Saturday, December 19, 2015

Our Advent

Ah, here we are, the day before the fourth Sunday of Advent.  How did we get here already?

This is our ninth year of celebrating Advent, and it is so wonderful to reach a point where Advent and our traditions feel like home.  I usually add one or two new things each year to try in our family, but this year we did not add anything new.  It is a great comfort to see how this steady growth of thoughtful traditions has enriched our family life over the years, and has created many warm and wonderful memories.  


Some of our traditions include:

  • Homemade beeswax Advent Candles
  • Making chocolates for the Feast of St. Nicholas
  • Decorating the house with lights on the Feast of St. Lucia
  • Bringing down the great big box of Christmas books to read and enjoy during Advent and Christmas
  • The Jesse Tree
  • Handel's Messiah, in small sections using Cindy's guide
  • Praying and singing to mark the O Antiphons
  • The St. Andrew Christmas Anticipation Prayer (Thank you, Celeste, for your lovely prayer card)
  • Mexican hot chocolate on (or near *ahem*) on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
I hope you and your family are having a lovely Advent!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

In Praise of the Average Day Chart

Now I realize that the timing of this post may seem a little odd, since we're about to go into Thanksgiving week and then Advent and then Christmas vacation...  and all of those things mean that average weeks are guaranteed to be non-existent and even average days will be few and far between.

But I like to post about things that are actually working rather than things I hope will work, which puts me off the usual cycle for homeschooling posts.  Also, I hope it will serve as a reminder for me to try and protect at least a few days a week as average days, even as things get busier.

The Average Day Chart is inspired by Brandy at Afterthoughts (see hereherehere, and here - I think there's an even better post from her 2015 planning series lurking somewhere in the archives, but I can't seem to find it) and implementing it, along with Nicole's work on scheduling has been a life changing and sanity saving.

Having this regular rhythm to our days is a huge help for me, especially as I multiply this chart out over the course of the week.  Looking at our days as a concrete set of boxes of time has made me realize how much - or perhaps how little - we can actually do in a given day.  I am extremely good at creating long lists of things that need to be done, and then waving my hand somewhat despairingly at it and saying, oh, it'll all get done somehow...  but then either it doesn't actually get done, or the kids and I work ourselves into exhaustion trying to do far too much for a given day.

I assign my children's work to these various boxes, and if it doesn't fit into the boxes, then it doesn't get assigned.  Yes, children can dawdle and take longer than they should on their work...  but if they work in a reasonably diligently fashion, they will get their work done and then be done for the day.  And the kids all know that if they don't get their work done in the allotted time, then they will be doing their work later during their independent time.  This doesn't happen for the younger ones, as I am working more closely with them...  but it does happen for my Y8 daughter.  She also knows that if oral narrations are not done that day, then they turn into written narrations...  and she will not be included in fun family activities if her work is not completed.  But I am also extremely reasonable about how much work gets assigned in a slot, and I am very open to modifying assignments if something I've assigned turns out to be a lot more work than I originally expected.

This may look very regimented and difficult, but really it is the weeks when we have a couple out of the house engagements in the morning or early afternoon that are very difficult.  A week with only one or two average days is ever so much harder than a week with three or four average days.  There's so much peace in being able to move smoothly through what needs to be done, and having the children know what to expect from our day.   It is also such a huge help for me, as I have some rest time for myself in the course of the day, and I know exactly which children I'm working with at which time.  There is nothing that frazzles me more than having all five children needing something from me at once!

A few notes - Emma is Y8, Gregory Y4, Nathan Y2, Justin is 4 and Hannah is almost 2.
The readings that the boys have in the afternoon are generally shorter than scheduled.
The boys do piano together right now, taking turns working with me, which is why they are scheduled at the same time.



Saturday, November 14, 2015

Charlotte Mason West

I am glad to announce Charlotte Mason West -
A website dedicated to encouraging community and connections among Charlotte Mason educators west of the Rockies, particularly through conferences and retreats.
Currently on Charlotte Mason West, you can view pictures from the 2015 conference in Seattle, listen to talks from the conference, and perhaps most importantly, sign up for announcements about new conferences and events west of the Rockies (sign up form is at the bottom of the page).

I'm excited about this new site, and I hope it can encourage people to attend a conference or event and make connections with one another.  It really is wonderful to meet people who get what you're doing!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Starting a Foreign Language When Overwhelmed

I have spent much the last fourteen years struggling with pregnancy-related issues:  sickness, fatigue, pain, sleep deprivation, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.  I know what it is like to be overwhelmed, but also to want to offer so much to these wonderful and amazing children God has given me.

Last year as I considered my then Y3 and Y1 boys, I knew I wanted to start them in a foreign language.  I read and re-read Celeste's excellent series on Learning Languages the Charlotte Mason Way.  But as I reflected on myself, I realized that I had very little to give - little mental space, little time to prepare, little ability to learn anything new.  I also knew that the boys would need something very hands-on, because neither was at a point where I could expect them to sit with a packaged curriculum and have any success at all.  They were both also very resistant to the idea of learning a foreign language.

I realized that what I could do would not be a full solution.  It would not lead anywhere near fluency, nor would it be a long term strategy.  But it could be something to ease them into foreign language in a way that required very little from me.

I set the following goals for the year:

  1. We would study a language I already knew a little bit and had a lot of resources available.  A time of overwhelm is not a time to decide that it would really be better to choose a language based on coolness-factor, family history, or personal interest.  
  2. I would incorporate foreign language prayers and poetry into our memory work.  I set a goal of one new prayer and one new poem each term.  I added in our prayers and poetry in Spanish right alongside our regular poetry selections in our daily memory work.
  3. I would have us learn one new children's song in the target language every term.  I chose fun, bouncy music and played it at the end of our Morning Time.  This was a great way for the kids to get up and move around and stretch after our quieter and more sedentary Morning Time.
  4. I would do two sessions of Duolingo each day.  Two sessions takes about 10-12 minutes and I trained myself to do Duolingo before I allowed myself to look at blogs, check email, read or do just about anything on my phone or computer.  I think this ended up being the most important piece of our language learning.  I would periodically tell the children how manhy consecutive days I had on Duolingo and they saw and admired my faithfulness to this practice.  It gave them a sense of how important this was to me, and made it easier for me to occasionally say things in Spanish to my kids.
We did this all year last year.  By the time we left for our trip to Alaska, I had a Duolingo streak of over 320 days.  The boys were no longer resistant to learning a foreign language, and they were proud to be able to pray in multiple languages.  I didn't meet all my goals, namely we ended up memorizing only two poems and one prayer, but we did learn more songs than I had planned.  My now four year old sings "Brilla, Brilla, Estrellita" to himself when he's playing or falling asleep.

Resources I used:
A Bailar! - Fun Spanish music targeted at kids, but not obnoxiously so.  They also have a PDF on their website with the lyrics.
Poems by Douglas Wright - The two we learned are Árboles, Á boles, Árboles and Una Casa con un Sol.  He has a lot of poetry that is great for kids who are learning Spanish.  He uses repeating words, natural themes, and they are generally just a few short stanzas.  And you can use Google translate to get an English version.
Duolingo - Free, works on my phone and computer, easy to use.  What's not to like?
Prayers - We learned the Hail Mary in Spanish and the Our Father in Latin.


And in case you're wondering about my oldest...
Emma, then Y7, was well underway with Greek, Latin and Spanish and largely self-directed in her language studies.  She has long found the study of different languages fascinating, and that coupled with her early reading and writing skills made using well known and widely available programs like the Hey, Andrew series, Latina Christiana, Henle and Rosetta Stone an easy fit.  Were they what Charlotte Mason would have used in her schools?  Well, not necessarily, but when I chose the programs that wasn't a question I held in as much importance as I do now.

And now...
Our work last year, coupled with my healthier emotional and physical state, put us in an excellent position to ramp up our Spanish studies this year and to add Latin for Gregory, now in Y4.  I'm using Cherrydale Press' Speaking Spanish book with Nathan (Y2) and Gregory, and Latin for Children A with Gregory.  I'm very pleased with the Speaking Spanish book, and reasonably happy with Latin for Children.  I've added the Latin chants to our daily memory work, which means my four year old goes around chanting "o, s, t, mus, tis, nt!" and singing "In principio erat verbum" and my almost two year old asks for "aqua, aquae" when she wants water - both of which are incredibly cute.

And if I wasn't in this healthier state, I think I would have continued our Spanish work as I outlined, and added Latin chant, prayer and poetry as well.  (I'm not sure what I would have substituted the Duolingo work for in Latin, however.)  I would have started Gregory on Rosetta Stone and hoped for the best.  And I would have held off on introducing any additional Spanish study with Nathan for at least another year.  Ideal?  Not at all.  But certainly much better than waiting until I had the time, energy, and ability to do something more ideal.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What my nature journaling really looks like

Photo by my daughter Emma

Yes, it would have been easier to pack up the pencils, call it a morning, and start in on lunch preparations.  But instead I stuck it out at the table after helping the three boys with their journal entries, wrote my entry and sketched my maple leaf, all the while trying to keep my journal in place and my pencils (and toddler!) on the table.  Yes, the table isn't where we generally encourage children to sit, but it was far easier to draw with her there than on my lap.  And in the end, I succeeded.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

From My Commonplace: Contemplation and Action

The activist may think himself the cutting edge of the future, but if he is not a mystic, he is frightfully narrow—and part of the narrowness is that he may not possess even a small suspicion of his myopia. [...] Rare indeed is the man or woman who, as Vatican II put it, is “eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation”
Fr. Thomas Dubay, Fire Within

The Thinker, Rodin

Have you ever tried actually sitting in the position of Rodin's The Thinker?

We recently studied this sculpture as part of our artist study of Auguste Rodin.  During our study, we all tried this position and I suddenly had a new understanding of what it means to be "eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation."

Give it a try and see what you think.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Nature Walks, Nature Journaling and the Fight to be the Teacher I Want to Be

When I think back over the conference I attended in Seattle, I think there were two encompassing ideas that encouraged and inspired me the most.  The first was a greater understanding of the idea that education is a long term endeavor.  It isn't a matter of a particular book or event or a week of diligent work - or even a year of diligence.  It is many years of regular work, many attempts to do what is right and to keep continuing to press on, even in the face of whiny children, lack of progress, frustration and fatigue.

The second is something that Brandy said at the end of her first talk, that we have to fight to become the teacher we want to be.  This business of trying to lead a rich life full of living ideas and active engagement with those ideas is not an easy one.  It would be much easier to hand out iPads or workbooks to everyone and focus largely on building skills.  Sure, the kids would balk at times to the tedium, but we could push through the work quickly and then move onto whatever else we want to do or needs to get done.  

I thought about both of these things as I sat in the airport on Sunday evening, considering the day I wanted to share with the children when I got back.  I knew I would be home late, and the kids could be a little clingy or overexcited when they saw me again on Monday.  My first impulse - and the one I had planned on doing before the conference - was to get everyone's checklists squared away at the airport, plan my week on the plane, and then jump back into a regular day first thing Monday morning.

But as I considered what I had experienced at the conference, what I had heard and learned and discussed, I wasn't so sure that was what I really wanted to do.  I wasn't sure that was really the best way to draw our family together again after our separation.  I also wanted to bring a little of that post-conference glow into our family life and draw out the conference experience just a little longer.

A banana slug - the slugs around here look just like banana slugs, except they are more of a grey-ish or brown-ish color rather than yellow.
I resolved to postpone our morning time from 8 to 9 and cancel our usual morning activities to take a walk with the kids - a walk that has never gone well with all five children, as it is about a half a mile downhill to the creek, and then of course a steep half a mile back home.  I wasn't sure what they would think of visiting the creek, dry for several months due to the drought.  Would it still be interesting if they couldn't throw rocks in the water?  And I wasn't sure at all how I was going to get my four year old and 21 month old back up the hill if they both fell apart.

Somehow this hill looks a lot steeper in person.  Or perhaps it is the company?
I directed the children to find something to bring home to sketch in their neglected nature journals. I cringed inside as I said it, expecting to hear the chorus of groans that the nature journal usually invokes.  All the children were glad for this opportunity, and even intrigued by my direction to pick something to bring home and sketch.  Is it possible I haven't done this before?  Or has it been so long they have forgotten?  Most of my memories are of dismal failures trying to sketch in the field...  so perhaps it is a common idea that I dismissed out of hand and prematurely.


We had a wonderful walk, and the children were fascinated by the dry creek bed.  We were able to walk up it a ways, discovering 22 banana slugs in the creek bed, marveling at the plants already starting to grow amongst the rocks in the bed, finding a few lingering blackberries and noticing several riparian trees we had not noticed before.  Justin, my four year old, collected a leaf he wanted to sketch, and Gregory (9) found about a half dozen things he wanted to add to his journal.  Nathan (7) was an eager looker, but wasn't sure what he wanted to sketch.  In the end he decided he would use one of his brother's items.  Emma (13) found a maple seed to sketch, and I tore off a small section of an uninhabited paper wasp's nest we found on the ground on our way to the creek bed.

Scouring the creek bed for slugs
We toiled back up the hill, the older boys running ahead, Justin trailing behind and needing a lot of cajoling and encouragement to get back up the hill, Emma offering a steady stream of observations and interest, and Hannah at first being content in the stroller before deciding she really would rather be carried.  She ended up strapped in the stroller against her will and I somehow managed to push it back up the hill while she cried and fussed.  She quickly calmed down when we got home, and everyone set to work on their entries with good cheer.  Gregory, much to my surprise, decided to draw all the specimens he brought home, and Justin was adamant that I help him trace his leaf for his nature journal.  I, thinking of Brandy's talk, helped him to extend his attention a little longer and he made several excellent additional observations and added more detail and color to his tracing.  There was some whining when it came time to label the pictures from one child in particular, but we pushed through and made it work.

It wasn't the idyllic, everything is wonderful and joyous sort of excursion that I, in my more unreasonable moments, am sure that everyone but me gets to have, but it was not the disaster I had imagined either.  Instead it was an in the trenches, trying to do the work sort of outing that I need to keep bringing into our lives.

This post doesn't seem complete without some sharing from our nature journals, so I asked the kids if I could post pictures and they graciously agreed.

Justin (4) - Black Oak Leaf

Nathan (7, Y2) - Pine branch growth - not sure how he got away without labelling...   

Gregory (9, Y4) - Bark, Hazelnut leaf, fern, and a Big Leaf Maple leaf

Mine - I mostly write in my nature journal, but I do try to stretch myself and sketch at least occasionally.  I'm never very happy about how it turns out though!

Emma (13, Y8) - Maple seed sketches and description


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2015 Northwest Charlotte Mason Educators Conference

I had the enormous privilege to attend the Northwest Charlotte Mason Educators Conference in Seattle this last weekend.  I believe it was the first one west of the Rockies, but definitely not the last!  The retreat center was amazing - the location was gorgeous, the staff was friendly and helpful, the rooms were comfortable, the food was tasty, the chapel was lovely...  it was everything you could possibly want for an event like this.  I am so grateful to the organizers of the event that they did this.  Is was such a wonderful gift to the Charlotte Mason Community.

I didn't take many pictures of the conference as it was happening, because I feel uncomfortable about taking and posting pictures of people without their direct consent.  But I would like to share some of my nature pictures as well as comment a little (ok, more than a little!) on the talks and events.

Many bedrooms (including mine!), the dining area and one of the conference rooms looked out over Puget Sound
After a delicious dinner and some wonderful conversation, we kicked off the formal part of the conference with Brandy's talk, "What's Love Got to Do With It?  Cultivating Your Child's Affinities", which you can get from her web store if you're interested.  I highly recommend it - it was a fantastic talk, full of both wisdom and practicality.   I thought her discussion about how we cultivate affinities was excellent and extremely helpful.

A nearby nature sanctuary on Saturday morning.  The sun did come out on Saturday, but not until the afternoon.
We also had the option to listen to Catherine Levison discuss contemplative prayer after Brandy's talk.  I ended up staying after the talk and listening and discussing the subject further - as well as hearing many wonderful and fascinating stories.  This late evening really helped solidify some things I've been trying to work through for some time, and I felt so much peace coming out of it.  I hesitate a bit to say this so close to that night, but I think it was a life-changing experience.

The same location, but Sunday afternoon.  We had a blue sky all day on Sunday and it was gorgeous!
I started Saturday morning early, as I'm used to getting up at about 5:45.  It was so lovely to have time to pray, read the Bible, shower, take a walk, pray the rosary...  and then go into the dining room and have a wonderful breakfast all ready for me.  And there was no whining or crying or complaining or anything! (Mornings can be a little tough around here, as you might guess)

Catherine Levison gave the first talk of the morning, discussing "How Do You Want to Be Remembered?" It was a talk full of wisdom and encouragement.  Her list of key things to remember are things I think I need to post prominently, because even though I know them, I have to keep reminding myself how very important they are. 

I have no idea what kind of fungus this is, but it was sizable, and I was fascinated by how it had swallowed up this leaf you can see in the middle of the picture.  I tried tugging on it, but the fungus was holding it so firmly that the leaf didn't budge at all.
Brandy's next talk was about how "The Principles are Practical" which I think she plans to make available on her site as well.  It has a slide deck, so I imagine that's what makes it a little more complicated to put online.  Again, a fabulous talk (and her handout with her organization of the principles is priceless) and it is really making me want to go through Start Here, Brandy's Principles Study.     

The Retreat Center's nature trail
After lunch we had the opportunity to go on a nature walk with Naomi Goegan, then spent some time doing handicrafts.  Again, both were great opportunities.  And I haven't even mentioned all the great conversations I had with the lovely and interesting women who attended this conference with me!  I met so many wonderful people with great stories to share.  And there were so much wisdom to be had from everyone.

Then there was tea, which I actually bailed on because I was feeling a little overstimulated at that point.  I had finished up my nature notebook entry a little late in the handicrafts time period (I was knitting and then crocheting, then decided to draw), and by the time I went into the dining room for tea everyone was in full conversation and it just felt like a bit too much.  My introvertedness kicked in and I felt that dull roaring in my ears which is my clue that I need to spend a little time outside and away from the hubbub of everything.  I added more to my nature notebook, stared at the water for a bit, then was ready for the scheduling discussion at 4.

This discussion was very helpful and encouraging, and showed just how important it is to have some connections with people who are trying to do what you are doing around to bounce ideas off of and to help troubleshoot.  I wish the discussion could have been twice as long!  (And I wish all these incredible women lived, oh, within an hour's drive of me so we could do this every month - or more!!)

Someone on the nature walk identified these as Chanterelle mushrooms.  Aren't they gorgeous?
The next talk was Kathy Wickward's talk about Charlotte Mason's methods and special needs children.  I wish everyone could have heard this talk, because as Kathy pointed out, "special needs are regular issues on steroids".  Also, I think it was so helpful to hear a bit about what it is like to educate a child with special needs and so encouraging to hear how CM's methods and ideas are appropriate for all children.  I wonder if they are perhaps even more important for children with special needs because they are so much more likely to be given limited exposure to truth, beauty and goodness.  Her discussion about accommodating and how to build skills while also continuing that exposure to great ideas was particularly helpful.

And then it was time for dinner, with another talk and a book discussion after that in the evening.  (Yes, Saturday was a long and full day, but an excellent one!)  Naomi Goegan's Nature Study Through the Ages talk was very helpful and encouraging, and I especially like how she emphasized that we have to be willing to open our own eyes for nature study to work.  We also have to be patient - nature study is not a short term endeavor.  

I had hoped to go the The Nature Study Idea book discussion, but since I only managed to finish about a third of the book, I decided to attend the Living Page discussion instead.  I think most of the attendees attended this discussion, as it was a very full room!  But we had a good discussion, and I was encouraged especially to consider creating a child's personal history chart after hearing one woman describe how she did it with her children.  Attending this talk really made me realize how much more I could appreciate a book if I had the opportunity to discuss it with other people.

And now we're (finally!) at Sunday.  I didn't realize this write-up would get quite so long, but I think it is good for me to get a chance to record some of my impressions.  I hope perhaps it will be encouraging for some of you out there who didn't get to go, but have considered attending a conference like this.  If you have the opportunity, or even sort of have the opportunity - do it!

On Sunday morning I again took a walk, then went to Mass at the chapel at the retreat center.  The Mass was lovely, and I had the opportunity to serve as an Eucharistic Minister for the first time.  It was incredibly moving, and I felt so privileged to do so.  It is something I've been scared to do in the past, but now I hope to have the opportunity to do it again.

And after breakfast, we had a west coast organizational meeting.  After talking briefly with the one other woman from Northern California (hi, Helen!) we decided to join the Southern California table.  We had some ideas about how to build the CM community in California, which is exciting, and I enjoyed hearing what other women have done to build community in their areas.  And then we discussed the next West Coast Charlotte Mason Conference - and guess what, it will be in Northern California next year, and I'm going to be taking a substantial role in making this happen!  I'm very excited, and I feel complete peace about it.  (now at least!)  There are several other wonderful women who are also going to be working on the next conference, and I'm very glad to have to opportunity to work with them and get to know them better.   

And then it was time for our last talk of the conference, Brandy's talk on the famous (well, in CM circles at least) fresco with St. Thomas Aquinas in the center and all the virtues and areas of study.  Her talk was very informative, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to stare at the painting more closely and understand who all the figures in it are.  I'm looking forward to Brandy putting this one online, because I quickly realized that I could either stare and consider or I could take notes...  and I decided to stare and consider.  But I'd like to have the notes too, because there is a lot of information embedded in that fresco!

And then after lunch it was time for the conference to end and for everyone to head out.  I did have a chance to chat a bit more with some of the women I met, and then I met up with my husband's Aunt and Uncle to visit and take a walk.  We walked back to the nature sanctuary and had a great visit in the lovely September sunshine.  Then it was to the rental car return, to the airport, to the plane, to the Sacramento airport, to the economy parking (where I thought I had lost my parking ticket and ended up finding it on the ground outside my car!), then to my mom's house to return her car and pick up my mother-in-law's car, then to my in-law's to return her car, then I walked home (owning one car can sometimes be challenging, logistically speaking!).  My daughter had waited up for me, and we eagerly swapped stories while I ate a late dinner and wound down a bit from the drive and walk.  

Mount Rainier - I have never flown so close to it before!
And now I'm really looking forward to the West Coast Charlotte Mason Conference next Fall!!


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Alaska: 17 Days with 5 Children

Our trip to Alaska sprang upon us suddenly one October day in the form of question and a happy answer.

"Will you marry me?"

"Yes!!!"

And all of a sudden our vague thoughts of, "oh, wouldn't it be neat to visit Chris (my husband's brother) in Alaska someday?" became, "We're going to Alaska next summer!"

A view from Skilak Lake Rd in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge
Since we were making the effort to get all seven of us up there, it seemed reasonable to figure out how we could extend the trip beyond what was needed for the wedding.  My husband is a self-employed website developer, which means no paid vacation but it also means he can do his work from any location with an internet connection.  Matt and I have talked occasionally about combining travel and work, and this was a good opportunity to try it out.

Fireweed, gorgeous and incredibly common
We set some priorities for the trip, namely we wanted to be able to be up there for at least two weeks,  to spend some time at Denali National Park and on the Kenai Peninsula, and I wanted to do at least one thing outside that wasn't at toddler pace.  We wanted to visit at least one glacier and see some Alaskan wildlife like moose and bears.  We wanted to camp, but we not willing to camp for the entire time.  We wanted Matt to be able to work for part of the trip, but not all of it so he could have a vacation too.  We also wanted to minimize costs as much as possible, since we didn't have a lot of time to save for the trip.  This meant that there wouldn't be any flight seeing trips, hotels, nannies or long boat excursions.  We planned to eat out only during our long layovers at the Seattle airport.

Portage Glacier
We did very well with the plane tickets because we each signed up for an Alaska Air credit card and used the bonus miles and companion tickets to pay for most of the flights.  I believe we only had to pay for three full price tickets instead of six, which was a great help.  Surprisingly, the single most expensive part of our trip was our rental minivan.  We were able to drop the price by a third by continuing to shop around as the trip got closer, but it ended up being more expensive than the airfare!

A big horn sheep at the Anchorage Zoo
We spent the first part of the trip in Anchorage, where Chris lives and where the wedding took place.  We were able to stay in a rental house with Matt's parents, his grandfather, his other brother and his fiancée, and an aunt and uncle.   Yes, it was a full house - fourteen people in all!  I took over the cooking and a majority of the grocery shopping for our extended family, which helped a great deal with costs and with providing opportunities for the family to visit together.  Matt was able to work everyday, and on one afternoon my mother-in-law watched over the napping 20 month old and three year old while Matt and I took the older three on a fabulous bike ride along the Anchorage coastline.  (Yay, I got to do my one thing that wasn't at a toddler pace!)  I also took the kids to the Anchorage Zoo and the start of the wonderful solar system walk in downtown Anchorage, and as a family we visited the Portage Glacier and Whittier Tunnel, the Anchorage Science Museum, and took some walks along a scenic local greenbelt.

This is an amazing scale model of the solar system, where the sun (pictured) is in downtown Anchorage and Pluto is about 8 miles away in Kincaid Park.  They scaled the walk so that at a leisurely walking pace, each step equals the distance light travels in one second.

The bike trail that runs along the sound in Anchorage

After the wedding, Matt unplugged and we headed off to the Kenai Peninsula.  We had brought a huge duffel packed with all our sleeping bags and pads, as well as our backpacking stove, tent and cooking gear.  Because we were outfitted already for backpacking, our gear was small enough and light enough to be able to bring without too much trouble.  We did have to borrow two more tents from Matt's brother as well as an ice chest, but he was more than happy to help.  We spent three days camping near Kenai Lake in the intermittent rain and drizzle, but had one gorgeous day where we got to float the Kenai River on Chris' drift boat.  The three older kids got to try their hand at fishing for the first time, and we got to see a grizzly and many bald eagles.

Exit Glacier, from a viewpoint showing where the glacier was 200 years ago.  What I find even more amazing is that at the peak of the last ice age, this glacier filled that central bowl and only bit of the peaks on each side peeked through the ice.
The Kenai River - isn't that glacial blue amazing?
After the Kenai, we packed up and headed north.  When we first plannedour trip we had hoped to all camp in Denali, but after a difficult camping trip to Yosemite in May, we decided to split forces.  I stayed in Palmer at a rental suite with the younger three, and Matt drove north with the older two, planning to camp three nights in Denali National Park.  

Wasn't it considerate of this bear to pose so nicely along the river, just after the spot where we put in?
I had a great time with the younger three in the Palmer area.  The rental suite, being a little off the beaten path in Palmer, was reasonably priced (for an Alaskan summer rate, at least) and turned out to be a gem.  The weather was great (although it was funny to hear local kids complaining about it being "too hot" at a very pleasant 74 degrees!) and we visited the reindeer farm, a small local lake, a local park, went to Mass at the local Catholic Church and crashed their parish picnic and drove to the Matanuska Glacier.  On the way to the glacier I got to see a female moose and her calf, but unfortunately didn't have the presence of mind to take a picture.  I was too busy trying to make sure the kids were able to see it too!  This was, by far, the most restful part of the trip, and I relished the opportunity to focus on my younger ones and move at their pace without feeling torn between their pace and the pace of the older kids and my husband.  I taught our six year old to play chess, put littles to bed early and read Daisy Chain and enjoyed watching them interact with the beautiful surroundings.  

Trying to help two kids feed the reindeer and keep the food away from said reindeer and protect the shrieking 20 month old and take pictures at the same time was truly a comical experience.  I love this picture, although I didn't appreciate having to wipe reindeer slobber from my camera after the experience.
Temporarily dividing up the family ended up being a great choice, since Matt and the older kids had nothing but rain, drizzle and cold the whole time they were at Denali.  After getting back from a great but very damp tundra walk and finding a wet tent, they decided to throw in the towel and come back a night early.  Thankfully there was space (and a beautiful sunny day!) to dry all their things at the rental in Palmer, and we were able to spend some time together as a family at the rental and visiting the local musk ox farm.

Their undercoat is amazingly soft and warm, but it takes six hours to brush each musk ox in the spring!  And then the hair has to be cleaned and spun...  no wonder it costs $90 for a small skein!
And then it was time to head home.  We had fresh salmon for dinner on our last night in Alaska and I was able to take one last walk the morning before we left.  Our trip back was reasonably uneventful though long, and we were happy to get home again.  The younger kids missed their toys, and my daughter missed having a little more personal space and more crafting options.  I'm not sure I was all that glad to be back, but I think that's a good indicator of how much I enjoyed the trip.

The view from the parking lot at the Catholic Church in Palmer.
We're already talking about how we could go back to Alaska, and what we would do next time.  I'd still like to go to Denali, and I would love to take a boat excursion out into Prince William Sound.  There's also a longer hike up past Exit Glacier to the Harding Ice Field that caught our eye, as well as a number of other hikes on the Kenai Peninsula.  And with Chris and his new wife Shana intending to stay in Alaska, we have an even better reason to go back!  Maybe in another three or four years...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

After a Long Break

Wildflowers in Palmer, Alaska
I always find it hard to start blogging again after taking a break.  There is so much I could say, but I never quite know where to start.


Should it be...

Our 17 day trip to Alaska in July?

School plans for our current year?

Our current schedule and average daily chart? (a la Brandy at Afterthoughts)

My new Shakespeare co-op with three other families?

How I'm trying work in in little enriching things for my younger two?

Summer fun, like our camping trip to the beach, lake time and pool visits?

Some amazing local nature observations and experiences, like watching a deer pull the velvet off his antlers?

Or perhaps the more profound, like my beloved grandmother's death?

Or my realization about how great it is to not be pregnant or laboring under the cloud of postpartum depression or anxiety, coupled with the discovery that I have been struggling with these issues for 11-12 of the 14 1/2 years I've been married?

And after an absence, I always find myself wondering, "why bother writing here at all?"  But yet I continue to think about it, and I eventually come back.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Year In Review: Organizational Notes (2014-2015)

Twice already this summer I've come across an idea on a blog and thought, "I should do that!"  This thought is followed immediately by the realization that I've already done this particular thing in the past, and I've stopped doing it for some reason.  This then leads to a concentrated wracking of my brain, trying to remember the details of why I stopped doing this thing that I now thought was a good idea (again).  In an effort to forestall this process in the future, I thought I'd make some notes about the year we just finished.

Paperwork
Last summer I bought a ProClick (last summer it was much cheaper to buy in person at OfficeMax) and a box of 5/16" spines and created a number of bound books for the kids.  Gregory (Y3) and Nathan (Y1) had one for their copywork and one for their math.  As I mentioned before, I used the copywork books from Classical Copywork, and bound each one separately.  I also bound each section of MEP separately so that the books didn't get too unwieldy.  I placed a piece of card stock at the front and back of the book to give it a little more rigidity and used these for the entire year, just swapping out pages as they finished a section of math or a copywork book.

I also used my ProClick to make songbooks containing all the music we sang together during Morning Time, adding card stock at the front and back of each book.  These too held up well and were very useful.

Pros:  Durable, manageable in size, no missing pages or ripped holes.
Cons:  Didn't shelve well (although it just occurred to me that I should have tried a magazine holder to contain them on the bookshelf)

Scheduling

The Year
This year was the first year I implemented Sabbath Schooling - a six week on, one week off model for our homeschool year.  We also took a four week break at Christmas and a two week break at Easter.  The kids and I enjoyed this model and we plan to do it again next year.  They appreciated the downtime in the different seasons and having the breaks from their school work throughout the year. Thanks to Mystie's fabulous online course, Simplified Organization, I've started running everything on an interval planning system which follows our school year.  It has been a wonderful addition to our lives.

Pros:  More peace, more stuff gets done, I don't get burned out, the kids don't feel like school is dragging on forever and ever (most of the time, at least!), the world is a happier place.
Cons:   Hmm...  well, it makes the school year look longer, because we started in mid-August and ended in mid-June.

The Week
When I was planning last year, I made a spreadsheet with multiple tabs, one for each child.  In the spreadsheet, I copied and pasted the Ambleside Online weekly breakdowns from the website, modified some things, and added in my own substitutions and changes.  Each week I would change the background color on the cell for each completed reading.  We didn't always finish the weeks' reading in that given week, but seeing it all laid out with the colors made it easy for me to see what needed to be done so I could keep moving things along.  This worked extremely well and I was able to follow out the entire year this way.

For the first part of the year I was working from my spreadsheet and making each child a weekly checklist.  These were stored on their clipboard at their desk, along with their current drawing practice page, paper for drawing, and any reference pages like a cursive alphabet page and multiplication table.  This worked reasonably well, so long as I made the checklists in a timely manner and checked the clipboards weekly to cull finished pages.

But (and you knew there was a but, didn't you?) as I struggled with my sleep issues in the late winter I couldn't keep it up.  I moved to a daily notebook log as Sarah described for Emma (Y7) and Gregory (Y3).  I didn't bother with a list for Nathan (Y1), instead maintaining a list of his weekly read alouds in the Reminders app on my phone and having him do the same basic table work each day.  A written daily list worked well for Gregory (Y3), but not for Emma (Y7).

Emma wanted to be able to see all that she would be doing in the week week and more control over what days she did which assignments.  I tried giving her a weekly list without day assignments (largely because that was a much easier format for me to produce, therefore much more likely to happen in a timely manner), but it was way too easy for her to not do enough work early in the week.  What ended up being a happy medium was a weekly list and a 10 minute conversation each evening.  Each assignment on her list was rated at one or two Pomodoros and I would tell her how many Pomodoros she would have available the following day.  She'd then go over her weekly list, choose her assignments, write them in a small notebook and show me.  I'd look it over, perhaps suggest a modification or two for better balance, and hand it back.  Using the Pomodoro app to help keep her on track, it would then be her responsibility to get the work done before dinnertime.  Side Note:  We have a rule in our house - if you don't have your cleaning chores and your school work done before dinner, you don't eat dinner until they are completed.  It isn't perfectly enforced and I reserve the right to be merciful and grant exceptions, but it does help see that work is completed.

Pros:  My spreadsheet was fantastic - I was worried that it would be unmanageable or become obsolete, but changing the colors and making modifications as we went it worked extremely well.  Looking only at the work for today was a good thing for Gregory.  It helped him be more diligent in getting his work done and it was easy for me to do.  The Pomodoro concept was a big win with Emma, and it has helped her to work in a more focused fashion.
Cons:  I spent a lot of time on my spreadsheets last summer - although this year it has taken probably only a quarter of the amount of time.

Outside Commitments
In this school year, we had Atrium once a week.  We would leave the house at about 2:30 and be home by about 6:30.  Last summer I used the slow cooker meal plan from $5 Dinners to make crock pot meals to use each Monday and on the whole that worked well.  The food wasn't amazing, but it was edible and got the family fed.  Since my husband works from home, I could ask him to do things like start rice in the rice cooker or put prepped broccoli in the oven for roasting, and that was a big help.  If that wasn't an option, I think I would have had to make the rice ahead of time and reheat it when we got home and just had pre-prepped salads as our veggie side each week.

We were also part of a public charter this school year.  The money was nice (although I think I only used about half of it at most), and the occasional field trips were convenient, but the testing, paperwork and the need to go to the monthly meetings was always a struggle.  And when there's money allocated to be spent by a certain deadline, it is hard not to feel like it has to get used, even if I don't really need to spend the money on more activities or more consumables.  The people at the charter I'm with are incredibly nice, friendly and supportive - really, they couldn't be easier to work with.  But it still adds another layer of complexity to my life.

We also joined another family for a small once a month co-op.  During our time together we would do things like a US Geography study, prayer, recitation, a picture study, a poetry study, Shakespeare and folk songs.  The geography study, recitation and prayer were the only things that we did each month, the others were a rotation.  Each month we'd focus on 5-6 states and make a lunch with foods from that region.  Then there would be some time for visiting and play.  The kids (and moms!) enjoyed getting together and we're considering doing it again next year.

Once a month Emma and I volunteered at our local food bank, shelving donations and sorting food.  It has been a good experience for us both, and we hope to continue.  For the first four months or so I took Hannah and wore her on my back in the Ergo, then she got old enough to be left at home with my husband and the other kids.  Our volunteering was a real family effort!

At the beginning of the year I vowed that I would take the kids on a hike at least once a week.  We did well for about three months, then we had a horrible stomach bug run through the family and then we hit all the spring busy-ness.  It was a great practice while it lasted.  On hike days we we did Morning Time together, then a little bit of tablework (copywork and a section or two of math) then headed out.  Sometimes we would bring a lunch, sometimes we wouldn't.  Then we'd be home in time to put younger kids down for naps and I would do some read alouds with Gregory and Nathan while Emma would do some reading.

In the spring I made the mistake of scheduling too many things.  The three older kids were in a once a week clay class, which they really enjoyed.  We also signed up for quite a few field trips, almost one a week.  And then there was a camping trip in Yosemite, Confirmation and two Confirmation retreats...  and it all added up to a lot.  All good things, but too much when taken altogether.

Pros:  Lots of good stuff
Cons:  Too much good stuff leaves everyone exhausted, crabby, and unable to do much at home except cleaning chores, bickering, and school work.  And did I mention bickering?  *sigh*

Phew!  I hope my future self appreciates this!


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Family Studies: Weekly Work (2014-2015)

This year we had three defined areas where all my children worked together:  Morning Time,  Morning Read Aloud and Weekly Work.

Weekly Work
I also used Sarah's loop scheduling for this area as well.  I also moved this to the Reminders app about mid-year and that worked wonderfully.  We spent about 30 minutes on this block, and I generally would group Picture Study and Pilgrim's Progress since each only took about 10-15 min.

Emma (Y7) was present for all of these subjects, but Gregory (Y3) did not have to join us for Plutarch.  Nathan (Y1) was excused from Shakespeare and Plutarch.

Plutarch - Dion then Crassus, using Ann White's excellent (and free!) study guides.  These are absolutely invaluable in making Plutarch doable, especially in the beginning.  I had hoped to study three lives, but two ended up working out much better for us.

Shakespeare - Midsummer Night's Dream then Richard III (which we still haven't finished, but we're getting close!)  I should write more about how we study Shakespeare as a family...  I did several years ago, but we've expanded our studies now that I have older kids.  I had planned to study Julius Caesar in the spring, but I hadn't accounted for the length and the complexity of Richard III when I planned that.

Picture Study - Fra Angelico then Diego Velasquez.  We used Ambleside's art suggestions for both, but then I expanded our Velasquez study to include more paintings mentioned in I, Juan de Pareja.  I added a painting by Pareja as well.  I highly recommend reading that book if you study Velasquez, it was one of our best read alouds of the year.  I had planned to study Degas as listed in the AO schedule, but we were enjoying our Velasquez study so much I decided not to end it prematurely.

Music Study - St. Hildegard, using the AO suggestions, then we studied the orchestra using The Story of the Orchestra and a series of wonderful videos on YouTube from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  I had intended on studying Rachmaninoff as well, but we didn't get to him.  I'm thinking we'll study him next year because he is a composer I really enjoy.

Pilgrim's Progress - We read this all year using the AO 72 week breakdown.  I'm continuing it over the summer so as to not lose momentum.  I hope to finish it somewhere around the end of the 2nd Term, which will give me some room to add a book I want to read next spring.

Handicrafts Instruction - In the first term we worked on small felt projects like felt food and some felt items from Big Little Felt Universe.  This book is not for (most) children but my boys were quite taken with the pocketknife and compass from the book so I made some modifications and they created some fun items.  In the second term we worked on knot tying which was also a big success.  In the third term, the kids all took a clay modeling class at a local art studio (that counts, right??) and made cups, boxes, bowls, pitchers and an assortment of small knives, hammers and other tools.  Emma made a beautiful earring holder for her various dangly earrings.

Nature Study - I did a special study of clover with Gregory (9) and Nathan (7) at the beginning of the year and Emma (13) did one about corn.  They were good studies and went well, but I neglected to have anything on deck to go next.  Emma and I informally studied mushrooms (meaning - we read about them, did lots of observations, intentionally went out to look for them, but didn't actually write anything down) as it was a great year for mushroom hunting, but that's about it.  Not that there weren't lots of nature discoveries and observations and some entries in our Calendar of Firsts, but we did not do any other special studies or nature study journal entries.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Family Studies: Morning Read Aloud (2014-2015)

This year we had three defined areas where all my children worked together:  Morning Time,  Morning Read Aloud and Weekly Work.  

Morning Read Aloud
This is a spot in our day where I used Sarah's loop scheduling to great advantage.  Sometimes this read aloud got skipped due to time constraints, difficult kid behavior, or mommy fatigue, but the loop scheduling helped us to keep making progress in all the books.  About mid-way through the year I started using Reminders to keep track of the list, and that worked well.  I ended up starting all the books I had planned during this time slot, but there are a few that didn't get finished by our last day of school.  So long as we aren't trying to get out the door first thing in the morning, I try to have a brief Morning Time each day during the summer, and I'm finishing up those read alouds during this time.  One book we finished yesterday, one we'll finish at some point this summer, and the last we'll finish in the next school year.  

I grouped these into categories and read one in each category at a time:

Saint Biography - Saint Joan:  The Girl Soldier*

Church History/Catechism - St. Patrick's Summer* and Crossbows and Crucifixes* (only about a third)

Natural History - Nest for Celeste (worth reading for the illustrations!), Samson: Last of the California Grizzlies*, In the Forest, and Ways of the Wood Folk (about halfway through - we'll finish this in the fall)

Art/Music Enrichment - Knights of Art about Fra Angelico, Hildegard's Gift, and I, Juan de Pareja*

Literature - Wheel on the School* and Red Sails to Capri*

Advent - In Advent, I added an additional read aloud to our schedule, sometimes skipping the scheduled one, and sometimes reading both.  We read The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas*, The Christmas Mystery, and A Christmas Carol*.

*We enjoyed all of these books, but I added asterisks to our particular favorites.

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.