Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

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Impressions from Ambleside Online’s 2016 Conference

Deep In The Heart of AO

Last week I had the joy of attending Ambleside Online’s “Deep in the Heart of AO” 2016 conference. I learned so much. It has enriched me in my homeschooling journey. If you don’t know, Ambleside Online is a free curriculum dedicated to reflecting Charlotte Mason’s education philosophy and method as closely as possible in the 21st Century. You can read a definition of what a CM education is here.

Christ Centered

We began using AO for 4 years, almost since the beginning of my homeschooling life. Charlotte Mason was a Christian and a member in good standing in the Church of England. Ambleside Online’s creators, The Advisory, are also Christians and designed the curriculum to reflect Charlotte Mason’s Christian values and philosophy. I knew this. I have told others, “AO is a Christian curriculum.” And yet what had the most impact on me at the conference was how Christ centered it was.

After the initial introductions and announcements were out of the way we began by singing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” There were no accompanying instruments. Simply our voices, which burst out as a sea of harmony. And oh how beautiful it sounded. I was completely taken by surprise. I had come to a homeschooling conference expecting to hear how to implement a Charlotte Mason education, with perhaps a splattering of Bible throughout from time to time. Instead, I found myself in a room with a group of women (and a few men) from all over the country, and various denominations, who I had never met before, worshipping our Creator together.

The refrain repeated throughout the conference was “trust Christ.” We sang hymns together throughout the conference. We prayed together. Donna-Jean Breckenridge’s talk was bathed with Scripture as she spoke about schooling in hard times by renewing your mind in Christ. She taught us that we renew our minds through prayer and rejoicing and praising Him. God is with us. Sometimes the hard times are the curriculum. But through it all, we can trust Him. Megan Hoyt talked about how music points to God. Brandy Vencel reminded us that while our children are under our authority, we are under God’s. Our authority must not be arbitrary. We can be corrupted in our thinking if we’re not careful. Lynn Bruce shared the heart of AO. She passionately expressed how God put it on the Advisory’s hearts to develop the booklist and curriculum and use the emerging technology of the Internet to make it available for free. They wanted as many people as God willed to have access to the same rich and wonderful CM education that they were providing for their children. It was heartwarming to hear of communities in Indian slums providing their children with a rich education because the Advisory had gone out of their way to make sure the books on their booklists were as economical as possible. Again, we were encouraged to trust God.

Care, Compassion, and Cultivating The Whole Person

Another theme that had a significant impact on me was this: the riches matter. Singing hymns and folksongs, picture study, composer study, nature study, copious amounts of time spent outside, handicrafts, drawing and art instruction, poetry, and Shakespeare. These things are not extras, as I have often treated them. They are what my children need. They are what we all need. These riches feed the whole mind and body. They calm us and bring us joy. Lynn Bruce explained studies that showed how increased Cortisol in the brain leads to stress, fear, and anxiety which shut down the mind. Oxytocin on the other hand, produces confidence and a relaxed state of mind, keeping us calm. And how do we increase Oxytocin? Among other things, a warm touch, music, art, singing, going for a walk, talking with someone who cares about you. In other words, the riches. So on that bad day, as Lynn said, “The riches may just save you.” Wendi Capehart whimsically called these riches, “The uncommon core.” She told us that if you view these things as extras you are clipping your wings. She explained that these riches are the leavening that helps us rise as human beings. So we spread the feast of ideas and allow our children the opportunity to love what is lovely. We don’t know what our children will love. So we put them in the way of it all. And this is not a burden or a stress for the teacher. It is a life sprung out of caring.

We were blessed to hear from some of the grown children of the Advisory who were the “guinea pigs” for AO’s Charlotte Mason education. This well known Charlotte Mason quote, which was quoted in almost every talk I heard, was put to them:

“Thou hast set my feet in a large room, should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not, – how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” – Charlotte Mason (Vol 3, School Education, Chapter XVI, p. 170)

How much did these progeny care, and about how many orders of things did they care? The answer was that they had so many things that they cared about. Firstly, they loved Christ. They also spoke about art, music, poetry, literature, science, and so much more. But more than these, the consistent thread throughout their various answers was that they loved people. They were compassionate toward people, even if they disagreed with them. They had the ability to listen to another as they spoke and engaged with the ideas that were different from their own. The development of compassion and empathy led two of these women to become foster moms.

The riches provide us with a full life. A life of relationships. Relationship with God, relationship with each other, and a relationship with the universe—God’s creation. A life full of the riches and the best literature asks you to care. As Wendi shared, a small child of 5 (her granddaughter) can stand in front of a painting that you had passed by without a second glance, and be captivated. She can fall in love.

There was so much more that was said that I could share. So much wisdom and practical application. But it will have to wait for another day. I am so thankful for my supportive husband who rearranged his work schedule to stay home with the kids so I could go. I am so thankful for this beautiful and rich curriculum that has been provided to me. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to learn from these wise women at the conference, mothers who have gone before me. I can’t wait for the next one, whenever that may be.

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.

Mommy Meltdowns and Moving Moments

2015, in many ways, was a challenging year for me. I really hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to have a toddler underfoot while trying to educate my three spirited young girls and maintain a peaceful, orderly, and clean home. Amidst the chaos, I lost focus. I became weighted down by duties, responsibilities, and self-imposed expectations. Life became a battle to keep my head above water and just survive. My well laid plans for my restful Charlotte Mason homeschool became a bunch of checklists that I was failing to check off each day/week.

This feeling of drowning under diapers and duty had a snowball effect on how I treated my children. They became the object of too many mommy meltdowns. I yelled far too often at work not completed in my scheduled time or when asked to read another story while trying to cook dinner (or any other time that I was busy…which was almost always), not to mention the incessant sibling squabbles. I became increasingly grumpy the more overwhelmed I felt, and I began to view the children as an annoyance, getting in the way of what I needed to get done. I had lost sight of the fact that my calling was to raise and educate them. My children should have been my focus, not my checklist.

I knew that these meltdowns were sinful. I knew that I was completely over-reacting to the circumstance. But I just couldn’t seem to pull myself out of it. The more I melted down, the more guilty I felt, the more I thought myself the worst mother in the world, the more I melted down. You get the picture.

After one such afternoon as a grumpy mommy, E-Age-7 came to me while I was preparing dinner and asked if I would let her watch TV. We are strict on screen time for our kids and this was a request outside of approved viewing time. I looked at her with exasperation, replying with a resounding “NO!” and reminding her abruptly that she knew it wasn’t TV day. She accepted my answer without fuss and continued to loiter around the kitchen (much to my annoyance) as I continued to prepare dinner. A few moments later she began again.

“Thank you, Mum.”

“What for?” I replied. “I said no about the TV.”

She shrugged her shoulders as she answered. “I know. I meant thank you for everything that you do for us.”

She then promptly ran off to play with her sisters.

I was stunned. I was immediately ashamed of myself and at the same time filled with an overwhelming love for my children. My child had just showed me the grace that I had failed to show them. They had showed me the grace that I had been praying for. They didn’t view me as the worst mother in the world. They didn’t hang on to every meltdown as if that was the one that was going to destroy their lives. They loved me unconditionally. They forgave me.

That was the moment that changed me. God used my sweet child to answer my prayer. He used her to remind me who I am and what I’m here for. He used her to remind me who they are. My children are persons in their own right. They are made in God’s image, individuals made with their own distinct personalities. They were not an item on my To Do List. They were living, breathing human beings who were to be loved, cherished, nurtured, and enjoyed.

It was at this same moment that I was reminded of what I had been studying in God’s Word.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live though him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)

More than providing a good education, more than keeping a clean home, more than keeping checklists, I am to love my children because God first loved me and sent His son to die for me.

Happy New Year!

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

The Secret to Downloading Free Audiobooks

We read aloud a lot in our home because we use living books for school. So when it comes to reading aloud just for fun, I don’t always have the time or the energy. It’s my ideal that the children have one story, that’s not a school book, read aloud to them every day. It’s a lovely idea, inspired by one of my favorite podcasts, the Read-Aloud Revival. But realistically, this never happens. With homeschooling, co-op prep, extra curricula activities, a toddler, and a home to run, I am lucky to manage 2-3 days some weeks. I can only be stretched so far. But a few months ago I discovered a way to attain my lofty read-aloud goals for my children, easily and without burden, by borrowing digital audiobooks from our local library. This in no way replaces snuggling on the couch with the kiddos and reading aloud to them myself. But when I’m strapped for time, I’m thankful for the option. They still get to hear wonderful stories and I get to breathe *wink*.

Borrowing Digital Books from the Library

My county library uses Hoopla to lend digital books. Other libraries use Overdrive. I will talk about what I know about both, but I have less experience with Overdrive since my library doesn’t use it. These are services used in both Australian and American libraries. So my Aussie friends can check out the service as well. My Overdrive example is with a library from Australia. Just remember, like any library, use discernment. This is not an endorsement of every audiobook.

You will need your library card number and pin to borrow from these services. If you have your library card number but not your pin, you can go to your library’s page, click on “My account” at the top of the page, then click “Forgot password/PIN code?” You will be asked to enter your library card number and your pin will be emailed to you.

Volusia County Library Page

Requesting Library Pin

Hoopla

I discovered Hoopla scrolling down through my library page.

Hoopla on the Library Website

Alternatively, you can go straight to the Hoopla webpage.

Hoopla

You can browse the digital library there, but in order to borrow, you need to log in first by clicking the “Log In” button at the top right of the page. If you are new to Hoopla, you can then sign up by clicking the blue “Sign Up Now” button.

Hoopla Log in

You will then select your library.

Hoopla Sign Up

Now that you are logged in, you can browse audiobooks, digital books, and movies to your heart’s content. There are categories you can browse to discover the items that you are most interested in. If there is a particular title that you wish to borrow, you can search for it in the search box.

Searching with Hoopla

It will then bring up all titles related to your search inquiry. Because I only want audiobooks, I make sure to select “Audiobooks” underneath “FILTER.”

Mary Poppins in the Park is the book I want to borrow. So I simply click on the title.

Mary Poppins on Hoopla

Then click “Borrow.”

Borrowing using Hoopla

Did I mention that there is a Hoopla app for tablets and smartphones? Because I am borrowing on my iPad, and I have already downloaded the app, it automatically wants me to open the audiobook through the app.

Opening audiobook in Hoopla app

After clicking “Open in App,” the Hoopla app is automatically opened ready for me to play my newly borrowed audiobook, Mary Poppins in the Park. Click play and enjoy! This will stream the audiobook over the internet.

Play Audiobook of Mary Poppins in the Park

If you want to listen to the audiobook without an internet connection, you can download the audiobook to your device to listen to it whenever you want. The title will automatically leave your device after the 21 day borrowing period. No more overdue fees! To download the audiobook you simply click on the cloud icon at the top right of the page. An orange progress bar will track across the screen to let you know when it is downloaded. This is wonderful for those long road trips.

Downloading audiobooks to your device

You can find all your borrowed items in the “MY TITLES” section.

Hoopla Search

Overdrive

I will attempt to explain how to borrow audiobooks using Overdrive, but as I said, I have no experience borrowing using this service since I don’t have an account with a library that uses it. From what I can see, the principles are essentially the same, but the interface (how it looks) is slightly different. Hopefully this will be enough explanation to get you going.

The first step is to go to the Overdrive webpage or download the app and sign up. I found the iPad app the easiest. The browser experience may look slightly different.

Overdrive Sign Up

Once signed up, follow the prompts to swipe right.

Overdrive 1

Click “Add a Library.”

Selecting Libraries in Overdrive

Type in a city name, postal/zip code, or library name. I searched for a library near Rowville, Australia—a familiar city to me.

Find Library in Overdrive

Overdrive found Rowville library. Click on the library name.

Rowville Library Overdrive

Rowville library is part of the Eastern Regional Libraries system. Click on it.

Eastern Regional Libraries

Now I have selected my library that is connected with Overdrive, I am free to browse or search for titles in the search box at the top right of the screen. I tried to search for Mary Poppins, but sadly, this library system didn’t have Mary Poppins available as an audiobook download.

Overdrive 2

So I decided to select “View more…” under the Audiobook Fiction section in the black navigation bar to browse what was available. The headphones icon over a title tells you that it is an audiobook.

Overdrive

I scrolled down through the various categories until I came to one that interested me (Literature) and clicked “View more…”

Browsing Overdrive

To narrow down my search, I selected “Subject” from the left side bar.

Overdrive Literature Audiobooks

Then I selected my subject of choice, “Classic Literature.”

Classical Literature Audiobook

I scrolled down until I found a title that I wanted to download, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and clicked “Borrow.”

Alice in Wonderland Audiobook Overdrive

Just a note about children’s literature. There can be many versions of the classics. My encouragement is to read the unadapted and unabridged version. Our children deserve the respect of giving them rich, quality literature, that hasn’t been dumbed down

This is as far as I can take you since I don’t have an account with a library that uses Overdrive. I think that you will be able to take it from there though.

Borrowing with Overdrive

I connect my iPad via bluetooth to a portable bluetooth speaker for a better listening experience. My children then prop the iPad and speaker up on their dresser, snuggle into bed, and enjoy the story.

Mary Poppins in the Park Audiobook

I’d love to hear your audiobook experiences.

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.

Bits and Pieces: Summer 2015

This summer we:

Played in the dirt.

Played in the dirt.

And in the mud.

Playing with mud

Enjoyed a week at VBS and sent A-Age-9 to Music Camp for the first time.

Sent A-Age-9 to Music Camp for the first time

I bought new books for the new school year (my favourite part of planning).

Bought new books for the new school year (love this part of school planning).

I'm teaching, "Story of the World: Ancient Times" to grades K-1 at our homeschool co-op this year. It will be my first time teaching a class, Eek!

I’m teaching, “Story of the World: Ancient Times” to grades K-1 at our homeschool co-op this year. It will be my first time teaching a class. Eek!

And pulled out old school books for new students.

And pulled out old school books for new students.

New school books required new bookshelves to fit them on.

/

BEFORE

AFTER"

AFTER

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

I had wanted to upgrade our bookshelves to the 5×5 Kallax since moving into our house over 2 years ago. It makes such a difference and worth the wait.

We had loads of swimming lessons. Once they were done, we took a short vacation to St. Petersburg where we:

Used our new swimming skills.

Swimming by the bay

And said hello to Winter and Hope at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Winter and Hope

Hope

Hope

There were playdates with fort making, ice-creams, zoo visits, and splash pads. Now we are ready to go and are looking forward to starting a new school year—well, I am at least.

How did you spend your summer?

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.

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