Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Category: Homeschooling (page 2 of 3)

Graduation and Godliness: Sheryl’s Homeschool

I am very excited to start a new series here on the blog. I am blessed to know many veteran homeschoolers. Some of these moms, who have seen their children graduate, have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their experiences. I hope that you will be encouraged and supported as you continue to serve God and your family through your homeschooling journey.

My first guest is Sheryl Stiemann. Sheryl has been homeschooling for 20 years and has seen three of her four children graduate.

Tell me about your family

We have four kids. The oldest Kyle (24) is married to Sarah and they have a son on the way. Then there is Jesse who is 22, Josiah 19, and our youngest Amanda is soon to be 16. My husband and I will celebrate 28 years of marriage in October. We began our “official” homeschool journey in 1996, so, we’re finishing our 20th year of homeschooling in May.

Why did you decide to homeschool and did you have a particular method or philosophy that you subscribed to?

We had friends who homeschooled their six children back in the 80s. They were different from everyone else we knew and we loved their family. They had a lot of obstacles to overcome, especially since there were very few homeschool families. My husband and I had graduated from the same high school two years apart and we both felt that we “survived public school.” He had been a christian in an openly hostile environment. I was not a Believer, but, since I didn’t party, was an “ok” student, and poor, I didn’t fit in anywhere. I found that when I became a Christian my already small circle got even smaller, and I only had one year left until graduation. We had our first son in 1991 and as we held him in our arms in the birth center we looked at each other and said, “homeschool.” It was decided. We didn’t have a clue, this was before the internet, but we felt that we weren’t going to send him to the wolves. I think that decision was mostly from fear, but the Lord is gracious. Even though I might have made homeschooling an idol, He was teaching me and giving me such grace. Our philosophy at the time we officially began our homeschool was to recreate public school. We sought a vigorous curriculum for our kindergarten student in 1996. We had a schoolroom, seatwork, a chalkboard, and, started every day at 8:00 am.

“What was the most rewarding thing for you and what do you think was the most important lesson that you and your children learned through homeschooling? Or, put another way, what fruit do you see now, in both you and your children, that homeschooling contributed to? How did homeschooling contribute to it?”

The most rewarding thing for me in homeschooling is having my kids around all the time. I loved having big late breakfasts together and watching them grow in so many ways. Teaching our kids to read is at the top of my list as well. There is nothing much more rewarding than having them read Scripture out loud to you because you were able to teach them to read. One of our very favorite stories is “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.” Having each of our kids read it out loud at night is still one of my favorite memories.

For our family, the most important thing that we all learned was that the Lord works through families, broken relationships, people who we just can’t get along with, and the different ways we think. He brings maturity through being with each other so much of the time. Homeschooling, working together most of the day, brings out our differences, and our sinful ways of dealing with each other in a way I don’t see possible if we were all apart for eight hours every day. Learning to love one another happens within the family. Homeschooling amplifies our weaknesses as parents, siblings, and children, which is painful and wonderful at the same time. Exposing our weakness should bring us to prayer for the Lord’s strength, and, to humbleness because we are weak and cause pain to others. We are in desperate need of a loving and faithful Savior. Our kids had some difficult times with each other. Looking back is painful, but because we kept at it, prayed for wisdom, and sought forgiveness, relationships were built, and there is a fortitude in dealing with difficult people that I don’t think we’d have if we were apart for many hours during the day.

Do you have regrets?

Yes, yes, and yes again. We put the older two in public school for one year. I still regret that decision, but, the boys were lonely since there weren’t a lot of homeschooling families in our church, I was pregnant with a high-risk pregnancy and had a two-year-old to care for. Because of our rigorous curriculum getting the work done seemed daunting. We put them in school, the oldest in 2nd grade and the next one in kindergarten. I wasn’t prepared for the work involved in sending them to school. Packing the backpacks and dealing with mountains of paperwork was harder than our first year of homeschooling. One of the first fights I had with the principal of the school was in not turning in the free lunch paperwork. She hounded me for that constantly. They wanted me to fill it in so they’d get more funding. I didn’t want them to get more funding so I wouldn’t turn it in. And so began our year of ongoing battles. Thankfully, we all survived. The kids started again the following year, we made it around four weeks and pulled them back out again. I am so grateful that we could homeschool them again. My other regret is using the rigorous curriculum. Even though a wiser homeschool mom with older kids kept telling me to go outside more, I felt like we had to finish all of our seatwork. I still like the curriculum, but, if I could go back, I’d lose most of the seatwork, just read together, and go outside a lot more often, and use a Charlotte Mason approach. I wish I hadn’t worried about measuring our homeschool success. I wish we had just enjoyed the journey, wherever it took us.

“Now that you are almost finished, as you look back at your time, is there anything you would change?

This goes along with my regrets, but I would definitely build more exploration into our days, not be so results-driven, or compare our homeschool with everyone else’s homeschool. I’d pray more with the kids, and have them pray out loud more. I’d do more fun things as well. Even when money is tight there are fun things to do together, even if it means taking a break from your actual “schoolwork.” I also would have liked to have more “hands-on” learning experiences, especially for high school, ie, having car clinics, where the kids would learn the mechanics of a car, how to change a flat tire, repair brakes, change the oil, etc. I think we would have all benefited from serving together more. Especially spending time outside of abortion clinics, sharing the gospel, and serving widows and orphans within the church. There are several in our church who serve at the local nursing home. It’s become such a blessing in their lives, and can easily be a part of homeschool life.

“What advice do you have for young moms who are still in the thick of their homeschooling life. Or what advice do you wish you had been given?

I would encourage young moms to realize that they can’t do it all. They may be in a season in life where they can’t chat on the phone with girlfriends, or workout as often as they like at the classes they’d like. Taking a walk with a little can bring much refreshment, as can taking a walk with the whole family. Don’t ignore your husband, make time for each other, if you can’t afford a babysitter, date each other at home. Put the kids to bed and order takeout, sit outside together and talk and laugh. Your kids will be blessed by this, and your homeschool will be refreshed often. Love those children entrusted to you. I wish I had loved big, and not focused on such small stuff, and most of the stuff with young children is small. Give lots of hugs. If a subject is too taxing for you as a mom and you find yourself frustrated with your child, toss the subject. It all gets repeated up through college. They’ll be fine. Your relationship is much more important than a school subject.

The Woods, a Mole, and Homeschool Sanity

Traveling the long stretches of highway from Nashville to North Carolina, on our family road trip this January, gave me much time for contemplation. The view of woods on either side of the road remained the same for several hours. These woods were stripped bare of its finery, set in the rest of winter. For some stretches, snow blanketed the earth beneath the trees. In others, the snow had already melted revealing fallen leaves, twigs, stones, and rocks along the ground. I had just read the third chapter of Wind in the Willows to my daughter and the description of Mole wondering around the woods in winter was still fresh in my mind.

“The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him, and he thought that he had never seen so far and so intimately into the insides of things as on that winter day when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off …

He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.”

As I looked out my window I was struck by that line, “He had got to the bare bones of it.”

Bare bones

This wood, with its bare trees, hadn’t lost its beauty. Yes, it was subdued and scaled back, yet still beautiful. It was strong. The trees stripped back of all their frills revealed their true self—their bones, so to speak. What became interesting to me was that when the woods were stripped to its bare bones, more of itself was revealed. You could see the landscape that the trees were a part of more clearly than when the trees were in full bloom. Every curve in the ground, hill, exposed root, the variety of color in the fallen leaves covering the ground were its own kind of beauty.

As I contemplated this ‘bare bones’ wood, I considered that for the tree to remain healthy and survive winter, it needed to lose its leaves so that it might conserve its energy and be able to grow in the spring with renewed vigor. It needed to rest.

Marveling at the amazing handiwork of God in building this rhythm of rest in nature, a connection was slowly dawning on me. An analogy between this natural time of resting and shedding of leaves to the bare bones, and my homeschool.

I had been feeling overwhelmed in my homeschool. Trying to adequately meet the needs of three students across multiple disciplines while caring for a toddler can send you loopy.

I needed to rest. I was beginning to burn out.

I then read Christy quote Nancy Kelly, “Keep cutting back until there is peace in your home.”

There it was. A shedding. A cutting back to the barebones. Not in the sense of ceasing from work, but cutting back the excess in order to have peace and rest in the work I was doing. The bare trees were still living, the woods still thriving, but they were not expelling the energy that was needed to maintain their health during the winter season. We can’t always see the ground beneath when our days are full of foliage. And this foliage can beautiful: music lessons, artist study, clubs, co-ops, sports activities, craft projects, play dates, camps, art lessons, extra math tutoring, composer study, foreign languages, the list can go on. All of these things are good, true, and beautiful, and are worthy of our time. But if the pursuit of these studies results in a crowded life with no room to see forward, perhaps a cutting back to bare bones is needed. As I contemplated this further I realized that it’s not simply a cutting back of activities, but a reordering of priorities. It’s getting back to the heart of what education is and answering the fundamental question, “Why am I doing this?” Perhaps it’s my mind that needed to shed its foliage so that I could re-energize and see more “intimately into the insides of things.” To see clearly where we were headed and the ground we were treading.

By answering “Why?” I could more easily identify those aspects of our current homeschool life that did not meet that purpose. I would have a point with which to measure all curriculums, activities, and studies against. I could then immediately identify and clear out any that did not meet our “Why?” I would find the bare bones of it, and it would “be fine and strong and simple.”

But what of the things that do answer the “Why?” and yet still seem too much? Charlotte Mason says that “Education is a life.” Christy takes this to heart and answers, “When everything was done in its own time and we allowed our learning to spill over into our ‘life,’ there really was time for everything without rushing.” To understand this is to realize that learning isn’t something that must be done between certain hours but is lived out through all moments of our day. I needed to redeem those moments. We could sing songs in our foreign language while we drive in the car. Discuss a book we’ve been reading while we take a nature walk or cook dinner, and even play classical music while we have breakfast.

Space

Considering this further, I also saw a link between cutting back to bare bones and the space that is created because of it. The woods, stripped of its finery, created space. It was as though the woods were breathing. Each tree was individual, not blending or competing with the tree beside it. There was space to see. Space to breathe.

Stripping back to the bare bones creates space. It creates the atmosphere in which the education that I provide can thrive. There is space for my children to process new learning in order to see “so far and so intimately into the insides of things.”

“After learning something new children need a Sabbath, a time to process, internalize, to find pleasure in the new learning, and to make connections to previous learning.” – Carroll Smith

My children needed the space, the time, to process and internalize. Diligence in homeschooling doesn’t mean filling in all the space with long seemingly endless lessons, or too many extra-curricular activities and classes. By shedding the foliage in my homeschool I get back to the bare bones of education and create the space for that learning to take root in the souls of my children, shaping them and molding them as persons made in the image of God.

“For all our lives, we are human beings, in an active state of learning, responding, understanding. Education extends to all of life.” —Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

May I remember this next fall, as I prepare for the inevitable winter.

A book I found helpful in answering the “Why?” question was For The Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. I highly recommend it.

We Have Chicks!

Recently we had the wonderful opportunity to hatch some chicken eggs.

A friend of a friend (who we know as the “Chicken Whisperer”) had a compact incubator that they graciously offered to us to borrow. It can hold up to seven eggs, and the “Chicken Whisperer” gave us the eggs to incubate. The time and temperature had already been set for 21 days and 99.5°F, so we were good to go.

We took them home, put the eggs in the incubator, plugged it in, and then watched and waited.

Eggs Incubating

Sadly, there was an altercation involving a vacuum and some clumsy legs that resulted in our first lot of eggs getting smashed a week into the process. Yeah … that was messy.

We were all so devastated.

But the “Chicken Whisperer” graciously gave us another lot of eggs so we could have another go. Needless to say, these were kept in a more secure location in the laundry. We tracked the process in the kids’ science notebooks.

We candled the eggs at 2 weeks to see which eggs were developing. These aren’t the best photos, but you can make out the red veins across the bottom of the egg in the first pic. the dark section above the veins and air pocket is the embryo.


You can see the air pocket at the bottom of these eggs.

We had two eggs where nothing happened. We removed them at this stage. There were two others that developed the air sack but looked a lot gooey-er inside than the others. The “Chicken Whisperer” told us that the embryo could be hiding in the center of the egg, so we left them in the incubator to see what would happen.

A couple of days before hatching, my youngest daughter and I heard chirping from inside one of the eggs. Excitement!!!

At 7.40pm on Tuesday, we were sitting in the lounge room listening to Daddy read a story when we heard a loud chirp. Jumping up, we immediately headed to the laundry to see what was happening. Sure enough, there were two little beaks poking out of cracks in the shell of the eggs.

The First Crack

We waited expectantly. For 40 minutes the chicks were noisily working at the crack but they made little progress. We realized that this could take awhile. As it was a school night, we sent the girls to bed promising them that we would wake them up when the chicks were going to hatch.

At 11pm, the shell of one of the eggs cracked around the middle. Bursting into the girls rooms, turning lights on, shaking them awake, I yelled, “It’s time! It’s happening! Get up, quick!!!!!!!!”

In a state of panic the girls emerged from their beds, trying to make sense of the excitement.

We got to the laundry and watched this.

Flash Hatching

Flash Hatching

Absolutely amazing.

We watched for a little while, but the second chick was taking her time so we all went to bed and found her out and about the next morning.

Aren’t they cute? The golden chick is an Orpington. My eldest daughter named her Perriwinkle. The black one (we think) is a Silky. The younger two girls named her Flash. The girls were fascinated by the hair on Flash’s feet. They were also amazed that when they blink, their eyelids close from the bottom up. The girls thought this was very cool.

In a month or so, when the chicks have grown and their feathers have come in, we will give the chickens back to the “Chicken Whisperer.”

Perriwinkle

Perriwinkle

Flash

Flash

Nature Study Notebooking

What’s the Point?

There is no part of a child’s education more important than that he should lay, by his own observation, a wide basis of facts towards scientific knowledge in the future. He must live hours daily in the open air, and, as far as possible, in the country; must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant. He must be accustomed to ask why––Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And do not hurry to answer his questions for him; let him think his difficulties out so far as his small experience will carry him. Above all, when you come to the rescue, let it not be in the ‘cut and dried’ formula of some miserable little text-book; let him have all the insight available and you will find that on many scientific questions the child may be brought at once to the level of modern thought.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg. 264-265

As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.

Innumerable matters to record occur to the intelligent child. While he is quite young (five or six), he should begin to illustrate his notes freely with brush drawings; he should have a little help at first in mixing colours, in the way of principles, not directions. He should not be told to use now this and now that, but, ‘we get purple by mixing so and so,’ and then he should be left to himself to get the right tint. As for drawing, instruction has no doubt its time and place; but his nature diary should be left to his own initiative. A child of six will produce a dandelion, poppy, daisy, iris, with its leaves, impelled by the desire to represent what he sees, with surprising vigour and correctness.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg. 54-55

New and Improved

One of my goals for this new school year was to improve how we did nature study. We had always used regular composition books to draw our object of interest in with pencils or markers. But the ruled lines intersecting all their drawings was not cultivating the delight in notebooking that I had envisaged for my children. So this year I bit the bullet and bought my children quality water color paints and Moleskine notebooks.

Paints

Moleskine Watercolor Notebooks

I was apprehensive about giving the children what I consider to be expensive materials. So I impressed upon them how special these materials were and how these nature notebooks could be something that they treasured. They were to be looked after and respected. A few weeks in and I have been pleasantly surprised at the care with which the children have used these new materials.

They have made two entries in these notebooks so far. There have been a few tears and frustrations because they couldn’t get a tint exactly right, or they couldn’t get the shape exactly right, or they had used too much paint in creating the desired tint thereby “wasting” their precious paint. While these issues were traumatic for my children at the time (you can see some evidence of their frustration in their paintings) I was pleased that they cared enough to be bothered by these issues.

We took our first nature walks of the school year at a friend’s property. We were there to do some school work together (they homeschool too) and to play. These friends have a chicken coop and a number of chickens. My children had such a wonderful time holding and playing with these chickens that they decided they wanted to paint them in their nature books.

G-Age-6

G-Age-6

E-Age-7

E-Age-7

A-Age-9

A-Age-9

None of our family are naturally artistic, so I’m quite pleased with how their paintings turned out.

After another play date, the two older ones drew a different variety of chicken.

E-Age-7

E-Age-7

Age-Age-9

A-Age-9

Nature notebooking had always been a struggle for us, no one (including me) took delight in the activity. Although we have a long way to go, now that we have more appropriate materials, we are enjoying it a great deal more, and it is quickly becoming a favorite time of school.

2014-2015 Reflections (Part 2)

In my last post I mentioned how I have spent time reflecting on our school year. I discussed our successes, and overall, we did have a great year. However, there were a couple of areas that did not go as well as I’d hoped, and others that need a bit of improving.

Math: A Slave to the Worksheet

The biggest challenge for me this year was Kindergarten (Prep). My wonderfully creative and clever 5-year-old simply wasn’t ready for school. Letters wouldn’t stick, simple math concepts like writing numerals (0-20) wouldn’t stick. If I hadn’t keenly felt the social pressure to begin formal school at age 5, I wouldn’t have for this child. As I mentioned last post, I use Charlotte Mason’s method to teach reading. I am so glad that I did. Though it was painfully slow for me, learning to read was a fun, interactive game for her. And about half way through the year something clicked for this child. Letters that she would forget from one week to the next, began to stick. The pace picked up tremendously. I hadn’t done anything different. It was time. She had simply needed time.

This is how it could have been for math. Instead, enslaved to the worksheet, math became a painful learning experience for my dear daughter, and for me. We have used Math-U-See from the beginning, and, for the most part, I like it. So I began my new Kindergartener (Prep) with the Primer book, and did what I’ve always done. Sit down and watch the lessons on the DVD together, sometimes going over a few more examples of the concept taught with her myself, then have her open her workbook and do a couple of pages out of it (or whatever she could get done in 10-15 minutes). Job done. Easy, right? Umm. Not so much. I was so focussed on getting the worksheets done that I failed to see that she wasn’t understanding the concepts the worksheets were designed to reinforce. Correct answers were written but weren’t understood. As the year continued and she was presented with more new math concepts, frustration from both this student and me mounted. How many times did I have to go over the same thing? Why wasn’t she getting this? She was still needing my constant help to arrive at the correct answer. When I left her to do a question on her own, she said she didn’t know how. She began to believe she couldn’t do it. With one month to go of our school year she still didn’t know what “20” was. She could count to twenty but didn’t understand its value nor how to write it. Hadn’t we been writing numerals all year? Didn’t we learn place value in our first term? It dawned on me that in my fixation with completing worksheets, we had been plowing through the lessons without any regard to whether my student actually understood the problems she was completing. I realized that instead of allowing her time to interact with the concept and understand it for herself, I had pushed her helped her too much, essentially telling her the answers, hoping she’d pick it up as we went along. The whole year had gone by, but had meaningful learning actually taken place? Some. A little. Not as much as was possible. And not without a lot of pain and heartache. I had failed her. With three weeks to go I tossed the student workbook in favor of hands on math games that taught the concepts she so clearly didn’t understand. And you know what? The tears and the tantrums disappeared and she learned more in that three weeks than she had all year. She will still use the student workbook next year, but only as a guide, and to reinforce concepts that I will teach through play and games.

Spanish

Spanish will probably always be in the “need to improve” list. Primarily because I have never learned this language before so I am not confident about teaching it to my kids. I had read that the best way to learn a language is to hear it all the time and just start speaking it, but I still wasn’t sure how to put that into practice. The result was trying to do a little bit of everything to make sure that I had it all covered.

We did:

Doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that isn’t necessarily bad, but I felt that there was a lack of continuity to what we were learning. Chopping and changing often resulted in a lack of review. It also resulted in us not being able to finish the Petra Lingua course before our subscription ran out. I think it would have been better to have done the entire year with the Petra Lingua course to build up the children’s vocabulary. YouTube songs, duo lingo, and Salsa Spanish would still have worked great as a compliment to the course. We will continue with those activities next year.

Nature Study Notebooks

I mentioned last post that nature study went well this year. This is because we were consistent in doing it. But our nature study notebooks need some love and attention to become what Charlotte Mason had envisaged. It wasn’t until I read Laurie Bestvater’s book, “The Living Page” that I saw the vision for these notebooks. I saw the deficiencies in our half-hearted notebooking efforts, but saw what they could be, and how important and treasured they could become to my children. It is my goal to make the following adjustments to improve our nature study notebooking this year:

  • Replace cheap lined notebooks with quality watercolor Moleskine notebooks
  • Use quality watercolor paints and art supplies instead of cheap markers and pencils
  • Be more intentional in looking up facts about our discoveries and include them in our notebooks
  • Be intentional in looking out for and including poetry that relates to what we are painting
  • Cultivate and nurture a love and a care for our nature notebooking practice
  • Cultivate and nurture a love and a care for God’s creation as we make notes of our discoveries.

So that’s 2014-2015. Please pray for me as we embark on a new school year in a couple of weeks (this year will include Shakespeare, Plutarch, and even some Latin!).

2014-2015 Evaluations and Reflections

After finishing the school year a couple of weeks ago, I spent the better part of a week preparing portfolios for evaluation. This year took longer than normal. At the last minute I decided to reorganize all of the girls’ work. I also had two terms of exams for two students to type out. I know I could have typed them up earlier in the year, and I intended to. But not being naturally organized, I never got around to it. In spite of my disorganization, I got them done. Want to see?

Portfolios

Language Arts

Geography

Tabs

Free Reading

Narration

It took 3 hours to type up all the books my 3rd grader read this year. The girl is a machine. I read pretty slowly so this is shocking to me. I know Charlotte Mason advocates reading slowly, giving your mind time to digest the living ideas, but I cannot slow my daughter down. I am not overly concerned about this with her free reading because she can narrate everything she’s read without a worry, even quoting paragraphs, so I know she’s giving attention to what she is reading and understands it.

While typing up exams and preparing portfolios, I’ve had time to reflect on the year that’s gone by—the things that went well, the areas that need improving, and the areas that went well but could use a little tweaking to work better. Considering what went well, here are what I think were our greatest successes.

Our Schedule

The most successful area of our homeschool this year was our schedule. I know that sounds kind of boring, but if our schedule didn’t work so well, many of the wonderful areas that we studied (like art, composers, poetry, nature study, and Spanish) would have been left out, to our detriment. Charlotte Mason believed in providing a liberal education, that is, a wide and generous feast of living ideas for children to devour that would feed their souls. This is why including areas of study that many might not deem necessary is so important to me.

This year I introduced a third student to our school day. Her schedule and demand was pretty light as she was only in Kindergarten (Prep), but it still had an impact on the dynamic of our day. Last year, when I had only two students our day had a general outline with no specifics. I knew in my head what we had to get done and each day we somehow figured it out. Needless to say, many areas that I’ve already mentioned were left out on many occasions, and when we did do them they were in a haphazard, stressed kind of way. That is not what Charlotte Mason envisaged at all.

Thanks to Brandy’s average day planning post last year at Afterthoughts and Jen’s 2013 planning series over at Snowfall Academy, I realized I needed a better plan. I was able to use ideas from both their schedules to come up with one that was much more thorough than I had before and one that suited our family.

Daily Schedule

Schedule

Weekly Schedule

Weekly ScheduleAO1 and AO3 refer to the Ambleside Online’s weekly scheduled readings for years 1 and 3.

It worked beautifully for us. There were three areas that were particularly successful.

Circle Time

I have posted a little about this before, but just to quickly explain again: Circle Time is basically all the areas of study that we do together. Last year I attempted Circle Time but found that with Bible reading, prayer, poetry, memorizations, artist or composer study, and Spanish, it was going WAY too long, and my children, especially the 5-year-old, could not sit in one place for that long, and so I often left things out. I saw on Jen’s daily schedule that she had Bible, prayer, and memorization first thing and then had another Circle Time during snack. This seems so obvious now but I had never thought of it before seeing her plan. Following Jen’s example I split Circle Time in half, beginning the day with Bible, prayer, memorization and adding poetry in as well. At either snack or lunch time, depending on how the day was going, we did Spanish and alternated composer and artist study. This has worked really well for me, and morning Circle Time has become my favorite part of the day.

Kindergarten

The second area that was successful for us was teaching the youngest student first. This year I had two students that were learning to read. One had not mastered all her letters, while the other had finished 3 and 4 letter word families and was moving on to learning to read actual books (You can find the method I use to teach reading over at Joyful Shepherdess). Only a year apart in age, both students needed me for all of their schooling, yet were at different stages of learning, so couldn’t be combined. I was nervous about this. So my plan was to begin with the youngest, whose attention, presumably, would wane the quickest. This worked well most of the time. Though some days the 1st grader had the shorter attention span, and so I began with her. Other days I mixed it up, beginning with K phonics for 15 minutes, then giving her a break, taught 1st grade reading for 15 minutes, then returned to the youngest to finish her formal school time with math, then switched again to 1st grade math, and continued with Year 1 readings. So even though I had the Kindergartener scheduled, and followed this schedule most of the time, I allowed my days to be fluid enough within the schedule structure to ensure that I could meet my individual children’s needs on any particular day. The first of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles is “Children are born persons.” I think part of respecting our children as real, individual persons in their own right, made in the image of God, is being tuned in to what they need to learn best that day. This means that sometimes shifting the order of the schedule is necessary because it is what is best for them. I am not always successful at this, but when I am, our school day is better.

Nature Study

The third area of success in our homeschool was Nature Study. It was actually on the schedule this year, so we actually did it! This is a big success for me because I’m naturally a homebody. This is an area of study that definitely need’s more improvements, particularly with our notebooks. Yet I still consider it a success since we managed to go for a nature walk somewhere every week and draw or paint what we observed.

So that is our school year in a nutshell. There is definitely areas that I need to improve or tweak, but I will save that for another post.

How was your school year? What are some successes you had? I’d love to hear from you.

The Simple Effectiveness of Artist Study

The six-year-old child should begin both to express himself and to appreciate, and his appreciation should be well in advance of his power to express what he sees or imagines. Therefore it is a lamentable thing when the appreciation of children is exercised only upon the coloured lithographs of their picture-books or of the ‘Christmas number.’

…the minds of children and of their elders alike accommodate themselves to what is put in their way; and if children appreciate the vulgar and sentimental in art, it is because that is the manner of art to which they become habituated.

…We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg.307-309

Charlotte Mason reminds us that we cannot measure how our children will be influenced when they spend time really looking at works of art. Therefore, it is my endeavor to “put in [my children’s] way” artists whose works instill a sense of beauty and capture moments in time—works that enrich us.

What Does Artist Study Look like in Our Family?

In our homeschool, we follow Ambleside Online’s Artist Schedule. Each term (12 weeks) we consider one artist and six or seven representations of their work. This usually means looking at one piece every two weeks. For example, this term we are studying the Impressionist Edgar Degas. So far we have looked at the following paintings:

The Belleli Family

The Belleli Family

The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans

The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans

The Dance Class

The Dance Class

Once or twice a week, often while the kids eat lunch or snacks, I pull up the schedule on my iPad and click the link to the painting for that week. Together, we spend five or so minutes looking at it. There might be a brief discussion, often led by the children, about who is portrayed in the painting, what they are doing, where they are, the style of painting, and any other details that stand out to us. I then take the painting away and ask one of the children to narrate it, that is, to tell me about the painting from memory. And that’s it.

It seems so simple (and it is!) but you will be surprised at how much impact spending the time really looking and appreciating an artist’s work actually has on a young heart. The learning isn’t always tangible, but I promise you it is happening.

From the Mouth of an 8-Year-Old

Here is what my 8-year-old said about ‘The Dance Class’ a few days after looking at it:

“The dance rehearsal, I really like it. One of the reasons is because its got the mirror and the stairway with the window and the people on the stairway. When I first saw it I thought it was an actual door but then we realized that it was actually a window and that it was people that we could see. I like how he’s got all the details and how you can actually see the man’s handkerchief in his pocket and how he actually did the detail of it just being stuffed in there, not it being completely hidden. I really like it. And I like when you zoom in you can actually see the detail of the dancers feet how they’re slim and dancy, and the way that he’s got the shoe, the one where the ending is flat so that they could stand on their toes. It’s really cool.”

There’s an App for That

Organized mums will have visited Staples, printed the term’s pictures in color, added information about each piece, and presented them in a folder before the term begins. But organization is not my strong suit, so this never happens for me. This term, I discovered the Art Authority app for my iPad. It has thousands of artists, a library of their works, and links to additional information about each. Everything I need is in one app. No more Googling for me! That makes it well worth the $10 in my opinion. The children also enjoy using it to scroll through other artists’ work’s that we have studied in previous years, reacquainting themselves with old friends.

In addition to looking at Degas’ works we have been reading Mike Venezia’s book Edgar Degas from his series “Getting To Know The World’s Greatest Artists.” I read a few pages from the book during our Artist Study time and ask one child to narrate what we have read. The children always look forward to his humorous comic strip pages.

More Than an Add-On

When I first introduced Artist Study in our homeschool, I viewed it as a nice little add-on that we would get to “if we had time,” but if not, “it didn’t really matter.” After three years, we have come to treasure it and I see how much it has enriched my children’s lives as they learn to express their appreciation for the beautiful.

The Wonder of a Child

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here—a really long while. I got a bit lazy, and honestly, I didn’t really feel that I had much to add to the homeschooling/Charlotte Mason conversation that wasn’t already being said by others, and said much better than I could. I came to the conclusion that I really am terrible at writing. It is just so hard for me to get my thoughts out of my head and into anything resembling coherency. I lost the motivation to put effort and time into writing. So I stopped. But my passion for homeschooling and Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education didn’t. In fact, it has only grown. One day I’ll write the blog post (maybe) about why we do Charlotte Mason that I’ve been meaning to write for the past three years, but for the moment you will just have to bear with this morning’s random musing.

I’ve had a baby since I was last here. A boy! Our first boy. He is such a joy and I can’t even begin to describe how much we all love having him in our family. He is 14 months old. Where has the time gone? It was actually my baby boy that inspired me to write today’s post. This morning, as I sat in my favorite spot in the house, drank a cup of coffee, read several homeschooling blogs, and occasionally looked out the window at the gorgeous trees in our yard, my beautiful son toddled up to me.

My Favorite Spot in the House

He stretched out his arms for me to pick him up. I obliged, and he snuggled into my lap as we looked out the window. He pointed to the trees and (presumably) to the sunrise whose golden rays reflected off the leaves. He exclaimed, “Woah!” This was followed by a procession of “oohs” and “ahhs” as he took in the beauty displayed through the window and marveled at it.

Sunrise Through the Trees

Children have a wonderful sense of wonder, don’t they? This is our biggest advantage as home educators. Charlotte Mason says that. Somewhere. Pretty much. Children are naturally curious. And they get excited about stuff.

“Wow, look Mummy, the flowers are blooming.”

“Look Mummy, the squirrels are chasing one another. They have such fluffy tails.”

“Look, Mum! Mr. Cardinal is in our tree. And there’s Mrs. Cardinal! They always visit together.”

And on it goes—endless observations of the world around them. We jaded adults can easily overlook this glorious sense of wonder. Our wonder has been dimmed by the drudgery of life. But what if it hadn’t? What if this wonder at God’s creation had been nurtured in our childhood? What observations and beauty would we see now that we so quickly overlook or dismiss as trivial? It is such a gift for our children to nurture this sense of wonder that already comes so naturally to them—to always be on the look out, to put them in the way of beauty, and to draw their attention to marvel at God’s goodness to us in providing this moment to share. May our children always look at God’s creation with wonder. And may we rediscover this wonder and praise God.

A Tale Of Two Honey Possums – A Grand Conversation

20140524-094612-35172007.jpg

Our read aloud for today was A Tale of Two Honey Possums by Felicity Bradshaw and beautifully illustrated by Patricia Negus. Bradshaw is a biologist from Western Australia who has studied honey possums for over 20 years. It is a sweet story about Benji and Noola, brother and sister honey possums born to Mother Possum, and their first year of life.

I am no expert on living books but I love this story. It is a wonderful book that can easily be used as a natural science book for young children. It contains great detail of the honey possum, their physical attributes, what they eat, where they live, how it’s young are raised, and what the dangers are for them. It also contains a great deal of information about other animals who share there habitat amongst the Banksia in the Australian bush. But it is not a boring textbook. I would put it in the same rank as The Burgess Animal Book and The Burgess Bird Book. In fact I think it’s a little better. The story is engaging and captivated my children’s imagination. Especially when the honey possums endured a bush fire and their home was completely burnt. The development of the fire in the story sparked a long conversation with my children about bush fires. For most Victorians (people who live in Victoria, Australia, where I was from) the topic of bush fires is really close to home, as a few years ago Victoria suffered one of the worst bush fires in our history. There were around 300 fatalities and entire towns were burnt to the ground. Bush fires are a very big threat every summer in rural Victoria and fire safety ads flood TV and radio to help ensure people are prepared in the event of a fire.

When I first brought this book out to read to the children my hopes were that they would learn some wonderful, interesting facts about Australian animals and our beautiful flora. Instead, unexpectedly, this simple story about the adventures of two honey possums sparked, as Charlotte Mason would call it, a “grand conversation” about bush fires, what they’re like, how they start, and what we should do. This then led to practicing what to do in the event of a house fire, having lots of fun crawling around the house, testing to see if doors were hot, and eventually making our way out of the house to the letter box. I’m not sure if there is much danger from fires here in Florida, but our impromptu lesson on fire safety sparked by our little book of A Tale of Two Honey Possums, I count as one of our best examples of stories having a meaningful impact on our children. I feel confident that this will be a treasured book in our children’s library and I look forward to the next grand conversation when we read it again. Perhaps it will be a discussion about endangered Australian marsupials? Here’s hoping…

This book is available from the artist Patricia Negus and at Abebooks

What stories have sparked a “grand conversation” in your home?

My Favorite Educational iPad Apps for Kids

I use my iPad a lot for school. It’s easily transportable upstairs to the school room and many of our school books are on it or are accessible through the Internet. Not to mention the Internet itself being easily accessible to provide extra supplements to our lessons where appropriate, and in the spur of the moment, as is often the case with me.

Overtime I have collected a few apps for the children to use in their free time. I do not let them use it whenever they want, but have limited their time on it to an hour or two on Fridays (my cleaning day), and occasionally at other times I will allow them to use it to listen to a specific story, or to use a particular educational app.

So out of my small collection of apps for the kids, I have a few favorites that I would like to share with you.

The Tales of Peter Rabbit, Bejamin Bunny, and Squirrel Nutkin
The following three apps are my absolute favorites. They are the timeless stories from Beatrice Potter. We have downloaded many children’s book apps, and one of my criticism’s of them are that the developers have made the app so busy with all it’s interactivity that it becomes a distraction from the story. Not so with these Pop Out apps. The interactivity is that of the traditional paper pop out book, with tags to pull and push and make Peter Rabbit move through his adventures. In addition, the falling leaves can be collected on a couple of pages which the kids enjoy, and I do not believe provides a distraction from their listening to the story. The story is read by a lovely female voice which can be switched off if your child wants to read it themselves. The illustrations are the beautiful illustrations we’ve always known and love.

20130407-141630.jpg
Pop Out! The Tale Of Peter Rabbit

20130407-142910.jpg
Pop Out! The Tale Of Benjamin Bunny

20130407-143033.jpg
Pop Out! The Tale Of Squirrel Nutkin


The Night Before Christmas
My next favourite is made by the same developers and contains much of the same interactivity as the Beatrice Potter apps. It is Denslow’s The Night Before Christmas.

20130407-143516.jpg


The Velveteen Rabbit
The last of the book apps is “The Velveteen Rabbit” read by Meryl Streep. This is app is simply a video of this beautiful book being read, with some panning of the original illustrations, like they do on Playschool. This app is unfortunately not available in the U.S. App Store, so I can’t link to it, but it is in the Australian store. So all you Aussies enjoy it. Glad we got it while we were still in Australia!

20130408-074454.jpg



Starfall ABC’s
Starfall ABC’s is my favourite phonics app for preschool (kinder) and Kindergarton (prep). It is simple but does the best job in reinforcing the letter and its sound, giving many examples of objects beginning with that letter, and providing a variety of games for the child to play that continues reinforcing the letters.

20130407-160313.jpg



Reading Eggs Spelling Games Grade 1
A first grade spelling app that we like is Reading Eggs Spelling Games Grade 1. This Australian app provides a variety of games to reinforce spelling. My first grader, who is a very good reader, finds this app very challenging, so it definitely could be appropriate of older grades also.

20130407-161023.jpg

YouTube
Goes without saying. I don’t let the children use this on their own, but it is used to aid in their lessons.

20130407-164220.jpg



Plant Nanny (iPhone)
I have a daughter that does not drink much water. If I don’t force her to drink a cup of water in front of me, she would not have a drink all day. This has been exasperating to me, and I have not known how to get her to consistently drink more water. That is until I found Plant Nanny for the iPhone. In this app the user inputs age and weight, and the app calculates how much water the user should drink a day. They then get to choose a plant to care for, to give a glass of water each time the user drinks a glass. If you don’t give the plant water (by drinking a glass yourself), then the plant will die. After a few days the plant can then be planted in a garden and the user can choose another plant. This app has proved extremely successful in getting my 6 year old to drink water. She loves the app and is now much more responsible in drinking her quota of water for the day. So if you have children that you struggle to get to drink enough, I highly recommend this iPhone app.

20130407-162629.jpg



Apps Gone Free
Finally, this last app is not for the kids, but has been very useful to me. Apps Gone Free tells you the apps that are available for free that particular day. I have got a lot of my apps for free through this app.

20130407-163408.jpg

So there you have it. These are ten of my favorite educational iPad apps for the kids. I hope it’s been helpful.

Have you got any apps that have made it to your favorites list? If you do I’d love to hear about them.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2018 Mum To Mom

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑