Biographies, biographies, biographies!

It was just a few weeks ago that I shared our unschooled version of a seventh-grade-ish curriculum plan for 2012-13, and in it, I happened to mention we’d probably read some biographies this year.

Some biographies?? We’re on number four and not showing any signs of slowing down.

We started with a biography of Sitting Bull, part of the Sterling Biographies series I keep saying I love.

Then we read the Jim Thorpe biography in the same series, and that night, when I asked Ashar what she wanted to read, she wanted to start with the Neil Armstrong biography (another Sterling gem!) that she just checked out from the library.

FUN FACT: Neil Armstrong got his pilot’s license before he got his driver’s license!

Well, after we read the introduction and first chapter of that one, I asked her if she’d like me to read anything else.

After rummaging around for a while on her bedside bookshelf, she found…

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a 1950s hardcover biography of Leonardo Da Vinci that my amazing husband had dug up for her at some used book sale or another.

We started reading the first chapter of it, and I was amazed at how much Ashar remembered from the Da Vinci exhibit we saw during last year’s visit to the Franklin Institute.

It turned out that not only did we read the first chapter, we talked about everything from his inventions to the Mona Lisa to that fact that “da Vinci” means “from the town of Vinci,” which, as it turns out, applied to Leonardo’s family.

FUN FACT (or, uh, opinion?): Our favorite da Vinci invention is the mechanical lion bearing flowers, which is pretty much the most amazing thing ever.

The coolest thing is, these biographies are teaching all of us, across so many areas of traditional curriculum. We’ve got history, science, social studies, reading, vocabulary, sports, art and more.

Ashar would have had a biography unit this year in public school. That’s not why we’re encouraging her interest in them, but it’s certainly an interesting chance to reflect on how homeschooling has provided us with so much freedom – and how, when Ashar is invested in her education, she’ll dig deeper than she ever had a chance to in a public school setting!

What else is Ashar reading?

We just finished our fourth book in the Life of Fred elementary series, “Life of Fred: Dogs.” Now we’re into “Life of Fred: Edgewood.”

If you had EVER told me that Ashar would ask me, routinely, to read one more chapter of a book that’s more or less about math, I’d have laughed hysterically.

Now, I’m just thrilled. Ashar even used the phrase, “WHEN we get to the Calculus book in the series…,” and it’s possible I might have gotten almost teary-eyed. I should also mention that while Life of Fred is described as a Christian series, we’re a secular homeschooling family and have had no problems using what few religious references we’ve found as springboards to discussion about what various people believe, which we like to do anyway.

Ashar’s also reading Treasure Island for free through the Google Books app on her new phone – something she figured out on her own that she could get for free and enjoy!

What’s the rest of the family reading?

My mom and I have been enjoying some medical thrillers by Michael Palmer – The First Patient, The Fifth Vial and A Heartbeat Away – all courtesy of our local library.

And Chris just bought 25 boxes of used books for his online bookselling business – and I’m sure he’ll be reading some of them before they’re listed for sale!

What’s your family reading?

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10 thoughts on “Biographies, biographies, biographies!

  1. Leonardo…one of my favorite geniuses. I saw a Leonardo exhibit in Houston, Maryland and a he Franklin Institute. There is a great book entitled How to think like Leonardo da Vinci. I co-taught a middle school summer program for a grad class based on the book. Great stuff.
    Last night I attended an amazing lecture by Sir Ken Robinson, at Millersville. He touched on the importance of specializing instruction for students, and homeschooling and unschooling. I immediately thought of you and Sarah. Are you familiar with his work? He is an amazing speaker.

    • I am not familiar with him at all – sadly! Now you’ve given me something to Google!

      Sarah’s definitely a Leonardo fan. We loved the Franklin Institute presentation, and when I was in Denver last weekend, there was an exhibit there that I’d have loved to have had Sarah with me to see!

  2. First of all to Cindy — I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have had the opportunity to hear Sir Ken speak. How fortunate you are!!!!!

    Lilah is almost done with book 2 of LOF, Butterflies. Two and a half years in school beat the love of math right out of her and it has taken me exactly 2 and a half years to get it back….time and this math series! I can’t thank you enough for posting about it back in August. She brings it with her when we go out! She loves the characters and she loves that this is our special time together (she reads it aloud to me every day). THANK YOU!


  3. Great post. I love that she is reading biographies. I think I may have told you in another comment how much I loved biographies when I was 11/12. I need to let Keilee try some. I really love your blog Joan. I love that you have one daughter who is the same age as Kei and that you unschool. I think I am about to get all stalkerish and go read some of your earlier posts. 🙂

  4. I am so glad you are reading biographies. I love when kids are interested in great American, world and social leaders. I am just going to throw out an idea or two that I used to use with my students. I know you are home schooling, but if you have access to the internet with other home schoolers, here is an idea that I used with my 4th Graders. Students chose a biography and read it without letting any other students know who the book was about. On a certain day, students came dressed as the characters in their books. Students appeared before the class in their original costumes (you would be surprised how easy it is to create the looks of these biographical characters without spending hours as a seamstress). Students then told their life story in the “first person point of view” and the class had to guess who they were. As an added activity, each student in the classroom was given a scoring rubric with such categories as costume, voice quality, knowledge of the person, etc. Each student evaluated the presentation of their classmates and were instructed to write positive comments and suggestions in addition to scoring the presentation. You might be able to adapt this activity and use with other home schoolers on line.

    Another idea that I used to use to gain the students attention in reading and writing about famous people who they read about is: Most students of today have not started any collections. I have been a stamp collector all my life. I would gather U.S. stamps that depicted a famous person and mounted them at the top of a 5 by 8 or larger notecard. After students read a book about this person or did research on the person, they were instructed to write a summary of the person’s life. Students were given specific guidelines on what to include in their summary. Students were told to tell about the person’s early life, later life, life accomplishments, hardships and failures and any other interesting aspects of the person’s life. When they were finished, students were allowed to keep the stamps and notecards. This idea worked out real well when we were studying famous Pennsylvanians and famous people with disabilities. This activity not only created an interest in famous people but also created an interest in stamps and stamp collecting.

    I wish you continued success with your biographical studies.

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