Tuesday’s Choice: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I know, I know…when it says Classics on the book it is a good clue that it is a rather good read, but for some reason there are plenty of classics that I have never read or even desired to read. Our Ambleside Online booklist is showing up the gaps in my reading (did I ever actually get beyond Enid Blyton and Anne of Green Gables?) and has put so many delightful books in my path, leading me to ask how can I possibly have never read this before?!  Here is our current read which I would wholeheartedly recommend to any of you dear readers who happen to have the same gaps.

I always envisaged Wind in the Willows as being rather dull, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find it has a lovely mixture of beautiful descriptions of the best of our countryside, great characters that you can really recognise and relate to, and lots of humour and depth.  Who doesn’t know a fellow like Toad who throws himself into new activities with great zest that quickly peters out, having dragged his long suffering friends in his wake? And who wouldn’t wish for a loyal friend such as Ratty, who heads into the Wild Woods in order to find Mole who has foolishly headed there alone, or who heads back into the dark fields with snow on the way to help Mole find his home? And as our history studies take us through a sweeping look at the rise and fall of many civilisations throughout the history of time, Badger’s wise words that men come and go but that the animal kingdom carries on regardless rings true.

I am reading a chapter a week to LissaLou and she narrates back the gist of the story – she has improved greatly in this skill but is stronger on giving a detailed account rather than a short and concise one. Sometimes her narrations are so vivid that it is as good as hearing the story all over again! I don’t think she would be happy reading it to herself just yet though, as there are lots of unfamiliar words. I asked her what her verdict of it so far is and she replied great characters, like you really know them and they give a great example of being good friends. So there you have it!


Tuesday’s Choice: In Grandma’s Attic by Arleta Richardson

We take a quick break from our visit to the Caribbean to welcome back an old friend – Tuesday’s Choice, with a quick dip into a book we have really enjoyed and would wholeheartedly recommend to you. This week is In Grandma’s Attic by Arleta Richardson.

What is better than finding a great book? Well, perhaps finding a great book that all three of your children enjoy, boys or girls, old or young…? Or perhaps finding a great book that is part of a series of great books!

This one ticks both those boxes, being the first of a series of four, each one made up of short stories about the life of the author’s grandma, whose homestead life in America many decades ago was full of fun, mistakes and lessons to be learnt, all conveyed in a most amusing way.  The first three have an introductory conversation between the author as a little girl and her Grandma, leading to the main story, but this is dropped in the fourth book as they launch straight into the story.

We have enjoyed all the stories but the most memorable was definitely the day Mabel and her best friend Sarah Jane were looking after a baby whilst her mother chatted to Mabel’s.  Their decision that it would be more fun to put the sleeping baby on the bed and wheel around their baby pig in her pram and clothes instead has hilarious consequences!

Each story has something of a moral to it, but simply as a lesson to be learnt rather than a sermon to be preached.  Mabel’s big brothers are very familiar figures to me, constantly teasing and winding up their little sister (!) and her parents are very much in the Little House mould, full of patience and good sense.

The books also have fun pictures and reasonably large writing, easy enough for fluent readers. My girls pick them up and read them to themselves for pleasure, but these are the kind of books that make me glad I still get to read aloud to them all!

And Finally – Books We Are All Enjoying

Nothing beats sitting down together on the sofa and reading a book that grips or enchants each of us, on different levels.  We have tried to bring more French into our days and these two fairy tale collections were much appreciated.  The Book of Heroes has some marvellous stories in it, especially one at the end with two brothers who…, you will need to read it yourself!  But I think the all time favourite is possibly Little Pilgrim’s Progress.   This is a particularly special book as it just comes out on Sunday evenings when we usually read one (or possibly two if they are very lucky!) of the short chapters.  The children just love this time and are always clamouring for more, and it has led to so many deep and fascinating discussions on life, faith, the universe…. Highly recommended!

This Term’s Reading For …CassCass

Again, a bit of French reading, a few books that I read and she narrates, and then Six by Seuss which she is enjoying reading to me (JoJo loves sneaking next to us to listen!).  Can I just say how much we love the Fables (and the illustrations in this book add to our pleasure)?  All three look at them over and over again, even JoJo narrates them as they are so simple, and so often does someone comment that a particular situation is “just like that fable”.  Go ahead and savour them!


This Term’s Reading…For LissaLou

Here are the main books that LissaLou has been listening to and narrating, except for Babar which she reads (not easy, as it is all written in the French swirly whirly cursive writing that we are trying to learn!) and translates.  We have both enjoyed them all, but LissaLou’s favourite was undoubtedly Understood Betsy, a great tale about a young girl who leaves a life of being fussed over in town for a very different one of responsibility and challenges in a small farming village.

There has definitely been a Viking theme going on, with the Vikings covered in Discovery of New Worlds, then their arrival in Britain in Our Island Story, and finally the story of the third generation Viking Richard the Fearless and his early life in Normandy in Little Duke.  Now our conversations are full of mead and Valhalla!

Homeschooling – Geography

Not so much to say on this one!

Our main book, Paddle to the Sea by Holling C Holling, has been a wonderful read and I would highly recommend it to anyone, homeschooler or not.  It is the story of a little Indian canoe made by a little Indian boy and left at the top of a mountain in Canada north of the Great Lakes with the logic that the current should take it eventually out to sea.

You get a great idea of the different areas that the boat passes through as it travels through the five Great Lakes and then down the Niagara Falls and along the St Lawrence River before finally…well, read it and see!  Our relatives live near Toronto and when they came over here, CassCass was able to remember the names of four of the lakes for them – more than I could!  I’d love to find some equally well written books for UK geography!

We enjoyed the little film about Paddle on YouTube (though the children preferred the book) and are looking forward to reading the rest of Holling C Holling’s books about other parts of America.

Otherwise, we are constantly dipping in and out of maps.  I picked up an Atlas of Ancient Worlds very cheaply at TK Maxx and I would never have guessed how interesting it has been to look through and how much we have referred to it whilst reading On the Shores of the Great Sea.  If LissaLou doesn’t recognise the Mediterranean now, well, what can I say?!

We also look at tube and train maps when we are travelling, and talk about the different features that we are seeing (or would see) in different places.  You can travel the world through a few well chosen books!  And of course, we will be following our route as we fly over the Atlantic to the West Indies in the summer, then noting all the local features – volcanoes, rainforests, beaches, sunshine, heat…things we haven’t seen much of around here recently!

Homeschooling – History

My schooldays took me through a period where we didn’t learn grammar or multiplication tables…or much British History!  So plenty for me to learn alongside LissaLou…

A few principles that underline our history study:  Charlotte Mason encouraged a chronological approach and I really appreciate that, rather than the haphazard method of my youth which left me unaware of how (or even that) one period related to another.  As Julie Andrews so helpfully sings, we “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”!

Next, you remember that I am a planner, right?  Ambleside Online suggests a six year plan that lets you cover world history twice in your school life.  Well that seemed a bit long for us, especially as we haven’t made any decision about Secondary education.  I preferred the four year plan from Higher Up and Further In particularly as it incorporates Biblical history.  Is it just me, or do we sometimes speak of the Bible as something entirely separate from history as a whole?  And perhaps it is only me who gets excited at learning that, for example, Nehemiah may have been rebuilding the walls of Jersualem right around the time that Socrates lived, whilst Tiberius was Roman Emperor when Jesus died?

Related to the idea of chronological study is that of not getting too caught up in the dates, rather, getting a feel for the flow of history – where one event stands in relation to another.  Higher Up and Further In gave me the wonderful idea of a History Wall Timeline, which has been such a visual aid to all of us, as well as a source of conversation with many guests!  As we read about an event or person, LissaLou makes a colourful small picture of it (generally using her own inspiration) which we stick on colour coded card (Orange – Israelites, Green – Greeks, Yellow – Egyptians, Purple – Romans, Blue – British, Red – everything else).  The pictures are then hung on string across our living room wall with cute little craft pegs. 

The first and second row of our timeline – our wall isn’t long enough!

Apart from looking great, it works in many ways.  It is another way of narrating, as the pictures show what struck LissaLou from each particular story.  CassCass loves it too – she can often be heard chanting each picture in order, and she can’t wait until it is her turn to do her own version!  Occasionally we use it for a quiz with questions like “who came first, Abraham or Joseph?”.  Recently we took the whole thing down and the girls had to put it all back in the correct order – they worked together and did a pretty good job!  LissaLou and I also had an interesting discussion on what would have been the consequence if this or that person/event on the timeline was removed – shades of Doctor Who!

The main book we use is On the Shores of the Great Sea  by MB Synge.  It has been a really interesting read but quite challenging for LissaLou to narrate.  The most successful chapters have been when she acted it out with the Happyland figures (perfect for the many battle scenes!) or when I interviewed her about events.  It finishes with Caesar Augustus and the birth of Jesus, and we have just started the sequel, The Discovery of New Worlds.  I was surprised to learn from CassCass that On the Shores was one of her favourite books this year, as I hadn’t even been reading it to her.  These children who sit quietly listening in the background when you think they are playing…!  

Additional resources we have enjoyed – CassCass loved reading us Tut’s Mummy – Lost and Found and LissaLou loved her Egyptian Treasure Box, especially the board game Senet, which she will happily play time and time again. 

Now we have reached the Romans, we have started reading Our Island Story by HE Marshall, which begins with Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain.  That is a great read too, though I do keep checking on wikipedia which bits are considered true and which are legend.  Last summer we had a wonderful time visiting Hadrian’s Wall, even despite the rain, and I can’t recommend the area highly enough, especially the Roman forts at Vindolanda.  We are also hoping for a trip to the Roman museum at St Albans soon – if we pick our day well, there may even be some gladiators there to share with us a few words of wisdom!