Tag Archives: conversation

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.

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Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Masonian Educational Methods

The Wonders of the Last Sea- exploring ‘narration’

A few weeks ago, we started our discussion of dear Charlotte’s teaching methods in a discussion about living books. To continue, let’s turn our attention to the second of Wikipedia’s methodologies- narration.

One of the most attractive attributes of a Masonian education is the lack of ‘busy work’. Busy work consists of all the many trifles that modern education insists upon to better drill a fact into a child’s head. A child reads a passage and then completes comprehension questions to show whether or not the child has understood. A math fact is learned and then is repeated ad nauseam in various ways just to be sure the child has really mastered the lesson. Busywork is all the things that the child is ‘put to’ to prove that the child has, indeed, ‘got it’.

Charlotte found this kind of repetition unnecessary and insulting to the child’s intelligence. Instead, she advocated narration as the only reinforcement of the lesson. What is narration? Simply put, narration is the act of retelling in one’s own words exactly what one remembers. Narration is a powerful tool in a child’s education.

Think about the times you have learned something. The information was received and taken into your mind. But if you later had to teach someone that same information, your understanding, your relationship with the material changed. It went from being a surface fact (something you remembered until the test and then tossed away), to being something your mind had really chewed, mulled over, and synthesized so it could be communicated to someone else.

The child listens, absorbing the story into himself...

Narration is not used to test a child’s knowledge. It isn’t used to discover how much the child forgot about the passage, rather narration is used to help the child reinforce the connections she has made with the material on her own. The teacher is not enforcing an agenda of comprehension- that is, that the child will remember what the teacher/adult thinks is important about a passage- instead the teacher is helping the child deepen her own connections and think through what has just been read. Leading questions should be avoided, as should correcting the child during the act of narration. If a child doesn’t mention a fact or seems to have misunderstood it, the parent may simply do a short ‘recap’ of the story immediately prior to the next reading (the next day, etc). If a child is simply lost, put the book aside for a month or two and try again later; the child may not be ready for that particular work.

I often think of professional wine tasters and how they differ from the casual drinker. The casual drinker tosses back the wine, notes how it tasted and if he liked it or not and then it is forgotten. The experience has left no lasting impression on him and an hour later he couldn’t tell you much about it. But the professional sommelier first looks at and smells the wine, chews it, interacts with it before rendering an opinion. And the professional is able to remember the experience, the nuance of the drink- it has become part of his overall wine experience. If it is an especially good glass of wine, he may be able to recall it years later.

The child can express her connection in many valid ways...

Narration can be accomplished in many ways- orally (where the child retells what he knows), in drawing/painting/sculpting, through play acting with figures or as actual play, and, after the age of 10 or so, in written composition (indeed, narration is the basis for fine essay writing in the future). Any way in which the child expresses a connection with the material is valid narration.

But what about evaluation? How can you be assured that your child has actually understood the material? Well, how do you know an adult understands the materials she’s teaching to you? As the person is speaking, you can hear an internal consistency of information. A clarity of reasoning that makes sense in context. A teacher in a classroom full of students may need worksheets and tests to ascertain if each student has understood the material, but a parent in a home with a limited amount of children will certainly know if a child truly understands what she is retelling.

My son is only five, so I am not requiring narration from him yet- dear Charlotte recommended that a child have no formal schooling until age 6, so I am holding off on asking for narration. However, even in our ‘informal’ schooling, Alex retells parts of his day. It’s interesting to me to see what he remembers hours later, which ideas and facts he connected with.

A Young Girl Reading- our current picture study

Narration seems simple- too simple to be an effective learning tool. But over a hundred years of history and many parents of graduates attest to the effectiveness of this method. As a child grows into adolescence, narration takes on more of a conversational tone. The child still retells, but then the parent may ask questions to draw the child deeper, may correct and challenge what a child has shared- as the student becomes an adult and has much practice forming a viewpoint, an opinion- the conversation becomes more like adult conversation. The teacher has simply refrained from usurping the child’s own mind prior to her learning how to use it.

I look forward to many conversations about books, politics, morality, science, literature on and on and on as my children grow…

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