Thursday, July 30, 2015

Notes on Beginning Descriptive Narration

Yesterday SA(7) and I started reading The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge. The book starts with two or three pages of description of a castle hall... columns, thick walls, windows without glass but such deep window-seats that the rain could not come in... Up till now, SA has not touched on descriptions very much in his narrations. They have been in his books all along, but he has been able to get away with moving on to the action quite quickly. This book is different, though. This is the first time we've had a reading that was all description, no action.

Now, I suppose that the natural thing to do in the case of a long descriptive passage like this would be to require a drawing as narration. SA's drawing skills are just not there, though. So this is what we did:

-I set the timer for 20 minutes. I think SA likes knowing that he can trust me not to make his lessons longer than a set time.

-I made sure he could picture the difficult things: columns "like the crypt of a cathedral" and cauldrons, for example. We briefly looked at a picture I found online of a crypt. (I wrote the words I wanted us to review earlier in pencil right on the page of the book. I will be going through this book with several more children and I plan to erase it all after the last child.)

-I encouraged him to picture things in his mind as I read aloud to him.

-After reading half a page or so, I stopped and got out a pencil and paper. I asked him to tell back what I had just read, and I drew what he told me. I'll be honest, he said very little at first. I kept in mind that this is a new skill in narration for him, and said things like, "I remember something about the fires." He came back with the fact that one fire was hotter than the other, and there were no chimneys so the smoke rose in the room and blackened the ceilings. Every now and then JJ(5), who was at the table with us, would pipe up and add something we had forgotten. We continued in this way until the timer rang. 

We only got through about two and a half pages in our 20 minutes. This might mean that we will have more readings than I anticipated for this chapter, but we will just move through the readings in order. If it takes us longer to get through our term because of that, so be it.

One of the things I realized as we did this is that my second child will not have any issue with descriptive narrations (No doubt he will have his own challenges.). It seems to come more naturally to him to see scenes like this in his head. Also, he will be able to draw better than SA can right now. This was interesting to me because I have always considered SA a visual learner. He does extremely well at math because he can see it in his head, for example. But he is also more literal, less imaginative than JJ. (If you're into MBTI, SA is ISTJ, while JJ is probably ISFP)

For your amusement, I have included my drawing. I have very (very, very) little artistic skill, but I did find that drawing this rough representation of our reading fixed it in my own mind very clearly. Also, when I think of that reading, I still see what I imagined in my mind, not what I drew. (I hope my boys also see what they imagined, not what I drew...) It was not an artistic exercise, but a process of fixing what we had read in our minds.

It will be interesting to go back to this post at the end of the year, I think. I remember from Year One that things that were very difficult at the beginning of the year became easy by the end. We will see if that proves true for descriptive narration as well.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Year Two, Day One...the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We Started off the day with an extended issue with SA(7) over brushing his teeth. I calmly decided that the consequence would be no breakfast until the teeth were brushed. We all ate breakfast except him. Somewhere around 9:30 he decided he was hungry. I decided he'd better brush his teeth and eat before he became impossible. (My children have issues when they're hungry, for some reason.) I know it sounds weird to brush your teeth before eating, but I just want the tooth-brushing to be part of the morning routine, done as soon as he gets up. He's done so for the past couple years until the last week or so and is not communicative as to why he suddenly stopped. Anyway. To make a very, very long story short, the teeth were finally brushed about 10:00 AM, after which he scarfed down his very cold oatmeal. I managed to get through it without losing my temper, but it was a huge two-hour energy drain for our first school morning...

Good...or Bad? Not sure yet.
In the interest of spending as much time as possible outside while it's still summer, I decided to put two hours of outdoor time into the morning routine, after math and chores. The bulk of SA's schoolwork would be done after lunch. By then the boys should be ready for some time indoors, I thought. Also, any local homeschool co-op events usually take place in the morning, so I could fit them in when they come up without really altering my routine too much. However, after today I'm remembering that I often have a bit of an energy slump right after lunch, so it's really not the ideal time to do school. Today I ended up collapsing into a chair at about 3:00, utterly exhausted. Of course, that seemed to be their cue to crowd around me and climb on the back of the chair.

Don't. Touch. Me. Pretend Mama is in a bubble. Please.

Should I have different routines on different days? Get most things done in the morning on rainy days and have this new "priority outdoor time" routine just for sunny days? I just don't know. I will stick with the new routine for the week, and then decide.

Maybe good?
We started to read Pilgrim's Progress this morning. I had the bright idea that I would give the boys paper and pencil crayons and let them draw a picture for narration. That didn't go so well, but I will continue to model it a few times to see if it will catch on.

I started teaching JJ(5) to read this morning. We learned the first page of Hop on Pop. Tomorrow I will scramble up the words and have him construct sentences with them to make sure he has them down pat. JJ is so eager to read. I don't think it will take him long to learn.

Also Good
I used the timer on my smart phone to make sure our lessons were short and didn't go overtime. This worked very well, and I felt that SA(7) appreciated this.

Very Good
SA(7) did his first official narration of something he read himself  (So far I have always read aloud to him.). We started with The Burgess Animal Book for Children. I kept it short, and put the timer on for ten minutes. He read silently until he came to a good place to stop, then came to me and told me what he had just read. There was some time left, so he went back and did it again. We marked where he stopped reading, and will continue tomorrow. He seemed to really enjoy this, and narrated well.

Just a question.
When am I going to do my housework? I technically have time for it in my written routine, but somehow only half of it got done today. (I'm not looking for an answer, just some commiseration...)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In Our Book Basket: Books on the Inuit

I've been thinking about how to teach Canadian history lately. I have a wonderful living book to use this year for narration (The Story of Canada by E.L. Marsh), but it does not have much on the native peoples of Canada. I decided to see what resources my library might have, and chose the Inuit (formerly often known as Eskimos) to begin with. I was hoping to find a living book I could read aloud for narration for my Year 2 student. I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find some worthwhile resources on Inuit life today for my young children.

The first was The Inuit by Andrew Santella. This book was ideal for my 7-year-old son to read on his own. SA(7) loves facts, and delights in reading nonfiction books and telling me all about them afterwards. Sometimes he holds it in until something triggers him weeks later, and then all kinds of knowledge comes pouring out (often in the very words of the book he read all those weeks ago.). Narration can be a very natural thing, and I am always delighted to hear what he has learned on his own.

I notice on Andrew Santella's website that he has written many nonfiction books for children. Many are on topics of United States history, but in this case this book was good for Canadian history as well. My library also has books he wrote on Jacques Cartier and Sieur de La Salle, and I will be checking them out soon.

A Walk on the Tundra by Rebecca Hainnu and Anna Ziegler is a delightful picture book that highlights many plants of the Arctic and how the Inuit use them. Inuujaq, a young girl, takes a walk with her grandmother on the Arctic tundra to find Qijuktaat (Arctic White Heather) for her cooking fire. On the way, they discover many other plants for food, medicine, tea, and other uses.

The illustrations by Qin Leng show the beauty of an Arctic summer and give a small glimpse into Inuit life today.

A smart reader would have noticed the glossary at the back with pronunciations for the many Inuktitut words in this book. I stumbled through on my own the first time and it wasn't easy.

There is also a plant glossary with photographs. We were especially delighted with a small connection of our own. Soon after we first read this book, we discovered our very own edible plant beside our house: Yellow Wood Sorrel. I don't think it is from the same family as the Mountain Sorrel in the book, but it also has a sweet/tangy taste and heart-shaped leaves.

Two other books suitable for children a bit older than my 7-year-old were Life in the Far North by Bobbie Kalman and Rebecca Sjonger and The Inuit Thought of It: Amazing Arctic Innovations by Alootook Ipellie and David MacDonald. I would not call either of them "living books"...they are too fact-based and fragmented for that. Still, they are fascinating resources for a child who has an interest in this topic.

Finally, I must mention a wonderful living book I stumbled across for adults (or high school students) who are interested in the Arctic. A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece is a memoir (edited and expanded on by her great-niece Jane Jacobs) of a middle-aged woman who went to Alaska in 1904 to teach native children. While this is properly American, not Canadian, history, I would like to revisit this book when my children are high school age, whether as a family read-aloud at that time, or as a school book (depending on their interest).

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review: Homeschool Planet, an Online Planner

Homeschool Planet ReviewFriends, I can be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. Google that, and you'll find:

noun informal
  1. a person who is dull and unadventurous and who resists change.

Maybe the "dull" part is not quite accurate, but I'll readily admit that I am rather unadventurous. Most of the time I see this as a good thing. I figure out what works for me and I stick with it. This is also true when it comes to planning in my homeschool. My one-page weekly checklist worked well for me last year, and I anticipated using the same thing (with some tweaking) for years to come. I tried one online planner for review in the past year, found it too complex for my needs, and quickly returned to my pen and paper ways. However, the Schoolhouse Review Crew is continually challenging my unadventurous nature (this also is a good thing). This time it offered me a chance to review another online planner: Homeschool Planet from Homeschool Buyer's Co-op. This planner is such a premium product, so well designed and so intuitive to work with that I will actually be giving this a try in our new school year to see if it is something that will work long-term for us.

What is Homeschool Planet?

Homeschool Planet is a planner for your homeschool and your life. It offers a way to integrate all your plans into one planner: school, chores, menu plans, appointments, to do lists, shopping lists, and anything else you might have to manage as you live life as a homeschool mom.

On the main screen of the online planner you can switch between a calendar view or a more list-like planner view (my preference). You can also choose to manage your resources: books, CDs and DVDs, websites, even files from your computer that you can upload, link to specific lessons, and access directly from the planner when you need them.

(This is the "Resources" view.)

After you add the people in your family and your basic school year dates, you can begin to work with the program, adding “classes,” chores, meals, appointments, birthdays, or anything else you want. It is so easy to use, allowing you to add multiple tasks at once, or add them to multiple days of your choice. And don’t worry about making mistakes or missing days. Everything is editable and moveable. There is even a rescheduling helper that pops up every morning to help you deal with items that didn’t get checked off the day before. Do you want to check them as done? Add them to today and shift your entire schedule by a day? Add them and not move anything else? You can choose with this planner.

Then there are the fully customizable and printable assignment lists and other reports. Do you want to print a list of lessons for one particular child on one particular day so he can check them off as he completes them? You can do that. Or do you want to print a list of your own household chores for the entire week? You can do that, too.

Widgets on the side allow you to easily create multiple to-do lists and shopping lists. These lists are able to be printed, emailed, or even text-messaged to your smart phone. Other widgets allow you to send messages, check the weather, be inspired by a daily quote or Bible verse, or look things up online, whether recipes by ingredient, Wikipedia, the Bible, or anything at all on the internet.

How I Used Homeschool Planet

I received a year's subscription to Homeschool Planet in June as I was finishing up my school year. Since I didn't have my books yet for the new school year, I decided to begin by putting my homemaking "Control Journal" into the planner. I had my plan in a binder, and it was and is a good plan, but I haven't been using it for a while. (I've barely been keeping myself afloat with dishes and laundry and baby and homeschooling...)

And so I went from this:

to this:
(This is the "Planner" view.)

It looks nice, and it works well. The printable list helps me by allowing me to do my daily routines before turning on the computer and accessing the planner online. My only problem now is dealing with the feelings of failure that come from not checking every little checkbox every day. This was less of an issue with my old binder, since I just tucked it away and ignored it. Sadly, housework cannot be ignored forever...

Next, I added in our basic homeschool schedule. I changed things from last year since it will still be summer when we start our new school year. I wanted to make sure to keep plenty of outdoor time as a priority, and in our school time I wanted to become more strict with myself about doing lessons in a particular order. For this reason, I purposefully scheduled two solid hours of outdoor time in the morning, and listed our lessons at a particular time on the calendar (there is also an option to do things at "no particular time" or as all day events). We are still very routine-oriented, not strictly scheduled, but planning it this way allowed me to see how much time we had to work with a little better.
(This is the "Calendar" view. Cluttered, but allows you to see at a glance how your time is being used.)

I plan to take a little bit of planning time each week to fill in some specifics of each lesson for the week, and then print it all off for SA(7) to check things off as they are completed. I still have to find a corner of time somewhere to do a daily short reading lesson with JJ(5).

What I Thought of Homeschool Planet

I have to be honest. I still love my pen and paper. Still, the huge advantage Homeschool Planet has for me is that it integrates everything so that I am no longer considering housework, homeschooling, and other commitments separately. And it is not requiring that I give up my pen and paper altogether. The printable checklists are actually very similar to the daily checklists I was handwriting for SA(7) last year. My weekly planning/record-keeping process will change a little, perhaps even for the better. This is an excellent online planner. I truly can't imagine a better one for ease of use and flexibility. I plan to continue to use Homeschool Planet, and that is the highest endorsement I can give!

Please note that you can get a three month free trial through Homeschool Giveaways right now. This offer is a very quick one. It expires on Friday, July 17 at 11:59PM ET.
Don't panic if you missed it! Homeschool Buyers Co-op normally offers a 30-day free trial as well.

Check out what other Schoolhouse Crew members have to say about Homeschool Planet:
Homeschool Planet Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, July 13, 2015

The School Books are In!

I ordered my books for Ambleside Online Year 2 several weeks ago, and they have finally all arrived. I am so excited! We are planning to begin the last week of July. By that time we will have had six weeks of vacation, so we will be ready for a return to the school routine. We will work for four weeks, then take two weeks off at the end of August and beginning of September, when my husband has his vacation. After that it will be full steam ahead (with a week off every six weeks or so) till the end of May.

Here is a group photo of most of my finds. These books are our main expense for homeschooling. What's great about this is that they are all reuseable for all our children coming up. I think my husband is still sometimes a bit surprised that most of my budget goes to real books rather than curriculum, but he loves books himself, so he doesn't object. If you want to think in terms of "subjects," these books cover History (World, British, Canadian, and Church), Natural History, and Literature (including Shakespeare, Pilgrim's Progress, and poetry).

Aside from these, I will just have to order SA(7)'s math when he finishes his current Singapore Primary Math workbook. For JJ(5) I will use Alpha Phonics and a few Bob Books I already have in the house and Miquon Math in printable e-book form already purchased for SA(7) two years ago. We also will continue to use several other books we bought in the last couple of years, notably the Handbook of Nature Study, Family Math and Games for Math, Drawing with Children, The Kodaly Method, and an e-book by Penny Gardner called Italic: Beautiful Handwriting for Children. I also have a French program that I'm not terribly keen on (Le Francais Facile! Junior), but don't know what to substitute.

My preference whenever possible and reasonable is to buy used hardcover books. Hardcover because they will stand up to the handling we will put them through with four boys, and Used because they tend to be cheaper for hardcover editions. Last year I ordered most of my books from Better World Books and Book Depository. Both of these are great sites for used books, offering free shipping anywhere in the world. BWB is based in the US, and BD is based in the UK, but I haven't found a lot of difference between them when it comes to speed of delivery to Canada (if anything, the UK ones often come first). 

This year, a friend introduced me to, and it simplified things considerably. All I had to do was put in the ISBN of the book I wanted, and it found the cheapest prices for me including shipping to my postal code.
I don't know if you can see this, but it has book information at the top, then two columns below, one with new books, and one with used. Both columns are arranged from cheapest including shipping to most expensive including shipping.

I ended up buying several books from, several from alibris, and a few from my old standbys Better World Books and Book Depository. I found the fastest and most efficient. I was least impressed with Better World Books. Their packaging is very flimsy, almost like a bag vacuum-packed around the books. I had no damage, thankfully, but I will keep that in mind the next time I have to buy used books. All the other books were well packaged.

My Finds

And now I know you want to see my "finds"! Here are some of my favourites.

I didn't realize when I ordered A Child's History of the World by Virgil M. Hillyer what a beautiful edition it would be. It's a Centennial Edition (1897-1997) and it's beautifully bound. It even has a ribbon bookmark!

I first caught sight of this beautiful edition of Our Island Story in a picture on someone's blog (sorry I can't remember whose). It also is a "Centenary Edition," republished in 2005. Hardcover with dust jacket, strong paper with lovely large print and several full-page colour illustrations, it screams quality!

The text is taken from the Baldwin Project, which is where I had been reading this book online last year anyway. It follows the original 1905 edition, except for chapter 110 which is taken from a later edition because of its fuller account of the Boer War.

This was actually the first package that reached me (less than a week after I ordered it), though it came from the UK!

I am extremely excited about this book. Like most histories of our country, it is called The Story of Canada. This one is by Edith Louise Marsh and was first published in the early 1900's. Obviously, this means there are some limitations. For example, Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada, and the Union Jack was still Canada's flag. Also, it tells Canada's colonial history without shame. Naturally, this will be a discussion point.

However, it is beautifully written. We haven't tried narration from it yet, but I anticipate it will go well. We will use it for our main Canadian history book, and supplement with other books on Native peoples, and more modern history as I find them.

This book is available on-line, but I chose to get a scanned reproduction (paperback). It is obvious that it has been scanned, but I still prefer to have a physical copy rather than trying to read on-line. (I will be using this in place of This Country of Ours in Ambleside Online's Year 2.)

 I was very excited when this copy of the Burgess Animal Book for Children arrived! It is cloth-bound, published in 1950 by Little, Brown and Company. It has quite a few colour illustrations, though the illustrations are on glossy pages in random places throughout the book and not necessarily with the chapters they illustrate.
This edition of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle came in like-new condition from the UK. I can't remember what I paid for it, but whatever it was, it was a great deal for what I got!

I didn't buy physical books for all the poetry selections for AO Year 2, but I love Christina Rossetti and figured she would be worth it. This cute little edition of Sing-Song and Other Poems for Children was not in the most spotless condition, but it is cloth-bound and I think it will stand up to some use.

I'm afraid I could go on and on, but you would be bored and I would not get any of my work done. Do you get excited when your books come in?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saturday Catch-All: Nurture By Nature, Polyphemus Moth

There have been quite a few things over the last little while that I've thought, "I really should write about that!" And then busyness (and quite possibly perfectionism) gets in the way, and the things pile up.

Nurture By Nature
Nurture by Nature by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger applies Myers Briggs personality typing to children. Brandy Vencel at Afterthoughts recommended this book back in January, and I borrowed it at our library. She has already written an excellent review, including advice on how to use it, so I will refer you to that and not add too much here. 

One of the most valuable things I gained from this book was a deeper understanding of the personalities of my children who are the most unlike me. Their strengths and weaknesses are so different from mine that I tend to see their weaknesses as greater than they are and at the same time not appreciate their strengths as I should. I understand my oldest child quite well. While he does not have the same personality type as I do, he is very similar to me in many ways. (He's a textbook ISTJ, I'm ISFJ.) However, I know I'm going to have to refer to this book again as my third child (probably ESFP) grows older, as he is so very different from me.

It has been interesting to try to consider this information from a Christian perspective (The parenting advice in the book itself is very secular.). If a child is born with a certain personality and keeps that same personality throughout his life, it is reasonable to assume that that personality is God-given (however difficult the personality may seem from our perspective!), and more, reflects the image of God. Of course, our fallenness plays into this too.

This book has sparked so many ideas and questions in me. How are our spiritual gifts related to our personalities? How can we accept and respect a child's basic personality while still working to overcome weaknesses? I also considered how so many other concepts are included in personality types, particularly "love languages" and learning styles. I found this book well worth reading (despite disagreeing with some of the parenting advice in it), and will be reading it again in a couple of years.

Nature Study
What happens when you pick bugs for your nature study focus?

Amazing bugs come to you, that's what. A beautiful Polyphemus Moth was on our screen all day today. Its wingspan was five inches (125 mm), quite an unusual size for a moth around here.

We also saw a viceroy butterfly this week, and another moth I haven't identified yet.

HEMS Conference
It has been almost a month since I went over to Nova Scotia for the homeschooling conference there. I went with several ladies from PEI, and we had a wonderful time. I've been wanting to do the conference justice with a real post, but since that hasn't happened yet, I think I'm going to mention it here and let it go. Sonya Shafer from Simply Charlotte Mason was the main speaker at the conference. She is a very engaging speaker, much better in real life than I had expected from seeing her videos. I especially appreciated how she incorporated demonstrations of several of Charlotte Mason's methods into her talks: picture study, narration, copywork, studied dictation. 

The most important insight I came away with from her talks was something I already thought I knew. Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. Simple, right? But as Sonya Shafer introduced these concepts once again, I realized that I had been focusing more and more on "life," and less and less on "atmosphere" and "discipline" in our first year of homeschooling. It's time for me to adjust a little once again. 

If you ever have a chance to go hear Sonya Shafer speak, do so. It will be worth it, I promise you!