Mapping the World With Art

Let me introduce you to my favorite homeschool purchase of the past two years.

Mapping the World with Art is a geography resource unlike any other! Mapping marries detailed but easy-to-follow drawing lessons for each part of the world with chronological history lessons and wonderfully creative learning activities. By the end of the study, your students should be able to make a detailed physical map of the entire world from memory. Along the way they will have learned lessons about exploration and cartography from the Babylonians through Polar explorers of the early 20th century.

Now you might be wondering about the title. Doesn't that sound an awful lot like another curriculum called Mapping the World by Heart?!?!  Well, yes, and that is not unintentional. Author Ellen Johnston McHenry had used MWbH, but like many others, myself included, she found it to be lacking in some respects. My family has used Mapping...Heart twice, and while it has been a great experience each time, using the skeleton of an outline provided in that book required enormous time in planning and preparation. (You can see the maps from our last go round here and here.)

Mrs. McHenry, a professional illustrator and homeschool mom, had a different vision in mind when she created her product. Yes, children will learn to make memory maps, though these focus on physical maps rather than political ones. But a couple of things set this program apart from the other. First of all, it is MUCH more user friendly!

Ben starts his map by making guidelines he'll later erase
Second, Mapping the World with Art is more creative and just more fun. Interesting ways of presenting and reinforcing information must continually flow from Mrs. McHenry's brain. (Check out her "Basement Workshop" for TONS of free games, play scripts, and other resources to teach everything from Bible to nuclear chemistry to Latin. Oh, yes - and geography.) Mrs. McHenry's creativity shines in the Mapping program both in the variety of activities suggested and her clever ways of helping students look at the maps they are drawing, seeing Crete, for example, as an alien lying on his back.

Nile River valley drawn on papyrus
And finally, Mapping... Art is a great value. At $46.95 for the full package ($42.95 from Rainbow), you'll receive the hefty manual, three DVDs with Mrs. McHenry's detailed drawing lessons for each map, and a CD-Rom of the entire book as well. The latter is handy for printing review maps and games from the manual rather than wrestling the book into your copy machine. (Note: If you purchase the book from Amazon, it does NOT include the drawing DVDs. They are totally worth buying, so you are better off to purchase the curriculum directly from Mrs. McHenry or Rainbow Resource.)

Mapping...Art has thirty lessons which can be completed over a year. It's generally recommended for students at least 10 years old. When we began our co-op, the children ranged from 9-12, so we decided to take two years rather than one to complete the program. This curriculum works great as a co-op class!

Each of the lessons interweaves the three segments (history,  map drawing, and activities) beautifully. At first, the order in which maps are taught will seem strange, but give it time, and you will begin to understand the big picture. Since it takes a chronological approach, lessons and drawings begin around the Mediterranean and then move on from there. The activities range from making cookie maps (cuneiform "clay" tablet maps) to crafting a model of the Santa Maria to playing a Viking Voyages board game. Review maps periodically help students put the various smaller maps together into a cohesive world map.

Co-op class prepares to make South America tortilla maps

tortilla features key


A small amount of daily practice makes all the difference.

Ben finished this practice map while I was writing this post

But maybe you are wondering WHY anyone would want to spend this time learning to draw a world map anyway. I'll answer that in the next post!

Algebra Love

My Pi Day earrings, courtesy Amanda
 Yeah, yeah. These earrings have little to do with algebra. But they do have to do with having fun with math. And making math fun goes a long way to helping kids master math concepts and problem solving, whether you are teaching them addition, fractions, algebra, or calculus.

And math is fun! So much of math is about recognizing patterns and figuring out the best way to solve puzzles. Woohoo!

If you are teaching algebra (and even if you aren't,) you really ought to check out this NPR story about a young teacher named Sarah Hagan. 

On her blog, Math= Love, Sarah writes more about her creative approach to teaching algebra at a small high school in Oklahoma. She uses something called Interactive Notebooks (INB) which are like a more mature version of lapbooks. My 8th grader recently has been struggling with some concepts in his algebra program, so I decided to take a break and reteach the material using lessons from Sarah's blog.

I'm making my own book to teach from, and Paul's also making one of his own. Here's a 2-page spread from the quadratic equation chapter.

All ideas borrowed from Math=Love blog. Also, check our Sarah Hagan's INB Pinterest board.

Each page or two in the notebook (which begins life as a standard composition book) explains one topic. Usually a "foldable" or some other colorful illustration gives the ins and outs of the issue. Some sample problems further shed light. All together, the INB serves as a resource book which is far more accessible than an 800 page textbook.

Conclusion: Teaching this way has been both fun AND (more importantly!) effective! I'm an INB convert!

We're still using Paul's textbook, Elementary Algebra by Harold Jacobs, but I'm also going to be incorporating the INB to help cement the main concepts and give Paul his own personalized INB for quick reference.

Now I'm starting to think about how I could use INBs in other subjects. Hmmm...

Love Letter from General Washington to His Beloved Martha

Since my visit to Mount Vernon back in December, I've been enjoying learning more about George and Martha Washington, and especially about their marriage. Today I ran across the contents of one of the three surviving letters written between the two.

Why so few letters? In an effort to retain some privacy, when George Washington died, Martha burned the correspondence from their 41 years of marriage. After Martha died, two letters were found wedged under a desk drawer. This was one of them. Written quickly during the Revolution, it shows the tender relationship the two enjoyed.

Phila. June 23d 1775.

My dearest,

As I am withing a few Minutes of leaving this City, I could not think of departing from it without dropping you a line; especially as I do not know whether it may be in my power to write again till I get to the Camp at Boston -- I go fully trusting in that Providence, which has been more bountiful to me than I deserve, & in full confidence of a happy meeting with you sometime in the Fall -- I have not time to add more, as I am surrounded with Company to take leave of me -- I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time or distance can change, my best to Jack & Nelly, & regard for the rest of the Family concludes me with the utmost truth & sincerity.

Your entire,

Go: Washington

Source: Mount Vernon website  (It's a wonderful site if you are interested in learning more about George and Martha!)

Where DO We Do School?

Our schoolroom is slated for demolition.

It has served us well, but at this point our family has outgrown the need for a dedicated schoolroom.

When we built our house 20 years ago, it seemed like a great idea to plan for a schoolroom right off the kitchen and adjoining the living room. We filled it with the sweet antique desks my dad had given to each of the five children we had then. By the time my desk and a piano were added, it was full. And it worked pretty well for many years even as we squeezed in more and more desks. But even then my children tended to spread out far beyond the schoolroom. While they might do their math or handwriting at their desks, we'd read together in the living room, do science experiments in the kitchen. As the kids reaching junior and senior high, they began finding the quiet of their own rooms helpful, and we set helped each older one set up a more adult workspace.

These days a devoted schoolroom doesn't make much sense. With only four children at home, they use just about every part of the house for school. We have plans to open up this room into the adjacent living room and build in bookshelves and a window seat. Maybe this summer?

Since our kids rarely use the school room, where DO they do school?

The living room gets a heavy workout for both group discussions/classes and independent work.

Ben always grabs an apple before sitting down to read a good book

Homeschooling in February (Or how to deal with Giant Despair)

February has to be the most difficult month to homeschool. We've been at it already for six-seven months but three more months remain of our school calendar. February is somewhat like middle age. We've trekked a good distance, but rather than seeing the progress, often it is easier to focus on all the things we haven't done. And the days are still cold and dark.

But sometimes our February blues go beyond normal feelings. How does a homeschool mom deal with extended times of depression? Homeschool moms can't exactly opt out for a month or two until the sun shines again or life returns to a happier place.

For our Girls' Book Club, my younger daughters and I have been discussing Pilgrim's Progress. In this week's selection, Christian and Hopeful strayed from the path and ended up at Doubting Castle in the clutches of Giant Despair. Christian almost succumbs to the Giant's command to do away with himself, but his friend Hopeful urges him to be patient:

But let us exercise a little more patience. Remember how thou playedst the man at Vanity Fair, and wast neither afraid of the chain nor cage, nor yet of bloody death: wherefore let us (at least to avoid the shame that it becomes not a Christian to be found in) bear up with patience as well as we can.

Shortly after this, his patience is rewarded as Christian remembers he has a key in his pocket, a key that will release them from the dungeon. What was his key? Promise! And he had it all along.

From my experience, here are some of the more helpful things for dealing with the blues.

1. Spend more time, not less, with the Lord.
(Even if you don't feel like it.) Dwell in the Word and get to know God's promises which never fail.

My old cross country skis make it easier to get outside
2. Go outside every day, no matter what the weather. (Even when you don't feel like it.) This goes for your children, too. Fresh air and exercise are great blues killers.

3. Keep busy. Find some fun projects. I like to sew with bright, beautiful fabrics in winter. There's something about cutting up and rearranging gorgeous bits of color that lifts my spirits.

4. Spend time with friends.  Take time to relax and laugh.

I was able to ski (and laugh!) with friends this week. So much fun!

4.  Take Hopeful's advice: Be patient. Trust God to do His work even through the darkness.

Blackberry seems to enjoy the snow

If you struggle in this way, take heart. Many other moms do, too. And a number have written helpful advice. Here are some.

Melissa wrote a two part series on the Bright Ideas Blog.
   Homeschooling with Depression, Part I: Survival Tips

   Homescholing with Depression, Part II: Finding God

Candace blogs at His Mercy Is New, and she has a series of five posts about
   Homeschooling With Depression

Marty at Marty's Musing has a post called "4 Practical Tips for Coping With Anxiety and the Blues."

And here's a post I wrote a couple of years ago about Melancholy, the Puritan term for what we call depression and another about helping your husband when he is the one dealing with Giant Despair.

Same Same, But Different: Kitchen Remodel


When Tim and Kristen went to Thailand a number of years ago for a trip with The Potter's School, Tim brought back some T-shirts that were all the rage in Thailand. (I've never been quite sure what they really mean.) On the front they say:



And then you read the back which says


That pretty much sums up our kitchen remodel. Even though we completely gutted the old kitchen, our new version has exactly the same layout. SAME SAME.

But all of the finishes are, well, DIFFERENT.


Tim installed crown mold on the bulkhead
We replaced the wood laminate flooring with a gray porcelain tile. Oh my! It is so easy to clean! (Plus it makes my boys feel like we live in a castle with stone floors.)

As a remodeling contractor, Tim has spent decades working in other people's homes, but he said it was more stressful living in his project than being able to leave it each night. I'm afraid he found his customer (me!) a bit frenetic in her activity to get the house back together again. (It was the fastest kitchen he's ever done, finished in just under three weeks.)

We chose natural cherry cabinets in a Shaker design. The coloring will darken over time, one of the beauties of cherry. We're enjoying the variety of grain patterns on the wood.

We exchanged the old fluorescent light with an LED one, and Amanda painted the trim on our other two lights to match. Amanda also painted  a faux marble backsplash. We think it's pretty, but if ever we change our mind, it can easily be covered with more paint instead of ripping out tile (and drywall.)

Andrew is planning to make some leaded glass doors for the two cabinets next to the sink. Tim still has a bit of trim left to install, and we have a couple of other details left. But we're back in business in the kitchen. Hurrah!

Where Do I Put My Homeschool Stuff: Tip #5 Let it Go!

Having a dumpster here for our kitchen remodel provided a good incentive to declutter.
We pretty much filled this 30' beast.

Just where do we keep all the homeschool books, papers, binders, office supplies, old curricula that might be handy some day, and all that other good stuff? Here's what I've written so for:

Tip #1 Start by using what you already have (storage containers, furniture, etc.)

Tip #2  A crate for each student

Tip #3 Think vertically!

Tip #4 Hide it in plain sight!

But there's more to managing our stuff than finding the optimal place for everything. Because...

Tip #5: You don't have to hang on to every finished workbook, completed curriculum, outgrown manipulatives, and every single essay and piece of artwork your children have created. Pass it on to a friend, donate it, sell it, or throw it away!

Writing this last tip feels a tad hypocritical. I am a saver by nature. Plus we have a lot of storage room. So, if I think I might need "it" someday, I tend to hang on to used curricula, curricula I've reviewed but never used, manipulatives, record books, and on and on.

But in recent years I'm making progress with divesting. And I'm finding out just how freeing this is.

If you are like me, though, you are thinking, "BUT...
- it might come in handy some day!
- I want to be frugal
- it is such good material!
- these things are my children's mementos
- this is the result of my blood poured out in teaching our children (That's my husband's explanation)

If, like me, you think along those lines, there's more to consider.

First -  Clutter causes stress!

Plus it is distracting and just plain unattractive. I find it difficult to sit down and read aloud to my children (or work with them on grammar or Latin) when the surroundings are filled with out-of-place items or just too much stuff.

Clutter makes me feel like I need to get up and tidy things instead of sitting with a son who is having trouble understanding how to factor polynomials.

Clutter means I spend more time taking care of stuff and less taking care of people. And homeschool clutter is no different.

Less really is less.

The best way to be more organized is to have less stuff to manage. Find the best spot for everything you do keep, and make sure it always gets back to its home. One of the great side-benefits from our recent kitchen remodel is that it forced me to evaluate every single item and decide if it was still worth keeping or not, and if so to find the optimal spot to house it.

Here are some things I've found helpful in letting go of things.

1. Why am I saving this anyway?

Every year bring more finished workbooks, lapbooks, binders filled with writing samples, timelines, and so on.

I used to keep EVERYTHING of this sort boxed up on our basement storage shelves. Maybe some day a truant officer would want to see proof that my children really were busily working in 1991. (Yeah, right!)

But we've been at this a l-o-n-g time, and our shelves started groaning with all those boxes, so I became more selective. But still it was too much.

And then I asked myself, just why was I saving all of this anyway? Like my future daughters-in-law are going to want to take boxes of their husband's elementary school work? Come on!

Here's how I deal with it now.

At the end of each school year I sort through everyone's work, saving only a few samples. Often I've put together one family binder showing samples of work of all the under-high school children. More importantly, I keep an academic file for each child and record year end evaluations, lists of books read and poetry and Scripture memorized, and a summary of the course of study for that year in all areas. It's just a few pages per child each year. Those are the only records I actually end up revisiting. (I do record keeping differently for the high schoolers.) And then I purge all the workbooks, binder contents, etc. If I can't bear to toss something, I still box it up and date the box. The next summer, I go through that box again, and by then I can usually part with the contents.

2. Take the "40 Bags in 40 Day" challenge.
The idea behind this challenge, popular on Catholic blogs, is to get rid of one bag of clutter each day for the 40 days of Lent. Each day you'll tackle a different area of your house.

I've not done this challenge for 40 consecutive days, or even at that time of year, but when I started keeping track of the amount of stuff I was throwing out, I found it very motivating. At the White House Black Shutters blog you can find helpful forms for knowing where to start and for keeping track of your progress.

3. Keep things you use frequently somewhere can access them readily. Things you aren't ready to get rid of, put in deeper storage. Then revisit those items once a year or so and see if they are still important.

My deep storage is in the basement. And yes, there are a number of times when I head down there for some material we used long ago, but which might just fit the need of a child (or a friend's child) who needs to approach a topic from a different direction. For others deep storage might be in the attic, under the stairs,  or even under beds. Just don't put things there and never pull them out to reevaluate their usefulness.

Being willing to part with material I've enjoyed using with my children, things I "might use again some day," or the products my children have created doesn't some naturally to me. But as I remind myself that all these things are all going to burn some day, it sure becomes easier!

Luke 12: 15 And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."