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Susan K. Marlow’s Historical Fiction for Your Homeschool

After two decades of homeschooling, I sometimes look back and see things I wish I had done differently.  If I could do it over, I would get more of Susan K. Marlow’s exciting and wholesome books for my family to enjoy.  The Circle C Ranch books are written in several series from beginning readers to teens and, unlike many series, they remain interesting. In fact, I cannot put them down, nor can my daughter.   What’s more, they promote reliance on God and a Christian worldview without any preachiness.  Susan Marlow has also included a variety of educational helps, many of them free.

You can see my complete review at the Curriculum Choice.

Review: Courageous Love by Susan K. Marlow


Andrea Carter, seventeen, was allowed to work on the family ranch and she loved that almost as much as learning stunt riding from Riley, a young ranch foreman.  But Riley’s horse bucked during a new stunt and she slid off, right onto her face.  Her scratched, swollen face would not have mattered that much except it was the day of her brother’s engagement party and once again she would be the talk of the town.   However, by the end of the party the town had something a whole lot more exciting to think about, a brick crashing through one of the parlor windows.

There was a warning note attached to the brick, and before long the Carter family realized they had something to fear.   Snipped wires, more notes, a barn fire….  Andrea and Riley worked together on these, and her lawyer brother Justin went through lists of criminals he had prosecuted.  But no one realized the true danger until it was too late….

Andrea is growing up in this book.  She is no longer the somewhat spoiled girl who means well but gets herself into trouble by her rashness.  Now she is truly a heroine, battling her own impulses as well as dangerous criminals.  In this book she learns about faith, love, and the value of knowing how to shoot straight.

It was a headachy, feverish day in the middle of winter when I unpacked Courageous Love for Miss 14, and it proved an excellent distraction.  Huddled on the couch with a blanket, she read about horses, outlaws, a dog, and all kinds of excitement. At the same time it filled her mind with goodness, bravery, idealism, and trust.  She recommends it, and so do I.

Courageous Love is the fourth and final book in the Circle C Milestones series by Susan Marlow.  Written for teen girls, this Christian historical fiction series features Andrea Carter, a spunky horse-loving girl whose life is full of adventure.  Over the years, this exciting and wholesome series has encouraged my daughter to read and I am thankful for that.  For those who wish to study these books in their homeschool, a lapbook and free study guide are available for each book.

We have reviewed two other books in this series as well, Heartbreak Trail and The Last Ride.

This is yet another book in the in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and may also be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, What to Read Wednesdays and The Book Nook.  For more encouragement see Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell it to Me Tuesday, and Finishing Strong.

Disclosure:  We received a review copy of this book from Kregel Books and have given our honest opinions.  We are not compensated for them.

January and February at our House

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According to Miss 14 our wrap up posts are missed.  She offered to do my work for me if I would write one and I am very grateful .  A chance to write instead of iron, mend, and fold laundry?  I feel so blessed!

So, here is what we’ve been doing the past two months while the snow fell and the wind howled, especially on Tuesdays.  Yes, really, it was a special winter with poor weather almost every Tuesday but lovely weather most of the rest of the time.

School-wise, we were busy with all the usual things.  Daily each girl and I spend time on our comfy couch by the fire, studying logic, grammar, French, and Dutch together.  The other work is a bit more haphazard, but it seems to be getting done.

Miss 16 has finished her grade 10 Dutch credit and is able to read snippets from Dutch newspapers, decipher contemporary literature and manuals with a dictionary, and follow involved conversations.  Grade 11 Dutch will involve increasing her vocabulary and her ability to speak in Dutch.

Miss 14 struggled for months with the concept of gravity in Physical Science until I realized what the problem was:  she was trying to understand more than the book provided.  Since then she has written that test and now she’s in a rush to finish the entire course at quadruple speed.  When it is finished she will get ten pretty notebooks for all her projects, lists, and dreams, and she can’t wait.

We’ve started our year of celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday through Canadian History.    We read books, watch videos, and are currently focussing on the prime ministers, which is a good way to get an overview of Canadian politics over the last century and a half.  I’ve been puzzling about how to teach history properly (see my thoughts on the Six Historical Thinking Skills) but it seems to me that our family still needs to focus more on facts, people, and ideas before trying anything else.

Based on Make It Stick (link to my review), an excellent book about the science of learning, we now do lots of little quizzes, like Charlotte Mason’s narrations which I had largely forgotten about for a few years.  They can be oral, but currently we are using written ones.  So each Friday I try to have two or three quizzes prepared on what they’ve learned that week in history, Bible, French, science or whatever.  For example, we’ve been watching an excellent series of 20 minute videos about Canada’s prime ministers.   Yesterday I handed the girls some paper and asked them to list the first 5 prime ministers and give three facts about each one of them.  Sometimes I combine fill-in-the-blanks with short answer questions and actually print the quizzes out.  And occasionally I just listen as they talk non-stop about cool things that they have learned, which is, obviously, the ideal.

The girls also did other things besides schoolwork, of course.

During a cold snap when the community rink was open they convinced me to drive them there each morning so they could skate and play hockey together in the sunshine.  Since it has been an effort for them to get adequate exercise, I said yes, remembering that this could also be part of the required PE credit for high school.   While they skated I walked around with my new earbuds, memorizing Romans with David Heath, narrator of the ESV audio Bible.  Now they skate on the melted runoff water that has frozen, whizzing past hummocks of meadow grass while the dogs watch mournfully from the other side of the fence.

Miss 14 has been blessed with an extraordinary opportunity, horseback riding and lessons with the horses she volunteers with at therapeutic riding.  She has learned a remarkable amount about horses, riding, people, and herself.

Miss 16 loves her part-time work at a local ethnic store and all her dear fellow workers and customers.   We are so grateful for the flexibility of homeschooling; she never has to turn down a work shift because of a test or a paper.

Other than that, there has been a tiny amount of judo and yoga, lots of whipping cream and chocolate, friends, family (my out-of-province parents came for a visit!), a new-to-us car (the third blue one on our driveway), music, time with Bunbun the rabbit, messes made and cleaned up, the bathroom ceiling painted, and a pack of wolves that kept us from walking in the fields.  And, during a foretaste of spring that brought the robins back weeks early, I saw three swans gliding through the blue sky!

And now my 2017 resolutions.   They were very simple:  memorize Romans, work back up to walking 10 K steps a day, and keep up with the wee notes I scribble during sleepless nighttime hours.

Sleeping well made a difference in the volume of those notes; dealing with them each morning has meant more important things remembered, better homeschooling, and many more good sentences and ideas in various articles.

Walking 10K steps has not been possible although I did manage to average 8K for a few weeks.  Now I am down to less than 5K as I struggle again with weakness and fatigue, but hopefully lots of rest will turn that around quickly.  In the meantime, I am grateful that I can still do my work, that I have had a very good winter, and that my family is so caring.

As for memorizing Romans, well, it is a challenge on many levels.

  • First I have to remember to work on it, which I usually do.
  • Then I have to do it, which is often possible though rarely easy.
  • But remembering what I learned the previous day, no, that does not go as well as it did when I was young.  Tackling a project like this at 52 is perhaps a bit ridiculous.

On the other hand, it is a blessing on many levels as well.  I knew, in some sense, that it would be and that is why I decided to try, but I had not expected this many blessings.

  • For me to memorize a passage, I need to go through it many times, understanding it, organizing it in my head, and pondering its meaning.  In other words, I now more often actively think about God’s Word.
  • Having one’s mind full of good things (Phil 4:8) is a blessing, and thinking through these passages carefully enhances my understanding of the rest of Paul’s letters and of everyday life.
  • Furthermore, exercising my mind in this way is good for it and also helps me understand what my kids go through as they study.

So, even if I never will be able to say all of Romans end to end, just working on it is a blessing in itself.  All that being said, I have been memorizing the first four chapters, have the first two largely memorized (although I forget very quickly), and have also thought through the rest of the book in some detail.

And of course there’s reading.  Not as much as some years, but still quite a lot:  One Man’s Wilderness:  An Alaskan Odyssey by Keith, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid* by McKee, Do More Better by Challies, Disease Proof by Katz, The Avion My Uncle Flew* by Fisher (read aloud), Courageous Love* by Marlow, The Paideia of God* by Wilson, and Peter Martyr Vermigli* by Carr.  I have not yet reviewed any of the books, but have rated them on Goodreads and hope to post reviews of the starred ones here soon.  Currently I’m trying to understand what homeschool teaching actually is so there will be a lot of books about education coming up.

As for the Bible, I’m reading in Luke on my own and in Acts with the girls.  When my husband is home, we read 2 Corinthians at meals.

Our current read aloud, The Northern Magic, is taking us around the world on a ship with a homeschooling family from our city.  So exciting!  The girls have colored quite a few maps while listening.

So, that is what we’ve been up to during January and February.  It was a good winter so far and we are grateful for all that God has done for us and given us.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Six Historical Thinking Skills and Your Homeschool



There is a new movement sweeping history education that seeks to enhance critical historical literacy using six thinking skills.  These skills can benefit anyone who studies history and are especially relevant to homeschooled teens, but they are not without danger either.

The following brief overview consists of notes taken when Donna Ward, the mother of Canadian homeschool social studies, presented and interpreted the six historical thinking skills at the recent online Canadian Homeschooling Conference. I have also included a few of my own thoughts after each point and a brief evaluation at the end of this article.

#1 Establish historical significance.  There has to be a decision about what and whose story to tell.

  • Check how the event resulted in change.
  • How profoundly were people affected?
  • How many people were affected?
  • How long-lasting was the effect?

Notice how worldview issues come into play. How does one make a decision about whose story to tell?  For example, the history of Huguenots in Canada is rarely discussed.

#2 Use primary source evidence.  How do we know what we know?

  • Primary sources are eyewitness events, and are necessarily one-sided.
  • First of all, determine what the primary source is and what its purpose was.
  • Who was the author, and what was his/her worldview?
  • What events occurred and how did they shape the work we are looking at?
  • What point of view does the author present and what other primary sources could give more information?

With widespread internet availability, the study of primary sources is becoming more and more possible for all.  Assessing their place in history is both difficult and worthwhile and the Historical Thinking website provides a key insight.  Some primary source collections are Early Canadiana Online,  British History Online, Primary Documents in American History, and  European History Primary Sources.

#3 Identify continuity and change. To what degree is there continuity and to what degree is there change?

  • Does change always mean progress?
  • Consider turning points in history, when one period in history moves to another (e.g. Canada’s Confederation, the American Revolution, the World Wars, the Reformation).
  • Evaluate both progress and decline, and consider how one’s perspective affects this evaluation.

Here again, one’s worldview comes into play at every point.  We really need to know what we believe and its significance in order to determine what change is progress and what is decline. In other words, there is a very close connection between our Bible knowledge (and theology) and our understanding of history.

#4 Analyze cause and consequence.  What are the causes that are hidden from view?

  • Who or what led to an event that caused change or resisted change?
  • Which belief systems, circumstances, influential people, were involved?
  • What is the social, political, economic, historical context?
  • What were unintended consequences?
  • It is helpful to study history chronologically to identify cause and consequence.

Timelines are valuable.  A solid and deep knowledge of many aspects of history is needed for anyone to be able to really assess these causes and consequences.  Homeschooling parents should probably focus a lot of their personal study of history on these ideas.  I  have found Total Truth by  Nancy Pearcey to be a helpful introduction to this way of thinking.

#5 Take historical perspectives.  How can we ever understand the past when people thought far differently than we do today?

  • Find evidence to understand how people felt and thought.
  • The culture in the past was very different than it is today; it is like a foreign culture to us.
  • Do not impose present day ideas on the past; that is called ‘presentism and many people do it automatically because they do not understand ideas and culture of the past.
  • Diverse perspectives must be understood to comprehend an event.

Here we Christians have an advantage.  Much of Western society was Christian and can best be understood from a Christian worldview.  Mind you, medieval Roman Catholics, Reformation era Protestants, and modern evangelical Christians have divergent worldviews, something that becomes clear from a detailed study of church history. In history, just as in most other subjects, the more you know the more you can understand.

#6 Understand ethical dimensions of historical interpretations.  What do historical injustices and sacrifices mean for us today?

  • We can learn from the past to face ethical issues today.
  • Ethical judgments of the past inform us about ethical decisions for today.
  • Keep a historical perspective and do not impose present day values on the past.

Since we Christians believe God decides what is right and wrong, we would approach this aspect completely differently than a non-Christian might, and vice versa.

One thing that these six historical thinking skills bring out into the open is that the presentation of history is subjective and heavily influenced by what one believes about the world, people, values, and, ultimately, God.  In that sense, they can also be used by our teens (and by ourselves) to evaluate the study materials used for history.

I would love to learn what a Christian historian or philosopher has to say about this historical thinking skills approach.  Are there trends and assumptions that we should be aware of?  We know that God is Lord of history, as of everything else, and that history is the unfolding of his work.  In some fundamental way, history is about Christ saving his church, but there is so much more to consider; it is also about man building civilizations as he was created to do (Genesis 1:28).  Undoubtedly this has implications for how a Christian can best approach the study of history.  Perhaps, as in other subjects, one cannot properly study it without formally acknowledging this in the very structure of the course.  Being in the thick of life and homeschooling, I am currently unable to dig into this more deeply.  But perhaps someone else who has a more relevant background will do this.

On an immediately practical level, the historical thinking skills approach has many good points, as I noted above.  Are there any obvious cautions?

There is at least one significant danger that I have come across.  Some educators assume that with this approach history is now about teaching thinking skills rather than about teaching history itself.  This has become a problem in public schools in Ontario, at least. However, as the Historical Thinking website points out,  “Historical thinking” only becomes possible in relation to substantive content.  You need knowledge of the people, the events, the dates and all that is traditionally known as history in order to apply these skills.  So, yes, it is possible to use these skills to dumb down the curriculum, and that is what would happen if you asked students without historical knowledge to apply them.  For teens and adults who have prior historical knowledge, however, applying these thinking skills could lead to a deeper understanding of history.

As a homeschooler, I suggest using the early grades to absorb as many historical stories as possible. As we all know, information in story form is retained very well; that is one reason our family has an ongoing literature-based approach to Canadian history in our homeschool.  Then in the teen years the aim could be to increase and consolidate that knowledge, add more in-depth detail, and apply these historical thinking skills.

I know some of you have done a lot of reading and thinking about the study of history.  What do you think of this approach?

Disclosure:  I am not compensated for sharing any of these resources with you.

Review: The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

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There are few books as suited to finding homeschool rabbit trails as The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. I’m sure you know the story: A family with four boys was shipwrecked on a deserted tropical island. Because they had been planning to set up a colony, the ship was full of useful supplies, but getting them onto the island was an adventure in itself.

The family explored and prospered in their lush surroundings, discovering one exciting plant and animal after another, working hard, and exercising amazing ingenuity to meet basic needs and to find luxuries as well.  As the years went on, the boys grew up and eventually their situation changed…

Not only is this a splendid read aloud for all ages, but parents who love to set up a unit study could easily make this a year-long project….

You can read the rest of this review at The Curriculum Choice

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