Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From My Commonplace: On 'Goodness Infinite'

"Yet him God the Most High vouchsafes
To call by vision, from his father's house,
His kindred, and false gods, into a land
Which He will show him, And from him will raise
A mighty nation, and upon him shower
His benediction, so that in his seed
All nations shall be blest. He straight obeys,
Not knowing to what land, yet firm believes.
'I see him, but thou canst not, with what faith
He leaves his gods, his friends, and native soil…
Not wandering poor, but trusting all his wealth
With God, who called him, in a land unknown…
This ponder, that all nations of the earth
Shall in his seed be blessed. By the seed
Is meant they great Deliverer, who shall bruise
The serpent's head…"
(Lines 120-129, 133-134, 147-150)
…who shall quell
The adversary serpent, and bring back,
Through the world's wilderness, long-wandered Man
Safe to eternal paradise of rest…
… of His reign shall be no end."
(Lines 310-314, 330)
"Thy punishment
He shall endure, by coming in the flesh
To a reproachful life, and cursed death;
Proclaiming life to all who shall be believe
In His redemption; and that His obedience,
Imputed, becomes theirs by faith: His merits
To save them, not their own, though legal, works."
(Lines 404-410)
"O Goodness infinite, Goodness immense!
That all this good of evil shall produce,
And evil turn to good; more wonderful
Than that which by creation first brought forth
Light out of darkness."
(Lines 469-473)
~John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book XII
A few choice lines from the final book of Paradise Lost.   I had set Paradise Lost aside during a busy season this past spring, and figured it might be a couple of years before I would pick it up again.  So much to read, so little time, right?  But my summer reading took a bit of a detour when I picked up a paperback copy of Surprised by Oxford (I had previously read it off my Kindle) and re-read it.  Her descriptions of studying seventeenth century literature at Oxford inspired me to pick Paradise Lost back up...and I finished it!  I am so very glad I did.  The story Milton tells in Paradise Lost is a heartbreaking one.  Satan rebels against God in heaven…he falls.  God creates a beautifully perfect world – He speaks order into the chaos, and Satan infiltrates it and tempts Adam and Eve into sin as well.  They are cursed, and thrown out of God's beautiful paradise.  All is lost.
Or so we think.
But all is not lost.  There is Another One coming.  One who will triumph.   One who did triumph at the cross, and One who will come again in ultimate victory.
This is a crazy world we live in.  There are times when the Unthinkable happens.  There are times when it seems that Chaos overwhelms.  There are times when it seems All is Lost.
Christ Has Died.  Christ Is Risen.  Christ Will Come Again.   We declare those words every week in church as part of the Anglican liturgy.
I don't know about you, but that's a truth I need to hold on to.
"O Goodness infinite, Goodness immense!"

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Galatians with the Paul for Everyone Commentary (NT Wright)
The Daily Office Lectionary Readings and Prayers from The Trinity Mission
 Theological: You Are What You Love (Smith)
AO Book Discussion Group: I Promessi Sposi (Manzoni)
On Education: (Between Books)
Personal Choice: A Morbid Taste for Bones (Peters)
Poetry: TS Eliot
With my Hubby: Emma (Austen)
Family Read-Aloud Literature: Anne of Green Gables (Montgomery)
*I am also reading Charlotte Mason's Volume 6 for a local CM book club, but these meetings are infrequent, and it is my third – or fourth? – pass through it and so I just read the brief section assigned as our meetings come up. 
Click Here for more Words

Monday, July 18, 2016

What We've Been Up To....

Out and About::
One of my goals for our "summer term" was to take advantage of some field trip opportunities….and we did!   A few highlights…
The Discovery Place, our local hands-on science museum.  The second time they went, Papa took them uptown on the commuter train which was an extra special bonus.
Long hike in one of our local parks.  When the weather cools off in the fall, I'd love to do a lot more of this kind of thing.
And swimming.  Lots of swimming.
In the Schoolroom::
We finished our summer term right before the Fourth of July.  We left off exactly half-way through AmblesideOnline Years 2 and 4 (and 6 weeks in to Year 1), which will be a good place to pick things up again in the fall.  We read Twelfth Night – the first 'real' Shakespeare we studied at home.  We read a retelling first to familiarize ourselves with the plot, followed by this movie version (over about three viewing sessions), and then the older two and I took parts and read through the play.  So much fun!  We've also gotten back in to drawing again, and had a blast drawing a scale-plan of our dining room after reading that section in Charlotte Mason's Elementary Geography.   Summer term was a success. 
The past couple of weeks have been blissful nothing, other than my planning wheels turning along in the background while my children invent wildly creative games such as "World War II bomber pilots", which involves launching paper airplanes across the room at various targets….
We made little wooden people to go with our Twelfth Night study.  I'm not a crafty Mama, but this little project was fun.  They have gotten a lot of play too, so very well worth it.  Our inspiration came from here.

In the Kitchen::
Peaches.  Carolina peaches.  And ice cream.  Or if you prefer, coffee with ice cream.
Oh merciful heavens yum.  I'm not a fan of Carolina summers (think upper 90s and HUMID), but this just about makes up for it.
Around the House::
I have slowly started going through some of the boxes in our garage, boxes that have been in storage for most of the 15 years we lived overseas.  What a trip down memory lane that has been.  I've turned up some real gems in the process.   Like this:
My old Disneyland pass from college days.  Disneyland was only about 15 minutes down the freeway from where I went to college, so we went often.  Back in those days, you could purchase an annual pass for only $99.  I always used my birthday money for this purpose, and then had a whole year of something free-and-fun to do on Friday nights (or for the cost of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream in a dipped waffle cone on Main Street).  Such fun memories.
And also this:
My best friend and I on my 19th birthday.  I will decline to share how many years ago THAT was.  She's still my best friend, even though we live in different states, and I get to see her next week. J
What have you been up to?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Charlotte Mason on Books

"One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books, the best books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child's intellectual life."  (p.279)
~Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children
See honey, my obsession with books (and therefore need for more bookcases) is TOTALLY LEGIT.  Charlotte Mason SAID SO.
This may be my favorite Mason quote yet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

From My Commonplace: On Remembering

So my summer reading recently took a detour when I decided to revisit Carolyn Weber's Surprised by Oxford, a favorite from a couple of years ago.  Surprised by Oxford is a compelling memoir of the author's journey to embracing the Christian faith while studying literature at Oxford University in England.   I love this book on so many levels.  I was raised in a Christian family and never went through any significant period of doubt and questioning, so I appreciate being able to see through the lens of someone who did have to grapple with those questions.  I love the literary references.  I love the thread of romance that runs through it.  And: England. Oxford.  Come now.  Now I want to go.   But I can't, so maybe I'll just dust off Paradise Lost and finish it instead.
There are so very many great quotes in this book.  I can't quote them all….but I hope you'll bear with me if I spend the next few Commonplace posts reflecting on a few of them.
" ' Despair is the greatest sin,' Dr Nuttham finally responded slowly.  It involves forgetting that God is there.  Forgetting that He is good and that all He is and does extends from and works towards this perfect goodness.  That doesn't mean that he allows evil or creates it, or perpetuates it.  That's our entwinement.  Rather, He uses our evil towards His good.  We all need forms of remembering this first great love…writing, reading, creating, being." (p.62)
~ Carolyn Weber, Surprised by Oxford
It is pretty easy to be tempted to despair in this day and age, isn't it?  This world is sometimes – no, often -- a sad and messy place.  
I love the reminder here that we need "forms of remembering" – writing, reading, creating, being.   Literature.  Poetry.  Music.  Art.   We need those things.
Lynn Bruce talked about this in her session at the Ambleside conference in Texas back in May.   This is what I have scribbled in my notes:
"We get to walk alongside our children as the scroll of wonders unfolds.  We can hold to the riches of this wide and generous education through no-matter-what life throws at us.  It was the poetry, the literature, the music that came back and pulled Lynn through her cancer diagnosis [a diagnosis that, in her case, is not going away.  Lynn has been living with cancer for the last 8 or 9 years.  Every day is both a struggle and a gift for her.]  Our children will have struggles – we are giving them a gift.  We are shoring up our children with goodness, truth, and beauty."
We are giving them something to remember – something to be an alternative to despair.
(Here is another great article on this topic that someone shared on Facebook the other day, one that expresses this truth more eloquently that I can.)

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Galatians with the Paul for Everyone Commentary (NT Wright)
The Daily Office Lectionary Readings and Prayers from The Trinity Mission
 Theological: You Are What You Love (Smith)
AO Book Discussion Group: I Promessi Sposi (Manzoni)
On Education: Parents and Children (Charlotte Mason)
Personal Choice: A Morbid Taste for Bones (Peters)
Poetry: Paradise Lost (Milton)
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 it is my third – or fourth? – pass through it and so I just read the brief section assigned as our meetings come up. 
Click Here for more Words

Monday, July 11, 2016

Getting Started with Ambleside Year One: Is it Enough?

Well friends, here we are.  We started this journey together way back in February (that long ago?  Yes, my friends, that long ago.)  Here we are in the heat of summer and finally wrapping things up.   I hope that those of you still following along have found some little bit of encouragement in what I have written here, and that I have succeeded at least a little in helping you to feel like you CAN do this.  Because you can, Mama.  You've got this.
For our last coffee chat today (okay if we make that an iced coffee?!), I'd like to offer some thoughts in answer to the question is it enough?
Are good books, oral narration, and copywork enough for language arts for my Year One student?  Don't we need spelling and composition curricula too?
Is nature study enough for science?  Oughtn't I get a science textbook with experiments and throw that in there too?
Is it enough to listen to the music during composer study and look at the paintings during picture study?  Shouldn't we try to read biographies and find out about the style of the artists and correlate it all with history?
We finished all our lessons for the day in 2 hours!  Is that really enough?
I hear these questions asked by those new to Charlotte Mason's ideas frequently.   I asked them myself as a newbie getting my toes wet in Year One for the first time.  We look around at what our young students – Kindergarteners, First and Second Graders – are doing in the school system, and think that we aren't possibly doing enough
But guess what Mama: relax.  Yes.  It is enough.
Think about it this way: Charlotte Mason tells us that education is the science of relations, and that the ultimate goal is not how much a child knows but how much he cares.  Our goal is to help our students develop relationships with a wide variety of ideas, to help them understand how all of the pieces fit together, and to keep alive their thirst for more. This is true across the board, but it is especially true for our youngest students in the early years of their formal education.
A friend and I recently had a Facebook conversation about this.  She had specifically asked that question about composer and artist study – what is the point of that really?  Shouldn't I be trying to do this in a more structured, chronological, art-and-music history kind of way?  This is what I replied to her…a reply that bears repeating here because it answers not only the music-and-art question, but the bigger picture question behind it too:
So, composer and picture study - especially in the younger years - isn't meant to be a music (or art) history course. It IS one of those things that they are supposed to make their own connections with. Spending a longer period of time with a certain set of pieces (or paintings) from a specific composer/artist really does help them to develop a relationship with it, and I have found that it does kind of stick with them. It takes a while to see it though. [Michelle] is what - 10 now? We've probably done this style of composer study on 9 or 10 different composers over the past 4 years, and she has made connections like "Handel sounds an awful lot like Bach, mom, did they live around the same time?" (Why yes, my child, they did as a matter of fact...) We've found the same to be true with artist study. Over time - given time to really make a relationship with the artist - they start noticing similarities in style between different artists. And it's THEIR discovery.
I know there is an art history book scheduled in the upper years of AO, and with the foundation of familiarity with a variety of artists from a variety of periods, that's going to be a whole lot more meaningful when they get to it and put a name to the different styles and eras, etc.. I think the same holds true for music study.
One thing I've come to realize is that Charlotte Mason education is sort of a departure from other forms of education in that it is more of a whole-to-parts approach rather than the other way around. We let them know and wonder and delight in things in their younger years - and later on get into the more technical nitty-gritty analytical kind of information. (The same idea behind nature study being the best 'science' for the younger years, because it lays the foundation for higher level science study in the upper years.) So that's really what we're trying to do here. Also - there is a CM quote I love and was reminded of at the recent conference - something along the lines of it is not so much what a child knows, but how much he cares. It matters more that he loves music than knows all the things about it. We are educating for a rich-and-full life and for kids who will leave high school with a thirst to continue to learn for the rest of their lives. We don't necessarily need to cram everything in to those 12 years we have for them at home.
And if we don't have to try to cram everything in to the 12 years that we have with them at home, we *really* don't have to try to cram it all in to Year One.
Trust the Process.
And Enjoy the Journey.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Getting Started with AO Year One: Towards a Schedule

We are nearing the finish line with our little series here!  Two more posts left  in the queue.  Today, let's chat a little bit about principles for scheduling, and next time we'll wrap things up with some final thoughts. 
So schedules.   One of the things that I love about AO is that while they have pulled together the syllabus for the year for me, and even broken that down into a weekly reading list, they have NOT actually offered me daily lesson plans.  That gives me the freedom and flexibility to take that weekly reading list, together with our skill subjects and the beautiful 'riches', and make them work in our specific situation.   While I love that, I realize that some of the rest of you might not love that so much.  The thought of having to take that weekly plan and translate it into a daily schedule might be really overwhelming.
I could tell you what I do, but what I do may not work for you.  And that's okay.  I have three school-aged children in three separate years.  My Year One student is my youngest.  One of my students is very independent, one is slowly (very slowly) moving towards independence, and one is has to do everything with me still.   We do a co-op one day per week.  In our family dynamics, we can combine some, but it works best for us not to combine a lot.   Your situation might be different.  Your Year One might be your oldest or only student.  You may have babies and toddlers in the mix, or children with special needs that require your extra attention.  You may find that combining works better for your particular mix of personalities than it does for us, so you may want to consider doing more of that. 
So with so many variables to consider when scheduling, where should we begin?  With a few principles.  Christy Hissong has an excellent guest post over at Afterthoughts on this very topic (I also heard her present on these principles at the AmblesideOnline Conference in Indiana last summer.)  Click over there and read it, and then on back over here and I'll share a bit about how those principles play out in our situation….which will hopefully help you brainstorm what these principles might look like in YOUR situation.
So, did ya read it?  Good.  Let's chat about it now, shall we?
Principle #1: You need a schedule.
Well, we are routine-loving creatures of habit over here, so this one goes without saying for us. J We've toyed around with different variations on a daily routine here, but what has always worked best for us is getting to lessons right after breakfast and working until we are done…because then we're done! J  Right now, we begin our morning with a short walk right after breakfast, followed by a group-morning-basket time with a rotation of combined subjects, and then I work one-on-one with each student from youngest (least independent) to oldest (most independent).   This is certainly not the only way to do it – Celeste over at Joyous Lessons is a mother-to-many with lots of little ones, so her day looks different from mine.  Consider your own needs and situation, and develop a routine that fits that.
Principle #2: Lessons should be short.
The short lessons principle is one of my favorite things about Charlotte Mason's ideas on scheduling.  It is amazing what you can accomplish in short, consistent chunks!   For my current Year One student, a 'short lesson' might range from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on what it is.  Copywork is never more than 5, Phonics is usually 10-15 minutes, Math can be 15-20, and readings vary according to length.  Something like Aesop doesn't take any more than 5-10 minutes, including time for narration, whereas the Blue Fairy Book might take multiple 15-20 minute read-and-narrate sessions spread over several days.  The key here is to adjust your time expectations to your student and stop *before* their attention wanes.  When that time is up, close the book even if the lesson/chapter isn't done, and come back to it tomorrow. 
Principle#3: Lessons should be varied.
This is what varied/alternating lessons look like for my Year One Student, with times so you can see how the short-lessons work too:
Morning Basket (including all of my children – Years 1, 2, 4) (45 minutes-1hour)
Bible Reading+Narration (10)
Prayer (5)
Song (5)
Reading+Narration (15)
Song (5)
"Activity" Rotation: Artist/Composer Study, Drawing, Nature Journaling, Geography  (10-20)
Year One Lesson Block (just over 1 hour)
Phonics (10)
Math (15)
Reading+Narration (10)
Poetry Reading + Recite Memory Work (10)
Copywork (5)
Nature study outings, handicrafts, and free readings tend to be more 'lifestyle' things that happen naturally in the afternoons, evenings, and weekends rather than part of our formal morning lesson time.
Principle #4: Plan for margin.
I have three formal-school-age students, and it's important for me to be finished with lessons by early afternoon. This means our mornings are pretty packed. This is also where those short, varied lessons principles come in handy. Our mornings are packed, yes, but not a slog.)  That said, we're not early morning people here, so one way we've planned for margin is by not starting lessons too early – I've given us the space we need to ease into the day.  We shoot for our morning walk around 8:30ish and aim to be on the couch with the morning basket by 9.  My Year One is usually done with lessons by 11, the Year 2 by noon, and the Year 4 by 1:30-2 depending on how long lunch takes. If we're not done by 2 for some reason, we just stop there anyway, which leaves lots of free time in the afternoons.  When my children were all young, we weren't involved in many outside activities.  This coming year we will be involved in more activities than we have in the past, but all of them (swimming, choir, co-op) are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, which still leaves 4 days of the week we are primarily at home and free in the afternoons.

So take some time.  Consider your family's situation in your current season, and consider these principles.  Find something that works *for* you rather than *against* you.  And then just go for it.   There is no perfect schedule or One Right Way to do things.  You will need to adjust things along the way.  But the only way you will know if it's going to work is to give it a try and see what happens.  Go for it, Mama!
For further reference: I've actually written quite a few posts on planning and scheduling in the past. Apparently, I am a planning and scheduling geek. :P  You can read some of those posts here for further ideas and what our routines have looked like in different seasons of our family life.