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.