29 September 2011

Curriculum Review: Body of Evidence DVD

Timberdoodle was kind enough to send me The Hearing Ear and the Seeing Eye DVD from the Body of Evidence DVD Curriculum. Unlike other reviews I've done for Timberdoodle, this was not for my children now, but rather I wanted to take it for a test-drive and see what I thought about using it as a curriculum for a junior high or high school anatomy course.

My rating? Well, I give it 3 out of 5 stars for presentation {which I'll explain} but 4 out of 5 overall.

The one word that best describes the set up of this video is contrived. Dr. Menton, the professor-type teaching the "class," is teaching two students. I suppose this could have been pulled off well, but it just isn't very believable. I think it would have been best had the good doctor simply taught to the camera, but a second-best would have been to use a larger crowd. The two students were awkward and stilted.

With that said, one of the things I always appreciate about Timberdoodle is that they are very honest in their curriculum descriptions. I wasn't surprised at all to see that their description on their website was very open about this, my one complaint:
A little bit campy in its approach, Body of Evidence is comprised of two high school students receiving instruction from former medical university professor Dr. David Menton. Though the setup may seem a bit stilted at first, a few moments into the series Dr Menton’s sincere passion for the wonder of the human body will easily have you overlooking the contrived setting
I couldn't help but like Dr. Menton by the end of the first session {each DVD contains 2 sessions--the first session on mine was, predictably, on how the ear hears}. I remember going over anatomy in my college biology class, and it was amazing. I was fascinated all over again with Dr. Menton's description of the intricacy of the ear. By the end, I sort of felt like he was my grandpa, sharing his wisdom with me.

What can I say? Sweet old men are very likable!

My Future Plans
I like the curriculum. Part of me felt like it wasn't "enough;" I am so accustomed to my children learning from books rather than a screen. {Could you, would you have children narrate a DVD?} I am very tempted, though, to let my oldest watch the sessions where they fit with his anatomy chapters in his science reader next year, even though he will only be 10. My bigger temptation, though, is going to be to buy the curriculum and use it for junior high science. High schoolers would probably get more out of it, but I think a thirteen-year-old would do just fine and really enjoy the change of pace that a DVD curriculum would bring.

I also noticed that there is a self-test workbook available if I thought we needed it.

In all, if you're looking to add a little something to your science, this might be a pleasant, relaxing, informative addition.

Oh! And one more thought: the lecture style was much like what I experienced in college. It might be good training for any of our children who are planning on university education to practice taking notes along the way. The format definitely lends itself to this.

Legal Disclosure:As a member of Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team I received a free Body of Evidence DVD in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

Other Information:
You can browse all of Timberdoodle's science ideas by clicking here.
See more reviews of this curriculum here.

28 September 2011

Book Review: Raising Real Men

Since this is a review, let's cut to the chase: I give Raising Real Men 4 out of 5 stars. Now I'll proceed to share with you a few things I liked about the book. {If you missed the favorite quotes I already shared, you can view them here and here.} I am so thankful that Timberdoodle gave me the opportunity to review this book.

As an aside, I think that the majority of the concepts in this book also work with girls, they would simply be applied in a different way. My girls, by the way, rarely insist on almost dying as a form of fun, so this first point is not for them.

Boys Climbing a Tree
by Goya
Getting Comfy with Danger
Probably the number one thing I appreciated about this book was the reminder to let my boys be--to let them climb trees, jump off of "great heights," and otherwise risk life and limb. There was a good balance struck between not dying and yet testing limits and learning to be brave. Of course, you probably know I liked this so much, I wrote a post about it.

Responsibility and Freedom
Using the verse which says, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much," the Youngs encourage us to be consistent in giving boys as much responsibility as they can handle well, and then increasing it as appropriate.

Thinking About Competition
Raising Real Men:
Surviving, Teaching,
and Appreciating Boys
by Hal and Melanie Young
There was a whole chapter on the competitive nature of boys. Being a woman, I am not so naive as to think that girls are not competitive. But boys seem to thrive on it in a different way than girls do. In fact, most competitiveness I've seen in my own girls is completely unhealthy {"Is she prettier than me?" Ahem.} There was a defense of competition that encouraged me to quit responding negatively when my son makes it clear that he is competing with my other piano students. As an ideal, I'd rather him aim {as CM said} to master the subject {and, in this sense, learn to compete with himself} rather than another child, but I'm not going fight battles {small though they have been in the past} on this hill any longer. The only thing I found lacking in this area was an understanding that competition is more appropriate in some areas of life than others. Yes, boys are naturally competitive. But competition in sports is good, while in other areas, it is not-so-good, or even inappropriate. So, for mothers of ultra-competitive boys, there is no guidance in training them to let go.

Financial Stewardship
The Youngs are fairly detailed in their chapter A Faithful Steward, which is all about teaching boys to manage their finances well. My parents were fabulous in this area. By the time my sister and I graduated from high school, we were paying for most of our own tangible things--clothes, shoes, gas, snacks, etc. {To say nothing of Dad's lectures on compound interest.} This really helped me begin to understand what things actually cost. I look forward to going through this chapter again with my husband, and discussing a plan for teaching our children to understand money as they get older.

"Women's Work"
I thought it was brave for a book about raising boys, obviously directed at the conservative homeschoolers out there, to promote giving boys kitchen duties. Laundry duties. Women's work. Right? Wrong. Not only do men who live alone need to know how to do these things, but there are plenty of cultural examples of men who do such things. I love that they didn't shy away from teaching their boys things that some folks consider a girl's job.

In All, A Good Read
If you've read a lot of parenting books {and I have}, you will find that at least half of the book is stuff you've already heard elsewhere. Sometimes, I find it is good to hear the old ideas over again, in new language. But there are enough unique thoughts here to merit reading, even if you don't savor the idea of review. Personally, I try to read at least one mothering book per year to keep me from getting sloppy.

Legal Disclosure:
As a member of Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team I received a free copy of Raising Real Men in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

Quotables: Raising Real Men

Raising Real Men
by Hal and Melanie Young

The secret is just what Scripture lays out: A tiny bit of responsibility is given, and when that is handled faithfully, give more. {p. 63}

Since their playtime is training for adulthood, we don't allow the boys to point toy guns at each other, either. {p. 73}

A willingness to face a crowd sets a young man apart. {p. 94}

The reality of leadership is just as Christ said--service. {p. 97}

[T]hey love to feel needed. {p. 117}

There's something about real work, really being needed, that is much more satisfying than play. {p. 118}

All children...want to contribute to the family. {p. 119}

The time and occasional expense we "waste" teaching them are an investment in the efficient running of our home--and theirs, one day. {p. 120}

It means a lot for the son to be a contributor, even if you can't afford to pay him directly. {p. 121}

Some folks would feel sorry for the poor kids giving up their free time to work, denying themselves all the fun they could have had with that money. Somehow, it's doubtful Christ would share that perspective. {p. 122}

The goal is not to raise well-mannered heathen. {p. 127}

[T]he most important part of a family time of worship is doing it. It's far better that you worship with your children every day for a few minutes instead of doing an hour and a half marathon and then not getting around to it again for weeks afterward. {p. 132}

Our rule now is "Obey first, then ask me why, and I'll be glad to explain." That's when you find out who really wants to understand, and who was just stalling for time. {p. 136}

Another interesting item from the research collected by Dr. Sax and others is that boys tend to learn better under stress. When a boy--or man--is concentrating hard, he often will bite his lip or stick our his tongue; it's  mild discomfort that seems to focus his thinking. It's another area where mothers and sons see things differently; moms naturally try to reduce stress, when it actually may be hampering progress. {p. 167}
[T]he guiding principles are consideration and humility. {p. 173}
Even in our merit-based society, proper grammar and correct table manners seem to mark a man's class at first meeting, so we've expected our children to learn both. {p. 173}

We Americans have such a variety of low-cost food that we can indulge the luxury of pickiness. Obviously, this is an unwise habit for a young man going into the world. {p. 174}

 [I]f it comes to eating it or offending someone, they should be prepared to eat it. {p. 176}

It is important that men not be afraid to get and be dirty. Where would our world be if the Allied forces had been unable to stand trench life in World War I? {p. 179}

27 September 2011

Quotables: Raising Real Men

Raising Real Men
by Hal and Melanie Young

[W]e had to rebuke sin but should not change our boys into something they were not. {p. 18}

It's our job to make him a protector and not a bully. {p. 25}

Our focus must be on leading our sons into godly manhood, not just trying to manage them to make our lives convenient and more pleasant. {p. 25}

Let's commit ourselves to doing the extra laundry and living with the noise... {p. 26}

His tastes are unformed and just like with food, what seems most appealing on the surface is often not nutritious at all. If you wouldn't serve your son candy and ice cream at every meal, the diet of his mind and soul shouldn't be exclusively candy, either. {p. 35}

After several months without TV at home, we went on a trip and stayed at a motel. We were so excited to be able to watch TV again for a little while--until we turned it on. We were shocked at what we saw! "What had happened to our culture in those few short months?" was our first thought. Suddenly we realized that nothing had changed but us. {p. 36}

[T]he First Amendment applies to the government, not our living room. {p. 38}

Collections of short missionary biographies can give your younger boys a taste for missionary heroism and show them it's not the sinners that have the best adventures. {p. 41}

They will have heroes. For their own sakes, make sure they're the right ones. {p. 45}

The question for us as parents is how to channel a God-given desire for adventure into productive, God-honoring endeavors, rather than let it slide into pointless, potentially self-destructive recklessness. Can we send them off with a cheer, or must it be with fear? {p. 49}

That protection shouldn't become the unmanning of our sons, though. Boys need to have the freedom to take reasonable risks. You don't let them play in traffic, but you shouldn't cringe in horror as they climb the jungle gym. {p. 51}

Reckless behavior, particularly in young boys, may be the uncontrolled expression of a legitimate, even godly, desire to strive after great and noble deeds. {p. 51}

When they understand that Christianity offers not only a way of life but something worth dying for, they may also realize the foolishness of risking death for nothing. {p. 52}

[W]e need to look for opportunities for them to take reasonable and productive risks. It is very important at this point, that when sons begin to step out that mothers don't undermine them. {p. 53}

Here's a rule of thumb: If he hasn't faced the trial yet, or he's in the midst of it--encourage him. If he's been to the wars and is limping home wounded--comfort him. {p. 54}

The Word says, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much," so we had a plan: give the boys as much responsibility as they could handle as soon as they were able and give them more as they showed themselves faithful." {p. 59}

26 September 2011

Musings on Monday {Shakespeare Edition}

This year, my oldest child is in Ambleside Year Four. This means, among other things, that we are reading our first real Shakespeare play. I'm pretty excited about it, and if all goes as planned, our final reading will be aloud at a special Shakespeare Night with friends: dinner, and Shakespeare with dessert, with everyone reading a part {or two}.

That's the dream, anyhow.

Since we've never done anything beyond reading the summaries, I've been collecting links on teaching and reading Shakespeare, and thought I'd share them here.

  • We can't discuss Shakespeare without asking Cindy, of course. Recently, she posted Shakespeare: Our Family's Journey. This post contains a wonderful list of possible resources.
  • Speaking of resources, I now have two. In addition to the copy of E. Nesbit's Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children, I just got a wishlist match on PBS for Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare for Children. I've had a borrowed copy on hand for a few weeks, but it will be nice to return it and keep our own.
  • Have you ever thought of using Shakespeare for memory work? Cindy brings us 10 Passages from Shakespeare to Memorize.
  • In case you are wondering, I chose The Comedy of Errors as our first play. It is supposedly his shortest and sticks to a single plot, both of which should make for an easy entry into the world of the Bard.
  • Another good place to go to think about Shakespeare is, naturally, MMv. My personal favorites are Shakespeare for all ages and stages and Loving Will.
  • As a matter of incidental interest, did you know that there are some works of Shakespeare that are lost {we assume} forever? Daisy recently shared this fascinating article: The Top 10 Books Lost to Time.
And that's all for today! Leave your Shakespearean links in the comments.

22 September 2011

Year One Math Troubleshooting

A-Age-Six, who has always shown a natural interest in numbers, became discouraged with her math in Week Four of the school year. It all started when she misunderstood a concept, and then did a whole section on her page incorrectly before I caught it. I tried not to make a big deal out of it, but the damage was done.

The next day she sighed and said she "hated math." When I asked her why, and reminded her that it seemed to be easy for her so far, she said that she just realized that it got "harder every day."

Like her brother before her, she has the added disadvantage of struggling in her writing. She began to despair when I asked her to write the "greater than" and "less than" figures.

I did some thinking on all of this while I was gone {did you know I was away? he he}. I was concerned that continuing to do the same thing I've been doing would lead to failure.

Troubleshooting Using Principles and Goals
In home education, there is a lot of freedom, but I think there is also a lot of room to err. On the one hand, we can fail to recognize our freedom and follow in the footsteps of the classroom, and end up with the same problems that result from those methods and philosophies. On the other hand, we can end up with no direction or form to guide us, and our education will be haphazard and discontinuous.

What to do?

I think I have finally learned that any time I come across trouble {and I don't mean a bad day, I mean a sign of actual problems forming}, I have to go back to our principles and goals. In this case, what do we {my husband and I} believe about education and, more specifically, math? What are our goals for math over the long term? Over the short term?

The answers to these questions are also the reason why no two homeschools will look exactly alike. We will all have different priorities and goals.

As I thought about Daughter A., I remembered that I have three primary goals in regard to math before age ten: I don't want them to hate it {kind regard would be good, loving it would be great}, I don't want them to think they "can't" do it, and I want them to memorize all of their basic facts. In addition to this, I believe that man was created to know, that math is something that man can enjoy mastering, something that doesn't have to be unpleasant.

I also think that, with math, the student is where he is, if that makes sense. I can't make him any more ready for a concept, and I can't race him through a curriculum he's not ready for. I take a mastery approach, so we're not coming back to old things as a general rule. If I'm looking for mastery, I'm going to go as quick--or as slow--as is necessary for my student.

We are in the first month of school, so fact memorization doesn't apply yet. She is beginning to dislike math and think it difficult, so I'm failing at my other two goals already.

My Solution {for Now}
I decided on a two-prong approach. The first is to once again be present during all of her math work. She had wanted to work independently, but the reason I didn't catch her mistake was because...she was working independently. I can sit quietly by and keep an eye on her work, and that will keep her from practicing doing problems incorrectly.

In addition to this, I decided to cut her down to only half a worksheet per day for a few weeks. I am not a stickler on speed. I don't care if my Year Four student is still finishing up third grade math {and he is}. And I don't care if my Year One students won't be on track for finishing the grade in a year. I also assume that, like her brother before her, she will have times that she feels like racing through math--because she just totally gets it all of a sudden--and she'll catch up in that time. In the meantime, if half a worksheet per day can help her gain confidence, keep her slowly progressing, while wooing her back into an affection for math, I'd say we're doing just fine.

I'd like to add in some numbers games as well {though keeping score in board games is generally helpful enough}. Anyone have any suggestions?

20 September 2011

Week Four Troubleshooting

Well, last Monday I could tell that the honeymoon was officially over. My preschoolers were beginning to meltdown near the end of our prior week, but our Friday co-op saved the day. Unfortunately, they didn't forget their discontent by Monday morning, and so Monday was difficult.

I tried a few easy things, such as reading them a quick book or sending them out to play, but they got more and more clamorous.

On Wednesday, when I skipped our mid-morning walk in order to make time for an appointment we had before naptime, it was a total disaster. I was reaffirmed in my belief that it is the walk which makes O.-Age-Three so delightful to be around on a school day. We skipped the walk, and delightful he was not.


After talking with a friend about it last Tuesday, and Si about it pretty much every single day since I started having trouble with these two, it dawned on me that really the root of our trouble was that Q.-Age-Four was making it crystal clear she wanted daily preschool, and the bottom line was that I didn't want to give it to her. After all, Friend L. is going to preschool, and it's only two days a week. Why can't our preschool be two days a week?

I'll tell you why: because I need to become less selfish. That's why.


I got to thinking about when E.-Age-Nine was four. He pretty much taught himself to read, but I worked with him through chapter books at that age. Because he was the oldest, I never thought about how many days we were doing. We just did what I thought he needed. Now that I have more students, I am getting miserly with my time. Of course, it isn't all about me. A.-Age-Six is my least academic child, and I went into this year knowing that she needed my complete and undivided attention. There was a part of me that worried that giving Q. the lessons she was demanding would result in not giving A. the lessons she needed.

I know that all of you mothers out there with nineteen children are laughing right now at my petty issues, but here they are.

Last night, I decided that perhaps God was trying to give me a gift, if only I would let Him. You see, it was extremely convenient to jump into Year One with a child who could already read. At the time, I had three children under four--one a newborn--and so I was tight on time those first few months. The fact that he could read his own math directions, for instance, was huge. The fact that I didn't have to carve out time for phonics lessons was huge. Those sorts of things only take minutes, but when I am short on time, it is the minutes that seem to matter most.

Q.-Age-Four has always seemed very much like her big brother. She was ready for lessons the day she was born, and being a girl, she was also born with a pencil in her hand. She isn't hyperlexic like he is, though, so she requires reading lessons. But seeing as she and O.-Age-Three will only be a year apart in school, wouldn't finishing up phonics earlier be helpful?

It was like the burden suddenly became a gift.

So on Thursday I changed everything around. I moved back into our living room {which I had left after the first couple of days so as not to constantly ask O.-Age-Three to be quiet while playing with his trains}. I set up three chairs: one at the coffee table for A., two at the toddler table for Q. and O. I decided I would only give them "lessons" if they asked for them.

Q., of course, was on board for the whole morning. At the toddler table, I placed our organizer full of colored pencils, markers, and glue. I had printed off sheets from Donna Young: a shape trace page and a drawing trace page. I also made up a page of traceable letters, numbers and her first name to match what A.-Age-Six does almost daily. I separated out all of the Bob Books that Q. can already read on her own from my big box, and put them in a smaller tub. And then I also brought Q.'s phonics binder.

Then it was time to see how well we could juggle. {O.-Age-Three decided to listen to a CD in the play nook and sing at the top of his cute little lungs: "If you're happy and you know it shout 'Hooray!'" "Oooway!!"} I gave Q. the drawing trace sheet to trace and color and told her that when she was done with that, she could read from her Bob Books tub. She loved having something assigned to do. That, surprisingly enough, bought me enough time to give A. a reading lesson and also work through our first reading and narration.

Next, I gave Q. her letters and numbers trace page {this child adores writing--her hand never seems to wear out, which baffles me}, and A. and I set to work on her math and her second reading and narration.

At that point, it was A.'s turn for tracing and practicing letter formation, so we switched. A. went to the toddler table, and Q. joined me on the couch for reading lessons. {Please note that E.-Age-Nine was popping in and out to ask questions or narrate as needed--he has been taught to wait until I finish what I am working on with A. before interrupting.} Around this time, O. showed up. He was delighted to sit and draw on the back of one of his sister's worksheets, and when he tired of that, he sat in my lap for a while.

Our lesson time ended with poetry, and then they all went outside to play.

Here is the crazy thing: I thought that by giving more to more people, I'd be at a net loss by the end of the day. I thought we'd eat lunch at 2:00 pm or something. I thought I might die.

But that isn't what happened.

Even though I gave more and we all did more, we finished...are you ready for it?...earlier.

A whole half-hour.

I guess I didn't realize how much time I was spending breaking up preschool fights or something. Telling them what to do seems to have worked out much better than spending my morning scolding them and reminding them what not to do.

O.-Age-Three will still be our loose canon, and the novelty of lessons may very well wear off for Q.-Age-Four after a couple of weeks of "real" school. But I'll take what I can get, and I'll also take the lesson: sometimes in giving, we find we still have what we started with.

Or, as in my case, we have more than we started with. For not only did we have more time, we had happier hearts.

19 September 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

We're on a field trip today, so I'm gonna be brief. I would have skipped today, except I didn't want to miss sharing the links I collected this week!

So here's what's in the news...
  • Ever since my children ended up with cavities, I've been researching tooth wellness. Today, I bring you The Bass Brushing Technique, designed to combat gum disease and help you keep your adult teeth.
  • If you want some nitty, gritty homeschool details, Mystie shared with us her average day. There was no whitewashing here!
  • You know how frustrated we all are that our elected official don't read the bills they pass? It looks like at least one of them {a Tea Party member, I might add} has determined to change this! In a hopefully precedent-setting move, Representative Tim Scott {R-SC} proposed the simplest jobs bill ever. It is so short, I'll include the entire text right here:
    To prohibit the National Labor Relations Board from ordering any employer to close, relocate, or transfer employment under any circumstance.
    Yup. That's it. Even better news is that the House passed it.
  • Cindy suggests 10 passages from Shakespeare we ought to memorize. I'm bookmarking this, for sure.
  • Since our rabbit dreams have crumbled, we are now slightly entertaining the idea of goats. Small ones, of course, as our zoning laws say up to three dwarf or pygmy animals is acceptable. We are thinking two Kinder goats. Aren't they cute? Well, sometimes we are thinking this. Other times, not so much.
  • And finally, I have a video to share. I thought this was hilarious. Something like this could totally happen in my house; just the other day my children were bickering over the pronunciation of Diogenes.

Have a happy Monday everybody!

15 September 2011

Why Grand Conversation?

In the comments of my last post, Pam asked why I'm doing this sort of thing. I'm so glad she asked because it really gave me a chance to clarify exactly why I am doing what I am doing.

One of my long-term goals is to have a book club type of relationship between the books and myself and my students. I don't think that is specifically a Charlotte Mason thing {wow--you know you've "made it" when your name become a descriptive term!}, though I am using the Ambleside Online books to work in that direction. But I would point out a few places where our friend Charlotte makes clear that narration is not all that she does {or is willing to do} with books. In Chapter 16 of Volume 3 she writes:

Other Ways of using Books.––But [narration] is only one way to use books: others are to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyse a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series; to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause; to discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact; to get lessons of life and conduct, or the living knowledge which makes for science, out of books; all this is possible for school boys and girls, and until they have begun to use books for themselves in such ways, they can hardly be said to have begun their education.

The Original
Home Schooling
Series by
Charlotte Mason

The Teacher's Part.––The teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils' mental activity. Let marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence. Let numbers, letters, underlining be used to help the eye and to save the needless fag of writing abstracts. Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself.
In Volume 1, when Miss Mason discusses the art of narrating, she again points to a follow-up process on the part of the teacher:
The book should always be deeply interesting, and when the narration is over, there should be a little talk in which moral points are brought out, pictures shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard.

In Volume 3, CM gives an example of a lesson of Old Testament history and says:
Step 5. While the children are narrating in the words of the Bible, help them by questions to bring out the important points of the story.

Step 6. Help the children to realise how Joseph's love of his father affected his life, and how they should let their parents feel their love.
In that same section as the OT history lesson, for instance, after a history narration she says:
Step 4. Ask the boys what they mean by a hero. The old meaning was demi-god, the Anglo-Saxon meaning, a man. Both really meant a man who was brave and true in every circumstance.

Ask them, 'What are the qualities which go to make a hero?' Draw from them how far we can trace these qualities in Alexander.

This was what made me brave enough to bring this into my own protocol as far as how I do lessons. A few lectures by Mr. Kern had kindled my desire to ask more questions and direct my student's insights more toward what I thought he was missing, but I felt like it wasn't authentically PNEU style, and I wanted to be a bit of a purist--to use Charlotte's methods more rather than less {as she herself suggests}.

In asking my questions {and in my posts I'm listing the ones I thought of in my own reading--I don't necessarily ask my son every single one, this is just my "arsenal"}, I am hoping that my son will learn to ask these sorts of questions himself by my modelling them to him. In fact, I may eventually transition to having him write a list of questions out before coming to me for narration, as Charlotte herself once suggested.

One of the reasons I started doing this {besides the fact that it was a means of keeping his education under a more watchful eye} is because I felt like he was missing the big ideas. He can narrate the minutia of what goes on with Robinson Crusoe on the island--but he is missing the sin, guilt, conviction, and redemption.

Our discussion today centered around what repentance looks like when one is stranded on an island. Robinson cannot return and apologize to his parents. He cannot prove himself by mending his ways. But I was surprised that my son could come forth with a list of things that he thought could display repentance on Robinson's part. It was a great conversation, and I'm so glad we had it--the narration alone wouldn't have provided it.

Putting as many questions in "should" form as I can is something I learned from Andrew Kern {who I mentioned in my first post}. I find that when I do that, it becomes easier to place Scripture at the center of a reading, regardless of what book we are talking about.

I think the main way to keep questions in the spirit of Charlotte's principles is to make sure they always are aiming at ideas--getting that "food of the mind" into the student--rather than on facts. Also, in reading Charlotte's lesson plans, we see that she did not plan to ask questions after every single reading, and so if one does not begged to be asked, I content myself with remaining silent and moving on. Though I want the habit of good discussion in our home, I don't want to begin forcing discussion when it isn't fitting.

I would never go so far as to say that someone was not using the method authentically because they are not utilizing discussion, but I have learned that it was a helpful tool for our friend Charlotte, and is proving to be a helpful tool for our family as well.

Grand Conversation: Discussion Questions for AO Y4 {Post 3}

This is my third week of being deliberate with our post-narration "grand" conversation, and it keeps getting better and better. The first week, our conversations were all of two minutes long {including me asking and/or better explaining my question}. Sometimes, yes, I didn't even need to ask a question because he had a question about the same thing. But on an average meeting, I asked him something, and he answered briefly.

Emphasis on briefly.

The second week, his answers grew a little more.

This week, I've been particularly encouraged because it has begun getting closer to my target, which is real conversation. You know: the kind you'd have at a book club or something.

Like all things, even conversation about a book is learned. And so we are learning.

Here are my questions from this week:
  • Madam How and Lady Why {pp. 12-15}
    Do you think Madam How always does things slowly, over hundreds of years? Give an example of how she might effect change quickly.
  • Robinson Crusoe
    Did God cause the rice and barley to grow? Ought Robinson to be more thankful for them? How could one remember God without a Bible? Talk about only remembering God in the hard times. Who is the man in Robinson's dream? What would repentance look like for Robinson now that he is stuck on an island?
  • This Country of Ours {ch. 33}
    Should the people have had the right to choose their own governors? How should a governor rule?
  • Story Book of Science {ch. 8-10}
    Do you think a tree's rings are the same size every year? Can you tell a tree's age by the size of its trunk? Should a man aspire to live long or to live well? Can a man live both long and well?
  • Poor Richard {pp. 57-69}
    Do you think Ben should have patented his stove invention? Do you think Latin and Greek are really "dead timber?" Do you agree with Franklin's views on education? Should the Penn family have exempted their own lands from taxation? Do you think the English king should have cared more about what was happening in America? 
I do not necessarily ask all of these questions. I simply prepare questions while I am doing my pre-reading. Sometimes, I open my notebook and read them, but most of the time the act of reading and asking questions is enough to prepare me to initiate a conversation with him. Sometimes he focuses on something unexpected in his narration, and so my questions need to go a different direction than expected. I'd say it has been a learning experience for both of us.

14 September 2011

The Darndest Things: Not as Inspiring as Originally Anticipated

I thought I was profound and inspiring.

For five whole seconds.

We had finished our x-rays before the two oldest children get their palate expanders {dental orthopedics...they have issues}. One--I will not name names--but one of them was complaining about how the x-ray tech tugged on the cheeks and skin. "It hurt!" Said child was being a grump about it.

We recently completed two knight books in a row, and I thought this perfect fodder for a conversation. "Vencels can do hard things," I said, quoting a friend of mine. "Remember in our knight books, where the knights learned to ignore pain and hunger and heat and cold and go into battle anyhow...and win?? Well, we can learn to do that, too, by facing hard things and ignoring how hard they are."

Oh, yes, I was confident that though I could not see them, four sets of cheeks were burning with the flame of motivation.

And then the four-year-old piped up: "Mommy?"


"Who was hungry? Because I'm hungry."

13 September 2011

Sorry, Son! You've Been CM-ed!

This weekend, E.-Age-Nine was practicing his math on Khan Academy. Apparently, when he gets an answer right, there is a message that pops up and tells him how great he is doing and how wonderful he is. In order to get him to practice longer or more frequently, he is encouraged to earn badges. His response? He was horrified! He came running into the kitchen:
Mom! That computer is flattering me and trying to bribe me with badges!
Being the sympathetic mother I am, I laughed and I laughed. Then, I told his father and we laughed together. And then I told him that it was okay, that I knew he liked math for its own sake, and to go have fun and just ignore all that other stuff.

It was then that I realized {once again} how right Charlotte Mason was about motivation.

When I first began reading her work about five year ago, the single most striking thought to me was the idea that a student--a human--could love knowledge for its own sake. I hadn't yet read about ordo amoris {the ordering of the affections}. I didn't know that Mason was talking about something that had been assumed through all of the ages, viz., that man was born to know and could love knowing because of this fact.

I simply knew that when I read the passage to my husband, we both agreed that grades got in the way of real learning. We both knew that over our years of school, we learned to jump through hoops, to give teachers what they wanted. We knew that what mattered was not how much we cared about what we learned {which is Mason's own test of success}, and not even how much we knew. It was all about having high test scores and grades, which were more indicative of our ability to follow rules and regurgitate information we conveniently stored in our short-term memories.

I'm not saying any particular person told us this. This is simply the inherent message of the system. Everything about the system tells the student that he needs to be bribed, cajoled, praised, scolded, rewarded, threatened, or otherwise externally compelled to perform.

I hated this from the very beginning of my mothering. It was pure instinct; I had no reasoning behind the sentiment at all. But when I read Charlotte, all of that changed. She speaks of the schoolmaster's play upon the appetites--the Desires. By appealing to these appetites, which are often human weaknesses, he empowers these weaknesses. In her sixth volume she mentions the desire of approbation {approval and praise and worrying about what others think of us}:
Where we teachers err is in stimulating the wrong Desires to accomplish our end. There is the desire of approbation which even an infant shows, he is not happy unless mother or nurse approve of him. Later this same desire helps him to conquer a sum, climb a hill, bring home a good report from school, and all this is grist to the mill, knowledge to the mind; because the persons whose approbation is worth having care that he should learn and know, conquer idleness, and get habits of steady work, so that his mind may be as duly nourished every day as is his body. Alas for the vanity that attends this desire of approbation, that makes the boy more solicitous for the grin of the stable-boy than for the approval of his master! Nay, this desire for approval may get such possession of him that he thinks of nothing else; he must have approval whether from the worthless or the virtuous. It is supposed that outbreaks of violence, robbery, assassinations, occur at times for the mere sake of infamy, just as deeds of heroism are done for the sake of fame.

She mentions getting good grades {"marks"} and winning prizes:
In the intellectual field, however, there is danger; and nothing worse could have happened to our schools than the system of marks, prizes, place-taking, by which many of them are practically governed. A boy is so taken up with the desire to forge ahead that there is no time to think of anything else. What he learns is not interesting to him; he works to get his remove.

She mentions money--in the form of getting a scholarship. The boy works from a very young age to earn his way into a good university by means of a scholarship. The result?
[T]he boy did not learn to delight in knowledge in his schooldays and the man is shallow in mind and whimsical in judgment.
When I read all of this, I did something that only an impulsive twenty-something mother would probably be brave enough to do {at least without a lot more research}: I dropped everything.

No more chore charts. No more "if you do x, you will get a y." Basically, I stopped bribing my child. It was sort of an experiment. Could we learn to make chores fun? Could we learn to enjoy our work and, as Scripture says, do all for the glory of God?

I tried to teach myself to talk about learning in a different way. It was hard at first for me to separate learning from any sort of reward system because it was so ingrained in my character. Now that it has been many years, I find myself cringing when someone talks about a grade they received in a course. I would much rather he show excitement about what he is learning. In other words, show me how in love you are with what you are learning. Show me your interest. Then I will know that (1) you are really learning and (2) your teacher has given you good books or inspired you with living ideas.

I'm not saying I'm a complete purist. I use chocolate-covered raisins when potty-training my toddlers. There are Consequences for rebellion around here, too. We also make plenty of room for natural discipline {as in "you break it, you buy it" and "you dirty it, you clean it up"}.

I'm primarily talking about intellectual pursuits.

We have to ask ourselves a question about the nature of man: Is man created to be the knower of his world?

If the answer is yes, then we will eliminate the grades and the prizes. They should not be necessary if it is natural that he come to know things.

When Year 1 came around the first time, I was ready. We were going to love learning, yes we were!

I was totally and completely unprepared for my child to dig in his heels and refuse. I've talked to enough Amblesiders now to think that this is a fairly common occurrence with six-year-old boys, especially oldest boys. I remember sending him to his room so I could think it over.

It was crunch time, and I had to make a decision. I knew he would respond to grading and charts and prize-winning. I knew I could bribe him into performing for me.

But what I wanted, what I thought would be a sign of being a successful teacher, was nothing less than a love of learning.

What was I going to do?

So I went into his room and told him I'd decided not to care any more than he did. Learning is supposed to be enjoyable, and there are oh so many interesting things to think about, but if you don't want to think about those things, if you don't want to learn and grow into a man who knows things, then that is up to you. This is your education, not mine.

Oh, he was horrified! You should have seen the anger on his bright red six-year-old face! He tried to scold me for not caring. Mommies were definitely supposed to care.

Oh, I do care, I said. I was a little amused at this point. But I just don't think that making you do something is going to make you care, so I'm choosing to only care as much as you. If you don't want to do math, we won't do math. But I do think there is something rather silly about a man who can't even add small numbers. Math is pretty interesting to think about, so it is sad that you won't ever know about it.

It was a risk, I know. But my instincts told me that at this time, with this particular child, it was the way to go. If I ever wanted to get to the fun part, I was going to have to fight this battle now, rather than pander to his base appetites and try to fight it out later, when he was older.

And it worked.

The next day, he wanted to learn something. And I did try to make it an extra good day, to reinforce my point.

I'm not saying he's never resisted again, or that we don't have bad days once in a while. But this particular day was a turning point, not just for him, but for me. I decided which path I was going to walk as a teacher.

And I've never looked back.

So I'm sorry, Son, that you can't bring yourself to accept bribes, and that I read you Pilgrim's Progress and Proverbs and now you're sensitive about flattery.

It looks like you've been CM-ed.

Take heart. I do think it's for your good.

12 September 2011

Musings on Monday {Pumpkin Edition}

I am dedicating today to All Things Pumpkin, because pumpkins are pretty much all I had time to think about this weekend. Well, that, and pre-reading for this week of lessons. I think I already bragged about mentioned my harvest of five giant pumpkins. One of the smaller ones was given to a neighbor, and the rest were for processing.

I thought I'd do an all-in-one processing and storage post for today--a rambling musing upon pumpkins.

For the record: we love pumpkins. I have a number of desserts I make with them throughout the holidays, plus a couple of actual meal side-dishes, which we'll get to.

So far, I have one pumpkin left to go. I should have been smarter about this and only processed one pumpkin on Saturday, but I ventured to do two. The issue is really not number, but size. My oven cannot even hold one whole pumpkin at a time, which certainly backed up the process.

Here is my waste-not, want-not version of pumpkin processing:
  • Have husband quarter pumpkins. My last surviving cutting knife is not exactly the sharpest blade on the block. You likely could do this yourself if you own a good knife. Often, quarters are good enough. My variety of pumpkin this year was a Cinderella style, which means that, even when quartered, it is hard to get the seeds out, so I cut each of those quarters in half again {perpendicular to the original cut} to open them up. Sigh. I wish I'd taken pictures.
  • Scrape out seeds and pulp with a spoon, but do not discard. First, you're going to have to decide what to do with your seeds. For seeds you are going to roast and snack on, place in a bowl of water {pulp attached, of course}. Whatever pulp you can salvage, put in one bowl, while placing clean seeds in another. Sometimes running water is more helpful, but I try not to waste water in this desert if I can help it. For seeds you are going to save for next year's planting, place them {pulp and all} in a bowl of filtered water for fermenting. Fermenting takes 2-4 days and kills seed-borne diseases*. I choose seeds from the pumpkin I liked best off of the vine I liked best. Do not just consider size of the pumpkin. Consider how much meat it actually had, and whether it showed signs of greater disease, fungal, or insect resistance when compared with the rest of the crop. {This is easier when you only have a few pumpkins to work with!} All other seeds {as well as leftover pulp} can be fed to poultry. If you do not keep poultry, might I suggest taking the kids to your nearest pond and feeding it to some local waterbirds? They tend to love pumpkin, in my experience, and it is a good source of nourishment for them {especially compared with the bread folks usually feed them}. You probably don't want that many seeds in your compost.
  • Bake pumpkins. I pretty much do this. Bake on 350. It takes over an hour in my oven, but I probably overstuff it. Let cool a little before you do your next step.
  • Scrape meat away from skin and place in a blender. I find I can fill a blender almost full without problems. Usually, this will not need added water, but if your blender isn't blending, add a tiny bit of filtered water to get it going. Once the skin has been cooked, birds can eat it! My duck flock loves it. If you don't keep birds, you could put some out in your backyard just to see if it attracts anything. If not, composting the skin is good.
  • Drain the puree. Do not skip this step if you want consistency in your baking! Place a colander in a bowl and line it with a tea towel or paper towel. Fill the colander and let it drain. I usually let it drain for two hours. This is why it takes me so long to process a pumpkin.
  • Store the pumpkin water. I said this was waste-not, want-not, right? All that water surely has some of the vitamins and minerals in it. I store it in my freezer in quart containers. I call it my "pumpkin broth" and it is good for cooking rice in, or adding to soups that call for vegetable broth {as long as I don't use more than half-pumpkin broth in the recipe}. Once I had a gallon, I poured the rest into my compost. I just didn't have any room left in the freezer.
  • Store puree in freezer bags and lay flat in your freezer to freeze. The size is up to you. The vast majority of my pumpkin recipes call for 2 cups. So I use quart bags and store them in 2-cup and 4-cup portions {because I often double my recipes}. So far I have 22 cups, and my biggest pumpkin of all is still sitting on my counter! Note: keeping a pumpkin for a couple weeks on your counter is no problem, as long as the temperature doesn't go over 85 degrees. During this time, it will cure and heal any surface scrapes.
  • Roast your seeds. I am saving my seeds until I'm all done, and then I'll roast a big batch all at once. This is my favorite seed recipe.
  • Dry your seeds for planting. Separate them from the pulp and feed the pulp to your poultry, or put it in your compost. Lay them out on a paper towel in a warm {but not hot} space and they're ready in about a week. Store them in an envelope and keep them in a cool, dry place.
  • Use the frozen puree at your leisure. This is the fun part. We make pie, turkey cookies, and more. Last night, I made pumpkin "pancakes" to go with dinner. I also like to bring pumpkin cake bars with cinnamon icing to our small group meeting during fall and early winter. The options are endless.
Link your favorite pumpkin recipe in the comments!

*According to my trusty Encyclopedia of Country Living.

08 September 2011

Book Review: The Book Thief

I was reading this book mainly because Karen mentioned that she liked it. When I heard it was a World War II novel, I thought that perhaps I could mix it into the upper grades when it fits with our history rotation.

The writing is good. It is artistically done--well done. And it is unique, being that it is written in the first person, from the perspective of Death, or the death angel, or the grim reaper {if you like--he is not grim}.

Another unique point is not just the choice of Death as a narrator, but also its choice of who to focus on, as far as characters. I think it humanizes the Germans who were just trying to get through the Third Reich as best as they could. Zusak himself {in the interview printed in the back of my copy} says:
I...hope that readers of any age will see another side of Nazi Germany, where certain people did hide their Jewish friends to save their lives {at the risk of their own}. I wanted them to see people who were unwilling to fly the Nazi flag, and boys and girls who thought the Hitler Youth was boring and ridiculous. If nothing else, there's another side that lives beneath the propaganda reels that are still so effective decades later.

I liked it.

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

Yes, it had some profanity. Yes, it is not for young children.

It was touching, moving, and there are enough ideas in it to be worth discussing--I see many possibilities.

At this time, I'm going to put it up on my shelf {well, after lending it to Aunt Rebecca, of course}. I don't own many books written in the post-modern style {in which, for instance, time does not pass altogether chronologically}, and I'd like my children to learn to read books in that style before leaving home. I think this is worth keeping as an option for that purpose as well.

It's a hard time period to read about. Perhaps that is why I'm a little resistant to giving it an enthusiastic double thumbs up and all that. It's a sober read, but, as I said, I'll be giving it a well-deserved place in the library.

Have any of you read it? What did you think?

Future Reading: I've got all sorts of reviews I'm doing this month. I've got a nonfiction book called Raising Real Men, a DVD curriculum review of Body of Evidence: The Hearing Ear and Seeing Eye, and two children's fiction books called Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic and Treasures from Grandma's Attic. This should be a fun!

07 September 2011

Playing it Safe: Making Room for Danger

Last night, I read a chapter of the book I'm reviewing {Raising Real Men} to Si while he was working out. The first chapter starts with a little boy, who is disappointed because while his big brothers and father are climbing a waterfall, he's staying behind with Mom and the little girls. Here is Mom's response:
She looked around for a climb that would allow her to compromise, to allow him to exert his growing manhood without taking too big a risk.
She finds one, of course; a little hill he can conquer on his own. He is ecstatic.

Soon after, the book tells me:
It may not seem important to let your little ones take reasonable risks, but it is part of a principled attitude toward raising our boys to be real men, godly men, warriors for Christ.
More than once, I've wondered where these wimpy, effeminate guys behind the counter at Starbucks come from. Oh, I don't mean that every guy has to be That Guy. {You know the one, right? The man with the machismo, or maybe the Texas cowboy type.} I couldn't think of how to describe it exactly, but this first chapter had words for that, too:
But what about the dirt? Why do boys love dirt? And blood and guts and worms and insects? Because one day he might be waist-deep in a swamp, pulling your family out of a wrecked automobile. Or splattered with arterial blood while pioneering a new surgical procedure. Or eating roasted grub worms with the natives to earn their permission to share the Gospel. It might not be our cup o' tea, any of them,. but would you rather have men able to overlook things like that for the higher business at hand--or would you prefer fastidious pseudo-men who are only good to wait for someone else to take care of it? {emphasis mine}
I found all of this very interesting, because we just finished up reading Men of Iron.

{**spoiler alert**}

Myles Falworth doesn't realize until close to the end of his training {from squire to knight} that he is being carefully raised up for a purpose. He initially thought that he was simply being given the best possible start in his career as knight errant, something he would need in light of his father's fall from the king's favor. His family having plummeted into poverty and forfeited all their lands and riches to the throne, Myles needed all the help he could get.

But it turns out that the Earl of Mackworth {under whose care he resided for many years of his youth} was not giving him a "good start." Myles was being carefully groomed to perform a very special task, the effects of which would ripple throughout the kingdom.

He was to challenge the Earl of Alban to a trial by combat.

This required many details to fall into place, which I won't go into at this time. All of this is the just the context for two connected passages I've been pondering for a few days now, both of which tie neatly into the above point:
So Myles went to France in Lord George's company, a soldier of fortune...He was there for only six months, but those six months wrought a great change in his life. In the fierce factional battles that raged around the walls of Paris; in the evil life which he saw at the Burgundian court in Paris itself after the truce--a court brilliant and wicked, witty and cruel--the wonderful liquor of youth had evaporated rapidly, and his character had crystallized as rapidly into the hardness of manhood. The warfare, the blood, the evil pleasure which he had seen had been a fiery, crucible test to his soul, and I love my hero that he should have come forth from it so well. He was no longer the innocent Sir Galahad who had walked in pure white up the Long Hall to be knighted by the King, but his soul was of that grim, sterling, rugged sort that looked out calmly from his gray eyes upon the wickedness and debauchery around him, and loved it not.
The Earl of Mackworth stroked his bear softly. "Thou art marvellous changed," said he. "I would not have thought it possible."

Myles smiled somewhat grimly. "I have seen such things, my Lord, in France and in Paris," said he, quietly, "as, mayhap, may make a lad a man before his time."

"From which I gather," said the Earl, "that many adventures have befallen thee. Methought thou wouldst find troublesome times in the Dauphin's camp, else I would not have sent thee to France."
What does this have to do with the quote from Raising Real Men?

Well, did you notice that in both instances, a youth was directed toward manhood through putting him in a position of risk? In both situations, the possibility of danger-as-tutor was considered and used.

I'm not one to say we need go back to the wild dangers of knight-errantry. I do not pretend to understand the extremes of that time in regard to hazarding a man's life. But I do think that something has been lost over time, until we have reached the point of today, where we coddle and protect boys, smothering their natural instincts, and telling them that the most important thing they can do in this world is to Be Careful.

I don't pretend to know much about raising boys. Generally, I feel more competent with girls. But I do know that Being Careful is not the path to forging heroes.

Not even normal, everyday heroes.

06 September 2011

Grand Conversation: Discussion Questions for AO Y4 {Post 2}

So far, post-narration discussion has been going swimmingly. Most of the time, I am not digging through my notebook, reading the questions word for word. Instead, I find that pre-reading with an aim to discuss {which includes preparing questions, of course} is enough to nurture more organic discussion.

Can I just say that I think Ambleside's inclusion of Poor Richard is just brilliant? It is amazing to me how many ideas are packed into tiny four- or five-page chapters.

  • Reading: Madam How and Lady Why Chapter 1, pp. 8-top 12 
    {As prep work, we will look at pictures of glens on the computer, as it isn't a term we use much in the United States.} Do you remember when we used water from the hose to dig holes for the fence posts of the garden? Was it very effective at moving earth?
  • Reading: Poor Richard pp. 45-49
    Do you think Ben was right in cutting Ralph off financially like that? {When he said, "I don't know," and explained where he struggled with the decision, we looked up I Thessalonians 3:10-12 to help him inform his thoughts a bit.} What wisdom do you see in how Ben conducts himself in London? If you were Ben, what would you have chosen? Would you have returned home as Denham's clerk? Or taken the Grand Tour with Wygate?
  • Reading: Poor Richard pp. 50-55
    Read Proverbs 16:21. Do you think Ben was disappointed when Denham died, and with him the dream of becoming a successful merchant? Do you think Ben should have been more attentive to Deborah while he was gone? What do you think of Ben's Junto club?
  • Reading: This Country of Ours Ch. 32
    Should Philip have led his people against the English? Do you think the English were right to fight back as they did?
  • Reading: The Story Book of Science Ch. 5
    What does Scripture say about what Uncle calls the egoist? The Bible says we might learn lessons from the ant. What lessons are you learning from them so far?
  • Reading: The Story Book of Science Ch. 6
    Do the math and double 1 as high as you can. What lesson do you learn from this concept of a snowball?
  • Reading: The Story Book of Science Ch. 7
    Have you ever noticed plant lice in the orchard? Do you see ladybugs there?
  • Reading: Robinson Crusoe*
    What sort of items would you require were you Robinson?
    Ought Robinson learn to be thankful in his situation?
    What might he be thankful for?
    Have you ever made a chart of goods and evils as Robinson made?
    What would you do at this point if you were Robinson?**
*My copy of Robinson Crusoe has neither chapters nor pages that would be helpful to list. Hopefully, you are reading along and can tell where is the best place to ask such questions.

**At this point, one possible exam question for Robinson Crusoe that is on my mind is: Pretend you are preparing your son to be possibly shipwrecked or enter some other survival situation. What thing would you teach him beforehand, that he might do his best upon his island?

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday Tuesday {Belated Edition}

I would have posted this yesterday, except that I went swimming instead. In all, I'd say we had a great weekend. How about you?

In other news...
  • There are more problems with the embedded Blogger comment form. I am now unable to leave comments on these forms {again}. For those of you who are newer bloggers, I would suggest switching to one of the two other formats. You may not know that there have been repeated problems with the embedded form since it was first introduced, and it seems to work only for short spurts...until it stops. If you have an embedded form, and are getting very few comments, this may be your issue.
  • I subscribed to a Charlotte Mason newsletter last week. I don't yet know if it's any good, but I'm anticipating the first issue. Check it out.
  • The Granny Miller website died a sudden death. Some sort of technical issue, from what I hear. I've been scouring the internet for a replacement and I decided on this: The New Agrarian. There are Khaki Campbell ducks in the header graphic! We raise KC's, too, so I thought perhaps I'd found a kindred spirit.
  • Speaking of ducks, our ducklings are all grown up! Last week, they started laying, and the children collected ten eggs yesterday. One of the Khaki Campbells was sitting on nine of them, so now we have to decide if and when we will allow them to raise ducklings of their own...and when and where we'd butcher them after that.
  • The summer garden is officially over. I harvested the carrots and the pumpkins and now the side fence is left open for my flock to clear the place out. After that, I'll do some work myself, but I noticed slugs and frogs and lots of weeds--all ducky favorites--so I decided to let them party for a while before being responsible. I'm going to try a fall/winter garden for the first time: turnips, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and a few other ideas. I don't recall any of those taking up much space, so I think we'll try it all! When I harvested the carrots, I discovered the cause of my tomato fail: nematodes. My carrots were all twisty and ugly. So I'm going to buy some Actinovate and hope that I can raise root vegetables in spite of the problem. {Any other ideas for combating nematodes?} My first batch of compost is ready, so I'm also going to try planting some sorghum using said compost as soil improvement. We'll see how it goes. I'm encouraged by our success this year, nematodes or no.
  • Did you hear about what has been dubbed the California Babysitting Law? It's actually titled something like the "domestic workers bill of rights." We do not hire domestic workers of any kind {unless you count the handful of times someone has sent me a housecleaner for a day as a gift after having a baby or other "emergency.} I think more folks will be like us if this passes. Basically, the state wants domestic jobs to be treated like other jobs: minimum wages, breaks, lunches free, overtime and holiday pay, etc. In the end, this is going to price most folks out of the "domestic labor" market, meaning domestic workers are going to find themselves...unemployed. I could explain why I disagree with the law philosophically, but that would take up too much space.
I think that's good for today. Share your links in the comments!

02 September 2011

2011-2012 Term One Average Day Chart {Simple Edition}

Around this time each year, I usually post a fancy spreadsheet called my Average Day Chart. I'm not doing that this year because I think having times on it would irritate me more than anything else. I have many more variables than last year {when my youngest was still taking a morning nap and I only had one Ambleside student} to juggle, and so I find that having an order of events is enough to keep me sane without having set times to cause me to conclude that we are "behind." Or something.

Since it's tradition, I though I'd share the rhythm of our day this term. This only applies to four days per week. On the fifth day, we alternate co-op with nature walks. I'll offer explanations along the way, only because I find it helpful when other moms do this. I don't know about you, but most of my best ideas are really not my own--I take what I see someone else doing and tweak it so it works in our home.

1: Breakfast/Circle Time

Since I had my very first baby, I made a commitment to getting up with my husband and serving him breakfast. {Of course, if he arose before 5am, I might rethink this!} Breakfast is usually served shortly after 7am, and my husband only sits with us for a short while before hurrying out the door. In this sense, we have a regular starting time.

So now you know that this is not the reason why I feel my schedule is more unpredictable than it used to be! It is the human element, as the day goes on, that I cannot box into an exact time.

And that's okay.

As soon as I'm at a place where I can start, we pray and begin Circle Time. I have found that this is the only time of day where O.-Age-Three will sit patiently and listen for a full hour, so my assumption is that this will not be moving to some other place in the day for quite some time.

2: Chores

Circle Time lasts about an hour. Sometimes it's shorter, sometimes it's longer, but an hour is a good guess. I would like chores to take only 20 minutes, and I think this is reasonable, but I am going to have to do some timer training {again} with those girls! This is where the girls do their basic morning routine: get dressed, make beds, brush hair, brush teeth, and clean the table. They also alternate putting away silverware, emptying the dryer, and retrieving eggs. I get dressed, make my bed, put on my makeup, fold clean clothes, dress O., and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, E. empties the dishwasher, vacuums daily areas {we have a schedule} and tidies up a little. {He is an early riser, so most of the time he is already dressed and beginning his lessons when I awaken.}

3: Morning Walk

I really debated whether to not to add this into the morning. I didn't want to give up my regular exercise, but it is still so hot--and the air quality so bad--in the afternoons, that it was either do it in the morning, or not do it at all. So on the second day of school, I decided we'd just try it and see how it went. What I've learned is that the walk minimizes problems with the younger two more than anything else I've done. O.-Age-Three holds my hand the whole way, and we talk, so his little love tank is full by the time we return home. Plus, he's very tired, and there is nothing like tiredness to keep him out of trouble! Q.-Age-Four seems to thrive, walk or not, but I've noticed it gives me a chance to talk with her, too. The big kids ride bikes, and I think the exercise after sitting at Circle Time for an hour is beneficial for them, too.

I count this for PE, by the way.

Right when we get home, I serve a quick snack. This morning is was a cup of milk and some carrot sticks. It is just a quick something to carry them through until lunch.

4: Formal Lessons

E.-Age-Nine has his clipboard, and the majority of his work is independent. Obviously, he has to come to me for narration and discussion. With A.-Age-Six's lessons still being so short, he rarely has to wait very long for a good time to fit that in. I am training him to not interrupt. When the lesson she is working on is over, he may come in for what he needs.

I have worked out an alternating order for A. that is generally working: phonics, first reading/narration, math, second reading/narration, writing {letter formation}, poetry. Occasionally, I need to stop a longer reading, do a little math, and then come back to it. Sometimes we add a craft-type activity at the end if she's in the mood. She is more independent in math than I expected. I thought I'd have to hold her hand through every single exercise, but I find that I explain the concept, and then she is ready to go, as long as I write numbers 0 through 10 at the top of her page so that she remembers how to form them properly.

E. manages his own alternation, so I have no clue what order he studies in. I know that he tends to have his Bible reading and written narration done--or almost done--before we eat breakfast.

When A. and E. are both done, I bring Q.-Age-Four in twice per week for phonics and Kumon pages {she likes cutting and folding}. O.-Age-Three has also begun Kumon this year, and he is also averaging about twice per week. Naturally, they bounce in and out of the room I am in while lessons are going, but for the most part they spend this time playing together in the nook--trains, cars, or whatever else they have thought up. They are welcome to sit and listen quietly, but they prefer to run and play.

5. Lunch and Read Aloud

All the children play outside while I heat lunch up, and then we eat. When I am done eating, I read aloud {we're currently reading Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi}. This is one of the only other times when O.-Age-Three will sit and listen to a book! He is not much for sitting.

In case you are wondering, we eat lunch quite late--12:30pm on average, but sometimes even 1pm.

6. Naps and Clean Up

I clear the table, and then put the littles down for nap. While I'm doing that, E. and A. do the lunch dishes {except when they forget, which is rare}. This has been the best thing I ever did. It used to take me an hour to recover from lunch by the time I cleaned up the kitchen, did dishes, and put children to bed. Cutting out dishes has been a lifesaver, and E. and A. work well together now that they have had more practice.

7. Afternoon Quiet Time

I wish I could say that we have all of naptime free to pursue individual interests, but that is not true anymore. Now that E. is in Year Four, I find he requires some things here and there in the afternoons. He practices piano, and I offer lessons as he needs them. We do Plutarch {though we hope to sometimes combine Plutarch with our co-op friends--perhaps every-other-week}. We discuss his grammar if we didn't have time in the morning. Sometimes, we have time to fit Age of Fable or Minn of the Mississippi {both of which I read to him aloud} in the morning, but if we don't, it goes in the afternoon. And we also do our Visual Latin lessons during this time.

We are not much for "screen time." We do not offer our children video games or TV/movies. That just isn't the culture we desire to build in our family. So when lessons are entirely over, E. and A. play quietly--sometimes together and sometimes separately. If they have the urge to be loud, they must go outside, because other people are still sleeping.

8. Dinner Prep

Once naps are over, we're on to dinner. I've discovered that another good way to connect with Q.-Age-Four is to have her help with dinner whenever possible. She loves it, and it is a good time for us to chat. She is the one I'm afraid I'll lose in the shuffle because she is so low-maintenance, so I am constantly contemplating how to reinforce my relationship with her. She was quite proud of the enchiladas we made yesterday!

Management Tips

I thought I'd share a few things that have worked for me over the past few years. They are nothing special, and if YOU have tips, please share them in the comments!
  1. Don't answer the phone. Unless you are expecting a specific call for a specific purpose, nothing will eat up time like a phone call.
  2. Do the next thing. If I stop and check email as a form of procrastination, I end up using time we needed. It is best for me to just Move On. I do check email when I am waiting on children {like when A. is finishing up her math problems}, but that doesn't seem to hurt our day the same way.
  3. Stick to the rhythm. One of the reasons I work so hard to get something down on paper is that the fewer decisions I have to make during the day, the better our day goes. Maybe this is just me, but if I have to sit down and decide what to do first, and then what to do next, we just never get going.
  4. Don't allow interruptions. I mean this as a habit-training sort of thing. For instance: A. is just beginning a narration, and E. barges in saying loudly that he needs help in math. You know what? He just destroyed A.'s narration. She is just beginning, and this is a disaster--she can't hold her thoughts together for very long yet. I am trying to teach my children that each of them are important, our day has a master plan of sorts, and they need to respect it. Does that mean we don't have interruptions? No! Acceptable interruptions are plentiful--some people still require assistance in the bathroom, some people need discipline and correction, some people fall down and skin their knee. There is always room for life. But when I train them to respect each other's lessons, I'm actually making the day smoother. They are taught to listen until they hear a lesson complete, and then address me.
  5. Be fluid. This is what I'm trying to master this year. As little ones come in and out, I am learning to flow back into what we were doing, recovering the lesson with fewer incidents.
What is your best management tip? And can we see your daily schedule? Put your links in the comments if you have them!

01 September 2011

What Poetry Looks Like

Today, we'll continue on our What Ambleside Looks Like journey. So far, we've discussed picture study, composer study, hymns, geography, and even education-as-atmosphere. Today? Poetry.

Charlotte and Poetry
In 1901, Mrs. J. G. Simpson wrote an article for the Parents' Review concerning poetry instruction which began thus:
There are, no doubt, people whose poetic taste is so true and deep, that no amount of neglect in early life has been able to prevent its being the ruling passion of their lives, but it is nevertheless true, that in the majority of cases, the real love of poetry may be traced to tastes implanted in childhood.
We see here, then, that once again we are talking about exposure cultivating the affections.

It is probably good to acknowledge from the outset that good poetry is good for the soul. In fact, another Parent's Review article concludes that:

[T]he purpose of poetry is to communicate or extend the joy of life by quickening our emotions. How it does so, by what magic of art or nature, we should require to be poets to know. But this is what it does: it teaches us how to feel, by expressing for us, in the most perfect way, right human emotions, which we recognise as right, and come ourselves to share. It is good for all of us to be taught how to feel; to be taught how to feel in the presence of Nature; how to feel to one's country, to one's lover, or wife, or child; to be taught to feel the mystery of life, the glory of it, the pathos of it; good for us to be shaken out of our lethargic absorption in ourselves, and to have our eyes anointed with salve, that we may look round us and rejoice, and lift up our hearts.

If education involves training the child's affections {and I would argue that it does}, that the student might love what is good, true, and beautiful when he is grown, then learning to love good poetry--and be taught by good poetry--is imperative. And early exposure is key.

Charlotte believed that education was the forging of relationships between the child and the world. She wrote in her third volume:
Children should have relations with earth and water, should run and leap, ride and swim, should establish the relation of maker to material in as many kinds as may be; should have dear and intimate relations with persons, through present intercourse, through tale or poem, picture or statue; through flint arrow-head or modern motor-car: beast and bird, herb and tree, they must have familiar acquaintance with. {emphasis mine}
Here we see that she viewed a poem as a means of building a relationship with a person in the past. {I might note here that this is why it matters who are the poets our children study. Are their thoughts worth thinking after them? Children will grow up and meditate on the poems of their youth throughout their lives, so we must choose them with utmost care.}

There seem to be two things going on in the PNEU schools when it comes to poetry: memorization, and regular reading {we also know that Miss Mason used simple, sweet poems as part of her reading instruction and copywork, but we won't discuss that here}. Children as young as 6 were reciting hymns, poems, and Bible verses as part of Form I. If some of these Bible verses were Psalms, then I would say that all three of these are {potentially} forms of poetry memorization.

We will talk about how the students went about memorizing their poems in a moment. For now, let us just acknowledge that they did.

As early as Class IIb, we know that Charlotte's students were reading their own poetry, so we also deduce that poetry was a regular part of the curriculum. {We also know that the children read about poets from time to time--whether as biographies, or as inclusions in their history readings, I do not know. Just something to think about.}

Today we'll talk about these two parts: memorization and regular reading.

How to Memorize a Poem
First, let's talk about how to choose the poem to memorize. Ambleside Online does not assign poems for memorization, but I am sure selecting something from the assigned list is a good place to start. For our family, I have always done the choosing, and those usually based upon the suggestions of others I know and trust. If you are tempted to skip poetry memorization, I would like to recommend it to you. I originally assumed that I would gain a taste for poetry simply through daily reading. No such luck. Two years of daily reading, and I was no closer to cultivating my own affections, and the easiest affections to teach are the ones we actually have in ourselves.

After our first term of poetry memorization, I learned to like poetry. Now, after doing this for a couple years, I would almost say that I love it! The only thing I changed was adding memorization. In addition to this, my children initially seemed neutral, but now they claim they "love" poetry. It is hard to love poetry if you haven't learned to love individual poems and poets, and that is the possibility which memorization holds out to us.

In Charlotte's first volume, we read about the ultimate simple method:
Recitation and committing to memory are not necessarily the same thing, and it is well to store a child's memory with a good deal of poetry, learnt without labour. Some years ago I chanced to visit a house, the mistress of which had educational notions of her own, upon which she was bringing up a niece. She presented me with a large foolscap sheet written all over with the titles of poems, some of them long and difficult: Tintern Abbey, for example. She told me that her niece could repeat to me any of those poems that I liked to ask for, and that she had never learnt a single verse by heart in her life. The girl did repeat several of the poems on the list, quite beautifully and without hesitation; and then the lady unfolded her secret. She thought she had made a discovery, and I thought so too. She read a poem through to E.; then the next day, while the little girl was making a doll's frock, perhaps, she read it again; once again the next day, while E.'s hair was being brushed. She got in about six or more readings, according to the length of the poem, at odd and unexpected times, and in the end E. could say the poem which she had not learned.

I have tried the plan often since, and found it effectual. The child must not try to recollect or to say the verse over to himself, but, as far as may be, present an open mind to receive an impression of interest. Half a dozen repetitions should give children possession of such poems as 'Dolly and Dick,' 'Do you ask what the birds say?' Little lamb, who made thee?' and the like. The gains of such a method of learning are, that the edge of the child's enjoyment is not taken off by weariful verse by verse repetitions, and, also, that the habit of making mental images is unconsciously formed.
When Miss Mason says that "she had never learnt a single verse by heart in her life," she means that the child was never drilled. And this, my friends in the point. If a child can learn something in a pleasant manner, why would we choose something less pleasing?

I have found something similar to be just as effective in my own home. We simply read the poems we are memorizing in their entirety once per day during Circle Time. As time goes by, I pause and allow the children to fill in more and more of the words for me. Eventually, they can say the entire poem on their own. I have considered recording myself reading the poems, then burning this onto a CD for them to use in their play nook {I would fill it with many of the things from their memory word, including their folk songs, hymns, etc.}. I have wondered if they would learn these things even faster with that sort of reinforcement as the "background noise" to their play.

Regular Poetry Reading
Ambleside Online has assigned one poet per term, and you can view those assignments on the poetry schedule page. If you click on an individual poet, you will see actual poems that you can print out. I haven't read much discussion on how other families do their poetry readings, so I will just tell you what we do, and if you do differently, you can share with us in the comments!

For many years, because I had only one "official" student, I read these poems aloud during Circle Time. This year is a little different. I could have kept poetry in Circle Time and read one poem for each student, but I decided to break it up. My Year Four student is reading his poems on his own, and I am reading aloud to my Year One student.

Each week, my Year Four student is supposed to tell me which is his favorite and why. Then, he clips that poem out and adds it to his commonplace journal {something he just began this year}. He hand-writes the title and author, but he likes to cut and paste the poem. Anyhow, at the end of the term, I will ask him to pick his favorite of the favorites, and that will become his poem to memorize for the next term. I will continue to pick simple poems for the little ones until they are older, even though they tend to memorize his poem, too.

All we do is read the poems. Sometimes we discuss it, if the child has a question. But mostly we just read. And I find that this is enough. This past summer, we read Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha, one chapter at a time, just E.-Age-Nine and myself. We read in the evenings when we were able to catch a few moments alone. We never really discussed it, but the poem felt like it lingered in the living room afterwards, and E. would always sigh and say, "I just love that poem."

If I have one goal for our regular reading, it is to appreciate the poem. There is time enough for analysis. In these young ages, reading the poem in whole, and appreciating its beauty, is not just the main thing--it is the Only Thing. Please do not be tempted to tear the poems apart and analyze them. I am reminded of what we learned in Poetic Knowledge

At the beginning level, poetry, music, astronomy, Latin, etcetera, are done rather than studied.

The interesting thing to me is that the more that poetry is done, the less analysis required to understand it, if that makes sense.


In analysis, we are approaching the subject at hand scientifically. This is appropriate for a controlled experiment, but much less so for something that is not, by definition, in the sphere of science: poetry. I'm not saying that analysis is never helpful, but if we start that way, we are likely to make our children hate poetry while not increasing their understanding of it at. all. Taylor quoted Mill as saying:

[T]he habit of analysis has a tendency to wear away the feelings.
All of this to say: do poetry. That's it. Read it and savor it. Start with simple poems and work to more complex. This is also where the Ambleside schedule will help you. Starting with Stevenson and Milne is beginning in the right sort of place.

How About You?
Have you incorporated poetry yet? And, if so, how do you do poetry in your home?