Quality, not Quantity, in Reading

‘And now it was that, being on some occasion made asham’d of my ignorance in figures, which I had twice failed in learning when at school, I took Cocker’s book of Arithmetick, and went through the whole by myself with great ease.    I also read Seller’s and Shermy’s books of Navigation, and became acquainted with the little geometry they contain…While I was intent on improving my language, I met with an English grammar (I think it was Greenwood’s), at the end of which there were two little sketches of the arts of rhetoric and logic, the latter finishing with a specimen of a dispute in the Socratic method; and soon after I procur’d Xenophon’s Memorable Things of Socrates, wherein there are many instances of the same method.   I was charm’d with it, adopted it, dropt my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer and doubter.’

Benjamin Franklin, from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

 

 

‘Being well-read isn’t as much about how many books you read but is [about] the quality of your reading.’

 

M_____ Bullard, from a written narration of How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler

Getting Ready

Heart of the Matter has, for the last several years, hosted a “Not-Back-to-School Blog Hop. ”  I love the Hop; it is a wonderful way to see the homeschool environment of tens–no, hundreds– of other moms.    I’ve participated for a couple of years, but I chose not to this year.   The fact is, not much has changed in the last 4-5 years.    I’m thankful for that.   I’m thankful that we experience a peace and comfort in that area that I don’t take lightly; I hear others who agonize over gaps between teaching methodologies and poor results.

In our home, the biggest changes for us are the books we’ll read.   I posted our reading lists on a separate blog page that you can access by clicking on that tab up top.   The other bit of preparation that must happen here is our notebook planning.

I could expand upon why notebooking is such a staple for us, but others say it more eloquently than I would.   This is Barb’s post from Harmony Art Mom.    Beyond the beautiful keepsakes that we have of the kids’ studies, I am amazed at the “pegs” that these notebooks place in the kids’ minds.    By performing this type of written expression, the kids can recall a tremendous amount of history and science, and these have become interesting enough that they are options for higher level studies (i.e., college majors).    I’ve posted some pictures and thoughts of the kids’ history notebooks here and here.   

Our son will begin his first year of his Great Book studies in the fall.   I pulled together a hybrid of previously bought notebooking pages from notebookingpages.com, and from Hold That Thought notebooking pages.    (I apologize for the lighting and fuzziness on these pics–geesh!)

Amy Bayliss featured several posts on altering those black-and-white dollar store notebooks.   You have to check out her most recent  post how-to on creating a rolled paper flower.   In the meantime, the first of three posts was here, instructing us in how to refurbish these babies.   I thought this would be a great idea to build some scholastic enthusiasm in our youngest, who has decidedly different attitudes about home and school than her older brother and sister.   As things would have it, the day I planned to work on this project, she got an offer to go and play with her cousin.   Guess where refurbishing notebooks fell on that priority list?   So I decided to go it on my own.    I do wish my pictures did justice to how really pretty these came out.   The before version is in the middle.   Can you tell by the number of pictures how excited I am?   Okay.   This is the closest I’ve been to scrapbooking in 5 years or more.   Give a lady a break.

And of course, I couldn’t forget the backs:

When the youngest returned home, she LOVED the notebooks.   I think that she wanted to get started on her own more than she wanted  to eat.    I made her have dinner, which I think gave her more refurbishing energy!

 

I am officially pumped.

P.S.  Thanks, Marcy, for reminding me to go back and add Amy’s links!  Love my readers!

Excerpt from Caddie Woodlawn

 Caddie’s father’s words to her, reflecting upon her fear of growing up and becoming a young lady:

‘It is the sisters and wives and mothers, you know, Caddie, who keep the world sweet and beautiful.   What a rough world it would be if there were only men and boys in it, doing things in their rough way!  A woman’s task is to teach them gentleness and courtesy and love and kindness.   It’s a big task, too, Caddie–harder than cutting trees or building mills or damming rivers.   It takes nerve and courage and patience, but good women have those things.   They have them just as much as the men who build bridges and carve roads through the wilderness.  A woman’s work is something fine and noble to grow up to, and it is just as important as a man’s.   But no man could ever do it so well.   I don’t want you to be the silly, affected person with fine clothes and manners whom folks sometimes call a lady.   No, that is not what I want for you, my little girl.   I want you to be a woman with a wise and understanding heart, healthy in body and honest in mind.’

from Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Gifts Differing: Two Kids, Organized for the School Day

 

Romans 12:4-8

4For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:

 5So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

 6Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

 7Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;

 8Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

What We’re Reading–March 2011

 

Why would I sit and read individually with kids who already read?

There are numerous reasons, from helping with interpretation and larger vocabulary, to increasing comprehension through the right emphasis and inflection of voice, to monitoring pace and making sure the books are read, not skimmed through.   However, the real reason that, after 7 years of homeschooling, I still spend time reading with each child in addition to reading to them as a group is simple: it is the one academic time period spent one-on-one with each child doing something very non-academic—curling up with a good book and giving each one undivided attention.   

 

After lunch, everyone gathers together for Bible study and a group read-aloud.   My preference would be that this happened first thing in the morning, but the afternoon accommodates for everyone’s internal clock and associated time it takes to get to the table awake and alert.    We’ve wrapped up the book of Proverbs, and the kids are developing their own books of wisdom, based upon an idea in our youngest daughter’s Bible.    I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with by next week.

Our group read-aloud is The Fellowship of the Rings, the last of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.   We are almost finished with this series, and I am very glad we read the books rather than relying solely on the movies to educate us.   In fact, our kids stated very plainly that they much preferred the books over the movie.    Our son has taken a real interest in author Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson and the Olympians fame), even reading the books that Riordan listed as his boyhood favorites.     So it’s been a real treat to introduce him to the origins of many of the modern fantastical writers that he enjoys.    I have to say, though, that unless there’s going to be an unexpected surprise at the end of this tale, Tolkien could have stopped at the destruction of the ring for me (although the marriages were romantic).   I can’t figure out what purpose will be served by all of the restoration to be done to the Shire, but with 20 pages left, I guess we’ll know by next week’s end.   “Learning through History” magazine has a nice tie-in to Tolkien’s work and medieval history that I look forward to sharing with the oldest once we’ve finished.    From here, we’ll make a somewhat stark transition to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

 

The oldest finished Emma recently (a bit out of time sync with medieval history, I know), and we had fun watching “Clueless” and drawing the connection from a 15th century classic to the quirky Alicia Silverstone version we enjoyed.     Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was a great story, and a quick read for both of us.   As it was my first time reading this one, I stayed curious regarding the end all the way through, but I’m thinking I’ll go with The Once and Future King (or maybe use both titles) when our son covers this same period of history.    My plan was to spend our next time together reading novels about Japan and China, but our daughter lost two books!!    Once I could breathe again, we had to make adjustments, and since she and our son had a project associated with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they’ll head there instead.

Again, our son is doing a lot of reading on his own, following the path of one of his favorite authors.   The Flames of Rome moved past the heathenish nature of ancient Rome and into the persecution of Christians—still graphic, but a different eye-gate.     We’re using a “No Fear Shakespeare” version of   Twelfth Night, and will wrap up with a project similar to the oldest’s classic vs. modern themes.     Amanda Bynes’ “She’s the Man” is based upon Twelfth Night, including the names of the main stars and the setting.   The advantage of this is that it is easy for him to do most of the comparison and contrast; the disadvantage of this is that it is easy for him to do most of the comparison and contrast.   He tried to argue his way out of writing his own one-act play—the harder, more creative side of the assignment.   What is this noise about shying away from hard work?   Does he not know that dog won’t hunt in this house?

The youngest and I are falling in love with Old Yeller.    Yeah, I know that for a kid who barely survived parts of Bambi, this probably wasn’t a good move.   Yet, I wanted her– and the others—to hear this moving tale, and as I often say to them, there are so many references to this classic in the stories they watch every day until they needed to be acquainted with the original sources.   In fact, when our son began to argue that he couldn’t possibly come up with an alternate setting for Illyria, we talked about how many renditions of The Prince and the Pauper, or A Christmas Carol, or Cinderella he’s seen on all of those silly sitcoms he likes to watch.  It was a nice try, though.   Because she didn’t get to read through the Chronicles of Narnia with the older two, I had a great idea to begin reading through them with her.   I have not done justice to these great books, skipping days between reading.   I sometimes wonder if she has been able to follow along with the plot of The Horse and His Boy at all.   I’d almost abandon this project until she’s older, but I keep recommitting to daily reading, thinking that she’ll pick it up if I just stay consistent.    Of course, I say that, and I missed reading it today as we quickly approached the time to head to dance practices.    Ugh.

Our time with books isn’t all fun and games.   I’m constantly after the older two to express themselves more fully through the characters.   I’ll stop them in the middle of their reading with an obnoxiously loud yawn and say, “I’m sooooooo boooooorrrrrrred!   Read it again, and this time, entertain me.”    They’re no actors—this I know for sure.    The youngest, a very expressive reader who is a joy to listen to, jumps up from the table quickly.   She knows that once she completes math and reads with me, then there’s a break.    I worry that she’s way too young to have such a negative attitude about school.   But, as I was reading some old notes from a homeschool conference, I came across some notes I took from a Sally Clarkson conference.   She talked about family ways, and how, as mothers, we can show our kids how to respond to life by our own responses.   I later reflected on an older post by Linda Fay, when she talked about why her children read Plutarch, and giving their minds something noble and courageous to feast upon.    This is what I hope the kids will realize in time, and while I wait, I enjoy a smile, a laugh, and even an occasional cry while we uncover increasingly more stories.

“Feeling” What you Read

‘…thoughts–just mere thoughts–are as powerful as electric batteries–as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison.   To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as l3etting a scarlet fever germ get into your body.   If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.’     Frances Hodgson Bunett, The Secret Garden

Boy, what a blog break, huh?  It wasn’t intentional.   I’ve been here, there, and (mostly) everywhere, but I’d not slowed down to complete this post that I’ve been crafting for weeks.   In the meantime,

I completed an online interview for Lyria’s website in celebration for Black History Month (link to come later).

I wrote an article for Heart of the Matter Online that will hopefully encourage anyone who’s struggling with staying the course.

I’m working hard on a partnership that has come my way with CurrClick.com.   Please stay tuned—we (in conjunction will offer a free product give-away during the month of February!

Where I’ve been the most is in bed—sick, along with the kids.    We are fighting with everything we’ve collectively got to stay well amidst weather that gives us a high of 60-70 on one day, with a high of 40 just a few days later.   With the kids dancing and sweating, those quick in-and-out-of-doors trips are just enough to keep one or more kids coughing, sneezing, and/or blowing a runny nose.

 When we’ve not been battling colds, we’ve been doing lots of reading.   I’m reading From the Mixed-Up  Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler.    Though we’ve had this title on our shelves for years, it’s a first time reading it for the family, and we all are appreciating a 12-year-old’s perspective on being treated so unfairly and deciding to run away.     Our son is reading through The Flames of Rome as a part of his history of God’s kingdom curriculum.   This is a masterfully told fictional novel of Christianity at its earliest stages, its impact on the Roman government, and the consequential persecution of both Jews and Gentiles.   Yet, it is told with all the non-subtleties of any tale of ancient Rome, and I can’t help but think my son has probably gotten a full introduction to all those scenes I make him change the channel from when I see this same stuff on television.

Every now and then we must back up from the product and pay attention to process, asking ourselves the question “why,” as in “Why do we use this curriculum?”   “Why are we reading this book?”   “Why do we need to learn this?”   Actually, some would argue that the latter question comes more from our children ( or does it? 🙂  )

The oldest and I recently found ourselves at the point of asking “why.”  From the oldest’s perspective, ancient history is all about war, and medieval history is all about knights and monsters (Grendel, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, etc.)   Yes, oversimplification is sometimes a problem in our home as well, but I’ll get to it later.

The whole “why do we have to read about monsters” discussion originated when we opened, or rather, downloaded, “Beowulf.”    I honestly believe that she’d passed by me while I was trying to watch the movie—unsuccessfully, I might add.   I had one of those “never judge a book by the movie” moments.   In a matter of a few minutes, the oldest passed by, decided that the movie was too gruesome for her, and blew off anything associated with the word Beowulf.   Great discernment, but also a tad judgmental, perhaps?

Anyway, rather than feel unappreciated after pouring, blood, sweat, and tears into her syllabus, I answered her question with a question: why do you think we read these books?   Her response was a regurgitated academic “feel good” statement that she’d heard from me, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.   I want her to know that she’s getting an education that, in traditional school systems, would only be afforded by the well-heeled or those that are considered gifted or talented.   I pray that she does understand that there is a body of knowledge that comes from being well read, from the norms of our culture, to our sense of good and evil, from  social class and structure, to language that gives us common understanding.    As I’ve said to the older kids before, when you encounter phrases in the media like “Et tu, Brute?” or “ ‘tis a far, far better thing that I do…” or “a man apart,” “but if not,…” or even the more chronologically recent “hoodwinked and bamboozled,” they have historical significance.   And though life doesn’t require you to be a walking reference book, it makes sense to understand language in its context.    That beginning normally leads into my own thoughts about relationships with words and ideas, but I’ll spare you (smile).   But after she shared her thoughts, we were able to look at all of our work from a different perspective.

The problem with oversimplication is that it allows us to dismiss ideas.   We can diminish medieval history down to stories about knights and monsters.   If we back up a bit past the story that modern-day media would present, we can read “Beowulf” for what it is—a story about what happens to a crude, warrior society that encounters the gospel of Jesus Christ.   The tale has far more meaning when presented from that angle.

When I was younger, we had a saying that indicated that someone had said something you could relate to: I heard that.    You had to swirl that “heard” around your tongue a bit and then hit the “that” hard, but it was a clear signal that you heard something that resonated with you.    Now the kids say I feel you.  Though I’m the first to sometimes question a classic, I do understand that a book—a good book—should make you feel something.      Through Odysseus, we each begin to think about our own trials on the way to discovering who we are.      Through Hrothgar we learn to represent Christ even when it means that we are indeed a peculiar people.   I could think of others if it weren’t so late.    However, I think you get the point.   And like the quote above from The Secret Garden, a good book should leave us with something uplifting to think about, something that aligns itself with Philippians 4:8.        After stepping back to have this whole “why” discussion with the oldest, I was re-energized about what we’re reading, with an even clearer understanding of why we’re reading it.   Yeah, I feel that.

A Day in our Lives

 

I’ve been trying to pen a “Weekly Homeschool Wrap-up” for a couple of weeks now, but my mind hasn’t been able to compartmentalize enough to make the various sections sound  like something other than garble.    I think some part of the problem is that everyone except me had some variation of a cold on last week.    Being the only well person in the house is a challenge unto itself; although the kids fought mightily to complete their work each day, I felt as if I was teaching three children through a dense fog cover.    I was a hot-tea-making, supervising-the-hot-bath-taking machine, and so time with my thoughts was a rarity.    Time with my thoughts and a pen was all but out of the question.

Given that my wrap-ups went MIA, I thought to pen my heart during this season where many moms are beginning to homeschool for the first time, needing hugs, encouragement, and votes of confidence.    Nada.    So, what to write about?  The bit of progress that I’m most excited about is the ability to school with a now 13-week-old puppy and boast of a reasonably smooth day.   So until those other thoughts formulate into something that wouldn’t be too embarrassing to share, I’ll go with a straightforward day-in-the-life post.    They never get old.

I’ve been getting up about an hour before the kids, allowing me to catch up on mail, do any remaining pre-school (as in before school since I no longer have preschoolers anymore) activities, and primarily, getting breakfast together.   By this time, my husband has served the puppy her morning meal, she and our older dog have barked at all the kids on the way to the bus stop, and she is back in her cage until I come downstairs.   Hubby’s left for work by this time.

Once the kids are downstairs, I work with our youngest.   Right now, at least, I can count on the puppy for an extended morning nap.   If it happens before we begin school, I follow the “normal” order: I read to her, then she reads to me, then math and phonics before her first break.   If the nap is yet to come, we postpone my reading to her until the puppy is napping.    Reordering my day around the puppy allows me to be most flexible when she is most active—kind of like a toddler, you know?   Anyway, with the latter order, I’m standing and moving around, if necessary, while the puppy is active.   There are days when the youngest will actually want to read with the puppies in the backyard.    She is my one “outdoorsy” child who likes to get out when the weather allows.

As an aside, we’re 233 pages into The Wheel on the School.    The wheel finally made it onto the school.

 The youngest is on a break at this point, and I get some quick chores completed—folding of clothes, cleaning breakfast dishes,  preparing fruit for mid-morning snack, etc.    Then it’s one-on-one time with our son, reading to one another.    He wrapping up William Carey, a “Christian Heroes: Then and Now” biography from last year’s studies, and I’m covering The Story of Christianity.   We also share our notes from logic (How to Read a Book), apologetics (Know What You Believe), and/or character (Ourselves), dependent upon the day (see our homeschool schedule).

Our youngest comes back to the table.   Most of the time, the puppy is still asleep!    We read some more (These Happy Golden Years) while she works on handwriting.   Then she completes grammar, history, and/or science, again, according to the schedule.

By now it’s lunch time.   I piddle between chores and work, and oh, yeah—I eat.  

After lunch, we all join around the table for Bible.   We continue the journey through the Psalms.   Today we covered Psalms 125-126, and talked about the Israelites returning to their home after being exiled for 70 years.    In the midst of all that they must have been feeling, there was one thing that remained: God was still their protection and the restorer of all that was taken from them.    Wow.  I wish I could have brought the energy and sense of awesomeness to the lesson that the passage deserved.   We are also memorizing the 34th Psalm.

Following our Bible study, the youngest runs off to play while the older two and I enjoy the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.    By the way, the puppy’s awake by now, and I usually put her outside so that I can read in peace.    After we’ve completed LOTR, I let her back in and have the youngest and/or our son watch her while the oldest and I work together.   The oldest is wrapping up Antony and Cleopatra from last year (that abbreviated summer break is wreaking a small amount of havoc on our schedule!), and we’ve just begun Virgil’s Aeneid together.   She’s not looking forward to what she’s read is a continuation of Homer’s Iliad. “Why can’t they just play ‘paper, scissors, rock’ instead of all this fighting?” she says, laughing.

Minus any leftover work from the morning to complete, or preparation for the days ahead, the school day is over.    For me, it’s a solid 8-9 hours of work between kids, lunch, and chores.   Then there’s work, and whatever projects are happening.    The puppy is also very “puppy-ish” by now until about 9 p.m. when she settles for the night.

Well, those are our days.   At least until next week when dance season begins.    Oi, vei!