Alex’s Year 0 In Review- Geography

Yesterday I sat down to look at our schedule to see where exactly we are in our school year. Imagine my surprise when I discovered we actually aren’t behind (regardless of how I felt about the schedule the night before). We’re currently in week 34 of our 36 week ‘regular’ school year.

So now I’m reflecting on the work that we’ve done this year- how far we’ve come, what worked and what didn’t. Since this was a kind of ‘practice’ year of the Ambleside Online curriculum (as will be next year- Year .5), it’s so nice to be able to sit back and think everything through so I can make adjustments for next year (even though we’re schooling year-round and will beginning a summer term soon)…

Geography is exciting to me personally. I enjoy learning the topography of countries and regions and about the culture of the people who live there. I’ve been excited to introduce geography/cultures/social studies to my son (and daughter- Fae always follows along).

This year, I decided to slowly read through Jane Andrews’ ‘The Seven Little Sisters Who Live on the Round Ball That Floats in the Air’. Yeah, it’s a mouthful. Seven Sisters contains stories of little girls & their families who live in different regions of the world. The regions covered include those belonging to:

  • The Little Brown Baby- South America OR South East Asia/jungles (we chose South America)
  • Agoonak- the Arctic circle
  • Gemela- Arabian desert
  • Jeanette- Switzerland/mountains
  • Pense- China/rivers
  • Maneko- Africa/grasslands, and;
  • Louise- Germany/river valley

We would begin each section by looking at a huge map of the area. We’d discuss the physical characteristics of that area (climate, flora, fauna, natural resources which are all conveniently pictured in our atlas) and we’d compare the location to where we live on the little globe we own (I’d use words like ‘moving east’ or ‘south of where we live’). This generally took about ten minutes, but the kids enjoyed looking at the maps and talking about what animals could be found in the area. Then I’d begin reading about that Little Sister- each section begins with a short description of the Sister herself. After the first reading, I’d print out a picture from the internet of a girl in cultural dress that could be the Sister we were discussing.

This picture was placed in a manila file folder- we wrote the Sister’s name and her region next to the picture. This is the beginning of a Charlotte Mason-friendly ‘lap book’ (my apologies to those who create *real* lapbooks. *Real* lapbooks are beautiful, detailed and very directed. Ours is none of those things.)

Our first ‘lapbook’

We’d read for about 5 minutes twice a week. When we finished, I’d ask Alex what he remembered from the reading (proto-narration) and we’d jot down words around the picture. The next time we would read, we’d look at our picture of the Sister and would read/discuss the words we’d selected thus far.

I supplemented/supported geography lessons by selecting story books from the library about or from each region. I genuinely enjoyed some of these books and will have to write more about them later. We also have a world folk tale treasury- I would select a few folk tales from each region and would read those as well. This worked well as these picture books became our ‘Free Reading’ for the year. Sometimes, we’d watch a cooking or travel show that focuses on cuisine from a particular region (the cooking and travel shows on CREATE/PBS were wonderful for this purpose!)

What did I like about Seven Sisters? It’s written beautifully directly TO the child and my kids began talking about each Sister as if she were a real child they know. Used as I described above, I found this book a good ‘spine’ upon which to begin discussing world cultures with my kids.

However… I do not think I will be using this resource the next time around with Fae. In my opinion, the book stereotypes each region/culture and is, in some places, blatantly racist (for example foot-binding of little girls is discussed in the China section and in the African section, the narrator says that ‘we’ should not consider Maneko’s “wooly” hair beautiful. In fact, if Maneko knew any better, she’d want to be just like us). Yikes. It’s even worse when I write it out like that… And yet, that’s how the book reads. I found myself editing SO much and being genuinely disturbed by the way other cultures are presented by the narrator.

If I had it to do over again (and I do with Fae), I am going to use the supporting resources as the main resources. We’ll select a region, look at the map/atlas and will read lots of picture books and folk tales from that region. For Year 0, that’s plenty as far as geography is concerned.

5 Comments

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Masonian Educational Methods

Lessons Learned In The Meantime…

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted and, as of today, it’s been weeks since we’ve ‘done school’. I look at my wonderful 36 week curriculum schedule with all my subjects neatly lined up and realize that we’re weeks ‘behind’. I say ‘behind’ even though the beauty of this system is that it holds a fantastic amount of flexibility for my family. We can easily move days around, or work within a specific subject- it’s just awesome like that (thanks to the original Ambleside Online moms who actually created the schedule)…

And yet, I’ve been feeling ‘behind’. Life has gotten in the way of school. Oh, I know that education is the sum of what our children take into themselves and that includes all the lessons learned along the way that are not planned or scheduled, but still, lately, I’ve been asking myself what has been worthwhile during this pause in our official schooling? What have my children been learning while we’ve been away from school?

At the end of March my 15-year-old niece came to live with us. The situation has been unsettled and there is much healing to be done in her heart and mind. When Selena came to stay, all of us in the household had to make adjustments. School time became shorter as I handled phone calls, doctor appointments and therapy sessions. We think that perhaps this week the custody agreement might be finalized and Selena might legally be in our care for the forseeable future.

I ask myself ‘what have my children learned from this new living arrangement’?  It doesn’t take much to see they’ve learned that there’s enough space and love for everyone in our home and that no one gets left behind. They’ve seen that we all matter and that doing the right thing is sometimes hard and requires sacrifice. The atmosphere of this home lately has demonstrated that family is deeply important, but that ‘doing’ family isn’t always easy. Sometimes there is conflict, and we need the Lord so much to know the right way to behave and respond.

Then, about a month ago, our little family traveled to my in-laws to assist them after my mother-in-law’s knee surgery. Since they live just south of Erie, PA we took the opportunity to do some Charlotte-y things like visiting the lake and collecting lake-stones from the beach, spotting red-winged blackbirds for the first time, and visiting a small homestead to discover how the family lives almost completely self-sufficiently (lots of handicrafts going on there!).

Alex, Selena & Fae at the Lake

But during this trip they also learned how to sit quietly next to a fragile loved one and just spend time together. They learned that their presence and beautiful hearts can truly lift the spirits of someone going through something hard. They learned that we can all work together to get the job done and that fun happens in spite of hardship.

The day after we returned from our 9 day visit with the in-laws, I traveled to Albany, NY to collect my youngest sister and her two children. She has an almost 2-year-old daughter and her baby girl is about a month old now. For the past two weeks, we played host and opened our home to them. In this case, my kids learned something about generosity and being hospitable. They learned how to expand their circle of two to include their young cousin. They watched my sister faithfully care for her sweet newborn. They saw how we simply swept them into our daily life and made more room at the table. I think they saw how joy can come from giving one’s self to others. We all cried a little this past weekend as we waved goodbye to the plane that carried this precious little family away to Florida to my mother and grandmother.

As I sit here writing about some of the lessons I think my kiddos might have been receiving from Brian and me (and, mostly, from the Lord Who is their Great Teacher), I realize that the past two months have been opening and deepening the way my children understand family. They are seeing how we, their parens who are trying to live a life that is pleasing to our Savior, seek to serve and care for those around us. I am not patting myself on the back- doesn’t scripture say that even pagans care for those who care for them?- but these are good lessons for any child to learn…

These past months have been filled with lessons about faith, family, service, love, hardship, pain, joy and hope. The kids have learned these from real life instead of our beloved living books, from the script the Father has provided instead of the curriculum I’ve out together. And I’m ok with that; I’m ok with Life being my children’s Teacher.

3 Comments

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Family Discipleship

Poetry Surprise

As you know, we are currently doing an informal Year 0 since Alex is in Kindergarten. One of the topics I’ve been so excited to broach with my kiddos is poetry. As suggested, we began Term I with Poems and Prayers for the Very Young by Martha Alexander. The kids seemed… tolerant… of the poems. Sometimes they expressed enjoyment, but mostly the words seemed to wash over them and- as Alex is too young to require narration- I’d just let it lie. I knew the words, the rhythm and some of the images were working their way into his mind…

Term II brought us A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. The children did not connect *at all* with the poems in this book. I’d find one that seemed really delightful and would read it several times over a few days hoping for a spark of interest- nuthin’.

Well, I deviated from the recommended Year 0 selections for Term III. But, as a dear friend reminded me when I dithered about using an ‘unapproved’ book, this is *our* education we’re giving to *our* children. It’s ok to make a substitution to include a selection that is particularly meaningful to us.

And so we began Term III Poetry using Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I don’t know what others think of this poetry collection as far as meeting dear Charlotte’s criteria for living books. It is written by a single author who is passionate about his subjects. But his tone is markedly different from the other poetry we’ve read. It’s… saucy. It’s clever. It explores the magic of the everyday and reveals the character of children in a way I haven’t seen in any other poetry.

But my favorite- my absolute favorite- thing about the poems in WTSE is the way they promote the endless possibilities that are available to us in life.

Consider the poem my kiddos are memorizing this Term:

 The Invitation

If you’re a dreamer, come in.

If you’re a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean buyer

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire.

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in! Come in!

Ok folks, when I read this poem to Alex and Fae, their eyes grew round as saucers and they held stock-still. My whispery, conspiratal delivery invited them into to the world Silverstein has created that delights in children and understands both their wonder of the world and their sometimes less-than-perfect behaviors. It’s been only a few weeks and we reread this poem every day. The kids enjoy it so much, that even Fae- who is TWO- almost has it memorized. She recites it to me before she falls to sleep at night.

A few days later, we read this selection:

Listen to the Mustn’ts

Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the dont’s.

Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.

Listen to the never haves, and then listen close to me…

Anything can happen, child, anything can be.

This is poetry to inspire and to amuse. Yesterday, we read The Farmer and the Queen:

“She’s coming,” the farmer said to the owl.

“Oh, what shall I, what shall I do?

Shall I bow when she comes?

Shall I twiddle my thumbs?”

The owl asked, “Who?”

“The Queen, the Queen, the royal Queen,

She’ll pass the farm today.

Shall I salute?” he asked the horse.

The horse said, “Nay.”

“Shall I give her a gift?” he asked the wren.

“A lovely memento for her to keep?

An egg or a peach or an ear of corn?”

The wren said, “Cheap.”

“But should I curtsy or should I cheer?

Oh, here’s her carriage now.

What should I do?” he asked the dog.

The dog said, “Bow.”

And so he did, and so she passed,

Oh, tra lala lala,

“She smiled, she did!” he told the sheep.

The sheep said, “Bah.”

Alex is IN LOVE with this poem. He asked me to read it to him about eight times yesterday. He does all the animal responses (in funny voices, of course) while I read the main text.

And this is what makes me love WTSE most of all. My kids are anxious to hear the next poem. They are engaged with the images, the stories, the ideas. They are having a conversation with Silverstein himself and are sharing a view of the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better response to any poetry we will read in the future.

My kids beg for poetry. That’s pretty awesome.

5 Comments

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Masonian Educational Methods

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…

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Family Discipleship, Uncategorized

Real Family Liturgy: Lent 2012

Hello friends!  This past Wednesday began the 2012 Lent season. If you didn’t know, my family really enjoys the cyclical nature of the liturgical year. I say that without ever having been part of a liturgical church. My husband and I use the church calendar to make seasonally appropriate family devotions and here we are again at Lent…

I realized the other day that some may feel that liturgy is a heavy thing- don’t you have to be serious and formal if you’re doing liturgy? How does one celebrate Lent with a 5 and a 2 year old? The focus of Lent traditionally is the need for mercy and that Jesus chose to die for our sins. How can our kids understand these deep issues?

Each year, we pull out our Lenten Wreath. It’s pretty cool- we simply picked up candle holders, added tea lights and glass beads and put it all together in a tray. Beginning on Ash Wednesday (and each Sunday thereafter) we light an additional candle right after dinner. On Good Friday, all the candles are darkened and they stay that way until Ressurection Day when the large white pillar candle- the Christ candle- is lit and we celebrate Jesus’ victory over the grave! When we light the candle each evening, we sing ‘Amazing Love’ . This year, we’re using ‘Lord Have Mercy’  by Amy Edwards as our family devotional. Brian reads the selected scripture passage and I say the included prayer. It’s simple and fast and it gives us a focused opportunity to once again present our kids with the gospel. And as our children grow, these are the holiday traditions they will remember- this is us trying to ‘raise them in the way they should go’. But it doesn’t have to be formal or opressive- I can’t tell you the number of devotions we’ve done with kids sitting half naked on the kitchen table (they like to strip right after dinner). That’s ok- we don’t have to expect perfectly still little bodies, solemnly listening as Daddy talks about salvation (oh, wouldn’t that be nice?). No- we can let our kids be who they are as the liturgy happens. They sit on laps, they finish up their dinners, they hold a baby or a stuffed animal and that’s fine- we make liturgy part of our daily life during this time of year.

I want to encourage you to give liturgy a try. Throughout the year, there are lots of liturgical celebrations. Some holidays we celebrate and use as devotions include Lent, Passover, Easter, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas. We have special symbolic devotionals we do for each of these and I hope to find more celebrations to center around Jesus!

May you and your family have a blessed Lenten season. May you understand the enormity of our Father’s sacrifice and our Savior’s victory. May you repent of old sins and move forward into the new way the Lord has for you. Blessings to you all as we approach Easter!

Bet you can't even tell Fae isn't wearing pants!

1 Comment

Filed under Family Discipleship, Holidays/Family Liturgy

Shakespeare Giveaway!!!

Since February is my birth month and I enjoy the hobbit tradition of giving gifts to others on my birthday, I decided to do a February give away! And you, Dear Reader, get to enjoy the bounty!  The best part? I have not ONE item to give away- but THREE! Yes- Three Shakespeare-themed items will be going to three lucky readers! And the giveaway items are top-notch!

The first item is something I first heard about from Brandy over at Afterthoughts. The MasterPuppet Theather: World of Shakespeare is the perfect item to flesh out those Shakespearean readings. This set includes a deck of cards featuring 60 of the most famous of Shakespeare’s characters. Hamlet, MacBeth, Othello, Romeo & Juliet along with many, many other characters are included. You also receive a neat ‘backdrop set’ in front of which you can perform your plays. This is a really cool way to help your kiddos SEE the play!

Amazing narration possibilities here!

The second item is one of my favorite movies: Kenneth Brannagh’s 1993 version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’! This is a rollicking, joyous interpretation which sparkles with the wit and wisdom of the Bard! Very watchable (a great way to introduce someone who knows nothing about Shakespeare to his works) and filled with an award-winning cast.  Now for the disclaimer: It is rated PG-13 but you will absolutely want to preview it before watching with your teenagers. There is some brief, non-sexual nudity in the opening (actually very sweet and full of joy), but there is also a brief scene wherein Hero’s maid, Margaret, ‘looks out a window’ with Borachio which is represented sexually.

Just looking at the cover reminds me of summer and happiness...

The last item of my give away is a fantastic little book called ‘Sonnets & Psalms’. Within are pages filled with- well- psalms & sonnets! Imagine waking each morning and reading a sonnet and a psalm before your feet hit the floor. This book allows the reader to explore themes common in the sonnets and in Scripture- love, grief, anger- all of life’s varying shades.

Would fit perfectly on a nightstand... or in a picnic basket...

So, here are the rules of the giveaway:

1) ‘Like’ This Side of the Door on Facebook, here.

2) Comment on the post that announces this give away and tell me why you love Shakespeare, why your kids love Shakespeare or your favorite Shakespearean scene/passage.

3) Wait for the drawing on February 29 at 9 pm EST.

It’s that easy! I don’t know that I’ll be a big one for give aways, but this opportunity was just too good to pass up.

Also, I want to invite you to look around my blog at older posts. I hope you’ll see some things you like and will be interested in joining me as I continue my Charlotte Mason/Ambleside Online adventures…

All the best and thanks for joining me!

34 Comments

Filed under Give Away/Games

Little Boys, Young Men and the Church

Earlier this week, I came across this article by David Murrow which discusses why young men seemed to have abandoned the church. As the mother of a five-year-old son, I spend a LOT of time thinking about how I want my son to grow up, how I hope to share my faith and what kind of history I want him to have when he leaves home to make his own life. The idea that something is ‘chasing’ young men away from the faith piques my curiosity. Along with several other issues, Murrow lays the responsibility for this phenomenon at the feet of female youth leaders and the accompanying tenor of their groups which, he says, alienate young men and Sunday school programs whose design either ignores or oppresses boys’ inherent make-up.

Murrow says that Sunday school systems are geared toward girls/women in that they require verbal, social interaction in which girls usually excel and boys sometimes don’t . He says that the system itself is hostile to how boys learn…  Hmmmm- as a homeschooler, this sounds familiar…

Sunday schools ARE systems based on government school models. Children are separated from their parents, age-graded, and are set homogenized tasks that are generally acknowledged by some outward reward like stickers or points. Now, I think there are some very nice things that children can learn in Sunday schools, but as a homeschooler, I have a hard time defending a system that is not Biblical (there are no Sunday schools in Scripture) and is based on a system that I believe is inherently flawed.

Give it your best guess- is this a Sunday school class at church or a government school class?

Sunday schools do not personalize a discipleship program geared toward each boys’ unique abilities and interests, just as government schools don’t personalize the academic education of their students.  Why would we expect a system that doesn’t work on even an academic level to have deep impact on a spiritual level? Just because Christian materials are used and people of honorable intent do the teaching doesn’t mean there will be significant differences in outcome. If the best students are generally held back by the lowest common denominator in public school, doesn’t it stand to reason that the same thing would happen in any public school based educational system? Sunday schools don’t encourage kids to excel or to explore deeply as God leads. That’s just not how the curriculum is designed.

Murrow goes on to say that women-led youth groups which focus on feelings, emotion, and expression alienate young men. Whether women should be teaching or in leadership positions over young men is a different post entirely (lol!), but the idea is the same as it is in Sunday school: where is this kind of discipleship- this kind of spiritual training- found in Scripture?  It’s NOT. There is no such thing as youth culture in scripture. The Bible doesn’t cast young people as a strange breed of human, separate from the main body of believers (or unbelievers) and needing special (and often ridiculous, twaddley, insulting) programs to introduce them to Christ.

So how *are* boys and young men designed to hear and respond to God?

C’mon, homeschoolers- we know this, right?

God designed people to learn in *families*. Children learn how to be fully socialized, integrated adults (of each gender) by modeling their behavior and ideas after their parents and the other trusted adults in their intimate family circle. For a Christian family, the child is introduced to Jesus through family-based evangelism, that is, the parents/adults model a relationship with God and encourage the child to make a decision to follow Jesus for himself. The actual relationship is between God & the child (oh, how like dear Charlotte’s assertion that the teacher must not interfere with the young student’s interaction with an author’s great thoughts!).

Boys learn to be men by watching their fathers, uncles, brothers and trusted family friends being men. By being *with* their adult male family as they minister, study, fellowship and lead at home, in the church and in the wider community. This is how God designed human beings to learn and is fully supported by those Deuteronomy 6 verses we Christian homeschoolers love so much.

Imagine a church in which every boy  is personally discipled by his father (or a primary surrogate if his father is not present for any reason) and several other strong Christian men. The young man ministers along-side his father when his father responds to some need in the Body, he has continuous opportunity to discuss personal issues with his mentors and to receive guidance from them, and he has authentic relationships with these mentors so that his true personality, gifts, weaknesses and callings are apparent to them. He can’t hide or be polite- they KNOW him and they love him. As this young man grows and becomes a man himself, he is accepted as an equal- fully integrated within the Body as an adult member.

Multi-generational, God-loving, world-changing... and oh so manly!

Young men aren’t abandoning the church/faith because they don’t like talking in Sunday school, or because youth group worship songs are too sappy or because they don’t get their flesh tickled enough by the girls at church- young men are abandoning the church because the church is utilizing non-Biblical methods of instruction. The problem isn’t that the church doesn’t understand ‘maleness’, the problem is that the church doesn’t understand God’s design for family-centered discipleship and, therefore, young men haven’t been taught how to BE men in the church.

If we want to see young men staying in church and influencing the Body in wonderful ways, we have to make sure families worship and learn together so young men know how to BE the church as they come to maturity. We have to return to New Testament styles of worship and discipleship and we have to recognize that God’s design for family is perfect for bringing children up into Him…

5 Comments

Filed under Family Discipleship