Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Year In Review: Ambleside Online Y2 (2015-2016)

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

I also don't want to be duplicate or encroach on all the excellent work that Ambleside Online has done over the years.  Their dedication and service to the Charlotte Mason community is astounding, and such an enormous gift.  Please visit their site and take a look at the Year 2 program if you'd like to learn more about what they so generously offer.

This is Nathan's second year using Ambleside Online for the vast majority of his work.  The review of his first year can be found here.  I'm going to follow a similar format as last year.

You can also see what we study as a family here.

Nathan planting in the garden - we started these seeds in the spring and managed to keep them alive long enough to plant.  They are doing well in the garden, hooray!

Daily and Weekly Subjects


Nathan completes 10 minutes of printing each day, using the Poetry for Kids copywork from Classical Copywork.  He should be using copywork from his reading, but this is a shortcut I used last year and decided to continue into this year.  I really like these copywork books because they are inexpensive, high quality, and with my ProClick, easy to put together into a nice little book.

Reading Practice (and Nature Lore)

At this point Nathan can read independently, but it is enough of a struggle that he still isn't particularly interested in doing so.  For reading practice, I had him read two of the nature readers by Arabella Buckley.  He enjoyed them and it was a nice two birds with one stone sort of arrangement.


Nathan continued with MEP, and is about 2/3 of the way through Level 2.  We work on math for 30 minutes each day, and I did not end up using the teacher's plans much at all.  I don't think this is a good thing, and I hope to include more activities from the teacher's plans next year.  I also started having him do the Calculadder drills in Term 3 to give him a little more basic math facts practice.  I recently started doing these drills orally rather than in writing because I felt that the time pressure was causing his handwriting to deteriorate.  I'm not sure I like this, but I do want to make sure he has the basic math facts well established in his memory.

I really like these laminated maps!


I'm actually not sure that a Y2 student is supposed to be doing any sort of map drill now that I look at the Ambleside Online site again.  I was trying to help Nathan look up the locations of his readings on our wall map and globe, but I found after an abysmal result in the geography portion of his first term exams that he wasn't retaining any of it.  In Term 2 I started having him do map drills with the maps I have from Classically Catholic Memory, and this was a big improvement (although he still has trouble going from a flat map to the globe)  I wouldn't recommend their program, but their large laminated maps are beautiful, sturdy, and nice to work with.  I don't use the stickers though, I made and laminated little name cards for Nathan and Gregory to use in their map drills.

Experimenting with water colors in his nature journal - this was a surprise hit


This year I had Nathan start a timeline in his binder, much like Celeste describes here.  This was probably his least favorite activity of the week, but we kept at it.  I think he found writing the names tedious, and because reading is still not something he does automatically, he wasn't seeing the connections.

We were also much more consistent with our nature journals this year.  We did at least one entry almost every week, and while it got easier for him, it was probably his second least favorite activity. In Term 2 I started working with him individually to help him break down what he was seeing so he could sketch it better, and that helped things considerably.

I also want to note that Nathan has become so much more observant of the world around him this year.  He's the one who found both of the California Silk Moths we got to see, as well as so many other finds outside.  It has been very exciting to watch him become so much more interested and curious about what's around him...  and his example has helped the two younger ones be much more observant as well.

Foreign Language

I grouped Nathan and Gregory together to study Spanish, and this worked well.  I used Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Fran├žois, and while we didn't get all the far in the book, we made steady and enjoyable progress.  In Term 3 I set up a binder much like Simply Charlotte Mason's Scripture Memory box and spent the first part of the lesson reviewing the different sections.  I have the book as a PDF, so it was easy to print out the pages individually and stick them in different sections of the binder.  This made our review process so much easier and more fruitful!  I also added our Spanish poems to the binder, as well as some of the additional memory work from the book.  We then ended the lesson with a song in Spanish.  By far their favorite was El Baile de Las Manos by Wistlefritz, probably because it has exuberant full body motions.  But we also played and sang some of the other songs from the Whistlefritz CD too.


Gregory and Nathan both started piano this year using the online lessons from Hoffman Academy lessons.  I love that it is taught by a male teacher and that he has a real gift for teaching piano and making these video lessons work.  I am so impressed by what he has done to try and make piano lessons more affordable and accessible.  The boys have responded really well to the lessons and while we have moved slowly (in part my fault for not being consistent in introducing new lessons but also because I want them to be really solid in a lesson before moving on) they are learning and they are definitely enjoying it.


I tried origami in the fall, but between a bad time slot and not enough individual attention for learning it, it was a fail.  In the winter I added handicrafts to his afternoon readings block and he learned to knit a doll's scarf successfully.  I was hoping to help him do some felt work and stitching in Term 3 in that same time slot, but that required more help than the knitting so it didn't work out.  I consoled myself with thoughts of all the building he and his brother were doing outside and didn't push it.

Other Subjects

Other subjects, such as recitation (memory work), music appreciation, artist and composer study happened (or not) in the context of our family time.  Directed art was pretty much non-existent this year, except for our evening drawing practice.

Rescued worms after a storm - we've managed to keep them alive, although they have moved containers several times

The Booklist

Most of these books are from Ambleside Online's Y2 program.  Please see their site for the full schedule, extremely helpful weekly breakdown of readings, and lots of other helpful information.

Titles in Bold are books we used and finished all I had scheduled, books 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 his favorites.

*Our Island Story
*Little Duke
*Joan of Arc (used the Avi version because we owned it already)
*Viking Tales  (carried over from last year)
*Castle Diary (I wouldn't use this again except as a free read)
*Our Island Saints (carried over from last year)
*Rare Catholic Stories
*Little Apostle on Crutches
A Little Book About Confession for Children  (wouldn't use again)
King of the Golden City  (a favorite for me, if not for Nathan!)
Baltimore Catechism - selections
Angel Food for Boys and Girls - selections
*Tree in the Trail
Wild Life in Woods and Fields - Nathan read aloud
Wild Life in Pond and Stream - Nathan read aloud
*Understood Betsy
*Brighty of the Grand Canyon
*Along Came a Dog
Bible Story Book
Pilgrim's Progress (as part of family studies)
Tales from Shakespeare
Trees and Shrubs 

If you're familiar with the Ambleside booklist, you'll notice a few things are missing, namely:

Parables from Nature - I just didn't like this book, largely because it seemed too longwinded and it didn't leave enough scope for imagination (Nelleke and I had an interesting conversation about it in the comments on her blog last year)

Trial and Triumph - I decided I would rather focus on English and Irish Saints and finish our Saints book from last year.  Besides, I'm Catholic.  :-)

Bible Readings - We read and narrate the Mass readings just about every day in our home, so everyday the children are hearing and narrating from the Old Testament or Epistles and the Gospels.  I decided that since these readings aren't always in order, I would also read a Bible story book to give the children a better grounding in the chronology of the Bible.  I'm growing less and less happy with this solution, and I will probably change it for next year.

The Wind in the Willows and Robin Hood - We love these books in our family and have listened to them over and over again.  I decided to pull a few books from the free reading list and schedule them to introduce Nathan to some new stories rather than reading aloud ones he already knows so well.

Poetry - I decided to study poetry as a family this year, and ended up picking two Y4 poets and one from Y8.  There's only so many minutes in the day...

Burgess Animal Book - I was reading this with Nathan and Gregory last year, and I needed a good long break from Burgess.  I read from Ways of Wood Folk during our family studies, and Nathan read the two Wild Life... books instead.

And in case your wondering what happened with the books we didn't use as planned, here's a bunch of excuses brief discussion

Columbus - I decided to hold this over to Y3.  I'm seriously considering doing an exploration based focus for the first part of Y3 and only lightly covering the Reformation.  I wasn't that happy with some of the Y3 selections last year, and I'm wondering if this could be a better and more interesting way forward.  After studying the Reformation with Gregory last year and then with Emma this year (in Y8) I can see how much more engaging and appropriate this is for the Y8 student than the Y3 student.

Rare Catholic Stories - Honestly, I'm not sure why I scheduled this book for this year.  We read it last year, finishing it in the fall of the 2014-2015 school year.  I'm wondering if I actually meant another book, but picked up this one when it came time to read by mistake.  Nathan doesn't remember all the stories though and is enjoying it...  it didn't get finished because the Confession book went long, and it is a longer book than what I had put in my schedule.  (Like I said, I think I meant to pick up a different book!)

Selections from the Baltimore Catechism and Angel Food for Boys and Girls - Now I'm probably in the minority here, but I just don't like either of these books.  The Angel Food books often feel forced, trite, and lacking in literary quality.  The catechism has little literary value and seems very limiting.  I also wasn't sure how to use it - should I drill the boys on the questions, reviewing previous chapters each week?  Do I just read and keep moving on, knowing that the lack of literary quality is making it hard for anything to stick?  Also, I was disturbed in our first term exams when I asked, "tell me about Angels" and all they could do was spit out the catechism answer, even though they knew so many stories about the Angels!  (And yes, I casually checked later, just to be sure)

Demonstrating the movement of the earth and why we have seasons

BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding) - I'm coming to the conclusion that this book is more trouble than it is worth.  There are some good ideas for demonstrations in there, but the can require an awful lot of me.  I am glad I did some of them, like the section about the seasons...  but on the whole I'm not sure it is really the right way to go.

Narrating As You Like It with Shakespeare Finger Puppets

Tales from Shakespeare - I think we were one short of the list we were supposed to read through the year.  No big deal.

Trees and Shrubs - This was supposed to be a guided nature study that I was going to do with Nathan, with readings and suggestions for sketching...  but after working with him in the first few weeks of the year I realized that this not appropriate for where he's at and too much of a stretch, so I dropped it without even starting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Year In Review: Family Studies (2015 - 2016)

Before I start planning our new year, I like to spend some time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of our Family Studies.

Subjects We Study as a Family

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

  • Bible  
  • Natural History and Nature Lore
  • California History
  • Lives of Saints
  • Picture Study
  • Hymns
  • Poetry
  • Plutarch
  • Shakespeare (we studied Shakespeare with a group of other families in the fall and spring)
  • Drawing Practice
  • Memory work
  • Literature 
  • Nature Study and Journaling
  • Composer Study

They should also include singing instruction and folk songs, but those didn't end up in the schedule this year.

For composer study we read a composer biography, did part of the Baroque SQUILT guide, and studied Handel's Messiah during Advent.  I read the biography during our lunch time read-aloud session, the SQUILT study was done during morning time, and the Messiah was studied during evening time.  Composer study is a subject I've long had a hard time figuring out how to implement in our family and where to put in our day.  It didn't work particularly well in any of those blocks, so one of my tasks over the summer to try and figure out another place to put it.

Morning Time

As we did last year, we started our day with Morning Time at 8:30.  After the first term, Morning Time was simplified and shortened to create a little more breathing room in the schedule.  In our Morning Time we would:

  • Sing a hymn (some of the time *ahem* this was something I was good at forgetting)
  • Read something about the day's saint (if there was one) and discuss
  • Read, narrate, and sometimes look up maps or commentary for the Mass Readings of the day
  • Take turns praying for various intentions
  • Read a few poems
  • Do our memory work for the day (we're still using the review system as I described in last year's post


For poetry this year we read Alfred Lord Tennyson in Term 1, Emily Dickinson in Term 2, and the Sonnets of Shakespeare (as selected by Ambleside Online) in Term 3.  For Tennyson and Dickinson I followed the three poem format where I would read each poem three times over a three day period.  For Shakespeare's sonnets, I read each sonnet a couple times each day for a week, then we discussed what we thought it meant at the end of the week.

Weekly Work

I lessened our weekly work schedule and only scheduled this twice a week.  We had one 20 min session once a week for picture study, and then I blocked off about an hour and a half for nature study and journaling on Thursday mornings.  We also had a monthly nature study outing on a Monday afternoon where we did nature journaling as well.  Really, this isn't quite long enough, but it was more than last year and somewhat sufficient.  

I found it worked well to have my older two, who are 14 and 10, walk down to the creek right after morning time.  They would make some observations and measure the flow of the creek, then perhaps collect a specimen or two for sketching.  Meanwhile I worked on plants or trees near the house with my 7 year old while keeping an eye on the younger two.  Nathan and I would start on our nature journal entries and be mostly completed by the time Gregory and Emma came back, and while they worked on their entries I would be doing reading practice or copywork with Nathan.  

This sounds a little scattered, but it separated Nathan and Gregory, which helped them to both be more observant and interested in the world around them and it kept me from having to haul small children up and down hills.

Picture Study Selections

  • Term 1 - Rodin
  • Term 2 - Degas
  • Term 3 - Hans Holbein the Younger
Of the three, Rodin was the favorite.  It probably helped that we got to go and visit the Rodin Sculpture Gallery and Museum at Stanford University so we could see many of his works in person.  

Lunch Time Reading

I moved last year's mid-morning read aloud to lunch to be a little more time efficient, and the change worked well.  I would either eat beforehand (if I was particularly on top of things that day - this didn't happen often!) or I would eat a bit while the kids recapped the last reading and then more while they narrated.  An unexpected bonus of this was that it encouraged my older kids to be more helpful with the youngers.  If there was a problem, they were expected to hop up and clean up a spill, get a refill or seconds, or help clean up a younger child so I could keep reading.  Previously that had always been my job, and I think practicing this sort of responsiveness to other people's needs has been good for them.

I use the app Reminders, as described in this post, to handle what we're reading on a given day.  The main change I've made is that I allow the child of the day to pick what we're reading off of whatever is currently available on the list.  A book cannot be picked again until a selection from all the books have been read.  With five kids, it works very nicely to delegate a child per day.  This child gets to light the prayer candle, pick the lunch reading, lead the Divine Mercy chaplet (if old enough) and do other little things on their day.  And it is extremely cute to hear my two year old pick Plutarch for the read aloud! 

In our rotation, we had six books.  Four or five would have been better, but I had trouble restraining myself.  We started the year with seven which was definitely too many.

Books in Our Rotation

Evening Time

We added in a more robust evening time this year, scheduling about an hour in a half in the evening on most nights for various activities.  On some weeks we hit our plan almost every night, and on other weeks we would only pray and perhaps read a few pages from a read aloud.  Our biggest impediments were parental fatigue or getting dinner on the table late.   

General Flow:

  • 6:45 p.m. - I take the littles - Justin (4) and Hannah (2) - and get them ready for bed while bigger kids (14, 10, and 7) finish cleaning up from dinner, get ready for bed, then read from their free reading shelf.  
  • 7:00 -  Nathan (7) would come up to listen to stories with the younger ones while the bigger kids would continue to read.  I would read nursery rhymes, poetry, and perhaps a picture book.
  • 7:10 - Gregory (10) would often wander up for fairy tales, then listen to the Bible story, Scripture reading, and short missal reading.  
  • 7:30 - I would pray with the littles and get them in bed, while Nathan and Gregory would go back downstairs and my husband would read to them.
  • 7:40-ish - Matt and I would pray with the older kids, then we would do an evening activity - Monday - Great Courses lecture, Tues, Thurs, Sat - Drawing Practice, Fri and Sunday - Game (I don't think we had a single week where we actually did all of these - this is the ideal)
  • 8:15-ish - I would read out loud from another literature selection
  • 8:30-ish - Bedtime for the kids (and generally my husband)

Books Read and Materials Used:


And in case you're wondering, here's some of our family study favorites from the year:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Shakespeare with a Small Group - Part 2: Guided Reading

In my overview post for this series, I outlined what I was looking for in a Shakespeare study for my older children.  In Part 1 I described our abridged performance and in this post I'd like to describe what I did for my second idea, the a guided reading of the play with a memory work and a small performance.


  • Five sessions, approximately every other week
  • Location alternated between two homes
  • At each session, we began with prayer, then gave the kids an opportunity to share some sort of memory work with the group, then started on Shakespeare.  We would be started with Shakespeare by 1:30
  • The weekend following the 5th session, we had a family performance and potluck on a Sunday afternoon


I used the straight-forward Dover Thrift Edition of Julius Caesar for the kids, and I also used an iOS app by DodgePoint Software on my iPhone for our audio.  I really like these apps for our Shakespeare studies.  The audio is generally good, and having the text and the audio linked is absolutely fantastic.  It is extremely easy to repeat a speech, start in the middle of a scene, or go back just a little to hear something again.  The text is linked such that if you touch the name of a person speaking, the audio will automatically begin again in that spot.  They have twelve of Shakespeare's plays and the app only costs $1.99 for each play.

I prefer to use a very basic version of the text, like the Dover Thrift edition, in a class for a few reasons.  First, I want the students to realize that if we take it slowly, reading the text out loud or following along while listening to an audio recording and stopping for frequent narrations, they can understand a great deal of the text.  Also, I find that if they have access to a simplified version of the text (like the No Fear series), it can become far too easy to just glance over and see the paraphrase rather than put in the mental effort to try and figure it out.  Also, a version like No Fear Shakespeare or even one with heavy footnotes can reveal a little too much about the text - explaining some of the  innuendo that would have gone completely over the kids' heads otherwise.  Also, I want them to know that we don't need to understand every little bit of what we read.  It is ok to have phrases here and there that we don't quite understand - Shakespeare has so much depth we can get overwhelmed if we are trying to understand it all in one go.

I should note that I do think that a version like No Fear or one with a lot of footnotes can be very helpful for the teacher in her preparation, particularly if she feels weak in Shakespeare or intimidated by it.  If that's what it takes to get her going in teaching Shakespeare, then I think it is worth it.  But I think we have to be careful not to offer too much so the students are still being required to do the mind work and aren't overwhelmed with detailed explanations.

First Session

At our first gathering, I used the retelling of Julius Caesar from The Best-Loved Plays of Shakespeare to give an overview of the play.  I read it out loud, pausing frequently for narrations and to update the character map I was drawing on the board.  Each of the students had their own map they were drawing as well.
Finished Product
After reading through the retelling, we stepped outside and I introduced the kids to their group memory work.  We would all work on memorizing the first part of Marc Antony's funeral oration ("Friends, Romans, Countrymen...") together, and to help them I printed out the speech in large type across 14 pages, with each page having a few lines on it.  We ran through the first couple of pages several times, then went back inside for a little time with the play.  I used the audio from the app and everyone read along, pausing ever so often to narrate.  I asked the students to use their character maps to narrate the play to their parents as their homework.

Subsequent Sessions

The subsequent sessions were similar.  We listened to the play, narrated, and took a break in the middle to work on the memory work.  

At the second session, I spread out a selection of speeches from Julius Caesar and invited the students to choose one.  The speeches ranged in length from 8-16 lines or so and were from various parts of the play.  The speeches were to be memorized at home for our final performance.

I also had an additional assignment for the students.  Each family was assigned one of the principal characters of the play (Caesar, Brutus, Marc Antony, and Cassius) and they had to find three or more groups of short lines from the play that described the person's character.  They had to write these lines on index cards, and pick one person from each family to be that character on stage during the performance.

At the third session, we listened to part of the play, but we also watched the movie from a little after the death of Caesar until the end of the funeral narrations scene.  We all enjoyed watching the staging of the play, and enjoyed discussing how the actors matched (or didn't match!) our mental images of the characters.

In order to create a little randomness in who would do our narrations, I used two different methods to choose the narrators.  At first I assigned each person a number and rolled a die, but this proved to be a rather unreliable way of ensuring everyone would get a chance to narrate as frequently as the other students.  I found it worked better to write everyone's name (including mine!) on slips of paper and then drawing them at random, not replacing the names until every name had been drawn.  I also chose the names in pairs, so that they could help each other with narrations.  They particularly enjoyed having me as a narrator too, and I liked how that emphasized that we are all learning and enjoying Shakespeare together.

Family Performance

We met for lunch this time for our family performance, coming together at about noon, eating lunch, then having our performance at about 2.  We met at my house, and again I hung the canvas drop cloth from a beam in our living room and used that as a back-drop.  The kids came up with very simple Roman-ish costumes, such as white sheets and tunics and oversize white undershirts with leather belts and dark pants. (Oh, and play swords, can't forget the swords!)  It gave a nice feel to the performance, and was very easy to put together.

For our performance, we began by sharing our descriptions of each of the main characters.  I had one person come on stage to pretend to be the character, and then other students would come across the stage, say their short line(s) describing that character, then move off the stage.  It served as a nice introduction to the characters, and it was a good experience for the kids to have to dig into the play a little to find the lines.

After this, the students came on stage one by one and recited their memorized speech.  I gave a brief introduction to each speech, placing it in the context of the play.  I had the students come on in the order that their speech appeared in the play.  When it was time for the funeral oration, all the students came on stage and they spoke it in sequence, each student speaking a few lines in turn so that their speech would be more distinct.

What I Might Do Differently Next Time

I think it would have been better to have six sessions rather than five, but we couldn't get the scheduling to work for that.  It was a little tight in the last session, and we ended up needing to add on another hour to the final session so we could finish the play and discuss the performance.  We never even rehearsed the play portion, but it was very simple to stage and the kids did just fine with that. We ended up with seven students, which was a perfectly reasonable number, but we could have easily had a few more.

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

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Schedule for Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles Live Online Discussion

Scheduling sign-ups are closed for this discussion, and I've come up with three discussion time slots that include just about everyone who signed up.  Each of these time slots can accommodate a couple more people, so if you're interested, please email me soon and I'll get you added.

Discussion Times:
4th Monday, 7 - 8 a.m. Pacific
4th Monday, 1 - 2 p.m. Eastern
4th Wednesday, 8 - 9 p.m. Pacific