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Learning Without Labels, Creative Tales, Grammar Classics

By Heather Idoni

Added Monday, October 05, 2009

                The Homeschooler's Notebook
     Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
   Vol. 10 No 73                          October 5, 2009
                      ISSN: 1536-2035                              
   Copyright (c) 2009 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

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  Guest Article
  -- Creative Tall Tale Writing
  Helpful Tip
  -- National Parks Lesson Plans
  Resource Review
  -- Lost Classics Language Lessons
  Reader Question
  -- "Learning Different"
  Additional Notes
  -- Newsletter Archives
  -- Sponsorship Information
  -- Reprint Information
  -- Subscriber Information

       Guest Article

  The Tale is Tall
    by Karen Lange

  Humor is a great way to engage students and get them to write.
  One of my favorite writing units to teach is writing the tall
  tale.  This study encompasses literature, history, and writing.
  Science -- and perhaps math -- might even work their way in there,
  too, depending on the study.  The exaggeration and absurdity of
  tall tales appeal to children of many ages, so it can offer a
  springboard for an interesting short study. 

  Here is a summary of tips that I have used in my tall tale studies.
  I have used these with students from K-12, adjusting the lessons
  and requirements accordingly.  Younger students will enjoy hearing
  tall tales read aloud, and can brainstorm ideas with or dictate
  a story to you.  They can illustrate their work and even make a
  little booklet out of it.  Older students can do a more complete
  study and use it as a complement to a study of other areas of
  writing and literature, such as journalism, other fiction, and
  persuasive writing.

  The best way to get a sense of any literary genre is to read it.
  Read several tall tales to familiarize yourself and your students
  with characters and story format.  New and used bookstores and the
  library should have tall tale books or anthologies.  When doing a
  search for tall tales, check out American tall tale heroes such
  as Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry, and Slue-Foot Sue.  Folk
  tales from different cultures are often classified as tall tales,
  so if you like, check those out too.  There are several online
  sites that feature tall tales and their histories; these are a
  few sites that I found helpful:


  After reading a few tall tales, explain the tall tale basics:

  -- Tall tales are stories that feature a down-to-earth character
  that has unusual features and qualities that are larger than life.

  -- The character has tasks that must be accomplished, such as
  helping others or solving a problem, big or small.

  -- Problems and conflicts in the stories are resolved in a humorous
  or round about way, with exaggerated details and results.

  Steps to writing a good tall tale:

  -- Choose a character.  This character must have exaggerated qualities.
  Are they super strong?  Extra smart?  Able to lasso a tornado?  Faster
  than a herd of stampeding buffalo?  Able to complete chores in record

  -- This character may have a sidekick or friend, such as Paul Bunyan's
  blue ox, Babe.

  -- Next, choose an adventure for the character.  Will they rescue
  a runaway stagecoach?  Must they find a way to feed an entire town
  during a famine?  Do they need to reroute a river to divert flood
  waters?  This adventure must include details and events that can
  never happen in real life.

  -- The tone and style of a tall tale is friendly and conversational.
  Picture a tall tale being told around a campfire among friends, using
  simple terminology and lots of personality and inflection.

  -- Remember these three important stages of a good story.  This can
  help students categorize their info, and double check to make sure
  the story makes sense and is complete:

  1) Beginning – opens the story, sets the stage, includes introductory
  details, can contain rising action

  2) Middle – contains more rising action and main conflict, leading
  into conflict resolution

  3) End – conflict is satisfactorily concluded, loose ends tied up

  Tall tales do not have to be lengthy.  In fact, most are simply good
  short stories.  Let your student's age and ability dictate story
  length and complexity.

  Here is an abbreviated starter model to help younger writers get
  the idea.  It is the beginning of a story that one of my young
  tutoring students wrote:

  "Big Rob was the strongest man the state of Kentucky ever saw.  He
  was known for miles around and everyone loved to tell of his amazing
  deeds.  One day Big Rob paid a visit to his friend, Blue Bart.  Bart
  had been having trouble keeping his room clean and was always losing
  his matchbox cars..."

  Notice that the main character's name and exaggerated details open
  the story.  Next comes a little folksy information about Rob's amazing
  deeds, and then information about Rob's friend, Bart.  Finally, the
  problem or conflict is stated.  The story continues on with a little
  humorous action and exaggerated adventure, and is concluded.

  Writing tall tales provides opportunities for students to exercise
  their skills and stretch their imaginations.  A successful writing
  lesson will include positive encouragement; the result is that
  students are less likely to be resistant to writing.  As you know,
  much more writing awaits them throughout their school age years and
  beyond, so why not help them get off and continue on that right
  writing foot by trying some tales that are tall?  Go ahead, adventure


  Copyright 2009, Karen Lange.

  Karen Lange taught her three children at home through  grade twelve.
  She is a freelance writer and the creator of the Homeschool Online
  Creative Writing Co-op for Teens.

  Please visit Karen's website at: http://hswritingcoop.bravehost.com
  or you can write to her at:  mailto:writingcoop@yahoo.com


  Karen received some feedback recently from one of our readers --
  and I thought I would share it with you all. :-) -- Heather

  "Dear Karen -- I have been reading your articles in past issues of the
  Homeschooler's Notebook emails.  Thank you so much for your creative
  writing suggestions to us homeschooling moms.  It seems that good
  writing curricula is difficult to come by, and I appreciate your ideas
  to get us started.  I hope to see more of your input in that newsletter
  in the future!" -- Michelle H.


  Do you have comments to share?  Please do!
  Send your emails to:  mailto:heather@familyclassroom.net


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      Helpful Tip


  "There is a series of lesson plans with various exercises,
  videos, etc. online in association with a Ken Burns PBS series.
  Also a portion called 'Untold Stories, Discussion Guide' with
  separate online clips.  The videos are now viewable online."


  Do you have an idea, experience, or tip to share?  Please write!
  Send to:  mailto:HN-ideas@familyclassroom.net

      Resource Review

  Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons
  Author:  Emma Serl
  Publisher:  Lost Classics Book Company
  For more information or to order:  www.lostclassicsbooks.com

  The Lost Classics Book Company found a treasure in these two
  English/grammar texts from the early 1900s, and have brought
  them back into print for a new generation of learners.  Primary
  Language Lessons (PLL) is ideal for 2nd to 3rd grade, and
  Intermediate Language Lessons (ILL) provides solid, more
  challenging material for upper elementary through middle
  school.  PLL can be completed in one school year; ILL will
  take most children two years to complete.
  Both texts were written by an experienced teacher who knew the
  importance of capturing a child's interest in order to make
  lessons easier for them to grasp.  To that end, lessons are
  short and varied.  Different areas of language arts are covered
  each day in what appears to be a cyclical approach.  Like many
  textbooks of the time period, drill of grammar and English skills
  is emphasized, yet the lessons are short and imaginative, so the
  student doesn't get bored or burdened with too many rote drills.
  Students will learn by reading literature excerpts, work on
  oral language with picture study, and there are many exercises
  for students to master English usage, grammar, composition,
  punctuation, memorization, dictation, and more.  Although I have
  not seen them, the publisher has recently completed a teacher's
  guide with answer key to correspond with each of the texts.  This
  was the one thing I wished the books included.  Now mom not only
  has the answer key, but teaching ideas and lesson extensions as
  Both the Primary and Intermediate books are hardcover and include
  beautiful Victorian black and white illustrations throughout.
  The books are faithfully reproduced from the original with only
  necessary changes for our "modern" times, such as the proper way
  to address an envelope.  There is an assumption that users are
  familiar with many things in nature and around the farm (which
  makes sense since America was primarily an agrarian society at the
  beginning of the 20th century).  The references will not cause a
  problem, but may require students to either look up some information,
  or ask Mom or Dad for help.
  The lessons are paced "just right" and both books provide an
  appropriate, gentle, yet thorough approach to English and grammar
  studies.  This gentle approach, with an emphasis on picture study,
  narration, copywork and dictation, will definitely appeal to those
  families who prefer the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education.
  However, any family looking for a well-rounded, basic program that
  children can work through at their own pace, may find these classic
  textbooks to be just the right addition to their homeschool bookshelf!
  -- Cindy Prechtel, http://www.HomeschoolingFromTheHeart.com

      Last Issue's Reader Question

  "Hello -- I have been homeschooling my 11 year old son for a little
  over a year.  While in public school he was tested and said to have
  a learning disability.  After much prayer my husband and I agreed for
  him to be placed in an ESE (Exceptional Student Education) class so
  that he could get extra help, and hopefully catch up on skills.  This
  was a very difficult decision, but I felt peace about it at the time.
  I knew the teacher because she went to our church, so that made us
  feel better about it.  He was in the class for half of his third grade
  year.  There were children with emotional and behavioral problems in
  the class that caused a lot of disruption and the teacher spent much
  of her time disciplining.  After many visits with the guidance counselor
  and many times in tears, she told me, 'I know a lady that homeschools'.
  I had been praying about homeschooling for about two years at the time.
  I pulled my son out of school a couple of weeks later.
  As a Christian I know that we have to go through many trials and that
  they are to make us stronger in Christ.  I am going through such a
  trial in our homeschooling.  My son has made a lot of progress with
  his academics, but his self esteem is damaged.  He has asked me, 'Why
  did God make me this way?'  He has also asked me if he has a mental
  problem.  We took him to a child psychiatrist on the referral of his
  pediatrician, because he has a lot of frustration and anxiety.  They
  said that they aren't convinced that he has a learning disability but
  that he has emotional anxiety and ADD, and that he could benefit from
  counseling.  My son also has to have me stay awake until he falls asleep
  at night.  The psychiatrist said that I could give him melatonin to help
  him sleep because I didn't want to put him on medicine.  It helps him
  to fall asleep faster.

  My son thinks outside of the box and is always coming up with new ideas.
  It is very hard for him to stay on task while doing lessons.  He will
  always think of something else to talk about or to ask about.  He is a
  hands-on, auditory learner.  He has difficulty with visual processing.
  We highlight his schoolwork, because he loses track of where he is.  Our
  homeschool days tend to be very frustrating for both of us.  He really
  tries hard and does learn but we have to give him many breaks.  A lady
  in our homeschooling group tutors him three days a week at the literacy
  program and he has really benefited from this.  She used to be a teacher
  and her children have some of the same issues.
  I've just recently spoken with a child psychologist about my son and he
  is going to see her in a few weeks.  I feel that he needs to speak with
  someone about these issues that are bothering him.  He has so much
  frustration bottled up inside of him.  I have explained to him that God
  makes us all different and that we all learn in a different way and that
  it's not a bad thing.  We have never used the words 'learning disability';
  we say 'learning different'.
  I could use some encouraging responses and some good ideas.  Most of all,
  PRAYER!" -- Tanya

      Our Readers' Responses 

  "Tanya -- My heart and prayers are with you.  Two things.  First,
  you are right that God makes us each different, but may I just add
  that it is our very weaknesses He most often uses.  A disability
  isn't something to just sort of get around or adapt to.  It isn't
  even only to build our character.  Think of the 'heroes' of the
  Bible.  Moses had some type of speech problem -- and God asked
  him to speak to Pharaoh and to his nation.  Gideon was so afraid
  he was hiding in the luggage, and God asked him to lead the army
  in battle.  Samson was a wimp -- the people were shocked when they
  saw his display of strength, and we all know how God used him.
  David was the 'runt of the litter' and we all know that story, too.
  Peter was afraid to admit he even knew Jesus to a lowly slave girl,
  yet a short while later he preached boldly to the Pharisees and
  Sanhedrin -- the equivalent of our Congress!  The nation of Israel
  was chosen for the reason that they were the weakest and smallest.
  There are dozens more too.  I always tell my daughter Grace, who
  has huge challenges similar to your son's, that God deliberately
  chooses the 'things which are not' to display His power and glory
  and strength to a lost world, and He will use her too if she trusts
  Him and follows Him.  It is a constant theme in our house -- to where
  our other 'golden-gifted-girl' has actually expressed that she wishes
  she were 'like Grace'.  Inspire him with the truth -- how God truly
  sees us and for God's purpose for his life -- to know God and bring
  Him glory and shine his light in a very dark world!

  Second, just an idea.  Grace and I have been in a season where her
  awareness of her struggles is increasing, and she has also had a great
  deal of questions, anxiety and frustration.  We butt heads a lot, and
  she gets bossy and belligerent and emotional.  I have started meeting
  with her for a 'date' regularly.  We go to the park or get ice cream,
  or sit on a blanket in the yard -- just us.  I just listen -- no
  interruptions from siblings or even myself.  It gives her time to
  find words to express what is going on in her heart and mind.  Truly
  amazing what comes out.  We bring a special notebook that she got to
  decorate.  She can't write yet, so I write down things she says that
  are important to her.  Together we talk things over.  I answer her
  questions and concerns, and then we bring it to the Lord.  There is a
  list of very special prayer requests that we are agreeing on together.
  She has a 'twin' notebook that she likes to make her marks in -- it
  doesn't matter that she can't read or write.  She is pouring out her
  prayers and thoughts and the Lord knows.  The difference in her after
  a 'date' is phenomenal.  Partly it's a way to help her grieve in a
  healthy way -- instead of acting out.  It isn't that different from
  what a psychologist does, but I get the privilege of leading her to
  understand things through God's eyes.  I gain a ton of understanding
  into what she's thinking and understanding so that I can respond
  better in my parenting.  It draws us closer together, builds trust,
  and we have a precious record to look back on and even to encourage
  others with. 

  Blessings to you in this great, amazing journey of raising your
  sweet, special boy!" -- Dee


  "Hi -- I don't have this problem (yet -- my four year old might
  be LD), but my husband did.  Unfortunately, he never got help or
  diagnosed and simply thought (and was told) he was stupid.  He's
  now taking his Master's in Divinity.

  From his experience and what his mom has said, I can only encourage
  you to pray, and pray constantly.  Pray with him every night until
  he's gotten everything off his chest (what my mother-in-law did).
  Pray for his spiritual growth.  Ultimately, he will only find peace
  with God -- and the sooner he takes things to God, the sooner you
  will start to see real peace replace the anger and frustration.  I
  hope talking things out with therapists helps, but from my husband's
  experience I can say that only his relationship with God really
  healed his hurts.

  On the disability note, I've heard that having work printed on color
  sheets instead of plain white helps a lot of kids focus and understand.
  If your son is easily distractable, maybe this might help.  Another
  friend had her child tested by an opthamologist and they made her
  special glasses.  A clinic here (in SK) tests which colors help
  each individual child and then they tint their prescription or non-
  prescription glasses that color.  Maybe you could look into that? 

  What helps me with my son is remembering that God gave him to me alone,
  not anybody else, and I know God will equip me to be the mother he
  needs (as I ask Him to).  Maybe remembering that will help you, too."
  -- Katherine in Saskatchewan


  "I will pray with you -- I can't imagine the frustration you're
  feeling.  It will pass, however -- and based on what you've said,
  the (limited) research I've done on boys points to the likelihood
  he will be exceptional -- in the positive sense -- in his academic
  life and otherwise.  He sounds like a smart and sensitive child. 
  Two books I've read (because my youngest is a boy and based on what
  his Dad was/is like I wanted to have at least some grasp of what
  might be ahead) were 'The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses' by
  Dr. John Breeding, and by Thomas Sowell, 'Late Talking Children'
  (this I think is valuable, not because your boy has this problem
  necessarily, but it discusses the damage and ramifications of early
  'diagnosis', and the corresponding labels that ultimately pigeon-hole
  children for life -- or at least public school life.  Another (though
  more political admittedly) that I really appreciated was Christina
  Hoff Summer's 'The War Against Boys'.
  I am not an expert -- just a mom -- but my heart is so with you.  I
  would like to invite you to consider two things prayerfully, and with
  consent of a doctor you trust, if you haven't already.  Boys need at
  least two hours a day of hard, physical play -- it's their make-up,
  their job if you will, to be active.  As with mild depression in adults,
  exercise for boys, lots of it, is one of the ways the brain and the
  body start to work together again toward balance.  And again, with
  your doctor or a nutritionist, seriously evaluate his diet.  Sugar is
  the obvious culprit, but also things that convert to sugar quickly,
  like dairy and simple carbs.  I'm not suggesting you haven't done
  these things, but I'm amazed at how often they're overlooked by doctors
  and parents alike -- and medication and the rush to label become the
  From my own mother-in-law (like I said, my husband was a strong-willed,
  late talking, never-sit-still kind of kid), I would also encourage
  you to involve your boy in 'boy' activities that make him feel less
  removed from 'normal' -- Little League baseball, soccer, Boy Scouts,
  computer club, wherever his interests lie -- and resist the urge to
  divulge any of the details of his 'condition' to leaders or other
  parents, unless there is some danger to him or other children.  And
  don't baby him.  He needs to know that you see him as strong and
  capable -- still dependent on you, yes, but not bound to you for
  every iota of emotional security.  
  Love and prayers to you and your family." -- Rachael


  "Hi, Tanya -- A few things came to mind as I read your letter.
  Your words, as well as your son's words, are very powerful.  What
  you think about you bring about.  What a man thinketh, so is he.
  What is in your heart is what comes out.  Start concentrating on
  scriptures.  Put them on the walls -- everywhere.  Read them, say
  them, and you will start to believe them.  Here are a few:  Your
  son is fearfully and wonderfully made.  Before he was formed in
  your womb, God knew him.  God has a plan and purpose for him.
  Your son has the mind of Christ.
  As for the wondering off task, what has worked for me, is to have
  a notebook that I can write things down as they come to me.  This
  gets them out of my mind so I can stay on task.  Afterward, I can
  go back to the list and address those other things at another time.
  Many blessings to you and your son." -- Nicole in Alabama

     Answer our NEW Question

  "My 5 year old son has already learned to print, but I recently
  read that teaching cursive before manuscript (print) can help in
  many ways.  Identifying words as a whole and preventing dyslexia
  are two of those, as well as helping the student be able to read
  cursive later and have the ability to write a legible hand-written
  note.  It just makes sense to me that our founding fathers and
  children all the way up to the 19th, maybe 20th century did this.
  Also, children in Cyrillic countries learn to write the cursive
  equivalent in their language first.  It makes sense to me to teach
  him cursive for several other reasons.  I think it will help his
  overall handwriting in the long run.  Since he does know how to
  print, I have decided to continue to use the print to reinforce his
  spelling and phonics, but I am also slowly teaching him how to write
  cursive.  I found great sheets on Donnayoung.org that are bigger
  than most.

  I have really gotten very little, if any, support or encouragement
  from anyone.  My question is this:  Has anyone else done this or
  taught their child cursive earlier than the 'normal' 3rd grade?
  What helped?  What made it harder?  Thanks." -- Nicole

  Are you able to provide some positive input to assist Nicole? 

  Please send your answer to:  mailto:HN-answers@familyclassroom.net

     Ask YOUR Question

  Do you have a question you would like our readers to answer?

  Send it to mailto:HN-questions@familyclassroom.net and we'll see
  if we can help you out in a future issue!

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