Monday Night Football Geography and Cuisine

One of the benefits that comes with having taken the time to archive lessons in years past is that I don't have to start from scratch when I want to begin with a child's interest and take it somewhere constructive. Below is a post from 2007 together with an update. 




Next week begins Monday Night Football, noted on my calendar for the entire season as "MNF."  Why does a middle-aged mama note Monday Night Football on her calendar? I like to keep track of my husband. He won't be on the couch with a beer and a bowl of chips. He'll be at every Monday Night Football site all season long (with the exception of the double-booked nights--he can't bi-locate so when MNF is at two locations, he's only at one of them;-). As much as we love sports around here and as grateful as we are for this job, this is a very long haul through the fall.

Last year, as my younger children began to figure out the rhythm to Mike's travels, we started moving a Post-it note arrow around on a big wall map so that they could see where he was. But a flat map on the wall doesn't really do much for a child's imagination. They couldn't really picture him where he was working.  Kim introduced me to the idea of geography textboxes  and I found these wonderful picture books, and an idea was born.

Every week, on Monday, we spend the afternoon reading and writing about the state where Monday Night Football is being played. The books are packed with information and illustrations and pictures. There is a short rhyming verse on each page, perfect for the little ones. The older children spend more time with the book, reading the more involved columns on the page for detail.

The year the baby arrived four weeks into football season. I relied heavily on the idea in these free unit studies which are keyed to the books. This year, I think we are going to focus only on the information in the book during our study time. Each child is creating his or her own book. The books vary according to age and interest and I'm giving the children free reign to pull out of the alphabet books what matters most to them and then to express that in their notebooks.

On Monday evenings, we watch ESPN beginning well before the game. In all honesty, this has nothing to do with geography and everything to do with our Daddy's shows. But, the bonus to our devotion is that we see great scenic shots of the places we've just read in the books. All the way up through the pre-game show and the introduction, there are sights and sounds of the state we've studied.

Finally, as he dashes through the airport on his way home, Mike collects a few postcards from each state to add to the book. All the books we will use for Monday Night Football geography (and plenty more) are linked on the sidebar. Maybe you'd like to travel with us this fall!

LOTS more resources here.



Mike is no longer traveling with Monday Night Football. The child whose narration is pictured above is now a a couple months away from graduating college. What follows is from two years ago. I thought the tradition would do a slow fade this year. It hasn't. Nick isn't letting this one go--maybe ever. So, tonight, we are having bratwursts with cheese. Stephen really lobbied for Kansas BBQ, but Nick, faithful keeper of the tradition, won out.

Thoughts from 2013:

 I am ever so grateful that I recorded this study when I did, because I was reminded this morning.

Longtime readers will recognize Paddy as the boy who always had a ball at his feet. In the absence of a ball, he had wadded up newspaper, socks, pillows, whatever he could get those feet on. Paddy is playing soccer at UVa now, but the incessant sound of dribbling is still making me nuts on Monday mornings.

"Nicholas, quit kicking."

"Nicholas, keep your feet still."

Nicholas, please try to finish up that lesson."

"Good golly, child, will you PLEASE stop with the dang ball!"

All before 10:00. 

Mary Beth looked at me and said "Does this feel like Paddy all over again?" 


The big difference is that Paddy was never a huge football fan. He was a huge Daddy fan, but football wasn't a passion. The Monday Night Football hook for him was tracking Dad. Nicholas, on the other hand, is obsessed with all things ESPN, especially football.

"Hey Nick, who plays tonight?"

"Cincinnati and Pittsburgh."

"How about if we study them today? You read these two books and then make two main lesson pages (see Paddy's examples) and we can make football food from Cincinnati and Pittsburgh."

"Wait, you mean we can have Philly Cheesesteaks?!?!"

"NOoooo, research Pittsburgh and Cincinnati food and get back to me."

And so, tonight, we will have cabbage rolls and pierogies for dinner.

Then we'll have Buckeyes for dessert. 

He's already planning menus for the rest of the season.

And later today, he's going to treat himself to T is for Touchdown.

Katie and Karoline are joining in because that's how we roll...
















I Didn't Win It


On Monday, something extraordinary happened. My eldest son, Michael, was named to Forbes' 30 Under 30 list.  Quite an honor. For Michael.

I did what most moms do these days when our children do something interesting or exceptional. I posted it to Facebook. And then, I clicked it closed and went off to call my dad. And my mom. And to text with Michael's wife. When I returned to Facebook, I saw all the happy comments of congratulations. I also saw that homeschoolers were particularly thrilled.  What sort of surprised me was the flood of congratulations for me and the steady undercurrent of "homeschooling must work." When the private notes asking for homeschooling details began, I was better able to understand why the congratulations were making me squirm a little.

Claiming that Michael's award means homeschooling works makes me a little nervous. I mean, if one of my kids messes up (and they do), does that mean homeschooling doesn't work? And I really, really squirmed under the spotlight of it all. It's his honor, his hard work, his moment in the sun. Do I think I had a role to play in it? Well, sort of. What about homeschooling? Did that play a role? Well, yes. But..

Honestly, I am giddy with relief. With this child at least, I know that I will never hear how homeschooling ruined his life and wrecked his future. Safe to say, we've dodged that bullet. His life is lovely and the future looks pretty darn bright.

This is not my award, though.

On the one hand, he is my baby and I did manage to keep him alive long enough to do big things in the world. I also did that odd, and at the time, completely counter-cultural thing of educating him at home all the way through high school, no doubt contributing to the body of knowledge and experience he brings to the job he does now.

(I also sent him a grammatical Twitter edit the day after the award was announced. Some habits die hard;-)

People want to know what the "secret to success" was. What curriculum to use? How much freedom to offer? Where to go to college?

Y'all, I have no idea!

Every child is different. We tailor every education differently. 

I wrote a book on home education. My whole heart is poured into that book. I wrote it about 14 years ago, so, clearly, "The High School Education of Michael" is not a part of it. Remember? He's under thirty. He's well under thirty; he's twenty-six. Still, in the last four days, I have considered all the pieces that played into his success. They are too numerous to list and I'm sure I will miss something important, but I share with you my in-the-shower how-in-the-world-did-THAT-happen ponderings.

First, the easy, tangible "curriculum" question. We cobbled together Michael's curriculum every year. We had a beautiful co-op and he learned classics like Dante at someone else's house. His favorite subject was art--again at someone else's house. Studio Art and Art History and the most formative friendships of his childhood all happened in the bright studio of my friend Kate Kampa. It's kind of extraordinary the exceptional talent and skill that has burst forth from that group of kids. They still influence each other and they celebrate one another's successes.

At home, we struggled together to make it all work. He read voraciously and was a willing consumer of all things printed. It was his passion. He liked to write and was fairly happy to comply with whatever writing assignment he was given. When he was about fourteen (the year of hell with boys), he had a memorable meltdown and declared that I was ruining his life and he couldn't get anything done at home. Let's see. Fourteen. That means the other people in the house were 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2. And I was pregnant. 

That was the year of Starbucks. We had no library in town, no real place to escape the commotion at home. So I let Michael fill his backpack and go to Starbucks to work on school things. I talked with the manager, explained the situation, and she warmly welcomed him a few hours a day. He's young, but he's old enough that this coffee shop educational venue was without a laptop or a smartphone. He got a lot done. And apparently, he absorbed a lot of cool, hipster vibes that would serve him well later.

It was kind of natural for Michael to grow up and think outside the box. He's lived his whole life outside the box. He "did high school at Starbucks," for goodness' sake! Homeschoolers are weird. But we'd like to think it's weird in an "in the world, not of the world" kind of way. 

The other thing of note in terms of "school," is that Michael was passionate about sportswriting. He inhaled it. Our primary writing textbook his last year two years of high school  was The Best American Sportswriting of the Century. (Amazon tells me I purchased it on November 23, 2005. Christmas when Michael had just turned 17. For some reason this brings tears to my eyes this morning.) He told me that one day, he would be listed among the best. Not even a decade later, there was this list. (Oh, but the pain that birthed that piece. I know we'd all gladly trade Michael's place on that list to have not lived the pain.)

Read good writing. Write good writing. We emphasized reading and writing and art. Please don't ask me about math. 

Michael developed a website. Michael has a ridiculously huge Twitter following. Michael traveled to Brazil and covered the World Cup.(And we haven't even begun to talk about the hours and hours of youth soccer.) Michael runs a non-profit foundation.

Michael learned his most important lessons at the dinner table. All I really did was cook the meal. His daily repartee on Twitter? Totally sounds like banter among my boys. His brothers are as much behind that award as I am. At least one of them is even funnier than he is. Iron sharpens iron.

His intensity? His work ethic? His inside track on the world of sports? His almost innate sense of how this all works out there? That's all his Daddy. That's being a tagalong at countless sporting events while his father worked hard. That's being a sponge in the environment of sports media since he was a toddler. That's having the best mentor in his father that a boy could hope to have. (Ahem--I'd even go so far as to say that that is the effect of having been nursed in nearly every college sports venue up and down the east coast.) We hung together. The lot of us. Every day. All the time. That's being educated by his real life.

And then, it's taking every opportunity, every learning experience, every chance and working his tail off to make something of it. That's Michael. That's quality.

But there's something far more important to note if we want to discuss home education and kids who rock the real world. If you ask Michael his proudest moment of the last year, he'd say it was this one, when he and his wife welcomed his first baby into the world. This moment is the one that says the most about Michael, about who he was, about what he learned, and about why he does what he does. His girls are his light. He's a husband. A father. A provider.

He's only just begun to answer God's call on his life.


*Please note: There will likely be a lively debate today amongst my boys about which child it is whom I think is funnier than Michael.

He knows who he is;-). 

Could it be a Storybook Year?

Late last summer, as I was gathering my thoughts on curriculum and trying to plan the year, I hit a wall. Actually, I was probably already flat up against the wall, but the time of year compelled me to do what I'd always done, so I pressed on. But I didn't want to plan. And I wasn't enthused about all the things that had previously sparked so much creative energy. It wasn't exactly burnout. It was more like beaten out. I hadn't wanted to share learning ideas for over a year, but by last summer, I didn't even want to write them for myself. It just wasn't fun anymore.

I thought about just sending off for several boxes of pre-planned curriculum. And then I consulted the budget. I looked around my house at all the resources we own. I didn't order anything. Nothing. That became the plan. Use what we have and just get the job done. 

We have an abundance of picture  books. I love picture books. When I was in college, I'd forego the coffee shop in the Student Union Building and head instead to the tiny corner of the adjacent bookstore that was home to the children's books. I saved my latte pennies for a hardbound copy of The Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit. Way better. I loved the small room in the Ed School library that was lined with shelves of children's literature. When we were assigned a semester-long project to compile an index card file of children's books, I filled three boxes. Every card was color-coded and annotated and illustrated. I still have those cards. I loved that project.


For over twenty years, I have been inspired by the art and the literature of picture books. I've thrown my whole heart into creating with books, whether it was bulletin boards in a classroom or fullblown unit studies for many ages. Literature-based learning was where I invested most of my creative energy. Some people love their cameras, some their paints, others their yarn or fabric. For me, it was always those beautiful books and the endless possiblities of things we could do with them.


I recalled a conversation with an old friend. Several years ago, we wondered if everything in an elementary curriculum could probably be taught with a good picture book. This year became my year to test the theory. Sort of.

We read widely from the lists in Real Learning (and more), both as read-alouds and read alones. Sustaining attention for long stories is a cornerstone of how we learn in our home.

The Montessori maps come out for geography review a couple times a week. 

Nature notebook

For my fifth-grader, I have a good math text, Rosetta Stone, some art history, nature notebooks, and, at his request, Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day. All the rest? Picture books.

For my third grader, math, Rosetta Stone, nature notebooks, drawing instruction, and picture books. 

For my little ones, lots of mama time. And picture books.

I take the week's copywork from the picture books. I take the poem to memorize that week from a picture book. Every night, each of the three youngest girls chooses two picture books for me to read before going to sleep.

What unfolded is not a curriculum. It's a "freedom within limits" plan that works for us. I share it here to tell you what we've been up to, not so much as to suggest you adopt it. It's entirely real learning in the heart of our home. I thought about all the categories of books, all the subjects typical programs of studies will cover. Also, I was sure to leave some grids for me to add in books I love and just don't want them to miss.  I gridded all the different categories in a weekly planning sheet. The sheet has changed several times this year as I add and delete as necessary. I've thoughtfully included the things that are important us, the components of a Charlotte Mason curriculum that I hold dear. 


We read the books together or the children read them to themselves. Sometimes, they have books in common on their charts. Sometimes, they have their own particular books. I sit down the weekend before and plan out the week. I key the saints' picture books to the liturgical year. Usually, I'll ask if there is a book they want to read and let them choose within each discipline. Occasionally, I'll gather up the stack myself. It's important for me to gather all the books before the week begins so I don't spend hours looking under couch cushions or behind beds for the books I am certain I just saw.

Sometimes, there is a theme across disciplines. Nicky might read  A Swim Through the Sea, Man Fish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau, and mom's choice of Night of the Moonjellies. Katie might ask about Manassas Battlefield Park as we drive by it daily, back and forth to ballet. The following week, I'll write in books like Follow the Drinking GourdHenry's Freedom BoxCivil War ArtistSweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt and If You Lived at the Time of the Civil War.

More often, though, this is not about unit studies, but about a wide banquet of varied topics. If a child is super-interested in something, it's simple enough to scuttle the written plan and dig deeply with more on-topic books. Two important things about scuttling the plan:  

  • There must be a plan to scuttle; this isn't freewheeling and hoping that books thrown everywhere will catch someone's attention.
  • If you ditch the plan, it's only to do something better. It's never to do nothing. And we need a written plan for the "something better."

Every day, the children respond in writing to at least one book. They can choose a writing project from a long list of projects or they can propose another. Not every book requires a formal response. Some books, we read, we talk about just a little, and then we close it and put it on the shelf. But every day requires some kind of writing. Every day. They might dictate a simple narration. They might peck out their own narrations. They might take off and create an elaborate screenplay. Whatever they choose, they must write something.


With the time that's left in the day, they can choose from other ways to respond to books and get as creative as they like with any book they've read that day or previously. We're busy. We're productive. We're surrounded by good language and great art. And the creative energy has returned to our educational adventures.

It's all good.


Tell me about your book: 

  • Write and tell a friend about the story. 
  • Make a detailed map of the setting of the book.
  • Is it a circle story? Can you draw it?
  • Did something really catch your attention? Want to research it further?
  • If historical, add it to your Book of Centuries. (we do this with every historical book)
  • Write a letter from the main character to you.
  • Choose a character you’d like to have as a friend.  Write him or her a letter. 
  • Plan & cook something to go with the book
  • Tell why it would (or wouldn’t) make a great movie. 
  • Describe an incident from it as though you were an on-the-scene TV reporter.
  • Create a collage.
  • Make up a rhyming poem about it
  • Illustrate w/drawings or photos
  • Explain its funniest (or saddest or most exciting) incident.
  • Make a new book jacket for the book
  • Do a puppet show.
  • Read the book aloud as radio theatre and record it.
  • Write 3 paragraphs in a diary as if you were your favorite character. 
  • Design and draw costumes for some of the characters.
  • Design quilt squares to go with the book
  • Tell what your home would look like if you were one of the main characters. 
  • Write a biography of one of the characters.
  • Write a human interest story about one of the characters in the book.
  • Write a letter to the editor about an issue in the book.
  • Create magazine ad for the book.
  • Create a television ad for the book
  • Draw it into newspaper cartooning squares.
  • Play charades w/themes from the book
  • Pretend a character had made an important decision differently. Write a new ending.
  • Make a list of facts you learned in the book
  • Write an Amazon review.
  • Plan a field trip inspired by the book
  • Compare versions of the same story.
  • Compare the book to the movie version
  • Make peg dolls to go with the book.
  • Compare it to another book the author/illustrator has written. This might be a comparison of art or of the story.
  • Use its title to write your own story. 
  • Write a letter to the author
  • Pretend you are the author. Write a publisher, pictching your book.

 Picture books make me happy. This blog is for sharing what makes me happy. I can't promise you a book a day. There's no way I'm going to post big plans for every book. I do hope to share a little of our picture book love on a regular basis here. A quick review, a picture or two, some ideas on where the book took us--little snapshots of books we all love. I know that not all my readers are homeschoolers. I'm certain, though, that these books can enrich the lives of all the children we love.

Thinking about Educating at Home?

Hi, there! If you are coming from I Take Joy, welcome! I've gotten several requests lately for thoughts on curriculum. It's that time of year again. As we move this blog from Typepad to Squarespace, I'll be sure to move homeschooling posts this month. In the meantime, if you're hunting around, wanting to know what I think, here are some links to get you going. 

There are lots and lots of notes on real learning at home and detailed booklists here.

I'm a firm believer in balancing academics with the rest of life

My thoughts on early chidlhood education are here, among other places. 

There is a complete, literature- and art- based early childhood curriculum here. It needs some sprucing up, I know, perhaps this year... 

Our learning at home is brought to you by storybooks. The idea is here and some of the ways we've lived it are here, in words and pictures. 

Oh, and I wrote a book on homeschooling. You don't have to pay $45.00 for a used copy on Amazon;-).  I think there are still new copies available here. And it's only $18.65.  

The First Day Never Goes as Planned

Good morning! Did you notice the proliferation of back-to-school ads popping up all over the place last weekend? Are you like me? You take comfort in the fact that you're homeschooling, so you don't have to join the crush to acquire necessary wardrobe and supplies, while simultaneously shaking in your shoes as you pull book after book off the shelves in the quest to finally get the plans just right?

Whatever ;-). 

I'm at my friend Sally's this morning, sharing about how the first day won't go as planned, anyway.