Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Literature Recommendations

Find this post in our February archives.  

See our New March Picks on Literature and Curricula Page

Anything and everything you wanted to know about Carol Heyer's magnificient Christian books can be found in February archives.  Look for "Inspired by this Confidence," a story about Carol and her books.  Judy will help you locate this title at her Christian book store.  Call her at (952)931-0004.

Kevin Henkes is a favorite author at our home:



Valentine's Day Picture Books are fun in February.  Check out these favorites on our bookshelf.  My four year old and I are in love with Fancy Nancy, and who doesn't love Curious George and the Berenstain Bears?

Catholic Saint Biography.


Italy Unit:

Prices may not reflect posting date's prices at Amazon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New York Times Writing Lesson

Photo made public in January 2013 by 

This photo may be viewed on Matthew Hansen's article from  The New York Times article that this lesson is based upon, is referring to Hansen's article and his solid journalism.  The original photo was taken by Stephanie Sands.

Background:  My husband discovered excellent writing examples, from two news sources, that will be certain to interest elementary and middle school students.  Their topic is about an amazing photo that appears to highlight several manhole covers flying off an Omaha street in a firey blaze. Was the photo real or fake?  The possibilities for learning objectives from these article are limitless - journalism ethics, sound reporting, the interview process, writing examples, news writng process.  Read further to explore the objectives this teacher chose for the news writers' fascinating topic.

Objectives:  To read an excellent example of writing from The New York Times and  To discuss solid reporting versus using the internet to get "the scoop" on a good story.

Prepare:  Open the New York Times article entitled "Logging off to Trace a Web Photo to Its Source."  The articles in this lesson were published on, and but copyright laws stipulate that neither may be printed, copied or published elsewhere. Download Catholic Teacher Daydream's writing guide titled Getting the News Scoop.  I grant full permission to print and copy this writing guide for educational purposes only.

Procedure: Display the photo taken, on a computer or iPad, taken by Stephanie Sands.  Ask, "Do you think the photo depicts what is truly happening?  Why or why not?  How could you learn if it is fake or real?  

Read the New York Times article aloud. Discuss how the author of the Omaha newspaper article reported in an old-fashioned manner and let his boots hit the reporting ground. "Were you surprised to find out that the picture was not exactly as it seemed? Would the reporter have discovered this if he had not done his homework and investigated offline?"

"What topic would you be interested in reporting offline?"  Hand out "Getting the News Scoop" downloaded at Scribd. Discuss the steps reporters take to get a good story. Allow time for choosing a topic and beginning “Getting the News Scoop.” Remind students that their sources and questions may change as they research.  If time permits students might also read Matthew Hansen's article on the internet.

Decide how long you will give students to complete their research. Schedule a second week for students to write, revise, and edit a final copy.  Students will publish articles by reading their articles to students or family, or displaying in classrooms.  A Catholic school newspaper or home school newsletter would also be an appropriate place for publishing a student article.

Evaluation: Did the students find reliable sources offline? Did they ask important questions to complete their research? Is their research organized? Were they surprised by the events that took place in their story? Follow familiar writing rubric for evaluating or the COPS rubric.

Teacher Notes: I am pleased that my husband found the New York Times article. It has many possible learning outcomes.  My children's responses to the photo were interesting.   They suggested going on the internet to "zoom in on the photo."  They wanted to search for another photo of the scene that might be taken from a different angle, in order to solve the mystery.  It did not occur to them that a reporter could find the photographer and ask her about the photo. Their response explains how important it is for students to "unplug" and communicate with people.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Treasures in the Day of a Catholic Family

'Not surprising news!  We are far from perfect at the Johnson home.  God designed us in His image, but we are human.  As Christ-like as we strive to be, we rarely get it right, but we try.  Here are a few treasures in our day that bring us closer to Him.

Mornings in our home start with praying the Morning Prayer.  During Lent we also pray a Children's Lent Prayer.  We introduce the day's saint; pledge our allegiance to the flag; and share a family breakfast.  Home schooling begins at nine if we are organized which is rare.

Math is the first subject of the day.  Mondays we learn a new concept.  Benjamin works on dividing decimals with his manipulatives.

The twins work on spelling.  They drag their letter tiles around the board and find it hilarious to make up words for a few minutes.  "What does this spell, Mom?" my boys, who share the same sense of humor, ask me as they line up "b-a-t-h-d-o-g" and "b-e-l-l-h-a-t." This morning they line up their letters in abc order and sing the alphabet much too quickly.

Ryan continues his Keynote presentation about Italy.  Our nine year old socioligist researches three Italian saints this Monday.

Stacks of books, a few prayers, and a number of hours later we finish our school day with faith formation.  Emily silently reads Sunday's Gospel in her Bible while our little ones read Luke's Gospel in The Action Bible with their big brothers.  Afterwards, Joshua, Michael and Mary create a simple project depicting the Transfiguration.  It is possible that Mary had help from her sister.  What do you think?

We pray for your families to find treasures in your school day during this Holy season of Lent.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Field Trip to (Your State Here) History Center

Last weekend our family enjoyed a field trip to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.  Each state in the Union boasts science, art and history museums located in urban counties.  Remote, rural communities have unique museums worth checking out too.  If you can visit a museum or history center similar to our weekend destination it is worth the drive.  We gained an appreciation for where we live and our chilly afternoon was entertaining without a click of the television remote.

The purpose of  history centers is to present the history of a specific state or community.  State level centers offer field trips for families, home schools, and public and private schools.  Education resources such as worksheets, research and videos are often provided.

Three of the Minnesota History Center exhibits our children walked (sometimes ran) through included GrainlandWeather Permitting 

and Then, Now, Wow.  Exhibits are interactive so our busy learners had plenty of cranks, handles, buttons, wagons, and carts to push and pull; and shoes, jackets and hats to try on.   The plethora of interactive "toys" causes this Type A mom to beg her active learners to slow down to read the educational signs. But my husband reminds me that they learn while they move.    

Then Now Wow is the largest exhibit at the Minnesota Historical Museum and is designed for elementary age children.  A streetcar has interactive windows children can "open" that provide snapshots of Minnesota's history.  A SOO line boxcar is popular for its 
panoramic music video of Charlie Parr's country song about small 
southern towns.  The drilling site was the children's favorite.  
Wearing  a hard hat they explore an authentic looking mine commonly found in north-central Minnesota.   Young visitors "drill" through the rock.  Placing pretend sticks of dynamite into a rock wall the children inform their friends that the mine is prepared for explosions.  Then the lucky young miner slams down on a T-bar to produce a noisy boom!  It was painful to be the child at the end of the "exploder line" but somehow we survived.  I can still hear the noise in the mine -      
            "My turn, my turn!"
            "My turn! My turn!"


Another fun exhibit we have visited before is an indoor playground that acts as a grain elevator called Grainland.  Minneapolis, fondly called Mill City has been known for its flour mills since they were built in the eighteen seventies along the banks of the Mississippi.    Today, children race up steps and crawl down grain shafts at Grainland.  The only downfall of Grainland is getting the little ones to move on to another exhibit.  


While the children explored the tornadoe site at Weather Permitting I was drawn into an old weather news reel about a snow storm that covered Minnesota a decade before I was born.  The familiar voice of the weatherman can still be heard on our popular news radio station today.  Snow storms bring a sense of comraderie to Minnesota as we shovel our way out of our homes, help one another across slippery sidewalks, and push one another's cars out of snowbanks.  It's an adventure.

During our visit we also went through a replica of an old house on Hopkins Street. (Our four year old could not get over the dial up telephone in the hallway.)  And we pretended to serve sundaes at an old-fashioned malt shop. We look forward to the Civil War exhibit coming in March for our older children.  If you live in the twin cities the History Center is a perfect place to spend your Saturday.  Can't relate to my snowy day nostalgia because you live in a warmer state?  Visit this Guide to Historical Museums to find a museum in your area.  You may not need to cure Cabin Fever, from being inside for the last three weeks, but a field trip to your
state's museum promises not to disappoint.

Disclaimer: I am not receiving compensation or free tickets for posting this article.  Sharing field trips benefits you, the reader.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

We Live our Faith in our Homes: February Meal

Chicken Marne
Here is a delicious main dish that I can't even ruin.  Mary's chocolate chip cookies are a yummy desert to finish off this meal.

mix first four ingredients together for sauce
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
barely cook chicken/barely steam brocolli (see preparation)
4 large chicken breasts
10 oz package broccoli

Preparation: Cook four chicken breasts, wrapped in foil, salt and peppered at 400 degrees for forty-five minutes. Cook until juices run clear, and meat is very moist.  Mix sauce ingredients. Barely steam two ten ounce packages of frozen broccoli. Drain.  Place broccoli on bottom of 9x13 pan or casserole dish, then cooked chicken.  Top with cheesy sauce.  Bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes until cheese bubbles and edges slightly brown.

Add salad and crusty bread with this dish.

Aunt Mary Z's Chocolate Chip Cookies

You haven't tasted unique or extraordinary until you have tasted these giant chocolate chip cookies.  Every time I serve these, I get a recipe request.  I can't take credit for them.  My husband's aunt Mary is the creator, and they have a delicious twist you will be proud to serve.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix these ingredients first:                                 
1 cup sugar                                                                                           
1 cup brown sugar                                                                               
2/3 cup butter                                                                                     
2/3 cup crisco (makes cookies light and slightly crispy)                                                
2 eggs                                                                           
1. 5 tsp almond (a tasty twist) or vanilla extract
Slowly add to mix above:
3 cups flour with,3/4 tsp. salt with,
1 tsp. baking soda
Next, Stir in 1 bag Guittard Big Chips in silver bag

If one has the patience to wait for these delicious treats, cooling the dough in an airtight container overnight helps them rise the next day.  Prep them in a cool kitchen.  Use a small ice-cream scoop to form balls on ungreased cookie sheet.  They will finish larger and lighter than typical.  Bake 10-15 minutes.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why we Homeschool


Catholic school teachers will enjoy this post to learn about other options in Catholic education.  Please look for a post about the gifts we receive from Catholic schools, in March.
Catholic home educators, my hope is that the following post will refresh your desire to teach your children their faith in the home, even on the tough days.

Today, at my sons' baseball practice a friendly dad asked me, "Why do you home school?"  He continued with, "My kids have President's Day off, and they are already driving me crazy."  My response is often an affirmation about how much our family enjoys home educating, and how important our Catholic faith is to us.  Some require more explanation.  My experience as a Catholic school teacher was wonderful, so we did not oppose our archdiocese's schools.  However, catholic school tuition was overwhelming for our growing family; and we reasoned that my teaching license, our solid family, and a home meant that  scholarships should be reserved for Catholic families who had fewer options.

Today our answer for why we home educate is not based on our bank account and my teaching history.  We have grown to respect the choice we made eight years ago for other reasons.  Teaching the Catechism and richness of our faith, participating in the sacraments, and being a part of our church community remain important.

We have also discovered that being our children's primary educators is a gift.  Catholic, and a few appropriate secular, textbooks that are honest and rich in content are read in all subjects. History presents an objective timeline in story format and does not dismiss the great contribution of Christianity.  Literature such as the Father Brown series, based on the great author C.K. Chesterton's books, The Little Apostle,  Pride and Prejudice and Saint biographies are enriching and influential.  My children also choose their own favorites if they do not contradict Christian values or Church teachings.

Catholic education allows parents to decide how and when their children will learn about maturing into young men and women, wordly issues and current topics.  Abstinence curriculum or retreats discuss procreation from a catholic perspective, presenting morality, modesty, chastity, and respect for life.  These courses are enlightening and created with divine intervention.  Older teenagers come to understand the rewards for couples who wait for intercourse until marriage, and that children are gifts in that union.

Character development are key words synonymous with home education.  Because families spend a lot of time together, working together is imperative.  Home educated children learn life skills such as homemaking, maintenance and helping with younger children.  Occasionally, our children go to work with their dad to foster "real world" skills.  Home educated families benefit from social interaction between siblings, friends, and their parents.

Individual instruction is another benefit home education provides.  Recently my first grade twins were struggling in math.  I taught them separately for the first time all school year.  Each boy became proficient at counting coins with Mom and I was reminded how valuable one on one learning can be in every academic area.  It is wonderful time spent together, too.

People wonder how we fit homeschooling into our busy day with six children.  I question how large families complete homework in today's competitive academic world.   A homeschool day for a large family takes about six hours to finish with little or no homework.  Families with two or three students  finish sooner.  Because we meet some objectives in teams, or  I am able to help a child finish
challenging academics during the school day, we have time for extracurricular activities and family time in the afternoons.  Home educating offers flexiblily for field trips and learning vacations.

Daily prayer, attending Mass and sacraments, playing games, and learning together are just a few gifts from home schooling.  1 Peter (1:8) reads, "Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,"  We express that joy as we learn our faith at home, and give thanks to Him for the opportunity to do so.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Happy Child

How is it possible to gain middle child status when you are one of six children?  Two older siblings are born.  You are next.  Twins follow to share a birthday.  The youngest arrives, creating five beautiful birthdays, and you are in the middle.

Experts agree, the middle child philosophy is flawed. They report, birth order does not create certain qualities in a child. Large families blessed with many children disagree. 

Ryan, our middle child, is quiet, thoughtful, and independent.  Although it may be the temperament he was born with, being the middle child fostered his gentle demeanor. Often lost in the chaos of our busy family he contentedly goes about his day.

Ryan's toddler milestones occurred without drama.  Eating solids began with Ryan saddled up to a coffee table eating Cheerios, while I quickly cleaned or home schooled his older siblings.  As soon as the last Cheerio was consumed, I would throw a few more in front of him to keep him happy. He never complained.

Potty training was completed before Ry's twin brothers were born.  There was an urgency to train quickly to avoid triplet diaper changes.  When he became a "big boy," Ryan received a "Thank Goodness you are out of diapers!" and he resumed his toddler life without fanfare.

The twins' birth was the catalyst for Ryan to inherit the quiet, middle child role. The wait was long for Ryan to gain help when his parents were caring for two fussy babies. Our preschooler accomplished a handful of skills on his own. Outfits rarely matched, but he got himself dressed.  Toys were tucked away in odd places, but he picked them up. He retrieved diapers, pacifiers and bottles for his new brothers.  Although I sometimes forgot to thank him, Ryan did not seem to mind.   

It was Ryan who taught Benjamin how to pull a chair over to the counter so they could climb up for a snack.  Once I discovered that my three and five year old were safe I often reminded them to grab me a snack while they were up there. It was divine intervention that kept Ryan and Benjamin alive the first few months of the twins' lives.  

About four years ago, when our youngest arrived, my sister-in-law and I brought eight children to Byerly's for Sunday brunch - six children were mine, two were hers.  Grandma Ann met us at the sidewalk to clear the children from the car and bring them into the restaurant.  Once the cousins and siblings had piled out of the car, Heidi and I left to park her car.  Ten very quiet minutes went by and we still hadn't found a spot.  

Suddenly my cell phone rang, interrupting our peace.  Grandma Ann counted heads and she only had seven children at the table. The newest baby was present. but Ryan was missing.  Heidi and I raced back to the sidewalk.  My five year old wasn't waiting at the drop off location!  I reached hysteria in a matter of seconds, and was about to alert the authorities and request a lock down of the restaurant to canvas the area for a missing child.  Then we heard it.  "Mom?" a quiet voice asked from the third row of Heidi's car.

Ryan had not left the van.  Once composure was gained, and my tears were wiped away, Heidi and I asked Ryan why he hadn't exited with everyone else.  

"I twied Mom," Ryan explained with a smile, "but every time I got to a door someone shut it, so I 'cided to go with you." 

The guilt I felt that day was tremendous.  I confess that I did not feel worried for Ryan though.  I believe he is content with his place in the family.  He has three brothers that rough house and find trouble with him every day.  He searches for his older sister when I can't help him and he is adored by his little sister.  I treasure reading, and contemplating questions about Jesus, with him.  He is a deep thinker.

After the blizzard today I watched Ryan haul logs into the house with his dad.  It was cold and windy, but Ryan was happy.    They worked diligently and silently as they often do. When they are together Ryan isn't lost in the chaos.  He isn't the middle child.  He is his father's son.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ash Wednesday

The following video from Our Sunday Visitor is a lovely reminder of how families, educators, and children should spend this Lent, 2013.

Our Sunday Visitor Lent Guide is a wonderful resource to read with Catholic families, educators, students, and children.

Pray the Family Lent Prayer found on our  PRAYERPAGE

Finally, visit our EDUCATION PAGE for Ash Wednesday Journal Entry,

May the Holy Spirit be with you and your loved ones during this Holy Lent Season.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine's Day Art Project: Monochromatic

Materials: Several colors of 8 x 11 construction paper, all or some of the following: scraps of construction paper, colorful magazine pages, sandpaper, tissue paper, paint, crayons, colored pencils, markers, paint, scissors, glue.  Set out before lesson begins. Examples of monochromatic colors schemes. Sample of art project.

Objective: To understand the term monochromatic by creating a Valentine heart collage in the same hue with several different shades, tints and tones.  To practice the use of different paper and art materials.  To show effort and creativity in creating the Valentine hearts.

Procedure: Begin with asking the children if they have heard the term monochromatic.  What does "mono" mean?  One.  What do we think of when we hear "chromatic?"  Color.  Monochromatic means one hue, in many different tints, tones and shades.  See examples 1, 2.

Example 1 - Wikepedia

Example 2 -fineartamerica 

"We are going to create a monochromatic collage with different art materials to change the tints, tones and shades of ONE hue that we choose."  See Samples 1, 2, enlarged for display  

Sample 1
Sample 2

Before beginning the project, discuss materials artists use to make their art more interesting?  Do they use the same type of paint, colored pencils, chalk?  Do they vary their materials? (see Materials)

Students choose a hue based upon the colors of construction paper.  Fold and cut out heart.  Then, cut out shades, tints and tones to add to the heart.  Remind students to layer their materials, so depth creates a variety of tints, tones, shades and different textures. For students who like to plan, suggest collecting materials and laying out collage before gluing.  Allow plenty of time for this project to be completed.  Some students will layer their collage carefully with many different materials.  When it is time to transition to another lesson, set the project aside for independent work.  Others will approach the project in a more carefree manner, and finish quickly.  
Evaluation:  Questions for student to consider as a self-evaluator.  Did you use more than three materials?  Did you stay with the hue you chose?  Did you layer your collage?  Is your project unique?  If you intended to make your project pleasing to the eye, is it?

Teacher Notes: I observed that older children were able to layer a collage nicely.  Children in the primary grade had a difficult time with collage concept and wanted to create a picture with their different materials.  My preschooler did best with a precut heart and several choices pre-cut to glue down.  She had no problem with the collage effect.

This lesson will be in pdf form at the end of February on our Education Page. copyright 2013