How Many Countries Can You Name in 5 Minutes?

Here’s a fun little online challenge.  Type in as many countries as you can in 5 minutes and see how you compare to others!  This was harder than I thought.  I only got 39.  Egads!  I kept drawing a blank.  What a fun way to get kids thinking about countries.  🙂  Plus, they can read the full list and take it as many times as they like to improve their scores!

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Rethinking Teens

This article is really thought provoking!  The author asserts that teens are more like adults than children and that our culture is infantilizing them with our combination of overblown control, lack of responsibility, low expectations and high restrictions.

Here’s one bit that I thought was very relevant to homeschoolers:

Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense. Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become. When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world, which is not the world of Britney Spears, they have no idea what’s going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out.

He argues that teens should be given more rights and treated like adults — be able to marry, work, set up businesses, sign contracts, make their own medical decisions and so on…

Are you saying that teens should have more freedom?

No, they already have too much freedom—they are free to spend, to be disrespectful, to stay out all night, to have sex and take drugs. But they’re not free to join the adult world, and that’s what needs to change.

He goes on to say that treating them more like adults does not mean just piling on extra household responsibilities and chores.  They need to be given meaningful responsibilities tied to real rights.

The article concludes with a timeline of laws written to control teenagers and it was eye-opening seeing all of the recent laws concerning teens, restricting everything from piercings to mall access to being able to use the internet at public libraries.

It’s something to think about….

Ten Fun Ways We've Learned and Played Lately

With the end of summer we’ve been doing way more playing than schooling (even for us, when play usually finds a way to be educational!) but here’s a bit of what we’ve been doing…

1.  We’ve been hitting the local libraries lots and loading up on great books. Anna is devouring kiddie novels while Jack has been reading easy books to himself and I’ve been reading tons of picture books to both boys.  My current favorite is titled something like Louise: The Adventures of a Chicken about a chicken who runs off from the farmyard for worldly adventures when she gets bored.

2.  We did sheet painting.

3.  We’ve been having fun with Mouse, our new kitten.

(Can you tell I got my new camera???)

4.  We’ve been reading a “Blast from the Past” history read-aloud about Alexander Graham Bell. I’m not sure I could recommend this series with a good conscience since it is so insipid and dull (for this grown up, anyway) but the kids do enjoy hearing the books and they do learn some history.  And they’re free from the library and the only series like this that I’ve found there!  🙂

5.  Our butterfly emerged and we released her/him (Jeanne, how do you tell from the spots again?) in the back yard.


6.  Daryl has taken the kids to the Jeffers Petroglyphs several times this week. He supplies some items for their gift shop and does volunteer work there, so he visits with the staff and teaches an occasional visitor how to throw with the atlatl while the kids explore the artifacts and trails.

7.  Jack made friends with this grasshopper. He is very good at finding small creatures, catching said creatures, and convincing them to hang around with him.

8.  We painted personalized dining room chairs from old chairs we got on Freecycle last year.


Anna is the only one who is completely done.  I love how they all look!

9.  Anna has been doing a book of Suduko puzzles. She loves doing them and has become very good at it.

10.  We had an apple day! Our neighbor came over and asked if we wanted to come pick apples from her tree the other day and we headed over today.  The kids got to use the apple picker and shake the tree for even more apples.

We came home with three big bags of apples.

These were organic apples in the truest sense of the word — never sprayed, never bothered with, full of occasional worms and bugs and bruises and bad spots.  Anna happily helped peel for a little bit and then realized what an undertaking it was!

Daryl spent literally hours peeling and cutting apples for me and by the end of the day I had made one big jar of applesauce for the freezer, one big pan of apple crisp (that we completely devoured by the end of the night), a huge batch of strawberry applesauce (with strawberries we picked and froze this summer!) another oversized apple crisp waiting to be baked, plus froze 14 cups of apples in 2 and 4 cup bags for cooking.

And then the oven died.  So I have an uncooked, oversized apple crisp I’ll have to find an oven for tomorrow!

Victoria comes home on Monday. We’re meeting Tiffany in Iowa for the exchange.  It will be good to have her back and odd after so long with her gone.  Hopefully she’ll muster up a little happiness about coming home.  She told me on the phone today that she woke up the other day and heard yelling and screaming upstairs and thought she must be home!  Harumph.  🙂

Dark Books and Children

Lately I’ve been looking for new read-alouds to read with the kids (both for fun and because some books just “should” be read!) and I’ve been revisiting books that I had to read in school.  I am a little unnerved at how many of them involved death and dying!  I also wonder if this is good, bad or matters at all.

Some of the books that sprang to mind as ones I had to read in grade school include: Where the Red Fern Grows, A Day No Pigs Would Die, Island of the Blue Dolphins and even Charlotte’s Web.  Even the short stories frequently centered around death.  I remember reading “The Lottery” in 4th grade, a story about a town where members must draw numbers to see which of them will be killed off (stoned to death!) for the community good.  Egads!  Isn’t this a bit dark for a 9 year old?

Part of me thinks that these books are good (within reason) because they introduce children to death, which frankly is going to come up in their real lives whether we like it or not.  These books give them practice, so to speak, with loss.  They also give kids an outlet for grief that may be bottled up, kind of the way we can watch a tearjerker when we’re feeling down and emotionally clean house that way.

Part of me thinks it’s just too heavy, though.  Reading an occasional book about death is one thing, but maybe they should be the exception.  Maybe books help even more when they offer friendship, escape, broadening of horizons, information, humor and just plain fun.  I look back at my childhood with books and I remember reading constantly but I also remember those books I read for school as existing under a sort of dark and dreary, unpleasant cloud.

There are lots of nasty things we have to face eventually in life, but does that mean we have to deal with so much of them as children?  Isn’t that like the anti-homeschool folks who say kids have to get used to boredom, bullies and other nastiness because someday they’ll encounter it?  I’ve always thought that reasoning was idiotic.  While we may have to deal with some unpleasant things in life, why willingly add extra just for practice?  And isn’t it better to teach our children that they can craft lives for themselves that are enriching and they don’t have to settle for lives where people harm, harrass or manipulate them or lives that are boring and uninspired?

Sorry, I seem to have gone off on a tangent there!

Finally, the last option is that these books have far less effect than we might think.  I remember reading a memoir called Zippy last year that was described as a book about a happy childhood.  Parts of it made me laugh out loud and Victoria wanted to read it, but I worried that parts would be too upsetting for her.  There was some truly horrifying animal abuse recounted in the book (not by the main character but by others and she witnessed it).  She finally convinced me to let her start to read it and she read the whole thing.  She said those parts made her mad but they didn’t traumatize her.

When we read The Island of the Blue Dolphins as a read-aloud several years ago, I had forgotten most of it.  My kids have dealt with deaths of neighbors, family members and had recently lost a close friend to leukemia, so once I got into the book I worried that it would be too much for them.  They were fine.

I hear a lot of complaints lately that modern children’s books are too dark and depressing.  I’m not sure what to think of that, since I remember plenty of dark and depressing books from when I was a kid quite a few years ago!  I think perhaps the subject matter has evolved to some more risque and modern issues, but children’s books and stories have been dark for as long as they have existed.  People die, the world is cruel and life is hard.  It seems to be a pretty common theme.  Count how many fairy tale heroines don’t have dead mothers!

So what do you think?  Do dark stories help children prepare for life and process emotions?  Is it too much, too young?  Or do we overthink it and our kids are a lot tougher than we think?

Are there any books you don’t want your kids to read yet because they’re just too dark, depressing or mature?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Fun Free Curricula

Moody Gardens offers some really great curricula for educators on all sorts of subjects from whales and dolphins to the Grand Canyon to bugs to The Titanic.  I checked out the bones file and was really impressed with the information and lesson plans.  They’re in PDF format and the one I viewed was 70 pages and said it was for 4th, 5th and 6th grades.  I assume there are multiple grades represented but I’m not sure.  Neat stuff!