Friday, 28 October 2016

Ambleside Online Year 6: looking back on the week

We finished Shakespeare's King Lear yesterday. Moozle wrote this narration on the play today in 'the style of Plutarch.'

I've mentioned in previous posts that we were watching a movie version of King Lear on YouTube. We've got as far as the end of the eighth video but I'll probably skip at least the next two for Moozle as I think they're a bit too gory in places for her at this stage, although all in all, the movie is quite well done.

AO Year 6 has some interesting science books scheduled: starting off with The Mystery of the Periodic Table, a biography of Albert Einstein and The Elements by Theodore Gray in Term 1 and adding in a number of others as the year progresses, so we began a Science Notebook as she's been itching to add it after seeing what her older siblings have done previously. As I've done with the others, I added in the Periodic Table of the Elements videos on the Nottingham University website. She watches these after reading chapters from The Mystery of the Periodic Table & The Elements. 

I'm looking forward to reading Rachel Carson's, The Sea Around Us, which Benj enjoyed a few years ago. I posted some videos and other resources on Pinterest when he did it, but this time I think I'll put them in a blog post as they are scattered all over my Pinterest pages and are hard to find.

This is a creative narration from a later chapter in the above book:


A painting in acrylics, copied from a photo:


In case you haven't realised, Moozle is a book gobbler. She reads incredibly quickly, as did Zana, one of her older sisters, but they both have excellent recall, regardless. This week she has been re-reading some of the Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce plus a whole stack of Patricia St John titles.


As I've substituted Australian content for some of the American titles in the Ambleside Online curriculum over the past five years, I haven't worried too much about keeping historical fiction in chronolgical order, especially as all my children have loved reading and it's been hard to keep up with their reading habits. We read books such as John of the Sirius by Doris Chadwick, Stowaway by Karen Hesse and many other Australian titles as family read alouds regardless of what historical time period we were studying. The younger ones listened in as I read to the older ones and picked up so much history on the way. My girls read the Billabong books for themselves as soon as they were able and I didn't wait until they came to the historical time period they were studying before I gave them the books. That said, I haven't found it difficult to supply them with great books for the time periods they study, but it has freed me up in some ways so that I can include classic books other than predominantly Australian titles - from Scotland & New Zealand, for example - over the course of their education.

Benj, Moozle and I have been listening to this Sherlock Holmes audiobook narrated by Ruth Golding on our car trips:

Linking up at Weekly Wrap-up

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

From my reading

The worship of success was something that fascinated Dietrich Bonhoeffer (I wrote about it here) and it's something that intrigues me. It's something that has pervaded not only the culture of the world around us, but also the church and our general attitude to suffering.

 A.W. Tozer, in his wonderful little book of essays, The Root of the Righteous, said that:

One marked difference between the faith of our fathers as conceived by the fathers and the same faith as understood and lived by their children is that the fathers were concerned with the root of the matter, while their present-day descendants seem concerned only with the fruit. 

Success looks only at the fruit, at that which may be 'the brief bright effort of the severed branch to bring forth its fruit in its season.' 

Tozer goes on to observe that, 'Preoccupation with appearances and a corresponding neglect of the out-of-sight root of the true spiritual life are prophetic signs that go unheeded. Immediate 'results' are all that matter, quick proofs of present success...
Religious pragmatism...Truth is whatever works. If it gets results it is good. There is but one test for the religious leader: success. Everything is forgiven him except failure.'

I recently read an essay on the Book of Job in the Old Testament by G.K. Chesterton that one of my daughters recommended. Chesterton says:

Here in this book the question is really asked whether God invariably punishes vice with terrestrial punishment and rewards virtue with terrestrial prosperity. If the Jews had answered that question wrongly they might have lost all their after influence in human history. They might have sunk even down to the level of modern well-educated society.

For when once people have begun to believe that prosperity is the reward of virtue, their next calamity is obvious. If prosperity is regarded as the reward of virtue it will be regarded as the symptom of virtue. Men will leave off the heavy task of making good men successful. He will adopt the easier task of making out successful men good.

Job is not told that his misfortunes were due to his sins or a part of any plan for his improvement...we see Job tormented not because he was the worst of men, but because he was the best.


Secular writer David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) offered some piercing thoughts on worship:

There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship...
If you worship money and things - if they are where you tap real meaning in life - then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth...Worship power - you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart - you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

I think it would be consistent with Wallace's observations to say that if you worship will never be satisfied. You will end up feeling you've achieved nothing.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.

The worship of success is a default setting. You won't be discouraged from operating on this setting. You will be applauded and encouraged, most likely, but you won't be free.

The test of the life of a saint is not success, but faithfulness in human life as it actually is...
Oswald Chambers

Friday, 21 October 2016

Reading Europe: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (1928)

According to legend, in the thirteenth century Tartars from the east descended upon the Polish city of Kraków. The young trumpeter of the Church of Our Lady Mary had taken a solemn oath to play the Heynal each hour of the day and night from the church tower, and this he did even as the Tartars below were setting fire to the town and the other inhabitants had fled into the Wawel fortress. As he played the hymn, a Tartar below shot an arrow,  killing him before he could finish the hymn.
One hundred and twenty years later, Andrew Charnetski, his wife, and their son, Joseph, arrived in Kraków seeking refuge after they were driven out of the Ukraine. In their possession was the Great Tarnov Crystal, a rare jewel that had been in the Charnetski family for over two hundred years, and which they had sworn to guard.
Befriended by Jan Kanty, a renowned priest, theologian and scholar of the times, the family was provided with lodgings and Andrew, a skilful trumpeter, was given the night shift in the church tower. Before long, however, a Tartar chief from the Ukraine had discovered their whereabouts and made plans to get his hands on the jewel. He would stop at nothing to achieve his ends.

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly won the Newbery Medal in 1929 for this story of medieval Poland and wrote the book while he was teaching and studying at the University of Krakow. Krakow was not the tourist destination it is today, and before the book was published in 1928, it had never even been mentioned in a book for children. The Trumpeter of Krakow is an unusual book in many ways, with its focus being a little known city in Poland at the time of its publication. Although it is an adventure story of sorts, the author focuses on some of the interplay of the scientific thought and superstitious beliefs prevalent at the time - alchemists, hypnotism and a brief mention of the future work of Nicholas Copernicus. This adds some interesting angles, so that although the book is recommended for ages 8 to 12, it would probably interest older children as well.

The prestige of the various colleges and the reputation of the men who taught there had drawn to Kraków not only genuine students but also many of the craft that live by their wits in all societies, in all ages - fortune tellers, necromancers, and fly-by-nights who were forever eluding the authorities of the law...

Against the machinations of these men the influence of the university was ever working, and the first great blow that many of these magic crafts and black art received was struck by Nicholas Kopernik, better known as Copernicus, many years later, when Joseph Charnetski was a very old man; Copernicus, working with rough implements, even before the telescope had been invented, proved to men for the first time that the heavenly bodies, stars and planets, move in the skies according to well-fixed and definitely determined laws, subject only to the will of he Creator of the universe, and that they have nothing to do with the destinies of individuals. 

Some interesting bits & pieces

The Heynal and St. Mary's Tower

Historical figures in the book include:

Jan Kanty (also known as St John Cantius) who was much revered in Poland for his wisdom, humility and generosity.
Kazimir Jagiello, King of Poland.

Historical places mentioned in the story:

For a second the woman's heart quailed before the fresh difficulties, but she forgot self at the look in her husband's face. Her quiet reply, "We will wait, for God is in the waiting," filled him with courage again.

Now of all the creatures that God has put in the world a dog is the most curious, and sometimes, one might think, the most discerning. For when this same animal had broken loose in the morning, his first impulse, which he had followed, had been that of flight. His second impulse was to look for a friend, since no dog can live without a friend.

These are dark days when men look with suspicion upon all who engage in investigation whether it be honest or dishonorable, godly or selfish.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Looking Back on the Week

This week I listened to an interesting Schole Sister's podcast on leading our children through encounters with viewpoints with which we don’t agree. This is definitely something I've had to grow into over time. When my children were little my concern was mostly about shielding them from  potentially harmful ideas and situations, but as the conversation on this podcast pointed out, there's a difference between innocence and naiveté, and it's important to prepare our children for these opposing viewpoints.

Moozle has been reading the Tom Swift Jr. books by Victor Appleton II. They're out of print but you can read about them here and they're available secondhand.  They're also online at Gutenberg.
A young person's introduction to science fiction, rather than being great literature, this series is interesting for children who have a science bent as Tom dreams up some very interesting inventions. In fact, one of the books, 'Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle,' inspired the physicist and inventor, Jack Cover:

The Independent, 2009 

A few months ago she lapped up G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown books so I decided that this one, by the creator of Winnie the Pooh, would be a good follow up now that she's caught the 'crime bug.'

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne was published in 1922 and the author dedicated the book to his father: 

Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective
   stories, and feel that there are not enough of them. So, after
   all that you have done for me, the least that I can do for you
   is to write you one. Here it is: with more gratitude and
   affection than I can well put down here.

I stumbled upon it at the library about ten years ago and then found it online and downloaded it onto kindle for free but the only free version I've found when I had a look recently was at Gutenberg.
It's a good introduction to the genre for a young person who isn't ready for writers such as Agatha Christie but who enjoys a bit of mystery and detection.

A poetic narration on The Hobbit:

Benj is busy preparing for possibly his last piano exam which takes place next week. Between this and his two days a week at Augustine Academy, and one half day at his part-time job, he's only been joining us for Devotions, Shakespeare's King Lear and Plutarch's Life of Marcus Cato the Censor.

Aussie Folksongs - this is one we've been listening to. The song is based on the 1897 poem, 'The Lights of Cobb & Co' by Henry Lawson. The poem and some information about Cobb & Co are on this blog and also here.

This is one of a series of CD's that introduces the music and lives of some of the great composers. We've listened to the Classical Kids series (Beethoven Lives Upstairs etc) in the past, which are ok for younger children, but this series is better if older children are also listening in. The story is told in the third person, sticks to the facts, and contains a good selection of the artist's music.

Linking up with Weekly Wrap-up.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson

In 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson (who was only 24 years of age at the time) presented a scientific paper that proposed the double helical structure of DNA. Up until about 1944, DNA had been ignored and was considered to be 'the stupid molecule.' It was so simple, that it couldn't possibly play any major part in the body.
With the discovery of the double helix formation, the replication of genes and their role in the transmission of information from parents to their offspring became obvious. This discovery was a major turning point in science and the beginning of modern genetics.

The Double Helix, first published in 1968, is an honest, humorous, chatty, and at times sarcastic, first-hand account by James Watson of his version of how DNA was discovered. An American, he moved to Cambridge University in 1951 after studying in the USA and Copenhagen. It was at Cambridge that he met Francis Crick, who, like himself, was interested in how genes were constructed and the role of DNA, and together they made the discovery that revolutionised biochemistry.
James Watson has written a unique book in many respects. This is the inside story - a glimpse into the rivalries, the insecurities and the ambitions of scientists; their struggles, triumphs and disappointments. Watson didn't hold back on his opinions and at times he was crude and unkind to his fellow scientists, but his honesty in portraying the attitudes and eccentricities of the scientific community was a refreshing approach.
I was impressed with the positive reactions from the various scientists when Crick and Watson's discovery became known. Previous rivals and runners in the race were genuinely thrilled with the news and recognised its huge impact for the development of science.
This is a good read for anyone interested in science and genetics. It does get a little technical in places but not enough that you'd miss the gist of the story, although a good grasp of chemistry would definitely help. Watson gets sidetracked at times with comments on pretty girls, parties and random misogynist observations so I'd recommend a pre-read if you're thinking of using it in high school.

'I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood...'

'...there existed an unspoken yet real fear of Crick, especially among his contemporaries who had yet to establish their reputations. The quick manner in which he seized their facts and tried to reduce them to coherent patterns frequently made his friends' stomachs sink with the apprehension that, all too often in the near future, he would succeed, and expose to the world the fuzziness of minds hidden from direct view by the considerate, well-spoken manners of the Cambridge colleges.'

'One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.'

Friday, 7 October 2016

A Fortnight's Review

It's the 'official' school holidays here, not that we follow them, but we tend to end up changing our usual schedule because we don't have our regular weekly activities. Last week Moozle and I taught a group of ten children how to weave using a hula hoop as a loom in kid's holiday programme our church runs twice a year. Benj volunteered as one of the leaders and helped to run games & activities. At other times he's been rostered on First Aid as he has his Senior First Aid Certificate.

The ten children in our workshop were aged around 6 to 10 years of age; about equal numbers of boys and girls. None of them had ever done anything like this and had no idea what they were in for. One little boy wasn't impressed at first. The workshop he volunteered for was cancelled so he got put into ours. "I can't do this...this is boring!" Not a great start, but I kept telling him he'd actually enjoy it once he got the hang of it. The workshop was about an hour and a half long and Moozle & I had already put the warp on the looms (and spent a couple of days cutting up old t-shirts...) so we just had to teach them how to weave. About 10 minutes before the end of the class I told them we'd have to start looking at finishing the weaving and getting it off the looms. The kids didn't want to stop - including the reluctant boy! They kept saying, "Just one more colour..." so their weaving would be bigger. I took some photos once they got the hang of it and they were all thrilled with their finished work.

There are oodles of links on Pinterest and tutorials on youtube on how to weave on a hula hoop.
Update: a video link is here (they use a fancier sort of hula hoop in this one but we just had the normal cheap version) & here.

Our Reading


The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis - I wrote about this book here.
He's also continuing with The Root of the Righteous by A.W. Tozer which I finished recently.


The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin - this is a well-written mystery story that Moozle really enjoyed. A good puzzle with twists that keeps you guessing until the end. A Newbery Medal winner, 1979.


Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel by Albert Marrin. A good biography for ages 13 years and up. Some thoughts on it here.

A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill - this is the second book in this murder series. I wrote about the first one here.
Set in Australia during the 1930's, this book picks up in pace from the first one, as I predicted, and launches almost immediately into the action. The very likeable main characters from the first book turn up again and find themselves caught up in a crime scene on board a cruise ship. Again, the author weaves crime and mystery with historical events and some notable people of the time and creates a very interesting and unusual story. A great way to learn about some not so well known parts of Australia's history.

Other bits & pieces:

I've been using Singapore Maths for a few years now with Moozle and while I think it's very good at showing the 'why' behind some of the maths, I don't think it's a thorough as some of the maths I've used with her older siblings. I was going through some books I'd packed away and found some unused "Key to..." workbooks so I started using them plus I'm going back to an A Beka text I used in the past as it covers things like clocks!! Most of the clocks at our place are digital and I was shocked recently when I realised that she had difficulty telling the time on a normal clock. She'll still do Singapore until we've finished the books I've already bought and then we may shift to Saxon for high school.

My husband and I have very different tastes in movies but we watched this together and both thought it was very good. Set at the time of the building of the Berlin Wall, it is based on real events and  raises some thoughtful questions regarding moral codes and law. See History vs Hollywood for more details.

Linking up at Weekly Wrap-up

Monday, 3 October 2016

Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel by Albert Marrin

Stalin must command our unconditional respect. In his own way he is a hell of a fellow. 
Stalin is half beast, half giant.

Adolf Hitler, 1942

"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."
Joseph Stalin

Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel by Albert Marrin is a biography of Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, later known to the world by his adopted revolutionary name, Stalin, meaning "Man of Steel."
It is also a very readable history of the origins of the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of Communism in the former USSR.
World War II, the birth of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Korean War, and other events that occurred during Stalin's rule and are also given coverage. The author writes for a young audience (around age 13 years and up) but his research is thorough and the book is interesting enough for adults. I really appreciated his description of the events leading to the Korean War, which I'd never really understood.
Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel was published in 1988 about a year before the collapse of communism and ends with the 'De-Stalination' period and the rule of Nikita Khrushchev, a former Stalin henchman. Obviously the author's view doesn't take into account any information that may have been suppressed by the Communist government of the time so I've listed some websites at the end of this post that I came across while I was reading this book that fill in some of the missing details of the Stalin legacy.

Some interesting bits & pieces:

Lenin, a genius in the use of propaganda, engineered the Bolshevik Revolution and with his ally, Trotsky, overthrew the government and established the rule of the Communist Party. Trotsky would have been the next leader in line after Lenin, but Stalin hated him and engineered his own rise to power and later Trotsky's assassination in Mexico.

Life under the Tsars was miserable. The worst problem for eighty percent of Russian citizens who were peasants or mujiks, was hunger. Most were illiterate and very superstitious; sanitation amenities were non-existent.
After the Revolution the Russian people realised they had exchanged one autocracy for another.
'The old tsar was gone and a new, red tsar stood in his place.'

The Okhrana was the tsarist secret police force. They never took hostages or tortured suspects and no one could be executed without first being convicted in a court of law.

The instrument of Red Terror was the Cheka, whose methods were later studied carefully by Hitler's Gestapo. It declared itself to be the new morality:

"To us everything us permitted, because we are the first in the world to take up the sword not for the purpose of enslavement and repression but in the name of universal liberty and emancipation from slavery."

Stalin worship, the cult of personality - Stalin's propaganda machine made him into a Communist substitute for God. The Soviet people were brainwashed into believing that he was the greatest person who ever lived. He gave himself grand titles such as:

Great Master of Daring Revolutionary Decisions
Granite Bolshevik
Genius of Mankind
Transformer of Nature
Greatest Scientist of Our Age
Greatest Genius of All Times and Peoples

Children sang hymns to him in school, poems were written declaring him to be the creator of the world. Even the national anthem praised him and elevated him above the nation itself.

Totalitarianism is no ordinary dictatorship. A typical dictator is like a gangster; he rules by force for his personal profit and that of his supporters. He interferes in people's lives only to protect himself and to exploit them. A totalitarian dictator wants more; actually, he wants everything. His goal is to remake his people by controlling all they do, think and feel. In effect, the have no privacy, no conscience, no life outside the system.

Lenin set up the first totalitarian system of modern times.
In 1918, he established the first corrective labour camps  or 'gulag' in Siberia and the Soviet Union became the only major country in the twentieth century to have a permanent slave labour system. Kolyma, called the Land of the White Death, was one of these camps:

Kolyma was Stalin's version of Auschwitz, Hitler's huge camp for killing Jews in Poland during the Second World War. Hitler, when criticised for his death camps, once cried, "If I had the vast spaces of Siberia, I wouldn't need concentration camps."

Websites - I read through some of the articles below but I can't speak for their accuracy. Just putting them here for interest sake:

Hitler vs Stalin in the evil stakes

20th Century Dictators

Power Kills

Worst Genocides of the 20th & 21st Century

Communist Goals (1963)

Toward Soviet America - c1932. Interesting and weird. I was interested in the Stalin's educational efforts. His goal was to make loyal Communists; cogs in the industrial-military machine. Young people were trained to see themselves not as individuals, but as members of a group; that lying and cheating were fine if they helped the Communist cause. One good thing that did come out of his rule was the radical increase in the literacy rates, but then he wanted everyone to read his propaganda.

Recommended Reading

The Gulag Archipelago by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) - I read this many years ago and it's time for a re-read but anything by this author is worthwhile. A short bio is here.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Solzhenitsyn survived eight years of Stalin's labour camps and this book describes one of those many days using a fictitious character.

Crime & Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) - the murderer in this book is sent to a tsarist labour camp. Very different to those described by Solzhenitsyn.

 Linking to the Reading Europe Challenge 2016 at Rose City Reader and Finishing Strong: