Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Exception to my Previous Statement

In my last post I made the statement,
Let me take a step back and ask, "Why hymns?" In my opinion, hymns offer much that most contemporary Christian music can't come close to touching. They are theologically rich, doctrinally sound (generally speaking) and deeply committed to content. They are full of beautiful language and amazing imagery. It seems much of contemporary Christian music is pablum compared to the treasure trove we find in hymns.
I gladly offer a refreshing exception:

"In Christ Alone"

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Great Resource for Hymn Study

Dh brought home a catalog that featured this series of books a few months ago. I filed it away in my, "Oh, that would be so neat, if we could just find time," mental file. How I would love to teach my children the hymns I learned growing up! Then came CM into our school.

One of the first places I was encouraged to visit was Simply Charlotte Mason. I was told it was a great place to find practical ideas for implementing CM ideas into your homeschool. The first thing I started looking at were all the sample schedules posted at their site. I was ready to get started and quick! :) Well, guess what popped up on most of the schedules they had posted.....(drum roll, please)....Hymn Study! You can see a sample schedule here, here, here or even here on their "Light Schedule"!

I asked Dh to put in our order; there are four books in the set. Each book is linked to Crossway, the publisher's site, because you can hear samples of the music there although two volumes are available at Amazon for less.

Hymns for a Kid's Heart, Volume 1
Hymns for a Kid's Heart, Volume 2
Christmas Carols for a Kid's Heart, Volume 3
Passion Hymns for a Kid's Heart, Volume 4

Each hymn is introduced with a vignette of the hymn's author, usually including details about him/her as a child. They are precious, inspiring stories and enough to justify the cost of the books alone! After each story is a page called, "From My Heart to You" which is a one-page devotional that reinforces the main point of the hymn. Last is the hymn itself including sheet music followed by a verse and a prayer that reaffirms the message of the hymn yet again. Each also includes a CD of all the songs in that book book sung by children.

Let me take a step back and ask, "Why hymns?" In my opinion, hymns offer much that most contemporary Christian music can't come close to touching. They are theologically rich, doctrinally sound (generally speaking) and deeply committed to content. They are full of beautiful language and amazing imagery. It seems much of contemporary Christian music is pablum compared to the treasure trove we find in hymns.

Do you need this series (or any other series for that matter) to incorporate hymn study into your school? Most definitely not. Still I am very thankful that this series has found its way onto our shelves and I am certain will be used again and again.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009


After re-reading my last few posts I felt I should add something...

I am so thrilled to be shifting to a CM style homeschool BUT that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate all that Classical has to offer. Classial is an excellent educational choice. I honestly think a lot of moms do it so much better than I. The balancing act, I mean. I am such a box checker and WTM became one huge to-do list for me (not the fault of the book, just my personality bent). I got so involved in getting it all done that I think I lost for the forest for the trees.

I forgot why I was homeschooling. I wanted my little boy home because public school can be a very tough place for a guy like him. So impulsive, yet so tender-hearted. So loud and in your face, yet so eager to please. So bright, yet so distracted. I wanted to give him every opportunity to grow in all respects - body, mind and spirit. With severe ADHD and major maturity issues as our daily reality, getting it all done became harder and harder, yet I still pushed.

Charlotte Mason's writings have brought me back to why I am homeschooling. I want to provide an excellent education for my boys and I believe I can do that better at home. I really do. Yet I lost my focus. That's what I mean about other moms doing it better. I think there are many, many moms out there who are following the Classical model and who instinctively do the things that Miss Mason talks about - nurturing a child's tender conscience; building in an appreciation of beauty through nature, music, art and the world all around; cultivating a deep love for God; shaping a child's personality by patient, consistent, systematic and diligent training; fostering a strong will that will, "chart the course of their lives" (Volume 1, p. 319, Modern Translation) and I could go on and on.

I just know in my heart that I was not doing those things to the best of my ability. That's what CM has been for me - a Renaissance of sorts for our school and for my heart! I just wanted to clarify that in case anyone was feeling a little slighted. That is not at all my intention. Thanks for letting me get that out. :)


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Answering Questions

I've had several readers ask questions recently. I thought I would answer here just in case anyone else was wondering the same thing.

I was wondering how you got through all the CM reading--did you read the revised/modern one on-line? Each time I want to, I start and it is just so much information to consume. Would you mind sharing?

Well, I have not gotten through nearly as much CM reading as I would have liked. I have only read Volume 1 in Miss Mason's six volume Home Education series as well as Catherine Levison's books, A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education.

I did read Volume 1 in Modern English and plan on reading Volume 6 next. I have been told those are the most helpful in getting started as they are the most practical. Then I will fill in the gaps reading Volumes 2-5. I plan on reading all six volumes in Modern English because I will be able to proceed through them much more quickly in order to begin applying concepts. I would love to go back someday and re-read her works a second time in her original Victorian style English though!

When I started, I went to the Ambleside site and actually printed off only the first section of Volume 1. I would have been overwhelmed if I had initially printed it in its entirety. As I finished one section I would return to the computer to print the next. I chose to print them rather than read on-line because I need to interact with the text when I read: hold the pages, write thoughts and questions in the margins, and underline important concepts.

I was hesitant to get started but it was Tami at Ambleside Classical who kept encouraging me. She encouraged me not to simply read others interpretations/summaries of CM's writing but to go to them myself. Her gentle encouragement gave me the push I needed to "Just Do It!" (Wouldn't Nike be proud?!) Hopefully this will encourage someone who has been wanting to read for themselves to "Just Do It" too!

Could you share how a WTM-style narration and a CM-style narration have looked different to you? We do WTM-style right now and it seems so...artificial, or forced, or something.

I talked a little about this in my last post comparing CM to Classical, so here I thought I'd share a few quotes from the authors themselves. First Susan Wise-Bauer's ideas on narrations...
Narration is a way to develop the child's understanding and storytelling skills. The process is simple: the child tells you what he's just heard or read. ...In first grade, you begin to ask the child to summarize the plots of short simple stories...Narration lets you know how much a child retains and understands. It also develops vocabulary and powers of expression, and lays the foundation for good writing later on.
The Well Trained Mind, p. 55 (emphasis mine)
Narration removes the need for "comprehension exercises." Instead of learning to complete fill-in-the-blank questions, the child uses all his mental faculties to understand, sort through, reorganize and relate the main points of a story.
The Well Trained Mind, p. 59 (emphasis mine)

This process (of narration) developed the student's comprehension skills and taught him how to tell the difference between irrelevant details and important elements of plots or argument.
The Well Trained Mind, p. 272

And now Charlotte Mason's ideas on narration...

Narrating, like writing poetry or painting, is an art that's inherent in the mind of every child. It's just waiting to be uncovered. The child doesn't need to go through an educational process to develop it because it's already there. The child only needs a reason to narrate and he does--easily, generously, with events in the right order, using appropriate illustrative details, with the right choice of words, without flowery wordiness or redundant phrases, as soon as he's able to speak easily. This amazing ability lies within every child, yet it is rarely tapped into to serve his education. Robert will come home with an exciting story of a fight between Duke and a stray dog down the street. It's wonderful! He saw it all and tells everything with great eagerness in a style that might rival any epic movie. But our scorn for children is so ingrained that we don't appreciate it. All we see is how childish Robert is being. But if we could only see it and use it, his recounting could be the very foundation of his education.
Home Education, Volume 1, p. 231
Readings should always be in consecutive order and from a carefully selected book. Before the day's reading, the teacher should talk a little and discuss with the children what happened in the previous lesson. Then she can say a few words about the current lesson, just enough that the children are eager in anticipation. But she should be careful not to explain too much and, especially, she shouldn't take too long to get into the reading itself. Then she can read two or three pages, enough to cover a complete episode. After that, she can call on the children to narrate. If there are several children, they can take turns. The children narrate with enthusiasm and accuracy while still retaining a sense of the author's style. It isn't a good idea to nag them about their mistakes. They may begin with a lot of "ums" or "ands" but they soon stop doing that on their own, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to publish in a book! This kind of narration lesson shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. The book should always be very interesting. When the narration is over, there should be a little bit of discussion where the moral points are brought out, pictures can be shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard.
Home Education, Volume 1, p. 232-233
Essentially, the main difference between a CM narration and a WTM (Classical) narration is that the former asks the child to recall all he heard and the later wants a summary. To me the CM style is much more natural for a young child as many struggle mightily to differentiate between a main idea and a superfluous detail. The poster of the original question states that she feels WTM style narrations seem, "artifical or forced." I would maintain this is because WTM narrations may be trying to accomplish too much, especially for the younger student. If the goal is to determine, "how much a child retains and understands" (SWB quote above) then why summarize? If we really want to know how much they retain then let the children tell all they know! I am not saying summarization is not a valuable skill...oh, but it is. I just don't feel this is necessarily the best place to teach it.

The Awana issue is the same here (although there are other aspects besides the amount of scripture and lack of depth that I don't like). But how will you phase it out being a pastor's wife, just curious.

I am still not 100% certain that we will not continue AWANA but my heart continues to lean that direction - and even more strongly than when I first posted my thoughts on the issue. I believe it is a truly great program for the way it partners with parents; it just simply isn't meeting our needs anymore. AWANA is not offered at our home church so we attend at another church just a few blocks away. That makes it much easier to bow out gracefully!

I will say though, that even if it were at our church, I would not hesitate to step back. My dh is wonderful in this and has taught me so much. Our responsibility is first to God, then to each other and finally to our children. We are not responsible to make the church members happy or feel good about decisions we make. Our goal is to follow Christ and Him alone.

Wow! I am a people-pleaser to a fault. Do you want to know how much it cost me in therapy sessions to be able to say that and really mean it? Phew! :) :) :) No seriously, I haven't been in therapy for my people-pleasing habits but I have been under the sweet leadership of my husband who knows this about me and over the last twelve years of marriage has challenged me to overcome this unhealthy addiction to people's approval (not that I have arrived by any stretch of the imagination)!

Also, it is helpful we are at a large church which eases the "everyone's watching you" factor a tiny bit too. We have six services and two campuses so I interact with only a very small portion of the people at our church. On top of that, the boys and I attend the earliest service which is the smallest. This is to help Thatcher because larger crowds=more noise=one very overstimulated little boy. One other benefit of being at a church our size is that when I do disappoint people, which I am confident I do quite often (though not on purpose I assure you) it's not like a small church where everyone knows about it instantly and it's the talk of the town.

So I'm curious, did you completely ditch all WTM methods?

No, not at all. I still love the Classical Model and what it has to offer. I feel CM has truly enhanced our Classical school; some even say that Miss Mason was one interpreter of Classical education pre-Dorothy Sayers. So far we haven't changed so much what we do but how we do it!

And there are still several parts of our day that are not in line with CM recommendations at all. As one example Miss Mason preferred math programs where "only one difficulty is presented at a time." (Volume 1, Modern Translation, p. 262) In today's terms that would be a mastery program. Currently we are using Horizons which is considered a spiral program. I have no intentions to change from Horizons as it has been a great math program for us so far. As with all things, I reserve the right to change my mind if new information comes my way to so convince me otherwise. ;)


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Comparing Charlotte Mason and Classical

Admittedly, I have a long way to go on this new path we have found ourselves on, speaking of Charlotte Mason, yet I wanted to make an attempt to compare these two very popular styles of education. I am no expert and surely will be embarrassed at the simplicity of this post in a few years once I've had time to read all six volumes in Charlotte Mason's Home Education series and have walked a little further down the road. :)

Still I have had so many questions from readers about CM's ideas that I thought it would be a great way for me to synthesize all I've learned so far and possibly help another mom along the way! I do want to say that each time I refer to Classical Education it is Classical as presented in The Well Trained Mind, therefore I will use Classical Education and WTM interchangeably.

First I'll start with the similarities because there are many. Both Classical and CM...
  • recommend a chronological study of history.
  • use narrations.
  • value the use of excellent literature with children, especially the classics.
  • encourage the study of foreign languages.
  • advocate teaching mostly the same subjects: history, penmanship, math, reading, spelling, foreign language, science...

But there are in fact multiple differences as well. Following are some of the things that make CM distinct from Classical. CM...

  • employs a six year cycle for teaching history and encourages reading first hand accounts as much as possible along with other books that will capture a child's heart as well as his/her mind. Miss Mason maintained that retention is much higher when the heart is engaged! Classical uses a four year cycle and lots of great literature.
  • uses narrations much more so than classical - in almost every subject area. Miss Mason says that children's narrations should be oral until the age of 11-12, and then they can be required to write them. Also, a CM narration looks different from a Classical narration. CM asks the child to recall in his/her own words using as much detail as he/she is able to remember. WTM focuses more on summarizing the most important points and children start writing their narrations much sooner as well.
  • encourages systematic habit training, especially no dawdling.
  • advocates using short, concentrated lessons until the age of nine - 15 to 20 minutes for most subjects.
  • advises teaching a modern language to start; CM taught French in her school. WTM recommends starting with Latin.
  • believes in delaying formal grammar until the age of ten. Classical starts grammar in first grade at the age of six.
  • allows no abridgements, reading only the original versions of stories to children whom she assured, "are able to understand intelligent ideas told with intelligent language." (Vol. 1, Home Education, Modern Translation, p. 287)
  • sees "masterly inactivity" as a priority each and every day. Masterly inactivity is "a purposeful letting alone" of our children each day to allow them leisure, time to explore and time to seek their own interests.
  • believes that science is best taught through nature for the young child, again up to about eight or nine. Children go on frequent nature walks and are encouraged and taught to be observers of God's natural world. They handle only "real" materials and specimens - textbooks are not used. Classical education encourages a science sequence that corresponds to the history cycles: biology, earth science/astronomy, chemistry and physics to go along with anciencts, medieval, early-modern and modern history.
  • sees the study of art, music and poetry as core subjects and not extras.
  • does not believe in using textbooks for any subject with children - especially younger ones.
  • emphasizes teaching children handicrafts that can be enjoyed for a lifetime (sewing, cooking, woodworking...) rather than cute "crafty" type activities.
  • utilizes highly structured mornings with afternoons free for children to pursue their own interests.
  • uses copywork and dictation to teach grammar and spelling. Classical uses these methods but not exclusively like CM.
In summary, CM is a philosophy not a curriculum. She is an advocate of educating the "whole child" - mind, body and soul yet still within an academic approach. I mentioned in a previous post how I felt I was doing a great job in educating Thatcher's mind and growing his intellect but felt neglectful of his body and soul/heart. In my opinion, by following a CM style education I don't have to choose A, B, or C; I can choose "D" which is "All of the Above" :)

Education is an atmosphere,
a discipline, a life.
~ Charlotte Mason


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Our First Official Nature Hike!

I have been informally attempting to train my boys to be observers of nature for the past year now - in our backyard, on our trips to the ranch, at the beach... I have definitely seen a spark of interest but getting an ADHD kid to stop and really observe, well that's definitely a challenge. ;) It will take extra time and diligence on my part but I am confident the rewards will be worth it. Before all the photos here is yet another quote from Charlotte Mason; this one about the how and why of nature study.

They should be long days spent outside...But suppose we have those long days in the open air, what is to be done with them so that they are pleasant days? There must be a plan, or else it will be all work and no fun for the mother and the children will be bored...They must be left to themselves for a good part of the day to take in their own impressions of nature's beauty. There's nothing worse than children being deprived of every moment to wonder and dream within their own minds because teachers and adults are constantly talking at them, not leaving them a moment's peace. Yet, the mother must not miss this opportunity of being outdoors to train the children to have seeing eyes, hearing ears and seeds of truth deposited into their minds to grow and blossom on their own in the secret chambers of their imaginations.
~Charlotte Mason - Volume 1, Home Education, Modern Translation p. 44
Here are some photos from our first adventure. We went to some trails about four miles from our home. I used to run this gorgeous path when I was training for races but haven't returned in almost a year. It was fun to share this treasure with my boys. We can't wait to go back and collect pictures of all the different wildlife that abound there! On this first trip we didn't see too many birds and critters but it whet our appetite to return soon.

Not a great photo but he's a Common Grackle.

We were glad to finally get a picture of a Northern Cardinal after seeing several that flew away before we could snap a photo!

Took me awhile to figure out this one - a Double-crested Cormorant. Thanks, Amelia! :)

One of a million crawfish/crayfish/crawdaddy holes scattered all over the trails.

Thatcher wanted me to include a photo of this sign on our report! They were so disappointed they didn't get to see an alligator, but me, I've seen plenty (behind fences, thank you very much!) and I was just fine to have not seen one this day. ;) On these very trails, just after Hurricane Rita three years ago my friend, Justin, and I were running and almost stepped on one of these....

A cottonmouth (water moccasin) - the only poisonous water snake in North America. Nice.

Not. ;)

Footprints of an unknown bird in the mud. It will be neat the day we can look and say, "Hey, footprints from a (fill in the blank)!"

Almost at the end of our walk...In the summer we'll be able to jump off the bridge that crosses this area and catch crabs - and NO I will not be cooking them for any of you wondering! ;)

At the end of the trails you come to Galveston Bay. Breathtaking with the morning sun sparkling on the water!

And just to the right of that photo of the bay this is what you see...devastation from Hurricane Ike that struck our area just four months ago. There has been so much progress but there is much rebuilding still to do.

Seagulls feasting on a new beach Hurricane Ike created.

"The three most handsome boys you ever did see playing on the aforementioned beach," said a proud mommy (and just moments before her youngest realized his shoes were dirty and had a complete screaming meltdown when she refused to remove them due to all the sharp shells. Sigh.)

Behind the boys this is what you see...millions of seashells that used to be hidden underwater. They covered an area about 20 feet x 60 feet and were several inches deep. A treasure trove for a kid, to be sure! ;)

At the end of the path, there is a park that overlooks the bay where we stopped to play and read this sign. Beckett doing one of his very favorite things!

And Thatcher behind him searching the bay with binoculars.

"Hey, Mom! Will you take a photo of this oil tanker to put on your blog?"

And then screaming excitedly, "MOM! MOM! Hurry, I've found the Eiffel Tower!!!" To which I responded (trying hard to suppress a giggle) "No sweetie, that would be across the Atlantic Ocean, not the Gulf of Mexico, and it's so far away you couldn't even see it even with binoculars. That's part of an offshore oil rig I believe." Lol! :) :) :) How precious.

And on our way out, evidence of all the unseen deer in the area.

Alas, boys will be boys! They were more excited about seeing this Apache helicopter flying low than any other thing we saw on our hike!

If you made it this far, thanks for sharing our first outdoor adventure. Hopefully many more to come!


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Our New Spanish Learning Games

Awhile back I did my first post on all the Spanish games we had acquired. You can read it here. Of all those mentioned in the original post we use the Learning Resources Spanish bean bags and the Leap Frog Bilingual Memory Mate the most. We also get quite a bit of use out of the puzzle cards also from Learning Resources.

Oh, oh, oh...I just checked to the Learning Resources site to see if these products are still available. It looks like they have the Spanish bean bags on clearance (look towards the bottom of the page). They are cheap, cheap, cheap! This set of the Spanish puzzle cards is on clearance as well. Actually, if you just look on this page (I just typed "Spanish" in their search box) you can see lots of their Spanish products for 50% off and more! I hope someone gets a good deal on some new goodies for their school. :)

Okay, that ended up being a huge (but fun) digression! For Christmas this year we added to our collection and I thought I'd share these new resources. Thatcher got Magnetic Poetry Kids "Kids' Spanish Kit". It includes over 200 double-sided word magnets printed with Spanish on one side and English on the other. This is a set Thatcher will be able to play with for a very long time; it includes lots of verbs which we have hardly gotten to yet. I pulled 50 words (about 35 he already knew) and have been letting him play with them on a metal cookie sheet. He has also played with them on our magnetic dry erase board, sticking a magnet in place and then drawing a picture to describe that word. Once he knows all those words then we'll choose 50 more.

We also got this fun set of jumbo English-Spanish dominoes. They are perfect because we can play together. Even Beckett can join in the fun simply matching the pictures. This is my favorite of the three we added to the Spanish shelf!

Last, we got Usborne's First Fun with Spanish DVD. It is not a riveting, action-packed video that many kiddos are used to but it is a good (albeit slow) introduction to lots and lots of Spanish vocabulary. One fun extra is that there is a little yellow duck in each scene to find. That helped keep my kiddo's attention! You walk though a day with Isabel and her family as they go about their normal activities. Isabel's family does not speak Spanish so she translates for you. I like how the vocabulary is introduced in context and several simple phrases and sentences are taught as well. This is certainly not the pinacle of our Spanish collection but sometimes when I just have to pop in a video, they will be learning lots! ;)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Weekly Report - Weeks 21&22 - Our First Attempt at a CM Schedule!

I intended to get this report up last weekend but then life happened. ;) Dh threw out his back and I have been taking care of him and attending to all home and kiddo duties while he has been on the mend. Happy to say, he's doing much better now!

Well, I am thrilled that our first two Charlotte Mason inspired weeks went very well. We are still on a huge learning curve but so far, all the changes we've instituted have been very positive!

I am going to "walk" through our schedule and share a tad about each portion of our day.

First, I have been diligent to get up earlier each morning so when I wake the boys promptly at 7:00, I am dressed, have teeth brushed and a bit of makeup on. Miss Mason is huge on habit training, and for this first six weeks our habit training is focused on getting us all in a good solid morning routine...and that includes greeting the day with a joyful and positive spirit. After waking them, we immediately make beds, get dressed, brush teeth and then come downstairs and each do about 15 minutes of morning chores. The boys feed the dog and fish, help unload the dishwasher and set the table. I start a load of laundry, make breakfast and help put away all the breakable dishes. I must say that the hardest part of establishing this morning routine for my boys has been the joyful part! I am a morning person but two of my boys, not so. I am trying to coach them through how to "choose joy" even in the moments when life doesn't go our way. Hmmmm, that's a hard one for grown ups too. (Okay, okay I'll speak for myself...hard for this grown up for sure!) Here are two inspiring quotes on habit training from Miss Mason:

The habits of the child produce the character of the man, because certain mental habitudes once set up, their nature is to go on forever unless they should be displaced by other habits. Here is an end to the easy philosophy of, 'It doesn't matter,' 'Oh, he'll grow out of it,' "He'll know better by and by,' 'He's so young, what can we expect?' and so on. Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.
(Vol.I, p.118 - emphasis mine)

We are not unwilling to make efforts in the beginning with the assurance that by-and-by things will go smoothly...The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.
(Vol.I, p.136)
During breakfast we work on Scripture memory. The Bible verses they are learning come from their AWANA books so I don't have a say in that aspect. I love the AWANA program but if it were up to me, we would learn fewer verses but learn them more thoroughly. We would also work on longer passages. I am wondering if we will continue AWANA next year solely based on the fact that I would like to determine the Bible verses they are commiting to memory in these tender and impressionable years. I would pick verses that would help most with each child's character development in addition to ones that teach the attributes of God that we most want our children to know at this age. It is not possible for us to do both AWANA and our own Scripture memory plan. Too many verses, too little time.

For our daily Bible story we are reading Egermeier's Bible Story Book. The boys have enjoyed it so far and have already learned several stories they have not previously learned in the other story Bibles we've read. We also talk each day about our "Virtue of the Week". We are working though the Fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.
~Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
Each week we are choosing one fruit to mediate upon and consider ways to produce more of that in each of our lives, myself included! The first week we focused on love and had some really great conversations when I explained that one definition of love (and probably my favorite) is "intentionally discovering another person's needs and choosing to meet them." They thought showing love was just giving physical affection. We talked about how Jesus loved us by meeting our greatest need, the need for a Savior to rescue us from our sin and the punishment that a holy and just God would have to inflict. We then too should show our love by serving one another. Big truths for little minds, to be sure. :)

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us.
~Romans 5:8 (ESV)
Math ~ We have taken our math time from 90 minutes a day to 30 minutes. For our first CM week we simply worked with Base 10 blocks each day, adding w/carrying, subtracting w/borrowing, multiplying and dividing. I really want to be certain he understands things like when you carry a "4" in addition or multiplication that you are really are bringing over "4 tens". We had lots of fun. For week two we went back to our Horizons 3 book but are only completing one side of a page each day (rather than a complete lesson, which is front and back) but staying wholly focused for those 15 minutes (with me right them training him to stay on task!). Then when we finish we are reviewing skip counting and doing one or two problems with the Base 10 blocks again.

Reading ~ Thatcher is reading aloud from the Pathway Readers that a sweet friend gave me now that her children are grown. " These stories of family life on an Amish farm are wholesome and delightful and encourage Godly character and moral values." We started back in the first grade books so we could get to know the characters as well as work on all those pesky reading habits of Thatch's I mentioned in my last post. We have already finished the first two and will begin the second grade readers Monday. I am really enjoying these stories. They remind me of the Miller Family Stories that we enjoyed so much last year.

Handwriting ~ not much to report other than I decreased the number of times I required Thatcher to write each letter a la Miss Mason's recommendations. We focused on making a few perfect letters rather than several mediocre ones. My only struggle was knowing that in order to form these new letters automatcially "muscle memory" must be developed and this happens only with repitition. I wondered on Monday of CM Week 2 if he would remember how to form the letters from the previous week or if he would have forgotten. He remembered! He takes great pride in writing carefully to get those three or four perfect letters. The pride on his face shows that Miss Mason was correct.

History ~ We are doing history again! We are still using SOTW as our spine but focusing on the great literature that goes along with each chapter rather than the SOTW reading itself. Previously we were reading the chapter on Monday and doing a narration according to how I learned in The Well Trained Mind. (The way WTM recommends doing narrations is quite distinct from a CM style narration.) Tuesday we would listen to the chapter again on audio CD while completing the corresponding color page and hopefully squeezing in the mapwork. Now we are doing history four days a week. I did start each week reading SOTW and doing a CM style narration. I also had Thatch listen to the audio version in his room at rest-time another day. The rest of the week we spent curled up with my favorite blanket in our reading chair reading Michael Morpurgo's version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Picture Study ~ We are studying Leonardo Da Vinci using prints we got from Ambleside. I will describe more about this in a later post because it deserves a space of it's own! :)

Geography ~ Recently I had a great conversation with Darcy from Life with my 3 Boybarians about her learnings from a CM seminar. The following idea is a direct result of something she shared with me. We are using a magnetic USA puzzle my mom gave Thatch a few years ago. Each day we do geography (2x a week) we set the timer for 10 minutes and see how much of the puzzle he can complete. Each puzzle piece has the name of the state on it and the puzzle base has the outline of each state with the capital but no state name. Now that he can do the entire puzzle in less than five minutes, we are playing, "Name that State Game". After removing all puzzle pieces I point to the outline of a state and he has to tell me what state goes there. Then we'll move on to learning the capitals. I cannot believe how much he has learned in only four geography lessons. Thanks, Darcy. She was right, it doesn't have to be hard! ;)

Science ~ We are finally studying the human body! Currently we are using the My Body book as our spine. In addition I pulled every book we had on the subject and checked out another 20 at the library. The first week we learned all about the brain and the second week was the heart. A few years ago I picked up The Human Body Jigsaw Book in Border's clearance section for just a few dollars. It has five puzzles each focusing on a different part of the human body. I also like this Melissa and Doug two-sided human body puzzle but we haven't added that to our collection yet (any granparents or aunts reading this? ;)

Spanish ~ We are continuing video-based lessons on Discovery Streaming every T, Th. Monday and Wednesday we play games. Under the Christmas tree were a few new Spanish learning games and we've had a ball with those! That will be another blog post, too. :)

Spelling ~ We have only done one lesson each week and my goal is two. Even though Spelling takes just few moments of time each day we keep forgetting it! We will do better next week.

Poetry ~ I don't have my own copy of A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson so we checked one out from the library and have enjoyed reading his poems most days at lunch.

Me Reading to Thatch ~ This has been another area that hasn't happened consistently. I may need to tweak our schedule because by this point in the day Beckett is getting tired and not wanting to play by himself. That would be fine if he would cuddle up with us, but he is too much of a talker and a wiggle-worm to allow us any reading time of value. I'll have to noodle on this one....

PE ~ nothing formal yet. Just getting in the habit of setting this time aside to be physical. Many plans to come!

Rest time ~ Oh rest beautiful sanity. ;) The boys are listening to lots of audio books we own (several of Jim Weiss's readings), others we borrowed from the library and Classical Kids' CD's during this time.

We also did our first nature hike of the year but I will save that for another post since this one is already so long!


Friday, January 9, 2009

Weekly Report: Weeks 1-20

I have not done a Weekly Report all year. I am not exactly sure why, but I have a few hunches. This past semester was hard. Very hard. At the start I was dealing with severe first trimester exhaustion and moderate morning sickness. Then came a week long evacuation when Hurricane Ike hit, the eye passing literally over our home. Coming home to see much of where we live in complete shambles was shocking. There were so many meals to cook and newly homeless friends to care for in those weeks following the storm. Just as things were getting back to normal we lost baby number four. I then had surgery and a longer than expected recovery. And throughout this time, Thatcher's ADHD has been raging and the social issues growing more severe as well. Just typing it out brings back some of the emotion that went along with all those events.

I think that was just a part of why I didn't do Weekly Reports though. I think it was mostly because I didn't feel we had much to share. We were just going through the motions in many ways and school felt....well....dull. We managed to keep up with math, logic, grammar, spelling, handwriting and Spanish. We started SOTW 2 and made it to Chapter 4 but with very few of the "extras" that make SOTW so much fun. We did no science. Not one smidge.

I know the reality is that Thatcher was still learning and learning a lot. Yet I knew in my heart that there had to be more; I just wasn't sure what it was or where to find it! Before I report on our first CM inspired week I want to document all Thatcher accomplished in the first half of the school year. Because even if it wasn't all I wanted it to be, it is worth celebrating.

Math: In Horizons 3 Thatcher made it to Lesson 73! There are 160 lessons in every Horizons book so we are almost halfway there. Thatcher is a second grader but we are in the third grade math book because at the age of four he whizzed through both the pre-K book as well as the Kinder math book.

We will be slowing down from here on out because he is now hitting material where I want to be certain he understands the "why" of what he is doing and not just "what" to do. I need to spend a little more time building that concrete knowledge base with the use of manipulatives. I want to be sure when is he borrowing or carrying, or counting into the ten-thousands or multiplying with carrying that he really can "see" it in his head. It is well documented that children who have this solid concrete base do much better once they hit higher level math courses because they have the ability to better "see" planes, rays, their minds.

Logic: We completed Mind Benders Beginning Book 2 as well as the first 20 lessons in Primarily Logic. We have always enjoyed Mind Benders but Primarily Logic was a huge hit as well. It introduced Thatcher to many different types of logic activities rather than the same puzzle-style problem you find in the Mind Benders books. We completed one lesson every day as our daily warm-up to get our brains going each morning.

Reading: This fall we completed the three books in the Ralph S. Mouse series by Beverly Cleary. Each day Thatcher read to me for 20 minutes and then I would finish up whatever was left of the chapter. Thatcher tackles reading like he does the rest of life - as if his pants are on fire. Lol! :) As a result, in his oral reading he makes tons of mistakes like omitting, skipping, misreading and switching words. And it's not the big words he misses. Those he almost always gets correct. He misses the little words, reading "a" for "the" and other similar mistakes.

This is where I focused this fall. My corrections were frustrating him (ADHD kiddos often get frustrated much more easily than typical kids) so I used what motivates! Each day I set out 20 pennies. For each word he incorrectly read I took one away. At the end of our reading time any money left was his to keep. I never subtracted money if he missed a new word, only when he made a careless error. Boy, did the number of mistakes dramatically decrease almost instantly! I plan on continuing this in this spring semester.

This is an example of where theory sometimes clashes with reality. I remember in college learning about how we want to train our students to be intrinsically (internally) motivated and avoid extrinsic (external) motivators. Things like treats were to be avoided at all costs. The reality though, is that we are all motivated by rewards, praise, recognition...ADHD kids sometimes need rewards even more than their counterparts because they struggle with waiting for the natural rewards to come if they take too long or seem too abstract. If six pennies in my little guy's hand at the end of 20 minutes of sitting still and reading works, then I am okay with that. Actually, I am great with that! :) Not that I want to be bribing him forever, mind you. ;)

Grammar: We started this year in FLL3. FLL 1/2 was not a huge hit because of its primarily oral format. I have a very visual and tactile learner. FLL 3's workbook format was a much better fit for us. It feels like I am being held accountable to actually get the lesson done by that blank page waiting to be filled out, and being able to see everything on the page helped Thatcher so much as well! We made it all the way to Lesson 40, doing grammar two to three days a week.

Handwriting: We are using Classically Cursive for our handwriting instruction this year. Thatcher has learned all of his lower-case cursive letters and sixteen of the upper-case. Thatch has come so incredibly far in his fine motor skills. If I showed you work he did a year ago, you wouldn't believe it was the same child's writing!

Spelling: We started using Spelling Wisdom this year. We tried Spelling Workout in first grade so I knew that wasn't a good fit. Thatcher has a strong grasp of phonics so I didn't want a phonetic-based spelling program. I kept looking until I came across Spelling Wisdom at Simply Charlotte Mason. It was love at first sight, and has been a great spelling program for us. If you haven't yet found your perfect fit for spelling, check this one out. :)

Spanish: We are still using Elementary Spanish on Discovery Streaming and loving it! Thatcher got a new teacher this year who is a man and that's been a lot of fun for him. He is learning so much, and he walks up to anyone of any color (be they Hispanic, Asian, Indian or just olive-skinned) and starts trying to start up a conversation.

Well that's our semester in review. Now...for our CM report!!!


P.S. Dh, Thank you for my new "Weekly Report" button. :)

Smoothies: Our Favorite Power Drink!

I am working on posting our first "Weekly Report" of this entire year!!!

In the meantime I thought I would share how I make smoothies for my boys. Since I've started my nutrition posts I have had several people ask me (with all we've cut from our diet), "So what do you feed your boys?" One of my favorite things to make them is blueberry smoothies. They love them and have no idea I pack them with so many goodies.

This is definitely more art than science so if you don't already make smoothies, use these ideas and come up with your own favorites! Basically I fill up the blender about 2/3 of the way with organic frozen blueberries (a superfood all by themself!) , throw in a handful of fresh strawberries, fill it up with orange juice and let 'er rip!

Now here's what makes them so fantastic: I add ground flax seed (read about the health benefits of flax here), a plant source of healthy Omega-3 oil that most of us Americans don't get nearly enough of in our diet. Don't use whole flax because our bodies cannot process it and it will just pass through your system. You can also use flax seed oil but it is a little bitter and we prefer the ground seeds.

I add frozen veggie cubes as well. I keep my eye on fresh organic spinach at my grocery each week. When it's within a day or two of its expiration they sell it cheap! I bring it home, steam it with just a drop of water, put it in the blender, pour it into ice cube trays, pop the frozen cubes into a gallon-size baggie and they're ready anytime I want to make smoothies. I usually add three cubes in each batch of smoothies. The blueberries are dark enough that the green color of the spinach doesn't show nor does the flavor come through.

Still, just to be on the safe side, the first time you make these, just add a drop of the flax seed and one cube of spinach. Increase the amount each time until you get where you want.

We are not big "dairy in our smoothies" people but if you are then add some organic vanilla yogurt and you'll add a fourth superfood off Web MD's list (I count the flax as a superfood because they have salmon on the list due to the fact it is high in omega-3's but fish wouldn't be an appetizing addition to our afternoon snack, huh?! As a side note, read this article on the pros and cons of using flax over fish for your omega-3 source).

You can try different combinations as well. My boys also like strawberry smoothies and in those I use frozen carrot cubes. Just like with the spinach in the blueberries, you cannot taste them at all! :) We also make Mango/Orange smoothies with frozen mango, a can of mandarin oranges (to add orange color so they don't suspect the hidden fruit ;) and the carrot cubes as well.

Happy drinking.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Our First CM Inspired Schedule

A few thoughts about our schedule...
  • Most lessons are 15 minutes to align with CM's ideas that lessons for younger children should be short. Lessons are also varied; I tried to alternate between seat work and activities we could do on the floor or snuggled on the couch allowing him to switch between lessons that require pen and paper with ones that would not. He tires easily when a lot of writing is required and this way I feel I can still require excellence in all his penmanship since we will be doing only short bursts of writing at any given time. See my last post (10th paragraph) for a quote from Vol. 1, Home Education on the subjects of short and varied lessons. Below is a quote from Miss Mason about requiring excellence of our children.
A child should not be assigned work that he isn't capable of doing perfectly, and perfect work should be expected as a matter of course. For example, if he is supposed to write a series of of strokes and is allowed to turn in a page of sloppy stroke-marks unevenly spaced and sloping irregularly, then his moral integrity is compromised from getting by on less than his best. Instead, just assign him six strokes to copy instead of a full page. Require that they be six perfect strokes, evenly spaced with uniform slant. If one isn't right, have him show you what's wrong with it and let him re-do it. If he can't do six perfect ones today, let him try again tomorrow, and again the next day. When he finally writes six perfect strokes, celebrate the occasion! Let him feel a sense of triumph...Let everything that he does be done well.
  • I did not schedule an official morning break into our day. Thatch does better with several five to ten minute breathers rather than one 30 minute break. A longer time allows him time to get engaged in an activity that will then necessitate me pulling him from it causing sadness and frustration on his part (and sometimes mine too after dealing with the drama ;). Short breaks give just enough time to go to the restroom, grab a drink and visit a little before jumping right back into the next lesson. Breaks should naturally occur at the end of the lessons I scheduled for a full 30 minutes like reading, history and science. I also allotted extra time in these lessons to build in buffer zones since we have lots of distractions from little brothers.
  • Prior to adopting a CM inspired schedule we were covering only six subjects per day: math (an hour or more due mostly to dawdling - although I have learned that as a right-brained learner he does take longer to process), grammar, spelling, handwriting, reading and Spanish. Yes, I confess, we have not done any real science in an entire year and only enough history to fill a tiny cup. :( With this schedule we are intentionally covering sixteen subjects in the course of a week's time: Scripture Memory, Bible, Character Training (Virtue of the Week), Math, Reading (T to me), Handwriting, History, Art Appreciation (Picture Study). Geography, Science, Spanish, Spelling, Poetry, Music Appreciation (Classical Music Listening), Literature (me reading to him) and PE! While some of these subjects are not recognized as such in a traditional school setting, they are very much in a CM style education and one of the things I love most about it.
  • Fridays are still mostly empty because I will need to develop a workable plan for those days. One of the things I hope to include is a weekly art lesson. We will still be using Draw Squad but possibly switching to online lessons available for a very low price right now through The Homeschool Buyers Co-op Group Buys only until Jan. 15th. Online lessons are probably not in step with the true heart behind Miss Mason's ideals but right now if it gets done and my boys are learning, I am happy being that I am completely art-phobic. I also hope to include weekly nature walks and two field trips a month - one to the zoo and one to a museum.
I'll post my first "Weekly Report" at the end of this week to share how it's going. Today was our first day and things could not have gone any better! I am so very excited. :)


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Learnings from Miss Mason

I have now finished Home Education which is Volume 1 in Charlotte Mason's six volume series, as well as A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education both by Catherine Levison. I have truly enjoyed these readings and have learned so much that will enrich our homeschool. I found many of Miss Mason's writings to be as much a parenting manual as a homeschool how-to, challenging my thinking on so many fronts. Following, and not in any particular order, are some of the learnings and quotes I gleaned from my first introduction to Miss Mason's ideals.

One of my favorite quotes was at the start of the preface of Volume 1, " A river can't rise any higher than the source it comes from. In the same way, education can't rise any higher than the foundational thought behind it."

Charlotte Mason's motto for children is, "I am, I can, I ought, I will." and her motto for parents/educators is, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

In regards to the family she said, "An individual is no greater than the family he is a part of.."

On the first six years of life she said, "It's good to remember that a mother's first duty should be to provide a secure, quiet early childhood...This is not just good for their bodies; their heart, soul and mind are nourished with exactly what they need when we leave them alone in a stress-free environment among happy influences that give them no reason to rebel and misbehave."

One of the major tenants of a CM education is spending large amounts of time in nature rather than learning from text books. She said, "a child's mind is constantly busy with ideas coming in and out, like a millstone turning and turning that, if it has nothing to grind, will begin to grind up itself. A child should be given work to do to provide something for his mind to grind, but he should be given things rather than abstract symbols, real things from nature in their true habitat - in the meadows and woods and shorelines...It's no good when children get their knowledge of science from books. They get so used to reading about marvels of nature and never seeing it for themselves that nothing interests them...The person who can best appreciate God is the one who is familiar with the natural world He made."

Another central theme for CM is habit training. On this Miss Mason interestingly said, "Education is merely forming the right habits." She stated that, "Habit is ten natures, " meaning, "habit is very strong - not just as strong, but ten times as strong as the nature a child is born with." She encourages tackling one bad habit at a time and training our children diligently in this area to replace each with a good habit. There is an entire section in Volume 1 dedicated to why and how to do this. One more of my favorite quotes on the subject is, "It's up to parents to correct the bent quirks of their child's personality...parents should send their child to face the world with an even, cheerful temper, inclined to make the best of things, to look on the bright side, to assume the best and kindest of the motives of others and not to feel he has a right to special treatment."

A completely new concept for me was Charlotte Mason's opinion regarding covering subject matter one time only. On this she said, "He should be trained right from the start to expect one single reading to be sufficient to narrate from it. That will motivate him to develop the habit of slow, careful reading to absorb information even when he reads silently, because he will read every phrase deliberately to understand its meaning." This was true in reading for all subjects because, "Her opinion is that the mind will put off the effort of attention as long as a second or third chance exists of getting the information." (A Charlotte Mason Education, p. 16)

Narration is another major player in a CM education and is used in all subject areas. Essentially a child is read to and then asked to retell in their own words what they just heard. Miss Mason opined that, "Asking direct questions to drill a child on comprehension is always a mistake. Instead let him narrate and tell you what he has read."

Short and varied lessons are also important aspects in this homeschool method. For the younger child (up to age nine for Charlotte Mason) lessons should be 20 minutes or less. "Teaching him that each subject needs to be done in a specific block of time teaches him that it does matter, and one time isn't as good as another. If he doesn't get his work done the first time in the time allotted, there is no time set aside to do it again. This compels the child to pay attention and get his work done the first time." As for the mother's responsibility in this she says, "It is worth her while to make sure that her children never do a lesson that they don't put their whole heart into." (This happens to be one of my favorite quotes so far; what a noble goal for me as the mother-teacher!) As for varied lessons, Miss Mason says, "She (the mother) should know how to vary the lessons so that the child's mind can rest after each kind of mental activity by doing something totally different."

Living books and whole books are even more buzz words you will hear time and again when researching this schooling method. A living book is the opposite of a text book where simple facts are presented without emotion or story. She suggests that true learning doesn't happen this way. A child doesn't really remember unless they make an emotional connection with a real person and that's what a living book does. A living book should also be, "clothed in literary language." A whole book is reading a book the author wrote, not a snipet or a dumbed down version.

In More Charlotte Mason Education are two more powerful quotes from Miss Mason herself on books and how vital they are. The first is, "the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving." The second is, "We owe it to every child to put him in communication with the great minds that he may get at the great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books."

Just re-reading this makes me realize how meager an attempt this post is at even coming close to grasping the true depth of a Charlotte Mason style education. I still want to post it for two reasons: to chronicle my journey down this road and to possible peak interest for someone else who may benefit from reading Miss Mason's works. Tomorrow I am going to make my first attempt at a CM inspired schedule. I expect that we will try many things before we find something to stick with for any length of time.