Monday, May 23, 2016

It's Hard for Me to Deviate

As I'm busy planning for next year and ordering books, I'm really running into the fact that I have a hard time deviating in any way from my chosen curriculum (Ambleside Online). I think that really, this is mostly because of my personality. (I am ISFJ, but my "F" is very near the middle and I think my "T" side really comes out when it comes to this.). Some people might call me inflexible. I prefer to call myself steady. I am not the homeschool mom that switches curriculum in the middle of the year. I do my research, choose what looks best, commit to it, and make it work. Indeed, when I chose AO, I had fallen in love and fully expected to use it mostly as written for all of my homeschooling years. Maybe that part was a bit idealistic.

Why do I stick to AO with such tenacity?

Love. Loyalty. Gratitude. Respect. Trust.
I trust AO, because it has been worked out by moms who have learned and studied and lived Charlotte Mason's philosophy. I am grateful for the booklists they have provided out of that experience and knowledge. With four young children and just a beginning knowledge of CM, it would have been very, very hard for me to put together the books needed for the great feast I want to offer my children without a lot of trial and error.

So I am thankful, and loyal. And I feel guilty for being tempted to tweak. It feels like cheating on AO. I do not trust myself enough yet to be confident in my tweaking. And yes, in my heart I know I am being ridiculous. So laugh at me. :) This is my journey. I have to go through some trial and error anyway, it seems.

Here's where I want to change right now.

- I want to substitute another Shakespeare book instead of Lamb for the sake of JJ(5) who is starting Year 1. While we enjoyed it, it was very challenging in Year 1, and I did not like the simpler Nesbit option (Not detailed enough to be interesting, I thought). So I'm looking at getting some Bruce Coville books, and possibly Geraldine McCaughrean. I haven't seen her Shakespeare, but we enjoyed her Canterbury Tales, so I'm thinking it might be a good option for us. I feel fairly comfortable tweaking in this case. I understand that my purpose is to introduce my children to the stories of Shakespeare's plays so that they will be familiar when we get to study the actual plays.

- I'd like to skip the Burgess Bird Book with JJ and study insects instead. He just loves bugs. This is much harder for me, even though we did not really like the Bird Book (We love the Animal Book in Year 2, though!). What if the books I choose for insects are not as good? What if studying birds at this stage is crucial and we miss out on something because of it? When I type it out, it seems irrational, but it's how I really feel. I'm afraid to let go of AO's hand. I'm planning to choose some of the books on the booklists at A Modern Charlotte Mason. But that's not a hand I know and trust yet, even though what I've seen of it looks lovely. I suppose that if I mess up this time, I still have two more boys to practice on. Are you getting the idea that I'm a bit of a perfectionist? What? You're amused at my agonizing over a choice that seems so insignificant? That's okay. Me too...

- I've been convinced by A Delectable Education podcasts that I should be beginning with Canadian history in Year 1. Should... but it's hard to leave behind some of the books that we loved in Year 1. So hard, I'm not sure I'll manage it. I might start with a half tweak in this area.
You should know that I did AO as written, American biographies and all, with my oldest child. Of course, I need to substitute Canadian biographies for those American ones when I begin with my second child, and I will. (Now to find the perfect ones...) But I’m not sure if I’ll be able to leave behind the British history AO includes and put in more Canadian history. How could I leave out stories like King Alfred and the Cakes? I’d have to find something wonderful. On the other hand, JJ has been extremely interested in the Canadian history I’m reading with SA(7) right now, so perhaps I should consider doing that class together…

- The same podcasts have been proposing a different way of organizing the CM homeschool around history so that the whole family studies the same time period at once, each student using books at their own level. (I mean it is different from AO. It is actually based quite consciously on how Charlotte Mason organized her schools in Forms.) This idea is very attractive to me, though I do not necessarily consider it essential in order to faithfully provide your child with a Charlotte Mason education. There is interplay between ideas in different time periods, and connections could still be made between children no matter whether they are studying the same period or different periods in history. But it would be pleasant, and give a sense of unity within our homeschool. I would continue to follow AO for my oldest child, and then consider tweaking for subsequent children so that, beginning with Year 2, all my children would be studying the same time period as him. This would mean finding appropriate books at their level all the way through. I’m really not sure I’m brave enough for tweaking that extensive. I still have another year to think about it before my second child begins Year 2. Maybe the booklists at A Modern Charlotte Mason will end up being a help in this area too, as it is also organized by Form.

What about you? Is there anyone else out there that feels uncomfortable changing anything in your chosen curriculum? Tell me I’m not the only one. Or laugh. I don't mind.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Embracing Routine

A Charlotte Mason education is an abundant one, with its feast of living books and ideas and "extras" that are not extras (Poetry, composer study, art appreciation, and nature study, to name a few.). This is one of the things I love most about it. It's also the thing I find most taxing as an organizationally-challenged mom of four boys aged seven and under. 

The thing that as helped me the most in these early years has been establishing learning routines. There are things that everyone does every day, no matter what. Eating meals comes to mind. I began by pegging my learning routines to things that were already established routines in our home. The After-Breakfast routine of scripture, singing, and prayer was the first routine, and happened every day after breakfast starting when our children were tiny. The Bedtime Reading routine was added when our oldest was about two or three. Then a couple of years later came the Poetry Teatime routine. Later still, we added our Lesson Time routine to the end of Poetry Teatime. Having these routines in place as I've been using Ambleside Online has given me a place to plug in what seemed an enormous feast of learning, and it has not been as overwhelming as it might have been if I had had to set it all in place at once.

Sometimes we homeschool moms have a tendency to read blogs and check Pinterest out. When we do, we find so many wonderful ideas! We want to do them ALL. We want to do them NOW. We start today with several of them, and are discouraged when some of the good ideas don't stick, or when we find we've dropped two or three of them after a few weeks. We compare ourselves to people who seem to be doing it all, and we forget that nobody does it all, especially not all at once!

I want to encourage you to slow down. Yes, you can implement all the wonderful ideas. But take some time to build them into your life. Lay a foundation of the most important things. Set them into your day as a "this is what we do every day no matter what." When that routine is solid as a rock, choose some other important things to add. Once you have some foundational learning routines in place, you will have a place to add the wonderful ideas you come across on Pinterest, and they will stick for as long as you want them to.

The After-Breakfast Routine

This routine has always been in place in our home. My boys call it “Read-and-sing-and-pray.” We read a passage from the Bible, we sing a hymn, we pray together. When SA(7) was about five or six, I began to add to this, and it became a “Circle Time” of sorts. First I added a Bible passage to memorize, then later (in Year 1) I added his Bible narration. This year (his Year 2) I added a reading from Pilgrim’s Progress as well.

The Poetry Tea Time Routine

This routine began sometime when SA was five and JJ was three. In the beginning, I set the table with tea and snacks every day, and we read poetry. The end. They loved it. Over time, I’ve grown more lax with the tablecloth and tea every day…I discovered that they don’t really love tea so much now that the novelty has worn off, and that tablecloth got spilled on Every. Single. Day. However, we do still always sit down at the table with our snacks and drinks and poetry books at about 10:00 or 10:30. It’s our signal for the school day to begin. (I am hoping to do better with the tablecloth and hot drinks again this year... So far so good.) Starting last year we have done poetry on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with art appreciation on Tuesdays and music appreciation on Thursdays. I have added other things to this time as well at different times --instruction in sol-fa, French, drawing --in short, any learning I’d like to do together as a family. 

If you've been reading around the internet about "Circle Time" and "Morning Time" or even "Morning Basket" you will notice that the two routines I just mentioned are our "Circle Time." We have found that dividing it in two like this is a very practical option when children are young and have a hard time sitting still.

The Lesson Time Routine

This routine began when SA was five with a short reading lesson and a short math lesson or game immediately after our Poetry Teatime. In Year One, it expanded to include math, two readings with narration, copywork, and piano practice. Now in Year Two, the readings with narration have become slightly longer (20 minutes each), and we've added an independent reading and narration (this one is still short at 10 minutes). I have also added some time this year with JJ(5) for reading instruction and math, and for reading aloud to him.

With little children in the house, sometimes it's hard to do lessons at the same time every day. I have found that it helps to have a lesson time routine in which you do your lessons in a certain order, no matter what time you manage to start. That way, the children can at least develop an expectation of how much work there is to do daily.

The Bedtime Reading Routine

The bedtime routine is very simple. The boys get ready for bed, and my husband or I read to them for about twenty minutes. There is no narration, no expectation of anything from them. This routine is completely for the enjoyment of books together as a family. In the beginning, I always did the reading, but lately my husband has begun to read as well when he's home on time. I often choose from the Ambleside Online "Free Reads" for this purpose, while my husband tends to choose more widely.
These are the routines we've built in our family so far. I know our routines will continue to change as the children grow older. I expect that your routines will look different than mine. I truly believe that the important thing (if you want them to last!) is to build them one at a time, not all at once.
P.S. I'm still hopeful that someday I will manage to find a cleaning routine that works for me... (Just a little reminder that I don't have it all together, despite these routines that are working well!!!)
P.P.S. I apologize that I've been so quiet internet is still not working consistently. Now that I have Word on my computer I'm hoping I'll be able to write there and just copy, paste, and post in moments the internet is working. Still, it's a challenge, so I'll just do the best I can under the circumstances.