Thursday, July 19, 2018

Family Keeping Meeting, Summer Edition

Last fall we started a new tradition in our family.  Just about every Saturday, we gather around the breakfast table at 7:15 and share a meal and pieces of our work for the week.  This isn't just for the kids, but also for my husband and I as well.  This acts as a time to check in our the kids' work, as well as an opportunity for my husband and I to share what we are learning about and our attempts to be lifelong learners.

You know, it is very challenging to take a picture of a large family sitting at the table and have it turn out decently.  But I guess that's just to be expected.  Photo courtesy of Gregory (and his new-ish camera with a timer)
In our Family Keeping Meeting, we share each item from youngest to oldest before moving onto the next item.  We don't all bring everything each week, but we all have at least something to share.

What we share

  • Book of Centuries/Century Charts/Stream of History or other time keeping
  • Commonplace or Copywork
  • Drawing Practice Exercises
  • Drawn Narrations
  • Written Narrations
  • Nature Observations
  • Finished Books (which I note and add to their reading lists)

Then we review the activities for the weekend and discuss upcoming events for the week.  We also settle on a schedule for our shared family work in Shakespeare, Plutarch and Art.  The kids then have an opportunity to ask questions or make comments about the week past or the the one to come.  The whole thing takes 45 min to an hour, but I feel like it has a much bigger impact on our overall life as a family than that.  It keeps my husband and I accountable for using these various tools that we know are important, it allows all of us a glimpse into what we each are doing, and it gives us additional  opportunities for conversation about what we're learning.

Examples from a recent Family Keeping Meeting

Gregory (12) - From Top Left - Drawing Practice, Drawing Exercise from Masterpiece Society Drawing 101 Lesson, Drawn Narration of the layout of the fort complex he is building with his siblings, and Nature Observations

Nathan (10) - Drawn narration of watching the fireworks on the 4th of July, Nature Observations, Drawing Exercise from Masterpiece Society Drawing 101 Lesson, and Drawing Practice

Emma (16) - Written narration (on iPad), quote shared from PEAK packet, Lettering in her PEAK journal. 
My work - Written narration (on iPad), Drawing Exercise from Masterpiece Society Drawing 101 Lesson, Commonplace quotes from The Memory of Old Jack and Norms and Nobility

Matt's work - Written narration (on iPad), Commonplace (on iPad - he uses his Commonplace for quotes and images that come from his reading), Drawing Exercise from Masterpiece Society Drawing 101 Lesson, and his Book of Centuries entries


And some might be wondering about how I manage to keep track of what we are doing, and what I give my kids so that they can be prepared for this meeting.  

I keep a general Weekly Reference on my clipboard - this isn't just for the weekly meeting, but also has my evening review steps, weekly review steps and Sunday activities.  I mark it up as I go through the Family Keeping Meeting and use it as a place to jot down what the kids have read as ebooks or listened to as audiobooks.  (I have a place by my desk where the physical books are stacked.)  Each week I print a new one on the back of my weekly overview sheet.

And since it is summer, the boys' list of weekly work is a lot shorter, and they do not have to bring time keeping or written narrations to the Family Keeping Meeting.  They are welcome to, of course, but neither has taken me up on that yet!  This goes on their clipboard and they get a new one each week.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Year In Review: Family Studies (2017 - 2018)

Orienteering with a map and compass on a Sunday family nature walk

Subjects We Study as a Family

In our family studies, we tackle subjects together at set times during the day and week.  Some of my children will have additional readings or work in these areas, and some will do all their work in this area with the family.  Our family studies include:

Lives of Saints
Mass Readings
Picture Study
Folk Songs
Shakespeare (I also led a Shakespeare study with other families in the spring)
Memory Work
Nature Study and Journaling (as a family on Sundays after Mass)
Composer Study

There's a few changes from last year, but many things have stayed the same.

Changes This Year

Shakespeare, Plutarch and Art Instruction

Last year my family started a process of integrating my husband more into our family studies by moving our nature walk and nature study to Sundays.  This year we moved Shakespeare and Plutarch to the evening so my husband could join us in those subjects as well.  When we read Shakespeare, we all take parts and read and then narrate the scenes together.  With Plutarch, I read and those who want to can also follow along with a digital version of the text.  We spend about 30 minutes two nights a week doing this and we've enjoyed this time together.  I also appreciate how Shakespeare and Plutarch have become so much more of our family culture.  In the spring, we also started working through Alisha Gratehouse's Drawing 101 Course at The Masterpiece Society one evening a week.  We will continue with these activities through the summer, because they are regular parts of our lives now, not just school subjects.

Saturday morning family keeping meeting

Family Keeping Meeting

In the same vein as above, we've started a weekly Family Keeping Meeting.  Really, this could be a post of its own, but essentially it is an opportunity for the entire family to come together and share work we've done over the course of the week.  I make a breakfast we can share, generally a baked oatmeal and sausage links, and we sit down at the table together at 7:15 a.m. each Saturday morning for about 45 minutes.  Each person, including my husband and me, share things like Book of Century entries, commonplace quotes, written narrations, drawn narrations, drawing practice, and nature journal entries.  We move through this in order, sharing each type of keeping in sequence and we share from youngest to oldest.  Once we finish sharing, we review the calendar for the day and the upcoming week, then we move onto the rest of our day.

Memory Work

Last year I tried moving to just having the kids do individual recitation by themselves, and letting them chose from a binder of pieces what they would practice.  Each day of the week they had a different area to focus on - Shakespeare, Poetry, Bible passages, Hymns and Psalms.  I saw some improvement in their recitations - less mumbling, more engagement - but I didn't like how individual our memory work became, and I didn't like how pieces were dropping from our collective memory.  One of the things I've long appreciated about our shared recitation time is how the pieces we have memorized together have become part of our family culture, and touchstones for us as we share our lives together.  After Charlotte was born and I had my feet under me again, we brought memory work back to our morning time.  However, I did keep the individual recitation time for my two younger students (4th and 6th grade).  They enjoy that time to recite by themselves, and it has made them stronger in our group recitation time.  Everyone has welcomed this return, and it also keeps the pieces we have learned fresher in our memories.

Reading Aloud

This is an area that has become sadly and surprisingly deficient in our home.  The younger ones still get read to throughout the day and especially before bedtime, but the only things I read with the older kids are the daily Mass readings, Shakespeare, and Plutarch.  My husband still reads aloud after dinner, but often this is only once a week at most.  I intentionally dropped the lunchtime read-aloud when Charlotte was born, and I've found it a surprisingly difficult habit to resume.

Books and Resources

Lives of Saints
We've enjoyed reading about the Saint of the day through this series of (free) ebooks from  They are my favorite Saint of the day resources by far.

Picture Study 
Vermeer, Constable, and then a shorter study of E. Charlton Fortune and Benjamin West in the third term.  This was my first year buying prints from Riverbend Press, and I thought they were very high quality.  After seeing how great it is to have physical copies of the art, I had my own prints printed for the last term's subjects.  I had previous just showed art on my iPad, but having the prints is definitely worth the money and hassle.  Having physical prints also let me put one up on the fridge, which then informally included my husband in this part of our studies.   We also watched Tim's Vermeer, which we thoroughly enjoyed and led to some great discussions not only about Vermeer's art, but also about possibilities versus proofs.  (Warning: brief bad language at one point at about the middle of the movie)

Ordinary Time
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
For the Beauty of the Earth
Be Thou My Vision
Canticle of the Turning
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
We Three Kings of Orient Are
God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded
Change Our Hearts
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Holy Anthem Rise
At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing
Alleluia, Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven

Folk Songs 
I've Been Working on the Railroad
O Susanna
This Land is Your Land
Star of the County Down
She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain
Simple Gifts

Folk Dances 
(Thanks to the Alveary to pointing me to these YouTube videos, and to my daughter for actually learning the steps to the first one, teaching us, and getting us going on it!)
O Susanna
Big Mountain Circle Dance 

The Courtship of Miles Standish, Malcolm Guite's two poetry collections (Waiting on the Word and Word in the Wilderness for Advent and Lent, respectively), a poetry collection called Poetry Out Loud (which I don't particularly recommend - I read selectively and didn't share some of the notes - it was a library book sale find) and we've just started a long poem by Robert Service called Ballads of a Bohemian.


Pericles, Fabius Maximus, Alexander the Great (in progress - this one is long, but good)

Macbeth, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 (not quite finished yet) and The Tempest with other families as part of our spring Shakespeare workshop.

Memory Work
As a family I've only added Wisdom 2:23-3:9.  Otherwise we've just been solidifying what was already in our memory work system.

On the Far Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (shows how little we've read aloud together, doesn't it!).  Both of these were read immediately after dinner at the dinner table by my husband over the course of the school year.

Composer Study 
Mozart, Handel's Messiah, Bach  - I thought we did a reasonably good job studying the Messiah (and it is encouraging to see how familiar it is now that we've studied it for a few years now each Advent) but the other studies were not well executed.  I never found a particularly good time to play the music for casual listening, and our focused listening was only so-so at best.  Unfortunately, in a baby year, beautiful music becomes noise when I can't focus on it.  And noise, which is always a trial, is even more difficult in a baby year.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Year In Review: Overview (2017 - 2018)

In previous years, I've been able to write very detailed, multi-part summary of our school year.  This year I'm not going to be able to be as in depth.  We welcomed a new little one into our family in the later part of August last year, which delayed the start of our school year by a few weeks, which then pushed out our end date out as well.  That time I would usually use to write the summaries was taken up by finishing the school year, and now I'm at the point where I really need to start planning our next school year so I can start when we usually start.  However, I know I will regret not writing at least a little about the school year and how it went, so here it goes.

In the spring of 2017, as I prayed the Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel, (as I do every year), I focused on what our school should look like in the upcoming year.  How was I going to manage the planning time I needed for the school year, write my conference talks for the CMI Western conference, be able take the kids to the pool, lake and river during the summer, endure the third trimester, and prepare to welcome to our sixth child?  And once that all happened, how would I ever manage to actually run our homeschool with three students (10th, 6th, 4th grade), a 5 year old and a 3 year old, plus a newborn?

In prayer, I realized that I was in a good position for the year, as my three students were all strong readers and could do quite a bit on their own.  I would not be able to run a scheduled day with them - no morning lesson time table this year - but I felt fairly confident that with direction and some help, they would be able to do a reasonably good job.  I could focus on reading practice with my five year old, and that, with lots of outdoor time and reading aloud, would be sufficient.  My three year old could be included in this to whatever extent she wanted to be included, and this would be sufficient for her as well.  Our morning time with prayer and poetry, music and art would continue, and would also continue to be a blessing to us all.

The main sticking point was the planning.  Last summer I was burned out on planning.  I had spent a huge amount of time on it the previous summer (2016) and while it was a good year, I felt like things were just a little off.  I also knew that I did not have the time to throw at the planning that I had in 2016.  I also was far more enthusiastic about writing conference talks than doing all the planning work, which might have been a distraction I allowed myself rather than a legitimate project. 

In the end I decided to try the Charlotte Mason Institute's Alveary.  I wouldn't have to select books, schedule them out, or create the spreadsheets.  All those subjects that were taught in Mason's schools but aren't well supported by other CM curricula, such as sol-fa, foreign language, geography, drawing, and dancing, were included.  With it, I was left with very little to do other than plan Sunday
reading, buy books, print schedules, and make sure we had the appropriate supplies.  It was a blessing for our family, and it made our summer last year much better than it would have been otherwise.

I am thankful for the Alveary, and I feel like we had a good year.  I appreciate the work they are doing to create such a full Mason curriculum, and I am glad it is out there.  However...  we won't be returning to the Alveary in this upcoming school year.  I wanted to like and use the materials that are exclusive to the Alveary, but after trying them for a term, I dropped them and replaced them with other materials.  The pace of the scheduling often did not suit my children, and by the second term I had made a number of changes.  The level of the books also was problematic, and I ended up making a number of substitutions.  In the first term I printed out the lesson plans and used them for their daily lists, in the second term I used the lesson plans for a couple of subjects, and by the third term I wasn't looking at them at all.  My high school student did use the lesson plans throughout the year for some of the subjects, but there were other issues as well.

As I prayed the Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel this year, I realized that all the things that were working well in our homeschool were either books we had used or were using already or were books or resources I had found outside of the Alveary.  Initially I was not looking forward to planning another school year, but once I realized how well we were doing while only giving the Alveary a passing nod, I decided that I could gird my loins and do it.  Besides, with a ten month old, I have no summer or fall conference plans to distract me. 

And since I used the Alveary this year, I am not certain I can give as full of a review as I have in the past, even if I did have the time.  Their work is proprietary, and I do not want to infringe on their hard work.  In subsequent posts, I plan to share a few favorite books as well as things I've found on my own.  It won't be as complete as previous years, but I am hoping it will be helpful for me in future years and perhaps helpful for others as well.

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Reading Recap

Last year in my reading recap post, I listed all the books I had completed — with kids, pre-reading, as audiobooks, and my own reading — but this year I think I’m going to simplify, be more selective, and focus on the books I read without any strings attached.

In 2017 I began a physical reading journal, and have faithfully entered every book I have read by month.  This list maintains that chronological order.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome - I had to read this one after reading To Say Nothing of the Dog.  I thought it was entertaining, but not hysterically funny.  But it was worth reading after reading Connie Willis’ book.

A Touch of the Infinite by Megan Hoyt

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis - I read this at the same time as my daughter and husband, and we enjoyed sharing the reading experience and discussing it.  A beautiful and haunting book.

On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard - I decided to re-read a couple books that I read around the time of my conversion as I approached my ten year anniversary of being received into the Catholic Church.  I remember when I read this book the first time it felt very foreign and strange, but yet like the story of a family I wanted to belong to.  It was fascinating to reflect on how much more of a sense of belonging and understanding I have now.

The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton - OK, so this one was a pre-read, but just so delightful I couldn’t pass it up.  If you have a student who is reading The Book of Marvels, you should read this book.  It is so much fun to get more of the story than the little bits he touches on here and there in that volume.

New Grub Street by George Gissing - This was one of my favorites from the year.  Extremely well written, complex, and with much to think about in the book.  I was also left wondering about where the author’s sympathies were.  Did Gissing think he was writing a happily ever after ending?

The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

My Path to Rome by Hillaire Belloc - I found this in my Kindle cloud and thought it was some sort of conversion story.  Much to my surprise, I realized it was travelogue and really nothing else.  In it Belloc slogs over hills and mountains, trying to take the most direct route from a point in France to Rome with nothing symbolic or particularly introspective about it.  He complains a lot, drinks a lot of wine, and occasionally marvels at the view.  I kept waiting for something more to tie it together or push it towards being something more, but it never happened.  This was one I regretted taking the time to read.

Marking the Sparrow’s Fall by Wallace Stegner - This is mostly a collection of non-fiction essays on the West, with one novella at the end.  I read this bit by bit as I rested after lunch during my first trimester and it was a wonderful companion, providing me with much food for thought and enjoyment.  One thought that stopped me in my tracks was this one:
Until the Civil War and after, most of the West was not a goal but a barrier. Webb properly remarks that if it had turned out to be a country adapted to the salve economy the South would have fought for it, and its history would have been greatly different.  He also points out that if the country beyond the Missouri had been wooded and well watered, there would have been no Oregon Trail.

Oranges by John McPhee - and early book by him, and not nearly as good as some of his later ones.  But interesting nonetheless.

A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep by Rumer Godden - While reading about what it was like to live in India before and during WWII was fascinating, and while I appreciated reading about how she was coached as a writer, I was left feeling like I would rather have not known more about her life and had just read her novels.

The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden

Wade Hampton:  Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer by Rod Andrew Jr. - After reading Johnny Reb with the kids in the spring, I wanted to know more about Wade Hampton.  There are a few biographies about him, but I’m not sure any of them are especially well written.  This one was decent and reasonably thorough without being too detailed, but I thought the quality of the writing left something to be desired.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv - We read and discussed this in our 14 and up family reading club.  For the most part it was interesting and we had a few good discussions about it, but I think we aren’t exactly the target audience for the book, as we live on 10 acres, spend a lot of time outside, hike and backpack as a family and provide a lot of open time for our kids to explore and play.

The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran - A blog post drawn out into a book.

Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy Sayers - I thought I had read all the Lord Peter books, but then this one came to my attention.  Oh happy day!  Even if it wasn’t particularly amazing, it was still fun to get to read some new stories with this character.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard - Excellent book, absolutely fascinating and hard to put down.  It also made me want to read a biography of Joseph Lister, but I don’t like the one I bought. Anyone have any suggestions?

The Vatican Pimpernel by Brian Fleming

The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust - I read this in an attempt to make myself understand that, yes, I really was going to go through childbirth again.

Through Spain with Don Quixote by Rupert Croft-Cooke - Quirky and fun to read.  In this book he was citing other authors who had done a similar sort of trip in the late 1800’s, which was about the same amount of time between when Croft-Cooke’s book and me.  I wonder what these villages and places are like now?

Catherine de’Medici by Honore de Balzac - Yes, I read it but I felt like it went over my head..  I found it puzzling and strange.  What was de Balzac trying to do here?  I'm really not sure.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - My Dickens for the year.  Can you believe I had never read this one before?  So good.

All the Gallant Men by Donald Stratton and Ken Gire - WWII autobiography by a Pearl Harbor survivor.  I enjoyed it as did my 12 year old history buff son.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown - Another favorite from the year’s reading.  So fascinating, and really neat to get to see Lake Washington where they trained when I was up in Puget Sound for the conference in September.

Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher - It sure would be nice if people would actually read the book before lambasting it.  I enjoyed it and found it thought provoking.  Yes, he's perhaps a bit over the top at times (I kept thinking, now this would be a hard man to be married to!) but I think what he says is worth thinking about.

Travels to the Interior of Africa by Mungo Park - Mentioned by Mason in one of her volumes and an interesting read.  Park was a very early explorer in Africa and I was surprised by how modern his writing felt.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry - Such a good book!  Another favorite from the year.

Paradiso by Dante - Hooray, I actually read all of The Divine Comedy!  I found this one a struggle.  Purgatorio was my favorite, but I’m glad I stuck to it and finished it.  I’ll look forward to reading it again sometime in the future.

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan - I read this while I was recovering from childbirth.  This is my kind of escapist literature - a book about building a little cottage out somewhere on the property where the author could be alone.  I would love to have a little building like this, but unfortunately I won’t have the time or means to do so until I no longer have the need to get away from the noise and bustle of a busy home.

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey - I was so pleased to find out that there are more Inspector Alan Grant mysteries!

Deep Work by Cal Newport - A family book club read.  It was a little strange to be reading and discussing this book as I was preparing to give birth and recover from having a baby.  But we had some good discussions and it was a helpful one for my husband in particular.

Crossing the Threshold of Hope by St. John Paul II - Another re-read from my time of conversion.  My favorite from that time, and one that was extremely meaningful to me.

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald - Great book, although I felt like it sort of dwindled at the end.  I am really bad at reading Scotch dialect in my head.  There were pages where I felt like I was only understanding a few words at best.  Interestingly, my daughter said she had no problem with the dialect.  I wish Audible had a recording of it, as I would love to hear it read.

Witness to Hope by George Weigel - I bought this book the day before I went into labor with Charlotte and read it throughout my labor that day.  St. John Paul II is Charlotte’s name saint (Karol being the Polish form of Charles, and Charlotte being the female form of Charles), which made it all the more appropriate.  I felt like the first part of the book before he becomes Pope was stronger, but I can see the challenges of writing about such a long and far reaching pontificate.  I felt like Weigel was summarizing more than storytelling though for the second half of the book, which made the book bog down.  I also thought he pushed aside some of the criticisms of his pontificate a little too readily, at times reading a little too much like a hagiography rather than a biography.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera - Absolutely least favorite book of the year, hands down.  Not worth reading.  Didactic and annoying.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss - I haven’t read any of his other books and I don’t intend to, but this novella about a minor character in a series of his was fascinating.

Surprised by Oxford:  A Memoir by Carolyn Weber - I loved reading about what it is like to attend Oxford.  I thought her conversion story was well told, but I thought the romance angle with TDH was annoying.  I think I just generally dislike romances, especially ones where’s there’s a lot of animosity and sparring in the relationship.  The book did make me reflect quite a bit on my own conversion to Christianity, 14 years ago. This enriched the experience of reading it as I could see similarities in our stories, but also detracted from it, because I knew there was no way I could remember the sorts of details she was pulling out for her story.  But then again, my story largely consists of God, me, a stack of books, a voraciously nursing baby and a lot of conversations in my head.  It doesn't really sound like good fodder for a book, does it?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

CM West :: Conference at Puget Sound 2017 Recap

All ready to go!  I am so glad I checked the carseat and suitcase instead of trying to drag everything through the airport.  It was so worth the extra money!
At the end of September I traveled with my 5 week old daughter to Seattle to attend CM West :: Conference at Puget Sound, the second Charlotte Mason conference in the Seattle area.  I had attended the first one two years ago, and I was glad to be going back, although a nervous at the idea of traveling with a baby.  I have traveled a fair amount, and I certainly have a lot of baby experience, but I don't have much experience traveling with babies.  Thankfully she traveled very well, and was not the screaming baby on a plane that all parents and passengers fear to the depths of their hearts.

At the conference, we had arranged for Nancy Kelly to give the majority of our talks, and I didn't have many responsibilities other than to help make announcements, answer questions, and keep the conference moving a long as near as possible to the schedule.  Having such an experienced speaker certainly made that last job a lot easier!  When we first began planning the conference 18 months ago, I had no idea I would be bringing a newborn with me and I was very thankful I wasn't also trying to speak and lead any discussions or other activities. 

Having a baby along at a conference was a new experience for me, and not one I'm particularly eager to repeat.  Charlotte did wonderfully at the conference, given the circumstances, but I found it just about impossible to immerse myself in the talks, take notes, and participate to the degree that I am accustomed.  I also found myself needing to retreat to my room with a cranky baby at the unheard of hour of 9 p.m., missing out on all that wonderful late night conversation time.

Lake Washington - After reading The Boys in the Boat, I wanted to see the lake if I could get a chance.  I got to take a lovely walk here after the conference with a few of the ladies who had later flights out, as well as a friend who lives locally
As I've considered my conference experience, I've tried to tease out what I took away from it.  I have a couple handouts, a slide deck from the wonderful Audubon presenter, a few scrawled and scattered notes taken while either standing or trying to balance a baby and a notepad on my lap, and a few photos.  I have the example of how one master Mason educator listens attentively to narrations and gently encourages more responses by a quiet, "What else?"  I also have memories of wonderful conversations at meals with people who live far from me but who have become dear through internet connections and seeing each other at conferences.  I have new acquaintances and friends, found through time spent in nature together, at meals, and by trying to narrate to each other during the sessions. I was able to visit my husband's aunt and uncle, people I enjoy very much and don't get to see very often. 

I'm so thankful for this chance to go to the conference, to enjoy the beauty of the Puget Sound area, and spend a little time with friends and family.  I'm looking forward to going back a third time for another conference... but perhaps in a couple years, when my youngest is old enough to leave at home.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Y9 Year In Review (2016-2017 School Year)

Before I start planning our new year, I like to spend some time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made. 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.

I have definitely benefited from the Delectable Education podcasts in planning this school year, but as of last summer, there wasn't all that much there for the high school age students.  They have since recorded several podcasts that were quite helpful during this last school year, and I'm glad to see them sharing information that is helpful for the older children as well as the younger ones.

The two most helpful things for planning this school year were the scheduling cards from the ladies at Delectable Education and designed my schedule using them.  I treated each card as a bucket that I need to fill with some resource and pulled from a variety of places to fill my buckets.  I also was able to attend Nicole William's science immersion at the CMI Western Conference last summer and that was very useful.

Emma still joins us for our whole morning time, and we study a number of areas as a family, including composer study, nature study, and picture study.  You can read more about our selections and our year of family studies in my previous post.

In case you're curious, here's my write-ups for Y7 and Y8.

From Emma: After Mom wrote this post, she let me look it over.  I did this, and asked if I could retake the notebook-entry photos.  She said yes, so all the photos here (except the one of me drawing) are ones that I took.

General Remarks

This was our first high school year for our first high schooler, and on the whole I am very pleased with how it went.  It seems a little hard to believe that we're already in the high school years, but I'm also finding that they really are a joy.  It feels very fulfilling to be assigning books that I had been looking forward to reading with her since we started our homeschooling journey 10 years ago!

Emma is still expected to narrate all her readings, and these may be in the form of a science notebook entry, a written narration, an oral narration to me or an oral narration recorded into Evernote.  Most of her narrations are either written or in her science notebook, although I tried to have her do one oral narration to me each day.  She would also narrate into an audio recording in Evernote if she had a lot of readings on a particular day.

All of Emma's written narrations get published to a private blog that is password protected.  I get an email notification when there is a new written narration, and this is a great help in keeping on top of reviewing her narrations.  She also publishes any of her digital science notebook entries there as well.

I've shared a small sampling of her science and nature notebook entries, as I thought they might be of interest.

Subject Areas

These subject areas are from the scheduling cards I used to plan our year, not including the subjects we did as a family.


In addition to hearing and narrating the daily Mass readings, Emma was reading through the book of Genesis using the Ignatius Study Guide.  I tried a different commentary at the beginning of the year, which we both didn't like at all (Haydock), so we didn't get quite all the way through Genesis.  I gave her the option of using an Ignatius Study Guide for the New Testament or contining with the New Testament portion of A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture, and she chose the latter.  She should also have been using our Bible Atlas, but in the little she looked at maps she relied more on the maps in the study guide.


Experimenting with a digital science notebook entry for a Physics lesson


In Mason's programmes, this category I think would be called Sunday Reading.  We do have a period of Sunday reading, but that is for lighter devotional books.  I decided to borrow some time from Bible to build a more robust faith component during the week.  What it came down to was that I wanted Emma to write narrations about her faith readings, but I was not comfortable assigning written narrations on Sunday.  Also, I wasn't sure that our Sundays would be stable enough because of other family commitments to allow for regular and systematic reading of more challenging texts.


English Language

This, along with Citizenship, are categories I used rather liberally, including some things which perhaps were a bit of a stretch for the definition of the category.


Science Notebook entry


Frankly, I floundered in this area this year.  Emma writes extremely well, and seldom has mechanical errors to correct.  I sometimes had her expand a piece of writing or improve the structure of a written narration, but really, it was hard to know what to do in this area.  We also sometimes used this slot for dictation, but again that was generally done so well it seemed rather pointless, like we were going through the motions just because we were supposed to.


This is an area where we didn't make as much progress in our readings as I had hoped, which was entirely my fault.  Last year we were reading through Dante's Divine Comedy, discussing two cantos at a time and watching the Great Courses lectures when appropriate.  If we had continued doing this as regularly this school year, we would have finished Paradiso in the first term, moved onto The Epic of Gilgamesh, then read Paradise Lost.  In the end we *ahem* are still around eight cantos from the end of Paradiso.  Again, all my fault for not making the time for the discussions and lectures on a consistent basis or being willing to step aside to let her move forward without me.


History (American, European and Ancient)

European history got off to a rough start because I ended up really disliking the spine I had chosen.  Europe: A History is an example of what can go wrong in a modern history text, where they focus too much on the individual's foibles and sins and not enough on his accomplishments.  And then there were all these strange full page sidebars that gave lists of famous figures with high intellects (including scores - how did they figure that out??), who was sexually deviant, and all sort of other speculative and useless trivia.

I switched to Dawn to Decadence about midway through the first term, and while we enjoyed the book, I forgot to adjust my page counts which caused some problems in the third term.  The other drawback to Dawn to Decadence is that it is much more of a cultural history than a history of events, although events are certainly mentioned.  All the discussion of ideas in the book led to many great conversations, though.

I was very pleased with the American History book, A History of the American People, although I scheduled it incorrectly and we finished what we were supposed to be reading at the end of Term 2.  Not sure what happened there...  but it gave me room to add in a book that just came out last fall which I think is excellent.  Continental Ambitions weaves together happenings in the Old World and the New in a very engaging and fascinating way, and it quickly became a favorite of mine.  It brought a whole new light to New World events, and I ended up assigning chapters about the Spanish and French efforts in the New World.  This made for some good conversation (and term exam questions!) where we were exploring the differences between the two countries' efforts.


Science Notebook entry


Again, I used this category rather broadly.



This area had a couple bad picks too - I had planned to use Kipling's From Sea to Sea, but we found it boring and not all that useful as a geography read.  We also started Chevalier de La Salle, but the anti-Catholic bias was annoying, and the target audience was younger than what was appropriate for my daughter.


Science notebook entry and experiment record

Natural History

This area went well.  I used Nicole William's guides for Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy and was pleased with them.  I thought the Astronomy one was perhaps a little young for her, but workable.  I also had a Biology track, as Williams recommends, and she spent two terms studying Botany and one term on Intelligent Design, taking a class offered in the evening once a week our community.  I had her use the time slot during the day to write a detailed narration.

In Botany in a Day, I had her read through and narrate the first section, then do a detailed science journal entry on each of the major families.  Each week in the third term, I had her find a local wildflower and create a science journal entry where she described the family the flower belongs to and show the features of the flower that helped her to identify the family.


Nature notebook entry


This year Emma finished Life of Fred Algebra and started Algebra 2.  I had some angst about using a book that is not widely used in the CM community, but in the end we decided that it is working well for her and we wouldn't change simply for the sake of conformity.  I did change the Algebra 2 to 4x/week and add a one day a week geometry lesson to her schedule.  I like the idea of the multi-stream approach to math, and this has been a reasonable way for us to incorporate it.  The book I'm using is too easy though, although there are concepts in there that she has not encountered yet.


Modern Language (Spanish)

This is another area that could use some work.  This is complicated by the fact that she's surpassed me in Spanish, which makes it difficult for me to figure out a course of work or to correct what she's writing.  Celeste suggested contracting with a translator through a translation service to do corrections which I think is absolutely brilliant, but I haven't done the work to set it up.

At this point her Spanish consists of reading through a Spanish grammar and writing narrations (in English), reviewing conjugations and grammar concepts, and copying short stories and poems from a Spanish reader and either translating or writing narrations.  I can handle correcting translations, but the written narrations are a lot trickier!


Botany in a Day entry where she used a local plant and identified it using the family information in the book.


This is another subject where she has surpassed me.  Ideally I'd like to find an online class that only requires one - two hours of class/work a week, but they all seem to require quite a bit more than that.  In the meantime, she continues to do the exercises in Henle and I have to hope she doesn't have any questions, because I can't answer them!


Music Appreciation

We used Robert Greenberg's fantastic Great Courses lecture series called How to Listen to and Understand Great Music.  We didn't make as much progress in this as I would have liked, again because I wasn't making the time to always listen with her.  But since I have listened to this course before, I eventually gave up and let her listen without me.


Afternoon Work


Emma has been doing some piano study with Pianophonics.  I am glad she's getting the opportunity to gain some familiarity with the piano, but I also realize that she can only go so far with a resource like this.  But since familiarity is a reasonable goal for her and for our family, this fits nicely.


Science Notebook entry from Botany in a Day


We haven't done much formal work here this year.  But she does sketch on her own (on paper and on the iPad), and her nature and science journal sketches are getting consistently better.


Emma didn't have any particular instruction in handicrafts this year, but she has continued to knit, crochet, and has also started working on calligraphy using instructions from The Postman's Knock. She's also been exploring mapmaking, at first to get a better idea of the geography of the country she was writing about, and then in a more general way as she grew more interested in the subject.


Current Events

Hmm.  Yes.  This area needs work.  Current events are mainly in the context of things my husband or I bring up over the breakfast or dinner table - and since neither one of us are news hounds, that doesn't happen daily.  


Emma spent a huge amount of time and effort working on a novel this school year.  She started it in April of 2016 and finished it about a year later.  She's now in the editing process with the book and is brainstorming and writing scenes for a second novel.  I'm obviously biased, but I think it is an excellent effort and I'm proud of what she's written and also proud of her diligence and perseverance in the project, particularly when she realized in the fall that she needed to re-write significant portions of the book.


Favorite Reads

I keep a record of all of Emma's reading, and I asked her to look through the list and select some favorites.  Some of the books are re-reads.  None of these books were assigned, they were all ones she chose because they were on our shelves, were gifts, or were books I had downloaded.  She does check with me before she picks up a new book, but I do not do much more than offer a lot of good books in our home and on our Kindles.

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers
  • Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  • Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery
  • Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Younge
  • Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card
  • The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  • Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton
  • The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Y5 Year in Review (2016-2017 School Year)

Before I start planning our new year, I like to spend some time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made. 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.

This year was a significant departure from the last two years, where we largely used AmblesideOnline (Y3 reviewY4 review).  I’ve been listening to the Delectable Education podcasts just about from the beginning, and I’ve found them extremely helpful, encouraging, and useful.  They have vastly improved our homeschool and I have grown significantly as a homeschooling educator and mother.

In planning the 2016-2017 school year, I decided to use the scheduling cards from the ladies at Delectable Education and designed my schedule using them.  I treated each card as a bucket that I need to fill with some resource and pulled from a variety of places to fill my buckets.

Some areas are studied as a family, including composer study, nature study, and picture study.  You can read more about our selections and our year of family studies in my previous post.

Describing the boat he recently made

Subject Areas

These subject areas are from the scheduling cards I used to plan our year, not including the subjects we did as a family.


For a number of years I’ve considered our time spent reading, narrating and discussing the daily Mass readings as our Bible study time, particularly for the younger kids.  However, over time I could see that while the younger children knew individuals and certain events in the Bible and the Gospels reasonably well, they lacked a coherent overview of the Bible.  So in the second term I added 15 minutes a day to Nathan and Gregory’s where we read systematically through the Old Testament (Joshua, Judges, Ruth and part of First Samuel this year) and the Gospel of Luke (we’re about half-way through)  We’ve really enjoyed this time together, and I can see how their knowledge and appreciation for the story of the Old Testament has grown dramatically, as well as their knowledge of Biblical locations.

Student Bible Atlas
Sacred Art Series:  The Holy Gospels of St. Luke and St. John (Beautiful book!)


Gregory continued to work on copywork in print and cursive.  I largely pulled from poetry and psalms for the first two terms of the year, but in the third term I realized he needed more practice with punctuation.  I started assigning passages from Kim, particularly ones with a lot of dialogue, to help with this.

Dictation Lesson


Spelling is an area where Gregory struggles.  Dictation has worked well for him, but it is a slow process.  I've been using the Simply Charlotte Mason's Spelling Wisdom, which as worked well for us and is very easy to use.

In practicing the words, for most of the year I had him build the words using a movable alphabet.  This worked extremely well in getting him to slow down and to think about the sequence of the letters in the word he was studying.  Towards the end of the year we were able to graduate to having him write the words on a small whiteboard, as he had improved so much in his sequencing that the movable alphabet was starting to feel like an impediment rather than a helpful tool.

Spelling Wisdom, Book 1
Moveable Alphabet
Small Whiteboard and markers


I've continued to use Winston Grammar with Gregory, and it has been a useful and successful program for him.  This is the only grammar program that I've actually been able to implement in our homeschool, and this is my second time through it.  I appreciate how it has lots of practice sentences for the student, and builds the concepts gradually through the lessons.  When I use it with him, I usually have him build the sentences and not mark up the sentences in the workbook.  Then we go through each word and phrase.  I would also sometimes have him copy a sentence and mark the it up using the directions in the program. At this point he's only about three lessons from the end of the first level.



Thankfully Gregory is at the point where he's reading all his assignments to himself, except for Shakespeare, Plutarch and Bible.

Age of Fable (not a favorite, and did not lead to good narrations or retention - I'm not that impressed with it either even though it is a classic...  but I'm not sure what I would replace it with)
King Arthur by Howard Pyle

Mapwork and narration, using a battlefield map

American History

Each history block also included narration and mapwork as appropriate.  I also had him look up the various battles as he read about them if he had additional time, sometimes tracing or drawing battle maps for particularly important battles.

In the first term I used America Grows Up and while I liked the quality of the writing and how the author encouraged the reader to consider some of the ideas behind the events of American History, I felt like it was really short on details.  As were were going into the second term and starting our study of the Civil War, I looked ahead in the book and found that the book covers the Civil War in 22 pages, 4 of them full page illustrations.  There's almost no details about battles of the Civil War, and little about the figures of the Civil War except Lincoln.  I thought the discussion of the ideas surrounding and influencing the Civil War was good, but I was puzzled in how to actually use the book since there were so few pages.  Did it really make sense to assign a page or two page each week?  And what else would I assign during his American history work period?

Even though the book is highly regarded in some circles, in the end I decided to put it aside and return to This Country of Ours, which we had been reading the previous two years.

America Grows Up (which I bought last June for under $10 - can't believe how much it costs now!!)
This Country of Ours
Of Courage Undaunted
Uncle Tom's Cabin for Young People
Civil War Battlefields
Lots of Historical Free Reads (see list at the end for favorites)

British History

The number of chapters in Our Island Story was a little light (15 chapters) for this time period, so I spread them out through the year and alternated with readings from three historical books and one book of historical fiction.  This worked reasonably well, and I think we liked alternating better than trying to do a little of each in the time slot.  These readings were all narrated orally and mapwork was done when appropriate.


Ancient History

This was an area of history that Gregory hasn't studied at all, but enjoyed quite a bit.  Each weekly reading was joined with mapwork, oral narration, and often a drawn narration as well.  Rather than having Gregory draw the maps freehand, I had him trace the maps using a light box then label them using a reference.  It was an excellent compromise between just labeling a printed map and having to do it all from scratch.  He was much happier with the results and much more confident in his mapmaking.


Making a topographic map of an island he created out of clay


This was scheduled twice a week, and in one session Gregory read from Halliburton's Book of Marvels and in the other we did hands-on geography activities.  In our hands on session, we explored local maps, political maps, terrain maps, and the globe through discussion and exercises.

Halliburton's Book of Marvels, The Occident
Illustrated Atlas for Young America
Various maps and a globe

Exploring with Snap Circuits

Natural History

Gregory had three natural history slots in his schedule, and each slot had a different focus.  In one he read Great Inventors and Their Inventions, narrating and drawing something from what he read.  In the third term I also had him start writing some narrations from this book as well.  This was one of his favorite books this year.

In the second slot, he read through the Christian Liberty Reader, Book 5, about the human body.  This book was not a favorite for either of us, but we made it through.  He also narrated this, both orally and in diagrams or sketches.

The third slot changed each term.  In the first Gregory read Rocks, Rivers and the Changing Earth and did most of the suggested experiments in the book.  This was another favorite of his.  In the second we sort of used Nicole William's Astronomy guide, but between me being in my first trimester of this pregnancy and an incredibly stormy winter, we didn't really do a very good job of it.  In the third term Gregory studied electricty, which was also a favorite.  He read from the Junior Science book of Electricity, did experiments from that book, built with Snap Circuits, drew diagrams and had a grand time.

Rocks, Rivers and the Changing Earth
Find the Constellations
Astronomy Study Guide
Junior Science Book of Electricity
Snap Circuits


This is another area where I made significant changes.  Over the summer I heard Sonya Schafer speak about Richele Baburina’s book, Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching and demonstrate what living math instruction can look like.  I was incredibly impressed and decided that this is what I needed to do with Nathan and Gregory.  I had been using MEP, but I found it difficult to break away from the worksheet mentality of it.  Gregory was going through the mechanics of what MEP was asking of him, but I could tell he didn't fully understand what he was doing.  He also seemed to be lacking in some foundational understanding of numeracy, and this was hindering him as he grappled with multi-digit multiplication and long division.

We spent the first part of the year solidifying our math foundations using techniques in Baburina’s book and running a store where the boys were practicing with a variety of math operations as well as writing receipts and keeping financial records.  After the first term, it became obvious that I needed to separate the boys for math, because something happened in Gregory's math understanding and he leaped ahead of his brother.  I shuffled the schedule and figured out how to make the time to teach them separately.  I was so thrilled to see this happen, it is one of the biggest successes of this school year.

In the second term I started to use a geometry book one day a week, which was a nice addition to his math studies.  I really like the multi-stream approach to math.

In the third term I started using the Strayer-Upton book to make it easier to come up with practice problems and such.  Pregnancy was taking a toll on my on-the-fly creativity, and I really appreciated having a straight-forward resource that I could easily pick and choose problems from as needed.

We also included some logic work a few times a week using a couple different resources.

Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching
Play Money
Coins (including lots of pennies)
Strayer-Upton, Book 2
Logic Links
Practical Exercises in Geometry

Installing the new wheels for the garden cart


As I mentioned in my family studies post, we added recitation into the boys’ schedule about halfway through the school year.

The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth
O Captain, My Captain! by Walt Whitman
Psalm 67
Psalm 33
Psalm 19
Gettysburg Address
Taming of the Shrew, Act 2, Scene 1 (about half of the scene)
John 15:1-11
John 10:1-16


I had used Latin for Children Primer A last year, and wasn't all that happy with it.  I wrestled with what to do quite a bit last summer, and decided I would go ahead and teach from what I know well, which is Henle.  This worked reasonably well, as we took it slow and plodded along, making progress.  However, Latin became Gregory's most dreaded subject in the process, which started to impede his learning.  In term 3 I decided that we needed to mix things up a bit and grabbed Minimus off the shelf.  This was a very welcome change, and while I didn't completely cast Henle aside, using the combination of the two books worked well and became much more effective and enjoyable (although more teacher intensive!).

Henle, Book 1

Modern Language (Spanish)

This is an area where we’ve had a lot of transition over the course of the year.  We started with just using Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and François, Volume 1 and including a song, a poem, and prayers in Spanish and then added in other activities such as building dictated sentences with picture cards, calendar work, vocabulary games like Simon Says, rhymes and increasing the number of songs we learned.  I’ve learned a lot from Celeste Cruz, particularly from her talk at the Conference in the Redwoods in February, and I’m looking forward to continuing to improve in this area.

Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and François, Volume 1
De Colores and Other Latin-American Folk Songs for Children
Pio Peep!


This is another area that has seen a lot of growth.  I have been focusing on developing the boys’ sense of rhythm and beat using a variety of means.  I have done a little Sol-fa with them, but largely trying to reinforce what they are learning through the Hoffman Academy.  As an aside, Hoffman Academy has been wonderful for the boys!  We signed up for their subscription service and it is well worth the expense.  They are learning a lot, enjoying the lessons, and the scripted practice sessions are so helpful.  They have a great ear training game as well which has been a very helpful addition to their music studies.

Music at Home
Hoffman Academy

Physical Education/Drill

This was going to be the year I learned about Swedish Drill through Dawn Duran’s series…  and, then, well, it didn’t happen.  This is definitely an area that needs improvement.

A goat he whittled for his aunt's birthday


We started doing Sloyd this year, which has been a great success.  I am coming to appreciate the importance of Sloyd in the curriculum, so much so that I’ll be speaking about Sloyd at the CMI Western Conference in July.

Gregory has really taken off with whittling, and one of his favorite pastimes is tinkering down in the shed with this idea or that.  He's retrofited a garden cart with wooden wheels, built several catapults, a wagon or two, and innumerable muskets and rifles.  We have also done some sewing together here and there, and Gregory tackled the lap loom to make some Christmas gifts as well.

Paper Sloyd for Primary Grades - if you are going to use this book, I highly recommend printing the PDF.  The book isn't that long, and if you print the PDF the illustrations in the book will not be stretched.

Amazing what he can make out of stuff that is laying around...  this is his wheelbarrow

Favorite Free Reads

I also like to include a few favorites from the year's reading.  I try to record all the books the kids read throughout the year by having them place completed books on my desk.  I also try and capture ebooks and audiobooks, but without that physical place to put the books they sometimes slip through the cracks.  As I'm doing this review, I print out the list and have the child mark their favorites.  I ask them to be discriminating and to not choose too many... but as you can see from this list, there were a lot of favorites!

Gregory has a particular fondness for historical books, but reads quite a lot of fiction as well.

  • White Fang
  • Little House Series
  • Mr. Bell Invents the Telephone
  • Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, Return of the King
  • A Nose for Trouble (his favorite Kjelgaard book)
  • Clipper Ship Days
  • The Battle of Lake Erie
  • The Swamp Fox of the Revolution (he's read this a number of times)
  • Daniel Boone by John Mason
  • The Story of Andrew Jackson
  • Captain Cook Explores the South Seas
  • The Golden Goblet
  • Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo
  • Tarzan of the Apes
  • Casting the Gods Adrift
  • Of Courage Undaunted
  • Raccoons are the Brightest People
  • Riders of the Pony Express
  • Harry Potter series (books 1-6)
  • John Paul Jones, Soldier of the Sea (I'm not sure I can count how many times he's read this book)
  • The Cave by the Beech Ford
  • St. Philip of the Joyous Heart
  • The Story of King Arthur
  • Rocks, Rivers and the Changing Earth
  • They Flew to Glory
  • Invincible Louisa
  • Swiss Family Robinson
  • Florence Nightingale's Nuns
  • Rifles for Watie
  • Across Five Aprils
  • The Story of D-Day
  • Lee and Grant at Appomattox
  • Saint John Bosco
  • Bull Run
  • Stonewall Jackson
  • Clara Barton
  • Into the Ice
  • Hero of Trafalgar: The Story of Lord Nelson
  • Wyatt Earp: U.S. Marshal
  • Chaplain in Gray: Father Abram Ryan
  • Stormy
  • The Black Pearl
  • The 290
  • St. Louis and the Last Crusade
  • Girl of the Shining Mountains
  • Geronimo: Wolf of the Warpath
  • Sailing on the Ice
  • Messenger from K'Itai
  • Rascal
  • The Story of Thomas Edison
  • Roald Amundsen
  • Leonardo Da Vinci (which he read in Y3, but picked up again this year)
  • Simon Bruté and the Western Adventure
  • Great Inventors and Their Inventions
  • The Book of the Ancient World
  • Commander of the Flying Tigers
  • Kim
(Phew, I can't believe I just typed all that - and no, this wasn't every book he read this year!)

Some links are Amazon Affiliate links which benefit Charlotte Mason West