Friday, June 28, 2013

Abraham Lincoln and a Log Cabin craft

While I was reading up on Abraham Lincoln for this unit, I kept thinking how overdone the whole Log Cabin thing is. Don't we know anything else about Abraham Lincoln?, I kept wondering. But . . . then I wanted to listen to Copland's Lincoln Portrait, and it seemed like a craft would be the perfect thing to keep everyone busy and quiet while we listened. And then I ran across a blog post about a 3-D log cabin, which seemed way more fun than the usual 2-D ones I remember making in 2nd grade. So we did it. And it was fun.

We found some really excellent children's books about Lincoln, too. He is one of my heroes, and I love reading about him. Here are some of the books we liked best:
I liked the way these books focused on some lesser known aspects of Abraham Lincoln's life (besides the log cabin, ha ha) and gave some insight into his character. Plus, they were charming (the animals one is adorable---he rescues baby birds!).

As a barely-related (but very interesting) side note, we watched this video showing the odds that we, in our hot cocoa this morning, drank some of the same molecules Abraham Lincoln drank in his coffee the morning of his Second Inaugural Address! :) Fun.

To make our log cabin, we followed the pattern here. We used the hot glue gun and as you can see, both boys are holding ice packs on their fingers here. It's about time someone besides me got burned with that thing!
We glued a portrait of Abraham Lincoln above his door. And made him a little park bench to rest on.

Honest Abe

Winslow Homer and Wood Block Printing for Kids

I really like the paintings of Winslow Homer, so we took a day to learn about his life and study some of his art. My favorites are the paintings he did later in life, like these:

But during the Civil War, he worked as an artist for magazines and newspapers, sending home scenes from the front lines. He's well-known for his wood engravings during this time, like this one:

So I thought we would learn about the process of wood-block printing, and make some wood-block prints of our own. You could also do this with potatoes---there's not much room for detail on a potato, but we didn't get too complicated with our designs even in the wood, since I mostly wanted the children to understand the process itself.

I bought some odd-sized pieces of balsa wood (very soft) at the craft store.
Taking our inspiration from here, we gathered a bunch of random household objects (keys, allen wrenches, etc.) and secured them lightly to our wood with packing tape. Then I had the children hammer the objects down into the wood until the impressions were pretty deep.

The older boys also used pens and screwdrivers to chisel/carve other designs into the wood.

We painted a light coating of black paint on top of each piece of wood. You have to be careful not to get globs of paint into the grooves of the design you just made. A sponge brush works pretty well for this.

Then we placed a clean sheet of paper on top of the painted side of the wood, and rolled along the opposite side of the paper with this toy rolling pin. You can make a couple of prints with the same wood block before adding more paint. Sometimes the second print is better because the paint isn't quite so thick! I like it when you can see the grain of the wood in your print.

We talked about how this style of printing made the widespread distribution of art possible, by allowing one painting to be copied many times with very little trouble or expense. We also talked about the skill it would have taken to make such detailed engravings, even if you were just copying art someone else had created!
I really liked how these turned out---each print really had its own character!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Civil War Spies and Ciphers

Who doesn't love a good code? We talked about communications in the army, and various codes and ciphers used by the Union and the Confederacy. We also read some great books about Civil War spies---I think our favorite was Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Great Pretender. At one point she was a girl, pretending to be a man in the Union army, pretending to be a female slave in the Confederacy! Amazing.

We had a great time writing secret messages to each other using cipher squares. You can find instructions on this here. The concept is simple, but the codes are surprisingly effective!

Morse Code Treasure Hunt

My friend Andrea had a brilliant idea for demonstrating that knowing how to read gives us power (and for helping the children think about how frustrating it must have been for the slaves who didn't know how to read). Her idea was to write out clues for a treasure hunt in Morse Code, and show the children how without knowledge of that "language," it's impossible to make progress toward your goal (the treasure).

I loved this idea and we executed it pretty much just as she did. We read this and this, both stories about how valuable literacy was to the slaves. We talked about Frederick Douglass' statement, "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free," and we read excerpts from his autobiography. Very inspiring.

The treasure hunt was a small one, just around our house and yard, and up and down the street, but the children were very excited about it. The older boys loved learning Morse Code and insisted on writing it (and tapping it on doors, and flashing it with lights) all the time for the next several days.
I had some Civil War soldier figures that we were going to use later on in our unit, so I put those in the "treasure box" at the end of the hunt, along with little notebooks I found in the dollar section at Michael's. The notebooks were surprisingly well-received; they weren't really anything special but the children seemed to think they were. We talked about how lucky we are to have access to all the books and paper and pencils we could ever want!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Battle Re-enactment

I thought this was a great idea, from the book The Civil War for Kids. We drew out a large map of important landmarks near a battle (we did the Battle of Chancellorsville) and then the children moved our toy soldiers around to the relevant locations, as I read to them the events of the battle. We did this on the day we talked about the biographies of Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Meade, and others. It seemed like a good way to realize how many decisions the General was responsible for, and how complicatedthose decisions might be (taking into account limited troops, blocked-off supply routes, river crossings, etc.).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Military Ranks and Drilling

We talked a lot about what daily life was like for a soldier, and one of the main things they did was DRILL! We watched this video showing how many steps were needed to load and fire a musket. You can see why drilling would be so necessary, especially for soldiers who had never handled firearms before!

I read about some of the drill commands (you know, things like "Forward, March!") here. Then I made everybody march around the yard with their muskets.
Ready, Aim, Fire!
I love this---Junie running to catch up :)

We also discussed the different divisions of the military, and various ranks that soldiers could achieve. This was all new to me, and the boys found it quite fascinating too. To help us understand how 2 platoons make a company, 2 companies make a battalion, 2 battalions make a regiment and so forth (we had a book that told us these things) we made an army with Hershey's Kisses and used different colors for the different officers. It was a good way to visualize what we were learning.

This site was also useful (it talks about ranks in the Civil War and shows the insignia for each; my children love stuff like this).

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fort Douglas Day

We were really lucky, because I found out about Fort Douglas Day at the beginning of June, and it was just in time to coincide with the beginning of our unit. We are right in the middle of the Civil War's Sesquicentennial Commemoration (2011-2015), which means there are tons of events taking place on the East Coast, but I felt lucky that we got to go to something even way out here in Utah!

Fort Douglas was named after Stephen Douglas (of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates---the man who lost to Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 Election). He was kind of famously anti-Mormon, so the naming of the fort was a bit of a slap in the face to the Latter-day Saints living in Salt Lake. There's all kinds of interesting history there (some background here, here, and here) but eventually the army and the Mormons got used to each other and Fort Douglas became an accepted part of the Salt Lake City area. It's not used as an army facility anymore, but there's a nice little museum there, and on this particular day there were Civil War Re-enactors there too! It was awesome.
They were all SO nice. I think I never really understood the Civil War re-enactment thing before (in my ignorance), but now I get why people like it. It's such a fascinating time period, and it would be a cool hobby to immerse yourself in. I loved how willing they were to talk to the children and to share their knowledge with us.

This lady was playing a---well, I didn't know what it was, and she was too busy playing to talk to me, but it just occurs to me now that it must be a dulcimer. "A damsel with a dulcimer in a vision once I saw . . ." It sounded beautiful!

An officer's tent

The boys were so excited to see the muskets set up in tripods like this, just like the illustrations in the books we'd been reading

These soldiers let the boys fire their muskets, which was SO exciting! I thought it was fascinating to see how the flintlock gun worked. It really does have a flint which you pull back to strike the steel and make a small spark in a little pan of powder. That ignites the powder in the cartridge inside and pushes out the bullet! Probably not that advanced of an observation, but I haven't been around guns much, so it's all new to me. (Also, the expressions "a flash in the pan" and "keep your powder dry" finally make sense.) I actually found all the Civil War weapons, and how they worked, extremely interesting. (More on that later.)
And best of all, they fired the big artillery gun for us! Hooray!

This was a great event. I think we'll try to go back next year!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Civil War Homeschool Unit: Schedule and Lesson Plan

The Civil War! This was a huge unit, and SO much fun. I've always liked history but I feel like I've never been so immersed in one period as I was during this unit. I felt like I got to know several of the historical figures (Lincoln, Lee, Grant, Jackson) better than I had before. Hopefully the children felt the same way! We watched the Ken Burns Civil War documentary over the last week or so of the unit, and I was overcome with sadness during several parts. When Lincoln was assassinated, it made me cry, almost like his death robbed me of some chance to get to know him (which is silly, since he would have been dead long before I was around, regardless). I mean, I had always seen his death as a historic moment, a moment that changed the shape of what was to come in American History, but I felt it personally this time. And it was the same reading about Robert E. Lee's surrender---I could almost feel his heartbreak and his sense of failure as if it were my own. Very interesting to experience it that way.

There were several longer books I read myself as background. One interesting one was Kenneth Alford's Civil War Saints. I thought it was fascinating to read about the intersections Utah and the Mormons had with the Civil War (there were more than you might think!). We visited Fort Douglas and it made it really interesting to know the history behind that place.

I also read Two Miserable Presidents, which I think is the best short history of the Civil War I've ever read. The guy who wrote it is a textbook author who wanted a place to put all the interesting quotes and stories about the war that were always cut from the textbook drafts he submitted. :) It's really engaging, with memorable quotes and anecdotes, and it made the various parts of the war come together in my mind in a way they never had before. I finally felt like I had a continuous sense of what happened when, and why---rather than a series of unconnected battles and half-understood events floating around in my head. I liked it so much that I ended up reading the whole thing (250+ pages) to the children. We read the pertinent sections each day, usually a chapter or so, and they would beg for more when we were done.

Here's the Pinterest page for this unit.
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