Friday, January 30, 2009

Homeschooling tip -- quiet time

No, I’m not talking about devotions, though that’s paramount. By “quiet time” I mean a daily afternoon rest for everyone, including mom.

This tip came from Gregg Harris at the first homeschooling conference I ever attended when I was expecting my second baby. It came at just the right time, because my eldest was just beginning to outgrow her morning nap, and sometimes wasn’t ready for one in the afternoon if she’d already had one in the morning, and I was trying to decide how to handle it.

The idea is that at some point after lunch everyone needs a quiet rest, even if they don’t need a nap. Some moms and children need the quiet space to recharge and get ready to face the rest of the day, but some need it as a discipline — because they need to learn how to be alone and still and quiet. I fall in the first category, and so do most of my children, but I have a couple who are in the second category. They also tend to get even more active and noisy when they’re overtired, and they need to be made to rest, or they’ll wear themselves out, not to mention the rest of the family.

As my children have gotten older, my own quiet time has gotten shorter because afternoon is when the three older children and I have time to study together. It was hard for me to make this transition, because I LOVE my quiet time, but it’s been necessary, and I’m sure when the children are all grown I’ll no end of afternoons to myself, and then I’ll miss our afternoon discussions.

When you have a houseful of children, finding an alone place for each of them can be challenging. My children have rarely had a room alone, but if you have two quiet-loving children they can each sit on their own bed (or in the case of a shared bed, one on the bed and the other on a pallet on the floor). When I have a child who is needing to be trained in quiet time, I usally give him a place on my bed, or a spot on the floor in my room, so he won’t be able to distract the other children. Any cozy place around the house makes a good quiet time place: under the school table, in a corner behind a couch or large chair in the living room, a window seat… Little children love little cozy places like that and it makes their quiet time a real treat to have a cozy spot to themselves

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When it rains, it pours!

The daughter I was worrying about seems to be getting better, but something else has come up — my sister. Last fall she was diagnosed with leukemia. I had some preliminary blood work done back then to see if I could donate stem cells to her when the time came, but I’m only a “half match” which means that only two of the four traits, or markers, that they look for match. Thirty-five potential donors have been found, but this week the results of her latest bone marrow test came back bad and the oncologist wants to do something now, so they’re going to see if I can donate to her after all, rather than wait for the several-week process of clearing the other potential donors. There’s another batch of blood work that I have to do — that kit will arrive tomorrow and then I’ll have to overnight it back to the lab. Yesterday when my mom called with this news, the doctor wanted us all down at the hospital in Houston on Thursday! But there are insurance problems (naturally) that are slowing things down. So I don’t know — I may be flying out to Houston in the next few days.

On top of all that, we’re trying to move to Missouri! Late last summer we bought 39 acres with a little house that needs to be renovated. We were finally able to start work on it just before Christmas, and Mike was planning on taking our oldest son and a load of stuff out there next week, leaving them both. #1Son was going to do as much work as he can on the house to get it ready so that the younger kids and I can move out there, along with all the animals (you must not forget the animals, Best Beloved), as soon as may be. That’s all on hold now though, pending news from the oncologist.

So, if I seem a little distracted, that’s why. I’ve been packing since last week so the house is a wreck, and we need to meet with our real estate agent because we’re not going to put this house on the market till after the younger children and I are moved out along with all the animals (you didn’t forget the animals, did you?), and life is generally nutty right now. :-p

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I’ve been looking over the Simply Charlotte Mason website that Margaret mentioned in the comments earlier, and have found some good stuff I wanted to point out.

First is the Scripture Memory System, which I use, thanks to Margaret, though I’d forgotten where the info came from.

They also have a downloadable book called Masterly Inactivity that I skimmed over. It looks pretty good and addresses something I think is important — the art of letting your children alone. I believe H. Clay Trumbull also talks about this in his excellent, highly recommended (read: I wish I’d paid better attention to it when my oldest kids were young) book Hints on Child Training. Letting your children alone is something (please excuse me if I step on any toes) that nearly every young mom I’ve ever known was no good at. Young dads, too. And many older parents who ought to know better.

Last, they have a planner called A Year of Smooth and Easy Days that I’m ordering for myself. I’ll let y’all know how I like it when I’ve had it for a few months. It’s rather pricey — $20.95, including standard shipping (2-3 weeks), but it covers an area that has always been my biggest weakness: training your children in good habits. So I’m hoping it’ll give me some practical help in finding a place to start, and encouragement to continue. **NOTE, added 7 February 2011** The original link no long works, and the book is now available as a free download, no longer a planner with calendar pages, but a booklet with brief encouraging chapters on developing habits, lots of interesting quotes from Charlotte Mason’s books, plus her list of habits.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Homeschooling experiences

Part I: Background

I was born into a family of book- and music-lovers and as a child I loved stories, reading, learning things, knowing how to do things and doing them well. I remember lying on the couch with my daddy as he read his beloved Asimov, holding my own book and “reading” it. I remember “reading” Miss Suzy to my infant brother when I was only two years old. I guess I had the book memorized and told him the story, but I thought I was reading it. I remember nights spent lying on the lawn with Daddy and my brother watching the shooting stars, and sitting under the carport during thunderstorms just enjoying the enormous sounds and learning to count after a thunderclap to find out how far away the lightening was. I remember setting up my little housekeeping things — my ironing board and iron (that really plugged in and got warm), my baby’s high chair, my dishes — in my room and playing house, and making everything pretty and tidy, imitating my mom’s work around the house. I remember going to sleep at night to the sound of my mother playing Chopin or The Carpenters on the piano.

I also have terrible memories of being in daycare during the two or three years after I was born when my mom was still teaching school. I just wanted to be at home with my Mommy.

When I started kindergarten, I remember going straight to my seat every morning and sitting quietly, watching the other kids as they played noisily together, and thinking to myself, “How do they do that? I have to get used to everyone before I can talk to them.” I remember paying close attention to the brief phonics lessons. And I remember that I was already really reading by the time I started first grade, though I don’t remember actually being taught to read. We had Dick and Jane style stories were so dull I didn’t know how the other kids could stand them. I remember making my own private game of being the first in the class to complete each worksheet the teacher gave us. Getting a perfect score wasn’t victory enough.

I loved first grade — it made me feel so grown up to be there — and mostly liked second grade, but by sixth grade I had come to hate school. I just wanted to be at home reading books or climbing trees or riding my bike, or even working for my daddy at his laboratory (he was chemist, and self-employed). I hated dressing out for P.E. in those skimpy, ugly uniforms. I hated being around so many people every day and all the rushing around. I hated math homework. And English homework. I always listened in class, participated in the discussions (such as they were), did the assigned readings, and always aced the tests (well, except for math, but I didn’t really care what grade I got in math as long as I passed and didn’t have to repeat the class), but I resented the time spent on homework because I already knew the stuff, and often left it undone. The exception was reports and research papers, because they were such a large part of the final class grade, and I hated for my report card to make me look like I was stupid.

But most of what we learned in school was Information and Facts, and what I wanted was Stories. I was good enough at remembering the information and spouting it off again, but what I realize now is that those things just aren’t nourishing, and I was starving to death. As a matter of fact, what I really learned in school was How to Be a First-Class Prig. It’s a lesson I’m still unlearning.

Some time in my mid teens I read C.S. Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and loved his description of his childhood – the stories he and his brother wrote, the maps they drew, the time they spent playing in their garden. By the time his mother died when he was eight or nine years old, she’d already gotten him pretty far along in French and had started him in Latin. And obviously he could already read and write though it wasn’t till after she died that he began attending school where he studied history and literature, poetry and Greek (and some math in there, too). I was almost jealous, wishing I could learn those things.

Fast forward a couple of years. The family I regularly babysat for began homeschooling their three little girls, so right away I decided that that’s what I wanted to do, and I wanted my children’s education to be as much like Lewis’s (except for the horrific boarding school experiences) as I could make it – though I doubted I could do much beyond giving them a quiet childhood at home with lots of stories and music and time out-of-doors. Looking back on it, what I was wanted was to recreate and improve on the best parts of my own childhood and make it last longer, but knowing how C.S. Lewis was raised and how he turned out legitimized my own desire for a cozy childhood at home. And knowing about homeschooling gave me the idea that it was something that really could be done in this day and age. The children could always go to school when they were nine or ten years old.

More later…

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Back row: #1 Son, 18; Mike
Middle row: Naner, 14; Mosey, 16, with the Laser-Eyed Cat of Doom (aka T.S. Kittens); moi; Elaienar, 19
Front row: Gracie-Pie-With-Nuts, 10; Baby Princess, 6 (six, SIX years old! how did this happen?); My Little Gentleman, 8

Monday, January 19, 2009

How I use Ambleside Online’s curriculum

Kelly P asked me in the comments to the post below to describe how I used AO’s Year 1 schedule, and in thinking about what to say, I thought I’d better make something clear first. I have a nineteen year old daughter at home who helps with breakfast and supper, makes lunch every day, and makes sure the kitchen is cleaned up at all times. This means I’m able to spend a larger chunk of my morning with the younger kids than I ever could when my older kids were eight years old and younger. After about the first two weeks of officially homeschooling, I decided that my academic goal for that year was to have my first grader reading, so I dropped most of the lessons recommended by the curriculum I was using. Maybe I’ll post that background info some time… why I homeschool the way I do, and that sort of thing.

When I started Ambleside Online* in July of 2007, my four youngest children were: 4yod, 6yos, 8yod, and my 12yos, who has severe developmental apraxia [original linked page has disappeared -- apraxia usually refers to lack of speech, but in my son's case it affects not only his oral motor abilities, but also his fine and gross] and is functionally extremely delayed, and may even have some mild mental retardation. These four are still studying together (ages now are 6, 8, 10, and 14), and it’s been a very good thing for us.

Let me give an overview of what an ideal day looks like for us:

Before breakfast everyone has to help out somewhere, whether milking the goats, straining and chilling the milk, letting the chickens out of the coops, collecting eggs, taking the scraps bucket out to them, checking water for all the animals, helping with breakfast… After we eat, everyone is supposed to stay in the general area (the kitchen, breakfast room, and living room make one L-shaped space) and either help clean up from breakfast or make sure the living room is tidy and vacuumed for Morning Time.

What we call Morning Time is for all the children, even the oldest three – 19yod, 18yos, and 16yod. Ideally we start at 9:00 and finish by ten or fifteen minutes till 10:00. Not so ideally, we start late, and cut the hymn and Plutarch so we can still finish before 10:00.

Hymn: sometimes something we’re learning to sing during Communion (our family is the choir and I try to have something we can sing once a month), sometimes an old favorite. I don’t really have a plan for learning particular hymns.

Prayers and Scripture: We started using the 1979 Prayer Book for morning prayers about five years ago when we were attending an Episcopal church, and love it as a framework for our prayer time. We vary what we do a little bit, which I won’t go into now, but I want to later to show how everyone is able to participate. For Scripture readings, we’re using the lectionary in the 1928 Prayer Book, since that’s what our current Anglican church uses. Everyone who can read takes a turn reading.

Plutarch’s Lives: we’re reading the bio on Poplicola, and using the study notes provided at AO’s website. First we review the previous lesson, then those of us who can read aloud well take turns, reading one or two sentences before passing to book (the sentences are very long and complex), and then we discuss the new material.

After this, I send the younger kids outside to run around for a few mintues, go to the bathroom, and get a drink of water, while I go into the school room to make sure I have everything in order for our AO time. The older kids stay in the living for their Japanese lesson together and then go to their individual studies or work.

AO time with the younger kids:

Bible memory passage: we have a new passage we’re learning that we work on each day, plus several that we’re reviewing. I put every passage on an index card and have a file box set up to keep track of the Scriptures we’re working on. I’ll explain the system more in depth later.

Poetry: every day I read one poem from the current author, and one from Ambleside’s collection that is taken from the Oxford Book of Children’s Verse. And, as I mentioned in the last post, there are always requests that I reread old favorites and sometimes one or more of the children want to recite something they have memorized.

French lesson: Just do the next thing using The Learnables, though we talk a little about the weather, and I like to ask them questions that they can answer, all in French.

History: There’s a chapter from Our Island Story nearly every week, so we do that on Monday. Librivox has it for a free download, read by Kara Schallenberg, and that’s what I use. The other history books for year 1 are Trial and Triumph, Fifty Famous Stories Retold, and Viking Tales. In the first part of the year there’s one chapter from 50FS per week (not all of the chapters were scheduled), and in the second part there was one chapter from Viking Tales per week. I read those chapters on Tuedays. The chapters from Trial and Triumph come up about once every four weeks – nine chapters are assigned in year one – so I usually read those on Wednesday, or wherever they fit in best in that week. After the chapter I’d have one or more children narrate it to me. More on narrating later.

Literature: Generally there are two of Aesop’s fables each week and I did them wherever they fit best in the week, which was usually Wednesday. When there was a story from Shakespeare or the Blue Fairy Book, I usually needed to read a little bit each day for the whole week. Kipling’s Just So stories could be read in one or two sittings, ditto the stories from James Herriot’s Treasury for Children. Again, narrations are requested after I finished the day’s passage, but I usually let them have paper and crayons when listening to everything but Aesop. With Aesop, I’d stop after a couple of sentences and ask someone to tell me what was going on – the sentences aren’t terribly long, but they are very dense, and I wanted to use them as a kind of training ground for what I expected in a narration.

Nature and geography: Thursday is for nature, using the Burgess Bird Book. I also have a Peterson’s guide to birds and a disc of recorded bird calls that we listened to. And of course we watched the various birds that turned up at the birdbath and the feeders. Years 1 and 2 also include chapters from Parables from Nature, but I found them so syruppy sentimental that I quit using that book after the first two chapters. I have no problem with the fairy stories (witches, giants, dragons, and all) in Lang’s fairy tales (which evidently some moms have since Ambleside has an apologia for including them in your child’s literary diet) but I cannot stand pietistic moralizing little cutesy stories featuring talking flowers and insects. If anyone knows a good reason why I ought to be foisting these things upon my poor innocent children, please let me know. Friday is for geography (Paddle-to-the-Sea). We have maps on the wall in the school room and followed Paddle’s progress. It took him four years to make his journey and I’m happy to report that it didn’t take us quite that long to read about it! We also located people we were reading about on the maps and placed flags for them. Slightly off-topic, but we have a timeline along three walls of the room and we located people on the timeline, too, and placed flags for many of them and sometimes a picture or something too.

That sounds like a lot of work, and it really is a lot of information, but we were usually done by 11:30. The kids go back outside till lunch, which is noonish. They eat quickly and usually go back out, or if the weather is bad they can play in the attic or basement.

After lunch is when it gets tricky, since that’s when I need to work on their individual studies – math, reading instruction, etc. I don’t have that down pat, yet – sometimes I keep 10yod in after AO time, but other times I work with her after lunch. The three others get squeezed in where I can fit them. I’m not happy with this and need to figure out something better.

Around 1:00 we have a read-aloud time when I read a chapter or two (or three or four depending on how much time we have and how much clamoring for more they do) and the children are allowed to color or play quietly or lie on the floor or whatever, as long as they’re quiet, during this time. No narration required for these stories. Older kids really come in handy here since they can read if I need a break, or on Tuesday, which is music lesson day for three of the children. Last year we read Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, Heidi… and I’ve forgotten what else.

After read-aloud they’re free the rest of the afternoon (except for chores that have to be done before supper). They have to spend the first hour in Quiet Time, which is time alone. The 10yod has QT in the girls’ bedroom, 6yod in my room, 8yos in the boys’ room, and 14yos can be in the school room or in the living for my colloquium with the older kids. After that first hour, they’re allowed to go back outside, or play together indoors as long as they’re quiet and don’t disturb us Big Folk.


Update: Seeing the “AO time with the younger kids” section written out reminds me of how daunting AO looked to me before I started doing it. I looked at that site off and on for at least two years before I decided I would just make myself do it, since I need a better structure to our days. Once I made a kind of chart, planning what I would do when, I realized that it’s not really too much after all — you’re spending anywhere from five to thirty minutes on any given topic, so you really cover a lot each day. It’s just like eating an elephant — one bite at a time.

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* In their license agreement, Ambleside Online asks users only to link to their main page, not to individual pages within the site, which makes it a little awkward since I can’t point you to certain useful pages at the site. I’m sure they do this because they really want newcomers to the site to familiarize themselves with Charlotte Mason’s ideas. Just following the AO book schedule will give you plenty of interesting things to read to your children and will certainly be worthwhile, but it will NOT give your kids a Charlotte Mason education. You do need to read over their site and familiarize yourself with CM’s ideas if you’re going for a CM education.

Friday, January 16, 2009

18 months

That’s how long it took me to get through Ambleside Online’s Year 1 schedule, which is, I might point out, a 36-week schedule. I mentioned starting it in this post so I thought I’d post an update now that I’ve achieved this goal. And believe me, I do consider it an achievement. The past eighteen months have been better than the previous three eighteen-months put together.

The fairly short lessons, allowing time for the children to tell the story back to me (one or two after each lesson — I don’t think I ever have all four of them narrate for me) have been very productive. I’m amazed at how much they remember, even of stories we read in the first weeks.

They love the poetry every day, and all want to be memorizing one. We’ve amassed a collection of favorites that they want to hear read again regularly. The most popular is George MacDonald’s The Wind and the Moon, which they ask for nearly every week and have memorized just from hearing it so often… practically by osmosis.

We have almost finished both Level 1 books in The Learnables French, and they’re interested enough that they constantly ask me how to say new things in French, and we’re getting to the point where we can have brief interchanges (I can’t quite call them conversations) in French at odd times during the day. It’s fun. The older children are studying Japanese, so it’s not uncommon to hear “Bonjour!” answered with “Ohayo,” or if a little kids says, “Il est sur la table,” Number One Son (motto “Come and take it!”), who is accountably prejudiced against the French, responds with, “Urusai,” which means “Please stop speaking French in my presence, honorable younger sibling,” in Japanese. Only less polite.

I’ve still only read the first of Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series and I need to read more. I used to think that CM was only suitable for younger children, but recently I read that people think that because they’re only familiar with her first book.

Having a younger group of kids is such a blessing — it’s like being able to start over and do a better job the second time around.