A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Ship, by Heart Cross Ranch


I have a daughter who flies helicopters. Big helicopters. The ones that make you think of Blackhawk Down. The Navy calls them Knighthawks or the MH-60S. They are BIG helicopters.

The Knighthawk is a multi-purpose platform, capable of search & rescue, Special Forces support, anti-submarine operations, and even recovering space capsules.

How did my girl ever end up doing that?

It started with a chance encounter on the 4th of July in Paris under the Eiffel Tower. My daughter was overseas with Hillsdale College studying, “Their Finest Hour: Churchill and WWII.” She saw several elderly gentlemen in WWII Army uniforms and recognized them as Sgt. Malarkey and Lt. Compton of “Band of Brothers” fame. She introduced herself and they had a lovely visit. A few weeks later, Malarkey mentioned on NPR how touched he was that high school students were excited to meet them. Little did he know that he had profoundly touched my daughter. She came home determined to live up to the “Greatest Generation.” And thus began our journey down the military academy path.

Warning:  the academy application process is not one for faint hearts. It’s time consuming, nit-picking, and headache-producing. But when they raise their hands and swear to “defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and your heart swells with pride, it’s all worth it.

A general overview of a typical academy prep for homeschoolers can be found here: Academy Admissions Advice for Homeschoolers.

I’ll address the rest of this article to the student/candidate as they should be the ones who complete the majority of the application process.

The process begins at Christmas time of the junior year with Summer Seminar applications. There are five service academies: United States Air Force Academy, United States Merchant Marine Academy, United States Military Academy (West Point), United States Naval Academy (Annapolis), and the United States Coast Guard Academy. Of those five, four offer rising seniors a chance to spend a week in the summer, getting a taste of academy life. Since USMMA is on a trimester system, they don’t have such a program. Enrollment in all four Summer Seminars (called different things for each academy) is very competitive, and most students apply for more than one. Who gets chosen to attend? All four are looking for similar things: high ACT/SATs, high GPA, involvement in sports, community service, and leadership, leadership, leadership. Since the process begins so early, it behooves the aspiring candidate to take the SAT and ACT early, in order to have those scores available. The academies are also looking to ensure geographic diversity, so they are eager to bring in prospects from every state. While not getting into Summer Seminar doesn’t mean you won’t get an Appointment, attending Summer Seminar does show interest and can help in the process later. Each academy’s summer program has a different flavor, but all involve an introduction to military life and some really cool classes. You might find yourself lined up on the bulkhead being “counseled” right before working on glider design. You’ll be making your “rack” correctly, memorizing page after page of “knowledge,” marching in formation and keeping your “eyes in the boat.” You might find yourself trying to take over the world in a political science scenario and then participating in team-building exercises. Each seminar runs about $400, plus airfare. You’ll come home with enough t-shirts for the rest of your life!

Some of the academies use the Summer Seminar process as a preliminary application for the academies themselves; others do not. But once your SS application is in, it’s time to start thinking nominations!  All but the Coast Guard Academy require a Congressional, Vice-Presidential, or Presidential nomination. That process requires attention to detail and a lot of stamina. The best advice we were given was to buy a good scanning copier. You’ll need it. Another piece of good advice is to create a separate email address, (one that you will check many times a day) specifically for academy admissions. Time to dump the “partyheartygirl at springbreak.com” address. Clean up your Facebook page; it WILL be perused. You’ll need to have letters of recommendation lined up, and most Members of Congress will want them submitted online.

This is where it gets tricky for homeschoolers and is something to consider as the high school years are planned out. Many Members want to see recommendations from science, English, and math teachers, as well as from outside sources.. We’ve had good success with using college professors from dual enrollment classes. A consistent question comes up:  “As a homeschooler, how will you function as a member of a group? How will you handle classroom learning?” Another constant is the class rank requirement, which a homeschooler obviously won’t have. Most MOC will be content with extrapolating class rank from the student’s ACT/SAT national percentile. Many MOC will close their nomination applications in early fall, some as early as September 15th—don’t be caught napping! Give yourself time to get those letters in and all transcripts sent. Most MOCs have a spot for course descriptions, school profile, guidance counselor letter, and resume. You’ll be doing separate interviews with your representative and two senators’ boards.

While the nomination process is well underway, it’s time to think about the physical tests. You  may have already done a CFA (Candidate Fitness Assessment) at Summer Seminar, but be aware that some academies will allow you to update them, and some will not. They each have running, pull-ups, pushups, and a weird kneeling basketball throw. You need to be in good shape, along with just practicing the skills. Run and then run some more. However, don’t run within 24 hours of your medical exam as it could skew the urine test results!

Next up—the DODMERB, Department of Defense Medical Exam Review Board! If you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re going to learn to speak in acronyms. There are twenty-four pages listed as disqualifications here: Disqualification Codes.  You  should read through these and see if you fall under any of the concerns. There are SOME waivers granted, but as the process becomes more and more competitive, those waivers are harder to obtain. Give yourself enough time to work through a remedial or waiver process; it takes time.

Once you are found qualified, you’ll be notified of your interview. Each academy does them a bit differently. Navy calls your interviewer a Blue & Gold Officer; West Point calls him a MALO; and the Air Force Academy, an ALO. They all want to get to know your motivation, your knowledge of the academies, and your confidence level. Now is not the time to show up in the t-shirt and flip-flops. If the interview is held at your house, a button-down shirt and khakis are in order. If at the officer’s office, it’s time to break out the blazer. Be early—15 minutes early is “on time” in the military.

I could write a whole book here, but someone else already has: The Naval Academy Candidate Book

There are books for AFA and West Point too.  Aspiring Midshipmen will also find these useful: Brief Points and Building a Midshipman.

Throughout this process, it’s important to have a strong Plan B in place. The majority of military officers go through ROTC, not the academies. The process for those scholarships is outlined here: How to Win ROTC Scholarships.

So, you’ve read the books, earned your Eagle, lettered in Varsity sports, interviewed, taken the SAT numerous times, been poked and prodded, produced voluminous paperwork, and now you wait. You may be blessed with an LOA (Letter of Assurance) or Early Action, or you may still be waiting in April. Or, you may take a different route, if you’re offered a prep year. Four of the five academies offer prep school years. Some are offered by the academies themselves, and some from alumni organizations. You’ll take a typical year of freshman courses and you’ll learn how to march and how to make your bed. At the end of that year, if you keep your grades up, and you secure another nomination, you’ll be raising your hand in the Oath that next summer.

The big day comes. You’ve said goodbye to Mom, Dad, and the dog. You’ll survive Plebe Summer, Doolie Summer, Beast Barracks, or Swab Summer. You’ll be tired and sore and wondering WHY you ever wanted to do this. The next four years will go by in a flash, and you’ll be tossing your cover in the air! And then the adventure REALLY begins!

Heartheart_cross Cross Ranch–Heart Cross Ranch is the mom of five children, three of whom have graduated. She is in her 26th year of homeschooling, with just three left to go! She lives high up in the Colorado mountains, in the nation’s icebox, on a cattle and sheep ranch. She enjoys being heavily involved with Boy Scouts, taking sports photos for the local paper, and anything chocolate. She confesses that much of her “homeschooling” consists of throwing interesting books at her children.

“This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams, by Jen W.


I know that lots of people think of literary analysis as a rhetoric stage skill. And mostly, it is. However, we can find messages in most books or stories. Even young children can find some of these basic messages without destroying their love of books, language or reading.

I read the poem “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams to a group of second and third graders. It is a simple poem, and I thought the idea of temptation would be something that they could relate to. But, they quickly zeroed in on something in the poem that doesn’t even register with most adults.

The children quickly pointed out that the poet says, “Forgive me.” He doesn’t say, “I’m so sorry, will you forgive me?” He doesn’t even say, “It won’t happen again, I’m sorry.” His apology comes more in the form of a demand than a request or an entreaty. He doesn’t even seem contrite for his actions.

Their parents had taught them that when you offer an apology, it should be a request, and that you should be truly sorry for your actions. The fact that the kids could read these things into a simple poem shows that even kids who are quite young are capable of interpreting literature on some level.

Very basic literary analysis really just begins by asking your kids what they think about a book. Ask questions like: What part did you like best? What part did you like least? Were you worried when ____? You might be surprised at the answers that you receive.

This is Just to Say:


Jen Wjen_w.– Jen is born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

Ask Caitilin: How Do You Plan Your Year?



How do you plan out a year when you are pulling it together yourself?


I can’t tell you how YOU will do it, but I can tell you how I have done it. It’s actually not very daunting at all, and a lot of fun, once you get over your initial feelings of insecurity about not doing right by your children. So bearing that in mind, here’s what I do.

First, I decide what subjects we will be covering this year. In any given year, the following are all included in some form.

*Math–math is a non-negotiable necessity for us every year. There are multitudes of math programs to choose from; we have variously used Saxon Math, Singapore Math, and Art of Problem Solving in our homeschool to date.


*Spelling–I have some natural spellers and some not-so-natural spellers, so this remains in our lineup until eighth grade. Our program of choice is a public school text series called Everyday Spelling, but there are many on the market. If your child is born to spell, you may easily dispense with this subject. On the other hand, if your child has serious struggles such as dyslexia or another learning disability, you may need a more serious phonics and spelling program.

*English–I tend to lump together under this heading things that some like to separate out. But however you like to think of it, whether as “English” or “language arts,” in this subject I include grammar, writing, literature, phonics, and reading aloud. I have a background in English and literature, so am comfortable choosing and mixing/matching materials for this area. In the early years, phonics and reading aloud are obviously the focal points of our English studies. Once reading is firmly established, we move on, giving grammar, literature, and writing more attention. I do like, though, to have my children continue to practice reading aloud to me at least a couple of times a week through the elementary school years to maintain fluency and a pleasant reading style and speed.


*History–We study some aspect of history each year, beginning in first grade. I try to follow a mostly chronological, cyclical approach to history, beginning in earliest times and moving up to the present day. In some years I have assembled my own materials and written my own program; however in most years I have used materials marketed to homeschoolers such as Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World. In middle school, I have tended to focus more on American history, but in high school we return once more to the cycle of history. History often includes geography studies, or in some years geography may have a subject slot of its own. In either case, it has been very helpful for my students to have a strong grasp of the physical and political layout of the world.


*Science–I have gone back and forth in my own mind over the years as to what is the best way to approach science in the elementary years. I have concluded that for us, the most beneficial approach is simply to take a large scale topic, such as life science, space, or geology, and check out books from the library in various aspects of that large topic, read them, and do written narrations of the material. This is not because there’s a dearth of material written as more “official” science curricula–indeed, there’s a ton!–but because the longer I am at this home education project, the more strongly I feel that many of these programs rely on busywork, both in their experiments and in their evaluatory materials. I don’t have the time, patience, or inclination for busywork of any type, and still less in an area which is so inherently interesting that it ought to pique the students’ interest. But as we move into middle school, the materials we use have become more official; in high school, I am outsourcing science, as I cannot provide the level of instruction and lab experiences I want for my children.


I also plan out our religious instruction. However this is an area I feel is best left to the parents’ discretion, and is basically none of my business. ;)

Now that I have gotten all of the subjects worked out, I need to choose materials for those subjects. The first thing I look at is, “What has worked well for us this year?” I am a big believer in refraining from jumping on a curriculum bandwagon just because it’s new, beautiful, and shiny, so if a program is working well for us, I’m unlikely to drop it to try something else. Conversely, if something just didn’t get done, or didn’t work as I had hoped, I go looking for its replacement. What materials are available and why I have chosen the ones I have is a different post for another day.

Having settled on materials, I now need a plan and yearly schedule. The yearly schedule helps to dictate the plan like this: I decide how many chunks I will break the year into (this is the schedule)–the last several it’s been six–then I look at each book, or set of books, and work out how much each chunk should cover (this is the plan). I have chosen six chunks because it allows us to school for six weeks, take a week off, and start over. Having fewer but smaller breaks has been good for our homeschool: we forget less, and we can power through some tough weeks on the strength of the upcoming break. However, there are other good ways to divvy up the year, such as by quarters and semesters, or even schooling all year long, taking breaks as they are needed. I like the six six-week periods because an average public school year is about 36 weeks long, so by planning on that number of weeks, I can be fairly sure we are doing a reasonable amount of work each year.

The final thing to consider when planning the year is whether Mom has her own mental and emotional “house in order” for the new school year. For some of us, this is the year’s supply of chocolate; for others, it is planned outings with a friend or homeschooling group; for still others, it’s a daily designated time for prayer, mediation, or exercise. The common thread here is that these are the elements required for Mom to maintain her sanity. Make sure you have these, whatever they are for you, lined up and available before you begin. Homeschooling can be isolating and difficult. Provide yourself with the resources to strengthen you and keep you up to the task.

With your subjects chosen, your materials picked out, your plan and schedule in place, and your support system laid down, you are ready to begin the new adventure of a new school year. Each homeschool year is a bit like Star Trek: we all have to “boldly go where no one has gone before!”


Caitcaitlin_fionailin Fiona–Caitilin is the mother of six children, ranging from high school down to early elementary, all of whom she has homeschooled from the beginning. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include languages, literature, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

Life With a Preteen Daughter, by Nakia


My oldest daughter was a joy from the time she was born. She was always strong-willed, yet rational and easy to parent.

Until she turned 11 and suddenly wasn’t.

Almost overnight she turned from the child I just described into a sobbing, raging, hormonal preteen. Some days I didn’t recognize her; days I could not believe the child who yelling and throwing things was my sweet first-born. That strong will had turned from a blessing to something I dreaded to greet every morning. There were days I threatened to send her to school. There were days I threatened to run away from home.

Over the course of 18 months, we struggled and we cried, but we survived. And in the midst of it all, we thrived and learned so much about each other.

I’ve found over the last couple of years that many moms struggle more with the preteen years – or as a dear friend calls it, the “ten-age” years- than they ever do with teens. If you have a preteen, perhaps you are struggling with some questions of your own. “Who is this child and where did my sweet baby go?”  “Can I do this?” “Will we survive this?”

I suggest asking yourself these things:

  • What are your goals?

  • What are your expectations?

  • Are you expecting enough? Too much?

  • Is your child getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food?

  • Are you building up or tearing down?

One of the most important things, I think, is to find people who have been where you are. I strongly suggest finding other parents who share similar beliefs and have made it through the same struggles. There will be times when you simply cannot handle what is going on with your child and your family, and having someone to turn to who has been through the fire will be invaluable. You must recognize when to seek professional counseling. Enlist the help of your church, your child’s pediatrician, or a local counseling center. This is not a failure. This is helping your family be the best it can be.

Realize that the problems you are facing are not a product of homeschooling. They are a product, most often, of hormones. On the other hand, do not expect homeschooling to cure bad attitudes in your children—or you. Being a parent is hard. Adding homeschooling to that will not automatically make everything easier. Home education will present its own unique set of challenges. It is hard to separate your parenting role from your role as teacher. Be sure to set aside time each day to focus on your tween as your child and not as your student. Take school out of the equation as much as possible so that you can face the root cause.

Do not fight with your child. I’m a fighter by nature and grew up in a “yelling” household. I never wanted that for my family. Unfortunately, we ended up there. Some of the best advice I ever received was “Do not engage!” When she realized I would no longer engage in warfare, my daughter de-escalated much faster.

Let your child talk. What they are going through right now is a BIG deal to them. It might seem silly to you. You might be able, as a 40 year old mother, to look back on your preteen/teen years and see that your attitudes and actions “back then” were silly, but your child is living it now. Let them live it. Talk them through it. It’s okay to tell them “This too shall pass,” but do let them know you are listening and that their feelings are important.

Have clear boundaries/rules. Good parents know that children thrive with healthy boundaries, and preteens are no different. They will sometimes hate every limit you give them. It’s okay stick to them. It’s also okay to sit down with the child and look at those boundaries (rules) and sometimes recognize that one is too tight or rigid. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can discuss and adjust and watch what happens when you do.

Know when to apologize. That might be the hardest part of this whole parenting gig. I’ve yet to meet anyone who liked to admit being wrong, especially to someone under their authority. But we must show our children that we are human. Let them see you recognize your errors and apologize when necessary. A heartfelt apology will earn respect, and it teaches your child how to do the same.

Let your child make some decisions about school. I found that when I gave some of the control to my daughter, things went so much better. For instance, I printed off blank lesson planning sheets and let her fill them in. She knew what she needed to do each week, but with a little help from me, she was able to schedule it in daily plans. I let her pick whether she would start her day with math or science. This gave her a sense of responsibility and made her feel like I wasn’t treating her “like a child” anymore.  Another example might be letting your child pick a topic of study. My daughter loves horses, so I let her do a unit study from Beautiful Feet on the history of the horse. She loved it, and it gave her a sense of ownership since she had picked herself. Developing autonomy was not an overnight process, and we are still working on it.

As a Christian, I believe my greatest help is my faith. I never before spent so much time in prayer as I have as a mother. The thing I prayed over and over as we worked our way through my daughter’s preteen years (and still now that she’s a teen) was, “God, I know her personality is not a mistake. She will do great things in Your name.” I believe that with all of my heart. I encourage you to lean on the Lord and pray blessings over your child! Speak encouragement to them and about them!

Now my second daughter is a “ten-ager,” and I have one more right behind her. I’ll be printing off this post and hanging it on my fridge to remind myself that we made it through once and we can do it again.

Nakia–Nnakiaakia is a Southern girl, born and raised in North Carolina. She is married to her high school sweetheart and is in her 9th year of homeschooling her three wonderful daughters. She works part time as a nurse and loves photography, thrift shopping, baking, and autumn in the mountains.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Drawing Paper, by Apryl


Artwork has been created on every surface imaginable over the centuries, but perhaps one of the most commonly used is paper.  In this installment of the Arts and Crafts Explained series we will discuss some of the more common paper surfaces used in drawing.

Paper has been made from all sorts of materials, from textile waste to bamboo, but the papers we use the most today are created from either cotton or cellulose (wood pulp).  Paper comes in a myriad of textures and thicknesses that will affect how the artist’s drawing will turn out.  Artists often use these differences to their advantage and will consider carefully the paper they use.

Most children, or even adults, that are new to creating art on paper will start with either copy paper or a low cost sketch pad.  While there is nothing wrong with doodling or sketching on these papers, you will be limiting yourself and the potential of your tools by using this lower grade paper.  Many of these lower cost papers are not archival quality.  This means that the acids in the paper itself will cause the paper to degrade over time, potentially losing your artwork.  Also, the lower quality papers are often not as sturdy and will not hold up to erasing or heavy pressure from a pencil.

Higher quality cotton papers will give you good results.  They withstand the abuse of an eraser and reworking of a drawing much better than cellulose.  These papers will stand the test of time as well.


The texture or finish of your paper can vary greatly, depending on how it was manufactured. The common types are rough, cold press, and hot press.

A rough finish is air dried and has a very textured surface.  These papers are good for watercolors and pastels.

Cold press finishes have a rougher texture than hot press, but a finer texture than the unpressed papers. It is created by placing wet paper between metal plates or rollers.  There is some variety in the textures created. I have found that some of these textures work well for colored pencil.

The hot press finish is very smooth.  Hot metal plates are used to flatten, or iron, the paper smooth.  The paper is hard and has an almost texture-less surface.  These papers are excellent for fine detail.

The thickness of your paper is measured, oddly enough, in pounds.  When you see paper labeled as 50lb paper, it means that a ream of 500 sheets of 24” x 36” will weigh 50lbs.  The GSM standard can also be used.  It is more accurate as it measures the weight per square meter.  The higher the number, the greater the thickness of the paper.

Paper preference will vary greatly from artist to artist, and from project to project.  My advice to a beginner is to visit a store that carries a variety of papers and actually touch them.  At major chain craft stores you can often find large art paper sold by the sheet.  This can be an inexpensive way to try different textures.  I will often buy a large sheet and cut it down to smaller sizes.

I would also recommend buying a several types of sketch books to try out.  Again, the ones with thicker pages will hold up better.

Watch for the next article in the series!

Aprylapryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Student Spotlight: Winter Tree

Winter Tree, by Annika Clare

Annika Clare is a twelve-year-old girl who is very enthusiastic about art.  She’s been taking art classes in her community for almost a year and has been homeschooled since kindergarten.  She enjoys being on the swim team at the local YMCA, knitting, crocheting, and other crafts, and is the proud Mama to one bearded dragon named Spock.

Homeschool Rite of Passage: The Chicken Mummy, by Lynne

You’ve all heard of the Mommy Wars.

Get ready for the Mummy Wars.

There is some debate as to whether one can call oneself a homeschooler if one has never mummified a chicken during the study of ancient Egypt. The faint of heart try to pass off mummifying an apple or even a Barbie doll, but it’s just not the same. A shriveled-up apple simply does not compare to the slowly evaporating chicken carcass that must remain for weeks on the kitchen counter. Mummifying a Barbie doll does not give you the satisfaction of watching the muscles harden and contract.

All kidding aside, mummifying a chicken is quite an educational experience for parents and kids alike. Vegetarian and vegan families may choose to mummify another object and still benefit from learning about the process. Hands-on activities like this are wonderful ways to cement in kids’ minds the lessons learned from books and museums. It’s one thing to learn that pharaohs were mummified to preserve their bodies for their next lives, but it’s another thing entirely to see what that actually meant for the physical body.

Our family embarked upon the mummification journey almost four years ago. I documented the whole experience in photos. There are instructions for mummifying chickens on the internet and in several curricula, so I’m only going to give you an overview here. Take my advice and start with a small chicken or a capon. Ours was pretty big and took quite a while to dry out.

We prepared our chicken by washing it thoroughly, rinsing it in wine, and drying it completely. We chose not to preserve the innards in canopic jars like they did with real Egyptians mummies, but that would certainly be a good accompanying project. I was a little skeptical that this would actually work, so it was with trepidation that I watched the boys cover the chicken in its first salt bath. Here’s how it looked after the first salt bath:   12182643523_cd7e5a659d_z

We were all amazed that the chicken didn’t smell as horrible as we thought it would. I was beginning to think this might actually work. The chicken did smell a little bit, so we added some spices to the next salt bath. We repeated this procedure for several weeks. Each time we took the chicken out of the salt bath, my boys were excited to see that he was a little skinnier, and that his color and odor had changed as well. The boys dubbed him King Akhenaten.


Eventually, King Akhenaten was ready to be entombed, so we read about how the body was prepared for wrapping in the long strips of linen. We anointed King Akhenaten with oils and made amulets to wrap up in the linens with him. Wrapping was a messy step, but once finished, the chicken looked like a real mummy.


The boys made a sarcophagus for King Akhenaten, as well as a pyramid in which to entomb the sarcophagus. We had a funeral procession and burial service. King Akhenaten remained in his pyramid, which was placed in my boys’ room, for three and a half years. Not once did any odor emanate from that pyramid. I stuck my nose up to that pyramid every so often, just to check. I think that was probably the most important lesson we all learned from this whole thing– the ancient Egyptians were pretty clever to figure out what it took to preserve a human body for eternity.

Unfortunately, King Akhenaten was purged from my boys’ room in the last great clean-out.  His pyramid did not withstand the test of time as well as the real Egyptian pyramids have. Despite protests from my sons, I made the decision that it was time for King Akhenaten to find another final resting place. He has been in the next world for about six months now, and I find that I actually miss that chicken.

After giving public school a brief try, Lynne and her two sons have decided they are really more of a homeschooling family.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism, who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon to be revitalized blog at http://www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com .

Frederick, by Leo Lionni — by Jen W.


Leo Lionni’s book Frederick is a great book for grammar stage kids. It contains pictures of adorable mice and a lesson about valuing different types of work in society.

There are a few things I like about the books of Leo Lionni in general. He uses many different techniques to create his artwork. You can find paper cutting, stamping, collage, and other techniques that are easy for a child to try out and emulate. I also appreciate the fact that he doesn’t dumb down his vocabulary to fit small children. His use of poetic language and descriptive words provides wonderful examples for kids.

First, we are introduced to a lovely meadow with a stone wall. We then meet the chatty mouse family that lives within the wall. Finally, we meet Frederick, introduced as the lone mouse who isn’t working hard gathering grain and nuts for the winter. This method helps us feel we are zooming in on the scene. It feels intimate, and we are slowly drawn into the mouse community.

How do we figure out the theme of the book? We look at the problems that the mice are having. There are three basic problems that the mice deal with: 1) they need to gather food for the winter, 2) Frederick doesn’t want to work, and 3) how to deal with the glum boredom of winter. As we progress through the book, it becomes obvious that the three themes combine. Yes, it is necessary to gather food for the winter, but gathering food isn’t the *only* necessary thing for the mice to survive the harsh winter. But, let’s leave Frederick and the mice for just a moment.

“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.“  — Kurt Vonnegut

I recently read an article on how many art programs are being cut from schools due to deep cuts in federal funding. In the same week, I read If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young, a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s speeches and letters. One of Vonnegut’s recurrent themes was the importance of creation. In Vonnegut’s view, it doesn’t matter what you create; it doesn’t matter if anyone ever sees it. It only matters that you create.

Most homeschooling parents have read articles on the importance of art to a child’s development. But, most have also felt the strong temptation of letting the arts slip as we squeeze every minute of the day to have time for chores, sports, time with peers, and just fitting in the three Rs.

At this point, you are probably wondering what creation and art have to do with literary analysis, much less to do with the little mouse named Frederick. First, I strongly believe that it is easier to analyze literature when you’ve practiced writing a little. You learn the tricks and shortcuts that authors use to get their point across more easily. But, mainly, the quote speaks to what I believe is the real point of Frederick.

During the food gathering season, Frederick seems to daydream and laze about. But soon enough, the winter comes. The food supply becomes short. The mice are sad and forlorn. Frederick infuses some happiness back into their lives by telling stories — by creating. His creation helps all of those around him, not just himself. It soon becomes clear that although Frederick used his time differently than the other mice, it was equally worthy and productive, albeit not in a tangible sense.


Clearly, Lionni is making several points. First, art is worthy. It’s worthy of our time and attention. Art is worth giving compensation to an artist. Art can be a vocation that takes time away from “producing” in a more traditional sense. It’s a message that too many parents do not agree with.

Many parents are willing to pay for sports or a math tutor, but not for music or drawing lessons. Many parents are willing to help their child pursue a business degree, but not a degree in the arts. I think this book can provide food for thought for parents of all children. Do we truly value the arts? How can our actions reflect that?

Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.