Tag Archives: homeschool routine

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?


Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Masonian Educational Methods

The Magician’s Book- Ambleside Online and our first weeks of homeschooling

I have chosen to use Ambleside Online as our basic homeschool curriculum. There are several reasons for this: first, the curricula itself is free. As a single-income family, that’s a big advantage. Secondly, the suggested resources are generally free, are easily found at a low-cost or may be borrowed from a library (the wonderful Advisory at AO has tried very hard to make a CM style education accessible to anyone regardless of income). Thirdly, they have an amazing network of moms who give one another support via the many Yahoo Groups and Facebook page AO has. These ladies are like an online support group/co-op that shares experiences, resources and ideas. It is simply delightful to be a part of these groups. The biggest reason I chose Ambleside is because the curriculum is generous, rigorous and, as we plan to follow the curriculum through until graduation, will take my children on a beautiful journey in which they will ‘meet’ the best minds in human history. This is extremely exciting to me- I cannot wait to travel with them!

As you may know, neither Charlotte Mason nor Ambleside recommend a child begin any formal lessons prior to age six. In these years, parents are to practice “masterful inactivity” in which the child is allowed to fully explore and experience her environment apart from directed learning, except in the intentional forming of good habits. Well… I’m not good at letting ‘the ground lie fallow’ as it were…

I found Ambleside almost three years ago and have been an active part of the group since. I’ve been parsing and examining the suggested curriculum, taking it apart to put it back together again, making it over so that it fits my family, in our place in life. It is still absolutely recognizable as AO curriculum, just altered a bit here and there. I added some ‘non-western’ resources because I want my children to have a view of the world being bigger than the history of the conquerors. I moved some of the free reads around so I could build a light Kindergarten and first grade that both happen prior to Ambleside’s Year 1 (some in the know call these years 0 and .5).

I have tried over the past two and a half to three years to stop doing formal lessons. Prior to meeting Charlotte, I had been doing a drill-type preschool with my son. We sang songs, reviewed flash cards, learned letters and their sounds (he knew the letter sounds at age two), we did crafts and went to story time. It was very ‘pre-schooly’ and I weaned myself and my son off it when I was pregnant with my daughter… But still, I have been drawn to beginning something with my son this fall (he turns 5 in September) as I knew this is when he’d begin Kindergarten. For Term 1, our resources and schedule looks like this:

The Grand Cascade at Tivoli by Jean Honore Fragonard. This is the first painting we studied this Term.

We begin each day with a ‘Gathering Time’. We invite the Lord to be with us as we learn and grow together. I created a Powerpoint document that gives us visuals to accompany diverse topics that are covered in less than 5 minutes each (most taking less than 1 minute). We review the monthly calendar populated with the birthdays of family & friends and any special events happening that month. We then review the days of the week & the months of the year by singing songs found on YouTube. This is followed by poetry; this Term is Martha Alexander’s ‘Poems and Prayers for the Very Young’. As I read the poem, I ask the children to close their eyes and their mouths and to listen with their ears and their hearts.

Poetry reading is followed by folk songs. We have deviated from AO’s scheduled folk song selections. Celtic music is very important to my husband and I- we love the idea of being intentional about exposing our children to the richness and diversity of this traditional art form. This Term, we are learning ‘Star of the County Down’ as performed by the Orthodox Celts.

We then return to AO’s scheduled fine arts selections for this term by listening to Mozart (so far Eine Kleine Natchmusik and Lacrimosa) and viewing the works of Jean Honore Fragonard (the Grande Cascade at Tivoli followed by The See-saw). Gathering Time is completed by reviewing Spanish vocabulary (6 words) and by reading a chapter from our children’s bible.

The See-Saw, also by Fragonard. Our current study.

Each day, Monday through Thursday in addition to Gathering Time we do: Reading, Math, Bible Study, Literature, Hymn study and we practice our ocarina together. Mondays & Wednesdays, we add History and Science which are replaced on Tuesdays & Thursdays by Geography and Mapwork. Friday mornings are spent traipsing through the great outdoors for weekly Nature Study, practicing Art, working on handicrafts and taking a gym class at the local Y. On Saturdays, Alex attends the Spanish class I teach.

All of our daily lessons generally take us about an hour and a half to complete. This is spread throughout the day from right after breakfast until right before the children are tucked in at night. The lessons themselves are each less than 5 minutes in length- as Charlotte said, this helps Alex focus his attention completely.  We pray together three times a day at a minimum. We sing together constantly. The children have plenty of time to play, explore their own interests (those we haven’t already incorporated into our school time) and to rest.

My babies- so you have a visual...

Although this plan is designed for Alex, my daughter Fae has been going right along with us each day. She nurses while we do Gathering Time and sings the songs with us. She draws when Alex is doing Math. What I’ve found is that my kids are both thriving on our new structure. Alex gets up in the morning and asks if we can ‘do school’ today. He cheers when I say yes. The kids argue less when we have activities and a regular routine. I’ve found that between doing school, making & eating meals and finishing chores (or attempting them, at least!) our day flies by. Before I know it, we’re welcoming Brian home and beginning our evening together. While there are still daily challenges (what family DOESN’T have things they need to work on?), our days are much nicer than they were when I was trying to ‘master inactivity’. Perhaps, in the end, my children are like me, perhaps they like some structure and predictability in their lives. Maybe this routine is actually comforting to them- makes them feel safe and engaged. While a part of me still worries that I haven’t given dear Charlotte’s method its full reign (and may, therefore, find myself in some trouble down the road), I am glad to see I am able to be responsive the my children’s needs and to give them a bit of structure. It seems to agree with them…


Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte