Wednesday, April 27, 2016

From My Commonplace: Feed My Sheep

"We may not despise them, or hinder them, ('suffer little children'), or offend them by our brutish clumsiness of action and want of serious thought; while the one positive precept afforded is 'feed' (which should be rendered 'pasture') 'my lambs', place them in the midst of abundant food."  (p.81)
~Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education (Volume 6)
This quote comes from Chapter 5 of Charlotte Mason's sixth volume, on the Sacredness of Personality.  She spends much of this chapter exhorting parents and teachers to remember that children are *persons* and not to treat them in any way that might suggest otherwise.  We aren't to manipulate them or force-feed them or tease them or even merely entertain them.  We are to shepherd them.  We are to guide them to the green pastures of true knowledge and let them feed themselves in those pastures.  It is this steady diet of knowledge for its own sake that will help our children/students grow into fully-alive human beings.
This reference to feeding the lambs – shepherding – brought to mind the recent study our church women's group did on Margaret Feinberg's book Scouting the Divine.  In one section of that book, Feinberg observes and discusses the art of shepherding with an actual, modern day shepherd in an effort to better understand some of the references to shepherds and sheep in Scripture.  I flipped back through that section of the book and noted some of the characteristics of good shepherds discussed. 
The Shepherd:
            - is gentle, tender, and patient
            - knows her sheep individually – their unique personalities and quirks – and deals with them accordingly
            - is trusted by the sheep.  The sheep trust the shepherd not to lead them astray and to feed them that which is nourishing – to lead them to healthy, abundant, green pastures.
            - leads gently, without pushing.  "Pushing a sheep produces agitation.  But when I go ahead of the flock and call them by name, they follow me peacefully." (p.61)
So much food for thought there. 

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: The Daily Office Lectionary Readings and Prayers from The Trinity Mission
 The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost (Wright)
Theological: On The Incarnation (St. Athanasius, with introduction by CS Lewis)
AO Book Discussion Group: *Between Books*
Personal Choice: The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (Pyle) – Pre-reading for AO Year 5
With my Hubby: Emma (Austen)
Family Read-Aloud Literature: Little Britches (Moody)
*I am also reading Charlotte Mason's Volume 6 for a local CM book club, but these meetings are infrequent and so I just read the brief section assigned as our meetings come up.   

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Getting Started with Ambleside Online Year One: Phonics, Math, and Handwriting

Welcome back for another coffee chat, friends.  Today we're finally going to dive in to what you've probably all really been waiting for – making sense of what you see when you open up the Year One curriculum page over on the AmblesideOnline site.   It's taken us awhile to get here – thank you for your patience – but I truly do believe that all that foundational stuff we have been talking about is just that – foundational, necessary.  Even a little bit of background knowledge of Charlotte Mason's philosophy will help you as you start to actually put her ideas into practice.  (By the way, I updated the Introduction post with links to all the posts so far in this series, if you want to go back and check them out.)
So…go ahead and take a minute to open up the AmblesideOnline Year One Curriculum page and keep that tab open next to you to refer to as you read through this post. 
The list looks a little bit long at first glance, but don't get overwhelmed.  I like to divide everything on the curriculum list into three categories – the skill subjects (for Year One, this would include phonics, math, and copywork – perhaps foreign language too if you are planning to include one.  We don't at this level – just the real meeting in the ideal in my home.), the booklist (covering the content areas like history, literature, natural history/science, and geography), and all the beautiful glorious rest (art, music, handicrafts, etc.).   My plan is to tackle one of these areas in each of the next three posts.
Today, let's talk about skill subjects.  As an aside, this is one of the things that I love most about the way the AO curriculum is set up.  Because they leave it to you to pick and choose the materials of your choice for these areas, it makes it very, very easy to customize for the needs and ability of your student.  Year One is perfectly appropriate for the brand-new reader starting from the beginning of phonics, for the emerging reader who can read easy readers but not the books scheduled on the reading list yet, or for the advanced reader who is ready to tackle reading some of their own schoolbooks.  I have three children who have all been in different places in reading….and different places in math for that matter…with relation to their AO Year and it has worked well with very little adaptation on my part.  This wouldn't be the case with a grade-leveled, all-inclusive boxed curriculum. 
Reading Instruction: You can see over on the Year One page several choices of reading curricula that the Advisory recommends.  We personally have used a combination of Charlotte Mason's methods, Ruch Beechick's methods, and Alphaphonics, depending on the needs of the child.  Plan for a 10-15 minute lesson each day, depending on the attention span of your student.  As your child gains reading confidence and no longer needs daily phonics instruction, you can begin having them read to you out loud daily from a reader.  We particularly have enjoyed the Reading-Literature readers by Harriette Taylor Treadwell for this purpose, and you can see some of our other favorite books for beginning readers here.  Once they have reached the chapter-book stage, I've started having them buddy-read (reading back and forth together, alternating paragraphs) some of the simpler school books with the eventual goal of gradually handing over the bulk of their school reading to them.  But this whole process will very likely take several years!  Don't expect to move through this whole sequence during Year One. J  Just keep moving along with short, consistent lessons at your child's pace.
Math: Again, you will see over on the Year One page a link to a list of various math options recommended by the Advisory, as well as links to various articles if you want to delve deeper into how Charlotte Mason taught math.  To be completely honest, this is one area I've not dug too deeply into.  We've simply applied some of Charlotte Mason's other ideas to our math lessons – things like short lessons (not more than 15-20 minutes for a Year One age student, and sometimes less) and using manipulatives to teach a concept and making sure they understand before letting the child loose with workbook exercises.   We tried several math programs (poor guinea pig first child!) before landing on Singapore which we've found to be a good fit for our family and intend to continue with through the elementary years at least. 
Copywork: You'll find copywork or penmanship listed under the daily work section on the AO Year One page, with a link to AO's Language Arts scope and sequence which I encourage you to read.   I don't schedule more than about 5 minutes for copywork at this age – even that is sometimes more than my very young students can handle.  Short, consistent lessons are the key to success in this area.  Start with letter formation, and don't expect the child to write more than they can do *well*, even if that means only one or two letters.  Requiring a child to fill a whole sheet with letters tends to lead to sloppy habits, whereas only asking them to do a few and taking their time to use their neatest possible handwriting reinforces the habit of slow, careful work.  All three of my children have used different resources to learn letter formation – so the only advice I have there is to choose a style that you like and go for it, keeping in mind the short lessons and careful work principles.  Once my children mastered basic letter formation, we did away with the handwriting curriculum and just started doing simple copywork – starting with single words, maybe familiar words like family names or words taken from a phonics lesson, and gradually moving to sentences chosen from our school books or poetry.  I've always limited it to the amount that they can do well in about 5 minutes or so and gauged my expectations accordingly rather than requiring a number of words or lines to be copied.
So, that's it for today.  Next time, on to the booklist!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Getting Started with Ambleside Year One: Making Nature Study a Habit

(Yes, this is the same post I posted a couple days ago, with the formatting cleaned up.  Sorry for any confusion!)
Welcome back for another coffee chat, friends.  It's feeling good to be back in this space after a pretty hectic time away.  (Check out what all we've been up to over the last month or so here.) I don't know about you, but spring has sprung in our neck of the woods.  Let's take our coffee outside today and talk about nature study, shall we?
Nature study is another one of those oh-so-important but oh-so-often overlooked aspects of a Charlotte Mason education.  I didn't understand the importance of nature study early on, and I also made it far too complicated.   I would love to help you avoid making the same mistakes.
So, what's the big deal about nature study anyway?  Why did Charlotte Mason encourage us to spend so much time in the out-of-doors?  Do I really have to do it if I'm not an outdoors person or I live in a big city?   I hear you, friends.  I was raised in the city and did not much appreciate the outdoors when I we started this Charlotte Mason thing either.   I didn't know what anything was beyond the most basic and obvious unmistakable things (remind me to tell you the story of how excited I was when I figured out that that bird I was looking at was a robin!  It's pretty funny, actually).  I've lived overseas in fourth-story apartment in France and a big, urban-as-you-can-get African city which made nature study hugely challenging.  But the effort has been worth it. 
I'm not so much going to talk to you about the why of nature study today - I have written about that before here and here.   Today what I would like to do is give you a few tips that may help you get over the hump if you don't feel like nature study or outdoor time is your 'thing'.
1. Start really, really simple.  Go outside in your yard or take a little walk in your neighborhood and see what you see, or find a nearby park or nature center than you can revisit regularly.  Start a little garden if you can and watch it grow - even if it's just some herbs or flowers in a pot on your apartment patio.  Put out a bird feeder.  You don't need curriculum or pre-planned projects to do this.  Just decide that you are going to get outside and keep your senses alert while you're out there.
2. Once you've gotten into the habit of getting out and noticing things, learn to identify the common birds, plants and insects that you see in your area.  Maybe even just choose one category to start with - maybe the birds or the trees you see in your neighborhood or local park.  Get a few field guides for your area.  We've had the best mileage with really simple ones - I like the Golden Guides and the Reader's Digest North American Wildlife book for general North American wildlife and these pocket guides (just laminated brochures) for our state (I presume you can get something similar for other states?)  These simple ones aren't overwhelming to leaf through in the beginning, and when we've not been able to find exactly what we are looking for we usually find something similar enough that we can narrow it down to a pretty focused Google search.  Do you know someone in your local area that loves birds or gardening?  Don't be afraid to draw on their expertise either.  And don't get too hung up on it if you can't identify something exactly.  We've often been content with "I think that might be some kind of fir tree" and left it at that.  Just last night we had an argument around our dinner table as to whether or not that bird we saw out the dining room window was a mockingbird or not.  We didn't resolve it, but we were all noticing and wondering about what we saw...and really, that's the point.  
3. Start nature journaling.  This can be as simple as a sketch (it doesn't even have to be a very good one!) of something you saw with the date, location, and name if you know it.  The point is not as much to produce beautiful artwork but to really observe what you've seen.   If you are taking the time to make a drawing, you will notice more details than you would in passing. We've generally gathered specimens to bring home, when that is appropriate, or taken photos when it's not and drawn from those at home.  Sometimes with things like birds or butterflies that move too fast to draw from life or get good photos, we've drawn from field guides.   The best way to get your kids nature journaling is to model it yourself.  When you are buying supplies, grab a sketchbook for yourself as well and sit down and draw alongside your children.  I am not an artist and was not an enthusiast of nature before Charlotte Mason came into our lives, but I have come to enjoy nature journaling immensely over the years.  Charlotte's students used the dry-brush watercolor technique in their journals, but we've always found colored pencils or watercolor pencils simpler (and the best nature journal is the one that actually gets done!) 
Really, it doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.  You can get more detailed and take on 'special studies' later, but start simple now and build the habit, especially while your children are young and you don't have as much academic work to do.
Want more to read?
How do I get started?
Keep it SIMPLE: Get Out.  Look at Stuff.  Love it.  That's all it takes in the beginning.  More detailed studies can grow from there.
You don't need a 'curriculum' to do nature study! Part 1 and Part 2
What about Nature Journaling? 
Just Do It.  (And do it WITH them.  Yes, that means you Mama!)
Need any more inspiration?
Check out some of our nature study adventures.  Sometimes I feel like we don't do as well as we should at nature study…looking back at my archives encouraged me that a little bit here and there really goes a long way!
Check out the nature study posts over at Joyous Lessons.  Celeste has LOTS of little ones, but has committed herself to making nature study a habit in her family.  Her nature-related posts always inspire me to get back outside!
So here's your challenge for this week, ladies:  get out there and see what you see.  And then come back and share it with us in the comments.  I'd love to see what you find!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

From My Commonplace: Be Like the Bird (...and some other random thoughts on reading)

"Be like the bird, who
Halting in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him,
Yet sings,
Knowing he hath wings."
~Victor Hugo

Not-at-all related to my quote for this week, but related to reading…so I'm putting it here anyway.  (It's my blog, right? ;)) 
A lot of you know that I was reading, and very much enjoying, Milton's Paradise Lost with a group of lovely ladies over on the AO Forum.   A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I needed to put it aside.   It wasn't because I didn't like it – I did!  Such beautiful language and imagery.  And reading a 'stiff' book like that is always better with a group.   I did feel a wee bit guilty about dropping out of the discussion.  But…here's the thing.   March was intense for our family.  My time and energy were at a minimum. I found myself not reading at all because I couldn't manage Paradise Lost, yet I was 'behind' in the discussion so I felt guilty about not reading it.  So I was watching Netflix instead.  Reading a book out of guilt – even a very worthy one like Paradise Lost – is not a good reason to read it.   Reading it out of obligation, or reading furiously to catch up with a group without taking the time to savor it just so I could say I finished and add it to my list….not good reasons either.   I struggle with the temptation to want to read All.the.Books.  Reading All.the.Books isn't a bad thing.  But I don't have to read All.the.Books today.  Paradise Lost has been there for 400 years already.  I think it'll be okay to save it for a couple more until I have the capacity to read and savor and enjoy and not just rush the rest of the way through it so I can say that I finished.
I re-read a Mitford book and finished Pride and Prejudice with my husband.  This kick-started me out of my Netflix habit, even in the midst of all the craziness of the past month.  I read a couple of scholarly articles linked to by various AO friends – these were short but made me feel accomplished because I could finish them fairly quickly.  Finally finished The Screwtape Letters, which had been sitting on my pile for quite a while.  And now I find my reading habit has come back. I'm looking forward to jumping back in with the AO discussion group when we start I Promessi Sposi next month.  I can't read All.the.Books right now, but I can read some.  Slowly.  Gently.  And always keeping a lighter read in there for those days when my brain-space isn't up for a challenge.
All this to say…don't feel guilty if you can't read it all today.   Read what you can and keep the habit alive.  Your mind and heart and soul will thank you. 

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: The Daily Office Lectionary Readings and Prayers from The Trinity Mission
 The Cloud of Witness (Gell)
 A Sacrifice of Praise (poetry anthology, edited by Trott)
 The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost (Wright)
Theological: On The Incarnation (St. Athanasius, with introduction by CS Lewis)
AO Book Discussion Group: *Between Books*
Personal Choice: The Clockwork Universe (Dolnick)
With my Hubby: Emma (Austen)
Family Read-Aloud Literature: The Wouldbegoods (Nesbit)
*I am also reading Scouting the Divine (Feinburg) with a women's group at church and Charlotte Mason's Volume 6 for a local CM book club, but these meetings are infrequent and so I just read the brief section assigned as our meetings come up.  They aren't really part of my regular reading rotation as the rest of these are.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What We've Been Up To...

Out and About:
Oh merciful heavens…where do I even begin?! March was such an intense month for us.  Early in the month, we spent a long-weekend in Florida at my parents' house.  It was really a work-related trip as the main reason we went down there was for my husband to speak in a church that supports our ministry.  But there was a bit of "vacation" in there too.  A date night (Thai food!  I hadn't had it since we were in France.  So good.), a morning at the beach, frozen yogurt, strawberry picking at a hydroponic farm, and an afternoon all to myself at Starbucks to write.  I didn't realize then what a gift that little breather would be.  The second half of March involved Elizabeth's sixth birthday and party (really just a glorified playdate involving cupcakes), signing on our new house, preparing to move and moving into our new house, our 12th anniversary, Holy Week and Easter, Michelle's baptism on Easter Sunday morning and….the flu.  Moving slowly through each of us one at a time.  I don't recommend combining the flu with any of the above, let alone all of the above. Whew.
Enjoying the beach in Florida

Our Birthday Girl

Easter Sunday morning breakfast

In the Schoolroom:
We are continuing our way through Term 1 of Ambleside Online Years 2 and 4.  We have about 2.5 weeks to go to the end of the term.  Our pace has slowed a bit due to traveling, moving, various celebrations, illness (see above) and the call of the gorgeous spring weather.  Field trips and nature study days count as 'school' too. J
I did it!  I finally made a little hand-stitched booklet like I told you I would last time.  It is now Elizabeth's copywork book.  She's very pleased with it.  I used this tutorial.
In the Kitchen:
Michelle is still handling Saturday evening dinners (at least when we're home!)  And me…I'm keeping it simple.  See above about traveling, moving, various celebrations, illness, and the call of the gorgeous spring weather.
The only reason we had Easter eggs this year was because Michelle is capable enough in the kitchen to have managed the operation herself, with my instructions from the couch.  This was when it was my turn to have the flu.
Around the House:
So, yeah.  We bought a house.  And moved.  This was something that wasn't even on our radar at the start of this year.  We weren't looking and didn't think we could afford it right now, but the Lord opened the doors and dropped this beautiful move-in-ready house in an ideal location into our laps.  I have spent my entire adult life globetrotting and living in one furnished rental after another.  To set down roots…this is huge for us.  God is so very good. 
James' new favorite thing to do is assemble Ikea furniture. :)  Surely that counts as school too, right?!

What have you been up to, friends?