A few weeks ago, I wrote about why knowledge matters. Today, I am following up that post with a few thoughts on how we can build our understanding in any subject. You won't believe how incredibly simple it is to build expertise!
How to Build Knowledge in ANY Subject, Drum Roll Please...
You can build knowledge on any topic by reading more than one book about it.
What that's it! You say. You don't need to write a blog post on that!
Yes, I know, but how often do we set out to actually learn something new in our fast paced society? If we get in a fix, we can always just Google it, right? If you read to the end, you will see how having knowledge on any topic is actually really helpful in navigating our quickly changing society. But for now, think about how reading a few books can grow your knowledge base:
If you read three Jane Austen novels, you will be able to have a smart conversation with any Jane Austen aficionado.
If you read a book on both sides of a scientific debate debate, you will be able to see the weakness and strengths of both sides of the argument. Then when an expert makes an expert comment, you will actually be able to judge the validity of what he says instead of going with the theory that you've heard the most or uncomfortably accepting whatever the experts tells you.
Read three books on any history topic and you'll probably be the only expert on that topic in the room at the next social gathering you go to.
Case Study: How My Knowledge About WWII Exploded
Lately, I've become much more knowledgeable about World War II without intending to study the topic at all. In fact most of my life, I've avoided any books or movies about World War II because I knew enough about the war and myself to know that I wasn't ready to look that kind of evil in the eye.
But then I read The Book Thief and even though it was fiction, I was touched by the heroism of the Germans who quietly defied the Nazi party despite the incredible hardship of living in Germany during WWII. I learned about the day to day life of the typical German family, the the cloud of fear they lived under, and the little acts of defiance they did that kept them from being swept away with the dehumanizing evil of the Nazi regime.
After that I picked up Monuments Men from the library because I saw the movie and from the book I learned about a side of the war that I knew nothing about. I had no idea that Hitler was systematically looting the art treasures of the nations for his own super museum, nor did I know he planned to destroy them all if he lost.
Another novel that I read on vacation gave insight into the role of journalists during the war a life in the army camps and yet another book taught me about a heroic band of rustic shepherds and peasants from Crete who held off a highly trained and heavily armed Nazi invasion. I also read part of a biography where I learned about the years before World War II in my home state of California and a bit of the war with Japan. I unfortunately didn't finish the book because it was giving me nightmares, but I was intrigued to learn that some of the toxic philosophies about race that fueled the Nazis worst crimes, were also influential in the United States. When I read a Pulitzer Prize winning novel about World War II, I was standing on familiar ground.
And all of a sudden I realized that my understanding of World War II stretched far beyond Anne Frank and whatever cold, hard facts my high school history teacher taught us. I was more well rounded an an area of knowledge where previously there had only been a few threads of understanding holding together a loose collection of facts. And surprisingly, I didn't have to read a bunch of dry, academic works. All of these books were living books. Books with soul.
Why Does Knowing About World War II Even Matter?
How does this thread of knowledge and understanding help me now, 70 years after the close of World War II?
First of all, some things should never be forgotten.
Secondly, walking through another time period and seeing it through a variety of other people's eyes keeps me from being nearsighted about my own life and time.
Finally, knowing about the past helps me see the present with discerning eyes. Here are a few instances of how knowing about World War II helps me evaluate our present culture:
Learning about Nazi propaganda teaches me that well crafted images and words can sway a public that is taught to be literate, but not taught how to think and discern. Slick advertising images, social media, and hashtags are huge influences. Unfortunately, anyone can make an infographic that looks legit or a meme that misquotes Einstein. We all know how to check sources and do our own research, but how many of us do?
Reading about how the pre-World War II Germans trained a generation of schoolchildren and then turned them into willing soldiers and executioners makes me wary of our public school system. The teachers weren't evil, they were just training kids in the philosophy of the day and doing what they thought was best based on what they knew. Since the curriculum was determined by state departments and not communities, kids were coming of age with values very different from the values of their parents. The values and behavior of the nation changed and it led to a moral break with devastating consequences.
Reading about the philosophical influences and social movements that lead up to the rise of the Third Reich makes me wary about the influences on my society. Whether a philosophy is far left or far right politically, it isn't safe taken to its fullest extreme. This worries me because America doesn't seem to practice moderation lately.
Finally, it is scary how the German people slowly were backed into a corner that they couldn't get out of without devastating effects. They wanted to live their lives and not cause trouble, so as their government slowly pushed pushed boundaries and took power. In short, they acted how I would act. I would have minded my own business and tried to manage my own home well. I would have sighed and hoped the evil I saw before me would pass or that someone would fight my battles for me. But when many people backed in a corner start defying the system in small ways, the system weakens.
That is an important lesson to know.
For Further Reading
This post contains affiliate links.
Even though I had a whole week to work on projects and and have fun with the kids and read and paint...I didn't finish nearly as much as I had hoped to mainly because midweek all of my kids came down with a pretty bad cold. We managed to get in a movie, some yardwork, and we built a dresser before everyone got sick, so it wasn't a lost week, but still.
Oh, and my husband and I finished watching 24 Legacy. Does anyone else think that it's cheating that in the last episode, there was a 12 hours later to make the total hours of the series 24? Anyhoo, it was like old times, being stressed out for an hour every Monday.
What We're Reading
Sometimes, I read books that get into my dreams. It's unusual for a book to start coloring my dreams the second day I read it, but that is what All the Light We Cannot See did. The last I read a book that got into my dreams, I had to stop reading because I was dreaming about airplane crashes, and then not sleeping the rest of the night. Unbroken was the best book I never finished.
My son is rereading the Fablehaven series after reading the first book of the sequel series, Dragonwatch. If your kids enjoy fantasy, I highly recommend the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. It is a good, solid fantasy story and I am impressed how the characters face moral dilemmas very similar to the dilemmas kids that age face in real life.
What I'm Writing
This week I published a post about the resources we used for studying Ancient Israel, you can read it here. My flashback post is one I wrote a few months ago where I reviewed The Ology and explained how I use it in our morning time.
One of the biggest challenges in studying ancient civilizations is the difficulty in finding interesting ways to make those time periods come alive. Unless of course, you are just studying Egypt, Greece, and Rome, because there are plenty of activities and books for those civilizations.
While being able to read straight from the Bible is such a great way to study the history of Ancient Israel, I also pulled together a handful of other resources to help spark my kid's imagination.
This post contains affiliate links.
Old Testament Days is a well written and well thought out activity book for students of all ages. The activities and readings in this book helped us to understand the life and culture of Old Testament times. Most of the activities were interesting and easy for me to pull off.
Ancient Israelites and their Neighbors is geared to a slightly older audience than Old Testament Days, and also includes activities for the Phoenicians and the Philistines. In addition to activities it also has short readings about the cultures, which was especially helpful in learning about the neighbors, because there isn't that much information readily available for kids about the Phoenicians and Philistines.
We also read the Jesus Storybook Bible as a read aloud during our study of Israel because it does such a great job tying the themes of the whole Bible together.
I used the illustrations from The Family Time Bible as I read the relevant chapters from our Bible because my younger kids like having a picture to look at.
While there are plenty of picture books about Noah's Ark and the Christmas story, I have a few favorites. My favorite Noah's Ark book is this award winning book from Peter Spier and my favorite nativity book is this beautifully illustrated one. The Story of Hanukkah tells the history behind the Maccabean revolt.
Throughout our study of ancient civilizations we have been going to our library to check out relevant videos from the series Ancient Civilizations for Children. Each video teaches how we learn about a specific civilization through archaeology. The Ancient Mesopotamia video covers the Israelites and the Ancient Egypt video also covers the Hebrews time in Egypt.
We also watched Prince of Egypt and Joseph Man of Dreams for fun when we finished reading about Joseph's life and later the Exodus.
Hands On Learning
Apparently you can buy toys for almost any story from the Bible, including the stories of David and Goliath, Noah's Ark, and the Calling of the 12 Disciples. A Bible Trivia Game would be a great review game.
For Further Reading
I can't believe we are almost to Easter Break! That means that we will be on the home stretch of this homeschool year in just a few days!
One of the fun parts is this time of year is that I have a little funding left in my account to spend on fun learning books for the end of the year and summer. (We use a charter school.) Last year I was able to buy Lego Chain Reactions for my son. This year, I'm thinking is a child's sewing book and sweet drawing book for my daughter, who is six. For my son, perhaps I'll get him Lego Crazy Contraptions and maybe a chemistry kit.
After Easter, I like to switch up how we homeschool. As we finish up our skill subjects, it is nice to let my kids dwell on what they love to learn.
I also like to add in new challenges. This year, I'm adding in a Shakespeare play for the first time with my oldest:
I'm especially excited because this is a play that I haven't read before! My girl wants to study butterflies, so I'm looking for resources for that topic.
Piles of Books
Our house needs more bookshelves! But doesn't every homeschooler say that? My latest book pile is so color coordinated that I'm thinking of adding open shelving to our living room so I can decorate with some of our nicer books. But if I do that, I may end up buying too many collectors editions with nice spines.
Books pictured: Of Other Worlds, CS Lewis.Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare. The Complete Stories, Flannery O'Connor. Natural Born Heroes, Christopher McDougall.
This Week in Writing
This week I wrote about low-tech tools for dysgraphia. Most of what I needed to help my dysgraphic son was laying around the house.
Homeschooling (and parenting) a dysgraphic well means using all of the resources at your disposal to help your child succeed. Eventually, my son will rely on typing to communicate through writing (thank you God for technology!) but my goal is to help him to someday be able to write legibly when he absolutely needs to.
(Please note this post contains affiliate links)
The World's Coolest Offshoot of Silly Putty
Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty is a lot like Silly Putty, except for it is a little stiffer and the colors are amazing. We have Thinking Putty in the small sizes and in the larger sizes. The large size is a handful of putty, so the entire hand gets a workout, not just the finger muscles. Thinking Putty is great for hand strengthening and working out stiffness in hands after writing.
I used to walk my son to the park daily, just so I could get him on the monkey bars. Monkey bars are great for strengthening hands, arms, and shoulders, which are key areas to focus on in dealing with dysgraphia. Unfortunately, with his last growth spurt, my son it too tall for all of the parks with monkey bars near our house, so now we get in a monkey bar workout maybe once or twice a month.
We don't just use binders for organization, we also use them as slanted surface to write on. It's hard for my son to "hook" his wrist on a slant while he's writing like some dysgraphics do.
Graph paper is the best tool I've used for spatial dysgraphia. On regular, lined paper my sons handwriting looks like this:
Please note, he is trying to write legibly and he is not hurrying. Also, the generous spacing between the lines means that this handwriting sample is better than normal.
Simply adding graph paper later in the day and instructing him to put one letter per box resulted in this:
(I wrote more about how I use graph paper in this post)
My son is resistant to using highlighters, but they work. Whenever he does need to fill out a worksheet or use lined paper, if I highlight along the line, he has a visual guide on where to line up his letters. Unfortunately, he resists this modification so I use it a little as possible. Occasionally, I highlight
That's it. My favorite low tech tools to help with dysgraphia. If you teach a student with dysgraphia, what tools do you use?
More Posts About Dysgraphia
This week my daughter turned six! In just three years of homeschooling I've learned that while it isn't too hard to get kids to do a little schoolwork on their birthdays, it is nearly impossible to get them to pick up a pencil the day after. New books and toys are just too distracting.
Since my daughter just turned 6, I didn't worry much at all about what she did or didn't do and took some extra, unhurried time helping my oldest son work on an essay. She spent her school hours with self-directed projects: learning simple drawings from this adorable book, arranging her stuffed animal collection on her new dollhouse/bookshelf, and reading a bit of twaddle she requested for her birthday.
She is the kind of girl who enjoys taking time to bring her new things into her life and it was a joy to watch her savor her gifts. God gave her to me for a reason and I have much to learn from her.
* * * * *
This week, I wrote about what I've learned from homeschooling my son who has Dysgraphia and I made a free printable of poems.
* * * * *
I've been reading a lovely collection of essays by CS Lewis and I'd like to share his thoughts on reading age-appropriate books. He definitely believed that adults should be free to read fairy tales and children should be free to read challenging books.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
Linked to Weekly Wrap Up.
There's nothing like dealing with a learning disability to to make you fine tune your educational focus. My son's dysgraphia has taught me more about education than any other course, book, or experience I've had.
Choose Quality Over Quantity
I could have told you this before, but I wasn't practicing it. Our first month homeschooling, I assigned everything, because everything was good and useful. It turned out that too much work was too much work, whether it was high quality or not. Since I was conditioned to written output, I required my son to write, too.
I soon had a frustrated student and soon I was frustrated, too.
Only a drastic change would work, so I eliminated all writing that wasn't essential. Everything else was taught through reading, discussion, and hands on activities. By the end of the elimination process, the only pencil to paper work I assigned was in math and composition.
Even math still required a lot of paring down to get to what truly mattered. The math program we had required a lot of work on my son's behalf even if I just assigned the even or odd problems, because in that program, mastery was achieved through repetitively practicing concepts. In order to keep my son's math time at a reasonable about of time, I had to selectively choose the best quality problems every. single. day.
When I finally found the perfect math program for us, the job of choosing quality over quantity was already done for me. I had just the right amount of problems in the text to teach a concept and the workbook had just the right amount of problems to practice a concept. It also included hands on and visual problems that helped concepts stick in a different way than our prior program's daily review.
Worksheets Aren't All That
"Everything I know, I learned from a worksheet," said no one ever. Cutting back on worksheets threw the teaching ball back to my court and also made learning more authentic.
Sometimes the concepts worksheets are created for are ridiculous. You don't need a dictionary skills worksheet to teach a child to use a dictionary...You need a dictionary and an unfamiliar word. Reading comprehension can be determined better and more deeply by a simple conversation over answering a few questions on a worksheet. (Complete sentences, of course!) Working with a handful of change or math manipulatives before putting a pencil to paper to practice math, builds concrete math understanding along with the pencil and paper skills.
It is interesting to note, that every time I cut out a worksheet, I had to put something better in its place. Pulling an oak sapling out of the ground to observe a seed sprouting into a plant and then comparing that to a diagram in a real book is more instructive than a label the parts worksheet about the same concept. A Charlotte-Mason-style oral narration gives me far more insight to what my kids understand from a reading than a set of review questions ever could.
Sometimes the Roundabout Way is the Most Direct Route
Some things just defy "common sense." When it comes to poor handwriting, common sense says "slow down and try harder," but that strategy doesn't work when dysgraphia is a part of the equation.
Trust me. My son got that advice daily in his second and third grade classrooms from well meaning adult helpers and aids. He tried to slow down, but he was already writing slowly. His handwriting got worse despite following the advice he heard from every corner, so he started to dodge any assignment that he suspected someone else would give him feedback on.
What works for his type of dysgraphia and his personality involves a variety of tools not usually associated with a focused effort to improve handwriting: monkey bars, daily art, graph paper, a crazy figure eight exercise, highlighters, and time to write freely, without being judged for his handwriting. When every growth spurt sets him ten steps back with his handwriting and the fruit of his labors may not be evident until well into adulthood, we need patience and faith in the process. We also need hope that everything we do will eventually bear fruit.
Just Because Something is Hard Doesn't Mean There Can't be Joy
Handwriting is my son's greatest challenge. Writing is hard and for him can be physically painful.
But he writes his own adventure novels for fun. He fills composition book after composition book with stories and drawings from his own imagination, and he takes joy in the process. It amazes me daily that his biggest challenge is also his creative outlet.
As I've mentioned before, a learning disability has made me fine tune my approach to education. I can't just toss my son something educational and call it a day, I have to know my goals and my philosophy and carefully choose what I ask him to do for school in light of those goals.
I wrote another article about dysgraphia. To read it follow this link the one below.
You May Also Enjoy
April is national poetry month! To help you share some poetry with your kids, I compiled a page of poetry that you can share with your kids at the beginning of your school days, over a delightful tea, or for a literature lesson. You may use these poems for copywork, memorization and recitation practice, or as inspiration for an art project.
Poetry is a beautiful way to help kids put words to the experiences around them and the sky is the limit on how you can incorporate a poem into your day!
If you like this poetry resource, sign up for the Freely Learned newsletter using the form below. You'll get a free, printable page of poetry every month along with a short newsletter.
It seems that technology is the theme of our week. My oldest son has been working off and on to buy a wiiU but when he finally save up enough money last year to buy it, we found out that the wiiU was no longer being produced because it was being replaced with the Nintendo Switch. Long story short, we talked him out of ordering the last wiiU in California and encouraged him to be patient and wait for the Switch, which finally arrived at our doorstep this week. He's been spending most of his allotted screen time playing the new Zelda game, but when he puts on Snipperclips to play with his little brother and sister, I hear nothing but belly laughs coming from the living room while I cook dinner.
* * * * *
The sun has been out and the winter doldroms have finally left my house. My son commented the other day, "I have the same amount of school work, but I just seem to be finishing it so much faster!"
I'm so excited that it's finally time to plant my summer garden. The first tomatoes off of the vine are something we all get excited about!
My baby drew "a guy" and isn't this one of the cutest first stick figures ever! He even has hair and feet!
We explored some trails not far from our home. Aren't they gorgeous--so many shades of green!
* * * * *
The latest book that I've started reading is Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall and I am thouroughly enjoying it. I had read his book Born to Run previously and was fascinated. Born to Run explores the capacity humans have for extreme endurance running and centers on a race staged between some of the greatest living endurance runners and a tribe of native Mexican runners in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. Born to Run made me want to toss my running shoes and run.
Natural Born Heroes explores the human capacity for heroism. This book specifically focuses on a band of resistance fighters composed of rag tag Cretians descended from the culture that produced Odysseus, Achilles, and Hercules, farm boys from New Zeland, and British professors and poets who had spent their life studying the heroic epics and were dropped behind enemy lines to cause havoc. This unlikely group of heroes made a stand against a Nazi invasion of elite forces that were specially trained, heavily armed, and given a dose of meth-like drugs before being dropped onto the island of Crete. Then they went and kidnapped the head of the Nazi forces on the island. McDougall doesn't just tell their story, he explores how what they did was even humanly possible, which is a different take than most books like this. So far it's a fascinating read.
I have been Singapore Math with my oldest son starting with level 3B and we are currently on level 6B. Since level 6 is a little different than the previous levels, I thought that I'd write about what I've learned about Singapore 6 based on my experience with the program. If you scroll to the end of the article, I also show some of the math programs that I am considering for next year.
Both books of Singapore 6 can be completed in a single semester
The reason for the shortSingapore 6 program is that year 6 is a testing year in Singapore, so a lot of review and test prep happens. While Singapore 6 does contain many review topics, they are not "easy" reviews, rather they take the same topics to a more challenging level. (On a side note, I think it's important to note that Singapore kids are some of the top students in the world and they aren't subjected to test pressure every. single. year.)
If your student struggles in Singapore 4 or 5, like many students do, the short books of level 6 leave room to go sideways and take time to get those challenging concepts down before moving on. (I really like this series for working on difficult concepts.) Even if you and your student fall a half a year behind, you can catch up in sixth grade. And if you fall even further behind, that's OK too because:
Singapore 6 is well ahead of the US math sequence
If you look at this chart, especially in the latter grades, you will see that the course of study in Singapore Math is more advanced than what is expected of public school students in the the US under Common Core.
The word problems in Singapore 6 are challenging
Granted, all of Singapore Math's word problems are challenging, but the ones in level six seem to be even more challenging than the previous books. You will really have to think through them and do several steps to find the solution, which is a good thing. However, you may want to buy the teacher's manual if you aren't confident in your math skills.
The Teacher's Manual is different than the HIG you may be used to
While many of the same elements are present, the set up is a little different. While it has the same elements as the HIG, it is geared for classroom teaching. Except for the answers, I'm hardly using the Teacher's Manual at all. As a matter of fact, I didn't even order the teacher's manual for 6B.
Some homeschoolers skip Singapore 6 and go straight to prealgebra
This seems fat to me but they feel like level 6 is too short and they also believe their kids are ready for an early start on the advanced math sequence.
Other homeschoolers go straight to Algebra after Singapore 6
I learned this fact from the Well Trained Mind forums. Not all of them do, of course, but since Singapore 6 covers many of the concepts covered in a traditional American pre-algebra course, they feel comfortable diving into Algebra, especially with a textbook that has enough review at the beginning.
Of course, many homeschoolers do Singapore 6 and then go on to pre-algebra or 7th grade math
This is what we are doing. Even though my son has done the work that qualifies him to move on to advanced math, I feel that he needs another year before starting Algebra and then all of the other classes that follow.
There are a lot of other options on what math program to use after Singapore 6B
One thing that I am loving about the Singapore Math program is that it sets students up to succeed in a variety of math programs. You can continue with Singapore's middle school series, go straight to a supportive Algebra textbook, or go on to a formal pre-algebra program. Here are a few potential directions that you can go after Singapore 6 with math programs that are marketed to homeschoolers.
Singapore 6 isn't really that much different from the rest of the Singapore Math Program
I love Singapore Math because in a short amount of time, I can teach a challenging concept and have my son understand it enough to work independently. (And I love short lessons!) I like that the workbooks challenge the students without requiring them to do dozens and dozens of problems. I also love that I feel like my son is well prepared for the upper levels of math!
To learn more about Singapore Math, visit their website.
Read More from Freely Learned