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Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

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Studied Dictation: Part 2

Last week I explained what Charlotte Mason’s studied dictation was, and gave an example of a lesson plan. This week I want to share with you a modified Charlotte Mason dictation lesson that I developed for one of my daughters.  It combines Charlotte Mason’s idea of studying a passage from literature with an analytical style spelling program. I heavily relied on Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide to plan this lesson. I want to stress that this is not dictation as Mason described. It does not contain her method of visualization, and pulls apart the words for analysis far more than Mason would.

My oldest daughter learned to read very quickly. After learning her letters and a few of the most common multiple phonograms, she taught herself whole words. This was great for fast reading, not so great for breaking down the words for spelling. When it came to writing words, she had no idea how to break up a word into its sounds. She didn’t have the phonetic tools. So I developed a plan that focused on phonograms, common spelling rules, and rules for punctuation. My daughter was 11 when we began these lessons. They served as a crash course to give her phonetic tools quickly. After a year, it was clear that this kind of lesson was no longer necessary and we have gone back to the standard Charlotte Mason Dictation lesson as described here.

Lesson Plan

Download the PDF version.

From The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford.

Suddenly, there was a sound of a heavy body pushing through the underbrush, accompanied by a sharp cracking of branches, and the spell was broken.

Phonograms: th, ou, ea, sh, ng, ough, er, ed, ar, ck, ch

Rules:

  • heavy, body. Rule: English words do not end with IUVJ. Rule: I and Y may say /i/ or /I/ at the end of a syllable.
  • accompany – accompanied. Y changes to i when adding ed
  • branch – branches. Add es when pluralizing a word that hisses
  • broke – broken. Silent final e makes the o say O. Every syllable must have a written vowel.

Punctuation:

  • Suddenly, –  Use a comma after introductory adverbs.

“Finally, I went running.”

“Unsurprisingly, I saw a duck when I went running.”

“Many adverbs end in “ly” and answer the question “how?” How did someone do something? How did something happen? Adverbs that don’t end in “ly,” such as “when” or “while,” usually introduce a dependent clause, which rule number two in this post already covered.

Also insert a comma when “however” starts a sentence, too. Phrases like “on the other hand” and “furthermore” also fall into this category. Starting a sentence with “however,” however, is discouraged by many careful writers. A better method would be to use “however” within a sentence after the phrase you want to negate, as in the previous sentence.” (1)

  • branches, – Comma Before And That Joins Two Independent Clauses

“The word and is a conjunction, and when a conjunction joins two independent clauses, you should use a comma with it. The proper place for the comma is before the conjunction.

“On Monday we’ll see the Eiffel Tower, and on Tuesday we’ll visit the Louvre.”

The sentence above contains two independent clauses, so it requires a comma before and. (By the way, you can tell they’re independent clauses because each one could stand on its own as a complete sentence.)” (2)

References
1. https://www.businessinsider.com/a-guide-to-proper-comma-use-2013-9
2. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/comma-before-and/
3. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/comma/
4. Uncovering The Logic of English by Denise Eide

Day 1

  • Underline all multiple phonograms and write above it which number sound is being used. (e.g. heavy – ea 2nd sound)
  • Mark known rules.
  • Take note of comma placement.
  • Use for copywork.

Day 2&3:

  • Teach the spelling of unknown words (as many as can be taught in 10 – 15 minutes).
  1. Every syllable must have a vowel. Have students identify the syllable by drawing a dotted line through each syllable of each word on their student paper. Write out the word with the syllabic breaks in them.

e.g. sud  den  ly, un  der  brush. bod  y,  heav  y, ac  com  pan  ied,  brok  en.

  1. Analyze the word in the direction of writing.

sud   den  – all first sound vowels
ly – Rule: English words do not end with IUVJ. Rule: Y says /E/ only at the end of a multi syllable word.

  1. Analyze roots for spelling

sudden  – add suffix ‘ly’

  1. Write from memory

Day 4:

  • Teach adding suffixes to single vowel Y words.
  1. Write on board: Single vowel Y changes to I when adding any ending, unless the ending begins with I.
    So there are two questions to ask: does it end with a single vowel Y? Does the suffix begin with any letter except I? If the answer is yes to both of these, change the Y to I and add the suffix. If the answer is no to either, just add the ending.
  2. Do some examples on the board.

try – tries, happy – happiness, busy – business, boy – boys (phonogram ‘oy,’ not a single vowel Y), worry – worrisome, annoy – annoyed (phonogram ‘oy,’ not a single vowel Y) cry – crier, study – studied.

Day 5:

  • Review any words learned this week and teach comma rules above.

Day 6&7:

  • Continue teaching the rest of the words, following the pattern of Day 2&3

e.g. Teach accompanied.

  1. Identify syllables –  ac  com  pan  ied.
  2. Analyse the word in the direction of writing.

ac com pan – all first sounds
ied – Rule: Single vowel Y changes to I when adding any ending, unless the ending begins with I.

  1. Analyze roots for spelling – accompany
    – does it end with a single vowel Y?  Yes
    – Does the suffix begin with any letter except I? Yes
    Then Y changes to I and add the suffix.
  2. Write out the word accompanied from memory.

Day 8:

  • Review comma placement
  • Discuss spelling of challenging words learned.
  • Practice writing the sentence out without looking. Provide help when needed.

Day 9:

  • Dictate.

Day 10:

  • Bonus challenge: spell unseen words that use the same rules we have learned the last two weeks.
  1. Rule: English words do not end with IUVJ.  and, Rule: Y says /E/ only at the end of a multi syllable word. sandy
  2. Rule: Single vowel Y changes to I when adding an ending, unless the ending begins with I. puppies, cried, toys, blindness
  3. Rule: The vowel says its long sound because of the E.   spoke
  4. Rule: Every syllable must have a vowel. Rule: AEOU usually say AEOU at the end of a syllable: despite

Studied Dictation: Part 1

What is it and why would we use it?

Studied Dictation is a method to teach spelling that was developed by Charlotte Mason. It is outlined in Home Education (Volume 1). Briefly, it is where a child studies the spelling of unknown words and punctuation in an assigned passage of poetry or prose. When the student has learned the passage, the teacher dictates the passage for the student to write from memory. I will discuss the step-by-step method of what this looks like in my daily lessons soon, but first I feel it is important to discuss why we would choose to study spelling in this way. Why not grab the boxed spelling curriculum off the shelf and learn spelling through lists that have already been laid out for us? 10 or 20 words a week. No planning. Just learn the words and you know how to spell, right?

To answer this question, we must look at Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. Out of the 20 principles of her philosophy, one stands out to me as the hinge to which all the others hang. It is the first principle: “children are born persons.” She begins her whole philosophy by thinking about who the child is. The child is not an empty vessel to be filled with information, they are a whole human being: mind, body, and spirit, whose whole being needs to be educated.

In her book Consider This, Karen Glass quotes David Hicks who puts it this way,

“The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.”

Glass explains that,

“When our knowledge is transformed into action, it becomes virtue, and virtue was the goal of the classical educators … Our educational methods should inspire and lead children toward right thinking and acting…”

Charlotte Mason’s entire Language Arts approach is based on the premise that we are educating whole persons. The purpose of language is to communicate truth—to learn and understand ideas. If the purpose of education is to “inspire and lead children toward right thinking and acting,” then studying the spelling of a word within the context of the idea that it was used to convey will more directly achieve that purpose.

I can attest from personal experience the richness that can be found in a dictation lesson. An example is when we were learning the line “We should try to succeed by merit, not by favor.” I had planned the lesson to teach spelling, only to find that not only did my children focus on spelling, they discussed the ideas in the passage at the same time. They discussed what merit was and what favor was, and why it was better to succeed by merit. This was not in my mind when we began the lesson. It happened because the living ideas in the passage being considered were worthy of my children’s thought. Through dictation a child can grow in wisdom.

Putting it into practice

I encourage you to read Charlotte Mason’s own words on the steps of dictation lesson.

It is a very simple method. To summarize, the child looks at a passage for any words that they don’t know and spend time studying them by visualizing them in their mind.

“The teacher asks if there are any words he is not sure of. These she puts, one by one, on the blackboard, letting the child look till he has a picture, and then rubbing the word out.”

Charlotte Mason cautions teachers not to allow the child to see a misspelled word, which can confuse the child as to the correct spelling. I know there are still some words that I will often spell wrong because I have seen it misspelled too often.

For continued study of more difficult words, she says:

“If anyone is still doubtful he should be called to put the word he is not sure of on the board, the teacher watching to rub out the word when a wrong letter begins to appear, and again helping the child to get a mental picture.”

Charlotte Mason also emphasizes over and over in her volumes the importance of the child reading living books themselves.

“A lesson of this kind secures the hearty co-operation of children, who feel they take their due part in it; and it also prepares them for the second condition of good spelling, which is––much reading combined with the habit of imaging the words as they are read.”

“Illiterate spelling is usually a sign of sparse reading; but, sometimes, of hasty reading without the habit of seeing the words that are skimmed over.”

Studied dictation does not begin until around 4th grade, or when the child is 9 or 10. They have had 3 years of formal reading lessons and phonics instruction before this (Discover Reading is a comprehensive explanation and guide for the Charlotte Mason method of teaching reading). They have also been, from the time they can form their letters correctly, doing copywork. The habit of attention and visualizing words to learn them has (hopefully) already been established. Therefore, further phonics instruction is not necessary during dictation.

Below is a sample lesson. Next week I will share a couple of modified dictation lessons I developed for my oldest daughter, who fell into what Charlotte Mason calls “hasty reading.” Those lessons were a blend of ‘Spell to Write and Read’ and dictation, which emphasized phonics and spelling rules much more than Charlotte Mason prescribed.

The following lesson plan is a way to teach studied dictation. Others may break down the lessons differently to me. The lesson should not be longer than 10-15 minutes. Charlotte Mason (as far as I am aware) did not teach spelling rules. I have found teaching a few of them helpful, particularly for my first and third child, but you do not have to teach them. They are there simply as a reference for the teacher. The work of studying the words is for the students to do. The instructions are a guide to get the student going, but once the student has developed a good study practice, they will be able to do these steps automatically for themselves without much instruction from the teacher.

Dictation Lesson Plan Example

(Download PDF version. Updated.)

From The Birth of Britain by Winston Churchill:

“In the summer of the Roman year of 699, now described as the year 55 before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Proconsul of Gaul, Gaius Julius Caesar, turned his gaze upon Britain. In the midst of his wars in Germany and in Gaul he became conscious of this heavy Island which stirred his ambitions and already obstructed his designs.

Day 1

  1. Use for copywork
  2. Have student identify (circle, highlight, asterisk, etc) words likely to give her trouble. e.g. Proconsul, Gaul, Gaius, Julius, Caesar, Britain, conscious, island, stirred (double ‘r’ when adding suffix), ambitions, already, obstructed, designs, 
  3. Student study unknown words.
  • Study first word Gaul. Notice capital letter. It is a proper noun. Notice phonogram “au”. Student close eyes and picture the word in her mind (reference removed from sight). When sure of it, write the word down.
  • Study word Gaius. Notice capital letter. It is a proper noun. Notice it’s Latin masculine ending. Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.
  • Study word Julius. Notice capital letter for proper noun. Notice Latin masculine ending. Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.
  • Study word Caesar. Notice capital letter for proper noun. Notice Latin spelling ‘ae’. Notice phonogram ‘ar.’ Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.
  • Study word Britain. Notice capital letter for proper noun. Notice phonogram ‘ai.’ Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.
  • Study word conscious. Notice the phonogram ‘ci’ (Latin ‘sh’), notice the s before the ‘ci’ (like science), notice suffix ‘ous.’ Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.

Rule: TI, CI, and SI are used only at the beginning of any syllable after the
first one.

  • Study word island. Notice silent ’s’. Notice the word ‘land’ (not emphasized in speech for spelling.) Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.

Day 2

  1. Continue study of unknown words, Continue to notice phonograms and spelling rules (if applicable). Visualize each word and write them down when known. Teacher be mindful not to allow student to write down words misspelled. Erase mistake immediately and have them look at the word again to learn it accurately.
  • Stirred (double ‘r’ when adding suffix). Notice phonogram ‘ir’, notice suffix ‘ed’. Student close eyes and picture the word in her mind (reference removed from sight). When sure of it, write the word down.

Rule: Double the last consonant when adding a vowel suffix to words ending in one vowel followed by one consonant only if the syllable before the suffix is stressed.

  • ambitions. Notice Latin phonogram ‘ti’ (’sh’). Divide into syllables if needed.
  • already. Notice prefix ‘al’. Notice phonogram ‘ea’ (second sound), Notice ‘y’ at the end of the word.

Rule: ‘al’ is a prefix written with one L when preceding another syllable.
Rule: English words do not end in I,U,V, or J.

  • obstructed. Notice suffix ‘ed’. Divide into syllables.
  • designs.  Notice phonogram ‘gn’.
  • Day 3

    1. Teach punctuation
    • Commas 1 & 2. …, now described as the year 55 before the birth of Jesus Christ, – Modifier (p447, The Little Brown Handbook) “Commas around part of a sentence often signal that the element is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.”
    • Commas 3&4 – … Gaul, Gaius Julius Caesar, – Nonessential appositives (p.451)

    Note: It is very likely that I would only choose one of these punctuation rules to explicitly teach during our lesson. The student will still study the text for correct placement for the purpose of dictation, but will not be taught the ‘why’ for every punctuation mark. These lessons will come up over and over in our dictation lessons. It is enough to just mention the rule in the context of learning the passage. Students will have plenty of opportunity to practice these rules when editing their own written narrations.

    Day 4

    1. Dictate

    If the passage that has been studied is long, you can just choose to dictate a portion of the studied selection. Select a portion that will keep the lesson to 10 minutes in length. The student will not know which portion you will dictate so must study the whole thing to be well prepared.

    Note: The division of days is just a suggestion. Depending on how many words the student needs to study and how long it takes them to study, you may move faster or slower. Allow the student to determine the pace.

    Resources used:
    The Little, Brown Handbook 12th edition by H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron.
    Uncovering The Logic of English by Denise Eide.

Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Study

As I mentioned last week, I will be studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles of education. To do this I will be using Brandy Vencel’s Start Here study guide. I invite you to study along with me. Here are the details for the study.

Required reading
In addition to the Start Here study guide, you will also need For The Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and A Philosophy of Education (Volume 6) by Charlotte Mason. Volume 6 is available to read for free online at Ambleside Online if you don’t own the hard copy.

Schedule
We will discuss a principle a month most of the time, except where Brandy has combined principles that are related. These are outlined in her Start Here study guide. I plan to post my thoughts on the 3rd Tuesday of every month. I will try really hard to keep to this schedule but I cannot guarantee that life will not get in the way from time to time. I highly recommend that you subscribe to the blog to get notified of the next post in the study. You can do this by entering your email address into the orange box on the right or the bottom of the page.

Participation
Once I’ve posted my thoughts about the principle, it is your turn. Post your thoughts, questions, and discussions points in the comments. Feel free to link to your own blog in the comments if you have a post that discusses the principle being considered.

Keeping it together
This page will serve as a landing page for the study. There will be a list of links to each post for easy navigation. I will continue to add links as we make our way through the study.

Who was Charlotte Mason?
Lastly, Brandy says it is a good idea to know who Charlotte Mason was and why it is worth our time to study her. Read this article to learn about Charlotte Mason herself.

 

Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Study Directory

  • Principle 1:
    Children are born persons.
  • Principle 2:
    [Children] are not born either good or bad, but with the possibilities for good and for evil. *This principle is not a denial of original sin. It is refuting the idea, common in her time, of predetermined hereditary natures.
  • Principle 3:
    The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental…
  • Principle 4:
    These principles [of authority and obedience] are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.
  • Principle 5a & 6:
    Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the first is] the atmosphere of environment…
    (6)When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we do not mean a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s level.
  • Principles 5b & 7:
    Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the second being] the discipline of habit…
    (7)By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits.
  • Principles 5c & 8:
    Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the third of which is] the presentation of living ideas…
    (8)In saying that “education is a life,” the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.
  • Principles 9,10, and 11:
    We hold that the child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.
    (10)Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher’s axiom is, ‘what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.’
    (11)But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.
  • Principle 12:
    Out of this conception [that the child’s mind comes fit to deal with knowledge, and that facts must not be presented without their informing ideas] comes our principle that, – “Education is the Science of Relations”; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, naturelore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of–
    “Those first-born affinities
    “That fit our new existence to existing things.”
  • Principle 13:
    In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:
    (a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
    (b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity).
    (c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.
  • Principles 14 & 15:
    As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.
    (15) A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarizing, and the like.
    Acting upon these and some other points in the behaviour of mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed, and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment.
    Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.
  • Principles 16a and 17:
    There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, [the first] we may call ‘the way of the will’…
    (17)The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’ (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best wayto turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may ‘will’ again with added power. The use of suggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character. It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)
  • Principles 16b and 18:
    There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, [the second] we may call ‘the way of the reason’…
    (18)The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to ‘lean (too confidently) to their own understanding’; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.
  • Principle 19:
    Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.
  • Principle 20:
    We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.

Bits and Pieces: Cake Recipes, Book Recommendations, and more…

Birthday Cake Recipes

From the middle of May to the first week of July my 3 girls each celebrate their birthday. This means we have 7 weeks of birthday cake! It has become something of a tradition for the girls to help me make their birthday cakes, and for the 9 and 10-year-old, this year was no exception (A-Age-12 decided that she could not possibly tear herself away from her stack of birthday books to help make her cake). We have always made our cakes from scratch. It was how I was taught and the idea of buying a boxed cake mix never occurs to me. It doesn’t feel like real baking to me (Sorry!). However, of the many, many cakes that have been baked in our kitchen, not all of them have measured up to the flavor found in your favorite boxed or store bought cake. But this year’s birthday cakes (found on Pinterest of course) were so moist and packed full of flavor that they rival any store bought cake.

G-Age-9 loves strawberry cake and has requested it for her birthday for 2 years in a row. This strawberry cake recipe is full of strawberry flavor and is light and fluffy.

Last year’s cake.
Strawberry Cake

Last year I made the buttercream frosting per the recipe. It tasted great but did not hold up well for any length of time at her outdoor party in the Florida heat. The butter quickly separated from the strawberry puree and I had to keep it in the fridge the whole time.

Strawberry Cake Slice

This year I altered the buttercream recipe to a cream cheese frosting. I replaced 1 cup of butter with cream cheese. It was delicious and held up well, although I think I will add more icing sugar next time for a thicker consistency.

E-Age-10 requested a vanilla cake.

Vanilla Cake

Vanilla cakes can be challenging because if you don’t get the flavor right they can tend to taste eggy or not have much flavor at all. Again, Pinterest did not let me down with this recipe. I had so many people tell me that they thought this cake was as good as, if not better, than any they had had from a store. When coming from a 13-year-old boy, this was high praise indeed!  Again, I used a cream cheese frosting with a bit more vanilla added for taste.

My biggest tip for baking a light and fluffy birthday cake is to use cake flour. It is much finer and lighter. Trust me, it makes a difference.

My second tip is not really my tip, it is my cake decorating friend’s tip. Add a tablespoon of Meringue Powder to your cream cheese frosting. It will get a slight crust and help to stiffen the frosting. Thank you, friend!

Kids’ Reviews

I have a new tab on my blog called Kids’ Reviews. Do you see it at the top there?  A-Age-12 is a voracious reader and freakishly fast. It would be nothing for her to finish 2 novels a day. I cannot possibly keep up with what she is reading so I rely heavily on review sites, particularly Commonsense Media. I have a number of aspects that I like to know about a book before I’ll let her read it. My daughter also knows what I’m looking out for and discusses her books with me, including these aspects. Sometimes she can be quite insightful. But for all her wide reading, she hates to write.  As a secret ploy by me to engage her in more writing, I encouraged her to write a review of the books that she likes, including helpful points for parents, with the promise that if she wrote them I would put them on the blog. I do not know how many of these she will do, but you can find her reviews at the top of the blog under the tab Kids’ Reviews.

Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Study

I am going to begin blogging through my study of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles next month. I will use Brandy Vencel’s Start Here Study GuideStart2BHere2BPage2BGraph. The study guide contains links to all of the sections in Charlotte Mason’s volumes (free online) related to the particular principle studied, as well as the relevant chapter in For The Children’s Sake. It also includes links to Parents Review articles and blog posts written by others in the Charlotte Mason community. The plan is to study a principle a month. If all goes according to Brandy’s guide, this will take 15 months. I’d love for you join me. To follow along, get Brandy’s downloadable guide and let me know in the comments!

20th Century History Book Recommendations

This has turned into a long post, but before I go, I wanted to share a couple of books that are worth adding to your free reading pile when studying the 20th Century with your middle school or older students.

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. Yellow Star Cover
From the Prologue.
“In 1939, the Germans invaded the town of Lodz, Poland. They forced all of the Jewish people to live in a small part of the city called a ghetto. They built a barbed-wire fence around it and posted Nazi guards to keep everyone inside it. Two hundred and seventy thousand people lived in the Lodz ghetto. “In 1945, the war ended. The Germans surrendered, and the ghetto was liberated. Out of more than a quarter of a million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto. Of those who survived, only twelve were children. “I was one of the twelve.” —Excerpt from interview with Sylvia Perlmutter, March 2003

This true account written in poetic prose is sensitive and powerful. I read it in 2 days and was profoundly moved by the courage of this persecuted people and full of empathy for those who endured a time that I could never imagine. You may want to pre-read for sensitive children, but the atrocities of this time are told from a child’s point of view, which veils the horrific events to a certain degree.

Out of the Dust by Karen HesseOut of the Dust

Written in free verse and set in the harsh living conditions of Oklahoma during the 1930’s depression, this book highlights life during the time when “Dust piles up like snow across the prairie. . . .” But more than this, it is a story of how one young girl and her father find their way back to forgiveness and reconciliation after terrible tragedy.

Neither of these books are easy to read. Suffering is never easy to read. Yet, there is hope. Through reading and experiencing it within the safety of books, we can help guide our kids through it.

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 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 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.

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