Friday, December 21, 2012

They Won't Remember Everything

Doing The Thinker

I love the generous curriculum idea put forth by Charlotte Mason. Many subjects which widen their horizons are being covered by my children. It can be an overwhelming educational principle, however, when you're teaching multiple grades or trying to meticulously cover every subject.

Elizabeth (grade 5) does up to 20 subjects a day. Jonathan (2nd) can do up to 14 a day, and Phoebe (K) does 7-10. Some of these are family do-togethers, and Elizabeth and Jonathan do some on their own also. While we are normally able to finish our work before kids get out of public school, I often feel doubtful that we're covering each subject well enough. How can you cover so many areas and remember it all?

While reading Volume 3 of Charlotte Mason's series, I found some comfort to salve this worry. (Check out pages 162-163 if you want to read it yourself.) Charlotte was talking about the need for a wide curriculum and how we shouldn't limit a child's access to certain subjects intending a predetermined pathway for him. For instance, we think he should not waste time on Latin since it won't be of use to him in the commercial pursuits we imagine for him. From there though we read how only "a few notions" will catch hold of a child; but when they do catch hold, they can work more wonders than years of grind. There's no need to limit the variety of knowledge relationships your child can pursue. And it is not expected that every bit of information or fragment of experience will light your child's mind on fire with connection and light-bulbyness. *Whew* It does take a load off.

Teachers offer access to the wide range of knowledge and experiences and then step back allowing the child to connect to the material. The teacher does not need to fret if the child does not make the connections she would make. She needs not fret if all 20 subjects from the day do not set the child off in a delightful narration. There was likely at least one solid connection established that day. One notion that made the child pause and reflect for a moment before continuing his reading or translating Latin. We serve up the best that we can, trust good habits, keep a wise eye, and set them off to pursue a life of learning.

At the end of Volume 3 similar words of comfort are written:
The average child studies with 'delight.' We do not say he will remember all he knows, but, to use a phrase of Jane Austens, he will have had his imagination warmed in many regions of knowledge.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Red Harvester Ants

These were discovered near our home on a nature study walk. They look freaky with their square heads, big pincers, and large red bodies, but they are very cool. We haven't been bitten by any of them, though that was what I was most afraid of (we have been bitten by red ants nearby, however). They seem to leave you alone if you leave them alone. They have a flat mound with a circle of bare dirt around the entryway. And you can see one of the trails leading from their mound to their food. They harvest seeds for food. Not sure where from around here. Grass seeds maybe? We have a lot of Longtailed Grackles in our yard, and they eat seeds too. Maybe it's grass or clover or some kind of weed that's producing the seeds they eat.

The Texas Horned Lizard gobbles them up. I'm kind of hoping we see one of those guys at some point.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tractor Refinishing Handicraft

My dad was given two 60+ year old toy tractors, and Jonathan was on the receiving end of one of the tractors. He was very impressed that a toy would last that long. Harrison was taking it to bed with him for a while.

We decided we would refinish this tractor for a school handicraft project. I'm not sure we did it exactly right, but it was a lot of fun and I would definitely do this project again. We might even start searching for antique metal toys to refinish.

First we placed the tractor in a plastic bag and poured in rubbing alcohol. We tied the bag and made sure the whole tractor was soaked. After 10 or so minutes we could take it out and rub off the old paint with a rag, toothbrush and toothpick (for the tiny spots). This took several days.

Second, we scrubbed the tires with a toothbrush and soapy water to get off all the dirt.

Third, we covered the tires with several layers of masking tape careful not to cover any of the metal parts that we would paint.

Fourth, we sprayed (outside on top of newspaper) primer over the tractor. After it dried for an hour we sprayed it with red paint. Jonathan did fine with the big sweeps of spray and I did the cracks and crevices. We did have to sand down some drips and spray again the next day. I had to hang it from a hanger attached to a tree branch so I could get at all the tiny spaces. It's sprayed on there pretty thick, so you can actually nick the paint easily. I think we need to have less paint next time. Or maybe a different brand?

Jonathan is eight, so I'm not sure he could have done this whole project on his own. But he learned and at some point will be able to. Some projects get drug out over time and you just want to finish them already! But this one was worthwhile, fun, not too long, and definitely a good skill.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top 10 Ways to Cut Out the Tiles for Delightful Reading

I've started Phoebe on Delightful Reading this week. She was wanting to do more "grown-up" work and was very excited to start on her own box of Delightful Reading. (I used this program for Jonathan, but used my shabby first-draft stuff since we started before the kit was published.)

Since it was a new kit, all the tiles needed to be cut out. Now I know some do not enjoy the cutting out part, but one of my favorite parts of homeschooling is all the preparation and lesson planning, so it is right up my alley. Nevertheless, my mind couldn't help constructing a top ten list of ways to aid the tile-cutting process.

1. Pay your kids to do it.

2. Watch your favorite movie while cutting.

3. Use a cutting board to cut the long lines; then snip, snip along the short ones.

4. Eat chocolate. It makes anything fun!

5. Play upbeat music. Maybe even jig a little.

6. Reward yourself with cheesecake. Or chocolate.

7. Skype or conference call your BFF. Better yet, have a croppin' party with her!

8. Think up your own Top Ten List.

9. Start thinking of how your kids will grow up and leave you and how sad and empty the house will seem, and start bawling over those precious alphabet letters.

10. Definitely grab a bowl of ice cream and top it with chocolate.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ten Homeschooling Don'ts

"I don't know the key to success, 
                          but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."   
                                                                                                         ~ Bill Cosby

Ten Homeschooling Don'ts 

1. Don't start your child too early.  There is no reason for it, and it may do more harm than good.  I know you are eager!  Instead do lots of reading up on your chosen philosophy of education.  Research home education to your heart's content.  Read the school books recommended by your curriculum (especially ones that your child may read on his own when he's older).  But don't do sit-down work with your child until he is ready (for various reasons, we wait and start a half-hour-a-day or less preschool when our kids turn 5).  You can even put out books and manipulatives and handicraft items for him to explore as long as you don't tease him into interest.  Let him discover for the first 5 or 6 years of his life.

2. Don't assume homeschooling is the only option for your family.  It is not for everyone.  It is not the only godly method of education.  It may not be for every stage of your life.  Believing that you have to homeschool can put pressure on the family that snuffs out the joy if it's not actually right for you.

3. Don't overwhelm yourself with choices.  I love the fact that I can choose where my kids go to school and choose to teach what I think is important.  Freedom is awesome.  But I must narrow down those choices as best and quickly as I can, or I will be forever choosing and never using.

4. Don't constantly switch up curriculum.  Research and peruse and take your time and seek
guidance.  Then purchase and use without looking back with a "what if."  It can take a few tries to find what works for you.  Just realize the grass is not always greener on the other side.

5. Don't go it alone.  Share the journey with your spouse, friends, and God.  You need them.

6. Don't minimize your role as educator.  The older your kids get and the more kids you add into the mix, the more time it will take each day to do school.  I finally realized a year or two ago that I couldn't go to a weekday morning activity anymore because that was prime school time.  A private or public school teacher couldn't leave her job to attend a regular Tuesday morning event; why did I take my role less seriously?  Homeschooling is your full time job.  You are your child's teacher, and that is a rare and precious responsibility.  

7.  Don't work so hard to complete if you are in need of a break.  A break can realign your thoughts, bring rest and joy, and make you eager to start back in with renewed vigor.  Even a day or week's break from school can be refreshing.

8.  Don't be so consumed with school that other aspects of life are left behind.  You are likely also a spouse, sibling, daughter/son, friend.  You may have pregnancies and relocations and crazy life interruptions.  You also need rest and health and other outlets of interest that bring joy.

9.  Don't compare your children to each other or to public/private school children.  This includes test scores.  Oh, how we love to feel good about ourselves when our children excel!  And oh, how we love to despise ourselves when they are less than!  Improve your child's strengths.  Help them with their weaknesses.  Recognize their growth and value and individuality.

10.  Don't think you must "arrive" or have already "arrived."  Just like we as persons do in life, our homeschool will change and grow.  You don't need to have it all figured out up front, and I'm not sure having it all figured out should even be a goal.  It is an exciting journey.  Enjoy the hills and rivers and plains: all forms that are different from each other, but all unique and enjoyable in their own way.

Go to Encouragement
Go to Guidance
Ten Homeschooling Don'ts
You may be interested in How To....

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Staying the Homeschool Course: Guidance

"Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in Thy wisdom make me wise."

~Alfred Lord Tennyson

Get Guidance

You have placed yourself in charge of your child's education.  Some won't trust that you can handle it.  Test scores tell no lies, right?  Their life potential rests on your shoulders.  No pressure.

The fact is that you are in charge of your child's education.  And that is a big responsibility.  But it is no bigger than being a parent and raising a child.  God gave you children.  He will equip you to raise them and educate them.  But you do not have to go it alone.  Take some pressure off yourself by sharing your concerns, asking for advice, and laying your worries to rest.  

Experienced homeschoolers are awesome for allaying fears.  They've been there.  They know how small our huge worries actually are.  They can give advice, but often their listening ear and comforting words are a perfect balm for troubled minds.

Don't miss out on an obvious source of guidance which is your spouse.  We may feel they aren't steeped in homeschooling thoughts like we are or that they aren't interested.  But any troubles your children are having with education are your spouse's troubles too.  They have insight into the children's personalities and interests as well as you do.  And they can give a broader perspective if you are lost in the woods and can't see the forest for the trees.

God cares about your homeschool journey too.  Pray for guidance.   A year or so ago, my oldest had been using a Spanish resource that had caused her to despise Spanish, and I didn't know what to do to change her attitude.  I can't remember if I actually prayed for God's help (my spirit was seeking, but I'm not sure I mouthed the words), but I attribute God's hand at work.  A co-op in town offered a Spanish class which she reluctantly joined.  We quit the resource she loathed, and the teacher and friends in the Spanish class brought joy back into this foreign language for her.  God knows things we don't know, and I am confident He can provide what our children need even before we seek Him for help.

Matthew chapter 6 applies to homeschooling worries too.  "Why do you worry saying, 'Why can't my son read yet?' or 'How shall we pay for books?'"  Your heavenly Father knows what you need.  Do not worry about tomorrow ~ today has enough trouble of its own.

You may be interested in How To.....

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Staying the Homeschool Course: Encouragement

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."  ~ Proverbs 27:17

Surround Yourself with Encouragement

Have you noticed how much easier it is to stick with something ~ a diet, your beliefs, a hobby ~if you are in it with someone else?  A partner or group provide accountability and encouragement.  Surrounding yourself with a community of homeschoolers will help you stay the course for the long haul.

There are numerous connection points for homeschoolers now, but at times you may see a need to start a group of your own.  Go for it!  The homeschool world appreciates your leadership.  Look for existing groups locally, regionally, and online.

Locally ~   
Meet-ups and Home Gatherings:  You may know some homeschoolers who live near you.  See if they meet regularly for fellowship or to discuss specific topics.  Even sporadic home gatherings are encouraging and informative.  Every family comes at an issue from a different perspective which can open your eyes to the possibilities out there and also help you determine your focus ("I'm glad that works for them, but it wouldn't work for us because....").  You can swap stories and resources and peruse curriculum and fill up your encouragement tank for the school months ahead. 
Co-ops and Classes: Some families love the structure and social aspects found in a co-op or homeschool class.  Many times the parents share the responsibilities for teaching and childcare and leadership, and the whole group benefits.  Field trips are often arranged via this avenue.  It can supplement your home teaching, and then you don't have to think about such things as art or music or Latin, especially if they aren't in your area of expertise.  They do take time and commitment, but you may find it more than worth it. 
Regionally ~  
Conventions: These large gatherings are a great reminder that you are not alone.  Speakers provide knowledge and experience at workshops.  Vendors provide every book or supply you never knew you needed.  Going with a group of friends provides a great time of fun and fellowship.  While all the booths and vendors can be overwhelming, going with a list will help you stay focused.  Many times they have special pricing for conventions; plus you won't have to pay shipping.  And the fact that you can browse through the books can be invaluable for determining if they are right for you. 
Videos: You can now find workshops, conferences, and training on video through Youtube or ordering from homeschool websites.  The cost is often cheaper than attending a convention and is wonderful for viewing with a group in your home.   
Online ~ 
Groups: Yahoo Groups or discussion forums supply a wider range of "we're in this together," especially if you need fellowship within your specific method.  Moms who have older kids are valuable for sharing insight because they've been where you are. 
Blogs: The blogging community adds regular content which can inform, encourage and humor.  Many times they provide free lessons or worksheets as well as paid services which could be of great use to you.   
Social Media: Is there anyone not on at least one of these:  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest?!  These groups can be great for getting questions answered quickly and finding out what's going on in the homeschool world. ("1/2 price tickets to the Medieval Fair on homeschool day!"  "Kindle is offering a free e-Book today only!"  "Who wants to get together at the park for a picnic tomorrow?")  

Find the fellowship that works for you without overwhelming your life.  A homeschooler could be gone every day of the week with the available options now.  But homeschooling is not a lone man's game.  Surround yourself with encouragement. 

Go to Guidance
Go to Ten Homeschooling Don'ts
You may be interested in How To....

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Millie Fierce"

"This was pretty good for helping little kids to understand a bully," says my ten-year-old Elizabeth. Millie Fierce by Jane Manning is an engaging story of a mild-mannered girl who turned fierce in order to get noticed. It's recommended for ages 3 and up.

There was much discussion among my children about why no one noticed Millie when she was nice ~ about why a little thing like someone walking on her chalk-drawing set her off ~ and about what they would do if they decided to "go fierce" (this devolved into how big a piece of cake they would steal on someone's birthday and how many frosted flowers it would hold'll just have to read the book to get the connection).

I didn't make this association at first, but Elizabeth thought it was a great book to help younger kids understand why a bully acts mean.  She understood it to show that Millie acted meanly because others had treated her meanly.  I thought it was neat that she figured out that idea without input from me.
This was a great example of a living idea being passed along from the author to the child's mind (see this post on living books for more info).

Millie Fierce helped me understand better those kids who act out to get attention. I wish there had been a fuller example of how to help such a child. Millie had a turning point where she decided to be nice.  Because of her extremely bad behavior before, everyone then noticed her new niceness. But her mildness at the beginning of the book was what made her boring and easily passed over in the first place. Maybe I don't understand child psychology, but I think she might just go unnoticed again before long. Which makes me wonder, "What do kids need exactly in order to not go crazy trying to get attention?" Maybe a big dose of love and some spurring toward unique talents and traits would do the trick.

My kids and I all enjoyed reading this book and looking at the colorful illustrations. It's a compelling story which can lead into several kinds of discussions such as bullying, correct ways to get attention, and how to apologize after one has had a fierce sort of day.

This review is a part of a TLC Book Tour where many bloggers give their opinion of the same book.  You can find more reviews of this book here at TLC Book Tours.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 13, 2012

"Woodrow for President"

"He worked hard in school and -- all students note --
At 18 years old, he registered to vote!"

Woodrow for President: A Tail of Voting, Campaigns, and Elections by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes is a story of a mouse from "Moussouri" and his road to the Presidency.  It's for ages 5 and up.

This book breaks down the great unknown process of "How does one become President of the United States?" It "stresses the importance of civic and community involvement in good citizenship.  This includes volunteering, registering to vote, and participating in the political process...." I was glad they made Woodrow a family "man." From the very beginning they had him on the floor playing with his many children. They showed his rise through the ranks from town council to governor. Phoebe (age 6) noticed that he had to make lots of speeches. Debates and campaigns and voting were all covered in this tale.

Harrison (age 2) enjoyed the pictures, pointing out all the balloons. Sometimes the illustrations feel too crowded to me, but I enjoyed those that had one scene per page.  My concrete thinker (Jonathan, age 8) couldn't grasp the fact that a mouse was becoming President. All the cutesy mouse wordplay is lost on him. This book did spark a lively debate between he and Elizabeth (age 10) about whether a man or woman would make a better president. Whew! We had some fightin' words going on.

The Tail End section has some very interesting information, I thought. The authors share little tidbits from history and current practice concerning a number of topics.  For instance, under "Political Parties" they tell us: "Do you think everyone should eat vegetables?  If so, then you might have joined the Vegetarian Party! ....That is what happened in 1947 when a group of people thought that the only food we should eat were vegetables." That was a fun fact I hadn't heard of before.

We didn't fall in love with this book. It was a chore to read through it ~ not so much for me to read out loud but for the kids to listen. It may have been better if read over several days. I think sometimes adults believe children need to be enticed into learning. They can't fathom that ideas all on their own would be interesting to a child. But knowledge is food for a child's mind if we don't do all the work and chew it up for them beforehand. That's why I loved the discovery of living books a few years ago. It seems like Woodrow for President is trying to hook kids with their mouse mascot and cartoony illustrations and rhyming verse. And the information is compelling all by itself. I enjoy the Tail End section best because of that ~ it is short segments of information told interestingly with historical illustrations.

The best part of reading to my kids about Mr. Woodrow Washingtail was the conversation that came from it. Elections are coming up, so it was easy to explain what Dad and Mom will be doing for that process as Woodrow for President mentioned it throughout the story. It was also a great reminder to me of how the road to the Presidency works, so that later on, I can answer my kids' questions about it.

This review is a part of a TLC Book Tour where many bloggers give their opinion of the same book.  You can find more reviews of this book here at TLC Book Tours.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Latin Sale!

As an affiliate and enjoyer of Visual Latin, I get to let you all in on the last big sale of the year going on August 1-8.  Click the picture below and use the code "Augustus" to get 30% off all Visual Latin products!

You might want to check out their new Economics program also.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I Want to Homeschool; Now What? Schedule

"The effort of decision, we have seen, is the greatest effort of life; not the doing of the thing, but the making up of one's mind as to which thing to do first." 
 ~ Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, p. 119)

Make Your Schedule

You've made your curriculum choice based on your method, and now you are ready to order your day.  There are about as may ways to schedule a school day as there are persons in the world.  Some people are very relaxed and just choose that morning the books to read for the day or simply pick up where they left off in math.  Some make a list of what they want to accomplish that week and mark it off as they get it done.  Some people schedule every day of their week.  And I've heard tell of those who schedule the very hours and minutes of the day.  There are also curricula that make a schedule for you and homeschool scheduling/organizing apps that you might find useful.  This will be another area of research for you because there are to be found excellent tips and tricks and plans for every personality.

Knowing that my personality will not work for everyone's way of scheduling, I'll share the procedure I've settled on for planning our school year.  It takes a bit of work on the front end (around June/July for us).  I started the different documents to satisfy our state requirements, but I kind of like having all the info printed out, so I'd probably make them anyway.   They help my brain figure out what it's thinking.

Curriculum Guide ~ First I create a guide for each child.  It includes every subject we will cover that year and what books or materials we'll use to cover them.  I won't have a totally completed guide until the end of the year because I add in memorization, handicrafts and various things that are decided on as the year progresses.  A lot of it is copied and pasted from the Ambleside Online site since they are our main curriculum.  I also spend time researching any new add-ons/changes such as musical instrument or handicrafts.  So this part can take several weeks to complete.  I'll share sample screen shots of documents for our Year 2 child, Jonathan.

Book List ~ Next I list all the books we'll use for each child.  Lots of copy and paste and rearrange here, but it doesn't take a ton of time.

Schedule ~ I've done many different versions of schedules, but I really like what I'm doing now.  Each child has a term's schedule made up (a term for us is 12 weeks).  Every subject/book gets a separate row.  Each week gets a certain number of circles next to each subject/book.  Math gets 5 circles since we'll do math every day; Latin gets 3 circles since we do it 3 times a week, etc.  I count up the circles for the week and divide by 5, and we check off the circles as we complete them each day.  So I make 3 schedules per child per year (but I only make the term as it comes up; I don't make all three terms at once since I like to evaluate how things are going and tweak things for the upcoming term).  This can take several hours to do, but I used to make a new schedule every week, so this way is much better!

Can you tell this is one of my favorite parts about homeschooling? ......the planning, research and scheduling.  If any of this is helpful, feel free to use it.  You definitely don't have to do all of this documentation ~ it is simply the way I've processed our school year.  But do find a way of organizing your homeschool that works for you.  

Go to Method
Go to Curriculum

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Want to Homeschool; Now What? Curriculum

"Multiplication is vexation,
Division is as bad;
The Rule of Three doth puzzle me,
And Fractions drive me mad." 
                                                ~ Mother Goose

Choose Your Curriculum

Believe it or not, school does not have to be forced drudgery.  We have choices now, baby!  Once you know what method of homeschooling you prefer, start researching all the available curricula for that method.  Ask friends, troll conventions, browse catalogs, google it (example: "Charlotte Mason, homeschool curriculum").  There are usually several choices for each method.  Your trouble will likely be narrowing them down and then not fretting that you chose the wrong one.

These are some of the factors you want to consider and check on when choosing curriculum:

1. Do they provide all books and supplies?  Do they offer choices for only core subjects and leave other subjects such as Math or Art to your choosing?  Does it all come to you "in a box" or do they provide the schedule and guide and let you purchase your own necessities? 
2. How does the total cost fit into your budget? 
3. Do they have a discussion forum, Yahoo group, co-op or some other like-minded support of any kind for when you have questions or want to share joys? 
4. Is there a faith element that matches yours? 
5. How accessible is it?  If it's internet based and you are on dial-up, you may have a little trouble getting school done every day. 
6. How well do they carry out the method you chose?  Do they seem to have a firm grasp of its principles? 
7. Is there a trial period where you can return a product if it doesn't work for you?  Can you borrow from a friend to try it out? 
8. Are the books consumable, or can you resale them or use them for your other children? 
9. Is it scheduled and planned out for you already? 
10. Does your child have special needs that are addressed? Does it work with your child's learning style? 
11. Does it cover all grades or just a certain age group such as preschool or elementary?
You will usually need to find a main curriculum that covers most subjects and then also find a math program, reading program, spelling program, etc.  A few states require that you cover certain subjects while some states don't specify.  Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is a great site for checking on your state's homeschool laws.

If you are just beginning your homeschool journey, you may want to start with core subjects and add on extras like art or music later.  Buying the right curriculum can be overwhelming, and you don't want to rush into decisions that are disappointing.

Finding a confident fit involves a whole lot of homework, a little bit of trial and error, and a little bit of stick-to-itiveness.  You will be disappointed in some of your choices.  There is no perfect curriculum for your family!  If you love it, but your kids hate it (or vice versa), give it some time and perseverance. Pray, seek guidance, tweak it, and if you still don't feel something is working, change it.  Too many change-ups can confuse, cause gaps in learning, frustrate, and be expensive; so try to minimize damage.  Don't worry though, public and private schools can't tailor curriculum to fit every child's needs either.

I was overeager when first beginning with Charlotte Mason and didn't want to miss any of the great books recommended by different CM curriculum sites.  So I combined two of them.  And guess what?  It was way too much!  (Shocker.)  I finally settled on using Ambleside Online for my main program and using Simply Charlotte Mason for the extras that AO leaves open to choice.

Friends, co-ops, catalogs, blogs all pop new and shiny choices in front of my eyes on a regular basis.  But I am confident in the path we've settled on, and, after a little research, I rarely switch up.  That's not to say I don't recognize a less-than-stellar approach in some area and change it for the next year or next child.  We always have something to tweak for the next school year.

Once you've chosen and ordered, the fun part begins: Wait for your packages to arrive and have fun opening them up and thumbing through!

Go to Method
Go to Schedule

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Want to Homeschool; Now What? Method

"I thought we'd have a little supper and talk some philosophy."   
              "I don't know a philosophy."  ~ Lonesome Dove

Choose Your Method

Growing up, there was only one curriculum to homeschool with that my mom was aware of, and it was in the textbook genre.  Fast forward 15 or so years and I assumed that same curriculum was my only choice for my children.  My world was simple.  Then I discovered the internet and all its research capabilities, and I immediately didn't have a clue what I was going to do for homeschooling.  I felt the textbook method was a little boring and wanted a more interesting path.  I dabbled with unit studies for the preschool years and did a year of eclecticism (what does that mean?!!).  This was a bit better than worksheets and fill-in-the-blanks, but I still wasn't satisfied.  One day I came upon a website that laid out several methods for homeschooling.  An epiphany!  I didn't realize there were more than two! Reading summaries of these different methods and seeing right away which one seemed to most fit our family was a breath of fresh air to my info-drowning mind.

A method of homeschooling is kind of its philosophy of education.  It's the thoughts behind what you do.  It answers the why questions.  ("Why do we do it this way?")  There are only a handful of educational methods that I'm aware of (and I'm not an expert, by any means).  Most of us probably have very distinct thoughts on our preferred method and don't even realize it.  We may recognize what we don't like, but have no guidance as to what we believe is good.  Some of us just use a curriculum peers are using without thinking about it.  

Choosing the right fit is important because school should be an extension of your life.  If you love sitting on the couch reading with your kids, choosing a self-paced curriculum where your child sits at the table with little input from you will shrivel your spirit.  Curriculum comes out of someone's thought process.  So before you choose curriculum, choose your method.

So what methods are out there from which to choose?  Some that I've heard of are Textbook or Traditional Method, Waldorf, Eclectic, Unschooling, Literature, Classical, and Charlotte Mason.  There are many sites that provide brief summaries describing each method, but a few that I found simple to use were:
Simply Charlotte Mason  
Successful Homeschooling
A to Z Home's Cool Homeschooling  

Be aware that any person who wrote these summaries will have a personal bias (as we all do) and may not represent all the methods adequately.  But by reading several sites, you should get a basic idea of the methods.  Read the summaries, see what clicks with you, and then do more research on your top two or three choices.  

I right away recognized that the Charlotte Mason method was the fit for our family.  I had never heard of her before, but I felt at home with her ideas.  From there I read all I could about Charlotte Mason homeschooling and was able to narrow down my curriculum choices.  Which brings you to the next step:  Choose Your Curriculum.

Go to Curriculum
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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence"

"There are times, 'in the course of human events,'
People want to create their own governments."

 Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes covers the Revolutionary War time period guided by a patriotic mouse.  It is geared toward ages 5 and up.

There are a couple of sections to this book.  The first is the rhyming story in the voice of little Liberty Lee.  Colorful illustrations are detailed.  Several of the maps were helpful for giving an overview that my 10 year old had not grasped from our previous year's learning of this time period: one map shows the original 13 colonies and another shows where 19 of the battles were fought.  My 8 year old son caught that one of the pictures was a replica of a painting we have on our wall: John Trumbull's "Declaration of Independence."

While the illustrations seem geared toward a younger readership, the text seems geared toward an older one.  Many words and phrases such as "separate and equal," "self-evident," and "Continental Congress" won't all be grasped by a young child, but hearing them will help familiarize your child with the vocabulary of our founding documents.  My 6 year old has made her own "De-clo-ration" since the reading of this book.   It consists of her name written over and over again and the sheet of paper scrolled on the top and bottom.  She is treating it as a Very Important Document.

The second section of the book is called "The Tail End" and provides extra material for parents and teachers to use in presenting further topics from this time period such as "The Signers: 56 Men" and "Boston Tea Party."  It contains many facts that my 10 year old was constantly checking ("Mom, is this true?").  It was useful for reminding me of dates and details I've forgotten and for giving a quick overview of the subject.

Our homeschool chooses living books with which to learn.  (You can read more about that here.)  While I wouldn't label Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence a living book, I would use it as a supplemental extra to our current school choices.  It's a level or two above a DK children's book but not as living as something like "Paul Revere's Ride" by Longfellow, illustrated by Ted Rand.  Some parents will enjoy the great synopsis of facts describing how and why America became an independent country.  My 6 year old narrated back to me that it was about "a president" and "our country" and "We won!"  And she was very excited that we had won.

This review is a part of a TLC Book Tour where many bloggers give their opinion of the same book.  You can find more reviews of this book here at TLC Book Tours.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Overcome the Dread of Bedtime Reading ~ Choose Living Books

Which book would you rather read at bedtime: My Little Pony (our library provides a generous selection of about 50 of these pink books) or Winnie the Pooh?  I can tell you that My Little Pony bores me to tears while the end of "The House at Pooh Corner" makes me swallow my tears.  You also can probably recognize the difference between the twaddle and the living book.

A hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education is the quality of school books chosen for each subject. Simply Charlotte Mason shows you how to choose in "Choosing Books Like a Connoisseur" and describes facts vs. ideas.  Living Books Library  regularly gives insight into great book choices.  One of their articles I especially enjoyed was "Is New Always Better?" which compares twaddle and living books.    And here are five qualities of living books that I've gleaned from Miss Mason.

1. Living books are not twaddle.  Adults can enjoy well-written children's literature (anyone else avoid a certain square spongy character?).  And children can gain knowledge from appropriate grown-up reading.  School books as well as free-time fare can all be living books.  Some twaddle can be enjoyed in the same proportion that you allow candy versus wholesome food in your diet. 
2. Living books have inspiring content, feed worthy thoughts, and contain high literary qualities.  They don't present information committee-style with every ounce of personality drained from the text.  Growing up, I was home schooled with a well-known textbook curriculum.  I remember trudging through the science books trying to be interested and remember the information.  The history books, however, really held my interest.  I'd be curious to see how and by whom those two spines were compiled.  The narrative of history does seem to lend itself to more compelling reading. 
3. Old books, narratives, and Christian-themed books are not the only capable living books.  Math and science can become alive if put in the right hands.  God's truth is found all over creation and can come from brilliant minds who may not acknowledge the Source.  When I was in college I was given a book that was over 100 years old by a sweet elderly lady at church.  I read it out of gratefulness, but also because I thought all old books were great literature.  How wrong I was!  I slogged through the thing, but it was an eye-opening experience about what makes a book good. 
4. Living books pass ideas from great minds on to our own.  You might have a hundred friends sitting on your shelf right now ready to share their best and brightest ideas with you.  As my sweet Precious Moments book quips: "I'm thankful for my teachers too who help to stretch my mind and open up new worlds to me with books of every kind."* 
5. A living book shares knowledge or ideas that spark an interest.  A kinship is formed with the characters or even the author, and the ideas come to mind later in the day or years later in life.  You could probably all name favorite book characters.  I am particularly close to Laura Ingalls, Corrie ten Boom, and Hadassah. **

It's helpful to see compiled lists of living books to understand what to look for.  A few I use are Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason bookfinder, and Living Books Library.  This 5 article series by Where My Treasure Is was also helpful to me.  With so many excellent books widely available, don't waste too much time on twaddle.  Your soul and your brain will thank you!

Do you have a kinship with a book, author or character?

* "Let's Be Thankful" a Little Golden Book
** Hadassah is the main character in the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

(Habit) Training in Truthfulness

Last year a homeschool group I was a part of starting meeting once a month to figure out habit training using "Laying Down the Rails."  We were kind of at a lost as to a plan.  Some ladies started using a chart in which they would give a tally mark anytime their child displayed the habit they were working on; at the end of getting a certain number of marks, they would receive a reward.  One lady started finding activities that helped her children practice the habit.  I finally settled on doing what I love to do most, which is to make a schedule!  There are several ways to help your child focus on a habit:

inspiring stories and poetry          Bible stories and verses 
                                        games and activities 

                                             quotes                            lesson time          
                           diligent watchfulness and encouragement

Truthfulness was our first habit to work on.  On my own, I read through the Truthfulness section in "Laying Down the Rails".  Twice a week we had a habit training session as a part of school.  I would read one of the main points from LDtR (there are 15 for Truthfulness) and summarize Charlotte Mason's words for the kids.  Then we would do one of the elements I had found.  Sonya Shafer (Simply Charlotte Mason) provides the quotes at the end of each habit, so that part was done. With more research and time, there are a lot of creative ideas and stories you could find, but here are some of the other elements I quickly found for the habit of Truthfulness:

~Read "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and have the kids narrate it. 
~Hold a truth-telling lesson a la CM (explained in Charlotte's words in LDtR) where the child looks at the sky or landscape and then tells everything they saw without exaggerating or omitting details. 
~Have a message-delivering lesson a la CM where the child is given a message to tell Dad or someone else. The person told writes down the message to send back to you so you can check for accuracy. 
~Memorize Proverbs 8:7. 
~Object lesson: take a tube of toothpaste and squeeze some out and ask the kids if they can put it back in.  Let them try for a while.  The point is that once words come out of your mouth, you can't put them back in.  Words have consequences.  (A friend gave me this idea.)
~Read and meditate on Ephesians 4:25 and Proverbs 12:22. 
~Play the telephone game where you whisper a message to the next person in line and they whisper to the next person and you see how garbled or clear the message ends up.  This has more to do with how gossip can be spread, but it is a fun game for the kids to play. 
~We were reading through Pinocchio for school, so it came up naturally as an illustration throughout habit training time. 
 ~Add in the quotes and do the two activities suggested by Charlotte Mason several times, and you have enough extras to come alongside each teaching session.

Once I had the elements written down, it was easy to grab "Laying Down the Rails" and choose an item from the list on the days we had habit training lessons.  And of course we focused on that habit throughout each day reminding each other (gently, hopefully) to be truthful.  The most interesting thing to me was noticing how often I tend to exaggerate for effect or want to tell a little white lie to get out of an awkward situation!  These habits are not just for our children, that's for sure.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Your Family: Scattered or Gathered?

 "There is nothing I now desire to live for, but to do some small service to my children, that, as I have brought 'em into the world, so that it might please God to make me (though unworthy) an instrument of doing good to their souls." ~ Susanna Wesley

"No one can, without renouncing the world in the most literal sense, observe my method, and there's few (if any) that would entirely devote above twenty years of the prime of life in hope to save the souls of their children (which they think may be saved without so much ado); for that was my principal intention...." ~ Susanna Wesley

Our time as parents is fleeting, and the short time we do have is easily diminished by outside influences.  When you look back on your life as a parent, will you be able to say (though unworthy and imperfect) that you renounced the world and devoted your life and made much ado about the raising of your children?

These words from Susanna Wesley are almost a relief to me.  They tell me I can slow down and raise my children because it is an important job that no one else can do as well (since they are the children God gave to me).

We can tend to live as if everyone outside our family is more important.  Church activities, ministries, neighbors, homeschool functions, co-ops, field trips, classes, sports ~ how many, many things vie for our time!  And too many of them will take away that quiet growing time our children need.  Too much noise drowns out our voice as a parent.

After the birth of our fourth child, my role in church volunteering was almost nil, and I felt I needed to do something as a volunteer.  I decided to help provide individually wrapped desserts for a group of 75 people every week.  To my thinking, it would be simple and I could do it from home with my kids running around.  (Some of you may be laughing at my ignorance.)  It ended up taking our Thursday and some of Friday to complete and deliver these desserts.  My mood was stressful and the kids were mostly ignored and shooed out of the way.  Homeschooling did not get done.  I happened to find out that there were others who wanted to and could do the job, and I gladly bid adieu to that project.  Making an occasional meal for a sick family has turned out to be much more do-able.

All that to say, "Too much busyness is not good for the family or the children!"  Even busyness with good things.  Our culture tends to live in routine panic with constant pressures to join this or that activity (it might be good ~ but everyone is too tired to tell), buy this product to improve your life (does not improve ~ provides clutter instead), read this book to gain the secret to.... (adds to the already overwhelming information out there and causes confusion), add another new hobby (provides some fulfillment but may have been better at a different season of your life).

There are some great ways to keep the family together and provide guidance and influence to your children while they will still listen:

~Do family sports or classes.  I heard of a family who does Tae Kwon Do together.  Another acquaintance started a sports activity for families in which the dads provide the instruction and play the sport with the children of all ages.  I'm investigating taking family pottery classes.   
~Attend church services or a Sunday School class together once a month.   
~Do service projects together. 
~Plan family devotions. 
          ~Depending on your job or ministry, take a child or two along with you sometimes.
~Stay home!  Relaxed unplanned time is great for building your child's imagination and personal initiative.

This season of life will not last forever.  Your children need time with you now even more than they need to learn how to play soccer along with the 10 other things planned for the week.  Grab all the moments you can and gather the family together.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Finding Significance in the "Daily"

"And how rich is our life, too, when we perceive that there is no calling among men too lowly to have for its purpose the manifestation of Christ." ~ Charlotte Mason in Scale How Meditations

"Pleasant ways and kindly words and simple duty-doing, in these things of every day life Christ is manifested." ~  Charlotte Mason in Scale How Mediations

These quotes are at the beginning of my Common Book which I was thumbing through recently.  It struck me how often we want to accomplish dramatic feats in order to make our lives feel meaningful.  But instead life is filled with much "daily" even for those who seem to have glamorous and high-impact jobs or ministries.

As a teen, my sister and I spent three weeks with a missionary family in the Dominican Republic.  At that time I thought missionaries were super holy and spent all their time tending to the sick and preaching.  I was surprised how much life they had to live, just like me.  They had a house to clean and food to cook the same as everyone else!  Matter of fact, it seems to me those menial tasks may take longer for missionaries, especially when they are new to a culture and country and have to figure out how all of it works.

So how do you live day in and day out with the significance of your chores putting a smile on your face instead of the drudgery dragging you down?  Look at the friendly side of "daily."

~There is a comfort in routine tasks in times of grief or stress.  One foot in front of another without having to make too many decisions keeps you going. 
~Good character is formed through diligent, thorough, joyful habits.  Each task is a building block that makes an impressive structure when finished: a pleasing home and countenance for you and your family to look back on. 
~Pleasant and earnest thoughts have time to ruminate as you work with your hands.  Good music gives a pleasant mood; good reading gives you something to review and ponder; you have time for prayer for people who pop into your mind; you have time for contemplating problems and solutions in your life. 
~As a bird eats and sings, makes a home and cares for young, and God cares for such a little creature; so does He enjoy watching us go about our daily tasks though they seem to us unworthy of heavenly attention.  Our attitude toward these duties are part of how we bring Him glory even if no one else is around to see.

Laundry and dishes, baths and clean-up time, returning emails and writing thank-yous can all be a part of a God-glorifying life if we just change our perspective and live those moments fully.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kids are People Too

"These persons have wishes for their children in Balaam's fashion - they would like them to die the death of a righteous man, but they do nothing to make them live his life." 
                                                      ~ from "The Duties of Parents" by Rev. John C Ryle

Have you ever demeaned children in your mind?  You might think,

"They're just kids, they don't care if 
                           .... their toys are broken 
                                                  .... their food is cold 
                                                                  .... their gifts are trinkets and twaddle
                                                                                               ....I forget my promise to them."  

And sometimes children don't seem to care.  They don't want their hair combed or their clothes to match, and they do want that candy and Sponge Bob book.  Sometimes they don't know what is good for them as a person.  But they notice when we treat them as less of a person because they are not an adult, and they know that it makes us small in character though they may not say a word about it.

Children as persons deserve to have a full life.  They are worthy of that life now as a child and don't need to wait to enjoy and experience life once they're older.  I used to have a hard time with this concept.  I didn't want to spend the money and time on activities like gymnastics or ballet if my child wasn't going to be a star gymnast or ballerina.  Practicality stood in my way.  I shared my opinion with a friend who told me she absolutely thought children could do these activities simply for the joy of them ~ not just as a means to an end.  She told of a family she knew who did spend their life and money on their children's gymnastics so that they could be star gymnasts, and it was very much a chore for the family.

Those fun experiences are a part of the child and will often be used to some degree throughout their life.  I was in children's choirs as a kid.  I'm not a great singer or actor; I do not like being on stage.  But I loved children's choir.  There are so many good memories and friendships from that experience.  And now as an adult I have some memorable songs to sing to my children at night.  There are also a couple of trite songs that have a good tune, but I can't bear to sing them because they are so unworthy of my children.  The quality of your children's full life is also important.

 To respect your child as person ~

                 ~Do not speak down to them or demean them.  Do not ignore them. 
                 ~Converse with them and respect their thoughts.  They often are very insightful.
                 ~Give them real tools and things to work and play with.  Kids prefer a real broom to a
                    toy one.
                 ~Read intelligent literature to them, not twaddle.
                 ~Use your normal vocabulary and explain big words when asked.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Teaching Reading: Conclusion

Since I've spent so much time telling about Phoebe's reading progress, I thought I'd report on my older two also.

Elizabeth is heading into 5th grade.  We don't do reading instruction anymore, but I do have her read out loud to me from different school books or the Bible each day.  There are a number of hard words that she mispronounces because so much of her reading is done silently to herself.  So I'm able to help her with correct pronunciation.  (And many times I have to look up a word to figure it out myself!)  She's able to practice clear, distinct reading also when reading aloud.

Jonathan finished Delightful Reading last year; so this first grade year has been about lots of reading practice.  He read "The Primer" by Harriette Treadwell (free to read online).  He is working his way through the extra sentences in the "Delightful Reader" ( we didn't do all the extra sentences last year).  And he is reading "Frog and Toad Together."  I alternate readers at the end of each chapter.  He also reads his copywork each day; he's working through "Hymns in Prose" right now.  And my plan is to use the "Hymns in Prose" reader with him next year.  It has great uplifting content with challenging words.

Jonathan is really catching on to the various phonics rules as he reads.  He simply picks up on them as I explain the way a certain sound works.  His personality doesn't like any exceptions or rules that don't make sense to him.  (Why does kn say n?  Why couldn't they just put an n?!)  I know he'll enjoy etymology when he gets older ~ I was thrilled to have an etymology course in high school because it explained so much about the history of words.

All the kids are progressing in reading.  Not all at the same rate.  And it sometimes feels slow to me.  But they learn a little each day and it all builds up to make a nice visible foundation when we look back on the year.