Saturday, April 24, 2010

Enjoying So Great An Advantage

Object-lessons should be incidental; and this is where the family enjoys so great an advantage over the school. It is almost impossible that the school should give any but set lessons; but this sort of teaching in the family falls in with the occurrence of the object.

The child who finds that wonderful and beautiful object, a 'paper' wasp's nest, attached to a larch-twig, has his object-lesson on the spot from father or mother. The grey colour, the round symmetrical shape, the sort of cup-and-ball arrangement, the papery texture, the comparative size, the comparative smoothness, the odour or lack of odour, the extreme lightness, the fact that it is not cold to the touch––these and fifty other particulars the child finds out unaided, or with no more than a word, here and there, to direct his observation. ~ Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2 p.182

...April dress'd in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
~Sonnet 98, William Shakespeare

All pictures taken today at Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Confessions of a CM Mom

I think sometimes as women, we can run amuck with assumptions, so I thought some Confessions from me might encourage a CMer or two out there. If I hadn't given California CMers a bad name already, it's surely in the bag now :) Feel free to gasp as necessary.

Nonchaloir, by John Singer Sargent

Disclaimer - this in no way is intended as advice!
Another Disclaimer - in no way am I suggesting that I am wholly satisfied here. Our school, my teaching, etc. - all are works in progress.

1. I DO NOT pre-read the reading for our lessons. Yes, I selfishly choose to spend my free time blogging, reading, listening to downloads, and doing other things instead of pre-reading our lessons. I suppose I justify it to myself thinking that my kids are young enough that I am still reading everything to them, so if they stumble, I'm there to handle it right then and there instead of spending the time ahead to prevent them from stumbling in the first place. But I know a time is coming when this will no longer fly. I'm just happy that isn't now. The good news is that for my second and third children, so long as Ambleside doesn't change their curriculum, I will have pre-read everything! (For the record, my oldest is a YR2)

2. Since I don't pre-read, I am also not writing out new words they will encounter in the reading and defining them for my kids prior to reading to them. I do, however, stop and define a word while reading if asked or if I know it's a word that they don't know that is crucial to understanding the reading. I DO, however, still have the gall to require narration of course.

3. I DO NOT know everything about CM's methods (does anyone?). In fact, I have unknowingly done many things wrong. I implement what I do know, as best as I can, and am continuing to learn, adjust and fine-tune as I go. In looking at the bright side - I do learn better once I have done a thing wrong, having fully experienced the 'wrongness' of the wrong way, I am then more able to appreciate the 'rightness' of the right way.

4. I DO NOT provide a quiet, peaceful, undisturbed environment for my children when we do school. In fact, disruptions are pretty common. My two-year old, currently going through on-going training distracts, my work-at-home hubby needs to discuss things, the other child needing help with math interrupts, the phone rings, an amazing orange bird I've never seen before that just flew by the window needs identifying, housework beckons, someone needs a drink of water or spills one, I need another cup of coffee, etc., etc. - and that is how it goes. And yet it goes!

5. I DO NOT train one habit at a time. I find myself intending to do so, and then... Pick up your clothes, line up your shoes, put your dishes in the sink, don't eat with your mouth open, say that in a nicer tone of voice, clean up that smudge, stop complaining and find a solution, don't use that towel, don't interrupt while I'm on the phone, etc., etc. How does one with good intentions and limited discipline herself, train it in her own? In progress...

6. I DO NOT 'get' Shakespeare... yet. There, I said it! My public school education never afforded me an appreciation for it. In fact, I remember it being a dreaded thing and my mind filed it away accordingly. I do enjoy the twists and turns of the stories, although my daughter and I are having to use cereal box cutouts just to keep track of all the characters. We just finished Cymbeline and it was truly entertaining, but I just don't get what makes Shakespeare so legendary... yet. We are reading the Lamb version and maybe that's why. I do hope the light comes on somewhere along the line and when it does, I'm sure you'll be the first to hear about it here :)

7. I DO NOT plan my school schedule by the clock. I go by a list of lessons for the day and check them off as we go. At the earliest, we start at 9:30, some days we don't get started until after noon. Because I know my spontaneous, rather unstructured nature, and because we have a 2 year old in tow, we keep things flexible. That's just how I roll. And I love the freedom of it.

8. My kids DO NOT love everything CMish. My son tells me (loud enough for my CM friends to hear) that he's just not interested in birds or wildflowers. SACRILEGE!

9. I DO NOT have wonderfully cheerful happy children anxiously waiting to read the next chapter at school every day. They do say things like "Are we done yet?" "Can we skip this?" "Can you stop reading there?" or groan as I pull out Parables from Nature (because the language is challenging even for me). And yes, I feel disappointed when that happens - especially when I start comparing or when things don't measure up to my high expectations. But then when I hear "I really liked that story" after reading her the Battle of Calais." or when she sees A Child's History of the World and tells her brother "come and listen, this book is really good, you'll like it." Or when we talk about Little Duke and she remembers on her own that he had given his Father his word not to seek revenge, or when I hear her recite her poem to her Daddy and go on to tell him all about the poet's family life without any prodding from me or I hear them humming hymns as they play or when they beg me after a chapter of their free read "NO! Don't stop there!! Just a little more!" or when my son asks to read me the Bible and wants to hold his new reader in the car with him... then I know 'it's working'. They complain, and yet it is unmistakeably becoming a part of them.

I thought to have ten in this list, but I'll stop here. There are plenty more shortcomings I've missed, a terrible memory for one, and I stay up far too late for my own good. In any case, there you have it - my CM homeschooling confessions!! What are yours? Please do post them in the comments for the benefit (I hope) of others.

What I do hope we'll all realize at the end of the homeschooling day is that we all fall short, in many more than 9 ways, and it is only by the grace and mercies of God that we will ever hope to be able to take this journey and succeed in any way. It is in Christ alone that we will find our way. I hope you will.

Monday, April 19, 2010

CM In The News

An article from God's World News titled, "The Art of Retelling" just came to my inbox. I was almost startled when they mentioned Charlotte Mason herself!

The age-old communicative tool of retelling has been used at least since the days when Moses was commanded to repeat the works of God to the children of Israel. It continues until today when parents tell their histories to their own children. I was reminded of this methodology--known as narration-several years ago when I read Charlotte Mason's series on education.

You can see the rest online here.

Interestingly enough, the author of the article, Maryellen Marschke, when I did a google search on her name, turns out to be a CM educator, who I believe is on the Board of Ambleside Fredericksburg, one of several Ambleside schools (schools applying the CM method) around the world.

We should pray for these schools to flourish!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Six Year Old Boy's Book

I took the kids to a conference with me a couple of weeks ago and told them they would have to find something to do quietly while we were there. They decided to make story books.

Below is my six year old boy's book. He drew the pictures at the conference, then bugged me for several days after to write the words in for him. He dictated the entire story as is.

As you read through, you will notice the common errors in it, like calling the knight "it" instead of "he". Had he shared this story in a Kindergarten class, these grammatical errors would undoubtedly have been pointed out, marked in red, made to be corrected, etc. Then perhaps, next time he told a story, he would be concerned with its correctness and his thoughts would flow a little less fluently.

What I love about CM's method is that, grammar, while not completely ignored, is not taught formally until around ten years of age. CharlotteMasonHelp.com had this to say about it:

There is a misconception that Miss Mason was against teaching formal grammar, spelling and composition; the idea being that children would just acquire these skills by reading good literature. On the contrary, she was a strong proponent of teaching these subjects. She just didn't believe that these should be focused upon as separate formal subjects when the children were still very young. DAILY Oral narration, rich literature and copywork were used with incidental grammar and punctuation instruction until about ten years of age. About that time, grammar, punctuation, composition (in the form of written narrations) and spelling (through studied dictation) were studied in earnest, but always in the context of their living school books, avoiding the workbook mentality which zapped the life out of learning.

"Zapped the life out of learning." That is exactly what grammar would do to my boy right now. I'm so glad CM focused her methods on cultivating a love of learning, something she claims, and I believe, is natural to our children. I am grateful she so sternly insisted against hindering the children.

Now I hope you'll enjoy my boy's unhindered story!

First there was a knight and it was a really brave knight. It has won a lot of battles too. And he was waiting for a battle to fight.

Then a scary dragon came up to fight him. The knight was all prepared for the battle. The king was looking for a brave knight that would fight this battle.

He got down from the castle. The dragon was ready to win this battle. The knight came charging at the dragon and the dragon came charging at the knight. The knight tried to strike the dragon in the belly, but the dragon picked him up and flew away with him into the forest. The dragon put the knight down and flew away hiding from him. The knight was trying to find him. The knight was walking and looking behind all the trees to find him.

Finally he found the dragon. The dragon was blowing as much fire as he can out of his mouth, but the knight was seeming not to die. The dragon thought it would kill him. The knight tried to strike it in his mouth for him to die, but the teeth were in the way so he couldn't. The dragon picked the knight up and dropped him on the ground. But he still didn't die. And the dragon was wondering how to kill him and the knight had very strong muscles.

Then he went home to get his horse. He's even stronger with a horse. And he can't run as fast as a horse so he was even faster on a horse. So the knight was charging at the dragon again. The horse was going to jump and the knight was going to stick his sword right through his neck. But the dragon moved too fast for the horse to strike it. The knight was getting mad. The knight was thinking that he would lose this battle. He was thinking that he was going to die.

And then the knight stuck his sword into the dragon. But the dragon didn't die. Then the knight was thinking he would win this battle. The dragon was getting weaker. The dragon was kind of dying too. The dragon was getting mad. The dragon was doing all he could to win this battle. But the knight would not die. And the dragon was beginning to be afraid he would die.

And the dragon almost surrendered. But the dragon kept on fighting. And the dragon kind of thought he would win this battle. The knight was charging as hard as he could to stick his sword into the dragon. And the knig striked his sword into the dragon's mouth. And the dragon died.

The knight was soooo happy that he won this battle. He was thinking that he should go tell the king. And the knight was walking to the king's castle. And he was walking on and on and on. He wasn't close at all. It took a long time for him to get to the castle. He still wasn't close, it was like 3 miles to get there. It took all day and all night and he still wasn't close. He was getting tired of walking so he decided to get on his horse.

Then he got to the king's castle and there was a guard watching. And the guard sad to the king "Somebody's here." So the king was walking to see who it was. The king saw it was the knight who fought the battle. The king said "Don't open the drawbridge yet. I want to see if it is someone disguised like him." And so the king had to ask him a lot of questions. And he had to answer them all. And finally they let him in. They knew he was the knight that fought the battle.

The knight was talking to the king. And the king was really happy that he slayed the dragon. The king gave his princess to the knight. And the knight said "thank you." And the king said "thank you for slaying the dragon." And then they left the castle. It took more than 4 hours to get back to the knight's castle. And the knight let the princess ride on his horse. And it took all day and all night to get back. And they still weren't close, it took 10 miles to get back to their castle. And then they got to their castle. And they lived happily ever after.

~The End~

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Some CM thoughts on Art

The topic at our recent Charlotte Mason meeting was Art and I thought I'd share some CM thoughts for anyone that may not have been able to attend. It's lengthy, but worth the read, so if you don't have time now, come back later with a cup of tea and enjoy!

The Grand Canal, Venice by John Ruskin

On the study of art...

...art is not to be approached by such a macadamised road. It is of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt. We recognise that the power of appreciating art and of producing to some extent an interpretation of what one sees is as universal as intelligence, imagination, nay, speech, the power of producing words. But there must be knowledge and, in the first place, not the technical knowledge of how to produce, but some reverent knowledge of what has been produced; that is, children should learn pictures, line by line, group by group, by reading, not books, but pictures themselves. ~Vol. 6 p. 214

This is what I love about CM, "It is of the spirit". Haven't you ever wondered how an artist with the same tools, pencil, paint, canvas; the same materials, can create something so surreal? It is of the spirit. CM got that and was adamant about cultivating, not hindering, that in the children.

There are always those present with us whom God whispers in the ear, through whom He sends a direct message to the rest. Among these messengers are the great painters who interpret to us some of the meanings of life.
~Vol. 4 p. 102

Study of Gneiss Rock by John Ruskin

That we may be in a condition to receive this grace of teaching from all great Art, we must learn to appreciate and to discriminate, to separate between the meretricious and the essential, between technique (the mere power of expression) and the thing to be expressed - though the thing be no more than the grace and majesty of a tree. Here, again, I would urge that appreciation is not a voluntary offering, but a debt we owe, and a debt we must acquire the means to pay by patient and humble study.
~Vol. 4 p. 103

On Nature Notebooks...

As soon as a child is old enough, he should keep his own nature notebook for his enjoyment. Every day's walk will give something interesting to add - three squirrels playing in a tree, a bluejay flying across a field, a caterpillar crawling up a bush, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider suddenly dropping from a thread to the ground, where he found ivy and how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, and how ivy manages to climb. ~Vol. 1 p. 55

Peacock's feather by John Ruskin

This is what we wish to do for children in teaching them to draw - to cause the eye to rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some object of beauty which will leave in their minds an image of delight for all their lives to come. ~Vol. 1 p. 313

The first buttercup in a child's nature notebook is shockingly crude, the sort of thing to scandalise a teacher of brush-drawing, but by and by another buttercup will appear with the delicate poise, uplift and radiance of the growing flower. ~Vol. 6, p. 217

On teaching children to draw...

The children should be carefully taught to make all their mistakes in the air, and not touch the paper of blackboard until the hand is ready to draw fearlessly and with precision the line required. No retouching can be allowed. The old habit of indecision with cramped muscular handling of the pencil, followed by indiarubber was ruinous to all proper development and fostered stammering if not in word, in thought and hand. ~P.N.E.U article Brush Drawing by Mrs. Henry Perrin

I would again urge upon parents and teachers the necessity of leading the child to make his own observations of simple objects and to draw his own portraits of them, and above all to encourage imagination and originality of expression in design. Do nothing for the child but make him work for you, put him before nature, and tell him to paint what he sees, without thinking what he ought to see or what you see. ~P.N.E.U article Brush Drawing by Mrs. Henry Perrin

"Steam and electricity are our servants, because we learned from them their nature, entered into it, and worked in sympathy with it - did not oppose it. The nature of the child can no more be altered by us. We must study, sympathize and conquer by obeying it." ~quoted anonymously in PNEU article on Brush Drawing (see below)

From the mind of an artist...

'I took out my notebook and carefully began to draw a little aspen tree that was across the road. Casually, but not lazily, I started drawing, and as I drew, my casual air passed away. The beautiful lines of the tree insisted on being recorded diligently. They became more and more beautiful as each line rose among the others and took its place. With increasing wonder every instant, I saw that they were composing themselves using finer laws than any that men knew about. Finally the tree was there on my paper, and everything I thought I had known about trees before seemed to be nothing. From that point on, 'He has made everything beautiful in His time' became my interpretation of the bond between the human mind and the things it can see.' ~CM quoting Ruskin, Vol. 3, p205.

Trees in a lane, Ambleside by John Ruskin

Here are some additional links to the sections in CM's Original Homeschooling Series discussing art:

Vol. 1, Part V, XXI. Pictorial Art – (Modern English Version here)

Vol. 6, II The Knowledge of Man (f) Art – (Modern English Version here scroll down to p.213 section f.)

Here is a link to a PNEU article on Brush Drawing with wonderful ideas on teaching children to draw:

Brush Drawing by Mrs. Henry Perrin

And here is an article by a couple of the Ambleside Online Advisory on picture study, I found this very helpful to anyone who does not know how they can teach art without understanding it themselves:

Picture Study

iris in the garden by a very inspired me!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

At The Farm

We recently borrowed The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown from the library for my two year old. There is a lot for little ones to find as you read it to them...

Here's another one of our favorite farm books. If you don't have it already, just buy it. You'll love it and your kids will too. While some may claim it twaddle, I must disagree in that there are complex human conditions subtly weaved throughout :) And even if it is, I'm okay with this one on my shelf because it's just that good.

Real, open spaced, sprawling farms where animals roam freely are hard to come by locally for us, but we do have a 'field trip' type farm where the kids can touch and see the different animals. And this time of year, they have babies. Best of all, entry and parking are free so there's really no reason not to go.

You can learn many of the male/female names of the animals and the birth dates and due dates are also listed. I never knew a 'Peacock' only applied to the male bird and that the female is called a 'Peahen', did you?

These kids were only a few days old. My 8yo daughter told me they are drinking that 'delicious' milk like Heidi - the free read we just finished. She does often make those connections without me pointing them out for her. I can't say I'm always able to hold my tongue - because I'm just as excited about the books and making those connections, but when I do I'm glad, because it delights her to discover something herself.

You can touch and feel all the animals. They're very friendly.

And just look at that Momma!

They have a few rows of vegetables planted.
I never knew brussel sprouts grew like this:

We saw a real yoke, which we just read about in Tree in the Trail for YR2. This one isn't quite as fancy.

Isn't it great to be able to leisurely stroll through places like this with our kids on a weekday? Without crowds, without the rush-rush of having to be anywhere, without a textbook of information we have to get through, without a lengthy lecture on the environmental benefits of farming a particular way.

Don't get me wrong, I do want my kids to learn these things, just not that way, and just not at the expense of extinguishing their natural appetite to learn.

In Vol. 3 of Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series, she writes about how we are "Educated by our Intimacies":

Our Limitations.––Most thinking people are in earnest about the bringing up of children; but we are in danger of taking too much upon us, and of not recognising the limitations which confine us to the outworks of personality. Children and grown-up persons are the same, with a difference; and a thoughtful writer has done us good service by carefully tracing the method of our Lord's education of the Twelve.

"Our Lord," says this author, "reverenced whatever the learner had in him of his own, and was tender in fostering this native growth––. . . . Men, in His eyes, were not mere clay in the hands of the potter, matter to be moulded to shape. They were organic beings, each growing from within, with a life of his own––a personal life which was exceedingly precious in His and His Father's eyes––and He would foster this growth so that it might take after the highest type." (Pastor Pastorum, by H. Latham, M.A., page 6.) ~CM's Original Homeschooling Series, Vol. 3 p. 183

Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up. ~p. 188

She goes on for three chapters, quoting the writings of Wordsworth and Ruskin, pointing out the things that became life-shaping intimacies for them. I can assure you, it was not dull, prefabricated lectures!

It was following their curiosity, making their own discoveries, having their own grand adventures - sustained with healthy discipline, atmosphere, and living ideas from wonderful books. It is the very thing that goes to make the child a person, what is theirs by Divine right. And CM is very passionate about not meddling with or squelching it.