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.

 

Helping a Reluctant Reader to Enjoy Books

I’ve been busy leading a mini-workshop at church for the past couple of weeks.   With Dad gone and our church a bit far from home, the kids have had to tag along and busy themselves while I’m teaching.   A dear member and  friend noticed that the girls occupied themselves with books, and began her lament to the oldest regarding her young son and reading.   According to the oldest, her conversation went something like this:   “I can’t get E______ to sit down and read.   He doesn’t want to listen while I read.   I don’t know about his choices…”  

Admittedly, our son was never a “boy” boy.  I think that, between having a older sister who immediately asserted herself as a third parent, and having a brief stint in traditional school, he started homeschool with an understanding of what sit down and listen means.   If anything, the youngest, without that more formal environment as a part of her educational experience, is more antsy when it comes to sitting for extended periods of time.   But over the years, I’ve discovered a few ideas, even if I don’t have to implement them all, about helping a resistant reader take more interest in books.   These ideas are primarily for younger children, but the same theories work for an older child, if not the exact tactic.

1.  Capture your audience.   I sometimes read to our youngest while she’s in the bathtub.   The water’s soothing, and more importantly if your child is busy, he or she can’t go anywhere!    It’s a great opportunity to slip a book in, whether it’s a few pages or, if your child really loves tub time, a chapter of a longer book.

2. Busy the hands, but quiet the mouth.    When my husband “subs” for me occasionally, he gets offended that the kids are often doing other things while he’s reading.   The oldest is forever drawing her fashions; our son is choreographing a major production (at least that’s what it looks like from where I am).   The youngest is my snuggle buddy, but even she will pull out the Play-doh when she’s in the mood.   Once she made miniature food for her dolls.

The point is, even if the child does not look like they’re listening, but they are.   I picked up that tip from Sally Clarkson when she spoke of her ADD/ADHD son who listened in on a reading of the Trojan War, intended for his older siblings.   Ms. Clarkson was shocked when her son used his blocks, or something similar, to create a fighting scene from the book.   The key is, his mind was absorbing information through his subconscious; he was learning.

3. Narrate shorter passages.    If you test comprehension in some fashion (and not all reading should be tested for comprehension), an easy mistake–and one that discourages a child quickly–is to expect too much too soon.   If you have a child who doesn’t like to read, for whatever reason, and you choose to evaluate how well he/she is listening, consider using shorter passages, and more infrequent narrations.   I shared more thoughts on this in earlier post based upon a customer’s question.

4. Read books that interest the child.   I say this with a caution that we must be the child’s ear and eye gates before that child becomes discerning enough to turn away from some items.   I can remember years ago when a friend of mine shared how much her son loved the Harry Potter series.   You may have your own opinions, but Harry Potter is not on our reading list, and, until then, it wasn’t on hers, either.   What shocked me more than the reading of the books was why she allowed him to read the books.  “There aren’t that many books for adolescent (the term before “tween” entered our vocabulary) boys, you know?”   I’m thinking, so you let your kid read something you don’t approve of because of a lack of perceived options?

If there is one thing a Charlotte Mason approach exposes you to, it must be books–loads and loads of books.   I could list a number of books we’ve read for school, but I thought I’d share more of the “boy” books, which are suitable for girls or boys, that we’ve read as “free” reading or as a group read-aloud.   There are also selections here that our son enjoyed during that little boy and pre-teen stage.   The fact that several of these are series should in no way qualify them as twaddle.  Based on our experience, they are everything that a living book should be:

The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald

The Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur (rewritten from the original Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators)

Goonie Bird Greene by Lois Lowry (a story about an elementary school girl, but hilarious enough for a boy to enjoy without thinking it’s a “sissy” book)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

Little Britches, Man of the Family, etc., by Ralph Moody (probably a simplistic misjudgment of his style, but I would equate the Moody books with the male equivalent of Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol

Billy and Blaze books by C.W. Anderson

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron

Henry Reed, Inc. series

The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill

5. Use your voice.  One of my favorite Charlotte Mason mentors, LindaFay, states this much more eloquently than I would.   The point is, use different voices for different characters; make your reading slow enough for a child, especially a small child, to capture your words.   Make the book live and breathe for the child.

Once you spark an interest in reading, and it may take time and patience, you can continue to set an environment for reading by placing books all over your home, especially those with attractive covers.   In that way, you potentially steer your child’s interest away from television and other attractions, and more toward books.   Most importantly, role model the fun of reading by reading yourself.   Just 15 minutes a day can change your life.    From EzineArticles.com, ‘the average American reads less than 2 books per year- one and a half to be  exact, with almost two thirds of those going unfinished.  On the whole,  Americans have lost the habit of reading good books…CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies  read, on average, roughly FOUR BOOKS PER WEEK!  That equates to about 200  times the average for the rest of America,…’       Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/845

God bless you!  Happy reading!!

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

Summer Reading

Do you “school” all year around?    We do.   We never cover all of the classes, but the kids are required to complete math on 3 days/ week, and to read for 1 hour each day.   In the summer, that reading time looks totally different than during our regular school year.   I had taken shots of the kids during and after the hour’s reading period, and thought these were worth sharing.

Even the dog thought this one was different.

Six weeks left until we get off to a more formal start.   I wonder if they like this way better?!   🙂

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