Wednesday, April 22, 2015

From My Commonplace: Delightful Companions

I just began re-reading Charlotte Mason's sixth volume, A Philosophy of Education.    It's my third time through, but this is one of those books that you can read and re-read and still gain new insights every time. 
A couple of quotes that caught my eye this week:
"…certainly it is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that takes, and a sort of radiancy of look distinguishes both scholar and teacher engaged in this manner of education…" (p.27)
"Parents become interested in the schoolroom work, and find their children 'delightful companions.'"  (p. 28)
~Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education
I loved the idea here that educating with rich living books that feed the mind and nourish the soul  is not only a blessing to the student, but to the parent/teacher as well.  My life has been immensely enriched by homeschooling my children with Charlotte Mason's ideas and Ambleside Online.   We have our difficult days of course, but on the whole educating and learning with my children is a delight.   And the further we go down this path the more I find that my children are becoming 'delightful companions', truly interesting people.   The same day that I read these pages, I happened to allow my oldest daughter to sit up a bit later than her younger siblings.   We had a rather delightful ramble through a variety of topics ranging from Ivan the Terrible (who she had heard about in her co-op class that day and wanted to add to her timeline book), to where the current Queen Elizabeth lives, to rocks, geology, and birthstones ('Mama, can we maybe do a rock term when our bird term is done?').    It was delightful to me to see her curiosity, her thirst for knowledge, the connections she is making from one thing to another to another.   She is at an age where many of her peers are starting to lose that natural sense of wonder – that thirst to know.   Charlotte warns against this, and has devised her method around the idea of feeding and nurturing that thirst in order to keep it alive and well so that "…an education that is begun at school [will be] continued throughout life" (p.29).  It is a beautiful thing to begin to see the first little buds of this truth peep out in our home.   I look forward to seeing the fruit in the years to come.

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Easter Devotions in Living the Christian Year (Gross), The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Ferguson)
Theological or Christian Living: The Story of Christianity, Volume 1 (Gonzales)
Book Discussion Group Titles: Macbeth (Shakespeare)
'Great Book': Inferno (Dante)
On Education: How to Read a Book (Adler), A Philosophy of Education (Mason)
Topic of Special Interest: The New World (Churchill)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: Nicholas Nickelby (Dickens), The Princess and Curdie (MacDonald)
Read-Alouds with the Children: On the Banks of Plum Creek (Wilder), The Magician's Nephew (Lewis), Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold (Benge)

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Garden Project, or We Actually Grew Some Totmatoes!

Since moving to Africa a little over two years ago, we've mostly just focused in on trying to get acquainted with our surroundings in our nature study time…and we still do a lot of that.   But given that we are now pretty familiar with the things we are likely to see in our neighborhood, the fact that I have come to realize that nature study really IS science – textbook not needed, and that the kids are all getting a little bit older I felt like it was time to bring a little more 'focus' into our nature study time.  We started with plants, and decided to do a little gardening project, using the Handbook of Nature Study as our inspiration.  The section on "How to Begin Plant Study" (p. 453-459 in the edition I have) has some wonderful ideas.  One thing that I particularly noted was this: "The object of planting any seed should be to rear a plant which shall fulfill its whole duty and produce other seed."   I decided that rather than germinating bean seeds in baggies, as many elementary science texts suggest, we should actually try our hand at gardening and see if we couldn't watch a plant go through its entire life cycle.  I'm no gardener, so it was with a bit of fear and trepidation that we began…but I figured even if we failed, it was worth a shot.  (There's something to be learned from failure too, right?!)
Observing the seeds before planting.
Planting seedlings in various types of soil.
Seedlings ready for observation

We began with some squash and tomato seeds that we harvested from some local market produce (there are heaps of instructions online about how to do this).   We planted them in small cups to begin with so we could observe the seedling growth more carefully in the early stages.   We took advantage of this seedling time as well to conduct a few of the 'experiments' in the Handbook – planting in various materials (garden soil, sand, sawdust), watering too much or too little, watching how the leaves turned towards the sunny window, planting the seeds near the sides of a clear cup so we could observe the roots growing down into the soil.   All of these things helped us draw conclusions for ourselves about the needs of plants.
The seed case was still stuck on to the first little leaves that pushed out.  I don't think I'd ever observed that before.
Seedling in wood shavings

Close up of the roots
The pumpkin seeds never sprouted, sadly, but we got several good strong tomato seedlings which we later transplanted into a sunny spot in our yard.  It was great fun to watch them grow bigger and bigger, eventually flower, and the first tiny green tomatoes appear.
Our little tomato patch

First tomato flowers

First couple tomatoes!

I was a little bit worried that bugs or tomato blight might strike…but they never did.  We harvested our first ripe red tomato last week.  (Sweet Elizabeth made the point of picking and bringing it to me when it had just BARELY turned the first little bit of pink…but it ripened up nicely in the window.)  What fun to observe and eat our very own homegrown tomato, and see the full life cycle of a plant come to pass! 
Our first ripe tomato alongside a green one that got knocked down before ripening.
Ready to eat!
We recorded all of our observations along the way in a special 'garden journal', separate from our regular nature journals.

James' (6.5) entry.  I ask him to write what he saw, where he saw it, and the date on his nature journal entries.  Love how very literally he takes me sometimes....

Mama's Garden Journal

Michelle's (9) Garden Journal

 This was a really simple project…even for a black-thumb like me!...and well worth the effort in terms of the value of what we learned and observed *for ourselves*, which of course is one of the most valuable parts of nature study-as-science.  I was also encouraged to have success in gardening…perhaps if we are ever settled enough in the States where we don't have access to cheap local produce, we will give a real garden a go.

Sharing this peek into our garden journals with this month's Keeping Company link-up.  Click Here for more Keeping Inspiration

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Notes from Today

I don't normally post two days in a row, but I guess this is your lucky day. J  I had a couple of thoughts today that *I* wanted to be sure to remember, and so I thought I would share them here.  Maybe they will be helpful or encouraging to you too.
Grand Discussions Don't Have to Be Hard
The idea of the grand discussion is what it sounds like – after reading a selection and narrating it, you discuss.   Together you ask questions, dig deeper, draw out the bigger picture ideas, make connections.   Sounds great, right?  Of course it does.  I love the idea of having rich conversations about books and ideas with my children.  But I have also felt very overwhelmed at times to know where to start.  This kind of thing doesn't come naturally to me.  How do you know what questions to ask?  I've read books and listened to talks and seminars, and for the most part have still not really felt any better equipped to be able to do this. 
Today I realized, though, that it doesn't have to be hard.  That maybe, just maybe,  I've built it up in my mind as something more complex that it needs to be.   That maybe it's as simple as "should….?", "what if….?", and "did that make you think of anything else?"   (Those aren't original questions, by the way – credit goes to Andrew Kern and various Ambleside ladies. J)
Michelle finished reading The Princess and the Goblin today – the novel for Term 1 of Ambleside Year 3.  After she had narrated the final chapter, I asked her a couple of these questions as she thought back over the story as a whole – Should Irene have trusted her Grandmother?  Was that the right thing to do?  What if she had not?  What about Curdie…should he have….  You get the idea.  We chatted about that for a few minutes.   I ended by asking her if this story made her think of anything else.  Her response?  "It made me think about the part in Prince Caspian where the others didn't want to trust Aslan because they hadn't seen him -  only Lucy had and they didn't believe her.  But later they realized they should have.  They should have trusted Aslan even when they couldn't see him."
Now that's not to say that this will happen with every book.  And that's OK.  But the point is that this discussion was not borne out of any intense preparation on my part. I did read the book before the term started because I was unfamiliar with it and I was passing it along to Michelle to read on her own, but did not analyze anything or plot out discussion questions ahead of time.   This discussion did not take a long time – 5 minutes tops.  It was not forced.  It was not contrived.  I started it off with a couple of very simple, open-ended questions and away we went.   The thinking, the connections – all hers.
It really was that simple.
When You're Feeling Blah About Nature Study, Go for a Walk with Your Preschooler
We live in an unpleasant urban environment.   At times this makes staying inspired about nature study really, really hard.   We are headed Stateside next month and I admit that I have been fantasizing about parks and proper nature walks and four distinct seasons and….anything but the same old stuff in our compound yard.  Again.  
Today, I was running an errand with five-year old Elizabeth.  We were walking along the familiar dusty road in our neighborhood – the road I've never bothered walking for a 'nature walk' because I didn't think there would be anything there worth seeing and observing.   As we walked along, though, she chattered away – mama look at this!  mama look at that!   We saw a really interesting green insect on a flower bush.  We saw a tiny spider on its web.   We talked about the rooster, hen, and five baby chicks walking along the side of the road with us.  We saw some corn plants and talked about where corn seeds came from.
There's a wealth of discoveries out there.  Even on my fairly unpleasant, dusty neighborhood road.    It almost made me sad to think of what we may have missed by dismissing that as a possibility these past 2 years simply because I assumed there would be nothing to see.    I'm making a note-to-self to try this road out as a regular nature-study route when we return next year.   There are things to be discovered even in the most unexpected places.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

From My Commonplace: On Narration

If you have not yet read this fantastic article on narration, you should.  Go do it.  Now. J
I read this article a couple weeks ago.  After I did, I read all of the linked Parent's Review Articles, and made several pages of notes – tips, ideas, quotes.  Those articles are a treasure trove.  I came away with a fresh understanding of what narration really is and why we do it.  That's really where it all starts.  Once you understand the 'what' and the 'why', it makes it easier to put it into practice in an appropriate way, and to help your students grow in a way that doesn't interfere with the process.
This week I'm sharing some of the quotes I noted from that exercise.
"The less the teacher talks the more the class will have to think."
Narration "properly dealt with leads to mental transfiguration."
"We narrate and then we know."
"[Narration] is not to tell you what you know already or even to find out what they know, but to help them to remember."
"…narration…is founded on this power of mind to recall knowledge gained from a single reading or seeing or doing and the fact that such recollection makes so deep an impression on the mind that it remains for a long time and is never entirely lost."
"Such co-ordination grows from remembered past narrations over a wide field.  Some note in today's reading awakes an echo in some other subject or lesson so the power to compare and contrast and illustrate by example is developed.  This should lead to a valuable use of analogy, and application of past history to modern times and modern problems." (
"What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated."
~Charlotte Mason , School Education, p. 177
"…in the act of narrating every power of his mind comes in to play, that points and bearings which he had not observed are brought out, that the whole is visualized and brought into relief in an extraordinary way; in fact, that scene or argument has become part of his personal experience; he knows, he has assimilated what he has read.  This not memory work."

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Easter Devotions in Living the Christian Year (Gross), The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Ferguson)
Theological or Christian Living: The Story of Christianity, Volume 1 (Gonzales)
Book Discussion Group Titles: Watership Down (Adams), Macbeth (Shakespeare)
'Great Book': Inferno (Dante)
On Education: How to Read a Book (Adler), A Philosophy of Education (Mason)
Topic of Special Interest: The New World (Churchill)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: Children of the New Forest (Marryat) – Pre-reading for Ambleside Year 3
Read-Alouds with the Children: On the Banks of Plum Creek (Wilder), The Magician's Nephew (Lewis), Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold (Benge)
On the Back Burner: Nicholas Nickelby (Dickens)

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Science of Relations

We had an interesting discussion over on the AO Forum recently that has been rumbling around in my mind ever since.  One mom shared how she had just had an "aha" moment and realized that when Charlotte Mason talks about 'the science of relations', she's not just talking about the relationships and connections between topics and subject matter, but also the relationship that the student forms internally between himself and the person/event/topic being studied.
When one is just starting out with Charlotte Mason style education, I think it can be hard to see how exactly this is supposed to play out.  It can be tempting to try to force those connections to happen artificially (a la unit studies).  But as time goes along, the student gains more ideas to form relationships and connections with, and you can start to see little glimpses of the tapestry that is being woven beneath the surface.
Recently, we had an experience in our house that confirmed this.   Michelle, currently studying Ambleside Online Year 3, came to me to narrate from Explore His Earth – a book about physical geography and earth science.  The section she had just read had described and discussed the continents of North and South America.   She was almost giddy with excitement when she came to me: "Mama! I met an old friend in this book!" she said.  "Amerigo Vespucci!  Do you remember him?   He was the explorer who they named America after even though he wasn't the first person to find it."   We had read about Amerigo Vespucci several weeks previously in our American history book, This Country of Ours, and the story had rather tickled her fancy.   Somewhere inside, she had formed a 'relationship' with the story of Amerigo Vespucci and his explorations.   When she met him again in another book on a completely different subject matter, she recognized him as an "old friend".  Another thread had been laid in the tapestry.
In her Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason says this:
"A small English boy of nine living in Japan remarked, 'Isn't it fun, Mother, learning all these things? Everything seems to fit into something else.' He had not found out the whole secret; everything fitted into something within himself."  (p.157)
It is a beautiful thing to begin to see the truth of this brought to life in our home.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

From My Commonplace: On Remembering

One of the books that is being discussed over on the AO Forum at the moment is Richard Adam's Watership Down (a Year 7 literature selection).   It is a story about a group of rabbits that escape from imminent danger at their warren, and set off into the wide world to get to safety and re-establish themselves against all odds.  At one point along their journey, they stop and stay for a while with a group of rabbits that seem a little bit…different.  They live, act, and speak in ways that rabbits typically don't.  When our group of rabbits tell one of the traditional tales of one of the heroes of  their rabbit mythology, these new rabbits are indifferent, having moved on to new stories of their own innovation.  One of the group of rabbits senses that there is something suspicious about these rabbits and warns them to get away while they can, but none of the rest of the group want to listen until they find themselves in a great deal of danger.  This is what that rabbit says:
"They forgot El-ahriah, for what use had they for tricks and cunning, living in the enemy's warren and paying his price?  They found out other marvelous arts to take the place of tricks and old stories."
~Richard Adams, Watership Down
These rabbits had thrown out the wisdom of the old in favor of their own 'new' wisdom...that wasn't really wisdom at all.  As I noted in my post on CS Lewis' The Abolition of Man, a big part of the point Lewis was trying to make is that we have to recognize the fixed, absolute truths that are part of our universe.  The minute someone else starts decide what is and isn't truth, we start heading towards destruction and chaos.  The rabbits in the new warren seemed to be a good picture of that.  It made me think of The Silver Chair too, which we recently finished reading to the kids.  When Jill and Eustace forget the signs that Aslan gives them, and fail to heed the warnings of Puddleglum the Marshwiggle to remember -  that's when they start heading into danger. 
'Remembering' is important.

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Lent Devotions in Living the Christian Year (Gross), The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Ferguson)
Theological or Christian Living: The Story of Christianity, Volume 1 (Gonzales)
Book Discussion Group Titles: Idylls of the King (Tennyson), Watership Down (Adams)
'Great Book': Inferno (Dante)
On Education: How to Read a Book (Adler), Beauty for Truth's Sake (Caledecott)
Topic of Special Interest: The New World (Churchill)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: Nicholas Nickelby (Dickens)
Read-Alouds with the Children: On the Banks of Plum Creek (Wilder), The Horse and His Boy (Lewis), Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold (Benge)

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