What’s New? From Our Point of View…

It is a beautifully sunny, 74-degree day here in coastal Texas, and with the oldest at college and our son at the dentist, the youngest decided to school outside.   Funny, this was my vision when we first began homeschooling—days outside on a picnic blanket, completing schoolwork and viewing exotic animals.   (You can stop laughing now).   The vision sounded wonderful, and the outdoor school day sounded delightful until it met with my own plans and realities.   I had a fairly simple morning plan to complete a few chores and write a blog entry while the youngest worked beside me at the table.   So, it shames me to say that when she initially approached me about going outside, I sent her out and continued with my plans.   I felt bad, so when she came back inside the first time, I said, “Let me just do ____ and I’ll come out with you.”     I got that pot of vegetarian chili to a point where it could just simmer, started that load of clothes, and then pulled up a chair alongside her in the backyard.   That’s when I realized that even 74 degrees—in full sun—is still just plain hot.    After reading for a spell, we both gave in to what became our heart’s deepest longing–air conditioning.

One of our struggles this year has been sustaining her with a deliberate diet of rich literature versus twaddle, in Charlotte Mason vernacular.   Our youngest, with all the extroversion that missed our older two, wanted to start a book club this past year.   She had almost completed all the planning, complete with convincing Mom that this was a good thing, when our local library announced its plans to have a book club.    I thought this was too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence, and we hurriedly signed up to be a part of their event.   Now I wish that I had stuck with the original plan to have our own club.   The selection of books that the librarians offer—yuck!!!      I would love to simply pull her from the club, but I’m torn by the fact that she likes being a part of the group, she enjoys the time and activities, and—here’s the kicker—she likes the books.  They are much easier reading, for sure, but based upon what I consider to be a “good” book, i.e., a story that engages the mind and pricks the heart, the book club’s selections are way past poor.   The longer I allow this, of course, the more difficult it is to interest the youngest in books that demand more of her.   Consequently, I’ve not pulled her yet from the club, but have been instead picking my teachable moments.   As an example, we are now reading The Whipping Boy, which is actually very easy to read—a short book with short chapters.   Upon reading chapter 1, she immediately stopped to whine empathetically when she realized what was the whipping boy’s  responsibility (to receive the punishment that should have been given to a spoiled brat excuse for a prince).    While she was sharing how badly she felt for the boy, I talked about the power of a good read and recalled that she’d never stopped to empathize with Vordak the Incomprehensible.   She still maintains that Vordak is the best book ever (heavy sigh).

While I ponder what to do about the book club, I am excited about the cursive handwriting curriculum from LightHome Publications I found on Currclick.  Can you say $6??!!   This looks awesome!!  A chance to share the Word of God, to practice cursive handwriting, and to create a lasting keepsake of the Word in Psalms!!  Can’t beat it with a stick!!

After years of, ahem, uncertainty, shall we say, about homeschooling my MIL blessed us with an entire high school biology curriculum—teacher’s guides, transparencies, DVDs, videos,… everything!   I have been thrilled with all the extra project ideas that have come with the text that really cater to how we like to learn.   The publisher of this not-so-dry text has actually partnered with Dinah Zike (foldables guru, author of The Big Book of Books) to include manipulatives to enhance the content!!  Given Dinah Zike’s popularity within the homeschool community, I couldn’t help but think this was pretty cool in an odd sort of way.

Our school this year is a gentle foreshadowing of the next 2-3 years to come as the oldest spends a significant amount of time away from us.   Her classes keep her away on Mondays and Wednesdays, but the extracurricular activities associated with the Honors Program, plus the time to complete her coursework actually occupy her throughout a good portion of her week.   My dh and I were just discussing today that even though she wasn’t the noisiest of our children, her presence, or lack thereof, is definitely felt if not heard.    Her high school courses this year include Algebra II, Physics, and World Geography.    Other than that, I’m the taxi cab driver!

During the summer, Knowledge Quest distributed what I assume was a preview of their Globalmania curriculum, but it was PERFECT (yes, I’m shouting) for what I wanted to do with World Geography.     There is enough of a guide-like feel to this .pdf file without it being too prescriptive.   I played the games that help with map memorization and, in completing them myself to get a feel on what the oldest would do, I determined that my geography needs serious work.  No wonder I almost failed this class in middle school ( LOL)!!  There is also a schedule that, again without being too prescriptive, suggests how to spend time learning a specific continental region.    What I have added (because without the additions the curriculum might be more elementary) is the idea of research of the continents to find out more about the history and culture, and the idea of understanding a major religion in that region and how you might evangelize with respect to what the people believe.    Finally, when I taught World Geography at our local homeschool store, that particular curriculum set a goal for a student to draw a world map from memory by the end of the course.   I so loved the students’ results that I incorporated this same goal for the oldest.   I’m enjoying watching her get started, and her illustrations of how much she is learning.

 

 

I am so glad, in spite of the fact that American Lit at the college level has her permanently attached to a Norton’s Anthology, that we made the decision to add in as many living books as we could to complement her studies.    She decided early on that audio books would best help her keep up with everything.    This was easily accomplished with Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, but we’ve been reading aloud Homer Hickam’s October Sky together.   The latter book has been a welcomed accompaniment to her Physics studies, and I’m so glad that I didn’t place too much stock into the warning that this coming-of-age story had potentially inappropriate subject matter.  Yes, he’s a love-struck teenage boy who is learning, unsuccessfully, how to be suave with the ladies (picture Jerry Lewis in “The Ladies’ Man”), but what far overshadows those moments is this book’s ability to take you through Coalwood, WV with such imagery until you feel as if you stepped back 40 years and are standing alongside one of the “rocket boys.”    We even resisted the urge to watch the movie.  (Was it just a coincidence that it came on television while we were reading?   Hmmm….)   After Jules Verne, I’m on the hunt for what might our next great geography-related find: Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.   If I could just find the audio book for something less than $27…

 

What’s new with your studies?   I’d love to “hear” about all those cool and creative homeschool  studies.

 

The Value of Not Planning (too much)

Right after I posted my last post, I ran across this quote while reading someone else’s blog.   Miss Mason speaks here to the heart of not over-planning:

“They must be left to themselves for a good part of the day to take in their own impressions of nature’s beauty. There’s nothing worse than children being deprived of every moment to wonder and dream within their own minds because teachers and adults are constantly talking at them, not leaving them a moment’s peace. Yet, the mother must not miss this opportunity of being outdoors to train the children to have seeing eyes, hearing ears and seeds of truth deposited into their minds to grow and blossom on their own in the secret chambers of their imaginations.”

 

Charlotte Mason, vol. 1, pg 45

The Do-Nothing Summer

This post could have just as easily have been entitled “Second Week of Summer,” but my heart is not to document how we spend each week of what I anticipate to be a 10-week break from our school routine.   But this was a week of “ah-has,” as we called them in my corporate days–the point at which I had to heed to the teachable moment.

It happened quickly, as teachable moments often do, and I was left to marinate what the moment meant to me for days afterward.    After picking up the oldest from her volunteer work, I had to run inside a grocery store.   I had all three children with me when we ran into a friend from church.   She immediately recognized the oldest’s volunteer jacket, and they had a brief dialogue about how much the oldest was enjoying her opportunity.    Then our friend asked our son, “And what are you doing this summer?”    With all the honesty and candor of a child, he replied, “Nothing.”    She played it off well, saying that “nothing can be good sometimes, too,” and I smiled in agreement, but inside I was crushed.   (Gasp!!)   My child saying that he was doing nothing this summer?!!

 Of course, he is not actually doing nothing.    We’re completing a minimal amount of school.   He and his dad are set for a record to see every superhero movie out this summer, and he’ll attend a dance workshop later in the summer.   However, given that I normally have camps planned and at least one trip in the works, hearing him tell someone that he’s doing nothing was awkward.   It’s like when someone asked your homeschooled kid, who might have a 7th grade science book, a 6th grade math text, a 5th grade English workbook, and read on a 10th grade level, what grade he/ she is in.    When the kid replies, “I don’t know,” it’s just not a good look.

While this short scene marinated in my mind, it occurred to me that I’d been so psychologically preoccupied with getting the oldest’s plans and activities in order until I let everything else go.   Moreover, her daily activities are taking over our summer such that I have a hard time sitting to think  and accomplish other tasks.   To begin with, during our more formalized school time, I normally wake up when my husband awakens, but I don’t get up until around 7:30.   This gives me–in theory–at least an hour by myself before I awaken the kids to meditate on the Lord, have my own worship time, get a headstart on breakfast, or catch up on some last-minute project from the night before.   Summer was supposed to be more-laid back and relaxed.  Instead, I now have to get up every morning by 7 a.m. at the latest so that the oldest can get to school on time.    Even on Fridays when she has no class, she’s taken on extra volunteer opportunities, and so I’m still up early to have her in place.   And almost all the flexibility that homeschooling allows into our schedule is gone as we adjust ourselves to having to meet others’ time and deadlines.   

 

So our younger two are left to their own devices this summer–at least, so far, and I’m having to learn re-learn a few things, too.   1st lesson: it’s okay at times to have nothing to do, aka Miss Mason’s “masterly inactivity.”    I love seeing the kids turn off the television on their own.   Our son, a huge fan of author Rick Riordan (of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” fame), has taken on the task of an avid reader–to read what his favorite authors read, and thereby to gain more insight into their perspective.   So, there are long periods of the day when we don’t see him, but I pass by to be sure that he’s still breathing.    I often find him on his futon with his head in a book.

 

The youngest could come up with a brand new project, complete with its brand new mess, about once per hour, if I let her.   But, with her time, she created a family restaurant out of all the chairs and tv trays in the house (and she accidentally deleted my picture of it), where we decided to eat and have dinner once per month.   She’s learned basic sewing stitches well enough to make purses for her and her dolls.     Today, she made a tent of quilts and chairs where she and the dogs could nap, in case she actually takes a nap, which would be enough reason to take a picture.

 

 

 

I can be taught, too.   I can learn that I don’t have full control of my schedule as I accustomed to having, and that’s okay.   I can sew.  I can read.   I can plan.    I can work.    I can even take a mid-day nap.   Wow, this do-nothing summer might just work out after all.

 

Uncertainty

Uncertainty.

1. The condition of being uncertain; doubt.

2. Something uncertain: the uncertainties of modern life.

Synonyms: uncertainty, doubt, dubiety, skepticism, suspicion, mistrust

These nouns refer to the condition of being unsure about someone or something. Uncertainty, the least forceful, merely denotes a lack of assurance or conviction: I regarded my decision with growing uncertainty.
 
 
I don’t think that I’ve ever prepared for a year with this much uncertainty–not even during our first year.   Maybe it was naivete, but I prayed  ALOT, did my homework and began to execute, even in the midst of my sister and niece being here to help with a newborn baby.   So, this year, as I began to envision what the kids would do, my task was to quit agonizing about what might happen and instead function within what I know right now.   With that in mind, I developed our plans.     Here are the highlights.
 
 
Plans for the youngest were perhaps the easiest to make.   I’m much more comfortable with a plan for the fundamentals, even though admittedly, they are not my favorite to teach–too much redundancy.   What is most exciting to me is that we will use my curriculum to teach her American History next year.   A customer asked me about blog posts that feature the kids using A Blessed Heritage’s products, and it was then that I realized that the last time I taught the children using the elementary product, I had yet to start blogging.   Life pre-blogging seems like a long time ago!
 
 
The most work I needed to complete for her was to develop a reading list.   Though we’ve read some great books over the years, I also wanted to incorporate some fresh reads for the sake of the older two, who often listen in from the adjacent room as they complete their work.   Several of her reading selections are Sonlight staples that we have enjoyed, partly because that’s what’s on our shelves.   Some of  Tanglewood Education‘s selections round out our list nicely with selections that don’t always appear on many homeschooling reading lists, especially in the genres of mystery and science fiction.
 
If there is one word that defines the time I spend with the older kids,that word would be ‘classics.’    I often talk to the kids about cultural literacy and understanding the context of language past just the words.   This is one of the many benefits of being a life-long reader.   When their Disney shows start with ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’  they should have some sense of where those words come from, and what is their significance to the rest of the episode.   Our son wrote a brief biography on William Shakespeare in his commonplace book and found out that even seemingly silly comedies like “She’s the Man” (Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum) and  “Deliver Us from Eva” (Gabrielle Union, LL Cool J) are based upon Shakespearean works.   By the way, did you know that Shakespeare struggled to consistently spell his own name?   How ironically hilarious is that?!!
 
Our son will begin high school next year, although there are still a couple of areas where he’s at a middle school level.   Like the oldest, he will start a year of ancient history using a Great Books curriculum.   With our daughter, I definitely learned alongside of her as Homer helped us define the word drudgery together.  (Scroll down on this post to see my daughter’s take on Homer and ancient pasttime activities).   I am much more prepared for what these classics look like in terms of work schedule and actual “feel,” if that makes sense.
 
Of course the oldest and her part-time college career present the lion’s share of our uncertainty.    Her current summer schedule is such that she’s in school four days per week.   My plan would hinge upon her going to school twice per week and then completing work at home in the afternoons.    Our first fight regarding my plan was that she wants to be more involved with dance than what I had listed will allow.   I am hoping that she’ll recognize the accelerated pace of college and realize for herself that she cannot take on everything that she’s done in the past.    Of course, if not, I am prepared to play the spoiler in order to see her succeed in all things (rather than succeeding at dance to the detriment of her academic education).   She began class Monday, where she found out that her first paper was due on Wednesday; that was a rude awakening, to say the least.
 
I hate scratching pieces of  the plan that I had for her.   It is as much a lesson in pride for me as it is a lesson in letting go, as I discussed in my “Losing Control” post.    Before I looked into the Government class at the college, I was busily investigating early American history living books and thinking about reading schedules.     Now I am constantly reminded that she will have to learn some things from others with a very different perspective, i.e., worldview, than we have.     A friend suggested going over certain aspects at home, and I planned the reading list to do just that, but the reality is that our time will be limited.    Between the pace of college, letting her go to dance sometimes so that she has some physical outlet and place to express creativity in that way, and her pace (let’s just say she won’t be accused of not stopping to smell the roses), one-on-one reading is subject to happen more sporadically than I like.   I had too many of those experiences this year where we’d pick up a book, then put it down for days, and everyone, including me, would have to get reenergized about it.
 
Speaking of needing energy, right now we’re moving–slowly–through Don Quixote, the Man of La Mancha.    I’ve tried not to “force” school and make the summer boringly academic.   But this book is 600+ pages, and not at all the hilarious epic adventure that I remember as a kid.   Maybe because my husband once sold pharmaceuticals to psychiatrists, neurologists, etc., the kids have keyed in on poor Quixote’s mental state, and it almost reads like a tragedy to them.    I’m going to abridge this one myself so that we can move on.
 
Anyway, I look at this definition, and though uncertainty doesn’t, in and of itself, sound so bad, there are other words here: doubt and mistrust.    Yes, when I list my plans, there is much room for doubt, and I have good reason not to trust in my own abilities.    My will gets us limited reward, but I’m looking for more than mediocrity.   So I must choose to substitute different words for doubt and mistrust:   
 
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.  This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
 
 
Proverbs 3: 5-8 

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

Great Reading, Good Times

Several years ago, I read a post from one of the most inspirational bloggers I know, Linda Fay, who writes so practically about how to “do” a homeschool with a Charlotte Mason approach.    In this particular pearl of wisdom, she used a food metaphor to illustrate the difference between a Charlotte Mason homeschool full of living books versus an environment with workbooks aplenty.    The living books approach, in her analogy, was like serving a bowl of rich stew with fresh baked bread; the workbooks, then, were the equivalent of starvation-like rations and water.     I remember confessing that, at the time, I was somewhere in the middle—fish and a salad was my position on this culinary continuum.       

I’m curious: how much time do you spend reading to your children?   I’ve seen so many guidelines as to how much time is ideal, but I also know that many homeschooling parents have to operate within what is practical.    Earlier in our homeschooling years, I can remember hearing an “expert” state, with a confidence that was intimidating for us mere mortals, what she felt was appropriate in terms of reading to children.   “I want you reading to your children for at least one hour,” she says.    I thought this was totally unrealistic for a mom with my responsibilities.    In fact, as an aside, I’ll confess that when our oldest was entering school (pre-homeschooling), I was so fascinated by her mastery of the computer until I all but forgot the value of a good book!      Fast-forwarding a few years, this same question surfaced in a homeschool group to which I belong that focuses in on high school-aged children who are college-bound.    The responses were similarly intimidating.    One mom stated that she gives her child a list of 100 books going into freshman year with the expectation that they will be finished by the time of graduation.  

Experience has taught me that there are sometimes very valid reasons for workbooks, so I certainly don’t knock anyone’s choice to use them.   In truth, the oldest would probably love the opportunity to fill in blanks and insert whatever is appropriate to create a page that is flawless in appearance; she’s my “perfect Paula,” in Cathy Duffy terms.    And yes, I’m still in fish and salad position, or maybe a fish (soup) stew, but largely by choice, not by ignorance.     I’ve found that, as the years go on, there is no better opportunity to learn than with the seeds planted by rich, living books.   So each day, I make a point to sit down with each of the kids one-on-one and read a few pages together.   TwaddleMeNot, with her beautiful little girls (and brand-new son) speaks of having snuggle time with her preschoolers.    I’ve found that bigger ones need time, too, even if it looks a bit different.    (It’s hard to snuggle with people that are even bigger than you).   We also have one or two books that we read as a group; this becomes the fodder for narration Over the last couple of months, in the midst of all the peaks and valleys that make homeschool what it is, we’ve had some experiences worth capturing, and I thought I’d post them here.

I talked a while ago about my perspective on The Wheel on the School, a book that the youngest and I shared.     Without totally spoiling the ending, I’ll just say that it took approximately 250 pages of a slightly-over-300-page book to actually get the wheel on the school.    I won’t even talk about the task of getting the storks on the wheel.    BUT, in the end, it truly was a delightful tale of the power of a community coming together to reach a common goal.   The moral?   Everyone adds value, and a body of wisdom—even the smallest children—and the task cannot be completed without each person’s willingness to connect or to hold back, and to be sensitive as to when to do either.

Now we’re on to The Secret Garden, a classic that moves quite a bit faster.    I couldn’t get my oldest to get interested in this one, although she and her brother enjoyed the movie.    The youngest, however, wants to punch the main character for her impertinence, and almost waits to see how contrary Mary will be on a given day.    I, on the other hand, recognize as a parent that noooooobody took the time to raise Mary, much less love and nurture her ; she is the product of what those around her have failed to do.   I have to wonder, though, are mistreatment and neglect of children the theme of every English classic deemed worthy of a place on a child’s reading list?   Classic or not, I would no more expose my child to a wealth of these books than I would expose them to a wealth of what’s currently considered appropriate children’s television—broken homes, immature dads, exhausted moms, obnoxious kids.    And that’s only the sitcoms that promote “traditional family values.”      From The Water Babies, to The Secret Garden, The Tale of Despereaux, Oliver TwistUnderstood Betsy—geesh!

Speaking of movies, I was thrilled that the older two watched LOTR: The Fellowship of the Rings for the first time, and actually confessed that they liked the book much better.   They refuse to watch The Two Towers (and won’t let me watch it, either!) until we finish the book we’re reading now.   We’re getting there, but I’m in no hurry; I suspect the movie might be a little bit scary for me with the increased presence of Gollum.    My own “Gollum voice” is creepy enough—I cannot imagine staring at that face for more than two hours.   Of course, just when I was so pleased and proud of my ability to make my voice slither like a creature sliding down the wall, Gollum becomes Smeagol, more mousy and high-pitched.     With my deeper tones (I’ve been told often that I sound like a female DJ), I’m struggling with making my voice squeaky.

Our son is loving Treasure Island, and my treasure is that I get to watch him enjoy a true “boy’s book,” (at least in my mind).    At the Heart of the Matter Online’s recent conference, Susan Wise Bauer suggested to never give a child an assignment based upon a book that the child truly enjoyed, and her thoughts are making more sense to me as I listen to him; a project at this point would squelch his enthusiasm.     Incidentally, she also spoke of book reports having little value for a child’s long-term educational process.   So, was my whole elementary school experience a wash?   I’m just saying.

My oldest is quirky.   As much as she gets on my nerves, I’m sure I’ll miss her terribly when she moves on.   Today she was away from us taking the PSAT—for practice this time.  She spent the morning at a public school for the first time ever.    I prayed much of the morning in order to combat my anxiety; what will I do when she leaves?   The time with her grows more precious to me as the days go by.     Just tonight—at 9 p.m., mind you, while we’re finishing the day’s reading, she was telling me what books her other high school/ homeschool friends are reading.     We talked about different classics, or the lack thereof, after we finished the Aeneid.    Thank God that Virgil writes in a much more straightforward manner than Homer, with far fewer extended metaphors that detract from the main story.   What I’m most pleased about, however, after a dubious beginning of the higher grade studies, is that she is finally buying into her education, and getting excited about what she is learning.   You know something else?   She might not read 100 books in four years, but when I actually backed up like David and took a census, her four-year count will be between 70-80.    Quality counts for so much more than quality, but you could do a lot worse on a high school reading list than 80 classics.

Is every day a walk through literature heaven?   Certainly not.   In fact, this post is a composite of the year this far—it’s been too long since I’ve participated in the weekly homeschool meme.   We may not have rich stew and warm, fresh-baked bread, but there’s thick fish soup here.     Great things are happening over good books, and I’m so thankful.  May God continue to bless you with good times, too.

Why We Chose Charlotte Mason

‘Every now and then I’ll hear parents speak of how they are reading books to their children, almost as punishment.   “They’re on a restriction from television, and so we’re reading books to them.”    Though I know the intent is good, I find myself cringing at the thought—when did reading a book become something you do when you’re in trouble?   The conversation continues.   “I quiz them to make sure that they’ve been listening, and they actually enjoy the books.”   I’m thinking, are you surprised?’

This is an excerpt from my Heart of the Matter Online article regarding why we like Miss Mason’s ideas so much in our home.     For the full article, look here, and I hope you enjoy.