Monday, January 30, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Drawing

Recently a friend attended a local free art class.  The educator explained to the children that with the advent of cameras there was no need for realistic drawing any longer.  What?? I am still trying to get over this! The point of drawing has much more to do with the development of the artist than it does with the specific drawing outcome (although, hopefully skills increase). I believe there is a place for "process art" and "interpretive art" but many of us have never received basic instruction in drawing. So, why draw in the age of cameras??

1.  Drawing forces you to observe closely.  This is something we want our children to do - drawing slows you down enough to actually do it.

2.  Drawing encourages you to use a different part of your brain.  Honestly, this is one reason I resist it. If you are an adult wanting to start out I recommend Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain or You Can Draw in 30 Days.

3.  Drawing encourages a different kind of expression.  Our children are constantly asked to use their words.  Allowing them to use images, to draw, can be a helpful break.  I am always amazed at the drawings my 1st graders do in Sunday School to go with the story we are telling.

4.  Although doodling isn't quite drawing it can be very helpful to students. Doodling can help you focus and bring your thoughts together - it is not mindless and it isn't a distraction for many of us.

Resources to help with drawing: 

Ed Emberly books are my favorite.  They aren't "high end" but they help you break down an object into its shapes and parts.  Each book has tons of different ideas for how to draw things.

If you want to join history and drawing you should check out the 8 book series Draw Write Now or the 5 book set Draw and Write Through History.

I have had more than one artist friend recommend Barry Stebbing's program.  It focuses on color, art technique and the basics of shape and line.  There are videos as well as drawing books to work through.  It starts with young children and goes through high school.  You won't find fun artsy activities - but you will find the basics art skills introduced and practiced.  

Mark Kistler also has a variety of `books and videos available. You might remember him from his days on PBS.  He also has a series of you tube videos you can watch.

Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes is used often.  I had trouble actually implementing it but it is worth considering.  Here is a series of blog posts that can help you use this approach more effectively.

Drawing is a way to observe, discover and enjoy life in a different way.  I encourage you to take 15 minutes this week and try drawing something.  Take time to notice its shape, texture, and lighting. Take time to slow down and observe with your child.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wednesday with Words: To Know As We Are Known (Part 2)

We are surviving through some type of bug/ flu thing around here.  This is made more frustrating by the fact that we celebrated a 5 year old birthday and today celebrate my husband's 40th.  Not feeling very festive but fortunately the grandparents have stepped in to help out.  I did finish To Know As We are Known by Parker J. Palmer and it is GOOD.  I really can't explain all that it says well, so I will just pick some of my favorite quotes to share.
In Christian understanding, the gap exists not so much because truth is hidden and evasive but because we are.  We hide from the transforming power of the truth; we evade truth's quest for us. 
Throughout the scriptures knowing and obedient listening are linked . . . but he also connects obedience with freedom.  This connection is not simply a quirk of Christian teaching.  The idea that freedom is achieved through obedience to truth is also at the heart of a liberal education, whose aim is to liberate us through knowledge.  
He spends a whole chapter explaining our common practices that reinforce an objective approach to learning and life.  I liked this insight best
By keeping students passive and feeding them a steady diet of facts, we try to kill off their passions. Conventional education strives not to locate and understand the self in the world, but to get it out of the way.
But we find it safer to seek facts that keep us in power rather than truths that require us to submit. 
In the end he says

So, what is the alternative?

He talks about classrooms that have "openness, boundaries, and an air of hospitality."  His descriptions are helpful but the main idea is to allow people to realize that they don't know things, give them time to think and worthy things to think upon and allow dissenting opinions.

Readings are an important part of this discipline and he explains
There is often need for longer reading assignments to gather background information and perspectives, but a shorter text can become the arena of focused exploration. . . The key to this approach is to keep the students firmly within the boundaries of the text, to keep them from fleeing into ungrounded opinion, wishful thinking, or irrelevant facts.  
He speaks often of allowing silence - even if it is uncomfortable - to be a part of the classroom and conversation.  I need to hear this - daily!  We also must admit and deal with our feelings towards the subject - not that they rule us - but, because they are discussed openly, they cannot rule us.  As he explains, "But as I create a space for feelings, I find that the group's capacity for tough mindedness grows."

He then spends a whole chapter looking at the issue of obedience.  This is his definition

I know I am guilty of reading, thinking something is a good idea, but doing NOTHING about it.  I am not being obedient to truth.  I am not acting on what I have heard and therefore my education is incomplete - or possibly not even begun.  As he explains, "that however accurate a teaching may be it is not truthful until we follow it with obedience."  He ends by discussing humility in the teacher, other spiritual graces, silence and solitude.  This is something we have to fight for as he explains
This is the vacuousness of mass society and of mass education: our lives alternate between collective busyness and individual isolation but rarely allow for an authentically solitary or corporate experience. 
It is a short but meaty book with both philosophical and practical thoughts.  It is worth your time if you are interested in creating true learning communities.  What he is calling for is not easy - for the teacher or the student - but it is worth it.  

See what others are reading at Ladydusk.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: History

As many of my friends have moved from homeschooling to elementary public school their kids have noted the lack of history.  As a history major this is disturbing to me.  There is so much to be gained from an understanding of our history (teaching the election of 1912 brought up themes very similar to our most recent election).  History helps us to consider issues and problems without the emotion of today and allows us to see how things change and stay the same.  It offers perspective plus the stories are great.

Adding a short history reading to your week can help your kids meet these men and women of the past.  Today, we will look at a few spine or complete history books that might work for your family. We are made for stories so why not share some true and inspiring ones with our kids.

Story of the World - This is a 4 book series that covers much of world history.  There is also a CD version and activity book that you can buy in addition to the text itself.  If you get the CDs you can learn history while you drive. The activity book is a great resource if you want to go "hands on" with history.  The best way to use this resource is probably to read a chapter (they are pretty short) and then have your child narrate it back to you.  If there are themes or issues you can bring those up as well.

M.B. Synge - This is an older series of books that covers from Ancient times to World War I.   There might be some phrases and perspectives that are not appropriate for today so either edit as you read or talk about how things have changed.  It starts with "On the Shores of the Great Sea".  These are all public domain so you can get them for free.  There are also recordings of this series on librivox. Not all of them have been recorded yet.

A Child's History of the World - This is a volume that was originally written in 1935.  If you get an older version it might have language that we would not use today.  The more current versions cover history beyond 1935.

The Story of Mankind - This is another single volume that covers from Ancient Egypt to more current times.  It is cheap on kindle and you can also listen to it through librivox.

The Story of US -  This is a 10 book series that covers American history.  It is a bit more text book and less story than other books.  She also has a three book series that covers scientific history if that is something your kids are interested in - this is probably best for a middle school student though.

H.E. Marshall - She wrote a number of histories.  Our Island Story is about England.  This Country of Ours is about early American settlement.  The Story of Europe starts with the Romans and moves through the Reformation.  Some of these are found on librivox.  Her writing is very detailed and might give you more than you want to know about an era but it is engaging.

Mary McGregor - Her histories are from a specific country - France, Rome, Greece.  I have not read these but they look engaging.

Famous Men of ------ - This series has short biographical stories covering Rome, Greece, The Middle Ages and Modern Times.   In addition to the free online stories, there are full color editions that include famous art work and renditions of the people in the stories.

I encourage you to look for books that tell the story and don't just hand out facts.  It will help your child connect with history and make it come alive.  I am sure there are many more sources I could list and if you have a favorite add it in the comments.  Most of these resources are free so it just requires a little investment of your time to help your child see how history fits together.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday with Words: To Know As We are Known

I read To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey over 15 years ago.  I was taken with it then but honestly didn't remember what it said until I picked it back up this weekend.  I originally got it because Henri Nouwen endorsed it.  Since then the author, Parker J. Palmer, has written a book that was assigned to many of my teaching friends The Courage to Teach.  I haven't read that one.  Re- reading the first two chapters I realize that this was my first introduction to a totally different way of thinking about knowledge, truth and education.  The way I am pursuing today.  
He argues that we often judge our knowledge by its outcome and he encourages us to think about the origins of our interest in knowledge.  As he explains:
But I have come to see that knowledge contains its own morality, that it begins not in neutrality but in a place of passion within the human soul. . . . From the point where it originates in the soul, knowledge assumes a certain trajectory and target - and it will not easily be deflected by ethics once it takes off from that source. 
He explains that when we don't think about its origin we think we can temper knowledge with ethics or values - he doesn't think this is so.  It recalled Mason's "way of the will".  She explains that we need to make sure that our feet are on the right path to begin with - this is why she downplays logic. Once you are on a path you can come up with MANY reasons for being there.

In our culture he finds that knowledge seeking is typically the result of two impulses: curiosity or control.  A few weeks back there was a conversation about curiosity and why it might be bad.  Here is Palmer's take on these reasons as being inadequate starting points for knowledge:
Curiosity is an amoral passion, a need to know that allows no guidance beyond the need itself. Control is simply another word for power, a passion notorious not only for its amorality but for its tendency towards corruption.  If curiosity and control are the primary motives for our knowing we will generate a knowledge that eventually carries us not toward life but death.  
So what should be our starting point? Love.  He also calls for a
mode of knowing and educating that is prayerful through and through.  What do I mean by prayer? I mean the practice of relatedness. 
If you are a Mason reader your alarms should be going off by now!  I love how he connects prayer to relations.  He says it more clearly
In prayer, I no longer set myself apart from others and the world (the objective approach of modern education - he explains elsewhere), manipulating them to suit my needs. Instead I reach for relationship, allow myself to feel the tuggings of mutuality and accountability, take my place in community by knowing the transcendent center that connects it all.  
Next he talks about the disciplines of a student.  He asserts that "the disciplines of prayer and contemplation have their counterparts in secular education".  In secular education when we aim "to see through and beyond the appearance of things" we use "research and analysis, by various forms of empirical study and logical thought".
Prayer and analysis do not end up at the same point; where analysis aims at breaking the world into it elements, prayer aims at seeing beyond the elements into their underlying relatedness.     
He then discusses fact, theory, objective and reality in fascinating ways.  He ends by going back to the origin - Adam and Eve - and explains
Adam and Eve were driven from the garden because of the kind of knowledge they reached for - a knowledge that distrusted and excluded God.  Their drive to know arose not from love but from curiosity and control, from the desire to possess powers belonging to God alone. . . In their refusal to know as they were known, they reached for a kind of knowledge that always leads to death.   
He also has a great word study of truth and its relationship to "troth" where a person enters into covenant with another to "engage in mutually accountable and transforming relationship".

So those are some of the high points of the first two chapters-  you can see it is dense but not difficult. Here are my favorite quotes:

In this last one, he is reflecting on the way our class culture and practices speak volumes about how the student can and should interact with the world - do you need an expert? is there one right answer? is this a competition?  what is our ultimate goal? It makes me think of J.K. Smith's work.

Truth. Reading. Relationship. I look forward to reading the next chapter "The Teaching Behind the Teaching".

See what others are reading at Ladydusk.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Narration

This week we turn towards a skill - narration.  Is that really a skill? Yes, it is!

What is narration? 

This idea seems SO basic. In fact, it is probably one of the most frequently used skills and it almost seems natural. You listen to a sermon or podcast and someone asks "What was it about?".  So you narrate - or tell back - often with some reflection, connection and emphasis on what impacted you or what it made you think about.  Although the concept is simple, it actually requires quite a bit of mental focus and thought to do it well.

What should they narrate? 

Anything and everything!  Honestly, if a child narrates a math problem you can better see their thinking and find where they have gone off track. Narrating is most often associated with reading or listening to lectures.  Sometimes, as parents, we feel we must read everything our child is reading in order to have a good conversation.  Honestly, they need you to listen to their narrations - they don't need comprehension questions or deep literary thoughts (especially in elementary school).  If you listen, they re-tell you stories all the time (tv shows come to mind).  Did you realize this is preparing them for being good conversationalists, writers and presenters (wait, they are already doing that)?

In some ways, this doesn't mean doing much different - it means valuing what your child does.  It can be BORING to listen to the 100th re-telling of a Magic Treehouse story - but it is how they think through and process what they are learning.  Start appreciating it for the great skill that it is.  If you want to elevate the conversation provide them with different material to listen to or read!  If you want to practice this skill Aesop's fables are a great place to start.  They are short, simple stories - but don't tell "the moral" - allow them to reflect on it.  

I will say that it is very DIFFICULT to narrate a textbook.  When all the facts have been distilled for you there isn't much story to tell.  Stories are much easier (and appropriate) to narrate. That's why you may not remember the sermon points but you do remember and re-tell the story he used to make his point.  Also, kids younger than 6 will spontaneously narrate their lives to you but they shouldn't be expected to do so.

If you are reading aloud always ask the children to remind you what happened last time in the story before you start reading a new section or chapter.  This is a great informal way to sneak narration in and make sure everyone is on the same page.  Mason also encouraged that children only hear a passage once and then tell it back to encourage them to pay attention the first time.  If they know you will read it over and over whey would they pay attention?

Still don't believe me . . . 
If you want to learn more about the details of narration here is a multi-part part series.  It discusses why this is a valid assessment method, how to help students begin to use narration thoughtfully, how narrating moves items from short to long term memory and other useful insights. Try to avoid interrupting, prodding or looking for "the right answer"; the whole point is to see what your child thought was interesting, remembered or found important.  If they seem way off track - well, now you know and can ask questions and discuss it. If you are trying to find ways to make it more creative or interesting - there is a long list here.

In the end, narration isn't about them getting every point of the story right, it is about helping children remember these stories long term.  So, only use this technique with stories and thoughts worth remembering.  It can also form the basis of thoughtful conversation as they grow older and are in the habit of telling you what they are reading, listening to and thinking about.

Friday, January 13, 2017

I'm a believer . . . in schedules

I can't believe I just typed that phrase.  I realize this is day two of "my new leaf" but this one is worth continuing.  Have you seen the somewhat complicated charts for CM schools?   At first glance they look very detailed and overwhelming - honestly, I just have 2 kids (in school).  After spending lots of time playing with them and referring back to Sabbath Mood Homeschool's scheduling ideas I decided it couldn't hurt.  I had made up about four versions but hadn't even tried it once.  So this week we tried it!

Prior scheduling methods:  
I have tried some types of organization in the past.

The Notebook Method: In my version I just wrote out the subjects that needed to be accomplished every day and we tried to move through them during the day.  Often in little bits and unconnected.

Block Scheduling:  Here we had a set amount of work that had to be accomplished in a slightly longer time frame.  So, I might have Latin (30 minutes), Math (30 minutes), Science Reading (20 minutes) and set aside an hour and forty - five minutes for that.

At times these went together so he would look in his notebook to see what was to be accomplished during that block.

I realize now that my oldest saw all of these as points of contention and possible change.  He respects a clear schedule WAY more than I thought he would.  I was giving him too much responsibility and he needs more structure to move in the right direction and he seems okay with it.  I was surprised. (We listened to the Parable of Nature story that goes along with this idea this week - convenient and convicting).

First, the key principles I used to develop my CM inspired time table (mostly found here):

1.  Switch off subjects - math to reading, easy to difficult, active to sitting still.

2.  We start with math every day.  That just seems to work.

3.  I had to tweak A LOT because we are (maybe foolishly) a part of two co-ops so I have MUCH less time to work with.

4.  Short lessons have always been a staple of our work - but not in quick and organized succession.

4.  Think about who needs your help when - dictation (part of the time), math (as needed), if I want to read aloud that is full attention.   Plan accordingly.

Why I am impressed: 

1.  It actually helped my 4 yo the most.  Isn't that strange?  He wants to "do school" but he missed out this week.  He decided to throw a fit and when he calmed down, we had moved on to other things and he missed it.  This is one of the first things that has made him think twice about his behavior.  As CM says "one time is not as good as another" - this is a lesson my whole family needs to learn!

2.  Today a miracle occurred, the 4 yo and 2 yo played together NICELY for an extended period of time.  This has NEVER happened (in fact, normally the 4 yo is threatening said 2 yo).  However, I think he realized that she was his only option because everyone else was busy working.  I did NOT see this benefit coming.  It may not last - but one day was glorious.

3.  It does help my oldest to realize that nothing lasts forever and a lot can be done in a little bit of time with focus.  He has also whined significantly less. I don't feel like I am constantly prodding and nagging him to see what he has accomplished.  He was also pretty impressed with how much he did in a little bit of time and was excited that school was done by noon (there was normally something hanging around until after lunch in our former systems).  

4.  We actually did Spanish, handicrafts and painting this week.   You would have thought I was the MOST amazing mom the way my 7 yo praised my wise inclusion of painting in his schedule.  He was ecstatic.  My 10 yo explained to my husband tonight that he is a "plastic canvaser" - since that was the easiest handicraft for me to pull together and seemed like something we could be successful at accomplishing.

5.  Wow!  10 minutes is a LONG time for memory work.  I need to get that more organized.

6.  It made me sit and focus on school.  I felt like I was leading and kids were following. What a difference!

The rough edges: 

1.  Some similar subjects still ended up too close together.

2.  I put some things (like geography) on the schedule that I don't actually have "work" to do with it yet - so I need to find that to plug in.

3.  I need to learn about watercolor painting and brush up on my Spanish some more.

4.  There are a few kinks to work out to make sure I am available to kids as they need me. For a first run I think it went pretty well.

5. We will move the play/ songs to earlier in the schedule. (I learned that Amazon music has some good quality Spanish kids songs).

6.  I need to make sure we have enough time to complete assignments that have to be done for co-op.  Much of CM is about doing the next thing - you have some general idea of how much material you want to cover but it is about maximizing time - not page counts.  That's not the way co-op assignments are set up - but I think we can navigate that pretty easily.  They all fit in categories I have on the schedule.  

There are still a few things we need to better organize - afternoons, read aloud loops (in the car and at home).  However, we are making some strides in the right direction.  We did read much more this week than we have recently.

People talk about the freedom that a schedule brings.  I get it now!  I wasn't constantly juggling subjects in my head and wondering where we were in the day - I just looked up and did the next thing.  I did not have nearly the decision fatigue I normally have at the end of the day.  It also greatly reduced our battles because EVERYONE could see what the plan was - they weren't having to guess or wonder. This might be a life changing, leaf turning for me.

I resisted a strict and specific schedule for a long time.  Now I realize it was my loss.  We'll see how week 2 goes!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wednesday with Words: Love and Discipline

This new year has started with many blatant reminders of where I have fallen off the wagon.  My youngest turned 2 last month so we need to return to "normalcy" around here.  Our current state of fits and randomness is not going to get us there.

I recently saw the book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline in a forum. Well it's straight talk about how if you aren't in control - no one is in control or worse - your 3 year old is! This goes back to modeling and imitation - I know this stuff but . . .  Honestly, this is why it is tough to stay home with your kids - you realize your own bad behavior as they reflect it to you.  Anyway, Parenting from the Inside Out looks at the deeper psychological reasons we parent the way we do. Easy to Love takes the "fake it 'til you make it" approach- you, parent, start acting right and other things will fall in line.

Most of the book is "how to" but there are few introspective quotes that I really appreciated.

This hit me in two ways.  I don't personally avoid change, I just avoid finishing and being held responsible for what I start.  I don't want to mess up - so if I don't finish we can never know if it was a mistake or not.  I am working on this.  I do talk about how it is okay to make mistakes in our house. However, I think it is just lip service to my kids because most of my interactions with them don't communicate that mistakes are okay.  I am not that gracious.  This must change. 

Bailey also had a section about our "language of anxiety".  She described the different kinds of self-talk we use when we are anxious.  Her general categories are belittling others, remembering all the bad things from the past, creating future problems and negative inner speech.  I had never connected these thought patterns with anxiousness but it makes sense.  There is power in naming it! 

In this context she is explaining how overwhelming and conflicting anger is for a young child. From there, she explains that they often turn those moments into games to make themselves feel better (they start running in circles so you will chase them, play peek a boo, etc.).  This of course, in my case, just heightens my anger.  But realizing just how overwhelming fear and anger are in a little body helps me to have empathy.  I need to remember this!  It is my job to teach them how to deal with anger thoughtfully - not model ridiculous methods of "managing" it. 

It also reminds me that my anger is an expression of fear as well - it is not excusable - it means I am not walking in faith.  I am afraid someone will get hurt, wake up, turn out "wrong" because of one bad choice, etc.  Elsewhere she says 

Fear controls, love structures.  Fear judges, love notices. 

I am being hit over the head with the need to structure - at least a little bit - for all of us.  I have really enjoyed the ADE podcasts about structure (and the pages for it).  This is a start!  

Finally, she talks often about being specific and direct with our instructions to our kids for clarity's sake.  Labeling, commands, questions, sarcasm, accusations are all indirect commands.  I realized just how frequently I expect my kids to be mind readers.  I am missing tons of teaching moments and it is frustrating us all.  Half the time I am not sure what I want them to do and then get frustrated when they don't do it.  AGGHHH!   I just need to slow down and be more intentional. 

For me, this is a good read.  I imagine some people have this self control piece in hand - I am clearly not one of them (I thought I was)!  This book is not a scriptural look at discipline but it is not hard to find the grains of truth (perfect love casts out fear).  

See what others are reading at Ladydusk

Monday, January 9, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Picture Study

It was hard to choose where to start this series but this is so simple I couldn't pass it up.  Picture study!

Charlotte Mason encourages us to help children develop a "gallery of paintings" in their minds.  Isn't that a wonderful image?  That's what I want.

How to "study" art? 
     Enjoy looking at paintings and other works of art with your children or students.  You can add details about the artist's life, the history, etc. but really the value is in just OBSERVING and DISCUSSING the painting (this is not art history, criticism or technique class). Often it is recommended that they look at it for a few minutes and then you take it away and ask them to tell you what they remember from the painting (or artwork).  When they are done have them look at it again and see how it matches with their description.  If you want a full description of the process you can read more here (here or listen here).  Of course, you can enjoy art however you would like.  This is a process that can take less than 15 minutes and add beauty to your life.

What to study? 
     She recommends picking 6 items that represent an artists' work and spreading them out over 12 weeks (so 1 picture every 2 weeks).   The pace may seem slow but that is intentional.  You want children to have time to really look and spend time with the work - not just race through them. Looking at one artist for a few weeks helps your child (and you) to get a sense of the subject matter and style of that artist.  It may not seem like an "intense" schedule - but that's the point.  After a school year students could know 18 paintings (possibly more at home).  If you multiply that by a few years - imagine what a "gallery" your child will have.  You of course can adapt this to your needs and situation as you see fit.

    I encourage you to hang what you have up - use clipboards, put them on your fridge, display them in frames from the dollar store, etc.  I actually got a cheapo stand and put the picture we are looking at on top of the piano.

Where to get art?
      Most of these paintings and works are in the public domain - so you can just go out there and look on the Internet.  You can also get art print calendars (cheap in January) or visit Half Price Books and Library sales.  The resources below lean towards 'greats of Western culture' but all of art and architecture is out there for you.  These are some packets that come ready made - some free and some not too expensive:

     Barefoot Ragamuffin- through Lulu - free but you have to print your own (or look at them on a screen).  Level 1 and 2, Level 3, Level 4 and 5 - so that's 5 years for free.  (You do have to register for free with Lulu to check out). She also includes versions that you can color - if you and your kids enjoy that.

    Ambleside Online - This is another option for free prints.  They have chosen 6 prints per artist and have links to them on the Internet.  You can of course can find them elsewhere as well.  They have over 40 artists divided over 12 week terms - you of course just choose what you like and use it.

    Simply Charlotte Mason - Picture Study Portfolios - There are two types choices at this site. The first "extra" set is just the prints (and unfortunately I don't think they have the name of the work and artist on the back).  The full set includes a short biography of the artist and questions to go with each picture.  There are 18 artists (so far).  These range in price from $8 to $16 and are printed on high quality, glossy paper in full color.

    Memoria Press - Art Cards and Posters - Although they say K -2nd grade - is Cassat really meant just for that age group?  I haven't seen these in person but they look wonderful.

   Enrichment Studies also has art collections available.  Some collections cover an artistic period and others particular artists (you can get Peter Paul Rubens and Women of the Renaissance for free right now).   If you sign up she has a a freebie available each month (she does artists, scientists, poets, musicians).  Well, there you have it covered!   You print these on your own.

I am sure that there are other options out there (here are a few more suggestions) and if you have thoughts please leave them in the comments.

How to fit it in? 

   -  Planning: I recommend taking one evening or chunk of time and picking out artists for at least 6 months. Then order or print everything and put it somewhere accessible.  If you try to do it week by week it will not be done (at least not at my house).  So, just plan it once and then work the plan.

   -  If your child has down time at school send them to school with a set of prints to observe.  They don't necessarily have to report back to you - but you can try to make it happen.  You might include some questions to get them thinking.

   -  Include a picture every two weeks at dinner time, bed time or breakfast.

   -  Create portfolios for students in your classroom to peruse.  It might be easier to do 4 pictures - just attach them to a manila folder (if you are printing them out).  Hand them out with a few questions for the kids to ponder as they look.

   -  Teachers and afterschool programs can use them during circle/ gathering times as well.  Again, just once every two weeks - show the painting, allow students to react and maybe ask a few questions.

   -   In my Sunday School class, about once a semester, I try to do an "art" lesson.  There are quite a few Biblical incidents that have been done by multiple artists (many artists love the "Walk to Emmaus" and yesterday we did "the Adoration of the Magi" - over 35 paintings to choose from).  You can also choose one artist who has covered quite a few Bible stories (we did Giotto and the story of Jesus' birth through Madeliene L'Engle's book in December).  Either way, look it up, print it out and just add it to the lesson.  I ask the children open ended questions and often encourage them to draw their own picture of the scene.  It also brings a mental image to the story that is not a stock Sunday School curriculum photo!  You can also easily do this at home as you read the Bible or celebrate parts of the church calendar.

Questions to ask: 

     I try not to tell them the name of the piece first - many are depictions of stories that they might know.  It is more fun if you give hints and then they have the "aha" moment for themselves.  If you are truly concerned that children will stare blankly and be unable to respond to a piece of art - here are a few questions you can use to get the ball rolling:

    -  Who or what is in the picture?
    -  What colors do you see?
    -  What do you think is happening?
    -  What season do you think it is?  What time of day do you think it is? (this is my son's favorite question)
    -  Is there anything that you don't recognize in the picture (many of them will be pastoral so they might not know what's in them)?
    -  How long ago do you think this happened?  Where did it happen?

The point is to focus on what they see.  You want kids to respond with answers and support, "It's winter because there is snow everywhere."  Seems basic but this is a good observation. Eventually they will begin to see more - if given time to do it at their own pace.  Picture study should be a fun part of the day.

Age Group:  All ages.  Family fun activity.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

We did it!! Fall Readings and reflections

As I was reflecting on our past semester I realized that we did it!   We read one edited life of Plutarch and all of Pilgrim's Progress (I thought we were listening to little bits but we read it WAY faster than 2 years).

We used Anne White's Publicola and I highly recommend it.  We got most of the phrases she explains from the context but it was handy to have it right there.  She also has some thoughtful connections and explanations.  Plus it was open and go and I need that.

Listening to Pilgrim's Progress as a dramatized version was VERY helpful.  Having long car rides a few times a week made it easier too (although we do listen to just a section or two - less than 15 minutes at a time).  My 7 yo followed it fairly well.   Unfortunately, we learned that my 10 yo is studying a condensed version at church this semester.  Maybe he'll get some different insights doing it in class?  He is going to know that story backwards and forwards!  Hopefully it will give him insight when he needs it.

We finally started Trial and Triumph.  I think we might be reading it too fast so we are going to slow down a bit.  So interesting though.  My son drew comparisons between St. Patrick and Harriet Tubman - they were both slaves who went back to bring people out of slavery.  Well, there is that!

We also listened to Black Beauty, found at the library, and part of ELTL level 4.  That one is a bit convicting - so be careful.

We totally failed on Shakespeare.  We read about half of Twelfth Night.  I have decided to add a dramatized version to our "car reading".  We did listen to most of Bill Bryson's Shakespeare on CD though, so I guess we did get some Shakespeare.  If you want a short and interesting history - I recommend it.  (Well I recommend anything by Bill Bryson - some parts you might have to "edit" for family listening).

We listened to parts of CAP's God's Great Covenant.  I enjoyed it and learned some of the history and cultural pieces that you don't get by just reading the Bible.  My kids liked it for the most part too (well the 4 yo didn't but - see below).   We don't do the workbook - just listen to and narrate the stories.  I used some of the stories to help prep for my Sunday School class.  We got the MP3 version so we can listen to it in our car.

Speaking of MP3s, I am still looking at perfecting our usage.  Any hints (other than let the 10 yo do it)??  I try to make playlists (often taking things from librivox) so that we can go from nature lore (Among the _____ People) to a chapter from a story to history (50 Famous Stories) - but some days it works and some days not so much.  Other days we just listen to "Beethoven's Wiggles" because my 4 yo is obsessed with this CD (apparently if you have amazon unlimited it is free - maybe?).

I do have to give props to my husband, he has started reading aloud - often when he comes home from work while I am finishing dinner - and it has been SO helpful.  YEAH!!   He did a book about Stephen F. Austin (we do live in Texas), All of A Kind Family, Five Children and It, the first 4 Harry Potter's and others.  I read Little House on the Prairie, lots of picture books and the history spine for Artios with my kiddos.  

What did you read this semester?  I am amazed at how much a little bit at a time allows you to accomplish.  Thank you Charlotte Mason! I am a bit amazed that we did this because half the time when we read aloud the 4 yo starts YELLING - even with his mouth full of food!   Redeeming time in the car goes a LONG way.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wednesday with Words: Missional Motherhood

I have been out of the loop.  I have not been keeping my Sabbath well which means less reading.  I missed it, I am repenting.  This week I draw from another random library find - Missional Motherhood by Gloria Furman.  I was sort of prepared for another "give yourself a break" book about motherhood - my reading seems to have that unfulfilling theme (see previous quotes).  However, this book was not like that AT ALL.  I loved its challenge.

The first half of the book looks at motherhood and its difficulties in the Old Testament. Honestly I skimmed most of this part - I know . . .   I wanted to skip ahead.  The premise of the second part is that all Christian women are called to be disciplemakers and that basically that entails nurturing life in the face of death. AGHH!  Is that really what we do?  I think it is.  She says tons of things I need to hear and haven't heard enough.  Here are a few gems:
But if our neediness is simply because you are a human being then you have reason to rejoice. . . you see how your neediness points you to Christ's sufficiency.  
Except that I normally still try to piece together fig leaves like Eve instead of leaning into God's sufficiency.  I am learning.

They know where to grow. They come to you, mothering woman, for provision.  No pressure, right? Thankfully we know God is the one who is faithful to provide what they need. 
Provision is the act of seeing ahead - no wonder I get tired.  I keep thinking I am the one who is supposed to see ahead on my own.  No, God is the one and I need to lean into his understanding (yes, I have memorized Proverbs 3 at least the part in the old Sixpence None the Richer CD).

She then discusses that we were designed to consume God's word - it is the bread of life.  However, this is something that has been significantly warped in our day and age.
We need the promises of Jesus to drown out the siren song of consumerism. 
Did you read this great article on the two different approaches to the Sirens?  Read it and then re-read this statement.  What music are you listening to or are you tying yourself to a mast?  The specific part I am referencing is about half way through the article.  Notice what it says about beholding - yes, well, Furman reminds us
And behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.  
She also calls some of the books I have been reading and feeling not quite right about recently to task here:
so called prosperity gospel which tells moms that Jesus will give them super knowledge for parenting, super strength for serving, and super abilities to fly circles around all the poor lost moms.  
Well, that's what I want super knowledge - not Jesus.  ACKK.  She hit the nail on the head and I am repenting.  She also has some fabulous insight into helicopter parenting and its detrimental effects - thoughts I hadn't seen before.  As a homeschooling mom how do you make sure you aren't doing this?  She also says that we
soak our disciples imagination in Scripture. 
Guilty - not much soaking happening around here.  That's what I want them to imagine - the almighty, powerful, savior who was and is and is to come - not Superman or Batman.  However, they might get more super hero than God around here sometimes.

She challenges us with this thought

Her whole book is a challenge to trust in the provision, promise and grace of God for our motherhood - to expect him to show up in our mess, weakness and need - to invite him into it.  It is what I needed to be reminded of.   This is a library book but I might have to buy it for myself so that I can re-read and remind myself of the truth of this nurturing business - it's his primary business.

See what others are reading at Ladydusk.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Introduction

My goal is to provide resources and ideas that will allow you to add elements of a full education (art, music, history, literature, etc.) and skill development that many schools just can't provide anymore.  I plan to add a new idea a week.  Please don't add a new idea a week to your schedule - that would lead to chaos.  As this develops I hope that you will find some resources that can help add life, beauty and wonder to your home.

Who is this for?

If you are a:
  • former homeschooler who wants to add a few subjects you used to do, 
  • mom to a gifted child who finishes assignments early and you need to keep them busy at school
  • mom with children in a traditional school but you want to add some Classical/ Charlotte Mason content and methods into your life 
  • classroom teacher who wants to provide activities for those who finish early or to add a taste of these subjects to your teaching 
  • mom wanting to redeem car time and wait time in your life 
  • afterschool leader wanting to add different educational content to your time beyond homework completion 
Each week I will post a different subject or skill area and resources that you can use in 10 to 15 minutes a day or week (depending on the subject).  The links will become live below as I write them.

Honestly, most of these aren't my ideas.  Short lessons are a key approach from a  Charlotte Mason (a 19th century British educator) education.  She advocates short lessons so that students fully pay attention to the material, among other reasons.  We also tend to have a "bigger is better" mentality and don't pursue things because we think they will take too much time or don't know where to start. These are short and effective resources that, done regularly, can add to your child's knowledge and skill set.  In Mason's personal life she would read 10 minutes from a few different types of books every day. Basically, she understood habit training and stacking before it was a "thing".  The modern version is described here.

The skills that I will be discussing are also used in Classical or Charlotte Mason education and probably aren't part of the repertoire of skills your school is building. At first I thought these skills were too basic or unnecessary but I have learned that these simple skills are lifelong supports to learning.

How can you use this?

Pick a 
  • topic that you like and start doing it regularly as it fits in your schedule 
  • handful of topics and start looping them (explanation here) into your time before school or before bed or whenever it can fit.  A loop might have 3 or 4 subjects that rotate through in a week.  
  • few topics and start adding some fun "Saturday school" activities to your home - nature walk, geography book and art - whatever works for your family
  • few areas and start planning for summer.  Decide topics or skills that you want to cover this summer keeping it short.  It could just be an hour of your day and bring a little bit of learning and structure 
  • science, geography, math or other types of books to add to your normal read aloud time - read literature a few days a week and other topics the other days.  
  • few books and encourage your children to read from a wide range of subjects for school assignments or at home leisure reading - not just the next Rick Riordan (although that is what sometimes happens around here) 
These are just a few options- you know your kids, your schedule and your goals best.

I hope you find some resources and ideas that can help expose your children to the wonders of history, art, science, math and more in just a few minutes a day or week.