Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Being Chosen

At my husband’s suggestion, we recently re-watched The Lord of the Rings series of films.    As we watched, I realized how many little details and themes I never really noticed before and was inspired to re-read the books again.   I had tried to read the books in middle school, but found I wasn’t really ready for them.  (They weren’t my usual girly-twaddle repertoire of that era of my life - Babysitter’s Club and various Christian historical fiction romances were more my thing in my tweens and teens, as ashamed as I am to admit that now!)  I did finally read the trilogy the summer before the first of the films was released because I felt like I should – you know, read the book before you see the movie and all that. I was in my early 20's at that time.    Now in my mid-30’s, with that much more life experience under the bridge, I am drawn in.  Fantasy still isn’t really my genre, but the ideas beneath the story – those are what are speaking to me.  I guess there really is truth to what Charlotte Mason says about the child (or adult!) taking in the ideas that they are ready for from a work of history or literature.  What my mind and heart were not ready to receive at 12 or 21, they are receptive to now.  I find especially that I can relate to some of Frodo's inner battle with being chosen for a task that seems daunting, and not really wanting to do it, and yet knowing he must. 

From Frodo’s conversations with Gandalf when he came into possession of the ring, and Gandalf recognizes the significance of the Ring and the necessity to do something about it:
 “ ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.  ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf,   ‘and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not  for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”
“ ‘I do really wish to destroy it!’ cried Frodo.  ‘Or, well, to have it destroyed.  I am not made for perilous quests.  I wish I had never seen the Ring!  Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?’
‘Such questions cannot be answered,’ said Gandalf.  ‘You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: nor for power or wisdom, at any rate.  But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.’”
 “ “I should like to save the Shire, if I could – though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them.  But I don’t feel like that now.  I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.
   Of course, I have sometimes thought of going away, but I imagined that as a kind of holiday, a series of adventures like Bilbo’s or better, ending in peace.  But this would mean exile, a flight form danger into danger, drawing it after me.  And I suppose I must go alone, if I am to do that and save the Shire.  But I feel very small, and very uprooted, and well – desperate.  The Enemy is so strong and terrible.’”
            ~ JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club, Chapter 3

So, I haven’t had a ton to say about chapter 3.  In this chapter, Smith dissects several common ‘liturgies’ of our culture in order to show just how powerful these things can be in directing our desires and affections.   He gets a little controversial in some places, and I haven’t made a lot of comment on this chapter mostly because I didn’t want to get into all of that controversy.  However, I do see the point he is trying to make: these things do have an influence on our lives.  They do make a difference in what our hearts desire.  Even the most subtle of these practices have the power to draw our hearts away from desiring the Kingdom.   In this final section of the chapter, he gives an example from a novel about  a university student who entered the university with the lofty goal of increasing her knowledge and enhancing the life of her mind, but finds herself drawn away by the stereotypical rituals and practices of a university campus – frat parties and the like.  Those were just the things that one does at university after all, right?
In the conclusion of the chapter, he reminds us that, assuming our goal is to produce Christian disciples, then we ought to be striving to resist these kinds of ‘secular’ liturgies and ultimately to provide a counter-formation: liturgies, practices that pull our hearts towards Him rather than away.  How could the university student in the example have been better prepared not to be drawn away by the temptations of secular campus life?  How can we effectively counter the secular culture that surrounds us and keep our hearts focused on His Kingdom?
Well, Smith hasn’t told us yet, although I expect that that is the direction he is heading in Part 2 of the book.  I’m curious to see where he goes with it.  In the meantime,  I’ve been thinking about that a bit, however.   Reading this final section of Chapter 3 reminded me a bit of a talk I had listened to by Christopher Perrin awhile back entitled Learning to Love What Must Be Done.  The funny thing about it is that he does actually cite Smith in his talk, thematically they are very similar.  No wonder I was reminded of it as I read this week! (Click Here and scroll down to the 2011 Conference Recordings if you want to give it a listen.)   I re-listened to it while washing dishes this weekend, and some of the suggestions  towards this end that he made:
  • It starts with us.   If we want our students (or children) to be lovers of truth, goodness and beauty, we need to model it.   We need to become contagious lovers of truth, goodness, and beauty ourselves.
  • We need to help develop a sense of wonder and awe in our students.   We want them to marvel in amazement over those glimpses of glory that are to be seen everywhere if only we have eyes to see.   Our choice of teaching materials and teaching methods will be effected by this consideration.
  • Linked to the above, we need to give them time to ponder and reflect and discover and think.   It is important that we don’t cram their lives so full of activity that they don’t have space to do this. 
(Hmm…once again, I’m seeing shades of Charlotte Mason and Poetic Knowledge….)
One other thought that has occurred to me that I haven’t seen mentioned yet by Smith, or by Perrin in his talk that I recall at least, is that ultimately, our hearts won’t be pointed towards the Kingdom unless the Holy Spirit draws them.  I absolutely agree with the idea that as human beings we aren’t minds in vats, and that our habits and practices really do matter.   But I think often about my own upbringing – I would say I was raised in the type of church environment that Smith descries in this chapter – secular culture was countered in messages targeted to my rational self only (don’t do this! don’t do that!). The emphasis was very much on avoiding what was BAD rather than actively seeking out that which was GOOD.  Yet, I lived in the midst of those practices and messages in the public school I attended, the movies and music and books I was exposed to without much thought.  And yet, somehow, I didn’t completely fall prey to their lure.  This I credit to the power and protection of the Holy Spirit.  Somehow, my heart was continually drawn back towards Him.  He was at work anyway, even in the midst of a formational environment that was less than ideal.  This doesn’t negate the importance of considering our practices and what kind of effect they have on us and  our students or our children, but when it boils down to it all we are really doing is preparing the soil – it is He who gives the increase.
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Friday, February 21, 2014

Family Reading #12

It’s been far too long since I updated you on what we’re reading…
With the Littles
The new Christmas books we chose have all been big hits around here especially Tin Lizzie (James’ gift) and The Complete Brambly Hedge (Elizabeth’s gift, although all three of them choose it regularly still, almost 2 months later!)   We’ve also been enjoying Beatrix Potter again (inspired by Brambly Hedge, I reckon) and The Dear Old Briar Patch (the little kids’ current chapter book read-aloud).
Michelle’s Reading (Age 8)
She loved her Christmas book too, The Adventures of TumTum and Nutmeg.   She’s also been reading more about the Moffats, some Beverly Cleary, and The French Twins (from the Twins series by Lucy Fitch Perkins).  And now she's devouring the rest of The Borrowers series.   Oh, and Little House on the Prairie.  Again.  Always.  Repeatedly.  J
James’ Reading (Age 5.5)
James just finished reading the Treadwell Reading Literature Primer with me and is now reading through the Little Bear series.  He also recently enjoyed Richard Scarry’s Best Read-It-Yourself Book Ever!  (He was actually belly-laughing over this in the otherwise silent waiting room at the US Embassy when we went to have his passport renewed a couple weeks ago!)
Featured School Book
Now that we are about 3 weeks in, I asked Michelle what her favorite new book from Year Two was so far.   Her answer: “The Wonder Book because it is full of brave people who succeed, like Perseus.”  (Note: This is actually a free read, but we scheduled it in because I wasn’t sure I could make it work as a bedtime read-aloud.)   For the record, she has also been reading the unassigned portions of Fifty Famous Stories and Viking Tales from Year One and re-reading Just So Stories!
Bedtime Reading
We recently finished (and enjoyed) The Borrowers.  Now we have started The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, which all three children are enthusiastic about as well.
On Mama’s Nighstand
Dan and I have been re-watching the Lord of the Rings movies (we're turning them into a mini-series because we just can't sit up and watch a 3-4 hour epic all in one go!)  I've realized I've forgotten a lot of the little details, so have now picked up the books to re-read as well.  (As if I needed yet another epic with The Iliad already in progress!!)  I alternate this with Amazing Grace, Eric Metaxas’ biography of William Wilberforce.
Devotionally, I am enjoying the Tabletalk in-depth study of Romans and reading through the New Testament portion of their Bible-in-a-Year schedule.   I recently finished Kevin de Young’s The Hole in our Holiness and am now reading Carolyn Weber’s Holy is the Day.   All of these things have surprisingly dovetailed together to speak to me things I’ve needed to hear recently.
For personal study…well you already know about Desiring the Kingdom and AO Year 4.   I am also enjoying The Iliad with a group over on the AO Forum.
What are you Reading these days?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Holiness in the Little Things

I recently finished reading Kevin de Young’s The Hole in our Holiness.  This wasn’t an extremely profound book, but it still had some very good and helpful insights, particularly these from the concluding chapter:
(Quoting Horatius Bonar) “’…holiness is not measured by ‘one great heroic act or mighty martyrdom.  It is of small things that a great life is made up’…Holiness is the sum of a million little things…”
“God wants you to be holy.  Through faith he already counts you holy in Christ.  Now he intends to make you holy with Christ.”
“God saved you to sanctify you.  God is in the beautification business, washing away spots and smoothing out wrinkles.”
~Kevin deYoung, The Hole in our Holiness
I am a wife and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom.  I don’t really want to be doing anything else.  Yet, we live in the context of a ministry organization in Africa.  Every day I live with the unspoken pressure that I should be doing something ‘more’, something really big for God.   And yet, that isn’t what God has called me to.   He’s called me to support my husband in his ministry-work, to teach and disciple my children, to be available for those ‘little’ needs that pop up in our community here and there.  I struggle with this.  Why did He call ME to Africa if not to do something big for Him?   I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
“Holiness is the sum of ‘a million little things.’”  This spoke to me.   God’s will for me is my sanctification.  I’m not aware of anywhere in the Bible where it says God’s will for me is to do Big and Important Things for Him.  (Yes, we are called to do ‘good works’, but those don’t have to be Big.  They are for some people, but not for most of us – even those of us serving in overseas ministry.)  But He does want me to be faithful.  And He does want me to be holy.  He wants to make me beautiful.  And he places me in the circumstances where He can best work to that end.  I am realizing that I need to let go of that pressure to do something important – or perhaps more honestly to do something that people will recognize as important – and be available and willing to be shaped and molded by Him.  Because in the end, that is what really matters.
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Friday, February 14, 2014

January's Nature Notes (A Little Late)

Weather in January: Hot, highs approaching 90 most days, and dry.  Hot and dry around here = dust.  The kind of dust that requires you to wipe your table BEFORE you begin to eat because of the layer of dust that has accumulated on it since lunchtime.  The kind of dust that turns perfectly healthy green plants brown….
Evidence of dry season - dry, crunchy grass and a dust-covered banana tree. (It's worse along the roadsides!)

Between the holidays and then the process of trying to get back into a groove after them, we’ve gotten a bit out of the habit of having a regular nature study time each week.  Slowly, we’re getting back to it.  But in the meantime, I admit I’ve felt a little bit guilty that we haven’t been making nature study the priority in our schedule that I would like it to be.  Then I realized just how much it has become part of our natural family rhythm.   Here is just a selection of the unscheduled nature studies that have happened around here over the past few weeks:
My kids (the 8 and 5 year olds) have spent so much time studying our plant book (Tropical Plants of the World ) that they are now quicker than I am at identifying the plants growing around our home.  Michelle even made a list of all of the plants listed in the book that we have seen in our neighborhood – 26 different plants!  (Here is a plug for strewing nature field guides around your house for your kids to pore over in you spare time! This has made up for my own lack of knowledge of our local flora and fauna ten times over.)  And their eyes are so sharp that they even notice the teeny-tiny-weed flowers growing in the grass.   They have developed eyes that really see.
We have watched our mango tree blossom and begin to produce teeny-tiny mangos, coming full circle in the life-cycle of the mango.  Our mango tree was in bloom when we arrived here a little over a year ago. 
Mango Blossoms

We have identified a new bird, the Olive-Bellied Sunbird, that frequents our yard, usually around midday.  (We keep our eyes peeled out the windows while we are eating and cleaning up our lunch!)
My husband finally(!!) trapped the mice that had taken up residence in our pantry and built a cage for them to live in. (If you have any mouse removal needs, please feel free to call him because he is an expert in live mouse trapping now.)  The kids have LOVED observing ‘their’ mice.  (And I’m glad they are safely caged and no longer raiding our food supply!!)  We started with 7, but some of them died so now there are 3.   One of Michelle’s exam questions was on what she has learned about mice from observing them:
            Tell everything you have noticed about mice.
They like to eat rice and Parle G cookies [locally produced cookies that taste a bit like graham crackers], and maybe nibble bits of avocado shells, and they eat the couscous, but they don’t like tomatoes.  They like to chew things to make their nests out of.  They nibble holes in plastic bags and cardboard and paper. They are really fast, because Papa couldn’t catch the one that ran away when he was trying to close the cage lid.  They have these claws on their hands and feet that make them able to climb things with holes, like the screen.  They have V-shaped mouths.  When they poke their noses where I can see, I can see their mouths, that’s how I know what they look like.  Sometimes they sit in the water cup.  When they sleep, they curl up together.
We also had an impromptu nature-study lesson on weevils while sorting beans the other morning.  Since we get our dried beans from an open-air market, they do have to be picked through for little stones and twigs (and yes, bugs sometimes) and cleaned really well before we cook them.
This particular batch was a little more weevily than usual and the kids (good little MK’s that they are!) had a grand time observing them.
Michelle spontaneously decided to sketch them.  Great observation lesson on insects and their general structure!  Nature really IS everywhere!
What have you seen in your neck of the woods this month?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Our Identity in Christ

Yes, another quotation from Carolyn Weber's Surprised by Oxford.  But this is my last for now. J  If you want more, I suggest you just go read the book.
This from a discussion with her mentor, Regina, who had also juggled marriage (and widowhood), family, and being a Christian in acadamia:
"'Carolyn,' she began earnestly, 'all of these 'things' mean nothing in and of themselves.  They are just objects, just means to an end.  What does it matter what committee you serve on?  What promotion you get?  That book you labor over to write and publish, someone will end up resting a coffee cup on, without any care as to your sacrifice.  Your children are only young once.  Your marriage provides you a chance to put someone else first daily.  Such things refine your soul."  A fond, faraway look passed over her eyes, and I caught myself remembering that she was a widow… What is important is that my identity doesn't lie primarily in being a professor, or being a wife, or even in being a mother.  Those things will always fall short.  Entire careers get swept away at a moment's notice at the presentation of a pink slip, a vote of the elders, an accusation of a student, a cut in the budget.  Marriages face infidelities, for instance, and end up like car wrecks from which people can recover but are never again the same.  Children grow up and move far away and forget to write or call – as they should.'  She smiled wistfully.  'The point is, if you have your identity in any of these things, it's surefire disappointment.  Anything man-made – or woman made, for that matter – will and does fail you.  Having my identity in Christ first and foremost gives me the courage – yes, the courage – to live my life boldly, purposefully, in everything I do, no matter what that is."
                ~Carolyn Weber, Surprised by Oxford
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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club: On Realigning Vision and Practices

Our reading assignment this week was the first portion of Chapter 3.   Quite honestly, I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this section. Basically, he is talking about cultural exegesis - examining the liturgies (practices) of our culture at large so as to discern whether they are pulling us towards our vision of the good life or away from it. While I think this is a good practice to have, my thoughts have been veering far more towards my own personal practices and those of my family, so that's what I want to talk about today.
Early on in our book club, I realized that I really didn’t have a clear sense of vision – what is my vision of “the good life”?  Towards what is my heart aiming?  I know very well what it should be, what I want it to be.   The good life is the life lived for the glory of God, the life that chooses to “be content in all situations” and that embraces the good along with the bad with the recognition that it all leads to my sanctification and His greater glory.  But if I'm  honest, somewhere along the way my vision has sort of slipped.  If I’m honest, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think “the good life” now is that the good life is peaceful, quiet, and comfortable with no one to bother me or ruffle my feathers. (I could very easily be a hobbit living out my days in a peaceful hobbit-hole!)  It is a selfish vision of life centered on my own personal comfort.  
I’ve been thinking about where along the way my vision shifted, and why.  There are a variety of reasons that I can think of: being raised with a rules-based idea of Christianity, little sins that I've let go untended, and plain ol' weariness (physical, emotional, and spiritual) all figure in. 
Now, this all has me thinking about where I ought to adjust our practices to help my heart realign with the vision.   Some of those are bigger picture things – like considering how to plan our next furlough to allow for true rest and combat that sense of weariness.  Some of those are smaller picture things that I can put into practice now.  As a matter of fact, just this past week we revamped our evening routine.  This was partly inspired by Mystie's post last week -  just as she shared that she is often tempted to retreat into the computer and hide from her children in the morning, I admit that I am tempted to do this to escape the chaos of our house in the evening.  It occurred to me that this 'practice' of mine is connected to that vision of the good life being centered on my own personal comfort rather than a willingness to embrace the messiness of our family life.  It also sent the message that we just wanted the children to go away and get in bed already and that family devotional time was just something tacked on to the end of the day - an obligation to get through because we should rather than a time focused on growing in our sense of wonder, awe, and admiration of the God we serve.

So now, rather than letting chaos reign as it did previously, we are trying something like this:

Kids clean up, shower, and help set the table while I make dinner (occasionally one of them will come cook with me.)

We eat, with the goal of it being not later than 6:30pm. 

After dinner, I go clean up the kitchen.  (My husband, bless him, has done this for the past 10 years of our marriage, but I realized that if I was serious about breaking my bad habit of hiding by getting on the computer, I needed to replace it with something else tangible to do during this time.)   Dan and the kids will spend this time doing something special together - sometimes a game, sometimes an episode of a television program, sometimes some other silly project like folding paper airplanes.  This is assuming that everything got cleaned up and everyone showered before dinner...this is their motivation if you will.  If you still need to take a shower or pick up your room, then you miss out! :)

When kitchen clean up is done, we join back together again for our evening Bible story and read-aloud time before sending little ones off to bed by 8 or so (the oldest is allowed to sit up in her room quietly reading or drawing for a little longer).

It remains to be seen how this will all play out in the long run, but I do have great hope that we are headed in the right direction with this plan.  I kind of see it as a framework not only to take care of the chaos-problem, but to cultivate habits of selflessness, serving one another, enjoying one another, and growing in grace together as a family.
Click through for more thoughts and insights on this section!

Monday, February 10, 2014

What We've Learned: January 2014

Education is an Atmosphere
“God saved you to sanctify you.  God is in the beautification business, washing away spots and smoothing out wrinkles.”
~Kevin deYoung, The Hole in our Holiness
Family life is truly a crucible for sanctification.  It is here that I am made most aware of my wrinkles, and most aware of my need to depend on Him.
Education is a Discipline
We’ve been back to school for about 4 weeks after 2 weeks of co-op in December and 2 weeks of Christmas Break.  It’s taken us about that long to get back into anything resembling a normal routine – in actuality we’re still trying to get there.  This week probably won’t be the week….but maybe next?  One can hope, right?
That said I’ve been thinking a lot about habits and routines lately.  Some of this inspired by this blog post, and some by our discussion of Desiring the Kingdom.   Perhaps my goal should be to take some time over the next month to think through what our goals should be. J
Education is a Life
Reading to Keep Cool

 Michelle (Age 8 – Grade 2 – Ambleside Online Year 2)
After Christmas, we truncated the last 6 weeks of Year 1 into 3, which worked out fine because the reading schedule was pretty light.  We did exams again, and I was pleased with the results.  The favorite book of the term turned out to be Viking Tales.  (Even I was rather fascinated to realize that it was the Vikings from Norway that settled Normandy, and from there went on to conquer England.)  Here are her exam questions and answers relating to that book:
Tell the story of Gyda’s saucy message and what Harald had to do before she would become his wife. (Viking Tales)
His uncle went to Gyda with a lot of men, but she said she would not marry Harald until he was King of all Norway.  So he had to fight and fight until there was no one else to fight with.
Why was Harald known first as Harald Shockhead and then as Harald   Hairfair? (Viking Tales)
Gyda sent a saucy message and Harald said he would not cut his hair or even comb it until he was king of all Norway.  So as he had not cut or combed it, his hair stuck out on every side of his head.  After he had fought for a long time, he said he was king of all Norway so he washed his hair and combed it and the Earl cut his hair.  And then they said he wasn’t going to be called Harald Shockhead anymore, but be called Harald Hairfair.
We have since started Year 2, this time pretty much completely as written with the exception of the fact that we are using Little Pilgrim’s Progress instead of the real thing (we’re saving that for next year) and we switched the order of Seabird and Tree in the Trail because Seabird we already had, and Tree is still on the Slow Boat. J   I have assigned Michelle to read Leif the Lucky, The Burgess Animal Book, and Understood Betsy independently this term, so we’ll see how that goes.  Her narrations from this first week were quite good.   I am really excited about this Year – so many wonderful books in there!
In Math U See Beta, we’ve completed through Lesson 19 and will start multi-digit subtraction next week.  The past couple weeks we have been doing big column addition problems with numbers in the hundreds and thousands and have learned some good lessons in being careful with our work and finding ways to make 10’s, a very helpful strategy when adding big columns with 4 or 5 numbers.  We have also been playing around with money – both American currency using RightStart games and Cameroonian currency via keeping track of her allowance.
Michelle continues to enjoy playing around with words – we’ve been doing little bits of spelling and grammar and she seems to really enjoy both of these things (she actually asks if/when we are going to do them!)  Nature study is one of those things that’s gotten left off in the quest of getting back into a routine, but they have enjoyed informally observing our pet mice!  Some of my goals for her for this coming term are including more map work with our history and geography readings and upping the amount of writing that she is doing a little bit.  (Yes, she is a bit on the young side by CM standards, but she is more than ready and capable which I think is a more important rule of thumb than an arbitrary age.)
Reading by headlamp

James (Age 5-1/2 – Advanced Pre-K – Year .5)
I just shared about James’ Year .5 plan here.   We are really enjoying our time together each day. 
Reading is more fun with a friend

Elizabeth (Age 3-1/2 – Along for the Ride – Ambleside Online Year 0)
Elizabeth often sits in on James’ Year .5 readings…or else she goes outside to play.  We are blessed to have lots of little preschoolers running around our compound these days. J  She loves doing poetry with us though, and always wants a turn to recite.  We occasionally do a page from a Rod and Staff preschool workbook, and I’m thinking about getting some alphabet manipulatives out for her to play around with sometime soon.   She definitely has a fascination with the letter “A” (the first letter of her real name) and the number 3!  Those are hers.  She is also always asking “why?”, and sometimes her questions completely stump me.  (“Why is that a carrot, mama?  Why is grandma your mom, mama?”)
Shoot, even the pets read at our house...

Mama (Age ?? – Always Learning – Ambleside Online Year 4)
I just finished reading through Term 1 of Year 4.  My surprise favorite has been Robinson Crusoe.  I never in a hundred years would have picked up this book to read on my own – guy stranded for almost 30 years on a deserted island?  No thanks! – but I am so glad that AO included it in the curriculum.  This book is packed full of insights about God’s care, God’s sovereignty, gratitude, and far more.  I’m looking forward to reading and discussing this one with my kids when they get to that point.  Next week, I’ll start Term 2, and am adding Plutarch to my reading list this time around.
Aside from my AO reading, I have also been enjoying The Iliad with the Forum book discussion group – not only is it an exciting, epic adventure, it is also an interesting observation of human nature.   And several of us have noted that reading about the capricious nature of the Greek gods makes us more grateful for our True God who is Good, Sovereign over all things, and Unchanging.
What have you been learning?

Friday, February 7, 2014

James' Year 0.5 (Kindergarten) Plans

James is 5 and a half years old.  Technically, he could have started Kindergarten this past fall, but for a variety of reasons we decided to wait on officially enrolling him with our co-op/umbrella school as a Kindergartener until this coming fall, when he will be 6.  I hadn't really planned on doing any formal kindergarten work with him until then.  We've done a bit of work informally on and off over the past couple of years, but it hasn't ever been consistent aside from him joining us for Tea Time.
But then, he taught himself how to write all his letters (using a dry-erase tracing book).  He took the little bit of phonics and word-building work I had done with him and ran with it, and the next thing I knew he was reading Dr Seuss, and then just about anything he could get his hands on.  And  then he started inserting his own comments and opinions on the school books I was reading with Michelle. 
It was time to kick it up a notch.
Ambleside Online doesn't offer an official kindergarten year, and Year 1 isn't meant to be started with a child younger than 6 years old.  Those who need or want something for a kindergarten child usually end up cobbling together what is sometimes referred to as 'Year 0.5' – a transition between the informal preschool (Year 0) years and officially beginning Year 1.  Here are the resources that we are using for our Year 0.5:
Reading: He reads aloud to me daily  from the Treadwell Reading Literature readers or other appropriate-level books, such as the Little Bear series.   As needed, we do a bit of word-building or word-visualization using letter tiles at the white-board.
Handwriting: He copies 1 short sentence from his reader, directly underneath a model.
Math: We are using MEP Year 1 very, very slowly, spending 2-3 days on each lesson, with heavy emphasis on the hands-on activities in the lesson plans.
Read-Aloud List:
Poetry (Daily): Mother Goose rhymes, Lavendar's Blue, Eric Carle's Animals, Animals
AND one of the following:
Literature: The Wonder Clock (Pyle)
History: Fifty Famous People (Baldwin)
Natural History: Among the Farmyard People (Pierson)
Geography: Highroads to Geography (Anonymous)
I am not yet asking for narrations from these readings, although sometimes we will talk about what he liked or didn't like about a story.  Sometimes he offers a narration on his own.  But we will wait until after his 6th birthday in June to really begin narration in earnest.
Notes: Total Time for all of this is 30-40 minutes per day, aiming for 4x per week.  He also joins us for Tea Time which is another 30 minutes or so, and often for Drawing and Nature Journaling on the days we do those.   Also, keep in mind that this is my plan for James, meeting him where he was at.  Most students don't start kindergarten already having taught themselves how to read and write. J   Typically, kindergarten students will just be beginning reading and handwriting instruction.  See this very helpful blog series for hints on how to approach these subjects Charlotte Mason style.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On why we Ought to Memorize

Once again quoting from Carolyn Weber's wonderful memoir, Surprised by Oxford.  This quote came from a discussion in one of her Oxford literature classes after a student asked the professor why they had to do memory work.
"Consider how easy you have it,' he replied.  "Many of the Romantics knew much of Milton by heart – how can you study these writers if you do not know what was in their hearts as they themselves wrote?'  Then he added, thoughtfully, 'While you are at it, I also suggest that you memorize the first few chapters of Genesis.  So you know what was in Milton's heart too.'
'Why memorize it?  Why not just read it carefully?' argued Susan, our Yale 
'Because what you memorize by heart, you take to heart,' replied Dr Nuttham simply.  "It shouldn't be called by 'rote' but by 'root', for you get at the source of the text, its foundation.  Once you really absorb the words, the words become you own.  Then, and only then, can you mull them over on your tongue, appreciate them as you would good wine, enjoying them as the company of a good friend.  Besides,' he added, 'we always value something for which we've had to labor."
                ~Carolyn Weber, Surprised by Oxford

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club - Chapter 2,"Love Takes Practice"

Smith starts the chapter by reminding us that human beings “can’t not be lovers, we can’t not be desiring some kingdom. The question is not whether we love but what we love.”   He uses an example of our consumer-culture to illustrate: in a sense, marketing companies have gotten something right because they have tapped into our loves, our desires.  The response of the church (of Christian education and discipleship) should be to redirect those desires rather than to redirect thoughts.   
Smith proposes that the way to redirect our loves/desires is through practices: “routines and rituals that inscribe particular ongoing habits into our character, such that they become second nature to us.”  He cites research that has found that these habits, these practices, become ‘automatic’ over time.  This is equally true of habits we seek to form intentionally (such as practicing the piano) and those that are formed unintentionally by the practices that we are naturally immersed in.  (This reminded me of how Charlotte Mason says that habits  of one sort or another will be formed – it’s better to take care that they are the habits we want to be formed!)  
Smith differentiates between “thin” and “thick” habits – “thin” ones being things like brushing our teeth or watching the news after dinner – they don’t necessarily inform our identity and core values.   “Thick” habits “say something about us (our identity) and continue to shape us into that kind of person” – anything that is “meaningful and identity significant”.   It isn’t always cut-and-dried, sometimes the line can be fuzzy.  I still really appreciated the fact that he drew a distinction here, however.    Sometimes I feel like some of the “CM style habit training resources” out there try to lump “thin” habits like cleanliness into the same category as “thick”, moral habits such as obedience, one reason that sometimes discussions about habit training make me get all squirmy.  I happen to view them as two different things and feel that they need to be approached in different ways, so I appreciated Smith acknowledging a difference here too. 
(I’ve written before on my take on CM-style habit training here and here – as I went back to re-read those posts, I realized that a lot of that applies to what Smith is trying to say in this chapter as well.)
In this chapter, there is a section in which Smith encourages us to do a “practices audit”.  He provides us with a number of questions to help us evaluate our practices – what they are, and what we feel that they should be, if they are having the effect that we want them to have or not.  This is a fantastic idea which I unfortunately have not had the time or mental energy to tackle yet, but I hope to soon. ;)
That said, I have been thinking a lot over the past several weeks about my vision, the vision I want to present to my children, and if our practices align with this vision.   I have some thoughts percolating on this that I had intended to share here, but find myself not quite able to articulate them yet.  So, stay tuned. J
Click through to read more thoughts on this section!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Winter Term 2014 Morning Tea Time Plans

Our sweet friend Carolyn (my "tea friend") made us the heart shaped cookies special for our tea-time one day last week. :) 
So…perhaps it is sort of a joke to call it 'winter term', since we are in our hot-dry season here….but we are still technically north of the equator, and 'winter term' sounds better to me than 'hot and dry season term', so there you go.  (Maybe it's a little bit of wishful thinking?  Although I don't think I'd really dig all that sub-zero stuff going on in the Midwest…OK, now I'm just digressing….)
You can see some of our inspiration and rationale for our morning tea-time here.  Many people include Bible/hymns/Scripture memory as part of their group time as well, but we do those as a whole family devotional time and the beginning and end of the day.  But I have included what we are using for those subjects here anyhow.  That all said, here are the plans that I have drawn up for this term:
Daily Subjects:
Poetry Reading and Memory Work
Our poet this term (AO Year 2, Term 1) is Walter de la Mare.  We will probably also sneak in The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Browning) towards the end of the term – this is a Year 2 Free Read.
Poetry I have already selected for memory:
  • "A Child's Prayer" (M. Betham-Edwards)
  • Bottom's "Dream" Speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 214-225  (taken from the suggestions in Ken Ludwig's How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare) – this will be the third brief Shakespeare speech we have learned, and all three kids love to participate in this.
  • We will also be keeping our ears peeled for a poem or two of de la Mare's that we particularly like to memorize later in the term.
French or Folk Song
French songs are TBD – I'm waiting on a new resource for this that I ordered and have coming on the Slow Boat. J I'd also like to add some of the French songs that are sung at our church, but need to remember to ask if I can borrow one of the songbooks we use for a week or two.
Folk Songs – we are roughly following the AO rotation, but I think are about a term or so off schedule.  This term we are doing The Battle of Otterburn, Wade in the Water, and Down in the Valley.  Folk Songs have been another big, unexpected hit around here.
1 Weekly Subject
See Below. J
Weekly Subjects:
Day 1
Cultural Geography: Rainforest Adventure by Horace Banner – part of the Adventure series
Composer Study: We are continuing with Beethoven for another term, since our last term got kind of interrupted with the holidays (and there's a lot of ground to cover with Beethoven anyhow).  We have been slowly reading Opal Wheeler's Beethoven biography.  (We aren't really following the AO rotations for composers, although I use their suggestions for inspiration for pieces to focus on.)
Artist Study: Eduard Manet
Day 2
Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen Taylor
Day 3
The Fairy Book by Dinah Maria Mulock
Day 4
Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit
Family Devotional Time:
Scripture Memory:
It's entirely possible we won't get through all of these this term, but we will continue through them until we've learned them all and then I'll choose new things to work on. J
Books of the Old Testament
Matthew 5:14-16
Psalm 63
2 Timothy 3:16-17
John 14:6
Catechism for Young Children:
We are currently on Question 66, and typically get through 10-15 questions in a term, depending on the length and complexity of the answers.
We've been learning hymns since Michelle (now 8) was only 4, so we have quite a few under our belts.  Rather than choose any new hymns this term, we are going to spend this term cycling back through all the hymns we've already learned, one each week.
Scripture Reading:
In the morning, we read a portion of Psalms and Proverbs.
In the evening, we are reading from Catherine Vos' A Child's Story Bible.
Sunday Reading Choices:
God's Promises and God's Providence (Michael)
John Calvin and/or John Owen (Carr)
Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime (Benge)
Amy Carmichael: The Hidden Jewel (Jackson)
Pilipinto's Happiness (Shepard)