Monday, June 30, 2014

The Stream of History Chart

One of my favorite sections out of Laurie Bestvater's new book The Living Page was the section on Time Tools.  In that section she described a variety of different kinds of time charts and time lines used at various stages in Charlotte Mason's schools, and what a Book of Centuries was really intended to be (not my topic for today, but suffice it to say that it is not just another  timeline book).  It was all really quite fascinating to me, and has me rethinking the way we are using timelines and time charts in our home.  Our first wall timeline was a fail – it was too unwieldy and kept falling down, so we ended up retiring it fairly quickly.  The past couple of years, we have been using a timeline in a binder which has worked better…although the binder is kind of clunky, and I'm realizing that I probably shouldn't be using pre-printed timeline figures for Michelle to paste on to the right page.  I'm tossing around a couple of ideas for a replacement for her (and to start with James when he begins Year 1 in January).   What particularly intrigued me at the moment, however, was the Stream of History chart.  Bestvater referenced this Parent's Review article, and particularly this paragraph:
"It is to be understood that we have already provided ourselves with a condensed chart representing the 3,000 years of history, during which the stream, which has now become the river of modern history, may be traced with some degree of definiteness towards its earliest sources. Such a chart might easily be condensed to such an extent as to be made conveniently visible as a whole, say within the compass of at most a yard in length. On such a scale periods of ten years can be distinctly differentiated, while definite years may be clearly distinguished when necessary by the addition of one or two numerals. The facts recorded should be few, selected with care--key facts to the history of the time in which they occur, selected also in a catholic spirit, to represent, without bias, the real historical weight of the various political forces, which, in order to serve their purpose of historical landmarks, should already, before being introduced upon the chart, have been made thoroughly familiar to the pupil. The duration of dynasties, prolonged wars, social and religious movements, &c., might be made visible by the use of continuous lines, which will prove of great value in linking together successive events."
I loved the idea of this chart – compact size, easily visible, showing some carefully selected main events.   But at the same time, I had a hard time picturing it.  How to fit 3ooo years of history in the space of a yard?!   So I decided to start playing around with it and see what I came up with.  Here are my results:
I taped together three pieces of cardstock end-to-end, and carefully ruled a line across the center.  I marked off one inch for each century, which allowed me to include from 1000 BC to the present day.  We won't study ancient history in depth until Year 6, so I'm not terribly concerned about not having a space to add dates prior to 1000 BC right now.  I added in a couple of key points of reference – the life of Jesus in relation to the BC/AD dividing line, and the birthdates of my children in the early 2000's, my husband and I in the 1970's, and the children's grandparents in the late 1940's and early 1950's.
I also went ahead and added in some of the key events that we have studied already in this first term of Year 2: Alfred the Great, Leif Erickson, William the Conqueror, The Crusades.   We will continue to add other key events as we come to them.  I had a hard time imagining how just the MAJOR events could fit on a timeline this small, but adding only 3-5 events each term shouldn't overcrowd it, I hope.  It actually might be a really good exercise for us to decide just what those key events and key people ought to be at the end of the term.
Here it is up on the wall!  I posted it right underneath our map since the map gets referenced often.  I'm hopeful that the history chart will get referenced often as well since it's in the same place and all. J
Has anyone else constructed a compact history chart like this?  I'd love to see it if you have!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Masterly Inactivity: What is it?

Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 3 "Masterly Inactivity" – Part 1
In this chapter, Charlotte notes the weight of responsibility we feel as parents to bring up our children "to be something more than ourselves" (p.26)  To feel the weight of that responsibility without knowing exactly what to do about it results in worry, restlessness, and anxiety.  Mason's antidote for this is what she calls masterly inactivity.  What is that, you may ask?  Perhaps it may be best to first think about what it is not.
Masterly Inactivity is not:
  • A fatalistic "what's the good of trying" attitude
  • Laziness
  • License to do whatever one wants
  • Fussy complacency
  • Giving in to children's whims
Rather, Masterly Inactivity is:
  • "Wise Passiveness" – a phrase Charlotte borrowed from the poet Wordsworth.  "It indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action." (p.28)
  • A sense of liberty and freedom under authority.  Masterly inactivity only "works" within the framework of rightful authority.   That 'authority must be ever-present but in repose: "But she must see without watching, know without telling, be on the alert always, yet never obviously, fussily so.  This open-eyed attitude must be sphinx-like in repose." (p.31)
  • Exercised naturally and with good-humor – not forced or contrived.
  • Exercised with self-confidence: "Parents should trust themselves more" Mason tells us. (p.29)
  • Exercised out of a 'sound-mind'.  Children pick up on our nervous, anxious state.  We need to act out of rest, peace and serenity.  
Have you read Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Understood Betsy?  We recently finished it as it is the assigned literature selection for Ambleside Online Year 2 (although absolutely still worth a read even if you aren't an AO user).  In that book we see how these two opposing states of being play out in the life of young Elizabeth Ann (Betsy).  Betsy's parents died when she was young and she has been raised by her Aunt Frances who is nervous, fussy, and controlling.  As a result, Betsy has grown to be a nervous and fussy child who lacks confidence to do just about everything.  When she is 9 years old, she is sent to live with her Aunt Abigail, Uncle Henry, and Cousin Ann.  At their farm she is looked after with love and care, but also given a great deal of freedom – Uncle Henry lets her take the reins of the horse when they are driving home with the station, Aunt Abigail lets her season the applesauce to taste although Betsy has never made it before, she is sent off to walk to school on her own on the very first day, and so on.  By the end of the book we see Betsy growing into a confident young woman.  What difference Masterly Inactivity made in her young life!
Next week we'll look at some practical ways that we can learn to live and teach and parent from this state of 'masterly inactivity'.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Giant African "Things" in our Yard: May's Nature Notes

Apparently May was the month for "Giant African" things to make their way into our yard.  (It is actually with some fear and trepidation that I share these photos lest my mother should see them since she has purchased tickets to come visit us next month.  She might prefer not to know what is in our yard.  Mother, if you are reading this, please just remember these were only in the YARD and not in the HOUSE.  Just sayin'…)
This is a Giant West African snail:
These two were on the front walkway.
This one on the papaya tree just outside the kitchen window.  We have seen many, many of these in the yard and in and around the various plants in our yard, and have seen the slime that they leave in their wake on our front walkway.  According to Wikipedia, they are actually "considered to represent a potentially serious threat as a pest, an invasive species which could negatively affect agriculture, natural ecosystems, human health or commerce." Great, and I have them all over my yard.  Sigh.
And this is the African Giant Millipede.
I had seen a much smaller species of millipede before when I lived in Papua New Guinea, but never one as big as this.  I didn't get close enough to measure, but I'd guess it was at least 8 inches long, and as big around as my little finger.  Once I convinced my kids it wasn't a snake (THANKFULLY!), we actually enjoyed watching it travel up and down and over and through the grass.  According to our Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Insects, these "arthropod wonders of Africa" are also "favourite pets" when "kept in a tank, with a layer of damp peaty soil, in warm conditions with high humidity."   The kids were a little bit disappointed that I didn't have a tank handy to keep him in – after all, I let them keep the spiny flower mantis and the caterpillar we found in our neighborhood…  
(Just as a note, one should exercise caution if you encounter a millipede – they can excrete an irritating/poisonous substance when they feel threatened.  This is why we watched from a distance…)
Click Here to read more fascinating nature study posts from all around the world!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Term 2014 Morning Tea Time Plans

I know, I know.  The rest of the world is wrapping up their school year for a long glorious break.  But not us.  We couldn't do anything so conventional, now could we?  Truth be told we already took part of our break between multiple public holidays here in the month of May and our lovely vacation, and the thought of taking 2+ months off all at once makes me want to break into hives.  So, we're intending to continue with school until the first week of July (that should put us just about halfway through Ambleside Online Year 2), which will then give us an entire month off before jumping back in around the same time that our local school does in August.
At any rate, here are our Tea Time plans for this coming term. (You can read about our inspiration for Tea Time here.)  I've restructured it a little bit, moved a couple of resources I was working through with Michelle individually with our group time, and have also resolved that we will do French this term.  I have been horribly lax about this, as much as I always have good intentions to include it.  Anyhow.  Without any further ado…here are our Tea Time Plans:
Daily Nature Notebook
You can read about our daily nature notes here.   I may play around with the format for this a bit during our month off in July.  I'm finding that I am liking things in binder format less and less – binders are clunky and therefore sometimes don't get done because they are a hassle to deal with. 
Story of the Week
We will read from one of these books each week, a little bit each day until we finish the story.  These stories are all too long to be read in one sitting. Then we'll rotate through to the next one the following week…and so forth:
  • Tanglewood Tales (Hawthorne)
  • Tales from Shakespeare (Lamb)
  • Parables from Nature (Gatty)
Poetry Reading and Memory Work
As per the AO Year 2 schedule, our poets this term are Eugene Field and James Whitcombe Riley.  We may also try to sneak in The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Browning), a year 2 free read. 
Poetry Memory Work we have lined up for this term:
  • "The Bees' Song" and "Alone" by Walter de la Mare (children's choices from our poet from last term)
  •  Dialogue between Theseus and Hippolyta from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act 1, Scene 1) by William Shakespeare  (Our Shakespeare memory work is inspired by Ken Ludwig's book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare)
  • Towards the end of the term, the children will choose 1 or 2 of their favorite poems from Field and/or Riley for memory work.  (They are loving Eugene Field and we already have several choices bookmarked to choose from!)
Topic of the Day
Day 1: Finish up Rainforest Adventure (Banner) and start Outback Adventure (Cromarty)
Day 2:  Little Pilgrim's Progress (Taylor)
Day 3: Alternate between Picture Study, Composer Study, and Folk Songs
  • Picture Study: Our artist this term is Thomas Cole of the Hudson River School.  I snagged my Thomas Cole resources from Brandy's excellent Circle Time post. J
  •  Composer Study: We are doing a term of Medieval music: Hildegard von Bingen (using the album "A Feather on the Breath of God"), Gregorian Chants (using the album "Gregorian Chants" by the Monks of the Abbey of , and Medieval instrumental music (using the album "A Dance in the Garden of Mirth").  I thought it would be a change of pace after spending the past year with Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven, and also a nice tie-in with Year 2 history which covers the medieval period.  We listen to our music selections over lunch each day (both our composer music and our folk songs).  I also occasionally talk to the children a bit about the music we are listening to during this time – this term I may read a bit to them about Hildegard von Bingen and show them pictures of medieval instruments.  This used to be one of the composer study suggestions on the Ambleside website, but it looks like it has been updated recently to a term specifically focused on Hildegard von Bingen.
  •  Folk Songs: Our songs for this term, as per the AO rotation, are "Scarborough Fair", " The Rising of the Moon", and "Barbara Allen".  We actually don't typically do much with our folk songs during tea time, although I may share some of the story behind the song with them.  Sometimes we watch a YouTube video of the song being performed too, although our internet doesn't always cooperate.  Mostly we listen to our playlist of folksongs for the year at lunch time. 
Day 4: Visits to Europe (Simply Charlotte Mason) – I have been using this individually with Michelle this past term, but given James' interest in maps and geography, I decided to move it to our group time.  We will primarily complete the map drills orally, although I will have Michelle continue to label a blank map in writing.  We are using the books Hungry Planet and Material World as outlined in the lessons, but not any of the other suggested reading since I greatly prefer AO's geography selections.
I was very excited when I saw that Speaking French with Miss Mason and Francois was finally available.  I've heard good things from people who have been using the Spanish version and have been eager to give this a try.  We are also hoping to learn some French songs this term: "Alouette", "Frere Jacques", "Tête, Épaules, Genoux, Pieds", and "Un-Deux-Trois, Nous Irons au Bois".  This is a fantastic resource for songs and simple children's stories in French that I have recently discovered.
Devotional Time
We prefer to do our Bible/Devotional Time at the beginning and end of the day, rather than during our Tea Time block, but since many people include this time in their group studies time will share our resources here:
Morning Prayer Time
  • Short reading from Psalms and Proverbs
  • Prayer
  • Hymns (we are cycling through previously learned hymns for review)
Evening Devotional Time
  • The Child's Story Bible (Vos)
  • Scripture Memory: Matthew 13:44-46, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 14:6, Psalm to be    determined
  • Catechism for Young Children – we are currently working slowly through the section of questions that go through the Ten Commandments
  • Prayer
Sunday Reading
  • Devotional Choice: Exploring Grace Together (Thompson)
  • Christian Hero Biography Choices: The Fate of the Yellow Wood-Bee (Jackson), followed by  Pilipinto's Happiness (Shepherd), and then either John Calvin (Carr) or Gladys Aylward (Benge)
Do you do a group learning time?  What kinds of things do you include?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

When the Routine Goes Awry

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some of the ways in which routines can be very powerful tools to help our days run more smoothly, give us energy to focus on more important issues because we aren't trying to make decisions about the minutiae of our days on a daily basis, and, when constructed thoughtfully and prayerfully, provide us with opportunities for growth.  Don't get me wrong, routines are very good things.
But sometimes, on some of these days, things just don't go according to routine.  The train derails.  Take for example last Wednesday at our house.   All of my kids were awake by 6:15 (which almost never happens – they usually sleep until closer to 7 or so), there was already paper scattered all over the house before breakfast was even finished, and I had a complete and utter meltdown because my sweet husband had (very helpfully, I might add) had gone out and bought a huge bowl full of lettuce at the produce stand just outside our front gate since I needed to make a salad for his work party on Thursday evening.   I didn't want to deal with that lettuce on Wednesday morning, I didn't need it until Thursday evening.   But there it was, spilling out all over my counter, leaving no space to do anything else.  It had to be dealt with.  Rather than calmly dealing with the lettuce and moving on, I took out my angst by yelling at my children to clean up the mess they had made.  Two of them fled the scene crying.   All of this before 7:30 in the morning.  Oy.  It wasn't pretty.
I took some time to collect myself.   I apologized to the children who I had needlessly brought to tears.  We regrouped ourselves for our morning prayer and devotional time – a powerful reminder to all of us of how much we all – mama included – need Jesus every day, given the mistakes we had already made that morning.  We made a few tweaks to our normal routine to make up for the lost time and moved on with our day.  The lettuce got dealt with.  It made a fine salad to take to my husband's work party.   All's well that ends well.
I've been thinking a lot about this experience over the past few days.  Routines when they go well really are powerful tools that can help us grow, no doubt about that.   But what about days like this when everything goes awry?   I'm starting to wonder if there isn't even more potential for growth in those moments when things don't go just the way we expect.  I spent a lot of time during our recent vacation working through Sarah's fantastic new resource Teaching from Rest.  In the very first section of the book, she says this:
"Rest begins with acceptance.  Or, perhaps more accurately, with surrender…Whatever is getting in the way of your plan for the day – the toddler's tantrum, the messy bedroom, the sticky juice leaking all over the fridge and into the cracks of the drawers, the frustrated child, the irritable husband, the car that won't start, the vomiting dog, the pie spilled on the over door, [the lettuce all over your kitchen counter!]…whatever that intrusion into your grand plan for the day is, it's also an opportunity to enter in to rest. [CS Lewis wrote]: 'The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own' or 'real' life.  The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life – the life God is sending down one day by day; what one calls one's 'real life' is a phantom of one's own imagination.'  We can't really rest in God's care until we trust that He will indeed care for us….I am not meant to take on this task of teaching and raising my children in my own strength, and neither are you.  We are, however, meant to recognize every facet of our day as coming from the hand of God.  It all passes through His fingers first, and He uses it to make sure that we lean hard on Him."
~Sarah MacKenzie, Teaching from Rest
I will admit that on those days when everything goes smoothly, I'm tempted to act on my own strength, or to be prideful over my routine-managing ability.  It's in those moments when things don't go well that I am forced to turn to Him.  In some cases it may be to beg for strength and wisdom to react to the 'interruptions' rightly.   In other cases I fail, and need to repent.  I need to ask my kids to forgive me.  That's pretty humbling.  But that's where growth happens.  On Lettuce-Wednesday, I was reminded of my need to 'lean hard on Him' and not trust in my own strength and ability.  I was able to have a conversation about spiritual things with my children – something that may not have happened if there hadn't been lettuce all over my counter that morning. 
Routines are good.  They are needful.  Life goes better with them than trying to wing it every day.  But at the same time, I recognize that I need to hold my routines loosely.  I need to be open to the detours that come my way – as often they will – and look for how God is trying to speak to me through them.   I need to approach each day with this attitude:
"O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me. Amen."
~attributed to both St Basil the Great and Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, which I found quoted here.
I first wrote this post about 2 weeks ago.  In the weeks that have passed since that time I have had numerous opportunities to live this out.  We've had many days when circumstances forced my well-laid plans to be set aside.  (This is part of the reason why my blogging break has been extended so much longer than I originally anticipated it would!)  It's been frustrating at times, but I am realizing the truth of these words.  In her book Glimpses of Grace, Gloria Furman reminds us that "God in is His grace does not always rescue us from difficult or painful circumstances.  God is about his business of redeeming us while we are in the midst of this broken world."  I am learning that regardless of my circumstances on any given day – on that day when our routine runs smoothly as well as on that day that it does not – God is working on my heart, teaching me to lean harder on His strength in my weakness, and conforming me to the image of His Beloved Son.
When push comes to shove, that's what really matters anyway.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Where I've Been...

Well, I've been here…
Doing a lot of this…
And this….
And a bit of this too.
Spending time with these lovely people…
Celebrating this little guy (6 years old now!)….
…and digging in to Ambleside Online Year 2, Term 2 (we will go 6 more weeks before taking a month-long summer break).
Life is slowly returning to a normal routine, and I have lots of thoughts simmering that I am looking forward to sharing with you all soon. J  In the meantime, I have a guest post up over at Afterthoughts this week, for those of you who may not have seen it yet.
What have you been doing these past few weeks?