Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Identifying and Considering - A Wildflower Walk

Hannah, age 2, considering a Blue Dick flower

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 28, 2016

Wrapping Up Term 2 with Term Exams

Happy Easter!

Holy Week is always a busy week in our home, and this year perhaps even a little more so.  We have several things that we always do, such as spring cleaning, a big shopping run "down the hill" for groceries and other necessaries, a special dinner on Holy Thursday (based on this tea), and keeping a prayerful silence between noon and three on Good Friday.  This year I decided to also add our Term 2 exams to the week, which worked better than I had hoped.

I wanted to share a little with you about how I use the term exams and how I use them to gradually and incrementally improve our homeschool.  In our term exams, I use some of the questions from Ambleside Online, some blank maps, a few Calculadder worksheets, and a few questions I come up with myself based on books I'm using that are not part of Ambleside Online.  The boys answer all their questions orally, and Emma types all her answers.

I should note that after the Term 1 exams I wanted to focus more heavily on mapwork with Nathan and Gregory, and I wanted to also help Gregory be more attentive to his readings where he was doing the reading himself.  I'm pleased to see that both of these areas improved quite a bit.

In Term 1 I was trying to do mapwork fairly casually, having the kids find locations in our readings and point them out before or after a reading.  I also had them label a few locations we came across in maps in their binders.  I found that they retained almost nothing from these practices, however, and started doing map drills with them instead.  Nathan, in Y2, had written labels that he was placing on a map, and Gregory, in Y4 was doing this as well as copying the labels onto a blank map.  I had them do this 3-4 times a week and they showed a remarkable improvement over the course of the term.

To try and help Gregory with his readings, I made a point of discussing what a slow and careful reading meant several times during the term, and I encouraged him to try and recall more of the names of places and people during his narrations.  I know there's more I could be doing with him, such as having him summarize what he read last week before starting and writing up names of places or people before his readings, but I'm not quite that organized (yet!).  But even still, he showed a definite improvement by the end of his second term.

Emma, in Y8, mainly needed to improve in her mapwork.  This was a mixed success though, as I asked her to continue using TapQuiz Maps as well as work on successively labeling a map with the Shires in England.  I think this ended up being too tedious a task (there are over 70 of them!) and it was not a great success.  After her Term 2 exam it was clear that Europe still needs a lot of work, so I'm going to have her work on that instead.  Her writing is delightful though, and I'm very pleased with how that is developing.

The Term 2 exams continued to highlight something I had noticed in the Term 1 exams, namely that the boys have not mastered all the basic math facts.  I tested this in both term exams by giving them a Calculadder worksheet that they had not used before and gave them five minutes to fill out as much as they could.  The results were revealing, to say the least.  This year I've been using the math wrap-ups to have the kids practice their math facts, but I don't think it is really helping them make much progress on their memorization.  I've used XtraMath in the past, but I've found that this has led to a lack of diligence and quite a bit of staring blankly at the computer, neither of which are habits I'd like to encourage!  I'm considering having them work though the Calculadder program (as much as I hate all that paper!!) but it was an effective tool for my daughter years ago.

Another area I'm not entirely pleased with the exam results is religion with the boys.  The kids do well when narrating the Bible stories and Saint stories we read, and they narrate them well on the exams too.  But they don't recall much of the catechism that we've been reading, or at least not much of the details.  I can't really blame them, the Baltimore Catechism doesn't exactly have much in the way of narrative quality!  I think I need to consider further what the purpose of using something like a Catechism is - is it for familiarity, or is it for memorization?  And if it is for memorization, then I should treat it like memory work, and repeat accordingly.  If it is for familiarity, then I should narrow in on what exactly they should be familiar with, and focus on those aspects more fully and more richly than the Baltimore Catechism provides.

I hope this little glimpse into our term exams and my analysis is helpful.  I'm still fairly new to term exams (this is only our second year doing them - and last year I only did Term 1 and Term 3) but I've found them an excellent practice not only for implementing incremental improvement, but also for helping all of us see how much we are learning, growing and developing over the course of the year.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

This and That

Since I didn't manage to post last week, I thought I'd take an idea from Celeste and put a few things together into one post.


Last week my husband and I celebrated our 15th Anniversary!

15 Years Ago - Anyone recognize this place?

We celebrated by shipping the kids to my parents for two nights and staying home all by ourselves!  It was really nice having the house to ourselves.  We like our house (we ought to, we built it!) and it was nice to get to enjoy it together like that.  We went out to dinner in town on the evening of our anniversary, and then the next day we drove about an hour further up into the mountains and went snowshoeing together.  We both really enjoy hiking and snowshoeing, but we don't get many opportunities to do it.  The weather forecast predicted rain, but thankfully it turned to fine snow shortly before we reached our destination.   

15 Years Later!

It was absolutely gorgeous out, with the trees flocked with snow and a light snow falling.

Ever since the last storm system came through and dropped almost 30" (!!) of rain on us, we've had beautiful blue skies.  The kids, understandably, are not particularly interested in lessons.  Hours out of doors are definitely a good thing, but so are things like Math, Latin, and Spanish.  I've tried lessons outside, but anything involving writing is not working outside.  We are at least doing our readings outside in the sun, which has been lovely.

We've also taken the opportunity to plant some seeds, which has become far more enjoyable for everyone now that I've stopped caring if the seed trays are labelled correctly or planted evenly.  Right now the various trays are labelled with the children's names, and if that's good enough for them, it is good enough for me.


In a recent blog post Celeste mentioned her Calendar of Firsts, and it galvanized me to finally get our new year printed out and up to date.  There's two main styles of a Calendar of Firsts, a perpetual one where each day has a page and you can see entries for each year, and one where you add a new set of pages each year, and can see all the entries for the month on a single (or double) page.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but I decided I liked seeing all the entries for a month at a glance and went for the second type.  The main drawback is that I have to remember to print and add the new pages each year...  which seems like such a minor thing, but yet can stymie me for months! Ridiculous, I know.  But at least it is done, and after consulting my photo library, we're all caught up.  Here's a glimpse of ours:

Our completed page for February - The red tabs on the right are for the years.

The template is from Immaculata Designs, but it doesn't look like she has it up on her site anymore.


And last but not least, I should mention that CM West has a Facebook page.  I'm not a big fan of Facebook, but I'm going to try and post information there as well as on the mailing list and website. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

More Charlotte Mason Conferences and a Project Update

It is the beginning of the month, which means it is time for a little update with you all regarding the projects and goals I shared in January.  And for the sake of thoroughness, here's the February update.

Community Building

CM West :: A Beach Retreat filled faster than I had hoped, and we now have a waiting list.  Yay!  I'm a little nervous, which I can tell because I keep having dreams where I am going to the house and it is either completely different from the pictures, dirty, or I just can't find it at all.  But the house is beautiful, and I'm sure it will be a great weekend.  There's lots to do in the meantime, but it is also a lot of fun to work on, particularly because I'm working on it with Celeste.

And also on the Charlotte Mason front, some other wonderful women and I are working on putting together two regional Charlotte Mason conferences in 2017.  I sent out a little bit of information over the weekend to the Charlotte Mason West email list, announcing the conferences and asking for an advance deposit to help cover the deposits we need to make to reserve the locations.  I am not anticipating a huge response, but it seemed worth trying and every little bit helps.

The pond at our nature study spot.  Can you see the geese at the far right?

Nature Study in Nevada County met again in February, and this time a new family came...  but none of the others who where there in January!  We had a wonderful time though and explored a cattail, watched a frog, fish, and geese, and the kids had a great time climbing on the rocks and exploring.  It is such a beautiful location and we're perfectly happy to go there once a month even if no one else joins us.  But it is great to have company!

Cattail seeds - I have never seen them explode before and I was completely amazed!

The Teaching from Rest Live Online Video Discussion had two discussion times for the same material in February to accommodate people's schedules, but no one ended up coming to the second discussion.  So, in the interest of simplicity, I'm just going to do the discussion once each in March and April.  We had a good discussion and the technology seemed pretty easy for everyone to figure out, so I definitely count it as a success.

I'm going to start some preparation for the Start Here: 20 Principles Discussion in March, but I am still not planning on beginning sign ups until April.  I'm trying to figure out what I've learned from the Teaching from Rest discussion experience as well as figure out just exactly how I want to publicize it.

The Shakespeare Co-op was off to a slow start until my dear friend Katherine asked if she could extend the invitation to some people she knows down in her area.  We ended up picking up three more families, and we had a very successful first meeting in February.  We'll have two more in March, then another in April along with our final performance.  

Our Home

I'm still plugging away on sorting books, but I'm just about done.  There are still a couple of boxes of books in storage that I need to get down, but I've gone through all the books that are out in various places in the house.  I've also sorted most of the books into give away and try to sell.  I'm hoping to drop off at least some of the give aways to the Friends of the Library as well as share some of the Catholic books at our Religious Education program tomorrow.
Most of the culled books (eek!)