I have a confession: I never read Beowulf in high school. Or college. I read Canterbury Tales more times than I can count (yet only remember a handful of the stories). I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ad nauseum – and I like that story. But no Beowulf. How did I miss it?
I’ll tell you how, we tried to cram so much into such a short amount of time. We spent hours and hours in school, but spent very little time actually studying. Somewhere along the way, Beowulf was lost to me. I’m not sure if I was ever really exposed to it or not. It might have been something I breezed through in a Norton Anthology and regurgitated the next day for a pop quiz, only to be quickly forgotten. I couldn’t tell you. I only know that I had a vague idea that it was an epic poem involving something named Grendel when I began working at a bookstore as an adult. Even then, I couldn’t tell you if Grendel was the monster or the man.
As we began our Middle Ages/ Early Ren. (450 AD to 1600 AD) year while classically homeschooling, it dawned on me that this was the year for Beowulf. I had already read the picture book by Eric A. Kimmel to kiddo when she was a wee one, but I’m sure she was so tiny she had fallen asleep; now was the time to embrace the story.
And we did. I read her the picture book shortly before my trip to Atlanta. It fit right in with all the Celtic and Norse mythology we’ve been reading to bridge the gap between the ancient times and our exciting year ahead. “What a guy! He tore off the monster’s arm! I can’t even do that,” she exclaimed. She was very pleased that this particular picture book could give the story in “one-sitting, all today” as opposed to the stories of Odysseus and Troy which all took weeks of chapter by chapter to finish. I foresee reading this again and again over the coming months, she loved the story so much; I have to admit, I did too.
I liked it even more when I discovered there was a cartoon made in 1998 starring Joseph Fiennes as the voice of Beowulf – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKjcoFZmKuA. We got to watch that and call it school. It was a lot of fun. (There’s one for Don Quixote we’ll be watching next year when we make it into the 1700s.)
Naturally, I was curious as to the accuracy of these versions. I won’t ever truly know, because everything is a translation, but I thought I’d give an adult version a go. There’s so many versions out there, I think I’ll just try a different one every Middle Ages cycle. So I took the Constance B. Hieatt version with me to Atlanta and enjoyed it immensely, especially the little extras at the end.
The kiddo, of course, keeps asking me why we are using “fake stories as lesson books, they aren’t real stories mother!” I keep telling her, very ineloquently, that these stories help us understand the people who told them. Read them to her as bedtime stories and naturally she’s thrilled at the excitement of them.
We’ll collect more versions over the years and by the time she is grown she will know the story well – and remember it. Next go around we’ll even tackle it in poem form, and eventually we’ll read Gardner’s Grendel.
Do you have any favorite versions of Beowulf? Or, more importantly, do you know any great stories of the time period that should not be missed?
Title: Archimedes and the Door of Science
Author: Jeanne Bendick
Publisher: Bethlehem Books
Genre: Children’s Biography
I love these Living History Library books and Jeanne Bendick has a wonderful way of introducing great people in history and what they did/discovered on a child’s level without truly “dumbing” anything down. These books should be a part of any child’s library, and for sure any homeschoolers’ library. My kid’s eyes have been opened to so many ideas because of this book. At age 5, she’s already been checking out levers and experimenting with density while playing in the bathtub, she showed me how her ball has a pattern of concentric circles on it and informed me that it was three dimensional… These aren’t things that would be in her vocabulary without me reading this book out loud to her this month.
Teach Your Child to Read Outside and Play – A Lot
It’s been awhile since I shared a bit from our homeschooling adventures. Since my last homeschooling post, we purchased Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and have progressed to Lesson 9. We’ve taken Poet Laureate and Professor Mark Strand’s advice about memorizing 1500 lines of poetry and memorized the first four verses of Psalm 1, with the intent of memorizing a verse a week until we know the whole book by heart (no, I did not do the math on this and I have no idea how long it will take – I think the less I know in this regard the better). We’ve moved, and have done a lot of exploring our new school-site – via bubble blowing. We’ve learned to play Checkers (pretty exciting for an almost four year old), and we’re tackling bead projects.
She got this cool dinosaur coloring book awhile back, but has really taken to it in the last few months. The book teaches your kid how to draw properly named dinosaurs step by step. Whether you’re a die hard dinosaur believer, or a skeptic to their existence, all kids love dinosaurs – they’re just so cool!
Activity books like these teach kids to follow step by step instructions, help with dexterity and handling writing utensils, and keep them busy for thirty minutes to an hour at a time. Win, win for everyone.
Moving and Acoustics
The great thing about moving with a small child is teaching your kid the art of donation from a young age. What we don’t need anymore, we’ve been donating. For a kid who has outgrown those things, it’s time consuming, but giving them the knowledge and opportunity to come to conclusions about their own belongings is an eye-opening experience. I haven’t forced her to get rid of anything, and I’m overjoyed to have so many moments when my kiddo comes to me and says, “Mama, I don’t need this anymore. We can give this to another kid.” And off to Goodwill we go. (At our garage sales she selected things to sell and was quite the little negotiator. She made about $5 off old toys other kids carried off and put that money right in her piggy bank. Now, she keeps telling me she has plenty of money for Chick-fi-la…)
On top of all that, every kid should get a chance to stand in an empty room and shout at the top of their lungs. (Or spin in circles singing All Around the Mulberry Bush while shooting a soft dart gun…)
This book came highly recommended by my sister who has taught 5 kids to read (not including myself when I was 4) and has 2 more that are on their way to starting lessons. The above link is for Amazon.com, but I actually purchased my copy from hpbmarketplace.com.
Teach Your Child to Read goes straight into the phonics and skips the step of learning what a letter is called. My kid could already identify all her letters and knew most of her phonics, but she’s enjoying diving right into the decoding process by seeing an “m” and knowing to say “Mmmmm.” We’re only on Lesson 9 and she can already read words like “mat” and “sat,” “am” and “Me” just by sounding them out. These beginning lessons do not teach sight words but sounding out and decoding a word even if it means you don’t understand the word right away. I like this because it allows a child to read outside their vocabulary and have the tools to learn new words.
We do the rhyming and say it fast/ say it slow exercises while outside playing bubbles:
Here, she’s not just practicing the “sssss” sound (and writing it, look at the chalkboard behind her), she’s also blowing some stellar bubbles while sporting a Seed Savers t-shirt, compliments of S. Smith, author of the series. Kiddo adores Sandy and the shirt she gave her.
Beads and Dexterity
No preschool program is complete without crafts!
While moving I rediscovered some craft supplies from my own childhood. I thought about donating these as well, but kiddo begged to do a bead project and I determined that these were worth saving. The star was her first try, it took about an hour to complete; so if your preschooler doesn’t quite have the patience and attention span, be prepared to split a project like this into two sessions.
Check out Klemm University for more frequent updates. We are an online homeschool group based in Texas and would love for other homeschool moms, teachers, and general citizens to pipe in with ideas for keeping our educational journey more exciting, diverse, and thorough. Come join the conversations!
Title: A Rock is Lively
Author & Illustrator: Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
Genre: Non-fiction Picture Books/ Children’s
As a child, I collected rocks. I think many children do this… bright, shiny objects with a splash of color are enticing. Small pebbles from river sides are exciting and make you feel like a million bucks when they are so tiny in your own tiny hands. I had a rock tumbler and every little piece of nothing could be made magical. On family vacations I used my pocket money to buy gems and stones native to the area we were visiting. With my sister and cousins, we would go on exploratory rock hunts together. I remember hearing shouts of: Finder’s Keepers!
I have also always adored books, and as an adult I try to find the most awesome of children’s books to share with my daughter. Last week at the library, while I browsed the children’s section of Baldwin Boettcher, I stumbled across A Rock is Lively and I wanted to shout across the library “Finder’s Keepers!”
Except I will have to return this particular book and go buy a copy.
A Rock is Lively is an excellent introduction to geology – for all ages. My daughter will be three in October and she was riveted by all the colorful detail of gold, amethyst, peridot, and gypsum. The page about how rocks are mixed up and the description of how calcite, sodalite, pyrite, and lazurite becomes Lapis Lazuli excited her. She enjoyed telling me about all the colors she was seeing as I told her what the rocks were called.
Over and over again this week she has brought me the book, “What’s that?” she’ll say as she points to hematite… “What’s that?” she asks as she opens up the two page spread on obsidian. “What’s that?” she wants to know about the geodes…
A Rock is Lively is a must have. We will definitely be finding our own copy to own as well as the other books in the series: An Egg is Quiet, A Seed is Sleepy, and A Butterfly is Patient.
We have tea parties with our geography lessons. She knows her southern states and can identify North America on a world map. No matter what, she can always find Texas, even when all its borders aren’t clearly drawn on… she looks for the Gulf of Mexico.
Title: Emma: The Twice-Crowned Queen, England in the Viking Age
Author: Isabella Strachan
Publisher: Peter Owen Publishers
Length: 192 pgs.
First of all, let me premise this by informing you that like the Catherines/Katherines of Henry VIII’s time, the name Elgiva/Emma runs rampant during the Viking age of England. For instance, the subject of this biography was born Emma but the English chose to call her by the Latin equivalent: Elgiva. Emma was the second wife of the widowed Ethelred, whose first wife’s name was Elgiva. When Ethelred (king of England under the Saxons) dies and his land then conquered by the Danes (while King Swegn ruled), a Dane named Canute (Cnut) came to power. Emma becomes his wife as well, but guess what? He already has a ‘wife’ named… any takers? anyone? anyone? Yep, Elgiva. This makes for some interesting reading, but Strachan eases the issue by always referring to Emma as only Emma and providing a handy-dandy cast list in the front of the book.
When I first heard of Emma, I expected a woman who was cunning and manipulative. Someone with political the intrigue of a Cleopatra or Elizabeth I. I thought I’d be reading about a woman with a deep political agenda, always out-playing others in a real-life chess match. Instead I found a woman who seems to me to have been more adaptive, reactive, a survivor constantly caught between a rock and a hard place. The Twice-Crowned Queen is less of a political master mind and more of a drowning victim always bobbing up to the surface of the water just moments before death.
She was young when she became the bargaining chip in an arranged marriage to King Ethelred. It was a political ploy of others that ensured the Normans and Vikings were kept at bay during a time of imminent war, as both her father and half-brother were Dukes of Normandy with close, friendly ties to the Vikings. After Ethelred dies and England taken over by the Danes, Canute is chosen to be the new King. The problem with this arrangement is that the Church and Cabinet wanted Emma to remain the Queen. It remained good political sense, but Canute already had a wife. Canute had a handfast wife, referred to as Elgiva of Northampton. From what I gather from Strachan, a handfast wife was the Medieval equivalent of a ‘Common-law wife.’ Handfast wives had all the political and societal rights of a true spouse, but were not recognized by the church. Later William the Conqueror’s own mother would turn out to be a Handfast Wife, which was why he was a Duke of Normandy but still got called William the Bastard.
Either way, there was a lot of drama surrounding Emma’s marriage to Canute. He seems to have been completely in love with Elgiva of Northampton and despite promising that Emma would be his only Queen and her children heir to the throne, Elgiva was the only one granted regency rights over her own lands and it was her son Harold that took the throne upon Canute’s death. Emma was again just a political pawn to keep the peace, and in keeping the peace was forced to send her own children (from Ethelred) away to grow up abandoned by their mother while fighting tooth and nail to keep her children by Canute in the running for the throne. There is a poem called Samiramis that I’d like to get my hands on, written by the Normans of the time, that tells their account of the entire incident.
What I initially saw as an intense woman ensuring each of her children had a chance to rule (as her son Harthacnut from Canute and her oldest son Edward from Ethelred both eventually become King, while her daughter was the Queen of Germany), after the biography I feel that most of this was just chance and circumstance. Harthacnut was indeed fought for to be King, but his half-brother Edward the Confessor became King despite his mother. Edward actually stripped Emma of all her political rights as soon as he gained the throne. One of the clenchers for me having been interested in studying her was that she was William the Conqueror’s great-aunt, but he did not seem to have much of a tie to her, he merely showed a bit of respect for his cousins.
I am glad I read the book. Although I am disillusioned about her character, I think she’s still mighty impressive and wonder why she was left out of my education. Reading this biography made me intensely interested in reading additional history on William the Conqueror and his mother Arlette (Herleva). Lady Godiva also makes a cameo appearance, which piqued my interest as well as a man named Olaf Haraldsson. As I always say, the more you read, the more you discover you need to read.
This book would make a great addition to a well-read 11-12 year old’s Medieval history curriculum. It is short, sweet, and informative of not just Emma but a huge piece of history that made the English monarchy what it later became. And I loved it.
Hippos Go Berserk – Sandra Boynton
Excellent kid’s book, whether you get the board book or the picture book edition, as we read from both this week, the kids love this! It’s a great counting book, as it counts both up to nine and down from nine, and it introduces the concept of addition with its final page, referencing the fact that all the hippos mentioned on each previous page put together would make forty-four hippos. Originally copyrighted in 1977, this should be considered a classic.
Little Dog Poems – Kristine O’Connell George and June Otani
This is a great introduction piece to different kinds of poems and how often times poetry can get away with putting words all over the page. What is unique about this poetry, is that its all over the page with purpose as its mimicking the dog featured in the over arching story. We have dogs, and Ayla is around them a lot even at other peoples’ houses, so you could tell she really related to this book.
Toot & Puddle – Holly Hobbie
This one made me sad, in that I adore Holly Hobbie, but Ayla wasn’t really feeling it. Which tells me to try again when she’s older. Toot goes on a wild adventure, while Puddle stays at home, so in the course of the book the story happens with what Puddle is doing and then the alternate page has a postcard from Toot. I found these kinds of things really cool at about 5 and up, whereas the postcards were kind of lost on my 15 month old.
Molly Who Flew Away – Valeri Gorbachev
We read this over and over again this week! Ayla loves the illustrations, and is completely captivating by any story involving mice. I’m not exactly sure what it is she loves about them, but she was in love with this book.
Pip & Squeak – Ian Schoenherr
Another mouse story, Ayla would get super excited on each page and point to the mice. You could see the recognition on face, “I found it!” her eyebrows seemed to say every time as she jabbed the little mouse illustration with her pointer finger. This was also my personal favorite for the week as well, its got an adorably clever twist ending, which is fun when you’re a parent reading baby books all week.
The Adventures of Odysseus – Hugh Lupton, Daniel Morden, Christina Balit
This is obviously way to old of a book for my kid right now, but I checked it out as research for the classical education I’m planning for my daughter. In the classical education style you present topics to them every four years on age appropriate levels. This book will be the perfect first introduction to The Odyssey, and Ayla already loves the illustrations even if she can’t sit still for the story yet. Its also done by Barefoot Books: Celebrating Art and Story, for which I have a personal soft spot.