Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

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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.

Real Conversations with Dad

Car

“‘Real’ talks with Father were always such delightful things.”

—Lucy Maud Montgomery, Emily of New Moon.

We were in the car, driving to who knows where? It didn’t matter. I was with my dad. I looked forward to our drives together. It was our time alone—just him and me, without the distractions of the computer or TV or everyday life. I had his attention all to myself. I looked forward to these drives. It was when we talked. And I loved our talks. I loved asking him questions. Questions about his life, about politics, about God, about world events and news stories, about what I was learning at school—anything, it didn’t matter. I simply wanted to know what he thought. I don’t remember how often we had these drives. I don’t remember where we went on these trips. But I do know that these conversations had a formative effect on my life. They were instrumental in molding my values and shaping my thoughts. Although I am sure there were other times when we talked, it’s these drives that I remember. And as I thank God for my father this (American) Father’s Day, these times in the car with my dad, having “real” conversations in which he imparted his knowledge, his wisdom, and most importantly, himself, are what come to mind as most precious to me.

It is in light of this that my heart is overwhelmed to see the same love and excitement in my girls’ eyes when they go on a drive with their daddy. It usually isn’t to go anywhere exciting: Home Depot, the lawn care place, the gym, or to get a haircut. Yet, they get so excited that they get to go with Dad on his Saturday errands. This is because, as my 9-year-old daughter explains:

“I love driving with Papa. I like our conversations.”

The minute they get into the car she asks, “Can you talk to me about something, Papa?”

In the same way that I felt with my father, what my daughters and their dad talk about isn’t important to them. What is important is the time spent with their dad as he gives them his attention and love. Just being present with them as he freely gives his time and himself to them. He never talks down to them, but always respecting them as persons made in the image of God, he answers their questions thoughtfully, thoroughly, while being mindful of their personalities and sensitivities.

I know that these conversations my daughters have with their dad will have a lasting impact on them as they continue to grow up. They will help shape and mold their hearts and minds, just as the conversations with my father did for me.

As I further reflect on these conversations, and their role in forming children’s minds, I cannot help but see the connection with our Heavenly Father. How much more should conversations with our Heavenly Father mold and shape our hearts to be more like Him? As we read His Word, He speaks to us. In a sense, He is sharing Himself, His thoughts, His will, and His values with us.

On this Father’s Day, may fathers delight in having “real” talks with their children, and may we all treasure “real” talks with our Heavenly Father as all the more delightful.

The Healthy Eaters Guide to Lindt Truffles

Lindt LINDOR Truffles

Before moving to America three years ago, I thought I ate well. I thought I ate clean. Weet-Bix for breakfast, salads or salad sandwiches for lunch. Lots of fruit. Dinner was variations of meat and three veg, cooked from scratch. There were no prepackaged sauces or meat products in my home. Well done, me. Thank you for your congratulations. Disappointingly, not long after arriving in America I discovered that I was not as healthy as I first thought. Apparently there was this “crazy” fad in America: organic food. Food grown without pesticides. I was resistant. I was overwhelmed. My solution? A mixed bag of Lindt chocolate truffles. The whole bag eaten in 10 minutes. Very satisfying. For about 2 minutes. Until I felt sick. Then fat. Then guilty.

After a year or so my new friends made me feel guilty helped me to realize that it really wasn’t very healthy to ingest poisons designed to kill bugs. So I joined an organic co-op. Yay, me. Thank you again for your congratulations. I had now arrived at the pinnacle of healthy eating. I was organic (most of the time). Then I came across this article. It told me that I was not as healthy as I thought. We were consuming too much added sugar in our snack food and sugar is bad. I was overwhelmed. My solution? A mixed bag of Lindt truffles. The whole bag eaten in 10 minutes. Very satisfying. For about 2 minutes. Until I felt sick. Then fat. Then guilty. My solution?

Another bag of Lindt truffles.

Once I recovered from my sugar coma, I set to work eliminating added sugar from our diet. This proved difficult. Apparently sugar is in everything. And if there isn’t sugar, there is corn syrup. I read in this article that corn syrup is worse than sugar. I felt worse. I was overwhelmed. My solution? A mixed bag of Lindt truffles. The whole bag eaten in 10 minutes. Very satisfying. For about 2 minutes. Until I felt sick. Then fat. Then guilty. My solution?

Another bag of Lindt truffles.

I refused to be discouraged. This would not defeat me. The first step was to eliminate the worst of the two evils: corn syrup. I began to read the back of labels. I was informed. But removing corn syrup drastically reduced snack options. We were healthier though, and I was in control. There was no need to resort to Lindt truffles.

And yet, we weren’t totally clean. There was still unwanted sugar in our snack food. We eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, but children have to have crackers with their snack, right? It came to me. I would create my own crackers. I would bake lavash bread. It would be deliciously crunchy. It would be great for dipping in hummus. It had good grains. It had flax, oat bran, and whole wheat. It was healthy. And then I read this article. It told me soy is bad. What do I find in the lavash bread’s ingredient list? Soy protein, soy flour, and soy oil. Oh, and it’s a carbohydrate. And apparently they’re bad too. I am overwhelmed.

There is only one solution.

How Martin Luther Helped Us to Pray

For the past year and a half, every school morning, we begin our day with what I call “circle time.” My four kids and I gather together on the couch, or around the table outside, to read Scripture, memorize Scripture, pray, and to read and memorize poetry. It hasn’t always been easy establishing this routine, especially with a baby and a five-year-old incessant wriggler whose maximum attention span is five minutes. Nevertheless, it has become my favorite time of the day. I hope over time it becomes my children’s as well. It is wonderful to begin the day together focussing on our Lord; emphasizing truth, goodness, and beauty. It really helps set the tone for the rest of our day, most of the time.

When we began to incorporate a regular circle time in our day the children each took a turn at praying. Their prayers would be something like this:

“Dear God, thank you for the day. Please help us at school and please help such and such to get better. Amen.”

There is nothing wrong with this prayer in itself. The Bible says we should come to Jesus like a child. God hears our simple, heartfelt, and fervent prayers. The concern I had was that I felt as if the children were praying on autopilot. The same prayers would be prayed each day, the exact same words said by rote, and I didn’t feel that they actually thought about what they were saying. I didn’t feel that they really understood that they were praying to God, the creator of the universe. As I thought about it more I realized something: that was how I prayed as well. I was praying in a haphazard, unthoughtful way. They were following my example.

The Barber Who Wanted to PrayOne day, as I sorted out the kids’ bookshelf for the hundredth time, I rediscovered the children’s book The Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R. C. Sproul. We had read and enjoyed this beautifully illustrated book several times before, but hadn’t pulled it out for quite some time. It is about a father, Mr. McFarland who, during family devotions, is asked by his young daughter how to “pray in a way that will make Jesus happy and will make me feel more comfortable.” Mr. McFarland tells her a 500-year-old story about a barber and his famous customer, the outlaw, Martin Luther. He tells her how Luther came to write a letter to the barber, explaining to him how to pray using the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments.

Thanking the Lord for putting this book in my path right when I needed it, I decided to read this story to the kids as part of our circle time. After spending a week or two reading it over a few times and having them tell me the story in their own words, I explained that we would do as Martin Luther taught the barber, and memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments as part of our memory work during circle time. I wish I could tell you that the girls jumped for joy at this pronouncement. They did not. In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard groans. It sounded like a lot of work to them so, of course, they didn’t want to do it. But anything worth doing requires effort. We have been memorizing these verses and creed, five minutes a day, for the past year and a half. The oldest has memorized all of them and the younger two have memorized the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed and are at various stages in memorizing the Ten Commandments. Amazingly, I too have memorized them incidentally since I have been helping the children learn them.

As we have memorized each verse or sentence, I have encouraged the children to pray through them as was taught in the story.

“Think about the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’ When you think about these words, allow your mind and your heart to give careful attention to what these words say, and let them move you to deeper prayer.”

Martin Luther goes on to give several examples in the story of praying in this way. I too tried (and continue) to model how to pray in this way. Each day I picked one line from whatever the children were in the process of memorizing, often focussing on the same verse for the entire week or more, sometimes even a whole month. Then I encouraged the kids to pray something about that. For example, when considering the line in the Apostles’ Creed, “Maker of heaven and Earth,” I would talk about how they could praise God for His wonderful creation. Thanking Him for the birds that chirp in our trees. For the sun and the moon and the stars. To thank Him for creating this world that we are living in and for providing plants to eat that bear seeds after their own kind. I would ask them to think about how powerful God must be to create such a perfect home for us. I then told them to include in their prayer at least one thing about God’s creation that they were thankful for and to thank Him for it.

As we have continued this practice of praying through these verses and creed I have seen my children grow in how they approach God and how they pray to Him. They still pray with their simple language, but they have begun to include whole verses from memory in their prayers and to apply them to specific circumstances for which they are praying. Not only has this book helped me to teach the children to pray biblically and to seek Him and His Word, it has also radically changed and enriched my own private prayer life as I too learn to “pray in a way that will make Jesus happy and will make me feel more comfortable.” While this book was written for children, it’s story will impact anyone who wants to grow in prayer and their Christian walk with God. If you’re interested, Luther’s original letter is also freely available online.

On Our Night Stand (Summer 2015)

He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

—Emily Dickinson, A Book

I was a voracious reader when I was a kid. Once I left school though, I stopped reading for the most part. There were certain Christian living books that I read from time to time, but not a lot and not consistently. Since becoming a part of the homeschooling community online, I have enjoyed seeing what other mums are reading when they post updates on their blogs. This has inspired me to read again and to read more widely. These mums introduced me to the classics and encouraged me to cultivate an atmosphere of reading in our home. So, I made it my goal to read a chapter of something each day.

In the hope that it might encourage you, here are the books on our nightstand this summer.

What Mum Is Reading

Mum's Books

Mum’s Books

Devotional

Fellowship with God by Martin Lloyd Jones

These are Jones’ sermons from 1 John, to compliment my own personal reading of 1 John

Historical

Selected Letters of Jane Austen

I find the everyday life of Jane Austen’s world fascinating. I’m a big Austen fan. I read one or two letters a week just for fun.

Special Interest

Grammar Book For You And I (Oops Me) By C. Edward Good

Can I tell you my deep dark secret? My knowledge of grammar is appalling. It’s shameful, I know. I’m hoping this book will help me with this oversight.

Education

The Living Page by Laurie Bestvater

Loving this book about the power of Charlotte Mason notebooking. It has inspired me to keep my own commonplace book and encouraged me to be more intentional with our nature study notebooking.

School Education by Charlotte Mason (Online)

Gaining a more thorough understanding of the philosophy of education that I love, and how it works out practically as my eldest moves into 4th grade next year.

Novel

Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Kindle)

I started reading this to see if it would be appropriate to read aloud to my 5,7, and 8 year olds and found that I’d fallen in love with it for myself. I’m only in chapter 3 and it’s wonderful so far.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, narrated by Stephen Fry (Audible)

Funny science fiction. What’s not to love. And Stephen Fry is brilliant to listen to. Hubby and I are enjoying this one together.

Read-Alouds with the Children

The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton

These were my very favorite when I was a kid. I’m glad to be able to share them with my children.

Read-Alouds

Read-Alouds

Family Devotions

Grandpa’s Box by Starr Meade

Dad is reading this to us. Retelling the biblical story of redemption.

What the Kids Are Reading

Beginner Reader

Our 7-year-old has just started with the Little Bear books. They are so sweet.

Beginner Reader

Beginner Reader

Library Finds

I let the kids pick their own books but they have to bring them to me to approve. There were a hundred Halloween selections for some reason. I picked the nicest looking ones.

Library Books

Library Books

Our 8-year-old is a huge Marguerite Henry fan.

Library Books

Library Books

8-Year-Old’s Bookshelf

My eldest daughter reads so fast and so much that I cannot keep up with her. Because of this she rereads the books on her shelves over and over and over again.

8-Year-Old's Bookshelf

8-Year-Old’s Bookshelf

8-Year-Old's Bookshelf

8-Year-Old’s Bookshelf

Did I mention my daughter loves horse books?

I’d love to know what’s on your nightstand.

The Simple Effectiveness of Artist Study

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

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

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

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg.307-309

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

What Does Artist Study Look like in Our Family?

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

The Belleli Family

The Belleli Family

The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans

The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans

The Dance Class

The Dance Class

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

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

From the Mouth of an 8-Year-Old

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

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

There’s an App for That

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

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

More Than an Add-On

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

Treasured Memories

Mother & Daughter

Photo credit: Sjoerd Lammers

I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but one year, while still in primary school (elementary school), I went to stay with my grandparents for a couple of days. I loved staying at their house. Pa spent almost all day in his garage listening to his AM radio, reading the paper, and tinkering with his woodworking stuff.  Nan pottered around in the house and her garden. This particular year I had a special project I wanted to do for my mum’s birthday and I needed Nan and Pa’s help while I stayed with them. I wanted to make my mum a jewelry box decorated with the shells that I had collected from the beach. Pa helped me make the box. He showed me how to glue and nail the sides, and how to apply the stain once the box was assembled. Nan then helped me line the inside of the box with beautiful red velvet, and we then glued the shells around the outside. It looked fantastic. Mum loved it. She still has it all these years later and still speaks of how precious it is to her.

A couple of months ago, my mum came to visit us from Australia for the first time. It had been three years since I had seen her face to face. That is a long time between hugs.

Having such a lengthy absence from family is difficult. There is a sense of separation from our day to day lives. As helpful as Facebook and technology are in keeping loved ones involved and up to date with what is happening, they can’t perfectly replace actually being there in each other’s lives. The benefit of a lengthy absence, however, is that when you are together, you are more intentional about your time. So during this 6-week visit, we made the most of it.  We went to Disney World, a life long dream of my mother’s. We went to Kennedy Space Center, visited parks and springs, went to our favorite restaurants, and introduced her to our favorite people. She met her newest grandson for the first time and helped us celebrate his first birthday. She was here for Easter lunch, and I was able to spoil her for her birthday. These were very special moments—moments I will treasure.

Amazing as these outings and activities were, they are not the highlight of her visit for me. It was the time spent at home with her that I will treasure most. Mum spent many, many hours with my children. She taught them to make scones, she read them stories, and they baked hot cross buns for Easter. She made dolls with the girls out of wool. She taught my oldest to design and sew cushion covers on a sewing machine. She wrote songs on the piano with my musically inclined middle daughter. She baked cupcakes with and read stories to my youngest girl, and had lots and lots of cuddles and outside adventures with my toddler son.

Mum spent time enriching my children’s lives with the skills and knowledge that her grandmother had passed on to her. These are the moments I treasure in my heart, just as my mum cherishes that jewelry box I made with my grandmother all those years ago.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum. Missing you already and I look forward our next visit together.

What are your treasured memories of your mum?

The Wonder of a Child

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

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

My Favorite Spot in the House

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

Sunrise Through the Trees

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

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

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

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

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

A Tale Of Two Honey Possums – A Grand Conversation

20140524-094612-35172007.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

My Favorite Educational iPad Apps for Kids

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

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

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

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

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Pop Out! The Tale Of Peter Rabbit

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Pop Out! The Tale Of Benjamin Bunny

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Pop Out! The Tale Of Squirrel Nutkin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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