29 May 2011

Exam Questions for Year Three, Term Three

Whew! We made it. The past couple weeks were tough for me to push through. I was mentally done for some reason. Thankfully, I get more of the summer itch than my children, who were happily oblivious to their mother's internal struggles to make it through the day without ditching school and going to the park.

Or something.

As if it isn't hard enough to finish the year without a certain boy having a birthday, and company in town to boot! My school year is bookended by birthdays {Toddler O.'s birthday invariably falls during our first week of school}, so it will be my lifelong battle to both start well and finish well.


As I've said before, we here have two types of exams, written and oral. The written exam questions are spread out over three days. The oral exam takes place one evening, and we treat it like a little party. We invite my parents over, have dinner together, examine E., and then eat dessert or a snack or something. It is an enjoyable time for all, though I must confess I'm not exactly sure how we'll do it when we have more than one student who needs to be examined, but I suppose we still have a year to figure that out {because I don't examine until Year Two}.

Here are the written exam questions:
  1. Tell about when a woman poured ointment on Jesus’ head. {Bible}
  2. Write Psalm 71:5 in cursive. {Cursive}
  3. Describe your favorite painting by Mary Cassatt. It is okay to go and look at it--I want you to focus on using your best words to tell about it. Don't tell the name; see if I can guess which one based upon your description. {Picture Study}
  4. Tell about the founding of Harvard College. {History}
  5. Write a fairy story about kindness. {Composition}
  6. Tell the story of Hamlet. {Literature}
  7. Write The Cow by memory. {Poetry Memorization}
And here are the questions for the oral examination:
  1. In your own words, tell about one of the battles that Joshua and the children of Israel fought. {Bible}
  2. Tell us the story of John Henry. {Literature}
  3. Tell us a story about the Pilgrims. {History}
  4. Tell us about Mason and Gorges founding Maine and New Hampshire. {History}
  5. How did Theseus slay the Minotaur? {Literature}
  6. Who was Flora McDonald? What did she do? {History}
  7. Tell us everything you know about Renee, Duchess of Ferrara, and the Huguenots. {History}
  8. Using the globe, please describe Marco Polo’s journey home from China to Florence. {Geography}
  9. What is a partridge like? {Natural History/Science}
  10. Tell us about your favorite invention you read about this term. {Natural History/Science}
  11. Recite Opportunity by Edward Roland Sill. {Memory Work}
  12. Recite the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price and the Parable of the Net together (Matt. 13:47-50). {Memory Work}
  13. Sing This Is My Father’s World. {Hymns}
  14. Show everyone your needlepoint coaster. {Handicrafts}
The above oral questions are not in the order we will ask them. I try to use Mason's priciple of varied lessons in examining, so we alternate the different types of questions. Basically, we'll intersperse the history and geography questions with everything else. After particularly difficult questions, I like to use memory work or handicrafts display because it allows the mind to relax for a minute or two.

Is anyone else writing an exam this weekend? If you post your questions online, please link to them in the comments; I'd love to read them!

Read More:
-Examinations: What's the Point?
-Examinations: Reflections, and Two Sample Answers
-Post-Exam Troubleshooting

26 May 2011

Book Club: Poetic Knowledge {Chapter 5}

I feel like I saw two separate issues in this chapter, so I think I will try and tackle them in...two separate posts, if I can pull it off. This is the first. Perhaps this will increase my chances of brevity? {Alas, brevity takes the sort of time I don't have.}

Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationThis chapter is titled Voices for Poetic Knowledge after Descartes. Taylor focuses in on three men: André Charlier founder of a poetic-style school in Maslacq, France; Henri Fabre, the entomologist; and Dr. Thomas Shields, a professor of education noted by Taylor for his autobiography, The Making and Unmaking of a Dullard.

This first post, then, attempts to be a summary of notable characteristics of these men, their work, and/or their opinions concerning education.

André Charlier
  • Importance of Beauty. Taylor implies that Charlier was deliberate about the location of his school:
    The setting of Maslaq is an example of the thoughtful consideration to beauty so that the location of the school can be said to teach in the poetic mode just as strongly as the approach to the curriculum.
    This reminded me of a press release I watched concerning C. S. Lewis College's acquisition of the Northfield Campus {of D. L. Moody fame}. I remember the Founder saying that the campus was somewhat reminiscent of Oxford in its design, and how could one expect to educate in the spirit of Lewis without that feel--right down to the lamppost which looked like it was straight out of Narnia? It seems that the great minds of poetic knowledge, both then and now, understand its wholeness. It is without and within and all around.
  • Importance of Order. This is always fascinating for me, because my knee-jerk understanding of poetic knowledge was a little chaotic. I thought of children running "free" outside with few constraints; I suppose I was more influenced by Rousseau's noble savage than I realized. Charlier emphasized the importance of order. There was external order:
    What I ask above all from you, is to be rigorously strict about everything that pertains to the material order of the house...It is necessary to create conditions of life so the soul can bloom...Don't believe this is unworthy of you, it is all important: the cleanliness of the house, the strict accurateness of boys in all acts of their life, their belongings, their language.
    And there was also hierarchical order:
    All [Charlier's] military background and poetic common sense comes to bear on this issue when he addresses the older students, his "Captains," or dormitory leaders, who will be caring for the younger students. The difference here though is that the order is to be seen as natural and good and not foreign and imposed for the sake of discipline without a reason.
    And there was internal order:
    [D]iscipline, for Charlier, is something that cannot be imposed by words and commands--first, the Captains must be a living example of what they ask of others, then only a few words are necessary for correction.

    Your function...is service. You must be more demanding on yourselves than you are on others. You will never succeed in creating real discipline if you permit yourselves what is refused to others.

    In this way the Captains are not to become clones and rational robots of a rule-enforcing headmaster, but instead, because their own obedience is to be joyful, they are to be living examples of order and goodness and humility so that only a few words should be required when problems arise among the younger pupils.
    Some of this reminds me of Charlotte Mason's assertion that we who are in authority must not have an arbitrary authority, but must present ourselves as we actually are--as ones under Authority.
  • Importance of the Teacher. I cannot tell you how many homeschooling moms I've talked with who concur that one of the hardest things about homeschooling is getting the public schools out of our heads. We all agree that the public schools failed us and are failing our country {in the sense that neither we nor the country in general is educated in any true sense of the word upon graduation}, and yet when we think education, we think school. Therefore, the revolution in our homes starts with us.
    Henri Charlier begins where one must for a genuine renewal in education along traditional lines--not with buildings, texts, or even students, but the teachers themselves and their formation.
    Later, when Charlier talks about schools, he is very clear:
    It never occurs to the teachers themselves that the methods through which they form their minds are not universal at all, as they believe--but very peculiar to schools.
    More than once I have laughed when someone told me or implied to me that I was doing a disservice {or something like it} to my children because they didn't go to school, which was declared to be "the real world." I cannot think of anything in the real world that is much like school. When does doing 70% give you a pass with your boss? Is your church, home, workplace, or other social group segregated by age? Does a bell go off to tell you when it is time to think about the next thing on a list of things to think about, which was itself given to you by some other person? It is school which is artificial, not home.
  • Importance of Real Things. Like Charlotte Mason before him {and a multitude of others before her}, Charlier understood the importance of building a relationship with real things rather than abstract, artificial, theoretical relationships with things which may or may not exist outside of a classroom and a textbook. This is why Charlotte Mason had her students doing handicrafts and nature study, and this is why Charlier was emphasizing the importance of a craft culture.
    [I]t is clear that one cannot simply think; one has to think about some thing. This requires that there be an image in the memory upon which the intellect can gaze. Education that is forced to teach in the realm of abstract ideas formed from mere language is virtually impossible--one cannot imagine ideas without the interdependence of concrete things.
Henri Fabre
  • Naked-eye Observation. Taylor tells us that Fabre lived during a time where it was popular to study insects when they were dead...and in a museum or science laboratory somewhere. There was little to be said for going out into their actual habitat and studying them alive. This is what Fabre did. And here is what he said in his own defense:
    [Y]ou rip up the animal and I study it alive; you turn it into an object of horror and pity, whereas I cause it to be loved; you labor in a torture-chamber and dissecting-room, I make observations under the blue sky to the song of Cicadas...you pry into death, I pry into life.
  • Affectionate Observation. Taylor has been telling us that the beginning of poetic knowledge involves awe, wonder...and love. Here we have Fabre learning more about insects than any of his contemporaries, and doing it as an amateur in the sense that he is one who is compelled by love.
    Come here, one and all of you--you, the sting-bearers, and you, the wing-cased armour-clads--take up my defense and bear witness in my favor--tell of the intimate terms on which I live with you, of the patience with which I observe you, of the care with which I record your actions.
 Dr. Thomas Shields
  • Understanding Math by Means of Relationship with Reality. Thomas Shields was a self-proclaimed "dullard." He couldn't understand math. It didn't connect in his brain--that is, until he performed thousands of hours of farm labor. It was in his work with, for instance, the pitchfork {which works upon the principle of the lever} that he came to understand it, for he was forced to embody the principles of math and physics in order to work well at his duties. He counted bags of wheat and knew by feel and look how much they weighed, how many bushels they were. He said:
    [T]hey were sense images of real bushels of wheat and not artificial symbols of which children's minds are sometimes fed.
    Notice that we have one commonality so far between all three men {plus our friend Charlotte} and that is the necessity of relationship with real things to enlighten the mind and give understanding. Shields believed that hands-on experience was necessary, and not in a controlled environment. He's talking about being outdoors on a farm, not inside in a preschool where everything is planned in advance and made of plastic.
  • General Before Details. Shields says we start at the wrong place with children. We throw them in the deep end, so to speak, with allowing them to splash around in the shallow end first. He believed that children should be given general information first, that they might not drown in the details later:
    When we begin to teach mechanics with deducting from abstract principles, we are simply reverting the natural order of the mind's growth...[and] when our enthusiasm for the inductive method leads us to overwhelm our pupils with a multitude of details before they have obtained a general view of the subject, the usual result is an uncoordinated mass of facts, from which the pupils are unable to extract the great fundamental truths; and without these truths there can be little real progress toward the mastery of any science...[Therefore] to begin the teaching of mechanics with the definition of a machine as a transformer of energy is a very different thing from beginning to study the same subject in its concrete, germinal form, the lever.
    I have met people who try to accomplish this idea of "general preceding detailed" by cramming their children full of memory work covering basic scientific principles. But this is overlooking the necessity of children to experience a relationship with what is real and concrete. They need to be able to say they were witnesses, "what we have beheld with our eyes, what our hands handled," and all of that. Shields' solution is a lot more delightful, I think: allow them to spend hours playing with a good see-saw. This is the lever, as a plaything for children.
  • Delight as Controlling Motive. We want so badly for our children to do well at their lessons, and so we force and poke and prod and what have you. Shields reminds us of something wise people have always been telling us:
    There is no real progress in intellectual life until the delight in the discovery of truth becomes the controlling motive.
Here is what I'm thinking and asking myself after reading all of this:
  • Is the order in my home beautiful? I am naturally a creature of habit. Our lives follow a rhythm, and we find freedom in that. We also have a definite hierarchy. I am both in authority over my children, as well as under the authority of my husband and God. And I'm pretty sure my children recognize that. However, I don't think I've mastered Charlier's approach--to be able to encourage obedience with few words because I'm such a wonderful example or whatever. So, I need to go back to me. I am still lacking in that the order has not reached that joyful pinnacle at which it can be called beautiful.
  • Is my home beautiful? The answer to this is mostly "no." I don't consider my home ugly, but I don't have a decorating budget to speak of, and I think that shows. Of course, the easiest thing I could do is keep it tidier. That alone would help. I am a bit of a pile-er {is that a word?} and my piles seem to be everywhere, what with the school year wrapping up and all. Perhaps my first week of summer break should focus on getting my house in real order, and then I can spend the summer trying to keep it that way. With that said, I probably should try to make the house look like we've lived here for a while.
  • Am I in contact with real things? Taylor has a lot to say here about people who keep their noses in books all day long, something I fully admit I am apt to do. Half of the books I'm working through, though, are books I am using to make myself a better mother and teacher. I take my job seriously, and I study for it, just as I would any important undertaking. The emphasis here on knowledge of real things made me wonder if I have a knowledge enough of real things. Or have I become myopic, thinking that only books can improve me in the ways I need to be improved for my children?
  • I need to think of educating as helping my children fall in love. Sometimes, when children come up against difficulty in their learning, I just think they should try harder. Conversely, I have also thought that taking time off would help. Both of these things might be true. But I never before considered that perhaps I needed to help them fall in love with it. Delight, we are told, is the controlling motive. Something to mull over, I suppose.
And you? What does this have you thinking about?

Read More:
-more book club entries linked at Mystie's blog

25 May 2011

A Little Taller, A Little Stronger

Today is Son E.'s ninth birthday. It's hard for me to believe that time insists on moving forward like this. I won't name any names, but some people aren't nostalgic about these things. I, on the other hand, suffer birthdays like traumatic events. I suspect this is completely wrong of me, but I find that, try as I might, each birthday requires great effort for me to balance precariously the loss of a year gone by with anticipation of what the next year might bring.

Is there a psychological disorder in which one has the overwhelming desire to freeze time? If so, that one is the one that I have.

I try to write a little birthday post each year, if only for a little memento to keep along the way. I don't want the years to become a big blur, which is sort of what my first five years of parenting feel like now. One big--tired--blur. So now I try and document a little along the way, in case I'm not as awake as I think I am.

I must say I feel I've really seen you grow this year. You've gotten a little taller and a little stronger, that is for sure. But you've also matured. In the littler years, there is a lot of obvious growth. The sort of growth I'm noticing now is more subtle. And though you still have many {needed} years here at the microhomestead to do a lot more growing, I think this year has done you well.

This past year you...
  • Memorized poetry and recited it manfully.
  • Decided participating in children's choir is not so bad after all.
  • Improved your hit and throw and kick and swim stroke, to name a few.
  • Climbed higher.
  • Jumped farther.
  • Hoed your garden dutifully. You come in glistening with sweat, and you claim you like hoeing, and I like that about you.
  • Were baptized.
There were a million other little things along the way, of course. Bad habits broken and good ones made, books read and read again, and so on and so forth.

I think my favorite memory for the year, the one to file away and embody you when you were eight, was when you doubted the wisdom of the royal couple withdrawing the Syrian ambassador's invitation to the wedding. Before this, many of the "opinions" you have expressed were not your own. They were mere parrotings of things you had heard adults around you say {sometimes even exaggerations of what you had heard}. But here was an opinion all your own, said thoughtfully and unexpectedly at the dinner table. When we asked you why you thought this could be a bad decision, you appealed to...hundreds of years of British history.

In that moment, I caught a glimpse of who you are growing up to be and what sorts of things might inform your opinions.

And I liked it.

I liked you.

Happy birthday, Son. May this year bless you with more of the same, growing a little taller, a little stronger...a little wiser.

24 May 2011

**Updated** Making Ambleside Work: The Gory Details

This post first appeared in February of 2010. I would call this a "rerun," except I did quite a bit of updating. I changed some parts that I thought were not clear, wrote it from the perspective of having completed an additional year of Ambleside, etc. This version deals with a more independent student. For Year One students, the original version may be more helpful. The first post was definitely what worked for me then...and this is what's working for me now.

Who knows? Maybe I'll write a version of this every year or two or so...


I’m really looking into Ambleside Online and think it may be more appropriate for my children...

I have NO idea how to implement AO, I mean none. I feel like I’ve read the website cover to cover, but have I missed some big page that gives me weekly ideas or instructions on how to gather materials and organize my day? How in the world do you do your lesson planning? From where do you get your ideas and material? I get a nervous knot in my stomach everytime I think about actually implementing and going day to day. I guess for me, AO sounds beautiful and majestic in theory, but actually doing it just befuddles me. I do have all 6 of CM original volumes and have read/skimmed most of it.

Would you have pity on me and tell me…what am I missing????
The above is a portion of an email I recently received. Let me tell you, I have been there. Seriously. Only, my difficulty was more generalized. When my children were very young {as in: not yet school age}, I knew there would come a day when I needed to begin giving lessons daily, and I had no--and I mean no--idea in how to actually pull that off.

As a disclaimer, before I go on, I want you all to understand that I am not a complete and utter Charlotte Mason person. Our approach here is a fusion between Charlotte Mason's philosophy and Christian classicism. I have many reasons for this: I love them both, and I think they are complimentary rather than at odds, and it suits our family perfectly. I give the disclaimer, though, because I don't want you to think that the advice I'm giving is 100% Charlotte Mason Approved.

It isn't.

Now, I haven't read all of Mason's volumes {yet...I own them and I have read about two-thirds, and at that part more than once}, but so far I don't see anything about formal study of the entire Trivium, even though grammar is taught formally, and rhetoric seems to be taught almost intuitively. I love this, but I also plan to add in a couple text books, especially for logic. My plan is to use Martin Cothran's Material Logic and Peter Kreeft's Socratic Logic in the later years,but never to replace any part of Ambleside; rather as an addition to it. All of this is to say that, as the years go by, I will probably look more classical than I do now.

One More Disclaimer

This post covers the steps I use to plan the early years, meaning years 0 through 3. I will probably post something for managing the additions brought on by Year 4 in the future...after I've actually done it!


For those of you who are unfamiliar with Charlotte Mason or Ambleside Online, I have a list of quick helps for you:
  1. Anne White's An Introduction to Charlotte Mason. This is your best starting place if you have no clue what I'm talking about.
  2. If you are a big reader, then either get yourself a copy of Charlotte Mason's six volumes or read it free on the Ambleside Online website in a modernized version. Do not try and print this out! Mason wrote thousands and thousands of pages over her very long life and you will rue the day you tried to print this.
  3. If you want something more manageable, I have heard good things about A Charlotte Mason CompanionA Charlotte Mason EducationFor the Children's Sake or When Children Love to Learn. Just remember that whenever you read a book that isn't an original source, you are getting someone's perspective on that source, which may not be entirely the same thing. I haven't read any of these because I prefer Mason's own works, even though that means it'll take me a lifetime to master them all. However, some folks find them very helpful, and you might be one of them.
  4. There are a number of websites that you could check out to try and form a vision for what you want in your own home. My favorites are listed here.
  5. There are also blogs that deal with specific aspects of Mason's methods, such as nature study or art study. I understood the concept of nature study better after reading the blog Handbook of Nature Study, and I have also found the sister blog Harmony Art Mom occasionally helpful.

Gathering Materials

The number one easiest way to gather the materials for Ambleside Online would be to grab the booklist for the year you are doing and enter the titles on Amazon, press "add to cart," enter necessary information, and quietly wait for everything to be delivered to your front door. God bless that UPS man.


Then, all you would need would be odds and ends, like something to use for a nature journal, some art supplies, and whatnot.

For me, though, I have running lists, and when I buy books I usually have four windows open with which I am price-checking. I also enter books for the coming years on my PBS wishlist from time to time, so that I can gather as many as possible as we go. {Remember: the cost of shipping will factor into your average price-per-book.}

But here are the important things to do when starting the early years:
  1. Start with the booklist{s} for the year{s} you are planning. You can find them using the links on Ambleside's curriculum main page. This is the bulk of what you need to use the curriculum. I know that some families use the library for this. I like owning the books in general, and I have three other children who will use them, so they are worth the investment to me. I buy many of our books used. Please, I beg of you, do not buy any books published by a company called Wilder. These books are often abridged, even though they don't declare it anywhere in their product information, and I have also read reviews complaining about the quality {i.e., typos, binding, missing the Table of Contents, etc.}.
  2. Print out your geography maps. {We have a globe, so I didn't need to do this for Marco Polo, as it covers a lot of ground and a globe works really well for it.} I use National Geographic Interactive MapMaker printable maps. Geography readings are from Holling C. Holling books in the early years {plus Marco Polo's journeys in Year Three} though you really can map whatever you take interest in as you go.
  3. Choose something for penmanship/copywork. Two years ago, I bought a font so that I could type up copywork worksheets until the time when my children are ready for their own commonplace books or reading journals. You can also do a google search and find free copywork pages, though I don't know if they'd last you a year.
  4. Choose a phonics program. Or, do it yourself using Bob Books. And, by the way, children don't always need reading instruction. With naturally strong readers, you can watch for weaknesses; I wouldn't subject a child to phonics unless they need it. Having the child read aloud to you will allow you to make sure they are not becoming a slipshod reader.
  5. Choose a math curriculum. For now, we use Math Mammoth plus Wrap-Ups.
  6. Choose a foreign language? I believe Mason suggested learning one French word per day or week or something in the early years. I don't know; we didn't start this until Year Two, and we are learning a tiny bit of Latin using Song School Latin and we've slacked on that lately, so writing this makes me feel guilty. Great.
  7. Choose a handicraft and buy/gather necessary supplies. If you are stuck on thinking up handicrafts, here is a list of ideas for very young children. General ideas can be found here. This has been an area of weakness for us, so I was very blessed this year when we started swapping lessons with another family. I teach piano lessons to some of their children, and we are blessed to be learning early sewing skills {needlepoint right now} from them.
  8. Make a wall timeline. We didn't do this in Year One, but have really enjoyed it in Years Two and Three. Ours is inexpensive and easy to duplicate.
  9. Gather supplies for learning folksongs and hymns. Ambleside assigns a monthly hymn and one folk song per term. I tend to choose others because I have specific goals {like making sure the children first know the songs we sing in our congregation}. The Ambleside website often has links for the songs, and if not you can find what you need online, for free, using Google. In the past we have used YouTube to aid us in learning folk songs.
  10. Buy or download the music you need for each term's composer. Ambleside's composer section is here; one composer is assigned per term. I tend to just buy a CD from a composer and play it while the children are doing their chores or having quiet time, occasionally telling them the composer's name. This works fine until your CD player breaks. {Ask me how I know.}
  11. Find and purchase or print copies of the paintings for artist study. Ambleside assigns one artist per term, and information about that can be found here. As a general rule, you will study one painting for two weeks, and then move on, so that by the end of the term, you will have studied six paintings from the single artist. I tend to find the paintings via google, download them, turn them into a .pdf file, and have them printed nicely by Office Depot. Olga's Gallery is a good place to look for paintings.
  12. Buy a nature journal and necessary supplies. You can use whatever medium you like. My oldest just began watercolor pencils for this; my second child uses crayons or colored pencils to color what I draw for her.
This is all you need in the early years. As the years go on, you are supposed to add in study of a musical instrument, lessons on Plutarch and Shakespeare, a foreign language in addition to Latin, formal grammar, and so on, but this list will get you through the first few years, I think.

Planning the Days

Okay, Ambleside Online will tell you what you need to do in a week, but the day-to-day is up to each individual headmistress. I cannot tell you how everyone plans, but I can tell you what I do.

To begin with: Circle Time.

I first learned about the concept of Circle Time {not part of AO, but I use it to accomplish AO} from the Preschoolers and Peace site. This is how we start our day, every day, four days per week. During Circle Time, I cover just about everything that can be done with all children at the same time. So, for me that means prayer, Bible reading, manners training, poetry reading, hymn singing, folk song learning, artist study/art narration, history reading, and so on and so forth. Whatever from AO, whatever from our personal goals, whatever can be shared in Circle Time, Circle Time is where it goes. I think that the only thing that can be done together which isn't on my list is Nature Study and that is because {1} I am terrible about doing this consistently and {2} it needs to be done out of doors while I prefer Circle Time indoors, or at least sitting down.

Circle Time has been the key to our success with AO, I think. Otherwise, it seems like this long, insurmountable list. Also, Circle Time is when my littles learn a bit about having lessons. If they are old enough to be awake, they are required to come to Circle Time and participate to the best of their ability. This has really prepared them for joining the ranks of Amblesiders in our household. Plus their poetry recitations are darn cute.

You can see an example of our Circle Time plans here.

Son E. gets a weekly spreadsheet directing him for the other parts of his day, which includes: math worksheets, typically three readings with narration {one he reads on his own and narrates aloud, one he reads and narrates in writing, and one I read and he narrates orally}, wrap-ups. copywork, piano practice, and sometimes articles for him to read. I think that is it. Handicrafts are a part of our days, technically speaking, but they really come and go. We don't do them consistently, and we often find ourselves doing them on weekend afternoons instead of during the week. This isn't because they aren't important, but because I've found that when the children are in the mood, they just seem to do better at the whole thing, so I watch for opportunities and capitalize on them. Having a time when we are going to have handicraft lessons has helped motivate the children to work on their projects a little more so that they are ready to progress at their next lesson.

To organize Circle Time, I sit down with one paper divided into four days {four days, because we choose to do four days of lessons plus one day where we are out and about, either visiting relatives, serving in some small way, baking together, receiving handicrafts lessons, or taking a field trip} in front of me, plus a blank sheet divided by half-hours to use for a "master schedule" in order to play with a full day.

The first thing I do is look at the master schedule and fill in the known quantities: breakfast, lunch, chore time, etc. If I know that something always happens at a certain time {even the ending of my youngest child's nap}, I write it in. No sense fighting the inevitable. Once I've written all of this down, I can usually pinpoint my approximate starting time for Circle Time {for the past two times, Circle Time has served as an extension of breakfast, and I will continue doing this until it doesn't work anymore}.

You can check out my Average Day Charts to see what we've done in the past.

Before I do anything else, I scribble in the things that I want done daily during Circle Time. For me, those are things like Bible, manners, poetry, and working from our memory binder {which works great for me now that I organized it using a binder version of Simply Charlotte Mason's Scripture Memory System}. Then, I have a third paper that has listed the things I want done weekly, and I start to assign those things a day on my Circle Time page. So, for instance, I have one day where Circle Time focuses on learning a new song, and another day that focuses on artist study/art narration, and so on. I like to read something from my John Bunyan rotation twice weekly. As long as my list for what I wanted to accomplish in Circle Time was thorough, yet reasonable, this is usually successful on the first attempt.

In my planning for Son E's weekly spreadsheet, instead of working from a list, I am working from the Ambleside weekly schedule and breaking it up into days. I usually have all the books in front of me at that time so that I can check chapter lengths and make sure I'm not overloading a single day. The easiest thing to do is probably to just write what day of the week you want next to each assignment. I typically type up into the spreadsheet so it's ready to go when I need it, but it always starts from this sort of organizing: printing off the weekly schedule and dividing each week into days, keeping in mind that each reading will need to be narrated {including geography, which uses a map or globe as a narration tool}.

I feel compelled to note that many families have found success in simply putting the weekly schedule onto a clipboard and checking off readings as they go. For now, I enjoy having the readings spread fairly evenly over four days. Plus, I like not having to think about it all. Remember how Charlotte Mason said that the greatest effort we put forth in life is in making decisions? How tedious she thought it would be if we had to decide to take each stroke with our toothbrush, or lift each fork of food to our mouths? Well, all of this planning is where I make decisions up front, and then just follow orders the rest of the time. The days are much easier for me this way--no decision making for school.

The next thing I do is fill in the rest of the spreadsheet with whatever else needs to be accomplished {remember my list above that included math and copywork, etc.?}. When my son was younger, I had everything planned out in an order that worked well for me because I had other children to manage and he needed or wanted me with him almost all the time. Because he works from a spreadsheet on a clipboard, I find myself doing almost no scheduling of his day. He is a good worker, and now that he mastered Charlotte's concept of alternation, he is able to plan a Mason-style morning on his own.

While he is working through his spreadsheet in the mornings, I pull the little girls in for preschool and kindergarten lessons, which doesn't take much time at all.

So, now we have a Circle Time schedule, a spreadsheet, and a master schedule. The master schedule has Circle Time planned in. This is where we have to figure out where to put the spreadsheet work in time. If I understand correctly, Mason's schools involved full mornings and free afternoons, and if you can pull that off, it'd be to your benefit. Afternoons are good for play, experimentation {boys build things, you know}, handicrafts, free reading, climbing things, practicing piano, etc. For poor families, the afternoons were free for vocational work or training.

I used to do the bulk of this planning in the month or two prior to the beginning of the school year. This year, it has worked better for me to plan term-by-term. Sometimes I needed to cut a week and condense. Sometimes I needed to move things around to accommodate other activities, like swimming lessons. Circle Time and the spreadsheet work has maintained the same rhythm throughout the year. I'm not reinventing the wheel each term. What I am really changing up are things like manners, how we do poetry, or what type of read-alouds we are doing {if we do any at all in that time}.

Getting a Vision for Ambleside Online

One of aspects that makes AO so difficult to get our minds around, I think, is that it is so simple. I, for one, with my public school experience, imagined that things could only be learned if the teacher spent hours and hours of time planning what the children were going to learn. Mason had a completely different approach. She said the children feed on ideas, and AO  becomes, then, their "food," so to speak.

We read these beautiful stories and the ideas are there for the taking. The children narrate, and as they go along the narrations become conversations, and much is learned, but this kind of learning cannot be planned. All that can be planned into the day is enough space for ideas to be feasted on.

This has a feel about it that is akin to some descriptions of unschooling I have read, and yet it is not unschooling, if I understand unschooling properly, because the curriculum itself is orderly and planned out in advance by one who has authority over the child. However, I believe it shares one of the aims of unschooling, which is to grant the children a rich and enjoyable education.

Once I did a year of AO, I was truly amazed by its simplicity...and also by its brilliance. I keep coming back to what I have learned from my CiRCE CDs: nature. Mason, I think, firmly grasped the nature of the child, and always taught with this in mind.

Anyone else?

I know we have some other Amblesiders lurking around here, and some of you have far more years under your belt than I do. Anything I've missed? Any tips for us? And if any of you have past posts on how you do your planning, please link them in the comments.

23 May 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Did everyone have a nice weekend? Ours was far too short, it seems. I feel like I need another hour in each day. The good news is, my two-year-old {the one with marbles in his mouth, who cannot enunciate to save his life} proved to me this morning that he has been memorizing the Bible parables along with his older brother and sisters. Perhaps someday he'll be able to recite and have someone other than his mother understand him.

In other news...

  • Here is an interesting article called How I Healed My Child's Cavity. As most of you know, my two oldest children have had terrible, horrible cavities in their baby teeth, such that I wanted to hide in a hole. We began instituting some of the protocol from Cure Tooth Decay and saw improvement, so now we've moved on to trying to do more, if not all, of the protocol. I could write a post on this subject, too, I suppose, but it could best be summed up as "Pray really hard until your son's rotten tooth falls out early." This is much easier than healing cavities. Of course, the mother who posted this was talking about an adult tooth.
  • Apparently Europe is paving the way in health care once again. This time, they've outlawed countless herbal remedies, and likely made the remainder less affordable for the common folk. Don't let any of this fool you. It's true that some herbal remedies don't work as claimed, but the main reason for controlling allopathic medicines is because, if used incorrectly, they can cause great damage. Let's just say no one ever died of Oil of Oregano overdose. As someone who uses herbal remedies, balanced with other home rememdies, with regularity and success, I am deeply concerned. There has been a push for this sort of law in this country. I can only think that the appeal involves government control and possible profit motive--the Deadly Duo, so to speak--for herbal medicine is hardly dangerous.
  • Cindy is continuing to blog through School Education. Don't miss Docility and Authority, Part 2 as well as Masterly Inactivity. I'm reading through the latter today.
  • Are any of you planning to see the movie Thor? I probably will, as my oldest is a big fan of Viking Tales and the like. Lars Walker from Touchstone Magazine's blog has explained how the movie is informed not just by Norse mythology but also by...the God of the Bible. Read his fascinating post here.
  • If you recall, I referred to my ducks as the cutest hedge against inflation you'll ever see. Apparently, I'm not the only one thinking food products are a good hedge. A friend at my book group planted a bigger, better garden this year, sure. But that's not all. My dad sent me this one: Hedge Farm! The Doomsday Food Price Scenario Turning Hedgies Into Survivalists.
  • I find I need to learn to refill my own printer ink. Here is where I ordered  my ink and tools in case any of you are interested in doing the same thing.
Got any links of your own to share? Post them in the comments!

20 May 2011

How to Evaluate Technology

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

--I John 2:16
In accordance with my New Year's resolutions, I'm reading through John's epistles using Peter Leithart's From Behind the Veil. He had a little tangent, based upon a possible application of the verse I quoted above, concerning technology. I think you all know I have Technology Angst {just like I have all sorts of other angst}. When I read this, I felt like I'd found a principle I could be comfortable with:
Information technologies might be invented by people who want to become eternal minds, but that doesn't mean that everyone who uses these technologies has the same desires. The wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous; Cain built the first city, but the final order of things will also be a city, the city of God {Gen. 4:20-22}. Everything is clean for us. But if we want to understand where our culture has come from and is going, we must discern the desires that give it life.

Equally important is the other side of this culture-desire link....We must ask...how my desires are being shaped, distorted, or refreshed by the things I view, and use, and play with.


Even cultural products that are good or innocuous in themselves can shape our desires in perverse directions. Communications technologies affect the way we experience communication and inter-personal relations, transform expectations about time, and might encourage impatience and a desire for instant results. Cars are a great blessing, but think of the way the invention of the automobile permitted us, and particularly young people, a freedom we had never had. Technologies make new things possible, but we need to ask whether all the new things made possible are things we should desire.
He goes on, but that is enough, I am sure.

Do you see what he has done? I John says we are not to desire the world, and we all know that culture is part of "the world"--especially our American culture, which is almost thoroughly secularized. However, we also know that we live in the world, but not in a way that we are of the world--we are not separatists.

Leithart says that the essence of the world is summed up in the verse above, and two-thirds of that definition deals with desires. The last third addresse pride. So the spirit of the world involves lusts of the flesh and of the eyes and also pride and boasting.

When he applies it to technology, he doesn't ask the question Neil Postman asked: "How does this change how my mind thinks about things?" It's a decent question, but Leithart goes one step further and asks, "How does this change my desires? Does this encourage good, God-honoring desires in my, or bad, lustful or prideful desires in me?"

Not only is this a good question, but it also keeps us from being overly harsh with one another. We realize that some of us are stronger than others. Yes, all p*rn*gr*phy {sorry...trying to keep myself out of Google searches there} is evil, but are cell phones? I don't have a cell phone because it's expensive, unnecessary, and isn't good for me. But I have friends that have cell phones, and they handle it just fine. They still manage, to ignore their phones when it is appropriate, to be fully present when they are with other people, etc.

Leithart looks at technology as asks, "This likely changes my heart. The question is: how? And also: is this good?"

19 May 2011

The Darndest Things: It's What's for Dinner

The children were having an unusually good time in the backyard late this afternoon while I was cooking dinner. It was so good, in fact, that I became suspicious. Too much fun generally implies they are doing something they aren't supposed to be doing. It is a strong indicator of outside transgressions, just as silence can be inside the house.

I walked over and glanced out the window. There they all were, pretending to make dinner at their outdoor kitchen.

Not bad at all, I thought to myself.

And then right before I walked away, our duck Penelope popped out of their toy oven.

Book Club: Poetic Knowledge {Chapter 4, Part 2}

[A]fter the Council of Trent, when a more systematic approach to explaining the faith is adopted to accommodate and call back the populations of fallen-away Catholics, there is more reliance now on method, and the appeal is now more to reason and the rigors of apologetics. There is, as a matter of fact, a movement toward the scientific idea of knowledge in all this...Within two hundred years of this great split in religion in Europe, the Cartesian influence is present in the Catholic approach to education and handing on the faith, a faith now presented more as a problem to be explained, a demonstration that requires proof.

-James Taylor
When I was in seminary, we used to joke and call it "cemetery." The interesting thing is that we were only half joking. The years a person spends in seminary are said to be the hardest of their spiritual life. Seminaries are like hospitals, only in hospitals the body dies; at seminary, if you aren't careful, you lose your soul.

During the second half of my first real year there, I was planning my wedding, so I can't say I died. In fact, I was too excited to concentrate fully on my studies. A number of classes I tolerated, while many others were quite good {in my opinion}. I don't think I spent enough time there to be a good judge of whether seminary can really kill your soul.

In general, studying theology can be rough. It can be systematized, mechanized, and analyzed. It can exhaust you, and isolate you from the whole. It gets to where you can define grace, but experience none of it, if that makes sense. I was reminded of this tendency when Taylor quoted Mill:
Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationI saw...that the habit of analysis has a tendency to wear away the feelings: as indeed it has, when no other mental habit is cultivated, and the analyzing spirit remains without its natural complements and correctives. (emphasis mine)
Men who study at seminary while living real lives in the real world probably do better than gals like me, who, at the time, are still living on campus and barely qualify to be called graduate students.

Why am I talking about all of this?

Well, while I was in seminary, the school was just beginning to experiment with a more contemplative style. To some extent, it was so mixed up with modern psychology that it felt--I don't know--fabricated. I thought it was suspect. {Have you ever noticed that the more a person says the word "authentic" the more unreal the situation feels? But I digress.}

Anyhow, they were beginning to encourage their students to spend time meditating on the Word {what an idea!}--and I was even given a poem once to think about. They were starting to slow down. They also did a bit of psychological profiling. All of this was because their rate of "failure" {defined, I believe, by graduates falling into grievous error} rate was too high.

A good question to ask is: why? Why such a high "failure" rate? How is it possible to spend two, three, even four years immersed in study of theology, the Queen of knowledge, and leave only to stumble, and fall, and fail?

For starters, none of us is perfect. This is a given. But I think it goes beyond that. No one told me in seminary that theology was Queen. Shouldn't this be touted from every corner in a place like that?

But no. I didn't know that theology was Queen until I studied classicism and Charlotte Mason and friends.

Many of the Bible classes I took in college were studied the way most public schools teach history. They were dead and dry, full of lifeless facts to be memorized. They couldn't kindle life in the soul because they themselves were dead.

I don't say this to demean my alma mater. I am grateful for what she gave me, I would do it all over again if I could, and I think she tried very hard to be the best she could be at the time. But she existed in the stream of modern, post-Industrial education. She was more impacted by John Dewey than she knew, hence her limitations. This is also why she excelled where and when she least expected it--in the strange quiet times when no one in authority was planning anything.

Throughout this second portion of the chapter, Taylor delineates some of the many tragic results of the Cartesian revolution:
  • Knowledge and learning are reduced to mere "facts"
  • The universe becomes an object to be conquered {rather than something we learn from}
  • Feelings are more and more distrusted
  • Faith becomes a "problem" to be explained
  • Some folks, such as Rousseau and the Romantics, overreacted to a near anti-intellectualism in an attempt to recover what was lost {poetic knowledge}
  • Man is now viewed materialistically and his existence is defined by doing rather than being
I haven't quite pinpointed it, but I think the "failure" of "Christian" education lies here: that she approaches her students with a Darwinian {for Dewey's philosophy was applied Darwinism, remember--that really is an important point} methodology. Oh, not every teacher or professor in every classroom. But the method and the structure are an imitation of the modern "multi"versity--fragmented knowledge based upon fact accumulation and analysis, success determined by standardized measurements, etc.

Is there a test that can measure an increase in wisdom? I don't think so. This is why we measure other things instead. They are easier to quantify.

Seminary can only kill the soul to the extent that its methods are rooted in Darwinism, the ultimate soul-killer.

Read more:
-More book club entries are linked at Mystie's blog

18 May 2011

Keeping Track While Keeping My Sanity

In my state {California}, I don't think there's really much required record-keeping for home education beyond keeping an attendance record. My understanding, though, is that keeping instruction records will help defend us in a court of law {FYI: it isn't common here to get taken to court over homeschooling}. I have another reason for keeping records, and that is so I have a better starting place with subsequent children. This motivation informs the way I go about keeping track of what we've done.

We use Ambleside, but I regularly squeeze twelve of those weeks into eleven. Or even ten. Or once I tried nine {not highly recommended}. Why reinvent the wheel each year when I can just print out what I did with former students and then improve upon them?

What I do is so simple, even I can do it.

I have specific times set aside for school planning throughout the year. I used to plan the entire year in the summer, but I've found that it is a better use of my time to plan one term at a time, other than making sure I buy all the books before I begin. I do this because, try as I might, I cannot predetermine the pace of an actual year.

So, before the beginning of each term, I prepare two things:
  1. Circle Time plans {we usually do CT four days per week}
  2. Other plans in the form of a weekly spreadsheet
I print the Circle Time plans right away and have them in The Binder ready to go. The weekly spreadsheet includes everything else, from piano practice to copy work to swimming lessons to math to Official Ambleside Readings. I adjust this each Sunday night and print off one week at a time. This allows me to move around what we've missed and note other changes, so that what I print off comes darn close to what we actually do. {That's right. Not just close. Darn close.}

As we go along in Circle Time, I date everything and check it off. This works well for me because I actually work from my plans. I don't like dreaming up what we have to do each day. Instead, I have my printed plans in my binder, and I just follow orders.

The orders from myself.

Is that weird?


In the past, I worked with the spreadsheet in the same way. This year, though, Son E. was old enough to work from the spreadsheet in a more independent way. The result is that he checks things off as he goes along, and at the end of the week {or month, which is more typical} I punch holes in them and file them in my binder behind my Circle Time plans.

At the end of the year, I grab up all these pages. I staple each term together, and then I use a massive clip thingie {yes, that is a technical term} and put them all in a record box.

The end.

Well, almost.

That really is all there is to it. I know that other states have other laws and so the approach might be different, but I really do think that, if you have minimal requirements, this is a simple way to track my own progress and have something to reference in the future.

Of course, I have everything saved on my computer, so I never reinvent a document, either. But writing down what we actually did instead of just knowing what I planned has been key to teaching myself to create reasonable plans. It also helps me identify if anything truly necessary has fallen through the cracks, either inadvertently, or because I've been neglecting it, or because I need to plan it all in a different way.

On the whole, working from paper works for me...at least until high school when all the credit issues rear their ugly heads.

What about you? Do you have a trick for keeping track of what you've done and what you're doing?

17 May 2011

Rerun: Dewey, Real Education, and the Child with a Soul

This post first appeared on March 27, 2008. You can read the original here. I have edited it for errors, and reposted it today as an addition to the Poetic Knowledge book club hosted by Mystie. It really should have been posted last week, but Blogger had issues, as many of you probably noticed. I figured I'd go ahead and post this today, and then post my new entry tomorrow, as they are best read in that order.


Yesterday, I spent a little more time reading about education, the Amish, and technology. It was like a vacation, spending the day at my parents'. It didn't matter that there were chores in need of doing at home. Because I wasn't at home. And so I read in the sun while the children ran, screaming, along the path behind the trees.

It was just windy enough to make them a bit wild.

I am currently reading a wonderful chapter in Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education by James Taylor called Descartes and the Cartesian Legacy. Have I mentioned I love this book? Because I do. It is packed with wonderful, great ideas, and reading it is like eating a super-rich dessert. I take a bite at a time, savoring and examining. I am in no rush to finish, and I take the time to enjoy and let it assimilate into my being.

Part of this chapter deals with Dewey as an heir of the Cartesian Legacy. I have heard many criticize Dewey and what he "did" to education, but I never understood the situation. I believe I am now beginning to understand the mystery of that educational transformation a bit:
Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationWith the influences of Kant, as well as with Descartes, all learning now becomes a kind of effort and work which Dewey models after a dynamic idea of democracy of social change, where learning has as its end the fulfillment of a progressive society always changing toward some perfected goals. Everything is measured by the changing needs of a social end, rather than knowing and learning beginning as a natural and effortless good in itself and leading to the fulfillment of the innate desire to know and to love. Instead, Dewey states in his creed: "I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child's powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself."

This, by the way, completely explains to me why "socialization" has become the battering ram the educational institutions prefer to use against homeschooling. The educational institutions do not define education in terms of knowledge, understanding, or wisdom. Of course, some individual teachers might, but I'm talking about the institution as a whole, which is fully devoted to Dewey's philosophy. Because education, to them, is gained through encountering social situations, homeschoolers are viewed as completely uneducated.

Our family, I am learning, is quite Medieval in its view of the child and his education. We see him as a soul, to be fed and watered. The end purpose of this soul is to, first and foremost, glorify and enjoy God. The secondary purposes of this soul are to live life as God designed, to form his own family and train the resulting new souls by feeding and watering them. And so it goes. The endless cycle of bringing forth godly seed.
The learner, with Dewey, is more of an organism, a Darwinian species, to be adapted to the needs of the community. Since Dewey reassigns first principles and absolutes regarding human nature to no more than discovered instruments of mental activity to be used to understand and control the environment, there is no set definition of what the needs of the community are, beyond the utilitarian ends of an experimental democracy, whatever that might be...In short, the entire spiritual nature of the knower...Dewey reduces to a communal learner who will master "skills" and apply "tools of learning" to form a better democracy.

And then Taylor quotes John Senior in a way that made time stand still for me for a moment:
John Dewey taught that schools are instruments of social change rather than of education, and that is one reason why Johnny neither reads nor writes nor dreams or thinks; but real schools are places of un-change, of the permanent things.

Real schools are places of un-change, of the permanent things. To think that such a concept should be revolutionary! And yet it is.

Taylor goes on to explain:
[A] school as was understood since the time of Plato, conversed about those things that do not change because permanence had been discovered as standing underneath all appearances of change and thus was a greater reality than change.

Our society now desires Dewey's ideas implemented on every level. We have an entire political party completely and utterly devoted to change. {I am not sure what the other party is devoted to. Change at a slower pace? Keeping old changes rather than instigating new ones?} However, as people of the Book, we should be people of un-change, people of the permanent things. While the world is clamoring after this and that new idea that they hope will save them or at the very least make their lives more tolerable, we can be the island of peace and stability. We know the unchanging God. We know His unchanging Word. We know where true salvation comes from. We have knowledge of the unchanging virtues. We, simply, have the answers.

And so, yet another reason to keep a child out of institutional schools: I do not want my child to be trained to be nothing but a cog in the consumer-driven wheel. There is nothing noble in this sort of training, nor is there any comfort. As I recognize what my child is {viz., a soul given to me for training by his Creator} I realize the great responsibility I have to make sure his education recognizes, and does not attempt to mar or destroy, this true identity.

16 May 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Today is sort of a weird day today. Isn't it supposed to be spring? Why am I cold? Why did I wear socks to bed last night? Why are my children dressed in jeans? I'm not complaining, really. First, I put in my garden late, so I'm thinking this is to my benefit. And second, I prefer the 60s and 70s.

But still. It's weird.

In other news:
  • Cindy promised to blog through School Education. I did this last year, but it'll be much better coming from her, I can tell you that much! Her first entry is Docility and Authority.
  • Mystie shared a good article this week: How To Be A More Patient Mom in Just 24 Hours. The only thing I would add is: eat more protein. For me personally, I am crabby if I don't eat enough protein. More specifically, I mean animal protein. Of course, you might be the other way around. So maybe I should just say: eat wisely.
  • Ellen also shared an article this week, this one funny {to me, at least}: Parenting 001. Some of you heard that all of my Supermom delusions have been shattered {repeatedly} by the presence of a certain fourth born child. {Not that I really ever had that many, but we all like to cling to that shred of pride until it is ripped from our hands, right?}
  • Have you ever considered sleeping on a hard surface? On purpose? This one is just for you: The Ergonomics of Sleep. As for me and my house, we shall keep our pillow top mattress thankyouverymuch.
  • Granny Miller is back with more canning instructions. This time she's teaching us the basics of home-canning meat.
  • Gene Logsdon, of All Flesh is Grass fame, has something to say about raising animals. Today, he's telling us that a gentle approach will save us time and money. Personally, I also think it's more human.
  • Finally, I have a new recipe I'm going to try. It's for Butternut Squash Chips. Chips, as in potato chips, but sans potatoes. Or something. I have a butternut squash that has been sitting on my counter for ages {you know they are practically invincible, right?} Perhaps this will motivate me to use it before I lose it.
All right. You know the drill: share your links in the comments!

15 May 2011

Down to the River

What can I say? Today three of my children were baptized.

And I feel blessed.

14 May 2011

The Darndest Things: Toddler with a Death Wish

There was a time when I thought I was a fantastic mother. I had three beautiful children who obeyed me. Okay, so one was an immobile baby, but still: I was pretty confident.

Enter Son O.

You know that song on Sesame Street, One of These Things is not Like the Others? I sing that song a lot.

Oh, sure, he is as sweet as can be. And he's cute, too {which is lucky for him}.

But oh my, is he ornery.

This week with O. was extra challenging. He had a number of days during which he refused to play with toys. Instead, he occupied his time by wandering around Getting Into Things.

Naturally, I sent him outside.

This has been the ace up my sleeve, as they say. It never fails to send him outside.

Except for this week. I sent him out and he:
  • chased ducks
  • tortured sisters
  • came back in, and went back out, and came back in until the house was full of flies
  • tried to drink duck water
  • still never really played
I thought that perhaps he needed more Mommy Time, so I scheduled in time to read books just to him. Usually, he loves this. But this week? This week he squirmed and asked to get down.

I really don't know what the deal was, but I was so incredibly ready for Friday.

Friday, we decided to go to the park with friends. It was going to be fun. O. was going to be happy. I was not going to go crazy. It would be perfect.

We were supposed to leave our house around a quarter to 8 in the morning. So naturally, right after 8:30, O. decided to drink a bottle of eye drops.

I cannot make this stuff up.

None of my children have ever done anything like this before. Granted, eye drops are usually put away, but they were out because I was having issues with my contacts.

And naturally O. drank them.

Oh. my. gosh.

I looked at the bottle, and it didn't have a warning label, so I thought it'd be okay. And then I thought perhaps I'd google the product, just to be sure. And there was a little warning online about it, so I called Si.

It was decided I should call Poison Control, just to be safe.

Good news: he didn't drink the fatal dose!

Bad news: he came close.

He never had any symptoms, so either it was beneficial to keep ice water on tap in the sippy cups, or having him spit the contents of his mouth into my hand saved the day.

Either way, we were an hour late to the park.

If I suddenly die of a stroke, you'll know why.

12 May 2011

How to "Homeschool" in California

Recently, a reader emailed me about the legalities of homeschooling in our state. She is moving to our state from a different state, and wanted the inside scoop. I thought I'd share my take on this issue here, if anyone else is looking around the internet for advice on this subject.

First and foremost, I must say that it is as simple as it looks on paper. Here are some of the main things to know about home education and my main advice if you are moving to California anytime soon:

  • There really is no "homeschooling" in California. At least, not legally speaking. Legally, there are two options for non-credentialed parents. One is to use a PSP {private school satellite program, where your child is legally a student of a private school--you pay for this service, which is sometimes a very nominal fee--and they supervise you as the teacher a little, plus let you pay extra to join private school activities like choir, band, etc.}. The other--the one our family does--is to fill out an affidavit to inform the state that our home is a private school...a very private school.
  • Join HSLDA and/or CHEA. I personally only join HSLDA, but I did buy a book on the legalities of homeschooling in California from CHEA when I first started. At the time, HSLDA wasn't very good about coaching us through the affidavit filing procedure (which is done online and is quite simple), so the book was necessary. These days, HSLDA tends to send out an email that tells us what the best answers are, how much info is too much info, etc. For instance, you never declare a kindergartener. They are not legally required to be in school, and declaring them to the state has some risks and no benefits.
  • The affidavit is filed in the first 15 days of October. When you first move here, then, you do...nothing. Nobody reports anything to the state until October; that's just the way that it works here. CHEA now has a page on filing the affidavit. To think we used to have to pay for this stuff! They even have step-by-step instructions linked at the bottom of that page. It is a simple form, filed online, once per year.
  • There are some basic requirements for private schools here. {Remember: technically we are each running a private school.} HSLDA has a quick run-down available online. I assume here that you will be your own school and file the affidavit--otherwise you do nothing because the PSP school--what we often call umbrella schools--will do this for you. Filing your own affidavit is Option 1 on HSLDA's list. So you have to be (1) able to teach, (2) in English, (3) you must cover the "several branches of study" required by the California public schools, (4) you must keep an attendance record and (5) you must file the affidavit in the first half of October every year. That is all.
  • Let's note the study requirements. First, to clarify: for grades 1-6, the "branches of study" that you must cover are, according to the law:
    • English, including knowledge of, and appreciation for literature and the language, as well as the skills of speaking, reading, listening, spelling, handwriting, and composition.
    • Mathematics, including concepts, operational skills, and problem solving.
    • Social sciences, drawing upon the disciplines of anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology, designed to fit the maturity of the pupils. Instruction shall provide a foundation for understanding the history, resources, development, and government of California and the United States of America; the development of the American economic system including the role of the entrepreneur and labor; the relations of persons to their human and natural environment; eastern and western cultures and civilizations; contemporary issues; and the wise use of natural resources.
    • Science, including the biological and physical aspects, with emphasis on the processes of experimental inquiry and on the place of humans in ecological systems.
    • Visual and performing arts, including instruction in the subjects of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts, aimed at the development of aesthetic appreciation and the skills of creative expression.
    • Health, including instruction in the principles and practices of individual, family, and community health.
    • Physical education, with emphasis upon the physical activities for the pupils that may be conducive to health and vigor of body and mind, for a total period of time of not less than 200 minutes each 10 schooldays, exclusive of recesses and the lunch period.
    • Other studies that may be prescribed by the governing board.
    I just cut and pasted all of that from the CDE (California Department of Education) website. What I know about our public schools here that you may not know is that this is these things are generally covered over the course of those six years of school. For instance, no school covers all of those branches in a day. And most of them only offer health-type study on special days throughout the year. A lot of schools no longer offer "visual and performing arts" because it costs too much. So I would take all of this with a grain of salt. If you are using a thorough curriculum, you will easily cover all of these things inside of the 6 years.
  • Attendance requirements: Even though there is really nothing required by law, the public schools are required to offer 175 days of instruction each year. HSLDA asks us to try and do this, or close to this, because if they ever have to defend us in a court of law, it's helpful to show not just that we took attendance on each school day, but that attendance was similar to public schools. The private schools in our area tend to run on the same schedule as public schools, for the most part.
Does anyone else have anything to add concerning the legal ins and outs of home educating in the People's Republic of California?

11 May 2011

The Darndest Things: Baby Love

Both of my girls love to play with dolls. Daughter A., of course, splits her doll time with her time outside catching wild birds and frogs. Daughter Q. is a lot more extensive, shall we say, in her doll play that Daughter A. Daughter A. will feed and clothe her babies, rock them, put them to bed, get them up, and generally play house with them.

Daughter Q., however, lives out a complete drama with them. One of them was bathtized the other week {baptized, for those of you who don't speak Q.}, and "in the name of the Fodder, the Son, and the Howy Ghost" no less! {Her father informed her that she really should have let a minister of the Gospel do it rather than doing it herself, but still praised her baby for wanting to follow the Lord like that.}

Her babies have birthdays. They learn to walk. They fall down and hurt themselves. They catch horrible illnesses.

This week was my all-time favorite so far. Something happened to one of her babies, and the baby went blind. For a couple days, Q. had to lead her through our house. If the baby tried to go somewhere on her own, Q. came running and comforted her because she invariably hurt herself while trying to navigate the house alone. Thankfully, the baby's sight was miraculously restored yesterday afternoon.

Here is my question: if one of the babies suffers a mortal wound or illness {which seems inevitable considering the seriousness of what we've seen so far}, what does a mother do? Have Daddy bury it in the backyard? Si suggested putting it in a tomb for a few days and then resurrecting it like Lazarus. And am I obligated to buy a replacement? Can she still play with a "dead" baby? I wonder...

10 May 2011

Book Club: Poetic Knowledge {Chapter 4, Part 1}

I briefly glanced over at Mystie's blog to review the discussion questions, and I noticed that she brought up something that Si actually brought up to me when I was talking with him about this chapter on our trip {goodness, I wonder if he knew when he married me I'd try to discuss Descartes for an hour on our tenth anniversary!}--namely, that Descartes had good intentions. He was trying to defend truth, the ability to know absolutes {epistemology}, and so on, from the onslaught of the Skeptics.

Unfortunately, we live with the aftermath of good intentions gone bad, though I must admit I sometimes wonder if it would have been worse. I mean, if there had been no Descartes, there is no one to do the defending, and the Skeptics win at the outset, right? That is what we'd call Not Good.

This reminds me of what Charlotte Mason said about Darwin. Now, granted, she liked Darwin a lot more than I do, but still I think her point rings true:
A Philosophy of Education (Homeschooler Series)[Darwin] no more thought of giving a materialistic tendency to modern education than Locke thought of teaching principles which should bring about the French Revolution; but men's thoughts are more potent than they know, and these two Englishmen may be credited with influencing powerfully two world-wide movements.
The same goes for Descartes. It might be said that Darwin and Dewey were the logical outcome of Descartes {at least given enough time}, and yet Descartes would likely be horrified by this. So I think we can discuss the negative contributions of the man--giving ourselves the necessary warning against them--without assassinating his character.

Descartes Broke with Traditional Thinking
The crux of Taylor's argument is really that Descartes changed the way the world thought about everything, including the way it thought about thinking itself. This is sort of what I'm talking about in my talk at the Bakersfield Home Education Conference {which I wish with all my heart I were only attending rather than speaking at, but my Letter of Resignation was mysteriously lost in the mail}, so I'm going to call this blog post "research."

And here are my notes.

Let's compare and contrast what we learn of Descartes with the traditional assumptions about man {anthropology} and how he learns and knows {epistemology}. I am not, by the way, going to go through all of what is presented in the chapter.
  • Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationDescartes: He resolved {due to the influence of Skepticism} to begin his philosophy from a place of doubt, including doubting his own being. He therefore placed man at the philosophical center {that is the ultimate force of cogito ergo sum, right? I know that I am because I think that I am, and no outside information is necessary}, beginning with the knower's own mind as the first object of knowledge. The existence of the outside, and even of his own being, required "proof."
    • Tradition: The first object of knowledge is outside of the mind. It was acknowledged that there were givens which do not require proof, for it is natural and human to know that they are. The outside world was not proven, but rather discovered or revealed--which is a sort of poetic knowledge.
  • Descartes: He elevated mathematics {dialectic} to the highest place and decided knowledge required the certainty which only mathematics could provide. The result of this was a rejection of authority {which, again, was probably unintended}--if knowledge comes from inside of myself and everything outside of myself is questionable {to be doubted}, no outside authority can inform my knowledge base. This is reason instead of authority.
    • Tradition: Before this, man knew that both he and the world existed first, because this was an unquestionable given of life, but also because it was reaffirmed by the Church. Being a Catholic, I assume that Descartes had a healthy concept of revelation--that some types of knowledge are revealed to us. As a Christian, I know who I am and what my purpose is upon this earth because Scripture explains it very clearly. Reason was also an accepted means of gaining knowledge, especially in certain branches of knowledge; therefore we can say that traditionally man knew through reason and authority.
  • Descartes: He "invented" the scientific method {good} and then desired to apply it to all knowledge {bad}. The accuracy of knowledge was then measured by the appropriate and rigorous use of the method.
    • Tradition: Man knew that there are different types of knowledge--he was aware of differences in quality as well as in kind. Different types of thinking were considered appropriate for gaining different types of knowledge. There were different ways of coming to truth, and the accuracy of the knowledge was rooted in the humanity of the knower--"the spiritual quality ennobling the intellect." The object of study determined the certitude--man cannot know the certainty of justice in the way that he knows the certainty of 2+2=4.
Dewey, the Great American Educational Influence
Probably one man--John Dewey--has more impact than any other when it comes to what takes place in the average American classroom {both at Christian schools, and at public schools, I might add}. Taylor tells us that Descartes' influence upon Dewey is indirect. Like Descartes, Dewey believed that knowing was an exclusively rational process {no room for the pre-rational knowledge that we've been discussing}. He adored the scientific method and believed that knowledge was the result {solely} of controlled experiments.

The difference between Dewey and Descartes is marked, though. Descartes' desire was to lead the way back to truth. Taylor calls this one of the world's great ironies when he explains that Dewey took Descartes' beloved method, and discarded all the metaphysics forever. At best, they were irrelevant. Instead, the method was to be used for problem solving and to bring about social change--in a word, Dewey made it completely pragmatic.

Taylor doesn't completely draw the connection, but I firmly believe this happened not because of Descartes, but because of Darwin. Dewey took Darwinism and applied it to the classroom {making Mason's comment above even more applicable}. You will see shades of Darwinism as we go on.

So let's compare and contrast Dewey with traditional beliefs as well:
  • Dewey: Man is seen as a problem solver.
    • Tradition: Man is the knower of his world.
  • Dewey: The learner is an organism adapting to its environment. Or sometimes he is simply part of a species adapting to its environment--to the needs of a changing society. Learning takes on an extremely pragmatic hue, for the point of learning in the first place is to understand and meet social needs.
    • Tradition: The learner is {Taylor doesn't say all of this--I am filling in some of the gaps based upon my broader reading and I may or may not represent here what Taylor actually believes} designed by his Creator to be. His learning is a growth in understanding and maturity and it may or may not have immediate practical value. The learner studies the Permanent Things of the world because underneath all semblance of change are the things that forever remain the same. The idea was that it is more important to understand what always is, rather than the things which are only temporary. The temporary is what is passing away; the permanent is what remains.
  • Dewey: Learning is always dynamic and active based upon experimentation using variations of the scientific method.
    • Tradition: Learning can be dynamic, but its foundation is passive and receptive. Poetic, pre-rational knowledge and love for the object of study is a necessary predecessor of real knowing and understanding. Perhaps that word--"understanding"--explains a lot. It seems to add a bit of depth to the idea of simply knowing.
  • Dewey: Schools were instruments of social change. They were preparing workers to meet the needs of the populace. Taylor explains that this is appealing to both the industrial capitalists as well as the Marxists, because both systems are functionally materialist--goodness, truth, and beauty are irrelevant because they are impractical. Taylor tells us that:
    Sooner or later, the education for a student under either way of progressive, materialist life will be informed by the dominance of the practical ends of the state.
    • Traditional: Schools were places where unchanging truths were studied. Also, schools were not the only place where learning took place. An example given by Taylor is that almost an entire book of Plato's Republic took place in Cephalus' living room.
Why the System is Broken
I think that breaking Dewey's major impact down into a list like that is extremely helpful because it helps us understand why we as home educators tend to be so misunderstood. Ultimately, no matter what "method" you are using, you are likely spending a good amount of time on permanent things. I have even noticed this in regard to "secular" homeschoolers--studying subjects for love, rather than any practical result the study may have.

The interesting thing to me is how short sighted this all is. With Dewey, we exchanged short-term practical for long-term impractical. Let me explain. A subhuman {or, as C.S. Lewis called it, "posthuman"} populace is very impractical. In educating children for solely practical ends, we have done as Lewis says and castrated their souls. We have created a culture of shallow, selfish, myopic citizens.

Charlotte Mason fought this her whole life. There were men in her day who wanted to do something similar--they wanted a purely vocational and practical aim for their schools. Who cares if the miner has read Shakespeare? This was the thinking. In Chapter 4 of Volume 6 she writes:
A Philosophy of Education (Homeschooler Series)A well-known educationalist lately nailed up the thesis that what children want in the way of knowledge is just two things,––How to do the work by which they must earn their living and how to behave as citizens. This writer does not see that work is done and duties performed in the ratio of the person who works: the more the man is as a person, the more valuable will be his work and the more dependable his conduct: yet we omit from popular education that tincture of humane letters which makes for efficiency! One hears, for instance, of an adolescent school with some nine thousand pupils who come in batches of a few hundreds, each batch to learn one or other of a score or so of admirable crafts and accomplishments; but not one hour is spent in a three or four years' course in this people's university on any sort of humane knowledge, in any reading or thinking which should make the pupils better men and women and better citizens. {emphasis mine}
We may have initially gained a boom from Dewey--an increase in productivity due to the practical nature of the school. But we have suffered a great loss since, with every generation being less than their forebears. I have heard talk radio hosts refer to our youth as "the stupidest generation ever produced." Sadly, the situation is worse than this. They are the least human generation ever produced. We, too, care about less than their counterparts a hundred years ago, we have less wisdom, less understanding, less love, less sense of the things which are noble and true and good. We are even, due to having been steeped in such a pragmatic environment, less open to the questions which have eternal weight.

I don't know Dewey's angle. Like Descartes, he may have had good intentions. But the pragmatic emphasis of the average classroom {both public and private} in this country has created a populace that is a mere shadow of its former self.

Read more book club entries linked at Mystie's blog.