Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Family Reading #7

James reading with his Grandma during our last week in France.
In honor of my brand new wall-lining bookcase, I thought it was time for a new books post....
Picture Book Highlights
For some reason, we ended up with several cowboy books on our last library trip (namely Cowboy Andy and Harry the Wild West Horse).  These have become the favorites in this pile.  Who knew my kids liked cowboys?  (Speaking of library, we are blessed to have a wonderful library and resource center for homeschooling missionary families less than 10 minutes walk from where we are living right now.  It’s fantastic.)
Michelle’s Reading (Age 7)
Michelle has been devouring the Boxcar Children series (many volumes available in aforementioned library).   I had heard that volumes 1-19 were the only ones penned by the original author and all the ones after that have been ghost written for mass production (and are therefore not as good).  We’ve found this to be true – while there’s nothing particularly bad about volumes 20+, the storylines in the earlier books have been much more engaging for her.
Featured School Book
We’ve just started AO Year 1, and week 1 went well.   Michelle loved James Baldwin’s 30 More Famous Stories last year, so she was really excited to see his 50 Famous Stories on the AO Year 1 reading list.  She chose to do her notebook page for week 1 on “The Sword of Damocles” which was from this book, so I take that as an indication that she’s enjoying it.
Bedtime Read-Aloud
We are almost finished with The Tanglewood’s Secret by Patricia St John.  I like the way that these stories weave spiritual truths into plausible storylines.   Given that this is the second Patricia St John book that Michelle has chosen in the past couple of months, I’d venture to guess that she is enjoying them too.
On Mama’s Nightstand
So many books, so little time.   I did recently finish a James Herriot trilogy (All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful) and really enjoyed them.  I had never thought to read these books before since they are stories about a vet, and I’ve never cared all that much for animal stories…but these were actually really good.   Far more about the people he met and lessons learned in the course of his life as a vet in 1930’s rural England.  And funny.  (Although, beware of some profanity.)    I am also working steadily through Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy of Education (Volume 6).   Wonderful insights here.  Hoping to blog my way through these at some point.  
So tell me...have you read anything especially good lately?   I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Monthly Nature Notebook - and Our New Tree Study

We are so happy to be getting back into a homeschooling groove again after the past couple of months of transition. It just feels good to be doing something that feels “normal” to us, if you know what I mean.
One thing that we really love about living in Africa so far is the immense number of possibilities for nature study here. So many new and interesting things to discover. That’s one of my goals for nature study for the coming year – to familiarize ourselves with the flora and fauna to be found in our area. As a tie in to “science”, I also want to guide the children towards discovery of the characteristics that distinguish plants from animals.
One new thing for us this year is our monthly nature journal. I’ve seen on many blogs the idea of keeping a “book of firsts” or a seasonal nature journal of sorts. I’ve always sort of thought that we couldn’t do this because we live in the tropics and don’t have 4 distinct seasons per se. (That and we’ve moved 4 times in the last 4 years, which makes keeping an ongoing record and seeking to notice patterns over time a bit difficult.) But I was inspired by Amy over at Fisher Academy that there are variations to be had even in the tropics and decided to go for it.
Our monthly nature journal is a binder with a tab for each month of the year. Behind each divider there are three pages right now: a weather chart, a ‘monthly nature journal’ chart, and a notebook page to record our tree study for the month.  The weather chart is pretty straightforward. The ‘monthly nature journal’ is a way to make brief observations of things we noticed about plants, flowers, weather patterns or whatever more frequently than we do a full nature study and journaling event, with an eye towards eventually getting an idea for what is typical in our area in various times of the year. (Inspired by this Monthly Nature Journal ).  And since we had such good success with our tree study last year, we decided to do a new tree study this year. 
We selected the mango tree in our front yard. It may not turn colors and drop leaves in autumn, but it will be interesting to note the stages and cycle of fruit production over the course of a year. And it’s a little hard to miss, so follow up should be easy.
James has decided that he wants to keep a nature journal this year too. Here is his first entry. Not too shabby for a little guy, is it? =)
Looking forward to sharing our new discoveries as we make them!

PS - Our seasonal tree studies have been inspired by The Year Long Tree Study challenge over at The Handbook of Nature Study.  Be sure to check out this blog for lots of wonderful nature study inspiration!  




Saturday, February 16, 2013

Our School Experience

For the past 5 weeks, we put homeschooling on hold while my husband and I took our mission’s field orientation course.  During this time, Michelle went to school with the other MKs.   This was with a bit of fear and trepidation – we’ve homeschooled from day 1 so she’s never been in school before.  And  the Charlotte Mason methods that we normally use are quite different from traditional school methods, so I wasn’t sure how that would go over for her either.    Before we get back to homeschooling next week (I am so excited to be starting Ambleside Online Year 1!), I thought I would write a little bit about our school experience. 

Thankfully, this is a very small school – she was one of five students in a first-second grade combination class, and her teacher was a very sweet lady.   All of the other children are also missionary children – therefore coming from committed Christian families.  The school day finished at 2pm, so not too terribly long. (One reason we opted not to send her to school in France was that their school day lasted until 4:30!)  So, in my mind, this was really the ideal environment to have her first school experience. 

One thing I realized during the past 5 weeks was that our family really functions better when we have the flexibility to set our own schedule.    Getting everyone out the door by 8am was really hard for us.    Thankfully, Michelle was able to walk home with the other kids, but for the first week we picked her up in the afternoon which was a huge interruption to the flow of our day as well.   I am far more stressed out by having to organize my life around someone else’s timetable than I am by having my kids home with me all day.   I also realized that homeschooling helps me to be a much more intentional parent.   This isn’t to say that homeschooling is the only way as I know many wonderful, committed, intentional parents who have chosen the traditional school route for their families.   But for myself personally, I found that we really slipped in some of the ‘grounding practices’ that have naturally become part of our family life as a result of homeschooling – such as Scripture memory, family read-alouds, and the like.    Mornings were rushed, and evenings found everyone too tired.     And of course as a Charlotte Mason homeschooler with very particular tastes when it comes to curriculum choice,  I wasn’t terribly impressed with the textbooks and fill-in-the-blank worksheets that Michelle brought home with her.

On the positive side, however, having her in someone else’s classroom for the past 5 weeks has been very enlightening as far as how Michelle is progressing and how the Charlotte Mason method is working for us.   I was really pleased with what I saw.   Michelle was the only first grader in her first-second combination class, but because she is a strong reader the teacher just combined her with the other second graders for every subject but math – and she held her own just fine.    The teacher commented to me about her high comprehension level as well, which I chalk up to the quality literature we’ve been reading for the past 2 or 3 years since discovering CM.   And while I don’t usually do a lot of workbook-y kinds of things in our homeschool, I was happy to see that she could do these kind of exercises without difficulty.   This gives me confidence that she’ll do just fine when she encounters this kind of thing on standardized tests (which we get to do for the first time this year, lucky us!).    The fact that she did as well as she did in this more “traditional” school environment  helped me to feel more confident that the “non-traditional” methods we use in our homeschool are still preparing her well for life after homeschooling.    She is learning and doing well – excelling – despite the fact that we don’t do things the same way as many people.

And on her part?  She loved going to school.   She loved being with the other kids all of the time.   She loved her teacher.   That said, this evening when we were talking together about it she said to me that she’s “tired of being tired after such long days at school.”   I think she’ll be glad to go back to our normal rhythm of getting our schoolwork done in the morning (and no homework!), having rest time in the early afternoon, and the freedom to play with all her new friends when they get home later.    She’ll also get to keep participating in the after school sports and music clubs as well as the special ‘joint learning sessions’ when all of the homeschooling missionary families from all over Cameroon come together twice a year to do group learning activities and special projects.    So really, she’s getting the best of both worlds.
Now that our orientation time is done, I'm looking forward to popping in here for a chat a little more often.  Stay tuned!