Thursday, October 23, 2014

Grandfather's Journey with Five in a Row

As we were winding up our row of A Pair of Red Clogs, I asked the boys if they wanted to continue Japan with Grandfather's Journey, or move on to something else.  They requested to stay on Japan longer!  I love that Five in a Row is giving us flexibility to move in and out of current interests at our pace, but still offering me the ideas and accountability I need to stay focused outside of the basics.  It also turned out that right after we finished this unit, Grandfather's Journey was used in one of their co-op classes, so that was a nice way to wrap it up.

Grandfather's Journey unit study

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I set up the book Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say on top of our school shelf with some other books and items that tied into the various themes outlined in the Five in a Row manual.  The kids enjoy looking over everything at the beginning of the week, and it's a good way to "strew" and find out what might catch their interest!

As you may (or may not) have noticed, someone was apparently playing with our California card before I took this picture.  I didn't notice it was upside down at the time!

Grandfather's Journey is a sweet story about a man who traveled from Japan to America and loved the adventure, but longed for his old home.  The story gives us a glimpse into Grandfather's life, and how no matter where he made his home, he would always love the other country he had called home too.

When I row, I have ideas in my head about the various lessons in the manual, but I try to pick up on their questions and cues and go from there.  So while there were some great language arts and social studies lessons that I would have covered, there's only so much time in the day, and these are things we can always circle back around to at another time, or in another way.

Language Arts

True Story vs. Fiction and noticing details
This was not a lesson from the manual, but happened naturally.  I started the book by reading the title, naming the author and giving the boys a quick description of the book.  "Is it true or fake?" one asked.  "Well, I'll read it, and you decide."  So I read the book, they noticed the clogs and kimonos, the different people that grandfather met along the way, and Emory noticed the illustration of the young grandfather in the boat with a young woman and asked if he got married.  He was delighted that he was right.  When it was finished, I read the brief bio in the back about Allen Say, and Elliott determined the book was true.

Grandfather's Journey

Elliott did the copywork from the Grandfather's Journey printables at Homeschool Share.

Grandfather's Journey copywork

Social Studies 

Geography - Japan and California
We located both Japan and California on the map, but Elliott chose to put our story disk on California since that was Grandfather's favorite place in the United States, but more specifically near San Francisco, because that's where Grandfather made his home.

Grandfather's Journey

We reviewed some things we learned about Japan when we rowed A Pair of Red Clogs.  We colored this picture and learned about Mt. Fuji since Grandfather loved the mountains.

Mt. Fuji coloring page

We also colored a picture of grandfather's favorite place, California (that's Emory's green seawater!) and I read a bit about California from our state card.  We learned that fortune cookies are not Chinese in origin. According to our little card, they were invented by a Japanese immigrant living in California.  That turned out to be a really fun fact for this particular book, but it also led to more discussion on immigrants, and Elliott decided he'd rather be a tourist instead of moving to another country permanently.

California coloring page for Grandfather's Journey

Geography - Continents
I printed and laminated the continent cards from the Grandfather's Journey unit.  I used this blank map with coloring instructions for both boys, just so Emory didn't have to worry about labeling.  Emory just used the continent cards to compare the general shape and picked out the continents on the map!  He needed a little help with Europe/Asia but otherwise he really liked the activity.

continents for Grandfather's Journey

Transportation & Traveling 
We informally discussed the various types of transportation that Grandfather used during his travels, and also discussed other ways to travel.  Elliott informed me that the most exhausting types of transportation are walking and bicycling.  Another time Elliott was asking the Husband and I about where we'd visited, so we talked about places we (and pawpaw, who is a veteran) have traveled.


The boys asked questions about different landforms in the book naturally, so we did expand on this lesson a little.  I see how this could easily be classified under social studies as geography, but it's also considered earth science so I'm putting it here as a science lesson as described in the manual . . . although we did use the book Geography from A to Z as part of this activity.  We went through looking for different landforms that grandfather described or that were relevant to this row, as well as others that were familiar.  Then Elliott chose four landforms to draw on paper.  He chose a mountain, volcano, island and hills.


This was strewing at its finest.  I had set out some bird themed stuff with our rowing materials, including the drawing guide How to Draw Birds.  We hadn't touched these in regards to our Five in a Row time, and I hadn't mentioned them, they were just sitting around.  Elliott was browsing the drawing book, and he couldn't find a bird he wanted to draw.  We did end up discussing Grandfather's birds, but the book didn't have the specific species that Grandfather kept, so we got online to look at them.  This led to to the boys spending nearly an hour on All About Birds, looking up different birds and their sounds.  It turned into the boys trying to determine which bird sounded the "meanest" but the point is, they were intrigued by something they found, and willingly explored it on their own.  Elliott even returned to the website several times over the next few days on his own, and then asked if there was an "aquarium for birds" so I told him those were called aviaries.  He wants to visit one!  (There's nothing nearby for an impromptu field trip, so the Husband and I are trying to plan a weekend trip out of town.)

They did come back to How to Draw Birds and picked out some various birds to draw at different times.  They didn't want the typical backyard birds though . . . they were drawing peacocks, great horned owls, and Emory tried his hand at a Penguin.  Normally Emory loves to draw, on his own terms, but he's apprehensive about artwork that has a a specific outcome.  He was very unsure about the head/beak, but I was delighted he tried it on his own and didn't cry because it wasn't perfect.  I have a couple little boys who have perfectionist tendencies, so we're working on that little hurdle.


For Elliott, we discussed the lesson in the manual about grandfather's three week journey across the ocean.  I also printed an October calendar for Emory, so he could have the visual and practice writing his numbers.

Pattern Blocks
Since we were informally discussing transportation, I found these cute transportation pattern blocks, printed and laminated.  Emory enjoys pattern blocks right now anyway, and pulls them out on his own when they're within reach.


The boys definitely wanted to try origami when they saw the materials set out.  We read the book Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O'Connell George.

We already had origami paper on hand, which is why I chose this lesson from the manual.  After we read the book, I told them we could look online to find something to create, but they found some instructions within the origami paper itself, and wanted to start there.  They both did the beginner level swan and airplane.  This was another activity they wanted to do again in their free time.

Book Basket
I included other books related to Japan, birds and transportation, but the two prominent books for this row were Tea with Milk and Erika-San, both by Allen Say.

This post is linked up to the FIAR Blogroll.  

©2011-2014 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Middlebury Interactive Languages {Schoolhouse Review}

I've mentioned more than once that Elliott wants to learn Spanish.  Unfortunately my good intentions have been inconsistent at best, so when we were given the opportunity to do a foreign language review for Middlebury Interactive Languages, I was very excited for him!

Middlebury Interactive Languages

Middlebury Interactive Languages is from the renowned Language Schools of Middlebury College.  It is an immersion based program developed to help K-12 students accelerate their language acquisition and comprehension.  There are several foreign languages and various levels available, but we were given six month access to the first semester of the Elementary Spanish 1, K-2 course.

This specific course is an introductory course, meant to serve as a student's first exposure to Spanish through interactive experiences and activities.  Each unit is centered around an authentic story, myth or legend from different Spanish-speaking cultures, so it's a great way to add in a little geography and world cultures as well.  This course uses stories, games, songs and activities to focus primarily on vocabulary.  Elliott has had exposure to Spanish over the last couple of years and is on the upper end of the age range, so I considered the Grade 3-5 course for him to challenge him a bit more, but I wanted Emory to tag along, and he's only a young five.  I figured the K-2 course would meet both of their needs.  The course only grades one student, but Emory loves being part of what his big brother does, and an advanced course would move too fast for him to be part of the lessons.

Getting Started
Elliott works fairly independently online now, so I was hoping that having an online course would help us stay consistent with adding foreign language to our schedule.  I had Elliott start by working through the Welcome section, because it helps you learn how to navigate the program through a few practice exercises.  The welcome section also includes links to materials that are useful for the parent/teacher (story synopses and story transcripts, course vocabulary, and the translations to the songs) to help facilitate translation and understanding of the course material.  These materials are in PDF format so you can easily print them for reference too.  We found these materials within the lesson as well, but I would recommend going over at least the story synopses prior to the unit so there is a better understanding of what is going on when the authentic story comes up in the lesson.

Middlebury Interactive Languages table of contents

The Course
The course is broken up into units, and each unit has six lessons within it.  The first semester has the following units:
Unit 1 - Greetings
Unit 2 - Numbers
Unit 3 - Family
Unit 4 - Colors
Unit 5 - School
Unit 6 - Review

It is recommended that K-2 students complete two lessons per week.  This is a great pace for beginners, but Elliott is on the older end and familiar with a good bit of the target vocabulary, so sometimes he worked through more than one lesson in a sitting.  I feel like the review can only benefit his understanding of the language.

The lessons in the course are set up like a slideshow.

Middlebury Interactive Languages lessons

The student clicks a slide, watches the video or does the interactive assignment.  It might include watching a video and answering questions, drag and drop activities for matching phrases, or speaking exercises in order to compare their pronunciation. Sometimes there is a printable coloring page or worksheet that goes along with the lessons.  When they are finished, they often need to click the checkmark or paper symbol to get the credit for the assignment.  Then they can click the next slide in the lesson to move on.  Completed slides are grayed out, so Elliott can easily see which section is next, but he can go back and repeat them if he wants.

I will say that there is a several minute animated video within the lesson of the authentic story, and this video utilizes the immersion approach.  This is why I mentioned earlier using the story synopses to check out the story line first.  The video focuses on the target vocabulary, but without knowing what the story was about, it was harder to follow along.  Once I was aware of this, it was much easier to watch the videos and understand the story if we reviewed the story, even if we didn't know all of the words.

This scene was used frequently in Unit 1 to teach and review greetings, introductions and goodbyes.  Having the coloring sheet was a fun bonus for the boys.

Middlebury Interactive Languages coloring pages

Since Unit 1 was based on greetings, the culture lesson discussed how people greet each, and how this varies based upon gender.  The assignment was to draw a picture of how two people might greet each other.  Elliott decided he wanted to trace his and his brother's hands (in their favorite colors!) to show them shaking hands, representing how two males might greet one another.  As you can see, even though this is an online course that centers around vocabulary acquisition, it incorporates a wide variety of activities, making it very multi-sensory and suitable for different types of learners.

Middlebury Interactive Languages worksheets

The gradebook was a little confusing to me at first.  I kind of had to play around with it, checking boxes and clicking buttons, to get it to actually show all the activities and an overall course grade.  It also shows the oldest activities first, so you have to switch to the last page, or use a drop down menu to allow it to show more entries, and eventually you'll still have multiple pages because it only shows up to 100 entries per page.  An option to sort by date might make it more convenient for parents who are allowing their older children to work independently.  The speaking exercises are not graded for us, they just sit in limbo in the "Awaiting Grade" section, because we are not using the course with a teacher, so I kind of have to use my best judgement while we're going through them as to when to allow him to move on.  This is why I like to be in the same room when he's using the program.

To be honest, we don't need the gradebook and I really didn't reference it after figuring out how it worked.  We are doing the course without a teacher, I am always aware of what they are doing, and we aim for mastery of content rather than a passing grade.  However, for students taking the course with a teacher, for older students working independently, or especially high school students that need foreign language credits, I see a lot more value in the gradebook.

Final Thoughts
I received one semester, without a teacher, which is $119.00/semester.  I think this is a good program for children who live in a culturally diverse area where these languages might be heavily used, or you are spending extended time in a foreign country.  We are dabbling in Spanish right now at my kids' ages, but so far this is one of our favorite programs!  Other than the very minor issue with the gradebook, I don't have any serious cons.  We really love this program.  It's interactive, delightful and engaging for both my 5 and 7 year old.  We like to hook the laptop up to the television so everyone can watch.  I love that cultural lessons and authentic stories are woven right into the lessons, and it's not just vocabulary.  With the audio, video and speaking exercises, as well as some worksheets, I like the multi-sensory approach.  I think this course has a lot to offer, and we are really glad we were able to try it out!

Middlebury currently offers courses in four different languages at different grade levels, so there might be something for your family.
Middlebury Interactive Languages courses

The crew reviewed a variety of these foreign language courses, so be sure to read what everyone else thought of the different courses!  You can also find Middlebury Languages on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ so check them out!

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©2011-2014 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Pair of Red Clogs with Five in a Row

A couple of months ago, I asked the boys what they wanted to learn about.  Elliott came to me a few days later and said he wanted to study Geography!  He said he wanted to learn about countries, bodies of water, the flags, how people live, and on and on and on he went.  He's always shown an interest in geography, so I wasn't surprised, and this made me glad I chose Five in a Row, because it naturally weaves so much geography and culture into the lessons!

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His first specific request was Japan, but we didn't own any of the books used in FIAR, and our library was a little lacking, so I went ahead and ordered some books we needed.  We started with A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno, which worked out well, because the predominate science theme we chose to study was weather.  Elliott has always been a weather channel kid, so he really loved this area of focus.

This story is about a grandmother reminiscing, telling us a story from her childhood, about her beautiful pair of red clogs, and the trouble she goes through to try to deceive her mother into buying a new pair when she ruins them playing the weather game.

We "rowed" this book on and off for about two weeks.  We don't row every day anyway, plus we had appointments and co-op and even a couple of sick days.  We didn't get to art at all, but the rest of what I set aside was geography/culture, since it can be applied to Grandfather's Journey soon enough.

Language Arts

The story starts out with a grandmother reminiscing about an event from her childhood, so we discussed this type of storytelling.  I asked the kids to tell me a story about something from their past.  Elliott told me about the time he was helping daddy paint the house and he got stung by a wasp and I took care of him.  Emory told me about our trip to LEGOLAND and talked about his favorite ride, the Chima ride.

Elliott did the A Pair of Red Clogs copywork from Homeschool Share, and the weather words from a free Weather Unit from

Letter Recognition
Emory completed this letter Uu alphabet maze and practiced the Uu sound as he followed the maze. We chose it because it was somewhat weather related.

Social Studies

Geography & World Cultures- Japan

Of course we placed our story disk.

One of the activities in the Sparks book was to research about a child in another country and some facts about their country, so it was good timing, as we read about a Japanese boy named Daisuke and a little about Japan.

Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World

We also colored Japan's flag and learned about kimonos.

We used this Your Name in Japanese translation website to find our names in Japanese, and Elliott of course wanted to practice writing his name.



Human Relationships
We took the lesson in the manual a bit further by using our our We Choose Virtues review materials and further explored honesty.  I did one of the activities that involved embellishing stories and having the kids pick out the true and false information.  We did this on the same day as the reminiscing activity, so I did my own reminiscing and told stories about when I was a child for this activity.  The boys really enjoyed this.

We talked about different reasons people might lie--to get out of trouble, to get someone else in trouble, to make themselves "cool" to other people, and listed various scenarios.  We discussed why it is inappropriate in each situation to tell a lie, and how honesty is always a virtue we should display.

Elliott has to make his Kid look like the one on the card.

Emory, of course, likes to be a bit more creative.

Weather & Nature Study
I find weather to be a more unique approach to nature study, as most of the time we think of studying plants, birds and insects.  Observing weather formally isn't something we do often, it just happens naturally.  The lesson plan from the FIAR manual gives an introduction to weather and an interesting weather observation activity, and we did chart the weather for 10 days, using a simple chart from the free Weather Unit from  We had a wide range of weather over the 10 days we charted (no snow, but everything else) so it was interesting.  Elliott really liked this activity and asked for another weather chart.  I'll probably find him a more detailed chart for future use.

Of course we had to play the same weather game that Mako and her friends played!  We learned that it wasn't always an accurate prediction!

We did some extras too.  We used our account (my review) to study weather.  Elliott specifically asked for the program.  You can view a sample of the weather unit here, but he did the online portion independently over about three days.  We also read and completed some activities from this Inventor's Handbook: Weather but we didn't get as far into as we'd hoped.  We'll probably continue this separately from our FIAR studies.

One day we read The Magic School Bus Inside a Hurricane by Joann Cole.  It actually covered a little bit of everything from the water cycle, thunder, lightening and more.  I had a lot of other weather-related books in our book basket, but our sick days got in the way.  Another day, another time!

We did watch The Magic School Bus episode The Magic School Bus Kicks Up a Storm, as Emory enjoys this series.

For Fun
One night we watched the movie My Neighbor Totoro since it is a famous Japanese animated film.  I was looking for movies set in Japan, but most of what I could find for children was anime.  This one was recommended on a family website, and while it was whimsical and mostly age-appropriate, none of us really loved it.

Since we spent close to two school weeks on Japan, I asked the boys if they wanted to continue Japan with Grandfather's Journey or move on to something else, as Elliott did recently mention airplanes.  They decided they wanted to do more Japan and then move on, so Grandfather's Journey it is!

This post is linked up to the Five in a Row Blogroll and Link-Up and My Week in Review.

©2011-2014 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.