Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Second Generation Homeschooling Family

I am guest posting at They Call Me Blessed today. Make sure to check out the whole 30 Ways We Homeschool Blog Party as well, and don't miss out on the Ultimate Homeschool Giveaway there!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Keep a Thankful Heart as You Plan

Are you an idealist?

I can be an idealist when it comes to homeschooling. I have great ideals in Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods, and I do my best to live up to them. But I fail sometimes. I lose energy, and things I planned don't happen. These things creep on me almost imperceptibly, until I realize suddenly that we haven't done x, y, and z for weeks. This happens especially at the end of a school year, when spring arrives and boys' attention spans shrink.

The result is that as we wrapped up this school year last week, my first thought was to take stock of everything that went wrong and to plan how it will be better next year.

  • SA(7) did only two (of twelve) nature journal entries in the last term. Obviously, that was not well-planned.
  • I did not increase the amount of reading for narration that SA did on his own over the year as I had planned. I was enjoying reading aloud to him, and I didn't consider what was best for him.
  • I feel SA's copywork got a little more sloppy over the year as he gained speed, and I did not deal with it.
  • I didn't go outside enough with my children.
  • I didn't sit down every day with JJ(5) to teach him to read.
  • And on, and on...
I felt like a failure!
(Don't laugh, you older homeschool moms... I'm realizing as I write this that this doesn't sound all that terrible.)

Once I had a little rest, I realized that my feelings did not reflect reality. Yes, there were things that I could have and should have done better, things that I will plan to improve next year. But there are many, many things to give thanks for, too.

I'm writing this list to remind myself, and you.

Don't jump into planning for next year before giving thanks for the blessings of last year.

Look at all of it with a thankful heart, and you will feel so much more ready to go on and do what must be done.

Here's some of my thanksgiving list.
  • We are so rich in books. Not just any books, good, living books. Even better, we don't just have them on the shelf, but we are reading them and getting to know them well through narration. SA has gotten to know the books in Ambleside Online Year 2 this past year. When I asked SA for his favourite, he picked two: Robin Hood and The Wind in the Willows.
  • SA(7) has a twinkle in his eye when it comes to poetry that wasn't there before this year. This year, a dear friend gave us Robert Frost's You Come Too, and it became his favourite. He has always enjoyed our poetry tea time. In kindergarten, he loved it for the snacks that he could form into mathematical equations on his plate. In Year One, he loved it because it was a predictable and steady part of our day. In Year Two, he has found a poet he loves. This makes me so happy!
  • Despite my failure to sit down with him every day, JJ(5) learned to read. He decided he wanted to. I had an Explode the Code book that he worked in independently, and he insisted on sitting down with Alpha Phonics a few times a week for a while. Then I pulled out an easy to read book one week, and another one the next week, and he hasn't looked back.
  • For the first time, MM(3) learned the Bible passage we memorized this term (and is very proud to recite it...).
  • Our math lessons were revitalized in the last term of this year by the addition of inspiring stories of mathematicians, by me sitting down with him to explore new concepts orally a few times a week (using MEP), and by the judicious use of DreamBox for fluency. SA had been losing a bit of his sparkle as he sat down day after day with his Singapore Math. He still does Singapore as his core, but the joy and creativity is back with these additions.
As I begin planning for next year, I don't only need to consider my failures. I also need to remember what we did well, and continue the good work there. Of course I continue to reach for my ideals. I'm not saying my failures are okay or that I don't need to improve. But to be healthy and happy in my homeschooling, I will keep a thankful heart.

How about you? How are you doing as you plan for next year? Do you take time to give thanks?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Canadian Living Book Review: Evangeline and the Acadians

What I have been calling "Canadian living books" are not necessarily Canadian books. They are rather books of particular interest to Canadians, whether because they are by Canadian authors, or because they are about Canadian history or culture. Evangeline and the Acadians is written by an American, Robert Tallant, and it is of interest to both Canadians and Americans, particularly those in Atlantic Canada and in Louisiana. This book is number 74 in the out of print "Landmark Books" series. I found it at my library, and have ordered a used copy online. (Check for used books in order of cost including shipping to you.)

Is it written by a single author with a passion for his subject?

Robert Tallant is from Louisiana, and has written several books on Louisiana history. His interest in Acadian history comes from that aspect. This shows most clearly in his chapter on the culture of Acadians in Louisiana as of the time of his writing (1957). However, Canadian readers should not be overly concerned about this, as all Acadian history is interconnected. This is a sweeping history, from the founding of the first permanent French colony in North America in Nova Scotia in 1604, to the Acadian deportation, to the wanderings that followed until many had settled permanently in Louisiana.

Canadians will find Tallant's description of Acadian culture both similar and different from Acadian culture in Atlantic Canada today. For example, his description of the dialect spoken in Louisiana has similar features to the "Chiac" I've heard in New Brunswick, though the contributing languages are different. If you are not familiar with Acadian culture, you may want to find an additional source to tell more about what Acadian life is like in Canada. Also, I want to learn more about how the Acadians who live in Canada made their way back here in the 1770's, as this was not covered in the book.

Tallant has more interest in Acadian history in general than in Evangeline, the heroine of the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His concern with Evangeline is mostly to provide the historical context for the poem, though he does provide some detail as to how the story came to Longfellow.

Does it have ideas, not just facts?

I have to be honest here, I wasn't sure about this when I started reading the book. The first chapter was rather dry. However, as I progressed through the book, there was more description and more discussion about the motivations of the French and the British. Certainly the story of the deportation and the wandering afterwards was heart-wrenching to imagine.

Is it well-written?
The writing is to the point and does not call attention to itself. Once I got into it, I didn't stop until I finished the book. I think that says something. People who are not interested in history may find it a bit dry. My own children will have enough connections to the story by the time we read it that I think they will be drawn in. (I am hoping to take some field trips...)

Is it inspiring?

The story of the Acadians is a story of a hard-working people who built a good life for themselves. When it was all taken away from them there was some very human bitterness as they went through great hardship far from home. However, in the end many came together again and built a new life for themselves. Their strength is inspiring.

For what age group would this book be a good fit?
I think this book would be a good fit for grades 3 and up. I haven't made a definite plan yet, but I anticipate using it with SA(7) as a school book this coming year, alongside Longfellow's "Evangeline". I will come back and tell you how it went once we have done that.

Edited June 2017 to add: I ended up reading this book aloud to my 8, 6, and 4-year-old boys this spring as a bed-time read-aloud. I was amazed at how interested they all were. (Normally I read fiction at bedtime. Clearly nonfiction holds just as much interest for them.) I did skip some of the details specific to the US near the end of the book, and we visited our local Acadian Museum when we had finished. Having now shared this book with them, I feel much more confident in my recommendation.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Canadian Living Book Review: Into Unknown Waters

Part of my process of finding Canadian living books is to search my library's online database for any title related to the subject I wish to have a living book about. Of course, this results in a huge range of books for many different age levels. But I reserve them all in the hopes of finding a gem. This week I found one!

Into Unknown Waters: John & Sebastian Cabot by Eric N. Simons is part of a series entitled "People from the Past" edited by Egon Larsen. This series was intended to "bridge the gap" between overly simplified biographies and overly detailed accounts written by and for academic historians. This book is out of print, published in 1964 by Dobson Books, but you may be able to find it used or at your library.

One of my "living books" pet peeves is the way people seem to assume that you must turn to historical fiction in order to make Canadian history come alive. I have nothing against historical fiction, especially when it is well-written and well-researched, but living books come in a much greater variety. This is why I appreciated the intent of the "People from the Past" series:
"...while introducing dramatic and colourful figures the authors have a wonderful opportunity of filling in the whole background of a particular time and its political, cultural, economic conditions and developments, without having to introduce fictitious characters or adventures--for truth is more exciting than fiction, and the reader can rely on the historical authenticity of the story."
As I hope to review many Canadian living books over the next years, I will ask and answer specific questions in each case that assess how these books can be classified as "living books" as Charlotte Mason defined them. (For more on how to recognise a living book, see "What's In a 'Living Book'" by Emily Kiser, or listen to A Delectable Education podcast episode 7: "How to Recognize  Living Books.")

Is it written by a single author with a passion for his subject?

Simons' imagination was clearly captured by the story of the Cabots. This is evident from the very first page, where he begins by telling about seeing a ship in full sail one day:
"Suddenly into sight a big sailing ship came, her sails, golden and convex, billowing in the wind --a gallant and now rarely experienced sight. Beautiful were her sweeping lines and curving canvas...
There she was, that day in May, 1961, and hundreds of years ago, there, too, sailed many ships like her, at the mercy of wind and wave, with starvation, disease, fire, piracy and shipwreck ever threatening disaster. In May, 1497, in particular, a ship, which had left Bristol on the 2nd, could have been the Atlantic, a small speck in a vast circle of water, going out into the unknown, not for days, but for months."
His interest and enthusiasm are contagious, and that is something I look for in a living book.

Does it have ideas, not just facts?

The example quoted above: "a small speck in a vast circle of water, going out into the unknown, not for days, but for months" is a good example of the kind of ideas that abound in this book. The words create a picture in your mind's eye, a feeling of what it might be like to be an explorer. Yes, this book aims at being as historically accurate as possible, but it is by no means a dry recitation of facts, and it certainly never dumbs anything down.

(One thing to note about the facts: scholarship has advanced a bit regarding the route of John Cabot's first voyage, and you may want to compare the map on the inside cover with one in a more current book. However, Cabot's route is still a subject of considerable controversy, including the question of where he first landed...Cape Breton or Newfoundland?)

Is it well-written?

The writing evokes vivid pictures in your imagination. I enjoyed the way Simons wove relevant historical details into the story. On the other hand, I sometimes wished the sentences weren't quite so long, and that some of the excessive commas were removed.

Is it inspiring?

The author highlights the courage of the explorers by comparing it with that of modern astronauts:
"Awed by the courage and determination of men who, calmly entering space capsules, set out to explore the universe, we easily forget that there was a time in history when equally intrepid men embarked in tiny craft to explore the unknown waters of our globe. Their stories deserve to be told and told again, because it is difficult today to imagine the fascination and wonder once aroused by the great rolling waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and equally difficult to appreciate that their knowledge of what they were to meet was as small as that of the first astronauts of the present age." (p. 10)
On the other hand, Sebastian Cabot, whose explorations were in South America and later in Russia, is truthfully portrayed as a less than virtuous character: greedy, deceitful, conniving, and despicable. His intrigues take up a good portion of the second half of the book.

For what age group would this book be a good fit?

This is a difficult question for me, as my eldest son is only going on eight. As with most living books I've come across, this book would be interesting for all ages, though parts might be omitted for younger children. There is also the tangled web of Sebastian Cabot's life to consider.

In terms of Canadian history, the portion of the book on John Cabot is of course the one of the most interest. While the book covers both John and Sebastian Cabot, there is little or no overlap between their stories. Chapters 1 and 2 are about John Cabot (pages 1-57), and chapters 3-8 (pages 58-181) are about Sebastian Cabot. It would be easy to use just the first part of the book if a short and interesting biography of John Cabot is desired for Canadian history.

Personally, I think I would consider using the first portion of the book (on John Cabot) for grades four or five and up. The rest of the book might be more suitable for older students, perhaps grades seven and up.

Please leave me a comment if you have used this book in your homeschool. I'd also love to hear of any other biographies of John Cabot you can recommend!