There’s been a lot going on lately chez Tinderbox (I initially mistyped that as “cheez Tinderbox,” which gives an entirely different mental picture) – we came home from vacation and immediately put in an offer on a house, which led to an endless series of urgent tasks and research projects and appointments that have consumed our every moment since. Colin also kicked up a fever which has lasted six days now and which renders him completely unable to cope.
We’ve been homeschooling. We really have. I just can’t seem to muster up the time and energy to write about it afterwards.
Last week we studied Amber on the Mountain for Five in a Row. This is another entry in my continuing series of realizations that My Kids Are Not Me. I wasn’t looking forward to this book because I think it’s kind of hackneyed and derivative. A poor and isolated mountain child forms a friendship with a city child who teaches her to read. The language is very self-consciously countrified, and, well, I just don’t like it. I thought our study of it would drag. But Alex loved it. She giggled her way through every reading. “Derivative” doesn’t mean much to a six-year-old.
Amber on the Mountain is a little hard to place, geographically, because the characters sound Appalachian but the illustrations show tall, rocky, snow-capped mountains. We studied a physical map of the U.S. to figure out where the mountain ranges are (I love the vivid maps in the DK First Atlas), rejected the Appalachians because we had just been there and knew how they looked, and decided that the illustrations best fit the Rockies. Alex read a science picture book called Mountains: The Tops Of The World, and we talked about why the tops of the Rockies are treeless and snowy. We also watched the BBC Planet Earth episode on mountains. Here, enjoy some of the breathtaking footage set to music:
In our Language Arts lesson we reviewed similes, which are packed all through the self-consciously folksy text. Alex has gotten really good at recognizing them. I have her shout “SIMILE!” when she hears one, which causes Colin to shout “SIMILE” at random but frequent intervals but also helps cement the unfamiliar term.
The climax of the story hinges on a letter that Amber writes to her friend, so I suggested that Alex write a letter to one of the kids she met at SUUSI. I started to reassure her, “Your letter can be really short, like Amber’s -” but she eagerly sat down and wrote a pretty long letter, both sides of a sheet of first-grade manuscript paper, all in capital letters, with me dictating most of the spelling at her request. We probably should have done more of a lesson related to the content that belongs in a friendly letter, because Alex dove right in to pushing a sort of half-pretend vendetta the girls had organized against one of their youth program counselors, and resisted all my suggestions about, you know, actual friendly communication. It started out, “Dear Savannah, you know I would not usually write to you because it might be seen by Mr. You-Know-Who,” and ended with a giant “FOR SAVANNAH’S EYES ONLY” to which she only reluctantly appended “Love, Alex.”
Hopefully Savannah liked it and her parents aren’t too weirded out. For myself, I’m just thrilled that Alex actually wrote a letter with enthusiasm. Writing is starting to creep into her play activities, too, so maybe we’ve gotten past our horrible handwriting battles.