Thursday, July 5, 2018

Year in Review: Our Book Stack

I love taking pictures of our book stacks for the year! It never fails to make me feel like we accomplished something good. Many of these books are from Ambleside Online Year 2 and Year 4, though we did some substitutions (mostly for Canadian history and geography).

The Books We Read Together
As last year, we read a fair number of books together. We had a rotation going at breakfast, and another at teatime. I have not included the books we read at bedtime because they were not narrated and we don't think of them as "school books". Some of these books are ones we are reading over several years.

The Little Woman 
Canadian Wonder Tales (ongoing)
The Blue Fairy Book (ongoing)
Trial and Triumph (ongoing)
Elementary Geography
The Ocean of Truth
Drummer Boy for Montcalm
The Story of Canada (Brown et al) (ongoing)
Great Canadian Adventures (selections. ongoing)
The Story of Canada (Marsh) (selections, ongoing)
Famous Indians (section about Joseph Brant)
The Map-Maker
Robinson Crusoe
Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson (selections)
Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson (selections)
A Lakeland Anthology: William Wordsworth (selections)
Mathematicians Are People, Too (selections)

SA(9)'s School Books

Since several of the books we read together were from SA's Year 4 (Trial and Triumph, The Ocean of Truth, Robinson Crusoe, Kidnapped), his stack looks a little short! Not pictured are Plutarch and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. We read Shakespeare together with an audio production, and I read Plutarch aloud to him. SA's favourite books this year were George Washington's World, The Map-Maker, and Julius Caesar.
Shakespeare: MacBeth
Shakespeare: Twelfth Night
Shakespeare: Julius Caesar
Plutarch: Romulus
Plutarch: Publicola
Madam How and Lady Why (ongoing)
Bullfinch's Mythology: The Age of Fable (ongoing)
The Story-Book of Science
George Washington's World (incomplete)

JJ(7)'s School Books

JJ is a very strong reader, and though I was reading some of his books aloud to him at the beginning of the year, by the end he was reading all of these on his own. You may notice that we left out several of the Year 2 books. This is because we were reading a number of books together (above) and I didn't want to overload him. JJ's favourite books this year were The Little Duke, The Wind in the Willows, and The Blue Fairy Book (not a Year 2 book, but I have fairy tales on constant rotation in this season of life).

Stories from Shakespeare (selections)
The Little Duke
The Burgess Animal Book for Children
Understood Betsy
Robin Hood (ongoing)
The Wind in the Willows

The books above do not reflect everything we did. We studied Dutch artists De Hooch and Van Ruisdael, early Canadian artist Thomas Davies, and French artist Jacques Louis David. We listened to music composed by Telemann and Corelli, Copland and Gershwin, and Beethoven. We read French children's books La Chenille qui Fait des Trous, Ours Brun, and Trois Souris Peintres. In the Bible, we studied Joshua and Judges, Mark and part of Acts. The boys also did a number of paper sloyd projects. Outside the home, they participated in a children's choir and took swimming lessons.

SA was well into grade 5 of Singapore Math (Primary Mathematics US Edition) by the end of the year. He started KISS Grammar and did well with it. We did not begin Latin this year, as I wanted him to know more grammar before beginning Visual Latin. Studied dictation also went amazingly well, and we could see definite progress from the beginning of the year to the end. He did well with learning cursive italic handwriting, but did not gain ease with it yet. We did not begin written narrations, as he was just not ready. However, I started to write down his narrations from George Washington's World so he could begin to get used to the feeling of having his words written down. That was hard for him, as he is a perfectionist and it would take forever for the words to come out (a problem I understand all too well!). I ended up teaching him an oral version of freewriting, which is the technique that helped me break out of that paralyzing perfectionism myself. He made progress, and the words started flowing more easily by the end of the year. 

JJ completed book 2A in Singapore Math. We switched from Miquon part way through the year.  He prints with ease, so he began cursive italic this year as well. 

MM(5) started to learn to read, and insisted on doing math while the other boys were doing it. I printed off Year 1 of MEP Math and he completed it. I tried to have some one-on-one time with him every morning before the school day started, and we read Charlotte's Web, Little House in the Big Woods, and part of Little House on the Prairie. Of course, he also listened in on all the reading we did together and enjoyed the pictures, music, and Shakespeare. 

Writing about all we accomplished makes me feel good, even though I dropped the ball on several things (again.). We dropped piano. Once again, we did very little in our nature notebooks after the first term. French was a failure, other than the children's books we read. We could have done more of several things: dictation, poetry, map work, timeline work.  I could have written an entire post on what we missed and what we could have done better, but I'm making a choice to give thanks for what we were able to accomplish. It was a good year.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Exams with Friends

It was exam week here last week. SA(9) finished Ambleside Online Year 4, and JJ(7) finished Year 2. I was feeling very "done" by the end of the school year, and though I intended to do full exams with the boys, in the end I didn't have the energy to do all of it. However, we did do something special that I think I will repeat in future exams. We had friends and family over for tea!

Charlotte Mason style exams are not high-pressure academic exercises. They are more an opportunity for the children to remember what they have learned, and to enjoy realizing how much they know. For me they are an opportunity to assess how I am doing in facilitating the "science of relations." There always seems to be at least one area that I neglect to some degree, and exams are always a gentle reminder to get back on track. On the other hand, exams are also always a reminder that no matter how poorly I may think we did in a term, the children still come out of it with Scripture, poetry, pictures and songs hidden in their hearts and a heart-warming eagerness to share all their favourite books and knowledge. 

Really, an ideal opportunity to share with friends, wouldn't you say?

We had two friends come over for tea one morning, and Grandma and an uncle another morning. I wrote up some exam questions and recitation prompts on strips of paper and put them in a teacup.

As we enjoyed our tea and snacks, we all took turns pulling out the strips of paper and doing what they said.

If you'd like to try this in your family, I have some tips for you:

1. Invite encouraging, supportive, loving people. 

We are blessed to have family and friends who are supportive of homeschooling in general and us in particular. I know that for some of you these people can be hard to find. Don't discount the obvious. If daddy is not involved in the day-to-day homeschooling, he will probably be a great person to include in this celebration. 

2. Do not invite "quizzers." 

Sometimes the most loving, well-meaning people can none-the-less be "quizzers." You know them...whenever they meet your children they challenge their knowledge. How old are you? Can you read yet? Do you know all the provinces of Canada? How far are you in math? If you do really want to invite a quizzer, maybe you could drop a hint that your purpose is to celebrate what your children have learned, and the questions in the teacup related to this term's studies are the only ones to be asked today.

3. Ask the right questions. 

Not all exam questions are suitable for the purpose of sharing like this. Here are some that are:
- Recitations. Scripture passage, hymn, catechism, folk song, poetry, and Shakespeare recitations are ideal.
- Show and Tell. This is a great time for your children to show drawings, nature journals, handicrafts, music they've written out, and even math, copywork and dictation notebooks.
- Performance. Playing a musical instrument is an obvious choice, but also think about other demonstrations of skill. If your child has learned to read, have him read something. If he is quick at mental math, try a math question. 
- Child's Pick. Have your children choose their favourite school book of the year and tell something interesting about it. My children surprised me by both choosing their Singapore math books the first tea time. The second time I had them choose their favourite book of reading and narration. 

4. Limit narration questions.

Questions that involve narration are fine, but don't do too many at an occasion like this. For my two oldest children (introverts who need a minute or two to process before the words start coming), these questions feel more difficult and high-pressure in a situation where we are all eagerly waiting on their every word. For more extroverted children, these questions might release a flow of words that will take a disproportionate amount of time in the context of a casual teatime. I limited myself to one narration question for each child from a book that had consistently good narrations throughout the term.

5. Move on if something isn't going well.

Your purpose is to celebrate what your children do know. If, for any reason, they don't know, keep calm and move on to the next exam question as quickly as possible. Do not be embarrassed, do not take it personally. Do not prompt more than once or twice, or allow your guests to prompt. This will happen. For your children's sake, treat it as no big deal and carry on. A bit of humour at your own expense as the teacher can deflect the attention from your students and help them move on as well. 

At our teatime exam with Grandma, I asked my boys a narration question about the great Canadian explorer David Thompson. They each said something, but I felt they could have said so much more. I started prompting ("I noticed you didn't say anything about crossing the mountains. Can you tell me more about that?"), and regret prompting more than once. I should have let it go. The boys also completely bombed a poetry recitation. I helped them a little, but in the end I let it go and moved on. Exams do expose where we have fallen short. We obviously didn't review our poetry recitations enough this term. We will do better at that next term. Moving on...

6. Don't overdo it.

Put lots of questions in the teacup, but don't put pressure on yourself to get through them all. Keep pulling questions out for as long as it feels enjoyable for everyone, both students and guests. If you notice stress or boredom rising, end with one last song and call it a day. For us, with two students and two preschoolers, our limit was about 40 minutes. We got through about ten exam questions in that time.

7. Don't forget the little ones.

I have an extroverted year 0 student that I knew would also like to share what he learned. Of course, he had learned all the recitations his brothers had. I also asked him to tell us about his favourite book, and to read some three-letter words. I did forget AJ(3), and didn't consider that he probably would like to do what his brothers were doing. Thankfully, one of our guests did not forget him, and asked him to tell all about our cat. He was ridiculously proud to do so. MM and AJ also took their turns pulling questions from the teacup.

I hope this gives you some ideas! We really enjoyed the exams we did with friends. I would love to hear if you try this.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Moment in Our Homeschool

11:45 AM, and SA(9) is reading about Phaeton in Bullfinch's Mythology.

JJ(7) is writing a Thank You card for some Christmas gifts he received. He also folded the envelope.

MM(5) and AJ(3) are playing on the floor with Megabloks. AJ is not yet dressed.

This morning, we have already read and narrated from Robinson Crusoe, reviewed our hymn, Bible memory, and catechism, read the Bible and prayed, done chores (inside and outside), reviewed poetry (Emily Dickinson), sung our folk song (The Riddle Song), done picture study (Thomas Davies), read and narrated from a biography of Joseph Brant (Canadian history), and done math (multiplying decimals for SA). It's almost lunch time, and after that the boys will go out and play in the snow.

Monday, January 22, 2018

My Four Most-Shared Posts

These are the posts that I personally share the most often in response to questions people ask in Charlotte Mason Facebook groups that I'm a part of.
I hope you enjoy them!

Charlotte Mason and Preschool Priorities 1: The Outdoor Life for the Children
This post is part of a series of five posts for mothers of preschoolers. I wrote them in 2014, with my children aged five, three, and one. I had recently started to read Charlotte Mason's own writings, and was zealous to encourage every mother of preschoolers to read Charlotte Mason.
Here is the series:
Why Read Charlotte Mason as a Mother of Preschoolers?
Encouragement for Mothers of Preschoolers
Charlotte Mason and Preschool Priorities 1: The Outdoor Life for the Children
Charlotte Mason and Preschool Priorities 2: Habits
Education is Bigger than You Think

Education is a Not-So-Perfect Atmosphere
When I first started homeschooling, I struggled with trying to create a Charlotte Mason atmosphere. Understanding that the atmosphere she is talking about is one "that no one has been at pains to constitute" helped me to relax.

 A Timeline That Works for UsA Timeline that Works for Us
I still use a version of this timeline with a slight difference: I now create columns for each century to keep it a little neater. I still love this one, though, and it worked well for us in Form 1 (Grades 1-3).

Minimalism for Homeschooling Book Lovers
When I say "minimalism," I mean removing the clutter of books that are not living books and do not bring you joy. I share this post a lot, and it still represents the ideal that I am constantly working towards. My husband prefers that I call it curating rather than minimizing, and I suppose that is more accurate. We have a LOT of books! What can I say? They make us happy.