Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tea Time

What the tea tray looks like when Mama's hungry.

For more on our teatimes:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Don't Remember...

As we are nearing the end of our first term using Ambleside Online Year One, I have been thinking through writing a post about how much we are liking it, and how wonderfully the new skill of narration has been developing in SA(6).

And then we ran *smack* into today.

Today we were home all day after going out four days in a row. (My general rule tends to be that I never go out more than one day in a row. For reasons that will become obvious.)

I woke up in a bit of pain. Nothing serious, just the usual pregnancy aches and pains that happen after I overdo things a little bit. Just enough to dull my usual optimism into more of a "let's just get through this day" sort of feeling.

Unfortunately, SA seems to have woken up with much the same feeling. He dawdled with his math, and only completed a quarter of a page before it was time for his first narration of the day.

If I had just been thinking, I would have known that I should choose an easy passage for narration, or at least one from a favourite book. But I glanced through "Prince Darling" in the Blue Fairy Book and thought it would be fine.

It was not. When I paused for the first narration after reading the first paragraph, he said, "I don't remember."

"That's too bad," I said. "I thought it was quite interesting. Try to listen very carefully to this next part so you can tell it back to me."

So I read the next paragraph, and he told me again, "I don't remember."

Uh-oh. That line usually works on him. What do I say now? "Do you remember any of it, JJ?"

JJ(4) never narrates, so he was very pleased to tell me what he remembered. "There was a lady with a crown of roses."

"Yes!" I said. "Does that help you remember anything more, SA?"


On to the next paragraph. Still nothing. And so on for five more paragraphs before I gave up.

What can a mom do in such a situation? I felt like giving up on the day and just going to bed, honestly. I even felt a bit like screaming. Thankfully I held it in.

The day did not get a lot better until after supper, when SA asked me if he could finish his copywork (also not done...) and his second narration. We read two of Aesop's Fables. He did well, because he was willing.

He is a routine-oriented boy, and he would not have been quite happy if the day had ended and he had not at least completed the basics of our homeschooling day.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Filed under "funny stories" because it will be funny some day. Right?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Nature Walk Photo Dump

Mooney's Pond, PEI
October 23, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Living Book Discoveries: Lynne Cherry

As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I am always on the lookout for "living books" for my children. Starting out, it can be hard to discern whether a book is, in fact, living. (I'm hoping it will get easier over time. I'll let you know.) I am so grateful for Ambleside Online and other booklists that take away some of the burden of finding the very best books. However, I also like poking through the library and discovering wonderful books for myself.

What do I look for in a living book?
- Written by someone with a love for the subject who communicates that passion directly to the readers
- Well written, engaging, not dumbed down
- Not just dry facts, but ideas

I know I mentioned Lynne Cherry in my last read-aloud post, but I wanted to shine a brighter spotlight on her. She is an environmentalist and the author and illustrator of many children's books. Our library had four of them, so I am basing my opinions on those four. I would love to hear from you in the comments if you have read others of her books, and how you liked them.

Flute's Journey: The Life of a Wood Thrush was our favourite book so far. I used it as a school book with my six-year-old. He narrated well, perhaps better than any other of his school books so far. A week or two later, he and his four-year-old brother told their grandma about the book, and I was amazed at the details they remembered. Comparing it to the Burgess Bird Book (our regular school book about birds), this book's vocabulary is a little more accessible, though not dumbed down. It has the same level of detail, perhaps more, but that detail is communicated in a straightforward, active story rather than in conversational style. Finally, Lynne Cherry's illustrations are meticulous as well as beautiful, and I appreciated not having to go elsewhere for illustrations of the wood thrush at various stages or for maps of its migration.
Most importantly, this book was a delight for my son. If like us, you are struggling a bit with the style of the Burgess Bird Book in Ambleside Online's Year 1, may I suggest substituting this book for a chapter or two, just for the sake of joy in learning and in narration? You will not be short-changed in the knowledge gained.

The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle is much in the same style as Flute's Journey. It is the story of how a mangrove grows from a propagule into a huge tangle that shelters fish, seahorses, birds, and other wildlife. We read it aloud together, and the boys enjoyed it. I did not require narration, but I think it would work well as a school book too. It also includes maps of where mangroves grow.

How Groundhog's Garden Grew is quite different from the first two books. It is a make-believe story of how a squirrel helps a groundhog grow his own garden. I think it may be aimed at slightly younger children (3 and up). It weaves in many interesting details about gardening: collecting seeds, transplanting, pollination, perennials. The story ends with groundhog sharing his bounty at a big Thanksgiving dinner with all his garden friends. Like all of Lynne Cherry's books, the illustrations in this book are wonderfully detailed. My boys especially liked the pictures of how a seed grows from seed, to seedling, to full-grown plant. I think I'll take this one out of the library again before our next gardening season.

I mentioned at the beginning that Lynne Cherry is an environmentalist. I am not, at least, not in the same sense. (I believe it's our God-given responsibility to care for the earth and its creatures. I balance that with the belief that the earth's resources are there for us to use. I am cautious about environmentalism for its own sake.) The Great Kapok Tree is the book I enjoyed least of all the ones I picked up from our library, though it was just as beautifully illustrated. To be honest, I would have appreciated a straight-forward, honest look at the species of the rainforest and how they are affected when the trees are cut down. I only disliked the way it was communicated in this book, where it seemed like Cherry was trying to manipulate the emotions of her readers and convert them to environmentalism. However, this book has won many honours, and you may like it even if I didn't.

Check out this video of Lynne Cherry working on one of the illustrations for How Groundhog's Garden Grew.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Education is a Not-So-Perfect Atmosphere

What does "Education is an Atmosphere" mean?

When I first began to think about education as atmosphere, I focused mostly on the positive aspects of this principle. Children will learn to love the things their parents love simply, as in the air they breathe. I love music, my children will be surrounded by good music in our home, and they will learn to love it. I love to watch birds, and they will pick up my enthusiasm naturally. My husband and I love to read, and have hundreds of books. Of course our children will be affected by that.

I thought of the relationships the children have in the home and in the extended family, and what they learn from each.

And I admit it, I felt pressure to be intentional, to make the atmosphere in our home the best it can be. We are not naturally art lovers in this home... perhaps I need to work on learning to love it more myself. My housekeeping leaves a lot to be desired... I need to work on that for the children's sake. And there is nothing wrong with that line of thought. Education is a discipline and a life as well, after all. But we do miss something if we consider only the positive aspects of "Education is an Atmosphere."

Last month I was preparing for a Charlotte Mason meeting at my home, and I took the time to read Chapter 6 of A Philosophy of Education. I was very struck that Charlotte Mason begins this chapter on "Education is an Atmosphere" with criticism of those who are too intentional with their atmosphere. Such parents and teachers create a hothouse where children are protected from the realities of the world and surrounded by sweetness and light.

When Charlotte Mason speaks of atmosphere, she is speaking of the atmosphere in the home as it is: an "atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute." (p. 96) "We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby's needs..." (p. 96)

I work hard to create good habits in our home (Education is a discipline). I try to be intentional about exposing my children to good books, art, and music (Education is a life). Still, it is freeing to know that the many imperfections and failings in our home are not outside my children's education. "By these things children live and we may not keep them in glass cases; if we do, they develop in succulence and softness and will not become plants of renown." (p. 97)

Atmosphere will be affected and changed by discipline and life, because we ourselves as persons will be affected and changed. Atmosphere is not something we create artificially. Rather, what we are as persons affects those around us. This includes both good and bad elements, of course, because that is real life.

My three boys fight sometimes (and give reluctant kisses and sorry's when I insist...). I struggle with housekeeping and lose my patience once in a while. These things, and the way we deal with them and grow over time, are all part of the real-life atmosphere in our home. And much as I strive for better things, I know that these frictions too are helping my children grow.

Charlotte Mason ends the section on atmosphere with some balance:
"There are two courses open to us in this matter. One, to create by all manner of modified conditions a hot-house atmosphere, fragrant but emasculating, in which children grow apace but are feeble and dependent; the other to leave them open to all the 'airts that blow,' but with a care lest they be unduly battered; lest, for example, a miasma come their way in the shape of a vicious companion." (p. 98-99)
"Education is an Atmosphere" means that we let children experience real life in our homes, but that real life must be permeated by love and balanced by discipline and nurture.