Thursday, August 27, 2009

How to Feed a Brain Every Day

Dear friends,

I love the Holy Experience blog by Canadian Ann Voskamp. Today her post is full of links for web sites that post daily educational goodies like spelling quizzes, geography facts, poems, writing prompts, bird pictures, classical musical, today in history, Biblical art and so much more.
She notes that this was her kids' "go-to" list when she was busy with another child.

How to Feed a Brain Every Day (Daily Links for Hungry Minds)

While we're at it, you may as well feast on a foundational home schooling piece she posted last year, Seven Daily Rungs. I need to reread it myself!

Virginia Knowles

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Do It Well, But Keep It Humble

Dear friends,

If you're linking in from Lisa Stump's Wildflower Academy blog and looking for the article "Do It Well, But Keep It Humble" you can find it on my main blog here:


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What We Are Using for 7th-8th Grade Curriculum

Our family belongs to the Providence Home Educators co-op, which has been a huge blessing to us for the past three years. One of the benefits is that I only need to plan lessons for 78th-8th grade English, and not all of the other subjects and grades. That's a trade-off, of course, because that means I have a less control over what curriculum my children will be using all year long. Fortunately, we've been pretty much pleased with what the other teachers have picked for their classes. This is what our 7th and 8th graders are doing this year. Please note that for history and English, these two grade levels are in the same classes. They are in separate math classes, and can choose science classes based on what is being offered that year.

Please note that the web links I have provided here are mostly for Christian Book Distributors. You can see the book cover, table of contents, and sample chapters at this web site. However, you may also wish to check which often has lower prices.

Science: Apologia General Science and Apologia Physical Science by Dr. Jay Wile, who is a gift to the home school movement. I love Apologia! This is what I have always chosen for elementary school (Flying Creatures, Underwater Animals, Astronomy, Botany) , middle school and high school science (Biology, Chemistry and The Human Body), co-op or not. They are specifically written for home school use, but there is nothing amateurish about them. Click here to see the entire Apologia line-up at CBD, including lab kits, CD-ROM's, etc.

Math: McDougal Littell 2007. Course 1 is for 6th grade, Course 2 for 7th, and Pre-Algebra for 8th. We also order the solutions manuals. You can find very helpful on-line, interactive student activities at I have mixed feelings about McDougal Littell. Generally, I like it, but it can be frustrating at times for certain students. It is very colorful and covers the material well. Just don't assign every problem of a lesson or it will take forever!

History: A Beka text books provide structure, ready-made assignments, built-in assessment, and complete material. I like this, even though it can get a little dry all by itself. Adding hands-on projects can really spice it up. You can also read corresponding historical fiction and biographies to round out your program. We alternate back and forth between World History and American History. This year it is World. Sometimes we do the Geography program in conjunction with the History.

English: Mwah, ha, ha! This is MY domain! English is a little less cut-and-dried than the other subjects because we need to cover grammar, literature, writing, and other skills. I am also prefer a more "Charlotte Mason approach" -- learning English with whole, living literature. I want to talk about big ideas and themes, and how we can apply them to our lives! But I also want to make this manageable to my students and their parents.

I am breaking up English into its various components here:

Grammar: I've tried various grammar curriculum (Cozy Grammar, Easy Grammar, and BJU), without much satisfaction. I think I've hit on something good this year. All-in-One English by Garlic Press is basically a review of foundational grammar. This is necessary because some of the students aren't really proficient in this yet. The lessons are uncomplicated. The answer key is in the back. It's not a huge hunking book, which cuts down on the intimidation factor, but it is substantial enough to cover the necessary stuff. I assign an average of two pages per day.

Literature: I choose literature that roughly corresponds to whatever they are learning in the history class, so this year it is world literature, starting with the ancient times and moving toward the modern. We're starting off the year with several weeks of "Bible as Literature" including the Life of Joseph in Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, and either Esther or Daniel. Then we will read the novel The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, which is set in the time of Christ. I wrote my own study guide for this which includes comprehension and life application questions. I'll try to post it here soon. After that, we will do a unit on The Song of Roland using a few lessons from Medieval Legends (Imitation in Writing series) by Matt Whitling. The two weeks before Christmas, we will do a unit on the life of Christ which includes art, music, poetry, literature, and creative writing. You can find last year's unit here: Advent Assignments. In the spring semester, we will do the Scott O'Dells' novel The Hawk That Dares Not Hunt by Day, an adventure about Bible smuggling during the Reformation era. I have also written the study guide for this. Each student will also read a biography from the Heroes of the Faith series. I have a huge collection of these that I am going to loan out. We will also do an Easter unit with a similar format to our Christmas one.

Writing: Our writing assignments often correspond with the literature we are reading. We are going to do at least one major creative story writing project based on Proverbs, a medieval legend, a Christmas poem, a news article, a personal narrative, a biographical sketch, and some devotional writing. I will emphasize using descriptive language, organizing ideas, and revising/editing.

Other: In the fall semester, we are doing what I call "Learning English with Greek and Latin" (LEGAL for short). It is spelling and vocabulary with English words derived from Greek and Latin roots. I am developing this loosely based on the English from the Roots Up by Joegil Lundquist. In the spring, we will do the Young Peacemakers curriculum on Christian conflict prevention and resolution. This is a vital communications skill!

That's all, folks!

Virginia Knowles

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Entire Object of True Education

The Entire Object of True Education
by John Ruskin

The entire object of true education is to make people
not merely to do the right things, but to enjoy them;
not merely industrious, but to love industry;
not merely learned, but to love knowledge;
not merely pure, but to love purity;
not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.

John Ruskin, 1819-1900
English writer, art critic, professor, reformer

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Learn to Discern by Virginia Knowles

Learn to Discern:
To Know and Do What is Right and True
by Virginia Knowles

This article is part of a chapter from The Real Life Home School Mom: It’s a Life in ReVision.

Learn to Discern: To Know and Do What is Right and True

One reason we home school our children is to teach them discernment: to know and do what is right and true! We want to pass along our faith and family values, and not leave them vulnerable to everything else out there. We realize that discernment is not just about making isolated moral choices (like what movies are appropriate to see) or following rules to avoid negatives. It is also living by positive principles set down in Scripture and being able to listen to the Lord for specific life direction in fulfilling the destinies to which he has called us. We each have to discern not only right from wrong, but the “priority best” for us from among many “good” opportunities. Here are several ways we can teach our children discernment.

Teach your children to evaluate what they learn and what they choose by Scripture. For a Christian, the Bible is the ultimate authority in life – not what culture or experts say. We should all learn to “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things” and remember that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” My daughter Mary (age 20) commented after going to a New Attitude conference on discernment, that “gray areas” where the Bible is not specific are not excuses for sloppy thinking. If we search it out, we can find Biblical solutions for each decision that we face. James 1:5-8 assures (and warns) us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (ESV) It’s not enough to simply learn the truth – we need to apply it and to continually renew ourselves in it, claiming it as ours in Christ. “…Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (ESV)

Teach your children the Bible! Even if you don’t get into complex discussions with your little ones, you can always introduce such basic concepts as “you reap what you sow” (what might happen if you do this…) and “do unto others as you would have them do to you” (how would you feel if…). Make sure they are especially grounded in the nature of God and the nature of man. God is powerful, pure, holy, just, good, and kind, while man is naturally deceitful, selfish, unfaithful, and proud. Knowing this helps us to trust and obey God’s way of doing things, and also to be wary of everything else in the world that has been corrupted by man’s sinful nature.

Encourage your children in their own personal walks with the Lord. Help them to establish a consistent and meaningful devotional time of Bible study, prayer, and worship. As they mature, look for a deeper understanding of the concepts. Learn to draw out their hearts, and see how their knowledge is affecting their lives, their attitudes, and their choices. Encourage them to cultivate an attitude of humility and teachability so they can seek wisdom.

Teach your children to closely guard their own emotions. As I have watched the home school movement for the past twenty years, I have been grieved to observe the faith and virtue of countless young people shipwrecked by three very powerful emotions: bitterness toward parents (which results in outward rebellion or passive rejection of their values), pride (they know it all and don’t need any counsel or accountability) and unwise romantic attachments (which can sway someone into thinking or doing things that ought not to be thought or done). Feelings are sort of like the moon – they have a tidal pull (on our attitudes and choices) and they sometimes eclipse the sun (block our vision of truth), but they should also reflect the sun (show God’s glory in our lives). You may find appropriate times with your children to share your own experiences of dealing with your emotions so they can remember they are not alone, and perhaps find some strategies for handling their own feelings. You can also work at communicating regularly and lovingly with your children so you can be aware of the challenges they are facing. They should know that you are a safe person to talk to, that you won’t be overly shocked when they share something with you, and that you will work through issues with them in a healthy manner that preserves their own God-given dignity.

Allow for different maturity levels among your children. Learning discernment is a gradual transfer of responsibility from the parent to child as their ability to reason develops. A newborn has no discernment at all, but by the time our offspring have reached “adult” age, we expect them to be making prudent choices most of the time. However, there is no abrupt cut-off at age 18; young adults still need parental input and guidance, although our goal is to launch them into independence. We all need accountability, even as older adults. I actually welcome my children making observations about my choices, as long as they are halfway respectful about it. They might say, “Mom, why are you watching that TV show? It’s not very edifying!” or “Mom, don’t you think what you just said was gossip?” Fair enough! Our lives are open books, aren’t they? And speaking of that, you may wish to share examples of how God has guided you through your decisions in life, such as in relationships, finances, schedule, educational options, career, ministries, health care, etc.

Give your children a vision for the future. What kind of men and women do they want to be? Do they realize that the choices and habits they are making now affect their future in vital ways? I liken this to packing a toolbox. If a plumber or electrician or carpenter goes off to a job and doesn’t have the appropriate tools (drills, wrenches, nails, etc.) then he is ill-equipped for his job. If our children go off into life without the tools of diligence, wisdom, purity, respect, and other virtues, they will be ill-equipped to deal with what life throws at them. So their job is to pack their life toolbox now and prepare for success. They need these character qualities now, anyway, not just as adults!

When you do see your children making wise choices, be sure to tell them! This can help guard them from wanting to give up, and they will be motivated to repeat the good things that you have appreciated in them.

Remember that you are a gatekeeper. You decide what comes in and out of your home, and where your children go. You need to provide wise leadership to your children in choosing friendships, books, music, movies, hobbies, group classes, and other things that may influence their attitudes and choices. Please remember that not everything that is labeled Christian is reliable or consistent with your family’s standards and values. There is a lot of religious crud out there! An author who has written one good solid book might be totally off base in another. The same thing goes for magazines, musicians, public speakers, etc. Be aware and beware! Here are a few tools to help you safeguard your children:

♥ For children’s literature reviews from a “family values” home school mom perspective, visit
♥ For music and video game reviews, visit
♥ For movie reviews, visit Focus on the Family’s
♥ For free Internet filtering,

Be the parent! You have the right to say “no” to whatever you think might harm your children, while at the same time allowing them increasing flexibility to make their own choices under your guidance. Let your children face the consequences of their choices, especially as they get older. Experience can teach what lectures often can’t.

Provide worldview training. Show how Christian thinking compares with other belief systems and ideologies. There are many books, workshops, and camps available to Christian families. Some authors to look for are Dr. Francis Schaeffer, Lee Strobel, David Noebel, R.C. Sproul, and Jeff Meyers. You could ask one of your pastors to teach a worldview class to home school students or to the church body at large. Our own church is using The Truth Project DVD series ( produced by Focus on the Family. Summit Ministries ( also has good materials and events.

Choose academic resources consistent with a Biblical worldview, such as those which teach creationism. Be sure to check out the Creation Studies Institute web site at ( Answers in Genesis ( has built a new state-of-the-art Creation Science Museum ( in northern Kentucky.

Teach your children to think clearly and thoroughly. Train them to pay close attention to what they are studying, rather than doing the mere minimum to get through an assignment. (The Charlotte Mason methods of oral and written narration can help them with this.) Help them to search out the deeper themes in literature, rather than just recalling details. Keep track of current events and trends (culture, politics, etc.), and evaluate them in light of the truth of Scripture. Teach logical thinking skills, such as spotting fallacies in reasoning. Help them write out a pro-con list and/or brainstorming pages when they are making decisions.

Show your children that they can’t always judge a situation or a person by first appearances or impressions. Discernment requires getting the whole picture, not depending on stereotypes or snap judgments. We don’t have to be afraid of truth or of stretching our perspective, and we can still learn something valuable even from those who might hold a different view of things than we do.

Remind your children that being discerning sometimes requires making difficult, inconvenient or unpopular choices. Encourage them that the eventual rewards (not always immediate) are worth it. They may have to stand alone when all of their peers (even home schooled ones) are doing something different. They may have to set aside their own desires to defer to the needs of others. They may have to delay instant gratification so they can obtain a more lasting or valuable future benefit.

Justice and Mercy by Virginia Knowles

Justice & Mercy
by Virginia Knowles
from The Real Life Home School Mom

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8

One of the greatest privileges of educating my own children is the opportunity to teach them about the themes of justice and mercy. Whether we are studying classic literature, history, geography, current events, careers, science & technology, health, home economics, and even math applications, these concepts can be woven through our curriculum. Take a few moments and think of how you can do this. Human nature being what it is, the drama of conflict and suffering unfolds down through the ages and across the world. I want my children to be able to respond not just with their heads, but with their hearts. I want them to evaluate ideas and actions in light of the truth of Scripture. In addition to what I have already listed in the “Nations and Generations” section, here are a plethora of ideas for incorporating the concepts of justice and mercy into all of the subjects of your education program.

Scripture: Study what the Bible says about the subjects of justice and mercy. You can do a search on these words in Scripture at For starters, take a look at the entire chapter of Isaiah 58. Think about it, especially in terms of how you can apply it in your own lives!

Family Life: Model justice and mercy in your family relationships through fairness and mutual respect, but also patience with others who aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. Teach your children to endure perceived offenses without undue fussing. Children love to cry, “It’s not fair!” Usually this means they haven’t gotten their own way. Life isn’t always fair, but a lot of the time we just need to go with the flow, allowing someone else to go first or get the bigger share. Yes, there is a time to stand up for yourself and for others, especially in matters of moral conscience or flagrant injustice, but much of the time we just need to yield rights and show preference to others.

Community Service: Foreign mission projects are exciting, but they aren’t the only ways for our children to serve God and others. There is so much to be done in our own communities! Part of this is just being aware of needs as they come up, such as babysitting for an evening without charge for a struggling family, or volunteering to serve at a church event, or mowing a neighbor’s lawn, or planting flowers during a community improvement day. But we can also take the initiative for regular, planned community service. One of our friends takes her girls to visit a nursing home every Monday night. Teens might tutor and mentor disadvantaged elementary age students each week through an inner city ministry. Our church organizes periodic service projects for the youth, such as packing food at a homeless ministry. Habitat for Humanity ( also offers work projects building homes for the disadvantaged.

Perspectives: Learn to think from other people’s perspective and give them the benefit of the doubt. When we observe other people who are different from us or who disagree with us, it is easy to get judgmental, critical, and legalistic. This is a poor example to our children. We need to “walk a mile in the other man’s moccasins”, and to “take the plank out of our own eyes before we dig around for the speck in someone else’s eye.” As home school families, we probably look pretty strange to other people, and we want them to think well of us even if we don’t agree. Let’s extend the same courtesy. We may be strange, but let’s be gracious, too.

History and Literature: Read well-written books, especially biographies and historical fiction. Talk about how people in these stories made just or unjust decisions, how these affected other people, how they responded to one another, what they could have done differently, etc. If we are reading about slavery or some other time of great injustice, I want my children to think of how they would have responded. When she was 10 and we were studying the Holocaust, my daughter Rachel asked if I would have sheltered Jews during World War II. I would have done something in the anti-Nazi Resistance movement if I had lived then. But that begs the question: What am I doing about injustice now? How am I living out justice and mercy in the 21st century?

Government: This is another school subject that lends itself to a study of justice and mercy. For a civics class you can study your country’s executive, legislative and judicial systems to discover how laws are made and enforced. What does the constitution say? What checks and balances are in place to prevent corruption? How are freedom of speech and freedom of religion protected? How are criminals punished? How are minorities and women treated? Next, do a comparative study of various political systems around the world, including republican, democratic, monarchy (with our without a representative government like parliament), communist, socialist, military dictatorship, etc. Find out what life is like in Iran or Cuba. Reading about wars also provides many scenarios for discussion. There are at least two viewpoints for every conflict. No one is entirely right or wrong. Each side has reasons for acting as they did. Innocent civilians suffer for poor decisions made by their governments, and are not “the enemy” themselves. For example, Patricia Beatty’s book, Be Ever Hopeful Hannalee, is told from the perspective of a young Southern sister and brother cruelly uprooted from their home and family during the Civil War. You can discuss concepts such as “just cause” for revolt against an unjust government, reasonable force, aggression vs. self-defense, pacifism, etc. We should apply this to various conflicts, past and present. This is excellent material for logic and thinking skills.

Current Events: When you read the newspaper or watch a news program, talk about the concept of justice. Was the court decision fair? Why is this person claiming discrimination? What programs should the federal or state government fund? How does the welfare system work, and is it effective? What policies should the government set about issues such as euthanasia or stem cell research?

Writing: For language arts, you can study vocabulary (integrity, justice, righteousness, compassion) and assign creative writing projects relating to justice and mercy. “What would you do if you found an iPod on the floor of the science museum at a field trip?” “If you had $500 to give to five different charitable organizations, which would you choose and why?” Whom do you know who embodies the concepts of justice and mercy? Write them an encouraging letter! Many folks are discouraged in the midst of their service, and your kind words of affirmation could give them just the moral boost they need to continue. Think about it!

Careers: Discuss workplace ethics from your own family’s experiences as well as news stories. Talk about how one person’s actions affect others. If an employee embezzles money or is not a good steward of company resources, it ultimately makes prices go up for the customers. If an employer discriminates in hiring or firing, or allows harassment, this reduces employee morale as well as hurting the offended party. Our actions affect others!

Civil Protest: Talk about boycotting and picketing as a means of non-violent social protest. How have these been used throughout history? What has been the result in various circumstances? Are there any products or companies that you boycott? Why? Would you ever picket? If you have a TV, watch the news for labor union disputes, environmental activism, and other forms of protest.

Education: Talk about the ethics of education. What does it mean to cheat on a test or plagiarize writing? (One of my children seemed to make a huge leap in her ability to do addition using our homemade flash cards, until I realized that the paper was thin enough for her to see the answers on the back!) I need to teach my older children how to properly attribute a quote to another source, and how much word for word excerpting is appropriate in various kinds of writing. Home school moms obviously have to help their children with schoolwork, but do give some thought to how much is appropriate for each age level and situation. At some point, children do need to think for themselves. If they need to take a chapter test, go ahead and prepare them ahead of time for it, but then just let them do it! They need an honest appraisal of their performance. We shouldn’t always shield them from that! As long as we are on this topic, are you adequately complying with state requirements for home education?

Fairy Tales: Fairy tales often present a simplified view of justice. The lines between good and evil are clearly drawn since little people can’t always understand the nuances of more complicated characters and plots. In the older versions, the villain (the big bad wolf, the wicked witch, etc.) usually meets his or her doom in the form of death. The newer non-violent versions have the bad guy chased away “never to be seen again” or reformed due to the innocent example of the child hero. Most times there still is that sense of closure, the “happily ever after” that young children need to assure them that all is well and the world is safe. At some point in time, children need to mature to the point where they can appreciate a more realistic story that may not have a tidy ending. The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass, both edited by William Bennett, are essential anthologies of stories and poems for all ages.

Games and sports: A little healthy competition provides great opportunities to practice fair play, good sportsmanship, following the rules, taking turns, and being kind to someone who is less experienced or physically able. If your child is struggling with team cooperation, ask him, “What would you see to a player acting like this if you were the coach?” You can also find out what kinds of games and sports are played around the world, especially in Third World countries where they don’t have fancy toys. Can you send a box of soccer balls to an orphanage overseas?

Justice and mercy are so close to God’s heart. If we want to reflect his image, they must be close to ours as well. British ministry leader Mike Pilavachi encourages Christians to not turn away from news about injustice or oppression or poverty, but to act. “Because the truth is, if we don’t look properly, we’ll never cultivate a true heart of compassion. If we want our hearts to be changed, then we need to get involved. Often I think we’re afraid to see things fully because we know that once we have, we can never plead ignorance to God; we’ll have blown that excuse out of the water.” He quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. as saying, “We will have to repent in this generation for not merely the cruel words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” So I plead with you, my fellow home school parents, as you rightly shelter your children in some ways, don’t isolate yourself or them from the needs of the world that God has called us to serve in his name. If we don’t, who will?

Johnny Tremain Study Guide by Virginia Knowles

Johnny Tremain
Book by Esther Forbes
Study Guide by Virginia Knowles

Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes, is a Newbery Medal (1944) novel set during the time just before the Revolutionary War. Johnny is an proud young apprentice to a silversmith when a workroom accident costs him the use of his right hand. The themes of humility and courage are woven throughout this excellent book! This study guide also contains extension activities of poetry using Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."  For additional activities on oratory and patriotism using Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, click here: Great American Communicators: Patrick Henry.

I use selected pages from the publisher's free downloadable study guide

Literature Study Guide Questions

Please note that each full chapter is marked with a Roman numeral (I, II, III, and IV). Sections within each chapter are marked with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4…) so make sure you read a whole chapter and not just a little section!

Chapter I
  1. List all of the ways in this chapter that an apprentice helped in a silversmith business.
  2. Why does Mr. Lapham choose those particular Bible verses for Johnny to read? What is Cilla’s teasing reply?
  3. What does Johnny do to help Mr. Lapham keep his orders straight?
  4. What two things does Cilla do for Johnny in this chapter, and why?
  5. What do we find out about Johnny’s family?
  6. Draw your own idea of what the Lyte family emblem may have looked like.
Chapter II
  1. What does Johnny do when he can’t get the handles of the sugar basin right?
  2. What two things prevent Johnny from getting the rest of the work done on Saturday? How are they related?
  3. What reason does Mrs. Lapham give for not fetching a doctor?
  4. Describe the conversation between Dove and Johnny.
  5. What two things does Mr. Lapham ask Johnny to do?
  6. Describe the personality of Rab. How does he make Johnny feel better?
Chapter III
  1. How does Johnny get kicked out of the Lapham house?
  2. What kind of woman is Lavinia Lyte and how does Johnny feel about her?
  3. How do Cilla and Isannah react to Johnny in this chapter?
  4. What happens that makes Johnny feel he must go to Merchant Lyte for help?

Chapter IV
  1. What were Johnny’s expectations as he anticipated his visit to Mr. Lyte?
  2. What was Reb’s opinion of Mr. Lyte?
  3. What was the consequence in this section of Johnny calling Mr. Tweedie a “squeak-pig” earlier in the book?
  4. Who were the four witnesses in the trial, as described by communication styles?
    “stood up straight”, “clear, low voice” _____________________
    “confidently”, “spoke simply and easily” ___________________
    “bright sparkle in his slippery black eyes” __________________
    “vividness of her jumbled recital” ________________________
Chapter V
  1. Describe Goblin.
  2. Tell how Johnny learned about politics.
  3. What did Johnny want Cilla to do each Thursday and Sunday?
  4. For what bad habit did Rab try to correct Johnny? What was the result?
  5. Put these events in chronological order (1-5):

    ___ hired as sailor

    ___ hired at Boston Observer

    ___ chased by Captain Bull

    ___ dinner at Afric Queen

    ___ second visit to Mr. Lyte

Chapter VI
  1. Using a dictionary, look up two unfamiliar words in this chapter and write their definitions.
  2. What role did printers play in the cause of liberty?
  3. How had Johnny’s attitude changed toward Cilla and Isannah?
  4. What two regrets did Johnny have as he was trying to sleep?
Chapter VII
  1. “There was a rattle of drums, with the shouts of officers, and off the ships poured a flood, as scarlet as a tide of blood.” To what does this colorful simile refer?
  2. How does Johnny feel about Cilla by the end of this section?
  3. What does Lydia, the washerwoman, do to help Johnny?
  4. What does Johnny realize about Mrs. Lapham?
  5. Why does Johnny hate Lavinia Lyte?
Chapter VIII
  1. What happened to the Lyte family in Milton?
  2. How did Johnny feel about the country house in Milton?
  3. What happened when James Otis showed up at the meeting?
  4. Describe four different emotions that Rab displays in this chapter, along with a brief phrase describing the reason for each one.
  5. What kind of words/phrases are Marlborough Street, Province House, Medway, Dock Square, and Afric Queen? Find some more that fit in this category.
  6. What does Mr. Otis mean in his statements about "only that a man can stand up" near the end of this chapter?

Chapter IX

  1. What did Johnny find out from Lydia?
  2. How did Lieutenant Stranger reward Johnny for his help with the horse?
  3. What deal does Johnny make with Mr. Pumpkin?
  4. Ask someone to dictate a sentence to you while you write it down.
  5. What is the main thing that happened in this section, and how did it affect Johnny emotionally?
Chapter X
  1. Whom does Paul Revere Distrust?
  2. What sounds, other than human speech, are described in this section?
  3. How does Johnny gather information from Dove?
  4. How do Billy Dawes and his wife each show their skill for acting?
“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Today, instead of reading Johnny Tremain, you will study the classic poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.    You can find the poem after the study questions for chapter XII.
  1. Read the poem out loud with expression. Notice the rhythm.
  2. Longfellow uses sensory language to describe the night of April 18, 1775. What words or phrases help you see and hear what happened during Paul Revere’s ride?
  3. In “Paul’s Revere’s Ride” Longfellow writes, “The fate of nation was riding that night.” Do you agree? What might have happened if the events had gone differently?
  4. How does Longfellow’s portrayal of Paul Revere compare with that found in Johnny Tremain? In what ways are the portrayals the same? In what ways are they different?
  5. Copy the three lines in this poem that you find most interesting.
  6. Pay attention to the rhyming pattern of the poem. I have diagrammed the first stanza. The first and second lines rhyme with the fifth and they are all labeled A. The third and fourth lines rhyme with each other. Diagram a few other stanzas. Is the pattern regular?
Listen my children and you shall hear A
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, A
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five; B
Hardly a man is now alive B
Who remembers that famous day and year. A

Chapter XI
  1. Find all of the contractions in section 1 of this chapter, starting with the paragraph which begins, “The Doctor’s clear, blue eyes darkened.”
  2. Who are Yankee Doodle and the scarlet dragon?
  3. What happened to Uncle Lorne’s shop?
  4. What does Lavinia Lyte tell Johnny about his mother?
  5. What is Johnny’s plan for Uncle Lorne’s family?
Chapter XII
  1. Why did Johnny roll around in the mud?
  2. In section 2, write the first word of the paragraph that seems out of place in a description of war.
  3. Copy a sentence from section 3 that describes emotions.
  4. What main thing happens in this section 4?
  5. What do the last three sentences of the book mean to you?

Paul Revere’s Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"

A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.

And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Study Questions by Virginia Knowles

The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Book by Elizabeth George Speare
Study Guide Questions by Virginia Knowles

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the first novel we studied last year in our 7th-8th grade English class at co-op. My students (and their parents) have really enjoyed this book the two years we have done it. The book is set in Puritan times during the era of the Salem witch hunts. Kit, the main character, befriends Hannah, an elderly Quaker widow who is accused of witchcraft.

I used selected pages from a publisher’s free PDF study guide (click here to download it) to introduce the novel and its author, Elizabeth George Speare, but I mainly use my own study guide. I have included it below. Even if you don’t use it, it will give you an idea of the kinds of things you can discuss with your children when they read books independently or when you read them aloud. The questions are not all mere recall because I want my students to think about the deeper themes and issues in the book, as well as the excellent descriptive language that the author employs. You may wish to listen to my audio presentation, “Academic Education for a Deeper Heart” which is on my blog.

We finished this book in four or five weeks, with discussion in class on Mondays, and reading a chapter or two each day from Tuesday to Friday. Please note that these questions do not cover everything in the chapters. Besides this book, they also have writing, grammar, and other assignments for my class, so I don’t want to give them too many questions. I let them choose about four questions per day to answer. Questions marked with a ** are for more advanced students. Sometimes I combine two chapters in one daily assignment, as you will note.


Chapter 1
  1. When and where does the story take place?
  2. Why was everyone so surprised that Kit could swim?
  3. Compare Kit and Nat. How are they similar and different?
  4. How do you think this chapter sets up the plot for the rest of the story?

Chapter 2

  1. Describe Kit’s opinion of each member of the Cruff family.
  2. What is John Holbrook like?
  3. What had Kit’s life been like in Barbados? How do you think it will be different here?
  4. Why wouldn’t the Eaton family transport slaves on their ship?
  5. What is “walking up the river”?
  6. What is your favorite descriptive sentence in this chapter? Why?

Chapters 3 & 4

  1. Describe what happened when Kit arrived at Aunt Rachel’s house.
  2. Why hadn’t Kit written a letter to ask if she could come? (If she had e-mail, do you think she would have written or not?)
  3. How did Uncle Matthew react when he found out Kit had come to stay?
  4. Compare the personalities of Judith and Mercy as seen in these two chapters.

Chapter 5

  1. How does the author show us in word pictures what Judith feels about Kit?
  2. What were the pillory, whipping post, and stocks used for?
  3. Judith asked Kit, “Have you set your cap for him?” What does this mean?
  4. What were Sabbath houses? Why were they necessary?
  5. Describe the church service. How is it different from your church’s service?
  6. Why is this sentence about the townspeople’s reaction to Kit so effective?
    “It was not so much a sound as a stillness so intent that it made her ears ring.”

Chapters 6 & 7

  1. What is Reverend Bulkeley like? Is his use of Scripture effective here?
  2. How does Mercy show that she is a peacemaker throughout these chapters? Give as many examples as possible. What other character qualities are evident in Mercy’s life?
  3. What words are used in these chapters to replace “said”? (Example: “replied”) Which ones show that the speaker is speaking in an unpleasant tone of voice?
  4. Why does Kit learn how to knit? What is her attitude toward her other chores?
  5. ** Why are Reverend Bulkeley and Matthew Wood arguing over loyalty to the king and the Massachusetts Charter?
  6. ** What are Kit’s opinions of John Holbrook and William Ashby?

Chapter 8

  1. How does Kit respond to the Great Meadows? Does any place make you feel the same way?
  2. Describe Hannah Tupper.
  3. What is a dame school?
  4. ** Ask your mom or dad to pick a sentence from this chapter to dictate to you. Write it down as accurately as you can. Check how you did, and make corrections.
  5. ** What sorrowful events have happened to the Wood family in the past?

Chapter 9

  1. You get choices this time! Draw a picture of a child with a hornbook. Make up a rhyme for your own name just like Kit did for her students.
  2. Tell what happened when Kit let the children act out the story of the Good Samaritan. How do you think that Mr. Kimberley should have responded?
  3. Why does Hannah Tupper always use the word “thee” and “thy” instead of “you” and “your”?
  4. ** In chapter 8, you described what little you knew of Hannah Tupper. Now, tell what more you have learned about her. How has your own first impression of someone you have met changed after you have gotten to know them better?
  5. ** What is the symbolism of the red flower at Hannah’s house? What does this teach Kit?

Chapter 10

  1. Kit says that what people say about Hannah is “malicious gossip.” What does this mean?
    Many of the people of Wethersfield have a negative opinion of Hannah, who is actually good and kind. Does this prejudice make them “bad” people? Why or why not? Have you ever been prejudiced about someone and then found out that they were different from what you thought?
  2. How does the author show that Judith is in love with John, after she says it in plain words?
  3. Find, copy, and label four different kinds of sentences from this chapter: a statement, a question, an exclamation and a command.
  4. ** How were the Quakers different from the Puritans? How did each group get its name?
  5. ** “Kit picked up her wool cards and went to work. She knew she looked stubborn and ungrateful, and she felt so. The hard little knot had kinked up inside her tighter than ever. Coming home through the meadow everything had seemed so simple, and here it was all tangled again.” How does this paragraph use an object (wool cards) to show about feelings?

Chapter 11

  1. There are three scenes or settings for this chapter. What are they? What is the main thing that happens in each one?
  2. What is Mercy’s attitude about not being able to do the things the others do?
  3. What is your favorite book that someone has read aloud to you? Why did you like it?
  4. What discovery does Kit make at the end of chapter 11? Why do you think it makes sense?
  5. ** Has anyone ever affected your life like Kit and Hannah affected Prudence? How?
  6. ** John Holbrook reads a poem by Anne Bradstreet. Find out more about her. See if you can memorize the poem or copy it down decoratively and illustrate it.

Chapter 12

  1. What chores needed to be done at harvest time? How did this affect Kit?
  2. What do Kit and Nat do for Hannah? Have you ever helped an older person (like a neighbor or relative) by doing something like this?
  3. Alliteration is when two or more words close to each other start with the same sound. One example of it is “The strong sweet smell of it tickled her nostrils.” Find as many other examples of alliteration as you can in this chapter.
  4. Find the paragraph that starts with “Kit followed him into the swamp…” Give examples of as much sensory detail as possible. What can they smell, feel, see, hear and taste?
  5. ** Find the section where Kit and Nat are talking about birds. What do they mean? If you were compared to a kind of bird, which one would it be? Why?
  6. ** What does Nat say about King James? If he had lived a nearly a hundred years later, what side would he have fought for in the War for Independence? What is King James most known for now?

Chapter 13

  1. What was a husking bee? How does it change Kit’s opinion of the people in Wethersfield? What is the significance of a red ear of corn?
  2. What is John Holbrook’s opinion of Hannah Tupper? Why does he think this way?
  3. How does John Holbrook treat Kit in their conversation? What is one word from this chapter that describes their relationship?
  4. Why does John come to visit the Wood home just before the husking bee? What happens?
  5. ** John Holbrook said that skunk cabbage was used as a remedy for asthma. Find out more about herbal remedies. Which ones are still used today?

Chapter 14

  1. In the opening paragraphs of this chapter, Kit observes the change of the seasons. How does this affect her? How does the author use sensory detail, such as sight, sound, touch, and smell?
  2. Kit sees her uncle with a handful of dirt. How does her opinion change?
  3. Why was Kit so interested in seeing the Dolphin?
  4. ** How does Nat react to the idea that Kit plans to marry William?
  5. ** Describe an outdoor scene, as the author did in the first paragraphs.

Chapter 15

  1. The chapter openings with a meeting of men talking about politics. Why was the mood so tense?
  2. Judith knows something about William that Kit doesn’t. Why?
  3. What does Matthew advise that the men NOT do about their situation? What does he say to his wife when they leave?
  4. How do the townspeople react to the arrival of Governor Andros? What does Kit feel about him?
  5. ** What happened to the charter? When Matthew Wood heard that it was safe, he said, “Then we can hold up our heads.” What does he mean by that? What does he say about the future?
  6. ** What is Kit’s opinion of her Uncle Matthew at the end of the chapter?

Chapter 16

  1. What happened on All Hallow’s Eve? Who did it, and why did they single out William as their target?
  2. Describe the scene at the stocks. What would you do if one of your friends was sent to jail?
  3. Why is Kit jealous when she found out that Nat had often visited Hannah?
  4. How has Prudence changed since the beginning of the book? Why is Kit worried about her?
  5. ** Copy the following and tell what it means: “Bless thee, child!” said Hannah softly. “Perhaps ‘tis the answer. But remember, thee has never escaped at all if love is not there.”
  6. ** Why has John gone away? How does this show a change in his opinions? Why does Judith react the way she does?

Chapter 17

  1. What happens in the Wood household at the start of this chapter? Why doesn’t it affect Kit as much as Judith?
  2. Describe the scene between Matthew Wood and Reverend Bulkeley. What does each one think about the situation?
  3. What reason do the angry townspeople give for the sickness? What do they propose to do?
  4. What happens at Hannah’s house?
  5. ** What “miracle” occurs in this chapter? Has God ever done something like this for you?
  6. ** Why does Kit decide to stay in Wethersfield?

Chapters 18 & 19

  1. What reason does Matthew Wood give for defending Kit in the previous chapter? What does Kit decide to do as a result?
  2. What are some specific words that the author uses to reveal Goodwife Cruff’s character?
  3. What happens when Nat and Prudence show up at Kit’s trial? Why did Reverend Bulkeley choose those particular Bible verses for Prudence to read in the trial?
  4. ** What are Kit’s feelings about all the happy times she and Prudence had at Hannah’s cottage?
  5. ** How does Adam Cruff’s character change during chapter 19?

Chapter 20

  1. What specific words does the author use to describe snow in the first few pages of this chapter? How does her description change later in the chapter?
  2. What do William and Kit learn about each other’s life priorities when they finally get to talk? What is the result of this conversation?
  3. What does Kit decide to do near the end of the chapter?
  4. What happens when John returns?
  5. ** After reading about the Peabody’s wedding feast, vividly describe a favorite meal.
  6. ** How does Mercy’s grief about John affect her? Can you find a Bible verse about this?

Chapter 21

  1. How has the relationship between John Holbrook and Reverend Bulkeley changed?
  2. In a few words, how would you describe the well-matched priorities and personalities of the three new couples, Judith & William, Mercy & John, and Kit & Nat?
  3. What does Kit decide to do with her fancy clothes?
  4. What happened to the site where Hannah’s house had been?
  5. ** How does spring bring a new beginning for Kit? What sentence sums it up?
  6. ** How has the past year developed and proved Nat’s and Kit’s character so that they are more prepared for a lifetime together?

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