Friday, February 19, 2016

2016 Reading Challenge Update

It has been a month and a half since I started in on Tim Challies' 2016 Reading Challenge. I spent some time in December choosing books, but my actual reading has taken a more random route so far.

When I began, I was planning to follow the "Avid Reader" plan, with 26 books. As I've been reading, though, I've been thinking that I can probably handle the "Committed Reader" plan with 52 books. I also have been choosing categories from anywhere in the challenge, and as long as they add up to 52, I'll be happy.

Here's what I've read so far, with reviews for the most significant ones, and stars to rate them:
A mystery or detective novelArthur & George by Julian Barnes ***
A book by a female authorThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield ****
A novel set in a country that is not your ownThe Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers ***
A novel that won the Pulitzer prizeTales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener ****
A book by or about Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens *****
A book based on a true story: The Brainy Bunch by Kip and Mona Lisa Harding **

A book with the word "gospel" in the title or subtitle: The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson ****

In this book Matt Chandler spells out the gospel from two aspects: "on the ground" (personal, where we see that individual sinners are reconciled to a holy God through Christ's atoning sacrifice) and "in the air" (cosmic, where we consider God's great plan of salvation and how it affects everything). Nothing in this book is "new" ...if you know the gospel, you will have heard it all. But having this most important of themes spelled out once again will call forth a response of worship. We can never hear the gospel enough, can we? Chandler is also concerned that we do not focus on one aspect of the gospel and neglect the other, and spells out the implications if we do.

The chapter I appreciated the most was chapter 8: "Consummation." I appreciated that Chandler stepped away from speculation about the end times and focused on the point "When God finally makes all things new as he promises throughout the Scriptures, what will things look like? Where will we be?" I don't think I'd ever thought in this way about what it will be like to be in our new bodies in the new heaven and the new earth. For the first time I thought, "Yes, Jesus, I truly do long for your coming."

This book is very readable, though occasionally I was jolted by Chandler's style and sense of humour. This annoyed me a little because I felt he meant to startle --as though what he had to say was not enough to hold my attention. This is a minor quibble. This book led me to worship, and I was blessed.

A novel longer than 400 pages: Island of the World by Michael O'Brien *****

Bosnia-Herzegovina. Croatia. Serbia. Yugoslavia.
Croats. Chetniks. Ustashe. Partisans. Communists.
Suffering. Massacres. Labour camps.

Having read this book, I am only marginally less confused about the history of the former Yugoslavia, but then a comprehensive view of the different parties and factions involved is not its point. This is the inner life of one person, Josip, an unusually bright and spiritually perceptive boy who grows up in the midst of unimaginable suffering. As the horror of what he has gone through takes hold, he is changed. Human love and beauty make a great difference, but not an ultimate one. When he loses everything again, he finds that his own heart has become as bitter and murderous as those who have done evil to him. It seems like an inevitable cycle "--the children of Cain breeding Cain breeding Cain breeding Cain breeding Cain--". But the cycle is broken with the forgiveness and love of Christ.

This is a devoutly Roman Catholic book. I am not; I cling to the clarity and simplicity of the Reformation solas. And yet I was deeply blessed by the deeper Christian themes of this book --themes of suffering with Christ, of redemption through his sacrifice, of the continual dying to self of the Christian life, and of Christ's return. This was a moving, even heart-breaking book in many ways, but I did not weep until I came to Josip's vision as an old man of the celestial city come down from above. I thought, "Yes. Jesus will come, and He will set everything right." There is Truth here.

I have not yet mentioned Josip's poetry, which is beautiful and all the more powerful because it is paired with this story.

I hope to read this book again when I have read The Odyssey, which is referenced throughout the book. I know I missed some depth of meaning because I was not familiar with it. I will also keep it in my mind should ever God allow deep suffering to come into my life. It is a powerful, beautiful book.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Charlotte Mason Day in the Life

Today I am joining a roundup! Learning Mama is hosting "A Day in the Life of a Classical Homeschooler." While we are not Classical in the "ages and stages" sense, we do consider ourselves to be providing a Classical education using Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods.

I start the day shortly after 7:00 am. No need for alarm clocks at our house --our four boys always wake us up on time! As usual, SA(7) is the first one out of bed, followed by MM(3), then JJ(5). Baby AJ(1) often sleeps a little longer than the rest, but not this morning. I start the coffee, the oatmeal, and my husband's lunch.

8:00 My husband is gone to work. The boys and I are eating our oatmeal with blueberries and cantaloupe. I finish eating a little earlier than the boys, so I pull out Pilgrim's Progress and read an episode from Part 2 (Christiana's journey). Then I grab a piece of paper and a pencil and start drawing as SA(7) and JJ(5) tell me what happened in the story. Sadly, I am no artist, and the boys are soon laughing at my work. "It looks like a girl with a beaver tail," giggles SA. I, of course, am highly insulted. It was supposed to be Mercy, asking the porter why he kept that horrible dog that was always scaring the pilgrims.

By this time, everyone is done eating and we go on with our morning circle time. I read the story of Jacob's ladder from Genesis, and SA narrates. He does this Very Slowly, and with many pauses.
SA: "Isaac called Jacob, and then he said, 'Go to [long pause... I can't remember the place. Me: 'Paddan-Aram']. Take a wife from one of her brothers. [long pause. Me: 'Anything else?'] Then when Esau saw that Rebekah was not pleased with them, he went and got another person not like the ones he had." 
SA: "Jacob left, then he slept there because the sun went down. He dreamed that there was a ladder leading up to heaven and angels going up and down the ladder."
JJ(5): "And the Lord at the top of it!"
SA: "Then the Lord said, [long pause. Me: "Then the Lord said what?"}
JJ: "Can I go play outside?"
Me: "No. But you can get socks on while you wait for SA to finish narrating."
SA: "He woke up and said 'The Lord is here, and I didn't know it.' The Lord said he would bless him and multiply his offspring." (long pause)
Me: "Was there anything else? I think I remember something about a rock."
SA: "He put up the rock and he poured oil upon the rock for a pillar."
Meanwhile, JJ(5) and MM(3) have started racing dump trucks on the piano, and AJ(1) has started climbing onto the table. I try to gather them in again by asking MM what he'd like to sing. SA wants to sing "How Firm a Foundation," but MM doesn't want to. "That's OK," I say. "We'll sing what you choose first, and then we'll sing his choice. Which song would you like?" "When We Walk With the Lord." So we sing one verse of both hymns, then recite our Bible memory passage (Colossians 3:12-17). Finally, we pray.

9:00 We get started on chores, then I send the two big boys outside to play. I am busy folding laundry upstairs when I realize that SA has not gone out with JJ. He has been reading, but he has finished his book now. This is a big deal. He has been reading his first chapter book for a couple of weeks now. I record The Akimbo Adventures as the first step on his "Chapter Books" chart and shoo him out to play in the snow.

It is a beautiful day --sunny, minus 5 Celcius, and mountains of snow to play in. They use their shovels and work on digging holes to hide in when the bad guys come, and eight boats made of snow. JJ makes a cannon at the top of a snow mountain.

I wash dishes and shower and fold laundry and clean under the breakfast table. Then I nurse the baby and put him to bed.

MM decides to go out and play in the snow, too, so I help him with his snowsuit.

10:30 Everyone is back inside and wanting hot chocolate. I put on the kettle and set the table. As I finish my preparations, I ask the boys to get out some poetry books for us to read. They do.

When I arrive at the table they already have their favourites picked out. MM chooses "Box Car Racer" from Anne Isaacs' Cat Up a Tree. He chooses this every time. If for any reason he ever chooses something else, JJ chooses it. I have read this poem at least three times a week for the last three years. This time JJ chooses "I had a little nut tree" from Lavender's Blue, and SA chooses "The Telephone" by Robert Frost. This one was new to us, and everyone enjoyed the image of a flower being used as a telephone for thoughts. I also read several poems by Christina Rossetti, since she is our poetry focus this term.

Towards the end of our teatime, things fall apart. Hot chocolate is spilled, AJ wakes up, MM has an accident and wants a bath...

11:30 I rally and get the school day going. We start with a reading and narration from Trial and Triumph, a church history book. We are reading about Francis of Assisi.

SA: "I don't like this book very much."
Me: "Well, not all our school books can be our favourites. Which one is your favourite?"
SA: "I like Wind in the Willows."
Me: "We're reading Wind in the Willows today, too. Would you like to start with that instead?"
SA: "No, that's okay."
JJ: "When we're done, can you come out and build a snow fort with us?"
Me: "We'll see. I can't think about that right now."

Finally I manage to start the lesson(!) and SA narrates.

"That Francis once told a flock of birds to praise your father, who clothed you in feathers and wings. Once he said to a cricket, 'Cricket my sister, praise the Lord your God who created you."
"He said to the Lesser Brothers to go to the four corners of the earth. Maybe he was talking this place and this place and this place is what he meant by the four corners. (pointing) That he, dying at the age of 54, he said, 'Hello, sister death.'"

We are behind our regular routine so I decide to move right into the next reading, Wind in the Willows. SA narrates:

"She said that he might be fake. (long pause, "And then what?") He unfastened the tow rope and left the tow path. He saw the barge woman shouting, 'Stop, stop, stop!'" Toad didn't stop, and soon he had slowed down to a trot, then a walk. He fell asleep and then woke up with a jolt. Then he saw a gipsy smoking a pipe. He put the pipe out of his mouth."
SA:"Where's the timer?" (standing on his head. We always set the timer so we don't go overtime on our lessons.)
Me: "I have it. Now sit down beside me in 'narration posture.'"

"He said, 'one shilling for each leg.' Toad wanted three shillings for each leg. Then he said he wanted six shillings for the whole horse and as much food as he wanted for one sitting. And that's all I remember. Oh, and the food was made out of the finest hares and chicken."

By this time it is already far past noon. Normally we have two readings and our math done before lunch, but today we are going very slowly. I decide that SA can do his math while I prepare lunch. We get out his Singapore Math book. Today's exercise is only one page, something he can finish in five minutes. I set the timer for 20 minutes, telling him he can do math on the computer (We just got a free trial of DreamBox Learning) with the time he has left. 

While lunch is in the oven, I sit down and read MM(3) and JJ(5) a story. We start with The Little Engine That Could, MM's current favourite. I read it to him yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that... Thankfully, JJ picks a new book, Castles in the Sea, a nonfiction picture book by Lawrence Jackson about icebergs. It is surprisingly good, with many living ideas, not just dry facts.

1:00 We have our lunch. I read to all of them after I've finished eating. We've just started Mary Poppins. I have never read this book before, and I find it a little silly. The boys don't seem to be too impressed, either, because they wander off before I'm finished the chapter.

2:00 We all go outside. Sadly, I cannot help them with a snow fort because I am lugging a heavy one-year-old, but I admire the snow staircases and the holes they have made. After half an hour, I go in with the baby and nurse him. He eventually falls asleep.
3:00 The other boys come in from outside. JJ(5) comes to me. "What can I do?" Normally this is code for "What can you do with me?" "How about a reading lesson?" I say. He is keen, so we pull out the Alpha Phonics and do a lesson.

3:30 Almost 4:00 and SA still needs to do his copywork and one more narration. The copywork is always done in five minutes, and this narration from the Burgess Animal Book is always a short one, as he reads it on his own. We normally set the timer for seven minutes, and he comes to me and tells me about it when the timer rings. So this is no more than fifteen minutes of work, but he is not settling down to it. He is allowed to have some screen time at 4:00 if the day's lessons are done, but that is not motivating him today. He and the other boys are upstairs playing with a new radio Papa has brought home yesterday. I decide to let it be for now and get some cleaning up done while they are entertaining themselves. He finally finishes his lessons at around 4:15, then they all go and have some Minecraft screen time.

And that's the end of our school day! I rest a little, then start supper. 

Click on over for more days in the lives of Classical homeschoolers!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness For the Glory of God

Truth, Beauty, Goodness.

I hear this phrase over and over again as a Charlotte Mason/Classical homeschooler. I use it myself. It is one of my highest aims in teaching my children: that they will learn to know and love what is good, and true, and beautiful.

We study math because it is beautiful (oh yes, it is!), and true, and good, not because we must in order for our children to get jobs in the STEM-oriented marketplace when they are grown up. (They may do so, and I will be thankful, but that is not our primary aim.)

We study things that seemingly have no usefulness in passing tests now and getting good jobs later on. We store up beautiful paintings in the galleries of our minds, we listen to glorious music, we revel in words skillfully woven into poetry. We do this to grow as people, to learn to recognize what truly is beautiful, and good, and true, and to develop love for these things.

And yet we do not pursue truth, beauty and goodness for their own sake. As Christians, we pursue these things for the glory of God.

Truth, beauty, and goodness are the glory of God. God is their author. Jesus is The Truth, the ultimate manifestation of God's goodness, the altogether lovely.

Truth, beauty, and goodness matter, but not for their own sake. Anyone can pursue truth, beauty, and goodness, but it will all be worthless in the end if the foundation is wrong.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. - 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

Paul is speaking of teaching in the church, but I believe it applies just as well to the teaching we give to our children. I pray that I am building something that will last, even in the teaching I do every day.

The math we study in our homeschool shows forth the glory of the order He built into His creation. The creativity displayed in the music, and art, and poetry we study are a reflection of His glorious creation and of the wonder of man being made in the image of God.

It is for Christ and his kingdom that we seek after truth, beauty, and goodness. It is for God's glory that we love these things, because He is the origin of all that is good, and true, and beautiful in this world.

May we never forget why we are doing what we're doing in our homeschools.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Unexpected Connections

We were reading from A Child's History of the World this week. We learned about Gothic architecture with its flying buttresses, stained glass windows and spires. I decided we needed to look up a Gothic cathedral online. I randomly chose to google Canterbury Cathedral. Wow! I was so glad I did! They have a wonderful virtual tour. We spent half an hour exploring. Besides getting to see the inside of the cathedral, we were thrilled to see bronze effigy of the Black Prince, who we just read about last week in Our Island Story.

We also saw the candle marking the place where Thomas Becket was murdered, which we had read about earlier this term. It's so exciting and meaningful to make connections like this, and it seems to happen without effort as long as we're reading and learning. This is the beauty of the science of relations. It is like going to a new and unfamiliar place and unexpectedly meeting someone you know there.

I highly recommend this virtual tour to anyone doing Ambleside Online Year 2! 
(We're in Term 2, Week 22, to be exact.)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Laugh of the Day

I was reading about Edward III and the Battle of Crecy to SA(7) this afternoon from Our Island Story. ("Our Island" refers to Britain in this case.) He did not narrate very well after the first segment, which was about how King Edward divided his 20,000 men into three groups in order to fight against King Philip of France, who was coming with 120,000 men.

I was about to go on when SA said, "I was wondering about the 20,000 men in three groups."

"That's a good question," said I. "How many men would be in each group?"


"Okay," I thought, "I'll help him get started."

"Well, I think it would be more than 6,000," I began, "Because three groups of 6,000 would make 18,000."

"Six thousand, six hundred sixty-six dot six seven," SA answered.


Startled laughter. I mean, I know he's good at math, but I wasn't quite expecting that.

"Well," I said, "I don't think you would want to divide a man into parts for this purpose, so you'd probably want to have one extra person in two of the groups instead of the 'dot six seven'."

We went on with the reading and narration, finishing the lesson fifteen minutes later.

Then I noticed that he had my cell phone. Which has a calculator.

That explains the "dot six seven." I didn't think he was that familiar with decimals yet.