Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education


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Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

This school year, I’ve had the delightful opportunity to teach art history at our local homeschool co-op.  As we work through various techniques and employ different art media, I often steer the conversation to famous artists who weren’t recognized or appreciated during their lifetime, but came to be highly regarded and respected later on. As we create together, I try to help the students let go of misconceptions about art.

After all, why is this human inability to accept new kinds of art so common? Why were so many now-beloved artists dismissed outright at first, only to have the art critics reverse their position later? What is it that people fundamentally misunderstand about art — over and over and over?

Important Truths About Art to Emphasize in an Elementary Art History Class

Whether we are children or adults, we often come into a study of art really quite intimidated by it all. The glorious masters and their astounding reproductions of the natural world have left us breathless, and quite convinced that only someone who can paint a scene indistinguishable from reality can be considered an artist.

But that’s not true.

Art isn’t always photorealistic.

In my art history class — we have a history portion and a hands-on art project — students are not required to replicate reality.  Before you assume I’m going all Cy Twombly on you, think about it. You don’t hear anyone arguing that a Monet isn’t art, even though his waterlilies are a far cry from a photographic representation.

The truth is, most art takes liberties with reality. Even paintings in no danger of being confused with modern abstraction, like The Lady of Shallot, are not an exact photocopy of nature. And neither is much of ancient art, romanticism, sculpture, impressionism, or any number of other art styles.

I often encounter children (and adults!) who believe if  an artist is drawing an apple, the final drawing needs to be indistinguishable from a photo of an apple. While this is one style of art, it’s not the only way.

Freedom to interpret, not copy, a scene is an especially important point to emphasize to budding artists who struggle with perfectionism, become easily discouraged, or are just still working on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination: a finished art piece does not need to be a duplicate of the object the artist has attempted to represent. 

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

Artists convey feeling, mood, emotion and meaning through color, form, line, and any number of other constructs, not just through photorealism.  (And if the painting or sculpture represents a feeling or an idea, there’s not even a concrete, pictorial reality to compare!)

After all, art is intensely individual.

While there are unchangeable laws of physics governing light, shadows, and shape, the truth still remains that no two masters, given the same scene, would have put it to canvas the same manner.

When we are all creating together, I look for opportunities to highlight the incredible, creative differences between my student’s projects. I emphasize the little details which make each piece of art — and each young artist — unique.

Sometimes, when a student begins to struggle with comparison, I’ll pull out one of my art books, and open up to different works of art — for example, Klimt’s Rosebushes under the TreeRembrandt’s The Three Trees,  Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom, and Crola’s Oaks — and ask a series of questions reinforcing individuality and reiterating how wonderful it is that there is no one way to paint a tree.

Do these images all show trees?

Do these trees all look the same?

Did the same artist always paint a tree the same way?  (For more emphasis, I will ask them look at the difference between Klimt’s Rosebushes under the Tree and the Tree of Life, or Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom versus his Olive Tree series. )

I tell my students, it’s the same for each of them. Their art will not always match the art of the person sitting next to them, and that’s wonderful! Imagine a world in which everyone just imitated each other, never straying from what was expected or accepted. How boring and uninteresting would that be?

Ultimately, I want all kids to recognize how art allows individuals to express the same message in a very different way.

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“Myself: Portrait – Landscape”, 1890, by Henri Rousseau (via Wikimedia Commons file)

Why Henri Rousseau Matters

Henri Rousseau, I think, embodies these ideals of individualism quite powerfully.  He wasn’t like any other painter of his time, and his work was soundly rejected. Why? Because he showed us the world in a very different way. He didn’t paint the way people expected him to,  and critics didn’t like that.

[Click to download my FREE mini-biography printable of Henri Rousseau for grades K-3]

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

He had no artistic training, did not come from a creative background, and didn’t take up art into he was in his forties.

When he did begin to paint, he didn’t paint what he knew. Instead, he painted things he’d never seen. He never left France, yet painted elaborate and imaginary jungles.

He looked at houseplants and imagined them double, triple, and quadruple their size, and these became his jungle foliage.

He thought about what animals might roam far away lands, and these partly-fictional creatures became his Surprised! tigers and exotic monkeys. People called them “grotesque”.[1]

He was mocked when he entered the art scene — and yet, kept on painting.

He was laughed at — and yet, kept on painting.

People looked at his work and told him it seemed as though he painted with his feet —and yet, he kept on submitting his paintings to galleries, year after year.

He was belittled by the establishment. He was told to change his style — and yet, kept on painting.

“‘The place rocks with laughter’, one critic wrote” [2] after seeing Rousseau’s paintings in a public gallery — and yet, Rousseau never gave up.

Today, of course, no one is laughing, and the art world can’t get enough of his dreamlike botanical works and quirky tropical animals.

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

The Best Picture Book about Henri Rousseau

“The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau” by Michelle Markel will introduce kids to many of Rousseau’s most famous paintings. Perhaps most importantly, it will offer a great lesson in individuality, empathy, and perseverance. Several of my more sensitive students were moved to compassionate tears by Rousseau’s life story — and then buoyed, encouraged, and motivated to keep on painting!

Every page of this book is saturated edge-to-edge in Rousseau’s trademark style. The publisher’s book trailer, linked above, is really wonderful as well.

How to Paint a Surprised Tiger Like Henri Rousseau: A Hands-On Elementary Art Project

Supplies Needed:

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“Surprised!”, 1891, by Henri Rousseau (via Wikimedia Commons file)

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“Worried Tiger”, 2017, by Aveline (age 6)

Each of my art history classes also includes  — of course! — a hands-on project. After reading the mini biography of Henri Rousseau, and enjoying “The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau” picture book, we created our very own tiger hiding in the jungle during a sudden rainstorm.

With Rousseau’s iconic  Surprised! painting as the inspiration, I led the students in a guided pencil drawing on watercolor paper.

(Not sure how to execute a guided drawing? A white board works well. You draw a stroke on the white board, and have the students draw the same stroke on their paper. Since young students have a hard time translating a sense of scale from a huge whiteboard to a small 8.5×11″ or 9×12″ space, I find that using a hand-held white board approximately the same size as the students’ papers makes for a less frustrated class overall. We used Art Projects for Kids’ excellent “How to Draw a Tiger Face” tutorial for guidance.)

Rather than simply mimic of the sample drawing, I asked each child to draw the facial expression however they wished, after thinking about how a tiger caught in a storm might feel. Would the tiger be worried? Elated? Indifferent?

Once the students had sketched out their tiger, we turned to watercolor, using the simple concept of light to dark — filling in the tiger with yellow, accenting with orange, then red, and finally filling in the dark brown / black areas — before adding jungle foliage and grass. Since grass blades are generally wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, some students might have a better time at this if they flip their painting upside down. This way, they’ll be able to direct their brush strokes from top down, rather than trying to paint from the bottom of the page upwards.

If kids are willing to let the unexpected happen, they can add a drippy rain storm (there’s slanted silvery gray-green rain throughout Surprised!). Paint the desired storm color across the sky, then hold the art upright and allow the watery paint to “rain” down on the tiger and greenery. Not everyone will be willing to let the paint run or even want to paint a storm — and that’s okay!

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

It’s really fun to teach little ones about Rousseau! He’s such an example of perseverance in the face of odds. I especially think Rousseau can encourage kids who are hesitant artists, kids who doubt their own abilities, or kids who have perfectionistic tendencies.

Henri Rousseau never stepped foot in a jungle, but didn’t let that stop him from painting jungles.The animals in his art didn’t look the animals on anyone else’s canvas, but he wasn’t bothered by it. The images he created were flatter and less 3D than the art his peers were producing — but he kept on painting.

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“The Flamingoes”, 1907, by Henri Rousseau (via Wikimedia Commons file)

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

“The Equatorial Jungle”, 1909, by Henri Rousseau (via Wikimedia Commons file)

Rousseau’s imaginative, stylized worlds have a fairy-tale feel about them — an atmosphere of suspense,  an element of danger, and an overarching sense of the unknown, yet all within the safe confines of the canvas.

These are all the ingredients for adventure.

This is where learning happens.

Sometimes as adults we can tend to be a bit of afraid of abstract, stylized, or otherwise interpretive art, since we aren’t quite sure what we are seeing.  But be not afraid.  And don’t pass that fear onto your children. As the wise Francis Schaeffer said,

“Christians . . . ought not to be threatened by fantasy and imagination. Great painting is not ‘photographic’: think of the Old Testament art commanded by God. There were blue pomegranates on the robes of the priest who went into the Holy of Holies. In nature there are no blue pomegranates. Christian artists do not need to be threatened by fantasy and imagination, for they have a basis for knowing the difference between them and the real world ‘out there.’ The Christian is the really free person–he is free to have imagination. This too is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”

Be free, friends! And, as my daughter has said, go crazy with the paints.

Why Henri Rousseau Matters in Art Education (Plus FREE Printable and Art Lesson Resources)

This post has been linked to  iHomeschool Network’s Birthday Lessons in May. Click through to find other #ihsnet bloggers’ lessons plans, unit studies and more for famous figures born in May!

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I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former Yugoslavia


I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former YugoslaviaI came to America after the tanks rolled in, just barely before they took Sarajevo. After the helicopter shadows moved across of the fields of buttercups and horseradish and daisies and wisteria, but before the mortars fell. I came to this country when the shelves started to empty of bread, of meat, of corn flakes. I came to this country after the money had already begun to crash, after sunken stacks of rubbery, hollow-eyed gas masks stared back at me at the check-out, but before pensioners had to stand in line to trade bag after bag of devalued coins for stale bread. I came here when the skies had already begun to darken, when the fear had started to slink down the quiet gravel streets.

I said goodbye before dawn. I said goodbye before the perfect pearls of dew on the weeping willow had broken. I said goodbye to the magpies who chattered and tilted their heads down at me, goodbye to the sparrows who hopped off the hedge and scurried after me as I walked away down Taborska Cesta. I held my daddy’s hand and thought it would all be okay and thought I’d come home to Ljubljana again.

America doesn’t remember.

It’s been twenty-five years since Sarajevo. Twenty-five years since the shells started falling and the buildings started crumbling and the cemeteries crept down the mountain, over the valley, into the alleys, the city squares, the hospitals, the banks, the churches, and the blocs. Twenty-five years since the blood flowed.

“Is there a time for keeping your distance?” Bono sang. “A time to turn your eyes away? Is there a time for keeping your head down, for getting on with your day?”

I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former Yugoslavia (A Personal account of the Balkan conflict after the fall of ​​​​​​​the Iron Curtain)

I came to America wide-eyed and homesick. There were hundreds of rows of light in every store, shining down in blindingly unaware excess. There were thousands of packets of food, all lined up. There was a whole aisle just for feeding cats and dogs. There were Cocoa Pebbles and Cocoa Puffs and Fruity Pebbles and cheese-colored spread and hot dogs in shrunken plastic and the shelves were deep, deeper than my eight-year-old arm could reach. People just tossed all these things head over heels, heap upon heap, into an enormous rolling wire cart.

There were rows of cars in everyone’s driveway and the houses swallowed us all. There were televisions and advertisements and everywhere, at every turn, America was a kaleidoscope of color and noise.

America forgot her. American forgot the Balkans, the conflict, the siege.

America forgot about the Iron Curtain, the fall of Communism, the rush of freedom and the rush of overload, and the way it felt when the bottom fell out, and millions upon millions of dinar tumbled down, worth less than the paper they were printed on.

Tonight, I remember it all.

I sat down at my desk on this side of the globe, underneath the oversized world map beside the glowing lamp, went to Google Earth, and for the first time, I walked my digital feet all over the streets I used to know.

It was all there, familiar and bruised by the passage of time.

I walked all over, and I cried.

“There’s a house, that’s not on a hill
And the paint’s chipping off
Of the old window sill
There’s a tree in the front yard
That’s older than me
And older than all of you…” *

I remember the yogurt and the brown-crusted bread, the sour cherries, and the apples that would fall on our concrete balcony. I remember how we’d say “Jupi!” when we were excited, and I remember the grey woven chair in the corner, the tapestry on the wall and the garish scalloped wallpaper, a vision in Soviet orange — an ode to egg yolks or perhaps sunrises.

Yupi soda beverage sticker label from Slovenia, the former Yugoslavia

I remember the first books I read, and my first American pencil, yellow, with the most beautiful pink eraser I’d ever seen. I remember how I had to learn about nickels, and didn’t see the point, because I only needed to use dinar and žeton. I remember letters from grandma, and my old green shoes, and laughter and boiled potatoes. I can tell you of bus tokens and ant-covered climbing vines and the way the trail twisted up to the top of Šmarna Gora, and how stubborn chamomile can grow up, dauntless, through even the rockiest gravel.

“But things they fade
Things turn to grey
As much as I try to save them
They turn grey
Just like the house, that’s not on a hill
With all of the rust on the gate
The chips on the sill
But I love it still” *

I remember the magpies, tottering on clay rooftops, calling out the hymns of the morning, and way the grey coal soot would filter down over the city, entangle with the mist, and settle down over every crooked branch, down into my lungs, over every window pane and into the crevices on every leaf.

“I remember her
I remember her
I remember her so well” *

But most of all, I remember the way I never worried, even in the dark.

FREE St. Patrick’s Day Printable Mini Biography and Unit Study Resources


FREE St. Patrick's Day Printable Mini Biography and Unit Study Resources

Looking for an easy-to-read mini biography of Saint Patrick for kids K-3, and a quick Irish music and art study for Saint Patrick’s Day?

If you’ve seen my #oaxacabornarthistory posts on Instagram, you know I teach a first grade class every week at our local homeschool co-op. When I create co-op lesson plans for my art history class, I often write simple one-page overviews of whichever artist or topic we’re studying. These PDFs hand-outs contain kid-friendly information and are easy to read aloud, since they’re written in a conversational style geared toward kindergarten through about third grade.

Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up, so we’re veering a little off the normal art history path to talk about Ireland and the life of Saint Patrick.

Download my FREE St. Patrick’s Day printable: All About Saint Patrick for Kids K-3.

Now that you have the free printable, here are a few more resources to expand your Saint Patrick’s day study.

Our Very Favorite Kids’ Books for Saint Patrick Day

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola
This is the definitive biography of Saint Patrick for kids (pictured above), by beloved children’s author Tomie dePaola. Richly illustrated and packed with details, this book will be a favorite for many Saint Patrick’s Days to come. I especially love how the first part of the book covers the true story of Patrick’s life, while the last part of the book explains many of the legends (snakes, shamrocks, and more) attributed to him. This is great resource which separates fact from fiction.

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato: An Irish Folktale by Tomie dePaola
When Jamie O’Rourke is too lazy to tend his sad little potato garden and strikes a deal with a leprechaun instead, hilarity ensues as “the biggest, finest potato plant…sprout[s] out of the ground followed by the potato itself.” Never were there a pratie as giant as this!

Irish Music for Saint Patrick’s Day

Gaelic Folk – Irish, Scottish and Manx Traditional Folk Music curated by Casper Lindholm

You can play this music for free on Spotify, by creating a free account and then either accessing Spotify via your browser, the free desktop computer app, or a smartphone app. (Note to Apple users: the free version of Spotify for iPad is wonderful, and lets you pause, skip, choose songs, and more. The free version of Spotify for iPhone is much more limited.)

And if you read Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato, you may also want to listen to this lovely 1930 recording of Irish tenor John McCormack singing “The Garden Where the Praties Grow.”

Irish Impressionist Art for Saint Patrick’s Day Picture Study

We’re all familiar with impressionists like Monet and Renoir, but have you every stopped to study the work Walter Frederick Osborne? He was an Irish impressionist known for his idyllic country scenes. Walter Osbornes’ paintings are in the public domain, so you’re free to print them however you’d like. (My favorite way is to save the high-res Wikimedia Commons file I wish to print, upload to the Office Depot or the UPS Store’s copy/print website, order a full-color print on 8.5×11″ cardstock, then choose the lamination option. Prices vary depending on your geographic location, but it’s usually under three dollars for durable, long-lasting art.)

FREE St. Patrick's Day Printable Mini Biography and Unit Study Resources

“Feeding the Chickens”, 1885, by Walter Frederick Osborne. (via Wikimedia Commons file)

FREE St. Patrick's Day Printable Mini Biography and Unit Study Resources

“When the Boats Come In”, ~1892, by Walter Frederick Osborne (via Wikimedia Commons file)

You may also wish to incorporate mapping into your Saint Patrick’s Day studies — page 91 of this PDF has a printable map of Saint Patrick’s Travels, and the end of this Give Your Child the World book club blog post has a printable map of Europe.

What other creative ways have you found to incorporate Irish studies into your Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations?

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“Project Passport” Review: Hands-on World History


Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

When I was in middle school, ancient history was the bane of my existence. I balked at all the facts I was supposed to care about, gave lackluster effort toward the chapter quizzes, spent most of my time lamenting over the old marble men of yore, and defaced my textbook by drawing pupils and irises onto all the hollow-eyed busts (as an adult, I just add googly eyes.)

A hands-on approach to world history makes a difference.

Even though I stubbornly insisted ancient history was pointless — sorry, mom! — if you would have talked to the seventh-grade me about the extravagantly tiered Hanging Gardens of Babylon, I’d have sprung to life, rattling off fact after fact about this wonder of the ancient world, indignant at your insinuation that these incredible gardens might not have existed at all. Why? Because I built a miniature version of the Hanging Gardens out of styrofoam, and the hands-on immersion cemented it in my brain and secured my loyalty forever more. Tactile experiences made an impression on me, bookworm and writer though I was. (Maybe let’s not mention the Borax-salt paste my brother and I slathered on the metal microscope before we reshelved it and forgot about it.)

I’ve been trying to bring more hands-on activities, even simple ones, into our routine. My daughter read well over five hundred books on her own last calendar year — so I think it’s safe to say she’s thriving as a bookworm, er, visual learner. But I also know how valuable it is to incorporate hands-on activities into our regular studies, and I love the way her eyes light up in excitement when I mention a project to cap off our day.

Time to get excited about ancient history!

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Me (and my brother) on old Italian ruins, in the late 1980s.

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

My daughter and “dear old Archimedes”, as she calls him.

 [Disclosure of Material Connection: I received two copies of Project Passport in exchange for investing my time exploring and reviewing this product and publishing this post. All the photographs, opinions, and experiences shared here are in my own words and are my own honest evaluation. I was not required to write a positive review. ]

When you’re not able to travel to actual historical ruins, a hands-on, project-based approach to history is the next best way to make the distant past come alive. And when it comes to projects, the aptly-named Project Passport world history curriculum by Home School in the Woods takes center stage. (And you’ll have a chance to win copies of Project Passport at the end of this post!)

What is Project Passport?

Project Passport is a digital world history curriculum available for studies of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece (the newest!),  the Middle Ages,  the Renaissance and Reformation, and, coming in 2018, Ancient Rome. These are such ideal topics for our classical-leaning approach to home education!

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Each set is designed for grades three through eight, and I would say that’s an accurate range. (Although, an inquisitive and motivated younger child could get a lot out of the program if someone were to help with the paper crafts requiring more precise fine motor skills. My six-year-old daughter is not neuro-typical, consistently working at two or three full grade levels ahead of her chronological age, and she enthusiastically enjoyed the work with my help on the more intricate assignments.)

We tested the Ancient Greece curriculum, which, like others in the Project Passport series, is set up as a twenty-five stop, six-to-twelve week excursion through the highlights of that particular ancient culture. Each stop, or lesson, is quite detailed, with multiple assignments, so children on the younger end of the age range might retain more of the material with much slower time travel, such as one stop per week.

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Each study is available on a physical CD you can hold in your hands, or alternately via digital files downloads.  Either way you choose to purchase the study, the process to begin is the same. Rather than just give you access to folders of files and leaving you to figure out how each PDF, MP3, and JPG is connected, both CD and digital editions of Project Passport offer convenient, easy-to-navigate launch screens, with all the step-by-step instructions, printable files, and audio clips needed for every single lesson. There’s also a printable list of additional book and film recommendations, should you wish to extend your study.

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Before the student launches out on the adventure, you’ll want to do a bit of prep work, such as printing the initial cardstock and paper templates needed to start the study, assembling the three-ring binders, creating the timeline, and making sure the glue you have is strong enough to easily adhere cardstock together (we used a combination of Elmer’s Extreme GluestickElmer’s No-Wrinkle Dual Tip Glue Pen, and Glue Dots.)

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

How do you use Project Passport?

For each lesson, or “stop”, the student begins by reading the assigned chapter from the digital guidebook, each containing about three pages of pleasantly-written narrative about the time period. Then, the student moves on to the hands-on portion of the lesson. Activities vary in complexity. In the Ancient Greece edition, assignments include moonlighting as a Greek chef at the cleverly named Greece-y Spoon eatery, crafting a Greek theater mask from papier mache, or organizing a Greek Olympics.

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods
One constant throughout the program, though, is the student’s Scrapbook of Sights, a three-ring binder portfolio documenting each and every time travel stop.  For every lesson, the student adds to this scrapbook through paper crafts such as creating tiny booklets about Greek mythology, compiling fact cards about the constellations, assembling 2D architectural columns, creating advertisements for a Greek newspaper, illustrating postcards from Socrates, or cutting, scoring, folding and gluing a series of matchboxes detailing Spartan life.

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods
A big highlight for us, too, was the dramatized audio tour scheduled in installments throughout the program. Even “dear old Archimedes”, as my daughter says, was included in this audio theater.

And since the capstone project after all twenty-five stops have been completed is an elaborate lapbook, every few lessons the student also assembles a pocket, wheel, fact cards, envelope, or some other detail to be placed into the lapbook at the end.

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

How to customize Project Passport’s Scrapbook of Sights with clear transparencies:

For the Scrapbook of Sights, Project Passport uses primarily ordinary household supplies like a printer and ink, cardstock, and glue. Souvenir Craft assignments are a bit more involved, requiring items like masking tape, flour, and paper for the Greek masks, fabric and trimmings for the Greek clothing, floral wire and green felt for the olive wreath, and so on. Of course, you’re free to pick and choose which assignments you want to pursue. (See the end of this blog post for a full list of the paper craft supplies we used).

A handful of installments in the Scrapbook of Sights, though, called for affixing printed paper templates to clear acetate film called Grafix DuraLar. Since we didn’t have any handy (and since we live down the road from a copy and print shop) I experimented and customized the assignments a bit — with clear overhead transparencies and Sharpies!

Instead of pasting paper onto acetate film, I instead had the copy shop print certain templates directly onto8.5 x 11″ transparency sheets. This only cost about sixty cents per copy, which was very affordable since we only needed a handful of transparencies. You can see in the videos below how the map and clothing overlays turned out. They were a hit on our house, maybe because I let my kiddo use permanent markers, too ;)

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

What kind of a timeline does Project Passport use?

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Each Project Passport edition begins by having you create a timeline. I love this because it provides a bit of visual context for all the information in the study. You’re given the printable PDFs need to build it, as well as PDFs containing dozens of detailed, captioned timeline figures and fun souvenirs like mini playbills, tickets, and advertisements, which you affix to the timeline at various points throughout the program. For ancient Greece, the timeline base itself is twelve pages long, and you can either stack the printed cardstock and three-hole punch all the sheets, or you can assemble the pages accordion-style, and only three-hole punch the first one. We created an accordion timeline, and jazzed up the pages with travel-themed matte washi tape rather than clear packing tape.

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

How do you create a Project Passport-style lapbook folder?

While many lapbooks utilize only a single file folder, Project Passport-style lapbooks have extra pages inserted. We took the suggested materials — one plain folder, one 8.5×11″ cardstock, one 5.5×11″ cardstock, and clear packing tape — and kicked it up a notch with a painterly folder, bright cardstock, and matte travel-themed washi tape. Here’s how ours looked before we filled it up.

And here’s the final lapbook — remember, Project Passport is so much more than a lapbook! This is only one component of the rich, multi-faceted portfolio (Scrapbook of Sights, recipes and food, 3D crafts, clothing, writing assignments, and more) you’ll have upon completely a Project Passport journey.

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

What supplies do you need to get started with Project Passport?

The supplies you’ll need depend largely on how many, and what type of, assignments you choose to do. Naturally, the projects categorized as Souvenir Crafts require more specialized items — like specific Greek food ingredients, for example. But if you’ve just ordered Project Passport and want to collect the items you need to get started on the timeline, binder, and Scrapbook of Sights, you’ll want to have the following supplies on hand:

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods
What kind of student is a good match for Project Passport?

Project Passport makes an impact, even for a child who isn’t necessarily primarily a tactile learner, because hands-on activities invite the child to move out of passive learner mode and actively engage in the topic in ways he or she might not have otherwise.  You’ve probably heard the saying, “Create more than you consume” — with Project Passport, students are creating while they are consuming, rather than consuming only.

This curriculum is perfect for families who love hands-on activities (especially scrapbooking!), those emphasizing the ancient civilizations so prevalent in a classical education, kids who like to move from task to task and need a lot of different kinds of assignments to break up the day into separate segments, and asynchronous kids who are ready to delve right into to complex historical topics but haven’t quite outgrown their love for hands-on projects.

Project Passport can be purchased directly from the Home School in the Woods online store.

(We’re also big fans of their fantastic timeline figures on CD, which can be printed at wall size, notebook size, or even as full-size coloring pages! I talk more about Home School in the Woods’ Collection of Historical Timeline Figures at the beginning of this post about videos, printables, and other world culture resources.)

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

Win FREE Project Passport CD sets!

To keep up with Home School in the Woods so you don’t miss the 2018 release of Project Passport‘s latest installment, Ancient Rome, head over to the Home School in the Woods website, and sign up for their newsletter (you’ll see the sign-up box in the upper right-hand corner.) You can also like Home School in the Woods on Facebook, follow along on Twitter @HSintheWoods, check out Home School in the Woods’ pins on Pinterest, or connect with Home School in the Woods on Google+.

Now for the Project Passport giveaway! Home School in the Woods is generously offering a 4-CD prize pack to one lucky winner!You have the chance to win all four Project Passport sets currently available (Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece,  the Middle Ages,  and the Renaissance and Reformation — Ancient Rome has not yet been released.)

Click here to enter the Project Passport giveaway.

[The fine print: Entrants must be legal residents of the United States, and must be age eighteen or older. One winner will be chosen. If the winner of lives outside the United States, he or she will receive digital downloads instead of CDs.]

Project Passport Review: Hands-on World History Curriculum from Home School in the Woods

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Have more questions about Project Passport, or additional input on how you’ve incorporated hands-on activities in your home? Leave a comment below!


Disclosure of Material Connection:: I received two copies of Project Passport in exchange for investing my time exploring and reviewing this product and publishing this post. All the photographs, opinions, and experiences shared here are in my own words and are my own honest evaluation. I was not required to write a positive review. Any Amazon and / or Home School in the Woods links you encounter above are affiliate links provided in conjunction with my participation in Amazon.com’s Associates Program and / or Home School in the Woods’ affiliate program. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small affiliate commission. Neither Amazon.com nor Home School in the Woods have required me to place these links, nor do they have any control over which resources I choose to share. I only recommend products or services I use personally, and I will always disclose any such links in a disclaimer such as this one.

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Why Singapore Math Works Best for Us


Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

This time of year marks the halfway point in our academic calendar, and it’s when I take stock of our curriculum and educational plan, making changes based on what’s working and what isn’t. Since I’m planning for a sensitive, headstrong , sensory-seeking, asynchronous six-year-old who taught herself to write at age two, and who currently reads and comprehends well beyond middle school level, I’m always, always, adjusting. Not pushing, but adjusting; adjusting, and following her lead. Just because I love a book or a method, doesn’t mean it will be the best choice for her. And many times, I’ve purchased curricula in advance, only to find that she’d already outgrown the content by the time I planned to use it. Flexibility is key.

But no matter how objective I am about what’s working and what’s not, I can honestly say that Singapore Math always makes the cut. I receive messages nearly every week from inquisitive parents who wish to test the Singapore waters, but are apprehensive for one reason or another. In fact, I’d venture to say that of all the curriculum we use, Singapore Math piques the largest amount of curiosity — and is victim to the largest amount of misinformation.

Here are the questions I am asked most often.

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Why Singapore Math, in particular?

The approach Singapore takes in teaching math concepts is more in line with the type of mathematics instruction students receive in the non-US countries where math scores are higher than US student math scores.  The plain truth is that the way mathematics and arithmetic have been taught in the United States for years hasn’t actually worked out that well. Each of us, of course, has had a different educational experience, and while some personally feel their math educational suited them well, I hear over and over from people who feel rather strongly about having been insufficiently equipped by American math instruction. In either case, the rankings don’t lie. [1] The most recent (2015) global rankings of students across the seventy-two countries reveal that in math, American students rank 35th out of 72. Thirty-fifth! That’s far below even the global average, and is sadly even worse then the 2012 results (28th out of 72). Vietnam, Lithuania, Malta, and Latvia — just to name  a few — are all doing a better job teaching math than the United States. Do you know which country ranks first in math scores? That’s right, Singapore.

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

“But it’s not the way I was taught!” or, “I’m not any good at math!”

Based on the global math scores quoted above, I’d venture to say that “the way it’s always been done” might actually be doing American students a disservice.  This is not meant to be a controversial statement. When global test scores in math clearly show American students lagging behind their same-age peers, the data suggests room for improvement. A recent report from the National Numeracy organization in the United Kingdom asserts the following:

“Negative attitudes, rather than a lack of innate talent, are at the root of our numeracy crisis. In order for people individually – and the country as a whole – to improve and in turn benefit from raised levels of numeracy, our attitudes have to change. It is culturally acceptable in the UK to be negative about maths, in a way that we don’t talk about other life skills. We hear ‘I can’t do maths’ so often it doesn’t seem a strange thing to say (Kowsun, 2008). Maths is seen as the remit of ‘mad scientists’, ‘nerdy’ boys, and the socially inept (Epstein et al, 2010). We talk about maths as though it is a genetic gift possessed only by a rare few, and inaccessible to the general public.” [2]

When we look at mathematics and arithmetic as subjects only some people have the capacity to understand, we do everyone a disservice. I’m often equally fascinated and disheartened by the muscle thrown behind pre-literacy efforts, while any similar push for pre-numeracy skills is seen as hothousing, or rejected as developmentally inappropriate. We simply don’t have the same kind of reverence for opening up the world of 123s as we do for opening up the world of ABCs. Maybe, just maybe, we’re conditioning our kids early to feel like math is inapproachable, difficult, and “only for math people”.

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Can you achieve the same results as students in Singapore, just with the Singapore Math curriculum?

This is a big question to tackle. I suggest the answer lies in cultural attitudes toward mathematics and arithmetic. (Mathematics and arithmetic are not the same thing, by the way. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term “mathematics” refers to “the branch of science concerned with number, quantity, and space” , while “arithmetic” is “the use of numbers in counting and calculation”.)

In the West we tend — not as an absolute, but as a tendency — to view a math brain as something you either have, or you don’t. Not so in Singapore. Cambridge Assessment’s Director of Research is quoted in the Financial Times as saying, “It [Singapore’s approach to math] is a different approach to ability — really, a major overhaul of the way in which children are viewed…A switch from an ability-based model of individualized learning, to a model [which says that] all children are capable of anything, depending on how it is presented to them and the effort which they put into learning it.” (emphasis mine) [3]

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Is Singapore Math is only suited for kids who are good in math?

Certainly there are different learning styles and different personalities. But, to unilaterally say that the Singapore math methodology is only good for “kids who are already good in math”, is to ignore not only the very real difference in cultural attitudes toward math and beliefs about children’s math ability, but also the fundamental differences between typical math instruction in the United States and typical math instruction in Singapore.

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

What makes Singapore Math different? Is the Home Instructor’s Guide really necessary?

Yes. The Home Instructor’s Guide contains the bulk of the Singapore Math program. Beginning with Level 1A, it would be difficult to teach the program in a truly Singapore-method way without it. In fact, if I were to assemble a Singapore Math curriculum on a tight budget, I would omit the textbook before I ever omitted the Home Instructor’s Guide. The fact is, without the strategies in the Home Instructor’s Guide, you will inevitably teach math the same way you learned. The Home Instructor’s Guide gives you easy-to-understand, practical, and usable access to the “concrete, pictorial, abstract” method. This is necessary not because elementary math is hard, but because this is the method which sets Singapore Math apart from other math programs.

Unless you happen to have prior experience teaching the Singapore Math method, I do not believe the student workbook and textbook by themselves are adequate to teach the Singapore method.

The Home Instructor’s Guide contains games, tips, and suggestions to explain abstract concepts in concrete ways. Singapore Math never expects the student to simply accept a math rule and begin carrying it out, without a logical buildup and explanation. I have sometimes heard detractors of this program argue that Singapore Math students will end up deficient in math facts, because of the program’s focus on the why and how behind mathematical concepts. In actuality, students end up  proficient in both arithmetic (calculations) and mathematics (theory), because Singapore Math understands that these two go hand in hand. For each kind of math problem or concept, the Home Instructor’s Guide teaches several strategies and approaches. I especially like this, since different approaches will be hits for different kids at different times. And by being exposed to several ways to tackle each kind of problem, the student gains a deeper understanding of each problem, and learns how to solve problems most efficiently. This means that when a student is working through pages of math facts in the workbook, he or she is not just rewriting memorized facts, but is actually practicing mathematical thinking and learning how to employ different problem-solving strategies. And the fascinating thing I’ve observed is that through working this way, the student memorizes math facts without even realizing it.

In beginning addition instruction, for example, the student is required to memorize facts through 20. Rather than being given a stack of flash cards and timed tests, the student is instead given physical objects to sort and count. As the student is engaging in tactile ways through moving counters/manipulative, the student is being taught strategies, such as memorizing doubles (this allows him/her to know all doubles and all doubles plus one), counting up by 1, 2 or 3, and training his/her brain to spot the combination of numbers equaling ten in any given set of numbers. When a student becomes stuck, he or she is prompted to count up, look for doubles, or look for a ten.

If a student still hasn’t grasped memorization at the end of this process, the Home Instructor’s Guide encourages the student to pause and work through mental math exercises, provided in the back of the guide, before moving on to the next unit. But for the most part, as the student goes through this process — progressing through the concrete, pictorial, and abstract stages — the student finds he/she is suddenly capable of doing addition entirely mentally! Mental arithmetic ability is achieved through building a thorough understanding of mathematics.

Each step in Singapore Math methodology truly builds on the previous step. Yet, without a big picture perspective of what this approach is trying to accomplish, detractors often look at just these strategies and argue that this sort of math is adding too many steps and doesn’t have enough memorization. But when the program is taken as a whole — Home Instructor’s Guide, textbook, and workbook — students gain a rich understanding of mathematical reasoning while at the same time engaging in problem solving, and committing math facts to memory. Each time I happen to question why a certain strategy is presented in the curriculum, a few more pages or chapters later I see exactly why the concept was tackled in that way.  It all ends up fitting together. And the curriculum never leaves you guessing how deeply you should cover a concept before moving on, because the Home Instructor’s Guide gives helpful insight along the lines of “this concept will be covered in detail later; this is just an introduction”, or, “stop now and review these facts, as the student will need to know this for the next concept.”

I wholeheartedly endorse the Home Instructor’s Guide as a means to implement the Singapore Math method.

web-16-singapore_math_why_it_works

Is Singapore Math spiral or mastery?

Whenever this question is posted on discussion boards, it seems about half the people argue that it’s spiral, and the other half argue that it’s mastery. Actually, Singapore math is neither spiral nor mastery. According to the publishers themselves, “The Singapore Math® curriculum does not conform strictly to any of the above approaches. The strong point of Primary Mathematics is its clear and multi-pronged presentation of concepts. There is an effective mix of drill, word problems and mental calculation instruction connected to all important concepts.” [4]

In the sections of the curriculum which learn toward mastery, users of only the workbook and textbook might think there is not enough substance to adequately master the material. However, users of the Home Instructor’s Guide will see that for each simple-looking problem in the student books, there is a wealth of teaching in the Home Instructor’s Guide on the mathematical reasoning, problem solving, and abstract thought behind each type of problem, as explained above.

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Is Singapore Math Common Core?

Yes, and no. There are three different, separate versions of Singapore Math [2], and each is very clearly named: the U.S. Edition, the Standards Edition, and the Common Core Edition. Only the Common Core version is aligned to Common Core standards.

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Which edition of Singapore Math is best?

Generally, when people refer to “Singapore Math”, they mean “Primary Mathematics” from publisher Marshall Cavendish. Throughout this post, this is what I mean, as well. There are other publishers who use the term “Singapore Math” as well, such as the Frank Schaffer practice books often spotted at Costco, but those aren’t the same as the original Singapore Math Primary Mathematics curriculum discussed in this post.

If you’re sold on the Singapore Math methodology, you can’t go wrong with any Singapore Math edition from Marshall Cavendish –the U.S. Edition, the Standards Edition, or the Common Core Edition. (Obviously, if you have strong feelings about the Common Core edition of Primary Math aligning with Common Core standards, you’ll want to avoid that one.)

We use the Standards Edition. All the textbooks are full-color, unlike the U.S. Edition (not a deal breaker, but a really nice perk if you happen to have a very young math aficionado.) And in my opinion, the Standards Edition it has the very best, most thorough teacher’s component. This chart from Marshall Cavendish explains the differences between the U.S. Edition, the Standards Edition, and the Common Core Edition of Singapore Math.

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

There are so many books for each level of Primary Mathematics. Which ones do I need?

For a complete Primary Mathematics curriculum, you’ll need the Home Instructor’s Guide, textbook, workbook, and Mathlink cubes. One full year of math instruction will require a minimum of six books: A and B level Home Instructor’s Guide, A and B level textbook and A and B level workbook. The Home Instructor’s Guide serves as the planner and teaching guide for each lesson, after which the student is assigned a few workbook pages and a few textbook pages. Because Singapore is neither spiral nor mastery but a combination of the two, there actually aren’t that many problems assigned each day, so textbook and workbook together isn’t an overload of material. We do not currently do the separate supplementary Singapore Math practice books containing challenging word problems, tests, or intensive practice at this point, although they are available. At the end of the post, I list the additional math resources we currently utilize.

(For kindergarten, all you really need are Earlybird Kindergarten Textbooks A and B. More on that below.)

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

What are the grade equivalents to Singapore levels?

Before Singapore Math redid their website, they used to have a section stating that Singapore level B of one grade is equivalent to the first semester of the following grade (1B and 2A make up a typical second grade year, 2B and 3A are equivalent to third grade from another publisher, and so on). Once the website was revamped, that page disappeared. Now, the homeschooling planning section links to Singapore Math assessment/placement tests, and advise students start with an assessment two grade levels below their current math level.

What about middle school and high school (secondary-level) Singapore Math?

Primary Mathematics is available through Level 6B, then secondary-level Singapore math curriculum is available for levels 6, 7, and 8. (Why don’t the Singapore math levels and United States grade-level equivalents line up exactly?)

It is worthwhile to note that New Elementary Mathematics version (available in levels 7-8 or 1-2) is considered by the publishers themselves to be more rigorous than the Dimensions Math edition (available in levels 6-8). However, according to the Singapore Math website,  “A student who has completed either of these should be prepared for second year algebra or geometry at the high school level.  An advanced homeschooled student could potentially do a college level intermediate algebra or pre-calculus text.” [5]

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

What books do you recommend if I want to begin Singapore Math in preschool or kindergarten?

We used — and loved — Earlybird Kindergarten Math, Standards Edition. For both the A and B levels, a Teacher’s Guide, textbook, and activity book is available, as well as additional storybook readers. While I’m a huge proponent of the Home Instructor’s Guides for Primary Mathematics 1A and up, I actually found that for Earlybird, just Textbook A and Textbook B themselves provided a fun and comprehensive kindergarten math education. Unlike the Primary Mathematics textbooks which contain no teacher’s segment, Earlybird textbooks do include separate teacher’s notes at the bottom of each page, which guide the parent through each lesson.

The first book, A, doesn’t deal as much with actual numerals as it does with mathematical reasoning, and learning to express why sets of items are “different from” or “similar to” each other. This emphasis on why, focus on pictorial representation, and lack of writing makes Earlybird A a thorough yet developmentally-appropriate first introduction to mathematics and critical thinking. I would say the curriculum could be undertaken as early as four years old — or even an older three-year-old in the case of a precocious child.

Since the program starts out slowly, some fail to see the need for Earlybird A. However, by the end of Earlybird B, though, the practical foundation laid by the seemingly slow exercises in Earlybird A become very clear. We did lots more than one page/day during the easy units, and slowed down a bit for the more challenging units. Earlybird A and B are a terrific foundation for Primary Mathematics.

The whole kindergarten course is extremely simple and open-and-go. For A, the only manipulatives I used were shapes cut out of construction paper, although wooden or plastic tangrams would have been more practical and durable. Once you begin Earlybird B, I would recommend purchasing some physical counters (like the recommended Mathlink cubes as manipulatives.  You’ll want to have counters anyway as you go on to 1A and beyond, as they are an integral part of the program.

Singapore Math suggests additional manipulatives as well, should you wish to invest in more hands-on math materials.

Why Singapore Math Works for Us: Answering Commonly Asked Questions about the Homeschool Math Curriculum (by Gina @ Oaxacaborn)

Besides Singapore, what other resources do you use for elementary math?

If you have additional questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer! [Edited to add: This is post is not in any way sponsored by Singapore Math or Marshall Cavendish. We just truly love this curriculum!]

This post has been linked to  iHomeschool Network’s Our Homeschool: What’s Working and What’s Not. Click the image below to read other #ihsnet bloggers’ mid-year curriculum reviews!

Why Singapore Math Works Best for Us: A Look Halfway Through the School Year

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