Leap Day!

Somewhat surprisingly, (to me, at least), this is our first Leap Day since we started homeschooling back in 2008. I guess it just seems like we’ve doing this so long, I had a hard time believing at first that we’ve never had school on this “holiday” before. I knew I wanted to do something fun and special, but I wasn’t really sure what–there aren’t too many dedicated Leap Day crafts/activities out there, at least not that I could find.

I decided that since I couldn’t find Leap Day specific activities, we’d go with a frog theme…after all, frogs are known for leaping, right?

At first, I thought we’d make those origami frogs that actually hop. But paper-folding is not one of my strengths, so instead, we made paper plate frog puppets. Paper plate crafts I can handle!

We also read a favorite story, “The Determined Frog,” from one of our favorite story books: The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book. It’s a cute, funny, story, with a good message about not giving up.

Of course, we couldn’t celebrate Leap Day without playing a game of leapfrog. And we even got to play outside, because it’s unbelievably nice outside for February!

Leap Day was a huge hit here…too bad we have to wait four more years to enjoy it again!

Christmas School: Miscellaneous Resources

We had a blast with Christmas school the last two-plus weeks!  I was very fortunate to have a wide variety of resources to use: Books, CDs, and DVDs.  Some I got from the library, some I picked up from either the warehouse sale this fall or Amazon.com when I had gift certificates.  Many I already had, even before we had children.  So, I had a good 10 years or more to collect some of this stuff, without even knowing then that I’d be homeschooling now, but it was all put to good use this year.

We started “Christmas School” on December 5, the day before the commemoration of Nicholas of Myra.  I thought that since it was so timely, it would be good to start with Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend.  This is a great children’s book that introduces readers to Nicholas’ faith and generosity, as well as the fact that he was a real person.

That day, we also began our Christmas trip around the world.  I found a fun book(Christmas Around the World) that gives a basic introduction to the Christmas activities in twelve countries, including how to say “Merry Christmas” in that country’s native language, what the main symbol of Christmas is in that location, and a general overview of when the holiday is celebrated (not always on December 25), and what that celebration looks like, from food to activities to present opening.

I found one other book at the library that I used in our trip around the world: Christmas in the Philippines.  This book wasn’t a storybook, so it’s not like I could just sit down and read it to Turkey and Bunny, but they did enjoy looking at the pictures (and there were many), of what Christmas looks like in that country. There were also some interesting looking recipes at the back, but Asian cooking is not my strong point, so I don’t know if any of those were good.

A book that provided me with some craft activities, as well as possible explanations for the meanings behind the 12 Days of Christmas was The Adventure of Christmas.  There are lots of great ideas in this book, for a variety of ages, so I’m sure I’ll be using for many years to come.

One storybook we really enjoyed was The Lion Storyteller Christmas Book.  It’s as good as the original Lion Storyteller that we’ve been reading in school, and we read a lot of the stories in it.  Some of our favorites included: “Old Befana,” “Wenceslas’ Winter Walk,” “A Flower for Christmas,” “The First Christmas Tree,” “Francis’ Christmas Pageant,” “Father Joseph’s Christmas Song,” “Brother Comgall’s Christmas,” “Papa Panov’s Visitors” (a great story illustrating the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: 31-46), and “The Cobbler’s Sons.”  There was also a whole section of Bible stories at the beginning of the book, and we might try to read some of those before it goes back to the library.

Turkey and Bunny also had two coloring books they enjoyed using.  The first, the Christmas Around the World Coloring Book, had beautiful pictures detailing Christmas celebrations in many different countries.  In retrospect, this book was probably a little too detailed and advanced for them, but they didn’t color all the pictures, so we’ll probably be able to use it for several more years.  The second, Christmas Traditions, is a fun book that we picked up at our favorite Christmas festival. The pictures were much less complex in this book, and it had the added bonus of Turkey and Bunny having seen a lot of the characters at the festival, so that was probably the more popular of the two. Both also had pictures of the Nutcracker story, so they were very useful on the days we were learning about that story.

My favorite purchase at the warehouse sale (as soon as I saw it, I knew I needed it for Christmas school), was Sacred Songs of Christmas.  This is actually a book and CD set, and includes the lyrics and music for 19 Christmas hymns and carols.  It’s a beautiful book, and in addition to the lyrics, contains stories, poems, and verses from other hymns.  We gained more insight to some of the hymns we associate with Christmas, as well as some of the characters and places in the Christmas story.

We also had a few other Christmas CDs that we listened to during different school activities.  The best was the Classical Kids Christmas CD.  I continue to be impressed with this series of CDs for children, and the Christmas version is my favorite so far.  It’s organized much like a children’s Christmas program, and includes songs from around the world, and showcases some of the other holidays associated with Christmas in various Christian cultures.  The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas was also helpful to us, primarily for listening to the 12 Days of Christmas on the days we were doing our special Christmas math activity, but also for providing festive background music on a few occasions, and listening to songs such as “Feliz Navidad” and “Adeste Fidelis” when we were learning about Christmas around the world.

While the Nutcracker was our primary source of videos in Christmas school, we did have one other show we watched, the final day of school.  It was an episode of The Seasoned Traveler, which is a PBS show.  This particular episode, entitled “Christmas Markets,” allowed us to see what Christmas markets are like all around Europe, but particularly in Germany. It may not have been a story like the Nutcracker, but Turkey and Bunny really liked it, because it was real–a show about a real event, at real places, that real people can go to.

We had a lot of resources to go through this year, but I’m already looking ahead to years down the road, and what we might add to our school as the children get older.  Included on that list are The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (I still remember reading about the Herdmans when I was in grade school) and The Annotated Christmas Carol (which is probably still several years off–I don’t think Turkey and Bunny will really “get” it; they don’t really “get” the Muppet version, either!).

That’s a lot of books–it’s a good thing Turkey and Bunny like reading as much as I do!

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

We concluded our trip around the world, as well as our two-week Christmas unit, today by learning about Christmas celebrations in Germany.  We listened to a German Christmas carol (“Now Sing We, Now Rejoice”), and talked a little bit about the difference between hymns (more formal), and carols (much more laid back, and very well suited to singing while strolling down the street).

We also turned once again to the Lion Storyteller for one more Christmas story–a legend from Germany, but one that, ironically, takes place in England:  “The First Christmas Tree.”  I had some mixed feelings about this story, because part of it was darker than the other stories we have read, but I felt that the ending was worth it, really driving home the fact that Jesus is the only sacrifice required by God.  And, while Turkey and Bunny did seem a little troubled by part of the story, they didn’t seem scared, so I think we struck a good balance.

Following learning about the custom of decorating Christmas trees, we made a really neat Christmas tree that has an almost stained glass effect when you hang it in a window.  Turkey and Bunny practiced making the small snips with their scissors that the project requires, but in the end, when working on their actual trees, I made the snips for them.  Bunny just doesn’t have the fine motor skills yet to make cuts that small, and while I’m certain Turkey *could* have done it, once he saw me making specific shapes in Bunny’s tree, he wanted me to do his, too.  They did have a great time with color selection and gluing, and some trimming (mostly on Turkey’s part–he’s way better with scissors than his sister is!).

They also had a tree decorating coloring sheet in their Christmas Around the World coloring books, and a picture of Kris Kringle in their Holiday Traditions coloring books.  We may not “do” Santa here, but I do think it is interesting for them to learn about the way other cultures view the legend of St. Nicholas.

The highlight of the day (other than the tree project), was learning about “Christkindlmarkts.”  That is my favorite thing about Christmas in Germany, and I really hope to attend the Nuremberg market someday.  I have been to the Chicago Christkindlmarket, and from what I can tell, it’s a pretty good replica.  It was also my very favorite Christmas tradition when I lived up in the Chicago area (schnitzel sandwich and hot spiced cider, anyone?), and I can’t wait to take the children there in a few years when they’re older.  I’ll confess to actually having had dreams about it, I enjoyed it so well, and miss it so much.

After I explained to them what a Christmas market is, we watched an episode of “The Seasoned Traveler” from PBS.  I saw this show a few years ago, and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to find this year that’s it’s available on DVD.  I don’t know how I never caught before that the show is geared toward seniors who like to travel (I know, the title should have tipped me off, but I really thought “seasoned” just referred to people who were experienced travelers!), but I don’t think that really matters, and Turkey and Bunny loved seeing the different markets in Germany, as well as other places in Europe.  They were quite surprised that those were actual places, especially the Nuremberg market, with a children’s area, complete with carousel and ferris wheel, and I think they really want to go to a Christmas market now!

I wish I could find the Christkindlmarkt video that we watched every year in my German class in high school.  I have no idea what it was called, but it was really cool, and told a story about a little German girl, while she went exploring through the market (I think maybe in Cologne?).  I know Turkey and Bunny would enjoy that, since it focuses on a child, but try as I might, I can’t even find out what it’s called, much less if I can get a copy anywhere.  I think that’s the only thing that would have made our Germany exploration better, though–we had a great time with Christmas around the world, and Christmas school!

Fröhliche Weihnachten and Merry Christmas!

Feliz Navidad!

Today in school we moved onto Mexico.  Actually, this was a little bit more low-key for us, as Turkey and Bunny already  had some familiarity with Christmas in Mexico.  They knew “Feliz Navidad,” they had an idea of Las Posadas from our failed field trip a week ago Saturday (someday, I would like to give seeing that traditional procession of Mary and Joseph looking for a room at night, illuminated by candlelight, lanterns, and flashlights another chance, because I think it would be awesome to see!), they knew pinatas are used for parties (although they were a little surprised that they could be used for something other than a birthday party!).

They did enjoy reading about the legend of the poinsettia, though.  We turned back to our favorite Lion Storyteller Christmas Book, and read “A Flower for Christmas.”  I have no idea if that’s the “real” poinsettia story, or if there might be others out there, but they really enjoyed it, even if Turkey did insist on pointing out to me that that could never happen.  But we talked about how we have some poinsettias in our church, and we added a new symbol of Christmas to our list:  stars in the Philippines, nativity scenes in Italy, Christmas trees in America, and now, the red poinsettia plant as a Christmas symbol in Mexico.

They also got to color a new picture in their Christmas Around the World coloring books.  Much like we had discussed, it showed children taking turns at a pinata, with a backdrop of poinsettias.  They loved the shapes the pinatas were in (three different animals), and they were puzzled and excited that the picture actually showed the pinata being used outdoors.  So, they’ve decided that when the little tree we planted in our yard last spring gets bigger, they would like to try their hands at a pinata out there.  Not a bad idea, actually.

Friday, we finish our Christmas journey around the world with my favorite country (outside of America, of course!): Germany.  Until then, Feliz Navidad!

Buon Natale!

Merry Christmas from Italy!  (Or at least the Italian sector of our house…)  We had a great time learning about Italian Christmas traditions today.  We started with basic geography–where Italy is on the map, what it’s shaped like (Turkey and Bunny were very amused to realize it looks like a boot!), and what that type of land is called (a peninsula).  Turkey also pointed out, with no prompting, that Florida is also a peninsula–proud Mommy moment for that one!

We read two stories from the Lion Storyteller Christmas Book–the first was about Saint Francis and the first Christmas pageant.  This led to a discussion about the use of nativity scenes in homes in both Italy and America. We then made a foam nativity scene from a kit I picked up at Michael’s.  It will be a cold day when I get another one of those things, but the end result was pretty cute, and Turkey and Bunny enjoyed helping me put it together (they didn’t get to help as much as I had hoped, because I had to get out the hot glue gun, so they had to back off, lest they burn themselves like I did, several times no less!).

We had two different Italy coloring sheets, too.  One, from our Christmas Around the World coloring book, was of a living nativity, much like the one Saint Francis put together in our story.  The other picture (of La Befana) was actually from a coloring book we picked up at our Christmas field trip over the weekend.  Our second story was about the legend of La Befana, so the two fit together nicely.  Using that story as a bit of a springboard, we also talked a little about the wise men, and listened to the hymn, “What Child is This?”

Our big “taste” of Italy, though, was our dinner tonight.  I decided to be adventurous and try out a recipe for  Zuppa Toscana I found online.  It was quite a bit of work to put together, but it was really delicious, and Turkey and Bunny both enjoyed sampling food from Italy.

We will continue our trip around the world on Monday…until then, Buon Natale!

Good News and Bad News

Did you know that there is a Lion Storyteller Christmas Book?

The Good News:  While browsing at the local public library last night (which can be a very hit or miss kind of situation!), I stumbled across The Lion Storyteller Christmas Book.  I, of course, checked it out immediately.  The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book is a favorite of both the children and myself in school (especially the tiger stories!), and I had no idea that there could be more Lion Storyteller books.  Never even crossed my mind.

The great thing about these books is that they are stories from around the world.  Some are familiar, some aren’t, but the illustrations are really fun, and we love finding all the countries on the world map.  As a matter of fact, I can give most of the credit for my children’s surprising geographical knowledge to Lion Storyteller.

After flipping through the Christmas version last night, I was not disappointed.  Bible stories, folk tales (some that are familiar, like the story of “Silent Night,” and some completely new to me), traditions around the world.  I’m so excited about reading some of these during “Christmas school’; as a matter of fact, I’d love this book to become part of our “permanent collection.”

The Bad News:  The Lion Storyteller books are published in England, and it appears that the Christmas one is no longer available for purchase in any American markets.  Sure, I could ship it from England, but I don’t even want to know how much that would cost (not to mention I know nothing of the exchange rate, so I really don’t even know how much they want for the book, American-dollars-wise!).

So, I’m going to hope that I can grab it from the library every year, and the heck with anyone else that wants to read it!  See, this is why I hate depending on the library for seasonal books–they don’t have a lot of them to begin with, and I’m either going to be the person who didn’t get ahold of it, or I’m going to be “that guy”–you know, the person who makes it impossible for anyone else to actually enjoy the book.  Oh well…I can live with that!