Thursday, May 22, 2008

Should A Child Read His Typed Narrations Before Exams?

Recently, I had a very thought-provoking email exchange with some other CM mothers regarding the practice of typing narrations and letting the children read them as a means of keeping the stories fresh in their minds and aiding retention. The children were allowed to read these typed narrations at any point during the school term. In our own home we have not allowed the children to read any typed narrations until after the term's exam week has been completed. We also do not allow the children to flip through their school books and read bits and pieces of former readings. One of the mothers asked me to expound on our views in this area, so I did :) I've edited it somewhat, but here is my repsonse:

From the Introduction to Volume 6 (this is the passage that led me to believe that the stories must not be reviewed before exams):

"The quantity set for each lesson allows only of a single reading; but the reading is tested by narration, or by writing on a test passage. When the terminal examination is at hand so much ground has been covered that revision is out of the question (she means review); what the children have read they know, and write on any part of it with ease and fluency, in vigorous English; they usually spell well...

...Has an attempt been made before on a wide scale to secure that scholars should know their books, many pages in many books, at a single reading, in such a way that **months later** they can write freely and accurately on any part of the term's reading?"

It was the "months later" part that stood out to me. I can safely say that Miss Mason definitely discourages reading any passage twice to the children. I would also confidently say that she insists upon a single reading because she wants the children to develop the mental habit of careful attention. In the passage above it also seems very clear to me that Miss Mason intended for that attention to be so complete that it would result in a child's ability to vividly retell a story months after hearing it only one time. This ability was one of the primary habits she emphasized.

In our desire to develop these abilities of attention in our children, it seems wise to ask what may hinder the habit of attention and what may develop that same power to its fullest. Obviously, a child is going to think about a passage after he hears it. He might draw a picture of it in his free time or act it out in his playtime. We do want the child to consider the stories and the readings. We want him to assimilate the knowledge and bring it to bear on his imagination. But, it seems to me that the child should have **one chance to get it into his mind**. Once it's there he may mentally go over and over it and, as Charlotte described, "digest" it, but all of his dealings with knowledge must be stemming from that one, initial exposure to the reading.

If a child has been reading and re-reading a typed out page of his own narration - which is, essentially, a synopsis - of the story, what does that do to his power of attention? When his exams role around is there a chance that he has memorized his first narration to some degree by going over and over it? From page 17 of Volume 6 Miss Mason writes, "For this reason it is important that only one reading should be allowed; efforts to memorise weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind." I know there is no intentional memorizing taking place, but could the child be memorizing unintentionally? Could he actually be narrating his narration at exam time and not the initial reading? Will he be digesting the story *in his mind* as much if he can go back and read a summary of it whenever he wants? Will he be relying solely on his memory and habit of attention when he chews on the material or will he be using a printed summary as a kind of mental "crutch" to keep ideas fresh? These are all hypothetical questions, of course, but they get us thinking about the "why" of the Single Reading Rule and the "how" of fostering a habit of attention in our children.

I'm pleased with the way the children are learning to attend so completely to the readings following this practice of "no review". It never ceases to amaze me. Miss Mason assures us that it's not just a certain kind of child that can do this; every child has it in him. But, if she's convinced me of anything, it's that my own careful attention to her methods and the children's habits is key. We not only have to be purposeful about what we are intentionally doing, but we must also be purposeful about what we are preventing.

I have no idea if these ramblings will be helpful to anyone, but I hope so. These thoughts were on my mind anyway, so I decided to share them :)


Friday, May 9, 2008

Using the Comstock Handbook of Nature Study

I have a favorite quote from The Handbook of Nature Study. It's on page 177 and is a quote from L.H. Bailey, the woman to whom the handbook is dedicated. It reads as follows:

"In the early years we are not to teach nature as science, we are not to teach it primarily for method or for drill: we are to teach it for loving - and this is nature study. On these points I make no compromise."

Nature study, then, is for the purpose of bringing our children to a love of nature. In our family it is also to bring them face to face with the realities God has revealed through His creation. It is for loving :) How precious!

I highly recommend the first section in Ms. Comstock's book - The Teaching of Nature Study. It is on pages 1-23 and, toward the end, she details how the book is intended to be used. The handbook is really more for you than for the children. It is a tool to educate the teacher so that she can wisely lead the investigations and observations of her children. I think this may be the part that gets many mothers intimidated about nature study. "You mean I have to learn everything beforehand?! There's no way!!!" It's been so encouraging for me to remember back even just four years ago to how little I knew about the natural world around me. I have so much more to learn, but I have come along gradually. We can all learn little by little :)

I hope to encourage you with two little stories from our week that might help illustrate how we carry nature study out in our family. The first shows just how easy nature study can be. We were playing outside at a local park and, eventually, walked over to a large field of grass covered in violets. The children got so excited picking them! I was sitting in the grass with the baby and they were bringing handful upon handful to me (there were plenty left, believe me!). Finally, I had the idea of taking some home to press them. We brought some home and pressed about 15-20 of the nicest ones. They are still pressing between two paper towels with several heavy books on them. While we were in the field, I had the older children (7 and almost 6) take the time to really look at each violet. Where do you think the pollen is kept? How do you think the bees get it? What does the flower look like to you? Having read the Comstock section on violets to myself one evening prior (not planned - just providence!) I could remember just a few things. I pointed out how the lines on the flowers led the way for the bees to find the pollen and I showed the children the leaves and asked them to describe them for me (they are heart-shaped). Then, we thought of the little poem about roses being red and violets being blue. I never thought they looked blue; they always looked purple to me. So, I had the children describe the colors they saw in the violets.

That's all! :)

Even if we hadn't pressed the violets, it was still a very good time of observation and description. My oldest daughter could have drawn a violet for her nature notebook at home, but, since we were pressing them, we decided to just wait and arrange the pressed violets into pretty shapes for cards instead. If we are not going to draw something, I spend extra time having the children verbally describe it and closely observe it. We do not come anywhere close to drawing all of our nature finds. That would be impossible! If I had not known the name of the violets, we would have still done the same observation and description "lesson", but then we would have spent some time at home with field guides, trying to identify the flowers. We basically did this with an unknown weed we found last week. It turned out to be Wintercress. We had a simple study with a cutting of it in our kitchen, and we've been seeing it everywhere since! Now the children "know" violets and wintercress :) Nine times out of ten our nature study is simplistic and unplanned. More than anything, plenty of time outside is the number one requirement. Once you get outside more with your children, the number of interesting things to observe far exceed the time you have to study them! From dandelions to clouds, you're never at a loss for something to study.

Now, for a more "serious" example. This has been one of our very coolest nature study endeavors :) We were out in the backyard on Monday when my five year old yelled out that she found a toad... a big toad. (Two years ago when we had toads I could barely bring myself to touch them, but practice makes perfect, lol). I carried it inside to the basement and brought up an empty 10 gallon tank. The only thing I knew about toads was that they like to burrow in the dirt, so I instructed the children to fill the aquarium about 4" deep with garden soil while I quickly Googled "toad aquarium" online. I read some useful instructions and we finished making our little toad home. We watched the toad, held the toad, and took a really, really good look at the toad. What do you notice about the toad's feet? What color are her eyes? Can you describe them? Basically, we were taking mental pictures of the toad and narrating her appearance and behavior. We washed our hands when we were done ;)

During the children's rest time, I read the Comstock section on toads to myself. I really knew nothing about them! Armed with new toady knowledge later that afternoon, I could lead the children through a few more observations, telling them a little here and there while encouraging them to make guesses all along. We plan on letting our toady go this afternoon (Wednesday), but first we'll draw her into our nature notebooks while the littlest ones nap. I draw along with the children; they seem far more interested this way. We'll take a few pictures and then let her go. They will, no doubt, remember some things about toads from this study. I suspect, though, the most educational aspects have been their deepened interest in toads and a desire to take care of them as stewards of God's creation. I knew nothing about toads three days ago!!! Thanks to observing and caring for Cleopatra (our toad) this week, now I know a ton! Well, comparatively anyway ;) The most it took from me was a 10 gallon aquarium, the guts to catch the toad in the first place, and one afternoon with The Handbook of Nature Study.

Again, I really recommend reading the front section of the Comstock book. It helps show how nature "study" should and can be very natural. We just need to get outside more! Little by little, truly, it's not overwhelming :)

Friday, May 2, 2008

"Why Can't I Leave A Comment?"

I know.

It's very weird to have a blog with no comment options, isn't it?

After thinking it through off and on for several weeks and praying for the Lord to rightly order our time and priorities, though, My Sam and I have decided that the comments need to go. Partly, it's an issue of time spent replying to comments, but also there's the issue of that inexplicable urge to see if any new comments have been posted. I wind up coming to the computer too often and at the wrong times just to see if someone has said something new. If I'm going to continue posting, it seems like this change will really help me control my time online. We're going to continue evaluating, though.

Honestly, too, the battle with pride is always there. When the comments all praise me and my thoughts or my methods, it can really be a megavitamin to that sin. My pride hardly needs the boost.

I want those of you who have been regular readers and commenters (and bloggy pals!)to know that I have very, very much enjoyed hearing from you and tossing ideas back and forth with you on this blog. Thank you for faithfully talking CM with me! :) I'd love to get an email from you now and then to keep in touch. I hope you all can graciously understand our choices :)