Learning about Intolerance, Learning About the Holocaust: A Gentle Introduction

For the most part, I aim to focus on fun and engaging educational materials in this blog, to help homeschoolers add learning through laughter to their days! That’s my intention and 99% of what you’ll find here will be tailored in that direction.  However, as we all know, life is not composed solely of fun and games. It has a deeply serious, often painful side that most of us cannot escape, as much as we would like to.  Life can be brutally difficult beyond comprehension.
Max and I ran head long into a deep and disturbing subject last week, one we’ve decided to delve into just a little further at this point.  I don’t think he’s old enough yet to handle too much, so we’re scraping the surface.   Max is ten, so I have been very careful with what images he sees at this point as so much of what happened during this part of history  is raw, bitter, horrible and shocking.   I am writing here about the monstrous atrocities of the Holocaust. When he is in his middle school years, I will consider exploring this time period more thoroughly because he’ll be at a different place emotionally.  I want to be careful not to overwhelm him.
This detour started with Albert Einstein.  Last Wednesday we watched the first lecture about Albert Einstein offered by Science Jim as part of his current webcast classes. Albert Einstein is a fascinating character primarily because he never stopped wondering; he likely drove his teachers nuts with all of his questions, his doubts, his need to prove statements of fact for himself. What an active mind he had! We listened to Science Jim describe Einstein’s childhood with interest. At least I did, but then I’m in a different place than Max is because I can focus on a topic for longer than five minutes :).    It was when Science Jim described Einstein’s involvement in the making of the atomic bomb that Max’s interest level perked up.
You may or may not know that Einstein wrote a letter to FDR in the late 1930’s encouraging the US government to begin research on building an atomic bomb – he recommended the government get started as soon as possible because he wasn’t certain how far the Nazis were in any bomb development.  As often happens in homeschooling, the conversations are wide open and can go any which way on any given day.  One thing leads to another. We eventually broached the life of Anne Frank and thus landed on the Holocaust.  It was quite an interesting question/answer period. I was not planning on introducing such a heavy grief-filled subject any time soon, but I listened thoughtfully to Max’s questions and understood clearly that of course he was having a hard time grasping the answer to his main question, “WHY?”

As luck would have it, a remarkable exhibit about Anne Frank’s life and experience is currently on display in our city.  On Friday afternoon we went to learn more about Anne and her family.  We attended with a group of four of Max’s friends, all boys.  Generally they get so wrapped up in each other that the entire outside world becomes background noise.  Not this time.  Our tour guide was exceptional!  They all stood in rapt attention as the tour guide described the two years while the Frank family hid in the attic of Otto Frank’s business in Amsterdam.  They could hardly conceive of having to be quiet for eight hours a day, having to whisper, not being able to walk around, not being able to flush the toilet during the day.  As Anne’s story progressed the kids became more somber and thoughtful.  Max raised his hand and asked a few questions.  He studied on the scale model of the attic.  He gazed at the pictures of a girl not much older than him, at her smiling face.  He tried to comprehend what happened to her and why.  We also sat in on a short talk by a Holocaust survivor, a woman now seventy-two who was a hidden child during the war.  Max’s is the last generation that will get to speak to, to touch, to listen to a Holocaust survivor!  This fact sunk in deep for me.

Today we watched a truly special story about a middle school in Tennessee and how the staff and students came to forge a very unique, very moving memorial to the six million Jewish people and the five million people of other descents who lost their lives at the hand of the Nazis.  Here it is.  Click on pictures for more information:

So magnificent!  A tiny middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee, population 1600, embarks upon a project to learn about the Holocaust.  The project soon takes on a life of its own as you’ll see.  The students wish to collect 6 million paperclips from all over the world to represent the Jews who died – they end up embarking on a meaningful journey that brings a community together and helps to teach others about what happens when intolerance and prejudice goes unchecked.  Ack, I cried several times.

A version tailored to grades 6-12, though I don’t know how it differs from the original.

An accompanying book written for the 9-12 age group.

“Fifteen thousand children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp. Fewer than 100 survived. In these poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates, we see the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their hopes and fears, their courage and optimism. 60 color illustrations.”

A well-done allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting

Tailored for 9-12 year olds with lots of pictures of Anne and her family.  Also contains clear and concise text interspersed throughout the pictures.  I have not opened this book yet, so don’t know how graphic the pictures become, but am thinking the authors took precautions for this age group.

I would consider these resources to be “fairly” gentle for opening up discussions about this stand-up-and-pay-critical-attention part of history.  What an opportunity we have to begin to teach our children about acceptance, about injustice, about love and how it’s depths can turn the tide in any situation.  The movie and Anne Frank exhibit is as far as we are going for now.  The others are offered as additional resources to explore as you wish.

I’m worn out from the past few days, to be honest.  Words can’t possibly wrap themselves around what happened.  It’s the kind of thing you have to feel in your body and you must let it rest there while you process.  We’ve “seen” a lot in the past five days, but in truth have witnessed very little of what happened.  As Max grows I hope his questions continue to surface.  I hope I have some answers or directions to point him in.

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Personal Trainer

Sometimes I wonder how personal trainers feel – do they feel loved by their clients?  Feared by their clients?  Loathed by their clients?  I certainly hope not on that last one.  Personal trainers have their work cut out for them, that’s for sure.  How do you motivate someone to stay on task, enjoy the task and receive as much benefit as possible out of said task?  A tall order!

I face this challenge every day with Max and math.  It’s just not his thing.  We’ve been following the course of a living math approach and have thus tried to have fun with it.  Games, reading about math, learning about mathematicians, playing with logic puzzles, looking at groovy patterns in math – in essence, I’m trying to lay a foundation for math and show him that it’s not all that bad.  Many people my age probably grew up with lackluster and droll math experiences.  I still remember a lecture a math teacher was giving about vectors at the chalkboard when I was in 9th grade.  I walked out of that room wondering, “what the heck’s a vector?”  He didn’t put any pizzazz in vectors and I quickly lost interest.  What I needed was someone who was excited about math, someone who could convey that excitement, someone who could help me to see how creative math is.  I needed a personal math trainer.

Okay, switching gears here a bit, but bear with me.  Around here,  Max has to refrain from the use of any electronic devices for entertainment purposes until after dinner, or thereabouts.  Somedays I’m just not paying attention to the clock and he can pull a fast one on me.  I see some use (stress some) in the games he plays.  His coordination is admirable, he picks ideas and instructions up lightening fast, he has an urge to learn and studies the game manuals for information, and problem-solving prowess is definitely called upon when playing.  At least I can reason with the side of myself that doesn’t like the gaming trend.  There are some strong negatives, but I won’t get into that here.

A little light of possibility occurred to me the other day – how about putting the two together as an experiment?  Math, which he hates and his DSi, which he loves?  A quick search and I was hot on the trail for a good match.  It couldn’t be a game that placed time pressure on him – he freezes when this happens.  It had to be positive, gentle,  incremental and most of all, FUN.  I found it!  This is an experiment of sorts as I am still committed to the living math way of doing things; I did purchase this game to see how he reacted.

Day 1:  we were actually able to say the word ‘math’ today without triggering any banshee screaming.  I handed Max the game and he tore open the box to examine the contents, somewhat skeptically, I sensed.  Nonetheless he popped it into his DSi and in a matter of 30 seconds was taking the Daily Test.  Then…………..I couldn’t get him to PUT IT DOWN.  I’m not joking.  His little brain was clicking and clacking over multiplication, division, subtraction and division in fun little challenges.  The little professor guy on the screen jumped in often enough with words of encouragement to keep him going.  I heard Max murmuring to himself as he ran figures in his head.  The music in the background was happy sounding, upbeat and only slightly annoying.  He played it in the car while I got groceries.  He played it all the way home.  He tested his dad when he got home.  He tested me.  He went to bed with it and played it until I threw a flag and made him stop.  He said, “I can’t wait to take the daily test tomorrow, Mom.”  I said, “Who are you and what have you done with my son?  Surely you are an imposter.  Tell me something only Max would know.”

Day one of my personal trainer experiment was a resounding success.  By that I mean he enjoyed himself while practicing math facts.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Here are a few other similar games I found, specifically for the DS or DSi.  Wii doesn’t have anything like this yet (I asked the guy at the game store, so according to him – he’s the reliable source I’m counting on for accurate information to pass on to you.  Maybe he hates math, too.)  I did not investigate any other gaming systems.

Brain Quest is also available for grades 5/6

There are others, of course.  This is just a smattering.  Something I found to be intriguing – I had to go to four different stores to track down the Personal Math Trainer game.  There was one new copy available in the city we live in…….the next closest availability was in DENVER!!!  It just isn’t stocked!  Which says something, I think.  Most kids don’t walk into gaming stores with math on their minds :).

I Didn’t Do It, Did You Do It? If You Didn’t Do It, Then Whodunit?

Mysteries are good fodder for figuring, for being observant, for paying attention to the tiny details.  Some kids have the eagle eye, wherein they don’t miss anything.  Others bounce blissfully unaware through events, leaving not a trace that they saw anything.  Which one is your child?  Somewhere in the middle?  Max has an eagle eye.  In fact, that’s his nickname.  He misses NOTHING.  I miss most everything because I live in my head.  Ask me what color the car was that just went by and I’ll stare at you blankly.  What car?  I didn’t see a car.  Who cares about the color of the car that just went by?  Guess it’s a matter of principle, that question.  What engages your brain and what can you let slide?  Maybe noticing a car is a bad example here – we should pay attention to cars as much as possible when we are on or near the road!

Well, how about a good mystery to encourage engagement in your surroundings?  If you look at mysteries that way, they can make for a worthwhile component of schooling!  Not to mention that it’s probably really gratifying to solve a mystery – learning to think critically and examine problems from many perspectives will serve our children well.  This sort of process is buried deep within a good mystery!

Here are some items that fit the bill well.  Click on the pictures to link to more information:

Mindware carries these.  Some 245 short mysteries and puzzles to get you thinking and solving.

Similar idea – this is a deck of 52 mysteries and below you can see deck #2.

Historical mysteries – what a great combination!  There are many books in this series and they look good.  Product review states:  “designed to both entertain and teach valuable lessons from United States history, this book follows two young detectives as they solve mysteries from the nation’s past. Ninth in a popular series, this book features more maps, photos, and puzzles to be examined as Meg and Peter race across the country—from Plymouth, Massachusetts to San Francisco, California—to figure out the historical mysteries. Children are encouraged to participate in solving the mystery by answering questions, figuring out codes, and searching pictures for clues while learning important lessons about history, geography, and diversity.”

This series of books I blogged about awhile ago in a post about art history games.  Here’s what I wrote:

This isn’t a ‘game’ per say, but you’ll need a notebook and pen to ferret out the clues to help solve an art mystery.  You as the reader must help the curator determine which paintings are fake and which are real by working through various clues so that a show can be saved.  There are two other books in this series.  Highly recommended by readers as engrossing.

So, you can learn about famous works of art along with working out the solution to ‘whodunit?’

The Mysterious Benedict Society. 210 ratings and comes in at 4 1/2 stars.  Well, let’s say 4 3/4 stars, it’s probably that good!  Touted as a totally captivating read.  The author, Trenton Lee Stewart sprinkles his story with all kinds of knotty situations and problems to puzzle out – the reader might find himself stopping often to take a minute and just think.  That’s good practice!  This is the first book in a series of three books, the latest which was published in October of 2009.  Without a doubt, these are now on my ‘to read aloud yet this year’ list.

This is a board game.  From a reviewer on Amazon:  “My 8-year-old and I love this game. We play cooperatively which makes for a very pleasant, quick game, filled with natural learning for both of us! It is often silly, for example it will give a “sounds like” clue, rather than real mystery solving, but we rate it very highly and play a lot.”

I like interesting tangents that can be reframed and utilized in homeschooling.  This is one of those tangents that certainly could be fun to play with together.  I’m placing this post in the math category because it probably fits best there regarding the type of problem-solving that is required to solve a good mystery!

Cheers to Homeschoolers Supporting One Another

I discovered a super resource a few days ago in the form of a homeschooling site based in Colorado.  It’s called CHEER and stands for ‘Colorado Home Educator’s Eclectic Resource.’  Here’s what Ann, the mom who is responsible for this creative entity, says:

“As a long-time, homeschool mom and an obsessive cheerleader for homeschooling, I look at that potential and want it to come to realization with all my heart. Community is key for a well-rounded, homeschool success.  Community is created by connection.  CHEER is the place for all of Colorado’s homeschoolers to connect in a positive, meaningful way.”

You needn’t live in Colorado to benefit from perusing Ann’s site.  It’s brimming with resources, curriculum ideas, philosophies about homeschooling and input from other moms and dads.  If you do happen to reside in Colorado, contact Ann and join CHEER.  Attend the spring conferences, support one another and continue to learn about the wonderful endeavor of homeschooling!

CHEER is hosting TWO GIVEAWAYS, so pay attention 🙂   Here are the links to find out more about the giveaways.  There’s nothing better than a giveaway, you have to agree!

Link to CHEER Giveaway #2

(That link will also get you to CHEER’s website).

Some of the items being given away………

1. A 10 book series called Artistic Pursuits

2.  Vacation in a Florida condo

3.  Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science (3 book set)

4. Gift cards to Amazon

And more!

CHEER giveaway #1 items are intended for Colorado homeschoolers.  CHEER giveaway #2 items are for homeschooling bloggers and facebook followers.

Go check it out!

You can find Cheer on Facebook here.

Thanks, Ann, for letting me post about it and for offering such fabulous support to other homeschoolers – where would we families be without support from each other?

Inventin’s the Thing

I don’t know about you, but I invent products in my mind all the time.  Better ways of doing things, at least according to me, that is.  Which doesn’t necessarily mean that my invented thing is the right thing for everyone.  I invent sayings for bumper stickers, too, but have yet to do anything about any of these masterful inventions.  Truth be told, I think my energy resources are reserved for homeschooling and photography.  Those are the two main places I spend my energy dollars.  Maybe there’s a way to ask for a raise in energy money?  Wouldn’t that be the best?  To have unlimited energy to tackle all that our active minds conjure up.  Who do I talk to about that?

Well, I admire a good invention.  Mostly I admire the thought process and ingenuity that goes INTO an invention.  To be a good inventor you need to see things differently, break away from the crowd and go your own way.  This, I admire.  Training your brain and will to go their own way might not be a bad thing!  I found several resources (surprise!) about inventions, the people who created them, and the extraordinary changes wrought because of them.  Some of this stuff is funny and fun.  Some of it is serious business, which we should try to avoid in this blog.  I’ll do my best here to detail the fun and engaging stuff.

Some kids are wonderful inventors but they don’t yet realize it.  That’s YOUR job to help them see how wonderfully their mind works!  Together you could decorate a box with a slot in the top and you could call it “_ _ _ _ _ ‘s Box of Wildly Wonderful Creative GENIUS!”  Whenever a knock-your-socks-off idea comes up, write it down, draw it out, add some notes and pop it into the box.  You just never know what could become of some of those ideas.  Well, the idea here is to encourage your child to expand his or her thinking horizons – to not be afraid to push the boundaries of thought and creativity.  Here are some resources that you could share together as part of your schooling:

You can click on any of the pictures to get more information and read reviews!

Perfect!  It’s silly, educational and hands-on.

It’s no fun to be laughed at; you have to admire the folks who were but chose to push past the laughter and believe in what they were doing.  The author, Ira Flatow, is a host of a weekly science program on NPR.  “An enlightening and fun look at scientific discoveries and the often wacky and accidental ways in which they have led to some of the most important inventions”.

“Ever eaten a Popsicle, kept your ears warm with earmuffs or resealed your breakfast cereal with the built-in cardboard tab on the box top? Thank a kid inventor, because all those things, and quite a few more described in this book, were invented by children. A great inspiration for your own young scientist.”

This books covers the process of inventing something, describing said process in smaller bits.  This would be a great resource if your child already has something in mind to invent.  Also offers many resources for further investigation – camps around the nation, websites,  and competitions.   Definitely more of a handbook to walk you through to a patent and trademark.  Go for it!

Mistakes that Worked:  40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be.  Cartoon format.  Noted in the review, however, is a comment about how Eskimos, Native Americans and Chinese are poorly portrayed in stereotypic fashion, so be aware of that.  Not cool!

Just blogged about this book in the post immediately preceding this one!

Highlights some fifty inventors from the past.  Kind of a busy book – some kids might not like this format.  I can’t see reading straight through it – you’d probably get dizzy.  But it could be fun to look up different people and learn a little here and there.  It’s thoroughly researched by the author, Gillian Clements, though, so is a good reference.  It looks like she sneaks in a little humor here and there, too.  Plus she makes a point to include women and minority inventors who have done great things.

Humorous?  Yes.  The pictures are charming.  “To be an inventor you have to be as stubborn as a bulldog”!  So it says.  So it must be.  These authors also wrote So You Want to Be President/Explorer? The President book was a Caldecott medalist.

There.  That should get you started inventing, yes?  Let your child have fun with it and start filling up that creative genius box with ideas!

Girls Rock! And So Can Everybody.

While looking at some more books by Trudy Romanek, I noticed a fantastic theme that can be celebrated in a homeschool environment for both girls AND boys.  We will definitely choose some of these to read.  As a mother to a son, I can help carve his perceptions of women in umpteen ways.  Positive perceptions trickle to the next generation, so I look at it as helping to make my great-great-great granddaughters stronger and more adventurous!

If you are a mom to girls, consider investigating some of these.  They look intriguing and encouraging and fun and ripe with ideas.  If you are a mom of boys, consider investigating some of these.  The foundation we lay now will help all of our children change the world for the better.

It started with this book by Trudy Romanek.  Click on the books for more information!

“Focusing specifically on the fun aspects, this book succeeds at showing how relevant science and technology are in the world in which we live, and tries to entice girls to explore the many possibilities in the field. Beginning at home with the television remote, automatic doors and automatic hand dryers, the author explains the intricate details of how these items actually work and the science involved…..”

Personally, I would like to know how the remote and smoke detectors work, so I would enjoy this book.  I think Max would, too.  The book also profiles several women who have careers in technology.

Girls Who Rocked the World:  Heroines from Sacagawea to Sheryl Swoops by Amelie Welden.  Short biographies of thirty-three women who accomplished something tremendous before the age of twenty.

Girls Who Rocked the World 2:  From Harriet Tubman to Mia Hamm by Michelle Roehm McCann

“This sequel volume features black-and-white photos and drawings to complement the inspiring stories of Golda Meir, Israeli prime minister, ambassador, and U.N. delegate; Rigoberta Menchu, Guatemalan activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; Italian physicist Laura Bassi, one of the first women scientists in western history; Lauryn Hill, American singer and winner of multiple Grammy awards who produced her first album at age 17; Alexandra Nechita, internationally acclaimed Romanian artist; and others. The book also contains photos and writings of over 30 contemporary young women from across America who respond to the question, ‘How do you plan to rock the world?’ In conjunction with the book’s publication, these girls will tour their hometowns, inspiring their peers to go for their dreams.”

Girls Think of Everything:  Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh

Another by Catherine Thimmesh.  The Sky’s the Limit:  Stories of Discovery by Women and Girls

Women discovered X and Y chromosomes, dark matter in the universe, 15,000 year old cave paintings – highlights some discoveries by 11 and 12-year-old girls, too!

“The six women portrayed in this book–Maria Merian (b.1647), Anna Comstock (b.1854), Frances Hamerstrom (b.1907), Rachel Carson (b.1907), Miriam Rothschild (b.1908) and Jane Goodall (b.1934–all grew up to become award-winning scientists, writers and artists, as comfortable with a pen as with a magnifying glass. Often they were discouraged from getting dirty, much less pursuing careers in science. But they all became renowned scientists, frequently the only women in their fields. They overcame opposition and found ways to pass on their vision of how all lives in nature are beautifully connected. Their stories remind us to look and to look harder and then to look again. Under rotten logs or in puddles, there are amazing things to see.”

This theme could easily be expanded into a unit study, and a fun one at that.  The message behind all of these books is:  encourage, encourage, encourage!  When you’re done with that, encourage some more!

Mysterious You Series

Max experienced his first blood draw as an ‘aware’ child today.  I mean, this time he was old enough to piece together the information and realize that he was about to get stuck in the arm with a butterfly needle, 25 gauge to be exact.  The last time blood was taken from him was when he was a newborn and that was the PKU heel stick – i.e. traumatic yet fleeting experience.   Probably more traumatic for me, because I was postpartum and an emotional train wreck anyway.  This time it was Max who carried on with the fits of tears (poor buddy) and I stayed steady.

The whole experience led to a conversation on the way home about blood and what the lab was going to do with it.  Max was very curious and asked lots of questions, some of which I hadn’t a clue as to how to answer.  I couldn’t remember how blood is typed and what type means – something about the histocompatibility complex, protein markers on the red blood cells, antigens………in another life I knew this stuff!  Poof.  It’s gone.  An opportune moment to do some research and brush up!  I have been pondering for a few months over a human body unit study, but will likely save it for next year.  There are some exciting materials out there, so I’m stock-piling and tucking ideas away for when he’s ready.  Here’s a series of books I ran into today while searching.  There are seven or eight books in the series – some got good reviews, some reviewers claimed that the books were too busy, not enough real science offered.  I was drawn to their somewhat goofy nature, the illustrations, and the sense of fun exploration they seem to possess.  I think these look to be about perfect as supplementary materials to use.  They are written for grades 4-6 and cover a range of topics, even genetic cloning.

I always attach links to the pictures, so click away if you want to find out more about each book!

Squirt!  The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read About Blood. Would answer some questions about today’s trauma and drama (see above for explanation)

Wow!  The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read About the Five Senses

Achoo!  The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read About Germs

Burp!  The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read About Eating

Zzzz!  The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read About Sleep

Hmmm?  The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read About Memory

Baa!  The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read About Cloning


Most of these were written by Trudy Romanek and I’ll post about a few of her other books shortly.  She has a “how does this work” approach in her other books and a few of them look noteworthy.