Monday, April 29, 2013

Nature Study Monday: Spiny Flower Mantis

My Facebook status the other day was “Despite the fact that I am SO TOTALLY NOT a bug person, we now have a “pet” caterpillar and a “pet” praying mantis.  These in addition to the ants and roaches that have taken up residence in my house without an invitation.”
It’s true, people.  I guess this is what 10+ years in the tropics and determination to make ‘nature study’ happen will do to you.
You’ve already met our friend ChewLeaf (who is still chewing away and doing well.)   The ants and the roaches I won’t bore you [gross you out?] with (although the kids think it’s pretty funny when the ants trying to carry off things like beans, peanuts, and grains of rice that drop on the floor under the table….it is, actually.)
Today, I thought I’d tell you about our mantis.

Since my FB post, I have learned that it is actually a Spiny Flower Mantis.   Isn’t he fascinating?  We discovered him in a neighbor’s yard when the kids were over there playing the other day and have been keeping him for observation. (Thanks to Deborah for sharing her find, and her photo, with us!)

Over the weekend we [okay, I’ll be honest, my husband and son] caught a grasshopper to feed him.   It was really interesting to watch how he caught it in his two front legs and grasped it while chewing it down (see above).  He was fast!  Must have been hungry.  When he was done, it looked as if he groomed himself – similar to the way a cat does.

While all the kids have been interested in it, our 3-year-old has been the most fascinated.  She is always asking to see it and stood there and watched him eat until the grasshopper was completely gone.   Some of the observations this little one has made:  he eats grasshoppers, he is big (in her opinion anyhow, I’d say he’s around 2 to 2.5 inches long), and he has a bumpy tummy.    (Punctuated by questions like “Do I have a bumpy tummy, mama?  Does he know how to swim?”)
Love, love, love the way that nature study is a way to involve even my littlest ones in our educational life.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Charlotte Mason Education: Simplicity and Life

The other day Jeanne posted a fantastic article called “Fitting in the Nice Bits” over at A Peaceful Day.   Maybe you already saw it…but if you didn’t, I’d encourage you to click over and read it now.   It is a really fantastic read on scheduling in the Charlotte Mason homeschool.
Did you read it?  Good. 
In addition to the really excellent practical tips that I am tucking away, I was also really struck by the way Jeanne emphasized the two key ideas that drew me to Charlotte Mason in the first place: simplicity and life.
As Jeanne touched on in her article, we can “make space” in our schedules for all of the lovely extras like art, music, poetry, Shakespeare, etc.  by keeping things simple.  By not trying too hard.   It doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, or messy.    Our job as parent/teachers is to spread a feast of life-giving ideas.  The onus is on our children to take those ideas and run with them.   Think about them.  Connect them with other things they know.   Develop their own creative sense.  I don’t have to burn myself trying to execute fancy projects or line up the perfect resources for a unit study.   (Here is another really good article that discusses this same idea.)
I almost burned myself out trying to do this when doing preschool-at-home with Michelle the year she was 4.   I was spending more time researching ideas of cute projects and fun things that we could do to learn the alphabet than we actually spent together doing them.  (And as cute and fun as those projects were, did they really help her learn the alphabet any better or faster than she would have had I employed simpler methods?  No, probably not.)   We were not going to last in this homeschooling thing for the  long haul unless I did something differently.  It was about this point that I stumbled across Charlotte Mason and realized that it doesn’t have to be complicated, and I’m so glad I did.   And as I was contemplating the other day, sometimes the simplest things are the best anyhow.  I’ve found a lot of freedom and realizing and embracing that idea.
I think one of the most important homeschooling principles to keep in mind is that “homeschooling” does not mean “school-at-home”.   We have so much more freedom than that.  Learning doesn’t have to fit into tidy little compartments between the hours of 9 and 3.   It can be hard for those of us who grew up in the traditional school system (and perhaps even more so for those of us – like me – who actually worked in it!) to be able to let go of that compartmentalized idea of learning.   I think that perhaps the key to fitting in the art and music and poetry is to make them part of life.  I heard a really good talk one time in which the speaker, a long-time homeschooling veteran, shared about how it is the little things done consistently over a period of time that will reap a harvest.  Figure out how to fit these “nice bits” into your daily routine and then just do them!  Keep them simple so that they actually get done. 
Some of the ways we’ve done this in our home include Scripture memory and hymns around the breakfast table, playing music by our current composer during lunch, taking time to notice what is around us in nature while we are out walking or playing anyhow, and having Bible reading plus a good literature selection to read aloud at bedtime.   These things aren’t part of our formal school schedule, which means more often than not they get done even when school doesn’t.   Often the kids themselves even ask to do them.  They have become like second nature: grounding practices in our family life – a family life that is so much richer than if we limited learning only to school hours.
Simplicity and Life…two key ideas that make a huge difference in the way we educate.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Family Reading #8

Picture Book Highlights
Since we got our shipment about a month ago, we’ve been enjoying many of our very own books that have been packed away for far too long, such as Mike Mulligan and More (a treasury by Virginia Lee Burton), The Grouchy Ladybug, and Katie Meets the Impressionists (the very book that got Michelle so excited about the paintings we saw in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris last year.)  Also notable was our new “Easter” book – The Prince’s Poison Cup – an allegory of what Christ has done for us by RC Sproul.
Michelle’s Reading (Age 7-1/2)
Michelle has been enjoyed reading some of the Thornton Burgess stories on her own. Currently she is reading the first Boxcar children book AGAIN.  (She's read some of the others, but always cycles back to this first one.  She likes it when they are living in the boxcar.)   She also likes to read things that are far too easy for her…  I’m  working on finding a good balance between challenging her and reading the more “fluffy” stuff for relaxation.   (Any and all ideas are welcome!!)
Featured School Book
We are love, love, loving AO Year 1.   We are off homeschooling for the next couple of weeks while Michelle participates in the special co-op program for homeschoolers that our mission offers, and I am finding that I really miss the intellectual stimulation that reading and discussing our AO books provides.  So much so that we are having a ‘snack and story time’ in the afternoon and just reading one thing off of the AO list together – just so we don’t have to go a month without our AO books.  =)  She is enjoying it as much as I am.  One highlight lately has been Dangerous Journey, an abridged, illustrated version of Pilgrim’s Progress.  This isn’t actually on the AO Year 1 list, but I added it in as a replacement for Aesop’s Fables (which we read last year) and in preparation for Years 2 and 3 which have the original version of Pilgrim’s Progress scheduled.   She always wants me to read more of this one….
Bedtime Reading
We are reading Pollyanna, which we are enjoying…but I wouldn’t say is our favorite bedtime read-aloud ever. is growing on us.
On Mama’s Nightstand
Too much, as usual. ;-) In the fiction department, I am reading North and South in English and Les Miserables (abridged) in French.  Hoping to finish both by the end of the month so I can participate in the book discussion of The Scarlet Pimpernel that’s going to start over on the AO Forum.  (ETA – I finished North and South last night.  Second time I’ve read it.  Am I the only one who feels really sad when you finish a book – even a good book with a good ending – just because it’s done?  I felt that way at the end of North and South.  Even for take two.)  In the non-fiction department I am trying to follow along with the discussion (also on the AO Forum) of CM’s Volume 5 Formation of Character and slowly wading through Poetic Knowledge.  Brandy over at Afterthoughts has a really good series of posts on this book of you are curious what it’s all about.  She is smarter than I am and can explain it to you better. =)
This is the famous floor-to-ceiling bookcase I was telling you about. Makes me happy to look at it...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Nature Study Monday: Taking a few moments to really see...

Taking a few minutes to see adds a whole new dimension to hanging laundry…
On the benefits of nature study for teachers (including mama-teachers):
Out in this, God's beautiful world,there is everything waiting to heal lacerated nerves, to strengthen tired muscles, to please and content the soul that is torn to shreds with duty and care.” 
~Anna Botsford Comstock, The Handbook of Nature Study, p.3
I happened to notice all of these things as I hung the laundry the other day.   All of them in my own yard.  Told you that we had endless nature study possibilities here. =)
Next step: finding some good sources for tropical plant identification. (Anyone else know what the plant with the polka-dotted leaves or the red flower with the prickly fruit might be?   Google hasn’t helped much…but then again maybe I don’t know where to look.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles Study Coming Soon!

For those of you who read this blog because you are curious about the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, I thought I’d let you know that starting at the end of the month, there will be a discussion of Charlotte’s 20 Principles of Education over at the Ambleside Online Forum.   I am really excited about (trying to) follow along, and think it will be a great overview for those of you who are curious about exploring Charlotte Mason’s ideas more in depth.   
Brandy over at Afterthoughts will be hosting the discussion, and she has posted an announcement with more details on her blog, including how to register for the AO Forum if you aren’t already and where to find the discussion once you log on.    Hope to see some of you there!

What We've Learned - March 29, 2013

Michelle, Age 7-1/2
1. We did our tree study – the mangos were bigger than last month but not ripe yet! (ETA: in the gap between writing and posting this post, we HAVE gotten our first ripe mango! Yum!)
2. We’ve been reading Dangerous Journey – Christian is going to another place.
3. Math – I learned new things like 10-2 and 10-5 and 7-3.
4. We learned how to spell words with the wor- sound.
James and Elizabeth….have been on a “break” these past two weeks since the rest of the world has been on spring break too.  We’ve been trying to streamline our days so we can get outside more.  So nothing new to report from them.  Stay tuned.
Mama, Because you should never stop learning…
1. I didn’t post this sooner since we were in meetings all of last week – 3 days of “spiritual emphasis” with a visiting pastor from the States and 2 days of business meetings.  If it is possible to be exhausted and refreshed all at the same time, that’s what I am.  I especially appreciated the spiritual emphasis days, and had a lot of takeaways from them.  The biggest one?  Probably the reminder in John 14 that Jesus promises “not to leave us as orphans” – He is always with us.
2. We recently re-watched the BBC version of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South .  While there are a lot of themes one could explore in this film/novel the thing that really struck me this time is that the whole thing could be a commentary on how we respond to cultural change and adaptation.  Maybe it’s just because we recently went through (are still going through)a major cultural adaptation?  Have you watched or read this?  What did you think?
3. The combination of banana, papaya, and pineapple make a great smoothie (or popsicle), even if banana and papaya aren’t your favorites to begin with.
4. There is a season for everything, and just because we make certain choices for our family now doesn’t mean we can’t change them later if need be.  There’s a lot of freedom in that…

Monday, April 8, 2013

Nature Study Monday: Introducing ChewLeaf the Caterpillar (and other musings)

Sorry for the silence around here lately. I’m still trying to figure out where blog-posting fits into the rhythm of our days and weeks (combined with a somewhat erratic internet connection). I do have lots to share with you all when I can snag a moment here and there, however. =) Thanks for your patience with my inconsistency.
One thing we've really been enjoying as we've gotten back into our school routine here is the endless possibilities we have for nature study and exploration. One little project we have going at the moment is this little guy:
The kids have affectionately named him ChewLeaf, since, well, that's what he does. Michelle and her friend found him on a bush a couple of weeks ago and we've been having a great time observing and watching him grow. We're hoping we'll be able to watch him go through all the stages of his metamorphosis. One of those little projects I've always wanted to do, but never got around to orchestrating. But maybe it's better this way? That it was Michelle's find, Michelle's idea to keep him to observe, rather than mine? All of the kids are completely enthralled by him.
I've been reading the book Poetic Knowledge by James Taylor. It is dense and meaty - definitely a book that will take a while to comprehend and digest. From what I understand, though, the idea of "poetic knowledge" is knowing something intimately - really knowing it as opposed to knowing about it. And it is a type of knowledge that lays the foundation for "scientific", factual knowledge. As I watched all three kids completely fascinated by their caterpillar friend after changing his leaves this morning, I couldn't help but thinking that this is what we are doing. We could read a book about caterpillars and butterflies and make a cute little cut-and-paste chart of his life cycle, and then we'd be able to say we know about caterpillars and butterflies. But by doing this, they are observing and learning for themselves. Assuming our experiment is successful, they will know - really know - the life-cycle of a caterpillar. They will have experienced it for themselves.
One of the common questions about Charlotte Mason education is "Is nature study and living books really 'enough' science in the elementary school years?" I've asked that question too. I think I'm finally beginning to understand that not only is it enough - it is vital. Once we really know something in the 'poetic' (intimate, personal) sense, then we can understand it in a 'scientific' (factual) sense. Don't know about you, but that certainly gives me the motivation I need to continue on making nature study a priority in our family.