On Music

The object therefore of the instruction…should be to foster the natural good taste of the subject, and gradually to build up a fund of experience, which may serve as a standard of right and wrong, incidentally bringing him into contact with some of the great creative geniuses of the world and providing him with a treasure house of beautiful things, which will be a joy to him all his life.

infiniteA Touch of the Infinite is an excellent resource for adding music to education–in a homeschool, after kids get back from school, or for yourself. Megan Elizabeth Hoyt struck a wonderful balance between casting a vision for musical education and practical suggestions. I am so glad to own a copy of this book for frequent reference.

Hoyt includes invaluable insight into helping us understand composers and complicated music, while also explaining how simpler forms also serve a purpose. From musical instruments to singing to being an educated audience member at symphonies and other concerts, Hoyt covers so much ground in the book that there probably isn’t any way you could complete it all in a lifetime.

In that sense, I see this book as a great inspiration, a practical guide, and a lifelong handbook for growing in understanding, making, and appreciating music in many genres and forms.

Students need to know why it is important that they learn about music—what purpose it will serve for their lives. What do we expect to accomplish in providing them with a cultured existence full of art, music, architecture, and sculpture?…The benefit of learning about all aspects of the arts and sciences, mathematics and history, is that it encourages us to form relationships with people, things, and events of the past, present, and future—to understand our universe and to fully grasp our place within the broader scheme.

In compiling this resource, Hoyt drew on her own extensive background in music, as well as her review of British educator Charlotte Mason’s methods for music instruction. Even if you’re not a Charlotte Mason fan, you might be surprised to see how widely applicable the principles are in music, and Hoyt did a masterful job of discussing how CM schools handled music while also pulling in her own outside knowledge and experience.

We study a composer every school term, and often have music playing at home (classical, yes, but other genres, too). But until I read A Touch of the Infinite, I never realized how many opportunities there are for training our ears, increasing our understanding, and building our enjoyment of the music we surround ourselves with. I’m excited to put many of these tactics and suggestions into place for the new school year, and highly recommend this book.

 

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Wrapping up the school year

Another one for the books! If you only count Kindergarten forward, this was our fifth year of homeschooling, but if you go by the fact that I’ve been keeping records since Hannah’s pre-K-3 year (I know, I know) this is was our seventh year of homeschooling. In many ways, things that were once difficult are easier, but in other ways, the things that are difficult have gotten more so. I do find that having taken time to articulate WHY I am doing certain things, I have found many areas that work well and require very little planning now.

What worked this year:

  • Convocation – Starting the day with prayer, singing, Bible study, and memory work sets a good tone, and makes sure we get to these things.
  • Checklist – Mine, that is. I’m highly motivated by this to actually get things done, and it also gives me visual permission to stop when we’re done.

What didn’t work this year:

  • Table Time – The consistent accomplishment thereof, anyway. We enjoy Table Time, but it’s hard to make it happen, especially on days when we have a hard stop time and need to get core subjects done.
  • Artist and composer study – We were really good at this for the first three months of the year, but once I went to the hospital it sort of fell by the wayside. Still, we did get some good study in for those three months, and listened to classical music and did some art after that.

At any rate, here is the breakdown by subject and student. I like to read this sort of post because it helps me get ideas, but please DO NOT READ ON if you are going to be tempted to do the whole comparison thing. This is what works for our family, with five kids including a baby and a mom who works part-time. Other families school much longer, or much less, or in vastly different ways, and that is fine. Again, this is what school looks like for us, at least for now.

Subjects we do together:

  • History – We covered the 20th century (Tapestry Year 4) by Easter, then started Ancient Times (Tapestry Year 1) again. We put the bookmarks in part way through the Trojan War and we’ll pick back up again in August. It’s SO fun to hit the ancient world again for the second time. It’s amazing how much Hannah and Jack remember. We will move through at our own pace–and will probably linger with the Greeks and Romans because they are awesome. I like not having to keep up with–or wait for–other people as we work through integrated subjects chronologically. We take a literature-based, living books, ideas and integration approach.
  • Literature – Our literature integrates with history, so has also been 20th century and then back to ancient times. The 20th century was a little rough, as I was trying to stay true to the issues and use living books, but also remain age-appropriate. There is so much excellent literature for children about the Greeks and Romans, so Year 1 is easier to navigate.
  • Science – To tie in to the lab class Jack was taking at co-op, we did Apologia Swimming Creatures this year, and learned many fascinating things about sea life. We then took on Nature Anatomy for more of a natural world angle), and recently started Apologia Chemistry and Physics (covering current interests for Hannah and Jack) after we finished Swimming Creatures. We read some good biographies about scientists, and also picked up Childcraft Mathemagic, which turned out to be a very fun read-aloud with math games (not technically science, but sort of related).
  • Geography – We study maps as they integrate with our history and literature study. We reviewed states and capitals, although I’m not a stickler for that given that I didn’t ever memorize them in school myself. I know, that’s not a good excuse. 🙂
  • Poetry/Memorization – We memorized lots of good poems together this year, with the latest–and by far the most dramatic–being The Destruction of Sennacherib. We render that one with tremendous emotion. 🙂  We also learned several chapters of Scripture and kept reviewing previous ones as part of our convocation time. We learned some new hymns to add to our rotation, and added catechism memory tied to our morning Biblestudy. 
  • Art – I mentioned dropping the ball on artist and composer study in second semester. The kids do a lot of art stuff on their own, which is great, and I’m past the point of feeling guilty for not being a craft mom. Still, we can strive to improve!
  • Vocabulary/Dictionary – Two or three times a week during table time (or, more realistically, during lunch) each kid looks up a word in the dictionary. Often they already know what it means because we discuss definitions when we come across an unfamiliar word in our reading, but it builds good skills to look things up.
  • Latin – I should do a post sometime on our Latin journey. Suffice it to say, we are now doing I Speak Latin together during table time, and enjoying it. It’s fun, and I intend for the kids to do Latin independently starting at age 10 (see Hannah’s section below) so fun is good for our group!

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Hannah – 4th Grade

Hannah has made great strides in handling her work independently. This semester she seemed to make a huge jump up across the board, such that I’m now sort of thinking of her as being in her middle schooling years (if you break the pre-college education into three parts, which is arbitrary).

  • Math – Having completed Saxon Math 6/5, Hannah is about a quarter of the way through Saxon Math 7/6. She is really being challenged by this book, which is great! I’m being very careful about checking all of her problem sets and having her re-do things she missed, so as not to skip important concepts.
  • Language Arts – Hannah finished First Language Lessons 4, which pretty much wraps up grammar and diagramming, at least for now. This quarter she started Writing With Skill, which builds on FLL and Writing With Ease. It seems like a great bridge between written narration and advanced composition. Although she continues to struggle with spelling (the woes of not being a natural speller!), Hannah did finish All About Spelling 4 and is in All About Spelling 5, with significant improvement over last year. She does copywork in cursive, and I sort of think she spells better in cursive since she has to think about it more as she’s forming the words.
  • Latin – In addition to the Latin we do together, Hannah started Visual Latin 1 and is doing great with the program. I investigated this at length, and am pleased with the overall scope of Dwayne Thomas’s approach. Visual Latin is structured as a high school Latin course, and can be graded and recorded thusly, but they also say you can start it as a 10 year old if you grade it a bit differently, and we have found that to be true. It’s sort of amazing to me that concepts that are stretched out over YEARS in various early start Latin programs are covered in a few short lessons in Visual Latin–and covered well, and actually retained. Lesson learned for Mama! It’s also a big relief to have most of the in-depth teaching for her level out of my court.
  • Typing – To facilitate faster writing and revision, Hannah started learning typing with some free online programs. We started with the BBC’s Dance Mat Typing, then moved on to Typing.com. Both work fine and get the job done.
  • Independent study – I’m assigning Hannah readings in history and literature each week, with the thinking and accountability questions/topics from Tapestry’s Dialectic (middle school) level. So far this is working fairly well, although I’m still trying to get a feel for how best to structure our discussions on what she has read. I’ve assigned her writing projects based on the independent reading but I’m still thinking that through.
  • Other – Hannah continues to take piano lessons, and she took Spanish, Indiana State History, and BizTown (economics/civics) at our co-op this year. We also tried out swim team this spring with great success, and intend to take that back up in the fall. Hannah reads like a maniac, taught herself to make soap, and enjoys making up imaginary worlds and inventing games to play with her friends and siblings.

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Jack – 3rd Grade

Jack is one of those people who, when he takes an interest, goes after it with full gusto. Whether it’s birds, physics, World War II, exactly how original sin works, or what-have-you, Jack is one to dig deep. But when he does not feel personal interest…he goes after it with…umm…double-plus-UN-gusto. This presents a challenge. I spend a lot of time trying to balance encouraging his interests with equipping him to do hard things even when he doesn’t want to apply himself. We want him to be a good steward of his potential, but don’t want to break him of his temperament, which is, after all, how God constructed his personality. Parenting only gets less and less simple, doesn’t it? But the rewards are many and so we press on!

  • Math – Jack finished Saxon Math 5/4 and proceeded to Saxon Math 6/5, which is not challenging him.  However, at this level I’m reluctant to skip things in case he misses something critical, so I let him do only every other problem and keep reminding him that once he puts in his time he can get to really cool things in math and physics and inventions. Although he’s able to do math easily, he still hates to write things down, so math is often a struggle.
  • Language Arts – About how Jack hates writing things down…we come to language arts. He finished First Language Lessons 3 and likes how grammar works but loathes putting actual whole words into the diagram he’s drawn. He is a decent speller and is neck and neck with Hannah in All About Spelling 5, but, again, abhors writing things down. So we figured out a lot of ways to do things out loud, which is time-intensive for his individual teaching time, but it gets the job done. I’ve read that a lot of boys resist writing even up to age 12. That is simultaneously encouraging and terrifying! 🙂 For some reason, cursive is easier for him than printing, which I think is because cursive feels more like drawing to him. And because he only has to do small chunks of copywork in cursive.
  • Other – My husband is teaching Jack guitar sporadically, and Jack likes messing around with the guitar he got for his birthday. He took Spanish, a science lab class, and PE at our co-op this year. Swim team was a hit, so he will do that again this fall. Other than that he likes reading, keeping notebooks of random things he learns (the one time he doesn’t mind writing things down), constructing models and inventions and giant pieces of art, building with Legos, and running around yelling and jumping off of things.

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Sarah – 1st Grade

Sarah is such a dedicated student, and is the sort of person who gets up early to get her independent work done without being reminded. I’m not sure how long this phase will last, but it has been lovely!

  • Math – On the last day of school, Sarah took the final test for Saxon 3 and completed the book. She catches on to new concepts quickly and didn’t have any trouble with this level.
  • Language Arts – Sarah finished First Language Lessons 2, and it was fine for basic grammar. I put her in Writing With Ease 2 this semester because I noticed she was not being as careful with narrations, and WWE does a great job of training the student to listen attentively and both narrate and summarize. Having worked through several books of cursive, I finally just started giving Sarah cursive copywork like I give the older kids. Being more of a natural speller, she’s about halfway through All About Spelling 4. I still had Sarah read out loud to me every day–just a chapter from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book–because reading out loud is a different skill than reading to yourself.
  • Other – Sarah takes piano lessons, and took art, Spanish, and PE in co-op this year. She also liked swim team, so will continue that this fall. She’s looking forward to playing soccer this fall in our church soccer program (one day per week–perfect). She likes to read, make pretty things from art supplies, play dress-up and dolls, and play with the baby. She also has a great Broadway singing voice, which she never consents to perform for anyone outside the family.

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Eliza – Pre-pre-pre-K and School Mascot

I did much better this year at getting preschool time in with Eliza. This is really simple–just reading from a children’s Bible, an Aesop fable, some Mother Goose, five or so picture books, and practicing saying ABCs and counting to 20. She sits in on everything else with us, so she also gets memory work and singing and read-alouds, either while sitting on my lap or doing lacing cards or playing with Legos or something. If anything, I’d like to read more to her, but for now having a dedicated 20-30 minutes just for her seems like a win.

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Margaret – Official Baby and Vice Mascot

Everyone reads to Margaret. She listens in on lessons while I hold her, or while sitting around on her toy mat. Sometimes, she naps. Other times, she yells. In short, she is a baby and we have acclimated to doing school with her in the mix.

AND NOW, LET THE WILD RUMPUS START! SUMMER VACATION IS ON FOR JULY!

 
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Smarter Faster Better

smatter faster better-500x500Smarter Faster Better looks at productivity and how really effective people actually achieve more. The author looks beyond the busy churn to identify powerful habits for being effective, regardless of your sphere of life.

Duhigg makes an important distinction between looking productive and actually being productive.  He writes:

There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose resumes appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self marketing.

And there’s so much of modern online life in a nutshell, hm?

So we have to be sure that we aren’t using our To Do list as “mood repair” but rather that we are doing the right things in the first place.

How do we do this? Duhigg identifies several important habits for being truly productive:

  • Paying attention. Duhigg suggests managing your focus and attention by narrating your life as you go. Can he have been reading Charlotte Mason, or is that just a coincidence? 🙂
  • Self-motivation. People who realize that they have agency and can make choices are more effective than people who let life happen to them.
  • Wisely allocating energy. Effectiveness isn’t about doing something with every second of every day. It’s about doing the right things at the right time with the right energy.
  • Performing scenario analysis. In my pre-kids job, I did a lot of this sort of exercise: given what we know, what might happen in the future? Considering a worst case, best case, and middle ground possibility helps people make better choices and be more mindful of subtle changes to the status quo. Rather than making the false binary choices that our brains naturally like (you can have this OR this), envisioning alternate outcomes allows you to see situations more clearly.

I thought this book was helpful and a good reminder, although it used examples and conclusions that I have–for the most part–read elsewhere. It’s good to read information from different angles. So I’d recommend Smarter Faster Better if you like the habits/goals/life purpose genre, although I wouldn’t say it was life-changing on its own.

If you read the book–or if you have thoughts on productivity outside Duhigg’s examples–I’d be interested to know which habits you think characterize truly effective people?

 

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Consider This

Consider ThisOne problem with modern life is the difficulty we have with defining our terms.  Some words become labels, and yet can mean vastly different things to different people.  When people hear you’re a Christian, maybe they think you handle snakes. Or that you are a die-hard Republican who hates women and likes to judge people for fun.  Or that you are a vaguely moral person who may be a hypocrite.  And that’s not what you mean at all.

The same thing happens in the homeschooling community, and it has an unfortunate side effect of tripping people up.  Labeling something as “classical” or “Charlotte Mason” can mean very different things.  In my experience this has often resulted in expensive curriculum and co-op mistakes that don’t fit with my educational philosophy.

That’s why I think it’s really important to read carefully and define your own philosophy and standards.  Then, when an opportunity comes along, you can evaluate it in light of what YOU mean by popular terms, rather than what anyone else says.

Karen Glass’s book Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition is helpful in this regard. The book challenges readers to explore the ways that the classical tradition has changed over time, and how in fact many currently espoused “classical” education techniques and programs are actually grounded in modern invention. But not to knock the classical idea, Glass also gently takes CM fans to task for divorcing Mason’s educational philosophy from the classical tradition in which it is rooted.  Ultimately, Glass upholds what Mason actually did, which was consider what was good and working out of the classical mold, and change what was not to fit the ideals–which ARE classical ideals–of pursuing truth, beauty, ideas and synthetic thinking.

A particular strength of the book is Glass’s articulation of the difference between synthetic thinking–“an approach to knowledge that places things together, comprehending the relationship of new knowledge to old knowledge, one discipline to another, and man to all things”–and the purely analytical approach which artificially separates facts from ideas, and disconnects subjects from the whole.  Modern education–including, unfortunately, many neoclassical approaches–vaunts analytical thinking at the expense of the integrated, holistic continuing story of synthetic thinking.  Glass points out that analytical thinking has its place, but that before we can take things apart, we need to understand how they fit together.

This had me shouting Amen at every turn, as it matches up with my own educational goals and with the reasons that I choose curriculum like Tapestry and use lots of Susan Wise Bauer’s materials–even though die-hard CM’ers often dismiss both resources as classical-not-Charlotte-Mason.  I think the focus on synthetic thought and THEN analysis lends itself well to CM ideals and methods, even in materials that aren’t explicitly CM.  And likewise I have found that many people who claim Charlotte Mason’s philosophy overlook the synthetic strengths of certain classical ideas.

Can’t we all just get along?!!

Of course not.  🙂  What works for me won’t work for everyone.  But if you are interested in educational philosophy, and especially if you’re homeschooling, I’d recommend reading books like Consider This to help clarify your thinking–whether you self-identify as classical, Charlotte Mason, or neither.  Of course, read them with a critical eye, and sort them out for yourself, but I think it’s good to keep thinking through and refining your positions as you go.

 

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2014’s Third Quarter in Books

This quarter I had an uptick in work, which resulted in a downtick in reading, to my chagrin.  However, I did still read 27 books in July, August, and September, and also read 20 long/chapter books (of around 100 pages or more, not picture books) aloud to or with the kids.  I broke the titles down into categories of Fiction, Life Management/Creative Work, Communication/Relationships, Parenting/Education, History, Memoir, and Faith.  The links below are to my longer reviews, starred titles were my absolute favorites.

Fiction

  • The Night Circus – An incredible fairy tale set in a Victorian circus that begs to be read on a rainy day, The Night Circus was excellent in audiobook version, and I might skim the print version too.
  • Speaking From Among the Bones – A Flavia DeLuce mystery.  Enough said.
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – Another Flavia DeLuce mystery. Really, if you haven’t read these, do.  Impeccable plotting, fantastic characterization, funny and smart writing…the entire series is excellent.
  • Children of the Jacaranda Tree – The author used a dissonant writing and narrative style to convey the dissonance of Iranian post-Revolution culture, but those aspects of the book wound up detracting from the story significantly.  Mostly I felt the book suffered from lack of setting and descriptive voice.  Read A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea instead.

Life Management/Creative Work

  • What Should I Do With My Life? People who are perpetual reinventers and tryers-of-new-things will like this book.  People who never ask themselves the title’s question should skip it.
  • Manage Your Day to Day – If you’re a creative and/or flex-worker you should read this book.  I’ve especially benefitted from the advice on how to be the boss of your technology (sorry Facebook, it had to end sometime).
  • *Essentialism* – This exceptional book is not about maximizing your life in 15 minute increments, but more about how to untangle confusion, busy-ness, and triviality to get at what’s most important to you, and then how to protect your time and focus so you can really give your best efforts to those priorities.  The book is excellent and I highly recommend it.
  • The Accidental Creative – Normal time management advice doesn’t always work for creative workers.  This book explains why and gives tips for how to work around that.  I felt affirmed in that I already do many of these things, but also got some new tips.
  • Die Empty – By the same author as The Accidental Creative, this book covers how to be more focused and gives some really helpful advice on curating your information flow.  Curating is a modern requirement I find very interesting, and this book helped me realize that I do have a choice about it.
Communication/Relationships
  • The Art of Small Talk – A light but helpful book about small talk and how to use it, I found this one particularly helpful for business contexts and have been using tips about meetings all summer.
  • Difficult Conversations – This very helpful book not only walks you through how to handle difficult conversations on big and important topics, but also helps you to reframe hard topics for yourself, even if you never have the touchy discussion with someone else.
  • *Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work* – If you’re engaged or a newlywed, put this book back for a couple of years.  If you’ve been married for 5 years or more, read it.  The book is written by a researcher who studies marriages and relationships, and so the findings are based on real data, profoundly interesting, and very hopeful.  I have given this book a lot of thought after reading it, and highly recommend it.  (Note: it’s a secular book, not at all from a Christian perspective, and yet you’ll find that the conclusions are very much in line with Biblical direction on relationships and relating to other people. Fascinating.)

Parenting/Education

  • The Artful Parent – A helpful book that expands the definition of the artsy parent so you can feel better about not being someone who allows glitter in your environment, and which also contains interesting art projects to try and advice on good materials.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – This amazingly helpful primer on drawing will change how you look at things, even if you don’t take the time to try the exercises.  It also seems that the book would be profoundly helpful in teaching children to draw.
  • Real Learning – Without a doubt this book is the most helpful resource on artist study and composer study I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Charlotte Mason fan or homeschooler, this book will be helpful for you.

History

  • Fever – Although it’s a historical novel, this book illuminates an interesting historical figure and period of change in medical history.
  • The Great Influenza – Although it’s too long, this history of the flu of 1918 is fascinating really illuminated my understanding of geopolitical events surrounding World War I.
  • The Professor and the Madman – An oddly compelling history of the Oxford English Dictionary, with wild stories and the sort of excellent vocabulary asides you’d expect in a book about the OED.
  • Tallgrass – Another historical fiction book that wound up in the history section rather than fiction, Tallgrass have me unique insight into the Japanese interment camp facet of World War II, plus showed me how the experiences of the Dust Bowl and World War I, which I’ve also read about this year, influences people’s perceptions of the home front in World War II.  Not notable fiction, but notable history.
  • The Long Shadow – This wide-ranging book covers the lead up to World War I, an analysis of popular views on the war itself, and then a discussion of the lingering impact World War I had on political, cultural, and social developments up to the present.  Really fascinating and illuminating.
  • The Big Fat Surprise – Fat is not the enemy.  If you really need to be convinced that fat is not bad for you, especially if you need very detailed discussion about just about every study and research project related to nutritional topics, this book may be for you.  It’s interesting as a history of nutritional science (and I use that phrase optimistically).  Otherwise, read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat instead.
  • Eiffel’s Tower – This interesting history of the making of the Eiffel Tower, the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and the fascinating historical figures who converged there is well worth a read.
Memoir
  • Stitches – I don’t usually like graphic novels, but this one was very thought-provoking and the format fit the subject matter quite well.
  • *How the Heather Looks* – Probably my most favorite book of the year so far, this is a travel memoir of a young family who toured England looking for the sites in all of their favorite books.  I adore that concept and just loved the descriptions and the author’s evident love for literature.  An utter delight for this Anglophile and bibliophile!

Faith

  • His Word in my Heart – If you need some inspiration for memorizing longer passages of Scripture, or even entire books of the Bible, this book is for you.  I got a lot out of this short book, although ultimately I realized that my memorizing style is different than the author’s (don’t feel tied to the index card thing).
  • The Family Worship Book – Although I got some helpful ideas from this book, A Neglected Grace is a far, far better resource both in terms of casing a vision for family worship and in providing practical helps.
  • Sabbath as Resistance – Not a complete reference on Sabbath-keeping, but written around a helpful and thoughtful exposition of the Israelites in Egypt, this book has made me mindful of ways that I keep the Sabbath in outward form, but am inwardly still “making bricks” on Sunday.  I wouldn’t say this is the only book you need to read on the topic, but it is a good one.

Long/Chapter Books Read Aloud to the Children (or read to discuss with the children)

What were your favorite books this quarter?

Sarah’s School Work, Fall 2014

Sarah is in Kindergarten this year!  In some ways she seems past this stage, in that she’s quite articulate and good at many things, but in other ways she’s still pint-sized, as evidenced by the fact that she went to church in a size 3T dress this Sunday and I didn’t notice anything amiss.

In addition to the subjects we cover with the other kids, Sarah’s individual school work includes:

Math

Last year Sarah got through half of Saxon 1, so this year I am pulling back in pace a bit and just having her do one page of the second half of Saxon 1.  At this pace, she will still be part way through Saxon 2 by the end of Kindergarten so I don’t see any reason to rush around.  Doing one page a day still helps her practice writing her numbers and gives her time to get really good at addition and subtraction facts.

Reading

Sarah is still convinced she can’t read, which is perplexing since she’s 139 lessons in to the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, and is reading even complicated phonemes like -aigh.  But because she can’t pick up any old chapter book and read it, like Hannah and Jack can, she thinks she can’t read.  Curiously, she also thinks she can’t ride her bicycle, although she actually can and has repeatedly done so in front of numerous witnesses.  So at any rate, in addition to her reading lesson, she also reads me a short book like a Bob book reader or one of Eliza’s board books, or something like that, because maybe if she reads an actual book daily, eventually it will sink in that she is in fact reading.  In spite of her assertion that she can’t read, Sarah still reports that reading is her favorite subject, so I guess that’s good.

Spelling

Sarah couldn’t understand why she didn’t have a spelling book like the others, so I went ahead and started her in All About Spelling 1.  I was not too surprised that she immediately grasped the concept of building words by sound, but I was surprised that she enjoyed it so much that she begs to be allowed to do more spelling every day. I actually have to cut her off after she does a week’s worth in about 10 minutes.  So although we’ve only completed five weeks of school, she’s already well over 2/3 of the way through the book and showing no signs of slowing down.  I figure at some point we will get to something that takes more effort and then we’ll slow down to a normal pace, but at this point she’s enjoying it so what the heck.

Grammar

I said I wouldn’t do it but I’m going through First Language Lessons 1 with Sarah again.  I was going to skip it, but she wouldn’t have it and I thought maybe we’d rehash level 1 another time for review before going to level 2.  It can’t hurt, right?

Handwriting

I just have Sarah doing copywork for handwriting.  Since she copies the same length passage that her older siblings do, and her spelling also includes dictation, I feel like that is sufficient.

How long does this take?

Truly, Sarah is the most diligent worker in the house.  She never complains about her work, but just cheerfully does her assignments.  It takes her about 10 minutes to do her copywork, and then about 30-40 minutes for Office Time (her one-on-one teaching time).  Usually she gets all of her work done with me.  Then the subjects we do with the other kids take one-and-a-half to two hours, so total she’s probably doing about two-and-a-half to three hours of school a day, not counting extra reading time and bedtime read-alouds.  That seems reasonable for her age.  Other than school work she does a lot of dressing up and playing make-believe games with her ponies and castle and dolls, and singing at the top of her lungs.

It’s interesting to think about the differences between Sarah’s Kindergarten year and Hannah’s.  In many ways, I’m doing way more with Sarah than I knew I could even attempt with Hannah, but in other ways, I’m way more laid back.  You learn things along the way I suppose.

 

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Jack’s School Work, Fall 2014

This is Jack shortly after we picked up his new cello. The boy has been asking to take cello lessons since he was three, so we finally gave in.  He’s really psyched and we’re hopeful that his enthusiasm will translate into happy practicing!

Jack is in second grade this year and is very smart and capable, but we are having to do some heavy lifting on attitude and diligence.  From what I’ve read, this is a common issue with seven-year-old boys and I am researching like mad on the topic.  Book recommendations welcome!  In spite of that, it’s often really a joy to teach Jack, because his mind is so incredibly interesting.  He asks wildly insightful questions and sees connections in unusual ways that keep me entertained and on my toes.  In addition to the subjects we do together with the other kids, here is the run down on Jack’s individual work:

Math

Jack is kind of a ninja at math when he is in the mood, so he is having no trouble in Saxon 3. However, he does have trouble understanding why he should show his work when he can easily do it in  his head or out loud, so sometimes there is a battle over completing the three page lesson each day  (one page teaching, one page practice, one page of math facts). I remember Hannah having this problem too and she turned the corner eventually, so I’m hopeful Jack will too.

Latin

Since I’m tackling Latin as an individual subject this year, Jack is going it alone in Prima Latina and having no trouble at all.  We’re just doing one chapter per week and he’s heard all of the vocabulary in years past, so the only new thing is that he’s having to write answers down this year, but that’s no problem.  He’s getting 100% on end-of-week tests and likes to sing the prayers as songs (which they sort of are–one is essentially Holy, Holy, Holy in Latin, and another is the Gloria Patri, etc).

Cursive

Having asked to learn cursive last year, Jack is doing New American Cursive II this year.  Some of the gleam has worn off now that he knows how the letters go, but practice makes perfect.

Spelling

Unlike his older sister, Jack is an intuitive speller, so All About Spelling 3 is helping him understand the rules behind how we spell and it’s not hard for him.  The only stumbling block here is the dictation–to reinforce the spelling rules the book has the teacher read a sentence containing words from that rule and then the student writes it down.  The method is good, but Jack balks at having so much writing.  To finish the week he has to do three sentences per day, which isn’t really that much, but sometimes there is foot dragging.  When he is focused, though, spelling is a cinch.  I’m hoping the kinks work themselves out as we go along.  Meanwhile, I work on being calm and cheerful. 🙂

Language Arts

For grammar and writing we’re using First Language Lessons 3 and Writing With Ease 3.  Jack loves these and he really, really likes diagramming.  Boy after my own heart.

Reading

I still have Jack practice reading out loud most days.  He reads well, but it’s good to practice inflection and he has a tendency to skim over words when he’s not sure how they are pronounced.  He is reading The Fellowship of the Ring (having really enjoyed The Hobbit this summer when we read it aloud–he likes fantasy/adventure) and also some books about heroes of the Wild West and various other chapter books he picks up around the house or from the library stack.  He doesn’t read as much as Hannah does, but he enjoys reading and is keen to get in on book clubbing with me whenever we get to it.

How long does this take?

For Jack, this question is so variable!  He spends about 15-20 minutes on cursive and copywork at the table with the girls, then on a good day he can get his Office Time (one-on-one teaching time with me) done in about 30 minutes.  On a bad day his Office Time can take over an hour.  Then he spends maybe another half an hour on the assignments I give him in Office Time unless he gets distracted and starts playing Legos or building forts, in which case he might still be doing assignments in the afternoon when he would rather be outside playing.  Added together with the subjects we do together with the girls, which takes about one-and-a-half to two hours, I’d say Jack spends between three and five hours on school work per day, not including his personal reading time or our evening read-aloud time.

I don’t mean to overstate the difficulties of school here, Jack is really a very pleasant and happy boy generally speaking, and I do enjoy teaching him.  I think our struggles are mostly related to his developmental stage and I trust we will see improvement sooner or later!

 

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Hannah’s School Work, Fall 2014

Hannah is in third grade this year and seems to have really turned a corner with school work. She’s always been a good student, but this year she’s much more able to handle her workload without dilly-dallying or complaining about how much writing she has to do.  I have told her several times already what a complete joy it is to have Office Time with her–that’s our individual instruction time–this year.  In addition to the subjects we cover together with the other kids, this is what Hannah’s individual work looks like:

Math

After a brief review, we launched into Saxon 5/4. This is the first Saxon level that is a textbook rather than a consumable style, so I think a big step is that Hannah is writing out all of her problem sets in a notebook rather than just putting in the answers.  She’s learning lessons in neatness and checking her work, which is important for later math levels so good to learn it now!  I’m surprised to note that 5/4 spirals more slowly than the end of Saxon 3 did, but it’s an easy win for Hannah since we labored over intense long division this summer so going back to easier review is a relief for us both. I wasn’t sure about this progression–it seemed strange to put her directly in 5/4 as a third grader–but now I’m much more confident that it was the right decision.  There is an option to take a segue from Saxon 3 to a few intermediate levels, but I am glad we didn’t bother with that.

Latin

We’re doing a big review of Prima Latina, mostly for spelling purposes (if there was an award for spending the most possible time in one Latin book, our family would probably win it for our multi-year journey through this one!) and then we’ll move into Latina Christiana at long last.  I’m finding that it works much better for me to tackle Latin individually with each child rather than attempting it as a group subject.

Spelling

Spelling has long been a thorn in Hannah’s side, and I’ve tried so many programs with such limited success.  Usually, she’d get a perfect score on a weekly spelling test and then promptly spell the same words incorrectly in her other writing.  This year, I pulled her back into All About Spelling 2, in hopes of helping her to understand the rules behind spelling since that curriculum worked so well with Jack last year.  Then the heavens parted and an angelic chorus sang “AAAAAHHHHHleluia” because oh my word she is finally getting it!  For some reason this fall spelling is clicking for Hannah.  I think she’s just at an age where she ADORES things that are mysteries or puzzles and AAS is helping her see the rules and reasons behind spelling correctly.  She’s taking the lessons at a rate of 2-3 per week (rather than 1 per week as you’d do normally) so I think she will be on track by the end of this term.  What a relief for us both.

Handwriting

I have Hannah doing her copywork in cursive every day, and also using Copybook Cursive from Memoria Press for additional practice.  It’s sort of overkill, but we have the book on hand.

Language Arts

After much research, I got Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts set and started it with Hannah.  We ADORE this method.  The books integrate grammar, word roots, poetry analysis, and writing in an idea- and story-based way that really makes sense and emphasizes beauty and understanding at a deep level.  I got Level 1, which is used for gifted 3rd graders or 4th graders.  At first I wondered why, because I think at some level Hannah could have done this stuff in 1st grade, but I’m glad I waited because I think her 3rd grade love of figuring out how things work and seeing patterns is helping make this a breeze.  She’s finished Grammar Island and almost half of Building Language and Language of the Hemispheres already, and is doing a sentence analysis from Practice Island every day.  These books dovetail nicely with First Language Lessons, so she is finishing up some of the last diagramming lessons from FLL 3 and will move into FLL 4 as soon as we receive our copy.  I won’t lie–this is a lot of language arts.  But Hannah really enjoys it, so I don’t mind that she spends several hours a day on it.  In fact, on days when we’ve been rushed and I’ve tried to skip some of this, she begs to do it anyway.

Reading

Reading is Hannah’s favorite thing.  She reads voraciously and since I can’t keep up with her anymore, I try to read a few things she’s reading in the interest of discussion, but other than that I rely heavily on classic book lists I find in a variety of places.  Since she reads so much and way beyond her grade level I don’t bother counting reading as school work anymore–it’s just part of her life, which is how it should be!  However, I’m doing some research on how to shape literature discussions so that we can pick our mother-daughter book club back up in a way that helps her learn literary analysis and how to be a thoughtful and discerning reader.  Recently Hannah told me that she feels the need to read War and Peace.  I said yes, you really should read War and Peace, but perhaps not this year.  🙂

How long does this take?

Going over her math lesson and doing some mental math work together, Latin, spelling, and language arts in Office Time takes about an hour.  She does her copywork and handwriting at the table with everyone else generally for about 15-20 minutes, and the work I assign her in Office Time takes her about two to three hours if she’s diligent.  Then the reading we do for our together subjects takes about one and a half to two hours, not including bedtime reading.  All told I’d say Hannah spends five to six hours a day on school work.  Usually we start by 8:30 and she works until lunch, then finishes her work during afternoon rest time.  Sometimes she’s still doing work at 8:30 at night, but that’s her choice.  I have no idea how much additional time she spends reading, but it’s a lot.

As I mentioned, I am really delighting in teaching Hannah this year.  It will be interesting to see how the year turns out!

 

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Subjects We Do Together

Each of the children has individual teaching time with me (we call it Office Time because it takes place in my office) but we also do several subjects together.

Copywork

We usually begin the day with copywork. Each child copies the same passage (usually one of the review poems from our memory work binder, a stanza of the hymn we’re learning, or a piece of poetry we’re working on memorizing), but at his or her level.  Sarah prints, Jack prints but in smaller letters, and Hannah writes in cursive.  Copywork counts for Sarah’s handwriting as well, but Jack and Hannah each have additional cursive handwriting practice.

Bible

Each morning, we review five catechism questions and answers, and read one section from Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism–basically these work through the scripture proofs for each question with one question per week.  We also sing one hymn we’re learning and one for review.  Or maybe two.  Or maybe we sing every hymn we know.  It varies. At bedtime we have worship and read a chapter or section from the Bible (we’re in Acts at the moment), work on our Bible memory chapter (Philippians 2 now), sing a Psalm or hymn, since the Doxology and Gloria Patri, and talk about any topics that come up.

History

We’ve been working through Tapestry of Grace Year 3, reading all of the Lower Grammar and most of the Upper Grammar assignments (and supplemental assignments) out loud.  We like to read together, and I’ve been feeling confirmed lately in our choice to do this, thanks to reviewing some research on the benefits of hearing texts read aloud.  Anyway, what this looks like in practice is that often I read from several chapter books while the children are working on handwriting or doing an art project or eating breakfast or lunch, or we sit on the couch and read all bunched up together.  Usually both, at different times of day. We have several books and chapter books going at once, and it’s delightful when the kids make connections between subjects and topics this way!  We’re also going through the US Presidents song once or twice a week.

Literature

We’re reading the Tapestry of Grace Year 3 Lower Grammar and Upper Grammar literature selections together, plus our daily dose of Aesop, Mother Goose, poetry, at least a few picture books unrelated to school work, at least a few board books for Eliza, and we’re also studying Hamlet this term. The moment when my children intelligently discussed the question, “Should Hamlet have avenged his father?” was a high point in my life thus far.  Because really, what young kid has NOT wanted to get revenge at some point? This is an issue between siblings at times in our house, and so they are really tracking with Hamlet’s dilemmas and I am loving it.  More details on our Hamlet study to come!  We’re also working on some poetry memory and memorizing a few short pieces from Hamlet.  At bedtime we read aloud a few chapters from a book unrelated to our school reading.

Science

We’re doing Apologia Astronomy again this year because the topic is cool and I didn’t think the kids would remember it from a few years ago.  I was wrong.  But I think there is value to going over it again and they are really into the topic, especially Jack who would like his own telescope.  I like the book we’re using for its conversational tone.

Art

We’re reading about Benjamin West together, but I wasn’t successful in my attempt to get prints of his paintings so we haven’t done a proper artist study yet this fall.  I’m hopeful that the other artists I selected for study this year will be better for real picture study.  The kids have done a couple of art projects from Deep Space Sparkle (this one was a hit) and my mother-in-law plans to give them drawing lessons intermittently from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Music

Our composer this term is Beethoven.  We love him.  We’re listening to his works every day, and have greatly enjoyed The Story of Beethoven in Words and Music from the Music Masters series.  I really recommend Music Masters if you want to get the basic story of a composer’s life and influences plus an exposure to their major works.  Jack is beginning cello lessons this fall, and Hannah is back to piano lessons.

Spanish

I bought PowerGlide Spanish but to be perfectly honest we have had a hard time getting to it most days.  I like that the program is intuitive and story-based, but it’s just hard to find the time to fit it in.  I’m thinking this over.

Geography

We do the map work from Tapestry of Grace together and go over the Classical Conversations states and capitals song a couple of times a week, or at least as much of it as I can remember, which is only through Baton Rouge, LA.  I need to load the song back into my phone.  We’ve also reviewed the continents a couple of times.

Look for more on what each kid is doing for individual work in upcoming posts.

If you homeschool, what subjects do you work on together?

Calm Schooling

I marvel that I can say this, and we are only three weeks in so I well know that things may change, but this year homeschooling has really been a joy.  We made a few changes that I think are contributing mightily to this happy fact.

We are protecting our mornings.

In previous years we have done co-ops and activities at least one morning a week.  I have also previously been willing to let my outside work take morning time–pushing school to afternoons or evenings or weekends as needed.  That worked in some ways, but I’ve come to realize–at least for my children–that we need a reliable structure.  Every morning we do our school routine.  The kids know what’s coming next.  I am not stressed about compressing work into times that aren’t optimal for attention spans.  On two occasions this fall I’ve had either the babysitter or a friend over for a morning, and while that might be ok as an every now and then thing, it really is not ideal.  I’m feeling confirmed in my conviction that we need to protect our mornings.  

We are not on anyone else’s timetable.

This is also the first year we have not used a co-op or outside group for any academic subjects.  I stopped doing Classical Conversations because the group’s focus is not similar enough to my convictions about education and I resented the push to learn material that wasn’t tied to our main studies.  Last year we were in a co-op with other families using Tapestry of Grace, and while it was awesome in many respects, in the end I felt harried by needing to stick to the week by week schedule.  I realized that I value the ability to take two weeks to cover a time period we like, or the freedom to compress two weeks together when there isn’t a lot of material on a topic or we read ahead.  I am no longer stressed out by being on a long wait list for books, and I feel better about the flexibility to dig deeper into topics of particular interest to the kids.

We moved to a term calendar.

This summer was too long (even the kids agree!), at least in part because I was SO burnt out from schooling without breaks last year.  We never took a fall break or a spring break,or a long weekend and our Christmas break was less than two weeks long.  This was really just my lack of planning, and my own inability to spot the burnout looming.  This year, I’ve scheduled our year in terms.  For the most part, we’ll do school for six weeks and then take one week off (with a slight exception in the fall to allow a break week over Thanksgiving).  We will be having school into June, and then taking the month of July off for our summer break.  I’m interested to see how it works, but so far it’s helping me feel restful and energetic about the year.

We are prioritizing truth and beauty.

I feel pretty strongly about academic rigor and expecting a lot out of my children.  At points this has led to my priorities getting out of whack.  Certainly I am not scaling back academics, but rather this year I’m committed to viewing them through the lens of truth and beauty.  My goal for their education is that academics help the kids to interact with ideas and see the truth and beauty in every subject.  We’re making time for artist study and composer study and copying excellent poetry for handwriting.  We’re working on habits and reading together even more than usual (which is saying something since we use literature-based curriculum!).

But mostly I think the change is in my attitude.  I’ve always loved homeschooling but, as with many worthwhile things, I haven’t always found joy in it moment by moment.   This year I’m determined to focus on the joyful moments, and I find that it’s giving our entire school day a more calm, relaxed, joyful atmosphere.

How do you promote calm, joyful days at your house?