Monday, August 31, 2015

Kindergarten in our Home: Fall 2015

So Miss Elizabeth has finally officially joined our ranks as a kindergartener.  I don't think kindergarten is technically necessary....but when you are the youngest and are desperately wanting to be included in what is going on, and you have begged all spring to learn how to read and Mama has taken so long to get around to beginning reading lessons that you start asking your brother, and you cry on your fifth birthday when Mama says you can't start Year One until you turn get the idea.

As with all of the curriculum posts I will be posting, please take them as DESCRIPTIVE of what is currently happening in my home with my particular students.  These lessons have been planned with their needs and abilities and our overall goals in mind.  I share to give you a peek inside of our home, just as I like to get a peek inside the homes of others from time to time. :)

Our kindergarten time takes 30-45 minutes each day.  You can see where it fits into our daily routine here.

Phonics (10 minutes)
We follow the basic method outlined here and here.   Elizabeth is in the word-building phase at the moment.  We occasionally mix it up by reading a bit from Run, Bug, Run.  (I don't endorse the program associated with these readers by the way.  I have just appreciated the readers for a couple of mine who have stayed in the word-building phase for quite awhile.  They are sort of similar to the Bob books, but with nicer illustrations.)  I've been trying to take photos when we are doing reading lessons and someday hope to do a series on what reading lessons have looked like in our home.

Read-Alouds (10-15 minutes)
We read each day from:
The Real Mother Goose and The Children's Bible in 365 Stories and then one of the following that Elizabeth has chosen from her kindergarten shelf:
  •  a Childhood of Famous Americans biography (currently Clara Barton)
  •  Dooryard Stories (Pierson)
  •  Faerie Gold (Hunsicker and Lindskoog)
  • Chimney Corner Stories (Hutchinson)
I also still read to her from our selection of picture books or a chapter book of her choice after lunch while the big kids do lunch clean up.

Math (10 minutes)
We are using Singapore's Essential Math for Kindergarten.  I've not used this before (actually I've used something different for kindergarten with all of my kids!), but chose this for her since I am using Singapore with the older two and it seemed the simplest thing to do. :)  Each page has a simple hands-on suggestion at the bottom with an accompanying very simple workbook exercise (so far it's just been concepts like same, different, matching sets, etc).  This is her favorite 'school' thing to do with mom by far.  (She says it's because she likes coloring the pages when we're done.)

Handwriting (less than 5 minutes)
I have a little workbook for this, which I thought she would be ready for.  But in reality she is finding it frustrating.  She knows how to form a lot of her letters (she has been writing her name and trying to write other words for some time now).   So I think we will set it aside for now and work more on getting the strokes in the right order, etc, in a more free-form way - using a salt tray or whiteboard for now, and come back to the lined pages in the workbook later.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Morning Time and Group Studies - Fall 2015

So now we come down to the REAL nitty gritty: curriculum choices we've made for this year.  You can see where each of these segments fit in to our daily routine here and some of the rationale behind our choices in the Reflections on Relationship series (index here).

Our Morning Time is fairly pared back this year from previous years.  We have moved poetry and memory work to each child's individual time with Mom as we found that this works best for our family dynamics. We've also dropped French almost entirely for now.  French studies have never gone smoothly for us, I think at least in part because it's been a little bit of an emotionally-charged, feeling-the-pressure sort of situation since we "have to learn it because we live in French-speaking Africa" rather than a delight or particular interest of anyone involved.  So while we are away from Africa, we're taking a break from French too.  We'll re-evaluate that plan when we have a better idea of our future plans.  So far, this simplified Morning Time is going really well.  I had planned this to take up to 45 minutes, 15 minutes on each topic, but very often we finish in less than that (which helps especially on those mornings that we start a bit late).  Michelle and James are expected to listen and participate fully (by narrating), Elizabeth is required to sit with us and listen but not to narrate unless she wants to.

Devotional: Reading from Starr Meade's Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds (based on the Heidelberg Catechism), Prayer, and singing a Psalm (a fairly new practice for us - we are using the Book of Psalms for Worship as a resource) 

Read-Aloud: We read aloud from one of the following each day, rotating through them on a loop:

Parables from Nature (Gatty) - currently finishing up the chapters scheduled in Year 3, then we'll cycle back through Years 1 and 2 again for the sake of the younger children.  I don't think it will do Michelle any harm to hear them again since they are quite rich and deep.  Her experience of them at age 10 will be quite different than it was at age 7.

One Small Square: Pond (Silver) - with By Pond and River (Buckley) as a follow up when we finish this.  We are doing a pond study as our nature study focus this semester.

The Avion my Uncle Flew (Fisher) - This is our nod to French for this year.  It is a code-switching story that I have heard recommended repeatedly.

Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales - from the Year 2 free reads.  I always like to include a fairy tale selection in our group read-alouds.

Ordinarily I would include Tales from Shakespeare (Lamb) in this rotation too, but they are doing Shakespeare at their co-op this year, so I left it out.

Activity: Again, we rotate through one of these each day on a looping schedule:
Outside of our Morning Time, we also do certain activities like Nature Study and Handicrafts as a group, usually in the afternoons.  A nature outing and time for journaling is scheduled in for Friday afternoon.  Handicraft projects tend to be tackled a little more loosely - I will perhaps introduce new handicrafts on a free afternoon or weekend, and then we'll just work at them here and there as we have time available.   We have the Artistic Pursuits Elementary 4-5 curriculum on hand for drawing instruction too, and did do (and enjoy) a few lessons over the summer, but they are also doing a drawing class at our co-op this year....So we'll see how much we use that.  It's available for anyone who would like to use it, but it won't be required since they are getting other drawing instruction elsewhere.

Our evening family time is also done as a group and is our primary Bible instruction time (we don't follow the Ambleside Bible suggestions as we've always preferred to do this as a group).   We sing a hymn, read, narrate, and discuss a short passage from the Bible (currently going through the Old Testament using Marty Machowski's Long Story Short) and pray.  We follow this up with a family literature read aloud, usually pulled from the Ambleside Online Free Reading suggestions.

What does your Morning Time Look like?  What other studies do you pursue as a group?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

From My Commonplace: On Brick Wall Endings

From Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, about two sisters from a poor family, one of whom aspires to be a writer and the other of whom has just become engaged to a very wealthy man:
"What I'd really hate would be the settled feeling, with nothing but happiness to look forward to.  Of course, no life is perfectly happy – Rose's children will probably get ill, the servants may be difficult, perhaps dear Mrs. Cotton will prove to be the teeniest fly in the ointment (I should like to know what fly was originally in what ointment.)  There are hundreds of worries and even sorrows that may come along, but – I think what I really mean is that Rose won't be wanting things to happen.  She will want things to stay as they are.  She will never have the fun of hoping something wonderful and exciting may be just round the corner.
I daresay I am being very silly, but there it is!  I DON'T ENVY ROSE! When I imagine changing places with her I get the feeling I do on finishing a novel with a brick-wall ending – I mean the kind of ending when you never think any more about the characters…." (p.196-197)
~Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Job with a commentary: Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Ash)
Theological or Christian Living:  Spiritual Depression (Lloyd-Jones)
AO Book Discussion Group: Ivanhoe (Scott) and finishing up (finally!) How to Read a Book (Adler)
On Education: Minds More Awake (White)
Shakespeare: Hamlet (aiming to read a scene-a-day alongside my daughter's Shakespeare class at our co-op.  Don't we all need a little more Shakespeare in our lives?!)
Novel/Biography/Memoir:  The Jungle Books (Kipling) – pre-reading for AO Year 3, Term 3
Read-Alouds with the Children:  The Little White Horse (Goudge), Pilgrim's Progress (Bunyan)

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Reflections on Relationship: The Daily Routine

This is the final installment in my planning series Reflections on Relationship.  You can read the other parts of the series here:
Now that we have considered that the goal of our education is to enrich relationships,  and considered practically how we can do that in several key areas, now it's finally time translate all those ideas into a typical daily routine.   My basic planning process remains the same as it was a couple of years ago, although the daily schedule looks a little different now that I have 3 students.  Nicole at Sabbath Mood Homeschool and Brandy at Afterthoughts have some good thoughts on translating Charlotte Mason's ideas into a daily schedule as well.
Wednesday is our co-op day, and as we have a bit of a drive to get there that is the only thing we have planned for that day.  But on our four school-days of the week at home, this is what our daily routine generally looks like.  I am pleased with how this routine is going for us thus is a good marriage of structure and freedom; it is full without feeling completely overwhelming.
Breakfast and Morning Chores
I aim to get up around 6:30 (although sometimes in reality that means closer to 7) and aim to start our school morning around 8:30 - this gives me a good 2 hours to ease into the day.  I get up, drink my coffee, check in briefly online, and have a bit of time for devotional reading, journaling, and prayer.  Somewhere in there the kids start getting up - some get up earlier, others later.  We eat breakfast, although not necessarily all at the same time.  My husband helps with this, and my older kids can get themselves cereal and toast now, so breakfast tends to be a bit more of a casual-eat-when-you're-ready affair in our home now because of those staggered wake-up times.  After that, we all move towards morning chores: clean up breakfast and attend to any other kitchen jobs, throw in a load of laundry, oversee the kids' morning jobs (again....they are old enough now to handle basic morning chores and hygiene more or less on their own), get the idea.  I used to have a much more highly structured morning routine, but this sort of basic "things that need to be done" and a reasonable amount of time in which to do them has been really helpful for me in this season.  (So has slightly more independent children who don't need so much of me first thing in the morning!!)
Morning Time – All Children
We aim to start Morning Time around 8:30 or so, and it typically lasts 30-45 minutes depending on length of the readings for the day and how much discussion we get into.   Another post coming soon with our Morning Time selections for this year.
After Morning Time: The older two children – Michelle especially – are able to do some of their work independently, so they will start their independent work checklists and I will work with each child one-on-one from youngest to oldest.  Michelle may come to me to narrate independent readings as she is finished with them.  The younger children are dismissed to go play after their time with me is finished. 
Elizabeth – Age 5 – Kindergarten
Elizabeth's kindergarten time takes 30-45 minutes. 
James – Age 7 – First Grade 
James does a few independent items (math drill, drawing, reading) while waiting for me, and then we work together for 45 minutes to an hour.
Michelle – Age 9.5 – Fourth Grade
Michelle can do quite a bit independently, so works through her checklist while I work with the younger two.  Sometimes she finishes everything before I'm ready for her, in which case she is free to do what she likes until I am, as long as she doesn't wander too far and I can easily call her to come.  We spend somewhere between and hour and an hour-and-a-half  going over her independent work and doing certain readings and lessons together.

(Detailed posts on curriculum choices, etc, coming soon.)
 Ideally, all of our school-book-work is finished by lunch.  We've been able to follow this schedule consistently and while it's a full morning, it doesn't feel harried and rushed, and we've been able to jump back on track fairly easily if there is a disruption somewhere along the way.
Lunch - Listen to Composer Music and Folksongs, Habit Training on Table Manners
Clean Up Chores
Rest Time
Sadly naptime has completely disappeared in our home. :(  We have replaced it with a 30-40 minute quiet time in which we all separate to read or do other quiet projects and no one can talk.  I use it to do a bit of reading and try to avoid working on household tasks or the computer until time is up. 
Afternoon Activities May Include Any Combination of the Following Depending on the Day, the Weather, and My Mood...:
  • Free Play Indoors and Out
  • Handicrafts or Drawing
  • Nature Outing and Journaling
  • Homeschool PE Class
  • Mama Gets Her Other Work Done - household or computer tasks, planning the co-op class I teach, errand running, etc.
Clean Up - Dinner Prep - Baths/Showers as needed

Dinner – Habit Training on Table Manners
Evening Family Time: Most evenings this includes a family activity of some sort - often a walk or watching the guys who fly remote control airplanes across the street since we still have quite a bit of daylight.  If we need to stay indoors, then we might play a game or perhaps watch a TV episode or movie.   We close with our family reading time - both Bible reading and a literature read-aloud.
Bed - Kids Go Down by 8:30 at the latest, although the oldest is allowed to sit up in bed reading until 9 or so.  This gives my husband and I some time to hang out together or get a few more things done before we head to bed, ideally by 10:30.

Do you have a daily routine that is working for you in this season?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reflections on Relationship: Enriching Relationships with God's Creation

This is the fifth part in my planning series, Reflections on Relationship.  (Sorry they've been a bit slow in coming.  This little thing called 'life' and 'getting a new school year off the ground' keeps kind of getting in the way.  I'm sure you can relate, no?)  You can read the other parts here:
Today, let's consider how we can enrich our relationship with God's creation.  This falls into the third area of Charlotte Mason's curriculum recommendations – knowledge of the universe (more from Volume 6 here).  Under this heading, she includes Science and Nature Study, Geography, Mathematics, Physical Development, and Handicrafts.
Again, some of these things are fairly straightforward to plan by simply following the Ambleside Online curriculum as written.  Natural history and geography books (coupled with mapwork) are scheduled each year.  In Year 3 and higher, some science experiment books are also added as options – we plan to include A Drop of Water.  Math for us is still just math, plugging away from where we left off last term.
Nature Study is the sort of 'obvious' way in which we can enrich our relationship with God's Creation.  I was reminded at this summer's Ambleside Online retreat that science studies ought to inspire wonder, and ultimately this is my goal.  This was a bit of a struggle for us last year since living in urban Africa limited our options somewhat.  We are looking forward to making this more of a priority in the coming year – we are living in a semi-rural area and have many lovely possibilities for local nature walks.   After our success with our focused plant study last year, we are planning to do a focused pond study for this late summer-fall term.   We have a pond just across the road from our apartment, so it should be easy to visit on a regular basis, and I'll add a couple of pond books to our read-aloud pile. 
My children are at times reluctant nature journalers, but if you look at the old schedules used in Charlotte Mason's schools, suggestions were given for specific numbers and types of nature journal entries.  To help encourage the children to branch out in their journals a bit, I am going to challenge them to do at least 10 entries over the term: 2 on a specific tree that they adopt to follow through the seasons, 4 related to our pond study, and 4 others of their choice – plant or animal.  And obviously, they are free to add other items of interest whenever they want - they surprised me by pulling them out on their own accord the other day and entering blue jays.  We'll choose a new focus area and journaling challenge for the winter-spring term – maybe rocks or climate or birds so we can compare with our African birds.  We'll see what strikes our fancy when the time comes. J
For physical development we will continue to swim as long as the weather is warm and the local pool is open, and walk, ride bikes, and play on the playground daily in decent weather.  We also have an opportunity to join a local homeschool PE class, although I'm not sure yet if it will work out schedule wise.
For Handicrafts – I consider handicrafts and life skills all kind of rolled into one. J   All of the children will continue with chores that they've been learning this summer and drawing (both in our co-op and at home as the mood strikes).  Michelle will also continue typing and crochet projects.  New handicrafts will be cooking lessons using Simplified Dinners for New Cooks (the littler two will start with the basic skills, Michelle I think is ready to jump in to the recipes) and plastic canvas needlework, which was suggested to me as a good prelude to embroidery and finer sewing projects   I'm thinking we'll tackle the needlework this fall (maybe with an eye to Christmas gifts for grandparents?) and focus in on the cooking skills after the first of the year.
How do you intend to enrich relationships with God's Creation this year?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From My Commonplace: On the Start of a New School Year

I just got my hands on the updated second edition of Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest which I have been reading as we prepare to start back to school next week.  A couple of quotes I noted:
" 'Morning Time is not about reaping a quick harvest of spinach or lettuce after a few cool weeks,' she said.  '[It's] about faithfully tending and orchard over long, long years knowing that the future harvest will be far more valuable than any quick crop.  Maybe it isn't even an orchard – this is homeschool carbon which will produce a harvest of diamonds for those who have the patience and the courage to go for the long prize.' " (quoting Cindy Rollins, p.46)
"Ultimately it doesn't matter if you hit every math problem, get through an entire spelling lesson, or whether your child loves learning the way you want him to.  You are cultivating your child like a tree, and trees will bear fruit in time.  We are taking the long view.  Consistency over time goes a long way toward tending our orchard. Faithfully tending to your work  each day is what success looks like for the homeschooling mother.  What matters is that we seek to imitate Christ.  That we order our loves so that our hearts better reflect His. Many days, checklists will go untouched, books will go unread, and ducks will not line up in a row, no matter how much we strive.  Cease striving." (p. 70)
~Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace
These words echo loud and clear the message that the Lord has been speaking to my heart this summer through my own reading and reflections and through the speakers at the conferences I attended.   Faithfully cultivating relationships – with my children and students as Persons, with others around us, with the world through our studies, and with God Himself – that's the priority.  That's what really matters.

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Job with a commentary: Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Ash)
Theological or Christian Living:  Spiritual Depression (Lloyd-Jones)
AO Book Discussion Group: Ivanhoe (Scott) and finishing up (finally!) How to Read a Book (Adler)
On Education: Mind to Mind (Glass)
Topic of Special Interest: Between Books 
Novel/Biography/Memoir:  I Capture the Castle (Smith)
Read-Alouds with the Children:  The Little White Horse (Goudge), Pilgrim's Progress (Bunyan)

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Reflections on Relationship: Enriching Relationships with Mankind

This is the fourth part of my planning series, Reflections on Relationship.  You can read the other parts here:
Today, we are going to consider how to enrich our relationship with Mankind.  Charlotte Mason's curriculum recommendations are centered around three areas of knowledge – knowledge of God, knowledge of man, and knowledge of the universe.  Specifically, knowledge of man encompasses the topics of history, literature, morals and economics, composition, languages, and art (see more on this in Charlotte Mason's Sixth Volume, Towards a Philosophy of Education.)
It is much simpler to work out how to enrich relationships with mankind in practice than the previous two areas because the Ambleside Online curriculum was designed with this purpose in mind.  So it's really as simple as saying we will continue on with that.   For the most part, we use the Ambleside book selections as scheduled, although I occasionally make a substitution.  Michelle will complete Year 3 and begin Year 4 in early 2016, James will complete Year 1 and begin Year 2, and Elizabeth will have her own special pile of storybooks to read with Mama (she will not turn 6 until next March, and will begin Year 1 at the next natural term break after that.)
We will also be participating in a co-op this year which will also foster these relationships in the context of a community.
How are you planning to enrich relationships with Mankind this year?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reflections on Relationship: Enriching Relationships with the People Around Us

This is part three in my planning series, Reflections on Relationship.  You can read the other parts here:
Today, let's consider how we can enrich relationships with those around us – our family and our community.   Charlotte Mason's educational motto was "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."   While the other three aspects of relationship we are considering – God, Mankind, and God's Created Universe – all fall under the heading of 'education is a life', today's topic falls under 'education is an atmosphere' and 'education is a discipline'. 
Education is an Atmosphere
"When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a 'child environment' specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions."  (Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, p. 94)
In When Children Love to Learn, Jack Beckman speaks thus of the learning atmosphere we should strive to cultivate:
"The atmosphere is supportive, nurturing, and caring, reflecting a sense of safety balanced with challenge.  Good habits of mind and body are deliberately encouraged both in teacher and student.  A sense of community is present – praying and feeding on the Word of God, solving problems, and gathering around vital learning together." (p.55)  
I love the picture that he paints of a learning community 'gathering around learning together.'   He also speaks of:
"our role as parents and teachers is to reflect the model of our Lord Jesus in relationship with these little ones – to come alongside and encourage them in their ignorance and sin toward a better way…When a child chooses to act in accordance with his fallenness, this time is best used to instruct the child in relationship." (p.59)
I see here the idea of cultivating a mentoring/discipling relationship with my children, of fostering a learning community within our family rather than a checklist-driven us-and-them mentality.  How to go about doing this is a little bit tricky because much of it relies on consistently checking my own attitude and setting aside my own convenience.   It means watching how I react to them in our learning times or in times of correction and being willing to take advantage of teachable moments.  It means repenting when I fail and asking my children to forgive me.   I hope (I pray!) that this kind of attitude shift will be a byproduct of attending to my own personal spiritual vitality.
On a more practical level, I have thought about some ways that we can restructure our learning time to better foster relationship and community.  For us right now that has meant putting Bible back into our Morning Time, as I mentioned before.  It has meant dropping French completely, at least for now, because of the tension it always caused among all of us.  It has also meant separating everyone for memory work/recitation so that each person can learn their poetry and Bible passages at their own rate rather than fostering a sense of competition or frustration due to children who memorize at different speeds. 
In addition to working to foster a greater sense of community in our home, we will also participate in the community around us through hospitality, attending a weekly co-op, and being a part of our church family.
Education is a Discipline
"By this formula we mean the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully whether habits of mind or of body." (Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, p. 99)
Ah yes, habit training.  This is one aspect of Charlotte Mason's philosophy that's always made me a little bit squirmy.  And so I have tended to be less than intentional about it.   That said, I was struck by some of Maryellen St Cyr's comments about habit training in When Children Love to Learn:
"The necessity of forming habits is an integral part of this philosophy as they aid one in functioning in relationships.  These habits are not tacked onto one's life as another feat to be mastered in a performance culture, but are used as valuable tools in the intellectual, spiritual, and physical development in relationship to oneself, God, and others…Therefore, it is the business of education and the function of the educator to train each child we have been entrusted with in the formation of habits that will allow the child to truly live." (p. 89,99)
The idea that habits 'aid one in functioning in relationships' set off all kinds of lightbulbs in my mind.  One area that we have really been lacking in is helping our children to develop habits of courtesy – things like table manners, greeting people, responding to people who greet you, how to treat visitors in our home.  While I could offer a lot of valid-sounding excuses for this, I won't.  The fact is, whatever has happened in the past, we still need to work on these things  now.  Failing to attend to them has at times disrupted the harmony of our home and relationships with others.  So as much as intentional habit training has always made me kind of squirmy, we are going to work on these things this year starting with table manners – things like sitting properly in your chair, not starting to eat until after prayer, not making rude comments about the food, eating quietly with mouths closed, not leaving the table until you have been excused…you get the idea.   I'm still working out exactly what this will look like in practice, but it is a goal for this year.  Once we have made some progress on that front, we will probably move on to dealing courteously with others (greetings and responding to greeting appropriately, etc) and habits of hospitality (treating others courteously when they visit our home).
How do you intend to enrich relationships with those around you this year?