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!

Third Grade: Week Six Wrap-Up

This week’s topic is music. Not music lessons, because obviously I’m not qualified to do that, but general knowledge of musical instruments/composers/history and music appreciation. This is one thing I try to make sure we spend time, because it’s something that I didn’t have a lot of exposure to as a child.

This year, we’re using two books that I really like: Those Amazing Musical Instruments! and the Dover Musical Instruments coloring book. Those Amazing Musical Instruments! is a really cool book that goes in-depth for every instrument found in the orchestra (and some that aren’t!). The instruments are arranged by section, starting with strings, and, of course, the first one featured is the violin. There’s information such as how many of each instrument is found in an orchestra, other places you might hear the instruments, (such as a chamber group), the history of the instrument, and its pitch range. There is also an included CD, with several samples featuring each instrument, as well as what their ranges sound like. The photos in this book are excellent, and provide great close-ups of instruments that children might otherwise not get to see.

The Musical Instruments coloring book is a nice accompaniment, (if you’ll pardon the pun), to Those Amazing Musical Instruments! I like that the children have the opportunity to color the instrument they are learning about, and it’s nice to give them something to do with their hands while they’re listening to the music samples. Each picture also has a caption, which reinforces what they’ve learned about the instrument, whether something about its use, construction, or history.

In the past, I’ve used two other books that I also really like. Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin gives children a very basic introduction to the instruments found in an orchestra, and also reinforces counting skills. This is an especially good book to read with small children. The illustrations are excellent, and even just using words, children are able to get an idea of what the different instruments sound like.

The Story of the Orchestra is somewhat similar to Those Amazing Musical Instruments!, in that they both come with a CD, and they both cover the different orchestral instruments. The Story of the Orchestra, however, also goes into detail about specific composers, so many of the samples on the CD are grouped not by instrument, but by time period and composer. Because they are grouped by time period, it also gives a good general overview of music history, as well.

Of course, you can’t learn about music without listening to it, and I have some favorites in that area, as well. My very favorite CDs are the Classical Kids Collection, volumes one and two, (plus A Classical Kids Christmas, when seasonally appropriate). These CDs are, for the most part, arranged by composer, and in addition to giving samples of some of their more well-known works, they also tell a story about the composer and the world in which he lived. I enjoy listening to these as much as the children do, and I can’t believe how much they’ve learned from them!

There’s also Bernstein Favorites: Children’s Classics, which has both “Peter and the Wolf” and “The Carnival of the Animals,” as well as “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” This is another CD which has taught the children a lot. “Peter and the Wolf” is one of the few things I really remember listening to as a child, and it is very useful in identifying musical instruments by what they sound like. I dare anyone to listen to “Peter and the Wolf” without humming it for the rest of the day!

In addition to these, I’d also recommend simply playing CDs of symphonies by some of the greats. For example, we listen to a lot of Tchaikovsky here. We have a CD of the Nutcracker and Symphony No. 4 that is very popular. We also enjoy the 1812 overture (complete version, please), and Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6. Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” is also popular, as is anything by Bach, Mozart, or Vivaldi. I also like to include some more “modern” composers in our listening, (although not necessarily officially in our lessons), such as Sousa, Gershwin and John Williams.

Other resources I’ve heard good things about, but haven’t had the chance to use yet include: Beethoven’s Wig; The World’s Very Best Opera for Kids…in English!; Tubby the Tuba; The Farewell Symphony; and The Philharmonic Gets Dressed. The most important thing, though, is making good music available for children to listen to, from a very young age, and talking to them about what they hear and think about when they’re listening to it!

How to Celebrate Independence Day, the John Adams Way

I have loved this quote from John Adams regarding Independence Day celebrations ever since I read it last year:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty; it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Even though he said it over 200 years ago, it describes perfectly our Fourth of July celebrations today!

  • Pomp and Parade? Check! Between speeches and patriotic music, I think we’ve got pomp covered. And I do love a good Independence Day parade!
  • Shows, Games and Sports? Check! The shows might be a little different from what John Adams had envisioned, but who doesn’t love an opportunity to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy? Or The Patriot? Or 1776? Or Independence Day? And the Fourth of July is a great time for families, friends, and neighbors to get together and play all sorts of games, or to watch a sporting event on TV.
  • Guns? Check! Between cannon blasts, and fireworks, (which are really just colorful guns), this is probably the most anticipated event of any given Independence Day.
  • Bells? Check! If not church bells ringing, then bells in concerts all across the country. Big or small, bells are ringing all around America for the Fourth of July.
  • Bonfires and Illuminations? Check! There are those fireworks, again, and lights in general, as everyone stays up late to celebrate America’s birthday. Even backyard bonfires are not uncommon, as families huddle around them, and talk late into the night.
  • From one end of the continent to the other? Check! I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love at least some aspect of the Fourth of July, whether it’s the fireworks or the time with family, the food or the parades. And it doesn’t matter if you live in a big city or small town, (or even on a farm in the middle of nowhere), east coast or west, north or south–Americans all over this country are celebrating today–celebrating our strength and our freedoms, celebrating all of the things that make this country great!

Fine Arts Week

I had originally planned this week to be ballet-themed. I wasn’t going to make Turkey and Bunny dance, but I thought it would be good for them to learn about the history of dance, hear the stories behind some of the most famous ballets, listen to some of the music, etc. I found it to be especially timely approaching Christmas–we could spend at least a full day on just the Nutcracker, maybe even stretch it into a day and a half.

As I was planning, however, it quickly morphed into more of a study of fine arts than just ballet. Yes, that was still the primary focus, but we also be studied art and artists (specifically Degas, who did many paintings of ballerinas), music and composers (especially Tchaikovsy, without whom the modern shape of ballet would be very different!), and even a little cooking (not really a “fine” art I suppose, but how can you learn about ballet without taking the opportunity to make a Pavlova?).

I found lots of great resources, so I thought I’d share, in case you’re looking for some good reading, watching, or listening related to fine arts!

Full of information on the history of ballet, basic steps, stories of the ballet, everything. The accompanying CD has excerpts of some of the more memorable parts of many ballets, along with explanations of the music, and hints for what to listen for (the sound of cats meowing in The Sleeping Beauty, for example).

This book had wonderful summaries of some of the most famous ballet stories–we read both The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, and, if we hadn’t already had a storybook of it, would have read the Nutcracker, too. Like A Child’s Introduction to Ballet, it also comes with a CD.

This is part of a great series called “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists.” While these books are very factual, and full of pictures of paintings, they also have humorous illustrations, and are written in a very conversational style. There seems to be a book for every major artist, too!

I found this book, especially the ending, to be quite moving. In fact, the first time I read through it, I teared up a little.

Similar to the above Degas book, this is part of the companion “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers” series. I unintentionally chose only ballets by Tchaikovsky to read and listen to, so I thought we should learn about the composer himself. Turkey and Bunny especially liked learning about Tchaikovsky’s fear that his head would fall off while conducting in front of an audience, thereby forcing him to hold onto his beard the entire time. We’re looking forward to reading the Bach installment next year!

My favorite version of the Nutcracker ballet, ever. Helgi Tomasson did an awesome job of choreographing the ballet in a fresh new way, while holding true to the original story. There are also educator materials available on the San Francisco Ballet Company’s website, which are great resources for teaching about this ballet.

Jerusalem Marketplace

I’m not really talking about Group’s VBS from this year. Honestly. At least not intentionally.

My mom visited us this week, and she brought a DVD she had put together of some videos from my childhood. One of those was some random video from a Vacation Bible School program that my church put on when I was about seven. I was ecstatic to see this, because of all the VBS programs I attended (and even the ones I’ve volunteered at–sadly, even ones in recent memory!) this is the one year I really remember. I can still remember many of the craft projects, and as soon as I saw the video, more came rushing back. I still remember being outside at the church, because almost all of that year’s program was held outside. There were tents set up, just like a marketplace from Bible times, each one with a different purpose or activity. All the volunteers were in costume–mostly “robes” made out of sheets and sandals, but it really lent an air of authenticity. I remember sounds and smells and impressions more strongly than most memories I have from that period of my childhood.

I mention all this because this Vacation Bible School obviously made a huge impact on me. Not in a “make a decision for Jesus” sort of way (I’m a Lutheran; we don’t do that!), but in a “I really learned a lot about Jesus and His life” sort of way.

I have no idea where my church got the program. For all I know, it was put together by church leaders (actually, it was a joint operation between two churches in my old town, so it could have been put together by a lot of people!), or it could have been purchased. From Googling the title, I have discovered one thing–Group Publishing had a VBS kit this year that was very similar to what I remember from my childhood. Did Group buy it from another company that created the one I remember? Who knows. I have a hard time believing that my church would have gotten the program from Group directly in the mid-80s. I know they were around then, but I don’t think they were that well known, and I just can’t really see my church having used them. Did somebody involved in that VBS actually write the program and sell it to Group at some point later? Also possible–I know several people who have sold stuff to Group and/or work for Group, so I can’t discount that possibility. Is it a big coincidence? Also possible, I suppose, although not as likely, because there seem to be just too many things in common for that to be the case.

At any rate, watching the video has reminded me of a lot of the cool things we did that summer, and also either triggered memories or created ideas (sometimes it’s hard to tell between what I actually remember, and what the church worker in me knows is a good idea!) of other things. I would love to someday either re-create this VBS, or rework Group’s version to make it more appropriate (is that the right word?) for my church. Probably not for a few years at least, because I don’t want to undertake anything huge while my children are still so small, but it’s something to ponder for the time being.

Craft Projects

  • Jewelry making–both punched metal (using hammer and nails, I think) and pottery
  • Basket weaving
  • Musical instrument making (the one I remember involved metal bottle caps loosely nailed to wood we painted)
  • Brick making, stamping mud and all!
  • Scroll making
  • Making those yarn cat’s eye things
  • Rope making
  • Making a Dreidel and playing the game
  • Candy making (ours was honey based)

Other Ideas

  • The storyteller (this was the way the day’s Bible story was conveyed–this role happened to be played by my mom, which is probably why I remember it!)
  • Bible stories acted out by the pastoral staff (Seeing two of my childhood pastors on the video re-enacting the Good Samaritan brought this memory back)
  • Copying English and Hebrew translations of a Bible verse (conveniently on the scrolls made in craft time)
  • Jewish dancing
  • Music time, of course
  • Jewish games (see Dreidel game, above)

Just looking at Group’s website, I got some other ideas, but I digress. This is about what I remember from my childhood, not what’s out there now. The point is, because it was all so hands-on (notice the huge amount of crafts–I’m guessing we probably did at least two every day, even though I can’t seem to remember them all right now), it was much more memorable.

Now, I will admit, I don’t remember a lot about the individual Bible stories. Of course, when you go to a Lutheran dayschool, and learn about Jesus at home everyday, it’s kind of hard to separate what you learned where, so I don’t know that I don’t remember the Bible portion because it wasn’t well done. What’s important is that I remember that week at all, and that I learned, and can still remember, what daily life must have been like for Jesus and His family and friends. I just can’t help but think that this is a lot more effective than a lot of the programs that are out there today (sorry CPH!).

My children had a great time at VBS this year, and I loved hearing what they learned about every day and seeing the crafts they made. They’re still singing some of the songs, so it clearly made an impact. But I have to wonder if they’ll remember it over 20 years from now, like I do with the Jerusalem Marketplace, or if it will just become a vague mist in the back of their minds and hearts. I guess as long as we keep teaching them at home, it doesn’t really matter, but what about those children that aren’t getting that kind of reinforcement at home? I hope their VBS experiences are memorable enough that they’ll look back on them as adults, and remember something about Christ’s love for us, and His death and resurrection.

It’s making me absolutely crazy that I’m liking something Group has done for VBS. That’s the Vacation Bible School for lazy people! (I don’t care what anyone says–it’s true! Isn’t their whole selling point that the volunteers don’t have to put in a lot of effort? It’s really too bad that churches are so hard up for volunteers that we have to water down the program to make it easy enough to get people to commit to helping!) I’m going to have to work on coming to terms with this. Very weird.

My Favorite Things–CDs

A Relaxing Soak in the Tub–I picked this one up at Hallmark at least 10 years ago, and I still love it. A nice collection of classical music, perfect for falling asleep to.

Boys Night Out–The Rat Pack–I feel like I’m in a swanky nightclub whenever I listen to this (or at least what my imagination has created a swanky nightclub to be!)

This One’s From the Heart–James Darren (aka Vic Fontaine)–All I have to do is listen to this CD, and I’m instantly transported to my happy place.

A Splash of Pops–Boston Pops–Every year around the end of June, I have an uncontrollable urge to listen to this. It wouldn’t be the Fourth of July without the Boston Pops!

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Soundtrack–I love the songs (even the corny test copies) that never made it to the movie. So much fun!

O Lord Open My Lips, And My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise, and With High Delight–St. Paul Lutheran Church Children’s Choir–Rumor has it that there is a fourth CD, Sing With All the Saints, but someone (*cough* Ryan *cough*) hasn’t gone down to the bookstore to check out the price for me!

Hymns for All Saints series–CPH–I love the groupings of music on these CDs, and I also love that I got at least one of them free from good ol’ Thrivent.

Road Trip–Not a music CD, but a compilation of old time radio shows dealing with travel. So, my secret is out–I love old time radio. I’m weird, I know it, and I’ve come to accept it. I blame my father, I really do. My favorites are Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, and the Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show. Oh, and My Favorite Husband, the precursor to television’s I Love Lucy. So mostly comedy. But I love all the selections on this set, and I got to listen to some shows I normally wouldn’t have otherwise.

The 60 Greatest Old Time Radio Christmas Shows: Selected by Andy Williams–I don’t technically own this on CD–I got the audio tapes (does anybody still listen to those?) on clearance. I love this set because: 1.) it’s Christmas; B.) it has a lot of my favorite shows; and, 3.) it has some shows I wouldn’t have normally listened to, and discovered that I actually enjoy (Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, anyone? “On you huskies!”)

The Best of Fibber McGee and Molly–More old time radio–the McGee’s are the first show I fell in love with, and still my number one favorite–there are days I wish I could live in Wistful Vista!

Back Home–Caedmon’s Call–This CD will always remind me of my first pregnancy, so how could it not be one of my favorites?

Sinatra Reprise: The Very Good Years–Frank Sinatra

Anything by Andrew Peterson (but Carried Along will always be my favorite!)–He’s my favorite Christian singer.

WOW 2006–I think this was the first in the WOW series, and in my estimation, it will always be the best.

Christmas with the Rat Pack–The Rat Pack–This is my most-listened to CD every year at Christmastime.

The Nutcracker/Symphony #4–Tchaikovsky–Ryan got me the complete recordings for Christmas one year, and I love them! If I’m really lucky, I can convince him they’re not technically Christmas music, and get my Christmas fix in July.

A Charlie Brown Christmas–Traditionally, this is the first Christmas CD we listen to every year. Possibly because I cheat with it sometime after we watch the Great Pumpkin in October–hey, it’s Charlie Brown music, not Christmas music! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

The Christmas Song–Nat King Cole–This CD has no less than three different recordings of The Christmas Song, aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, and also a really cool Toys for Tots promo recording.

White Christmas–Bing Crosby–Classic. What more do I need to say?

Any Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CDs (especially Christmas–love the version of Stille Nacht at the end!)–I know they’re considered “New Age” or whatever, but I can’t find anything objectionable about their Christmas recordings.

The Christmas Trilogy–Trans-Siberian Orchestra–I admit, there are some things on this set I don’t really care for. But there are also some really awesome recordings–especially Christmas Canon.

Holiday Pops–Boston Pops–It wouldn’t seem like Christmas without hearing the Pops perform Sleigh Ride.

Huh, I have an awful lot of Christmas CDs on here. What can I say? I love Christmas music, and listen to it almost exclusively through November and December, and on into Epiphany. And the worst part is, I know there must be a least a CD or two that I’m leaving off this list!

Hoosiers Soundtrack–OK, I never actually actually owned this on CD, because it doesn’t exist, but I wore out the tape in high school, because it was my favorite thing to listen to when falling asleep.

Anything Veggie Tales–I know they’re children’s CDs, but I can’t help but love the dialogue in between tracks, and some of the songs are really funny! And the Junior’s Bedtimes Songs CD is really sweet. I can’t help but tear up at a few of the tracks (One in a Million gets me every time!).

Mad About You Soundtrack–I like this one so much, I’ve owned two copies of it, because my first one mysteriously disappeared!

The Very Best of Sheryl Crow–Can’t stand her politically, but this CD always makes me feel happy.