Thursday, February 27, 2014

February 2014 Favourite Read-Aloud Roundup

These days, I often do my library book-browsing online, place holds on what looks interesting, and pick the books up at my local library in the middle of my busy errand day. It is very convenient, and it allows me to choose books from across the entire provincial library system.

I found Keep Looking! almost by chance. I was looking for some easy readers by Millicent Selsam that I had seen mentioned in the forums at Ambleside Online. My library system did not have them, but I placed a hold on a couple of books by the same author, just to see what they were like.
This is a sweet, gentle book. It begins with an empty house and yard, but when you keep looking, you find all kinds of little animals. If your little ones like nature study in the winter, they will connect to this book. The watercolour illustrations by Normand Chartier are incredibly beautiful. I found that JJ (3) and MM (1) especially loved this.

I stumbled across Emily while I was browsing through books illustrated by Barbara Cooney. It is a sweet story of a child meeting the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson. My little boys love her poem "A Bird came down the Walk". I read this book at our Poetry Teatime this week, and they enjoyed it very much. This is the first time I've introduced them to the person behind one of the poems they enjoy so much. I hope there are more books like this out there, because this was a success! I could see that SA (5) was especially taken with the thought that someone writes the poetry that we read.

The Story of Little Babaji is a classic story that somehow I had never come across before finding it on the Ambleside Online Year 0 Booklist. 3-year-old JJ especially enjoyed it, and asked me to read it many times. He is also requesting The Little Red Hen constantly these days.

If you are looking for a good collection of nursery rhymes, Lavender's Blue is an excellent choice. The only thing I'm realizing is that while I love the well-drawn illustrations by Harold Jones, they do not appeal as much to my children. They would just as soon choose the collection illustrated by Rosemary Wells (which I personally find somewhat grotesque...sshhh, don't tell anyone!). Their taste clearly runs to simple and colourful rather than delicate and detailed. Still, I'm glad I chose this collection to buy, since it seems to have all the nursery rhymes I have ever heard and then some. We have been using it regularly at our Poetry Teatimes.

I will be linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word, and also Book Sharing Monday (next Monday) at Life on a Canadian Island.

Monday, February 24, 2014

{My Charlotte Mason Journal} Natural Law

I know I've been writing many more "doing" posts than "thinking" posts lately. This is not because I haven't been thinking. It's more because I'm a busy mom, and thinking posts take a lot longer to write. I have been reading through Volume 1 of Charlotte Mason's "Home Education" Series. I don't know if it's just this season of my life, but I'm finding that many times I'm reading without assimilating what I've learned. I'm going to have to write about what I'm learning in order to really learn it. (Which is why Charlotte Mason encouraged narration, right?) I will not share everything on this blog, just things that I thought were so interesting that you would probably like them too. I will try to post these thoughts once a week on Mondays.

Often we think of a Charlotte Mason Education as just another option to choose from when it comes to homeschooling. There is Classical, there is unschooling, there is traditional, there is eclectic, and somewhere in the midst of all these options, there is "Charlotte Mason." I thought so, too, until I first opened Volume 1 of Charlotte Mason's "Home Education" series.

Charlotte Mason did not see herself as the creator of a particular philosophy of education among many that a person could pick and choose from according to what worked for them. No, she was striving to get at the truth that underlies all education. She believed that we can use reason to analyze human nature itself and deduce a "natural law" of education. She would have seen herself as trying to discover and elucidate a philosophy that is, not creating one.

Am I making sense? I'll let her describe this natural law.

"Those of us, who have spent many years in pursuing the benign and elusive vision of Education, perceive that her approaches are regulated by a law, and that this law has yet to be evoked. We can discern its outlines, but no more. We know that it is pervasive; there is no part of a child's home-life or school-work which the law does not penetrate. It is illuminating, too, showing the value, or lack of value, of a thousand systems and expedients. It is not only a light, but a measure, providing a standard whereby all things, small and great, belonging to education work must be tested. The law is liberal, taking in whatsoever things are true, honest, and of good report, and offering no limitation or hindrance save where excess should injure. And the path indicated by the law is continuous and progressive, with no transition stage from the cradle to the grave, except that maturity takes up the regular self-direction to which immaturity has been trained." (Preface, Home Education)
"It has been said that 'The best idea which we can form of absolute truth is that it is able to meet every condition by which it can be tested.' This we shall expect of our law --that it shall meet every test of experiment and every test of rational investigation."
And just so you realize, Charlotte Mason was not self-important enough to think that she herself, on her own, would discover the complete Truth underlying education. But one has to start somewhere.
"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread; and the hope that there may be many tentative efforts towards a philosophy of education, and that all of them will bring us nearer to the magnum opus, encourages me to launch one such attempt."
I don't really know much about the term "natural law." Wikipedia traces it through history in this interesting article. For me, Thomas Jefferson's words in the U.S. Constitution describe natural law in a way I can understand.  "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." What truths do I hold to be self-evident when it comes to education and the very nature of children? How do my methods reflect these truths? Do they?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Favourite Books for Beginning Readers

I have not shared any of our reading lessons lately. There's a reason for that: I'm taking a break. I know it might seem crazy, now that SA has actually taken off with reading. The thing is, I think reading real books is doing as much for his reading ability as my lessons were. Each new book has a combination of words he already can read confidently and new words to learn. The new words are relatively easy to figure out in the context of the stories, and I see him reading these same new words elsewhere without any problem (He's not guessing and forgetting.). I do a bit of casual phonics teaching here and there as I notice he needs it (Peggy Kaye's Games for Reading are great for this), but my main method right now is just making sure he reads a book every day, whether it's a new one or one he's read before.

The books we use are a combination of books I already have and books I borrow from the library. I have not invested in readers (though I have nothing against them, as long as they're interesting.). Here are some of SA's favourites from the last month and a half:

A simple phonics reader, yes, but Dr. Seuss gives it rhythm and rhyme. SA often just picks this up and reads it for fun.

This book has a lot of repetition, which is great when you're building confidence in reading. The illustrations ensure that young readers do not get bored with the simple words.

The great thing about this little book is that it has three short stories, so it's not as intimidating as one long story. And of course Richard Scarry has a sense of humour that really appeals to children.

I've got to admit it, this is my favourite. But it works for SA, too. Other than the word Mother, almost all of the words in this book are simple, one-syllable words.

We have an out-of-print version called The Early Bird. The fun thing about this one is that we have a recording of my husband Stephen reading this book when he was four or five. It's too bad that even our old version has been abridged and is slightly different than the version Stephen read back in the early '80s. Once again, Richard Scarry always manages to make my children smile...Lowly Worm singing "O Sole Mio" in his bath in the sink is just so funny for them.

I'm sure I don't need to elaborate on these two. They were old favourites long before SA began to read. I've found that SA is much more likely to try to read familiar books. In the old days I might have questioned whether "reading" from memory is valuable (as opposed to sounding out every word), but I've found it one of the best, most confidence building practices in learning to read. Every time he looks at those words and says them aloud, he's reinforcing them in his mind.

Another old favourite. In fact, SA loved it when I read this to him when he was only six months old. (Honestly!) And now he can read it himself. Time flies... (sigh)

Every time SA reads a new book, we add it to his "I Can Read it All By Myself" ladder on the wall. We've filled one ladder and had to extend it on a new paper. He seems to find this quite motivating.

How about you? Are there books your beginning readers really enjoy? I'd love to hear of new ones I can look up at my library to try with SA!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday with Words: George Herbert

Today is our 9th wedding anniversary, and I didn't remember it at all until just now (9:15 PM). (Don't worry, we are still happily married, despite the oversight!) I opened my favourite poetry anthology at random, and there was George Herbert's "The Call," which was sung at our wedding. So today for Wednesday with Words, I'd like to share that poem with you.

The Call

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath: 
Such a Truth as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part: 
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.

If you'd like to hear it sung, here is a beautiful version of the Vaughan Williams arrangement.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hello, Chickadee!

Getting to Know our Backyard Birds Personally

We have not been able to go out to the woods for our nature walks this winter, but we have been learning a lot right here at home. Our bird feeder has been a great source of joy, and even though it is taking some time for the birds to discover us, the boys have been getting to know the ones that do come. To me, this getting to know a few birds personally is so much better than learning about many more from a book.

American Goldfinches
First one came, then two, then three. We've discovered that these birds like to hang out in little flocks. We've seen up to eight or ten at the feeder at once. And we love their musical chatter! They went for the sunflower seeds first, but also ate from the mixed seed. They ate both from the feeder and from the ground around the feeder. They are a dull grayish yellow colour in the winter. Sometimes the yellow is almost undetectable (female, winter), but we know them now.

Black-Capped Chickadees
The chickadees were the next to discover the feeder. At first we thought they were nervous, because they would come for two seconds, then fly away again, then come again, then fly away again. But we have discovered they are friendly enough, because they don't worry about other birds at the feeder at the same time, and they don't go away when we're playing in the yard. I enjoyed the way SA "translated" their call: "Mama, black-capped chickadees say 'chip Bee Bee Bee.'" Which they do. We love the way they swoop when they're flying. They like the sunflower seeds as well, but will also eat the mixed seed.

European Starlings
The starlings are much larger than the goldfinches or chickadees. In the winter they are black with white spots and brownish wings. They were the first to go for the peanut butter/suet log we have. We often see two or three at a time when we see them. We haven't managed to hear their sound yet.

Blue Jays
Blue jays are so beautiful! They came about three weeks after we put up the feeder, and they love the sunflower seeds, which they eat from the feeder or the ground. SA thinks their call sounds like "Cheep." I wouldn't have used that word, associating it with the little sound baby chicks make, but I hear what he means. The blue jay's cheep is very loud and long compared to that. When I was young, my mother told me they were saying, "Thief! Thief!"

We always have a lot of crows around, and they don't normally come to the feeder. One morning SA was all excited, though, because there was one on the ground near the feeder. He thought it was a raven because it was so large. I thought it was a crow, so we had to look up how to tell the difference again. We do have both kinds around here.
I always look at the beak first. A raven has more of a "roman nose" than a crow.
The size is also a clue, but not as much of one as you might think. There are some very big crows around here! Also, depending on the distance they are from you, it can be hard to tell how big they really are. Ravens are generally larger than crows.
The tail of a crow is squared, while the tail of a raven is more pointed.
The flying style is a big clue when you're just watching them flying from far away. Crows flap almost constantly when they're flying, but ravens often soar.
Also, ravens are much more likely to be alone, while crows are often in company with other crows.

The Great Backyard Bird Count
We are excited to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count this year for the first time! If you haven't heard of this event, here is a video telling you how to get involved.

I am linking up with Fisher Academy International for February's "Nature Study Monday." (Yes, I know it's not Monday today.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday With Words: Quotes from Charlotte Mason

I've been reading the introduction to Charlotte Mason's A Philosophy of Education (volume 6 of her Original Home Schooling Series) for our next local Charlotte Mason meeting.

But the people themselves begin to understand and to clamour for an education which shall qualify their children for life rather than for earning a living. As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans, or keeping books. The more of a person we succeed in making a child, the better will he both fulfil his own life and serve society. (p. 3)
We fail to recognize that as the body requires wholesome food and cannot nourish itself upon any substance so the mind too requires meat after its kind. If the War taught nothing else it taught us that men are spirits, that the spirit, mind, of a man is more than his flesh, that his spirit is the man, that for the thoughts of his heart he gives the breath of his body. As a consequence of this recognition of our spiritual nature, the lesson for us at the moment is that the great thoughts, great events, great considerations, which form the background of our national thought, shall be the content of the education we pass on. (p. 5)

Linking up with Wednesdays with Words at Ordo Amoris.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Kalah: Our New Favourite Math Game!

I have mentioned before that we learn a new math game every Monday and continue to play it throughout the week as much as we please. This week's game was once again from Peggy Kaye's excellent Games for Math.

Unlike many of the other games we've played, winning Kalah relies on strategy, not luck. Of course, dice-rolling games can often help even the playing field between Mama and children and make them equally likely to win or lose. Still, I found that this strategy game was simple enough that within three rounds, SA had figured out enough tricks for himself to be as likely to win as I was. This game has many variations (and names!), and after checking it out online, we found we enjoyed this version better than the Games for Math version.

While you can buy wooden boards to play on, Kalah works equally well with an egg carton, beans, and a couple of cups. There are already many places you can find directions online, so I won't repeat them here. I found these directions very clear. Peggy Kaye recommends this game starting in grades two or three, but if you have a child who likes math, they may be ready for it sooner.

If you'd like to try it out in order to get the hang of it before teaching your children, you can find an on-line version here.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Quiet Sunday Morning...

I am home alone with my little MM. He had a miserable night last night, poor fellow. His eye teeth are coming in. I have found with all my children that those are the most difficult and painful ones. So we are home, watching the birdfeeder, catching up on Bible reading, Charlotte Mason reading, and rest.

My parents came over yesterday, which was wonderful. They don't live very far away (about two and a half hours), but they are off-island, so it's an expensive trip. Between that and work schedules (Stephen's, mostly), we probably only see them once every couple of months on average. They made me feel like it was my birthday. First of all, they brought supper the evening they came. They also brought enough bread for me to skip making bread for about a week, and sweet treats for snacks and teatimes. Then they took SA and JJ for a special outing on Saturday so I could have a little break. They came back with special pastries and tulips and fancy cheeses for me. We ended the day by inviting Stephen's parents to come and visit as well, and had supper together. It was a great day!

I didn't get around to doing my usual "commonplaces" post. I just had one "JJ saying" to put in it, anyway (I was sick for a few days last week, and didn't really want to expand on that!). JJ was out of sorts and quite disobedient on Friday. I had to give him (consequences) several times. At one point, when he defied me yet again, I said sorrowfully to him, "JJ, do I have to give you more (consequences)?"
"No, I just need a hug," he said.
So I gave him a big hug. "Are you ready to obey me now?" I asked him.
"Mama, Mama, you changed my nose..."
(...puzzled look from me...)
"You changed my no's into yeses!" he said with a big smile. And promptly obeyed me.
It was a magic hug, I guess!