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)

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