Adventures in Reading: The Ranger’s Apprentice Series


I’ve been reading to my son at night from the time he was two or three.  Some of the books I read to him were ones I enjoyed when I was his age, such as My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, and others were ones that are fairly new.  Along the way we found some real treasures as well as an occasional snore-fest.  One series I began reading to him when he was around seven or eight is the Ranger’s Apprentice, by John Flanagan.

1The Ranger’s Apprentice is a series of novels set in the fictional land of Araluen.  The stories follow the adventures of a young apprentice named Will and several of his friends: Horace, a young knight, Alice, a royal courier, Cassandra, the princess of the realm, and Erak, a fierce warrior from a northern land who is an enemy at first and later grows to be one of Will’s best friends.

The stories are engaging and fun to read.  I found myself enjoying them as much as my son, and often read the books ahead of our nightly reading time.  In fact, I liked them enough that I have started reading through the series again.  If you enjoy great adventure tales like I do, it probably won’t take long to get you hooked.

I think he Ranger’s Apprentice series has great value in regards to homeschooling.  Though they are fiction, and the lands and peoples mentioned all have names invented by the author, they have direct correlations to real world countries, cultures, and history.2

For instance, Araluen is a fictional version of medieval England, Gallica is France, the Skandians are Vikings, and so on.  Much of the information about those countries and peoples fairly accurately depict their real-world counterparts.  The stories could, in my opinion, be used as activities for both English and History.  One could easily have the student identify the various cultures and lands presented in the stories, and (depending on the age of the child) describe how they are similar.

The Ranger’s apprentice stories have value in discussing ethics and morals.  There is a clash of ethics throughout the series, for instance, between Will and Horace.  The rangers often prefer a less than direct method of dealing with enemy forces, in contrast to the knights, who have a strong sense of honor and fair play.  The conflicts and the way they’re resolved could serve as a starting point for a discussion.  For instance, in the first book, The Ruins of Gorlan, Will and Horace start out as rivals, and for a while, appear as if they will become enemies, kind of like Harry and Draco in the Harry Potter series.  However, they are able to finally work out their differences and they become the best of friends.  The manner in which they do so is handled well, in my opinion, and avoids becoming overly sentimental or sappy.3

Flanagan has released book 12, The Royal Ranger, which seems to be the end of the series.  My son, after finishing it, mentioned that it was sad the stories are over.  I felt much the same way.  The Ranger’s Apprentice has become one of those stories, for me, that when you read the last one, it’s almost like saying goodbye to a good friend.  I strongly recommend the series.  As far as an age level, I believe I began reading the books to my son when he was 7 or 8, and by the time he was 9, he had started reading them himself, jumping far ahead of our nightly reading times.  Depending on the reading ability of the student, I would say around the age of eight as far as reading level goes.4  As for the content, I didn’t find anything objectionable in the stories.  The heroes and heroines strove to develop themselves ethically and morally, and most of the conflicts were resolved in a decent manner.  The only word of caution I would add is that there could be some scenes that might be slightly frightening, especially in the first two books of the series.  There are some monsters the heroes encounter that could frighten younger readers.  Aside from that, I think the only thing to be concerned with is whether or not the books fall within the particular student’s reading level.

Go check them out; I think you’ll enjoy them.

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DIY Bacteria With Zometool


No, I’m not writing about creating a strain of bacteria in a basement laboratory at home.  Or in a secret hideout somewhere in the middle of the city.  I mean using a really cool set my wife found recently and bought for my son to enhance his home school education.

Zometool is a seriously awesome set of pieces that can be connected together to form any geometric shape imaginable.  There’s an example of what’s possible up top in the header picture for this blog.  The middle picture above is of a fractal star we assembled a couple of weeks ago.

Zometool consists of balls and several different size struts, in a variety of colors, that can be used on projects that will help students gain a greater appreciation for, and understanding of, geometric concepts and relationships.  Want to build a model of a Phage Virus?  How about a carbon molecule?  Perhaps you’d like to make a model of a protein polymer, a DNA strand, or a crystal lattice.  Those who are more ambitious might decide to construct a rhombic dodecahedron.

One word of warning:  If you’re anything like me, your son might have to stand in line behind you to get to use the set.  I love math and geometry, and it didn’t take long at all before I was hooked on Zometool.  This is definitely a ‘toy’ bought for the kids that the dads will end up using.

It can be really challenging to build.  There’s more than a few models I attempted to put together and found myself having to take everything back apart because the way I was doing it was clearly not going to work.  The fractal star model I mentioned previously had to be restarted four times before I got it right. The pictures of the models look deceptively simple, but once you get started building them, it quickly becomes clear that you have a puzzle you’re going to have to put some work into to solve.  But no fear, there’s something for everyone here.  Models range from fairly easy all the way to constructs that could probably give a rocket scientist pause.

Here’s some images of a construct I assembled, with my son giving me an occasional pointer.  Yes, in this case, it did become a bit of the student teaching the teacher.  Notice on the two images looking through the center of the model how there seem to be several star-shaped patterns popping up.  One of the things a user will learn, if he didn’t know already, is how often the star pattern occurs in nature.  This is a great educational tool, and will help students gain a deeper understanding of the world around us.

This may look easy, but it does take a bit of planning.  Once you get past the challenge of figuring out what pieces you're going to use in building a model, you then have to figure out the right order to use in fitting everything together.  It's as much of a puzzle as everything else.  Several times I had to take it back apart and start over.

This may look easy, but it does take a bit of planning. Once you get past the challenge of figuring out what pieces you’re going to use in building a model, you then have to figure out the right order to use in fitting everything together. It’s as much of a puzzle as everything else. Several times I had to take it back apart and start over.

Note the recurring star patterns in the model, in this image and the one following.

Note the recurring star patterns in the model, in this image and the one following.

7a

You can check out Zometool yourself at their website.  I’m going back downstairs to build another model.