Sunday, July 1, 2012

FIAR study: The Clown of God, by Tomie dePaola

I loved this row. Okay, okay, I love them all, but I particularly loved this one. It is a touching story about an orphan boy doing something that he loves- juggling- and making others happy with his gift. As he ages he becomes less able to juggle until one day he drops his balls during a performance and gets booed out of town. He learns the lesson that we all have gifts, and when we use them we bring glory to God and happiness to others. The story ends with his death, but he has left his mark (which is the legend part of the story and I won't give it away).

Monday: Social Studies
As we always do, we began this study by placing the story disk on Sorrento, Italy. We looked at where Sorrento is, and remarked at how it is sooooo far from our home.

Next, we did our map for the unit (copied from a book I bought at a tag sale last year), and we did an Italian-themed maze to begin our study. (And we had snacks. We always have snacks.)

Next we worked on making Italian flags with our dot markers.

Tuesday: Language Arts
We used the lesson from the manual today, and talked about what "legend" is. We generated some ideas of legends we're already familiar with, and we talked about what makes this particular story a legend.

We also focused on reading comprehension today. I took pictures of some of the key illustrations from the book, shrunk them, and printed them out (I'd share them with you but it's a copyright issue. Sorry! You can do it easily enough on your own, I'm sure. Personal use is OK). I then asked the kids to work together to put the illustrations in order and to retell the story. We'd only read the book a couple of times at this point, so it was a healthy challenge to do so. They had to correct themselves a few times, but they were able to retell the entire story, with pictures correctly aligned, before too long. As they get older I'll ask them to illustrate their own retelling of the story, which will help to reinforce comprehension. This time I asked my oldest to retell only one part of the story using pictures.

I also used this opportunity to ask them inference questions- things not specifically spelled out in the story, but that the reader should infer from the way dePaola described the situations. I asked things like, "why did Giovanni have an arrangement with Signor Baptista?" The kids had to remember the scenario in the book, evaluate the economic situation of each character, and identify and describe why each character benefited from their mutual agreement. This is higher order thinking- it requires a student to digest information they read/hear and to evaluate and extrapolate from it. It's an essential life skill.

Wednesday: Art
We tried juggling. Of course we did!

DePaola uses a stylized version of illustration in his art. He uses pencil, watercolor and ink to create the vivid illustrations he's famous for. (They are some of my absolute favorites, incidentally.) I gave the kids a choice regarding exploration of dePaola's art: they could either try the watercolor and ink combination (in 2D, as dePaola's art is), or using clay to create some stylized trees and buildings as they appear in the book. (Clay play rapidly turned into just play, so I didn't bother to take pictures.)

I was inspired by this idea for using black puffy paint and watercolor from Art Projects from MN Art Gal and this idea for using ink over dried watercolor painting from Life In Color. We did both, but the marker drawings came out much closer to "authentic" dePaola art. For those who are wondering, I drew a few quick designs with permanent marker and then let the kids go to town mixing colors and making their art. We also tried the opposite- the kids using watercolor first and then drawing over the painting with marker.

We also made our own stained glass windows like the ones in the church illustrations.
We cut black construction paper as if they were snowflakes (by folding them many times and cutting small pieces from the folds), and putting the paper onto contact paper, sticky side up.

We added multi-color tissue paper over the openings and then covered them with more contact paper.

We trimmed the edges.

This is how the back looked.

Here is our finished stained glass window.

Thursday: Math
Since we have a few different levels of math learners in our family, we did a couple of different things to make real-life math connections through this book. (We use Singapore Math to introduce new concepts in addition to our FIAR work.)

For Ben, we worked on grouping numbers, as the manual suggested. We aren't quite ready to really apply multiplication yet, but doing some pre-multiplication grouping was a great way to begin introducing that more complex idea.

For Ava, we focused on counting one to one ratios. We used pom poms to represent the juggling balls and she practiced counting different amounts.

Friday: Science
Since this story follows Giovanni throughout his life, even to his death, we chose to talk about the aging process for our science exploration today. This was a great connection to a volunteer project we did with our church last Valentine's Day, when we went to a local nursing home to distribute valentines to patients there. Before our trip, we discussed what age "looks like," and the idea that some patients might not be able to hear what the children said, or may not be able to see them well.

I was pleased to find that both of the older children remembered the experience of our visit to the nursing home positively, and remembered our discussions as well. This discussion naturally brought up the idea of death, and gave us a chance to explore our family's faith system around dying. It was extremely powerful and moving to hear my children discuss what it means to get old and to eventually die- and it was incredibly difficult for me to discuss it with them- but I felt rewarded by the time we moved on.

No experiments for today- the mood just wasn't right. Instead, we pulled out some old family photo albums and looked at Mommy and Daddy as babies, children, young adults...

Other focuses for this "row":
We learned a little Italian this week, as well. We use the Muzzy curriculum for learning French and Spanish, but it also has an Italian version that comes with the program. Since the kids know the characters and storyline for the first video (because we've used it for French and Spanish already), we jumped in this week to watch it in Italian. So fun!

We also used this YouTube video from The Travel Linguist to learn a few basic phrases. I doubt anyone will remember them for any length of time because we don't regularly do Italian in our homeschool, but it was fun to introduce the kids to a new language. They made some great cross lingual connections, as well, noting how similar some of the French, Spanish and Italian phrases were. I loved that. 

Since there was so much beautiful color in this book- particularly with the juggling balls- I used the rainbow tot school pack from 1+1+1=1 this week to supplement for Ava. Carissa does an amazing job making these printables and she offers them for free at her website. It's well worth a visit if you've never checked that out. We used playdoh, practiced our colors by coloring a rainbow, sang songs... all from this one little gem of a resource. I just love it when school comes to together like that.

We also made a color wheel for the younger kids to practice their colors. I cut a large circle from cardboard and drew lines upon it to split it up into "slices". Then I used our dot markers to color each slice a different color. I used the same dot markers to color one side of a clothes pin.
 To complete the game the kids had to pull the clothespins off the circle and then affix them to the corresponding color on the wheel.
 Baby Eleanor did some "rainbow" themed learning as well with her rainbow stacking toys. 

Oh! and the food we ate! Homemade polenta and some caprese salad sticks which boasted Italy's flag colors. Polenta is a traditional Italian food which is naturally gluten-free and easy to make. It can be eaten in a bowl, like oatmeal, as shown here, or it can be molded into shapes and sauteed for a savory meal. It's delicious either way.

To make polenta, see below:
Ingredients for polenta: some salt, some butter and one cup of corn meal

Add the salt to boiling water

Whisk in the cornmeal and cook until corn meal grains are softened

Keep stirring during this process- it burns easily and it will also bubble a lot

Polenta can be enjoyed in a bowl as a soft cereal, or it can be poured into a mold (like a bread pan), cooled, and sliced. (Then fried in a bit of olive oil and served with tomato sauce....)
I loved making these lovely treats (tomatoes and fresh mozzerella on toothpicks- my kids don't care for basil so we left it out) because they mimicked the colors on the Italian flag. And they're really yummy. Really, really yummy.
 We also did several juggling pictures, just for fun because we're in love with our dot markers.
I asked Ava to practice putting dots (like juggling balls) along her name, which she did for all of thirty seconds. Sometimes it's just the thought that counts.

We also took a trip to our local market, because Giovanni performs at a market in the beginning of the book. Sadly, we choose a dreary day and the regular juggler wasn't there performing. Still, the kids have been to that farmer's market so frequently that they understood the connection I was trying to make even though the gentleman wasn't there. Plus, we bought and ate some wonderful fresh apples on our "field trip".


  1. thanks for sharing.... we are doing Clown of God this week and it is so helpful to see what others have done. I have enjoyed several of your other Five in a Row posts... they always come up near the top of my google search ;-)

  2. thanks for sharing.... we are doing Clown of God this week and it is so helpful to see what others have done. I have enjoyed several of your other Five in a Row posts... they always come up near the top of my google search ;-)



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