Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: La La Logic

Today I have the privilege of reviewing La La Logic, a Preschool Curriculum I never expected to love. Worksheets and computer games have never been high on my priority list for the preschool years. I even have my doubts as to how beneficial they are. As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I believe in lots and lots of outdoor exploration for my little ones, along with developing good habits and sharing great books together. However, La La Logic filled a need for us, and we all ended up being very impressed with it.


My 4-year-old son JJ is a child who loves to do everything his 6-year-old brother does. They play outdoors together. They play with toys together. They listen to stories together. They take turns having an equal amount of screen time. And JJ insists on doing his own copywork and math whenever SA is doing it. Up till a few weeks ago, I would just print off some of SA's earlier copywork and math pages for him to do, but that was not working terribly well. JJ was not quite ready for the math and objected to repeating the pages he knew how to do. Also, JJ's fine motor skills are already better than SA's, so it was a bit demoralizing for SA to see JJ whip through a page it would take SA a week to complete. So when the opportunity came to review La La Logic, I jumped at it. Here was something JJ could do while SA was doing his copywork, and it would be all his own.


What is La La Logic?

The La La Logic curriculum consists of three types of weekly activities suitable for children ages three through six. These are:
Online Brain Challenges
Worksheets to print out and complete, and Enrichment Activities. 

There are 100 weeks worth of these activities, each with a printable schedule for the parent. Each daily activity takes approximately between five minutes to half an hour to complete. Screen time can be limited to as little as 5-10 minutes twice a week, or children can use a "continuous brain challenge mode" for extra practice beginning anywhere in the program.

La La Logic is sold as a life-time membership for only $29, and can be used for as many as five students at once. There is also a free trial available if you're not sure it's for you.


How We Used La La Logic

Brain Challenges
Each week of the La La Logic curriculum includes a set of five brain-building exercises online. These take about five minutes, and are expected to be done two or three times during the week. I started JJ on week 1. To my surprise, (he loves his limited screen time!) he did not seem to enjoy it. I wasn't sure why, but had a suspicion he found it a little babyish. Knowing the program progresses and builds from lesson to lesson, I decided to try starting halfway through the program, at week 51. That went much better, and he enjoyed it from then on. Exercises include sequencing, sorting, matching, counting, and many others.

JJ tells me he likes everything about the brain challenges, except he doesn't really like the way it says things like "fa-a-a-an-tastic!" and "se-e-en-sational!" when he gets something right. I guess he finds it patronizing. :) He does like the dancing monkey (another response for the right answer).

Besides the curriculum, JJ also used the "continuous brain challenge mode" several times, which allows students to start at any point in the program and do all the exercises in order for as long as they want (or parents allow!).


Worksheets


Since we were looking for something for JJ to do while SA did his math and copywork, the worksheets became a very valuable part of the program for us. Since each week only includes one worksheet, I found myself going through several weeks of lesson plans to print extra worksheets when JJ wanted one on more than one day of the week. (Hint to La La Logic: I'd love to see all the worksheets in one place as well as in the lesson plans!). The worksheets contain many of the same skills as the brain challenges, but of course they have the added benefit of developing fine motor skills through cutting, pasting, and colouring.

I don't know if it was the novelty value (we haven't done many worksheets in our homeschool up till now), but I found that everyone wanted to get in on the action. MM(2) insisted on having the same worksheets as JJ, and even SA(6) enjoyed the cutting and pasting ones.







Enrichment Sets

Every weekly lesson plan has two or three related enrichment activities.
This is where La La Logic really impressed me the most. Many of the activities are things we already do naturally in our family: reading a good story together, playing a math game, or memorizing a poem.

The stories used had a rich vocabulary and were not dumbed down. For example, there were many chapters taken from Old Mother West Wind by Thornton Burgess. The math games were very like the ones I use regularly with my boys. The poems were also familiar childhood classics.

I did not use all of the suggestions all the time. For example, there were a number of suggested activities to choose from after each story, including narration, copywork, and nature study. These all sound very Charlotte Mason friendly, but in truth some of them are just not things I would ask of a preschooler. If that was the case, we would just enjoy the story together.

The enrichment activities sometimes took me out of my comfort zone as well, which is probably a good thing! There was some guided make-believe play, such as imagining going to the beach, or putting on a display at an art gallery. I'm not sure these sorts of things will make a lasting impact on my homeschooling style (usually I leave the imagination to them...), but my children enjoyed them at the time.


My Thoughts

I was very impressed with La La Logic. The lesson plans are very well laid out for the parent, and the enrichment activities are based on solid literature choices, math games, and imaginative play. 

I like that it only takes a few minutes per day. As I mentioned before, these types of preschool activities are not necessarily top priority in our home...outdoor time and habit formation are more important to us. However, this curriculum allowed my four-year-old to participate in our morning lesson-time, while still leaving him plenty of time for play.

I also liked the quality of the website. Everything was very well laid out, clean and professional. My only suggestion is that I would have liked to see the printable worksheets grouped together for easy printing as well as included in the lesson plans themselves.

We will continue to use La La Logic, though perhaps a little less formally than during our review period. I think JJ will continue to request it for his screen time activity, and we will continue to print off worksheets and do enrichment activities together. I may pull more from it for JJ's Kindergarten year beginning next September, as I feel many of the activities are appropriate beyond the preschool years.

Lastly, at $29 for a lifetime membership, this is a great deal whether you use it as a full curriculum or simply as a resource. I think I will be using this for years to come.






Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wednesday with Words: Honey for a Child's Heart

"Children may learn to appreciate poetry more than adults do because they are free to let it be what it is and not demand more of it."
-Gladys Hunt, p. 63, Honey for a Child's Heart


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Catch-All: Tulips, Drawing, Snow

Tulips






Thursday, Stephen came home with 120 tulips for me! They were a late gift for our 10th anniversary (one tulip for each month). I didn't have enough vases for them all, so I put most of them in my punch bowl. Aren't they pretty?














Drawing

Since I've put "draw a picture" on SA(6)'s daily to-do list, he has gotten quite imaginative with his drawings. We do a weekly drawing lesson where we draw something together, but most other days he just makes something up out of his head.
I'm not sure I can interpret this correctly, but it seems clear to me that this is our family in a vehicle of some sort. AJ is in his car seat (oval-ish shape with a tiny head peeking out), someone is driving, someone is making coffee (the can in the hand of the person on the left has the word "coffee" on it). Two people appear to be thinking about food (bagel and cake?), one person looks unhappy. An arrow shows the direction the vehicle is headed.

JJ's pictures are very similar...their imaginations seem to feed off each other. The arrows show how the story goes. Vehicle backs over house, then drives into the house. The person driving is clearly having the time of his life, while the homeowner (shown on the telephone) is not quite as happy.


Snow

I can't believe how quickly the snow has been disappearing!
One month ago there was a snow bunker on top of a seven-foot drift.



One week ago, I parked at the road and hauled my groceries to the house on a little sled, still sinking up to my knees occasionally.








Today, while we still have a snowdrift or two, there is a lot of bare ground showing. Many birds came back this week. We saw robins, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, song sparrows, and juncos along with the usual starlings, blue jays, and chickadees. We also saw about thirty snow buntings a week ago (they usually stay as far north as they can while still finding food). The forecast is calling for a forty percent chance of flurries tomorrow. Hopefully that will be the last of it.







Sunday, April 12, 2015

Review of the Jesus Storybook Bible

Everyone who has ever mentioned the Jesus Storybook Bible to me has loved it. Chances are, you love it, too. And I wish I did. After all, I love the heart of the book and believe truly that "Every story whispers his name." But I have problems with the Biblical inaccuracies in the book. I wish I could ask Sally Lloyd-Jones (kindly, because I love her heart) why she felt the need to embellish some parts and leave other parts out in just the way she did.

First of all, I do love the purpose the Sally Lloyd-Jones had in creating the Jesus Storybook Bible. The entire Church, not just its children, needs to see the Bible as a continuing story of redemption with Jesus at its very center. Too often the Old Testament has been neglected, or worse, presented as a collection of moral stories to encourage (or frighten!) Sunday School children to "be good." Lloyd-Jones shows clearly that it's all about Jesus. For example, in the story of Joseph, she writes simply about how Joseph foreshadows Jesus:
"One day, God would send another Prince, a young Prince whose heart would break. Like Joseph, he would leave his home and his Father. His brothers would hate him and want him dead. He would be sold for pieces of silver. He would be punished even though he had done nothing wrong. But God would use everything that happened to this young Prince --even the bad things --to do something good: to forgive the sins of the whole world."
Don't you love that? God not only wrote the story of redemption, He designed it. You can see it throughout the story Scripture tells, (yes, even the Old Testament!) and it's beautiful.

I also share Lloyd-Jones' concern in this interview:
"Children’s lives are so filled, it seems to me, with rules and lessons and instructions and directions and dos and don'ts. (Of course these are all important in their place; all children need guidance and that’s appropriate!) But I don’t always see much Grace being extended to children. We know, as adults, where to find Grace in the Bible. We go the Bible for strength and comfort in times of need, don’t we? But I worry that children aren’t always being offered that refuge, for when they are in need of strength and comfort. I worry that they don’t always know that this incredible, outrageous Grace is for them too. Children need to know that they are loved by the one who made them. No matter what. Always. Forever. Period. And it isn’t depending on how good or nice they are. It’s always and only depending on Jesus and what he has done for them."
Amen, I say.

But. 

Why can this story not be told without serious inaccuracies? And why can we not show the glory of God's love even to little children without glossing over the seriousness of sin and the magnitude of God's holiness, justice, and power?

I understand that this is a creative retelling. I understand that such a retelling for little children must be selective, and that it must be creative so that they will see the story in their mind's eye and understand the great truths being told. But in her retelling, Lloyd-Jones writes some things that are frankly not true.

There are cases where my discomfort may possibly be a matter of preference. Take, for example, the Creation story. "God said, 'Hello, light!' and light shone into the darkness." I would have preferred the majesty of God's "Let there be...and there was." I do not see why substituting "Hello" would be easier for a child to understand. And (call me a quibbler) "Hello" does not mean the same thing as "Let there be." Hello is usually more of a recognition of what is already there than a calling into being, and it does not convey authority. I like clarity in my words, even to children, and to me this is especially important when retelling God's Word. I will understand if you think I am being picky about this particular example. :)

However, there are other places where the inaccuracies are more serious. The story of the Fall is an example of this.
As soon as the snake saw his chance, he slithered silently up to Eve. "Does God really love you?" the serpent whispered. "If he does, why won't he let you eat the nice, juicy, delicious fruit? Poor you, perhaps God doesn't really want you to be happy."(p. 30)
Eve begins to wonder, and eats the fruit.
 "And a terrible lie came into the world. It would never leave. It would live on in every human heart, whispering to every one of God's children: 'God doesn't love me.'" (p. 30)
The original sin, according to this book, is not realizing how much God loves you. 

At worst, this is theologically unsound, at best it is a simple glossing over of the actual significance of the Fall. And I ask you, does it matter that we teach even little children the truth about the Fall? That the real temptation was to doubt God's Word ("Did God really say...?") and the real sin was rebellion against God's express command? I think it does matter, because we can't truly know how much God loves us until we realize what He has rescued us from: real sin, and real judgement.

I believe that we must teach even little children the whole truth from the beginning. They may not understand it all, but they will take what they can, and understand more and more as they grow. My concern is to lay a foundation of truth that will not change. If I begin with the Jesus Storybook Bible, I'm going to have to reteach this someday with the real truth about the Fall. What will happen in my children's minds when the new story doesn't match what I had first taught them? Which will they believe?

I'll give you just one more example. Jonah and the Fish. This is the message Lloyd-Jones says Jonah brought to Nineveh:
"'Even though you've run far from God, he can't stop loving you,' Jonah told them. "Run to him! So he can forgive you."'
In case you've forgotten, what Jonah really said was, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" The people believed him, repented of their sins, and God had mercy and did not destroy them.

My only question here is why? Why did Lloyd-Jones substitute a message of grace for the real message of judgment? What is going to happen when little children graduate from this story to the real Bible and discover that God is not a "nice" God? That He is holy and just as well as loving and gracious?

Now, before you object, I love the message of grace. I believe God's love and his grace are amazing and beyond anything I can imagine. I believe that His message of judgment to Nineveh was full of grace. He could have destroyed them without warning, but He gave them opportunity to repent. But why should we put words in His mouth that were not actually there? Why change what He really said? The message of grace and redemption is indeed found throughout Scripture, and will come out clearly even if we stick to the truth.

The Bottom Line
I appreciate Lloyd-Jones' creativity in telling the story of the Bible. She does have a gift, and she is using it for the gospel. I love that she has taken the idea of the continuity of Scripture and the centrality of Christ and made it understandable for children (and in doing so, undoubtedly also made it understandable for many adults who have never thought of Scripture in that way before...what a blessing!).

But I also believe that God inspired the Scriptures, and that therefore even the details are important. That's why I can't get past the times when Lloyd-Jones writes specific details that actually contradict what the Bible says. I can understand and appreciate creativity in bringing a story to life for little children, I really can. But this crosses a line for me. And the sad thing is, it is completely unnecessary. All of Lloyd-Jones' aims could have been accomplished without being in any way untrue to Scripture.


What do you think? Have you read the Jesus Storybook Bible to your children? I'd love to hear what you have to say about it.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Handicraft and Music Update

We're well on our way through term 3 of Ambleside Online's Year 1. Towards the end of last term, we really slowed down on some of the "extras". This had something to do with being nine months pregnant and having baby AJ at the end of January. This term, though, we are doing great! We are still not doing enough nature study, but I plan to make up for that this summer. There is still so. much. snow.

Handicrafts
I am so proud of myself for actually doing some non-cooking/baking handicrafts this term! In case you haven't picked up on this yet, I am emphatically not into arts and crafts. However, I have pulled out the paper and the origami book and we are folding paper once a week together. Stephen has gotten in on the action as well and made the boys some very cool jumping frogs.

 Now I know you're wondering about how "real" this craft is. Charlotte Mason handicrafts are not usually of the useless, throw-away sort. However, having done it for a few weeks now, I wish I'd done more of this as a child. I am not the sort of person who can look at things and understand how they are made or how they work. I think folding paper may really begin to develop a child's relationship with physical materials so they have a real understanding of how things are designed and made. I am confident that origami will be the first step to paper sloyd for us.

So far, we have created little boxes, boats to float in the bath tub, and 3D houses. The boys are still not doing these on their own...they do the first few folds, and then need help with the tricky parts. Maybe I need to find a simpler origami book so we can find some projects they can do completely on their own? But anyway, we're having fun with it, and we're actually doing something, which is more than the nothing we were doing before.


Music
I mentioned in November that my 6- and 4-year-old boys were still not singing on-key. I'm so happy to be able to say now that they have made progress.

I began with "so" and "mi". I would sing those two notes and ask them to listen and hold it in their mind. Then I asked them to sing the same notes, and they did! They were perfectly in tune and had beautiful tone. We did that several times. Then I introduced them to "Up and Down," a song I stumbled across on YouTube from Jolly Music. For some reason they absolutely loved this simple, two-note song. We played games with it. A few times we held hands and put our hands up and down with the words of the song. Other times I would sing the first "up and down" and point at one of them to sing the next bit. They can sing the song perfectly on tune, as long as we don't try to sing it together. Somehow the effort of listening and producing the right note can not be done at the same time yet.

Next, I started to point out the so-mi interval in the hymns we were singing. "Jesus Loves Me" begins with so, mi, mi, for example. I sang songs in solfege so they would start noticing the different notes in the songs we sing every day. Both of them are starting to be able to produce a line of a hymn. This is still as long as we don't try to sing on-key together. Still, echoing and alternating lines is fun. We are learning "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus," and that particular line repeats several times in the hymn. So I will sing all the other lines, and let one of them at a time sing "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus." JJ(4) does especially well with this.

Today I began to try to get us singing the same note together. When I started the note and asked them to join in, SA(6) could not seem to find it. So I sang the note so we could hear it in our minds first. Then I got SA to start, so we could join in with him. That worked much better.

I should tell you that MM(2) is doing all of this with us. His learning to sing is as natural as a bird learning to fly. It's funny to me that this is an area where my youngest is the most skilled, followed by my middle child, followed by my oldest (not counting the baby, of course!). But I'm feeling confident now that they will all get there. Maybe I'll have a boy's choir here before long. :)


Friday, April 3, 2015

On Finding Your Tribe...And Going Beyond It

just once in a while, for the sake of perspective...


I went to a local homeschool support group meeting this week. I always enjoy these meetings so much. For me, the most valuable thing these meetings give me is a fresh perspective. Every time I go I come away with new ideas. Most importantly, every time I realize again that there are many different ways to homeschool, and am filled with admiration at the level of commitment and creativity so many moms bring to the work of educating their children.

I happen to be very committed to Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods in my homeschool. I'll admit it...I really, truly think she's the best! And I have found my "tribe" here online in the blogging world. There is a whole network of like-minded Charlotte Mason homeschoolers encouraging and challenging one another, and I am so happy to have found them.

It would be very easy for me just to get all my encouragement from these homeschool moms who think just like me. It is a simple thing now for us to find each other in this age of the internet. We have our own language (does anyone else know what "keeping" means? "commonplace"?). We all rush to read the same books (Last year it was Bestvater's The Living Page, this year it's Karen Glass's Consider This). We follow our fellow tribe members' way of doing things (I'm thinking of my weekly schedule, adapted from someone who adapted it from someone else.). I think this is fine...after all, they're great books, and lovely, helpful things to do.

So why go beyond your tribe? Why make an effort to associate with people with different ideas?

I have found it is like a breath of fresh air into my mind and homeschool to speak with moms whose educational philosophy is different than my own. I am challenged to consider other ideas and re-examine my assumptions.

And I begin to realize...even if these non-CM homeschool moms don't think through Charlotte Mason's philosophy, education still is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. This is true whether you realize it or not. And you don't have to call yourself a Charlotte Mason homeschooler to provide all three.

I think of my own education at home. We used a boxed curriculum (A Beka) when my parents pulled us out of school when I was in grade 3. Later, we attended an A.C.E. school for a while, then continued homeschooling with the A.C.E. curriculum till the end of high school.

Obviously, I have rejected the boxed curriculum in favour of living books in my own homeschool. And yet, I don't consider myself to have had a bad education because I was homeschooled using these things. That's because the workbooks were not all there was to my education. I was surrounded by a large family with a home business. We had a small hobby farm with a random assortment of animals. Our family played music and sang together. We read voraciously from our extensive home library, which, by the way, contained many living books. There are things I didn't learn (writing, for one), but that ended up being okay because I graduated with the ability and the will to learn whatever I want or need to know. There are many good books that I didn't read during the years I was homeschooled. Guess what? That was okay too! I'm not dead yet. I can still read them.

I see this in the homeschoolers all around me. People choose their own philosophy and methods of education. Perhaps these philosophies and methods are not as perfect (in my opinion) as those of Charlotte Mason. Perhaps everyone could get some balance by reading a bit more Charlotte Mason. And yet... maybe I need some balance, too. Maybe I have something to learn from the eclectic, the relaxed, the unschooling and the classical homeschoolers. Maybe I need to see the energy and the creativity and the work these moms are pouring into their homeschools. Maybe I need to see that their children are graduating and going on to successful careers and happy families.

Let me be clear. Here is what I've learned from going beyond my little Charlotte Mason tribe:

Realizing in your mind that "Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life" does not necessarily make you a better homeschooler, living it does. And a person doesn't have to be part of the Charlotte Mason "tribe" to live it. They don't even have to speak the same language, read the same books and blogs, or follow the same schedule.

Now, I do strongly believe in thinking through your philosophy of education. Charlotte Mason has helped me so much with that, and I'd recommend her books to every homeschooler. I call myself a Charlotte Mason home educator, and I feel that I've found my home and my tribe. Having them around me has given me a sense of security and support and I'd never want to downplay the value of that.

But at the same time, I will guard against becoming narrow and myopic in my Charlotte Mason-inspired idealism by going to my local homeschool meetings. Their diversity helps to give me a broader perspective.