Sunday, February 28, 2010

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks: The Lady and the Unicorn

Historical fiction, if it is well written, is my favorite genre, and this selection did not disappoint.  Set in France and Flanders in the late fifteenth century, The Lady and the Unicorn is a superb tale about the making of a set of tapestries.  The storyline gives a rich and richly detailed look at the lives of nobles, artists, weavers, and servants.  Tracy Chevalier, who also wrote Girl with a Pearl Earring, is a master at creating incredibly evocative characters and scenes, a skill crucial to historical fiction.

Her characters are especially vividly drawn; each chapter is told in a different character's voice (some characters get more than one chapter), so the reader shares in his or her thoughts and motivations.  For me, this makes the narrative even more satisfying.  One caveat: due to some bawdy references and conduct, the book is suited to an adult audience.

I was gratified to learn in the "Notes and Acknowledgments" section that, even though the story is fiction, the tapestries themselves are not.  They have been restored and hang in the Musee National du Moyen Age in Paris.  Here is a link to information and photos of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.  By clicking on each image, you will learn about that specific tapestry and what it depicts.  I found this fascinating.

The Lady and the Unicorn packs a powerful punch.  Not only is it wonderfully well written, its educational value is excellent.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up -- Hectic, Crazy, With an Elegant Finish

What a week!  I knew it was going to be busy going in: two birthdays (a birthday luncheon for a dear friend AND Tiny Girl's ninth -- I cannot believe it -- birthday); two meetings; a doctor's appointment; Girl Scouts troop meeting chez nous; book club; kids club at church; two cars in the shop at separate times; a visit from my folks for the big birthday; our usual activities; delivering Girl Scout cookies; and other things I know I'm forgetting.  Then the hot water heater blew, leaking water all over the garage and finished basement.  Himself stayed home from work that day and got to know our wet-vac really well.  Ergo, we only had about two and a half days of lessons this week.

The highlight, however, was BIG.  Another homeschooling family, who also happen to be great friends of ours, invited us to a medieval feast.  We all dressed up and dined sumptuously on period delicacies.  Jennifer, who is a trained chef, researched the recipes on the website.  Here's the menu of what we sampled, complete with their medieval spellings:

  • First course: Lombard Soup, Shrymps with Sauce Gingyuer, Eles in Grave, and Tart de Bry
  • Second course: Bake Metis, Conys in Hogepoche, Buttered Wortes, and Mushroom Pasty
  • Sweets: Frytour Blaunched, Apple Muse, Perys in Confyte, and Gyngerbrede

I found everything delicious; the children had their favored dishes and their not-as-favored dishes.  My girls opted for chicken over the rabbit (conys), but I tried rabbit for the first time and thought it was tasty.  In case you are wondering, Jennifer substituted tilapia for the eels.  The gingerbread was quite different from what we expect nowadays; it was more like a sticky candy than a cake.  The meat pie featured ground veal and pork with dried fruits, a combination new to me.  And the pears in confit were my favorite.

After we dined, the children treated the adults to a play.  The plot was sketchy at times, but the swordfighting, which was abundant, was exciting.  The evening was the perfect wrap up to our medieval studies!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks: My Life in France

Although the title of Julia Child's memoir is My Life in France, the scope of the book is much larger as it details her life with husband Paul from 1948 through 1992.  The book's main focus is on the period between 1948 until 1954.  During those years, they lived in France, Germany, Norway, and the United States, and traveled extensively in those countries and others.  I greatly enjoyed learning about Julia's epiphany regarding food; her cooking education; and her subsequent careers as a cooking instructor and cookbook author.  But the book is also an interesting cultural study of France, where ideas about food -- the buying, cooking, and savoring of it -- differ greatly from American ideas of the same.

Julia, who died in 2004, and Paul felt so much at home in France.  They wholeheartedly embraced French cuisine ideals.  Later, Julia managed a great feat: through her cookbooks and cooking television shows, she inspired the American public in an era when convenience foods were the new rage.

Convenience foods and timesavers are still the rage in the States, and the cookbook industry follows the trend, with titles dedicated to 30-minute suppers, quick weeknight meals, sort-of homemade, and the like.  I even own some of those cookbooks.  I'm a busy girl, and I have to feed a busy family, and I don't have hours of time to devote to Thursday night's supper.  Sometimes I feel like we're just trying to feed our folks, get it on the table quick, wolf it down, and move on to the next thing.

But I have to admit, after reading this book, something inside me feels dissatisfied with this set-up.  I actually enjoy shopping for a nice meal, taking the time to make it right, and then thoughtfully eating it in the company of people I love.  I want to allow myself this particular joy more often in the weeks ahead.

As a memoir, which tend to be series of vignettes, My Life in France sometimes meanders a bit too much in places.  But this is more often in the beginning; the second half of the book is more focused.  That is my only complaint, and it's a small one.  Julia and Paul enjoyed a lovely life, and I had great fun seeing it through Julia's eyes.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

We had a wonderful week, and it was due in part to the fact that we had fewer activities than we normally do.  I'd already been of the mindset that we are overscheduled, and now I am sure of it.  What to cut out remains a big problem.  So for now, we will soldier on.

A highlight of our week was Russell Freedman's excellent The Adventures of Marco Polo, which is one of AO's recommendations. The book includes not only beautiful illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, but also archival art, such as depictions of illuminated manuscripts and medieval and Renaissance paintings. To add to our study, I found online an interactive map of Marco Polo's travels. AO also recommends a Metropolitan Museum of Art site called "In the Footsteps of Marco Polo." I found this site fascinating, but it was a bit too "old" for the girls. Older middle schoolers and high schoolers would find it more intriguing. I especially enjoyed the Journey map, which offers clickable links of various locations, some with sound featuring Polo's own words of description. Even if your children aren't ready for a complete Met "tour" of the exhibit themselves, you can spend some time here and then pass along information you glean during your family readings. A visit here will greatly enrich your Polo studies.

For Bible study, the girls are presently ensconced in their own individual devotions, which they are enjoying.  Miss Priss's is Chick Chat: Devotions for Girls, and Tiny Girl's is God and Me! 3.  Each day also included copywork, MEP math and times tables quizzes, French, piano practice, poetry, and memory work.  Miss Priss and I continued with Latin twice a week.  Grammar included a lesson from English for the Thoughtful Child 1 and Many Luscious Lollipops: A Book about Adjectives.  They also made an adjective poster by cutting out adjectives from magazines and then gluing them to a small piece of cardstock.  We've done the same before with nouns and verbs.

Our readings included The Heroes, by Charles Kingsley; Secrets of the Woods, by William J. Long, which we all love; The Story of Inventions, by Michael J. McHugh and Frank P. Bachman; and Pilgrim Stories: From Old Homes to New, by Margaret Pumphrey, which we enjoy.  In Our Island Story, we learned about Richard III and the princes in the tower.  I found loads of information on the Tower of London official website "History and Stories" page.  There's even a slideshow of prisoners through the years, a timeline of events, and many other helps for history study.  The site is wonderful for bringing history to life.

We have been studying Van Gogh over the past few weeks.  This week, we looked at the painting "Vincent's Bedroom in Arles."  The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam hold this work, which they title "The Bedroom," in its permanent collection, and provides an informative write-up on its website here.  The museum also offers a coloring page of this painting here.  Both girls are working on a coloring page with their nice color pencils.  Above is Tiny Girl's effort and the postcard reproduction she is copying.  (I bought the 24-card set, available here from Dover Publications.)  Another website,, has a larger depiction of the painting, an even more in-depth article, and an excerpt from Van Gogh's letter to his brother, Theo, describing the painting.  His words in the letter give us an idea of how much thought he put into his paintings.

We also entered our data from the Great Backyard Bird Count.  We found our numbers dropped severaly after the unaccustomed snowfall.  We supposed these Southern birds stayed huddled in their nests to keep warm!

All in all, a wonderful week!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Flirting with the Idea of a Book of Centuries

For Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, the book of centuries (or century book) is a core idea.  In case this is new information for you, a century book is a notebook with a two-page spread for each century.  On the two-page spread, the student should record important events of that century, sort of like a timeline.  Only better.

Why is it better?  For one, instead of merely listing events or people at a blip on a line, a century book allows -- even encourages -- other details, such as sketches and other artwork, narrations, maps, and whatever information a student would like to add.  In fact, Catherine Levison points out in More Charlotte Mason Education "that the earliest form of the century book was known as a Museum Note Book [that] served as a combination sketchbook/notebook with each page representing a century."  Students brought their note books with them on trips to museums and then sketched museum artifacts on their appropriate pages along with written entries about any noteworthy events.

I love the idea, but I've been struggling with the particulars.  Levison offers instructions for assembling a century book in More Charlotte Mason Education, so I thought I'd research the topic a bit more in order to make the best decision.  Here are some ideas I found online:

Lindafay has a wonderful post about century books with a different layout on Higher Up and Further In.  Her older children's century books divide the page into topics, such as Wars, Conflicts, Politics; Art and Music; and Religion and Philosophy.

On Ambleside Online, I found a Parents' Review article published in 1923 by G. M. Bernau entitled, "The Book of Centuries."  Levison references this article in her chapter.

Simply Charlotte Mason offers a free template and instructions for creating a book of centuries.  Free is good!  It seems that this is a popular format; I visited several blogs to check out posts about century books, and some mentioned this version by name.

Design-Your-Homeschool showcases a century book with a separate timeline at the top, so that users can turn the timeline independently from the century book pages.  Scroll down to number five under "Application" to see a photo.

The Tanglewood School curriculum features a century book with a different layout as well.  It's not free, but it's very inexpensive.  The site shows two sample pages and provides instructions for assembling the book.  Depending on your desires, you can make a "quick page" or a more in-depth page about a person or event.  It seems to me that this version is more detailed than a true CM book of centuries.  It's more of a notebook.

I found these sites very helpful (and others I didn't include; just Google "book of centuries Charlotte Mason" or simply "book of centuries" and you get quite a lot), but I am still undecided as to format, paper, binding, etc.  Perhaps I am being too picky; but when I consider that Charlotte Mason intended for her students to keep and use their century books for years, indeed, as Miss Bernau writes in her article, as "a life-long interest," then I'm naturally a trifle wary of making an ill-thought-out choice.

However, Catherine Levison's advice in More Charlotte Mason Education (can you tell I really like this book?) inspires me.  Why stick to two pages per century?  Some centuries had a lot going on.  Also, there is this crucial point:  additional pages per century provide "a way for the child to mature with the book. [...]  If the child is embarrassed by earlier immature entries, he can stop adding to the sheet and begin using a fresh sheet for that century."  But, she cautions, don't remove the earlier sheet from the book.  After all, it's still a record of their education.

Another tidbit of advice from Levison:  century books aren't just for the children you teach.  Keep your own book as well, and foster an even greater love of history.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks: Calico Captive

This past week, I delved into Calico Captive, a middle grades novel by Elizabeth George Speare, author of several well-written books.  This story is a fictional account, based on actual events, of Miriam Willard, a sixteen-year-old who is abducted by Abenaki Indians and taken to Montreal in 1754.

Inspired by the captivity narrative of Susanna Willard Johnson, Miriam's older sister, Calico Captive details events of the abduction, harrowing march to Canada, and then the family's separation.  Forced to leave her sister Susanna, the baby, and her nephew Sylvanus at the Indian village of St. Francis, Miriam, her brother-in-law Captain James Johnson, and her two nieces are taken to Montreal, where Miriam is installed as a maid in a wealthy family's home.  She endures frightening uncertainty and upheaval in the French city, managing to survive while awaiting the outcome of Captain Johnson's ransom efforts.

I enjoyed this story, Speare's first novel.  Even though it is a middle grades/YA novel, its high quality and riveting storyline appeals to adults as well.  Speare's vivid descriptions and skillful handling of Miriam's inner emotional conflict lend a rich realism to the narrative.  However, several of her characterizations are somewhat flat.  With that being said, Miriam is very well sketched; Speare seems to have put the most effort into her main character.  The fact that Miriam sometimes makes poor decisions or behaves in a disappointing manner endow her with the humanity of an authentic teenage girl thrust into shocking circumstances.

Moreover, the novel shines a light on an oft-overlooked period of colonial American history, when tensions ran high between the French and the English, culminating the the French and Indian War.  It was frighteningly common for French-paid natives to attack and kidnap English settlers, march them to Canada, and then either hold them for ransom or sell them to French families.  Some abductees, especially children, stayed with native families, as well.  Some captives later published their stories, giving rise to the captivity narrative genre.  Magalini Sabina has written a wonderful description of the captivity narrative genre (and Calico Captive itself) that is worth reading, and I point you to it.

NOTE:  Calico Captive would be a worthwhile addition to a middle grades or high school student's colonial American coursework.  For further study, a facsimile of Susanna Willard Johnson's diary is online here at the Online Books Page.  An easy-to-read summation is available at Northeast Captivity Stories here.  Several captivity narratives are available online, such as Mary Rowlandson's Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.  Further, some online literary criticism of the captivity narrative genre may be worth investigation (although not by a middle grades student), but be sure to view online criticism with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Look for reliable sources.  I found the essay "Women Captives and Indian Captivity Narratives" to be a useful exploration of the genre.

Selecting Children's Literature

In her excellent book Honey for a Child's Heart, Gladys Hunt writes, "A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight, and adventure.  Books are experiences that make us grow, that add something to our inner stature."  That simply inspires me.  I want the best for my children, which translates into wanting the best for their minds.  That's one reason I homeschool.

I'm not alone in my desires.  There is much discourse in homeschooling circles as to the book choices children make, how we should guide them and to what degree, what they should be reading, what they shouldn't, etc.  Charlotte Mason referred to inferior children's books as "twaddle," an apt word, and Ambleside Online Yahoo groups members often discuss this idea of twaddle: What is it?  Should I allow it?  Should I exterminate my home of all such horrors?  Opinions, of course, abound.

But just what is twaddle?  Sometimes it's easy to judge, and other times it's not as clear.  That's the conundrum.  In her article "Defining Twaddle," Catherine Levison writes, "It is my opinion that dumbed-down literature is easy to spot. When you’re standing in the library and pick up modern-day, elementary-level books, you’re apt to see short sentences with very little effort applied to artistically constructing them to please the mind. Almost anyone can write — but not everyone is gifted in this field."

But then there is the matter of personal preference.  What I may judge as twaddly, you may not, and vice versa.  I enjoyed Beverly Cleary's children's books as a child, and my daughters enjoy them now; but they fall into other families' twaddle category.  Each family has the responsibility to select children's literature that fits in with their own values.

Looking back, I read quite a bit of twaddle in my time, and it didn't stop me from earning a master's degree in literature later in life.  I've even been known to enjoy a so-called "beach read" nowadays, although I have found that my tolerance level for such has lowered to the point that I rarely choose one anymore.  (At the pool this past summer, a neighbor glanced at my book and said flatly, "That's not summer reading."  To which I replied, "It is for me."  I admit it; I'm a book snob.)  My children read some twaddle now.  I deem it twaddle; they deem it fun.  But I strictly limit their consumption of lower-quality books, just as I limit their consumption of Gummy Bears.

To me, here's the best rule of thumb when selecting children's literature:  would you enjoy reading the book?  C. S. Lewis said, "No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond."

Well said.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

I had several non-school-related items on my calendar that took my time and attention this week.  And before I knew it, it was Friday, the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count, an activity that took most of our morning.  While that sounds impossible, let me assure you that it is not.  Counting birds at our feeder interrupted every attempt at schoolwork.  "There's another cardinal! Mark it down!"  "Oh, look! A chickadee!"  See what I mean?

Then I had every intention of finishing this afternoon, after their Friday classes at Timothy Ministry.  But before 2 PM, it started to snow.  You should know that snow is a novelty where we live.  The schools let out early, and my girls were called away by friends to come out and play.  I'm not such an ogre as to deny them an afternoon of wet, freezing escapades outside and hot chocolate inside.

I'm not really in the mood to delineate every thing in which we are now behind schedule.  But I am comforted by the fact that schedules can be rearranged, activities can be reworked, and assignments can be worked in.  Or rescheduled, which is most likely what will happen.

So instead of moaning about it, I'm going to enjoy watching the snow from the study window and be thankful.  Here's what I can see.  Isn't it glorious?

A yellow-rumped warbler at the tray feeder.  I'm going out in a moment to wipe the snow off the seed.

The view from my study window.

Looking up at the trees out of my kitchen window.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Great Backyard Bird Count -- Are YOU Ready?

Tomorrow begins this year's Great Backyard Bird Count, and we are getting ready around here.  If your family hasn't participated before, now's your chance to get in on the action as "citizen scientists"!  In as little as 15 minutes on one day or as long as you want to on all four days, your family can collect and report data on birds in your geographic area in the wintertime.

Why is this such a big deal?  According to the GBBC website, the count helps scientists in North America answer questions like:
  • How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?
  • Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
  • How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
  • Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?
The GBBC website has a fabulous "Learn About Birds" section, which offers Online Bird Guide, Tricky IDs, and Bird-Feeding Tips pages.  I also liked the "For Educators" page, with information on ways to get kids involved; illustrations and photos of feeders types; and photos of homemade bird feeders -- great ideas for a project!  The "Backyard Activities" page has some great suggestions for studying birds at home, which is valuable for homeschoolers.  There's enough material here for a birds unit study.

To get your children excited and on board (because "Hey, kids! Let's count birds for four days!" doesn't shimmer with pizzazz), check out the "GBBC for Kids" page.  There are online photos of birds, coloring pages, jigsaw and word seek puzzles, and a video bird quiz and other games.  Also, make sure to emphasize how important the bird count is, and that the data your family submits is of extreme importance to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada, and other scientists who rely on citizen-scientists like us!

 Here's how we're getting ready.  First off, I'm filling all our feeders to the brim: black oil sunflower seeds and cranberries in the tray feeder; nyjer seed in the finch feeder; black oil sunflower seed in the tube feeder; seed all over the ground for the groundfeeders; and homemade suet in the two suet feeders.  You can buy suet cakes at the grocery store, but I've been making my own for three years because it's so easy.  Homemade suet is cheaper than store-bought, takes five minutes to mix up, and is favored by birds, who need the extra fat in winter.  Woodpeckers especially love suet.  One caveat: don't use homemade suet in warm weather because it melts into a messy goo.

My recipe, you ask? Well, today I mixed solid bacon grease (saved expressly for this purpose), lard, cranberries, diced apple, and black oil sunflower seed.  I spread it in an 8-inch square pan that I'd sprayed with olive oil spray beforehand.  It's now hardening in the fridge.  In a little bit, I'll cut it into four square cakes and put two each into my suet feeders.  Delish!  The recipe changes, depending on what I have on hand.  If no bacon grease, then I use peanut butter.  Sometimes I add raisins or dried cranberries.  I also use mixed seed when I have it.  I never bother to measure anything.  I bought the lard from my grocery three years ago (a bucket of it), and it's still fine.  That stuff keeps.

Everything's ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count.  I wonder if we'll have any new visitors at our feeders tomorrow?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Getting Geared Up for Puppy

The first weekend in March, we head back to Huntsville to pick up our puppy, and we can hardly wait.  A thick sense of expectation envelops the whole household!  We've already got his bed, crate, and numerous puppy toys, all awaiting their new owner.

The puppies were born in December, and the breeder, Leslie Gene Reed of KeelMtn Kennels, almost immediately set up a "puppycam."  So we've been able to watch the pups grow and change the whole time.  Needless to say, the puppycam is up on our computer from the time we come downstairs in the morning until Leslie and her husband, Bob, turn it off at night.  Here's her website in case you'd like to ooh and aah at photos of the pups; there's a link to the puppycam under the "Our Puppies" link.  Below is a shot I saved from the puppycam a few minutes ago when they were eating their supper.  Our pup is the dark one on the right.  We've named him Jasper, after the faithful spaniel in Daphne du Maurier's fantastic novel, Rebecca.

In the midst of all the excitement is a realization, at least for Himself and for me, of how our lives are going to change.  We've tried to explain to the girls a bit, but I think it's really something you just have to experience, on a deep and personal level.  If you leave your Polly Pocket on the floor, for example, she's going to be decapitated.

Leslie posted something on her website that speaks to this point particularly well.  She said I could share it, so here it is:
Q.  We're choosing a breed.  What kind of puppy will be calm, clean, and quiet?
A.  Ceramic.  Puppies are awful.  Their teeth, when not embedded in your person, are dismantling your property.  Meanwhile, the other end dribbles unspeakable fluids in unforgivable locations.  Nature equips puppies with overwhelming cuteness to keep us from killing them.
Isn't that fabulous?  And it doesn't even mention puppy breath, which I adore.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks: Emma

In the afterword of my edition of Jane Austen's Emma, Graham Hough of Christ's College, Cambridge, writes, "Emma has a good claim to be the most perfect of Jane Austen's novels, the one in which comedy and gravity, irony and sympathy, are most completely blended."  While the latter point may be true, I most humbly disagree with the former.

Characterization is crucial in Austen's novels; yet the main characters in Emma are not as developed as in other of her works.  Emma Woodhouse is not as complex or appealing to me as, say, Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood.  Mr. Knightley, although likeable, remains static throughout with no great surprises or revelations.  Even the stock character of the young-man-well-thought-of-who-turns-out-to-be-duplicitous is not as dissolute or at the very least as questionable as he is in other of Austen's works.  Moreover, Emma and Mr. Knightley's relationship doesn't seem as real to me.  Austen's recurrent theme of marriage as a satisfactory union of equanimity for both parties fails to ring true in Emma.  Mr. Knightley and Emma never seem as equals to my mind; he is always her superior.

For me, Emma lacks a certain depth that's richly presented in other Austen novels I've read, such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion.  In these three works, the protagonist experiences an awakening of sorts, a period of growth that leads to a better understanding of herself and others.  Under Austen's skillful pen, this revelation is not epiphanic, but a slow transformation over the course of the narrative.  I found this element more subdued in Emma, which is disappointing.

Despite all its (to me) drawbacks, I still like Emma.  Reading it for yourself would not be at all a waste of time.  I appreciate both the humorous elements as well as the grave; and I completely enjoy the irony as only Austen can portray it.  But if I were stranded on a desert island, I'd choose to have another Austen novel or two with me.  (Along with a short-wave radio transmitter.  Why does no one ever think to have one of those, too?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

This week did not go exactly as I'd planned (and I'm still waiting for one that does, by the way).  We've had some illness: I've had a scratchy throat and congestion, but nothing like this past fall, so I'm thankful for that.  Miss Priss, however, has had a bit of a sore throat and a cough.  It's the cough that worries me most.  She was very ill last winter; we spent several days at home with her hooked up to the nebulizer every three hours and a chest x-ray needed.  As a result, she now takes asthma meds every evening for nine months out of the year.  So when this cough started up, I grew a bit anxious.  For the past three days, she's been using Xopenex and the aero-chamber device.  She's under strict orders to lay low this weekend.  So with that and our mini-van needing to go to the mechanic (cracked manifold), Girl Scouts to get ready for, and a few other interruptions, we did not complete everything on our schedule.

That's the negative report.  But there are some positives as well (thank you, Lord!).  Most of our incomplete items are our family readings, which we can catch up on over the weekend.  And even though Miss Priss felt like staying on the couch more than usual, she was reading.  Admittedly, it was her free read she reached for mostly, but since I'm pleased with her choice, I felt okay about it.  Tiny Girl, who has typically only read the exact amount required, took off like a rocket this week.  She is now reading Ballet Shoes, she finished The Water Horse, and read in one day the Moonsilver #2 (which arrived from!  I was just the slightest bit skeptical about that last item, so I asked for some narration (which I don't do on free reads), and her answers satisfied my mind.

The girls' medieval notebooks are coming along a bit slower than I'd hoped, but that's okay.  They were all we worked on in history this past week.

Miss Priss made more progress in Latin.  I broke out the flash cards that came with the program (Latina Christiana) and also worked with her on verb personal endings.  Prior to this, we'd just been relying on the DVD instruction, but I realized that she needs a bit more study in addition to the DVD.  As I've said before, it's not her favorite subject, but after our lesson together, she felt more competent.  She enjoys feelings of accomplishment in her work, so it was a positive thing.

We're also making progress in math.  Tiny Girl is more natually adept at mathematics and enjoys her lessons.  This week in MEP, she was focusing on geometry, and actually caught on to the symmetrical patterns activities faster than I did! Miss Priss and I work more slowly through her math.  She gets frustrated easily, and I discovered the hard way that it's best to do less per day.  That way, we can focus on her "getting" the material and thus end the lesson on a high note.

This morning, I am more congested than I have been, alas.  I'm off to put the kettle on!

Monday, February 1, 2010

How CM Is Your Homeschool?

Like many of you (I'm just taking a wild guess here), I'm a member of several homeschooling Yahoo groups, some of which pose Questions of the Week.  Last week, a moderator asked, "How CM is your homeschool?"  (CM stands for both Charlotte Mason, a British educator, and also for the eponymous educational philosophy she espoused.)  Since I describe myself as "CM-ish," this question got me to thinking.

To be honest, there are many aspects of CM that we just don't do or do a bit differently.  But I thought I'd look at what we actually do and see how it fits into the CM scheme.

For example, we enjoy and use living books and biographies, and I try to incorporate this into every subject.  They fit more naturally into some subjects, like history, than others, like math. We have enjoyed the Sir Cumference series for math, and I know there are other math-related literature resources.

My daughters narrate anything that can be narrated.  When they were younger, we did drawn narrations or little plays, but we don't any longer.  Aesop's fables were particularly good fodder for plays.  At the beginning of this school year, I would type up one of their history narrations per week, but I've gotten really slack about that.

The girls do copywork everyday from their literature selections. Sometimes I use AO's copywork (we're in Yr 3) and sometimes they select their own.  We also started English for the Thoughtful Child 1 this year, and we use spelling workbooks, which is not very CM. Every once in a while, we do studied dictation.  The girls enjoy it, but it seems to take a long time. We study the AO suggested poet for each term.

We do artist study on Friday, and we choose whomever we like.  Right now, we're on Van Gogh.  I'm more loose about composer study.  We listen to classical music in the car.  In the past, I've been more deliberate about this.

For Bible, they each have their own individual devotion and we have a family prayer time.

We do a bit of memory work.  Right now, they have each memorized a poem by Sara Teasdale.  At church, one child is memorizing the Apostles' Creed and the other Psalm 23 with their Sunday school classes.

For Shakespeare, I downloaded Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit on Librivox, and we listen to this in the car.  We really enjoy it.  They do not narrate Shakespeare at this point.  Even I have trouble with all the characters' names!

For foreign language, We started Rosetta Stone French 1 this year and it is superb.  My youngest likes it the least; she has trouble with the pronunciations and often gets frustrated.  Also, neither can do the writing part, so I do it for them.  They listen to the speaker and then tell me what to type.  Miss Priss and I began Latina Christiana this year. She doesn't LOVE it, but she likes that she is learning Latin, if that makes any sense.  She memorized the Table Blessing, and then taught it to Tiny Girl.

We use MEP for math, and I supplement with times table worksheets and quizzes.  Since I try to keep the lessons on the short side (a la CM), we often don't finish a full MEP lesson.  If I think the uncovered material is crucial, we just continue with it the next day.  Sometimes, we simply move on to the next lesson.

Where I fail at CM is in these areas: we do not do hymn/folk song study.  I'm not so fabulous at handicrafts, but am better at life skills.  The girls have a chore rotation that changes each week.  And, while they play outside a lot, I am really lax about nature walks and nature study.  I tried to do this in the beginning, and we all had nature notebooks and nice, new colored pencils, etc.  But it didn't seem to work for us.  So now our nature study mostly involves our backyard birding, which we really enjoy. (They also take a biology class at Timothy Ministry on Fridays with other homeschoolers at a local church.)  I don't concentrate on habit training, per se, but our chore chart helps in this area.

In considering this, I came to the conclusion that I am more of a "literary education" person than a strict CM homeschooler.  I rely heavily on AO, Catherine Levinson's books, and Gladys Hunt's books, sprinkled with suggestions from the Tanglewood curriculum, TWTM, other homeschoolers, Jenny Sockey's book, etc., to make our selections.  Basically, we read a lot.  But we also take time to do some other things.  This week, as are working on a medieval lapbook of a sort.

Regardless of my CM shortcomings, our homeschool truly reflects one of Charlotte Mason's basic tenets.  For us, education is not a particular set of guidelines or schedule; education is a life.