• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Beefing Up SOTW3, Part I: Adding more Canadian history

We’ve been using The Story of the World (SOTW) series by Susan Wise Bauer as the backbone, or “spine,” of our chronological history studies for about two years now; we started with SOTW1 when Laura was in first grade, and starting in September we’ll be using SOTW3, Early Modern Times: From Elizabeth the First to the Forty-Niners (1600-1850).

Each year I’ve had to do a bit of tweaking to get things in order; well, my order anyway. The first year, when we studied ancient history, I rejiggered the chapters in SOTW1 to keep the various civilizations together, at the expense of some chronology. I realized that Laura would have a more difficult time hopping from one civilization to another and back again, so I lumped together all of the Egypt chapters as one unit, and ditto for Japan, China, Greece, Rome, and so on in rough chronological order.

This next year, I’ve decided to beef up the North American content of SOTW3, since we’re going to be going through a most exciting time early American and early Canadian history, and because the kids are dual citizens; I’m especially interested in exploring the Canadian and American sides of the Revolutionary War (Loyalists and Patriots), War of 1812, and other events. I also have to admit I’m keen to prove wrong all of the adult Canadians, homeschoolers included, who over the years have whimpered about how deadly dull their history is, “especially compared to American history”; if you want to read more about this, try Jack Granatstein’s spot-on indictment Who Killed Canadian History?* (that it remains out of print isn’t a good sign either). But I’m convinced that Canadian history is one long ripping yarn full of excitement, adventures, heroes, and heroines, even if you don’t get much past all of the voyageurs paddling upstream and Laura Secord running panting through the woods to warn the British. If I can’t prove it to everyone else, I can at least prove it to my own half-Canadian kids.


To hold everything together, I’ve chosen Courage & Conquest: Discovering Canadian History by Donna Ward. It’s available directly from Donna’s website and from every decent Canadian homeschool catalogue company, including the ones such as Academic Distribution Services and Tree of Life on the sidebar at right. Courage & Conquest is arranged much like a SOTW activity guide, with each of the 30 chronological lessons (from the Vikings through the fall of New France and Confederation to Newfoundland and Nunavut) accompanied by a short narrative passage; a two-page spread with a picture to color (if desired, and the kids usually do); brief questions for the student to answer; suggestions for additional reading and study: and recommended passages to read in the suggested spines, which include The Kids [sic] Book of Canadian History. The beginning of C&C also lists four-and-a-half pages of other books to read. I’m also going to interweave another one of Ward’s books, Canada’s Natives Long Ago, with C&C, and I’ll interweave (interleave?) all the Canadian material with SOTW3. Because we go down so many rabbit trails, and expand on certain subjects and people, over the school year anyway, especially in history, I’ve no doubt that it will take us longer than one year (42 weeks if you follow the chapter-a-week schedule in SOTW) to complete — closer to two years, I’d imagine. The subjects in C&C start with the Vikings (a bit of backtracking for us), then on to John Cabot, Jacque Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, the fur trade, Maisonneuve, and so on. We’ll stop at lesson 24, British Columbia Gold, and pick up with Confederation in 1867 when we start SOTW4 in anywhere from 12 to 24 months.

Despite Ward’s recommendation of a particular main text, The Kids Book of Canadian History, I’m being my usual difficult self, not only making substitutions but also using two spines where no doubt one would probably be enough (alright, I’ll admit it, that missing apostrophe does drive me nuts). But hear me out — first, we don’t already have The Kids Book, but we do already have Isabel Barclay’s out-of-print and wonderful The Story of Canada, an illustrated narrative history for young children, found at the Goodwill Shop for a quarter the other year, and My First History of Canada by Donalda Dickie, a reprint edition of which I bought secondhand from another homeschooling mum a few years ago, when home education wasn’t even in a glimmer in my eye (I just thought teaching the kids some Canadian history would be a good thing). The Barclay book, which unfortunately stops at around 1900, is very simply written and charmingly illustrated — perfect for the boys. The Dickie history, also in narrative style but more of a challenging read, is to use with Laura.

I also found another fun book, rather like a Dover or Bellerophon coloring book, with a large picture to color on each page accompanied by a brief story, called Pioneer Life by Natalie Quinn (Apple Press); it includes three sections, Settlers in New France, Settlers in Upper Canada, and Homesteaders in Western Canada. I really like the look of the Apple Press Canadian history and geography workbooks I’ve seen. Stylish and not too workbook-y for workbooks, if that makes any sense. And Laura can’t wait to get her mitts on it.

For what it’s worth, I looked at the Pioneers & Patriots study guide, by Vince Marquis, for Canadian history, but it’s a bit above the Grade 3 level and seems a bit dry compared to Donna Ward’s approach.

Besides the list of books in Ward’s Courage & Conquest, I’m also using this list of Canadian historical literature. This would be a good place to thank Nicola Manning for putting together the list, with the help of members of the SonlightCanada Yahoo group, and for keeping it on her website. If you really want to thank Nicola, you can buy some secondhand books from her online at Nikki’s Book Nook.

For more on Canadian history material, the Canadian section of Ambleside online has some very useful stuff, including a discussion of the various, though mostly out of print, children’s narrative histories of Canada and an outline of “How one family approached Year One”; on a thoroughly unCanadian note, I’m also intrigued by Ambleside’s Plutarch rotation for grades four and up. There’s also a Yahoo group for Ambleside/Charlotte Mason/Canada, with some nifty stuff in the Files, including a folder of information for each province, as well as lists of books and activities for various grades. Another useful group for classically educating Canadians is Canadian WTM at Yahoo. It’s not a very busy group and there’s nothing in the Files section, but some good information in the message archives.

Stay tuned for Part II, adding more American history to SOTW3 (as well as a possible list of Canadian and American juvenile historical fiction and non-fiction), and hope I don’t get sidetracked by laundry or possibly a novel and a nectarine… [update: so far the laundry is winning.]

* The educrats did it, revamping and politically correcting Canadian textbooks until they turned them into “the blandest of mush” and “air-brushed accounts of the past.”

More Resources for Middle School and High School

Canada: An Illustrated History by Derek Hayes

Canada: A Portrait in Letters, 1800-2000 by Charlotte Gray

A Short History of Canada by Desmond Morton

A Little History of Canada by H.V. Nelles

Canadians: A Portrait of a Country and Its People by Roy MacGregor

“Canada: A People’s History”, CBC’s broadcast series on DVD; the accompanying books (Volume 1 and Volume 2); and online teacher resources

An episode-by-episode bibliography to accompany the CBC’s “Canada: A People’s History”

a Canadian Literary Reading List compiled by Dr. Bruce Meyer, director of the Writing and Literature Program, University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies, prepared for the CBC’s “Canada: A People’s History”

Canada in the Making website

Early Canadian Online (ECO)


Making Hay: A Summer Rhapsody

Before Tom and I were married and I moved here from Manhattan, I bought some books to help me understand my new life. One of them was Making Hay by Verlyn Klinkenborg, who splits his time at The New York Times and his small farm in upstate New York, and whose writing is equally split between the down-to-earth and the lyrical of rural life. Every summer, I’m reminded of passages from the book, which 11 years ago helped me understand what I was seeing and smelling (and why I was eternally running to town for parts).

Some of these passages have come to mind over the past few days, as I watch the the tractor make its rounds in the hay field — as I watch the kids, who are trying, with much effort and even more difficulty and bicycles instead of tractors, to make their own big round bales in the front yard from the swathes of grass their father cut with the tractor the other evening — as I watch Tom take off, to check the progress of the haylage crew, in his old 1978 Ford pick-up with the kids in the back, “gimmee” ball caps from John Deere and United Farmers of Alberta shading little brown faces, and little brown arms hanging over the side.

If farmers were at all disposed to rhapsody, they might get eloquent about the work itself, and particularly about the process of adaptation. There is a machine for every job on the farm, and yet much of the work, it seems, falls between machines. Figuring out what to do with a sickle blade that will not fit is the appointed labor of farming just as surely as it planting oats or combining soybeans. The Unexpected stalks a farm in big boots like a vagrant bent on havoc.

Not every farmer is an inventor, but the good ones have the seeds of invention within them. Economy and efficiency move their relentless tinkering, and yet the real motive often seems to be aesthetic. The mind that first designed a cutter bar is not far different from the mind that can take the intractable steel of an outsized sickle blade and make it hum in the end. The question is how to reduce the simplicity that constitutes a problem (“It’s simple; it’s broke.”) to the greater simplicity that constitutes a solution. …

The rain had let up, but if anything the wind had stiffened. The alfalfa seemed not to wave or billow in the breeze so much as to abase itself voluntarily against the earth. Plants on the rises flattened themselves like men under fire and then sprang erect again. Noise from the exhaust stack behind us blew away and left us in silence or flew into our backs and warmed us. Louie lowered the header, engaged the drives, and we moved forward, the wicked sickle sound muffled, its teeth full of alfalfa at last.

Hanging over the machine like the figurehead of the good ship “Urban Boy,” I peered into the header below me. Stiff ranks of alfalfa shuddered slightly under the impact of the sickle blade and fell straight back onto the conveyor belts. They bounced toward the center gap like almonds on a sorting line and disappeared. I turned around and looked back over Louie’s head. A narrow swath of crushed alfalfa emerged from the tail of the machine and pointed straight north to four persons standing in a clump at the edge of the feedlot. They all waved briskly. …

Game in southwestern Minnesota, warned by the windrower’s roar, is well accustomed to this species of interference and usually makes good its escape, though that night over coffee at Country Kitchen Elmore Jack told us about once having rescued a fawn lying in the path of his swather. Louie and I scared up no rabbits or pheasants or deer. Insects were not so lucky. As the windrower took to the field, the swallows that filled the barn eaves and the granary dormers took to the air ahead of us. For them the swather served as a huge mechanized beater on a driven insect shoot. They arched and plummeted in the breeze, taking moths and other winged insects right off the rotating reel. When the wind blew in our faces, the path behind us closed with swooping, diving birds, like the wake of a garbage scow being towed out to sea.

A possible title for the shopping cart…

…and an interesting contender for curriculum when we get to high school biology:

Madame Bovary’s Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature by the father-daughter team of David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash. He’s a psychology professor and zoologist at the University of Washington and she’s about to start her junior year at Swarthmore, and their premise is that the heroes and heroines of the Great Books illuminate not just the human condition but human nature, and as such are “as much a product of evolution as they are the result of the genius of their creators,” as radio host Anthony Germain put it this morning on CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition” show. Or, as the Barashes write in the opening lines of Ovaries, “Othello isn’t just a story about a jealous guy. Huckleberry Finn isn’t just a rebellious, headstrong kid. Madame Bovary isn’t just a horny married woman.”

Barash pere et fille don’t argue that biology is everything, but they apparently provide a lively argument for the fact that it’s a useful and valid perspective. No, the idea’s not an incredible revelation, but it’s supposedly all wrapped up in one neat, amusing package, which I always appreciate. And of course I also like the idea of a generous helping of literature with my science.

So Long at the Fair

All week long we’ve either been getting ready for the fair or at the fair, which kicked off on Thursday as usual with the big parade. Today is the last day, culminating with fireworks at 11 pm. Tomorrow we recuperate (the kids and their friends rode the rides at the midway all day yesterday), and Monday we join the volunteers to tidy up the fairgrounds. Tuesday I collapse again, and think about blogging some more about the past few days, which also included a trip to the little city 40 miles away to see the RCMP’s Musical Ride.

By the way, I am the mother of the chocolate fudge king — six-year-old Daniel won first prize in both the kids and adult categories, in the latter beating out women who’ve been making fudge for 50 years. Hip hip hooray for the Fannie Farmer cookbook, marshmallow fluff, and Daniel’s gumption. Oh, and Laura and Davy didn’t do too shabbily either, winning several first prizes each too, and numerous seconds and thirds. Details, and some blue ribbon (and if you’re Canadian, red ribbon, which is what you get for first prize up here) recipes to follow next week.

My husband’s love language* is…

…lamb chops, one of my most favorite non-chocolate foods in the world, and which Tom brought home for tonight’s dinner. He knows the way to my heart, especially after a horrendous two-day headache (part of it endured through an otherwise fun homeschool Sports Day involving lots of kids, raucous noise, egg and spoon races, and water ballon tossing) and nursing Laura through foreign-object-in-eye for two and a half days, requiring a quick jaunt to the hospital ER in town.

So tonight we’ll enjoy grilled lamb chops with grilled vegetables, and oven-roasted potatoes. And rhubarb compote with vanilla ice cream for dessert. After 11 years of marriage, I’m much happier to receive expensive cuts of meat instead of flowers.

*Normally I hate this pop psychobabble twaddle, but somehow the juxtaposition of “lamb chops” with “love language” just tickled me. Blame it on the headache.

Canadian Interlibrary Loans Dodge a Bullet, for now

Some good news, after my post the other day — according to an online story at the CBC yesterday, “Ottawa cancels planned postal hikes on library books.”

However, while this rate will continue “beyond April 2006,” that sounds like government speak for “you’re toast after June 2006” and still applies to only books, so, after sending a thank you note to National Revenue Minister John McCallum, who made yesterday’s announcement, I’m going to press on with my letter writing campaign and suggest that 1) the special rate be made permanent, since permanent literacy is a good thing, yes? and 2) that Canada Post come into line with the U.S. and the 21st century and amend the Book Rate to include audiovisual materials. I can hope, can’t I?

In memory of Ateeque Sharifi, the final victim

On Thursday, Britain’s Independent newspaper published the following obituary of the final victim to be formally identified following the fatal bombings on July 7th:

Ateeque Sharifi had seen his fair share of tragedy as a boy in Afghanistan. His parents were killed by the Taliban before he was 20 and he was the only male in his family to escape death.

At 21, he fled Kabul to find refuge in Britain, where he overcame his struggle to learn English and became a model student. In his spare time he worked in a pizza takeaway, sending most of his wages to his younger sister in Afghanistan.

But three years after fleeing the brutal regime of the Taliban to rebuild his life in his adoptive city, the young Muslim was to die in a suicide bombing car- ried out in the name of his faith.

Yesterday, almost two weeks after the London attacks in which 56 people died, including the bombers, the 24-year-old Afghan became the last victim to be formally identified.

Mr Sharifi, 24, who lived in Hounslow, west London, had attended West Thames College since September 2002, eight months after arriving in the UK, where he became one of the most popular students. As an inquest was opened into his death yesterday, Thalia Marriott, the college’s principal, said: “The deep irony of this tragic event is that Ateeque had left Afghanistan to seek safety in the UK, only to find his fate at the hands of extremists here.”

She described him as a “truly inspirational and popular student” who was “destined for a bright future” and said the college’s staff and 7,000 pupils were deeply shocked and saddened by his death.

The President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, paid tribute to Mr Sharifi yesterday by placing flowers among the hundreds of personal tributes piling up in the garden square outside King’s Cross station. He said: “The Afghan people share the pain of these families very, very much. Those who have committed these crimes are the enemies of all of us, all over the world. In Afghanistan, they have killed travellers, students, women and many innocent people.”

Details of Mr Sharifi’s death emerged as the hunt for the terror network behind the 7 July bombings continued. A British man who police want to question over the London bombings was reportedly arrested in Pakistan yesterday. In a separate development, the Government announced new powers to deport or exclude from Britain people who incite others to commit terrorist acts

Mr Sharifi had been returning from spending a night with some friends when he was caught in the blast. His tutor, Harminder Ubhie, who teaches English as a second language at West Thames College, was in tears as she described her “model student”. “He started learning English at a beginner level when he first arrived. He was a delight to have in the group,” she said. “He was always present. He became one of my top IT students.”

Ms Ubhie said that he had been something of an entertainer among his peers. “He was the joker of the group. He also always helped the new members of the group by showing them around the college, going out and helping them during the lessons. His fun-loving nature and hard work will never be forgotten.”

Mr Sharifi had rented a room in a flat-share with three other Afghanis in Hounslow for the past year. To his flatmates, he was a sociable man who took pride in his appearance and was a great gym enthusiast with a diverse set of friends including Indian, Pakistani and English people. He had come to Britain without being able to speak a word of English but had made enormous strides in his adoptive country. He excelled in class, he was going to sit his driving test this month after failing once before, and he dreamt of getting married in Britain one day and eventually becoming a computer expert.

He would occasionally attend Friday prayers at a mosque but was a more regular face at a gym in nearby Hanwell. Mr Sharifi had managed to save enough money to buy himself a computer and was due to start a higher level IT course at the college in September.

Abdul Wahib, from the Afghan embassy in London, said that although Mr Sharifi had friends and some distant relatives in the UK, his close family were not in this country. He added that his body would be returned to Afghanistan for burial.