Monday, February 27, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Dictation

I am sorry I skipped last week.  I honestly don't have a good reason.  Life!  This week lets talk about the next step after copywork  - studied dictation.

This may sound like an outdated skill that only secretaries of old needed to know - but really it is a great skill to practice at home.  Dictation is basically writing down what someone is saying aloud - word for word - in your own handwriting (it does make a difference).  Eventually, you want children to actually hear and summarize in notes - but dictation is an intermediate step.  Dictation helps children with handwriting, listening, grammar, spelling, and attention.

Dictation should begin when a child is about 9 or 10.  They need to be comfortable with the process of writing and copywork as well as able to spell basic words before they move into dictation.  I often do studied dictation - which means that the child can look at the passage before you read it aloud to them.  I tell my son to notice spelling, punctuation and anything else that is different and make sure he has it down.  When you dictate it you simply read it phrase by phrase.  You should only read each phrase once (attention) but with newbies you might repeat a few times.  The child writes what you said including proper spelling and punctuation.  At the end they check it against the original passage and notice where they were off.  With short passages this takes less than 10 minutes.  As students get older it can be much longer - expanding their attention and their memories as you grow into it.

Here is another interpretation, a checklist article and a video about it.   One mom has her child study on her own, while the other leads their children through the process.  Some people have the children use the passage as copywork first and then it becomes dictation.  Others allow the student to study it one day and actually do the dictation the following day.  I think it depends on your kids.  I would typically have it written out on a sheet of paper - not the white board - for beginning students.

You can pull passages from anywhere - literature, maxims, nursery rhymes, the Bible, favorite quotes, fables. Just remember the age and ability of the child you are working with.

 If you want help finding them you can try these resources:

Writing Through History (the curricula developed by the person doing the video above) has dictation passages picked out from the history passages she has chosen.

Here is a more traditional (FREE) dictation book.

Dictation Day by Day is an older series.
book 2 - This one starts VERY basic - but it gets more difficult pretty quickly.  There are also maxims and proverbs and memory selections in the back.  I always like to build confidence where I can.
book 3 - (just for kicks read the first lesson!)
book 4 
book 5
book 6

If you want a more modern series you can check out Spelling Wisdom.  There are five books in this series which begins in 3rd grade and ends in 12th grade.  (There are more hints about using this process on their page).

Dictation is another step towards ensuring your child is a competent listener and writer.  I do remember doing this some when I was in 5th grade - mostly history selections.  It was rare but we did do it.  I highly recommend this as a great way to keep skills sharp over the summer.  You can decide how much grammar you want to discuss as you look at passages.  It can help with spelling as well. If you use a book of collected passages many of them are quotes from famous people, works and sayings - beauty.  Again, you are getting a lot of bang for your 15 minutes of investment.

Friday, February 24, 2017

6 Reasons to use CM's PNEU Charts

Scheduling.  It is a crazy business.  In my years I have tried many iterations and I have decided that the PNEU schedule might be the best way to go.  The PNEU was the parent education branch of Charlotte Mason's philosophy. You can see more about scheduling this way at Sabbath Mood Homeschool.   This is the "original" schedule reorganized to show all grades on one page.  Here is a sample chart, can this really make it easier??  

This is for the youngest kids - 1st to 3rd grade.  I won't go into details of what all these things mean but do want to talk about how it has helped our house.  I do agree with Afterthoughts, who reminded us last week, that the charts aren't the point.  But . . . they were used and with good reason. Here is what I have found.

1.  Decision Fatigue - Do you see ALL of those subjects?  Can you imagine trying EVERY week to figure out how you will fit everything in and for how long, etc?  In Volume 3, decision fatigue is the modern term for what she is talking about.  Her example is in relation to young children and parents asking them to make choices that aren't appropriate for their age. . . but.  With such a "feast" it can be hard to decide how and when to lay it out.  Putting together a schedule isn't easy BUT once it is done you have made the decisions and you can just go with it.    If you find yourself making tacos and pizza every night for dinner and turning on the TV - it may be a sign of decision fatigue.  CM was right again about decision fatigue and willpower.  

I have tried to use block scheduling as explained in Teaching From Rest.  It was not really restful because of the cajoling that happened around here.  Which leads me to my next point . .

2.  Less room for negotiating - With time blocks my oldest was still trying to negotiate ALL THE TIME.  Well how about I play for the first 15 minutes (use up the margin first) and then work?  Do I have to do it in this order or can I do it different today?  What if I just do some of the time and save some for later?  GOOD GRACIOUS!  With a timetable it is pretty easy to just DO IT.  I don't want to negotiate - just do what it says.  He still tries but I have a firmer rule with a chart.

Gretchen Rubin in Better Than Before talks about different personalities and habit change.  Some people need to go cold turkey and others can handle a treat every now and then.  I am a COLD TURKEY person (who knew)?  For me having a schedule is like quitting randomness in our schedule with no outs.  Now, in reality, we still sometimes go to the park before we finish dictation but we are MUCH better than we were.

I have also tried the notebook method.  Let's just say I was inconsistent and still tried to keep most things in my head.  There was no order to the day and it wasn't easy to see where we had spent our time.

3.  Keeping the Feast - Honestly, with notebooks there was always something that wasn't getting done because something else came up, we got distracted, etc.  I would often realize that I left something out the night before and then the battle of "Mom, you are adding more - that's not fair" would begin.  Often things like picture study or handicrafts never made it on the list. The timetables make sure that you have everything included in your week at some point.  The schedule is posted and everyone (well, all those who can read) can help ensure that we are keeping it together.  My oldest can read and know what is coming next and move on without me - if it is something he can do alone (read the next book).  I can share the "keeping" with others because it isn't all in my head.  I used to get frustrated because my son wasn't a mind reader - a timetable minimizes that issue.

4.  Sanity and Attention  - As I have added students, some subjects and children need more guidance than others.  This is the first year I have had two in full time schooling. With the notebook method we ran into conflict everyday.  My older son would wait until I was just settling in with someone else to say that he needed my help RIGHT NOW! Then, of course, it became my fault that he wasn't able to do his work.  How convenient??  (Yes, I realize there are other character things going on here).  

With a schedule you take these factors into account.  You can think through who needs help with math and what someone else can do independently at that time.  Factoring these things in your planning can save your sanity and cut down on disputes. It also allows you to more fully focus on the child in front of you because that is what is supposed to happen during that time (not that interruptions won't happen but you know where your focus should be).  Now, some mom's with notebooks probably created a fantastic schedule to help kids move through their notebooks each day in an orderly fashion.

However the PNEU schedule includes one key element that doesn't get discussed many other places . . .

5.  Variety - When I used the notebooks I lumped like subjects together.  Therefore, we didn't switch the type of brain food we were getting that often.  We would sit and read for long stretches (different things, but still).  CM is big on changing out the type of work you are doing and using short lessons "because a change is as good as a break".  We weren't switching tracks because once we started we just kept going.  This wasn't good for any of us.  Using the charts makes sure we are covering the whole feast AND switching up the type of work we are doing consistently.  It also helps us keep the times short.  Knowing you only have 15 minutes really does help you to focus in and apply yourself to a subject.  Nebulous statements like do Ch. 15, don't have quite the same effect.

6.  ENOUGH! - For me this works two ways.  Looking at those schedules you realize just how FULL the curriculum is and I can say - that is enough.  I trust that, over the course of a the year, we are probably going to cover enough to feed my children's minds and draw them into relationships with a variety of subjects.  That is huge.

However, on a daily basis I can also say ENOUGH.  Before I always felt like we were still missing something (often we were) or adding "just a little bit more" (Andrew Kern cautions strongly against this).  Whether it was an "extra" (like art, that isn't extra) or going just a little longer with math - it wasn't helping us.

Using the chart I have already decided (with the help of others with many more years of experience) that this will be ENOUGH for today and that in the end it will be enough overall.  So, if we follow what it says doing 2 or 3 hours of school is enough.  I can be done, my kids can be done and we can move on to other pursuits.  That never really happened before.  I was always trying to fit in more.   Now there is a time for everything and it is enough.

If you want to think more about this type of scheduling there are now even handy cards that can help you think through these things.  I thought that randomness would lead to freedom.  In my house it led to stress and frustration.  A schedule has reduced conflict, enriched our curriculum and allowed me to enjoy the rest of my day.  I'd love to hear what you do!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday with Words: School Education, Vol 3

I enjoyed Volume 6 and decided to move into Volume 3 of Charlotte Mason's tomes.  The whole first section is about authority.  When I read it years ago I was looking for a debate.  This time, I am convicted.  Why is authority so hard in this day and age?   There is good reason she starts there.  It is in authority that kids are able to feel safe.  We studied the Good Shepherd this weekend in 1st grade - when you know someone is looking out for you it gives you freedom.  As CM explains:

She discusses "masterly inactivity" as a key function of teaching.  Students know you have the authority to act but you allow them the space to discover, try, fail and learn on their own.  That only works when they know they are safe.   Am I acting under authority and showing that to my children? 

In the end CM education comes down to these two key principles: 

Can it be that basic?  This is simple but not easy territory.  Our role is to point - not prod - kids into relationship with the world around them.  My experience has overemphasized the "ideas" and left habits up to chance.  Now to undo that pattern in myself and my kids.  I think my parents tried hard but I was stubborn.  In the end, she explains:

I think they tried to initiate - but I never followed through.  I didn't get the value of habits.  Honestly, CM expects the teacher to point but the student to take up and read.  It really is self education that counts. 

So, these are things I am thinking about this week.  Am I helping to initiate relationships with living ideas? What sort of habits do I have? What about my children?  Unfortunately, I think we have allowed many bad habits to go unchecked.  We'll see what the second half of the book holds this coming week.  Yes, I am rushing through and not savoring - but I am thinking! 

See what others are reading at ladydusk.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wednesday with Words: Shakespeare's Storybook

I might have quoted from this little book before, but it is a fun one and I am reading it again with the younger set.  Shakespeare's Storybook is a collection of tales that are similar to or might have inspired the Bard's plays.  We just finished listening to Taming of the Shrew last week so I thought I would read the story associated with it.  The tale is different enough that my younger ones didn't pick up the connection but they loved the story.  This is the theme:

After reading the story we attempted quiet time.  My 7 yo was a bit over tired and crazy and letting everyone know how he really felt about it.  I finally just sent him to his room.  When he came out he told me that he was thinking about the story and how using soft words might work better than being mean.  You don't say??  I was shocked that he was thinking about the story.  This is what I hope for but I have given up planning for it - I can't control what will speak to a child and when - just lay the feast. Of course, The Taming of the Shrew has a bit of the opposite approach. A local high school drama company is doing Much Ado About Nothing soon so that might be the first live performance my oldest will see of a Shakespeare play.  We have done well Shakespeare this semester but fell behind on Plutarch.  We'll try him again soon though.

See what others are reading at ladydusk.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Geometry

I have always struggled with 3-D shapes; meanwhile, my dad was a Tetris addict.  Hopefully by adding some fun games that require visualizing and playing with shapes you can help your kids become more visually "able".

Here are a few ways to do that:

Set - Although this is a card game and it is more about pattern recognition, I think it can be added into this category.  It is a bit difficult to explain the rules but it requires you to pay attention to shape, pattern and number simultaneously.  There is even a free online game each day that allows you to play against the computer.

Paper Sloyd - I think the easiest way to explain this is "useful origami".  In some schools it was used in the early elementary grades to prepare children for geometry.  Paper folding gives them the physical experience of shapes - it becomes obvious that a triangle is half a square, etc.  The link is to a whole booklet of these types of activities.

Origami - There are tons of online tutorials and books about this traditional Japanese folding art. This is the book I used growing up and still have - it is simple and in color - but also out of print.  There is even Star Wars origami (it is actually pretty complicated).   This past week I was with some 8 and 9 year old boys.  I was shocked at how many had never folded a paper airplane before.  We had a blast doing it!  Origami can be pretty complicated so make sure you check the book.  Some kids may never progress past the beginning stages.  That's fine - it has still helped them to better understand how shapes work.  I don't encourage you to be over bearing about the connections - just make observations as you go along.  You will be amazed at how much they "see" on their own.

Tangrams - This old Chinese puzzle uses 7 shapes to create a variety of different figures. You can get a printable version  for free (print on cardstock, laminate them or use contact paper if you have it).   You can search for tangram puzzles (here is a starter location) and find a zillion.  Typically the figure is solid black and you have to figure out how to put the shapes together.  The solution has the pieces slightly spaced apart so that you can see how it was done.  There is even a full book of puzzles.  We have an older version of this game where you race to see who can solve the puzzle faster (and you get 2 sets of tangrams and a bunch of puzzle cards).

If you are looking for a more typical "curriculum" to teach geometry (for whatever reason) you might want to try Math Mammoth's series.  Here are the resources for grades 1- 3, 4 - 5 (with videos) 6th and 7th (book 2 and 3).   If you want a collection of worksheets for more practice for 5th - 8th grade check this set out.   Although not a full curriculum this is a fun place to play with geometric ideas.

Mapping - Physical maps are actually quite abstract but you can begin by "mapping" your house.  Get a piece of graph paper and a tape measure and get busy.  After you have mapped it (maybe even put in furniture) you can go to the next level of hiding items and showing where it is on your "map". Then kids can find it.  From there they can begin to map other things (classrooms, schools, grocery stories, etc.)  Let them build a building (or town) and draw/ map it. Eventually, they should use physical maps and help you drive places. I know most of the world relies on GPS but you lose something if you can't "see" the way the streets are working together.  For some places this is a grid - but not for my town!  Helping your kids to see this can help their visual-spatial sense.

Graph Paper Games - There are MANY out there.  Playing Battleship on graph paper, dots or the multiplication game (two dice and you make a box that size - whoever has the most squares after so many rolls wins - oh is that area??) are just a few.  If you are going somewhere have a pencil and graph paper and play a game.

If you are truly gung ho and want to do it the "traditional way" you can get cozy with Euclid's Elements (it is public domain so you an read it for free and possibly in Latin or Greek!).  Here are some great thoughts about how and where to start that at home.  Knowing Euclid goes beyond geometry - it teaches you how to build any type a proof - at least that was Abraham Lincoln's experience.

Often we don't think about the role geometry plays in our lives - from mapping, to interior decorating, to proofs to fun games.  There are ways to bring this subject to life and ensure your kids have a solid foundation.  I'd love to hear other ideas that you have.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Wednesdays With Words: Seeing with Annie Dillard

I am still in the process of re-reading The Living Page and am almost done with Mind to Mind. However, I need to take a break from all that philosophy stuff.  I found Pilgrim at Tinker Creek at the library book sale and I have wanted to read it for a long time.  I have checked it out multiple times and never cracked it.  I loved Annie Dillard's The Writing Life when I read it eons ago. Something about being a version of Ann and your writing style - Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, Ann Voskamp. Whether you like them or not - they all have a distinctive way of seeing the world and putting voice to their thoughts.  My youngest is Anna - so maybe???

So, here is the thought I have liked best so far.  I so want to just be there. I think I am beginning to figure it out with my 4th.  I am a S - L - O - W learner on these things.

Have a great week and see what others are reading at Ladydusk.  

Monday, February 6, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Copywork

Are you concerned about your child's handwriting?  Try copywork.

Do you have a young one who just can't spell well?  Try copywork.

Do you wish your kids read Bible verses, fantastic quotes, poems or at least knew a few maxims? Try copywork.

Concerned about grammar?  Try copywork.

Want to move from print to cursive?  Is your child interested in calligraphy? Try copywork.

Want your child to memorize important information?  Try copywork.

Although it sounds a little "old fashioned" copywork can do all this and more.  Yes, your child is literally copying what someone else has already said or written - as well educated people have done throughout history.

How to:

To begin students should have the line being copied and directly below it should be the space for them to write. If they are young (6 or 7) you can still have the guidelines for baseline, mid line and upper line.

As they become more confident you can move to having the passage at the top of the page and space below for them to copy.

Eventually they can copy from a board.  This is actually a DIFFICULT task because of the amount of tracking on paper, in the room, likelihood of distraction, etc.  So this is a GREAT way to prepare for the classroom.

Copywork should always be done as neatly as possible.  Children should check their own work.  You can also emphasize a point or two (spelling, grammar, word usage, etc.) if you like.  The actual copying should start with small pieces and maybe work up to 5 to 7 minutes.  If your child struggles to write - set the timer and let him be done at 10 minutes.

How copywork helps: 

Students can focus on handwriting because they aren't having to think about what to say or how to spell it - they can just look at the paper and form the letters properly.  It is also not tracing - which doesn't really teach them how to form the letters properly (have you ever watch a kid totally ignore the arrows and write it any which way).  That's why we start with forming a letter "perfectly" and then move on.  Muscle memory and such.

At first kids will probably copy letter for letter.  However, they should quickly move to word by word - but they have it right in front of them to check.  It isn't a test, it is practice with proper spelling. Eventually they should "transcribe" which means they read a few words and then write them and then go back for the next section. CM talks about asking children to "take a picture" of the word in their mind.  This reinforces proper spelling of a variety of words as they read excellent passages.  If you really want to focus on spelling you can talk about the phonics of the word (ay the two letter ay that can be at the end of English words, etc.).  Students can also immediately correct themselves without a sense of failure.  This might also sound like preparation for taking notes?  Who knew it can do that too!?

Famous quotes, Bible passages poems and sayings - all things worth remembering.  Writing it down in your own hand can help you remember it better.  Why not introduce these little gems to your child's life in a simple way? It also can help kids understand poetry.  When they slow down enough to copy it they can better recognize the rhyme, rhythm, alliteration and other techniques used within the poem.  Don't belabor the point.

Grammar.  Truth be told I still struggle with the right places to put the commas in a quotation. However, with copywork you do it and then check it and correct immediately.  It's not a test, you are just observing it done correctly - again and again - and then you know.  So pick passages that illustrate the difficulty your child is having and let them copy and check.  No pressure, but they will learn the right way to do it.

Copywork is a great way to introduce a new type of handwriting - typically cursive.  Again, the model is right in front of them and they are copying it.  Start with letters (correct formation is key) and then move into words and eventually sentences - worth knowing.  If your child is interested in calligraphy helping them find passages worth copying can allow them to focus on using the pen correctly to form the letters.  Plus, it means they will create something worth keeping.

Writing something down is one way to help you memorize and study it. Just don't do what I did in 4th grade and leave out a whole stanza of the poem you are supposed to memorize!!  Check your work! If you want to memorize, copy it more than once - if you want exposure, just do it once.

Eventually, copywork moves into studied dictation and common placing - but those are for another day.

Resources for copywork: 

Bible Verses: You can easily search for free ones.  I like the packs at Intoxicated on Life.  Use them as they best fit your needs.

History: I LOVE Writing Through History.  It is a bit more than copywork - it is a 4 year cycle program with 2 levels (1st - 3rd grade and 4th to 6th grade) and multiple fonts.  Each level includes stories, original documents, historical narratives and more from that era.  She then picks out passages for coypwork for your students.  So if you want to combine story, copywork and history easily - THIS IS IT.  I would highly recommend this as a summer resource.  Read for 10 minutes, narrate for 5, write for 5 and you have covered history, literature, composing and copywork all in one.  The pieces could easily be used for written narrations if you children are old enough to do that (9 yo+).

You can also choose your own passages (from literature you are reading, maxims or sayings, etc.) and make your own at a site like this.  You could start with maxims from Benjamin Franklin or Washington's Rules of Civility.  Why not copy the Preamble to the Constitution, parts of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech" or a quote from your favorite book (actually my son always copies the joke or tricky part of the story)?

Copywork is a VERY simple idea that works on multiple skills at once and can create a permanent record of your child's handwriting development, books/ stories read, poetry they loved, verses they memorized, etc.  Of course, you can just have the children pick their favorite passages from what they are reading and help them to learn to record wisdom from others (but that is moving into common placing).

To show honor to their work I highly recommend getting a special notebook just for copy work.  This makes it easier to keep track of the passages you have worked on and is much better than papers scattered everywhere (ask me how I know?).   Even a simple composition book will do.  As they get older they might want something fancier.

If you want to read about how others use copywork you can check it out here, here (I love her jar idea) or here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday with Words: Mind to Mind, The Way of the Will

I am reading through the Karen Glass version of Charlotte Mason's 6th volume Towards a Philosophy of Education.  Her version is called Mind to Mind and edits out some of the more dated parts of the book (references to CM contemporaries) and leaves the rest intact.  I did read through the original once before with Cindy Rollins when she did a book club YEARS ago.  I am more willing to sit under instead of debate CM this time - I am learning.

This volume doesn't talk about "strong" versus "weak" willed people as much as other volumes do - but it does introduce the idea of will versus logical thought.  In case you are wondering, she turns our common phrasing on its head.  The "weak willed" is the person who does whatever they want; meanwhile, the "strong willed" person chooses the good over their own wants - they will instead of following their own whims.  So in her estimation having a "strong willed child" is our goal - one who chooses the right and does it.  

In Volume 6 she focuses on the will as being more important than logical thought.  The idea is well explained in this podcast.  Essentially, once we will something we can always find logical reasons to support your thinking.  Reason follows the path of the will.  That is why Mason is adamant that we must help students choose wisely the ideas that they keep and reject because eventually this guides their will.  

She claims that "to fortify the will is one of the great purposes of education."  She encourages us to point out the character and willfulness of people in stories and history that we read.  She wants children to realize the outcome of the thoughts and ideas of individuals and how their will plays into that.  Will, not reason, reigns supreme.  As she says more than once, "that reason is their servant, not their ruler, because well-reasoned arguments are brought into play for a wrong course as for a right."  

She is not rejecting reasoning and fallacy detection - she just wants them put in their proper place.  As she explains
But the one achievement possible and necessary for every man is character; and character is as finely wrought metal beaten into shape and beauty by the required and accustomed action of will.  We who teach should make it clear to ourselves that our aim in education is less conduct than character, conduct may be arrived at, as we have seen, by indirect routes, but it is of value to the world only as it has its source in character. 
For her, character is formed as the individual chooses to will the thing that he does not want but chooses the harder way because it is in service to God, others and ultimately himself in the long run. Character is formed as we choose the "I will" over "I want".   Essentially it is the marshmallow test - but 100 years earlier.    
Right thought flows upon the stimulus of an idea, and ideas are stored as we have seen in books and pictures and the lives of men and nations; these instruct the conscience and stimulate the will, and man or child chooses.  
What ideas are your children exposed to?  Are they willful or governed by will?  Do you agree that logic should take a back seat to the will?

See what others are reading at Ladydusk.