Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Books of Year One: Our Journey

We have been using Ambleside Online for our main curriculum. We try to follow Charlotte Mason's principles and methods in our homeschool. Practically speaking, this means we try to "lay a feast" of wonderful, living books, books filled with ideas, not just facts and information. We then require "narration" (telling back) so that our children assimilate what they read (or hear read aloud, in these early elementary years). Ambleside Online helps by providing a (free!) book list for each grade based on the curriculum used in Charlotte Mason's own schools. For me, this has meant that I don't have to come up with good books for narration on my own, but can cheerfully get on with homeschooling.

SA(6) has only three weeks left of Ambleside Online's Year One. It has been a good year. He began to learn how to narrate at the beginning of the school year, and has come a long way. There were times when narration did not go well at all, but overall his ability to narrate is excellent when he is willing, and he is usually willing. I am amazed now when I think how many books we have read together this way, and thought I would share our impressions of our books, including anything we might have learned along the way. 

The Aesop for Children by Milo Winter
This book is like training wheels for narration. The stories are very short and easy to narrate. It's one of SA's favourites. We narrate from two different books every day, and I usually choose this one when our other narration of the day is particularly challenging, to provide a bit of balance between easy and difficult readings.

Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling
This book has been an absolute pleasure from beginning to end. It has also sparked a few "virtual field trips" on YouTube...once to Sault Ste. Marie, and once to Niagara Falls and the Welland Canal.

Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin
This is a book of stories and legends from history. We used an online version (also for Viking Tales, An Island Story, and The Burgess Bird Book) and I would not do that again. I really felt that the lack of a physical book hindered a relationship with that book. For example, if I ask him now what his favourite book of the year was, he will not mention one of the online books. Narrations from these books were always "narrations from the computer" to him, while physical books would be requested by name. In the future, I will try to have physical copies of all the books.

Viking Tales by Jennie Hall
This is a book from the third term of Year One, and I'm still not quite sure what I think of it. It is well-written, and provides a vivid picture of Viking life (definitely a living book!). What I'm not always sure how to deal with is the very different values the Vikings had. Their gods, their Valhalla, and their love of war are all presented matter-of-factly and uncritically within the story. I find myself especially concerned about their version of courage, which gloried in violence and had no fear of death because of the false hope of Valhalla. And I am not finding myself particularly well-equipped to discuss this with SA without being preachy (He hates it when I talk too much!). And yet I don't want to reject the book. This really is the way the Vikings were and how they thought. I still have a lot to learn about how to discuss issues that arise from the readings. I would love to hear what more experienced moms have to say about this!

An Island Story by H.E. Marshall
This is a wonderful story of British history. However, it is from this book that I learned the value of prereading the stories myself before reading them with SA(6). We were gaily going along through our first term when I ran into chapter 5, "The Story of a Warrior Queen." It was the story of Boadicea (I had heard of her name, but knew nothing about her.). At the end of the story, she poisons herself and her daughters in order not to fall into the hands of the Romans. Marshall's retelling even has a heartbreaking moment when the younger daughter asks, "Must I drink it, mother?" It was just too much for me. I thought, "Why am I reading this with my six-year-old?" If I had read the story beforehand, I would have skipped it. As it was, the significance of that moment seemed to pass right over his head, and I was thankful. Just so you know, this is the only issue I have had with this book in the entire year. It really is a great book. I just share this because it taught me to pre-read and make sure what I was reading with him was suitable for us.

Benjamin FranklinBuffalo Bill, and George Washington by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire
We loved all of these books. They are so well-written and beautifully illustrated. We noticed connections between Buffalo Bill and Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose books we were reading as our bedtime stories at the same time. (They overlap on both map and timeline.) 

Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula
We found this church history book very challenging in the first term, so much so that I decided to substitute a biography or two by Simonetta Carr in the second term. We found the Simonetta Carr books also a little bit difficult to narrate at this age, and very long for the purpose. So the third term, I decided to try again with Trial and Triumph, beginning with Saint Patrick. To my surprise, SA had no problems with it anymore, because he had grown both in his ability to understand and his ability to narrate. I learned from this not to give up on a book if it doesn't go well at first. 

The Burgess Bird Book by Thornton Burgess
This was another book that did not go well in the beginning...for SA or for me. He found the narrations challenging because they had a lot of conversations and not much action. I disliked the book at first because of the anthropomorphism of the birds...assigning human-like motives to their actions. I also didn't like Jenny Wren as a character --sharp-tongued and quick to take offense --and she was in every chapter at first! However, we kept at it, and SA got better at narrating. I got used to the style and had some relief when Jenny Wren wasn't in every chapter we chose anymore. I wouldn't say it's our favourite, but I do feel we've learned a lot about birds from it. We always went to to learn more about the birds we read about and to hear their songs, and that was always a favourite activity for SA.

James Herriot's Treasury for Children
Just lovely, what can I say? 

Parables of Nature by Margaret Gatty
This was one of our more challenging reads, and was especially difficult in our first term. In our second term I switched to the modern paraphrase, and that went a little better. The third term, I went back to the original book. To be perfectly honest, I still don't love this book. I find it so very wordy! I can (and do, sometimes) skip whole paragraphs without missing any of the story. However, SA does seem to enjoy it, as long as I don't make our sessions with it too long. (This is a temptation for me, as the chapters are very long.)

Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
This book surprised me every time. Even when I started to realize this about it, it still surprised me. I would preread it and think, "There is no way this narration is going to go well." And then I would read it aloud, and it would be wonderful. SA could narrate better from this book than from any other. When we started in term one, I was a bit worried about the made-up words. (Should I define them?) But before long, I just relaxed and enjoyed's really all about the sound of them as you read them aloud. We had so much fun with this playful book.

Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
This was our most difficult book. Ambleside Online offers another Shakespeare option by Edith Nesbit called Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare. We tried both the Nesbit and the Lamb options, and decided to stick with Lamb, though its vocabulary was much more challenging. I felt that Nesbit condensed a little too much, and Lamb was more interesting. Through all our readings, I had to remember to keep it as light and enjoyable as possible. After all, this is SA's introduction to Shakespeare. We would roll a dice to take turns narrating, I would draw little pictures to keep things straight. I would keep each session short. I would borrow the Bruce Coville book from the library for the story we were reading if it was available (and it almost never was, ugh. I may have to buy a few of those.). I had intentions of reading and memorizing short selections from Shakespeare for our poetry teatimes, but that didn't happen. Maybe next year.

The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang
We love the stories of the Blue Fairy Book, though this book has also been a journey from the beginning of the year to the end. When we bumped into the first scheduled story in term one (Beauty and the Beast), we had not done any long readings with difficult vocabulary yet. The first narration did not go well, and I wasn't sure if it was just too difficult. But in time I learned to read through the day's reading myself first, explain any difficult words before beginning, and take a turn or two narrating myself to show SA what I expected from him. By the end of the first term, it was going well, and now at the end of Year 1, it is one of our favourites. I really feel that the expansion in SA's vocabulary from the beginning of the year to the end has been largely thanks to this book and Tales from Shakespeare (though all the books played a part).

I still have another post in me about Year 1...maybe next week. Meanwhile, if you're interested in any of the books above, you can go to the Ambleside Online Year One booklist for links to free online versions, audio versions, and Amazon.