Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

The Story of My Tree

I have a tree in my backyard. It is my favorite tree. Happily, it can be seen through the french door windows as I sit in my reading chair in my room. It is quite tall, probably 30-40 feet high, with a moderately sized, 8-9 inch, light brown/gray trunk. It’s beautiful three-pointed leaves have a two-toned green color in the summer that become almost fluorescent after an afternoon summer shower. And right on the tip of certain branches are handfuls of leaves that are orange and red. I am filled with wonder at these little accents dotted around the tree, which give it such interest and beauty. As lovely as these leaves are in their luscious green dress, the beginning of winter is when this tree really shines. The leaves turn from green to a bright orange and red that glows as though it is on fire. It only lasts a week or two (sometimes longer if I’m lucky), but it is one of the most majestic, beautiful sights I have ever seen. Its color turns later in the season than one would expect, usually some time in December, likely because the weather isn’t cold enough here in Florida until then.

Through the years I have seen this tree provide refuge to many wild life in our neighborhood. I love watching the cardinals and wrens and chickadees alight in the tree, flitting from branch to branch in search of seeds. Mrs. Cardinal never far behind Mr. Cardinal as he leads her here and there among the branches. I have watched with amusement as squirrels have used the trunk of this tree as a stage for their drama of theft and retribution. And then there’s the laid-back lizards, who you can always find on the trunk or a branch, blending in as its color almost matches perfectly with the tree, with just its orange dewlap pulsing in and out to remind you that it is actually there. I have been under the boughs of this tree in the spring as green caterpillars and furry caterpillars have seemingly exploded from its leaves and dropped all over my table and chairs. And ladybug pupas crawling in and around, waiting for their time to come when they will enter their deep sleep and awake to find the world changed, bigger and wider and more glorious than they could have ever imagined, as they discover wings with which to see it all with.

This tree has been a silent companion to our family as we have sat on our log chairs around our fire pit, trading stories while roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. It has listened as we sat beneath its boughs teaching math, reading stories, painting flowers, crying over learning to read, and mom yelling at the kids to pick up their toys for the hundredth time. It has stood strong as my children have climbed it’s branches and seen the world from a different perspective, giving them a view that is beyond their usual scope, inspiring them and filling them with joy and comfort and hope.

It has affectionately become known as “Mom’s favorite tree.” This is because I love it. But also because we don’t actually know what kind of tree it is. Oh, I have been told half a dozen times or more, by clever people who remember facts about trees, what kind of tree it is. There have even been times when I have known its name, and many more times when I have promptly forgotten it. I would very much like to keep it in my memory permanently, and after I write this post I intend to look it up and write it down in an effort to commit it to memory. But not knowing right now what it is called does not preclude me from knowing the tree. I am more intimately acquainted with this tree than any of the other flowers or plants that are in my garden. Because the classification of this tree, while important for identification and clarification, is not the tree. The tree is what it is, whether I know what it is called or not. I have a relationship with this tree. I know this tree. I care about this tree. And therein lies the vision for the education I seek for my children: an education that is not about the memorization of facts for facts sake, but the nurturing of knowledge—through relationships, through the ordering of their affections. And ultimately pointing them to the knowledge Giver and Creator of all.

“The question is not,— how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” – Charlotte Mason, School Education

As we homeschoolers plan for the year to come, let us cultivate an environment that guides our children to build relationships with the knowledge that is set before them. Where facts are not presented as rote memorization in order to pass a test, only to be promptly forgotten when no longer required, but where our children come to a true understanding through relationship with the ideas that the facts are connected to.

“To know by rote, is no knowledge, and signifies no more but only to retain what one has entrusted to your memory. That which a man rightly knows and understands, he is the free disposer of his own full liberty, without any regard to the author from whence he had it, or fumbling over the leaves of his book. A mere bookish learning is a poor paltry learning, it may serve for ornament, but there is yet no foundation for any superstructure to be built upon it.” – Montainge quoted by Karen Glass, Consider This.

What have I gained by knowing the species classification of my tree if I do not care about it?

I plan to study and blog through Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles in a couple of weeks and I’d love for you to join me. If you would like to join me, let me know in the comments. Be sure to grab Brandy Vencel’s study guide, get your copy of For The Children’s Sake, and get reading!

2017/2018 End-of-Year Round Up

Last week was exam week and marked the end of the school year for my 3rd, 4th, and 6th graders. I interviewed my kids about their year and gave them an opportunity to reflect, in their own words, on what they had learned. I too, answered the questions.

G-Age-8 (AO3)

AO3 Books Read 2017/18

Kindle books not pictured: Michelangelo by Diane Stanley, Secrets of the Woods by William Long, Beautiful Tales From Shakespeare by E. Nesbit, The Heroes by Charles Kingsley, Children of the New Forest by F. Marryat, The Jungle Book 1 by Rudyard Kipling, Parables From Nature by Margaret Gatty.

Favorite subjects/books
The Jungle Book 1 and 2, Princess and the Goblin.

Area that I grew the most in this year
Writing.

Area I need to work on the most
Math

The most interesting topic in history
The guy who dressed up as a girl. (“Bonnie Prince Charlie,” Charles Edward Stuart)

The most interesting topic in science
Drop of Water. How the bubble is a hundred times thinner than a thread of hair. E didn’t know that. The deers in Secrets of the Woods.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Learning to read.

What I am most proud of
The story I wrote for Daddy. That I can climb trees.

I am pretty good at
Swimming and climbing and catching animals.

Next year I hope to…
Rock climb. Mum read more stories to me.

E-Age-9 (AO4)

AO4 Books Read 2017/18

Kindle books not pictured: The Storybook of Science by Jean-Henri Fabre

Favorite subjects/books
Age of Fable, Abigail Adams, Kidnapped, Incredible Journey, Shakespeare, George Washington’s World, and Ocean of Truth.

(To summarize these titles – History and Literature)

Area that I grew the most in this year
Storybook of Science taught me things that I didn’t know. Abigail Adams because she taught me how it felt like to be married and how it felt to have somebody die and how it feels to have a husband that goes away and you don’t see him for years. And it just shows how it can be really hard and how much she suffered.

Ocean of Truth taught me how it feels to be someone new at school and to have hardships and turn out to be the greatest man alive (biography of Isaac Newton).

Area I need to work on the most
History. Because it is hard concentrating and I want to learn more about what happened.

The most interesting topic in history
The Reign of Terror. I like to know how things happen.

The most interesting topic in science
When Isaac made the fake comet and everybody thought they saw a comet but it wasn’t. About the bees in Storybook of Science and pollen how there are poisonous plants.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Madam How and Lady Why and George Washington’s World. They were the two hardest things to concentrate on.

I am most proud of
Being able to read hard books and accomplishing things and being able to do a lot of math in my head.

I am pretty good at
Reading and writing and imagination.

Next year I hope to
Learn even more about history and sciency things.

A-Age-11 (AO6)

AO6 Books Read 2017/18

Kindle books not pictured: The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Van Loon, Galileo and the Magic Numbers by Sidney Rosen

Favorite subjects/books
Literature and History because I like learning about world history and ancient history, and I just like the books that Ambleside Online puts in literature.

Area that I grew the most in this year
Math and written narrations.

Area I need to work on the most
I would say written narrations. Because I would of said math but I have been working really hard on math and it is becoming easier for me now but I still have to work on expanding my written narrations from just saying the bare facts.

The most interesting topic in history
Ancient history. Just because I learn about all the ways that they used to fight and the ways that people would come into power and how the army elected new emperors.

The most interesting topic in science
Elements. Because it is interesting to learn all of the elements that are in humans and what they do and how they react with other elements and how poisonous some are. And I also enjoyed It Couldn’t Just Happen because it gave me, from the Bible, answers to questions that I had concerning evolution, and it gave me answers that were helpful and I will remember all my life.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Expanding on my written narrations because I always had this stress that I would take too long and go too late in the day. But late in term 3 I started to find it easier to write more detailed written narrations without freaking out.

What I am most proud of
The way I have improved in math. I am proud of this because math has always been a hard subject for me and now it is easier and easier to learn new subjects.

I am pretty good at
Reading. Which I find very helpful considering half of my school is reading books. It has made school a lot funner, more enjoyable and less stressful, knowing that there are subjects where I can relax, have snack, and read a book.

Next year I hope to
Improve my written narration skills and be able to write written narrations without stressing and make them as long and detailed as my oral narrations.

Next year I hope to learn that all the subjects I don’t like aren’t bad and that I can learn them if I put my heart into it.

Me

Mom Reading 2017/18

Kindle books not pictured: Toward a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason, The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain

Since I have made my children’s booklist my booklist (with a few more added in for myself), I have essentially completed AO6 this year alongside my daughter. And what a year it was. I have enjoyed learning so much and have read books I never would have picked up for myself. I have used Ambleside Online’s curriculum from the very beginning and AO6 has been my favorite year so far. I say that with every year that we complete because the curriculum is SO good.

Favorite subjects/books
Hands down my favorite subject was science. This was surprising to me because I am not a sciency person. The living science books kindled a wonder that I never had when I was at school. I think I will dedicate a whole post to AO6 science, because it was so good. If I had to pick a favorite it would have to be It couldn’t just happen by Lawrence Richards.  It was the book that I had the most “wow!” moments. I ended up narrating every chapter to my husband because I just had to tell someone what I had learned!

Area that I grew the most in this year
Parenting. Not a school subject, but “Education is a Life” and learning how to parent through new circumstances has been the biggest area for growth for me. Also, consistency in quiet time with the Lord.

Area I need to work on the most
Consistency in dictation lessons with my two oldest. Dictation is how we study spelling and punctuation. There were too many weeks when I left it off the schedule or I hadn’t prepared a lesson. (If anyone is interested in how studied dictation works let me know and I’ll write a blog post about it.)

The most interesting topic in history
I loved reading a biography of Winston Churchill while reading a general overview of the same time period. Also, reading ancient history, especially Story of The Greeks and Story of The Romans simultaneously with Ben Hur, has made the Bible come alive for me. I feel like, through these books, I stepped back in time and was an observer of the time of Christ.

The most interesting topic in science
Am I allowed to say all of it? I really loved the apologetic style of It Couldn’t Just Happen as it touched on multiple areas of scientific study arguing for a creationist view. Also, The Mystery of The Periodic Table made the elements and the history of the periodic table come alive for me.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Managing the emotions of 3 very passionate young girls.

What I am most proud of
Geography has been a subject that I feel we have been the most successful with. Ambleside Online does not provide step-by-step, week-by-week instructions for how to use the assigned book to study geography. So the map work and how we use the book had to be planned and implemented by me and I think that the plan I developed worked well.

I am pretty good at
Reading aloud.

Next year I hope to…
Be more consistent with studied dictation. Read all of the many books scheduled for AO7. Enjoy learning along side my children.

 

Note: The ages given of the children reflect the age they were for the majority of the school year. Some have since had their birthdays.

Turning 12

I expected that this would be the blog post that I would write when my eldest turned 13 or 14. And perhaps it still will be. My suspicion is that the intensity will increase with each teen year that passes. But I find myself, on the eve of my daughter’s 12th birthday, reflecting on the struggle of adolescence: the desire for independence while still being emotionally dependent. Turning 12 is a delightful, challenging, maturing, joyful, stretching time. In a word, growth. 12 is growth. No longer a small child but not an adult. Capable of deep thoughts, deep emotions, deep struggles, while trying to find her place. Wanting to be responsible while not really wanting responsibility, or discovering that she is not ready for the responsibility that she seeks. Leaping five steps ahead only to have to turn back and retrace her steps to find surer footing. When she begins to learn that her walk with the Lord is hers to walk alone. Repentance and forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness. Learning that life is repentance and forgiveness on repeat, over and over, toward God, toward those we love, and others toward her. Learning that relationships struggle if we don’t nurture them, and how sometimes, how we speak to one another means more than the words said.  Beginning to learn the lesson that His mercy is new every morning and with repentance comes new life.  Discovering that she is capable of more than she realizes and not to give up, even when she feels like a failure. Learning that mistakes are how we grow, and to embrace hard things because they will help shape her to be the woman she desires to be.  She loves more deeply than we can see and hurts more deeply than we even realize. I have learned that a smile and a hug every morning begins the day with sunshine instead of rain. Turning 12 is exciting and beautiful and hard. And I’m only watching. Imagine what it is for she who is actually going through it; this girl who still likes girly things but has a mind that thinks far into the future. Oh that time would slow down and that 12-year-olds would stop and savor their youth while they have it. But they don’t, because they lack wisdom. That is their plight. Our duty is to lead them to seek wisdom during their years of growth by seeking the wisdom giver, the author of truth.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

How To Add Pilgrim’s Progress To Your Homeschool Day

The Pilgrim’s Progress (unabridged) is a beautiful example of the best of English literature. An analogy of the Christian life, it combines truth with the beauty of the written word. Yet, due to its 17th-century prose, it can be an intimidating book to attempt to read aloud to your kids. When Ambleside Online (AO) scheduled it to be read in Year 2 and pleaded with us to read the unabridged version, I was a little worried. I had tried to read it for myself once before and struggled immensely. How was my 7-year-old going to understand it? Yet I trusted Ambleside and believed it a worthy book to read. Because I was convinced that the richness and beauty of John Bunyan’s original language were worth the effort, I scoured Ambleside’s website and forum for suggestions and advice on the best way to approach reading this book to give us the best opportunity of succeeding with it. With these suggestions, I came up with a plan. Lo, and behold, the year was a success! When it came time for my middle daughter to read it I decided the whole family would benefit from reading it together. For the last 2 years, we have read short sections of The Pilgrim’s Progress each week as a family in our Morning Time. This is the plan that I follow.

Read Dangerous Journey first

Dangerous Journey is an excellent picture book retelling of the main events of The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s language and story are simplified but not dumbed down. It is very respectful of the original. I read this book over two to three weeks. After each reading one of the children narrated it. This means that they told back to me in their own words what had been read to them. By reading this retelling first, the children became familiar with the main events of the story and the illustrations gave them a picture of the story that they were able to draw on later when they heard the original. The children loved this book and looked forward to it every week.

Use an audiobook

When I first saw The Pilgrim’s Progress on the school schedule I did not believe I had the ability to read it aloud well myself. Since I didn’t want my inability to read it well to interfere with my children’s understanding, I bought this dramatized unabridged audiobook version from Answers in Genesis. It is excellent. Each character is read by a different reader and the music and sound effects enhance and bring clarity to the story.

Read small sections and Narrate

The Pilgrim’s Progress is a dense, theologically rich analogy of the Christian life. There are many ideas to ponder. We are benefited greatly by not rushing through, but instead by reading small sections at a time to allow the mind the space to think over the truths encountered in these pages. AO has a 1-year and a 2-year plan. We follow the 2-year schedule which has divided the book up into small sections of 700-800 words. After listening, I always ask one of the children to narrate. Resist the temptation to preach at them. Resist the temptation to narrate it for them. Allow the children’s minds to digest what they have heard for themselves. Accept whatever they have told you and leave it. If they ask questions, by all means, answer them. Have discussion after narration, but don’t reduce the children’s enjoyment or limit what they get out of the book, by using it as a springboard for why they should obey you when you ask them to tidy their rooms. This is a time for listening and the children processing what they have heard by telling it back in their own words. It is also worth noting that it is very likely that your children are internalizing a lot more than they are able to communicate verbally. Narration takes time and practice. Be patient and allow the words of the book to do their work. You will likely think that you will have to explain a lot because the language is difficult. But if you give the children a chance, their insights might surprise you. Remember, you have already prepared them for the story by reading the picture book retelling. Often my children make connections and understandings that I had not thought of. Even my less academic child, who I have often accused in my mind of not paying attention, has had some profound insights that have left me speechless. You will all get used to the language. My kid’s narrations aren’t always great, but that is ok. Every now and then, after their turn for narrating, if they have totally missed an integral point, I have given my own narration, but never in a way to make my children feel that they didn’t do it right. And I will never interrupt a child while they are narrating or correct them while they are still speaking. Give them a chance to figure it out for themselves. It will be much more meaningful for them that way. My kids did not love this book, to begin with, but after a while, they got used to the language and the style of the book and are now disappointed when I press stop, begging me to play another section.

Scaffold each reading

Prepare for the coming reading by telling what you read last time. This is called scaffolding. It is even better if the children can tell you what was read last time. I usually ask the children to tell me because I often can’t remember! When it’s time for The Pilgrim’s Progress I will ask something like, “so what did we get up to last time?” or “does anyone remember what happened last time we listened?” This part should only be a very short summary of the previous reading. It is part review, but also helps set the scene for the coming passage to be read, and helps to provide further understanding. After recapping what was read last time you can also prepare them for what they are going to hear by giving them a brief (one sentence) summary of the passage to be heard. I have never done this as I am not well enough prepared to look ahead before we all listen together.

Do my children understand every theological point made in this book? No. Neither do I, and probably neither will you on first reading. There is a reason Charles Spurgeon read and re-read The Pilgrim’s Progress over and over in his life. But my children do understand that without Christ we are in the City destined for Destruction; that it is only at the foot of the cross of Christ that the burden of sin can be lifted; that the Christian journey will not always be easy and we will likely face persecution and sometimes death for the sake of Christ; that even though the journey to the Celestial City is often fraught with danger and we make many missteps along the way, the destination is far glorious and beautiful than one could ever imagine and is the reason to press on in difficult times. I can’t tell you how many times Christian’s burden, or Christian falling into the Slough of Despond, or Christian falling asleep in the garden on his journey, or Christian and Faithful in Vanity Fair has come up in discussions and conversations throughout the year or by the children in their play. I know that The Pilgrim’s Progress has enriched our family in more ways than I will ever even know. I encourage you to read or listen to The Pilgrim’s Progress with your family.

A Pilgrim’s Journey

“So, Dr. Sproul is really dead?”

“Yes, my darling, I am sad to say that he is,” I replied mournfully, choking back the tears.

G sat quietly a few moments and I went back to eating my oatmeal, thinking of our beloved pastor when she again exclaimed,

“Oh. So he is like Faithful. He must have had chariots waiting to take him to heaven.”

I looked up in surprise. It had seemed to me that she very rarely paid attention when we read The Pilgrim’s Progress so I was taken aback by this connection.

“Yes, G…” I spoke hesitantly, striving to grasp the fullness of what she was saying. “…I guess he is just like Faithful…” She interrupted my pondering by continuing,

“Yeah, because Faithful believed in Jesus and when he was killed chariots came down from heaven and took him up to it.”

E, who had been sitting quietly at the table listening, now joined the conversation.

“He is now in the Celestial City! They took him to the Celestial City, G. I wish I could die so I could go there. That’s where Christian is trying to get to and Dr. Sproul is already there! I’m just so happy for him.”

Now I saw that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses, waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had despatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds, with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.

This was a conversation I had with my daughters around the breakfast table one morning last December, only days after our beloved Pastor, Dr. R.C. Sproul, went home to be with the Lord.

The conversation ended there but our thinking about it did not. It was one of many conversations we would have about Dr. Sproul, but the one that stands out most in my mind for its hope and comfort. When considering the ministry of Dr. Sproul, the comparison is insightful.

“Now, Faithful, play the man, speak for thy God:
Fear not the wickeds’ malice; nor their rod!
Speak boldly, man, the truth is on thy side:
Die for it, and to life in triumph ride.”

Oh, how comforting it was to me to be reminded by my 8 and 9-year-old, through the profound imagery in The Pilgrim’s Progress, of the hope that Dr. Sproul and all those who profess Christ have. That death, while hard for those left behind, is not the end. That Dr. Sproul, like Faithful, was a pilgrim on a journey to the Celestial City and is now there, in the presence of the Almighty God in Glory. And we too, who remain faithful, will also someday join him in Paradise.

Well, Faithful, thou hast faithfully profest
Unto thy Lord; with whom thou shalt be blest,
When faithless ones, with all their vain delights,
Are crying out under their hellish plights:
Sing, Faithful, sing, and let thy name survive;
For though they kill’d thee, thou art yet alive!

Best of 2017

The new year is a popular time on blogs for “best of” posts. As we are still in the first few weeks of a new year and today is also my birthday, it seemed a fitting time to reflect on my own “best of” for 2017.

Best 5 books read

I am a very slow reader. I mean, read-aloud-in-my-head slow. So I can’t fit too much more reading in after all the read-alouds and pre-reading I need to do for our homeschool. I am pre-reading at least 7-10 chapters a week. Because of this, I made the majority of my daughter’s school booklist my reading list. Ambleside Online’s booklists are so rich that I benefit greatly from pre-reading. I am learning too! As a result, most of my ‘best 5’ books are school books that were read in 2017. I also like to be reading a book on education as part of my ongoing vocational training… and because I really like reading and thinking about educational philosophy. It is also interesting to me that most of the books in my best 5 were read aloud to one of my family members.

Without any further ado:

1. A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason

Number one on my list because… it’s Charlotte Mason! It is the comprehensive discussion of her educational philosophy, written years after refining her philosophy and practically applying it successfully in her schools. This one I began in 2016 and finished mid 2017. I wish I were a faster reader so that I could read this every year. It is SO good.

2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

This was assigned reading for AO4. I read it aloud to E-age-9 and it became our favorite time of the week. It is often tempting to combine the children’s literature selections for school so that I can read one book to all of them at the same time and free up some of my schedule. I’m so glad that I don’t do that. Having one-on-one reading time with each of my kids is time that I treasure. If this book had not been assigned in our curriculum, I probably wouldn’t have prioritized it, but I am glad it was because it is wonderfully rich. More than a story of shipwrecks and survival on a deserted island, it is a story about repentance and redemption. There were so many conversations that I enjoyed with my daughter about rebellion against God, feeling sorrow for our sin, the continual need for repentance, the joy and lightness we feel when we ask for forgiveness, God’s providence in our circumstances—even difficult circumstances—that are ultimately for our good. There were so many times when my daughter would interrupt my reading to interject her own thoughts on how Crusoe was thinking. She would tell me times when she had felt like that or what the right thing to think was when Crusoe was being selfish and ungrateful in his thoughts. She still rates it as one of her favorite books.

3. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

I loved this book so much that I wrote a whole blog post about it. You can read it here.

4. Never Give In by Stephen Mansfield

This is an excellent biography of Winston Churchill. It was assigned reading for AO6 which I pre-read. I actually pre-read it by reading it aloud to my husband. We both really enjoyed it. This book is divided up into 2 parts. The first part discusses the life of this fascinating man. The second part discusses characteristics of leadership, and examples of how Churchill displayed those characteristics. We gleaned a great deal of wisdom about leadership from this book.

5. The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald

Anything by George Macdonald is wonderful and this book is no exception. This is a story about faith and having faith when nobody else believes you. There are many allusions to the Christian faith in this book. This was assigned reading for AO3. This was the 2nd time I had read this book aloud, but the first time reading it to G-age-8. Reading this book was precious time with my youngest daughter and we enjoyed many conversations throughout the book.

 

It was hard to narrow down this list because my family enjoyed many lovely books this past year. So here are a few more honorable mentions:

Carry a Big Stick by George Grant
This is a biography of Theodore Roosevelt from the same series as Never Give In. It was tough to choose my favorite out of the two because they were both great. But having the experience of reading the Churchill bio aloud to my husband made it the winner.

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Would definitely be in #1 position only we are reading it slowly and haven’t finished it yet.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri
We listened to the audiobook which you can get for $0.99. Just buy the kindle edition for $0.00 and select “Add Audible book to your purchase for just $0.99” underneath the “Buy Now” button before purchasing.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
We listened to the audiobook narrated by Rachel McAdams. McAdams is delightful to listen to.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I listened to the audiobook, which is only $3.95 at the moment! A great deal!

Best blogs

I don’t have as much time to read blogs as regularly as I used to. But there are 2 homeschooling blogs that I always find a few minutes to read because they are so encouraging and thought-provoking.

1. Afterthoughts

Brandi Vencel is a Charlotte Mason Classical homeschooler. She has written series of posts over the years discussing Charlotte Mason and her methods, which helped get me started when I first began homeschooling. I owe much of my early understanding and practice of Charlotte Mason educational principles to this blog. She also writes very meaningful posts about books, ideas, parenting, theology, Christian living, making connections between ideas through books, and loads more. She is always very thoughtful, and I know I am a better reader, thinker, and homeschooler because of her influence.

2. Simply Convivial

Mystie Winkler is a second-generation homeschooler who writes a lot about adjusting our attitude toward the mundane and repetitive work of homemaking, parenting, and educating our children. She has helped me a great deal, with practical organizational advice. I did her “Work the Plan” course a couple of years ago and it helped my organizationally-challenged mind to make order out of the chaos. She encourages and equips mothers in the work of the home. She also generously shares her lesson plans for various subjects. I unashamedly borrow ideas from her Shakespeare plans, and have copied her Memory Work Binder system (with modifications to suit our needs). I also regularly consult her Scripture Memory Work Index to pick the next Scripture that we will memorize.

 

The following blogs are on the honorable mention list simply because I don’t read them regularly enough to be in the top 5.

Modern Mrs. Darcy

A fun blog that is all things books. I especially like the daily kindle deal email that she sends out with kindle deals on more books than I could possibly read in a lifetime. I enjoy reading about good modern books and authors to look out for.

Joyous Lessons

Celeste Cruz writes a Charlotte Mason homeschooling blog. She shares wonderful, practical examples of the Charlotte Mason education that is happening in her home. Incidentally, If you are on Instagram, Celeste is one of the contributors of the @charlottemasonirl (Charlotte Mason in Real Life) account. It is amazing to me how much thought goes into each and every post that they make on that account. So much wisdom and practical advice. She is also the owner of @keepingcompanycm account on Instagram as well, which I enjoy following.

Karen Glass

Karen is one of the advisory of Ambleside Online and is the author of Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. This month, hopefully, she will be releasing her much anticipated book on narration called Know and Tell. I can’t wait. She writes about Charlotte Mason education sporadically on her blog, but when she does write, you can be sure to learn a great deal and be challenged to think more deeply.

Circe Institute

Seeks to inspire, encourage, and provide resources for Classical Educators. They have so much content I can’t possibly keep up with them, but I do read a few articles a month that pique my interest and I find them to be thought-provoking and stretch how I think. I especially love their articles about fairytales, poetry, and other literary works.

Best 5 podcasts

1. Renewing Your Mind

Just in case you are tempted to accuse me of neglecting my spiritual encouragement and needs, I listen to the Renewing Your Mind podcast a few times a week. If you are a Christian and want to grow in your understanding of God and His Word, listen to this podcast. It’s founder (and our pastor), R.C. Sproul, passed away recently, but the truths that he taught have not. I am encouraged and stretched every time I tune in.

2. Schole Sisters

Without a doubt my favorite homeschooling podcast. Classical Mamas discussing how they can learn and grow while their children learn and grow. This podcast is hosted by my two favorite bloggers, Brandi Vencel and Mystie Winkler, as well as Pam Barnhill.

3. The Mason Jar

A close second to Schole Sisters, this is a podcast hosted by the wonderful homeschool veteran and author of Mere Motherhood, Cindy Rollins. It is about… you guessed it… Charlotte Mason education. She has lots of guests on to talk about different aspects of a CM education.

4. Your Morning Basket

Hosted by Pam Barnhill from Schole Sisters, YMB is a podcast dedicated to discussing the philosophy and practice of Morning Time. Pam also has guests on most episodes to discuss various aspects that can be involved in Morning Time.

5. Read Aloud Revival

I’m sure most of you already know about this one. Sarah Mackenzie, with her many guests, encourages us to read aloud with our kids. So good.

Best 5 educational apps

1. Squeebles

My favorite math fact app. This app has saved us from the tears and the monotony of memorizing multiplication facts. We bought the bundle a few years ago, which includes practice for all the basic math concepts (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions) as well as spelling. We have continued to use it almost every day. I add it to the children’s weekly schedule. I like how customizable it is. You can work just on one fact at a time, for example, the 3 x tables, or you can be quizzed on all of the timetables. There are rewards and games when the children achieve a certain amount of correct answers. There is step-by-step training which teaches one fact at a time, like 1×3, before moving on to teaching the next fact, 2×3. You can customize whether to use a timer, which was a big deal for one of my children who panics anytime there is a time limit. And you can customize which facts will be included in the quiz game. So if you have only learned the times tables for 1’s to 5’s, you can just quiz those multiplication facts.

2. Quizlet

A replacement and improvement on flashcards for learning Latin vocabulary (or any language for that matter). Visual Latin (our Latin curriculum) had pre-made sets that correspond with each of their lessons that I easily searched for and downloaded in the app.

3. Seterra

A fun and easy map quiz app for learning states of America, capital cities of America, countries of the world, and other geographical facts.

4. YouTube

I mean, you can pretty much use YouTube to learn anything. We use it to watch performances for composer study, learn folksongs, learn a new hymn, learn how to crochet, draw, paint, sew… Anything I don’t know how to do and we want to learn, we YouTube it.

5. Audible

Lots and lots and lots of audiobooks. I usually use an audiobook to pre-read the literature selection for AO6 and listen while vacuuming or cleaning the shower. We also listen to audiobooks as a family in the car.

Well, that wraps up my favorites for 2017. What were your favorites?

Little Men

Little Men Book Cover

Not long ago, my children and I listened to the Little Men audiobook* in the car. It has become a fast favorite in our family and I think, of all the parenting/homeschool books I have ever read, this one is my absolute favorite. That may sound strange since it is just a story and not a parenting book, but it does what only a well written story can do. It instructs the moral imagination of its reader in truth, through narrative, that cuts straight to the heart.

Aunt Jo and her husband, Fritz Bhaer, run a school for their own children, Meg’s children (Jo’s sister), and also for a number of orphaned boys. As the sequel to Little Women, Jo has grown up, outgrown her mischievousness (for the most part), and found her passion and joy in loving and caring for these lost, wayward little men. Jo’s heart is full as she seeks to provide a safe home and an education for these young people. She seeks their good while expecting the best from each of them. The children keep both Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz on their toes with their childhood antics and mischievousness. Aunt Jo can always be relied upon to enjoy the fun, yet both she and Fritz take care to speak a gentle word of truth and wisdom in moments of folly. They seek out ways to instruct the character of the children in right living, so that they may grow up to be honorable men and women.

If I had read this as a child, I would have related to the childhood antics and frolics of the children in the story, as my own children have. They loved to discuss what they would have done as different situations arose. Their imagination was captivated by the play and the mischief of these new friends. Now, as a parent and a homeschooler, I found myself sitting at the feet of Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz, whose wise governing and educating of the children washed over me like a gentle wave. Their example of parental love and care, treating each child as a person worthy of respect, penetrated deeply. It described exactly what Charlotte Mason meant when she said, “Children are born persons.” This has had a great impact on how I view my children and how I want to parent and teach them. I want to be Aunt Jo. She seems to have an endless supply of patience, and becomes passionate when she has the opportunity to provide for the needs of her charges in just the right way to suit each person individually. She doesn’t get it perfectly right, but her heart is for the children, and they know it, and develop a peace and contentment because of it.

Because they were loved, the children were not left to themselves. The Bhaers took seriously the responsibility of raising useful, honorable young men, and took pains to not only see to their intellectual needs but also to cultivate the character of the children. They sought to provide an atmosphere in which the children grew to love goodness for goodness sake and to choose to do what is right because it was right. When it was discovered that a theft had occurred in the school, Mr. Bhaer spoke very soberly to the boys,

“I am not going to try to frighten, bribe, or surprise the truth out of you, for every one of you have got a conscience, and know what it is for. Now is the time to undo the wrong done to Tommy, and set yourselves right before us all. I can forgive the yielding to sudden temptation much easier than I can deceit. Don’t add a lie to the theft, but confess frankly, and we will all try to help you make us forget and forgive.”

And when a young newly arrived boy was frightened of being teased by the other boys because he hadn’t learned as much as they,

Thinking that a lesson in learning to help one another was better than arithmetic just then, Mr. Bhaer told them about Nat, making such an interesting and touching little story out of it that the good-hearted lads all promised to lend him a hand, and felt quite honored to be called upon to impart their stores of wisdom to the chap who fiddled so capitally. This appeal established the right feeling among them, and Nat had few hindrances to struggle against, for everyone was glad to give him a “boost” up the ladder of learning.

In addition to developing intellectual and personal virtue, Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz sought to prepare them for the world that they would soon enter. Their times of climbing trees and fishing in the lake taught them independence while learning to till the ground to reap a harvest and earn money for it, taught them to work hard. And when they didn’t work as they ought, they were allowed to suffer the consequences of idleness.

Jo herself reflects,

“I only want to give these children a home in which they can be taught a few simple things which will help to make life less hard to them when they go out to fight their battles in the world. Honesty, courage, industry, faith in God, their fellow-creatures, and themselves: that is all I try for.”

I leave the last words of this post to dearest Jo and with the encouragement that if you and your children have not read this book, put it on your read-aloud list. You will be glad you did.

As the year draws to a close and the taming of many a wild boy can clearly be seen, Laurie asks Jo,

“What magic did you use, Jo?”

And she simply replies,

“I only loved them, and let them see it.”

*To get the audiobook for $0.99, select “Add Audible book to your purchase for just $0.99” beneath the “Buy now with 1-click” button before purchasing.

When the Hard Times Come

It’s been a while since I have written here. A number of months ago, something occurred that made me begin to question my parenting ability. It has taken a little while (and encouragement from friends) to find my writing feet again. I admit, I was also embarrassed by the whole thing. But the Lord, in His grace, used this time to show me that I had been placing my confidence in my own parenting abilities instead of in God.

He showed me that for all my intentionality and perceived thoughtfulness in homeschooling and parenting, I was not in control. He was. Through this circumstance, He showed me that all my wisdom and ideas, all my principles and actions, cannot serve all the needs of my children. These children are not my own. Yes, they have been given into my care by God, but He is still Lord over their lives. There are situations in this life that are out of my hands and the only hope I have is to turn to God, repent of my pride, pray for His will to be done, and trust Him that He is working all things for our good—even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t turn out the way I think it should. Even, and especially when, I think I deserve everything in my life to go smoothly and without trouble. The reality is that if I place my confidence in my own ability, my confidence is misplaced. He is my only hope. He is the Creator of all things and He is the one who is Lord, not me. It is only in Christ that I can have any wisdom as a mother.

God also taught me through this time how necessary the body of Christ is and how beautiful fellowship and unity with sisters in Christ is. It was a sister in the Lord who I called (after my husband) when I felt my world crashing down upon me. She encouraged me. She supported me. She prayed for me and helped me when I needed it. It was a sister in Christ who gave me a sympathetic ear and felt the heart of this broken mama, who sent me a note of encouragement to let me know I was in her thoughts. She prayed for me and sympathized with my hurt. It was a sister in Christ who listened to my story but didn’t allow me to wallow in self-pity. Instead, she turned my eyes to Christ by telling me, “But God is still on the throne. He is sovereign. He is King and reigning on His throne, even in this circumstance.” I needed to hear these words at that time more than she will ever know.

I needed the body of Christ, my sisters, and they were there. They lifted my eyes to my sovereign Lord, from whom all my help ultimately comes.

I have learned, and continue to learn, that God is faithful—even in the hard times. He never leaves us and never forsakes us. And He’ll never leave nor forsake you. To God be the glory forever, Amen.

Sing (though your heart is breaking)

This week has been a tough week. I have woken up every day to a slurry of grumpy attitudes (including my own) and toddler tantrums all before breakfast. The toddler’s tantrums have been over everything:

Not putting the right milk in his cereal.
Not letting him put the milk in his cereal.
Putting blueberries instead of raisins in his cereal.
Putting raisins instead of blueberries in his cereal.

And on it goes.

If you’ve ever been the mother of a 2-year-old, you know what I’m talking about.

Most mornings I can handle this with a slight amount of graciousness and understanding. But with the amount of sleep I’ve been getting this week (totally self-inflicted) grace was all but absent. And it got worse as the week went on.

Add to the 2-year-old tantrums, siblings squabbles, and stresses and emotional outbursts, the mornings have been less than peaceful.

And this all before we begin school. Every morning I despaired. How do I rein in the terrible tantrums and redeem the day?

Sing! (though your heart is breaking)

Most days it is my practice to start the formal part of our homeschooling with Morning Time. To call everybody together and begin I usually put on the current month’s folksong, or, more often, the 2-year-olds favorite Aussie folksong, Road to Gundagai.

By the end of the song everyone has joined in singing and are prepared and ready to begin the day. We then sing a hymn together. Our current selection is My Hope Is Built (on nothing less). This is followed by Bible reading and prayer, memory work, and a few other things.

Without fail, every single day this week, beginning our day with singing our folksong and hymn has abated the tantrum tempest. I won’t exaggerate and tell you we were all on our best behavior for the rest of each day. We are, after all, sinners in need of a Savior. And there is only so much that singing can do to make up for lack of sleep, but it helped. It really helped to reset our bad attitudes and be in a more positive and worshipful frame of mind as we heard God’s Word, prayed with repentance to a holy God, and approached our duties for the day. Harsh words were replaced with encouragement. Scowls and frowns were replaced by smiles and giggles. For a little while anyway.

So if you ever feel that your day has derailed before it’s even begun, sing. Sing together. Sing folk songs. Sing hymns. Your soul will be fed. Your children’s souls will be fed. And you’ll all be directed toward Him.

A New Look for Artist Study

We have always done artist study during Morning Time in our home. Initially, I used the links for the pictures on the Ambleside Online artist study page and we’d look at them online. I then got an app for my iPad and used that for a while to view the images. (You can read about how we did Artist Study here). The app became frustrating though because it took so long to load the images, which made it more difficult and time-consuming to use than it did to just click a link on the AO website. Last year I was determined to be more intentional about our artist study. I also wanted to have the artwork on display to look at more often than at the scheduled artist study time. So I got organized and printed the selections at a local Staples. Crunchy Conservative over at A Generous Education has made downloadable PDFs of the current year’s pictures following the AO artist study schedule. Her PDFs made sending the pictures to the printers a breeze. This worked well. I put our current picture in a frame and hung it above our kitchen table. We had many discussions about our pictures over our meals. When we were finished with a picture I replaced it with our next selection and put the old one in a binder kept in our school room. My hope was that the children would use the binder to look back over and enjoy the old pictures. But having pictures in a school binder is like telling them never to look at this again.

Recently I was listening to an interview with Emily Kiser, author of the Picture Study Portfolios at Simply Charlotte Mason, on the Your Morning Basket podcast. She talked all about artist study and encouraged mom’s to provide each student a picture of their own to look at.

I have toyed many times with the idea of getting our artist study prints from Simply Charlotte Mason. But although they contain extra information about the artist and the pieces, I always talked myself out of it knowing it was much cheaper to get them printed myself. Especially when we will study 3 artists over the whole year and I wanted a print for each of my 3 children. So when a deal of buy 1 photo book, get 2 free came up on Snapfish, I had an idea. 3 girls, 3 books for the price of 1. I would make my own artist study photo book for the whole year. Altogether, including shipping, these 5×7 softcover photo books cost $20.96.

I love this picture on the front by Mary Cassatt, don’t you? It captures the gooeyness of motherhood. Cuddles and coffee in bed in the morning. I assume it’s the morning because that’s when I have cuddles in bed. True to life, Mama is looking a little weary. The girls and I have always been more drawn to impressionism of all the art styles. I think it might be because we see ourselves more readily in impressionism than we do in some of the other styles. They mostly painted ordinary people doing ordinary things—playing on a lake, in a boat, walking in the street, cuddling in bed with Mommy. Although we live in a different century we are still ordinary people doing ordinary things.

I’m so pleased with how the books turned out. Some minor alterations obviously need to be made in the next book to make the alignment of the images fit better on the left pages. But overall, I’m very pleased with how my first attempt turned out. I wasn’t sure how the size would work but after using it for a couple of weeks now I can tell you that the size is perfect for little hands to hold and enjoy. Emily was right. Each student having their own copy is much better. Putting our artist study selections in a photo book also means that the children can keep them forever and remember the pictures we enjoyed and wondered at throughout our school days.

Hopefully, as they grow older, they will go on looking at beautiful art and love it as much as I love Cassatt’s “Breakfast In Bed” painting. It wasn’t one of our 6 Cassatt selections to look at for the term, but the more I looked at it, the more I loved it, the more it had to be on the front cover of our books. That’s the thing about artist study, you don’t know what pictures will capture your imagination. It’s not always the first look that develops the relationship between you and that piece either. You often have to look more than once and look intentionally, to see the truth, the goodness, and the beauty in the piece. That’s when you fall in love.

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