Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How We Simplified Christmas!

Christmas was a great success this year! We actually managed to stay healthy for Christmas, which was a major accomplishment in itself - but just as importantly, we managed to enjoy the season without running ourselves ragged (like we did last year).

The last three or four days before Christmas were still pretty crammed. And by Christmas night, I was indeed so tired that I did - as I mentioned on my Facebook page - confuse the baby with a dishwasher. (Unfortunately, the baby doesn't have an "off" button like the dishwasher, but apparently my middle-of-the-night brain thought it should.)

But still, Christmas was great. The whole month was great. And while I am - yes, I admit it - thankful that it's all over and we can start to rebuild our shattered routines, habits, and forgotten dietary standards, it was a season to remember.

Here are some of the things we did to make it happen!

Planning for Christmas Break - Last year, a friend of mine posted about how she creates a yearly notebook to organize her family's summer break. I tried it this past year (see our summer notebook here), and it was a roaring success - such a success, indeed, that I decided to make a holiday notebook and try for another win! And it worked! I created a notebook that covered November, December, and January, and included monthly calendars, gift lists, thank-you lists, meal plans, and a detailed cooking and to-do list for the week before Christmas. I'll hopefully post more on that at a later date.

One of the best things about this notebook was being able to plan a daily family activity for each day of our Christmas break. In other words, each day had either an outing (park day, play date, field trip) or a craft for the children to do (or to watch me do - *ahem*). I have learned the hard way that sending the children off to play while I try to work results in only one thing - disaster. Disaster in the form of fighting, screaming, crying, and huge-gigantic-indescribably-horrible messes that children are inevitably incapable of cleaning up by themselves. They still get plenty of play time, but gathering everyone together for a daily activity reduces the mayhem - and they enjoy it, too!

Some of our activities this year were:
  • Paper snowflakes
  • Going on a walk to gather pinecones (intended for crafts that never happened, but the walk was still fun!)
  • Going on another walk to pick oranges from our neighbor's tree
  • Graham Cracker Gingerbread houses
  • Making Christmas cookie dough
  • Making Christmas cookies - one day for the neighbors, and one day for our annual sugar cookies
Some of our trips this year included:
  • Our MOMS Club cookie exchange
  • A Park Day with one of our homeschool groups
  • A Christmas potluck park day with our other homeschool group
  • Yet another Christmas party!

Make it a Month! - One recommendation I have seen consistently from homeschool mamas is to take a full month off at Christmas. This is our first year of trying that idea, and it's a keeper! I highly recommend it! After a long slog of school, two weeks off is not enough to be able to go back to work with any detectable level of enthusiasm. Now that we're at the end of our third week, I am starting to contemplate the beginning of school with re-awakening interest, and I know that I'll be ready after next week.

Choosing Priorities - I enjoy Elaine St. James's books on life simplification, and right now I'm re-reading her book, "Simplify Your Christmas." I can't get on board with the whole book - her level of simplification is so severe that I am left wondering if she has any Christmas left to celebrate - but I love her main point. Choose what you love, and do that. Here are the things that we have chosen to focus on:
  • Going out to see Christmas lights - That's one of our family's favorite things! We go out two to three times per week during December (and much of January). 
  • Decorations - Not my thing, but it's definitely a huge thing for the kids. Our level of decorating is still far below most families, but I'm doing my best to improve. We even added our first-ever outdoor lights this year!
  • Baking - One type of cookies for the neighbors, one type for us. With three young children, that's plenty of baking! We enjoy our yearly sugar-cookie decorating time very much - especially now that we're using all-natural homemade dyes that won't send the kids into fits of evil behavior. 
    • In looking up that link, I am struck by how much younger the kidlets looked back then! And how much younger I looked! (And thinner!) Moving on...
  • Christmas Music - Round the clock from Thanksgiving onward!
  • Easy Crafts - Paper snowflakes rock. So do graham cracker gingerbread houses. Anything easy that has good results with not-too-much effort. 
  • Candles - Lots of them!
  • Christmas Cards - This is one time-consuming project that I love and look forward to every year - both giving and receiving!
  • Advent - We love the wreath and the daily readings, though we usually only get through about Day 5 (of 25). 

And Purposely Neglecting Non-Priorities - Elaine St. James's book-end point in "Simplify Your Christmas" is the logical conclusion: "If it stresses you out, don't do it." Here are the things we're skipping:
  • Office Parties - Of course, it's easy to escape office parties when you're not employed! But the one massive corporate Christmas party that I attended (six years ago) was an exercise in extended misery, and I will (hopefully) avoid them in the future.
  • Our City's Christmas Parade - We had fun the one year we went. Seriously, who doesn't enjoy freezing to death in a driving rain storm while watching bedraggled parade participants struggle through their routines while they, too, are freezing to death? In all seriousness, it was fun - but the stress and the discomfort weren't worth it. 
  • Shopping - I am absolutely no good at buying gifts. Nor do we have the money to buy them - or the space to store lots of unneeded stuff. In fact, I spend a good deal of my free time trying to shovel excess stuff out of our house, so I certainly don't want to participate in bringing more in! See the next point...
Minimizing Gift Giving - This is a huge simplifying factor. 
  • We eliminate non-essential gift-giving. Doctor, dentist, anything outside of family, etc. - nope.
  • About five-or-so years ago, we made an agreement with half of our family (DH's side) that we wouldn't exchange gifts among adults. This has been an incredible blessing, both stress-wise and financially! Now to convince the other half of the family to follow suit (not happenin'). 
  • We don't give gifts to our kids. Yup, I can just taste the hate mail coming in from that one. But seriously, folks - why on earth would I spend money that I don't have, doing something that I dislike (shopping), in order to buy things that the kids don't need, when they are already in over their ears with gifts from grandparents and other family? To say that we ought to buy our children gifts just because that's how Americans do Christmas is beyond absurd, and we're not bending to the cultural pressure. (They get way too many gifts anyway!)
Planning for Christmas Dinner - Planning ahead, that is! Checklists and make-ahead dishes - love 'em.

Christmas Baking EARLY - Last year I learned the hard way that if I want to have time for Christmas baking - and furthermore, actually enjoy the process (and not bite my family's heads off with stress in the process), it needs to be done super-early. As in mid-August. Well, I didn't quite make it that early, but I did manage to get our baking done (and cookies handed out to neighbors) a full week before Christmas. It's the only way to go!

Making Something Easy for the Neighbors! - Last year we gave hand-decorated sugar cookies to all of the neighbors. Big mistake - what a huge workload that was! This year, instead, I made a small batch of decorated sugar cookies just for our family, and then made an easier recipe (monster cookies!) for the neighbors. Since we give cookies to our entire neighborhood, an easy project was a must.

Simple Stockings - I have no patience with stocking stuffers. They are pricey, especially when there are multiple stocking stuffers for each stocking, and they're usually in either the "extremely pricey" category (tickets to the theatre! jewelery!) or the "cheap plastic junk that's going to clutter up our house before I secretly sneak it to the trash" category. No money for one, no patience for the other - and again, I'm not fond of shopping. Thus, we do stockings the old English way! Each stocking holds the exact same things - one small bag of candy, one small bag of nuts, and an orange. Et voila! No one needs any more, and they enjoy their snacks. Being that we're all spoiled Arizonans who are used to an abundance of citrus, no one actually eats his orange, but I gather them up and make orange juice out of them later. Simple stockings are a life-saver! (And I love the vintage-feeling of doing Christmas the old English way! Have I mentioned yet that I love England?)

Cutting When Needed - This year I read an awesome blog post in which the author realized that for her sanity, and that of her family, she had to make massive cuts to her Christmas season schedule - and she did so, with great success. I would love to share the article, but unfortunately I cannot recall where I read it - if anyone knows the one to which I refer, let me know and I'll link!

However, I have tried to keep that blog post in mind this season. If I'm so stressed that I'm near tears or snappy all the time, or if I'm waking up early already stressed, or if I can't sleep because I have so many things on my to-do list and am already stressing over them... then I need to cut. "You must be ruthless!" It's a lovely philosophy for the Christmas season.

Bit-by-Bit Gift Wrapping! - I didn't have many gifts to wrap (see above!), but for the wrapping that I did have to do, I did a little bit each morning - in our closet, as a matter of fact! I simply stowed the paper and needed accessories in our walk-in closet, and each morning after getting dressed and having my devotion time, I wrapped a package or two. Definitely a big improvement over having to lock the door on a bunch of rambunctious children while I try to cram in an hour or two of frenzied gift-wrapping on Christmas Eve (like I did last year). Much more peaceful!

Simplified Wrapping - As I learned last year... Every gift does not need to be fully wrapped in the traditional way. Gift bags are great. So are stick-on bows. I'll probably never use wrap-around ribbon again. Simple is good, and the kids really don't care one way or the other!

Wait Till EIGHT! - Before we had older children, I had no idea how early a normally late-sleeping child could wake up! YIKES! Last year we set a "don't get up till 7:00 a.m." rule, and that was a big improvement over the previous year, but it was still too frantic - trying to shove coffee cake in the oven, wake up sleepy house-guests, set out last-minute things, etc. Way too frantic. This year I read of one mom who says, "Don't get up till the clock looks like a snowman!" - i.e. until 8:00 a.m. I immediately adopted that plan, and it was wonderful. Our house guests had time to get up and get a quick breakfast, I had time to get the coffee cake and hot chocolate started, along with turning on some Christmas music, lights, and candles, and time to get the babies up and dressed and ready. It was a huge improvement, and a definite keeper.

Make-Ahead Christmas Breakfast - We make our Make-ahead Christmas Coffee Cake that is prepared the day before and slipped into the oven on Christmas morning, and it's always a huge hit! This year I also added Creamy Crock-Pot Hot Chocolate (made with regular milk rather than a vegan version), mixing the dry ingredients earlier in the week so that it was ready to go. It was one of the best hot chocolate recipes we've ever tried - and since I only had enough milk to mix up half of it, we're having the other half tonight for New Year's Eve!

I still have much work to do to simplify the holidays. Though I think the days of the WAAYYY-overdone American holidays are past, we mamas still try to do too much. For my family's well-being, I need constant reevaluation of what is blessing our family and what is just bogging us down (or actively harming our well-being).

 But this year was a great start!

I would love to hear the ways that you have simplified the holidays, dear readers! Please let me know!

And since I'm a wee bit late for Christmas, I'll just say a big Happy New Year! 

Love to you all!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Unit Study - Destination ENGLAND!

Yes, at last! I'm finally ready to bring you the (semi-) final version of the fun we had this summer and fall as we studied ENGLAND. 

We did not do this in any particularly organized way - we just wandered hither and yon at will. This is not meant to be a checklist of "things you must do!" - rather, it's just a list of resources. Pick any you like and run with it!

Please let me know if you have any topics or favorite books to add to these lists!

And without further ado, I present to you my favorite country....


It is up to the parent to decide if she wishes to do an ENGLAND unit study (England alone), or a UNITED KINGDOM unit study (which would also include Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland). This unit study is primarily about ENGLAND - there is just a bit of cross-over (I wanted to leave room for unit studies on the other individual countries at a later date). However, it's possible (and quite common) to study the United Kingdom all together rather than just England. 

This material is geared primarily toward younger students, with some materials for older students thrown in just for fun. 

English MUSIC:

National Anthem: Listen here. Skip the ad and ignore the bad beginning - this rendition is simply glorious! 

English music is so varied and diverse that it is impossible to hear or study it all. Some basic suggestions:
  • Gregorian Chant
  • Polyphony & Renaissance Music (Tomas Luis de Victoria, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd)
  • John Playford's "The English Dancing Master" (Renaissance English Country Dances)
  • List of English Classical Composers 
  • Some of the basics: Handel, Purcell, Vaughn Williams, Britten, Elgar, Holst.

English (and Welsh and Irish) HYMNS include some of the best in the world! 


Make a "We Say/They Say" list for comparing the word differences between American and British English. 


* There is a lot of overlap in the following lists - i.e. "Robin Hood" would come under both PEOPLE and LITERATURE, etc. However, for clarity, I have listed each subject only once.

Queen Elizabeth II (and royal family):
  • "Elizabeth the Queen" is an excellent resource for teens and adults. I am a big fan of Queen Elizabeth, and this book was a wonderful resource for learning about her life. I enjoyed it thoroughly! 
  • "Queen Elizabeth II" (Famous Kings and Queens series) - Good basic story of Elizabeth II's life. Elementary. 

Princess Diana
Princess Diana was always one of my heroes - I loved her persona, as well as sharing her name and being born within a month of her wedding. I will always remember the horrible night when she died. However, when - last year, as a matter of fact - I decided to pick up some actual biographical works and learn more about her, I was saddened and extremely disappointed (to put it mildly) by her character and behavior. Even the sympathetic biographers couldn't cover for her. So... if you want your older children (teens) to read about Princess Diana, feel free. As for us, we skipped her and learned about Elizabeth II instead. 

As our eldest is only seven, we skipped studying Shakespeare this time through. However, there are many resources for teaching Shakespeare to younger children, including great film adaptations or - best of all - seeing Shakespeare as it's meant to be seen, that is, on the stage. Enjoy!

Jane Goodall:
  • “The Watcher:  Jane Goodall’s Life With the Chimps” by Jeanette Winter – The true story of Jane Goodall’s work with the chimpanzees of Gombe. Delightful! Lower elementary. 
  • "Me... Jane" by Patrick McDonnell - A delightful telling of Jane's childhood. Lower elementary. 
  • Jane's own works, for teens and older: "My Life With the Chimpanzees" and "The Chimpanzees I Love: Saving Their World and Ours"
  • For teens and older: "In the Shadow of Man"
  • There are many, many great books on Jane Goodall - for all ages! - see what your libary has to offer! 
  • Jane Goodall's website
  • Check out the excellent National Geographic video on Jane's work. 

Florence Nightingale
I could not find any interesting and/or unique works on Florence Nightingale that were appropriate for younger children. By all means, if you can find some, use them! She was a fascinating character and a pioneer in the field of nursing. We read several run-of-the-mill children's biographies of Nightingale, and our son enjoyed them very much despite their less than stellar construction. 

King Arthur (mythology)
  • "Young Arthur" by Robert D. San Souci - Wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend of "The Sword in the Stone." Lower elementary and up. Excellent resource! 
    • See also "Young Lancelot," "Young Gwinevere," "Young Merlin" by same author
  • Mary Stewart's Four-Part series, beginning with "The Crystal Cave" - This series is excellent but does contain several sexual scenes. For minimum junior/senior high and above should you allow this (perhaps read first). 
  • "The Once and Future King" by T.H. White - For junior high and older. One of the best, but again, use parental discretion (several violent/macabre scenes).
  • "Le Morte d'Artur" by Sir Thomas Malory - For teens and older
  • “The Story of King Arthur and His Knights” by Howard Pyle - For teens and older. 
  • "The Adventures of King Arthur" by Peter Dennis and Angela Wilkes- Illustrated tellings of King Arthur's classic adventures. Elementary. 
  • "The Sword in the Stone" by Catherine Storr - The classic story of Arthur's pulling the sword from the stone. Elementary.
  • Check out this fun website - King Arthur's Knights
 Robin Hood (mythology)
  • “Robin Hood” illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt, adapted from the novel by J. Walker McSpadden – A beautifully illustrated version, with all the salient points of the Robin Hood story. Wonderful! Fiction. Elementary.
  • “The Adventures of Robin Hood” by Howard Pyle - Upper elementary, junior high and older.
  • "Robin Hood" illus. Margaret Early - Elementary and older. 

Sir Isaac Newton
We didn't get this far. Feel free! Use discretion, however, as there are some really awful books on Newton out there.

Charles Darwin
For good or for ill, Darwin was a major character in the history of both science and religion. However, we're leaving him and his works for later years and older children. 

For older children: 
  • Agatha Christie
    • Agatha Christie began writing her mystery novels during WWI and finished her writing career in the 1960's - so reading her books is a wonderful way to learn the social customs and English culture of a huge range of years. Highly recommended for 6th grade and up! Additionally, her autobiography is a rich (and highly enjoyable) source of information. 
  • Jane Austen
  • Charles Dickens
  • Charles Spurgeon
  • Mary, Queen of Scotts
  • Henry VIII
  • Queen Victoria
  • John Knox (Scottish)


It is an unfortunate fact that modern public libraries are slowly eradicating Christian literature from their collections. If you want to find a good-quality Christian book, chances are, increasingly, that you won't find it at your public library. There are still older copies to be found, but again, they are being purposely eradicated (discarded and not replaced). When I tried to find books on British missionaries at my public library, I could find almost nothing. This is horribly sad, and to deal with this you need to work on building your own library of missionary stories and biographies (as well as requesting them at libraries to try to reverse the damage being done). 

The book "I Heard the Good News Today" is a good collection of short missionary stories that includes many major missionaries worldwide (and is included in the Sonlight Core A pack). 

William Carey

Gladys Alward

David Livingstone

Saint Patrick:- St. Patrick came from England and went to Ireland, so he can be included in either a British, Irish, or U.K. unit study. 


  • "Madeline in London" - The little girls "in two straight lines" visit London. Fiction. Lower elementary. 
  • “This is London” by Miroslav Sasek – A site-seeing tour of London’s most famous spots! Created for elementary children, but will be enjoyed (perhaps more) by older children and adults who have some knowledge of the sites mentioned. Non-fiction. Elementary. 
  • “A Walk in London” by Salvatore Rubbino – A delightfully narrated and illustrated walk through the main attractions of London. You can follow the main narration alone, or branch off into all of the little side notes that are added throughout the pictures. Non-fiction. Elementary. 

Specific Places in London
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Westminster Abbey
  • The Tower of London
  • The Thames River
  • Tate Modern
  • St. Paul's Cathedral
  • Bank of London
  • The Monument
  • The City
  • Shakespeare's Dome
  • Covent Garden
  • Trafalgar Square
  • St. James's Park
  • Palace of Westminster
  • Big Ben
  • The Royal Theatre

Castles, Knights
  • “The Story of a Castle” by John S. Goodall - The life of a medieval castle, from building to modern days. Incredibly well-constructed! Non-fiction. Elementary. 
  • "In a Castle" - Castle Life. Non-fiction. Elementary. 
  • “Come to the Castle” by Linda Ashman – Good information and gorgeous artwork… but somewhat dark/cynical and extremely vulgar, especially in parts. Use with discernment. Historical fiction. Elementary.
  • "Over at the Castle" by Boni Ashburn - A re-wording of a classic folksong. Not a history book, but a fun book for younger children introducing castle life. Kinder and lower elementary. 

There are lots of historical books on Stongehenge, some better than others - none that were particularly interesting for lower elementary. Feel free to use the better of the books for older elementary. Building a model of Stonehenge (clay, paper bags, playdough) is always fun!

English SCIENCE:

  • "A New Coat for Anna" by Harriet Ziefert - This book about the wool-to-coat process is actually more continental than British, but it is an excellent resource for learning about the production of wool. 
  • For older children, the books by James Herriot (also a British writer!) are an awesome introduction to all-things-farming, including sheep. Highly recommended. 

This is an odd one. I found puffins listed as a species found in England. However, most of the books on puffins that I found were about those in Maine, USA, or various places in Europe. However, England was a bit weak on science subjects, so we did puffins anyway! 
  • "Project Puffin: How We Brought Puffins Back to Egg Rock" by Stephen W. Kress - The true story of how a near-extinct population of puffins was replenished and rescued. Upper elementary and older.
  • "The Puffins Came Back" by Gail Gibbons - Same story as above, but more easily accessible for younger children. Lower elementary.
  • "Nothing Like a Puffin" by Sue Soltis - A fun book stressing the uniqueness of puffins (and by association, all living things!). Kinder and lower elementary.
  • "Night of the Pufflings" by Bruce McMillan - True story of the Icelandic island where children spend their nights, for several weeks each year, rescuing lost pufflings who miss their way on their journey to the sea. Lower elementary. 

  • Alas, I could find no books on the subject. However, visiting a cheese factory would be awesome for this - not to mention cheese-tasting! Note that the towns of Cheddar and Stilton were named for cheeses! 


Listings are by author:

- Some of these are more "British" (i.e. about Britain) than others, while others are just penned by British authors (but are not obviously British-themed works).

- Many of the British children's books that I checked out of the library went straight back to the library. I found a lot of really disturbing things in some of them, such as (1) themes that undermined or mocked parental authority, (2) militant feminism, a pet peeve of mine, and (3) nightmarish surrealism. Not that these types of themes are unique to British literature - modern American children's literature has plenty of disturbing themes - just a plea to check out what you're reading before handing it carte blanche to your children. Some "children's" literature is best left unread. 

- I am listing the books that WE read from these authors, but most of these authors have many other books. Check them out! 

  • Mother Goose - Every child should know these wonderful rhymes! Try:
    • The Arnold Lobel Book of Mother Goose
    • The music CD "Mother Goose" by Wee Sing - Did you know that Mother Goose rhymes are actually songs? It's great fun to learn them musically. 
  • English Fairy Tales - Look for various renditions of all the English fairy tales (there are many!):
    • Jack and the Beanstalk
    • Tom Thumb
    • Three Little Pigs
  • Michael Bond
    • "A Bear Called Paddington" and sequels. Mid- to Upper elementary, or lower elementary as read-aloud.
  • A.A. Milne
    • "Winnie the Pooh" and sequels. Mid- to Upper elementary, or lower elementary as read-aloud. 
  • Beatrix Potter
    • "Peter Rabbit" and others. Lower elementary.
  • Graham Oakley
    • "The Church Mice" series
  • John Birningham
    • "Mr. Gumpy" series - Mr. Gumpy's adventures. Fiction. Kinder and lower elementary. 
    • "It's a Secret!" - A little girl discovers where her cat goes at night. Fantasy. Lower elementary.
  • Michael Rosen
    • "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" - The wonderful children's classic chant-book about a hunt for a bear! Lower elementary. 
    • "Tiny Little Fly" - A beautifully-illustrated book about African animals trying to swat a fly. Fiction. Lower elementary. 
    • "Don't Put Mustard in the Custard" - A collection of poetry. Elementary. 
  • Shirley Hughes
    • "Alfie Gets in First" - The entire neighborhood works to free a toddler who locks himself inside. Delightful! Lower elementary. 
  • Janet and Allan Ahlberg - These authors, both together and individually, are incredibly prolific! I have listed several of their works, but do a search and see all of the great books they have written! All are written for lower elementary. 
    • "Each Peach Pear Plum" - A rhyming book incorporating loads of traditional fairy tales! A big hit at our house. Fiction. Lower elementary. 
    • “The Run-Away Dinner” – A delightful tale of a boy’s dinner who goes on the run. Fiction. Elementary. 
    •  “Treasure Hunt” – A little girl goes on treasure hunts to find the various parts of her day. Realistic fiction. 
    • “Previously”  – Classic fairy tales strung together and told backwards! Fantasy. 
    • "The Adventures of Bert" and sequels - Tiny-chaptered book about the humorous adventures of a man named Bert (who owns a dog named Bert and is married to Mrs. Bert and the father of Baby Bert). Fiction. 
    • "Mockingbird" - Illustrated version of the classic song. Poetry/song. 
    • "The Little Cat Baby" - A couple goes to the store to buy a baby, "which was how it was done in those days." Hilarious. Fiction. 
  • Raymond Briggs
    • "The Snowman" - A boy's adventures with a snow-man come to life. Lower elementary.
  • Helen Oxenbury
    • Helen Oxenbury is an illustrator, rather than an author, so look about for her books! One of her best-known among children's literature is "We're Going on a Bear Hunt," authored by Michael Rosen (above). 
  • Anthony Browne - I am including this author because he is well-known, but I could not find any among his books that were not, quite frankly, very disturbing. We left his works off of our study list. 
  • Dick King-Smith
    • "Harry's Mad" - A boy's adventures with his pet African Grey parrot. Upper elementary.
    • "Babe the Gallant Pig" - Upper elementary. 
    • "Dick King-Smith's Animal Stories" - A delightful collection of short tales about King-Smith's lifetime of experiences with animals. Non-fiction. 
    • Check out King-Smith's wonderful novels for mid- to upper-elementary. I haven't read all of them, but they look great! 
  • Lucy Cousins
  • Pamela Duncan Edwards - Now living in America, but originally from England - so let's include her delightful works!
    • "The Mixed Up Rooster" - A sleepy-head rooster finds a new job. Fiction.
    • "While the World Is Sleeping" - What is going on while you are sleeping! Fiction/poetry.
  • Emma Chichester Clark (Irish-born, living in England)
    • “Melrose and Croc” – “Melrose the dog borrows a boat and sets out to catch a fine fish for his pal. But he gets swept up in a terrible storm at sea. Not to worry; Croc comes gallantly to his rescue.” (Amazon summary) Fiction. Lower elementary. See others in series.
    • "I Love You, Blue Kangaroo" - A little girl loves her first stuffed animal best. Fiction/fantasy.
  • JRR Tolkien
    • "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (for older children)
  • C.S. Lewis
    • "The Chronicles of Narnia" (upper elementary and older)
    • "Till We Have Faces" (for older children)
  • Agatha Christie 
    • Mystery novels and autobiography (upper elementary and older)
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    • Sherlock Holmes mysteries (upper elementary and above)
  • James Herriot - The famous Yorkshire veterinarian writes the most awesome true stories of life in Yorkshire! Approximate time frames covered in his works are the 1930's through the 1960's, including Herriot's stint as a pilot in WWII. His novels are for upper elementary and up. 
    • "All things Bright and Beautiful"
    • "All Creatures Great and Small"
    • "All Things Wise and Wonderful"
    • "The Lord God Made Them All"
    • "Every Living Thing" (my favorite!)
    • Some chapters from the above books have been made into picture books for children. See:
      • "The James Herriot Treasury for Children" (a collection of the picture books)
        • "Moses the Kitten"
        • "The Christmas Kitten"
        • "Blossom Comes Home" and others
  • The Reverend W. Awdry
    • Thomas the Tank Engine - The fictionalized adventures of a tank engine and his friends. There are many commercialized knock-offs of this, but the originals are the best. I do not recommend the TV series. Cute as it is, as our family had terrible problems undoing the character damage that it did through teaching horrible attitudes. I recommend sticking with the original books!
  • For older children:
    • Charles Dickens
      • "David Copperfield" is, perhaps, Dickens' most easily readable and accessible work - and a delight to read. Check out the film to go with it! 
      • "A Christmas Carol"
    • Jane Austen
      • "Sense and Sensibility"
      • "Persuasion"
      • "Pride and Prejudice"
      • "Emma"
      • "Mansfield Park"
      • "Sanditon"
      • "Northanger Abbey"
    • Elizabeth Gaskell
      • "Wives and Daughters" - One of my favorite books ever! The film version is an excellent and faithful rendition. 
      • "Cranford" - Great book, will be more appreciated by girls than boys. The film version is not particularly faithful, though it has its points. If you watch the film, beware of some brief scenes of vulgarity, violence, and sexuality. We do not recommend the second Cranford film at all. 
      • "Sylvia's Lovers" is an excellent book; however, it is quite dark in tone. For mature older teens. 
    • Charles Spurgeon
    • English Puritan writers 
    • Richard Llewellyn - Richard Llewellyn was a British-born author whose most famous book is set in Wales, specifically about the family of a Welsh mining family. 
      • "How Green Was My Valley" - Excellent, excellent book. For teens and above. On sexual scene and one childbirth scene. There are three sequels. The film version (1941 with Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O'Hara) is excellent. 

English FILM

* There are TONS of great video resources to use for a unit study on England. We're not using any (or many) of them right now, but try:

  • Good-quality productions of:
    • Jane Austen
      • Pride & Prejudice (1940, 1995, ~2005)
      • Sense & Sensibility (1995)
      • Mansfield Park (1999)
      • Emma (1996 feature film, 1996 BBC miniseries, 2006, 2009 miniseries)
      • Persuasion (1995, 2007 ITV)
      • Northanger Abbey (2007 TV movie)
    • Dickens
      • Great Expectations
      • David Copperfield (the 1999 version is excellent and our favorite!)
      • A Christmas Carol
      • Nicholas Nickleby
    • Shakespeare
    • Elizabeth Gaskell
      • Wives & Daughters
      • Cranford - recommended with reservation
  • Documentaries on Medieval culture, castles, and warfare - or any of the multitude of other awesome documentaries on other English subjects (the world wars, etc.) - sky's the limit! 
  • Video footage of more recent British historical events, such as Queen Elizabeth's CoronationPrince Charles and Lady Diana's weddingPrince William and Lady Katherine's weddingthe introduction of Prince George, the 2012 Olympics, a recent Wimbleton, etc.
  • Movies:
    • "Robin Hood" (1938)
    • "King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" (1953)
    • "Mrs. Miniver" (there is a sequel, but it isn't very good and doesn't dwell on English history like the first film does)
    • "Mary Poppins"
    • "My Fair Lady"
    • "Pygmalion" (the original "My Fair Lady")
    • "Scrooge" (many different versions)
    • "Sherlock Holmes" (many different versions)
    • "Hobson's Choice"
    • "The Chronicles of Narnia" movies
    • Agatha Christie mystery dramatizations and films, such as "Murder on the Nile," or "And Then There Were None" or the A&E Mystery Poirot series
English FOOD:

* You may notice that I'm a bit heavy on the FOOD. Usually, one or two dishes per country would suffice, but for England... the sky's the limit. I love English food!

* We are using the excellent resource "Cooking the English Way." This is one of a series of ethnic cookbooks, and it is well-done and easy to understand, with lots of great recipes - despite such additions like "to make this recipe healthier, use margarine or vegetable oil instead of butter, and skim milk instead of whole" etc. The measurements in this cookbook are American rather than English (that is, they use ounces and cups instead of grams and mL), which makes the recipes more user-friendly for Americans, though for a really English cooking experience, it's lots of fun to find recipes written with English measurements and puzzle through them. 

* We are enjoying using a family rating system for each dish that we try. 

  • Cheddar Soup (see recipe in "Galloping the Globe" textbook) - September 2013
  • Pease pudding (can use Split Pea Soup recipe), can serve as a filling for Stottie Bread - September 2013
  • Eccles Cake
  • Cumberland Sausage
  • Bangers and Mash - September 2013
  • Bath Buns
  • Oysters
  • Steak and Kidney Pie
  • Cornish Pasty (from Cornwall - recipe) - September 2013
  • Clotted Cream and Scones (from Devonshire)
  • Treacle Tart
  • Spotted Dick and Custard (recipeSeptember 2013
  • Afternoon Tea
  • Roast and Yorkshire Pudding (from Yorkshire) - serve with roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables, brown gravy, horseradish sauce
  • Hot Pot (from Lancashire)
  • Gingerbread (from the Lake District)
  • Derbyshire Oatcakes (from Derbyshire - recipeSeptember 2013
  • Apple Cider (from the West Country)
  • Cheeses - Cheddar, Stilton (from towns of same name)
  • Sponge Cake
  • Bubble & Squeak
  • Courting Cake
  • Lardy Cake
  • Singing Hinnies
  • Sally Lunns
  • Orange Fool (and other fruit flavored fools)
  • Bath Chaps
  • Hasty Pudding
  • Toad-in-the-Hole
  • Mushy Peas
  • Salmagundi
  • Angels on Horseback
  • Devils on Horseback
  • Plum Pudding (serve on Christmas!) - used recipe in Mabel Hoffman's "Crockery Cookery" - especially useful for Americans who don't have pudding steamers! 
  • Shepherd's Pie (I use this recipe, leaving the carrots unmashed and adding peas) - September 2013
  • Fried Bread
  • Shortbread
  • Victoria Sandwich
  • Easter Biscuits (from the West Country) 
  • Wassail Punch (serve during the winter, or during the Christmas holidays - recipe)
  • Stottie Cake (recipe)- September 2013
  • Nursery Food
  • Queen Elizabeth's Drop Scones (recipe) - more like an American pancake
  • Baked Apples (recipe) - October 2013
  • Scottish Recipes (check out this website for Scottish Recipes!)
    • Clootie Dumplings 
  • Irish Recipes
    • Irish Stew
    • Soda Bread
  • Welsh Recipes 
    • Welsh Rarebit

  • Make a map of Great Britain (link to how we did ours!)
  • Color flags of England and Britain
  • Have an afternoon tea party
  • Listen to bagpipes
  • Watch a cricket match
  • View a castle online (virtual tour)
  • Make a model of Stonehenge
  • Watch the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics
  • Go out for fish and chips
  • Take the kids to a British pub
  • Just kidding on that last one - I wanted to see if anyone was still reading. 

If y'all are wondering if I'm going to go into this much detail for every country we study, the answer is a resounding, "Over my dead body." However, we are enjoying our country studies very much! Right now we're in China, which we will study through Chinese New Year on January 31st. After that we will choose one more country for the year before our summer break in March. 

My wish for you all - may you come to love England as much as I do!