Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2017-2018 Mid Year Reflections...

We are at the half way point in our 2017-2018 academic year. Having completed Term One, we are now in the midst of Term Two. Last week we completed Week 18, out of our thirty-six week year. Thus far, this has been a very different kind of academic year in many ways.

Over the past couple of years, Riley Ann has been consistently gaining independence. I have since been working on assisting Ruben toward greater independence.  Because of his learning differences and dyslexia, he was a late bloomer in many academic areas. He will continue to need one on one teaching in key areas such as math and language arts, but is now able to read some of his books for himself. Also, over the past couple of years, we mastered an assignment notebook system that suits him, allowing him to see at a glance what needs to be done for the day and begin what he can. In addition, Ruben enjoys audio books and this has been a key piece in his puzzle of learning.

Middle school is a great time to make that transition to independent learning. I want my high schoolers to be motivated self-starters as they prepare for adulthood and life in the real world. This doesn't happen over night. It takes time and habit training. In addition, I've been thinking about Levi coming up. When he starts Year 1 in the fall, he will require complete dependence when he begins his formal lessons. It's important that the older kids have a great foundation and are able to work somewhat, if not totally, independently so as my time and effort can be primarily spent on Levi, the beginning student. The first half of this academic year has been trial and error, as Ruben tests the water toward greater independent learning.

In addition, both Riley and Ruben have jobs. Though they've both been working out of the home for a couple of years now, hours and phone calls for help have increased as they mature. It's been a balancing act on my part to coordinate their working life with their academic life. I feel they are both important areas as they are learning a great deal from their books, as well as working outside the home. I've been thinking a lot about what Cindy Rollins wrote in Mere Motherhood...
As homeschooling became more complicated with so many glitches, hardships, and moves, I started streamlining our days. I made sure that we were having Morning Time and that the boys were doing math, a written narration, and reading for two to three hours each day. Housework, farm chores, and the constant stream of farming neighbors who needed a 'boy' for the day helped all this add up to a decent education. (p. 62)
This is totally my world right now. Thank goodness, we are not moving, but have had a few other hiccups. I most relate with the last sentence regarding the housework, farm chores and constant stream of neighbors needing help. I have come to see that there's so much more to an education than book learning. I too am learning life lessons as I have been called upon for an extra job, though it's an unpaid position.

In July of 2016, we answered a phone call that would change our lives drastically. Our elderly neighbor had fallen and was injured, but refused medical treatment. Her son was trying to care for her, but knew she needed more help so called us to come in and aid. I had no idea what we were walking in to, but knew God called us to take care of the widows and children. It took me three days to talk her into seeking medical treatment, at which time we found her hip was severely broken and required surgery. Unfortunately, the surgery needed to be delayed for another week, because of her ill health from waiting so long to get proper medical help.

Long story short, after surgery, she went for rehab, which didn't go well. She ended up in a guardianship trial with the county courts, in which I was appointed her legal guardian for finance and medical. This undertaking has been much bigger than I could have ever imagined. There has been hours of phone calls and paperwork, filing forms and reporting to the county, in addition to her physical and medical care needs. Initially, we spent days driving to and from various assisted living facilities, until we settled on one that would best meet her needs. Since that time, I have been responsible for making and taking her to all her medical appointments, in addition to the paperwork and finance that comes as part of managing her farm. As part of my guardianship duties, I also have to maintain regular visits and welfare checks to ensure that she is receiving the best care and all her needs are being met. The time spent has definitely altered our home school! However, as Cindy said, I have learned to streamline our days.

This year, I actually brought back Morning Time, which has been a huge blessing. We are conquering many books and beautiful ideas together, that most likely would have other wise fallen by the wayside given our crazy schedule. Riley has continued with her Year 8 plan independently and is doing a great job! Ruben is working through his Year 7 plan and definitely making progress. Some days, it feels like we're schooling on the fly, but some how by the grace of God, it's all coming together. They are reading, writing, and doing math. All things considered, the year is going well.

I am so grateful for home education and the flexibility it allows our family. Over and above book learning, the kids are acquiring valuable life lessons, not only on the farm, but from working for others, and caring for our neighbor. I love that we can do this thing called life together!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli....

Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli was written in 1956 and went on to become the 1957 Newbery Honor Book. It is a fabulous historic tale of tenth-century Viking twins, Jan and Brus, who are shipwrecked with their father, Harold, on the Scottish coast. When Harold is killed, the boys vow to avenge his death. The problem being, one of them is captive to Harold's killer. Through a series of adventures, demonstrating their wit and wisdom, the boys overcome their captor and desire for revenge. Jan and Brus' story has a beautiful ending, which I will not divulge here.

Unfortunately, Black Fox of Lorne has been out of print for many years, making it harder to find, particularly in hardcover. After doing a bit of research, I see Hillside Education did recently begin reprinting this treasure in paperback. However, I am not familiar with their company and have not seen the reprint so I cannot comment on the quality.

Black Fox of Lorne is a much lesser known de Angeli title, than say, The Door in the Wall or Skippack School, but nevertheless, it is a wonderful read. And true to her fashion, de Angeli's beautifully charming illustrations are a delight. After each evening's reading, the kids would want to go back and spend time looking at the pictures. I read Black Fox of Lorne aloud to the entire family, including The Farmer, who enjoyed it just as much as the kids. If you have a chance to get your hands on a copy, we all highly recommend it!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reflections on Home Education - Part V, Post 3 - Composing Thought, Bible Lessons, and Arithmetic...

This post will continue on in Part V of Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason. You can view Part V, post one on the Kindergarten here, and post two on Teaching Reading here. Today's post will focus on the composition of thought through both narration and writing, as well as bible lessons and arithmetic for children age nine and under.

The Art of Narrating
Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in very child's mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. (p. 231)
I have blogged on narration in the past, back in July of 2014 on The Art of Narration and in December of 2015 in Narration is Natural, while studying Charlotte's 20 Principles. Charlotte covers narration in Principles 14 and 15. I'm not going to go in depth on narration here, but if you are unfamiliar or want review, I would highly encourage you to read my other writings on the subject. Narration is a cornerstone of Charlotte's philosophy and I will go so far as to say, you can not implement a Charlotte Mason education without it. It's a method that works!

I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson - a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work...(p. 233-234)
I remember when RileyAnn was very young, most likely around age 5, and I was fairly new to home educating. I purchased a well known handwriting curricula, in which the child was expected to write a full page of the same letter each day. For example, they would write an entire page of the letter a, and then next day, an entire page of the letter b, and so on and so forth. I remember her focus and concentration on the first line of the letter. However, by the end of the page, her face began to contort in anxiety and frustration.

A few days in, I could see tears building in Riley's eyes. When I asked her what was wrong, the flood gates opened. She didn't want to tell me, but eventually, I coaxed out of her that all the writing was hurting her hand and she was worried that her last letters weren't as good as the first letters on the page. Riley is my Perfect Paula, who loves all things academic, and never complained. She'd take anything I gave her and then some. To see her so down trodden over her handwriting nearly broke my heart. At that point, a light went on for me.

I set that curricula aside and never thought twice about it. From that day on, I vowed to find a better way. Some where along the way, I read about this idea of copy work, where the parent/teacher begins by writing a letter and then the student imitates it a few times, maybe 3-4, giving best effort and then they're done for the day. Once letters are learned, you move on to words, then phrases, and then sentences, etc. It's a slow and steady process, but again, one that works. Charlotte writes in several places, "Do not hurry the child."

I learned quickly that handwriting curricula is not necessary and I haven't looked back since. Copy work, or transcription as described below, are excellent methods to teach not only penmanship, but to build a base for composition.


Transcription is more commonly referred to as copy work. It's a written or printed representation of something.
The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work...
Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory. (p. 238)
According to Charlotte, children should be allowed to transcribe their favorite passages. I would add caution to be sure the child is presented with the best writing and quality books so when they are choosing passages to transcribe, they have a superb model. Transcription should last no more than 10-15 minutes per lesson in the early Forms. Charlotte also suggested using a black board, or we now have white boards, in writing lessons, by both teacher and student by way of model and practice. So the teacher would model writing the letters on the blackboard and students would copy, eventually transitioning to pencil/paper.

Spelling and Dictation
...the gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to 'take' (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit which must be cultivated in children from the first. (p. 241)
Charlotte believed spelling should be taught through transcription and dictation. The child would read passages, copy them perfectly, committing to memory a picture of each word. Then the teacher/parent would dictate the passage for the child to write from memory. Care must be given that the child never sees a misspelled word as that image could remain in the child's mind, causing them to misspell the word for life.

She suggested a child of 8 or 9 years prepare a paragraph from dictation, while older children, one to three pages. Charlotte gives specific steps to a dictation lesson on pages 241-243 of Home Education.
Spelling must not be lost sight of in the children's other studies, though they should not be teased to spell....The whole secret of spelling lies in the habit of visualising words from memory, and children must be trained to visualise in the course of their reading. They enjoy this way to learning to spell. (p. 243)

Herein lies a battle for many home educators. However, I believe if more parents followed the developmentally appropriate methods of teaching composition that Charlotte Mason proposed, it is a battle they would not have to fight. Charlotte writes,
For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know. Before they are ten, children who have been in the habit of using books will write good, vigorous English with ease and freedom; that is, if they have not been hampered by instructions. It is well for them not even to learn rules for the placing of full stops and capitals until they notice how these things occur in their books. Our business is to provide children with material in their lessons, and, leave the handling of such material to themselves. If we would believe it, composition is as natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books. They should narrate in the first place, and they will compose, later, readily enough; but they should not be taught 'composition.' (p. 247)
There you have it! Composition begins with great books or a nature walk, followed by narration. It's that simple. Children under age nine should be read to, and if able, be reading the best books. Then they should be required to narrate, beginning orally, making the transition to written narrations only after the mastery of oral, which is often around age ten.

Bible Lessons
Children between the ages of six and nine should get a considerable knowledge of the Bible text. By nine they should have read the simple (and suitable) narrative portions of the Old Testament, and, say, two of the gospels. (p. 248)
Bible lessons were significant in Charlotte's schools. She recommended the Old Testament be read aloud to children. She advised us not to use a paraphrase text and she suggested the child's Bible lessons should help them realize that knowledge of God is principle knowledge and, therefore, that their Bible lessons are their chief lessons.

Charlotte wrote we should read a few verses, covering an episode in one sitting. Then require the children of age six years and over to narrate. She also said Bible memorization and recitation should begin around age 6-7.

Of all his early studies, perhaps none is more important to the child as a means of education than that of arithmetic. (p. 253-254)
I remember back when I first read this quote from Charlotte. I was extremely overwhelmed with math teaching at that time and went in search of a better means to my madness. Initially, I was not comforted in the least by her statement. However, after years of math research, then reading and re-reading these words, I am only now beginning to understand what Charlotte meant by that statement. First, let's look at what follows the above sentence...
That he should do sums is of comparatively small importance; but the use of those functions which 'summing' calls into play is a great part of education; so much that the advocates of mathematics and of language as instruments of education have, until recently, divided the field pretty equally between them.
The practical value of arithmetic to persons of every class goes without remark. But the use of the study in practical life is the least of its uses. The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training  it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, intellectual truthfulness it engenders. (p. 254 - bold mine)
Arithmetic is a means to truth. There is a right and wrong answer. Arithmetic, like mathematics, requires diligence. It depends upon the habits of attention and accuracy. As we read further into this section, we can see that Charlotte is not focused on drilling tables, when speaking of arithmetic. Instead, she's using it as a base for problem solving. She's concerned herself with mathematical reasoning. Further on, she writes...
Engage the child upon little problems within his comprehension from the first, rather than upon set sums....the child perceives what rules he must apply to get the required information....Care must be taken to give the child such problems as he can work, but yet which are difficult enough to cause him some little mental effort. (p. 254-255)
In arithmetic, strategies were taught and problems were given. The teacher was to then step aside and let the child work through the rules to find the answer. When instructing this way, Charlotte taught the why behind the how.

Manipulatives such as beans or buttons were always available and used. Again, pencil/paper wasn't introduced until much later in the process, once children understood the concepts or the why behind the problems. When the child began to think in terms of numbers rather than objects, they were ready to move on and begin mathematics.

Whether you're just beginning to home educate young children, are struggling with math, or want to try a new approach, I highly recommend reading pages 253-264 in Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason, of which, you can find online at Ambleside Online by scrolling through this section. Read it slowly and carefully. Then you may even consider re-reading. There is much wisdom there. Another wonderful resource for math education is Mathematics: An Instrument for Teaching by Richele Baburina and Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason.

In case you are wondering, Part V of Home Education shows Lessons as Instruments of Education broke down by subject that support Charlotte's philosophy in teaching young children. I intend to write at least one more post regarding Part V of Home Education in the near future. The next of which will cover natural philosophy, geography, and history.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table...

I recently finished reading King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green aloud to Ruben. Riley read it as well as part of her Beautiful Feet Intermediate Medieval History study. The BF guide suggests reading selected stories. However, Riley and I decided she would read the book in its entirety, as did Ruben and I.

I have heard of King Arthur in the past, but never read his tales until now. King Arthur is a legendary British leader, who according to medieval sources, defended Britain against the Saxons in medieval England. The tales of King Arthur are thought to be mainly composed of folklore and legend, as their authenticity has been disputed by historians throughout the ages. However, these narratives continue to shape literature, history, and cultural values of Europe and Western Civilization today.

According to the Beautiful Feet Medieval History guide...
King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table relates the story of the establishment of a code of chivalry that still influences British law and customs. The stories are an interesting mix of Christian references and pagan lore. Magic coincides with biblical stories, showing how European tribes mixed their ancient pagan beliefs with the newly arrived Christian faith. Nowadays we think of magic in terms of tricks and illusions. But in the days of Arthur people used it to explain things they did not understand. It also helped people distinguish good from evil - the dark arts were something to be feared and avoided at all costs. As you'll see in these stories, the element of magic is used to warn people of the dangers of evil and encourage right action. Good magic is often explained in terms of generosity, humility, courage, or honesty; whereas bad magic, or the dark arts, cause treachery, pride, greed, anger, murder, lust, and other moral failings. (p. 4)
In Book One, The Coming of Arthur, we learn of Arthur's beginning. He is an orphan of sorts, who is taken away by the wizard Merlin and raised by Sir Ector. At a time when the Saxons were taking over Britain, there was a gathering of knights in London, on Christmas Day. The Archbishop was performing a service in the abbey for these knights, when a "great square slab of marblestone" appeared in the churchyard. On the stone was "an anvil of iron, and set point downwards a great, shining sword of steel thrust deeply into the anvil." 

When the service ended, all went out to look at it. In gold letters on the great stone, was written:
Of course, all the men gathered tried to pull out the sword with none able. Therefore, a tournament was set for New Year's Day so that more could gather and try their hand at the sword to see who would be the king. No one was able to pull the sword, until Arthur tried and was successful. From there, he was crowned King Arthur.

The tales that follow tell the story of King Arthur's life, including how he gathered his knights of the Round Table. A physically round table so that there was no head and all would be equal. On the first day of the Round Table, the Order of Chivalry is laid down. It's a beautiful code, whereupon, each knight must return on the feast of Pentecost to swear the oath anew.

As the legends progress, there is much honor, courage and humility. As evil presents, we see the negative effects and how good overcomes. However, in the end when King Arthur and one of his knights succumb to their human desires rather than upholding the Code, we see the demise of the entire court. All is lost for lust.

Quite honestly, initially, I wasn't completely enthralled in King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. However, Book Four, clinched it. Once we finished, I totally saw the value in reading it. King Arthur's legend is a beautiful story of good vs. evil. It exemplifies character traits like courage, loyalty, and trust, as well as showing the negative side of war, revenge, greed, and lust.

Now that we've read Green's version, which I would liken to a beginner edition, I'd like to go back some day and read other versions, such as Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur or Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King. We started Idylls and The Once and Future King by T.H. White in Term One, but became bogged down for lack of understanding, and so quit. Green's narratives gave us a good base for understanding so we now have a foundation to build on in future years.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reflecting On My 2017 Literary Accomplishments...

I've been looking back at the books I read in 2017. Most of my reading was books read aloud to the kids for academic purposes. I did manage a couple for Mother Culture, but not as many as I'd hoped. However, this seems to be a reoccurring theme over the past few years as it's the season I'm in. I am learning to adjust my reading habits and savor the slow reads. Here are the books I read in 2017....

School Reading

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Julius Caesar by Shakespeare
Alexander the Great by John Gunther
The Story of the Ancient World by H.A. Guerber, reprinted Christine Miller
Genesis: Finding Our Roots by Ruth Beechick
D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire
The Golden Days of Greece by Olivia Coolidge
The Trojan War by Olivia Coolidge
Cleopatra by Diane Stanley
Augustus Caesar's World by Genevieve Foster
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
City by David Macaulay
Birds of the Air by Arabella Buckley
Plant Life in Field and Garden by Arabella Buckley
Galen and the Gateway to Medicine by Jeanne Bendick
An Illustrated Adventure in Human Anatomy by Kate Sweeney
Exploring the History of Medicine by John Hudson Tiner
How To Be Your Own Selfish Pig by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard Maybury
Beowulf by Micheal Morpurgo
One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine McCaughrean
King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli
The Pied Piper of Hamlin by Robert Browning
Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle
Magna Carta by C. W. Hodges

Mother Culture

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Consider This by Karen Glass
Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins
Home Education, Vol. 1 by Charlotte Mason - Though I read the majority in 2017, this will carry over to 2018

In addition, I read a passel of picture books throughout the year.

Overall, I enjoyed all of the Mother Culture titles immensely. My top five School Reading books were, in no particular order, Oliver Twist, Augustus Caesar's World, The Bronze Bow, Beowulf, and Black Fox of Lorne. I was a little disappointed with Genesis: Finding Our Roots. I'm a huge Ruth Beechick fan and had been looking forward to reading this book for some time. Though there were some interesting facts, the book felt long and drawn out. It wasn't as living as I expected. All in all, it was a good year. I look forward to the possibility of more Mother Culture in 2018!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fall 2017-2018 - Term One Wrap-Up...

We finished Term One of the 2017-2018 academic year a few weeks back. Today, I'm going to share some thoughts as to how we fared.

Year 8

Bible - Riley's working through AO's Year 7 Bible Reading Plan. She also continues to copy the Book of Psalms using Do You Journible? This seems to be a good pairing for her.

History - Riley's been diligently working independently on her Intermediate Beautiful Feet Medieval History study. I posted a review of her first term with that program here. In addition, she's been reading The Story of the Middle Ages by H. A. Guerber and In the Days of Alfred the Great by Eva March Tappan. Both of which are going well. The second of which, she writes a narration after each reading. She's also keeping a Book of Centuries.

Literature - Riley started the year reading the following lit books:

The History of English Literature for Boys and Girls by H. E. Marshall
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

I am reading along with her independently so we are able to have discussion. Approximately four weeks into the term, around chapter nine, we mutually decided to scrap The Once and Future King. Neither of us were enjoying it and it seemed like overkill with our other King Arthur readings. We are continuing the other three books much to our delight.

Poetry - Riley read 2-3 poems per week from The Oxford Book of English Verse by Arthur Quiller-Couch. She then translated one poem per week of her choice into modern English. This was a difficult exercise in the start, but became much easier as the term went on. She will study a different poet in the second term.

Grammar - Last year, Riley picked up Easy Grammar 8 from our shelf, after Jensen's Grammar failed. She's continuing it this year until it's finished.

Spelling - Riley's continuing with IEW Phonetic Zoo. I am noticing correctly spelled words carrying over into her narrations!

Penmanship - Riley enjoyed Prescripts by Classical Conversations last year so she is completing another book this year on Poetry. The books offer a combination of cursive and drawing, both of which are lovely.

Math - Riley is taking Pre-Algebra online with Jann Perkins through My Homeschool Math Class. This is a win-win for both of us!! I can't tell you what a relief it is not to have tears and a battle over math. Riley has really taken the bull by the horns and is doing great with this online class.

Natural History - Riley's using AO Year 7 science this year. She has read and notebooked through the following books this term:

The Lay of the Land by Dallas Lore Sharp
Eric Sloane's Weather Book by Eric Sloane
Secrets of the Universe: Discovering the Universal Laws of Science by Paul Fleisher
The Wonder Book of Chemistry by Jean Henri Fabre
First Studies of Plant Life by George Francis Atkinson
Adventures with a Microscope by Richard Headstrom
Signs and Seasons: Understanding the Elements of Classical Astronomy by Jay Ryan and accompanying Field Journal
Great Astronomers by R.S. Ball

Riley's really enjoying Lay of the Land and Adventures with a Microscope. Signs and Seasons has been somewhat of a bust. She started the year by reading it aloud to Ruben and working jointly. However, that didn't go over as well as I'd hoped so she is now working independently, albeit, very loosely from the plan. I think if we are to use that book in earnest, I would need to take the lead, but I just haven't found time. It may very well be a title we set aside for now. 

Handicrafts - Riley is knitting a scarf. 

Year 7

Bible - Ruben's working through AO's Year 6 Bible Reading Plan. In addition, I have him copying random passages from Proverbs. 

History - I settled on reading Famous Men of the Middle Ages aloud to Ruben this term. I read a chapter each Monday and Wednesday. He then notebooks a page each Tuesday and Thursday. This seems to be a good fit for him. He is also listening independently to What in the World?, Vol. 2 by Diana Waring. You can read more about Ruben's history study here

Literature - Ruben's literature works in conjunction with his history study. We read the following books in Term One:

The Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli

All of which were hits. The Black Fox of Lorne, I ended up reading aloud in the evenings to the entire family. It's a fabulous book if you can get your hands on a copy!

Ruben is also reading Watership Down by Richard Adams and Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott along with Riley and I. 

Penmanship - In addition to Ruben's Bible copy work, he's also working through Let's Write and Spell by Mary R. Johnson and Warren T. Johnson two days per week. 

Composition - Ruben's using IEW's Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons this year. He worked through the first eleven lessons in Term One. I'll be doing a separate post on the status of this program.

Natural History - Ruben read Whitetail and Major: The Story of a Black Bear, both by Robert McClung, which he greatly enjoyed. He tried Secrets of the Woods and School of the Woods, both by Long unsuccessfully. As noted above, Signs and Seasons didn't work for him either. We're still working through how to go about science for the second term. 

Math - We began term one, with Strayer-Upton Primary Arithmetics. Then switched to RightStart Mathematics the last week of the term. Given the games, I think RS is a better fit. We'll see how Ruben progresses in the second term. 

Life Skills - Ruben learned how to run the chain saw this fall. 

Morning Time

I posted a 6-week reflection on our Morning Time here. We are still progressing and nothing has changed since that time.


I haven't done much in the way of formal lessons with Levi up to this point. Most days, he listens in on Morning Time. We've read picture books, harvested the garden, picked apples, baked pies, canned, and made sauerkraut. He began writing his name and a few random letters. We worked on memorizing The Pledge of Allegiance and the 4-H Pledge, as he's a Cloverbud this year. We've looked at various art prints and listened to a few classical music pieces. I did start reading Egermeier's Bible Story Book aloud to him. He also has a coloring book with Bible story pictures that he likes to color while I read. We've went on nature walks and he participated in a local Kitchen Chemistry Class, where he learned about cohesion/adhesion, physical/chemical change, acids/bases, and density through a variety of hands on activities and experiments. He might tell you this was the highlight of his term. Overall, his first term of Kindergarten has been pretty relaxed as far as formal academics are concerned. 

There you have it!...Our first term reflections. Truth be told, I've been feeling very guilty about Levi's education or the lack thereof. It seems I did so much more with the older kids when they were his age. However, in putting together this post, I was reminded of all the wonderful hands on activities he's participated in over the past twelve weeks. The photos show just a smattering of the totality. What seemed lost in the day to day, turned into a beautiful collage of living and learning experiences. I have come to see, this post has a whole lot of God's grace written all over it! 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas 2017 Reflections...

We've been singing a new carol weekly throughout this Advent season and reciting Christmas poetry. The presents are wrapped and the cookies are baked. As we wait in anticipation for the coming of the Christ child, I'd like to share reflections our children sent to family and friends in this year's Christmas letter...

By: Levi
     I’m in Kindergarten this year and loving it! I participated in a 4-week science class where we learned kitchen chemistry. I like helping dad, Ruben, and Uncle Roger around the farm. This summer, I picked rock. I’ve also been feeding the cattle and getting wood. I like helping Riley and mom cook and bake too. This fall, I made apple and pumpkin pies. I just lost my two bottom front teeth. I hope new ones grow back. I really like our dogs. Their names are Elsa and Anna. And, I like to read books!

By: Ruben
     This year, I participated in archery, air rifle, and trap shooting through 4-H and received several awards. I’m in 7th grade. I work around the farm with dad and work off the farm helping neighbors. I enjoy fixing cars and 4-wheelers. I also love to hunt and fish. I would rather be outdoors than in. I went to Louisville, KY in January with my mom for a [CiRCE] conference. I saw the giant Louisville Slugger bat.

By: Riley
     I’m in 8th grade. This year, I played softball and shot archery. I entered some art work in the fair through 4-H for the first time and I received two blue ribbons. I have several jobs outside our home, including: rag weeding, babysitting, and house cleaning. I also help around the farm making wood, picking rock, and haying. I enjoy baking, watching the Packers, being outside, reading, and playing with my brothers. One of my favorite adventures this year was fishing and kayaking on Chequamegon Bay. 

May you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Healthy New Year!
Steve, Melissa, Riley, Ruben, and Levi

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Twenty-Five Christmas Picture Books....

I've posted Christmas picture books in the past, but it seems each year, we discover more. There may be a few duplicates from last year's list, but many are new to us. Here's this year's line-up:

From the Public Library

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
The Christmas Deer by April Wilson
Apple Tree Christmas by Tinka Hakes Noble
Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray
Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins
Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki
The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco
We Three Kings by Gennady Spirin
An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco
The Carpenter's Gift by David Rubel

From Our Home Library

Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown
On This Special Night by Claire Freedman
The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes
The Nutcracker by Warren Chappell
The Twelve Days of Christmas by Hilary Knight
Christmas in the Stable by Astrid Lindgren
The Christmas Sky by Frankly M. Branley
My Prairie Christmas by Brett Harvey
The City That Forgot About Christmas by Mary Warren
The Very First Christmas by Paul L. Maier
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen
The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke - some may not consider a picture book

Monday, December 18, 2017

One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by McCaughrean...

One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine McCaughrean  is a fresh retelling of King Shahryar's quest for love. When his first wife abandons him for another, he vows to kill each new wife before they can leave him too. After three years of killing a new bride everyday, the supply of young eligible maiden's in his kingdom is running low. In an effort to protect her, King Shahryar's trusted adviser, keeps his own daughter, Shahrazad, a secret. Eventually, she is found out and her time comes to marry the King. However, Shahrazad concocts a clever plan to tell the King a story every night before bed to spare her life. Her stories are so wonderful and exciting that the King must keep her alive until the next night to continue. This goes on for one thousand and one nights until Shahrazad tires and can no longer tell her tales. Will the King take Shahrazad's life? You must read this enchanting adventure to find out for yourself.

McCaughrean's One Thousand and One Arabian Nights is a part of the Beautiful Feet Intermediate Medieval History study. Only select chapters are assigned in their guide. However, you can certainly read more if you so choose. Ruben really enjoyed the tales I read aloud. I absolutely adored the beautiful ending, which made me want to go back some day and read the stories we missed.

Overall, I think McCaughrean's retelling is great for getting acquainted with these classic tales. They may not be as in depth as other translations, but certainly suitable for middle school or anyone looking to get a basic understanding for historical relevance.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Reflections on Home Education - Part V, Post 2 - Teaching Reading

Continuing on with Part V of Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason, let's take a look at what Charlotte says about teaching reading. You may go back and read Post 1, from Part V, on Kindergarten here.

To begin, Charlotte suggests the importance of learning to read, but acknowledges the opportune time to teach reading is an open mystery...
Reading presents itself first amongst the lessons to be used as instruments of education although it is open to discussion whether the child should acquire the art unconsciously, from his infancy upwards, or whether the effort should be deferred until he is, say, six or seven, and then made with vigour. (p. 199)
That first line above is of uber importance. "Reading presents itself first amongst the lessons to be used as instruments of education." Charlotte states the significant impact reading has on learning, suggesting that it's the number one tool or means of education. One must be able to read or to listen to the word in order to interpret knowledge. Now, this is not to say reading is the end all, be all. However, it is of highest importance in Charlotte's philosophy. The exact time of when this must begin is open ended because exactly how and when a child learns to read is unknown. What or when is that exact moment when one becomes cognizant of their ability to read? Does reading begin with spoken word or written word?
Many persons consider that to learn to read a language so full of anomalies and difficulties as our own is a task which should not be imposed too soon on the childish mind. But, as a matter of fact, few of us can recollect how or when we learned to read: for all we know, it came by nature, like the art of running; and not only so, but often mothers of the educated classes do not know how their children learned to read. 'Oh, he taught himself,' is all the account his mother can give of little Dick's proficiency. Whereby it is plain, that his notion of the extreme difficulty of learning to read is begotten by the elders rather than by the children.  (p. 200)
Charlotte even goes so far as to say that if tears are shed over a reading lesson, the fault rests with the teacher.  Rather than include a great amount of commentary and debate about the advent of reading here, I'm going to focus on notes and observations I made while reading each specific section on teaching reading. Keep in mind, Home Education is for the training and educating of children under age nine.

The Alphabet
As for his letters, the child usually teaches himself. (p. 201)
Apparently, it was expected that each child had a box of ivory letters and whenever that box began to interest the child is when reading instruction was to begin.
...learning of the alphabet should be made a means of cultivating the child's observations: he should be made to see what he looks at." (p. 201)
The teacher would trace the letters in the air and use a sand tray, in which the student would write letters.
There is no occasion to hurry the child. (p. 201)

Short vowel "a" with a consonant such as "t" forms the syllable "at", of which many other consonants can be put in front to form words like fat, cat, sat, bat, rat, etc. Charlotte reminds us to keep these exercises light and pleasant.
Exercises treated as a game, which yet teach the powers of the letters, will be better to begin with than actual sentences. (p. 202)
Let the syllables all be actual words which he knows. (p. 202)
Begin with short vowels and consonants making short three letter words. When the child is comfortable with this exercise and doing the lesson for himself, it's time to move on. Again, Charlotte reminds us not to hurry the child. However, I am under the impression that the alphabet and word making exercises could begin informally at a preschool age.

Word-making with Long Vowels, etc.

When short vowel lessons become so easy that it is no longer interesting, let the long sounds of the vowels be learnt in the same way. Charlotte advocates using the same method as listed above, but now adding a final "e" to the words, turning rat into rate and pat into pate. Be sure the child pronounces each word they make to take advantage of the full multi-sensory experience. (ex. moving letters - kinesthetic; reading word - visual; hearing/saying word aloud - auditory)
This is not reading, but it is preparing the ground for reading; words will be no longer unfamiliar, perplexing objects, when the child meets with them in a line of print. (p. 203)
Early Spelling
Accustom him from the first to shut his eyes and spell the word he has made. This is important. Reading is not spelling, nor is it necessary to spell in order to read well; but the good speller is the child whose eye is quick enough to take in the letters which compose it, in the act of reading off a word; and this is a habit to be acquired from the first: accustom him to see the letters in the word, and he will do so without effort. (p. 203)
Unfortunately, all English words aren't made by the same patterns...
But many of our English words are, each, a law unto itself: there is nothing for it, but the child must learn to know them at sight:... (p. 203)
Charlotte recognizes sight words and suggests this idea of learning to see the letters in each word as a way to read and spell these non-traditional words. Words like: the, I, for, said, and was, need to be memorized or visualized in the mind's eye. Again, Charlotte suggests making lessons interesting and keeping them light to engage the child.

Reading at Sight
The teacher must be content to proceed very slowly, securing the ground under her feet as she goes. (p. 204)
Charlotte uses Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in her example of teaching reading. She advises to make sure the child can read each word independently before allowing him to read it all at once.

The Reading of Prose

Charlotte continued citing her reading example from Twinkle,Twinkle..., suggesting the use of prose and poetry to teach reading right from the start, saying...
At this stage, his reading lessons must advance so slowly that he may just as well learn his reading exercises, both prose and poetry, as recitation lesson..... Even for their earliest reading lessons, it is unnecessary to put twaddle into the hands of children. (p. 204-205)
Careful Pronunciation
...another advantage of slow and steady progress - the saying of each word receives due attention, and the child is trained in the habit of careful enunciation. (p. 206)
A Year's Work

Charlotte continues to adamantly advise slow, unhurried lessons, suggesting mastery as the key to keeping the child's interest and desire for continued progress.

Ordinary Method

Charlotte suggests that other teaching methods bore children. Stating, it is likely the child will learn to read eventually, but most likely they will have a distaste for it.

Based on sample lessons as presented in sections above, it appears as though any type of phonics instruction could be considered pre-reading instruction. Once the child understood the alphabet as symbols with meaning, the teacher would introduce a few word families through word building exercises. From there, the child was presented a nursery rhyme, in which he/she could recognize a few words maybe based on the word family exercises. The child was then taught words in the rhyme by memorizing a visual picture of the word. Charlotte felt that teaching phonics or teaching reading on the sounds of the letters only hindered the child by causing mental confusion from analytic labour. Instead, she taught the whole word so the child could see the meaning and beauty of it as a whole, rather than its parts. It's almost as if she taught whole to part, instead of typical phonics instruction of part to whole. I would say Charlotte was fond of what we now call the Look/Say Method or Whole Language Method.
What we want is a bridge between the child's natural interests and those arbitrary symbols with which he must become acquainted, and which, as we have seen, are words, and not letters. (p. 216)
For more information or a curriculum on using Charlotte's methods of teaching reading, Simply Charlotte Mason has published Delightful Reading and Jennifer at Joyful Shepherdess created a series of blog posts.

In the next section of this part, The First Reading Lesson, Charlotte quotes two papers, which appeared in the Parents' Review, in an effort to make the reading lesson teaching method more clear. It's as though two mothers are discussing a reading lesson. In her example, Charlotte says, "spelling and reading are two things." and that a child must learn spelling in order to write. Based on her explanation, I feel as though Charlotte is likening spelling more to phonics, giving reading it's own rite. She advises beginning a new study on the child's birthday as if it's a privilege or a coming of age adventure.

In the footnotes, Charlotte writes,
Spirited nursery rhymes form the best material for such reading lessons. (p. 222)
- and -
It is desirable that 'Tommy' should not begin to 'read' until his intelligence is equal to the effort required by these lessons. (p. 222) 
Recitation and Memorization

Next, Charlotte touches on recitation and memorization, stating that the two are not necessarily the same thing. She cites Arthur Burrell's work, Recitation: The Children's Art as the best way to teach recitation. In regard to memorization, she recommends storing the child's memory with a good deal of poetry, but without labor. Charlotte gives two examples to support her method. One of which of a little girl learning a poem simply from hearing it at various times throughout the day, in play, while brushing her hair, etc. One day, the child was suddenly able to recall it with ease. The second was of a convalescent woman reading while bed ridden. She too was able to remember sections of the work after one reading because her mind was allowed focus with no preoccupation. To this Charlotte writes...
It is possible that the disengaged mind of a child is as free to take and as strong to hold beautiful images clothed in beautiful words as was that of this lady during her convalescence. But, let me again say, every effort of the kind, however unconscious, means wear and tear of brain substance. Let the child lie fallow till he is six, and then, in this matter of memorising, as in others, attempt only a little, and let the poems the child learns be simple and within the range of his own thought and imagination. At the same time, when there is so much noble poetry within a child's compass, the pity of it, that he should be allowed to learn twaddle! (p. 226)
Reading for Older Children
The child who has been taught to read with care and deliberation until he has mastered the words of a limited vocabulary, usually does the rest for himself. The attention of his teachers should be fixed on two points - that he acquired the habit of reading, and that he does not fall into slipshod habits of reading. (p. 226)
Charlotte recommends the child reading for themselves to themselves as soon as they are able. Also, the child should be trained from the start to narrate each reading after a single reading, as this will encourage the child in the habit of attention. The child's books should consist of history, legends, and fairy tales. He should also have practice in reading aloud, particularly poetry. Lesson books must not be twaddle.
A child has not begun his education until he has acquired the habit of reading to himself, with interest and pleasure, books fully on a level with his intelligence. (p. 229)
Charlotte further suggests, once a child can read independently, reading aloud to them only at bedtime or on special occasion as a treat. Her thought was if the child becomes dependent on someone reading aloud to them, they would become lazy in their reading and not want to do it for themselves.

Direct questioning about the reading and vocabulary quizzing should not be allowed. Instead, the child should narrate each passage to show understanding. At this age, narrations should all be oral, no written. In regard to vocabulary, a child gets the meaning of a word only in the context of reading, not by quizzing according to Charlotte.

Short lessons are the key to perfect attention. Also, as stated above, the teacher must require proper enunciation from the start.
Provincial pronunciation and slipshod enunciation must be guarded against. (p. 230)
There you have an outline of Charlotte's ideas for teaching reading. Again, please don't take my word as the final authority. Go and read her writing for yourself. Then come back. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to share in the comments below.

After the New Year, I plan to continue with Post 3 of Part V, covering Narration, Writing/Composition, Bible Lessons, and Arithmetic teaching for children under age nine.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Journey: An Education for Life 2017 Audios Now Available...

Journey: An Education for Life 2017 audios are now available for purchase! Your purchase includes a digital download of the following talks:

Is a Charlotte Mason Inspired Education Relevant Today?: (Melissa Greene) The keynote will include a brief introduction to Charlotte Mason. There will be highlights of several key principles of Mason’s philosophy as well as what a Charlotte Mason education is not. The talk will close with thoughts to ponder on whether or not a Charlotte Mason inspired education is relevant today.

Reflections on a Charlotte Mason Inspired Education: (Gretchen Houchin) Encouragement from a retired homeschool mom with practical examples of what worked and what didn’t. The focus will be on high school and older students, but will blend with methods used in the younger years to build the foundation for the upper.

Teaching Through Literature and Living Books: (Melissa Greene) Description and examples of living books, along with practical application on how to use them in your homeschool to cover a variety of subjects. Talk will also include ideas on how to use the methods that underlie Charlotte Mason’s principles with traditional and struggling learners. Book lists and suggestions will be shared.

Charlotte Mason in Real Life: Courage for the Long Haul: (Cindy Rollins) Find joy in the realities of homeschooling when the romance fades. Thoughts from a veteran mama of nine on what truth, goodness, and beauty look like in real life. Strategies will be given for the long haul.

Price: $35

Be sure to include your e-mail address with payment, as this is where the audios will be sent. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo...

Micheal Morpurgo's Beowulf is a wonderful retelling of this Old English epic. I first became aware of it through Beautiful Feet Books. It is included in their Intermediate Medieval History guide, which we are working through this year.

Morpurgo's Beowulf is easy to read and understand, yet doesn't dumb down the tale of the noble Scandinavian warrior. In his acknowledgement at the back of the book, Morpurgo gives credit for his understanding of the epic to Seamus Heaney, Rosemary Sutcliff, Kevin Crossley-Holland, and Micheal Alexander. The suggested reading level is ages 8-12, making it a very accessible retelling.

The story is written in three parts. First, Beowulf must conquer Grendel, a monster who consistently attacks the Danes. Then he must face Grendel's mother, the Sea-Hag, who comes to avenge her son's death. Many years later, after becoming King of the Geats, Beowulf decides to fight the Death-Dragon of the Deep in an effort to save his people. The dragon, who'd been asleep for over three hundred years, was awakened by a slave trying to steal a jeweled cup from his lair and has been blowing fire, burning the Geats' homes and land. I will not spoil the ending.

Beowulf is a classic good versus evil tale. It put me in mind of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Beowulf is a leader of incredible character. His strength, nobility, and virtue shine throughout the story. I highly recommend Morpurgo's retelling, particularly for 4th-8th grade or anyone looking to get a general handle on this epic. It has totally set the stage for Heaney's Beowulf, which I look forward to reading in the future.