Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nutrition and Healthy Habits

As promised here is my first post on my readings of Charlotte Mason's works.  I just finished part 1 of 6 in  Volume 1: Home Education.  Just a little background; the preface to the fourth edition was written in 1905 by Ms. Mason.  Part 1 is titled Some Preliminary Considerations.  I will not bore you with trying to paraphrase her works but I'll just write a couple of things that really caught my attention.  They are attention grabbers mostly because I can see how I relate to her philosophies and  already implement them in our lives.
She of course reminds us of how children are persons in their own right and should be given careful care and attention, especially if we want them to get the most out of their education. 

I particularly enjoyed the end of this section when she starts talking about Conditions of Healthy Brain Activity.   She talks about proper exercise, rest, good air quality and nutrition.  Mind you I realize she was not a doctor or scientist and these were just her observations.  It was astonishing to me to read how over a hundred years ago this lady was already foreseeing some of the problems we have slowly come to experience in our young population today.  I'm sure we all have seen the headlines and national concerns of our children's growing obesity rate, among which include certain health concerns like diabetes and heart problems.  I'm not a politician or do I dare tell people how they should live their lives, but I can try to be a good role model and citizen by assuring that I provide a good environment for my children.  Yes, we are among those who enjoy the occasional drive thru meal or those pizza nights or  even Sunday morning church donuts, but they are not staples in our home.   I had to laugh when I read " fresh fruit at breakfast is invaluable; that, as serving the same end, oatmeal porridge and treacle, and the fat of toasted bacon, are valuable  breakfast foods..."  O.K.  maybe not the bacon and instead of treacle we use honey or agave, but the idea is that this is true in our house: a wholesome breakfast with good grains, protein and fruit. 

You've heard the modern phrase five fruits a day, my kids certainly take this to heart.  Especially since we don't keep a candy bowl or sugary snacks jar.  The fruit basket is refilled on a daily basis as are more nutritious snacks like whole grain or graham crackers.  We bake most of our own treats and often substitute ingredients for healthier ones or add ingredients like flax seed or some protein powder.   As for drinks, because she mentions the importance of drinking pure water, (and again I silently giggled at this) my kids are known to personally ask for water down fruit juices.  And the children don't drink soda!

I hope you don't misunderstand this post, it is just a glimpse at how we've tried to be healthier in our nutritional lives, and just like almost everything else: a healthy life style is also a habit.   Believe me, there is much room for improvement in the area of excercise and I've taken notes.  Ms. Mason states (and honestly I had not completely made the connection myself):

" The lowest round it may be, but yet it is the lowest round, the necessary step to all the rest.  For it is not too much to say that, in our present state of being, intellectual, moral even spiritual life and progress depend greatly  upon  physical conditions."  (Bold my own.) Volume 1, Home Education, pg 37, 1906 edition.

There were so many other great points in this section about school systems vs. methods, theology/spiritual, and mother's (parents) roles.  I hope you'll get a chance to read them too.  I'm deep into the second section and thoroughly enjoying it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amazing Sites: Lake Atitlan

Some more pictures!  The second place we visited on our trip was one of the wonderful lakes in the country.  Lake Atitlan is further from the capital and it's located in the Highlands of the region.  We were told it is the second largest lake in the country with its 50.2 square feet surface area and a maximum depth of 1,120 ft. 
It was not the clearest of days, so you can't see straight across the lake. It would take at least 40 minutes to get there by boat.  I'm not sure if the pictures represent how rough the water felt but it was like riding in the ocean.  We were wearing life vests and holding on!

Our boat ride was a quick 15 minutes along the shore line to a nearby town.  In the town we had a chance to see some indigenous women and girls working on some wonderful weaving.  We also had a chance to visit the town square and see men getting ready for their Holy Thursday procession.  I loved all their work:


We ended our visit to the lake by doing some shopping and enjoying some lunch back in Panajachel, where our visit began.   They're not pictured, but there were bottles of ketchup, mayonnaise and hot sauce at our table;  they were for the pizza!

Can you believe that as soon as we got back on the road it started to rain!  I'm so glad we started early that day : )

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ready For The Originals

I've decided that by the end of this summer I will have read through at least three of the original six volumes on Education written by Charlotte Mason.  Why only three you ask.  Well, I really want to absorb and savor as much as I can from her writing, so I'm trying to be realistic.  (Lets say I'll strive for all six by the end of the year. )  Why read them at all? Well, I've enjoyed our last two years attempting to implement her philosophies of education and I am really at a point in which a connection with her is necessary.  If you are familiar with Charlotte Mason you know that connections are an important part of her philosophy.  What better way to do this than to read her own words. 

Over the last five years I have enjoyed the wonderful interpretations of her works as published by others like Karen Andreola, Catherine Levison, Penny Gardner, Elaine Cooper et al, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, and Elizabeth Foss.  Please let me also mention some of the wonderful moms who bless me with their amazing blogs and sites:  Wildflowers and Marbles, Shower of Roses, Sweetness and Light, Serendipity, Simply Charlotte Mason, Mater Amabilis, Ambleside Online, Handbook of Nature Study, 4Real Learning and many many others.   If there is one constant and recurring theme with all these ladies, it is that they have made Charlotte Mason's philosophies work beautifully in their homes.   I certainly strive to do the same with my family.  I've learned something different from each one of these sources; I've been able to glean what works well for us so far.  They have been a wonderful beginning and I'm sure will continue to inspire me.

I understand that every home and home school looks and feels different.  This is, of course, one of the benefits of a home based educational journey; it is uniquely ours.  This flexibility becomes evident and necessary when you realize that each child is different.  What works well for one might not for the other.  As I've mentioned before each of my children is a unique person; blessed and loved.  God has entrusted me with their well being and education.  Everything I know about Ms. Mason so far shows a kindred spirit attempting to do the very best by these individuals; not just in their education but in their lives. 

A recent article on the Childlight USA Blog made me realize that doing things Ms. Mason's way meant you should understand the whys behind the hows to her philosophies.  This connection needs to be made in order to implement correctly.  I've had a hard time explaining myself when I'm asked what curriculum do I use? Why? How does that work?  Why spend so much time looking for books?  I have to admit I'm not as articulate as others but I do feel and see the benefits in my home.  It does take effort on my part to find the right sources for my children to use as learning tools.  However, once the material is available to them, and we stay on track with the basics of CM's learning philosophy, we can really see the results (this in only two years). 

I still have a long road on this journey and before I go any further:  I am ready for the originals, I am ready for a connection.  I hope you'll join me.  I'll post about some of my A-HA moments through out the seasons.

Photo:  Bir Sur Campground 2005

Monday, May 23, 2011

U.S. Geography Done

The girls have officially finished their year long study of the 50 states.  They started back in late August and have done about two states per week (with the exception of the Advent and Lent seasons).   They each were required to create a States Journal.  In the journal they included some facts like admission date, capital city, state tree/bird, major cities, industry and also pick one key fact to expand on for each state.  This was the most fun because they are each very random and interesting. 

Geography was one of the combined subjects the girls did this year.  While they were reading from the same material and asked to each keep a journal, they really made the learning their own and created very unique work. My fifth graders journal has much more written in it than my second grader; whom has many more illustrations than her older sister.

Every Monday and Wednesday they would pool together the books for their study and begin reading.  It was fun to see the system they developed for doing this.  One read the head line, the other the body; then they'd switch.  Sometimes I happen to be in another room and could hear them laughing over something they were reading or I would walk in and they would immediately want to start telling me about their readings: joint narrations can be lots of fun.  As part of the study I had my oldest do a couple of extra projects, which served as part of her end of term exams.  The first term she wrote a state report for our own state (and her younger sister was eager to help with some drawings), so she did do a little extra reading and research on it.   The second term I had them both create a 3D shoebox presentation of any state they wanted and be ready to tell me about the state.  I honestly haven't decided what we'll do for this term's exam, but I'm thinking along the lines of just a simple map drill. 

I did not require that the girls memorize every state and capital or every admission date, but I'm pretty confident that if quizzed they would know most if not all of them (I've already heard of someone trying to stump them).  The reality is that I tried to provide them with some very interesting living books on the subject: DK State-by-State AtlasNational Geographic Quilt of StatesUnited Tweets of America by Hudson Talbott, and Discover America State by State series (as of last week we've collected all 50 books!).  Then I just let them create a connection with each other and the states following a weekly routine.  The connections to the states become clear when we are in the middle of a reading or talk about a different subject and they interject with some fact about the location mentioned. 

I'm sure that they enjoyed this subject (and each other) much more than just filling in the blanks for every state and memorizing facts.   Although, let me be honest, it is nice to know that many facts will stay with them as a result of making those connections.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Entrepreneur Day

We are very fortunate to belong to two wonderful home school groups.  Each has blessed us in many ways.  I will refer to them as our Big group and our Small group.  Today we did one of our very favorite activities with our Big group.  It's called Entrepreneur Day.  Once a year the kids all create their own products, advertise, and sell during a weekly park day:  flea market style.  We participated our first year with the group, when there were only four siblings; but for the first time since the girls decided they wanted to make something.  So what do we know most about around here: BOOKS!

The girls put together a basket full of used books and got to work making some book corners out of decorative scrap booking paper.  They named their store and decided on a price list.  (I think deciding this was the hardest part for them.)  Even my six year old decided to make some book markers with dot paint and natural paper.  You see that orange/pink swirl notebook?  That's where they recorded their sales.  They made $12.15 total.  Not bad ; )  (Just wait 'till they have to figure out how to divide it.)
The years we haven't sold something, we've had fun taking our piggy bank money and buying from the very creative things there.  Look at the wonderful things we bought today.  Homemade sugar scrub, play dough, paper plate frisbee, carnation seeds ready to be planted, some beautiful beaded earrings and wood made axes/knives (this was a hit with the boys). 

What you don't see and has always been a big hit is all the yummy treats some kids will make.  We had brownies, scones, frost your own cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, green lemonade,  frozen jello sticks and of course good old fashion chocolate chip cookies (they really ate all of this today).  We also have some very innovated entrepreneurs who create game booth style opportunities for us to spend our money.  Croquet was a hit with my six year old and someone created marshmallow blow guns made out of plastic pvc pipes (sorry, I don't have a picture of that one, a little too dangerous for my brood, even if they were just marshmallows).
Here's a close up of those pretty earrings.  Isn't she just so talented? I'm always amazed at all the wonderful talent that gets displayed.  As usual it was a chaotic morning but well worth it.  The kids had so much fun and I know they practiced some very important lessons.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Amazing Sites: Pacaya

My oldest daughter and I had a chance to travel to the country of Guatemala in Central America during Holy Week back in April.  It was truly an amazing trip to experience all the color, faith and culture of this country.  Being avid admirers of nature and including nature studies as a core part of our schooling; we particularly devoured the natural sites visited.  We wanted to include some photos of our trip and give you just a little background about them.  I won't post all at once about our visits, but look out for them here and there.

The Pacaya Volcano is located in the department of Esquintla not far from the capital.  Its elevation towers 8,373 ft.
This is as far as we got and it took us an hour and a half to get here.  Once we were in this general area the ground felt warm and as you can see not smooth at all.
The volcano is by no means dormant.  Just last year, on May 20th,  it erupted causing the president to declare a national tragedy.  That oval you see in the center (we were told) is the mouth of last year's eruption.

I'll leave you with one last picture.  This was at the very top where we were:  AMAZING!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poetry: Beautiful Sing Song Expressions

Rain by Robert Louis Stevenson
Rain is falling all around,
It falls on field and trees,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.
We have all read this poem at some point.  Our children have enjoyed listening to it, copying it, memorizing it, reciting it and even learn to read with it.  Let's not forget all the natural emotions, imagery and thoughts these little four lines stir up.  While by no means am I a literary expert of poetry I humble myself to my children's definition:  beautiful sing song expressions. (And sing they do!)

Poetry has become such a natural and wonderful part of our education and life.  Right down to its weekly Tuesday morning 20 minute slot and its sprinkled presence in our other daily subjects.  My oldest has already grown very fond of her own first Book of Mottoes. It is always near when starting school work; she knows there are many treasures that can inspire in a whims notice and be written in it.

Maybe when we reach upper levels of schooling we will approach poetry with an analytical mind and dissect its contents (though I highly hope not).  For presently we simply enjoy and take heart to Ms. Masons suggestion that poetry "should be read daily" for "the best thoughts of the best minds taking form as literature, and at its highest as poetry" thus "we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature-that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Living Science, Nature Study and Buzzing Bees

For the last two years my second grader's science curriculum has completely been led by living books, nature study and a lesson book to include her very simple narrations.  Our topic last week was about insects.  She read Insect Detective by Steve Voake, Magic School Bus Inside A Beehive, and The Life and Times of the Honeybee by Charles Mucucci. She went about learning as routine:  read a book daily,  narrate after reading, on the fourth day made her drawings and wrote a few things she thought were important.   

Later that afternoon she and her siblings went outside to play as usual (or at least I thought).  Somehow their playing evolved into mad rushing in and out of the house.  Again, not unusual.  A few minutes later, after the noise level seemed to go down (this was unusual), I decided to check out what was going on.  Everyone was on top of  the hillside full of Mezoo Trailing Red ground covering, Dandelions, and other pretty flowers. 

They were armed with clear plastic containers, magnifying glasses and books.  Doing what?  Trying to catch bees.  Why?  To study them of course.  After all we hadn't done our nature study yet.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Little Introduction

I thought to break the ice I'd attempt to explain our motto.  If you are family, friend or just anyone who has ever walked through our doors you understand how dear and true this phrase is to us.

 We are truly blessed with six wonderful children ranging between the ages of 11 and 18 months; the last five all average about 17 months difference in birthdays.  I am convinced that the decibel and energy level in our house is at least 6x’s greater than the average home. While I have taken dear to Ms. Mason's philosophy of education and I make every attempt at an organized routine and constantly work at habit formation my darling children very naturally create an atmosphere of disorder and unpredictability on a daily basis.  This chaos is by no means done in a malicious manner, but rather in the purest form of innocence, youth and curiosity.  These clearly are all good things in trying to create an atmosphere that in the end lends itself to the rawest form of learning. 

They are each individuals and not one like the other.  This is one of the many graces God bestowe’s upon us.  Now, please don’t be misled, God always has a plan.  Our loving Father has very graciously given these children a mother that doesn’t thrive in chaos but rather complete order; and a jovial virtuous father who complements and keeps me level headed.  The result is a graceful balance in our home.  Together we all humble ourselves to his will and plan for ultimate GRACE IN LOVING CHAOS. 

We hope you enjoy your visits.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Binding, Oh No

The season of preparing for the next school year is in full swing around here. For months I've been working on what our fall curriculum will look like. Now I'm just in the process of putting it together. Which means printing e-books, creating copybook journals, and other such materials. And of course after printing I have to have them bound. *

I pondered very hard on which machine to purchase for the task. In the end I went with Zutter Bind it All. I have to admit for the purpose of just binding books there are much easier and practical machines. However, for those of us who tend to enjoy turning something ordinary into something extraordinary you wont be disappointed. The process is straight forward enough and with some practice it will be right down easy peasy.

Not bad for a first project ; )

* Tweaking of plans is permissible.