Thursday, January 28, 2016

An Accomplishment

I recently finished narrating an entire book for the very first time! I read A Tale of Two Cities, narrating quietly to myself after each chapter.

I have been requiring narration from SA(7) in our homeschool from the beginning. None of his schoolbooks are read without him telling what he learned from the reading back to me. (We do have family read-alouds at bedtime and other times that are just enjoyed and not narrated, of course!). I believe in narration. I believe that when someone can tell you what he knows, he knows it. I have reason to believe SA is retaining what we read in a way that would not be possible without narration.

But I had never really tried narration for myself.

True, there have been a few times I have read a book and gotten so excited (or disturbed) about it that I have had to tell my husband all about it. I have also processed some of my reading of Charlotte Mason's works here on the blog. I have even modeled narration several times for SA in order to show him what I expected of him. But this is the first time I've read a book and systematically narrated every chapter in order to know it.

Two things surprised me:

1. Narration is surprisingly hard work! A Tale of Two Cities is a vivid tale, and it was not especially difficult to recall most things. What was surprising was the amount of concentration it took to stick with narration until I was done. I often would find my mind wandering and have to bring myself back. For most of the book I could not narrate more than two chapters a day, because it was too mentally exhausting. I understand now why SA needs a few moments to gather his thoughts before narration, and why I have to gently call him back when I see his attention wandering. I also have a whole new respect for how well he does with narration. He is already much farther ahead than I am with this skill (He should be, he has had more practice!).

2. I knew that narration would help me remember, but I was not anticipating how it would work. I am not a very visual person. Normally when I read, my visual imagination is fleeting and vague. I found that narration brought this visualization into focus and made it much clearer. I was recalling scenes, not just words. I was surprised and delighted by this. Perhaps I should not have been. Charlotte Mason did say to expect this!
 "All the acts of generalization, analysis, comparison, judgment, and so on, the mind performs for itself in the act of knowing. If we doubt this, we have only to try the effect of putting ourselves to sleep by relating silently and carefully, say, a chapter of Jane Austen or a chapter of the Bible, read once before going to bed. The degree of insight, the visualization, that comes with this sort of mental exercise is surprising." - Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education p. 304

How will I go forward with this?

I am planning to continue to read and narrate. Given the amount of mental work involved in narration, I think I will not be able to narrate more than one book at a time while I am still in the baby and toddler years. This means I will not narrate every book I read. I will, however, choose to narrate books I want to know.

I would love to hear about your personal experience with narration, if you have tried it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Timeline that Works for Us

This is not a beautiful timeline, I admit. It has no timeline figures. It is small, the width of a wall map, with an inch for each century. Its people and dates are jotted down when we please with the pen that is at hand. It works for us, though, and I plan to make one for each of my children when they begin Year 1. This was my first try, for my first student...I'm sure future timelines will become successively more orderly and beautiful.

This particular timeline is also known as a stream of history chart. I began this one a year and a half ago when Jen Snow shared the idea on her blog. She had worked out the idea from Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page, which referenced a Parent's Review article describing such a chart. The chart referenced there was intended for older children, and was to give an overview of major events in all of history.

My chart has been adapted for our own use with younger children. It does not differentiate between major and minor historical characters or events. That will come later, as what matters now is their vivid impressions of the people of history. Whenever we have come to know someone well in our lessons (whether through history, or picture study, or music appreciation, or even free reading), we add that person to our timeline.

I began by entering my dates and my husband's dates on the chart. Next, I added the children's grandparents. I also put Jesus' dates on the chart. Then I left it open, and added whoever captured our interest. Laura Ingalls Wilder was an early addition.

The greatest benefit having such a timeline has been seeing the children's enjoyment of the connections it makes between the people they have learned about. They like seeing that Mozart lived during George Washington's lifetime. They know that William Longsword, Duke of Normandy ("Little Duke" Richard's father) and William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, are not the same person, because they occupy different places on the chart. Today we added Canadian artist Tom Thomson to our chart. We noticed that we now have three people on our chart who died in 1917: Tom Thomson in Canada, Edgar Degas in France, and Buffalo Bill in the USA.

Next year I will take this chart down and put a new, clean one up for JJ, who will be in Year 1. I am thinking of making SA a timeline in a notebook at that point (He will be in year 3.).

I know you're looking at this and thinking how crowded and messy it is! When I do it again, I am considering being content with a smaller range of years. At this young age, I don't think the children appreciate that aspect of it, anyway. A smaller range of dates will allow me to make the spaces between centuries a little wider so I can fit the people in more neatly and we can see the relationships more clearly.

If you want to make a chart like this, it is easily done with a piece of Bristol board from the dollar store. Cut a wide strip, make a line down the middle, and mark each inch and label it. It's that simple.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Canadian Literature for Reading Aloud: Farley Mowat

I am Canadian, but I am ashamed to say that I am not terribly familiar with Canadian literature. Of course, when I was younger I read (and re-read) Anne of Green Gables and everything else L.M. Montgomery ever wrote. I don't think I get points for that, though, because Anne is known all over the world. I also read some W.O. Mitchell as a teenager.

Maybe my husband is right to tease me for having been homeschooled. "If you had gone to public school, you would have read all these books," he would say. He would be right. My homeschool curriculum came from the USA, and so I was not introduced to the Canadian literature he was introduced to in the Canadian public school system. Even though we had a houseful of books, somehow I missed reading Canadian literature.

It's okay, though. My life is not over yet, and neither is my education. And our boys will read Canadian books and learn Canadian history.

Our first foray into Canadian literature was Farley Mowat's Owls in the Family. This also happened to be the first chapter book my husband read to all of us. (I had been on bedtime reading duty up to that point.) Part of its appeal at first was the Papa factor. For some reason, at our house Papa's reading aloud is much more wonderful than Mama's reading aloud. I don't know why this is, other than that he keeps them wanting more. He does this by abruptly stopping his reading as he nears a particularly exciting or funny part. For a moment there is silence as he silently races ahead, then his laughter begins to burst out. The children are naturally all agog to hear what he's laughing at. He keeps them waiting until he has fully enjoyed the passage himself, then he shares it with them. Our bedtime story time has never been so much fun!

When my husband finished Owls in the Family, he started on The Dog Who Wouldn't Be. Both books are a creative telling of the author's childhood interaction with animals. If the stories aren't exactly how the events actually unfolded, they are at least how they could have or should have unfolded. This evening we read a chapter on various encounters with skunks that had us laughing as we anticipated the inevitable conclusion. Somehow the boy ends up tangled with a skunk in an eiderdown quilt. You can imagine what happens. And this is not the only skunk episode in his young life.

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be is almost finished, so it's time to start looking for The Boat Who Wouldn't Float.

Most of Owls in the Family and The Dog Who Wouldn't Be is set in Saskatchewan in the 1920's. You don't have to be Canadian to enjoy their humour, though. I recommend them for reading aloud to ages seven and up. For silent reading, they would probably be better for ages nine and up. I especially recommend these books for families with boys!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Our Circle Time

I have four boys aged seven, five, three and one. At this stage in our homeschool, I divide our circle time into two parts. This helps with the wiggles.

Our first part of circle time comes immediately after breakfast each day. Actually, my boys refer to this part as "Read-and-Sing-and-Pray," which is as good a title as any. 

We read the Bible, usually from SA(7)'s Ambleside Online selection for narration. At the moment (Year 2, Term 2) we are working through Genesis and Matthew. After I read, SA narrates. 

Then we sing the hymn we are working on memorizing. This month, we are learning "Who Would True Valour See" by John Bunyan, mostly because we recently finished reading Pilgrim's Progress. I decided to use the tune Monk's Gate because I heard Maddy Prior sing it on the radio shortly before Christmas. For some reason, I'm having a hard time remembering the second part of the tune. This is not the sort of problem I normally have, being musically inclined. However, we're sticking with it, since SA seems to be doing fine with the tune. I just keep listening to Maddy Prior. I'll get it soon.

We're also learning O Canada, which is our national anthem. SA already knew the first verse, but I'm trying to teach them all the beautiful optional verses as well. 

Our Scripture memory this month is Colossians 3:12-17. I chose this specifically because of the section on forgiveness. One of my children has a hard time forgiving when his brother has offended him (or whacked him on the head, or, or...). For the longest time I didn't know what to do about it. After all, he is the one that was hurt, and that isn't necessarily all fixed when his brother says sorry and tries to give him a hug. But he was consistently showing an unwillingness to forgive. I decided in this case that it might be a first step in the right direction to hide this verse in his heart (and all their hearts). "If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."

Following this, I always pray with them. In our morning circle time, I always consciously try to model the different elements of prayer (found throughout Scripture) of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. I have found that I need to be intentional about this, or I tend to skip right to the thanksgiving and supplication, perhaps with an occasional confession thrown in. Adoration makes us focus on the character of God and what he has done in history and our own lives. This gives us true reason for confessing our sin and thanking Him. It also gives us hope and confidence that He hears our requests. 

Then, it's chore time and play time until 10:00(ish).

We get together again for the second part of our circle time, which we call Poetry Teatime. We have our drinks and snacks at the table. I set the table with a tablecloth, but other than that I don't usually get too fancy. I have tea, but the boys usually have something else. After the novelty of "tea" time wore off, they figured out that they didn't really love tea all that much after all. We usually haul out several poetry books (Mother Goose, Stevenson, Milne, etc.) and the boys choose from them. We are focusing on Christina Rossetti this term. Ambleside Online has her poetry scheduled for the third term of Year 2, but I decided to go ahead with her this term because she has such beautiful Christmas poetry. We read a lot of that leading up to Christmas.

On Tuesdays we substitute Picture Study for poetry. This term we are studying Tom Thomson, a Canadian artist from the early 1900's. My husband got a calendar for Christmas with twelve of his paintings, and I decided then and there that now was the time for us to study his works.

On Thursdays we do Music Appreciation following the Ambleside Online rotation. This term we will be listening to music by Franz Schubert. We normally sit in front of our TV and watch YouTube videos of live performances, or perhaps of the Music Animation Machine

This is all we're doing right now. It's not a whole lot, but it's enough for four little boys. I want to add in some catechism memory again, but I still need to get my head around that. During the first term, I often read from Pilgrim's Progress during breakfast time. After we finished that, I started reading from Parables of Nature again (SA requested it, mostly because he likes to make sure our AO schedule is followed to the letter.), but I'm afraid I still am really not enjoying it. I am considering dropping it and reading Pilgrim's Progress Part 2: Christiana's Journey instead.

That's what we do for Circle Time! I'd love to hear how you do yours, particularly if you have little ones in the mix.