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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to AO…

As you know from earlier posts, I am an Ambleside Online girl. I love the organization of the materials, love the Advisory and the many women who give of themselves to make things run smoothly and I love the community!

However… (ahem)… I have found that I don’t love some of the selected books. I won’t go into detail at this point, but suffice it to say that some of the selections have felt a bit… stodgy?… or a bit… dry?… which is likely just a personal taste issue since I know AO searches for the best living books around.

Let me tell you about a book substitution I’ve tried this year that has really worked for us.

Second grade (Year 2) history is covered in AO by H.E. Marshall’s ‘An Island Story’. I was prepared to LOVE this book- and to this day, I refer to England as ‘the little island’. However, about the time that the White Ship was going down in the channel, I began feeling like the book was simply recounting one battle after another- and each chapter was really long. I was bored. And so was Alex.

So I had to revisit Dear Charlotte’s principals to remind myself that this particular author was not capturing my son’s attention and helping him make connections within the material- I also remember that the wonderful ladies at AO remind us that the book list alone does not a CM curriculum make- it is truly more than the sum of its parts.  I went in search of an appropriate alternative and- thank you Amazon Kindle!- found ‘The Story of the English’ Volumes I and II by Helene Guerber.

Story of the EnglishWe began this book by matching the included chapters to those in AIS. It is closely matched- we began this book at the start of the second semester and went right back to the very beginning of English history. Along with this book, we began a visual timeline- just a simple computer file in which we keep a picture that represents the major event or person in each chapter. We set a brisk pace of three chapters a week so we could finish the year about where AIS would let off at the end of Year 2. This means we do have to spill over into Volume II, but by just a few chapters.

I feel like ‘The Story of the English’ is superior to ‘An Island Story’. Why? Well, first of all, the language is clearer, but in no way talks down to the children. The stories are more succinct, allowing us to gain a feel and flavor of the person or event without dragging us through ‘fluff language’ (that is, language that, to the average reader, would often lead them down the many unnecessary, winding, and often cumbersome paths of language- just like this parenthetical sentence), and there is much more than an account of battle after battle after battle. For example, we have been able to learn about the culture and importance of the Druids to ancient English peoples, have come to celebrate the translation of scripture into the vernacular by both the Venerable Bede and Wycliffe, studied the Bayeux Tapestry, the Magna Carta, Eleanor Crosses, and the formation of Parliament, explored the architecture of the Tower of London and Canterbury Cathedral and much more, all by simply following the chapters in ‘The Story of the English’.  To be fair, as we didn’t finish AIS, I can’t be positive that many of these religious, architectural, artistic and literary events aren’t covered as well as the political and military history of the land, but I do notice enough differences in content and tone that I’m glad we made the switch.


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Things That Change a Life

I’m stealing a few moments to write in because my kids, somehow, are all still sleeping! Ah, silent home…

My poor homeschooling blog, which I really enjoy, has been squeezed to the side the past few months. I do apologize to anyone who was actually enjoying the things I’ve shared. But I wanted to give a quick update as to why I’ve been so quiet.

Firstly, I’m moderating over on the new AO Forum. It’s an excellent resource for all things Charlotte, so if you aren’t over there, please join us! I’m leading a Count of Monte Cristo Book Discussion and it’s going really very well. You can still join us- read like mad to catch up and then share for the second half of this novel.

Secondly, I am a working woman! Well, to be fair, I’ve been working hard on my birth/breastfeeding related business ever since Fae was born, but things have ramped up since the spring. I work at least 15 hours a week writing, teaching, etc. New and exciting opportunities have opened up before me and the best part is- I get to do most of my work once the kiddos are tucked up tight in bed for the night. Homeschooling is protected!

And speaking of, homeschooling is going really, really well this Alex (and tag-along Fae) this year. Alex is full-out reading, so no more lessons except for the practice of reading things. He’s doing addition to 8 now and we’re all very much enjoying our literature, poetry and history reading. (list below)  Nature study has been an especial joy for us- we’ve found a new rocky river beach to visit filled with crayfish, acorns, cranes, minnows… Alex and Fae love wading in the water and just watching what moves!


Yes- they are holding hands as they face a monstrous crayfish!


Our books: Winnie the Pooh, My Father’s Dragon, The Hobbit, Stories of American Life and Adventure, Burgess Animal Tales, among the Forest People, The Red Fairy Book, and The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter.

And also speaking of homeschooling, I am now homeschooling a teenager. Yup. For many, many reasons, Brian and I decided to bring Selena home from school. Now Selena is *everything* your homeschooling friends warmed you public schooled kids are: apathetic, behind, unresponsive, etc. But, we knew this would be best for her on many levels so we discussed our concerns with her. She didn’t resist. We were surprised that she seemed relieved to be removing all unnecessary stressors from her life and her education.

So there I was, tasked with putting together an education for a sophomore, of course I turned to AO. I quickly realized that Selena would in no way be able to handle a full Year 10. Or a lite Year 10. So I went to a lite Year 8 and then slimmed it down…

Selena’s been a trooper. She’s been willing to try, but even after cutting everything except a paired down AO (or more correctly House of Education) Literature and History, she’s still struggling. So we’re going to a text-book (sigh) for History. In the three years of schooling she has left, I want Selena to learn to think about things she’s told, not to just passively receive and regurgitate. I’ve had her narrate everything via a journal both Literature, Grammar and History and we’ll continue that even with the text-book.

Selena’s schooling looks like this:

Literature: The History of English Literature for Girls and Boys by HE Marshall; Poetry: John Donne & selected Shakesperean sonnets; Shakespeare in Film: Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and Othello (with selected reading); Independant Reading: Little Women and A Christmas Carol (on Audio). I’m going to ask her to do a small project when she’s completed a selection, but I don’t know what that will look like, just yet.

History: We’ve chosen British History by John Stobaugh (which is a book written by a single author. I hope, hope, hope it will capture her imagination!) to replace Churchill’s Volume II, she is mapping England, and is reading biographies of important people in British history. These are all journaled and she’ll have a test at the end of each week on her textbook readings. She also has a weekly PA history research assignment and two current event articles to read that she narrates orally.

At the end of the semester, she’ll take an oral exam in which she’ll share her overall thoughts and impressions about her Literature selections and will share what she knows about the English Reformation.

Math: We’ve selected the Algebra Survival Guide by Sally Blakemore along with the accompanying workbook. She completes almost a chapter per week along with about 50 practice problems. She has a quiz each Friday.

Science:  Selena is completing’s biology course. We may split this up into two sections Biology I being completed this year and Biology II (the second half of this course) next year. Selena is not science minded, so the short lessons, videos and online quizzes work for her. I offered to find a way to add a lab to this and she wasn’t interested.

Overall Impressions: Selena is actually working diligently at her studies, even with those that aren’t to her liking. I think she’s expanding her mind a bit and I’ve had to find a way to balance the desire to push her toward growth and respecting her individual needs (which have been shaped by her last decade plus of inadequate education). But she’s working and she’s responding. It’s been nice to hear her thoughts about Every Man (a 12th century morality play- she liked it!), the events in Gaza recently and to see her working with her uncle on Algebra. I feel she’s more connected to us as a family and she is thriving under an education that has been and will be adjusted to fit her needs.

So that’s my update, friends! I hope you’ve found a little nugget of something to enrich your own schooling here and I hope (hope, hope!) to be able to post again soon. This week is Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent. Lots of good richness for family life and I hope to share what ours is like!

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Taking Inventory…

It’s that time of the year- in PA Spring is definitely here. For the past three weeks, we’ve had unseasonably warm weather. My hyacinths have bloomed, the trees are budding and we’ve been doing lots of yard work and basking in the warm sun. It’s *also* the time of the year that my local MOPS group sets up their semi-annual consignment sale. So I begin my semi-annual Sorting of the Clothing…

Clothing Management is one of those ‘mom jobs’ I never heard about before I was pregnant and immersed in buying clothing for my little one. There I was, round and expecting in the middle of BabiesRUs, realizing that all these cute little clothes for 0-3 months were WAY too summer-y for a baby expected in mid-October. It hit me that, as a mom, I had to match sizes and clothing with seasons.

Thus began my spring/fall clothing management project. Each spring/fall, I pull out the clothes from the previous spring/fall, try everything on the kiddos and set aside whatever doesn’t fit to either give away or consign at the MOPS sale. Then I take an inventory of what the kids need for the upcoming season- boots, hats, coats, scarves, gloves/mittens and other cold weather attire for the fall & winter and bathing suits, rash guards, sandals, wind breakers, hats, shorts and eyewear for the spring & summer seasons.

So out goes the outgrown and in comes the new (to us) items- I buy probably 80% of my kids’ clothing at the consignment sale. Since Fae is a petite little thing, I only spent about $25 to outfit her for this spring/summer. Alex is in a weird ‘in-between’ stage where it’s hit or miss if a 5/6 will fit him correctly. When the new(er) items are purchased, they are washed and then get put in the closet along with the rest of the clothes for the new season. Any items that may still fit the following spring or fall, get stashed away in each child’s clothing storage bin to be tested for fit at the appropriate time…

So what does this have to do with homeschooling? I was thinking of the many ways we teach our children what is important in a family. In my family, this twice a year inventory & rotation has become part of our spring/fall cleaning. My children take it for granted that mom takes care of making sure they are outfitted for the coming season (Proverbs 31 anyone?). And this simple (laborious) task of making sure my family has well-fitting, seasonal clothing is one thing they will be accustomed to as they grow.

To my children, parents anticipate what the needs of the family will be- they look ahead into the coming months and they prepare the family to successfully navigate what’s ahead. This semi-annual familial habit of taking stock of what we have and what we may need is something that we should implement in a spiritual sense as well.

It’s still Lent for another week or so. During the remainder of this season, I am going to take spiritual inventory- what do I have in my life has been outgrown and needs to be set aside? What new things do I need to bring into my life to be prepared for what lies ahead? We anticipate a move out-of-state before the end of the year; Alex will be completing Kindergarten this summer; Fae will turn 3 and will no longer be a baby (she’ll always be my baby!!); Brian will be taking a new job. What will each of us need during the remainder of this year to be successful?

How to prepare according to the Word...

We are all growing in this family. We are all shedding the old and donning the new. As a mother, I think I bear witness to the growth of my family. I am keenly aware that the clothing that was once so roomy is now pulling across the chest. I notice when the shoes lose the wiggle-room in the toe. And I think I need to be really looking for the way my family is growing spiritually as well- where has someone had a breakthrough? Where is a child in need of a new responsibility or privilege? What do I need to let go of? What do I need to embrace?

I pray that my kids see their parents being serious about spiritual inventory and spiritual preparation. I pray that Brian and I can carefully prepare for the spiritual season that’s coming. It’s time to take stock, to repent, to rejoice and to get ready…

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The End of Term I Review

Now that we’ve started Term II, I wanted to share a quick run-down of what I feel I did well during Term I and what I need to work on this Term:

The Good:

*We actually did school- we followed a daily/weekly routine and completed just about everything I’d set for us to do. We didn’t rush, the days seemed well-paced and the kids (mostly) enjoyed the material we’re using.

*The kids LOVE having things to do each day- they love the stories, the music, the specific time spent pursuing learning & the Lord together. They like that we have a ‘plan’.

* We got the basics in AND I was able to keep up with a lot of the things sometimes considered ‘extras’- fine art, classical music, hymns, folk songs, nature study.

*We had fun!

The Bad:

* I totally failed to teach any Art this past Term. I had ‘Drawing with Children’ carefully scheduled and just never did it. I had it planned for Fridays when Brian is home and would be able to watch Fae so I could concentrate on helping Alex with his markers. Somehow, Fridays became ou ‘running around’ day filled with nature walks, gym classes, doctor appointments- all the things we aren’t able to do throughout the week. There never seemed to be quiet time for us to take a breath and focus.

*Although we did nature study regularly, Alex rarely journaled it. What is it that dear Charlotte says?- a lesson not narrated is a lesson lost? Well, I’d wanted to have Alex journaling his nature observations and eventually adding pictures of his finds. But again, see above. There never seemed to be time on Fridays for ‘seat work’.

*Didn’t complete a single handicraft with the kids. Had a goal of helping to improve Alex’s pre-writing fine motor skills using handicrafts. I had decided to have him carefully color a beautiful coloring book of forest life, but… well, see above.

*We never included reading a book together into our evening routine. Admittedly, this time is packed with scripture reading and seasonal activities, but I just envision us all snuggled up together reading a ‘family’ book.

The Plan:

*Am going to drop art for now. Perhaps next year when Fae is older and I can direct her attention more fully, I can attempt to do art with them. The ‘Drawing With Children’ classes have been taught to children as young as 4. Hopefully, Fae will be able to do her own version of what I work on with Alex and we can do art together.

*Am going to encourage Alex to use more photography to note his nature finds. If we can get into a habit of nature photography now, in the future, he can use his own photos as a way to populate his nature journal with drawings later.

*Am going to focus on family handicrafts instead of something Alex does himself. We made chocolates together today and I’m putting together a handicraft plan for December. Think we will perhaps choose one type of craft to work on together each month and will go with that.

Sigh- Can't you just see yourself melting into this?

*Just spoke with Brian this evening about changing our bedtime routine. After the kids are in PJs and have had their teeth brushed, we’re going to snuggle up in our bed to read to them each night before we put them down. I have several beautiful Childcraft story books that Alex has been enjoying. I also think that Andrew Lang’s ‘Fairy Books’ would be wonderful- I know Ambleside has the Red & Blue books scheduled, so we can concentrate on the 10 other books Lang collected.

Anyway, that’s my take on this past Term & my plans for improving our time together! How are things going in your homeschool?


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Wordless Weeks- Pictures of what we’ve been doing since the last post

Solar system model with mandatory space RAIN-ger

Pumpkin nature study
Loving spending our days together…
Sports & Splash gym class at the YMCA
Nature study (we love it!!)
Studying the phases of the moon.
Basic color theory using water & food coloring.
Daily ocarina practice
Math & logic text. Alex is adding up to 5 now! Subtraction starts in a couple of weeks!

Sentence building excercises using sight words

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