Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Family Studies: Morning Time (2014-2015)

This year we had three defined areas where all my children worked together:  Morning Time,  Morning Read Aloud and Weekly Work.  I'll discuss each in series of posts.

Morning Time

Morning Time at our house begins at about 8:30.  When I was really struggling with sleep deprivation, it could get moved to 9, but I did a pretty good job of keeping the start at 8:30.  At the beginning of the year I was trying to start it at 8, but that proved unsustainable.  Generally Morning Time takes about an hour, allowing for discipline issues (*ahem*).

Opening Prayer (2-3 min)
Hannah putting the red chasuble on
Fr. Pine to honor the feast of a martyr.
Each morning we start by dressing Father Pine in the correct liturgical color, then we pray a Morning Offering Prayer followed by the Collect for the day.

Hymn (2-3 min)
For the first half of the year, we were working on a selection of hymns.  I used recordings for some of them to help with the tune, but once I knew the tune we were able to sing without the recording.  I neglected to add more hymns after the Christmas break, and by the end of January I petered out on this.  Singing with my kids is one of the more fatiguing activities for me, and in my sleep deprived state it was something that needed to go.  We all miss it though, and it will come back in the fall.

Songs we learned in the first part of the year:
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Amazing Grace
To Jesus Christ, Our Sovereign King
Faith of Our Fathers
Holy, Holy, Holy
Holy God, We Praise Thy Name

Mass Readings (15-20 min)
Using the Universalis app, I read the day's Mass readings with the kids.  I would announce each reading, ask where it is found in the Bible, read the reading, and then have the kids will narrate it, starting with the youngest.  Usually Nathan (7) and Gregory (9) would stick with the content of the reading or ask a question, and Emma (13) would offer a connection or reflection on the reading.  I would sometimes offer my own connection or reflection, but I try to keep it extremely brief - a sharing between brothers and sisters in Christ, not a mini-sermon.  We also pray the Responsorial Psalm, but generally Emma is the only one who will give the response.  

Prayers of the Faithful (5 min)
We pray for whatever and whoever is on our minds and hearts, each taking turns.  Everyone except Hannah (19 mo) takes a turn, although sometimes Justin (3) declines.  At the conclusion of one person's prayer he will say, "We pray to the Lord" and the rest of us respond, "Lord, hear our prayer".  If you're Catholic, this will sound quite familiar.  :-)  Then we pray an Our Father for the souls in Purgatory, a Hail Mary, and end with, "We ask these things in the name of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

Folksong (2-3 min)
Folksongs suffered the same fate as the hymns, although I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do about bringing them back next year. After singing Lord Randall every day for a month I was about done with mournful folk songs, but I'm not sure I want to just include the peppy ones in our rotation.  Maybe some we'll just listen to once or twice a week, and some we'll sing and try to learn?

Songs we learned in the first part of the year:
Dixie
America
Lord Randall
The Star-Spangled Banner

Poetry (5-10 min)
We used the absolutely wonderful and handy collection of Y3 poetry assembled by Ambleside Online.  Each day I read three poems - a new one, the one from two days ago, and the one from yesterday.  That way we heard each poem (at least) three times.  Sometimes we'd read a favorite in addition to the three poems for the day.  We didn't read all of Teasdale poetry or any of the Conkling poetry though - I ended up switching to A.A. Milne (from Y1) instead.  

Singing Practice (5-10 min)
I used the excellent Sight Singing School to practice basic music reading and Sol-fa.  This program is fantastic, and we definitely made progress.  It is also extremely easy to use.  We would have done even better if we hadn't taken a 4 month break from the program...  but I was happy to see how well the kids remembered what we'd been doing when we picked it up again in April.

Memorywork (15 min)
This could be a post in itself, but I'll keep it short here.  We practice our memorywork using a system like Simply Charlotte Mason's verse memorization program.  However, we use Evernote instead of a file box (thank you, Celeste, for this idea!) and we move things to twice a month before they go to once a month.  Our memorywork spans poetry, Latin prayers, Spanish prayers and poetry, Shakespeare, and useful information like our address and phone numbers.

Home Geography (5-10 min, not that we actually did it)
I was supposed to be using the geography resource recommended by Ambleside, but it never got off the ground.  I think I read from it once or twice?

Spanish Song (2-3 min)
This was a lot of fun, but again it got dropped in the great mommy fatigue of early 2015.  I used music from ¡A Bailar!, which conveniently has the lyrics to their songs on a handy PDF on their website.

Songs we learned in the first part of the year:
Brilla, Brilla Estrellita
De Colores
El Baile de Las Manos
Cabeza y Hombros

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ambleside Online Y7 in Review (2014-2015)

To Recap: my Y1 review, and my Y3 review.  There's not a lot of duplication here, because there's a big difference between Y1, Y3, and Y7!

Before I begin to share my 2015-2016 plans, I want to spend a little time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  As I've mentioned before, I used Ambleside Online as my guide for planning the school year.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of Year 7 with Emma in 2014 - 2015.

Daily and Weekly Subjects:

Narration:
Emma narrates each of her readings, either immediately afterwards or at some point later in the day. Her oral narrations were generally while we were taking an afternoon walk or while I was making dinner.  At the beginning of the year she wrote 2-3 narrations a week, and by the end she was writing one a day.  At the beginning of the year I assigned which readings would have written narrations, but by the end of the year she was selecting some of them.  If she did not narrate a book orally on the day the reading was assigned, she would have to do a written narration for that reading.

For the first half of the year, she wrote her narrations in a basic composition book, then switched to a document on my computer.  She felt like she could type faster and compose better on the computer than on paper, and since I feel the same way, I let her switch.   In April I set her up with a private Wordpress blog and now they are all tagged by book and nicely ordered.  It is password protected and my husband and I are the only ones who have access to it.  Keeping narrations on a blog like this has been great for my husband and me because it makes it easier for us to read what she's doing and has made it so that my husband can be much more aware of what she's reading and writing.

Copywork:
Emma's only assigned copywork was a verse or two from Luke each week.  She also has a Commonplace book, but uses it only sporadically at best.

Dictation and Grammar:
In the first term of the year, I had Emma doing dictation twice a week and grammar twice a week.  She is an excellent speller, so dropping dictation was a natural choice when I realized that her schedule was too full.  She continued with grammar using Our Mother Tongue into the second term, but once she finished the first unit of the book I put it aside.  She felt like she was understanding  studying grammar through Latin and Greek much better than she was through this book so we streamlined and dropped Our Mother Tongue.  I'm considering bringing it back for part of the year next year as I do think there is value in studying grammar in English, but I haven't decided yet.

Latin:
Emma is very slowly moving through Henle Book 1.  She's finished the first section which introduces the five declensions.  She did 2-3 thirty minute sessions of Latin a week.  In the third term Emma surpassed me in Latin.

Greek:
Three years ago, Emma decided she wanted to learn Greek.  I was enthusiastic about the idea, because I think to at least gain some familiarity with a language with a different character set while young is a fantastic endeavor.  And besides, Greek!  How great is that?  She started with Book 2 then Book 3 of the Hey, Andrew series but found the pace was too slow and they were too repetitive.  I moved her to Basic Greek in 30 Minutes a Day towards the latter half of Y6 and she's continued that this year.  She likes the book and it is going well for her.  She's entirely self taught, I didn't even get past the Greek alphabet.  The best I can do is try and help her check the answer key.  She did 1-2 thirty minute sessions of Greek a week.

Spanish:
Emma is currently using Rosetta Stone Spanish, Level 2.  We really like Rosetta Stone, and feel like it works well and is worth the money.  New this year was the addition of some Spanish translation work, using First Spanish Reader.  She uses Rosetta Stone for 15-20 minutes four to five days a week and does Spanish translation once a week for 30 minutes.  When translating, she first copies the paragraph in Spanish, then writes her translation, and then we go over her translation together.  I took Spanish in high school and college and I'm currently using Duolingo to learn and review (I have a 322 day streak!) so I'm generally able to help her.  Emma is taking a break from Rosetta Stone over the summer and using Duolingo as well.

Math:
Emma has been using the Life of Fred books for several years now, and they've worked well for her.  She started the Algebra book at the beginning of Term 3.  She's found the Life of Fred books very self-explanatory and only occasionally needs help from me.  I do check her work at each bridge (or city, as they are now called in the Algebra book) just to keep abreast of how she's doing.

Book of Centuries:
Emma is using a new Book of Centuries this year, and she's liking this one a lot better.  We were using the one from Homeschool in the Woods, but after reading The Living Page, I decided to switch to the one Jen at Wildflowers and Marbles discussed.  Emma definitely could be making more entries in it than she is, but I'm glad to see that she's been adding at least one to three entries a week over the course of the year.  She has not added any sketches or pictures to her Book of Centuries.

Geography:
For Geography review, I have her using the TapQuiz Maps app two to three times a week.  I also have her look up locations for her reading, and she has a large map of Britain and Ireland next to her work area that gets a fair amount of use.  

Handicrafts:
Emma is very good at knitting and crochet, as well as working with felt, and counted cross-stitch.  She's a very creative person who draws well, enjoys working in clay, and has done some work with acrylics as well.  Some of these pursuits are done at home, but I also try to sign her up for classes periodically at a wonderful art studio/cooperative in town.  She's able to get some good dedicated time for working on projects there, as well as access to a kiln and wonderful instructors.

I'll talk about picture study, music study, Shakespeare and Plutarch when I discuss our family work. 

The Booklist:

Titles in Bold are books we used and finished all I had scheduledbooks in Italics are books we abandoned or didn't even begin, and books in plain type are books we put in some work on, but did not complete as scheduled.  *Books with asterisks are her favorites.  +Books with a plus are ones I read as she was reading them.

Please see the Ambleside Online Y7 Booklist for links to the AO books

History and Biography:
+*The Birth of Britain
+In Freedom's Cause
+*The Daughter of Time
+*Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
+Other excerpted primary source documents (see the AO List)

Geography:
*Brenden Voyage
+*How the Heather Looks
+*Book of Marvels, Ch. 31-49

Faith:
A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture (link)
+How to Book of the Mass  (link)
+*The Story of a Soul  (link)
The Power of the Cross  (link)
The Gospel According to Luke  

Literature:
+Age of Chivalry
+*Once and Future King
Chaucer for Children: A Golden Key
+History of English Literature
+*Ivanhoe
+*Watership Down

Natural History:
+Lay of the Land

Science:
+The World of Atoms and Quarks  (link)
+The Wonder of Light  (link)
+Adventures with a Microscope  (link)
+The Journey: A Look Inside the Human Body  (link)
+Microbe Hunters  (link)
+*Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science  (link)

Citizenship:
+Ourselves
+*Penny Candy

Poetry:
Idylls of the King
*Grammar of Poetry

Art History:
Story of Art by Gombrich  (link)

Other:
How to Read a Book

Free Reading:
I have a list of about 100 books that Emma read over the last year.  It seems a little much to post them here, don't you think?  She reads a wide variety of good quality fiction, historical fiction, and some non-fiction too.  

General Comments:

I picked different science books than what is listed for Y7 because the new science recommendations were not out yet when I was planning my school year, and by the time I heard about them, I had already started the school year.  I'm really glad to see that AO is transitioning to a living book science curriculum, and I'm looking forward to exploring the Y8 selections.

On the whole I was happy with the faith related books I picked for Emma.  I wanted to give her something that would be sort of a nuts and bolts kind of book, a saint biography, and something more devotional.  The How to Book of the Mass was great - a fantastic choice for a faithful Catholic family who attends a Novus Ordo Mass and isn't likely to attend anything else regularly.  When I picked The Story of a Soul, I had no idea Emma would choose St. Therese as her Confirmation Saint.  She made this decision even before starting to read the book.  It is a special gift to get to read a book written by your Confirmation Saint, and very helpful to have it already in the schedule!  We didn't get to The Power of the Cross though, but she did have another devotional book, How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist, she was reading during our monthly hour at Adoration.  And I love Knecht's Commentary on Holy Scripture because he does explains the typology in the Old Testament so beautifully.

And in case your wondering what happened with the books we didn't use as planned, here's a bunch of excuses brief discussion:

Age of Chivalry - This book was fine, but frankly I found it made exciting stories rather boring.  Emma did ok with it, but once we finished the Arthurian stories I decided to put it aside.  Again, that struggle between workload and life meant some things had to go.

Once and Future King - I was trying to read this aloud to Emma, as a special mother-daughter time. I wish I could have kept up with it, but we only made a couple chapters past the end of Book 1.  I have dreams of continuing it over the summer, but that hasn't happened yet.  We loved this book though, and it was a great one to share aloud.

Chaucer for Children: A Golden Key - Emma did better with this book than I did.  I admit that I dropped back to the Chaucer paraphrase by Tappan so I could know what she was narrating.  This was also in the height of my sleep deprivation, and I hope that I can be up to Chaucer the next time around!

Adventures with a Microscope - I bought slides to use with some of the chapters in this book, and that worked well.  Emma did some lovely sketches in her science notebook from her microscope observations, but we did not get as far in this book as I had hoped.  Again, time crunch and a mismatch between aspirations and reality.

Microbe Hunters - We read two or three chapters of this book and I realized I had scheduled her to go through this book much too quickly.  Since it was one I had scheduled for term 3, I decided to pull it and move it to Y8.  The chapters are long and rich, and there were a number of points that cried out for illustrations, online research, and future discussion.

Grammar of Poetry - This has been a great program for Emma.  She's enjoyed learning about the structure of poetry and has sometimes enjoyed writing the poetry as well.  And sometimes that has been a real struggle too, but a worthwhile one.  I'm very glad we're doing it.  We weren't able to get the program until October though, which meant we haven't finished it.  But I plan to have her finish it next year.  I had hoped to do it with her, but that didn't happen.  Maybe next time I have a child go through it.

Poetry - Emma read Idylls at the rate of 15 minutes a week and it took quite awhile to read it at that rate.  But she enjoyed it and also participated in our family poetry time so she had the opportunity of enjoying other poets as well as Tennyson's Idylls.

Art History - I used Gombrich's book because I already owned it.

What I Would Do Differently:

I would skip the Age of Chivalry from the beginning and offer it as a free read.

I would not use The History of English Literature for Boys and Girls.  We both felt like the book talked down to the reader, frequently discussing how wonderful a particular book is then stating that the reader is far too young to enjoy the book, but perhaps he can pick it up when he gets older.  I could see reading selected chapters to give some background for books we're actually reading, but reading the whole thing through felt like a lot of facts without much to hook them on to.  Neither one of us felt like we were retaining much because it was such a litany of books...  and we felt discouraged to look into any of them further by the author's attitude.

I would not schedule out Ivanhoe over the whole year.  Ivanhoe is certainly well written and exciting story, but it is a far cry from accurate historical fiction, even though it feels like it should be. And the author's negative view of the Church and everyone associated with the Church grates over time, and isn't something I want to give such careful study.  Why is it that every religious figure in the book is some combination of greedy, conniving, unfaithful to his vows, a glutton and a fool?  We also listened to The White Company in the car, which had similar issues with the portrayal of religious figures, as well as many harsh words against the cloistered life.  I would keep the White Company as a free read, and not spend the time we spent on it as an audiobook.

I think I would assign Beowulf and Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight (there's an audio version from Audible that has the book read in a modern translation as well as the original language - doesn't that sound wonderful?) instead of Ivanhoe.  Both are already on the free reading list and I think they would be excellent candidates for slow assigned reading.

I would not assign Lay of the Land again.  I thought this book was beautiful, and found a lot in it to encourage me to look more deeply at the world around me, as well as some wonderful quotes about the value of nature study and observing the natural world.  The book fell pretty flat for Emma though, and her narrations of it were not very good.  I think I'd keep this book for an older student.

I would like to use the AO Science recommendations next time, now that they are in place and finalized.


And, that, in an extremely large nutshell, is Year 7.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Ambleside Online Y3 in Review (2014-2015)

For those of you who have read my Y1 review, some of this may look familiar.  But for the sake of completeness, I'm leaving in a little bit of duplication.

Before I begin to share my 2015-2016 plans, I want to spend a little time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  As I've mentioned before, I used Ambleside Online as my guide for planning the school year.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of Year 3 with Gregory in 2014 - 2015.

Daily and Weekly Subjects:

Gregory narrated from each of his books, and at this point can narrate quite well.  He still will not always pay attention to names and places well enough to recall them in the narration, but he is steadily improving.  Generally his narrations were completed with his younger brother Nathan.  One would start, then they would trade off until the end.  Then I gave them each a chance to fill in anything that they felt the other person missed.  They did this with the Y1 and Y3 readings, since I found it impossible to separate them at read aloud time.

Gregory completed ten mintues of copywork in cursive every day.  Gregory started learning cursive using Simply Charlotte Mason's cursive book in Term 3 of last year, so we finished that book then moved into the cursive copywork books I purchased from Classical Copywork.  These are fantastic and saved me a great deal of work.  I used the Aesop book, the Genesis book, and the Patriotic book.

Gregory is about halfway through MEP Year 3, and is moving a little more slowly than I would like largely because he's still working on cementing the basic math facts.  I also have him using XtraMath every day to help with this.  I really should be doing more activities with him from the teacher's guide and working with him more, but it wasn't something I figured out how to add in this year.  Instead we mainly worked through the pages with me nearby, and I helped when he got stuck or confused.  I'm hoping to do better with this next year.

We did not keep any sort of history timeline, which I regret.  We did look up places on our globe and maps as we encountered different locations in our readings, and Gregory seems to be retaining this information well.  He's also been practicing with US Geography using the Stack the States app and the TapQuiz Maps app.

I'll talk about art, music study, foreign language, and handicrafts when I discuss our family work. 

The Booklist:

Titles in Bold are books we used and finished all I had scheduledbooks in Italics are books we abandoned or didn't even begin, and books in plain type are books we put in some work on, but did not complete as scheduled.  *Books with asterisks are his favorites. +Books with plus signs are ones he read to himself.  All books were narrated.

History:
+ Children's History of the World 
+ This Country of Ours  (I read aloud for the first half of the year)
Our Island Story
Our Lady's Dowry
+ Leonardo Da Vinci
* Michelangelo by Diane Stanley
* Bard of Avon by Diane Stanley
+ Landing of the Pilgrims
+ Marco Polo (Komroff version)

Natural History:
+ Pagoo
+ Secrets of the Woods

Faith:
* Rare Catholic Stories
+ Tall Tales
Bible Story Book

Literature:
Heroes by Charles Kingsley
+ * Children of the New Forest (I had Gregory read this aloud to me)
+ * The Princess and the Goblin  (I had Gregory read this aloud to me)
+ Jungle Book
Pilgrim's Progress
+ * King of the Wind

Poetry:
William Blake
Teasdale/Conkling
Longfellow

Other:
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

Free Reading:
I have a list of about 100 books that Gregory read over the last year.  It seems a little much to post them here, don't you think?  But he is reading fluently and happily on his own, and reading a wide variety of good quality fiction, historical fiction, as well as some non-fiction too.  

If you're familiar with the Ambleside booklist, you'll notice a few things are missing, namely:

Parables from Nature - I just didn't like this book, largely because it seemed too longwinded and it didn't leave enough scope for imagination (Nelleke and I had an interesting conversation about it in the comments on her blog recently)

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare - I didn't use the Shakespeare retellings because we've been doing Shakespeare as a family for two years already, and he's been participating in that.  

Trial and Triumph - We're Catholic, so I do not consider this book an good option for our family.  Instead he listened to stories about English and Irish Saints from Our Island Saints with his brother.

Bible Readings - We read and narrate the Mass readings just about every day in our home, so everyday the children are hearing and narrating from the Old Testament or Epistles and the Gospels.  I decided that since these readings aren't always in order, I would also read a Bible story book to give the children a better grounding in the chronology of the Bible.

A Drop of Water - We used this book last year and did many of the experiments, so I did not schedule it again for this year.

And in case your wondering what happened with the books we didn't use as planned, here's a bunch of excuses brief discussion:

Jungle Book:  This book was a stretch for Gregory, and I could tell by his narrations that he wasn't getting the stories as fully as I would have liked.  I had him reading one story a week, and I should have broken it down into 2-3 reading sessions.  However, our spring schedule didn't allow for that, so we only read the Mowgli stories.  When I do Y3 again in 2016-2017, I'll allow more time for the book and read it out loud.  I'm sure Gregory will listen in and he'll get a chance to enjoy it more.  It is such a wonderful collection of stories!

King of the Wind:  This is actually a free reading book, but I moved it to Gregory's schedule because it seemed like in the second term he needed a little more.  I probably should have started Jungle Book in Term 2 instead, but I didn't look ahead that far.  However, he enjoyed it, and it was a fun (and easy) one for him to read and narrate.

Teasdale/Conkling poetry:  As I mentioned in the Y1 post, I blended the Y1 and Y3 poetry selections for our poetry selections after the first term.  Teasdale and Conkling were put aside for the (far more enjoyable *ahem*) A.A. Milne.

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding - From what I've seen on the AO forums, using this book is rather, well, contentious.  I like it though, and I think it can be used in a way that would work extremely well with Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education.  And I think something like this would give my kids a little more to consider and contemplate beyond nature study.  We live surrounded by so much nature and we are out walking in the forest every day - and the kids are extremely observant of the natural changes in the world.  This is a two edged sword though, because it can be hard to get the kids to engage in the typical nature journalling since it is so ubiquitous.  Or perhaps it is simply a discipline and teaching issue that I'm trying to solve by throwing a book at it.  It wouldn't be the first time...  I didn't end up using it because by the time I had scheduled myself to start it (after covering some of the scheduled topics in The Handbook of Nature Study) I was really struggling to do what I was doing and couldn't take on the learning curve required for the book.

The Elephant in the Room:
No discussion of Year 3 can be complete without at least a passing mention of the issues of a Catholic family using Our Island Story to study the Reformation period in England.  I skipped chapters 63 and 66-70 wholesale and read some of Our Lady's Dowry (a good book, but unfortunately incomplete and only available by subscribing to the Mater Amabilis Yahoo group).  I also skipped paragraphs and dropped some of the more negative descriptions of Catholics in many other chapters.  There are things I like about Our Island Story, namely the quality of writing and the narrative style of the work, but there are some serious historical inaccuracies as well.  To say, for example, "During her [Queen Elizabeth's] reign people were neither tortured nor killed in the name of religion" is absolutely wrong, and would have been a shocking statement to anyone who did not follow the state church, be they Catholic or Puritan or a non-conforming sect.  There's ample evidence to the contrary, and gross inaccuracies like this drive me crazy.  One of our family read alouds for the year is Crossbows and Crucifixes, a needed balance to some of the problems in Our Island Story.

I'm not quite sure what I'll do about Our Island Story when I encounter Y3 again.  I may use just a few chapters along with Our Lady's Dowry and Crossbows and Crucifixes.  It is certainly not one I would hand to my child to read on his own.  Celeste, at Joyous Lessonshad a good discussion about this issue in the comments of this post.

And, that, in an extremely large nutshell, is Year 3.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ambleside Online Y1 In Review (2014 - 2015)

Before I begin to share my 2015-2016 plans, I want to spend a little time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  As I've mentioned before, I used Ambleside Online as my guide for planning the school year.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of Year 1 with Nathan in 2014 - 2015.

Daily and Weekly Subjects:

Nathan has a huge advantage when it comes to a Charlotte Mason education, namely that he's been listening to his older siblings narrate for years.  In fact, he started voluntarily joining narrations about two years before he began Year 1.  Nathan also has a magnetic attraction to me reading aloud.  If I am reading aloud anywhere in the house, he'll be there before I'm halfway through, and generally bringing his own book for me to read next.  After the first couple of weeks of our school year, I realized it was going to be impossible to read to Nathan and his older brother, Gregory, separately.  So Nathan ended up reading and narrating from Y1 and Y3, all year long.  I have no idea how this will play out in 2016-2017, when it is his turn for Y3!  

Nathan completed about seven to ten minutes of copywork daily, largely using copywork books I purchased from Classical Copywork.  These are fantastic and saved me a great deal of work.  I used the Aesop book, the Genesis book, and the Patriotic book.

Nathan is just about finished with MEP Year 1, which was a great fit for him and a wonderful (and free!) math curriculum.  I plan to do a little bit of the rest of Year 1 over the summer, then start him on Year 2 in the fall.  I didn't end up using the teacher's guide as much as I should have, but I've gained enough training in the MEP methods from using it for two years already with Gregory that we did ok.  It is something that I plan to remedy next year, however.

We did not keep any sort of history timeline, which I regret.  We did look up places on our globe and maps as we encountered different locations in our readings.  I am not sure that much of it was retained, however.

I'll talk about art, music study, foreign language, and handicrafts when I discuss our family work. 

The Booklist:

Titles in Bold are books we used and finished all I had scheduled, books in Italics are books we abandoned or didn't even begin, and books in plain type are books we put in some work on, but did not complete as scheduled.  *Books with asterisks are his favorites.

*50 Famous Stories
Our Island Story
Our Lady's Dowry
*Viking Tales
Our Island Saints
*d'Aulaire - Buffalo Bill, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin
Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints
*Paddle to the Sea
*Harriot's Treasury 
*Aesop
Just So Stories
Blue Fairy Book
A Children's Garden of Verses
*Now We Are Six
Oxford Book of Poetry
Pilgrim's Progress
Bible Story Book
Burgess Book of Animals
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

If you're familiar with the Ambleside booklist, you'll notice a few things are missing, namely:

Parables from Nature - I just didn't like this book, largely because it seemed too longwinded and it didn't leave enough scope for imagination (Nelleke and I had an interesting conversation about it in the comments on her blog recently)

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare - I didn't use the Shakespeare retellings because we've been doing Shakespeare as a family for two years already, and he's been listening in on that.  

Trial and Triumph - I decided I would rather focus on English and Irish Saints from the Year 1 time period.  Besides, I'm Catholic.  :-)

Bible Readings - We read and narrate the Mass readings just about every day in our home, so everyday the children are hearing and narrating from the Old Testament or Epistles and the Gospels.  I decided that since these readings aren't always in order, I would also read a Bible story book to give the children a better grounding in the chronology of the Bible.  

And in case your wondering what happened with the books we didn't use as planned, here's a bunch of excuses brief discussion:

Our Island Saints - The stories are on the long side, and worked better split over two weeks.  I decided to read fewer of them this year.  I'm going to continue this book next year.

Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints - We read all of the first book, and about half of the second.  I'm not particularly enamored with the fairy tale-ish feel of these books, and when I looked at what we were already reading, I decided to drop it from the schedule.

Blue Fairy Book - I will fully admit that this is a place where I am lacking.  I really dislike reading the Lang fairy tale books aloud.  I'll read picture book fairy tales and shorter versions...  but the Lang ones just seem to go on and on and on and on and I just want to die.  My kids have listened to them as audiobooks though, and I am trying not to let on how I really feel about them.

Oxford Book of Poetry - I decided after the first term to read poetry as a family.  So Term 2 was A.A. Milne, and Term 3 was Longfellow (from Y3), which meant I skipped the Oxford Book of Poetry.

Burgess Book of Animals - I was reading this to Nathan and Gregory the previous year and at about five chapters from the end we all had more than enough of Old Mother Nature and Peter Rabbit.  If I could never read another Burgess book again, that would be a great thing.  We started reading some more detailed nature related picture books and Secrets of the Wood Folk by William Long, both of which were creating far more connections, lasting memories and interest in my children.

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding - From what I've seen on the AO forums, using this book is rather, well, contentious.  I like it though, and I think it can be used in a way that would work extremely well with Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education.  And I think something like this would give my kids a little more to consider and contemplate beyond nature study.  We live surrounded by so much nature and we are out walking in the forest every day - and the kids are extremely observant of the natural changes in the world.  This is a two edged sword though, because it can be hard to get the kids to engage in the typical nature journalling since it is so ubiquitous.  Or perhaps it is simply a discipline and teaching issue that I'm trying to solve by throwing a book at it.  It wouldn't be the first time...  I didn't end up using it because by the time I had scheduled myself to start it (after covering some of the scheduled topics in The Handbook of Nature Study) I was really struggling to do what I was doing and couldn't take on the learning curve required for the book.


And, that, in an extremely large nutshell, is Year 1.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Loop Scheduling Using the Reminders App

I'm really not all angst and navel-gazing in my real life, and to try and give some evidence of this I thought I'd share how I manage loop scheduling.

If you haven't come across the term, loop schedules are the brainchild of Sarah Mackenzie of Amongst Lovely Things.   She has a great explanation on her blog, but in short you take a group of things you don't do every day but you'd like to do regularly and put them in a running todo list.  Then you have a spot in your daily rhythm where pick up the a thing on that list and do it.  Then you don't do anything on that list again until you've crossed all the items off.

When I read about this last year, I immediately recognized the brilliance of this idea.  No more missing the Tuesday read-aloud because Tuesdays were frequently a tough day!  No more skipping a particular activity for week after week because I just didn't really feel like tackling it with the kids that day!  (*ahem*)

Through the late spring, summer and fall last year I played around with how to best implement this in my home.  I started with a paper list, but that was not a good solution for me.  The paper always ended up in the wrong location when I needed it, got mangled, or I would forget to print a new one when I finished the old one.  And really, paper just drives me crazy.  The less paper in my life, the better.


Around the beginning of the year I hit upon a solution that is working extremely well for me.  I have two lists in the Reminders app on my phone.  One is for our morning read aloud, and the other is for our weekly work.  The weekly work might happen in the morning or afternoon, depending on how squirrelly the younger kids are and how much sleep I've had the night before.  But it generally is something that requires a bit more oomph from me than simply sitting there and reading aloud.


 During Morning Time, I open up the Morning Read-Aloud list and pick something.  I use this list non-linearly, picking whatever I feel like reading.  Then when I'm done, I check it off.  Sometimes I'll do an extra one if time and attitudes permit.  You might notice that I have one that says, "Longfellow each day".  I never check that one off, it is there to remind me that I am supposed to read that everyday.  It probably isn't where this belongs, but it helps me to remember to read our poetry selection before diving into the read aloud.

The same goes with the Weekly Work list.  I don't let myself reset the list until I've completed everything on it, which is very motivating for me.  And resetting the list is very easy:  I touch "Show Completed", uncheck everything, and I'm right back at the beginning of the loop again.  Very simple, no paper or printer needed.

I love how this keeps me moving through the different books, accommodates schedule changes and derailments, and keeps me from "overlooking" subjects or tasks that I might otherwise skip occasionally because I just can't quite work up the gumption to do it.  I know I have to pick one of them from each list on a day when we're home (or one from one list, if it is a half day at home), and somehow seeing that one last item on the list makes me screw up my courage and go ahead and tackle it.

There, practical and very little angst.  Hooray!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Activity and Recovery

On Nelleke’s blog, Education is a Life, she mentioned that she seems to function best when she’s out of the house only twice a week — once for church and once for other things.  Ever since I read that at the beginning of May, I’ve been wondering what my sweet spot is for outings.  Since March, I’ve been running at 4-6 days out a week, including church, and it is more than I can take.

Every outing for us is at least two hours, because we spend at minimum 30 minutes traveling plus the activity time.  And then there’s the get everyone ready and get everyone and everything out of the car…  and all of a sudden each outing is at least 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  Practically speaking, that’s a whole morning, a whole afternoon, or a whole evening.

If the activity is a half day, we’ll still do Morning Time and our schoolwork, but chores may or may not be done and play time, nap time, and leisure time are curtailed or eliminated.  How we go about our schoolwork changes too.  Instead of sitting at the table and writing in my commonplace while Gregory and Nathan do their copy work and math, I’m folding laundry, starting dinner, or cleaning in the kitchen.  Morning time is abbreviated, since time is short.  We’ll still read the daily readings from Mass and pray together, but we might not sing, or we’ll skip a read aloud or something from our Morning Time loop (Shakespeare, Plutarch, Picture Study and Music Study).  The Morning Time loop starts taking a week and a half to get through rather than a week.  Memory work is reviewed in the car on the way, which means we’re treading water on the work rather than making headway.

If the activity is a full day, then we don’t do Morning Time at all.  We’ll (hopefully) pray and do memory work in the car.  We’ll listen to a wonderful audiobook together, but there’s no other school work, no play time, no leisure, and no completed chores.  Naps might happen in the car, but the little ones will be grumpy and tired.

I used to feel like each day was its own compartment, that what happened on one day wouldn’t spill into the next box.  After all, isn’t that what it looks like on the calendar?  But what about those chores that didn’t happen because we were on a field trip?  Or the stuff that got dumped in the entry because we got back late?  Or the crabby little people who are over-tired and over-stimulated?  Or the readings that should have happened earlier in the week but were postponed for another day?  They all spill over and add pressure and mess to the next day… or even the next several days.

So even if I look at my calendar and see a half day out on Monday, a morning out on Tuesday, a half day out on Wednesday, a day home on Thursday, a full day out on Friday, and a day home on Saturday that doesn’t mean that we can really reap the full benefits of those three half days at home and two full days at home.  We’re so activity lagged from the other days all we can do is try to slog through, tired and grumpy and trying to do six days worth of work in three and a half (non-consecutive) days.

At this point I have two options.  There’s the have it all approach, where I can continue running at our current rate, and try to figure out how to somehow manage, organize, and improve the workings of my family’s life so that we can do this much and still have play time, leisure time, and completed chores.  Perhaps there’s some mixture of grace and willpower and child (and adult!) training that will make us not short tempered and whiny when we’re worn out and over-stimulated.  After all, there’s always room for improvement, right?

The other option seems practically impossible, but yet appealing in its simplicity.  What if I limited our out of the house engagements to a certain number per week?  I’d miss out on opportunities and good things, but we’re missing out on those at home too by running around so much.

I suspect the first option isn’t really so much an option as a pipe dream, which really only leaves the second.  And the second option looks hard.  Very hard.  What is that level of a activity that our family can sustain at this point in our lives?  How do I figure out which activities are the ones I should be doing, the ones that will lead us towards our goals…  and which ones are merely good and fun but not much more?  How do I balance the needs of older kids who want to start engaging more with our community and the younger ones who want to be at home, building forts or having regular naps?  There’s lots of discernment needed  there, which probably means that I’m on the right track.  Why is it that the hard road seems to always be the right one?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Homeschool Planning Thoughts after the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, 2015 Edition

This is the third year I've prayed the Novena in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, asking specifically for wisdom and guidance as I consider our next school year.   Each year I've found this an excellent and clarifying experience, and a wonderful way to kick of the homeschool planning season.

Last year, my revelations centered around how much I had misunderstood what I had learned from my first Novena.  I didn't really discuss how I was going to move forward, largely because I didn't know at the time.  I wanted to write a post about my decisions, but it never happened.  The closest I came was this, written last November.  This year has been a tough one for me as a person, and it hasn't left much time for things like blogging.  The most relevant aspect of my reflections is that I decided to use Ambleside Online for our course of study, substituting or combining only when absolutely necessary. 

As much as I wanted to love Ambleside Online and to embrace it fully, I also had to come to terms with the fact that it is a very Protestant curriculum using some very Protestant materials.  Some books can be easily substituted wholesale.  Other books are trickier to deal with, as I consider issues of bias, the omission of factual material, and even outright erroneous statements.  I also have a BA in History, which can be frustrating when trying to work with historical materials written for children.  I know there's more to the story, and that events and motivations are being vastly simplified.  And sometimes I think the way the events are being described serves the author's agenda far more than promoting a greater understanding of the issues at hand.  

There's a fallacy that says that the closer the author is to the time period he writes about, the more true what he's writing is going to be.  So for example, Bede writing in the early 7th Century about the 5th Century will be more accurate that someone writing about that time period later.  Or Scott, writing in the early 1800's, is going to have a better idea of the 12th Century than someone writing about that time period today.  Or even that Chaucer, writing stories for people of his own day, is going to be able to accurately describe what an entire nation or class of people thought and felt at that time period.  Any piece of writing is going to have a bias - it is impossible to write as a human being and not bring some piece of yourself to what you are writing - and it is vitally important in the study of history in particular to be aware of the author's bias.  Is the author writing what he is writing because it fits his narrative of events?  Is he highlighting something about a group of people because it is a nascent component of something he holds true about those people in the author's time period?

Perhaps the best thing to say at this point is that the study of history is complicated.  We can never know what really happened, or exactly why certain people and groups of people decided to do the things they did.  And even if we read what they wrote, we don't know that they are being entirely truthful in their reflections, or that they even really understand their own motivations.  How often do I completely understand my own motivations for my actions?  

And in all this, I have to consider my children.  As children.  But also as people who are growing into adults, adults who hopefully can weigh and consider and contemplate.  I also have to consider my highest goal in our home, namely to grow our family in Wisdom and Virtue by exposing ourselves abundantly to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.  

Does this mean I wouldn't read Ivanhoe with my children again, or Robin Hood?  Books that supposedly take place in the 12th Century, but in some ways have just as much to say about attitudes and perceptions in the 19th Century as they do about the 12th?  No, absolutely not.  But to read book after book after book with a similar bias and worldview - a worldview I find flawed and incomplete - risks my highest goal for my family.  What are we internalizing when we read work after work in that same worldview?  How can we not help but to at least partially internalize that worldview, even if it is at least somewhat at odds with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty?

And this, finally, leads me to my greatest revelation in this recent time of prayer.  Ambleside Online is not THE Charlotte Mason course of study.  It may be the 800 pound gorilla of Charlotte Mason booklists, but it is not the only way to implement Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education.  And while I have no intention of abandoning Ambleside Online, I do intend to abandon the perspective that to follow Ambleside Online to the letter is the only way to implement a Charlotte Mason curriculum.  That if I don't follow Ambleside Online to the T it means there is something lacking in me, or that I can't cut it as a Charlotte Mason educator.  That if I use more recent materials I am somehow diminishing my children's education.  And I know none of these perspectives are officially part of Ambleside Online, but I know they are ones that I have internalized, and ones that I feel are present in the Ambleside Online community to varying degrees.

And with this revelation, I am considering our next year in a new light.  I'm going to use the framework of Ambleside, and many of the books, but I'm going to be substituting more.  In particular, Year 8 is going to get some substantial changes.  I am also going to read through Charlotte Mason's Volume 6 again, and perhaps the Living Page again as well.  There's much to consider and contemplate, but I no longer feel anxious.  I feel like I am seeing a way forward, one that will help my family to grow in Wisdom and Virtue as we consider the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.