Monday, March 26, 2012

How We Do Nature Study

I find it rather interesting that despite the fact that we are currently living in the most URBAN setting we have ever lived in (in a fourth story apartment right in the middle of the downtown area of a small-mediumish French city), we have also been having the most fun and most success with our times of nature study.  I am finding that nature study doesn't have to be complicated - I think part of my problem in the past was that I overcomplicated things and tried to make our times of nature study into a big, detailed event that was too hard to keep up from week to week.   Simplicity is key, I think.   Simply taking the time to notice what is happening around us.

If you are like me (grew up city-girl through and through so I really don't have much nature knowledge), sometimes you need a little inspiration.  We usually have a nature-themed read aloud going as part of our school time - currently Outdoor Secrets.    We read about catkins a couple weeks ago and the very next day happened to see some on a bush while we were out and about!   I am also really liking following along with the challenges on the Handbook of Nature Study blog.   Barb provides ideas that can be as simple or as detailed as you'd like them to be depending on the interest and ages of your children.  She often provides links to YouTube videos and other info if you want more details, and if you purchase her ebooks there are heaps of recording sheets as well.  Fun stuff.

By way of are a couple of the studies we have done recently:

We purchased a couple of pansies from our local market and took time to look carefully at them.  Can you find the little face?  Michelle then used the prompts from the notebooking sheet that came with our ebook to write a simple poem about pansies (she dictated it to me, then copied into her nature journal in her own handwriting):
Happy Pansy
Happy Green and Curly Leaves
2 Petals for the forehead, 2 for the cheeks, 1 for the chin
Blooming, Jumping Petals

Yesterday, we took a Sunday-afternoon walk through our city and noticed some of the signs of spring.  Europe was in the midst of a deep-freeze when we arrived here, so there has been a definite transformation!  Some of the things we observed:
The tree outside our window is in bloom and if you look really carefully you can spot a couple of birds...
Probably just sparrows, but the first birds we've seen AT ALL except for pigeons since we've been here, so it was exciting to us.

The planters along the sidewalks around town were planted with purple and white kale when we arrived (I wish I had a picture...not something I've seen before!), but have recently been replanted with beautifully colored flowers:

Including some surprises yet to bloom....something to check back for to discover what they are:

We recorded everything on the notebooking page that came with the free March newsletter and pasted into the book we are making about our Year in France:

So that's what we do!  Simple!  The kids are getting a wonderful introduction to the natural world around them and gaining skills in observations and making connections that will serve them well as they move into more formal science study.   Perhaps most importantly taking time to notice God's creation around us...even in the city...has brought much joy to our busy days.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Daybook: The "It's so nice to be able to open the window" edition

Outside my window... Oh yes, sunshine.  And 70 degrees.  Spring has come to France...and I am so, so excited to see it.
The tree we've been watching from our window is in bloom!

::Listening to... The general hubub of people noise down in the street below our house.  We don't get a lot of vehicle traffic down here - our street is a market plaza and mostly closed to vehicles, but there are heaps of shops and cafes.  Now that the weather has gotten so nice, there's a lot of people out there.  Great place for people watching.

::Giving thanks for... Sunshine.  Fellowship.  The fact that we can go online and listen to English sermons from our choice of supporting churches back in the States. (This week was C4TB - thanks y'all for the encouragement.) And the fact that a lady I met in the elevator this week told me that my French really wasn't bad for an American.  That's progress, folks.
::Pondering... The last couple of weeks have been up and down - more down than up to be honest.  The 'wow, we're living in Europe' honeymoon has ended and we are now fully aware just how big of a task we are facing in the months ahead - becoming proficient in a none-too-simple foreign language while juggling all the regular demands of a family with 3 young children.  It was at once such moment in the past couple of weeks that these words of Scripture jumped off the page at me (sorry I don't have the reference handy): You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because He trusts in you...  It is easy to let my mind wander and fix itself on the obstacles, the difficulties, the things I don't like about our life right now.   But He has promised perfect peace to those who fix their minds on Him.  He is the one who can carry our burdens and infuse us with new grace and new strength for each moment.

::Living the Educational Life... Other than having to take a couple days off because various family members have been sick, school with Michelle is plugging along well.  We have one more week in this 4 week term, and then I'll get a more detailed update together for you.  Our biggest news on that front is that we decided to switch to a new math curriculum - Math U See.  While she's been doing fine for the most part in math, I wasn't crazy about the way the concepts were presented in the curriculum we were using and found that I was having to tweak and supplement with games and other hands-on activities more than I really wanted.  It was working for now, but I wasn't seeing it working for us in the long term. Because Math U See follows a very different scope-and-sequence I figured it was better to switch her over sooner rather than later so we wouldn't have to do too much backtracking.  Our box of goodies came in the mail Friday and Michelle was so excited that we broke down and did the first lesson on Saturday!  Good stuff, I tell ya.

::Preparing in the Kitchen... Honestly...nothing but the basics these days.  I cooked with eggplant (widely available here) for the first time, if that is exciting in the least to anyone.  We were asked the last time we Skyped with family if we were cooking a lot of French food, but really we aren't eating all that differently than we normally do anywhere else.  Unless you count eating bread for every meal...
A ginormous (kilo-size) loaf of bread...for those who just can't get enough bread, I guess.

::Following These Links...  Ooh, I've read some good ones lately: Praying for your kids more, the elusive balance between grace and discipline, and this kick-off to the latest series from the folks at SCM on the growth that is taking place even when you can't see it...

::Turning Pages... I've been reading the book Leadership Education by Oliver and Rachel DeMille over the past couple of weeks.   While I definetely agree with some of the points they bring up, I'm finding myself disagreeing with a lot as well.  (In other words, I'm not going to abandon our Charlotte Mason philosophy anytime soon.)  That said, I do appreciate their perspective that less is more in the early years.  They make the point that our modern education system kind of has everything all backwards in that we push young children too hard, too soon (academically speaking), and then expect far too little out of our teenagers who are more developmentally ready to take on more serious academic study.  While I can't say I agree with the way they say this should be carried out, it reaffirmed to me that the gentle, slow-but-steady progress approach to academics we are taking at the moment is the right way to go.

::Finding Rhythm... Quoted from my last Daybook post: The first week of this new schedule has been...well...different. I had kind of hoped that only having class 3 times a week this month would mean I had more time, but it sure didn't feel like it. Maybe this coming week? Or maybe I just need to accept the fact that spare time is just gonna be a rare commodity this year. Ha, ha, ha. Um, now 3 weeks into this new schedule...still haven't found that extra time and still haven't found much of a rhythm.  One of our missionary colleagues here recently posted on her blog about some of their reflections on the past year and likened the first 6 months they were living here in France to living in a blender.   We're definetely still in the blender! 

::Finding joy in... The arrival of spring - new growth, new splashes of color as flowers open.  I think I've had enough of winter to last me for the next 4 or so years, but I will miss the transitions of spring and fall once we return to the land of eternal summer.
::Kiddos this week... Miss Elizabeth turned 2!  I still can't hardly believe it.  She is our precious, way-over-the-top-cute little firecracker.

::Praying... For wisdom in evaluating my priorities and using my time well, and senstivity to the Lord's guidance as I go through each day. And that we will be able to make some French friends, so we will have more opportunities to practice speaking French outside of our class times.

::Planning the week ahead... My school...Michelle's school...studying...feeding and clothing my family...oh, and going to the immigration office in a neighboring city to have our visas validated.  We sure know how to have fun around here, don't we?!  I don't know that it will happen this week, but now that the weather has improved we would like to start exploring what the city has to offer.

::Capturing a moment... Reading is serious business around here...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Mommy Brain + Language Learning Brain is a Bad Combo Edition

Outside my window... Sunshine.  Maybe just maybe spring has come?

::Listening to... Silence.  For a moment anyhow...

::Giving thanks for... A husband who is doing all of the house-cleaning chores so that I don't have to try to do it all while attending langauge school.  And kids who come jump into bed with me for snuggles in the morning. (Notice I said in the opposed to in the middle of the night.) And coffee.  And chocolate.

::Pondering... So, I admit it, I have no ponderings for you this week.  Life has been so full that the deepest thought I've had has been what math curriculum to use for Michelle.  And really, you don't want to know about that.  And then I read this article.  Ouch.  Hit the nail on the head.  I've been giving in to the temptation to sleep later and not start my day with the Lord.  No wonder I've been struggling: my soul needs that time to refresh.  Now, in this very busy, very demanding, very different season of life we are now in.  If you are reading this, pop me a note and hold me accountable to getting up just a wee bit earlier this week, would you?

::Living the Educational Life... Our first week back after our week off has been good.  I do enjoy spending 'school time' together with Michelle.  Thinking about possibly switching math curriculums...but not sure yet.  We shall see.   My language school is going well also - I was promoted into group 4 (out of 5) this month.  YIKES!  It is a little intimidating, and definetely a challenge, but in a good way.  I'm definetely learning things I didn't know before.  

::Preparing in the Kitchen... Spent a good time with friends yesterday learning useful skills for living in Africa - including canning soup, first aid, haircutting, and I taught a tutorial on no-knead bread.   Fun stuff.
No knead bread tutorial in my kitchen.
::Following These Links... The book lover in me has been enjoying exploring Redeemed Reader.  And I was also pleased to stumble across a CM homeschooling blog in French!  Yes!  Homework (reading in French) and fun all wrapped up in one tidy package!

::Turning Pages... Wow, I have had almost NO reading time this week. I did pick up a French cooking magazine because one of the cover articles was about the secrets of American goodies such as brownies and cupcakes.   I'm rather curious what the French have to say about that....but I haven't had time to read it yet.  Stay tuned...

::Finding Rhythm... The first week of this new schedule has been...well...different.  I had kind of hoped that only having class 3 times a week this month would mean I had more time, but it sure didn't feel like it.  Maybe this coming week?  Or maybe I just need to accept the fact that spare time is just gonna be a rare commodity this year.
::Kiddos this week... Michelle left this note to herself by the sink this week:
Translation: Wash dishes in the sink with a good attitude.
Something MUST be getting through!

::Praying... For wisdom in evaluating my priorities and using my time well, and senstivity to the Lord's guidance as I go through each day. And that we will be able to make some French friends, so we will have more opportunities to practice speaking French outside of our class times.

::Planning the week ahead... My school...Michelle's school...studying...feeding and clothing my family...and somewhere in there planning a little party for Miss Elizabeth who will be 2 next week.  Two!  How did THAT happen?

::Capturing a few moments...
What studying looks like at our house...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Daybook: Mama gets to be Mama ALL DAY today Edition

Outside my window... When we lived in PNG, I used to sometimes look around at the green hills that surrounded the valley where we lived and think "These hills are so beautiful they almost don't look real."   Today I'm having that same feeling about the snowy Alps outside our window here.  Quite the difference, huh?

::Listening to... Kids singing Alouette AGAIN.  What was I thinking when I got them that Songs in French CD?!

::Giving thanks for... A three day weekend.  Today (Monday) is the first day of a new month-long session at school and the morning is taken up by doing orientation and placement testing for any new students who have all of us returning students get the morning off.  There's some kind of workshop this afternoon that Dan is going to go to...but I'm not.  I get to stay home and be mama all day today. =)

::Pondering... A friend just posted this article on missionary burn-out to her Facebook page.  It is so true!  Having been on the edge of missionary burn-out ourselves and seen many others (including close friends) go over the edge, I can attest to the fact that it is essential to recognize when you need to stop and take a deep breath and figure out those things that feed your soul so you can pick up and keep going.   It is also essential to recognize that needing to take that deep breath doesn't make you a bad missionary either.  Being at this cross-cultural living thing for 10 years doesn't make it any less essential either.  A very timely reminder!
::Living the Educational Life... While reviewing our last 4-week school term, I came across the notes I had made when I read When Children Love to Learn. One of the the thoughts I had taken away from that book was (my paraphrase): 'The goal of a first grade classroom is to whet appetites so students will grow to love books and desire to feed themselves.' While over all I don't think I am expecting too much from Michelle as a first grader, I know that sometimes with specific readings I get a little exasperated if she tells me "she can't remember" this or that detail.  While obviously I want her to continue to expand her attention to detail, it is good to keep the big picture in mind.  The goal right now is to ensure that she loves learning. There will be ample time later on down the road to make sure she gets all the details of the life of Benjamin Franklin (or whatever) straight.

::Preparing in the Kitchen... So...I tried out a recipe for Sourdough Brownies.  Oh my.  Not sour at all - just moist, chocolately goodness.  Dan said that if I iced them, he would happily take a pan of them for his birthday cake.  I think I can oblige.  (I can't link you directly to the recipe because it was from the paid area of the GNOWFGLINS e-course...good stuff if you are interested in tutorials for nutritious food preparation methods.)

::Following These Links... Mostly I just spent to much time on Facebook last week. (I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.) But I finally figured out why I like Facebook so much.   I think it's because in a very small way it lets me gather all of the people who have been part of my life in all its various stages all together in one place. Since it's impossible to have that in real life (I think we have friends spread out over 5 continents and I don't even know how many States)...I'm glad that Facebook allows me to have a little taste of that this side of heaven.

::Turning Pages... I am trying to get into Elizabeth Gaskell's My Lady Ludlow but it's just not as good as her others.  (I recommend North and South or Wives and Daughters if you are interested in reading something by Gaskell.)  Also started reading Leadership Education - haven't gotten far enough into it to know how much I agree or disagree with their philosophy...but interesting so far.  That is if you are a nerd like me and like reading about educational philosophy just for fun.

::Finding Rhythm... Well, we had finally gotten into a fairly good rhythm...and now this evening we will get a new school schedule and get to start all over again!  Lucky us, huh?  No, I shouldn't complain.  I am grateful that we have a language school option with a flexible schedule so that we don't have to leave our Littles in the care of others too often during these formative years.
::Kiddos this week... Michelle is trying to teach James how to play Go Fish as we speak.  Elizabeth wants to play too, but it's not really working out for her.  Something about how she just scatters the cards all around...

::Praying... For wisdom in evaluating my priorities and using my time well, and senstivity to the Lord's guidance as I go through each day. And that we will be able to make some French friends, so we will have more opportunities to practice speaking French outside of our class times.

::Planning the week ahead... Hard to say until we get that new school schedule this evening...I expect a lot of plain ol' keeping on doing the next thing.

::Capturing a few moments...

...and now

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Our Off-Week Update

So...last week was our "off week" from school.   I'm thinking that I really, really like this 4 weeks on - 1 week off thing.

We had time to do a few fun things....
- Michelle and Papa have been observing the moon each night, so we watched a couple YouTube videos about the phases of the moon. (See the moon challenge at The Handbook of Nature Study.)
- I am not usually an artsy-mama AT ALL...but this week we did do a Monet-inspired art project.  Which was (considering it involved paint) not really all that messy.  Even Elizabeth got to play around with some watercolors while the big kids did their painting which she thought was just grand.  You can't leave this little one out of ANYTHING the big kids are doing.  They had a great time and have asked when they can paint again.  And given how totally NOT STRESSFUL this was for me...I just might let them have at it again soon. (But don't worry, I don't have any intention to turn into a crafty-mama anytime soon.)
- We FINALLY made it to the library so we were able to check out some French books - good practice for all of us, I hope.  The kids actually got cards in their own name since the kids cards are free (adult cards aren't - and we can't read in French above the children's level anyhow.)   They (James in particular) are totally enamored by the fact that they have real cards WITH THEIR NAMES ON THEM.  Ah, the little things.

I took some time to evaluate how our school year is going so far.  Overall, I'm really happy with how things are going and the materials we are using, and the progress Michelle is making.    During this week off, Michelle asked me "when we were going to read about Ponce de Leon again", which told me that she is making a good connection with the history stories we are reading.

A couple of things I'd like to change or improve in the next 4 weeks:
- We've been really consistent with doing nature observations - more so than any other time in our homeschooling experience - but not so much with reading nature stories.  I want to make sure we do this at least once a week.  I'm thinking we will start into the spring-related stories from Outdoor Secrets.
- I want to be more consistent recording Michelle's narrations, aiming for at least once a week.
- Michelle understands math concepts well but needs more practice to cement her fact memorization.  So, we are going to add in a daily math drill - combination of addition facts copywork, addition facts drill sheets, and games.  I'm thinking this will be something she can do independently as part of her "chores" to keep our math instruction block from getting too long.

- I also want to kick our French study up a notch.  I am scheduling in time for the kids to work with The Learnables software that we bought, and we may also try out these videos which have been suggested a couple of times over on the SCM Forum.  As noted above, we also now have access to French books and media at the library, so I also hope to add in at least 1 short French story to our normal read-aloud time each day.

Now that we've pretty well settled into a good school groove, I will try to do a post soon about what our daily school schedule looks like...that is when my school schedule allows. =)