Thursday, December 27, 2012

Daybook: The Last One from France

This will probably be the last post before things go quiet around here for a little while, as our family moves and transitions to our new life and ministry in Africa.  I look forward to picking things back up again once we have internet up and running and are fairly settled on the other side.   A very joyous New Year to all of you.

Outside my Window:: Gray, cold, and wet...and yet warm enough that all our pretty snow melted away.  Michelle told me the other day she couldn't wait to go to Africa because that meant she wouldn't have to put her coat on everytime she went out.  Yes, I think we're ready to move back to the tropics.

Listening to::  My kids playing some imaginative game which involved Elizabeth, who just got up from her nap, "coming down from her little attic".   And Elizabeth crying because I dared to try and send her to the toilet when she got up.   And when (if?) it gets quiet enough - these lectures from the CiRCE Institute.  Fabulous Stuff.

Giving Thanks:: For God's sustaining grace.   For friends who offer to help before we even ask.   For kids who sit quietly and get multiple immunizations with very little drama.  For my mama, who sent me some Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Latte instant coffee mix to make up for having had a Pumpkin Spice Latte in Geneva WITHOUT ME.  And my step-dad, who special ordered a package of chocolate covered coffee beans from a coffee plantation we once visited in Australia.  For creative kids who are easily entertained.   For sweet little 4 year old who always reminds us that we need to "pray for the new day" in the morning and who asks me to pray for him when I tuck him in at night.

Pondering::  This fantastic article by Elizabeth Foss, that I keep returning to again and again.  And this little gem, taken from Charlotte Mason's Volume 5 Formation of Character:
"Actions do not speak louder than words to a young heart; he must feel it in your touch, see it in your eye, hear it in your tones, or you will never convince child or boy that you love him, though you labour day and night for his good and his pleasure. Perhaps this is the special lesson of Christmas-tide for parents. The Son came––for what else we need not inquire now––to reinstate men by compelling them to believe that they––the poorest shrinking and ashamed souls of them––that they live enfolded in infinite personal love, desiring with desire the response of love for love. And who, like the parent, can help forward this "wonderful redemption"? The boy who knows that his father and his mother love him with measureless patience in his faults, and love him out of them, is not slow to perceive, receive, and understand the dealings of the higher Love."
Of course I love my children.  But do they know that?   And more, what will they learn of the Love of the Father from me?

Living the Educational Life:: You can see our year-end wrap up right here.   Enjoying the time off for the holidays and transition, but also super excited about starting AO Year 1 when we get back into our school routine in February.  And really happy that I am once again A Teacher and no longer A Student. ;-)

What I Will Miss About France:: All the bakeries and cafés and chocolatiers everywhere you look.  So, so yummy.

What I Won't Miss About France:: All the bakeries and cafés and chocolatiers everywhere you look.  So, so bad for my waistline.

Finding Rhythm:: We've been having a special "snack and story" time since we stopped having regular school lessons.   This means tea or hot chocolate in the little mini mugs (sometimes even with whipped cream) and Christmas cookies, while I read something out loud.  Wondering how to keep this little tradition going when we get back to normal again.

Praying:: For patience and wisdom and grace as we transition.  For the strength to nurture well, even when I myself am feeling stretched and drained.

Planning the Week Ahead:: Packing.  I can no longer put it off.   And hanging out with my mama and my sister, who are coming on Saturday to help us in our packing and transitioning endeavor.

Capturing a Moment::

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looking Back Over the School Year - 2012

So, we are just about done with our school year (we school year round from January-December).  We're keeping a very light "Christmas school" going to give our days some structure, but we've otherwise wrapped most things up.   I took some time last week to use this wonderful evaluation tool to look back over our year, and thought I'd share some of the highlights here...

What did I learn about each child?
Michelle is helpful and affectionate.  She thrives on one-on-one time.  She has a tendency to be dramatic.
James is quiet, but there's a lot of thinking going on in that head of his.  He is an introvert and needs regular time to 'recharge', but at the same time he thrives on one-on-one time.  He tends to see things in 'black and white', and struggles with anything 'gray'.
Elizabeth is observant, funny, and affectionate.  She likes being the baby.  She is also impulsive, active, and loud.

What were our 'crowning moments'?
Michelle - Her narration and writing abilities have blossomed. She's starting to make connections.
James - He's starting to read and write, more or less unprompted by me. His verbal ability is improving and he's even made a couple of (very cute) attempts at narration.
Elizabeth - Can now sit through family Bible time quietly. =)

What were our greatest challenges?
Constant change and flexibility needed for everyone.  Helping children with transitions is draining for me.  For me, it was also a struggle to have a 'divided heart' between my own language learning and home tasks.

What habits and skills have we accomplished? 
Both of the two older children are able to help with many household tasks including dishes and folding laundry.  Michelle has learned how to handle a knife properly and cut food and so can be very helpful with meal preparation (she can make a whole salad by herself).  Michelle generally has an attitude of helpfulness, and her attention and ability to work independently is improving.   James is getting better at expressing himself verbally (instead of throwing tantrums).  Elizabeth is working on potty-training, and starting to have some success there.  She desperately wants to help with the chores too, although that often backfires...

What habits and skills should we work on in the coming year?
Developing and sticking to routines for key transitional parts of the day.  Table manners.  Picking things up instead of stepping on them.  Continuing to learn how to do various household tasks according to their abilities.  And certain character traits that are problematic for each child.  (While I decline to describe their character faults in detail this space, I assure you that my children are NOT perfect!)

How did our schedule work out? 
I feel like I've finally stumbled onto a scheduling system that works well for us and can roll with the punches when we need flexibility.   Keeping things simple, keeping rest time for everyone (including mama) in the schedule, and having occasional 'project days' to break up some of the monotony and squeeze in the things that tend to get left out of our regular school days have also worked out really well.

What 'unplanned' learning opportunities did we have?
We've all learned a lot of flexibility this year as Dan and I have had constantly changing schedules, and the kids have spent a lot more time with Dan than usual (and we all know that Papas do things differently than Mamas).  We've also had lots of 'traveling' learning experiences living here in France - we've made trips to Grenoble, Lyon, Paris, Annecy, and Avingon as well as exploring our local area.  I love the fact that my 6.5 year old liked the art museums in Paris and all of my kids thought the bridge of Avignon was cool.

How did our curriculum choices work out for this year? 
Overall fairly well, although we've made some changes as we've gone along and figured out what really works the best for us.  (You can see our curriculum choices at the top of the right-hand column).  Keeping it simple has been our best rule of thumb.  A few changes we made in the course of this year or for next year:
 - Switching from Math Mammoth to Math-U-See:  Michelle was struggling with Math Mammoth and I was having to tweak and supplement to fit her far too much.  Math-U-See has been a much better fit for us overall.  We plan to continue with it.
- Dropping All About Spelling: I worked through Level 1 and most of Level 2 with Michelle, and feel like it was a really helpful foundation for her.  However, about halfway through Level 2, she started complaining about the words being 'too easy'.   As her reading ability has increased, so has her spelling ability.  So we decided to drop the program in favor of a more organic, personalized-list approach.  (I'll still apply some of the basic principles and teaching method I learned with AAS, though.)
- Deciding to use Ambleside Online rather than Simply Charlotte Mason for our main curriculum framework:  For several years, I had planned to use the SCM History Modules.  However, when I sat down to actually plan out our year using one, I ended up tweaking so much that I drove myself crazy.  I really wanted to be able to use more electronically available books than were listed in the SCM modules, wanted to spend less time on ancient history and more time in the modern era, and felt like the SCM modules were a little too 'light' in some areas.   AO pretty much fits all of these criteria: lots of public domain books that I can get on the Kindle, a history rotation that more or less mirrors what I was trying to do (spreading history out evenly over 6 years, rather than 3 years on ancient history and 3 years to rush through everything else), and most definetely rigorous.  I'm sure we'll make some tweaks along the way, but overall I think it will prove to be a better framework for us to work from.

What changes will we make for the coming year?
Besides the curriculum changes I mentioned above:
- French langauge learning will be a greater priority.
- We've done fairly well with nature study this year, but it's been hard sometimes living in a city apartment.  I'm looking forward to having more focused outdoors time than we've had this past year.
- Continue with memorizing the Westminister Catechism, but focus on longer passages for Scripture memory rather than a 'snippet' proof text for each question.
- Greater consistency with habit training (for me too)!
- Add in a tea time (weekly?) and more consistent family nights.

Overall, a great learning year despite our crazy life here in France.   Looking forward to enjoying some time off of "school" during our transition, and picking up our new year in February!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Best Books of 2012

As you know if you've poked around on this blog at all, we are a reading family.  As the end of the year approached, I thought I'd post my list of the best books I have read over the past year.  In no particular order, but organized roughly into categories.   Enjoy!

North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell):  If you are a fan of Jane Austen, you will probably like Elizabeth Gaskell too.  North and South has some similar plot elements to Pride and Prejudice, but superimposes them on top of a setting during the Industrial Revolution, which adds the tension between 'workers' and 'masters' on top of the relationship between the two main characters.

Joy in the Ordinary (Theresa Fisher): A light reading "Christian fiction" kind of book, but written about a Catholic family.  Sweet story, and interesting insights into Catholic culture.

In the Days of Queen Victoria (Eva March Tappan):  Fascinating look at the life of Queen Victoria.  I found it interesting that she didn't particularly aspire to be Queen, but when that role fell to her she took her responsibility very, very seriously.  A good lesson in taking on whole-heartedly even those tasks we don't really WANT to do.

The Little Duke (Charlotte Yonge):  I pre-read this as it is one of the more difficult books used in the AO Year 2 curriculum. It is about Richard, Duke of Normandy (who later became the grandfather to William the Conqueror, I believe).  I found myself riveted - full of intrigue, drama, and the tension between revenge and forgiveness.

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary, Queen of Scots (Charlotte Yonge): Another fascinating historical novel by the same author as The Little Duke - about a girl adoped as an infant after having been the only person to survive a shipwreck and later discovers she is the long-lost daughter of Mary Queen of Scots.  This is a free-read in AO Year 3.

Educational Philosopy
Uncovering the Logic of English (Denise Eide): Very interesting look at the structure of the English langauge - which isn't as 'irregular' as we give it credit for.  I am in the throes of teaching reading and spelling, so found this fascinating.

Home Education (Charlotte Mason):  This took me a LONG time to read, but the effort was so well worth it.    Charlotte Mason had a lot of insight into children and how they learn.  I'm now reading her Philosophy of Education, which is equally good.  I started to blog about some of my insights from reading her series, but got sidetracked by life.  I do hope to get back to it next year, however, so stay tuned.

The Writer's Jungle (Julie Bogart): While not explicitly Charlotte Mason, this 'teaching writing' handbook is in accord with many of her ideas.   Charlotte Mason style language arts instruction is one of the things that I've had a hard time wrapping my mind around (very different from how you and I were taught), so I appreciate materials like this that sort of flesh out for me what this might look like in real life.  While I may not follow her program explicitly, I will can see myself using it as a helpful reference as we continue to work through the various stages of the writing process.

Loving the Little Years (Rachel Jankovic): Yes, this was on last year's list too.  I re-read it this year.  It was still good.  The greatest insight I gained this go around is that our children are people, not an organizational project.  Having systems and routines in place to keep your home running are good and important, but not at the expense of the little hearts that have been entrusted to us.

Christian Living
Redefining Home (Carrie Ann Hudson):  While I didn't appreciate the corny poetry the author felt the need to include, so many of her insights about living in a culture other than your own - including langauge learning - really resonated with me. 

Grace for the Good Girl (Emily Freeman): Another book that really resonates with me, as I seek to understand what kind of difference God's grace really ought to make in the way I live my life.  I am very much a "Christian good girl".

If I can, I'll see if I can get Michelle to do a list of her favorites too!   And what about you?  What was the best book that you read this year?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Winter Weather Walk

It was very timely that last week's Outdoor Hour Challenge was to take a simple walk to observe and enjoy the weather.   This was irrresistibly easy for us to do because it snowed on Friday.  Really snowed.  Good and hard from about 9am until late in the afternoon.   A good 4-5 inches accumulated here in town, and I'm sure much more outside of town in the mountains.

We had hoped we would get a good snowstorm before we left for the tropics.  We got our wish.

You might recognize this tree from our tree study.

Someone asked me if my kids had ever been in snow before.   I think they have been...twice.  The first time was really only a dusting on the ground that melted in about an hour.   The second was a smaller snowstorm shortly after we arrived here at the end of January.

They were, in Michelle's words, delighted with it.   We took some time to read The Story of Snow.  Michelle made me promise to take this book to Africa with us "so we don't forget what snow is, Mama".   Yeah, I think we can manage that. =)

Michelle recorded the event in her nature journal.  Her entry reads "It's snowing today!  We saw snow today.  We even played in it.  We had a fun time playing in the snow.  But mom said she was getting cold."  (Yes, I admit I like snow better from the window with a warm drink in hand!)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

How we are Celebrating Advent This Year

There's been lots of discussions and posts online these days about how people are celebrating Advent.  I thought I'd throw mine into the mix too. =)

For several years now, we've been working towards making our celebrations of Christmas and Easter more Christ-focused.  We did an advent wreath for the first time the year Michelle was 14 months at Christmas time.  This year we don't have an actual wreath, but we still do have 5 candles, lighting one each week.  (Gotta make do with what you can find when you move as much as we do).  We've tried a variety of different devotionals, but until this year hadn't done anything that I particularly LIKED (at least, not well enough to repeat). 

(Side note on our 'display' - I got the cards on the easel online somewhere several years ago...sadly can't remember where now.  They are lovely, though, and small/lightweight enough to move around with us.  The nativity scene is from Peru - a gift from a friend, as I've never been there.  The cards on the wall were done by a Papua New Guinean artist.  Baby Jesus in a bilum - traditional, Papua New Guinean woven string bag, used for carrying anything, including babies!- makes me smile everytime I look at it.)

This year, we are using the symbols from Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree devotional, but not the devotions that go with them.  The devotional thoughts would be over my kids' heads (and as lovely as they are I sometimes have a hard time with her writing style as well, for what it's worth).   We are simply reading the Scripture reference to go with each symbol - tracing God's plan of salvation from the creation, through the fall, through the promises made to Noah and Abraham and David, the prophecies, arriving finally at the birth of Christ. 

Typically, our family time each evening looks like this:
- We light the candle(s) - depending on the week.
- We use the previous symbols to recount the story so far.
- One child opens the day's envelope that has the new symbol inside (and sometimes a special activity card like 'family movie night' or 'bake cookies together'), and they look at it.  They try to guess what the next part of the story might be.
- We read the story from the Bible (I've written the reference on the back).  We revisit the symbol and explain how the story relates.  Dan or I might add a sentence or 2 about how it points us forward to Jesus (very, very briefly).
- We sing a hymn or carol together (I've chosen one for each week of advent).
And that's it.  Simple.  Sweet.  Meaningful.

I was kind of nervous about using "just the Scripture" and not having some kind of devotional guide to go along with it.  But in actuality, the simplicity has been beautiful.  I never planned that we'd retell the story from the beginning each night...that just sort of happened.  But I think maybe they are starting to see the big picture of redemptive history.  I didn't learn that the Old Testament really had much to do with the New until I was in college, so any glimmer of understanding on their part puts them way ahead of me. =)

And, really, should I have been so surprised that Scripture is enough?  I'm not trying to bash the use of devotionals or anything, but I don't think we've ever finished any of the 'family devotionals' we've tried.  Even if I like them at the beginning (and I'm picky - so much of what is out there for this age group is just silly), we usually end up being disenchanted with them once we get into them.  Scripture - or a well-written Bible storybook for the littlest ones - is enough.  It can speak for itself.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Our Schedule, Part Three (What I Do with My Toddler)

Awhile back I did a two part series about how I handle scheduling in our homeschool. Here is part one and part two. I thought I would come back and add a part three to tell you about how I handle our toddler during school time. For awhile, we tried to do school during nap time, but then I realized that I need that downtime in the afternoon every bit as much as the kids do. And unlike my son, this toddler is not content to play fairly quietly by herself nearby. She is busy. Curious. Impulsive. Likes to jump, climb, run, and scream. Needs to be redirected towards constructive activities. Often. Very classic last-born, extroverted, 2-year-old.

She's cute though, isn't she? =) We think so too.

After a bit of brainstorming and tweaking, this is what I came up with. We've been using this system for about a couple months now, and while we certainly have 'off' days, overall it's working quite well for us. You will remember from my previous post about our daily schedule that I organize our day into blocks. (I've switched around our blocks a bit since my previous post, but the idea remains the same.) Basically, I have chosen an activity for Elizabeth to correspond with each block. This gives enough variety that usually she can "last" through the whole block without too much difficulty. I've also tried to strike a balance towards things that include her with us (because she so desperately wants to be involved in what we are doing) and things that will hopefully train her towards occupying herself independently. Right now, our schedule looks like this:

First Block - Elizabeth With Me: Before I start anyone's actual school work, I spend about 10-15 minutes JUST WITH ELIZABETH. We read a story together, just she and I, and then do some kind of simple activity. Often these days it's cut and paste (she's REALLY in to cut and paste right now). Sometimes puzzles. Sometimes playing with the alphabet letters. You get the idea. Basically just something simple that helps her feel a little more like she is involved and that we want her to be there. During this time Michelle (age 7) works on her independent work checklist and James (4) plays quietly by himself.

Second Block - Elizabeth With Michelle: I work with James for 20 minutes or so on word building and counting games. While I"m doing this, Michelle is responsible to do something with her little sister. Sometimes they read, sometimes they play or do puzzles, this morning they played playdough.

Third Block - Elizabeth With Me: This is our time where we do various things all together as a group - read poems, Aesop, sing French songs, etc. These are also the parts of our school morning that are the easiest to include the younger kids in. So, she is either on my lap during this time, or at the table doing something like scribble with dry erase markers or building with Math U See blocks. (I've also found that giving her time when it is OK to touch these things on the school table has helped her to keep her fingers out of them at other times, as a side benefit.) We do our French action songs at the end of this block which is a wiggle-reliever for all three kids.

Fourth Block - Snack Time: All three kids have a snack while I read aloud from a history or nature book (which Michelle narrates).

Fifth Block - Craft Time: I keep a special box of crafty things - paper scraps to cut up, coloring pages, dot markers, stickers, playdough, Kumon workbooks (for folding, cutting, mazes, etc) - that I don't get out at other times of day. Elizabeth and James get an activity out of this box while Michelle and I work together to finish her school work (going over her independent work, spelling, math, sometimes another read-aloud to narrate). There are heaps of ideas for busy bags for little ones out there on the internet, but frankly I don't have time to organize that kind of thing and I find that the simplest things are what keep my particular kids engaged the longest anyhow.

So that's what we do to keep our 2 year old happy and gainfully occupied for 2 hours while we try to do our schoolwork. Doesn't always work...but usually, it does. =)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Remember and Celebrate Grace

Last year, I posted a list of goals and intentions for the year.   I kind of chuckle when I look at it now.  Mostly because I didn't accomplish most of it. ;-)  That's not to say that I didn't accomplish things or grow as a person this year...I did!   It just didn't take the shape that I expected it to at the beginning of the year.   And that's OK.   I'm good with it.   I'm not planning to make or publish another list of goals and intentions for this year.   I may still try to chip away at some of those goals and intentions,  I'm just not going to worry myself so much about being able to check things off a nice tidy list.

Rather, I've chosen a broader intention...a theme, if you camp out on this coming year, which has grown out of a number of things I've thought about over the past couple of years already.   Recently, I've seen how those things connect together.  That intersection is something I want to consider and meditate on in this coming year.  That's where my title comes from: 
Remember and Celebrate Grace
In recent years, it's become apparent to me how much I take the grace of God in my life for granted.  I don't live like someone who has been set free from certain death.  This is apparent to me in my daily life.  I am task focused and more often than not attempting to complete those tasks on my own strengh.  I set legalistic standards for myself to follow (which carries over into my parenting and marriage) and put terrible pressure on myself when I can't perform.  I want to be able to extend grace to those around me (my husband and children first, and then others), but I can't if I don't fully understand how God's grace has been extended to me.
That's why 'remember' is the first idea here.  I want to remember the grace that God has shown me.  I want him to "restore unto me the joy of my salvation".   I want to truly understand the gospel and what it means in my everyday life.  I want it to color my daily life and overflow to those who live around me.  I've started this already by doing a slow, meditative study of the book of Romans...trying to look at it with fresh eyes and letting the truth of it seep into my life.  Other books and resources that have been helpful for influential in this journey so far include Jerry Bridges book The Discipline of Grace and Emily Freeman's Grace for the Good Girl.  I've appreciated Kendra's perspective on grace-full family life over at Preschoolers and Peace too.
A couple of the blogs that I like to follow are written by Catholics (especially this one).  One of the things I've noticed as I've followed along with these blogs is the way that they observe the various feasts and festivals of the church year - their year revolves around the rememberence and celebration of what God has done.  So many of their family traditions are wrapped up in these rememberences and celebrations. And they celebrate in ways that even the very littlest ones among them can understand and enter into the celebration too.  This strikes me as a very beautiful thing, and something that we've lost track of in our American Evangelical Protestant tradition (sadly, in my opinion).  In our family, we've attempted to bring a more Christ-centered focus to our Christmas and Easter celebrations, but this is an idea that I'd like to extend even further.  Starting this year - meaning this Church Year, beginning with this season of Advent - I would like to reflect on the various seasons of the Church Year and consider how we - even as evangelical Protestants from a non-liturgical tradition - can celebrate the extravagant grace He has extended to us and how our family traditions and celebrations can reflect His goodness.   I plan to read and reflect on the book Living the Church Year:Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross this year, with an eye to considering how it can apply to our family in the following 'church year' cycle.   Perhaps some of those meditations will spill over into this space too.

What about you?  Is there a theme that God has laid on your heart for the coming year?   Do you have any favorite resources, practices, or traditions that help you Remember and Celebrate Grace?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Our Tree Study - Autumn Follow Up

Nature study this month has taken on a very leaves/trees theme yet again this month.   I guess it's been kind of hard for it NOT to when we've been in the peak of autumn over this past month.  What's not to like about the beautiful colors and piles and piles of dry leaves to crunch through and play in?   Given that we won't get an 'autumn' again for another 3-4 years...we've been trying to live it up while we can.

We did take some time to make some autumn observations of our silver maple outside our apartment.   Interestingly enough, it was one of the very last trees in our neighborhood to start changing colors.   Finally one day while we were out we noticed that the leaves were starting to turn yellow just around the edges.  Eventually the whole tree turned yellow. 

 Sadly, I never got a picture of it in its prime. A storm blew through and blew most of the leaves down all at once.   Now it is completely bare.  "Just like when we got here, mama."   Michelle also noticed the "little buds left on the tree that will grow into new leaves in the spring...but we'll be gone by then."

We gathered some of the leaves that had fallen from the tree to sketch in our nature journals.

Michelle also wrote a final stanza to her "Tree in All Its Seasons" poem.  (As another side note, she wrote this completely by herself directly in her journal.  At the beginning of this year she was doing very little writing independently - mainly she was copying from things she dictated to me.  Her writing skills have blossomed this year, and her nature journal is such a wonderful record of this.)

Autumn Poem
Colors, Colors!
Different, different!
Nice, nice, good, happy happy!
Lovely, lovely
Red, green, yellow, gray, brown!

We're a little sad to be leaving the northern hemisphere with its seasons behind (in only 6 more weeks..eek)...but I was excited to read Amy's blog post here about how their family has noted seasonal variations in the tropics.   I'm looking forward to what there will be to explore in our new surroundings.   But in the meantime...we're hoping for a good snowstorm first. ;-)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How We Do...Bible, Part 3 - Personal Bible Study

In Part 1, I shared some of my general thoughts and background to how we are approaching Bible teaching in our family.  In Part 2, I shared about the things we do together as a family.   In this post, I'd like to talk about how I am starting to guide Michelle gently towards studying the Bible on her own.   Michelle is reading quite well, and likes to read for herself from her Bible, so I felt like this was a good time to start encouraging her to get into the Bible on her own on a regular basis.

In her schools, Charlotte Mason had her students reading concurrently from the Old and New Testaments.   She had her students read and narrate the Bible passages.  She would divide the readings up into short sections that included a complete thought.  Then she might read an appropriate section from a commentary to highlight the background or bring up interesting points for discussion.  She tried not to force personal applications.   There is a good summary of her methods in these two blog posts: here and here.   You can see a sample of the actual reading schedule used in her schools here.  I opted not to use the Year 1 selections since it is just selected Bible stories, most of which she is already familiar with, but I will probably pick up with the reading schedule described here in Year 2.

Because we've spent a large portion of this year in our Family Bible Reading on the Old Testament, I decided to start Michelle on an overview of the Life of Christ.  We will use the New Testament reading schedule laid out by Penny Gardner, although I am breaking some of the passages down into even smaller chunks to keep things reasonable for her.   We've been doing this for the past month or so, and it is going well so far.   This is the basic idea:

- Michelle reads the selection on her own.  (I'm trying to keep each section under 10 verses while at the same time breaking at natural points in each story.)
- She copies the title of the story into her "Bible Journal" and draws a picture to show what has happened in the story. 
- Later, when we get a chance to sit down together, I have her use her picture to narrate to me what happened.  If she has questions, we'll talk.  If I think of something interesting to add, I may, while being sensitive to not being too preachy.  I've been mulling over trying to work in a weekly mother-daughter tea-time, and this might be a good time to look at her journal together and discuss what she is learning. 
- We'll add major events and characters to our history timeline.  I want to emphasize the idea that the Bible stories are real, historical events just as much as the people and events we study for "history".  I also want her to be able to make connections with how other world events at the time helped shape the culture of the people we meet in the Bible.

And that's all.  As she gets older we may add in the use of commentaries, Bible background material, Bible Study methods, theology and apologetics, and so on.  It's exciting to think about the possibilities.  But if there's one thing I've learned in these first couple of years of homeschooling it's to keep things simple to begin with and build from there.   The idea is to develop a life-time habit of studying the Word.  No need to overwhelm her all at once!

Hope that these musings are helpful to someone!

Monday, November 12, 2012

What We've Learned - November 12, 2012

So...What Have you Learned?

Michelle (7)
1. We are learning to spell vowel-consonant-e words with blends.
2. I am writing full sentences from dictation at the end of the spelling lesson.
3. I am copying stories in cursive in my copybook.
4. I am trying to solve the word problems you read from your Kindle.
5. I read with mom from Climbing Higher.

James (4)
1. I am learning to read.
2. I am reading my new book about Jam. [All by himself! - I'm a proud Mama!]
3. We did a math game - the one that we play like Skipbo.
4. We have learned songs - "Le Petit Poisson" and "Vole, Vole Papillon"

Elizabeth (2-1/2)
"A, B, C, D, J, J."   (Followed by a rousing rendtion of the alphabet song!)

Mama (??)
Okay, nerd alert here. ;-)   One thing I've found very interesting to notice as I've studied French this year is the similar roots between certain French and English words.  Even more interesting is noticing that there is even a stronger relationship between certain words the way they were used 200 years ago (as in how they were used in a Jane Austen novel.)  For example, I have always sort of puzzled over the title of Sense and Sensibility.  In our modern English usage, someone who is "sensible" is someone who has good sense, right?  Here is where French enters in.  The French word "sensible" means someone who is emotionally sensitive.  Aha.   The perfect contrast between Elinor (sense) and Marianne (sensible, in the French sense).   Interesting, huh?  Okay,  maybe not.  But don't say I didn't warn you!

Hope you've have a good learning week in your home!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How We Do...Bible, Part 2 - Family Devotions

In Part 1, I gave some of the background to how we approach Bible in our family and homeschool.  Today, I want to tell you about how we are approaching Family Devotions.  Keep in mind that this is merely descriptive of what our family is doing at the moment.  This isn't some prescription for every family.  And it could change...and probably our children grow and change.  But hopefully, this will give you some ideas to think about. =)  Our children are currently age 7, 4, and 2-1/2 years old.

We started learning hymns together as a family several years ago - I think Michelle was around 4-1/2.  While we enjoy singing modern worship songs as well, I don't want my kids to miss out on the rich thought and spiritual heritage contained in the old hymns just because many churches don't sing them often (or because we live overseas and sing French songs at church!)  We approach hymn singing pretty simply.  I have an old hymnal and we have gone through and chosen hymns we'd like the kids to learn.  We sing one together as a family at the breakfast table, all of the verses, until we all know it pretty well.  This usually takes us 3-4 weeks.  Then we choose a new one.  Occasionally we go back and review one of the old ones.  And that's it.  Don't underestimate what even very young children can learn.  My 2 year old learns these songs right along with us.   She may not sing along at the table, but has been known to spontaneously burst into the chorus of "On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand" for no apparent reason.  =)   We also have various hymn albums loaded onto the MP3 players the kids have in their rooms to listen to at rest and bedtime.  Their favorite is Michael Card's Hymns album.

Scripture and Catechsim Memory
We started memorizing Scripture as a family when Michelle was around 3.   We started with really short, simple, selections and have proceeded from there.   We may do short passages (1-2 verses) for awhile, and then we'll switch gears and tackle something longer like a Psalm.  (We've done Psalms 100, 23, and 139:1-18).   Currently we are learning the Catechism for Young Children with a short passage to go with each question/answer.   We use a very slightly modified version of the Simply Charlotte Mason Scripture Memory System to keep everything organized.  I can't say enough good things about this system - it makes regular review of previous passages learned very, very simple.  Bonus: because of the regular review, my 4 year old has picked up on many of the verses that Michelle learned way back when he was an infant without really trying.

Bible Reading
We've tried a variety of things over the years, but with very young ones like ours the thing we come back to over and over again is just reading the old familiar Bible stories over and over again.  Currently, we are reading The Children's Bible in 365 Stories.   In the past, we have also read and enjoyed (and will probably read and enjoy again for the sake of the the littlest one) The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Child's Story Bible.   Michelle is ready for something more than this, but we'll be addressing that as part of her schoolwork.  But that's Part 3.

Other Bits and Pieces
We take a break from our regular Bible reading and do special devotions in the weeks leading up to Christmas and Easter.    Additionally, I also like to read missionary/Christian hero biographies with the kids.  I personally find these stories very inspirational and encouraging in my own Christian walk.  This year, I have read Missionary Stories with the Millers with Michelle.  We are also slowly collecting the picture books in this series which all three of ours are enjoying. 

Last but Not Least
Probably most important of all is remaining sensitive to the teachable moments that present themselves, and being sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I blogged previously about this topic here

Next time: How Michelle and I will be approaching personal Bible Study.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Daybook: The 2 Months and Counting Edition

Outside my window:: Sunny but cool.  I'm trying to enjoy the cool, since we are down to only 2 more months here in France before we head to the tropics. 2 months from today that is.  I'm told that January is the hottest part of the year where we are going.  Yes, enjoying the autumn and winter while I can.
We even had an eensy bit of snow a couple weeks ago!

Listening to:: The construction noises from the shop down at the bottom of our apartment building that is being renovated.  Yes, we are 4 flights up from it.  Makes me glad we aren't any closer!

Giving Thanks:: For rest time.  For being about 8 class sessions (over the next 4 weeks) away from being DONE with French school!  For tartelettes aux framboises and pain au chocolat from the bakery across the street.  For a super-helpful husband.  For getting a front row seat to things like your son learning how to read.  For a God who is still on His throne, no matter what.

Pondering:: Whether or not I like this new haircut or not.  After a string of bad hair days over the past week, I semi-impulsively gave in to that niggling temptation to chop it all off.  (Sorry no pics yet since I can't find the camera, but I snagged the photo I took to the salon with me from here - scroll down to the bottom.)   I've never had hair this short, save one really bad haircut when I was about 5 (that one was much, much worse however).  Takes some getting used to!  I will say I don't dislike it, even if the ultimate verdict is still out. It has been kind of fun watching people's reactions, however.  They've ranged from my 2 year old telling me that I "look like a grandma" to my French prof (who's the same age I am, so more of a peer than a teacher) who said that it made me look "jeune et dynamique" (young and dynamic) to my husband who said he liked it because it looks different (I think he was trying to be diplomatic) to a 40-something Japanese classmate who said that he loved it and thought I must have a really good hairdresser! 

Sorry if you were hoping for a deeper reflection than that.  That's all I've got for you today.  I am also mulling over this blog, lest you think I've gone completely shallow on you. =)

Living the Educational Life:: Click here to get the latest updates about what the kids have been up to, educationally speaking.  Yesterday was one proud homeschooling mama-day, however, as James read his very first sentence and Michelle passed her last addition facts test (meaning she's got all of them from 0+0 to 9+9 down.)  I am only going to French school 2 days per week now, and will finish at the end of this month.  So ready to just be a Mama again. 

What I Will Miss About France:: Living in a 4th floor apartment right in the middle of the downtown, pedestrian-access only area of a French town rich in history, with numerous bakeries, cafes, and a fantastic farmer's market literally 2 steps outside our door.

What I Won't Miss About France:: Living in a 4th floor apartment with 3 children aged 7 and under. (Think: No backyard.)

I also have to candidly admit that I won't miss all the cheese, although I'm certainly the only person in the family to feel this way!
Praying:: That we will be successful in applying for our Cameroonian visas by mail.  That I will be able to be fully present and responsive to the needs of my children during the major transitions that lie ahead.  That I would come to understand the grace given to me by my Savior more deeply everyday, and be able to extend it to my family and others around me.

Planning the Week Ahead:: Home and homeschooling...following up on visa and packing related stuff...French class Friday...potluck Saturday with our group of missionary colleagues.  Maybe staying on this blogging bandwagon I seem to have jumped back on? =)

Capturing a Moment:: About a year ago, we were preparing to come to France and bought the kids a CD called "Songs in French for Children".  They immediately fell in love with the song "Sur Le Pont d'Avignon" and so have sung it constantly for the last year.  Last weekend, we actually went to Avignon and got to see it!  How cool is that?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Family Reading #6

A few of the interesting things we've been reading at our house lately...

Picture Book Highlights
We've been reading and re-reading the All About Alfie collection by Shirley Hughes lately.  Sweet, simple little stories about a preschool-age boy named Alfie.  I like these because they are very true to life (ie, things that could actually happen) and show Alfie making good choices, but not at all in a way that is saccharin or preachy.  I'd put this collection on my top 5 list for preschoolers.

Michelle's Reading (Age 7)
Working her way through another Boxcar Children volume, when she isn't peeking into the books I have stashed away for later or reading ahead in books we are using for school.... 

Featured School Book
Michelle has been very fascinated by The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History. I'm not a big fan of Usborne books as 'spine' books for school..they aren't what Charlotte Mason would define as 'living books'. But I like keeping this one around as a reference resource.  Michelle loves flipping through and studying all the pictures in her spare time.  Most of the books we actually read from for history in school don't have pictures, so I like to be able to refer to the illustrated spreads for the time periods we are reading about.  Having some kind of visual point of reference has really made our history readings come alive.

Bedtime Read-Aloud
We recently finished reading A Little Princess, which I hadn't read since I was a girl.  I kept wanting to flip ahead to find out what was going to happen, always a good sign.  Unfortunately, reading off the Kindle makes this tricky....   Our new read-aloud is George MacDonald's The Light Princess.  Hmm, what's with the princess theme?

On Mama's Nightstand
Too many things, as usual, as evidenced by the sidebar.  My top three recent reads:
- SCM's new book, Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching.  Very interesting, very practical look at how math was handled in Charlotte Mason's schools.  I've been rethinking how we are doing math anyhow, so this was timely and helpful for me.  (And if this topic interests you too, go check out Math Week over at Afterthoughts!)
- The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge...historical fiction about the childhood of Richard, Duke of Normandy in the 900's.  I'm prereading this as it is one of the selections we'll use for AO Year 2, but I am finding it extremely interesting for myself too.  I love that I can learn and be enriched by the very same school books that I read to my young children.
- Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freeman.  Yes, I was (and if I'm honest, still am) the stereotypical 'good Christian girl' when I was in school.  And I've always struggled with whether or not anything I do is really good enough.   And ever since reading Jerry Bridges' book The Discipline of Grace last year, I've been thinking a lot about what difference God's grace makes in my life personally, and that of my family by extension.  This book is speaking to all of these issues.

What have you been reading chez nous?  I always love to glean new ideas...feel free to drop me a comment!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How We Do...Bible, Part 1 - A Little Background

For some time now, I've viewed Bible more as something we do devotionally as a family more than a school subject.  And honestly, I was a little bit afraid of including Bible as a school subject for fear that the kids would start viewing it as just that - school rather than something that should permeate their whole lives.  So, up until now, we'd done Bible primarly as "family devotions". time went on, it was becoming more and more difficult to make this family devotional time work.  I  realized that our children are all at different places in their spiritual understanding and needs. Trying to do Bible reading and 'family devotions' at a level to engage our 7 year old meant that the 2 and 4 year olds were missing out on the foundation that Michelle got in the basic Bible stories as a preschooler. Our family Bible times were quickly disintigrating since it was impossible to engage the little ones in the devotional we had selected for use with Michelle. I was also becoming more and more concerned that the devotional we were using was doing too much "connect the dots" and forcing connections rather than letting Michelle make her own connections with the Bible text or making space for the Holy Spirit to speak to her where she is. Allowing a child to make her own connections with the text, rather than always telling the child what to think, is another hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education.  Something needed to change.

My reading of Charlotte Mason's ideas, along with some helpful discussion over on the Ambleside Online forum, led me to the conclusion that there is a difference between Bible as a school subject - which is more Bible Study - and Bible as 'family devotions' which is less formal and more woven into the fabric of our family life.  Both are necessary, and I would say both complement each other as well.  Here and here is a two part blog series that summarizes well what Charlotte had to say about Bible as a school subject.  This section (scroll down to XIV. Bible Lessons) from  Home Education describes her ideas about how to approach Bible as a school subject for younger children (between ages 6 and 9).  And here (scroll down to point III) are her own words about the Divine Life of the Child, which concerns the natural teaching of the Bible in the family context.  This isn't an exhaustive list of everything that CM had to say about Bible teaching, but they are the bits that I found most helpful and instructive as I thought through the best way to approach this in our family.

It made sense to me (and Dan too, when I discussed it with him) to separate Bible into two different things - one done as a family and designed to engage all and a study appropriate to the age of the child as part of their "school".  In Part 2, I will share with you what we are doing in our studies as a family.   In Part 3, I will share how I am incorporating Bible Study as a school subject for Michelle.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What We've Learned - October 30, 2012

High time I popped in here with a learning update, since we have been learning lots behind the scenes even while the blog has been neglected. Sadly no photos..we're getting back into our groove one thing at a time here. =)

Michelle (7)
1. We are doing the letter u sounds in spelling.  Most of them are vowel-consonant-e words.
2. We are doing French in the book and listening to it on a CD.  (We finished the part of The Learnables Level 1 that was on the computer, and have proceeded to the workbook portion.)
3. We finished the cursive book, so now I am writing and doing copywork in cursive.  I am even writing notes in cursive. 
4. In history, I read about Hannibal leading his army from Carthage to Rome.   Only 3 elephants survived in the winter up in the Alps.

James (4)
1. We made the letters into words.*
2. We played the number game.  (Basically like War - the person whose card is "more" takes both cards.)
3. We did something in my math book. (MEP Reception)

*We finished working through all the alphabet sounds, and have starting working on putting together 3 letter, short vowel words.   He's been picking up on this idea really quickly!  You can read about this second stage of Charlotte Mason style reading instruction here or here.

Elizabeth (2.5)
What has she learned?  Michelle says that she loves running to the steps across the street and climbing them, and that she follows.  Yes, running and climbing describe Elizabeth well....when we can corral her, she is very in to cut-and-paste type activities these days.  And reading All About Alfie (by Shirley Hughes)

With my birthday money, I purchased the CD set of the 2005 Ambleside Online Conference, which has been really fantastic listening.  Definetely worth owning if you are a Charlotte Mason homeschooler!  I'm sure I'll revisit it again and again.  One nugget I really appreciated was the advice to take time to just enjoy my family.  It is easy as homeschooling mothers to be always "doing" and to not spend enough time "being".  But that is where the relationships are built, and ultimately that's what CM education is about - the child's relationship to God, to self, to others, and to ideas.   Also the idea that the little things that we do consistently over time add up and eventually yield a harvest.  Oh, that I could be faithful in the little things!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fall Nature Study


Sorry this place has been so quiet this past month!  We had visitors for two weeks.  Then we were recovering from them, as lovely as they were.  And then we bought plane tickets for moving to Africa in January, so we have entered full-blown transition mode now.  So, please accept my apologies if things are a little neglected around here.  I do have a lot I would like to share in this space...all in good time.

We have, however, had some really wonderful times of fall nature study, despite all the busy-ness.  I am feeling so very blessed that we have be able to enjoy autumn two years in a row before we go back to the tropics.

One thing we did was record the end of our Sunflower project.  We got to observe the seeds down there in the flower head...just like the ones we started with when we planted!  Everything came around full-circle.

Over on the Ambleside Online forum, a group of us has been reading and discussing the Handbook of Nature Study. It has been a wonderfully inspiring discussion.  One of the things we discussed was the balance between freedom and structure in nature study.  When do we let our children run loose and find the things that interest them, and when do we gently nudge them in the right direction?

Not long after this discussion, we decided to pop over to the park in between rain showers.  Inspired by one of the ideas from this month's Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter, we decided to see if we could find leaves in three different shapes and/or three different colors, which we did.   There was the structure.

 I also stopped to take a closer look at an evergreen tree that was covered with some kind of berries.

While I was trying to figure it out, Michelle noticed that there were mushrooms growing in the dirt under the tree.  Heaps of them.  Different kinds too. 

 We spent several minutes observing and counting them.  Michelle was absolutely fascinated.  There was our freedom.

We also stomped in the puddles on the way home.  What good is nature study on a wet day without some puddle stomping? =)

Hope you are enjoying the season wherever you are, too.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Family Reading #5

Some of the interesting reads we've discovered around here this week...

Picture Book Highlights
All of our children love the series about Camille the Giraffe by Jacques Duquennoy.  These simple French books are not high quality literature and border on twaddle.   But they are cute, simple, and have been a great way to introduce lots of French vocabulary.   We've been getting them from the library, but I think I may need to purchase a few to take with us when we leave.   All 3 kiddos ask for these regularly.

Michelle's Reading (7 next week!)
Yes, she's going to be 7 next week...that sounds so OLD to me. Sigh.  Anyhow, her favorite read lately has been the first book in the Boxcar Children series.  She has covered reams of paper with drawings of all of their adventures.   When Papa mentioned something at the dinner table the other night about an "orphan sock" in the laundry, Michelle pipes up: "I'm reading a book about orphans.  That means their mother and father have died."  Funny girl.

Featured School Book
We are most of the way through Among the Pond People by Clara Dillingham Pierson.   These cute stories really have a lot of facts about the various pond animals packed into them.  I've learned some interesting things myself!   This volume is part of a series of 5 that also cover the Meadow, Forest, Farm, and Night People.  We're looking forward to enjoying a couple more of them as part of our science and nature studies next year too.

Bedtime Read-Aloud
We finished Charlotte's Web, which was loved by all. Our current read-aloud is A Little Princess which we are enjoying as well.  We also recently ditched the devotional we were using and have gone back to reading from a Bible story book (The Children's Bible in 365 Stories) so as to better engage the two littlest in our "family" Bible time.  So far, so good.

On Mama's Nightstand
Too many!!  All of those books on the sidebar over there...yes I'm slowly reading through them.  Depends on the day and what I'm in the mood for. =)  I have also recently been on a Kindle downloading binge in part due to an Amazon gift card for my birthday and in part due to a huge list of FREE classic missionary biographies that someone posted over on the Ambleside Online forum earlier this week. =)  New to me books = Happy Mama.   Currently from this treasure hoard I am reading Sleeping Coconuts by John and Bonnie Nystrom.   We knew the Nystroms when we worked in Papua New Guinea.  Their story was familiar to me, but I am enjoying reading the backstory and their insights into what God taught them...some have been particularly timely and convicting.   I have also run across many friends, colleagues, and neighbors in the pages of this's a little weird (in a good way!) to read about people I know in real life as book characters.  If you enjoy the missionary biography genre, you'll probably enjoy this book too.

What have you been reading this week?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What We've Learned - September 7, 2012

A few of the highlights of our last learning week (sorry I didn't manage any photos this time):

Michelle, Age 6-1/2
1. We read about the slow mud turtle [in Among the Pond People].  I got to tell 4 things about the story.  My favorite part was when the turtle came home and he wanted his brothers to know he was home, and his brothers thought he wanted them to eat and they told him that they weren't hungry.
2. We read in Aesop's Fables about the Astrologer who tried to read the future in the stars and fell into a hole full of mud!
3. I did Math-U-See on the computer and noticed there were 20 problems in all. [She is referring to the drill program on the Math U See website].
4. We did more cursive - little j and Big H and Big I.

James, Age 4
Unavailable for comment this week. =)  But trust me when I say he is learning far more than even I realize sometime.  He recently wrote his name, with all the letters formed correctly and facing the same direction, even though I had never taught him that.  This boy is like a sponge.

Elizabeth, Age 2-1/2
"I learned to sing to Grandma!"    (She wanted me to put this in, by the way.  So there you go.  She has been singing "Happy Birthday" to grandma ever since we made a birthday video for her several weeks ago.)

Mama, Age ?? ;-)
I have been meaning to eventually get back to my series on Charlotte Mason's writings, and maybe someday I will.  Just this week, however, I was reading in CM's Philosophy of Education about how education should be a lifelong thing, not something that is restricted to the time spent in school.  So I thought that maybe I should weigh in here with something that I have been learning too. (And no, I'll try not to bore you with details of French grammar!) ;-)

So, here is a little nugget I gleaned from my reading in Philosophy of Education this past week:
"As for literature - to introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served."
One of the main tenets of a Charlotte Mason education is that our minds feed off ideas and not facts alone.  What have you learned more from: a thought-provoking novel or essay, or your ninth grade biology textbook?  This was such a beautiful reminder to me as to why we have chosen to educate our children the way that we do.

Hope you've had a good learning week in your home too!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Family Reading #4

A few of the interesting books we've been into at our house lately...

Picture Book Highlights
I've read One Morning in Maine and Burt Dow, Deep Water Man multiple times in recent weeks.  And all the pages have fallen out of our copy of Blueberries for Sal, so I just ordered a new one.  Can't ever go wrong with Robert McCloskey.  Hands down my very favorite children's picture book author.  If you haven't read his it now.  Snuggle up with your little ones and enjoy!

Michelle's Reading (Age 6-1/2)
Michelle has made her first foray into reading real chapter books on her own with the first couple of volumes in The Cobblestreet Cousins series by Cynthia Rylant.  (Shh, don't tell her, but she's getting the rest of the series for her birthday!)

Featured School Book
We've been enjoying James Baldwin's Thirty Famous Stories as an introduction to some of the characters (both true and legendary) in history.  We just finished reading the last of 6 installments of his re-telling of the Greek legend of Ulysses and Penelope....Michelle kept asking what was going to happen next, and was so happy when...oh wait, I won't spoil the ending for you. =)

Bedtime Read-Aloud
We just finished reading The Wizard of Oz, which we all enjoyed.  (I love Michelle's picture below...keep in mind she hasn't seen the movie, either!)  Even Papa kept wanting to listen in to this one!  (Although FYI, it does include magic and may want to skip this book if those are things you prefer not to read about.)   We've now started Charlotte's Web.  I keep finding Michelle trying to read ahead in it when I'm not looking.  I take this as a good sign...

On Mama's Nightstand
I'm continuing to work my way through Le Chateau de Ma Mere by Marcel Pagnol. [ETA: Between writing and posting this post, I finished it!  So exciting to actually be able to read and enjoy a French novel!] And in the rest of my spare time (ha, ha), I really enjoyed reading through The Writer's Jungle recently.  Teaching good writing was something I never felt I got a good grip on in my classroom teaching years, so this is an exciting find for me.  Rather than being a collection of formulaic writing assignments, it's a manual that walks you through each of the stages of learning how to write with suggestions for appropriate activities along the way.  It is in line with many Charlotte Mason principles and designed to help you do writing across the curriculum rather than isolating the subject of writing on its own.

So, what have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Our Sunflower Project

This summer, thanks to one of Barb's suggestions in the Summer Sizzle Outdoor Hour Challenge Ebook, we decided to plant sunflower seeds in pots on our apartment balcony.   It has been such fun to watch them grow this summer!

We started them from seed on June 26, and have periodically measured and sketched them as they grew.
A couple of Michelle's sketches of the progress of our sunflower plants.
On August 24, our first flower actually blossomed!  So we took some time to observe our flowers carefully using the grid provided in the ebook.

Michelle's Nature Journal Page
 We like to take photos of our nature subjects and put them up on the computer screen so we can easily sketch the details.

My Journal Page
Our flower is 48 inches tall (measuring up from the dirt, so this doesn't count the height of the pot) and 5 inches across.  It has 40 petals.  Michelle described it this way:
The leaf has yellowish dots on it and the rest is green.  The leaf has a heart shape with a tip on the bottom and going up like the shape of the heart.  It feels fuzzy wuzzy wuzzy.  The flower is a circle that goes around and around and around.  It is a flower family - that means there are a lot of flowers.  Its colors are bright yellow and orange.

Counting petals with James.  You can see the outdoor market in our street way down below. =)
That bit about the sunflower being a "flower family" was new to me - an interesting tidbit gleaned from The Handbook of Nature Study (the actual book, not the blog. =))  Sunflowers are composite flowers, meaning that the "flower" is actually made of many small flowers all clustered together.  And sure enough, if you look carefully, the center of the flower is made up of many tiny flowers.  The flowers around the outside edge are waving 'banners' (petals) to attract bees to their nectar and pollen.  Kinda interesting, isn't it?
Yup, the sunflower has outgrown Michelle. 

 This was truly a simple nature project that I think anyone can do...even if you don't consider yourself outdoorsy or happen to live on the 4th floor of an apartment building in the middle of the downtown area of your city.  ;-) Also, the sunflowers grew fast and watching them grow has kept my young children interested all summer - so also a good project for little ones with short attention spans.  I highly recommend it if you are looking for a way to get your feet wet with Nature Study!