Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ode to Leaves

How The Leaves Came Down
by Susan Coolidge
I'll tell you how the leaves came down.
The great Tree to his children said,
"You're getting sleepy, Yellow and Brown,
Yes, very sleepy, little Red;
It is quite time you went to bed."
"Ah!" begged each silly, pouting leaf,
"Let us a little longer May;
Dear Father Tree, behold our grief,
'Tis such a very pleasant day
We do not want to go away."
So, just for one more merry day
To the great Tree the leaflets clung,
Frolicked and danced and had their way,
Upon the autumn breezes swung,
Whispering all their sports among,
"Perhaps the great Tree will forget
And let us stay until the spring
If we all beg and coax and fret."
But the great Tree did no such thing;
He smiled to hear their whispering.
"Come, children all, to bed," he cried;
And ere the leaves could urge their prayer
He shook his head, and far and wide,
Fluttering and rustling everywhere,
Down sped the leaflets through the air.
I saw them; on the ground they lay,
Golden and red, a huddled swarm,
Waiting till one from far away,
White bed-clothes heaped upon her arm,
Should come to wrap them safe and warm.
The great bare Tree looked down and smiled.
"Good-night, dear little leaves" he said;
And from below each sleepy child
Replied "Good-night," and murmured,
"It is so nice to go to bed."

*Thanks for the idea Shirley Ann : D

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Book That Fits

Since we started homeschooling I've loved the idea of providing living books to supplement the history text my oldest was working out off.  Transitioning to a whole living book education has not been very difficult.  As I mentioned in my history focus post, this is our most involved subject.  I really try to approach the subject as a family.  I chose a spine for my oldest, which she is loving, and decided on a family spine as well (this is another big hit).  Along the way the younger kids have looked at and listened to a couple of picture books.  As a family they've also enjoyed some of our DVD selections.  We just finished watching Nefertiti Resurrected and the kids were completely captivated.  My oldest has a list of books to choose from for the year besides her spine for extra reading.  First on her list was The Gift of the River by Enid Lamonte Meadowcroft (which I purchased several years ago at a used library sale).  After just a few pages she came to me and suggested that this was a more appropriate book for her younger sister because it looked a lot like her spine; just easier reading.  Hmm...I hadn't picked a spine for her.  I just assumed she wasn't ready for a narrative all of her own.  Well, I followed my daughter's advice and had my younger daughter read a few pages aloud to me.  She's over 1/4 into the book : D

I recently read an article in the last Home Educating Family Magazine that made me think of her.  The article talks about parents being focused on finding particular titles (both in print and OOP) and not straying from their course.  Curriculum's out there will have their book lists and only those on the list are appropriate because of course those are the books that go with the plans.  The author was making a point of how there are so many books out there that are just as good as the next one.  One child might just love and engulf themselves with a particular title while it might not be the next child's spoonful of sugar.  The parent just has to be open to finding appropriate and good books that their child will enjoy.  Not being tied to someone else's plan has allowed me to do this for my children.  I know that there are wonderful titles out there that some of my children would just not enjoy.  I've quickly discovered that is the case in our home.  I underestimated my daughter's ability to focus on a complete book for her history studies because I was just concentrating on what some book lists suggested for her age group.  She almost missed experiencing a treasure on the history of Egypt.  I'm so glad that we have given ourselves that freedom from a must be this way or it won't be right mentality.  

On the specific issue of history (although she also makes this point with almost every other subject) Ms. Mason said:
"For the matter for this intelligent teaching of history, eschew, in the first place, nearly all the history books written expressly for children; and in the next place, all compendiums, outlines, abstracts whatsoever.  For the abstracts, considering what part the study of history is fitted to play in the education of the child, there is not a word to be said in their favour; and as for what are called children's books, the children of educated parents are able to understand history written with literary power and are not attracted by the twaddle of reading-made-easy little history books."  pg 281 Volume 1 Home Education
Don't misunderstand the quote.  I still think there is a place for many wonderfully written picture books that all my children enjoy; from the oldest to the youngest.  I think that Ms. Mason would agree with me that if it is a well written book even a children's picture book is worth introducing when studying history.  My point is simply that I almost missed an opportunity with my eight year old because I thought our family read aloud was all she could handle.  I even contemplated getting some of the books that Ms. Mason would have deemed as twaddle to supplement our family spine.  Well, my daughter has proved me wrong.  The Gift of the River is such a good living narrative of the era that she enjoys having this spine to give her the following experience:
"...[I]s a subject which should be to the child an inexhaustible storehouse of ideas, should enrich the chambers of his House Beautiful with a thousand tableaux, pathetic and heroic, and should form in him, insensibly, principles whereby he will hereafter judge of the behaviour of nations, and will rule his own conduct as one of a nation." pg. 279 Volume 1 Home Education
Her narrations have been so vivid that I know she is not only understanding the history of Egypt but enjoying it as well. I have been very pleased with this book selection for her.  History as a subject is one of the most living book rich subjects that we have.  There is just so much of a selection out there.  Don't get to hung up on a list;  just be mindful that it meets your criteria for picking a good book.  Of course you are always in charge of what those parameters might be.  There is always a good living book that fits.

* I should disclose there is language/terms in The Gift of the River  you might want to make sure you discuss with your child.  For example how people of other countries are referred as.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's Starting To Feel Like Fall

If you are a friend, then you've surely noticed that the kids and I had some fun turning our little blog space more fallish.  If it's your first time visiting: welcome, it's starting to feel like fall around here! Lets just say that we don't live in Maple Tree covered streets.  Those beautiful fall colors can sometimes be obsolete around here; and, oh, do I love those warm colors!  There is one very lovely set of Maple trees at the bottom of our hill on the corner of the street.  We make a left turn unto this street and those gorgeous trees always greet us with those signs of changing seasons.  Guess what, the leaves are turning red!

After visiting my husband's grandmother on Sunday afternoon we decided to take a  mile walk around a nearby park.  It was a simple walk and very much a maintained landscape, but the signs were there.  The kids brought home some collectibles to make sure they would be drawn and recorded in their nature journals.  They picked up some fallen acorns, a fig, and some twigs.

Well, the bug was there and the next day right after dinner the kids decided they needed a real nature hike.  We drove to our nearby Alma Mater and hiked up to the cross on a hill.  It was a nice short hike and the kids were more than eager to point out new things:  flocks of birds (including a set of ducks), a hawk that sat on top of a ridge (we were so close and the obvious was pointed out: "where's your camera mom!"..."in the car without a memory card"), some wild Brown-eyed Susan's, cooler temperatures on the way down and we got to see the sun beginning  to set much earlier than usual.

Yes, it's true the season is changing and we are excited to witness each of the new signs.  By the way, those collectibles (the kids are eager to stuff in my bag),  get to be placed on a nature table sitting on the left as soon as you walk in our front doors.  So if anyone who has ever been to my house has wondered why I keep a basket full of dry stuff...well it's what the kids collect on our walks and they just sit there for the season...until the next new things replace them.  (The pinecones have survived the purge all year.)

Oh my, we can't forget that it also means some of our favorite fall books come out.   This year we put out Pumpkin Moonshine by Tasha Tudor, Oak Tree by Gordon Morrison, The Tree in the Wood by Christopher Manson, Brambley Hedge Treasuries by Jill Barklem, Christopher's Harvest  Time by Elsa Beskow, and also by her Woody, Hazel and Little Pip.  For a little science this year I added Soon After September by Glenn Blough after reading Jen's recommendation ; )

One last sign that is just a mommy sign but I notice this right away.  Who wouldn't, they're just so yummy...The coffee shops are now selling their pumpkin scones and breads!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Abstracts of Math

Remember I mentioned MATH is one of those subjects that is truly a transition for me or maybe it would be better to say that the way we approach math has to change.  I recently read through the Arithmetic section of Volume 1 and once again I left it feeling I had more clarity on the subject.  It is always nice to have your instincts validated.

Our approach to math (oh, when I say we or our I mean my husband and I) has been the very traditional school system way.  Memorize math facts move on to more memorization of times tables and if anything is missing add more drill page problems to daily routines.  Well, in the early years you can certainly get away with this because lets face it:  it is basic math.  There comes, in a few years, a time when all these basics have to be extracted in order to understand new concepts requiring certain knowledge.   By now some of that information is at a very abstract level.  Enters Miss Charlotte Mason with her infinite wisdom:
"The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, intellectual truthfulness it engenders....There is no must be to him; he does not see that one process, and one process only, can give the required result.  Now, a child who does not know what rule to apply to a simple problem within his grasp, has been ill taught from the first, although he may produce slatefuls of quite right sums in multiplication or long division." pg 254, Volume 1 Home Education
At a certain point I realized that our oldest was not understanding new concepts of math because she just simply didn't have a real grasp on her math fundamentals.  Mind you, we aren't even talking higher math like Algebras or Geometry (although the argument can be made that it is the beginning of those) .  We were just dealing with fractions and unit values.  She just kept digging herself trying to compute new things without really knowing where the idea even began.   We stopped and just took it slow.  She is better about it now but it is still a subject she handles with care.

My next train of thought was how do I approach this with the younger ones, so they don't dig the same.  These are a few things I discovered on approaching math:
"...[D]emonstrate everything demonstrable.The child may learn the multiplication-table and do a subtraction sum without any insight into the rationale of either.  He may even become a good arithmetician, applying rules aptly, without seeing the reason of them; but arithmetic becomes an elementary mathematical training only in so far as the reason why of every process is clear to the child." pg 255-256 Volume 1 Home Education
She goes on to explain how the child will gradually move from using tangible items to imaginary ones and last arrive at the idea of abstract numbers:
"A bag of beans, counters, or buttons should be used in all the early arithmetic lessons, and the child should be able to work with these freely, and even to add, subtract, multiply, and  divide  mentally, without the aid of buttons or beans, before he is set to 'do sums' on his slate.
He may arrange an addition table with his beans...and be exercised upon it until he can tell, first without counting, and then without looking at the beans...as he learns each line of his addition table, he is exercised upon imaginary objects, '4 apples and 9 apples,' '4 nuts and 6 nuts,' etc; and lastly, with abstract numbers - 6+5, 6+8." pg 256 Volume 1 Home Education
Hmm, I can do this. I've tried to incorporate some math programs which use this philosophy in teaching math in early years.  I've even considered learning more about Montessori since I know some very smart CM moms whom think it is a great way to approach this philosophy (that might be my next very big reading assignment to tackle after CM's six volumes ; D )  Mind you she doesn't say that this is a subject to be taught with a living whole book on an idea like history would; but what I understand is that the child should relate to numbers in very real every day situations. So in  a sense we can say that the approach  should be a living approach that can easily transition the child from real tangible objects to the more imaginative forms which will ultimately get them to understand the black and white of abstract concepts. 
"It is quite true that the fundamental truths of the science of number all rest on the evidence of sense; but, having used eyes and fingers upon ten balls or twenty balls, upon ten nuts or leaves, or sheep or what not, the child has formed the association of a given number with objects, and is able to conceive of the association of various other numbers with objects.  In fact, he begins to think in numbers and not in objects, that is, he begins mathematics. " pg 262 Volume 1 Home Education

Now, here is something that really struck me about our approach to math.  One of those thoughts that you need to hear, even though it is tough to hear, even though your instincts tell you it should be so:
"Arithmetic is valuable as a means of training children in habits of strict accuracy...That which is wrong must remain wrong: the child must not be let run away with the notion that wrong can be mended into right  The future is before him:  he may get the next sum right, and the wise teacher will make it her business to see that he does, and that he starts with new hope.  But the wrong sum must just be let alone.  Therefore his progress must be carefully graduated; but there is no subject in which the teacher has a more delightful consciousness of drawing out from day to day new power in the child.  Do not offer him a crutch; it is in his own power he must go.  Give him short sums, in words rather than in figures, and excite in him the enthusiasm which produces concentrated attention and rapid work.  Let his arithmetic lesson be to the child a daily exercise in clear thinking and rapid, careful execution, and his mental growth will be as obvious as the sprouting of seedlings in the spring." pg 260-261 Volume 1 Home Education.
That is a lot to digest, but just so powerful.  We want our kids to feel good so we just keep going on with the next problem ... the next page ... the next concept ... the next book ... and before you know it your child just feels overwhelmed and your frustrated.    This was us.  I'm so glad that I went with my instincts and slowed down before really hitting those upper level mathematical concepts.  I've appreciated reading this small section on math and getting a clear understanding of how and why to approach math in a gentle manner.  I might not have a natural mathematician who can just see all the abstracts in her head from the get go; but I know I do have a logical thinking child that with time will process this subject appropriately.  I will leave you with one last wonderful quote:
"The child, who has been allowed to think and not compelled to cram, hails the new study with delight when the due time for it arrives.  The reason why mathematics are a great study is because there exists in the normal ind an affinity and capacity for this study; and too great an elaboration, whether of teaching or of preparation, as I think, a tendency to take the edge off this manner of intellectual interest." pg 264 Volume 1 Home Education

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Delightfully Beginning to Read and Read Some More

I'm treading on new waters this year.  A little background first.  I thought two years ago that I was close to giving up on this whole idea of home schooling.  I had just had baby number six, moved to a new house and had three children officially needing schooling (all happening within months of each other that fall).   The biggest stress on my mind was how on earth am I going get my children to READ!!

My oldest, I've never worried about.  She is an independent learner and lets be honest she was reading very well by the time we pulled her out of school, after her first grade year.  My next child, was introduced to a public school preschool but had no other experience after that.  She is the one that I quickly discovered that year could not handle our umbrella school's suggested first grade curriculum.  It wasn't natural or gentle enough for her.  I had to teach her to read from the beginning!  I had no idea what I was doing.  I was sticking to the suggested phonics program with workbook and phonogram cards her whole kindergarten year.  It seemed like very slow progress or none at all really.  Now, add my next child.  He was considered a pre-k student needing to learn basics for the kindergarten year.  I was starting to feel very inadequate at my task.

That fall I decided things needed to change.  My approach had to be different or I was setting myself up for failure.  I had read about CM before and enjoyed a few things that I was doing with the children already.  I chose to read Karen Andreola's A Charlotte Mason Companion.  Her first few chapters were speaking to me.  Especially, when she gets to how she taught her daughter to read!  That made sense, finally.  I let go off expectations and just began to try that approach with my daughter.  I didn't worry about teaching her rules and following a phonics program.  I kept the workbook because she enjoyed it, but I didn't stress over it.  By the end of her first grade year we had moved from creating simple words and learning sight words to actually reading Frog and Toad books together.

I had also decided that fall that after our Advent break we would try a new approach to her schooling.  That is when we switched to a very CM learning style for her and my son.  I stop stressing about him filling in workbooks and just let him come along for the ride with his sister.  We decided to follow a letter a week filled with picture books, cooking, nature study and art appreciation.  That worked wonderfully for both of them.  He enjoyed the alphabet and that was perfect.  She was reading and learning in the most gentle way.

Now move forward to today.  She is a young third grader, my son is a first grader, I also have a young kindergartner and a very precocious three year old that already knows his alphabet and letter sounds.  Do you see where the majority of my efforts concentrate?  BEGINNING READING!!  I thought two years ago was tough, but after a few weeks of school in and I can surely see how much of my time is given to this area.  They are all at different stages of this very important task.  Let's just say that when I chose to read Volume 1 of Charlotte's writings this summer, I didn't realize how much I would appreciate the understanding and reinforcement behind that one chapter I read two years ago. 

There is much I have learned to appreciate about how to approach the nine and under child and there is also such value that I have gained from reading Part V: Lessons As Instruments of Education.   In the section on Reading the process is described and I had to just giggle when I got to this part:
"I wish some publisher would provide us with what we want - nursery rhymes, in good bold type, with boxes of loose words to match - a separate box, or division, for each page, so that the child may not be confused by having too many words to hunt amongst.  The point is that he should see, and look at, the new word many times, so that its shape becomes impressed on his brain." pg 213
If you continue to read about Tommy's lesson you can clearly see the description of how SCM Delightful Reading Kit approaches the task.  I giggled because the kit is what I've been using since it came out earlier this year.  I loved reading about the process two years ago and tried to do it myself, but had not read the original words from Charlotte and was still a little unclear on how to go about it.  Don't let the price discourage you; you can certainly recreate this process yourself.  I am a visual learner and seeing the kit, how it is set up, how it is to be used just made it easier for me; and I had four little ones that would get some use out of it.   I would, however, encourage you to read about the process.  I did just that this summer and my mind is just so clear on how to proceed.  I remember enjoying the teacher's manual that comes with the kit and enjoying all the CM quotes at the moment, but just something about me reading it from Charlotte's book that just lit a light bulb, an aha moment.  I also think that the fact that I've gone through this once is giving me some practice and just a little more confidence.  I am enjoying this approach of beginning phonics combined with sight words using delightful reading.  It is simple but effective.  (please don't misunderstand, I'm sure there are wonderful phonics programs out there, this was just the best fit for us)

For my very young children, learning the alphabet is just to be fun and inviting.  I won't say much here, but will refer you to a wonderful post on this. Bobby Jo has a four year old son and over at Where The Black Top Ends she's full of inspiration.  My wheels are already turning on some projects ; )

As for my third grader, I've been asked if she continues to do a phonics program.  Honestly, I don't think we have ever really followed one.  When she reads to me I can see that there are rules she hasn't learned but that's o.k.  We are covering them and with more practice she will get them.  Big example I noticed this week:  the sound of ph is f.  She kept missing the word Pharaoh.  For just a second (o.k. a lot more than that)  I was second guessing myself as to whether she should have some type of program on her schedule.  Then I referred to section VIII: Reading for Older Children:
"The attention of his teachers should be fixed on two points - that he acquires the habit of reading, and that he does not fall into slipshod habits of reading....This habit should be begun early; so soon as the child can read at all, he should read for himself, and to himself, history, legends, fairy tales, and other suitable matter...He should have practice, too, in reading aloud, for the most part, in the books he is using for his term's work." pg 226-227
I have to admit this is what I have been doing with her for over a year now.  I always have reading material that challenges her and she is to read aloud to me.  This year I've included even more material that she is to read to herself.   I'm very pleased with her progress.  I'm convinced that the more reading she does the less necessary it is for us to be worried about the fact that we didn't follow a phonics program full of rules for her to remember.  She is learning them as she goes and she is enjoying some wonderful books at the same time.

I don't feel any of the stress I did two years ago.  I feel energized and so blessed to be taking this journey with my children.  I am the best person for the task.  The end goal for all of them is to read well.  Once they are doing that, this will follow:
"Therefore, the selection of their first lesson-books is a matter of grave importance, because it rests with these to give children the idea that knowledge is supremely attractive and the reading is delightful. Once the habit of reading his lesson-books with delight is set up in a child, his education is - not completed, but - ensured.." pg 229