Monday, May 16, 2016

Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles Live Online Discussion

I recently joined Brandy Vencel of Afterthoughts for a conversation about Virtual ScholĂ© Sisters Groups and Technology Tools on the new ScholĂ© Sisters podcast.  As part of our conversation, I discussed how I led a short online study of Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest, using as our live online video/voice discussion platform.  

The technology worked well for the discussion, and I think this idea has a lot of potential for bringing us together to discuss books and ideas, even when we are spread out or have circumstances that limit our ability to get out of the house.  We can take part in a stimulating and helpful discussion without the hassle of driving, travel time, or arranging childcare.  

The next online video/voice discussion I'm starting is of Brandy Vencel's Start Here: A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles.  This study is an excellent way to learn about Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education or to deepen your understanding of ideas behind the methods you may already be using.  

In order to participate in the study, you'll need to purchase Brandy's study guide and For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley.  We will also have readings from Charlotte Mason's volumes and other articles, but they are linked in the study guide and available online for free.

This study will start in June and last 15 months.  Each session will last around an hour, although the first session will be a little longer to allow time for introductions.  I’d like for participants to contribute $1 per month for a total of $15 to help cover the cost of the online meeting room.  If I subscribe to the service, we won’t have to interrupt our conversation halfway through to change meeting rooms.

Please only sign up if you intend to do the readings and participate in the online sessions.  After all, we can't have a discussion if no one comes!  I am happy to help if you need assistance to get set up, test your video or voice connection, or if you have questions.

Also, I should note that signing up is not a guarantee that you will be able to participate in a discussion.  Session time(s) will be determined by schedule overlap between participants.

I would like to be the group contact for one discussion group of 6-8 participants, and if other people indicate on the form that they are willing to act as a group contact, then we can have more groups.  You don't need to be an expert to lead a group, all you need is a willingness to learn alongside others and the organizational ability to send a few emails at appropriate times.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if many groups could come together from this, and families all over could have their lives and homeschools enriched by studying Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles?

Sign Ups are open until May 30th and I will email information about the group(s) to everyone who fills out the form by June 4th.

Sign Up Here!

Questions?  Comment below or send me an email.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Shakespeare with a Small Group - Part 1: The Performance

In my overview post for this series, I outlined what I was looking for in a Shakespeare study for my older children.  In this post I'd like to describe what I did for my first idea, the abridged performance.

Last August, I invited three other families to join us in our Shakespeare study.  We had a total of 11 children, ages 9 - 13, who participated in the play.  We also had a number of younger siblings, some of whom were roped in at the last minute to play small non-speaking roles.


  • 6 Sessions - I scheduled these every other week through September and October
  • All sessions and the family performance were hosted at my house
  • Each session lasted a little about 2 1/2 hours, from 1 - 3:30 p.m.
  • At each session, we began with prayer, then gave the kids an opportunity to share some sort of memory work with the group, then started on Shakespeare.  We would be started with Shakespeare by 1:30 - 1:45, depending on how long we spent on memory work and if anyone was late
  • The weekend following the 6th session, I scheduled a family performance and potluck on a Sunday afternoon/evening

I used a script from Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players.  I like this book because it uses Shakespeare's own language for the plays, adding a narrator to bring the play together and move the action along.  I thought the abridgment of The Tempest was very well done.  The book is rather large and bulky and clearly directed towards a teacher in a classroom.  I wasn't sure how the author intended the book to be used for a class, but I ended up having the spine cut off and the pages punched at a local copy store, then making copies of the script for the kids.

First Session
At the first session, I read an abridged version of The Tempest, pausing often for narration and to let the students add details to their character and plot maps.  This took about an hour.

The Shakespeare map I drew as I read.  Alas, I didn't manage to take a photo without glare
After we became familiar with the story, I passed out copies of the script from Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts for Young Players and assigned temporary parts to the kids.  We moved outside for our rehearsal and started reading through the first act of the play.

I decided not to assign parts immediately, so I could get a sense for how well the children read and how interested they were in performing.

Second Session
In the second session, I started with a game to help the kids refresh their memories about the plot and the characters.  I printed the names of the characters on slips of paper and had the kids lay them out on the table.  Then I had a separate stack of cards with character attributes or something the character did in the play which I passed out to the kids.  The kids helped each other place all the names, then we briefly reviewed the plot using our character and plot maps.  I think this took about a half an hour, perhaps a little more.

After this review, I started handing out parts and we began reading through the play.  With 11 actors, plus me as the narrator, we had just enough to cast the play.  Some of the kids had two parts and with a few small changes we were able to cast the play so that they didn't have to appear on the stage at the same time as two different characters.

Third - Fifth Sessions
At these sessions, we immediately jumped into rehearsing the play.  Sometimes I would have the kids rehearse just the movements of the scene, and sometimes we would read and move around.  I wanted the kids to be very familiar with their parts, but I did not expect that they would memorize them in this short of a time.  I also encouraged the kids to read through their parts in between sessions, but only a few of them actually did this.

Sixth Session
Our sixth session together was a dress rehearsal.  I asked the performers to bring a costume and props for themselves as well as anything they thought might be handy for other players.  After a little discussion and creativity, everyone had basic costumes.  We rehearsed the play again in costume and with props, both with dialogue and without.

Family Performance
I asked the families to come over at about 3:30 p.m. so we could get ready and start our performance at 4:30.  We have a very open floor plan at our house, and suspended a large drop cloth from the ceiling to serve as a backdrop for the play.  We rearranged our family room furniture, added a few more chairs, and had a cozy little theater, complete with a backstage and an off stage room for props and quick costume changes.

Our performance lasted about a half an hour, and everyone really enjoyed it.  The kids performed in costume with props and scripts in hand, but they were generally familiar enough with the play and their parts that they could move through the play well and act as they read.  After the play, we had shared a meal, visited, and prayed together.  We finished up at about 7:30 p.m.

What I Might Do Differently Next Time
I was really quite pleased with how this went, and there isn't much in my control that I would change.  This is an activity that is best when everyone is able to attend each time, and we were somewhat hampered in this by schedule conflicts.  It would have been nice to be able to rehearse multiple scenes at the same time, but with the number of actors this wasn't quite possible.  I especially would have liked to spend more time rehearsing the last scene of the play with everyone, but with the scheduling problems we didn't have time.  But in the end the kids carried it off well and I think it was a memorable, enjoyable, and worthwhile experience for everyone.

Amazon Affiliate Links to benefit Charlotte Mason West used in this post

Friday, May 6, 2016

Shakespeare with a Small Group - Overview

This year I decided I wanted to share my love for Shakespeare with a small group of homeschooling families.  I had a few requirements:

  1. I did not want the meetings to stretch throughout the whole year.  
  2. I wanted the sessions to have a performance aspect to them, as I wanted to give the children the opportunity to perform in front of a small audience.
  3. I did not want the sessions to require a lot of additional outside class time work from the families.
  4. I wanted the children to memorize a few passages of Shakespeare's words and to be able to read at least parts of the play fluently.
  5. I wanted the children to have ample opportunity to read, consider, and enjoy Shakespeare's actual words within the bounds of our limited time together.
Given these requirements, I had two different ideas.  Thanks to the willingness of some old and new friends, I had the opportunity to try them both.  

In the fall, the children performed an abridged version of The Tempest, using the script from Shakespeare with Children, Six Scripts for Young Players.

Idea #2 - The Play with a Memorywork (and a small performance)
In the spring, the children and I read through Julius Caesar then had a small performance to share what the children had learned and memorized with their families.

Rather than write one long post, I'll split this up into two more posts where I'll share more details about how I set up our meetings, the resources I used, how I worked with the kids, and how we put together the performances. 

I found studying Shakespeare with a group really enhanced the experience for my children and myself, and it was well worth the effort.   I hope this little series could be helpful for anyone who might want to try this with their own small group.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CM West :: Retreat at the Beach Impressions

I recently wrote a post about the CM West :: Retreat at the Beach over at Charlotte Mason West where I shared some pictures and discussed our schedule and talks.  However, I wanted to also write a post here to share a little more about what the retreat meant to me.

One of the real highlights of the retreat was the wonderful group of women who got together for it.  Women who talked about books and ideas, who are interested in lifelong learning, and who are passionate about educating their children using life giving methods.  It was such a delight to be around such enjoyable people!

During the retreat, we spent a fair amount of time on our nature journals.  Ever since the Seattle conference, I've been diligently working away at my nature journal, and it has become a fairly established part of my life.  I'm averaging an entry a week, which is right where I want to be.  However, as I looked at other women's journals, I realized how text heavy my journals are.  The writing is a good thing, and the cataloguing and descriptions are certainly useful endeavors.  My observation skills are growing and I am learning more about what I am seeing around me.  However, I realized I would be encouraged to look even more closely and carefully if I was also challenging myself to draw more often.

It isn't that I didn't already know that my nature journaling would be enriched by more drawing.  After all, I own The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, a couple books by Clare Walker Leslie, and a few others that I've reviewed and then passed along.  I've even spent some time paging through them and reading them.  But it always seemed a little too challenging, a little too daunting.  

However, as I watched some of the women I had come to know work with their journals, I was challenged in a new way.  And this time the challenge seemed within reach.  Because I knew these women a little bit, and because I could see how their journals had progressed over time, I had a sense of what could happen if I made the effort to do a little more.  I had a sense that I could improve over time, and that the time spent practicing and drawing would be enjoyable and enriching.  

So I tried to stretch myself at this retreat.  I did a more involved sketch at the retreat, and with encouragement and some tips, tried some watercolor as well.  The result certainly wasn't amazing, but really, it isn't about the results.  It is about the process, the observations, the willingness to try, and the time spent in focused attention.  And I enjoyed the process, and as I drew I was encouraged to look at the object in front of me in a way that I wouldn't have if I was simply cataloguing it or writing about it.

This is the best I could do with a photo, so I knew I would have to make close observations if I was going to try and sketch them.

I had so much fun stalking these curlews - err... Marbled godwits (oops!) trying to observe them enough that I could sit and sketch them.

Oooh, watercolor!

Since the retreat I've finished reading and commonplacing through the first section of The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, and rather than flipping through the various sections, getting overwhelmed, and putting it on the shelf, I opened to the wildflower section and started working on his first pages for drawing simple flowers. And then I went outside, found some basic five petaled wildflowers, and sketched them.  And you know what?  It was great fun.  I noticed so many new things by trying to sketch as well as catalogue.  And by pairing my sketching with some instruction, I was much more satisfied with the process and the results.  

Drawing practice in my drawing sketchbook
Practicing the techniques I learned in my nature journal

Even though I'm only one step ahead of my kids, I introduced these techniques to them as well.  First during one of our drawing instruction times I introduced the basic methods, then during our nature journaling time we worked on using those methods to draw buttercups.  I was so encouraged to see how much more they enjoyed their nature journaling and the greater confidence they had just from this little bit of knowledge passed along.  

Working with Nathan on sketching a buttercup and also introducing him to watercolor.
One further note:  If you're interested in going to a retreat like this, I would encourage you to seek one out.  Or consider planning one yourself and putting it out there.  There is a strong interest in retreats like this, and I think they are well worthwhile.  They also aren't all that hard to organize and arrange.  If you'd like to know more about how we did it, please contact me and I'd be happy to answer questions via email or a Skype call.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Mother's Morning Walk, Redux

Yesterday, due to a cold my children so kindly gave me, I didn't take my morning walk.  It was the first school day where I didn't get my 20 minute morning respite from the noise and commotion of family life in weeks, and as I reflected on the day, I realized what a difference that little 20 minutes makes in my life, attitude, and the atmosphere of my home.

In January I wrote about a new part of my day, my morning walk.  It seems like such a little thing, these twenty minutes or so outside by myself.  I'm not covering any great distance, only walking down the road or perhaps to the creek and back, but it lightens my mood, gives me more patience, and vastly helps me to tackle the challenges of the day with good, or at least better, humor than I would have otherwise.  Even in the few months I've been doing this, it has created deep and beneficial change in myself and my children.

Every day, I challenge myself to notice something in particular. It might be an observation about something I've been watching for awhile, like finally spotting the spider responsible for the web over the little roadside puddle.  Or it might be something entirely new, like a wildflower that has suddenly come into bloom or catching a glimpse of a bird I hadn't seen before.  I also challenge myself to remember things I've seen before and to check them on them periodically.  Is the crab apple in bloom yet?  Are the Pileated Woodpeckers in any of the dead pines above the road?  How are the oaks progressing in their leafing out?  Do I see any new dying pines?  Can I remember the names of the different wildflowers I've been trying to learn and identify?

These walks remind me that that very little is learned quickly.  It takes time to see how many batches of frog eggs will be laid in that roadside puddle, how long it will take before the tadpoles will finally get legs (months, in the case of these leisurely tadpoles).  It takes time and days of watching to finally catch the spider in action or finally get a good look at a bird I've seen and heard many times.  And in this I grow, slowly, in my patience with my children, as they struggle to master the mechanics of long division or the pronunciation of a word.

My observations spill into my family as I bring home news of my sightings.  Sometimes my children will say, "oh, Mom, we noticed the western buttercups blooming below the house days ago!" and sometimes I'm able to share something they haven't yet noticed.  Because of my sharing, they have been much more observant when they are playing outside, as well as more forthcoming in sharing their finds with me and with each other.

I also find that my walks help me to be in a better frame of mind for our morning time.  Rather than rushing through the breakfast clean-up and dressing the young ones or waiting impatiently for my older children to finish up so we can get going on our morning, I come back in invigorated, cheerful, and filled with a peaceful readiness to take on what the day holds.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Goals: Interval 11 - Many Things Come to a Head

I decided to change how I'm writing my goals post, and instead I'm going to share with you my interval plan in brief.  It is the same information, but I think it will be less as repetitive than what I've been posting.  I will also be posting this at the end of each six week interval rather than monthly.

I learned this concept of Interval Planning from Mystie Winkler and her absolutely wonderful Simplified Organization course.  This course was so incredibly valuable for me and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  (I should note that according to her recommendations, I have one too many projects listed below, and probably too many tasks too.  And I think in this interval my tasks are probably larger than they should be.  But such things happen sometimes, and I'm going to try and rein myself in a little bit in the next interval.)

I start each interval write-up with a habit I want to focus on for this six week period.  I'm tracking the habits I've chosen so far this year in the Way of Life app.  So far my morning walk habit is quite well established, my serving dinner at 5:30 habit needs a lot of work, and my new habit, everything turned off by 9:45 habit is doing pretty well. (Except, well, tonight.  Oops.)

Habit:  Everything turned off by 9:45


- CM West :: Retreat at the Beach
This is in just a few days, and Celeste and I are doing really well with our talks and planning and everything.  I have a bunch of tasks dealing with food prep and shopping to do in the next few days, but other than that, this project is looking really good.  Hooray for incremental progress and advance planning!

- Video Chat Start Here: 20 Principles Study
Hmm, yes, need to get going on this one.  But after the retreat.

- Bay Area CM Retreat
I think we have a date, but I need to double check it with the location and start working on a contract this interval.  Hooray!

- SoCal trip & Wedding prep
We have a wedding coming up at the end of the month and we'll be doing a little traveling too.  I'm still working on getting all the wedding clothes together, but I'm making progress.  And then there's packing lists to make and other such details...  Perhaps this doesn't seem like much of a progress, but anything that involves buying specific types of clothes for five children is definitely a project for me! 


* Teaching from Rest prep
We have our last meeting this month, and while I'm glad I did this and I think this idea has a lot of promise, I need to figure out how I can encourage more people to join in on the discussions.  After a recent conversation, I'm wondering if a downside to these video chats is that they feel too much like online webinars, where you can sign up and then get a replay later with little diminishment to the experience.  But since these are supposed to be real discussions rather than webinars, it really matters if people don't show up, and there isn't a replay you can listen to later while folding laundry.

* CMI Western Conference
I've been helping a little with the planning for the CMI Western Conference which will be in the LA area from Aug 3-6 this summer.  I will most likely need to be taking a more active role sometime soon, once registration opens (hopefully this month!) and things really get rolling.

* Shakespeare Play prep & Potluck
We'll have our performance this weekend, and I think it is going to turn out really well.  I'd like to write a post about how we've done Shakespeare in a group this year, but that'll probably not happen until early May.

* Continue to work on books
Ahem.  Yes.  Still not done.  But I've donated some 10+ paper bags of books to the Friends of the Library, sold a few, and sent more off via PaperbackSwap.  I still have a few boxes from storage to sort, and several more to go through to decide if they are worth selling or swapping.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Identifying and Considering - A Wildflower Walk

Hannah, age 2, considering a Blue Dick flower

"What species is that?" is one of the first questions many people ask of nature.  Identifying plants or animals is challenging and fun.  Species names are useful for communicating with other people, but they can also be a trap.  Many birders will stop looking once they have identified a bird.  The name is not the thing.  Identifying a species is only the tip of the iceberg of inquiry.  It is not necessary to know something's name to ask an interesting question or make a discovery about it.  Ask as many questions as you can, and don't worry if an answer seems beyond your reach at first.  The process of asking questions in and of itself is important.
- John Muir Laws, The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling

I took a walk with my mom and the kids a couple days ago and I tried to keep this quote firmly in mind as we oohed and ahhed over all the spectacular wildflowers, looking up the species, noting them in a list on my phone, and flagging them in our wildflower book.  I tried to help us all linger a little longer, looking at the shape of a flower here, the growing conditions there, tracing the twining snake lily from ground to tip and marveling over the spectacular length of the stem, trying to look at each flower and know the name, but also to spend at least a few moments considering something else about it as well.

And largely thanks to my mom, we navigated the  challenges of walking a trail with five children, a stroller, and a 100+ foot drop just off the side of the trail into a river gorge very well.  We looked, examined, considered, and kept the four and two year olds from falling over the edge all at the same time.

And I was pleased that as I copied my list of our finds into my nature journal that evening, I could picture the flowers as I noted them.  They were still distinct flowers in my mind, not just a list of names.

The intricate pod of the Lace Pod is tiny - each pod is only the diameter of a pencil eraser.
Gratuitous kid picture - Hannah insisted on holding Nathan's hand the whole way back. These are the moments I hope to hold in my mind forever.