Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wednesday with Words - About Imitation in Writing

I am really taken with Frederick Henry Sykes Elementary English Composition for High Schools and Academies (1905 edition) meant for the first and second year of high school.  The earlier edition lacks an introduction and a table of contents - which is a little annoying.  He makes up for that in this version.  His introduction truly speaks to what writing and composition should be about.  A few thoughts:

The pupil's own experiences are not enough.  He must read, and read aloud and be read to. And reading becomes most effective when the pupil commits to memory passages of standard literature that he reads.  Through reading especially, the pupil becomes possessed of the rich stores of the world's life and thought, preserved in myth and fable and history, and gets the stimulus that comes from the greater ideas of other minds and other times. 

Passages from our best authors rightly selected and wisely used, are the most valuable means and material for the study and acquisition of style.  

Oral composition should be a daily practice of the English class. Conversation between teacher and pupil, the oral repetion or summary of a story, brief oral descriptions of the incidents of the seasons or human happenings, or discussion of the daily news, can be made to conduce to the ready and effective use of language. 

We must, therefore, in elementary classes, begin with the primary literary interest, the story - with the fairy-tale and fable and anecdote.  By going from Narration to Description and Exposition, ending with Argumentation, including Persuasion, we follow the progressive stages in the intellectual powers.
He does end with a section on prosody.
Practice in outlining affords excellent training in analysis, and impresses on the young writer the need of sequence of thought and of logical order and arrangement in good composition. 
He also includes quotes from famous author's about their writing process and covers the grammar that good writing necessitates.  I will leave you to find that out in this short introduction.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Don't teach 2 yo Christian Education - DON'T

I should have learned this lesson in middle school.  Don't do it.  Not for the normal reasons of having a ton of kids who really need naps and should be having lunch when you are trying to share with them about God. No, don't do it because the simple lessons that are repeated OVER and OVER again might actually seep into your soul and require you to change and become more like Him.  You can't hide behind fancy words and complex ideas in preschool.  I came to really understand who Christ is helping teach preschoolers and I guess I still am.

Today, we went "off the lesson plan" because of a scheduling issue.  So, I had to come up with my own lesson.  I had boxes (from all the cleaning I have been doing) and we are in Genesis - so the Tower of Babel seemed appropriate.  The main lesson of the day "You can't build a tower or doing anything to get to God - he comes to us through his son, Jesus".  We said this as we built and re-built towers today.  Simplicity and repetition - they will get you.

Tonight, I read this article which is an interview of the man who wrote Gospel Powered Parenting (which I intend to read soon).  It touched on a few things that I have been struggling with and honestly it seems like maybe he was listening in on a conversation I had with a friend of mine about raising kids earlier this week (maybe she has read the book).   My issue is MORALISM.  I have tried very hard to build my life on good deeds, doing my best, trying to be pleasant to others, etc. Basically, moralism.  As I read through this article it helped me to realize what some of my main issues with my kids are.  Here it is in a nut shell:
The gospel also protects parents from “moralism,” the idea that well-behaved children are the main thing. New Birth is the main thing. The morality of Christ imputed to your children is the main thing. It is not what our children do for Christ but what Christ has done for our children that is the main thing. Ironically, without aiming at it, gospel centered parents get godly behavior from their children.
This made me think of an excerpt I read from a book called The Danger of Raising Nice Kids. Later, in the article, he offers this humdinger:
Therefore, and this is crucial, pleasing God is the most important thing a parent can do to move God to regenerate their child. This means that effective parents are God-centered not child-centered. Their focus is always on God, not their children. Fearing God is one crucial way that parents can please God. We learn this fear at the cross. That is why I call it gospel powered parenting.
Did I mention I am putting together a presentation on discipline in after school situations so I have also been revisiting Give Them Grace?  Her manage, nurture, train, correct and promise are powerful ways to help children think about who God is, how he made them and how they can live in His story of grace.  It is much more than just applying the right Bible verse to show kids how they have missed the mark.   Do you think He is trying to help me figure these things out?

In high school we used to talk about God's holy wrecking ball.  Sometimes he uses it to destroy a lie or false thinking in your life. Today he used his wrecking ball to knock down my tower of babel parenting.  I have been building a parenting tower based on my own strength and ability in an effort to make my kids "good enough" for him and so others will approve of them (moralism).  All the while saying that He created them, loves them and will renew them if they come to him (Gospel).  I know the right message but my actions and attitudes betray something very different (hypocrisy). My kids have been smelling it from a mile away.

So, I don't really know how to be different in the way I parent day to day - l need to rely on his grace.  A good first step but a hard one for a good moralist who is used to relying on her own wits and good thoughts.  I am going to let the tower fall and trust that He is sufficient for me and my kids.  He has been trying to give me hints for a while - thanks 2yos for helping me finally get the visual about building our own paths to God for ourselves or our kids.

Weekly Resource- GTD for Homemakers

I have followed Mystie at Simply Convival for quite a while now and remember when she originally reviewed Getting Things Done by David Allen on her blog.  Recently, she came out with the book GTD for Homemakers (see how you can get it for free until Oct. 31, 2013 at the end of this post).  I just got it earlier this week and it has helped tremendously!

I am a little manic when it comes to organizing and cleaning.  I finally get a plan in my head and then I end up rearranging the whole house, or a whole calendar, or our whole menu or whatever.  I am trying to learn how to do things in more incremental and sustainable steps.  My crazy activity wears me and everyone else out. Then in a few weeks we are pretty much back where we started with a different arrangement.

In the beginning of the book she states that the goals are to help you:

keep an up to date calendar
keep ideas and action steps in lists
have a place to keep reference information so that you can find it when you need it

I need all of those things.  I keep these things in my brain and then wonder why my family can't read my mind and help me out.  If I get more organized I think that I can begin to find ways to help them help me get things done. This is especially important because we are about to move into a busier season.  Plus, my memory is not everything it used to be.

One of the main reasons she pursued this project resonated with me.  She wants to be able to focus on her kids or whomever she is with in the moment; instead of trying to remember or not forget important things. That's where I am - constantly composing, thinking, planning in my head instead of focusing on the person in front of me.  So hopefully this will help me better collect and keep my thoughts together, get rid of stuff that isn't mine to do or take care of and give me some tools to help my kids manage their stuff too.  

The first step is to write EVERYTHING that is on your mind down.  I am on page 6 single spaced right now.  I think I might have too much going on.  Honestly, when I first read through her introduction on her blog, this is why I didn't start.  It was too overwhelming to write all of that stuff down.  I am now at the point where it is too overwhelming NOT to write it down.  Plus, she provides good thoughts for how to discern what is worth doing and not doing.  Something else I need help with.

Instead of putting off organizing until next year, why not try a new system now to see if it can help you through the holiday season. If it can work for that, it can work for anything -right?  Plus, as she encourages at the beginning - it's not all or nothing.  It's more is better but do what you can to move in the right direction to help you and your family out.  Unlike most books it doesn't start with goals and big ideas (I love to play with those) Instead, it starts where you are and moves up - exactly what I need - something very practical.  I'll let you know how it goes.

It is available as a free PDF here and soon will be available for purchase as a kindle book.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tip Time - CC Cycle 2 Week 8

Well my son is in love with the tin whistle.  He has written many of his own "songs" so far.  He hasn't figured out how to sing and play at the same time which seems frustrating for him.  Dad is not such a big fan.  In keeping with the tin whistle theme if you are interested in learning to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in Latin here are the words:

Mica, Mica, parva stella;
Miror quaenam sis tam bella.
Splendens eminus in illo,
Alba velut gemma caelo.

Mica, Mica, parva stella;
Miror quaenam sis tam bella.


We actually started learning it because we are learning this song for violin.  This week the 4yo sang it for our violin teacher and I think she thought he was precious.

History Timeline

     Much of the history timeline for this period focuses on different parts of the early church.  If you are interested in some stories about this time here are some google books that you might want to view:

Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages by George Hodges -  We have read the first half of this book.  It is good but might be too long for younger students.  If you aren't familiar with the details this might be good for you to read and summarize for the younger folks.  Hodges has also written about saints since the middle ages and a more detailed history of the early church.

If you are not part of a liturgical church you may not be as familiar with the Nicene Creed which came out of a council that Emperor Constantine called in 325.  Here it is for you:

Traditional Wording

I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,
who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

The history of a creed like this is always interesting. It has served as a statement of the basics of the Christian faith since its composition  This is one that we will eventually memorize at our house.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wednesday with Words - The Power of Story

I am  really enjoying Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry.  It is taking a little while to get through because I keep getting distracted.  I was convicted by this passage about the role of family stories. 

But did we tell the stories right?  It was lovely, the telling and the listening, usually the last thing before bedtime.  But did we tell the stories in such a way as to suggest that we had needed a better chance or a better life or a better place than we had? 
 I don't know, but I have had to ask.  Suppose your stories, instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, say that everything should have been different.  Suppose you encourage or even just allow your children to believe that their parents ought to have been different people, with a better chance, born in a better place  Or suppose the stories you tell them allow them to believe, when they hear it from other people, that farming people are inferior and need to improve themselves by leaving the farm.  Doesn't that finally unmake everything that has been made? Isn't that the loose thread that unravels the whole garment?  
And how are you ever to know where the thread breaks, and when the tug begins?
I believe I have been telling stories that don't show thankfulness and contentment with the blessings I have been given.  My stories speak more of "what ifs" and nebulous dreams than enjoying life with people and community I love.  I tell about the great "adventures" of my friends while thinking our life is pretty ho hum. Am I passing on a spirit of discontent and a sense that others are better?

How much better to live it this way.

This is my story, my giving of thanks.  

Glad to gain this insight now.  On to being doers not just hearers.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekly Resource - Progymnasmata Programs

Recently I was reminded to be careful if I recommend resources I have not used.  If I haven't tried it - what can I really say about it.  This was wise advice.  My interest in pulling these resources together is to put my natural hunter/gatherer nature to good use.  I hope that what I do naturally can help assist mom's and others who don't have time or desire to search for different options. A listing here doesn't mean I've used it - it basically means that it fits in line with the direction of our homsechool.  Many of them are resources I will consider using in the future. It is meant to be a place for resources not necessarily recommendations.  Once you find a resource here it might be wise to check elsewhere to see what others say about it in use.

Now on to this week's resources - items that teach the progymnasmata or at least imitation in writing.   The progymnasmata is a series of exercises that use imitation to teach different genres of writing.  It is an ancient approach to teaching and there are a few modern day programs that follow this approach.  Here are a few of them:

Writing Tales - This program is an easy introduction to writing for late elementary students and just covers the Fable and Narrative stage (the first two of a 13 stage process).   It is intended to be a full program that incorporates vocabulary, composition, grammar and spelling.   Each lesson takes about two weeks (scope and sequence).  She includes notes on how to use this program in a coop setting as well. On her website she has full lessons for you to review.  This is a stand alone program.

Memoria Press's program Classical Composition -  This program,when it is complete, will carry students through all of the stages.  Currently the first three are completed and intended to be used starting in fourth grade.  There is a teacher's manual, a student's workbook and the first stage also has a DVD companion. This program uses MANY technical terms in teaching students writing and focuses on these terms more than grammar.   Just looking at the samples I learned new words!   They also have online classes supporting the first two stages - Fable and Narrative.  I expect this will expand as well.  This is part of their larger curriculum.

Classical Writing -  This is a full language arts program that provides a Primer before your student is ready for the progym in late elementary.  They also begin with Aesop (fables) and include some lessons in phonics in addition to composition and grammar instruction.  There are teacher and instructor's guides which cover 36 weeks.  Unlike other models they have completed work texts into the high school years.   The older levels do provide a full literature program as well as a composition program.  To help in implementing the program they have webinars and support groups.

Classical Academic Press -  Earlier this year they released the first stages of their Writing and Rhetoric program.  The first two levels cover the late elementary grades.  They intend to have 12 levels that will be completed by 9th grade (some of the areas are semester long courses).  They provide a student work text, teacher manual and MP3s that have the work read aloud for the student.   Their sample gives a great overview of the progym and how it compares to most modern approaches to writing.   They have three lessons for you to preview and there is more of a focus on understanding the moral of the fable and word choice with less of a focus on teaching grammar in their approach.

Imitation in Writing - This is a series of books that uses imitation to teach composition but does not engage the full progymnasmata.  It covers fables, fairy tales, Greek myths, Greek Heroes and Medieval Legends.  So, in terms of the progym it covers fable and narrative but doesn't go beyond those two introductory levels. From the samples it seems very formulaic in its approach and similar to IEW in using the same structure to really engrain outlining, story arc, etc. for children.  Although not a full progym program it does use imitation and literature as its basis.

In the early stages of the Progym I don't believe it is necessary to have a curriculum.  A few of my favorite bloggers have discussed how they have approached this in their own home.

Afterthoughts has a series of posts that discuss how she incorporates some of the ideas with a Charlotte Mason approach to writing.   She has used Jim Selby's curriculum which has now been adapted by Memoria Press to get her familiar with the ideas.

Simply Convivial has actually put together a small coop class for her late elementary school children and blogs about their schedule and approach.

Of course, there are google books out there that have this type of approach to them.  Here are two that I have found:

Elementary English Composition (1905)- A great example of an older book that uses a similar model.  Each section has something to memorize for the lesson, a selection to read, exercises in grammar, vocabulary and composition (including teaching outlining).   The updates in the 1905 version are worth reading and considering.  He explains how imitation served writers of the past well - with quotes from those writers about how they imitated others or engaged in thinking that lead to composition.  It also more clearly follows the progym model (although not completely faithfully).  The earlier version does use different memory and examples and includes things like letter writing.  So, it might be worth reviewing both.

Composition from Models - Intended for high school use.  This book provides models in a variety of writing genres (not necessarily in keeping with the progym order).  The models are excerpts from authors you would recognize.  The assignments are general because there is an expectation that the teacher knows what he means by expansion, paraphrase etc.  However, if you want to look at different examples of writing this would be a great place to start and work on models.

If you are interested in learning more about the progym these are the resources I recommend looking into.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tip Time - CC Cycle 2 Week 7

I skipped last week because I was busy and we had the week off due to Columbus day.  We also finished our 12th week of school - we work on trimesters - so we are finishing that up too.  Today as we read the last chapter of Understood Betsy I was in tears - I tried to keep reading.  We also enjoyed the end of the Little Duke.  We will read this one again once the boys are older because it holds some great lessons.   We are also reading Blue Fairy Tales which at times confuses my boys because they have heard other versions. Once this week, I did resort to using a librivox recording.  I also finally learned where "Open Sesame" comes from!

Okay, now on to tips.

This week our CC group has assigned us the topic of manners for presentations.  Well, they aren't too keen on manners in general.  However, I did read them the Goops (and another one) which they enjoyed. We are still working on the presentation.  The Goops are creatures with no manners and there are little poems to show how horrible they act.  It is very cute and my kids like it.  When they were younger I read a couple to them.  My oldest son - who never chooses to write - created about 5 pages of Goop activities - he got the idea.


If you are looking for a picture book about Martin Luther you might want to try this one by Paul L. Meier.  I think we inherited this one from somewhere so we will read it this week.


This week we are learning about peninsulas in Europe.  If you are interested in teaching your kids about landforms you might want to look into the Montessori landform cards.  These are very basic - honestly you can just draw this yourself to show the different types of landforms. You can also use clay and water to create the landforms yourself (more ideas here) so that your kids get a sense of how the water and land interact.  Here is a free landforms coloring book or dictionary.  There are a few more options and ideas here. Next week we talk about other landforms so it might be worth spending time putting these together.

That's about all for this week.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Homeschool reflection and Bible study - Abiding

This semester our women's Bible study at church is going through the Gospel Centered Life.  I've enjoyed a study that focuses on the basics in a refreshing way.  This past week we discussed the prodigal son - or as I prefer to think of it - the story of two sons.  One of the questions asked us to tell how the son's stories were similar.  I immediately noticed, for the first time, that the father let both of them go.  We then had a short discussion about how difficult it would be as the father to let your son go - knowing that he was probably heading for trouble.  However, he let the older son go too.  Yes, he was basically working in the back field, but he let him go about working in his own way.  A way that was obviously disconnected from the heart of the father and his brother (as we learn at the end of the parable).  One of the older members wistfully said "He will let you go" and I was struck.

How many times have I pursued my own dreams and plans in an attempt to honor God?  So, he lets me go. My work looks decent and right in general - but the father knows my heart.  He is calling me back to him, again. Reminding me that leaning on my own understanding is not wisdom; no matter how pious the work looks and how many people it "helps".  I was working in my own strength and didn't keep close to his heart. Sometimes I even whined, like the older brother, "I am working hard here - for you - why is this happening?" In his providence, he has gently sent mentors and friends.  They help me recognize that I have decided to live in the back field.  They remind me that God is not seeking activity for his sake - he is interested in my heart.
His desire is for me to believe in the one he sent and stay connected to the vine.  Rather than receive Christ's riches, I am relying on my own rags.  Why does it feel better to work my own plan in the backyard than to rest in my father's presence?  Oh wait - PRIDE!  He'll let you go and look for you everyday on the horizon awaiting your return (or set out some tea if you are a backyard worker).  He hasn't moved.  You have chosen to believe that someone or something else is better for you.  You have chosen to get your strength from another vine.  We know the other vine isn't living - but it seems alive for the moment.   Does it sound like setting up cisterns?  It is.  In short - idol worship.  

I don't want to be a backyard idol worshiper -not when Abba father is sitting on the porch just waiting for me to turn around!

When I started this reflection I didn't expect this connection.  My homeschooling mentor (this is her last year after 28!) said that one of her primary jobs was to teach her kids to stay connected to the vine.  To help them know his father heart for them and help them to choose his ways over all others. It's about abiding, staying, making yourself at home with him - living with him day to day.

One of my past mentors always spoke about living "moment to moment with Jesus".  That drove me crazy!  I wanted the big picture, the plan, the "event".   He was right.  My friend's life and ministry are a testament to God's willingness to throw the floodgates wide open when we ask for and trust in his care for us.  He's not safe but he is good.

So he will let you go - but his heart is always looking for you to return home - whether it's a long journey or a short walk.  He wants to abide with you.

I am getting it.   Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday with Words - Hymns

I have been enjoying the morning time suggestions that Cindy has been posting at Ordo Amoris.  As a result, I spent two evenings reading old hymnals.  I went in search of "The Creation" that she referenced by Cecil Alexander Francis.  I discovered he has written a whole hymnal for kids (you haven't heard of most of his other works).  Then I remembered that another curriculum encourages the use of Isaac Watts' Divine and Moral Songs.  So, I decided to see if there are any other old hymnals and prayer books on google books for kids.  Well, there are!  Many of them are a little heavy handed.  However, the one I am most taken with is 829 pages long.  It's title is no lie "A Collection of Hymns of Children of God in All Ages" (1754).   It begins with hymns from the Bible and then the early church and organizes songs from the German and English church up until his "present" time.  It is quite an undertaking.  Except for the ones taken from the Bible I only recognized two of the hymns (really more like poems because there is not a musical setting).

In high school we would complain about singing old hymns and my youth pastor instructed us to read them before the service as a prayer.  It changed my view on them and helped me realize there is a lot of good theology in there. In the book referenced above there is a whole section that goes through different parts of the catechism in verse.  I confess I am only about 1/3 of the way through it but it is fascinating to see what different ages have emphasized.

Here is one of my favorites:

Content thyself with Patience
With Christ to bear the cross of pain,
Who can and will thee recompence
A thousandfold with joys again:
Let nothing cause thy heart to quail,
Launch out thy boat, hale up thy sail,
And be thou sure thou shalt attain
Unto the Port that shall remain. 

And one more

Faith and Repentance may be taught,
And yet no Gospel tidings brought;
If as mere Duties these we press,
And not as Parts of promis'd bliss.

If only Precepts we present,
Tho' urg'd with strongest argument,
We leave the waken'd Sinner's hope
In blackness of Despair to grope.

The man whom legal precepts chase,
As yet estrang'd to Sov'reign Grace;
Mistaking evangelic charms,
As if they stood on legal terms;

Looks to himself, tho' dead in sin,
For grounds of faith and hope within;
Hence Fears and fetters grow and swell,
Since nought's within but sin and Hell

But faith, that looks to promis'd grace,
Clean out of Self the foul will chase
To Christ for Righteousness and Strength,
And finds the joyful rest at length.

No precept clogs the Gospel-call,
But werein grace is all in all;
No law is here but That of Grace,
Which brings relief in ev'ry case

The Gospel is the Promise fair
Of grace, all Ruins to repair;
And leaves no sinner room to say,
"Alas, this Debt I cannot pay!
This grievious Yoke I cannot bear!
This high Demand I cannot clear!"
Grace stops the mouth of such complaints
And store of full Supply presents

Tis here the Spirit pow'rful rides,
The fountains of the deep divides;
The King of glory's Splendor shews,
And wins the Heart with welcome News.  (p. 324)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bright Spot - Week 7 - Smiles

My youngest is a charmer.  He has the ability to make anyone his friend with a quick smile.  So this week I encourage you to think about a time that a smile has made a difference for you.  Did you give it or receive it?

Bright Spot - Week 7 - Smiles

Try it out this week.  Smile on the phone - it makes a difference.  Smile when your kid is acting foolish.  Smile when your husband comes home.  Smile at the clerk when you buy something. Smile at your neighbor when you pull out of the driveway.  So just put on a happy face!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Weekly Resource - Phonics Lesson Videos and the Syllabary

Currently my family is using the 32 phonics lesson videos found at 40L.  This mother has spent close to 20 years researching reading and tutoring people of various ages.  Her website provides a free resource to teach people the basics of phonics so that they can practice using the Blue Back Speller or any other phonics intensive program.  During the 1800's this little book was the second most popular book (it had over 300 editions) - after the Bible.  Everyone learned to read by it and the way that they learned is foreign to us today.  

This is a quick overview of the information on the 40L site about the blue back speller.  The speller was written by Noah Webster, yes the one who wrote the dictionary!  At the beginning of the speller is the Syllabary.  Did you know that syllables were intended to help you know how to spell a word?   They always seemed like an afterthought to me.  Just a simple rule - like a letter says its name at the end of a syllable - helps clear up lots of questions kids often have about why a letter sounds a certain way.  The syllabary (or here, which is 12 charts of sounds) is to be memorized. Here is a video overview of how 40L teaches the syllabary.  From there, you can pretty much spell any word if you can break it into its syllables.  GENIUS!  The rest of the blue back speller is words broken up by syllables.  One small book teaches you what you need to know.  They used to expect you to spell a word before you would read it.  How far we have fallen!

The author of 40L realized that in addition to knowing the syllables students need some instruction on vowel sounds and phonograms.  Her lessons are clear, concise and predictable.  Here are the parts of her lesson:

  1. Review - letters and concepts previously introduced
  2. Present new information and practice with the new sounds - both reading and spelling.  Don't be afraid to pause to make sure your child is getting the concept. 
  3. Read nonsense words (this is to test to make sure they are applying the rules not just trying to guess from words they know - my son hates this part)
  4. "One letter makes a difference" - here she shows pairs or sometimes more of words that have just one change.  Again, this is to help break the guessing habit and encourage students to read the whole word. 
  5. At the end she reviews some common but irregular words - were, of, from, etc. 
  6. In the last part she reads Romans aloud and shows the words from each verse that the child should be able to read with what he has learned so far.  By the end of the 32 lessons they should be able to read all of Chapter 16 by themselves.  It is motivating for my son. 

For the very responsible child they could probably do these videos by themselves, but I would set them somewhere so that you can hear them read and spell words aloud.  With my son it is best if I sit with him and make sure he is paying attention.  This is a great introduction but most kids will need further practice.  The blue back speller and other phonics programs she recommends can help you with that next step.  There is actually a whole series of books (mostly about American history) that are written with the syllables separated to help kids read them more easily.

So this is another free phonics program at your disposal.   If you are wondering how your student is doing with their reading - as compared to other students - here are some quick tests you can administer at home.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Pegs, Memorization and My home

I have been following Afterthoughts' 31 days of Charlotte Mason 101.  I have read through two of CM's books and other interpretations of her writings, but I always appreciate being reminded of the basics.  Yesterday's post included some comments about how using facts as pegs is in direct opposition to CM's approach to education.  CM asserted that ideas are the only educators of students. This contrasts directly with a common interpretation of Dorothy Sayers' understanding of classical education.  Sayers asserts that young children are in the "poll parrot" stage where they love to memorize and later they will build context for those facts.  This topic of memorization of facts is one of the areas of disagreement in the classical education movement.  How much, what and when do you memorize?  Below are some thoughts as I grapple with this issue.

I have seen pegs (memorizing facts or quickly introducing concepts) work to draw students into a subject.  When children have heard the name or idea at one point, they begin to listen for it, build concepts around it and ask questions.  (Last week my 4 yo met a little girl named Juliet and immediately connected it with Julius Caesar who he only knows through a song). In my own life, I trace my interest in American history to a timeline play we did in 5th grade.  I know a little song that goes with each era and helps me to remember its general happenings. Honestly, it made taking AP history a breeze because I had a framework.

However, I am concerned that often we ONLY put pegs in and call that education.  I agree that memorizing facts alone, at any stage, is not education.  We all know that in memory work if you don't keep practicing you won't remember.  We need ideas, story and context, to truly help us remember and feed our brains - as CM advocates. Facts don't stand alone in our memory for long but that doesn't mean they can't play a role.

For now, I have decided that I will really focus on memorizing facts in the following situations:

1.  The concepts need to be firmly linked together for long term success.

For example, Christopher Perrin asserts that you should memorize the four principle parts of a Latin verb together - from the beginning.  Memorizing all the concepts at once - even if you don't understand them - helps them stay related in your brain.  Later you can fill in the details of how each one is formed and functions.  Just learning the ones that you "understand" will lead to confusion later because your brain will not as easily connect all the pieces together.  But when items are memorized together, they are organized together and it will help you better use and understand Latin grammar.

Another example might be learning phonics. Most good programs teach all the sounds of the letter when it is introduced so that students automatically think of all the options when they see the symbol.  Many of the exceptions that upset students are a result of not being taught all of the variations when they begin.

2.  To provide organization and highlight key ideas, people or issues within a subject so that it serves as a framework for the long term. 

I think there is a valid reason why many classical programs memorize a history timeline.  Now, how much information should be a part of that and the format is a subject for debate.  I do think that knowing some type of timeline has its advantages though.  Recently we read Little Duke.  It helped my boys immensely to understand that he was after Charlemagne (we had memorized a sentence about him and read a little bit) and before the Battle of Hastings (another memorized sentence and a bit of background info.).  Without that, it would have been a great story but wouldn't have been history for them.  Knowing their timeline helped to place the story in history.

I knew one middle school CM student who could tell an excellent history tale but she couldn't place that story in time.  As we talked, she had gotten lost in the details and never been challenged to see how it connected with the sweep of history.  I realize that CM has students create their own timelines and maybe this wasn't happening with this particular family.  I think that memorizing a few key dates, events and people in order, can be helpful to that process.  It is not the end - but a means to aiding understanding.

I really struggle with what to do with math and memorization.  At some point you need to know your facts but I don't think you start by memorizing them.  Montessori has excellent materials to help you visualize the math.  You can see why a number is called a square or a cube. Here I do think that memorizing should arise out of constant use of the basic facts.  But if it doesn't come naturally around about 3rd grade I do think you focus on it until you really get it.

Memorizing should be a jumping off point - not a destination. I think CM was surrounded by those who felt that memorization was good education.  She was reacting to that approach.

Honestly, for me, when I think about memorizing I am struck by the verse "Knowledge puffs up but love builds up" 1 Cor. 8:1.  I struggle with the fact that our education might be puffing and not building.  But if facts are being used to provide a framework for the meat of the story to hang on to, I think they serve a useful and necessary role.

We do memorize scripture but I know that I fall short on memorizing poetry and literature excerpts with my kids.  This might hinder them later in their writing career - so I am going to try to up my game in that area.  I am truly benefiting from memorizing mottoes (as my 4 yo tells me that "I focused on my job and did it right, mom!").  I think we will do better if some of these things are on CD so that I am listening to them instead of reading them.

I am still at the beginning of my journey but I do think there is some value in memorizing but not as an end and not to the point where it overshadows poetry, literature and other parts of the curriculum.  It may not be totally in line with CM, but I think it is in line with my goals for educating my children.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Elementary Studies from John Henry Newman

Wednesday With Words

I found this work through a lukewarm compliment of the Latin Centered Curriculum.  The writer asserted that the curriculum outlined was not Latin centered enough.  He continued by claiming that a grammar approach to Latin would never develop the type of understanding of Latin that Campbell is aiming at in his book.  He referenced a section of John Henry Newman's Idea of a University to help further his case.  I was intrigued and decided to read the section entitled Elementary Studies (since it was free online).

John Henry Newman started as an Anglican in the 1800's in England and eventually became a Catholic bishop.  He is speaking about a Catholic education and its classical ideals and tradition in this piece.  I have only read this section on preparing for university entrance exams.  Here he creates exaggerated fictional characters in the midst of their exams.  He contrasts the father's responses to their son's exams, as well as the examiners comments about each boy's education.   The exams focus on Latin because during this era all entering university students were expected to have read many Latin classics in Latin.

As an introduction to Newman's overarching philosophy about the formation of the mind here are two thoughts:
Alas! what are we doing all through life, both as a necessity and as a duty, but unlearning the world's poetry and attaining to its prose!  (there is more context there but it is worth considering the implications)
The instruction given him, of whatever kind, if it be really instruction, is mainly, or at least pre-eminently, this, a discipline in accuracy of mind. 
Helpful to note

"Grammar" is now more commonly meant, as Johnson defines it, "the art of using words properly" [as opposed to literature studies as it was used in the past] and it "comprises four parts - Orthography, Etymology, Syntax and Prosody."  
That there could be your whole grammar curriculum!  Orthography  - spelling, Etymology - history of word, Syntax - word order and prosody - making it sound beautiful.

In studies of grammar he discusses that
To translate an English sentence into Latin is to frame a sentence, and is the best test whether or not a student knows the difference of Latin from English construction; to construe or parse is to analyze a sentence, and is an evidence of the easier attainment of knowing what Latin construction is in itself.  
First we are given a little background on how the "examiner" views his job where he uses
one single word as a sort of text, and show[s] how that one word, even by itself, affords matter for a sufficient examination for a youth in grammar, history and geography.   
Reading this example examination is a little painful.  It is obvious that the student isn't following where the examiner is leading.  If I was in his shoes I am afraid that I would end up looking like this failing student.  The student leaves frustrated because they focused on just one word when he was a acquainted with so  many more text and ideas that the examiner never discussed.  The exam is truly brilliant and does test if the student understood and connected with what he was supposed to have learned in the text.

Newman's primary point is

This young man had read the Anabasis [the word and text he was using for examination purposes], and had some general sense what the word meant; but he had no accurate knowledge how the word came to have its meaning, or of the history and geography it implied in it.  This being the case, it was useless, or rather hurtful, for a boy like him to amuse himself with running through Grote's many volumes, or to cast his eye over Matthiae's minute criticisms. . . Nothing is more common in an age like this, when books abound, than to fancy that the gratification of a love of reading is real study.  (bold mine)
The examiner writes to the father with this criticism of his ill equipped son
he knows something about a great many things, of which youths of his age commonly know nothing. . . Our rule is to recommend youths do a little well, instead of throwing themselves upon a large field of study.  I conceive it to be your son's fault of mind not to see exactly the point of thing; nor to be so well grounded as he might be.  Young men are indeed always wanting in accuracy; this kind of deficiency is not peculiar to him, and he will doubtless soon overcome it when he sets about it. 
The father's response is basically that general knowledge will fit his son well for the world and that he should not be judged on such minutiae as the examiner was bringing to his attention.  The father then again makes the case that his son has a great general knowledge.  He then includes a poem and a short essay to help bolster his son's case - which do little to help the cause.  The analysis of this poor piece of writing is harsh!

Newman also presents a more capable candidate who "gets" his studies because he has learned the work deeply and in context.  Basically it is a discussion about a paragraph from Cicero's letters and he uses the language to communicate his thoughts - he is parsing.

The father of the better scholar has this approach to education
He knows the difference between show and substance; he is penetrated with the conviction that Rome was not built in a day, that a building will not stand without foundations, and that, if boys are to be taught well, they must be taught slowly, step by step.  
In critiquing the writing itself, the examiner offers this observation
The rule is, first think, and then write; don't write when you have nothing to say; or, if you do, you will make a mess of it.  
He then explains that a half a page of well written thought is better than a tome of empty phrases.

Next, he turns to Latin composition.  This is actually the reason why I wanted to read this excerpt and what the amazon critique was highlighting.  Here is the tutor's maxim for Latin composition
There are four requisites of good Composition, - correctness of vocabulary, or diction, syntax, idiom and elegance.  Of these, the two first need no explanation, and are likely to be displayed by every candidate.  The last is desirable indeed, but not essential.  The point which requires special attention is idiomatic propriety. 
Here he is emphatic that:
Hence, the most complete and exact acquaintance with dictionary and grammar will utterly fail to teach a student to write or compose. Something more is wanted, viz., the knowledge of words and construction, or the knowledge of idiom. 
The critique of Latin Centered Curriculum was on account of this assertion. The reviewer was concerned that by using a grammar based approach (like Prima Latina and Henle) that students would never learn the idiom of the language and therefore never truly "get" Latin.  The poster recommends Ortberg - which is what Visual Latin flows into.  I would assert that using interlinear texts, as Andrew Kern recommends, helps to accomplish this goal as well.

Basically, the rest of the section is an explanation of why we shouldn't teach Latin in terms of our English language - but rather understand it on its own terms.  He says that by learning just the grammar of Latin he was "aiming to be an architect by learning to make bricks."   Eventually he found a doorway that lead him to understand
beyond mistake what a Latin sentence should be, and saw how an English sentence must be fused and remoulded in order to make it Latin (sic). 
 I had now learned that good Latinity lies in structure; that every word of a sentence may be Latin, yet the whole sentence remain English; and that dictionaries do not teach composition.  
From this I gather that the problem is much like English composition. All of the phonograms, grammar jingles and word studies cannot make up for the student that has not been read aloud to and read widely on his own.  Finding your voice in English is connected to reading and copying sentences worth paying attention to.  Therefore, I would say that if you are just starting Latin it is necessary to understand the grammar and structure of the language - but do not forget to hear it aloud and read it regularly so that you understand its idioms and structure.  This piece helped me understand the Visual Latin approach to learning Latin much better.

 And finally, he has this to say
The great moral I would impress upon you is this, that in learning to write Latin, as in all learning, you must not trust to books, but only make use of them; not hang like a dead weight upon your teacher, but catch some of his life; handle what is given you, not as a formula, but as a pattern to copy and as a capital to improve; throw your heart and mind into what you are about and thus unite the separate advantages of being tutored and of being self-taught, - self taught, yet without oddities, and tutorized, yet without conventionalities.
Once again, all my thinking about teaching Latin is in a mess.  I am also chastised by his constant reminder to go deep and focus on doing a few things well.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bright Spot Challenge - Week 6 (belated) - Order

Recently many different sources have unknowingly convicted me about my attachment to the new, exciting and different.  Often, I realize that I am drawn just because something is new and different. However, this doesn't provide much happiness or order.  So, today I will share with you a few quotes that have come my way that struck a chord about the atmosphere around me.  Honestly, I have always had a bit of aversion to order - but when you consider that the opposite is disorder or chaos - you realize the foolishness that follows such a belief.  So, unfortunately, I think I am guilty of looking like this quote:
 "As pride sometimes is hid under humility, idleness if often covered by turbulence and hurry."  Samuel Johnson as found at the Circe Blog  
Without order there is less accountability because there is no standard to show where you are falling short, what you have skipped, etc.  Lack of order is dis-order and, in my case, is marked by "turbulence and hurry" with no substance to it.   

I hope that my life will be more like this: 
Though she was not by any means a wealthy woman and was busy all the time herself, she had a wisdom that spread order and beauty around her.  For me, Miss Ora's was a place of rest.    from Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter (yes a fiction book!) 
What an amazing description.  So, the bright spot for me this week was that we did a MAJOR clean up of our house over the weekend.  We worked together and there is more physical order in our house and I am glad for it.  This is a huge challenge for my husband and I. We are both NT's on the Myers Briggs and live out of our heads and often don't even recognize the craziness until we see it through someone else's vantage point.  Now the challenge is to maintain some order and beauty.  

So, what have you done to bring a little bit more order to your life?  Are you linking order to beauty and rest?  Do you need wisdom to know how to order your life?  I sure do!    

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Weekly Resource - American History for Elementary Students

My husband and I were both history majors and we believe that history is an important part of helping our children remain grounded.  We are not centering our curriculum around it - but we have thought a lot about it.  Some people focus on American history for a time (maybe a semester or year) and then switch to world history.  Others advocate running two tracks of history simultaneously.  Here is a quick overview of what different programs do for their history:

Classical Conversations - 3 year cycle - 2 years world history (ancient and then medieval to current) and one year of American history.  Actually, every year you learn a timeline that covers the span of history.  Each year you focus on the eras mentioned above and learn sentences that give you pegs for the major events that occurred in that era.

Story of the World - this is a 4 year history cycle which uses a "story book textbook" that covers Western history and introduces the history or significance of some other cultures. There is not a stand alone American history curriculum in this series - but many of the major events of American history are included.

Ambleside - a 6 year history cycle that does not introduce American history until America enters the scene around year 4.  Prior to that the focus is on England's history which naturally connects with American history.   The page I linked does a great job explaining their approach.  In the early years the focus is on story and enjoying history (thus the use of 50 Famous Stories Retold in year 1).

Charlotte Mason Help - a dual track history program that uses This Country of Ours as the primary elementary reader for American history and uses a four year cycle for world history in the elementary grades.  In fifth grade she recommends a break that introduces students to a variety of cultures and their place in history.

Latin Centered Curriculum - I have his second edition in which he focuses on a more chronological approach to history using the Memoria Press series "Famous Men of ______".  He does not include any American history as a separate study in the elementary school years.  Memoria Press has their own outline of American and World history studies.  They use Grueber's books to study American history from 6th to 8th grade.

There is also Veritas Press but I really don't know much about their history program.

As you can see, most of them don't focus on American history because of their classical bent.  It makes sense, but I wanted to find some American history that was similar to 50 Famous Stories Retold to share with my children.  I think the modern version of this approach would be William J. Bennett's Book of America (which I often see at Half Price Books).

However, I was wondering if there are older books in the same style and came upon two different writers who created American history series.  Please remember that older history books might have references and phrases that some might find offensive.  You can choose how you handle this.  As a read aloud just rephrase it or have a discussion about how we use language differently over time. Whatever is best for your family.  Here are two authors I found:

Edward Eggleston books 

Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans - this is VERY similar to 50 Famous Stories but about Americans.

Stories of American Life and Adventure: a third grade reader - this text also focuses on short biographies of Americans.  There are many stories in here that you will not find elsewhere.

A First Book of American History  - this one is more like a textbook in the old style with an emphasis on people more than events  and goes up to the 1900's.

A History of the United States and its People  - a textbook for middle and high school students

Mara Pratt books (the first two volumes can be found on librivox)

This is a series of four books that cover American history up to the early 1900s.  There is one available through google books and all four can be found through Yesterday's Classics.
American History Vol. 3 - from George Washington to the Civil War

Stories of Colonial Children - starts with the babies born on the Mayflower.

Ms. Pratt actually has quite a few history books if you search her name on google books.

For slightly older children you might want to check out Teddy Roosevelt's  Hero Tales from American History. 

So, if you still want to include some American history despite your overall classical focus this might be an easy way to add some in.  I also HIGHLY recommend the Childhood of Famous American series.   One of my friends used to require his children to read a biography or two over the summer break.  These can often be found in libraries (if you are really interested I have a bunch of vintage ones at my house that my husband wants me to sell!)

**  Sorry to those who viewed the blank post earlier.  I am not sure how that happened.  I am still figuring some of these blogging technicalities out.  Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tip Time - CC Cycle 2 Week 6

I love the CC Cd.  Today I will share with you how we use it in the car.  This might seem pretty obvious, but sometimes it is good to hear some basics from other people.

Typically, we listen to the current weeks information for a day or two after our group meeting. As we listen, I stop the CD after each topic and we repeat what we have just heard.  Often, I will stop the CD and expand on a subject while we are driving around town.  I might also talk with the son whose class I wasn't in to see what they discussed about the topic. When I think they have the information down I will stop the CD after the topic is announced or the key question asked and quiz them that way. Then we'll see if they are actually learning it or just tuning it out.  It is simple and makes our drives a little more interesting and constructive.  I will tell you that it can be dangerous to listen to the timeline CD in the car if you have a difficult time resisting the urge to do the hand motions.  

After doing this I think I might make another CD that has the poetry, Bible memory verses and similar items on it.  I find that when I am reading the information that I am not memorizing it very well.  It's right there in front of me so I don't really focus on memorizing it.  But, if I hear it in the car and repeat it I do much better.

We also listen to the Prima Latina CD in the car much the same way.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Homeschool Reflections - What is your target?

I am privileged to share some insights from a long time friend of mine.  She has homeschooled her 8 children for 28 years!  Her youngest child is in 8th grade and next year he will go to a local public high school.  She homeschooled the oldest two through high school, but the younger children have gone to public school.  So, this year marked her "last, first day of school" at home.  She now has more children who have graduated from high school than have not.  I have been gleaning bits of wisdom from her about this journey. She has graciously allowed me to share some of them with you here. I will break her thoughts up over a few different posts.  She is not about to toot her own horn or write her own book - but I know that her wisdom might help some of us as we enter the fray.

Although I blog a lot about curriculum - because it is tangible and easy - she won't even discuss that with me.  So don't expect suggestions along those lines!

Thought #1 -  What is your target? 

A few years ago she was frustrated by the fact that she didn't get to do glamorous things - like go out to lunch with friends.  She was always home with kids.  She knew that she isn't called to minister to addicts or enter into international missions at this point in her life, but she wished that she could at least mentor someone or invest in something outside of her home. It was at that point that God really challenged her with the idea of "target".  What was her target?  What had he given her to do and was she aiming at that target?  

As a result of this insight she was able to let go of some of the guilt and frustration that comes with feeling like you aren't doing "enough".  This also helped her to focus on the things she should be doing.  Someday soon she will be able to go out for lunches and be able to mentor others more freely -  but that is a new season.  For the season she was in, God clearly communicated that her family was her target.  

So, what is your target? 

Have you asked the question?  Have you thought about who God has clearly put in front of you to minister to and support?  Are you searching for a different target because this one isn't glamorous or as fulfilling as you had hoped?  Do you prefer having multiple targets because then you can't be held accountable if one thing fails - there is a back up plan or excuse?    Do you wonder how your small target could actually make a difference in His kingdom?  

Aiming at other targets (or nothing) doesn't make you a better shot - it makes you miss the mark you have set before you.  I pray that you are willing to submit to the place God has you so that you may do the work he has set before you- whether that's running a household or running a company - it's His place for you.  I have the following Elisabeth Elliott quote up around my house to help me remember this.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Understood Betsy Quotes

My boys and I are really enjoying Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  She was actually one of the first Americans to introduce Montessori methods to the United States during the 1910's.  This work has a lot to say about education without being a treatise on education.  I appreciate the lessons that are sprinkled throughout but aren't too heavy handed.  The story follows a young girl raised in the city by her Aunt who is always trying to "understand" her.  Due to a family sickness, she is forced to move out to the farm with her Cousin and learns a lot about herself in the process.  I laughed at some of the "understanding" that Aunt Frances provided - my boys didn't get it - but it is well described.

Here are a few of my favorite parts.

After reading her lesson well at school, her response to her teacher is:
The little girl went up to her desk and said, what she knew it was her duty to confess: "I can't be allowed to read in the seventh reader.  I don't write a bit well, and I never could get the mental number-work right.  I couldn't do ANYthing with seventh-grade arithmetic!"
The teacher looked a little blank and said: "I didn't say anything about your number-work! I don't know anything about it!  You haven't recited yet."
The first day of school continues and the teacher tries to find out what she knows in each area and towards the end of the day Betsy gets very upset and proclaims:
"Why - why," said Elizabeth Ann, "I don't know what I am at all.  If I'm second grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third grade spelling, what grade am I?" 
The teacher laughed at the turn of phrase. "you aren't any grade at all, no matter where you are in school.  You're just yourself, aren't you?  What difference does it make what grade you're in!  And what's the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don't know your multiplication table?" 
The rest of the anecdote is instructive but you'll have to read it for yourself - I am sure you might identify with it!
"OH pshaw!  It's ten minutes past five!  Now my grandmother could have told that within five minutes, just by the place of the shadow [talking about the sundial]. I declare! Sometimes it seems to me that every time a new piece of machinery comes into the door some of our wits fly out at the window! 
And another about family time:
She was very proud to think she could please a grown-up so much as she was evidently pleasing Uncle Henry, but the idea of reading aloud for people to hear, not for a teacher to correct, was unheard-of.
When the girls decide to help out a classmate Cousin Ann has some comments - a little convicting!
"Well," said Cousin Ann, "What has that got to do with 'Lias knowing who did it?"
"Why, he wouldn't know who to be grateful to," cried Betsy.
"Oh," said Cousin Ann, "oh, I see.  You didn't do it to help 'Lias.  You did it to have him grateful to you."
Thoughts on good teaching
. . . and to begin with had gone back, back, back to bedrock, to things Betsy absolutely knew, to the 2x2s and the 3x3s.  And then, very cautiously, a step at a time, they had advanced, stopping short whenever Betsy felt a beginning of that bewildered "guessing" impulse which made her answer wildly at random. . . From that moment her progress had been rapid, one sure fact hooking itself on to another and another one on to that. 
 These are just some of my favorites.  I highly recommend it as a read aloud.  It is part of the Year 2 Ambleside Online curriculum.