Saturday, October 26, 2013

Scenes from Our Week

This post is dedicated to Dinah, who sometimes feels a bit intimidated by my awesome nature study posts, and to Stephen, who missed it all. You can see why I'd rather post about the fact that we had poetry teatime every day this week, and that on Thursday, the boys sat spell-bound as I read all 60 pages of Robert McCloskey's Time of Wonder. (Well, JJ did start making some noise on the last page, but SA shushed him and made me read it again.) It was a magical moment. Friday, SA wanted to read it again, and we did.

Monday The furnace isn't working. In the evening I get busy on a book review I needed to finish. It was due on October 1, but I have grace until Thursday. I stay up late. My brain doesn't seem to work that well in the evenings these days.

Tuesday I'm supposed to go to a planning meeting for our homeschool co-op this morning. Stephen thinks the furnace may just be out of oil, so I decide that I have too many errands to run to go to the meeting. Because I didn't clean up properly last night, today's chores take forever. We don't leave until after lunch. After my errands, I take the boys to Victoria Park. At some point, JJ has to go to the bathroom, but they've locked the bathrooms. I ask him if he can hold it, and he nods solemnly. We get back to playing. About an hour later, I notice that his pull-up seems to be falling down his pant leg, and he's walking gingerly. He wants to go home. SA isn't ready to go yet, but I round them all up and take them to the car. I have a pull-up in my diaper bag, so I lay JJ across the front seats, since he obviously can't sit with his pull-up around his ankles. It's worse than I thought...and I don't have an extra pair of pants. I manage to change him into the clean pull-up, but the pants and everything go into a bag for the trash. I still have to get my groceries. I go to Value Village, leave the kids in the car with the doors locked and strict instructions (What else could I do?), race to the kids section, grab a pair of pants, pay $3, and run back. We go grocery shopping, MM on my back, JJ in the front of the cart, SA holding on to the back. We get home past the supper hour, and I still have to unload the groceries. I sit them all down with bowls of cereal and get to work. More work on the book review this evening. Why can't I think clearly anymore?

Wednesday The furnace is still not working...the problem must not have been the oil, after all. The house is a mess again, but I go valiantly to work, boiling water for the dishes and mopping. The boys are playing indoors, but I want them out. It's a gorgeous day! So I go out with them, just for a while. I hang the laundry on the line. We have our poetry teatime outdoors. Things take a bit of a turn in the afternoon, though... SA discovers 7-Up in the fridge. He thinks he likes it, so I let him have a tiny bit in a glass. Sure enough, he takes a tiny sip and leaves the rest. I turn around to discover that he left the fridge door open, and MM has gotten the eggs...and is pitching them into the mudroom! Thankfully there were only three left, and only one of them is broken. I move MM and clean up. Meanwhile, SA decides to move the couches in the living room so we can get whatever's under them out. The scene is total chaos. MM needs a nap. I sit down to nurse him, and he falls asleep. JJ has a boo-boo, and I tell him to go get a bandaid and wait for me to put MM in his bed. I go upstairs and settle him down, quietly, slowly. SA comes up...I need to look at JJ's toes! JJ comes up behind him. His toes are a rainbow of pink and blue, and his pants are wet. Apparently, while he was waiting for me to be finished with MM to get his bandaid, he passed the time painting his nails. Sitting beside the toilet, he peed his pants. Ah well...the life of a mother. MM pops up. Nap's over! At least I manage to finish the book review in the evening...well, around midnight, maybe.

Thursday Swimming lessons day. Things are going well, until I get out and realize that I locked the keys in the car. My window is open a crack, so I make several efforts to try to get my arm in. (Picture the scene. Yes, it was that car.) No luck. MM has taken his socks off, and it's cold out today. The boys are cranky and hungry, so I find some crackers in my diaper bag and hand them out. I try again. I lean against the car and think. I pray. I look around. I remember a nail clipper in my diaper bag. Maybe that extra inch will help. Nope. I see a tree. I wonder if anyone will mind if I take a branch? The thick end doesn't fit next to the lock. The thin end crumbles, then crumbles again. Finally it works. Thank you, Lord! "Mama, God helped us," says SA quietly. "Mama! Mama! Jesus helped us open the car!" shouts JJ. Yes.

Friday I realize we haven't had a nature walk this week. I decide to go to the MacPhail homestead, and go to the library afterwards. I rush around trying to get things cleaned up before I go. The furnace is still not working, and I'm still boiling water. We've never been to the MacPhail homestead before. We manage only five minutes or so before JJ decides he doesn't like it there and heads back to the car. He had been expecting Mooney's Pond again. That one didn't go so well. It turns out, he's hungry. We all are! We had our tea time at 11:30, so we haven't had lunch. I give them some muffins, and I have some lentils and rice. Unfortunately, I accidentally choke on a grain of rice. It seems to take forever to get it out. I sit at the stop sign, tears streaming down my face, SA asking me anxious questions from the back seat. Finally I choke it out and we go. At the library, I see there are several homeschoolers. I say hello, but feel shy...they've had a teen book club meeting and I wasn't expecting to see them. I settle the boys and look for books. I think later that maybe I appeared unfriendly, and I don't want to seem that way. We go home. The furnace is still not working.

Funny thing is, I didn't feel like it was a terrible week. It may have had a crisis or two more than usual. It's just what you choose to focus on and remember. This week, just for you, Dinah, I've remembered the craziness. Maybe I'll still do a post about Time of Wonder and our other amazing library find of the week: Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nature Study and Project Noah

My children are still a bit young for this, but one of my own favourite things about nature study is the hunt for the name of whatever mushroom, wildflower, insect, tree, or animal I've spotted. In doing this, I've found the community over at Project Noah to be invaluable help.

Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah (Networked Organisms And Habitats) is a community of citizen scientists around the world. Anyone can join and add their photos or their expertise. My favourite part? If you don't know what species your picture is of, you can click "Help me ID this species," and your pictures will be displayed for anyone to see. If your pictures are reasonably clear, and you include some details, you are likely to get some helpful suggestions.

For example, I took a picture of a dragonfly at Mooney's Pond last month.
I searched and searched online for an identification. I had it narrowed down to a type of meadowhawk, but you would be amazed at the number of bright red species of meadowhawks there are. There are the red-veined meadowhawk, the ruby meadowhawk, the cherry-faced meadowhawk, the white-faced meadowhawk, and more. Suffice it to say that I spent quite a bit of time sifting through a bewildering array of possibilities, but none were exactly right. Either the face colour wasn't quite right, or there was too much black on the body, or the legs were the wrong colour. Then I put the picture up on project Noah, and within a day or so someone suggested the Autumn Meadowhawk, which I had never even come across in all my searching. It was a perfect match, as far as I could tell. (By the way, we saw another one yesterday again! I was surprised, because it was cloudy and threatening to rain, and I thought dragonflies were mostly sunny-weather insects. However, there were quite a few mosquitos out, so maybe it was looking for a meal.)

Identifications are not always this clear-cut, though. I have to keep in mind that many of the people helping me out are amateurs (like myself!). I'm still trying to figure out exactly what this tall plant is (taller than myself!):

Someone suggested that it might be Cow Parsnip. I looked it up, and it seemed right...very tall, similar flowers, but when I got to the leaves, they were completely different. I think it might be water hemlock, but other pictures I've seen of water hemlock don't have the vivid purple stems.

For me, Project Noah has many benefits beyond the identification of species that stump me.

- A network of people who are actually interested in my photos of bugs and plants.
- Motivation to improve my photography (it helps in getting things identified!)
- A new appreciation for how fascinating even the most common and abundant species are. I appreciate the pictures of the different plants and wildlife in other places, and I imagine people on the other side of the world just as interested in mine.
- A fresh eye for detail, as I realize that even the tiniest detail could mean a completely different species.
- Preparation for the day one of my children jumps up and down with excitement saying, "Mama! Mama! A red dragonfly!" And I will be able to naturally say, "Oh wow! That's an autumn meadowhawk!"

I highly recommend Project Noah to anyone who is interested in nature study. If you have more questions about the nature and purpose of Project Noah, you can find the answers here.

I am linking up with Nature Study Monday at Fisher Academy.

Monday, October 14, 2013

{The Three R's in Our Homeschool}: Reading

I've been planning to do a post on what we do for Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic for a while now. I think the thought of writing about all of it at once was giving me writer's block, so the obvious solution is to break it up into a series.

I realize that SA is still young at five years old to start lessons according to Charlotte Mason's method, but each child is unique, and SA is clearly ready and eager to learn. Our lessons are short (5 minutes for reading, 15 for math, and 10 for writing) and interspersed with times of indoor and outdoor free play. JJ (3) usually joins us for our lessons, though I'm not sure how much he gets from them. For that matter, MM (1) is usually close by, too, often on my back in the baby carrier so he can't get ahold of the pencil crayons or the Cuisenaire rods. (Everything goes in his mouth, unfortunately!)

When I first read in When Children Love to Learn about Charlotte Mason's method for teaching reading, I wasn't very impressed. It was presented as mainly a look-say or whole word method. My understanding about these kinds of methods in general has always been that they have failed. Many children do learn to read in our school systems using these methods, but too many also get left behind. It has always been my impression that the students who learn to read well using look-say methods are the ones that actually figure out the phonics for themselves. Those who do not learn to read using look-say are often given remedial phonics instruction. I have always been a firm believer in phonics. My own experience learning to read has only solidified this belief. My siblings and I all learned to read with a pure phonics approach and promptly turned into voracious readers. We spell well, too. So why would I even consider Miss Mason's approach?

SA has known his letters and their sounds for quite some time now. He also knows how to sound out short vowel words. I know that sounds like good progress for a five-year-old. The problem was that he was not interested. He didn't care about reading at all. He would willingly read a few words in the stories I was reading to him and JJ, but that didn't translate into any excitement. If I broke out our phonics book, it held his interest for a maximum of two minutes. (I never pushed him to continue longer than he was interested because I didn't want him to associate reading with frustration.)

Then one day my mother-in-law showed me my husband's notebook from his learning-to-read days. She had taught him and another little boy using phonics and sight words. She made sentences that were relevant and interesting to them (about their pets or their home life, for example). I went out and bought a blank notebook. We practiced reading "word families" (cat, hat, rat, sat, etc.) as I wrote them out, and then I would write an interesting sentence for him to read (S has a cat. The cat is Mango.). His interest was finally holding for about five minutes.

About that time, I came across this post on one of my favourite Charlotte Mason blogs. It made me curious enough to skip ahead and read the section on reading lessons in Volume 1 of the Charlotte Mason Original Homeschooling Series. I found a more complex method of reading instruction than I expected. Yes, it emphasizes sight reading, but it does not neglect phonics. The thing that really jumped out at me was that she did everything she could to make learning to read a process full of interest and joy for the child. This is what was lacking in our reading lessons. While I still wasn't convinced about the emphasis on sight words, I decided that I at least had to try her method out as an experiment.

So how does Charlotte Mason recommend you teach reading?

First, teach the ABCs and their sounds (the sounds are more important). It doesn't really matter if you start when your child is very young and go slowly, or if you start when they are older and learn more quickly. Make it a game, part of their play as soon as they show an interest. No pressure, no showing off.

Second, teach how to sound out short-vowel, three-letter words. This process is just as relaxed and playful as learning the letter sounds. Use word families with the same endings, and change the beginning sounds. Always use real words, not meaningless syllables.

Third, when sounding out short-vowel words is "so easy that it is no longer interesting", move on to words with long vowels and consonant combinations like -ng and th.

All of this is pre-reading, according to Charlotte Mason. It lays the ground-work so that "words are no longer unfamiliar, perplexing objects, when the child meets with them in a line of print." (V.1, p.203) So, while her reading method is very much a look-say method (as we will see), it is yet grounded in phonics.

Here is where it gets interesting.

At the same time as you are working on phonics, begin having sight-reading lessons. Using a poem or a short piece of prose that is interesting for the child, teach him to recognise each word in it individually at sight. Miss Mason had some fun, game-like methods for this, and I advise you to read them for yourself in her Volume 1, Home Education, p. 212-219. When the child can read the words in any combination, put them together into the poem or passage you took them from and give him the delight of being able to read it on his own.

Once you have begun these sight-reading lessons, you can base your "word building" phonics lessons on the words learned by sight. For example, if you learned the word "tree" by sight, the next day you can try different beginning sounds and make the words "bee," "free," and "see".

Once you get into the rhythm of this, a child should be able to learn 10-12 new words each day.

As I mentioned, I decided to try this as an experiment. We began with a book called "Chicka Chicka ABC." Now I know Charlotte Mason discourages "twaddle" even at this level, but this has a very catchy rhythm and SA loves it. We started with the first two lines:
A told B, and B told C,
I'll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.

He learned to read the entire book by sight within a week. What's more, he was reading with expression. Before CM, I would have assumed this was pure memorization and not valuable when it came to learning to read. But the fact is, because we paid attention to each word, he now reads those words easily wherever he sees them. We followed that with the gingerbread man's rhyme:
Run! Run! Fast as you can!
You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man! etc.
On alternate days we built new words with the words run, fast, and can.

It's working! He is interested in his reading lessons now. I feel a bit like I'm flying by the seat of my pants as I make up a lesson every day, but so far rhymes and short prose passages have suggested themselves from the reading aloud we do.

I am still sceptical of Charlotte Mason's faith in sight reading in general, but the truth is that adding sight reading alongside our phonics lessons has solved our problem. Reading is interesting and fun now. We haven't achieved the rate of ten words per day yet, but we are making progress, and I know how I need to go on. It is working for this child.

If anyone is struggling with boredom or frustration in reading lessons, it will be worthwhile to read for yourself what Charlotte Mason has to say on the subject. As for me, I have a few more children to teach reading to and gain more experience in what works and what does not. For now, I have one more reason to trust Miss Mason and her methods.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Love is a better teacher than duty.

-Albert Einstein

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Well, I Learned Something Last Week...

I really can't go out four days in a row. Seriously.

Things do not get done!

But the boys enjoyed going to the doctor on Monday for MM's checkup. The doctor let them listen to MM's heart with the stethoscope. On the way home, we stopped at a playground to play and have a picnic snack.

They had fun at their messy art playdate on Tuesday, although messy turned out to be a bit too messy for their tastes (much to my surprise!). But they're very happy to be painting their papier mache maracas today.

They had been looking forward for weeks to apple picking at MacPhee's. I was amazed that SA remembered details from apple-picking last year and was telling us about them in anticipation of this year's outing. We got 25 lb of apples, half Cortlands, the rest Galas and GingerGolds. It was a perfect day for our visit to the playground afterwards, too. SA met a friend who seemed pretty pleased to have someone giggle at his little boy humour. (Something about farting gumdrops? Yeah, I might have to nip that in the bud while I have a chance...)

Then Thursday was swimming lessons day. SA loves swimming lessons very much. The teacher took his class to the deep end this week with their life jackets on. And afterwards, to SA and JJ's delight, I had enough change to buy a chocolate milk from the vending machine in the hall.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A MacDonaldite Hymn

I had a phone call this week from Louisiana. The woman had heard someone sing "In the Regions Higher, Higher," one of our beloved MacDonaldite hymns. She wondered if she could get a copy. So that was my project today: jotting down and arranging a tune I have only heard orally. Many of the tunes in the P.E.I. Free Church have been passed down in this way. Some are familiar hymn tunes, but they acquire a character of their own after a few generations. There is often even some small variation from congregation to congregation in singing the same tune. I am not sure of the origin of this tune...I only know I haven't heard it anywhere else. If someone out there in the wide wide world knows where it originates or has heard it in any other context, please let me know in the comments! (Just click the "play" button to listen.)

The hymn was written by the Rev. Donald MacDonald. MacDonald was a circuit riding Presbyterian minister on P.E.I. during the 1800's. He was greatly used by God in two revivals, one in the 1830s, and another in the 1860s. These hymns were never sung during his church services (and still are not in the P.E.I. Free Church today), as these churches hold to exclusive psalmody. Instead, selections (many of these hymns are very long!) are often sung informally while people are gathering to worship. You can read more about Donald MacDonald's hymn writing in a paper by Dr. Jack Whytock here, though Dr. Whytock does not mention this particular hymn.

1. In the regions higher, higher,
Than the eye of man can see,
Dwells the Lord of life and glory
On His throne eternally;
He alone can fill the station
Next the Father on His throne,
Rule the nations at His pleasure,
On that glorious heavenly throne.

2. From of old before creation,
In the regions far away,
In the blazing rays of glory,
In the effulgent light of day;
He enjoyed His Father's presence,
In His love benignly free;
Rejoiced joyfully before Him,
In His order One of Three.

3. In the council of the Eternal,
Lo, the Son, our Lord was there;
Justice called for righteous vengeance;
Sin deserved it everywhere,
See Him now with admiration,
Standing forth our Friend to be;
To avert the threatened vengeance,
By His death upon the tree.

4. Wondrous plan for our salvation!
Framed and fixed by sure decree;
God to assume the human nature,
Soul and body man to be.
Love infinite, thus engaged Him,
Willied His justice to appease,
That His honour and His glory,
Through His Son, His saints might see.

5. Who the purpose of Jehovah
Can behold and silent be,
When the covenant most gracious,
Is the plan of persons three?
See the will of God our Maker,
Through His Son to us revealed,
That our pardon by's oblation,
Should be mercifully sealed.

6. Glory to the blessed Saviour,
Who engaged our souls to free,
Who agreed to terms of covenant
Should fulfillment painful be:
Before you view Him in the manger,
Lo! the song of angels hear,
Praising God in joyful chorus,
And withal our hearts to cheer.

7. Lo! the God of all creation,
Lo! the Word made flesh appears,
In the likeness of our nature,
To expel our guilty fears;
Lo! Emmanuel our Saviour,
In the flesh most humbly low;
God in Christ to reconcile us
To Himself, and grace bestow.

8. Justice loud our death demanded;
Low we lay in guilt and sin.
Woeful spectacle to angels,
Slaves to Satan in his gin;
Now behold the loving favour,
Of the Lord to sinful men;
He came to free us from our bondage,
And to raise us up again.

9 Hallelujah sing in chorus!
He is worthy of our song;
Of our humble adoration,
And the praises of our tongue;
Hosts of angels sang before us,
Which the trembling shepherds heard;
Saints in thousands loud shall praise Him,
When they'll hear the sweet award.

10. If the sight of Him in childhood,
Caused the hosts to sing with glee,
Loud the saints shall join in chorus,
When triumphant Christ they'll see;
When arrayed in all His glory,
By His Father on His throne;
When they'll see the conquering Lion,
They shall worship God the Son.

11. When His side shall be exposed,
And His hands and feet we'll see,
Surely shouts in thankful chorus
Shall the songs in glory be;
All these marks of death so painful,
Borne by Christ for sinful men,
Must excite to admiration,
Of a love beyond our ken.

12. When the kingdom to the Father,
Christ resigns respectfully;
All the mystery then disclosed
Love shall shew eternally;
Love infinite to the creature,
Then displayed in full shall be;
Then the effects of Christ's oblation,
Lo! the adoring hosts shall see.

13. Then the saints and angels joining,
In a holy joyful glee,
Shall the Lord in rays of glory,
On His throne forever see;
Then they'll know what He obtained,
By His death upon the tree;
See His shining face in favour,
Where no pains or death can be.

14. God is love, as is declared
In His word, as all shall see:
When His Son, His Co-Eternal,
As in council both agree,
Was resigned to death most painful,
Groans and cries and agony;
That His purpose, ever gracious,
In His love displayed should be.

15. Now the tokens of His favour,
And His love to sinful man,
Are above our estimation,
Are above what we can scan;
God is high above creation;
Grace is seen in wisdom's plan;
Man's the object of His favour,
Grace in love through ages ran.

16. Now again, to reassure us,
And confirm us in His love,
He bestows the Spirit freely,
In the likeness of a dove;
Now His blessings freely flowing,
Showering from His throne above;
Prove His changeless loving kindness,
Which shall never more remove.

17. Hosts above in holy regions;
Men on earth who taste His love,
Tune your harps for solemn praises,
Tune your harps your thanks to prove;
Grateful hearts with love o'erflowing,
Prove your love in grateful songs:
Thrill the air in quick vibrations,
With the praises of your tongues.

18. Worthy truly ever is Jesus;
Worthy truly ever of love,
For He suffered and died to free us,
From the law and merited curse;
Behold Him now and ever adore Him,
Highly seated in heaven above,
At God's right hand, our Brother believe it,
Pleading our cause His merits to prove.

19. Sound the voice in praise of Jesus;
Sound the voice in praise of love,
When absorbed in spiritual vision,
When allured to heaven above;
Saints and angels ever adore Him,
Saints and angels ever above;
Sing the song that ever is pleasing,
Sing the song of heavenly love.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mark! Set! Go!

My little MM is about 13 months old now, and he has begun to say a few words. I think "water" was the first one, followed by "Mama," "Papa," "diaper," and his big brothers' names. Last Sunday I was amusing him in a small room without toys. I put him on my lap and played "This is the way the ladies ride" a few times. When we were done with that, he started climbing onto my lap, saying three words, toppling off (fully trusting I'd catch him, of course!), and giggling uncontrollably. He did it a few times before I realized that what he was saying was "Mark! Set! Go!"

The things he learns from his big brothers!