Saturday, June 29, 2013

Quotes worth Pondering: The Sacredness of Personality

Some of the things I’m chewing on as I reflect on Charlotte Mason’s Fourth Principle of Education:
Towards a Philosophy of Education (Volume 6) – Charlotte Mason
This may be one of my very favorite CM quotes: “Our crying need today is less for a better method of education than for an adequate conception of children – children merely as human beings, whether brilliant or dull, precocious or backward.”  (p.80)
“…it is ours to ‘become as little children,’ rather than theirs to become as grown men and women…”  (p.81)
In the intellectual field, however, there is danger; and nothing worse could have happened to our schools than the system of marks, prizes, place-taking, by which many of them are practically governed.  A boy is so taken up with the desire to forge ahead that there is no time to think of anything else.  What he learns is not interesting to him; he works to get his remove.” (p.85)
…knowledge is delectable.”  (p.89)
But mind does not live and grow upon entertainment; it requires solid meals.” (p.90)
[Let us] make the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake the object of our educational efforts.” (p.93)
For the Children’s Sake – Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
“The Christian view of the child does not allow him to be conditioned as a dog may be conditioned to respond to a bell.  We must have due respect for the sacredness of his separate personality.  Therefore, we treat him with dignity, allowing for his weakness and need of support at any given stage.”  (p.65-66)
“And the Holy Spirit is the One who works deeply into our personal lives.  We must never presume to usurp His work.  It is dangerous to think that we are entitled to do so because we are parents, family, teachers, church workers, or adults.” (p.67)
Others worry more about the grade than about actually learning anything for its own value or for their personal need.  They are always focusing on what it looks like to others, rather than one the interest of what they are reading about.” (p.68)
“Can we lead children naturally into excellence in skills, and at the same time stimulate their minds with the sheer pleasure of knowledge?  If they aren’t interested in the material we offer them, something is wrong.” (p.69)
School Education (Volume 3) – Charlotte Mason
Now to work a machine such as a typewriter or a bicycle, one must, before all things, have practice, one must have got into the way of working it involuntarily, without giving any thought to the matter: and to give a child this power over himself – first in response to the will of another, later, in response to his own, is to make a man of him.” (p.20)
“…authority is not a gift, but a grace.” (p.24)
Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice; children recognize it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart.  Perhaps the best aid to the maintenance of authority in the home is for those in authority to ask themselves daily that question which was presumptuously put to our Lord – ‘who gave Thee this authority?’” (p.24)
“The Spirit of Competition – Should it be Encouraged?” Parent’s Review
“The true aim of education should be the free and natural development of all the faculties in each child, physical, moral, and mental, together, and in harmony, to develop the best types of manhood and womanhood, leaving the material interests of the future to depend on the realization of this full development.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Nature Study Monday: Chrysalis!

(Or Wednesday, as the case may be.  Sometimes our wonky internet connection interferes with my good intentions to post more regularly...)
You may remember that we’ve been keeping a caterpillar to observe for a while.   We’ve faithfully changed his leaves, we’ve seen him shed his skin a few times as he’s grown, and generally enjoyed the process.
Last Thursday (June 20), Michelle noticed that he had attached himself to the lid of the container we’ve been keeping him in.   “Mom! I bet he’s going to go into his cocoon!”    Sure enough, we looked again a few hours later and that’s just what he had done!   Shed his ‘spiny’ skin one last time and finally transformed himself!
Sorry about the eerie red glow - he attached himself to the transluscent red lid of  his tupperware-home.

After looking up the information about insects and butterflies in particular in the Handbook of Nature Study, we discovered that butterflies don’t actually make cocoons.  The correct term for a butterfly pupa is a chrysalis.   I don’t think I had ever realized the difference between these things, even though I’d heard the terminology before.  From HONS p. 296:
“Many larvae, especially among the moths, weave about themselves a covering of silk which serves to protect them for their enemies and the weather during the helpless pupa period.  This silken covering is called a cocoon.  The larvae of butterflies do not make a silken cocoon, but the pupa is suspended to some object by a silken knob, sometimes by a halter of silk, and remains entirely naked.  The pupa of a butterfly is called a chrysalis.”
His body shape has very obviously transformed – although the patterning and color scheme are the same - and if you look carefully you can see the shape of his wings beginning to form.   We can also see very faintly the silken threads by which he attached himself to the lid of our container.   So fascinating.
Sorry this photo isn't so clear, but it does show the wing shape pretty well.

 We’ve had some interesting conversations too, as my little ones have asked “How does he know how to shed his skin, mama?  How does he know how to make his chrysalis?” 
“Well, he doesn’t really know.  You don’t know how your teeth fall out, do you?”  (Yes, Michelle is the teeth-losing stage.  She’s lost 3 already, and is eagerly awaiting the day that she will catch up to her friend who has already lost 6!!  The two front ones don’t have much longer to live…)
“No, not really.  They just do.”
“That’s right.  God designed your body to just know to do that as you grow.  The same thing with the caterpillar.   He doesn’t know HOW he sheds his skin or exactly when to become a chrysalis.   That’s just the way God made him.  God made his body to know how to do that at just the right time.”
At which point 3-year-old Elizabeth stood up on her chair and yelled “GOD MADE HIM TO DO THAT!”
Don’t we serve an amazingly creative God?  
PS – We’re making some guesses how long it will take him to become an adult butterfly – I’m guessing 2 weeks and Michelle says 3!   We’ll keep you posted!!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why we use Ambleside Online

We decided when our oldest was about 3 that we wanted to homeschool.  In the next several years that followed, I did a copious amount of curriculum research.  Trust me, if it’s out there, I’ve probably looked at its website.  I have ordered (and then decided I didn’t really want to use) packages from Abeka, Sonlight, and My Father’s World.  (Nothing personal if you use one of these, but they weren’t a good fit for us.)  I thought for quite a while that we might use Simply Charlotte Mason’s materials.   I tried working out my own curriculum plan from scratch.   I wasted a lot of money, a lot of time, and drove my husband crazy researching things that I ended up deciding not to use.    I had looked at AO before earlier in my curriculum research and dismissed it.  But it was always there in the back of my mind, and after I’d been around the block a few times I came back to it and realized that it was what I had been looking for.
Here are a few reasons, in no particular order, that we are really happy with our choice of Ambleside Online as our curriculum guide:
It is literature based.  I knew pretty early on that I preferred to use something literature based over something  textbook based.   AO uses some of the finest literature out there.
It is rigorous – this is part of what scared me off from it in the first place.  Not only does it use FINE literature, it uses CHALLENGING literature.  But if you study it carefully, you will see that it is built really well, each year gradually increasing in complexity and depth.   And now as I am digging into Year 1 with my 7 year old, I’m finding that not only is SHE learning from the books we are reading – I am learning from them too.   When we had month off during our mission’s co-op session in April, I found that I missed the intellectual stimulation of reading the AO book selections with her.   And this is only Year 1!  I love that I can learn and grow and fill in some of the gaps of my less-than-stellar public school education along with my children.  Looking at the upper-level (middle and high school) years can kind of intimidate me – I haven’t read most of that stuff!  But it also excites me knowing that if we keep going with AO, they will eventually grow into people who are ready to tackle the books on those lists.   My kids won’t just learn “content” – they’ll also gain the ability to think.
It is really well-built.  The Advisory ladies that put the booklists together did a meticulous job of choosing excellent books, tying together themes and historical periods, and so on.  I could never in a million years design my own curriculum plan as well as the advisory has.  It is also built from a Biblical, ‘character building’ basis without being moralizing, preachy or afraid of considering other points of view, which I appreciate.
I also really like how they spread out the history time periods across the years.  They use a 6-year rotation that I feel is divided up well across the years.  It doesn’t try to smash everything in to 3 or 4 years, nor does it overemphasize certain historical periods over others.  (Simply Charlotte Mason, for example, has a 6-year rotation too, but it spends three of those years on ancient history and the remaining three smashing in everything since the fall of Rome.  Seems kind of out-of-balance to me.)
It strikes a good balance between structure in flexibility.   Part of the reason why a standard boxed curriculum wasn’t a good fit for us was that I am a tweaker.  I don’t want to pay for an expensive teacher’s guide knowing that I will probably want to structure things differently or order a package of books knowing I may want to switch some of them around.   AO provides the booklist and a weekly reading schedule, so I’m not having to start with planning at square one, but it is easy enough to tweak things or swap certain books around if I want (without having to throw the whole thing out).  I also appreciate being able to choose the math and language arts resources that meet our family’s needs and my children’s abilities.   (Michelle for example is ahead of her age/grade in her reading and language arts skills, and a little behind in math.  A standard “first grade” packaged program wouldn’t necessarily meet her needs very well.)
The ladies on the AO Forum are just fantastic, thoughtful women.  I have learned SO VERY MUCH from their wisdom and insight.   (It’s also nice to have a community, albeit a virtual one, that are as crazy about books as I am!!)
It is economical.  The booklists, schedules, forum, and wealth of other information on their website is all available for free.  Many of the books used are available for free or at very reasonable cost – and many of them are available in Kindle format which helps us with shipping costs since we live overseas.   And each “year” is non-consumable, meaning that once I’ve purchased one set of books, I can use them again for my remaining students.  All I will need for James and Elizabeth’s “year 1” will be basic school supplies and a new math workbook.
That all said…AO still may not be for everyone.  As they state on the front page of their website, a parent wanting to use AO needs to be willing to investigate and understand Charlotte Mason’s methods, some of which may seem really unconventional to those of us educated in a standard institutional school setting.  The booklists alone won’t give your kids a “Charlotte Mason education”.   Personally, I’ve found this investigation well worth the effort.   But it’s not as simple as an “open and go” curriculum package might be.   But maybe if you’re like me and a curriculum package just isn’t suiting your needs, and designing your own curriculum seems daunting, Ambleside Online might be worth another look.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Charlotte Mason on Parenting

Principle #3 “The principle of Authority on the one hand and Docility [teachableness] on the other are natural, necessary, and fundamental.”
Although Charlotte Mason placed a great deal of emphasis on the personhood and ‘sacredness’ of the child’s personality, she in no way meant that we should just allow children to go along in their own merry way to do whatever they want.   She recognized that a child won’t choose to do right on their own, and left to their own devices they will grow up to be selfish tyrants and of little use to society.  She notes that all people who grew up to be “great” in a historical sense had parents who exercised their authority.   We should give children a certain degree of freedom, yes, but always within boundaries.   Learning to obey parental authority at a young age lays the groundwork for growth in other virtues, helps children learn how to respect others, and helps to prepare them for adult life –  even as adults there are certain laws and constraints that we must obey, like it or not.  (Traffic laws, for example, or our boss at work.)  And we all, no matter our age, must learn to submit to God’s authority.
Much of the parenting “wisdom” out there today goes to one extreme or the other – complete permissiveness on one side, and harsh, exacting control on the other.  As a new parent I read as much parenting advice as I could get my hands on and ended up thoroughly confused – even in Christian circles, we see both extremes.  In her writings, Charlotte shows us another way. We aren’t to rule over our children arbitrarily – we rule as those who are also under Authority.  We must recognize that we are under God’s authority, and any position of authority we are given comes from Him.  Recognizing this keeps us from sliding into despotism that rules by fear and punishment.  We too must be docile – teachable.  We come alongside our children/students and learn together with them.   Even in our authority, we need to remain approachable.
What does this look like?   As much as I like this idea, I struggle to know how to flesh it out in real life.   Some of the ideas I gleaned from my reading on this principle:
  • Authority considers and tries to understand what our children truly need.   We need to be willing to keep our priorities straight and be willing to sacrifice for them.
  • Our requirements must be just – based on what is right according to the Bible, not arbitrary or capricious (or merely what is convenient for us at the moment.)
  • Authority needs to be consistent, faithful, and dependent on the Father.
  • Authority shepherds our children gently and positively towards good habits and good character, rather than slamming them and leading them to believe that they ‘can’t do anything right’.   We need to exercise tact and good judgment.
  • We have no excuse to be angry and aggressive with our children or to take out our own failures and frustrations on them.  If we do, we should acknowledge we have done wrong and apologize.
  • We should view ourselves as our children’s allies in this endeavor – we are working with them.
  • We need to remember we are encouraging our children towards autonomy – that which a child CAN do or decide for himself He should.   As they grow, we need to gradually release our control, and recognize that when they reach adulthood they will no longer be under our authority.
  • Authority expects obedience, but out of the context of a trusting, sympathetic, loving relationship with the child.
  • Authority expects obedience ‘because this is right’ not ‘because I said so’.
  • Authority has foresight and anticipates what the child needs and helps to divert the child from tempting situations.
  • Authority does not become weary in well-doing.
I admit that I often fall short of this ideal.   (There are reasons why this is primarily an education blog, and not a parenting advice blog!)  But I appreciate that Charlotte lays a clear, balanced goal for us to work towards as parents and teachers.   
For more reading on the practical fleshing-out of this principle, I especially appreciated these two articles from our reading assignments:  Authority in Perspective and At School with Charlotte: How Authority Behaves.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Quotes Worth Pondering: Authority and Docility

Some of the ideas I am chewing on as a savor the readings that pertain to Principle #3 as part of the Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Study…
Towards a Philosophy of Education (Volume 6), Charlotte Mason
“…authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist and, except it be abused, is entirely congenial to those on whom it is exercised: we are so made that we like to be ordered even if the ordering be only that of circumstances.”  (p. 69)
“The principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that is also universal.   If a man in the pride of his heart decline other authority, he will submit himself slavishly to his ‘star’ or his ‘destiny’. (p.69)
“The same two principles work in every child, the one producing an ordered life, the other making for rebellion, and the crux in bringing up children is to find the mean which shall keep a child true to his elliptical orbit…The life that does not obey such conditions has got out of its orbit and is not of use to society.  It is necessary what we should all follow an ordered course, and children, even infant children, must begin in the way in which they will have to go on.”  (p.70)
“Docility implies equality; there is no great gulf fixed between teacher and taught; both are pursuing the same ends, engaged on the same theme, enriched by mutual interests; and probably the quite delightful pursuit of knowledge affords the only intrinsic liberty for both teacher and taught.” (p. 71)
“The conditions are, - the teacher, or other head, may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience.” (p. 73)
For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
“We should daily look into God’s Word and see this path by His clear light.  The shepherd leads into the paths of righteousness.” (p.51)
“When I am honest, as a parent, I know that I am all too often aggressive toward the child.  I am angry at him, because I am angry at my own failures.  I want this child to be the perfect human being that I somehow failed to become…None of us live up very well to that model of righteousness, the loving Shepherd-Leader who is perfect Himself and can lead into the paths of righteousness in love.  Such honesty strengthens our office…Thank God that the reality of righteousness is not based on the level I achieve myself!”  (p. 53)
“Harshness, fear, and autocracy are ruled out if we follow the New Testament teaching that leadership means a serving of the other person.” (p.54)”
“All other right authority is of the same origin and has its measure of the same force, following this wonderful type: in its proper form and operation, it uses love and wisdom in mediatorial service as the minister of good to the body social and politic, and to its individual members according to their needs.”
“We must and will exert Authority to keep the growth straight and true, as we put supports around young trees that they may not be blown away by every wind. By-and-by when they have thrust down their roots into the earth and put up to heaven their branches, we remove the ties and the trees stand firm and straight. So, too, as the child grows bigger we relax and in the end remove entirely our Authority.”
“My observations upon children brought up throughout without Authority have naturally been somewhat limited, but from what I have seen I am certainly disposed to regard them as rather disagreeable little people, setting an inordinate value on their own judgment and no value at all on the judgment of anyone else; while in any disputed point if a verdict be given against them they are inclined to cry out that justice no longer exists. Nor have I observed, so far as I have been able to observe at all, that they eventually make better or more amiable men and women. To conclude: It is not good for anyone to have his own way always--not even when he is grown up--much less is it good for children.”

“Unreasoning Obedience” (Parent’s Review)
“Surely to insist upon its doing so, is to lower the whole conception of obedience as a virtue in itself. It is not only for the sake of convenience that children are made to obey, but because obedience is a beautiful thing and because it calls forth other beautiful things--trustfulness, self-denial, self-control, grateful reverence for the best, where it is seen. It is the great solution of all that is strange and difficult in our lives. For, after all, the will of a parent is only a faint foreshadowing of the many inexplicable laws of life which will have to be recognized and obeyed. Can there be a better training for those higher laws than the discipline of obedience in childhood, when love makes it easy?”

“Again, unreasoning obedience is a useful counterbalance to that strong individualism which is natural to every child, but which soon develops into selfishness unless the child is taught to respect the importance of others and to regard himself as insignificant compared with the community of which he forms a part.”

“Authority in Perspective” by Tara Schorr (ChildLight USA Blog)
In other words, the relationships are modeled after a loving family, not a boss and employers. It is supposed to be enabling and releasing, not managing or using.”

“These are the principles that should inform our daily lives, actions, and decisions. Are we being watchful over our students so that they are challenged in a positive way? Are we impatient and expect things from them that we haven’t properly trained them enough in? Do we care about their feelings, even if they seem insignificant from our adult perspective? Do we put them first, above our own comfort and convenience? Do we really listen to them? Are we nurturing and affectionately loving them through the fun, the tedious, and the challenging? Are we regularly weighing and adjusting according to their development and growing maturity? Are we being tender when bringing correction? Do they feel safe with us, and know that in all things we have their best interests in mind?”

Monday, June 10, 2013

What I Love About Charlotte Mason

There are a lot of things that I love about Charlotte Mason, actually.  
I could tell you how I love how the Charlotte Mason philosophy addresses the whole person, and not just the intellect.   I could tell you about the way that I have learned to appreciate poetry, art, and nature in ways I never did growing up in the public school system.  I could tell you about all the wonderful, wise folks I’ve met (at least virtually, through forums and blogs) in the Charlotte Mason community.  I could tell you how enriched our family life has been and the better parent I’ve become because of the influence of her ideas.  I’ve written before about Simplicity and Life.
But I think maybe the thing that I love the most is the way she used books.   I had a big a-ha moment about this last week when I was chatting with a friend who is curious about learning more about Charlotte Mason.   Let me see if I can explain to you what we chatted about.
One of the first and most obvious hallmarks of a Charlotte Mason education is of course her use of “living books” as opposed to textbooks.  On a surface level, one can say that the use of living books makes learning more interesting, and therefore more likely to “stick”.   Who wouldn’t rather read an engaging historical novel or biography rather than read-and-outline yet another textbook chapter?   Stories captivate our minds and feed our curiosity in ways that a textbook just can’t.  
However, Charlotte didn’t advocate the use of just “any” books that weren’t textbooks – she insisted on the best literature available.  To truly pass the “living book” test, a book had to be high quality, written in strong, literary language.   Many of these books are challenging – the mind has to work to be able to digest them.   So even while a student is learning the necessary ‘content’ of history or science or geography, they are also learning how to exercise their minds and explore ideas – skills that are useful no matter where your path in life takes you. 
And it goes even further – beyond these academic and intellectual benefits.  Reading living books together with our children provides the opportunity to pass on our values and instill good character in a very natural, non-preachy way.    Biographies, folk and fairy tales, literature, history, and of course the ultimate living book – the Bible - all provide us with opportunities to be inspired be the good and warned by the bad.  Through the process of narration and discussion we can explore ideas further – choices and consequences, cause and effect, what would we have done in a similar situation,  what does the Bible say about this or that?   The possibilities are endless.   No separate “character building” curriculum required.
A final side benefit I’ve discovered of using engaging, high-quality books in our homeschool, even if perhaps it wasn’t one that Charlotte herself wrote about:  I am learning SO MUCH from reading along with my kids.  Yes, even as young as mine still are…there’s something for mama even preschool and first grade!  I never knew anything about British history or the particular habits of African wildlife, but I do now.  I have found myself pondering ideas and finding connections between things we have read in our Year 1 schoolbooks and situations I have been in, conversations I have had, or things I have come across in my own reading.  I love curling up on the couch with my kids for tea-and-reading time (something that has recently become part of our morning school routine) and am just as curious as they are to find out what might happen next…this is one of those things that keeps me plugging along when the task of homeschooling seems too daunting and I’m ready to throw in the towel.
Yes, there are many things I love about Charlotte Mason.  But I think the books are the part I love best of all.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Something New To Us This Year: History Timeline Notebook

Last year, we attempted to keep a wall timeline with our history readings.    We ran into a couple of problems with that.
The first problem was that because it had to fit on the WALL, we were limited in space.  I only allowed half a page for each century.  This might be fine if you want to do a simple “list” style timeline, but not so much if you want to add images.   We very quickly ran out of space in certain centuries, with lots of blank spots in others.
The other problem is that it KEPT FALLING DOWN.   So in the end…we ditched it.  It was just too frustrating.
So, for this year, we decided to start again, and this time we are doing a timeline notebook.   I also decided to switch curriculums to Ambleside Online, beginning with Year 1 – another good reason to start fresh.  (Why we switched to AO…well that’s a topic for another time ;-)
The basic setup is similar to our wall timeline.  The opening page starts with Creation:
Then we have a two page spread for events prior to 2000 BC.  Regardless of if you hold to a “young earth” or “old earth” view of origins, many dates before this are in dispute, and I just didn’t want to get into that with my very young students.  
Then after that, we have a two page spread for each century until the present, with a tab to divide the ‘BC’ years from the ‘AD’  years.   I inserted our family (including grandparents) in their appropriate spaces too (the kids are featured on the AD 2000 page.) 

 The additional tabs in the back are for adding any appropriate notebook pages, maps, or other documents and projects we may do as we go along. There is one tab for each major era: Ancients, Medieval, Renaissance and Reformation, Early Modern, and Modern. We haven’t done a whole lot that with that yet, however, other than to add a notebook page about our artist for the term.

At the end of every AO week, we add the figures for any historical people we studied that week.   Already, we’re starting to discover who lived around the same time as whom.   Over time, we’ll start to see even more of the big picture and make even more connections. 
It is my intention to continue with this same notebook for AO Years 1-6, which represents the first “pass” through history.   For Years 7-12 (the second “pass” through history), we’ll probably look into keeping a true Book of Centuries – something like this.  Each of my younger children will begin their own notebook when they start AO Year 1, when they are around 6.5-7 years old.
Oh…and about our timeline figures: many of them were taken from the Homeschool in the Woods Timeline figures CD, and the rest I did a simple search on Google to find images for the figures that weren’t included in the set.  I continue to use the Homeschool in the Woods figures because I have them, but if I could go back and do it over again, I’m not sure that I would buy the CD.  While they are lovely, it is just as easy to search on Google for an appropriate image as to search the CD and Google has the advantage of being free.  (All that to say, if you’re on a budget, I’d recommend saving your money for something else.)   I went through and printed a full set of figures for the entirety of AO Year 1, organized by weeks ahead of time.   This is a necessity for me, because the chances of it actually getting done if I don’t organize ahead of time are slim to none.   It’s a little tedious, but then it’s done for the whole year (and the document saved for future students!!)  Later on down the road, I may let each child decide who they want to include in their notebook – perhaps when they are old enough to search for and print their own images.   We’ll see.  For now this system is working well for us.
So there you have it...our history notebook!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Nature Study Monday: Mango Season is Upon Us

Here, I told you that we were planning to keep an eye on the mango tree in our front yard.   I wanted to come back and update you: mango season is now upon us!   We spent some time last week journaling about mangos….
By Elizabeth, Age 3

 Mango season has finally arrived.  Mangos are falling from the tree left and right. (Too bad that the gardeners and birds get to them before we do much of the time!  Thankfully they are also cheap and abundant in the local markets right now.)
By James, Age Almost 5
We found this mango in the grass in our yard.
By Michelle, Age 7-1/2

 We think that a bird probably got to this one, since it was much too large of a chunk eaten out of it to have been just insects.  (We’ve seen lots of brown birds yet-to-be-identified in this tree, and have seen them munching on the mangos before.)
By Mama, Age Undisclosed!

 Now it is covered with all kinds of insects: flies, large and small ants, even a bee.  And now a horsefly!  Fascinating to watch so many different creatures attracted to this one fallen mango.
The model we were sketching from

Saturday, June 1, 2013

What We've Learned: May 2013

May has been a good learning month at our house.  For the first time in a very long time…perhaps in our entire homeschooling career…I feel like we’ve settled into a really good, sustainable rhythm that we can keep for a while.  That’s nice.  (Of course watch – now that I’ve said this, something’s gonna change!)   Part of this has to do with moving around our school area (you can see photos of our “school room” here).   Having our couch and school table face towards the back windows, rather than the playground out the front windows, has made a tremendous difference in terms of distractions.
Some of our highlights from the past month:
Michelle (Age 7-1/2, Completing “Grade 1”)
We are up to Week 10 in Ambleside Online Year One, and as I’ve mentioned before it is going really well for us.   I enjoy her school readings as much as she does!   We’re starting to get into some of the more challenging selections such as Parables from Nature and Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, but her narrations have been surprisingly good and she seems to be enjoying the stories.   We made cards for all the characters in “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” (our Shakespeare story selection) to aid with the narration which was enjoyed by all (especially James, my not-quite-5-year-old…he kept bringing my various character cards later and making comments about them: “Mama, Helena loves Demetrius, but he doesn’t love her.”).   We’ve also been finding some really fascinating things to observe for nature study – you can check out some of our recent nature study posts here.
I had originally assigned the D’Aulaire biographies to be read independently this year, as they are well within her ability to read on her own.  However, I discovered that her narrations have been very poor when I send her off to read even a very short section.  So at the moment, we are reading them together and we will take baby steps towards being able to hand them over to her independently.  Right now, she is reading aloud to me and then narrating each page.   We’ll use these books to help guide her towards independent reading throughout the rest of Year 1, with the goal of passing more readings on to her in Year 2.
James showing off our Midsummer Night's Dream character cards.

 We are also just about finished with Math U See Alpha.   After seeing her standardized test scores, we felt some supplementation in math was a good idea for her as well, so we’ve also started using MEP Year 1 (starting in the middle of the program, at lesson 81) alongside MUS.  The concepts presented are mostly review (MEP Year 1 also focuses largely on addition and subtraction facts), but they approach the facts from a variety of different angles and gives the student more than one way to think about numbers.   She is really enjoying it – there are lots of games, puzzles, and activities included in the lesson plans.   We’ll continue MEP through the summer, and make a decision in the fall whether to continue with MEP Year 2, MUS Beta, or some combination of the two.  (I feel like both programs have strengths and weaknesses that complement each other…but that’s a post for another time.)
Michelle’s writing and spelling abilities are also taking off.  She frequently writes notes and letters to friends and increasingly her spelling is all correct, or very nearly so.  (Ironically enough, I’ve noticed this great leap in spelling abilities since we dropped All About Spelling and have been taking a much more casual, individualized approach!)
James (Age Almost 5, Pre-K)
We are continuing to work on 3 and 4 letter word building as he is interested.   Favorite activities for word building/phonics this month included working through the Kumon My Book of Rhyming Words and Phrases workbook (good handwriting practice too!), building words on the Read-Build-Write mat (although take note -we just use 3-4 letter words we are working on for word building, not the vocabulary cards described in the linked post), and occasional reading out of the All About Reading readers or the Abeka Little Owl Books.   (FWIW, he initiated handwriting on his own and frequently practices on his own.  He seems to have unusually good fine motor skills for a child his age.   I say that to explain why so many of our activities involve writing – that is largely his choice.  I don’t recommend pushing a child this young to write if they aren’t yet ready.)   For math he’s enjoyed working with the Cuisenaire Rod Alphabet book and the counting puzzle you see below – which is great. (I purchased it here in Cameroon, although it’s obviously been imported from Europe. I have no idea if something comparable is available in the USA or not.)
  He’s ready to kick things up a notch in math from the counting games and such we’ve been playing, but I have yet to get things organized for him.  But it will be coming soon!  He is also showing a lot more interest in tagging along with our family studies including making nature journal sketches and memorizing poetry.  He loves Mozart, our composer for this term.
Elizabeth (Age 3, the “Tagalong”)
Elizabeth loves tagging along with anyone and anything.  Or else emptying out the contents of my purse…   She is also enjoying the Cuisenaire Rods and counting puzzle mentioned above, as well as an occasional page from a Rod and Staff preschool workbook.   I just finished reading Winnie the Pooh too both of my little ones, and we’re now reading from Kindergarten Gems  (a story collection from Yesterday's Classics for young children). 
Mama (Because you should never stop learning…)
I’ve been really enjoying reading and thinking through the 20 Principles of Charlotte Mason study, but you already know that. ;)  I have also been reading some other things that are helping me think through what my priorities and ministry role here in Cameroon ought to look like.  No conclusions yet, but lots on my mind.   I have been learning the benefits of ‘slow reading’ by disciplining myself to stick to the group reading schedule for The Scarlet Pimpernel  (so good, and so hard to limit myself to the assigned 2-3 chapters per week!).  It’s really true though…as much as I would love to just devour this book, I am savoring and enjoying it so much more but spreading it out over time and pondering it.   There really IS something to slowly reading several books at time rather than inhaling one right after the other.  (It’s also lovely to have something to look forward to on Thursday evenings after the kids are in bed – curling up with a cuppa and reading the next installment before the new discussion questions are posted on Friday!)
In more practical endeavors:  I’m still trying to find my go-to bread recipe for the flour and climate here  (baking in different countries with different climates and ingredients is not-so-much fun.)  And I will commence learning how to drive a stick shift very shortly, since we have acquired a stick-shift truck.   This scares me to no end, but not driving here is not an option unless I really want to be permanently stuck in our gated compound.  Which I don’t.
Looking Ahead…
Hoping to wrap up Term 1 (through Week 12) before school is out for the rest of the kids here June 11.  Then we’ll continue, but on a much abbreviated ‘summer schedule’.   We find long breaks make us all crazy, and we’ve had such an interrupted year that it will be good to keep something going consistently, I think.   Stay tuned!