Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Over Utah in January" - Geography in Poetry

"Over Utah in January" 
by Virginia Knowles

I am in the sky looking down on
Vast speechless stretches of frozen white
Curved round and round by
Slicing crevices and streams
And human roads abandoned though they be
Foothills then soaring mountains beyond
Majestic tall yet distant small
From the sky where I look down

Clustering pines (wilderness steeples)
Defer to barren ground below
Shedding to it cumbering, nurturing snow

Upright spires green
Evergreen over branches, trunks, 
Rough and woody brown
Rooted deeply into ascending slope
Yet as living arrows aiming high
To the sky where I look down

Up and over mountain towers, fly
Peering through mottled fog outstretched
Amid earthy upturned layers, variegated ripples
Shadow clouds now upwisping 
Sharply angled peaks

Oh! These are of no human construct or design
Not even marked by footprints in pristine snow
Just fingerprints, signatures divine
Where winter earth meets winter sky

Yet in the valley I see manly habitation
In patterned rows, casual curves beneath the mist
Nestled in yet beckoned to a deep and high communion

Only bold ones venture beyond certain fringes
Strive upward, breathe hard, ascending steep, behold

Some faithful cannot climb 
But still lift souls to see
To know and long to know
Others seem content merely to stroll 
In evenness beneath, below
Oblivious to wonder

I am in the sky looking down
Then gazing up in awe at Him
Who gazes down in grace on me below
On me, who sees and longs to know.

I just started teaching a 6th-7th grade integrated American history, geography and English class three days a week at a private Christian school.  Today, we were talking about some of the geological features of the western United States, especially mountains.  I told them how I had the opportunity several years ago to fly to Salt Lake City for my grandmother's funeral, and how awestruck I had been in the airplane while looking out the window.  Before we even landed, I started writing the poem "Over Utah in January."   While I was there, my aunt gave me a digital camera, and I took these pictures and many more to go along with the poem.

I tied this in to the writing process, which we are also learning. I had already been encouraging my students to observe the world around them as inspiration for their writing.  I used this as an example, as well as my recent blog post, Catch It While You Can.  In addition, I told them about the value of having other writers critique your work.  When I write poetry, I usually send a draft copy to my step-cousin Dan, a poet, artist, musician and teacher whom I met at Grandma's funeral.  Though he is very different from me in many ways, in other ways we think alike (such as our love for wonder and beauty), and he always helps me out.

So I'm posting this here because tomorrow I want to read this poem to them and show them a few of the pictures to go along with it.   You can see more about it here on one of my other blogs: Three Poems and the Stories Behind Them, Starting with a Funeral


Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Sword of the Spirit: The Story of William Tyndale by Joyce McPherson (A Review)

I'm so delighted to see a new children's biography by Joyce McPherson, published by Greenleaf Press.  Her newest title is The Sword of the Spirit: The Story of William Tyndale.  The Reformation Era is my favorite time period to study in World History, and Tyndale's is a fascinating story about the translation of the Bible into English at great peril.  Tyndale studied Hebrew under Martin Luther, constantly fled persecution by the English government, and was eventually betrayed by a friend, arrested, and executed as a martyr for the gospel in 1536.  His dying prayer? "Lord, open the king of England's eyes..."  Two years later, King James authorized The Great Bible, largely Tyndale's work, for use in the Church of England.

I am most familiar with Tyndale through Scott O'Dell's novel The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day, which I've taught as literature in our co-op a few times.    Most of our reading selections this coming school year will wrap around The Mystery of History Volume 3: The Renaissance, Reformation, and Growth of Nations (1455-1707) that we will be using for history.  That's why I'm so glad to now have a well-researched factual account of his life written for children ages 10 and up. (Independent reading level is 5th/6th grade.)  Beyond the fact that I want my children to be versed in this essential history, I find I myself am more easily able to grasp the concepts at this level.  This is not a dry theology book, but a story with vivid descriptions of people, place, and plots.  Sprinkled through the book at the start of each chapter are key quotes from either Tyndale or another theological giant.  Here is one quote from his prologue to the 1525 New Testament in English:
"When the gospel is preached to us, he (God) openeth our hearts, and giveth us grace to believe and putteth the spirit of Christ in us, and we know him as our father most merciful, and consent to the law, and love it inwardly in our heart, and desire to fulfill it, and sorrow because we cannot... the blood of Christ hath obtained all things for us of God."
I first read A Piece of the Mountain, the author's biography of scientist Blaise Pascal, back in the late 1990's, when my sister passed it along to me.  Later, after I met Joyce at the Florida home schooling convention, we realized we (along with her husband) had been classmates in AP American History in high school in Virginia as well as friends from the Christian fellowship there.  Since then, I've read her biographies River of Grace (theologian John Calvin), Artist of the Reformation (Albrecht Durer), and Ocean of Truth (scientist Sir Isaac Newton).  

As a home schooling mother of 9, Joyce has an amazing grasp of European history, helped by the fact that she is also fluent in French.  You will also love her amazing Homeschooling Toolbox on-line, which is full of over 100 free worksheets, charts, flash cards, notebook materials, booklists & tips on getting started in home schooling.  I'm looking forward to digging in there!

Grace and peace to you and yours,

Virginia Knowles

Friday, March 22, 2013

St. Francis of Assisi in History, Current Events, Literature, Writing, Art & Music

Dear friends,

You know by now how I love to integrate English with history!  The 5th-6th graders in our home school co-op are using the Mystery of History Volume 2 text (by Linda Hobar) on the time period of the early church up through the Middle Ages for their history class.  One of the lessons this past week was about St. Francis of Assisi.  I decided to shape my literature and writing assignments around that.

In class on Monday, I read the picture book Saint Francis of Assissi: A Life of Joy by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  There are many pictures books about St. Francis, but this is my favorite, and the author (son of Bobby Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy) has had a keen personal connection with his subject since childhood.  Charlotte Mason would say that's the best kind of author to read!

Our main literature resource this year is The Book of Virtues edited by Dr. William Bennett, so I assigned "The Sermon to the Birds."  Francis is well-known for his love for all animals, as well as the rest of nature. (I also assigned the poem “Kindness to Animals” in light of this.)  This is so evident, no only in the bird story, but also in his "Canticle of the Sun."  There are many translations of this, but my fav is the one from the back cover of Kennedy's book:

“Canticle of the Sun”
by St. Francis of Assisi

Most high, all-powerful, all-good LORD!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made,
And first my lord Brother Sun,
Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him.

How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods, by which you cherish all that you have made.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious, and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom you brighten up the night. 
How beautiful he is, how gay!  Full of power and strength.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
Various fruits and colored flowers and herbs.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
Through those who grant pardon for love of you;
Through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace, by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin! 
Happy those She finds doing your will!
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.

The other notable thing about St. Francis is his unwavering kindness to the poor.  Born into a wealthy family and serving briefly as a soldier, he left behind his riches so he could live sacrificially as an itinerant preacher, serving the Lord, seeking peace, leading a religious order (Fratres Minores, now known as the Franciscans) and giving to the needy.  You have probably read his inspiring prayer many times...

“The Prayer of St. Francis”

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

I find it interesting to note that the new pope chose the name Francis I because a cardinal embraced him and reminded him not to forget the poor.  Francis I, who is from Argentina and is the first pope elected from the Americas, is known for being a humble and simple man who lived in a simple apartment, cooked his own meals, and rode the bus.  He has pledged to bring a new era of justice and mercy to the Catholic church, which has been wrought by corruption and scandal in recent years.  Though I am not Catholic and my students aren't either, this is really encouraging.  Be sure to watch this NBC news report: Pope Francis describes wish for 'poor church for the poor'

The writing assignment for the week was to write a factual narrative or a made up story about being kind to other people or to animals.  

This is what my daughter wrote:

The Homeless

I have had the opportunity to help the homeless twice, once about two months ago and another this week. The first time my sister Julia teamed up with another man to help the homeless. Julia got a lot of people to help out and  collected a bunch of jackets, sleeping bags, first aid supplies, snack bags, wash cloths, shoes, clothes and lots of food. I helped out with serving cake, muffins and cupcakes along with helping my mom with the snack bags.

The first aid bags had a sheet of paper in it that said where to go to get help. Our English class packed all of the supplies in the bags and put them in a box to bring to the homeless outreach.

The other time I helped the homeless was after school on Monday. All us kids asked my mom if we could go to Sam’s Club to get a soda. She agreed to go after we picked up my brother. So while we were on our way to pick up my brother I saw a homeless couple with two dogs near Sam’s. So after we picked up my brother, we stopped at our house so I could get some snacks and water for them. I packed four fruit roll ups, two bags of pretzels, a bag of graham crackers, and two bottles of water and put it in a plastic bag. Then we drove back to Sam’s Club and gave the bag to them. They were glad and said, “God bless you!” So that is how I was kind and helpful, to help feed the poor.  St. Francis was a great example to me for doing the right thing for the poor. Someday I hope to be as helpful to the poor as St. Francis.

Here is a quote that St. Francis wrote about giving:
“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that have received--only what you have given.”

(You can see pictures here: 

Weekend Gratitude: Homeless Outreach in Downtown Orlando.  We're going again in April.  Wanna come?)

You can read more about St. Francis by doing a Google search on his name.  Here are two  articles: Who Was St. Francis? by Leonard Foley, O.F.M. and St. Francis of Assisi Took Amazing Twists, Turns (a recent article mentioning Pope Francis I).

I love to incorporate art and music, too.  You can do a Google Image search and come up with loads of beautiful paintings, drawings, and sculpture.  It's interesting to notice that most of the art features birds.  Ask your children if they know why he looks the way he does with the robe and the bald spot on his head.  The plain hooded robe with rope belt was the typical poor monk's clothing, and the bald spot is called a tonsure.  That's how monks wore their hair.  Invite your kids to draw their own picture of St. Francis.  Or, be like St. Francis and learn to appreciate the beauty of nature.  Draw pictures of flowers and animals.  Francis was also a lover of beautiful things that reflected the truths of God.  He created the first nativity scene, which is also called a creche.

You can add in a vocabulary lesson with words from his life and legacy, such as monk, monastery, chapel, priest, religious order, friar, tonsure, vow, poverty, chastity, pope, itinerant, patron saint, soldier, stigmata, sultan, creche, nativity, and Eucharist.

You can also watch musical videos of the "Prayer of St. Francis"

What can you and your children to do to follow the example of St. Francis in the 21st century?

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Honesty (A Mini-Unit Study)

Dear friends,

In honor of President's Day this week, I assigned a literature study on the topic of honesty to my home school co-op English class.  In addition to the assignments and discussion notes below, you will also find very useful lists about honesty at

Discussion: What is honesty?

·         Honesty is telling the whole truth, in your words, actions, and intentions.  It is being accurate. (That does not mean that someone who tells wrong information is lying.  If they sincerely think it is true, they are not being deceptive, just mistaken. There can still be negative consequences for this, especially if the person should have known better, but there is a difference based on their intention!)   Being honest does not mean you need to tell someone information that is none of their business, or that they would use to harm other people, or that is unnecessarily hurtful. You should use discretion and only say what you need to say.  You can reply that you can’t answer a question, or that they need to ask your parent for information.  Or you could just be quiet in the first place.
·         Dishonesty is purposely deceiving, or telling a lie, or using “correct” words in a way that is intended to mislead others.  This would include telling a “half truth” or concealing information that needs to be told. Slander is saying something bad and untrue about another person in order to hurt their reputation.  (This is illegal, and you can get sued for it.)  Another word for that is a rumor. Dishonesty includes false impressions and false advertising.

·         Honesty is being trustworthy and reliable by actively keeping your promises and doing what you say you will do.   This includes keeping a confidence of privacy when someone tells you something that is not for others to know.  (If someone is in danger of hurting themselves or others, you have an obligation to tell the proper authority, even if you promised not to.) If you legitimately cannot carry out a promise, like if your parent forbids you or if you really tried but couldn’t possibly fulfill it because of some obstacle, then you must be prepared with a reasonable explanation as soon as possible and find some other good way of doing what needs to be done.  When in doubt, ask your parent for advice!
·         Dishonesty is “forgetting” (not taking the effort to remember) or neglecting to carry through on your promises, or telling someone you will do what you never intended to do in the first place.

·         Honesty is being fair with money, possessions, and time.  It is following the rules to get a rightful reward.  It is your responsibility to find out what the rules are ahead of time, and not just claim you didn’t know better!
·         Dishonesty is cheating or stealing or manipulating or breaking the rules to get what does not rightfully belong to youPlagiarism, which is presenting someone else’s written work as if you wrote it so you can get credit for it, is dishonest.  Saying that you worked more hours than you did so that you can get paid more is cheating.  Tax evasion, which is filling out tax forms and saying you made less money than you did so that you have to pay less taxes, is cheating.

·         Honesty is being authentic, presenting yourself as you are.  This takes humility
·         Dishonesty is being hypocritical or fake to make yourself look better. 


I included three main literature assignments in my lesson packet.   Our main class resource is The Book of Virtues edited by Dr. William Bennett.

Literature #1: Read “The Honest Woodman” story adapted by Emilie Poulsson on page 602 of The Book of Virtues.  The story is based on the poem by Jean de La Fontaine below.  

1.  Why did the fairy/Mercury show the woodman all three axes and then give all of them to him?
2.  List four ways the story is different from the poem.  Think about details, plot, characters, setting, style, etc.
3. What are a few of the rewards of honesty?  What are some of the consequences of dishonesty?

“The Woodman and Mercury” (partial) by Jean de La Fontaine
A woodman lost his means of gain, 
His hatchet, which he sought in vain;
’Twas grief to hear him sob and cry;
He had no tools to sell nor means to buy
His hatchet kept his hope alive,
With that went all his means to thrive.
His cheeks were bathed with tears: he sighed:
“My axe! O my poor axe! ” he cried;
“Restore it, Jupiter, to me,
I’ll own a second life from thee!”
Olympus heard him as he prayed,
And Mercury came down, and said :
“The hatchet's safe, and I can show it,
But are you sure that you will know it?
An axe I found near on the road.”
With that an axe of gold he showed.
This to be his the man denied.
A silver next his virtue tried,
“But that's not mine,” the man replied.
Then one of wood the god displayed,
“I'm happy now,” the woodman said;
“This is the one for which I prayed.”
The god rejoined; “ Take all the three,
To recompense your honesty.”
He took them all, and thanked the god.
The story soon got spread abroad;
The bumpkins lost their tools, and roared
To get them thus so well restored.
The king of gods which wight to hear scarce knows,
Again sends Mercury to heal their woes;
To each an axe of gold he shows,
And each had thought himself a pretty fool,
Not to have cried at once ; “ Ay, that’s my tool! ”
Bot Mercury gave not that axe, instead
Laid it with vengeance on each rascal’s head.
Be happy with your lot, and tell no lies,
Nor think to cheat the Ruler of the skies.

Literature #2:  In The Book of Virtues, read “Pinocchio” by Carlo Lorenzini, starting on page 609. 

1.  What did Pinocchio do when he had already lied and the fairy kept asking him questions? 
2.  Think about these quotes and then tell one reason why it is foolish to lie in the first place.
  •      “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!”  Sir Walter Scott (British spelling practise = practice)
  •      “Lying can never save us from another lie.” Vaclev Havel
  •      “If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.” Mark Twain
  •      “No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.” Abraham Lincoln

3.     What was the visible consequence of Pinocchio’s dishonesty?
4.     How did his nose go back to its normal size?

Literature #3: In The Book of Virtues, read the “Lady Clare” poem by Alfred Tennyson starting on page 639 and “Rebecca's Afterthought” poem by Elizabeth Turner on page 608.  

1.  What happened at the birth of Lady Clare?
2.  How did the Lady Clare respond in her words and actions when Alice told her who she really was? 
3.  How did Lord Ronald respond in his words and actions?
4. Why did Rebecca decide to tell the truth?

Literature # 4: In The Book of Virtues, read “Nobility” poem by Alice Cary on page 654, “Someone Sees You” story on page 604, and “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” starting on page 605.  If you would like to read more about honest presidents, check out “Honest Abe” starting on page 620.

1.  February 22 is George Washington’s birthday!  He was born in 1732 in Virginia.  How many years ago was that?  Write it out in words.  Remember to hyphenate the words for the tens and ones place.  For example, the number 189 would be written out as “one hundred eighty-nine.”
2.  Ironically, the story you read today, written by a parson (preacher) named Mason Locke Weems, may be just a legend rather than a true story.  However, what can we learn from it anyway?  The painting above is by Grant Wood in 1939. (Look carefully at the patterns and themes in the painting, too!) Here is what one web site says about the story and painting: “Parson Weems was a bookseller, an itinerant preacher, and the creator of the cherry tree legend which he wrote in the fifth edition of his book Life of George Washington, the  Great. The story was fabricated [created] by Weems, and its purpose was to express a moral, not historical fact… Grant Wood satisfied both those who wished to keep the folklore and those who wished to expose the stories as less-than-truth. He is able to show the viewer that the story is Parson Weems' invention at the same time that he shows us an imaginative presentation of the original tale.”
3.     George Washington said, “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.”  Another quote from him: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man."  Choose one of these quotes and tell in your own words what it means.


Bible Verses on Honesty and Truth

Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.” Proverbs 16:13

A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies.” Proverbs 12:17

“Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?    Who may live on your holy hill?  He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman…” Psalm 15:1-3

I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.” Psalm 119:30

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” John 3:21

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” 1 Corinthians 13:6

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ... Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Ephesians 4:15, 25

Other Quotes on Honesty

“Honesty does not always bring a response of love, but it is absolutely essential to it.” Ray Blanton

 “We tell lies when we are afraid... afraid of what we don't know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us.  But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.” Tad Williams

“Honest men fear neither the light nor the dark.” Dr. Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)

“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.” Eleanor Roosevelt

“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson

“Honesty is the best policy.” Benjamin Franklin

 “Honesty doesn't always pay, but dishonesty always costs.” Michael Josephson

“There is always a way to be honest without being brutal.” Arthur Dobrin

“Truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it.” Emily Dickinson

 “A lie has speed, but truth has endurance.” Edgar J. Mohn

“We all need to know what it means to be honest. Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” James E. Faust

 “The real things haven't changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” Laura Ingalls Wilder

I hope this has been helpful to you!

Virginia Knowles

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