Sunday, December 16, 2007

Exam Questions: Year One Term One

Monday A.M.

Tell how God was faithful to Joseph in the land of Egypt. (Bible)

Show how nine beans may be grouped into three sets. Then, show how these same beans may be grouped into three different sets.

Tell how God miraculously protected George Washington during the French and Indian War. (George Washington by D'Aulaire)

Hum Mozart's "A Little Night Music".

Name the colors in the color wheel in Spanish.

***This morning's exam narrations went well :) I waited until Little Dude was down for morning nap, then I gave Shug and Punkin something fun to do and went into another room with SweetP. We had our little tape recorder and microphones, beans, and color wheel. I also had the exam questions. The only issue was that, at times, SweetP would forget to hold the microphone up high enough to her mouth, so I'd have to gently nudge it up in the middle of her narration. That may have been a bit distracting. I meant to time the exam session (just for future planning), but I completely forgot about it when the time came. I hope to time this afternoon's questions, though. Thanks so much for all of the kind comments :) You all are so encouraging.***

Monday P.M.

Tell the story of one of Britain's ancient heroes. (Our Island Story)

Tell why David Livingstone was not content to stay at the mission station in Kuruman. (David Livingstone)

What have you noticed (yourself) about a white-tailed deer?

Tell one of Aesop's fables (The Aesop for Children)

***Well, we're done for the day! This afternoon's exams took a total of ten minutes. One tip - if you're trying to tape narrations with a ten month old baby in the room, it might be hard to hear through the squeals and babbles ;) Once Little Dude was occupied with some Legos, SweetP began to narrate much more fluently than she had in the morning (even offering a little extra anecdote on the last question). It may be that she just needed to warm up since she hadn't officially narrated since Thursday. I'm pleased with today's exam experience! Although, I'm not convinced that this tape recorder is the best way to go.***

Tuesday A.M.

Tell three ways in which Martha Washington was a comfort to the soldiers in the Continental Army. (Martha Washington)

Arrange the hands on the Judy Clock to point to 7 o' clock.

Tell the story of the boy Jesus in the temple. (Bible)

Explain how water travels from the Nipigon Country in Canada to the Atlantic Ocean. (Paddle-to-the-Sea)

Name your family relationships in Spanish (example: Nana is my abuela)

***SweetP was a little flaky this morning. I'm not sure if the questions were a bit harder or what. I knew the Paddle question would be tricky - she got the basic concept of the pathway, but she kept wanting to name the Great Lakes in order of Paddle's course. Eventually, I told her to end her narration, and we looked at the map later on. Who knows how long she would have thought aloud about whether Lake Huron came before of after Lake Erie if I hadn't moved her along ;) We used a normal tape recorder today instead of the toy one with the microphone. I'll wait until afternoon exams are over to comment on my preference.***

Tuesday P.M.

Tell about your favorite aria from The Magic Flute. (The Magic Flute)

Tell all you can about what makes an animal a mammal. What can you tell about nursing sows and their piglets?

Sing as much of any folk song as you can.

Choose two different tree-nuts/seeds that you have seen this fall and tell all you can about them.

Count from 1 to 10 in Spanish

***Considering that we didn't get to these exam narrations until 7:30pm, SweetP did great! I didn't tape record these answers, I just typed as fast as I could. Which wasn't fast enough. I had to interrupt her a lot to get all of the words typed out. Not at all optimal. It definitely helps to type later after the narrations have been recorded. I'm feeling so-so about exams so far. I think I'll like having so many narrations typed out for our year end State Assessments, but I'm not sure about how beneficial I think they are in general. We'll go on with tomorrow as planned, though.***

Wednesday A.M. (Not today! We went shopping all day instead!)
***Thursday A.M. instead***

Recite a poem that you have memorized this term.

Tell a tale about a Greek or Roman hero. (Fifty Famous Stories Retold)

Using an orange, explain one way in which we can tell the earth is a sphere. (Elementary Geography)

Explain why the American Revolution was fought. (Martha Washington)

Translate the following Spanish words into English: comer, globo, por favor, hola

***I felt better about exams today. I purposed to keep the feel of things light and relational instead of too "exam-y". We did not tape record, but I typed as fast as I could (which is pretty fast), all the while abbreviating a good bit and misspelling a lot in my efforts to keep up. I still had to ask her to wait for me to catch up, though. After SweetP finished each narration, I took a moment to go back through my typing and correct my typing errors. I liked this better than typing after recording, but SweetP (of course) really likes using the tape recorder. She did say (sweetly - her blog name fits her) that she doesn't like having to stop her narration to wait for me typing. That makes sense. I think for our final exam questions we will try Lindafay's method and tape record without transcription. I could always type a few narrations each term for written records.***

Wednesday P.M. (No exams today - we played hooky!)
Thursday P.M. instead

Tell all you know about the continent of Africa. (David Livingstone)

Count out 12 beans into one set. Tell how many beans will be left if you take four away? Show your work with the beans.

Tell a fairy tale or folk tale that we have read this term. (Treasury of Children's Literature)

Tell all you know about the nest-making habits of goldfinches. (Among the Forest People)

Sing "Frere Jacques"

***We're done!! This afternoon we used the tape recorder again. Aside from the one time SweetP got completely distracted by brushing dust off of the top of it right in the middle of her fairy tale narration, I would say this session went more smoothly than those I typed as she narrated. I would prefer to not transcribe today's narrations, but I remembered that I had told SweetP (a few weeks ago) I would type out her answers. She's a paper-loving child and the idea of a little book of her own narrations appealed to her greatly ;) So, I guess I'm going to type out some narrations tonight,*sigh*. Helpful tip - don't make silly commitments to transcribing exams unless you really like typing. This is an especially handy tip if your child is a rather prolific talker.***

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Our Very First Exam Week - Ever!

Week twelve is now officially completed and that means one thing. We are about to embark on our very first ever exam week. I'm a little nervous. I'm trying to remember all the kind and encouraging words I've read at Higher Up and Further In about making exam week pleasurable and a highlight of the term. I'm trying to remember that I had similar feelings when we first began narrations, and look how well everything turned out. I'm sure it will be fine. There's just this funny insecurity because I have never done this before nor have I seen it done. It's just me, Charlotte Mason, and a few good blog posts tonight as I try to figure out exactly what I'm supposed to do.

I know that last line, "exactly what I'm supposed to do", is a little out of fashion right now in homeschooling circles. We hear a lot about how "supposed to" is like a dirty word in homeschooling. Someday, I am sure I will have tailored CM style exams to fit our family just right, but at this point, I'm wanting a good deal of guidance. The flex part can come later when I have a better idea of what I'm doing.

In reading other blogs and specific entries on exams, I've been surprised at how many comments seemed to think examinations were incompatible with Miss Mason's methods. Without a doubt, Charlotte Mason's students underwent an examination at the end of each term. Even the youngest ones.

Did you know that Charlotte Mason gives a very detailed outline of how these exams were conducted for each of the grade levels (forms)? Her explanation of Parents' Review School (the homeschool version of a PNEU school) examinations can be found in the appendix to Volume 3, School Education. (By the way, "drill" simply means exercises or calisthenics.) She writes the following:

"The Parents' Review School, an output of The Parents' Union, was, in the first place, designed to bring homeschools, taught by governesses, up to the standard of other schools. A Training College for governesses, with Practising School, etc., was established later. Children may not enter the School under six; because we think the first six years of life are wanted for physical growth and the self-education which children carry on with little ordered aid. The Parents' Review school is conducted by means of programmes of work, in five classes, sent out, term by term, to each of the home schools (and to some other schools); and the same programmes are used in the Practising School. Examination papers are set at the end of each term.

The work is arranged on the principles which have been set forth in this volume; a wide curriculum, a considerable number of books for each child in the several classes, and, besides, a couple of hours' work daily, not with Books but with Things. Many of the pupils in the school have absorbed, in a way, the culture of their parents; but the children of uncultured parents take with equal readiness and comparable results to this sort of work, which is, I think, fitted, not only for the clever, but also for the average and even the dull child.

Class 1a. - The child of six goes into Class 1a.; he works for 2 and 1/2 hours a day, but half an hour of this time is spent in drill and games. Including drill, he has thirteen 'subjects' of study, for which about sixteen books are used. He recited hymns, poems, and Bible verses; works from Messrs Sonnenschein and Nesbitt's ABC Arithmetic; sings French and English songs; begins Mrs. Curwen's Child Pianist, learns to write and to print, learns to read, learns French orally, does brushdrawing and various handicrafts. All these things are done with joy, but cannot be illustrated here. Bible lessons, read from the Bible; tales, natural history, and geography are taught from appointed books, helped by the child's own observation.

Our plan in each of these subjects is to read to him the passage for the lesson (a good long passage), talk about it a little, avoiding much explanation, and then let him narrate what has been read. This he does very well and with pleasure, and is often happy with catching the style as well as the words of the author.

Certain pages, say 40 or 50, from each of the children's books are appointed for a term's reading. At the end of the term an examination paper is sent out containing one or two questions on each book. Here are a few of the answers. The children in the first two classes narrate their answers, which someone writes from their dictation."

Miss Mason then goes on to cite specific exam questions and answers from students in each of the grade levels. The narrations these children give are truly illuminating for the modern CM mother. Do you ever wonder what Charlotte Mason's standards were for children the same age as yours? Rest assured, sister, they were high. If you'd like to read the exam answers, Ambleside Online has them available here. I've typed enough tonight ;)

I will, however, list out the example questions that were sent out to the Parents' Review School homes. These questions are for Form 1a. (six or seven year old children).

* Tell the story of Naaman.

* Tell a fairy story. (If you don't read any other answers, read this one!)

* What have you noticed (yourself) about a spider?

* Gather three sorts of leaf-buds and two sorts of catkin, and tell all you can about them.

* Tell about The North-West Passage.

Of course, this is just a sampling. Miss Mason indicated that the examination paper included one to two questions for each of the books used within the course of the term. She reported that roughly sixteen books were used to cover thirteen 'subjects'. We have not, in our little homeschool, had a "full load" CM term. This was our first term of Year One (Form 1a.), and I felt the need to ease into things a bit. We have not included all of the subjects at this point; although, I plan to include all of them by the middle of the second term. For our first term, we had about 11 books, including our poetry and math books (we read well over fifty pages from each of them - something to improve next term - more later). I'll be working on questions from each of those books tomorrow night, and we'll be doing exam narrations on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week.

I'm still learning, ladies. Little by little :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Beginning Narration

After my first post on SweetP's beginning narrations, I read through some more of Charlotte Mason's first book, Home Education. It turns out that my daughter is not a prodigy after all! ;) Here's what Miss Mason has to say about the average child and narration:

"Narration is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child's mind, waiting to be discovered and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. A creative fiat calls it forth. 'Let him narrate'; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, as soon as he can speak with ease."

So, basically, if Miss Mason had read my first entry, she would have graciously smiled and said something to the effect of, "Yes, dear. That was a lovely first narration. What did you expect?" Telling is a natural ability of each child.

I would have wondered if perhaps Miss Mason wasn't exaggerating a bit when she said children were ready to narrate as soon as their language skills were developed if I hadn't heard Punkin (almost 3 years old) narrate of her own invention yesterday afternoon. Mind you, she had never heard SweetP narrate. Thinking back, I know the older two girls did the same at her age, and I think, younger. I had just read Katy No Pocket and I gave her the book to look at while I nursed the baby. I sat quietly as she "read" the book aloud to herself. Her narration went something like this:

"Then Katy went to the city. She saw the man with the apron. 'Pleeeaaase, may I have your apron?' she asked. The man gave her his man-sized apron and shook it reaaally hard. Then Katy had the most pockets in the world."

Charlotte was right. Again. My three year old just narrated and I was silly to worry that my six year old might have a hard time. It was Mama who needed a little practice with it, not her. The practice has been good, though. I'm gaining some confidence in how to correctly lead a child in narration.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Steps in Teaching Handwriting (Copywork: Part Five)

I'm not sure about all of you, but I've been enjoying going through a rather detailed series on Miss Mason's instructions for copywork. Hope you don't mind a few more posts on the topic. I'll try to break them up a bit over the week. Now, where were we...

"One letter should be perfectly formed in a day, and the next day the same elemental forms repeated in another letter, until they become familiar. By-and-by copies, three or four of the letters they have learned grouped into a word––'man,' 'aunt'; the lesson to be the production of the written word once without a single fault in any letter." Home Education pg. 234

Here Miss Mason gives us some step-by-step instructions on how to give our handwriting lessons. We've been following this method very closely in our homeschool for a little over a year now and the results, I have to tell you, have been tremendous. I'm attributing a great deal to the details of which Miss Mason writes. I will concede, though, that I do think there is some form of handwriting "heredity" (and it seems closely linked to drawing ability). Maybe it comes through in the teaching when Mama has nice handwriting or maybe certain children are somehow pre-wired, but I think it's at least possible that there's a kind of genetic handwriting predisposition. BUT, remember our dear mentor's examples of classrooms full of children thriving under these methods. Not every single one of those children had good writin' genes ;) Every child can learn to write well.

SweetP began learning to form her printed letters when she showed a sustained interest at age four (bigtime breaking the CM rule of no school before age 6). I didn't push her; she really was interested in learning. So, we learned. Now, nearly three years later, she is transitioning into cursive. She's extremely excited about this, and I think it's been good to keep handwriting interesting by adding in the cursive twice a week. Actually, the PNEU schools taught cursive alongside manuscript for ages six and seven. I thought that was interesting.

The first bit of cursive that SweetP learned was her own name. This was just our own preference, not a CM recommendation. There is a lowercase "h" in her name, so her second lesson began with letters that share the same "elemental form", as the CM quote above suggests. One entire lesson was devoted to forming a perfect lowercase "l". This does not mean a page full of imperfect letter "l"s with one good "l" at the end. It means maybe four to six very good ones, finally stopping after a perfect one is formed. The next lesson was then focused on forming a perfect lowercase "b", and so on. Whenever she formed one of the letters poorly, we quickly erased it and she tried again. No emotionality about it (matter-of-factly, remember?), just a little word of encouragement from me and another earnest try. If a letter was very good with a tiny mistake, I praised her and let it stay on the line, but she still tried again to write a completely perfect one. When we are just beginning to introduce new letters, I like to do handwriting lessons when there is absolutely no rush or interruption. Dawdling is never an issue with this particular child (Shug is another story), so I let her feel like we had all the time in the day for that one letter. Once she had formed the letter perfectly, the lesson was done for the day. On occasion, she would form the day's letter perfectly on the first try. Knowing she would be disappointed to have her cursive lesson over so soon, I chose to add another letter in for the lesson. So, on those days, she actually practiced two letters to perfection before we stopped. If any of our lessons had gone past ten minutes without a perfect letter, we would have - on Miss Mason's recommendation - stopped for the day (on an encouraging note) and tried again with the next cursive day.

Now, several weeks later, SweetP has learned to form her own name as well as lowercase cursive h,l,f,b,k,o and e perfectly (still doing several days of printed copywork a week). On Thursday, we combined some of these letters (again, as the quote at the top of this post suggests) to form a word. First, we reviewed the letters she had already learned and she wrote her best four to six of each of them. Then, I wrote the word "bell" on the top line of the paper. SweetP gave her strongest attempt on the line beneath mine. She did better than I did on her first try! I had a small glitch in my "b", but she did not! She thought that was a hoot ;)As she learns more of her letters, there will be more and more of this sort of a lesson. She will be writing words comprised of the letters she has already learned. She was really tickled with writing "bells" in cursive today. She beamed and said, "It won't be long before I do all my copywork in cursive!"

We should all have such simple joys in life :)

Let The Writing Lesson Be Short (Copywork: Part Four)

"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." Home Education pg. 234

For the first handwriting lessons, Miss Mason recommends only five to ten minutes. Have you ever timed your handwriting lessons? I hadn't until I first began reading about CM and her use of short lessons. I had my daughters (at age 4) writing for 20 minutes to finish their A Reason For Handwriting lessons! No wonder we were on edge by the end! By using short lessons (truly only 10 minutes or less, even 2 years later now) the children stay fresh and their concentrated efforts to form their "very best" letters do not give way to sloppy, half-hearted work. At the beginning, the important thing is to do it slowly and carefully - the very best the children can write for just a few minutes.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fine Arts Friday: The Magic Flute (Mozart)

We've been studying Mozart as our term's composer. In particular, we've been focusing on one of Mozart's operas, The Magic Flute, for the past several weeks. The girls have not had much exposure to opera, so I took this fun storyline as a good introduction. After listening to the basic plot summary on Classics for Kids, we then watched this short excerpt from the opera. If you're interested, here's the famous duet sung by Papageno and his beloved Papagena :)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Long Days Outdoors

"I make a point, says a judicious mother, of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months. That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October. Impossible! Says an overwrought mother who sees her way to no more for her children than a daily hour or so on the pavements of the neighbouring London squares. Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them. A journey of twenty minutes by rail or omnibus, and a luncheon basket, will make a day in the country possible to most town dwellers; and if one day, why not many, even every suitable day?" - Home Education pg. 44

I was that judicious mother of which Charlotte Mason writes :) I tried to get the children out for at least an hour everyday and felt like really hot stuff if I got them out for more than that. Every once in a while, we'd go to the local arboretum or walk the trails at a nature reserve, too. What a shock to me when I read this section of Home Education! I had no recollection of The Charlotte Mason Companion mentioning four to six hours outside! Had I written my reaction down it would've read something like the following: "What on earth is this nonsense all about?! Four to six hours indeed. How idle does this woman think I'm willing to be? She wants me to sit outside for five hours on a blanket!? Are there women that do this? Are there women that want to do this?"

I was not impressed.

But, then I kept reading. "It would be well if we all, persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things." I pondered her words as I sat and watched my two year old mesmerized for a full ten minutes by one lady bug. I wasn't concerned about the laundry at that moment. Somehow, all this time outdoors was beginning to seems less ridiculous than it had seemed at the first reading.

So, I read some more. "Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun––the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?" I decided it was time to give Miss Mason a run for her money. I was going to take up the challenge. I would give it a shot, and just see if this four to six hours a day was even possible. I was about seven months pregnant at the time and had three small children under six years old. If I could do this, then I'd admit that Charlotte Mason wasn't being completely insane.

We tried it. First, we went to the arboretum or a local park for two to three hours at a stretch. I would often take a packed lunch along. It was autumn when we first got really serious about this plan, so the weather was often gorgeous. Soon, two hours seemed like hardly any and three and four hours were more the norm. We were regularly spending long hours outside at least four days out of the week. It was getting easier. I found I had more energy and more patience. I found the children spent their time sweetly and that their interest in nature was rapidly growing. I also found that, when we spent long hours outdoors, they napped really well that afternoon once we got home ;)

One day, while reading Home Education, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that Charlotte Mason did not necessarily mean that all four to six hours had to be spent in a row. What a revelation! My husband built a picnic table for my 31st birthday gift, and lunches soon went outdoors. Sometimes breakfast and dinner,too! On busier days, these outdoor meals and a nature walk after lunch would add up to two hours on their own. Couldn't an hour be spent in the yard gardening and later a little game of ball played with Daddy in the backyard? I was beginning to see how this "out of doors life" could actually be lived - and enjoyed.

We were enjoying it! So much so that we kept it up through the arrival of my son and on through the next full year (although, the dead heat of summer was trickier). Even with a newborn, we were frequently going out for what we have come to call "Park Days". I think these days were especially nice with a newborn - what a blessing to just rest and let the children play happily. Sure, sometimes it's not so easy to get out the door, but over a little time, we've worked out a system that makes things a bit easier for us. Even with the school year now in full swing, we've been able to have five hour Park Days twice a week, often taking school books along for my oldest daughter. I think narrations have been best when she's been outside ;)

There have been so many wonderful surprises coming out of "trying" this seemingly impossible way of life. For instance, when we are galavanting out in some prairie or riverside, my house is staying clean! I never would've come up with that idea! :) But, it's true! We do chores in the mornings before we leave, and when we come home for nap - it's still clean! How wonderful. Although, the children aren't ;) We've also figured out to make the most of rainy days to keep up with the house. We usually do a little extra housework and spend a bit longer on lessons on those days. We have all learned so much about nature, too, and have improved in our habits of observation and attention. Not to mention the many restful days we have spent together, enjoying our Father's creation.

All of this has been an unexpected "fringe benefit" of researching the Charlotte Mason method. I didn't know my five year old would learn to identify a sycamore tree just by playing under one. I didn't know my toddler would learn to distinguish between a Monarch and a Painted lady (without a book). I didn't know how much I would treasure moments in the grass with my six year old and my baby both lying in my lap. I didn't know I would be able to slow down this much. I love it.

I laughed out loud when Miss Mason said mothers could work wonders once they were convinced that wonders were demanded of them.

I am so glad I was wrong :)

For more posts on Long Days Outdoors, please click on the "outdoors" tag below :)

Injured Eyeballs and Cheering for Our Children (Copywork: Part Three)

Now, isn't that a catchy title? Gotcha here didn't it? ;)

Last Monday, I posted about "perfect accomplishment" in handwriting. Or, as many of us call it, copywork. I've been evaluating my methods for teaching handwriting throughout the last several weeks, so I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts and more than a few of Charlotte Mason's on the subject. Last week's post considered our standards for our children. Are we letting them get by with less than they can actually do? Having decided that most of us probably are not requiring enough of our children in this area, we had to wonder how to "get" that elusive perfect handwriting from our sweet, little students. (Well, mine are little, anyway.)

In her first volume, Home Education, Miss Mason gives us a few specific tips toward our goal. On page 160, she writes the following:

"A Child should Execute Perfectly. - No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required of him as a matter of course. For instance, he is set to do a copy of strokes, and is allowed to show a slateful at all sorts of slopes and intervals; his moral sense is vitiated, his eye is injured. Set him six strokes to copy; let him, not bring a slateful, but six perfect strokes at regular distances and at regular slopes."

First off, let's make sure we even know what we've just read! What is all this talk about injured eyes and vitiated something or others? My interpretation is that Miss Mason is saying that we harm the child's sense of right and wrong when we let him get by with sloppy and half-hearted work. I would say that, at best, we lose an opportunity to train the child to value hard work carefully done. It's also just a waste of time, our time and the children's, if all we are doing is letting them learn to make their letters poorly. As far as the injured eye comment goes, Miss Mason is pointing out that the child is somewhat harmed when he is told, either directly or indirectly, that careless and sloppy work is the acceptable standard. His "eye" for beauty is undermined and he is the worse for his poorly done lesson because it was deemed acceptable.

Now that we have that out of the way, I think there is a very key point here in this passage that draws the line between a high standard and pushing a child too hard. The line is drawn with these words: "No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly". I need to know my children and their abilities as individuals. You need to know your children and their abilities as individuals. Regardless of whether a child tends to be a slow learner or is leaps and bounds beyond her peers, the standard is in relation to that particular child's own abilities. This does not mean that we keep things easy for our children so that they are guaranteed success. No, we are to challenge our child with the highest level of work that he can still do perfectly.

This takes discernment. It's a bit like the little boy who says his tummy aches, but you aren't sure if it really does hurt him or if he's just trying to avoid taking out the trash. Each one of us has to assess where our child's true limit is, not just where that child says it is. He might need gently pushed a bit to challenge his mind and abilities. If he's been accustomed to lazy work, he won't like the new standard at first. But, Miss Mason advises that we are doing our children a great disservice to allow them the habits of a careless work ethic and a careless attitude. Maybe I should write it on my lesson planner - "The little things matter".

So, when you establish the new standard and your child still comes to you that day with a page full of his half-hearted work, what are you to do? Miss Mason is so kind to have written this all out for us, isn't she? ;)

"If he produces a faulty pair, get him to point out the fault, and persevere until he has produced his task; if he does not do it to-day, let him go on to-morrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph!"

We are on their team, on the same side. We ought to be cheering for them! I know it can be so hard to keep from getting frustrated and tired and annoyed, but we must beg God for grace and discipline ourselves in the habit of being positive with our children. If the day's work is sloppy, Miss Mason says to simply have the child do it again. Actually, no! She says if the day's work is less than perfect have him do it again. Matter-of-factly, not with a sigh and a reproving look of disappointment, just matter-of-factly. "Oh, honey, this is better than last week. You are improving, but I have seen you write these letters more carefully and I know you can do it again today if you try." What if the letters are still not well done and the time for today's lesson is over? Whatever you do, please don't have the child write and write and write until his little arm goes numb. That would be completely defeating the purpose. Miss Mason's instructions here are to, in such a case, let the child try again tomorrow. If the letters are not perfect tomorrow, well then, try the next day! Finally, when the perfect letters do appear (and I love this part), celebrate with him! Not with stickers and a new Webkinz, but with genuine praise and pride in his accomplishment. If we would have our children truly value a job well done, we must show them how earnestly we value the same. See? Handwriting just crossed over into character training.

Isn't it a blessing to be on your child's side?

"So with the little tasks of painting, drawing, or construction he sets himself - let everything he does be done well."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Rainy Days Clean My Toilets

Before I get going on this blog entry, let me say a few things. Firstly, I want to make it quite clear that I am definitely not in a shiny floor and dessert with dinner stage of life. All of my children are still pretty little, my house is big, and I have to be more careful than ever before to safeguard my finite energy. Secondly, everything I'm about to write is just as much to remind myself as it is to pass anything along to someone else. Lastly, I'm getting there, but I'm not there yet. My house is not perfect, but it's decent and - with God's grace and strength, I'm trying. It does me so much good to regularly remember this quote from Stepping Heavenward:

"If you could once make up your mind in the fear of God never to undertake more work of any sort than you can carry on calmly, quietly, without hurry or flurry, and the instant you feel yourself growing nervous and like one out of breath, would stop and take breath, you would find this simple common-sense rule doing for you what no prayers or tears could ever accomplish."

I've never had to pace myself like this before. I have to go slowly. I need those restful days of sitting beneath a tree every bit as much as my children need the open air and grass to run around in. I need naps. It's different for me now than it was even a couple of years ago. It's no secret, anyone with small children and no older children will tell you that although we are immeasurably blessed and would not trade any of it for all the world, this stage of motherhood is exhausting.

But, my toilets are still dirty.

My husband still needs clean underwear to wear tomorrow.

It would be good if we didn't order pizza for dinner - again.

I am just beginning to figure out a few things that help me get on top of my main responsibilities and stay there. Some of these ideas have come from precious, older moms whose advice I praise God for! :) But, honestly, I have lower standards right now than I have in the past. I'm not trying to win awards here, I'm just trying to do what the Lord has really given me for today. It does no good to stress about what I cannot get to. The Lord will give the strength and the time for His work.

Now, about the rain cleaning my toilets. Did you wonder about that one? Well, all I really mean is that I count on a few rainy days here and there to get some good cleaning in. Even more than that, I plan my week depending upon the weather and any exstenuating circumstances (doctor's appointments, service opportunity, dinner at in-laws, etc.). I do not plan out our school term all at once. For me, this is key. I do have a fairly good idea of what I want to cover in the course of the school year and, more specifically, each term. However, I do not sit and write down lesson plans or even a daily schedule or school "to do list" more than a week out. I've tried it before and I can never stick to it. Life is too variable. I do much better with short term planning and we have been able to be quite consistent with schooling this way. So, this is how planning all of my spinning plates looks on any given week:

1) I throw out any spinning plates that do not matter this week. The weeds are in check, not gardening this week, for instance.

2) I check the weather for the week.

3) I write the week's forecast in on my simple, little planner from Walmart.

4) I ask the Lord for wisdom in "ordering our days aright" and check in now and then with Hubby to see how he's feeling about my priorities.

5) Depending on the week's weather, I then write in high priority non-school, non-house commitments like my mom's birthday dinner or spending time with a friend whose husband is deployed or whatever. I work to keep these very limited - I get spent up too quickly if I do too much back to back. This week we're going to Sam's parents on Friday night because they're moving on Saturday. Sissy asked us over for dinner Saturday night, but I know Sunday is a bear for me as it is - so we picked the Friday night and turned down the Saturday night. Everyone has different limitations here. This is reality for me right now.

6) I block out the prettiest day or two for light to very light school days (depending on how much we've been able to be outside lately. A gorgeous day in January calls for *no school*, but a pretty day in June when pretty days are a dime a dozen may only be a little lighter than normal.) Sometimes, we go the Sonlight route and take school outside with us. I had the loveliest time reading lessons to SweetP at the arboretum the other day with Little Dude on my lap and Punkin and Shug romping in the leaves not too far away. Don't worry, SweetP romped both before and after the reading ;)

7) I block out at least one, better two, days a week for much less time outside and more time inside cleaning. Today and the next 3 days are forecasted for heavy rain. That's four days total of not much time outside! Yikes. But, I know ahead of time that I will have 4 solid days with a little extra cleaning. I can't go hog wild (still that exhaustion factor), but if I work solidly and purposefully, I can get a lot done.

8) I look at Ambleside Online and my own little booklist and I schedule in our schooling for the week. Somedays are very light, but no day is chock full. I just don't plan school days with so much in there that I'm going to be stressed to fit it all in. That's a recipe for one grumpy homeschool. If the work needs done, it has to be spread out. For this reason, I can't have more than one very light school day a week or two somewhat light school days a week. I don't want to be trying to jam everything in on Friday. Sometimes, if there's really no reason to sweat it, I just let us miss a lesson. Math, for instance, is on no set schedule. I don't miss often, but if I do it's not like we're behind. Reading, too, has more flex to it since both girls are reading fluidly and with comprehension.

9) I have to accept that things are probably going to have to be adjusted even after they're written down on Sunday night. Some weeks everything stays right where I first put it and I make my merry little check marks, knowing that I have thought through and planned for our time each day. That's so nice. But, sometimes the van needs new tires and I can't go to a park on the one dry day all week or sometimes I wake up with a whopper of a migraine (last week) and I actually have to ditch all school that day and call in reinforcements so I don't pass out on the baby. That's not so nice.

10) As far as the housework goes on the "extra" housework days, I keep in mind Elisabeth Elliot's reassuring motto: "Just do the next thing". It's not about scouring the house in one afternoon. I already admitted there's no way. I know about Flylady. I've checked out Flylady. I don't do Flylady. I think Flylady must have a very small house. I'm not mopping this kitchen floor in 15 minutes, honey. I remember asking an awesome older friend of mine (over 60) in Virginia for tips on scheduling housework. She looked at me like I had three heads. "Why do you need to schedule housework? You don't need a chart to tell you there are dishes in the sink?!" LOL, she's so sweetly blunt. I took it to heart, though. Anyway, I just have to do what needs done most and pray for the spirit to do it calmly and cheerfully - then choose to not stress about the rest. I try to get the dishes out of the sink and one load of laundry done (if I'm caught up) everyday. I'm training the girls to help out in certain things. We have a place for almost everything and try to get most things in their place each afternoon and evening. I swallow my pride and ask my husband to help me every so often. Dear sweet man. I do a little more on rainy days with a little bigger cup of coffee. No real golden nuggets of profound wisdom really, but I hope maybe a little reassuring to someone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Charlotte Mason Distinctives: What Really Reeled Me In

What are the distinctives of a Charlotte Mason education? What makes the CM method so unique and why are so many homeschoolers choosing this route for their children?

When I first began reading about Charlotte Mason and her educational philosophy, I was already implementing some of her methods unknowingly. For instance, I knew I had a strong preference for using living books instead of textbooks in the areas of history, science, and literature. I had never heard the term "living book", but I knew that there were some wonderfully well written books available for children, and textbooks seemed unnecessarily dull and dry to me. I was interested when I heard there was a whole approach to homeschooling that used nothing but books likes these.

I took my first steps toward CM, and barely even knew it ;)

So, what exactly is a living book? In Miss Mason's third volume, School Education, she illustrates how a child's enjoyment of a book may be one measure of whether or not the book is living: "The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea" (p. 178). Here, I think, we find what we are trying to get at with living books. Impact. Ideas. Intellectual stir. There is no yawning and glum turning of page after page. These books are interesting. The thoughts that they stir up both feed and exercise the young minds of their readers. They must also be challenging, well-written, and able to be narrated. This is what is meant by a "living book".

Before I began reading Charlotte Mason, I was already beginning to see the benefit of short lessons in our home. My older two girls were learning to read early and well by means of just ten minutes a day. They were, similarly, learning to write their letters in just as little time. When I read that Charlotte Mason advocated short lessons for all of the school subjects, I was immediately intrigued. After reading more, her method made so much sense to me! With short lessons, children remain fresh, attentive, and engaged. Time is not wasted on dawdling, wandering thoughts, and discipline issues that arise from fatigue. Lessons are crisp, focused, and - short. The result is plenty of free time for playing outdoors and pursuing other interests, as well as a positive attitude about school work in general. Who wouldn't want that?

Around the same time that I was looking more carefully at CM, I was also reading Teaching the Trivium, which actually references Charlotte Mason here and there. I was initially confused when I read Laurie Bluedorn refer to Charlotte Mason as the Habitual Method. Why would she call it that? I had just started reading Home Education for the first time, and it did not take me long to find out why the CM method could easily be just what Bluedorn suggested. Charlotte Mason focuses a great deal on the importance of training our children in positive habits. In the same vein, she writes about preventing the formation of negative habits. We are all creatures of habit, she writes, everyday tracing the paths of habit more and more deeply into our minds. Habits are critical in the proper raising of children and they are foundational to a proper education. Miss Mason's advise regarding habits has been every bit as valuable to me as the best child training books on the market today. I have been continually challenged and encouraged by her writings on this topic. Habits are the backbone of the CM method in our home. As I read more of Volume One, I was beginning to really get hooked.

Then, with my interest peaked by living books, habit training, and short lessons, I read Miss Mason's thoughts on the out of doors life for my children. I know it sounds dramatic, but every page I read left me so joyful, so thankful that I had found this woman so early on in our home education! Miss Mason writes in Volume One, "The chief function of the child- his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life- is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavor of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects" (p. 96). I cannot tell you how much these words resonated with me. In my heart of hearts I knew that true education in the early years could not be divorced from the natural world, and here was Charlotte Mason encouraging me to let long hours in nature be a purposeful component in the education of my children! "Never," she writes, "be indoors when you can rightly be without."


Now, before you think that I was ready to just read a living book for fifteen minutes a day and then go run around in the woods all afternoon, let me assure you - there is a final distinctive that really drew me to a Charlotte Mason education. Charlotte Mason's method is academically rigorous. If anyone doubts that statement, one look at the average PNEU curriculum puts all concern to rest. Second graders read Pilgrim's Progress, fourth graders read Shakespeare and Tennyson, and sixth grade children are delving into Don Quixote! Unabridged! There is poetry, nature study, classical music and composer study, challenging history accounts, and more. This is no slacker curriculum. In fact, for some mothers, it can be rather intimidating. I am so thankful for the wonderful women who have collaborated and put together the free CM curriculum resources at Ambleside Online. They have taken so much of the potential stress and confusion out of applying Charlotte Mason's methods in the 21st century. What a tremendous blessing!

There are, of course, many other wonderful aspects of Charlotte Mason's approach. I have left out narration, copywork, dictation, drawing, handicrafts, and foreign languages. This entry is long already, though, and I couldn't possibly touch on all of them. If you have more interest in learning about these and other distinctives of the CM method, please click on the buttons in the sidebars of my homepage. I hope to be continually adding to my store of posts on these subjects.

I hope you have been blessed by something you have read here :)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Project FeederWatch

Have you heard of Project FeederWatch? It's a great way to do nature study on those cold, blustery days of winter. The Project for 2008 began on November 10th, but you can still sign up to take part in this large scale research program sponsored by Cornell University's Department of Ornithology. There is a registration fee of $15 for United States citizens (not sure about the fee for Canadians, but I know you can participate!). Sign-up is really fast and easy - you can pay with any credit card. The research schedule officially runs from November 10th, 2007 through April 4, 2008. We joined today, and should receive our data collection packet in a few weeks. What a useful time frame for Ambleside Online's second term, which for Year One focuses on - you guessed it - BIRDS!

Also, don't miss out on the special link for homeschooling resources :)

If you decide to sign up, I'd love to know about it :)

Happy Birding!