Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On Birth Plans

My fourth baby is due in a month, and I've been writing my birth plan today. I know this isn't subject matter you normally come here to read, but it's what I'm thinking about, and so it's what I'm writing about. I'm assuming most of you are moms like me, anyway. If you're not, well, feel free to skip this!

Why do I write a birth plan? I suppose that on the surface of things, I'd be a person who has little need of one. Thanks be to God, my pregnancies and births to this point have been uncomplicated. I have had nothing but good experiences with the nurses and doctors at our local hospital. Everyone seems very concerned to make sure my wishes are followed.

When I began my journey to being a mother for the first time, I was obsessed with learning everything I could about pregnancy and birth. I read all the books, I researched endlessly on-line. I watched YouTube birth videos (I could never imagine videoing one of my own births, but I was very happy to watch other, braver people for the sake of self-education.). My husband gently mocked my "Hippie Mama" tendencies. I emerged with many questions for my doctor, many concerns (such as the 30% Caesarian rate here), and a decision to write a birth plan so that I could be in control of things and have a natural birth, Lord willing.

As it happened, my first baby was five weeks early. I didn't have much ready for him, much less a birth plan. Looking back, I'm thankful for that. I think it would only have reflected my ignorance at that point. When it comes down to it, you can read and research and learn all about everything related to childbirth, but nothing can prepare you for its reality, its pain, its power, its wonder. I did have a few uncomfortable experiences that informed later birth plans, but no one questioned my choice to have a natural birth, and on the whole it was a positive experience.

Since then, I have written birth plans for each of my children's births. I bring them in to my OB/Gyn about a month before I'm due so we can discuss any issues. I also take a copy in to the hospital when I go into labour. As my birth experiences have all been positive so far, my confidence has risen and my birth plans have become relatively short. However, I still would prefer not to go without one, and I would recommend having one to any mother-to-be for several reasons:

My birth plan introduces me to the staff on call at the hospital. 
Here on P.E.I., I am privileged to see the same doctor throughout my pregnancies. This doctor gets to know me and my preferences quite well. However, the staff at the hospital is on rotation, so I may or may not see my own doctor. The nurses are usually wonderful, but again, do not know me. My birth plan is a quick and easy way for them to begin to get an idea of what I'm like as a person, a patient, and a mother without having to ask a lot of questions.

My birth plan is the beginning of a relationship of mutual respect.
I'm always quite careful about the tone of my birth plan. It's very easy for it to be all negative: I don't want this done, I don't want that done, I don't want the other thing done. However, I want the nurses and doctor to understand immediately that I am grateful for their expertise, and I will listen to them and respect their opinions when I make my decisions. On the other hand, I expect them to respect my experience as a mother, and follow my wishes for my birth as far as they can.

My birth plan is based on my experience.
After my first baby, my birth plans have always reflected what I know about myself in labour. I know that I don't feel like talking much when I'm in labour. (That's why a birth plan is such a good idea for me!) I know that in the heat of the moment, I'm going to be so out of it (or inside myself) that I'm not going to care what my birth preferences were before I went into labour. But if I have a birth plan, the nurses care, and they continue to follow my wishes even then. This fact amazed me the first time I noticed it, but it confirmed my decision to continue writing birth plans.

My birth plan lets the staff know that I know my rights.
I know that the doctors and nurses here are committed to informed consent. However, I have also seen enough stories online where in the urgency of the moment, informed consent was not obtained. I don't expect that to happen here thanks to my good experiences so far, but in my birth plan, I do spell out what I want to know when any intervention is suggested or needed. I see it as a gentle reminder that I expect my right to informed consent to be respected.

You're probably curious as to what my actual birth plan looks like now, so I'll include it here. The questions for informed consent came from this website.


Birth Plan for N. P.
Due January 26, 2015
Ob/Gyn: Dr. F.

I've written this birth plan so you can help me achieve my goal of a natural birth. This will be my fourth child, and all of my birth experiences have been good ones. I have always appreciated the way the nurses and doctors here have supported me in my choice to have natural births without drugs or other interventions, and the way they have coached me through the few moments when I truly needed it.

Preferences for Labour, Delivery, and Afterwards:

- Please keep internal exams to a minimum (ideally no more than once when I come in, and once when I feel the urge to push.).

- Please keep monitoring that involves me lying down to a minimum as well. I find it easier to cope with the pain when I'm able to move.

- I appreciate being left alone with my husband as much as possible as I labour.

- I am not planning on using anything for pain relief. I have managed through my first three births, so I’m not anticipating that will change now. If I'm losing control in transition or in the pushing stage, I do appreciate nurses taking charge and telling me (firmly, if necessary) what to do and how to breathe. This has helped immensely in the past.

- I have been a fairly efficient pusher with my first three babies. (20 minutes with the first baby, 5 with the second, less than that with the third.) You might want to be ready for that once transition hits. (And if it comes up, I’d rather have the nurse catch the baby than try to hold back on pushing.)

- I will be exclusively breastfeeding this baby (as I have all three so far). I would appreciate time for my husband and me to bond with the baby and for me to try to establish breastfeeding immediately after the birth.


I do realize that things do not always go as planned. Whenever possible, I would like the opportunity to discuss any interventions with the doctor. I realize you probably have protocols for informed consent, but I’d still like to spell out what I will want to know:

- Is this an emergency, or do we have time to talk?
- What are the benefits of doing this?
- What are the risks?
- If we do this, what other procedures or treatments might I end up needing as a result?
- What else can you suggest we try first or instead?
- What would happen if we waited an hour or two before doing it?
- What would happen if we didn't do it at all?


How about you? Have you used birth plans? I'd be very interested in comparing experiences!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Some Things We've Been Enjoying Together

The boys and I have been watching the Nutcracker ballet on YouTube. It took us three sessions of watching for half an hour at a time. We all liked it. To be honest, this is the first time I've seen the Nutcracker ballet in its entirety myself, so I don't know how it compares with any other production.

My husband and I enjoyed listening to Dylan Thomas reading his own "A Child's Christmas in Wales" one evening last week. I love this for so many reasons...his voice! his sense of humour, his obvious pleasure in his own words.

We also discovered some more wonderful new-to-us books for our picture book advent calendar.
Stephen's Feast is a beautiful prose retelling of "Good King Wenceslas." We are also enjoying Ruth Bell Graham's One Wintry Night. This is a longer book with more chapters to be spread out over the advent season.

A friend gave us the gift of a Jacquie Lawson advent calendar this year, and the boys have been having so much fun with it! It's a computer download, and every day the children can open up something new to watch or do. There are puzzles to put together, snowflakes to decorate, places to explore, and many more things that are fun for people of all ages.

And lastly, we've been enjoying baking! I tried out the pannetone (Italian Christmas bread) recipe from Joy of Cooking last week. We also made several batches of cookies together: raspberry almond thumbprints, chocolate caramel thumbprints, speculaas, and mini lemon sandwiches.

Now, lest you think our Christmas season is going like a dream, I'm going to have to spend the next two days trying to get my house just a little bit neat before we leave to visit family on Christmas Eve...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: SchoolhouseTeachers.com Yearly Membership

If I have to choose between online resources and "real" books and curriculum, I tend to go for paper and ink every time. However, this attitude can be very limiting on a small budget! Even this early in my homeschooling journey (my oldest child is six), I have already found myself using inexpensive online resources more than I ever expected to.

I recently had an opportunity to explore SchoolhouseTeachers.com, an online subscription to a wide variety of curriculum, classes and resources offered by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. One subscription for your entire family costs only $139 annually. There is also the option to subscribe monthly at $12.95, but having seen the breadth of the resources offered, I think the Yearly Membership is your best bet to do justice to it. (Scroll down for a special sale on from now until Christmas.) There are parent resources and curriculum for preschool all the way through high school, including over 100 courses ranging in length from a few weeks to an entire year. The subscription format allows you to use as much or as little of what is available on the site as you choose. Whether you use it as your core curriculum or as a supplement, whether you have one child or ten, the price is the same.

Of course, my eye was immediately caught by anything with Charlotte Mason's name on it! My first explorations took me to some Charlotte Mason preschool lesson plans. I was quite impressed. While not every activity included was strictly "Charlotte Mason," I felt the plans reflected Charlotte Mason's own priorities for the early years. The focus was on plenty of time outdoors based on a monthly nature study theme. Several quality picture books were suggested for each month, and a poem to read every day to encourage children to memorize it. I liked that the course did not include a lot of busywork and early academics. There are six months' worth of plans, and I look forward to following at least some of them with my four-year-old when we begin lessons again in January. (By the way, if you are one of those crafty moms and you love getting out the glitter and scissors with your preschoolers, there is plenty of that as well at schoolhouseteachers.com. I was just delighted to find something that fit my non-crafty style, too.)

Next, I read through a course for parents written by Cindy West entitled "Charlotte Mason Homeschooling: Adding a Charlotte Mason Touch to Your Homeschool." My feelings about this course were more mixed. On the plus side, it was very practical. It included many great ideas to get started doing narration, nature study, picture study, developing good habits, and everything else included in Charlotte Mason's methods. It could be a non-intimidating introduction to Charlotte Mason. However, the very thing that first attracted me to Charlotte Mason --the idea that what you believe about children and education (philosophy) matters, and works itself out in the practical (method) -- was nowhere in evidence. The fact that these educational methods and techniques have at their heart a belief that "Children are born persons" was not even hinted at. However, I would still recommend this course to homeschoolers, as long as you don't stop there, but go on to read the books recommended at the end of it!

Another resource Charlotte Mason homeschoolers will find helpful are the "Nature/Outdoors" lessons by Erin Dean. I am very excited about these! With 14 units to choose from, I will definitely be looking here for ideas for whatever nature study focus we happen to be working on throughout the year.

Since math is one of our favourite subjects, we also explored the Elementary Math section of the site. I watched one of the many videos by Dr. Peter Price on how to teach fractions, and then printed off worksheets for my sons: fractions for my six-year-old, and counting for my four-year-old, just so he wouldn't feel left out. Both boys enjoyed the lessons. I am very happy with the math program I'm working with now, but I can see myself using this as an occasional resource. There were monthly archived lessons since September 2012, and lessons are ongoing. The archives are also sorted by grade levels for parents' convenience.

I have hardly scratched the surface of what is available at SchoolhouseTeachers.com. If you homeschool, you will find something, (probably many somethings!) you can use here. Planners and recipes, monthly reading lists for parents and animated books for young readers, chemistry and creative writing, public speaking, home economics, and Hebrew... and there is so much more. Please check out the experiences other homeschoolers have had with with this resource to start to get an idea of how broad it really is.

If you're interested, SchoolhouseTeachers.com is having a Super Christmas Sale until Christmas day. They are offering 40% off the monthly membership (that makes it $7.77/month) or 50% off the Yearly Membership (now $64.26/year). If you join at this rate, any future renewals will go through at the same rate as long as you keep a continuous membership!

SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

Crew Disclaimer

Saturday, December 13, 2014

An Advent Calendar Made of Picture Books

For the past two weeks, my boys have been choosing a book every day from a wrapped stack of Christmas picture books. The boy whose turn it is unwraps the "gift," and we read it aloud at our poetry tea-time.

All of these books come from our local library. I am blessed to be able to reserve books online, and I begin to reserve the books about half-way through November. In order to not tie up a huge number of their Christmas resources at once, I stagger my reservations. I also try to return the books soon after we are done with them so others can borrow them. I think our librarian actually appreciates this, as the books may come from other libraries across the PEI library system, and I return them to my local library. In this way, we help create a flow of Christmas books through our own little library.

I'm not going to list all of the books we use, but I would like to introduce you to some of our very favourites. We use a real variety... books about Jesus' birth are a given, but we also mix in some good picture books that may simply be set at Christmas, or even fantastical tales. I try to make sure the books we use are beautifully written and illustrated.

(I'm going to mention right now: I am not an Amazon associate. I just include these links for your reference. If you have a favourite blogger you like to support in this way, by all means, please buy through their links! One of my favourite Amazon associate blogs is Brandy Vencel's Afterthoughts Blog.)

For Ages Two and Up:

Martin Waddell is a wonderful children's author in general, and his Room for a Little One is very sweet. It is a gentle, imaginative tale about the animals of the stable in which Jesus was born. Beginning with "Kind Ox," each animal welcomes another animal in need to the stable. Finally they welcome a tired donkey along with Joseph and Mary, and ultimately the baby Jesus. The illustrations by Jason Cockcroft are very beautiful as well. I recommend this book for ages two and up.

Two similar choices suitable for the same age group are Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate and Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown.

The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats is another example of a Christmas book by a beloved children's author. While not Christmas-related, I have also used his classic The Snowy Day in our picture book line-up leading up to Christmas.

For Ages Five and Up:

We have a whole list of favourites illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Not only is she an excellent illustrator, but she seems to choose the most wonderful books to illustrate. I have found that any book illustrated by her is almost guaranteed to be well-written as well.

We read and enjoyed The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston and The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler's Sons by Ruth Sawyer last year. This year, we added The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, and I'm sure the boys are going to love it just as much as the others.

Another beautiful story for this age group is The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown. The boys also love The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot (as they love all his stories).

This is the Star by Joyce Dunbar is new to us this year, and I'm not entirely sure what I think of it yet. In the first place, I love the idea of it. It is the story of Jesus' birth structured in the same way as "The House that Jack Built". It is beautifully written, building and building until you come to "This is the child that was born." However, there are a couple of inaccuracies: it mentions that the shepherds saw the star as well as the wise men, and the (three) wise men visit Jesus while he is still in the stable. And I know this is a matter of taste, but I don't love the illustrations by Gary Blythe. Only you can decide if these are deal-breakers for you (and you might love the illustrations, anyway...). I'm on the fence.

Finally, just for fun, we like to include How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. Who doesn't love its rhythm?

For Ages 8 and Up:

It's true, I don't have any children ages 8 and up. But these are my favourites that my boys haven't quite grown into yet.

This may very possibly be my very favourite book on this page. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck is a story of family love so beautifully told that it almost makes me cry every time. That's all I'll say. Check it out.

I also can't wait until my boys have the attention span to really enjoy The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey with me. The illustrations of P.J. Lynch are incredibly beautiful.

(I just noticed! P.J. Lynch also illustrated an edition of O'Henry's classic story The Gift of the Magi. That's another story I am just waiting for my boys to enjoy with me. I can't wait to check it out!)

I hope this gives you some inspiration to share some beautiful picture books with your children. I would love to hear about your favourites, too! Please share them in the comments.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Another Step on the Reading Road

I was reading Who is Coming to Our House? yesterday as part of our picture book Advent calendar, and I remembered that last year, this was one of the first whole books that SA(6) read. It went on his "I Can Read it All By Myself" chart on the wall. We counted the books he read up to 70, and then we gave him a Bible of his own.

Since then, he has read many, many books. He read all the Arnold Lobel books our library had, and then he read all of Cynthia Rylant's Henry and Mudge books they had. We buddy read from Proverbs (in his own Bible, of course!).

Up until recently, all of his reading has been out loud, and with me listening. He would find an interesting library book, and he would ask me, "Can I read this, Mama?" Of course, I would always say yes. Then he would sit down near me and start reading it to me. Sometimes I would challenge him with a book that had smaller print and more words, and he would balk. Then I would offer to read every second page, and that usually was okay with him.

Now, a little less than a year after he really started reading, he has begun to peruse books quietly, on his own. I don't know if he is reading every word, or if he is selectively finding things that interest him. It doesn't really matter to me. It makes me happy to see him sprawled in a chair for half an hour at a time with a book that it would intimidate him to read aloud.

Yesterday, it was Bill Peet's Fly, Homer, Fly. I will always love Bill Peet for his illustrations that made his story so irresistible that this child could not help but read at least some of it for himself.

I still don't know how much of the books he is actually reading and absorbing so quietly all by himself. Every once in a while he surprises me with a piece of information that I know came from one of the books he was looking at. He loves non-fiction, and often will come back to a favourite book again and again.

Still, I don't feel a need to grill him and find out for sure how much he has read and understood. I think this is a natural stage which will grow until there is no doubt he is taking it all in.

Right now, my job is to keep the library basket full.

Other steps on SA's road to reading:
{The Three R's in Our Homeschool}: Reading
{Big Red Barn Reading Lessons}: Lesson 1 (additional lessons are linked at the bottom)
The Awesome Mystery of Growth in Reading
Some Favourite Books for Beginning Readers

Friday, November 28, 2014

November 2014 Favourite Read-Aloud Roundup

I am late for this month's Read-Aloud Thursday Link-up at Hope is the Word, but I still have to participate. This month has been so incredibly rich in wonderful picture books that I simply must share!

First, we discovered Bonny Becker's Bear and Mouse books. The Sniffles for Bear has to be one of the funniest picture books I've ever read. If you think "man colds" are funny, you will enjoy this book. At the same time, there is a real sweetness in the loving friendship between Bear and Mouse.

SA(6) enjoyed reading the entire series on his own, so if you're looking for books at about a level 2 or 3 reading level, these books are a great choice.

Friendship was also the theme of another favourite this month. William Steig's Amos & Boris has gone straight to my list of the top 5 best ever picture books. Amos is a mouse, and Boris is a whale. They become fast friends when Boris rescues Amos after he is shipwrecked in the middle of the sea. I can't tell you why their friendship touched my heart so deeply. You will have to read it yourself and feel the magic of this tender, sweet story.
There. Another picture book that's not just for kids.

In nonfiction, we enjoyed Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs
Martin. Our nature focus this term is weather and climate, and I got this book from the library to fit in with that. Wilson Bentley had a passion for snow and for capturing it on film. His story is beautifully told, and the illustration and design of the book are deserving of the Caldecott Medal they received. We spent some time exploring Bentley's photographs online after reading this book. SA(6) wanted to know why snowflakes always have six sides, and as usual, I did not explain it as well as I could wish. How do you explain the chemistry of snowflakes to a 6-year-old?

Last but not least, we read several of Jim Arnosky's books: Thunder
Birds, Slither and Crawl, and Wild Tracks. I would highly recommend all three of these as living books. Arnosky clearly loves the subjects of his books, and passes on his keen interest and the sort of detail one can only get from first-hand observation. My boys loved the large, fold-out pages of illustrations. Arnosky is a wonderful artist. I look forward to discovering more of his books.

I am linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday. Click through for more book recommendations!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Plans for Year 1, Term 2

I know I've been quiet this week. I have been busy planning for our second term at the same time as starting it. And since that's what I've been thinking about, that's what I'll write about.

Ambleside Online - This is our main curriculum. There were a few books last term that were quite challenging for us, and I spent quite a bit of time thinking about whether I should persevere with them, or find substitutions.

Burgess Bird Book was difficult for SA to narrate last term, and he frequently lost interest before our reading was finished. I think the problem was that all the ideas are conveyed in conversations between Peter Rabbit and different birds, and there is very little actual action. I too find this book hard to like because of the cutesy names and the way human attributes are ascribed to animals. I considered substituting the much more straightforward Bird Stories from Burroughs, but thought I'd give Burgess one more chance first. I had two reasons: Burgess gives quite a bit of taxonomic information...a child should end up with quite a bit of knowledge about which birds are related to each other, etc. Second, while the conversational style may be challenging for narration, perhaps it is a good challenge. As long as he is not completely frustrated by it, SA might grow in his narration abilities.
So this week we tried again. I chose to read about the cowbird, because we have had several of them at our feeder these last few weeks. The cowbird was also mentioned in Flute's Journey, a book SA enjoyed greatly last term. We looked up the birds mentioned in the chapter on allaboutbirds.org, and I printed off a colouring page for each of my boys. To my surprise, the narration went quite well. I did not have my timer on, and I think it ended up being a bit long. (He did complain towards the end...) I will therefore continue with this book for now, taking care to split up the readings if they are too long to complete within 15 minutes including narration. I will still consider substitution if he never gets any joy out of these readings, because in my mind, that would defeat the purpose. I want him to know and love...

Parables from Nature by Margaret Gatty was another challenging read last term, even using the modern English paraphrase from Ambleside Online. I am choosing to continue with it, perhaps making a little more effort myself in preparing for the readings.

Trial and Triumph is the one book I've decided not to continue with right now. I love church history myself, and I do want SA to be familiar with it, but I think it will go much better with this book if I wait a year. In the meantime, I plan to find some of Simonetta Carr's picture books to see if they might be more suitable for this year. I have also heard of the History Lives series and wondered if the writing style might be more accessible than Trial and Triumph. Has anyone seen them or used them?

We love all our other Ambleside Online books. Shakespeare has taken some getting used to, as I'm a complete Shakespeare newbie myself. After comparing Nesbit and Lamb, we've decided to go with Lamb. Nesbit was a bit too stripped down for us...narration did not go well. Lamb is very challenging for this age, but not unworkable. I draw little pictures as we go along to keep characters and places straight, and we usually take a week to go through a play. Narration often ends up being a collaborative affair between SA and me, but I'm confident he will grow into more independent narration. Our library has a few (too few) of Coville's Shakespeare retellings, and we will definitely be using them whenever we can.

Math - As our focus shifted to learning the new skill of narration last term, I found that far too often in math I was resorting to just setting a worksheet in front of SA, setting the timer, and getting on with it. This, despite all the wonderful things I've learned about math. It is time for me to repent. I am going back to the Miquon First Grade Diary. This wonderful book details all the math activities done in an actual first grade classroom in a Miquon school. I used it quite extensively last year. This time I will start in January of that book and use some of the ideas to allow SA to explore math concepts and figure some of them out for himself, something he dearly loves doing. I will also go back to using Family Math or Games for Math once a week, just for fun. SA is quite a bit "ahead" in his Miquon workbooks (Blue book, beginning of grade 2), so I'm going to relax quite a bit on the worksheet side, using them when they flow naturally from our regular lessons.

Phonics, Spelling, and Copywork - Since SA's reading took off, I have not paid much attention to phonics or spelling, choosing rather to simply have him read increasingly more challenging books. I do not regret this. However, I do think the time has come to encourage him to look more closely at the words. Normally this would be done in copywork, and later in dictation, but as SA is "behind" in learning to write (he is still working through basic letter formation), I would rather not tie his spelling to the (to him) hard work of writing words. So I have decided that we will play with word families using scrabble magnets on a cookie sheet this term. He has been enjoying that this week. We continue to do five minutes of copywork per day using Penny Gardner's Italics: Beautiful Handwriting for Children.

The "Extras" - Aside from poetry, which we enjoy every day, and music and art appreciation, which we do steadily week after week, these are the things I am most likely to slack off on in the course of a busy week. This term, I am hoping to post a weekly update about the things I am most likely to drop, just to keep myself accountable. (Keep in mind that I have a baby due sometime in the midst of this term, so we'll see how far we get...)
Handicrafts - My greatest weakness. We're doing finger knitting this term, possibly progressing to loom knitting. We started this week, and the boys and I enjoyed it a lot. We looked up the instructions on YouTube, which turned out to be very helpful.
Drawing - Another thing I am not so great at. I plan to continue using Drawing with Children, and at least sitting down with paper and markers once a week with the boys.
Nature Study and Nature Journalling - We actually do enjoy nature a lot, but with the cold weather coming on, and me not quite as energetic these days, I anticipate this might be a challenge. Our focus this term is weather and climate, and we've started a chart with clouds, wind direction, temperature, etc., for our nature journals this week.
Poetry - We continue to focus on A.A. Milne, and this term I plan to memorize a few poems again. We're starting with "Wind on the Hill" because SA has been wondering about where wind comes from and why it comes from different directions.
Music Appreciation - I want to listen to the Messiah during the next month and a half with the boys. Then we will continue listening to Handel for the rest of the term. We simply take a weekly break from our normal poetry teatime and watch some music on YouTube instead.
Art Appreciation - We will be doing our picture studies on some of Edgar Degas' paintings. We put him on our timeline this week, and found him on the map.

I haven't mentioned Bible or our Bible/hymn/catechism memorization because at our house, that's part of our everyday life and not really tied to our school days. I do have plans, though. We have begun reading and narrating from the New Testament, and will continue to steadily progress through the gospels. We do three questions per week in our children's catechism, and will continue with that, too. I have chosen a Christmas carol, a psalm, and a hymn for the next three months, and am planning to review all the passages of Scripture learned so far.We do well with memorization, but are not so consistent with reviewing what we have memorized.

Those are my plans. I have a baby due on January 26, so I have no doubt the plans will be modified. For now, though, it's full steam ahead!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: Creative Nature Study

Nature study took a bit of a back seat in our last term. We went on a few nature walks, spent time outside, and identified a few new birds at our feeder, but that was as far as it went. Nothing new was recorded into our nature journals, and we collected no autumn leaves. I know it's time to be more intentional about it again, and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to review Creative Nature Study, a book published by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

The subtitle promises "Ideas to Jump-Start or Invigorate Nature Study in Your Homeschool," and that is what it delivers. It has chapters on how to begin with nature study, ideas for nature walks, projects, nature notebooks, and scavenger hunts. Each chapter is compiled of short articles by several Christian homeschooling moms. In many ways, reading this book was like sitting down with a group of experienced homeschoolers and sharing practical ideas, solutions to challenges, and inspiration from their successes. At the end of the book there is an appendix listing all the resources mentioned, and another appendix with notebooking pages for nature scavenger hunts.

I have to be honest, when I opened the book, I expected more of a Charlotte Mason style nature study focus (this is what I'm most familiar with, after all!). But I appreciated the broadness of perspective offered by moms with a wide variety of educational styles. In the end, there were plenty of ideas for me, the CM homeschooler, as well as for homeschoolers with a more eclectic approach. I especially appreciated Danielle Dobrosky-Tolar's words in the introduction:
“We wanted our kids to have something  different, something better, something more. We wanted them to look outside the window and lose their train of thought by watching a hummingbird darting at the feeder. We put down our textbooks and prayed they would be beside themselves with awe while watching a bunch of slippery tadpoles turn into leaping frogs right before their eyes. We dared to turn off the TV, go “unplugged,” and heartily hoped they would see the miracle, the poetry, in a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.” (p. 5)
I think this is what we all want, regardless of homeschooling style. We want our children to care.

And so I happily gleaned several ideas that will work for me, and cheerfully passed by the ones that don't fit in with my homeschooling style. Cindy West had a wonderful list of items to include in a "nature bag," a bag kept ready to go whenever you go on a nature walk. Candace Crabtree had some great suggestions for a "bird watching center" that I fully plan on implementing as we are forced to spend more time indoors this winter with our new baby on the way. Andrea Hahn had a very helpful article on keeping a special nature journal called a "perpetual calendar" that will allow us to compare weather, wildlife, and other "firsts" from year to year.

Even though I understand that this book's idea sharing format is not meant to be exhaustive, I was a little disappointed that some of my favourite resources were not mentioned. There were several articles about birds and birdwatching, yet no one referred to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's wonderful bird identification website or even their Great Backyard Bird Count. Indeed, as far as I could see, there were no allusions to any citizen science projects. Also, the Handbook of Nature Study website and its Outdoor Hour Challenge were not mentioned, though it is a go-to resource for many homeschoolers (Comstock's classic Handbook of Nature Study itself was included, though.). I would also have liked to see the resources in the appendix arranged topically rather than alphabetically for easier browsing.

Over all, though, I really enjoyed Creative Nature Study. It is an encouraging, inspiring book of ideas, and you will be sure to find something to implement in your own nature studies, no matter what your homeschooling style. I fully intend to read this again in half a year. A different season will be sure to make different ideas jump out at me and inspire me all over again. Thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew for the opportunity to review this book.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Packing Shoeboxes

This week, the boys and I packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. We did one for each person in our family: five in all.

The boys had so much fun at the Dollar Store looking for little gifts to fit in their shoeboxes. JJ(4) has been making pictures for a couple of weeks already "for the little boy far far away."

Now we just have to write our notes and pray for the children who will receive these boxes. Then we will take them to church to join all the other boxes going out.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Beginning With Ambleside Online

I have several homeschooling sisters and friends with children slightly younger than mine. Because I've heard similar responses from several of them when I tell them I'm using Ambleside Online, I've decided to dedicate a post to these sisters and friends.

The responses I can remember go something like this:
"I can't see my child being ready for the books they recommend at age six."
"I've checked out their website. It just seems like SO MUCH to do!"
"I have several younger children. I can't see myself having time to do all that reading aloud."

I am writing from the perspective of a fairly new homeschooler. We have been through one term of Ambleside Online's Year One. That's not very much experience, I know. I also write from the perspective of a mother with young children. My boys are six, four, and two, with another child on the way in January. Still, the experience we have had so far has been very satisfying, and I am convinced that it will continue to be so. It feels like home.

So here's how I would respond to the objections I mentioned.

"I can't see my child being ready for the books they recommend at age six."

To be perfectly honest, I would have had a similar objection a year ago. I didn't think my five-year-old would be ready for narration (telling back) of the challenging books recommended by the time he was six years old. But as it turned out, he was ready, and we began.

Still, even if he had not been ready, that would have been okay. We had a rich "kindergarten" routine that included lots of time outdoors, poetry teatime,  reading lessons, and math. We could have continued with that indefinitely until he was ready for the books of Year One. Depending on their children's readiness, many mothers do wait until their children are age seven or even close to age eight to begin Year One. I think it's important to realize that doing this will not put your children "behind." If children are doing work they are ready for when they are ready for it, and growing steadily from there, they are exactly where they should be.

It's also important to realize that the riches of nature, literature, history, poetry, and everything else are not tied to your child's reading level when you use Ambleside Online. If your child learns to read early, wonderful! But if he is behind in reading, even at an older age, you do not have to wait until he is caught up to begin to feed his hungry mind with a feast of ideas. Reading aloud and narration work just fine, even for the late reader.

"I've checked out their website. It just seems like SO MUCH to do!"

It is a lot to do. There is Bible reading and narration; hymn, Bible, and poetry memory work; picture study, music appreciation and poetry; readings and narration in history, geography, and literature; mathematics; reading or spelling lessons; nature walks and journals; copywork (for handwriting and spelling); foreign language; drawing and handicrafts. I would have been overwhelmed at the thought of it all even just a year and a half ago. And even now, I'm still growing into it. I have no doubt that I will continue to make adjustments as our family grows and I have more school-aged children.

Still, there are several things I can say to this, based on my experience.
1. Each of these many things are little things.
Many of the items I listed take no more than five minutes a day (all the memory work, copywork, foreign language) and none of them take more than fifteen minutes (math, narrations). Many of them become effortless when you work them into your habitual routine. Others can be done as infrequently as once a week (picture study, nature walks, drawing and handicrafts). I know, it is still a lot, but...

2. Each of these little things matter
There is no useless busywork here. Even the handicrafts are of the useful skill variety, done with real materials to make a real product of beauty or usefulness. All of the little things recommended, when done regularly over time, cause real growth in your children. I can almost see it happening. SA's vocabulary has grown immensely over the last year. He is asking "Why?" more often. He is recognizing references to composers and to poetry that he has come to know and love. To me, "SO MUCH!" is all worth it.

3. It is okay for you to grow into it over time. In fact, I recommend it.
I incorporated several of these things into our routine when SA was still only five, and they simply became part of our everyday life. First, I incorporated Bible reading and Bible and hymn memory work into our after-breakfast routine. This term, we just added five minutes of foreign language to that (still not terribly consistent with that, but as I just said, we're growing...). A little later, we began to have our poetry teatimes just to enjoy poetry and snacks together. This soon became a favourite part of the boys' day, and they would never hear of skipping it. Then this term, we adjusted what was already a routine to include picture study and music appreciation once a week.

Year One, Term One was still a big adjustment as SA began to learn narration (telling back from books that I read aloud to him). This really became our focus this term, and it became easier and easier over the term to fit in the three narrations a day required to get through the scheduled books. (One Bible narration was incorporated into our after breakfast routine, then two narrations from history, geography, or literature during his "lesson time.")

Still, I found myself neglecting some of the "riches" as we focused so heavily on learning this new skill this term. Foreign language did not really take off, focused nature walks became a bit less frequent, we did less math games and activities, and I didn't even begin to think about handicrafts (though I'm realizing now that my boys learned quite a bit from baking with me and with their Opa, who is a baker.).

Something like this will probably happen to you, too, to some degree. It has to be okay that we will not do things perfectly or even well at times. There will always be room to grow. My answer right now is not to deliberately neglect any of these areas (though I think that may be a legitimate option during some seasons of life...like new babies, or moving, or other crazy busyness), but to commit to grow into it over time. Gradually, I hope each of these things will become a joyful habit for us, because I know we will be the richer for every one of them.

"I have several younger children. I can't see myself having time to do all that reading aloud."

This too is a very real challenge. All I can say to this is that if it matters to you, you will make it work. And it does matter to me. But I will also be honest and say that I can't count the number of times my two-year-old was tearing around and yelling and making things difficult for SA(6) during his lesson time.  Sometimes we ended up cancelling the lessons until nap time. Other times I bundled the younger two outdoors while I hovered near the windows watching them and trying to do lessons with SA at the same time. It was not easy. Charlotte Mason said something about mothers doing wonders when wonders are required of them. I won't claim wonders, but we made it through. That was enough for now.

I should also mention that the Year One readings and narrations may not take as long as you think they might. Each reading/narration session shouldn't take much longer than 15 minutes (including both the reading and the narration). Longer passages can be divided up and read over several days. We found that two reading/narration sessions per school day (not counting Bible) allowed us to follow the schedule at Ambleside Online. Some "weeks" took more than a week, and some took less. We just progressed steadily through until we were done. We may have taken thirteen weeks rather than twelve, but we rarely did more than fifteen minutes per session.

I think the key here is to take things one day at a time, one term at a time. Don't borrow trouble. Try to deliberately build some good habits in your preschoolers, too. I know, this is easier said than done, sometimes. But this season with little ones underfoot will be shorter than we think.

We love Ambleside Online. Going through even one term has been a satisfying experience, even with our shortcomings. And yes, satisfying is the very best word I can think of to describe it. I felt that SA's mind was fed with ideas every day. I saw growth and development in many areas. It was all very slow and steady, and yet the progress was not imperceptible. And so, my sisters and friends, try it. I think you will find it worth your time and effort.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Music on My Mind

Music and singing have been occupying a lot of mental space in my head lately. Maybe more space than is necessary, I don't know. I would be very interested in hearing your experiences with this.

My six- and four-year-old boys do not sing on key. Up till now, I have been hoping that singing will still come naturally at some point. Neither of them are tone-deaf. By this I mean that I know they can hear the difference between notes, and I assume that the problem is that they cannot produce what they hear. Thankfully neither of them are self-conscious about their singing yet. My six-year-old has begun playing the piano, and is doing very well with it.

How can I tell they're not tone-deaf? With JJ(4), it's still just a feeling on my part. But I gave SA(6) a little test to make sure. I played a note on the piano, and then a second note. I asked him to tell me if the second note was higher or lower than the first. I did this several times with notes closer and farther apart, high and low. Then I did the same thing with my voice. He got it right almost every time. Then I asked him to sing and hold a note, and I sang several notes around his note until I finally settled on his note. I asked him to wave when I got to his note (which happened to be a perfect middle C, by the way). He did just fine, though I could tell he felt self-conscious about holding the note so long.

In researching on-line, I discovered that children who are not tone-deaf but can't sing on key are often the result of a lack of early musical exposure. This is not the case with my boys. We have always listened to music in our home, and we also have always sung together daily as a family. They gladly choose and sing their favourite hymns after our meals, and they enjoy putting their favourite CD's into the CD player to listen to on their own.

My question now is: Is this just a matter of children developing at their own speed? Will singing still come naturally at some point? Six seems old to me to still not be singing on key, but my experience is limited. Or is there something I should be doing with these boys to help them a little?

I am concerned that doing something about this will make them self-conscious about their singing. I am happy that they willingly sing along anytime we sing, and I don't want that to change.

I would love to hear from you in the comments if you have any experience that I could learn from!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tea Time

What the tea tray looks like when Mama's hungry.

For more on our teatimes:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Don't Remember...

As we are nearing the end of our first term using Ambleside Online Year One, I have been thinking through writing a post about how much we are liking it, and how wonderfully the new skill of narration has been developing in SA(6).

And then we ran *smack* into today.

Today we were home all day after going out four days in a row. (My general rule tends to be that I never go out more than one day in a row. For reasons that will become obvious.)

I woke up in a bit of pain. Nothing serious, just the usual pregnancy aches and pains that happen after I overdo things a little bit. Just enough to dull my usual optimism into more of a "let's just get through this day" sort of feeling.

Unfortunately, SA seems to have woken up with much the same feeling. He dawdled with his math, and only completed a quarter of a page before it was time for his first narration of the day.

If I had just been thinking, I would have known that I should choose an easy passage for narration, or at least one from a favourite book. But I glanced through "Prince Darling" in the Blue Fairy Book and thought it would be fine.

It was not. When I paused for the first narration after reading the first paragraph, he said, "I don't remember."

"That's too bad," I said. "I thought it was quite interesting. Try to listen very carefully to this next part so you can tell it back to me."

So I read the next paragraph, and he told me again, "I don't remember."

Uh-oh. That line usually works on him. What do I say now? "Do you remember any of it, JJ?"

JJ(4) never narrates, so he was very pleased to tell me what he remembered. "There was a lady with a crown of roses."

"Yes!" I said. "Does that help you remember anything more, SA?"


On to the next paragraph. Still nothing. And so on for five more paragraphs before I gave up.

What can a mom do in such a situation? I felt like giving up on the day and just going to bed, honestly. I even felt a bit like screaming. Thankfully I held it in.

The day did not get a lot better until after supper, when SA asked me if he could finish his copywork (also not done...) and his second narration. We read two of Aesop's Fables. He did well, because he was willing.

He is a routine-oriented boy, and he would not have been quite happy if the day had ended and he had not at least completed the basics of our homeschooling day.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Filed under "funny stories" because it will be funny some day. Right?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Nature Walk Photo Dump

Mooney's Pond, PEI
October 23, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Living Book Discoveries: Lynne Cherry

As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I am always on the lookout for "living books" for my children. Starting out, it can be hard to discern whether a book is, in fact, living. (I'm hoping it will get easier over time. I'll let you know.) I am so grateful for Ambleside Online and other booklists that take away some of the burden of finding the very best books. However, I also like poking through the library and discovering wonderful books for myself.

What do I look for in a living book?
- Written by someone with a love for the subject who communicates that passion directly to the readers
- Well written, engaging, not dumbed down
- Not just dry facts, but ideas

I know I mentioned Lynne Cherry in my last read-aloud post, but I wanted to shine a brighter spotlight on her. She is an environmentalist and the author and illustrator of many children's books. Our library had four of them, so I am basing my opinions on those four. I would love to hear from you in the comments if you have read others of her books, and how you liked them.

Flute's Journey: The Life of a Wood Thrush was our favourite book so far. I used it as a school book with my six-year-old. He narrated well, perhaps better than any other of his school books so far. A week or two later, he and his four-year-old brother told their grandma about the book, and I was amazed at the details they remembered. Comparing it to the Burgess Bird Book (our regular school book about birds), this book's vocabulary is a little more accessible, though not dumbed down. It has the same level of detail, perhaps more, but that detail is communicated in a straightforward, active story rather than in conversational style. Finally, Lynne Cherry's illustrations are meticulous as well as beautiful, and I appreciated not having to go elsewhere for illustrations of the wood thrush at various stages or for maps of its migration.
Most importantly, this book was a delight for my son. If like us, you are struggling a bit with the style of the Burgess Bird Book in Ambleside Online's Year 1, may I suggest substituting this book for a chapter or two, just for the sake of joy in learning and in narration? You will not be short-changed in the knowledge gained.

The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle is much in the same style as Flute's Journey. It is the story of how a mangrove grows from a propagule into a huge tangle that shelters fish, seahorses, birds, and other wildlife. We read it aloud together, and the boys enjoyed it. I did not require narration, but I think it would work well as a school book too. It also includes maps of where mangroves grow.

How Groundhog's Garden Grew is quite different from the first two books. It is a make-believe story of how a squirrel helps a groundhog grow his own garden. I think it may be aimed at slightly younger children (3 and up). It weaves in many interesting details about gardening: collecting seeds, transplanting, pollination, perennials. The story ends with groundhog sharing his bounty at a big Thanksgiving dinner with all his garden friends. Like all of Lynne Cherry's books, the illustrations in this book are wonderfully detailed. My boys especially liked the pictures of how a seed grows from seed, to seedling, to full-grown plant. I think I'll take this one out of the library again before our next gardening season.

I mentioned at the beginning that Lynne Cherry is an environmentalist. I am not, at least, not in the same sense. (I believe it's our God-given responsibility to care for the earth and its creatures. I balance that with the belief that the earth's resources are there for us to use. I am cautious about environmentalism for its own sake.) The Great Kapok Tree is the book I enjoyed least of all the ones I picked up from our library, though it was just as beautifully illustrated. To be honest, I would have appreciated a straight-forward, honest look at the species of the rainforest and how they are affected when the trees are cut down. I only disliked the way it was communicated in this book, where it seemed like Cherry was trying to manipulate the emotions of her readers and convert them to environmentalism. However, this book has won many honours, and you may like it even if I didn't.

Check out this video of Lynne Cherry working on one of the illustrations for How Groundhog's Garden Grew.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Education is a Not-So-Perfect Atmosphere

What does "Education is an Atmosphere" mean?

When I first began to think about education as atmosphere, I focused mostly on the positive aspects of this principle. Children will learn to love the things their parents love simply, as in the air they breathe. I love music, my children will be surrounded by good music in our home, and they will learn to love it. I love to watch birds, and they will pick up my enthusiasm naturally. My husband and I love to read, and have hundreds of books. Of course our children will be affected by that.

I thought of the relationships the children have in the home and in the extended family, and what they learn from each.

And I admit it, I felt pressure to be intentional, to make the atmosphere in our home the best it can be. We are not naturally art lovers in this home... perhaps I need to work on learning to love it more myself. My housekeeping leaves a lot to be desired... I need to work on that for the children's sake. And there is nothing wrong with that line of thought. Education is a discipline and a life as well, after all. But we do miss something if we consider only the positive aspects of "Education is an Atmosphere."

Last month I was preparing for a Charlotte Mason meeting at my home, and I took the time to read Chapter 6 of A Philosophy of Education. I was very struck that Charlotte Mason begins this chapter on "Education is an Atmosphere" with criticism of those who are too intentional with their atmosphere. Such parents and teachers create a hothouse where children are protected from the realities of the world and surrounded by sweetness and light.

When Charlotte Mason speaks of atmosphere, she is speaking of the atmosphere in the home as it is: an "atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute." (p. 96) "We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby's needs..." (p. 96)

I work hard to create good habits in our home (Education is a discipline). I try to be intentional about exposing my children to good books, art, and music (Education is a life). Still, it is freeing to know that the many imperfections and failings in our home are not outside my children's education. "By these things children live and we may not keep them in glass cases; if we do, they develop in succulence and softness and will not become plants of renown." (p. 97)

Atmosphere will be affected and changed by discipline and life, because we ourselves as persons will be affected and changed. Atmosphere is not something we create artificially. Rather, what we are as persons affects those around us. This includes both good and bad elements, of course, because that is real life.

My three boys fight sometimes (and give reluctant kisses and sorry's when I insist...). I struggle with housekeeping and lose my patience once in a while. These things, and the way we deal with them and grow over time, are all part of the real-life atmosphere in our home. And much as I strive for better things, I know that these frictions too are helping my children grow.

Charlotte Mason ends the section on atmosphere with some balance:
"There are two courses open to us in this matter. One, to create by all manner of modified conditions a hot-house atmosphere, fragrant but emasculating, in which children grow apace but are feeble and dependent; the other to leave them open to all the 'airts that blow,' but with a care lest they be unduly battered; lest, for example, a miasma come their way in the shape of a vicious companion." (p. 98-99)
"Education is an Atmosphere" means that we let children experience real life in our homes, but that real life must be permeated by love and balanced by discipline and nurture.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September 2014 Favourite Read-Aloud Roundup

It has been a while since I've posted about the books we're enjoying together. We borrowed Building Our House from the library at the beginning of the summer, and it was so wonderful that I still feel the need to mention it now. It is based on the author's own family, who took several years to build their own home. I won't spoil it for you by describing too much (the cover actually says it all anyway), but if your library has this gem, get it now! It has even made its way onto my "to buy someday" list, and that doesn't happen very often with random library books (you know, with all the school books that must be bought!).

We have been enjoying Driftwood Dragons and other Seaside Poems at our poetry teatimes lately. This is a collection of poetry by local Maritime author Tyne Brown (from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). I love reading my children classic poetry by R.L. Stevenson and A.A. Milne, but there is really something special about reading poetry from closer to home as well. My children understand and relate to this poetry in a special way because it speaks to their experience growing up here, not too far from the ocean. It lights them up when the beach fleas or the jellyfish or the tides in the poems are things they have seen and experienced for themselves.
I also like the fact that there is a very good possibility that they may have a chance to meet the author some day (who knows...a bookstore, a library reading?), and I think it's good for them to know that authors are real people too.
I recommend this for reading aloud to children aged three and up... way up!

I love Michael Hague's illustrations! The Rainbow Fairy Book appears to be out of print, but we came across it at our library. The stories are all selected from Andrew Lang's fairy books (The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, etc.). It is well written and contains a good variety of fairy tales from several different cultures. It does have a fairly complex vocabulary, though, so I think it is probably best for children aged six and up (if you're reading aloud...older yet if children are reading on their own.).

I am so excited to have discovered Bruce Coville's retellings of Shakespeare's plays! I am ashamed to say I have never understood Shakespeare's appeal. (No need to chide. I am aware that this is a defect in my education and will do what I can to remedy it.) Now that the time has come to begin to introduce my little children to his works, I have been somewhat lost. Following Ambleside Online, I used Edith Nesbit's Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare to introduce SA to "A Midsummer Night's Dream." While it was fairly short and simple, he did not narrate well, and I feel it was because it was too stripped down and simplified. I think Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare will be better, but the vocabulary is still too advanced for my six-year-old. Coville's retelling is less advanced than Lamb's while still retaining some of the flavour of Shakespeare's detail and language, and includes excellent illustrations by Dennis Nolan. I look forward to checking out more from this series.

We are using Ambleside Online year one with SA. For some reason, one of the suggested books, the Burgess Bird Book for Children does not appeal to me anymore, though I did like it as a child. Perhaps it is because while SA normally narrates well, he struggles with the Burgess's conversational style and so our lessons from that particular book have not been very joyful and pleasant so far. If only there were more books around like Lynne Cherry's Flute's Journey! I would substitute in a heartbeat. It tells the story of a wood thrush from its emergence from a tiny egg to its migration to its return home to mate and build its own nest. The style is straightforward (no talking birds or other anthropomorphism) but still interesting with challenges faced by the wood thrush. The illustrations are gorgeous as well.

And that's all for this month! I'm linking up (very late!) with Read-Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word. Hey, at least it's still September...