Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Quest for Catholic Novels

Although I've taught at a Catholic school for four years, never did we use an official Catholic author for the novels we selected in the Middle School.  Now that I get to choose novels for my son, as well as the ones we will read in the Co-Op, I've been searching for good books.  I've seen lists here and there but not until now did I find something that I think the kids would like.  Of course, I am basing my decision entirely on my prior knowledge of what kids this age usually like in secular teen/pre-teen literature.  So here is my list of recommendations so far:

  • Tom Playfair Or Making a Start By: Fr. Francis J. Finn S.J. (The story opens with 10-year-old Tom Playfair being quite a handful for his well-meaning but soft-hearted aunt. (Tom's mother has died.) Mr. Playfair decides to ship his son off to St. Maure's boarding school--an all-boys academy run by Jesuits--to shape him up, as well as to help him make a good preparation for his upcoming First Communion. Tom is less than enthusiastic, but his adventures are just about to begin. Life at St. Maure's will not be dull!)

  • Percy Wynn By: Fr. Francis J. Finn S.J. (Percy Wynn. In this volume, Tom Playfair meets a new boy just arriving at St. Maure's. Percy Wynn has grown up in a family of 10 girls and only 1 boy--himself! His manners are formal, he talks like a book, and he has never played baseball or gone skating, boating, fishing, or even swimming! Yet he has brains, courage and high Catholic ideals. Tom and his buddies at St. Maure's befriend Percy and have a great time as they all work at turning Percy into an all-American Catholic boy.

  • Harry Dee Or Working it Out By: Fr. Francis J. Finn (Harry Dee. Young Harry Dee arrives at St. Maure's thin and pale from his painful experiences involving the murder of his rich uncle. In this last book of the three, Tom and Percy help Harry recover from his early trauma--which involves solving "the mystery of Tower Hill Mansion." After many wild experiences, the three boys graduate from St. Maure's and head toward the life work to which God is calling each of them as young men.)

  • Claude Lightfoot Or How the Problem Was Solved By: Fr. Francis J. Finn S.J. (Claude Lightfoot. The story opens upon Claude Lightfoot, a reckless 12 year old boy who constantly acts first and thinks later. After being in clash with some bullies, Claude is obliged to miss his First Communion. In the course of the story, Fr. Finn manages to cover a host of topics, including smoking, drinking, the devil, Confession, Holy Communion, retaining one s Baptismal innocence, the 9 First Fridays, the priesthood, mothers and sisters, truthfulness, lying, courage, effeminacy, atheism, sacrilege, baseball, Americanism (true and false), Latin, virtue, honor, leadership, etc.)

  •  That Football Game And What Came of It By: Fr. Francis J. Finn S.J. (That Football Game. This book features Claude and many other characters from Claude Lightfoot. Again, Fr. Finn covers a host of Catholic topics, giving a ringing defense of the game of football and presenting a great picture of the All-American boy. See the Catholic Faith woven into everyday life, the way it should be. Puts the right kind of role models before the eyes of our boys! Interesting to read, enthralling, hard to put down -- not only for young people, but for adults as well! )

  • Crusader King A Novel of Baldwin IV and the Crusades By: Susan Peek (Crusader King. A new historical novel about the unusual life of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the leper crusader king who - despite ascending to the throne at only 13, his early death at 24 and his debilitating disease - performed great and heroic deeds in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Teenagers and avid readers of all ages will be amazed at this story and be inspired by a faith that accomplished the impossible!)

  • Ethelred Preston Or the Adventures of a Newcomer By: Fr. Francis J. Finn S.J. (Ethelred Preston. In this book, the new kid certainly livens things up at Henryton boarding academy! Again, Fr. Finn covers a host of Catholic topics and presents a great picture of the All-American boy!)


I stand Corrected

Todd, my DH, was looking at some of the texts I like for the kids (mainly the two eldest) and mentioned that the Baltimore Catechism that I was referring to was the wrong one.  The NEW St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism was apparently written in the 70's and not the one we would like for our children to use.  BACK STORY:  My DH is a convert, celebrated his 15th year in the Church this Easter.  He was baptized in the Weslayan Church and converted at 24 years old (LOL, do the math).  I've noticed a pattern in people who convert, they tend to be very traditional in their faith; otherwise, it would look like the same old thing.

Anyway, back to the correct book.  The one we would like to use is the Baltimore Catechism No. 1 By: Third Plenary Council of Baltimore.  It is the original 1885 edition.  We are going ahead and getting No. 2 & 3 (the companion books) since the grade range is 4-7.  The set is relatively inexpensive and I found it here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting a teen (or pre-teen) to Love Reading

This is a topic I see frequently and recently took the time to make these recommendations to a friend, so I thought I'd post it here too. The key thing to get a teenager (or pre-teen) turned on to reading is to selects books interest him/her. When I taught Reading to middle schoolers I would always start the school year telling my kids that if all they learned this year was to love to read, I did my job (I also taught them other classes: grammar, composition, & vocabulary to the same group). I loved it when, mid-year, kids that NEVER picked up a book were reading ahead in the class novel we were reading together.

One day, a student came up to me (the principal's son, lol) and said one morning before school started, "I hope you aren't mad at me because I read the next chapter! I had to know what happened next!!" I pretended to be mad at him and took him to the principal's office (his dad). When I told his dad what he had done his dad picked up on what I was doing and "scolded" him for reading ahead and then lost it laughing and said, "this is the happiest day of my life!" His son was so adamant about reading that he couldn't believe what had happened.

In one school year each student had read 11 novels (2 in the summer before school started, 6 with me-I read or the kids read aloud, and 3 individual books the kids had to select for their independent reading). Both parents and kids couldn't believe that they had read so many novels in one school year when they were accustomed to maybe two books in the past.

The key? Two things:
1. I read the six novels to them (out loud) and did a couple of things to get them to participate. At the beginning I only selected good readers to read and towards the middle they all were fighting to get a chance to read, by the end of the school year some kids were reading during my grammar class (another class-hiding their books in their desks-normally it would be a note or doing homework for another class but instead they were READING their independent novels)!!! Now there were a handful of advid readers in the group (maybe 5 out of 33-35 kids). These were NOT the ones doing this, it was the ones who were "on the fence" about reading and some who were totally in the outfield, not interested in reading at all! At the beginning the kids were shocked that I was reading to them in middle school! But they loved it! Also, I did a lot of think alouds while reading. This is when you pause while reading and make a connection to your life (something you remember or connect to another character or person). They loved that, it is quick (maybe a 20 second pause) think aloud and then you just keep going. This taught the kids to do this naturally when they read their own novels. Sometimes the kids would add to my think aloud, saying things like, "that actually reminds me of this..." or "oh, I thought of the same thing".

2. I taught them how to select a novel they liked and to learn that they had to make a good choice.
  • First, it had to interest them.
  • Second, the style of writing the author uses is important because the topic could interest you but if the author's writing is weird or difficult to follow??? it wouldn't work.
  • Third, the reading level is important. Make sure the novel is at or above their independent reading level. You can go here and get an idea of what level your child is on.
  • Make a follow up activity for the novel, like a reading log where they keep track of how much they read and to summarize the chapters or even sections of the chapter. Don't make this rigorous because this is an independent novel. But the log would let me know (especially at the beginning) if they were reading or at what pace.
Now for comprehension, you can do something simple such as a GIST Summary. You start with 50 words (50 Word GIST) and when he masters that number of words with a great paragraph, you decrease the number of words by five 45, 40, 35, until you get to 30. This is a way to help students be VERY selective with what will be in their summaries will look like. This is harder than it sounds but once they get the hang of it, it is fun and easy. I even tested them on this with a prompt. "Such and such characters developed a conflict through out this chapter. Describe the conflict in 40 words or less." It's a great writing and comprehension activity!

You need to start by finding your child's independent reading level, then take him to the library and help him select books he will like at his level or a year above. Don't go any higher than this. This is how I taught my kids to select an independent novel:
1. find a book
2. read the title, sound interesting? then,
3. flip through the pages, then
4. read the back summary, still interesting? then,
5. open to Chapter One and read the first paragraph, still interesting? THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU!

I also encouraged kids to read chapters one, two and three before deciding if that book wasn't the right one. AND this rarely happened because steps one through five above really work, but encourage them to put the book down and find a new one if they are just dragging themselves through the book. This is for independent books, if it's for a read aloud (YOU HAVE TO LIKE THEM TOO)!!!

What does your child like to do? Maybe I can recommend some books I've used in the past. Mind you, they are not Catholic but I did use them in a Catholic school and I was very selective (I did extensive research and read the books first before reading them to my students). Here are some of the books I've used: Tangerine, Things Not Seen, Behind My Bedroom Wall (about the Holocaust), Walk Two Moons, A Wrinkle in Time...these are the ones that I recall that the class as a whole loved! Hope this helps.

One More for the Road

So, here's another curriculum decision under the DONE list: Science. I had forgotten that the mom at the Co-Op who is teaching the Science Enrichment had shown me this book. It is Apologia's Exploring Creation With General Science. Man is it packed with information!!! I didn't really like the lay out of the textbook but the content was impressive. Another thing I like about this curriculum is that the same book is used for both sixth and seventh grade. So one less thing to think about or spend next year. YAY!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Curriculum: Some Peace of Mind

So in my quest for the right curriculum for my children, I have some sound peace of mind in two areas. One, writing and two, religion.

I'll start with writing. Of all the programs I used as a Language Arts teacher in both in
elementary and middle schools, the simplest and most versatile one I've seen is the Four Squares Writing Method. I love it because it can be used from Pre-K to Middle School and you can build it up as the years go by. It is also pretty cost effective as you can create a lot of the promp
ts/topics on your own as well as making the organizers (to brainstorm) either by hand or using a program like Publisher.

If you are interested in using this method, you would start with their basic book, The Four Square Writing Method. There is a book for grades 1-3, another for 4-6, and yet another for grades 7-9. I used the 7-9 in my sixth grade classroom. It worked just fine! In retrospect, I wish I would have been able to use this program solely in my classroom but I had to follow the grammar book in addition to teaching Writing so I could only use it as a supplement. For my home school, I will be using it as the curriculum. You can pick up a copy of this method on eBay or at your local teacher store (sometimes expensive).

Now for religion, my husband and I love the Baltimore Catechism so we will be using that for the kids as well. The Baltimore Catechism, used in most parochial schools until the 1
960's, was written in the 1800s. Come to think of it, while my son used the Loyola Press book in class at the Catholic school he attended, my husband and I supplemented with the Baltimore. So it is definitely a no brainer as to what we are using for Religion. My eldest would be doing first year Confirmation Prep-can't believe it!!! Didn't he just make his First Communion? I'm so in denial!

In addition to the Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism we will be using the New Missal Latin Book 1 to learn the parts of the Extraordinary Mass as well as learning Latin. So it gives us a two in one. I know that others really recommend Prima Latina to teach Latin, I have to look into that one.

Taming the monster that is Curriculum!!!

So, I'm officially overwhelmed! I've seen and tested programs and curriculum for the past seven of the eleven years I taught in a formal school setting. The advantage - samples! I am accustomed to ordering samples from publishers and being able to hold the book(s) in your hands is so much a better experience than just looking at a picture of the cover online! There has to be a better way to present this information to home educators than to expect them to blindly accept the book you are selling them. I know, word of mouth is always a great way to find out about curriculum...but I just wish I could order some samples and be able to sit down at my kitchen table and spread them all out so that I can, I don't know, use a rubric to select what would fit our children best. Is that asking too much? Maybe I was just spoiled by publishers in the past?


I'm not a big fan of worksheets, but I find that for reviews or other occassions, we might need them in teaching. I got this website from a Yahoo Group I belong to and thought to pass it along since they are easily customized and they create a PDF for you to either save or print, pretty neat!

Hope this is helpful. Enjoy!

Schooling: What to do???

By profession, I am a teacher. By heart, I am still a teacher. It is very difficult for any parent to make the decision as to which school to send your child(ren) to these days. There are so many options: charter, public, private, religious, etc., that it makes it even harder to make this important decision. My eldest son has always attended a Catholic school in Florida. Actually, he attended one prominent one until third grade and transfered him out when the tution sky-rocketed to $10,000 a year (not a typo) for elementary education (if you go to the link of this school you will find a fancy flash website with tons of features but don't let this site fool you into thinking it was as flashy or fancy in real was definitely, in my opinion, not worth the price we were paying. We switched him to another Catholic school, near our neighborhood for only $4,300 per year (we were saving at least $5,700 with this change). Plus books, uniforms, fees, etc., etc., oh yeah, and the building fund...donations to the Church (which we would make already). It is amazing how it all adds up. Even after the change we were spending $5,500 a year for Catholic schooling. If you know public schools in Florida, you'd understand why my son was no were near them! So now that he is finishing his last year of elementary school and we have invested close to $50,000 in his schooling from pre-kindergarten three until now, fifth grade. Where do we go from here?

He could continue at the current school; a great school by the way. Well worth the money! A new building will feature state of the art technology and a beautiful Media Center. Very exciting!!! Their Middle School is fantastic, teachers are dedicated and love what they are doing. I know this first hand because I had the priviledge of teaching in their MS for four years. Their sports program is great, their Art and Music program as well. But what are these schools lacking in? Not quantity, but quality! First of all, their teacher to student ratio is at the minimum requirements about 30:1. Have you ever been in a room with 30 sixth graders trying to teach grammar? Not fun...or I should say not fair; and I'm not talking about the teacher, it's the kids that don't receive a quality education because it is nearly impossible for the ONE teacher to spread him/herself that thin. Ideally the number would be half but then you'd have to add more buildings and increase tuition. So, what next?

I've been contemplating the idea of homeschooling for a while now. Not that I have anything against homeschooling. I've seen the nicest, most polite kids from homeschooling families (usually at church). My heart tells me it's a fantastic idea but my mind sometimes plays tricks on my heart and the educator in me tells me I might be underexposing my kids by making this decision. My husband has a similar mentality with the exception that he thinks it would be okay to try it for a year and if works great! if it doesn't, we can explore other options. So what do I do? The only thing left to do, pray about it all the time and then be silent. Wait for God's voice to guide me to make the right decision.

Homeschooling involves a lot more dedication and support from the parents of these children. They are their teachers during and after school hours. No longer would I be able to allow someone else to guide my children in the learning process about seven hours a day then I play catch up when he got home.

So what are the pros and cons of this? Lets see:
Pros: no wasted time with aimless worksheets, waiting for others to "catch up", cost efficient (I'm sure we won't spend $5,500 in books and supplies per year), time efficient (more things can be learned in less time), more time for extra-curricular activities, no worthless homework assignments, no negative influences from other kids (or teachers) that don't share the same values as our family, I could go on but just these couple of things is enough to see why I'd select homeschooling as my choice for the best schooling possible for our children.

Now to be fair, the possible Cons: no other adult interaction, less resources (art, music, PE, or gifted classes), no other kids to socialize with on a daily basis (other than my own children), involvement in religious activities such as Living Rosary, Stations, May Crowning, and other school related activities such as D.A.R.E. (drug prevention), Spelling and Geography Bees, etc.

So how do you remedy the "cons" of homeschooling? First, one perfect, or pretty good, solution is finding a Co-Op in your area. In our case, we were looking for one that was Catholic. I'm sure there are others in this city since there is a good homeschool population in the area. In my area there are two great Catholic Co-Op groups to choose from. For peace of mind I looked for the one closest to home. This fantastic Co-Op (a group where the parents involved contribute in teaching classes), there are a total of 12 families, 27 kids, 3 babies, 4 toddlers. The kids range from n rising newborn (lol, still cooking in Mama's tummy) to 7th grade. This group will also aide in the, very important, socialization process all children need to survive in this world. So this is my solution to homeschooling's cons, find a Co-Op and you'll have a happy school year! (I hope!) As I begin to get more involved I'll post more about this group. But I can definitely say that it has been a blessing in my decision making process for the future of our children. Thanks to Katie and Liz (the moms who founded the Co-Op) for all your hard work and dedication in making this group possible! KUDDOS!

So to end, we have decided that this is the best scenerio for our children. We pray the Lord sends us the wisedom and strength to continue this important task.

Pax Christi!