Friday, November 30, 2007

Encouraging Excellence Without Making Little Perfectionists (Copywork: Part Two)

In the discussion last night about perfect execution in handwriting, a few comments mentioned the issue of how to encourage excellence without fostering perfectionism. I thought about this more today, and I wanted to come back to it a bit.

I'm going to make the assumption that we all value excellence in the little things. That may or may not be true for you, but the rest of this post is going to at least assume that it's true ;) Making beds neatly, sweeping the little crumbs as well as the big ones, writing carefully, etc. (I might draw the line at making houses out of cards, though). The only exceptions are when excellence in bigger things overshadows excellence in little things. For instance, if my children are sick I'll leave the kitchen a bit messy until tomorrow. Being a tender, loving Mama over rules being a good housekeeper at that instant. In general, though, excellence in little things matters. So, slacking on the little things in order to avoid perfectionism is not an option.

How, then, can we communicate high goals to our children without setting them (and ourselves) up to be completely high-strung perfectionists? I think a great deal of the success lies in understanding at least four things.

Firstly, it's important to understand that we are completely fallible creatures with finite resources and abilities. In other words, we can't do it all as perfectly as it can be done, we can only do it as perfectly as we can do it. We can't do more than we can do. I know that's rather obvious, but less obvious is where that statement leads. This means that one man's work well done is not necessarily another man's work well done. I'm not trying to be completely relativistic here. There are absolute measures of what is excellent and what is not. Within those parameters, though, there will be varying degrees for each individual that depend upon his circumstances, personalities, abilities, etc. All we can do is what the grace of God and our own variables allow. Teaching our children that we all have limits (and letting them see our own) and that we all ultimately must lean on God for strength is a first step in combatting perfectionism.

The second helpful thing to understand is that when we react negatively to doing something imperfectly, it is usually stemming from a heart of pride. Why should it matter if the kitchen floor is not perfectly spotless when the company comes? Is it because we truly want that shiny floor to honor our guests or is it because we know our homes are a reflection of us and we want to look good? Pride has got to be one of the all time sneakiest sins. Why does a 7 year old get so angry when he can't figure out the answer to his math question or get his bike to do a wheelie? Chances are that he's good at a lot of things, so good at them that it's really a shot to his pride to have to work much at anything. Addressing the issue of pride in perfectionism is another helpful step.

Thirdly, I would think that a great deal of perfectionism in children is directly linked to their parent's emotional reactions to imperfection. Pressure to do it right. Last fall, I was expecting my Little Dude and was, at times, a little - well - hormonal. I remember getting especially annoyed at SweetP one morning during copywork. Usually such a good writer, it was like she went dull overnight! It was erase this and erase that. I was tired, sick, and really not excited about copywork. My daughter was feeling tense because I was on edge and the whole thing was starting to turn bad. Thankfully, it all worked out in the end, but I got a good look at what pressure does to a child. You can effectively encourage a child to do better without pressuring him to do so. It requires patience, time, and restraint, but it can be done. If you can somehow keep a matter-of-fact view of the whole process, without emotional reactions, that's half the battle of keeping pressure (and corresponding perfectionism) out of lessons.

Lastly, (and this one is especially pertinent to our relationships with our children) we need to see our actions as separate from our intrinsic worth. When my daughters do really excellent work, heaven forbid that I should do anything to communicate that I value them more for it. When they are sloppy with their work, may it never be that I lead them to believe I value them less for it. It is the work we are talking about, not my love for them. If we sense that our children are trying to "perform" for us, that ought to be a serious concern. Children must, from the first, learn that our love for them is because of who they are as our children, not because of what they do. Do you see how profound this is in predisposing children toward the gospel? Not that we can save them, but we can do much to either prepare their hearts for the truth of God's grace or we can set up a stumbling block in their way by fostering a works based righteousness in their little hearts. When they produce faulty or careless work, they must know that we are dissatisfied with the work, not with them. And we must leave them with the hope that they can do that work better.

There's a whole lot more, I'm sure, that could be said. This tension between encouraging excellence and discouraging perfectionism is an important one to resolve. It really touches on so much of life, not just homeschooling. I look forward to hearing thoughts on this :) I learn so much from your comments!

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Perfect Accomplishment" in Handwriting (Copywork Part One)

During the last two weeks or so, I have been re-reading Charlotte Mason's instructions for teaching handwriting and transcription (copywork). I wanted to review my methods in these areas to see if I have been true to Miss Mason's methods. Honestly, there have been a few points that I had somehow missed the first five or six times I read them :] Since copywork is so much on my mind right now, I'd like to post a series focusing in on sections X and XI in Part V of Home Education, "Lessons as Instruments of Education". Not because I have anything to teach, but because I have so much to learn.

There is quite a lot packed into these two little sections on "Writing" and "Transcription". So much that I decided it was too much to tackle in just one post, or even a few posts. I'd like to go through just a little bit at a time, and really get it down well. I have no idea how many posts it will wind up being in the end, but I'm willing to bet we'll have a fairly good handle on these two sections when we're done ;)

The first subsection under "Writing" is entitled "Perfect Accomplishment", and this is where I'll begin. Miss Mason writes, "I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson––a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work––humpy 'm's, angular o's."

"The thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work". Our standard in each handwriting lesson, even from the beginning, is to produce something to perfection; whether that be a perfectly straight line, a perfectly round "o", or an entire word perfectly copied. There is no room for carelessness. With short lessons, there really isn't any time for carelessness either.

Does all this talk of "perfect" make us uncomfortable? Can a child really be expected to form his letters so well at such a young age? Lindafay at Higher Up and Further In has a great post about this very issue. She carries more weight on the subject than I ever could due to her many years teaching not only her own children but dozens upon dozens of school children as well. Her belief is that a child most definitely can make well-formed letters from the start. He must only be required to do so.

Earlier in Home Education, Miss Mason addresses perfect execution as a habit to be developed in the children. She uses copywork as her illustrative example here; although, the principle and the habit certainly apply across the disciplines. On page 159 she writes the following concerning The Habit of Perfect Execution: "The Habit of turning out Imperfect Work.––'Throw perfection into all you do' is a counsel upon which a family may be brought up with great advantage. We English, as a nation, think too much of persons, and too little of things, work, execution. Our children are allowed to make their figures or their letters, their stitches, their dolls' clothes, their small carpentry, anyhow, with the notion that they will do better by-and-by. Other nations––the Germans and the French, for instance––look at the question philosophically, and know that if children get the habit of turning out imperfect work, the men and women will undoubtedly keep that habit up. I remember being delighted with the work of a class of about forty children, of six and seven, in an elementary school at Heidelberg. They were doing a writing lesson, accompanied by a good deal of oral teaching from a master, who wrote each word on the blackboard. By-and-by the slates were shown, and I did not observe one faulty or irregular letter on the whole forty slates. The same principle of 'perfection' was to be discerned in a recent exhibition of school-work held throughout France. No faulty work was shown, to be excused on the plea that it was the work of children."

This is impressive to me. Basically, Miss Mason is saying that no normal child is with excuse. There are, certainly, children that will be slower than others owing to some true deficit, but - on the whole - average children are able. Now, this is going to ruffle some feathers, especially since my only boy is a baby, but did you notice that Miss Mason does not make a distinction between boys and girls? She does not report that, of the forty little German students, the girls all turned out perfect letters but the boys did pretty well... for boys. No, she says that the entire class produced perfect writing. Is it possible that we are letting boys slide because we do not expect enough of them in handwriting? Are we excusing faulty work "on the plea" that it is only the work of boys? Charlotte Mason seems to be saying in this paragraph that all normally developing children are capable of perfect execution in their copywork, if only we will expect it of them.

How does this play out in real life with a real child doing real copywork? How do you get perfect execution? You can read Miss Mason's next paragraph if you would like. I'll be addressing these questions in my next post :)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Adapting the AO Booklists to Fit Our Needs

Recently, cb, one of the frequent visitors here asked me how we fit all of the Ambleside Online readings into our weeks. The truth is that we don't. I've tried to credit AO for the books that we do use from their list (and give those dear women thanks, too!), but also make it plain that not everything we use is from the AO booklist. We have adapted the AO coursework quite a bit, and we continue to do so. Ambleside Online is an excellent resource for the CM family, and I truly praise the Lord for the work the AO advisory has put into helping others develop a curriculum that works for them. But, I think it's important to remember that the advisory gives us the freedom to adapt things here and there to fit our needs. They even mention on the AO site that many parents take an individualized approach to AO. That doesn't mean that those families are using "lesser" versions of Charlotte Mason's methods. There are many excellent books available today.

I prepare our little "schedule" (read that word loosely) for the school week each Sunday night. I'm doing it a bit earlier today because my children are under the weather and napping right now. I may not feel up to it tonight. I've been thinking some about our books for the term, and trying to pin down exactly what wasn't feeling "right" about our lesson time. For instance, I have felt a bit overloaded with the AO literature selections. Not that there is too much to read in a week, but I have felt that the bouncing back and forth between four literature books and a book or two for free reading has left me feeling a bit scattered. The children enjoy all of the books and look forward to all of the books, but I began to consider knocking a few out of the schedule and just letting the girls read them on their own when they had the inclination.

The first book I took out was Parables From Nature by Gatty. This is an excellent book and a beautifully written one. I found, though, that Charlotte Mason's PNEU schools used it as a "Sunday reading" book, and we decided to designate it the same. It is now one of the choices the girls have for their Sunday afternoon reading. They often choose it and enjoy the readings. They do not, however, need to narrate it or read it on a schedule. I read the book before the term began, so I can sometimes strike up a conversation about the story, but sometimes I don't.

Just this weekend I looked through the PNEU school curricula for Year One again. I wanted to see how many books Miss Mason's schools used for literature. Each year, Miss Mason chose different books for the children. Each term was different than the same term from the preceding year. So, some of the Year One literature booklists had only fairy tales and Aesop's fables listed or only two books such as Pilgrim's Progress and The Heroes of Asgard while other (later) years had three. None of the PNEU curricula that I reviewed had more than three literature selections for a single term in Year One. Ambleside Online lists five different books for the first term of Year One: Parables from Nature (which we moved to Sunday reading), Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, The Aesop for Children, Just So Stories, and The Blue Fairy Book. What does this mean for us? This means that now I get to personalize the AO booklist :) Five is too many for our little family right now; so, we made a few "cuts", but still kept the cut books in the bookshelf for free reading. We cut out everything from the official schedule but the fairy tales and Aesop. I firmly believe that this is not too little for us. More than a few of the PNEU years used only these two books for "tales" for the youngest students. In fact, the curricula list only three of each for an entire term! That means only nine fairy tales all year and only 9 Aesop's fables all year! I plan on reading a little more than that, so I'm actually doing more literature reading than the PNEU schools did even after dropping three AO books!

With these changes made, I have more time to read a few of the "extra" read alouds that I really look forward to reading with the children. We're finishing up The Secret Garden, and then we'll be reading The Magician's Nephew. The children will still pull Kipling and Gatty from the shelf to read on their own regularly. I feel really good about the way this fits us.

So, that's one example of how we modify the great information from AO to personalize our curriculum :) Hope this encourages someone!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Excellent Post on Year One Exams

I have linked to Lindafay at Higher Up and Further In before. This weekend, I came across this excellent post on her family's exam weeks.

We will be finishing up our first term in three weeks, and I have been beginning to think about how we will approach our first round of exams. I can't tell you what a blessing and encouragement this post has been to me. Lindafay has faithfully followed Miss Mason's exam methods more than any other CM blogger I've read. I am so relieved by much of what she has to say. Miss Mason's methods are doable.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Peterson First Field Guides

Our main book for Nature Study has been the AO recommendation, The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock. I love the Comstock book, and have found it to be very valuable in taking nature study to the next level. It has plenty of detailed information on a wide variety of subjects - many of them pertinent to nature in our area.

Next to the Handbook of Nature Study, this series of Peterson First Field Guides has been my favorite nature study resource. Have you seen these handy little books? They are great for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their appropriateness for children of elementary age. My children love these books, and we have been able to use them to identify caterpillars, trees, and wild plants that are not covered in the Comstock book. I know more about nature than I did a short 5 years ago, but I still have far more to learn. For a mama like me, who can't necessarily spout off useful information from the top of her head on every twig, bug, and berry we come across, these little gems are a great find :)

Now, those of you who are already familiar with Charlotte Mason will know that the books are only part of the nature study lesson - and not the greater part. The education that comes from "things" is the primary sort of education in nature study. Children must actually be outdoors, and often, coming across the little wonders in nature on their own, personally dealing with the natural world through their senses. Books do have their place in nature study, but they are secondary to physical interaction with real things. This is especially true for the younger children.

If you'd like to hear a bit more of what Miss Mason might have to say regarding books like these and their relationship to nature study, I'd like to reference a section of Volume One. Regarding scientific classification and the use of naturalists' books, Miss Mason writes the following:

"For convenience in describing they should be able to name and distinguish petals, sepals, and so on; and they should be encouraged to make such rough classifications as they can with their slight knowledge of both animal and vegetable forms. Plants with heart-shaped or spoon-shaped leaves; leaves with criss-cross veins and leaves with straight veins; bell-shaped flowers and cross-shaped flowers; flowers with three petals, with four, with five; trees which keep their leaves all the year, and trees which lose them in the autumn; creatures with a backbone and creatures without; creatures that eat grass and creatures that eat flesh, and so on. To make collections of leaves and flowers, pressed and mounted, and arranged according to their form, affords much pleasure, and, what is better, valuable training in the noticing of differences and resemblances. Patterns for this sort of classification of leaves and flowers will be found in every little book of elementary botany.

The power to classify, discriminate, distinguish between things that differ, is amongst the highest faculties of the human intellect; and no opportunity to cultivate it should be let slip; but a classification got out of books, that the child does not make for himself and is not able to verify for himself, cultivates no power but that of verbal memory...

...The real use of naturalists' books at this stage is to give the child delightful glimpses into the world of wonders he lives in, to reveal the sort of things to be seen by curious eyes, and fill him with desire to make discoveries for himself. There are many to be had, all pleasant reading, many of them written by scientific men, and yet requiring little or no scientific knowledge for their enjoyment." -Home Education pgs. 63,64

Interestingly, these guides are the perfect size for stocking stuffers (hint, hint grandma and grandpa). At only $5.95 per book, they are very reasonably priced as well :) They are a great addition to help round out your nature study lessons and bolster the children's interest in the natural world all around them. Hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Happy field guiding!!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More on Schedules and Routines

I don't want to give you all the wrong idea, though. I do plan, just not in detail and not more than a week out. I plan our school weeks on Sunday nights, I plan my housework after I get an idea of the weather forecast, and I plan our days roughly the night before. I have an idea of my priorities for the day and into what order those priorities are going to fall. For instance, yesterday was unseasonably warm, but my kitchen needed some bigtime help. So, we didn't have a Park Day, but the children did play outside for three hours while I cleaned (with the kitchen door and window open, watching them and keeping things positive where needed). The kitchen was high priority yesterday. We got to our booklist readings, did some more drawing, and SweetP and I talked through a living math lesson, but not much more than that. I had gotten behind on the kitchen and it needed attention.

Today, it's gray and windy. Today's priorities (physically, there are others spiritually) are to focus in on more structured lessons, dust and vacuum the downstairs (we do it together), and work on some training issues with Punkin. Hopefully, we'll get a nature walk in around the neighborhood if the weather cooperates.

We do not have a schedule with designated times and time increments.

We do have a routine that we follow in general, with a set order - this thing always follows this other thing, but without set times and durations. That's up until about mid-morning. After that, things are highly variable.

So, I'm not completely bohemian ;) I guess it depends on the day. Somedays look fairly close to what Miss Mason suggests - morning lessons and afternoons outside. On those days, the little ones are the ones who flex the most. Somedays are more of what I call my "unofficial unschooler" days. At least, that's what they feel like to me. I stress out if I try to get each day to fit into some preconceived plan that just isn't going to fit. You know about the square peg and the round hole? I want my pegs and holes to match up ;) I'm hoping today will be a little more structured so Friday can be a little more bohemian when my sister visits ;)

We'll see.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Bohemian Spin on Year One

One of the things that I've been working on since our first term began in late September, is fitting in everything I want to fit in every week. Charlotte Mason's methods, as you know, call for many subjects. It helps me to take a look at the breakdown for one of Miss Mason's PNEU schools, Year One. From there, I can work out our own little plan. Here's what a week's work looked like for a PNEU child roughly between the ages of 6 and 7:

Old Testament - 2x a week (about 20 minutes w/ narration)
New Testament - 2x a week (about 20 minutes w/ narration)
Printing - 2x a week (about 10-20 minutes)
Writing - 2x a week (pretty certain this is cursive - about 10-20 minutes)
Drawing - 1x a week (about 20 minutes)
Repetition - 3x a week (poem,parable,or hymn - this is memorizing - about 10 mins.)
French - 3x a week (about 10 minutes)
Number - 6x a week (CM schools met on Saturday - this is math - about 20 mins.)
Reading - 6x a week (instruction - 30 minutes)
Natural History - 3x a week (10 minutes)
Picture Talk - 1x a week (10 minutes)
Geography - 2x a week (10 minutes)
Drill/Dancing - 3x a week (this is calisthenics or dancing - about 30 minutes)
Sol-fa - 2x a week (see AO's explanation - about 15 minutes)
French song - 1x a week (15 minutes)
Handicrafts - 4x a week (20 minutes)
Brushdrawing - 2x a week (this is drawing with a paint brush - about 20 minutes)

I'm in the process of adapting and flexing the PNEU schedule to fit our lives. For one thing, I should make it clear that when I need to deviate from Miss Mason's nitty gritty details in order to be able to accomplish the bigger picture, I do. For instance, Miss Mason recommended that children finish lessons before noon, that way they could have the entire afternoon to enjoy outdoors or do handicrafts or pursue other interests. Great. That makes sense. Children are bright and fresh in the morning, it's a great time for lessons.

BUT, in the afternoon, Punkin and Little Dude nap for 2 and 1/2 hours. That means morning would be school and afternoon would be nap and when do I get to be with my sweet babies? My time with the younger two is seriously hampered by a morning school schedule. We can do it, but it is not my first choice. I have four children, not just two. I need to work out a way to take all four into consideration without *homeschooling* running the show. As the school age children get older, they will be able to do more of their schoolwork independently - and in the morning. For now, though, we flex.

So, I'm a teensy bit deviant. I do some lessons in the morning, usually Bible, handwriting, and reading instruction. These subjects really are best done in the morning when the children are fresh. Math often happens before lunch, too. The rest I save for naptime. Yes, that's right dear bloggy friends, it's not uncommon for us to be finishing up the day's reading at 4:30pm or later. In fact, on days that My Sam does history tales with the children, those readings are after dinner and more like 7pm or later. For our family, it seems to be working best to let school kind of weave through the other parts of the day. It isn't really segregated into its own room or its own time slot. Lessons happen in short segments throughout the day. This helps me get the children all outside together for longer periods of time. It helps me get housework done. And, believe it or not, it helps me get school work done. If brushwork has to happen at 10:15am, it probably won't get done. If it can happen at the kitchen table and it's almost 5:30pm and I'm in the kitchen getting dinner anyway, that's more doable for me.

The children are being presented with new ideas daily in a home where interests are fostered and encouraged. That's part of the big picture. Sure, that means that drawing may come at dusk on some days, but that's better than not at all, and better than losing my head over trying to fit everything into a morning block of time just because Charlotte says morning is best.

Cindy at Dominion Family has a great post discussing the importance of an atmosphere of learning instead of just a good schedule. I think you'd enjoy reading what she has to say.

That's where I got the bohemian phrase ;)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My Three Year Old Digs Mozart

I had the most frustrating telephone conversation today.

I called our local philharmonic orchestra to get information on a special "Concert for Young People" scheduled for next Tuesday. I knew I was late in trying to get tickets, but I thought I'd give it a shot. They were sold out of both performances. Phooey.

But, that wasn't the frustrating part.

I was speaking to the lady in charge of the educational programs associated with the philharmonic. I thought that was lovely to be able to speak to her in person. She was very kind and seemed supportive of homeschoolers in general. She was busy suggesting other performances that might be good alternatives since we could not buy tickets for the performance we had wanted to attend when (whew, catching her breath) she stopped for a moment, realizing she didn't really have all of the information she needed. "I'm sorry," she said, "I don't know the ages of your children". "No problem," I replied. "They are six and a half and five."

Dead silence.

Suddenly, she took on a rather uppity tone of voice and changed her demeanor entirely, saying things like "Oh, well, the concert you were asking about is for children older than third grade anyway" and "Oh no, that concert isn't very accessible for young children".

Accessible? What exactly did she mean by "accessible"?

After she had gone on and on... and on, I finally got a chance to ask a question. I asked her to please explain what she meant when she said that a concert wasn't "accessible" for children under the age of 9. She fumbled around a bit for her words and then blurted out something about not enough explanation and not enough talking through the music. And, besides, many of the groups attending these concerts have received teacher's packets preparing them to hear the music and blah, blah, blah.

"So", I continued, "are you saying that there really insn't anything available for children younger than third grade?" Well, there was the production of Peter and The Wolf in January. "But, what about the philharmonic?" Well, not really. There are not any philharmonic performances that are made accessible for children that young.

There was that word again.

I tried to sound polite, but I was getting annoyed. Here was the woman in charge of the educational programs for the philharmonic and she's telling me that you have to be nine to have a worthwhile experience at the philharmonic and, even then, you need several worksheets and quite a lot of talking to get anything out of it.

I started to get a little bold (but still polite). I admit, I started to sound a little impassioned, too. "I am not a professional, but don't you think wonderful music can, to a large extent, stand on its own as wonderful music? Don't you believe that it IS wonderful music because of its innate ability to affect people, to move them and incite them? Even if a child has no idea what a 'movement' is or which instrument is the viola and which is the violin, don't you think that there is quite a lot to be gained by merely listening to a great piece played by a full orchestra right before your very eyes? Doesn't great music do much of the teaching all on it's own?"

Apparently, she didn't think so.

After a little more blah from her, I finally told her that, since our children did not yet fit into the "accessible" age range, we would continue to do what we have done up to this point. We would take the children along with us to performances we would like to attend. Yes, full length performances. Yes, they really could sit that long. Yes, they really would be thrilled. Yes, I believe they really would get quite a lot from just listening, because...

...I believe truly great music is "accessible" to anyone.

The North Wind Doth Blow

It's beginning to get trickier to get outside for long hours at a time. Up to this point, we've been able to have two park days a week during the school term, often having another long day outside on Saturday. With getting our school work and house work done, it's been difficult to do more; although, we have had one or two weeks that were so incredibly beautiful that we took school with us and went to parks for three or more days out of the week. Schedules like that have been more the exception than the rule.

Charlotte Mason urged parents to take the children out for long days in the country on "every suitable day" between the months of April and October. She lived in England's Lake District, which may have a very different climate from our own homes. Being in Ohio, our weather is not so terribly different than that of London, but we are, generally, about ten to fifteen degrees warmer and less rainy. One day in July, when the temperatures in Ohio were pressing 100 degrees with high humidity, I checked the London weather online. It was in the mid-70s. Armed with this bit of pertinent information, I decided that July and August were generally miserable months in my neck of the woods, and I would trade them in for March and November, instead.

So, November is here. Can we really try for more than 4 hours outside on two days this week? On Monday, we had a shorter park day, 2 hours, but it's been our only one so far this week. Looking at our 10 day forecast, all of next week is going to be rainy, rainy, rainy. We have today and tomorrow before all that rain comes. I'm wondering, though, if 45 degrees at noon (wind chill 40) and 49 degrees at 3pm (wind chill 44)is too cold with Little Dude. I guess we'll bundle up and find out! The worst that can happen is that we'll come home after an hour or so. Even then, we will have had an hour outdoors.

I'll take what I can get :)

Oh, and by the way, yes, my birthday is tomorrow, Esther :)


Well, we got out there :) This morning we went to a metropark and walked through a one mile wooded trail. It was cold, but the trees blocked much of the wind and it seemed warmer once we were deeper into the woods. We were all bundled up, besides :) The children were running so much, they barely noticed the cold. We were there for an hour and a half (part of the time on the trail I had them walk slowly and quietly "like Indians" and this took a bit longer). Then we drove back toward our house, picked up some food for lunch, and headed on to the arboretum. We spent 2 and a half hours there. The sun was out for most of it and, again, the trees helped block the chilly wind. Little Dude was probably warmer than he needed to be. All you could see was his little face :) I'm not sure how high it actually got today, but I'd say the actual temp was probably near 50 degrees. Without the wind, not too bad. In the windier parts, we needed mittens. Brrrrr. Baby was toasty all day, though. That's encouraging!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Narration in the Charlotte Mason Method

My father-in-law has been a public school teacher for 30 years now. It's always interesting to me to hear his opinions on education and the public school system. What does he think has worked best with his students over the years? What does he think are the biggest time wasters? What have the kids always been drawn toward? What seems to really hit home with them? In general, what has he learned in the last three decades about children and how they learn?

Just a couple of weeks ago, another one of these conversations came up. It was short and sweet, like many of them are, but I've been thinking about it ever since. We were talking about the problem that arises when a teacher knows a particular student "gets" the material, but for some reason does poorly on the test. He said that was one of the more frustrating parts of teaching. In cases like those, it's the test that has really failed, not the child. Then, there are children who are naturally good at taking tests, ace them regularly, and then cannot tell you anything about the information a week later. That would be frustrating.

Then came the part I've been mulling over for the last two weeks. My father-in-law, veteran public school teacher, to whom the name Charlotte Mason means nothing, said the following:

"If we could just sit down one on one with each kid and just ask them to tell us all they knew about the topic, not what they didn't know, not what they sort of knew, but all that they really knew about it, that would be the absolute best measure of their actual knowledge of the material".

My husband and I literally stood there with mouths agape. He had just described narration to a tee.

I had already been completely sold on the idea of narration replacing tests and questioning, but this little testimonial from my father-in-law was certainly reassuring. In a classroom situation, where the state expects certain forms of evaluation, "the absolute best measure of knowledge" may not be feasible. But, it is feasible for us! How thankful I am to have the freedom to use this tool in our homeschool :)

Charlotte Mason wrote extensively on the subject of narration. It is meant to be a core component of her method. You may be able to "do" CM without handicrafts or without French Songs, but there is no way you can truly do CM without narration. It's a cornerstone of the entire CM philosophy.

Narration is not merely a tool to evaluate what a child has learned, however. In fact, I would say that evaluation is one of its lesser functions. Narration serves to actually impress the ideas of a book or lesson upon the child's mind. It is, in actuality, an exercise in learning. I like to tell my daughter that we use narration because it helps her mind gather the book in and keep it. It is a powerful learning tool. Narration is also the Charlotte Mason precursor to composition. In effect, the child is "writing" an oral composition when he begins narrating. He is choosing content, sentence structure, and vocabulary. He is (hopefully)imitating style, as well. The benefit that narration has over written composition in the early years is that the young student does not need to get hung up on spelling, handwriting, and punctuation. He is free to focus on content, and the oral narration flows without the distractions of mechanical limitations. Later, as the child matures and his skills develop in these areas, he begins writing his narrations. The child's narrations continue to grow and improve. At this point, narration and composition are one and the same.

So how does one get started in narration?

Many experienced Charlotte Mason moms suggest beginning narration with Aesop's Fables. The fables are concise and fairly straight-forward, making them ideal for a first time narrator. We began with the tale of Tom Thumb, which is told as a collection of short incidents in the main character's life. Each incident occupies only a paragraph or two, and is independent of the other parts of the tale. This worked well for us, and my daughter enjoyed the story very much. The keys are to choose a living book, a concise book, and to start small. Many moms expect the first narrations to be a bit skimpy, at best. Charlotte Mason maintained that children who narrate regularly will eventually develop this skill and be able to narrate easily, even if they had a rocky start.

In addition to the traditional oral approach, Charlotte Mason offered suggestions for "creative" ways to present narration to young children. My daughter is really just beginning narrations, so we're still mainly focusing on the oral road, but we have done drawing narrations for Aesop's Fables. She likes to draw a little scene depicting the main characters in the fable, write the title, and write the moral. I let her use a black permanent pen to trace over her writing when she is finished. We hope to make a little book out of these drawn narrations when we've finished the fables. We also did one narration (of Sleeping Beauty) where I asked her to tell the story as though it were a book for very little children. She enjoyed this and I think it helped her summarize the content better than she usually does. She tends to be rather detail oriented ;)

I'm excited to continue learning about narration as we go through Year One and as I read more of Charlotte Mason's volumes. If you would like to read more of what I post concerning narrations, please click on the "narration" tag at the bottom of this entry. I hope something you read here was a blessing to you today!

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Child Gets Knowledge By Means Of His Senses

"Watch a child standing at gaze at some sight new to him––a plough at work, for instance––and you will see he is as naturally occupied as is a babe at the breast; he is, in fact, taking in the intellectual food which the working faculty of his brain at this period requires. In his early years the child is all eyes; he observes, or, more truly, he perceives, calling sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing to his aid, that he may learn all that is discoverable by him about every new thing that comes under his notice. Everybody knows how a baby fumbles over with soft little fingers, and carries to his mouth, and bangs that it may produce what sound there is in it, the spoon or doll which supercilious grown-up people give him to 'keep him quiet.' The child is at his lessons, and is learning all about it at a rate utterly surprising to the physiologist, who considers how much is implied in the act of 'seeing,' for instance: that to the infant, as to the blind adult restored to sight, there is at first no difference between a flat picture and a solid body,––that the ideas of form and solidity are not obtained by sight at all, but are the judgments of experience.

"Then, think of the vague passes in the air the little fist makes before it lays hold of the object of desire, and you see how he learns the whereabouts of things, having as yet no idea of direction. And why does he cry for the moon? Why does he crave equally, a horse or a house-fly as an appropriate plaything? Because far and near, large and small, are ideas he has yet to grasp. The child has truly a great deal to do before he is in a condition to 'believe his own eyes'; but Nature teaches so gently, so gradually, so persistently, that he is never overdone, but goes on gathering little stores of knowledge about whatever comes before him.

"And this is the process the child should continue for the first few years of his life. Now is the storing time which should be spent in laying up images of things familiar. By-and-by he will have to conceive of things he has never seen: how can he do it except by comparison with things he has seen and knows? By-and-by he will be called upon to reflect, understand, reason; what material will he have, unless he has a magazine of facts to go upon? The child who has been made to observe how high in the heavens the sun is at noon on a summer's day, how low at noon on a day in mid-winter, is able to conceive of the great heat of the tropics under a vertical sun, and to understand the climate of a place depends greatly upon the mean height the sun reaches above the horizon."

So, I Made Her Cry On Purpose

My children don't get much screen time. I've already hinted at that a little here and there in previous posts. When they do watch something on the television it's always from a DVD. Every once in a blue moon they watch a live football game, but the TV gets turned off during commercials. You never know what's going to pop up on that screen. I've seen gorey previews for some of those forensic-type shows in the middle of the day. Um, excuse me, but my five year old is not accustomed to seeing bloody crime victims, thank you. So, commercials off.

One of the (potential) downsides of limiting television viewing is that my children seem hyper-sensitive compared to their more media-savvy peers. Two years ago we were visiting friends in Virginia. Their oldest daughter, with good intentions, popped Nemo in the DVD player while I was elsewhere. You know it doesn't get too far into the movie before Nemo's mom and all her little babies (minus one) get swallowed whole and Nemo's dad is in a fit of hysteria. My children know about the food chain. They know big fish eat little fish. However, they had never before seen a fish with human thoughts and emotions lose his beloved wife and children to violent deaths. My kids were screaming their heads off. At Nemo.

Hmmm. This might be a problem.

Husband and I saw the trend. The girls, then ages 4.5 and 3, didn't want anything to do with tension in their storybooks, either. They wanted me to skip whole sections of The Little House in the Big Woods (Grandpa and the Panther). Of course, they were still awfully young. We did realize, though, that we didn't want them to get around to school age and still be avoiding anything uncomfortable in the world. What were we communicating to our children? Were we attempting to create a childhood apart from The Fall? When were we going to break it to them? The world is not a cozy, rosy place. Gradually, we began adding books with more tension, more suspense, and yes, even frightening episodes. We've done this on an individual basis. Shug is still rather sensitive to "scary" things like the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, while SweetP is completely entranced by the more intense fairy tales right now. Maybe it's just that she's a little older. Not sure. But, they have both come a long way. Oh, and we watched Mary Poppins with them until they were okay with flying people and children lost in alleyways ;)

Just reading through the Bible has helped a bit, too. The Old Testament can be very interesting, to say the least, to read to the younger set. People get run through, eaten by dogs, decapitated, you name it. I admit, old habits die hard for us. We still avoid Jael and Jezebel, edit some storybooks and leave out passages when Punkin is around. She can't handle as much as her older sisters can. I'm not in the business of giving people nightmares. She can certainly handle a great deal more than the older two could at her age. She might even be able to handle Nemo ;) Maybe just because we stopped trying to create that perfect little dream world. Or, maybe because Shug is regularly launching assaults on imaginary Indians in the family room. Punkin has a much different childhood than her sisters had ;) Admittedly, there are still books that I reserve for when they are just a little older. Did you know people get quartered and sewn back together again in the real Aladdin? Yeesh! I do want to stretch them a little at a time, though. We'll get to it. Baby steps.

Besides reading the Bible and fairy tales, we've also added in missionary biographies. We hope to read about a different missionary each term. The lives of these missionaries are often heart-breaking. Would I really want to shelter the children from that kind of sadness, though? Not for all the world. These are, by God's grace, the best of all those who will become their personal heroes. These are stories I want them to know, to remember, to feel. We are reading about David Livingstone this term, and Shug has been listening in since Chapter 2. (I decided the first chapter was okay for SweetP, but a bit much for her younger sister - lion's teeth ripping flesh and other graphic language). Yesterday, we read of young David leaving home, likely to never see his ailing father again.

"It was a sad parting in Glasgow for David and his father. Mr. Livingstone's health was failing, and David was on his way to the white man's grave. Neither of them expected to see each other again, and David stood on the aft deck for a long time watching his father disappear from view as the boat slipped down the Broomielaw and out to see."

I looked down at sweet little Shug.I knew what to expect. I had a little catch in my voice as I read. She looked up at me, holding back the tears in her eyes. She did not cry, but she was having to fight it. I gave her a gentle squeeze and smiled at her. "It's seems hard, doesn't it? Leaving his father when he knew his father might die soon?," I asked slowly. She nodded silently. "Missionaries have to leave quite a lot behind when they go to the mission field," I continued, "but, for those that go, it's always worth it, isn't it?" Another silent nod, and she wiped her eyes dry.

That's good, Shug. That's good.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Children's Bible Reading Plans: Exile


My Bible Reading Plan: Exile

Daniel 1
Daniel 2
Daniel 3
Daniel 4
Daniel 5
Daniel 6
Ezra 1
Ezra 2
Ezra 3
Isaiah 44
Isaiah 45
Ezra 4
Ezra 5
Ezra 6
Zechariah 2
Zechariah 4
Zechariah 9
Esther 1
Esther 2
Esther 3
Esther 4
Esther 5
Esther 6
Esther 7
Esther 8
Esther 9
Esther 10
Ezra 7
Ezra 8
Ezra 9
Ezra 10
Nehemiah 1
Nehemiah 2
Nehemiah 4
Nehemiah 6
Nehemiah 8
Malachi 3

Children's Bible Reading Plans: Prophets (Part One)


My Bible Reading Plan: Prophets (Part One)

1 Kings 1
1 Kings 2
1 Kings 3
1 Chronicles 28
1 Chronicles 29
1 Kings 5
1 Kings 6
1 Kings 8
1 Kings 9
1 Kings 10
2 Chronicles 2
2 Chronicles 3
2 Chronicles 4
2 Chronicles 5
2 Chronicles 6
2 Chronicles 7
2 Chronicles 9
2 Chronicles 10
2 Chronicles 13
1 Kings 11
1 Kings 12
1 Kings 13
1 kings 14
1 Kings 15
1 Kings 16
2 Chronicles 14
2 Chronicles 15
1 Kings 17
1 Kings 18
1 Kings 19
1 Kings 20
1 Kings 21
1 Kings 22
2 Chronicles 17
2 Chronicles 18
2 Chronicles 19
2 Chronicles 20
2 Chronicles 21

Children's Bible Reading Plan: Kings


My Bible Reading Plan: Kings

1 Samuel 1
1 Samuel 2
1 Samuel 3
1 Samuel 4
1 Samuel 5
1 Samuel 6
1 Samuel 7
1 Samuel 8
1 Samuel 9
1 Samuel 10
1 Samuel 11
1 Samuel 15
1 Samuel 16
1 Samuel 17
1 Samuel 18
1 Samuel 19
1 Samuel 20
1 Samuel 21
1 Samuel 22
1 Samuel 23
1 Samuel 24
1 Samuel 25
1 Samuel 26
1 Samuel 29
1 Samuel 30
1 Samuel 31
2 Samuel 1
2 Samuel 2
2 Samuel 5
2 Samuel 6
2 Samuel 7
2 Samuel 8
2 Samuel 9
2 Samuel 11
2 Samuel 12
2 Samuel 15
2 Samuel 16
2 Samuel 17
2 Samuel 18
2 Samuel 19

Children's Bible Reading Plan: The Early Church


My Bible Reading Plan: The Early Church

Acts 2
Acts 3
Acts 4
Acts 5
Acts 6
Acts 7
Acts 8
Acts 9
Acts 10
Acts 11
Acts 12
Acts 13
Acts 14
Acts 15
Acts 16
Acts 17
Acts 18
Acts 19
Acts 20
Acts 21
Acts 22
Acts 23
Acts 24
Acts 25
Acts 26
Acts 27
Acts 28
2 Corinthians 11
2 Corinthians 12
Revelation 1
Revelation 5
Revelation 7
Revelation 20
Revelation 21
Revelation 22

Children's Bible Reading Plan: Settlement


My Bible Reading Plan: Settlement

Joshua 1
Joshua 2
Joshua 3
Joshua 4
Joshua 5
Joshua 6
Joshua 7
Joshua 8
Joshua 9
Joshua 10
Joshua 11
Joshua 13
Joshua 14
Joshua 15
Joshua 16
Joshua 17
Joshua 18
Joshua 19
Joshua 20
Joshua 21
Joshua 22
Joshua 23
Joshua 24
Judges 1
Judges 2
Judges 3
Judges 4
Judges 5
Judges 6
Judges 7
Judges 8
Judges 13
Judges 14
Judges 15
Judges 16
Ruth 1
Ruth 2
Ruth 3
Ruth 4

Children's Bible Reading Plan: Laws


My Bible Reading Plan: Laws

Leviticus 1
Leviticus 2
Leviticus 3
Leviticus 16
Leviticus 23
Numbers 9
Leviticus 25
Numbers 10
Numbers 11
Numbers 12
Numbers 13
Numbers 14
Numbers 16
Numbers 17
Numbers 20
Numbers 21
Numbers 22
Numbers 23
Numbers 24
Numbers 25
Numbers 31
Numbers 26
Numbers 32
Deuteronomy 3
Deuteronomy 31
Deuteronomy 33
Deuteronomy 34

Children's Bible Reading Plan: Wandering


My Bible Reading Plan: Wandering

Exodus 1
Exodus 2
Exodus 3
Exodus 4
Exodus 5
Exodus 7
Exodus 8
Exodus 9
Exodus 10
Exodus 11
Exodus 12
Exodus 13
Exodus 14
Exodus 15
Exodus 16
Exodus 17
Exodus 19
Exodus 20
Exodus 24
Exodus 32
Exodus 33
Exodus 34
Exodus 35
Exodus 36
Exodus 37
Exodus 38
Exodus 39
Exodus 40

Children's Bible Reading Plan: The Savior (Part Two)


My Bible Reading Plan: The Savior (Part Two):

Matthew 19
Mark 10
Luke 18
Luke 15
John 11
Matthew 26
Mark 14
John 12
Matthew 21
Mark 11
Luke 19
Matthew 22
Mark 12
Luke 20
Matthew 24
Matthew 25
Matthew 26
Mark 14
Luke 22
John 13
John 14
John 15
John 16
John 17
John 18
Matthew 27
Mark 15
Luke 23
John 19
Matthew 28
Mark 16
Luke 24
John 20
John 21
Acts 1
1 Corinthians 15

Children's Bible Reading Plan: The Savior (Part One)


My Bible Reading Plan: The Savior (Part One)

Luke 1
Matthew 1
Luke 2
Matthew 2
Matthew 3
Luke 3
Mark 1
Matthew 4
Luke 4
John 1
John 2
John 3
John 4
Luke 4
Matthew 8
Matthew 9
Mark 2
Luke 5
Matthew 12
Mark 3
Luke 6
Matthew 5
Matthew 6
Matthew 7
Matthew 8
Luke 7
Luke 8
Mark 4
Matthew 13
Mark 5
Matthew 14
Mark 6
Luke 9
John 6
Mark 7
Matthew 15
Mark 8
Matthew 16
Matthew 17
Mark 9
John 7
John 8
John 9
Luke 10
John 10

Children's Bible Reading Plan: Creation


My Bible Reading Plan: Creation

Genesis 1
Genesis 2
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5
Genesis 6
Genesis 7
Genesis 8
Genesis 10
Genesis 11
Genesis 12
Genesis 13
Genesis 15
Genesis 16
Genesis 18
Genesis 19
Genesis 21
Genesis 22
Genesis 23
Genesis 24
Genesis 25
Genesis 27
Genesis 28
Genesis 29
Genesis 30
Genesis 31
Genesis 32
Genesis 33
Genesis 35
Genesis 37
Genesis 39
Genesis 40
Genesis 41
Genesis 42
Genesis 43
Genesis 44
Genesis 45
Genesis 46
Genesis 47
Genesis 48
Genesis 49
Genesis 50

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Children's Bible Reading Plans (Prophets: Part Two)


My Bible Reading Plan: Prophets (Part Two)

2 Kings 1
2 Chronicles 19
2 Chronicles 20
2 Chronicles 21
2 Kings 2
2 Kings 4
2 Kings 5
2 Kings 6
2 Kings 7
2 Kings 8
2 Kings 9
2 Kings 10
2 Chronicles 22
2 Chronicles 23
2 Chronicles 24
2 Kings 11
2 Kings 12
2 Kings 13
2 Kings 14
2 Chronicles 25
Jonah 1
Jonah 2
Jonah 3
Jonah 4
2 Kings 15
2 Chronicles 26
2 Chronicles 27
Isaiah 6
Isaiah 7
Isaiah 9
Isaiah 53
2 Kings 16
2 Kings 17
2 Chronicles 28
2 Kings 18
2 Kings 19
2 Kings 20
2 Chronicles 29
2 Chronicles 30
2 Chronicles 31
2 Chronicles 32
2 Kings 21
2 Chronicles 33
2 Kings 22
2 Kings 23
2 Chronicles 34
2 Chronicles 35
Jeremiah 1
Jeremiah 20
Jeremiah 36
2 Kings 24
2 Chronicles 36
2 Kings 25
Jeremiah 37
Jeremiah 38
Jeremiah 39
Jeremiah 40
Lamentations 1
Psalm 137