Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Year In Review: Family Studies (2016 - 2017)

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.

(Previous Years' Write-ups can be found here)

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:

Natural History and Nature Lore
California History
Lives of Saints
Picture Study
Folk Songs
Shakespeare (we studied Shakespeare with a group of other families in the fall and spring)
Memory Work **
Nature Study and Journaling
Composer Study

Morning Time

We decided to move our Morning Time to 8 am this year, which was definitely more 8-ish than I would have liked.  However, we still managed to keep to that fairly well, even through my first trimester.  In our Morning Time we would:

  • Pray the Morning Offering
  • Chant a psalm
  • Sing a hymn
  • 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
  • Sing another hymn
  • Read a poem
  • Do our memory work for the day **
  • Do an additional activity, such as Picture Study or Composer Study.  I did these on the days when we started (closer to) on time, usually doing something with Composer Study a couple times a week and Picture Study once a week (although I accidentally dropped Picture Study for part of the year).
  • Sing a folk song or two


For poetry this year we read Hiawatha by Longfellow, and selected poems from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and William Wordsworth.  Robert Service is our summer poet.

Memory Work (**)

We stopped doing memory work this year and switched to individual recitation instead.  I have been very frustrated for awhile with how our memory work was going.  I had one student who did an excellent job, one who generally mumbled along and sort of knew the material, and one that barely participated at all.  It was too time consuming to try and have each child say the material individually, and taking turns didn’t seem to give enough review to make progress on the work, particularly for the mumbler and non-participant.  I also tried setting and reminding them of the expectations for participation but it didn’t amount to any sort of longer term improvement.  It really didn’t seem like our memory work time was cultivating good habits, and I spent some time considering what I was trying to do with this time, and what my goals were, as well as what this sort of work looked like in Charlotte Mason's schedule.

After a lot of consideration, I decided to add a period of recitation to my younger students’ schedule, and assign a particular type of recitation to each work session.  It was a little tricky getting them to understand what they were supposed to be doing during this time, but after couple months it started to go fairly well and I think it has been a positive change.  However, recitation has not become a regular part of my oldest student's afternoon or evening, unless she has a particular piece she wants to memorize.  I think she misses this memory work time and laments that the pieces she once had memorized are slowly drifting away.

Picture Study

Term 1 - Peter Paul Rubens
Term 2 - Winslow Homer (started mid-way through the term)
Term 3 - Winslow Homer (finished mid-way through the term)

After finishing our picture study of Winslow Homer, I neglected to move to the next artist.  We continue our Morning Time through the summer though, and I think I’ll go ahead and do that picture study over the summer.  I had planned on studying Monet, and I have one set of the images from Simply Charlotte Mason on hand, but I need to either order more copies or set up the images on the iPads so everyone can have their own.  I’ve found it works so much better that way, but it also creates an obstacle for actually doing it, because I have to remember to set it up!

Composer Study

Term 1 - Dvorak
Term 2 - None
Term 3 - Wagner, Ring Cycle and The Book of Great Musicians: A Course in Appreciation for Young Readers

I dropped Composer Study in the second term, as that was the term that overlapped with my first trimester and I needed to do less.  In the third term I started an ambitious study of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which we are still working through.  We are alternating between reading a bit from a retelling of the opera and listening to a few tracks from Wagner’s Ring Motifs.

Nature Study

This year we had a couple new things happen in our nature study.  We started doing nature study as a family on Sundays and we also started a monthly nature study group that meets about an hour away from where we live.

Weekly nature study as a family has been very rewarding.  On most Sundays, we go to Mass, have a little down time while my husband enjoys his morning coffee, then we take a walk.  We either journal as part of our walk, or we will do an activity from John Muir Laws once we get home.  Having the whole family involved and journaling has been a lot of fun, and a great family activity.

Our monthly nature study group has been a great addition as well.  The previous year I had tried to get one started closer to where I live, but with no success.  Driving an hour isn’t the greatest, but if it means we actually can meet up with other families - CM families, no less! - it is definitely worth it.

Lunch Time Reading

I either eat beforehand (if I was particularly on top of things that day - this didn't happen often!) or I 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 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 three year old pick Plutarch for the read aloud!

In our rotation this year, we had five books and this which worked out well.  Some weeks we would read all five, but sometimes we would only get to three or four.  But since there weren’t as many as there were last year, we were generally able to keep moving along in each book often enough that we didn’t forget what was happening when we read last.

Books in Our Rotation

Plutarch - Titus Flamininus and Phyrrus, both using Anne White's Plutarch Project Guide
Natural History - The Wild Muir, One Day On Beetle Rock (still reading)
California History - Jessie Benton Fremont: California Pioneer, The Shirley Letters (still reading)
Faith - The Royal Road (finishing from last year), First Communion by Mother Mary Loyola (still reading)
Music/Art - The Well Tempered Listener (still reading)

Evening Time

Once I was pregnant, our rather robust evening time that we enjoyed together went by the wayside.  We moved our read aloud to after dinner which worked really well until allergy season started and my husband couldn’t real aloud anymore.  That, coupled with the lengthening day and the prospect of playing outside a bit after dinner too, has made this read aloud time pretty spotty.

We still read poetry, picture books, and a Bible story to the two little ones (5 and 3, at this point) and we all seven pray together before putting the two younger ones to bed.  After the littles are in bed, the bigger kids read and I tackle my pre-reading for the next day.  If it isn’t a school day the next day, sometimes some of us will play a game together.  I miss the Great Courses lectures and drawing time, but trying to do those things and the pre-reading and getting to bed early enough for my pregnant self was more than I could handle.

This Year's Family Studies Favorites

The Wild Muir
Old Squire’s Farm
Johnny Reb
My Side of the Mountain
Jessie Benton Fremont: California Pioneer
The Well Tempered Listener  (the older two in particular)
One Day On Beetle Rock

(Amazon Affiliate links are used in this post, benefiting Charlotte Mason West)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Joy in Living

Last month, Celeste and I had the pleasure of seeing the first Charlotte Mason conference in Northern California come to fruition.  Thankfully, CM West :: Conference in the Redwoods was a definite success, as we've had many positive comments both during and after the conference.  I hope and pray that it will continue to be a positive influence and help for all the attendees into the future as well.

I wanted to share an expanded version of opening remarks for the conference, as I think they show what was (and is!) on my heart as I planned this conference, and as I move into planning other Charlotte Mason conferences as well.  I am considering a post on what goes into planning a conference, one that is a little more nuts and bolts focused, but I think it is vital to share the living idea behind the work of details.

My first experience meeting another CM educator in person was when Celeste and I met at a park about two and a half years ago.  We had a delightful visit, full of great conversation and watching our children joyfully romp together.  My next opportunity was about a year later, when I was able to attend the first Charlotte Mason conference on the West Coast, in Seattle, Washington.  This experience was an absolute delight, and I felt so encouraged by being around so many thoughtful, intelligent, and interesting women who shared my passion for Mason's Philosophy of Education.

I came home from this conference a changed person.  Being around this group of people who take Mason seriously encouraged me to take my role as a home educator, and particularly as a Mason educator, more seriously as well.  I realized that I, with two (now three!) children who aren't even school age yet, still have time to get good at this.  I also found a clear path forward in this, largely comprised of my own keeping (largely in my nature journal, commonplace, and Book of Centuries) and a commitment to the regular study of Mason's books (the Delectable Education podcast has also been a huge help, but obviously that came along a little later!).  I also saw how galvanizing it is to be around people who are trying to do the same thing I am, and it encouraged me to try to both find people at least somewhat near where I live, as well as work to create more of these conferences.

I find it challenging to be the only one who is educating in a model that is different from everyone else around.  Not only am I homeschooling, I am home educating in a way that is foreign to those around me.  I've been invited a few times over the years to get together at someone's house so we can "do school" together.  This seems to largely to consist of sitting the kids around a large table with their workbooks while the mothers visit and occasionally help a child who has a problem.  It is a welcome change for the kids and moms, but it is not something that is going to be successful for a Mason educator.  I've also had experiences where I've seen a little interest in Mason's ideas, only to have someone who has many years of homeschooling experience as well as graduates say, "oh, you don't need all those extras!  Just stick to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as learning about the faith, and your kids will be just fine."  And confronted with that sort of voice of wisdom and experience, what little interest there was quickly withers.

But as Mason said in her preface to her sixth volume, “we have no axe to grind”.  A little before this in her preface, she puts her finger on the difference between her method and the standard way of doing things.  “No doubt children are well taught and happy in their lessons as things are, and this was specially true of the school in question; yet both teachers and children find an immeasurable difference between the casual interest roused by marks, pleasing oral lessons and other school devices, and the sort of steady avidity for knowledge that comes with the awakened soul.”  (CM, Vol. 6, Preface)

Mason goes on to say just a little later in the Introduction to Vol. 6 -
But the people themselves begin to understand and to clamour for an education which shall qualify their children for life rather than for earning a living. As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans, or keeping books. The more of a person we succeed in making a child, the better will he both fulfil his own life and serve society.
I think the fact that we had a full conference is a testimony to this!  When Celeste and I were first planning this conference, I was worried about getting 20 people - instead we sold almost 50 places in three weeks, and we ended up with another thirty plus people on the wait list.

Celeste and I wanted to offer a leading thought for the conference, and as I considered this, the phrase “opportunities for joy” came to mind.  As far as I know, it isn’t a phrase Mason uses, but I became curious how Mason used the word joy.  One phrase she does use is “joy in living” and I wanted share a quote where she uses that phrase.
We launch children upon too arid and confined a life. Now personal delight, joy in living, is a chief object of education; Socrates conceived that knowledge is for pleasure, in the sense, not that knowledge is one source, but is the source of pleasure. It is for their own sakes that children should get knowledge. (CM, Vol. 6, Section 3, Ch. 4)
We have the opportunity to help our children and ourselves discover this joy in living through the rich feast Mason helps us to place before our families. My hope is this is a phrase is one that is memorable to us all not only at a conference, but also that we can take this phrase into the day to day, to help us remember what we are doing in this educational journey we are offering our families and ourselves.

I originally wrote this a couple weeks ago, but hadn't been able to edit and post it until now.  I am glad though, because this reminder about why I work on these conferences is very timely!  Planning next year's conference became far more daunting last week when we found out that Presentation Center, the lovely location where we held the conference, is closing as of June 30th.  We were really looking forward to going back there, as well as not having to go through all the effort of finding a location.  We have started looking for another location, however, and we hope to find something soon.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Looking Back at 2016 Goals

At the beginning of 2016, I posted a list of projects and goals for 2016.  As a way of reviewing 2016 and following up on my previous post, I thought I would do a review of that list.  Next week I hope take a look at my goals for 2017.


Start Here: 20 Principles Live Online Video Discussion - This has been a little tricker than I had expected, because there's been a number of people who signed up but who either had to drop out or just don't come.  And discussions don't work as well when people don't come!  At this point we have two active discussion groups, and we decided to run them as open groups where people can join in any month.  We've picked up some new members, and we have a reasonably decent number of participants.  

Charlotte Mason Conference(s) - This one has been rather challenging, and has had a lot of twists and turns!  Celeste and I ended up having a very successful retreat last spring, and now we're set to have a conference in the Bay Area in February (CM West :: Conference in the Redwoods).  The conference sold out in about three weeks and now has a very healthy waiting list, so that is extremely encouraging.  There will also be a Seattle Charlotte Mason conference in September, and we expect to start selling tickets for that in the spring.  I hope that it has the same sort of reception that the Bay Area conference had!

Shakespeare Co-op - This has gone very well.  We had a good group in the spring session, and an even bigger group for the fall session.  I moved the meetings to a park in Auburn for the fall session, and that made it possible to have a bigger group and made it more centrally located for participants.  

Sorting Books - Other than taking forever, this project is complete and I ended up getting rid of a good 1/3 of our books.  I also was able to get some new bookcases, so we actually have quite a few empty shelves!  It is always good to have room to expand, right?

Reorganizing the Study - I conquered this over the summer, and am generally pleased with the results.  I also made my second son very happy by making room for a guinea pig cage in the Study.  He's wanted pets for ages, and while he still would like a dog, a cat, and chickens, he at least has some critters to care for and hold.  I also completely went through our craft cabinet and consolidated the supplies such that each of the three older children can have a shelf of their own for works in progress and personal items.  This has been such a big help in keeping the table clutter at bay.  

Girls' Bedroom Re-do - This turned out well, and the girls are quite pleased with their new furniture, trim and bunk beds.  Next time though I'm going to buy a pre-finished bunk bed rather than an unfinished one...

Somewhere In Between

Teaching from Rest Live Online Video Discussion - I wanted this to be a more local discussion, with the hope that the people in it could potentially meet up.  I had a lot of interest, but very few people actually showed up to the discussions, which was disappointing.  Initially I thought there was enough interest for two discussions, but no one came on the second time slot, even though there were at least 4-5 women who signed up.  The discussions that did happen were generally good though, and while it hasn't created any new friendships, it did help to deepen an already existing friendship.


Nature Study in Nevada County - This just didn't work out.  I had a good turn-out for the first one, but none of them came back the second time!  I think there were few reasons for this.  First, I didn't provide clear direction for a stopping point, so they ended up stopping at a not so great spot instead of at the pond as I had intended and mentioned at the beginning.  I was with a two year old who adamantly wanted to walk, so I couldn't provide clear direction during the walk.  I also didn't provide very good leadership about what we were trying to do.  Were we out for exercise?  To take a walk with other families? Were we supposed to be looking for something in particular?  I also didn't communicate clearly the value of returning to the same spot the following month.  There seemed to be a general sense of, "oh, we've been there, we don't need to do that again" and a slight spark of interest in perhaps meeting up at another spot in a different month.  I had one family come for several months then drop out, another come once and not again, and another talk about coming month after month and never actually ever coming.  Clearly a lack of communication of vision on my part had a lot to do with the failure of this project.  Perhaps if I had figured out how to communicate the value of nature journaling and exploration more effectively to people who aren't already on board, as well as found new avenues for advertising the group I might have been more successful.  

On the plus side, however, I did find a group of CM educators in the greater Sacramento area over the summer and we've been meeting once a month since July.  In the Summer we met by the American River in Fair Oaks, and in the Fall we moved up to theAuburn State Recreation Area.  I much prefer the meeting place in Auburn as it is about an hour from me instead of an hour and a half, as well as being more scenic.  Also, it is far easier to get together with a group of people who already understand the whys and hows of nature journaling than starting from scratch!

First Saturday Adoration and Social - I had high hopes for this one, but then I found that the bulletin is out of date, and the church in the next town over doesn't actually have Adoration on the first Saturday.  I might be able to get something going in Auburn (really, what is it with Auburn?  That seems to be the place I need to go to make anything work - too bad it is at least 50 min away) but then that's another day I need to be driving down there, and in the evening too so I haven't tried.

New Projects

Surprisingly, there weren't that many substantial new projects that cropped up in the course of the year.  As I mentioned, I started participating in a new nature study group.  I also helped start a new online discussion group where we are reading through Charlotte Mason's second volume.  This one is through CM West, and has had a good response - better than the 20 Principles discussion.  We have more people signed up for it and usually have more participants as well.  I also ended up helping a little with the CMI Western Conference in August of 2016, and really enjoyed attending it.

Around the house, I went through papers over the summer as well, which was nice to get done.  If I'm remembering correctly, "all" I have left in Kondo's method is the miscellaneous.  I've made a start on that with the craft cabinet and the pantry, but there's still other looming areas like the hutch, the top shelf of my closet, my fabric collection, and more boxes in storage.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Reading Recap

It has been a number of years since I've written a reading recap post (since 2012!) and I think the main reason is because of list paralysis.  I keep six different reading lists in Evernote:  one for myself, one each for my three readers, one for family read alouds, and one for family audiobooks.  It isn't like the data isn't there...  but how much do I include?  This sort of quandary is what makes me enjoy reading everyone else's lists while thinking vaguely that perhaps I should post my own.

Last year Brandy Vencel had this to say about the whole angst issue:
Do I include books I read aloud to my children for fun? What about all the books I read aloud for school lessons? Pre-reading for school lessons? Does that count, too? It’s hard for me until I finally remember that whether I read it aloud or silently, whether I read it for fun because I “had to,” I read it. Therefore, it qualifies.
So, taking a page from her book, here we go.  And I'm even going to include audiobooks too, as I think those count as well.  The only books I'm not including are ones that I'm always reading from, namely the Bible (mainly John's Gospel outside of the Mass readings this year) and Charlotte Mason's volumes (mainly 2, 4, and 6 this year)

First, Some Books of Note from 2016

Best Nature Writing:  Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

Best History:  1491 by Charles C. Mann

Best Fiction:  Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge

Best Read Aloud:  Rascal by Sterling North

The Book that Was the Most Fun to Read/Listen to:  To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

A Book that Made Me Cry:  A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Best Poetry:  Purgatorio by Dante and translated by Anthony Esolen

Induced the Most Discussion:  Utopia by Sir Thomas More and Whatever Happened to Justice by Richard J. Maybury, closely followed by The Prince by Machiavelli.

Most Useful (although I haven't read every page):   The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws and Homeopathic Medicine at Home by Maesimund B. Panos, MD

The Full Lists

Audiobooks - Family (we listen to these in the car)

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott

Interestingly, none of these are new listens, although some of the children either were not born or not able to actually comprehend the stories when we listened to them last.  But they are all so excellent none of us who could remember listening to them minded listening to them again!  I suspect this will frequently be the case at this point in our family's life.  We did attempt to listen to a new-to-us book, The Coral Island, but it was so gory and full of cannibalism that we bailed on it about 3/4 of the way through.  I definitely should have screened that one more carefully!

Read Alouds - Family

Crossbows and Crucifixes by Henry Garnett
The Young Brahms by Sybil Deucher
Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight
A Weekend with Degas by Rosabianca Skira-Venturi
The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
Rascal by Sterling North
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (my husband read this one)
Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
Ways of Wood Folk by William Long
Cruise of the Arctic Star by Scott O'Dell
Diary of a 49er by Chauncey Canfield
The Royal Road by Ann Roos
Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Books Read as Part of My Children's Schooling

The Sea Around Us
Arctic Dreams
A Briefer History of Time
The Chemical History of a Candle
Julius Caesar
Come Rack, Come Rope
Characters of the Reformation
Along Came a Dog
The Incredible Journey
Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution
Microbe Hunters
Whatever Happened to Justice?
Galileo’s Daughter
The New World
The Family that Overtook Christ
The Red Bonnet
The Days of Alfred the Great
Henry V
Twelfth Night
Of Courage Undaunted by Daugherty
Sacajawea by Wyatt Blassingame
The Prince by Machiavelli
Christopher Columbus, Mariner

Books I Read Because I Wanted To

Teaching from Rest (re-read)
The 39 Steps
Little Dorrit
Pilgrim’s Inn
A Book of Bees
Anne’s House of Dreams (audio - re-listen)
Busman's Honeymoon (re-read)
My Life as a Spy by Baden-Powell
Science & Human Origins by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe & Casey Luskin
Land of Little Rain
To Say Nothing of the Dog (ebook/audio)
The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
Puck of Pook’s Hill
Life Together by Bonhoeffer
Gentian Hill