Free American History DVD

Just an FYI!  The History Channel is giving away free DVDs about American History to schools and homeschools.  Here’s information from their website (i.e., the particulars):

America The Story of US – premiering on HISTORY™ April 25 at 9pm/8c – is a six-week event that provides a fascinating look at the stories of the people, events, and innovations that forged our nation. It will provide you with an unprecedented opportunity to bring our nation’s history to life for your students. This 12-hour series will be supported by educational materials tied to curriculum standards and is copyright cleared for Fair Use in the classroom by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities.

* HISTORY is offering America The Story of US on DVD to every school in the United States. School must be an accredited public, private or home school, grades K-12 and college. In order to receive your school’s DVD, your school principal (grades K-12) or Dean of Students (college) should fill out the request form (that would be on their website) below. HISTORY strictly limits each school to one request. DVD requests must be made prior to July 1, 2010. DVDs will be mailed around August 2010, and free shipping is included in this offer.

That last sentence is pretty important, so get on it if you want to use this series.  Don’t you just love free stuff?


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.

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!

We Haven’t Found Carmen Sandiego…..Yet.

What an adventure Max is having trying to locate the lady in red who is none other than Carmen Sandiego!  Carmen’s been around for many years and you can try and track her with uploadable software or by playing a board game.  I picked up a cheap version of the software and uploaded it yesterday.  Max has been jet-setting all over the world and learning as he goes.  Occasionally he’ll yell out something like, “Mom!  Where do I go to get to Capetown?”  or “whose country flag is this one?”

It’s a twisty-turny adventure through many cities and countries.  The two A.C.M.E. agents tracking Ms. Sandiego are fun because they sometimes bicker.  You have a database of information at your disposal so you can research some information about a clue, you can collect electronic gadgets along the way (like a clue analyzer or an ‘electron illuminator’, which is just a plain old flashlight) to help you out in certain situations, and there’s a notebook wherein you can store information about your clues, etc. etc.  Occasionally you’ll run into a logic puzzle that you need to solve in order to receive another clue.  I sat with Max for the first 30 minutes to help if he got stuck, but then he took off on his own and got lost in the hunt for clues.

It’s cleverly designed and worth playing.  Since yesterday Max has been to Thailand, South Africa, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Antarctica, the United Kingdom, Russia, New Zealand……….all the while being exposed to cultural and country facts.  The graphics do a good job of capturing the essence of each place, right down to the foods that are favored and the mode of dress.  The Peruvians are so colorful!

Here’s a picture of this particular software.  Staples carries it as does The Learning Company, which is the retailer for this software (Broderbund Software):

I’m very pleased with the game.  I also suspect that Carmen might not be as vile as she is made out to be.  But we’ll have to see once we figure out her motives and find her!

There are many other similar products that involve Carmen Sandiego.  Here are a few choices to get you searching in case you are interested:

This one looks particularly intriguing since you need to use more abstract thinking to solve pieces to the puzzle – and you get to meet interesting characters from history like Julius Caesar, Beethoven, Thomas Jefferson, Leif Erikson and many others.  Looks like a fantastic history game!

Good for us non-quick thinkers.

I did notice while reading some of the reviews that the software sometimes has challenges in various platforms like Windows XP or MacOs, and other newer versions.  Most seemed to generally be very pleased with Carmen and her hijinks!

Oooo – several episodes from Carmen’s TV series in DVD format!  How cool is this?

Rita Moreno plays the role of Carmen.  There are a few other DVD episode sets available, too.

Cobblestone Publishing

Cobblestone Publishing is responsible for many unique publications, definitely not run-of-the-mill – one of which is a gem in children’s literature.  CRICKET magazine has been around for over thirty years mainly because it’s held fast to publishing quality stories that are not your general fare.  You won’t find Captain Underpants or Junie B. Jones in these pages!  Nothing wrong with those books really, but I just see them everywhere and have begun to think that people are losing their imaginations.  Sometimes it’s necessary to look beyond the mainstream and dig a little deeper to get to the good stuff.

My only complaint is that the magazine is a little pricey at $34.00 for nine issues throughout a year.  And since it’s only published nine times in a twelve month period, you have to wait awhile between issues.  Oftentimes with stories that carry over from issue to issue you have to go back and remind yourself about what happened in the previous issue before continuing on.  This mag is targeted to the 9 to 14-year-old audience and does so brilliantly with tremendous variety in the styles of writing.  Each issue is approximately 50 pages long and you won’t run into a single ad!  Gotta’ love that tactic, especially in times like these when we are bombarded with noise everywhere.  I suppose you could argue that blogging is a form of noise, too, huh?  I’ll try to pipe down.  Sorry.

It’s not solid corner-to-corner story writing, but is broken up with puzzles, short comics, recipes, activities, too.  We’ve been enjoying the offerings so far and usually save these stories for some bedtime reading.  I’m hooked right now on a story about the terrible atrocities suffered by the Chickasaw people and would like to get my hands on the first issue in which the story began.  Should you wish to peruse a sample of CRICKET magazine, here is a link for you.

CRICKET is just one of the great magazines Cobblestone Publishing produces.  If you want to focus on science, history and art, MUSE would be a nice choice:

COBBLESTONE Magazine focuses on American History:

DIG Magazine celebrates the discoveries in archaeology:

CALLIOPE Magazine concentrates on world history:

ODYSSEY highlights the world of science:

And last but not least, FACES helps kids to learn about different cultures:

Now, these are the magazines specially created for the 9 to 14-year-old set.  There are many others tailored to younger and older children.  Plus their website has a carefully chosen selection of books and games to look over, too.

You can even change your subscription to any one of their other magazines at no cost, too.  That’s a nice option!  We just might have to pick our way over some cobblestones, muse over the selections, ponder the odyssey of options, dig our way into some knowledge and see whose faces we meet!  Maybe we’ll get to meet Calliope.  Maybe I’ll get my money’s worth by switching subscriptions each month!