Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Raising Discriminating Readers

A friend of mine emailed me a recent article from the Wall Street Journal entitled "How to Raise Boys Who Read," by Thomas Spence, which addresses the literacy gap between boys and girls.  Here's a link to the article online; click on it, read the article (it's fairly short), and then pop back over to me.  I'll wait.  It's that interesting.

Good, huh?  Spence makes several great points throughout, but I'm only going to comment on one (at least for now): his assertion that "pander[ing] to boys' untutored tastes" is a really bad idea.  Since Spence is particularly addressing the gender literacy gap, I'm going to point out the obvious.  Publishers make available plenty of twaddle for girls, too.

In the realm of children's books, there seems to be two main camps:  the "well-at-least-they're-reading" group and the quality literature group.  (Do I sound biased already?)  According to Susan Wise Bauer (AKA "SWB") in The Well-Trained Mind, one problem with the former camp is that sub-par children's books "develop a child's taste for short sentences, simple sentence structure, easy vocabulary, uncomplicated paragraphs, and shallow, simple plots" (page 62).  We're not talking about easy reader books, targeted to children who aren't yet strong readers.  We're talking about Goosebumps, the Baby-Sitters Club, Captain Underpants, and others that Charlotte Mason would call twaddle (or worse).

Spence, in his article, takes the issue even further.  The problem with the current and highly popular philosophy of publishing "gross-out" books aimed at boys "is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn't go very far."  What goes into the mind comes out into the life.

But we don't have to aim so low.  Basically, it's a matter of training a child's developing tastes.  Spence quotes C. S. Lewis: "The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful."  I don't think this is exactly the same as the tabula rasa thesis, but it does imply that nurture is a critical component in education.  By reading or listening to quality children's literature (or both!), children acquire a taste for the same.

As Charlotte Mason wrote, "The ideas it [a book] holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea."  Hmmm.  Wonder how that works when the book is from the SweetFarts series?

I'd rather not find out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: VERB! That's What's Happening

Remember Schoolhouse Rock?  I do and very well, it seems.  We own four VHS tapes (yes, tapes), which comprise Grammar Rock, Multiplication Rock, America Rock, and Science Rock.  So I pulled out the grammar one just for fun.  The girls have watched these once or twice when they were younger; but they are really at ages to get a kick out of them now.

Since we've been reviewing nouns and verbs and studying subjects and predicates, we spent one grammar lesson this week watching TV.  We enjoyed "A Noun Is a Person Place or Thing," "Verb: That's What's Happening," and "The Tale of Mr. Morton" (subjects/predicates) so much that the girls begged for more (who wouldn't??).  So we then watched "Unpack Your Adjectives," "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here," "Conjunction Junction," and "Interjections!"  I knew most of the words to all the songs, which the girls thought was a hoot.

We plugged along in all our subjects.  Here are some highlights:

We started a new spelling program, Spelling Power.  Since we only just began, I haven't formed a complete opinion.  But my early impression is that it will work well for us.

In science, we learned more about our skin.  We performed an easy experiment from How the Body Works that showed us a bit about how the sebum on our skin helps to keep our skin supple and protect us from too much water soaking into our bodies.  Sadly, I neglected to photojournal our activities.  I was too busy conducting the experiment!  Also, Tiny Girl needed to bring in photos of the sun for her astronomy class.  We found some great ones on the National Geographic website.  My favorite is the one taken by the SOHO spacecraft, which orbits the sun, and depicts a developing sun storm.  Frankly, I had no idea!  Sometimes it shocks me how little I actually know. . . .

The girls are loving the logic puzzles in the Mind Benders book and have asked to be allowed to do more of them each day.  I'm sort of suspicious.  If they love it, it can't really be educational, can it?  (That's a joke, by the way.)  Being that I'm a newbie to the field of formal logic study, and read up on it this week and wrote a post about my discoveries.  You can read it here, if you are so inclined.

We are laying the groundwork for the colonial American period in our history studies.  Thus far, the settlements have not been wildly successful, except for the summer fishing colonies in Newfoundland.  The folks there were wise enough to pack it in and go home for the winter.  I'm looking forward to the weeks ahead because we have some neat books scheduled to read and some fun activities, too.

I'm happy to report that Miss Priss decided, on her very own, to do some of our readings independently.  Prior to this, she wanted me to read everything except her free reads.  We're at an awkward point in our journey in that she should be doing more reading on her own (she is fully able to do so with several selections), but Tiny Girl still prefers for me to read aloud.  So this week, Miss Priss read history and Heidi on her own, and then I read them to Tiny Girl on the same days.  And that's okay.  I'm encouraging the elder to take on more independent work, so it may be that some book sharing will be necessary in the days ahead.

That's our week!  How was yours?

Since I didn't get my camera issues resolved until after we came back home, I'll be  periodically posting some photos of our summer in Maine:

The girls atop Cadillac Mountain, in Acadia National Park, Mt. Desert Island, Maine

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Getting Out of Bed -- Or Not

I have a hard time getting out of bed in the mornings.  I would rather rise earlier and have a few minutes alone, some prayer time, get ready for the day, and more.  But I HATE to get up early! 

Lately, I've had my alarm set for 7:05, and then I have had a prayer time (in BED, for Pete's sake!), and then I get up.  Usually, the girls are already awake and going by then.  And what it I have to take a shower?  Then we're even later getting started with the day.

Especially now, I would benefit from an earlier alarm (and true response to it).  Our lessons are taking longer, and we've added more subjects.  So we typically don't finish until after 3:00 and sometimes 4:00.  Perhaps an earlier start time would be in order?

But the girls have been going to bed later, too, fairly close to 9:00.  I've always enjoyed some Himself-and-me time after they're asleep, but with their later bedtime perhaps I can't afford it anymore.

There have been times when I've dragged myself out of bed earlier, for whatever reason.  And I made a shocking discovery: when I actually rise earlier, the day goes smoother.  Huh.  Imagine that.

When the alarm goes off, however, that doesn't seem to matter as much.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Of Syllogisms and Fallacies: Studying Logic

"Logic!" said the Professor half to himself.  "Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"
-- from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

"Logic is the anatomy of thought."
-- John Locke

"Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end."
-- Mr. Spock, Star Trek

 We've begun the formal study of logic this year, and, I have to admit, it's a new one for me.  Which makes me feel a tad inadequate, given that there's an entire stage of the trivium with that designation.  So I pulled out my well-thumbed copy of Susan Wise Bauer's  The Well-Trained Mind and perused chapter 14, "Snow White Was Irrational: Logic for the Intuitive."  It was time well spent. 

So what is logic, anyway?  According to SWB (which is how a friend of mine and I fondly refer to Susan Wise Bauer), "logic is the study of the rules of reasoning."  This is good news for me.  I tend to make decisions based on my feelings about something, which is fine, that's how I'm programmed.  But where this preference becomes a hindrance is when I'm asked to support my position and I can't.  Some people don't understand the concept of "it feels like the right thing. . ."  They prefer reasoning to feeling.

But that's just me.  Why is the study of logic important?  SWB says it so much better than I ever could:
The systematic study of logic provides the beginning thinker with a set of rules that will help her to decide whether or not she can trust the information she's receiving.  This logic will help her ask appropriate questions: 'Does that conclusion follow the facts as I know them?' 'What does this word really mean? Am I using it accurately?' 'Is this speaker sticking to the point, or is he trying to distract me with irrelevant remarks?' 'Why is this person trying to convince me of this fact?' 'Why don't I believe this argument -- what do I have at stake?' 'What other points of view on this subject exist?'" (p. 235)
In other words, a middle-grades student can learn to use logic to disseminate information she takes in instead of merely taking it (or rejecting it) at face value.

I especially enjoyed SWB's definitions of logical fallacies, "statements that sound like valid arguments but aren't," which include:
  • anecdotal evidence fallacy: using a personal experience to prove a point
  • argumentum ad hominem: an attack on the speaker rather than on the argument itself
  • argumentum ad misericordiam: an appeal to pity
  • argumentum ad verecundiam: an appeal to authority by name-dropping to support a position
  • argumentum ad nauseam: if an assertion is repeated over and over again, it's likely to be accepted as true
 And my personal favorite:
  • argumentum ad populum: "If everyone's doing it, it must be okay."
 For my fifth grader (and the fourth grader joins in for fun -- she likes puzzles), I selected the Critical Thinking Company's Mind Benders books, as SWB suggests.  However, my children do not work on these puzzles for an hour, three days a week.  That's seems a bit excessive to me.  Not matter how enjoyable they may be, an hour of filling in yes/no grids to solve problems would get tiresome.  So we do a few puzzles a day.

I'm looking forward to studying logic with my children in the years to come.  While I'm not expecting to go all Mr. Spock-like in my decision-making, I hope to be able to formulate reasonable arguments to support my position.

If I feel like it, that is.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Fingerprinting and a Voice from the Distant Past

Whew!  What a busy week!  Not only did we have our usual schedule of lessons, but we also had a meeting at church, orthodontist appointments, and a doctor appointment to add to the general chaos.  (You know, it's really not all that chaotic, but it's certainly busy!  And I tend to feel chaotic when I'm busy.)

Here are a few highlights:

We've been reading Tennyson's poems, and, while they are good when read by mere mortals (i.e., me), we all enjoyed listening to Tennyson himself read "Charge of the Light Brigade," a recitation recorded in 1890 on a wax cylinder.  You can hear it, too, here at The Poetry Archive website.  We thought it was amazing that we could listen to something recorded 120 years ago!  (Note:  If you're interested in reading a bit more about early recording technology-- wax cylinders! --  here's a link to an informative Wikipedia entry.)

I typically shy away from scientific pursuits.  It's not my forte, and the girls take science classes at Timothy Ministry.  But this year, I've upped the ante, and we are studying anatomy.  Last week and this, we've focused on the dermal system.  One of the small experiments we did was about fingerprints.  Here's what my right thumbprint looks like:

The girls and I discovered that Tiny Girl and I both have whorl patterns on our thumbs; but Miss Priss has the loop pattern.  We wondered about Daddy's thumbprints, and found out later that day that he has the loop pattern as well.  Two excellent books helped us in our inquiry:  Head to Toe Science, by Jim Wiese, and How the Body Works, by Steve Parker.

In other studies, we finished Story of the World, Volume 2; both girls are enjoying the Mind Benders puzzles in logic; we began The Age of Fable and Madam How and Lady Why (neither girl was enthusiastic about either, but since it was the prefatory material I can't say I blamed them); both are better enjoying math at their own pace; we are all in love with Heidi; Miss Priss and I reviewed more Latin with the wonderful worksheets I blogged about earlier this week; and we devoted more time than I have in the past to our Bible and prayer time, using the Keys for Kids devotion.  It's been wonderful thus far.  The girls continued with French, piano practice and their lesson on Tuesday, cursive copywork (Charlotte Mason's motto "I am, I can, I ought, I will"), and the Scott Foresman grammar and writing program.

As for reading, the girls have spent a lot of time on frivolous books this week and last.  While I'm not against a bit of frivolity now and then, I've recently assigned some other selections for "school-time" reading.  Miss Priss began The Shakespeare Stealer, by Gary Blackwood, and Tiny Girl is about to start Lassie Come-Home, by Eric Knight.

My zinnias made me happy this week, so I thought I'd share a photo:

They are the only things that did well in our garden this year.  I must face it: I have a black thumb.

That's our week in review!  I can't wait to read about yours on Kris's blog, Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Versatile Blogger Award: Passing on the Tiara (So to Speak)

Ever since my dear friend Jackie bestowed upon The Bluestocking Belle the honor of the Versatile Blogger award (see original post here), I've been in a dither about passing it on, as we are supposed to do.  I read so many blogs, and so many of them are fabulous!  But to whom should I give a shout-out?  Nail biting ensued.

Honestly, all mothers, and especially homeschooling mamas, who take the time to record their inspirations, face their insecurities, "talk out" their anxieties, celebrate their successes, and recognize that the minutes of their lives are precious and worth remembering, all within the virtual pages of a blog, deserve an "atta girl!" once in a while.  And since most of us write in the hopes of reaching out to others, this sacrifice of time and effort is even more remarkable.

Anyway.  Make a cup of tea and relax for a few minutes, perusing the following blogs par excellence (presented in no particular order):

  • See Jamie Blog -- Many of us already know and love Jamie's blog.  She's a regular on the Weekly Wrap-Up, hosted by Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers, and she's also the coordinator of the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival.  Her homeschooling reports are always fun to read, but Jamie's reflections on spiritual matters, her openness and candor, and her posts about her family's adoption journey are powerful.

  • Homeschooling in a Bilingual Home -- I breathed a sigh of relief when Silvia, who had taken a blogging hiatus, popped back in the blogosphere.  Not only does Silvia chronicle her homeschooling experience with her daughters, but she also writes thoroughly and well about many topics we homeschoolers ponder, often in response to some wonderful book she has recently read.  And to top it off, Silvia's photos are lovely, the kind I wish I could take but can't because I haven't the necessary gift.

  • Live, Love, Learn -- I've been reading Angie's Weekly Wrap-Ups for a while now, and they are always entertaining and informative.  She also writes extensively on the Charlotte Mason method, but insists that she is not a purist (a position with which I can greatly identify).  Packed with helpful photos, links, and resources, Angie's blog is a blog-hopper's delight.  You could hang out here for days.

There you have it.  In case you're looking for more great blogs to read (and who isn't, I ask you?), just take a look at my sidebar on the right.  But keep an eye on the clock; before you know it, it will be midnight.  Happens to me all the time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Amo, Amas, Amamus Anything that Helps Us Study Latin

While blog-hopping over the weekend, I stumbled upon a link to Joy In Our Journey.com (as opposed to the blogspot of the same name), and I was excited to find blogger Julieanne's wonderfully helpful worksheets for the Latina Christiana curriculum.  Miss Priss and I are using these as a review, seeing as how she has forgotten 90 percent of what she learned last year.  Or at least it seems that way.

To access these worksheets, hop onto Joy In Our Journey.com , "mouse over" the Homeschooling Freebies link on the left-hand menu and follow the links: Homeschool Helps -- FREE!, Foreign Language, and then Latina Christiana Level I (or II, as the case may be chez vous).

Although the worksheets are designed for use with this specific curriculum, they would also work in conjunction with other Latin curricula.  The language itself stays the same!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Ready or Not. . .

Today was our first week back at home, and we hit the ground running.  Almost all of our activities started this week, too.  Not only that, we had new replacement windows installed one day, which made everything ever so much more exciting round here.  Still, we somehow managed to have a good week.

We are pretty excited about some new things we have going.  Here are some highlights:

Miss Priss is enjoying her new math curriculum, Mathematical Reasoning, from the Critical Thinking Co.  So fat, it's been a review for her, so what's not to love?  Tiny Girl was, in fact, a tad jealous of Sissie's math program and expressed a dislike of MEP.  She proclaimed it "too easy."  Since MEP is a challenging program and a perfect fit for Tiny Girl's mathematical mind (IMHO), we decided to skip Year 3 and jump forward to Year 4.  And we had a great time in math this week.  Woo hoo!

Both girls began a new grammar and writing program, Scott Foresman Grammar and Writing Handbook, available FREE here, for grades one through six.  I plan to schedule grammar two days per week and writing activities two other days.

We're studying anatomy in science, using the book Uncover the Human Body as our spine (no pun intended).  This week, we learned about the dermal system.  Since this subject is full of new vocabulary words and new ideas, the girls are going to keep very basic notebook pages as study aids.

For our Bible study and prayer time, we are back together after a season of individual study. I'm using a fantastic devotion book for kids called Keys for Kids, which the girls received at our church in Maine. The stories are well written, and I also like the discussion at the end of each story. We've had a good time delving into the scriptures together.

In other subjects, we began reading Heidi; we learned about the discovery of Canada; we completed the Mind Benders Warm-Up book; we started Minn of the Mississippi.  French rolls on, as does piano practice, copywork, poetry, and reading. 

After much discussion, Miss Priss is now the proud owner of a betta, which she named Indigo.  She paid for it and all its paraphernalia from her saved-up allowance.  I strongly stipulated that I will not, in any way, be responsible for this fish; I've cleaned enough fish bowls in my life.  I just hope it lives longer than five minutes, for her sake.

That's our week!  How was yours?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Oh, Joy Abounding! An Award!

Many, many thanks to my dear friend Jackie at Hedgerow Ways and Fireside Days for selecting my little ol' blog as a recipient of the Versatile Blogger award!  Since I'm rarely awarded for much (the case for many of us), my heart is singing today.

There are, of course, responsibilities in accepting such an award, and the Versatile Blogger is no exception.  First, I must disclose seven things about myself; and second, I have to pass on the award to other blogs I deem worthy, which is a daunting and difficult task.  I'll need to think on this for a bit.

Before I began to think about what to write for my seven items, I looked at past winners, and found a bunch of new blogs to follow!  More joy!  See the list at the bottom of this post for more blog-reading fun.

I thought I'd share some things about myself that I haven't yet blogged about, but that's a bit difficult since I'm a blabbermouth.  But I'll try.  So here's me in a seven-blurb nutshell, in no order whatsoever:
  1. Yes, my hair is naturally curly.  No, this is not nearly as fabulous as you might be tempted to think.
  2. It's not news that I'm an Anglophile, but the degree may surprise you.  I have been to the UK four times.  I am not a well-traveled person, but I'd rather go to Britain than anywhere, given my choice.  I'm sure Italy is nice.  I'm also certain Greece is lovely.  And there's France and Spain, too.  But it's Britain for me, hands down.
  3. I rarely watch TV and am thus clueless about most popular culture tidbits.  I've never watched American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Lost, or any other IT-program.  I don't watch the news, either, and I've found I'm a happier person that way.
  4. I don't listen to popular music radio stations, either, so I can't hum along to the latest Top 40 "hit."  I despise typical radio talk (more like rant) shows, too.  In the car, I listen to NPR and our local contemporary Christian music stations.  This fact added to Fact #3 makes me slightly uninformed as to current and/or popular news items.  I've even been accused of living under a rock.
  5. I read a lot and will confess to being a bit of a book snob.  Just a bit, however.  I'm not above reading some chick lit or a murder mystery now and again.  I just don't typically review those books on my blog.  I'm particular about my children's reading, too, for the most part.
  6. I'm an education fanatic, which is one big reason I home educate my children.  I love to learn, and I want them to love to learn, too.  If I could be a professional student, I would do it.  Home education gets me close to that goal.
  7. I have a master's degree in English.  You really can't do all that much with merely a master's degree in English, except (silently) correct other people's grammar during conversation.  (To correct them out loud would be rude!)  Or proofread things for people.  Or use really big words when you feel like it.  On the other hand, I tend to speak in the vernacular (grammatically correct, of course!) to avoid sounding too much like a prisspot.
Ta da!

Now.  I'm going to give a few days' consideration to the blogs I will select for the Versatile Blogger award.  Since the award came with no guidelines as to the precise meaning of "versatile," I'm simply going to wing it.  Which is nothing new for me.

Until then, here are a few other Versatile Blogger award-winning blogs to get you started.  Check them out and their respective links to selected winners:

Hedgerow Ways and Fireside Days
Have Fun - Live Life
Our Day - Ellie's Treasures
Homeschooling on a Wing and a Prayer

Happy blog-reading!