Thursday, August 14, 2014

Evening Primrose Nature Study Joy!

If you have evening primroses in your backyard and you haven't watched them bloom, you must do it some day! 

I was excited when I saw the Evening Primrose Outdoor Hour Challenge in my inbox last week, because I had just spent some time drawing one in my nature journal the day before. They are fairly plentiful in our back yard, and grow to between four and five feet tall. The boys and I picked some for our teatime flower arrangement, and noticed how fragrant they are.

During the day, we often see tiny insects inside the flower, and bumblebees flying into one, then another, pollinating them. I believe their normal pollination is done at night by moths, though we've never had a chance to see that happen.

From the Handbook of Nature Study, we discovered that evening primroses bloom very quickly in the evening. I went out to watch earlier this week and discovered that the time frame here was between 8:30 and 9:00. Since that's after bedtime for my little boys, watching the flowers open was an observation that had to wait for a special occasion. The boys and I finally went out together yesterday evening. We looked at all the plants and finally settled on one that had several buds that looked like they were about to bloom. Then we settled down to watch and wait. Within about ten minutes, we noticed one of the buds beginning to open. As the petals pushed against the sepals, the sepals suddenly let go one at a time, and curled back towards the stem. After that, the petals continued to unfurl until the flower was completely open. The whole process probably took about five minutes. Meanwhile, another flower had begun to open as well, so we got to watch two of them!

I think this was one of our favourite nature study experiences so far. It was so exciting to be able to watch a flower open before our eyes.

I will be sharing this post with the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Great Caterpillar Escape

In our house, we have a jar with two caterpillars in it. Every so often, I remind the boys to add fresh leaves so their captives stay alive.

A couple of days ago, though, I noticed that the caterpillars seemed to be missing, and I wasn't sure what happened to them or who the culprit was.

Thankfully, however, I discovered that the culprit who orchestrated their escape had documented it very carefully on my cellphone camera.

Notice the jar, carefully turned on its side.

And now, an artistic closeup of the caterpillar's getaway.

What adventures!

Oops...accidental partial selfie of the culprit. We only have one boy this blonde.We know you did it, JJ.

And finally, on the floor. I'm not sure if he had a little help or not...

In case you're wondering, we did come across him again a day or two later and put him back in the jar. The other caterpillar is still missing.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Education of the Whole Person

In chapter 6 of School Education, Charlotte Mason continues to evaluate different educational psychologies of her day against the standard:
1. Is it comprehensive?
2. Is it necessary (the only explanation that makes sense of everything involved)?
3. Does it take into account the living ideas of the age? In her day, the main ideas she identified were the sacredness of the person, the evolution of the individual, and the solidarity of the human race.

Once again, I was very struck by her optimism. 
"It is just possible that bringing unbiassed minds and a few guiding principles to the task, we have, not joined the parts of the puzzle, but perceived dimly how an outline here and an outline there indicate, not so many separate psychologies, but shadowings forth of a coherent, living, educational principle destined to assume more and more clearness and fulness until it is revealed to us at last as the educational gospel, the discovery of which may be the destined reward and triumph of our age."
She was seeking to find the truth about education, and had hope of finding it. I think there are two parts to this optimism (and reasons why it feels so foreign to us today.). First, she believed in absolute truth, and second, she believed that human reason can discover universal, objective truth through science (in this case, psychology). To Charlotte Mason, evaluating these other psychologies was all part of the process of finding the truth. What do you think of her optimism?

In this chapter, she evaluates two schools of thought and finds them wanting in the way they view children. Froebel's psychology sees children as plants in a garden (Kindergarten), to be nurtured and protected. Too protected, to Charlotte Mason. She believes the atmosphere of real life is necessary, not the carefully regulated Kindergarten. Why? Because children are born persons, individuals like ourselves. They need the little struggles and trials of real life in order to grow strong in character and in initiative. 

Herbart's psychology seems more dangerous to me, as Mason describes it. He seems to have seen the child as something to produce through the presentation of a carefully curated set of ideas. "...the self, the soul or the person, however we choose to call him, is an effect and not a cause, a result, and not an original fact."

In contrast, Charlotte Mason believed that the child, body and soul, is a whole person.
"We believe the thinking, invisible soul and acting, visible body to be one in so intimate a union that-- 'Nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps soul.'" (p. 63)
"The person of the child is sacred to us; we do not swamp his individuality in his intelligence, in his conscience, or even in his soul; perhaps one should add to-day, or even in his physical development. The person is all these and more."  (p. 65)
In other words, we can't take a child's mind, or his soul, or his body, and say "This now is the person."  Everything is intertwined, and you can't consider any one of these things without considering the others, and more.

Second, the fact that a child is a born person defines our job as teachers.
"...a human being comes into the world with capacity for many relations; and...we, for our part, have two chief concerns-- first, to put him in the way of forming these relations by presenting the right idea at the right time, and by forming the right habit upon the right idea; and secondly by not getting in the way and so preventing the establishment of the very relations we seek to form." (p. 66)
And I love this!
"We study in many ways the art of standing aside." (p. 66)
I know I need to work on that! I do try to put my children in touch with ideas through living experience and "living books." Too often, though, I find myself explaining too much and getting in the way, like the "kindly obtrusive teacher."
"...his kindly obtrusive teacher makes him believe that to know about things is the same thing as knowing them personally..." (p. 66)
I hope I catch myself often enough. I want my children to develop their own relationships with the world and with ideas!

You can read Jen's post about this chapter here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Impromptu Barn Swallow Nature Study

We have been seeing and hearing swallows occasionally throughout the summer. They fly so quickly, though, that up till now it has been impossible to identify what kind of swallows they are. I had been thinking that they might have been tree swallows because many of them seemed to have white undersides, and I also caught glimpses of blue when they came close enough.

Yesterday and today, though, about fifteen or twenty have been congregating near our house. Every time I stepped outside the door, they seemed to be swooping through the air around my yard. Even whizzing by within ten feet of my head, I still had trouble telling exactly what they were.

Until this morning. Fifteen of these swallows settled nicely in a row on the power line leading right to my front door. For the first time I was able to get a good look without them being in constant motion. 

Photo courtesy of my husband, Stephen. Having the zoomed-in picture really helped with identification.

I grabbed my Handbook of Nature Study. I looked up tree swallows, and was excited to see that it said that tree swallows often congregate in early August before heading south. However, I saw almost immediately that these were not tree swallows, as they had a "collar" which tree swallows do not have. Also, a few of the swallows had more of a rusty-coloured underside. That made me think of barn swallows. But why did so many have white undersides?

I looked up barn swallows at One of the nice things about this website is that it usually has pictures of male, female, and juvenile birds. In this case, female and juvenile birds both have whiter undersides than the males. I believe the bird in the middle of the picture above is a male, and the other two are females. There were also several less sleek, more fluffy-looking birds, and I think those must have been younger birds. The "typical song" also confirmed the identification. These birds always seem to be twittering.

I am so glad to have finally figured out what type "our" swallows are!

I think the one on the left is a juvenile, with an adult female on the right.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Narration from Year 1, Week 1

For the Record.

We are using the free curriculum guide from Ambleside Online. This narration is on the story of The Tortoise and the Ducks, from Aesop's Fables. SA is six years old, and this was his first week of learning the skill of narration (telling back what was read). On this occasion he was a little reluctant, so I offered to alternate sentences with him. He soon picked up the story, though.

After first section read:
Me: The tortoise carries his house on his back.
SA: And the house is a shell.
Me: Jupiter made him carry his house on his back because he was so lazy he wouldn't go to Jupiter's wedding.
The tortoise felt sad because...
SA: The birds punished him?
Me: Well, you could say that. The birds flew anywhere they wanted to go, but poor tortoise...
SA: Couldn't go anywhere he wanted because he had no wings.

After second section read:
SA: Two ducks were there and he asked the ducks to carry him where he wanted. So they took a pole and two ducks were on the ends and the tortoise was in the middle.

After third section read:
SA: A crow flew by. Then when he opened his mouth to say something, he fell down on a rock and smashed into pieces.

You will notice that he missed a few details in the second section, and completely missed the moral of the story in the third section. :) This was an average narration from our first week. Sometimes he did better, sometimes he did worse. I felt it was a good start. I plan to write down a narration at the end of the term as well so that I can see his growth.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Charlotte Mason Math Teacher 2

Last time we talked about the fact that Charlotte Mason considered the math teacher more important than the math curriculum, and started to explore what makes a good teacher. The first point was one implied in Charlotte Mason's own attitude towards mathematics: a good teacher appreciates the beauty and wonder of math. I'm continuing with two more points on this subject this week, and I'm afraid I will have one more post on you, the teacher, next week...I had to cut this one in half because it was getting too long!

2. A good teacher teaches the child, not the program.

Too often parents look for the perfect math curriculum to plug their children into, hoping that the curriculum will produce a certain outcome in their children. This often comes from a feeling of insecurity (I for one am the most tempted by expensive, all-the-bells-and-whistles curriculum in the areas I feel most anyone with me?). If this is you, I hope you are taking steps to address your fears.

Charlotte Mason talked about using a method, not a system. I am going to write about the implications of this for math later in the series, so I won't write too much about it here. For now I'll just say that we have a great advantage as homeschooling parents. We know our children as “born persons.” We know their strengths and weaknesses, we know what they know and what they don’t know. We have an opportunity to deal with them one-on-one.

What does this mean when you are choosing math curriculum for the early grades? It means that the curriculum isn't everything. It's a tool to help you reach your goals for math. You will be able to see if your child is mastering the concepts. If not, you will not push him through without mastery. You will find other resources and ideas to help in areas that seem difficult. You will not insist on endless drill of concepts your child already understands. The bottom line is, you do not need to find the perfect curriculum. You just have to find one that works, and work with it.

3. A good teacher “quickens the imagination” with great ideas.

“Mathematics depend upon the teacher rather than upon the text-book and few subjects are worse taught; chiefly because teachers have seldom time to give the inspiring ideas, what Coleridge calls, the ‘Captain’ ideas, which should quicken imagination.” (6, 233)
 "But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas..."  (6, xxx, Principle 11.)
If you are at all familiar with Charlotte Mason's philosophy, you will know about her emphasis on feeding a child's mind with living ideas. In most subjects, this is done through living books. Math is a little different. It does not require the literary presentation of living books, as its ideas appeal directly to the mind.
“I have so far urged that knowledge is necessary to men, and that, in the initial stages, it must be conveyed through a literary medium, whether it be knowledge of physics or of Letters... ...mathematics seem to fall outside this rule of literary presentation; mathematics, like music, is a speech in itself, a speech irrefragibly logical, of exquisite clarity, meeting the requirements of the mind.” (6, 334)
When we think of the early grades, it sometimes can be difficult to see what the inspiring "captain ideas" are, much less pass them on. How can we avoid passing on the simple facts of addition and subtraction without their informing ideas?

The first way at this age is through the use of manipulatives. When a child is handling beans or rods or pennies, he grasps the idea not only that 3+4=7, but also that 4+3=7, and that 7-3=4 and 7-4=3. For a young child exploring his world, this can be a very exciting discovery. I know it was for my son!

A second way to provide inspiration in math during the early elementary years is to use everyday situations like playing games together, cooking together, and measuring all the children, or paying with cash at the grocery store. I am not talking about calling a cooking session a "math lesson" because you used fractions (Does that drive you crazy, too? As if cooking together wasn't valuable in and of itself.). I just mean that these everyday situations often will allow your child to make math discoveries on his own... living ideas that appeal directly to his mind with little or no explanation needed.

Do these thoughts make a difference in the curriculum you choose? First of all, you do not need to choose a math curriculum that weaves the concepts into a story in order to pass on its living ideas. (Though I'm not saying you can't use such a thing...) It will be more important that you use manipulatives, whether you choose a curriculum that utilizes them, or whether you use beans or buttons alongside your more traditional math program. You may have your own ideas about activities and games using math, or you may use a resource book for inspiration and ideas like I do. What matters is that your child has a chance to discover some living ideas for himself. Math is not just about dreary, endless pages of drill in arithmetic facts, it is about inspiring ideas waiting to be discovered and explored. These ideas give meaning to the facts and make practicing them interesting and worthwhile.

This post is part of the series "Choosing Elementary Math Curriculum with Charlotte Mason's Principles in Mind"
You are *still* here >>A Good Teacher - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
A Method, Not a System
Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life in Early Math Education
Spiral or Mastery?
Problem Solving
Putting it all Together: Choosing Curriculum and Resources

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Evaluating Psychologies

I really had to push myself to write on this chapter (Chapter 5 of Volume 3), mostly because I disagreed with Charlotte Mason on some of it, and I am reluctant to air my thoughts publicly. After all, I'm probably wrong. But here goes, anyway... I'd love to hear your feedback, as long as it's kind. :)

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason begins to examine and evaluate several educational psychologies current in her day. She does this because:
"...the stream can rise no higher than its source, ...sound theory must underlie successful work." 
"our results cannot be in advance of our principles." (Vol. 3, p. 45)
This recognition is something I love more than anything about Charlotte Mason. What we believe about children, and about education, has results in our methods and our practical, everyday choices. The extent to which what we believe is true will have a huge impact on our results.

In the presence of so many different, often opposed, psychologies, Charlotte Mason sets out three principles to help us evaluate the soundness of each one:
"It must be adequate, covering the whole nature of man and his relations with all that is other than himself.
"It must be necessary, that is, no other equally adequate psychology should present itself; and
 "It must touch at all points the living thought of the age; ...the intelligent man in the street should feel its movement to be in step with the two or three great ideas by which the world is just now being educated." (p. 46)
I was in complete agreement with the first two, but the last made me pause. The points she goes on to clarify as the great ideas of her own time are unobjectionable, but I had to ask myself what the two or three great ideas are of today? And would they be a reliable measure of the value of an educational psychology?

What would these ideas be today? There is no such thing as absolute truth? All "truths" are equal? The greatest human virtue is tolerance?

I think the ideas of any given time can be false, or based on half-truth. The implications of these ideas may not be fully realized or understood until later, when their results are felt.

In Charlotte Mason's day, the main ideas she identifies as the great ideas of her time are:
-The sacredness of the person
-The evolution of the individual
-The solidarity of the race

Charlotte means by "evolution of the individual" that education "should have for its sole aim the making the very most of that person, intellectually, morally, physically," and also that education should be assimilated...become "part and parcel of the person." The "solidarity of the race" refers to the way in which we identify with other human beings from other times and places, and even in our imagination.

To me, these ideas are timeless. I believe in the "sacredness of the person," and think it is a good principle for evaluating an educational psychology. That's because it is a timeless truth, based on the fact that we are all created in the image of God. I think that when we anchor it there, in God's truth, rather than in the current thought of a particular time, we guard against extremes. (After all, the sacredness of the person is a main idea of our own time, but stripped of its foundation. Without a Creator or a purpose in life, we are left to create our own self-worth out of nothing but what we find inside ourselves.)

I believe in the "evolution of the individual" in the sense that God has given us all gifts and talents, and we are all called to develop them to the fullest, for Him.

I see the "solidarity of the race" in the very way in which God gave us His much of it in story. People like us, going through things that we can identify with. And then He sent Jesus, "God with us" there's "solidarity of the race!"

So you see, I actually agree with Charlotte...I just think that the reason these ideas have stood the test of time and resonate today is because they are based on a greater foundation than the current thought of her time. To be fair, Charlotte Mason probably did not envision a day when "current thought" would be so far from God's truth. It was certainly happening in her time, but it may not have been as easy to discern as it is now.

Charlotte Mason goes on to evaluate a few educational psychologies, and I love the humility with which she does so.
"...we do not presume to do this as critics, rather as inheritors of other men's labour...
"But we must bear in mind that truth behaves like a country gate allowed to 'swing to' after a push. Now it swings a long way to this side and now a long way to that, and at last after shorter and shorter oscillations the latch settles. The reformer, the investigator, works towards one aspect of truth, which is the whole truth to him, and which he advances out of line with the rest. The next reformer works at a tangent, apparently in opposition, but he is bringing up another front of truth. Then there is work for us, the people of average mind. We consider all sides, balance what has been done, and find truth, perhaps in the mean, perhaps as a side issue which did not make itself plain to original thinkers of either school. But we do not scorn the bridge that has borne us." (p. 49)

Isn't that a wonderful picture? All disagreement aside, I still must respect the clear-headed way Charlotte Mason looks at the big picture and considers the implications of ideas.

(Sorry this is posted late...I know it's not Monday anymore!) You can read Jen's post on this chapter here.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Getting into a Routine Again

I'm sorry I've been MIA this week on the blog. I finished planning for my school year and decided to start this week.

The problem is, I have been a bit overwhelmed with my new routine this week, and we have not completed a single day as planned yet. I'm not sure yet if I need to adjust, or if my routine needs some tweaking. Probably we'll need a bit of both. I'm hoping that writing through it here will give me some clarity, so bear with me if this post rambles a bit.

I've explained before why a routine works better for me than a schedule. I have been a bit challenged on this lately because many of my fellow Charlotte Mason homeschoolers use a schedule in imitation of Charlotte Mason herself. But in my season of life (three children under six, and another on the way), I am still convinced that flexible periods of time anchored to regular daily events like mealtimes work better than assigning a specific time for everything.

The routine for our Kindergarten year worked wonderfully. It was a simple routine, with plenty of room to breathe and live our lives. Our days were (mostly) peaceful. Year one adds several new elements, and that's where the challenge lies right now. I'm wondering if my tiredness and inability to finish it all are just the normal pains of adjusting to something new, or if I will have to drop some things. Let me show you my planned routine. I will italicize the items that are new on our routine, or new in the time period I've put them in. Maybe you will have some ideas for me...

Before Breakfast:
Get dressed
Brush teeth
Chore #1 (Hasn't happened yet. I hope to get SA to collect the laundry so I can start a load before breakfast.)

Breakfast: 8:00 

After Breakfast (while we're still sitting at the table. Everything in this time period is going well.)
Scripture reading
Narration of Scripture reading 
Scripture memory work
Psalm/Hymn memory work
French (ten minute lesson once a week, five minute daily review)
Copywork (five minutes. I set the timer.)

Play Outside
Clean-up Time

Poetry Teatime (10:30)
We do this outside if possible. This time includes our folk song and several poems. I plan to alternate Poetry with Music Appreciation (once a week) and Art Appreciation (once a week). Neither of these new things happened this week.

Lesson Time
Math Lesson (I set the timer for fifteen minutes, and give him five more if he really wants them.)
AO Reading and Narration (This went well this week.)
Pilates (SA has some Pilates-like exercises prescribed by our eye doctor. It was good to have this in the routine, as I had not been very faithful with them up to now.)
Reading (SA usually just reads aloud from a library book or a reader. I will also use this time for occasional reading instruction that may arise from that.)
Drawing (20 minute lesson once a week, a few minutes of practice on two additional days.)

Play Outside

Lunch (12:30)

After Lunch (while we're still at the table)
Reading Proverbs with SA (SA and I read a few verses alternately. This happened once this week.)
Catechism Memory (did not happen)
Scripture and Hymn Memory Review (Review of memory work we've learned in the past. This did work out this week.)
AO Reading and Narration (This went well.)

Quiet Time (Sort of happened, but not really in an intentional way.)

Play Outside

Nature Walk/Geography (3x per week/2x per week) (Did not happen.)

Snack Time (3:00)

Play Outside

Clean-up Time 

Screen Time (5:00)  (This used to be at 4:00, and we didn't end up changing the time this week yet.)

Supper Time

Several thoughts are coming to mind as I write this all out.

We were really focusing on narration this week. This is a new skill this year, and I'm really happy with how it has been going so far. SA narrated two or three times per day (Always the Bible story in the morning, one reading from his school books after teatime, and one reading after lunch.). He seems to have accepted that this is what we do now for school. He asked just once if he could just listen to a story instead of narrating it, and I explained that it was a school book, and whatever we read from our school books has to be narrated. I think that once narration becomes second nature and we don't have to devote quite as much brain power to it, the rest of the routine may become easier.

If I step back and look at what did happen, I am fairly happy. The boys continued to spend lots of time outside. We began our Poetry Teatime again, which has always been one of the richest and happiest parts of our day. We began with French and Drawing, and neither of them were as scary and overwhelming as I feared they would be. Narration went well. I didn't get to do everything I planned, but I can build on this.

The one thing I really missed doing is Nature Study. Maybe I will just choose this one thing to make sure I add to next week and not worry yet about doing it all.

But I still feel overwhelmed with my own routine. I want to do every single thing I have planned, or I wouldn't have added it. Last year's routine was an easy, peaceful walking through the day, and I do fear those days are behind us. I don't want them to be, though. Note that this is our school routine. Dishes and laundry and lawn mowing still have to be done. I'm not sure I dare to think about weekly and monthly cleaning chores. Rest will no doubt become increasingly necessary as well with the progress of my pregnancy.

Maybe I need to plan more and get my chore routine under control. Hmmm...

For now I will keep trying to conform to my routine, and hope necessary adjustments will become clear to me.

How do you plan your days?