Learning About the Reformation

Every year that we’ve been homeschooling, we’ve had some sort of special lesson on Reformation Day. It usually involved reading a book about Martin Luther and doing a craft (often some kind of Luther’s Seal). I realized this year, though, that while the children know a lot about Martin Luther’s corner of the Reformation (of course), they don’t know much about the rest of what was going on in the Church. So, I’ve decided that this year, throughout the month of October, we’re going to replace our regular religion lessons with a special unit on the Reformation, as well as some general Lutheran history!

I started by replacing our Olympics “Special Event Wall” with one on the Reformation. The central focus of the wall is a “Reformation Era Timeline” I picked up at CPH. While the focus of this timeline is the Lutheran Reformation (naturally), other world and Reformation events are included on it, and I really like having a visual representation of just how much was going on in Europe at that time, from exploring the New World to the creation of famous works of art and literature. I added the “Solas” to the wall, as well as a list of key reformers, a map of Europe with key Reformation countries highlighted, a copy of Luther’s seal, and the LCMS seal. We’ll also be adding some things to the wall as the month goes on.

There are 23 school days in October this year, including five Wednesdays, which culminate on Reformation Day itself. I’ve planned something special for each of those Wednesdays, having each Wednesday be a special craft day:

  • Personal Coat of Arms
  • Stained “Glass”
  • Illuminated Letters/Scribe for a Day
  • Reformation Day Banner (to be used in the schoolroom for occasions such as future Reformation Days and Pentecost)
  • Tissue Paper Luther’s Seal

There are a few books I’ll be reading aloud, either in part or whole:

And book basket selections from the “Hero of Faith” series for the children to choose from:

Plus a few other book basket choices:

As well as workbooks for varying ages:

The bulk of our lessons will come in the form of a lapbook (actually several lapbooks)…our first ever! We’ll be learning the “who, what, where, when, and why” of the Reformation while we make these books. We’ll focus on seven reformers (John Wycliffe, John Huss, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, John Calvin, and John Knox), who will each have a mini-unit and lapbook dedicated to him.

We’ll also learn about seven rulers (Charles V, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, Philip II, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots) who were either supporters or opponents of the Reformation. Instead of a lapbook, the rulers will each have a dedicated notebooking sheet.

Over the course of the month, we’ll make a lapbook that provides an overview of the Reformation, including where each of the rulers fits, and their relationships to the reformers, where applicable.

Since Ladybug is too young for a lot of the lapbook activities, I got her the previously mentioned The Story of Martin Luther Activity Book to color in while Turkey and Bunny complete their books. It’s technically a preschool book, but I thought she’d have fun doing the sticker activities, and it will give her something of her own to work on, so she doesn’t feel left out…very important for a little girl who has two older siblings who “get to have all the fun!”

And field trips are a must. We’ll be visiting the Saxon Lutheran Memorial and attending a Bach at the Sem concert, where “Ein Feste Burg” will be performed. I don’t think we’re going to visit the International Center to see the Concordia Historical Institute Museum, but it has been a few years since we’ve been there, so we’ll see. We’re also going to be having a special Reformation Family Night at church, which, while not technically a field trip, should help reinforce some of the things we’ve been learning at home, and maybe even teach us some new things!

Music is a huge part of the Lutheran church (just ask the “fifth evangelist, J.S. Bach!), so we’ll be listening to some special selections throughout the month. We have both the Martin Luther: Hymns, Ballads, Chants, Truth and the Heirs of the Reformation collections from CPH. We’ll also be listening to various works by Bach…I’ll let Ryan pick which ones. To reinforce what we’ve learned in Luther’s Small Catechism, we’ll also be playing our copy of Sing the Faith.

Our children are a little too young for these kind of strategy games, but I do have some good ideas for games that have a Reformation-era or theological feel. I’m looking forward to future game nights in keeping with this theme!

I’m very excited to get started on this, and really dive into church, and Lutheran, history. It should be a fun month!

What We’re Reading–The Time of Easter

We have a lot of books for the Time of Easter, which begins with Ash Wednesday, (the start of Lent), and ends with the Day of Pentecost. The focus of most of these books is Easter itself, with the time leading up to Easter being secondary in most cases. I work really hard to make sure we don’t read any resurrection stories before Easter Sunday, which can be a bit of a challenge–sometimes, we can only read a part of book during Lent, and then have to wait until Easter Sunday, (and the days following), to finish it. I’m not nearly so fastidious during Advent, when we read Christmas stories all season long.

I’m also very careful to keep only religious Easter books around–nothing secular at all, so the list isn’t long compared to our Christmas collection. It actually makes me a little sad that there are so fewer options at Easter, when Easter is an even more important festival than Christmas. Again, at Christmas, I’m a bit more flexible in what we read, especially stories that showcase how Christmas is celebrated in other countries or at other times in history, although I do try to stay away from Santa stories wherever possible. You won’t find any “Easter Bunny” in our Easter readings, though–I really want to emphasize that which is sacred at this time of year!

All that being said, I thought I’d share the books that we do look forward to reading every year at Easter time, most of which are published by CPH!

  • Amon’s Adventure–Like its counterparts for the season of Advent, this book by Arnold Ytreeide is meant to be read throughout Lent. It is not divided into daily readings, however…that’s up to the reader to organize. I find that a bit irritating, because, unlike Advent, which can have a varying number of days, Lent always has the same number of days, and should have been easier to write into daily readings. Except for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, I chose to forgo readings on Wednesdays and Sundays, and split a few of the longer chapters up over two days, in order to stretch out the readings to last through the whole season of Lent.
  • The Very First Easter–A fantastic book by Paul Maier, which tells the whole Easter story. This is a follow-up to another family favorite, The Very First Christmas, and like the Christmas story, Maier’s Easter tale is Biblical, well-written, and has beautiful illustrations.
  • The Very First Christians–Sometime between Easter and Pentecost, we read the follow-up to The Very First Easter, which focuses on Pentecost and the early church. Like all of Paul Maier’s other books, this one is also excellent.
  • The Real Story of the Exodus–A different series, but also by Paul Maier, this is a good book to read on Maundy Thursday, to make the connection between the first Passover and the Lord’s Supper.
  • That’s My Colt!–This is a story about a boy whose pet had a special purpose on Palm Sunday, and then continues to follow the story through all of Holy Week.
  • Easter ABCs–This is a new book for us this year. I got it mostly for Ladybug’s benefit, and as the title suggests, it goes through the alphabet letter by letter, and mentions some aspect of Easter for each.
  • The Easter Cave–This is a rhyming book, with each line building upon the last. It’s especially good for preschoolers, as they can help “read” the story through the repetition.
  • Things I See At Easter–The children are really too old for this book, but it’s good practice for Moose to read it, and the simple pictures are good for both him and Ladybug to look at and connect to this time of the church year.
  • The Time of Easter–We all still love the story of Smidge and Smudge, two mice living in a church, learning about the church year. As the title suggests, they learn all about Lent through Pentecost in this title.
  • The Story Bible–Through the course of our Jesus Tree readings, we’ll be reading the whole Holy Week/Easter story in this children’s Bible. I’m very impressed with this particular Bible, and if I didn’t already have it, I might have bought The Easter Story, which is taken directly from The Story Bible, and includes all of the parts of the Easter story.
  • Before and After Easter: Activities and Ideas – Lent to Pentecost–I know, I know…a book from Augsburg Fortress? But, I found that there are some good stories and activities in this book, even if I don’t use everything in it.
  • Celebrate Jesus! At Easter–This isn’t a read aloud book, or a children’s book…it’s more of a devotional. And while we don’t use it daily, it does have lots of good ideas, Bible verses, and hymns that can be implemented throughout the Easter season.
  • A Very Blessed Easter Activity Book–OK, technically this isn’t a book we’re reading, either. But it is a reproducible book with fun crafts, puzzles, and Easter pictures. The reproducible part means we’ll get a lot of use out of it, and it’s good for a variety of ages, so I can find something for everybody in it at this point.

The Work of His Hands

Today, we had the honor of meeting Lutheran astronaut Colonel Jeffrey Williams. He has written a beautiful book, chronicling his time in space through photographs, for CPH–The Work of His Hands. The pictures in the book are beautiful, as you might expect, for Colonel Williams has taken more pictures of earth from space than any other astronaut.

Colonel Williams talked for about an hour about his experiences in space, and it was just fascinating to listen to him. I can’t believe how much I learned about life on the space station in such a short time! It was also very interesting to learn about the experience of riding on a Russian rocket ship–I was especially intrigued by his stories of landing in it. For some reason, I thought they still splashed down in the sea, so I was very surprised to discover that the landings are actually done on land!

I also enjoyed hearing him talk about his faith. He talked a lot about vocation, and discerning what God wants you to do with your life. I also appreciated his more practical approach to choosing a career. He flat-out said that the idea that you can be anything you want to be just isn’t true, which is something Ryan and I really believe, and talk about with our children. He talked instead about the importance of realizing what job God has for you, and doing that. Good, practical, Scriptural advice, and good for children to hear!

After his talk, he signed books. We already had a copy that we had brought with us, so we just waited in line a little bit, and then got to talk to him and have him sign it. I’m always excited to have an author sign a book, but having a book signed by an astronaut was particularly exciting!

I asked Colonel Williams if he would take a picture with Turkey, and he very kindly obliged. I think this was one of the highlights of Turkey’s life–he was actually speechless! It was a real treat for him to meet someone who is a real-life hero, and I think the events of the day helped him realize that his dream of being an astronaut someday doesn’t have to die just because the space shuttle has been retired!

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

The First Day of Third Grade

Today Turkey and Bunny went “back to school.”

For today, anyway, the school room is organized, books are on the shelves where they belong, the table is free of clutter–a week from now, it’ll probably be a completely different story, but today it looks good!

Turkey and Bunny are very excited about the things they’ll be learning this year, especially American History and writing in cursive. Here’s a brief rundown of our daily schedule:

In addition to all of that, we also have elective Fridays, where we’ll be learning about musical instruments, (we’ll be going through Those Amazing Musical Instruments, plus a coloring book), and composers, (we’re still using the Classical Kids Collection volumes one and two CDs), as well as horses, with Beautiful Feet’s History of the Horse. Plus we’ll use Fridays for playing educational games, such as Reading Roadway USA and the Scrambled States of America, and even the occasional Lego building activity, like the Lego White House from the Architecture series.

It’s going to be another great year–I’m so excited to get started!

Advent Resources

Advent is my very favorite time of year. Despite all the busyness, I also have a great sense of peace, possibly because we force ourselves to slow down every day, make sure our prayer time is intentional, and make sure we’re focusing on the real reason for the season. I love the anticipation, the preparation. Even though I love Christmas, and all the decorations and activities, (and take part in them during the season of Advent), I love Advent even more–the watching and the waiting.

The center of our Advent observances every year is the Advent Wreath. We light the appropriate candles each night at our family prayer time, and for some reason, that candlelight helps us focus more. I am always sad to put the wreath away every year, because it is such a special time, and one of the things I look forward to most as Advent approaches.

Another important part of our Advent ritual every year are the story books written by Arnold Ytreeide. Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels are interwoven stories, and each is broken down into daily Advent readings. In addition to the daily stories, there is also a brief devotion written for each day. To be honest, I can take or leave the devotional parts (although I usually do read them, but occasionally with some censorship), but the stories are excellent. They are very real, and filled with action and emotion, and excellent cliff-hangers. Although I read them with *my* children, they really are meant for a slightly older audience–probably beginning around age 8 or 10, depending on the child. But there is really no upper limit for age of enjoyment–I look forward to our daily readings, and often find myself peeking ahead to see what will happen next!

This year, for the first time, we have a Jesse Tree. I remember doing this once or twice when I was a child, and I think it’s a cool idea. There are books and kits out there that you can buy, to complete your tree, but I simply cut a tree out of poster board, and printed the ornaments and readings from a website that was offering them for free. The children look forward to seeing what the ornament is for each day, and hearing the accompanying Bible verse, as well as an explanation for how that verse points to Christ. Even Moose and Ladybug participate in this–they can hang the ornaments, and they get great joy out of counting the ornaments every day!

Another thing we’re doing for the first time this year is an Advent Calendar. I had many of these growing up, particularly once I was in High School and selling them for German Club. Many Advent Calendars are secular (think of the cardboard, winter decorated ones filled with chocolate), and that doesn’t really bother me–I think that again, the important thing is the counting down, the anticipation of Christ’s coming. To be honest, ours is secular–a Lego Advent calendar. But that suits our family quite well, so it works.

Devotion books can also be helpful during Advent (as well as other times). One I like is Celebrate Jesus! At Christmas, which was published by CPH. As far as I know, it’s no longer in print, but I’m sure it can still be found. Every day includes a hymn, some Advent, but not all, as well as a Nativity building activity. What I really like about this book is that it goes all the way to Epiphany–it’s nice to have a resource that doesn’t end abruptly on Christmas Eve, when there is still the whole season of Christmas ahead of us!

The ADVENTure of Christmas by Lisa Whelchel, (yes, from The Facts of Life), is another good resource. I don’t use all of the suggestions and activities in this book, but it’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a special idea to add to your Advent celebration. There are fun games and activities, teachable moments, science experiments, recipes, and stories explaining some of our Christmas traditions.

Getting Ready for Christmas is a fun activity book to use with young children as you count down the days until Christmas. Each activity also incorporates a Bible verse and a prayer, and the illustrations are very cute. The back cover even has a lift-the-flap Advent countdown built right into it! It’s perfect for little hands.

The Very First Christmas isn’t technically an Advent resource, but we often read this story toward the end of Advent, in preparation for Christmas. I love The Very First… series, and this book is no exception. It begins with a modern-day boy wanting to know a story about real people, not the typical myths you hear around Christmastime, and so his parents tell him the whole Christmas story.

There are so many wonderful way to prepare our hearts for Advent–every year I look forward to choosing what we’ll use, and how we’ll use this season to prepare!

Christmas School–Day Ten

Today in school, our focus was on a single hymn–“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” I love this Christmas hymn, mostly because I know the story of how Martin Luther wrote it for his children. I think it is amazingly cool that he had the ability to do that for his family, and even cooler that generations of believers have also gotten to benefit from his talents. Plus, you have to love any hymn that has 15 verses!

We started by reading the children’s storybook of the same name. Sadly, this book appears to be out of print, but it is a fantastic resource to have. There is a brief summary of why Martin Luther wrote the hymn, and how it was originally sung, on the front jacket flap, and then the words from Luke from where the hymn’s stanzas come. The rest of the book is only the words to the hymn, along with illustrations to accompany each verse.

After we had read through the whole book, we then listened to all 15 verses of the hymn. The whole thing is available in the Martin Luther: Hymns, Ballads, Chants, Truth CD set. I have used this set many times in school, for Reformation, (“A Mighty Fortress” can be heard in both German and English), Advent, (the only recording we have of our favorite Advent hymn, “Savior of the Nations Come), Christmas, and liturgical hymns. This set, along with the Heirs of the Reformation CD set, are great resources to have at home if you’re interested in good Lutheran hymnody, and each comes with a booklet that has additional information on each hymn.

Our craft for the day, since we had heard so much about angels in the hymn, were paper plate angels. These proved to be a little trickier than I thought they would be, I guess because there were no flat surfaces to work with, so Turkey and Bunny needed a little help to get them done. Even so, they really liked making them, and were quick to give them names (Turkey named his St. Michael) and play with them. I like crafts that have some (limited) play value, instead of having everything just hang on the wall–the only problem with playing with them is that they also have limited durability!

Christmas School–Day Six

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

While we may not do the whole Santa thing, we do recognize Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, on this day of his commemoration. We started the day with a few small gifts in the children’s stocking–an orange, some candies, an ornament, and the gifts Turkey and Bunny purchased for their siblings at the Dollar Spot at Target. They, of course, thought this was great fun!

Once school began, we read Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend, which is an excellent book from CPH. As the title suggests, this book tells the story of the actual St. Nicholas, (or at least as much of it as we know), as opposed to the normal Santa stories we hear at this time of year. This story illustrates the faith and generosity of Nicholas of Myra, as well as reminds us that we should be practicing that same generosity (and not only at Christmas!), because of the generosity God shows to us in the gifts He gives us.

We then read another version of this same story in The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories. This time, however, we read a Dutch legend, instead of a biographical story, and there were some glaring differences. It is much easier to see where our Santa mythology comes from when reading this particular version–According to the Dutch, St. Nicholas stood on rooftops, and tossed coins down chimneys, which then landed in stockings. It was fun to compare and contrast the two stories, even if this one veered pretty far from the truth.

We also watched the Veggie Tales DVD, Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving. This was, naturally, mostly just for fun, (who doesn’t love Veggie Tales?), but there was some historical information in this recording. I will admit, however, you really have to look for it–this particular story takes some real liberties with the life of Nicholas, especially as it tries to morph his story into the Santa mythos. In spite of that, it does once again capture the spirit of generosity, which is always a good lesson for children to learn, and hear over and over. I would suggest that it’s a good idea to talk about this one with the children, to make sure that they understand the difference between the fact and fiction in this video.

Today’s craft project was a “Handprint Wreath.” Now, I realize that this had nothing to do with St. Nicholas, but it was a lot of fun, and I’m a sucker for handprint crafts. Plus, it looks really cute!

Christmas School–Day Four

Today in school, we learned more about Jesus’ earthly father in Fear Not Joseph. Now, this book is fictionalized, as it must be, since we don’t have a whole lot of information on Joseph, outside of a few mentions in Scripture. But I think this book does an excellent job of showing children how Joseph might have felt, how he might have talked to Mary, how he dealt with Jesus being born in a stable. It’s also nice to have a different perspective on the Christmas story.

Since we have been reading a lot about angels this week, in the stories of Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph, we listened to and learned about a semi-familiar hymn, “The Angel Gabriel.” We were able to do this courtesy of Sacred Songs of Christmas. This book and CD set gives background information for 19 hymns, some well-known, and a few more obscure. There are also Bible verses, quotes, and trivia (for lack of a better word), mixed in with the words of the hymns. The CD only contains the first verses of the hymns, but that’s enough to give a good idea of the melody if you don’t know it, and the complete words are in the book if you’re ambitious enough to sing the rest on your own. We’ll be using this book several more times before we’re done with Christmas school!

I have failed to mention that for our big Christmas read-aloud, we’re reading A Christmas Carol. That’s right, the Charles Dickens classic–five pages a day. I was worried that Turkey and Bunny might find it too dry–they are familiar with the story, thanks to the Muppets, but sitting down and listening to the story sans pictures is a little different. They seem to be enjoying it, though, and their comprehension of it is good. I just like that they’re being exposed to such a classic book at such young ages!

Since we read the first two books in the series earlier this week (Ordering Our Days in His Peace and Behold the Lamb), we also re-read Worshiping with Angels and Archangels. I really like the way this book introduces children to the Divine Service, and even I have managed to learn a few things over the few times we’ve read it. The children have really enjoyed learning the history and the whys of the way we worship, and I like how everything in the book points to the Sacrament of the Altar.

A key element to our Christmas school every year is A Classical Kids Christmas. This CD is set up much like a children’s Christmas pageant, and tells the Christmas story through the important days of the Christmas season, including St. Nicholas’ Day, St. Thomas’ Day, and Epiphany. It doesn’t shy away from the real reason for the season, and only mentions Santa briefly, and then only in the context of explaining how he came to be in relation to St. Nicholas. It also does an excellent job of telling of Christmas traditions around the world, which comes in handy when we’re doing our Christmas around the world days.

Christmas School–Day Two

Today’s Christmas school was a little more Christmas-y, although we had no Christmas craft–that will have to wait until tomorrow. We started by reading The Three Wise Women of Christmas. In one storybook are three very short stories; one about Elizabeth, one about Mary, and one about Anna. It’s not terribly substantial, but gives some basic information about each of the women (the section about Anna is probably the most unknown to children), and shows how God was faithful to each of them.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s discussion of the church year, we read through Behold the Lamb, which is a companion to Ordering Our Days in His Peace. Behold the Lamb focuses on the symbols we see in church. The books begins with the different symbols for the Trinity, and then breaks them down further into symbols representing each of the Persons of the Trinity. There are also symbols for Word and Sacrament, as well as evangelists and apostles, but the biggest portion of the book is symbols for the various seasons of the church year. We especially focused on the symbols related to the Time of Christmas–nothing really new there, but we very much enjoyed the artwork.

There were two parts of the book that were especially fascinating to Turkey and Bunny. The first was the two page layout on different styles of crosses. There were several that they had never seen before–they were especially intrigued by the anchor cross. They were also interested in the symbols from two legends that have come to represent Christ. The first, the Phoenix, was new to them, but *I* had heard of that one before. The second, the Pelican-in-her-piety, was also new to me, and I thought that story was particularly fascinating. Although the story of a mother bird feeding her babies with her own life’s blood so they might survive is not true, it certainly is a great representation of Christ’s love for us.

I love days when even I learn something new!

Christmas School–Day One

Today’s lessons had very little to do with Christmas. Instead, we focused on the church year. It seemed like a good place to start since the first day of Advent was yesterday.

Turkey and Bunny are familiar with how the church year is set up, but I wanted to get a little more in-depth with it, as well as look ahead to the specific dates we will be celebrating later on in this church year. To do that, we started with our church year calendar. This is the third year we’ve had this hanging in our school room, and it’s a great resource. It shows all the major dates of the specific year, and also marks the lesser commemorations we might otherwise miss. It’s a part of our opening every morning to check the calendar, see what season of the church year we’re in, and note any special days.

As we were noting the festivals of this church year, we marked them on a church year spinner. It was actually Turkey’s idea to turn it into a spinner, where he and Bunny could mark the seasons as they change; it was my plan to just make a wheel and fill in the appropriate dates. I think it’s much better the way he suggested! This spinner is actually not so different from our big calendar, but it gives only the highlights of major feast days–much easier for at-a-glance checking, so both have a place in our schoolroom!

We then read the first installment of the “Mouse Prints” series that was put out by CPH a while back. As its title suggests, the focus of this book is The Time of Christmas. There are also books detailing The Time of Easter and The Time of the Church. They’re out of print now, but if you can get your hands on a copy of this set, I highly recommend it. This is a great way to introduce children to the times of the church, and what each of the seasons mean. We’ve read through the whole three book series several times now, but Turkey and Bunny still love it, because the stories (and illustrations) are just so cute!

On a more serious note, we also went through Ordering Our Days in His Peace. We read through the entire Advent/Christmas/Epiphany section, and then skimmed through the rest of the church year. This book compares the church year to a story, and shows that like a story, it needs a beginning, middle, and end for it to make sense to us. I think it’s a great analogy, and Turkey and Bunny were really captivated by it–they had never heard the church year described that way before.