Friday, June 29, 2012

Nature Study with Flowers - May and June 2012

I didn't really intentionally plan it this way, but the past couple of months our times of nature study have centered on flowers.   One thing I have noticed about the city in France where we are living is that they do really well keeping on the various flower beds in the parks and planters around town supplied with flowers as the seasons change.  They have changed several times as we've gone from winter to early spring to late spring and now to summer.  Perhaps that's why we are drawn to them.

A few of the flower-related activities we have done:

- Observed dandelions in all their stages of development.  I think dandelions abound everywhere, and my kids seem to particularly enjoy them.  I've seen some of the biggest dandelions I've ever seen here in France!   One interesting little tidbit I found in the Handbook of Nature Study is that dandelions take their name from the French phrase "dents de lion" or "lion's teeth", because the leaves have a jagged, tooth-like appearance.  Have a look next time to you pass a clump of dandelions and I think you'll see what I mean!!  We also watched this time lapse video (click through and scroll down) of a dandelion and Michelle gave me an excellent narration of what she saw!

- We observed the parts of a flower by taking apart a petunia (the flowers currently inhabiting most of the planters in our neighborhood.) Michelle enjoyed looking more carefully and each part with a magnifying lens. 


We had previously talked a bit about pollination after having read "The Selfish Salvia", a story from our current nature read-aloud Outdoor Secrets.  It was a nice follow up to be able to take a look at the parts in question.   Obviously, I don't expect that she fully understands why and how flowers are pollinated at this stage in the game, but nature study in the early years is all about laying the foundation for future science studies.  Down the road when we study the topic of botany more formally, she will have these experiences to recall.
My 'petunia' nature journal entry...
...and Michelle's (dictated to me, artwork is hers)

- We visited the beautiful rose gardens at one of the parks in town.  (You can see more  pictures of this excursion here.)   We observed the colors of the flowers and sat quietly to observe what the bees were doing as they flew from flower to flower, again recalling what we read in "The Selfish Salvia". 

- We planted sunflower seeds in pots on our apartment balcony.  Three days later and one has already started to push up through the soil!  This project will be an ongoing observation all summer, inspired by one of the suggestions in Barb's latest set of Outdoor Hour Challenges.

Sketching our first sunflower sporut in her nature journal

I recently began a study of Romans for my own personal Bible Study and right in Romans 1 it talks about how God's character has been clearly seen in His creation.  I hope and pray that as we continue to observe all of the things around us in this beautiful part of the world that my children - and I!! - will be drawn into a deeper sense of reverence for our Saviour.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Family Reading #2

A few of the reads we've been enjoying in our household lately...
A photo from the archives - taken in when we were in Australia when Elizabeth was born in 2010! Michelle was 4-1/2 and James was not quite 2!

Picture Book Highlights
Interestingly enough, the most requested picture book among all of the kids lately has been from the pile of French books we brought home to our local library.  We have two different books about a little mouse family that we have read over and over again:  La famille Souris prépare le nouvel an (The Mouse Family Prepares for the New Year) and Une nouvelle maison pour la famille Souris (A New House for the Mouse Family), both by Kazuo Iwamura (and I believe translated into French from Japanese, interestingly enough.)  Michelle even wanted to do her copywork out of one of these this week...

Michelle's Reading (Age 6-1/2)
Michelle says the most interesting books she has read by herself in recent weeks have been Busy Times and More Busy Times, two of the second grade level readers in the Pathway Readers series.  May I commend these to you if you are looking for material for your early readers?  These are simple stories about the children in a large Amish family and often emphasize good character and 'reaping what we sow'.   And given that they are Michelle's pick of the week, you can see that she gives them a thumbs up too. =)  She is currently reading More Busy Times out loud to me, but often picks up both of these volumes for free reading as well.

Featured School Book
Our current book for character development studies is Missionary Stories with the Millers, and was also Michelle's pick for the "most interesting school book we read from this week."   We're only a couple of chapters in, but so far we are enjoying the stories of people who have trusted God with their very lives.  We've chosen to include missionary biographies as part of our character development studies because I personally find them encouraging and inspiring in my Christian life, and I hope that the kids will find them inspirational as well.  We read this once a week as our special read aloud on our 'project day'. 

Bedtime Read-Aloud
We are reading and loving Heidi right now.  Such a sweet story about God working all things together for good.  Highly recommended!

On Mama's Nightstand
Okay, if you didn't already think I was nerd enough for admitting I have been reading history for fun in the last book post, you will think I'm a nerd now when I admit I enjoyed reading Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide.  It is part a description of what is wrong with reading instruction in the modern USA and therefore why there is a need for a greater understanding of phonics and spelling rules, and the rest a handy reference and explanation to how to use those rules, with lots of charts and such included.  Really, very interesting stuff, and useful to me as James is close to entering the beginning reading phase.  I expect it will be a very handy reference since I like to teach reading sort of organically rather than following a strict phonics curriculum. (But how I teach reading is a post for a whole other time.) You can read some quotes and comments from this book here if you are intrigued...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What we've Learned...26 June 2012

Okay, trying a quicker and easier way to check in with our school progress here. =)  Each week on our "Project Day", I will have the kids list out several of their accomplishments or things that interested them most in their previous week of school. =) Obviously this isn't everything we have done or worked on this week, but they are the things that made the biggest impression on them. =)  So, voila, the first edition....

What did you learn or do this week for school that was new or interesting for you?

Michelle, Age 6-1/2
1. Writing full sentences from dictation into my Spelling Book. (We finished Level 1 and started Level 2 of All About Spelling.)
2. Copying 2 whole sentences at a time of my version of the "Monkey and the Cat" into my copybook.  (She tells it to me orally, I write it down, and then she has been slowly copying it into her copybook.)
3. Doing Math Copywork.  (We are working on the +8 family.)
4. Reading and Acting out the first part of "Les Trois Petits Cochons"  (French version of "The Three Little Pigs")
Michelle's Illustration to go with her version of "The Monkey and the Cat"

Here is Michelle's narration (retelling in her own words) of the Aesop Fable "The Monkey and the Cat":
There was once a cat and a monkey who were great friends and always getting into mischief.  They were pets in the same house.  Once they were sitting by the fire and they saw some chesnuts cooking on the hearth.  The cat half-burned her paws trying to get them.  Each time the chestnut got into the monkey's reach, he gobbled it up. The cat was angry because she had no chestnuts.  The master scampered away and the cat and the monkey went away and stayed in two different houses.
James, Age 4
1. Letter E.  My favorite letter activitiy is cut and paste.
James showing off his wall of all the alphabet cut-and-pastes we have done so far. =)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Daybook: The "Thought I'd Check in Since it's Been Awhile" Edition

Outside my window:: Sunny and 81.  Gorgeous.  I want to say that summer has come to France to stay, but that might just be inviting a cold and rainy day tomorrow and we just couldn't have that, now could we?

Listening to:: Michelle sitting next to me, reading over my shoulder as a type. =)  But as for everyone else, they're all asleep.  Much needed Sunday afternoon naps all around.

Giving thanks for:: Warm sunny weather.  Funny things my kids say to make me smile on those days that I need to lighten up a little bit.  A husband who helps around the house.  Friends and French and in English.

Pondering:: Today our French church had a baptism.   This wasn't something tacked on to the end of a service, it was the service.  We started with singing, the lady who was being baptized shared her testimony, then we all drove up to the lake together where the baptism took place, and then returned to church to share a potluck supper together.  It was a full-on party.   And well it should be - when someone decides to testify publically to the work of salvation that Christ has done in their life and declare they want to follow Him with their whole hearts, there should be celebration.  I know for me, having been raised in the church, it is so easy to to take for granted the wonderful gift of salvation.  The baptism this morning was the latest in a string of reminders lately that He has brought me from darkness and death into New Life as well.  Thank you, Jesus.

Living the Educational Life:: School with the kids is plugging along well, as is my continuing appreciation for the methods laid out by Charlotte Mason, but you can read more about what we have been doing here and here and here

 Language school is plugging along well also.  I made it into Group 5 this month, which is the highest level class at our school right now.   I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress and feeling more comfortable interacting in French every day. I have also been able to get involved in a small-group tutoring session that meets each week and has been helpful as well....and there are a few other opportunities on the horizon, although we'll see how they all pan out.

Preparing in Kitchen:: So, last time I posted a daybook, I talked about the lunch menu that I had developed in response to the fact that lunch was just not working around here because my kids eat too much and we never had enough leftovers anymore  (and sandwiches are expensive - at least here - and boring.)  Okay, the ultimate irony of this?  Ever since I developed the plan, we've HAD ENOUGH LEFTOVERS TO EAT FOR LUNCH CONSISTENTLY.  Go figure.  That said, it has been nice to have a fall-back reference for the couple of times we've not had something available to eat.  So, I guess we'll keep it folks.

Following these links::  Very interesting article about language learning here from Multilingual Living.   Some good thoughts on Bible and devotions and whether or not to tackle them as 'school subjects' here from A Peaceful Day. I can often relate to the thoughts on transition that Renee shares over at FIMBY, and these posts on The New Normal is Flux and Grounding Practices were no exception.

Finding Rhythm:: Somedays it's as elusive as ever...but I have found a school rhythm that seems to be working for us.  Rather than scheduling a whole week off at a time, we're just taking days off here and there as we need them, based on what else is going on.  I keep track on a calendar how many days we've done to help avoid the temptation to take days off just because I've feeling lazy and not for any other good reason.  I have also scheduled in a 'project' day.  Each time we've finished a 'week' (meaning a  5 day cycle through all of our subjects), we take a day to do things like nature study, art, a 'field trip' or what have you - the stuff that tends to get left behind.   Michelle is also doing more and more independent work, so she has a checklist now of things that she can do on her own.  It has been so very helpful to have this laid out, rather than constantly having to tell her to do this or that.  We've been doing this for almost a month now and I'm really liking the flexibility.   I keep thinking I'm going to post on our schedule/routine, but it keeps changing on me.  Maybe someday I will...

Kiddos this week::
- Michelle at the church potluck today: "Mom, what is the [French] verb that means 'to drink' again?"   Not sure how she knew what a verb was....  
- James, last night as I tucked him in: "Mama, I want to give you a kiss!"  Immediately after said kiss: "OK, you can go away now."  Well then...
- Elizabeth apparently can count to 10, although she usually skips 8.  Always says 'merci' instead of thank you.  And has...drumroll please...made the transition to a big girl bed!

Praying::  For daily wisdom and strength as a Christian, wife, mother, homeschool teacher, and student.  That I would daily recognize my need to depend fully on Christ.  For continued progress in the French languge.

Planning the Week Ahead::  Besides all the normal stuff....Tuesday evening I am hosting some ladies for the first part of the All-Day Charlotte Mason Video seminar, Thursday evening headed to a friend's house for some time of ladies fellowship and to listen to the second part of a parenting seminar, and Friday evening hosting a meeting for all the aviation team heading to Africa with our organization next year.   Yup, this is why I'm an irregular blogger, folks.... 

Capturing a Moment::

All photos in this post: Family outing to see the Rose Gardens at one of the local parks.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How We Do....Preschool, Part 2

Did you read my first preschool post yet?   If you didn't, then go take a look at that first.  It explains my overall preschool philosophy and the first and most important things that I think preschoolers should be doing.  More important than what I will share in this post, actually.

Read it?  Good.  So let's move on...

The cheesy "I'm so excited" smile...

...but one more little disclaimer before we do. =)  Please know that this post is merely descriptive of what we are doing, not something that is meant to be prescriptive for all households.   Every child is going to be ready for doing number and letter activities at different ages...some will be younger and some will be older.  And that's totally normal and fine.  Please follow your child's lead with early learning activities.  If they are frustrated or uninterested in what you are presenting to them, then back off for awhile and try again later.  The preschool and early elementary years are primarily for developing a love of learning, so don't kill it by pushing your child too much or too soon. 

Also,  I have picked and chosen the activities to fit our needs among many of the free, printable preschool curriculum sets out there. I don't use any of the programs mentioned below in their entirety, nor do I recommend doing so. But I still mention them here as I find them good sources to pick and choose from when looking for actvities for preschoolers. Go ahead and browse these sites and see what you can find to meet the goals you have for your child!

Working with Sandpaper Letters and Vowel/Consonant Cards
Coming Up with a Plan
Before James and I started 'school', I thought through what skills he already had.  He knew all of the capital letters by sight, and about half of the lower case.   He had a fairly good sense of print awareness from all of the reading we had done together (here is an interesting article on how to help your child develop print awareness).  He knew basic shapes and colors, and could count up to at least 10 by rote.   He had better fine motor skills that you might expect from a not-quite-4-year-old boy. 
Based on that, I decided to focus our 'school time' on these areas:
  •  Letter recognition, especially associating upper case and lower case letters with each other.
  •  Phonemic Awareness - letter sounds/phongrams and activities to introduce the idea of blending sounds together
  •  Tracing
  •  Associating numbers with actual amounts
The Early Years Chart at SCM might give you some ideas of where to begin with your child if you're not sure where to start.   I also really like Ruth Beechick's book The Three R's (especially the Reading section) for ideas of how to begin teaching basic skills to young children.
Going on a Letter Hunt...

Letter Recognition
For correlating upper and lower case letters, we are using the Bottle Cap Letter Match cards from the Confessions of a Homeschooler Letter of the Week curriculum set.  I print the card with lower case (or upper case) letters, and give him the opposite type of letters to match up.   Each 'letter' set has a different card, the link here goes to the letter D.  You can find all of the Letter of the Week posts here with each individual activity available as a free download, or you purchase the complete set in a single download here.
We also use the Letter Hunt stories from Confessions of a Homeschooler.

We also have some things like a Lauri Foam puzzle set and a set of Montessori sandpaper letters that we play around with.
Letter Cut and Paste

Phonemic Awareness
As advised in Denise Eide's book The Logic of English, I am presenting James with all of the sounds that each letter can make right from the get go, rather than just the primary sounds.  So, rather than just telling him that 'a' just says 'a' like in apple, we talk about how it also says "ay" and "ah".   (You can listen to Denise Eide's talks on the Logic of English here (scroll down until you see Denise Eide) for free, or purchase her book Uncovering the Logic of English on Amazon, which explains all of the sounds, phonograms, and spelling rules in the English language. Fascinating stuff, at least if you are a nerd like me!)  We also play games to help James develop phonemic awareness - an auditory awareness of sounds and how they are put together.  There is a great list of ideas on the Logic of English website to give you an idea of what I mean.  We use a basic, Montessori-style 3 part lesson when introducing new letters and sounds.

We have also played around with some activities for matching initial sounds with the correct letter:
Vowel and Consonant Cards from Homeschool Creations
Alphabet Cut and Paste Sheets from Homeschool Creations
Phonics Worksheets, part of the Raising Rock Stars Kindergarten Curriculum from 1+1+1=1  (each letter set includes one of these worksheets)

For tracing, we use the Montessori sandpaper letters, as I already mentioned.  We are also using the "Getting Ready" worksheets which you can find as part of the Raising Rock Stars Preschool Curriculum sets on 1+1+1=1 (scroll down to download the set for each letter of the alphabet).  James also likes tracing the letters at the beginning of each row on the Phonics Worksheets linked above.

For numbers practice, we use a set of homemade sandpaper numbers and the unit blocks from Michelle's Math U See curriculum (but any kind of counters will do).   I have also printed off a few of the counting games that are included in the Confessions of a Homeschooler Letter of the Week Curriculum linked above, just to mix things up and keep them fresh since we typically spend a week or two on the same set of numbers.  James knew most of his numbers by sight before we started, so we have primarily worked on matching quantities with the corresponding numeral, counting out various quanities, and one-to-one correspondence.  We started with just 0-3, and have gradually worked our way up adding a new number or two at a time, again following the basic Montessori 3 part lesson format.   I have debated starting him on Math U See's Primer level, but the verdict is still out on that one.   Mostly because I hate to BUY something when there is so much free stuff out there...

Every once and awhile we will use the Color and Shape/Following Directions sheets that are part of the Raising Rock Stars Kindergarten sets as well.
Matching numbers and amounts

Practical Considerations
I like to print off  about 5 'letters' worth of activities at a time so I am not having to constantly return to the printer.  I slip all of the printable sheets we use into page protectors and we use dry erase markers to complete them.  That way we can re-do them as many times as we want.  I keep all of his old sheets in a binder that he can choose to revisit if he is looking for something to do while I am working with Michelle. (All of my kids also seem to think it is way, way cool to use dry-erase markers on stuff!)

On a typical day, we 'work' for 15-20 minutes.  I choose 1 or 2 of the letter/alphabet activities and a math activity for us to do together.  We don't necessarily do work everyday, especially if he is engrossed in something else at the time.  And we always try to quit while we're ahead!  Certainly we stop if he is getting frustrated, but even better yet is to try to read his thoughts a little and quit for the day before he reaches that frustration point.

Anyhow, I hope this has been helpful!  Please feel free to ask if you have any other questions!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Laying the Foundation - Charlotte Mason's Home Education (Volume 1)

Today we're going to bounce back to the beginning of Charlotte Mason's Home Education.   You can read the first post in this series here.  

Part I is titled simply "Preliminary Considerations".   This is the introduction to some the rest of the thoughts and suggestions that she makes in the rest of the book, which are primarily her ideas on the education of children under the age of 9.   There's a lot here (this is why you need to go download and read her books for much meat that I could not possibly tell you all).  But a few thoughts that particularly struck me:
"The period of a child's life between his sixth and ninth year should be used to lay the basis of a liberal education and the habit of reading for instruction.  During these years the child should enter upon the domain of knowledge, in a good many directions, in a reposeful, consecutive way..."
 ~from Home Education by Charlotte Mason, Part I
Let's take this apart and think about this a bit.

  • Laying the foundation: It is a great relief to me to remember that these early years are for laying foundations.  It is OK if we don't cover every little detail of every little thing. I don't know about you, but I love researching curriculum ideas and seeing what other people are doing.  While I think exchanging ideas is definetely a good thing, it can also be a bad thing.  I know that, as the result of comparing our homeschool with what I have seen others doing, I have been guilty of trying to stuff more into our school time than is reasonable to expect from my young children.  I need to remind myself frequently that right now we are laying the foundations.  We have 18 years to prepare our children to live their own lives in the real's not necessary (or possible) to do everything by the end of first grade!  Don't know about you, but that's a huge relief to me!
  • Reading for Instruction: Reading excellent books is the cornerstone of a Charlotte Mason education.  During the early years we ought to prepare our children to be able to feed themselves from the books that they read.  How do we do that?  The way I look at it, there are three things we can do:
    • Teach the child to read, and allow enough practice time for reading become fluent and comfortable.
    • Pique the child's interest in books and the world around him by reading to them regularly and liberally from books on a wide variety of topics.
    • Allow the child to develop the skill of narration - that is telling back what they they have read, which requires the child to assimilate what they have read and make it their own.  (That's a whole other subject for another day!)
  • Entering the Domain of Knowledge...
    • a good many directions... Charlotte encouraged a broad, generous curriculum right from the beginning.  She likened this to spreading a feast.  Even while a child is gaining the skills needed to educate themselves (the basics like reading, writing, and math) we should simultaneously be feeding their minds with great ideas from literature, history, nature, art, music, and the Bible.
    • a reposeful.... Se reposer is the French verb that means to rest.  While Charlotte recommended a generous, full curriculum, she also recommended short, focused lessons that leave lots of time in the day for pondering, exploration, and free play.  Let's not exhaust our children by stuffing their lives too full of 'good things'.
    • ...consecutive way... A Charlotte Mason curriculum is most definitely a literature-based curriculum.  Rather than reading little, disconnected snippets from here and there, Charlotte recommended reading straight through whole books - one after another - and doing so at a pace that allows the child to ponder and reflect and form his/her own relationship with the book. 

These ideas were summed up well in When Children Love to Learn by Elaine Cooper, et al:
The goal for a first grade classroom is to whet appetites so students will grow to love books and desire to feed themselves.
~No longer sure if this is a direct quote or my paraphrase of it...
Am I teaching my children to love learning and giving them the skills they need to be able to learn for themselves?  Ultimately, that should be my goal in educating my young children. 

Next time: Preliminary Considerations 2 -  Offend not, Despise not, Hinder not the Little Ones.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How we do...Preschool, Part 1

Lately I've gotten some questions about what sort of activities I do for 'preschool' with James, who just turned 4.  But, before I tell you what James and I are actually doing for 'preschool', I want to preface this with a bit of my philosophy about preschool.  Why?  Because, despite the fact that James and I are doing a bit of 'real' school work together, I don't really think that it is necessary to do a ton of directed work with preschoolers.  This goes against a lot of what you might see out there both in the conventional schooling world as well as in some parts of the homeschooling community.   I don't want to send you off over the internet to look at some of the materials that we are using and start to feel horribly guilty because your 3 year old can't read yet, or you don't print 20 printable activities for them to do everyday or do tons of messy art projects, or have a new theme of the week every week complete with a bulletin board and shelf of themed toys, or have a house filled from floor to ceiling with every new "educational" toy available.   Because, really, not doing these things isn't going to harm your child at all.  And as a matter of fact, keeping things simple in the early years may help them out in the long run by promoting their natural curiosity and not dampening their love for learning by giving them too much too soon.

Why do I give this disclaimer?  Because when I started out, I really didn't know any better myself.  I had never really considered homeschooling until my oldest was 3 and I realized that conventional preschool wasn't going to be a good fit for her personality and stage of development.  I ventured out onto the internet and found tons of "fun" activities to do with her at home, spent far too much money on a workbook-based preschool curriculum that was going to teach her kindergarten skills when she was still 4, and voila within a year both Michelle and I were already on the verge of burnout.  I don't want that to happen to you.

Here's one from the archives - Michelle at age 3-1/2 or so.

Thankfully, this was about the same time I stumbled on to the Charlotte Mason philosophy, which was the breath of fresh air I needed.   Finally, I was given permission to relax and take more of a 'slow but steady' approach to our schooling.   Want to have a look at the series of articles that was the turning point for me?  Right here on the SCM Blog.   SCM also publishes a fantastic Early Years Book which I can highly recommend as follow up if you like what you read on the Blog Series.  (Nope, not a paid advertister, but I really love just about everything that SCM has produced.)

Anyhow, the bottom line?  What it all boils down to?   These are the things that I would consider essential for your children's 'preschool' education:

  •  Establish good home routines and good habits with your kids - obedience, attention, orderliness, etc. You will be grateful to have already begun establishing these kinds of habits in your home before you are ready to start formal schooling at age 5 or 6.
  • Let your child help you with household tasks and begin passing on a few independant chores to them as they show they are able.
  • Read aloud daily from a wide variety of high quality children's literature on a wide variety of topics - Bible stories, nature, stories from other cultures and countries (geography), beautiful picture books... Don't be afraid to start into some chapter books as well.  Avoid "twaddle". See my Favorite Read-Alouds tab at the top of the sidebar to see some of our favorites for the 6-and-under crowd.
  • Spend time outdoors as much as the weather and your living situation allows.  Allow them to run and yell and generally 'be kids'.  Gently direct them to observe God's creation in nature.
  • Keep your home stocked with a small collection of classic, open-ended toys and give your kids time and freedom to play.  Enjoy watching what their imaginations come up with!   Trust me when I say that less is more in the toy department.  We have moved internationally twice in the last 2 years, and getting ready to do so again next year, so we've only been able to keep a pretty small portion of our kids' toys.  They are none the worse for this.  Specific items we have dragged around the world with us: Duplos, a few puzzles, play silks, cars and a 'road' playmat, play dishes and felt food, art supplies (markers, crayons, tape, paper, etc), and one doll or stuffed animal per child.  Other items we have enjoyed but were too heavy to move overseas as airline baggage include wooden blocks, train sets, and dress-up clothes/props.
  • If you have older, school-age children, include your little ones as tag-alongs as much as they are interested.
  • Limit the amount of television and computer time you let your young children have.
Another shot of Michelle around age 3, since I'm on an archive kick...

And honestly, that's it.  Charlotte Mason talks about giving our young children a "quiet, growing time."  Train them in good habits, feed their minds with ideas that will pique their curiosity and feed their desire to learn more, and the time, space, and materials to explore the world around them.

That all said...some kids are ready sooner-rather-than-later to do a bit more.  Maybe they have taught themselves the alphabet and are begging you to do more with them.  Maybe they watch their older siblings getting to do school with mom and want to have their own 'school' to do as well.   Maybe they are just in need of a little more focused one-on-one time with Mama (as was the case with James!)   Next time, I'll share some of the resources and ideas we are using for alphabet, pre-reading, and numbers with James.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Family Reading #1

Trying something new this week...I don't have time to write a detailed school update post as often as I'd like (and who knows, maybe those bore y'all to death anyhow), so I am going to try and share shorter tidbits here and there.  And since reading is is huge part of both our school life and our family life,  I will try to pop in with some highlights of what we are reading every now and again.  =)  Enjoy!
Reading on the train ride to Paris

Picture Book Highlights
We got James a couple of picture book missionary biographies for his birthday: What's in the Parcel?, Could Somebody Please Pass the Salt, and Does Money Grow on Trees?   I am really liking these!  They are interesting anecdotes which highlight the faith of each person, the way God was at work in their life, and/or the importance of sharing Jesus with other people.   They are simple and very appropriate for little ones - a great introduction to Christian heros. There are others in the series which I think will appear on the next birthday list. =)

Michelle's Reading (age 6-1/2)
Her hands down favorites right now are the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel.  I love that she is enjoying these classics from my own childhood.  I purposely did not use them as read-alouds when she was younger because I wanted her to be able to read these on her own.
Featured School Book
For part of our "character development" subject, we are reading SCM's new reader Hymns in Prose for Children.  Written on approximately a 2nd-3rd grade level, these lovely little essays help to inspire thought of God.  Michelle reads the passage outloud to me, then we talk together about what we learn about God, what He has done and/or what He desires from us.   We are also using the accompanying copywork book.  Michelle copies about 2 sentences at a time into her copywork notebook, we talk a bit about the mechanics (capitalization, punctuation, etc), and then she illustrates  it.  (So yes, we are getting character development, reading practice, handwriting, grammar, and drawing all in one go!)

Bedtime Read-Aloud
Raggedy Andy Stories by Johnny Gruelle.  Raggedy Ann Stories is one of Michelle's most often requested audiobook choices, so she is enjoying the sequel.

Mama's Reading
Oh goodness gracious, I always have my fingers in a bit of everything these days, but I have really enjoyed a couple of the narrative children's history books that I have pre-read so I can decide how and when I will use them for school.   Usually this means just a few chapters to get a feel of for the book, but I was so drawn in to Our Island Story by Marshall (history of England from ancient times through Queen Victoria) and The Story of the 13 Colonies by Guerber that I just kept on reading.  Does that make me a nerd if I read history for fun?  No, don't answer that please. =)

What about you?  Has your family enjoyed any good reads lately?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Paris, Through the Eyes of a 6 Year Old

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago...we took a real family vacation to Paris.  There were some moments that were rather interesting as is always the case when travelling with toddlers, but I was so very pleased with how much Michelle, age 6-1/2, got out of the experience.  We are keeping a journal to record our year in France, so I thought that rather than telling you about our trip in my words, I would share her words about what we saw in Paris.   Without any further ado, Michelle's Paris travel journal, as dictated to Mama...

Notre Dame

Notre Dame is an old cathedral - it is 850 years old.  My favorite thing that I saw were the stained glass windows.  [James'] favorite thing that he saw in Paris today was all the cars and the pigeons (and chasing the pigeons away.)  Papa's favorite part about Notre Dame was the detailed architecture.  Mama's favorite part was all of the intricate carvings and stained glass windows.

Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is big and tall.  It had curly steps.  They were very curly.  We saw the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.  We went in the tunnel underneath the street.  Before we were walking in it we went down the steps.  Papa got the tickets to go up in it. We took turns going up in it.  Papa and [James] went up in it first.  Then Mama and I went up.


The Louvre had beautiful paintings.  It has this painting of Jesus turning water into wine.  It had the Mona Lisa and everybody was trying to take a picture of it because they think it is the most famous painting, even Papa.  But when everyone else was looking at the Mona Lisa, I was looking the other way at this painting.  It liked this one because it was Jesus turning water into wine and it was big.

Eiffel Tower

It is big and tall.  Papa, [James] and [Elizabeth] went to the tippy-top.  Mama and I stayed on the second floor. {Mama's note: the second floor was plenty high enough, thank you very much!!} I drew pictures while we waited for them to come back down.  We ate a big lunch.  I spotted the Arc de Triomphe.  I liked going to the Eiffel Tower.

Musee d'Orsay

We saw paintings.  Some of them were from Claude Monet and some were from the other artists.  We saw the blue ballerina picture that we saw in the Katie book.  We also saw Monet's poppy field painting from the Katie book - the poppies were red like red roses.  We also saw an ocean painting by Manet that had medium brush strokes and I like medium brush strokes the best.


The Batobus was oval shaped, it was so funny.  It was fun to ride the Batobus because I got to see the Seine River out the window.  We went to the Musee d'Orsay and the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre on it.

C'est tout!  Hope you enjoyed Michelle's 'guided tour' - now you will know what to look for in Paris!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Charlotte Mason's Home Education (Volume 1) - The Divine Life of the Child

Well guess what folks, I finally finished reading the first book in Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series - Home Education.  It took me almost a year...longer if you count the fact that I started over about a quarter of the way through because there was SO MUCH rich stuff in the book that I wanted to get a notebook and take notes on all I was reading.  But it was so, so worth it!   While there are many fantastic summaries and applications of CM's methods available in book and web form (see my Charlotte Mason Resources link in at the top of the side bar), there is really no substitute for reading her actual thoughts as she presented them.  This particular volume contains her thoughts on the education of young children up to the age of 9 - both in an academic and character/spiritual sense.   There is much here for parents in general even if you don't homeschool or are using a different philosophy to guide your homeschooling endeavours.  And in order to whet your appetites a bit, I would like to do a series of posts over the next few weeks, as time allows of course, to share some of the things that particularly stood out to me as I read.  In no particular order.   (And if you are inspired to read more, did you know you can get all of CM's works for free on your Kindle right here?!)

Anyhow, I digress.  I am actually going to start at the end, since that's what I just finished and it is still freshest in my mind.  Part VI of the book is titled "The Will, The Conscience, The Divine Life".  I'd like to focus on Part III, the Divine Life of the Child.   After spending some time discussing how to train a child's will and conscience, Charlotte turns her attention to the spiritual training of our children, which is really the foundation for all the rest.  We need to remember that we don't want our children to learn to be good just for the sake of being good, but as an extension of our love and gratitude towards our Saviour, and by the help of the Holy Spirit working in us.   Obviously we as parents cannot save our children by our own strength, but we can do much to introduce our children to our Saviour.  Charlotte likens this work to a bee pollinating a flower:
" is his part to deposit, so to speak, within reach of the soul of the child some fruitful idea of God, the immature soul makes no effort towards the idea, but the Living Word reaches down, touches the soul - and there is life; growth and beauty; flower and fruit."
We are seed planters, and God provides the growth.  Charlotte urges parents not to preach at our children and to carefully find  a balance between regular, progressive, direct Bible-teaching and overdoing our Bible teaching to the point that our children start to tune us out.  She urges us to avoid moralising over everything or turning God into a judge or taskmaster, but presenting the Lord as a living and personal Saviour worthy of our adoration.   How can we do this?
  •  Teach from our own hearts - present those ideas that we have taken into our own souls not merely as head knowledge, but as living ideas.
  •  Live out our loyalty to the King in all areas of our lives, not in word only.
  •  By dependence on the Holy Spirit:  "It is as the mother gets wisdom liberally from above, that she will be enabled for this divine task."
This was where I received a healthy dose of conviction.  I don't know about you, but I find myself guilty of spending a lot of time looking for the perfect curriculum or devotional materials to use with my kids.  I also find myself focusing more on the moral aspect of their training, easy to do when their behavior is right in your face day-in and day-out!   But what picture am I painting of God for my children?  Do they see in my life that He is worthy of love, worship, devotion?   Am I relying on a carefully laid out program to teach them, or depending on the Holy Spirit to help me respond to the teachable moments that present themselves?   If I am honest, I would have to say no.  All the 'programs' in the world can't replace living out an authentic Christianity before my children.  I am reminded that cultivating my own relationship with the Savior is of utmost importance even in these busy, busy days of little ones, homeschooling, housekeeping, and language learning.  I cannot pass on to my children what I don't have.   It is my prayer today that I would fall ever more deeply in love with the Lord and that that love for Him would overflow to those around me...starting right here at home.

All quotes taken from Home Education, Volume 1 in Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series, Chapter VI, Section III.