31 August 2010

At School with Charlotte: Charlotte's Brain Child

Okay, so today is the day I {try to} get back in the saddle! I blogged through the first six chapters of Charlotte Mason's Volume 3: School Education {the price of which, I see, has gone back up since last I checked--$39 for the complete 6-volume set is your target price if you are buying it new, ladies} and then I was shocked to discover that August had arrived without my permission and I needed to do this thing called Planning School, or there was going to be trouble.

So I planned.

It was fun!

But now it's time to read, even if that means I'll have to repent and change my plans.

Before I dig in to Chapter 7, An Adequate Theory of Education, I thought I'd offer a little index of Volume 3 posts thus far, for those of you just joining us:
Alrighty. With that out of the way, let's jump into Chapter 7 and splash around a bit.

Charlotte begins by reminding us that we are educating human beings {a "homogenous spiritual being invested with a body"}, which is great considering that all of our educating stems from what we think man, and therefore a child, is. Charlotte then tells us we must consider...
  • His Capacities: The child has many various capacities, he can build many relations and take "many modes of action" and we have yet to see any limit of this
  • His Limitations: He has "no power of self-development." This is where we, the teachers, mothers, guides, come in. At the same time, she doubts that a child deprived of this actually loses his capabilities. Perhaps this gives courage to the mother who fears she has begun "too late."
  • His Education: Whatever he learns, whatever connections he makes, leaves a physical imprint upon his brain. Because of this, she reminds us of the importance of habit training.
    [S]ome nine-tenths of our life run upon lines of habit; and that, therefore, in order to educate, we must know something of both the psychological and physiological history of a habit, how to initiate it and how to develop it.
After this brief refresher, Charlotte heads straight to ideas. Here's a quick run-down of Charlotte's main points:

  1. Ideas are living, and she appeals to Plato, who believed there was a separate realm in which ideas existed.
  2. An idea requires two minds. Another person puts an idea into my mind, you see. We think thoughts because of the people we know, the things we hear and see, the books we read. She believes that ideas are, to some extent, contagious.
  3. Ideas never die. An idea might be painted by an artist, written into a novel by a writer, or simply passed from voice to ear, but the fact remains that ideas are hard to shake from the earth.
  4. Certain people attract certain ideas. She also says it backwards and says that certain ideas appeal to certain people. "[T]he person," she says, "brings forth ideas after his kind."
  5. Ideas have a physical impact when they strike us. Charlotte specifically mentions the quickened pulse and brightened eye.
  6. Every habit has as its seed some idea which inspired it, and every idea has the potential to change or initiate a habit of thought and/or action.
If you recall, Charlotte says that education is, among other things, the "science of relations." She relates this to the growth and development of the person:
It would seem as if a new human being came into the world with unlimited capacity for manifold relations, with a tendency to certain relations in preference to certain relations, but with no degree of adaptation to these relations. To secure that adaptation and the expansion and activity of the person, along the lines of the relations most proper to him, is the work of education; to be accomplished by the two facts of ideas and habits. Every relation must be initiated by its own 'captain' idea, sustained upon fitting ideas; and wrought into the material substance of the person by its proper habits. This is the field before us.
Charlotte here is putting her finger on the pulse of classical Christian education. The fact is that education--true education--does not leave the student {nor the teacher, for that matter} unchanged. This marriage of ideas and habits is making more and more sense to me as we go on. We learn something, grab hold of an idea, and that idea grows, but it doesn't grow in some sort of Petri dish--a sterile, isolated environment. Rather, it invades our very lives. It brings about repentance, or maturity and growth. If we do not see these things in ourselves or our students, it is hard to say that learning is taking place at all.

So What Do We DO?

Charlotte first tells us what we shall not do: we shall not "develop the person."
[H]e is there already, with, possibly, every power that will serve him in his passage through life.
We also shall not debate
whether it is better to learn a few subjects 'thoroughly,' so we say, or to get a 'smattering' of many. These questions are beside the mark.
Instead, we must consider
the relationships which we may initiate for a child.
And here she begins to give us a Ladder of Relationships, which will continue in other chapters.

For Babies: the Lowest of Rungs

At this stage, we are to form

ties of intimacy, joy, association, and knowledge with the living and moving things that are therein.
{This corresponds nicely with what Jan Amos Comenius called the Mother School.} We can teach a child "sciences" even at these early ages, but it is not the same as giving him an intimacy with living things. We teach science by reading the child a board book that tells them that "sheep says baaa." We foster an intimacy when we stop by a hillside covered with sheep and let them watch the sheep, when we take them to a place where they can pet a sheep. {If my daughter had her way, we would own a sheep, just in case there is something we are missing in knowing them.}

Intimacy's first step is recognition. To recognize a living thing intimately means that the child knows it by sight, yes, but also that he recognizes an environment appropriate for the thing, the sound or smell of the thing, and so on. In Volume 1, then, we see Charlotte having the children document where they found a flower and in what season, that they might search in similar places and at similar times for it, until they know the thing's environment as well as the thing itself.

The second step of intimacy is aesthetic appreciation. The children are naturally drawn to beauty, and they try to paint the pretty flower they see. Charlotte suggests we also show them how artists have captured these beautiful images.

The third step, then, is first-hand knowledge. He begins to recognize so many trees for instance, that his mind naturally leaps into the science of it all, and he sees the similarity between, for instance, the peach tree and the almond tree. Charlotte says that it is here he gets the idea of plants having "families" to which they belong.
 
The fourth step is appreciative knowledge and exact knowledge. He is learning things in such a way that he will even come back to them fondly when he is aged. His desire to learn has been sparked in the best of ways.
 

Setting up a New Relation

Charlotte closes her chapter by giving us a picture of a little girl's latest relation, in which she uses an oar in water, and through her experience, learns something about its nature. Her experience is superior to a text book description, and will stick with her longer.
 
The conclusion, then, is that our primary task is to set up relations. {Charlotte includes here both moral as well as intellectual relations.} In this light, she then defines education as putting the child
in the way of relations proper to him, and to offer the inspiring idea which commonly initiates a relation.

Application

I was thinking about that last part, and it seems to me that it would be prudent to examine our lessons and our schedule quarterly in this light. Am I setting up enough relations for my children? Or am I just giving into the pinnacle of modern temptation--getting through the material? Am I giving them many opportunities to become intimately acquainted with living things?

We had our Circle Time out of doors again this morning, as the weather was favorable, and I am reminded why I wanted to make this a priority. Yes, our duck flock interrupts lessons, but having dragon flies and mockingbirds join us is more important, I think, than feeling academic by sitting at a table indoors. I am prone to forget this, though. That is why one of my goals this year is to have my many "definitions of education" from various respectable folks collected and listed up, that I might evaluate what we are doing on a regular basis.

Moving On

Charlotte's next chapter will take us up a rung on the ladder, and we will learn what relations are proper to a child.

I do wonder what Charlotte would say about children who missed that baby rung.

30 August 2010

Reader Poll: Guess What Came in my Mailbox?

Hmmm...that was a weird title. But it's all I've got, so we'll keep it. Just to clarify, I am not polling you to have you guess what appeared in my mail. I'm going to tell you what came in the mail, and then ask you some questions about it.

Ahem.

Here it is, folks:
2010 CiRCE Conference CD Set:
A Contemplation of Liberty
That's right! My CiRCE CD's are here!

My question, then, is this: how many of you bought them or are planning to buy them soon?

Last year, I blogged through a number of the CDs, and I am planning to do it again this year, but as a group, for those who are interested. Obviously, with so many of them, it wouldn't be wise to do them all. But I thought perhaps we could pick half a dozen or a dozen and go through one per week. Those of us participating could reflect on the entire lecture, or just on a single idea we pulled from it--it'd be completely low pressure and informal.

My question is: who's up for it? And if you are interested, name your top picks.

If I could only choose two, I think it'd be Andrew Kern's A Contemplation of Liberty and Karen Kern's Freedom and the Moral Imagination

Anyhow, if I see a lot of interest, I will organize a schedule. Either way, I'll probably add a Mr. Linky to the bottom of my posts...just in case.

27 August 2010

The Darndest Things: Where Vegetarians Come From

Have you ever wondered where vegetarians come from? I used to. But now, I think I know. It's the parents. It's all in how we handle the questions our children ask. I may or may not have tripped the first domino which will eventually lead to A. becoming a vegetarian.

Here's the story.

A couple weeks ago, we sat down for lunch. I was serving leftover baked chicken and salad. Like I always do, I had cut up a chicken thigh and split it between the two little girls, because they eat like birds, those two do. (Baby O., on the other hand, eats more than the two of them combined and I wonder how those of you with many boys are not bankrupt.)

Ahem.

As I was saying: chicken, cut up into bits, sitting on their plates. After we said grace, A. looked from her plate, to Q.'s plate, and back again. I was waiting for a complaint about something, but that's not what followed.

"What is this?" she asked.

"Chicken," I replied.

She points at it with a wrinkled nose. "A chicken...lay this?" (We have laying ducks, remember. She is quite intimately acquainted with where eggs come from.)

"Um. No." I am so lame.

"Well, where it come from?"

"Well, it is a chicken." This is me, and it gets worse.

"Where the chicken go?"

"Well, the chicken died and now we're eating it," I said.

"Oh. Was it sick?"

"No."

"Then why it die?"

"Um. Well, someone killed it and so it died. Chickens are for eating."

She sat there for a while and stared at her plate. I was cringing.

"Who killed it?"

"Well, there are men that have that as a job. They raise the chickens and kill the chickens and sell them to people like us and we eat them."

"We know those men?"

"No. But Mr. O. has killed birds before. We could watch him sometime."

"We going to eat our ducks?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Because they lay eggs. Some birds are for eating; some birds are for eggs. If the bird is for eggs, you don't eat it, or you won't have more eggs..."

That last part saved me because we were able to lead into a discussion of whether you could kill a duck and get all of the eggs out of the inside if you were really hungry, which led into The Golden Goose, and I really thought I was safe at this point.

Until a couple nights later, when I was making fish.

"What's that, Mom?"

"Fish."

"A dead fish?" *

"Yup." Why fight the inevitable?

"Mom! All this killing!"

"Sorry. What else do you think we should eat?"

"Um." And she thought for a while. She looked at me timidly, like she suspected she was wrong. "Meat?" (My girls call beef "meat.")

"Um--"

"MOM!"

"Sorry."

And then she sat for a long time.

"I know!" she finally decided. "Ice cweam! We could eat ice cweam!"

And that, my friends, is where vegetarians come from.


* I later needed to assure her that no goldfish are killed in the making of goldfish crackers.

26 August 2010

Home Remedy: Warts

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post to bring you...a home remedy for warts. Do not--I repeat--do not run to the doctor, wasting numerous precious homeschooling hours plus gas money plus copay until you have tried this. (As an aside, does anyone else find it amusing that my child with a wart is my child who loves frogs with all her heart?)

Ahem.

As I was saying, all you need are supplies you should already have on hand.

I read about this remedy years ago, but I've never had an opportunity to try it, so I was a little excited to see a wart on a little one's finger.

Here is what you need:
  1. Apple cider vinegar (if you do not keep ACV in your pantry, repent! ACV covers a multitude of sins is very useful)
  2. Cotton ball or something similar
  3. Tape (the type you'd use to hold a bandage to skin)
That's all.

Before bed, take the cotton ball and soak up some apple cider vinegar and tape it to the affected area. Leave it on all night long. Remove in the morning, and repeat every night. Or, if you are me, you forget half the time, so repeat most nights. Either way, the wart will first turn black and then eventually fall off.

After it falls off, don't give up. Apply the same at least two more times. There will be a little cavern left in the skin, and there still might be some cells in there. Those will turn black, too, if there are enough of them. Either way, you want to kill them so that you don't have to do this again.

And that's all. In a week or two, everything will be fine, except for the child's quilt smelling like vinegar.

Let's leave the doctors to more important things.

25 August 2010

Organic Grammar

So many of the books I have studied extol the virtues of doing grammar lessons as we walk along the way, so to speak. Charlotte Mason, for instance, rued the fact that teachers in her day were teaching grammar without the children first having "knowledge of sentences." Others--like Comenius and Andrew Kern and Cindy of Ordo Amoris--have made similar statements. The idea seems to be not a rejection of formal grammar, but a right ordering of the lessons.

My problem is that I don't have a deep knowledge of grammar. Most of my grammar is intuitive, which might work fine for my own writing most of the time, but doesn't give me what I need when it comes to teaching and offering correction to my own children.

However, comma.

I began "formal" grammar in the second half of year two with my oldest, and I found it to be a mostly pointless endeavor. Using Harvey's Elementary Grammar and Composition, we did fine through the first handful of lessons, and after that, he just didn't connect with it. I'm not one to waste time, so I dropped it, and began thinking about how to do a better job this coming year.

And now the coming year is here.

I decided that, in order to learn to write, he really needed to be writing. Then, we'd have something to work with. So, he has an almost-daily written narration. I gave him a spiral-bound notebook to serve as his "narration notebook," and on the first page, I wrote up an example format. I want to be able to track his progress, so I had him put the date in a certain place, and cite the name of the book and the page or chapter numbers in a certain way and in a certain location.

At the same time, in addition to studying Harvey's on my own time, I got myself a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves that I'll be beginning shortly. Hopefully, I will build my own grammar knowledge faster than he needs me to have it, and I'll be prepared for my younger students when they get here, too.

We are now on Day 3.

Every afternoon, we have a meeting, and during the meeting I go over his narration with him. I told him that in addition to serving as a narration, we were going to learn to write better, and he seemed pretty excited about that. Somewhere, someone wrote that it was dangerous to tackle too much at once when using this approach, so I'm trying to be careful and not correct every single mistake on every single page.

On the first day, then, I only corrected the format. He didn't properly capitalize the title of the book, and he wrote the date incorrectly. I gave him as a goal for the next day (in addition to trying to write a worthy narration, which was our general goal) to make sure he got the format correct. The next day, it was almost perfect (the date was missing a comma), so I decided to attach the next problem: the rules of sentences. We went over this in our Harvey's lessons last year, but he has forgotten over the summer. I think it'll stick better now that he's seeing it in action in his own writing.

Here is where I'm excited: I don't think I need to entirely give up the formal lessons. Instead, Harvey's (and The Mother Tongue, another grammar textbook I have) will be our reference. Yesterday, I reminded him of the basic sentence form: capitalize the beginning letter, and end with a period. His goal for today, then, is to (1) get the format correct and (2) follow the basic sentence rule I reminded him of yesterday. I'll be satisfied, even if there are other problems, like comma problems.

And so it goes.

This actually feels a lot more manageable to me than when I was going to "teach" grammar in a daily or weekly lesson. Instead, I feel like a coach--his will is enlisted, he wants to do well, and I am going to help him do a little better each day.

23 August 2010

Circle Time 2010-2011 Term I ...and More...

In honor of today, this first day of school, I'm finally posting my plans. Good thing they're ready! I've changed a number of things, and I think I'm going to be pleased with the results. All of this summer reading did what I hoped it'd do--it changed me and, I hope, made me a better teacher.

First, here's our Circle Time plans for Term 1:

Circle Time Weekly Schedule 2010-2011 Term 1


This is the last time I'm using this format. A friend of mine starting transferring it over to a spreadsheet, and I love what she's done with it and intend to follow in her footsteps for next term.

I'm continuing what I began this summer, which was reading one short Bible story each day, and requiring narration from my oldest. I require my daughter A. to remember something from the story, and she is to speak first because listening to a narration causes her to forget, or to rely on the narration for her information.

Instead of manners this term, a friend and I wrote a short course on the seven virtues. It's just introductory; a little devotional study. But I think it'll be great, and it will serve the same purpose as manners in that it will offer correction to the heart and behavior.

We have decided not to enroll the children in Awana this year, for a variety of reasons that I won't explore. Two out of three children are relieved by this. I won't say that I think this is a perfect decision, but there will be some benefits. I have had a love/hate relationship with Awana, and one reason for this has been that it appropriates all of our memory work unto itself. We did great on catechism this summer, and I am pretty sure it is because we aren't drilling for Awana. I have wanted to have a much bigger variety for our memory work, and now I can, without negatively impacting my children's performance at Awana.

So, we are memorizing a verse to correspond to each virtue. We will also add to our Children's Catechism work. In addition, I was very inspired by Cindy--not just her interview, but also by rereading her archives--and I decided to begin poetry memorization. We are starting with one of our favorites, Bed in Summer by Robert Louis Stevenson. I have a list of four poems to keep us going, and three are from A Child's Garden of Verses {Bed in Summer, Whole Duty of Children, and The Cow}. In addition, we'll do Alexander's The Beggar Boy, which is in our copy of The Oxford Book of Children's Verse. {I have no idea how long this will take us, but I suppose the only way to find out is to begin.}

In the past, we have sung one song per day, and used Tuesdays to work on our new songs. I have decided that in addition to reviewing one song per day, we will sing whatever we learned on Tuesdays. The extra practice should cause us to learn more songs, and faster. I have printed up a "family hymnal" for us. This way, my husband can grab it and be sure that our children can sing them all. I usually ask him what songs he wants them to learn, so he should enjoy seeing some of the fruit of these labors.

For the virtue study, my friend found a collection of old letters to give to our boys as additional reading. Not every letter corresponds perfectly to a virtue, but many of them do, and we liked the content {of all but two}. The letters are from an older brother to a younger brother, and since neither of the boys receiving these letters once or twice per week have an older brother {they are oldest children}, I think it will be interesting. Hopefully, they will enjoy the feeling of having an older brother, if only for a few minutes per week.

For artist/picture study this year, I am going to go all-out Charlotte Mason and try visualization. This is where the children look at the picture and try to recreate it in their minds. In the past I have done Art Narration, but I feel compelled to try visualization and see what happens.

I am still doing Song School Latin, mainly at the request of my three-year-old, who adores it. This year, however, my oldest won't be doing the book work. {Charlotte and Comenius both have me going backwards on formal grammar.} Instead, he'll be doing Rosetta Stone Latin whenever he visits my parents

I am still toying with my Average Day Chart. I cannot decide if O. is ready to drop his morning nap or not. This morning, we had Breakfast School with our friends {because the first day of school ought to be fun, so I hear--and it was and I'm hoping this is a new tradition}. O. was very whiny by 10am, even though we were outside, and he had previously eaten seven pancakes and four sausages. I had thought that having Circle Time outside was going to solve the Toddler Problem for me, but this had me second-guessing myself.

Maybe he still needs his sleep.

But, if he takes a morning nap, then he won't be going down for an afternoon nap until around 2:30, which changes my afternoon schedule a bit.

For now, I am assuming that he will be ready to drop a nap in a week or two, and printed up an Average Day Chart that will work for that time in the future. For now, we will modify it as needed to suit the toddler. Here is what I've got:

Average Day Chart 2010-2011 (1)


Another new thing I'm doing this year is giving more responsibility over to my eight-year-old. I have read everything to him for Ambleside until now, even though he was perfectly capable of reading them alone. He was an early reader, and I didn't want him to miss out on being read to a lot just because he began reading at three. But now, he is ready, and I think he needs to explore working on his own a little more.

Every Monday morning, he receives a clipboard with a week's worth of assignments attached. This means articles he needs to read, cursive worksheets, math sheets, and so on. Each day is paperclipped together so as to minimize the confusion, plus I'm neurotic and put a little M Tu W Th removable tabs on them. On top of all of this is a weekly assignment sheet. Here is an example:

Weekly Schedule


Okay, so I just noticed this says "Weekly Reading Schedule." Well, it started as a reading schedule and grew and grew. Charlotte Mason wrote that children should have read two full gospels by age nine, so my husband broke Matthew and one other gospel {don't remember which} into chunks, and he will read them daily until he has read it all. He is not ready to do all of Ambleside on his own, but he is ready to do some of it, so he will read one alone and narrate to me, one alone and narrate on paper, and I will read one to him and he will narrate to me immediately. Some days are lighter than these early weeks {I always weight it heavy in the beginning, when we are fresh and ready to work anyhow}, and on those days he might do only one or two of those three.

I have pretty much told him he has complete freedom--as far as what time to start and what order to do his work in--other than needing to {1} be present at Circle Time and {2} have everything completed in time for our meeting at 1:45pm.

I want school done by 2pm. Daily.

E. arises at 5:30 or 6 in the morning. Part of the reason I wanted to give him this independence is because I know he might enjoy working in solitude during those early hours when his siblings are sleeping.

The end.

Actually, I'll end with a list of the resources we're using for Circle Time this year:
I think that is all...for now. We'll see. My Circle Time grows and changes every year. I think it is still my favorite part of the day.

22 August 2010

"Baby" O.

Instead of putting the finishing touches on school plans yesterday, I threw a little birthday party at Great Gran's house for Baby O. (Might I call him "Baby" just this one last time? He'll always be my baby.) Usually, I do these things at home, but what use is an August birthday if you don't have a pool party?

And so we swam.

But before I go on, I must confess that I cannot seem to celebrate this child's birthday without thinking about his birth. I really am not the sort of woman who does this. For the most part, my nostalgia over the birthdays revolves around contemplating the past year and how much my child has grown. But this child, well, I suppose I won't ever forget waiting three horrible minutes for him to start breathing, followed all too shortly by the revelation that we couldn't have more children.

Um. Can't we make sure my child is really alive first, before throwing my fertility into the trashbin of history?

I'm just saying.

Ahem.

Anyhow, Baby O. turned out to be quite the fighter, and so the past two years have flown by happily.

It's a little ironic to me to think about my first view of him, his limp little purple arms and legs hanging down lifelessly, because he has more life in him than my other three children combined. If I can think of one word to describe this child, it is vibrant.

Which, naturally, made the pool party extra fun. My other babies cried, whined, and complained about pools until they were three. They didn't like the cold, nor the wet. They didn't put much stock in swimming. I watched my cousin's little ones floating around happily, while I grudgingly tugged around a toddler in a floaty, trying to make the crying stop.

And then there is O.

O., who has no use for my "help" in the pool. Donning a life vest and arm floaties (because the vest doesn't quite keep him above the water line), he swims and kicks all over the pool, and if I try to sneak up on him to make sure he's okay, he screams and swims away as fast as he can. He swam until well past his naptime yesterday, which meant that when he finally did get a nap, it was a good one.

I love this little guy.

So here we are. O. is two, and beginning to make his way in the world a little bit. It is still hard for me to believe that my little 4-pound baby has grown so fast--and so strong--so soon.

20 August 2010

The Monkey Cake

Baby O. is not so babyish anymore. I am heart broken and I'm looking for babies to steal a needy infant to arrive on my doorstep. It is so weird to face a second birthday without throwing up being pregnant. I've never done it before.

But enough about me and my need for another baby.

Baby O. sleeps with two monkeys every single night,
the one he was given,
and the one he stole from Q.
Today, I present an easier cake, The Monkey Cake.

Here is a quick tutorial. First, I used two boxes of cake mixes, and three batches of homemade frosting, but I could have used two safely. However, it is always nice to keep all that extra frosting for the morning of the party (I make cakes a day ahead of time) in order to patch anything that settled overnight.

The central part of the cake is two 8-inch rounds stacked. The ears are not muffins, but custard cups (two of those stacked on each side making a total of four). For the mouth/nose, I poured some of the cake batter in a small, oven-safe mixing bowl and carved it a little to give it shape.

The eyes are Sunkist fruit chews, and the rest is just two colors of frosting. The cake isn't quite as orange as it looked; I tried to adjust the color but couldn't get it to look quite right.

I had seen a similar cake online, so please don't think this is my original idea. It is never my original idea.

Anyhow, I thought my little monkey deserved a monkey cake.

I can't believe he'll be two in just a couple days.

19 August 2010

Help! My Child can Read!

Today, I've been attending to some of my other obligations, and dusting off the old TRWBB blog in preparation for beginning our school year. All of that to say, Afterthoughts might be neglected for the next few days. However, if you want to hear my thoughts on life after phonics, you can jump on over to TRWBB to find out.

18 August 2010

An Interview with Experience: Cindy of Ordo Amoris (Part III)

Yesterday, we heard some of Cindy's tips on raising boys, and the day before that, we talked Circle Morning Time. Today, we'll talk about being a home educating mommy. Well, I won't say much. Cindy will talk about it. I'm with you all--I'm listening.

Here is our final installment...
  • As a mother of young children, I wonder about daily Bible reading. What did you do with your young children? Read TO them every day? When did they become independent? Did you assign readings to them?
    I try to read the Bible to my children daily. This past year was not a good example of that because they can now all have their own personal devotions. I encourage that at the very youngest age. Even if all they do is get up in the morning and sit for 2 minutes looking at a Bible storybook. Sometimes I used a Bible story book for the little ones and sometimes, mostly, just the Bible. My friend, Linda, and I were just talking about how our children were better at Biblical concepts and theology than Bible stories. I probably erred on not systematically teaching Bible stories. My children usually had to wait to hear the WHOLE story and sometimes they didn’t come away with the Sunday school version. Sometimes in my zeal to read the real Word the children missed key things. Once when Emily was 5 she asked, “I wonder who the very first man was?” I practically yelled at her, “Emily, you KNOW who the first man was, ADAM.” She replied, “Never heard of him.” We were reading the Bible every day but missing the whole story angle. Even the children’s Bible books I tend to buy seem more keyed to theology than stories. The jury is still out because sometimes I think at least my kids can come to the stories fresh.

    As soon as they are reading the Bible regularly I encourage them to read through the whole Bible, but I try not to tell them what to do in their personal devotions a part from at least read one chapter building with age to 2. I want that to be their time with God and to get out of the way so that He can lead them.

    To sum up, I read the Bible to them in the mornings and they have their own personal devotions separate from that. I try to set the example by having my devotions every morning. I rarely assign a regular Bible curriculum during their school schedule although I do assign theological reading, church history books and biographies of Christians.
  • Warn us about something. What mistakes do you think young homeschooling moms are most likely to make?
    Homeschooling moms tend to be highly motivated, passionate women. Yeah!!! But There is a tendency to puff their children up which is a horrible danger. You do want to be FOR your children not against them but it is so painfully ugly to see a homeschooled child who is a big fish in a small pond. Modern women in general tend to feel they must cater to their children, sometimes in the most ridiculous ways. Don’t get me wrong, I slept with all my nursing babies. There is a middle ground called common sense. Modern moms tend to talk about needing time away or ‘me’ time. I think that might be because they aren’t really free or able to be themselves around their children. They have to get away to be themselves. I would say be yourself with your children and look at your children as human individuals. Catering to a child’s every whim makes some women feel like they are good moms, but it is bad road to be on for the mother and the child.

    And I would also warn against over-spiritualizing. I hate to even bring this up since it confuses people but think of the verse in Psalms where it says, “you thought that I was altogether like you.” You will harm your children’s faith if you make God in your own image or if you constantly turn everything into a spiritual issue. It will be as if you are immunizing your children against spiritual things.
  • Would you elaborate on prayer in the life of a mother? I know you have mentioned its importance. My mind just goes blank and I don't know what to pray.
    I know what you mean. My mind goes blank also. God is just so kind to constantly reward prayer that it really becomes worth the work it takes to concentrate on it. My nephew makes a joke that he prays without ceasing so that stopping to pray is an interruption in his prayer life :) but that can be true. We can cultivate our lives as a constant prayer. For moms that is sometimes the only way. There are some seasons where it doesn’t matter how early we get up someone is up before us. I think prayer must be tied to Bible reading and I would exhort every mother to read her Bible before absolutely everything in the morning, every morning. Pray while you are reading. You don’t have to read a lot. You don’t have to have a Bible reading program, just read your Bible every day and while you are reading talk to God about it. Talk to God about your children as you walk along the way. The beauty of Christian prayer is that it doesn’t have to be some mystical experience.
  • What do you say to the mother who wants to quit and send her children to the school down the road? She feels like nothing is going right, the toddler is undoing all her work, and one of the children will stop working if she turns her back. What ought she do?
    First of all, I would say that in some cases a mother needs to put her kids in school even for a season. I am not here to be a judge over anyone. But to the mother who just needs encouragement to finish the race, I would say to remember it is about the long haul. You can have whole years of frustration in homeschooling and still come out ahead in the end. Life is not about the big projects but the small moments. When you can, be faithful to use your time wisely and when you can’t, wait on the Lord. Second, I would make sure she was enjoying her children by disciplining them consistently. That is hard, hard work but it will pay off in a lifetime of rewards. You must be able to enjoy your children in order to homeschool. If you are not enjoying them then you must be more consistent in your discipline. If you can’t stand your children, do you think other people are going to like them?

    Another thought: If you send all your children to school, who will help you chase the toddler? I will be the first to admit that there is no real answer to the toddler question, except that this too shall pass. One particularly bad year I assigned an older child to watch the toddler at intervals throughout the whole day. Everyone seemed to enjoy that. The toddler loved it and the boys had fun getting out of school during the day.
  • What do you do with the child who is resisting his lessons? How do we balance not wanting to crush spirits with requiring work and effort?
    This is a good question and one I constantly ask and something I pray about frequently. How do I challenge this child while acknowledging his own weaknesses? It takes prayer. Most of us probably worry too much about crushing our children. A child will at the same time encourage you to go easy on him while resenting you for it. As a mother you MUST be strong. As a homeschooling mom you must be even stronger. This is a topic that I will probably blog about again.
***

The End. I'd like to thank Cindy once again for being so accommodating. Remember, you can read more from Cindy at her blog, Ordo Amoris.

17 August 2010

An Interview with Experience: Cindy of Ordo Amoris (Part II)

Yesterday, I began posting this (three-part--I decided to make it three) interview, so if you are interested in an indepth discussion of Morning Time (what I call Circle Time), you can check it out here. Today, we're going to get a glimpse of Cindy's unique expertise, the raising of boys. Cindy has eight sons (and a daughter), so I am assuming she's seen just about all there is to see when it comes to the males of our species.

So here we go...
  • Did you allow your boys to wrestle with their sister? How can we learn about proper relationships between sisters and brothers?
    When they were little Emily might have jumped in on a playful wrestling match but they are never allowed to physically touch her in that way. As a matter of fact, we have a rule that is dealt with often for all of them not just girl/boy: “No physical touching.” If any argument ends with some sort of physical touching then before any tale is told the person who physically touched the other person is punished. We say “physical touching’ because the boys were very creative when we said, “no hurting or hitting.” Now all it takes is touching to get one in trouble.

    As far as brother/sister relationships go, it helps for Dad to model that to the boys. The original Sugar Creek Gang books were very good at communicating that girls are to be treated special. I found that this is more confusing for the girl than the boys. The boys may be offended that their sister wants to wrestle so it is confusing for her when she tries to jump in. This is more an issue with little girls. Older girls generally don’t want to wrestle. A girl should probably only join the wrestling when a parent is in the room since there is a good chance she will get hurt before the boys do and I would not want to confuse the boys. They probably should never wrestle with their sisters when a parent isn’t present.
  • Can one do baseball without it taking over life? Or, is it ok to let it take over life for that season? And, have you had to deal with the games-on-Sunday issue?
    In Alabama and now Tennessee, they don’t schedule youth baseball on Sundays generally. That helps a lot. We have never been strict sabbatarians but we try to avoid Sunday games. The older boys did play on an adult league this summer and they played mostly on Sunday afternoons. I am not too happy about that but they are all over 18 and I am not their personal Holy Spirit.

    Other times we have only let the kids play on Sunday if their team was counting on them in an unusual way. I know that is weak but there it is.

    Here is what we do to try and keep baseball in check: We rarely play All-Stars even though the boys are almost always eligible. I would love summer baseball but it isn’t practical for us. Usually the boys end up being alternates and playing a tiny bit without having to fork over the ghastly travel ball fees. We don’t always play fall ball either. We have at times and I enjoy it but it can be daunting. You have to be willing to look at your family honestly and be strong enough to say no. I don’t mean say no to your kids but no to the other forces pushing them to play. From February-May baseball is king of the family and I love it. I love sitting outside soaking up the sun and fresh air. I love all 9 innings of a baseball game. I love hating the umps and dissing the coach. But then it is over and it is time to rest for a while and not let the sport become a 4 season one. As a tiny little baseball brag, one of our sons did get a call back from the Atlanta Braves after a tryout recently. We are not expecting anything to come of it but it was exciting. Especially since he never played travel ball, the new great American parental pastime.

    That covers the playing of baseball. We won’t discuss fantasy baseball or watching MLB on the computer.
  • How do we know when "normal boy" behavior leaves off and bad behavior begins? Any rules of thumb in dealing with boys?
    One key is bullying. Teasing, bantering, wrestling for fun, are all O.K. but when one child begins to bully another it is unacceptable. I would say trust your own intuition. There is a fine line but don’t be afraid of it. Many mothers err on the side of thinking their little darling would never harm anyone so they revert to the boys will be boys thing. Other mothers err by being shocked by the merest hint of masculine behavior. In a way they spiritualize femininity and therefore view normal masculine behavior as sinful. Masculinity is by nature thoughtful of weakness, protective. One question you can ask to determine whether the behavior is appropriate or not is whether or not it was motivated by a spirit of protection or just selfishness. Also watch reruns of Leave it to Beaver. Lot of common sense about boys in that show.
  • Have you ever had to deal with one of your sons that is emotionally and physically very sensitive, and if so how did you teach them to self-calm and be a functional part (instead of a huge distraction) of a large family?
    YES!! Right now I would say that I have 2 sons that fall into that spectrum. It requires several things. One is patience and two is prayer and you will really need that tool because sometimes after dealing with an emotional person it seems like the whole world is crashing in but with an evening of prayer and the light of a new day things brighten up.

    The goal that I am trying to teach my younger son is to laugh at himself and not take himself so seriously. We talk about this all the time. Daily. He can’t quite do it but he is beginning to see where it needs to be done. In a large family of boys he has made himself an easy target. I don’t always stop that either. Part of the beauty of a large family is that members learn not to take themselves too seriously and teasing and banter are part of that. Admittedly, this horrifies some visitors to our home. My job is to make sure that the banter and teasing don’t become bullying. Bullying is ugly in every form.

    I have another son who is more high maintenance with a history of dramatization. We have worked, prayed and loved this child for years. We have tried tearing him down and building him up and I believe both have their place. This year things have finally calmed down. We see some maturity. A few weeks ago something happened on Facebook and he laughed about it. I was absolutely shocked. I told him how impressed I was that he had laughed at himself on Facebook over something that could have been humiliating. Several things have helped us over the years with this child. Exercise. This kid needs more than most. He is not good being cooped up all day. Enough sleep. If I see that he is overly tired I try to avoid confrontation and encourage a nap. Sunshine. He is probably doing so well this summer because he is in the sun all day long. I plan to make sure that happens in the winter somewhat. Physical love. I try to touch him and hug him frequently because often I am having to rebuke him and I don’t want that to be all I ever do. Listening to him privately. This is the hardest part and I often fail but when he sees I am really for him and not against him he can take my rebukes with a better spirit. Seeking outside help. At one especially painful point our pastor stepped in and counseled our son. I think it helped in two ways, the obvious time with the pastor but also the fact that we WERE going to deal with his problems and not just pretend they didn’t exist.
***

That's all for today. Tomorrow, we'll finish up with some questions about being a home educating mommy. Don't forget that you can access Cindy's blog, Ordo Amoris, for more insight. Update: Read Part III.

16 August 2010

An Interview with Experience: Cindy of Ordo Amoris (Part I)

To be honest, the best advice I could give a fellow homeschool mom is: Find someone with experience, someone you respect, who embodies what you are aiming for, and ask her a lot of questions. I've been wanting to interview a few different women, but it wasn't until the other day that I mustered the courage to ask for permission. I am privileged to have a number women in real life that I can drill with questions, including my own wonderful mother. But there are some women--the writers I read--of whom I have never asked a deliberate series of questions...until now!

Naturally, my first pick is the woman who has single-handedly changed our school-at-home more than anyone else I can think of. I started reading Cindy's posts back when my daughter A. (who is five-and-a-half) was a newborn, and I know a number of you read Cindy's blog as well.

Unfortunately, many of her archives were lost from the old Dominion Family site, but thankfully Cindy, who mostly blogs over at Ordo Amoris, rescued some of the best of her work before it disappeared forever, and posted it over at her other blog, Morning Time Moms. You can read those "bests" in her archives from September 2008.

I could have asked Cindy a million questions, but I knew I needed to narrow it down. Along with the help of Mystie and Kimbrah, I am able to present a fourteen-question interview covering homeschooling, being a mommy, raising boys, and more. I asked, and Cindy was faithful to answer, so I'll be dividing the interview into two or three parts over the next few days.

Consider this a back-to-school gift from Afterthoughts (and Ordo Amoris!) to you all.

Today, we're going to learn the Morning Time ropes (remember: you can read those September 2008 archives from Morning Time Moms if you want to know more about this concept).
  • First, tell us a little about yourself.
    I am homeschooling mom married to my husband, Tim, for 30 years. Tim works in nuclear power. We have 9 children. Timothy is 26. He is married to Natalia (homeschooled and New Saint Andrews grad) and they have 2 children Tim (TDRIII) and Blake. Timothy is a Green Beret. Nicholas, 24, is married to Hannah (homeschooled and jewelry designer.) They have a daughter, Georgia (1yo). Nicholas is a police detective and SWAT member. James, 22, is a junior at Covenant College playing 3rd base and planning on coaching baseball someday. Nathaniel, 20, is married to Vanessa. They are expecting their first baby in the early spring. Nathaniel studies nuclear engineering at Chattanooga State and works in the nuclear industry. Christopher, 18, is a freshman at Covenant College, playing baseball and thinking about sports journalism as a career. Benjamin, 16, is a junior in high school. He runs his own lawn business (Sporting Turfs), and works for the Chattanooga Lookouts along with playing baseball for the Chattanooga Patriots. Emily is a 15yo high school sophomore. She enjoys photography and graphic design. She has a dry sense of humor and no illusions about men. She is the light of my life. Andrew is 12 years old and in 7th grade. He plays baseball and likes to read mythology. Alex is 9 and in 4th grade. He also plays…..baseball. Alex loves to wake up early and get as much school done as possible so that he can get on with the business of playing. I heard about homeschooling 3 years before Timothy was born when Raymond Moore was on the 15 minute new radio show Focus on the Family and it has been full speed ahead since then. We live in Tennessee and are members of a PCA church. In my spare time I read and play word games.
  • You say you read a Proverb each day in Morning Time. Do you mean a chapter of Proverbs, or a single Proverb (a single idea)? Do you just start over when you get to the end, and continue year after year?
    Depends. Lots of times I read the whole chapter but other times I stop and we discuss things for a while. With this particular exercise I read the Proverb of the date so if it is January 23, I read Proverbs 23. If I don’t make it through the Proverbs 23 on January 23rd, I don’t read it again until February 23. I don’t start where I left off as with so many other things. Obviously, this only happens during weekdays.
  • You say you discuss a president a day in your Morning Time. What do you use as a resource? (Because I know very little about presidents.)
    The Buck Stops Here by Alice Provensen (Oh, how I love the Provensens!) is a great place to start. You can read about one president a day. I don’t always discuss one president a day. I usually mix it up with amendments or civics questions from the naturalization test. Every other week, or so, we have a president’s bee. Even guys home from college think it is fun and join in. If the kids come to the end of the bee and have missed someone, I start giving out clues such as, “He was married to Lemonade Lucy.” Every once in a while, I see how many presidents each child can name all by themselves. Before I started losing brain cells I could name them all.
  • Do you memorize everything that your children memorize (i.e., how important is our example in this area)?
    Yes and no. Technically, I am reading the memory work out loud every day but they usually memorize much more quickly than I do. Still over the years, I have accumulated quite a cache of poetry and probably know more of the memory-work than my younger children. When Timothy (26) was about 7 we memorized, he and I, Paul Revere’s Ride. To this day if I get started on that, the whole poem has to run through my brain taking about 5 minutes. And I have memorized quite a bit of Dr Seuss by sheer osmosis. On the other hand, I have never participated in any recitation nights that we have had. Some parents have but I have never felt up to it. So I am not a good example in that way. I think that it is good for your children to see you read and study and work on mental things. That doesn’t mean they have to be the same things they are working on.
  • Do you discuss everything you read? Narrate everything? I look at your Morning Time schedules, and there are three read-alouds (at least) plus Scripture, Plutarch, and Shakespeare. Are there some things you just read and then move on? Is it bad to read without any reflection at all?
    Not by a long shot to the first question. This is where serendipity comes in to play. Each day we discuss something, narrate something but who knows where it will be or when or what or how. Plutarch usually demands small sections, tiny sections, with lots of discussion. Shakespeare also calls for explanations and discussion. I usually preach during Bible readings. I have to keep a pulse on the day, the time passing and being sidetracked. If we discuss one thing at length I may cut other options for conversation off short. I think that during reading there is always some reflection going on whether or not we discuss it. Some children process everything out loud and you have to protect the conversation from that child. Sometimes it is better to let the discussion flow while cutting the rest of Morning Time off.

    And let me add that we have Morning Time on the good school days. A good year will have a 60/40 ratio of MT days to interrupted days. A bad year, like the last two years, will have a much lower ratio. I am praying that we will have a great year this year to make up for our 2 slower years.
  • Inspire us in poetry. I am so weak in this. I never know what to do. We still haven't really memorized a poem.
    Keep ‘a goin’. Keep reading. Start small. I truly believe that poetry teaches intuition and making connections. It teaches metaphor which is the absolute height of learning, in my opinion. As with everything, don’t be overly zealous, just keep reading small bits of poetry daily. Pick a tiny poem to memorize. Pat yourself on the back when you can sing a verse of a hymn in church without the hymnal.
***

That's all for today, folks. Tomorrow, tune in for Part II! Update: Read Part II.

14 August 2010

Wanting to Quit

I have a day or two each year when I am seriously serious (!) about quitting homeschooling. I am completely stressed out, not enjoying my children, they aren't enjoying it--or me, or each other--either, and it seems just no good, very bad. I usually call my husband (weeping and gnashing my teeth) and tell him that it is over and this is a foolish dream.

And so on.

We all have those days, do we not? And if the days build into weeks, we eventually reach that Breaking Point where something has to give. We cannot go on forever.

Our homes, to put it plainly, need peace.

Thankfully, I don't feel this way today. Last year might have had its occasional bad days, but those were outweighed by the good, and I look forward to this coming year, learning and growing with my children.

There has been some conversation among Amblesiders lately about feeling like failures, about wanting to quit, and this really has me thinking. When I find myself fantasizing about sending my children to school, I remind myself of two things:
  1. Sending a child to school (I know I have said something like this before, but I need to repeat it to myself, so bear with me) because we have found something we think is best for him and will profit him is one thing. Abandoning him to failure, deserting him, quitting on him...this is another thing entirely, and it is a burden he will carry with him to school.
  2. When we want to quit, there are usually only one or two things going wrong that are causing a ripple-effect of bad things. We have to figure out what is really wrong in order to solve the problem.
Let me give an example of that second point. Let's take a hypothetical six-year-old boy. And let's say he's generally belligerent and refusing to learn and/or obey Mom. In our house, this has meant any number of things--that the hypothetical boy was having an allergic reaction, that he needed more consistent discipline, that we were asking too much or too little in regard to chores or lessons, that he wasn't being fed on ideas and so his mind was idle and therefore getting into trouble, that he was struggling with something in his personal life, that he had "caught" Mommy's anxiety about other things (or crankiness from being sleep-deprived), that he needed more rest, that he needed better food, that he needed more time outside, that he needed more free time for thinking and playing, and so on and so forth.

The ripple effect might involve ruining meals or, even better, torturing sisters who then begin crying and promptly become overly sensitive and needy.

And once the ripple effect starts, Mom starts to feel tortured and frustrated, she is spending much time on discipline and counseling, the house falls apart, laundry doesn't get done, dinner is late...

Chaos has set in.

Every single time something like this has happened in our home, I have wasted a number of days putting out small fires without ever getting to the source of the flame.

And then I remember Charlotte, and her words of wisdom.

If you recall, Charlotte has foundational principles upon which we build our house of education. It is safe to assume that if the house is falling apart, the foundation is bad. One of the major keys to peace in the home, according to Charlotte, is formation of good habits. Charlotte knew that peace was required for sound learning. This is why it is okay to stop school and tackle habits--because children learn nothing amidst the swirl of chaos. I'm not saying the home has to be perfect to have lessons--if that were the case, we wouldn't have been able to start school yet! But what I am saying is that on my meltdown days, it would be better for me to stop and assess where we've lost our foundation than to force lesson upon lesson without dealing with the problem.

We can't underestimate the power of habit in our families. I remember that once upon a time I realized we actually had a Bad Day Habit. I kid you not! I could have written the script! Child A says/does X, Child B says/does Y, Mom says/does Z, and we in short order play the game called Everybody Cries. Once we stopped the cycle and built a Good Day Habit, things were much better. If I can recognize the beginning of the Bad Day Script now, I can usually stop it.

Until the toddler completely drops his morning nap, of course.

Another oft overlooked foundation principle from Charlotte is that of creating and maintaining the conditions of healthy brain activity. This is easy to assess...until it isn't. Back in Charlotte's day, it was considered a moral duty to feed a child right. Because the child was a stewardship from God, parents did not have the right to overfeed them on sweetmeats. (That is almost a direct quote from either Volume 1 or 3--I don't remember precisely.) Today, the Robinson Curriculum is considered strict because they forbid sugar and honey as part of their educational program. It has been known for a very long time that sugar impacts behavior. If our day is already going poorly, the worst thing I could do is add unsteady blood sugar into the mix.

So many other things can cause unhealthy brain conditions--allergens, not enough sleep, illness, consumption of low-nutrient foods, and so on. We can't prevent allergies, but we can eliminate them or avoid allergens and build healthy habits that promote good brain conditions. Charlotte reminds us that not everything is caused by poor discipline.

Of course, some things are, hence her emphasis on building good moral habits and good mental habits.

Last but not least, we could probably review Charlotte's chapters on School Out of Doors. Charlotte knew that children under the age of nine did best with long outside hours and lots of knowledge gained through the five senses. Sometimes, our school frustrations stem from forgetting all of that and mentally competing with our local Indoor School.

All of this is why Charlotte said that families who have lessons at home must have a thinking love for their children. We have to learn to step back and assess, rather than get drawn into the fray and chaos. We have to learn to direct rather than respond. We have to have peace.

Thankfully, we have access to peace any time we wish.

The LORD will give strength to His people;
The LORD will bless His people with peace
.

Psalm 29:11

12 August 2010

New on the Dining Table

About midway through summer, I got bored with my summer menu (which is always weak, I think) and so I started changing things up a bit. Now, I have a pretty decent collection of new dishes I've tried, and since I haven't read anything interesting lately (unless you count the Ambleside Year 3 Weekly Reading Schedule, which is permanently etched in my brain), I thought I'd share.

Or, at least, I thought I'd share what I remember.
  • Meatza! I am not kidding. This is a low-carb pizza variation that I tried in honor of my father's birthday (he likes his protein), and now we're totally hooked. Of course, I think I'm adding carbs back in when I drop in that 1 or 2 cups of arrowroot powder, but we like it better that way, and doesn't adding in eggs cancel it all out? Think of it as a meatloaf flattened out and topped like a pizza.
  • Greek Dressing. I don't know about you, but we eat a ton of salad in the summers, and I've been on the lookout for a standard homemade dressing for a while now. Finally, we have a winner! I leave out the sugar, but if I had stevia on hand, I'd add a pinch--it definitely tastes better with that hint of sweetness.
  • Ceviche. I've found a store near our house that discounts their wildcaught fish at 2pm. (Guess where I am at 2:15 every Saturday?) I always considered seafood unafforable before, but we've been living it up this summer. I made this recipe using Dover Sole, and it was totally yummy.
  • Zucchini Cakes. These were excellent, only I took out the breadcrumbs and added in arrowroot powder because I never did get back into the habit of buying wheat products after we had our children's allergies eliminated. The recipe was no worse for the wear!
  • Smokey Ranch Dip. Well, mine wasn't very smokey because I just used regular paprika, but I topped the zucchini cakes with a gob of this and it was a big hit with children and adults alike! I have some leftover from tonight's dinner, so I think I'll serve it up with carrots tomorrow morning for snack.
I've also gotten a bunch of lamb shoulder on sale lately, so I've been perfecting my lamb dishes, though I don't really have a recipe, just advice: if in doubt, add more butter. I feel very Julia Child saying that.

Finished!

Remember this? And then this? Well, if I have learned anything it is that furniture restoration takes about a month longer than you expect, especially if you are silly enough to do it during the summer. Did you know paint doesn't perform well in the heat? Another lesson learned.

Well, after over a month, and many tens of hours of work...after getting up early to paint before breakfast (because before breakfast is prime painting weather) for many, many days...I am proud to announce that this (which I bought for forty dollars on Craig's List, thankyouverymuch):

went through a stage where it looked like this:


and now looks like this!


I am happy to be all done!

The only problem is that projects like this breed other projects, do they not? For instance, there is a big gap--the mattresses do not actually fill the entire space. I saw a magazine article where they filled the space with planter boxes for the children to use to keep books and clocks and such. If they don't come in white, I'll end up painting them.

And then there is the ceiling fan: black and brown. It never bothered me back when their bed was brown, too, but now it sticks out and screams at me. Can a fan be painted? Could I paint the black metal silver and buy white blades? I really don't want to buy a fan, but it would look nicer if it matched.

Sigh.

A mother's work is never done.

11 August 2010

I Love Circle Time

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One of the things I love about school planning is that I am reminded of why we do what we do. Because I plan many months of lessons at a time, I sometimes forget why I planned something, or why we're doing something. But at the beginning of the year, everything is fresh and full of vision. In fact, I rather think we make school plans so that when the novelty wears off, we still keep the course and direction we intend.

We know ourselves too well. We know that we are tempted to be lazy, to float on life's sea instead of putting rudder to ocean and going where we need to go.

And so we plan.

Today, I'm putting some of my finishing touches on Circle Time, though part of Circle Time is something I'm planning jointly with a friend, so I won't have the finished product until we meet again next week. Still, I'm completing my portion.

And I am reminded, as I plan, why we have Circle Time in the first place, how it is the key to the heart of our school. Without Circle Time, we'd be lost.

What is Circle Time?

Every family is different, of course, but for our family, Circle Time is where anything which can be studied jointly...is studied jointly. This means our artist picture study, Bible study, manners study, certain read alouds, memory work, singing of hymns and folk songs, and so on. I make announcements about the week, hand out articles or worksheets to people who need them, and give correction where needed. And, of course, we pray and commit our day to the Lord.

Circle Time is also where I add in things that just don't seem to fit anywhere else. If there are areas of study or literary works which strike my fancy throughout the year, I'll save them up and plan them into our upcoming Circle Time.

Circle Time is the only part of the day {from 7am-5:30pm} where I regularly and purposely gather all of my children around me at the same time. Other times, I might have the two girls together working on something, or read to my oldest alone, or cuddle with my toddler, but in Circle Time, we are a collective {and how we wish Daddy could join us}.

Why We Love It

There were two main websites that gave us the Circle Time idea, and both I highly recommend. The first was Preschoolers and Peace and the second was Ordo Amoris {Cindy calls it "Morning Time" but it's all the same concept}.While Preschoolers and Peace helped me decide to have a Circle Time at all, I'd say that Ordo Amoris has informed more of the content of what we do, and what we hope to do when we are taller.

This paragraph from Preschoolers and Peace is the main reason why we have Circle Time:
One of the most important things about Circle Time is that it causes us to be faithful in prayer together every morning. It is also a time I can gather the littlest ones in close and communicate to them that I want them there, and even if I am busy with the older ones and school, I want them there.

About her Morning Time, Cindy wrote this:
Approximately 20 years ago as a result of my early home school adventures and the reading of For the Children’s Sake {Susan Schaeffer Macaulay} followed by The Original Home school Series by Charlotte Mason, I began a morning meeting with my children as a way to incorporate subjects that were important to me but easily lost in the shuffle of conventional schooling.
Over the years I continued to add to this time so that it eventually made up about 2 hours of our morning. As my older boys graduated and flew away they often returned and encouraged me that the most important things they had learned while growing up had been in MT. MT became our daily family colloquy. In was a way to bring all my educational philosophies to the table. It was a way to incorporate poetic knowledge into the hearts of my children. It was a way to share my faith and even preach a sermon every single day.

I have talked with a number of moms who feel like they've lost contact with their younger children upon beginning homeschooling with the oldest. I finally realized that the only reason this didn't happen to us was that God allowed me to be introduced me to Circle Time before we really got going on school. It helps that it was fixed in my mind that part of the point of Circle Time is to avoid losing anybody.

We've been doing Circle Time for about three years now. This year will be my first year having all four children present as a child in our home joins Circle Time upon dropping their morning nap, something my babies don't do until around age 2. Little O. is pretty busy, so we will likely be having Circle Time outside as often as possible, that he might run away when he feels the need {well, after he hears the Scripture reading and joins us for prayer}.

Why do I love Circle Time? For so many reasons -- the simplicity it offers, the opportunity for family discussions, the ability to keep better track of the sheep in my tiny flock. In addition, it seems to relax our family, starting the day off on the right foot almost every time.

10 August 2010

New This Year: Written Narration and Daily Meetings

Has anyone else entered the pre-school jitters? About last Thursday, I got that familiar sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my nerves have been on high alert ever since. I was hoping to finish Charlotte's Volume 3: School Education before school commences, but I can't put off the planning any longer. You can either work with the fear, or work against the fear. I choose the former, and so working away is what I've been doing.

I was looking at the Ambleside Year Three Schedule yesterday while pondering how to tackle the readings this year. I have the toddler-dropping-the-morning-nap hurdle on the horizon, as well as the five-year-old-starting-kindergarten issue. Both of these will take away from the time I usually spend, uninterrupted, with my firstborn. But that is life in a family, right? The give and take is part of the package.

My son was probably capable of doing readings on his own last year, but I am not one to think that capability always indicates the best choice. Children learn a lot from having something read aloud to them--the value of cadence and pronunciation can't be overestimated. With that said, I still don't think it is possible for me to read every single reading to him, and now that he has another year under his belt, I'm not sure it'd be the best idea anyhow.

So yesterday I drew up (yet another) spreadsheet, one that, for the first time, my son will be receiving a copy of. Each week has its own page, and I'll give him one week at a time. I've listed all of the readings, and scheduled some of them to be read on his own, and some to be read with me. I think I'll be reading approximately a third of the Year Three readings aloud.

Because we cram what some may do in five days of school into four, and also twelve weeks of school into eleven (because we do an exam week after each term) I ended up with about three readings per day on most days (of course I can think of at least two days where it worked out to only one). The thing about scheduling three readings per day is that this also means I need to schedule three narrations per day.

I was pondering what to do about this, when my son brought me a story he had written about our pet ducks. It was quite long. Apparently, he's been working on it for over a year, and I could see how his punctuation and spelling improved over that time.

And that's when it hit me.

I henceforth ordain that he shall do one written narration per day.

This child seems to like writing, and he is definitely ready for some grammar instruction. We did some formal grammar lessons last year, but there didn't seem to be much connection between the lessons and his actual writing on his own time. The goal, naturally, is not to have him pass a grammar test but to write well even when he thinks he's playing. Last night, I reread Cindy's post The Philosophical Grammarian Rambles, and decided I was on the right track. She quotes our friend David Hicks as saying:
In the early grades, most instruction in grammar should be meted out in the context of individual writing conferences, so that class-time is not consumed with abstract grammatical drill.
All we need is something to confer about, right? At the same time, his private writing is at once too tender to touch (so it seems) and also done in spurts, meaning its availability is unpredictable. If he has a regular writing assignment, though, then we'd have something to talk about.

I've been pondering a daily meeting where we can go over his math and a couple other things, so this would also be a good time for a Grammar Chat. I know that writing stories is easiest for him, so all of his written narrations will be for the literature selections--in the first term, this will be MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin most of the time.

We will see how this goes. I am always open to changing things up if my plans don't fit the situation. Part of me thinks he is capable of this, and part of me wonders if I'll be asking too much. My guess is that the truth lies somewhere in between, and it could be that I've simply pinpointed a place he's going to grow this year.

Anyone else tried writing conferences?