fact, rather than asking the student to consider the benefits in both or setting a context as to why individual ownership was better at this time and situation.

I realise this might sound nip-picky of me, or that I’m putting an unnecessary expectation or standard on an elementary history curriculum, so let me say it like this – when lots of minor inferences and interpretations in the text get put together, they start to paint an impression in the mind of the reader, and that’s what I found happening here at times.

But let me say again, the worldview differences don’t take away from the overall re-telling of this enjoyable read on 1000 years of American History. As your child matures they will enjoy many different accounts of history, sometimes conflicting and sometimes simply different angles and emphasis of the same historical facts. I encourage you to have these discussions with your children as you study history, and read other accounts of the same time period to discover how people record and retell events and people.

I definitely recommend this as a fantastic all-in-one resource package on American History, and you’ll find yourself swept up in the narrative as you read, and no doubt you’ll find yourself wanting to go off on rabbit trails and learn more about the different aspects that leave an impression on your children.

"Mexican" Hot Cocoa

“Mexican” Hot Cocoa

Pricing and Links

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Maestro Classics {A Review}

Maestro Classics review

Maestro Classics is a company that produces ‘Stories in Music’, a series of CDs that introduce children, ages 5-12, to classical music through stories.  The stories are engaging and educational and the music is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which Maestro Classics claims as being the ‘greatest recording orchestra in the world’.

The production and quality of these CD’s speak for themselves and they have previously won over 50 awards from top children’s reviewers.  The music is composed and conducted by Stephen Simon, and the stories narrated by Yadu (Dr Konrad Czynski).

About the Product

I had the opportunity to review the digital download versions of ‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’, and ‘My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music’.

Each CD (or MP3 download) has narration set to classical music, and other listening selections, designed to give your child a love for classical music and story-telling.  Maestro Classics write these three benefits of listening to stories in classical music, and I wholeheartedly agree:

  • Expand listening horizons;
  • Develop listening skills and accumulate musical memories;
  • Encourage adults and children to listen to music together.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (duration 51:14 minutes)

Mike Mulligan

‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’ is a timeless classic by Virginia Lee Burton.  The story of Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel MaryAnne is beautifully set to an orchestra and Irish pipes, with music composed and conducted by Maestro Classics own Stephen Simon.

Other selections in this include learning about the author Virginia Lee Burton, and how a composer creates a musical score.  After listening to how the music was composed, we listened again to identity and listen closely to the different instruments and sounds.  There is also a song to learn and sing along to.

The CD and download version also contains a24-page activity book with biographies, the words to the sing-along song, sheet music to the ‘Mike Mulligan’ song, information on the Irish pipes, and puzzles for children to do.

This CD/download is recommended for ages 4+.

My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music (duration 48:45 minutes)

My Name is Handel image

‘My Name is Handel’ is dedicated to the life of composer George Frideric Handel, with excerpts from his biography woven through some of his most famous pieces of music, ‘Water Music’ and ‘The Messiah’.

The narrator tells the story of German composer Handel who, while living in London, composed a suite of dances, hired a boat and musicians, and headed down the Thames River to surprise King George I.   The music became known as “Water Music,” one of Handel’s best-loved compositions. This section of the CD forms the largest component, at 38:09 minutes, with the remainder including short selections on the story and a sing-along song.

The CD and download version also contains a 24-page activity book with a biography of Handel, the history of the harpsichord and organ, words to the song, puzzles for children to do ,and other historical information.

This CD/download is recommended for ages 7+.

Who Would Enjoy ‘Maestro Classics’

Maestro classics selection 1

Classical music is well-documented and widely understood to be a significant tool for stimulating brain development.  Maestro Classics provide an entertaining and educational way of bringing the life in classical music into your home, perfectly coupled with story-telling.

If you are looking to bring opportunities into your homeschooling to develop musical appreciation through classical music and story-telling, this is by far the best resource I’ve come across to introduce and cultivate a love for both.

We listened a number of times as a family, and found that our younger children were not as interested at this stage (under 5) as they lacked the ability to sit still and listen for more than a few minutes.  My 8 year old however, enjoyed both these downloads.  So the suggested ages for both were our experience also!

Supplementary Material

Maestro Classics have also put together a well-thought out list of free Curriculum Guide’s to accompany each of the CD’s, with learning ideas for all subject areas: History, Science, Geography, Language Arts, Art, Music, and Math.

They also link up accompanying lapbooks which I’d like to try, sold by ‘A Journey Through Learning’, which you can find on their website under Educational Materials.

Pricing and Further Information

Pricing is as follows:

For further information, visit:

Don’t forget to look at the other great titles available – we are already looking at ‘Swan Lake’ as our next favourite. 🙂

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