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.